In Hot Pursuit of Health Care Reform

26 02 2009

Declarative language from the right person at the right time can make all the difference in the policy world. In a recent speech before a joint session of Congress, President Barack Obama reaffirm his campaign pledge of swiftly enacting some kind of health care reform this year where he noted that “the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough.  So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.”

That same night Obama claimed that his budget “includes an historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform – a down-payment on the principle that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American.”

A day later Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada told reporters that ” by the end of this year, I want to do something significant dealing with health care.” Of course, that might be difficult to do without a nominee for Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services and an ailing Senator Kennedy who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. No one has been named to run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services either.

But even if its just an aspirational goal its still  encouraging to hear Reid set such an ambitious time line for health care reform considering how a month ago House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn said, “I would much rather see it done that way, incrementally, than to go out and just bite something you can’t chew,” Clyburn said. “We’ve been down that road. I still remember 1994.” The South Carolina Congressman was referring to President Clinton’s failed attempt to provide universal health care, which in part led to a Republican take over of Congress and the years of the Gingrich Revolution.

In light of new government numbers, however, bold action to bring health care costs down while covering more people could not be more timely. According to the Congressional Budget Office, “the average number of nonelderly people who are uninsured will rise
from at least 45 million in 2009 to about 54 million in 2019.” Another report from HHS, found that health care costs will go beyond $8,000 per person and with the recession gnawing away the nation’s tax base the Medicare trust fund could become insolvent as early as 2016 – three years sooner that originally predicted.

Additionally, every 30 seconds someone files for bankruptcy after incurring expensive medical costs. A 2005 report found another 1.5 million families lost their homes to foreclosure because of health care costs. Plus, its no longer politically inconvenient to push for health care reform since about 7o of the public now support greater government involvement in expanding coverage and bring cost down, according to a new CNN poll.

Incremental reform to the nation’s health care system could be too costly to the economy, but more importantly too risky for the people that depend on it.



23 02 2009

A crime of passion turns ends in something utterly unbaweavable.

I mean this is something straight out of a Damon Wayans movie.

Chatter about Bank Nationalization

22 02 2009

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger joined a growing minority of Republicans in support of the prospect of more aggressive federal intervention of the nation’s the banking system, an idea that has inspired stern opposition from members of his own party and deep anxiety among Wall Street investors and many taxpayers.

The Austrian born Hollywood actor turned politician, who immigrated to the U.S. in part due to his “hatred of socialism, of the whole socialist system”, denied any  change in his views concerning the merits of a centrally planned economy and simply asserted that there was real difference between the kind of intervention currently debated in U.S. and what actually exists in Europe.

“Well, I — first of all, I think that we have a really good system here in America. You don’t have to talk about nationalization. All it basically says is that if a bank doesn’t have the money to — to give their customers, so if it, you know, defaults in some way,” said Gov. Schwarzenegger in an interview on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

” So the federal government always had that right to take over. So it’s not nationalizing anything. I don’t see it as such. There’s a difference of the way it is in Europe, where the — where the federal government owns some of those banks, whereas here only if there is a problem financially that the federal government comes in and takes over and helps out, ” added the California governor.

The notion of temporary intervention has also found support among GOP free market champions like former Chairman of Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan. “It may be necessary to temporarily nationalize some banks in order to facilitate a swift and orderly restructuring,” Greenspan told the Financial Times.

Citing the the proliferation of toxic assests rooted in the mortgage sector, South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham echoed the former chairman’s recommendation last Sunday. “To me, banking and housing are the root cause of this problem. I’m very much afraid any program to salvage the banks is going to require the government,” said on This Week.  “I would not take off the idea of nationalizing the banks.”

Even though there seems to be some sort of daylight between Gov. Schwarzenegger and some of his Republican brethren over the use of the word “nationalization” in substance they seem to be in agreement about the nature of the intervention, which would entail the federal government temporarily owning a majority of the the stake in at least a select number of banks to provide them enough capital to lend, invest and prevent more economic contraction. Other options include securing or outright buying a considerable amount of toxic assets tied to a dismally underperforming mortgage sector and coursing through the major arteries of our ailing credit system and leading to even greater bank undercapitalization.

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The Land of Burris

21 02 2009

Roland Burris once remarked that the slogan of his home state of Illinois may one day change from the “Land of Lincoln” to the “Land of Burris.” That’s certainly sounds bold. But his wish may be temporarily granted as the current face of the state’s reputation for political seediness given his contradictory explanations involving his appointment to the U.S. Senate.

According to the Chicago Sun Times, Senator Burris failed to inform an Illinois impeachment panel in January that he was contacted by then Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s brother for $10,000 in campaign contributions prior to his appointment. But in a sworn affidavit submitted earlier this month he did own up to it.  In the same affidavit he also admitted to having contacted Blagojevich’s top aides about his interest in the Senate seat, even though he said he had no contact with the now ousted governor’s staff when testifying before the Illinois impeachment panel. In December, Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were arrested on bribery charges.

Now with the Chicago and national media world focus trained upon the widening scope of this pay to play scandal many of Chicago’s black clergymen, the Chicago Sun Times, and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn have all rightfully urged him to resign. Senator Burris could have come clean at the January 8th impeachment hearing about the nature of the contacts he had with Blagojevich’s staff in his exchange with Republican State Rep. Jim Durkin. The Chicago Tribune recently published the relevant parts of the testimony:

Durkin: At any time were you directly or indirectly aware of a quid pro quo with the governor for the appointment of this vacant Senate seat?

Burris: No sir.

Durkin: Ok. If you were aware of a quid pro quo, what would you have done?


Burris: Rep. Durkin, knowing my ethics, I would not participate in anybody’s quid pro quo. I’ve been in government for 20 years and never participated in anybody’s quid pro qu0

To be sure, the inconsistencies in Burris’s statements do not amount to wronging, but they are enough to warrant an investigation from the Senate ethics committee and a local Illinois prosecutor. But he could have admitted that he was asked about raising money on behalf of the governor and then rebuffed if that’s in fact true. It may have been awkward to admit then but he would at least not be as isolated as he is now.

Perhaps Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada was right to be cautious about the whiff of impropriety of the Senate appointment of Roland Burris by the then already indicted Gov. Rod Blagojevich. “It is truly regrettable that despite requests from all 50 Democratic Senators and public officials throughout Illinois, Gov. Blagojevich would take the imprudent step of appointing someone to the United States Senate who would serve under a shadow and be plagued by questions of impropriety,”  said Senator Reid in a December 2008  press statement believed to reflection the prevailing opinion of all the other Senate Democrats in his caucus.

Of course, Reid, feeling he had no choice but to seat Burris, later relented and even loaned him a trusted aid to help the Illinois senator get situated. Maybe he should have stuck to his guns.

At any rate, like many people, I seriously underestimated the temerity of Roland Burris to even tease Blagojevich’s people with idea of paying for the Senate seat knowing the governor was being wire tapped by the FBI.

Hasn’t he ever watched the Wire?

Oh well I suppose that’s how some people roll in the Land of Burris. Meanwhile Congressman Bobby Rush, a fixture of Chicago’s rough and tumble politics and urged reporters “not to hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointor” is maintaining a low profile and said through a spokesperson that he is still waiting for more info.


U.S. Considers Participating in Durban II

17 02 2009

Talk about trying to fly under the radar. Less than 24 hours after Congress passed the biggest spending bill in U.S. history, the State Department issues a press release announcing its considering participating in the controversial Durban II conference in April 2009.

The State Department will send a delegation to the February 16-19 consultations for the World Conference Against Racism as a means of evaluating the current direction of Conference preparations and whether U.S. participation in the Conference itself is warranted.

This will be the first opportunity the Administration has had to engage in the negotiations for the Durban Review, and – in line with our commitment to diplomacy – the U.S. has decided to send a delegation to engage in the negotiations on the text of the conference document.

The intent of our participation is to work to try to change the direction in which the Review Conference is heading. We hope to work with other countries that want the Conference to responsibly and productively address racism around the world.

Our participation in these informal negotiations does not indicate – and should not be misconstrued to indicate – that the United States will participate in April in the World Conference Against Racism itself. Nor does it indicate that we will necessarily participate in future preparations for the Conference. These decisions will be taken at a later date, depending on the results that we see from the negotiating process.

Perhaps, emphasizing the fact that “informal negotiations” are not meant to be “construed” as a final decision concerning participation sounds way too noncommital for most people. But that should  come as no surprise to those who follow State Department pronouncements. Additionally, this is indeed a step up in clarity from just a few weeks ago. “I’ll have to take a look and see. I don’t think the new Administration has spoken to that issue yet, but I’ll take a look and see if we have any more we want to say on that,” said State Department spokesman Robert Wood when asked about pariticipating in Durban II.

We are All Eco-Pessmists Now

16 02 2009

George Will penned another column today declaring global warming a product of liberal scientific group think imagination. To make his case, Will argues that since past assertions about climate change were wrong so too are the ones we are hearing now even though the science to do is far more exact that it was several years ago. In tone and substance, the column is a firehose blast of oil and gas industry lobby talking points designed to subdue the any impulse to vigorously regulate green house gas emissions.

Money quote:

As global levels of sea ice declined last year, many experts said this was evidence of man-made global warming. Since September, however, the increase in sea ice has been the fastest change, either up or down, since 1979, when satellite record-keeping began. According to the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.

An unstated premise of eco-pessimism is that environmental conditions are, or recently were, optimal. The proclaimed faith of eco-pessimists is weirdly optimistic: These optimal conditions must and can be preserved or restored if government will make us minimize our carbon footprints and if government will “remake” the economy.

Hours later one of the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center – offered to correct the record on what Will erroneously claimed concerning their data on global sea ice levels.

In an opinion piece by George Will published on February 15, 2009 in the Washington Post, George Will states “According to the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.”

We do not know where George Will is getting his information, but our data shows that on February 15, 1979, global sea ice area was 16.79 million sq. km and on February 15, 2009, global sea ice area was 15.45 million sq. km. Therefore, global sea ice levels are 1.34 million sq. km less in February 2009 than in February 1979. This decrease in sea ice area is roughly equal to the area of Texas, California, and Oklahoma combined.

It is disturbing that the Washington Post would publish such information without first checking the facts.

I suppose the researchers at the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center are apart the vast left wing conspiracy spearheaded by the ” eco-pessimists.”

Arizona Sheriff Puts Immigrants in Tent City

13 02 2009

On February 4th, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio of reality TV fame began removing 200 undocumented immigrants from inside Maricopa County’s Durango Jail to a segregated area outside of it the widely known as “Tent City,” where they will be surrounded by an electrified fence. The star of Fox network’s “Smile … You’re Under Arrest!” invited members of the media to witness undocumented immigrants marched off chained together to what’s been described as a military camp in the desert where temperatures can reach as high as 100 degrees.

Sheriff Arpaio claims the move was necessary to accommodate burgeoning inmate population and save taxpayer money, despite providing no explanation of how that will happen. “We have expanded the tents to be able to house as many as 2500 inmates out of the 10,000 currently incarcerated in the jails,” he explained in a press release. Undocumented immigrants detained in tent city will remain there until they complete their sentences or deported to their home countries.

But critics charge Sheriff Arpaio treatment of prisoners warrant legal scrutiny. ACORN called the move a “blatant disregard for civil rights.” According to the Phoenix New Times, Arpaio has been the target of 50 times as many prisoner related lawsuits than the jail systems of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston combined from about 2004-2007.

Last year, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has also urged the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department to investigate Sheriff Arpaio for a “pattern and practice of conduct that includes discriminatory harassment improper stops, searches, and arrests.”

Now it seems some calls for investigating the sheriff is starting to get some traction. Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives Congressman John Conyers recently sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano asking for both of them to investigate Sheriff Arpaio for violating the rights of immigrants. Neither official has responded just yet.

But in the mean time check out this video from Democracy Now! on Sheriff Arpario and his immigration enforcement efforts.