Last weekend, the New York Times published one of what will be many takes on President Barack Obama’s legacy as commander in chief. Retroactively shoehorning seven-plus years of varied military operations into one coherent “doctrine” is impossible, but dozens of articles will soon attempt to do so.

There is one significant aspect of this doctrine, however, that is rarely mentioned by the media and never by Obama: the unprecedented use of mercenaries or private contractors to support foreign military operations.

Obama has authorized the continuation or re-emergence of two of the most contractor-dependent wars (or “overseas contingency operations” in Pentagon-speak) in U.S. history. As noted previously, there are roughly three contractors (28,626) for every U.S. troops (9,800) in Afghanistan, far above the contractor per uniformed military personnel average of America’s previous wars. In Iraq today, 7,773 contractors support U.S. government operations — and 4,087 U.S. troops. These numbers do not include contractors supporting CIA or other intelligence community activities, either abroad or in the United States. On April 5, Adm. Michael Rogers, commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, declared during a Senate hearing that contractors made up 25 percent of his workforce.

Under Obama, more private military contractors have died in Iraq and Afghanistan than all the U.S. troops deployed to those countries. Between Jan. 1, 2009, and March 31, 2016, 1,540 contractors were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan (176 in Iraq and 1,364 in Afghanistan). During that period, 1,301 U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq (289 in Iraq and 1,012 in Afghanistan). Last year was even more skewed toward contractors than the preceding six years; 58 contractors died in Afghanistan or Iraq, while less than half as many U.S. troops did (27) fighting in either country, including Syria.The first thing you learn when studying the role mercenaries play in U.S. military operations is there’s no easy way to do so. The U.S. government offers no practical overview, especially for the decade after 9/11. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) began to release data on contractors only in the second half of 2007 — no other geographic combatant command provides such data for their area of operations. In 2011, the Government Accountability Office found, “Although all [State Department, USAID, and DOD] are required to track the number of personnel killed or wounded while working on contracts and assistance instruments in Iraq or Afghanistan, DOD still does not have a system that reliably tracks killed and wounded contractor personnel.” Just last month, an especially exasperated John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told acting Secretary of the Army Patrick Murphy, “We look forward to the day you can tell us how many contractors are employed by [the Department of Defense].”

Moreover, the role, scope, and size of military contractors are never mentioned when there is a new announcement of a U.S. troop deployment to Iraq or Syria. Journalists rarely ask Pentagon spokespersons or military commanders how many contractors will be deployed alongside the troops. On the rare occasions they do, the military representative never has any estimates available. In February 2015, when asked whether outside companies were involved in screening Syrian opposition fighters, the response of Rear Adm. John Kirby, then spokesman for the Department of Defense, neatly encapsulated this utter lack of transparency: “Whether there’s contractors involved, I just couldn’t say.”

Not only is it impossible to get reliable, cumulative numbers for contractors deployed or killed, but there are no available government estimates for how many of the deceased war-zone contractors were U.S. citizens. According to one estimate by the Professional Services Council, an industry trade group, only about 32 percent of contractor fatalities between 2001 and 2010 were citizens. The remaining 68 percent are non-Americans who are hired by U.S. or non-U.S. firms that have won a military contract.

When U.S. troops die in service of their country abroad, a detailed Pentagon news release with the service members’ deaths appears on the constantly updated “casualty status” website, which categorizes the operation they were supporting and whether they were killed in action or through non-hostile means.

When U.S. citizen — or non-citizen — contractors die supporting those troops, their employer is, in theory, required to report the incident to the Labor Department’s Division of Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation (DLHWC) within 10 days. Alternatively, a family member can file a claim for insurance compensation. The DLHWC then creates a case, and the contractor death is included in the division’s Defense Base Act database, which is updated daily but released to the public only quarterly. In 2011, the DOL inspector general estimated that 68 percent of employers do not report injuries in a timely manner. What complicates matters is that sometimes the contracting activities are subcontracted to host-nation nationals, who fail to report deaths to the original contractor due to a lack of literacy or improper documentation. Thus, contractor fatality numbers are almost certainly undercounted.

There is also limited congressional oversight of contractors, except when a foreign employee accidentally kills a U.S. service member, and for egregious cases of waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer resources. In May 2008, there was a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing, “Defense Base Act Insurance: Are Taxpayers Paying Too Much?” There was also a series of congressional hearings in 2011 after the multiyear Commission on Wartime Contracting found that at least $31 billion, and as much as $60 billion, had been lost as a result of contract waste and fraud. However, for roughly a decade, there has not been a single hearing focused on the overall responsibilities borne by contractors in U.S. military activities.

In the broader political world, contractors similarly receive zero attention. In the 28 presidential debates held thus far, there was just one mention of military contractors, and then only when Ohio Gov. John Kasich decried “big contractors that were charging thousands of dollars for hammers and screwdrivers and ripping us off.” There were no opinions offered on those individuals who are most likely to be killed when supporting military operations abroad.

During the next five months you will read a lot about the “Obama doctrine,” in particular the supposed “light” military footprint he endorses. However, you will not read about the far larger numbers of war-zone contractors, or the dangerous responsibilities they fulfill. Were it not for these contractors, Obama’s “light footprint” would suddenly be two or three times as large. When the government refuses to provide consistent information about contractors, and when the news media neglect to bring attention to their role and sacrifices, the human costs of fighting America’s wars seem less significant than they actually are.

Micah Zenko (@MicahZenko) is a senior fellow with the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations and is the author of Red Team: How to Succeed by Thinking Like the Enemy.

Photo credit: AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images

Lindsey Graham is concerned that the division within the Democratic Party will make way for a more extreme faction of the left. And he thinks such a group will jeopardize Congress’ ability to get things done.

“We’ve got our problems inside the Republican Party. But I tell you, this division in the Democratic Party worries me as an American,” the South Carolina Republican said on CNN’s At This Hour on Friday. “I can see a version of the Tea Party coming being formed in the Democratic Party from the left — going after moderate Democrats who won’t toe the line to a Socialist agenda. And you’re gonna wind up not being able to do anything.”

Graham also said that the pressure many Clinton supporters are now putting on VermontSen. Bernie Sanders to exit the race is understandably frustrating to his supporters. (Though he condemned any form of violence.)

“I don’t know if he’s hurting Hillary Clinton, but If I was a Bernie Sanders supporter I’d be pretty upset,” he said. Graham was referring to Clinton supporters saying that the longer Sanders stays in the race, the more he hurts the former secretary of State’s chances in the general election.

Graham also weighed in on the foreign policy stances in a likely general election matchup between Donald Trump and Clinton. Graham has said he will not be supporting either candidate but will help whoever becomes president.

“To Mr. Trump: You better come up with a strategy in Syria,” Graham said. “To Hillary Clinton: You better come up with a strategy that we have different than we have today in Syria, or we’re gonna get attacked here. This airliner should be a wakeup call if it is terrorism.”

On Thursday, an EgyptAir plane carrying 66 people crashed in the Mediterranean Sea, and many have speculated the cause was terrorism.

Graham said that he has spoken with Trump about foreign policy and he asked a lot of good questions, but it hasn’t changed his mind to vote for the presumptive Republican nominee.

And he was still critical of Trump on Friday when he was asked about the billionaire being open to speaking to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. “Big mistake, because every other dictator in the world is gonna look at you differently. The last thing you want to do is empower this guy in North Korea,” Graham said. “I think it would be a mistake for the president of the United States to meet directly with this butcher.”

On MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Friday, Trump said he wouldn’t meet with the North Korean leader but would speak with him.

By Eliza Collins, USA TODAY

Insurer warnings cast doubt on future of Obamacare

Health plans are seeking double digit rate increases for their 2017 Obamacare plans, marking the third consecutive year that prices will rise in the exchanges.

This week, health plans in New York proposed a 17.3% average rate hike. It’s in line with similar requests made in other states. Michigan reports an average proposed rate increase of 25%, Oregon 20%, Virginia 18% and Maine 17%.

There are many structural flaws plaguing the way that the Affordable Care Act tilts the rules in favor of costlier and less efficient markets. There are plenty of gratuitous steps taken by regulators, who interpreted the prescriptive law in ways that made it even costlier.

But perhaps no regulatory tradeoff was more damaging than the political tension between boosting enrollment and making the market for ACA health plans more self-sustaining and price-competitive. At every turn, regulators favored enrollment gains over sound management. That has come at a big cost in how the plans are now priced.

The policy mistakes have compounded Obamacare’s woes. Fixing them will require more than regulatory tweaking. It will compel the Obama team to adopt a new political ethic when it comes to the tension between access, affordability and the obligations they’re willing to place on consumers. The Obama team can tilt the rules to let people flow in and out of the Obamacare exchanges at will. But this gaming will drive up costs for everyone.

Regulators created a litany of special exemptions to try and coax more people to enroll in Obamacare. There were so many “Special Enrollment Periods” that for practical purposes, most people could enroll at any time. It’s now clear that many people waited until they got sick before purchasing coverage. Worse still, it set the wrong expectations–that consumers could migrate in and out of Obamacare at their discretion, and health insurance wasn’t something that they needed to hold onto. These loopholes undermined the inducements needed to coax people to buy and maintain coverage. The result is an insurance pool that’s costlier than was projected. Premiums are rising as one consequence.

Obamacare was always predicated on getting enough younger and healthier people to overpay for the coverage in order to cross-subsidize the incongruously low rates set for older (and on average costlier) beneficiaries. But by setting rules that distorted the pool of people entering the exchanges still further, the Obama team busted these economic concessions.

In one analysis, which evaluated data from the 2014 insurance enrollment season, claim costs for individuals that enrolled in Special Enrollment Periods were 10% higher than those that enrolled during the standard open enrollment period, and per-member per-month (PMPM) claim costs for SEP enrollees were 24% higher on average during the first three months of enrollment than for open enrollment period (OEP) enrollees.

In the same analysis, in 2015, the difference in PMPM claim costs increased to 41% for the first three months of enrollment. Moreover, SEP enrollees were found to be 40% more likely, on average, to lapse coverage than those that enroll during the OEP.

The scope of the SEPs in the current exchanges (more than 30 unique occurrences) far exceeds what’s available under employer-sponsored health plans and Medicare and presumably what are required to address special circumstances. Other policies to enable or at least overlook deliberate gaming exacerbated the impact of the overly loose SEPs.

For example, consumers are able to select a year of Obamacare coverage, and stop paying premiums after 10 months. They can get the last two months free since insurers must continue coverage for two months after consumers withhold premiums. The rub is that people who embrace this tactic are eligible to select a new Obamacare plan the following year, without penalty. So they can keep buying a year of coverage and pay for only ten months.

Consumers face legitimate hardships, and federal programs like Obamacare need to err on the side of offering people relief from rules that can put individuals at peril. But the Obamacare concessions weren’t born just of benevolence. They were a deliberate policy to coax higher early enrollments, even if many people ended up lapsing coverage anyway.

CMS has taken steps in recent months to tighten rules around when consumers must enroll in coverage and close exemptions that let many people enroll “off-cycle.” As I stated recently intestimony I delivered before Congress on the topic, clear enrollment periods, with reasonable penalties for those who pursue coverage outside these windows (coupled to effective verification for those who request a special enrollment period) are an essential part of a well-functioning risk pool. Carefully defined enrollment windows can also form a key element of rules that use incentives to encourage people to enter the insurance market and stay continuously insured, rather than relying on penalties to enable these same outcomes.

With clear enrollment periods, policymakers can use a requirement for continuous coverage as a way to ensure that people who get in–and stay in–the insurance market, can’t be dropped from coverage, or face re-rating that would see their premiums rise when they get sick. This is a key element of market-based proposals to replace the ACA’s regulatory framework. Of course, any such policy needs to be coupled to subsidies that help people afford premiums when they confront periods of legitimate hardship.

Written by Scott Gottlieb. I analyze policy, regulation and public health.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has become infamous over the years for things that it doesn’t allow on planes.

Consider these examples of the Keystone Cops in action.

But now the TSA is moving with such tortoise-like inefficiency that even the passengers without plastic hammers and kitty cat keychains aren’t getting on planes.

Our cousins across the Atlantic are amused by the TSA’s incompetence. Here are some blurbs from a story in the UK-based Telegraph.

Circus performers have been brought in to cheer up delayed passengers at San Diego International Airport, where travellers are missing flights because the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is failing to get people through security quick enough. The Private Sector does a better job than the TSA…San Diego isn’t the only airport gripped by TSA chaos – queues are winding around terminals across the country as the busy summer season begins. Neither is it the only airport to hire entertainment – Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport has been trying to stabilise the situation with miniature horses. Yes, horses. …The so-called “therapy unicorns” have been supplied by the Seven Oaks Miniature Therapy Horses programme in nearby Ohio. …Other airports have laid on live music and free lollipops to lighten the mood. It will take more than a lollipop to assuage American Airlines, though, which claims 6,800 of its passengers missed their flights in one week due to the delays.

Surely there must be a better response than clowns and unicorns, right?

As you might expect, the answer is less government.

…critics claim the tax-payer funded agency is inefficient and should be replaced by a private company.

Could that really be the solution?

According to a report from the BBC, some major airports are thinking of escaping from the nightmare of TSA incompetence.

The Port Authority of New Jersey and New York and the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport have both threatened to privatise their passenger screening processes.

And we already have private screeners at more than 20 airports, including major cities such as Kansas City, Orlando, Rochester, and San Francisco.

But there should be a lot more if this 2011 story from MSNBC is any indication.

“The TSA has grown too big and we’re unhappy with the way it’s doing things,” said Larry Dale, president of Orlando Sanford International Airport. “My board is sold on the fact that the free enterprise system works well and that we should go with a private company we can hold directly accountable for security and customer satisfaction.” Dale isn’t alone. Airports in Los Angeles, the Washington, D.C. metro area and Charlotte, N.C., are also considering tossing the TSA. …Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), …chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has encouraged the nation’s 200 biggest airports to opt out, calling TSA a “bloated, poorly focused and top-heavy bureaucracy.”…When TSA was created in 2001, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act mandated that the Screening Partner Program (SPP) be adopted to allow screening by private companies under federal oversight.Five airports immediately signed up in 2002 — San Francisco International, Kansas City International, Greater Rochester International, Jackson Hole and Tupelo Regional — and eleven others…have joined since then. …So far, no airport that joined SPP has opted back into the federal screening program.

Airports go with a private company because it means workforce adaptability and flexibility.

Unlike government workers, problem employees working for contract screening companies “can be removed immediately,” noted Mark VanLoh, director of aviation at Kansas City Aviation Department. The private screening company is easier to reach, he added. “Because I am a client, I usually get a return call immediately. We are all in the customer service business, so that’s a nice thing to have.” The bottom line, said McCarron of San Francisco International, is that “we feel our passengers are as safe as at any other airport. And by allowing [the private screening company] to handle the personnel management of the screening process, the TSA staff at SFO can focus its attention on security issues.”

But much more needs to happen to make air travel pleasant and safe.

“The screening partnership program may be a step in the right direction, but ultimately, it doesn’t change the fact that people at the top are idiots. The real problem is that TSA needs to be totally rebuilt,” said aviation consultant Michael Boyd, of Colorado-based Boyd Group International. “Contracting with private screening companies offers staffing flexibility and a few other advantages,” said Robert Poole, director of transportation policy for the Reason Foundation, a free market think tank, “but the system is still very centralized and run too much by TSA.”

In other words, opting into the SPP program is a step in the right direction, but not the ideal solution.

Though even this step is difficult. Experts are concerned that TSA is dragging its feet to prevent more airports from opting for private security. Here’s some of what was written earlier this year.

There’s plenty of evidence that TSA airport screeners are not effective, but worse still, the agency is rigging the system to make sure it is the only option for airport security. …the Screening Partnership Program (SPP) could enhance aviation security while also supporting increased commercial activity, which are both good for the country. …SPP is a program for privatized passenger screening, where airports can “opt out” of TSA screening by contracting with a company to provide passenger and baggage screening commensurate with TSA standards and under the oversight of the federal government.

But TSA permission is needed if airports want private screeners, and that’s a problem.

TSA’s calculus on whether to grant an SPP application is based in part on costs, and the agency does this by comparing proposed costs from contractors against TSA’s estimated costs for the same service. …Private companies are incentivized to determine real costs, as those costs become an operating budget. Propose too little and the company will not make money; propose too much and the company is uncompetitive. Meanwhile, TSA is incentivized to determine costs that outcompete a private company (to protect budget and staff)… by 2011, TSA was rejecting all requests from airports to engage SPP. …TSA is doing an end-run around the free market, leveraging their unique role as competitor and application reviewer to ensure the private sector cannot participate, and the agency then shields itself from oversight.

So the TSA bureaucracy is putting its thumb on the scale to protect its turf.

Is there a silver lining to this dark cloud? Are the TSA bureaucrats at least doing a better job with security, thus perhaps balancing out the inefficiency and high costs?

Nope.

In June 2015, it was revealed that TSA screeners failed 95% of the time during Red Team tests that secreted illicit items through security. …TSA cannot even meet the security standards that private companies must meet under SPP. Arguably, if TSA were a private company bidding for an SPP contract, they would be rejected in terms of costs and effectiveness.

So here’s the bottom line.

SPP yields cheaper and more flexible security operations and, as arguably the biggest benefit to the disgruntled traveling public, if the private sector screeners insult someone, infringe on their rights, or treat them less than fairly (as an endless amount of TSA horror stories reveal), they can be fired, immediately. It is extremely difficult to fire a government employee… TSA is failing in its airport screening mission while also prohibiting competition that could deliver better security and lower costs. It’s time to let private sector screeners take a shot at it.

Yup. In a sensible world, airports all over the nation would be opting out of the TSA and into the SPP.

Let’s close with some depressing analysis from Megan McArdle on what will probably happen instead. Here are some excerpts from her Bloombergcolumn.

The TSA is blaming inadequate staffing, but government bureaucrats always blame inadequate staffing, since agency headcount is generally a good proxy for “importance of the boss of said agency.” …The TSA has slowed down screening after last summer’s humiliating failure to detect almost any of the contraband in a security audit. …this is the essential logic of bureaucracy. The TSA will suffer terribly if a terrorist slips through with a bomb — or even if the auditors make it through with a fake bomb. On the other hand, what happens to them if there are long lines? Not much. They’ve got to be there for eight hours, so why should they care if we are too? This is why government agencies tend to be much more attuned to remote risks than the real and persistent costs they impose on the rest of us.

Especially when providing poor service will probably produce a bigger budget for the TSA!

…there’s not really any point in having the TSA. Which is a conversation worth having. …But in the history of the world, few indeed are the managers or bureaucrats who have said: “Yup, what we’re doing is useless, you should probably fire me and all my staff.” It’s pretty much inevitable that the TSA, having flunked its audit, is going to choose to impose huge burdens on airline passengers, rather than admit that it’s not actually doing all that much to keep us safe. I’d bet that in the next six months, the TSA will be rewarded for the longer lines by having its budget and headcount increased. …The end result of this cycle: a bigger, more expensive agency that still doesn’t do much to keep us safe.

Isn’t that typical. A bureaucracy getting rewarded for failure.

In a just world, we would take this advice from the Chicago Tribuneand shut down the TSA.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

P.S. Check out this amazing picto-graph if you want more information about the failures of the TSA.

P.P.S. For more TSA humor, see this, this, this, this, this, and this.

Editor’s Note: here are several stories from my wastefraudandabuse.org blog.

The Federal Bagpipe Police and other TSA Insanities

The TSA sends Christmas Greetings

Stupid TSA Searches

More Stupid TSA Searches

 

In January 2015, the New York Times reported that the Koch Brothers planned to spend $889 million on this year’s elections. That kind of budget, Nicholas Confessore wrote, “would allow their political organization to operate at the same financial scale as the Democratic and Republican Parties.” This week, a little more than a year after the Kochs seemed poised to dump a cool billion onto the political money pile, my National Review colleagues Tim Alberta and Eliana Johnson reported that the brothers are “reevaluating their approach to politics.” Alberta and Johnson’s sources say that there is “mounting evidence—reduced budgets, the shuttering and streamlining of departments, the elimination of grants to allied political organizations, and the departure of top executives—demonstrating a shift of resources and attention away from federal campaign activity.” What happened?

David Koch one of the Koch Brothers

The Koch brothers are “reevaluating their approach to politics.” Above, David Koch in New York in 2014.

Reuters/Carlo Allegri

In January 2015, the New York Times reported that Charles and David Koch planned to spend $889 million on this year’s elections. That kind of budget, Nicholas Confessore wrote, “would allow their political organization to operate at the same financial scale as the Democratic and Republican Parties.” This week, a little more than a year after the Kochs seemed poised to dump a cool billion onto the political money pile, my National Review colleagues Tim Alberta and Eliana Johnson reported that the brothers are “reevaluating their approach to politics.” Alberta and Johnson’s sources say that there is “mounting evidence—reduced budgets, the shuttering and streamlining of departments, the elimination of grants to allied political organizations, and the departure of top executives—demonstrating a shift of resources and attention away from federal campaign activity.” What happened?

Among other things, Donald Trump happened. If the Kochs are the poster children for the supposedly corrupting role of money in politics in a post–Citizens United world, Trump demonstrates that money isn’t everything. Running on a shoestring budget, he vanquished Koch-friendly candidates like Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio by railing against immigration, free trade, and pretty much everything else the Kochs hold dear. To two brothers who think long and hard about the effectiveness of every dollar they spend, spending money on electoral politics is no longer looking like such a great investment.

To understand the Kochs, you first need to understand that they take their libertarian ideals seriously. For years, the Kochs have been vilified by the likes of Harry Reid and Bernie Sanders for their political activism. They’ve been caricatured as mustache-twirling right-wing villains who buy and sell politicians to defend their ill-gotten gains from taxes and regulation. The truth is that the Kochs are actually far more ambitious than that. Instead of shaping the outcome of this or that political race, they’ve sought to amplify the voices of activists and intellectuals who share their suspicion of government power.

Since the 1970s, Charles and David Koch have spent untold millions on a sprawling network of think tanks, magazines, and advocacy groups devoted to ending the drug war, shrinking the military, opening borders to immigration and trade, rolling back regulations, and cutting government spending. Dubbed the “Kochtopus” by its critics, this network has long engaged in intellectual combat with the left. Yet it has also done battle with rival elements on the right, from pro-war defense hawks to immigration restrictionists to opponents of drug legalization.

For now, and for the foreseeable future, the GOP doesn’t appear all that hospitable to libertarian ideals, so it should come as no surprise that the Kochs have decided to cut their losses. Over the years, the Kochs have gone back and forth between getting directly involved in campaigns and retreating into the world of think tanks and advocacy. In 1980, David Koch ran as the vice-presidential candidate of the fledgling Libertarian Party alongside Ed Clark, a Harvard-trained lawyer who hoped to soften some of the movement’s rougher edges. The Clark-Koch ticket ran on a platform of “low-tax liberalism,” railing against the evils of Cold War militarism and drug prohibition while also making a pitch for greater economic freedom. Though Clark and Koch won a respectable 1 percent of the vote, the Koch brothers couldn’t help but think that the campaign had proven a waste of money. Chastened by the experience, they returned to the project of building a libertarian infrastructure that might one day help achieve policy change.

Decades later, the Kochs once again decided to enter the political fray. George W. Bush was presiding over an Iraq War that Koch-backed groups like the Cato Institute had warned would be an expensive folly. The Bush administration had also implemented programs like Medicare Part D and a temporary tariff on steel importsthat were an affront to small-government orthodoxy. Sensing an opportunity, the Kochs stepped up their political organizing. Americans for Prosperity, the Kochs’ chief political advocacy group, had spent years trying, and mostly failing, to translate free-market ideas into policy proposals that could resonate with voters.

But then came the financial crisis and, soon after, the Obama presidency. President Obama’s fiscal stimulus and the Affordable Care Act gave conservative activists focal points for their outrage, and Americans for Prosperity helped organize Taxpayer Tea Party rallies across the country. The Tea Party movement appeared to be exactly what the Kochs had always dreamed of: a libertarian mass movement that was capable of taking over one of America’s two major political parties. At that early stage, at least, the Tea Party didn’t appear to be overly concerned with social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, nor did it talk all that much about immigration. Tea Party leaders were focused on a government that had in their view grown too large and too powerful and that was busy lining the pockets of Wall Street insiders.

It soon became clear that the Tea Party was not the libertarian mass movement the Kochs and their allies imagined it to be. The opposition of older conservatives to Obamacare was motivated less by a generalized distrust of government than by a fear that it would shift government resources from deserving people like them to the undeserving poor. Moreover, Tea Party conservatives were in many cases more socially conservative than mainstream Republicans. As the Obamacare debate faded from the scene, grass-roots conservatives found themselves energized by other issues, including opposition to the Gang of Eight’s efforts to push comprehensive immigration reform, legislation the Kochs were strongly inclined to support.

The Kochs had hoped that the Republican Party of the future would be led by people like Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor who managed to get blue-collar conservatives in his home state excited about rolling back collective bargaining rights for government workers. Instead, the party turned to Trump, an anti-immigration hardliner who maintains that there is absolutely no need to reform Social Security and Medicare and who hardly ever complains about the size of government. The Tea Party voters nurtured by the Koch network have been at least as energized by Trump’s calls for building a wall along America’s southern border as they were by the fight against Obamacare.

What’s next for the Kochs? Alberta and Johnson write that they “had always believed that building the intellectual foundation for libertarian ideas in think tanks and universities—and supporting important public-policy initiatives at the state and local levels—paid greater long-term dividends than spending on elections.” My guess is that the brothers and their allies plan to go back to the drawing board, to find new ways to win Americans over to libertarianism. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about the Kochs, it’s that they’re very, very patient.

Reihan Salam is a columnist for Slate.

GOP unveils ObamaCare replacement bill

Two Republican lawmakers on Thursday introduced an ObamaCare replacement plan as the House develops its own healthcare plan.

But it would eliminate many central aspects of the Affordable Care Act, including the mandates for individuals to have coverage and for employers to provide it, as well as requirements for what an insurance plan must cover.

The core of the plan is a $2,500 tax credit that any citizen would be eligible for and use to purchase health insurance. The lawmakers say this gives flexibility to people, whether they get employer-based insurance or not, to more directly control their healthcare spending, for example by using a health savings account.

Sessions and Cassidy are putting forward their plan as a task force set up by Speaker Paul Ryan(R-Wis.) is nearing the release of its own plan to fully repeal ObamaCare and replace it with an alternative.

Sessions, the chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, said in an interview that his plan is not meant to compete with that effort.

“Everybody’s submitting their ideas, so it’s very complimentary,” he said.

The Ryan-backed task force, though, will not be releasing a bill; it will instead be a general outline of ideas.

“The thing that makes us different is we made a bill out of it, and that’s the hard part,” Sessions said. “It’s really easy to have ideas. It’s really hard to put it in a bill that works.”

Under the Sessions-Cassidy plan, people currently with insurance through the ObamaCare marketplaces could keep it because they would be grandfathered in.

But new ObamaCare enrollees would no longer be eligible for ObamaCare’s financial assistance. Instead, they would receive the new plan’s $2,500 tax credit, according to John Goodman, a health economist who worked with Sessions and Cassidy on the plan.

The new tax credit is a flat sum, as opposed to ObamaCare’s tax credits, which increase for lower-income people. Therefore, Goodman said, lower-income people would receive less assistance under the Sessions-Cassidy plan, but higher-income people could receive more.

Sessions defended the decision to allow current ObamaCare plans to be grandfathered in if people want to keep them.

“I want to be fair about this,” he said. “If you want that, you ought to have it; I mean, we’re in a world of options.”

The Sessions-Cassidy bill also shakes up the current system of not taxing health insurance plans provided through employers, which can be politically fraught. However, the plan allows employers to opt to stay in the current system if they want, and only opt in to the new tax credit if they choose.

This is In Real Terms, a column analyzing the week in economic news. Comments? Criticisms? Ideas for future columns? Email me or drop a note in the comments.


When Hillary Clinton laid out her economic vision for her prospective presidency in a speech last July, she made sure to work in a shoutout to her husband’s economic record as president. “The results speak for themselves,” Clinton said. “Under President Clinton — I like the sound of that — America saw the longest peacetime expansion in our history.”

Now Clinton is doubling down on that message. On Sunday, she told voters in Kentucky that she would put Bill Clinton “in charge of revitalizing the economy” because “he knows how to do it.” Aides subsequently told The New York Times’ Amy Chozick that the former president would more specifically focus on parts of the country that are struggling.

Whatever Bill Clinton’s exact role in a Hillary Clinton administration would be, it’s no surprise that she is looking to tie herself to his economic legacy. Bill Clinton’s second term was the last time the U.S. economy was unequivocally strong; for most voters this November, it was the best economy they’ve ever known. But while Hillary Clinton wants voters to look back fondly on the first Clinton presidency, she should hope they don’t remember too much about what happened next.

The economy at the end of Bill Clinton’s term was really, really good. In 2000, the final year of his presidency, the unemployment rate dropped below 4 percent for the first time in three decades, while the share of adults that were working hit an all-time high. Wages rose steadily. The stock market soared. The budget deficit turned into a surplus. Inflation, much to the surprise of many economists, stayed under control.

Perhaps most importantly, the late 1990s were a period of shared prosperity. The strong labor market drove up wages for workers throughout the earnings ladder, while drawing in people who traditionally struggle to find work, such as convicted felons and the disabled. The racial wealth gap narrowed. Inequality continued to rise, but families of all income levels saw gains.

The bursting of the tech bubble in 2000, and the subsequent recession, revealed that the 1990s boom was, at least to some degree, a mirage, the result of cheap money and, in then-Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan’s famous phrase, “irrational exuberance.” The recession that followed the tech bust, however, was relatively mild. If that were the worst consequence of the Clinton era, it might seem a small price to pay for a decade of solid growth.

But the Bill Clinton boom, and even some specific Bill Clinton policies, also helped sow the seeds for the far more severe Great Recession of the late 2000s. Mortgage-backed securities and subprime loans weren’t invented in the 1990s, but they expanded greatly during the period, part of a broader “financialization” of the U.S. economy that contributed directly to the severity of the Great Recession. Critics on the right argue Clinton-administration policies promoting increased lending to low-income and minority applicants contributed to the subsequent bubble; critics on the left, including Bernie Sanders, argue that Clinton’s deregulation of the banking industry paved the way for the crisis.

Bill Clinton deserves, at most, a small sliver of the blame for the financial crisis. But he probably doesn’t deserve much credit for the late-’90s boom, either. The reality is, presidents have at best limited influence over the economy. Clinton’s economic policy was determinedly centrist: modest tax increases, free trade (including the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement) and limited government regulation and spending (the latter due in part to the Republican Congress). Those policies no doubt affected the economy, for good or bad. But their impact pales in comparison to that of forces beyond Clinton’s control: the rise of the internet, the entrance of the baby boomers into their peak earning years, the “peace dividend” that came from the fall of the Soviet Union.

It is a stretch, then, for Hillary Clinton to argue that her husband — or anyone else — “knows how” to ensure a good economy. But there are still lessons to take from the late 1990s. Most importantly, that low unemployment is crucial to generating wage gains for low-income workers — and that a period of such low unemployment need not lead to runaway inflation. The surest way to create an economy that works for everyone is to make sure that anyone who wants one can have a job.

Mass youth movements around the world

The 2016 presidential race is evolving into one of the most exciting (and dangerous) political events in American history. With an avowed socialist challenging the New Democrats and a narcissist billionaire confronting the establishment Republicans there will be, undoubtedly, tens of millions of disgruntled voters following the election.

If Hillary Clinton manages to secure the Democratic nomination, millions of unhappy—primarily young—supporters of Bernie Sanders will be looking for a cause. If Donald Trump loses in the primary, or is defeated in the general, his angry followers will be ready to revolt. If no candidate obtains a majority vote in the Electoral College, and the president and vice president are selected by Congress, the entire electorate will be marginalized—and thoroughly disgusted.

United by the willful failure of their government to respond to their needs, all of these people are being primed to take action. What can be done to mobilize and energize the anger and discontent of the People for effective political change? Young people around the world have been at the vanguard of recent mass political movements. Are the students of America willing and capable of leading a peaceful uprising in the United States to compel the constitutional changes required to transform their government?

Around the World

One of the most amazing things to come out of the Colombian civil war was the Children’s Mandate, an election in support of peace organized by the children of a nation being torn apart by war. Starting with a gathering of just 26 young people, 2.7 million children voted on October 25, 1996 for 12 basic rights including justice, a clean environment, peace, love, and family. One year later, the children were joined by 10 million adults who voted for peace.

Commencing in Tunisia, the Arab Spring youth movements swept through the Middle East between 2010 and 2012, resulting in changes in the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. A number of other nations in the region also experienced massive protests.

Although Western governments played a role in its instigation, the Ukrainian revolution in February 2014 commenced with massive protests against the government and led to a near civil war before the government capitulated and its leadership fled the country. The new government immediately sought closer ties with the European Union, and Russia began a process of destabilization that continues to this day.

Following England’s surrender of its territorial rights to Hong Kong in 1997, the city-state was accorded a special status allowing it to retain its laws, currency, and local government, while the People’s Republic of China assumed responsibility for military and diplomatic affairs. Differences over the nomination process for its legislative council and chief executive led to massive youth-led peaceful movements in 2014. Organized by students, the Umbrella Revolution occupied the city center and defied the Chinese government for more than two months.

Most recently, on Sunday March 13, 2016, 3.5 million Brazilians participated in anti-government rallies across the nation seeking the ouster of the current president and arrest of the previous leader. Confronted with a deep economic recession and widespread political corruption, the spontaneous protests were diverse and consisted of a broad range of people fed up with their “horrible” government. Would such protest movements be possible in the United States?

Back in the U.S.A.

Commencing in America and England and spreading throughout the Western world, the counterculture of the Sixties brought beneficial social and political changes in the United States—many of which are now being challenged and reversed by the economic and political elite that has seized power in America. Primarily focused on its opposition to the war in Vietnam, the counterculture insurgency mostly involved disaffected middle-class young people who were disenchanted with the direction of the nation and its government. In addition to substantial improvements including Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act, Voters’ Rights Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Consumer Protection Safety Commission, the movement also forced the end of the military draft in 1973.

Most amazing, for purposes of this paper, was the 26th Amendment in 1971 which lowered the voting age to 18. Having built momentum throughout the Sixties, the proposal to allow 18-year-olds to vote in all national elections was passed by Congress on March 23, 1971. The Amendment was sent to the states and ratified four months later.

The illusion of prosperity resulting from Reaganomics, the arrival of the “Me” and “Gen-X” generations, and general disinterest in government all contributed to an overall decline in political involvement, particularly by young people. This began to change during the presidential election of 2004, when Vermont Governor Howard Dean challenged Senator John Kerry, the establishment candidate, for the Democratic nomination. Although he failed to secure the nomination, Dean pioneered Internet-based fund raising from small donors and net-roots organizing—which Barack Obama took advantage of four years later in his campaign.

Democratic victories for the White House and Congress in 2008 contributed to the rise of the Tea Party, which initially opposed Obama’s plan to provide financial aid to bankrupt homeowners. The ultra-conservative grassroots movements organized opposition to the entire administration agenda and began to influence the election of local, state, and federal Republicans. Current presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz is a darling of the Tea Party.

Inspired by the Arab Spring movements and concerned about social and economic inequality, primarily progressive young people began to “occupy” public places around the world in 2011. The best known of these in the United States was Zuccotti Park in New York City, and within months there were occupations in many American cities and towns. Committed to nonviolence and united by the slogan, “We are the 99%,” the struggle relied on emerging web technologies and social media to spread its message; however, there was an aversion to any structured organization. Relying on “participatory democracy,” working groups considered most issues, and decisions were collectively made by the general assembly at each location. A primary criticism of the movements was the absence of clearly defined goals, and, without leadership, most occupations ended within a few months.

Although the Tea Party and Occupy movements never gained significant political traction on their own, both have had an influence on the 2016 presidential election, particularly the candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Each in their own way, using both the new and old media, have organized campaigns that challenge the established political parties.

The 2016 Campaign

Previously an independent who caucused with the Democratic Party, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders became a candidate in the Democratic primary as a Democratic Socialist determined to focus attention on the failures of militarism and big business to address the true needs of the nation. Initially believed to have a role only in pressuring Hillary Clinton—the establishment candidate—toward more progressive positions, Sanders’ campaign made full use of the organizational structure pioneered by Howard Dean, and the Internet funding strategies of Barack Obama, to create a highly effective national campaign.

Eschewing contributions from political action committees, lobbyists, corporations, and financial institutions, Sanders is now consistently raising more money than Clinton, primarily in small amounts from millions of individual donors. While Clinton has a lead in the delegate count, particularly when the establishment super delegates are included, Sanders has at this point won eight of the last nine primaries and is leading in national polls. Continued success could force a brokered convention in Philadelphia during the last week of July. At the minimum, we can expect a massive demonstration of support for Sanders and the principles he has espoused, both inside and outside the convention.

Self-proclaimed billionaire Donald Trump may have launched his candidacy as a protest—more likely to improve his business “brand”—but the ability of the huckster to manipulate the 24-hour news cycle has excited millions of Republican, Democratic, and Independent voters who are attracted to an authoritarian candidate who promises he can fix everything if elected. Although he has no clearly defined policy positions on domestic or foreign affairs and he says whatever pops into his mind on any given subject, Trump is currently leading in the delegate count. His momentum may have been checked by Cruz’s recent wins in Wisconsin, Colorado, and Wyoming—largely as the result of a massive Republican establishment effort to “Dump Trump.” Continued success of the effort may lead to a brokered convention in Cleveland during the third week of July in which an alternative, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, may end up with the nomination.

Depending on the outcome of the primaries and conventions, there is a real possibility of third party or independent candidates attracting enough popular votes in the general election to deny any candidate a majority in the Electoral College. In that case the election will be decided by Congress, with the House of Representatives choosing the president and the Senate selecting the vice president. Depending on the contemporaneous congressional elections, there could be a Republican majority in the House and a Democratic majority in the Senate leading to the two executives being from opposing parties. Who can save the United States from this mess?

The Millennials

The future belongs to the young people. They are the ones who will have to cope with the toxic economic, environmental, militaristic, and social issues they are inheriting. These massive problems will still be there tomorrow―if reasonable solutions continue to be opposed and defeated by the corporate and wealthy elite.

The 2008 election was the first presidential campaign where the participation of young people made a significant difference. Thousands of young Americans enthusiastically turned out for Barack Obama, and more than two-thirds of voters under the age of 30 supported him. With older voters split between the two major parties, the youth vote made a difference in the states where the popular vote was close. The Pew Research Center determined that:

Young voters are more diverse racially and ethnically than older voters and more secular in their religious orientation. These characteristics, as well as the climate in which they have come of age politically, incline them not only toward Democratic Party affiliation but also toward greater support of activist government, greater opposition to the war in Iraq, less social conservatism, and a greater willingness to describe themselves as liberal politically.

In 2008, 45 percent of young people have registered Democratic and 26 percent registered Republican. Today, half of all young people consider themselves to be political independents. Almost one-third do not believe there is “a great deal of difference in what Republicans and Democrats stand for.” Young people are approximately 14 percent of the voting population, and they are more interested in the actual issues—rather than the corrupt proposals of political parties and their corporate-approved candidates.

Members of the “Me” and “Gen-X” generations have become parents and grandparents, and as their children and grandchildren are entering adulthood, we are finding the attitudes and practices of the new “Millennial” generation (born 1982-2003) to be significantly different.

Millennials have grown up with smartphones, texting, computers, email, the Internet, and social networking. They are master communicators and active participants in the new media―they are connected and online all the time. They are ethnically diverse, are more empathetic, and have a better understanding of the perspective of others. Millennials have a greater concern for the well-being of their friends, their communities, and the environment. They are positive about their own futures and that of their country.

In spite of everything that is going wrong, young people still trust in the American Dream. The Pew Charitable Trust found 58 percent of young adults believed they would more easily improve their conditions than their parents had, and 88 percent thought it possible to improve one’s financial condition, even during a recession. They are confident, but the challenge they face is perhaps greater than any preceding generation.

In one of the most massive shifts of financial obligation in the history of the United States, the generally free undergraduate education previously provided by most states began to dramatically shift in the Eighties to the students themselves. The states slowed or eliminated funding for higher education, as the institutions drastically increased their fees. Today, the only option available to most working- and middle-class students is the borrowing of large sums of money which will have to be paid back from their future earnings. Student loan debt now exceeds $1.2 trillion—which is more than the Nation’s total credit card debt. Students entering an increasingly limited, low-paying, job market commence their careers owing an average of $25,000.

Burdened by the debt of student loans, and awakening to the discovery that their college degrees only qualify many of them for jobs behind the counters of rental car companies, the question is whether these young people of today will look up from the screens of their smartphones and take action to secure their tomorrows.

The Millenials have been given the confidence since infancy to play a leadership role in a social and political movement that will transform and reorient the government of the United States toward the society that elects it. Will their government evolve to protect them and their children―as they venture forth into a future that could be either tragic or magnificent beyond their wildest nightmares and most glorious dreams?

Voting in America

Only one in three eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2014 midterm federal elections for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Since, in most cases, candidates were elected by approximately half of all votes cast in their elections, the winners actually received the support of about 15 percent of eligible voters. This does not even include unregistered citizens. It can hardly be considered a mandate for the senators or representatives to do anything—and they haven’t.

There may be a moral duty to vote in a free society, but, unlike some other countries, Americans are not legally obligated to vote. Many conservatives believe voting should be a privilege to be earned, and they are not reluctant to impose onerous conditions to suppress voting. Most progressives believe voting is a right, and they oppose restrictions placed on registration and voting.

Voting in a free society has to be more than a privilege, which can be granted or taken away at the whim of government. By definition, voting is an integral part of a republican form of government, and, if a government is to be free and democratic, voting not only has to be a right, but it has to be effective as well.

Not one of the founders of the United States believed the Constitution was perfect, and all believed it could and should be amended as necessary. The failure of the Constitution to specifically provide a right to vote and its abdication of voting rights to the states has resulted in the destructive political practices currently undermining the Nation. The government is no longer representative of those who elect it, nor is it the government the American People consented to. If the Republic is to survive, its constitution must empower the People who elect it.

The United States Voters’ Rights Amendment

There are a number of contemporary issues relating to voting, all of which have generated their own constituencies for reform. Inasmuch as most of these issues involve constitutional questions, activists face almost insurmountable obstacles in getting Congress to enact amendment legislation and convincing a sufficient number of states to ratify the amendment. The Equal Rights [for women] Amendment is an example. First introduced in Congress in 1923, the Amendment was finally enacted and sent to the states for ratification in 1972. It has yet to be ratified.

A majority of voters are alarmed by the Supreme Court decision inCitizens United, which extended constitutional personhood rights for corporations. The Move To Amend organization is at the forefront of the effort to change the Constitution to eliminate the personhood rights of corporations and the equation of money and free speech. Assuming the success of Move to Amend and the ultimate ratification of its proposed Amendment, there would remain many other unresolved issues relating to the voting power of Americans.

The United States Voters’ Rights Amendment (USVRA) is a voters’ bill of rights―in that it remedies the most destructive practices that have eroded the tenuous voting rights allowed to the People by Congress and the states. It is, however, far more than a set of constitutional amendments that would curtail these anti-democratic practices.

Ratification of the USVRA―and the movement that forces it to happen―would create a dramatic transformation of the United States government into finally becoming a true representative democracy. The USVRA would reorient the government to the People and their society, and it would provide the means to make the government work for their benefit.

The USVRA not only guarantees the individual right to vote, but it includes other provisions that ensure the votes cast by the People are effective in defining what they want their government to do and how they want it done. These include defining equal rights for women; maximizing voter participation and prohibiting the suppression of voting; eliminating corporate personhood; controlling campaign contributions; guaranteeing freedom of the press; public funding of elections; prohibiting gerrymandering; increasing congressional representation; improving political education and public information; articulating policy issues; deciding policy issues by voting; eliminating the Electoral College; curtailing lobbying; and prohibiting conflicts of interest.

The purpose of the USVRA is not to change the personal political beliefs of anyone. Rather, it’s goal is to provide individuals of every political persuasion with the knowledge and means to arrive at logical conclusions, effectively communicate their thinking, and to persuade others of the validity of their convictions. Far more powerful—ultimately— than holding a gun, the physical act of voting is a dramatic and irresistible force for freedom.

A successful transformation of the government will require a mass, nonpartisan movement sufficient to overcome and defeat the formidable forces arrayed against any effort to diminish or eliminate the current monopoly of power. As an alternative to violence, what is needed is a peaceful evolution, rather than a violent revolution. Undoubtedly, the process of transformation will be arduous, but for now, let us consider how one would go about creating the massive political movement required to effectively achieve a modification of the government.

Amending the Constitution

Those who are experienced in political organizing believe the best plan is to keep the issues very simple. The political theory is that any increase in the number of issues raised is followed by a commensurate rise in the number of people who will find something to oppose. For example, the organizers of the Move to Amendment campaign initially considered including the basic right to vote—in addition to the elimination of corporate personhood and the equation of money and free speech. They decided to limit the number of issues to increase support and to reduce opposition.

Move to Amend is a good example of the traditional approach to promoting a constitutional amendment. Once the organizers researched and formulated the language required to reverse the effect of Citizens United, they began to build a movement. The organization’s website is dedicated to fund raising, the sale of merchandise, soliciting new members and coalition organizations, community meetings, obtaining resolutions from municipal councils and legislative support, local ballot measures, and circulating a petition to Congress to amend the Constitution. The organization has been active for more than five years, it has been endorsed by hundreds of progressive organizations, and the We the People Amendment has been introduced in the House of Representatives; however, it has yet to obtain 500,000 signatures on its petition—its current goal. Its proposed amendments are included in the USVRA.

Progress along the path to a constitutional amendment, such as We the People, is very slow. It took 45 years for the Equal Rights Amendment for women to be passed by Congress after it was first introduced, and it failed to be ratified within its seven year ratification period. Now renamed the Women’s Equality Amendment, it has been reintroduced into every subsequent Congress; however, it has yet to be passed. Since the United States will never achieve effective voting rights so long as more than half of its people do not have equal rights, the Women’s Equality Amendment is included in the USVRA.

Confronted as they are by life-threatening environmental, economic, militaristic, and personal freedom issues, the people of the United States do not have time to slowly amend its constitution, issue by issue, to achieve effective voting rights. Given the growing power of corporations and the economic elite in America, the window of opportunity to compel a nonviolent transformation of the government is closing, as power is increasingly concentrated in the plutocracy.

The present electoral crisis, however, presents a golden opportunity. There is a tremendous potential inherent in a political awakening provided by the Occupy and Tea Party movements; the outlier campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump; and the emerging ability of the Internet and social media to organize and motivate a broad spectrum of social and political interests. As Thomas Paine once said, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation, similar to the present, hath not happened since the days of Noah until now.”

Thomas Paine also believed, “The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected.” The latent power of voting is the only force which can correct the present abuses of governmental power and force the government to work for the benefit of the people. That power, however, is subverted by the current voting process and its coverage by the mass media. The right to vote—effectively—is the single issue that has the potential to unify every single American in a mass movement, and the USVRA provides a solid structure for that effort.

Given the right and power to formulate their own political policy and to elect those they believe will best effectuate their policy, American voters will be able, finally, to take charge of their own destiny. Moreover, they can once again provide a government worthy of being emulated by others around the world.

Increasingly powerless in the political process, the People of the United States have to find common ground—in spite of the fact that the political parties and the corporate media seek to divide and polarize them on a variety of misleading and confusing issues. If the USVRA can serve as the instrument to transform the government, how should the movement to achieve its success be organized and led? What would be the best way to bring about a peaceful transformation of the government?

Inspiration can be found in the drive to lower the voting age to 18 during the Sixties and early Seventies. As a result of the military draft, thousands of young men were suffering horrific injuries and deaths in the unpopular Vietnam War—the continuation of which was driven more by domestic party politics than national security. The 26th Amendment was ratified only four months after being passed by Congress!

The all-volunteer military has eliminated, to a certain extent, the motivation for young people to participate in the political process to avoid becoming cannon fodder in unpopular and unnecessary wars. The reality of impending environmental and economic collapse, however, and the imminent threat of militarization and curtailment of freedom can serve to unite young people—if they are made aware of the dangers and they receive support and encouragement.

Educating the Movement

Those who teach know best the limitations, ambitions, and potential of America’s young people. It is probably true that many of the least educated are irrevocably disinterested; however, students who value their education are certainly more politically informed, concerned, and motivated. The most fertile fields in which to plant the seeds of a mass political movement are the campuses of high schools, community colleges, colleges, and universities of America. It is there, particularly in the law schools and other graduate programs, where the essential leadership will come to fruition. These students know, understand, and make good use of the Internet and social media. They are the critical mass for a peaceful political evolution.

These young people must; however, receive direction, and it is there that those who teach have a duty and responsibility to become involved. Not only is the availability and provision of a quality education one of the most critical political issues facing the Nation, the current presidential race demonstrates the manner in which educational failures have consequences in partisan politics. Donald Trump takes pride in the fact that his largest group of supporters are poorly educated—half of his voters have a high school education or less. Repeated polls show that those who are better educated are much more likely to identify with progressive ideals and are better prepared to accept change.

Teachers are not supposed to have or demonstrate a political agenda in the classroom; however, the USVRA is a nonpartisan proposal that has the potential to empower young people of every political persuasion. Irrespective of politics, teachers are not serving their students if they fail to teach critical thinking and leadership skills. What, if anything, the students do with what they learn, including the USVRA, is their choice.

While it is questionable whether a student-led, mass political movement is possible in the United States, an equally good question is how should a movement be launched? In addition to adult knowledge and wisdom, these young people need the benefit of professionally-trained creative thinking and inspired direction.

Students United

Can anyone predict the ultimate outcome of a small group of students who organize a Youth for the Voters’ Rights Amendment (Y4VRA) Association on a single college campus? The ultimate connectivity of just a few students to their “friends,” and the friends of their friends, on the social media and around the world, has infinite potential for social and political change.

Rebel communication during the Revolutionary War was maintained by Committees of Correspondence in most colonial towns. Spreading from a core of determined student activists, it is not difficult to imagine the establishment of Committees on every campus in America to communicate with each other and to provide a base for local activities. Drawing on the political netroots experience gained during the last decade, non-partisan goals could be defined and national coordination organized. Mono-focused on achieving the constitutional right to cast effective votes, and cognizant of the transformative effect such a right would create throughout the political process, students could direct their attention (and questions) to every candidate for elective office in the Nation. Forced to take a stand, politicians of every persuasion would find it difficult—even impossible—to avoid taking a position in support of increased democracy and more effective representation. To do otherwise would invite defeat.

With the creative resources available on every college campus, viral videos could be filmed, local communities organized, celebrity and political endorsements obtained, and every aspect of social media mobilized in the effort to peacefully transform the United States government into one that actually represents the People who elect it.

Adopting as a standard the incredibly rapid enactment and ratification of the 18-year-old-voting amendment in 1971, there is no compelling reason why the USVRA could not be passed by Congress and ratified by the states within one election cycle, rather than the decades that have been required for other amendments.

With the enactment of the USVRA, Lincoln’s vision could become a reality—truly a government, of, by, and for the People. Imagine a government that nurtures those who elect it—and the attraction such a government would have for the peoples of other countries. Imagine the potential of a civilization in which every child has equal access to nutrition, health care, and education. Imagine limitless opportunities for future generations. Imagine that dreams can come true if we truly believe in the power of liberty and have the freedom to express it.

If in fact the USVRA has the inherent potential to unify a national, nonpartisan, political movement, and if the People of the United States are prepared to bring about a transformation of their own government, all that is required is a catalyst to bring these elements together. Will the students of America be the spark that ignites the evolution? Answering that question is the most important test the current generation of students will ever have to take, and the grade they earn will be forever marked in the annals of human civilization.

William John Cox is a retired public interest lawyer and author of the United States Voters’ Rights Amendment. His memoir, “The Holocaust Case: Defeat of Denial” was published in July 2015.

Is the Working Families Party Affecting the Democrats?
On Tuesday, Independent Senator Bernie Sanders will be fighting for the life of his Democratic presidential campaign in the contentious New York primary. But while Sanders may be vying to win the Democratic nomination, there’s another political party backing him in the race. The Working Families Party may not be as well-known, but could dramatically change progressive politics if it manages propel Sanders to a surprise victory.

The Working Families Party [WFP] may not be a household name like the Green Party, the Independent Party or the Libertarian Party. Still, in New York it is a powerful force and it has been knocking doors and powering the grassroots with the same fervor and power as the Democratic party itself.

And according to Mother Jones, they may provide the boost that gets Sanders a win in New York.

“It’s called the Working Families Party, a progressive party backed by labor unions and community activists whose New York chapter has gone all-in for Sanders,” reports Pema Levy at Mother Jones. ”The party is known across the state, and particularly in New York City, for its impressive get-out-the-vote efforts. If Sanders tops Clinton in her home state, or even beats expectations and comes close, he will have the WFP to thank…For months, the party has been engaged in voter outreach on Sanders’ behalf—knocking on doors, phone banking, talking to local leaders, and helping Sanders draw local endorsements. Bill Lipton, the WFP’s New York state director, says the party has been able to use the momentum behind Sanders to recruit thousands of volunteers. The Working Families Party recently helped the campaign draw 1,500 supporters to a rally in Brooklyn, where it was able to recruit hundreds of volunteers. ‘Like 600 or 700 of them, two hours later they were out door knocking with canvass sheets,’ says Lipton.”

The Working Families Party is active and formidable in New York, where it was first established in 1998, but outside of the state it is still scrambling to develop into what some backers hope will be essentially a progressive version of the Tea Party – unmoved by calls for moderation, uncompromising, and ready to push the party back away from the center.

It relies heavily on union support, it embraces Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, and it is seeking new states to organize in in order to push its agenda. A Nevada WFP formed soon after the Democratic caucus ended and Sanders narrowly lost the race in that state, and seven states and the District of Columbia already have parties in place.

Working Families Party leader Dan Cantor is candid in admitting that the Tea Party holds a lesson for the far left activists.

“[T]o the leaders of the WFP, the right-wing movement’s sudden rise was a revelation,” reports the Atlantic. ”‘I watched the Tea Party achieve our goal in reverse,’ Dan Cantor, the WFP’s national director, told me one day in his New York office. ‘They were able to pull the country hard to the right without a single ballot line.’ The Tea Party showed that you could be a political party-type actor while still operating mainly within the two-party system, through primary challenges and activism. It convinced Cantor that the WFP’s incremental, fusion-based strategy was too limited, and that there were other ways to wring ideological purity from a party that was in the habit of selling out its most loyal supporters.”

While New York is a prime spot for WFP and is where the party is at its most influential, it is actually losing some ground, too, because of its open support for Sanders for president. According to New York Daily News a number of large labor unions have pulled their donations because of the group’s opposition of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.

Others within the party were unhappy with how the WFP endorsement came about in the first place, complaining that the online endorsement process was set to favor Sanders, who has a very active online grassroots.

And ironically, although WFP is working the grassroots hard for Sanders in New York state, many of the actual members won’t be able to cast a ballot for him, as they aren’t registered Democrats and so they cannot participate in the state’s closed primary.

How Sanders performs on Tuesday won’t just be a referendum on his campaign for president – it will likely also be a signal of how eager the left is to see this bigger push toward progressive politics as a whole and a re-embracing of the values of equality, compassion and justice. Whether the WFP can manage to secure a victory for the Vermont Senator or not, there is little doubt that their far left influence on the race is a welcome one – just maybe without Tea Party-style obstructionism attached.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

By Robin Marty for http://www.care2.com/.

Health Insurers all around the nation are waking up to the realization that the Affordable Care Act is not so affordable for them.

Having lost money on their Obamacare plans, several insurers are talking of raising their premiums next year while others are thinking of dropping out of the Obamacare exchanges altogether.

But premium hikes will not solve the problem because the entire Obamacare system is fundamentally flawed, according to the past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. For starters, the law has perverted the meaning of health insurance.

“What these people are selling is not real insurance,” said Lee Hieb, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon and author of “Surviving the Medical Meltdown: Your Guide to Living Through the Disaster of Obamacare.” “They’re selling some kind of hybrid, bastardized, prepaid health care, which always, every time it’s ever been tried, fails.”

Real insurance, according to Hieb, is based on actuarial analysis. An actuary looks at relevant statistics and calculates an individual’s risk of contracting certain maladies, and the insurance is priced based on a person’s risk – it costs more for higher-risk individuals. And Hieb insisted true insurance is only meant to cover things too expensive for most people to afford on their own, not routine items such as well child visits.

“This would be like if I sell you an insurance policy based on the way old house insurance worked, and then we change the rules so that every time a shingle blows off your roof, you can charge it to your insurance,” Hieb explained. “Can you imagine what would happen?

“Insurance used to be priced by figuring in a certain certainty. You can’t keep the same prices and be solvent in a time of uncertainty, when you’ve changed the rules to make totally uncertain how many times people utilize the health care. That’s what’s happened.”

It turns out Obamacare has attracted lots of enrollees who seek health care often. A report from Blue Cross Blue Shield last month said new enrollees under Obamacare had 22 percent higher medical costs than people who receive coverage from employers.

The result was that in the individual market, which includes the Obamacare marketplaces, insurance companies lost money in 41 out of 50 states in 2014.

Dr. Jane Orient, executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and an occasional WND columnist, said no one should be surprised Obamacare is causing insurers to lose money.

“Community rating and guaranteed issue always have that result,” Orient told WND. “Maybe insurers trusted promises from our government, forgetting the government’s abysmal record on honesty – and its load of unpayable debt.”

President Obama has often bragged that under his health care law insurance companies can no longer deny coverage or charge more to those with pre-existing conditions. That’s utter foolishness, in Hieb’s view.

“How do you sell health insurance to very sick people?” Hieb asked. “That’s like, do you sell fire insurance to somebody whose house is on fire? Of course you can’t. That doesn’t make any sense, and you can’t do that with health insurance, either.”

But under Obamacare, insurers have indeed sold health insurance to many sick people. At the same time very few young, healthy people have bought plans on the Obamacare exchanges. As a result, the Obamacare “risk pools” have become sicker and costlier than insurers had hoped.

The Obamacare market could stabilize if more young, healthy individuals signed up, but Hieb thinks that is unlikely to happen.

“The problem is, ironically, they have increased the price of insurance on the very young people they wanted to have,” she said.

Hieb, an occasional WND columnist, said this price increase happened because of the Obamacare rule that mandates insurers may not charge older people more than three times what they charge young people for premiums. Consensus among actuaries is that health care spending for 62-year-olds is about five times that of 22-year-olds.

The rule was designed to protect older customers from getting gouged, but instead of lowering rates for older people, insurers ended up raising premiums for younger people to meet the three-to-one ratio. Hieb believes this opportunity to overcharge young people was why insurance companies backed the ACA in the first place.

In the old days, according to Hieb, young adults would buy health insurance as soon as they moved out of their parents’ house. The insurance was so cheap, Hieb recalled, “it was stupid not to buy it.”

It was not linked to a person’s job, either; it traveled with its owner from job to job. Young people bought insurance when they were well and didn’t use it often, because young people don’t get sick often. But they paid their premiums over many years, and when they got old and needed to use their insurance more often, the insurance companies were there for them.

But today, Hieb noted, incentives have changed.

“We’ve made a situation where people don’t routinely buy health insurance when they’re 20 years old,” she charged. “That’s the problem.”

She explained many young, healthy people opt to pay the tax penalty because it is less expensive than paying for an Obamacare insurance plan they are unlikely to use. If they do get sick and need insurance, they know they can sign up for a plan and insurers will not be allowed to deny them coverage. So it is that young, healthy people stay out of the Obamacare “risk pools” that need them to balance out the countless sick people in the pools.

“No insurance company in the real world can exist like that,” Hieb admonished. “The insurance companies exist because people see the advantage of signing up when they’re well, signing up when their house is not on fire so they have it when their house is on fire.”

Orient offered her idea of how to entice more young, healthy people to sign up for Obamacare plans.

“Get rid of the mandates and give them an actuarially fair price,” she suggested. “But that would get rid of the whole purpose of the ACA of gouging the low-risk subscribers to benefit the politically favored.”

UnitedHealth, the nation’s biggest health insurer, announced Tuesday it will limit its participation in the Obamacare exchanges next year to only a handful of states after having expanded to 34 states this year. This comes after the company lost $475 million on its exchange business in 2015. It expects to lose an additional $650 million this year.

As for Blue Cross Blue Shield, it already dropped out of the Obamacare exchange in New Mexico last year after their plans lost money. Now the CEO of Blue Cross North Carolina tells the Hill his company has lost $400 million due to its Obamacare plans and is considering dropping out of the marketplace.

The myriad problems associated with Obamacare don’t happen in a free market, according to Hieb. She suggests the government step back and allow health insurance to be sold like car insurance, where a buyer can choose the deductible and what the plan covers. But as it is, the government tells health insurers they must cover certain things.

“When you do that, number one, the price of those procedures goes up, and number two, the price of insurance goes up – way up,” Hieb said.

Her solution is a system in which customers pay cash for outpatient items and utilize “real, actuarial-based insurance” for items too expensive to afford. Then she believes the number of items too expensive to afford will come down.

“If the government got out of this and got out of the controls, then we’d have insurance companies coming up with products that people could afford and that actually worked,” Hieb asserted. “And that’s what happens in any other walk of life. Why do we not have a house insurance crisis? It’s because we let the free market solve them. The free market will not create products that nobody can afford.”
Written by Paul Bremmer at http://www.wnd.com/.