Sunday, July 27, 2014

The limits of US leadership. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.

President Obama has come under fire for a good part of his presidency from the GOP for “being feckless” and “leading from behind.” I have lost count of the number of times Sen. John McCain has advocated getting militarily involved in this or that conflict. Sen. Lindsey Graham calls Secretary John Kerry “delusional” and the President “King of Indecision,” but ignores reality. There are limits to US ability to lead our allies. The old saying fits:  You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.
If the leadership’s judgment is wrong or misleads us intentionally, blunders and quagmires make thoughtful, cautious leadership personified by Obama’s approach look good. We have experienced leadership of hawks and neocons before.  In my lifetime, we were led into Vietnam mission creep by fear of a domino effect; and we were fooled into invading Iraq by claims they possessed WMDs. We know how both of those turned out.  No wonder we are gun shy.
A recent Politico poll shows we are a schizophrenic nation with hawkish GOP leaders in Washington urging one thing and a large majority of the public decisively agreeing with the details of Obama’s  policies of getting out or staying out of Aghanistan, Ukraine, and the Middle East. 
Obama himself has recently added to the “feckless” perception with bad optics of not flying to the White House to take up hands on leadership. Of course he can conduct matters anywhere thanks to modern communications.  Reality is what we face; not optical illusions.
The Gaza conflict is fraught with reality, and hope is dimming for a two-state solution. Hamas is still sworn to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, and Israel is using the conflict as an opportunity to cripple Hamas. Those are two horses who do not want to drink the water of permanent peace yet. Bless Secretary John Kerry for trying.
Here is reality:  The Cold War was a dangerous time with only fear of mutually assured destruction keeping it in check.  On the other hand, it was a simple time.  The US was able to lead the Western world because the West had been decimated by World War II. We  controlled their ability to recover, and we protected them with our military.
2014  is not your old Cold War.  Russia has been lifted by oil exports and is in the hunt to restore its former glory and control of its neighbors. The European Union is  nearly equal to the US as economic powers, but 40% of their economy  is tied up in trade with Russia and very little of ours. Some members of the EU are 99% dependent on Russian oil; on the average, 30%.   It is so easy for the US to tell Europe to boycott Russian oil because of the Ukraine. It would be devastating to their economy if they did all some have asked. Economic sanctions are water they might sip, but not gulp down.
Data sources:

Friday, July 25, 2014

Udall the victim of a false ad; he did not vote for a carbon tax; Crossroads GPS is playing dirty tricks

An ad running in Colorado attacks Sen. Mark Udall for voting for a carbon tax that would raise fuel costs for middle class Americans. says "he did no such thing".  The dirty tricks season is upon us.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Appeals courts attack and support Obamacare. What impact and reaction can we expect?

There is a great deal of confusion over the recent appeals courts decisions on Obamacare   At issue is whether those who got Obamacare through the federal exchanges could have their policies subsidized to make them affordable. One appeals court dominated by Republicans ruled against the ACA subsidies of federal exchange issued policies  and the other dominated by  Democrats ruled support for  the subsidies.

This  issue will go to a Supreme Court that has already once before upheld Obamacare, but given the 5/4 split against the administration in recent decisions, who knows. The appeals will take many months. In the meantime, the administration announced the subsidies would continue.

What sort of a reaction could we expect if the Supreme Court rules against Obamacare? There will not be much impact in Colorado.  Any of these court rulings  will not affect Colorado because Colorado and fourteen other states  set up their own exchanges and can subsidize premiums.. 

 For those 4.7 million who would   lose their affordable insurance, the reaction would  be an angry one. The Journal of the American Medical Association, July 9, 2014 reported that Obamacare is working as designed . The article reported  ""that 87% of the people signing up for coverage in the federal marketplace qualify for income-based premium subsidies that lower their average premium from $346 per month to $82, a reduction of 76%."

Many would not be angry. The ACA's acceptance has been particularly  challenging, because experience with it has been  short.. Employer provided insurance has been vastly improved , stopping  insurance companies from overcharging, discriminating against women and setting lifetime caps. Now employer insurance is  covering cancer screenings without copays. Consumers wanting to work part time or leaving a job will always have the security of  access to affordable health care.  Those advantages  will only be  fully appreciated and understood when the beneficiaries experience them.   

Complicating acceptance of the ACA is political polarization , coloring any objective views of it. About 60 percent polled recently by the Kaiser Family Foundation (May 30, 2014) said they had not been affected by the law yet the majority still disapprove of the law, affected or not.  Approval of the ACA  remained at about 38% and disapproval at around 45%.   Per the same Kaiser poll:." As in the past, most Democrats view the law favorably, and most Republicans view it unfavorably." Count on any reaction to be mostly partisan.

  What a decision to  deny subsidies will mean, is that either the  states who declined to set up their own exchange/marketplaces, or who  refuse to do it in the meantime, will leave their near poor who could not afford insurance again uninsured as  before Obamacare. . Most of those are in red states that  also refused to expand Medicaid.
  State budgets will also feel the strain of covering more  uninsured.  How long that will last depends on whether their voters demand that their states set up their own exchanges when they see how disadvantaged so many of them  are compared to other states.
There is an excellent discussion in the Wall Street Journal. For those wanting fuller explanation of the appeals  and the potential impacts, go to

Another good read (I didn't see it until after I posted the above)  but this one also speculates on whether and how the Supreme Court will rule as well as the significance of the Obama administration's request that the appeals court as a whole hear the case. The whole thing could die there. 

PS: writing in the Wall Street Journal blog 7/26/14, Drew Altman has a posting worth reading, that the public polls show voters do not want the ACA repealed, just improved. If they view this case as a back door attempt to kill it by defunding it, there could be repercussions against the political proponents and the plaintiffs, in the case. The legislative intent for the subsidies of the federal exchange premiums are clear.  This is recommended reading.

Sources for data in this blog posting.

Monday, July 21, 2014

How the suit suits both the White House and the GOP
The irony of the suit House Majority Leader John Boehner is filing against Pres. Obama on the issue of executive overreach is that it benefits both the moderate wing of the GOP and even  the White House to some extent. The likelihood is that in the long term the suit will fizzle like a fire cracker dud, lit up  for the 2014 midterms, but going nowhere later.
To recap what the suit is all about is that the President overstepped his authority and became a legislator when he delayed the mandate for a year for certain employers with  50 or more employees  to provide health insurance for their employees. The White House claims whether or not the provision is upheld by courts, the impact would not  impact many employers. The Census Bureau shows only 3.6% of firms employ 50 or more workers.
The GOP dominated House is playing whac-a-mole.   While decrying the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare)’s  burden on employers,  the President acted by ordering the delay to appease a protest from the business community and now the House suit wants to whack him for doing what they themselves had advocated. 
The suit will more likely not be settled by the Supreme Court until well after the 2014  midterms, so Court decisions themselves will not influence the 2014 midterms.   What are the chances it will go nowhere, anyway?    The Washington Post’s Wonkblog compiled some opinions and is worth a visit. "Boehner's problem is that the vast majority of lawsuits brought by members of Congress against the president on policy issues have been dismissed for lack of standing. “ and the Court will not hear the case per Lyle Denniston of the National Constitution Center as reported by Andrew Prokop in Vox.  The New York Times Jonathan Weisman notes it would truly damage the power of the executive branch.  The implication of Weisman’s remarks is it would damage power of any future GOP president as well,so the GOP shoul be careful what it wishes.
So why bother? It suits the GOP and Boehner’s  agenda because it rides the unpopularity of the ACA (aka Obamacare) and gives the GOP sustained ability to  dramatize their opposition.   Boehner’s suit supports the establishment side of his fractured party while giving the Tea Party talking points  to use  in place of advocating  impeachment when the likelihood of impeachment  is dim and not popular. Per a poll,  only one third of Americans support initiation of impeachment proceedings. (Approval statistics fall along  party affiliation; independents are equally split)
Why should the Obama administration see an advantage? To dramatize the GOP as a “do nothing party of No” that opposes his acting even on issue on which they partly agree if it has Obama’s name on it. It also diverts attention from wannabe impeachers   and gives anti Obama passions another outlet to express themselves, one  that would be less damaging to the balance of powers.  

A version of this appeared in the July 25, 2014
Data sources: