Obama mulls making vets foot bill for service injuries

Obama mulls making vets foot bill for service injuries

McCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS

WASHINGTON – WASHINGTON—The Obama administration is considering making veterans use private insurance to pay for treatment of combat and service-related injuries. The plan would be an about-face on what veterans believe is a long-standing pledge to pay for health care costs that result from their military service.

But in a White House meeting Monday, veterans groups apparently failed to persuade President Obama to take the plan off the table.

“Veterans of all generations agree that this proposal is bad for the country and bad for veterans,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “If the president and the OMB [Office of Management and Budget] want to cut costs, they can start at AIG, not the VA.”

Under current policy, veterans are responsible for health care costs that are unrelated to their military service. Exceptions in some cases can be made for veterans who do not have private insurance or are 100 percent disabled.

The president spoke Monday at the Department of Veterans Affairs to commemorate its 20th anniversary and said he hopes to increase funding by $25 billion over the next five years. But he said nothing about the plan to bill private insurers for service-related medical care.

Few details about the plan have been available, and a VA spokesman did not provide additional information. But the reaction on Capitol Hill to the idea has been swift and harsh.

“Dead on arrival” is how Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington described the idea.

“ . . . when our troops are injured while serving our country, we should take care of those injuries completely,” Murray, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, told a hearing last week.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki said at the same hearing that the plan was “a consideration.” He also acknowledged that the VA’s proposed budget for next year included it as a way to increase revenue. But he told the committee that “a final decision hasn’t been made yet.”

For veterans, that was little comfort.

Veterans claim that the costs of treating expensive war injuries could raise their insurance costs, as well as those for their employers. Some worried that it also could make it more difficult for disabled veterans to find work.

The leaders of several veterans groups had written Obama last month complaining about the new plan. “There is simply no logical explanation for billing a veteran’s personal insurance for care that the VA has a responsibility to provide,” they wrote.

Many veterans had high expectations for Obama after years of battling the Bush administration over benefit cuts and medical concerns such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

But the VA’s decision to float a potential change in its policy of paying for service-related injuries could signal a quick end to the honeymoon.

“It’s a betrayal,” said Joe Violante, legislative director of Disabled American Veterans, which signed the letter to Obama. “My insurance company didn’t send me to Vietnam, my government did. The same holds true for men and women now fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s the government’s responsibility.”

Meanwhile, a new poll by the independent Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has found Obama’s approval rating falling to 59 percent from 64 percent in February. It also found the ranks of Americans who disapprove of his job performance rising, to 26 percent from 17 percent.

Pew found that 44 percent think that the president listens more to liberals than to moderates in his party, while 30 percent think he listens more to moderates. In January, 44 percent thought he listened more to moderates and 34 percent more to liberals.

Obama: destroying human life for the ‘greater good’

Obama: destroying human life for the ‘greater good’

By Chris Banescu

On March 9th President Obama’s executive order reversed the Bush administration’s long-standing restrictions on using federal funds for embryonic stem cells research and authorized the destruction of live human embryos in medical experimentation. The administration ignored the promising results from adult stem cell therapies.  It reopened a Pandora’s Box of bioethical concerns and raised vocal opposition from many Christian leaders, including 191 Catholic bishops.

 

Science is on the side of embryonic stem cell research, the president argued. Linking fetal stem cells experiments with “scientific integrity” in the order titled “Signing of Stem Cell Executive Order and Scientific Integrity”, Obama proclaimed:

 

“will lift the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell research.  We will vigorously support scientists who pursue this research.  And we will aim for America to lead the world in the discoveries it one day may yield.”

 

But is the grandiose promise and lofty language supported by the facts?

 

Adult vs. Embryonic Stem Cells

 

Stem cell research focuses on both adult (somatic) stem cells and embryonic stem cells.  Adult stem cells are undifferentiated cells, found inside the tissues and organs of the body, that are capable of regenerating damaged tissue or self-renewing indefinitely.  Under the right conditions, these cells have the potential to transform themselves into any other cell type. 

 

Embryonic stem cells, as the name suggests, are derived from embryos.  This process requires the harvesting and destruction of live human embryos that have been fertilized in vitro and then destroyed at the blastocyst stage, about four to five days into development.

 

Experimentation using adult stem cells raises no moral issues since no embryo is destroyed. Embryonic stem cells research on the other hand, requires the creation and destruction of living embryos and is fraught with moral difficulty.  That’s why almost half of all Americans oppose it, many scientists and doctors have gone on the record to express their deep misgivings about the procedure, and why religious leaders condemn it.
 

Adult vs. Embryonic Stem Cells

The Catholic Church (1.1 billion members world-wide), the Baptist churches (38 million believers), and the Orthodox Church (225 million faithful) condemn all forms of embryonic stem cell research.

 

In June of 2008, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), in a statement devoted exclusively to the issue of embryonic stem cell research, reiterated the Church’s long-standing belief that human life is a precious gift from God and deserves protection and the greatest respect.  The hierarchs condemned the direct killing of innocent “embryonic human beings” in the interest of research and opposed the use of taxpayer funds to support such policies.  The USCCB statement made it very clear that harvesting embryonic cells is a deliberate act that kills human life, a “gravely immoral act.” (US Conference of Catholic Bishops, On Embryonic Stem Cell Research)
In October 2001, the Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), in a statement titled “Embryonic Stem Cell Research in the Perspective of Orthodox Christianity”, also affirmed the sanctity of all human life, created in the image of God, which begins at the moment of conception.  The Orthodox bishops denounced any research based on the destruction of embryonic cells, regardless of its potential benefits. (OCA, Embryonic Stem Cell Research in the Perspective of Orthodox Christianity)   The Church’s position is clear that a live embryo is human life and not just a “clump of cells.”  Destroying them to extract stem cells for research purposes is “morally and ethically wrong in every instance.” (OCA, Orthodox Church & Stem Cell Research)  

 

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), also denounced Obama’s decision as a “sad day for the sanctity of all human life in America.”  Mr. Land labeled the president’s action “open season on unborn babies” for endorsing  the destruction of human life for the purpose of harvesting of cells and tissues in the interests of science.

 

From a moral standpoint, adult stem cells clearly provide the least controversial solution. But what about the science?  Which approach has shown the most promise and provided the better medical results? 

 

Adult Stem Cells Research: The Proven Medical Alternative

 

In 2007, the Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics compiled and published a paper showing the impressive success of adult stem cell therapies. Titled “Peer-Reviewed References List Showing Applications of Adult Stem Cells that Produce Therapeutic Benefit to Human Patients,”  The report documented over 70 treatments and 1,300 human clinical trials for adult stem cells research. 

 

As of April 2007, adult stem cells research had produced treatments for approximately 26 types of cancers, 19 auto-immune diseases, 2 cardiovascular and 1 ocular problems, 3 immunodeficiencies, 3 neural degenerative diseases and injuries, 10 anemias and other blood conditions, 4 wounds and injuries, 5 different metabolic disorders, 2 types of liver disease, and 1 bladder disease.  On the other hand, no embryonic stem cells research had made it past the animal testing phase.  

 

A summary score card of these findings (adult stem cells = 70, embryonic stem cells = 0) is available here

 

A brief overview of the available studies and articles published since April 2007, point to continuing successes and advances in the field. 

 

[Adult] Stem cell breakthrough gives new hope to sufferers of muscle-wasting diseases – Mar. 9, 2009

 

 

[Adult] Stem Cell Breakthrough Could Solve Ethical Dilemmas – Mar. 2, 2009

 

Adult Stem Cell Research Reverses Effects of Parkinson’s Disease in Human Trial – Feb. 16, 2009

 

[Adult] Stem Cells Reset Immune System in Multiple Sclerosis Patients – Jan. 29, 2009

 

Adult Stem Cell Breakthrough: First Tissue-engineered Trachea Successfully Transplanted – Nov. 18, 2008

 

The suitability of adult stem cells for potential cures and the many medical successes have attracted significant financial support from private companies, universities, and venture capitalists.  The same cannot be said about embryonic stem cells experimentation.  This is due to the lack of any medical evidence where a malady has been healed using embryonic stem cells, the difficult ethical and moral issues raised, and the tendency of these treatments to produce tumors as a side effect, including the recent discovery of brain and spinal cord tumors in a young man in Israel undergoing fetal stem cell therapy.

 

The lack of private capital is the reason embryonic stem cell advocates are beating down the doors of government.  In his criticism of California’s Proposition 71 (which authorized $3 billion of state funds to support embryonic experimentation), social ethicist Wesley J. Smith explained:

 

Think about it.  If this were really likely to bring about cures any time soon, you would have to beat venture capitalists away with a stick.  But the money to pay for cloning and embryonic stem cell research is not flowing from the private sector, so they want the public to pay for the research with borrowed money that is not accountable to the legislature.

 

Obama’s support of embryonic stem cell research is ideologically driven. The facts don’t support his promises or claims of scientific integrity.  By lifting the federal ban he endorses highly speculative and unproven experimentation, using taxpayer dollars to fund it.  His words ring with pseudo-religious fervor.

 

Even Nicholas Wade, writing in the New York Times, hinted that Obama’s adamant endorsement of embryonic stem cells experimentation is misguided.  In a March 10, 2009 article titled “Rethink Stem Cells? Science Already Has” the NYT questioned the need for embryonic research when better advances have been made using adult cells that can be “reprogrammed to an embryonic state with surprising ease”.  According to Dr. Kriegstein the advances made by biologist Shinya Yamanaka from Japan in reprogramming these cells, may “eventually eclipse the embryonic stem cell lines for therapeutic as well as diagnostics applications.”

 

In a surprising twist from the left-leaning paper, it also admitted that:

 

Despite an F.D.A.-approved safety test of embryonic stem cells in spinal cord injury that the Geron Corporation began in January, many scientists believe that putting stem-cell-derived tissues into patients lies a long way off. Embryonic stem cells have their drawbacks. They cause tumors, and the adult cells derived from them may be rejected by the patient’s immune system. Furthermore, whatever disease process caused the patients’ tissue cells to die is likely to kill introduced cells as well. All these problems may be solvable, but so far none have been solved.”

 

Coming on the heels of the promise last month to overturn the “conscience clause” that prevents pro-life hospitals and doctors from being forced to perform abortions, Obama’s lifting of the ban on federal funds for embryonic stem cell research is a troubling sign. Protecting life in its earliest stages and ignoring those who seek to protect it, takes a back seat to the designs of social utilitarians in this new administration.  We’ve heard the promises before, some from leaders we would rather forget.

Chris Banescu is an attorney, entrepreneur, and university professor.  He blogs at chrisbanescu.com/blog.

Barack Obama’s Newest Spiritual Advisor

Barack Obama’s Newest Spiritual Advisor

By DiscoverTheNetworks.org
FrontPageMagazine.com | 3/17/2009

 

 

 

Now that he no longer draws spiritual succor from Jeremiah Wright—the America-hating, racist demagogue who served as his pastor and spiritual mentor for twenty years—Barack Obama has turned elsewhere for guidance in the task of carrying out his political duties while remaining true to his religious values.

 

The most notable of his spiritual advisors today is his friend of many years, Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of the Sojourners organization. Says Wallis, “We’ve [he and Obama] been talking faith and politics for a long time.”

Who is Jim Wallis? According to The New York Times, Wallis “leans left on some issues” but overall is a “centrist, social justice” kind of guy. But a closer look at Wallis’s background reveals him to be nearly as radical, if better at disguising the fact, as Jeremiah Wright.

As a teenager in the 1960s, Wallis joined the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement. His participation in peace protests nearly resulted in his expulsion from the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois, a Christian seminary where he was then enrolled. While at Trinity, Wallis founded an anti-capitalism magazine called the Post-American, which identified wealth redistribution and government-managed economies as the keys to achieving “social justice”—a term that, as educator/journalist Barry Loberfeld has pointed out, is essentially “code for communism.”

In 1971, the 23-year-old Wallis and his Post-American colleagues changed the name of their publication to Sojourners, and in the mid-1970s they moved their base of operation from Chicago to Washington, DC, where Wallis has served as Sojourners’ editor (and leader of the eponymous organization) ever since.

Advocating America’s transformation into a socialist nation, Sojourners’ “statement of faith” exhorted people to “refuse to accept [capitalist] structures and assumptions that normalize poverty and segregate the world by class.” According to Sojourners, “gospel faith transforms our economics, gives us the power to share our bread and resources, welcomes all to the table of God’s provision, and provides a vision for social revolution.”

As one of its first acts, Sojourners formed a commune in the Washington, DC neighborhood of Southern Columbia Heights, where members shared their finances and participated in various activist campaigns that centered on attacking U.S. foreign policy, denouncing American “imperialism,” and extolling Marxist revolutionary movements in the Third World.

Giving voice to Sojourners’ intense anti-Americanism, Jim Wallis called the U.S. “the great power, the great seducer, the great captor and destroyer of human life, the great master of humanity and history in its totalitarian claims and designs.”

In parallel with his magazine’s stridently antiwar position during the Seventies, Wallis championed the cause of communism. Forgiving communism’s brutal standard-bearers in Vietnam and Cambodia the most abominable of atrocities, Wallis was, by contrast, unsparing in his execration of American military efforts. He demanded greater levels of “social justice” in the allegedly oppressive U.S., but was silent on the subject of the murderous rampages of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. In fact, several Sojourners editorials attempted to exculpate the Khmer Rouge of the charges of genocide, instead shifting blame squarely onto the United States.

Following the 1979 refugee crisis in Vietnam, Wallis lashed out at the desperate masses fleeing North Vietnam’s Communist forces by boat. These refugees, as Wallis saw it, had been “inoculated” by capitalist influences during the war and were absconding “to support their consumer habit in other lands.” Wallis then admonished critics against pointing to the boat people to “discredit” the righteousness of Vietnam’s newly victorious Communist regime.

Wallis blamed America alone for the political tensions of the Cold War era. “At each step in the Cold War,” he wrote in November 1982, “the U.S. was presented with a choice between very different but equally plausible interpretations of Soviet intentions, each of which would have led to very different responses. At every turn, U.S. policy-makers have chosen to assume the very worst about their Soviet counterparts.”

Actively embracing liberation theology, Wallis and Sojourners in the 1980s rallied to the cause of Communist regimes that had seized power in Latin America with the promise of bringing about the revolutionary restructuring of society. Particularly attractive for the ministry’s religious activists was the Communist Sandinista dictatorship that took power in Nicaragua in 1979. Wallis embarked on an editorial crusade in Sojourners to undercut public support for a confrontational U.S. foreign policy toward the spread of Communism there and elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere. Moreover, he invited the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) —the public relations arm of the El Salvadoran terrorist group the FMLN—to take part in a number of initiatives with Sojourners.

Steadfast advocates of the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s, Sojourners activists maintained that a U.S. nuclear buildup was “an intolerable evil” irreconcilably at odds with Christian teaching, and that “[t]he Reagan Administration remains the chief obstacle to the first step in stopping the arms race.” While assailing Reagan’s defense buildup, Sojourners downplayed the threat posed by the Soviet Union, chastising U.S. policy-makers for their tendency “to assume the very worst about their Soviet counterparts.”

In 1995 Wallis founded Call to Renewal, a coalition of religious groups united in the purpose of advocating, in religious terms, for leftist economic agendas such as tax hikes and wealth redistribution to promote “social justice.”

To this day, Wallis remains fiercely opposed to capitalism and the free-market system. “Our systems have failed the poor and they have failed the earth,” Wallis has said. “They have failed the creation.”

Wallis continues to lament “all the bad stuff in America—the poverty, the racism, the human rights violations, and always the wars … the arrogance, self-righteousness, materialism, and ignorance [about] the rest of the world, the habitual ignoring of the ones that God says we can’t [ignore], the ones Jesus calls the least of these.”

More than a mere religious leader, Wallis, a registered Democrat, is also an adroit political operative, publicly portraying himself as a politically neutral religious figure whose overriding allegiance is to God. Always with the disclaimer that neither major political party can claim authoritatively to represent the values of religious faith, Wallis nevertheless contends that Republican policies tend to be immoral and godless. For example, he and his ministry reviled welfare reform as a “mean-spirited Republican agenda” characterized by “hatred toward the poor.”

At the same time, Wallis actively works to promote Democratic causes. According to a March 10, 2007 Los Angeles Times report, Wallis has recently sought to re-brand traditional slogans of the religious right, like “pro-life,” to refer to such leftist agendas as working with AIDS victims in Africa or helping illegal immigrants in America achieve legal status so they can continue to live with their U.S.-born children.

But Wallis’s most passionate advocacy concerns Barack Obama. Wallis likens the new president to the Old Testament prophet Nehemiah, someone who “carefully surveyed the broken walls of the temple, called the people together to start the rebuilding and to ‘commit themselves to the common good.’” The activist preacher further gushes that the Bush administration’s allegedly unenlightened national-security strategy will “now be replaced by the wisdom of the prophet Micah—that our security depends upon other people’s security,” thereby setting the stage for America’s “new relationship to the world.”

Immediately after Obama’s January 20th inauguration, a rejoicing Wallis told The Washington Times: “My prayers for decades have been answered in this minute.” Subsequently echoing Michelle Obama’s infamous 2008 declaration, Wallis reported that Obama’s electoral victory had enabled him to feel “proud of my country for the first time in a very long time.” The country, meanwhile, may be properly concerned that the president has sought spiritual counsel from a figure as removed from the political mainstream as Jim Wallis.



Anger Over Firm Depletes Obama’s Political Capital

Anger Over Firm Depletes Obama’s Political Capital

By Michael D. Shear and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 17, 2009; A01

 

President Obama’s apparent inability to block executive bonuses at insurance giant AIG has dealt a sharp blow to his young administration and is threatening to derail both public and congressional support for his ambitious political agenda.

Politicians in both parties flocked to express outrage over $165 million in bonuses paid out to executives at the company, demanding answers from the president and swamping yesterday’s rollout of his efforts to spark lending to small businesses.

The populist anger at the executives who ran their firms into the ground is increasingly blowing back on Obama, whom aides yesterday described as having little recourse in the face of legal contracts that guaranteed those bonuses.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, peppered with questions about why the president had not done more to block the bonuses at a company that has received $170 billion in taxpayer funds, struggled for an answer yesterday afternoon. He explained that government lawyers are “looking through contracts to see what can be done to wrest these bonuses from their recipients.”

Obama himself sought to channel the public’s sense of disbelief yesterday. “How do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?” he said, declaring the bonuses an “outrage” that violate “fundamental values.”

White House aides grasped for actions that could soothe sentiment on Main Street and in the halls of Congress, where the fate of the new president’s sweeping agendas on health care, climate change and education will be decided. They suggested that the government will use its latest pledged installment of $30 billion for the ailing company to recover the millions in bonuses paid Friday.

But the damage control did not seem to satisfy incredulous lawmakers in both parties, who said the image of financial executives taking huge bonuses from a taxpayer-funded rescue puts the president in a politically impossible position.

“I warned them this would be met with an unprecedented level of outrage,” Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), the chairman of the banking committee and part of a group of senators who pressed Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to stop the bonuses, said yesterday.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said the bonus issue added to his belief that there will be almost no Republican support for any expansion of a bank-bailout program that passed Congress last fall with broad bipartisan support.

“What is the government’s exit strategy from this sweeping involvement in private business?” he asked in a statement, adding that “taxpayers are not receiving an adequate accounting from either the Treasury or the management of the companies that received taxpayer funds. Unfortunately, we have not yet seen such a plan.”

The rhetoric grew so heated yesterday that Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) suggested in a radio interview that AIG executives ought to “follow the Japanese model . . . resign, or go commit suicide.” An aide later explained he does not actually want executives to kill themselves.

More than 80 House Democrats signed a letter demanding that the money used to pay the bonuses be recouped from AIG. New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo announced that he will subpoena the Manhattan-based company, seeking data documenting who received the bonuses and the justification for them.

“You could argue that if taxpayers hadn’t bailed out AIG, the contracts wouldn’t be worth the paper they were signed on,” Cuomo said.

The Obama administration was already facing a skeptical public and members of Congress critical of the huge sums of money the government has allocated to shoring up the devastated financial system.

News of the latest AIG bonuses only compounded the political problems that the huge expenditures pose for the president. The administration has tried to manage the public anger by expressing empathy with the outrage over the large outlays to financial firms, while explaining that they are necessary to stabilize the economy.

Earlier this month, the administration added to the bailout money needed to keep AIG functioning, saying failure of the company would be disastrous for the larger economy. And the administration is all but certain to return to Congress for hundreds of billions of dollars more to aid the financial system.

But the bonus issue, in particular, is hounding Obama as he pursues his larger goals, in part because of the president’s own repeated declarations of outrage — offered again yesterday — aimed especially at the firms that are feeding at the public trough.

In February, Obama announced tough new restrictions on executive compensation that promised an end to massive salaries for executives of failing companies. Similar rules were eventually written into legislation and hailed as evidence that executive compensation would be checked.

But reports about the latest AIG bonuses quickly undermined whatever political capital Obama has earned with his past efforts.

Over the weekend, White House officials expressed outrage at the bonuses paid out by AIG but said there was nothing they could do to stop them. After news of the bonuses dominated news coverage for two days, the administration took a newly aggressive stance.

Asked why the administration is attempting to claw back the bonuses now but did not do more to block the payments earlier this month when it was authorizing the latest $30 billion in new loans to the struggling insurer, Gibbs was unresponsive.

“The administration is taking the steps today to go back and see what can be done,” he said.

Staff writers Michael A. Fletcher and Scott Wilson contributed to this report.

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