Category Archives: Obamacare

The Obama Legacy


Historians will debate the importance of the Obama Administration and its role in American history for decades to come, of course. The legacy which presidents leave behind them is always a concern of our chief executives, and it has been of even more importance to Barack Obama. As he marked a milestone in his tour of duty. leaving on a foreign tour, with a successor he opposed now chosen, he publicly drew his own optimistic record. He carefully picked, of course, in a press conference, what he considered the best interpretation of events over the last eight years. But at least for the time being, when his policies and their repercussions are still relatively fresh, it is hard to draw a balance sheet which is less than disastrous.
Obama, of course, perhaps more than any other recent president, is an ideologue – and he insisted in his political campaigns that he aimed at a “transformation” of American society. His framework for events is a combination of his studies of history but overlaid by the socialist and pro-Communist views of the little social-political group around the University of Chicago who launched his career.
There is no doubt that he has effected changes, whether they are indeed transformations, and whether any have been beneficiary, only time will tell.
But any honest examination of the effects of his strategies is a record of miscalculation and failures. Perhaps the most dramatic ones have been in foreign policy. His campaign to withdraw American power and decision-making from the international scene has demonstrated what had always been apparent to serious students of foreign affairs: the enormous power of the U.S., economic, political and military, has a role in any international confrontation even when Washington chooses to remain neutral or withdraw its influence. A world order without U.S. participation is not only unimaginable to our allies but something our adversaries always question as a possibility.
The Middle East is the most dramatic example of the failure of Obama’s effort to remove American leadership and power in the interelated conflicts there. First, his effort to weaken the U.S.-Israel alliance encouraged the Moslem terrorists in the area. Then, Sec. Hillary Clinton’s courted the brief Moslem Brotherhood regime in Egypt – overthrown by the military through popular demand. Obama and Hillary attempted to boycott the new military rulers thus providing an opportunity for Russian arms sales and influence where it had been expelled a half century ago by pro-Western Egtptians. In Syria, Obama’s initial declaration of opposition to the Basher al Assad regime was followed by withdrawal. Washington’s retreat assured the descent into a bloody, irresolute civil war sending a flood of millions of refugees into neighboring countries and Europe. The threat of force followed by its withdrawal has returned Moscow to a base in the eastern Mediterranean and helped extend Tehran mullahs’ state terrorisn excesses across the Fertile Crescent, even into Latin America. A treaty to curb Tehran’s nuclear weapons, never submitted to the Senate as the Constitution fdemands, is rapidly disintegrating
In East and South Asia, Obama’s ambivalent policies toward Chinese aggression have encouraged Beijing to aggressive territorial claims against its neighbors, discouraged unity among the Southeast Asians against Chinese Communist threats. Again Hillary’s much publicized pivot to the Western Pacific has failed to materialize. Slowly, the rape of the American economy by the Chinese through export subsides and currency manipulation – begun in the Bush Administrations — has become so clear that the Trump Administration qill have no option but a dangerous crackdown.
Obama’s role as the first American Afro-American president was, whether admitted in public discussion, seen as an important opportunity to continue to heal the historic American race problem. But whether in part because his own exotic background linked him neither to the rising black middle class nor the poor of the ghetto, he either took nondefensible positions on individual race incidents or neglected completely the mayhem of his own Chicago hometown. One has to assume that the American black leadership can only see these past eight years as a failure by a president, whatever his color, to contribute to solution of the race problem which appears to most observers to be in an even worse condition than at his entry into office.
Obama’s claim for his Affordable Care solution to long-term U.S. medical care is nearing collapse with skyrocketing costs and failure of the insurance framework which was to support it. His steady stream of executive directives for additional regulation and environmental restraints has contributed toward the slowest and most erratic economic recovery since World War II.
Despite his rhetorical skills and personal popularity as the first black president, Obama’s legacy will be a negative one. As the anti-Obama vote for Donald Trump has demonstrated, it will also cast a shadow on many of the techniques and political forms his very talented political team gave the nation.
sws-11-14-16

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The decision laying on the table


In the last critical hours before the American people decide their new leadership, the hyperbole will mount into near hysteria. Much, if not most, of what is said is either irrelevant or grossly inaccurate. Even the descriptive monologues of The Talking Heads are either exaggerated or dead wrong.
No, it is not certain this is the most important election in history, even recent history. That would have to left to historians with a more dispassionate view decades if not centuries from now.
No, it is not the most dramatic or controversial presidential election ever. Greybeards will remember when a dashing, young, handsome utilities executive organized the balconies at Philidelphia in 1940 to wrestle away the convention from the floor and domination of the historic Taft family of Cincinnati. [In many ways he set the style for the Kennedy brothers a generation or so later.]
No, not the most drama ever? going to work an early November 1948 morning on an overnight shift through an empty Time Square bereft of its NYC Democrats only to find a few minutes later that Harry S Truman had won a victory that surprised almost everyone included the professional politicians.
American presidential campaigns have always been as much show and tell as serious electoral proceedings. The parties were one of the few major governing features the Founding Fathers did not envisage. But even the otherise untouchable George Washington complained to his Thomas Jefferson follower, soon to be president himself, that Democratic-Republican critics were out of hand in their fight against they saw as the royalist Federalists around the first president.
None of this is to minimize the importance of the decision coming in next week’s voting booths. [Early voters by mail or whatever as a new innovation not to be discounted]. The voters are being given a choice of two candidates who may represent more differences than usual. They are not reflected in the policy arguments – which have been few and far between. Hillary Clinton, despite her enormous reliance on the Baracl Obama Presidency’s support, would likely drift quickly away from many of his policies, the disastrous Obamacare and the American overseas withdrawal where she is quietly much more hawkish.
But it is the tone that sets the two contenders apart, not their differences on policies. One has to take Donald Trump’s more flamboyant throw-away proposals with more than a dash of salt. Yes, Washington and the American people have tired of bearing what they consider an overload for the maintenance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But the argument, like all policy conundrums, is complex: is the solution in an expansion of European forces in thegface of new Russian aggression in Georgia, Crimea, Ukraine. There are the complicated payments for resident American forces [which in any event would have to be maintained if in North America]. It’s an old and complicated argument, as old as the Treaty itself. But as the most successful alliance in history, NATO won”t be abandoned overnight whatever Trump’s throwaway suggestion.
But what Trump is adding to the political mix is a sense of the amateur, the non-professional political – one he rides to success on and cherishes. He may know, as he claims and which seems likely, that as a successful big businessman he has more than the novice’s share of understanding of how the system operates. That makes him, he claims in an interesting argument, the one to best tackle and reform it.
But what really sets this election apart – if, indeed, it is that unique – is that that the amateurism which Trump represents and the knowledgeable if tarnished professionalism of Hillary introduce a new and basic “feel” to the contest. There’s little doubt that Trump has reversed the traditional party roles, the mystic that the Democrats since at least Franklin Roosevelt’s time that they represented the little people and their Grand Old Party opponents were the creatures of Wall Street. We may never see those speeches Hillary gave at enormous fees for the corporations [nor Bill gold auxiliary speaking tours from the Clinton Foundation] but her ties to big capital are now well known.
The big policy questions may indeed be how much Trump could and would change major trends in the U.S. economy with his “amateurism”. Some of his [and Hilary’s] economic promises are downright foolish. Neither can nor would “return” the “jobs” they are promising. Washington’s actual contribution to the economy – even with such expensive outlays as FDR’s and Obama’s – has minimal effect. In fact, what business craves at the moment is the withdrawal of Washington’s bear hug. Meeting the demand for jobs against a tsunami of technology which is routinely eliminating them would be an enormous feat; America’s economy even traveling at its current slow rate demonstrates that new phenomenon.
So what’s at stake in a few hours is not thoughtful contradiction of ideas but the contest between a rank if talented amateur and a gifted is tarnished politico.
sws-11-04-16

Obamacare Catastrophe


As it enters its seventh year the enormity of the disaster of the Obama Administration’s effort to solve American health care problems continues to grow.
Nor will it be that easy to untangle its effects on the whole medical industry as statements from some of the presidential candidates indicate.
First of course are the astronomical costs which Obamacare has incurred.
The latest Congressional Budget Office report, released last week, estimates that over the next ten years Obamacare will add $1.4 trillion to the nation’s debt — were it to continue to exist.
Much of the discussion about the cost of the whole medical scene is totally unrealistic. Candidate Hillary Clinton, for example, after proposing new and expensive additions to Obamacare – while criticizing her opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders for suggesting expansion of Medicare to all as unrealistic – proposes a completely nonsensical solution. She would put a 4% tax on millionaires to pay for the increased costs she acknowledges would occur. Unfortunately that would yield only about $150 billion over ten years, a tiny fraction of what her proposed additional new tax credits under the plan would require.
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said last May that the ill-fated Obamacare website, the heart of the new regime, cost $834 million to build. But Bloomberg Government, put the total cost at $2.1 billion. It continues to be a hazard for any medical progress, or even to fathom what is happening.
Obamacare’s central skeleton, the coops of insured which were intended to inject competition and therefore lower prices into medical services, have been another disaster. All but 12 of the original 23 have failed and Congressional critics doubt that the $1.2 billion loaned them will be repaid.
Obamacare’s principal intent, to bring into the insurance fold the vast numbers of Americans who had no health insurance, is also dubious. Of the more than 11 million who signed up by the end of enrollment in 2015, three million had dropped out by the end of the year and all told 25% either didn’t buy into the plan or dropped out according to the Heritage Foundation. Although Obamacare spokesmen claimed they had been successful in enlisting non-insured persons in the program, only 10 states have more insured on the Obamacare rolls.
One of the most quoted of the promises by the President for the program has evaporated. Insurers are drastically reducing your choice of doctors and hospitals to cut costs. Among the industry stalwarts it is called “narrowing networks”. The average insured person can expect even fewer choices in the future, according to the Heritage Foundation..
Politically, perhaps the worst aspect of Obamacare is the constant call by its opponents – and the taunts of its few remaining supporters, even in the Administration – for the critics to come up with an alternative plan. But to do so would without doubt create another and equally crippling disaster.
The fact is that resolving the complexities of the American medical scene in one “comprehensive” program has always been an invitation to debacle. The medical complex accounts for one-sixth of the American economy. And, of course, an even more perplexing problem is that it is constantly changing, in no small part because of the progress of American medicine in many fields which however requires new and expensive technology. The often quoted comparisons with medical programs in other countries – especially by those advocates of government “single payer” systems – often ignore the statistics on health problems in the U.S. A good example is the survival rates for breast cancer which are so much better here than the most advanced European health systems.
That does not mean that strenuous effort should not be made, first to repeal most of Obamacare, and secondly to proceed with some individual relatively simple common sense solutions. Obamacare ignored the cabals that exist in most states between legislatures and favored insurers which prohibit buying insurance across statelines. Simply removing that barricade would go a long way toward beginning the kind of competition that could reduce health costs. Let’s take it one step at a time.
sws-03-30-16

The health muddle [cont.]


The health muddle [cont.]
Just as it looked like it couldn’t get much worse, new statistical evidence shows that health insurance is getting more expensive for most workers because of the increase in deductions.
Employer-provided health plans are defying earlier predictions their numbers would decrease in the face of new Obamacare regulations. But while the overall number of plans did not decrease appreciably, the plans’ members were hit in 2015 on the average with nearly 9% in more than $1,000-deductions. That means, of course, that the average worker is carrying a bigger part of the total plan expense than before.
The increases continued an already growing trend. The average deductible before their insurance kicks in has more than tripled from $303 in 2006 to $1,077 today. It also explains, to some extent, why workers’ wages have flattened. In their negotiations with employers they have taken medical insurance benefits stead of higher wages. It explains why these deductibles have increased more than seven times the increase in wages. It also explains why although increases in medical insurance premiums to an individual worker have actually fallen, by 1% over 2014, for the first time in a decade [even though they are up 3% for family plans]. In effect, the worker is exchanging any increase in premiums for higher deductibles.
That also means that one of the principle, if infinitely complicated aspects of Obamacare, has been having little effect. The Affordable Care Act [Obamacare] was supposed to supply subsidies through marketplace funds to offset increases in premiums. But aside from all the difficulties of getting these funds into place – state-administered funds versus federal funds – the growing difficulty for the average wage-earner is this increase in deductibles [and co-pays] rather than the premium itself.
A Kaiser Family Foundation’s study reports the average deductible for a more liberal plan this year is more than $2,500. So that predictions of critics of Obamacare that it would undermine company plans so far is now being born out. Of course, this is being reinforced by the so-called employer mandate in Obamacare which requires employers with 100 workers provide health benefits, a figure which drops to 50 workers in 2016. Business circles argue that this requirement is eating into overall employment, accounting in part for the growing structural unemployment rates even while the economy sputters to regain its footing. Management is reluctant to add workers and wherever possible will try to get under the ceilings.
Another piece of bad news in the Kaiser study is that the Obamacare’s 13% tax on so-called “Cadillac” plans offered by employers has led many companies to withdraw them. Opposition to the tax is coming as much from the Obama Administration’s normally loyal unions as from business circles.
It’s hard not to say we told you so. The slap-dash, one-party, Obama Administration’s effort to solve the infinitely complicated problems of modern medical care, a sixth of the economy, in one piece of legislation was always doomed. No one should minimize the problem of matching the growing technology, much of it expensive in its initial development, to the demands of an aging population. But we would plead with the critics of Obamacare, especially those determined to wipe it out and start over, not to look for any “golden key” solutions.
The problems of applying the incredible achievements in medical science to a growing population require study and compromise. These can best be made on a case by case basis, in a series of pieces of legislation, which may in some optimistic future be collected, but for the moment require attention to detail. It is one of the few issues which unitrs all Americans, and we wait impatiently for solutions – not a solution..
sws-09-22-15

Who’s Obama’s candidate?


It’s a question that may be just over the horizon.
There’s been a lot of talk about Pres. Barack Obama’s concern with his “legacy”. Some of his more robust recent controversial stretches of executive power have been seen as a reaction to six years of less than effective liaison, first with his Democratic controlled Congress, then with a Republican House, and now with both chambers in the hands of his political opponents. It hasn’t left a great bundle of monuments, especially with Obamacare under constant attack.
There’s a general consensus, too, that Obama won the presidency, particularly in the second term, with a unique political machine, maximizing the new digital revolution. There is agreement, too, that much of this was outside the purviews of the once mighty Big City Democratic machines, and that while eroded, that bundle of knowhow could constitute a force in the 2016 elections if resuscitated
All this to say that Obama can be seen as could play an important role in the coming campaign as it gains momentum, even though he keeps saying he has had his last election and no one yet takes seriously hints about the UN Secretary-Generalship coming up shortly.
At the other end of the ballpark, the candidacy of Hillary Clinton is rapidly loosing steam. She originally went for a strategy of coronation, as a former First Lady, Senator, and longtime political insider But she has little if any of the charisma of her husband who comes across even to his enemies as a somewhat quintessential Peck’s bad boy. Nor, especially after the Obama presidency, does she have his appeal to the black voter, traditionally always lax at the polls, or the purported Hispanic vote with two prominent Cuban Americans thrashing it out on the other side of the great divide.
This week’s explosive denials of accusations of her manipulation of government e-mails, however unspontaneous, are an evidence that the coronation strategy has worn thin. It may have to give way to old-fashioned electioneering with all the possibilities of missteps which her wooden public personality exaggerate. With so many young Republican contenders, it is too easy to label Hillary as yesterday’s candidate. Of course, there is Vice President Joe Bidden, the crazy uncle from the attic, but with two failed campaigns under his extended belt, that doesn’t seem too strong a possibility.
But it was from the White House that the first leaks, apparently, came about Hillary’s own personal server carrying her e-mails from a closet in a toilet. [To flush them down, just in case.] And then that FBI investigation? Yeah, we know the FBI is nonpolitical, that this investigation is limited to whether the celebrated e-mails can be released publicly. But the FBI reports to the Attorney-General of the United States and the Attorney-General [with no mention in the Constitution nevertheless] reports to the President of the U.S. …
That brings us to the issue of how far Obama, who has after all had his past differences with both Clintons — Hillary on the campaign trail — will want to go in pushing Hillary’s candidacy given its current lackluster. Or, would he, in the kind of “evolution” many if not most of his policies have taken, shift his weight to another candidate, and if so, who?
There is some puzzlement for why so many Democratic possibilities have not already thrown their hat into the ring. One speculates on Gov. Andrew Cuomo or even that ageing “Moonbeam”, Jerry Brown, the still popular governor who even at 77 could probably carry California’s 55 electoral votes toward the magic 270. Then there is the young Hispanic star, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, former San Antonio mayor who might pull a big Texas vote. If Hillary’s standing in the polls continues to drop, there are likely to be new entrants even contrary to speculation that it is going to be a Republican year, whatever – not the least because Obama leaves too much ugly debris.
The fact that Sen. Bernie Sanders has become a rock star for the Democratic leftwing base putting Hillary to shame, is a symptom. His “democratic socialist” label in addition to Vermont effetism is a no-no for too many voters whose granddaddies [great granddaddies?] racked up almost a million votes in 1920 for socialist Eugene V. Debs, from whom Sanders descends when the U.S. had less than a third its current 320 million.
Maryland’s Gov. O’Malley, once a bright young Baltimore mayor – ouch, Baltimore! – hasn’t stirred up much dust. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who keeps issuing Shermanoid statements, shares many of Obama’s politics, but if it is one woman down, another with a too professorial demeanor and a serious violation of affirmative action, doesn’t seem to fill the bill either.
So has Obama got some one in his barn he will trot out? Looking back when a young, unknown, Illinois senator by happenstance, challenged Hillary Clinton, it might be we should go looking for Obama’s candidate.
sws-08-18-15

The U.S. polity: a wonky fit


The polls tell us that those Americans interested in politics are split almost evenly into two groups: those who approve of President Barak Hussein Obama’s leadership and those critical of it.

Further analysis shows quite basic differences between the two groups – and disturbing for those of us who want a country rich in diversity but engaged in a constant healthy exchange of ideas.

The President’s supporters are what my Mom in her retirement among the elderly in Florida, with some envy, used to call “the alright-nicks”. They are members of an elite who either financially or politically – or both – have disproportionately profited from the system. They see themselves, and their nominal leader, Obama, as tapped by some unseen but knowing source to lead — especially to guide a rabble [excluding themselves, of course] which does not know its own interests and therefore what is best for them.

In fact, their numbers have recently been reinforced as the economy has marginally improved and the noise around Administration scandals and policy failures has dissipated with time in a fast moving society. [IRS persecution of political opponents, veterans dying because of illtreatment at the VA, the sacrifice of lives at Benghazi, massive infractions of border security, mishandling of government lands, near collapse of the president’s personal security – Poof! Gone With the Wind!]

The other half of the politically oriented are fervent, if sometimes highly prejudiced, critics of Obama’s policies – or, indeed, the lack thereof in many avenues of leadership where he is counted among the missing. Domestically, they perceive inhibiting bureaucratic intervention or neglect of the always marginally effective governmental actions which could speed the economic recovery out of the disaster of 2007-08. Abroad, they see perennial crises deepen with a strategy of withdrawal of American power in areas where it has long been the arbiter, indeed, the presumed leader by the other foreign participants.

Any attempt by the critics to entertain a meaningful debate is largely ignored by the Obama followers whose allegiance to their leader lies elsewhere than in loyalty to issues. In reality, the Obama coalition is a motley crew whose interest in their leader is largely pro forma – that is, loyalty as a member of an ethnic or an interest group rather than based on broader issues or an attachment to ideology.

Some might take issue with this argument, of course, claiming that Obama, himself, is an ideologue of the left and has the support of what constitutes the American left in politics. That has some validity, of course. But as a scion of the amateur radicalism of the 1960s, I would argue Obama and his followers’ allegiance to leftwing politics is more sloganeering with as little understanding as their 60s mentors had of the long traditions of socialism and its offspring in Western thought.

Rather, the Obama coalition is a collection of Alrightnicks. There is the rapidly growing political class of government employees headed by his appointed superbureaucrats, many circulating through the revolving door of Washington government appointments and lobbying. It doesn’t take long for a visitor Inside the Beltway, the anointed circle of Washington, D.C., and some of the country’s wealthiest counties in Maryland and Virginia that surround it, to know that they are passing through a world all its own – often inured from the rest of the country’s trials and tribulations.

There is, of course, Obama’s following among Afro-Americans – who however disenchanted with the little accomplished by the Administration in pushing the economy, and therefore the fortunes of their impoverished and crime-ridden ghettoes, feels it has no choice but loyalty to the first Afro-American chief executive. The media, of course, are kept – best explained by Pat Moynihan’s dissection more than a generation ago of the capital press corps. He saw how – even before the print media began to collapse under the dynamics of the digital revolution – working class newspapermen had turned into media elite as they moved off to the suburbs to join the ruling class. There is Hollywood glitz, of course. Recently revealed cynical backstage exchanges have shown just how meaningless on both sides of the footlights Tinseltown’s is the glamor that rubs off on the Administration. More difficult to explain, of course, are the small but highly influential Jewish followers of Obama – although they have in so many ways built themselves into the Establishment in the shortest order, perhaps, of any once discriminated American minority. That they ignore Obama’s war on Israel is camouflaged by the increasing lack of liaison between younger Jews and Israel and the continuing barrage of empty statements from Obama’s spokesmen [some of them Jews] of the unbreakable U.S. alliance with Jerusalem.

Bringing up the rear is the traditional support for any president which is part of the American political scene, backed by the increasing influence of what Harry Truman rightly described as the most powerful executive in the world, accumulating strength contrary to the efforts of the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to limit it, as the world and the U.S. becomes an increasingly complex society to govern.

Looking at these two bumping mobs, we may well be at an historic crossroads just now.

For all the myriad reasons, the electorate has seen fit not only to give the Congressional opposition its greatest strength since the 1920s, reinforced with similar movement in most of the state legislatures and governors’ mansions. With what has been an all too incompetent leadership, that powerful control of the legislature branch – and has so often been argued, the courts, too, follow elections – the Republicans now have an opportunity to force a discussion of issues rather than of emotional loyalties. If they avoid the siren song of its few media sympathizers and reject “comprehensive” solutions to vast problems, but instead tend to the nitty-gritty of legislative minutiae, there will be a contest. It means avoiding such catastrophes as the pretension that myriad problems of one sixth of the economy could be solved with the bumbling as well as bogus ideology of Obamacare in a single piece of legislation.

Obama – or his most intimate counselors, whoever they are – has had a great deal of luck. But he does exhibit the art of a demagogue in directing the Greek chorus from his bully pulpit. Whether by happenstance or design, he has managed by moving immediately without the Congress on such issues as immigration and environmental regulation, to obscure the massive electoral victory of his opponents last fall. [The prostituted media helped, of course.] Someone at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue obviously sees what otherwise would be a gross violation of separation of powers as the way to bull through the lame duck years.

But, for the moment at least, the ball is now in the Congressional Republicans’ court. Let’s see if they know how to ace it!

sws-01-05-15

Leadership, the law, and statesmanship


One sweet note in the sour symphony coming out of Washington these past few weeks is the Supreme Court’s decision on recess appointments. In an emphatic unanimous decision, the Court reinforced the authority of the separation of powers and the hope that it will be the last and final successful bastion for constitutionalism.

You don’t have to be a lawyer nor have pretences as a constitutional law professor to understand the argument.

Pres. Obama had taken it into his head to use the constitutional provision for appointments to the executive to be made during a senatorial recess, thus negating the requirement of “advise and consent”. The Founders, in a day of poor communications and [alas!] the hope of a part-time federal government in the carefully isolated, hoped for, non-political federal capital, permitted appointments to go ahead for efficiency if the Senate were not in session.

Obama decided that since the Senate was not conducting legislative business, it was not in session. But the Court upheld a very important principle, that is, that the legislative branch would make its own rules and not be dictated to by the executive or any other outside party save the voters. The Founders saw the need was critical. For unless the legislators were charged with their own agenda, the legislature risked becoming an appendage of an all weaning executive. It had taken the British centuries and a civil war to establish their own principle of parliamentary supremacy in which the legislature was not only independent but by far the dominant of the three wings of government

So, in a sense it was a simple, clear cut and common sense decision. The Senate is in session if it says it is in session, the White House’s or others’ views notwithstanding.. And all the rationales of Obama’s partisans about “pro forma” Senate sessions is errant nonsense

Whether or not, as other recently Court decisions appear to indicate and more are to be anticipated, Obama has exceeded his authority in his “pen and phone” approach to government when the Congress is stymied, may remain for the historians to determine finally.. But the argument that his executive orders are less in number than his immediate predecessors is obviously another one of those foolish statistical gambits. It is not the quantity but their quality. And his half dozen or more changes in the law for Obamacare, for example, written and passed by two Democratic majority houses of the Congress [in an outrageous flaunting of tradition for critical and fundamental bipartisanship] appear to be equally unconstitutional.

There is an argument that in national crisis – particularly applicable to foreign affairs and military procedures – the president has the prerogative to go beyond the literal limits set by Congressional legislation. It has hoary tradition if not the weight of argument. Obviously appointing additional members of the National Labor Relations Board did not qualify for that kind of special consideration.

But there have been many instances that have. On May 25, 1851, for example, Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. A writ of habeas corpus is a court order that requires a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court. It dates as far back as the 12th century and is one of the foundations of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence and its grateful heirs around the world. Five years later, by inference, a Supreme Court justice was to condemn Lincoln’s action as unconstitutional but the wartime president insisted it had been done in order to facilitate his effort to put down the Southern rebellion. Lincoln’s action, in part, kept the slave-holding state in the union with the opening of the civil war, a strategic necessity for the North and perhaps for victory.

. Less controversial, at least among the Washington politicians in both parties, was Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “destroyers for bases” swap with Britain’s Winston Churchill in September 1940. FDR, without formal Congressional authorization transferred a fleet of ageing destroyers to Britain – facing a possible Nazi invasion across the Channel – for access to British bases in the Western Hemisphere. Although the deal had the private support of some Republican leaders, it was an obvious breach of legality and the Constitution and even FDR, that most popular of presidents, carefully prepared the groundwork for the illegal transaction. Roosevelt and much of the political leadership favored aid to a beleaguered Britain, fearful of Hitler’s threat to European domination and world conquest. But they faced an American public with its hangover from World War I still overwhelmingly determined to stay out of Europe’s “squabbles”, until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Hitler’s declaration of war on American brought the U.S. into World War II.

Again, the exigenciesof war were the rationale for what FDR did.. But perhaps there is another moral in this case: FDR was able to act on a dinnertime proposal made in part by two journalists, Henry I. Luce and Joseph Alsop, through a good deal of backdoor negotiating with politicians – including the opposition – for something the leadership knew was a necessity but public opinion would have rejected.

That kind of liaison and “politicking” – and statesmanship — seems to be beyond the capacities of the Obama Administration, for whatever reason.

sws-06-29-14

A test we mustn’t fail


The United States is going through one of those periodic crises, testing a complex and often sclerotic constitutional system.

An increasingly diminishing presidency has tried to “transform” the society, and particularly its economy, with draconian measures. One at least, Obamacare, rammed through an absent-minded Congress with a temporary majority of the President’s party, has come a cropper.

But behind the immediate problem of whether the Affordable Health Care Act can/should be salvaged or whether it must await repeal by a Republican Congress, and, perhaps, president, after 2016, is a much graver issue. Pres. Barack Obama, despite his experience as a part-time instructor in constitutional law, has run afoul of the principal of separation of powers.

It’s an ancient concept going back to Aristotle in ancient Greece which posited that the best way to avoid repressive government was to a balance its functions among various competing entities, usually the legislative branch to make the laws, the executive branch to enforce them, and an independent judiciary to adjudicate and punish disputes when they arose. Some Western European democracies have rejected this concept, expressed through a system of checks and balances. But more recently, even they have come around to giving their courts a greater role than was traditional in deciding what is inviolable in their unwritten constitution.

The Founders of the United States, who demonized the British sovereign in their quest for independence, had in fact become what they considered victims of an elected parliament. This phenomenon must have made them even more cognizant of the need to provide not only a defense against authoritarian government in general but against any of its appendages .As the young democracy endured, against all odds, it developed an additional concept of judicial supremacy – the power of the Supreme Court to override even the people’s elected representatives to strike down a law as unconstitutional, that is, in flagrant violation of the basic intent of the Constitution.

That was not specifically written into the Constitution, and, indeed, before the Civil War, the Supreme Court did not invoke it that often. That concept – contrary to the British tradition from which the U.S. borrowed so much which had parliamentary supremacy, meaning in the end, the parliament could do no wrong – was unique in its time. And the argument has gone on in newer governments modeled in the Anglo-American tradition, for example, in India and Pakistan, and, indeed, increasingly, in our neighbor Canada and Australia which once were closer to the Westminster tradition.

But the separation of powers has taken a beating in the U.S. over the years. Everything from the growing complexity of American life to unprofessional Capitol Hill writing of legislation has fuzzed the issues. To regulate growing and complex industries and parts of the increasing interwoven society, the Congress has created semi-judicial, semi-independent bureaucracies which have the power, in reality, to legislate, enforce and adjudicate — and even to punish. In our time, the activities of the Environmental Protection Agency or the National Labor Relations Board, increasingly politicized during a period when the differences between our two major political parties have widened, are flagrant examples.

“The regs”, the instructions on how to implement a law enacted by the Congress, have become if not more important than, often as crucial in determining the direction new legislation takes as law. That compilation is increasingly in the hands of a permanent and growing class of federal bureaucrats who — at this moment when the question of how large the government should be and how far reaching its activities — undergird many of the more serious political arguments. Once again, The Founders were prescient: they saw that an interested local populace might twist the national will by maneuvering a central government, and thus sought to isolate the federal apparatus in a castrated federal district with no political rights. Not only has that principal been abandoned in the cause of self-government for the District of Columbia, but the early 19th century when everyone went “home” for most of the year is a distant memory. No “special interest” is stronger than that of Washington’s permanent – if at its upper echelons, a revolving door – bureaucracy.

I wince every time I hear the Congressional Research Service or the Congressional Budget Office described as “nonpartisan”. While that may be true literally, it is a concept more honored in the breach than the observance, to quote The Bard. It would demand more than human failings afford for members of this or any of the other Washington bureaucracies to completely abandon their own prejudices for big government and their advocacy of federal discretion.

In times of crisis, especially when a soured economy which underlies all politics as well as the life of every citizen, there is an almost instinctive reach for government intervention. Never mind that the essence of the fabulous American economic history is its freedom for the individual entrepreneur and the absence of the kind of European dirigisme that to a greater or lesser degree has marked the histories of the Continental powers.

Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, with his strange amalgam of advisers spanning the political spectrum from far left to far right, tried to thrust the economy forward with a massive intervention the country had never seen. One by one, a traditionalist Supreme Court struck them down as contrary to the Constitution. [After all, a Constitutional amendment was necessary to foist the federal income tax on citizens.]. FDR’s riposte was to propose remaking the court with new legislation – a stick the legislative branch holds over the judiciary. But his “court packing” proposal outraged the country, even including some of FDR’s most loyal followers, and it was abandoned. Contrary to conventional wisdom, however, FDR’s further ministrations still did not rescue the economy from The Great Depression. That took the unprecedented World War II mobilization which revamped the American economy’s entire nature producing the great postwar prosperity.

Those who lie with statistics tell us that President Obama has not invoked his executive mandate, the authority to use executive powers, more than his immediate predecessors. But the difference lies in quality not quantity: changes of specific deadlines and other requirements of the Affordable Health Care Act is a stretch too far. True, virtually all legislation affords the executive the authority to make discretionary changes in order to more effectively and orderly implement a law. And it is argued by his – and the increasingly fewer diehard supporters of the law – that this is precisely what he has done and that he need not go back to the Congress. But the very fact that the law is so controversial — every poll tells us opposition is massive if not in an absolute majority — demands that he do just that in pursuit of representative government. The reason he does not is obvious: a Republican-ruled House of Representatives where the Constitution specifically says the power of the purse resides might very well have taken the opportunity to try, again, to defund the law or at least to hamstring it while a Democratic-led Senate fumed.

Furthermore, the whole constitutional concept of the law has been muddled by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., joining in a 5-4 decision to rule the law constitutional on the basis of what the Obama Administration called “fines” for its infraction. But Roberts chose to reinterpret the Administration’s brief to the Court calling these penalties “taxes”, and therefore defensible under the taxing authority of the Constitution rather including them under the ever elastic “commerce clause” which the Administration had argued. One could only assume that the Chief Justice was leaning into the wind in order to maintain some unanimity in the court for what promises to be an avalanche of efforts to test the constitutionality of the Obama Administration’s actions on various fronts in the months and years ahead.

For the Obama Administration’s bending the law has not been confined only to Obamacare. The President and his Attorney-General Eric Holder, who one must remind errant analysts is not an independent agent but a part of the executive, have taken it on themselves to decide which part of immigration law on the books they are to enforce. It has reinterpreted legislation to prevent discrimination in voting practices only to cover minorities rather than all voters, a blow at the very essences of elected government  and what the civil rights movement was all about. In direct violation of the constitution, the President has made “interim” appointments while a Democratic-controlled Senate was legally in session.

Thus Pres. Obama’s promise to extend executive privilege to its outer limits threatens to test the whole fabric of the constitutional process

It is time for a reordering of protocols if not of issues. Even FDR, with his enormous ego, after his ham-fisted effort backfired to ram through his own remedy for what he saw as government gridlock, went for conciliation with his critics. Pres. Bill Clinton in his second term saw he had to cooperate with fiscal conservative to accomplish his goal of an expanding economy. It would be time for Obama “to reach out” [as that overused current cliché goes] to the opposition. But, for the moment at least, his choice seems to be defiance with his “pen and telephone” – and continued pushing the constitutional envelope.

It’s a dangerous game and threatens our whole constitutional system.

sws-02-16-14

Why is everything going wrong?


It isn’t.

There is an old axiom in the news business – or what is left of it as traditional newspapers die to be replaced, for the moment at least, by amateurism on the internet and its social networks – that good news is not news. So we get a steady diet from the media of the worst/most dramatic happenings, now delivered in seconds across the world, and in apocalyptic terms. For nothing is as common as the young [or willfully ignorant] journalist who writes about this or that particular happening as “the first time ever”, “the biggest ever”, or “it is in [whatever other way] unique”. More times than not, the event is a repetition, however singular in its own way in time and space, of something that has happened before. As clichés go, “there is nothing new under the sun” is not a bad one.

But in direct contradiction, I was astonished at a recent Fortune magazine item: entrepreneurs in California have launched a $220-million assembly line – and photographs do make the completely automated selection, weight and packing facility the size “of four football fields” look something like Henry Ford’s old original. It will send to market 800 bags of fruit or 18 million “mandarins” harvested daily. That’s a new undertaking in what is all but a stagnant economy, with massive unemployment, and a Washington economic policy at war with business. Mind you, I doubt the little fruit which it and another rival company are developing almost overnight in California – already reaching half the households in the U.S. according to Fortune — will taste as good as the little old fashion Florida tangerine or that most delicious of all fruits, the Japanese mikan. But it will give large numbers of the American people more access to a cheap [in real terms] citrus than they have ever had. And that, my man, is progress in the face of the welter of bad news all around us.

Okay, now that I have dispensed with the Pollyanna, what is going wrong and why?

For it is not to say that we are in the midst of a cataclysm of troubles, at home and abroad, or again, to deny we have seen far deeper crises. Think of Abraham Lincoln’s outlook at the eve of the civil war. Or, as I recently was telling a friend, it was my duty as a 15-year-old high schooler in January 1942 to go from classroom to classroom reciting a narrative on world events erupting out of Pearl Harbor. It was a grim list of defeats and retreats by the U.S. and its allies. Britain had survived the Blitz, eight months of bombing of civilian targets, but just. Hitler had launched [and we did not know it was to be a disaster] the largest military adventure of all time against the Soviet Union. Two of Britain’s vaunted battleships had been sunk off Malaya’s east coast anticipating the fall of Singapore, what Winston Churchill called the worst defeat in British military history. Most of our Pacific fleet had been sunk at Pearl Harbor with only the aircraft carriers luckily absent at sea. It was the worst of times.

That’s, of course, what we used to call “the old Buddhist argument, things could always be worse. We could be in a 1914 situation – although I think the current widespread comparison highly deficient – and facing such calamities. But for the moment, our concerns of the worst and longest recession in the post-World War II American economy – with its repercussions for rest of the world – and a spate of regional conflicts, however bloody and ugly, around the world, is not the terrible conflict of World War II.

Truth is the carefully manicured narratives of past history usually present a straight-line story of what we now see as the major issues. But during the time those events were transpiring, the contemporaries probably felt the same way we do today, harassed by a whole series of displacements and conflicts, some of them bearing directly on our own lives.

Still, having listed all these caveats, it is appropriate, I believe, to look around and see what is happening and make our guesses as to why:

1] The world since 1945 had learned to live with one major, dominating power, the United States. Not only had it not seen at home the depredations which had scourged Europe and Asia, but it had grown new muscle in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s economic mobilization for war despite the tragic loss of 416,000 lives in combat. The overwhelming majority of industrial and agricultural production lay with the U.S. and whether it chose to use it or not, gave it the power to try to decide world events.

In the midst of the worst zig in the business cycle since the Great Depression of the 1930s. we have an administration in Washington – in part representing a war-weary electorate and an increasingly redistribution of world power – with the most nexperience president and adminmistrative team in modern U.S. history. To add to the difficulties, Pres. Barack Obama believes he has received two mandates to “transform” the American economy and political scene. A part of his program is to increase the “redistricutive” mechanism of the U.S. government through heavier taxation and regulation.

Internationally, the President attempts to step back from the role Washington has taken during the whole post-World War II period. He proposes to “lead from behind”, imitating the old adage that the dagger being at its most powerful when it is still in the scabbard. The President and advisers believe they are sophisticated enough to arrange new patterns of world relationships which would require no U.S. military application of force while we tend to our own somewhat dilapidated infrastructure and meet the demands of a new post-digital revolutionary age.

But the question that goes begging is whether Washington may well have done is to remove itself from regional conflicts [except as feckless mediators] throughout the world leaving a large vacuum permitting the play of the always present destabilizing and destructive forces.

2] The Cold War is over and with it, largely, the alternative a vast bureaucracy forcing a top-down social engineering on a goodly section of the European population under the name of Communism. That was supposed to result in “a peace dividend” for the U.S. economy and the American people. That has not come to pass, in part because the largest part of maintaining world order and stability continues to fall on the shoulders of the Americans. Also an old threat to Western dominance and civilization, the Arab/Muslim fanatic, has again risen to become an international menace.

Using much of the same technology which has enriched Western life and the newly developing economies, the jihadists have learned to project terror into the very heart of non-Muslim societies as well as exacerbate age-old bloody feuds among the Prophet’s followers. Having failed to make the transformation into modern societies, the Arab countries and other Muslim societies are again ravaged by old tribal and ethnic conflicts. But these threaten to spill over into other parts of the world as repeatedly Islamic terrorist acts, successful, or unsuccessful have dramatized. The failure of U.S. military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan to dramatically curtail these terrorist activities seems likely to continue to be a preoccupation of the U.S. and its allies into a distant future.

3] The digital revolution has unfurled technology beyond the wildest dreams of even its most astute advocates. [I am reminded of an old piece of advice from a friend when interviewing an academic on Latin America: “Remember he knows far more than he understands”.] In fact, it has created a second industrial revolution in which technology – sometimes even at minimum expense – has disrupted the whole schedule of work. Jobs and even careers thought essential to industrial societies for generations are being eliminated overnight. The complications are infinite as the Obama Administration’s ham-handed effort to reform U.S. medical services has demonstrated. Yes, medical expenses have grown disproportionately to the rest of society’s costs – although they may be slowing temporarily because of the economic recession. But is it not obvious that increasing applications of expensive new science to our aches and pains would do just that?

The unanticipated events and unintended consequences of this technology is upending the entire world, including setting up new relationships within the American domestic society as well as among nations. Nothing could be more indicative of the new situation than the internet which arose almost by accident and now dictates an increasing part of our economic and social life. That means that government policy, so often written to placate particular sections of the electorate, is often upended by the new technologies. No clearer example exists than the attempt of the Obama Administration to dictate energy goals has been totally vanquished by the introduction of new technologies with the shale gas revolution..

Life has never been simple – not since the first caveman hit the second caveman over the head with a club as they wrestled for the same piece of meat or the affections of a blonde playmate. Common sense tells us that despite the huge and unknowable advances in technology that will continue to be the order of the day.

So, make the best of it. There is a jungle out there and we all must gird our loins to cope. But that has been the nature of life on this planet from its inception. It behooves us to make the most of it and get on with the job of living even in these troubled, as they always are, times.

sws-02-09-14

Picking up after Obamacare


Whether Obamacare continues to implode or dissolves under a Republican landslide in next year’s Congressional and 2016 presidential elections, the debris it leaves behind will be horrendous.

It presents new problems for a vast U.S. medical health care system already marginally dysfunctional before Pres. Barack Obama’s misguided intended reform. And one of the most frightening prospects is that even some of Affordable Care’s fiercest opponents are now considering writing another, new “comprehensive” solution. Common sense dictates remodeling a sixth of the economy which touches every citizen directly can only be undertaken through incremental and remedial measures.

In fact, the pre-Obamacare medical scene for all its failings was at least a satisfactory system for many if not the majority of Americans. Sufficient evidence exists to refute the oft trotted out argument of Obamacare advocates that the U.S. spent much more on a per capita basis for health care than other industrial societies. Statistics in many critical areas indicate those costs could be justified in human terms by superior rates of recovery and morbidity, for example, in breast cancer.

But there were enormous problems.

Rising costs which critics used as their most powerful argument for a comprehensive overhaul of the system were without doubt No. 1. There were three principal reasons for the rising bill, all of them complex and difficult of solution:

  • “Defensive medicine” resulting from huge awards by sympathetic juries and judges for malpractice and the attendant high costs of insurance for physicians, treatment facilities and staff.
  • The rapidly growing scientific breakthroughs in diagnostic technology offering “break-through” but expensive testing and pharmacology, increasingly employed by physicians for the right and the wrong reasons..
  • The use of hospital emergency rooms by large numbers of uninsured which often might have been avoided with less expensive preventative care and which were far more costly than normal physician’s services..

Central to the problem of rising costs and insurance premiums was the Democratic Party’s mutual love affair with the trial lawyers who blocked proposed changes in common law civil justice systems. These would have capped damage awards and thereby the growth rate of litigation for malpractice. There had been some success in some states for doing just that. But, for example, the possibility of such lawsuits has mean Florida obstetrician and gynecology specialists must lay out $120,000 a year.

Diagnostic judgment calls increasingly have weighted heavily toward expensive tests, in large part because of this threat of such malpractice litigation. Diagnostic guidelines produced by the medical profession itself had reduced some of this propensity to go to more and more technology. Some older doctors lament the abandonment, largely, of semiotics, that is, the intensive study of symptoms – some relatively simple, for example, breath odor as an indicator of liver or kidney ailments – as a guide to diagnosis. Those of us among the elderly know the Solomonic quandary well: whether in a situation where symptoms suggest a severe or even mortal illness, does one go to an expensive technical test, perhaps one only recently invented which might eventually proved unnecessary?

In the pre-Obamacare era, tens of millions either chose not to take insurance because they had other priorities or found it beyond their budget for living expenses. These uninsured often used hospital emergency rooms as their physician which by law cannot turn away patients. This sometimes resulted in their overuse but more often in permitting preventable maladies to deteriorate requiring even more expensive treatment. These costs were passed back through the hospitals – many of them so-called privately owned with exaggerated administrative costs — to the taxpayer or to other insured hospital users.

But other structural problems were of equal importance in delivering medical services to as large a part of the population as possible. One was the diminishing ranks of what used to be called general practitioners, now referred to as family doctors. The lure of higher income along with their growing number of opportunities through increasing professional differentiation has drawn more medical students and graduates to specialization. Not only has this added to costs but it has deeply wounded the diagnostic process. [“Oh, I have a good left thumb specialist I can send you to.”]

Critically, it is the family physician that must perceive the holistic condition of the patient and must try to identify the problem before it is assigned to a specialist. Growing costs, diminishing rewards and increasing downward pressure on both Medicaid and Medicare payments – the two large government programs for the poor and the aged – plus the growing burden of paperwork has encouraged family physicians to take early retirement. That trend accelerated just as their recruitment has fallen and Obamacare with its bureaucratic overload may have permanently increased that trend.

Monopolistic and other unfair trading practices among the health insurance companies also characterized the pre-Obacamcare scene. It was no accident, as the Communists used to say, that some of the large, bureaucratic health insurance conglomerates like AARP climbed on the Obamacare bandwagon while the legislation was being ramroded through a Democratic controlled Congress. Obamacare from its outset promised increased and higher payments and profitability for the health insurance vendors, a solution with the scent of fascist corporatism. [When the insurance executives had their recent emergency meeting with the President, they were ushered out the White House rear entrance to avoid the media.]

Furthermore, with insurance under the state regulation, applicants often were denied access across state lines to other perhaps cheaper policies. Obamacare may have reinforced this problem by creating state exchanges, either federal mandated or created by the states themselves, which were to offer the insured access to a supposed variety of new policies – often more elaborate, more expensive and therefore more profitable policies. The outrageous example of non-childbearing women and men without small children being forced into pediatric coverage suggests what was afoot.

One of the most serious deficiencies of the pre-Obamacare era was the failure of the American medical system to meet the needs of the mentally ill. After the extensive 1950s media campaign against real and imagined abuses in mental institutions [then commonly called “insane asylums”], the great majority were disbanded. The promised extension services never materialized. Furthermore, as Sen. Pat Moynihan wrote, rationalization for no treatment was part of the general American intellectual movement of “defining deviancy down”. And as a result, we have had for more than two generations the phenomenon of retarded or psychotic individuals wandering the streets or overly zealous rules against familial institutional commitment. The recent epidemic of massacres in schools and other public places by obviously mentally disturbed individuals who either were never diagnosed or whose treatment failed is undoubtedly another result.

Even before Obamacare, the growing taxpayer burden of Medicaid and Medicare, constituted an enormous problem. The former increasingly ensnarled in federal requirements – which Obamacare intensified – on state budgets. The latter, originally intended to be itself an insurance scheme, was underfunded, particularly with the advent of the demographic swell of Postwar Baby Boomers reaching retirement coupled with the extended American lifespan.

It is probably Medicaid where the hangover from Obamacare will be felt mostly state governments, who unlike the federal government cannot print their way out of unbalanced budgets. They were faced with the dilemma of accepting large federal handouts [to be matched by state funds] with an assurance they would be continued indefinitely. That promise, several of the Republican governors reasoned, was not ironclad and their state would be mortgaged to a vast new enrollment which would eventually have to be funded exclusively by state revenues.

One of the greatest costs to Medicare and one which presented the most difficult moral issue facing the American health system on the eve of Obamacare was the growing number of persons with dementia  As lives lengthened, one 2010 study estimated that almost 15% of those over 70 suffered from some form of dementia. The annual cost to families and society as a whole was estimated annually at between $31 and $56 thousand dollars for each individual with a total cost of between $157 and $215 billion.

In the post-Obamacare era, these two elements of the total medical picture may assume the greatest importance. The obvious necessity to make “co-pay” a part of the Medicaid commitment, even for the poorest recipient, would appear part of any solution. An increase in the 20% of Medicare which now must be paid by the insured may well be necessary to refinance that system. But neither will be easy for an electorate, promised so many freebies by Obamacare.

Growing obesity and other manifestations of the American lifestyle presented an even greater challenge – and will continue to do so – in any effort at prevention rather than treatment. That is going to demand a mobilization of public opinion long after the squabbles over Obamacare are historical footnotes.

Hopefully in a more realistic environment occasioned by Obamacare’s demise, reason and common sense will prevail. And, as always, scientific breakthroughs may be around the corner, particularly for Alzheimer’s. [British scientists announced such a breakthrough in October 2013 in experiments with rats although they cautioned application to humans would be some time off.]

But there again tightened budgets, in no part the result of the Obama Administration’s campaign against competition and the traditional concept of equal opportunity [rather than Pres. Obama’s redistribution of wealth for guaranteed equality] would be the touchstone.

sws-11-17-13

Clouds of dust still to settle


Out of the Washington political chaos of the past few weeks, two overwhelmingly critical questions have yet to be decided.

  • Can a wily Pres. Barack Obama, despite his Administration’s repeatedly demonstrated incompetence in both domestic and foreign policy, rescue — by perhaps more constitutionally questionable executive orders – what he may eventually regard as the only monument to his presidency?
  • Has the fiery populist — if failed — campaign of the Tea Party mobilized an otherwise distracted electorate to the growing problem of debt and bankrupt federal government social welfare programs to an extent permitting tedious and torturous reform?

Answers are going to be long in coming.

That’s in no small part because a totally partisan media continues to worship at the altar of Obama’s sacred role as the first Afro-American president who communicates to them at new vulgar levels of the popular culture — late night shows, for example, for policy statements. Rationalization of Obamacare’s opening disaster is all too typical of a kept media now mightily contributing to the polarization of the American body politic. The inability to solve a highly complex but essentially well known technological problems – as it may turn out, because of corruption as well as incompetence – is explained as “glitches”. Tell that to Amazon or Apple – or even Drudge — who handle tens of millions of such IT issues on a daily basis!

Whatever the outcome of this horrendous start, the fate of the Affordable Medical Care Act eventually will be decided in part with the November 2014 mid-term Congressional elections. Most of the talking heads are confident that despite the ruckus, the Republicans will retain their House majority. That’s because the current 33-seat Republican tipped majority is to a considerable extent in “safe seats”, districts drawn to their advantage by Republican dominated state legislatures.

The 33 Senate races – 13 incumbent Republicans, 20 Democrats — are harder to call. Furthermore, there is ideological alignment which could and often does vitiate senatorial Party affiliation because more complex statewide electorates are involved. There’s the prime example of West Virginia’s novice Democratic Senator Joe Manchin who registers more and more like his Republican conservative colleagues. He is not up this year but his colleague, Jay Rockefeller, a 30-year-long Democrat incumbent, is retiring. With the Obama Administration’s continued war on fossil fuels [including coal], that bodes well for Republicans grabbing his vacated seat. Even the relics of another era of American politics, the Maine senators, for the most part distance themselves from their neighboring liberals in New England, as one Republican and one independent. The latter might join whichever [or dictate the] majority in a new Senate – one of those not so rare happenstance that permeate history.

Yet, whatever the Republicans’ chances to take over the Senate as well as keep the House and thereafter wage a full-court campaign to repeal Obamacare, the world moves on. The failure so far of any dramatic Republican conservatives’ effort to defund Obamacare already may well have left its mark on the gigantic American health industry. That’s because with something like a sixth of the U.S. economy directly involved, the law – now three years old – is beginning to take long term effect. Everything from speeding up disaffected physicians’ personal decisions to retire [despite a growing shortage of doctors, especially those in general practice] to mitigating such problems as “pre-existing conditions” and extended dependents’ coverage on family policies, have locked into place.

Never mind that these problems, like so many others, should have been solved best through a more detailed analysis and individual prescription for solution. They have now become a part of the intertwined medical scene’s debate. A thrashing around of the private insurance companies with their own special interests is quietly taking place. We got early warning of that when the pampered and elitist Washington bureaucracy of American Association of Retired Persons [AARP] climbed on their fellow capital bureaucrats’ Obamacare bandwagon even though the majority of its members probably opposed the intent of the legislation.

In fact, rather than the relatively simple procedure of dismantling cartels in some states by removing strictures on marketing medical insurance across stateliness, Obamacare is setting up new ground for manipulation to gouge the consumer. Administration propaganda with its Hollywood luminaries has gone a long way toward persuading the electorate that “a comprehensive solution” is required for this as for other complex problems of governance. That’s despite common sense dictates that such enormous and complex issues should better be approached through an analysis of individual problem and solutions found piecemeal. If for no other reason, they could then be reversed more easily if and when, as so often happens, inadequacies or unforeseen consequences arise.

It’s therefore by no means certain that given the incredible snowballing federal juggernaut the Washington bureaucracy has become, even Obamacare repeal – or various amendments – may not, in fact, further confuse and compound the problems of the already infinitely complex medical services landscape.

Even though this problem is already universal because it touches the lives of all Americans, government health issues fold into a much larger politico-economic agenda. Obamacare will not, as the President and its advocates argued, either reduce medical costs for most individuals, and certainly not for half the nation paying federal income taxes. It has added an enormous new tab to the bill for an already creaking social welfare safety net. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are all under siege from inherited liabilities, galloping technologies and the growing ageing of the American population badly needing overhaul.

Despite the incredible capacities of the U.S. economy and American society to innovate, producing new and beneficial technological and managerial techniques expanding the physical well-being of its citizens, the current economic stagnation is symptomatic of the system’s failings. It demonstrates, among other things, that the economy and the political system is overloaded with waste and abuse, that attempts at central planning in a world where the revolutionary internet developed by accident, is most often counterproductive. But that’s an argument to which most of the Democratic Party and the U.S.’ self-appointed elite turns a deaf ear.

One might have hoped that the stringencies forced on the society by the worst onset of the business cycle since The Great Depression would have, as it does so often in our private lives, forced a reconsideration of government spending. That may come, but the victory of the tax and spend forces in the current crisis is not encouraging. A relatively small proof is the alacrity with which – small in relative terms – additional ”pork barrel” was attached to the final excruciating difficult [“clean” Continuing Resolution] “settlement” that sailed through the House after being initiated in the more complicit Senate.

This, at least temporary, settlement of the crisis is being hailed in the Obama circles and the Main Stream Media — and in much of the always “idealistic” academy, of course — as a victory for compromise and accomodation necessary in a democratic system. But, in fact, it is a denial of the fundamental issues staring the country’s politico- economy in the face: out of control government expenditures. It is an issue acknowledged by most of those “experts” who spend their time looking at the economy although solutions are as diverse as the problems involved.

The question is whether the U.S. has reached that state forecast by some early 20th century observers who prophesied that a democratic electorate, having learned it could vote itself benefits at will from the commonwealth, might bankrupt The Founders’ political system. The symptoms are now clear and self-evident. A virtually unlimited expansion of food stamps, for example, is a product not only of an increased demand in a time of economic downturn and high unemployment, but also of a bounty bestowed by legislators on constituents including subsidized agriculture producers. The possibilities for corrupt practices are virtually unlimited in such alliances. Witness vast government expenditures dedicated to expenditures for recruiting new recipients to the benefice.

Correcting these miscalculations and abuses while maintaining an adequate social safety net at a time of revolutionary technological changes generating fundamental economic restructuring and high unemployment is fundamental and enormously demanding of any political system. It is one Congressional conservatives did a good deal of shouting about. But they lost this battle in their war, perhaps because of bad tactics and no adequate strategy. But whether their challenge can be met in the months ahead remains to be seen.

The dust settles, if ever so temporarily, on a very conflicted environment.

sws-10-20-13

Washington’s “political” class is blinging out!


           A couple of decades ago when that temple of conspicuous consumption, Neiman Marcus, opened another store in metropolitan Washington, my old friend and astute political observer, the late Nat McKitterick, warned me we were lost.

For it was about then that – “a political class” – was becoming apparent in the nation’s capital. It was a new phenomenon. Those of us who knew Washington pre-World War II., remember how it largely emptied out on the weekends when the government elite departed for hometowns. The wretched climate in the former swamp meant summer holidays were forced on the bureaucracy when the thermometer maxed out, then without the now ubiquitous air conditioning. In an era when the country depended less on Washington delving directly into our inner most reaches [and pockets], part-time government, or something approaching that, could be tolerated if not welcomed.

Certainly the Founders wanted the new Republic to have limited government, peopled by a constantly fluctuating hierarchy composed of a wide range of citizens with other professions and livelihoods. True, eight of the original 55 men who participated in framing the Constitution were sometime politicians. And fourteen were rich enough to own slaves. George Washington, himself, was not only a slave owner but one of the richest men in the New World. Eighteen framers might be called “speculators” in land and finance. Still, they dreamed of a regime in which the power of the state would be lodged at its lowest level and therefore more responsive to the will of the people.

And, indeed, at the insistence of “the radicals” they immediately adopted the ten first Constitutional amendments to guarantee the people’s rights, changes most of which had been discussed earlier. They were adopted to ease the document’s approval from the various states’ legislatures, jealous of their power and fearful of a central government. The tenth amendment put it in unambiguous 18th century prose: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The reasoning was clear: a ruling political elite was the nightmare of the Founders, especially those ideologues committed from the beginning to the Revolution against the British crown. Their opposition arose from an overweening King and Parliament repeat and Parliament which had usurped their rights as Englishmen. Steady progress of Anglo-Saxon individualism and strength of new and growing centers of power in Great Britain had erased the once divine right of kings. And then the power of the barons, squeezed reluctantly from John, gave way to a London elite which governed, but in part still based on aristocracy. That was not to be, the Founders hoped, in, after all, what was their Republic modeled on Greek popular democracy and the Roman worship of the law. [Benjamin Franklin, according to legend, famously quipped when asked by a constituent what had come of the secret constitutional conclave, and he replied, “A Republic, Madam, if you can keep it!”.]

But over two centuries that original intent, as undeniable as it is, has been chipped away “in order to form a more perfect union” and to meet the growing needs of a vast, new land and population and the effects of a continuing industrial revolution. By the time the U.S. finally assumed its obligations as a world power, in fact, as a superpower, in the post World War II environment, that process had gathered new, rapid momentum.

On The Hill, the old bourbon-and-branchwater boys gave way to new blow-haired pseudo-sophisticated Congressional staffers, who incidentally, didn’t know how to draft legislation. In the Congress, more and more seats were “inherited” – either through DNA or through gerrymandering which now was based on class, ethnicity and color rather than on old machine politics handing out a Christmas turkey. The two-year term in the House, intended to insure a rapid turnover close to the electorate, of necessity turned into permanent campaigning. The judicial system which more or less had bucked Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “court-packing” successfully in the mid-30s succumbed increasingly to politicalization – with sociologists rather than legal scholars providing psychoanalytical analysis for decision-making on school desegregation, and a couple of decades later, abortion, rather than resorting on the old torts.

In one of those vaunted reforms with unintended consequences [The 1883 Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act and all is subsequent additions], the effort to insulate the federal bureaucracy from the corruption of political “spoils” created an independent but self-aggrandizing bureaucracy. So much so that sheer dereliction of duty – as witnessed in the current Congressional hearings – is hard to punish with dismissal much less economic sanctions and imprisonment. Watching Committee television hearings, we have seen the apotheosis of the trendy, smirking, self-important, arrogant, self-anointed bureaucrat, defying elected inquisitor politicians – who, however tainted themselves, recognized the dangerous politicalization of the tax system has reached new and dangerous heights.

Grown like Topsy is a class of bureaucrats, political appointees supposedly in their command, reinforced by their K Street lobbyist appurtenances and an increasingly kept mass media and blabbering tax-free, high-paid foundations with pretenses for intellectuality. These latter all too often simply reflect the least common denominator on thinking about any strategy or policy. A systemic revolving door of cushy jobs await any government executive who falls from his seat – until the hoped for next election either brings him back or he continues to work with his alter egos in what is laughingly called the private sector.

Look around and you see the incredible character of our new political elite. They unashamedly reward themselves until the District of Columbia [despite its poverty-stricken Black ghetto] and the surrounding Maryland and Virginia counties have the country’s highest per capita incomes. Alas! The demise of the Founders’ effort for a politically neutral federal territory! And even with the Dulles Corridor information technology industry, you would be hard pressed to find productive sources other than intra-government relations.

To describe the relationship among the inhabitants of Georgetown, Langley, Bethesda, FriendshipHeights, and the other ‘golden ghettoes” of suburban Washington as incestuous would be magnificent understatement. These denizens are often tied by kinship – the former Internal Revenue Service head who presided when it targeted conservative organizations is married to the head of an Obama political organization [not audited], two major network news directors have siblings in “media relations” on the White House staff, etc., etc. They constantly hobnob in New York-priced restaurants, chatter at the plethora of cocktail parties, often vacation together in The Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard or other plush resorts, when not taking overseas “inspection” trips at the taxpayers’ expense.

It is no wonder that such inbreeding leads to group-think. Only such relationships could produce the catastrophe of a fanatical effort to remodel at one stroke one-sixth of the U.S. economy, the medical services and health industry with its infinite and unanticipated complications. And then, of course, to continue to pursue that course when every single opinion poll in the country shows a majority of the voters oppose it. Obamacare is, in fact, the culmination of a growing tendency of “the political class” to demonstrate increasing incompetence and lack of realism in the face of the growing complexity of American economic, social and political life after the subordination of old methodology by the digital revolution. But it was the ultimate expression of a political class who knowingly and arrogantly “know” what is good for the rest of the population.

Is all lost?

The closest I have ever come to Oklahoma was as a teenage ColumbiaUniversity student I got an invitation from Phil Spitalny’s All Girl Orchestra, then playing at the Warner Bros. Theater on Broadway, to see Oklahoma! Opening that 1943 spring. I assume its freshness and authenticity is a reflection of its namesake. To this observer it seems if one wants an antidote to what is happening in Washington, which inspires faith in the American ethos and its political dreams, he must turn to the victims of the recent Oklahoma tornadoes. Even the mainstream media, so often given to stigmatizing ordinary Americans as boobs [“who cling to guns, or religion”], had interview after interview with survivors who expressed their acceptance of the inevitability of life’s disasters but determination to adhere to old Oklahoman and American principles of self-help and perseverance. And I doubt that many of them would recognize a Los Rudos cocktail — with cilantro. As the Communists were want to say, it is not accident that not a single Oklahoma county voted for Obama in 2012.

Therein, perhaps, still lies the essence and the hope of the Founders’ American dream.

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