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Obama: Pot No More Dangerous Than Alcohol

The New Yorker has an extensive interview with President Obama, on a variety of topics.

On marijuana:

“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

Is it less dangerous? I asked. Less dangerous, he said, “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer. It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”

On Colorado and Washington's legalization laws: He said it's important "they go forward." [More...]

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Obama to Present Plans for NSA Reform Next Week

On January 17, President Obama will present a plan for the reform of NSA surveillance practices.

The Pentagon now says Edward Snowden downloaded 1.7 million files.

In related news, the State Department has issued a new FAQ on terrorism classifications.

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Obama Announces Proposed Rule Changes for Gun Background Checks

The White House today announced two actions pertaining to gun purchases. One is a rule change that expands the definition of a mentally defective person prohibited from possessing a gun. The second is an HHS regulation that expands the information HIPPA-covered entities can provide to NICS, the federal background checking system.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is proposing a regulation to clarify who is prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal law for reasons related to mental health, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is issuing a proposed regulation to address barriers preventing states from submitting limited information on those persons to the federal background check system.

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Don't Blow Off ObamaCare

Update: Deadline extended until Friday for Colorado, no excuses needed, and on the national exchange until Thursday for those who had trouble logging on today (Official notice here.).

Midnight is the deadline to sign up for a health insurance plan under the Affordable Care Act for coverage beginning Jan. 1.

I spent a good part of the day checking out the plans and talking to a very helpful Colorado Health Exchange adviser. (Yes, I was on hold for 40 minutes, I was 86th in line, but it was worth it. He spent 40 minutes with me reviewing the best plans for the benefits I wanted.)

There are some great deals available on the Exchange and a ton of plan options. The website for Colorado is fast and easy to navigate. You can also access the details of each plan's coverage so you aren't buying a pig in a poke.[More....]

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American People: Fix ACA

CBS Poll:

Just seven percent of Americans think the Affordable Care Act is working well and should be kept in place as it is. Far more, 48 percent, think there are some good things in the law, but changes are needed to make it work better, and another 43 percent think the law needs to be repealed entirely.

(Emphasis supplied.) Mend it, don't end it.

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Mend It, Don't End It

In terms of ObamaCare, my problems with the "market reforms" is a matter of record - I think the regulatory reform/exchanges/mandate is bad policy. I preferred the expansion of public insurance (such as Medicaid expansion, which is the piece of OCare that is unequivocally good and working. But we are where we are - ObamaCare is under fire and extremely unpopular. What do Dems do now?

ObamaCare is not changing any time soon imo. The President won't support any repeal and the GOP won't support any fixes. This means what to do next will necessarily be a 2016 issue.

Here's my modest proposal -- mend ACA as follows - replace the mandate with autoenrollment in Medicare for those persons who either do not qualify for Medicaid or do not have private insurance, using the existing tax credit/subsidy structure where applicable. Simple and effective imo. And politically feasible.

This would have the effect of providing insurance to as many as possible, improving the solvency of Medicare (improving the health of the Medicare pool will lower costs) and be politically popular.

My two cents.

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In Other News, Medicaid Expansion Works Beautifully

While the wonk created Rube Goldberg contraptions known as the exchanges goes through their problems, one aspect of ObamaCare has gone off without a hitch - Medicaid Expansion:

The underdog of government health care programs is emerging as a rare early success story of President Obama's technologically challenged health overhaul. Often dismissed, Medicaid has signed up 444,000 people in 10 states in the six weeks since open enrollment began, according to Avalere Health, a market analysis firm that compiled data from those states. Twenty-five states are expanding their Medicaid programs, but data for all of them was not available.

[...] The Obama administration plans to release October enrollment statistics this week, but publicly available figures already provide a contrast between a robust start for Medicaid expansion and lukewarm early signups for new, government-subsidized private plans offered separately under the law. "Medicaid is exceeding expectations in most places," said Dan Mendelson, Avalere's president. "It is definitely a bright picture in states that have chosen to expand."

The wonky proponents of the exchanges aren't particularly interested, but it does prove that the public insurance component of ACA is the superior part of the program.

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The Problem With ObamaCare: The Republican Stuff

Alex Pareene:

[T[his is a dumb way to give people health insurance. This is a program that, by design, is going to annoy literally millions of Americans immediately. It will improve most of those people’s lives, but it will do so in a way that feels as coercive as possible. It didn’t have to be that way! No one is ever annoyed that they qualify for Medicare or Medicaid. People may hate paying the taxes that fund those programs, but people always appreciate direct benefits.

The way the ACA deals with people [...] illustrates nearly every problem with attempting to design conservative, “market-based” ways to do things best done by straightforward government programs. It exposes the flaws in both the technocratic wing of the Democratic Party — a too-clever solution to a very simple problem — and the centrist third-way wing — making legislation intentionally worse to shield Democrats from increasingly ineffective accusations of liberalism, or to pick up Republican support that, in this environment, is never coming. So we end up with a program that hides many of its best and most important features, and loudly advertises its most coercive element.

More . .

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Presidential Presser on Debt Limit, Budget Negotiations

Watch here.

I give him an A- so far in these negotiations. Doing quite well imo.

I thought President Obama was A+ in this presser today.

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President Obama's Syria Address

President Obama is about to address the nation on Syria. Here's a thread to discuss.

Update: Shorter version is Obama is asking Congress to delay a vote.

Obama lays out the evidence Assad's regime used chemical weapons. He says if we don't act, Assad will not hesitate to do it again. Other dictators will try to obtain chemical weapons, as will terrorist groups. Turkey Jordan and Israel are at risk.

He determined in the national security interest of the U.S. to respond by a targeted military strike. He knows it won't be popular, after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The purpose is deterring and degrading Assad's chemical capability.

Even though he has the authority to order the strike himself, he took the debate to Congress. [More...]

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Janet Napolitano Resigning as Homeland Security Secretary

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is resigning. She has accepted a new position as President of the University of California system. The current U.C. president earns $591,000 a year.

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The Increasing Heat on Eric Holder

There are many predictable calls for Attorney General Eric Holder's resignation. Until the recent disclosure of mass and indiscriminate electronic surveillance of telecom records, most have been partisan attacks. There are signs that is changing.

Will Eric Holder resign? Matthew Cooper, writing in The Atlantic, has an interesting article today, What Happened to Eric Holder? It chronicles his career, past and current, and makes this observation:

Holder was never going to stay through both terms. (Reno is the only attorney general in the country's history to stay that long.) And they say he'll be gone when Susan Rice and Samantha Power get settled in with John Kerry and Chuck Hagel and after James Comey is confirmed as the new FBI Director.

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When Did Democrats Fail On Sequestration?

Ezra Klein writes:

The Democrats have lost on sequestration

The Democrats have lost on sequestration. That’s the simple reality of Friday’s vote to ease the pain for the Federal Aviation Administration. By assenting to it, Democrats have agreed to sequestration for the foreseeable future.

This is a curious conclusion. After all, the deal is to restore $253 million to the FAA, relative chump change in terms of the federal budget. Is this really the moment Democrat "lost" on sequestration? Not really. Ezra writes:

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Obama Issues 2014 DOJ Budget: More for Prisons and Drug War

Today President Obama released his 2014 proposed budget for the Department of Justice. It's very disappointing. It includes:

  • $8.6 billion, a 4.3 percent increase over the 2012 enacted level, for Federal prisons and detention facilities. These funds are provided to continue activation of newly completed or acquired prisons, and to provide additional
    contract beds to address growth by alleviating
    crowding in low security facilities and systemwide.

Translation: We're spending to build new prisons and give more money to private prisons, but when it comes to reducing prison time for non-violent offenders, that remains, according to the budget, "an option to be explored."

  • $2.6 billion for drug enforcement and organized crime targeting programs. This funding includes an increase of $3 million for the International Organized Crime Center to help further implement strategies to combat major drug trafficking organizations and transnational organized crime syndicates.

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Obama's Budget to Include Cuts to Medicare and Social Security

President Obama's new budget is likely to include cuts to Medicare and Social Security. About the only details being leaked are:

  • a change in the way inflation is calculated which is likely to result in social security recipients receiving less
  • cuts in payments to medical providers and drug companies (which will mean fewer doctors for the elderly, a group that is rapidly increasing in size)
  • Medicare premiums will be higher for those in upper income brackets.

In exchange for the cuts, Obama is said to be demanding Republicans agree to the tax increases he proposed last year, including higher taxes for wealthier Americans.

Another Obama suggestion: More taxes on cigarettes to cover making pre-kindergarten free nationwide.

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