Blog Down–But a New Blog Is Up

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on December 12, 2012

So, last night, WordPress demanded one of its periodic updates. I complied, only to find out that I had lost my Visual Editor screen and my media buttons, all of which would make regular blogging here a pain. There may be some fix for all of this, but neither I nor the technical staff here at A Chequer-Board of Nights and Days–and yes, there is a technical staff–can seem to find one. What’s more, we are not inclined to waste time trying to find one when more productive things–like, you know, blogging–could be taking place.

As such, I think that the best thing to do is to leave this blog up as an archive site, and instead move all of my blogging over to my eponymous Tumblr on a permanent basis. Said eponymous Tumblr can be found here.

Maybe this is just me trying to make lemonade out of the lemons WordPress has forced upon me, but this can end up being a very good thing. Unlike WordPress, Tumblr allows for easy reblogging, which means that I can generate content throughout the day merely by using my iPhone. Reblogging will allow me to bring to readers’ attention interesting non-political stories, and it will allow me to indulge my somewhat whimsical side as well. Tumblr will further allow me to indulge my whimsical side thanks to its integration with other forms of social media like Instagram. At the same time, of course, one can write longform on Tumblr just as well as one can on WordPress, so it is not as though my longform political pieces are going to go the way of the dinosaur. And reblogging will allow me to quickly and easily bring to readers’ attention political pieces as well; there are a whole host of political/news publications that have established a presence on Tumblr, which means that those who dip their feet into the waters of the Tumblrverse will not lack for information and opinions on the issues of the day. Additionally–and this certainly counts for something–my Tumblr site loads very quickly and easily, and comes with a mobile version that you can access without problems on your smartphones. And if you want to get the standard view of the site on your smartphones, you can do that as well. Finally, Tumblr allows readers to ask questions of the owners/editors of Tumblr blogs, which means that you as readers can–with questions that are interesting, informative, and not rude/insulting–start up threads of your own concerning important topics.

So, it’s goodbye to Chequer-Board, which I shall miss, and hello to my eponymous Tumblr. I thank you all for taking the time to read this blog, and I look forward to seeing all of you on the flip side. Oh, and by the way, if you have a Tumblr blog of your own, be sure to follow mine.


Some Might Call It a Scandal

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on December 11, 2012

Jeffrey Anderson has a story which, if true, should prompt congressional hearings and the resignation in disgrace of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. According to Anderson:

. . . HHS has contracted with a subsidiary of a private health care company to help build and police the very exchanges in which that company will be competing for business. The person who ran the government entity that awarded that contract has since accepted a position with a different subsidiary of that same company. An insurance industry insider (speaking on the condition of anonymity) says that HHS, in an attempt to hide this unseemly contract from public view until after the election, encouraged the company to hide the transaction from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

According to my source (the basis for most of this account), in January, HHS awarded Quality Software Services, Inc. (QSSI) what the Hill describes as “a large contract to build a federal data services hub to help run the complex federal health insurance exchange.” At that time, the director of Obamacare’s newly established Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (CCIIO) — which the Hilldescribes as “the office tasked with crafting rules for the national exchange” — was Steve Larsen. Larsen had been the insurance commissioner for Maryland when Obama’s HHS secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, was the insurance commissioner for Kansas, and the two are reportedly close. The CCIIO awarded the Obamacare exchange contract to QSSI while Larsen was the CCIIO’s director, and he played a central role in planning the construction of the exchanges — although it’s not known whether he made the decision to award the contract to QSSI or not.

Under the contract that it signed with HHS, QSSI’s power would be substantial — as QSSI would shape, run, and affect companies’ ability to compete to sell insurance through Obamacare’s federal exchanges. The Hill writes, “A draft statement of work for the contract awarded to QSSI states the contractor should provide services necessary to acquire, certify and decertify health plans offered on a federal exchange.” Moreover, “It stipulates the contractor should monitor agreements with health plans, ensure compliance with federal standards and” — somewhat strikingly — “take corrective action when necessary.”

QSSI, apparently realizing what a valuable asset it had in the contract, started shopping itself around. Meanwhile, Larsen left the CCIIO and took a highly paid position with Optum, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, in June. Sometime this summer, UnitedHealth Group bought QSSI.

The Hill writes that the “quiet nature of the transaction, which was not disclosed to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), has fueled suspicion among industry insiders that UnitedHealth Group may be gaining an advantage for its subsidiary, UnitedHealthcare.” The Hill adds, “One critic familiar with the business rivalries of the insurance industry compared UnitedHealth Group’s purchase of QSSI to the New York Yankees hiring the American League’s umpires.” In other words, UnitedHealth Group, through QSSI, would be able to police the same field in which it would be a competitor.

Anderson goes on to note that because of the transaction, QSSI “would have access to valuable data,” which would “rais[e] extraordinary privacy concerns.” To call this arrangement unseemly would be to understate matters dramatically.

I would like to think that Anderson’s story is untrue. But if Anderson is mistaken in his allegations, then it would be nice if the administration shows why, instead of simply ignoring the story. And if the administration fails to offer a good explanation for why Anderson might be all wet, Congress should get those investigative hearings started.


Does Barack Obama Believe in Realpolitik?

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on December 11, 2012

Lots of Obamaphiles like to say that Barack Obama is a practitioner of realpolitik in the mold of George Herbert Walker Bush. Presumably, this is meant to make Republicans more comfortable with an Obamaesque foreign policy. But Paul Bonicelli studies the record and takes issue with this claim. Here’s why:

  • Practitioners of realpolitik don’t seek the approval of the United Nations as much as the Obama administration does.
  • Practitioners of realpolitik do more to try to shape the international system so that it conforms with the interests of the nation-state being led/represented by the practitioners in question.
  • Practitioners of realpolitik do more to secure economic and military strength in order to maximize nation-state power.
  • And finally, when practitioners of realpolitik have leverage overseas, they tend to use it instead of wasting it.

I would love to have an administration that pays more than lip service to the principles of realpolitik. But the Obama administration is not that administration. I don’t get why the president and his buddies don’t just call themselves Wilsonian internationalists? Whom do they think they are fooling, anyway?

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“The Most Transparent Administration in History”

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on December 8, 2012

Whether or not we voted for him, Barack Obama is our president and will be for the next four years, which means that we are invested in his inauguration. We deserve to have it open to us so that we are able to witness it and so that we are able to glean something from it regarding the president’s plans for a second term.

Too bad that the Obama administration might be thinking otherwise:

The White House Correspondents Association is strongly urging the Obama administration to allow press access to the president’s official swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 20, following indications from inauguration committee officials that the event could potentially be closed to the press.

“Mindful of the historic nature of this occasion, we expect the White House will continue the long tradition of opening the President’s official swearing-in to full press access, and we as an organization are looking forward to working with the administration to make that happen,” Ed Henry, the Fox News correspondent and president of the White House Correspondents Association, said in a statement.

Because inauguration day falls on a Sunday in 2013, Chief Justice John Roberts will officially administer the official oath of office in a private ceremony that day. The public inauguration on the Capitol Building’s West Front — at which Roberts will administer a second, symbolic oath of office — will take place the next day.

In early meetings with the inaugural committee, officials privately indicated to reporters that the Jan. 20 event could be closed to reporters and cameras, with an official photograph supplied to press by White House photographer Pete Souza, sources familiar with the meeting told POLITICO.

[. . .]

“Call me shell-shocked. I’m stunned that this is even an issue; it boggles the mind,” NBC News White House correspondent Chuck Todd told POLITICO. “This is not their oath, this is the constitutional oath. It’s not for them. It’s for the public, the citizens of the United Sates. It just boggles the mind — How is this even a debate?”

Now, to be fair, as the story indicates, no final decision has been made to make the January 20th inauguration a private one. And even if it were, the public inauguration will indeed serve to indicate what direction the president wants to take when it comes to policy in the second term. But that doesn’t change the fact that the January 20th inauguration is the actual, official inauguration–the one that serves as a starting gun for the second term. It is bizarre in the extreme to contemplate making that event a purely private one. At the very least, the press pool should be allowed to witness the event, and as the story goes on to note, when Ronald Reagan faced a similar situation for his inauguration in 1985, “Reagan’s White House allowed complete news coverage of the private ceremony, including three reporters, three still photographers, and one network television pool camera, according to a Los Angeles Times report from the time. ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN carried live broadcasts of the event.” There is no reason why the Obama administration should do anything differently.

But of course, we really shouldn’t be surprised if the administration does things differently. Despite the fact that Barack Obama promised “the most transparent administration in history,” a simple Google search reveals that promises of government transparency have been broken multiple times and for no good reason whatsoever. I’d like to think that Barack Obama will finally try to keep his pledge to run a transparent government–especially given the fact that we are discussing his own inauguration here–but I am not holding my breath.

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So, New York Is a Mess

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on December 5, 2012

And it’s all thanks to Hurricane Sandy, and the follow-up unnatural disaster that is FEMA. As Glenn Reynolds indicates, this issue would certainly be getting a lot more coverage if we had a Republican in the White House to blame for FEMA’s ineptitude, but since we don’t, New Yorkers are out of luck, it seems.

One wonders how much longer the crisis in New York has to go on before the national media begins to wonder whether the Obama administration and FEMA are really doing good work on this issue.

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Alas, This Is NOT a Joke

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on December 5, 2012

Maxine Waters will be the senior Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee. As Megan McArdle points out, no one has or will ever accuse Waters of bringing too much intellectual candlepower to bear on a particular problem of state.

I invite you to contemplate the media derision that would have followed if a Republican with Waters’s gray-matter-resembling-thing and sparsity-of-neurons was asked by fellow Republicans to assume a similar responsibility.


Mitch Daniels on What the GOP’s Message Should Be

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on December 4, 2012

Worth reading in full, but here is the part that I especially like:

. . . Freedom’s friends must be ready, not just with cerebral prescriptions for better policy, but with a moral argument that affirms the God-given dignity of each of us, that says “Yes, you can” to everyone. . . .

In 1980, a Wyoming single mother mystified a New York Times reporter by stating that yes, absolutely she supported candidate Reagan’s proposed income tax cuts. “But, why?” the reporter spluttered. “You don’t make enough money to pay income taxes!” The woman’s reply was “One day I will.” Freedom’s friends must shape their words and actions, when the opportunity for action arrives, in ways that say emphatically “Yes, you can” and “One day you will.”

That is a message Republicans can be proud of. And it’s a message that can win elections too. (Via Scott Johnson.)



by Pejman Yousefzadeh on December 4, 2012

I am sure that you will be very pleased to know that we now have 159 pages of new tax rules affecting capital gains and dividends all aimed at raising new taxes in order to fund health care “reform.” But don’t worry; these are just taxes that are supposed to be paid by “high-income individuals.”

Some might object to all of this, noting acidly that taxing the rich will never be enough to pay for all of our entitlement obligations, and remarking that the last thing we need is for tax rules to become more complicated. Clearly, these people don’t know what they are talking about. After all, when we have the IRS enter the picture with its burdensome regulations and bureaucracy as far as the eye can see, things usually end wonderfully. What could possibly go wrong in this instance?

So celebrate. This is just the beginning of what we voted for on November 6th. And we are going to get what we voted for. Good and hard, as a certain writer and pundit once said.


Learning from Mistakes

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on December 3, 2012

Facts are facts: Four of the last six presidential elections have been won by Democrats. Five out of the last six have featured Democrats winning the popular vote. To prevent this from continuing, Republicans need to learn from Democrats how to win presidential elections.

Fortunately, they seem to be doing that. Some of the lessons and realizations appear to be rather painful, which is understandable. But only by internalizing those lessons will Republicans become successful once again when it comes to competing for the White House.


Your Arab Spring (Egypt Edition)

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on December 3, 2012

I am sure that this is all part of the grand plan for achieving democracy:

Egypt’s ruling party is paying gangs of thugs to sexually assault women protesting in Cairo’s Tahrir Square against President Mohamed Morsi, activists said.

They also said the Muslim Brotherhood is paying gangs to beat up men who are taking part in the latest round of protests, which followed a decree by President Morsi to give himself sweeping new powers.

It comes as the Muslim Brotherhood co-ordinated a demonstration today in support of President Mohamed Morsi, who is rushing through a constitution to try to defuse opposition fury over his newly expanded powers.

Incidentally, it is probably worth noting that this sort of problem doesn’t seem to be affecting Israel. Gosh, I wonder what kind of lesson might be drawn from that comparison. Also worth noting: Egyptians are warning the United States that Morsi is no friend of ours. Instead of making Morsi out to be “a pragmatist,” the Obama administration should probably take heed of that warning.


When Nate Silver is Attacked

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on December 3, 2012

I feel quite badly for Nate Silver. Just because he put out polling information that suggested that a certain presidential candidate was “toast,” said presidential candidate had his campaign hacks dump all over Silver.

Of course, I am referring to the actions of Barack Obama’s campaign over one year ago:

The Obama campaign doesn’t want you listening to Nate Silver. In an email sent out earlier this afternoon, campaign manager Jim Messina urged voters to disregard the statistical guru’s article in this past weekend’s New York Times Magazine, which gives President Obama slim chances of retaking the White House.

Mr. Messina claims that Silver’s article ignores “the obvious reality that there has been virtually no difference among the GOP candidates–or between them and the Republican congressional leaders who refuse to do anything to restore economic security for the middle class.”

“It says neither you nor Barack Obama has a role to play in this election, because the outcome is essentially predetermined. We disagree,” Mr. Messina wrote.

In the offending article, which is ever-so-subtly entitled “Is Obama Toast?,” Silver presents a formula of his own design that seeks to determine the probability of an Obama victory based on three factors: the President’s approval ratings, his economic performance, and the ideological positioning of the Republican candidate. Silver’s analysis results in a grim forecast for President Obama in a variety of scenarios. For example, Silver gives President Obama only a 17 percent chance of winning if pitted against Mitt Romney in a stagnant economy.

Now, of course, there are two lessons to draw from this little episode. The first is that Silver actually does seem to call ‘em like he sees ‘em, regardless of his ideological leanings (he has stated that he is pretty much an Obamaphile). That’s laudable, and in the future, conservatives ought to remember that Silver once believed that Obama might well be “toast” against Mitt Romney–hardly an indication that Silver is the kind of poll analyst who would skew data to show that his preferred candidate is doing well in a given race.

But the other lesson to draw from this little episode is that when Nate Silver puts out polling data that is unfavorable for liberals/Democrats, it causes liberals/Democrats to attack Silver in much the same way that conservatives/Republicans attacked him this fall when he was putting out polling data that was unfavorable for conservatives/Republicans. To be sure, we are not supposed to dwell on this second lesson. We are supposed to believe that disbelieving Nate Silver is an act of epistemic closure that only conservatives/Republicans are capable of committing. We are supposed to believe that only conservatives/Republicans would be willing to shut their eyes and ears to bad polling news. And we are supposed to believe that this is the modern day equivalent of denying that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

The truth is much more complicated. Liberals/Democrats can be as epistemically closed as conservatives/Republicans, and as willing to shoot the messenger when bad news is in the offing. And it ought to go without saying that liberal/Democratic pundits will never acknowledge and admit that very fact.

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Human Rights in Iran: More of the Same

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on December 2, 2012

It is nice to see that the death of a dissident blogger in Iran brought about the firing of the head of the Iranian cybercrimes police unit. But it ought to go without saying that the problems here go beyond one police official. Physical and psychological torture is endemic in Iran’s penal system, as is the denial of basic legal protections for prisoners. And the blame for this sorry and disgusting state of affairs goes straight to the top of the political leadership of the current regime. It is not enough to hold one politice commander accountable for all of this. The entire regime ought to be held accountable; especially the president and the supreme religious guide, who have allowed a criminal state of affairs to continue in Iran without any letup.

Is anyone going to be fired for Nasrin Sotoudeh’s plight? I strongly doubt it.


For Those Who Wonder Why Government Nannyism Annoys Me . . .

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on November 30, 2012

Here is your answer. Three of them, in fact.

Of course, because I live in the Chicagoland area, the ridiculous over-regulation of food trucks in the city hits home the most. But that may just be my parochialism talking. It ought to go without saying that all three instances of nannyism are utterly outrageous and in a better world, the people responsible for perpetrating this nonsense would be laughed out of any civilized gathering.

And while we are laughing them out of civilized gatherings, let’s not forget that nannyism abounds. The examples provided to us by Ted Balaker may be over the top, but in many ways, it is the not-over-the-top nannyism that we have to worry about. There are any number of politicians at the local, state and federal level who believe that they know better than we do when it comes to spending our tax money (as opposed to letting us have more of it–it’s our money, after all!–to spend and invest ourselves) and educating our kids, and who believe that policy should be dictated from on high and far away rather than formulated at the most local level possible. Their form of nannyism fits in more nicely in mainstream political thought than do the examples that Balaker gives us. But that doesn’t make their form of nannyism any less pernicious.


Presumably, We Aren’t Supposed to Care about Any of This

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on November 28, 2012

So, consider this story. It tells us the following about the talking points that were delivered to Ambassador Susan Rice–the very same ones that she delivered to the public:

  • General Petraeus reported in congressional testimony that someone removed references to “terrorism” and “al Qaeda. He also said that it wasn’t the CIA.
  • The Obama administration won’t tell us who made the changes.
  • Later on, the CIA said that “a senior level in the interagency process” is where and when the changes were made, and that the changes were made in order to protect intelligence sources and methods.
  • Later on, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reported that actually, the changes were made because the connections to terrorism were too “tenuous” to make public.
  • Still later, acting Director of Central Intelligence Michael Morell said that it was the FBI who made the changes, and that the changes were made to ensure that an ongoing criminal investigation would not be compromised.
  • After that, someone from the CIA spoke up and said that Morell was wrong. It was actually the CIA that made the changes. No reason for the changes was given.
  • Oh, and there is this as well:

Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on behalf of the White House five days after the attacks, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice did not directly say an al Qaeda affiliate was suspected or point to terrorism. She said the “assessment at present” was that the attacks began “spontaneously” in response to an inflammatory anti-Islam video posted on YouTube. She added that “extremist elements” then joined the effort.

Tuesday, for the first time, Rice stated outright that there was never any protest or demonstration. Republicans who have read the same intelligence that Rice accessed say it’s laced with references to al Qaeda and terrorism, and they’re mystified as how she could have come away with a primary narrative about a spontaneous protest and a video.

And to top it all off, according to Obamaphiles, we aren’t supposed to care about any of this, and the nation should just move along because there is absolutely, positively nothing to see here.

Does that sound plausible to you? Because I sure ain’t buying it.


The Myth of Filibuster “Reform”

November 27, 2012

Myth: “With filibuster reform, the Senate can vote on more bills that are sent to it.” Fact: “Actually, the whole purpose of filibuster ‘reform’ is to have fewer votes, and to have those votes be about the issues the majority is interested in discussing.” Sounds counterintuitive in part, I know. But it’s true. Mark Calabria [...]

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Banned in the USA

November 27, 2012

So long, Intrade. Sorry that you were put out of business for the most ridiculous of reasons. More here. The Springsteen lyrics are apt. And people still have the nerve to claim that government has the capacity to leave well enough alone.

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Attention Paul Krugman

November 26, 2012

You really ought to read this. It might actually teach you something.

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Once upon a Time, Giants Walked amongst Us

November 25, 2012

This post isn’t really meant to be political in any way, shape or form. In fact, I wrote it because I was doing some Googling about the movie The Longest Day, found this, and . . . well . . . see my title above. Also, let your eyes linger over this: In the film, [...]

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This Will Be a Day Long Remembered

November 25, 2012

Ronald Dworkin’s Hercules finally has the seamless web of law he was looking for.

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Good News!

November 25, 2012

Barack Obama’s ban on having former administration figures lobby the administration ain’t much of a ban at all: With President Obama’s reelection a done deal, headhunters are expecting worn-out administration aides to look for new jobs in the influence industry. Several Obama aides started making post-election plans well before November, holding discussions with executive search [...]

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