Sunday, November 24, 2013

Global Warming

Global Warming Is Very Real
(By Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone, September 12, 2013)

On September 27th, a group of international scientists associated with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will gather in an old brick brewery in Stockholm and proclaim with near certainty that human activity is altering the planet in profound ways. The IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report offers slam-dunk evidence that burning fossil fuels is the cause of most of the temperature increases of recent decades, and warn that sea levels could rise by almost three feet by the end of the century if we don't change our ways. The report will underscore that the basic facts about climate change are more established than ever, and that the consequences of escalating carbon pollution are likely to mean that, as The New York Times recently argued, "babies being born now could live to see the early stages of a global calamity."

A leaked draft of the report points out that the link between fossil-fuel burning and climate change is already observable: "It is extremely likely that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010. There is high confidence that this has warmed the ocean, melted snow and ice, raised global mean sea level and changed some climate extremes in the second half of the 20th century." If you look beyond the tables and charts and graphs that fill the reports, you can see the Arctic vanishing, great cities like Miami and Shanghai drowning, droughts causing famine in Africa, and millions of refugees fleeing climate-related catastrophes. Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the IPCC, recently told a group of climate scientists that if we want to avoid this fate, governments must act now to cut carbon pollution: "We have five minutes before midnight."

But, of course, this is nothing new. In 2007, when the IPCC released its Fourth Assessment Report, it was also nearly certain that human activity was heating up the planet, with grave consequences for our future well-being. And six years before that, when the IPCC released its Third Assessment, scientists were pretty certain about it too. But phrases like "high confidence" in warming do not, to the unscientific ear, inspire high confidence in the report's finding, since they imply the existence of doubt, no matter how slight. And in the climate wars, "Doubt is what deniers thrive on and exploit," says Bob Watson, who was head of the IPCC from 1997 to 2002. The final report has not even been released yet, and already prominent bloggers in the denial-sphere, like Anthony Watts, are calling it "stillborn."  But perhaps the most significant thing about the new IPCC report is not the scientific findings. It's that the release of the report may actually mark the beginning of a new phase of the climate wars – one in which scientists and activists learn to fight back.
The IPCC, which was founded in 1988 by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization, is the world's leading authority on climate science. Deniers like to characterize it as a big, faceless bureaucracy – but in fact it's a tiny agency. The entire organization is housed on the eighth floor of the WMO offices in Geneva and has only 12 full-time employees, with an annual budget of a measly $9 million. The agency doesn't do any research on its own – its role is simply to assess and interpret scientific, technical and economic data. All of the actual work – the assessments themselves – is written by scientists around the world, who volunteer their time to distill information from thousands of studies and academic papers. As climate science has gotten more complex, the reports have ballooned. The Fourth Assessment was more than 3,000 pages long and was toiled over by more than 800 scientists and 2,500 expert reviewers – the Fifth Assessment is likely to be even bigger. These reports, which are issued every five or six years, are broken into three sections: Working Group I, which covers the physical science of climate change, will be released this month; Working Group II, which explores the impacts of rising carbon pollution on nature and human life, will be released next March; Working Group III, which analyzes various scenarios to cut carbon pollution, is due in April. Finally, a synthesis report that tries to pull it all together in a brief summary will be published next fall.

When scientists undertook the first IPCC assessment in the late 1980s, the assumption was that if they got the facts right, politicians would take action. "In the beginning, the purpose of the reports was to provide the fundamentals for a global climate agreement," says Watson. The first report, issued in 1990, led to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the international treaty that was the foundation for a global agreement. The second report, which came out in 1995, was supposed to be the basis for the Kyoto Protocol. But Kyoto, of course, was DOA, in part because it was never ratified by the U.S.
Global Warming's Terrifying New Math

Deniers have always been cranked up about the IPCC, in part because of the black-helicopter paranoia of many conservatives who see climate change as a U.N. plot to take away freedom. And from the beginning, they have fought dirty, attacking not just the science but the scientists themselves. After the IPCC released its Second Assessment in 1995, the deniers were not happy that the report directly linked global warming with the burning of fossil fuels ("The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate"). So they attacked one of the lead authors of the report, Ben Santer, an atmospheric scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. A fossil-fuel-industry-funded group called the Global Climate Coalition accused Santer of removing mention of uncertainties in the chapter to make global warming appear more certain than it was. Later investigations found that Santer's so-called scientific cleansing involved little more than clarifying language suggested by fellow scientists. "Nothing in my scientific training prepared me for what I faced in the aftermath of that report," Santer says now. One night years later, he opened his front door and found a dead rat on his porch. In the street, he watched a yellow Hummer drive off, the driver yelling obscenities at him.
As the prominence of climate change grew and the evidence became stronger, attacks escalated. In 2009, just weeks before the Copenhagen climate summit, hackers broke into the servers of the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit in the U.K. and publicly posted hundreds of private e-mails from climate scientists involved with the IPCC's Fourth Assessment report. Deniers seized on these messages, taking a few barbed comments out of context (in one, for instance, Santer wrote that if he ran into Pat Michaels – a well-known shill for the fossil­fuel industry – he would "be tempted to beat the crap out of him") and claimed they now had their smoking gun, proof of a global conspiracy among scientists to keep out information that didn't fit their thesis that the Earth was warming. The substance of the e-mails was subsequently investigated by five agencies, all of whom cleared scientists of any professional or personal misconduct. And not surprisingly, the hackers who broke into the East Anglia servers and stole the e-mails were never found.

"For a lot of scientists, ClimateGate was a real awakening," says Naomi Oreskes, a science historian at Harvard and co-author of Merchants of Doubt, which chronicles the fossil-fuel industry's long battle to undermine climate science. "It was clear that if you were going to work on climate change, you were a public figure. And it was no longer enough to just do the science. You also had to go out and explain it to people – and defend it." By then, Santer reports, he was receiving countless death threats.  "Most of the world does not have a problem with denial of climate change," says Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. "It's only an issue in Australia, Canada and, most significantly, the United States." Although the U.S. population as a whole is moving toward accepting the reality of climate change, Congress remains a scientific backwater. One recent analysis by the Center for American Progress found that almost a third of the 535 members of the House and Senate are climate deniers. Not coincidentally, those 161 reps have taken more than $54 million in political contributions from the fossil-fuel industry.

But lately, climate activists are less shy about calling out deniers. Organizing for Action, the successor of President Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, recently created the Congressional Climate Change Awards, honoring 135 members of Congress, including Dana Rohrabacher, Steve King and House Speaker John Boehner, for "exceptional extremism and ignoring the overwhelming judgment of science." And of course it doesn't hurt that President Obama has broken his silence about climate change and seems determined to make it part of his agenda in the second term.
But the biggest change is in the public profile of scientists themselves. Leading the charge is Michael Mann, an IPCC veteran and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State, who has become a presence on TV talk shows and is author of a must-read book about the politics of climate science, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. Mann is taking the unprecedented step of suing the conservative National Review for defamation after the magazine's blog quoted a story that called Mann "the Jerry Sandusky of climate science" because he "molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science."  Mann can't talk about the pending lawsuit, but he points out that "concerted industry-funded attacks on our science" by deniers have mobilized many scientists to fight back. In Mann's view, ClimateGate and other denier campaigns are deliberately designed to erode the credibility of scientists: "Public polling shows that scientists are among the most trusted messengers around when it comes to issues such as climate change," Mann says. "So clearly this was an effort by fossil-fuel-industry front groups and advocates to go right at that. It was a deeply cynical effort to undermine the public faith in scientists and science."

The war over the IPCC's fifth assessment officially got under way in August, after a draft report of the "Summary for Policymakers" of the Working Group I report was leaked to the media. Deniers immediately seized on two issues to create controversy and undercut the findings of the report.  The first has to do with "equilibrium climate sensitivity," which is the amount the climate is likely to warm in response to rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere. In a leaked draft of the Fifth Assessment, scientists slightly lowered the range of possible warming from the previous assessment. Some media outlets – including The Economist, which should have known better – seized on this data to suggest that this is "one sign [that] suggests [the new assessment] might be less terrifying than it could have been." In fact, as prominent climate blogger Joe Romm pointed out, these arcane, highly technical numbers are "far less interesting and consequential subject than the fact that we are headed way, way past [emissions targets] or that the real-world slow feedbacks are expected to make a very big contribution to warming this century." To put it another way: In the real world, climate sensitivity means zip.
But that's how the denier game works: They seize on small errors and inconsequential factual inconsistencies in a piece of climate research and use it to discredit the science and reassure people that climate change is no big deal. In the 2007 Assessment, for instance, the authors and reviewers overlooked a sentence that asserted Himalayan glaciers would vanish by 2035 – an obvious misstatement, which deniers seized and used to suggest that the entire assessment was bunk. "You didn't have to be a scientist to know that's not true," says Watson. "It was simply an error that slipped through, and deniers tried to use it to invalidate the findings of the entire report." It's like finding a misspelling in the Manhattan phone book and then declaring the whole book useless.

The second issue that has come up is the question of a "hiatus," or pause in surface-temperature warming. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, winner of a climate-denier award from Texas green groups, recently proclaimed that "there has been no recorded warming since 1998." Not exactly, Ted. According to the IPCC draft report, the rate of warming at the planet's surface is lower over the past 15 years, but warming has not stopped. In fact, since the 1950s, each successive decade has been hotter than the last, and the 2000s were the hottest decade since modern record-keeping began in 1880. Scientists have a variety of explanations for this, including the fact that more heat is being transferred deeper into the ocean and that volcanic eruptions have blocked sunlight. "We never expected warming to be linear," says Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

To former IPCC chair Watson, it is crucial that these criticisms not go unanswered. "The IPCC needs to have an answer for this," he says. "They need to be prepared." But in Santer's view, climate science is rapidly approaching the point where it is immune to these kinds of critiques: "Up until now, the criticism has been that climate science is like a house of cards, and if you pull out one or two sets of data, it all collapses. That narrative has been refuted. The Fifth Assessment shows that warming has a physical and internal consistency – it's warming in the deep ocean, in the intermediate ocean and in the lower atmosphere. Sea level is rising. Arctic sea ice is retreating. The observational evidence for human-caused warming is overwhelming, compelling and irrefutable."
Why We Can't Count on Evolution to Counterbalance Climate Change

That may be true, says Oreskes, "but if there is one thing we have learned in recent years, it's that climate change is not just a scientific problem. It is also a political, social and cultural problem." According to Yale's Leiserowitz, it's also a problem that four in 10 people in the world have never heard of. "If you can reach them, you can convince them," says Leiserowitz. But it is going to take more than a few well-written press releases and a spiffy website: "Think about what a company like Coke does when they are launching a new product in the world," says Leiserowitz. "They spend a billion dollars doing market research, crafting ads, targeting their audience. They know that is what it takes to cut through the media clutter today. So far, the climate movement hasn't come close to thinking about how to communicate on that scale."
For better or worse, this Fifth Assessment may be the last grand climate-science report from the IPCC. "I think these reports have outgrown their usefulness," says David Keith, a Harvard professor who recently resigned as an author of the Fifth Assessment, echoing the view of other top scientists. "If it were gone, scientists might reorganize themselves in a more effective way."  In a more rational world, of course, we wouldn't need any more IPCC assessments. We would have listened to the scientists, built a global consensus and forged international agreements to reduce carbon pollution and head off the risk of climate catastrophe. But in the 25 years since the IPCC was formed, global carbon pollution is rising faster than ever. Future readers may view IPCC reports not as landmarks of scientific inquiry, but as suicide notes from a lost civilization.

Fact-Checking The Global Warming Deniers
(By Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone, September 12, 2013)

Beware of these oft-repeated talking points. None of them are true

1. There's more ice in Antarctica than ever.
The past few years have seen an expansion of Antarctica's coastal ice sheets – a byproduct, ironically, of climate change, which has brought increased snow and rainfall to the continent. Meanwhile, Antarctica's inland ice sheets are melting at an alarming rate – 1,350 billion tons of ice disappeared into the ocean between 1992 and 2011. And that rate is increasing, fueling global rises in sea level.

2. The climate may be changing, but human activity has nothing to do with it.
Many skeptics claim that ice ages have come and gone over the millennia, and global warming is no different. But those earlier climate shifts were caused by phenomena like changes in the Earth's orbit. The current rise in global temperatures has coincided with a nearly 40 percent rise in CO2 levels over the past 150 years.
3. Whatever happens, we can adapt.
True, perhaps, for rich countries. But the worst impacts of climate change – drought, famine, disease – will disproportionately strike the poorest nations. And even the well-off will be hit hard: Between 2011 and 2012, the U.S. government dished out more than $100 billion in climate-related emergency spending.

4. The pace of warming has slowed significantly in the past 15 years.
This may be true for the Earth's surface, but, according to NASA's Josh Willis, it doesn't tell the whole story, because "over 90 percent of the heat trapped by global warming is going into the oceans."


Nora Ephron

The Most Of Nora Ephron
(Reviewed by Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post, 15 November 2013)

"A couple of years before Nora's death in 2012," Robert Gottlieb writes in his brief introduction to this collection, "she and I sat down to begin putting together the table of contents for this book. Then other things got in the way - her play, 'Lucky Guy'; a movie script she was working on - and it was set aside. Perhaps, too, knowing how ill she was, she began to see the book as a memorial and that made her uncomfortable - she never said. But although I was aware of her dire medical situation, the original impulse behind the book was not to memorialize but to celebrate the richness of her work, the amazing arc of her career, and the place she had come to hold in the hearts of so many readers."

Ephron - I knew her very slightly and liked her very much - died in June of last year at the age of 71, though it's awfully difficult to picture her as that old. She had been diagnosed six years earlier with acute myeloid leukemia but died after contracting pneumonia, an infection to which leukemia patients are susceptible and against which many of them have little resistance. Apparently she faced her illness with the same humor and grit she brought to any undertaking, but she never wrote directly about it, at least not for public consumption. There are hints of her condition in the last pieces here, "What I Won't Miss" and "What I Will Miss," but it's telling that these were published in November 2010, nearly two years before her death; I assume that her final months were spent polishing "Lucky Guy," which opened on Broadway this year and is enjoying what looks to be a long run.

The combination of her preoccupation with the play and her reluctance to become deeply involved in the organization of this collection left that task largely in the hands of Gottlieb, whose long and noteworthy career at Knopf included editing most of her previous books. "I think I know what she would have wanted this book to be," he says, "and her family allowed me to shape it." The result is not an omnium gatherum - more on that in a moment - but "a portrait of a writer, a log of a writer's career, and an unofficial - and unintended - report on feminism in her time." We see her here as "a reporter, a profilist, a novelist, a screenwriter, a playwright, a memoirist, and a (wicked) blogger - blogging came along just in time for her to lash out fiercely at the bad old days of Bush/Cheney."

"The Most of Nora Ephron" has nine sections. "The Journalist" includes her funny and affectionate memoir of her apprenticeship at the New York Post and, among others, her devastating takedown of Theodore H. White, maestro of the "Making of the President" books. "The Advocate" is notable for her commencement address to the Class of 1996 at Wellesley College, her alma mater. "The Profiler: Some Women" has pieces about Dorothy Parker, Jan Morris, Helen Gurley Brown and others. "The Novelist," "The Playwright" and "The Screenwriter" include, respectively, "Heartburn," "Lucky Guy" and "When Harry Met Sally." "The Foodie" takes on Gourmet magazine and the "Food Establishment," the section's two highlights. "The Blogger" covers a number of pieces she wrote in the previous decade for the Huffington Post. Finally, "Personal" will please her most devoted readers because it includes two of her most famous pieces, "A Few Words About Breasts" and "I Feel Bad About My Neck."

I mention the Wellesley address not merely because it is very good as such things go but because it gives us a clue to where she was as this collection was being assembled. She told the new graduates, "This is something ... I want to tell you, one of the hundreds of things I didn't know when I was sitting here so many years ago: you are not going to be you, fixed and immutable you, forever." Amen. She continued:

"We have a game we play when we're waiting for tables in restaurants, where you have to write the five things that describe yourself on a piece of paper. When I was your age, I would have put: ambitious, Wellesley graduate, daughter, Democrat, single. Ten years later not one of those things turned up on my list: journalist, feminist, New Yorker, divorced, funny. Today not one of those five things turns up on my list: writer, director, mother, sister, happy."

That was more than 17 years ago. It would be nice to know what the five things would have been in, say, 2010, but they surely would have included aging, the subject that comes to the fore in her later work, and probably there would have been some hint of her illness and her awareness of her mortality. She touches directly on aging and obliquely on mortality in "I Feel Bad About My Neck," "I Remember Nothing" and "The O Word" - the first being about the physical changes, none of them for the better, that affect all of us of both sexes as we grow older; the second about the irritating memory lapses to which we geriatrics are susceptible; the third simply about getting on in years, the "O Word" being, of course, "old."

In her life as in many others, the trend can be tracked from young, ambitious and unencumbered, to middle-aged, settled and responsible, to aging, regretful, resigned. Gottlieb, who is now more than 10 years older than Ephron was when she died, seems to have made his selections for this volume with the last of these outlooks in mind, though probably he did so instinctively rather than deliberately. Whatever the explanation for it, "The Most of Nora Ephron" tends to emphasize the serious side of her and play down the funny side, just as she eliminated "funny" after her second round of listmaking. This is fine, but it means that this book, in which, according to its dust wrapper, "everything you could possibly want from Nora Ephron is here," is by no means as inclusive as readers who know her work well would expect. Most notably and grievously, it reduces to little more than token representation her first three books of journalism: "Wallflower at the Orgy" (1970), "Crazy Salad" (1975) and "Scribble Scribble" (1978).

No doubt my bias is strongly influenced by my own long career in journalism and my fondness for mordant wit, but I think these are Ephron's best books. Nearly a decade ago, writing about "Crazy Salad" in my Second Reading series, I said: "At the time Ephron started movie work, I thought that Hollywood's gain was journalism's loss, and a rereading of all three of her collections leaves me even more firmly convinced of that." Nothing in "The Most of Nora Ephron" persuades me that I was wrong. Everything in this volume is all good for the simple reason that she wrote it, but too much is missing and some of what's included is less durable than Gottlieb obviously believes it to be. Though Ephron's wit is much on display in the 24 blog posts herein published, their evanescence is palpable, and by the same token the absence of some of the best pieces from those first three books is equally so.

Thus we do have her withering piece from "Scribble Scribble" about Dorothy Schiff, owner of the New York Post for part of Ephron's stay there, but we do not have "People Magazine," "Brendan Gill and The New Yorker" or "The Sperling Breakfast," each a small classic, from the same book. We have "The Food Establishment" from "Wallflower at the Orgy" but not "The Fountainhead Revisited" or "A Rhinestone in a Trash Can and 'The Love Machine' Phenomenon of J. Susann," from the same. We have "A Few Words About Breasts" and "Dorothy Parker" from "Crazy Salad," but not "Rose Mary Woods - the Lady or the Tiger" or "Crazy Ladies II," her remarkably empathetic snapshot of Martha Mitchell, also from the same.  Yes, I know, a book can only be so long, and choices have to be made. Some good choices went into the making of "The Most of Nora Ephron," and people who love her work will want to have it on their shelves. But be grateful that those first three books are all still in print, because when it comes to Nora Ephron, they are the sine qua non.

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: Discussions, Full Text And Analysis

150 Years After The Gettysburg Address, Is Government By The People In Trouble?
(By Drew Gilpin Faust, Washington Post, 24 November 2013)

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Civil War is that it was fought at all. Even when sectional discord culminated in Southern secession in the winter of 1860-61, many Americans remained confident that military conflict could be avoided. Sen. James Chesnut of South Carolina dismissed talk of war by pledging to drink whatever blood might be shed. And in his March 1861 inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln insisted that “there needs to be no bloodshed or violence; and there shall be none, unless it be forced upon the national authority.”  Even those who did expect armed conflict thought hostilities would be brief and losses minor.  At the war’s outset, it seemed almost unimaginable that the North would be willing to fight so long and hard to keep the Southern states in the Union. Confederate military strategy in fact came to rest on an assumption that the North would not sustain its commitment to war in the face of escalating sacrifice. Gen. Robert E. Lee’s search for the decisive battle, his invasions of the North, the Confederacy’s eager anticipation of Lincoln’s electoral defeat in 1864 — all represented a costly and fatal underestimation of the commitment of some 2.2 million Northern soldiers, overwhelmingly volunteers, to the preservation of the Union.

With the inevitability of hindsight, with the nation preserved and projected toward the global leadership we have come to take for granted, we rarely consider that the North might in the mid-19th century have made a different decision, might have let the South secede or perhaps have negotiated a peace in the face of Confederate military successes during the war’s early years. And those millions of Yankee soldiers might have proved unwilling to fight.  Today our military includes only 1 percent of our population. Could we mobilize the equivalent of the Union army? In 1860, the Northern states had 22 million inhabitants; 10 percent of them served; more than 360,000 of them died, offering what Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.” Would 31 million of our 314 million inhabitants be willing to risk their lives for the nation today? What cause, what circumstances, would motivate them?

Except during Lee’s two brief incursions into the North, Union soldiers of the 1860s were not fending off an invasion or protecting their homes and firesides. Many came from towns and farms at great distances from the Confederacy, from Wisconsin or Michigan or Vermont or Maine. But they came to understand themselves as fighting for something at once more abstract, more selfless, more transcendent and more powerful than their self-interest. We should, to borrow Lincoln’s words uttered 150 years ago this Tuesday, “never forget what they did” and why they did it. Never forget the still-unfinished work they so nobly advanced. Never forget why they chose — and yes, it was for almost all a choice — to fight.  And we must not forget why that leaves a legacy of responsibility for all of us.

I often wonder if the North would have fought, if the ranks would have filled, if there had been a different president — one less able to articulate the war’s meaning and purposes with an eloquence that grew alongside the war’s costs and sacrifices. The song “We Are Coming Father Abra’am, 300,000 More,” popularized after Lincoln’s appeal for additional volunteers in 1862, captures the way in which his call upon the people came to represent the national imperative in the public mind. Could his predecessor in the White House, James Buchanan, have mobilized 2.2 million men?

Lincoln’s rhetoric and, more important, the ideals that rhetoric embodied evolved from the first inaugural address, with its invocation of ties that bound the young nation together in memory and hope, to the Gettysburg Address, with its definition of the war’s true meaning and the nation’s fundamental identity and mission. His language offered to lift Americans above what they might otherwise understand themselves to be, to invest them in the work of saving a nation that was, as he put it in his annual message to Congress in 1862, “the last, best hope of Earth.”  In the course of the war, Lincoln succeeded in defining the American project — what it was, why it mattered and what it required of citizens. As efforts to establish and sustain democracy failed around the world, as Europe turned back toward despotism after the failed revolutions of 1848, government conceived in liberty seemed increasingly imperiled. America’s war was not just about America.

Secession, Lincoln proclaimed in a message to Congress in July 1861, threatened “more than the fate of these United States.” It involved “the whole family of man” in its challenge to “a government of the people, by the same people.” What was at risk was “free government upon the Earth.”  The war, he went on, was “essentially a people’s contest. On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world that form and substance of government whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men — to lift artificial weights from all shoulders — to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all, to afford all an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life. . . . I am most happy to believe that the plain people understand and appreciate this.” 

And Lincoln made sure they did. Here in the first summer of the war were the germs of the ideas and ideals that 28 months and tens of thousands of Union deaths later became the Gettysburg Address. But by the fall of 1863, those deaths had brought something new to Lincoln’s understanding and his language. The terrible reality of war’s suffering had come to require that the nation for which so much had been sacrificed be more than just a promise or a hope, even a “last, best hope.” At Gettysburg, Lincoln demanded that the uncountable number of lost lives be rendered purposeful, worth their expense of blood and pain. Now, in 1863, he chose active words such as “dedicate” and “resolve,” words far more compelling than “hope.”  There must be a benefit, he insisted, for the price already paid, a benefit commensurate with the war’s terrible cost, a cost that at the outset no one had expected.

With the sense of obligation in his juxtaposition of three uses of “shall” — “shall not have died in vain,” “shall have a new birth of freedom,” “shall not perish” — Lincoln conveyed the significance of the expanded purposes of the war. It was no longer just about the union, about national survival; it was now about a particular sort of union, a better, freer nation than those in 1861 could have imagined. The struggle had not begun as a war to end slavery; only gradually did emancipation emerge as a purpose of Union victory.  Lincoln urged his audience at Gettysburg to persevere in the “unfinished work” before them. Another fearful year and a half of war lay ahead, with yet again as many deaths to come. But Appomattox would not end the work he envisioned. It was the obligations of freedom and nationhood as well as those of war that he urged upon his audience. Seizing the full meaning of liberty and equality still lay ahead.

These are responsibilities that belong to us still. Yet on the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s immortal speech, where is our stewardship of that legacy? After beginning a new fiscal year by shutting down the government, we are far from modeling to the world why our — or any — democracy should be viewed as the “best hope” for humankind. The world sees in the United States the rapid growth of inequality; the erosion of educational opportunity and social mobility that “afford all an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life”; the weakening of voting rights hard-won over a century of post-Reconstruction struggle.  Is this the nation, the “proposition” to which Lincoln demanded we be dedicated? We can never forget what brave Americans did at Gettysburg, and at Shiloh and Antietam and the Wilderness and on so many battlefields since. But is it not now altogether fitting and proper that we heed Lincoln’s exhortation and rededicate ourselves to honoring those dead by ensuring that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth?

Drew Gilpin Faust, the president of Harvard University, is a historian and author of “This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War.”

Retraction For Our 1863 Editorial Calling Gettysburg Address 'Silly Remarks'
(By Patriot-News Editorial Board The Patriot-News& Matt Zencey, November 17, 2013)

The Patriot & Union devoted all of one paragraph to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: "We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them, and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of."  Seven score and ten years ago, the forefathers of this media institution brought forth to its audience a judgment so flawed, so tainted by hubris, so lacking in the perspective history would bring, that it cannot remain unaddressed in our archives.
We write today in reconsideration of “The Gettysburg Address,” delivered by then-President Abraham Lincoln in the midst of the greatest conflict seen on American soil. Our predecessors, perhaps under the influence of partisanship, or of strong drink, as was common in the profession at the time, called President Lincoln’s words “silly remarks,” deserving “a veil of oblivion,” apparently believing it an indifferent and altogether ordinary message, unremarkable in eloquence and uninspiring in its brevity.

In the fullness of time, we have come to a different conclusion. No mere utterance, then or now, could do justice to the soaring heights of language Mr. Lincoln reached that day. By today’s words alone, we cannot exalt, we cannot hallow, we cannot venerate this sacred text, for a grateful nation long ago came to view those words with reverence, without guidance from this chagrined member of the mainstream media.  The world will little note nor long remember our emendation of this institution’s record – but we must do as conscience demands:
In the editorial about President Abraham Lincoln’s speech delivered Nov. 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, the Patriot & Union failed to recognize its momentous importance, timeless eloquence, and lasting significance. The Patriot-News regrets the error.


A Voice From The Dead
(Patriot & Union Editorial, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 1863)

We have read the oration of Mr. Everett. We have read the little speeches of President Lincoln, as reported for and published in his party press, and  we have read the remarks of the Hon. Secretary of State, Wm. H. Seward, all delivered on the occasion of dedicating the National Cemetery, a plot of ground set apart for the burial of the dead who fell at Gettysburg in the memorable strife which occurred there between the forces of the Federal Government and the troops of the Confederacy of seceded States. To say of Mr. Everett's oration that it rose to the height which the occasion demanded, or to say of the President's remarks that they fell below our expectations, would be alike false. Neither the orator nor the jester surprised or deceived us. Whatever may be Mr. Everett's failings he does not lack sense - whatever may be the President's virtues, he does not possess sense. Mr. Everett failed as an orator, because the occasion was a mockery, and he knew it, and the President succeeded, because he acted naturally, without sense and without constraint, in a panorama which was gotten up more for his benefit and the benefit of his party than for the glory of the nation and the honor of the dead. 
We can readily conceive that the thousands who went there went as mourners, to view the burial place of their dead, to consecrate, so far as human agency could, the ground in which the slain heroes of the nation, standing in relationship to them of fathers, husbands, brothers, or connected by even remoter ties of marriage or consanguinity, were to be interred. To them the occasion was solemn; with them the motive was honest, earnest and honorable. But how was it with the chief actors in the pageant, who had no dead buried, or to be buried there; from none of whose loins had sprung a solitary hero, living or dead, of this war which was  begotten of their fanaticism and has been ruled by their whims?

They stood there, upon that ground, not with hearts stricken with grief or elated by ideas of true glory, but coldly calculating the political advantages  which might be derived from the solemn ceremonies of the dedication. 
We will not include in this category of heartless men the orator of the day;  but evidently he was paralyzed by the knowledge that he was surrounded  by unfeeling, mercenary men, ready to sacrifice their country and the liberties of their countrymen for the base purpose of retaining power and accumulating wealth. Hi oration was therefore cold, insipid, unworthy the occasion and the man. 

We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation  we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall be no more repeated or thought of.
But the Secretary of State is a man of note. He it was who first fulminated the doctrine of the irrepressible conflict; and on the battle field and burial ground of Gettysburg he did not hesitate to re-open the bleeding wound, and proclaim anew the fearful doctrine that we are fighting all these bloody  battles, which have drenched our land in gore, to upset the Constitution, emancipate the negro and bind the white man in the chains of despotism.

On that ground which should have been sacred from the pollution of politics, even the highest magnate in the land, next to the President himself, did not hesitate to proclaim the political policy and fixed purpose of the administration; a policy which if adhered to will require more ground than Gettysburg to hold our dead, and which must end in the ruin of the nation. The dead of Gettysburg will speak from their tombs; they will raise their voices against this great wickedness and implore our rulers to discard from their councils the folly which is destroying us, and return to the wise doctrines of the Fathers, to the pleadings of Christianity, to the compromises of the Constitution, which can alone save us. Let our rulers hearken to the dead, if they will not to the living - for from every tomb  which covers a dead soldier, if they listen attentively they will hear a solemn sound invoking them to renounce partisanship for patriotism, and to save the country from the misery and desolation which, under their present policy, is inevitable.


The Gettysburg Address
(By Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 19, 1863)

On June 1, 1865, Senator Charles Sumner referred to the most famous speech ever given by President Abraham Lincoln. In his eulogy on the slain president, he called the Gettysburg Address a "monumental act." He said Lincoln was mistaken that "the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here." Rather, the Bostonian remarked, "The world noted at once what he said, and will never cease to remember it. The battle itself was less important than the speech."

There are five known copies of the speech in Lincoln's handwriting, each with a slightly different text, and named for the people who first received them: Nicolay, Hay, Everett, Bancroft and Bliss. Two copies apparently were written before delivering the speech; the remaining ones were produced months later for soldier benefit events. Despite widely-circulated stories to the contrary, the president did not dash off a copy aboard a train to Gettysburg. Lincoln carefully prepared his major speeches in advance; his steady, even script in every manuscript is consistent with a firm writing surface, not the notoriously bumpy Civil War-era trains. Additional versions of the speech appeared in newspapers of the era, feeding modern-day confusion about the authoritative text.

Bliss Copy
Ever since Lincoln wrote it in 1864, this version has been the most often reproduced, notably on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. It is named after Colonel Alexander Bliss, stepson of historian George Bancroft. Bancroft asked President Lincoln for a copy to use as a fundraiser for soldiers (see "Bancroft Copy" below). However, because Lincoln wrote on both sides of the paper, the speech could not be reprinted, so Lincoln made another copy at Bliss's request. It is the last known copy written by Lincoln and the only one signed and dated by him. Today it is on display at the Lincoln Room of the White House.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Nicolay Copy
Named for John G. Nicolay, President Lincoln's personal secretary, this is considered the "first draft" of the speech, begun in Washington on White house stationery. The second page is writen on different paper stock, indicating it was finished in Gettysburg before the cemetery dedication began. Lincoln gave this draft to Nicolay, who went to Gettysburg with Lincoln and witnessed the speech. The Library of Congress owns this manuscript.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal.”
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate – we can not consecrate – we can not hallow, this ground – The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.
It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Hay Copy
Believed to be the second draft of the speech, President Lincoln gave this copy to John Hay, a White House assistant. Hay accompanied Lincoln to Gettysburg and briefly referred to the speech in his diary: "the President, in a fine, free way, with more grace than is his wont, said his half dozen words of consecration." The Hay copy, which includes Lincoln's handwritten changes, also is owned by the Library of Congress.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met here on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here.
It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Everett Copy
Edward Everett, the chief speaker at the Gettysburg cemetery dedication, clearly was impressed by Lincoln's remarks and wrote to him the next day saying, "I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes." In 1864 Everett asked Lincoln for a copy of the speech to benefit Union soldiers, making it the third manuscript copy. Eventually the state of Illinois acquired it, where it's preserved at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate – we can not hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here, have, thus far, so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Bancroft Copy
As noted above, historian George Bancroft asked President Lincoln for a copy to use as a fundraiser for soldiers. When Lincoln sent his copy on February 29, 1864, he used both sides of the paper, rendering the manuscript useless for lithographic engraving. So Bancroft kept this copy and Lincoln had to produce an additional one (Bliss Copy). The Bancroft copy is now owned by Cornell University.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate – we can not hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Source for all versions: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy P. Basler and others.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Travel Agents

The Travel Agent Is Dead. Long Live The Travel Pro
(By Charlie Funk, Travel Weekly, 2 October 2013)
Have you noticed it too? Travel professionals are resurgent.  In the 2007 marketing plan we gave each of our suppliers, Sherrie and I stated that we believed online bookings that did not involve a live travel professional had peaked and traditional agents would be more involved in vacation decisions going forward.  Sure enough. It took a while, but travelers did begin seeking assistance of travel professionals again, a phenomenon noted by a fair number of reporting entities including CBS, CNN, Fodor's, Budget Travel, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Both PhoCusWright and Forrester Research detected steady growth in those leisure travelers who increasingly turn to travel professionals for guidance.
And to clarify, I'm referring to those travel professionals who help translate clients' ideas and dreams into reality in the form of a vacation that meets or exceeds expectations, not those who are primarily a booking- and payment-processing entity, a toll booth on the highway to a vacation.  Travelers are returning to travel professionals for four key reasons:

•Knowledge: Travel professionals have specialized knowledge of destinations, things to do, places to see, the best places to dine and more.
•Time: Consumers increasingly place a higher value on their time, where a five-minute call to a travel professional often avoids literally hours of mind-numbing online searches.

•Price: Travelers are more aware than ever that a travel professional has the same rates offered by a supplier.
•Advocacy: It turns out things go wrong on a trip: a missed flight, an unpleasant experience, an emergency during the trip and more snafus that require assistance. More and more, travelers have learned that without a travel pro, they are on their own.

These are the professionals who know they add value. Like the one who gives clients his unlisted phone number, charges a $100,000 fee to join and a $25,000 annual retainer. But they are also the ones who take calls at home, at 3 a.m., who take the time to counsel a client on what to do from the time they take the suitcase from under the bed until they put it back.
I've written here about the growing sense among this group that they must be in control of their business: how they go to market, how they develop and maintain their business model and which products they sell. Many have "taken a stand" to make their business profitable, even if it meant walking away from long-standing supplier partnerships.  Similarly, growing cadres of agency owners have decided that they don't have to do business with every person who calls or stops by. With increasing frequency I hear of and see reports from travel professionals telling of experiences with clients who just aren't a good fit for their business.

Many share common characteristics, the most frequent being a conversation that begins with, "What's your best deal on ..." I often wonder just how cheap a bad vacation has to be before someone can overlook all the problems and issues that arise from being price-driven, looking for the "best deal." More than a few agency owners tell me they have found that these bookings are typically very high-maintenance with zero loyalty.  Another frustration is working to find the best vacation value for a client only to have them book it direct with the supplier. More and more agencies have begun charging fees: some that are standalone and are not applied to subsequent bookings, others that can be applied. 
Perhaps the best example most recently involved a client who questioned the use of a travel agent when the same price was available direct and took exception to being charged a fee to make an airline reservation. This was, it would turn out, one of those final-straw situations.  In this case, the agency owner took the time to craft a 474-word email response to this "client" that touched on all the reasons mentioned above. It clearly set forth the benefits of using the agency's services. The part that I liked best was the closing. With the owner's permission, I quote it here:

"All that to say, if you are price-driven, and not motivated by good and reliable service or a corporate culture to go above and beyond for every single client, then I'm not the right travel agent for you anyway. We are grateful for the opportunity to have served you in the past, and we wish you the very best success and enjoyment in your future vacations."
That's right. The agency fired the client. Have you ever wanted to do that? It seems sometimes there just isn't another way to handle the situation.  What really prompted this column was the sense that travel retailers are obsolete, unnecessary, passe. Specifically, I was writing a response to President Obama's comment on the Sept. 15 edition of ABC's "This Week," apparently in an effort to explain stunted economic and job growth, suggesting that technology had eliminated so many jobs: "Technology. If you go to -- a lot of companies now, they've eliminated entire occupations because they're now robotized. We don't have travel agents. We don't have bank tellers."

I was all set to refute this latest statement. I had some surgically honed witticisms about who was handling all the planning for all those trips that the POTUS and family take.  But then it occurred to me: The president was partially right, because in the context in which "travel agent" was used it might well be a disappearing species indeed. We're no longer merely travel agents; we're professionals. I'm going to write my first letter to a president, thanking him for giving us travel professionals the opportunity to set ourselves apart from those all-but-extinct travel agents of old.

Charlie and Sherrie Funk own Just Cruisin' Plus in Brentwood, Tenn., and are members of the CLIA Hall of Fame.

Sunday, November 3, 2013 How Political Fear Was Pitted Against Technical Needs

(By Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post, 02 November 2013)

In May 2010, two months after the Affordable Care Act squeaked through Congress, President Obama’s top economic aides were getting worried. Larry Summers, director of the White House’s National Economic Council, and Peter Orszag, head of the Office of Management and Budget, had just received a pointed four-page memo from a trusted outside health adviser. It warned that no one in the administration was “up to the task” of overseeing the construction of an insurance exchange and other intricacies of translating the 2,000-page statute into reality.  Summers, Orszag and their staffs agreed. For weeks that spring, a tug of war played out inside the White House, according to five people familiar with the episode. On one side, members of the economic team and Obama health-care adviser Zeke Emanuel lobbied for the president to appoint an outside health reform “czar” with expertise in business, insurance and technology. On the other, the president’s top health aides — who had shepherded the legislation through its tortuous path on Capitol Hill and knew its every detail — argued that they could handle the job.

In the end, the economic team never had a chance: The president had already made up his mind, according to a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to be candid. Obama wanted his health policy team — led by Nancy-Ann De­Parle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform — to be in charge of the law’s arduous implementation. Since the day the bill became law, the official said, the president believed that “if you were to design a person in the lab to implement health care, it would be Nancy-Ann.”  Three and a half years later, such insularity — in that decision and others that would follow — has emerged as a central factor in the disastrous rollout of the new federal health insurance marketplace, casting doubt on the administration’s capacity to carry out such a complex undertaking.  “They were running the biggest start-up in the world, and they didn’t have anyone who had run a start-up, or even run a business,” said David Cutler, a Harvard professor and health adviser to Obama’s 2008 campaign, who was not the individual who provided the memo to The Washington Post but confirmed he was the author. “It’s very hard to think of a situation where the people best at getting legislation passed are best at implementing it. They are a different set of skills.”
The White House’s leadership of the immense project — building new health insurance marketplaces for an estimated 24 million Americans without coverage — is one of several key reasons that the president’s signature domestic policy achievement has become a self-inflicted injury for the administration.  Based on interviews with more than two dozen current and former administration officials and outsiders who worked alongside them, the project was hampered by the White House’s political sensitivity to Republican hatred of the law — sensitivity so intense that the president’s aides ordered that some work be slowed down or remain secret for fear of feeding the opposition. Inside the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the main agency responsible for the exchanges, there was no single administrator whose full-time job was to manage the project. Republicans also made clear they would block funding, while some outside IT companies that were hired to build the Web site,, performed poorly.

These interwoven strands ultimately caused the exchange not to be ready by its Oct. 1 start date. It was not ready even though, on the balmy Sunday evening of March 21, 2010, hours after the bill had been enacted, the president had stood on the Truman Balcony for a champagne toast with his weary staff and put them on notice: They needed to get started on carrying out the law the very next morning. It was not ready even though, for months beginning last spring, the president emphasized the exchange’s central importance during regular staff meetings to monitor progress. No matter which aspects of the sprawling law had been that day’s focus, the official said, Obama invariably ended the meeting the same way: “All of that is well and good, but if the Web site doesn’t work, nothing else matters.” 
The White House was in charge, but the on-the-ground work of carrying out the law fell largely to HHS. At first, a new unit responsible for building the statute’s insurance marketplaces was created inside the office of Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  Soon, however, it became evident that the office — with more than 200 people — would not survive on its own. It lacked tools, such as the ability to award grants and outside contracts, that were vital to its mission, said Richard Foster, Medicare’s chief actuary for nearly two decades before he retired early this year. So the office, with a slightly new name, moved in early 2011 into the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a large agency spread among locations in the District, Bethesda and Baltimore.

The move had a political rationale, as well. Tucked within a large bureaucracy, some administration officials believed, the new Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight would be better insulated from the efforts of House Republicans, who were looking for ways to undermine the law. But the most basic reason was financial: Although the statute provided plenty of money to help states build their own insurance exchanges, it included no money for the development of a federal exchange — and Republicans would block any funding attempts. According to one former administration official, Sebelius simply could not scrounge together enough money to keep a group of people developing the exchanges working directly under her.
Bureaucratic as this move may sound, it was fateful, according to current and former administration officials. It meant that the work of designing the federal health exchange — and of helping states that wanted to build their own — became fragmented. Technical staff, for instance, were separated from those assigned to write the necessary policies and regulations. The Medicaid center’s chief operating officer, a longtime career staffer named Michelle Snyder, nominally oversaw the various pieces, but, as one former administration official put it: “Implementing the exchange was one of 39 things she did. There wasn’t a person who said, ‘My job is the seamless implementation of the Affordable Care Act.’ ”

In the West Wing, the president put his trust in DeParle, who joined the White House two months after Obama took office in 2009 and had overseen the health-care legislation from its infancy. Earlier in her career, she had been a health-care administrator under President Bill Clinton and worked on the issue at the Office of Management and Budget.  Well-versed as she was, DeParle immediately recognized that she needed help, according to a former senior administration official. She tried — but failed — to lure to the White House one of the nation’s top experts, Jon Kingsdale, who had overseen the building of a similar insurance exchange in Massachusetts.  DeParle convened meetings twice a week in the Old Executive Office Building, bringing together representatives of agencies as far-flung as the Internal Revenue Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and OMB’s regulatory office — all of which had a role in putting the law into practice. They pored over spreadsheets and hashed out difficult policy questions. The work was “highly specific,” recalled Donald Berwick, who was CMS’s administrator through 2011 and now is a Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Massachusetts. “There was an implementation chart. Regulation by regulation, we would say, where is it now, who was developing it?”
A higher-level monthly meeting, intended to work through tough regulatory questions, was attended at first by Sebelius, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes. By late summer and early fall of 2010, the meetings petered out after some of the participants stopped attending, according to a former senior administration official.  At the White House and inside CMS, the initial focus was not on building the online marketplace but rather on rules to let young adults stay on their parents’ insurance policies and new insurance pools for Americans who were being rejected by insurance companies because they were ill.  The exchange “was in the future,” Berwick said, explaining that the Web site was, during his tenure, a matter of “conceptualization,” along with “the many other regulations we were batting out.”

From the beginning, the administration worked in a venomous political climate. “You’re basically trying to build a complicated building in a war zone, because the Republicans are lobbing bombs at us,” the White House official said.  White House officials contend that the political sensitivities did not influence the substance or pace of the work. But others who were involved say otherwise.  According to two former officials, CMS staff members struggled at “multiple meetings” during the spring of 2011 to persuade White House officials for permission to publish diagrams known as “concepts of operation,” which they believed were necessary to show states what a federal exchange would look like. The two officials said the White House was reluctant because the diagrams were complex, and they feared that the Republicans might reprise a tactic from the 1990s of then-Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), who mockingly brandished intricate charts created by a task force led by first lady Hillary Clinton.  In the end, one of the former officials said, the White House quashed the diagrams, telling CMS, instead, to praise early work on those state exchanges that matched the hidden federal thinking.
By then, DeParle was no longer directly in charge, since she had been promoted in February 2011 to be the president’s deputy chief of staff for policy. Her successor, Jeanne Lambrew, worked on the law’s passage in Sebelius’s office and, years earlier, had worked on health reform under the Clinton White House.  That spring, CMS had begun writing specifications for the IT contracts to build the federal exchange, but the White House again insisted on caution. A larger number of states than expected were signaling that, under Republican pressure, they would refuse to build their own online insurance marketplaces and would rely on the federal one. The more states in the federal exchange, the more complex the task of building it. Yet, according to several former officials, White House staff would not let this fact be included in the specifications. Their concern, one former official said, was that Republicans would seize on it as evidence of a feared federal takeover of the health-care system.

So that September, when the administration issued the “scope of work” for the largest IT contract, the specifications skirted the question — saying only that “CMS will not know for certain how many states will apply” to run their own insurance exchanges.  After the contract was awarded to CGI Federal, the administration kept giving states more and more time to decide whether to build their own exchanges; White House officials hoped that more would become willing after the 2012 election. So the technical work was held up. “The dynamic was you’d have [CMS’s leaders] going to the White House saying, ‘We’ve got to get this process going,’ ” one former official recalled. “There would be pushback from the White House.”
Meanwhile, the White House also slowed down important regulations that had been drafted within CMS months earlier, appearing to wait until just after Obama’s reelection. Among the most significant were standards for insurance coverage under exchanges. The rules for these “essential health benefits” were proposed just before Thanksgiving last year and did not become final until February. Another late regulation spelled out important rules for insurance premiums.  Such delays were “a singularly bad decision,” said Foster, the former Medicare chief actuary. “It’s the president’s most significant domestic policy achievement,” he said, and the very aides who had pushed the law through Congress were risking bad implementation “for a short-term political gain.”  After the election, Cutler, the Harvard professor, renewed his warnings that the White House had not put the right people in charge. “I said, ‘You have another chance to get a team in place,’ ” he recalled.  On Dec. 19, Obama met with roughly a dozen senior White House and HHS officials, including Sebelius. They discussed important policy issues, such as how to persuade more young, healthy Americans to sign up for insurance. But the president had a deeper message. The health-care law, he told the gathering, according to participants, was “the most important thing” in his presidency. “We’ve got to do it right.”

Yet by early this year, White House allies on Capitol Hill were deeply frustrated by how little administration officials would tell them about how the work was going.  On Valentine’s Day, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) convened a hearing on the federal and state marketplaces. The HHS office in charge of the federal exchange was on its third director in as many years, Gary Cohen, who testified that “we are on track and we will be ready” by Oct. 1.  Baucus pressed him: “I want data here, I don’t want just goals.” The next week CMS provided a one-page “marketplace timeline,” showing 16 items left to be accomplished, such as finalizing a few rules and a streamlined application.
This unwillingness to share information extended to private discussions, as well, according to congressional aides.  For three years, roughly two dozen Democratic aides have gathered to discuss health care each Monday at 1 p.m. in House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer’s conference room, under a ceiling featuring images of winged cherubs and wheat harvesting in Constantino Brumidi’s fresco “The Four Seasons.” The gathering includes White House officials, who set the agenda, along with HHS officials and aides to Hoyer, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and seven relevant committees.

During the regularly scheduled meeting June 24, Lambrew from the White House gave no hint that the administration might delay a requirement that businesses with more than 50 employees provide insurance. Instead, administration officials informed Reid, Pelosi, Hoyer, Baucus and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) by phone about a half-hour before the news became public eight days later.  One White House official blamed the secrecy on the climate of GOP hostility to the law. “It’s very hard for a staffer to talk to a member of Congress about a decision that’s not made yet,” the official said.
Inside CMS, meanwhile, some staffers were aware by late 2012 that the work of building the federal exchange was lagging, according to a former HHS official — a much earlier timeline than has been previously disclosed. Some employees in the main office involved with building the exchange repeatedly warned at meetings late last year and in January that so many things were behind schedule that there would be no time for adequate “end to end” testing of how the moving parts worked together, the former HHS official said.  “People were just like, well . . . it’s a dynamic we can’t change,” the former official said. “There wasn’t a way to push back or challenge it up the line. You had the policy people, largely at the White House, pushing the deadlines and tinkering with the policy, rather than the people who had to run the critical operating path design and program the system.”  By late summer, CMS officials were frustrated with CGI Federal, which repeatedly said that certain features of the exchange were ready when they were not, several officials said.

CGI was issuing warnings of its own. On Aug. 17, about six weeks before the launch date, a company employee sent an e-mail to a CMS staffer — with copies to more than a dozen other CMS staff members — detailing an “updated schedule” for work on the exchange. The e-mail, obtained by The Post, said that, for the tasks that CGI was responsible for, the exchange was 55 percent complete.  White House officials say they were focused on whether there would be enough insurance plans for sale in the new marketplaces and on whether enough people would enroll. They say they didn’t have a clue how troubled the Web site’s operation was.  Only during the weekend after’s Oct. 1 opening did the president’s aides begin to grasp the gravity of the problems, the White House official said. Obama soon began getting nightly updates on the performance of the Web site, which has still been unavailable to Americans for hours at a stretch over the past week.
But that was still to come. A month earlier, on Sept. 5, White House officials visited CMS for a final demonstration of Some staff members worried that it would fail right in front of the president’s aides. A few secretly rooted for it to fail so that perhaps the White House would wait to open the exchange until it was ready.  Yet on that day, using a simplified demonstration application, the Web site appeared to work just fine.

Five Myths About The Affordable Care Act
(By Sarah Kliff, Washington Post, 31 Published: October 2013)

“Frustrating.” A “debacle.” That is how President Obama’s own secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, has described the rocky launch of Americans were supposed to begin shopping for insurance coverage on Oct. 1, but millions have been unable to log into the federal online exchange . Congress, meanwhile, shut down the government for 16 days in a dispute over whether to fund the health-care law. As the debate continues, let’s look at some of the most persistent myths about the law — and some new ones that have cropped up.

1. Americans will be forced to buy health insurance.
The health-care law’s individual mandate, despite its name, isn’t meant to force Americans into health plans. Instead, it is supposed to encourage people to purchase coverage by giving them two options: Buy insurance or pay a fine. In 2014, that fine is $95 or 1 percent of an individual’s income, whichever is higher.  The Internal Revenue Service is responsible for collecting this penalty from individuals who indicate on their annual tax filings that they have not purchased coverage. The agency can take the penalty out of a filer’s refund, but beyond that, its ability to recoup those dollars is extremely limited. The IRS cannot, for example, send agents to people’s homes or put liens on their houses. In the health-care law, Congress specifically curtailed the ability to enforce this penalty, giving the IRS fewer ways to collect it than there are for other tax fines.

2. If you like your health plan, you can keep it.
Obama has repeatedly made this key promise about his signature legislation. “If you’re one of the more than 250 million Americans who already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance,” he said in June 2012, shortly after the Supreme Court upheld the law.  In truth, the health-care law makes a number of changes to the insurance industry that will affect the nearly 165 million Americans covered by private plans. For one, it requires all health plans to include a wider set of benefits, among them maternity care and mental health services. Employers have responded by increasing premiums by less than 3 percent, on average, to make up for the cost of these new benefits.

The individual market, where 15 million Americans buy their own coverage, will see even bigger changes. Experts estimate that insurers will discontinue at least half of these plans in 2014 because they do not cover the benefits that the Affordable Care Act requires. Some say the number could be even higher, around 75 to 80 percent.  CBS News has reported that more than 2 million people have already received word from their insurers that the health plans they have now won’t be available next year. Customers who receive a cancellation notice will need to shop for new coverage. Those plans could have a higher price tag because they offer more benefits, although many people will receive financial help from the government to buy a new policy.
3. The exchange’s big problem is that it is overwhelmed by traffic.

The federal exchange did get a lot of web traffic at first; the White House estimates that 8 million people visited the site in its first four days. To put that in perspective, as one Web developer recently did, that’s more users in’s first 24 hours than Twitter had in its first 24 months.  Traffic has decreased since then, and some people have successfully purchased insurance through the online marketplace. That’s led insurance companies to discover an even more serious problem with the exchange: It’s sending inaccurate enrollment data to insurers. Companies are supposed to get a file from the exchange each time someone enrolls in one of their plans. These files include important information such as where the new subscriber lives and how many people are in her family. But insurers say these files are sometimes wrong, listing children as spouses, for instance, or including an address that doesn’t exist.

Some companies have assigned employees to hand-check each file for errors. This works now because few people are enrolling through the exchange. But at some point, insurers expect that they’ll receive thousands of files each week and won’t have the manpower to check each one. If lots of people start signing up before the problem is fixed, insurers worry that they won’t know who actually bought their plans. And without knowing who has subscribed, insurance companies won’t be able to send out membership cards, for example, or begin paying claims for trips to the doctor.
4. The exchanges will transform the insurance industry.

While the federal exchange has gotten much attention in recent weeks, only a small fraction of Americans are expected to use the new marketplace to buy health insurance. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that, by 2023, 24 million people will buy insurance through the state and federal exchanges; that’s about 7 percent of the population. It’s telling that many of the large insurance companies, such as Cigna and UnitedHealthcare, have decided to participate in only a handful of the states’ marketplaces. So far, they don’t see this segment of the market as key to their growth.  The vast majority of Americans will still get their health insurance the way they did before the Affordable Care Act: through their employers or through a public program, mainly Medicare and Medicaid.
5. The health-care law will increase the deficit.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that, over the next decade, the health-care law will reduce the deficit by $109 billion. That’s because the Affordable Care Act includes new spending cuts and tax increases, which more than offset the cost of expanding health insurance to millions of Americans. The law’s new revenue sources fall into three main categories. First are cuts to Medicare providers, such as hospitals and doctors.  Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government will pay slightly lower rates.
Second are cuts to private health insurance plans, known as Medicare Advantage plans, that cover Medicare patients. The federal government has, in recent years, paid these private plans more to cover Medicare beneficiaries than it has spent on seniors who sign up for the traditional public program. The health law aims to reduce those differences by cutting Medicare Advantage payments. Lastly, the law includes new taxes on a number of health-care industries, including hospitals, medical-device makers, insurers and pharmaceutical companies.