Friday, October 30, 2009

A 1,990-Page Medical Monstrosity



Medical Care: Speaker Nancy Pelosi's cry in unveiling the House's massive reform bill might as well have been "Viva la health care revolution!" America never voted for change like this.

Just as most congressional Democrats refused to listen to the angry public at town halls in the summer, Speaker Pelosi was not interested in ordinary Americans attending the outdoor rally on the West Front of the Capitol, where she and her fellow House Democrats rolled out their 1,990-page monster health reform bill on Thursday.

YouTube recorded someone not on the RSVP list being refused entry and asking a staffer why the announcement of legislation that will radically affect the lives of all Americans isn't open to the public. "Because that's how we're handling this event," she told him.

Truth be told, most lawmakers are excluded too. As the Hudson Institute's Hanns Kuttner noted on the National Review Web site, you would have to devour 221 pages a day to have read this life-changing legislation in its entirety before it comes to a vote, promised for before Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

Weeks after its unveiling, new tricks are still being discovered within the Senate health bill. Kaiser Health News' Julie Appleby reported Thursday that, despite claims the bill will limit what those in the lower and middle income groups will pay for health insurance, "The fine print shows that, over time, the premium costs could rise well beyond those caps."

The reason for this, Appleby explains, is "the cost of coverage would shift from a percentage of income to a percentage of the premium, no matter how high the premiums go." This will be a big, unpleasant surprise for the working middle class.

Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson on Wednesday revealed that the Senate bill's excise tax on "Cadillac" plans "targets a lot of Chevy plans as well." The tax follows a formula based on the consumer price index plus 1%. But if medical costs and insurance premiums rise significantly higher than the CPI — a near sure thing — a lot more plans get taxed.

Reminiscent of the Alternative Minimum Tax, a measure to soak the rich will end up drowning Joe Sixpack. Meyerson warns: "If employers opt for cheaper policies to avoid the excise taxes on more-expensive plans, their savings may not be passed on to workers as higher wages but simply kept by the employers. Out-of-pocket health costs for workers would rise, but into-pocket wage increases to cover those costs might not be forthcoming."

What similar horrors await detection within Nancy Pelosi's 1,990-page behemoth? Time will tell, but it may take a lot more time than the 13 days House Democrats are giving America to digest this revolutionary proposal.

We already know it contains an aggressive version of the government-run public option, and the 39 Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies warned after the Thursday unveiling of "devastating consequences."

"Millions of people would lose their current private coverage they are happy with," the companies warned. "In addition, the government will underpay providers — even if negotiated rates are initially used — creating major access issues, including long waits for services, with some providers closing their doors."

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association also pointed out how any "government-run plan will use its built-in advantages — no matter how it is initially structured — to take over the market" through "price-setting based on Medicare" or by using "existing government programs as leverage for negotiations."

A government option would also enjoy "many financial advantages right from the start, including an exemption from federal and state taxes and other assessments that private plans must pay, immunity from state lawsuits, as well as a host of other state rules and regulations." Plus it will get "at least $2 billion in startup capital."

The insurers also warn that the young would see their premiums rise 69% on average, according to research by the Oliver Wyman actuarial firm. Americans for Tax Reform detailed 13 new taxes the House health bill would create, from a 5.4% surtax on individuals and small businesses to a 2.5% excise tax on medical devices.

Both the House and the Senate are set to wreck the greatest health care system in the world — unless those now taking it for granted raise a ruckus, and fast.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Special Address - General Stanley McChrystal


On Thursday 1 October 2009, General Stanley McChrystal, Commander, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan gave a Special Address on Afghanistan to the IISS

Watch the Address and the Q&A Session

I.                  Preamble

It is an honour for me to be here and I would like to thank you for giving me the time.  I would also like to thank not only my hosts but also all of you who took time to be here today.  This is an extraordinarily important subject: we have young people – not only from the coalition but also young Afghans – in the field today, who depend on the decisions we make and the analysis we do.  Taking the time to talk and think about it is always time well-spent, so I thank you for that.

I am privileged to speak here today as the Commander of NATO’s ISAF forces, representing people from 42 troop-contributing nations.  I represent them today and I hope to do that well.  As you know, I have a British deputy, Lieutenant General Jim Dutton, who is coming to the end of his term and will soon be replaced by another great British officer, Lieutenant General Nick Parker.

Before I continue, I would like to recognise the enormous sacrifice that families here in the UK have made.  As you know, the losses that we have suffered are significant in terms of those who have fallen, suffered life-changing injuries, or given up parts of their life just by being away from family.  I am in awe of the performance of the British brothers whom I have been honoured to work with for a number of years now.

I am humbled to be here because I do not claim to be in the same category as people who have been talking here, such as Prime Minister Brown and President Zardari, who expressed their views on this complex subject.  I do, however, believe that I can offer some perspectives and will try to do that today.  I will start by posing seven questions before attempting to answer them.  If this works according to my plan, it will totally exhaust your appetite for this issue and I will leave the room to wild cheers and lucrative job offers.  If my plan fails, as most of mine do, I will be happy to field any questions that we have time for.

II.              What is the Right Approach to Use in Afghanistan?

1.                  People’s Own Suggestions

People ask me this question all the time; many people offer their own suggestions.  There is a multitude of approaches to what to do.  Some people say that we should focus primarily on development; others say that we should conduct a counterterrorist-focused battle, given that this really started after 9/11 and Al-Qaeda’s strikes.  Other people say that we should conduct counterinsurgency (COIN).  A paper has been written that recommends that we use a plan called ‘Chaosistan’, and that we let Afghanistan become a Somalia-like haven of chaos that we simply manage from outside.

2.                  The Complexities of Afghanistan

a.                  The delicate balance of power

I arrived in Afghanistan in May 2002 and I have spent a part of every year since then involved in the effort.  I have learned a tremendous amount about it and, every day, I realise how little about Afghanistan I actually understand.  I discount immediately anyone who simplifies the problem or offers a solution, because they have absolutely no idea of the complexity of what we are dealing with.

In Afghanistan, things are rarely as they seem, and the outcomes of actions we take, however well‑intended, are often different from what we expect.  If you pull the lever, the outcome is not what you have been programmed to think.  For example, digging a well sounds quite simple.  How could you do anything wrong by digging a well to give people clean water?  Where you build that well, who controls that water, and what water it taps into all have tremendous implications and create great passion.

If you build a well in the wrong place in a village, you may have shifted the basis of power in that village.  If you tap into underground water, you give power to the owner of that well that they did not have before, because the traditional irrigation system was community-owned.  If you dig a well and contract it to one person or group over another, you make a decision that, perhaps in your ignorance, tips the balance of power, or perception thereof, in that village.

Therefore, with a completely altruistic aim of building a well, you can create divisiveness or give the impression that you, from the outside, do not understand what is going on or that you have sided with one element or another, yet all you tried to do is provide water.

b.                  COIN mathematics

There is another complexity that people do not understand and which the military have to learn: I call it ‘COIN mathematics’.  Intelligence will normally tell us how many insurgents are operating in an area.  Let us say that there are 10 in a certain area.  Following a military operation, two are killed.  How many insurgents are left?  Traditional mathematics would say that eight would be left, but there may only be two, because six of the living eight may have said, ‘This business of insurgency is becoming dangerous so I am going to do something else.’

There are more likely to be as many as 20, because each one you killed has a brother, father, son and friends, who do not necessarily think that they were killed because they were doing something wrong.  It does not matter – you killed them.  Suddenly, then, there may be 20, making the calculus of military operations very different.  Yet we are asking young corporals, sergeants and lieutenants to make those kinds of calculations and requiring them to understand the situation.  They have to – there is no simple workaround.

It is that complex: where you build the well, what military operations to run, who you talk to.  Everything that you do is part of a complex system with expected and unexpected, desired and undesired outcomes, and outcomes that you never find out about.  In my experience, I have found that the best answers and approaches may be counterintuitive; i.e. the opposite of what it seems like you ought to do is what ought to be done.  When I am asked what approach we should take in Afghanistan, I say ‘humility’.

III.           What Environment Are We Operating In?

1.                  Generally Accepted Truths

The answer to this question starts with some generally accepted truths about Afghanistan, which we all know to be true:

  • It is a graveyard of empires.

  • Afghanistan has never been ruled by a strong central government.

  • Afghans do not consider themselves Afghans. 

All three are untrue.  If you ask an Afghan what he is, he will say, ‘I am an Afghan’.  There have been strong central governments, although different from what you think of as central government.  In the sense of governance, there have been periods when Afghanistan absolutely had a central government.  Therefore, we have to start by not accepting any of the generally accepted ‘bumper sticker’ truths.

2.                  Real Truths

a.                  Complex, difficult geography and demography

In terms of real truths, it is complex, difficult terrain, both in terms of land and people.  It is also a tribal society with a culture that is vastly different from what most of us are familiar with.  There are variations around the country; you cannot assume that what is true in one province is true in another.  That goes for ethnic, geographic and economic issues.  You cannot even assume that what is true in one valley is true in the next any more than you can assume that one neighbourhood in London is exactly the same as another.  We would not generalise here, yet sometimes, as outsiders, we want to do that.

b.                  A long period of conflict

I would also remind people that we have been waging a war for eight years, yet the Afghans have been at it for 30.  Life expectancy in Afghanistan is 44 years, so not many people remember pre‑conflict life in Afghanistan.  Of those 30 years, about 10 were spent fighting the Soviets, followed by six years of ‘warlordism’ and a further six years of Taliban rule and civil rule, and the last eight years have been eight more years of fighting.

One elder said something that really struck me one night as we were talking: ‘What you see in Afghanistan now is a reflection of pieces of each of those eras’.  It is now a mosaic of the experiences of all those eras.  If you think about the impact of 30 years on people and on a society, calculations change.  The certainty that you have when you walk through your neighbourhood in London is not the certainty that they have.  The expectation of the future is not the expectation that they may have.  The opportunities to be educated and to associate with different ethnic groups, which have become more of a challenge in recent years, are very different.

c.                  A damaged society

The society is what I would call ‘damaged’.  Individuals may not be damaged, but the society is not as it was.  It is not so uniformly; nor can you say ‘it is all different here’.  Tribal structures, relationships and expectations are uncertain now.  When you go into a village in a Pashtun area, traditionally you could have predicted what the role and interrelationships of the mullah or the elders would be.  That is no longer true.  It varies based upon the experience of that area.  In some areas, some have disproportionate influence and others have none.  Some have been killed.  In other cases, elements like the Taliban have come in and completely turned upside down the traditional structures.  You can also not assume that traditional structures have disappeared, so you have to go in and learn what the structure is and how people deal with it.

3.                  A Uniquely Complex Environment

What we face, then, is a uniquely complex environment, where there are at least three regional and resilient insurgencies, with further sub-insurgencies.  They have intersected on top of a dynamic blend of local power struggles in a country damaged by 30 years of war.  You then run into someone who raises their finger and says ‘here is the solution’ – they can have my job.

4.                  A Crisis of Confidence

We also face a crisis of confidence.  Afghans are frustrated after the most recent eight years of war, because in 2001 their expectations skyrocketed.  Along with the arrival of coalition forces, they expected a positive change.  They saw that initially and then waited for other changes – economic development and improvements in governance – that, in many cases, may have been unrealistic but, in many cases, were unmet.  Therefore, there was a mismatch between what they had hoped for and what they have experienced.  Again, as we learn in all societies, expectations and perceptions often matter as much as the reality.

IV.           What Is the Situation Now?

1.                  Serious and Deteriorating

The situation is serious, and I choose that word very carefully.  I would add that neither success nor failure for our endeavour in support of the Afghan people and government can be taken for granted.  My assessment and my best military judgment is that the situation is, in some ways, deteriorating, but not in all ways.

2.                  Tremendous Progress

I can also point out areas in which tremendous progress is evident: the construction of roads, provision of clean water, access to healthcare, the presence of children in school, and access to education for females.  All of these are up dramatically and hugely positive, and portend well for the future.

3.                  A Need to Reverse Current Trends

However, a tremendous number of villagers live in fear, and there are officials who either cannot or do not serve their people effectively.  Violence is on the increase, not only because there are more coalition forces, but also because the insurgency has grown.  We need to reverse the current trends, and time does matter.  Waiting does not prolong a favourable outcome.  This effort will not remain winnable indefinitely, and nor will public support.  However, the cruel irony is that, in order to succeed, we need patience, discipline, resolve and time.

V.              Who is Winning?

1.                  A Battle of Minds and Perceptions

a.                  Not a game with points on a scoreboard

The answer to this question depends on who you ask.  This is not like a football game with points on a scoreboard; it is more like a political debate, after which both sides announce that they won.  That matters because we are not the scorekeepers: not NATO ISAF, not our governments, and not even our press.  The perception of all of these entities will matter and they will affect the situation, but ultimately this is going to be decided in the minds and perceptions of the Afghan people of the Afghan government and of the insurgents, whether they can win or are winning, and, most importantly, the perception of the villager who casts his lot with the winner.

b.                  Villagers make rational and practical decisions

Villagers are supremely rational and practical people: they make the decision on who they will support, based upon who can protect them and provide for them what they need.  If a villager lives in a remote area where the government or security forces cannot protect them from coercion or harm from insurgents, he will not support the government – it would be illogical.  Similarly, if the government cannot provide him with rule of law, the basic ability to adjudicate requirements legally, or just enough services to allow him to pursue a likelihood, it is difficult for him to make a rational decision to support the government.  The Taliban is not popular.  It does not have a compelling context.  What it has is proximity to the people and the ability to provide coercion and, in some cases, things like basic rule of law, based upon the fact that they are there and can put themselves in that position.  The perception of the villager matters in terms of which side he should support, so winning the battle of perception is key.

c.                  Allowing the facts to speak for themselves

I also think that winning the battle of perception, as it applies everywhere but particularly to us, is about credibility.  As I told you, the situation is absolutely not deteriorating by every indicator, but I will not stand up and say that we are winning until I am told by indicators that we are winning.  For me to stand up and claim good things that are not supported by data in order to motivate us and make us feel good very rapidly undermines our credibility.  Our own forces are smart enough to do that, so I intend to tell people the best assessment that we can, as accurately as possible, and allow the facts to speak for themselves.

VI.           It Has Been Eight Years – Why Is It Not Better?

This is a fair question for the Afghan people and for societies that have supported this effort.  It is true that, after eight years of tremendous effort and expenditure and the loss of good people, many things are worse.  Why have eight years of effort not made things better?  There are a number of complex reasons:

  • The insurgency grew.

  • Expectations – both expected and unexpected – were not met, which has created frustration.

  • It took us longer than I wish it had to recognise this as a serious insurgency.  As the Taliban started to regain its effectiveness, we lagged in terms of accepting that as a clear reality.

Through our actions, we – i.e. the coalition and its Afghan partners – sometimes exacerbate the problems.

  • We have under-resourced our operations.

  • In some areas, we have underperformed; in others, we have under-coordinated.

  • We have struggled with unity of effort, national agreements and chains of command that are complex to say the least.

  • In some ways, we have not overcome some of our intrinsic disadvantages.  We are operating in a very different culture, with language differences, relationships that do not exist and a complex situation that takes time to understand, yet we have not effectively developed enough expertise, continuity of people or sufficient numbers of language-trained people to deal with the situation as effectively as we could have.

  • Most importantly, our own operational culture – and by ‘our’ I mean coalition forces – and manner of operating distances us physically and psychologically from the people who we seek to protect.  We need to connect with people, yet physical or linguistic barriers make it increasingly difficult.  Ultimately, our security comes from the people.  We cannot build enough walls to protect ourselves if the people do not.

We must, then, operate and think in a fundamentally new way.

VII.       Can We Succeed?

1.                  Protecting the Afghan People from the Enemy

We can succeed.  We must redefine the fight.  The objective is the will of the Afghan people.  We must protect the Afghan people from all threats: from the enemy and from our own actions.  Let me describe it: a few days ago, just before we left to travel here, a bus south of Kandahar struck an improvised explosive device (IED) killing 30 Afghan civilians.  That is tragic.

On the one hand, you might say that the Afghan people would recoil against the Taliban who left that IED.  To a degree, they do, but we must also understand that they recoil against us because they might think that, if we were not there, neither would be the IED.  Therefore, we indirectly caused the IED to be there.  Second, we said that we would protect them, but we did not.  Sometimes, then, the most horrific events caused by the insurgents continue to reinforce in the minds of the Afghan people a mindset that coalition forces are either ineffective, or at least that their presence in Afghanistan is not in their interest.  That does not happen all of the time.  There are times when they feel differently, but you have to put things in that context to understand what we must do.

2.                  Protection from Our Own Actions

a.                  Respecting the people

We also need to protect them from our own actions.  When we fight, if we become focused on destroying the enemy but end up killing Afghan civilians, destroying Afghan property or acting in a way that is perceived as arrogant, we convince the Afghan people that we do not care about them.  If we say, ‘We are here for you – we respect and want to protect you’, while destroying their home, killing their relatives or destroying their crops, it is difficult for them to connect those two concepts.  It would be difficult for us to do the same.  The understanding, then, must be that we respect the people.

b.                  Changing our mindset

We must assign responsibility because, ultimately, the Afghans must defeat the insurgency.  As a force, however, we must change our mindset.  Whether or not we like it, we have a conventional warfare culture – not just our militaries but our societies.  Our societies want to see lines on a map moving forward towards objectives, but you will not see that in a counterinsurgency because you do not see as clearly what is happening in people’s minds.  We will have to do things dramatically and even uncomfortably differently in order to change how we think and operate.

In short, we cannot succeed by simply trying harder.  We cannot drop three more bombs and have a greater effect; it is much more subtle than that.

3.                  Crucial Next Steps

In my mind, therefore, what we must do over the next period of time is:

  • Gain the initiative by reversing the perceived momentum possessed by the insurgents.

  • Seek rapid growth of Afghan national security forces – the army and the police.

  • Improve their effectiveness and ours through closer partnering, which involves planning, living and operating together and taking advantage of each other’s strengths as we go forward.  Within ISAF, we will put more emphasis on every part of that, by integrating our headquarters, physically co-locating our units, and sharing ownership of the problem.

  • Address shortfalls in the capacity of governance and the ability of the Afghan government to provide rule of law.

  • Tackle the issue of predatory corruption by some officials or by warlords who are not in an official position but who seem to have the ability, sometimes sanctioned by existing conditions, to do that.

  • Focus our resources and prioritise in those areas where the population is most threatened.  We do not have enough forces to do everything everywhere at once, so this has to be prioritised and phased over time.

4.                  A Need for Resolve

As you know, the concepts that I have outlined here are not new, but if we implement them aggressively and effectively, we can create a revolution in terms of our effectiveness.  We must show resolve.  Uncertainty disheartens our allies, emboldens our foe.  A villager recently asked me whether we intended to remain in his village and provide security, to which I confidently promised him that, of course, we would.  He looked at me and said, ‘Okay, but you did not stay last time.’

VIII.    Why Bother?

1.                  The Risk Posed by Al-Qaeda

Afghanistan is difficult, so why bother?  It is a long way away.  It is not our business.  As we know, however, 9/11 brought us here to the latest interaction, and transnational terrorist threats absolutely remain.  I believe that the loss of stability in Afghanistan brings a huge risk that transnational terrorists such as Al-Qaeda will operate from within Afghanistan again.

2.                  High Stakes for Afghanistan and the Region

I also believe that the stakes are high for Afghanistan and for the region.  An unstable Afghanistan not only negatively affects what happens within its borders but also affects its neighbours.  Afghanistan is, in many ways, one of the keys to stability in south Asia.  A state that can provide its own security is important to all international security, and certainly to that of the UK, the US and our international partnership.  The Afghan people are worth bothering about and they deserve that.

IX.           Conclusion

In conclusion, I am exceptionally proud to serve at ISAF.  Within my office, I have a picture of a British battle group, led by Lieutenant Colonel Gus Fair, with whom I worked for a long time in Iraq.  He is with his soldiers, who I had the opportunity to speak with when I visited them during operations in Spin Majid this summer in the Helmand River valley.  I keep that picture because, when I looked into their eyes, which were bloodshot with fatigue, I remember the extraordinary professionalism, competence and sheer courage of those young men.  Whenever I come to London, I like to run through the city, and I particularly like the statues that you have erected to heroes.  I hope that you erect one to that generation – they have earned it.  Thank you.

The McCrystal Report By Edward W. Ross


October 05, 2009

Reading Gen Stanley McCrystal's unclassified 66-page report to Sec. of Defense Gates, I could not help but think back to my two tours of duty in Vietnam. I kept substituting South Vietnam for Afghanistan and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) for the Afghan National Army. The Vietnam and Afghanistan wars are two vastly different conflicts, of course; and the US armed forces that are fighting in Afghanistan are much different from their Vietnam War predecessors. Nevertheless, the two wars have something important in common. The right counterinsurgency strategy was the key to victory then, and it's the key to victory now.

When General Creighton Abrams assumed command from General William Westmorland in June 1968 he abandoned Westmorland's search-and-destroy strategy and began pursuing a clear-and-hold counterinsurgency strategy, and he expanded training and equipping the ARVN. His strategy was extremely successful and led to major South Vietnam victories over the North Vietnamese Army. Unfortunately, the 1968 Tet Offensive had truned American public opinion against the war, and it was too little too late. General McCrystal's and CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus' recommendations reflect their understanding of the lessons of Vietnam and Iraq wars.

We've been at war in Afghanistan for eight years already, and, as during Vietnam, the American people are war weary. It's not too late in Afghanistan, however, to do the right thing. President Obama should accept McCrystal's recommendation and avoid what happened in Vietnam.

Read my weekly columns and my current sidebar at

Read Previous EWRoss at

Read Previous EWRoss weekly columns at

Why eligibility story is still alive: Public awareness triggered by Farah's billboard campaign


July 27, 2009

WASHINGTON – How did a supposedly "bogus" story questioning Barack Obama's eligibility for the presidency get to the top of the news budgets of every major media outlet in the country?

It didn't happen by accident.

Three months ago, Joseph Farah, editor and chief executive officer of WorldNetDaily, the largest independent news source on the Internet, hatched a plan to do just that – create public awareness and media curiosity.

Frustrated by the lack of coverage of what he considered to be an issue of extraordinary importance, Farah launched a national billboard campaign asking the question: "Where's the birth certificate?"

The campaign raised nearly $100,000 in its first week and resulted in billboards springing up around the country. Even more important to the plan was the controversy it engendered.

Three major outdoor advertising companies rejected the ad for reasons of suitability.

"The plan was to create some buzz – to get people talking about a grave constitutional issue," he explained. "Before that campaign began, this really was a dead story, other than in WND. Now, every major media outlet is covering it – if only in covering the tracks of their previous ineptitude and negligence."

The facts are simple, says Farah. No controlling legal authority in America ever checked to see if Obama was a "natural born citizen" as the Constitution requires. They took at face value Obama's story as told in his autobiography and accepted a document he released that could never prove his eligibility.

Farah says the release of Obama's long-form birth certificate is vitally necessary even to begin proper vetting as to his constitutional qualifications.

While the media is now on to the story, Farah says, they seem to be more interested in killing it than exploring. CNN President Jon Klein even went so far as to issue a memo to his news staff declaring it dead because the state of Hawaii had supposedly destroyed original long-forth birth certificates in 2001.

"Where is the curiosity among my media colleagues?" Farah asked. "If this were Watergate, would they be calling the story dead because of the 18-and-a-half-minute gap in the recording? This is incredible!"

As WND has reported, Obama has also failed to release his school records, his Occidental College records, his Columbia University records, his Columbia thesis, his Harvard Law School records, his Harvard Law Review articles, his scholarly articles from the University of Chicago, his passport, his medical records and his files from his years as an Illinois state legislator.

WND has produced hundreds of stories reporting on dozens of legal challenges to Obama's status as a "natural born citizen" and other issues. The Constitution, Article 2, Section 1, states, "No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President."

Some of the challenges question whether he was actually born in Hawaii, as he insists. If he was born out of the country, Obama's American mother, the suits contend, was too young at the time of his birth to confer American citizenship to her son under the law at the time.

Other challenges have focused on Obama's citizenship through his father, a Kenyan subject to the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom at the time of his birth, thus making him a dual citizen. The cases contend the framers of the Constitution excluded dual citizens from qualifying as natural born.

Additionally, questions have been raised about Obama's move to Indonesia as a child and the passort he used to travel to Pakistan as a young man.

Complicating the situation is Obama's decision to spend sums estimated in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to avoid releasing a state birth certificate and other documentation, such as educational records, that would put to rest the questions.

The billboards, also, have remained a key to raising the question.

The billboard campaign follows an ongoing petition campaign launched several months ago by WND Editor and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Farah.

Send a contribution to support the national billboard campaign that asks a simple question: "Where's the birth certificate?"

If you are a member of the media who would like to interview Farah about this story, e-mail

Time To Stop Amuck Acorn's Bank Enablers By Rep. Michele Bachmann



The Community Reinvestment Act has increasingly been at the core of controversy, most recently for its role in the financial meltdown that began in 2008.

Many economists have long questioned whether the CRA's mandates, which encouraged subpar lending standards, harmed the housing market.

Now we have news of a new controversy that brings the CRA together with the infamous Acorn, which has been a prime beneficiary of the act's mandates.

Acorn has earned a reputation with the public for persistently unethical behavior and repeated disregard for voter registration and other federal and state laws.

Recent videos showing Acorn employees giving advice on how to set up a prostitution ring as a legal enterprise by violating tax and immigration laws and abusing government housing grants have demonstrated Acorn's flagrant abuse of the public trust and complete disrespect for the law.

Abundant evidence shows that this is more than a case of a few bad apples; the organizational structure promotes and nurtures this behavior.

Since 1994, Acorn has received $53 million in direct federal funds. In addition, state tax dollars regularly flow to Acorn.

Now we know that banks have been funneling money to Acorn in order to comply with the federal mandates of the CRA.

Originally unveiled in 1977, the CRA was meant to ensure that low-income individuals and minorities were receiving fair and equal access to credit. But over the years it was distorted, shifting its focus from process to outcomes. This shift forced banks to loosen lending standards and make mortgages that wouldn't have otherwise passed muster.

For banks that wanted to protect themselves from regulators, they saw an alternative: donate or partner with groups, such as Acorn, that gave financial advice to the communities singled out by the CRA.

The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council Web site, which links to CRA ratings and evaluations conducted by banking examiners, shows that many banks have donated to or partnered with Acorn to comply with CRA mandates.

Acorn's name is employed like a code word used to convey to federal regulators with a wink and a nod that these banks are serious about meeting CRA mandates. Indeed, Acorn Housing's Web site proclaims that it "provides one-on-one mortgage loan counseling, first-time homebuyer classes, and helps clients obtain affordable mortgages through unique lending partnerships."

For example, Citizens Bank of Massachusetts "offers an affordable mortgage program through Acorn for low- and moderate-income homebuyers with below market rates, expanded ratios and a low down-payment requirement."

Northeast Bank in Minnesota "donated $2,000 to Acorn." Independence Community Bank "provided grants to the New York City Office of the Acorn Housing Corp." And New York Community Bank "participated as a co-sponsor of the Bank Fair hosted by New Jersey Acorn."

The smaller banks aren't alone in boasting of their Acorn ties to meet federal regulators' standards. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and other big names have given millions as well.

BofA, which was one of Acorn's biggest corporate sponsors — giving $2 million to Acorn Housing Corp. in Chicago — has ended donations to Acorn in the wake of the most recent scandalous headlines.

Government must re-examine the rules that encourage the relationships that banks have with Acorn. Acorn employees are clearly incapable of offering reliable, let alone legal, financial counseling, as illustrated by the undercover videos in Acorn offices. We can surely find better ways of meeting the CRA's stated goals of fair and equal access to credit.

I have urged the FDIC and FFIEC chairman, Sheila Bair, to conduct a thorough examination of Acorn's role in helping banks satisfy their CRA obligations and to issue clear guidance that prohibits banks from receiving CRA credit for donating to or partnering with Acorn.

If the CRA is about ensuring fair and equal access to credit, banks should be judged on whether they provide such access and not on whether they have paid protection money to a politically favored group.

It is disturbing that in addition to mandating subpar lending standards, the CRA is guilty of promoting borderline extortion by an organization that has demonstrated a pervasive culture of corruption.

For years, Democrats have ignored the consequences the CRA has had on the housing market and our financial infrastructure.

The time to pay attention is now. Congress is considering additional, overreaching financial regulatory legislation.

Americans should look at the CRA's example and be wary of new government mandates on our nation's private companies.

• Bachmann, a Republican, represents Minnesota's 6th Congressional District and is a member of the House Financial Services Committee.

Insuring Doom



Health Care: Washington's latest target is America's "fat cat" health insurance companies. A closer look reveals a vital but vulnerable industry, not the greedy, profiteering image pushed by health reformers.

We've seen "Big Oil" dragged to Capitol Hill to be slandered by power-hungry senators and congressmen for finding, extracting and refining the lifeblood commodity of the global economy. We've seen the pharmaceutical industry drawn and quartered for doing what it takes to discover, make and market lifesaving and life-enhancing drugs.

The latest villain in the politicians' demagogic fantasyland is private health insurance. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has accused private insurers of making "immoral profits." And they're a prime target for taxes to pay for the health care revolution Congress and the White House have planned.

But in fact, as we pointed out recently in these pages, this is an industry that actually lags many others in the U.S. economy. Plenty of other sectors of private industry are doing far better.

And some of the things Washington has planned — in particular a "public option" — would leave private insurers bankrupt.

As the Associated Press recently reported, the health insurance industry's profit margins tend to be in the 6% range, not impressive at all when compared with other areas of insurance. Margins shrank to 2.2% last year, with health insurers ranking 35th on the Fortune 500 list of industries. As a result, the credit ratings of some leading insurers have been downgraded to negative.

Health insurers' earnings grew less than 9% in the last five years, and they now rank below communications firms, railroads, beer companies, detergent makers, fast-food restaurants, kitchen utensil manufacturers, and chocolate makers.

Watch out — one of those might be Uncle Sam's next target.

Recently, representatives of the private insurers dared to commission a PricewaterhouseCoopers study with evidence of the huge cost increases Americans can expect if Congress' transformation of the greatest health care system in the world is passed into law.

The anti-business liberals who run Congress have unsheathed the long knives. As Steve Forbes recently pointed out in IBD, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and his colleagues "are openly engaged in a campaign of harassment and intimidation against 52 of America's largest health insurance providers."

Forbes charged that "they seek nothing less than to silence all voices opposed to their government-run health care proposals."

Waxman is nosing into and demanding every detail on executive and employee salaries and expenses for the past five years — information irrelevant to health reform but very useful as a political tool to blackmail the industry into submission under the threat of congressional subpoena. There's a name for this: witch hunt.

When Congress is finished with the U.S. medical system, Americans may in a short time think they live in France or Britain, where waiting lists for vital surgeries and treatments are the norm.

How ironic if they were deluded into believing that the villains are the companies that have, until now, saved them from such mediocrity and incompetence.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Nanny State, Squared



Big Government: Hardly a day passes without the unveiling of some new federal intrusion into our lives. At some point Americans must say "enough's enough," or sit silently as all our precious liberties are taken away.

The Democrats in Congress and the White House are pushing through the most sweeping changes toward direct government control of our economy since at least the Great Depression. Consider just a few news items from recent days:

• The Senate moves to give the Food and Drug Administration huge new power over what we eat and drink, and what medicine we take.

• A House panel OKs a new Consumer Finance Protection Agency that will have direct control over consumer credit from banks and businesses — potentially killing a private system of consumer borrowing that, whatever its flaws, has led to unparalleled consumer wealth and access to credit.

• A new "bailout" is proposed for small businesses that will further distort markets, punish successful companies and reward failure. The opposite, in other words, of a free market economy.

• Execs of companies that took government bailouts get their pay slashed — courtesy of U.S. "paymaster" Kenneth Feinberg.

In ways large and small, it's easy to see we're building a nanny state that will make Europe's seem modest by comparison. After all, this doesn't even include health care "reform" or cap-and-trade. Soon, the federal government will control every aspect of our lives — though the Constitution explicitly forbids it.

This is the inevitable result of the massive expansion of government over the past year. The $700 billion TARP program, the $787 billion stimulus, a planned "second stimulus," $13 trillion in new debt over the next decade — inevitably, we'll see new government controls and regulations on nearly everything.

"They are awakening a vast regulatory apparatus with authority over nearly every U.S. workplace, 15,000 consumer products and most items found in kitchen pantries and medicine cabinets," the Washington Post has observed.

Too bad none of it's working. White House economic adviser Christina Romer acknowledged Thursday the stimulus is running out of steam — despite the $194 billion spent.

Meanwhile, the TARP czar admits that, despite comments last year that the bailout could end up paying for itself, very little of the more than $700 billion will be paid back.

What do we get? A slow-growing economy, fewer jobs, government-controlled incomes and trillions in new debt. Some nanny.

The Middle-Class Health Tax Heist Of 2009 By Sally C. Pipes



Poring over the details of the 1,501-page health care bill that came out of Sen. Max Baucus' Finance Committee, it's clear that the financing is so full of smoke and mirrors that one has to wear a respirator and hard hat to get through it.

But by the time one gets to the end of the bill, estimated to cost $829 billion over 10 years, clarity emerges — the Democrats plan to finance their expanded government care on the backs of America's middle-class taxpayers.

Baucus and company have decided to tax what the press calls "Cadillac" health plans. Prior to hitting the fine print, this indicates that only excessive, gold-plated plans found in the executive suites would be hit.

Baucus' "mark," however, shows that it's more likely the janitor who will be paying the tab.

Included in the bill is a confiscatory excise tax of 40% on "Cadillac" health plans that cost more than $8,000 for an individual or $21,000 for a family. This appears reasonable, as today most plans are well under these limits.

However, it's not actually health plans that are taxed at 40%, but the aggregate benefits that relate to health care that employers offer, regardless of whether they are funded by the employee or employer. The limits apply not only to employer-sponsored medical care but also to vision and dental plans.

The most damage is done by Baucus' attack on Flexible Spending Accounts, lifelines for families with high medical bills that allow them to set aside their own money — not the government's and not the employer's — to fund health-related spending with pretax dollars.

Baucus would cap these at $2,500 — half of what the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan currently offers federal employees — and adds this to what he considers a Cadillac.

This tax-increasing cap applies in 2010, long before any additional health benefits are offered.

And it's not only definitional handiwork that does damage. Baucus sets the prices today, doesn't start indexing them until 2014, and then indexes them at a rate well below historical health insurance inflation rates.

If we start with today's reality and use history as a guide, it is clear Baucus is doing damage to the middle class.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average employer pays $13,375 for a family plan this year, a rate that's increased at 8.7% annually for the last decade. Add to that the average $1,569 a family passes through flexible spending, and $1,000 for dental and vision and, in 2009, the total taxable spending for Baucus is $15,944.

This will likely inflate at the historical rate of health insurance spending, yet Baucus holds his $21,000 bogey constant. It's not until 2014 that he allows his Cadillac to increase in price.

In 2013, when the tax kicks in, the average employer-provided package will already be roughly $21,000, if the last decade serves as a reliable guide.

Every year hence, the employer will be on the hook for the massive tax. By 2023, the average cost of a family plan will be $47,337, and the allowable deduction will only be $30,018. The difference — $17,319 — will be taxed at 40%, costing employers an additional $6,927.

Employers will not pay this tax. Instead, they will cut benefits, shifting costs that must be paid with after-tax dollars to an already burdened middle class.

This is only the damage done to the average American in an average year. Millions of Americans experience years in which they have extraordinary health expenses, perhaps braces for a child that they manage to fund by deferring their own money into Flexible Spending Accounts.

Millions of other families have members with expensive chronic health conditions, such as a child with autism or some other special need. They use flexible spending to purchase therapy and treatments not covered by insurance. Capping Flexible Spending Accounts at $2,500 is a harsh tax that will extract billions of dollars from those who can least afford to pay it.

Baucus' bill is certain to increase taxes on ordinary Americans spending their own money on health care.

Health reform is no longer about getting coverage to those who need it, but getting a bill for a Democratic Congress and president who want it.

• Pipes is president and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is "The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care: A Citizen's Guide."