Sunday, October 27, 2013

ObamaCare and the Font-Size Dictatorship

Command economy – Instead of allowing dispersed buyers and sellers to determine their own economic activities according to the laws of supply and demand, a higher authority would issue commands determining the overall direction of the economy following a master plan.
                                       Frank Dikötter, Mao’s Great Famine

In March 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), AKA ObamaCare, into law. Near the end of 2013 as the jaws of ObamaCare begin to close Americans now find themselves immersed in the chaotic economics of health care unfolding through an arcane command system that the President hopes is his great legacy.

The Democrats, apparently drunk from celebrating Obama’s improbable 2008 election and their impressive congressional majorities, asserted their “higher authority” and rammed through Congress an insanely complicated piece of legislation that none of them had read or even remotely understood.  Details be damned and contamination by Republican input be eschewed, this was to be a “master plan” that would make health care affordable to all Americans. A decades-long aspiration of Democrats was universal health care. It now, they could boast, was the law of the land: the U.S. had had finally and proudly achieved the moral stature of Fidel’s Cuba, long and much admired by the American Left.

To call the vast, incomprehensible compendium of dense, turgid legalize set forth in thousands of pages of ObamaCare a “plan”  in any regular sense of the term, however, attributes far too much intelligence, rationality and foresight to the legion of nameless, backroom, pettifogging hacks who drafted it. But whatever one decides to call it, the ACA’s primary function is to strictly order the behavior of buyers and sellers of medical services and to allocate the resources of health care for 300 million people through coercion and a dizzying maze of regulation rather than through the mechanism of the market. 

The not–so-affordable Affordable Care Act is dream work of command economics that could be admired by the defunct apparatchiks of the former Eastern Block, infested throughout with thousands of “shalls” and “shall nots.”  For example, in (SEC. 2713 42 U.S.C. 300gg–13 Coverage of Preventive Health Services)   A group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage shall, at a minimum provide coverage for and shall not impose any cost sharing requirements for— …”  and on it goes for paragraphs seemingly intent on incomprehensibility. These “shalls” and shall nots” pile up page after mind numbing page, and at the end of any attempt to peruse the whole document the only understanding that even the most astute reader will take away is that he now stands bewildered and helpless, at the mercy of an impenetrable Kafkaesque bureaucracy. 

But to get at the heart of command economics:  The Secretary of the Treasury, acting through the Financial Management Service, shall administer the collection of penalty fees from health plans that have been identified by the Secretary in the penalty fee report provided under paragraph 3.” (Sec. 1104)  Here we have ACA in its most elemental, punitive form and function, making a real contribution to the better health of Americans.

The extent and detail of the regulations and requirements thus contained in the entire act is truly staggering.  No single individual could ever begin to comprehend all that is allowed, required and forbidden in this legislative bog.  If Americans were actually required to read the complete legislation and then asked to vote in a plebiscite as whether to accept or reject the act, it is hard to imagine that it would not be overwhelmingly repudiated as the design of some Rube Goldberg in an advanced state of dementia. A political system that produces laws like the ACA is in full, abject surrender to the faceless, unelected occupiers of regulatory agencies with vague, arbitrary power that make us helpless, frustrated and miserable and keeps them forever employed.

Consider as just a snippet of how the regulation works SEC. 2715 [42 U.S.C. 300gg–15]. DEVELOPMENT AND UTILIZATION OF UNIFORM EXPLANATION OF COVERAGE DOCUMENTS AND STANDARDIZED DEFINITIONS that sets forth the “rules” for formulation of the documentation for insurance consumers. First, the documentation has “appearance” requirements:  it must “not exceed 4 pages in length and…[must] not include print smaller than 12-point font”.  The “language” of the documentation must be such as to “ensure that the summary is presented in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner and utilizes terminology understandable by the average plan enrollee."  It is a sour tasting irony to have the anonymous hacks who wrote this monstrosity that the legislators never read ordering someone, anyone, to "utilize" understandable "terminology." 

Just this tiny fragment reveals an insidious descent into servitude and a future that brings far reaching control over and manipulation of our lives by individuals who are politically untouchable.  What we see in ACA depressingly resembles the work of the corrupt autocrats who for decades ran the Soviet Union and turned a huge, resource-rich country into a third world slum. So much for the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’: ours is a ‘dictatorship of the “font size”’ equipped with a language police enforcing an “understandable terminology” for the “average”  man, and directives that impose “appropriate” measures of “cultural” and “linguistic” sensitivity in written business communication, “appropriate” being whatever some Kommizarette in the federal bureaucracy in between coffee breaks at the moment decides it is.  The level of generality and leeway for the government enforcers to interpret what is “culturally and linguistically appropriate” is about the same as it would be for “enemy of the people.” A government that asserts this micro-managing range of control over its citizens is one that can do whatever it wants. Citizens no more, we are now mere subjects. Subjects are passive creatures who are subjected to the arbitrary dictates of their superiors.  This was the intent from the beginning, the creation of a massive edifice of arbitrary power.

Lest there is any doubt it is the government regulators, not the buyers and sellers, that determine the cost of the services and that health care will be a government run enterprise, see ‘‘SEC. 2794ø42 U.S.C. 300gg–94 ENSURING THAT CONSUMERS GET VALUE FOR THEIR DOLLARS. ‘‘INITIAL PREMIUM REVIEW PROCESS.— “The Secretary, in conjunction with States, shall establish a process for the annual review, beginning with the 2010 plan year and subject to subsection (b)(2)(A), of unreasonable increases in premiums for health insurance coverage…. The process established under paragraph (1) shall require health insurance issuers to submit to the Secretary and the relevant State a justification for an unreasonable premium increase prior to the implementation of the increase.” (my bold)  It is comforting and reassuring to know that our business people must run through a gauntlet of unelected bureaucrats who, following some “process for an annual review”, get to determine what “reasonable” means and who can enforce whatever whims they entertain.  No one but the most impossibly naïve can imagine that the power given to the “Secretary” will not be augmented over the years and will not at some time be abused.

ObamaCare is not and has never been the product of anyone hoping to make it easier for Americans to afford health insurance or to make the health care industry more efficient and effective: it is rather the consummate work of cynical opportunists and power grubbing ideologues and a prime example of 21st century velvet authoritarian politics.  The desperation of the Republican right wing to resist and defund ACA is steeped in the perceptive realization that unless it is quickly overturned ACA will entrench itself and rapidly metastasize in its domination over the lives of Americans.

ObamaCare has been intended as a monument to Obama and it delivers on his promise shortly before the 2008 election to “fundamentally transform the United States of America.” A different approach to making health care more affordable would have been to make a more modest and gradualist effort with input from the opposition party and a garnering of greater popular support. But Obama from the beginning has always disdained the opposition Republicans -- his "enemies", as he prefers to call them -- as stupid and greedy, essentially unworthy to participate in the process. Transformation is what he wanted and promised and transformation is 21st century argot for revolution. Obama’s goal has always been to overturn the status quo not to fix or improve it.   
But with the approach of 2014 the ACA “master plan” bearing all the marks of the “higher authority” of its creators collides with reality. With some relish the reviled critics observe at the very beginning of the law’s implementation the hugely symbolic crash of the 400 million dollar website three years in the making. Moreover, President Obama now has to experience the deserved embarrassment from the full exposure of his repeated lie that satisfied policy holders would not be forced form their coverage, a lie that registers on the far end of the "Whopper" scale. The implementation appears to be unfolding in modes of disaster that even the Republicans did not envision. ObamaCare could become the best I-told-you-so, Obama’s detractors ever imagined.  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Hannah’s Obama – the Genius and the Crackpot

Society is always prone to accept a person offhand for what he pretends to be, so that a crackpot posing as a genius always has a certain chance to be believed. 
                          Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Hannah Arendt, a brilliant jewel of a political thinker, made this trenchant observation in her monumental work, The Origins of Totalitarianism, post WWII. She was speaking specifically of Hitler and the “magic spell” he had cast over his German listeners. The fascination with the Fuhrer, she adds, rested on “his pseudo-authoritative judgments about everything under the sun, and on the fact that his opinions – whether they dealt with the harmful effects of smoking or with Napoleon’s policies – could always be fitted into an all-encompassing ideology.” (305)  

So, it is hard to resist the suspicion that the occupant of the White House for the past seven years is just the sort of “crackpot posing as a genius” that Arendt was describing.  Consider: in 2008 a self-proclaimed “genius,” devoid of the relevant credentials and experience burst upon the political landscape promising to heal the planet, change the world, bring racial harmony and move the country beyond the frustrations and impediments of partisan politics. Well and good. Crackpots and their delusional promises abound, but sanity and common sense usually inoculate us against the nostrums of bloviating political charlatans, especially ones who promise things like “complete transformation.”

With the ascent of Obama in 2008 one could only contemplate with astonishment the rapture, the delirium, the intoxicated enthrallment with which hordes of serious, grownup people basked in the saccharin smog of vacuity that came out of his traveling carnival show.  College students, yes, but not only did the members of the fourth estate – professionally obliged to be skeptical – consume the snake oil, they stupidly joined the frenzied rituals of apotheosis. Evan Thomas of Newsweek with a straight-face proclaimed The One to be “a sort of God standing among us. Well … just what “sort of God” was he?   One that uttered proclamations such as “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for”, silly, bewildering humbuggery, a grandiose slogan of egotism and solipsism that one might expect from a collection of spoiled twerps running for 10th grade student council. The dogged determination of the press corps to remain amnesiacs with regard to Obama’s past helped to put into office a man whose basic instincts, personal history and ideological fixtures were deeply inimical to America’s history and traditions.  He aspired not just to lead America, but as he said shortly before his first election, to “completely transform” it. That arrogant display of colossal egotism and condescension by itself should have finished him.

Shortly after his first inauguration before he even began being President came his Nobel Peace prize – gotten like the presidency for nothing related to any substantive achievement – and installation in the Pantheon of the Greats (FDR, Lincoln, JFK) by the adulating media. Years later, however, no one, including Evan Thomas, comments on the divinity or even the genius of the man who was proclaimed during his campaign as a “Lightworker.”  No comparisons now with FDR. He is sometimes likened to Jimmy Carter – Jimmy Carter, minus the humility. No president has ever produced such a vast disparity between the promises of the campaign and the fulfillment in office. His 2008 campaign was a masterpiece of illusion, deception and misdirection: his 2012 campaign was an unprecedented and depressing work of slander and character assassination. 

Our experience clearly shows that Obama from the beginning was pretending to be something of which he was the polar opposite. Transparency, moderation, civility, mutual respect, accountability, responsible stewarding of resources, racial healing, post-partisan politics – none of these have ever been remotely in evidence, which he is always eager to say is the fault of others. The Hope & Change act was a cynical cover for his deeply resentful and adversarial mentality and his intolerance and condescending disdain for any political opposition.
Since there was so little evidence of anything Obama had done or experience that he had that would justify his ambition, one must ponder the question: how was this pretender able to succeed? The answer captured in the title of Leonard Cohen’s song, “Everybody Knows” was bluntly and correctly asserted during the 2008 Democratic primary season by Geraldine Ferraro, who happened to be working for Hillary Clinton.  If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”  For her honesty and perspicacity she was promptly sacked. Indeed, the country was “caught up in the concept,” the concept being that Obama was no ordinary mortal candidate: he was in fact an opportunist extraordinaire posing as a miracle man. Thus he appeared at the right time and right place with a deal – white redemption, guilt no more.  He can be President and we can finally be done with racism,” seemed to be the barely sublimated motif.  Obama was not selling his experience – he had none. He was not selling his ideological convictions – he hid them. He could not sell his integrity and character – they were compromised and questionable.  He was selling himself as a nice, well-intentioned, well-spoken, well-educated black man possessed of unique, transcendent qualities of personality who would be a President like no other. Doing that required a carefully honed message empty of content, wildly bold and grandiose, yet anodyne and non-threatening, and, it necessitated that he dissimulate his past association with the unseemly likes of  Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, a past inconsistent with the wholesome, “we’re all in it together” change agent image that David Axelrod had helped him craft.  Plus, as Ms. Ferraro pointed out, he was, indeed, lucky. Young, sleek and fresh with the GQ looks and the crisp crease of his slacks that so impressed New York Times pundit, David Brooks, the cool and confident Obama stood beside the dumpy, “been-there-done-that” harridan in a pants suit, Hillary Clinton.  

Obama’s “deal” was a bait-and-switch.  No post-racial America in the horizon as some may have hoped with the election to the Presidency of a black man.  Racism is an unrelenting refrain of the Left, and the charge has been constantly used as a smear for anyone on the Right who finds fault with what the President does. A careful reading of Dreams from my Father reveals that  Obama, like his pastor-mentor, Jeremiah Wright is reflexively hostile on matters racial and can never be expected to relinquish his grievances.

Once in office throughout his presidency Obama appears everywhere – magazine and book covers, talk shows, interviews, speech after speech – delivering, as Arendt puts it, “his pseudo-authoritative judgments about everything under the sun,” all of it wrapped into a crude neo-Marxist ideology that finds exploitation and oppression and unfairness everywhere. The America he had sought to lead was in his mind a rigged system, burdened with iniquity, its “bitter clingers to their guns and religion” needing to relinquish their shotguns and bigotry. The remarks of his wife during the 2008 campaign captured the usually dissimulated rancor and bitterness of the Obamas: “[L]ife [in America] is not good: we're a divided country, we're a country that is just downright mean…”  In the White House for these long years, we have a President and First Lady long marinated in the juices of racial resentment, palling around with scurrilous race baiters and riot fomenters like Al Sharpton, meditating upon and nurturing the myriad grievances of identity politics, and insulting and vilifying anyone who happens to disagree. 

Rather than being humbled by the responsibilities of the office he had assumed, Obama’s arrogance and conviction of infallibility seemed to expand exponentially.  Again, Hannah Arendt: “The chief qualification of a mass leader has become unending infallibility; he can never admit an error. The assumption of infallibility, moreover, is based not so much on superior intelligence as on the correct interpretation of the essentially reliable forces in history or nature, forces which neither defeat nor ruin can proved wrong because they are bound to assert themselves in the long run.” (348-49) 
Obama’s intellectual and moral conceit renders him incapable of acknowledging shortcomings or mistakes and of according any respect to those who differ with him.  He is the personal embodiment of progress, a force of rectification, The One who was destined to turn that “mean America” into a just America, and, not just America.  As his wife, high on the vapors of Obama worship in 2008 told a group of admirers, “Barack is going to change the world.” He  has surrounded himself with the sycophant celebrities of Hollywood, and to protect his thin skin and swollen ego his handlers usually put him in venues fully orchestrated where to the amusement of his adulators, he dispenses his sarcasms and insults his critics. He disdains the press conference where on occasion his wisdom is called into question.

For his much vaunted “superior intelligence” little evidence has ever been  produced.  His university grades, test scores and school records are all under lock. Though touted as a constitutional law scholar and professor he has produced not a single published page of scholarship, even as editor of the Harvard Law Review.  His only two publications are about his favorite subject, himself, and of these his authorship remains somewhat questionable. 

Obama’s infallibility rests, as Arendt suggests, not on his superior intelligence but on the mantle he adroitly donned as the great orator for “progressive politics.”  His national prominence came from a single speech. From the beginning, the foundation of Obama’s “genius” was to rest on his supposed inspirational, eloquent oratory.  But the more he talks, the less he says. When he is not mean spirited and petulant his talks are composed of boring and predictable cliches. At the end of year seven there is no inspiration or eloquence. Mocked for his teleprompter dependency, not even his admirers can find the remnants of oratorical brilliance. His genius, whatever it was supposed to be, is long gone.  When he leaves office and recedes into history, he will increasingly be come to viewed as the sort of "crackpot" so ably described by Hannah Arendt.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Let a Hundred Conversations Bloom

Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land."
                                                   Mao Tse Dung, February 1957

Always the poet, Mao’s “let a hundred flowers blossom” became a metaphorical prelude to the gruesomely ironic “Great Leap Forward,” a leap toward a “flourishing socialist culture” that plunged the country into famine and brutalized and killed tens of millions of Chinese.  Mao, of course, had no interest or use for any “school of thought” other than his own.  But the Great Oarsman sought to appear to be open to dialogue, to be calling for an honest exchange of differing opinions.  He was proposing, so to speak, a “national conversation.”  All were supposed to believe that Mao wanted the intellectuals to contribute their thoughts about how to shore up the floundering one-party state when what he really wanted was to flush out potential opposition and destroy it.  Believing Mao soon proved to be fatal for his critics and a disaster for China.

We are now often urged as a citizenry toward engaging in conversation about controversial topics, but I believe that one should distrust the calls to engage in “national conversations about x” that now routinely emanate from the ruling class. 

The invitations come from those in power and influence who like Mao are disingenuous.  “Conversation” is a code word from the lexicon of the Left.  Its meaning departs drastically from the conventional one -- respectful debate, the exchange of ideas over complex and controversial topics.  Instead the call for “conversation” in this context is a cynical politically motivated euphemism, an invidious construction designed to show that the inviter is reasonable, open and tolerant while many of the invitees are going to need to overcome their obtuse and reactionary opinions.  These calls for “conversations” are really demands that those intractable reactionaries and racists in the hinterlands should succumb to the ruling orthodoxy produced by the apparatchiks who look down on them.  These calls are often culminations of frustration with those who obstinately continue to resist the propaganda. They are also traps used to discredit and destroy political opposition.
December of 2012, Senator Dick Durbin of  Illinois on Fox News: 
We need to sit down and have a quiet, calm reflection on the Second Amendment ... and are there guns that really shouldn't be sold all across America….  We need a national conversation.”  

Here is the familiar use by one our ruling elite of the phony “we” – what “we” need, what “we" must do, what “we” should think, ad nauseum.  But there is no real we. There is only “them” (the ruling class who know what is best) and “us” (the ruled-over) some of whom are not as compliant and docile as they would like and need to know their place.  One cannot help but note the condescending tone of the Senator’s remarks – the children should take a deep breath, settle down and listen to what the adults are saying.    

April of 2013, President Obama speaking of guns:  When Newtown happened, I met with these families and I spoke to the community, and I said, something must be different right now.  We’re going to have to change.  That’s what the whole country said.”  

"I" followed by "I" and yet another "I" leading up, again, to the phony "we".  Just who is the “we” that is going to have “to change”?  Not the President.  What change is he going to make?  Not Dick Durbin, not any of the gun-loathing Left who would confiscate every firearm in the U.S. down to the last BB gun if they had to power to do so – except for those that belong to the government-paid agents who protect them and their families. What was it that “the whole country [supposedly] said”?  Nothing, of course.  Whole countries do not say anything. People all over the country say very different, frequently contradictory things about this topic, but Obama has no interest.  In any of his remarks or in the content of most of his innumerable speeches one can find no connection with empirical reality, rational argument, civil discourse or the seeking of reasonable compromise.  His aim is always as he said in his 2010 Univision speech, to “punish our enemies and reward our friends.”  Obama views politics as war. He has no interest in conversation with the opposition, only its vilification and destruction.
With the acquittal of George Zimmerman race is now a topic of national conversation, so to speak. The Left, however, seems permanently frozen in the 1960s and their conversations seem always to take the form of diatribe and unfold in the imagery of Jim Crow, white supremacy, Bull Connor and the brutal murder of Emmett Till.  They persist in distorting present through a prism of the past.   

From the President himself:  I don’t believe it is possible to transcend race in this country. Race is a factor in this society. The legacy of Jim Crow and slavery has not gone away. It is not an accident that African-Americans experience high crime rates, are poor, and have less wealth. It is a direct result of our racial history.”  

The supposedly eloquent Barack Obama, as he often does, sounds like B-student fresh from Sociology 101. "It is not an accident" is a standard Stalinist trope, and a prelude to an "unmasking" of the exploiters, who rig the system, profit from it and pretend that it is fair and legitimate. This is the language one would expect from a man who made his way as a community organizer. Even more remarkable is how this comment so directly contradicts the transcendent rhetoric of the "Hope & Change," and, one might ask what happened to....   "There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America."  That was then, and now is, well, the permanent state of our bigoted "racial history." 

One cannot have a genuine conversation with people deeply committed to rhetoric and perspectives so rooted in anachronism and marinated in resentment. All of this with a black President elected twice with overwhelming support by a white citizenry. To resist is to call their rhetoric what it really is – moral blackmail. The conversation inevitably descends into insult and abuse. It has been going on for years. It is ugly. There is no reason to believe that it will change soon.