Iran Admits to Secret Nuke Plant

This morning brings news that Iran has been buiding another secret nuclear plant that is has been hiding from the international community. While this shouldn’t be a surprise to those who do not trust the regime and have long held that the nation is racing toward building a nuclear weapon, it does complicate President Obama’s ability to argue that we can negotiate with this regime and trust them to honor their agreements.

“The size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful (nuclear) program,” Obama said this morning, according to USA Today.

“Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow, endangering the global nonproliferation regime,” he also said. “denying its own people access to the opportunity they deserve, and threatening the stability and security of the region and the world.”

He added, according to the Washington Post account, “International law is not an empty promise.”

Bibi to UN: “Have You No Shame?”

Earlier this afternoon, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu gave a stirring speech in which he called the United Nations to task for legitimizing the Holocaust-denying Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and for sanctioning a report charging Israelis with war crimes for defending themselves against terrorism from Gaza.

Early in the speech, he held up a copy of the meeting minutes of the 1942 conference in Wannsee in which Germans made plans to exterminate the Jews, and asked, “Is this protocol a lie?” Then he held up the original construction plans from the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, which he received on a recent trip to Germany, and asked, “Are these plans of the camp where one million Jews were murdered a lie too?”

Netanyahu commended those who walked out on or boycotted the Ahmadinejad speech to the chamber yesterday, then continued: “But for those who stayed – I say on behalf of the Jewish people, my people and decent people everywhere – have you no shame? No decency? What a disgrace, what a mockery of the charter of the UN.”

He said, “Perhaps some of you think [Ahmadinejad] and his odious regime only threaten the Jews. Well, if you think that you are wrong, dead wrong.” He explained that, “the struggle against Iran pits civilization against barbarism.”

Later in the speech, he blased the UN report drawing moral equivelence between Israel and Hamas for the conflict in Gaza earlier this year, accusing Israelis of war crimes for defending themselves against a terrorist group that hides among civilians.

“By these twisted standards, the UN Human Rights Council would have dragged Roosevelt and Churchill to the dock as war criminals,” he said. “What a perversion of truth. What a perversion of justice.”

Should the broader UN endorse the report’s findings, he said, “It would send a message to terrorists everywhere, saying: terrorism pays. All you have to do is launch your attacks from densely populated areas, and you will win immunity.”

Netanyahu said Israel was willing to negotiate peace with Palestinians, noting that historically Israel has always been willing to make deals with Arab leaders genuinely interested in peace, as it did in the cases of Egypt and Jordan.

“We want to live side by side with them – two free peoples living in peace, living in prosperity, living in dignity,” he said of Palestinians. “Peace, prosperity, and dignity require one other element. We must have security.”

I’ve posted some of the video below. Well worth watching.

Of Two Minds on the Medicare Debate

In his health care speech to a joint session of Congress earlier this month, President Obama said that his proposed cuts to Medicare “will ensure that you — America’s seniors — get the benefits you’ve been promised.”

But Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, disagrees. He testified yesterday that the proposed changes would “would reduce the extra benefits that would be made available to beneficiaries through Medicare Advantage plans.” That is, the privately-administered plans that will see a funding cut to help pay for health care legislation.

I’ve been of two minds about the recent Medicare debate. On the one hand, I worry about the long-term impact of the Republican decision to make protecting Medicare from any cuts a focal point of their opposition to health care legislation. Not only does it distract from other arguments that attack the very idea of government-run health care, but it helps perpetuate the third rail status of a program that, if its growth is left unchecked, will bankrupt the country. If Democrats are unable to touch Medicare, then there’s absolutely no hope that somewhere down the line a conservative administration would be able to do so.

At the same time, I do think it’s important to point out that Obama is lying through his teeth when he says that cutting Medicare by $500 billion to as much as $622 billion will have absolutely no effect on anybody’s benefits. Additionally, it would be one thing if Obama were proposing these cuts as part of a larger entitlement reform, but instead he’s proposing them in the name of creating a new entitlement.

ACORN Sues Filmakers, Breitbart

ACORN has filed suit in Maryland Court against James O’Keefe, Hannah Giles and Breitbart.com, the Politico reports:

In the complaint, ACORN alleges that the filmmakers entered into the organization’s offices in July with a “hidden camera and microphone” and taped employees Tonja Thompson and Shera Williams. Both employees are listed as plaintiffs on the complaint, filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. 

ACORN is seeking $500,000 for each employee and $1 million for the organization in damages.

The lawsuit recalls a case in the 1990s of Food Lion v. ABC News, in which reporters for the show Primetime Live applied for jobs at the grocery store chain and worked with hidden cameras to reveal unsanitary practicies. As Wikipedia recounts:

Food Lion was awarded USD$5.5 million by a jury in 1997. The award was later reduced by a judge to $316,000. The verdict was then overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia. According to the court, even though ABC was wrong to do what they had done, Food Lion was unable to show that they had been directly injured by ABC’s actions – essentially that it was the actions of Food Lion that caused the damages, not the publication of those actions.

CJR Explores Whether Washington Post is Giving ACORN Story Too Much Attention

The Columbia Journalism Review, evidently concerned that the Washington Post has caved into conservatives by providing excessive coverage of the ACORN scandal, has explored the controversy in an interview with Nixonland author Rick Perlstein.

“I mean, why would a newspaper like the Post be training its investigative focus on ACORN now?” Perlstein asks rhetorically in the interview. “Whether you think well or ill of ACORN, they’re a very marginal group in the grand scheme of things–and about as tied to the White House as the PTA.”

Democrats Kill Amendment Requiring Bill To Be Fully Written Before a Vote

Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee killed an amendment proposed by Sen. Jim Bunning that would have required the committee to have the legislative language of its health care bill evaluated by the Congressional Budget Office before voting on it.

Currently, the only version of Chairman Max Baucus’s proposal we have is a 223-page draft (PDF) that is written in plain English and explains the bill in conceptual terms. Republicans argued that until the bill is written in legislative language it will be impossible for the CBO to provide an accurate cost estimate.

The Bunning ammendment would have required the committee to have the legislative language of the bill, along with the CBO cost estimate, posted on the internet for 72 hours before a vote.

Democrats argued that waiting for the legislative languange to be written, and for the CBO to evaluate it, would needlessly delay the process by weeks.

“Let’s be honest about it, most people don’t read the legislative language,” Sen. John Kerry said.

The Bunning amendment was defeated by a 12 to 11 vote, with Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln the only Democrat voting in favor.

Instead, the committee adopted an amendment by Baucus that doesn’t require the legislative language to be written, but that does require a CBO estimate based on the plain English version.

GOP Governors Write Letter To Baucus Opposing His Medical Innovation Tax

Five Republican governors have sent a letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus to voice their opposition to his proposed $40 billion tax on medical device makers arguing that it would kill jobs and stiffle medical innovation.

“We all support health care reform, but special taxes on the companies that bring high-quality, innovative solutions to health care professionals runs counter to the goals of better health care for America,” reads the letter, which is signed by, Governors Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Jim Gibbons of Nevada, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, and Gary Herbert of Utah.

The tax would raise the price of as many as 80,000 products, according to the letter, including toothbrushes, eyeglasses, artificial heart valves, and diagnostic equipment.

The letter notes that the industry employs 360,000 people in the U.S., but that the tax hike would be the equivelent to a 10 percent to 30 percent income tax surcharge, depending on the business, which would make the U.S. “the highest tax jurisdiction in the world in which to produce medical technology.”

Not only would the tax cost jobs, the governors argue, but would increase health care costs.

You can download a PDF of the full letter here.

GOP Report Charges AARP Getting “Kickbacks” In Dem Health Care Bills

One of the subplots to the health care debate I’ve been following is the cozy relationship between AARP and the Obama administration, as the group has thrown its full-throated support behind the Democrats’ health care push even though their membership comes from the age group most opposed to Democratic health care proposals. Today, House Republicans have issued a report providing evidence that AARP is in a position to recieve tens of millions of dollars in “kickbacks” if Democratic health care legislation becomes law.

President Obama and Democrats have proposed saving money to pay for health care legislation, in part, by cutting $162 billion in payments to Medicare Advantage, which allows Medicare recipients to choose privately-administered coverage. If these changes go through, millions of seniors who have chosen Medicare Advantage would lose their current coverage, forcing them into government-administered plans with less generous benefits. As a result, many of them would have to purchase policies to supplement traditional Medicare. Enter AARP.

In 2008, AARP generated $652.7 million in revenue by selling products like Medigap supplemental Medicare insurance, accounting for over 60 percent of the group’s revenue, according to an analysis of its financial statements cited in the report released by the House Republican Conference.

If the House Democrats health care bill becomes law, the report argues, it would be a boon to AARP, because while Medicare Advantage plans will be required to pay out 85 percent of the money collected in premiums to claims made by policy holders, the requirement would only be 65 percent for the kind of Medigap policies sold by AARP.

“In other words, under the Democrat bill, seniors could pay as much as 20 cents more out of every premium dollar to fund ‘kickbacks’ to AARP-sponsored Medigap plans than Medicare Advantage plans,” the GOP report charges.

But this isn’t the only way that AARP is getting special favors, according to the report.

Earlier this month insurer Humana Inc. sent customers who enrolled in the company’s Medicare Advantage plan a letter warning them that their benefits would be in danger if the Democratic health care legislation passed. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus complained to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which not only ordered Humana to stop sending the letters to its customers, but prohibited any other private insurers from doing the same. Except, that is, AARP — which sponsors a Medicare Advantage program in addition to the Medigap policies it offers, but was exempt from the Obama administration’s gag order.

I have a call into AARP, and will update the post once I get a response.

UPDATE: AARP emailed this statement from its executive vice president, Nancy LeaMond, as a response, though it doesn’t address any of the specific charges raised in the report:

“Any effort to derail AARP’s commitment to reform will not succeed.  Similar to “death panels” and other scare tactics, this latest effort is a misguided attempt to talk about anything other than the health care reform this country needs.  AARP will continue to work on reform for our members that prohibits insurers from discriminating based on health status or pre-existing conditions, strengthens Medicare by improving quality of care, cutting out fraud and abuse, and closing the so-called ‘doughnut hole’ for prescription drugs.

“AARP was started more than 50 years ago to fight for older Americans and their need for health care — our fight continues today.  Over those 50 years our public policies have always dictated every decision we have made.

“The only benefit AARP is looking for in health reform is relief for the millions of Americans who are crushed by soaring prescription drug prices, relief for the millions of Americans who are told they can’t get coverage because they’re too old or too sick, and relief for the millions of Americans who need Medicare strengthened. Period.”

If Big Government Health Care Doesn’t Succeed, Try Try Again

The Manhattan Institute has released an instructive new study by Stephen T. Parente and Tarren Bragdon showing the damaging effects of government meddling in the health insurance market. Though the report focuses on New York, it’s worth a look because many of the same policies that have helped destroy the market for insurance in the Empire State are now being proposed by Congress and President Obama at the national level.

Among the onerous regulations New York places on insurers are “guaranteed issue” and “community rating,” which in plain English mean that they force insurers to cover individuals with preexisting conditions, and to charge everybody the same premiums, regardless of health status. The state also has 51 mandates requiring insurers to cover all sorts of treatments, including hormone replacement therapy. It also outlaws cheaper, more basic health insurance plans, which could be paired with health savings accounts.

The results of these laws have been catastrophic, driving up the cost of an average insurance policy in New York to more than double what it is in neighboring Connecticut. As a result, the number of those who purchase insurance on their own has tumbled a staggering 96 percent since 1994.

Instead of seeing failed experiments in New York and other states as a clear example of why government interference makes things far worse, Democrats have decided to impose most of these same policies on the nation as a whole, while attempting to solvie problems created by government by calling for yet more government. So that’s why we end up with proposals mandating that individuals purchase insurance or pay a tax, subsidizing the purchase of insurance, creating a government-run exchange, and creating a new government-run plan modeled after Medicare to be offered on the exchange.

However, the authors of the study argue that New York could improve their insurance market with several reforms: repealing guaranteed issue and community rating laws, allowing health savings accounts in New York, allowing residents to purchase insurance out of state, and allowing insurers to offer cheaper plans with fewer benefits. Based on a Zogby survey of currently and recently uninsured residents commissioned for the study, the authors find that repealing guaranteed issue and community rating alone would reduce the number of uninsured in the state by 37 percent. Separately, the authors concede that “even a robust individual-insurance market would not meet the needs of all applicants, particularly those with a serious chronic illness that predates their application for insurance.” Their solution is to create a non-profit high risk pool for those who are otherwise uninsurable, with their premiums subsidized through a tax on private insurance plans, which the study estimates would only be $6 per month if the tax is limited to individual insurance, and $2 a month if it is broadened to include small group health plans.

One issue that the paper doesn’t address explicitly, but is worth noting, is that liberals argue that we need to create a government plan because there isn’t enough choice and competition in the private insurance market. But a major reason for that is the heavy regulations passed at the state-level, which drive away companies, hurt smaller insurers that don’t have the money to deal with regulatory compliance costs, and deny individuals the ability to choose a health insurance plan that suits their own health needs.