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“What Makes Us Exceptional”: Our Willingness To Confront Squarely Our Imperfections And To Learn From Our Mistakes

This week President Obama did something unprecedented…he took responsibility for a terrible mistake that took the lives of two good men.

Here’s a part of what he said:

But one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.

In some ways, that echoes what he said at the 50th Anniversary Celebration in Selma.

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?

Of course, the events he was commemorating at that time didn’t happen on his watch. So the personal burden wasn’t as heavy.

But I was reminded of another time when President Obama’s administration made a mistake and he stepped right up to take responsibility. It was when the rollout of was such a disaster. Here’s what he said then:

…there are going to be ups and downs during the course of my presidency. And I think I said early on when I was running – I am not a perfect man, and I will not be a perfect President, but I’ll wake up every single day working as hard as I can on behalf of Americans out there from every walk of life who are working hard, meeting their responsibilities, but sometimes are struggling because the way the system works isn’t giving them a fair shot.

And that pledge I haven’t broken. That commitment, that promise, continues to be – continues to hold – the promise that I wouldn’t be perfect, number one, but also the promise that as long as I’ve got the honor of having this office, I’m just going to work as hard as I can to make things better for folks…

I make no apologies for us taking this on – because somebody sooner or later had to do it. I do make apologies for not having executed better over the last several months.

At the time, I remember thinking that was one of the most courageous things I’d ever seen a president do. And now, under even more somber circumstances, he’s done it again.

Some people think that our exceptionalism as a country comes from being better than everyone else and focusing only on the positive. Admitting mistakes certainly makes us vulnerable. But pretending to be perfect is nothing but a lie. And it robs us of both the ability to learn from our mistakes and to embrace the kind of humility that opens the door to empathy for others.

President Obama has been willing to put his ego aside, admit when he’s been wrong, and make a determined effort to learn from those mistakes. Those are the kinds of lessons that we – as individuals – need to learn. But they also apply to how we go about “perfecting our union.”


By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 25, 2015

April 26, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Patriotism, President Obama | , , , , | 2 Comments

“ACA Enrollment Tops 6 Million”: The Imminent Implosion Of The Affordable Care Act Has Been Cancelled

The expectation all along was that health care enrollment through the Affordable Care Act would spike shortly before the March 31 deadline. As of this afternoon, those expectations are very much in line with reality.

More than 6 million people have signed up for health insurance on the new exchanges, a number that signals a tremendous last-minute surge, the White House said Thursday.

President Barack Obama told volunteers and navigators helping sign people up that 1.5 million people visited on Wednesday – the highest-traffic day yet. Officials have said they logged more than a million visits each day so far this week.

Remember, this total only refers to consumers who’ve signed up for private coverage through exchange marketplaces. It doesn’t include Americans who’ve gained coverage through Medicaid expansion. For that matter, clearing the 6-million milestone is an important threshold, but there’s still time remaining in the open-enrollment period and it’s not unrealistic to think we’ll see 6.2 million by next week.

“We are seeing near-record numbers of consumers coming to check out their options and enroll in coverage. Yesterday alone, we had 1.5 million visits to and took more than 430,000 calls at our 24/7 call center,” said Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

As of March 1 – not quite four weeks ago – 4.2 million Americans had enrolled through exchanges, suggesting we’ve seen nearly two million consumers sign up in less than a month.

It’s easy to forget, but this seemed like a pipe dream last fall. In October, the first month of the open-enrollment period, just 106,185 consumers signed up for insurance through an exchange – causing Republicans to not only celebrate, but to openly mock the system by noting a variety of sports venues that hold more than 106,185 attendees.

It was obviously proof, we were told at the time, that the Affordable Care Act itself was “hurtling toward failure.”


The enrollment totals must seem literally unbelievable to Republicans, who managed to convince one another that the ACA is not only catastrophically flawed, but on an inevitable road towards imploding.

Indeed, as Paul Krugman noted earlier today, “[P]eople in the GOP are still working with a completely wrong narrative — namely, that Obamacare is failing, and that these are desperate ploys to save a sinking ship. The reality is quite different: enrollments have clearly surged in the final month…. How will the GOP respond when the numbers come in?”

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I suspect it’ll have something to do with Benghazi.
To reiterate a point from early February, those who say they hate “Obamacare” won’t want to hear this, but the imminent implosion of the Affordable Care Act has been cancelled.

What’s more, this is less of a comeback story than a story of normalcy and effective governance. There was a fair amount of panic in November – remember the pieces that predicted “Obamacare may destroy all of liberalism forever”? – but there were plenty of voices counseling patience. There were problems, but they were surmountable. There were elements that were broken, but they could be fixed.

The recent progress, in other words, isn’t some remarkable fluke the White House achieved through a Hail Mary pass. Rather, what we’re seeing now is progress many of us expected to see all along.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 27, 2014


March 28, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Insurance, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Things Are Looking A Lot Better”: We Don’t Know If Obamacare Is Working Well, But We Know It’s Working

Obamacare got off to a lousy start. But things are looking a lot better now.

Nearly a million people signed up for private health plans via in December, according to statistics the Obama Administration released on Sunday morning. That pushed the total number of sign-ups for the year to 1.1 million. Combined with the totals that states are likely to report by year’s end, it probably means more than 2 million people have signed up for private health insurance though the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces. That doesn’t count several million who enrolled in Medicaid, the newly expanded federal-state program that provides insurance to low-income people.

The official enrollment number doesn’t tell us many things. It doesn’t tell us whether these people getting private (or public) coverage had insurance previously—or, if they had insurance, how much they were paying for it. It doesn’t tell us how many of these people have actually paid premiums, which is essential for coverage to take effect. It doesn’t tell us whether insurers have proper data on these people or what kind of access and protection the new coverage will give. It doesn’t tell us how many of the enrollees are in relatively good health or how many are in relatively poor health—or how that mix will affect insurance prices going forward.

In addition, the numbers do not appear to match the Administration’s own targets. According to internal projections, later reported by the Associated Press, officials expected more than 3.3 million enrollments by year’s end, with about 1.8 million of those coming through the federal website.

For all of those reasons, and a few others, it’s premature to say Obamacare is meeting expectations.

But those internal enrollment targets don’t include people who signed up for coverage directly through insurers. And while lower-than-predicted enrollment could be a sign consumers don’t like the new policies, they could also represent the lingering effects of the site’s technical problems. The internal projections were never particularly scientific: Administration officials extrapolated them from the Congressional Budget Office’s projection of overall private plan enrollment in 2014 (about 7 million) and with necessarily imperfect data from prior programs. “What’s important now is that the systems are mostly functioning so that anyone who wants to get coverage can,” says Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “The outreach campaigns and advertising by insurers likely haven’t peaked yet, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if enrollment in March is even bigger than December.”

MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, an architect of reforms, has a similarly nuanced take. “Given the technical problems at the start, and given that the important deadline is March 31, what matters right now is the trend in enrollment.  In terms of overall enrollment, the trend looks quite good,” Gruber says. “What matters more is the mix in terms of the health of those enrolling, and we won’t have a clear answer on that until we see 2015 rates from insurers.”

While we wait to see more numbers—and parse the meaning of the numbers we have—we do know a few things for sure.

We know, first and foremost, that is a (mostly) functioning website. This was no sure thing even a few weeks ago. At the end of November, when officials announced that they had met their goal of constructing a website that worked well for most customers, they were cautious to warn about future problems. Partly that was because their previous predictions of success proved so unbelievably wrong. And partly that was because they feared a late surge of customers would overwhelm the site’s capacity, threatening a whole new period of chaos. But the system held up just fine, as the high enrollment numbers indicate.

More important, we know that many of the people getting insurance are very, very happy to have it. In the fall, when insurers began sending notices of rate increases and plan cancellations, all we heard about was people unhappy with—and in many cases angry about—their new options. Now, however, we are increasingly hearing stories about people who are saving money and, in some cases, getting access to health care they’ve desperately needed for a long time.

Here two examples, culled from a new story by Lena Sun and Amy Goldstein in the Washington Post:

Adam Peterson’s life is about to change. For the first time in years, he is planning to do things he could not have imagined. He intends to have surgery to remove his gallbladder, an operation he needs to avoid another trip to the emergency room. And he’s looking forward to running a marathon in mid-January along the California coast without constant anxiety about what might happen if he gets injured.

These plans are possible, says Peterson, who turned 50 this year and co-manages a financial services firm in Champaign, Ill., because of a piece of plastic the size of a credit card that arrived in the mail the other day: a health insurance card. …

Dan Munstock knows this. A 62-year-old retiree in Greenville, Tenn., he hasn’t had insurance since he left his job as a crisis counselor in Miami six years ago. He lives on Social Security income of less than $15,000 a year. Although he does not know of any major ailments, he would like a checkup because, he said, “you can seem fine until the day you drop over with something.”

Like thousands of other Americans, Munstock ran into technical problems with the federal Web site before managing to pick a health plan Dec. 1. He qualified for a federal subsidy to help him afford the insurance, so he has to pay just $87.57 a month toward his premium. After his welcome packet from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee arrived in the mail, Munstock was so eager to finish the process of enrolling and getting an insurance card that he picked up the phone to pay the first premium instead of using the mail.

“It felt really good,” he said. Paying toward his own insurance, he said, gives him “a certain dignity,” a feeling that he is not “one of the takers.” The next day, he called the doctor’s office. His appointment for a physical is Jan. 2. …

Like the stories of rate hikes and plan cancellations, anecdotes of people gaining insurance or saving money will frequently prove more complicated than they seem at first blush. Some people will discover they owe more out-of-pocket costs than they imagined, because of high deductibles and co-payments. Some won’t be able to see the doctors they want, because plans have limited networks of providers. Some will haggle with insurers over particular bills or services. And that’s not to mention the many other trade-offs in the law—like higher taxes on the wealthy, cuts to various industry groups, higher premiums for some people buying their own coverage, and other steps that made possible the law’s expansion of health insurance.

But nobody ever promised that Obamacare would solve all of the health care system’s ills—or that it would come without costs of its own. The goal has always been to make insurance more widely available, so that more people had access to care and protection from crippling medical bills, while beginning the difficult work of reengineering medical care to make it more efficient. The new enrollment numbers should give us new reason to think it will.


By: Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic, December 29, 2013

December 30, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“More Bark Than Bite”: Tomorrow’s Obamacare Controversy, Today

If past is precedent, Republicans on the House Oversight Committee will soon release a draft memo they requested and received from the Health and Human Services Department just before most Washingtonians decamped for the Christmas holiday.

At first glance, the memo, obtained by National Journal, looks very bad for the Obama administration. In the Sept. 24 document, a top information security officer for the agency overseeing the Obamacare insurance exchanges warns that the marketplace “does not reasonably meet … security requirements” and that “there is also no confidence that Personal Identifiable Information (PII) will be protected.” Teresa Fryer, the chief information security officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service, continues: The federal marketplace will likely “not be ready to securely support the Affordable Care Act … by October 1, 2013.”

It plays right into the Republican narrative about The administration knew the website would not be ready by the launch date but went ahead with it anyway. And the site may still not be adequately protecting consumers’ information.

But, in context, the draft memo becomes much less exciting.

On the Friday before Christmas, Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, released a partial transcript from an interview conducted by the panel’s staff with Fryer. That partial transcript, shared with ABC and CBS, suggested that Fryer warned the administration that there were two findings of serious vulnerabilities in the system.

However, when Democrats on the Oversight Committee released parts of the transcript omitted from Issa’s version, Fryer’s comments looked far less explosive, and ABC updated its story to reflect the change. It turns out that by Sept. 27, a few days after Fryer raised her concerns about the security at launch, extensive new security measures were added.

As she told the committee’s investigators, “The added protections that we have put into place in accordance with the risk decision memo … are best practices above and beyond what is usually recommended.” She went on to describe her confidence in the three-level security system and to note that there have been “no successful breaches [or] security incidents.”

Which brings us back to the draft memo we obtained. We should note that it was just a draft, and was never sent or reviewed by more senior officers in the chain of command, and was written three days before the mitigation strategies went into effect. She later told Oversight Committee investigators that her earlier recommendation against giving the go-ahead to launch the site—the “authority to operate,” as it’s called—did not take into account the mitigation strategies laid out in the Sept. 27 Authority to Operate memo.

The investigators asked Tony Trenkle, then-CMS’ top information executive, this: “So as long as the mitigation strategy described in the [ATO] memo was carried out, you considered that it was, it would be sufficient to mitigate the risks described in the memo?” He responded, “Yes.”

She added that she was “satisfied” with the current security testing, and that she did not object when another CMS information security officer decided to move ahead with the launch. Again, she stated: “All systems are susceptible to attacks. There have been no successful attempts.”

As the Los Angeles Times‘ Pulitzer Prize-winning business columnist Michael Hiltzik noted, “Issa has absolutely no evidence” to support his broader claims that the system’s deep vulnerabilities put all kinds of consumers’ government data at risk, and that CMS moved ahead anyway to avoid embarrassing the White House.

Of course, sleight of hand with opaque bureaucratic documents is nothing new for Issa, but the potential to dissuade Americans from obtaining health insurance through the federal exchanges because of trumped up security fears has pushed relations between the committee chair and the administration to a new low. It’s one thing to say without evidence that the administration is corrupt, but it’s another to tell Americans that their Social Security number is at risk when there’s nothing to suggest that’s true.

But perhaps we can head off another round of this farce by putting out Fryer’s memo before Issa does—in its full context.

By: Alex Seitz-Wald, The National Journal, December 24, 2013

December 29, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Private Isn’t Always Better Than Public”: UPS Delivers Christmas A Day Late

It’s the day after Christmas, which means, for many holiday revelers, that their Christmas packages are just arriving today. Or maybe tomorrow.

United Parcel Service, the Georgia-based company that is the go-to package delivery option for millions of Americans, fell short – far short – of meeting holiday expectations this year. Apparently overwhelmed by the delivery demands of the season, UPS failed to get packages to customers in time to put them under the holiday tree.

The number of undelivered packages was not revealed by the company, but social media exploded with complaints from people who said they had ordered online specifically because they were guaranteed pre-Christmas delivery. In a statement, the company said:

UPS understands the importance of your holiday shipments. UPS is experiencing heavy holiday volume and making every effort to get packages to their destination.

It’s not an acceptable explanation, just as it wasn’t a good explanation when the Obama administration said its health care website wasn’t working right because it was overwhelmed with traffic the first day people could go online to sign up for insurance. It is – or should be – someone’s job to figure out that when one is in a big-demand season, there needs to be enough staff to handle it. No one put it better than Saturday Night Live: It’s like 1-800-FLOWERS being taken by surprise by Valentine’s Day.

But there’s another issue here, and that is the public/private bias. Why is Amazon using UPS instead of the U.S. Postal Service? I ordered two books and a CD from Amazon 10 days before Christmas, and my package arrived (thankfully) late afternoon on Christmas Eve. The packages I sent through the U.S. Post Office arrived exactly as promise: When I got two-day Priority delivery, it got there in two days. And (“free” shipping aside), the U.S. postal service is cheaper than the private alternatives.

There seems to be a persistent idea that a private entity is always better or more efficient than a public one. You have people who spent many tens of thousands of dollars to attend some private college which offers no better education than many of the public institutions out there. But the graduates behave as though they’ve gotten some superior level of instruction, just because they didn’t have to go to school with the socio-economic riff-raff. There is, of course, a difference between state universities and pricey private colleges, of course. You can’t buy your way into a public school.

My mail arrives every day it’s supposed to – on time, and delivered by a cheerful and dedicated public servant, a mail carrier who managed to get mail to my building during Hurricane Irene, Superstorm Sandy and all kinds of bad weather. It’s a shame UPS didn’t get packages to people on time. Next year, two changes could fix the problem: the private company could hire enough staff to handle and deliver packages. Or consumers could just use the reliable U.S. Postal Service.


By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, December 26, 2013

December 27, 2013 Posted by | Private Companies | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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