Quiz: How Dumb Does Obama Think We Are?

Quiz: How Dumb Does Obama Think We Are?

The Veterans Affairs policy fiasco is magnified by an insulting-public relations strategy.

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photo of Ron Fournier

May 20, 2014

News quiz: President Obama and his communications team hope that Americans are: 1) Dumb; 2) Distracted; 3) Numb to government inefficiency; 4) All of above.

Answer: 4, all of the above.

That answer along with utter incompetence are the best explanations for why the White House thought it could get away with claiming that the departure of Veterans Affairs official Robert Petzel was a step toward accountability for its scandalous treatment of war veterans.

Fact is, the department announced in 2013 that Dr. Petzel would retire this year.

“Well, Secretary Shinseki accepted Dr. Petzel’s resignation this afternoon. He was due to retire early next month, and obviously there has been a nomination made for his replacement,” White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough told CBS’s Major Garrett last week. “I leave to Rick the explanation of his decision, but there is no question that this is a termination of his job there before he was planning to go.”

No. This was neither a termination nor a housecleaning. It was a scapegoating. For all of its 21st-century savvy in the field of campaign technology, the Obama White House has repeatedly proven that its communications philosophy is stuck in the 20th century. Before the Internet gave voters instantaneous access to information, including every public utterance of the president and his team, White House strategists could hope to wear out the truth: If you said a lie enough, people might believe it.

It’s harder to BS the public these days. White House press secretary Jay Carney still tries. On Monday, he repeatedly suggested that the American Legion had praised the move.

“The American Legion said that the group looks at Petzel’s resignation as a, quote, step towards addressing the leadership problem at the VA. So I think that undercuts the assertion that that is not a meaningful development.”

Carney cited the American Legion nine times during the briefing.

Unfortunately for Carney and his boss, ABC’s intrepid White House correspondent Jonathan Karl has access to the Internet. “It turns out, however, the American Legion had issued a statement dismissing the resignation as ‘business as usual,’ ” Karl wrote.

The statement calls for the removal of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, whose firing would actually be a measure of accountability.  Writes Karl:

When asked about the discrepancy, the White House pointed ABC News to articles in The Washington Times and USA Today that posted on Friday and quoted American Legion officials calling the resignation a “step towards addressing the leadership problem at the VA.”

The official quoted, spokesman John Raughter, acknowledged saying it was a step forward but not much of a step.

“It was a small step,” Raughter told ABC News. “It was going to happen anyway. So, I suppose it was better than if he had stayed on the job.”

Was Raughter suggesting the problems at the VA had been addressed in a significant way?

“Not at all,” he said. “We feel there is a cultural change that needs to be made.”

In Obama’s defense, he inherited a dysfunctional VA, and the agency has been overwhelmed by veterans returning from two wars he is winding down. But he pledged to reform the VA after blasting the Bush administration in 2007. Instead of getting better, the health care bureaucracy has worsened and become corrupted. Long delays are covered up and veterans are dying while awaiting care.

It’s a policy travesty magnified by an insulting public relations strategy.

Reporter: WH Press Secretary Gets Questions from Reporters Before Press Briefing

Reporter: WH Press Secretary Gets Questions from Reporters Before Press Briefing

It’s just a show.

8:43 AM, MAR 20, 2014 • BY DANIEL HALPER

A CBS reporter from Arizona reveals that President Obama’s press secretary, Jay Carney, receives questions from the press in advance of his daily press briefing. In fact, she says, the reporters often receive the answers in advance of the briefing, too.

According to the reporter, Jay Carney told her this yesterday at the White House:

“It was a very busy day. We started here shortly after 8 o’clock with a coffee with press secretary Jay Carney inside his office in the West Wing,” says the reporter.

“And this was the off-the-record so we were able to ask him all about some of the preparation that he does on a regular basis for talking to the press in his daily press briefings. He showed us a very long list of items that he has to be well versed on every single day.

“And then he also mentioned that a lot of times, unless it’s something breaking, the questions that the reporters actually ask — the correspondents — they are provided to him in advance. So then he knows what he’s going to be answering and sometimes those correspondents and reporters also have those answers printed in front of them, because of course it helps when they’re producing their reports for later on. So that was very interesting.”

Obama admin. knew millions could not keep their health insurance.

Obama admin. knew millions could not keep their health insurance

Larry Downing / Reuters

U.S. President Barack Obama walks out to deliver remarks alongside Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, October 1, 2013.

President Obama repeatedly assured Americans that after the Affordable Care Act became law, people who liked their health insurance would be able to keep it. But millions of Americans are getting or are about to get cancellation letters for their health insurance under Obamacare, say experts, and the Obama administration has known that for at least three years.

Four sources deeply involved in the Affordable Care Act tell NBC NEWS that 50 to 75 percent of the 14 million consumers who buy their insurance individually can expect to receive a “cancellation” letter or the equivalent over the next year because their existing policies don’t meet the standards mandated by the new health care law. One expert predicts that number could reach as high as 80 percent. And all say that many of those forced to buy pricier new policies will experience “sticker shock.”

None of this should come as a shock to the Obama administration. The law states that policies in effect as of March 23, 2010 will be “grandfathered,” meaning consumers can keep those policies even though they don’t meet requirements of the new health care law. But the Department of Health and Human Services then wrote regulations that narrowed that provision, by saying that if any part of a policy was significantly changed since that date — the deductible, co-pay, or benefits, for example — the policy would not be grandfathered.

Buried in Obamacare regulations from July 2010 is an estimate that because of normal turnover in the individual insurance market, “40 to 67 percent” of customers will not be able to keep their policy. And because many policies will have been changed since the key date, “the percentage of individual market policies losing grandfather status in a given year exceeds the 40 to 67 percent range.”

That means the administration knew that more than 40 to 67 percent of those in the individual market would not be able to keep their plans, even if they liked them.

Yet President Obama, who had promised in 2009, “if you like your health plan, you will be able to keep your health plan,” was still saying in 2012, “If [you] already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance.”

“This says that when they made the promise, they knew half the people in this market outright couldn’t keep what they had and then they wrote the rules so that others couldn’t make it either,” said  Robert Laszewski, of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, a consultant who works for health industry firms. Laszewski estimates that 80 percent of those in the individual market will not be able to keep their current policies and will have to buy insurance that meets requirements of the new law, which generally requires a richer package of benefits than most policies today.

The White House does not dispute that many in the individual market will lose their current coverage, but argues they will be offered better coverage in its place, and that many will get tax subsidies that would offset any increased costs. “One of the main goals of the law is to ensure that people have insurance they can rely on – that doesn’t discriminate or charge more based on pre-existing conditions.  The consumers who are getting notices are in plans that do not provide all these protections – but in the vast majority of cases, those same insurers will automatically shift their enrollees to a plan that provides new consumer protections and, for nearly half of individual market enrollees, discounts through premium tax credits,” said White House spokesperson Jessica Santillo.

Individual insurance plans with low premiums often lack basic benefits, such as prescription drug coverage, or carry high deductibles and out-of-pocket costs. The Affordable Care Act requires all companies to offer more benefits, such as mental health care, and also bars companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions.

 Today, White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked about the president’s promise that consumers would be able to keep their health care. “What the president said and what everybody said all along is that there are going to be changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act to create minimum standards of coverage, minimum services that every insurance plan has to provide,” Carney said. “So it’s true that there are existing healthcare plans on the individual market that don’t meet those minimum standards and therefore do not qualify for the Affordable Care Act.”
Courtesy of Heather Goldwater

Heather Goldwater, 38, of South Carolina, says that she received a letter from her insurer saying the company would no longer offer her plan, but hasn’t yet received a follow-up letter with a comparable option.

Other experts said that most consumers in the individual market will not be able to keep their policies. Nancy Thompson, senior vice president of CBIZ Benefits, which helps companies manage their employee benefits, says numbers in this market are hard to pin down, but that data from states and carriers suggests “anywhere from 50 to 75 percent” of individual policy holders will get cancellation letters. Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, who chairs the health committee of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, says that estimate is “probably about right.” She added that a few states are asking insurance companies to cancel and replace policies, rather than just amend them, to avoid confusion.

A spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), an insurance trade association, also said the 50 to 75 percent estimate was consistent with the range they are hearing.

Those getting the cancellation letters are often shocked and unhappy.

George Schwab, 62, of North Carolina, said he was “perfectly happy” with his plan from Blue Cross Blue Shield, which also insured his wife for a $228 monthly premium. But this past September, he was surprised to receive a letter saying his policy was no longer available. The “comparable” plan the insurance company offered him carried a $1,208 monthly premium and a $5,500 deductible.

And the best option he’s found on the exchange so far offered a 415 percent jump in premium, to $948 a month.

“The deductible is less,” he said, “But the plan doesn’t meet my needs. Its unaffordable.”

“I’m sitting here looking at this, thinking we ought to just pay the fine and just get insurance when we’re sick,” Schwab added. “Everybody’s worried about whether the website works or not, but that’s fixable. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. This stuff isn’t fixable.”

Heather Goldwater, 38, of South Carolina, is raising a new baby while running her own PR firm. She said she received a letter last July from Cigna, her insurance company, that said the company would no longer offer her individual plan, and promised to send a letter by October offering a comparable option. So far, she hasn’t received anything.

“I’m completely overwhelmed with a six-month-old and a business,” said Goldwater. “The last thing I can do is spend hours poring over a website that isn’t working, trying to wrap my head around this entire health care overhaul.”

 Goldwater said she supports the new law and is grateful for provisions helping folks like her with pre-existing conditions, but she worries she won’t be able to afford the new insurance, which is expected to cost more because it has more benefits. “I’m jealous of people who have really good health insurance,” she said. “It’s people like me who are stuck in the middle who are going to get screwed.”

Richard Helgren, a Lansing, Mich., retiree, said he was “irate” when he received a letter informing him that his wife Amy’s $559 a month health plan was being changed because of the law. The plan the insurer offered raised his deductible from $0 to $2,500, and the company gave him 17 days to decide.

The higher costs spooked him and his wife, who have painstakingly planned for their retirement years. “Every dollar we didn’t plan for erodes our standard of living,” Helgren said.

Ulltimately, though Helgren opted not to shop through the ACA exchanges, he was able to apply for a good plan with a slightly lower premium through an insurance agent.

He said he never believed President Obama’s promise that people would be able to keep their current plans.

“I heard him only about a thousand times,” he said. “I didn’t believe him when he said it though because there was just no way that was going to happen. They wrote the regulations so strictly that none of the old polices can grandfather.”

For months, Laszewski has warned that some consumers will face sticker shock. He recently got his own notice that he and his wife cannot keep their current policy, which he described as one of the best, so-called “Cadillac” plans offered for 2013. Now, he said, the best comparable plan he found for 2014 has a smaller doctor network, larger out-of-pocket costs, and a 66 percent premium increase.

“Mr. President, I like the coverage I have,” Laszweski said. “It is the best health insurance policy you can buy.”

Obama, the puppet master.

Ann Compton

Obama, the puppet master.

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By JIM VANDEHEI and MIKE ALLEN | 2/18/13 10:29 PM EST

President Barack Obama is a master at limiting, shaping and manipulating media coverage of himself and his White House.

Not for the reason that conservatives suspect: namely, that a liberal press willingly and eagerly allows itself to get manipulated. Instead, the mastery mostly flows from a White House that has taken old tricks for shaping coverage (staged leaks, friendly interviews) and put them on steroids using new ones (social media, content creation, precision targeting). And it’s an equal opportunity strategy: Media across the ideological spectrum are left scrambling for access.

The results are transformational. With more technology, and fewer resources at many media companies, the balance of power between the White House and press has tipped unmistakably toward the government. This is an arguably dangerous development, and one that the Obama White House — fluent in digital media and no fan of the mainstream press — has exploited cleverly and ruthlessly. And future presidents from both parties will undoubtedly copy and expand on this approach.

“The balance of power used to be much more in favor of the mainstream press,” said Mike McCurry, who was press secretary to President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Nowadays, he said, “The White House gets away with stuff I would never have dreamed of doing. When I talk to White House reporters now, they say it’s really tough to do business with people who don’t see the need to be cooperative.”

McCurry and his colleagues in the Clinton White House were hardly above putting their boss in front of gentle questions: Clinton and Vice President Al Gore often preferred the safety of “Larry King Live” to the rhetorical combat of the briefing room. But Obama and his aides have raised it to an art form: The president has shut down interviews with many of the White House reporters who know the most and ask the toughest questions. Instead, he spends way more time talking directly to voters via friendly shows and media personalities. Why bother with The New York Times beat reporter when Obama can go on “The View”?

At the same time, this White House has greatly curtailed impromptu moments where reporters can ask tough questions after a staged event — or snap a picture of the president that was not shot by government-paid photographers.

The frustrated Obama press corps neared rebellion this past holiday weekend when reporters and photographers were not even allowed onto the Floridian National GolfClub, where Obama was golfing. That breached the tradition of the pool “holding” in the clubhouse and often covering — and even questioning — the president on the first and last holes.

Obama boasted Thursday during a Google+ Hangout from the White House: “This is the most transparent administration in history.” The people who cover him day to day see it very differently.

“The way the president’s availability to the press has shrunk in the last two years is a disgrace,” said ABC News White House reporter Ann Compton, who has covered every president back to Gerald R. Ford. “The president’s day-to-day policy development — on immigration, on guns — is almost totally opaque to the reporters trying to do a responsible job of covering it. There are no readouts from big meetings he has with people from the outside, and many of them aren’t even on his schedule. This is different from every president I covered. This White House goes to extreme lengths to keep the press away.”

Guess who refused to help the Americans in Benghazi?

Petraeus Throws Obama Under the Bus

6:05 PM, OCT 26, 2012    • BY WILLIAM KRISTOL

Breaking news on Benghazi: the CIA spokesman, presumably at the direction of CIA director David Petraeus, has put out this statement: “No one at any level in the CIA told anybody not to help those in need; claims to the contrary are simply inaccurate. ”

So who in the government did tell “anybody” not to help those in need? Someone decided not to send in military assets to help those Agency operators. Would the secretary of defense make such a decision on his own? No.

It would have been a presidential decision. There was presumably a rationale for such a decision. What was it? When and why—and based on whose counsel obtained in what meetings or conversations—did President Obama decide against sending in military assets to help the Americans in need?

Read how the White House refuses to answer any questions.

(CNSNews.com) – The White House is declining to say when President Barack Obama first learned of three e-mails that the State Department sent to the White House on Sept. 11, 2012, directly notifying the Executive Office of the President that the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was under attack, that U.S. Amb. Chris Stevens was at the Benghazi mission at the time of the attack, and that the group Ansar al-Sharia had taken credit for the attack.

The White House also declined to say when the president first met with the National Security Council after the Benghazi attack.

“I have been asked by one of our spokespeople to relay ‘that we decline to comment,’” said White House National Security Staff aide Debbie Bird in a written response to CNSNews.com.

CNSNews.com had asked Bird: 1) “When did the President first meet with the National Security Council after the Benghazi attack on 9/11/12?” 2) “When did White House staff first discuss the substance of the e-mails that went to the White House with the President or with the National Security Advisor?”

Carney also took a question about the e-mails today during a press gaggle held aboard Air Force One at 9:34 a.m. A reporter asked: “Jay, there are some emails that have emerged, which suggest that the White House and other areas of the government were told within hours of the Benghazi attack that an extremist group had claimed responsibility. How is that compatible with the idea that it was a spontaneous attack?”

Carney downplayed the significance of the State Department emails.

“There were emails about all sorts of information that was becoming available in the aftermath of the attack,” Carney said. “The email you’re referring to was an open-source, unclassified email referring to an assertion made on a social media site that everyone in this room had access to and knew about instantaneously. There was a variety of information coming in.

“The whole point of an intelligence community and what they do is to assess strands of information and make judgments about what happened and who was responsible,” said Carney, “and I would refer you to what we’ve already said about, and what the DNI [Director of National Intelligence] has already said about, the initial assessments of the intelligence community, and the fact that throughout this process, I and others made very clear that our preliminary assessments were preliminary, that an investigation was underway, and that as more facts became available, we would make the American people aware of them.

“Again,” said Carney, “this was an open-source, unclassified email about a posting on a Facebook site. I would also note I think that within a few hours, that organization itself claimed that it had not been responsible. Neither should be taken as fact. That’s why there’s an investigation underway.”

The NSC is chaired by the president, and includes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. A NSC meeting would allow the leader of the intelligence community to communicate directly with the leader of the State Department in the presence of the president and for all of them to weigh any conflicting information.

The three emails in question, which were obtained by CBS News, were sent by the State Department to various government officials, including two officials in the Executive Office of the President, on Sept. 11, 2012, while the attack on the Benghazi was taking place and immediately after it had taken place.