Monday, October 29, 2012

An Obama Crony Lands a $100 million Obamacare Waiver

Today, Crain's Chicago Business reports that yet another one of President Obama's cronies received an Obamacare waiver:
 Cook County hit a $100 million jackpot over the weekend. 
In a little noticed but crucial decision announced Friday night, the federal government signed off on a request by county board President Toni Preckwinkle to enroll 114,000 low-income people a year early in the Medicaid program. 
For the county, the decision is worth as much as $100 million a year, since its network of hospitals and health clinics already is serving most of the patients free of charge. The tab now will be picked up by federal taxpayers under a provision of Obamacare, rather than by Cook County taxpayers alone.
Ms. Preckwinkle isn't only the Cook County board President (and Lady Liberty in the above picture). She is also an Obama mentor who infamously said that President Reagan could "rot in hell" for making "drug use political", as Tony Lee reported at this past summer:
 Preckwinkle was discussing drug policy and how she felt drug treatment should not be a part of the criminal justice system. She was defending the decision by Chicago city officials to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. And her comments were in reference to Reagan’s “war on drugs,” which President Richard Nixon started. During Reagan’s tenure, First Lady Nancy Reagan started the “Just Say No” campaign against drugs. 
Preckwinkle made those comments in downstate Illinois. Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois.  
Preckwinkle helped Obama challenge the signatures of his primary opponents to run unopposed in his 1996 state senate race. Obama often reminisces about this race as a heroic, Rudy-esque foray into politics in which he overcame all odds to win.
Preckwinkle also supported Barack Obama in his failed primary run against sitting Congressman Bobby Rush in 2000, his 2004 US Senate run and his 2008 presidential run. As The New Yorker stated in a 2008 article, Preckwinkle was the one who suggested Obama begin attending Jeremiah Wright's church:
On issue after issue, Preckwinkle presented Obama as someone who thrived in the world of Chicago politics. She suggested that Obama joined Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ for political reasons. “It’s a church that would provide you with lots of social connections and prominent parishioners,” she said. “It’s a good place for a politician to be a member.” Preckwinkle was unsparing on the subject of the Chicago real-estate developer Antoin (Tony) Rezko, a friend of Obama’s and one of his top fund-raisers, who was recently convicted of fraud, bribery, and money laundering: “Who you take money from is a reflection of your knowledge at the time and your principles.” As we talked, it became increasingly clear that loyalty was the issue that drove Preckwinkle’s current view of her onetime protégé. “I don’t think you should forget who your friends are,” she said. 
 Beyond the cronyism, this "waiver" only serves to place the people of the greater Chicago area and Illinois further underwater fiscally. Most businesses, states, and areas who have sought an Obamacare waiver had done so to delay the implementation of Obamacare. Preckwinkle's request for a waiver was to begin Medicaid expansion in Cook County early, and subsequently fill a budget gap for Cook County. This is normal for Illinois politicians who often seek federal dollars to cover their own budgetary failures.With Medicaid's hybrid of federal and state funding, the solicitation of federal dollars has also led to state and local budgetary increases,and, of course, fiscal problems. A recent report on state budgets in crisis notes that one of the things that has put Illinois in such great financial peril is Medicaid:
Illinois' other structural problem is Medicaid. In FY 2010, Medicaid accounted for 23 percent of the state's budget and that figure is going to grow under the Affordable Care Act. Under the best case scenario Obamacare will only raise spending 3.3 percent above the current baseline by 2019. However other scenarios suggest the increase could be as much as 20 percent by 2020. 
Rather than address these structural problems, Illinois has resorted to heavy borrowing to cover its obligations. As a result, per capita debt in Illinois is the second highest in the nation at nearly $10,000 (NY is number one). And largely because of this high level of debt, Illinois' bond rating is the worst in the nation. Moody's downgraded the state most recently in January of 2012.
In fact, during FY2012, Medicaid was underfunded by $2.1 billion. With the growing pool of patients and a shrinking number of doctors, Obamacare has only proven itself to be nothing more than a politician promising the entire country a new car, but only giving them a set of keys. Real healthcare reform is not expanding insurance while shrinking care and paying back your cronies. Real fiscal reform is not seeking federal dollars as a stopgap measure for a county and state budget drowning in debt.

Crossposted here and here

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Being a Voice for the Silenced: The Courage of Malala Yousafzai

For the all the diversity and uniqueness that we possess as women, there are some things that bind us beyond our shared biology. Among them are freedom and education. Freedom for women have unified former First Lady Laura Bush with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and have brought together actress Angelina Jolie with scores of women throughout the world.

Last week, the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai and two other girls on a school bus. All three survived, but Yousafzai was critically injured with a bullet lodged her brain. She has since been transported to the UK for treatment, but her condition is critical and her prognosis unknown. Yousafzai is a young activist who has advocated for female education in Pakistan. Her father once ran one of the last schools in Pakistan to defy the rule of Taliban which banned female education. She anonymously authored a  blog for the BBC in 2009. Her first post was eerily prescient when she wrote:
 "I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taliban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat. I was afraid going to school because the Taliban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools. Only 11 students attended the class out of 27. The number decreased because of Taliban's edict. 
 On my way from school to home I heard a man saying 'I will kill you'. I hastened my pace... to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone."
She did not give into the fear that the Taliban tried to instill in her. She continued to blog her thought and  later became the subject of a documentaries. She did not allow herself to be silenced. One author at the UK Guardian noted about Yousafzai:
"Malala doesn't want to play to some western-backed or Taliban-loved stereotype. She shows us that there are voices out there, in Pakistan, that need to be heard, if only to help the country find democracy that is for and from the people, all the people."
Last week, former First Lady Laura Bush wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post (which Congresswoman Pelosi tweeted) noting Yousafzai's courage and our responsibility to speak out for her:
 Speaking out after an atrocious act, however, isn’t enough. Malala inspires us because she had the courage to defy the totalitarian mind-set others would have imposed on her. Her life represents a brighter future for Pakistan and the region. We must speak up before these acts occur, work to ensure that they do not happen again, and keep our courage to continue to resist the ongoing cruelty and barbarism of the Taliban. 
Malala Yousafzai refused to look the other way. We owe it to her courage and sacrifice to do the same. Malala is the same age as another writer, a diarist, who inspired many around the world. From her hiding place in Amsterdam, Anne Frank wrote, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Today, for Malala and the many girls like her, we need not and cannot wait. We must improve their world.
Laura Bush has been a strong advocate for women in oppressed nations for over ten years. She gave the first presidential radio address on the treatment of women under the Taliban in November 2001. To the dismay of some so-called "feminists", Mrs. Bush won Alice Paul Award earlier this year for her advocacy for women in oppressed countries and other pro-woman efforts she supported. She has used her voice to be a voice for the voiceless.

Actress Angelina Jolie has done the same in support for Yousafzai in a post at the Daily Beast:
The shots fired on Malala struck the heart of the nation, and as the Taliban refuse to back down, so too do the people of Pakistan. This violent and hateful act seems to have accomplished the opposite of its intent, as Pakistanis rally to embrace Malala’s principles and reject the tyranny of fear. A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban said “let this be a lesson.” Yes. Let this be a lesson—that an education is a basic human right, a right that Pakistan’s daughters will not be denied. 
As girls across Pakistan stand up to say “I am Malala,” they do not stand alone. Mothers and teachers around the world are telling their children and students about Malala, and encouraging them to be a part of her movement for girls’ education. Across Pakistan, a national movement has emerged to rebuild the schools and recommit to educate all children, including girls. This terrible event marks the beginning of a necessary revolution in girls’ education.
Buzzfeed shared a very powerful slideshow of dozens of photos of Pakistani women rallying support for Yousafzai, just as Angelina Jolie mentioned. Arguably the most moving image is the one below of the religious political party of Sunni Tehreek:

These women are among the many throughout the world who are using their voice to be a light in the face of evil. CBS journalist Lara Logan, who was raped when covering the "Arab Spring" in Tahir Square in Egypt in February 2011, not only returned to work shortly after being attacked, but has spoken out against the evils that are responsible for the attack on both Yousafzai and herself. Earlier this month, Logan spoke at a Better Government Association event noting that "our way of life is under attack" and warned about being complacent in reacting to the evil of the Taliban that has been purported to moderate, an ideological shift obviously not seen in the attack on Malala Yousafzai.

We may not have the megaphone of Laura Bush, Angelina Jolie, or a Lara Logan, but as Americans we have a constitutionally protected right and opportunity to speak out against an evil that would try to halt the education and silence the voices of young girls in Pakistan or sexually abuse a reporter in Egypt. Pakistani women have spoken out in spite of potential fear that they too would be silenced. American women in politics, entertainment, and journalism have spoken out against both the evil they faced and that Yousafzai faced in Pakistan. Let us too be a voice for the voiceless.

Crossposted from The New Agenda.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Drilling Deeper into Obama's Blockage of the National Petroleum Reserve

Governor Palin re-tweeted two tweets from Jedediah Bila noting the Obama administration's decision to cut off drilling in more half of the over twenty-three million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve (NPR) in Alaska. The entire Alaska delegation and Governor Parnell support development of this area as do the Native groups, contrary to what the Obama administration claims. As Human Events reports:
However, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) that represents the interests of the Iñupiat in Barrow, Alaska, is opposed to the plan and disputes Salazar’s contention it has local support.  
 Richard Glenn, ASRC executive vice president of lands and natural resources, says “despite the department’s statements of working and collaborating with Alaska Native groups we feel that our efforts are rejected.” 
“Salazar’s choice would lock up large swaths of land with little or no additional benefit to wildlife resources found there and elsewhere throughout the petroleum reserve. Waterfowl, fish and caribou do not recognize boxes on a map,” Glenn said. 
Rex A. Rock, Sr., ARSC president, said the plan essentially locks up the most prospective areas for increased domestic energy supply, while proposing lease sales on tracts of land with low oil potential.
To be sure, the Obama administration is to blame, as is Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, both for lying about local support and for blocking development. However, we have to look at who in the Interior department may be responsible for Alaska related Interior issues. In March of 2009, President Obama appointed Kim Elton to be Interior Director for Alaska Affairs. The name Kim Elton may sound familiar to you. Elton rose to fame (or perhaps better said, infamy) when as an Alaskan state senator in 2008, he launched a legislative investigation of Governor Palin. This was known as "Tasergate" (or "Troopergate" as the media called it) and alleged Governor Palin abused her power to pressure Walt Monegan, a state commissioner, to fire Palin's former brother-in-law. Elton even claimed it could be an "October surprise" for Governor Palin. This legislative inquiry ruled that Governor Palin abused her power, but the personnel committee ruled that she did not. As Governor Palin noted in Going Rogue, Kim Elton also allowed Obama adviser and one time interim chief of staff, Pete Rouse to use his address to vote in Alaska despite not living there for 27 years. Suffice it to say, Elton has been a yet another crony both for the Obama campaign and the Obama administration.

Upon taking this Interior position, Elton said:
“The Department of the Interior’s mission is fundamental to Alaska’s future and I look forward to helping the Secretary and the Administration make progress both on stewardship of Alaska’s resources and on the economy of the state and the nation at this critical juncture in our history.”
However, this does not seem to be what he has down while acting as the Interior Director of Alaska Affairs.

The Obama administration has been extremely deceptive when it comes to their energy development plans in Alaska. In May of 2011, the Obama administration said they would hold annual leases for drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve. The next month, President Obama rejected the Alaska Oil and Gas Development bill that would assist in the permitting process. Extending leases while stymieing the permitting process is like allowing home builders to purchase land, but not allowing them to build a house or sell it to a buyer. The Obama administration admits that there has only been exploratory drilling done in the NPR and that there have only been leases extended for only about 6% of the land. To be sure, leases have only been extended since 1999, but with three presidents who have been in office since then, why haven't any of them pushed for further lease sales or a more streamlined permitting process? Why has Kim Elton continued to be nothing more than an Obama stooge--both politically and policy wise--rather than  aiming  to make process both on stewardship of Alaska's resources" and the state's and nation's economy? Again, the Obama administration and his cronies have proven that President Obama's supposed "all of the above" energy approach most definitely does not include above the Arctic circle.

Related--Governor Palin advocates passionately for development in the NPR following a speech in 2010:


Crossposted here and here.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Refineries--the Unspoken Energy Problem

In the past few days, gasoline prices in California have gone up tremendously, and shortages have even occurred in some areas. Prices twice hit an all time high this weekend with the average price being $4.66 a gallon with some paying upwards of $6.65. There was a thirteen cent jump in prices overnight on Saturday. In August, a similar thing happened here in the Midwest. Gas prices jumped thirty cents per gallon in just one day in Springfield, Illinois. Neither of incidences occurred because of unrest in the Middle East, a hurricane in the Gulf, monetary policies, nor speculator shenanigans. What would have caused such a big jump in price?

In both of these situations, drastic price jumps occurred because problems with oil refineries and regulations applied to refineries.

In California:
 Refinery and pipeline mishaps, along with the state's strict pollution limits are all, in part, to blame. They've sent wholesale prices soaring to all-time highs this week.  
 One of the disruptions involved a power outage on Monday at the Exxon Mobil plant in Torrance, which normally produces 150 millions barrels of gas per day. 
Additionally, Chevron's Richmond plant, the largest refinery in Northern California, has been running at reduced capacity since a fire Aug. 6. 
At the same time, California refineries have dropped production in recent weeks in anticipation of switching over to a "winter blend" of gasoline, which emits more pollutants, next month. 
But California's summer-blend fuel requirements are in effect in Southern California until Oct. 31.
In the Midwest:
 The Midwest has seen a confluence of freak problems during the past few weeks that have tightened supplies and pushed prices. An Enbridge Energy Partners pipeline that transports crude from Superior, Wis., to Chicago-area refineries ruptured July 27, spraying about 50,400 gallons of crude into a southern Wisconsin field.   
It was Enbridge’s second break in the region in just more than two years — an Enbridge pipeline broke in Marshall, Mich., in July 2010, spilling 840,000 gallons — and federal officials have barred the company from re-opening the Wisconsin line until it submits a re-start plan. A company spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking an update on the plan Friday. 
Meanwhile, equipment problems have closed parts of refineries in Whiting, Lemont, Ill., and Wood River, Ill., said Patrick DeHaan, a petroleum analyst at
No refineries have been built in America since 1976. While the refineries still in production have become more and more efficient in recent years, they also have become more and more scarce. Between 1981 and 2006, the number of refineries was more than cut in half from 324 to 149. Part of the reason for this drop is due the impact regulations have caused making it uneconomic for companies to keep refineries open. Refineries in Pennsylvania closed this past spring due in part to the fact that regulations made up roughly fifteen percent of their budget. A March 2011 report from the Department of Energy showed that federal regulations played a significant role in the closing of 66 refineries over the past 20 years. With fewer refineries in production, when a problem occurs with one, such as happened with fires and pipeline problems in California and the Midwest, it has a larger impact on region the refineries service.

With both California and the Midwest, specific regulatory problems occur as well. In California, the mandated use of boutique fuels (fuels for different times of the year) mean that refineries have to shift production which can cause changes to prices in the weeks leading up to that shift, as was mentioned with the cost increase this weekend. In the Midwest, ethanol reformulations mean that fuel has to be blended at the storage facility as the addition of ethanol makes the fuel too corrosive to be added at the refinery. Additionally, the EPA is fining refineries for not producing a certain blend of ethanol that doesn't exist commercially! Whether it's state or local regulations such as in California or national regulation that impact certain regions more directly, regulations have the potential to put a strain on the refineries that have withstood the burden of regulation.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle pay lip service to a "all of the above" approach to energy, but do they mean it?  Domestic energy production is at a 16 year high, in many ways in spite of the President's policies. New drilling technologies in states like North Dakota has lead to massive amounts of production on private lands, but greenies have tried to create non-existent problems with the fracking process (with the backing of oil-rich Middle Eastern countries). Meanwhile, fossil fuel development on public lands is at its lowest point since 2003, and the Obama administration has cut off access to millions of acres in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. Their supposed "all of the above" approach really is a none-of-the-below (oil, natural gas, and coal) approach and certainly doesn't include above the Arctic circle. At the same time, while many Republicans are more favorable to development of oil, gas, and coal, they often back ethanol fuel mandates  and fuel standards that have burdened refineries. An all-of-the-above approach must include the entire process of development.This is what Governor Palin spoke of  in her speech in Indianola, Iowa in September of 2011 when she mentioned not only the need for energy production leading to jobs and security, but also refinement of that energy. Policies need to be put in place (or removed, as it were) to enable energy to be produced and refined so that regulations are not burdensome on producers, but also aren't subsequently burdensome on consumers and their wallets.

 Crossposted here and here.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Death Panels and the Revenge of Sarah Palin

John O'Sullivan, a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, has a great, succinct piece up at the National Review  following the presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney:
 Romney’s answer on Obamacare was a model one: crisp, clear, authoritative; the president’s initial statement and reply were not dreadful, just rambling and nervous. And the longer he went on, the less confident (and so persuasive) he was. His attempt to argue away the importance of death panels was the nadir — call it the revenge of Sarah Palin.
Governor Romney never used the phrase "death panel" that Governor Palin famously used, though had he done so, President Obama's reaction would have no doubt been priceless. However, Romney knew well enough that the message that Governor Palin has been hammering on for over three years is one that resonates with voters. People do not want greater government involvement, much less from those whom they can't even elect, at the risk of rationing of care to Medicare patients. Romney referred to what he instead called an" unelected board" five times during the debate. See below from the debate transcript:
 Number three, [Obamacare] puts in place an unelected board that's going to tell people, ultimately, what kind of treatments they can have. I don't like that idea.  
 We didn't raise taxes. You've raised them by a trillion dollars under "Obamacare." We didn't cut Medicare. Of course, we don't have Medicare, but we didn't cut Medicare by $716 billion. We didn't put in place a board that can tell people ultimately what treatments they're going to receive.  
 We didn't — we didn't also do something that I think a number of people across this country recognize, which is put — put people in a position where they're going to lose the insurance they had and they wanted. Right now, the CBO says up to 20 million people will lose their insurance as "Obamacare" goes into effect next year. And likewise, a study by McKinsey & Company of American businesses said 30 percent of them are anticipating dropping people from coverage. So for those reasons, for the tax, for Medicare, for this board and for people losing their insurance, this is why the American people don't want — don't want "Obamacare." It's why Republicans said, do not do this.  
 But let's come back to something the president — I agree on, which is the — the key task we have in health care is to get the costs down so it's more affordable for families, and — and then he has as a model for doing that a board of people at the government, an unelected board, appointed board, who are going to decide what kind of treatment you ought to have. 

 I used to consult to businesses — excuse me, to hospitals and to health care providers. I was astonished at the creativity and innovation that exists in the American people. In order to bring the cost of health care down, we don't need to have a — an — a board of 15 people telling us what kinds of treatments we should have. We instead need to put insurance plans, providers, hospitals, doctors on targets such that they have an incentive, as you say, performance pay, for doing an excellent job, for keeping costs down, and that's happening.
As O'Sullivan noted, when President Obama tried to defend his "death panel", he failed miserably. Obama's attempt at defending his plan is below:
So at — at Cleveland Clinic, one of the best health care systems in the world, they actually provide great care cheaper than average. And the reason they do is because they do some smart things. They — they say, if a patient's coming in, let's get all the doctors together at once, do one test instead of having the patient run around with 10 tests. Let's make sure that we're providing preventive care so we're catching the onset of something like diabetes. Let's — let's pay providers on the basis of performance as opposed to on the basis of how many procedures they've — they've engaged in. Now, so what this board does is basically identifies best practices and says, let's use the purchasing power of Medicare and Medicaid to help to institutionalize all these good things that we do.
Yep, that's right. President Obama tried to defend his "death panel" by referencing something that the private sector to make care better and more innovative. Later, President Obama claims " this board that we're talking about can't make decisions about what treatments are given. " However, the Cato Institute notes the uncontrolled power of the IPAB:
IPAB could deny access to care as it sees fit simply by setting Medicare’s prices for certain treatments and procedures so low that no providers will offer them.
This is rationing plan and simple, and it's doing exactly what President Obama claims the bill cannot do. However, Obamacare wrapped itself in so much rhetoric that it blurred the truth. Truth always wins, however, and as O'Sullivan said, this is the revenge of Sarah Palin. Much like O'Sullivan wrote regarding Sarah Palin following the 2008 election, "snobs are wrong about Sarah Palin". Crossposted here and here.