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‘The election of Obama would, at a stroke, refresh our country’s spirit’
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Guardian.co.uk | The Observer

November 2, 2008

‘The election of Obama would, at a stroke, refresh our country’s spirit’
It has been an epic campaign for the American Presidency and one which has been scrutinised at close quarters by the US’s finest writers on the New Yorker magazine – the country’s leading journal of politics and culture. Here, in their leader column ahead of the election, the editors of the magazine offer a brilliant analysis of the choice facing America, deconstruct the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates and finish with a powerful endorsement of Barack Obama as the man best suited to answer the grave challenges facing the next President

Never in living memory has an election been more critical than the one fast approaching – that’s the quadrennial cliché, as expected as the balloons and the bombast. And yet when has it ever felt so urgently true? When have so many Americans had so clear a sense that a presidency has – at the levels of competence, vision and integrity – undermined the country and its ideals?

The incumbent administration has distinguished itself for the ages. The presidency of George W Bush is the worst since Reconstruction, so there is no mystery about why the Republican party – which has held dominion over the executive branch of the federal government for the past eight years and the legislative branch for most of that time – has little desire to defend its record, domestic or foreign. The only speaker at the convention in St Paul who uttered more than a sentence or two in support of the President was his wife, Laura. Meanwhile, the nominee, John McCain, played the part of a vaudeville illusionist, asking to be regarded as an apostle of change after years of embracing the essentials of the Bush agenda with ever-increasing ardour.

The Republican disaster begins at home. Even before taking into account whatever fantastically expensive plan eventually emerges to help rescue the financial system from Wall Street’s long-running pyramid schemes, the economic and fiscal picture is bleak. During the Bush administration, the national debt, now approaching trillion, has nearly doubled. Next year’s federal budget is projected to run a 0bn deficit, a precipitous fall from the 0bn surplus that was projected when Bill Clinton left office. Private-sector job creation has been a sixth of what it was under President Clinton. Five million people have fallen into poverty. The number of Americans without health insurance has grown by seven million, while average premiums have nearly doubled. Meanwhile, the principal domestic achievement of the Bush administration has been to shift the relative burden of taxation from the rich to the rest. For the top 1 per cent of us, the Bush tax cuts are worth, on average, about a thousand dollars a week; for the bottom fifth, about a dollar and a half. The unfairness will only increase if the painful, yet necessary, effort to rescue the credit markets ends up preventing the rescue of our healthcare system, our environment and our physical, educational and industrial infrastructure.

At the same time, 150,000 American troops are in Iraq and 33,000 are in Afghanistan. There is still disagreement about the wisdom of overthrowing Saddam Hussein and his horrific regime, but there is no longer the slightest doubt that the Bush administration manipulated, bullied and lied the American public into this war and then mismanaged its prosecution in nearly every aspect. The direct costs, besides an expenditure of more than 0bn, have included the loss of more than 4,000 Americans, the wounding of 30,000, the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis and the displacement of four and a half million men, women and children. Only now, after American forces have been fighting for a year longer than they did in the Second World War, is there a glimmer of hope that the conflict in Iraq has entered a stage of fragile stability.

The indirect costs, both of the war in particular and of the administration’s unilateralist approach to foreign policy in general, have also been immense. The torture of prisoners, authorised at the highest level, has been an ethical and a public diplomacy catastrophe. At a moment when the global environment, the global economy and global stability all demand a transition to new sources of energy, the United States has been a global retrograde, wasteful in its consumption and heedless in its policy. Strategically and morally, the Bush administration has squandered the American capacity to counter the example and the swagger of its rivals. China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and other illiberal states have concluded, each in its own way, that democratic principles and human rights need not be components of a stable, prosperous future. At recent meetings of the United Nations, emboldened despots like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran came to town sneering at our predicament and hailing the ‘end of the American era’.

The election of 2008 is the first in more than half a century in which no incumbent President or Vice-President is on the ballot. There is, however, an incumbent party and that party has been lucky enough to find itself, apparently against the wishes of its ‘base’, with a nominee who evidently disliked George W Bush before it became fashionable to do so. In South Carolina, in 2000, Bush crushed John McCain with a sub rosa primary campaign of such viciousness that McCain lashed out memorably against Bush’s Christian Right allies. So profound was McCain’s anger that in 2004 he flirted with the possibility of joining the Democratic ticket under John Kerry. Bush, who took office as a ‘compassionate conservative’, governed immediately as a rightist ideologue. During that first term, McCain bolstered his reputation, sometimes deserved, as a ‘maverick’ willing to work with Democrats on such issues as normalising relations with Vietnam, campaign finance reform and immigration reform. He co-sponsored, with John Edwards and Edward Kennedy, a patients’ bill of rights. In 2001 and 2003 he voted against the Bush tax cuts. With John Kerry, he co-sponsored a bill raising auto fuel efficiency standards and, with Joseph Lieberman, a cap-and-trade regime on carbon emissions. He was one of a minority of Republicans opposed to unlimited drilling for oil and gas off America’s shores.

Since the 2004 election, however, McCain has moved remorselessly rightwards in his quest for the Republican nomination. He paid obeisance to Jerry Falwell and preachers of his ilk. He abandoned immigration reform, eventually coming out against his own bill. Most shockingly, McCain, who had repeatedly denounced torture under all circumstances, voted in February against a ban on the very techniques of ‘enhanced interrogation’ that he himself once endured in Vietnam – as long as the torturers were civilians employed by the CIA.

On almost every issue, McCain and the Democratic party’s nominee, Barack Obama, speak the generalised language of ‘reform’, but only Obama has provided a convincing, rational and fully developed vision. McCain has abandoned his opposition to the Bush-era tax cuts and has taken up the demagogic call – in the midst of recession and Wall Street calamity, with looming crises in social security, Medicare and Medicaid – for more tax cuts. Bush’s expire in 2011. If McCain, as he has proposed, cuts taxes for corporations and estates, the benefits once more would go disproportionately to the wealthy.

In Washington the craze for pure market triumphalism is over. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson arrived in town (via Goldman Sachs) a Republican, but it seems that he will leave a Democrat. In other words, he has come to see that the abuses that led to the current financial crisis – not least, excessive speculation on borrowed capital – can be fixed only with government regulation and oversight. McCain, who has never evinced much interest in, or knowledge of, economic questions, has had little of substance to say about the crisis. His most notable gesture of concern – a melodramatic call to suspend his campaign and postpone the first presidential debate until the government bail-out plan was ready – soon revealed itself as an empty diversionary tactic.

By contrast, Obama has made a serious study of the mechanics and the history of this economic disaster and of the possibilities of stimulating a recovery. Last March, in New York, in a speech notable for its depth, balance and foresight, he said: ‘A complete disdain for pay-as-you-go budgeting, coupled with a generally scornful attitude towards oversight and enforcement, allowed far too many to put short-term gain ahead of long-term consequences.’ Obama is committed to reforms that value not only the restoration of stability but also the protection of the vast majority of the population, which did not partake of the fruits of the binge years. He has called for greater and more programmatic regulation of the financial system; the creation of a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank, which would help reverse the decay of our roads, bridges and mass-transit systems and create millions of jobs; and a major investment in the green-energy sector.

On energy and global warming, Obama offers a set of forceful proposals. He supports a cap-and-trade programme to reduce America’s carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 – an enormously ambitious goal, but one that many climate scientists say must be met if atmospheric carbon dioxide is to be kept below disastrous levels. Large emitters, such as utilities, would acquire carbon allowances and those which emit less carbon dioxide than their allotment could sell the resulting credits to those which emit more; over time, the available allowances would decline. Significantly, Obama wants to auction off the allowances; this would provide bn a year for developing alternative energy sources and creating job-training programmes in green technologies. He also wants to raise federal fuel-economy standards and to require that 10 per cent of America’s electricity be generated from renewable sources by 2012. Taken together, his proposals represent the most coherent and far-sighted strategy ever offered by a presidential candidate for reducing the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.

There was once reason to hope that McCain and Obama would have a sensible debate about energy and climate policy. McCain was one of the first Republicans in the Senate to support federal limits on carbon dioxide and he has touted his own support for a less ambitious cap-and-trade programme as evidence of his independence from the White House. But, as polls showed Americans growing jittery about gasoline prices, McCain apparently found it expedient in this area, too, to shift course. He took a dubious idea – lifting the federal moratorium on offshore oil drilling – and placed it at the centre of his campaign. Opening up America’s coastal waters to drilling would have no impact on gasoline prices in the short term and, even over the long term, the effect, according to a recent analysis by the Department of Energy, would be ‘insignificant’. Such inconvenient facts, however, are waved away by a campaign that finally found its voice with the slogan ‘Drill, baby, drill!’

The contrast between the candidates is even sharper with respect to the third branch of government. A tense equipoise currently prevails among the justices of the Supreme Court, where four hardcore conservatives face off against four moderate liberals. Anthony M Kennedy is the swing vote, determining the outcome of case after case.

McCain cites Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, two reliable conservatives, as models for his own prospective appointments. If he means what he says, and if he replaces even one moderate on the current Supreme Court, then Roe v Wade will be reversed and states will again be allowed to impose absolute bans on abortion. McCain’s views have hardened on this issue. In 1999 he said he opposed overturning Roe; by 2006 he was saying that its demise ‘wouldn’t bother me any’; by 2008 he no longer supported adding rape and incest as exceptions to his party’s platform opposing abortion.

But scrapping Roe – which, after all, would leave states as free to permit abortion as to criminalise it – would be just the beginning. Given the ideological agenda that the existing conservative bloc has pursued, it’s safe to predict that affirmative action of all kinds would likely be outlawed by a McCain court. Efforts to expand executive power, which in recent years certain justices have nobly tried to resist, would be likely to increase. Barriers between church and state would fall; executions would soar; legal checks on corporate power would wither – all with just one new conservative nominee on the court. And the next President is likely to make three appointments.

Obama, who taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago, voted against confirming not only Roberts and Alito but also several unqualified lower-court nominees. As an Illinois state senator, he won the support of prosecutors and police organisations for new protections against convicting the innocent in capital cases. While McCain voted to continue to deny habeas corpus rights to detainees, perpetuating the Bush administration’s regime of state-sponsored extra-legal detention, Obama took the opposite side, pushing to restore the right of all US-held prisoners to a hearing. The judicial future would be safe in his care.

In the shorthand of political commentary, the Iraq war seems to leave McCain and Obama roughly even. Opposing it before the invasion, Obama had the prescience to warn of a costly and indefinite occupation and rising anti-American radicalism around the world; supporting it, McCain foresaw none of this. More recently, in early 2007, McCain risked his presidential prospects on the proposition that five additional combat brigades could salvage a war that by then appeared hopeless. Obama, along with most of the country, had decided that it was time to cut American losses. Neither candidate’s calculations on Iraq have been as cheaply political as McCain’s repeated assertion that Obama values his career over his country; both men based their positions, right or wrong, on judgment and principle.

President Bush’s successor will inherit two wars and the realities of limited resources, flagging popular will and the dwindling possibilities of what can be achieved by American power. McCain’s views on these subjects range from the simplistic to the unknown. In Iraq, he seeks ‘victory’ – a word that General David Petraeus refuses to use, and one that fundamentally misrepresents the messy, open-ended nature of the conflict. As for Afghanistan, on the rare occasions when McCain mentions it he implies that the surge can be transferred directly from Iraq, which suggests that his grasp of counterinsurgency is not as firm as he insisted it was during the first presidential debate. McCain always displays more faith in force than interest in its strategic consequences. Unlike Obama, McCain has no political strategy for either war, only the dubious hope that greater security will allow things to work out. Obama has long warned of deterioration along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and has a considered grasp of its vital importance. His strategy for both Afghanistan and Iraq shows an understanding of the role that internal politics, economics, corruption and regional diplomacy play in wars where there is no battlefield victory.

Unimaginably painful personal experience taught McCain that war is above all a test of honour: maintain the will to fight on, be prepared to risk everything and you will prevail. Asked during the first debate to outline ‘the lessons of Iraq’, McCain said: ‘I think the lessons of Iraq are very clear: that you cannot have a failed strategy that will then cause you to nearly lose a conflict.’ A soldier’s answer – but a statesman must have a broader view of war and peace. The years ahead will demand not only determination but also diplomacy, flexibility, patience, judiciousness and intellectual engagement. These are no more McCain’s strong suit than the current President’s. Obama, for his part, seems to know that more will be required than will power and force to extract some advantage from the wreckage of the Bush years.

Obama is also better suited for the task of renewing the bedrock foundations of American influence. An American restoration in foreign affairs will require a commitment not only to international co-operation but also to international institutions that can address global warming, the dislocations of what will likely be a deepening global economic crisis, disease epidemics, nuclear proliferation, terrorism and other, more traditional security challenges. Many of the Cold War-era vehicles for engagement and negotiation – the United Nations, the World Bank, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – are moribund, tattered, or outdated. Obama has the generational outlook that will be required to revive or reinvent these compacts. He would be the first postwar American President unencumbered by the legacies of either Munich or Vietnam.

The next President must also restore American moral credibility. Closing Guantánamo, banning all torture and ending the Iraq war as responsibly as possible will provide a start, but only that. The modern presidency is as much a vehicle for communication as for decision-making and the relevant audiences are global. Obama has inspired many Americans in part because he holds up a mirror to their own idealism. His election would do no less – and likely more – overseas.

What most distinguishes the candidates, however, is character – and here, contrary to conventional wisdom, Obama is clearly the stronger of the two. Not long ago, Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, said: ‘This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.’ The view that this election is about personalities leaves out policy, complexity and accountability. Even so, there’s some truth in what Davis said – but it hardly points to the conclusion that he intended.

Echoing Obama, McCain has made ‘change’ one of his campaign mantras. But the change he has provided has been in himself and it is not just a matter of altering his positions. A willingness to pander and even lie has come to define his presidential campaign and its televised advertisements. A contemptuous duplicity, a meanness, has entered his talk on the stump – so much so that it seems obvious that, in the drive for victory, he is willing to replicate some of the same underhanded methods that defeated him eight years ago in South Carolina.

Perhaps nothing revealed McCain’s cynicism more than his choice of Sarah Palin, the former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, who had been governor of that state for 21 months, as the Republican nominee for Vice-President. In the interviews she has given since her nomination, she has had difficulty uttering coherent unscripted responses about the most basic issues of the day. We are watching a candidate for Vice-President cram for her ongoing exam in elementary domestic and foreign policy. This is funny as a Tina Fey routine on Saturday Night Live, but as a vision of the political future it’s deeply unsettling. Palin has no business being the back-up to a President of any age, much less to one who is 72 and in imperfect health. In choosing her, McCain committed an act of breathtaking heedlessness and irresponsibility. Obama’s choice, Joe Biden, is not without imperfections. His tongue sometimes runs in advance of his mind, providing his own fodder for late-night comedians, but there is no comparison with Palin. His deep experience in foreign affairs, the judiciary and social policy makes him an assuring and complementary partner for Obama.

The longer the campaign goes on, the more the issues of personality and character have reflected badly on McCain. Unless appearances are very deceptive, he is impulsive, impatient, self-dramatising, erratic and a compulsive risk-taker. These qualities may have contributed to his usefulness as a ‘maverick’ senator. But in a President they would be a menace.

By contrast, Obama’s transformative message is accompanied by a sense of pragmatic calm. A tropism for unity is an essential part of his character and of his campaign. It is part of what allowed him to overcome a Democratic opponent who entered the race with tremendous advantages. It is what helped him forge a political career relying both on the liberals of Hyde Park and on the political regulars of downtown Chicago. His policy preferences are distinctly liberal, but he is determined to speak to a broad range of Americans who do not necessarily share his every value or opinion. For some who oppose him, his equanimity even under the ugliest attack seems like hauteur; for some who support him, his reluctance to counterattack in the same vein seems like self-defeating detachment.

Yet it is Obama’s temperament – and not McCain’s – that seems appropriate for the office both men seek and for the volatile and dangerous era in which we live. Those who dismiss his centredness as self-centredness or his composure as indifference are as wrong as those who mistook Eisenhower’s stolidity for denseness or Lincoln’s humour for lack of seriousness.

Nowadays almost every politician who thinks about running for President arranges to become an author. Obama’s books are different: he wrote them. The Audacity of Hope (2006) is a set of policy disquisitions loosely structured around an account of his freshman year in the United States Senate.

Though a campaign manifesto of sorts, it is superior to that genre’s usual blowsy pastiche of ghostwritten speeches. But it is Obama’s first book, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (1995), that offers an unprecedented glimpse into the mind and heart of a potential President. Obama began writing it in his early thirties, before he was a candidate for anything. Not since Theodore Roosevelt has an American politician this close to the pinnacle of power produced such a sustained, highly personal work of literary merit before being definitively swept up by the tides of political ambition.

A presidential election is not the awarding of a Pulitzer prize: we elect a politician and, we hope, a statesman, not an author. But Obama’s first book is valuable in the way that it reveals his fundamental attitudes of mind and spirit. Dreams from My Father is an illuminating memoir not only in the substance of Obama’s own peculiarly American story but also in the qualities he brings to the telling: a formidable intelligence, emotional empathy, self-reflection, balance and a remarkable ability to see life and the world through the eyes of people very different from himself. In common with nearly all other senators and governors of his generation, Obama does not count military service as part of his biography. But his life has been full of tests – personal, spiritual, racial, political – that bear on his preparation for great responsibility.

It is perfectly legitimate to call attention, as McCain has done, to Obama’s lack of conventional national and international policy-making experience. We, too, wish he had more of it. But office-holding is not the only kind of experience relevant to the task of leading a wildly variegated nation. Obama’s immersion in diverse human environments (Hawaii’s racial rainbow, Chicago’s racial cauldron, countercultural New York, middle-class Kansas, predominantly Muslim Indonesia), his years of organising among the poor, his taste of corporate law and his grounding in public-interest and constitutional law – these, too, are experiences. And his books show that he has wrung from them every drop of insight and breadth of perspective they contained.

The exhaustingly, sometimes infuriatingly, long campaign of 2008 (and 2007) has had at least one virtue: it has demonstrated that Obama’s intelligence and steady temperament are not just figments of the writer’s craft. He has made mistakes, to be sure. (His failure to accept McCain’s imaginative proposal for a series of unmediated joint appearances was among them.) But, on the whole, his campaign has been marked by patience, planning, discipline, organisation, technological proficiency and strategic astuteness. Obama has often looked two or three moves ahead, relatively impervious to the permanent hysteria of the hourly news cycle and the cable news shouters. And when crisis has struck, as it did when the divisive antics of his ex-pastor threatened to bring down his campaign, he has proved equal to the moment, rescuing himself with a speech that not only drew the poison but also demonstrated a profound respect for the electorate.

Although his opponents have tried to attack him as a man of ‘mere’ words, Obama has returned eloquence to its essential place in American politics. The choice between experience and eloquence is a false one – something that Lincoln, out of office after a single term in Congress, proved in his own campaign of political and national renewal. Obama’s ‘mere’ speeches on everything from the economy and foreign affairs to race have been at the centre of his campaign and its success; if he wins, his eloquence will be central to his ability to govern.

We cannot expect one man to heal every wound, to solve every major crisis of policy. So much of the presidency, as they say, is a matter of waking up in the morning and trying to drink from a fire hydrant. In the quiet of the Oval Office, the noise of immediate demands can be deafening. And yet Obama has precisely the temperament to shut out the noise when necessary and concentrate on the essential.

The election of Obama – a man of mixed ethnicity, at once comfortable in the world and utterly representative of 21st-century America – would, at a stroke, reverse our country’s image abroad and refresh its spirit at home. His ascendance to the presidency would be a symbolic culmination of the civil- and voting – rights acts of the 1960s and the century-long struggles for equality that preceded them. It could not help but say something encouraging, even exhilarating, about the country, about its dedication to tolerance and inclusiveness, about its fidelity, after all, to the values it proclaims in its textbooks. At a moment of economic calamity, international perplexity, political failure and battered morale, America needs both uplift and realism, both change and steadiness. It needs a leader temperamentally, intellectually and emotionally attuned to the complexities of our troubled globe. That leader’s name is Barack Obama.


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Obamacare’s Dirty Tricks

By Peter Ferrara on 1.5.11 @ 6:08AM

Most commentators have focused on the revelation just before Christmas that Obamacare’s end of life death panel consultations rejected by Congress were resurrected by the Obama Administration by regulatory requirement. There is no truth to the rumor that President Obama has agreed, after his term of office ends, to head up a new organization called Democrats Against Democracy.

But while this regulatory authoritarianism is, indeed, yet another dirty trick of Obamacare, it is small potatoes compared to the real dirty tricks of Obamacare. A dirty trick is defined here as burying in vague language in the abusive, several thousand page Obamacare legislation socially repulsive policies that the public overwhelmingly opposed and that Congress denied it was adopting. Like the end of life death panel consultations.

Phasing Out Private Insurance

But as indicated above, the emerging abuses of Obamacare are much graver than that. Also just before Christmas, on December 21, HHS Commissar Kathleen Sebelius claimed authority buried deep within the Obamacare abomination to impose federal price controls on health insurance companies, which members of Congress again denied they were adopting when they passed Obamacare. In fact, she issued a 136 page "regulation" providing precisely for such federal rate regulation.

Most states have long regulated health insurance premiums. The state regulators know from long experience that in this regulation they have to make sure that the insurance company has the money to pay the promised benefits. If the regulators don’t allow sufficient premiums to pay benefits, in the states they know that it is the sickest people covered by the insurance company who lose out. Because then the insurance company goes out of business and the sick people it was covering don’t have the money to pay their medical bills.

State insurance regulation is consequently simply a matter of mathematics. The regulators analyze the cost data, and the actuarial probabilities, and they set premiums based on that data sufficient to allow the insurance company only a modest, reasonable, market rate of return on its operations. As a result, the hard numbers unquestionably show that health insurance companies only make modest if not below average profits at best. That is why in many states there are so few health insurance companies left, and so many of those that remain are actually non-profits.

The resulting bottom line is that health insurance company profits are not a significant factor in overall health costs. And those politicians who rant and rave about them, calculating that they can take political advantage of the clueless and gullible, are shameless demagogues who dishonor our democracy by their participation in it.

Under the new federal power that Sebelius has seized, the supposed smarter, wiser bureaucrats in Washington will review the state regulation, and Washington will decide if the state approved rate increases are "reasonable." If the Washington wise guys decide the increases are not, they will deem the state regulation not "effective," and substitute Washington’s rate regulation.

Sebelius has already decreed, not based on a review of the actual data, that increases over 10% are probably not reasonable, even though many increases across the country are coming in over 20%, based on the analysis described above, as predicted. Indeed, the Red Queen has intimated that even lesser premium increases may be deemed too much.

But there is socialist method behind the madness. Obamacare raises health insurance costs by mandating that health insurers provide expensive new benefits. That is why it was so obvious that Obamacare will raise health insurance costs. But now come the federal regulators who plan to dictate to the insurers that they cannot reflect those costs in higher premiums.

It will work just like the Democrats’ "affordable housing" policies worked in causing the financial crisis. First the regulators forced banks to lend mortgage money to so many who were not financially qualified under traditional lending standards. Bill Clinton bragged in 1995 that through this scheme he had found a way of spreading housing prosperity to so many "without costing the taxpayers a dime."

But now we know how all that turned out. When so many proved unable or unwilling to pay the mortgages, as the displaced traditional lending standards suggested they might, the mortgage backed securities that had been spread so widely throughout the financial system began their downward spiral that froze credit markets, and the whole financial system began to unravel, costing taxpayers a fortune in bailouts and lost jobs.

Left-wing sophisticates know from experience that their grassroots troops can’t follow that logic. Your average grassroots Democrat supporter can’t understand that if the law forces health insurance costs up with required new benefits, but the insurance company can’t raise premiums to cover those higher costs, the company goes out of business.

But this is exactly what the Reds who now run today’s modern Democrat party want. They are planning precisely to use this new federal rate regulation power to drive private insurers out of business, so the only option left will be the outright socialized medicine public option that first the public and then the Congress rejected in the health care "debate" last year. Hence the foundation for the new organization, Democrats Against Democracy.

This plot against the people is already underway in the more Left states that the Democrats still control. On December 22, the Wall Street Journal editorialized regarding the ongoing "political thuggery" in Connecticut regarding former state insurance commissioner Tom Sullivan. The Journal explained, "In September, following a thorough actuarial analysis, Mr. Sullivan approved some rate increases reaching 20% for Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, the largest insurer in the state by membership."

Even though the higher rates applied only to new customers, to cover the new costs of Obamacare, "Attorney General Richard Blumenthal made the approval a centerpiece of his Senate bid, while Mr. Sullivan was demonized by local labor unions." In a letter to Blumenthal explaining his resignation, Sullivan explained that he could not sensibly operate in an environment where "we are required by Congress to approve richer benefit packages, while simultaneously being called upon by you to reduce rates." To complete the travesty, his successor, under federal pressure from the same bureaucrats who have now seized new federal ratemaking power, overturned the increase, and Blumenthal rode his shameless demagoguery to election. Similar travesties are now playing out in Massachusetts as well.

But once the private insurers have been driven out, patients will have nowhere to turn but the friendly Obama national political machine. The leading lights in that operation, such as the recess-appointed, unconfirmed head of Medicare and Medicaid, "Dr. Doom" Donald Berwick, have already made the determination that more votes can be bought redirecting all the money that is now spent saving the sickest and most vulnerable to other causes.

Health Coverage, Not Health Care

President Obama barnstormed the nation promising health care for all, to achieve passage of Obamacare. But the legislation he delivered is already on course to decimate the ability of the health care system to deliver critical health care to the sickest and most vulnerable. Most Democrats and liberals have no idea what they have done. This assault on the most essential health care of the American people, achieved flying under false pretenses, should be recognized as a national scandal.

The assault begins with Medicare. I have previously reported that my analysis of last summer’s annual Medicare Trustees Report concluded that the President’s Obamacare policies involve cutting trillion in payments to doctors and hospitals for services and treatment to seniors under Medicare, over the first 20 years of full implementation of Obamacare.

Confirmation of this and more now comes from the recently released 2010 Financial Statement of the United States, from the U.S. Treasury Department. That report openly brags, repeatedly, about the Medicare cost savings resulting from Obamacare. The accompanying data reveals, in fact, that the total future Medicare cuts in payments to doctors and hospitals under Medicare accumulate to trillion! The Obama Administration is apparently convinced that its supporters cannot understand that if the government does not pay the doctors and hospitals for medical care and treatment under Medicare, seniors are not going to get medical care and treatment under Medicare.

This is why Medicare’s Chief Actuary has already reported that ultimately under these Obamacare policies Medicare payment rates will be only half of what is paid by Medicaid, where the poor often can’t find access to essential care. The Chief Actuary also reports that even before these cuts already two-thirds of hospitals were losing money on Medicare patients. Cuts of this magnitude will consequently wreak havoc and create chaos in health care for the elderly. Health providers will either have to withdraw from serving Medicare patients, or eventually go into bankruptcy.

Too many conservatives have been reticent to criticize Obamacare for these draconian cuts, out of recognition that Medicare is hopelessly bankrupt over the long run, and will have to be sharply cut in any event. But this view is far too simple minded, for refusing to pay the doctors and hospitals for the health care they provide under Medicare is no way to reform the program.

That would not only suddenly leave seniors without the health care they have been promised, and have come to rely on as a result. It would suddenly leave doctors, clinics, specialists, and hospitals with uneconomic practices for seniors that they entered in good faith on the promise of payment from the government. This is like trying to achieve budget savings in national defense by not paying the manufacturers of the Air Force’s planes, the Navy’s ships, the Army’s tanks and artillery, and the bullets, bombs and guns. How long do you think our national defense would last under that policy? The same goes for health care for America’s seniors.

Think of it this way. You wouldn’t try to balance your own family budget by just refusing to pay your bills, particularly for goods and services you planned to continue to consume. You would recognize that is really just impractical stealing. Yet that is the Obamacare policy for Medicare. Except that what they are really thinking was explained above. They have decided, as every government running socialized medicine programs has, that more votes can be bought with all the money spent on saving the sickest and most vulnerable by spending it elsewhere. That is the dirty little scandal of Obamacare.

Conservatives should assail this socialist assault on the most important of all medical care for the American people, an essential and fundamental component of their rapidly receding highest standard of living in the world, and advance more fundamental, more carefully structured Medicare reforms, that can achieve far more in savings over the long run.

One example of that is the Medicare reforms in the Ryan Roadmap. Seniors would receive vouchers they could use to buy their choice of coverage in the private sector, including Health Savings Accounts. The growth of the voucher amounts would be restrained over time, so seniors would have to pay more out of pocket for such coverage over time than they would otherwise. But at least they would be able to get the essential health care they want and need. The lowest income seniors would be protected by supplemental payments. The Ryan Roadmap has been scored as achieving full solvency for Medicare, and permanently balancing the federal budget over the long run.

But the most long run budget savings by far would be achieved by allowing younger workers to save and invest their Medicare payroll taxes in personal accounts. In retirement, those accounts would finance their health insurance vouchers, and would be able to finance far more because of the accumulation of all the market returns over the years. This would shift huge amounts of spending out of the federal budget altogether, and to the private sector. The general revenues currently used to finance so much of Medicare would be used for means tested supplements for lower income seniors to ensure that they could afford essential coverage and care. But these general revenues devoted to Medicare would be limited to grow no faster than the rate of growth of GDP, providing further huge savings over the long run.

These more basic, more fundamental reforms would be far more politically salable that than the wholesale slaughter of health care for seniors that is going to result from the current Obamacare policies. Seniors showed in the last election that they understand this. Why not conservative political strategists?

Already we see on our current course the beginnings of the disappearance not only of private health insurance, but also of private, independent medical practices as well. Sally Pipes of the Pacific Research Institute reports that while in 2005 at least two thirds of doctors practices were private, independent operations, less than half are today, and that is expected to fall below 40% by the end of this year.

Instead they are fleeing to salaried positions at large hospitals, where they are safe from Obamacare’s draconian cuts in their compensation, and they can sharply reduce the patient load they take on when their personal economic survival is at stake. This trend is strongly supported by President Obama’s top health care aide Nancy-Ann DeParle, who openly cheerleads the consolidation of America’s health care system into modern HMOs, called now Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). Such a system will be far more able to enforce the health care rationing and denial policies of the Obama political machine.


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February 06, 2011
Clarice’s Pieces: The Incredible Lightness of Obama
By Clarice Feldman
This week saw a showdown between the man whose most significant achievement before 2008 was that he very nearly got the asbestos removed from the Altgeld Gardens tenements in Chicago and the third-longest-ruling head of Egypt since the Pharaoh Ramses, whose reign lasted 67 years. The Egyptian, an 82-year-old with terminal cancer, easily bested the community organizer, the man elected by people who quite clearly confused the last presidential election with an American idol contest. While many who elected the American president probably do not yet realize it, it is lucky for them that he lost the showdown, for had he not, the results would have created worldwide havoc and devastation.

The week marked the continuation of a popular and judicial revolt against the overweening and extralegal domestic power-grab by the Obama administration and ended with the president once again backing the wrong horse and trumpeting to the world how much more he favors our enemies than our allies. A little like Manuel Zelaya in Honduras before him, Hosni Mubarak outsmarted and outplayed the community organizer.

Meanwhile, the White House signaled that it intended to ignore the clear language of Judge Vinson’s opinion and proceed with implementing ObamaCare. As of Friday afternoon, the government had not filed a motion to stay Judge Vinson’s order nor an appeal of his order, and at least two states have telegraphed that they think that ObamaCare is dead in its tracks. Both Wisconsin’s and Florida’s attorneys general have instructed state agencies to cease work to implement it.

In the Senate, Mitch McConnell, who has promised to tack a repeal amendment on every piece of legislation, began implementing his promise and attached such an amendment to the first bill of the session, one to authorize funding of the FAA. Every Republican voted for the amendment; every Democrat voted against it. As anger against this act and the administration continues to soar, it will be interesting to see how many vulnerable senators will continue to stake their future careers on a monumentally unpopular act that cost so many of their congressional colleagues their seats last November.

The Senate did vote to repeal the preposterous 1099 reporting rule, which would have required businesses to file 1099 forms for all purchases of goods or services over 0, a provision that would have buried the Capitol in a sea of meaningless paperwork and encouraged the creation of an Italian-style off-the-books economy.

The administration is clearly hoping to delay any appeal to the Supreme Court on the law so that implementation will be so far underway that it can argue that undoing the legislation would have a disastrous impact on the economy and national health care.

Virginia’s attorney general had another idea. He’s asking the Supreme Court to take the case without waiting for the Appellate Court to hear and decide it. One assumes that if the Court agrees to do this, all the related cases will be heard at the same time.

But congressional and judicial efforts are not all there is on tap to stop this law from going into effect and changing forever American’s relationship to the federal government.

In Idaho, one legislator is proposing a nullification bill, and other states are voting to opt out of the act.

For every (outrageously overreaching) action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. In Obama’s mind, cramming this act through Congress might have been his crowning achievement. In mine, it will be the epitaph of his administration, if not his party as well.

But the presumptive contempt of Judge Vinson’s order is not the only sign that the administration sees itself as above the law. In Louisiana, Judge Feldman looked at Secretary Salazar’s refusal to follow his ruling on resumption of drilling permits in the Gulf and found the Obama administration in contempt.

Having his most prized achievement hit the shoals and his obvious attempt to choke off all genuine domestic energy production briefly stymied, Obama might have written the week off, but events overseas caught him off-guard. Just weeks after lavishly entertaining the Tiananmen Square butcher at the White House, Obama decided to meddle in Egyptian affairs, in which a street uprising briefly caught the government unawares. The demonstrations triggered in Obama the sophomoric belief that he was watching a replay of The Battle of Algiers. While the slow-to-respond Mubarak soon caught on to the state of play in Cairo and deftly maneuvered his pieces on the board, applying and releasing pressure as needed to keep the sparks from becoming a conflagration and the people from turning their enmity on the military, he dragged the confusion on to the point where the people now want food and stability over chaos, looting, murder, shari,a and the unrealistic idea of democracy.

Americans always want others to be prosperous and free, but the most sensible of us know that wishing these things is insufficient to achieve them in the absence of the sort of soil in which capitalism and democracy can thrive. With the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran working to keep the Middle East at a boil and standing by to smash the forces of secular democracy as soon as possible, the soil is not ready for planting.

The demonstrations had barely begun when one of the Brotherhood’s leaders called for the immediate closing of the Suez Canal and war with Israel, and no strong figure to take Mubarak’s place seems to have appeared. So with his characteristic lack of concern for detail or his country’s best interests, the president called for Mubarak to immediately step down. Mubarak agreed not to run for reelection, and his son is no longer in contention as his successor, but the almost-hero of Altgeld Gardens could not leave well enough alone.

The man who in 2009 in Cairo said, "So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed on one nation by any other" was now dictating to Mubarak the kind of government Egypt should have and when it should have it. Mubarak noted only the obvious: that if he stepped down immediately, the situation would devolve into chaos. The rulers of Egypt have a stake in its continued existence which supersedes Obama’s adolescent moral preening. Had Obama any real interest in democracy in Egypt, he would have followed Bush’s lead and done something to help bring that about before this.

We have not yet seen a detailed Obama position paper on who should fill what cabinet slots in Egypt or how its constitution might be rewritten, but the man who showed such contempt for our Constitution and laws — from the appointment of czars and czarinas to the refusal to acknowledge the import of Judge Vinson’s ruling — was surely contending both his right to rule the U.S. and that that right includes the right to rule Egypt.

I think it’s a good rule of thumb that whenever Obama begins a statement with "Let me be clear," he means quite the opposite of whatever follows. And someone might whisper in his ear that if you run around the world bowing deeply before foreign rulers and undermining your country’s moral position and standing in the world, you cannot expect to have your imperious demands be taken seriously abroad