Thursday, December 29, 2011

President Obama's "Sputnik Year"

When President Obama gave his State of the Union address over 11 months ago, he referred to America's "Sputnik Moment"--our need to invest massive amounts of money in innovations, particularly green innovations, to keep pace with a changing world (emphasis added):
Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t even there yet. NASA didn’t exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs. 
This is our generation’s Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -– (applause) -- an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.
Following that speech, Governor Palin criticized President Obama's reference to Sputnik, noting how spending so much money on things like Sputnik lead to the eventual demise of the Soviet Union:
That was another one of those "WTF" moments, when he so often repeated this Sputnik moment that he would aspire Americans to celebrate. And he needs to remember that what happened back then with the former communist USSR and their victory in that race to space, yes, they won, but they also incurred so much debt at the time that it resulted in the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union. So I listened to that Sputnik moment talk over and over again, and I think, No, we don’t need one of those. You know what we need is a “spudnut” moment. And here’s where I’m going with this, Greta. And you’re a good one because you’re one of those reporters who actually gets out there in the communities, find these hard-working people and find solutions to the problems that Americans face.
Governor Palin was lambasted by the media for making what they saw as a huge historical gaffe. In reality, it turned out to be a history lesson for the biased media. Peter Schweizer (prior to being hired as an adviser to Governor Palin) wrote at Big Peace following the media mocking that Governor Palin that she was indeed correct:
Palin is right: Sputnik was the typical government solution; symbolism over substance. The Soviets did not really create a satellite, and Washington really wasn’t threatened by it. They “welcomed it.” 
Palin’s other point is that Sputnik was the sort of government bureaucratic program that got the Soviet Union in trouble; it’s an example of what eventually did them in. Citing Wikipedia (what journalistic ingenuity!), Stromberg [Washington Post author] argues that actually the Soviet Union didn’t have a debt problem until some “thirty years after” Sputnik. Perhaps instead of relying on Wikipedia, Stromberg might have consulted Robert Gates’ book From the Shadowswhich chronicles, in part, his career as a Soviet analyst at the CIA. (Just in case they are unaware at the Post, this is the same Robert Gates who is now the Secretary of Defense.) On page 173, he accurately points out that the CIA knew early on of the “Soviet economic crisis. From the late 1950s, CIA had clearly described the chronic weaknesses as well as the formidable military power of the Soviet Union.” Hmmm. Do you think this “chronic weaknesses might have had something to do with excessive bureaucracies and the size of government? Note to Stromberg: you will have to close Wikipedia and actually crack a book for this one.
In a post today, the Heritage Foundation points out that President Obama's pie in the sky promises have done just the opposite of what he promised. Solyndra has become the notorious posterchild for the green cronyism--driven by politics, not policy-- that is so pervasive in this administration:
Of course, central to the story is solar energy company Solyndra, which received a $535 million taxpayer-funded loan guarantee. President Obama spoke at the company’s newly unveiled factory in May of last year, bragging that “[W]e can see the positive impacts [of the stimulus] right here at Solyndra.” Despite the President’s boosterism, Solyndra went bankrupt last summer, leaving 1,100 people out of work. The jobs the President promised didn’t stick around long, and they came at a heavy price.
That's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the "Sputnik" investments President Obama made with taxpayer dollars. Four other solar companies that received stimulus money also went bankrupt this year. There is also Brightsource,a failing solar energy company connected to Obama donor Robert Kennedy Jr, who received more than a billion dollars in taxpayer guaranteed loans. In late September, President Obama's Department of Energy extended more green energy loans to companies like Exelon and General Electric whose leadership and employees were also big donors to his campaign.Most recently, President Obama has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the company Solazyme to fuel a Navy ship with algae based biofuels. Solazyme's strategic adviser is non other than T.J.Glauthier who was part of President Obama's transition team and who worked on the energy part of the 2009 stimulus bill. Solazyme is receiving $16 a gallon for this fuel-- 4 times the average price for such a fuel.  Pretty good payback from a friend, huh?

 President Obama's promised to invest in more than just clean energy, though, and that he did investing in both information technology and medicine. Take for example the companies Lightsquared and Siga Technologies.  Lightsquared, which received hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for a broadband project and has ties to both the infamous George Soros and Phillip Falcone (another Obama donor) is another company which has been part of President Obama's "Sputnik Year". President Obama indeed also invested in "information technology" as he promised in his State of the Union address, but such an investment did not help " strengthen our security". In fact, testing showed that Lightsquared internet signals interfered with military GPS signals. In essence, President Obama is willing to compromise the military's technological abilities in order to fill the wallets of his cronies.  President Obama also has extended a hundreds of millions of dollars no bid contract to Siga technologies  a company who manufacture small pox treatments. This company had ties to former SEIU leader and Obama friend, Andy Stern, and to mainly Democratic donor Ronald Perleman.

President Obama indeed chose to invest in those areas that he sees will pave the way for what he sees as America's Sputnik moment, but he has done so at the expense of the American taxpayer and at the cost of our financial future. There's nothing like repaying your campaign donors and cronies with taxpayer money to truly "win the future". Yet again, Governor Palin was right. It was just another "WTF" moment turned into a "WTF" year for our President.

Crossposted here and here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Governor Susana Martinez--the Quiet Reformer

Among the several Republican governors who took office following the 2010 election, three have arguably stood out due to their battles against unions: Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio, and Nikki Haley of South Carolina. There is one governor, though, who has quietly begun to  make noticeable reforms and implement conservative policy in her state--Susana Martinez of New Mexico.

Governor Martinez came into office on the heels of corruptocrat governor, former presidential candidate, and former Obama administration commerce secretary nominee, Bill Richardson. Richardson had been charged with pay-to-play schemes involving state bond deals, but those charges just so happened to be dropped by Eric Holder's Department of Justice in August of 2009. Needless to say, New Mexico was in need of reform. As a four term district attorney, Martinez spent a good deal of her time prosecuting corruption cases, so she certainly has experience taking on corruption.

In a state that President Obama won by 15 points in 2008, Governor Martinez has managed to rack up a 50% approval rating through her first year in office--highest among newly elected Republican governors--and is doing well among independents and Democrats as well. Her gubernatorial priorities have been education, balancing the budget, ensuring transparency and ethics in government, and keeping New Mexicans safe. Sounds kind of familiar, huh?

During her first year in office, Governor Martinez has turned a $400 million budget deficit into an estimated $246 million surplus. Under her direction, her cabinets have made changes to their budgets to make roughly $70 million in cuts. She has also saved money for the state by doing simple things like reducing state office space and state employee cell phone use. and At the same time, New Mexico has become the 4th best state for job growth, and their unemployment rate had gone down two percentage points between October of 2010 and October 2011. She also fought against a $128 million tax increase for small business when she vetoed a portion of a bill proposed by her democratically controlled legislature. Unfortunately, the state's supreme court overturned her veto when the legislature sued.

Governor Martinez has also made strides to make government more transparent and ethical.  On her first day in office, she signed an executive order that prohibited any part of the New Mexico state government from hiring or retaining lobbyists. She is also asking the legislature to pass a bill that would disallow anyone serving in public office working as a lobbyist for at least two years after their time in government. She has put the state checkbook online and displays the salaries of all state government employees. Governor Martinez has also sold the state's executive jet, interestingly to a couple from Alaska, and has fired Governor Richardson's cooks as well.

Her educational initiatives are aimed at "reform, not just money" and include ensuring teachers are properly evaluated and students are reading at their appropriate grade level. She is also urging the legislature to pass legislation overturning New Mexico's policy that allows illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licences. They are one of two states that allow such practices.  She argues that this policy allows illegal immigrants to get a licence and use that licence to get documentation in other states.She has also expressed pointed criticism against amnesty.

You know her conservative message has to be making an impact and getting under the skin of the Left, as scurrilous statements have been made about her family's immigration status in order to try to undermine her plans to overturn New Mexico's drivers' license policy. Additionally, fellow minority, but liberal politicians  are using racial slurs against her . To be sure, Governor Martinez only has one year under her belt now and time will tell if she will continue to implement further reforms and have continued success in frugal budgeting, but she's definitely off to quite a start. Besides, how can you not love someone who re-qualifies for her "conceal and carry" license like this?

Cross posted here and here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Cronyism in Healthcare Goes Viral!-Updated

More cronyism emerged from the Obama administration today in the form of a no-bid $433 million contract for the production of a small pox vaccine by a company with ties to former SEIU head, debt commission panel member, and Obama crony Andy Stern and Obama friend Ronald Perleman. As CNN shares:
Ronald Perelman is controlling shareholder of Siga Technologies and a longtime Democratic Party activist and fundraiser. He's also a large contributor to Republicans, but has been a particular friend of the Obama White House. 
Also on Siga's board of directors is Andy Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union, who has had close relations with the Obama administration and who has supported President Barack Obama's health care initiatives. 
In May 2011, Health and Human Services awarded Siga a no-bid contract worth nearly $433 million to develop and produce 1.7 million doses of an anti-viral smallpox drug called STS-246. The drug would augment the existing supply of smallpox vaccine now in U.S. control.
Never mind that we spent close to a billion dollars for smallpox vaccines following the 9/11 attacks. The emails CNN obtained suggest that the Siga was poised to gain triple digit percentage profits and considering that the only customer was the US government, the contract was a direct infusion of nearly a half billion dollars from the American taxpayer to President Obama's cronies. This is par for the course in American politics though when it comes to healthcare. Politicians seem to care little about the actual health of the American people and more about the healthcare of Americans. The distinction is important. Improved health means that the people are themselves healthier. Improved healthcare means that people have greater access to healthcare to make them healthier, but increased government intervention allows for greater personal gain for politicians and their buddies. To be sure, access to healthcare--be it affordable care or drugs--is needed, but the government always couches intervention in terms of health related entities such as health insurance or medication. That is, if they themselves do not want to directly control healthcare via a completely universal system, they will legislate to their own personal benefit. GE, one of Obama's favorites (CEO Jeff Immelt heads up Obama's jobs board), is one of the largest producers of health information technology. In fact, they just launched a new venture with Google today. The health care reform bill signed into law by President Obama included $27 billion in "incentives" for physicians to implement and use electronic health record systems. Likely "incentivizing"providers to purchase such technology will only help GE's coffers. So in addition to a net gain of $3.2 billion (without paying taxes) from the American taxpayer, GE stands to continue to gain from their relationship with President Obama. That's not too say that there isn't merit to electronic health records; they do indeed help prevent medical errors. At the same time though, it provides an opportunity for further cronyism. The bigger government becomes, the more opportunities politicians have to pay back their friends.

This is sadly commonplace in politics though-- both for Democrats and Republicans-- as I've written before in reference to personal mandates specifically:
What might make supposedly "conservative" politicians want to have government mandate that individuals purchase a certain product such as health insurance, even under the guise of "personal responsibility"? Doesn't that conflict with the idea of personal liberty that conservatives espouse? Peter Schweizer just published a book, Throw Them All Out, where he spent a whole chapter discussing the relationship between Congressional stock trades and legislation. He discussed how Congressmen purchased stocks in drug companies just before the Medicare Part D legislation was passed in 2003, knowing that the stock prices would rise after the bill was signed into law and they would reap the profits. During Obamacare deliberations, Congressmen purchased stock in health insurance companies once they new the "public option" would be nixed, and insurance stock prices would go up. While neither of these situations focused on a personal mandate, they do suggest that politicians are willing to add layers of bureaucracy and create new government programs for their personal benefit. Speaker Gingrich has expressed support for a personal mandate on multiple occasions, as early as 1993 and as recently as this past May. Why? While Gingrich is indeed opposed to Obamacare and has expressed disapproval of its mandate, he also consulted for drug companies and health insurance companies as part of  his healthcare think tank, which supported insurance mandates, to the tune of millions of dollars. Governor Perry also supported a health care mandate of sorts with his (thankfully overturned) Gardasil mandate, which was essentially political payback for Merck's donations to his campaign and to the RGA. Politicians, even self-proclaimed conservatives, will often advocate for greater government control over healthcare if it helps their pocketbook or their political career.
No bid contracts that go directly to one's friends is the epitome of crony capitalism. This most recent example with Siga is more blatant than most as it's a direct line from the taxpayer to President Obama's friends. Even Solyndra had a few (rare) customers buy their solar panels. With this, the taxpayer is the just that the payer, and as is far too often the case, the government is the consumer. Cronyism has gone viral yet again, but as always, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Update: SIGA has released a statement to answer these charges explaining the importance of the drug, why it was a sole bid contract, and why the funding they received was appropriate. While no doubt small pox remains a potential method of bioterrorism (or perhaps this administration would call it a virus caused disaster), there are still a few more issues that SIGA and the Obama administration needs to address. While SIGA claims that the price was "fair and reasonable", the fact that emails exist that address the optics of such a large sum of money and the profit and price of the vaccine indicate that this was indeed a negotiated "deal". SIGA even phrases it that way--a deal. SIGA also notes, " HHS also determined in written findings that failure to award a contract to SIGA might cause permanent damage to SIGA’s capacity to supply ST-246 in the future when needed." This is indeed a unique case, as the drug is used to treat a virus that has essentially been eradicated with the exception of the potential use as a bioterrorism method. However, a nearly half a billion sudden infusion of funding is suspect when that cash goes to Obama cronies, even if no "lobbying" was done on behalf of SIGA. As I mentioned earlier billions of healthcare reform dollars have been designated for electronic health records. While this may be helpful in reducing medical errors, it also happens to throw taxpayer money into the coffers of the politically connected. It becomes another display of politicians finding problems that only their friends and donors can solve and thus, they become the beneficiary of taxpayer dollars.