ObamaCare, How Do We Hate Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

Note to Congress:  Avoid passing bizarrely complicated, economy-transforming legislation that you have not read, especially in the face of overwhelming public opposition.  In The Weekly Standard, Jeffrey H. Anderson describes the “steady stream of revelations of previously undiscovered horrors buried in the bowels of ObamaCare”:

Since passage, reports have revealed that ObamaCare would cost over $1 trillion by any standard, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), not “merely” $940 billion as previously reported (while its total costs in its real first decade, 2014 to 2023, would continue to be well over $2 trillion); that ObamaCare has prompted major corporations to discuss dropping their employer-provided health-care plans; that businesses would have to file 1099s not only for every person to whom they pay $600 in wages but for every vendor with whom they do $600 in business, thereby imposing a paperwork nightmare and incentivizing companies to avoid doing business with a myriad of small firms rather than a handful of big ones; that ObamaCare would create 159 new federal agencies, offices, or programs; that the Obama administration’s Medicare Chief Actuary says ObamaCare would raise U.S. health costs by $311 billion in relation to current law and would shift about 14 million people off of employer-provided insurance — and some of them onto Medicaid; that ObamaCare’s would discourage employment, as — for example — hiring a 25th worker would cost a business $5,600 in addition to wages and benefits; that ObamaCare would impose a severe marriage penalty, offering additional subsidies as high as $10,425 a year if couples merely avoid marriage; that a lone provision in ObamaCare, which would penalize employers if their employees spend more than 9.5 percent of their household income on insurance premiums, would cut the net income of businesses like White Castle by more than half; that even though ObamaCare was supposed to get people out of emergency rooms and into doctors’ offices, those who build emergency rooms say the effect will be just the opposite and that they are gearing up for increased business; that doctors shortages are looming and would be accentuated by ObamaCare, both because more people would seek care (otherwise, what would the $2 trillion be buying?) and because fewer people would likely enter a demanding profession that would now promise greater restrictions and lower pay; and that President Obama’s nominee to head Medicare and Medicaid under ObamaCare is an open advocate of the British National Health Services’ NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence) and its methods of rationing care.

Opposition to ObamaCare has grown sharply with all of the revelations: “Americans now favor repeal by a margin of almost 2-to-1, with 63 percent favoring repeal and just 32 percent opposing it,” according to a Rasmussen poll cited in the same article.

But repeal is a tough row to hoe.  There’s little doubt that a Democratic bloodbath in November will dramatically alter the balance of power in Washington — but Obama will still be president, and still have veto power.  Even if the Republicans win every single Senate race throughout the country (not gonna happen), there will be enough Democratic Senators to sustain a veto.  Although I expect Harry Reid’s successor as Democratic leader will have a harder time enforcing party loyalty.

True repeal will probably have to wait until after the 2012 presidential election, unless the Supreme Court steps in to rule Obamacare unconstitutional.  (Hm… I wonder if my former colleague Elena Kagan would have to recuse herself?)  In the meantime, look for the next Congress to find creative ways to deny funding and delay implementation of key provisions.

Will the Oil Disaster be “Obama’s Katrina”?

In The Corner, Yuval Levin has a sensible take on the tendency to blame the government for anything that goes wrong.

We who live in the 21st century West have the least messy, least dangerous, least uncertain lives of any human beings in history. We should be very grateful for that, but we should not let our good fortune utterly distort our expectations of life, and we should not react with unrestrained indignant shock anytime the limitations of our power make themselves seen or the cold and harsh capriciousness of nature overcomes our defenses. We should expect a firm response from the institutions we have built to protect ourselves—science, technology, and modern government—but we cannot expect a perfect response. Not from Bush, and not from Obama.

Let’s hope the administration does a better job in response to this spill than it has so far, just as the Bush administration could certainly have done a better job in its response to Katrina. It’s clear they have made mistakes. But let’s not pretend that what we’re witnessing here is fundamentally a colossal failure of the federal government. There are plenty of those going on, but this isn’t one of them.

Rand Paul: Giving Libertarianism a Bad Name

Taranto aptly called it “a rookie mistake” when newly nominated Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul told an interviewer that he was troubled by the fact that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which Paul otherwise supported –  crossed the line of regulating behavior by private businesses.  However intellectually coherent Paul’s position might be in a narrow, libertarian-absolutist, freshman-dorm-room kind of way, politically and realistically it’s nuts.

Or as Taranto says:

In this matter, Paul seems to us to be overly ideological and insufficiently mindful of the contingencies of history. Although we are in accord with his general view that government involvement in private business should be kept to a minimum, in our view the Civil Rights Act’s restrictions on private discrimination were necessary in order to break down a culture of inequality that was only partly a matter of oppressive state laws.

If he’s going to play in the big leagues, Paul needs to stop making rookie mistakes. In discussing the horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Paul apparently felt a need to stick up for the spiller:

“What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of ‘I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP,'” said Paul who overwhelmingly won Tuesday’s GOP Senate primary in Kentucky and is a favorite of Tea Party activists. “I think that sounds really un-American in his criticisms of businesses.”

“I’ve heard nothing from BP about not paying for the spill,” Paul continued. “I think it’s part of this blame game society in the sense that it’s always got to be someone’s fault, instead of the fact that sometimes accidents happen.”

I’m a big fan of capitalism myself, but geez.  There will be other, better opportunities to criticize Obama and the Democrats for excessive corporate-bashing.  For now, Paul would be wise to simply refrain from joining the dogpile on top of the oil industry.

If I were to describe my political philosophy in one word, that word would be “libertarian.” My libertarian slogan of choice is “free people and free markets, under the rule of law.”  The “rule of law” part is a recognition that if you go too far down the spectrum toward small government, you wind up with anarchy.  To become a Senator, Rand Paul needs to stop following his father that far down the libertarian trail.

My Hero, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, on Islamic Death Threats

One of the best things you could do in the next seven minutes would be to watch John Stossel’s interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali (whose latest book Nomad is available through my Amazon widget in the right column).  Here’s a sample of what she tells Stossel:

“If you are a Muslim and you leave Islam, it’s the obligation of every Muslim to come after you and kill you. Fortunately for me, and for other apostates of Islam, not every Muslim wants to kill us.  But it is in scripture, and it’s very important that we discuss that….

“There are people, again, who feel like they are following in the example of the prophet Mohammed if they kill people like me.”  [Because of the need for armed bodyguards around the clock] “my freedom is constrained, but still, I am alive, and I feel that I am free, and I feel that I can take part in this debate without having to fear for my life.”

In the midst of the controversy over “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” it’s important to keep in mind the nature of the man being mocked.  The Prophet spread his message at the point of the sword, and apostasy was only one of many transgressions for which the penalty was death.  From the hadith Sahih Bukhari, Book 52:

No doubt, I would have killed them, for the Prophet said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.’ …  A group of eight men from the tribe of ‘Ukil … killed the shepherd and drove away the camels, and they became unbelievers after they were Muslims. When the Prophet was informed by a shouter for help, he sent some men in their pursuit, and before the sun rose high, they were brought, and he had their hands and feet cut off. Then he ordered for nails which were heated and passed over their eyes, and whey were left in the Harra (i.e. rocky land in Medina). They asked for water, and nobody provided them with water till they died.

Thousands of Deadly Islamic Terror Attacks Since 9/11

A good guided tour of the scriptural basis for Islamic fascism is available at TheReligionOfPeace.com, which keeps a helpful daily tally of terrorist attacks committed in the name of the Prophet.

“Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” May Be Better as a Concept than as Something Actually to Do

I loved the concept of Everybody Draw Mohammed Day: stick a thumb in the eye of the cowardly suits at Comedy Central, Yale University Press and elsewhere who backed down in the face of thuggish threats and betrayed the cause of free expression through self-censorship.  Do it in a way that thoroughly dilutes the target pool, creating more Mohammed-depicters than there are jihadis.  Fight back against jihadism (the term I think I may start using in place of “Islamic fascism“) in a truly non-violent way.

But I have to say I’m appalled by the vulgarity and obscenity of many of the images I’ve run across today. Predictable, I suppose, but I failed to predict it.  No, I’m not going to link to them, you can find your own if you want.  I’m talking about the hundreds of graphic depictions of bestiality, pedophilia and rape.  (Yes, I know that Mohammed allegedly consummated his “marriage” to Aisha when she was nine or 10 years old, and I agree that it’s quite reasonable to label that “pedophilia.”  But I still don’t want to look at a picture of it.)

But I do like Reason‘s selection of winners for its “EDMD” contest, precisely because they avoid such crudity.  Their grand prize winner is above; clicking it will take you to their writeup, where they note:

The single most important element – and the thing that ties these selections together [the winning image above and two runners-up] – is that each image forces the viewer to do two things.

First, they consciously call into question the nature of representation, no small matter in fights over whether it is allowed under Islamic law to depict Mohammed (for the historical record, there is no question that the idea that is always wrong is only of recent vintage; there is a long history of sacred and superficial images of the Prophet)….

Second, each of the images forces the viewer to actively participate not simply in the creation of meaning but of actually constructing the image itself. This is clearest in our grand prize winner … which pushes iman and infidel alike to do the work that would condemn them to death under the most extreme reading of injunctions against representing Mohammed.

There is a deeper lesson here: Connect the dots and discover that we all must be Spartacus on Everybody Draw Mohammad Day. And that in a free society, every day is Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.

Not Mohammed

I have one quibble with the contest at Reason — they seem to have cropped out a couple of essential dots.  If you enlarge the image, print it out and connect the dots, as I have done in the second image (yes, maybe I need a hobby), you’ll find that dots No. 31 and 32 are missing.  Since they’re at the bottom of the image, they presumably would establish Mohammed’s beard — without which he looks more like Sonic the Hedgehog.


Surprise! “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” Draws Threats

A "peaceful" protest in Lahore, Pakistan

I haven’t paid much attention to “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” since I first wrote about it, but a lot of other people have.  The May 20th observation has its own (very lengthy) Wikipedia page, multiple Facebook pages, including one with more than 63,000 fans, an EDMD blog, and a contest by Reason magazine.

No casualties as of yet in the inevitable backlash, although there’s a tepid implicit death threat in the sign carried by Pakistani students, above.   The main anti-EDMD Facebook page has more than 37,000 fans, and to their credit, the organizers are stressing non-violence.

Reason editor Nick Gillespie explains why the magazine is championing EDMD:

… at the heart of the liberal project is ultimately a recognition that individuals, for no other reason than that they exist, have rights to continue to exist. Embedded in all that is the right to expression. No one has a right to an audience or even to a sympathetic hearing, much less an engaged audience. But no one should be beaten or killed or imprisoned simply for speaking their mind or praying to one god as opposed to the other or none at all or getting on with the small business of living their life in peaceful fashion. If we cannot or will not defend that principle with a full throat, then we deserve to choke on whatever jihadists of all stripes can force down our throats.

The theory behind “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” is that the jihadis can’t kill all of us.  Let’s hope there are no casualties at all.

Meanwhile, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s new book has downloaded to my Kindle, and I’m going to settle in to read about a woman who truly has stared death in the face in the cause of free expression.

Faisal Shahzad: The Terrorist Next Door

For whatever reason, I’ve resisted learning much about the Times Square bombmaker’s personal life.  I’ve been more interested in other aspects of the attempted attack, such as how his U.S. citizenship distinguishes him from the Christmas panty-bomber, or whether exceptions to the Miranda rule should be broadened.  (I vote yes.)

But today I stumbled across an in-depth profile of Faisal Shahzad in the New York Times, and I read it with a sense of queasy fascination.   Out of several candidates, I’ve settled on this as the passage that disturbed me the most:

That June [2006], he took a new job as an analyst at the Affinion Group, a financial marketing firm in Norwalk, telling a friend that his annual income had jumped to $70,000. Two months later, he finished his master’s degree in business. On weekends, Mr. Shahzad hosted barbecues, mowed his lawn and played badminton in the yard. His wife was pregnant.

Shahzad, pictured above with his wife and one of their two children, was living the American Dream.  Early press reports speculated that financial difficulties might have played a role in his radicalization, but the Times account makes clear that his home was foreclosed only because he abandoned it and stopped paying the mortgage.

Somehow this well-educated, solidly middle-class family man was so affected by a poisonous ideology that he drove a car bomb to Times Square and tried to kill random people — who might well have included attractive young families like his own.  Catastrophe was averted only because of his utter incompetence as a bombmaker.

We can’t rely on  incompetence — the Christmas panty-bomber also failed, but jihadi-Major Nadal Hasan took far too many casualties. We can’t arrest every middle-class family man who expresses outrage about the Iraq war.  What can we do?

Ajami Offers Wisdom on Islam and the Middle East

My old professor Fouad Ajami, who flourished at Johns Hopkins after starting his academic career at Princeton, discusses Islam and the Middle East on Peter Robinson’s well-crafted Uncommon Knowledge video series.  There is no transcript, but I’ve painstakingly transcribed a few passages, and in some cases I’ve added links to my own posts along similar lines.  (I didn’t take notes this well in the good professor’s course, but I might have if his lectures had a pause button.)

We can be proud of what we have done in Iraq.  America has midwifed a binational state — that means Arab and Kurd — and we have midwifed a democratic entity in the heart of the Middle East…. I think history will be immensely kind to what he [President Bush] did in Iraq. [Hear, hear.]

I don’t think President Obama should make Afghanistan the so-called “central front” in the war on terror.  Because in the bazaar, that just increases the price of the Afghan real estate. It gives the Afghans the sense they can blackmail us — that we’re so dependent on their largesse, so dependent on their hospitality.  We must tell the Afghans unequivocably that we have other concerns in this war on terror.

Iran is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear [weapons]… There are two men in the world, and only two men in the world, who can prevent this.  One of them is President Obama, and the other one is Prime Minister Netanyahu.  So either President Obama, or Prime Minister Netanyahu, puts a halt to this Iranian drive, or the Iranians will have what they want.  [There may be two men who could, but only one who likely will.]

People who say that there is no moderate Islam trouble me, because I know that the battle for Islam is not yet lost… We believe it’s an open battle. We know that the radical Islamists are trying to hijack the faith and “weaponize” Islam so to speak… but I can’t go that far and say there is no moderate Islam. I know for example there are many jurists in the Islamic world who are keen to get Islam back from the radicals. [From his lips to Allah’s ears.]

He [Obama] doesn’t understand this Arabic expression… “My brother and I against my cousin.  My cousin and I aganist a stranger.” There’s one thing Arabs and Muslims don’t like, which is someone who comes into their midst and trashes his own.  President Obama walked in to Cairo and spoke poorly of the Iraq war, and apologized for America.  It was a terrible mistake. And even the people at the receiving end, they may enjoy his taunts of President Bush and his attacks on the Iraq war — but you are never respected.  If you break with your own, you break with your own.

We need less of the global apology tour and more of the ringing assertion of America’s role in the world that Obama delivered so effectively in his Nobel Prize speech.

Brush With Greatness: Elena Elenadana Kagan

Unless every news outlet on the Internets has it wrong, once again President Obama is nominating a Princeton alumna to the Supreme Court.  Unlike Sonia Sotomayor, this time I actually knew her.

Elena Kagan was a year behind me, and I worked with her at The Daily Princetonian.  Every night a small rotating team of Prince reporters and editors would “work press” — oversee the production of the paper throughout the evening and sometimes into the early morning.  We would proofread, rewrite headlines and cut stories to make them fit, and when she and I worked press together or when I edited her stories, I briefly would have been her supervisor.  I don’t recall any such occasion, but I have no doubt that my wisdom and dedicated professionalism helped inspire… ah, nevermind.

Each year the student journalists would elect a member of the next year’s graduating class to serve as Chairman, and that person would oversee the paper for the coming year.  Elections typically went through several ballots and into the night.  My outgoing class ran the election for her incoming class, and Elena came in second (a lot better than I had fared the year before).  She arrived at the party after the balloting looking disappointed but composed, and I was impressed by her quiet dignity.

She was a hard-working, serious person.  A new TV show called Saturday Night Live was a massive hit on college campuses across the nation, and the late Gilda Radner played a recurring character called Roseanne Rosannadanna, a loopy newscaster.  For reasons lost in the mists of time, a few of us started referring to her as Elena Elenadana Kagan.  I remember being startled to learn that she had never watched SNL and had no idea what we were talking about.

I’ve had no contact with her since I graduated. I’d like to be able to say that I knew she was destined for great things, but I had no such insight.  I will say that years ago, when I read she had been named Dean of Harvard Law School, that I was impressed but not particularly surprised.

Before he died in 2008 at the age of 111, a man from my church was the oldest living alumnus of both Rutgers University and Harvard Law School.  At his funeral I learned that Harvard had honored him, and his family was surprised and grateful at how much time Dean Kagan spent talking with them and making them welcome.

Unlike Sotomayor, Kagan has no paper trail of judicial activism.  Her politics undoubtedly are to the left of mine, but that would be the case with any Obama nominee, and I see no reason to oppose her nomination (much to her relief, I’m sure).  Besides, since I didn’t know her classmate Eliot Spitzer, she’ll become the most prominent person about whom I can say “I knew her when” — and how cool is that?

The Coming Collapse of Employer-Based Health Coverage

140px-CaduceusIn their desperation to pass some kind of health care bill now now now now now, the Democrats have annexed one-sixth of the economy despite the opposition of a majority of Americans.  The debate over the bill may be over, but the unintended consequences are only starting to make themselves known. A new Fortune article provides a glimpse of the future under Obamacare, and it ain’t pretty.  (Hat tip: Neo.)

Remember when Rep. Henry Waxman, whose photo can be found in the dictionary next to the word “grandstanding,” summoned the leaders of AT&T, Caterpillar, Verizon, Deere and other companies to grill them about the write-downs they took  to recognize the costs of the newly-passed legislation? The hearings were abruptly canceled, and the Democratic staff of the committee put out a memo acknowledging what had been clear all along — that the write-downs were not just appropriate, but in fact legally required.  Fortune reviewed the subpoenaed documents and discovered why the hearings were canceled:

Nowhere in the five-page report did the majority staff mention that not one, but all four companies, were weighing the costs and benefits of dropping their coverage.

AT&T produced a PowerPoint slide entitled “Medical Cost Versus No Coverage Penalty.” A document prepared for Verizon by consulting firm Hewitt Resources stated, “Even though the proposed assessments [on companies that do not provide health care] are material, they are modest when compared to the average cost of health care,” and that to avoid costs and regulations, “employers may consider exiting the health care market and send employees to the Exchanges.” (Under the new bill, employees who lose their coverage will purchase health care through state-run exchanges.)

Kenneth Huhn, vice president of labor relations at Deere, said in an internal email that his company should look at the alternatives to providing health benefits, which “would amount to denying coverage and just paying the penalty,” and that he felt he already had the ability to make this change under his company’s labor agreement. Caterpillar felt it would have to give “serious consideration” to the penalty option.

It’s these analyses — which show it’s a lot cheaper to “pay” than to “play” — that threaten to overthrow the traditional architecture of health care.

Of course, none of these companies have dropped employee coverage yet.  But can there be any doubt that they and many others will do so if the economics are compelling enough?

From the beginning, the Democrats have relied on the premise that people who like their current health coverage will be able to keep it. The phony economic calculations that enabled the Democrats to claim that Obamacare would not add to the deficit were based in part on assumptions that big companies would continue to offer health care coverage to their employees.  Oops.

During the Obamacare debate, I took to referring to the public “option” — with scare quotes around the word option — as a shorthand way of reiterating the truism that no corporation can possibly compete with the resources of the United States government.

Here’s a longhand version of the argument, from an August 18 post:

Despite Obama’s disingenuous talk about having the insurance companies “compete” with a “public option” backed by the vast resources and regulatory clout of the government, most people recognize that no such competition is sustainable.

With a public option, the corporations who currently fund health insurance for their employees will have two choices — they can continue to negotiate with insurance companies to try to get the best deal for themselves and their employees, or they can get out of the middle, stop bothering with insurance companies and just dump all their employees into the public “option.” Hmmm… decisions, decisions.

People intuitively understand that the “public option” is a first step toward a single-payer world in which the government directly controls one-sixth of the economy, and has no competitive incentive to reduce costs and improve service.

I celebrated when it became clear the public “option” would not be part of the final health care bill.  But even in the legislation that was passed, the incentives for companies to wash their hands and walk away from health care will be overwhelming.

November can’t come soon enough.