Friday, December 27, 2013

Obama's Bad Year

There is no question that President Obama had a bad year. Nearly every president has problems in his second term. But Obama's management style made this a particularly bad year.

President Obama is not really interested in every aspect of being president. He loves some parts. When he says "I'm really good at killing people" he really means that he likes going through lists of potential drone targets deciding who will live and who will die. It's the parts that he is not interested in that cause him problems.

Obama does not care much for foreign policy. His original goal was to reverse everything that Bush did. He alienated long-standing allies like Great Britain and India and courted Russia. Since then he has let foreign affairs drift with a reactive policy rather than a pro-active one. He supports whoever is in power until it is obvious that they are about to be removed then he says they should go. The rest of the world no longer trusts him or the US and the Muslim world is outraged by his increasing use of drones.

Domestically he prefers short-term political wins over long-term solutions. These often backfire on him. He was regarded as winning the fiscal cliff showdown at the beginning of the year but that led to the sequester which was supposed to be so harmful that the Republicans would do anything to prevent it. The Republicans decided that a bad set of budget cuts was better than any deal they could get from the White House and Obama was embarrassed when the world failed to end.

Obama hates to hear bad news and the White House is set up to shield him from any. That means that he is constantly surprised by scandals. The failure of the Obamacare web site, the IRS targeting of conservative groups and the constant leak about the scope of NSA spying all caught him be surprise. In each case he excused himself from responsibility claiming that he was as surprised as anyone when he found out about these from the newspapers.

It is difficult to govern properly without full knowledge of events. If Obama had been told about the numerous problems with Obamacare he could have acted differently during the shutdown. He could have agreed to a one-year postponement and spent 2014 excoriating the Republicans. Instead he stood firm until the Republicans surrendered. This gave him a short term advantage in that the Republicans approval rating dropped more than his did but this was drowned out by the failure of Obamacare.

There has always been a great deal of arrogance in the Obama administration. They were sure that they ould remake the world and that lead to overreach. One high-level progressive who deals with the White House complains that "they think their shit doesn't stink". This reenforces Obama's tendency to seek political wins rather than compromise. This also causes him to bypass Congress completely and use executive authority to implement his preferred policies.

There is no sign of any major changes in the White House. No one has been fired. Instead a new spin-artist has been brought in. Inevitably, Obama will have more disasters breakout and will continue to flail about in a reactive mode.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Culture Wars & Santa Penguin

Around a week ago Slate Columnist Aisha Harris wrote a column proclaiming that Santa Claus should no longer be represented as an old white man. In stead he should be a penguin. That inspired Fox News' Megyn Kelly to say that Santa is white as is Jesus. The controversy has spiraled since then.

I'll save Harris's column for last and start with the controversy. The Left has been jumping all over Kelly for her assertions that Jesus and Santa were white. Nonsense, they say. Jesus was Jewish and Santa was Turkish (Harris claimed that he was Greek). This is a subject that most on the Left normally would never touch with a ten foot pole. Normally it's only racists who start saying that Jews and people from the Middle-East in general aren't white. Bill O'Reilly suggested that this is a false controversy stirred up to demonize Fox News. It's hard to argue with that.

The actual Jesus was, of course, Israeli and probably had black hair and brown eyes. Saint Nicholas was from Asia Minor (now Turkey) and also probably had dark hair and brown eyes. Neither would have had brown skin and neither was a sub-Sahara African. Santa Clause came to us through the Dutch who changed his name and celebrated him as the patron saint of children (also mariners and pawn brokers). He was really introduced to Americans around 200 years ago in the classic poem A Visit From St. Nick. The description was of a white man with rosy cheeks. That image was set by the end of the 19th century and refined with some 20th century Coke ads.

So, what brought on Harris's original column? Sometime in the last 20 years or so, black families started putting up representations of Santa with dark skin. When Harris asked her father about this, she was old that Santa is all colors. She internalized this and became offended that the "default representation" of Santa is white. To some extent her original column is a complaint that Santa is supposed to be represented as many colors. Since whites don't do this then the image needs to be taken away from them.

All of this is news to most whites who seldom see the Black Santa and never heard Harris's father explain that Santa is all colors.

Harris is part of a growing minority movement that says, "It hurts my feelings when you remind me that I'm in the minority." This includes complaints about teaching history as "dead white guys".

People need to step back and take a breath. Kelly did not say anything particularly outrageous and the faux-outrage is mainly an attempt to discredit Fox News.

Minorities do need better representation in the media but making over major symbols such as Santa Claus is highly divisive and leads to worsening racial relations.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Is Obamacare Here to Stay?

A few days ago columnist Dana Milbank proclaimed:
But fixing the Web site after its embarrassing launch means that opponents of the Affordable Care Act have lost what may have been their last chance to do away with the law. And supporters can rule out the worst-case scenario: Obamacare isn't going away.
Is this true?

First, the site is working much better than at launch but it still fails 20% of the time. Any private company that rejected 1 out of 5 characters would be out of business fast. It shows how bad the site was at launch that this can be considered fixed.

There is also the issue of the back-end. The information going to insurance companies is often wrong or incomplete. No information has been released about the error rate but the rumor is that up to a third of the applications processed to date have been bad. Again, and private company that screwed up to one third of it's orders could not stay in business.

Obamacare is a lesson in the limits of government. The site was badly implemented by people who had no idea what they were doing. The people at the top had no idea that the site was not working, they discouraged the people below them from giving them bad news. None of this inspires confidence in the government's ability to implement Obamacare.

These are technical issues and can be solved. There are bigger problems coming up. The exchanges have not been attracting the right mix of applicants which will affect future premiums. People will find that they are losing their doctor as well as the policies they like.

There is also the issue of people who lost their coverage. The site will have to sign up nearly a quarter million people daily all month just to break even. If the immediate result of Obamacare is that more people lost their coverage than gain it then popularity for it will drop even more.

So, there will be continuing pressure to repeal Obamacare. President Obama has made it clear that he will fight any attempt to change or repeal it. That makes it harder but it is still possible. A lot depends on how much public sentiment goes. If things keep going bad with the implementation then Congress will end up running from it. Several Democrats are from states with Republican governors. They last ran in 2008 with a Democratic wave and Obama on the top of the ticket. They will have neither of those in 2014. Will any decide to turn their backs on Obamacare and join with the Republicans? It takes 66 votes to override a Presidential veto but that could be reachable.

It will be even more possible if the Republicans regain the Senate and increase their seats in the House. Continuing problems with Obamacare could easily cause this.

Assuming that Obama blocks all efforts at repeal, there is a very good chance that he will be succeeded by a Republican. The next president might even run on a platform of repealing Obamacare.

All of this assumes that the whole thing will be a failure. It is possible that the problems will resolve themselves quickly and that people will forgive Obama for his "if you like your policy you can keep it" lie. It all depends on how much faith you have in big government.