It has now been five years since President Obama signed Obamacare into law — and more than two years and two months since any poll found it to be popular. The last time a poll found Obamacare to be popular was during Obama’s first term.
During his second term (now mercifully more than halfway over), Real Clear Politics has listed 178 polls on Obamacare. All 178 have found it to be unpopular. In addition, the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll — a left-leaning outlier that RCP doesn’t even list and which (contrary to essentially every other poll) actually claimed Obamacare was popular at the time of its passage — has released 22 polls on Obamacare during Obama’s second term. All 22 have found it to be unpopular. So, in all, Obamacare has gone 0-200 during Obama’s second term, far worse than the cumulative 0-124 record of #16 seeds in the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
It’s not hard to figure out why. The good people of this country didn’t want Obamacare because they knew it would undermine their liberty, their nation’s fiscal solvency, and the quality of American medicine. They knew it would raise health costs while also increasing federal spending, deficits, and control. They knew it would funnel unprecedented power and money to politicians and bureaucrats in Washington at the expense of doctors and patients on Main Street. And, indeed, it has.
Yet Obama says of his namesake,
“On the five-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, one thing couldn’t be clearer: This law is working, and in many ways, it’s working even better than anticipated.
“After five years of the Affordable Care Act, more than 16 million uninsured Americans have gained the security of health insurance.”
In truth, when the Democrats rammed Obamacare into law without a single Republican vote, the Congressional Budget Office projected that 26 million people would have gained health insurance by 2015. Only the federal government could call failing to hit a target by 10 million people “working even better than anticipated.” Moreover, most of those 16 million have merely been dumped into Medicaid.
Still, the ongoing public opposition to Obamacare is really quite striking. Imagine if 200 straight polls had found Obamacare to be popular. In that scenario, do you think the cause of repeal would continue to be taken seriously? Why, then, in the face of 200 straight polls finding Obamacare to be unpopular, is its repeal not viewed to be nearly inevitable?
"There are three principles of conduct which the man of high rank should consider specially important: that in his deportment and manner he keep from violence and heedlessness; that in regulating his countenance he keep near to sincerity; and that in his words and tones he keep far from lowness and impropriety." - The Analects
Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s life was defined by political turmoil. His worldview was shaped by his participation in, or witness to, the major convulsions of his era – Japanese militarism, the Chinese revolution, anti-colonialism, the Cold War, the challenges of economic development, racial schisms, and religious violence. In his search for stability amidst the chaos and blood of the 20th century, he reached for Confucianism, with its emphasis on order, hierarchy, and cohesion. Lee leaves us with five core lessons from his 60-plus years in public life.
1. The utility of force. Perhaps the seminal event of Lee’s life was the Second World War, precipitating the stunning collapse of British rule in Singapore and a harsh Japanese occupation, all despite Britain’s enormous imperial strengths, international treaties, and the approbation of the international community. Thus under Lee, Singapore instituted compulsory military service and built the most potent military in the region. The lesson: Soft power works fine, as long as hard power is not in the room.
2. The balance of power. Lee’s foreign policy frequently entailed a tilt toward the U.S., not necessarily because he was intrinsically pro-American, but because he felt the U.S. was underweight in Southeast Asia and that a balance of power in the region was essential to Singapore’s security. When the Philippines kicked the U.S. out, Lee invited the U.S. to maintain a military presence in the region at a small facility in Singapore. The lesson: A weak U.S. presence can be destabilizing. Hegemony dangerous; balance good.
3. The necessity of self-determination. Western powers tended to emphasize the positive elements of colonialism - economic development and rule of law. Critics saw colonialism as unjust and frequently with racial overtones. Lee understood both the transcendent appeal of nationalism and the dangers of communism as an economic or government philosophy. He established a nationalist party as an alternative to both colonialism and communism. It remains perhaps the only political party to have governed in a popular front with the communists and not be swallowed by them. The lesson: People have an inherent desire for self-determination against which the best colonial power cannot compete. If non-communist parties cannot make this argument, the communists will.
Iowa took umbrage, last week, over something an operative for Scott Walker said. Or, to be precise, something she once tweeted. For her indiscretion, Liz Mair was forced to resign from Walker’s political action committee. Walker is not yet an officially declared candidate for president but that is just political coyness. He’s running and a win in the Iowa caucuses would be a good way to start. So he could not tolerate a staffer tweeting, as Mair did, that
The sooner we remove Iowa's frontrunning status, the better off American politics and policy will be.
It seems likely that many people in the political-industrial complex would agree with that sentiment. Who wants to be in Iowa in January? How much nicer it would be if Florida were the first state to make its presidential preferences known.
But the people of Iowa desperately need to be first in the nation and Walker was evidently unwilling to risk defying their sense of entitlement which didn’t exactly polish up his profile in courage. So Mair was out.
The caucuses are good, no doubt, for the self-esteem of Iowans who get to see themselves on television a lot in the weeks leading up to the January caucuses and also get some face time with the candidates. And, as Hunter Schwarz of the Washington Post wrote in his account of the Mair episode:
Iowans also like the thousands of people who descend on the state to cover and participate in the caucus process, spending oodles of cash in the process.
Which is, no doubt true. But that is petty cash. Chicken feed, to use an agrarian metaphor appropriate to Iowa. The big political interest of the state is in corn. More specifically, in a corn product that Americans are compelled to buy if they want to drive a car, run a boat, use a chain saw or leaf blower … to do virtually anything that requires the use of a gasoline burning, internal combustion engine. Iowa is about ethanol.
The ethanol mandate goes back to the days when President George W. Bush was talking about an American “addiction to oil.” A clever figure of speech that some White House speech writer thought up all by himself and, no doubt, dined out on for days after. Actually, oil has been liberating for humanity. If you want to see real dependency, go someplace where they still use muscle power – human and animal – to get the farm work done. That place, by the way, certainly won’t be Iowa where John Deere is king.
Still, there was a slim, but persuasive, case to be made for ethanol back in 2007. Oil was expensive and most of it came from overseas, making the supply uncertain for the usual geo-political reasons. Stretching the oil by adding some ethanol could be sold as a win-win. We would need less oil and since we had lots of farmland and could raise plenty of corn, there would be home grown economic benefits.
So, we got an ethanol mandate and the equivalent of a Manhattan Project for corn. Production of ethanol in the U.S went from just under 4 billion gallons in 2005 to almost 14 billion gallons in 2011. Iowa accounts for about a quarter of that.
The prime minister of Israel delivered a speech announcing positions on the peace process and Palestinian statehood that contradicted the views of the U.S. president and the international community.
The prime minister rejected full Palestinian statehood, instead saying that "we would like this to be an entity which is less than a state." He rejected withdrawing to the 1967 lines, declaring that "the borders of the State of Israel...will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines."
The prime minister said more. He rejected any division of Jerusalem or creation of a Palestinian capital there. He called for a "united Jerusalem, which will include both Ma'ale Adumim and Givat Ze'ev—as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty." He also demanded that other major communities over the 1967 lines, some quite far over the 1967 lines, be retained as part of Israel, including Gush Etzion, Efrat, and Beitar.
He even rejected an eventual Israeli military withdrawal from the West Bank, insisting on retaining a presence in the Jordan Valley, which forms the border between the West Bank and Jordan. "The security border of the State of Israel," he declared, "will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term."
What was the reaction of the president of the United States? Did he, as President Obama has this week, respond with threats of diplomatic attack and expressions of outrage and contempt for the prime minister and his country?
Was the Jewish state threatened with abandonment at the United Nations? Were accusations leveled that the prime minister was eroding democracy in Israel, race-baiting, and imperiling Israel's Jewish future? Did the president accuse the prime minister of risking "a chaotic situation in the region"?
None of these things happened. The year was 1995, the prime minister was Yitzhak Rabin (of the Labor party), the president was Bill Clinton, and the speech was to Israel's Knesset—and it was delivered in the midst of peace negotiations with the United States. Rabin was assassinated several weeks later. You can read the speech—his last formal speech—here. It is fair to say that Rabin's declarations went significantly further, and were far more detailed, in contesting Palestinian statehood than anything Benjamin Netanyahu said last week in the heat of his campaign.
California governor Jerry Brown said, "Yes, I would" run for president if I were ten years younger. He made the remarks this morning to NBC:
Host Chuck Todd asked, "If you were ten years younger would you be running this year?"
"Yes," Brown said without hesitation, "I would."
Brown hesitated in the follow-up saying, "Well, I can't say. I've run three times, so if I could go back in the time machine and be 66, you know, I might jump in. But that's a counterfactual, so we don't need to speculate on that."
President Obama insisted in an interview with the Huffington Post that "by hook or by crook" he'll be a successful president. He made the comments in answering a question about whether he'd become a "more progressive president over time."
"No," Obama said to the question, he had not become more progressive. "I think that what we are constantly doing is looking for opportunities to advance the agenda that I talked about back in 2007 and 2008. I mean, remember, in the first two years of my administration we advanced more progressive legislation than anybody in 50 years.
"The Recovery Act, which everybody has forgotten about, which helped saved the economy and prevented us going into the Great Depression, was the largest investment in green technology, the largest investment in education. We rebuilt roads and bridges. It was larger by a significant margin than the New Deal in real dollars and put us on a pathway for clean energy development, put us on a pathway for electronic medical records. All kinds of stuff that people forgot about.
"The Affordable Care Act, which is working better than even I thought it was going to work, and we now have 16 million-plus people who are benefiting directly from having health insurance, and we have another 130 million who don't have to worry about losing their coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Millions of young people who are on their parents' plan. Those are pretty progressive.
"What we have done though is consistently looked for additional opportunities to get stuff done. Wherever we see a possibility of increasing wages, creating more jobs, making sure that more people are able to access opportunity, we're gonna seize it. And we're going to, wherever possible, try to reach out to Republicans and see if they can work with us. And where they're not willing to work with us, we will do it administratively or we will convene the private sector.
"By hook or by crook, we're going to make sure that when I leave this office, that the country is more prosperous, more people have opportunity, kids have a better education, we're more competitive, climate change is being taken more seriously than it was, and we are actually trying to do something about it. Those are going to be the measures by which I look back and say whether I've been successful as president.
“Fed Puts Interest-Rate Hikes in Play,” led the Wall Street Journal’s page one, following Federal Reserve Board chair Janet Yellen’s latest press conference. “Don’t bet on June for Federal Reserve hike,” countered page one of the business section of USA Today. To which I would add a headline for this piece, “It doesn’t really matter which one is right,” were I consulted by our esteemed headline writers.
Start with the competing interpretations of what Yellen had to say. She and her monetary policymaking colleagues dropped the word “patient” from the description of their plans for raising interest rates, while adding that they have no intention of being “impatient”. Since the economy seems to be slowing a bit, and the unemployment rate that might trigger unacceptable inflation is lower than was previously thought, Yellen feels she can be, er, patient. No rate rise at the April meeting. Fed watchers are left to fill in the blank in the sentence, “The Fed will begin raising interest rates in ---”. Or sooner, if the data warrant. Or perhaps later, if the Fed’s economists’ reading of the entrails of some goose, better known as its economic model, so indicates. Markets reacted by lowering the probability of an increase, once deemed virtually a sure thing in June (but not in this space), to less than 50-50 in September. If that reading is correct, and rates remain on hold in September, the chance of an increase in the final quarter is slight. Holiday sales are counted on by retailers to turn red ink to black, and a rate increase might result in a growth-stifling sheathing of credit cards.
To be fair, the Fed is tiptoeing through a data minefield en route to an eventual rate increase. There is no question that the economy is stronger than it was when the zero-interest rate policy was adopted, although Fed critics rush to deny that zero interest rates can take any credit for the improvement. Unemployment is down and headed to a level that can reasonably be called full employment -- unless you count all those workers involuntarily on short hours and those so discouraged that they have chosen benefits over further job-hunting. In which more realistic case unemployment remains high, certainly unacceptably so in Yellen’s eyes. Inflation is tame, running at an annual rate of 1.3% according to the Fed’s favored measure, and is likely to remain so as a soaring dollar keeps the price of imports down, and the effect of the collapse of oil prices ripples through the economy -- unless oil prices snap back and mounting wage pressures in the construction and other trades, combined with stagnant productivity, initiate a wage-price spiral. Consumers are billions richer because of lower gasoline prices, which should result in an uplift in spending -- unless the recently reported decline in consumer sentiment and the desire to shore up depleted savings accounts keeps consumers out of the shops.
Is former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley moving closer to running for president? A short video on the Democrat's Facebook page looks like the beginning of a campaign ad.
"This bizarre sort of trickle-down experiment we've had where we think that by keeping wages down and concentrating wealth at the very top, we're somehow creating a better future for our kids," says O'Malley in the 15-second clip. "It doesn't work. It never has."
The Obama administration is nearing a decision to keep more troops in Afghanistan next year than it had intended, effectively upending its drawdown plans in response to roiling violence in the country and another false start in the effort to open peace talks between the Talibanand the Afghan government.
This counts, of course, as:
… further evidence of the continuing demands of America’s longest war, which has raged on even after President Obama declared an end to America’s “combat role” in Afghanistan.
Some of the American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified deliberations over troop strength, said there might not be a public announcement on troop numbers to avoid potential criticism that Mr. Obama is backing away from his pledge to end the war in Afghanistan before he leaves office.
That, of course, is a decision based on political considerations. Keeping the troops in place, on the other hand, is an acknowledgement of the military realities which are that:
On the ground in Afghanistan … conditions remain tenuous. In eastern and southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban have traditionally been strongest, only airstrikes and other help from the American-led military coalition kept the Taliban from seizing significant territory during last year’s fighting season. The insurgents also pushed into parts of northern Afghanistan that were recently viewed as being firmly under government control.