On Monday night, Alan Greenspan was on Charlie Rose discussing his new book, “The Map and the Territory: Risk, Human Nature, and the Future of Forecasting.” At that point, I hadn’t yet read it, and not just because the title makes it sound like something a dentist might give you as a substitute for novocaine. Having written extensively and critically about Greenspan over the years, in the magazine and in two books, I had a jaundiced feeling that I’d already heard what he had to say. But when I switched over to PBS after the Cardinals-Red Sox game, and the former Fed chairman’s unmistakable mug appeared on the screen, I decided to give him another listen.
The news that the National Security Agency was monitoring the telephones of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and many other foreign leaders is less shocking than the revelation that, for the first four and a half years of his Presidency, Barack Obama, the Commander-in-Chief, didn’t know anything about it. Can this be true?
Evidently, it is. According to a story in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, the spying program targeted as many as thirty-five world leaders, but it didn’t come to Obama’s attention until this summer when, in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations, the Administration carried out an internal review of the N.S.A.’s activities. “These decisions are made at N.S.A.,” someone described as “a senior U.S. official” told the Journal. “The President doesn’t sign off on this stuff.”
Here are two things I learned today about Obamacare: it’s getting more popular, and it’s working reasonably well in Kentucky, a state that went for Romney over Obama by sixty to thirty-eight per cent.
According to a new Gallup poll, forty-five per cent of Americans approve of the health-care reforms, up from forty-one per cent in in August, even though the new poll was taken in the midst of all the publicity about the disastrous rollout of the Web site for the national insurance marketplace. That change is within the margin of error, but as Gallup put it, “The results suggest that the problems with the health exchanges have not negatively affected Americans’ overall views of the law, at least to this point.”
In recent years, a number of international surveys have raised alarms that the United States is falling behind other countries in terms of educational achievement. Now there is another one, and its findings represent a serious threat to the country’s future prosperity. In basic literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills, the new study shows, younger Americans are at or near the bottom of the standings among advanced countries.
The survey was carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a Paris-based forum and research group, which counts thirty-three high- and middle-income countries among its members. Some of its findings have been well covered elsewhere, particularly by the Times’ editorial board and its economics columnist Eduardo Porter.
Every day, it seems, more damaging details emerge about the rollout of the federal online insurance exchange at the heart of the Affordable Care Act. Today’s revelation, courtesy of the Washington Post: days before the launch, officials and government contractors conducted a test of the new Web site, during which it crashed when just a few hundred people tried to log in simultaneously. But the Obama Administration went ahead with the rollout anyway, only for the site to seize up just hours into October 1st.
Until the Administration gets the site working properly, this story will dominate the news and overshadow the underlying reality about Obamacare: judged on its own terms, the new health-care system is likely to work. In the coming decade, tens of millions of Americans will end up using the new health-insurance marketplaces—both the federal one and the state ones—and the number of uninsured will drop quite dramatically. Not everybody will end up being covered, but, excluding unauthorized immigrants, who won’t be eligible to use the new system, it seems likely that, at a minimum, the proportion of people who are uninsured will be cut in half.
As part of its upcoming settlement with the federal government and other agencies, JPMorgan is reportedly on the verge of paying thirteen billion dollars in fines and restitutions, and of admitting that some of its businesses violated laws during the great credit bubble. What’s wrong with forcing it to pay that amount, or even billions more? Perhaps nothing. The big banks are so unpopular these days that there would be widespread support for doubling to the number, to twenty-six billion, or tripling it, to thirty-nine billion. Or, what the heck, why don’t we make it a nice round number: fifty billion dollars?
Now that Congress has started bipartisan negotiations to reach a budget deal and avert another government shutdown in January or February, it’s worth knocking down a few myths about the U.S. government that continue to distort the political debate.
If you listen to people on Capitol Hill, especially Republicans but also some Democratic budget hawks, you might be led to believe that the United States is plagued by chronic budget deficits, which threaten the prosperity of the country. Not true at all.
And if you listen to Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing luminaries, you will get the impression that federal spending, particularly discretionary spending on the pork-barrel projects beloved of congressmen, is mushrooming out of control. Not true either.
On the morning after the night when the G.O.P. caved in humiliating fashion, the Thin Man was trying his best not to gloat. “Let’s be clear: there are no winners here,” Obama said from the State Dining Room of the White House. After recounting some of the economic costs of the seventeen-day government shutdown and the dispute over the debt ceiling, he said, “The American people are completely fed up with Washington.”
Give the Republicans on Capitol Hill one thing: they don’t leave a job half done. Evidently disturbed by polls showing Congress with a single-digit approval rating, they appear intent on driving it to zero.
What other explanation can there be for Tuesday’s farcical maneuvers, which saw the House Republican leadership try and fail to seize the initiative in the debt-ceiling standoff from the Senate, in the process humiliating Speaker Boehner yet again. By the end of the day, facing renewed opposition from some of his own members, Boehner had dropped his efforts to pass a bill that would have ended the shutdown and raised the debt ceiling until February, but one with more riders than an agreement that Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, and Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, have been working on.