A Consummation Devoutly Not to Be Wished

A recurring theme in the spate of dystopian futurist movies popular in our youth was that someday the government would start killing off all the old people. The notion provided a memorable scene in “Soylent Green” where Edward G. Robinson shuffled off to the local suicide center where the aged were treated to soothing music and images as they ceased to be a burden, and the entire plot of “Logan’s Run” was based on a society that maintained its perfectly organized order by offing anyone over the age of 30. In the late ’60s and early ’70s audiences found this plausible, with the younger and hipper movie-goers smugly assuming it was just the sort of thing that President Richard Nixon and his right-wing buddies would love to do, but it’s not been until the era of hope and change and the left-wing ascendancy that we’ve started to worry about it.
Our worries were heightened by the once-venerable Atlantic Monthly’s recent publication of an article by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel in which he expresses his desire to die at age 75 and urges the rest of us to do the same. This morbid advice would ordinarily be easy to ignore, but Emanuel is the brother of former Obama White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, has served as a special advisor to the Obama White House’s Office of Management and Budget, and is currently a fellow at the Obama White House-affiliated Center for American Progress. He painstakingly insists that he’s not advocating euthanasia, and he couches his argument mostly in terms of the individual’s best interests rather than society’s or the government’s bottom line, but there’s no shaking a discomfiting feeling that his enthusiasm for a mass early exit from this earthly plane isn’t entirely apolitical, or that it won’t have some appeal to the bureaucrats charged with balancing Obamacare’s hard-to-balance books.
His arguments for dying at age 75 probably won’t be persuasive to anybody else. He correctly notes that people tend to have more aches and pains and get around less energetically after 75 than they did in their younger days, but throughout history most people have found that more tolerable than the proposed alternative. Some people are afflicted with aches and pains and limited mobility early in life, too, and although Emanuel isn’t quite so bold as the Nazis were in suggesting that these unfortunate folks should also cash it in neither does he bother to discount the idea. He further notes that the vast majority of people are less productive after the age of 75, and cites some studies suggesting the decline begins well before that point, but the notion that an individual’s life is only of value to the extent that it serves the collective is also abhorrent. He acknowledges that some people retain great creativity and usefulness late into life, without considering how someone might know if they’re one of them until they reach an age well beyond 75, and he begrudgingly concedes that even the most debilitated oldsters still provide love and meaning to the lives of the families and friends, although he seems to regard this as a silly sentimentality, but he still insists that the rather arbitrary age of 75 is when shuffling off this mortal coil is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
What’s most unsettling, however, is that Emanuel’s arguments are so consistent with a predominant anti-life strain in modern liberalism. The enthusiasm for abortion even when a baby has survived the procedure, the advocacy for other extreme means of population control, the antipathy toward the scientific advances that have allowed agriculture to sustain the lives of untold billions around the world, and the younger generations’ apparent aversion to procreation and preference for polar bears, all reflect a peculiar post-religious belief that human life is not a precious gift granted by God to each human being but rather a problematic privilege conferred or revoked by more earthly ruling elites. Throw in the facts that the president of the United States has told the daughter of a centenarian that her mother should “take a pill” rather than get the expensive surgery she needs to continue a vital life, and his former Secretary of Health Human Services has explained a decision to deny a young girl life-saving treatment because “some people live and some people die,” and one of his former advisors is advocating death at age 75, and those old dystopian futurist flicks no longer seem so far-fetched. Nixon and his right-wing buddies have nothing to do with it, but otherwise they’re starting seem to prophetic.

— Bud Norman

Nuns Dare Call It Conspiracy

When they’re not pursuing the economic policies that have brought female workforce participation rates to a post-feminism low, or chasing interns around the office, or bemoaning the Republicans’ “War on Women,” Democrats have lately been waging a war on the Little Sisters of the Poor. Surprisingly enough, the Little Sisters of the Poor seem to be getting the better of it.
For those unfamiliar with this fine organization, the Little Sisters of the Poor is an order of Catholic nuns who have been caring for the elderly since Saint Jeanne Jugan brought a blind and paralyzed old woman in from the cold of a French winter in 1839, and despite its good works in cities across America since arriving in Cincinnati in 1868 it went largely unnoticed until the Obamacare law mandated it provide contraception coverage for all its members and workers. The order’s vow of chastity rendered such coverage unnecessary for its members, and its strict adherence to Catholic doctrine made facilitating the use of contraception by any of its more permissive-minded employees a moral hazard, so it took its much-publicized case to court. Although the matter remains to be sorted out by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which will no doubt take its sweet time deciding if the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom still means anything, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the Little Sisters of the Poor can continue their good works in accordance with their consciences until the case reaches a definitive legal conclusion. The injunction was issued without dissent, which bodes well for the Little Sisters’ chances when the case inevitably reaches the highest court.
That would be the highest secular court, of course, and the Little Sisters seem quite confident in winning on their most final appeal. They also stand a good chance of winning in the court of public opinion, which is almost as important and has more far-reaching political implications. Bullying a bunch of nuns who have devoted their lives to serving the aged and needy into subsidizing the swinging sex lives of libidinous young Democrats cannot be good public relations, even in this day and age, and the cautious tone of the mainstream press coverage suggests they’d rather not be talking about the at all. The very name of the case — “Little Sisters of the Poor, et al, V. Sebelius, Sec. of H&HS, et al” — is too damning for most reporters to mention.
Some Democrats are so reverent of government and hostile toward religion that they will instinctively side with the defendant, and for reasons we cannot quite ascertain they are especially annoyed by anything Catholic, but we hope this remains a minority view. Whatever one thinks of the Little Sisters’ theological reasons they cannot be faulted for their undeniable altruism for the neediest people of our society, as much as Democrats might resent the proof they have no monopoly on that virtue, and they make for a very sympathetic plaintiff. The more hysterical leftists are already alleging a papist conspiracy by the Court’s unprecedented Catholic majority, but they can’t deny that the majority is comprised of justices from both the right and left, that none of the Protestant minority offered a dissent, that the plaintiff’s “et al” includes numerous Protestant charities, that the main defendant and many of her own “et als” are Catholics, and that the underlying issue of freedom of religion is of vast importance to any person of faith no matter his creed.
Higher costs, less coverage, massive federal debt, bureaucratic bungling, and countless other practical problems are the main reasons for Obamacare’s widespread unpopularity and eventual repeal, but here’s hoping that its iron-fisted authoritarianism and lack of regard for individual rights has something to do with it as well. If the government can force the Little Sisters of the Poor to act against their highly-refined consciences, it will be hard for anyone to resist, and if the Little Sisters of the Poor can prevail, it will be a victory for everyone.

— Bud Norman

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Utopia

We had hoped to take a day off from the Obamacare death watch, but the convulsions and rattling are simply too riveting and amusing a spectacle.
Wednesday brought not just one but two knee-slapping comedies as both Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the eponymous President Barack Obama both made hilarious attempts at defending Obamacare. Sebelius can probably said to have gotten the worst of it, as her appearance before a House of Representatives committee entailed questioning by anarchist terrorist Republicans with their crazed notions of holding government officials responsible for their actions, whereas Obama faced only another hand-picked audience of adorers during a speech in Boston, but both provided plenty of knee-slapping moments of comedy.
Poor Sebelius had to endure the inevitable “Wizard of Oz” references that are the bane of every Kansan’s existence, even though she grew up in Ohio and is a Democrat, and her day on the job only got worse from there. She was forced to concede that the computer program she had paid $634 million of taxpayer money for wasn’t working very well, and the best boast she could up with was that it hadn’t crashed. Shortly before she made this dubious claim the program crashed, and even CNN couldn’t resist the temptation to split its screen between the apologetic web site message and Sebelius’ earnest if understated claims of success. She was asked about the president’s oft-repeated promise that people will be able to keep their insurance policies “if they like them” and insists that it’s true, even as the president is in Boston admitting the undeniable and evenly widely-reported fact that for many it is not true. A Michigan Republican — apparently they do exist — asked some technical questions about “hot-swapping” and “end-to-security testing” and other computer lingo that forced to Sebelius to admit she had not idea what the hell he was asking about, even after spending $634 million of taxpayer money on it. She was also forced to admit she had no idea how many of the healthy, young suckers needed to subsidize the scheme had been enrolled, or that CNN had reported her website had been broken into by unknown but undoubtedly nefarious hackers. At one point, while being grilled about her own participation in the Obamacare insurance program, and offering a questionable, she was overheard mutter “Don’t do this to me.”
The softball questions sympathetically lobbed in Sebelius’ direction by the Democratic members offered little help, nor did an audience stacked with die-hard supporters offer Obama much help as he touted Obamacare in Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall. Despite a pep-rally atmosphere more suitable to a winning basketball team’s impending homecoming victory, Obama at last acknowledged that his oft-repeated promise to people who like their health insurance plan that they can keep it is only going to be kept for the “vast majority” of Americans. Given that Obama’s 52 percent of the 2012 vote was hailed as a vast majority this means that as much as 48 percent of the country could wind up losing its policies, but whatever the number the president was quick to insist they were lucky to have him watching out for them. All those cancelled policies Obama was forced to acknowledge were the fault of “bad apple” insurance companies, he said, and all those forced onto the non-working web site to find a new policy had “substandard” insurance that the government has helpfully nudged them to upgrade. The millions of people who were well satisfied with their coverage and will wind up paying more for less will be hard to convince that the government knows better than they do about such things, but one has to admire Obama’s audacity of hope in making the pitch. He also seemed to blame the whole mess on former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, as he repeatedly likened Obamacare to the state health care reform that Romney had inaugurated as governor of Massachusetts, but the Obamacare moniker will be hard to shake.
The hardship and pain and premature death that will result from Obamacare are to take, but watching the geniuses who dreamed it up trying put a good spin on it is great fun.

— Bud Norman

An Innocent Bystander

Two of the bigger fiascos currently swirling around Washington cannot be blamed on President Barack Obama, we are told, because the poor fellow didn’t even know about them.
By now everyone in America is aware that the $634 million computer program that was supposed to enroll a grateful nation in Obamacare simply does not work, but Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has assured the nation that her boss didn’t find out about it until the rest of us did. The revelation that the National Security Agency has been eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leaders of various other allies has been more widely reported in the snooped-upon countries, where the formerly Obama-crazed citizenry are now marching in the streets with “Hope and Change” replaced by “Stasi 2.0” and other similarly snooty slogans beneath the president’s famously chin-upturned and stylized visage, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein and others are nonetheless anxious for the American public to know the president was as surprised by the news as anyone else.
This might even be true, but if so it is not so reassuring as the apologists probably intend. One likes to think that the president is a bit more au courant on the latest bureaucratic computer glitches and cloak-and-dagger international intrigues than the common folk, after all, and it’s downright to worrisome to contemplate that he is just as uninformed as the average voter. There used to be a notion that the chief executives of large organizations were ultimately responsible for anything that happened along their chain of command, pithily surmised by the “Buck Stops Here” that adorned the Oval Office desk of Harry Truman, and it also discomfiting to think this standard is no longer in effect at the White House. The president’s most loyal acolytes will likely be satisfied by the belief that their man had nothing to do with these messes, only the people he appointed to positions of responsibility, but those less enamored will be left to wonder why he hasn’t fired the incompetent idiots who didn’t at least give him a heads-up before their best efforts hit the fan.
It causes a certain queasy feeling, in fact, that the Obama apologists are so seemingly confident they can successfully plead ignorance to acquit their man of responsibility for what happens during his time in office. So far they have done well at convincing a significant portion of the country that Obama is an innocent and righteously indignant bystander to the bad things that are happening in the country, well enough that Obama himself can claim with a straight face to be as angry as anyone about the state of the government, so perhaps the confidence is realistic. Still, it is hard to see what good can come of having an innocent bystander as the president of the United States.

— Bud Norman

Those Darned Computers

These newfangled “computer” thingamajigs are the most mysterious of all machines. Despite our stubborn Luddite tendencies we have figured out how to turn the contraption on, play chess on it, “surf the ‘net” for news and nudity, and even post these daily rants with properly indented paragraphs, but we have no idea how the darned things work. Our more technologically-savvy friends assure us that it has something to do with binary codes and silicon conductors and assorted other gobbledygook, but we cannot shake a suspicion that black magic is involved.
It is good to know, then, that the putatively brilliant boys and girls of the federal government are every bit as baffled by computers. Even our limited abilities in operating computers are sufficient to have brought us a slew of recent stories on the internet that document the government’s inability to run their multi-billion dollar super-computers.
The most prominently featured stories have been about the “glitches,” “bugs,” and other bad things that have bedeviled the computer system intended to enroll a grateful public in Obamacare-approved health insurance policies. No less an Obamacare enthusiast than The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein has declared the system “really bad,” and other reliably administration-friendly media mavens at the MSNBC staff have been forced to offer even harsher reviews. Things have gotten so bad that even Jon Stewart, the snarky “Daily Host” who usually reserves his wittiest mugging for Republicans, was obliged to skewer a blindsided Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about the fiasco in a recent program. A friend who occasionally ventures on to Facebook tells us that the Obamacare page is full of comments from presumed “friends” unanimously griping about the frustrations of trying to navigate the web site.
Those who are paid to do so directly by the administration are still arguing that it’s all a matter of too much traffic and therefore proof of Obamacare’s overwhelming popularity, but more objective observers have offered two plausible explanations for the problems. The admirably geekish writers at the Infoworld.com web site blame it on cronyism, citing a number of computer experiences who contend that the companies awarded the contract to devise the site are better known for their political connections than their technical expertise, which strikes us as entirely believable. The writers at the usually-reliable Forbes Magazine theorize that the program was deliberately sabotaged by its all-too-shrewd designers, lest the folks trying to log onto the system discover that their health care costs under Obamacare will be far greater than they had been led to believe, and this also seems well within the realm of possibility. Some sorry combination of both explanations could also be true, given how often the government is both inept and nefarious.
Ineptitude seems the more likely explanation for the second slew of stories about governmental computer problems we’ve recently noticed, which involve the government’s Electronic Benefits Transfer program. Also known as “EBT cards” to those in the know about such things, or “Food Stamps” to those of us still stuck in pre-computer era of the welfare state, the program maintains computerized accounts for its ever-expanding number of beneficiaries which have lately gone awry. On Saturday the program shut down across the nation, leaving countless of would-be shoppers stranded at the check-out lanes of their local grocers without means of payment, and later that night at least two Walmart discount stores in Louisiana went back on line to find that there was no limit on the EBT purchases. The latter foul-up set off a social-media-fueled shopping frenzy at the stores, as even the most Walmart-shopping EBT-dependent people now have computers or fancy cell phones, with hundreds of shoppers filling carts to the brim in hopes of getting out of the store before the computer error could be rectified.
None of these stories inspire faith in the government’s ability to run these ambitious social programs, nor the programs themselves, but we find that slightly reassuring. Having grown up in the era of the dystopian futurist movie craze we well remember a nightmare-inducing thriller titled “Colossus: The Forbin Project,” about a government super-computer that threatened to impose totalitarian control over the entire world, as well as any number of other sci-fi yarns set in the far-off 21st Century about computers conquering mankind, and it is good to see that such scenarios remain far-fetched. Thus far these computer thingamajigs seem to do more to subvert totalitarianism than to advance it, and we’re certainly trying to do our part here, and it would seem that the putatively brilliant boys and girls of the federal government aren’t the equals of their counterparts in the private sector.

— Bud Norman

What’s the Symbol for Hate?

Every now and then during our drives about town we will spot a bumper sticker on another vehicle exclaiming that the motorist loves Obamacare. A heart-shaped symbol substitutes for the word “love,” as if scanning the four letters would take too much time out of our busy days, and of course there’s no room at all for an explanation of this uncommon affection.
Which is a shame, because we’d love to hear these proudly Obamacare-loving drivers state their reasons. It was easy enough to understand the enthusiasm back when the so-called Affordable Health Care Act was being pitched to an unwary public, and it was going to provide coverage to every single citizen and perhaps even a few non-citizens while allowing everyone who was satisfied with their existing plans to keep them, somehow help the employers who would suddenly be stuck with reams of new regulations, and cost the public treasury a trifling $980 billion, and lower everyone’s premiums to boot. Only the hard-hearted skeptics didn’t love that, but now that they’ve been proved right in every regard those bumper stickers are hard to comprehend.
By now those drivers should know that at least four million of the uninsured will choose to pay a fine cheaper than insurance and remain uninsured, at least seven million people with insurance will be forced off their plans whether they like them or not, employers are hoping to reduce their newly imposed costs by limiting workers’ hours, the Congressional Budget Office’s estimated tab after the budget gimmicks expired has now swelled to $1.85 trillion, and in the latest bit of vindication for the skeptics a Society of Actuaries report says the price of an insurance premium will continue to rise for most Americans. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admits that at least part of the rise is directly attributable to Obamacare, telling a group of reporters on Tuesday that “These folks will be moving into a really fully insured product for the first time, and so there may be a higher cost associated with getting into that market.”
The secretary was quick to add that some people will see their insurance costs go down and that subsidies will be available for many lower-income Americans to help them with the cost of their newly-mandated coverage, and others with a heart-on for Obamacare will no doubt find other silver linings. There seems to be an awfully dark cloud within those silver linings, though, particularly for the now-quite-lower-income Americans who will be paying both higher premiums and higher taxes as a result of the subsidies, and Obamacare’s more realistic fans are already talking about the latest round of revisions and refinements. We anticipate that they’ll find all the problems are caused by the pesky remains of a free market insurance system and that even more government control is required, and if the problems persist they’ll prescribe more of the same.
Some conservatives have argued all along that Obamacare was meant to fail to such an extent that the public would at last demand a full-fledged single payer system such as can be found in the more fashionably socialized countries. They’ve been dismissed as paranoid right wing crackpots, of course, but we knew quite a few left-wingers who giddily espouse the very same theory as the reason for their support of the bill. Those who love Obamacare for its faults tell us that fully government-run health will be wonderful, but they’re hard-pressed to explain why something that’s so obviously a good idea can’t be sold to the public without mucking things up first, and they don’t seem to have planned for the possibility that a public fed up with higher premiums and worse care might turn to Republican congressional candidates disinclined to go the Swedish route, but they’re the only ones who seem pleased with the way things are going.

— Bud Norman