Ruminations, February 3, 2013
Obama succeeds in making Republicans look stupid
President Barack Obama has again gamed the Republicans, making them look stupid. How so? He nominated one for Secretary of Defense and let him appear before a Senate panel.
Lest you think that the disparaging opinions of Chuck Hagel (R, NE) are from the right-wing partisans, they are not. According to The New York Times, “An Obama adviser called the stumbling performance by the nominee for defense secretary on the United States’ stance toward Iran’s nuclear efforts “baffling and incomprehensible.”
On Iran, Hagel, who had opposed the economic sanctions (U.S. policy), supported talks with terrorist Hamas, opposed labeling Iran’s Revolutionary Guards terrorists, stated that Iran had a legitimately elected government, Iranian women got the vote before American women (off by 44 years) and claimed that the United States had no policy on containment vis-à-vis Iran (although in his written statement he said that the U.S. did). He was gently reminded that he was wrong by Carl Levin (D, MI) who said “…we do have a position on containment: which is we do not favor containment.’’
The most contentious part of the questioning came when Hagel had an exchange with Senator John McCain (R, AZ). When President George W. Bush announced the troop surge in 2007, Hagel called it “the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, if it's carried out,” And, the surge indeed was carried out and it was successful. McCain asked for a simple yes or no answer; would Hagel admit that he was wrong? After dodging the question several times, Hagel allowed that he would let history be the judge, to which McCain replied, “I think history has already made a judgment about the surge sir, and you're on the wrong side of it."
Hagel had said previously that the Israeli (or Jewish, as he actually said) lobby intimidates “a lot of people.” He was asked by Senator Lindsay Graham (R, SC), to name the people whom the lobby intimidated. Hagel then tried to walk his statement back and said that his apology (for saying Jewish lobby instead of Israeli lobby) covered that misstatement.
So we have a Republican candidate for Secretary of defense who is unaware of government policy, issues wrong and contradictory statements, refuses to answer direct questions and obviously believes that apologies can explain away muddled thinking. What word would you use to describe this person?
When a president nominates someone from the opposing party for a cabinet position, one would assume that this candidate had stellar qualities and is among the best of the opposition party. If Hagel is among the best, the Republicans are truly in bad shape.
Of course, then too, we could question the wisdom of one who would nominate someone of Hagel’s stature.
Considering that insurance has been a major focus of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, one would assume that Congress and the Administration at this point had some idea of how insurance works. They don’t.
In the recent debate over religious organizations being forced to provide insurance that covers birth control pills for their employees, in violation of the organization’s religious tenets, the Obama Administration has come up with a new “compromise:” insurance companies will pay for the pills. Wrong.
Ignoring the moral, religious and individual rights issues, the fundamental issue is that birth control pills should not be considered an insurable risk. (This is not the only example of political objectives being shoe-horned into insurance but it will suffice for now.)
Let’s take an example of oil changes being covered by your automobile insurance. Let’s also say that the price of an oil change is $25 and you should get the oil changed every three months. So it will cost insurance companies, per policyholder, $100 per year (4 changes times $25) plus. Insurance companies still need to hire people to review the claims of the oil changing companies, check for fraud, handle customer service, etc. All that mounts up to, say, $4 per oil change. And, insurers need a little bit for profit – say $1 per oil change. So all told, what would cost you out-of-pocket $100 per year costs an insurance company $120. Where does an insurance company get its $120 from? You -- the policy holder. So, instead of costing you $100 per year for oil changes, you now spend $120 per year for insurance. This is not a good deal.
Now let’s look at the Obama “compromise” on birth control pills. Insurers are to provide them free. No, we already know that insurance companies get their money from policyholders, so they must increase your premium cost. You can only get around this additional cost through a fantasy.
But what do birth control pills cost? Nine dollars per month, or so. That would come to $108 per year. But hold on: we already know that insurance companies need to add on costs to review claims, check for fraud, handle customer service and make a small profit. So now it will cost about $130 per year.
Now there are those who say that providing birth control pills is a good deal for insurers since they will not have to pay for a child’s birth. In a superficial way, this makes sense. But in the real world, insurance companies predict how many births there will be among its policyholders and then add the costs of those projections into the policy premiums. If the premium for healthcare is $X and the projected cost of giving birth (divided by the number policyholders) is $Y the new policy premium will be $X + $Y, ignoring the overhead costs. So, insurance companies don’t lose money paying for births and, in fact, if profit is computed as a percentage of premium costs, the profits will be higher covering more births than covering birth control pills (not to mention the additional investment income the higher premium would engender).
Is insurance always a bad deal? Yes. But we should get insurance not for the mundane necessities of oil changes and birth control pills, but for the extraordinary situations. Very few of us will ever require a heart transplant but if we do, the cost will come in the neighborhood of $700,000. Since few of us have $700,000, we would want to insure for this eventuality (and by spreading the $700,000 around a large number of policyholders, the policyholders, in effect, all chip in to provide coverage to those who need it).
Regardless of whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, covering birth control pills through insurance reflects an ignorance of insurance (or jerry-rigging insurance to serve a political agenda). It is as ill-conceived an idea as…as…as, nominating Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense.
What has Hillary accomplished anyway?
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has many admirers, among them many who hope she will again run for president. These folks look at her tenure as secretary of state in awe. She has, they believe, been one of our greatest.
Greatest? A little over the top. One may debate the policies and goals of former secretaries of state, but clearly George Marshall, John Foster Dulles and Henry Kissinger have been more consequential than Clinton.
Clinton was the most traveled. She visited 112 countries and logged almost one million miles. If, as Woody Allen is reputed to have said, eighty percent of success is just showing up, she has been successful. Certainly, for leaders of other countries, meeting with one of the most influential people from the most powerful nation on earth is worth something and Clinton’s travels were a plus for the United States.
But in listing her failures, one needs to be cautious. Does failing on some issue mean that someone else could have done better? Would a Marshall, Dulles or Kissinger have been able to succeed where Clinton did not? Not necessarily. Furthermore, where does Clinton’s initiative stop and Obama’s start?
Reset with Russia. This effort began as a political whoop-de-do and ended badly. Even Clinton’s first meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov got off on the wrong foot, perhaps symbolic of how the US-Russian relationship would go. She presented Lavrov with a button, symbolically stating that the Bush cowboys were no longer in charge and from now on, the sophisticates of the Obama Administration were out to “reset” the relationship. The button said “peregruzka” which Clinton thought meant “reset” but she was wrong. It meant “overcharge.”
The initial gambit was to snooker allies Poland and the Czech Republic by canceling a missile defense system -- which the two allies had risked a lot of political capital to support – that Russia had wanted cancelled. To make matters worse, the defense system was cancelled on September 17 – the anniversary of Russia’s 1939 attack on Poland (and many Poles do not think that the date for the cancelation was a coincidence).
After Clinton reset the supposedly errant policies of George W. Bush, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Clinton of trying to foment a revolution in Russia. Putin does make a lot of outrageous charges against the U.S. and was not taken seriously in this country about that allegation. Still, how much of an improvement can it be when charges of that nature are leveled by a head of state?
Late last year, Russia announced their intent to withdraw from the Cooperative Threat Reduction program. This program was credited with removing nuclear weapons and missiles, and chemical weapons from former Soviet, now independent republics. The U.S. still hopes to salvage the program but given the current state of the U.S./Russian relationship, it is doubtful.
In spite of the “reset,” things have worsened. Russia has stood in opposition to our attempts to isolate Syria and has refused to cooperate with us on eliminating Iranian nuclear weapons.
Pakistan. Things haven’t been going well with Pakistan, from an American perspective, since Secretary of State Colin Powell met with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in 2001 and secured his cooperation in the war on al Qaeda. The U.S. relationship with Pakistan has been precarious throughout the Bush presidency and has gotten worse under Obama’s. Could someone other than Clinton have done better?
Iraq. In Iraq, a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) was to be an essential element of our withdrawal. Although at one point this was given to Vice President Joe Biden to handle, negotiating a treaty such as this certainly should have the imprimatur of the secretary of state. It failed to get done and it is a detriment to our strategic policy for the region. (Iraq is a politically difficult place and whether anyone could have brought home a new SOFA is questionable.)
Nukes. In North Korea as in Iran, nothing has been accomplished regarding the elimination of the threat of nuclear weapons. Here, truly a reset (especially with North Korea) presented an opportunity. President George W. Bush said that we would not permit a nuclear armed North Korea and yet, when North Korea set off a nuclear weapon in 2006, we did nothing. Under Clinton and Obama, it has been more of the same. What could have been done short of war? No one from either administration has had a credible plan.
Israel/Palestine. We are no closer to resolving the situation here than we have been since President Bill Clinton. Indeed, we seem further away.
Benghazi. When cornered, Clinton’s best defense seems to be to get shrill – and it works, at least domestically. (e.g., “There’s a vast right-wing conspiracy” lying about her husband and Monica Lewinsky; “ What difference does it make” to a committee that is trying to find out what happened in Benghazi – especially about the apparent cover-up).
In her farewell address to the State Department, she said: "There are some people in politics and in the press who [won’t be persuaded] by the facts. They just will not live in an evidence-based world. And that's regrettable. It's regrettable for our political system and for the people who serve our government in very dangerous, difficult circumstances."
But the evidence-based world that she has carefully dodged says that there was an attempt to cover up the cause of the attack in Benghazi at the highest levels of the government and clearly Clinton was one of those involved. Let’s not forget that weeks after the Benghazi attack, Charles Woods, father of former SEAL Tyrone Woods, who died in the attack, said that Clinton approached him during the memorial service and told him that “we will make sure that the person who made that film is arrested and prosecuted." Clinton has never disputed this assertion.
What has Clinton accomplished? Not a lot of notable stuff and maybe some negative stuff. And a paper trail if she wants to run for higher office.
Quote without comment
Secretary of Defense Nominee Chuck Hagel, at Senate hearings last Thursday: “A number of questions were asked of me today about specific programs: submarine programs, different areas of technology and acquisitions, and our superior technology. And I’ve said, I don’t know enough about it. I don’t. There are a lot of things I don’t know about. If confirmed, I intend to know a lot more than I do. I will have to.”