Michelle Malkin - Obamacare exchanges on life support

At a recent White House science fair celebrating inventors, a Girl Scout who helped design a Lego-powered page-turning device asked President Obama what he had ever thought up or prototyped. Stumbling for an answer, he replied: "I came up with things like, you know, health care."

Ah, yes. "Health care." Remember when the president's signature Obamacare health insurance exchanges were going to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, the remote control, jogger strollers, Siri, the Keurig coffee maker, driverless cars and Legos all rolled into one?

The miraculous, efficient, cost-saving, innovative 21st-century government-run "marketplaces" were supposed to put the "affordable" in Obama's Affordable Care Act. Know-it-all bureaucrats were going to show private companies how to set up better websites (gigglesnort), implement better marketing and outreach (guffaw), provide superior customer service (belly laugh), and eliminate waste, fraud and abuse (LOLOLOL).

You will be shocked beyond belief, I'm sure, to learn that Obamacare exchanges across the country are instead bleeding money, seeking more taxpayer bailouts and turning everything they touch to chicken poop.

Wait, that's not fair to chicken poop, which can at least be composted.

"Almost half of Obamacare exchanges face financial struggles in the future," The Washington Post reported last week. The news comes despite $5 billion in federal taxpayer subsidies for IT vendors, call centers and all the infrastructure and manpower needed to prop up the showcase government health insurance entities. Initially, the feds ran 34 state exchanges; 16 states and the District of Columbia set up their own.

While private health insurance exchanges have operated smoothly and satisfied customers for decades, the Obamacare models are on life support. Oregon's exchange is six feet under — shuttered last year after government overseers squandered $300 million on their failed website and shady consultants who allegedly set up a phony website to trick the feds. The FBI and the U.S. HHS inspector general's office reportedly have been investigating the racket for more than a year now.

In the People's Republic of Hawaii, which has been a "trailblazer" of socialized medicine for nearly four decades, the profligate state-run exchange demanded a nearly $30 million cash infusion to remain financially viable after securing $205 million for startup costs. The Hawaii Health Connector accidentally disconnected hundreds of poor patients' accounts and squandered an estimated 8,000 hours on technological glitches and failures. Enrollment projections were severely overinflated like a reverse Tom Brady scandal. After failing to secure a bailout, Hawaii announced this week that its exchange would be shut down amid rising debt.
In Maryland, a state audit found that its health insurance exchange "improperly billed the federal government $28.4 million as former Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration struggled to launch what would become one of the most troubled websites in the nation," The Baltimore Sun reported in late March. That's in addition to the $90 million the state blew on technical problems. The state scrapped its junk website and forced enrollees to resubmit to the tortuous sign-up process all over again.

Last week, federal prosecutors subpoenaed the Massachusetts Obamacare exchange after whistleblowers there exposed what a "technological disaster" its "Health Connector" program was. Boston's Pioneer Institute senior fellow in health care, Josh Archambault, released a report on Monday detailing the "complete incompetence" of the state's health bureaucrats from day one. But taxpayers would be lucky if incompetence were the only sin.

After firing the tech boneheads of CGI, the same company behind the federal healthcare.gov meltdown, Massachusetts officials "appear to have lied to the federal government to cover up mistakes" made by both the state and the IT company. "In at least two instances we uncovered," Archambault revealed, what the state told the feds "was either in direct conflict with internal audits or highly improbable given what was being said in the audit and what whistleblowers said was happening at the time."

As health care analyst Phil Kerpen of the free market group American Commitment points out, Massachusetts "already had a functioning state health exchange" but "after receiving $179 million from federal taxpayers" to reconstitute it under Obamacare, "they were able to break that existing exchange beyond repair." An amazing feat.

Lesson for inventive Scouts and students wondering about what people in Washington, D.C., prototype: Government bureaucrats don't make things, kids. They break things.

(Syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin is the daughter of Filipino Immigrants. She was born in Philadelphia, raised in southern New Jersey and now lives with her husband and daughter in Colorado. Her weekly column is carried by more than 100 newspapers.)

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Froma Harrop - Left is so wrong on trade issue

The left's success in denying President Obama fast-track authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership is ugly to behold. The case put forth by a showboating Sen. Elizabeth Warren — that Obama cannot be trusted to make a deal in the interests of American workers — is almost worse than wrong. It is irrelevant.

The Senate Democrats who turned on Obama are playing a 78 rpm record in the age of digital downloads.

Did you hear their ally, AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka, the day after the Senate vote? He denounced TPP for being "patterned after CAFTA and NAFTA." That's not so, but never mind.

There's this skip on the vinyl record that the North American Free Trade Agreement destroyed American manufacturing. To see how wrong that is, simply walk through any Wal-Mart or Target and look for all those "made in Mexico" labels. You won't find many. But you'll see "made in China" everywhere.

Many of the jobs that did go to Mexico would have otherwise left for low-wage Asian countries. Even Mexico lost manufacturing work to China.

And what can you say about the close-to-insane obsession with CAFTA? The partners in the 2005 Central American Free Trade Agreement — five mostly impoverished Central American countries plus the Dominican Republic — had a combined economy equal to that of New Haven, Connecticut.

(By the way, less than 10 percent of the AFL-CIO's membership is now in manufacturing.)

It's undeniable that American manufacturing workers have suffered terrible job losses. We could never compete with pennies-an-hour wages. Those low-skilled jobs are not coming back. But we have other things to sell in the global marketplace.

In Washington state, for example, exports of everything from apples to airplanes have soared 40 percent over four years, to total nearly $91 billion in 2014, according to The Seattle Times. About 2 in 5 jobs there are now tied to trade. Small wonder that Sen. Ron Wyden, a liberal Democrat from neighboring Oregon, has strongly supported fast-track authority.

Some liberals oddly complain that American efforts to strengthen intellectual property laws in trade deals protect the profits of U.S. entertainment and tech companies. What's wrong with that? Should the fruits of America's creativity (that's labor, too) be open to plundering and piracy?

One of TPP's main goals is to help the higher-wage partners compete with China. (The 12 countries taking part include the likes of Japan, Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico and New Zealand.) In any case, Congress would get to vote the finished product up or down, so it isn't as if the public wouldn't get a say.

But then we have Warren stating with a straight face that handing negotiating authority to Obama would "give Republicans the very tool they need to dismantle Dodd-Frank."

Huh? Obama swatted down the remark as wild, hypothetical speculation, noting he engaged in a "massive" fight with Wall Street to get the reforms passed. "And then I sign a provision that would unravel it?" he told political writer Matt Bai.

"This is not a partisan issue," Warren insisted. Yes, in a twisted way, the hard left's fixation over big corporations has joined the right's determination to undermine Obama at every pass.

Trade agreements have a thousand moving parts. The U.S. can't negotiate with the other countries if various domestic interests are pouncing on the details. That's why every president has been given fast-track authority over the past 80 years or so. Except Obama.

It sure is hard to be an intelligent leader in this country.

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Captain Jim Morash - Our purser, our historian, our friend!

It is with great sadness that I write about the passing of Dr. Bruce D. Heald, a well known Lakes Region personality, New Hampshire historian, teacher and mentor for many employees of the Winnipesaukee Flagship Corporation. His tenure with the company dates back to 1965.

I've known Bruce for over 30 years. He was my deck officer when I was a young, naive deckhand aboard the M/S Mount Washington back in my college days. Growing up as a fourth generation island resident of Bear Island, I thought I knew a lot about the "Big Lake" back then. After all, I grew up hearing great stories about the early days of boating and island living from my father, uncles and cousins. Bruce, however, educated me far beyond my provincial wisdom and opened my eyes to just how big this lake was. As a history minor in college I was fascinated with all the information being fed to me back then.

Dr. Heald has been the chief purser for the Winnipesaukee Flagship Company for over 50 years. His early associations with fellow employees such as Ed LaVallee, Brian Avery and Bob Murphy, afforded him the most fortunate opportunity to interview these people and bridge a divide between yesteryear and today. By so doing he was able to pass on a very interesting recording of facts, figures, folklore and legend about not only the islands' mail service history but also the history of the Winnipesaukee Flagship Company and the area it serves. His many books about the Lakes Region area capture the Yankee genuineness of longtime summer traditions and impart the significance of what it means to be a summer visitor or resident. His books are a most enjoyable read for anyone who wants to know about many of the islands' history and lake's folklore.

Bruce's personality was inspiring. He welcomed our passengers aboard with a robust "All Aboard" and then personally greeted everyone who boarded. His interaction with the passengers always left them with a memorable impression; so much so that many would come back year after year looking specifically for him.

How do you say goodbye to such an admirable person who touched so many lives with his wit, charm and compassion; taught many in a way that made that person want to learn more and exuded such a positive outlook on life? I'm not sure I can find the exact words. All I can simply say is, "Farewell my friend and thanks for being part of my life."

(Captain Jim Morash is Chief Operating Officer of the Winnipesaukee Flagship Company.)

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Pat Buchanan - On a fast track to national ruin

In the first quarter of 2015, in the sixth year of the historic Obama recovery, the U.S. economy grew by two-tenths of 1 percent. And that probably sugarcoats it. For trade deficits subtract from the growth of GDP, and the U.S. trade deficit that just came in was a monster.

As the AP's Martin Crutsinger writes, "The U.S. trade deficit in March swelled to the highest level in more than six years, propelled by a flood of imports that may have sapped the U.S. economy of any growth in the first quarter."

The March deficit was $51.2 billion, largest of any month since 2008. In goods alone, the trade deficit hit $64 billion.

As Crutsinger writes, a surge in imports to $239 billion in March, "reflected greater shipments of foreign-made industrial machinery, autos, mobile phones, clothing and furniture."

What does this flood of imports of things we once made here mean for a city like, say, Baltimore? Writes columnist Allan Brownfeld: "Baltimore was once a city where tens of thousands of blue collar employees earned a good living in industries building cars, airplanes and making steel. ... In 1970, about a third of the labor force in Baltimore was employed in manufacturing. By 2000, only 7 percent of city residents had manufacturing jobs."

Put down blue-collar Baltimore alongside Motor City, Detroit, as another fatality of free-trade fanaticism. For as imports substitute for U.S. production and kill U.S. jobs, trade deficits reduce a nation's GDP. And since Bill Clinton took office, the U.S. trade deficits have totaled $11.2 trillion. An astronomical figure.

It translates not only into millions of manufacturing jobs lost and tens of thousands of factories closed, but also millions of manufacturing jobs that were never created, and tens of thousands of factories that did not open here, but did open in Mexico, China and other Asian countries.

In importing all those trillions in foreign-made goods, we exported the future of America's young. Our political and corporate elites sold out working- and middle-class America — to enrich the monied class. And they sure succeeded.

Yet, remarkably, Republicans who wail over Obama's budget deficits ignore the more ruinous trade deficits that leech away the industrial base upon which America's self-reliance and military might have always depended.

Last month, the U.S. trade deficit with the People's Republic of China reached $31.2 billion, the largest in history between two nations. Over 25 years, China has amassed $4 trillion in trade surpluses at our expense. And where are the Republicans? Talking tough about building new fleets of planes and ships and carriers to defend Asia from the rising threat of China, which those same Republicans did more than anyone else to create.

Now this GOP Congress is preparing to vote for "fast track" and surrender its right to amend any Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that Obama brings home. But consider that TPP. While the propaganda is all about a deal to cover 40 percent of world trade, what are we really talking about?

First, TPP will cover 37 percent of world trade. But 80 percent of that is trade between the U.S. and nations with which we already have trade deals. As for the last 20 percent, our new partners will be New Zealand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Japan.

Query: Who benefits more if we get access to Vietnam's market, which is 1 percent of ours, while Hanoi gets access to a U.S. market that is 100 times the size of theirs?

The core of the TPP is the deal with Japan. But do decades of Japanese trade surpluses at our expense, achieved through the manipulation of Japan's currency and hidden restrictions on U.S. imports, justify a Congressional surrender to Barack Obama of all rights to amend any Japan deal he produces?

Columnist Robert Samuelson writes that a TPP failure "could produce a historic watershed. ... rejection could mean the end of an era. ... So, when opponents criticize the Trans-Pacific Partnership, they need to answer a simple question: Compared to what?"

Valid points, and a fair question.

And yes, an era is ending, a post-Cold War era where the United States threw open her markets to nations all over the world, as they sheltered their own. The end of an era where America volunteered to defend nations and fight wars having nothing to do with her own vital interests or national security.

The bankruptcy of a U.S. trade and foreign policy, which has led to the transparent decline of the United States and the astonishing rise of China, is apparent now virtually everywhere. And America is not immune to the rising tide of nationalism. Though, like the alcoholic who does not realize his condition until he is lying face down in the gutter, it may be a while before we get out of the empire business and start looking out again, as our fathers did, for the American republic first. But that day is coming.

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Michael Barone - Why Americans oppose economic redistribution despite income inequality

Skeptics about democracy in the 18th and 19th centuries argued that the enfranchised masses would use their votes to seize the property of the relatively few rich. What could be more natural?

But it hasn't happened, in this country or abroad, to anything like the extent that those would-be Cassandras feared. Nonetheless, we continue to hear calls for economic redistribution, the clinical term for public policies transferring money from the relatively few rich to the much more numerous non-rich.

We also hear cries of frustration from advocates of such polices. The latest example is Thomas Edsall, the longtime Washington Post reporter now writing for the New York Times. Unlike most other liberal reporters, who are optimistic cheerleaders for their team, Edsall has long been alert to signs of liberalism's weakness.

In a long blog post, Edsall notes "a steady decline in support for redistributive government." He cites a study by Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez, another ardent redistributionist, that "as inequality increases, so does ideological conservatism in the electorate."

Edsall cites evidence that support for health care "as a government-protected right" has fallen off from 69 percent in a 2006 Gallup poll, replaced by a 52 percent majority for the proposition that health care is not a federal responsibility.

Those poll numbers should not be taken too literally. Many respondents were surely hazy about what it means to say that a service like health care is a "right". And after passage of Obamacare, talk of a federal responsibility tends to evoke partisan responses in a country split just about evenly between two ideologically distinct parties.

That said, Edsall is right to conclude that there has been a diminution of faith in government as an instrumentality. The reasons are not hard to find. Atop the list: the Obamacare mess. The rollout of healthcare.gov — which the government had 42 months to prepare for — was a disaster. In contrast, there were 42 months between Pearl Harbor and V-E Day. Government performed a lot better then.

Things will get even messier if the Supreme Court reads the Obamacare statute as written in the King v. Burwell case expected to be decided in June. In Edsall's words, "public and private health care would be disrupted, to put it mildly."

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Yale Law Professor Peter Schuck highlights in the title of his 2014 book, "Why Government Fails So Often". As I put it in a column then, gummint don't work good.

But can't government at least shuffle money around? After all, it does something like that in taxing payroll earnings and paying Social Security benefits to the elderly. Yes, the checks go out, but the program is on an unsustainable trajectory. And when you look at the policies redistributionists advance, you see either things with trivial effects or things that are politically inconceivable.

Consider some redistributive policies often advocated. Increasing the minimum wage and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit — the latter supported by some Republicans — would redistribute income, a little. Rewriting labor laws to show more favor to private sector unions is a political nonstarter and likely wouldn't restore unions to anywhere near their 1950s peak.

What about higher taxes on the rich, the recommendation of French economist Thomas Piketty in his ballyhooed book, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century"? When actor Will Smith was interviewed on French television, he supported the idea in general. But when told that France's top rate was 75 percent, he exclaimed, "Seventy-five! That's different. Well, God bless America." France's socialist government has since lowered the rate.

British Labour party leader Ed Miliband is calling for higher taxes on high earners and "mansions". But again, the redistributive effect looks marginal — unless these measures choke economic growth. You do get more income equality when you destroy wealth. Everyone is worse off.

The fact is, America already has a redistributionist income tax: the top 20 percent of earners pay 84 percent of income tax revenues, and the top 1 percent, with 17 percent of income, pay 46 percent.

Americans have an innate sense that it's a mistake to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. They seem to understand that, if taxes are too high, the affluent will figure out ways to shelter income. In other words, they doubt that a government incapable of building a working website can effectively redistribute income and wealth.

(Syndicated columnist Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.)

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