Saturday, August 31, 2013

White House: GOP Intimidating Obamacare Navigators

    On Friday, David Simas, the White House Deputy Senior Advisor for Communications & Strategy, raised the alarm: "House GOP targets hospitals, homeless shelters, food banks & senior centers educating people about ACA." In case that did not sound dire enough, he added the hashtag "#Intimidation."  Subtle it was not.  So what did those dastardly Republicans do?  Were there veiled threats of "That's a nice homeless shelter you've got there.  It'd be a shame if anything were to happen to it"?  Were they siccing the IRS on non-profits (at least the ones the IRS isn't already hounding)?  Not quite.
    In fact, the House Energy and Commerce Committee was simply exercising what is known as "oversight," or is known as oversight when the person using the term agrees with the action.  The action here is, according to Kaiser Health News, "asking recipients of the $67 million in health law navigator grants to brief the panel on how they intend to spend the money."  HHS announced the $67 million in grants on August 15, just two weeks ago.  Rep. Henry Waxman, the panel's ranking Democrat, had the hutzpah to say that:
the timing of the letters was "particularly suspect. You are insisting on voluminous document productions by Sept. 13, just when these groups need to be focused on their mission of helping uninsured Americans enroll for coverage." He added that the requests may have been sent "solely to divert the resources of small, local community groups just as they are needed to help with the new health care law."
    Rep. Waxman's complaint about timing is especially rich when you consider that Obamacare was passed in 2010, and yet navigators grants were announced a mere 45 days before the exchanges are due to open.  The GOP issued the informational requests within two weeks of learning the identities of these groups, has given them two weeks to respond, and will then have two weeks before Obamacare launches to process the responses and take appropriate action.  It is difficult to imagine what timing would have been acceptable to Rep. Waxman.
    The Republicans' concern is due to questions about security, screening, and training of navigators that will need to take place in a rather limited time.  Navigators will essentially be performing a service that for years professional brokers have provided, but with considerably less experience and education than brokers.  As Kaiser explains:
Navigators will provide assistance on the phone and in person to individuals signing up for coverage in the health law’s insurance marketplaces, as well as for public programs including Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. They will receive 20 hours of online training and have to pass a test before they can start working. Their efforts could include help in evaluating health plans for sale on the marketplaces, also known as exchanges. They are not, however, allowed to expressly tell people which policy to choose.
    The requirements are not exactly arduous.  Though the grant recipients have been screened by HHS, states "may choose to require minimum eligibility criteria and background checks" for the individuals tasked by the grant recipients to assist the public.  The most HHS has promised is to "take appropriate action if complaints of fraud and abuse arise."  With sensitive health information and private data, including social security numbers, potentially at risk, this reassurance is cold comfort.
    The 20-hour training of the navigators reminds me of an episode of the classic TV show from the 1960s-70s, Hogan's Heroes.  A recurring character, Col. Crittendon, a bumbling English officer, tells his fellow prison camp inmates who are planning a sabotage raid that he has commando training.  When they inquire about it, he tells them it was rigorous.  He didn't think he was going to make it, and it took every bit of grit and determination to soldier through.  He says it was worth every minute, but "I wouldn't want to go through a weekend like that again."
    Although a potential navigator might have to burn the midnight oil to get in 20 hours of online training in a weekend, it is certainly doable.  And more so since HHS cut the requirement from 30 hours just a few weeks before the $67 million in grants was announced.  Rather than intimidation, the GOP is performing due diligence to be sure future callers to the Obamacare help line aren't relying on modern day Col. Crittendons to help them get the most for their healthcare dollars.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Medicaid Accidentally Overpays $88M to Alabama

    The State of Alabama received bonus payments from Medicaid for 2009 and 2010 that were a stunning 13 times higher than the state was eligible for.  So says the inspector general (IG) for Health and Human Services in a report released on Wednesday.  Instead of $7.1 million, Alabama received $95.3 million in performance bonuses related to the Children's Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) for the years in question.  As a consequence, the state owes the federal government a refund of about $88 million.
    The overpayment was not the result of a complicated series of errors or deliberate misrepresentation, but rather a very simple error, as the report spells out:
The State agency overstated its current enrollments because, rather than reporting a monthly average enrollment of qualifying children, it reported to CMS [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] the total number of all qualifying children that had been enrolled in its program for each year reviewed.
    In other words, even children who qualified for CHIP for only a few months during the year were counted as if they were qualified the entire year.  That means the number of qualified children was overstated by more than 90,000.
    The IG choose to investigate the payments to Alabama because the state received over one-third (34%) of all such bonus payments to all states for 2009-2010:
We reviewed the bonus payments that Alabama received for FYs 2009 and 2010 because the amounts of the payments were relatively high compared with those of other States receiving bonus payments.  Alabama received $95 million (34 percent) of the $281 million in bonus payments made to all States for these 2 years.
    It is unclear why this imbalance did not raise any red flags at CMS prior to the IG's audit.
    According to a report on the Alabama-based website al.com, the State of Alabama wants to work out a repayment plan for the $88 million with the federal government.  The state's health office Dr. Don Williamson is quoted as saying that he believes the state Medicaid "acted in good faith" when filing for the refunds.
    Initially, Alabama disputed the findings in a May 2013 letter to CMS from acting Alabama Medicaid commissioner, Stephanie McGee Azar:
"Alabama Medicaid believes that it qualified for the bonuses at issue," according to the letter dated May 17, 2013. "CMS has worked closely with Alabama Medicaid in preparing the state's yearly bonus application in compliance with federal requirements since the State's first submission in 2009."
    The bonus payments were authorized in the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 (CHIPRA).  According to the report [emphasis added]:
[Q]ualifying States may receive bonus payments for FYs 2009 through 2013 to offset the costs of increased enrollment of children in Medicaid.  A State is eligible for a bonus payment if it increased its current enrollment of qualifying children (current enrollment) above the baseline enrollment of qualifying children (baseline enrollment) for a given year as specified in CMS guidance.  A State must also have implemented at least five of the Medicaid enrollment and retention provisions specified in CHIPRA. 

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

U.N. Secretary General: 'Give Peace a Chance' in Syria

    Even as United Nations personnel are in Syria trying to investigate chemical weapons claims that have further exacerbated that country's bloody civil war, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was incongruously tasked with the celebration of the centennial of the Peace Palace in The Hague.  After praising the 100 year old "magnificent building" that houses the International Court of Justice, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the Hague Academy of International Law and the Peace Palace Library, the Secretary-General urged all sides in Syria to "give peace a chance," noting the presence of the weapons inspectors currently in the country.  He also questioned the wisdom of supplying arms to either side in the conflict, asking "what have those arms achieved but more bloodshed?"
    Here are his full remarks on Syria:
Above all, I think about Syria, where a catastrophic civil war has killed more than 100,000 people by now, ignited sectarian tensions and generated instability across the region.
Now we have reached the most serious moment in this conflict.
The latest escalation has caused horrendous casualties.  And through images unlike any we have seen in the 21st century, it has also raised the spectre of chemical warfare.
The use of chemical weapons by anyone, for any reasons, under any circumstances, would be an atrocious violation of international law.
It is essential to establish the facts.  A United Nations investigation team is now on the ground to do just that.
Just days after the attacks, they have collected valuable samples and interviewed victims and witnesses. The team needs time to do its job.
Here in the Peace Palace, let us say: Give peace a chance.  Give diplomacy a chance.  Stop fighting and start talking.
And here in this hall dedicated to the rule of law, I say: let us adhere to the United Nations Charter.
To those providing weapons to either side, we must ask: what have those arms achieved but more bloodshed?
The military logic has given us a country on the verge of total destruction, a region in chaos and a global threat.  Why add more fuel to the fire?
We must pursue all avenues to get the parties to the negotiating table.  The joint envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League continues his efforts.
Most of all, the Security Council of the United Nations must uphold its responsibilities under the Charter - moral and political responsibilities under the Charter of the United Nations.
Syria is the biggest challenge of war and peace in the world today.  The body entrusted with maintaining international peace and security cannot be missing in action.  The Council must at last find the unity to act.  It must use its authority for peace.
    So far, Russia and China have opposed any action by the UN against Syria.

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

President Obama's Meeting With Mayors About Youth Violence Included One Republican

    President Obama and Attorney General Holder met with a group of 18 mayors at the White House on Tuesday afternoon.  The meeting was billed as a discussion "with mayors from cities around the country to discuss reducing youth violence." And although Republicans hold about a quarter of mayoral positions in the fifty largest cities in the U.S., only one Republican mayor was in attendance at the meeting,  Greg Ballard of Indianapolis.  The remaining mayors included sixteen Democrats and one Independent.
    According to recent data, there are twelve Republicans among the mayors of the fifty largest U.S. cities.  Twelve of the eighteen cities represented at the White House meeting are among those fifty.
    Some of the smaller cities represented at the meeting have high profile mayors, such as Corey Booker of Newark, NJ.
    Many of the cities appear on various Most Dangerous City lists, which may give an indication as to why the White House included them on the guest list.
    The White House released a short summary of the meeting:
President Obama and Attorney General Holder met this afternoon with a group of mayors from around the country to discuss strategies to reduce youth violence. The President reiterated that government alone can never fill the void that causes a child to turn to violence, but that we all have a responsibility to do our part to create safe communities and save lives. The President applauded the mayors for their local efforts to combat violence, solicited their input about proven methods, and pledged his Administration’s partnership. He also vowed to continue doing everything in his power to combat gun violence through executive action and to press Congress to pass common-sense reforms like expanding the background check system and cracking down on gun trafficking.
    Here is the complete list of mayors in attendance:
  • Mayor Greg Ballard (Indianapolis, IN)
  • Mayor Tom Barrett (Milwaukee, WI)
  • Mayor Cory Booker (Newark, NJ)
  • Mayor Vincent Gray (Washington, DC)
  • Mayor Sly James (Kansas City, MO)
  • Mayor Kevin Johnson (Sacramento, CA)
  • Mayor Mitch Landrieu (New Orleans, LA)
  • Mayor Mark Mallory (Cincinnati, OH)
  • Mayor Michael Nutter (Philadelphia, PA)
  • Mayor Annise Parker (Houston, TX)
  • Mayor Jean Quan (Oakland, CA)
  • Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (Baltimore, MD)
  • Mayor Kasim Reed (Atlanta, GA)
  • Mayor RT Rybak (Minneapolis, MN)
  • Mayor Francis Slay (St. Louis, MO)
  • Mayor Dayne Walling (Flint, MI)
  • Mayor Molly Ward (Hampton, VA)
  • Mayor AC Wharton (Memphis, TN)

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Census: Households With Children with an Unemployed Parent Increased 33 Percent from 2005 to 2011

    A Census Bureau report released on Tuesday says that the number of households with children under 18 with at least one unemployed parent increased by 33 percent between 2005 and 2011 from 2.4 million to 3.2 million.  In addition, home ownership among households with children under 18 declined by 15 percent to 20.8 million during that same time period.
    The report is entitled America's Families and Living Arrangements: 2012 and touches on all aspects of the living arrangements of Americans.  Jamie Lewis a demographer for the Census Bureau and co-author of the report says that while the recession had an impact, the effects have not dissipated since the recession ended:
Home ownership among families declined, while food stamp receipt and parental unemployment increased. Even after the recession officially ended in 2009, these measures remained worse than before it began.
    Other parts of the report show some dramatic changes in American households in the last several decades.  For instance:
The share of households that consisted of married couples with children shrunk by half between 1970 and 2012, from 40 percent to 20 percent. At the same time, the percentage of households consisting of a person living alone climbed from 17 percent to 27 percent.
    Some other notable report findings:
  • A higher percentage of young adults age 25 to 34 lived in their parents' home in 2012 than in the early 2000s. For men of this age, the share living in their parents' home increased from 13 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2012. The increase for women age 25 to 34 went from 8 percent in 2000 to 10 percent in 2012.
  • According to the 2011 American Community Survey, there were 605,000 same-sex couple households, including both married and unmarried couples, of whom 284,000 were male and 321,000 were female couples.
  • Most family groups with children (63 percent) were maintained by married couples.
  • A higher percentage of black (55 percent) and Hispanic (31 percent) children lived with one parent than white non-Hispanic (21 percent) or Asian children (13 percent).
  • Between 1970 and 2012, the average number of people per household declined from 3.1 to 2.6. 

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Got A Teen Smoker? Get the National Institutes of Health Latest App, Brrrd Brawl!

    Look out, Angry Birds.  The National Institutes of Health is moving in on the avian-altercation segment of the mobile device game market.  The description of the new phone app game from the nation’s premier medical research agency says it all:
The penguins are coming, the penguins are coming! When the turkeys of Fred’s Family Farm hear the news that a penguin army is on their way to take over, it’s time for a BRRRD BRAWL! This game is a casual mobile game developed in support of Smokefree Teen (SfT). It was created to help teens quit smoking by offering a better option for "idle hands".
    With the number of game apps currently in the iTunes app store alone being somewhere north of 100,000, including multiple variations of Angry Birds, it is unclear what it is about a turkey-penguin dustup that will have teens abandoning their smokes to aid Fred’s Family Farm in the desperate attempt to fight off an invasion from the frozen continent.

    In this case, it appears that idle hands are the NIH's workshop.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"Red Line" According to the Military? "You Can Get Shot"

    The declaration of a "red line" by President Obama a year ago regarding Syria and chemical weapons has provoked confusion among even the president's supporters, and derision from his detractors.  In a recent State Department press briefing, spokesperson Jen Psaki had the unenviable task of trying to make a fuzzy policy seem otherwise:
MS. PSAKI: Well, the redline has been clear. I know there’s been some confusion about this. The redline is the use of CW, the use of chemical weapons. That was crossed a couple of months ago. The President took action, which we talked about at the time. While, as I mentioned, we’re still focused on nailing down the facts – the intel community is focused on that, the Administration is focused on that – if these reports are true, it would be an outrageous and flagrant escalation of use of chemical weapons by the regime. So our focus is on nailing down the facts. The President, of course, has a range of options that we’ve talked about before that he can certainly consider and, of course, discuss with his national security team...
MS. PSAKI: We did take action. We did – we’re not going to outline the inventory of what we did. That remains the same as it was a couple of months ago. But the President acted. We crossed a redline. It did change the calculus, and we took action, and we have the opportunity, or the option, to do more if he chooses to do more...
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to outline the conversations, the private conversations, that are happening. There is broad agreement that any step we would take would be one – the decision would be part of what’s in our national security interests, what helps advance our interests in Syria, and certainly, the crossing of a redline would be part of that calculus and part of that decision. But there’s a range of options that are being discussed as well as a range of step – a range of incoming information that’s being discussed as part of these meetings as well. 
    Since the context of the president's red line declaration is a military conflict, it seems fair to look to the military for a definition.  Fortunately, we do not have to look far.  On July 18 of this year, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter addressed the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado.  While Carter was not discussing Syria or setting conditions on the conduct of foreign nations, in the course of answering a question, he gave an example of a literal military “red line”.  The contrast to the Obama administration’s red line ("exploring a range of options", "change the calculus") is stark:
And you have to have a system, which I would liken to our longstanding system for handling nuclear weapons.  You know, we have no-alone zones.  We have two-man rule.  You go out to, you know, Barksdale and walk around the Apron, and you'll see a red line.  And it says you cross that red line, you can get shot, because there are areas where you're simply not to be, because proximity to nuclear weapons is too sensitive and momentous a thing to be allowed for individuals.  Because, you know, there's always some aberrant individual somewhere, and you've got to recognize that fact. 
    The guards at Barksdale Air Force Base do not “explore a range of options.”  Crossing the line does not "change the calculus." It's not calculus at all - it's geography.  "You cross that red line, you can get shot."  Bashar al-Assad does not seem to take "getting shot" by the U.S. seriously.
    The State Department's diplomatic personnel might be uncomfortable with the concept of a red line; hence Ms. Psaki's reticence about specifics.  But President Obama is the commander-in-chief of the most powerful armed forces in the world.  Guards at Barksdale Air Force Base cannot and would not tolerate someone playing chicken on the red line on the Apron with the security of nuclear weapons.  And President Obama should not have allowed Assad (an "aberrant individual" if ever there was one) to entertain any doubts about the intentions of the U.S. if he flouted the chemical weapons red line.  The consequences should have been clear and unequivocal.
    The president often employs the phrase, "Let me be clear."  As his administration struggles to regain foreign policy credibility and formulate a response to the latest alleged use of chemical weapons by Assad, let us hope that this time, the president is indeed clear.  Our national security depends on it.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Audit: Some Meat Inspectors Work 75-80 Hours Per Week

    If overworked employees are more likely to commit errors, then the consumers who ended up with the meat inspected by one particular Department of Agriculture (USDA) food safety inspector (FSIS) have cause for concern.  A recent audit found one employee had averaged almost thirteen hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.  While this was the most extreme case, the incidence of food safety employees working extraordinary hours is by no means rare.  Over 400 of the 10,000 inspectors averaged in excess of 60 hours per week, including 14 averaging more than 75 hours, and another three who averaged over 80 hours per week.
    When food safety officials were presented with the audit's finding by the inspector general (OIG) of the USDA, they admitted ignorance of the excessive overtime hours, but downplayed the significance:
[FSIS officials] stated that they were unaware of this fact, and doubted that this extended overtime would negatively affect the agency’s inspectors...  Officials explained that, although FSIS has set limits on the number of hours an inspector can work in one day, FSIS has not limited inspectors working overtime hours for extended periods of time... 
The FSIS union contract stipulates that field inspectors are generally not to work more than 10 or 12 hours in one day, depending on their duties.  However, we found that some inspectors are working these hours six and even seven days a week.  Because of these extended hours, OIG believes FSIS inspectors could have decreased productivity, which might impair their ability to perform functions that are critical to public food safety... 
     The concerns of the OIG about the effects of such excessive overtime are shared by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).  The OIG cited OSHA regulations in the audit:
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, extended or unusual work shifts may be stressful physically, mentally, and emotionally.  These effects lead to an increased risk of operator error, injuries, or accidents.  Federal regulations state that Departments, such as USDA, shall schedule the basic work week so as to consist of five consecutive 8-hour days, although the Department may depart from the basic work week in those cases where maintaining such a schedule would seriously handicap the Department in carrying out its function.
    The OIG audit also uncovered some problems with FSIS's record keeping and billing for overtime hours:

FSIS could not adequately reconcile reimbursable overtime charges to industry with the overtime recorded by field staff in its timekeeping system, which could potentially have resulted in up to an estimated $10.6 million in underbilled overtime and up to an estimated $4.7 million in overcharges to industry.
    The OIG made seven recommendations to the FSIS regarding overtime hours, and the FSIS and the OIG came up with mutually agreeable responses for each of the concerns raised by the audit.

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Audit: Some IRS Employees Still Using Outlawed ‘Illegal Tax Protester’ Designation

    Despite a law passed 15 years ago, some Internal Revenue Service employees continue to use the designation "Illegal Tax Protester" and other similar designations in case narratives according to an audit just released by TIGTA (Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.)  While the IRS has not reintroduced an actual code for such designations, the audit found out of 257 million records, there were
54 instances in which Enforcement and Deputy Commissioner for 45 employees referred to taxpayers as  Operations Support.  “Tax Protester,” “Constitutionally Challenged,” or other similar designations.
    A similar audit in 2010 found 164 such instances, so the occurrence of such designations continues to drop.  Congress enacted to law to prevent taxpayers from being stigmatized even after they comply with IRS regulations, and to prevent future bias by IRS employees towards prior offenders.  The audit noted that
[t]he IRS has long disagreed with our determination that in order to comply with RRA 98 § 3707, IRS employees should not designate taxpayers as Illegal Tax Protesters or similar designations in case histories.
    The decrease in such occurrences, however,  indicates the IRS is attempting to comply, if somewhat reluctantly.

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

State Department Begins Work on New $178M Embassy Complex in Benin

    This week, the State Department announced that in "an important symbol of our enduring friendship with Benin," construction has begun on a new $178 million embassy complex in the small West African nation, a neighbor of Togo and Nigeria.  As is often the case in the construction of new U.S. diplomatic facilities, the plans include a number of "sustainable" features including solar panels, rainwater harvesting, wastewater reuse, and LED lighting.  The complex will cover 8.8 acres, and will include
a chancery/office building, a support annex, a residence for the U.S. Marine detachment, a warehouse, a utility building, a recreational facility, and multiple access pavilions. When completed, the new complex will provide approximately 150 embassy employees with a secure, state-of-the-art, environmentally-sustainable workplace.

    The country has a population of about 10.5 million and an annual GDP of $7.5 billion. The State Department estimate that the project will contribute $32 million to the local economy is equivalent to a day and a half of the entire country's economic output.
    The contractor in charge of the project is B.L. Harbert International of Birmingham, Alabama.  The contract was awarded in September 2012 and was valued at $126 million:

    In response to an emailed inquiry, Christine Foushee, Director of External Affairs for the State Department's Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, said that the $52 million difference covers all other costs not included in the construction contract, such as:
 site acquisition; early site analysis and preparation; concept design; certain government procured materials; fixtures, furnishings and equipment; construction security; project supervision, and other costs that are not part of the construction contract. 
    According to the fact sheet on the project, the furnishings will include a collection of art:

  • The art collection will include works by contemporary artists from the United States and Benin. 
  • One theme of the exhibition will be art made from repurposed materials, as this is common to the arts in both countries in recent years. 
  • The collection will include objects in a variety of media, to be installed in the Chancery and on the grounds of the Embassy. 

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Education Secretary: If You Don't Graduate High School, 'You're Basically Condemned to Poverty and Social Failure'

    Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, on Air Force One en route to New York for the president's education bus tour, had some strong words to say about the prospects of those who do not attend college.  While answering a question about the cost of college and whether the administration might be exaggerating those costs, Duncan said [emphasis added]:
But, again, if you look at polls of the public -- this isn't me -- if you look at polls, the vast -- it’s like two-thirds of the American public think college is for the wealthy today.  There is something dramatically wrong with that picture.  Some form of higher education -- four-year universities, two-year community colleges, trade, technical vocation training -- some form of higher education training has to be the goal for every single young person in this country. 
Again, we know the long-term economic benefits, dividends are just tremendous -- more than doubling long-term salaries.  So if you drop out of high school today, you’re basically condemned to poverty and social failure.  There are no good jobs out there. If you have a high school diploma, there’s almost nothing for you.  College has to be the goal, has to be the aspiration.

UPDATE: It turns out Duncan has been using this line since at least 2010.  In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, he said:
Just as troubling, about one in four -- about 25 percent -- of high school students in the United States drops out or fails to graduate on time. That's almost 1 million students each year leaving our schools for the streets. That is economically unsustainable and is morally unacceptable. As all of you know, high school dropouts today are basically condemned to poverty and social failure.

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard

State Department Warns of Cholera Outbreak in Havana, Cuba

    The State Department Wednesday issued a security message warning U.S. citizens in or traveling to Cuba about an outbreak of cholera:
U.S. Interests Section
Havana, Cuba
Security Message – Cholera Outbreak
August 20, 2013 
This message is to inform U.S. citizens residing in or visiting Cuba that media reports have indicated that cases of cholera have been identified in the city of Havana, possibly linked to a reported outbreak of cholera in eastern Cuba.  The Panamerican Health Organization (PAHO) issued an epidemiological alert noting the presence of cholera in Cuba and confirming that foreign travelers have contracted cholera during recent trips to Cuba.
    As noted in the warning, the Panamerican Health Organization issued an update on August 14 on cholera in several Caribbean countries.  The Centers for Disease Control, however, does not currently list any travel health warnings for Cuba.
    The Miami Herald ran a story on August 17 titled "Cuba’s Silence on Cholera Dangerous to Your Health."  Sherri L. Porcelain, a "senior lecturer in global public health in world affairs and a senior research associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami," wrote:
After a century hiatus, cholera has returned to Cuba. Along with the re-emergence of dengue, a mosquito-born disease, both the local population and tourists visiting the island remain at risk today. This is no surprise since Cuba’s deteriorated water, sewage, sanitation and housing systems all create the ideal environment for rapid disease spread. 
Luis Suarez Rosas, a physician with Cuba’s National School of Medicine, captures the paradox of Cuban healthcare today in using the term “epidemiologic silence” to describe Cuba’s official position on reporting disease outbreak information.

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard. 

State Department Refers Questions About Ambassador Power ... to U.N.

    Newly confirmed United Nations Ambassador [Samantha] Power's absence from an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria has raised eyebrows and questions.  When pressed on the matter at Thursday's press briefing, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki three times declined to give further details on Power's whereabout and referred further questions to the United Nations:
QUESTION: Last question: Where exactly was Ambassador Power that she could not take part in this emergency Security Council session?
MS. PSAKI: Well --
QUESTION: Where exactly was she?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the UN has spoken to this, but since you asked and I like to be transparent as possible, Ambassador Power is on a prearranged trip...
QUESTION: Is she on vacation?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details for you. I’d send you to the UN for her schedule.
 * * * * * *
QUESTION: I just don’t understand why you’re unwilling to tell us where Ambassador Power was. There’s no dishonor in having had a scheduled vacation, if that’s the case.
MS. PSAKI: She had a previously scheduled trip.
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I need to go into more detail from here, and you’re welcome to call the United Nations, where she is the Ambassador.
    However, each usage of "UN" by Ms. Psaki was later footnoted in the State Department transcript as "U.S. Mission to the UN."  And as the State Department's organizational chart shows, the U.S. Mission to the UN is part of the State Department, directly under the secretary of state.

    Jen Psaki is the spokesperson for the State Department.

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

President Obama in Situation Room... For Obamacare Videoconference

    The White House released a photo of President Obama in the Situation Room on Wednesday with Kathleen Sebelius and other officials and advisors participating in a videoconference on Obamacare.

    The photo is captioned:
President Barack Obama participates in an Affordable Care Act videoconference in the Situation Room of the White House, Aug. 21, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
     The White House has not released a readout of the meeting.  [Update: The Detroit Free Press has a readout.]

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

W.H. Praises Article Citing 'Far From Cheap' Health Insurance Prices

    As Obamacare's launch on October 1st draws closer, the Obama administration is trying to reassure the public that the program is going to deliver on the promises of the last four years.  Tuesday, David Simas, White House Deputy Senior Advisor for Communications & Strategy, tweeted (and the White House retweeted): “Great ACA news from Montana. "Pleasantly surprised" w/ prices & they don't factor tax credits yet,” and linked to an article at the Montana Standard. And while Montana's state auditor Monica Lindeen, a Democrat, indeed said she was "pleasantly surprised" at the recently released rates, the article was far from a rousing endorsement [emphasis added]:
HELENA – The state’s top insurance official Monday released the premiums Montanans will pay for health insurance policies they buy on the new “Obamacare” marketplace in 2014 — and said she is “pleasantly surprised” by the prices.
Whether the premiums are higher or lower than current prices isn’t immediately clear, because most policies on the Internet marketplace as of Oct. 1 have different terms than policies on the market now. 
However, the policy premiums don’t appear wildly different than rates for current individual policies in Montana — and next year’s prices also could be offset by generous federal subsidies for individuals, depending on one’s income. 
State Auditor Monica Lindeen said the comparable prices are due in part because of Montana’s relatively strict insurance laws, which already mandate many basic coverages required by the 2010 Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare... 
Still, the prices released Monday show that health insurance remains far from cheap. 
    The article gives an example; the least expense policy for a 25 year-old:
For a 25-year-old, the least-expensive policy of those revealed Monday is about $155 a month — and that policy has a nearly $4,000 deductible, meaning you’d pay for most medical costs out of your own pocket up to $4,000, before insurance covers much of anything. 
Also, that policy has a 50 percent coinsurance rate, which means you’d still pay half the amount of medical costs covered by insurance.
    This is not the first time the White House has promoted an article that doesn't reflect well on ObamaCare.  In May, the White House retweeted a story from Oregon that explicitly stated that Oregonians will face "higher premiums in the 2014 individual market."

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sequestration: Federal Court-Appointed Attorneys Face $15/Hour Cut

    If last week's announcement by the IRS that corporate tax credits were the latest victim of sequestration didn't garner much sympathy, then an even smaller violin might be needed for this week's victim: lawyers.  As of September 1, court-appointed panel attorneys for the federal defender program will be hit with a $15/hour reduction in compensation.  The following announcement appeared Monday on the United States Courts website:
In an emergency move to preserve Federal Defender staffing in FY 2014, the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States has reduced hourly rates for court-appointed panel attorneys by $15 an hour. Payments to panel attorneys for up to four weeks of work done in FY 2014 will be deferred to FY 2015. An Aug. 16 letter described the moves as temporary and undesirable, but said they "are necessary to avoid permanent damage to the federal defender program."
    In the letter explaining the decision, the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference raised concerns that the move could "impact the delivery of justice":
In taking these measures, the Executive Committee shares your view that reducing panel attorney compensation rates, deferring panel attorney payments, and limiting federal defender organization funding to the maintenance of current on-board staff are undesirable, and may impact the delivery of justice, but are necessary to avoid permanent damage to the federal defender program.  Measures of this kind, however, are not sustainable in the long term, and certainly would not be required if the judiciary were receiving an appropriate level of funding in this account.  The Committee nonetheless remains committed to the goal of ensuring that the defender program can operate within its annual appropriations.  With that in mind, we will continue to monitor developments and intend to revisit the matter when, in our opinion, events warrant.
    Currently, the maximum hourly rate in such cases is $125.  The $15/hour cut reduces the maximum back to 2010 levels.  The maximum rate in capital cases is $178/hour.

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Latest Sequestration Victim: Corporate Tax Credits

    Sequestration has been blamed for everything from cancelled White House tours to military cutbacks that threaten national security to government worker furloughs.  The latest victim of sequestration might have a more difficult time garnering sympathy, however: corporate tax credits.  The Internal Revenue Service has just announced that for corporate tax returns filed or amended on or after August 13, 2013, the "refundable portion of the credit for prior year minimum tax liability" will be cut by 38%. The announcement was made on the IRS website under the heading "Effect of Sequestration on the Alternative Minimum Tax Credit for Corporations":
The Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Reduction Act of 1985, as amended, requires certain spending cuts during Fiscal Year 2013 due to the sequester triggered earlier this year. These required cuts reduce the refundable portion of the credit for prior year minimum tax liability made to corporations, which will be effective for original or amended tax returns beginning August 13, 2013.  As a result, the refundable portion of these credits will be reduced by 38 percent.  The sequestration reduction rate will be applied until the end of fiscal year (September 30, 2013) at which time the sequestration rate is subject to change depending on congressional action. 
A corporation that can claim an additional first-year depreciation deduction under section 168(k) can choose instead to accelerate the use of its prior year minimum tax credits, treating the accelerated credits as refundable credits.  Corporations making this section 168(k)(4) election and claiming a refund of prior year minimum tax credits should complete Form 8827.  These corporations will be notified that a portion of their requested refund was subject to the sequester reduction. 
Corporations making the section 168(k)(4) election but not claiming a refund of prior year minimum tax credits are not subject to this reduction. 

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard

Food Stamp Trafficking Up 30% From 2008 to 2011 [Updated]

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture* (USDA) released a report on Thursday regarding illegal trafficking in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps.  The report showed that the rate of trafficking rose from 1% of total benefits in the last study period of 2006-2008 to 1.3% in the current study period of 2009-2011, an increase of 30%.  The report noted the trafficking rate remains well below a rate of almost 4% that existed for much of the 1990s.  The rate plunged to 1% by the 2002-2005 study period and remained there until the current report:

    While the rate remains relatively low, the sharp increase in the SNAP program means the total annualized dollar amount of fraud reached a record level of $858 million, exceeding the $811 million from 1993.  This value had been dropping dramatically to a low of $241 for 2002-2005, then ticked up to $330 million in 2006-2008 before exploding in the current report to $858 million.

    The report attributes much of the dollar increase to the growth in SNAP.  Total redemptions more than doubled from 2008 to 2011:
A substantial portion of this increase is due to the growth in the program, where redemptions totaled $36 billion in 2008 (the last year of the previous study period), then increased to $55 billion in 2009 (the first year of present study period) and eventually to $73 billion in 2011. 
    The latest figures show that SNAP redemptions rose again in 2012 to $74.6 billion.
    The USDA study also found that the percentage of authorized SNAP stores engaging in trafficking went from 8.2% in 2006-2008 to 10.5% in 2009-2011, a 28% increase, but still not as high as an 11.7% rate in the 1990s.
    Although food stamp trafficking is illegal, the report notes that
trafficking does not increase costs to the Federal Government, it is a diversion of program benefits from their intended purpose of helping low-income families access a nutritious diet.
    In conjunction with the release of the report, the USDA announced "Additional Measures to Improve Integrity in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program."


    I don't usually link to reactions to my articles, but I thought the contrast of these two was interesting:

*Corrected.  Originally said "Food and Drug Administration".

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

U.S. to U.N.: 'The United States Does Not Operate Any Secret Detention Facilities'

    In a report to the United Nations Committee Against Torture, the Obama administration made its most unequivocal denial of the existence of secret detention facilities operated by any part of the U.S. government.  The document is a response to "55 questions prepared by the Committee and transmitted to the United States on January 10, 2010..." ranging from CIA rendition to allegations of torture by Chicago police in the 1980s. Among those questions were several regarding the detention of suspected terrorists and combatants.  Question 5(a) read in part:
Please provide information on: 
(a) Whether the State party has adopted a policy that ensures that no one is detained in any secret detention facility under its de facto effective control and that publicly condemns secret detention, pursuant the Committee's previous concluding observations (para. 17). Please disclose detailed information on the existence of any such facilities, in the past and present, and the authority under which they have been established.
      Although the answer provided by the United States is somewhat lengthy, it contains this flat denial [emphasis added]:
The United States does not operate any secret detention facilities. In some contexts, the United States operates battlefield transit and screening facilities, the locations of which are often classified for reasons of military necessity. All such facilities are operated consistent with applicable U.S. law and policy and international law, including Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, and DoD Directive 2310.01E. The ICRC and relevant host governments are informed about these facilities, and the ICRC has access to allindividuals interned by the United States in the context of armed conflict, consistent with DoD policy.
    As recently as January 2013, the Washington Post reported that some secret arrests and detentions were still taking place, and details in that case are still murky.
    The report to the U.N. also makes a flat denial regarding allegations stemming from 2007 reports of a secret detention facility on the island of Diego Garcia, a British territory in the Indian Ocean:
The United States does not detain any persons on Diego Garcia. As indicated above in response to Question 5(a), the United States does not have and has never had a detention facility on Diego Garcia.
Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Health Company Agrees to Pay HHS $1.2M After Security Breach

    Even as questions remain about the security of the Federal Services Data Hub to be used in conjunction with the Obamacare marketplaces beginning October 1st, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has agreed to a settlement with the not-for-profit Affinity Health Plans, Inc., for the company's "potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules."  The case stemmed from a photocopier purchased by CBS News and previously leased by Affinity that still contained sensitive personal health information on up to 344,579 individuals:
Affinity filed a breach report with the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on April 15, 2010, as required by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health, or HITECH Act...   
Affinity indicated that it was informed by a representative of CBS Evening News that, as part of an investigatory report, CBS had purchased a photocopier previously leased by Affinity.  CBS informed Affinity that the copier that Affinity had used contained confidential medical information on the hard drive.
    In addition to a payment of $1,215,780, Affinity must attempt to locate other copiers previously leased to remove hard drives containing additional personal data. 
    The OCR director for HHS stressed that this incident should be a lesson to entities that are responsible for storing and using sensitive data [emphasis added]:
"This settlement illustrates an important reminder about equipment designed to retain electronic information: Make sure that all personal information is wiped from hardware before it’s recycled, thrown away or sent back to a leasing agent," said OCR Director Leon Rodriguez.  “HIPAA covered entities are required to undertake a careful risk analysis to understand the threats and vulnerabilities to individuals’ data, and have appropriate safeguards in place to protect this information.
    This settlement could also put additional pressure on the Obama administration to provide assurance that necessary precautions are in place before the new healthcare exchanges are opened for business.  As John McCormack noted in THE WEEKLY STANDARD earlier this week, Michael Astrue, former HHS general counsel and Social Security commissioner, has warned
that "unless delayed and fixed" the Obamacare exchanges will "inflict on the public the most widespread violation of the Privacy Act in our history."
    It is unclear what if any consequences HHS will be subject to if privacy breaches occur due to inadequate safeguards in the Obamacare marketplaces.

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Anti-Obama Rodeo Clown Flap is Reminiscent of Anti-Bush Pearl Jam Concert in 2003

    The Drudge Report headlined Monday night blared: "OBAMA CLOWN BANNED FROM FAIR."  Indeed, the now infamous rodeo clown who lampooned the president over the weekend at the Missouri State Fair has been banned for life from the fair, and the contractor who staged the event is under scrutiny as well.  Republican and Democrat politicians alike have roundly criticized the performance and disrespectful at best and racist at worst.  The AP reports:
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri State Fair on Monday imposed a lifetime ban on a rodeo clown whose depiction of President Barack Obama getting charged by a bull was widely criticized by Democratic and Republican officials alike. 
The rodeo clown won't be allowed to participate or perform at the fair again. Fair officials say they're also reviewing whether to take any action against the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association, the contractor responsible for Saturday's event.
    The clown, however, might take solace that his exile may not last forever given the case of Pearl Jam's former lead singer Eddie Vedder.  During a 2003 Pearl Jam concert, Vedder put on his own disrespectful display violently mocking then-sitting President George W. Bush.  The original article at the Rocky Mountain News is no longer on the newspaper's website, but excerpts of the story can be found elsewhere (Instapundit, for one):
Incensed fans walked out of Pearl Jam’s concert Tuesday after lead singer Eddie Vedder impaled a mask of President Bush on a microphone stand, then slammed it to the stage. 
Most of Vedder’s antiwar remarks earlier in the Pepsi Center show were greeted with mixed cheers and scattered boos. But dozens of angry fans walked out during the encore because of the macabre display with the Bush mask, which he wore for the song Bushleaguer, a Bush- taunting song from the band’s latest album, Riot Act. 
“When he was sharing his political views in a fairly benign manner – supporting our troops, opposing policy – that’s OK,” said Keith Zimmerman, of Denver. 
“When he takes what looks like the head of George Bush on a stick, then throws it to the stage and stomps on it, that’s just unacceptable. I love Pearl Jam, but that was just way over the edge. We literally got up and left.”
    Although some fans were apparently upset, other reports indicate most of the 12,000 in attendance didn't seem to mind Vedder's anti-Bush antics:
"There were close to 12,000 people at the April 1st Denver show," the statement reads. " It’s possible two dozen left during encore but it was not noticeable amongst the 11,976 who were loudly applauding and enjoying the evening’s music. It just made a better headline to report otherwise."
    Another apparent fan who wasn't that upset (at least not a decade later) was Barack Obama.  During the president's 2012 reelection campaign, Vedder put on a concert for 85 supporters of the president at $20,000 per ticket, raising about $1.7 million for the campaign:
Eddie Vedder, once lead singer of Pearl Jam, can still pack a house. Even with a ukulele. 
At $20,000 per ticket, Vedder helped President Barack Obama find 85 supporters today for a Tampa fundraiser, where he broke out the Hawaiian stringed instrument for some songs. 
“Yup, it’s made in Hawaii,” he said. “It has a little birth certificate.” 
Obama dropped into the quiet Tampa fundraiser after getting grilled at a Univision town hall-styled forum in the Miami area.
    There was no report that Vedder used the Bush mask in his performance for the Obama campaign.  Perhaps the Missouri rodeo clown can learn a lesson from the apparently older and wiser Vedder.  Oh, and it might help if he could demonstrate the ability to raise $1.7 million for a presidential campaign.  Say, 2024?

Fossil Fuel Production on Federal Land Down 4% in 2012

    The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports today that sales of fossil fuels produced on federal and Indian land continue to decline, dropping 4% in fiscal year 2012.  The slide continues a decade-long trend that accelerated in 2010, as the chart accompanying the report shows:

    The report explains:
Sales of fossil fuels from production on federal and Indian lands in fiscal year (FY) 2012 dropped 4% from FY 2011, according to data from the Department of the Interior compiled and summarized in a recent EIA report. This decline was largely driven by declines in offshore oil and natural gas production and coal production. In 2012, sales of fossil fuels on federal and Indian lands accounted for about 27% of total fossil fuel sales in the United States.
In FY2012, sales from production on Indian lands of crude oil and lease condensate, natural gas plant liquids (NGPL), natural gas, and coal ranged from 3% to 6% of the totals from federal lands. Since FY 2003, fossil fuel sales volumes on federal and Indian lands dropped 15%, driven by declines in offshore natural gas production and to a smaller extent by offshore oil production. However, that decline was outweighed by the 27% increase in fossil fuel production on nonfederal, non-Indian lands from 2003 to 2012, so that total U.S. fossil fuel production increased 11% over that period. 
    In June, the Obama administration expressed opposition to the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act introduced in the House by Rep. Hastings (R-WA) that "would require the Department of the Interior to open a number of new areas on the OCS [Outer Continental Shelf]."  The White House said that its opposition was based on, among other things, the legislation's lack of
Secretarial discretion to determine whether those areas are appropriate for leasing through balanced consideration of factors such as resource potential, State and local views and concerns, and the maturity of infrastructure needed to support oil and gas development, including response capabilities in the event of an oil spill.

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard

Friday, August 9, 2013

Audit: Medicare Paid 80% of Unqualified Claims for Cancelled Elective Surgery

    A recent audit by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for Health and Human Services (HHS) found that in four out of five cases when elective surgeries were cancelled for one reason or another, Medicare still paid even though the claims submitted by the hospitals failed the "reasonable and necessary" standard.  The OIG estimated that for the two-year period audited, the errors resulted in over $19 million per year in overpayments [emphasis added]:
Most inpatient admissions related to short-stay hospital claims involving canceled elective surgeries were not reasonable and necessary.  For 80 of the 100 claims in our sample, Medicare made payments totaling $345,717 for hospital inpatient claims involving canceled elective surgeries when a clinical condition did not exist on admission or a new condition did not emerge after admission that required inpatient care.  Therefore, these inpatient claims did not satisfy Medicare’s requirements that the admissions be reasonable and necessary...
On the basis of our sample results, we estimated that Medicare made $38.2 million in Part A inpatient hospital payments in CYs 2009 and 2010 for short-stay, canceled elective surgery admissions that were not reasonable and necessary.  Hospitals may bill Medicare Part B for services related to the incorrectly billed Medicare Part A admissions.
    In its response to the audit recommendations, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) noted that it may have difficultly researching and recovering the overpayments in full:
Of the 80 sampled claims with overpayments valued at approximately $345,717,27 representing a value of approximately $116,342 cannot be reopened as a result of the claims being beyond the four year reopening period or are uncollectible for other reasons. 
    For the remaining 10,915 claims not included in the audit, CMS noted follow up was unlikely due to  "resource limitations."
    With the increased responsibility the federal government will be assuming in 2014 with the launch of Obamacare, the results of this audit cast doubt on the ability of the government to keep up since "resource limitations" are likely to persist.  And since the administration is counting on squeezing hundreds of billions in savings out of Medicare in the coming years, the 80% payment error rate found in this audit is anything but encouraging.

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

HHS Seeking Obamacare Marketplace Translation Services for Over 100 Languages

    News broke yesterday that, even as the October 1st deadline for Obamacare "marketplaces" approaches, training requirements for Obamacare "navigators" were being scaled back by one-third. With less than two months remaining, the Obama administration is also facing increasing pressure to make sure data privacy and security concerns are addressed with the new system.
    Now the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is seeking to fill another need relating to the operation of the exchanges: translation services.  On Monday, HHS posted a notice looking for small business sources to provide "Telephone Interpretation and Written Document Translation Services" for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services's (CMS) 24 x 7 Medicare contact center as well as CMS's Health Insurance Marketplace call center.  Among the list of fourteen quite stringent requirements [emphasis added]:
1. Effectively provide 24x7 oral over-the-phone interpretation services in any language (supporting at least 100 languages)...
2. Ensure appropriate capacity to handle at least 100 languages 24x7, including Spanish and have the capacity to handle approximately 50,000 calls per year...
4. Maintain the confidentiality of all interpretations; protect the integrity of information with customer person-sensitive information including Personal Health Information and Personally Identifiable information (personal health records, etc) while handling calls, and adhere to all applicable federal Privacy and Security acts, especially the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Privacy Act...
6. Ensure interpreters are trained and competent in healthcare and health insurance terminology and provide accurate interpretations in support of CMS's customers and stakeholders...
    The notice includes a list of the languages for which services would be required:

    HHS is not actually requesting proposals or quotes yet for this service; rather, "[t]he information from this market research will assist the Government in determining the appropriate acquisition method, including whether a [service-disabled veteran owned small business, HUBZone small business, small disadvantaged business, veteran-owned small business, and women-owned small business] set-aside is possible."
    Interested businesses must respond by August 14th.

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

The Hazards of Working for Organizing for Action

    An email from Sara El-Amine, the National Organizing Director for Organizing for Action just showed up in my in-box.  Her email begins:
One of my all-time favorite OFA traditions is the "reply-all" email chain during Days of Action, where staff from around the country send in updates -- tweets, photos, quotes, and videos -- to amplify the best events going on around the country.  
This month, during Action August, I want to give you a snapshot into what that chain looks like for every big day of action -- just imagine me sitting in front of my computer, looking like this:

    Now Sarah used to work for the Barack Obama presidential campaign.  Here's a photo of her in front of her computer from September 8, 2011:

    I'd say someone could use some vacation time.

State Department Promotes U.S. Women-Only Colleges... to India

    The Obama administration is kicking off an era of neo-progressivism.  First this week, the Department of Health and Human Services promoted Neanderthal gender stereotypes to promote ObamaCare, and now the State Department is promoting blatantly discriminatory U.S. single-sex colleges.  Well, promoting women-only colleges to female foreign students from India, anyway.

    A State Department website titled "SPAN: Study in the U.S.: It's Your Turn" and aimed at "bridging U.S.-India relations" published an article for its July/August edition entitled: "Schools of Their Own:
Young women thrive at women’s colleges across the United States."  Here are some excerpts [emphasis added]:
For women looking to study in the United States, there is a less-considered option that can open a world of opportunities: attending a women’s college... 
It is the single-sex undergraduate environment that makes the difference for the attendees, however. According to a recent Forbes article titled “What’s in a Women’s College?” females are driven to tackle traditionally male-dominated areas in academics and clubs when they attend a women’s college. “Choosing to attend a women’s school is the opposite of ‘comfortable’ because it challenges students to step outside of gender norms and engage in new leadership roles,” says the article... 
Indeed, Mills prides itself on being a place where women can be who they are—or discover who they are—while knowing they are in a place that values the testing of creative and intellectual limits, says Joan Jaffe, associate dean of admissions at the college...
    It is unimaginable that a similar article would be written about men's colleges, assuming there are any left that haven’t been sued into submission.  But if women need to be “driven to tackle traditionally male-dominated areas in academics and clubs”, wouldn’t an all-male college encourage men to be “driven to tackle traditionally female-dominated areas in academics and clubs” and “step outside of gender norms” and engage in new “follower” roles?
    The benefits of single-sex education are well-documented but have generally been steamrolled in the rush to equalize the sexes.  The Obama administration appears content to take a pragmatic approach to gender-related issues: promote single-sex education to India to "build bridges" with another culture, but on the other hand, smear an entire male-dominated industry, such as construction, as blatantly discriminatory.  Apparently neo-progressivism only goes so far.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

AP Admits Wrongly Inserting "(and in)" Into Obama Quote About Gulf Ports

    The AP has issued a correction to a story about President Obama suggesting that Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga., and Jacksonville, FL, were located along the Gulf of Mexico.  The president made the gaffe on his Tonight Show appearance Tuesday with Jay Leno.  Here is the correction:

    The AP then reproduces the story and the quote as the president originally said it:
"If we don't deepen our ports all along the Gulf - places like Charleston, S.C., or Savannah, Ga., or Jacksonville, Fla. - if we don't do that, these ships are going to go someplace else and we'll lose jobs," Obama said.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

HHS Appeals to Stereotypes to Promote ObamaCare

    Wow, the Obama administration must really be worried if they are exploiting America’s traditional patriarchic/matriarch mores and stooping to gender stereotypes to promote ObamaCare, eh?  From the blog at the Health and Human Services website:
A Mom’s Trusted Voice on Health Insurance 
By Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services 
As a mother and grandmother, I know how a mom’s voice is critical to maintaining the health of her family—and that’s true even after her kids have grown up into young adults.  And as a trusted voice in the lives of their children, moms can play a vital role in getting the word out about the exciting new options for affordable, quality health coverage becoming available this fall for their children and other families in their communities...
    Next thing you know, President Obama will be talking about how important it is for dads as traditional primary breadwinners to be providing adequate healthcare for their families.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Security Lapse: White House Posts Details of Obama Trip on Website [TWS]

    Details of President Obama's west coast trip this week, information usually reserved for pre-screened media outlets, were apparently inadvertently posted on the White House website for about 24 hours this weekend before being abruptly removed without comment on Monday morning.
    Last week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced that President Obama would be traveling to Arizona on August 6th for a speech, then on to California on for a TV appearance with Jay Leno, as well as a visit to Camp Pendleton the following day to visit with the troops and their families.  For security reasons, the White House limits the amount of information available in advance of such trips, but members of the press receive more details to allow planning of coverage.  These details are often emailed to reporters, but with the understanding that the extra information will not be publicly disclosed.
    On Sunday, however, the White House posted two detailed releases regarding this week's trips.  Both releases include the warning "FOR PLANNING PURPOSES ONLY, NOT FOR REPORTING." (Images of the releases reproduced below have been truncated to exclude the more sensitive information, and no links to the original documents have been provided.)

    Details not shown above include the gate number at the airport for media check-in; how to request permits for access, including email, phone and fax numbers; estimated times of arrival and departure for Air Force One; and previously unpublished phone numbers and an email address for White House Executive Office of the President personnel involved in logistical planning for such trips.  Also included are some technical details such as "throw" (distance from press area to podium) and "cable run" (distance relating to audio/video feed connections.)
    Although the publication of these details may be a comparatively minor security breach, the timing could not be worse with the Worldwide Travel Alert currently in place.  Fresh concerns about al-Qaeda and possible terror attacks should have all government officials on heightened alert, particularly those responsible for the safety and security of the president.
        The Weekly Standard contacted the White House via email Monday morning about the posting of the two press releases, and within an hour, both were removed from the White House website.  The White House did not respond directly to the email.

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Planned Parenthood: ObamaCare IS Birth Control [SWA]

    Planned Parenthood (PP) has been a vocal advocate for ObamaCare.  A search of PP's website returns dozens of results, and a cursory look reveals that most, if not all, appear to be positive in nature.  The organization even features a special page entitled "What Does Obamacare Mean for Me?" 
    Although Obamacare is billed as comprehensive legislation covering every aspect of healthcare for all, the PP feature on Obamacare seems to have been designed with Sandra Fluke in mind.  In addition to the bold print for "birth control with no co-pay", there are five questions about Obamacare for which PP provides answers.  The fifth question is a very general question that has been of great concern to many ever since Obamacare was first proposed: "I Already Have Health Insurance. Does this Affect Me?"

    The answer, however, is anything but general [emphasis added]:

As part of the Affordable Care Act, health insurance plans must provide birth control with no co-pay. 
The full range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods — like the pill, the ring, and the IUD — may be available to you without a co-pay or other out-of-pocket expenses. The benefit begins at different times for different health care plans. Check with your health insurance company to find out if your plan covers this new benefit
The best way to find out whether your plan is covering birth control without a co-pay is to call your insurance company. Check out these tips for talking with your insurance company about covering birth control.
     None of this "can I keep my plan?" or "can I keep my doctor?" nonsense.  "Am I going to get free birth control?" is the burning question.  Apparently Planned Parenthood knows its clientele and just cuts to the chase.  No doubt the secret to its success.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Hankygate! [SWA]

    Friday night, the White House posted on its website a photo of Vice President Joe Biden and National Security Advisor Susan Rice entitled "National Security Advisor Rice Helps Vice President Biden," which I noted here.  Twitchy also picked up on the photo, but from the Twitter account of official White House photographer Pete Souza.  And that's where the trouble begins.

    Note Souza's description: "Natl Sec Adv Susan E. Rice cleans a stain on VP Joe Biden's suitcoat today."  But when the White House posted the photo, the caption was different: "National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice helps Vice President Joe Biden with his pocket handkerchief, in a hall outside the Oval Office."  All traces of a "stain" have been scrubbed (so to speak.)
    So where does the truth lie?  Did the vice president's suitcoat literally have a stain? Is the administration preparing talking points even as we speak?  Will Susan Rice once again hit the Sunday talks shows to try to tamp down rumors of a coverup?  As details leak out, we may learn that Hankygate is nothing to sneeze at.

Friday, August 2, 2013

That Sound You Hear... [SWA]

    The White House posted the following photo Friday night.  That sound you hear is the collective gnashing of liberal feminism's teeth...

National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice helps Vice President
Joe Biden with his pocket handkerchief, in a hall
outside the Oval Office, Aug. 2, 2013.

Update: Get the latest on Hankygate!

Kerry: Egypt’s ‘Military Did Not Take Over’ [TWS]

    During his visit to Pakistan on Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry gave several TV interviews including one to Hamid Mir of Geo TV.  Mir's first question for Kerry concerned Egypt.  The Obama administration has resisted referring to the military action in Egypt as a coup, but in this interview, Kerry went even further, asserting that "the military did not take over, to the best of our judgment so – so far," and that its intervention was at the request of "millions and millions of people" concerned about the increasing chaos in the country [emphasis added]:
QUESTION: Thank you very much for giving us time. My first question is about your commitment with democracy. The U.S. believes in democracy, U.S. is a champion of democracy all over the world. But why U.S. is not taking a clear position on military intervention against the democratically elected government of President Morsy in Egypt? 
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s a very appropriate and important question, and I want to answer it very directly. The military was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people, all of whom were afraid of a descendance into chaos, into violence. And the military did not take over, to the best of our judgment so – so far. To run the country, there’s a civilian government. In effect, they were restoring democracy. And the fact is -- 
QUESTION: By killing people on the roads? 
SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, no. That’s not restoring democracy, and we’re very, very concerned about, very concerned about that. And I’ve had direct conversations with President Mansour, with Vice President ElBaradei, with General al-Sisi, as have other members of our government. And I’ve talked to the Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, so I’ve been in touch with all of the players there. And we have made it clear that that is absolutely unacceptable, it cannot happen. 
Now, as you know, these situations can be very confusing and very difficult. We’re working very hard right now with Lady Catherine Ashton, with various officials, with other foreign ministers of other countries, in order to try to see if we can resolve this peacefully. But the story of Egypt is not finished yet, so we have to see how it unfolds in the next days.
    The Egypt military continues to hold former president Morsi in secret detention.

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Kerry: Drone ‘Program Will End as We Have Eliminated Most of the Threat’ [TWS]

    Secretary of State John Kerry gave several TV interviews while in Islamabad, Pakistan on Thursday, including one to Mariam Chaudhry of Pakistan TV.  One question related to the drone policy of the United States which is extremely unpopular in Pakistan.  In his answer, Kerry seemed to suggest the program, which he said President Obama has "really narrowed," has almost accomplished its goals, not just in Pakistan, but throughout the world [emphasis added]:
QUESTION: ... to speak a little bit more on this terrorism issue, Pakistan has been facing a grievous scenario vis-a-vis internal security. There has been a lot of tension between the United States and Pakistan, especially vis-a-vis the subject of drones. People in Pakistan feel that not only has it been causing human casualty in Pakistan, but also it has been kind of a blatant disregard of the territorial sovereignty of Pakistan. Can we expect a cessation in these drone strikes, which are causing and mobilizing a lot of sentiment against the Pakistani Government and the United States? 
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, President Obama is very, very sensitive and very concerned about any kind of reaction to any kind of counterterrorism activities, whatever they may be. And the President has spoken very directly, very transparently, and very accountably to our – to all of our efforts. We want to work with the Government of Pakistan, not against it. 
This is a program in many parts of the world where the President has really narrowed, whatever it might be doing, to live up to the highest standards with respect to any kind of counterterrorism activities. And I believe that we’re on a good track. I think the program will end as we have eliminated most of the threat and continue to eliminate it. 
QUESTION: And there is no timeline that you envisage for ending this strike? 
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I do. And I think the President has a very real timeline and we hope it’s going to be very, very soon.
    Unlike the broader war in Afghanistan, which President Obama has said will end in 2014, the president has not given any public indication of what this "real timeline" to end the drone program might be.

Note:  A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.