October 17, 2013

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Richard Epstein writes on the opening healthcare problems.

It is now common knowledge that the bugs in the Obamacare website have been embedded in the system from the start. For the past two weeks, not only have many individuals found it impossible to access the website, but they are often frozen in place once they pass through the initial portal. The problems will just get worse. The current law requires extensive communications between enrollees and their chosen insurance carriers, as well as massive interaction with both federal and state organizations. As a result, web traffic builds up behind bottlenecks and leads to massive frustration. As I warned last May, watching Obamacare unravel is a painful business. 

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has tried to put a positive gloss on the messy situation with the dubious observation that the system glitches are due to heavy consumer demand. Her statement subtly implies that the nation’s alleged need for the program is the cause of its momentary glitches. She claims that things are “getting better by the day.” Not so. The government site was not built for heavy traffic, nor was it tested before going live. It is no mean feat to try to fix a balky computer system on the fly.

As a result of these problems, calls to delay the implementation of the individual mandate are now reaching a fever pitch, such as Peggy Noonan’s to delay the individual mandate a year. The bugs need to be worked out before ordinary people are slapped with fines for failing to enroll in the derelict system before the penalty deadline now set for March 31, 2014.

Thus far, the Obama Administration has been mum on the sources and extent of the difficulties. But make no mistake about it: they reflect the broader structural weaknesses of the program, which were hidden from view by the disastrous launch. Nonetheless, the system’s basic design is flawed, and its gaffes will become only more apparent as implementation moves forward. …


Shikha Dalmia thinks things are worse then is commonly understood.

By all accounts, the roll out of Obamacare’s insurance exchanges has been a fiasco of epic proportions. But diehard supporters claim that this is a minor roadblock that won’t affect the law’s long-term future. “Obamacare is here,” lectured liberal columnist Eugene Robinson. “Get used to it.”

Robinson might be right. Then again when funny man Jon Stewart echoes Tea Party “wackos” to demand a one-year delay of the individual mandate, the lynchpin of the edifice, you know all is not well. And Stewart is hardly alone. CNN anchor Wolfe Blitzer is also recommending a delay.

The reality is that the way President Obama ramrodded this law through Congress has left him very little margin for error. The next couple of months will make or break the program.

Two weeks into the launch and its problems only keep multiplying. Consumers still can’t log into the federal exchange website, let alone compare plans, apply for the promised subsidies and buy coverage. The site—whose staggering $634 million construction cost is more than that of LinkedIn and Spotify combined—has already been shut down once for repairs, but the problems persist.

Thing are so bad that the administration won’t even reveal basic information about enrollment rates. Nor will it make its IT folks available to explain the technical glitches, insisting that “pent up demand” is overwhelming capacity.

But experts whom Reuters consulted believe that the architecture of the websites is fundamentally flawed and needs to be radically overhauled. For example, when individuals “apply” for coverage, the website automatically opens over 90 separate files and plugins to stream information from the user’s computer. The flood of traffic paralyzes the connection. …


Megan McArdle says the law needs a drop dead date.

Exactly how bad are things on the federal health-care exchanges? The working assumption among most journalists, including me, is that they would be fixed in a few weeks — that is, by the end of this week. But yesterday’s New York Times brought a deeply reported piece from Robert Pear, Sharon LaFraniere and Ian Austen. There is too much information in the piece for an excerpt to do it justice, so I’ll summarize, with some editorial comments — but you should read the whole thing to get the full flavor:

– One person familiar with the project says it’s only about 70 percent of the way there, and has heard estimates of somewhere between two weeks to two months to fix it. As a programmer I know points out, “two weeks to two months” is the programming equivalent of “40 days and 40 nights”: “A long time, but I have no way of knowing how long.” When I used to hear estimates like that, I used to assume it would be coming in on the late end of that range, earliest.

– The administration delayed writing major rules until after the 2012 election, because it didn’t want to give Republicans any ammunition for their campaign. (This actually was noted at the time: “When it comes to health care, delaying regulations could help the president politically by avoiding discussion of the controversial health reform law. But that makes life difficult for states and industries that need to prepare for the coming changes,” wrote the National Journal. But most of us didn’t understand just how badly this was affecting implementation.)

– Despite evidence to the contrary, the administration kept insisting that everything was absolutely on track to launch Oct. 1.

– This passage is so extraordinary that it requires excerpting:

“Deadline after deadline was missed. The biggest contractor, CGI Federal, was awarded its $94 million contract in December 2011. But the government was so slow in issuing specifications that the firm did not start writing software code until this spring, according to people familiar with the process. As late as the last week of September, officials were still changing features of the Web site, HealthCare.gov, and debating whether consumers should be required to register and create password-protected accounts before they could shop for health plans.”

Suddenly, two months sounds optimistic. ..


Michael Astrue who was HHS General Counsel and Commissioner of Social Security says these problems are not mere “glitches.”

… The department will surely ameliorate some problems in the coming months simply by buying additional capacity and fixing sloppy code. More enduring problems, however, will continue to plague HHS. 

HHS blundered when it allowed states to rely on self-attestation to verify eligibility for public subsidies in states that built their own exchanges. Experience with the Earned Income Tax Credit and other programs strongly suggests that in states that rely on self-attestation a high percentage of those who receive subsidies—probably 20-25 percent—will be ineligible. HHS has refused to explain how it will recoup payments from ineligible recipients. The official responsible for preventing this waste, fraud, and abuse, the HHS inspector general, has been silent about this problem as well.

HHS also blundered when it built its computer system in violation of the Privacy Act. In short, if you enroll in a health plan through an exchange, family members and recent ex-spouses can access the system and change your coverage without the legally required written permission. Traditional consumer and privacy advocates, such as Public Citizen and the American Civil Liberties Union, have taken a dive on this issue, and again the HHS inspector general has remained silent.

HHS opened the door to large-scale fraud by providing funding for tens of thousands of “navigators”—people who are supposed to persuade the uninsured to apply for coverage and then assist them in the application process. Instead of hiring well-screened, well-trained, and well-supervised workers, HHS decided to build political support for the Affordable Care Act by pouring money into supportive organizations so they could launch poorly trained workers into their communities without obtaining criminal background checks or creating systems for monitoring their activities. …


We start our weekend with late night humor from Andrew Malcolm.

Letterman: The Washington Redskins are under a lot of pressure to change their name because so many people are offended by the word ‘Washington.’

Leno: A CBS News Poll says 72% of Americans blame Republicans for the government shutdown while 61% blame the Democrats. See, this is why we have a debt crisis. That adds up to 133%.

Letterman: Have you seen the new $100 bill? A lot of people are upset. First of all, it’s only worth $10. And Ben Franklin’s face has been replaced by Ben Affleck.

Fallon: A new study says American workers lack the problem-solving skills of workers in other countries. Asked about that, American workers said, “But what should we do about it?”

Leno: Syrian President Assad says he may run for reelection next year. Says he’s looked over the election results for 2014 and they look good for him.

October 16, 2013

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Robert Samuelson on the importance of the growth missing from this administration’s economy.

When the history is written, I suspect the brutal budget battle transfixing the nation will be seen as much more than a spectacular partisan showdown. Careful historians will, I think, cast it as a symbolic turning point for post-World War II institutions — mainly the welfare state and the consumer credit complex — that depended on strong economic growth that has now, sadly, gone missing. The story behind the story is that prolonged slow growth threatens to upend our political and social order.

Economic growth is a wondrous potion. It encourages lending because borrowers can repay debts from rising incomes. It supports bigger government because a growing economy expands the tax base and makes modest deficits bearable. Despite recessions, it buoys public optimism because people are getting ahead. The presumption of strong economic growth supported the spirit and organizational structures of postwar America.

Everyday life was transformed. …

… What looms — it’s already occurred in Europe — is a more contentious future. Economic growth serves as social glue that neutralizes other differences. Without it, economic and political competition becomes a game of musical chairs, where “one person’s gain is another’s loss,” King writes. There’s a “breakdown of trust,” as expectations are continually disappointed. It’s an often-ugly process that is convincingly confirmed by Washington’s current political firestorm.


Mary Katherine Ham lists some of the citizens’ victories over the thugs in the park service.

Call it the shutdown of shutdown theater. A couple of small parks have taken to the courts to dispute their bullying at the hands of the National Park Service during the government shutdown. One could argue civil disobedience has been shutting down shutdown theater since it began— in D.C., in the Badlands, in Yellowstone—but at least one of these victories might be able to set a useful legal precedent to prevent at least some of Washington Monument Strategy in the future. It’s a political strategy that should die an ignominious death. It’s the opposite of public service.

In Northern Virginia, McLean Youth Lacrosse won its fields back from the feds after the National Park Service shut down a park that sits on federal land but its administered by county government. That’s the entity the lacrosse league paid $5,000 to use the park, not the National Park Service. (Parenthetically, I’m not surprised it was the lacrosse parents of McLean that went to court on this. They have the right attitude and means to make it happen, and I hope their victory can help other youth hurt by the federal government who might not have the means to sue.) …


Dilbert creator, Scott Adams, gives career advice.

If you’re already as successful as you want to be, both personally and professionally, congratulations! Here’s the not-so-good news: All you are likely to get from this article is a semientertaining tale about a guy who failed his way to success. But you might also notice some familiar patterns in my story that will give you confirmation (or confirmation bias) that your own success wasn’t entirely luck.

If you’re just starting your journey toward success—however you define it—or you’re wondering what you’ve been doing wrong until now, you might find some novel ideas here. Maybe the combination of what you know plus what I think I know will be enough to keep you out of the wood chipper.

Let me start with some tips on what not to do. Beware of advice about successful people and their methods. For starters, no two situations are alike. Your dreams of creating a dry-cleaning empire won’t be helped by knowing that Thomas Edison liked to take naps. Secondly, biographers never have access to the internal thoughts of successful people. If a biographer says Henry Ford invented the assembly line to impress women, that’s probably a guess.  

But the most dangerous case of all is when successful people directly give advice. For example, you often hear them say that you should “follow your passion.” That sounds perfectly reasonable the first time you hear it. Passion will presumably give you high energy, high resistance to rejection and high determination. Passionate people are more persuasive, too. Those are all good things, right?

Here’s the counterargument: When I was a commercial loan officer for a large bank, my boss taught us that you should never make a loan to someone who is following his passion. For example, you don’t want to give money to a sports enthusiast who is starting a sports store to pursue his passion for all things sporty. That guy is a bad bet, passion and all. He’s in business for the wrong reason.

My boss, who had been a commercial lender for over 30 years, said that the best loan customer is someone who has no passion whatsoever, just a desire to work hard at something that looks good on a spreadsheet. Maybe the loan customer wants to start a dry-cleaning store or invest in a fast-food franchise—boring stuff. That’s the person you bet on. You want the grinder, not the guy who loves his job. …


Joe Nocera of the NY Times with the second review we’ve had that is not enthralled with the latest from Malcolm Gladwell.

To judge by “David and Goliath,” Malcolm Gladwell’s favorite word is “we.” In fact, it’s been his favorite word since his first book, “The Tipping Point,” launched his enormously successful career writing about how the world doesn’t necessarily work the way “we” think it does.

His book “Outliers” was about (among other things) how success requires ingredients that are different from ones “we” normally assume — to wit, talent counts for far less than hard work, luck and background. Before that, “Blink” proposed that one’s first impression turns out to be right surprisingly often — contrary to the belief many of “us” hold. And “David and Goliath”? It’s about the advantages of disadvantages — and the disadvantages of seeming advantages. Or, as Gladwell puts it: “We have a definition in our heads of what an advantage is — and the definition isn’t right. And what happens as a result? It means that we make mistakes. It means that we misread battles between underdogs and giants. It means that we underestimate how much freedom there can be in what looks like a disadvantage.”

The “we” of course does not include Gladwell. That’s the whole point of a Malcolm Gladwell book. He has delved into the literature; he has interviewed lots of people — scientists, economists, deep thinkers and others who wind up in the book — and he has divined meaning and found counterintuitive connections that would otherwise elude the rest of us.

Those connections can be quite dizzying. In “David and Goliath,” Gladwell links people who are dyslexic with a hero of the civil rights movement and the citizens of London during the blitz. According to him, they all managed to turn disadvantages into advantages. On the flip side — those whose advantages aren’t so advantageous after all — include students who are not at the top of their Ivy League classes, teachers of extremely small ­classes and very wealthy parents.

As always, Gladwell’s sweep is breathtaking, and thought-provoking. What it is not, however, is entirely convincing. …



One of the biggest disappointments from Bush the W was his support of the ethanol foolishness. Scientific American suggests we might be coming to our senses.

Federal environmental regulators are expected to significantly reduce their biofuel blending mandates for next year, marking a historic retreat from an ambitious 2007 law, according to industry and trade sources.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering a proposal that would set next year’s target for use of renewable fuels at 15.21 billion gallons, less than the 18.15-billion gallon 2014 target established in the law, according to the sources, who said the new figures have circulated in Washington policy circles over the past week. …

October 15, 2013

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Pickerhead is a major fan of shopping online with Amazon; especially Amazon OneClick. If you haven’t tried it, you’re missing out on something that will make your life much simpler; to say nothing of the savings enjoyed from consistently low prices. Business Week had a major profile of the company and Jeff Bezos the CEO.

Within Amazon.com (AMZN) there’s a certain type of e-mail that elicits waves of panic. It usually originates with an annoyed customer who complains to the company’s founder and chief executive officer. Jeff Bezos has a public e-mail address, jeff@amazon.com. Not only does he read many customer complaints, he forwards them to the relevant Amazon employees, with a one-character addition: a question mark.

When Amazon employees get a Bezos question mark e-mail, they react as though they’ve discovered a ticking bomb. They’ve typically got a few hours to solve whatever issue the CEO has flagged and prepare a thorough explanation for how it occurred, a response that will be reviewed by a succession of managers before the answer is presented to Bezos himself. Such escalations, as these e-mails are known, are Bezos’s way of ensuring that the customer’s voice is constantly heard inside the company.

One of the more memorable escalations occurred in late 2010. It had come to Bezos’s attention that customers who had browsed the lubricants section of Amazon’s sexual wellness category were receiving personalized e-mails pitching a variety of gels and other intimacy facilitators. When the e-mail marketing team received the question mark, they knew the topic was delicate and nervously put together an explanation. Amazon’s direct marketing tool was decentralized, and category managers could generate e-mail campaigns to customers who had looked at certain product categories but did not make purchases. The promotions tended to work; they were responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in Amazon’s annual sales. In the matter of the lubricant e-mail, though, a low-level product manager had overstepped the bounds of propriety. But the marketing team never got the chance to send this explanation. Bezos demanded to meet in person.

At Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, Jeff Wilke, the senior vice president for North American retail, Doug Herrington, the vice president for consumables, and Steven Shure, the vice president for worldwide marketing, waited in a conference room until Bezos glided in briskly. He started the meeting with his customary, “Hello, everybody,” and followed with “So, Steve Shure is sending out e-mails about lubricants.”

Bezos likes to say that when he’s angry, “just wait five minutes,” and the mood will pass like a tropical squall. Not this time. He remained standing. He locked eyes with Shure, whose division oversaw e-mail marketing. …


… It’s easy to forget that until recently, people thought of Amazon primarily as an online bookseller. Today, as it nears its 20th anniversary, it’s the Everything Store, a company with around $75 billion in annual revenue, a $140 billion market value, and few if any discernible limits to its growth. In the past few months alone, it launched a marketplace in India, opened a website to sell high-end art, introduced another Kindle reading device and three tablet computers, made plans to announce a set-top box for televisions, and funded the pilot episodes of more than a dozen TV shows. Amazon’s marketplace hosts the storefronts of countless smaller retailers; Amazon Web Services handles the computer infrastructure of thousands of technology companies, universities, and government agencies.

Bezos, 49, has a boundless faith in the transformative power of technology. He constantly reinvests Amazon’s profits to improve his existing businesses and explore new ones, often to the consternation of shareholders. He surprised the world in August when he personally bought the Washington Post newspaper, saying his blend of optimism, innovation, and long-term orientation could revive it. One day a week, he moonlights as the head of Blue Origin, his private rocket ship company, which is trying to lower the cost of space travel.

Amazon has a few well-known peculiarities—the desks are repurposed doors; meetings begin with everyone in the room sitting in silence as they read a six-page document called a narrative. It’s a famously demanding place to work. And yet just how the company works—and what Bezos is like as a person—is difficult to know. …


…Bezos fits comfortably into this mold. His drive and boldness trumps other leadership ideals, such as consensus building and promoting civility. While he can be charming and capable of great humor in public, in private he explodes into what some of his underlings call nutters. A colleague failing to meet Bezos’s exacting standards will set off a nutter. If an employee does not have the right answers or tries to bluff, or takes credit for someone else’s work, or exhibits a whiff of internal politics, uncertainty, or frailty in the heat of battle—a blood vessel in Bezos’s forehead bulges and his filter falls away. He’s capable of hyperbole and harshness in these moments and over the years has delivered some devastating rebukes. Among his greatest hits, collected and relayed by Amazon veterans:

“Are you lazy or just incompetent?”

“I’m sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?”

“Do I need to go down and get the certificate that says I’m CEO of the company to get you to stop challenging me on this?”

“Are you trying to take credit for something you had nothing to do with?”

“If I hear that idea again, I’m gonna have to kill myself.”

“We need to apply some human intelligence to this problem.” …


We carried the story of the 83 year-old adjunct professor who died penniless in the Pittsburgh area in September 22nd Pickings. There was a follow-on story in USA Today about the efforts of unions to organize these people. Can’t see how that will help long term. Hopefully college administrators will be shamed into taking better care of their vulnerable employees.  

The death last month of an 83-year-old French professor in Pittsburgh has become a rallying cry for part-time college instructors nationwide in their push for better pay, greater job security and access to health insurance. It comes as college administrators around the country are monitoring teaching loads in preparation for the Affordable Care Act, set to go into effect in 2015.

The story of Margaret Mary Vojtko, who taught for 25 years at DuquesneUniversity and had recently been let go, went viral after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published it. Nearly homeless and struggling with cancer, she died Sept. 1 of a heart attack and was “laid out in a simple, cardboard casket” at her funeral, wrote Daniel Kovalik, a lawyer with United Steelworkers.

Duquesne adjuncts voted to join the steelworkers union last year as part of a coordinated national strategy to focus on metro areas with multiple colleges. Over the past year, adjuncts at American, George Washington and Georgetown universities in Washington, D.C., have affiliated with the Service Employees International Union. In the Boston area, Tufts adjuncts just voted to affiliate with SEIU, nearby BentleyCollege is awaiting vote results, and Northeastern adjuncts have formed an organizing committee. Similar efforts are underway in the Seattle area, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry says. …

October 14, 2013

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We haven’t focused on the problems of the healthcare system rollout since any new effort is bound to have shortcomings. Time now though to take a look. The Free Beacon reports on NBC News’ ridicule.

NBC’s Nightly News reported on the disastrous rollout of Obamacare Thursday night, with correspondent Tom Costello calling the website “the focus of ridicule” and quoting experts who could hardly fathom a “worse launch of a nationwide site.”

Anchor Brian Williams introducded the segment by acknowledging Obamacare’s problems would be receiving more media attention if not for the government shutdown.

“If it weren’t for the shutdown dominating the news, we admittedly would be hearing and covering a lot more about how things are going for these new health care exchanges, which were rolled out ten days ago,” Williams said. “Millions of uninsured Americans are being encouraged to go to healthcare.gov to sign up for coverage but it’s been a very rocky start.”

“By most accounts the website has been a complete mess, locking up, crashing and kicking off potential customers,” Costello said. “Of the 260 people who tried to sign up at this Miami clinic in the first week, only a single person got through.” …


Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports on the disaster when the Health Sec showed up to tout her program. Steelers chairman Dan Rooney was there to help her. So Steelers fans now you know why your team is 0 -4. Your team’s owner is an old fool.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had a front-row view of the problems plaguing the website that the government established to allow people to shop for health insurance under Obamacare.

Sebelius and Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney were at an enrollment and education event on Thursday at Heinz Field to promote Healthcare.gov, but people who showed up encountered problems in signing up for coverage on the website.

Unable to handle heavy online traffic and riddled with technical glitches, the website has been a source of criticism of the Obama administration and the new Affordable Care Act since its start on Oct. 1.

Sebelius, who is making similar trips to cities across the country to spread the word about the website, told the audience of about 100 people that Healthcare.gov was “open for business.”

“Believe me, we had some early glitches,” said Sebelius, who was introduced by Rooney, a backer of the law. “But it’s getting better every day.”

At the back of the room, it was a different story. About 20 people armed with laptops and certified by the government to sign up people for coverage were meeting with uninsured people, answering questions and fruitlessly trying to access the website.

LaKesha Lowry, 41, came to the event to find out about her health insurance options. But the North Side resident said she was not able to access the site, even with the help of a certified application counselor. …


Andrew McCarthy posts on Wolf Blitzer’s disgust with the roll out.

Andrew presents the clip of Wolf Blitzer bewailing the patent, nigh comical unreadiness of Obamacare implementation (which Charles described earlier — the “wreck” before we even get to the “train wreck“). Rush also played it this afternoon, giving the report legs CNN usually doesn’t have. So now we have Obama’s own media advising that Obama should take the “advice” he’s gotten from Republicans (Wolf couldn’t quite bring himself to utter the words “Ted Cruz,” “Mike Lee,” or “House conservatives”) and delay Obamacare for another year. …


Even the NY Times has figured it out.

In March, Henry Chao, the chief digital architect for the Obama administration’s new online insurance marketplace, told industry executives that he was deeply worried about the Web site’s debut. “Let’s just make sure it’s not a third-world experience,” he told them.

Two weeks after the rollout, few would say his hopes were realized.

For the past 12 days, a system costing more than $400 million and billed as a one-stop click-and-go hub for citizens seeking health insurance has thwarted the efforts of millions to simply log in. The growing national outcry has deeply embarrassed the White House, which has refused to say how many people have enrolled through the federal exchange.

Even some supporters of the Affordable Care Act worry that the flaws in the system, if not quickly fixed, could threaten the fiscal health of the insurance initiative, which depends on throngs of customers to spread the risk and keep prices low.

“These are not glitches,” said an insurance executive who has participated in many conference calls on the federal exchange. Like many people interviewed for this article, the executive spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying he did not wish to alienate the federal officials with whom he works. “The extent of the problems is pretty enormous. At the end of our calls, people say, ‘It’s awful, just awful.’ ”  …


Digital Trends posts.

It’s been one full week since the flagship technology portion of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) went live. And since that time, the befuddled beast that is Healthcare.gov has shutdown, crapped out, stalled, and mis-loaded so consistently that its track record for failure is challenged only by Congress.

The site itself, which apparently underwent major code renovations over the weekend, still rejects user logins, fails to load drop-down menus and other crucial components for users that successfully gain entrance, and otherwise prevents uninsured Americans in the 36 states it serves from purchasing healthcare at competitive rates – Healthcare.gov’s primary purpose. The site is so busted that, as of a couple days ago, the number of people that successfully purchased healthcare through it was in the “single digits,” according to the Washington Post. …

… At this point I can only speculate on the total cost to build out Healthcare.gov and the overall technology portion of the FFEs. Based on the available data, however, a conservative estimate puts the cost so far at over $500 million. Considering the GAO estimates it will cost approximately $2 billion to build-out and operate the FFEs in 2014, this is, if anything, likely far too low. …

… Unlike some Americans, I actually want the Obamacare exchanges to succeed. I’ve given the state-specific options a try (there are 15 of them, including WashingtonD.C.’s) and they seem to greatly simplify the process of buying healthcare. And the rates do appear to come in far lower than what many people without health insurance from an employer have had to bear until now. It’s not government-run healthcare. There are no death panels. And, from what I can tell, the world will not end if more people have health insurance – quite the opposite, in fact.

What I cannot stand is a nation that has vast technological resources in its citizenry spending $500 million of our collective money to slap together a product that, thus far, has only managed to waste people’s precious minutes. So the next time our government comes up with any bright idea that relies upon a massive website, let’s all be sure to ask how they plan to build it. Because the standard operating procedure at the moment is just plain sick.


Tom Bevan of Real Clear Politics asks; “Why does Sebelius still have a job?”

Unlike the real world, where managers and employees are judged on results and held accountable for their performance, in Washington, D.C., loyalty and partisanship almost always come first. Accountability comes later, if it comes at all.

This happens in every administration, and President Obama’s is no different, as we’ve seen with the fatal mistakes made regarding the Fast & Furious gun program and in the assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Democrats, claiming to see these as partisan witch hunts designed to hurt the administration politically, circled the wagons. Obama stood loyally by Eric Holder and Hillary Clinton.

Loyalty is generally a good thing, in politics, as in life. But Kathleen Sebelius and her agency’s rollout of Obamacare is different.

Sebelius’ department had 3½ years to prepare to implement the Affordable Care Act. No one ever suggested that commandeering one-sixth of the American economy would be an easy task. (Many Republicans suggested the opposite and were dismissed as killjoys for their efforts.) But after the debacle of the last two weeks, liberals and Democrats—not conservatives or Republicans—should be calling for Sebelius’s head.

The administration’s handling of the implementation of Obamacare over the past three years has been a slow-moving train wreck: a mixture of embarrassing delays, hard-to-justify waivers, and assorted bad news about the unintended consequences of the law. …


Peggy Noonan says it should be delayed for a year.

The Obama administration has an implementation problem. More than any administration of the modern era they know how to talk but have trouble doing. They give speeches about ObamaCare but when it’s unveiled what the public sees is a Potemkin village designed by the noted architect Rube Goldberg. They speak ringingly about the case for action in Syria but can’t build support in the U.S. foreign-policy community, in Congress, among the public. Recovery summer is always next summer. They have trouble implementing. Which, of course, is the most boring but crucial part of governing. It’s not enough to talk, you must perform.

There is an odd sense with members of this administration that they think words are actions. Maybe that’s why they tweet so much. Maybe they imagine Bashar Assad seeing their tweets and musing: “Ah, Samantha is upset—then I shall change my entire policy, in respect for her emotions!”

That gets us to the real story of last week, this week and the future, the one beyond the shutdown, the one that normal people are both fully aware of and fully understand, and that is the utter and catastrophic debut of ObamaCare. Even for those who expected problems, and that would be everyone who follows government, it has been a shock.

They had 3½ years to set it up! They knew exactly when it would be unveiled, on Oct. 1, 2013. On that date, they knew, millions could be expected to go online to see if they benefit.

What they got was the administration’s version of Project ORCA, the Romney campaign’s computerized voter-turnout system that crashed with such flair on Election Day. …

October 13, 2013

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Mark Steyn continues with his look at the villainous behavior of the park service.

… Eighty-three percent of the supposedly defunded government is carrying on as usual, impervious to whatever restraints the people’s representatives might wish to impose, and the 800,000 soi-disant “non-essential” workers have been assured that, as soon as the government is once again lawfully funded, they will be paid in full for all the days they’ve had at home.

But the one place where a full-scale shutdown is being enforced is in America’s alleged “National Park Service,” a term of art that covers everything from canyons and glaciers to war memorials and historic taverns. The NPS has spent the last two weeks behaving as the paramilitary wing of the DNC, expending more resources in trying to close down open-air, unfenced areas than it would normally do in keeping them open. It began with the war memorials on the National Mall — that’s to say, stone monuments on pieces of grass under blue sky. It’s the equivalent of my New Hampshire town government shutting down and deciding therefore to ring the Civil War statue on the village common with yellow police tape and barricades.

Still, the NPS could at least argue that these monuments were within their jurisdiction — although they shouldn’t be. Not content with that, the NPS shock troops then moved on to insisting that privately run sites such as the Claude Moore Colonial Farm and privately owned sites such as Mount Vernon were also required to shut. When the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway declined to comply with the government’s order to close (an entirely illegal order, by the way), the “shut down” Park Service sent armed agents and vehicles to blockade the hotel’s driveway.

Even then, the problem with a lot of America’s scenic wonders is that, although they sit on National Park Service land, they’re visible from some distance. So, in South Dakota, having closed Mount Rushmore the NPS storm troopers additionally attempted to close the view of Mount Rushmore — that’s to say a stretch of the highway, where the shoulder widens and you can pull over and admire the stony visages of America’s presidents. Maybe it’s time to blow up Washington, Jefferson & Co. and replace them with a giant, granite sign rising into the heavens bearing the chiseled inscription “DON’T EVEN THINK OF PARKING DOWN THERE.” …


Jonathan Last with more on the park service’s performance during the shutdown.

… The conduct of the National Park Service over the last week might be the biggest scandal of the Obama administration. This is an expansive claim, of course. Benghazi, Fast and Furious, the IRS, the NSA, the HHS mandate​—​this is an administration that has not lacked for appalling abuses of power. And we still have three years to go.

Even so, consider the actions of the National Park Service since the government shutdown began. People first noticed what the NPS was up to when the World War II Memorial on the National Mall was “closed.” Just to be clear, the memorial is an open plaza. There is nothing to operate. Sometimes there might be a ranger standing around. But he’s not collecting tickets or opening gates. Putting up barricades and posting guards to “close” the World War II Memorial takes more resources and manpower than “keeping it open.”

The closure of the World War II Memorial was just the start of the Park Service’s partisan assault on the citizenry. There’s a cute little historic site just outside of the capital in McLean, Virginia, called the Claude Moore Colonial Farm. They do historical reenactments, and once upon a time the National Park Service helped run the place. But in 1980, the NPS cut the farm out of its budget. A group of private citizens set up an endowment to take care of the farm’s expenses. Ever since, the site has operated independently through a combination of private donations and volunteer workers.

The Park Service told Claude Moore Colonial Farm to shut down.

The farm’s administrators appealed this directive​—​they explained that the Park Service doesn’t actually do anything for the historic site. The folks at the NPS were unmoved. And so, last week, the National Park Service found the scratch to send officers to the park to forcibly remove both volunteer workers and visitors.

Think about that for a minute. The Park Service, which is supposed to serve the public by administering parks, is now in the business of forcing parks they don’t administer to close. As Homer Simpson famously asked, did we lose a war? …


Ed Morrissey says federal workers have become the president’s private army.

The United States established the Civil Service 142 years ago, in response to the massive corruption that followed from the previous “spoils system” in WashingtonDC.  Prior to that, all federal employees served at the pleasure of the President, and jobs got handed out to those who boosted the fortunes of the party in power. 

The result was rampant abuses of power, payoffs and kickbacks, and unaccountable performances at the federal level.  It took nearly 40 years to transform the federal workforce into an independent and professional corps, and almost 70 years before Congress formally forbade civil-service workers from conducting political activities, through the Hatch Act of 1939.

Seventy-four years later, the civil-service system has been exposed as a failure – at least in this administration.  Instead of an independent workforce of professionals who implement federal regulation in an even-handed and competent manner, we have returned to the era of partisan retribution and politically-motivated malevolence.

This goes far beyond the simple incompetence of government eminently displayed by the Department of Health and Human Services in its rollout of the Affordable Care Act exchanges.  Despite having three and a half years between the passage of the ACA and the start date of the exchanges, the federal and state websites launched on October 1st – and promptly crashed.  

Media outlets tried finding someone, anyone, who successfully navigated the system, only to come up with one person who just happened to be a volunteer at Organizing for America – which spent all year promoting Obamacare.  CBS News called this a “unicorn” hunt , while USA Today ripped the Obama administration for the “inexcusable mess” and “nightmare” of the exchanges. …


Michael Ramirez, who we see most often as a cartoonist has more. And the first five cartoons today are his also.  

Word came this week that the National Institutes of Health has suspended therapy-dog visits to sick children at its clinical center because of a 25% reduction in staff, even though volunteers run the program.

Seems the veterinarians who evaluate the dogs have been furloughed. So how about the frequently used dogs that have already been evaluated? No deal.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to fund NIH clinical trials for children with cancer. When asked why, if it could mean saving a single child, Reid replied: “Why would we do that?”

These are just kids, after all. Who cares if they’re in pain or die because of his intransigence and lack of compassion?

It’s comforting to know, however, that the House and Senate gyms are still open, that the government had enough money to buy a mechanical bull and, while the feds barricaded the open-air National Mall and threatened to fine and arrest those who walk there, they’ll let an immigration amnesty rally take place on those same grounds. …

October 9, 2013

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Here on the Virginia Peninsula bordered on the north by the York River, east by the Chesapeake Bay and south by the James, we have many federal facilities including those owned and operated by the national park service, the folks Mark Steyn said have become the “shock troops of the punitive bureaucracy.” The local paper, The Daily Press had a story today about one small business caught up in the country wide problems caused by the federal government’s Barrycades.

When Carrot Tree manager Glenn Helseth ran into the family of a long-time patron over the weekend who had hoped to celebrate her 100th birthday this week at the restaurant’s Yorktown location, he knew what he had to do.

“That’s when my resolve to open up began,” he said Tuesday.

The Carrot Tree restaurant’s Yorktown location opened at 11 a.m. Tuesday after being closed for a week as a result of the federal government shutdown. The restaurant was forced to close on Oct. 1 because of its location on Main Street in the Cole Digges House, which is owned by the National Park Service.

Park service policy requires that all concessions close during a federal government shutdown. The Carrot Tree is considered a concessioner. Rep. Rob Wittman‘s Yorktown office, which is located in a park service building next door to the Carrot Tree, is allowed to remain open because it operates under a lease that does not provide services to visitors. …


John Fund reminds us of the 100th birthday of the income tax.

… The income tax has also changed America. In 1956, Howard Buffett, a former conservative Nebraska congressman and the father of the much more liberal investor Warren Buffett, gave a speech decrying the tax’s pernicious effects:

“The last 40 years have seen a gigantic expansion of political power over economic affairs by the federal government. The change is linked by many scholars to the passage of the income tax law of 1913. This law revolutionized the taxing system in two ways:

1. It gave the government new powers over the economic status of the individual. This change has curtailed the ability of the individual to achieve economic independence.

2. The part of his production taken from the producer cumulatively increases the power of the federal government proportionately with the increase in its income. This power is not created. It is simply taken away from the people.”

Some will claim the government-shutdown fight is about Obamacare. Others will say it is about the long-term debt we are loading onto future generations. Liberals will claim it’s about Republicans’ petulance in the face of bills we must pay. But in no small part it is also about the size and scope of the federal government that the income tax ushered in exactly a century ago. That’s why it’s so fitting that the shutdown battle is happening right now. It’s time for rhetoric that rises above partisanship. It’s time for some reflection about what kind of country we’ve become — thanks to the income tax.


A happier celebration comes from the 30th anniversary of the month of September 1983 when the Reagan recovery was starting to take effect. That was the month when our economy added 1,114,000 jobs. The administration throws a party when the number gets north of 200,000 and that’s with an economy one third larger. Even factoring in the 640,000 jobs created by the end of an AT&T strike, we still had a growth of 750,000 in one month. James Pethokoukis has the story.

No September jobs report today, but oh to have been covering the economy when the September 1983 jobs report came out.

Back then, the BLS reported net new payrolls of 1,114,000. That’s right, over a million net new jobs in just one month. The Reagan Recovery was on.

That number is even more amazing when you consider the US labor force was a third smaller back then. The equivalent number of jobs today would be more like 1.6 million. In a single month. By contrast, analysts were looking for nonfarm payroll growth this month of around 180,000.

For all 1983, the US economy added 3.5 million new jobs, followed by 3.9 million in 1984.

Update: It has been noted that the September 1983 jobs number benefited roughly 640,000 AT&T workers returning from a strike. But even if you factor those jobs out, there were roughly 750,000 jobs created that month on a 2013 equivalent basis. Now that’s a jobs recovery!


Remember back in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when people who flooded the area with needed items were often referred to in derogatory terms for their “profiteering.” How is that different from one of the left’s heroes – Warren Buffett?  WSJ has the story of his profits from the troubles of others during the storm that hit our financial system in the last few years. The vigorish on the loan to B of A would make a loan shark proud. Pickerhead thinks people should be free to contract whether paying a high price for a generator or for a loan.

Billionaire Warren Buffett tossed lifelines to a handful of blue-chip companies during the financial crisis. Five years later the payoff on those deals is becoming clear: $10 billion and counting.

Mr. Buffett approached that figure after he collected another hefty payment last week, bringing to nearly 40% the pretax income on his crisis-era investments, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.

The bounty is a vivid illustration of one of Mr. Buffett’s favorite investing maxims: “Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.” …

… Mr. Buffett’s stake in Bank of America could pay off for years. Berkshire invested $5 billion in the bank in 2011, which adds about $300 million in annual pretax income. Bank of America Chief Executive Brian Moynihan recently said he doesn’t plan to buy back the preferred shares any time soon. Berkshire also has until 2021 to exercise warrants for 700 million common shares for an additional $5 billion at $7.14 a share. Based on the bank’s current stock price of about $14, the warrants create a paper profit of nearly $5 billion.


We opened today with a story about federal thugs making life difficult for citizens. We close with an editorial from the San Diego Union-Tribune which notes the administration had plenty of warning about the looming problems paying death benefits to fallen soldiers, but did nothing.

… On Wednesday, CNN reported that on Sept. 27, days before the shutdown began, the Pentagon was already telling reporters it planned to suspend death benefits.

So for two weeks, the Obama administration has been anticipating this nightmare would come to pass — and did nothing to pre-empt it. Only when the Pentagon began denying death benefits and the backlash began did the White House realize this ploy was a political misstep and seek a fix.

It is an appalling commentary on the president and his administration that they chose to bully the families of dead American soldiers for perceived political gain.

Shame on Barack Obama.

October 8, 2013

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NY Times Magazine with the story of the development of the iPhone. Believe it or not, Apple released the phone less than seven years ago.

The 55 miles from Campbell to San Francisco make for one of the nicest commutes anywhere. The journey mostly zips along the Junipero Serra Freeway, a grand and remarkably empty highway that abuts the east side of the Santa CruzMountains. It is one of the best places in Silicon Valley to spot a start-up tycoon speed-testing his Ferrari and one of the worst places for cellphone reception. For Andy Grignon, it was therefore the perfect place for him to be alone with his thoughts early on Jan. 8, 2007.

This wasn’t Grignon’s typical route to work. He was a senior engineer at Apple in Cupertino, the town just west of Campbell. His morning drive typically covered seven miles and took exactly 15 minutes. But today was different. He was going to watch his boss, Steve Jobs, make history at the Macworld trade show in San Francisco. Apple fans had for years begged Jobs to put a cellphone inside their iPods so they could stop carrying two devices in their pockets. Jobs was about to fulfill that wish. Grignon and some colleagues would spend the night at a nearby hotel, and around 10 a.m. the following day they — along with the rest of the world — would watch Jobs unveil the first iPhone.

But as Grignon drove north, he didn’t feel excited. He felt terrified. …


…Grignon had been part of the iPhone rehearsal team at Apple and later at the presentation site in San Francisco’s MosconeCenter. He had rarely seen Jobs make it all the way through his 90-minute show without a glitch. Jobs had been practicing for five days, yet even on the last day of rehearsals the iPhone was still randomly dropping calls, losing its Internet connection, freezing or simply shutting down. …


… Grignon knew the iPhone unveiling was not an ordinary product announcement, but no one could have anticipated what a seminal moment it would become. In the span of seven years, the iPhone and its iPad progeny have become among the most important innovations in Silicon Valley’s history. …


… It’s hard to overstate the gamble Jobs took when he decided to unveil the iPhone back in January 2007. Not only was he introducing a new kind of phone — something Apple had never made before — he was doing so with a prototype that barely worked. Even though the iPhone wouldn’t go on sale for another six months, he wanted the world to want one right then. In truth, the list of things that still needed to be done was enormous. A production line had yet to be set up. Only about a hundred iPhones even existed, all of them of varying quality. …


… Remarkably, Jobs had to be talked into having Apple build a phone at all. It had been a topic of conversation among his inner circle almost from the moment Apple introduced the iPod in 2001. The conceptual reasoning was obvious: consumers would rather not carry two or three devices for e-mail, phone calls and music if they could carry one. But every time Jobs and his executives examined the idea in detail, it seemed like a suicide mission. Phone chips and bandwidth were too slow for anyone to want to surf the Internet and download music or video over a cellphone connection. E-mail was a fine function to add to a phone, but Research in Motion’s BlackBerry was fast locking up that market.

Above all, Jobs didn’t want to partner with any of the wireless carriers. Back then the carriers expected to dominate any partnership with a phone maker, and because they controlled the network, they got their way. Jobs, a famed control freak, couldn’t imagine doing their bidding. …


… Jon Rubinstein, Apple’s top hardware executive at the time, says there were even long discussions about how big the phone would be. “I was actually pushing to do two sizes — to have a regular iPhone and an iPhone mini like we had with the iPod. I thought one could be a smartphone and one could be a dumber phone. But we never got any traction on the small one, and in order to do one of these projects, you really need to put all your wood behind one arrow.”

The iPhone project was so complex that it occasionally threatened to derail the entire corporation. Many top engineers in the company were being sucked into the project, forcing slowdowns in the timetables of other work. Had the iPhone been a dud or not gotten off the ground at all, Apple would have had no other big products ready to announce for a long time. And worse, according to a top executive on the project, the company’s leading engineers, frustrated by failure, would have left Apple. …


… When Jobs started talking about the iPhone on Jan. 9, 2007, he said, “This is a day I have been looking forward to for two and a half years.” Then he regaled the audience with myriad tales about why consumers hated their cellphones. Then he solved all their problems — definitively.

As Grignon and others from Apple sat nervously in the audience, Jobs had the iPhone play some music and a movie clip to show off the phone’s beautiful screen. He made a phone call to show off the phone’s reinvented address book and voice mail. He sent a text and an e-mail, showing how easy it was to type on the phone’s touch-screen keyboard. He scrolled through a bunch of photos, showing how simple pinches and spreads of two fingers could make the pictures smaller or bigger. He navigated The New York Times’s and Amazon’s Web sites to show that the iPhone’s Internet browser was as good as the one on his computer. He found a Starbucks with Google Maps — and called the number from the stage — to show how it was impossible to get lost with an iPhone.

By the end, Grignon wasn’t just relieved; he was drunk. He’d brought a flask of Scotch to calm his nerves. “And so there we were in the fifth row or something — engineers, managers, all of us — doing shots of Scotch after every segment of the demo. There were about five or six of us, and after each piece of the demo, the person who was responsible for that portion did a shot. When the finale came — and it worked along with everything before it, we all just drained the flask. It was the best demo any of us had ever seen. And the rest of the day turned out to be just a [expletive] for the entire iPhone team. We just spent the entire rest of the day drinking in the city. It was just a mess, but it was great.”


Andrew Malcolm with late night humor.

Leno: The National Zoo is closed due to the government shutdown. Only the pandas there are working because technically they work for China.

Fallon: After Congress failed to reach an agreement on a new spending bill, the federal government has officially shut down. So, roads won’t get fixed, public employees won’t be able to help you, and getting a federal loan for a house will be very difficult. But there will also be a lot of differences.

Leno: Obama has canceled his Asia trip, said he didn’t want to be in Indonesia not doing anything to solve the shutdown crisis when he could be at home not doing anything to solve the shutdown crisis.

Fallon: Michael Jordan says he could have beaten LeBron James one-on-one during his prime. James replied, ‘No kidding. I was nine then.’

Leno: How many are worried about the government shutdown? How many are more worried about the government starting back up?

October 7, 2013

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Time to look in on the IRS once again. The big news now is that obama’s chicago style IRS thugs went after Dr. Ben Carson after he had the temerity to criticize the one. Washington Times with the story.

Tea party groups, Franklin Graham, Christine O’Donnell, a pro-marriage group. And now Dr. Ben Carson.

The list of conservatives targeted by the Internal Revenue Service for audits, tax-exempt reviews or tax privacy breaches keeps growing, raising fresh questions in Washington about whether a scandal the Obama administration has blamed on bureaucratic incompetence and coincidence may in fact involve something more nefarious.

The latest revelation came Thursday from Dr. Carson, the renowned neurosurgeon who told The Washington Times that he was targeted for an audit just months after he gave a speech in front of President Obama that challenged America’s leadership. The agency requested to review his real estate holdings and then conducted a full audit.

In the end, the IRS found no wrongdoing, Dr. Carson said, but it raised his suspicions about being singled out for his speech.

“I guess it could be a coincidence, but I never had been audited before and never really had any encounters with the IRS,” Dr. Carson said in an interview. “But it certainly would make one suspicious because we know now the IRS has been used for political purposes and therefore actions like this come under suspicion.” …


IBD Editors say there’s no chance the Ben Carson audit was an accident.

… This is not a coincidence, any more than awakening with a severed horse’s head in your bed after being made “an offer you can’t refuse” is.

Someone — either within the IRS bureaucracy or above it — saw what Carson did, didn’t like it, and decided to make him pay. The American people must know who it was.

And there are two other crucial points to the victimization of this man who personifies the American Dream.

First, when a government is as big as ours has become, outrageous abuse from the soldiers of its financing machinery is inevitable, especially within a governmental climate that encourages it.

Second, there is no excuse for a president who’s been in office for more than four years failing to ensure that such outrages couldn’t happen.

Whether or not Obama instigated IRS abuse for political objectives, he is responsible for a culture within the bureaucracy that tolerated and even encouraged it.


Lois Lerner, recently fired from the IRS, can expect a pension with a lifetime value of $3,960,000. CNS News has this story.

Even before she retired last week, scandalized IRS official Lois Lerner’s compensation was already attracting attention.  While on administrative leave, federal rules allowed her to keep collecting a salary, one that reportedly totaled $177,000. So it was no surprise when speculation arose over how much Lerner could collect in federal pension benefits.

Unfortunately, that speculation, which initially projected a benefit of over $50,000, might be off by about half … and in the wrong direction.

National Taxpayers Union calculations show that Lerner could qualify for a starting pension at the annual equivalent of as much as $102,600, and up to $3.96 million over her lifetime.

The individual retirement choices of federal employees are not a matter of public record. However, precisely because NTU has been denied this information in the past (specifically pertaining to Members of Congress), we’ve developed the most accurate method available to provide solid estimates of how much federal employees can collect. …


CNS News also reports the IRS has only produced 10% of the documents demanded by congressional committees. 

 - The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee–which is probing the Internal Revenue Service’s discriminatory treatment of Tea Party and conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status–says the IRS has thus far handed over to the committee only about 10 percent of the documents the IRS itself has said are responsive to the committee’s demands for documents.

The committee subpoenaed the Treasury Department for relevant documents from the department and the IRS more than seven weeks ago at the beginning of August.

“To date, the IRS has produced to the committee only about 10 percent of all responsive materials that it has identified,” the committee’s majority staff said in a memo to committee members last Tuesday.

Committee staff confirmed to CNSNews.com today that the IRS has not produced a significant number of additional documents since that memo was circulated on Sept. 17, and that as of the afternoon of Monday, Sept. 23, the IRS’s total production of documents to the committee remained only about 10 percent of those the IRS has said are responsive

“In his letter of August 2, 2013, Acting Commissioner Werfel represented to the committee that the IRS has identified 660,000 responsive documents,” said the Oversight Committee majority staff memo. “The committee has received only 63,000 pages.” …


According to a WSJ OpEd, all of the IRS news has vanished from the three networks.

ABC, CBS and NBC have so far refused to report the latest bombshell in the IRS scandal – a newly released list from the agency that showed it flagged political groups for “anti-Obama rhetoric.” On September 18 USA Today, in a front page story, reported the following: “Newly uncovered IRS documents show the agency flagged political groups based on the content of their literature, raising concerns specifically about ‘anti-Obama rhetoric,’ inflammatory language and ‘emotional’ statements made by non-profits seeking tax-exempt status.”

Not only have ABC, CBS and NBC not reported this story they’ve flat out stopped covering the IRS scandal on their evening and morning shows. It’s been 85 days since ABC last touched the story on June 26. NBC hasn’t done a report for 84 days and CBS last mentioned the IRS scandal 56 days ago on July 24. …


Leonard Downie, former WaPo executive editor, details how reporters are learning to fight back against administration sleuths.

In the Watergate era, the Nixon administration’s telephone wiretaps were the biggest concern for journalists and sources worried about government surveillance. That was one of the reasons why Bob Woodward met with FBI official Mark Felt (a.k.a. “Deep Throat”) in an underground parking garage in Arlington, and why he and Carl Bernstein did much of their reporting by knocking on the front doors of their sources’ homes. Except for the aborted prosecution of Daniel Ellsberg for the leak of the Pentagon Papers, criminal culpability or pervasive surveillance were not major concerns, especially after Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in 1974.

Not so now. With the passage of the Patriot Act after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a vast expansion of intelligence agencies and their powers, the aggressive exploitation of intrusive digital surveillance capabilities, the excessive classification of public documents and officials’ sophisticated control of the news media’s access to the workings of government, journalists who cover national security are facing vast and unprecedented challenges in their efforts to hold the government accountable to its citizens. They find that government officials are increasingly fearful of talking to them, and they worry that their communications with sources can be monitored at any time.

So what are they doing? Many reporters covering national security and government policy in Washington these days are taking precautions to keep their sources from becoming casualties in the Obama administration’s war on leaks. They and their remaining government sources often avoid telephone conversations and e-mail exchanges, arranging furtive one-on-one meetings instead. A few news organizations have even set up separate computer networks and safe rooms for journalists trained in encryption and other ways to thwart surveillance.

“I worry now about calling somebody because the contact can be found out through a check of phone records or e-mails,” said veteran national security journalist R. Jeffrey Smith of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit accountability news organization. “It leaves a digital trail that makes it easier for government to monitor those contacts.”

“We have to think more about when we use cellphones, when we use e-mail and when we need to meet sources in person,” said Michael Oreskes, senior managing editor of the Associated Press. “We need to be more and more aware that government can track our work without talking to our reporters, without letting us know.” …

October 6, 2013

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Mark Steyn has wonderful words for the people who shut down the World War Two memorial in DC. Steyn is always making up new words and his tour de force today is his word for the barriers set up by the park service all over our country. Mark calls them Barrycades.

… Nevertheless, just because it’s a phony crisis doesn’t mean it can’t be made even phonier. The perfect symbol of the shutdown-simulacrum so far has been the World War II Memorial. This is an open-air facility on the National Mall — that’s to say, an area of grass with a monument at the center. By comparison with, say, the IRS, the National Parks Service is not usually one of the more controversial government agencies. But, come “shutdown,” they’re reborn as the shock troops of the punitive bureaucracy. Thus, they decided to close down an unfenced open-air site — which oddly enough requires more personnel to shut than it would to keep it open.

So the Parks Service dispatched their own vast army to the World War II Memorial to ring it with barricades and yellow “Police Line — Do Not Cross” tape strung out like the world’s longest “We Support Our Troops” ribbon. For good measure, they issued a warning that anybody crossing the yellow line would be liable to arrest — or presumably, in extreme circumstances, the same multi-bullet ventilation that that mentally ill woman from Connecticut wound up getting from the coppers. In a heartening sign that the American spirit is not entirely dead, at least among a small percentage of nonagenarians, a visiting party of veterans pushed through the barricades and went to honor their fallen comrades, mordantly noting for reporters that, after all, when they’d shown up on the beach at Normandy it too had not been officially open.

One would not be altogether surprised to find the feds stringing yellow police tape along the Rio Grande, the 49th Parallel, and the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, if only to keep Americans in rather than anybody else out. Still, I would like to have been privy to the high-level discussions at which the government took the decision to install its Barrycades on open parkland. For anyone with a modicum of self-respect, it’s difficult to imagine how even the twerpiest of twerp bureaucrats would consent to stand at a crowd barrier and tell a group of elderly soldiers who’ve flown in from across the country that they’re forbidden to walk across a piece of grass and pay their respects. Yet, if any National Parks Service employee retained enough sense of his own humanity to balk at these instructions or other spiteful, petty closures of semi-wilderness fishing holes and the like, we’ve yet to hear about it.

The World War II Memorial exists thanks to some $200 million in private donations — plus $15 million or so from Washington: In other words, the feds paid for the grass. But the thug usurpers of the bureaucracy want to send a message: In today’s America, everything is the gift of the government, and exists only at the government’s pleasure, whether it’s your health insurance, your religious liberty, or the monument to your fallen comrades. The Barrycades are such a perfect embodiment of what James Piereson calls “punitive liberalism” they should be tied round Obama’s neck forever, in the way that “ketchup is a vegetable” got hung around Reagan-era Republicans. Alas, the court eunuchs of the Obama media cannot rouse themselves even on behalf of the nation’s elderly warriors. …


Wesley Pruden found a park service ranger with some sense of decency.

… The Park Service appears to be closing streets on mere whim and caprice. The rangers even closed the parking lot at Mount Vernon, where the plantation home of George Washington is a favorite tourist destination. That was after they barred the new World War II Memorial on the Mall to veterans of World War II. But the government does not own Mount Vernon; it is privately owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. The ladies bought it years ago to preserve it as a national memorial. The feds closed access to the parking lots this week, even though the lots are jointly owned with the Mount Vernon ladies. The rangers are from the government, and they’re only here to help.

“It’s a cheap way to deal with the situation,” an angry Park Service ranger in Washington says of the harassment. “We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can. It’s disgusting.” …


Charles Krauthammer explains how he thinks we got to this.

… The most ubiquitous conventional wisdom is that the ultimate cause of these troubles is out-of-control tea party anarchists.

But is this really where the causal chain ends? The tea party was created by Obama’s first-term overreach, most specifically Obama­care. Today’s frantic fight against it is the echoing result of the way it was originally enacted.

From Social Security to civil rights to Medicaid to Medicare, never in the modern history of the country has major social legislation been enacted on a straight party-line vote. Never. In every case, there was significant reaching across the aisle, enhancing the law’s legitimacy and endurance. Yet Obama­care — which revolutionizes one-sixth of the economy, regulates every aspect of medical practice and intimately affects just about every citizen — passed without a single GOP vote.

The Democrats insist they welcomed contributing ideas from Republicans. Rubbish. Republicans proposed that insurance be purchasable across state lines. They got nothing. They sought serious tort reform. They got nothing. Why? Because, admitted Howard Dean, Democrats didn’t want to offend the trial lawyers.

Moreover, the administration was clearly warned. Republican Scott Brown ran in the most inhospitable of states, Massachusetts, on the explicit promise to cast the deciding vote blocking Obamacare. It was January 2010, the height of the debate. He won. Reid ignored this unmistakable message of popular opposition and conjured a parliamentary maneuver — reconciliation — to get around Brown.

Nothing illegal about that. Nothing illegal about ramming it through without a single opposition vote. Just totally contrary to the modern American tradition — and the constitutional decency — of undertaking major social revolutions with only bipartisan majorities. Having stuffed Obamacare down the throats of the GOP and the country, Democrats are now paying the price. …


John Steele Gordon posts on Alice in Wonderland comments.

Politicians fudge the truth all the time. And sometimes they flat-out lie. Bill Clinton’s infamous, “I did not have sex with that woman,” is the modern exemplar of presidential mendacity. At least it was until yesterday, when Barack Obama gave John Harwood of CNBC an interview. One response to a question makes President Clinton’s finger-wagging whopper sound like the Gettysburg Address:

‘PRESIDENT OBAMA: John, I think it’s fair to say that—during the course of my presidency—I have bent over backwards to work with—the Republican party. And have purposely kept my rhetoric down. I think I’m pretty well known for being a calm guy. Sometimes people think I’m too calm.” ‘

The mind boggles. This is a president who did not meet with the Republican minority leader in the Senate until a year and a half into his presidency; who excluded Republicans from any part in the shaping of the ObamaCare legislation, and forced it through on a strictly party-line vote; who excluded Republicans from any input on the stimulus bill; who invited Paul Ryan to a conference on health care and then insulted him to his face when Ryan could not reply; who accused Republicans of wanting only to deny health care to 30 million Americans; who called them “bitter clingers,” and told his supporters to get in their faces.

The only thing President Obama, the most divisive, partisan president in the history of the republic, has ever bent over backwards to do was to get out of a sand trap. He has kept his rhetoric down only to the extent of not advocating violence against Republicans.

I’m not a psychiatrist, so I don’t know whether this is just an utterly cynical remark, made in the knowledge that the lap-dog media will not call him on it, or whether it is an artifact of deep problems in telling reality from fantasy.

History will not treat this man kindly.


David French says the closing of the WW Two memorial is a perfect symbol of government malice.

The mainstream media is in the midst of one of its regular exercises in completely missing a wave of groundswell conservative anger — this time over the closing of the World War II Memorial. It’s as if the entire conservative case against the Obama administration’s incompetence, malice, and inefficiency was boiled down into one incident. …


Jonah Goldberg says we’re getting a good view of the president’s vindictive streak. We call it government by valerie jarrett.

… What’s unusual is the way Obama sees the government as a tool for his ideological agenda. During the fight over the sequester, Obama ordered the government to make the 2 percent budget cut as painful and scary as possible.

“It’s going to be very painful for the flying public,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned Americans.

“The FAA’s all-hands furloughs managed to convert a less than 4 percent FAA budget cut into a 10 percent air-traffic control cut that would delay 40 percent of flights,” the Wall Street Journal noted at the time. 

The Department of Homeland Security announced it might not be able to protect the nation’s borders, and in an effort to prove the point summarily released a couple thousand of immigrant detainees, many of them with criminal records.

Obama, the avowed problem solver, set out to create problems for the American people, just to prove how great government is and how crazy Republicans were for wanting to cut spending — much of the money borrowed from China — a little. But don’t you dare call him an ideologue!

Now, with the government shutdown and the looming fight over the debt ceiling, Obama’s doubling down on this ideologically perverse strategy.

The National Park Service, which has somehow become the unofficial goon squad of American liberalism, reversed course and let American World War II vets visit the WWII memorial in Washington, D.C. This is obviously good news. (I was waiting to see if Steven Spielberg would come out with a new Obama-friendly director’s cut of Saving Private Ryan in which the old guy at the end is dragged off in cuffs before he can reach Tom Hanks’s grave.)

Still, it cost the government more money to try to keep WWII vets out of an open-air memorial than it would have to just leave it be. In Virginia, the NPS ordered the Claude Moore Colonial Farm to shut down, even though it’s privately funded.

Far worse, Obama told CNBC’s John Harwood that Wall Street should be far more panicky about Republican efforts to use the debt ceiling to win concessions from the White House. I don’t blame Obama for being annoyed with Republicans for trying to use the debt ceiling the exact same way he did when he was a senator. But normally a sitting president doesn’t try to talk down the economy just to win a political point. …


Bloomberg News reports on the strange juxtapositions of what’s closed and what’s open. For example, grocery stores on Army bases are closed while the golf course used by the president on Andrews Air Force Base is open.

Grocery stores on Army bases in the U.S. are closed. The golf course at Andrews Air Force base is open.

All 128 employees of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. are working, while 3,000 safety inspectors employed by the Federal Aviation Administration are off the job.

The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing new pharmaceuticals. The National Institutes of Health is turning away new patients for clinical trials.

The seeming randomness of the U.S. government’s first shutdown in 17 years can be explained in part by anomalies in the spending Congress does and doesn’t control. Activities funded by fees from drug, financial-services and other companies are insulated from year-to-year budget dysfunction. The ones that get a budget from Congress get hit. …

October 4, 2013

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Today’s special Shutdown edition of Pickings starts with Craig Pirrong at Streetwise Professor.

… Look.  I think that Obamacare is a disaster, but that the Republicans played this like idiots: they aren’t known as the Stupid Party for nothing.  Ted Cruz was a debating star at Princeton who thought that studying with alums of “lower Ivies” (like Penn) at Harvard Law was beneath him, but he strategized this like the holder of a diploma from a penitentiary correspondence school. If anything, this strategy has cemented Obamacare, rather than undermined it.

But the most important cause of the current impasse is that a hardcore partisan president is partisan out of near religious conviction in his righteousness, and the near religious conviction that his opponents are evil.  He is willing to compromise on things he doesn’t really care about-and Syria and Iran fall into that category-but it’s a zero sum game to him on domestic matters. He doesn’t want to win: he wants to extirpate his enemies. Beginning to understand this, the Republicans have every incentive to double down.  Meaning that the conflict and crisis will only metastasize.

Every day I pray more fervently that Adam Smith (“much ruin in a country”) and Bismarck (“a special providence for  . . . the United States of America”) are right. We’re testing both.


John Fund corrects some of the misconceptions about the 1995 shutdown.

… Deeply ingrained in the psyche of every congressional Republican is the government shutdown of 1995, for which Republicans were blamed. While many Republicans now believe the shutdown was a mistake, more think the problem was that the party lost its nerve.

Former Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos, now host of ABC’s This Week, has validated that view. In his memoir, he wrote that Democrats, until then holding out against the Republicans’ budget-limiting efforts, were close to blinking. “Clinton was grumpy, the rest of us were grim,” until suddenly news came that Senate majority leader Bob Dole and House speaker Newt Gingrich were blinking first. “Whether the cause was hubris, naïveté, or a failure of nerve,” Stephanopoulos explained, “the Republicans had blown their best chance to splinter our party; from that point on, everything started breaking our way.”

Dick Morris, then a top Clinton strategist, agrees with Stephanopoulos’s analysis. In his book Behind the Oval Office: Getting Reelected Against All Odds he writes, “We were greatly surprised when the Republicans surrendered by offering to reopen the government without getting a budget deal and without any commitments from us other than to balance the budget in seven years based on [Congressional Budget Office] numbers. We all knew this was GOP surrender.”

“What was frustrating about it is, is that we were this close,” Ed Gillespie, a top aide to then-House majority leader Dick Armey, told Fox News years later. Republicans were on the verge of “winning the government shutdown fight. In my estimation, if we’d have hung in there 48 hours more, the worm was about to turn. . . . If we’d had the strength to hang in there another two days, we would have done it on our terms. But we didn’t.”

President Obama and Senate majority leader Harry Reid have read that history and are determined to wait until the markets, or angry constituents or poll numbers, drive the Republicans into another surrender. But Obama knows the longer the shutdown continues, the more he stands to lose. …


WSJ OpEd also corrects some bad history.

As the government shutdown continues, the nation gets closer and closer to the day—probably Oct. 17—when Washington hits the debt limit, and with it the specter of default. President Obama may be getting nervous about what will happen to his negotiating position as that day approaches.

He keeps asserting that the debt limit has never been used “to extort a president or a government party.” Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is selling the same story, saying “until very recently, Congress typically raised the debt ceiling on a routine basis . . . the threat of default was not a bargaining chip in the negotiations.”

This is simply untrue. Consider the shenanigans of congressional Democrats in 1989 over Medicare’s catastrophic health coverage provision. …


And a WaPo OpEd with the same.

One party controls the White House and the Senate by less than the margin needed to end a filibuster, and the other party controls the House by a wide margin. A fundamental conflict over government spending is at the heart of an impasse that leads to a shutdown of the federal government.

The year is not 2013 but 1981 . . . and 1982, 1984, 1986 and 1987. That’s right, the Reagan years, when President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill would work things out and avoid having to close the Washington Monument. With all due respect to Chris Matthews and other purveyors of this narrative popular in today’s Washington, the reality was quite different.

I joined the staff of the Office of Personnel Management in 1981. Soon after, several decisive actions by the president demonstrated his determination to show that lines had been crossed. One came in August with the firing of striking air traffic controllers. Another came Nov. 20, when Reagan vetoed an appropriations bill that did not achieve at least half of his proposed reduction of $8.4 billion in domestic spending. In the absence of appropriations, the administration shut down the government for four days. …


Yuval Levin on what the end might look like. 

NR’s Bob Costa, whose reporting on Congress has been second to none, has been reporting all week that John Boehner thinks the CR and debt-ceiling mess could end in a meaningful budget deal. Others have now confirmed his reporting, and apparently Boehner has been making the case to members and brought it up at yesterday’s White House meeting. 

Could it work? Stranger things have happened, though I can’t think of very many right now. But I think the term “grand bargain,” which Bob and others have been using, isn’t right to describe what Boehner and some other House Republicans seem to have in mind. From what has been reported so far, it seems like they’re talking about a fairly modest deal to move some of the sequester caps upward and replace the savings (which come from discretionary cuts) with equal savings that come from entitlement cuts. What might that look like? …

… The Democrats, meanwhile, have locked themselves into a position of total intransigence on the debt ceiling and say they will only negotiate on the budget if Republicans send them a clean one (in other words, one that involves no negotiation). They’ve been confident that they can sustain the argument that Republicans won’t compromise even as Democrats refuse to compromise. They know they can count on a friendly media narrative, and it has mostly succeeded so far, but they also know they are vulnerable on the Vitter amendment, that the House’s small-bill strategy is cracking their wall a little, and that at the end of the day there really has to be an increase in the debt ceiling. They have been very poorly served by their leadership, especially Harry Reid’s bizarre repressed rage; they began their negotiations at the Republicans’ budget numbers and so have never had anything substantive to win in this process; and they risk losing any symbolic victory if they can’t back down from their total obstinacy.    

The way out of this jam (which is a much bigger jam for Republicans than Democrats, let’s be clear) would therefore need to be an agreement that Republicans can honestly present as a debt-ceiling deal that involves a budget compromise and Democrats can honestly present as a budget deal that involves a debt-ceiling increase. That’s what the outcome Boehner seems to envision would offer. In the process, some portion of the sequester caps would be lifted without increasing overall spending and some modest entitlement reforms would be enacted without fundamental changes the Democrats detest. 

Could it work? Maybe. But the political system that could pull it off would probably not have gotten into the situation that requires it.


Very good cartoons today.