Finian Cunningham, in a post on the Ukraine, struggled to describe the alternative reality in which American officials were operating, and came up with this formulation:
Welcome to the world of surrealpolitik, where anything you assert to be true is true, notwithstanding the factual evidence….
NATO and Washington are not only inverting fact and reality over Ukraine and the wider serious geopolitical implications. The reckless distortion is delivered with a contempt born of the most fatuous purblind arrogance. The conundrum is how to deal with such insanity?
On the Obamacare front, Lambert describes how the overdue ouster of Health and Human Services chief Kathleen Sebelius reveals more deep-seated dysfunction in the Administration. I’m sure the kingmakers and breakers thought they were terribly clever. Sibelius was clearly a political dead woman walking due to the huge embarrassment of the multidimensionally botched Obamacare site launch. In the private sector, when you have a train wreck and you need to restore confidence, you clean house and bring in someone who looks credible as a toxic waste remediation expert. But Sibelius instead became the official Obamacare pinta doll until the Administration though it could declare victory by virtue of having reached the 7 million enrollment mark. So the motivation, as ever, is about perception management, and is at best only tangentially related to reality.
By Lambert Strether. Cross posted from Corrente
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is resigning six months after a disastrous rollout of President Barack Obama’s signature health law, according to administration sources.
On Friday, Obama will nominate Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, to replace her.
Sebelius, 65, gave no hint of her imminent departure as she testified Thursday before a Senate panel.
So, did she fall or was she pushed? I say pushed:
Sebelius’s departure was unexpected by at least one person close to her, Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, a Republican who has worked with her since 1991. Praeger said she was at a dinner where the health secretary spoke last week and that “she seemed like she was in it for the long haul.”
Alas, with Obama, falling on your sword is no guarantee you won’t be stabbed in the back:
HHS chief: President didn’t know of Obamacare website woes beforehand
In an exclusive interview with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta asked when the President first learned about the considerable issues with the Obamacare website. Sebelius responded that it was in “the first couple of days” after the site went live October 1.
“But not before that?” Gupta followed up.
To which Sebelius replied, “No, sir.”
Which, if true, raises even larger questions:
The Times has a horrifying story under a dull headline:
Tension and Flaws Before Health Website Crash
Yes, well, an oncoming “train wreck” will do that.
[O]ver the past three years five different lower-level managers held posts overseeing the development of HealthCare.gov, none of whom had the kind of authority to reach across the administration to ensure the project stayed on schedule.
As a result, the president’s signature initiative was effectively left under the day-to-day management of Henry Chao, a 19-year veteran of the Medicare agency with little clout and little formal background in computer science.
Mr. Chao had to consult with senior department officials and the White House, and was unable to make many decisions on his own. “Nothing was decided without a conversation there,” said one agency official involved in the project, referring to the constant White House demands for oversight.
Yet that same White House also let Obama swan around the country making ludicrous statements like this, four days before launch:
“[OBAMA:] This is real simple. It’s a website where you can compare and purchase affordable health insurance plans side by side the same way you shop for a plane ticket on Kayak, same way you shop for a TV on Amazon. You just go on, and you start looking, and here are all the options.”
That’s complete management dysfunction.
As we asked earlier, how was this even possible? At the best, Obama’s staff — who were constantly demanding oversight — can’t pass bad news on to him; at the worse, Obama’s just telling outright lies that are going to be exposed in days.
Or, even worse, I suppose, we have a political class — like the ruling class in the FIRE sector, in its own way — that’s completely disconnected from all basic reality. It’s not merely that the political class can’t distinguish between campaigning and governing: They cannot distinguish between what can be done and what can’t; they don’t see any difference between bullshit and lies; they cannot be honest with each other, or with us, because they literally do not know what it means to be honest; they confuse empathy and compassion with manipulation and public relations; and they experience no consequences for their actions, whether good or bad.
Anyhow, it was important to get Sebelius out of the way before the midterms. (Of course, if the Republicans were the fearsome, feral oppositional force the entire political class tells us they are, they’d be roasting the entire HHS leadership, and the White House team, over a slow fire, in hearings, on television. They aren’t, so they don’t. What we get is more kayfabe about repealing the law, to be followed by a whimpering acceptance that hey, maybe RomneyCare isn’t so bad.)
President Barack Obama intends to nominate Sylvia Mathews Burwell, current director of the Office of Management and Budget, to replace Sebelius, according to the official.
Burwell, 48, was confirmed to her current Cabinet-rank position in April 2013. She came to the White House from her spot atop the Walmart Foundation — the giant retail chain’s charitable organization which, according to its website, donated nearly $1 billion to causes worldwide in 2011.
Prior to that, Burwell worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and in President Bill Clinton’s administration under then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.
Burwell certainly seems well-connected. I’m sure ObamaCare is in good sucking mandibles hands.
NOTE  CNN:
Although the website has been repaired and enrollment has recovered strongly, the debacle continues to baffle many outside experts who have blamed weak leadership at the White House and the health agency that Sebelius heads.
They’re baffled! “Obama couldn’t have fucked up, we can rule that out….” So, ’tis a puzzlement!
I like the Muckety site, thanks for the link.
So, the “free world” is being led by, tail wagging the dog type, buffoons over the cliff of existence to sustain an antiquated form of inheritance led social organization and control.
If Sylvia Mathews Burwell is approved by Robert E. Rubin then everything is proceeding as planned…..do a Murkety on him
There are no conspiracies at the top, only action items.
It’s only a conspiracy if you’re not in on it. If you are, it’s called a “project”.
I was not surprised at the timing of the Sibelius resignation. Few people in Washington directly admit responsibility and then resign–you always have to wait until a few months later–reports to the contrary Sibelius must have known or agreed beforehand to resign after a suitable period to avoid increased scrutiny. Sibelius took responsibility in exchange she was not publicly forced to resign.
Who was really responsible for the web site disaster? I would say it is the culture of Washington. Everybody covers their ass, leaves a paper trails full of weasel words and everyone avoids clear responsibility. The WH is only interested in the day-to-day maneuvering for personal power and influence.
As for Ukraine, don’t blame the WH they will get away without whatever whoppers they want to tell and the fault lies with the mainstream media–they could, if they wanted to, simply report the facts. Because of the disunity within the national security state at this time we may find some dissent in the mainstream–it should be kind of exciting to see. The balance may lie within Europe–if they would only break with the Washington consensus.
1) “. . . fault lies with the mainstream media–they could, if they wanted to, simply report the facts.”
Access journalism makes reporters stenographers and propagandists. (This seems like an egregious oversight for someone who claims to be so tuned in to D.C.)
2) . . . disunity within the national security state”
Really you are pushing this line (often as “battle” between neocons and realists”) again and again with no evidence what so ever. I know because I have challenged you on this and your answer referenced your direct knowledge from Bush I.
I don’t see any disunity at the top. And no, the NYT article in yesterday’s links (Russia Plotting for Ukrainian Influence, Not Invasion, Analysts Say) did not show that.
No, the website was world class incompetence. This was NOT “routine Washington”. For instance:
1. Having neither an external project manager nor anyone on the gov’t side capable of doing that job tasked to it
2. Changing specs repeatedly, in major ways, in the months prior to launch when the legislation was passed two years ago.
Europe is up to its neck in the shit that is happening in the Ukraine, or at least the European Commission and NATO.
And don’t hold your breath on Europe breaking with the USA, just remember we have loads of US “sovereign” military bases on our sovereign lands, never mind the mindset of the European technocrats, which are at one with their US masters and the prevailing Washington consensus.
Obviously, some of us rant about this, but are then accused of being radicals or malcontents – both of which I’m open about.
For what its worth, I’m preying that Russia will cut the gas off to Europe – yes the average Joe will suffer, but hopefully after having its main source of energy removed, our own citizenry can finally wake up to the fact that they are being shat upon from a great height by undemocratic forces grabbing as much wealth, and with it power as is possible.
We are being lied too, we are under siege and we have on the whole failed to awaken to this fact, with the exception of those honourable folk who take to the streets in Greece, Spain and Portugal – nations at the frontline of this real war being waged against the working class globally.
But what happened to European intellectuals? Do they really want their countries to become like the US? I can understand the elites wanting to be under the wing of the global empire because they see the U.S. as the guarantor of oil supplies and open shipping lanes–but is there no other vision for the future? Europeans tend to be a little more aware of the importance of ideas and culture than the average American–or has that changed?
What happened to the European intellectuals? They are, as they have almost always been, guided by their own self interests. In this case their self interest lies in getting sweet sinecures at Open Society funded think tanks and publications, from whose heights they dispense their Soros funded wisdom to the masses. It is pocket book intellectualism, pure and simple. The disconnect can be very striking in some countries. In my native BG the elites and intelligentsia are pro EU, pro NATO, anti Russia. Yet opinion polls show that the majority has become sceptical of the EU and its eurocratic diktats, it does not approve of sanctions against Russia and thinks Russia was justified in annexing Crimea. Now, that latter part could be due to concerns for the 300K ethnic Bulgarians in Bessarabia, Odessa, and Tavria in Southern Ukraine, but having spoken with friends and relatives I have the distinct impression that the mood of the population is rather at sharp odds with the elite and intellectuals. I am probably safe in saying that this same dynamic is evident in the rest of Southern Europe and in Ireland. I’m afraid that Christopher is on the mark, the EU elites are born and bred neolibs and their interests are tied to the US interests. The vaunted European welfare states already bear only a faint semblance of their former selves, and any further Euro centralization and expansion of its eurocratic powers at the expense of member states sovereignty will only make the Euro neolib alliance with the US stronger and harder to break.
My experience with European intellectuals is that they see themselves as cosmopolitans, not neoliberals. But I would argue that, more so than ever, elite cultural tastes align with the interests of the global capitalist class over the working (and not working) class.
True, but keep in mind that globalization, the hallmark of neoliberalism, can be said to be quite cosmopolitan in its own right. I view the two as quite compatible and complimentary.
Up until my time, many academics entered universities by mistake, disability and after substantial work experience. Most now drift in with a bit of book-learning and to be middle-class. The proles, who swear, spit and have beer-bellies revolt them. Political correctness keeps them safe.
Little wonder, then, that intellectualism is akin to a four letter word amongst some segments of the population. The disconnect between the reality of the masses and the reality of the elites is quite striking IMO, so we have the absurdity of “leftist” intellectuals waxing poetic about the greatness of Obamacare even as the masses have discovered that all it does is binds them even more to the insurance companies and does little to nothing to fix the fundamental flaws of the system. And I also think that the rise of right wing populist nationalism in Europe is a reaction of the drift of the “left” into neoliberalism.
Even the old Marxist toffs drove Volvos to holiday cottages in the country depriving families of homes.
The ‘left’ didn’t ‘drift’ into neoliberalism/globalization, it all but drowned in the onslaught of debt-driven consumerism. I believe you refer to something called a Democrat.
Scott probably nails it. There are still public intellectuals in the EU, but I struggle to think of anyone like Yves in the UK. Constructive criticism is more or less impossible. There’s no market for it, at least beyond a fairly deluded niche. I don’t think we have anything surreal, more a state of sophism.
What intellectuals there are are stuck on paradigms (and I wouldn’t grace this term as a generic frame of reference). It’s about rote learning, much as we might have done with je suis, tu es, il est … scholastic book learning of a religious form without Beard’s ability to relate the proverb to reality.
I doubt the answers are very intellectual, though we might think of Wittgenstein in terms of much of the problem being bewitchment in language that raises the wrong issues again and again. My own guess is we get suckered at very iconic levels on promises of the private sector cavalry riding to our rescue as we do austerity on our last few rations. But try to get to what iconic means here in public debate. That is an intellectual path most are not equipped to take.
I want to see everyone with a civic income. This should be enough for all of us not to need to work for a secure living. Most people probably receive this as madness – how would we get anything done, ‘slackers’ charter’ and so on. Of course, I’m not suggesting we don’t have obligations to work and support each other. I’m just looking for something better than the current tragedy, a recognition of what this really is and how we might be otherwise motivated to get necessary work done.
This is actually the beginning of very complex argument anyone could join in. It’s easier to look intellectual in more bookish ways or as a stock market winner describing the reasons for his success from a few pages of my finance for non-financial mangers 301. And if you sign as one of 340 economists stating austerity is bunk, you just declare yourself unfit for the government ear. We do protest, but they still bring in McKinsey to review our NHS.
A new Volunteerism could replace the old Capitalism with relatively few hitches. Money could go to each individual citizen or hopeful citizen, enough to live on adequately, and money could also go from national revenue coffers to states and from states to municipalities. Local Volunteerism would be possible for extra pay and most people would enjoy the work of making their towns better, their schools better, their hospitals better, their industries greener, etc.
Looking at the surreal we all recognize the contradictions in capitalism. When Rumsfeld called Europe “Old Europe” and dubbed our new mandate for victory as “Odyssey Dawn” he implied Mao’s concept of cleansing the language. Democracy and freedom and all of the western blabber have become meaningless. But as Karma would have it, most people now see that meaninglessness as a result of the neocons, like Rumsfeld. So sometimes unintended consequences are good.
I agree Susan. There are issues about taking poverty out of the work motivation equation we’d have to address. I would like to see us all take part in the voluntary and I’d like to subsume FE/HE into it.
There are plenty of gifted people out there, but this epochal impasse isn’t about intellect, or who has the best argument, or even the ‘best idea’ – we all know roughly what has to happen, and soon, if humanity is to survive at all and with all of us on board – it’s about basic, human values that have not had a champion in the US since Martin Luther King. There’s a reason for that.
What exactly does this post says? That the new secretary served in quite a few jobs before the current one. What a huge surprise. They should’ve selected a student that just graduated; no chart for her. That the Obamacare system was a debacle. That’s real news to Martians. That Sibelius was responsible. That Obama is actually worse than Carter except less of a racist. Come on, that’s only the tip of the ice skyscraper.
Lambert, you can do much better.
Thanks for sharing your concern.
Wow, sophism, neo-liberalism, cosmopolitanism. Let’s stay on topic. Lambert’s core point is this: “they don’t see any difference between bullshit and lies; they cannot be honest with each other, or with us, because they literally do not know what it means to be honest”. All politicians hijack the “truth” to one extent or another. It was clear when Tricky Dick lied because he knew he was lying. But what a threat it is when the pols no longer even realize they are lying. They don’t even realize that there might exist something like a fact. A fact like “the website is a mess and crashes” or ‘Ukraine bailout funds will go straight into Putin’s coffers”. There was a shift, right around the time of Bush’s first term, when Repubs went all-in: “just say anything and keep repeating it and it will soon become a fact”. Dems, cutely, resisted for quite a while. Now they’ve fully arrived at that same depressing destination. I can’t say I know where we can even go from here.
Read Finnigan’s article Lambert linked
Carter a racist? Come on.
“But Sibelius instead became the official Obamacare pinta doll until the Administration though it could declare victory by virtue of having reached the 7 million enrollment mark.”
I checked, and Sibelius seems to have had little to do with Obamacare:
I think what the Sebelius drama reveals most clearly is the corrupting influence of the authoritarian/corporatist/neolib Dems. What’s remarkable about her is that just a few years ago, she was a rather relatively leftist Kansas politician. She went from backing abortion rights in the heartland to blocking emergency contraception in DC.
While there’s no one magic straw breaking the camel’s back, I think the conclusion a lot of people are drawing over the past few years is that the Democratic party itself is the problem. While there’s always that danger that things can get worse, I’m generally excited for whatever comes next.
yea but despite her current push out of the administration, she now has the golden keys to the lucrative revolving door. insurance industry perhaps?
Answer: ‘They literally do not know what it means to be honest; they confuse empathy and compassion with manipulation and public relations; and they experience no consequences for their actions, whether good or bad.’
Question: ‘What is sociopathy?’
Something conflated with leadership Jim?
See Links for a handy checklist you can put on your refrigerator.
:They’re baffled! “Obama couldn’t have fucked up, we can rule that out….” So, ’tis a puzzlement!”
There is nothing baffling about the website problems. But at the same time it isn’t obviously some huge management problem either. Major companies with substantially more programming skill than the USFG regularly have problems when they rapidly roll out internet enabled services.
Electronic arts may have terrible labor policy, but they also have mountains of technical skill. The only companies that don’t have problems are the ones that do years of soft roll-out through perpetual beta. (e.g. gmail)
The issue isn’t the failure of the website. The problem is still the Rube Goldberg mechanisms necessary to make ACA work 3 years after it passed. Even the President days before the website went alive made absurd claims not just about the website but his policy itself. The idea that nominating someone with a history of “gettin’ thins duunn” will solve anything is absurd. Katherine Sebelius was a noted insurance commissioner before she was a senator. This is supposed to be her wheelhouse.
Of course, the website will fail, they always fail. Their policy besides being dependent on a radically different economic recovery, companies not being too greedy, and an entirely different class signing up was dependent on an absurd website. The focus on the website by the Administration is a sign they don’t want to deal with the reality that right wing policies won’t produce prosperity even with Obama spewing his usual crap. The irrational behavior appears everywhere.
Today, the White House is blocking the Iranian ambassador to the UN despite the new arrangement. So what if the guy helped overthrow the Shah? The Administration can’t seem to deal with any reality which would confuse the night line audience (thank Jebus, that tripe is off the air).
It’s obviously a huge management problem. The very fact that after the site cratered they set up a team that could fix it proves there was a management problem. Like, good managers try to do what works first, right? As opposed to after a catastrophic failure?
I remember when Jimmy Carter was branded hapless and incompetent, the rabbit attacking him in the canoe etc. Today I think Carter was not all that bad, no wars at all on his watch, and at least you felt the guy was honest and genuine. Our basketballer-in-chief, however, mixes his incompetence with unbelievable levels of arrogance, rolled up in the non sequitur and completely hypocritical identification with the Democratic Party when in fact his policy actions in reality would have made Reagan blush. It’s not a pretty portrait, but his legacy may be secure, he can just be the “first black president”. In a few years polite company might forget just exactly how awful he was.
The fact is that Sebelius needed Obama’s weight to pull a project like this together, and (as usual), he wasn’t willing to provide it. The second whammy to that is that any good manager would have recognized that the ACA rollout was priority one for any number of good reasons, and Sebelius shouldn’t have even had to ask for Obama’s weight, But she did, and she never got it.
sucking mandibles…god, that’s great.
never a post by lambert w/o at least one good laugh.
Democrat uber-hack Joan Walsh on Sebelius:
Ya know, it used to be that Democrats marketed themselves on the idea that they could make government work because they actually cared about stuff like that. Good to see Walsh putting a stake in the heart of that notion, especially if Hillary had planned to run on it, ha ha.
What Walsh is saying is that as long as there’s a result that can plausibly be marketed as a positive (and not even a net positive), it doesn’t matter how the result was achieved. Maybe career “progressives” think that’s a recipe for good governance, but I’m not sure how many others do.
I think Walsh, MSNBC, the former Bush bashers who justify Obama holding a gallery opening for Dubya, and so forth only have Obots in their audience. The non Obots left, and the deported aren’t sticking around. Walsh and her ilk have attacked liberal/lefty/sane critics of Dear Leader at every step.
The only way to hold onto their audience is to just make up bizarre rationalizations. Assuming the absence of corporate interference, what would happen to a Maddow if she held a show describing the administration’s incompetence? Her audience would flee, and the readership here, fdl, Al jazeera, twitter feeds, calculated risk, and so forth which may have once valued Maddow aren’t going back.
Walsh could just as well have written “she’ll be remembered for the millions she’s set to make.”
it worked for liz fowler and others since…
Its a baby step but I’m thankful we have this healthcare. It will take some work to bring it along. Certainly this one lady is not to blame. This is something the country needs.
Awe gee guys ACA isn’t a hideous wealth transfer to big insurance. It’s a baby step.
Please get better employees at the DNC. Perhaps using interns just produces bad results.
She took the fall for Obama, so in that sense she’s not to blame. Nevertheless, the entire site development was a colossal clusterfuck, managed from her department, so in that sense she is very much to blame.
I do understand why Democrats wish to avoid accountability for any failures, but this is getting ridiculous.
I suppose I understand why elite Democrats needed to protect Sebelius for so long, but I’m shocked even the Obots never swarmed the HHS Secretary. Why haven’t the Obots thrown Sebelius under the bus?
I suppose enough of them are clearly Democraticbots, but I wonder if they are so in thrall to Dear Leader that they can’t even imagine one of his nominees might not work out.
The Democrat Being is a seamless garment.
NC, I’m disappointed. The Cunningham article you link to is just absurdly awful. I mean, it’s not just misleading representations but patently false and silly conspiratorial claims. It’s certainly on the level of being too outrageously stupid to be even Russian propaganda.
Are you going to expound upon and support your contention that the article is “patently false” and contains “silly conspiratorial claims” with relevant links or are you content to murky it up?
I don’t want to waste my time arguing with you, but an article using expressions familiar from Russian propaganda, such as “Kiev junta”, “openly fascist junta”, “fascist thugs”, and referring to e.g. a regime “installed by NATO”, “Western-backed street violence and terrorism” and “Western-backed covert snipers” hardly convinces me with its objective take on the matter.
If anyone needs to support their contentions and provide their sources here, it’s this tinfoil blogger with his baseless claims and hyperbole. For example, it would obviously be easier for the blogger than for me to present evidence of “post-Cold War rules-based agreements between Washington and Moscow on the non-expansion of NATO”. As far as I know, there are none. If there are, I suppose Mr. Cunningham would be able to tell us what what they are, when they were signed and ratified, and so on.
Anyway, the whole idea of NATO and USA actively encircling Russia is pretty weak. Quite on the contrary, they were rather passive with the Baltic states, which nevertheless ran to NATO from the grip of Russia as fast as they could. And who can blame them? I don’t, considering their mutual history with Russia. Should NATO have left them on their own devices? And as for USA, my impression is they have shifted their focus on the Far East in recent years instead of Europe. My overall impression is that lately, it’s Russia that has had far more interest in the future, or perhaps more recently, of the non-future of Ukraine.
Ok then, in the world of Finnish leftists $5 billion spent on promoting “democracy” and the taped conversation of a neocon discussing Yats as the prime minister to be installed by the State Department does not constitute a foreign power sponsored coup, the creep of NATO toward Russia’s borders is not encirclement, and Svoboda and the Right Sector might as well be carrying out Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech message of tolerance and non-violence. Got it. The only thing that I am a bit murky about is what the fuck are you smoking?
Nitpicking, strawman, bluster, and innuendo. Just what we have come to expect from you Henry.
I’m not so sure I’m going with Lambert’s notion that this is a case of a confluence of incompetence over such an extended period. After all, as noted, Obama is going to have to wear the old OC label for as long as that Program lasts, and he doesn`t strike me as someone looking to be associated with anything he oversaw or decisioned during his Admin, let alone this turd. Suppose failure was deliberate, though, a rat or two, or dozen gnarling through the wires.
Obama believes his own myth. ACA’S failures will be justified by platitudes about successes being greater than failures, and like 2010,2000, 2002, and 2004, hippies will be blamed for not believing hard enough.
Has Obama given any indication he can manage this kind of project or knows anything? Bear in mind, he beat McCain and Hillary with Bill on the outside, needed a sex scandal to get in the Senate, and according to Bob Gates doubled down in Afghanistan despite his own doubts.
Obama isn’t just the inspiration for the Obots, he is the foremost Obot.