Friday, October 25, 2013

Congratulations, Republicans. Your Obamacare sabotage has screwed over millions

Here's the dirty secret behind the Republicans' big loss on defunding Obamacare in the shutdown: they lost that battle, but they have done pretty well in the overall war, because they've so royally screwed up implementation in half of the country with their three years of sabotage efforts, from the lawsuits to the lack of necessary funding from Congress to the refusal of states to expand Medicare or build their own exchanges. Here's how that's playing out in the states:

Don’t tell Elisabeth Benjamin it’s tough to sign up for Obamacare. For two weeks, she has been enrolling uninsured people from her New York City office through an online marketplace created by the law.

Most recently, she helped a Bronx home-health worker in her 30s get health coverage for $70 a month. [...]

In Texas, which has more uninsured than any other state, 90 health insurance navigators, doing the same job as Benjamin, haven’t been able to sign up a single person despite a flood of interest, said Tim McKinney, head of the United Way of Tarrant County. [...]

The state and federal exchanges are designed to sell health insurance to millions of Americans under the law known as Obamacare. More than half of about 500,000 enrollees since the Oct. 1 opening come from the 14 states running their own exchanges independent of the U.S. government. While enrollment continues through March, consumers must sign up and choose a plan by about Dec. 15 to get insurance coverage as of Jan. 1.

It's true in terms of Medicaid expansion, as well. Kaiser Family Foundation released a new report this month estimating that more than five million people will fall into the coverage gap: making too little income to qualify to purchase insurance on the health exchanges and too much to qualify for existing Medicaid. Texas should be particularly proud: fully 20 percent of those 5.2 million who won't be getting Medicaid—or any other coverage—are in that state. Florida is not far behind, at 15 percent. is improving in Texas, and will get fixed. People in all those states that refused to create their own exchanges will eventually be able to get their insurance. But the Republicans will still have scored a "victory" in making it as painful as possible, and in successfully keeping millions from even having the promise of health care.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Thu Oct 24, 2013

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Chris Hayes Blows Apart ‘Obamacare Kills Jobs’ Lies

 By Egberto Willies October 23, 2013 @ AddictingInfo

Chris Hayes Blows Apart Obamacare Kills Jobs Lies

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes dispelled the ‘Obamacare Kills Jobs’ lies on his All In show. See how he used the employment data to prove Republicans are lying. Image: EW Addicting Info

We are all well aware of the Obamacare lies and misinformation. The big one; Obamacare kills jobs.

Everyone remember Hannity’s big fail? He featured three families claiming to be hurt by Obamacare. It turns out all three would be helped by Obamacare.

Of course there are many other lies that are easy to dispel. Obamacare is a government takeover of healthcare? That lie is easily dispelled since insurance is provided by the private sector. Medical services are provided by private hospitals and doctors. That is in no way a government takeover.

Obamacare gets between you and your doctor? Really? The reality is that your private insurance is the one that does that. They tell you what drug you can use. They tell you which doctor you can see. They tell you which hospital you can go to.

The other big lie is that Obamacare kills jobs.

The narrative from the Republicans is that Obamacare kills jobs by creating a job market of part time work. Obamacare requires that companies with over 50 employees provide insurance to employees working over 30 hours per week. Their theory is that that would cause employers near 50 to stay below 50 workers. They also assume employees would be kept below 30 hours per week.

For a party that claims to be business savvy they miss an important point. Companies hire to maximize profits. Taxes and health insurance are costs of doing business just like any other cost. If it is not burdensome enough to stunt a marginal profit increase, hiring will occur.

In the aggregate, everyone pays for the uninsured. As such, total employment is affected whether it is paid for by the employer or through the economy by the taxpayer. Those dollars are redirected to healthcare and away from other goods and services.

The jobs report came out today and the ‘Obamacare Kills Jobs’ lie was completely dispelled. Involuntary part time jobs declined (also see WSJ & Politifact). This has been occurring for over a year even as Obamacare is being rolled out.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Claim on “Attacks Thwarted” by NSA Spreads Despite Lack of Evidence

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 by Pro Publica

Disruption of terrorist attacks has been widely used to justify dragnet surveillance programs, but claims by spy agency and officials not supported by facts
  by Justin Elliott and Theodoric Meyer

During Keith Alexander’s presentation in Las Vegas, two slides read simply “54 ATTACKS THWARTED.” The NSA, President Obama, and members of Congress have all said NSA spying programs have thwarted more than 50 terrorist plots. But there’s no evidence the claim is true.Two weeks after Edward Snowden’s first revelations about sweeping government surveillance, President Obama shot back. “We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information not just in the United States, but, in some cases, threats here in Germany,” Obama said during a visit to Berlin in June. “So lives have been saved.”

In the months since, intelligence officials, media outlets, and members of Congress from both parties all repeated versions of the claim that NSA surveillance has stopped more than 50 terrorist attacks. The figure has become a key talking point in the debate around the spying programs.

“Fifty-four times this and the other program stopped and thwarted terrorist attacks both here and in Europe — saving real lives,” Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said on the House floor in July, referring to programs authorized by a pair of post-9/11 laws. “This isn’t a game. This is real.”

But there's no evidence that the oft-cited figure is accurate.

The NSA itself has been inconsistent on how many plots it has helped prevent and what role the surveillance programs played. The agency has often made hedged statements that avoid any sweeping assertions about attacks thwarted.

A chart declassified by the agency in July, for example, says that intelligence from the programs on 54 occasions “has contributed to the [U.S. government’s] understanding of terrorism activities and, in many cases, has enabled the disruption of potential terrorist events at home and abroad” — a much different claim than asserting that the programs have been responsible for thwarting 54 attacks.

NSA officials have mostly repeated versions of this wording.

When NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander spoke at a Las Vegas security conference in July, for instance, he referred to “54 different terrorist-related activities,” 42 of which were plots and 12 of which were cases in which individuals provided “material support” to terrorism.

But the NSA has not always been so careful.

During Alexander’s speech in Las Vegas, a slide in an accompanying slideshow read simply “54 ATTACKS THWARTED.”

And in a recent letter to NSA employees, Alexander and John Inglis, the NSA’s deputy director, wrote that the agency has “contributed to keeping the U.S. and its allies safe from 54 terrorist plots.” (The letter was obtained by reporter Kevin Gosztola from a source with ties to the intelligence community. The NSA did not respond when asked to authenticate it.)

Asked for clarification of the surveillance programs' record, the NSA declined to comment.

Earlier this month, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., pressed Alexander on the issue at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

“Would you agree that the 54 cases that keep getting cited by the administration were not all plots, and of the 54, only 13 had some nexus to the U.S.?” Leahy said at the hearing. “Would you agree with that, yes or no?”

“Yes,” Alexander replied, without elaborating.

It's impossible to assess the role NSA surveillance played in the 54 cases because, while the agency has provided a full list to Congress, it remains classified.

Officials have openly discussed only a few of the cases (see below), and the agency has identified only one — involving a San Diego man convicted of sending $8,500 to Somalia to support the militant group Al Shabab — in which NSA surveillance played a dominant role.

The surveillance programs at issue fall into two categories: The collection of metadata on all American phone calls under the Patriot Act, and the snooping of electronic communications targeted at foreigners under a 2007 surveillance law. Alexander has said that surveillance authorized by the latter law provided “the initial tip” in roughly half of the 54 cases. The NSA has not released examples of such cases.

After reading the full classified list, Leahy concluded the NSA’s surveillance has some value but still questioned the agency’s figures.

"We've heard over and over again the assertion that 54 terrorist plots were thwarted” by the two programs, Leahy told Alexander at the Judiciary Committee hearing this month. “That's plainly wrong, but we still get it in letters to members of Congress, we get it in statements. These weren't all plots and they weren't all thwarted. The American people are getting left with the inaccurate impression of the effectiveness of NSA programs.”

The origins of the “54” figure go back to a House Intelligence Committee hearing on June 18, less than two weeks after the Guardian’s publication of the first story based on documents leaked by Snowden.

At that hearing, Alexander said, “The information gathered from these programs provided the U.S. government with critical leads to help prevent over 50 potential terrorist events in more than 20 countries around the world.” He didn’t specify what “events” meant. Pressed by Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., Alexander said the NSA would send a more detailed breakdown to the committee.

Speaking in Baltimore the next week, Alexander gave an exact figure: 54 cases “in which these programs contributed to our understanding, and in many cases, helped enable the disruption of terrorist plots in the U.S. and in over 20 countries throughout the world.”

But members of Congress have repeatedly ignored the distinctions and hedges.

The websites of the Republicans and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee include pages titled, “54 Attacks in 20 Countries Thwarted By NSA Collection.”

And individual congressmen have frequently cited the figure in debates around NSA surveillance.

  • Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., who is also on the House Intelligence Committee, released a statement in July referring to “54 terrorist plots that have been foiled by the NSA programs.” Asked about the figure, Westmoreland spokeswoman Leslie Shedd told ProPublica that “he was citing declassified information directly from the National Security Agency.”
  • Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, issued a statement in July saying “the programs in question have thwarted 54 specific plots, many targeting Americans on American soil.”
  • Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., issued his own statement the next day: “The Amash amendment would have eliminated Section 215 of the Patriot Act which we know has thwarted 54 terrorist plots against the US (and counting).” (The amendment, which aimed to bar collection of Americans’ phone records, was narrowly defeated in the House.)
  • Mike Rogers, the Intelligence Committee chairman who credited the surveillance programs with thwarting 54 attacks on the House floor, repeated the claim to Bob Schieffer on CBS’ “Face the Nation” in July.“You just heard what he said, senator,” Schieffer said, turning to Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., an NSA critic. “Fifty-six terror plots here and abroad have been thwarted by the NSA program. So what’s wrong with it, then, if it’s managed to stop 56 terrorist attacks? That sounds like a pretty good record.”
    Asked about Rogers’ remarks, House Intelligence Committee spokeswoman Susan Phalen said in a statement: “In 54 specific cases provided by the NSA, the programs stopped actual plots or put terrorists in jail before they could effectuate further terrorist plotting.  These programs save lives by disrupting attacks. Sometimes the information is found early in the planning, and sometimes very late in the planning. But in all those cases these people intended to kill innocent men and women through the use of terror.”
  • Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., went even further in a town hall meeting in August. Responding to a question about the NSA vacuuming up Americans’ phone records, he said the program had “been used 54 times to be able to interrupt 54 different terrorist plots here in the United States that had originated from overseas in the past eight years. That’s documented.”
  • The same day, Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., who sits on the Intelligence Committee, defended the NSA at a town hall meeting with constituents in Cranston, R.I. “I know that these programs have been directly effective in thwarting and derailing 54 terrorist attacks,” he said.
    Asked about Langevin’s comments, spokeswoman Meg Fraser said in an email, “The committee was given information from NSA on August 1 that clearly indicated they considered the programs in question to have been used to help disrupt 54 terrorist events. That is the information the Congressman relied on when characterizing the programs at his town hall.”

Wenstrup, Heck and Lankford did not respond to requests for comment.

The claims have also appeared in the media. ABC News, CNN and the New York Times have all repeated versions of the claim that more than 50 plots have been thwarted by the programs.

The NSA has publicly identified four of the 54 cases. They are:

  • The case of Basaaly Moalin, the San Diego man convicted of sending $8,500 to Somalia to support Al Shabab, the terrorist group that has taken responsibility for the attack on a Kenyan mall last month. The NSA has said its collection of American phone records allowed it to determine that a U.S. phone was in contact with a Shabab figure, which in turn led them to Moalin. NSA critic Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has argued that the NSA could have gotten a court order to get the phone records in question and that the case does not justify the bulk collection of Americans' phone records.
  • The case of Najibullah Zazi, who in 2009 plotted to bomb the New York subway system. The NSA has said that an email it intercepted to an account of a known Al Qaeda figure in Pakistan allowed authorities to identify and ultimately capture Zazi. But an Associated Press examination of the case concluded that, again, the NSA's account of the case did not show the need for the new warrantless powers at issue in the current debate. “Even before the surveillance laws of 2007 and 2008, the FBI had the authority to — and did, regularly — monitor email accounts linked to terrorists,” the AP reported.
  • A case involving David Coleman Headley, the Chicago man who helped plan the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. Intelligence officials have said that NSA surveillance helped thwart a subsequent plot involving Headley to attack a Danish newspaper. A ProPublica examination of that episode concluded that it was a tip from British intelligence, rather than NSA surveillance, that led authorities to Headley.
  • A case involving a purported plot to attack the New York Stock Exchange. This convoluted episode involves three Americans, including Khalid Ouazzani of Kansas City, Mo., who pleaded guilty in 2010 to bank fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to provide material support to Al Qaeda. An FBI official said in June that NSA surveillance helped in the case “to detect a nascent plotting to bomb the New York Stock Exchange." But no one has been charged with crimes related to that or any other planned attack. (Ouazzani was sentenced to 14 years last month.)

The Kansas City Star reported that one of the men in the case had “pulled together a short report with the kind of public information easily available from Google Earth, tourist maps and brochures” and that his contact in Yemen “tore up the report, 'threw it in the street' and never showed it to anyone.”

Court records also suggest that the men in Yemen that Ouazzani sent over $20,000 to may have been scamming him and spent some of the money on personal expenses.

  This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Monday, October 21, 2013

Kimberly Morgan's Insightful Critique of Obamacare

  By ukit on Sunday, Oct. 20,2013

Whether or not you think Obamacare is "doomed" (and I realize many here will take issue with that characterization), this column in Foreign Affairs should be required reading for the points it makes about America's welfare system, and how government is run in this country in general.

Sidestepping the braindead and very limited American political debate, where the left defends the ACA as a bold new social initiative, while the right equates it with Marxism, Kimberly Morgan correctly identifies the broken nature of the current system, of which the much-maligned website is just a symptom.

But the fact that the White House is having trouble implementing Obamacare also should not come as a particular surprise. It is not that the Obama administration is especially incompetent. Rather, the program it is charged with executing is a complex public-private hybrid that has no real precedent elsewhere in the world. The blend is purely American: Policymakers in the United States have a history of jerry-rigging complicated programs of this sort precisely because they have little faith in government. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy that fuels only deeper public cynicism about the welfare state.

She continues:

The real source of Obamacare’s current problems lies in the law’s complexity. A straightforward way to assure coverage would have been to extend an existing, well-worn program to more people. This is how most other countries guarantee health insurance. In the British National Health Service, there is little that beneficiaries need to do in order to receive health insurance, as all residents are automatically entitled. Other countries rely on private intermediaries that provide insurance -- nonprofit insurance funds in Germany or Switzerland, for example, or a mix of proprietary and nonprofit insurers in the Netherlands. Even in those instances, benefits packages and entitlements are highly standardized, making these health-care systems relatively uncomplicated from the standpoint of beneficiaries.

In the United States, political antipathy to government programs precludes this kind of straightforward administrative solution. Faced with such hostility, policymakers regularly rig up complex public-private, and often federal-state, arrangements that are opaque to the public, difficult to administer, and inefficient in their operation -- what Andrea Louise Campbell, a professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and I describe as a Rube Goldberg welfare state -- because of the complicated way in which it achieves even basic tasks -- and what the political scientist Steven Teles aptly labels a “kludgeocracy.”

The real villain here is not some website contractor but the American political system itself — the ideology, now almost universally accepted by both Republicans and Democrats, that says privatization is always more efficient and less costly then government.

America's distrust and hatred of government, Morgan argues, has been a self-fulfilling prophecy. The insistence on "market-based solutions" has somewhat ironically led to a byzantine system of intermeshing private and public interests that often ends up being more costly, more bureaucratic and delivers far worse outcomes than those in other countries that simply have straightforward public services.

I would add another component to this critique: greed. The American insistence that profits must be preserved at all costs, even when it comes to people's lives, is what has helped lead us down this road. Today, we see it everywhere, starting with the flailing website, which tries to integrate multiple private and public systems so that Americans can obtain subsidies in order to sign up for a mandated plan to buy private insurance in order to get access to healthcare, something other countries simply provide to their citizens.

Or consider the sprawling shadow government of private contractors like Booz Allen Hamilton that steal billions from public coffers while inventing ever more perverse ways to spy on the American people. What about the private prison system that bribes judges to lock kids up and make them modern day slaves in a low cost labour scheme? Or the American Legislative Exchange Council, where public policy has been hijacked by multinational corporations in a matchmaking scheme with state legislators dreamed up by the Koch Brothers?

Of course, some might criticize Morgan for being impractical; we are stuck within the current system, so why not try to deliver better outcomes using the tools at hand? The problem is that over the long term, all "Reaganomics with a human face" does is entrench the current system. As Slavoj Žižek points out in this brief and quite entertaining lecture, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, the modern center-left often ends up simply greasing the wheels of inequality by sanding down the rough edges. Over the long run, an intelligent critique coming from outside the bounds of mainstream American discourse is what is desperately needed.

Originally posted to ukit on Sun Oct 20, 2013