This and That for Tuesday
~~~ My thanks to Borden Medical Associates’ nurse practitioner Renee DaCosta for the fine care rendered over the last few days. Renee is helping me navigate through a health minefield. She has been very professional and her sense of humor have been well received by yours truly. I am not the easiest patient to deal with and she is unflappable as well as being a first class medical practitioner.
~~~ A Tale of Two Cities
Chicago, IL Houston, TX
2.7 million 2.15 million
Median HH Income
% Non-Hispanic White
Pretty similar until you compare the following:
Chicago, IL Houston, TX
Concealed Carry gun law
# of Gun Stores
0 184 - Dedicated gun stores plus 1500 - legal places to buy guns- Walmart, K-mart, sporting goods, etc.
Homicides per 100K
Avg. January high temperature (F)
Cold weather causes crime and murders.
~~~ The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's new push to get involved in Republican primaries by defending incumbents against tea party challengers could actually make it easier to unseat them, according to the head of the influential Club for Growth.
Chris Chocola, the club's president, said the battle between the chamber, which he said advocates big business, and the rank-and-file free-market conservatives whom his group represents is well underway as Republicans try to field their candidates for the 2014 congressional elections.
The latest fight is shaping up in Idaho, where the chamber announced this week that it will run ads defending incumbent Rep. Michael K. Simpson, a Republican, against a challenge by lawyer Bryan Smith. The club has endorsed Smith.
"The chamber is pro-business and we are pro-free market, and that is the difference," Chocola told The Washington Times. "The opposing views are not new, but there seems to be some heightened interest from the establishment types to get involved in a race like Idaho. If that heightened interest continues there might be more chances that we end up on opposite sides."
The fissures within the Republican Party began at the end of the Bush administration but have intensified in the wake of the 2012 elections, with groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove's super PAC American Crossroads signaling that they plan to play a larger role in GOP primaries after watching tea party-backed candidates win the nomination but then lose to Democrats in general elections that analysts said were winnable. Examples are the 2010 U.S. Senate races in Nevada and Delaware.
Republican consultant Kevin Madden said the business community generally stayed on the sidelines in primary races, leaving the playing field open for the Club for Growth and other groups that have focused most of their attention on toppling establishment candidates.
"That has changed," Madden said. "I think it is going to be a more competitive advocacy environment. I don't see them going head to head, but I think these business organizations are going to be much more active in shaping the opinions of persuadable voters in races that matter."
Indeed, the chamber vows to be involved this election cycle and has left the door open to entering more primary races.
"We believe the stakes for the American economy and the business community are high, and we plan to vigorously participate in the 2014 elections," said Blair Latoff Holmes, a chamber spokeswoman. "Job No. 1 is protecting and expanding the pro-business majority in the House and gaining seats in the Senate."
"We will continue to evaluate our involvement in 2014 as we always have, measuring candidates records and positions on a broad range of issues important to the business community," she said.
But Chocola believes Republican voters are keen to break with what they see as big business interests, and having the chamber involved will help define the battle lines.
"We are happy to have people define the difference between the candidates and we think that, certainly in Idaho, they are helping," he said.
Other races where the chamber is taking sides include a House seat in Alabama, where the organization backed Bradley Byrne over tea party-backed Dean Young, calling Mr. Byrne the best candidate "to help grow our economy, create jobs and put our nation back on a sustainable fiscal path."
In West Virginia, the chamber is backing Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, who is running for U.S. Senate, and Evan Jenkins, who is running for a U.S. House seat.
The business group threw its financial weight into the GOP primary in Kentucky, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is facing off against Matt Bevin.
In Idaho, the pro-Simpson ad warns that the free-enterprise system is under attack from House Democratic Leader "Nancy Pelosi and her allies who want more government, more spending and more regulations."
"Mike Simpson is fighting back, working for a balanced budget, reducing our dependence on foreign oil and fixing the Obamacare mess," the narrator says in the ad. "Mike Simpson, conservative, Idaho strong."
Responding to the ad, Chocola said he is not surprised that the chamber would back Simpson since both supported the $700 billion Wall Street bailout in 2008 and backed raising the nation's borrowing limit by trillions of dollars.
~~~ In their zeal to tout their faith in the public square, conservatives in Oklahoma may have unwittingly opened the door to a wide range of religious groups, including satanists who are seeking to put their own statue next to a Ten Commandments monument on the Statehouse steps.
The Republican-controlled Legislature in this state known as the buckle of the Bible Belt authorized the privately funded Ten Commandments monument in 2009, and it was placed on the Capitol grounds last year despite criticism from legal experts who questioned its constitutionality. The Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit seeking its removal.
But the New York-based Satanic Temple saw an opportunity. It notified the state's Capitol Preservation Commission that it wants to donate a monument and plans to submit one of several possible designs this month, said Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for the temple.
"We believe that all monuments should be in good taste and consistent with community standards," Greaves wrote in letter to state officials. "Our proposed monument, as an homage to the historic/literary Satan, will certainly abide by these guidelines."
Greaves said one potential design involves a pentagram, a satanic symbol, while another is meant to be an interactive display for children. He said he expects the monument, if approved by Oklahoma officials, would cost about $20,000.
Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, who spearheaded the push for the Ten Commandments monument and whose family helped pay the $10,000 for its construction, declined to comment on the Satanic Temple's effort, but Greaves credited Ritze for opening the door to the group's proposal.
"He's helping a satanic agenda grow more than any of us possibly could," Greaves said. "You don't walk around and see too many satanic temples around, but when you open the door to public spaces for us, that's when you're going to see us."
The Oklahoma Legislature has taken other steps that many believe blur the line that divides church and state. The House speaker said he wants to build a chapel inside the Capitol to celebrate Oklahoma's "Judeo-Christian heritage." Several lawmakers have said they want to allow nativity scenes and other religious-themed symbols in public schools.
Rep. Bobby Cleveland, who plans to introduce a one such bill next year, said many Christians feel they are under attack as a result of political correctness. He dismissed the notion of Satanists erecting a monument at the Capitol.
"I think these Satanists are a different group," Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, said. "You put them under the nut category."
Brady Henderson, legal director for ACLU Oklahoma, said if state officials allow one type of religious expression, they must allow alternative forms of expression, although he said a better solution might be to allow none at all on state property.
"We would prefer to see Oklahoma's government officials work to faithfully serve our communities and improve the lives of Oklahomans instead of erecting granite monuments to show us all how righteous they are," Henderson said. "But if the Ten Commandments, with its overtly Christian message, is allowed to stay at the Capitol, the Satanic Temple's proposed monument cannot be rejected because of its different religious viewpoint."
~~~ Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a former health policy adviser in the Obama White House, grudgingly admitted on Sunday that President Obama did promise the American people that they could keep their doctors if they liked them under Obamcare.
“No one guaranteed you that your premium wouldn't increase,” Emanuel, a medical doctor, told Fox News Sunday.
“The president guaranteed me I could keep my doctor,” Chris Wallace told Emanuel.
“And if you want to, you can pay for it,” Emanuel responded. “As a matter of fact, choice is something we all understand, and we all understand that for more choice, more benefits, you have to pay more.”
In recent days, President Obama and his liberal supporters, including Emanuel, have been making the case that the Affordable Care Act is good for the Americans, despite major problems with its implementation. Emanuel is described as an "architect" of the Affordable Care Act.
“The president never said you were going to have unlimited choice of any doctor in the country you wanted to go to,” he told Wallace on Sunday.
“Wait, no,” Wallace interrupted. "He asked a question. ‘If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.’ Did he not say that, sir?”
“He didn't say you can have unlimited choice,” Emanuel responded.
“It's a simple yes-or-no question,” Wallace said. “Did he say, ‘If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor’?
“Yes. But look, if you want to pay more for an insurance company that covers your doctor, you can do that. This is a matter of choice. We know in all sorts of places you pay more for certain -- for a wider range of choices or a wider range of benefits.”
According to Emanuel, “People are going to have a choice as to whether they want to pay a certain amount for a selective network or pay more for a broader network.
“Which would mean your premiums would probably go up,” Wallace interrupted.
“They get that choice. That's a choice we always make… No one guaranteed you that your premium wouldn't increase.”
Ezekiel Emanuel is the brother of former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who is now the mayor of Chicago.
~~~ Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), during a keynote address before the Detroit Economic Club on Friday, unveiled his plan to revitalize the city – which is $18 billion in debt – by setting up economic freedom zones.
Paul plans to introduce a bill next week which would lower personal and corporate income taxes in the city to five percent and the payroll tax to two percent for employers and employees.
“To thrive, Detroit needs less government and more freedom, less red tape, less punitive taxes, more money left in Detroit. The answer to poverty and unemployment is not another government stimulus. It’s simply leaving more money in the hands of those who earned it,” Paul said.
The proposed zones were inspired by former GOP vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, Paul said.
“I told somebody recently, ‘This is Jack Kemp’s enterprise zones on steroids,’” the senator said.
“Economic freedom zones will cut out the red tape that keeps new businesses from starting and old businesses from thriving,” Paul said.
“Inside these zones, we’ll suspend the capital gains tax, encourage greater investment in business and real estate, and we will allow all small businesses to deduct most of what they invest in the first year of the purchase,” he added.
Economic freedom zones differ from traditional government stimulus, Paul said, because “these zones don’t ask Houston, or they don’t ask Atlanta to bail out Detroit. These zones free up Detroit to bail themselves out.”
The zones will not just be confined to Detroit, he said. Any city with unemployment greater than one and a half times the national average would be eligible for economic freedom zones.
“This isn’t just about Detroit. I’m a politician, so I’m also concerned about my home. We’re concerned about Kentucky,” Paul said, adding that there are 20 counties in the eastern part of Kentucky that are in a depression. “So this would be struggling communities across America. It would include many in my home state.”
“We’re concerned about any zip code with unemployment greater than one and a half times the average, so right now, any community in America with 12 percent approximately or more would be eligible for these freedom zones,” he added.
Paul calculated that his plan will result in $1.3 billion in stimulus that won’t come from any other city. It will come from the people of Detroit.
“So those who say, ‘Oh, it won’t work. There won’t be enough money,’ we’ve calculated it - $1.3 billion stimulus, not from Houston, not from Atlanta – from you. It’s your money. We’re not going to take it to Washington. We’ll leave it with you. How could anybody be opposed to this?” he said.
Paul’s announcement comes three days after a federal judge ruled that the city could use Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection to cut employee pensions and to continue negotiating with its creditors. The ruling is considered a blow to the city’s unions and retirees.
~~~ After days of speculation, North Korea’s official mouthpiece confirmed Monday that Kim Jong-un’s uncle, a senior member of the Stalinist regime, had been removed from all official posts for “anti-party and counterrevolutionary crime.”
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) news agency said the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) had adopted a decision at a special meeting on Sunday to expel Jang Song-taek from the party and strip him of all positions held. The move comes just days before the second anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-il, whose younger sister is Jang’s wife.
In characteristically colorful language the adopted resolution portrayed Jang, 67, as the leader of a group that had committed crimes “baffling imagination,” causing “tremendous harm to our party and revolution.”
KCNA said the measure also accused him of challenging North Korea’s “sole leadership system,” of attracting “those weak in faith and flatterers to his side,” and of leading “a dissolute and depraved life.”
It said the Jang group’s exposure and purge and “made our party and revolutionary ranks purer.”
“Our party will never pardon anyone challenging its leadership and infringing upon the interests of the state and people in violation of the principle of the revolution, regardless of his or her position and merits.”
The announcement marks a dramatic fall for a man once described as the second most powerful in the reclusive state. The late Kim Jong-il’s brother-in-law was in charge of public security and an ailing Kim in 2010 oversaw his installation as number two at the National Defense Commission.
That stoked speculation that he would take de facto control once Kim died, although when that happened in Dec. 2011 the script appeared to change.
In the days after Kim’s death Jang appeared – for the first time in public – in military uniform, with the rank of general, and pledged allegiance to the dead dictator’s son and heir, Kim Jong-un. He later paid an official visit to China, a sign of his seniority and continued position of trust in Pyongyang hierarchy.
But last week, South Korean intelligence officials reported to lawmakers that he may have been purged, after two associates were executed for alleged corruption.
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin was then quoted as saying steps were apparently underway to “rearrange the power structure” in Pyongyang. He urged military commanders in the South to maintain high vigilance in case of fresh provocations from the North.
~~~ The U.S. government ended up losing $10.5 billion on its bailout of General Motors, but still says the alternative would have been much worse.
Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced Tuesday that the government sold its remaining shares in the Detroit automaker.
The government received 912 million GM shares, or a 60.8 percent stake, in exchange for a $49.5 billion bailout during the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. It recovered $39 billion of the money, meaning taxpayers came up more than $10 billion short.
But Lew says the rescue was necessary to save 1 million jobs and stop the American auto industry from collapsing.
GM shares rose 1.2 percent in after-hours trading following the announcement. They rose 1.8 percent in regular trading, at one point reaching $41.17, the highest level since GM returned to the markets with a November 2010 initial public offering.
Earlier Monday, Mark Reuss, GM’s North American president, told reporters in Warren, Mich., that a government exit would boost sales, especially among pickup truck buyers.
GM has said repeatedly that some potential customers have stayed away from its brands because they object to the government intervening in a private company’s finances. Because of the bailout, the company has been given the derisive nickname “Government Motors.”
GM went through bankruptcy protection in 2009 and was cleansed of most of its huge debt, while stockholders lost their investments. Since leaving bankruptcy, GM has been profitable for 15 straight quarters, racking up almost $20 billion in net income on strong new products and rising sales in North America and China. It also has invested $8.8 billion in U.S. facilities and has added about 3,000 workers, bringing U.S. employment to 80,000.
~~~ Tom Howell tells us one of Congress‘ staunchest critics of Obamacare released a report Monday that cheers on legal challenges to the overhaul and says the White House overstepped its authority by delaying aspects of the law.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican who helped engineer a lengthy government funding stalemate earlier this year in a bid to block money for the new health care law, said many aspects of the Affordable Care Act are “constitutionally or statutorily suspect” and that the entire law should be repealed.
While a repeal is unlikely so long as Democrats control the Senate and White House, Cruz said President Obama deserves flak for taking unilateral steps to put off portions of the law, saying the president and fellow Democrats were responsible for this summer’s government shutdown.
“Democrats forced a government shutdown instead of agreeing to a congressional delay of Obamacare, but now the Obama administration is unilaterally delaying it,” he wrote in his report. “This undermines the rule of law.”
The White House has argued they are open to improving Obama’s signature law and that they’re being flexible by putting off certain portions.
In July, the Obama administration announced a one-year delay of the employer mandate requiring larger firms to provide health insurance to full-time employees. Republicans criticized the move as an attempt to implement an unpopular provision after the mid-term elections.
Cruz’s report also notes delays to a cap on out-of-pocket health expenses, that Obama is allowing people to renew for one-year plans that do not meet the law’s requirements. Federal lawmakers and staff are also able to keep a generous employer subsidy to pay for premiums even though they are now forced under the law to get their insurance through an Obamacare exchange.
“Obamacare does not allow ‘official’ congressional staff to continue receiving pre-Obamacare federal health insurance plans; instead these staff are forced to go through the Obamacare exchanges to purchase health insurance,” he said. “So just like average Americans, these individual congressional staffers will have to purchase a plan for themselves.”
Cruz will avoid the debate, personally, because he will obtain his health coverage from his wife’s employer, a spokesman has said.
The outspoken freshman senator also said the health care law violates the Constitution’s so-called origination clause, because it raises revenue but the bill did not originate in the House. Instead, he said, Democrats played a “shell game” by stripping out language from an unrelated House bill to replace it with the health law.
He also comes down on the side of plaintiffs leading two high-profile legal challenges to the law.
His report says the Obama administration infringed on business owners’ religious freedoms by forcing larger corporations to insure contraception, and that it violated the plain language of the health care law by extending premium subsidies to states that let the federal government run their exchanges.
The Supreme Court is taking up the contraception case this term, and a federal judge is expected to rule on the subsidies issue later this month.
~~~ Conservative activists determined to keep federal spending as low as possible are not happy about the emerging deal between House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA). We can only say thank you Mitt Romney.
The deal, according to reports, would raise federal discretionary spending from a scheduled $967 billion in 2014, to as much as $1.015 trillion. In exchange for raising spending today, Democrats would promise to cut spending years from now.
Heritage Action for America Communications Director Dan Holler comments:
Heritage Action cannot support a budget deal that would increase spending in the near-term for promises of woefully inadequate long-term reductions. While imperfect, the sequester has proven to be an effective tool in forcing Congress to reduce discretionary spending, and a gimmicky, spend-now-cut-later deal will take our nation in the wrong direction.”
Scholars at the libertarian Cato Institute are not happy about the deal either. "If Republican leaders up-end the budget caps this year," Cato Director of Tax Policy Studies Chris Edwards writes, "they will empower big-spending Democrats, liberal Republicans, and appropriators to completely blow up the caps in later years."
The House of Representatives is scheduled to adjourn for the rest of the year this Friday. Perhaps the best conservatives can hope for is that Ryan runs out the clock, and the House adjures with no budget deal.
If that happened, the House would still need to pass another continuing resolution before January 15, when the deal struck to open the federal government in October, expires.