Thursday, January 31, 2013

Government Report: Women in Combat to Cost Money

Note: This article was originally published at The Weekly Standard.

    Ever since outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced a week ago that the U.S. military would lift its ban on women in combat roles, the debate, which has been simmering for decades, boiled up again. Much of the argument has centered on cultural, social, and morale-related effects that such a change would bring about, though other practical issues have been raised as well. However, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released just this week may bring some other considerations to the fore, among them, the financial impact.

    According to the introduction to the GAO report, the National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2012 charged the GAO with conducting “a review of the female-specific health care services provided by DOD to female servicemembers...”  Though not directly addressed by the GAO, the report raises a perhaps unanticipated consequence of lifting the ban on women in combat. With an increasing number of women in combat units, as well as presumably an overall increase in women enlisting in the service now that more positions will be open to them, there may be a corresponding increase in health-related costs. For example, the report says:
DOD has put in place policies and guidance that include female-specific aspects to help address the health care needs of servicewomen during deployment. Also, as part of pre-deployment preparations, servicewomen are screened for potentially deployment-limiting conditions, such as pregnancy, and DOD officials and health care providers with whom GAO met noted that such screening helps ensure that many female-specific health care needs are addressed prior to deployment.
    The “female-specific aspects” of health care are self-evident, but for confirmation, one need look no further than the Affordable Care Act with its 145 uses of the word “women” versus one use of “men.” Although women already serve in many areas of the military, the full (or near-full) integration will certainly impact the amount of “female-specific ” medical equipment, supplies, and expertise needed by each branch of the service to meet the increased demand. Examination rooms may need to be retooled and medics may need further training. Additionally, the “potentially deployment-limiting conditions, such as pregnancy” can be screened for, but will still affect associated costs, not to mention the readiness of units destined for combat, in a way that is not present with male-only units. The report implies this when it says:
Given the expanding and evolving role of women in the military, the health and wellness of servicewomen plays an important role in overall military readiness.
    The exact cost of women in combat is not revealed in the GAO report.

    But at a time when the defense budget is under increasing scrutiny, and with the threat of sequestration slashing the budget further, the likely increased healthcare costs associated with the lifting of the ban should be taken into account.

    Higher costs may not be the most important aspect of the policy change, but neither can they be ignored. The higher percentage of the defense budget that must be devoted to routine healthcare, the lower the percentage that is available for areas more directly related to keeping the U.S. military the best equipped, best trained fighting force in the world, ready at a moment’s notice to deploy whenever and wherever needed.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Hillary Clinton for President - by Cynthia McFadden of ABC News

    This could well be the most embarrassingly fawning interview with a government official I have ever read. Yesterday, Cynthia McFadden of ABC News conducted the last TV interview with Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.  But if McFadden has anything to say about it, it won't be the last interview of Mrs. Clinton as a government official. It's no wonder the State Department posted the interview on its website.  Here are just a few samples:

QUESTION: When you conceded defeat in the primary [in 2008], you made a famous speech in which you said that there were 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling. 
QUESTION: If, in the course of the next couple of years it appears, as it does appear right now, that you might be the person who could actually break through that glass ceiling and become the first female president of this country, would you feel a certain obligation to seize that mantle?
* * * * * * * 
QUESTION: I’d just like to ask you one other question about your health. I know that there’s no plans for future public service, but if there were to be, would you feel comfortable making a pledge that you would release whatever records? 

* * * * * * * 

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, thank you so much for talking to us. 
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Cynthia. Good to talk to you. 
QUESTION: As Jefferson looks over our shoulder, who I would only point out was Secretary of State who went on to become President. 
SECRETARY CLINTON: I’ve heard that. (Laughter.) 
QUESTION: Thank you.

    One wonders if, after the microphones were turned off, Cynthia McFadden made some discrete inquires about the availability of a press secretary position in the event of a future Hillary Clinton administration. Come to think of it, I'm surprised she'd wait until the mics were off.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Barack Obama: Taking Hispanics for Granted [Updated]

    One of the stories of the 2012 election was the power of the changing demographics in the United States and how the Obama campaign's understanding and exploitation of those changes helped propel the president into a second term. The growing Hispanic population was said to play a large role in his triumph at the big dance. If that is the case, the Hispanic community might be wondering if the president lost its phone number after the big day in November.

    Despite the continued activity of the BarackObama.com website after the election (home of the Obama for America campaign, now becoming Organizing for Action), the Latinos for Obama page and the Spanish language version of the BarackObama.com website seem frozen in time.  Here is the last blog entry for Latinos for Obama, November 5, 2012:

    The Spanish language version of the website at least kept up the relationship for a couple more days, November 7, 2012:

    Things are a little better over at the Spanish language version of the WhiteHouse.gov website, but not much.  Despite a very active English language blog, the most recent "El Blog" entry is December 21, 2012:

    The White House does provide some press releases and briefing materials in Spanish, but it's just a fraction of the full output of the White House press office.  There were seven English language press documents on January 29th alone, but only two were released in Spanish. Not coincidentally, those two were both related to the president's new immigration initiatives.  Though some of the general interest press releases (taxes, inauguration speech) are available in Spanish, more often translations are related to immigration, Mexico, and Hispanic cabinet members.

    A cynic might suggest the Obama campaign and administration not only engaged in stereotyping Hispanics, but also after being rewarded with 71% of the Hispanic vote in November, dropped them like an old girlfriend. But who knows?  Now that another special occasion has arrived (the immigration debate), the president will be looking for a date, and the Hispanic community's phone just might start ringing again.

UPDATE: There have been no tweets from the Latinos for Obama Twitter account since December 3rd, and only 10 since election day.  Prior to the election, there were dozens of tweets each week.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Is the GOP the "Stupid Party"?

    Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal just tossed some kerosene on the smoldering GOP debate over where the party has gone wrong in recent years, and in the 2012 election in particular.  Much of what he said is a reprise of an interview he gave Politico shortly after the November 2012 election.  His reference to Republicans' "offensive and bizarre comments" are widely believed to refer to abortion- and rape-related remarks by Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, also widely believed to have cost both men their respective  elections.

    But what other "offensive and bizarre comments" have Republicans made?  Perhaps Mitt Romney's 47% speech? OK, and then there is pretty much anything Donald Trump said. But let's look at what came out of the other camp:
  • If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. (WaPo)
  • “I don’t think that we can make judgments based on peoples’ spirit,” Obama said. … “Maybe you’re better off not having the surgery, but taking painkillers.“ (HotAir)
  • "[Unemployment benefits] creates jobs faster than almost any other initiative you can name." (FoxNews)
  • “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.” (Breitbart)
  • “We have to pass [ObamaCare] so you can find out what is in it.” (Heritage)
  • "I would tell members of my family -- and I have -- I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now. It's not that it's going to Mexico in a confined aircraft where one person sneezes, that goes all the way through the aircraft." [re: swine flu] (ABCNews)
  • "...as Democrats voted to amend their party's platform to include the word "God" and name Jerusalem as the capital of Israel... When Villaraigosa announced "the ays have it," loud boos erupted across the arena." (ABCNews)
  • "We cannot be, we must not be, the party that simply protects the rich so they get to keep their toys." (BusinessWeek)
    Just kidding on that last one.  That wasn't a Democrat.  It was... Bobby Jindal.

    The point is that Republicans do not have a corner on silly, offensive statements.  The difference is that Democrats generally stand behind their gaffes and those who commit them, aided by much of the media.  Republicans generally act like Joe Biden when someone sneezes during swine flu season and drop the offenders into political quarantine. Should we defend nonsense? No. Should we abandon those who saying something dumb? No.

    One more quote:
  • "The chances of President Obama's reelection are so remote as to be virtually non-existent." (SWA)
    That was me, last January. We all have our bad days and dumb remarks. Sometimes you just have to wear the "I'm With Stupid" shirt, and sometime you have to walk next to the guy who's wearing it.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

President Obama Discusses "Limitations" of U.S. Military

    The New Republic recently published an interview with President Obama under the title: "Barack Obama is Not Pleased - The president on his enemies, the media, and the future of football."  However, the president's response to the final interview question may contain the most significant glimpse into his thinking on a topic more significant than football, the media, or his political enemies.  One of the interviewers, Chris Hughes, asked the president: "The last question is about Syria. I wonder if you can speak about how you personally, morally, wrestle with the ongoing violence there."  Here in part is his response:
And as I wrestle with those decisions, I am more mindful probably than most of not only our incredible strengths and capabilities, but also our limitations. In a situation like Syria, I have to ask, can we make a difference in that situation? Would a military intervention have an impact? How would it affect our ability to support troops who are still in Afghanistan? What would be the aftermath of our involvement on the ground? Could it trigger even worse violence or the use of chemical weapons? What offers the best prospect of a stable post-Assad regime? And how do I weigh tens of thousands who’ve been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?”
    While I would not contend that the situation in Syria (or the Congo or Afghanistan or Libya or Iraq, for that matter) is an easy call, one of the questions the president asks himself in regard to the American military's "limitations" has some disturbing implications: "How would it affect our ability to support troops who are still in Afghanistan?" As recently as 2008, the US had more than 185,000 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, troop levels in Iraq are only a few thousand and the number in Afghanistan is around 68,000.  Has our military been weakened so much in the past five years that the president must consider if an intervention in Syria would degrade efforts to support troops in Afghanistan?

    In 2010, the Obama adminstration's Quadrennial Defense Review report stated:
In the mid- to long term, U.S. military forces must plan and prepare to prevail in a broad range of operations that may occur in multiple theaters in overlapping time frames. This includes maintaining the ability to prevail against two capable nation-state aggressors.
    Technically, the war in Afghanistan is not even against a "nation-state aggressor," but against the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies; still a formidable foe, but not a foe with the backing of an organized national government with all the resources that come with it.  What does it communicate to Iran or North Korea if the president is publicly airing concerns about our military's "limitations" as we (as he often characterizes it) "wind down" the war in Afghanistan, the only significant conflict in which the United States is currently involved?

    The rest of the interview makes it clear that the president is not reticent about projecting a position of strength to overcome his domestic political enemies.  His closing words about the flexibility and readiness of the U.S. military project a rather less confident posture to our enemies abroad.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Note to Democrats: Let It Go...

    Almost three months after Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney, the online store of the Democratic National Committee website is still selling this:

    Of course, this might explain things. At the bottom of the store pages, this note appears:

    In contrast, a different note appears at the bottom of most of the pages on the DNC website:

    If the president still has some bills to pay from the last election, I guess it's only right that Mitt Romney helps to pay his fair share.

Defense Department: Successful Test of Missile Defense System

More photos (DailyNews.com)
    The Defense Department announced Saturday night that a test of a ground-based interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California today was successful.  The press release says:
Ground-Based Interceptor Completes Successful Flight Test
      The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) successfully completed a flight test of a three-stage ground-based interceptor (GBI), launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., at 2 p.m. (PST) today.
      Data from this flight test will be used to evaluate the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle system performance in a flight environment.  If a target missile were present, the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle would collide directly with the threat warhead to perform a hit-to-kill intercept.  Engineering data from this test will be used to improve confidence for future intercept missions.
      A target missile launch was not planned for this flight test.  After performing fly out maneuvers, the three-stage booster deployed the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle to a designated point in space.  After separating from the booster, the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle executed a variety of pre-planned maneuvers to collect performance data in space...
 Such a missile defense system could conceivable protect the United States from a future attack from a rogue nation such as North Korea or Iran, or could supplement the existing missile defenses of allies of the U.S. such as Israel.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Planned Parenthood Touts Abortion Prevention

    In what can only be described as chutzpah, Planned Parenthood used the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision not to reveal how many abortions have taken place in America since 1973 (over 55,000,000) or were performed by Planned Parenthood during that same time (about 6,000,000), but rather how many abortions PP prevented during 2012:
Planned Parenthood health centers provide health care that helps women prevent an estimated 486,000 unintended pregnancies and 204,000 abortions every year.
    Of course what Planned Parenthood is referring to is contraception since the organization's records indicate only about 2,300 adoption referrals in 2012. Furthermore, since PP considers the "morning after"/Plan-B abortifacients as "emergency contraception," there is no telling how many of those "486,000 unintended pregnancies" PP claims to have helped prevent were actually abortions also.

Obama for America/Organizing for Action Raising Funds on Sandy Hook Massacre Again [Updated]

    Last night I noted that the town of Newtown, CT had posted a list of funds, more than fifty, set up in memory of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Today, Vice President Biden sent out an email via Obama for America (or Organizing for Action, as it is apparently slowly morphing into) that calls for support for President Obama's gun violence legislation.  In the email, Vice President Biden invokes the Newtown tragedy:

Right now, President Obama is counting on you.
Each one of us needs to speak up and demand action. It doesn't matter whether you live in a big city or a small town like Newtown, Connecticut. When our fellow Americans are victims of senseless violence, we all pull together as one American family.
Let's get this done, folks.
Whether the action we take saves one life or 1,000, it matters.
Thank you,
    And then this appears:
    However, this button takes readers not to any of the Newtown memorial funds, but rather to the Obama for America donations page for "general election debt retirement."

    The last time I noted the Obama campaign raising funds from the Newtown tragedy, some protested that the email link simply took readers to the BarackObama.com blog where the donation buttons were simply part of the blog structure.  Such an excuse will not work here.  The button is right in the email. As I noted back in December, the "Never let a crisis go to waste" mentality still rules the day with the president and his team.

UPDATE:  I just received another email, this one from Jim Messina, Obama for America's campaign manager and the Organizing for Action national chairman. He doubles down on Vice President Biden's appeal to contact Congress, even including the full text of Biden's email from this morning, with the "Donate" button intact. Messina, using the targeted nature of OFA's email database, listed the names and phone numbers of my senators and my representative to make it easier to contact them, as well as a link for a page to "report back" on how the conversation went.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Sandy Hook Memorial Funds Number More Than Fifty

    On Thursday, the town of Newtown, Connecticut posted a list on its website of more than 50 individuals and organizations that are collecting funds in memory of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.  These range from Facebook pages to Rotary Clubs to groups selling bumper stickers. The town posted a rather blunt disclaimer at the top of the list:
This is a draft document listing the titles, mission statement, and contact person(s) for funds which have been created in response to the tragic events of December 14, 2012.  Please be aware that the list is incomplete and may be inaccurate in some respects.  There funds are NOT under the jurisdiction of the Town of Newtown. We are ‘cataloging’ the funds as a service to the community. We have not vetted any of these funds nor do we represent them in any way. This is information only. We will publish updated lists as more information becomes available.       January 24, 2013
    The sheer number of memorial funds is at once heartening and worrisome.  Heartening that so many wish to help, and worrisome in that in the crowded field, the opportunity for inefficiency at best and fraud at worst increases.  The town's list may be a good resource for those wishing to help, but at the same time should be approached with caution.  There is no tragedy so terrible that some will not seek to exploit it for their own gain.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hillary Clinton: ARB Said I Was Not Responsible for Benghazi Failures

    Under withering questioning from Senator Rand Paul, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cited the Benghazi Accountability Review Board's findings to deflect the criticism of her lack of action before and after Benghazi:

“The ARB made very clear that the level of responsibility for the failures that they outlined was set at the Assistant Secretary level and below..."

Organizing for Action Already Bending IRS Rules

    As Obama for America, the reelection campaign organization of Barack Obama, morphs into Organizing for Action, many questions arise about the structure of the organization, its relationship to the president, and what his continuing relationship with OFA will be. The questions are not just coming from Republicans and other foes of the president, but as Buzzfeed reported recently, from Democrats as well. At least one of those questions was answered even before the crowd that had gathered to witness Barack Obama's second inauguration dispersed. The following email was sent to members of the BarackObama.com online community on Monday afternoon:

    Assuming that Organizing for Action doesn't just send out emails on anyone's behalf, the president exercised whatever authority he has in the new organization to deliver this message to perhaps millions of Americans. The link in the email is to a sign-up page for the new organization where users may entering an email address, after which the ubiquitous OFA Donations page appears.  And despite the fact that the email above says "paid for by Organizing for Action," the disclaimer at the bottom of the donations page says "Contributions or gifts to Obama Victory Fund 2012 are not tax deductible.
Contributions or gifts to Obama Victory Fund 2012 are not tax deductible. The first $2,500 from a contributor to Obama Victory Fund 2012 will be allocated to Obama for America, designated for general election debt retirement."  Therefore, Organizing for Action is in effect soliciting donations on behalf of the president's reelection campaign.

    This raises another question. Is it appropriate for the President of the United States to be soliciting donations for an organization that, as the Buzzfeed article says, does not have to reveal any of its donors and exists for the express purpose of promoting the president's agenda? Or is it actually the new 501(c)(4) that is soliciting donations on behalf of the president's campaign? The IRS rules for 501(c)(4) organizations state:
The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. However, a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity. However, any expenditure it makes for political activities may be subject to tax under section 527(f). 
    The email from the president represents not just a worrisome symbiosis between a sitting president's administration and a quasi-political tax exempt organization, but also a violation of, if not the letter, at least the spirit of the law prohibiting "direct or indirect participation ... in political campaigns on behalf of ... any candidate for public office," since the solicitation of funds is for the "Obama Victory Fund."

    Organizing for Action has inherited not only Obama for America's initials (OFA), but apparently the iconic Obama "O" symbol, much of OFA's staff, its website (BarackObama.com), its mailing lists and fund raising apparatus. The coming months and years will reveal how the president and this "new" organization will walk fine ethical line, but things appear to be off to a rocky start.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Good Badges, Evil Badges

    The $100,000 NEA grant for HERadventure that I wrote about two weeks ago has got some competition. This time, however, it is the University of California coughing up the funds. In a hands-across-the-country gesture, New York University's Steinhardt School of Cultural, Education, and Human Development announced that its Paulette Goddard Professor in Digital Media and Learning Sciences Jan L. Plass has received a $173,000 grant from "the Digital Media and Learning Research Competition of the University of California Humanities Research Institute for a project titled, “Good Badges, Evil Badges? An Empirical Inquiry into the Impact of Badge Design on Goal Orientation and Learning.’"

    I am not making up any of that.

    Perhaps "Badge Design" is throwing you for a loop? The announcement goes on to explain:
Video games have often used badges as a measure of achievement, from completing a specific task to showing mastery over a particular skill set. In order to realize the potential of badges on lifelong learning, the researchers will be studying the effect of different badge design on players’ attitudes and achievements.

    So "badges" are a digital pat on the back for players who make progress in their game of choice that encourage them to move on to bigger and better... levels of the game. A virtual trophy out of various patterns of colored lights on a video screen. An eBadge.

    Next, here's how the study will work:
The study will look at commercial games as well as the educational geometry-concept game, Noobs vs. Leets, to learn how the presence or absence of badges and trophies affects game play and motivation. Video recordings of gameplay will be analyzed for trends and insight into participants’ perception and valuation of badges as part of their gameplay experience and for changes in gameplay patterns when a player receives a badge.
The study will collect empirical evidence that will inform the discourse on the purpose and function and badges, and enable the researchers to develop theory-based, empirically validated design patterns to support badge designers and issuers in their design decisions.
     I believe that's pretty self-explanatory. And yet somehow at the same time wildly incomprehensible.

    The taxpayers of California and students at the University of California (and perhaps New York University as well, since I assume NYU might have to kick in some lunch money at least) may be looking with envy at HERadventure before all is said and done. After all, how can "badge design" hope to compete with an alien superhero charged with saving the auras of Earth’s women by fighting climate change? And for $73,000 less. The NEA knows a bargain when it sees one.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Organizing for America: "Restoration of Rights"... for Felons

    The Obama for America campaign may be changing its name to Organizing for Action, but the organization is still quite aware of the importance of "optics." Today, an upcoming training event in Palmetto, Florida was posted on the Barackobama.com website entitled "Talk and Information about Restoration of Rights."  The description of the event is somewhat vague:
Talk and Information about Restoration of Rights 
Speaker Desmond Meade of the Florida Coalition for the Restoration of rights will speak on the processes and progressive actions around this issue. Other topics discussed will be improvement of education and jobs opportunities in the Palmetto community.

Here's a screenshot of the event listing:

    The "improvement of education and jobs opportunities." Those certainly sound like noble goals. However, as it turns out, the event title and description are revisions of the original listing.  As of now (Sunday evening,) the Google cache version still contains the original version, although this will be updated at some point.  Here is the original title and description:

Restoration of Rights for Felons 
Speaker Desmond Meade of the Florida Coalition for the Restoration of rights will speak on the processes and progressive actions around this issue. We will offer solutions and gain suport for the further rights restoration for those who have completed their rehabilitation and wish to find jobs, and vote.

Here's a screenshot of the original:

    Now that clears up any confusion. Apparently someone at Team Obama thought it was a little too clear because the revision took place within hours (if not sooner) of the posting of the event. No sense in going overboard with the whole "transparency" thing.

    My favorite part is the final two words: "and vote." Because that's what it's all about, eh?

Watching the Watchdog: Gov't Accountability Office Issued Only Two of Six Bimonthly Reports Required By 2009 Recovery Act in 2012 [Updated]

    When Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, one of the provisions to ensure transparency instructed the Government Accountability Office to issue bimonthly reports on the use of funds authorized in the Recovery Act and to make those reports available on the internet.  However, after fairly consistent reports in the first year, the regularity of the reports began to wane, and in 2012, only two such reports were posted on the Recovery.gov website.  Rather than bimonthly review reports at 60-day intervals, the average report interval has been more than 90 days, more than 50% longer than the statutory requirement.

    One section of the Recovery website is titled GAO Findings.  A note at the top of the page says:
 The Recovery Act requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the use of Recovery funds by states and localities every two months. Its reports are below[.]
    Indeed, all the reports issued since the inception of the program are available on the site.  The summaries of the first three reports in 2009 each make reference to a "bimonthly report."  After that, the term is dropped and only makes one more appearance in the December 2010 report which refers to "previous bimonthly and recipient reporting reviews."  However, in both the highlights and full version of even the most recent report (October 2012,) the bimonthly requirement is mentioned.

    With that in mind, here are the issue dates of the reports listed on Recovery.gov:
  1. April 28, 2009
  2. July 8, 2009
  3. September 23, 2009
  4. November 19, 2009
  5. December 10, 2009
  6. March 3, 2010
  7. May 26, 2010
  8. September 20, 2010
  9. December 15, 2010
  10. April 7, 2011
  11. June 29, 2011 
  12. June 29, 2011 (two reports issued on same day)
  13. September 22, 2011
  14. December 16, 2011
  15. June 18, 2012
  16. October 15, 2012
    If bimonthly reports had been issued on a strict schedule, there would have been 23 reports at about 61 day intervals as opposed to 15 reports at an average interval of 92 days (not counting the two reports issued on the same day).  Days between reports for the last two (2012) were 185 days and 119 days.  As of January 20, 2013, another 97 days have passed since the most recent report.

    Interestingly, the GAO does not dispute this finding, although a slight discrepancy exists. In a speech on November 16, 2012, in Beijing, China, Gene L. Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States, made the following statement concerning the reviews and reporting by the GAO:
Since 2009, GAO has issued 17 bimonthly review reports and one more is underway.  And we have issued more than 100 other reports and testimonies on Recovery Act funding.  These proactive efforts continue to yield very positive results. GAO’s Recovery Act efforts have helped ensure accountability, counter fraud, and promote transparency over where the money went and the results it achieved.  
    Although Dodaro stated "17 bimonthly review reports" have been issued, only 16 are listed on the GOA website as was stated above. In either case, despite the "bimonthly" claim, the reports have averaged around 90 days, or quarterly, not bimonthly, and the total is six or seven short of the 23 called for by the legislation.  Here is the relative text from the legislation spelling out the reporting responsibilities of the GAO.  There do not appear to be any caveats or exceptions to the bimonthly requirement:
Sec. 901. Government Accountability Office Reviews and Reports. (a) Reviews and Reports-
(1) IN GENERAL- The Comptroller General shall conduct bimonthly reviews and prepare reports on such reviews on the use by selected States and localities of funds made available in this Act. Such reports, along with any audits conducted by the Comptroller General of such funds, shall be posted on the Internet and linked to the website established under this Act by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board.
    In a year when the agency has only issued two of six required reports, it is curious to say the least that the head of the GAO continued to refer to the Recovery Act reports as "bimonthly." This misstatement alone is cause for concern about the level of transparency at the government's largest watchdog agency.

    Although the GAO works for Congress, the Obama administration is widely recognized as having ownership of the Recovery Act. Though Congress bears some responsibility for being asleep at the switch, with the GAO's reporting in 2012 occurring at only one-third of the level Congress mandated for the trillion-dollar Recovery Act, the Obama administration's pledge to run the "most open and transparent administration in history" could certainly be called into question as well.

UPDATE: I received a response from Chuck Young, Managing Director of Public Affairs for the GAO in which he stated that the "Recovery Act requires bi-monthly reviews but does not require bi-monthly reporting."

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Senator Harry Reid and a Scandal in Plain View

    The Boulder City Hospital in Boulder City, Nevada, dates back to the building of the nearby Hoover Dam. The original building cost $20,000 back in 1931, and was built by the group of companies involved in building the dam.  Over the years, the ownership, size, structure and location of the hospital have changed numerous times, and it is currently a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. In fact, the website declares, "The Hospital's success and long-term future depends largely on private donations from friends like you!" However, according to a recent press release by Senator Harry Reid, the hospital's best friends are now U.S. taxpayers:
Reid Announces Nearly $14 Million for Boulder City Hospital 
January 18, 2013 
 Washington, D.C.- Nevada Senator Harry Reid today announced a grant for $13,877,228 for the Boulder City Hospital. The grant comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development fund and will be used to complete a major renovation and expansion. According to the USDA, the hospital’s pharmacy, home health, lab and dietary areas will be remodeled, and surgery,  physical therapy, long-term care and the admissions lobby will be renovated and expanded. The Emergency Department also will be expanded by over 5,100 square feet. 
     Given that Boulder City is located in the desert about 20 miles outside Las Vegas, not exactly farmland or terribly isolated (the next closest hospital is about 11 miles away,) the hospital's qualification for a "rural development" grant from the Department of Agriculture is purely technical. The city's population is just over 15,000, so this grant amounts to just under $1,000 per resident. The $14 million grant is $2 million more than total present assets of the hospital, listed at just under $12 million on the latest available IRS Form 990. (The most recent audited financial statements on the hospital website are from 2007, so the 990 provided more up-to-date figures.) Contributions and grants in 2009 were $46,210 and in 2010 were $64,514, so the USDA has increased those totals by a factor of 200 or more for 2013.

    This enormous grant was announced by Nevada Senator Harry Reid's office with obvious pleasure:
“This USDA grant will significantly improve Boulder City Hospital,” said Reid. “I am pleased that Boulder City residents will have access to the highest quality health care services and facilities. Various elements of hospital will be strengthened, from its Emergency Department to surgery areas. I will continue to work hard so Nevada communities benefit from the very best resources and amenities.”
    This is not the first time the hospital has hit the jackpot with Harry Reid.  An article in the Fall 2010 newsletter noted the Senator's help with a grant in 2010 ("Were it not for the grant we received through Senator Reid in the 2010 Omnibus Spending Bill...") and Senator Reid's office pegged that grant at $1 million. (It is not apparent why that $1 million does not appear on the hospital's 2010 Form 990.) Three years later, the Senate Majority leader managed to better his earlier efforts by 14 times that $1 million.

    At issue here is not whether Boulder City Hospital needed $15 million. The issue is whether a country that is $16.5 trillion in debt, increasing $4 billion per day, should be giving a hospital in Nevada a grant that amounts to $1,000 per resident so those constituents of Harry Reid can "benefit from the very best resources and amenities."  The government blows through $15,000,000 every five minutes, but even the nearby casinos might choke on $15 million worth of "amenities."

    This grant represents not a shady back room deal, but a scandal in plain view that is endlessly repeated in the press releases of many of the other 534 members of Congress. What America needs is not a debt ceiling, but a fiscal Hoover dam that will once and for all control the torrent of money flowing through the Capitol in Washington, DC.  Let us hope that some in the 113th Congress will be up to the task.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Barack Obama: "The Price of Our Freedom"

    President Barack Obama, December 16, 2012 - Interfaith Prayer Vigil in Newtown, CT after Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre:
Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?
President Barack Obama, January 16, 2013 - White House Press Conference announcing gun violence proposals:
Because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved, then we've got an obligation to try.
State Senator Barack Obama, March 30, 2011 - Illinois General Assembly debate on bill to provide medical care to a child born live during an abortion procedure. (This is rather lengthy, and excerpts have appeared before, but I believe it is useful to read Barack Obama's words in context.)

    I reproduced Barack Obama's words in full, but I'd like to again highlight some of what he said:

"...that brief period of time that they were still living..."

"...keep that child alive..."

"...or child... still temporarily alive..."

"...caring for fetuses or children..."

"...to kill a child ...if this is a child..."

    Fast-forward again to January 16, 2013:
...if there is even one life that can be saved, then we've got an obligation to try.

    Back to 2001: "And as a consequence, I'll be voting Present."  When it comes to the unborn, and even the briefly born, Barack Obama has been voting "present" ever since.

Google Donkey Mystery Solved [Updated]

    There is a tremendous kerfuffle over accusations that a Google Street View vehicle ran over a donkey in Botswana.  If you've not heard of this before, here's the short version from the LA Times:
A scene captured by a Google Street View vehicle in Kweneng, Botswana, that went viral Monday seems to show the car hitting and possibly killing a donkey on the road.
The scene is still visible on Google Street View: The Google vehicle appears to come up upon a standing donkey before knocking it over.
But Google has a different version of the incident and insists the animal is fine.
"Our Street View teams take the safety of people and donkeys very seriously," Google said in a statement. "A review of our imagery confirms that we did not cause any harm to the donkey."
    Given that vehicles in Botswana drive on the left, here are some screen shots that prove Google's version.  These scenes are available by hitting the down arrow on the original image.  As the other vehicle approaches, the donkey is visible next to it on the left, standing up.  As the Google vehicle approaches and the dust clears from the other vehicle, there is the donkey rolling in the dirt, as donkeys are wont to do.  You can even see the marks in the dirt where the donkey has been rolling:

    And then the "after" shot.

    The donkey is fine.  Google's "Do Not Evil" is intact.  At least as far as the donkey is concerned.

UPDATE:  Good grief.  As if I haven't wasted enough time already, there's an even easier way to see what nonsense this story is.  Start here with the "dead donkey" picture, click the up/forward arrow once, and then pan to the left:

    Voilà! Here is the donkey, standing on the side of the road next to the Google vehicle.  If this donkey was hit, then he threw himself under the bus... so to speak.

House of Representatives Moves to Reverse President's Executive Order

    On December 28, I broke the story about President Obama's executive order lifting the federal pay freeze that had been in effect for two years. The Washington Examiner is reporting that the House Republicans introduced a bill today to reverse the effects of that order:

House Republicans proposed a bill today that would cut the pay of Vice President Joe Biden and other federal officials, noting that the executive order that President Obama signed to raise their pay costs $11 billion in new spending. 
“The President has once again demonstrated his penchant for unrestrained spending by giving federal employees an across the board pay hike and sticking the rest of us with the $11 billion bill,” Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., the lead sponsor on the bill, said in a statement today. “At a time when the average federal worker compensation is nearly double the median U.S. household income, and attrition from the federal workforce is already at an all-time low, we simply cannot afford this unnecessary and unilateral action by the President.” 
Obama’s executive order raises Biden’s salary $225,521 to $231,900. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, would see an $1,100 raise while the Senate majority and minority leaders would get paid an extra $1,000, according to Fox. “The House and Senate, however, voted down the congressional pay increase earlier this year,” the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee notes.

Presidential Memo Expands the Definition of "Federal Law Enforcement Agencies"

    As part of the president's 23 "executive actions" on gun violence, a presidential memo was issued regarding firearms tracing in connection with criminal investigations.  The memo instructs that:
Federal law enforcement agencies shall ensure that all firearms recovered after the date of this memorandum in the course of criminal investigations and taken into Federal custody are traced through ATF at the earliest time practicable. Federal law enforcement agencies, as well as other executive departments and agencies, are encouraged, to the extent practicable, to take steps to ensure that firearms recovered prior to the date of this memorandum in the course of criminal investigations and taken into Federal custody are traced through ATF.
    However, another provision defines which agencies are included in "Federal law enforcement agencies":
(e) For purposes of this memorandum, "Federal law enforcement agencies" means the Departments of State, the Treasury, Defense, Justice, the Interior, Agriculture, Energy, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security, and such other agencies and offices that regularly recover firearms in the course of their criminal investigations as the President may designate.
     This is a pretty sweeping definition compared to the Justice Department's definition:
A federal law enforcement agency is an organizational unit, or subunit, of the federal government with the principle functions of prevention, detection, and investigation of crime and the apprehension of alleged offenders.  Examples of federal law enforcement agencies include the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Secret Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). 
     Since the memo also addressed "other executive departments and agencies," it is unclear what this partial deputizing of other agencies as "law enforcement" means.  Perhaps further examination of other executive actions on gun violence will make this more clear.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Planned Parenthood: A Few Choice Words

    Anna North of BuzzFeed created a stir recently with her report that Planned Parenthood would be "moving away" from "pro-choice" terminology that has been the euphemism of choice for abortion rights advocates for decades:
"It's a complicated topic and one in which labels don't reflect the complexity," said Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards at a press briefing Wednesday. But, she said, the group's polling showed most Americans could get behind a more nuanced statement of principles: "It is important that women make their own decisions about pregnancy, and that politicians do not."
Planned Parenthood Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens said the word "choice" itself might be causing problems. "When 'choice' got assigned," she explained, "women didn't have as many choices" in any area of their lives. Now that women have more rights and freedoms, she said, maybe "'choice' as word sounds frivolous."
    As if on cue, the statement issued on January 11th accompanying its 2011-2012 annual report does not mention "choice" at all. Remarkably, for a report that includes a record number of abortions last year, one would hardly know Planned Parenthood even offered the procedure:
“The Planned Parenthood annual report for 2010-2011 shows that Planned Parenthood affiliates remain one of the nation’s leading providers of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people. Planned Parenthood health centers provide nearly three million patients a year with a wide range of preventive health care, including lifesaving cervical cancer screenings, breast exams, Pap tests, STD testing, and birth control. More than 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are preventive care, such as cancer screenings and birth control, and like any other health care provider Planned Parenthood health centers are reimbursed by the government for providing specific preventive services to low-income patients. As has been the case for decades, federal funds are not and cannot be used to provide abortion.” 
The Planned Parenthood 2010-2011 annual report shows that more than 750 Planned Parenthood health centers nationwide provided nearly 11 million services to nearly three million people during the year, including:
  • birth control information and services to two million patients;
  • 585,000 Pap tests, which identified about 82,000 women at risk of developing cervical cancer;
  • 640,000 breast exams; and 
  • nearly 4.5 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV tests.
    The only abortion mention in the statement is in the negative: "federal funds are not and cannot be used to provide abortion." In the body of the annual report, "abortion" appears in only three places, once on a graphic and twice in a list of total services offered in 2011-12. Although the graphic portrays abortion as representing only 3% of its services, I have seen estimates that abortion provides anywhere from 15% to 50% of Planned Parenthood's annual revenue.

    But old habits die hard. On January 14th, this press release appeared from Planned Parenthood:
Planned Parenthood Welcomes Ilyse Hogue as NARAL President; Thanks Nancy Keenan for Years of Service to the Fight for Women’s Health 
WASHINGTON, DC — Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards released the following statement welcoming NARAL Pro-Choice America’s announcement that Ilyse Hogue will replace Nancy Keenan as President.
“We are thrilled to welcome Ilyse Hogue as the new president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. She brings fresh perspective and energy to the fight for access to safe and legal abortion as we mark the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and face continued battles in many states across the country. We look forward to our continued close partnership with NARAL Pro-Choice America under her leadership, especially as we work to cultivate the next generation of leaders...
    When your soul-mate organization calls itself "NARAL Pro-Choice America," shedding the "choice" language may be harder than it first seemed.

Presidential Memorandum: First Come, First Served? [Updated again]

    The White House just released a presidential memorandum Tuesday afternoon:
For Immediate Release January 15, 2013
Presidential Memorandum -- Delegation of Certain Functions Under Section 6 of Public Law 112-150
SUBJECT: Delegation of Certain Functions Under Section 6 of Public Law 112-150
By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including section 301 of title 3, United States Code, I hereby delegate to you all functions conferred upon the President by subsections (a) and (b) of section 6 of Public Law 112-150. You will exercise these functions in coordination with the Secretary of Defense.
You are authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.
    The odd thing is, it does not identify "you."  Is this a bearer memo?  If so, I've got dibs.

    In case you are wondering, Public Law 112-150 is the "UNITED STATES-ISRAEL ENHANCED 
SECURITY COOPERATION ACT OF 2012."  Section 6 reads as follows:
(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 180 days after the date
of the enactment of this Act, the President shall submit to
the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate and the
Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives
a report on the status of Israel’s qualitative military edge
in light of current trends and instability in the region.
within one year of the date that the first quadrennial report
required by section 201(c)(2) of the Naval Vessel Transfer Act
of 2008 (Public Law 110–429; 22 U.S.C. 2776 note) is due
to be submitted, the report required by paragraph (1) may
substitute for such quadrennial report.
(b) REPORTS ON OTHER MATTERS.—Not later than 180 days
after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President shall
submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report on
each of the following matters:
22 USC 8604.
VerDate Mar 15 2010 01:20 Aug 11, 2012 Jkt 019139 PO 00150 Frm 00004 Fmt 6580 Sfmt 6581 E:\PUBLAW\PUBL150.112 GPO1 PsN: PUBL150
anorris on DSK9Q6SHH1PROD with PUBLIC LAWSPUBLIC LAW 112–150—JULY 27, 2012  126 STAT. 1149
SENATE REPORTS: No. 112–179 (Comm. on Foreign Relations).
June 29, considered and passed Senate.
July 17, considered and passed House.
July 27, Presidential remarks.
(1) Taking into account the Government of Israel’s urgent
requirement for F–35 aircraft, actions to improve the process
relating to its purchase of F–35 aircraft, particularly with
respect to cost efficiency and timely delivery.
(2) Efforts to expand cooperation between the United States
and Israel in homeland security, counter-terrorism, maritime
security, energy, cyber-security, and other related areas.
(3) Actions to integrate Israel into the defense of the
Eastern Mediterranean. 
    I'll update this post if "you" steps forward.

UPDATE:  Based on this previous similar presidential memo, "you"might be the Secretary of State.  But for now, it's still up for grabs.

UPDATE: It took a day, but the White House has now added "MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF STATE" to the memo. But just for the record, a screenshot of the original:

Monday, January 14, 2013

Guns and Executive Action

    Politico is reporting that Joe Biden's task force on gun violence has 19 "executive actions" queued up for consideration by President Obama.  Since an executive action is a unilateral action by the president, the administration will have to walk a fine line in the presentation and implementation of these ideas.  By leaking the number, the issuance of less than 19 will result in speculation about which actions were deemed too extreme to implement or too weak to bother with.  Also, since any of these actions could have been taken at any point in the previous four years, the administration will open itself up to questions about why nothing was done sooner.

    While "executive action" is a rather broad term, the history of "executive orders" and gun control is quite narrow.  The only executive order specifically addressing gun control that my research turn up was issued by Dwight Eisenhower on February 16, 1960:
Executive Order 10863--Authorizing the Attorney General to seize arms and munitions of war, and other articles, pursuant to section 1 of title VI of the act of June 15, 1917, as amended...
Section 1. The Attorney General is hereby designated under section 1 of Title VI of the act of June 15, 1917, as amended by section 1 of the act of August 13, 1953, as a person duly authorized to seize and detain arms or munitions of war or other articles, and to seize and detain any vessel, vehicle, or aircraft containing such items or which has been, or is being, used in exporting or attempting to export such arms or munitions of war or other articles, whenever an attempt is made to export or ship from or take out of the United States such arms or munitions of war or other articles in violation of law, or whenever it is known, or there is probable cause to believe, that such arms or munitions of war or other articles are intended to be, or are being or have been, exported or removed from the United States in violation of law.
     Even this order did not establish a new executive power, but simply designated the attorney general as an authorized person under a previously existing law to seize arms or munitions being illegally imported or exported from the country.  It seems likely that any executive action or order by President Obama would be in the same vein.  On the other hand, for an administration whose previous "executive actions" included allowing illegal guns to end up in the hands of Mexican drug gangs (Fast and Furious,) the president may welcome this opportunity to show he can be tough on guns, even if it means that legal gun owners in the United States bear the brunt of the new sanctions.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The War on Betsy Ross!

    Despite the sensational title of this post, I do not harbor delusions of conspiracy or lack of patriotism in supporters of President Obama.  However, as I noted this summer during the campaign, there was a curious aversion to traditional representations of the American flag in the items available in the America for Obama campaign store (two of the designs are pictured on the right.)  This fondness for the avant-garde has carried over to the online store of the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) website.

    Just as the Obama campaign store offered a Runway To Win line of designer fashions, the 2013 PIC enlisted a number of famous designers to augment their online offerings.  Several of these have incorporated the American flag into their designs.  But these are not your (founding) fathers' flags:

    This bag by Rachel Roy is the most faithful to the original designer, but the colors have been scrapped in favor of a monochromatic look.  

    Here is the obligatory hoodie (Yigal Azrouël) which restores the colors, but drops several of the original colonies and a boatload of current states in its design.

    However, I saved the best for last:

    This Prabal Gurung print on a plain t-shirt is described as "featuring a kaleidoscope-inspired American flag design."  It makes Betsy Ross's original design seem rather pedestrian by comparison.

    As a traditionalist, I find these designs not deeply subversive, but frankly just kind of annoying.  The flag's original design was purposeful and says much about the ideals, the history, and the principles of the United States of America.  Like the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, or the Star Spangled Banner, some things just don't need improving.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

President Obama's Diversity Kerfuffle

    President Obama has been taking friendly fire lately for the "lack of diversity" in recent cabinet picks.  As I noted yesterday, even Charlie Rangel was a bit put out by President Obama's lack of focus on symbolism in personnel decisions.  Perhaps there is nostalgia for the glory days when pandering to groups was more of a priority.  One such example is the president's signature accomplishment  ObamaCare.

    While perusing the ObamaCare law for another story, I made an inadvertent discovery.  I noticed the references to "women" were fairly frequent, but I had trouble finding "men."  As it turns out, there's a good reason that the disparity was so apparent.  A search of the document reveals 145 uses of "women."  And "men"?  One.  And here it is, in Section 1101, page 418:
(3) provide information to women and health care providers on those areas in which differences between men and women exist;
    "Men" only makes it into the law as a point of reference to define areas of care for women.  Men are simply the not-women of ObamaCare.

    Obviously men are covered under the (endless!) general provisions of ObamaCare.  Women have unique health needs that the framers of the law felt necessary to spell out.  Is this 145:1 ratio evidence of discrimination against men?  I suppose it's possible, but unlikely.

    The point here is not one of complaint, but rather illustration.  In the current kerfuffle with the president, liberals have painted themselves into a corner given their history of incessant emphasis on externals ("color of their skin", in the words of Martin Luther King, and "war on women", in the words of countless liberals.)  When a conservative or a Republican violates the unwritten rules of diversity, it's easy to shout "racism" or "sexism."

    But this is their man.  What are their alternatives?  Is the president deliberately or carelessly overlooking more qualified minorities in favor of "good ole (white) boy" picks?  That's virtually unthinkable for a true progressive like Obama.  Or are the minority candidates not as qualified, but the president's critics believe he should choose them anyway?  Diversity trumps qualifications?  Or are the good ole boys and the minorities equally qualified, and the critics believe a tie goes to "diversity"?

    Perhaps this conflict will help expose the hypocrisy of the "diversity" crowd to a wider audience.  I do not know Barack Obama's motives for choosing the men he has to fill the open cabinet positions.  But it is obvious that at least in these cases, he's not pandering on the basis of race or sex.  Would that liberals could give conservatives and Republicans the same benefit of the doubt.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

President Obama and Women: The Face-off [Photo]

    President Obama has taken a lot of heat lately, even from his most ardent supporters, such as Congressman Charlie Rangel, for the "lack of diversity" in his latest Cabinet appointments.  As Daniel Halper at the Weekly Standard reported, Rangel called the lack of diversity "embarrassing."  In an effort to dispel the notion, Jay Carney was compelled to tick off a list of as many women in the Obama administration as he could think of in a press briefing yesterday.  In this context, one can only wish there was an audio track accompanying the latest photo of the president released by the White House:

    Feel free to supply some dialogue in the comments section below, but keep in mind my Comments Policy in the right-hand column, please.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The NEA's Excellent HERadventure [Updated]

    During my politically formative years, the National Endowment for the Arts was a frequent target of derision from conservatives and Republicans for the unnecessary and often ridiculous use of tax dollars.    Along with the Department of Education and public broadcasting, it was high on the list of government boondoggles to get the axe once conservatives held the purse strings.  Somehow, that day never came.  With the resurgence of interest in cutting government spending now that the country has had four trillion dollar plus annual deficits in a row, the NEA might start to feel the heat again, especially in light of the story below.

    Last spring, the National Endowment for the Arts announced its 2012 grant recipients.  The vigilance of conservatives must indeed have slipped, because other than a brief mention by Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Pitts, the following seems to have gone by virtually unnoticed:
Spelman College (aka Digital Moving Image Salon)
Atlanta, GA
To support HERadventure, a multi-episode, augmented reality computer game. Targeted to young women ages 18-25, HERadventure's story focuses on a young female superhero sent to Earth to save her own planet from devastation because of climate changes caused by social issues impacting women and girls. The game will be designed to be accessible online, on mobile platforms, Facebook, and Twitter and is designed and led by filmmaker and digital media artist Ayoka Chenzira with a team of artists.
    The description defies parody.  $100,000 of taxpayer money is going to help develop a video game about a female alien sent to earth to rescue her own planet (sorry, I just can't paraphrase this - must quote) "from devastation because of climate changes caused by social issues impacting women and girls."  Fortunately, we are not left to fill in the details for ourselves.  A fuller description is available on the website of Spelman College:
The backstory of HERadventure begins when HER, a warrior woman and inhabitant of Earth’s sister planet, comes to Earth to investigate why it is causing her native planet to freeze and slowly die. HER discovers that the auras of Earth’s women are diminishing. Consequently, Earth and other parts of the universe are negatively impacted. HER enlists a corps of “superheroes in training” (HERadventure users) to take meaningful action and offer solutions to issues such as negative self-esteem, discrimination, eating disorders, and depression, which are causing women’s auras to suffer. These issues are dealt with through visual metaphors in a 3-D environment. HERadventure users “teleport” through various levels of the gaming experience by using social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, with a goal of helping the superhero save her planet and ultimately serve as catalysts for positive change in the virtual and real world.
    An article from the college's electronic newsletter Inside Spelman goes even further:
 What would happen if the societal issues affecting women put other planets at risk? Well, of course, HER, a Black female superhero, would swoop in with a plan to save the universe. HER is central to HERadventure, a science fiction-based, multimedia platform project that interweaves virtual worlds, digital  and social media to create a gaming and storytelling experience. HERadventure not only entertains but tackles social issues that permeate the daily reality of many women.
    Although it is the smorgasbord of politically correct elements that makes this project entertaining to write about, the bottom line is that the government has taken $100,000 from the taxpayers and given it to someone to develop a video game.  It is one thing to argue that tax dollars should be used to prop up art forms that may be suffering from popular neglect (opera, painting, ballet, symphony orchestras) but have earned the right to be preserved for cultural and historical reasons if for nothing else.  But a video game?  Does America need government sponsored video games?  Even those that purport to be "art"?  Cannot our free marketplace of ideas even be trusted with that minor task?

    As the Inside Spelman article goes on to note:
HERadventure is scheduled for release on International Women’s Day on March 8, 2013. However, that is only the beginning. The transmedia, interactive story of HERadventure will be made up of several interconnected projects including a film that will engage film directors from around the world.
    Mark your calendars for March 8th.  We paid $100,000 for it.  We might as well see if we got our money's worth.

UPDATE: In a remarkable coincidence, this story at IndieWire.com just showed up this morning:

Filmmaker Ayoka Chenzira Launches HERadventure Sci-Fi Multimedia Project To Empower Women 
JANUARY 10, 2013 11:27 AM 
As the conversation continues on the dearth of black representation in sci-fi cinema, I receive an email with this announcement.
When she's not partnering up with acclaimed best-selling author Pearl Cleage to bring her novels to the screen, in what has been dubbed The Pearl Cleage Film Project, filmmaker and professor Ayoka Chenzira is developing an innovative sci-fi multimedia (film, gaming, social media) project called HERadventure.
I'll be interviewing her in a little bit about both her teaming with Cleage as well as on this newly-announced HERadventure project.
     The full story is at the link.