Monday, December 27, 2010

Idaho and 19 Other States Take Health-Care Fight to Florida

Posted By on Mon, Dec 27, 2010 at 11:47 AM

The legal scuffle over the Affordable Care Act isn't taking a holiday. The Obama administration and lawyers representing Idaho and 19 other states have shifted their debate to Florida.

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola heard arguments Monday from both sides on whether health-care reform exceeds legitimate federal power. Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden joined Attorneys General from other states days after the legislation became law in March, arguing it burdens state budgets and unconstitutionally compels people to buy coverage. An individual mandate and expansion of Medicaid and employer-based coverage would extend health care to 32 million more people by 2019. Mandatory coverage would start in 2014.

If you're keeping score, the administration won prior rulings from federal judges in Detroit and Lynchburg, Virginia. However on Dec. 13, a federal judge in Richmond, Virginia, invalidated the mandatory coverage portion of the Affordable Care Act. Shortly after that decision, it was reported that Virginia judge may have had a financial interest to do so.

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Kempthorne Among Invitees to New Year's Summit

Posted By on Mon, Dec 27, 2010 at 10:35 AM

What do the following people have in common:
-Former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne
-Screenwriter of "500 Days of Summer" Scott Neustadter
-Passages author Gail Sheehy
-HIV Virus discoverer Flossie Wong-Staal
-Fair Game protagonist Valerie Plame
-NPR host Scott Simon
-Sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer
-Daily Show writer Kevin Bleyer

They're among the guests of this year's iconic Renaissance Weekend in Charleston, South Carolina. The non-partisan retreat is entering its 30th year of attracting leaders from diverse fields for hundreds of lectures and seminars. This week's event will draw 1,100 participants.

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Kempthorne's resume includes Boise mayor, U.S. Senator, governor and Secretary of the Interior to Pres. George W. Bush. In Sept. November 2010, Kempthorne became president and CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers, with an estimated compensation package near $3 million.

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Eagles Put Brakes on Wind Projects

Posted By on Mon, Dec 27, 2010 at 10:00 AM

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The drive for alternative power has just run head-long into the effort to conserve wildlife.

An increasing number of wind farm projects are being put on hold while researchers look into the potential that the massive, spinning blades could do some serious damage to wildlife. Topping the list of concerns are birds, which can be struck by the blades and killed. The focus is now on golden eagles, concern for which has held up some major wind farm projects, including some in Idaho.

Because of the issue, and conflicts with laws protecting the eagles, the Bureau of Land Management has suspended issuing permits for wind projects on public land until more research can be done.

Check out the map at msnbc.com to see what projects have been impacted.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

"If Only In My Dreams," Remembering Idaho Soldiers Half a World Away

Posted By on Fri, Dec 24, 2010 at 7:30 AM

Dec. 24th may mean shopping, feasting or praying in many corners of the world, but there are still way too many young men and women in harms way. It’s “business as usual” for some 1,500 Idaho soldiers at Victory Base Complex in Baghdad, Iraq. They’re joined by 600 each from Oregon and Montana, all making up the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team. Just before winging out of Gowen Field this past September, Citydesk got a chance to meet some of the 116th, and their families who are keeping the home fires burning.

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Some of the soldiers who call Boise home have recorded video holiday greetings for family, friends and community. You can watch them by clicking on their name.

Staff Sgt. Robert Austin
Staff Sgt. Brad Fouts
Spc. Nicholas Carman
Spc. Aaron Collette
Spc. Mark Kennedy
Staff Sgt. Jared Mckenzie
Sgt. Moises Perez
Staff Sgt. Andrew Reed
1st Lt. Casey Seckel

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Obama Signs DADT Repeal, Idaho Professor: "It Lights a Path for Equality."

Posted By on Wed, Dec 22, 2010 at 2:20 PM

Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010 will go down in history as a pivotal and unprecedented milestone in the struggle for equality for lesbian gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

“This is a very good day,” said President Obama, in a moving 20 minute speech before he signed into law the Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” that for 17 years discriminated against gay members of the United States Military.

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Speaking directly to gay service members, Obama acknowledged a “particular kind of sacrifice” requiring them to, “carry the added burden of secrecy and isolation and all the while you’ve put your lives on the line for the freedoms and privileges of citizenship that are not fully granted to you.”

Although Obama said they are not the first to carry this burden, it is clear they will be the last, and called active gay service members, “role models” for those who follow them.

The president warned gays now serving that the old policy remains in place until the process of repeal is certified by him, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chmn. Admiral Mike Mullen, assuring, “We are not going to be dragging our feet to get this done.”

Once certified, there will be a 60 day waiting period before the repeal is fully implemented. Until then, gay service members may still be vulnerable of being discharged under DADT.

Addressing potential effects of the repeal is University of Idaho Professor and Constitutional Law Scholar, David Adler.
“This lights a path forward for greater protection, on both, due process and equal protection grounds found within the 5th and 14th amendments,” Adler told Citydesk

Adler says the long term ramifications may be, “more serious consideration of same-sex marriage and certainly an extension of benefits to partners, “ adding employment non-discrimination based on sexual orientation is, “another important implication in the extension of due process.”

While the repeal may not have an immediate effect, Adler said,” The practical effect of this action is that it knocks down barriers to due process and equal protection and makes it increasingly difficult for other federal agencies and state governments now to erect barriers to treating all people equally.”

“What this action means," said Adler, “Is that any effort from this point forward to engage in discrimination against gays and lesbians will have a much higher huddle to overcome because courts will use, I believe, the strict scrutiny test to justify discrimination on grounds of orientation that becomes more and more difficult by the day.

“This action,” said Adler, “does light that path forward for broader protection for all people including gays and lesbians.”

“People are going to look back at this moment, said President Obama, “and wonder why this was ever a source of controversy in the first place.”

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Senate Overwhelmingly Passes Arms Control Treaty

Posted By on Wed, Dec 22, 2010 at 2:10 PM

The early Christmas gifts just keep coming from the Obama administration. The U.S. Senate gave its approval Wednesday to a new arms control treaty with Russia.

Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch were two of 26 Republicans voting against the New Start Treaty. But 13 of their GOP brethren joined every Democrat to total 71 "yes" votes. The treaty now heads to the president for his signature, and marks the most tangible foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration to date.

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Tamarack Selects Buyer: Green Valley Holdings

Posted By on Wed, Dec 22, 2010 at 12:01 PM

$40 million, $1 million deposit. That's basically the deal Tamarack's board of directors chose as its preferred buyer. The mysterious Green Valley Holdings of Eagle (which still hasn't answered any media inquiries) was selected Wednesday, Dec. 22 as the preferred purchaser of the Valley County resort.

It has been quite a week for Tamarack, seeing its ski lifts go full-tilt for the first time in 20 months and now having a possible buyer.

J.P. Boespflug, the creator and current debtor-in-possession of Tamarack, stood in the shadow of a Christmas tree at Banbury Golf Club in Eagle and used a stocking-full of metaphors.

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On the resort's bankruptcy status: "Chapter 11 is bit like being in a hospital. But you have little access to modern medicine."

Regarding the negotiation: "When you're going through a divorce, you have to consider the children."

On striking a deal: "It a little like an engagement, but then you somehow have to get to the marriage."

On selling the resort: "It feels like when you become an empty-nester. Your teenage kids don't want to talk to you, but maybe someday when they grow up you'll have a good relationship with them again."

Boespflug considered three offers to buy the resort from Pelorus Group of Salt Lake City, JMA Ventures of San Francisco, and Green Valley Holdings. Green Valley's offer was chosen because they had the highest bid ($40 million), an adequate deposit ($1 million) and proof of funding.

Bankruptcy Judge Terry Myers still has to sign off on the deal.

"How long will it take?" asked Boespflug. "Sometimes it's a matter of days. Sometimes it's months. You guys can put your wagers on what might happen next."

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Deal Reached on Health Coverage for 9/11 First Responders

Posted By on Wed, Dec 22, 2010 at 11:17 AM

It appears that one of the most contentious and maligned stumbling blocks of the lame duck session of Congress may have been resolved.

Both the New York Times and National Public Radio are reporting that a deal has been struck in the senate to pass the Zadroga Bill, which provides health coverage to 9/11 First Responders who became sick from toxic fumes and chemicals after their work at Ground Zero.

Though it seems like the bill should have been an easy win, Republicans opposed it and Tom Coburn (R-OK), nicknamed "Dr. No," even threatened a filibuster due to the bill's overall cost, despite criticism from high-ranking Republicans like Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani. But a deal was struck when two New York Democrats, Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, agreed to revisions demanded by conservative Republicans.

The changes nearly halve the bill, dropping the benefits from $7.4 billion over eight years to $4.3 billion over five years.

If the deal holds, the bill will go back to the house, where it is predicted to be swiftly passed and then signed by the President.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Arms Control Headed to Full Senate Vote Wednesday

Posted By on Tue, Dec 21, 2010 at 4:52 PM

Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch joined 26 Republicans in a losing effort to block a new arms control treaty that would pare back American and Russian nuclear arsenals.

The Senate voted 67 to 28 to advance the New Start Treaty, reaching the two-thirds majority needed for approval. Eleven Republicans joined every Democrat present to support the treaty, which now heads to a final vote of approval on Wednesday.

The vote represents another December bipartisan victory for the Obama administration, which appeared politically wounded from the midterm elections, but successfully lobbied several priorities including a tax-cut package and the end of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy banning open homosexuals from serving in the military.

The New Start Treaty requires the United States and Russia to reduce nuclear stockpiles so that within seven years of ratification neither deploys more than 1,550 strategic warheads and 700 launchers.

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New Rules to Crack Down on Skyrocketing Premiums

Posted By on Tue, Dec 21, 2010 at 11:12 AM

The White House announced Tuesday that it would require health-insurance carriers to justify any increases of 10 percent or more in the premiums they charge next year.

The Affordable Care Act, signed into law this past March, calls for annual reviews of "unreasonable increases in premiums for health insurance coverage."

"The review will help rein in the kind of excessive and unreasonable rate increases that have made insurance unaffordable for so many families," said Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services.

Starting in 2012, the federal government will set a separate threshold for each state, reflecting its cost trends, and insurers will have to disclose rate increases above that level. Under the new law, insurers that show a "pattern or practice of excessive or unjustified premium increases" can be excluded from the centralized insurance market, or exchange that is to be set up in each state by 2014.

Sebelius said that since 1999, the cost of health insurance for the average working American had risen 128 percent.

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