I’ve said all I've had to say on the matter. To recap: I don’t see him as the “future” of the party. Yes, social cons will support him down the stretch and he’ll present himself well to voters if and when he runs, but his chances of winning are not good. I'd much rather see the new crop of conservative governors vying for the nomination. The talent pool in 2016 is impressive. And frankly, it's hard to see how Huckabee convinces Republican primary voters he’s more deserving of the nomination than any of those other candidates presumably running.
At The Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes writes of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's (R-WI) recent budget deal: "Now that [the sequester's] caps have been breached once, they’re bound to be tossed aside again. And the greatest tool for curbing the growth of government in the lifetime of most Americans will be lost."
Barnes is dead right. Ryan can claim that his deal with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA) preserved most of the sequester. But once those first two years were breached, the odds that all the other years will also be rescinded, skyrocketed. The sequester may not be completely dead, but as Barnes said, "it’s a wounded warrior."
Liberals are beside themselves with glee. And not just because Ryan mortally wounded the best weapon conservatives had for limited government. They believe Ryan will go to bat for liberals again soon. The Week's Bill Scher explains:
This week’s deal is another signal that congressional leaders are ready to close the curtains on the budget kabuki and bring immigration back to center stage. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), who negotiated the budget deal, already has made clear his support for reform that includes a pathway to citizenship, and has an interest in lowering the political temperature through this agreement. In turn, his negotiating partner Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) made sure to point out that the reduced tensions should help get immigration done.
Conservatives should definitely be wary of what Ryan and Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) are planning next. But color me skeptical about Republicans pushing amnesty next year.
Ryan's big selling point for his budget deal was that it would avoid another shutdown so Republicans could keep the focus on Obamacare. Here is what he told CNN:
I think there are a lot of people who would like the distraction of a government shutdown for one reason or the other. The administration is not really high on the Obamacare focus that is occurring in this country.
The only thing Obama and the Democrats would love more than a replay of October's government shutdown, is a bloody, brutal Republican civil war over amnesty. That would be a huge distraction from Obamacare that the Washington media would happily promote.
Why would Ryan and Boehner instigate a painful, no-win sideshow over amnesty, when the whole point of sacrificing the sequester was to keep the focus on Obamacare?
They wouldn't gut the sequester for no reason and then change the subject to an issue Obama is dying to have center stage?
Euthanasia in the case of the elderly and terminally ill is controversial in America, especially as the population ages and medical technology improves. However, euthanasia-friendly Europe puts the US in perspective: an overwhelming majority of Belgians support a proposed euthanasia law with no age restrictions.
Many in America argue that there is no such thing as an individual "right to die," a concept that is particularly opposed by the religious community. Yet others who see dying loved ones in extreme physical pain and unable to perform basic functions of life argue that euthanasia, or physician-assisted suicide, is the humane option. The artist behind the popular workplace-themed comic strip Dilbert evoked both compassion and anger when he wrote passionately in favor of euthanasia last month (emphasis mine):
My father, age 86, is on the final approach to the long dirt nap (to use his own phrase). His mind is 98% gone, and all he has left is hours or possibly months of hideous unpleasantness in a hospital bed. I'll spare you the details, but it's as close to a living Hell as you can get.
If my dad were a cat, we would have put him to sleep long ago. And not once would we have looked back and thought too soon.
Because it's not too soon. It's far too late. His smallish estate pays about $8,000 per month to keep him in this state of perpetual suffering. Rarely has money been so poorly spent.
I'd like to proactively end his suffering and let him go out with some dignity. But my government says I can't make that decision. Neither can his doctors. So, for all practical purposes, the government is torturing my father until he dies.
He goes on to say that any politician and any citizen who has actively supported laws against physician-assisted suicide in the US deserves to "die a long, horrible death."
Anecdotes like those complicate the debate in America. However, the most unwavering opponents of euthanasia often cite a "slippery slope" argument, which holds that if euthanasia is permitted in cases that are voluntary and extreme then it will inevitably expand to a much broader range of cases as well. Their position has only been strengthened by the recent developments in Europe.
The Agence-France Presse reports that euthanasia has been legal for anyone over 18 in Belgium since 2002. Overall, 75 percent of Belgians support a new proposed law to remove age restrictions on assisted suicide decisions, which also has the backing of the country's medical community. Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders lead the minority opposition, but the law is expected to pass despite their efforts. Any child who wants to be euthanized after the law's passage would need to meet the following conditions:
- Grounds including: a terminal illness, great pain, and no alleviating treatment
- Parental consent
- Approval of the patient's medical team
In the absence of an age limit, the legislation will establish a guideline for maturity that is widely open to interpretation:
"The Belgian legislation does not set an age limit but states that the patient has to be conscious of their situation and understand the meaning of a request for euthanasia."
Critics have pointed to echos of Nazi Germany-era "cleansing" and the consequences that child euthanasia will have for society's moral foundations, including the "trivialization" of death. The non-specific definitions of the legislation also hold the potential for abuse. However, defenders of the law claim that dying children can have maturity beyond their years and should not be denied the dignity of the right to die.
America is watching Europe and Canada, and has looked to Belgium in the past to see what the consequences may be of legalizing physician-assisted suicide. Regardless of one's opinion on euthanasia, it would be foolish to ignore the consequences it has had in countries like Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, and other test cases when making decisions for our own country's future.
Twitter giveth, and Twitter giveth away. Today, following a White House official tweet regarding Obamacare, Twitter was definitely in "giveth" mode.
The original tweet:
And Twitter's reactions:
Oh man, thanks dude. pic.twitter.com/RU5sGhjUNC— Adam Smith (@asmith83) December 12, 2013
Yes, I’m crossing the memes. pic.twitter.com/HNgNFIMEoB— Jim J (@anthropocon) December 12, 2013
Oh shit pic.twitter.com/K4rnYP7n2j— Andrew Kaczynski (@BuzzFeedAndrew) December 12, 2013
OK, this Love Actually debate has *really* gotten out of hand. pic.twitter.com/HPaajal9fc— Jamison Foser (@jamisonfoser) December 12, 2013
Good job, Twitter.
Free speech is free, isn’t it? That may not be the case at these New York City schools. Students at The City University of New York and Cooper Union are beginning to realize that protesting could soon cost them their education.
Although Cooper Union has been tuition-free for over 100 years, this past week the school made the unpopular announcement that it was going to begin charging students tuition as a way to ease its financial burdens. As expected, students didn’t take the news well and now, in response to their vocal complaints, the school is taking some drastic measures:
The new code of conduct administrators are drafting would prohibit “deliberate or knowing disruption of the free flow of pedestrian traffic on Cooper Union premises” and “behavior that disturbs the peace, academic study or sleep of others on or off campus.”
Disturbing the sleep of others? Clearly, these administrators don’t understand campus life. Behavior that prevents students from getting some shut eye could include partying and playing loud music, which are two staples of a college experience.
Meanwhile at CUNY, administrators are proposing restrictions on free speech after witnessing protests against the school’s tuition hikes, hiring of David Petraeus, and the closing of the Marales-Shakur Center, which had been the political heart of City College of New York since 1989, according to Gothamist.
A draft from June declared free speech and assembly to be subject to the needs for public order. It would restrict gatherings and the distribution of leaflets to approved areas and times and would forbid faculty members from taking part in protests during working hours. Sponsors of planned protests with as few as 25 students would have to give at least 24 hours’ notice of location, date, time and expected turnout, subject to the college’s approval or alteration.
Some of the protesters may have acted a bit disorderly. But why punish the entire school body for the unwise actions of a minority?
Ironically, these drafted laws did the exact opposite of what they intended: they disturbed the peace.
In addition to their anger over the proscribed action at Cooper Union, student leaders also took offense at being given a reduced role in the disciplinary process and in the drafting of the document itself. “The whole community at Cooper got really riled up,” said Hadar Cohen, a member of the engineering school’s student council. Along with faculty members, they objected vehemently at a meeting in the university’s Great Hall last week.
Expressive activity is a student’s right. This “shut up and listen” mentality is counter to the kind of culture college campuses are supposed to provide. For continually promoting a need for “diversity,” how quickly these schools change their mind when it comes to young learners using their First Amendment freedoms.What a nice lesson.
When you walk through the halls of Capitol Hill's office buildings and turn in to a hearing room, you often see large portraits of Congressmen or Senators hanging on the walls. But exactly how much do those fancy portraits cost? And whose paying for it?
Oil painting portraits of lawmakers can cost up to $50,000 a piece and yes, you're paying for it. The good news is, in the spirit of bipartisanship, Republicans and Democrats agree that lawmakers should only be allocated $20,000 in taxpayer funds to have their portrait done.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (L), Representative John Dingell (D-MI) and his wife Deborah Dingell unveil Dingell's portrait as the longest serving member of Congress during an event on Capitol Hill in Washington.reuters
A bipartisan Senate duo says they want to crack down on what they call the government’s “lavish” spending on oil paintings of congressmen, the costs of which can top $50,000 each.
Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said in a Thursday press release they are introducing a bill that would only allow $20,000 of taxpayer funds to be spent on each portrait, and would only cover paintings of lawmakers in the line of succession to the presidency.
“At a time when vital services and programs are facing cuts, we need to be looking at every way we can stop excessive spending practices in Washington,” Shaheen said.
Coburn says their bill is a way to rein in excess spending in Washington, and ensure taxpayers are not paying for unnecessary projects.
“Hardworking taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for lavish official portraits, especially when government officials spend more on paintings of themselves than some Americans make in a year,” Coburn said.
It should be noted that not everyone gets a painting and according to the National Journal, the process is actually difficult to get through.
Exit question: Shouldn't lawmakers pay for their own portraits? Just a thought.
We'll get to the latest on-the-fly changes in a bit, but what better way to mark Friday the 13th than to check in on the status of the website for America's least popular law? For that, we turn the floor over to Bob Laszewski -- a health insurance expert whose predictions about, and criticisms of, Obamacare have been remarkably accurate. Might this assessment be part of the reason why anxious Democrats are experiencing a relapse of the "fix" itch (emphasis mine)?
- As of this week, the 834 transaction error rates (enrollments sent from the government to the health plans) are better than they were in October and early November but are still running in the 5% to 10% range––a place they have been for a number of weeks now.
- The Obama administration has still not built the reconciliation computer system needed to clean up the remaining enrollment data issues between HealthCare.gov and the health plans. The health plans have been told to expect an electronic file in the next few days, containing what the feds think are the health plan's enrollments through November. The plans will then have to figure out how to reconcile the two lists and then fix the problems. Many plans will have thousands of enrollments to reconcile. There will be another such file coming in January for the December enrollments with likely tens of thousands of more names to reconcile. That means that any December errors will have to be fixed before people can be covered, thereby creating additional customer service issues until the files can be cleaned up.
- The feds can't pay the insurers their premium subsidy payments because a payment system has not yet been built. The government is asking the health plans to prepare their own bill and send it to the government for a preliminary payment until this is resolved.
Laszewski also points out the dual Medicaid snafus that continue to vex Obamacare officials. Click through for his synopsis of how unimpressive federal and state enrollment numbers have been so far. He also touches on a key point we've covered twice now -- namely, that only a small fraction of "enrollees" are actually covered because so few people have paid their first month's premiums (a requirement for coverage kicking in on January 1). In the surest sign yet that the White House is panicking over low enrollment figures and unsustainable risk pools, the administration is issuing a series of last-second extensions and "fixes," and "encouraging" insurance companies to pick up the pieces. Extension number one, aimed at horrific, deeply embarrassing cases like the family Dan highlighted yesterday:
The Obama administration moved Thursday to protect some of the sickest patients in the country from the possibility that they would lose health insurance on New Year’s Day. Medically needy patients enrolled in temporary high-risk pools now have an extra month to sign up for new coverage because of early enrollment struggles in Obamacare nationwide, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced. The extension seems to be the Obama administration’s first tacit acknowledgement that it can’t guarantee that everybody who wants to obtain coverage starting Jan. 1 will be able to do so.
The acknowledgement isn't "tacit." It's pretty explicit. Here's another SOS:
BREAKING: HHS requiring insurers to take payments through Dec 31 for Jan 1 coverage; HHS says consumers must pick plan by 12/23 at midnight— CNBC (@CNBC) December 12, 2013
This move is being coupled by many insurers granting "grace periods" in which people can send in their first payments without their enrollment being voided on New Year's Day -- which, again, is required within Obamacare's regulations. Beyond all that, Philip Klein surveys the brand new raft of -- ahem -- suggestions HHS is tossing at insurance companies, and he sees a program on the brink of collapse:
On a conference call, an HHS spokeswoman emphasized: “We are just proposing it as an option and we’re encouraging issuers. There is no requirement.” Translation: HHS has a huge mess on its hands and it hopes that by getting ahead of this news, it can foist the blame for the problems on insurers. Of course, for insurers who have spent years designing plans to comply with the law, this would present huge and unreasonable logistical hurdles. HHS also announced there would be a "special enrollment period" for people who tried to purchase insurance by Dec. 23 but couldn't because of a "system error."
Among these non-requirements, HHS urges insurers to count out-of-network doctors and hospitals as in-network, for the purposes of billing and deductibles. This is totally unworkable. The whole point of the pared-down Obamacare networks is to hold down premium costs as much as possible. If insurers are nudged toward opening up the floodgates, expect costs to respond accordingly. And that's on top of existing sticker shock. When deductible and doc shock start hitting in 2014, the White House will try to pawn these problems off on insurers. Phil is right about that. It won't work, but blamestorming is what they do. Bottom line: The Obama administration is terrified that too few people are signing up for Obamacare, that too many of those who have enrolled are older and sicker, and that millions of Americans will transition from being insured to uninsured in January directly because of the president's law. An absolute mess.
The details are rather hazy -- but perhaps the best explanation is that the deranged North Korean ruler felt threatened and wanted to send a message.
A stooped figure in handcuffs, condemned by a military tribunal, then taken for immediate execution Thursday, Jang Song Thaek is now vilified as "traitor" and "human scum" in North Korea, where until recently he counted as its second-most-powerful figure.
The dramatic downfall of Jang, the uncle and apparent mentor of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, surprised even veteran observers of the brutal regime founded by Kim's grandfather. Many analysts agree Kim Jong Un, 30, is trying to consolidate his rule, but the wider implications for this tightly sealed state remain as tough to fathom as ever, they said.
Worse, it appears Kim Jong Un -- the grandson of North Korea’s “Eternal President,” Kim il Sung, who founded the DPRK -- is more deranged and bloodthirsty than his predecessors:
"His father and grandfather got rid of a lot of people, but did it in a very quiet manner, not making big news out of it," said Tong Kim, a North Korea expert at Korea University in Seoul, who expects the aunt, as a direct blood relative, will survive.
Kim Jong Un and his close associates "must have felt intimidated if not threatened, so decided to get rid of Jang first," Tong Kim said.
Even China, North Korea’s biggest support and benefactor, is concerned about the country’s political instability:
"Beijing won't invite Kim to visit in the short term, because Beijing is not happy about some of his policies," Cai said. Unlike his father, a regular guest whose visits prompted hope of Chinese-style economic reforms, Kim has yet to visit China during his two years in power.
Several of the charges against Jang, who previously steered economic relations with China, mention a "foreign country" and "show Kim Jong Un doesn't want to rely too much on China like before," Cai said. Still, Jang's removal will "postpone" but not cancel economic co-operation between the two countries, he added.
My hunch is that Kim Jong Un will kill, torture and enslave anyone and everyone who threatens his rule. This includes blood relatives. Incredibly, Jang Song Thaek reportedly advised Kim Jong il, Kim Jong Un’s father and predecessor, which suggests that the country is under new management, and old allegiances are meaningless. It’s worth repeating, too, that North Korea is one of the most isolated and oppressive nations on earth; indeed, one Chinese expert quoted in the article above said the regime is “crueler than the fascists.” I believe it. If the new head-of-state is happy to subject his uncle to a military tribunal and then execute him (a guy who presumably was in positions of leadership way before the “Supreme Leader” was even born), there’s probably some truth to that statement.
Despite recent pushes by the Obama administration for immigration reform, a new poll released Thursday by Gallup shows that a majority of Americans are far more concerned with other issues such as healthcare, the economy, and a general sense of dissatisfaction with the government.
Twenty one percent of respondents said that the most important problem facing the United States was dissatisfaction with government, while 19 percent said the economy in general was the most important problem. Rounding out the top three responses was healthcare, which 17 percent labeled as the most important issue. Immigration was second to last with three percent, only slightly above "war/fears of war, lack of respect for each other, and the gap between the rich and the poor," which all garnered two percent of responses.
Immigration has not ranked in the top five of responses all year, as Americans have shown that they are primarily concerned with the economy and healthcare.
Republicans should take these polls into mind when strategizing for 2014 and beyond. It's obvious what Americans are not happy about: healthcare and the economy. By presenting clear plans to fix both of these issues, the GOP could make gains in coming elections. Issues like the wage gap and immigration, while trendy among the current administration, simply are just not that important to the average American.
On November 27, this Townhall post discussed proposed new IRS rules that are, essentially, a "continuation of the agency's war against administration critics."
Today, Kimberly Strassel has more. It was obvious from the start that the rule was intended to silence the tea parties -- already having been illegitimately targeted by The White House. What's becoming more apparent -- and highlights the abusive nature of the Obama administration -- is that the proposed regs seem almost "reverse engineered" to disproportionately harm tea party groups:
"The committee has reviewed thousands of tax exempt applications," says House Ways & Means Chairman Dave Camp. "The new regulation so closely mirrors the abused tea-party group applications, it leads me to question if this new proposed regulation is simply another form of targeting."
In other words, rather than targeting the tea parties at the back end -- through ad hoc hassling, unreasonable and intrusive requests for information, and deliberate delay of approval applications -- it seems that the IRS is now trying to target the tea parties from the front end, setting up regulations that would make it practically impossible for them (and them alone) to function. For example, educating the public on the Constitution (a function of many tea party groups) would now constitute "political activity" preventing 501(c)(4) status. Yet the liberal League of Women Voters could keep 501(c)(3) status despite engaging in activities like actually hosting candidates' fora.
It is unprecedented for any administration (at least in modern memory) so overtly -- and shamelessly -- to harass law-abiding critics from exercising the liberties the Constitution was intended to secure. And these new regs make it clear that the corruption, politicization and rot at the IRS extend far beyond the little band of officials named in the earlier tea party targeting scandal.
The question is what can Congress do about it.
Poll: Only Three Percent of Americans Consider Immigration "Most Important" Problem | Christine Rousselle