White House: No, We Don't Think We Should Ban Flights From Ebola Countries

Speaking from the White House Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest dodged questions about why flights from countries with Ebola outbreaks are still being accepted to the United States. He did not detail any future plans to stop flights from those countries, or to track connections through Europe to those countries, despite the first case of Ebola showing up in the U.S. after a Liberian man went to a funeral in West Africa and then returned home to Dallas. 

In his justification of the administration continuing to allow flights, Earnest argued that because people carrying Ebola don't have symptoms when they get on planes, there isn't a need to limit travel.

Earnest said Ebola will be handled through "rigorously applying medical procedures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control." 

Everything is under control...

FLASHBACK: U.S. Bans Flights to Israel

Gov. Walker Up 5 in Latest Wisconsin Poll

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has taken a firm 50 - 45 percent lead among likely voters over Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, according to the latest Marquette Law School Poll.

Walker's five-point lead in the latest Marquette poll, conducted September 25-28, is a marked improvement over the last Marquette poll, conducted September 11-14, which only showed Walker up by three points, 49 percent to 46 percent.

Voter opinions of Walker haven't budged over the past two weeks, with both Walker's job approval rating (51/47) and favorable rating (52/46) now at nearly identical levels (52/47 job approval, 52/46 favorable).

But voter perceptions of Burke have fallen sharply. Earlier this month Burke enjoyed a modest net favorability rating at 41/39. But now Burke is underwater with 44 percent of likely voters telling Marquette they have an unfavorable opinion of Burke, and just 40 percent saying they have a favorable opinion of her.

Burke's plagiarized jobs plan appears to be a big reason voters are abandoning her. More than 63 percent of respondents heard about Burke's plagiarized jobs plan, and almost a fifth of respondents said the incident made them less likely to vote for Burke.

The Marquette Law School Poll has a stellar reputation in Wisconsin, correctly predicting Walker's 2012 recall win.

Marilinda Garcia Plans Five Town Hall Events, While Kuster Stays In The Bunker

Earlier this week, New Hampshire State Rep. Marilinda Garcia had a debate with incumbent Democratic Congresswoman Annie Kuster on the radio. Okay, Rep. Kuster declined, but her Republican opponent showed up. Kuster has yet to hold one town hall event since she her 2012 election win–and it seems she isn’t going to hold any in the last weeks of the the 2014 cycle.

Recently, the Garcia campaign has launched a timeline called “When Annie Met Obama,” which documents her greatest hits from announcing that she is one of the president’s strongest supporters in Congress to her recent snags over her property taxes.

Rep. Garcia also took a tour of Atlas PyroVision Productions, which makes fireworks (via The Keene Sentinel):

Atlas CEO Stephen D. Pelkey did most of the talking, showing Garcia the equipment and electronics the company uses to make the fireworks they display at venues from the Cheshire Fairgrounds in North Swanzey to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

About 10 of the company’s employees accompanied them on the tour.

Pelkey said he supports Garcia because he’s frustrated with Democratic lawmakers who he said ignore the interests of small businesses.

Several years ago, Atlas was at risk of losing its license to transport its fireworks over what Pelkey said were violations incorrectly cited under the federal Hazardous Materials Safety Permit Program.

At the time, Pelkey attempted to get help from Democratic Rep. Ann M. Kuster, the incumbent defending her 2nd Congressional District seat against Garcia in the Nov. 4 election.

Pelkey said he didn’t get an answer from Kuster, leading him to place his faith in Republican candidates.

“It was as if small business in New Hampshire didn’t exist, or wasn’t important.”

Well, Pelkey, and other New Hampshire voters in the second congressional district, will have their chance to voice their concerns about the issues that matter to them most with Rep. Garcia. She’s planning five town halls in five weeks, according to her communications director Ken Cunningham:

“In honoring a New Hampshire tradition and the expectations of integrity and openness from our candidates, Marilinda Garcia will host 5 townhall meetings in New Hampshire’s Second District before Election Day, starting on October 7th, in Littleton. These townhall meetings will offer voters an honest opportunity to interact one-on-one with Marilinda and discuss with her the important issues facing our state and our nation.”

“Although Ann Kuster has yet to respond to our request to participate in a townhall forum, we would like to renew our invitation to her, and urge her to attend any of the below townhall meetings. We see no reason for her to miss these valuable opportunities to meet with the people of New Hampshire, and thus we will be prepared for her participation in every forum.”

“Additionally, we have provided directions to each meeting for Ann Kuster, and we are more than willing to facilitate her travel arrangements so that she is finally able to participate in a townhall meeting. Ann Kuster has never held a townhall meeting and her constituents deserve the opportunity to share their concerns and views with their representative to Congress.”

The tour begins October 9 in Littleton, NH. The subject of this town hall will be health care.

On October 15, John Bolton, former U.N. Ambassador under the Bush Administration, will be a guest in a town hall devoted to national security in Hanover.

Taxes and regulations will be the focus for the Keene town hall on October 21, while Concord will delve into government spending on the 29th.

The last town hall event will be held in Nashua to discuss jobs and the economy on November 3, the day before Election Day.

BREAKING: Pierson Resigns As Secret Service Director

One might say we saw this coming.

Moments ago, Secret Service Director Julia Pierson resigned:

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson resigned Wednesday, a day after bitingly critical questioning by Congress about a White House security breach. There had been increasing calls for her departure during the day.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said she offered her resignation and he accepted it.

Stay tuned for updates.

UPDATE: “Director Pierson offered her resignation because she believed it was in the best interest of the agency which she had dedicated her career,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said shortly after the news broke. “In light of recent and accumulating reports I think there were legitimate questions [raised] in the minds of the secretary [DHS] and the president.”

UPDATE: The following is Secretary Johnson's full statement about the shake-up at the Secret Service:

Today Julia Pierson, the Director of the United States Secret Service, offered her resignation, and I accepted it. I salute her 30 years of distinguished service to the Secret Service and the Nation.

As an interim Acting Director of the Secret Service, I am appointing Joseph Clancy, formerly Special Agent in Charge of the Presidential Protective Division of the Secret Service. Mr. Clancy retired from the Secret Service in 2011. I appreciate his willingness to leave his position in the private sector on very short notice and return to public service for a period.

Today, I have also asked the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, aided by this Department’s General Counsel, to assume control and direction of the ongoing inquiry by the Secret Service of the fence jumping incident at the White House on September 19. Deputy Secretary Mayorkas should complete that review and submit findings to me by November 1, 2014.

Finally, I have also determined that scrutiny by a distinguished panel of independent experts of the September 19 incident and related issues concerning the Secret Service is warranted. The Panelists will be named shortly. By December 15, 2014, this panel will submit to me its own assessment and recommendations concerning security of the White House compound. I will also invite the panel to submit to me recommendations for potential new directors of the Secret Service, to include recommendations of individuals who come from outside the Secret Service. I will also request that the panel advise me about whether it believes, given the series of recent events, there should be a review of broader issues concerning the Secret Service. The security of the White House compound should be the panel’s primary and immediate priority.

It is worth repeating that the Secret Service is one of the finest official protection services in the world, consisting of men and women who are highly trained and skilled professionals prepared to put their own lives on the line in a second’s notice for the people they protect. Last week, the Secret Service was responsible for the protection of the President as well as 140 visiting heads of state or government as they convened at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. Likewise, in August the Secret Service handled the protection of 60 world leaders as they convened in Washington, D.C. for the African Summit. As usual, the Secret Service executed these highly complex and demanding assignments without incident. There is no other protection service in the world that could have done this.

UPDATE: On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the president "retains full confidence in the men and women of the Secret Service to do their very important work." If so, why did the Secretary Johnson (presumably at the behest of his boss) accept Pierson's resignation today?

Editor's note: This post has been updated.

One Year Ago: The Obamacare Rollout


On October 1, 2013, the 'Affordable' Care Act opened for business. What played out over the ensuing months will go down as one of the most catastrophic Washington failures in US history. The program's buggy, broken website crashed repeatedly. Obamacare's under-vetted navigators turned customers away in droves. Consumers were sent to nonexistent brick-and-mortar enrollment locations. Millions of Americans' existing plans have been canceled, as required by the law's new coverage mandates (with millions more in the pipeline). Costs, both in terms of premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, have soared for many. Major pieces of the law have since been unilaterally altered and delayed, while multiple states have abandoned their proprietary exchanges, flushing away hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars in the process. In spite of the administration's triumphal spin, enrollment figures have fallen far short of expectations, with risk pools looking older and sicker than projected. The nation's healthcare tab is still growing.  Access to preferred doctors and hospitals has been curtailed.  And Healthcare.gov, dogged by data security concerns, remains under construction and won't be fully functional for November's second open enrollment period.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.  President Obama and Democratic acolytes insisted that Obamacare would be an effective legislative panacea. Tens of millions would be welcomed into the ranks of the insured, costs would fall across the board, healthcare-related deficits would be reduced, Medicare's benefits would be untouched and its solvency strengthened, lives would be saved -- and every single person who was satisfied with his or her healthcare arrangement would be entirely unaffected.  The law would produce no losers and contain no trade-offs -- and its critics were heartless, ideological liars.  The NRSC is out with a new video reminding the American people who really lied:


Public opinion on Obamacare has been upside-down by double digits for years now, dragged under by serial betrayals of its central promises.  Its defenders can assert its 'success' til they're blue in the face; their tendentious protestations will not change reality.  The incomplete roster of flaws and failures enumerated above keeps growing.  More cancellation notices:

Thousands of Americans will see their health plans cancelled before the November elections in a development that could boost critics of ObamaCare.  The Morning Consult, a Washington-based policy publication, reported that nearly 50,000 people will lose their current health coverage in the coming weeks.  Further cancellations this fall will arrive because state regulators only allowed the "keep your plan" fix to last one year or because insurers decided to stop offering the old policies on their own.

In New Mexico alone:


A trend toward high up-front, out of pocket costs for hospital patients:


Get ready to whip out your credit card before you are wheeled into the operating room or undergo an MRI. Hospitals are increasingly asking patients to pay for procedures either upfront or before they are discharged. That's because Americans are shouldering a greater portion of their health care bills, and medical centers don't want to get stuck with patients that can't pay...Starting the cost conversation early is especially important now because patients are facing higher deductibles and larger payments for services. Some are surprised to find out that they have to fork over thousands of dollars before their insurance even kicks in, hospital administrators said. The policies available on the Obamacare exchanges are hastening this trend. Many enrollees are opting for the bronze and silver plans, which often carry deductibles upwards of $5,000 and $2,000, respectively. "The bronze plans are scaring a lot of administrators because the patient liability is so large," said Debra Lowe, administrative director of revenue cycle at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center. "Patients are unaware they have this high deductible."

Disappearing coverage and subsidies for ineligible beneficiaries, many of whom are in for some unpleasant surprises as a result of ongoing 'back end' discrepancies:

Hundreds of thousands of Americans face a Tuesday deadline to verify their income and are at risk of losing or having to pay back their federal health-insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. The need for people to pay back the government could become a headache during next year's tax season, when Americans are expected to pay back any subsidies they weren't eligible for. The Obama administration has told more than 300,000 individuals who obtained coverage through the federal HealthCare.gov site that they may lose some or all of the subsidies if they don't provide additional income information that jibes with Internal Revenue Service data. That information includes tax returns, wages and tax statements, pay stubs and letters from employers. Hundreds of thousands of people who obtained health coverage through state exchanges also have documentation issues and could potentially be getting subsidies they aren't eligible for.

And another adverse judicial ruling on the issue of subsidies in the states, stemming from the law's explicit verbiage:

A federal judge has sided with Oklahoma in its lawsuit challenging some subsidies offered to people who buy insurance under the health care law. U.S. District Judge Ronald White is the latest to weigh in on regulations that allow health insurance tax credits under the Affordable Care Act in all 50 states...Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt sued in 2011, claiming that the law didn't explicitly allow subsidies for people who bought insurance in states, like Oklahoma, that didn't set up their own insurance exchanges. In a ruling Tuesday, White agreed, saying the regulation was "an abuse of discretion."

Is it any wonder that most of Obamacare's supposed champions have been unwilling to touch it with a ten foot pole this election year? Democrats' bravado about "running on Obamacare" was just that: Bravado.  I'll leave you with this -- pay special attention, seniors:


Happy anniversary, America. 

New Ad Shows Udall Knows Nothing About ISIS

A recent ad by the National Republican Senatorial Committee slammed Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) for his nonchalant attitude towards the national security threat of ISIS (or, as Obama prefers to call it, ISIL).

“I said last week that ISIL does not present an imminent threat to this nation and it doesn't,” Udall is shown saying in the ad.

“Really?” the narrator responds in disbelief, “Can we take that risk?”



Not only did Udall claim ISIS was not an imminent threat, he alleged that beheaded American journalists Steve Sotloff and James Foley would have encouraged America to use caution when dealing with ISIS:

“I can tell you Steve Sotloff and James Foley would tell us, don’t be impulsive. Horrible and barbarous as those executions were, don’t be impulsive, come up with a plan to knock ISIL back.”

Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who is challenging first-term incumbent Udall for his Senate seat, derided Udall for the comment:

“Americans have watched in horror in recent weeks as two of our fellow countrymen have been brutally executed by terrorists, and it’s outrageous that Senator Udall would put words into the mouths of dead Americans. Furthermore, it’s deeply troubling that he views a terrorist organization like ISIL as not an imminent threat to America.”

Polls show that Gardner has closed the gap and is now pulling into the lead over Udall.

Democrats Tuning Out 2014 Elections

If cable television ratings are any indication, and recent elections show that they are, President Obama's base is tuning out the 2014 elections.


While Fox News again dominated primetime this summer, MSNBC's ratings plummeted, barely edging out CNN for second place among all viewers (555,000 to 557,000), and falling to third among they key 25-54 demographic (186,000 to 150,000).

MSNBC's 2014 ratings woes stand in stark contrast to the network's 2012 success. With Obama's presidential campaign spending more than $1 billion to energize Democratic voters, MSNBC soared into second place in 2012, and MSNBC President Phil Griffin boldly predicted his network would eventually beat Fox

But now that Obama's approval ratings are stuck in the low-40s, and his Organizing for Action campaign is all but dead, MSNBC, which The New York Times describes as "the voice of Mr. Obama’s America," is dying too. This summer, reruns of ABC's Shark Tank, which run on CNBC, beat every single MSNBC primetime show

Ernst Blows Out Braley in 3rd Quarter Fundraising

Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst's recent surge in polls against Democratic rival Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) has been matched by a surge in fundraising, the Des Moines Register reports. 

Ernst raised $4.5 million over the last three months her campaign told the paper, more than doubling the $1.78 million she raised over the previous three month period.

Braley also upped his fundraising totals from $1.7 million in the last quarter to $2.8 million this quarter. But Ernst's big take couldn't come at a worse time for Braley who has seen a narrow lead evaporate into a six-point Ernst advantage

Across the country, Democrats looking to survive the 2014 anti-President Obama tide have been saved by substantial financial advantagesDemocrats that are outspending their Republican opponents are doing better than those who are even, or are being outspent themselves

Unless outside groups pony up to vastly outspend Ernst in the final weeks, Braley will likely find himself behind come November 4th.

Mother of Marine Held in Mexico: President Obama Hasn't Called Me

The mother of Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, Jill Tahmooressi testified in front of lawmakers Wednesday on Capitol Hill as a personal representative of her son, who has been held captive and tortured in a Mexican prison since April 1, 151 days ago. 

Tahmooressi was arrested in Mexico after admittedly making a wrong turn at the border. It was a mistake. When he was pulled over by military officers, he said he was lost and declared firearms legal in the United States were in the vehicle. Instead of turning him around back to the U.S., soldiers arrested him.

"Arrested on weapon and ammunition possession and now incarcerated in a Mexican prison, Andrew is despondent and desperate to be released back to the USA. His PTSD treatment plan has been aborted as Mexico does not have the ability to provide combat related PTSD expressive group therapy, recognized as standard rehabilitation in the USA," she testified. "As often as possible, Andrew phones home via a collect call to seek hope that soon he will be freed."

Sgt. Tahmooressi  suffers from PTSD after serving overseas in Afghanistan. During his time there, he helped save an fellow marine who nearly bled to death after stepping on an IED. His PTSD has become significantly worse since his time in prison and in April he told his mother, "Mom. I tried to kill myself because the guards and the inmates were going to rape, torture and eventually execute me for information." He also described being strapped and chained to a bed for 25 days straight and said "his time in Mexico imprisonment has been by far worse than the two combat tours in Afghanistan."

During questioning, Ms. Tahmooressi revealed that not only has President Obama failed to call her personally about the situation, but said she has no knowledge he has called the President of Mexico to negotiate for her son's release. 

President of Concerned Veteran's for America Pete Hegseth also testified, drawing a contrast between Obama's efforts to swap deserter Bowe Berghdal for five Taliban terrorists while failing to make a simple phone call to Jill Tahmooressi about her son's status. Hegseth also reminded lawmakers Obama held a Rose Garden event for the parents of Berghdal, but has left Ms. Tahmooressi to fight for the release of her son on her own.

The paradox before this committee, this Congress, and especially this White House, could not be more stark: this administration negotiated with the Taliban, and exchanged five terrorist killers with American blood on their hands, for the release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, a soldier who deserted his unit on the front lines less than 2 months into his first tour of duty. Yet this administration has invested little-to-no effort negotiating the return, from a neighboring country, of a highly-decorated Marine with two combat tours?" Hegseth said. "Sgt. Bergdahl cost American lives. Sgt. Tahmooressi saved them. Does this not matter? Will we not fight to bring him home?
It is time to bring our Marine home, and give him the care he has earned."

Since April, more than 134,000 people have signed a petition on WhiteHouse.gov urging the Obama administration to address Sgt. Tahmooressi's unjust treatment and imprisonment. They have yet to respond effectively.

But there is good news. According to Fox News' William LaJeunesse, Sgt. Tahmooressi could be released after an evaluation from a Mexican psychiatrist showing the severity of his PTSD.

This post has been updated with an additional quote.

House Democrat: Secret Service Director Should Resign

The Secret Service is made up of dedicated professionals who risk life and limb every single day to protect our president and his family. They deserve our respect and gratitude.

But, by any objective standard, there have been too many close calls as of late. Last month, for example, a knife-touting lunatic ran roughshod around the White House (we didn’t find out until much later what really happened), while at the same time the number of instances the Secret Secret has failed to adequately and effectively deal with a threat is appalling. As Katie noted this morning, at the funeral of Nelson Mandela, a “sign language” professional accused of murder and rape stood no more than a few feet from President Obama.

As a result, Director Julia Pierson faced tough questions on the hot seat about these numerous breaches in security yesterday, and now a prominent Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (R-MD), is already floating the idea that she must go (via The Hill):

Cummings said he came away from the meeting "extremely disappointed."

"I've come to the conclusion that my confidence and my trust in this director, Ms. Pierson, has eroded. And I do not feel comfortable with her in that position," he said on MSNBC. That is a swing from just a day earlier when he told reporters the "jury's still out" on her tenure.

His comments were even more blunt during a radio interview with Roland Martin on Wednesday. "I think this lady has to go," Cummings reportedly said, referring to Pierson.

“Agents tell me it’s a miracle an assassination has not already occurred,” Ronald Kessler writes in the latest issue of POLITICO Magazine. Much like any broken federal agency, he argues, the Secret Service suffers from “a culture that punishes those who point out deficiencies and rewards with promotions those who cover up problems.” Sound familiar?

In the final analysis, there can be no leniency or lowered standards or do-overs when it comes to the safety and security of our commander-in-chief and his family. This is something all of us can and should agree on.

UPDATE: Rep. Cummings isn't the only one who wants Pierson to resign.

Black LA State Senator: You Are 'Just a Vote' to Sen. Landrieu

You may remember Elbert Guillory as the African-American state senator from Louisiana who proudly announced his decision to change from a Democrat to a Republican. After being a Democrat for most of his life, Guillory chose to switch parties after realizing it was conservative ideals that most benefitted the black community. In a candidly captivating five-minute video, he provided a history of Republicans championing civil rights and explained that individualism, not Big Government, was the true pillar of freedom.

A year later, Guillory has produced another powerful video. This time, he is targeting one Democrat in particular, Sen. Mary Landrieu. Speaking directly to his fellow black Louisianans, Guillory insists that Landrieu does not care about their well being - only their ability to get to the polls. 

Landrieu ran for the Senate in 1996 proclaiming to be a champion for African-Americans. But, Guillory points out, the black community is poorer than it was 18 years ago and schools are struggling more than ever. Then comes, in my opinion, the most powerful snippet in the video:

“You’re not Mary’s cause – and you’re certainly not her charity. You are just a vote. Nothing less and nothing more. For her, you are just a means to an end so that she remains in power.”

Guillory proceeds to make shameful comparisons between Landrieu and her African-American constituents, “While you scrounge together food stamps to buy Kool-Aid, she sips champagne at cocktail parties.”

Landrieu, for her part, will have a hard time refuting Guillory's claims, considering she doesn't even own a home in the Pelican State.

Our polltracker has Cassidy with a five-point lead:

Friendly Reminder: The 'Independent' Senate Candidate in Kansas is an Obama Donor


The GOP's Senate fortunes seem to have taken a step forward over the last week or so, with polling showing Republicans leading in eight contests over Democrat-held seats (AK, AR, CO, IA, LA, MT, SD, WV) -- and within striking distance in three more races (MI, NC, NH). The party must gain six net seats in November to demote Harry Reid and reclaim the upper chamber majority. But one match-up in the heartland is giving Republicans unexpected heartburn. Voters in Kansas -- a state Mitt Romney carried 60-38 over President Obama in 2012 -- are flirting with the idea of ousting longtime Republican incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts in favor of an "independent" challenger. Roberts ran an uninspiring, sluggish primary campaign, in which he was dinged for not owning a home in the state he represents. Though he eventually bested his Republican competitor, Democrats sensed blood in the water.

They've since convinced their own nominee, elected by actual Kansans, to drop out of the race, leaving no official Democrat on the ballot. (The state supreme court ruled that even though the erstwhile candidate exited the race without crossing and dotting the necessary T's and I's, they'd allow his voter-disenfranchising maneuver to stand).  The man who now stands as Roberts' only serious opposition is Greg Orman, a born-again "independent." According to polling, which is still unsettled in the wake of the ballot upheaval, Orman holds a single-digit lead over Roberts. Who is this guy?  Put simply, he's a Democrat, despite his denials.  He's donated thousands to Obama, Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid, but now he's playing games by declining to state which party he'd caucus with, if elected.  That's not the only topic on which he's ducking and dissembling.  Meet the candidate who won't tell voters what he stands for:

Greenlight the Keystone XL pipeline? Orman said he doesn’t have enough information to say yes or no. What about gun control? He said gun restrictions should be “strengthened” but would not specify whether he backs an assault-weapons ban. And on the biggest question of all — Would he caucus with Democrats or Republicans? — Orman insists he’s not sure.

The evasions don't end there:


Asked by a potential constituent whether he'd support repealing Obamacare, Orman offered a complete non-answer and walked away:


"You know, that's an interesting question!"

Is there any doubt where this man's sympathies lie?  Greg Orman is a liberal Democrat who's temporarily peddling a message of nonpartisan, solutions-oriented independence.  His goal is to conceal his agenda and ideology just long enough to run out the clock and knock off an incumbent who's slumbered his way through much of the campaign.  (Roberts won his last race by 24 percentage points).  Alarmed, national Republicans are pulling out all the stops to save Roberts, parachuting major figures from across the center-right spectrum to bolster his re-election: John McCain, Bob DoleJeb BushSarah Palin, and Ben Carson.  Netting six seats is a tough enough task.  Needing seven to overcome a loss in Kansas, of all places, could deal a death blow to Republicans' hopes.  Republicans are hoping that they have enough time to educate the Kansas electorate about who Greg Orman really is -- including his deep ties to a disgraced white collar criminal:


Obamacare's Illegal Insurance Company Bailout

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the October issue of Townhall Magazine. 

Americans hate insurance companies. They also hate bailouts. And they especially hate it when insurance companies get bailouts.

But that is exactly what is going to happen next summer unless Republicans in Congress stand up and fight against President Obama’s illegal health insurance company bailout.

A Sweetheart Deal

Our story begins just days after Obama’s landslide victory over Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in 2008. Sensing an opportunity to increase profits at taxpayer expense, Karen Ignagni, the president of America’s Health Insurance Plans (the trade association that represents the health insurance industry in Washington), quickly signaled that she was ready to do business with the new occupant of the White House.

“No one should fall through the cracks of our health care system,” Ignagni’s November 11, 2008 statement read. “Universal coverage is within reach and can be achieved by building on the current system.”

That last phrase, “and can be achieved by building on the current system” was the health insurance industry’s top priority in the beginning of the Obama administration. And they spent furiously to make sure Obama would protect them. Despite the worst recession since World War II, businesses spent more than $1 billion lobbying on health reform in 2009, a sharp increase from 2008.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield led the league in lobbyist spending, shelling out $15.13 million in 2009, up more than 25 percent from 2008. AHIP shelled out another $8.85 million, while United Health Group added $4.86 million, and Aetna Inc. spent $2.84 million.

These millions turned out to be very wise investments. Health industry lobbyists secured dozens of meetings in the White House throughout 2009 and 2010. They not only met with Obama’s top advisers, but also Obama himself.

These meetings had a very clear impact on the policy that Obama would eventually produce. During a June 24, 2009 ABC News town hall meeting on health care, Obama assured the CEO of Aetna: “Aetna is a well-managed company and I am confident that your shareholders are going to do well.”

And Aetna has done more than “well” under Obamacare. Its stock price has more than doubled, and almost tripled, since Obama publicly promised the company it would “do well” under Obamacare.

And when you look at the basic outline of Obamacare, you can see exactly why. The program forces every American to buy the health insurance industry’s products and also subsidizes those purchases to the tune of more than $1 trillion over just the next decade alone. No wonder health insurance industry stocks are booming.

An Ongoing Relationship

But the relationship between the health insurance industry and the Obama administration did not end on March 23, 2010, the day Obamacare was signed into law. If anything, it was just beginning.

Obamacare’s 2,700-plus pages of legislative text contains literally hundreds of directions for the executive branch to create new regulations. So far the Obama administration has produced more than 20,000 pages of Obamacare regulations, including a dump of more than 1,600 pages right before the most recent July 4 weekend.

And guess who is helping to write all those regulations? That’s right. Health insurance lobbyists. More than 30 former Obama administration officials, former congressmen, and former congressional staffers who helped usher Obamacare through the legislative process are now employed by health care lobbying firms on K Street.

And the health insurance industry isn’t hiding its cooperation with the Obama administration in promoting the new law. Shortly after Obamacare was passed, AHIP announced that it would spend millions of dollars helping promote Obamacare to Americans. “We are participating in it,” AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach said of the organization’s partnership with the progressive activist group Families USA. “The goal is to get everyone covered.”

Between the millions of dollars the health insurance industry spent promoting Obamacare and the millions more it spent lobbying for favorable regulations, the bond between the Obama administration and the industry is airtight.

“Their interests are aligned with our interests in terms of wanting to enroll targeted populations,” a senior White House official told Politico in November 2013. “It is not that we will agree with everything now either, but I would say for some time now there has been a collaboration because of that mutual interest.”

The Three Rs

One might think that a mandate forcing all Americans to buy your product, and $1 trillion in taxpayer funded subsidies to buy that product, would be all that was necessary for any industry to turn a hefty profit. But America’s health insurance industry wanted more.

In a capitalist economy, big companies manage their own risks. But in a corporatist economy, big companies use Big Government to help socialize risk and privatize profits. Obamacare is corporatism on steroids.

What if too few people signed up for coverage? Or what if those who did sign up were sicker and older than the general population? Health insurance companies would be stuck with far more Obamacare bills from health care providers than they had Obamacare premiums to pay them.

With these questions in mind, Obamacare’s authors created three programs designed to help socialize insurance company risk.

Reinsurance: Obamacare’s reinsurance program is paid for by a $63 tax on all health plans. The money then goes to any health insurance company who spends more than $60,000 on any Obamacare patient in any single year. Since the tax applies to all health care plans, but the benefits only go to Obamacare plans, the reinsurance program is really just a transfer of wealth from those who had insurance coverage before Obamacare to those who are now covered by Obamacare.

Risk Adjustment: The risk adjustment program is designed to stop insurance companies from marketing or pricing their plans in such a way that they only attract healthy, and therefore lower-cost, patients. The program accomplishes this by assessing the patient population of each insurer and then determining which insurers are covering healthier people and which are covering sicker people. The plans covering the healthy people are then forced to pay money to the plans covering sicker people. All transfers between insurance companies even out.

Risk Corridors: The risk corridor program is intended to encourage insurers to price their premiums low by protecting them from losses if their patients turn out to require more care than anticipated. The program uses a complex formula to take money from those insurers that do not spend a lot of money paying for patient health care, and then gives that money to other insurers that do spend a lot of money on patient care.

The big difference between the three programs is that the reinsurance and risk adjustment programs either have a dedicated stream of income (the $63 tax on all health care plans) or the payouts are limited to what the program takes in (all transfers equal out in the risk adjustment program).

But the risk corridor program has no guaranteed stream of funding. What if more health insurance plans underprice their Obamacare plans in an effort to gain market share? What if they all end up spending more on health care than they originally planned?

Then everyone would be demanding payment from the system but no one would be paying in. Who would make up the difference in such a situation?

When the CBO originally scored Obamacare, they assumed the Three Rs would end up costing taxpayers nothing. And then, when they rescored the bill again in February 2014, they optimistically estimated that the risk corridor program would actually save taxpayers $8 billion over the next 10 years.

But CBO’s computer models rarely, if ever, come close to matching reality. And Obamacare has been no different.

Trouble in Paradise

When Obama was making the case for Obamacare back in 2008, 2009, and 2010, he repeatedly promised the American people, “If you like your health insurance plan, you can keep it.”

Many Americans took Obama at his word and were therefore surprised when they started getting letters from their health insurance company informing them that their health insurance plan had been cancelled thanks to Obamacare. Obama had lied to them.

“As you have heard,” one such letter from Aetna read, “the Affordable Care Act is bringing many changes to health insurance. One of these changes is that plans renewing after 2013 cannot have annual dollar limits on essential benefits. Consequently, Aetna is discontinuing these plans and has notified your employer that we cannot renew your group policy after the current year.”

Annual dollar limits were just one of many reasons why millions of health insurance plans were cancelled despite Obama’s promise. Plans that previously didn’t cover maternity care, birth control, or pediatric care also all became non-compliant under Obamacare, as did plans whose co-payments or deductibles were too high.

By early November, Democrats who were up for reelection in 2014 had heard enough from angry constituents. They knew something had to be done and if Obama wasn’t going to fix the problem himself, then some Democrats were threatening to work with Republicans on their own fix.

House Republicans even scheduled a vote on Friday, November 15, 2013, on a bill that would have allowed health insurance companies to sell any plan that was previously legal before Obamacare, through 2014. The White House then desperately scheduled a meeting with House Democrats the Wednesday before the vote and Obama promised that he would unilaterally fix the problem himself. 

That Friday, after 39 Democrats voted with Republicans on their bill, Obama announced he was unilaterally changing the law anyway. Health insurance companies in cooperating states would now be allowed to offer non-Obamacare compliant policies again for another year.

While this solution mollified many Democrats, Obama’s health insurance allies began to panic. Their panic rose in December when Obama announced that those who had their health insurance cancelled due to Obamacare no longer had to comply with the Obamacare mandate to buy health insurance.

The health insurance companies knew that those who already had insurance were healthier on average than those without insurance. The only reason they agreed to support and promote Obamacare was because they knew many of their existing customers would be forced into new, higher priced Obamacare plans.

But now Obama was not only allowing people to keep their cheaper pre-Obamacare plans, he was also allowing them to not buy insurance at all! This was going to leave a huge hole in insurance company bottom lines.

Obamacare Bailout to the Rescue

Health insurance CEOs immediately demanded a meeting with Obama, which happened in the White House the day after his Friday announcement. According to health insurance lobbyist emails obtained by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Obama agreed that day to increase payments for both the risk corridor and reinsurance programs.

But some savvy Republicans on Capitol Hill were watching this drama and began to push back. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) even introduced a bill just four days after Obama’s November 15th rule change that would have repealed the risk corridor program entirely. “Washington’s bailout culture must end, and eliminating ObamaCare’s blank check for a bailout of insurance companies is a common sense step to protect taxpayers when ObamaCare fails,” Rubio said in a statement.

Not wanting a fight with Republicans over insurance company bailouts, the first draft of HHS’s regulation governing the risk corridor program, published in March 2014, promised that the program would be implemented in “a budget neutral manner.” In other words, payments out of the program would not be greater than payments into the program. There would be no bailout.

The health insurance industry promptly freaked out. According to emails obtained by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Blue Cross/Blue Shield CEO Chet Burrell sent Obama Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett a memo threatening health insurance premium spikes of “as much as 20 percent” if the risk corridor program was run in a “budget neutral” manner.

Obama got the message. The final HHS regulation published in May 2014 said that, “In the unlikely event of a shortfall for the 2015 program year ... HHS will use other sources of funding for the risk corridor payments.”

In other words, the risk corridor bailout is on.

And according to a survey of Obamacare insurers conducted by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the Obama administration is expected to make $725 million in net payments out of the risk corridor program in 2015 alone. Throw in the increased reinsurance payments and the bailout will top $1 billion.

An Illegal Bailout to Boot

Not only will American taxpayers be bailing out health insurance companies for the foreseeable future, it will be an illegal bailout as well.

According to long-standing federal rules, in order for Congress to properly authorize payment, both the directive to pay an amount, and the source of funds for that payment, must be identified.

And while the risk corridor program does identify who is to be paid (the insurance companies), it never identifies where those funds should come from.

Therefore, in order to fund the risk corridor program at all, Congress must specifically authorize funds to be spent on the program. But the original Obamacare legislation never did this and no subsequent Congress has done so either.

Despite all this, Obama has signaled he will ignore longstanding federal rules and make the risk corridor payments anyway.

What Can Republicans Do Now?

Obama’s risk corridor bailout would not be the first time appropriations were illegally conjured up to save Obamacare. The original Obamacare legislation did not contain any appropriations to build the federal health insurance exchange either. So Obama simply stole $454 million from the law’s “Prevention Fund” program and used it to build the exchanges instead.

Republicans did nothing to stop this illegal spending and they probably will not act to stop the insurance bailout either.

If they wanted to act, they could insert language into the next HHS spending bill specifically forbidding the spending of any funds on the risk corridor program. Then they could dare Obama to veto it.

Will the GOP go to bat for the American people and stop Obama’s illegal insurance company bailout? We will find out next June when the first payment from HHS to insurance companies is set to begin. • 

FLASHBACK: Secret Service Missed Fake Interpreter Charged With Murder on Stage With Obama During Mandela Funeral

The Associated Press is out with a list of Secret Service failures today but there's one big incident that they missed. On top of the agency failing to investigate a 2011 shooting at the White House, failing to stop reality TV D-listers from cashing a White House party, failing to keep President Obama out of an elevator with a convicted felon who was carrying a gun, falling down drunk on the job, hiring Colombian prostitutes during an official trip and failing to stop a man carrying a knife from jumping the fence and running all the way across the lawn deep into the White House, the Secret Service also failed to catch the murder, rape and kidnapping charges belonging to fake sign language interpreter Thamsanqa Jantjie, who stood next to Obama on stage during Nelson Mandela's 2013 funeral.

The "fake" sign language interpreter who said he suffered a schizophrenic fit onstage at Nelson Mandela's memorial service has a criminal history that includes charges of rape and murder, according to a report.

Thamsanqa Jantjie - who stood near several world leaders, including President Obama, during the event at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg - has been arrested at least five times since the mid-1990s, but he allegedly dodged jail time because he was mentally unfit to stand trial, the South African news station eNCA reported Friday.

The station found that Jantjie, 34, who has a long history of mental illness, has been arrested on suspicion of rape, theft, housebreaking and malicious damage to property. His most recent collar was in 2003, when he faced murder, attempted murder and kidnapping charges, the news station reported.

Here is a photo of Jantjie standing next to the President. 

And for good measure, SNL mocking the incident.

ICYMI: Trey Gowdy Destroys Director of Secret Service Over 2011 Shooting Incident

Yesterday Secret Service Director Julia Pierson fielded questions from furious and skeptical lawmakers after a number of serious failures by the agency to properly protect the President. Pierson started her testimony by saying she "takes full responsibility" for the failures, especially the most recent incident of fence jumper Omar Gonzales making it all the way inside the White House, but failed to answer a number of questions. 

Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy questioned Pierson on a shooting incident that occurred at the White House in 2011. Pierson failed to provide adequate answers as to why that incident was first classified as simply backfire from a car after agents drew their weapons, smelled gun powder and why it was left to a housekeeper to find broken glass and evidence of a shooting. Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez was eventually arrested for the shooting. More background:

A federal judge in Washington sentenced Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez on Monday.

Prosecutors had asked he spend 27 1/2 years in prison for the shooting. No one was injured, but prosecutors say Ortega-Hernandez hit the executive mansion about eight times and did nearly $100,000 in damage.

Ortega-Hernandez's lawyers argued he was suffering from extreme depression and mental stress at the time of the shooting and was under the misguided belief that Armageddon was coming. They asked for a 10-year sentence.

Gowdy asked Pierson to explain why a housekeeper was able to find evidence of a shooting while agents failed to search the premise. Pierson responded by saying the incident occurred at night and that "it's difficult to see at night."

Reporter 'Creeped Out' by Obama Aide

The White House was recently accused of changing press pool reports and pressuring journalists to modify their stories. And now, another journalist has been told what to do by an Obama aide.

Read more on the White House's paranoid control over the press.

Meg Kissinger, a reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for 35 years, was covering Michelle Obama's campaign visit for Wisconsin gubernatorial Democratic candidate, Mary Burke. She was told by aides for the first lady that she could not talk to people in the crowd.

Take a look at Kissinger's Twitter and Facebook posts:

Meg is spot on! "This is what reporters do in America: we speak to people." One of the key elements to journalistic storytelling is reaction. What do the people like? What did the people not like?

The Obama staff's continued shady behavior with the press has got to stop. What a random crowd member at a campaign event might say to reporters should be the least of their worries (or so you would think). The uncontrollable nature of interviewing people in the audience must have been unsettling for the Obama aides. It seems to me like they were on edge because they couldn't manipulate or stage the person being interview. What a shame.

Barely a Third of Democrat Congressional Candidates Support Obamacare

As we rapidly approach the one year anniversary of Obamacare's implementation and the horrendous launch of HealthCare.gov, a new report from the Brookings Institution shows that Democrat candidates for Congress aren't exactly embracing the law—in fact, most are avoiding it entirely.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Brookings Institution

We coded candidates as supporting the Affordable Care Act if they lauded the bill or its effects. We coded candidates advocating to repeal or fully replace the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”) as opposing it. Candidates with “Complicated Positions” included those that forwarded moderated positions (i.e. the Act needs to be fixed or simply delayed), as well as those with positions outside the scope of the question (e.g. advocating for single-payer health care). Finally, if the candidate did not mention President Obama’s health reforms they were coded as “No Information.”

I think it's significantly interesting that approximately 79 percent of Republican candidates for Congress are discussing the law, as opposed to only roughly 63 percent of Democrats discussing President Obama's flagship piece of legislation. While it's fairly obvious that many Republicans are opposed to Obamacare, I think it's more telling that a sizable chunk of Democrats are not even willing to discuss their feelings about it to avoid frightening voters. With public opinion polls showing that more than half of Americans are opposed to Obamacare, can you really blame them?

As Snyder Launches Town Hall Tour, Michelle Obama Plans To Stump For Schauer

Yesterday, Gov. Rick Snyder launched his town hall tour in Kalamazoo, which will be focused on touting the accomplishments his administration has made in Michigan. It will also be a forum for voters to discuss issues that matter to them most and what Gov. Snyder will do if re-elected this November.

Recently, Snyder released this ad featuring Linda Thaler, a retired teacher, who says that Snyder increased funding for education programs and “shored up” pensions for teachers. As an educator for 31 years, Thaler says she’s confident in Snyder’s record on education. But Democrats might have some fun cutting into it since Thaler is Snyder’s vacation home neighbor at Gun Lake.

Nevertheless, besides education, poor infrastructure will probably come up during this tour –and in the debates–as Michigan voters may not be willing for pay for a new gas tax; a tax Schauer hasn’t really ruled out on the campaign trail, according to the Detroit Free Press:

When Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer took questions during a recent visit to a union hall in suburban Detroit, meat cutter Jim Mesich brought up a long source of frustration for Michigan drivers: crummy roads.

Why not, he asked Schauer, repeal a business tax cut and put all the money toward improving roads? Better that, he said, than asking "common guys" to pay more at the pump.

Schauer criticized Republican Gov. Rick Snyder for being unable to persuade the GOP-led Legislature to pass a road-funding fix and said Snyder's "trying to raise taxes on you" through proposed higher gasoline and vehicle registration taxes. But Schauer was less specific in detailing how he as governor would raise the minimum $1.2 billion more a year that Snyder said is needed to avoid drastic deterioration of roads and bridges.

Schauer, who voted for Michigan's last state gas tax hike as a freshman lawmaker in 1997, may be leaving the door open to another one. He criticized the idea when unveiling his jobs plan in July, but when asked this month by The Associated Press if he was ruling out gas tax or license plate fee increases, he said: "I'm just saying we have to do this fairly."

Both gubernatorial candidates agree something must be done.

In the meantime, Michelle Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie plan to visit The Great Lake State this fall to stump for their party’s candidates; Christie was there last Friday as part of his month-long tour across the country campaigning for GOP gubernatorial candidates. Christie, along with Snyder, met with a group of entrepreneurs in a local coffee house that drew some protestors. "I love campaigning for candidates who have protestors. That means they're doing something," Christie said. He later attended a fundraiser for Snyder later that afternoon. As for Michelle Obama’s visit to help out Mark Schauer and Senate candidate Gary Peters, that’s to be determined.

Concerning engaging voters, Schauer and Snyder are heavily utilizing social media, although experts say they could be doing more. Snyder’s presence is described as “gubernatorial, positive, and slightly nerdy,” while his Schauer is “in attack mode, edgier, engaging, and often negative” (via Detroit Free Press):

"Both are very engaged, but they're using very different methods," said Nick De Leeuw, communications director for the public relations firm Resch Strategies and a Republican political operative. "They couldn't be more different."

"Schauer is far more aggressive than Snyder is in several ways right now, which kind of goes with his whole campaign," said Graham Davis, who is director of digital media at the public relations firm Truscott Rossman in Detroit and formerly handled social media for Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

De Leeuw, Davis and other social media experts say Snyder and Schauer are both doing a solid but unspectacular job of covering the basics on what is becoming an increasingly important element of election campaigns.

"Both are doing very well playing to their bases," said Kristin Sokul, a senior account manager at the Tanner Friedman public relations firm in Farmington Hills.

Both Snyder and Schauer are active on Facebook and Twitter and have YouTube channels where they post their campaign ads and some media interviews.

On the campaign side, Schauer has the numerical edge on social media with close to 40,000 likes on Facebook and more than 5,000 followers on Twitter, compared with more than 18,000 Facebook likes and fewer than 4,000 Twitter followers for Snyder.

But those numbers don't tell the whole story. Snyder also has Facebook and Twitter accounts he uses as governor, which by law can't be used for campaign purposes but do feature posts about government accomplishments. On his official sites, Snyder is ahead of Schauer with close to 60,000 Facebook likes and close to 38,000 Twitter followers. As governor, he also is active on Instagram and Google Plus, where he's held "Google Plus hang-outs" — online group chat sessions that can include voice and video — and has more than 308,000 followers on his official governor site.

"The official (social media) efforts provide a big boost to the campaign," De Leeuw said. In many ways, "the message is the same."

By the numbers, the Press added that Schauer has spent $150,000 on online advertising, $65,000 on Facebook, and $52,000 on Google. Snyder has spent $125,000 on social media engagement, with $15,000 going to Google and $7,000 on Facebook.

BREAKING: First Confirmed Case of Ebola U.S.

UPDATE 5:50: According to the CDC, the patient being treated came back from Liberia after attending a funeral on September 19. The patient's symptoms started on September 24 and hospitalization began on September 28 in Dallas. Several family members to the patient may have been exposed. Because the patient did not get sick until four days after getting off the airplane, nobody who flew with the patient is at risk. CDC Director Tom Frieden said during a press conference this afternoon, "There is no doubt in my mind that we will stop it here." 

"The bottom line here is that I have no doubt that we will control this case of Ebola so that it does not spread widely inside the U.S." he added.

The CDC has had a plan in place for awhile now about how to deal with a case should one show up in the U.S.

"We are well prepared to deal with this crisis," a health official said.

Ebola is not transmitted through the air, but only through direct contact with bodily fluids. It can be killed by soap. CDC goals moving forward include the following: 

-To care for the patient. 

-To provide the most effective care possible and safety possible to minimize spread of the virus

-Identify all people the patient was in contact with while infectious.

5:00 pm ET: The first case of Ebola in the United States has been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control. More from CNN

A patient being treated at a Dallas, Texas, hospital is the first case of Ebola virus diagnosed in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday.

Several other Americans were diagnosed in West Africa and then brought to the United States for treatment.

Two weeks ago, President Obama announced he was sending U.S. troops to West Africa to combat the spread of the virus. He has also announced partnerships with multiple countries to combat the deadly disease. Officials have expressed concern about the virus mutating into an airborne illness.

A CDC press conference is scheduled for 5:30 pm ET.

This post has been updated.

Confirmed: Obama Couldn't Have Been Surprised by Iraq's Meltdown


Yes, I'm going to continue hammering on this issue because the Commander-in-Chief cannot be allowed to skate by with baseless deflections of blame as a means of papering over his own grave errors in judgment.  The president accuses a detached "they" of misjudging the frightening rise of ISIS, which was a direct result of America's premature and total withdrawal from Iraq.  The chief White House spokesman insists that if the president underestimated the threat, it was because "everybody" had done the same.  But that's not true.  The Washington Free Beacon has produced a montage of relevant public warnings and assessments from high-ranking officials, spanning two administrations and seven years:


Again, that's just what was said in public -- and the clip doesn't include additional quotes from sources like former DIA director Michael Flynn or the State Department's Brett McGurk .  It's simply inconceivable that Obama wasn't privy to frank private assessments.  Indeed, CBS News' Norah O'Donnell describes intelligence officials "bristling" at the president's assessment of blame, pointing to a "paper trail" of threat assessments:


While he was certainly aware of big-picture risks, the question of whether President Obama was up-to-date on all available intelligence regarding ISIS and Iraq remains open.  Katie linked to a new report that reveals that Obama has skipped more than half of his 2014 in-person Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs).  When similar figures were released in 2012, his aides assured reporters that the president pores over the written PDB's every day, but that brings us back to the comment from an ex-intelligence official in the Daily Beast: “Either the president doesn’t read the intelligence he’s getting or he’s bullshitting.”  The New York Times offers a deep-dive into the administration's failures and lengthy periods of paralysis on ISIS, painting a picture of a distracted and diffident White House -- which is par for the course regarding Obama and Iraq):

By late last year, classified American intelligence reports painted an increasingly ominous picture of a growing threat from Sunni extremists in Syria, according to senior intelligence and military officials. Just as worrisome, they said, were reports of deteriorating readiness and morale among troops next door in Iraq. But the reports, they said, generated little attention in a White House consumed with multiple brush fires and reluctant to be drawn back into Iraq. “Some of us were pushing the reporting, but the White House just didn’t pay attention to it,” said a senior American intelligence official. “They were preoccupied with other crises,” the official added. “This just wasn’t a big priority.” ... In interviews in recent weeks, administration officials privately agreed that they had not focused enough on the Islamic State’s territorial ambitions but said they were hamstrung in responding by an Iraqi government that was fanning the sectarian divide that helped give rise to the Sunni extremists in the first place...The Islamic State was born out of the ashes of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which was crippled by the time Mr. Obama withdrew American forces from Iraq at the end of 2011.

Victory squandered; gains reversed.  And then some.  The UK Daily Mail quotes unnamed national security officials within the administration pushing back against Obama's blamestorming, noting that the intel trail on ISIS dates back to pre-election 2012.  McClatchy published a similar report in July.

Is This Vulnerable Senate Democrat Dodging Debates?

Certainly, the Brown campaign has insinuated as much. The Boston Herald has the scoop:

Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen and GOP challenger Scott Brown yesterday engaged in long-distance warfare in their U.S. Senate battle as Shaheen launched a new attack on Brown but refused to do it face-to-face. Brown, the former Massachusetts senator, appeared at Franklin Pierce University for what was originally slated as a Senate faceoff, one of several election debates co-sponsored by the Marlin Fitzwater Center for Communication, but he ended up being alone on stage because Shaheen had declined to show up.

“I am disappointed,” Brown said in a talk to first-time voters. Shaheen also is refusing to appear on stage with Brown in another planned debate next month sponsored by the Manchester and Nashua Chambers of Commerce, debate organizers reportedly confirmed yesterday.

In fairness, Team Shaheen maintains they declined the invitation to debate yesterday -- and next month -- because they have already acquiesced to three separate, state-televised debates before voters cast their ballots. So it's not as if the New Hampshire Democrat is totally running scared and hiding from the public. Voters, for their part, will ultimately decide whether she is or not.

On the other hand, her refusal to host open (i.e., non-"telephone") town hall-style meetings -- or agree to more debates, as the Brown camp has proposed -- is telling. Perhaps voting with the president 98 percent of the time, supporting amnesty, and distinguishing herself as the deciding vote for Obamacare are facts that can be better hidden by shunning the limelight.

By no means, however, is Shaheen the only Senate Democrat avoiding public debates. Other vulnerable incumbents have boldly followed suit, one of whom experienced some rather ugly and embarrassing headlines in his hometown newspaper for doing so.

Still, maybe Senate Democrats believe infuriating their constituents is a price worth paying to avoid tough questions. But even if it is, such strategies rarely go unnoticed.

Movie Producer Shares Personal Decision to Produce Faith-Based Film ‘The Good Lie’

The Lost Boys of Sudan are not your typical leading men. But, their painful yet powerful story is the focus of a new film creating some buzz in Hollywood. “The Good Lie” follows the lives of three Sudanese refugees who escape their home country during the brutal Second Civil War to come to America. The film stars newcomers Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany and Emmanuel Jal, who are actual Sudanese actors. Duany was once a Lost Boy before becoming a model and Jal is a hip-hop artist who was a child soldier in Sudan. Reese Witherspoon also stars as the employment agency counselor who helps the refugees acclimate to their new life in America. 

As you can tell, the story is pretty unique to Hollywood, which often cranks out sappy romantic comedies and action-packed thrillers. But, it was the Lost Boys’ inspiring and personally touching story that encouraged producer Molly Smith to sign on to the project. She spoke to Townhall about her emotional decision.

Faith plays a role in this film and that’s not something we typically see in the theater. That seemed to be a trend this year, with films like “Heaven is for Real” and the “Son of God” movie. Do you think this is an indication that there is more of a demand for faith-based films?

“Absolutely. I think it’s a direct answer to that and I think it’s really that these audiences are craving entertainment. This film and story of the Lost Boys is an incredible story of faith and has all of the values I feel will appeal to faith-based audiences.”

You’ve talked about how your own family adopted a Lost Boy from Sudan when you were younger. Can you talk about how much of a role this personal experience played in your decision to produce the film?

“I was really lucky to know some of the Lost Boys that came over and were resettled in Memphis, Tennessee, where I’m from. My sister actually met three of the guys three months after their arrival, at church and invited them to our holidays that year with my family. One of them in particular, a guy named Joseph Atem, just really became instantly a part of our family. He’s a wonderful guy and worked several jobs, trying to save up to go to school and my parents ended up helping him achieve that. He went to Christian Brothers University in Memphis and he’s now a Ph.D. engineer. He’s just an incredible guy and when I got the script I was really touched to be reading his story and felt kind of like it was fate. It came at the perfect time when my partners and I were in a new indie production company and we felt like we had to make this our first film.”

I’m sure Joseph learned a lot from you and your family, but is there one thing you learned from him?

“His spirit. To have gone through – this is what I’ve learned from so many of the Lost Boys – to have gone through what they’ve gone through and their journey, and the fact that they are here, with a huge smile on their face and inspired, wanting to learn more every day and work harder. It really is his spirit and work ethic that has touched me in a huge way.”

Why should audience goers choose this film over the typical chick flick or something like that?

“It’s rare a film can be entertaining but also educational and inspiring. I think, I hope this film has all of that in one. You leave this film, it’s really kind of an emotional experience this movie and when you see the film you’ll see what I mean. But, the screenwriter really does a really beautiful job of taking you on their journey with them as children and I think it’s unique in that way. And also, she told it in a way that there is a lot of humor in the film too. I think people expect when they hear ‘Lost Boys of Sudan’ something really heavy, but it’s also a really entertaining, fun film as well and so I hope audiences will respond to that.”

The film is rated PG-13, but would you say this is a film for the whole family?

“I do believe it’s a film for the whole family. The only reason it’s PG-13 is some obvious violence in the beginning of their journey. These are children of war. But I do believe it’s absolutely for the whole family and you know we have been screening for children and audiences and they’ve loved the film. It’s educational.”

This film is similar to "The Blind Side" in that it also has an inspiring message. Are these the kinds of films you prefer choosing over other films?

“I like stories that are going to move you in one way or another into an emotional experience and you know I guess I’m drawn and my partners and I are drawn to stories with heart and stories with substance, and this was certainly one of that.”

Any new projects?

“We’ve got a film in production right now called 'Demolition,' with Jake Gyllenhaal and Jean-Marc Vallee, who did 'Dallas Buyers Club' and 'Wild' and we’re shooting that currently in New York. We’ve got a couple things in the works that’s in production now."

Kudos to Smith for continually choosing to produce films that offer audiences more than explosions. ‘The Good Lie’ is packed with substance and heart. It opens October 3 - make sure to set a family date for this one.

For more insight into the presence of faith in Hollywood, read "Lights! Camera! Evangelism!," which was featured in the June issue of Townhall Magazine.

Oof: Alaska Gubernatorial Candidate Declines to Reciprocate Begich Endorsement


Well, this is awkward. Sen. Mark Begich is fighting for his political life up in Alaska, where he's trailed Republican challenger Dan Sullivan in the last four public polls.  At a recent candidate forum, the man with whom Begich will (sort of, see below) appear at the top of the ticket clumsily side-stepped a question about the state's US Senate race. After Republican Gov. Sean Parnell told the audience he'll be backing Sullivan for Senate, challenger Bill Walker was...noncommittal:


Question: I'd be interested in who each of you plan to vote for Senate.

Parnell: I'm voting for Dan Sullivan for US Senate. [Applause]

Walker: "I've heard that question asked in more creative ways, like what sign would be in our yard? The sign in my yard is going to be the Walker/Mallott for Governor and Lt. Governor sign, so that's what I'm going to say about that."

Walker, himself a (former?) Republican, is a running on an independent so-called "unity ticket" alongside a Democratic running mate.  His prospects depend on attracting enough Republican voters to oust the sitting GOP incumbent, so embracing Begich would be a major tactical error.  It would very well be the case that Walker's a Sullivan supporter, while his ticket-mate will vote for Begich.  Hence the maladroit evasion.  It's also not in the Walker/Mallott team's interests to tie themselves to a Democratic incumbent who's voted with an unpopular president 97 percent of the time. Begich has endorsed Walker; it appears the favor will not be returned.  Meanwhile, Begich is still fighting off criticisms over a highly controversial attack ad aired, then pulled, by his campaign, which has been denounced by everyone from Republicans to Jon Stewart.  The spot dishonestly tried to tie Dan Sullivan to an unspeakably brutal crime.  Politico explains the context:


The crime occurred in 2013. Jerry Active, who is charged with murdering the elderly couple and raping the young girl, had been released from prison after serving four years as part of a plea deal stemming from a 2009 sexual assault. The plea deal for the 2009 incident, arranged by prosecutors who worked under Sullivan, happened because of a clerical error that took place before Sullivan became attorney general. Sullivan was still on active duty in the Marines when the incorrect information was entered into the computer.

So the plea deal in question was rooted in a mistake that took place while Dan Sullivan was away from Alaska, serving the country in the Marines. He had nothing to do with it.  Oops. It also turns out that Begich didn't seek permission from the victims' family to highlight the crime in his advertisement, prompting an irate letter from the family's attorney.  In a contentious interview on local radio this week, Begich was pressed on whether he'd apologized to the grieving family for dragging their tragedy into the Senate race.  The Senator tried to deflect the question ("we're not going there") before finally admitting that he "didn't personally" apologize, sending an emissary instead:


I'll leave you with a few notes from other hot Senate races.  Mitch McConnell is out with a new, positive ad in Kentucky:


Colorado's Mark Udall, who's getting hammered for voting with President Obama 99 percent of the time, has already pledged to throw his full backing behind Obama's new Attorney General nominee...who hasn't been named yet.  He's pre-pledging blind support for whomever Obama nominates.  The definition of an unthinking rubber stamp:


And in Arkansas, a Tom Cotton commercial highlights the deleterious impact Obamacare is having on a local business, noting that Mark Pryor cast the deciding vote for the law:


A new poll out of North Carolina shows the Tar Hell State's Senate race virtually tied at (41/40), though Kay Hagan opens up a modest edge when leaners are pushed one way or the other.  The electoral models are looking good for Republicans at the moment, but it appears as though the GOP is once again getting swamped with ground game spending:

Science Proves Limited Government is the Best

He almost certainly did not intend to do so, but National Journal's Brian Resnick has written an article inadvertently making the case for limited government. Under the header, "The Battle for Your Brain: We're partisans by nature, and once we pick a side, we see the world in red and blue," Resnick writes:

America's partisan divide is as old as America's democracy. And it's neither feasible nor desirable to hope for a national consensus on every issue. Even if we all worked from the same set of facts, and even if we all understood those facts perfectly, differences of opinion would—and should—remain. Those opinions are not the problem. The trouble is when we're so blinded by our partisanship that it overrides reason—and research suggests that is happening all the time.

With just a hint of partisan priming, an Arizona State University researcher was able to instantly blind Democrats to a noncontroversial fact, leading them immediately to fail to solve the easiest of math problems. In the 2010 experiment, political scientist Mark Ramirez asked subjects two similar questions. The control group saw this question: "Would you say that compared to 2008, the level of unemployment in this country has gotten better, stayed the same, or gotten worse?" A separate group saw this one: "Would you say that the level of unemployment in this country has gotten better, stayed the same, or gotten worse since Barack Obama was elected President?"

The key difference between the two: the first mentions the time period for assessing unemployment, while the second frames the issue around President Obama. When asked the first question, Democrats and Republicans responded similarly, with most saying unemployment had remained about the same. But among subjects who got the second question, opinions shifted along partisan lines: Around 60 percent of Democrats said unemployment had gotten better or somewhat better, and about 75 percent of Republicans said the opposite.

In fact, the unemployment rate increased between Obama's election and Ramirez's study. ... Essentially, once Democrats focused on Obama, most of them largely ignored the facts.

(emphasis added)

This is not meant to be a hit on Democrats. Resnick does not mention it, but Republicans are almost certainly just as likely to ignore inconvenient facts when primed to think politically too.

But the fact that politics primes humans to let tribalism overcome their rational thinking suggests that maybe politics is not the best way to coordinate human behavior. Maybe the government, particularly the federal government, should not be so active in so many areas of American life. Maybe markets are better, not perfect but better, at incentivizing rationale human thinking.

In fact, Resnick accidentally reports this is just the case. Later in the article he writes:

There's an easier way to help people look past their innate partisanship: Pay them to do it.

A 2013 study out of Princeton found that monetary incentives attenuate the partisan gap in answers to questions about the economy. The researchers designed an experiment similar to Ramirez's unemployment study but with a modification: Some participants were plainly informed, "We will pay you for answering correctly." All it took was $1 or $2 to dramatically improve the chances of a right answer, cutting the partisan gap between Republicans and Democrats in half—half!

Imagine that: When people are offered monetary incentives to recognize the reality around them, they tend to see the world more accurately, and less tribally. 

Maybe policy makers should work harder at not politicizing everything and let Americans organize more of what they do voluntarily.

 

Election Models: 2014 Could be Good Year For Senate Republicans

Without glazing over the fact that Republicans could surprise no one and blow this historic opportunity, three separate election models indicate that the GOP’s chances of demoting Harry Reid and reclaiming majority control of the U.S. Senate have improved markedly over the past few days. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza reports:

The most bullish model for Republicans is Washington Post's Election Lab, which, as of Monday morning, gives the GOP a 76 percent chance of winning the majority. Leo, the New York Times model, pegs it at 67 percent while FiveThirtyEight shows Republicans with a 60 percent probability. A week ago, Election Lab gave Republicans a 65 percent chance of winning the majority, Leo put it a 55 percent and FiveThirtyEight had it just under 55 percent.

All three models give Republicans very strong odds of winning the open seats in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia as well as beating Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.). That would net Republicans five seats, one short of the number they need for the majority.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Republicans pick up all five of those seats. They may not, but let’s say they do. They would therefore need to pick up just one more to effectively end the Obama presidency from a legislative standpoint. After all, any meaningful legislation he'd hope to sign into law would need to pass both chambers of Congress -- and how likely is that to happen if Republicans are in control?

That being said, outside of Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Louisiana, there are several states where Republicans are gaining steam. Republican hopeful Joni Ernst in Iowa has widened the gap in her race significantly while Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK) and Mark Udall (D-CO) are faltering. (Udall’s gaffes and Begich’s scurrilous attack ads have damaged them both). And while Republican hopefuls in North Carolina and New Hampshire are currently behind, those races are tightening too.

Nonetheless, given these three election models have changed so drastically over a 7-day window, perhaps we shouldn't read too much into them. But with campaign season in full swing and Election Day mere weeks away, at least the experts broadly agree the trends are moving in the right direction.