Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Healthcare.gov to Returning Obamacare Customers: 'We’ll TRY To Enroll You Automatically'

    People who signed up for health insurance through Healthcare.gov in 2013 might have deja vu this November. New information posted on the website indicates that everyone, new or returning customers, choosing a new plan or sticking with the current one, must complete five steps to get or maintain coverage for 2015. A new blog post on the site says:
To stay covered through the Marketplace for 2015, you’ll need to follow 5 Steps during Open Enrollment...You’ll need to complete all 5 Steps to staying covered in the Health Insurance Marketplace (PDF) to finish enrolling in a health plan, even if you want to stay in the same plan.
Returning customers will have one month (November 15 to December 15) to continue coverage beginning January 1, 2015. The five steps are:
  1. Review your current plan’s 2015 health coverage and costs.
  2. Update your Marketplace application, starting November 15.
  3. Compare the health plans available to you in 2015.
  4. Choose the plan that best meets your needs.
  5. Enroll in the health plan you want for 2015 coverage, by December 15, 2014.
What happens if a customer does not finished all five steps by December? A flyer produced by Healthcare.gov says, " If you don’t finish all of the steps by December 15, we’ll try to enroll you automatically so you stay covered.  But this coverage might not be your best option for 2015 and you could miss out on cost savings."

    The flyer does not explain exactly what will happen if Healthcare.gov "tries" and fails, or which steps, if left incomplete, will prevent the automatic enrollment from succeeding.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Billgate: President Obama and His Unpaid Bills [Updated]

    During various showdowns with Congress over the past few years (government shutdown, debt ceiling, sequester,) President Obama has declared that we've got to "pay our bills on time." Twice in the past week, President Obama has raised the issue of unpaid bills - but not those of the United States - his own personal bills.

President Obama, executive order signing , October 17, 2014:
I went to a restaurant up in New York when I was there during the General Assembly, and my credit card was rejected... And I was trying to explain to the waitress, no, I really think that I’ve been paying my bills.
 President Obama, Democratic fundraiser, October 20, 2014:
One of the nice things about being home is actually that it's a little bit like a time capsule. Because Michelle and I and the kids, we left so quickly that there’s still junk on my desk, including some unpaid bills (laughter) -- I think eventually they got paid -- but they're sort of stacked up. And messages, newspapers and all kinds of stuff.
    As Daniel Halper noted, the White House did not include the president's remarks about the unpaid bills in the official transcript of the October 20 remarks, but a White House pool reporter caught the omission.
    As they say in Washington, it's the cover up that gets you...


After initially posting a transcript that completely omitted the "unpaid bills" remark...

...the White House transcript was updated to include "-- (inaudible) --":

Apparently the pool reporters' hearing is superior to that of the White House transcriptionist. Or there was a gap in the tape.

UPDATE 2: Aha! So there WAS an issue with the tape...

Friday, October 17, 2014

State Department On Iran Nuke Negotiations: 'We Know Each Other Well Enough to Make Jokes'

    Some American and Iranian diplomats have been spending so much time together lately that they're beginning to crack jokes with one another. Even though the subject matter of the talks, Iran's nuclear ambitions, is quite serious, a senior state department official shared a lighter moment with reporters who had gathered for a background briefing at the P5+1 talks in Vienna, Austria:
I just told Deputy Foreign Minister Araghchi that that I was coming down to do a backgrounder, and I said, you know, “You’ll know what I’m going to say.” And his suggestion was that I simply hand you the transcript from the last one, and that would probably do the trick. (Laughter.) So we thought that was pretty funny. Obviously, you don’t think that’s so funny, but we all thought it was pretty funny.
    Further into the briefing, the official expanded on the state of the relationship that has developed between the Iranian and American negotiators:
In terms of mood, in a professional way, we all know each other pretty well now. You can tell when the [Iranian] Deputy Foreign Minister jokes. He reads the transcripts of these backgrounders, and when he can joke, “Why don’t you just hand over the last one? You’re going to say the same thing,” it’s reached a level of we know each other well enough to make jokes.
    The current round of talks has a November 24th deadline to reach a complete agreement. The official said there has been progress, but a lot of work remains. The talks have been extended in the past when an agreement could not be reached, but the official said to keep the pressure on, an extension has not been discussed this time around.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Admiral: 'Be Prepared' for Kobani, 'Other Towns and Other Cities to Fall' to ISIL

    Rear Admiral John Kirby appeared at a joint press briefing with Spokesperson Jen Psaki at the State Department Thursday and addressed the ongoing airstrikes against the Islamic State (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria. As a number of Pentagon officials have done in recent weeks, Admiral Kirby downplayed the impact that airstrikes alone can have on stopping ISIL, with particular emphasis on Kobani, Syria, which borders Turkey:
What makes Kobani significant is the fact that ISIL wants it. And the more they want it, the more forces and resources they apply to it, the more targets that are available for us to hit there. I said it yesterday, keep saying it: Kobani could still fall. Our military participation is from the air and the air only right now, and we’ve all been honest about the fact that air power alone is not going to be able to save any town in particular.
    Kirby said that ISIL is likely to continue to gain territory in spite of the coalition air campaign, and that Kobani is not the only city likely to fall:

I think we’ve been pretty consistent about the fact that we need to all be prepared for other towns and other cities to fall too. This group wants ground. They want territory, they want infrastructure. We all need to be prepared for them to continue to try to grab that, and succeed in taking it.

    The extra emphasis placed on strikes against ISIL forces around Kobani, Kirby said, is not only a matter of strategy, but also simply a matter of weather:
One of the reasons you’ve seen additional strikes in the last couple of days is because we haven’t been able to strike quite as much, quite as aggressively inside Iraq. There’s been terrible weather there, sandstorms this time of year. It’s made it very hard for us to get intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms up over to see what we’re trying to do in Iraq. So we’ve had resources available that we might not have otherwise had available to strike them there in Kobani.
    Under persistent question from reporters at the briefing, Admiral Kirby used some colorful language to further explain what the overall strategy of the air campaign is and what it is not:
Airstrikes are dynamic, they’re exciting, you can count them, you can get great video of them. I understand the drama around airstrikes, but we’ve said (a) airstrikes alone are not going to do this, military power alone is not going to do this, and it’s going to take some time...
So this isn’t – I hate to use this phrase, but it’s not whack-a-mole. We’re not going after this – the idea isn’t to just put a warhead on a forehead every single day. The idea is to try to get at their ability to sustain themselves and to disrupt their strategy.
    On the question of ground troops, the admiral made clear there are no plans for combat roles for U.S. forces in Iraq or Syria:
The commander-in-chief’s been pretty clear there’s not going to be a return to U.S. ground forces in a combat role in this effort. That said, we do have 12 advisor teams that are working with the Iraqi Security Forces at a very high level, brigade or division level, inside Iraq. They are not going out into the field. They are not accompanying Iraqi troops. They are simply offering advice and assistance at a headquarters level – seven in Baghdad and the other five are up near Erbil. I do not foresee any instance in which we would put ground troops inside Syria.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Michelle Obama Mocks Democratic Voters: 'I Ain’t Going to Vote... I Couldn’t Wake Up'

    In speeches designed to fire up Democrats to vote in midterm elections, President Obama has at times described voters in his party as having a "congenital defect." Wednesday, Michelle Obama suggested the problem might just be that they're sleepy.
    Mrs. Obama spoke at a rally in Philadelphia for the Democratic candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf. In an effort to boost turnout in November, the first lady told the crowd that she runs across voters "who are like, no, I ain’t going to vote, or I couldn’t wake up[.]" But she stressed that every vote matters:
So this is where -- when I find people who are like, no, I ain’t going to vote, or I couldn’t wake up, or it doesn’t matter, or why -- 20 votes decided who your Governor was in 2010, and it could decide who the Governor is this time. 
    The first lady wasn't finished with the sleepy-voter theme. Later in her remarks, she expanded on the idea:
You know your 20 people.  You know the people in your neighborhood, in your church, in your family who aren’t focused.  And you can’t leave anybody behind. 
That nephew you know who sleeps -- get him up.  Wake him up.  (Laughter.)  Young people, you all know folks who aren’t paying attention.  Your classmates, your dorm mates -- wake them up, get them out. 
    Mrs. Obama also told her audience that turnout was a large part of her husband's victories, especially "women and minorities and young people." Republicans, she explained, counted on "folks like us" to stay away from the polls:
And I don’t know if you remember, but people were shocked when Barack won -- they’re still shocked -- (laughter and applause) -- because they were counting on folks like us to stay home.  See, but then we proved them wrong.  Barack won because OF record numbers of women and minorities and young people who showed up and voted. 
See, but then when the midterms came along -- which is where we are now -- too many of our people just tuned out.  And that’s what folks on the other side are counting on right now, because when we stay home, they win.  So they’re assuming that we won’t care.  They’re hoping and praying that we’re not organized and energized.  But only we can prove them wrong.
    This Friday, the first lady will be in Florida for a Commit to Vote rally with gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, and next Tuesday will appear in Minnesota with Governor Mark Dayton and Senator Al Franken.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

White House Seeks Ideas For Building a 'Solar System Civilization'

   While the rise of the barbarous Islamic State and the spread of the modern day plague of Ebola has many concerned about the state of civilization here on earth, some at the White House are turning their attention beyond our planet. A Tuesday entry on the White House blog Tuesday solicits ideas for "massless exploration and bootstrapping a Solar System civilization" and "how the [Obama] Administration, the private sector, philanthropists, the research community, and storytellers can further these goals."
    "Bootstrapping" is a term employed by Dr. Phillip Metzger, former NASA research physicist now on the University of Central Florida faculty. Metzger explains:
If we want to want to create a robust civilization in our solar system, more of the energy, raw materials, and equipment that we use in space has to come from space.  Launching everything we need from Earth is too expensive.  It would also be too expensive to send all of the factories required to manufacture everything necessary to support a solar system civilization. 
Ultimately what we need to do is to evolve a complete supply chain in space, utilizing the energy and resources of space along the way. We are calling this approach “bootstrapping” because of the old saying that you have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.  Industry in space can start small then pull itself up to more advanced levels through its own productivity, minimizing the cost of launching things from Earth in the meantime.  Obviously, this isn’t going to happen overnight, but I think that it is the right long-term goal.
    Tom Kali, Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and author of the White House blog post, says that NASA is already experimenting with 3D printing with the ultimate goal of printing replacement parts for spacecraft on long voyages, and even "self-replicating large structures" in future missions to Mars. The next rover to be sent to explore Mars will attempt to demonstrate something called "In-Situ Resource Utilization," which converts carbon dioxide in the atmosphere on Mars to oxygen to provide fuel and air for future manned missions.
    Anyone with ideas is invited to email the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Congress Members, LGBT Groups Urge FCC To Change Rules on Internet Filters at Libraries, Schools

    Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA), 13 fellow members of Congress and over 20 organizations sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in late September urging officials to make sure that schools and libraries receiving federal funds do not block or limit access to websites with "important resources" for the LGBT community. Currently the FCC requires local libraries and schools to block sites that contain material that is "obscene; child pornography; or harmful to minors." Rep. Honda and the other signatories to the letter suggest that schools and libraries may be, intentionally or unintentionally, abusing the rules:
It has been reported to me that filtering software also can be used to block much more. Regrettably, Internet content filtering software can—intentionally or unintentionally—be used to block access to particular viewpoints in a discriminatory manner.
    Rep. Honda, who founded and chairs the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus, cites studies that suggest LGBT individuals rely on the internet more than the general public for social networking and anti-discrimination/anti-bullying resources. The letter to the FCC includes one example, a 2011 case in Missouri where a school district used a filter to block LGBT resources but not anti-LGBT material. That case was handled by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one of the co-signing organizations supporting Rep. Honda's letter to the FCC. Other groups include the Human Rights Campaign, the Santa Clara County (CA) School District, the LGBT Technology Partnership & Institute, and numerous LGBT groups, among others.
    The letter comes at a time when the FCC is considering "modernizing" the E-Rate program, which "helps schools and libraries to obtain affordable telecommunications services, broadband Internet access and internal network connections." The program costs about $2.3 billion per year and requires grant recipients to adhere to certain guidelines, including the content restrictions mentioned in Rep. Honda's letter. The letter does not suggest exactly how the rules prohibiting material that is "obscene; child pornography; or harmful to minors" should be revised, but simply that "LGBT educational content should not be filtered in a discriminatory manner." Asked for clarification, Rep. Honda's office replied:
The purpose of the letter is two-fold: (1) raise awareness of the issue to the FCC; and, (2) encourage the FCC to address the problem through regulation or guidance to the Universal Service Administrative Company, which oversees the E-rate program, or directly to public schools and libraries. The wording you referenced is the statute itself, which would require Congress to pass a law to modify. While the FCC considers its proposal to modernize the E-rate program, the Congressman believes a more practical solution is to ask the FCC to use its expertise--and its regulatory authority--to ensure our students and communities have access to critical LGBT resources at public schools and libraries.
    When asked to comment on Rep. Honda's letter and the internet filter issue, the Family Research Council (FRC), an organization promoting family values and a Christian worldview, responded with a statement from Chris Gacek, Senior Fellow for Regulatory Affairs at the FRC:
Essentially, Honda wants to reduce the restrictions of the neutral filtering software to allow LGBT sexual content to reach public school and public library viewing screens.   A portion of LGBT content is sexual in nature, and it is not surprising that some does not clear content filters.  That said, the filters are entirely appropriate.

FRC opposes any effort to interfere with or lower the restrictions on sexual content reaching public schools and public libraries.  First, the standard given above -- “obscene; child pornography; or harmful to minors” – is too low as it is.  For example, a great deal of indecent or soft-core material might satisfy this standard.  Thus, if regulations are to be issue by the Commission, the restrictions on sexual content should be tighter.  Second, before issuing any regulations the Commission must include language that allows local communities to filter content up to the limit allowed by the federal statute.

    The full text of Rep. Honda's letter to the FCC can be found below:

Congressional Letter to the FCC regarding LGBT Content Filtering in Public Schools and Libraries by Mike Honda

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.