Speaking of Health Insurance . . . .

Health insurance premiums burst upwards.

Ack! The ACA! It does nothing! Nothing!

The average employer-sponsored, single-person health plan premium rose by 8 percent to $5,429 from 2010 to 2011. Meanwhile, the average cost of family coverage rose by 9 percent to $15,073. By contrast, inflation rose by just 3.2 percent, while wages increased just 2.1 percent, the foundation said.

“This year’s 9 percent increase in premiums is especially painful for workers and employers struggling through a weak recovery,” said Kaiser President and CEO Drew Altman.

Everywhere you look, it’s good news!


Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) Gets It

“Because if you are not going to get it done, what’s wrong with going down swinging?”
– Rep. James Clyburn on President Obama’s recent address to the Congressional Black Caucus.

See more at FDL

Mullen on ISI and Haqqani: why now?

NOTE:  I pay for this service and get many posts each day.  I  have not linked to it because so much of it is behind a pay-wall.  I am permitted to re-post as long as I acknowledge Stratfor as the source.  Y’all have followed the Mullen-Panetta review of Pakistan to Congress, I am sure; what is new to me here is that Stratfor says we no longer require Pakistan for our effort in Afghanistan so it became a good time to finally say what we know.

In an interview published in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen reiterated his view that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate provided support for the  Haqqani network. And he continued to juxtapose Haqqani attacks on American troops and American targets with the ISI’s “strategic support” for the group.
The interview was released as Mullen’s final testimony before Congress last week continued to elicit reactions. It was during this testimony — not a setting in which casual comments usually slip out — that he explicitly connected the ISI to Haqqani. During Mullen’s tenure as America’s top military officer, he traveled to Pakistan more than two dozen times and maintained close relations with Islamabad’s senior military leadership. Despite attempts in Washington to moderate his testimony, and anger and denials from Pakistan, we can be sure that Mullen chose his words carefully — a point that Wednesday’s interview further underscores.
“The U.S.-Pakistani relationship has begun to change in a fundamental way.”
The U.S.-Pakistani relationship has begun to change in a fundamental way. The United States and its allies are leaving Afghanistan. The peak of military operations there — itself intended as an attempt to shape the circumstances for a withdrawal — has already passed. A new officer, U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, has been put in charge of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan not to perpetuate the counterinsurgency-focused strategy of David Petraeus.
The move to an exit from Afghanistan is not immediate, but it is inexorable. Washington’s only long-term strategic interest in Central Asia is to deny it as sanctuary to transnational terrorist groups like al Qaeda. Al Qaeda has been defeated in Afghanistan and Washington is moving from a position of needing Pakistani territory to logistically facilitate a surge and ongoing military operations, to one where it requires Pakistan to ensure that Afghanistan will never again serve as a staging ground for attacks against American interests.
Mullen did not recently discover Pakistani connections with Haqqani, or the Taliban in general. They have always existed — Pakistan was instrumental in creating the Taliban and ensuring their ascendancy — and it was never in Islamabad’s interest to sever them. Those ties served as a fundamental means of ensuring Pakistani leverage in Afghanistan. What changed is what the United States needs from Pakistan. The United States’ willingness to overlook Pakistani actions against its interests, in exchange for the cooperation necessary for operational expediency, has ended.
Already, the United States has quietly moved its logistical burden onto the Northern Distribution Route — an astonishingly long and tedious alternative traversing Russia and Central Asia to Pakistan — so much so that only about a third of supplies and fuel continue to reach Afghanistan via the port of Karachi and Pakistani refineries. But as the total number of foreign troops continues to decline, excess stockpiles are burned through, austerity measures take effect and the tempo of combat operations declines, the point at which the war in Afghanistan can be sustained independent of Pakistan is fast approaching.
This is a remarkable inflection point. Washington’s logistical vulnerability and reliance on Islamabad has left combat operations in Afghanistan hostage to Pakistan, which has been a defining dynamic of the war. To sustain the large-scale combat operations, the United States had been forced to tolerate Pakistani support for hostile forces in Afghanistan. Mullen’s testimony last Thursday and the interview this Wednesday reflect a change in the rules.
Whether Pakistan is capable of adjusting course and satisfying new American demands — even if it wants to — is unclear. But with the American exit on the horizon and the twilight of logistical reliance on Pakistan at hand, the rules of the game have undergone perhaps their most fundamental change since the beginning of the war.

Operation Fast and Furious

This House investigation gets a lot of play on the right because of an innate rightwing view that all Democrats would ban and/or confiscate ALL firearms If possible. There is a belief by some righties that Holder set this up purposefully to demonstrate that U.S. Sold guns are killing people as a way then to introduce (more) gun control. I disagree with that. To me, this just smacks of typical government incompetence. Napoleon said, “Never ascribe to malice, that which can be explained by incompetence.”

If you don’t know the backstory, check it out. It’s awful and stupifying.

This is Really Nasty Stuff


Taking it to the SCOTUS

It looks like the SCOTUS will be weighing in on the Constitutionality of the ACA sooner rather than later. The Obama administration could have tried to delay the issue but they went the other route
. The administration has said they are confident they will win but there has to be a political reason they are choosing to have the fight during the election season rather than attempt to delay a decision until after next November.

On one hand, it makes sense for Obama to stand up for what is widely seen as his signature piece of legislation. If he tried to delay a decision, it seems likely his opponents would point to it as weakness and liberals may see it as yet another sign of poor leadership. On the other hand, the law is unpopular among liberals and conservatives so I am not sure appearing to strongly support the bill does Obama a whole lot of good.

Is it possible that Obama may actually be better off if the SCOTUS finds the mandate unconstitutional and the ACA begins to unravel? That may motivate the liberal base a bit because a Republican plan signed by a Republican President would scare the bejesus out of them. Such a ruling may also force Obama to come out with a plan that includes a public option.

I’m headed for a babymoon with my wife and am swamped at work the rest of the day. Then I have a firm retreat Monday and Tuesday, so I may be scarce until later next week. I promise to put up a tort reform post next week though.

Unresolved Issues

Michi linked a piece last night as a counter argument to Melissa Harris-Perry’s claim that President Obama is the victim of a double standard and that white liberals may be abandoning him because we have set a higher standard for a black president. A few of us discussed this on Tuesday night and came to the conclusion that her claim was a stretch at best. Here’s David Sirota with more analysis.

By seeing this record and then explaining away declining liberal support for President Obama as a product of bigotry, Harris-Perry exhibits the ultimate form of both denialism and elitism. It assumes voters (and readers of the Nation) are all lockstep partisans who don’t — and shouldn’t — care about actual issues, public policies and governmental actions, and that they should instead just line up with their party’s leaders without question. It further assumes — without any factual evidence — that if and when voters don’t follow this partisan script, it means that some deeper psychological factor like racism (rather than, say, rational, considered analysis of public policy) is the primary motivating factor in their behavior.

Betraying the arrogant elitism at the heart of such an argument, Harris-Perry declares that the “legislative record for [Obama’s] first two years outpaces Clinton’s first two years” — a line that suggests that Obama is automatically more deserving of liberal support than Clinton. Yet, in making this part of the basis of her “electoral racism” allegations, she implies that liberal voters are so ignorant that they automatically believe sheer numbers of bills passed trumps what’s actually in the bills. She hopes — or, perhaps, believes — that nobody remembers that many of those bills (the Patriot Act extension, the extension of the Bush tax cuts, the bank bailouts, the no-public-option health insurance giveaway legislation, to name a few) were initiatives that many liberals opposed.

Here’s another follow up to an issue we discussed yesterday. The USPS Office of the Inspector General has released its “management advisory” report on the funding of the postal service’s pension obligation. I’m fairly certain there’s a political football counterpoint to all of this but I thought this was a fairly straight forward stating of the relevant facts. Please correct me if you find something contrary.

In July 1971, when the Post Office Department became the Postal Service, employees that belonged to the federal pension fund began contributing to the Postal Service’s portion of the pension fund. These retirement costs were divided according to the number of years employees had belonged to each fund. However, the federal pension fund paid for retirements was based on 1971 salaries, not final salaries as administered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

OPM has explained that these mischarges were in response to what they believed to be the will of Congress expressed in 1974 legislation. However, the 1974 language was repealed by Congress in 2003. Congress directed OPM to use its authority to oversee the reforms using accepted “dynamic assumptions” that include pay increases and inflation. OPM switched to dynamic funding for the Postal Service portion, but did not for their share. The Postal Service paid the $75 billion difference.

In 2004, the Postal Service appealed the OPM’s methodology for pension fund allocation and the appeal was denied by the OPM. The denial relied on 1974 legislation that made the Postal Service responsible for the pension costs related to salary increases. However, the 1974 language was repealed by Congress.

In addition, the OPM directed the Postal Service to use 100 percent pre-funding for both pension and health care retirement funds. In contrast the OPM has pension funding levels of 41 percent for federal employees and 24 percent for the military. The OPM’s own retiree health care prefunding for federal employees is 0 percent. The Standard & Poor’s 500 companies’ pension funding is 80 percent.

Correcting either the $75 billion overcharge or reducing the 100 percent target prefunding level to 80 percent would result in the ability of the Postal Service to pay off the Treasury debt associated with paying the $75 billion overcharge.

Admin Note: I think it’s important that as many of us as possible, work schedules allowing, try to contribute new posts and find ways to add to our contributors list. I don’t believe new posts necessarily need to be long-winded each and every time, although I like those, it can be something short and sweet that will spark a discussion.


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