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Archive for October 1st, 2013

Wonkbook: Obamacare is alive but Congress doing its job is dead

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Well worth reading, written by Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas. The column begins:

Obamacare is alive but the federal government is shut down.

That’s the one-sentence summation of a very long night in Washington. Monday saw Republicans burn through almost every demand they could think of on Obamacare. After failing to defund it the previous week, they tried to delay it. Then they tried to delay the individual mandate.

By the end of the evening Republicans had stopped asking for anything in particular. They had retreated to a request of pure, abstract proceduralism: For Senate Democrats to name negotiators for a conference committee that would negotiate…something.

This is now a negotiation over whether there’ll be negotiations.

Democrats were bemused by the GOP’s request for two reasons. The first is that Democrats have been trying to persuade Republicans to join a conference committee to work out the budget since March. Republicans have refused, and Senate Republicans have gone so far as to filibuster the naming of conferees.

But late on the night of September 30th, with the government shutting down, Republicans rethought their opposition to the conference committee and decided this would be an excellent time for drawn-out negotiations.

The second is that Republicans haven’t explained what they’re willing to negotiate. Democrats don’t believe, as President Obama out it, that Republicans are doing them “a favor” when they keep the government open. Both sides need to keep the government open. Democrats don’t believe Republicans are doing them a favor when the lift the debt limit. Both sides have an interest in keeping the U.S. economy intact.

So what is it that Republicans are willing to give up in these negotiations? Higher taxes? More jobs spending? Universal pre-k? A constructive approach to Obamacare? This is why Senate Democrats say they won’t appoint negotiators until Republicans reopen the government: Because they don’t want Republicans to think this is a negotiation over reopening the government. It has to be a negotiation over some policy question where Democrats can get a little if they give a little.

Meanwhile, The Affordable Care Act actually opened for business last night. Even as the Office of Management and Budget was directing federal agencies to close, HealthCare.Gov was permitting people, for the first time, to sign up for insurance under Obamacare. The chance that Democrats will delay or defund it now is nil. At this point, for instance, delaying the individual mandate would invalidate the prices insurers are currently charging on exchanges — and thus the insurance that Americans are already buying. It’s not going to happen.

Democrats will get some affirmation in that from this morning’s Quinnipiac poll. Obamacare posts its usual slight unpopularity, with 47 percent opposed and 45 percent approving. But the public opposes shutting down the government to stop Obamacare by a 72-22 margin. And they oppose defaulting on the debt to stop Obamacare by a 62-27 margin. Republicans have managed to put themselves on the wrong side of an unpopular bill — no mean trick.

This gets to the upside of Washington’s epic fail. . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2013 at 1:17 pm

Being a defense contractor during a shutdown: ‘I’m going to go update my resume’

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Fascinating interview by Lydia DePillis in Wonkblog:

Much of the impact of the shutdown is felt by the 800,000 federal workers who are simply furloughed without pay. But the ripple effects spread far and wide, to all the workers employed indirectly on government contracts. One of them, a software engineer with a large D.C.-area defense contractor who asked to remain anonymous, described Monday night what it’s been like to work under the threat of your sole client suddenly going dark.

Lydia DePillis: So what’s the atmosphere in the office?  Day to day, you don’t notice it in the work we do. I go in tomorrow, and I know I have a bunch of bugs to fix. But there is that nagging sensation of, like, should I be looking for a new job soon? What’s going on? There’s a lot of chatter in the office. We have employees that work on the bases themselves. So they’ll work on an Air Force or Navy base. They actually don’t go to work tomorrow. They all are being stuffed into our office. So we’ve got to move chairs and tables around, because they can’t go to their normal jobs. There’s a lot of frustration, particularly aimed at the Republicans in Congress. People will say, ‘Hey this is bullshit, why can’t they just figure this out. We go to work, why can’t they go to work?’

LD: Was there some sort of company-wide meeting about it? 

We have a lot of meetings. We definitely had one around the sequestration, because at the time they were really getting into furloughing a lot of employees in the government, and a lot of those guys are our clients, so if they don’t show up to work, we have no point of contact. We can basically keep working, because we’re basically already paid. So if we have a year-long contract, it’s still going, and I’m sure the government won’t be shut down before the contract is over. So that money’s already been set aside. So in that sense we’re okay. But for example, there’s a couple of side projects that we’re trying to develop into actual contracts, so those get pushed back, or those get prolonged, someone’s going to lose money. And it’s probably going to be the government, that’s just how it works.

So for example there’s this one project that we’re trying to start up. And it’s really deep in the development phase. And we have people flying across the country, and we’re meeting, talking, and prototyping stuff. If the people who’re meeting, we can’t contact them tomorrow because they don’t work, do we pull our flights? Does the project get canceled? What do we do now? So projects that aren’t in contract form, written down and ready to go, those are the ones that get hurt. That’s a week or two of our time, and we’re going to charge them for it.

LD: Do you get the sense that higher ups are irritated or tense? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2013 at 1:09 pm

Useful Obamacare flowchart

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From this article in WonkBlog’s extremely good coverage of the roll-out. If you’re interested, click around the cross-references at the site and read everything by Sarah Kliff. I think if you click a columnist’s name you get a list of his/her articles.


Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2013 at 1:04 pm

Posted in Government, Healthcare

A different approach: “Australia had a government shutdown once. In the end, the queen fired everyone in Parliament.”

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Here’s the article.

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2013 at 12:56 pm

Posted in Government

At least one person in DC is pleased today

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Grover Norquist famously said (and repeated endlessly) that he wanted to get the government of the US small enough so he could drown it in a bathtub. Today’s lack of government operation is just what he’s been wanting. And a freshman GOP Congressman, when challenged that the shutdown was not a good way to govern, shouted back, “I didn’t come here to govern!”

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2013 at 12:53 pm

Posted in GOP, Government

The NY Times blames Boehner

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Quite a strong editorial.

UPDATE: I’d say Obama has it about right.

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2013 at 11:42 am

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Pointing out the clay feet (going as high as his hips) of Paul Stebbins

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Paul Krugman makes his point clearly:

Lydia DePillis has an interesting piece interviewing Paul Stebbins — a CEO who was very involved with Fix the Debt — in which Stebbins acknowledges that business is part of the problem in Washington, and proceeds to illustrate, unintentionally, just why that is. You see, if he’s any indication, big business is completely clueless about both the economics and the politics of the situation.

In the world according to Stebbins, debt and deficits are at the heart of America’s economic problem. He doesn’t even make the case — he just claims that it’s obvious according to the facts. No notion whatsoever that we might have slow growth because we’re reducing the deficit too fast; no acknowledgment that the empirical case for debt panic has collapsed. You get the sense that he’s completely unaware of the actual debates that have taken place about economic policy, probably unaware of how much the actual deficit and forecasts of future debt have changed. So he’s angry at Washington for not facing up to a fake problem.

And on the political side, it’s all false equivalence. The AARP, fighting against cuts to benefits, is just like Republicans threatening to plunge us into debt crisis if Obama doesn’t kill health reform. The Club for Growth, threatening any Republican who steps out of line, is just like … me, making fun of groups like Fix the Debt.

In short, this particular CEO comes across as completely out of touch with the reality of our economic and political situation. And then he wonders why politicians won’t listen to people like him.

The thing is, I suspect that he’s typical. Corporate America is led by men who may be very good at their jobs (or not, in some cases), but have no grasp at all of the real issues facing America as a whole — the special problems created by an economy stuck in a liquidity trap, the paralysis caused by the radicalization of the GOP. They can throw lots of money at Washington, and it’s effective at tilting policies on microeconomic issues their way. But they have no influence on the big decisions, because they don’t even understand what those big decisions are.

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2013 at 10:56 am

The one CEO who resisted NSA has just been released from prison

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Andrew Peterson has a sobering story in the Washington Post that illuminates what the US has become under the reign of NSA and the secret government:

Just one major telecommunications company refused to participate in a legally dubious NSA surveillance program in 2001. A few years later, its CEO was indicted by federal prosecutors. He was convicted, served four and a half years of his sentence and was released this month.

Prosecutors claim Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio was guilty of insider trading, and that his prosecution had nothing to do with his refusal to allow spying on his customers without the permission of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. But to this day, Nacchio insists that his prosecution was retaliation for refusing to break the law on the NSA’s behalf.

After his release from custody Sept. 20, Nacchio told the Wall Street Journal that he feels “vindicated” by the content of the leaks that show that the agency was collecting American’s phone records.

Nacchio was convicted of selling of Qwest stock in early 2001, not long before the company hit financial troubles. However, he claimed in court documents that he was optimistic about the firm’s ability to win classified government contracts — something they’d succeeded at in the past. And according to his timeline, in February 2001 — some six months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — he was approached by the NSA and asked to spy on customers during a meeting he thought was about a different contract. He reportedly refused because his lawyers believed such an action would be illegal and the NSA wouldn’t go through the FISA Court. And then, he says, unrelated government contracts started to disappear.

His narrative matches with thewarrantless surveillance program reported by USA Today in 2006 which noted Qwest as the lone holdout from the program, hounded by the agency with hints that their refusal “might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government.” But Nacchio was prevented from bringing up any of this defense during his jury trial — the evidence needed to support it was deemed classified and the judge in his case refused his requests to use it. And he still believes his prosecution was retaliatory for refusing the NSA requests for bulk access to customers’ phone records. Some other observersshare that opinion, and it seems consistent with evidence that has been made public, including some of the redacted court filings unsealed after his conviction.

The NSA declined to comment on Nacchio, referring inquiries to the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice did not respond to The Post’s request for comment.

Snowden leaked documents about NSA spying programs to the public and arguably broke the law in doing so. In contrast, Nacchio seems to have done what was in his power to limit an illegal government data collection program. Even during his own defense, he went through the legal channels he could to make relevant information available for his defense — albeit unsuccessfully.

The programs that were revealed are also substantially different in nature, if not in content. The Bush-era warrantless surveillance programs and data collection  programs were on shaky legal ground, based on little more than the president’s say-so. That’s why telecom companies sought and received legal immunity from Congress for their participation in 2008. But that same update also expanded government surveillance powers. Some observers argue that some of the NSA’s spying programs are still unconstitutional. But at a minimum, these programs were authorized by the FISC and disclosed to congressional intelligence committees.

Nacchio told the Wall Street Journal, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2013 at 10:10 am

Posted in Daily life

Two approaches to governing

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One, as we see, is to shut down the government if you don’t agree with a law already passed and found legal by the Supreme Court. Another, pointed out by a reader of this good column by Ezra Klein:

In May 2007, 140 Democrats in the House of Representatives voted to defund the Iraq war. In September of the same year, Congress voted to increase the debt limit. Imagine if Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats had threatened to breach the debt ceiling unless Republicans agreed to defund the war. At that time, approval of the Iraq war was polled at 33% in favor and 64% against.

In current polling of the Affordable Care Act, more people support than oppose the ACA, and a significant majority opposes shutting down the government.

Greg Sargent in the Washington Post boils the crisis down to two sentences:

1) Only one party is demanding major concessions from the other in exchange for keeping the government open at sequester spending levels – levels leaders of that same party have already declared is a victory for them — while the other party is demanding exactly nothing in exchange for doing that.

2) Only one party is demanding major concessions from the other in exchange for making it possible for the U.S. to pay its bills — an outcome leaders of the same party have already declared is necessary to spare the country default and economic havoc – while the other party is demanding exactly nothing in exchange for doing that.

And at the first link above, Ezra Klein’s article is worth reading. It begins:

1) This is all about stopping a law that increases taxes on rich people and reduces subsidies to private insurers in Medicare in order to help low-income Americans buy health insurance. That’s it. That’s why the Republican Party might shut down the government and default on the debt.

2) The “continuing resolution” only funds the government for six weeks. So even if all goes well Monday night we’ll be doing this again in November.

3) Republicans are now discussing a “one-week CR,” which would mean we’d be doing this again in seven days — and we’d be that much closer to the debt ceiling.

4) The leadership of the Republican Party agrees that the debt ceiling absolutely must be lifted. “I’m not going to risk the full faith and credit of the federal government,” House Speaker John Boehner said. But they also maintain that they are willing to breach the debt limit, risking the full faith and credit of the federal government. As my colleague Greg Sargent has written in the Plum Line, this is a “glaring contradiction” at the heart of the GOP’s position.

5) A few months ago, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2013 at 10:03 am

Posted in GOP, Government, Healthcare

Interesting comparison, Iran and Israel

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Juan Cole at Informed Comment:

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu came to the US on Monday to lobby Washington against a diplomatic resolution of the conflict over Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program. Netanyahu insisted that Iran’s “military nuclear” program be completely dismantled, even though the UN inspectors continue to certify that no Iranian uranium has been diverted to military purposes. That is, there is no proof that Iran has a “military nuclear” program, and Iran has consistently denied that it is trying to get an atomic bomb. Netanyahu also insisted that the Draconian sanctions on Iran, which are hurting ordinary Iranians’ ability to afford expensive imported medicine be kept in place. Netanyahu’s Iron Wall appears actually to be an iron wall for other people’s children living decent lives.

The irony, which no one wants to talk about, is that Israel has several hundred nuclear warheads, whereas Iran has none. Israel refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or be inspected, whereas Iran has signed and is regularly inspected. Frighteningly, Secretary of State John Kerry recently demanded that Iran’s Fordow facility be opened to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. But Fordow has been regularly inspected! If a worldly US official of such long experience in foreign affairs can make such a serious error because he has swallowed too much propaganda, what hope do we in the alternative media have at correcting the record? US media and even President Obama have now routinely begun referring to Iran’s alleged “announced” desire for a nuclear warhead, something that Iranian authorities have repeatedly denied they want. They say they want what Japan and South Korea have, the ability to fuel nuclear power plants to make electricity. Iran has been demonized in the US. But Israel has repeatedly invaded neighbors and usurped their territory or attempted to. Iran hasn’t invaded another country since at least the 1850s. Despite Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980, Iran has occupied no Iraqi territory nor made any territorial demands. Compare that to Israel’s illegal occupation of Arab territory in 1956 and 1967.

So that the Israel Lobbies and the US Congress have imposed a financial blockade on Iran’s petroleum sales and have so damaged the value of the Iranian currency that the lives of ordinary civilians are being harmed, is viewed by most of the global South as a travesty.

Just to put things in perspective, here is a reprint of a post from last year with pertinent statistics: . . .

Continue reading.

Israel seems to think US foreign policy should be conducted on behalf of Israel, not on behalf of the US. A diplomatic solution to Iran and building some connections and bonds with that country is in the interests of the US.

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2013 at 9:44 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

James Fallows comments on the shutdown

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From his blog today:

2) Thought experiment. Let’s suppose it’s the fall of 2005. Suppose George W. Bush has been reelected, as he was in real life. Let’s suppose, also as in reality, the Senate remained in Republican hands. But then suppose that Nancy Pelosi and her Democrats had already won control of the House, rather than doing so two years later. So suppose that the lineup as of 2005 had been:

  • Reelected Republican president;
  • The president’s Republican party retaining control of the Senate; and
  • Democrats controlling only one chamber, the House.

Then suppose further that Pelosi’s newly empowered House Democrats announced that unless George W. Bush agreed to reverse the sweeping tax cuts that had been the signature legislative achievement of his first term, they would refuse to pass a budget so that the federal government could operate, and would threaten a default on U.S. sovereign debt. Alternatively, that unless Bush immediately withdrew from Iraq, federal government funding would cease and the debt ceiling would be frozen.

In this imagined world, I contend:

  • “respectable” opinion would be all over Pelosi and the Democrats for their “shrill,” “extreme” demands, especially given their lack of broad electoral mandate;
  • hand-wringing editorials would point out that if you want to change policy, there’s an established route to do so, which involves passing new bills and getting them signed into law, rather than issuing “otherwise we blow up the government” ultimatums;
  • no one would be saying that the “grownups in the room” had to resolve the crisis by giving away, say, half of the president’s tax cuts. (Even though, to my taste, that would have been a positive step.)

The circumstances are the mirror image now. A party that within the past year has:

  • lost the presidency by 5 million votes;
  • lost the Senate by a total of 10 million votes;
  • held onto control of the House through favorable districting, while losing the overall House vote by 1.7 million nationwide

… is nonetheless dictating terms to the rest of the government. This would have been called extreme and unreasonable under an imagined Nancy Pelosi House in 2005. It is extreme and unreasonable now.

3) Speech. I give you the nation’s first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, in his hallowed Cooper Union address of 1860. (Thanks RJK.) Worth reading every word:

Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events. This, plainly stated, is your language…

In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, “Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!”

To be sure, what the robber demanded of me – my money – was my own; and I had a clear right to keep it; but it was no more my own than my vote is my own; and the threat of death to me, to extort my money, and the threat of destruction to the Union, to extort my vote, can scarcely be distinguished in principle….

Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored – contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong…

Ninety minutes to go, here on the East Coast. “Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government…”  Grrrr.

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2013 at 9:20 am

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Great lather, good shave

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SOTD 1 Oct 2013

I decided to go with Mike’s Natural to remind me of a great shaving soap that took me a long time to learn. The key for Mike’s Natural was using a lot more water than I thought would be needed, and so today I used my Mühle silverfibre brush, since synthetics if sopping wet will dump a load of water when you start to use it. For Mike’s Natural, that excess water was just what was needed. I got a lovely and fragrant lather.

My iKon with an Astra Superior Stainless did a good job, but the blade seemed to be on its last legs, so I replaced it post-shave. A good splash of Savory Rose sends me on my way into the first day of the government shutdown.

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2013 at 9:15 am

Posted in Shaving

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