Monthly Archives: November 2013

Digital Killed the Video Star

We’re all feeling very cute today, noting Blockbuster’s demise with the witty riffs off the 1978 song titled “Video Killed the Radio Star.” The song is fondly remembered by a certain generation of Americans because its music video was the very one first played on MTV. Time: 12:01 AM, August 1, 1981. The song has a nostalgic tone, lamenting the loss of radio while celebrating the brave new world of video. And now we know how briefly that lasted before the video store was displaced by Netflix, which itself is being displaced by digital distribution. It won’t be long before all content is free, pre-installed on your smart ear pods while you sleep.

We are living in an era when people are self-aware of the evolution of the technology on which are culture and society exist. That’s awesome but weird. Humans weren’t aware of progress for most of human history — 99% of the time, that was because there was no progress. The other 1% of the time, progress was too slow to be noticed. Now: human society is self-aware but not altogether self-confident.

But you have to wonder if the kids get it. My sense is that the young have an even better grip on the dynamism of the era than the rest of us. They understand the short life cycle of gaming platforms, even though they missed out on the whole communism thing. Strange.

The question I find myself asking is a revision of the Zen If a tree falls in a forest with no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?  My version is: If I remember something that no one else remembers, did it really happen? Well, I remember going to Blockbuster with my young daughter to pick out movies on Friday nights, but she doesn’t. We drove by the old corner store at the nearby strip mall ten days ago, where a bank now resides, and she had no idea that it used to be a Blockbuster. Our Blockbuster. We rented all of the Star Wars movies there, kiddo!

Maybe change is so cheap that we don’t have to pay attention.

Too Many Generals?

The New York Times hosted a provocative discussion today regarding the “bloated” officer corps, particularly the number of flag officers. I took the contrarian view, but one that I think resonates in light of a future that will be decided more by brains than brawn.  I don’t disagree with the other participants, but I do think they are asking the wrong question. My summary argument:

Nobody knows what the optimal ratio of generals will be in 2025, let alone 2040. If the Pentagon wants to plan for that future, the smart strategy is a flexible personnel structure that can accommodate more, or less, expertise as needed. Maybe the next war will be dominated by drones, maybe cyber, maybe the electro-magnetic spectrum, or maybe analytics. In any scenario, the Pentagon deserves flexibility to hire talent at all ranks.

Allowing combat veterans now at Google, G.E. and General Atomics to return to uniformed service after a decade or two away is the big change America needs to establish a flexible force. It’s called continuum of service, banned by central planners today. But it’s anything but a radical idea.

Guess who rejoined the U.S. Army after 17 years out of uniform? He retired in 1758 as a major, but was asked to return as commander of the Continental Army in 1775. His name was George Washington.

Remember Edie Sunbdby

The Affordable Care Act is the policy story of a generation. The lesson of its failure, or worse, it survival, will shape how Americans think about big government for decades to come.

One story that I hope is not lost in the sound and fury is that of EDIE LITTLEFIELD SUNDBY.  Hers is the compelling reality of a cancer survivor who is being stripped not only of a good insurance plan, but also of the care of her doctors. Remember Edie Sundby the next time an ACA cheerleader claims that only substandard plans are being erased. Excerpted here, in her words, from today’s Wall Street Journal:

You would think it would be simple to find a health-exchange plan that allows me, living in San Diego, to continue to see my primary oncologist at Stanford University and my primary care doctors at the University of California, San Diego. Not so. UCSD has agreed to accept only one Covered California plan—a very restrictive Anthem EPO Plan. EPO stands for exclusive provider organization, which means the plan has a small network of doctors and facilities and no out-of-network coverage (as in a preferred-provider organization plan) except for emergencies. Stanford accepts an Anthem PPO plan but it is not available for purchase in San Diego (only Anthem HMO and EPO plans are available in San Diego).

So if I go with a health-exchange plan, I must choose between Stanford and UCSD. Stanford has kept me alive—but UCSD has provided emergency and local treatment support during wretched periods of this disease, and it is where my primary-care doctors are.

Before the Affordable Care Act, health-insurance policies could not be sold across state lines; now policies sold on the Affordable Care Act exchanges may not be offered across county lines.

Delaying the Mandate is not an option

By the way, required reading on Obamacare is Megan McArdle’s blog at Bloomberg.

Welcome to November, where in just 30 days the federal government is going to admit that healthcare.gov is still not ready. Still glitchy. Still a security risk.

It is possible, but I think unlikely, that the White House isn’t using this 30 day window to figure out and poll test the best possible exit strategy. Maybe not, but even the diehards will recognize that the impossible really is impossible. The president can say all day that America is going to land on Mars, but at some point even he has to admit that his rocket ship isn’t working.  Team Obama is probably figuring out how to best get out from under this mess in a way that minimizes political damage for the Democrats up for re-election in 2014.

Their best strategy is to pick a fight that casts Republicans in a bad light. And the easiest way to do that is to call for a bipartisan leadership meeting at the White House where it will be leaked that the President confidentially offers to delay the individual mandate for a year. Wasn’t this exactly what the GOP was demanding?

Now put yourself in John Boehner’s shoes.  What is the smart play?

If this contrite mea culpa is refused, Boehner looks greedy, unreasonable, or both. You can see the headlines now: GOP hostage-takers refuse to compromise! They still demand full repeal of the ACA!  But as I’ve explained, the offer is insincere. There can be no delay so long as the other parts of the ACA have destroyed the existing individual market for health insurance. Offering to delay is nothing more than playing hot potato with the millions of rate-shocked Americans. The delay won’t happen, but the blame game will.

Republicans should pre-empt this scenario with a smart strategy that talks about the substance of the mandate, not the flash of the website debacle.

This month is a historic moment of shocked pain. Peak attention is focused on the unfairness and duplicitousness of the ACA. Millions have lost their insurance — the boats are burned — and arguably half the population will suffer the same rate shock in years ahead. Delaying the mandate is more like delaying a torture session. The real option is to permanently change what is being mandated.

You know the old saying, “Mend it, Don’t End it”?  Well, the rallying cry here is “Declaw it, Don’t Delay it.”

The single best outcome for the public is to have their consumer freedom restored. It is nearly irrelevant whether the mandate and/or penalty are delayed. What is relevant or substantive is how much freedom the government is trying to restrict. Making old men buy maternity insurance? Making teetotalers pay for substance abuse counseling?

It will be a mistake to let the mandate be delayed, and not only because a bad precedent is set.  The GOP should make the point that delaying the mandate does nothing to help the self-employed parents who actually still need affordable insurance for their kids come January 1.  Right now, ACA is like an atomic bomb on the real health care market because it is trying to set up monopolistic regulatory power. To care for the most vulnerable Americans — working class entrepreneurs who live or die on the individual health care markets — economic freedom needs to be reinstated before it’s too late.

The Obamacare analogies

The troubles with Obamacare have really changed the media narrative.  For roughly four years, the repeated caricature of Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act was as an “obsession” with politics, with beating a Democratic president. Why the obsession? Move along, silly Neanderthals!

Then came the Sebeliusian debacle, a.k.a. Day One launch of healthcare.gov, the Orwellian-named marketplace. They promised it was ready. Testing, insufficient and pathetically minimal as it was, had failed, but they just lied about that (maybe to the President, definitely to the people). They even knew that users’ personal information would not be secure. But they launched anyway. Why?  Well, the media is now getting around to understanding why. The Obama administration launched healthcare.gov because they had to.

Cancellation notices were already on the way to millions of Americans. Remember how the White House said in the days after Oct. 1 that Obamacare was “more than a website.” Now you know what they meant. They weren’t just promising new boats, but they were burning the old boats, too. Perhaps there is a better analogy for this key aspect of Obamacare, which journalists are suddenly realizing validates exactly what Republicans warned would happen. It wan’t just market logic that would cause people to lose their existing plans, it was the written intent of the ACA, as revealed in the thicket of implementing regulations and internal memos. Millions of Americans were to be forced off their existing plans.

The reason, I think, this new narrative has such power is because it isn’t the kind of anecdotal story that a journalists has to dig up. This is happening in the newsroom. The Channel Five Eyewitness van and camera crew don’t have to drive far for this story. Because so many people in the modern news business are independent contractors, they are right in the path of Hurricane Obama.  Without boats!  Wait, analogy alert, is there some better way to think about this?  In my obsessive reading on the topic, the best analogy I’ve found is Deroy Murdock’s brilliant baseball ticket riff over at National Review:

Dear Orioles fan:

It is our duty to inform you that you no longer will be able to sit in the bleachers at Camden Yards. Seats in this section have been cancelled, due to the Essential Spectator Benefits of the Affordable Sports Act (a.k.a. Obamasports).

We encourage you to visit Sports.gov, where you can shop for tickets that comply with these new, federally mandated minimum standards.

The faux letter just get funnier, so read the whole thing.

Ultimately, serious policymakers (and scared politicians) will do the right thing and allow Americans to have their health freedom back. The boats will never be unburned — that damage is real — but I expect centrist Democrats will vote with Republican colleagues to allow any health insurance to count as qualifying. The face-saving trade may be that the individual mandate remains in effect, but what qualifies as a minimum standard will be drastically lowered. Basically, anything that isn’t fraudulent will be allowed. That means young, healthy, single, non-smoking, drug-free Americans can get true insurance against catastrophes for very low prices. It won’t cover maternity, or mental health, and may not even reimburse anything you might think of as regular maintenance on the body. It will just cover low-probability events like cancer and deadly accidents. Real insurance doesn’t pay for oil changes, let alone gas. It pays for crashes. So, thanks to the ACA debacle, we may see the emergence of a true marketplace for health insurance.