A microcosm of the Republican civil war played out on Fox News Sunday when radio talk show host Laura Ingraham and columnist George Will went toe-to-toe over immigration reform.
Ingraham criticized the Wall Street Journal for calling out conservative talk radio for opposing reform:
“The Wall Street Journal attacked, in that editorial, talk radio and the people rising up against this, and John Boehner cowering,” Ingraham began. “As far as I can tell, the Wall Street Journal is on the side of Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Barack Obama, Pat Leahy and La Raza. Talk radio, for the most part, is on the side of, yes, Heritage, probably other Tea Party-type groups, most Republican senators and congressmen and I think the lion’s share of the American people.”
Will argued that the economy needed the influx of labor in order to grow:
“The welfare state NEEDS its workforce replenished,” he argued. “As the elderly retire, ten thousand baby boomers become eligible every day for Social Security and Medicare. Second, there’s an intense global competition for human capital, and we’re losing out on that. Third, to immigrate is to make an entrepreneurial act. It’s to uproot yourself and perhaps your family and take a risk, and those are the kinds of people –”
But Ingraham wasn’t buying it:
INGRAHAM: Do we care about American workers at all? And their jobs, and their wages and their dreams?
WILL: Laura, you’re the one who’s arguing the AFL-CIO argument, which is –
INGRAHAM: They’re for it!
WILL: No, but they’re for it with so many caveats they nullify it.
INGRAHAM: But why have borders?
WILL: You’re arguing the zero-sum game –
WILL: When, in the lives of our children and grandchildren, there are 500 million Americans, they’re all going to be working! Because we’re gonna have economic dynamism, aided by immigration!
NGRAHAM: So the argument, though, leads to, ‘Why have borders at all?’ Why have a border if it’s just about people as widgets, who come in and are workers without really a concern about assimilation, without concern about how it affects people in middle America. I mean, a lot of people who are in favor of [immigration reform] don’t send their kids to public schools, are not affected by illegal immigration at all.
But I would submit that there are people who are watching this show right now who are screaming at the top of their lungs saying, ‘Who is Washington is representing my interests?’ The labor shortage argument that Paul Ryan is making, that we have an impending labor shortage — I think, transparently, it is ridiculous to most people, today. We don’t have participation in the workforce as it is!
WILL: It’s not a shortage. It’s growth we want!
And so on. In an economy where few jobs are being created, inviting the kind of immigration Will is talking about is madness. At the same time, in less than a decade, there is going to be a serious shortage of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workers. Unless there’s a miraculous turnaround at the high school level in students interested in pursuing careers in STEM professions, those workers are going to have to come from overseas. And right now, the procedures to invite them and get them to come here legally are cumbersome and unnecessarily complicated.
An interesting discussion, revealing in its base disagreements that are part of the GOP civil war. Watch the video on the next page.
A little noticed mandate in Obamacare dealing with the calorie labeling for foods sold at fast food chains has turned into a nightmare for small business.
FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg admitted that she “actually thought [calorie labeling] would be one of the more straightforward tasks…but little did I know how complicated it would be.”
If you didn’t know how complicated it would be, why did you write the regulation in the first place?
The calorie label clause, buried deep within the ACA’s 10,000 pages, seems harmless enough at first glance. Each restaurant chain with over 20 locations is required to display the calorie content of each food and drink item it serves on signs and printed menus–with vending machine distributors subjected to the same rules. But the regulation also covers “similar retail food establishments,” a clause vague enough to give FDA regulators sweeping power to determine who does and doesn’t have to comply.
And, of course, the more businesses and industries the FDA can force to comply, the more powerful the agency becomes.
Although the law is designed to target corporate fast-food giants, in practice it will largely affect individual franchises that effectively operate as independent small businesses. For example, over 80 percent of McDonald’s locations are owned and operated by franchisees. Each of these franchisees will now be tasked with complying with the mandate–paying for new signage, removing profit-generating advertisements to make room for the calorie data, updating menus every time recipies change, and accommodating inspectors.
Moreover, the regulation itself is so poorly constructed that it presents unforeseen hurdles for franchisees. Pizzas, sandwiches, and burritos, among other common fast-food meals, can be custom-ordered in hundreds of combinations, and the law arguably requires restaurants to provide customers with calorie data for each. It’s also unclear whether non-traditional food retailers—for example, bookstore cafes, hotel minibars, and food trucks—will be subject to the labeling requirements. Furthermore, it’s unclear what penalties restaurateurs will face if they inadvertently fail to comply.
The regulators couldn’t envision having to list the ingredients for dozens of combinations found in a Burger King Whopper? Or a pizza? I suppose these guys don’t order out much, huh.
This mess of red tape might have a better case if calorie labeling was effective in combating obesity and raising general nutrition awareness, but multiple studies have found that this simply isn’t the case. A study of mostly low-income adults in Philadelphia, which recently enacted its own calorie labeling mandate, found that the regulation had no effect whatsoever on fast-food consumption, and that two-thirds of McDonald’s customers didn’t even notice the labels. The same research team, led by an NYU Medical School professor, found similar results in New York City. Now, the federal government expects different results nationwide.
Perhaps the definition of government stupidity is trying to do something that everyone outside of government knows won’t work. The calorie labeling mandate is not one of the more expensive regulations government will issue this year. It’s impact will in the millions of dollars, not tens or hundreds of millions.
But if you’re a small vending machine company with limited resources to make sure you’re in compliance with a complicated and burdensome law, it might mean the difference between making a profit or going bankrupt.
Let’s face it. People shouldn’t be eating a lot of fatty foods. And as far as nutrition, it doesn’t get much worse than a big hamburger or pizza chain. But calorie labeling does little good if no one cares enough to read the information. The proper response to obesity is consumer education. And plastering a store or restaurant with confusing and mostly useless information about a meal doesn’t contribute to that goal.
The kind of labeling the FDA wants can be put into a book that consumers can ask for, or better yet, placed online. That would be far less burdensome — and less expensive — than the nanny state response by the FDA of calorie labeling.
An exclusive story from Reuters delves into a snafu in Louisiana involving AIDS patients and third party payments to insurers that defray the costs of AIDS drugs.
Essentially, the problem lies with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and an anti-Obamacare fraud guidance ruling from last fall that warned insurers about third party payments being a likely way for fraudsters to operate. Unfortunately, they didn’t consider the impact on AIDS patients, who receive money to pay for their expensive drugs from third parties under the 1990 Ryan White Act. Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Louisiana informed those patients that their coverage will be terminated on March 1 of this year.
“In no event will coverage be provided to any subscribers, as of March 1, 2014, unless the premiums are paid by the subscriber (or a relative) unless otherwise required by law,” Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana spokesman John Maginnis told Reuters.
The dispute goes back to a series of statements from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the lead Obamacare agency.
In September, CMS informed insurers that Ryan White funds “may be used to cover the cost of private health insurance premiums, deductibles, and co-payments” for Obamacare plans.
In November, however, it warned “hospitals, other healthcare providers, and other commercial entities” that it has “significant concerns” about their supporting premium payments and helping Obamacare consumers pay deductibles and other costs, citing the risk of fraud.
The insurers told healthcare advocates that the November guidance requires them to reject payments from the Ryan White program in order to combat fraud, said Robert Greenwald, managing director of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, a position Louisiana Blue still maintains.
“As an anti-fraud measure, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana has implemented a policy, across our individual health insurance market, of not accepting premium payments from any third parties who are not related” to the subscriber, Maginnis said.
On Friday, CMS spokeswoman Tasha Bradley told Reuters that, to the contrary, Ryan White grantees “may use funds to pay for premiums on behalf of eligible enrollees in Marketplace plans, when it is cost-effective for the Ryan White program,” meaning that having people with HIV/AIDS enroll in insurance under Obamacare could save the government money.
“The third-party payer guidance CMS released (in November) does not apply to” Ryan White programs.
Maginnis did not respond to further requests, sent after business hours, for comment on CMS’s Friday statement.
Hundreds of indigent HIV/AIDS patients are dependent on Ryan White payments for Obamacare because they fall into a gap. They are not eligible for Medicaid, the joint federal-state health insurance program for the poor, because Louisiana did not expand the low-income program, and Obamacare federal subsidies don’t kick in until people are at 100 percent of the federal poverty level.
Before Obamacare, the 1990 Ryan White Act offered people with HIV/AIDS federal financial help in paying for AIDS drugs and health insurance premiums, especially in state-run, high-risk pools.
Despite the CMS statement that Ryan White funding will be accepted. it is apparently up to the provider whether they will or not. The article speculates that adverse selection is really at the bottom of BCBS’s reluctance to accept third party payments from patients who are very expensive to treat. It’s unknown who has been signing up for Obamacare in Louisiana, but its a pretty good bet that, like the rest of the country, there aren’t too many young, healthy people buying Obamacare policies. BCBS might be protecting itself from massive losses in this way.
The CMS guidance on third party fraid is just one more example of Obamacare’s unintended consequences.
This is really quite the novel approach to the IRS targeting scandal by congressional Democrats.
Seeking to change the narrative in order to get on top of scandal, Democrats have hit upon the idea to blame the IRS Inspector General, Russell George, for the scandal getting out of hand.
How do they figure that? It appears that many Democrats were unhappy with Mr. George’s initial report on the scandal, believing it to be “misleading.” Mmmkay, whatever. But now they’ve got a mind to file an ethics complaint against George because they think he is conspiring with Darrell Issa’s oversight committee to make the Democrats look bad and the IRS scandal worse than it really is.
Just “connect the dots,” says Rep. Connolly.
Democrats have for months said that George, Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration, crafted a flawed, misleading report that helped fan the flames of the IRS targeting controversy.
Now Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) are sharply criticizing George for agreeing to brief GOP staff at a late January meeting on the Affordable Care Act without Democrats in attendance.
Aides say they now know of multiple meetings of George with the staff of Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) from which Democrats were excluded.
Two Democratic members of that panel – Reps. Matt Cartwright (Pa.) and Connolly – lodged a complaint on Wednesday about George’s original report on the IRS targeting last year, questioning his “independence, ethics, competence, and quality control” with an oversight board for inspectors general.
“If you want to connect the dots, a reasonable observer could be expected to conclude that he colluded with Issa’s staff to limit his report and the path of his investigation,” Connolly told The Hill concerning George.
“They have a tainted IG doing their bidding for them and making sure that the line of investigation is limited to what they want,” Connolly added.
Um, no — a reasonable observer would conclude that George only scratched the surface of the scandal, given what has come out since his initial report. What began as a rogue office of IRS partisans has morphed into an agency-wide effort to target conservative groups.
And how many liberal groups were “targeted” like Tea Party groups? There were 20 liberal groups who applied for tax-exempt status during the period of time in question and only six were singled out for special treatment.
Meanwhile, all 292 conservative groups came in for special scrutiny.
Charlie Crist is too stupid to be elected governor of Florida.
Appearing on Bill Maher’s Real Time show, the former Republican turned Democrat stated that the embargo against the Castros’ Cuba should be lifted because it isn’t working.
“I mean the embargo has been there – what – 50 years now? I don’t think it worked. It is is obvious to me that we need to move forward and I think get the embargo taken away. Really. I believe that,” Crist said Friday during HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”
The Republican-turned-Democrat, who is challenging incumbent Gov. Rick Scott, made the case for lifting the embargo as a jobs creator for his state.
“From a selfish point of view as a Floridian, I’d like to see that happen because a lot of construction would be required on the island, and South Florida could be the launching pad for all of that and really create some jobs for the people of my state,” the former governor said.
Maher said the issue was mishandled.
“If we had done the right thing, years ago, Cuba now would be St. Bart’s, and all the kids who are going on spring break would be there next month having a great time and drinking Mai Thai’s,” the liberal comic said.
Maher said there aren’t many Florida politicians standing up to the “small Cuban community.”
“Well I think they need to, I think it’s the right thing,” Crist said.
Both airheads miss the point. The original reason for the 1958 embargo was due to the Castro regime seizing American companies and American private property without compensation. We have yet to be reimbursed for those seizures and until we are, the embargo is the only leverage we’ve got.
The embargo expanded when Cuba embraced the Soviet Union and adopted Communism, and neither Castro brother has given the slightest indication that they will halt their brutal oppression of the Cuban people. The reason Communism is still there is not because the embargo isn’t working, but because Cuba is a gangster state and employs every resource in its power to suppress free speech, free association, and alternative political parties.
What exactly does Maher mean when he says “if we had done the right thing years ago…”? What would have been “right”? Carry on in our relations with Castro as if nothing had happened, as if the expropriation of American property is just fine, that murdering thousands of citizens met with our approval?
And Crist needs an intervention to disabuse him of his laughable Cuban construction boom. First, what bank in their right mind is going to loan Cuba any money after they defaulted on $11 billion in loans from the west in 1986 and lack any hard currency to build anything? Second, does he really believe Cuba would employ south Florida construction firms over Cuban ones? Or hire Floridians to work on any construction projects instead of native Cuban labor?
I hope someone reminds the Cuban population in Miami who said it was the “right thing” to stand up to the “small Cuban community.” Mr. Crist’s political “courage” is likely to cost him in November.
After the show, Crist amended his statement slightly:
“If we want to bring democracy to Cuba, we need to encourage American values and investment there, not block ourselves out and cede influence to China,” the statement said. “It will take time, and we must do it in a way where American investment helps people, not the dictatorship.”
If China wants to loan money to those scofflaws, let them. Russia forgave nearly $30 billion in Cuban debt just this past December.
What’s the point in relaxing the embargo unless Cuba demonstrates a willingness to change? If anything, the regime has become more repressive since Raul Castro took over for his ailing brother. At the very least, we should demand compensation for property illegally seized by the regime after the revolution before negotiations begin to lift some or all of the embargo.
Big tech firms like Yahoo, Facebook and Ebay are worried about a possible power grab by global interests seeking to seize control of the internet.
This is more than just an arcane, technical concern that only affects a few of us. What is going on right now with domain naming by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) should set off alarm bells in Congress and motivate the rest of us to get informed about the issues involved.
It’s no secret that authoritarian nations like China and Russia wish to implement changes to make the Internet subject to more control and oversight by government. They now have an ally in ICANN’s CEO Fahi Chehade, who plans to add thousands of domain suffixes to the traditional “com,” “net,” and “org.”
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), led by its CEO Fadi Chehade, last year began rolling out thousands of alternatives to the traditional .com ending used by most websites. New endings using the Latin alphabet, such as .clothing and .singles, became available in January, and hundreds of others are on the way.
ICANN says it is focused on making the Internet more broadly available and has prioritized creating domain names in languages such as Chinese, Arabic and Cyrillic.
But critics say the nonprofit betrayed broader ambitions last year when it endorsed a statement calling for the globalization of ICANN and other domain name technical work that is currently managed by the United States.
By signing the statement, Chehade put “a target on ICANN’s back,” said Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice.
“ICANN is not at the center of Internet governance,” said DelBianco, whose group represents companies such as Facebook, Yahoo and eBay.
The statement, which was issued with nine other Internet infrastructure organizations, suggested that the domain work of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) be handed over to ICANN. Those duties are now contracted out by the Commerce Department.
Some in the tech industry saw the statement as a direct challenge to the U.S. role in Internet governance, which is already being called into question after the revelations about global snooping at the National Security Agency (NSA).
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who represents Silicon Valley, declined to comment specifically on Chehade’s plans, but said the U.S. should retain leadership over how the Internet is managed.
The U.S. “gave birth” to the Internet, Eshoo said, and countries “with a different view” should not be allowed to regulate it.
“I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to see that,” Eshoo said during an upcoming episode of CPSAN’s “The Communicators.”
DelBianco said members of Congress needs to start scrutinizing ICANN’s activities. For starters, the committees that oversee the Commerce Department should question ICANN’s calls for a globalized IANA.
“Capitol Hill should have something to say about it,” he said.
“If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” To governments like China and Russia, the internet is broke — or, at least not working they way they want. For the rest of us, the absolute freedom represented by the internet in all its glory, crudity, obscenity, and banality — it’s doing just fine, thank you.
The question before us is, in the name of “democratizing” the internet, do we take a step backward into the darkness, where governments control our access and our content? I would feel a lot better if the people doing the “democratizing” were, like, you know, democratically inclined. They’re not. And worming their way into power by seeking control of internet domain naming is just the first step in the process of putting governments in the internet drivers seat.
David Inserra of the Heritage Foundation has a couple of suggestions on how to keep the internet free:
▪ Maintain a firm commitment to engage with the Internet governance organizations. Since the status quo Internet governance organizations have specific roles and operate via consensus, it is critical that the US maintain its strong voice in these organizations. ICANN may soon become completely independent of the US government, but the US must ensure that ICANN maintains a system of governance that does not empower those nations that oppose a free Internet.
▪ Reject ITU control of the Internet. The ITU ultimately serves the majority of nations which do not want a free and open Internet. The US must build a coalition of freedom-loving nations and traditional Internet governance non-profits to reject ITU regulation of the Internet.
The future of the internet really hangs in the balance. That may sound melodramatic, but the forces working against a free internet are powerful and appear to be gaining ground.
As US influence in the world wanes, opportunities for the oppressors rise. If our government seems powerless to act, perhaps it’s time we did.
The Russians chose a three-time Olympic champion figure skater who tweeted what some consider a racist picture of President and Mrs. Obama last summer to light the torch at the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Irina Rodnina’s selection was an obvious insult to the American president and leaves the question of how much contempt Vladimir Putin has for Barack Obama open to interpretation.
Putin is on a clear winning streak against Obama, having bested him on Syria, Iran, and the Ukraine in recent months. When it comes to measuring the influence of world leaders, I don’t know of too many analysts who wouldn’t observe that Putin is on the rise and Obama is on a decline.
But this particular nudge from the Russian president goes beyond politics and hits the president on a very personal level. And the world — perhaps judging Obama as well — doesn’t seem to care.
In response to criticism of the choice of Irina Rodnina to help light the Olympic torch Friday, the CEO of the Sochi Games said Saturday that politics had no place on the Olympic stage.
It has become a frequent refrain of officials associated with the 2014 Games.
Rodnina, 64, a three-time Olympic figure-skating champion in pairs, tweeted a doctored photograph of President Obama last September showing the president, seated at a dinner beside the First Lady, with a banana super-imposed on his image. After removing the image following a barrage of criticism, Rodnina defended her post as her right to freely express herself.
Asked what factors led to her selection for one of the Olympic Games’ highest honors, Dmitry Chernyshenko, CEO of the Sochi organizing committee, noted Saturday that Rodnina was a three-time Olympic champion and among the world’s most respected athletes.
“I want to stress that the Olympics is not about politics,” Chernyshenko said, “and any political talks and discussions are inappropriate for the Olympic Games.”
Asked whether the International Olympic Committee vetted her selection, IOC spokesman Mark Adams: “From the IOC point of view, clearly it is not the IOC that chooses torch bearers. As Dmitry said, she was chosen for what she has done in sport. She is a triple gold-medalist in skating, and she has done a great deal of work for sport, and that is what she was chosen for. But it was a decision that Sochi took, as they did with all of the torch bearers.”
Racism is about politics? Quick! Someone tell Al Sharpton! All this time we’ve been having a political argument about racism, and not a moral argument about tolerance and respect. Got to make a note of that the next time some MSNBC pundit calls out a conservative for being “racist.”
And, of course, both gentlemen above are 100% wrong. The Olympics are all about politics — always have been and always will be. The games drip with nationalistic fervor — even xenophobic fanaticism. During the Cold War, it was accepted that the conflict between communism and capitalism played out against a backdrop of athletes competing for gold.
President Obama’s ambassador-designate to Argentina, mega-fundraiser Noah Mamet, may know a thing or two about bundling cash for politicians but when it comes to the country he has been chosen to represent U.S. interests, not so much.
Mamet has never been to Argentina, nor is it known if he even speaks the language. His performance at his confirmation hearings bordered on low comedy as he demonstrated a cluelessness that, in any other context, would be amusing.
Except it’s not funny. Argentina may implode economically in the next few months, with repercussions to be felt throughout South America. What possessed President Obama to nominate this nitwit for such an important post?
As this story in Politico points out, Mamet isn’t the only ignoramus to be nominated by the president for an ambassadorship. Nor is President Obama the only chief executive to nominate people for important overseas posts based not on their expertise or knowledge, but on how much money they raised for the candidate.
Recently, a colleague of mine from the Foreign Service told me about a former U.S. ambassador to Sweden who, some years ago, had passed out in the snow, too drunk to get up. He had been partying hard during an outing in the countryside. Fortunately, an embassy officer found him in time to save his life. America’s boozy man in Stockholm was a non-career political appointee—no surprise. The fellow who saved him was a professional diplomat. And the roles the two men played that night is emblematic of a familiar routine.
That was the thought I had earlier this week when word came that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had approved nominations of President Barack Obama’s latest batch of ambassadorial picks—including a couple of first-time diplomats whose cringeworthy performances during their testimony suggested they’ll need to rely heavily on their Foreign Service staff to keep from embarrassing the United States. Of course, we have little reason to worry about longtime Montana Senator Max Baucus, whose appointment to serve in China the Senate passed unanimously on Thursday. But some wealthy campaign donors with backgrounds a bit further afield from public service should give us concern. They’ve already embarrassed themselves.
When hotel magnate George Tsunis, Obama’s nominee for Oslo, met with the Senate last month, he made clear that he didn’t know that Norway was a constitutional monarchy and wrongly stated that one of the ruling coalition political parties was a hate-spewing “fringe element.” Another of the president’s picks, Colleen Bell, who is headed to Budapest, could not answer questions about the United States’ strategic interests in Hungary. But could the president really expect that she’d be an expert on the region? Her previous gig was as a producer for the TV soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. She stumbled through responses to Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) like, well, a soap opera star, expounding on world peace. When the whole awkward exchange concluded, the senator grinned. “I have no more questions for this incredibly highly qualified group of nominees,” McCain said sarcastically.
For the purposes of comparison, Norway’s ambassador to the Washington is a 31-year Foreign Ministry veteran. Hungary’s ambassador is an economist who worked at the International Monetary Fund for 27 years.
President Obama took office promising to limit the practice of appointing fundraising whales to ambassadorships. How’s that working out? “His second-term appointments have gone to political allies more than half of the time,” reports Politico.
Since World War II, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, that number has been lower: About a third of the ambassador posts have been offered to non-professional diplomats.
We are the only industrialized nation that choose ambassadors based on their prowess in raising money for a successful presidential candidate. You might ask how these diplomatic non-entities could make it through a Senate confirmation hearing? Easy. Grease the skids with some donations:
In addition to a long-standing gentleman’s agreement that the out-of-office party will rubber stamp diplomatic nominees, wannabe ambassadors now spread campaign contributions to key senators to clinch an ambassadorial nomination. In the last two Congresses, for example, George Tsunis contributed to the campaigns of five senators, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, former Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry and current Chairman Robert Menendez, as well as to the Senate Majority PAC. Before Tsunis paraded his ignorance before the Foreign Relations Committee, New York Senator Charles Schumer gave a gushing introduction. Tsunis had donated $4,600 to Schumer’s campaign fund in 2009.
This state of affairs is not likely to be rectified anytime soon. If there is a GOP president in 2017, you can bet some of his first nominees for ambassadorships will be his biggest contributors. Neither party wants to be the first to upset the applecart and change the system. The whales are too important to the eventual success of presidential campaigns to deny them what they feel is owed to them for their labors.
PJ Media’s Legal Editor J. Christian Adams appeared on Fox News’ The Kelly File last night to talk about the June 2012 IRS memo that revealed officials discussing the development of harsh rules that would severely limit the free speech of conservative non-profit groups.
Adams points out that the memo gives the lie to the explanation by the administration that they were developing new rules on non-profits in response to the targeting scandal revealed last year. In fact, the memo proves that the IRS was discussing regulations that would have silenced conservatives long before the targeting scandal broke.
This is an idea that actually has intriguing possibilities. The Inspector General of the USPS issued a White Paper suggesting that the Post Office offer some simple banking services for the 68 million people who don’t have access to a bank or don’t have a banking account.
Those 68 million people pay $89 billion in interest and sucker fees to the payday loan industry, as well as more reputable businesses who cash checks, and allow customers to pay utility bills and the like. That works out to an astonishing $2400 per household per year — about 10% of a poor household’s income.
Usurious rates charged by payday loan companies might come down if they had a little competition — from the Post Office. Two stubborn problems would be addressed with one solution; Americans who are underserved by the banking industry would have access to inexpensive and reliable services while the crumbling finances of the Post Office would be shored up to the tune of about $9 billion a year.
The Post Office would not be competing with banks. They would act as an adjunct to financial institutions.
David Dayen writing at The New Republic:
As America becomes more of a cashless society, more reliant on some level of financial services (try renting a car without a credit card), the 68 million under-banked are essentially forced into working with predatory businesses, without the kind of low-cost alternative the post office could provide. Banks don’t want these customers; if they did, they would actually make a play for their business. Large banks have closed branches in the very low-income communities with the largest percentages of unbanked Americans. In fact, banks find it more profitable to fund payday lenders that charge junk fees and outrageous interest—currently the subject of a Justice Department investigation—than actually take market share away from them.
Instead of partnering with predatory lenders, banks could partner with the USPS on a public option, not beholden to shareholder demands, which would treat customers more fairly. As the report says, “the Postal Service could greatly complement banks’ offerings,” and in turn help drive out of business some of the most crooked companies in America, while promoting savings and expanding credit for the poor.
The report suggests three types of potential products. First, it proposes a “Postal Card” that could make in-store purchases, access cash at ATMs, pay bills online, or transfer money internationally. Customers with paper checks could cash them at the post office or deposit them through their cell phones, loading them onto their Postal Card. Second, the USPS could offer an interest-bearing savings account, again through the Postal Card, encouraging savings from communities with little in the way of a personal safety net. Finally, the Postal Service could offer small-dollar loans, effectively an alternative to costly payday lending. The fees on all these services would be drastically lower than anything in the marketplace today.
The postal service, with public trust earned over generations and 35,000 outlets in the best real estate in practically every city in America (in fact, the report notes, 59 percent of all post offices are in “bank deserts” with only one bank branch or less), is well-positioned to deliver simple financial services.
So what’s not to like? While the USPS is an independent agency, it is still part of the federal government. The notion of a government agency competing with private businesses — even if those businesses are run by a bunch of schmucks — should give us pause. But really, how sorry are you going to feel if a payday loan company charging customers 126% interest on a $200 loan goes belly up? If the USPS can offer these same people a low cost alternative, why not? A little competition might force the predators to lower their fees — a win, win situation.
Millions of older Americans still depend on the Post Office for delivery of their Social Security checks, medicine, and letters from their grand kids. This means the USPS isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Rather than the Post Office being forced into the untenable position of asking for a taxpayer bailout, Congress should approve some pilot financial services programs around the country to see how these services would go over, as well as how they’d work in practice.
Terrific article in Politico Magazine detailing the tax breaks and other goodies the US taxpayer is giving away to the National Football League.
Writer Patrick Hruby sums it up this way: The NFL is a “quasi-public organization that games the system by privatizing profit and socializing risk. A semi-ward of the state.” The league spends millions every year hiring high-powered lobbyists to keep the taxpayer gravy coming, while lying to Congress about the risk of brain injury and milking the treasuries of state and local government back home.
How about taxpayer funded stadiums?
Reuben Fischer-Baum of Deadspin calculates that the total cost to the public for 78 pro sports stadiums built or renovated between 1991 and 2004 was nearly $16 billion—enough to build three Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, and more than Chrysler received in the auto bailout. Seventeen NFL stadiums were built in that span, accounting for a significant portion of that sum. Citing the work of Harvard University urban planning professor Judith Grant Long, Gregg Easterbrook, author of The King of Sports: Football’s Impact on America, estimates that 70 percent of the capital cost of all NFL stadiums has been provided by taxpayers, not league owners. Owners such as Seattle’s Paul Allen, who happens to be one of the richest people on the planet.
Again, what did America get in return?
Broadcast blackouts, for one. That’s right: Specific federal regulations permit the NFL to have the actual games played in those taxpayer-funded stadiums kept off the air in local markets, the better to force more fans to purchase tickets. Then there’s the dirtiest word in Washington. Debt. Piles of it. Bad debt, too. The kind that neither creates economic growth nor funds public services. Numerous independent studies have shown that the local economic impact of stadium construction is nonexistent, akin to buying a multimillionaire a yacht and then letting him charge you for 10 three-hour cruises every fall. According to economist Dennis Coates, having stadiums and teams in a particular area actually appears to reduce local incomes—a fiscal platform no one running for public office has ever campaigned on.
Consider Paul Brown Stadium in Hamilton County, Ohio. Home of the Cincinnati Bengals, the building reportedly cost area taxpayers $454 million, with a total estimated price tag of $550 million once parking garages and other expenses are included. Four years ago, it required a debt payment of $34.6 million—about 17 percent of the county’s total budget—which required local lawmakers to slash spending on schools, police and a program that helped troubled teenagers.
Also consider state and local tax breaks: According to Easterbrook, the Seahawks generate roughly $200 million annually but pay Washington state only about $1 million in rent.
Players come into the league knowing that football is a dangerous game and they are likely to suffer injuries that will be with them long after their careers have ended. But the league may have been covering up information about traumatic head injuries — allowing players to play where they knew there was a risk of further injury. This is the basis of a lawsuit by thousands of former players that the league is trying to settle for nearly $800 million dollars.
The head injury problem not only affects the NFL, but also more than 120,000 young men between the ages of 9 and 19 who end up in emergency rooms for non-fatal head injuries. What is their risk later in life? Will they also suffer from early onset dementia and other conditions growing out of their football playing?
Is it time to start looking at safety in pro football, hockey, boxing, and other contact sports the same way we look at safety in a steel mill? And should there be government oversight to make sure children are not being exposed to undue risk?
An organization that rakes in $9 billion a year can afford to pay more in taxes. We don’t need public financing of stadiums, nor do local governments need to subsidize sports teams that are worth well north of a half a billion dollars. The tax exemptions and code changes that benefit the NFL and other sports leagues may have been necessary at one time, but no more. These are hugely successful for-profit businesses that are being treated tax-wise like the United Way.
Time to end the gravy train and give the taxpayer a break.
Academy Award winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in an apartment in New York. He was 46.
His portrayal of writer Truman Capote in the 2005 film Capote won him numerous awards for best actor, including the Oscar. He also received three Tony nominations for his work in theater.
Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has been found dead of an apparent drug overdose at a Manhattan apartment, a law enforcement source told FoxNews.com.
The NYPD responded to an apartment in the West Village shortly after 11 a.m. Sunday morning, the source said.
“The Hunger Games” actor has amassed an impressive portfolio of roles going back to the early 1990s, when he first appeared on the hit, New York City-based show, “Law & Order.”
He has since gone on to appear in notable movies like “Scent of a Woman,” “Boogie Nights,” “The Big Lebowski,” “Almost Famous,” “Capote,” “Mission Impossible III,” and “Moneyball.”
Hoffman, 46, has been nominated for four roles for an Academy Award, winning a single time for his portrayal of journalist Truman Capote, author of, “In Cold Blood.”
Hoffman was filming the third installment in the immensely popular Hunger Games trilogy, in which he plays the character Plutarch Heavensbee.
The New York Post is reporting that Hoffman was found in the bathroom with a needle in his arm. He had struggled with drug addiction early in his career and then had a relapse last May.
Hoffman was a hugely talented actor, whose repertoire of characters was astonishing. Stone-cold killer (Law and Order episode), goofy kid (Twister), wisecracking CIA agent (Charlie Wilson’s War), and an immoral preacher (Cold Mountain). Good guys, bad guys, crazy guys, gay, straight — Hoffman played them all and played them with an eye for nuance and depth.
Governor Chris Christie is hitting back hard at the latest revelations regarding the scandal over the lane closings on the George Washington Bridge.
In an email sent to supporters, he attacked the New York Times for what he called “sloppy reporting” about the charge made by his former friend and Port Authority appointee David Wildstein — the charge being that Christie knew about the lane closings while they were happening. This contradicts Christie’s story told at the press conference on January 9 that he was unaware of the lane closings until after they had been re-opened.
Christie also took some shots at Wildstein, a former high school friend and advisor.
The Christie camp begins by criticizing The Times for its initial characterization of the Wildstein letter: “A media firestorm was set off by sloppy reporting from the New York Times and their suggestion that there was actually ‘evidence’ when it was a letter alleging that ‘evidence exists.’”
The Times’ original story said that Wildstein claimed “he had the evidence to prove it,” while later versions stuck to his lawyer’s vaguer “evidence exists” formulation.
In a statement Saturday night, the Times said: “We regularly update web stories for clarity as we did in this case. We do not note changes unless it involves an error.”
Wildstein’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.
The email from the governor’s office again distances Christie from Wildstein’s actions: “As he has said repeatedly, Governor Christie had no involvement, knowledge or understanding of the real motives behind David Wildstein’s scheme to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge. … The Governor first learned lanes at the George Washington Bridge were even closed from press accounts after the fact. Even then he was under the belief it was a traffic study. He first learned David Wildstein and Bridget Kelly closed lanes for political purposes when it was reported on January 8th.”
Then, it gets personal. “In David Wildstein’s past, people and newspaper accounts have described him as ‘tumultuous’ and someone who ‘made moves that were not productive,’” the email continues. “David Wildstein has been publicly asking for immunity since the beginning, been held in contempt by the New Jersey legislature for refusing to testify, failed to provide this so-called ‘evidence’ when he was first subpoenaed by the NJ Legislature and is looking for the Port Authority to pay his legal bills.”
The email dips far back into Wildstein’s past to buttress its portrayal of him, even alleging that “He was publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior.”
Christie praised Wildstein’s tenure when he resigned late last year after being sought for testimony by the Assembly committee investigating the lane closures. Wildstein has long been portrayed as a close friend of Christie’s, and included in the email from the governor’s office is a story from the Bergen Record headlined, “Ex Blogger Is Governor Christie’s Eyes, Ears Inside The Port Authority.”
But during his news conference in January, Christie disputed that the two men have a longtime bond or close personal friendship.
The harsh attacks on Wildstein bring to mind the question of why he appointed such a “deceptive” and “tumultuous” character to the position at the Port Authority in the first place.
Can Wildstein bring Christie down? The Times was very provocative in its original reporting on the letter, implying that Wildstein’s lawyer actually possessed the evidence that would contradict Christie’s statement. But the subsequent change made by the Times editors suggests only that the evidence is out there somewhere and can be found. That’s almost a complete 180 degree re-interpretation and leads us to believe that the Times may have sensationalized the story to create another feeding frenzy by the press — to Christie’s disadvantage.
The “evidence” referred to by Wildstein’s lawyer may or may not exist. It seems hard to believe that Christie would not have examined every scrap of paper and email relating to the lane closures before he went before the press on January 9. He had to know that any contradictions arising from that presser would doom his political career. Unless Wildstein has a recording of a phone call or something equally compelling, the chances are whatever evidence he says he possesses isn’t of the “smoking gun” variety.
But that doesn’t help Christie in trying to tamp down a story that has been reignited by these new allegations. Just as the story was beginning to fade, the Wildstein charges puts Christie right back in the crosshairs of the scalphunters in the press — a very uncomfortable place to be for a presidential candidate.
Lanny Davis, former special counsel to Bill Clinton, is urging House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to apologize to the American people for Obamacare screw ups.
I’m sure Pelosi will do that about the time that Davis gets around to apologizing for Bill Clinton’s serial adultery.
No matter. Davis wants the Democrats to go through a 12 step program, where the party fully acknowledges problems with Obamacare, apologizes to the American people, and then tries to make amends for screwing up so badly.
It may be easier to quit heroin cold turkey.
A top Democratic strategist on Friday said his party needs to admit they “screwed up” on ObamaCare.
In an interview on Fox News’ “The Kelly File,” Lanny Davis, White House special counsel to former President Clinton, said Democrats — including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) — should take ownership of their mistakes on the healthcare law.
“Nancy Pelosi should say that — we messed up…We have to take ownership,” Davis said, indicating that admitting fault is the first step to fixing the Affordable Care Act.
He added that the private sector should have had more of a role in developing HealthCare.Gov, which debuted Oct. 1 with significant glitches.
“We screwed up,” Davis said, advising Pelosi that she should admit that Democrats relied too heavily on the government to set up ObamaCare.
Really? Ed Morrissey points out that the opposite is true:
Actually, the problem wasn’t that there was too little involvement from the private sector; it’s that it didn’t belong in the federal government in the first place. But even apart from that, the site was built by the private sector, with the full cooperation of private insurers who hoped to score big off of a historic government mandate that forced Americans to participate in a command economy. The problem was that the people who command that economy are singularly unqualified for the job, as most if not all of them have done little but public-sector work for the majority of their lives. The incompetent management of this system began in the bid process and escalated throughout the project-management phase, and was obvious by the increasingly arbitrary ways in which regulations and statutes were applied and enforced.
That’s what is painful to Davis, who cheers government-controlled universal health care as the appetizer to his advice to Pelosi. Davis says it could have been accomplished through distributed authority in the private sector, but that’s never been the point of Democratic health-care policy. It’s always been about control and power, and dictating outcomes to insurers, providers, and consumers. We tried it, and now we see why the public sector should be limited to appropriate regulatory functions and law enforcement, and private economies left to voluntary association and the private sector.
Ed makes a marvelous point that should be stapled to the forehead of every GOP politician; Obamacare is living, breathing proof that big government should be limited in its power. The bigger government gets, the greater the harm its actions can cause. Lanny Davis misses the point. A better website would not fix what ails Obamacare. The massive overreach of the law — the way it seeks to control private individuals and public companies alike — doomed the ACA from the moment it was signed.
Pelosi will never apologize for Obamacare because she can’t blame it on Republicans. Besides, she’s too busy putting lipstick on a pig on national TV — extolling the virtues of Obamacare on John Stewart’s show — to contemplate the responsibility of Democrats for messing up the health insurance industry so completely.
Maybe Pelosi will apologize for Obamacare about the time that Lanny Davis can think of one, single accomplishment by Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state.
Bill Maher is a very funny fellow — at least, that’s what liberals tell me. I’ve never seen his television show on HBO and only read about him when he says something outrageous.
Like on Friday night.
The man who once said “the Second Amendment is bulls*t” let loose the most outrageous “joke” of the year so far.
Taking a swipe at conservatives on gun control, liberal comic Bill Maher joked that a mass shooting should take place at the Country Music Awards.
“Now that liberals have forwarded their agenda by inserting a mass gay wedding into the Grammys, conservatives must match them tit-for-tat by having a mass shooting at the Country Music Awards,” Maher said Friday during his HBO program, “Real Time with Bill Maher.”
Maher’s joke follows the mass weddings performed during the Grammys this past Sunday, in which both same-sex and heterosexual couples were married. Conducted as musician Macklemore and Ryan Lewis sang “Same Love,” it was widely viewed as a call for marriage equality.
Maher, a vocal proponent of gun control, has frequently lambasted conservatives and the Republican Party on the issue of firearms, having previously called them “gun nuts.”
Maher also slammed Congress last spring, specifically Democrats, who he said were weak on the debate of gun control after a push to ban assault weapons ultimately shifted to background checks.
“I’m sorry, but this is the problem with the gun debate is that it’s a constant center-right debate. There’s no left in this debate. Everyone on the left is so afraid to say what should be said which is, ‘The Second Amendment is bulls-—,’” Maher said at the time.
OK — we get it. Except, Mr. Maher might want to consider why a mass shooting at the CMA would be iffy, if not outright impossible.
You see, Bill, the probability that several dozen audience members — including some musicians — would be armed and not afraid to protect themselves and their loved ones makes anyone contemplating committing such a heinous act either stark raving mad or ignorant beyond belief. What kind of a numbskull would want to shoot up a venue where before he could scream “Allahu Akbar” or “Death to Fascists!” he’d be lying on the ground drawing his last breaths?
Of course, there’s no accounting for crazies who want to die in a hail of gunfire. It’s usually referred to as “suicide by police.” But in states with a lot of restrictions on guns, it’s not likely the shooter will get his wish before killing a lot of innocent people.
Tennessee, where the CMA show is held, has very liberal (in the best sense of the word) gun laws and a permit to carry a concealed handgun is relatively easy to get for law-abiding citizens. I don’t know if the venue where the awards are held — the Bridgestone Arena — has a posted ban on carrying firearms, but even if they do you can bet the bodyguards of country music stars suffer from no such restrictions.
In short, Bill Maher’s sick joke was not only idiotic, it displayed his towering ignorance of guns and the gun culture, as well as an inability to recognize the efficacy of intelligent gun laws.
Say it along with me and with gusto: “An armed society is a polite society.”
At least some Republicans in the House have not resigned themselves to passing a “clean” debt ceiling bill.
An idea appears to be gaining steam to attach a “no bailout” provision for Obamacare insurance companies. By closing the “risk corridor” loophole in the law and attaching it to the debt ceiling bill, it will put Democrats on record as supporting a bailout of billion dollar companies. This would make all of the Democrat’s “income inequality” rhetoric ring hollow.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) led the debt-limit discussion and said the leadership wanted a plan that could win 217 Republican votes and avoid the possibility of the House having to swallow a “clean” increase from the Democratic-led Senate, the source said.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has lowered expectations for the debt limit, saying Republicans did not want to default and that the options had “narrowed” given President Obama’s stance and his unwillingness to accept major entitlement reforms without tax increases.
During the meeting, Boehner was asked about the size and duration of the debt-limit hike. He said it would likely last about a year, which would extend beyond the November midterm elections, the source said.
Targeting the risk corridors provision in the debt-limit bill gained the most support, although members brought up other ideas, including a provision on the Keystone pipeline. Party leaders were encouraged to hear support from members who have often voted against debt-ceiling increases that did not have major provisions, in particular Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), the source said.
The leadership wants to move “sooner rather than later,” but there was no timetable given for a decision.
Democrats have warned Republicans against attaching any controversial provisions to a debt-ceiling increase.
“The more time Republicans spend dreaming up their latest debt limit wish list, the closer they are pushing workers and the economy toward another completely unnecessary crisis,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said Friday in a statement. “The American people are sick and tired of Republicans playing games with our economic recovery and Democrats have made it clear that Republicans don’t get to demand a ransom simply for allowing Congress to do its job.”
The healthcare law creates a temporary pool of money to pay insurers who enroll a higher-than-expected number of sick patients through 2016. The law transfers the money from lower-risk plans to higher-risk plans to keep premium prices stable.
The insurers will fund some of the payments, as the law requires companies with better-than-expected results to contribute to the pot. But Republicans say the government is likely to be on the hook for some of the payments, which they say would be tantamount to a taxpayer bailout of the insurance industry.
They also say the provision gives the Obama administration too much leeway to reimburse insurers.
In the short term, the no-bailout strategy for the debt limit bill has the best chance for political gain. Framing the issue would be vital, since the Democrats will try to make everyone forget that their party added amendments to each and every debt ceiling request from President Bush. Placing the Democrats in the position of defending a powerful interest group will make them look like hypocrites when they invoke their class warfare rhetoric to criticize Republicans.
Eventually, a debt limit bill will be passed — probably a clean one. But the fight itself will make Democrats in congress squirm. They will not only have to defend paying off rich corporations but also justify keeping Obamacare from imploding.
Just how bad is the drought in California? Unless measures are taken to drastically reduce water consumption, there is actually a danger the some towns and cities could run out of drinkable water within 100 days.
To underscore the seriousness of the crisis, Governor Jerry Brown announced that the state agency responsible for allocating water — the California Department of Water Resources — will take the unprecedented step of not giving out water this summer from the State Water Project, a system that serves two thirds of the state’s population.
Department Director Mark Cowin said at a news conference that if the dry spell continues, only carryover water from last year will be channeled to the farmers and several towns that get their water from the State Water Project. Those users will have to rely on groundwater, local reservoirs and other supplies.
“Everyone – farmers, fish, people in our cities and towns – will get less water as a result, but these actions will protect us all better in the long run,” Cowin said. “Simply put, there is not enough water to go around, so we need to conserve.”
Threat of running out
The announcement comes after state health officials said 17 communities and water districts are in danger of running out of water within 100 days, including Cloverdale and Healdsburg.
The list is expected to grow.
The snowpack in the Sierra is 12 percent of normal for this time of year, the lowest since the state began keeping snowpack records in 1960. California wildlife officials banned fishing in several rivers to protect salmon and steelhead trout.
California’s other large water management system, the federally run Central Valley Project, is expected to announce allocations in mid-February. The Central Valley Project irrigates more than 3 million acres of farmland, provides drinking water to nearly 2 million people and serves as a critical water source for fish and wildlife.
With its reservoirs also running low, contractors of the federal water system are bracing for low to no allocations. Those federally managed reservoirs included Shasta Reservoir north of Redding, which is at 36 percent of capacity, and Folsom Lake, which is at 17 percent, enabling visitors to see a previously submerged abandoned town from the 19th century.
The State Water Project’s largest reservoir, Lake Oroville in Butte County, is at 36 percent of capacity.
With two-thirds of the wet season having passed, there is little hope that enough rain and snow will fall to lift California out of the crisis.
“The state would have to experience heavy rainfall and snowfall every other day through May to get back to average precipitation levels,” Cowin said.
Bay Area water agency officials said they planned for the worst, but this is “worse than the worst,” said Robert Shaver, assistant general manager for the Alameda County Water District, one of four Bay Area agencies that gets its water supply from the State Water Project.
Some practical water saving tips from the state include flushing your toilet less and avoiding “long solo showers.”
I predict a mini-baby boom about a year from now. Conjugal showers are a fun way to save water.
What isn’t fun is that the most productive farm land in the world is in danger of not getting enough water to grow its crops. Irrigating a desert has been one of the truly miraculous achievements of California farmers (with a lot of help from the Feds). But, as Californians are discovering, a desert is a very dry place and while the drought may be unprecedented, the state’s history only goes back 160 years. How many droughts like this — and worse — have been visited on the land now known as California in the distant past? Too many to count, I’m sure.
That doesn’t help matters today. One hopes that nature gives Californians a break and the rain begins to fall. But that doesn’t seem likely, so the reservoirs will continue to fall and ever more stringent restrictions on water usage will probably become necessary.
Something of a wake-up call for establishment Republicans, I think. The New York Times is reporting that “insurgent” Republican groups are outraising more establishment-oriented organizations.
By a lot.
Four Republican-leaning groups with close ties to the party’s leadership in Congress — Crossroads and its “super PAC” affiliate, the Congressional Leadership Fund, and Young Guns Action — raised a combined $7.7 million in 2013. By contrast, four conservative organizations that have battled Republican candidates deemed too moderate or too yielding on spending issues — FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth Action Fund, the Senate Conservatives Fund, and the Tea Party Patriots — raised a total of $20 million in 2013, according to Federal Election Commission reports filed on Friday.
“This is by far the biggest nonelection year we’ve ever had,” said Matt Hoskins, the executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund. “It shows how committed people are to electing true conservatives and to advancing conservative principles.”
It’s true that David Koch’s group, Americans for Prosperity, has been pouring early money into Senate races. But almost all of that money has been directed at vulnerable Democrats and not spent in service to any GOP incumbents. It’s unknown if Koch will jump into any Republican primaries on the side of anti-establishment candidates.
Other groups have not been shy about where their allegiances lie:
The Senate Conservatives Fund has feuded bitterly with party organizations, including the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and has financed challenges to incumbent senators who it does not believe adhere sufficiently to conservative orthodoxy.
In Kentucky, the fund is backing Matt Bevin, a businessman, in his bid to unseat Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s Republican leader.
“If Mitch McConnell wins, the party will continue to drift away from its conservative principles and become increasingly hostile to the grass-roots,” the Senate Conservatives Fund states on its website. “But if Matt Bevin wins, the establishment’s stranglehold over the party will be broken and power will be restored to the people who elect these politicians.”
Because some of the biggest groups are not required to report their fund-raising to the Federal Election Commission and declined to volunteer the information, the figures do not include some major spenders on both sides, including Americans for Prosperity, and the American Action Network, which focused on House races and is affiliated with the Congressional Leadership Fund.
And the party-oriented organizations, which were organized and remain oriented toward helping Republicans win general elections, typically raise most of their revenue later in the election cycle.
“Our pledges are on track with previous cycles and we are increasingly enthusiastic about prospects for winning a majority in the Senate and holding the majority in the House,” said Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for Crossroads.
Moreover, major trade associations with ties to the Republican establishment have signaled they will spend heavily in this year’s election cycle, in part to help elevate candidates who can perform strongly in matchups against Democrats. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, traditionally one of the biggest players in campaigns, is forecasting that it will spend about $50 million on a mix of general election and primary races.
Yet there are signs that some of the establishment-oriented groups are being particularly careful with their cash. American Crossroads, the American Action Network and the YG Network announced a joint $1.2 million advertising campaign in the special election for a congressional seat in Florida, suggesting that the groups were taking care to pool their spending to achieve greater impact.
The downside is that millions of dollars are going to be spent on primaries instead of the general election. This may have been inevitable given the rancor between the camps, but the question has to be asked: how many of those challengers have a realistic shot at upending an establishment GOP senator or congressman?
To some, victory is not more important than making a statement about the purity of one candidate or another. While tribalism may be the smart political move, the practical effect of all of this is a questionable use of resources that could have been better used elsewhere.
It used to be thought that food stamps was a program for single mothers with children and the elderly. No more. With the economy in the 5th year of “recovery,” working-age Americans now make up a majority of recipients.
In a first, working-age people now make up the majority in U.S. households that rely on food stamps — a switch from a few years ago, when children and the elderly were the main recipients.
Some of the change is due to demographics, such as the trend toward having fewer children. But a slow economic recovery with high unemployment, stagnant wages and an increasing gulf between low-wage and high-skill jobs also plays a big role. It suggests that government spending on the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program — twice what it cost five years ago — may not subside significantly anytime soon.
Food stamp participation since 1980 has grown the fastest among workers with some college training, a sign that the safety net has stretched further to cover America’s former middle class, according to an analysis of government data for The Associated Press by economists at the University of Kentucky. Formally called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, or SNAP, the program now covers 1 in 7 Americans.
The findings coincide with the latest economic data showing workers’ wages and salaries growing at the lowest rate relative to corporate profits in U.S. history.
President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night is expected to focus in part on reducing income inequality, such as by raising the federal minimum wage. Congress, meanwhile, is debating cuts to food stamps, with Republicans including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., wanting a $4 billion-a-year reduction to an anti-poverty program that they say promotes dependency and abuse.
Economists say having a job may no longer be enough for self-sufficiency in today’s economy.
“A low-wage job supplemented with food stamps is becoming more common for the working poor,” said Timothy Smeeding, an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who specializes in income inequality. “Many of the U.S. jobs now being created are low- or minimum-wage — part-time or in areas such as retail or fast food — which means food stamp use will stay high for some time, even after unemployment improves.”
Getting rid of Democratic control of Congress and the White House alone is not going to solve this problem. Easing regulations and removing impediments to business creation would also be helpful, but wouldn’t lead to a general restoration of the Middle Class. There needs to be a psychological change — something or somebody to restore our confidence and optimism.
The decline is real but not irreversible. With no faith in our leaders, and little hope that either party can bring us back, whatever American revival occurs will have to come from the bottom up. Your home, your neighborhood, your community — that’s where it has to happen.
We’ve done it before. No reason not to believe we can do it again.
Forty-Seven years ago, astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee shoehorned themselves into the Apollo capsule for a full-on test of their brand new vehicle — a “plugs-out” exercise to see what the vehicle could do when not attached to an external power source.
For months, the 3 men had been trying to work out the kinks in the spacecraft. On January 27, 1967, the astronauts were dealing with design problems, balky systems, and a communications nightmare that led Grissom to exclaim at one point, “How are we going to get to the moon if we can’t talk between two or three buildings?” Grissom was disgusted with more than the communications system. He thought the entire spacecraft needed to be redesigned:
On his last visit home in Texas, Jan. 22, 1967, Grissom grabbed a lemon off a citrus tree in the backyard. His wife, Betty, asked what he was going to do with it. “I’m going to hang it on that spacecraft,” he answered as he kissed her goodbye. He did so once he arrived at the Cape.
Grissom’s cynicism proved justified.
NBC’s veteran space anchor Jay Barbree picks up the story of what happened that late afternoon at Launch Complex 34:
Somewhere beneath the seat of Apollo 1 Commander Gus Grissom, an open wire chafed. Insulation was worn and torn. The wire, alive with electrical power, lay bare in a thick soup of 100 percent oxygen — one of the most dangerous and corrosive gases known. Exposed to an ignition source, it is extremely flammable.
It had been used in the Mercury and Gemini spacecraft without trouble. But this much pure oxygen inside a ship as large as Apollo was another story.
Grissom and his Apollo 1 crewmates, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were on the launch pad undergoing a full dress rehearsal countdown when Gus shifted his body for comfort.
His seat moved the bare wire.
The launch team froze before its television monitors. Muscles stiffened, voices ceased in mid-sentence. They didn’t know what they were witnessing. It was something horrifying and unbelievable. Flames rampaging inside Apollo 1 — a whirlwind of fire burning everything it touched.
The medical readings showed Ed White’s pulse rate jumped off the charts — showed the three astronauts burst into instant movement.
The first call from Apollo 1 smashed into the launch team’s headsets.
One word from Ed White.
Then, the unmistakable deep voice of Gus Grissom.
“I’ve got a fire in the cockpit!”
Instantly afterward, Roger Chaffee’s voice.
Then a garbled transmission and then the final plea:
“Get us out!”
Then words known only to God, followed by a scream …
In the blockhouse, the chief of astronauts, Deke Slayton, jumped from his chair, shouting, “What the hell’s happening?”
Eyes stared in horror at the monitors. Flames expanded swiftly, built to a white glare before subsiding, and Deke thought he saw a shadow moving inside. He couldn’t be sure, and then he saw bright orange flames flickering about Apollo 1′s hatch.
Hellish flames followed by thick smoke.
An icy chill moved over his skin. Those calls of fire, that final garbled scream — they had come from inside Apollo 1.
Pad crews were rushing to the scene, trying to get to Gus, Ed and Roger. Astronaut Stuart Roosa, on console in the blockhouse, was trying frantically to talk with them. Again and again he called, desperate, his face chalk white.
The Arizona Republican Party passed a resolution of censure against Senator John Mccain, citing his support for issues “associated with liberal Democrats.”
What’s the latest litmus test? Immigration reform and funding Obamacare. Of course, McCain is not alone in his guilt. Half the Republican Party in Congress could be censured as well.
The real question is whether McCain is conservative enough for Arizona. Apparently not.
The Associated Press reports:
The resolution to censure McCain was approved by a voice-vote during a meeting of state committee members in Tempe, state party spokesman Tim Sifert said. It needed signatures from at least 20 percent of state committee members to reach the floor for debate.
Sifert said no further action was expected.
McCain spokesman Brian Rogers declined to comment on the censure. But former three-term Sen. Jon Kyl told The Arizona Republic (http://bit.ly/1mIyKyy ) that the move was “wacky.”
“I’ve gone to dozens of these meetings and every now and then some wacky resolution gets passed,” Kyl told the newspaper on Saturday. “But most people realize it does not represent the majority of the vast numbers of Republicans.”
Kyl also said McCain’s voting record was “very conservative.”
McCain isn’t up for re-election until 2016, when will turn 80. He announced in October that he was considering running for a sixth term.
According to the resolution, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee has campaigned as a conservative but has lent his support to issues “associated with liberal Democrats,” such as immigration reform and funding the federal health care law.
Several Republican county committees recently censured McCain.
Timothy Schwartz, the Legislative District 30 Republican chairman who helped write the resolution, said the censure showed that McCain was losing support from his own party.
“We would gladly embrace Sen. McCain if he stood behind us and represented us,” Schwartz said.
Fred DuVal, a Democrat who plans to run for Arizona governor, called the censure an “outrageous response to the good work Sen. McCain did crafting a reasonable solution to fix our broken immigration system.”
McCain has been dogged by conservatives objecting to his views on immigration and campaign finance, among other issues, since he first ran for Congress in 1982. Republican activists were also turned off by his moderate stances in the 2000 presidential race.
Today’s GOP is far too orthodox to tolerate supposed apostates like John McCain. But on almost all issues, McCain is a straight, down-the-line, solid conservative. His positions and votes on abortion, taxes, spending, energy, education, and free enterprise are a mirror to, or closely follow, those of the conservative majority. That’s the reality.
The Olympics, the World Cup, and the Super Bowl – all three mega sporting events are in trouble for one reason or another. Is this the beginning of the end for these kind of sport spectaculars?
Probably not. But 2014 appears not to be a good year for them either.
In Brazil, where soccer’s World Cup will be held later this summer, the most-watched sporting event in the world is proving to be unpopular with some, who apparently don’t mind it when their magnificent team wins in other countries, but resent the billions being spent to prepare for the games.
Demonstrators and police clashed in Sao Paulo during the first in a planned series of anti-World Cup protests across Brazil called by radical activist group Anonymous.
With less than five months before the June 12 kick-off — when the five-time champions and hosts take on Croatia — Brazil is facing the same kind of social rumblings that marred last year’s Confederations Cup dress rehearsal.
Anonymous called for protests against football’s fabled event via its Facebook page under the slogan “The Cup will not take place.”
Other activists said “FIFA go home” on Twitter, referring to football’s world governing body, which was likely watching the weekend’s events with some concern.
Brazilians are avid users of social media, a favored tool to organize protests.
But turnout was modest.
In the country’s sprawling industrial and financial hub of Sao Paulo, about 2,500 people demonstrated near the Art Museum and on the key Avenida Paulista, chanting and waving signs like “Wake up Brazil, a teacher is worth more than (footballer) Neymar.”
Demonstrators and police clashed, with protesters burning tires and garbage, and some engaging in vandalism targeting banks and other businesses.
Sao Paulo military police said they arrested 128 people.
Rio de Janeiro — where huge demonstrations turned violent in July — rallied just about 200 to a demonstration on landmark Copacabana Beach.
The capital Brasilia and the central city of Goiania each saw small demonstrations of fewer than 100, local media reported.
Anonymous, which has staged a number of highly publicized stunts in different countries, vowed that the protests planned for 36 cities across Brazil — a nation of 200 million — would “be followed by others.”
Many in football-mad Brazil say they are not against the World Cup as such — their country of 200 million is the most successful nation in the tournament’s 84-year history.
But they are outraged to see hundreds of millions of dollars spent on preparing 12 host cities for the sports jamboree when poor infrastructure and areas such as health and education require urgent massive investment.
Brazil will also host the 2016 Olympic games — another massive outlay of government funds for which there is building resentment. Brazil may be soccer’s Mecca but its people aren’t convinced that the investment to stage an extravaganza watched on TV by more than a billion people is worth it.
Speaking of the Olympics, security for the games beginning in Sochi next month is looking more and more like a crapshoot. One expert stated the area around Sochi to be as dangerous as Iraq:
In an interview with Fox News National Security Analyst KT McFarland, former FBI officer Bill Daly called the threat of an attack in or near Sochi “credible.”
“They are out there … the to and from routes are vulnerable,” Daly said of Sochi’s remote location. “They [athletes] can be as vulnerable as some of our troops who were traveling in Iraq on some of these more remote routes,” said Daly
Oh, joy. Can we really trust the Russians not to muck it up? I don’t think our government does:
The United States will be ready to rescue Americans from the upcoming Sochi Olympics, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said amid heightened security fears in the run-up to the Games.
“If we need to extract our citizens, we will have appropriate arrangements with the Russians to do this,” Hagel told journalists on Friday.
Over 10,000 American athletes and spectators are expected to attend the Games, which start on Feb. 7.
Russia has the main responsibility for protecting the Olympics, but recent deadly suicide attacks have heightened worries about militant attacks.
On Thursday, the U.S. Olympic team and at least five other national delegations said they had received messages making terrorist threats ahead of the Games.
So we have that to look forward to.
Finally, the Super Bowl may become of victim of Polar Vortex — The Sequel. If people are voting with their feet — and their pocketbooks — the first cold weather Super Bowl in history looks like it’s going to be an epic fail.
Weather forecasts a week out from the game are predicting temps in the 20′s — balmy if you live in Green Bay or some other northern city. But who wants to shell out a couple of grand for tickets to sit in a cold stadium, watching cold players try to play a decent game of football?
Cold weather is driving the cost of Super Bowl tickets to the lowest level in at least two years as fans wince at the thought of shivering in temperatures of around 20F next Sunday.
The cheapest ticket on ticket exchange Stub Hub was $1,277.50 at midday today.
That has fallen even further than yesterday when ESPN calculated that a $1,779 ticket was $409 cheaper than at the same time last year and $809 than in 2012.
However NFL officials remain unconcerned about both turnout and takings – the most expensive ticket on offer is a suite for a cool $686,720.
Forecasters are predicting one of the coldest Super Bowls in recent memory this year as a second block of arctic air hovers over New York and New Jersey. Temperatures are expected to hover around 30F all week and there is now a 30 per cent chance of snow on Super Bowl Sunday.
The venue, Met Life stadium in New Jersey is also open to the elements meaning a potentially uncomfortable experience for the majority of fans who will not be in heated suites.
There is even speculation that the game could be postponed if faced with heavy snow – an outcome that would surely bring questions about the decision to hold the game in an uncovered stadium in the North East.
Maybe the league executives didn’t feel like leaving town for the game this year — even if it was held in more tropical city. The NFL offices are in New York and I’m sure the league big-wigs appreciate the short drive to New Jersey to attend the game.
But how about the 70,000 other people stuck watching a rump-freezing, teeth-chattering game in the wind and snow? And what happens if the weather becomes dangerous?
Could we see a Super Bowl Friday, or Saturday, or even Monday? Believe it or not, it’s possible if a major storm threatens the big day.
“We don’t have a crystal ball on weather, but we’re confident we’ll be able to have our events,” said Eric Grubman, executive VP, NFL.
On Wednesday, more than 1,000 workers shoveled out 13 inches of snow from the stands at Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
“Our game is to experience the elements. It’s part of what we do. It’s part of football, and I believe that’s part of our history,” said Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner.
The Super Bowl will go on and is in no danger of becoming extinct. There will be a Super Bowl next year and the year after that — just like there will probably be Olympic games and World Cups far into the future.
But for a variety of reasons, these sporting events are beginning to lose a little luster. There won’t be the same cachet associated with the Olympics if there’s trouble, nor will the World Cup be quite the same if there is unrest while the tournament is underway.
And while you can’t kill the Super Bowl, a change in date due to weather will expose NFL executives to heavy — and deserved — criticism. Might something go out of that event as well?
What connects all three of these events is mega-hype. And while the games usually fall short of expectations, 2014 promises to be even more of a disconnect from reality
The United Nations organization charged with the mandate “to promote and protect all human rights” is sticking its nose into the controversy over the name of the Washington, D.C. NFL franchise.
Representatives from the UN Human Rights Council will meet with representatives of the Oneida Indian Nation to discuss the tribes’ campaign to get the Redskins to change their name.
The brewing controversy over the name of Washington’s pro football team is now a matter before the United Nations. Leaders from the Oneida Indian Nation, a tribe that has waged a season-long campaign against the team’s name, are meeting today with Ivan Šimonovic, the assistant secretary-general for human rights, at the UN’s headquarters in New York.
The UN has no jursidiction over the NFL, of course, but its Human Rights Council has gotten involved in trying to fix racism in sports, including FIFA and other soccer organizations. “This particular case could be of interest to a number of UN human rights mechanisms,” a spokesperson for the Human Rights Council told USA Today.
Since last September, the Oneidas have sponsored advertisements calling on the Redskins to drop their name, which is defined by most dictionaries as derogatory, staged rallies outside NFL games, and held meetings with high-ranking NFL executives, though not Commissioner Roger Goodell.
The name has also been panned by a wide of critics from President Obama, who has said he would think about changing the name if he owned the team, to Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who said the team “probably should” get a less-offensive nickname. (Hall, who negotiating a new contract, later walked back that statement.)
“This issue is not going away until the offensive name is retired,” Ray Halbritter, an Oneida representative who is meeting with the UN, said in a press release. But even if the UN agrees that Washington’s NFL club should change its name, the decision to do so still rests with Dan Snyder, who has not been swayed so far.
The body count in Syria is over 100,000, Iran executes homosexuals, Russia makes it a virtual crime to be openly gay — and the UN Human Rights Council wants to make an issue of the name of a pro sport franchise?
So who is Ivan Šimonovic, the UN’s assistant secretary general for human rights? He was justice minister of the Croatian government during a time of massive human rights abuses. Šimonovic swears he had nothing to do with the atrocities, but others have a different idea:
Simonovic’ s diplomatic career began as the modern Croatian nation was forged during the traumatic breakup of the former Yugoslavia — an era defined by civil war, moral compromise and ethnic cleansing. His association with the government of the late Franjo Tudjman, which engaged in massive human rights violations during the war, has raised concerns among human rights advocates about his commitment to human rights. More recently, Amnesty International released a report criticizing the Croatian justice system’s handling of war crimes investigations, saying it is biased against Serbs and noting that few Croatian military officers are prosecuted for their role in war-time atrocities.
So, yeah — we’re going to let this jamoke judge the controversy swirling around the name of the Washington NFL franchise.
And what about the “Human Rights Council” itself? Here are some upstanding members of the Council:
Those are the worst of the lot, with plenty of other nations differing in the savagery of their oppression only by the body count.
Eventually, the issue will resolve itself. Right now, about 70% majorities don’t think the Redskins should change their name. But democracy means squat to the UN — especially the human rights crowd, who always seem to find someone or some group in the west to criticize but can never quite get around to looking in a mirror and ending their own hypocrisy.
A newly released Pentagon report says that current US intelligence efforts to detect nuclear weapons programs in other countries is totally inadequate and how agencies approach the issue needs to be revamped.
American intelligence and security agencies are not currently capable of detecting when foreign nations are building nuclear weapons or ramping up their existing programs, according to a newly released Pentagon report that faults a range of U.S. agencies.
“The nation is not yet organized or fully equipped” to detect clandestine nuclear activities across the globe, and in most cases “current solutions are either inadequate, or more often, do not exist,” according to the report, which was compiled over three years by the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board.
More nations than ever are pursuing nuclear arms. However, the United States does not have the mechanisms to detect and track these programs, according to the report.
Moreover, U.S. intelligence agencies are not doing enough to rectify the issue, according to the report, which called for a full-scale revamp in how agencies approach the issue of nuclear detection.
The United States “lacks a cohesive, long term, international engagement plan aimed at building cooperation and transparency,” the report warns.
America’s inability to detect rogue nuclear programs could be particularly problematic in the case of Iran, which has built many clandestine and underground nuclear facilities. The U.S. has a history of being caught flat-footed when it comes to detecting foreign nuclear programs.
“The technologies and processes designed for current treaty verification and inspections are inadequate to future monitoring realities,” the Pentagon report states.
“The task force observed early in its deliberations that there are many communities involved in tackling a piece of the monitoring ‘elephant,’ but found no group that could clearly articulate the entire program, nor a strategy for addressing it in any complete or comprehensive fashion.”
“Closing the nation’s global nuclear monitoring gaps should be a national priority,” the report states. “It will require, however, a level of commitment and sustainment we don’t normally do well without a crisis.”
Just how do our spooks define “crisis”? The most dangerous regime on the planet is within a hair’s breadth of creating the ability to build the most dangerous weapon in existence — if they don’t already possess that capability already. And the second most dangerous regime in the world has already carried out two nuclear bomb tests and is in the process of building an ICBM that will be capable of hitting most cities in the US.
Now — do we have a crisis, or don’t we? And if we do, and we still don’t have the ability to gauge the progress of these rogue states toward achieving their nuclear goals, just what do you propose to do about it?
Admittedly, it is very difficult to penetrate these closed societies and unlock their most closely guarded secrets. But this report also harangues our agencies for not developing the technologies and processes to adequately monitor and verify nuclear programs that we are entitled by treaty to inspect.Just how does the administration plan to verify any agreement with Iran that might be reached? This report declares we’re not fully ready.
We have a president who wants to get rid of nuclear weapons but apparently doesn’t care we don’t have the ability to monitor the nuclear programs of countries who would be signatories to such a treaty.
The indictment of a major critic of the president has elicited little more than yawns from the media.
This is a case where you don’t even have to connect the dots. Just read a little history:
After news broke Thursday that federal prosecutors had charged conservative commentator, author, film-maker and professional Obama-basher Dinesh D’Souza with violating campaign finance laws, Walter Olson at the Overlawyered blog posted on the relatively mild civil sanction meted out to a “big-league trial lawyer” who’d done pretty much the same thing D’Souza is accused of. D’Souza has been indicted for allegedly paying $20,000 to reimburse straw donors to the campaign of Republican Senate candidate Wendy Long, who lost a 2012 contest against incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand. Arkansas trial lawyer Tab Turner, as Overlawyered recounted in 2006, reimbursed donors of $8,000 to John Edwards’ 2004 presidential campaign and just had to cough up a $9,500 civil fine. By highlighting the contrast in his post Thursday, Olson seemed to be suggesting that D’Souza has been selectively targeted for prosecution because he’s so critical of the Obama administration.
Former acting U.S. attorney general George Terwilliger of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius raised the same suggestion in an interview Friday. Terwilliger, who served in the administration of two Republican presidents and later defended noted Los Angeles lawyer Pierce O’Donnell against campaign finance charges similar to those leveled against D’Souza, told me there are “legitimate questions that could be asked about the political motivation for bringing the case.” Want more conspiracy theorism? Dominic Gentile of Gordon Silver, who represented Nevada campaign finance defendant Harvey Whittemore, conducted exhaustive research on so-called conduit payments of the sort D’Souza is accused of making. In Whittemore’s sentencing memo, he documented civil and criminal penalties in “straw donor” cases. “Twenty thousand dollars?” Gentile told me. “I’ve never heard of a $20,000 criminal case” for campaign finance violations.” And at D’Souza’s arraignment Friday in Manhattan federal court, his own lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, told U.S. District Judge Richard Berman that whatever D’Souza did, his conduct wasn’t criminal.
This thing stinks to high heaven of political motivation.
First, there is this very curious note in the DoJ press release on how D’Souza’s crime was discovered:
The Indictment is the result of a routine review by the FBI of campaign filings with the FEC by various candidates after the 2012 election for United States Senator in New York. Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the FBI.
How is it possible that a measly $20,000 in donations could leap out at investigators during a “routine review”? Most people charged with this crime front hundreds of thousands of dollars — and end up with far lesser charges. And are we to believe this “routine review” only snared Mr. D’Souza? If $20,000 in contributions leapt out at the FBI, are we to believe that D’Souza is the only contributor guilty of setting up straw donations? Where are the other lawbreakers?
Some court watchers are cautioning us not to read too much into this Supreme Court decision to grant a temporary stay against enforcing the contraceptive mandate for some religious institutions, including the Little Sisters of the Poor who have challenged a paperwork requirement of the mandate in federal court.
The justices are not ruling on the merits of the case. They have agreed to grant relief to the plaintiffs until the lower court rules on their case.
The Supreme Court on Friday offered a short-term compromise that would continue to exempt a group of Denver nuns that operates charity nursing homes from the birth control mandate of the nation’s health care law if they declare their objections in writing.
The nuns will take the court up on its offer and provide a written notice, officials said.
The justices asked the nuns to write the Department of Health and Human Services declaring themselves a religious nonprofit organization and making their objection to birth control. In return, the high court would continue to block for them the contraceptive coverage requirement of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, while their appeal is heard in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Their nuns’ lawyer, Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said they were delighted to hear about the court’s decision. “It made no sense for the Little Sisters to be singled out for fines and punishment before they could even finish their suit,” he said.
Under the health care law, most health insurance plans have to cover all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives as preventive care for women, free of cost to the patient. Churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the birth control requirement, but affiliated institutions that serve the general public are not. That includes charitable organizations, universities and hospitals.
In response to an outcry, the government came up with a compromise that requires insurers or health plan administrators to provide birth control coverage but allows the religious group to distance itself from that action. The exemption is triggered when the religious group signs a form for the insurer saying that it objects to the coverage. The insurer can then go forward with the coverage.
A group of Denver nuns who run nursing homes for the poor, called the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, say signing that form makes them complicit in providing contraceptive coverage, and therefore violates their religious beliefs.
The high court exempted them from the government form requirements, saying the nuns only have to inform HHS in “writing.”
“To meet the condition for injunction pending appeal, applicants need not use the form prescribed by the government and need not send copies to third-party administrators,” the justices’ order said.
The case is unusual because the nuns are already exempt from the contraceptive mandate itself, but they see filling out the government form showing why they are exempt facilitates the dispensing of contraceptives.
The two groups of the Little Sisters order, in Denver and Baltimore, have an employee benefit plan that would be covered by the “contraceptive mandate” if they did not qualify for an exemption. The government says that they do qualify, but only if they file a Form 700 and pass on copies to the health plan administrator, Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust.
The Christian Brothers entity itself has made clear that it, too, objects to the “contraceptive mandate” and would not incorporate it in the Little Sisters plan. And, the government told the Court, the Christian Brothers would not have to do that, because another federal law exempts “church plans” from the ACA mandate.
Even so, the Little Sisters, in urging the Court to give them formal legal shelter from the mandate, had argued that they did not want any part in the scheme — not filing Form 700 and not passing it on to Christian Brothers. That is exactly what they won — temporarily — in Friday’s order from the Supreme Court.
Of course, they still have to persuade the Tenth Circuit, in their appeal there, that the mandate’s obligations are an unconstitutional intrusion on their religious beliefs.
Although the Friday order relieved the Little Sisters, for the time being, of a duty to file Form 700 and pass that on to their plan’s operator, the Justices did give the federal government something, too. The government, in resisting the Little Sisters’ challenge, had said that the government has to have some workable mechanism that religious groups can file in order to be let out of the mandate’s obligation.
The Justices supplied that with the requirement that the Little Sisters make a written declaration (the Court did not say what exact format it must have) that they are seeking an exemption. Presumably, that will be a better option for them, because under the ACA only a properly filled-out Form 700 could lead to actual coverage of the contraceptive services included in the mandate. The legal force of that particular document was at the core of the Little Sisters’ religious objection. Once they filled it out, they contended, it just might lead, in practical terms, to the beginning of such coverage.
The challenge to the contraceptive mandate itself will come in March when the Supreme Court hears several consolidated cases from for-profit businesses whose owners say the mandate compromises their religious beliefs.
For a while there, it looked like the bumbling of US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would derail the Syrian peace talks before they even got started. Kerry had floated the idea of including Iran in the talks earlier this month, albeit “with conditions.”
But Ban went Kerry one better and invited Iran with no preconditions — the most important being that they accept the removal of President Bashir Assad. Without that precondition, the Syrian opposition threatened to torpedo the talks by walking out.
Ban had no alternative but to climb back off the limb he had wandered on to:
“He continues to urge Iran to join the global consensus behind the Geneva Communiqué,” spokesman Martin Nesirky said, referring to an earlier agreement. “Given that it has chosen to remain outside that basic understanding, he has decided that the one-day Montreux gathering will proceed without Iran’s participation.”
Iran, at that point, already said it would not participate if it had to accept the precondition. In the wake of the U.N. announcement, the Syrian opposition coalition reportedly confirmed it would participate.
For the time being, the secretary-general’s decision to back off his invitation helps preserve the peace talks and eases tensions between his office and the State Department, which had urged him to rescind the invite.
“We are hopeful that, in the wake of today’s announcement, all parties can now return to focus on the task at hand, which is bringing an end to the suffering of the Syrian people and beginning a process toward a long overdue political transition,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
The peace talks are intended to bring together for the first time representatives of Assad’s government and members of the Western-backed opposition that is trying to overthrow him.
Diplomats and political leaders acknowledge that a quick end is unlikely for a conflict that has killed more than 130,000 people and touched off the worst humanitarian crisis in decades. The battle lines have been largely frozen since early 2013, and the Syrian National Coalition has little sway or respect within Syria’s rebellion.
But the U.N.-hosted peace talks in Geneva and Montreux this week had raised hopes of at least getting the two sides to talk — expectations that were called into question on Monday.
Ban said he had initially issued the invitation to Iran after “speaking at length in recent days” with Iranian Foreign Minister Javid Zarif, who had “pledged that Iran would play a positive and constructive role in Montreux.”
In the Syrian capital of Damascus, Assad held a meeting with the official delegation that will head to the talks, telling them to “prevent any foreign intervention no matter what it is,” state TV said. The officials were quoted as saying that they were directed to “start a political dialogue as a first step toward an internal Syrian dialogue inside Syria.”
The mix of jihadists, al-Qaeda and its affiliates, Free Syrian Army members, and young Syrians of the Local Coordinating Committees view the opposition with equal contempt. Most of the recognized opposition is made up of Syrian ex-pats — men who haven’t lived in Syria for decades, some of them. The opposition itself is hopelessly fragmented and is even less coherent than the Libyan opposition was when western forces handed them power following the ouster of Gaddafi.
In short, the talks aren’t going to accomplish anything that the jihadists fighting Assad inside Syria are going to accept. And Assad will never assent to his departure. This means that the opposition, who won’t accept anything unless Assad goes, are bound to reject any and all proposals coming from Damascus.
Meanwhile, the body count rises and al-Qaeda grows in strength and influence.
There is a good summation of the problems with the Sochi Winter Olympics by Frances Weaver in The Week today. It’s about what you’d expect from modern day Russia ruled by former KGB agent Vladamir Putin. In fact, the Olympic movement hasn’t seen anything remotely like it.
First, the cost: $51 billion. By contrast, the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 cost around $8 billion. And Putin, who showed up in Guatemala in 2007 to personally lobby the IOC for Sochi, received the bid largely because he promised to spend $12 billion.
How does $12 billion turn into $51 billion?
Attempting to stage winter events in a subtropical resort known as the “Russian Riviera” is an expensive, climate-defying business. Though the 7,600-foot-high slopes at the neighboring mountain resort of Krasnaya Polyana are almost guaranteed February snow, the same can’t be said for the lower slopes or at sea level, where the average daytime winter temperature is a pleasant 52 degrees. So officials have had to drain swamps, store last year’s snow, and install 400 snowmaking machines. Meanwhile, at least 70,000 laborers — many of them migrant workers working seven days a week for as little as $500 a month — were shipped in to build more than a dozen venues, 20,000 new hotel rooms, new roads, bridges, and tunnels, a renovated airport, and new railway lines. There is also a more sinister reason why the budget will surpass even the $40 billion Beijing spent on the extravagant 2008 Summer Olympics.
What is that?
Corruption. “The Sochi Olympics are an unprecedented thieves’ caper,” says former deputy prime minister and opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. He claims that some $26 billion in phony costs may have been creamed off by contractors, many of whom are Putin cronies. Consider the new 31-mile road and railway that run from the beachfront town of Adler to the Krasnaya Polyana ski resort, overseen by Vladimir Yakunin, a former KGB general and Putin pal who heads Russian Railways. The new route into Sochi cost an estimated $8.7 billion — more than Vancouver spent staging the entire Winter Olympics in 2010. For that sum, calculated the Russian edition of Esquire, Russia could have paved the entire road with beluga caviar.
A waste of good caviar, that. But what this idiocy really reveals is the nauseating greed of the Olympic “movement.”
It’s important to know that the International Olympic Committee exists for one reason only: to make money for its members and cronies. The pious proclamations about the brotherhood of man and the “Olympic spirit” is a beard to mask the fact that all the marketing, broadcast rights, naming rights (“The Official Underarm Deodorant of the Olympic Games!”), and corporate partnerships are various ways to spread the wealth to favored clients and hangers-on. Some of the billions taken in by the IOC every four years goes to putting on the games. More goes to various Olympic organizing committees and national Olympic committees. But 10% is for “administrative costs.” Where does the other 90% go?
The IOC distributes some of Olympic marketing revenue to organisations throughout the Olympic Movement to support the staging of the Olympic Games and to promote the worldwide development of sport. The IOC retains approximately 10% of Olympic marketing revenue for the operational and administrative costs of governing the Olympic Movement.
The broadcast rights alone for Sochi brought in more than $4 billion, representing 47% of the take. That means that almost $8 billion is taken in by the IOC over a four-year period. That’s a lot of loose cash floating around.
Allegations made by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer regarding the Christie administration threatening to hold up hurricane relief because she refused to sign off on a lucrative development project have made quite a splash in the press.
But that’s not the tune she was singing 8 days ago when she told reporters an entirely different story about the aid hold up. Guy Benson at Townhall reports:
Hmmm. A New Jersey reporter notes that Zimmer peddled a similar story, but with different details, to him eight days ago:
The story then was that the aid was not forthcoming because she refused to endorse Christie’s re-election.
So last week, Christie was withholding Sandy funding in retaliation for her lack of endorsement. Now she says it was all about a development deal. That’s a suspicious evolution.
Ye, “suspicious” — especially since she seems to have changed her tune after MSNBC contacted her for an interview. Do you suppose that had anything to do with it?
That’s not all. Back in August, she was positively gushing about Christie, although she felt constrained in overtly endorsing him because of the non-partisan nature of Hoboken’s mayoral race.
Jenna Portnoy @jennaportnoy
.@dawnzimmernj in Little Ferry for @GovChristie presser, but he can’t count on her formal support “I don’t expect to be endorsing,” she says
* * * * * *
Dawn Zimmer @dawnzimmernj
@jennaportnoy @govchristie He has done a great job for NJ & Hoboken. We have a non-partisan mayoral election on Nov 5th.
12:13 PM – 20 Aug 2013
* * * * * * *
Dawn Zimmer @dawnzimmernj
To be clear I am very glad Governor Christie has been our Gov. I am not endorsing bc of Hob’s non-partisan mayoral race.
12:44 PM – 20 Aug 2013
It’s important to point out that Christie is suffering from guilt by association. Zimmer has never claimed that Christie was making these threats, just his Lt. governor and another aide.
But what makes this story resonate is that either explanation for the hold up of Sandy aid fits in with the general narrative of New Jersey politics. It’s not very difficult to imagine a politician threatening another over a lack of endorsement or for dragging their feet on a development project for a crony. This would be considered business as usual in New Jersey, although the level of hard ball being played is more impressive than just about anywhere else.
When former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevitch was on trial for corruption, part of his defense was that his “pay to play” schemes weren’t unusual, that this was how politics was played in Illinois. The judge and jury didn’t buy it and now Blago is making license plates in prison downstate.
Corrupt politics has its own logic, makes its own rules. I don’t know if Christie threatened to withhold hurricane relief from a small town for petty, political reasons or worse. I’m not sure Zimmer herself isn’t fudging the truth for the benefit of MSNBC and other partisan media outlets.
But perhaps we haven’t been looking at Christie in the same way we wished the press would have viewed Obama back in 2008 — as a creature of a corrupt political environment who couldn’t be trusted with national office.
If elected, would Christie adopt a “New Jersey Way” of solving political problems? Something to consider before the primaries roll around next year.
Hat Tip: Jazz Shaw
He doesn’t have a son — that we know of — but that didn’t stop President Obama from weighing in on the pro football concussion controversy.
The president made those comments in a wide-ranging interview appearing in The New Yorker today.
President Obama said that he believed NFL players “know what they’re doing” and understood the impact that concussions could have on their long-term health in an interview with The New Yorker published on Sunday, adding that he would not let his son play pro football.
“At this point, there’s a little bit of caveat emptor,” Obama said. “These guys, they know what they’re doing. They know what they’re buying into. It is no longer a secret. It’s sort of the feeling I have about smokers, you know?”
In August, the NFL agreed to a $765 million settlement in a lawsuit brought against the league by former players. The league did not admit any liability or that brain injuries were the result of playing football, but the money will be split among former players and medical researchers. A federal judge has not yet approved the deal.
Existing research has shown that repeated concussions can be associated with memory loss and behavioral changes. They’re also linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative brain disease.
The president made the comments while speaking aboard Air Force One with David Remnick, the magazine’s editor and a former sportswriter for The Washington Post.
Obama said that while the risks were understood, if he had a son, he would not allow him to play professional football.
“I would not let my son play pro football,” he said. “But, I mean, you wrote a lot about boxing, right? We’re sort of in the same realm.”
Note that the president didn’t say Pee Wee football, or high school football, or even college football — all three levels that he would have a lot more influence over the decision of whether a child of his should play football. Presumably, an adult child could tell his father Barack where to stick his decision not to let him play pro ball. But there are millions of fathers out there who encourage their sons to play football despite the dangers to growing bones, tendons, and ligaments.
So basically, his statement is meaningless, while it avoids offending those parents who allow their kids to play ball.
The president also made a few other statements that will probably cause some controversy.
1. His approval numbers — both positive and negative — are the result of race.
“There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black president,” Obama said in the article by David Remnick, appearing in the magazine’s Jan. 27 edition.
“Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I’m a black president,” Obama said in his most direct comments on how race has affected his political standing since he’s been in office.
2. Obama said that legalizing marijuana in Colorado and Washington may not be a good thing because it will lead to calls for legalization of other drugs. But he said marijuana was no more dangerous than alcohol:
“As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol,” Obama told the weekly magazine.
The president said pot was actually less dangerous than alcohol “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.”
“It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy,” he said.
A rule requiring that companies offer the same insurance benefits to their top executives as they do their employees has been put on hold because the IRS can’t figure out how to define concepts like “benefits” and “compensation.”
The rule was scheduled to go into effect in 2010, but was delayed because the IRS couldn’t deal with the complexity of corporate executive compensation. As it turns out, a “one-size-fits-all” regulation is, at this point, an impossibility.
The Affordable Care Act, commonly known as ObamaCare, says employer-sponsored health plans must not discriminate “in favor of highly compensated individuals” with respect to either eligibility or benefits, and provides a tax break for employer-sponsored insurance, while demanding employers not provide better coverage to higher-paid employees.
Yet Bruce I. Friedland, a spokesman for the I.R.S., told the New York Times that employers would not have to comply until the agency issued regulations or other guidance.
Under ObamaCare, an employer that has a fully insured health plan that discriminates in favor of high-paid executives could face a steep penalty: a tax of $100 a day for each individual affected negatively.
Among the issues holding up the implementation of regulations, according to the Times, are how to measure the value of employee health benefits, how to define “highly compensated” and what exactly constitutes discrimination against less-paid employees.
As a result, the Times reports, officials have decided to review the existing nondiscrimination rules for self-insured companies, even as they try to write new rules for employers that buy commercial health insurance.
“Under the Affordable Care Act, for the first time all group health plans will be prohibited from offering coverage only to their highest paid employees. The Departments of HHS, Labor and the Treasury are working on rules that will implement this requirement of the ACA, taking into account public comments that were previously requested,” Erin Donar, a spokesperson for the Treasury told Fox News in a statement Saturday evening.
“As we continue this work, employers still have the same incentives they always have had to offer coverage to their employees as part of a competitive compensation package, and will have additional incentives under the Affordable Care Act starting this year and next.”
The enforcement delay is the latest in a list of deadline extensions and exemptions to the controversial law by the Obama administration to minimize disruption from the new health care law, which is sure to play in key role in this year’s midterm elections.
They’ve had three years to get this right and haven’t even defined the terms necessary for the regulation? They had three years to construct a website and didn’t come close to finishing? What is it with these guys? They’re like college kids who procrastinate on that big paper and then wait until the night before it’s due to start it.
That’s a question House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers is wondering about. Specifically, Rogers wants to look into a Snowden-FSB connection, given that some of the relevant data points to the former NSA analyst receiving technical assistance in stealing the files.
“I believe there’s questions to be answered there,” Rogers said in an interview to air on “Meet the Press.” “I don’t think it was a gee-whiz luck event that he ended up in Moscow under the handling of the FSB.”
The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) is the successor to the KGB, and serves as Russia’s primary intelligence service.
Rogers says his suspicions were aroused because some of the information Snowden obtained while working as a contractor for the NSA were “beyond his technical capabilities.” The Michigan Republican also questioned how Snowden had assembled a so-called “go bag” for his escape to Hong Kong after turning over the classified documents to journalists.
Moreover, Rogers argues Snowden targeted information about foreign intelligence operations, rather than intelligence programs that raised privacy concerns for American citizens.
“I believe there’s a reason he ended up in the hands, the loving arms, of an FSB agent in Moscow,” Rogers said. “I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”
In an interview last month with the Washington Post, Snowden said there was “no evidence at all for the claim that I have loyalties to Russia or China or any country other than the United States.”
“I have no relationship with the Russian government,” he continued. “I have not entered into any agreements with them.”
Instead, Snowden said he was motivated by concern over the programs’ privacy violations.
“All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed,” Snowden said.
Rogers has more information than the rest of us on how Snowden got a hold of millions of pages of documents and files. But I still find it faintly possible that he could have been working with a foreign agent who represented himself as someone else.
Was some of the information actually “beyond his technical capabilities”? By all reports, Snowden is a very clever fellow and something of a computer whiz. But accessing all this highly classified information — and doing it without being immediately discovered — does indeed raise questions about whether he had technical assistance or not. It need not have come from a foreign source. But if he had an accomplice, the government will surely want to know.
Snowden as a conscious agent of the FSB is a stretch. But that doesn’t mean he pulled this off by himself, or that others were not involved.
Actress Maria Conchita Alonso is an anti-illegal immigration activist and fierce opponent of both the Castro brothers and the late Hugo Chavez. She has never hid her politics, appearing several times on Hannity and The O’Reilly Factor.
But Alonso’s endorsement of Tea Party candidate Tim Donnelly proved to be a bridge too far for San Francisco Latinos. After Alonso cut an ad with the colorful Donnelly, the local Hispanic community went ballistic. This led to Alonso being forced to quit a production of The Vagina Monologues that was set to open next month.
Donnelly has voiced strong views against illegal immigration and was once involved with the Minutemen Project, a group that patrolled the border with Mexico to catch immigrants coming across.
“Politicians and big government are killing our prosperity, pushing welfare costs through the roof and driving our schools into the ground,” Donnelly said in the ad.
Standing next to Donnelly, Alonso jokingly translated in Spanish, “We’re screwed.”
Alonso is an actress of Cuban and Venezuelan descent. She is perhaps best known for her role in the movie “Moscow on the Hudson” which also starred Robin Williams.
The actress was to perform next month at the Brava Theater Center in San Francisco’s Mission District in a Spanish-language version of “The Vagina Monologues,” scheduled for a run from February 14th through 17th. The show is being produced by none other than Eliana Lopez, wife of San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.
“We really cannot have her in the show, unfortunately,” Lopez told KPIX 5. She said Alonso abruptly resigned from the cast on Friday, given the backlash on the immigration issue.
“Of course she has the right to say whatever she wants. But we’re in the middle of the Mission. Doing what she is doing is against what we believe,” Lopez said.
Oh, dear. We musn’t have that, must we? After all, there’s only one belief system among all Hispanics and if you don’t agree, good luck getting a job, sucker.
Alonso received an earful from listeners of Spanish-language radio station KIQI 1010 AM in San Francisco on Friday, after she said in an interview that she supported many of Donnelly’s views on illegal immigration. Several listeners took her to task after she used the term “illegal” to describe undocumented immigrants.
In the ad, Alonso holds a chihuahua named “Tequila” and uses some vulgar language which has also been a point of contention among some Latino viewers.
“We don’t act like that. First of all, that is not a typical Latina,” said Jim Salinas, a long time Mission resident and former president of the San Francisco Latino Democratic Club. Salinas said there probably would have been boycotts if Alonso had stayed on the production.
Liberal Hispanics tie themselves into knots trying to avoid saying what everyone in America knows; people who are in the U.S. without proper documentation are here illegally. I couldn’t care less if someone is “offended” by the truth. What does being offended have to do with the law? “Illegal” is the perfect word to describe those who broke the law to get here. Why mess with the English language except to obscure the truth?
Here’s the offending ad, which I find pretty clever, actually:
Despite encouraging words from CMS and the administration on the numbers of young, healthy Americans vs. old, sicker Americans who have signed up for Obamacare policies, there is little cause for celebration by supporters of the law.
First, there is the “Obamacare number no one is talking about”:
When officials at the Department of Health and Human Services announced the most recent Obamacare enrollment figures earlier this week, they focused on one brag point amidst otherwise discouraging news about the program’s progress.
According to government tallies, 44.5 million people called or visited state and federal websites they said, presumably indicating broad interest in the new benefit.
But we also know that only 2.2 million people have signed up for Obamacare. Factoring in all of the professed web traffic, this would mean that the number of people who signed up (but didn’t necessarily pay) for an Obamacare health plan amounts to a conversion rate of less than 5% of the Obamacare web traffic.
And this is among consumers who had the patience to navigate the faulty Obamacare web portals.
This data strongly suggests that eligible consumers, who take the time to kick the tires on Obamacare, don’t like the products that they’re finding in the exchanges. They’re browsing, but not buying.
In the lexicon of the Internet, “conversion rate” amounts to the number of successful actions on a website (e.g. an e-commerce purchase) divided by the traffic to the site. Obamacare’s rate of converting web traffic into customers would place the program on par with the click through rates enjoyed by Internet banner ads, and well below sales figures on other e-commerce sites.
Considering the fact that most of the people who visited the exchange portals weren’t mere curiosity seekers (but are actually shopping for health insurance coverage) you get a sense how dismal these figures are.
The data suggest that the discrepancy between healthy and sick customers will continue, as those who have little or no need for insurance take a pass on Obamacare.
Not surprisingly, the problem is that the policies “were designed in Washington to suit political prerogatives rather than being designed in the marketplace to meet the demands of consumers.”
They’re laden down with costly mandates that leave the products too expensive. The plans try and make up for these costs by using narrow networks of cheap doctors and closed drug formularies. Despite the skinny networks, the plans still leave consumers with big premiums and deductibles. Washington managed to simultaneously degrade the coverage, and make it more expensive.
The bottom line: Insurance companies, already terrified at the “adverse selection” of consumers, may face huge losses in the marketplace.
How big? No one will know until July 2015, when the companies are supposed to report the numbers. But it’s important to note that the bailout program contained in Obamacare was really designed to help one or a couple of companies who ended up with an “adverse selection” problem so bad that they lost a lot of money.
From a Washington Examiner editorial:
It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that the risk corridors program was intended to help any given insurer that was stuck with a disproportionate percentage of individuals with high medical claims. It wasn’t meant for a scenario in which there are massive industrywide losses.
In such a case, the taxpayer exposure could be huge. Under the program, if an insurer’s losses are 103 percent to 108 percent over the target amount, the federal government would absorb half of those losses — and for losses that exceed 108 percent, the government would cover 80 percent.
Seeing the potential danger of this program, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in November introduced legislation to repeal it before it puts taxpayers on the hook. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., proposed companion legislation in the House. Industry lobbyists are already gearing up for a fight. Buzzfeed obtained talking points from Blue Cross Blue Shield Association CEO Scott Serota sent to the company’s members, warning that repealing the program “jeopardizes the entire private health insurance market and will ultimately lead to a single-payer system.”
But Republicans shouldn’t be cowed by such transparently self-serving industry scare tactics. Pursuing repeal is a win-win for conservatives and for the country.
You can bet those “target amounts” are very generous and would cause the risk corridor feature to kick in with minimal losses by the companies.
There are dozens of insurance companies participating in state exchanges. Assuming most, if not all, lose money, the bailout could be billions of dollars. Halting a bailout before it gets started may force most companies to abandon the Obamacare exchanges because they will be unable to jack up next year’s premiums high enough to avoid losing even more money.
There is probably a threshold under which the number of companies participating would make the entire program collapse. What if some states had no companies offering plans at all? That’s a scenario that would stop Obamacare in its tracks and force massive revisions, if not a de facto repeal.
There has been talk of including an anti-bailout provision with the debt ceiling bill. This is an excellent idea in that at the very least, it would force Democrats and the president to defend bailing out billion dollar companies due to their own incompetence. In truth, Democrats probably won’t even consider the change. And any actual bailout won’t occur until next year, after the midterms.
But it will be worth it just to watch the Democrats squirm as they simultaneously take the GOP to task for favoring “inequality” and the rich, while defending large corporations who will receive a massive bailout courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer.
Apparently, Obamacare is in a lot bigger trouble than anyone has let on — or anyone has imagined.
A document given to the contractor who replaced CGI in December shows how truly desperate is the position of the government.
Accenture has been tasked with finishing the construction of the healthcare.gov website — specifically, the back end of the site which will allow the transfer of subsidies directly to insurance companies.
The document makes it clear that the reason CGI was let go was because the government had no confidence that the company could affect the changes necessary to get the payment system up and running in time to avoid disaster.
The document said officials realized in December that the need to bring on Accenture was so urgent that there was no time to go through the “full and open competition process” before awarding them with a $91 million contract.
“There is limited time to build this functionality and failure to deliver…by mid-March 2014 will result in financial harm to the government,” the document says.
“If this functionality is not complete by mid-March 2014, the government could make erroneous payments to providers and insurers,” it continues. “Additionally, without a Financial Management platform that accounts for enrollments and associated program costs that integrates with the existing CMS Accounting platform, the entire healthcare reform program is jeopardized.”
Not completing the job on time may also result in harm to insurance companies:
Many of those who have signed up for ObamaCare are eligible for federal subsidies, which the government pays directly to the insurers. The document says that failure to complete the project by mid-March could result in “inaccurate issuance of payments to health plans which could seriously put them at financial risk; potentially leading to their default and disrupting continued services and coverage to consumers.”
On Thursday, Gary Cohen, the director of Medicare’s Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, told the House Energy and Commerce Oversight Subcommittee that the government would start paying insurers as soon as next week based on estimates of the federal subsidies owed to them.
Cohen said that “because we don’t have full functionality” of the website that the government was using a workaround, and that the automated payment system would be ready “in the next months.”
While Cohen did not give a timetable for the project, he said that a stopgap system would pay insurers next week based on calculations of what they are owed.
However, the back-end problems extend beyond federal subsidy payments. According to the document, the system is vulnerable to “inaccurate forecasting” of the risk mitigation programs in place to pay insurers who enroll a higher-than-expected number of sick patients with expensive bills, “potentially putting the entire health insurance industry at risk.”
By mid-March, Accenture must build a financial management platform that tracks eligibility and enrollment transactions, accounts for subsidy payments to insurance plans, “provides stable and predictable financial accounting and outlook for the entire program,” and that integrates with existing CMS and IRS systems.
Accenture will also have to clean up some aspects of the project that CGI failed to complete, such as the notorious 834 enrollment transmissions to insurance companies that in October and November were transmitting inaccurate and garbled data.
The government is going to guesstimate subsidies, which may lead to overpayment or underpayment to insurance companies. Apparently, they are going to leave it up to the IRS to determine if insurance companies are owed money, or whether the companies must refund the government.
Sounds like another disaster waiting to happen.