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InsiderOnline Blog: April 2013

The Internet Tax Will Stifle Innovation

Don’t worry about how giving states the power to tax beyond their borders—AKA “the Internet sales tax”—will affect Apple. Worry about how it will prevent the next Apple from coming along. Kevin Williamson:

[Apple’s] app store has now generated more than $9 billion in revenue for the third-party app developers selling their products there, at a current pace of more than $1 billion per quarter.

Put another way, that means that the third-party app business being transacted through Apple’s online store is by itself approaching the size of a small Fortune 500 company, and if current trends continue, that business soon will be by itself larger than Harley-Davidson or Owens Corning. That’s just the cut Apple pays to outside developers. If Apple itself were a country, its economy would be about half the size of Ireland’s. Ecuador, Oman, and Angola are big oil producers, but none has an economy as large as Apple’s.

The current debate over the Internet sales tax — the woefully misnamed Marketplace Fairness Act — is not about companies like Apple, but about the next Apple. A giant such as Apple has the resources to calculate, collect, and remit taxes on behalf of each of the country’s 9,600 or so sales-tax authorities, and in fact it does so. But the compliance costs imposes by the Marketplace Fairness Act would place smaller upstarts at a distinct disadvantage, which is, I suspect, one reason that market incumbents such as Amazon support the tax. The real cost of taxes is not the revenue out the door to the taxman; it’s the revenue out to the door to the taxman plus all of the costs involved in complying with the tax code. That’s a hassle for businesses that have to comply with a single taxing authority; Senator Enzi’s wrongheaded bill would require businesses to comply with every taxing authority from sea to shining sea. No big deal for Apple or Amazon, but a significant burden for the firms hoping to one day compete with them. Entrepreneurs know that, and so do the investors who have the power to put capital into their projects or withhold it. [National Review, April 25]

Posted on 04/29/13 05:30 PM by Alex Adrianson

Unleveling the Playing Field

The Senate appears ready to give states the power to turn distant online retailers into tax collectors. Proponents say the so-called Marketplace Fairness Act, authored by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wy.), will close a loophole that allows online retailers to escape taxation while bricks-and-mortar retailers pay sales taxes. What the law really does is upend the physical nexus standard laid down by the Supreme Court in 1992. That standard, as Jessica Melugin explains in a brief published last summer, is an important pillar of accountable government:

The Internet is not a tax-free zone. At the federal level, the Internet Tax Freedom Act of 1998 banned “special and discriminatory taxes” which states might impose, especially for transactions conducted over the Internet. State and local sales tax restrictions are dictated by a 1992 Supreme Court decision, Quill Corporation v. North Dakota. In its Quill decision, the Court held that a state may not collect sales tax from retailers that have no physical presence, or nexus, within its borders unless Congress uses its Interstate Commerce powers to grant it explicit permission to do so […] .

Under current law, for example, when a Virginia resident buys a book online from a retailer in Oklahoma, Virginia may not collect sales tax on the purchase unless that Sooner bookseller has a nexus—such as a warehouse, store, or sales representative—in the Commonwealth. Technically, the Virginia resident may owe a use tax on the purchase, but these taxes are seldom enforced or collected. When proponents of remote Internet sales taxing argue that they are not calling for “new” taxes, they are referring to these obscure use taxes. For consumers who face increased costs for their online purchases, it is little consolation that those costs are not the result of new taxes, but of existing taxes newly collected.

The current arrangement is not an arbitrary loophole of tax law, but instead a manifestation of the principle of “no taxation without representation.” It is vendors, not customers, who remit the sales tax to governments. And, much to the advantage of consumers, it is vendors, with their trade associations and eyes on the bottom line, who often put more organized pressure on politicians to keep tax rates low.

The principles articulated in Quill also promote tax competition between jurisdictions. If state governments were allowed to tax vendors in other states, to whom they are not accountable, that would result in substantially less downward pressure on tax rates. Consumers would wear their states’ tax burden like an albatross even when buying from companies on the other side of the country. When there is no exit for consumers, there is little incentive for politicians to keep tax rates reasonable. [“The Marketplace Fairness Act Would Create a State Sales Tax Cartel and Hurt Consumers,” by Jessica Melugin, Competitive Enterprise Institute, July 30, 2012]

There’s actually little fairness in the Marketplace Fairness Act, explains the Wall Street Journal:

New Hampshire, for example, has no sales tax, but a Granite State Web merchant would be forced to collect and remit sales taxes to all the governments that do. Small online sellers will therefore have to comply with tax laws created by distant governments in which they have no representation, and in places where they consume no local services.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire’s brick-and-mortar retailers will bear no such burden. They will not be required to collect taxes on the many customers who drive across the Maine and Massachusetts borders to shop in New Hampshire. Bill sponsors say it would be too big a hassle to force traditional retailers to ask every walk-in customer where they live, but these Senators are happy to impose new obligations online.

The Enzi plan would require a centralized tax collector for each state or for a group of states that would gather both state and local levies from the online merchants. His office concedes that could still mean 27 or more different auditors of a Web-based business—which is better than 9,600 but hardly qualifies as simplicity. [Wall Street Journal, April 21]

The bill requires state governments to provide retailers with computer software to figure the taxes that apply, but that won’t work says Andrew Moylan:

[W]e are no closer to having solved sales tax complexity with software than we are to solving income tax complexity with TurboTax. The challenge in tax compliance (of all sorts) comes not in mustering the computing power to do the math, but in the interpretation of a specific circumstance through endless rules and regulations. [R Street, March 19]

“[T]he legislation itself,” observes the Journal, contemplates confusion, as it spells out when a merchant is liable for errors and when a software vendor takes the blame. The way governments work, they’ll penalize both merchants and the software vendors for mistakes.” [Wall Street Journal, April 21]

Posted on 04/23/13 07:53 PM by Alex Adrianson

An Assimilation Problem?

The United States is no longer assimilating immigrants very well, say John Fonte and Althea Nagai. Their new Hudson Institute report finds large gaps in attitudes between native-born Americans and naturalized citizens. For example:

By 21 percentage points (65% to 44%), native-born citizens are more likely than naturalized immigrants to view America as “better” than other countries as opposed, to “no better, no worse.”
By about 30 points (85% to 54%), the native-born are more likely to consider themselves American citizens rather than “citizens of the world.”
By 30 points (67% to 37%), the native-born are more likely to believe that the U.S. Constitution is a higher legal authority for Americans than international law.
By roughly 31 points (81% to 50%), the native-born are more likely than immigrant citizens to believe that schools should focus on American citizenship rather than ethnic pride.

The problem, say Fonte and Nagai, is not with the immigrants but with the U.S. immigration system:

For almost forty years, or since the 1970s, American elites have created a structure of laws and administrative procedures that discourage immigrants from forming a strong American identity. These administrative-legal-ideological barriers to patriotic assimilation have developed gradually through a combination of federal bureaucratic policies, congressional activities, executive orders and court decisions. At the highest level of core values (as we have discussed) the melting pot has been slowly replaced by the mosaic and the social cohesion of the “American way of life” by the unreflective promotion of diversity as a goal for its own sake, not as the result of the activities of individuals in a free society, which is the basis of authentic diversity.

The various programs in this administrative-legal regime of multiculturalism-group consciousness constitute serious barriers to patriotic assimilation. The programs exist, for the most part, through Federal funding. In other words, negative Big Government programs have created barriers to the patriotic integration of immigrants. These government-funded and government-imposed barriers could well be the “root causes” of the problems that exist with the patriotic integration gap. Therefore, it would make sense to remove these barriers by cutting off federal funding for any programs promoting multicultural education, bilingual education, diversity training, and any so-called multi-cultural or cultural competency training. [“America’s Patriotic Assimilation System Is Broken,” by John Fonte & Althea Nagai, Hudson Institute, April 2013]

Posted on 04/22/13 06:06 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Meet Your Allies

• Connect with hundreds of smart people from across the country who are doing the same work you’re doing: promoting liberty. The Heritage Foundation’s Resource Bank 2013 will be held April 24 – 26 in Orlando, Florida. Will Weatherford, Florida Speaker of the House, will make remarks, and Michelle Malkin will the keynote address at the Thursday dinner. Heritage and the Franklin Center will recognize outstanding individuals in new media with the Breitbart Awards. In addition to the usual policy-focused panels, there will be a strategy session on resisting Common Core, a First Principles Leadership Seminar, media training sessions, and a special session on free-market ideas on conservation. There is still time to register!

• Be an informed consumer of education. The Education Consumers Foundation publishes reports on how well schools are performing. They’re like a Consumer Reports for education. Check out their work.

Nominate a think tank for a Templeton Award. The Templeton Awards, now running for ten years, are changing a little bit. Starting this year, there will only be one winning per year, and that winner will receive a whopping $100,000 prize. So if you know a think tank that has done outstanding work promoting liberty, send their name in. The deadline for nominations is June 1. The winner will be announced at the Atlas Foundation’s Freedom Dinner on November 14.

• This time, find out what’s in the bill before they pass it. Read the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill, which The Heritage Foundation has posted online.

• Brush up on your history of the nuclear age. (Is there a better time than now?) The Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia will host a talk by Francis Gavin, author of the new book Nuclear Statecraft. His talk will begin at 4:30 p.m. on April 25.

• Save the date for these important conservative/libertarian events coming up: The Institute for Policy Innovation’s 25th Anniversary Celebration with special guest Ted Cruz, May 2 in Dallas; the Manhattan Institute’s Alexander Hamilton Award Dinner, honoring Invemed President Kenneth G. Langone and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, May 6 in New York; the American Enterprise Institute’s Annual Dinner featuring Rep. Paul Ryan, May 8 in Washington, D.C.; the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs’ 2013 Citizenship Award dinner featuring Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint and Heritage Foundation Founder Ed Feulner, May 9 in Oklahoma City; the Oslo Freedom Forum, May 13-15 in Oslo; the Becket Fund’s Canterbury Medal Dinner honoring Elder Dallin H. Oaks, May 16 in New York; and the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Annual Dinner, June 20 in Washington, D.C.

Posted on 04/19/13 05:18 PM by Alex Adrianson

Chechnya’s Terrorist Connections

Two men originally from Chechnya are the alleged perpetrators of the Boston marathon bombings. Here’s some background on Chechnya, from a March 2012 Heritage Foundation report by Ariel Cohen:

One ominous development has been that al-Qaeda and other foreign extremist organizations in the Middle East and Central Asia have increased their financial and moral support of the radical Islamist movement in the Caucasus. The most important connections to the global terrorist movement have been through Yusuf Muhammad al’Emirati (“Moganned”), a Saudi-born al-Qaeda member who arrived in Chechnya in 1999, and Abdulla Kurd, al-Qaeda’s international coordinator of terrorist cells. Moganned was a leader of Arab and foreign fighters in the Caucasus and one of the leaders of the Chechen insurgency. Both Moganned and Kurd were killed by Russian special forces in April 2011.

The Caucasus has been on al-Qaeda’s radar screen for a decade and a half. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al-Qaeda, visited the region in the mid-1990s and was even temporarily in Russian custody. Al-Zawahiri has referred to the Caucasus as one of three primary fronts in the war against the West.

Recently, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the most active and dangerous al-Qaeda affiliate, has been expanding its global reach. For example, AQAP translated al-Qaeda’s online journal Inspire into Russian to attract extremists in the North Caucasus and other Muslim areas in Russia. In addition, evidence indicates that terrorists who were trained in the North Caucasus have joined al-Qaeda and other operations in Waziristan in Pakistan.

Furthermore, Doku Umarov made clear that the Caucasus is an integral part of the global jihad: “after expelling the kuffar we must reconquer all historical lands of Muslims, and these borders are beyond the boundaries of Caucasus,” and “Everyone who attacked Muslims wherever they are are our enemies, common enemies.” Umarov recently reaffirmed his commitment to jihad, stating that although “many of the emirs and leaders” have been killed, “Jihad did not stop, but vice versa, it expanded and strengthened” and that “the death of the leaders of the jihad cannot stop the process of the revival of Islam.” [Internal citations omitted.] [“A Threat to the West: The Rise of Islamist Insurgency in the Northern Caucasus and Russia’s Inadequate Response,” by Ariel Cohen, The Heritage Foundation, March 26, 2012.]

Posted on 04/19/13 02:48 PM by Alex Adrianson

The “Gang of Eight” Immigration Bill Is an Amnesty Bill

And that makes it a bad idea, says Sen. Jim DeMint, president of The Heritage Foundation:

Giving legal residency to the 11 million people who came here illegally has one definition: amnesty. Amnesty rewards unlawful behavior and diminishes opportunity and prosperity for lawful immigrants and all Americans.

The Senate bill imposes significant costs on taxpayers. At a time of trillion-dollar deficits and $17 trillion in debt, the cost of implementing amnesty and the strain it will add to already fragile entitlement and welfare programs should be of serious concern for everyone.

After decades of empty promises on immigration enforcement, Congress simply lacks credibility to keep its promises. A comprehensive amnesty bill was tried before and it failed. In 1986 we had about 3 million unlawful immigrants. Congress granted them legal status with a promise to control our borders and fix our legal immigration system.

Lawmakers who supported the 1986 bill promised in grand speeches that amnesty would never happen again. Now there are 11 million unlawful immigrants in America because amnesty was immediate but the border wasn’t secured, workplace laws were not enforced, and our legal immigration system was not fixed. The result of amnesty is clear — it encourages more unlawful immigration in hopes of future amnesties.

This new bill is much the same as the last: immediate amnesty in the form of provisional status within months and lofty promises of “strategies” and “plans” for enforcement years later.

Rather than rewarding the 11 million who broke our laws, Congress should first consider how to make the immigration system work for the more than 4 million people waiting patiently outside our borders to come to our country legally. A rational system would make it easier to follow the law than to break it. [The Foundry, April 18]

Posted on 04/19/13 02:31 PM by Alex Adrianson

This Week in Left-Wing Honesty

Saying what they really think:

We preferred our agenda to the truth. “For what it’s worth, I do think that those of us on the Left have made a decision not to cover [the Kermit Gosnell] trial because we worry that it’ll compromise abortion rights. […] I do think there’s a direct connection between the media’s failure to cover this and our own political commitments on the Left.” —Marc Lamont Hill [comments on HuffPost Live, as reported by Washington Times, April 17]

Fine. We’ll cover the news. “Online Furor Draws Press to Abortion Doctor’s Trial” —article headline [New York Times, April 16]

The traditional marriage refrain is tired, but I’m here to confirm it’s true. “Recently, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council reintroduced a tired refrain: Legalized gay marriage could lead to other legal forms of marriage disaster, such as polygamy. Rick Santorum, Bill O’Reilly, and other social conservatives have made similar claims. It’s hardly a new prediction—we’ve been hearing it for years. Gay marriage is a slippery slope! A gateway drug! If we legalize it, then what’s next? Legalized polygamy?

“We can only hope.

“Yes, really. While the Supreme Court and the rest of us are all focused on the human right of marriage equality, let’s not forget that the fight doesn’t end with same-sex marriage. We need to legalize polygamy, too.” —Jillian Keenan [Slate, April 15]

I should have installed a brake on this thing. “Small businesses have no idea what to do—what to expect. They don’t know what [the] affordability rules are. They don’t know what penalties may apply. They just don’t know. […] People are going to be really confused. […] I understand you’ve hired a contractor. I’m worried that’s going to be money down the drain. […] I tell you, I see a huge train wreck. You and I have discussed this many times, and I don’t see any results yet. I just see a huge train wreck.” —Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.), discussing ObamaCare implementation with Secretary of  Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius at a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee [C-Span, April 17]

Posted on 04/19/13 12:31 PM by Alex Adrianson

Government’s Big Bite

Tax Freedom Day fell on April 18, five days later this year than last year. That means it takes the average American 108 days to earn enough money to pay his total tax bill for the year. The Tax Foundation, which calculates Tax Freedom Day every year, explains why the tax burden has increased this year

Tax Freedom Day is five days later than last year, due mainly to the fiscal cliff deal that raised federal taxes on individual income and payroll. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act’s investment tax and excise tax went into effect. Finally, despite these tax increases, the economy is expected to continue its slow recovery, boosting profits, incomes, and tax revenues.

The latest ever Tax Freedom Day was May 1 in the year 2000. Of course, the federal government run a surplus that year amounting to 2.4 percent of gross domestic product; this year, the federal government is expected to run a deficit of about 6 percent of GDP. If the federal government financed its spending entirely with taxes instead of borrowing, then this year’s Tax Freedom Day would fall on May 21. The long-term trend:

Posted on 04/18/13 05:49 PM by Alex Adrianson

ObamaCare’s Many Moving Parts Are Still Moving

The budget released by the White House last week contains a tacit acknowledgement that ObamaCare isn’t going to deliver the coverage it promised. The White House proposed shelving cuts in the subsidies that hospitals receive for serving the uninsured—known as Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments. Those cuts were put in place by the original ObamaCare legislation. Michael Cannon explains why dropping them is a big deal:

[Supporters] argued that [ObamaCare’s] Medicaid expansion and health-insurance “exchanges” would extend coverage to some 30 million previously uninsured people, thereby eliminating that hidden tax and enabling Congress to reduce DSH payments.

The president’s budget shows that not even he buys that argument now. It states: “To better align DSH payments with expected levels of uncompensated care, the Budget proposes to begin the reductions in 2015, instead of 2014.” That is, the president expects that the Medicaid and exchange subsidies won’t eliminate that $360 million of uncompensated care next year. And it’s not because some states are choosing not to expand Medicaid—he proposes to rescind the cuts even in states that are expanding it. [National Review, April 17]

As Nina Owcharenko notes, “the continued DSH payments will make it marginally easier for states to reject the Medicaid expansion for now, because they will continue to receive federal payments that help compensate for having a large uninsured population.” [National Review, April 15] The move also provides one more example, says Cannon, of how ObamaCare’s financing is an illusion:

Congress has postponed planned cuts in Medicare physician payments every year for the past decade. This year, Obama rescinded cuts the [ObamaCare] would make to private Medicare plans, and both parties are lining up to repeal the law’s medical-device tax and the board it would create to reduce Medicare spending.

The president’s latest DSH proposal is a classic “dessert now, spinach later” ruse. To “pay for” this $360 million increase, he proposed cutting DSH payments by that exact amount in 2015 and 2016. He even proposed an additional $3.6 billion cut—in 2023. [National Review, April 17]

Posted on 04/18/13 03:33 PM by Alex Adrianson

Preparedness Matters

“[I]t now appears that every one of the wounded alive when rescuers reached them will survive,” writes Atul Gawande about Boston’s reaction to the marathon bombings. Part of the reason for that outcome, he says, is that Boston’s first responders have learned some lessons from the past decade:

We have, as one colleague put it to me, replaced our pre-9/11 naïveté with post-9/11 sobriety. Where before we’d have been struck dumb with shock about such events, now we are almost calculating about them. When ball bearings and nails were found in the wounds of the victims, everyone understood the bombs had been packed with them as projectiles. At every hospital, clinicians considered the possibility of chemical or radiation contamination, a second wave of attacks, or a direct attack on a hospital. Even nonmedical friends e-mailed and texted me to warn people about secondary and tertiary explosive devices aimed at responders. Everyone’s imaginations have come to encompass these once unimaginable events. […]

What prepared us? Ten years of war have brought details of attacks like these to our towns through news, images, and the soldiers who saw and encountered them. Almost every hospital has a surgeon or nurse or medic with battlefield experience, sometimes several. Many also had trauma personnel who deployed to Haiti after the earthquake, Banda Aceh after the tsunami, and elsewhere. Disaster response has become an area of wide interest and study. Cities and towns have conducted disaster drills, including one in Boston I was involved in that played out the scenario of a dirty-bomb explosion at Logan Airport on an airliner from France. The Massachusetts General Hospital brought in Israeli physicians to help revamp their disaster-response planning. Richard Wolfe at the Beth Israel Deaconess recalled an emergency physician’s presentation of the medical response required after the Aurora, Colorado, movie-theatre shooting of seventy people last summer. From 9/11 to Newtown, we’ve all watched with not only horror but also grave attention the myriad ways in which the sociopathy of killers has combined with the technology of inflicting mass casualty. [New Yorker, April 17]

Posted on 04/17/13 01:58 PM by Alex Adrianson

Nailing the Rich for 100 Years

… plus a lot of other people now, too:

Posted on 04/16/13 01:14 PM by Alex Adrianson

And Now a Few Words About Taxes

The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has.
—Will Rogers, “Helping the Girls with Their Income Taxes,” Illiterate Digest (1924)

Indoors or out, no one relaxes
In March, that month of wind and taxes,
The wind will presently disappear,
The taxes last us all the year
—Ogden Nash, “Thar She Blows” Versus (1949)

The hardest thing in the world to understand is income taxes.
—Albert Einstein, as reported by Leo Mattersdorf, Einstein’s tax consultant, in a 1963 letter to Time magazine 

Posted on 04/16/13 12:59 PM by Alex Adrianson

Not Fully Mission Capable

Because of the sequester, the United States military is in danger of being unprepared for foreseeable contingencies—such as fighting North Korea—reports Thomas Donnelly:

After several minutes of badgering from Sen. John McCain at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on April 9, Admiral Samuel Locklear admitted that the combination of regularly scheduled defense budget cuts and the “sequestration” provision of the current budget law meant that “in the near term … we’re not going to be able to provide the force levels” needed in the Pacific, where Locklear is the top U.S. commander. “The answer to your question,” he admitted to McCain, “is that I can’t do it.”

This is not just a question of ships. The Air Force has announced that it soon will begin grounding about a third of its combat aircraft. “We must implement a tiered readiness concept where only the units preparing to deploy in support of major combat operations like Afghanistan are fully mission capable,” explained Gen. Mike Hostage, head of Air Combat Command. Hostage is only telling a part of the story: The number of planes allocated to Afghanistan is a tiny portion of the fleet. In sum, a third of his planes will be parked (and, no doubt, stripped of parts to keep other aircraft flying), only a handful ready to fight, and the bulk of the fleet—thousands of aircraft—in various stages of disrepair.

The damage to the Army and Marine Corps is also mostly out of sight. Both services will meet their most critical needs, like sustaining operations in Afghanistan, by shortchanging units and equipment left behind. Again, that’s the bulk of their forces. And because personnel budgets are not included in the sequester, the result will be a lot of soldiers and Marines painting rocks or trying to stay fit instead of actually training for their missions. [The Weekly Standard, April 22] 

Posted on 04/15/13 03:54 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Celebrate Your Tax Freedom—Symbolically That Is, Until Next Year

Celebrate—or commemorate—Tax Freedom Day, the day on which the average taxpayer will have earned enough money for the calendar year to pay his tax bill for the year. This year, that day is April 18; the Tax Foundation will host a Capitol Hill Reception marking the occasion on April 16. The reception begins at 5 p.m. and will be held at 1302 Longworth House Office Building in Washington, D.C.

• Find out whether Medicaid expansion is a good idea for Michigan. The Mackinac Center will host a discussion with Avik Roy of the Manhattan Institute. The event begins at noon on April 18 at the Michigan Restaurant Association in Lansing, Michigan.

• Don’t forget to register for Resource Bank 2013, which is April 25 - 26 in Orlando, Florida. Among the confirmed speakers: James Capretta of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Ben Domenech of the Heartland Institute, Christopher Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute, Joseph Lehman of the Mackinac Center, John Von Kannon of The Heritage Foundation, and Erik Telford of the Franklin Center.

• Check out these videos: “Straight Talk About the Wage Gap,” from the Independent Women’s Forum; and “Puppies & Kittens & Censors … Oh My! Government Muzzles Internet Pet Vet,” from the Institute for Justice.

Posted on 04/12/13 05:42 PM by Alex Adrianson

Check the Facts on Background Checks

The argument for more background checks has the facts wrong, explains John Lott:

The president kept claiming this week and last week that: “as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases take place without a background check” and that “background checks have kept more than 2 million dangerous people from buying a gun.” But both statistics are false.

Start with the 40 percent figure. That number comes from a very small study covering purchases during 1991 to 1994. Not only is that two decades-old data, but it covered sales before the federal Brady Act took effect on February 28, 1994. The act required federally licensed dealers to perform background checks.

And what’s more, Mr. Obama conveniently forgets that the researchers gave this number (well, actually 36%, not his rounding up to 40%) for all transfers, not just for guns sold. Most significantly, the vast majority of these transfers involved within-family inheritances and gifts.

Counting only guns that were sold gives a very different perspective, with only 14 percent not actually going through federally licensed dealers. But even that is much too high as there were biases in the survey. For example, two-thirds of federally licensed dealers at the time were so-called “kitchen table” dealers who sold gun out of their homes and most buyers surveyed were likely unaware these individuals were indeed licensed. […]

Remember the five times that the late Sen. Ted Kennedy was “initially denied” flights because his name was on the anti-terror “no fly” list? His name was just too similar to someone that we really did want to keep from flying. By Obama’s method of counting, that means the “no fly” list stopped five flights by terrorists.

For gun purchases, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives dropped over 94 percent of “initial denials” after just the first preliminary review. The annual National Instant Criminal Background Check System report explains that these cases were dropped either because the additional information showed that the wrong people had been stopped or because the covered offenses were so many decades old that the government decided not to prosecute. At least a fifth of the remaining 6 percent were still false positives. [Fox News, April 9]

Posted on 04/12/13 05:16 PM by Alex Adrianson

Obama’s Latest Big Government Budget

By the numbers, from Patrick Louis Knudsen:

Spending in the President’s budget totals $3.778 trillion in FY 2014, a $151 billion increase from the Administration’s own projection of spending under current policies. Spending rises to $5.66 trillion in FY 2023, or 21.7 percent of GDP, which is 1.5 percentage points above the historical average as a share of the economy—and that is before the explosion of entitlement spending in the next decade. […]

Tax revenue rises from 17.8 percent of GDP in 2014 to a near-record 20 percent in 2023. Once again, these figures are significantly higher than the historical average of 18.5 percent, further demonstrating Obama’s commitment to bigger government.

Yet despite a net tax increase of more than $1 trillion, the budget never balances, and in fact adds $5.3 trillion in new deficit spending [over] 10 years. Deficits remain in the neighborhood of one-half trillion dollars until the very end of the budget window. In 2023, the deficit reaches its “smallest” level: $439 billion. Gross federal debt soars from $17 trillion in 2013 to $25 trillion in 2023.

Consequently, debt held by the public remains at economically risky levels of nearly three-fourths the size of the economy. Its lowest point is an alarming 73 percent of GDP in 2023. The historical average is 37 percent of the economy. [The Foundry, April 10]

Posted on 04/12/13 03:21 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Wage Gap Is Largely a Result of Choices

Explains this video from the Independent Women’s Forum:

Posted on 04/11/13 06:21 PM by Alex Adrianson

Lowest Labor Force Participation Rate Since 1979

The March jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics contains disappointing news, report James Sherk and Salim Furth:

Employers added a net of only 88,000 new jobs, and labor force participation dropped sharply. The labor force drop caused the unemployment rate to fall by 0.1 percentage point to 7.6 percent despite the low job gains. However, revisions to the January and February reports found better job creation than previously estimated.

Labor force participation dropped to 63.3 percent, the lowest rate since 1979. BLS estimates that the U.S. civilian population has increased by 2.4 million during the past year, but only 300,000 have entered the labor force.

One of the most significant features of the report was what it did not find. Government employment barely changed despite the implementation of sequestration. Government jobs declined in March due to job losses in the Postal Service, a long-term trend driven by electronic communications. Thus far, sequestration has had little noticeable effect on government payrolls. To the extent the slowdown can be attributed to government policy, the January tax increase is a more likely culprit. [The Heritage Foundation, April 5]

Posted on 04/11/13 05:36 PM by Alex Adrianson

What Do Police Think about Gun Control?

Most law enforcement officers think more restrictive gun control laws will not reduce violent crime, according to a new poll conducted by, a news website for law enforcement professionals.

The results of the poll should be read cautiously, since the respondents were not a random sample but the law enforcement professionals among the website’s readership. Still, the survey received answers from over 15,000 law enforcement officers. Also, is a news site, not an advocacy group composed of members who share a common view of an issue.

Some of the results are overwhelmingly anti-gun control. For example:


Notice that 91.5 percent of the respondents think a ban on “assault weapons” would either have no effect on violent crime or make the problem worse.

Other results:

• More permissive concealed carry laws was the number one choice (28.8 percent) among options to prevent large scale shootings; 15.8 percent said more armed guards was the best option; 14 percent said better background checks was the best option;
• 79.7 percent said prohibiting private non-dealer transfers of firearms would have no impact on violent crime;
• 81.5 percent said gun-buy-back programs are ineffective;
• 91.3 percent support concealed carry laws;
• 86.2 percent said the presence of legally armed citizens would have reduced or eliminated casualties in the Newtown and Aurora incidents. [“Gun Policy & Law Enforcement: Survey Results,”, April 8]

Posted on 04/11/13 04:20 PM by Alex Adrianson

Only 42 Years to a Balanced Budget

The budget President Obama unveiled this week contains some long-term projections based on current policies, and, as you can see from this chart, the White House envisions the federal government will have a balanced budget in the year 2055.

Whew! Problem solved, right? James Pethokoukis:

[A] drill down reveals the Obama budget accomplishes this feat by a) taking tax revenue from its traditional 18% of GDP to nearly 24% of GDP—an increase of 33%, and b) by cutting spending over the long-term to less than 16% of GDP. A libertarian dream!

But how does it reduce spending that much? By cutting discretionary spending, including defense, from around 9% of GDP to 2.3% of GDP. In other words, disarmament! That is not going to happen. [AEIdeas, April 10]

Posted on 04/10/13 05:18 PM by Alex Adrianson

Protecting Bricks and Mortar

Texas’s regulations on veterinary advice are harming pet owners—and abridging free speech:

Posted on 04/10/13 03:04 PM by Alex Adrianson

Destroying Health Insurance

Smoking is a pre-existing condition, according to the D.C. Health Exchange Board. That’s the entity that decides the rules for the health insurance exchange that will be set up under ObamaCare in the nation’s capital. The decision means insurers won’t be able to charge smokers more for health insurance. This decision might seem like not a big deal, but, as Kevin Williamson points out, it actually reveals a lot about how ObamaCare works and what it will do to health care:

There are many ways to implement a bad idea. For instance, Congress might have passed a law requiring that all U.S. insurance companies no longer charge smokers more for their coverage. The state of Connecticut might have passed a similar law. New York City might have passed that law. But in each case, voters who saw that stupidity for what it is would have somebody to vote against. Obamacare eliminates the option for democratic response. Instead, it creates a body of political appointees immune from being held accountable at the ballot box. […]

Obamacare is designed to destroy the insurance market. Markets do not function without prices, and Obamacare ensures that prices will not be allowed to emerge. There is a medical price associated with smoking, but the District of Columbia has decided to suppress that price by law. Pretending that smoking has no relationship with health-care costs does not make it so—it is only a way to push costs around in a way that is agreeable to the likes of Barack Obama, converting a system that prices risk into a system of entitlements. […]

A market without prices is by definition a market that will not function. What comes after that is obvious. The argument for Obamacare was “Everybody gets insurance,” but the final product will be something between “Everybody is on Medicaid” and “Everybody has access to the fine health care on offer at the infirmary in the county jail.” And that is happening, one unaccountable decision at a time. [National Review, April 10]

Posted on 04/10/13 02:10 PM by Alex Adrianson

There Is No Infrastructure Crisis

President Obama recently proposed another program to boost federal spending on infrastructure, but the idea that we’re not spending enough already is a myth, writes Evan Soltas:

Believe it or not, infrastructure has improved significantly over the last two decades. In its report for 2010, the Federal Highway Administration said that 57 percent of all vehicle-miles were traveled on federal highways with ratings of “good” or higher – according to a measure of road quality pleasingly known as the International Roughness Index. That was up from 48 percent in 2000. The percentage of roads in bad condition has also declined: In 1989 6.6 percent of rural and urban interstates were rated “poor”; now only 1.9 percent of rural interstates and 5.4 percent of urban ones earn that grade.

Despite warnings from President Barack Obama, America’s bridges have never been safer. The highway administration rated 21.9 percent of its bridges “deficient” in 2009, as compared to 37.8 percent in 1989. And contrary to Obama’s implication, the word “deficient” does not mean unsafe, at least as the highway administration uses it. A bridge is “deficient” when it would benefit from expansion and renovation in line with usage.

Traffic congestion has diminished. In 1989, 52.6 percent of urban interstates were rated “congested” according to a comparison of peak volume to planned capacity. In 2009, the figure was 26.3 percent. [Bloomberg, April 8]

Posted on 04/10/13 11:48 AM by Alex Adrianson

More Money Does Not Equal Better Results

A new MSNBC ad has gotten a lot of attention. It features commentator Melissa Harris-Perry saying:

We have never invested as much in public education as we should have, because we’ve always had kind of a private notion of children. Your kid is yours, and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of “these are our children.” So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities. Once it’s everybody’s responsibility, and not just the households’, then we start making better investments.

In addition to being creepy for asserting that kids belong to communities, Harris-Perry’s homily is incorrect both in implying that there has been a dearth of public investment and in equating more public spending with better results. As Andrew Coulson noted recently in response to a similar argument by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the United States spends three times more per pupil in real dollars today than it did 40 years ago; yet there has been no improvement in student achievement over that period. [Cato Institute, February 13]

Other community—i.e., federal government—interventions have also proven to be poor investments. David Muhlhausen notes in his new book Do Federal Social Programs Work?: “[T]he Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified 69 federal programs that provide support for pre-kindergarten and childcare. According to a conservative estimate, the federal government spent more than $25 billion on these programs in FY 2009.” [Internal citation omitted]

Muhlhausen’s book contains a mere thousand or so footnotes documenting the conclusion: “Despite the best social engineering efforts, the evidence overwhelmingly points to the conclusion that federal social programs are ineffective.” About programs for children specifically, he quotes Isabel Sawhill and Jon Baron’s summary of the literature:

Since 1990, there have been 10 instances in which an entire federal social program has been evaluated using the scientific “gold standard” method of randomly assigning individuals to a program or control group. Nine of these evaluations found weak or no positive effects, for programs such as the $1.5 billion Job Corps program (job training for disadvantaged youth); the $300 million Upward Bound program (academic preparation for at-risk high school students); the $1.2 billion 21st Century Community Learning Centers (after-school programs for disadvantaged youth); and, most recently, the $7 billion Head Start preschool program. Only one program – Early Head Start (a sister program to Head Start, for younger children) – was found to produce meaningful, though modest, positive effects.

Muhlhausen goes on to show that even Early Head Start is not very effective.

Posted on 04/09/13 05:58 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Process Turned Into a Weapon, Too

The Arms Trade Treaty that the United Nations General Assembly adopted last week isn’t likely to stop any bad guys from getting weapons and using them for bad ends. Ted Bromund explains:

Though the vote in favor of the treaty seems overwhelming, a closer look shows something different. Among the major exporting and importing nations, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, and Russia abstained. So did most of the Arab Group, as well as a range of anti-American regimes, including Bolivia, Cuba, and Nicaragua, and a smattering of others, including Belarus, Burma, and Sri Lanka.

A further 13 nations did not vote, including some known opponents of the treaty, such as Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Finally, while Pakistan voted in favor of the treaty, its statement in explanation implied that it was voting for the treaty because it anticipated that India would abstain, and it wanted to look good by comparison.

Thus, what the U.N. vote amounts to is the tacit rejection of the treaty by most of the world’s most irresponsible arms exporters and anti-American dictatorships, who collectively amount to half of the world’s population.

The problem with the ATT was never the idea that nations should have a system for controlling their arms exports: The U.S. is widely acknowledged to have the best such system in the world. The problem with the ATT was always that it would end up constraining the U.S. (and other democracies), but not the genuinely dangerous, lawless, and irresponsible regimes in the world. The fact that these regimes abstained or voted against the treaty is proof of that point: They have openly stated that they have no intention of being bound by the ATT.

But the U.S. decision to abandon multilateral negotiation and push the treaty through the General Assembly instead does set a bad precedent:

The next time out, when the “international community” demands a treaty—on global warming, for example, or the use of armed drones—that is not in the interests of the U.S., they will be free to use the precedent that we have just reinforced: If you don’t like the results of a multilateral negotiation, and even if a substantial number of important states are opposed, you should run to the General Assembly and push the treaty through. [The Foundry, April 2]

Posted on 04/09/13 02:26 PM by Alex Adrianson

Margaret Thatcher, R.I.P.

Margaret Thatcher died Monday morning at 87. As the Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, she revived Great Britain’s economy by beating back socialism and trade unionism. Iain Murray explains:

Politicians of all three main parties had come to believe that a high-tax society with public control of the means of production (“the commanding heights of the economy,” as Lenin himself put it) was the way forward for Britain. The result was a country where bureaucracy and trade unions ruled while enterprise and innovation stagnated.

It took weeks to get a new telephone. Getting a new heating system involved a visit to the local Gas Board “showroom,” with its pitiful selection of products. Britain’s once proud automobile industry had become a national joke, with workers striking for huge pay raises on a regular basis. The coal miners’ union had brought down one Conservative government and threatened to do so again. Just before her election, the “Winter of Discontent” strikes had led to weeks of garbage collecting in major cities and the dead lying unburied.

Mrs. Thatcher recognized the great error of socialism. As she put it, the trouble with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money. She proposed a twofold solution. First, stop spending other people’s money. Second, give them the opportunity to earn it. In short, she sought to reintroduce liberal capitalism to the country that had once been at its vanguard—from the repeal of the Corn Laws to the Industrial Revolution.

To achieve the first objective, she slowly but surely privatized nationalized industries (though, unfortunately, not the BBC), took on the trade unions and won, and reduced the size of the civil service. She achieved the second objective by lifting onerous regulations on Britain’s financial sector—one of her first acts was to lift capital controls—and implementing sound monetary policy. And she did all this in defiance of the received economic wisdom of the time.

At the polls, she defeated the error of socialism three times in a row (four if you include her Tory successor John Major’s 1992 victory). The result was vindication of the best kind, as the Labour Party, under Tony Blair, rejected a return to nationalization and instead recognized the truth that people did best under capitalism. [“The Lady Wasn’t for Turning,” The American Spectator, April 8]

Of course, there is a lot more worth knowing about Margaret Thatcher. Here is a smattering of readings and other resources:

• “Nine Things You Should Know about Margaret Thatcher,” by Joe Carter, Acton Institute PowerBlog, April 8;
• “Counterfactual: What Would Have Happened to the UK Economy Without Thatcher?” by James Pethokoukis, AEIdeas, April 9;
• “
Margaret Thatcher, RIP” by Stephen Hayward, The Ashbrook Center, April 8;
• “Margaret Thatcher’s Compassion,” by Edward Hudgins, The Atlas Society, April 8;
• “
Thatcher: Anecdotes from a Biographer,” by Walter Olson, Cato Institute, April 8;
• “Her Iron Road,” by Claire Berlinski, City Journal, April 8;
• “
The Lady Who Changed the World,” The Economist, April 8;
• “
Heritage Mourns Loss of Lady Margaret Thatcher, ‘Intrepid Warrior for Freedom,’” by Ed Feulner, The Foundry, April 8;
• “
What Margaret Thatcher Can Teach Illinois,” by Kristina Rasmussen, Illinois Policy Institute, April 8;
• “
Remembering Margaret Thatcher,” by Lawrence Reed, Mackinac Center, April 8;
• “
How Margaret Thatcher Brought Economic Freedom to Britain,” by Ira Stoll, Reason, April 8;
• “
Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013),” Margaret Thatcher Foundation  [This brief biography contains lots of links to Thatcher’s speeches and writings, organized chronologically.];
• “
Margaret Thatcher Put ‘Great’ in Great Britain,” by John Blundell, USA Today, April 8.

Writings by Margaret Thatcher
• “Margaret Thatcher: How I Privatised Britain and Rebooted the ‘Enterprise Society’” by Margaret Thatcher, Reason, April 8, reprinted from the Reason Foundation’s Annual Privatization Report, January 2006;
Statecraft, HarperCollins, 2002 [An excerpt was published in The Heritage Foundation’s 2005 President’s Essay.];
• “
The West Must Prevail” The Heritage Foundation, December 9, 2002;
• “
The Moral Foundations of Society,” Imprimis, March 1995.

• “The Real Legacy of Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s Iron Lady,” The Heritage Foundation, January 13, 2012.

Previously Published
• “Female Force: Margaret Thatcher,” by John Blundell, Bluewater Productions, 2010;
• “How Margaret Thatcher Helped to End the Cold War,” by Theodore Bromund, September 28, 2009;
•  “Achieving Change: What We Can Learn from Margaret Thatcher,” by John Blundell, December 31, 2007.

Posted on 04/08/13 06:50 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Find Out If Philanthropy Needs More Transparency

Find out if philanthropy needs more transparency. The Heritage Foundation will host author John Tyler of the Marion Ewing Kauffman Foundation at noon on April 11.

Hear whether the Dodd-Frank regulations are constitutional. The Cato Institute will host a Capitol Hill briefing featuring featuring Rep. Scott Garrett, Chairman of the Congressional Constitution Caucus, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government-Sponsored Enterprises, House Financial Services Committee. The briefing will be held in 2203 Rayburn House Office Building a 1 p.m. on April 9.

• Learn about the charitable deduction in American political thought. The Hudson Institute will host a panel featuring Stanley Katz of Princeton University, Rob Reich of Stanford University, and Alex Reid, of Morgan Lewis’s Tax Practice. The discussion will begin at noon on April 16.

Sharpen your messaging skills. The Centennial Institute will hold a persuasion bootcamp for conservatives. William Kristol and Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard will speak. The event will be held at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs on May 3.

• Don’t forget to register for Resource Bank 2013, which is April 25 - 26 in Orlando, Florida. It’s your best opportunity every year to share ideas and know-how with hundreds of think tank heads, scholars, and activists for liberty from around the world. Did we mention new Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint will be there?

Posted on 04/05/13 06:23 PM by Alex Adrianson

Do Millenials Have the Wrong Idea about Marriage?

Julia Shaw thinks so:

Only 21 percent of millennials (those ages 18-29) are married, and the median age for marriage is the highest in generations: almost 27 for women and 29 for men. By comparison, 29 percent of Generation X, 42 percent of Boomers, and 54 percent of the Silent Generation (born 1928 through 1945) were married by that age, according to a 2010 Pew Research Survey.

According to Pew, 60 percent of unmarried men and women want to tie the knot. But they just aren’t in any hurry. Marriage these days signals that you’ve figured out how to be a grown-up. You’ve played the field, backpacked Europe, and held a bartending gig to supplement an unpaid internship. You’ve “arrived,” having finished school, settled into a career path, bought a condo, figured out who you are, and found your soul mate. The fairytale wedding is your gateway into adult life. But in my experience, this idea about marriage as the end of the road is pretty misguided and means couples are missing out on a lot of the fun.

I’m a married millennial. I walked down the aisle at 23. My husband, David, was 25. We hadn’t arrived. I had a job; he, a job offer and a year left in law school. But we couldn’t buy a house or even replace the car when it died a few months into our marriage. We lived in a small basement apartment, furnished with secondhand Ikea. We did not have Internet (checking email required a trip to the local coffee shop) or reliable heat.

Marriage wasn’t something we did after we’d grown up—it was how we have grown up and grown together. We’ve endured the hardships of typical millennials: job searches, job losses, family deaths, family conflict, financial fears, and career concerns. The stability, companionship, and intimacy of marriage enabled us to overcome our challenges and develop as individuals and a couple. We learned how to be strong for one another, to comfort, to counsel, and to share our joys and not just our problems. [Slate, April 1]

Posted on 04/05/13 05:42 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Federal Tentacles Are Reaching Further Into the Classroom

Education Week reports:

The U.S. Department of Education has created a technical-review process for the two state consortia that are designing assessments for the common standards.

The technical review will focus on two aspects of the work the assessment consortia are doing: item design and validation. This is in contrast to the program-review process that the department began when the two consortia first received federal Race to the Top funding in 2010. That monitors how the states are progressing with the work they outlined in their original applications. [Education Week, April 1]

What does that mean, Neal McCluskey?

[W]ith very limited information available, it is hard to know what the review will ultimately encompass. But assume it doesn’t examine actual questions at all. Still, it will have the money-supplying federal government judging the technical merits of something that we are incessantly told only nutty people would think could become federally controlled. [Cato Institute, April 3]

Posted on 04/05/13 05:37 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Diminution of the College Degree

These days, you might need a college degree just to run the cash machine at a McDonalds. Paul Bedard of Washington Whispers this week noticed an ad for a cashier position at McDonalds that listed a bachelor’s degree as a job requirement. According to Bedard, McDonalds later informed him that a bachelor’s degree is not really required for the position. [Washington Examiner, April 4]

Still, if McDonalds thought there weren’t bachelor’s degree holders who would apply, it probably wouldn’t have listed the job that way. This story is but one more datum supporting the thesis that government subsidies have transformed higher education into mere screening device for employers. Richard Vedder, Christopher Denhart, and Jonathan Robe cover this ground in their recent paper, “Why Are Recent College Graduates Underemployed? University Enrollments and Labor-Market Realities” [Center for College Affordability and Productivity, January 2013]. They write:

[C]ollege is really more of a screening device that helps separate the sharp, disciplined applicants from the dullards and slackers. If the college from which students graduates has a selective admissions policy, the employer is doubly reassured that the college graduate is sharp, and thus is willing to pay an even larger wage premium. Harvard graduates, on average, make a good deal more than graduates of, say, the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The college degree is a signal to employers, and one that they aggressively utilize.

From the employer’s perspective, the best thing about relying on diplomas to help narrow the pool of job applicants is that the potential employee bears the bulk of the search-related costs—he or she pays for the college training. […]

To us, that screening device function is the main factor in allowing colleges to raise their prices (tuition fees) dramatically over time. With the passage of time and the deterioration in the quality of the skill levels of high-school graduates, employers have bid up the college/high-school earnings differential, allowing the schools to raise prices more and still leave college a good personal investment for those who successfully complete higher education programs.

Because almost everyone has a bachelor’s degree, it has ceased to become something special; but because almost everyone has one, the degree has become more essential than ever to the person trying to become employable. Higher education is now a kind of arms race in credentialing that wastes a lot of resources.

Posted on 04/05/13 05:10 PM by Alex Adrianson

Insurance 101

Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, doesn’t understand what health insurance is:

At a White House briefing Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said some of what passes for health insurance today is so skimpy it can’t be compared to the comprehensive coverage available under the law. “Some of these folks have very high catastrophic plans that don’t pay for anything unless you get hit by a bus,” she said. “They’re really mortgage protection, not health insurance.”

She’s got it backwards, explains Megan McArdle:

[I]t’s the catastrophe which makes insurance a good deal. You wouldn’t get much value from buying “grocery insurance”. At best, you’d be paying an extra administrative fee to route your routine expenses through an insurer, rather than paying them directly. At worst, you’ll end up with bills skyrocketing as all sorts of perverse incentives appear. After all, if the insurer is paying all your grocery claims, why not load up on filet mignon instead of ground turkey?

But insurers try very hard never to sell insurance for less than the cost of your expected claims. If you expect to buy $10,000 worth of groceries next year, it will not charge you less than that for a “grocery policy”. And if we all drive up the costs of grocery insurance by consuming more, the insurer can do one of two things: raise everyone’s “insurance premiums” to cover a filet mignon budget, or create a list of “approved groceries” that it will cover, and start hassling anyone who tries to file an excessively expensive claim. [The Daily Beast, March 27]

Sebelius is confused on this point probably because the actual insurance function of “health insurance” was subsumed into a pre-payment system a long time ago, thanks to the unlimited subsidies in the tax code for employer-provided “health insurance.” In other words, we’ve been consuming the medical equivalent of filet mignon for so long that many people reflexively associate that with the idea of insurance.

Posted on 04/05/13 03:25 PM by Alex Adrianson

The War on Labels Is a War on Rational Thought

Bowing to the pressure group No Labels, the Associated Press has decided its reporting will no longer use labels to describe people. That means, for example, that while violating immigration law may be described as an illegal action, the person taking such an action cannot be described as an illegal immigrant. As Jonah Goldberg notes, if we all followed this rule, we would find it awfully difficult to communicate:

But if consistency is the AP’s lodestar, what are we to say about “criminal defendants”? Or, for that matter, what to do about jaywalkers, plagiarists, or pedophiles? If a schizophrenic must be called a person “diagnosed with schizophrenia,” shall we now refer to everyone as someone whom someone else has described as something? Where does that end? […]

Activists and others in favor of banning “illegal immigrant” say the term tarnishes all immigrants. As Sergio Martinez, a 25-year-old resident of Detroit and a noncitizen, told the Michigan news site MLive, “I definitely felt like it was very derogatory and created a stigma for immigrants.”

Well, maybe not for immigrants so much as for illegal immigrants, which is sort of the point, right? […]

For some reason, a lot of people insist that the “illegal” in “illegal immigration” is in effect an unfair slander. But we live in a country where illegal and immoral only occasionally overlap in the popular mind. How immoral it is to immigrate illegally to the country is debatable, but that it’s illegal to do so isn’t debatable, it’s axiomatic. [National Review, April 5]

As Michelle Malkin points out, if those defending the new AP guidance were really consistent they would have to cease the bias of identifying leftwing writers as journalists while calling conservative writers rightwing columnists. [Twitchy, April 4] That isn’t going to happen.

Posted on 04/05/13 01:19 PM by Alex Adrianson

A Belated Hurrah for William J. Casey

We’re guilty, like most, of overlooking the 100th anniversary of the late William Casey’s birth on March 13. As Paul Kengor reports, the good folks at the Young America’s Foundation didn’t forget and put on a good program to celebrate Casey and his public service—especially his key role in President Ronald Reagan’s effort to defeat communism. The featured speaker was Herb Meyer, special assistant to Casey and vice chair of the National Intelligence Council. Kengor distills Meyer’s tribute:

[P]rior to the Reagan administration, all previous presidents had approached the Cold War from the perspective that they should not lose. They acted primarily defensively. So long as the Cold War balance/competition was not appreciably worse for the United States after a president’s tenure, the president was generally satisfied with the outcome of his performance and the global status quo. Reagan and Casey changed all of that, and did so with great courage, creativity, confidence, and panache. The difference with Reagan at the White House and Casey at the CIA is that they played not to lose but to win.

Ronald Reagan and Bill Casey went on offense.

As Herb Meyer says, this was an altogether different psychological and tactical dynamic that literally changed everything. For Reagan and Casey, this translated into a deliberate decision to actually attempt to win the Cold War, and their definition of winning the Cold War meant that the Soviet Union would cease to exist.

Reagan and Casey came to an open agreement on that point in a critical executive-level NSPG meeting just 10 days into the start of the Reagan presidency. There, at the White House, on January 30, 1981, the new CIA director and new president informed their principals that the United States had a historic opportunity to do serious damage to the Soviet Union. It was at that meeting that the subject of a covert, strategic offensive against the USSR was first brought up. It was decided that the Reagan administration should launch a concerted effort to play on Soviet vulnerabilities. While the details remained to be hammered out, the initial commitment was made on that January 30, just days into the Reagan presidency.

Thereafter, Casey sought to transform what the CIA had been doing. He and Meyer launched a systematic campaign to identify Soviet economic weaknesses, rather than focusing on and monitoring Soviet (alleged) strengths — as the CIA had been doing. They began conducting Soviet vulnerability assessments, looking for areas where the USSR could be hurt and ultimately undermined. […]

Herb Meyer concludes: “Bill Casey wasn’t just a little smarter or a little tougher than anybody else you could put in at the CIA. Bill Casey was a crystal-ball in a pin-striped suit…. He was one of a kind. And we were very lucky to have had him then, when we needed him the most.” [The American Spectator, April 5]

Posted on 04/05/13 12:11 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Federal Government Has a Marketing Plan for ObamaCare

Why would it need one of those? Wasn’t ObamaCare passed in order to help out the 48 million uninsured people who were clamoring for coverage? Why would ObamaCare need to be marketed to those folks? It appears the Department of Health and Human Services is just now figuring out that the reason many people chose to forgo health insurance was not that they couldn’t afford it. Rather, they just decided it wasn’t a good deal for them. ObamaCare hasn’t fixed that deal; it has made it worse by piling on even more implicit subsidies from the young to the old. Digging into the HHS marketing plan, Investor’s Business Daily reports:

The biggest market segment identified by HHS, in fact, is what it describes as “healthy and young,” who make up 48% of the uninsured population.

They have “a low motivation to enroll” because they are in “excellent to very good health” and so “take health for granted.”

Plus, as the HHS has apparently just discovered, most of them say that cost is the main reason they don’t have coverage.

Then there are the “passive and unengaged,” which make up 15% of the uninsured and also have a “low motivation to enroll” because they “live for today.” They also cite cost as a key factor.

The problem, of course, is that ObamaCare will make insurance vastly more expensive for many of those who fall into these groups by larding on new benefit mandates and placing limits on premium-lowering deductions and co-pays. It will also introduce insurance market rules that force the young and healthy to subsidize premiums for those older and sicker. [Investor’s Business Daily, April 3]

For the proponents of ObamaCare, the implicit subsidies from young to old are not a bug, they’re a feature. And they’re a feature that can work only if everyone has to buy health insurance. Remember, that was the point of ObamaCare’s individual mandate; and the argument that the insurance market wouldn’t work without it also featured prominently in the defense of the provision before the Supreme Court. It appears though that the penalties are just too small and the enforcement too weak to be able to induce compliance, as Joe Antos and Michael Strain pointed out last year. [The American, July 17, 2012] If it is true that the mandate isn’t going to work, what hope does a marketing plan have?

Posted on 04/04/13 06:59 PM by Alex Adrianson

Ed Feulner Changed the Way Think Tanks Work

This week Ed Feulner hands off The Heritage Foundation presidency to Jim DeMint. Feulner has been President of the Heritage Foundation since 1977. His concept of publishing succinct, timely research that would actually get read by policymakers changed not just the way Heritage worked, but the way all think tanks work. Feulner built an institution that gave the Reagan administration it’s policy blueprint with the publication of Mandate for Leadership: Policy Management in a Conservative Presidency in 1980; led the way on reforming welfare in the 1990s; built the case for missile defense, with which even the Obama administration seems to agree now; and showed the world that economic freedom leads to prosperity with its annual Index of Economic Freedom. Along the way, Feulner turned a small research shop into a permanent voice for conservative policies. For more on what Ed Feulner has helped The Heritage Foundation accomplish, you should read Lee Edwards new book, Leading the Way: The Story of Ed Feulner and The Heritage Foundation (Crown Forum, 2013). To give you a taste of the book, here is a section that explains the key Feulner innovations and the role they played very early in his presidency, especially in the work of producing Mandate for Leadership:

Many people inside and outside Heritage contributed to Mandate’s success, but one person was more responsible than any other for its extraordinary impact—Ed Feulner. It was Feulner and another young congressional aide—Paul Weyrich—who conceived the idea of a conservative think tank that would concentrate on providing timely, concise, reliable analysis to members of Congress and their staff.

It was Feulner who brought Phil Truluck with him from the Republican Study Committee in the House and asked him to build a new kind of research department committed to rapid and succinct response. Truluck soon became the foundation’s chief operating officer, its COO, forming with Feulner a unique, long-lasting partnership in Washington’s think tank world.

It was Feulner who hired veteran public relations man Hugh Newton to fashion a proactive communications department that would work with all sectors of the mass media—left, right, and center—not just with those on the right, as most conservative organizations were wont to do.

It was Feulner who exponentially expanded the direct-mail fundraising started by his predecessor Frank Walton: by the end of 1980, there were some 120,000 Heritage donors (called “members” by the foundation). The expended membership gave Heritage a financial independence that assured policy independence. If any individual, foundation, or corporation threatened to withdraw its support if Heritage did not amend a position on a particular issue, Heritage could and did reply, “We’re not for sale.”

It was Feulner who instructed personnel whiz Willa Johnson to form a national network of conservative groups and individuals—the Resource Bank. “We wanted Heritage,” he explains, “to identify conservative policy experts on and off the campus and connect them to the Washington policy community.” Many of the experts served as the authors and editors of Mandate for Leadership.

Mandate was a true reflection of The Heritage Foundation—principled and pragmatic, innovative and conservative, optimistic and realistic—just like the Foundation’s president.

But who was Ed Feulner? Who had shaped him? What had shaped him? How did he come to be president of what the liberal New Republic called “the most important think tank in the nation’s capital”?

Posted on 04/03/13 01:38 PM by Alex Adrianson


Somebody has spotted bats in Georgia, which means delays in the construction of roads that might save human lives; but bats aren’t worth protecting when they’re torn up by wind turbines. James Rust reports:

Currently $459 million in Georgia road projects are delayed up to one and one-half years. The cost of studies is between $80,000 and $120,000 per project and the total for the 104 projects in the next three years may be $8 million. […]

There is no question lives are saved by improved traffic flow on four-lane roads versus two-lane roads with potential for head-on collisions. Using EPA standards for reduced air pollution due to more efficient automobile operations, the potential for lives saved may be in the hundreds. The delay of possibly one and one-half years for bat habitat studies will cost Georgians lives.

But it turns out, bats are worth sacrificing aplenty in order to fight global warming with proliferating wind farms:

Besides being minced by turbine blade rotations, bats are subject to deaths by other means as explained by the August 26, 2008 Scientific American article “On a Wing and Low Air: The Surprising Way Wind Turbines Kill Bats.” Bats are killed by pressure pulses causing burst blood vessels in their lungs. As nocturnal creatures, bats are particularly vulnerable to wind turbines because wind turbine operations are frequently late at night when demand for electricity is at its lowest. […]

In Indiana, the origin of Indiana bats, thousands of bats perish annually due to wind farms in Benton County where no standards to protect bat habitats are enforced. Additional wind farms are strewn all over the Midwest due to its favorable wind speeds. Consequently, millions of bats die yearly due to wind farm operations. Apparently the U. S. Government’s enthusiasm for promoting renewable energy resources allows ignoring the fate of animals listed by the Endangered Species Act. [Heartland Institute, April 1]

Posted on 04/02/13 05:47 PM by Alex Adrianson

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