Bush Lied. So Did Obama. And Clinton. And…
According to an exhaustive Senate Intelligence Committee report that might be declassified someday — and sources speaking on condition of anonymity confirm that timeline is “pretty doggone solid” — the CIA might have told a tiny fib or two about its conduct in the War on Terror.
Among other things, the CIA reportedly was a lot rougher on alleged enemy combatants than it admitted. Also, it suggested harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding produced valuable intel — which is sort of, well, not true. And it appears to have exaggerated — just a little bit, mind you — the importance of certain detainees. Abu Zubaida, for instance, turns out not to have been a senior al-Qaida leader, as was claimed while he was being repeatedly waterboarded. The U.S. government now concedes he was never even an al-Qaida member. Oopsies.
Of course, the investigation of events that occurred during the administration of Republican president George W. Bush was conducted by Senate Democrats. This could mean either that it was a rigorously honest inquiry unhindered by partisan loyalties — or that it also exaggerates and misrepresents, to paint the opposing team in the worst possible light. Nevertheless, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein found its contents “shocking” — a sentiment shared by good Democrats everywhere.
Democrats have exhibited much less skepticism — let alone consternation — about the current administration’s claims regarding the number of people who have signed up for health insurance. The White House says Obamacare hit its target of 7 million people. So far as Democratic cheerleaders are concerned, that’s a slam-dunk refutation of all the naysaying from conservative Republicans. As The New York Times’ Paul Krugman put it, Democrats should “feel free to ridicule right-wingers” who predicted otherwise.
Yet as Shikha Dalmia pointed out Friday in Reason, the 7 million figure looks awfully sketchy. Roughly 20 percent of those who sign up through the ACA’s exchanges drop out without paying. And “out of the remaining 5.6 million, only about half were likely previously uninsured.”
Likewise, many of those who signed up for Medicaid represent the normal churn in that program, which has seen hefty growth for years even without the ACA. And then there are all the Americans who have lost coverage as a result of Obamacare. In Maryland, for example, 60,000 people gained coverage through the ACA — while 75,000 lost it. Oopsies.
This isn’t a one-off. Obama earned PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year” award for repeatedly promising you could keep you insurance if you liked it.
Fact-checkers also slapped his hand for claiming pre-kindergarten brings a 700 percent return on its investment. And again recently for claiming Obamacare opponents have spent “billions” opposing the law (they haven’t).
The administration has inflated the number of unlawful immigrants it deports by counting some “returns” — people turned back at the border — as deportations. And then there was James Clapper’s now-infamous lie to Congress. Asked if the NSA were collecting “any type of data at all” on millions of Americans, Obama’s director of National Intelligence responded, “No, sir.”
Not all lies are quite so baldfaced. Recently Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe “announced” 40 new jobs in Nottoway County, and said the state “is partnering” with the Trout River kiln company to build nine new lumber kilns.
Virginia’s end of the “partnership” consists of a one-time grant of $100,000, but you’re left with the impression that the jobs wouldn’t have been created if not for the governor’s personal intercession.
McAuliffe’s predecessor, Republican Bob McDonnell, also tried — time after time — to hog the glory from new business ventures he had little or nothing to do with. So did his predecessor, Tim Kaine. It’s S.O.P. But notice how they never “announce” layoffs.
These days McAuliffe asserts that failing to expand Medicaid means other states will get Virginia’s share of federal funding for expansion. They won’t: Total appropriations depend on the number of enrollees, so if Virginia enrolls no one, Virginia’s share of the money will not be allocated elsewhere — it will not be allocated, period.
McAuliffe professes total ignorance of an email setting price points for access to him and the Executive Mansion — just as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie professes total ignorance of the manipulations that led to Bridgegate. Just as Bill Clinton professed not to have had sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.
Back during the Vietnam War, the Pentagon’s PR guy, Arthur Sylvester, told a group of reporters: “Look, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you’re stupid. Did you hear that? Stupid.” Sylvester was being too harsh. Americans are pretty sharp when it comes to picking up on lies told by the other side. If they believe the lies told by their own side, it’s not because they’re imbeciles. It’s because they want to.
Gummint Helps Me Eat Good
Americans so dumb. Not know how to do basic stuff, like eat. Or read. Or math. Dumber than sack of hammers, really. Take labels on boxes and cans of food.
“Nutrition Facts” — you seen them. Black-and-white rectangle: Calories, total fat, cholesterol, carbs, protein, vitamins. All that stuff.
Pretty simple, right? Easy to understand? Not for dumb-o public! Just ask First Lady, Michelle Obama. Few days ago she explain why Washington changing those labels. First Lady went to college. Princeton. Harvard. Smart lady! But she grok what life like for us stupid folk. Here she tell what it like for typical numbskull American trying to read label we have now:
“So you marched into the supermarket,” she say. “You picked up a can or a box of something, you squinted at that little, tiny label — and you were totally and utterly lost… . All you could do was scratch your head, confused and bewildered, and wonder: Is there too much sugar in this product? Is 50 percent of the daily allowance of riboflavin a good thing or a bad thing? And how on Earth could this teeny little package contain five whole servings? … Unless you had a thesaurus, a calculator, a microscope or a degree in nutrition, you were out of luck. So you felt defeated, and you just gave up and went back to buying the same stuff you always buy.”
Yup. So confused. So defeated. Brain hurt, go lie down.
First Lady leave out part about putting food bags in back of ’85 IROC-Z Camaro before stopping at discount cigarette store on way back to trailer park. Aside from that, though, she nail it.
But it not just her! Michael Jacobson agree. Him head of goody-goody group Center for Science in Public Interest. Last year he also explain why gummint need to fix nutrition labels. He say “label complexity” big problem. Can “leave many shoppers mystified.” Simpler labels help “encourage consumers to make smarter choices.”
This how most media see it, too. “Choosing healthier foods at the grocery store may soon be a little easier,” say CNN. New labels be “easier to read,” say “Today” show. And here Allison Aubrey, reporter for NPR: “If you’re perplexed about how to make healthy choices when you’re shopping for food, you’re not alone. We’ve all puzzled over a food label that was confusing and hard to follow.” We sure have, Allison!
In another piece on “All Things Considered,” Aubrey do riff on First Lady theme: “You pick up a box of pasta or a can of soup,” she say, “and there’s just too much information to interpret.” Boy howdy.
But no give up! Because, as Aubrey say next, “help is on the way. The FDA has redesigned the nutrition label with these problems in mind.”
Whew! Big relief. Getting scared there for a minute!
Nutrition labels good. Person putting hard-earned money down has right to know what he buy. (Or she buy.) Fraud bad. Nobody want to buy big box that say: “Contents: FOOD.” Specially if contents really just powdered drywall. Or rat poison. Honesty best policy.
But still. Guess who design awful, complex, mystifying, puzzling current labels in first place? Federal gummint. FDA — same people who now say current labels no good! It was federal gummint tell everybody worry about fat, put fats at top of label so everyone pay close attention. Now federal gummint say forget fats. Now sugar bad! Bad, bad sugar! No eat!
Also, everybody hate Nutrition Facts serving sizes. Everybody know half-cup of ice cream not equal one serving; half-cup just a taste. One serving of ice cream equal one BOWL, darn it. Big bowl, if you have bad day.
Well, who came up with stupid tiny serving sizes? Not evil food companies trying to trick poor little shoppers! Federal gummint did that. Based on “reference amounts customarily consumed,” whatever that is. As 1991 New York Times article about new rules put it, “the F.D.A. will set uniform serving sizes for all foods.” Now same people going to set new serving sizes.
And hey, remember food pyramid? Two decades ago federal gummint introduce food pyramid to tell everybody to eat lots of carbs — six to 11 servings a day! Food pyramid say carbs should be foundation of your diet; tell people eat six to nine servings fruits and veggies. Now federal gummint say “make half your plate fruits and vegetables.” Oh.
Odd thing about labels. Good to have them, but most folk don’t pay them no mind. Carnegie-Mellon study of restaurant menu labels show “people still choose the food they like, not what’s supposed to be healthier,” as news stories put it.
Maybe real problem not “label complexity.” Maybe real problem is, Americans not respond to gummint stimuli like trained rats in lab. Actually think for they own selves. Eat what they want, not what gummint tell them to.
Funny — you’d think pointy-headed know-it-alls smart enough to figure that out.
Our Long National Austerity Nightmare Is Over
“With the 2015 budget request,” The Washington Post reported last week, “Obama will call for an end to the era of austerity that has dogged much of his presidency.”
Well, it’s about time! The end of austerity cannot come soon enough, as far as your humble correspondent is concerned. And a quick look at the historical budget tables shows why: In 2008, the federal government spent just a hair under $3 trillion. After six years of President Slash-and-Burn, spending has shrunk to almost $4 trillion. If we keep cutting like this, it will be down to $5 trillion before you know it.
These savage reductions have taken place in nearly every major federal program. Take defense spending: The year before Obama took office, it stood at $594 billion. It’s now $597 billion. Back in 2001 it was almost $300 billion. Even if you adjust for inflation, it’s clear that defense spending has shrunk at an alarming rate.
Same deal for food stamps: Under President Barack Obama, spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has gone from $40 billion to $78 billion, in constant dollars. And that’s after it went from $20 billion to $40 billion under Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. Spending cuts like that are simply barbaric.
But they are par for the course. Using inflation-adjusted, 2012 dollars, federal spending on K-12 and vocational education has gone from $41 billion in 2002 to $100 billion in 2012. During the same period, Medicare spending has gone from $293 billion to roughly $500 billion. Transportation spending? It went from $86 billion to $138 billion. Medicaid and related programs? $223 billion to $327 billion. Energy? Half a billion to $9 billion.
If we keep hacking away at federal spending like this, pretty soon we won’t have any federal government left! No wonder the economy has been so sluggish: We obviously need more stimulus.
Clearly, trends like these cannot go on. You can’t cut your way to prosperity; America needs to be building up, not tearing down. We need more investment in basic research — research like an important new project being funded by the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is giving $175,000 to a grant recipient who will use the money to study “the Swimming Abilities of Native Stream Fishes in the Northern Rockies-Upper Great Plains Regions of Montana.”
Studying the swimming abilities of fish is precisely the sort of research the federal government is best at. But if we don’t wise up and start spending money faster, we might have to do without it. Then where will we be?
It’s not just America. There has been a lot of austerity in Europe, too. Just ask Paul Krugman, the great economist who writes for The New York Times. “You see,” he patiently explained last week, “some but not all members of the euro area … were forced into imposing Draconian fiscal austerity” during the recent economic downturn — the results of which were “nasty, in some cases catastrophic, declines in output and unemployment.” (Krugman has been explaining this patiently for some time. In his 2012 piece on “Europe’s Austerity Madness,” he pointed out that “with erstwhile middle-class workers reduced to picking through garbage in search of food, austerity has already gone too far.”)
Just how bad has the European austerity been? According to a piece in the Financial Post last May, in 2007 government spending consumed 45.6 percent of the GDP of countries in the European Union. By 2012, that percentage had shrunk to a shockingly low 49.4 percent. No wonder the economy over there stinks.
Clearly, we cannot allow any more of those darn foreigners to enter America and bring any of that austerity nonsense with them. Unfortunately, we are going in the wrong direction on border control, too. A decade ago, we had almost 10,000 border-patrol agents. Now we have more than 21,000. Border fencing, meanwhile, has increased 370 percent. Deportations are at an all-time high. It’s like we don’t even care about sealing the border any more.
One more data point should clinch the case: In January 2013, The Washington Post reported that “Congress funded Customs and Border Protection at $11.7 billion — 64 percent more than FY 2006 and $262 million more than in FY 2011, despite the new climate of austerity.”
Yes, the new climate of austerity. Thank heavens we’re putting an end to that.
The Progressive Mirage
Progressive America is crestfallen. It had hoped for better things from President Obama, and he has not delivered.
Obama is the “Inaction Hero,” writes John Dickerson in Slate, who detects a “lack of ardor” in the Oval Office. He laments that “the president seems content with tending the store.” In The Washington Post, E.J. Dionne looks plaintively for “More Hope in Year Six?” In National Journal, Norman Ornstein explains “How Obama Can Save His Presidency (Or Not).” In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf writes about “The Decline and Fall of ‘Hope and Change.’ ”
The disillusionment extends beyond the punditocracy: In Chicago, community activist Mark Carter advises Obama to “just quit. Because if this is what you call helping us, then just stop helping us.”
How times change.
Six years ago Obama was greeted as a messiah. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer described him as “the country’s hope, the kind of promising, intelligent leader who comes along perhaps once in a generation.” To the Toledo Blade, he was comparable to Lincoln, JFK, and FDR. The Los Angeles Times described him as “a constitutional scholar” who “has articulated a respect for the rule of law and the limited power of the executive.” The Detroit Free Press considered him “a disciple of the pay-as-you-go approach to federal spending that helped produce a budget surplus in the ’90s.” NBC’s Tom Brokaw compared his inauguration to the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, when “the streets were filled with joy. … People have been waiting for this moment.”
Obama did not exactly try to modulate expectations with humility. His coronation as Democratic nominee, he said at the time, marked the moment “when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”
Honeymoons fade, and every hero becomes a bore at last. Obama has fallen to Earth with a harder thump than most.
Granted, between the botched rollout of Healthcare.gov and the Edward Snowden revelations, the president had a rough year in 2013. But this gloss treats Obama like the poor schlimazel who goes to a restaurant and gets a lapful of soup from the waiter. It ignores his complicity in his own misfortune. The Obamacare website was his administration’s handiwork — as were other failed aspects of the law. Edward Snowden would have had much less to leak if the president had put an end to dragnet domestic surveillance, as he had promised to do.
Some of the president’s defenders have tried to portray him as the victim of an intransigent Republican Congress. Republicans have indeed been unhelpful. Yet the president can do a great deal without Congress. The NSA is an executive agency, after all. It answers to him — or ought to. By the same token, it is not Republicans’ fault that Obama has created the most secretive administration in memory and prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other presidents combined. It is not Republicans’ fault that he has violated his own expressed standards for military intervention abroad. It is not their fault he became what a writer for Salon has called “a civil libertarian’s nightmare: a supposedly liberal president who instead has expanded and fortified many of the Bush administration’s worst policies.”
In any event, Obama was supposed to transcend partisanship: “More than any other candidate, I could bridge some of the partisan, racial and religious divides in this country that prevent us from getting things done,” he told the Houston Chronicle in 2007. “Washington is broken,” he said the next year. “My whole campaign has been premised from the start on the idea that we have to fundamentally change how Washington works.”
That certainly went well, didn’t it?
The exospheric expectations for Obama seem odd for progressives, who tend to prefer “people’s history” — history as the tide of mass movements, history as “history from below” — over great-man theories in which transcendent individuals steer the course of the world.
The dashing of those expectations also ought to serve as a cautionary tale. The vast gulf between the imagined Obama presidency and the actual Obama presidency should leave progressives wondering what a future Democrat might do in the Oval Office. Do they really expect another president to govern more liberally? To show more regard for the Constitution, for civil liberties, for executive restraint? Do they think some other Democrat could surpass Obama?
Apparently so. Though for now she says she will not run, Elizabeth Warren has become the new Obama. “Liberals are fawning over Warren,” observes The Washington Post. According to The New Republic, she inspires “an almost evangelical passion.” The Daily Beast says she is “a candidate who can inspire passion and embody fundamental change.” And so on.
Like a mirage in the desert, the great liberal hope always lies just over the horizon. Yes, this one has been a great disappointment. But next time! Next time …
Christie vs. Obama: Dueling Apologies
A well-done little mashup here.
The Burned Hand Teaches Best
The federal government of the United States has treated native American Indians abysmally throughout much of the nation’s history. Recently, it has been adding another sad chapter to the anthology of abuse. Virginians should pay attention, because the story has important implications for the debate over expanding Medicaid.
The Washington Post reported the tale shortly before Christmas. D.C. has contracted with hundreds of Indian tribes to provide medical services on reservations across the country. But then, claiming to be constrained by tight budgets, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service soon began to refuse to pay what they owed. They reneged on the deal not once, but repeatedly — year after year.
The consequences have sometimes been grim: In Nevada, for instance, the downgrading of a hospital to a sometimes-closed health clinic meant “pregnant women were sent off by ambulance, at times giving birth along the side of the road. Elders died before they even reached” other hospitals several hours away. The emergency room closed. Funds for specialized treatment now go for triage.
The tribes sued for breach of contract, and the Supreme Court said they were right: “The government is responsible to the contractor for the full amount due under the contract,” the high court ruled. “This principle safeguards both the expectations of government contractors and the long-term fiscal interests of the United States.”
After the ruling, the agencies repaid some of the money owed. But then, reports the Post, “agency officials began questioning the accuracy of their own calculations of what they owed the tribes.” And they still claim they simply don’t have the funds to keep their word: “There is not enough money to go around,” an Indian Affairs functionary told Congress in November. The Obama administration sides with the agencies, not the tribes.
The implications for Virginia are obvious. Thousands of federal contractors call the state home, reaping tens of billions of dollars’ worth of business a year — second only to California in the value of federal government contracts. If Washington makes it a practice to renege on payments, the consequences for the private sector here would be enormous.
Then there’s Medicaid.
The Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling on Obamacare gave states a choice about whether to go along with expansion. Virginia continues to deliberate over the question. Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe has been stumping for expansion; the Republican-controlled House of Delegates seems unlikely to go along.
A chief selling point for expansion advocates is the lure of ostensibly free money: Washington would pay 100 percent of the cost for the first three years, after which reimbursements would step down until reaching a 90 percent plateau in 2020.
Expansion skeptics warn that Washington might not keep that promise. Right now, there is no way to tell. But we do know this much: Nine out of 10 times, new government programs end up costing far more than original estimates projected. Current estimates say the federal government’s share of the tab for Medicaid expansion from 2014 through 2022 will come to $931 billion. If the cost is lowballed to even a small degree, then the feds will see more than $1 trillion in new expenses over the next decade.
By contrast, the federal government owes Indian tribes a comparatively paltry $2 billion or so. And that obligation is not merely statutory, but contractual. Yet even after Supreme Court intervention, Washington refuses to cough up the dough.
Shifting more of the cost of Medicaid expansion to the states would be well in keeping with Washington’s long-standing practice of taking all the credit for something — but little or none of the responsibility. A Congressional Research Service report says the cost of unfunded federal mandates imposed from 1983 to 1990 alone cost state and local governments at least $8.9 billion. Mandates the next year added at least $2.2 billion more.
By 1995, that problem had grown so acute that Congress, prodded by outrage from the hinterlands, tried to stop itself by passing the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act. Yet according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Washington has passed numerous measures that flatly violate UMRA’s restrictions. As a result, from 2003 to 2008 “Congress … shifted at least $131 billion in costs to states,” it says.
If the federal government can ignore its contractual obligations, its own statutes and its own Supreme Court, then it certainly can ignore its own funding formulas, too. This doesn’t necessarily clinch the case against Medicaid expansion; it’s just one point among many. But it does suggest those hawking the promise of free federal money epitomize Samuel Johnson’s definition of second marriages: “the triumph of hope over experience.”
Game Theory and Beltway Gamesmanship
James Taranto makes a nice point about the budgetary stare-down in D.C.:
What we have here is not a hostage situation but a classic Prisoner’s Dilemma. If both sides cooperate, the result is unsatisfactory. if both sides defect, the result is catastrophic. An unsatisfactory result is far preferable to a catastrophic one. But the optimal result for each side is if it defects while the other side cooperates. Both sides therefore have an incentive to defect, so that the catastrophic outcome is a real possibility.
Explanation of the Prisoner’s Dilemma here.
PRESIDENT OBAMA proved himself a great segue artist Friday, as he smoothly glided from his previously unassailable position on the matter of surveillance to his new unassailable position on the matter of surveillance.
There is no moral high ground that he does not seek to occupy. As with drones and gay marriage, he seems peeved that we were insufficiently patient with his own private study of the matter. Why won’t the country agree to entrust itself to his fine mind?