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InsiderOnline Blog: August 2013

Arizona’s Education Savings Accounts Are a Step Beyond School Choice

The program allows parents of certain students to withdraw those students from their public or charter schools and receive an account containing 90 percent of the education funding the state would have spent on that student. The parents then can use the money in the account for a variety of educational purposes. Examining the data from the Arizona, Lindsey Burke finds that, indeed, parents are using the funding not merely to pick a school, but to customize their children’s educations:

Of the 316 families participating from 2011 forward, 109 (34 percent) chose to use their ESA funds for multiple education options. That included attending a private school of choice while supplementing that education with additional curricula, tutoring, or therapies, or combining educational services and providers that included no private school tuition.

• 109 families (34 percent) used their funds for multiple educational options.
• Seven families used their Empowerment Scholarship Account funds to finance online learning options.
• 47 families used their ESAs for private tutoring.
• 39 families chose to use a portion of their funds to finance curriculum.
• 62 families accessed education therapy and services via ESA funds.
• Unspent funds suggest families are saving and “rolling over” a significant portion of the ESA funds, likely in anticipation of future education related expenses. [“The Education Debit Card: What Arizona Parents Purchase with Arizona’s Education Savings Accounts,” by Lindsey M. Burke, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, August 2013]

Unbundling! [See also: “Giving Parents Choices: How Education Savings Accounts Can Give Every Child a Better Education,” by Jonathan Butcher, The Insider, Summer 2013]

Posted on 08/30/13 10:24 AM by Alex Adrianson

What They Should Be Telling You about ObamaCare

The Department of Health and Human Services has a contest going to see who can come up with the best video to promote ObamaCare. The group Crossroads GPS has stepped up to the plate:

Public voting for the best video begins October 1.

Posted on 08/29/13 11:45 AM by Alex Adrianson

Video of the Week: Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963, Washington, D.C.

Fifty years ago this week, Martin Luther King, Jr., told the nation he had a dream:

Posted on 08/28/13 05:49 PM by Alex Adrianson

Article V Doesn’t Provide for “Conservative Only” Constitutional Conventions

For some very understandable reasons, some very important people in the conservative movement think the only way to rein in the federal government is with a constitutional convention as provided for under Article V of the Constitution. But don’t count Phillis Schlafly among the supporters of the idea. Proponents of an Article V convention, she writes, “are fooling themselves when they suggest that Article V creates a path to bypass Congress with a ‘convention of states’”:

The only power the states have under Article V is the opportunity to submit an “application” (petition) humbly beseeching Congress to call a convention. Hundreds of such applications have been submitted over the years, with widely different purposes and wording, many applications were later rescinded and some purport to make the application valid for only a particular amendment such as a federal balanced budget or congressional term limits.

Article V states that Congress “shall” call a convention on the application of two-thirds of state legislatures (34), but how will Congress count valid applications? We don’t know, and so far, Congress has ignored them anyway.

If Congress ever decides to act, Article V gives Congress exclusive power to issue the “Call” for a convention to propose “amendments” (note the plural). The Call is the governing document which determines all the basic rules such as where and when a convention will be held, who is eligible to be a delegate (will current office-holders be eligible?), how delegates will be apportioned, how expenses will be paid and who will be the chairman. […]

Article V doesn’t give any power to the states to propose constitutional amendments, or to decide which amendments will be considered by the convention. Article V doesn’t give any power to the courts to correct what does or does not happen.

Now imagine Democratic and Republican conventions meeting in the same hall and trying to agree on constitutional changes. Imagine the gridlock in drafting a constitutional plank by caucuses led by Sarah Palin and Al Sharpton. [Townhall.com, August 27]

Posted on 08/27/13 02:32 PM by Alex Adrianson

Civil Rights Progress and Regress

“We have a long way to go to catch up to what Martin Luther King said 50 years ago,” writes Thomas Sowell. “And we are moving in the opposite direction”:

Many people — especially politicians and activists — want to take credit for the economic and other advancement of blacks, even though a larger proportion of blacks rose out of poverty in the 20 years before 1960 than in the 20 years afterwards. But no one wants to take responsibility for the policies and ideologies that led to the breakup of the black family, which had survived centuries of slavery and generations of discrimination.

Many hopes were disappointed because those were unrealistic hopes to begin with. Economic and other disparities between groups have been common for centuries, in countries around the world — and many of those disparities have been, and still are, larger than the disparities between blacks and whites in America. Even when those who lagged behind have advanced, they have not always caught up, even after centuries, because others were advancing at the same time. But when blacks did not catch up with whites in America within a matter of decades, that was treated as strange — or even a sinister sign of crafty and covert racism.

Civil rights were necessary, but far from sufficient. Education and job skills are crucial, and the government cannot give you these things. All it can do is make them available. Race hustlers who blame all lags on the racism of others are among the obstacles to taking the fullest advantage of education and other opportunities. What does that say about the content of their character? [National Review, August 27]

Posted on 08/27/13 12:39 PM by Alex Adrianson

Doing Nothing or Invading Aren’t the Only Options on Syria

The news that President Obama is considering missile strikes against Syria confirms the existence of what James Jay Carafano has called the “CNN Effect”—nations feeling “compelled to ‘do something’ about the problem depicted on their TV screens.”

The administration so far has followed the rest of the world, fixating on the battles raging from Damascus to Aleppo. Yet the White House has no good options for influencing these events.

Consequently, it has adopted a faux foreign policy: pretending to do something, while keeping actual involvement to a minimum. It asks Moscow to help marshal a peace conference, knowing that the Kremlin’s sole interest is keeping strongman Assad in power. It makes a half-hearted attempt to find and supply “good” rebels who won’t turn Syria into an al Qaeda sanctuary.

What the U.S. should have done from the outset is concentrate its efforts on Turkey, Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan—countries that could make a serious difference in safeguarding American interests in the region.

Working bilaterally with these nations, we could:

* Coordinate efforts to cripple the pipelines moving foreign fighters, funds, and weapons to al Qaeda in Syria (AQ in Syria’s success is giving the global Islamist insurgency a second life in the Middle East.),

* Help build a “firebreak” to keep the Sunni-Shia proxy war in Syria from spreading into a broader regional conflict, and

* Lessen the opportunity for other unstable hot spots—like Egypt—to spill over into other countries.

Giving help to Jordan, says Carafano, would be a good first step, since that country has been a valuable ally in battling terrorism. He notes that Jordan “is also a model of political and economic reforms for the region,” scoring “well above the regional average in Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal annual Index of Economic Freedom.” [Washington Examiner, August 16]

Posted on 08/27/13 12:29 PM by Alex Adrianson

Accreditation Is Protectionism

The President’s ideas on higher education reform ignore the real source of the sector’s woes: a non-profit structure that encourages schools to compete based on reputation rather than teaching quality, which drives up costs. Accreditation policies and government subsidies protect that set-up from disruption by low-cost alternatives. Conn Carroll reports on a story that highlights how that works:

Now living in Warren, Ohio, with a son of his own, [Keion] Stella wanted to improve his own life and his son’s opportunities. But as a single parent with a full-time job, his options were limited.

But then along came Ivy Bridge of Tiffin University, an online community college partnered with the traditional four-year institution Tiffin University and designed to help traditionally underserved students like Stella access higher education.

A new model for higher education, Ivy Bridge made Stella’s academic success more likely by providing both intensive one-on-one support and seamless transfer to over 150 traditional four-year institutions, including Arizona State, George Mason University, and the affiliated Tiffin University.

Stella completed his associate’s degree this May and is scheduled to begin Tiffin this January. He was so satisfied with the program that he convinced his ex-wife, one of his brothers, and two of his colleagues to sign up.

But none of them will be getting the same support and access to automatic transfers that Stella did. That is because the government-empowered bureaucrats who control Tiffin’s accreditation, the Higher Learning Commission, gave Tiffin a choice: either shut down Ivy Bridge entirely, or your own accreditation will be at risk. Tiffin chose to shut down Ivy Bridge. [Washington Examiner, August 25]

As we noted last week [InsiderOnline.org, August 23], discounting student loan rates for students attending colleges that do well on a federal college scorecard, as the President has proposed, simply gives the higher education lobby another way to try to rig the rules in order to prevent competition from new delivery models.

Posted on 08/26/13 03:26 PM by Alex Adrianson

ObamaCare Has Been Good for the People Who Wrote ObamaCare

The people who wrote ObamaCare aren’t done writing it; only now they’re getting paid a lot more to do it as lobbyists:

More than 30 former administration officials, lawmakers and congressional staffers who worked on the healthcare law have set up shop on K Street since 2010.

Major lobbying firms such as Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock, The Glover Park Group, Alston & Bird, BGR Group and Akin Gump can all boast an Affordable Care Act insider on their lobbying roster—putting them in a prime position to land coveted clients. […]

Veterans of the healthcare push are now lobbying for corporate giants such as Delta Air Lines, UPS, BP America and Coca-Cola, and for healthcare companies including GlaxoSmithKline, UnitedHealth Group and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. […]

Demand for ObamaCare insiders is even higher now that major pieces of the law, including the healthcare exchanges and individual insurance mandate, are being set up through a slew of complicated federal regulations. […]

While lobbying revenue at major firms has been flat or declining in recent years, the healthcare law has generated steady work—a trend that is likely to continue for years to come.

That’s because ObamaCare runs on a long timeline—well into the next administration. Unless the law is severely crippled, the reform’s rules and requirements will be rolling out through at least 2020. [The Hill, August 25]

Funny how it works out that way.

Posted on 08/26/13 01:57 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Fine Tune Your Social Media Skills

Up your technology game. RightOnline will offer workshops galore on social media; lots networking; plus a few heavy hitters such as Arthur Brooks, Michelle Malkin, and Patrick Ruffini. The conference is August 30 and 31 in Orlando, Fla.

Figure out how to balance privacy, liberty, and national security. The Heritage Foundation and National Review will host a discussion with James Jay Carafano, Jim Geraghty, Debbie Rose, and Paul Rosenzweig. The discussion begins at noon on August 29 at The Heritage Foundation.

• Learn how to talk about federalism by checking out the Federalism in Action Toolkit. The guide, a product of the State Policy Network and State Budget Solutions, also includes advice on how NOT to talk about federalism, suggestions on how to put federalism into action, as well as an issue-by-issue guide to applying federalism.

• If you like coffee or if you approve of retailers allowing their customers to carry guns while in their stores, then head down to Starbucks. A group called Gun Sense is trying to pressure Starbucks into changing its policy allowing guns in its stores by organizing a boycott on Saturday, August 24. [USA Today, August 21] The lines might be short; or you might find others there who support gun rights. Either way, they’ll have coffee.

Find out whether single-sex schools are a good idea. Christina Hoff Summers and Lise Eliot will present different perspectives at a forum hosted by the American Enterprise Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum. The discussion begins at 5:30 p.m. on August 28 at AEI.

Posted on 08/23/13 06:59 PM by Alex Adrianson

You Couldn’t Get Away With Doing What the Government Does

And they shouldn’t either:

Posted on 08/23/13 05:02 PM by Alex Adrianson

Video of the Week: Sacramento v. The First Amendment

The Institute for Justice continues to stand up for the First Amendment. Now it’s taking on Sacramento’s sign code, which prevents businesses from communicating effectively with their customers:

Posted on 08/23/13 04:50 PM by Alex Adrianson

Obama’s Higher Education Plan Isn’t the Change That’s Needed

On Thursday, President Obama announced a plan to tie federal financial aid to government ratings of colleges’ value. That means, as Lindsey Burke puts it, that we’re going to have “the federal government handing out subsidies based on a rating system designed by the people handing out the funding. What could possibly go wrong?” What will go wrong, she goes on to explain, is that the people deciding how to rate college value are going to be the lobbyists for higher education, not the students and families who are the consumers of higher education. [The Foundry, August 23]

As economist Richard Vedder has argued, the problem with higher education is its peculiar non-profit structure—itself a product of government policy—that induces the schools to compete for students on the basis of reputation rather than teaching quality. That focus on reputation leads schools to spend money on all sorts of things that have no relation to learning. Students are not sensitive to the higher prices those costs entail because the value of the degree lies largely in obtaining the credential (made more valuable when the school enhances its reputation) not in the learning—and also because students don’t pay the full cost of their education anyway. In this set-up, trying to fight costs with subsidies is like trying to put out a fire by pouring gasoline on it. [For an example of this argument, see: “Why Are Recent College Graduates Underemployed? University Enrollments and Labor Market Realities,” by Richard Vedder, Christopher Denhart, and Jonathan Robe, Center for College Affordability and Productivity, January 2013]

New technologies are only now beginning to disintermediate and unbundle the university model of higher education—just like they have done to newspapers, theatres, book stores, record stores, and most other pre-Internet modes of content delivery. But standing in the way of that transformation are accreditation policies and government subsidies that protect the university from model-based competition. [See: “Beyond Retrofitting: Innovation in Higher Education,” by Andrew P. Kelly and Frederick Hess, Hudson Institute, June 2013]

A one-size fits all college scorecard designed by the federal government can only be an additional hurdle.

Posted on 08/23/13 03:44 PM by Alex Adrianson

What the New Housing Market Will Have in Common with the Old

Policymakers are talking about replacing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but creating a new government guarantor of mortgages just means there’ll be another bailout down the road. Arnold Kling explains how the rent-seeking game created the subprime crisis and how that game will likely continue in a post-Freddie/Fannie world:

As usual, Wall Street needed favorable regulatory rulings in order to get its subprime machine rolling. What was most important was that bank regulators tilted capital regulations in favor of highly-rated securities. As a result, the capital requirements for a bank holding a very safe mortgage where the borrower had made a down payment of 30 percent were more onerous than those for a bank holding a CDO tranche backed by the most dodgy subprime loans with low down payments, as long as the issuer of the security could find a rating agency willing to confer its AAA blessing on that tranche. The tilt away from originate-to-hold and toward originate-to-distribute was a matter of what even public officials termed “regulatory capital arbitrage.”

For Wall Street, the ideal situation is one in which taxpayers provide a guarantee that makes mortgage securities viable, banks remain hamstrung by capital requirements that penalize them for holding loans that they originate, and the government enterprise that supplies the guarantee is not permitted to have a portfolio of securities, the way Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have operated.

Today, the housing finance reforms that have the most bipartisan support appear to do exactly what Wall Street wants. They create a new government agency to guarantee mortgage securities. They do nothing about the perverse capital requirements that penalize banks that originate safe loans while rewarding banks that hold securities backed by dodgy loans. They ensure that mortgage securitization, which has never demonstrated an ability to compete on a level playing field in the market, will continue to dominate the American mortgage market. Whenever this system suffers its next crisis, taxpayers will be delivering the bailout. The mortgage bankers and Wall Street firms win. You lose. [The American, August 21]

Posted on 08/23/13 02:41 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Climatologists Are On It!

A report on some surprising findings from the folks studying global warming:

A groundbreaking new study has shown that climate change is the underlying cause of increasingly frequent and severe climate model failures. Researchers at Pennsylvania State Community College have discovered a critical link between atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration and general circulation model errors.

“Climate change has made it increasingly difficult to predict climate change,” says Dr. Manyard Michael, the lead scientist behind the study. “The current 16 year pause in global warming illustrates just how serious this situation has been; if not for climate change, we now know that we would have been able to accurately predict the current break in warming and clearly show that climate change is actually accelerating faster than forecast – not stopping as climate change is making it appear to those outside of the climate science community.” Dr. Michael also noted that they stumbled on this important finding almost by accident. “We just happened to notice that the higher carbon dioxide concentrations climbed, the more we had to adjust the data to get the results we knew to be right, and the more we adjusted the data, the bigger the error in the models. It’s a very strong positive feedback.” [Comment by Craig on “Stalking the Rogue Hotspot,” by Willis Eschenback, Watts Up With That, August 21; h/t: Marlo Lewis, Global Warming.org, August 21]

Posted on 08/23/13 01:57 PM by Alex Adrianson

Other States Have Michigan’s Constitutional Problem, Too

Michigan isn’t the only state that complicates municipal bankruptcies (like the one going on in Detroit) with state constitutional provisions forbidding the diminishment or impairment of public pension benefits. Six other states have those provisions, too.  Those states are Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, and New York. Stephen Eide and Dean Ball write that these states “should consider removing these protections”:

Bankruptcy, a long and costly process, should be guided as much as possible by the principle of shared sacrifice among creditors. Constitutional pension protections enhance the uncertainty of an already-complicated process and deny negotiators the flexibility they need to reach an appropriate settlement with all parties. [“Constitutional Public Pension Guarantees: Unfair, Unaffordable, and Bad Policy,” by Stephen D. Eide and Dean Ball, Manhattan Institute, August 2013.]

Promises that cannot be kept won’t be—even if a constitution says otherwise.

Posted on 08/23/13 01:33 PM by Alex Adrianson

Welfare Can Still Be a Hurdle to Work

In spite of the 1996 welfare reform, it’s still possible in many states for an unemployed person to obtain more in government benefits than he could earn from a typical entry-level job. Michael Tanner and Charles Hughes calculated the value of cash and in-kind benefits that a household could receive in total from the 72 federal poverty programs and various state poverty programs. They then compared those benefits to the take home pay (income net of taxes paid and tax benefits such as the earned income tax credit) of various occupations and income levels. They found:

[I]n 13 states, welfare pays more than $15 per hour. The most gener­ous benefit package was in Hawaii, although that may be distorted by the state’s high cost of living. The second highest level of benefits was in the Dis­trict of Columbia, followed by Massa­chusetts.

In 11 states, welfare pays more than the average pre-tax first year wage for a teacher. In 39 states it pays more than the starting wage for a secretary. And, in the 3 most generous states a person on wel­fare can take home more money than an entry-level computer programmer. […]

[W]elfare pays more than a minimum-wage job in 33 states […] . [“The Work Versus Welfare Trade-Off: 2013,” by Michael Tanner and Charles Hughes, The Cato Institute, August 19]

In theory, federal welfare reform imposed work requirements on participants in the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Tanner and Hughes point out, however, that those provisions can be skirted depending on how states define “work”; further, the Obama administration now gives some states even more latitude to relax the requirements if they increase “employment exits” by 20 percent.  As Robert Rector has pointed out, that’s a meaningless yardstick for judging a welfare system at any point in time, but especially so following a recession when employment exits can be expected to increase no matter what the welfare bureaucracy does. [“Ending Work for Welfare: Bogus Measures of Success,” by Robert Rector, The Heritage Foundation, August 24, 2012]

Posted on 08/22/13 06:19 PM by Alex Adrianson

Now We See the Solipsism Inherent in the System

Ezra Klein thinks he’s found the solution to what may be the biggest challenge now facing ObamaCare: Healthy and wealthy “young invincibles” choosing to pay the ObamaCare individual mandate penalty rather than sign up for coverage from one of the ObamaCare exchanges. If too many of the wealthy/healthy opt out, the system can’t deliver the cross-subsidies that liberals consider a feature of the program. Klein advises us:

[E]ven the small group of people who are young, healthy or too rich to qualify for subsidies and don’t have employer-provided insurance have a compelling reason to purchase insurance: They will not be young and healthy – or even necessarily rich – forever. Young people grow old. Healthy people get sick. Rich people become poor. The people overpaying to keep costs low today are the people underpaying 10 or 20 years from now. It’s a terrible mistake to believe your health-care needs won’t change over time.

Those young, healthy rich people will need a functional system in the future when they become older, sicker or poorer. So even for those least in need, health-insurance premiums are an investment – not in someone else’s future, but in their own. Only a cramped and narrow view of self-interest assumes that the status quo lasts forever. [Bloomberg, August 16]

Some people can do back flips and then make it seem like they didn’t move at all; just the rest of world changed positions. Liberals used to believe that self-interested taxpayers would not support explicit transfer programs for the poor or voluntarily buy health insurance that wasn’t a good deal for them. Their solution to unbridled rationality was to embed cross-subsidies in the health insurance system by prohibiting risk-based ratings, coverage denials, and coverage exclusions; and then mandate that everyone join the risk pool. Now Klein tells us individual self-interest is really the solution to lawmakers botching ObamaCare’s incentives. He advises: Save ObamaCare in order to save yourselves!

Meanwhile, Jonathan Bernstein analyzes the opposition to ObamaCare this way:

But that refusal to accept any of the substance of Obamacare has run Republicans right into a brick wall. Thanks to the way that the ACA was put together — it really is a mammoth omnibus bill which incorporated practically every plausible policy idea out there — it turns out that practically everything you can do to provide health insurance is now tainted by Obamacare. […]

If everything — even the whole concept of insurance — is tainted by association with Obamacare, then the only safe ground for conservatives (safe, that is, from cries of “RINO”) is to oppose insurance altogether. [Emphasis added.] [Washington Post, August 20]

If you start with the assumption that only liberal ideas are plausible, then it’s pretty easy to arrive at the conclusion that the choices are only liberal ideas or nothing. But the choices aren’t just ObamaCare or no insurance system. The real alternative to ObamaCare is something that hasn’t yet been tried in health insurance: free markets. Many think tanks have proposed plans along those lines. One recent example is the American Enterprise Institute’s “Best of Both Worlds, Uniting Universal Coverage and Personal Choice in Health Care.” Among the major elements of the AEI plan are allowing private insurance companies to use individual risk ratings and offer multi-year contracts, and providing government assistance to help the poor pay for insurance premiums. That sounds like a plan that will let consumers choose the insurance that provides the best combination of price and protection against the unforeseen, while also making sure everyone has access to some basic level of services.

It’s also a set-up that won’t break every time government officials don’t get the incentives just right.

Posted on 08/20/13 05:32 PM by Alex Adrianson

Half of ObamaCare’s Deadlines Have Been Missed So Far

That finding comes from a Congressional Research Service memo written in June. Avik Roy has obtained a copy, and provides the details:

As of May 31, 2013, when the CRS analysis was completed, the White House had yet to meet 9 of 12 deadlines from the first year after the Affordable Care Act was enacted. It failed to meet 22 of 53 deadlines in the second year; another 8 became moot after Congress did not appropriate funds to complete the assigned tasks. In year three, the administration missed 10 out of 17 deadlines. That’s a total of 41 out of 82 deadlines missed.

If you exclude the 9 deadlines that became moot because Congress never appropriated the funds to meet them, the Obama administration missed 41 out of 73 deadlines, or 56 percent. [Forbes, August 18]

Only 32 deadlines have been completed on-time or early. Here is the breakdown from Roy’s analysis of the CRS report:

[Forbes, August 18]

Posted on 08/19/13 05:25 PM by Alex Adrianson

William P. Clark, R.I.P.

William P. Clark, one of President Reagan most trusted advisors died last Saturday. He was 81. Clark was a Justice of the California Supreme Court before serving various roles in the Reagan administration, including National Security Advisor and Secretary of the Interior. Steven Hayward, reviewing Paul Kengor and Patricia Doerner’s The Judge, William P. Clark: Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand, highlighted Clark’s accomplishments in the Reagan administration:

Clark was a true Cincinnatus, entering public service reluctantly and without personal ambition, and longing always to return to the plough. As they did Reagan, the media and his opponents consistently underestimated and ridiculed him, though he was supremely able. In some respects Clark could be considered Ronald Reagan without the Hollywood personality, and indeed the judge stands out as the one person with whom the president was personally close—the exception to Reagan’s well-known personal distance. (Clark is the person who originated the famous slogan, “let Reagan be Reagan.”)

With access to Clark’s private papers and other previously restricted sources, Kengor and Doerner detail for the first time many of Clark’s exploits, especially his crucial role as national security advisor in 1982 and 1983, when Reagan’s Soviet strategy took definite shape. His role in the president’s March 1983 speech announcing the Strategic Defense Initiative was decisive. Virtually everyone in the upper reaches of the administration was against the speech, except for Clark. It is hard to imagine Reagan going through with it without the judge’s back-up.

He was also, writes Hayward, “the only senior member of the president’s inner circle who never wrote a memoir of his time with Reagan.” [Powerline, August 10]

Posted on 08/16/13 05:54 PM by Alex Adrianson

Another Provision of ObamaCare Has Been Delayed

Actually, the delay happened in February, but the public is just finding out about it now. Robert Pear reports:

In another setback for President Obama’s health care initiative, the administration has delayed until 2015 a significant consumer protection in the law that limits how much people may have to spend on their own health care.

The limit on out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles and co-payments, was not supposed to exceed $6,350 for an individual and $12,700 for a family. But under a little-noticed ruling, federal officials have granted a one-year grace period to some insurers, allowing them to set higher limits, or no limit at all on some costs, in 2014.

The grace period has been outlined on the Labor Department’s Web site since February, but was obscured in a maze of legal and bureaucratic language that went largely unnoticed. When asked in recent days about the language — which appeared as an answer to one of 137 “frequently asked questions about Affordable Care Act implementation” — department officials confirmed the policy.

Apparently, lawmakers set unrealistic deadlines:

The health law, signed more than three years ago by Mr. Obama, clearly established a single overall limit on out-of-pocket costs for each individual or family. But federal officials said that many insurers and employers needed more time to comply because they used separate companies to help administer major medical coverage and drug benefits, with separate limits on out-of-pocket costs.

In many cases, the companies have separate computer systems that cannot communicate with one another. [New York Times, August 12]

The bigger problem with the limits is that you get what you pay for. In order to have a plan with lower deductibles and no lifetime limits, you have to pay higher premiums. “These mandates,” writes Avik Roy, “have already had drastic effects on a number of colleges and universities, which offer inexpensive, defined-cap plans to their healthy, youthful students.”

Premiums at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C., for example, rose from $245 per student in 2011-2012 to between $2,507 in 2012-2013. The University of Puget Sound paid $165 per student in 2011-2012; their rates rose to between $1,500 and $2,000 for 2012-2013. Other schools have been forced to drop coverage because they could no longer afford it. [Forbes, August 13]

As Roy notes, the limits also increase the cross-subsidies from the broader base of premium payers to those with chronic conditions. That’s one more reason for a healthy person to drop out of the insurance market entirely.

Posted on 08/16/13 05:08 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Federal Government Hides the Costs of Its Energy Policies

The “core consumer price index” no longer includes food and energy. Even so, you may have noticed your paycheck does not go as far at the grocery store. Scott Lincicome:

According to the St. Louis Fed, food inflation was 22% between January 2006 and June 2013, while core CPI clocked in at only 15% over the same period. This divergence grew following the recession, with food prices (9%) far outpacing core CPI (5.9%) since late 2009.

Certain family staples fared even worse: over the past five years, for example, the average price of meat, poultry, fish and eggs is 16.2% higher.

Food inflation’s impact on American families is real and significant. One industry consulting firm recently estimated that between 2006 and 2012 the typical family of four paid $2,055 more per year in food bills than it would have if these costs hadn’t suddenly started trending up. […]

Policies that divert corn into your gas tank—like the Rewable Fuels Standard and ethanol subsidies—are at least partly responsible:

[T]he Congressional Budget Office concluded in 2009 that U.S. ethanol policy was responsible for up to 15% of the total increase in domestic food prices, and benefited a small cabal of farmers and biofuel producers at the expense of American families and the economy more broadly. [Cato Institute, August 12]

Those policies cost taxpayers money and they don’t even give us better gas, writes Nick Loris:

Ethanol has lower energy content than gasoline, and although fuel that is 85 percent ethanol has a lower price at the pump, when adjusting for its lower British Thermal Units, it is actually more expensive. Taxpayers have also shelled out $45 billion over a 30-year time frame for ethanol, and while the targeted tax credit for ethanol expired, subsidies remain in place for other biofuels. [The Heritage Foundation, August 13]

Posted on 08/16/13 04:27 PM by Alex Adrianson

Upping Nixon

Last week, President Obama explained his legal authority to suspend or delay various parts of ObamaCare by executive discretion alone by saying “this was in consultation with businesses” and “we’re not in a normal atmosphere around here when it comes to Obamacare.”

Not even President Nixon’s “Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal,” is more “constitutionally grotesque” than Obama’s claims, writes George Will: “Nixon’s claim was confined to matters of national security,” but “Obama’s audacity is more spacious; it encompasses a right to disregard any portion of any law pertaining to any subject at any time when the political ‘environment’ is difficult.” [Washington Post, August 14]

Posted on 08/16/13 02:13 PM by Alex Adrianson

Change Is What Public Intellectuals Think Other People Should Do

“Why does air travel get left out of the mix when we’re talking about reducing our carbon footprint?” asks Megan McArdle:

Only about half the country takes as much as one flight a year; I’m willing to bet that virtually every U.S. citizen gets in a passenger car at least once per annum. And while most of those car trips are the business of everyday life – getting to work, procuring food, etc. – most of those flights are either vacations, or elite workers flitting to conferences and business meetings.

Those trips are simultaneously less necessary and more carbon intensive; almost eight times as many passenger miles are traveled by car as by plane, but passenger car travel only accounts for 3 to 4 times as much greenhouse gas emission. Moreover, while we may eventually wean cars off of gasoline, air travel will, I’m told, pretty much always require hydrocarbons; nothing else can contain so much energy in so little weight, which means they’re the only way to get the plane off the ground. Air travel is not only bad for the environment now, but also will be bad for the environment 30 years from now.

So why, pray tell, do we spend so much time talking about suburban sprawl and sport utilities, and so little time talking about FedEx and European vacations?

The question answers itself, doesn’t it? Giving up air travel and overnight delivery is much more personally costly for the public intellectuals who write about this stuff than giving up a big SUV. [Bloomberg, August 12]

Posted on 08/16/13 01:21 PM by Alex Adrianson

Not Signing Up for ObamaCare Is a Better Deal for Many Young and Healthy People

And that’s a problem since one of the main ideas behind ObamaCare is to force everyone into the insurance pool so that the young will cross-subsidize the old, explains David Hogberg:

The Obama Administration estimates that it will need about 2.7 million 18-30-year-olds to join the exchanges next year if the exchanges are to work. While this study examined those aged 18-34, a quick run of the data shows that there are about 4.3 million 18-30-year-old single individuals who would be eligible for the exchanges. Of those about 2.9 million have a $500 incentive to avoid the exchange and about 2.38 million have a $1,000 incentive. Even if we assume that those who do not buy insurance are limited to those with the $1,000 incentive, the exchanges would still come up about 780,000 short of the 2.7 million 18-30-year-olds needed to avoid a death spiral. [Internal citations omitted.] [National Center for Public Policy Research, August 2013]

As Hogberg notes, when the Obama administration announced last month that it was suspending both the reporting requirements on employers and the protections against fraud in the exchanges, it effectively suspended the mandate but also gave people an opportunity to get subsidies by lying.  Maybe that was the point.

Posted on 08/16/13 01:07 PM by Alex Adrianson

Making the Sentence Fit the Crime

Attorney General Eric Holder announced he would use prosecutorial discretion to avoid mandatory-minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. That makes Holder a late arrival to the cause of criminal justice reform; they were doing it in Texas (and other states), write Vikrant Reddy and Marc Levin:  

In 2007, the state’s Legislative Budget Board insisted that legislators would need to spend $2 billion on the 17,000 additional prison beds that would be necessary by 2012. Texas legislators were rolling in a multi-billion-dollar budget surplus at the time — but, led by house corrections-committee chairman Jerry Madden (a Republican from north Dallas), they opted to veer from Texas’s longstanding strategy of simply building more prisons. Instead, the legislators worked to develop a reform package that required a far smaller amount of money than would have been spent on prisons, and spent it on alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders. These alternatives included drug courts, electronic monitoring, and enhanced parole and probation supervision. The reforms were signed into law by Governor Rick Perry. When 2013 finally arrived, Texas’s crime rate was at its lowest point since 1968, and the legislature had authorized three prison closures. Texas had succeeded while spending less on prisons.

Texas succeeded in part because, unlike the federal government, its courts are not cramped by mandatory-sentencing laws. Some conservatives applauded the mandatory minimums that were passed by the federal government (and many state governments) in the 1990s, but so did many liberals and correctional officers’ unions. (More incarceration, after all, means more union jobs.)

The Bureau of Prisons budget increased by about $197 million per year from 1980 to 2010; the current BOP budget is now 25 percent of the entire Department of Justice budget and is crowding out other important DOJ functions. On July 25, the department announced that, while national declines in crime were accompanied by declining prison populations for the third straight year, all of these decreases had come at the state level. The federal prison population actually increased. [National Review, August 14]

There are plenty of conservatives and Republicans who have been pushing to pare back the federal criminal code. See in particular the statement of the Right on Crime Initiative. As Reddy and Levin point out, unless Congress and the Obama administration work together to produce statutory changes, Holder’s administrative changes could be reversed at the whim of the next administration.

Posted on 08/14/13 06:21 PM by Alex Adrianson

Now It’s OK to Say False Promises Are Being Made about ObamaCare

Remember when lefty pundits like Jonathan Cohn [New York, June 5] and Ezra Klein [Washington Post, June 1] said righty pundits like Avik Roy [Forbes, May 30] were being dishonest in reporting that ObamaCare was going to produce health insurance rate shock? Cohn and Klein’s argument boiled down was: People shouldn’t be shocked when their rates go up because liberal policy wonks won’t be shocked.

Here’s Jonathan Cohn, writing on Monday in response to a Friday press conference in which President Obama said that when the ObamaCare exchanges open people will be able to sign up for health insurance that is significantly cheaper than what they can get now:

[W]hile some people will pay less than they pay today, some will pay more. They will primarily be young, healthy men who benefited from preferential pricing in the past, were content with coverage that had huge gaps, and are too wealthy to qualify for the law’s tax credits—which are substantial but phase out at higher incomes…

But somebody listening to Obama’s press conference probably wouldn’t grasp that distinction. They’d come away thinking their insurance will be cheaper next year. For some, it won’t be. Obama isn’t doing himself, or the law, any favors by fostering a false expectation. [New Republic, August 12]

Michael Cannon comments:

If you want to know why we can’t have an honest debate about ObamaCare, consider how Barack Obama has irresponsibly distorted that debate (for four years and counting). I hope Cohn keeps demanding greater honesty from the president, and that other ObamaCare supporters follow Cohn’s lead. [Cato Institute, August 13]

Posted on 08/14/13 05:38 PM by Alex Adrianson

Laws Are More than Rought Guidelines, Even for the Government

“The president may not decline to follow a statutory mandate or prohibition simply because of policy objections.”

So writes Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. On Tuesday, the Court told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it had to complete the licensing process and approve or reject the Department of Energy’s application to site a nuclear waste facility at Yucca Mountain, Nev., as required by federal law.

Kavenaugh’s opinion continues: “It is no overstatement to say that our constitutional system of separation of powers would be significantly altered if we were to allow executive and independent agencies to disregard federal law in the manner asserted in this case by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.” [In Re: Aiken County, Et Al., U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, August 13]

Come to think of it, similar words could apply to quite a few of the Obama administration’s doings these days, in particular its actions on ObamaCare. The administration has suspended ObamaCare’s employer mandate, suspended the fraud protections in the ObamaCare exchanges, decided to let Congress continue receiving benefits that the law had discontinued, and suspended the caps on out-of-pocket costs. Now the administration also seems likely to ignore the legal requirements for ensuring the security of personal data in the ObamaCare data hub. For a law that’s considered the Obama administration’s signature piece of legislation, ObamaCare sure gets ignored a lot by the Obama administration.

Posted on 08/14/13 04:08 PM by Alex Adrianson

Racial Profiling, or Following Leads?

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the New York police department had been intentionally targeting blacks and Hispanics for stops, questioning, and frisking. The targeting, said Scheindlin, makes the stops unconstitutional. A key part of the case against the police department was data showing that the stops are applied disproportionately to minorities. Heather MacDonald argues that assessing the stops on that kind of data ignores the reality of what police are actually doing. For example, writes MacDonald:

[Scheindlin] points out that [Officer Edgar] Gonzalez’s racial stop rate “far exceeds the percentage of blacks and Hispanics in the local population (60 percent).” In other words, though whites and Asians commit less than 1 percent of violent crime in the 88th Precinct and less than 6 percent of all crime, they should make up 40 percent of all stops—to match their representation in the local population. Never mind that the suspect descriptions that Gonzalez was given identified blacks and Hispanics as the robbery, burglary, and shooting suspects. To avoid an accusation of racial profiling, he should have stopped whites and Asians for crimes committed—according to their victims—exclusively by blacks and Hispanics.

Of course, just because crime victims identify blacks and Hispanics as their assailants doesn’t mean that race should be the primary determinant of who gets stopped—and there is no indication that it is. Thousands of blacks and Hispanics live in Fort Greene; Gonzalez stopped only a small proportion of them, basing his stops on their behavior and local crime information—for example, if they appeared to be casing a victim or burglary target at a time of day and location consistent with the current crime patterns. [City Journal, August 13]

Posted on 08/13/13 06:38 PM by Alex Adrianson

Some City Planners Think There Is Too Much Parking

The Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Council, for example, has written a development plan for the Twin Cities area that envisions higher-density residential neighborhoods in which people rely on transit to get around. According to the plan, reports Stanley Kurtz, “[d]ense development comes in stages.”

At first, for example, there may be plenty of parking near [Transit-Oriented Development (TOD)]-style subway stops. Nothing, at that point, would seem unusual to the public. In the next phase of TOD, however, the parking lots get plowed under and replaced with still more stack-and-pack housing, leaving residents and visitors with few options besides public transportation. At this point, the report notes, the “public sector” will need to turn “aggressive,” to ensure that parking lots disappear while density grows. [National Review, August 12]

It’s all part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s program of empowering regional super-governments to force development into city centers. Backed by HUD Regional Planning Grants, these regional governments, often composed of unelected officials, can withhold funding from city and suburban governments that don’t go along with their zoning and transportation priorities. Kurtz notes that the Met as well as the authors of San Francisco’s recent Plan Bay Area are among the recent recipients of these grants. [National Review, July 30]

The planners want to get (other) people out of their detached houses with backyards and into apartments and condominiums. Joel Kotkin observes some trends:

Roughly four in five buyers, according to a 2011 study commissioned by the National Association of Realtors, prefer a single-family home. This preference can be seen in the vastly greater construction of single-family houses in the past decade: Between 2000 and 2011, detached houses accounted for 83% of the net additions to the occupied U.S. housing stock.  The percentage of single-family homes in the total housing mix last decade was more than one-fifth higher than in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. […]

Overall, domestic migrants tend to be moving away from these denser metropolitan areas. Between 2000 and 2010, a net 1.9 million people left New York, 1.3 million left Los Angeles, 340,000 left San Francisco, while 230,000 left San Jose and Boston. In contrast, some of the largest in-migration has taken place over the past decade, as well as since 2010, in relatively sprawling cities, including Houston, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Tampa-St. Petersburg and Nashville. […]

[V]irtually all net population growth in the nation took place in counties with under 2,500 persons per square mile. The total population increase in counties with under 500 people per square mile was more than 30 times that of the growth in counties with densities of 10,000 and greater. [New Geography, August 8]

Apparently, we’re not behaving as the planners think we should.

Posted on 08/12/13 04:55 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Tell the Media What You Think of Its Performance

Rage against the media. If you think the media is less interested in telling the truth than in promoting partisan spin, then join the Rage Against the Media Rally, which will start at 10 a.m. on August 17. The rally will be held on the northwest lawn of the Federal Building at 11000 Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood, Calif.

Win $10,000 by entering Reason’s first video awards contest, which will honor “short-form, online video, film, and moving pictures that explore, investigate, or enrich libertarian beliefs in individual rights, limited government, and human possibilities.” Entries are due by August 31.

Hear Grover Norquist talk about becoming an effective advocate for liberty. He’ll speak at the America’s Future Foundation’s next Lunch with a Leader event, August 12, 2013. The discussion begins at 11:45 a.m. at the headquarters of Americans for Tax Reform in Washington, D.C.

Learn “how a select group of activists, philanthropists, and Washington insiders laid the foundation for the economic meltdown and how they continue to exploit the financial crisis for their own gain.” The American Enterprise Institute will host Jay Richards, who will talk about his new book, Infiltrated: How to Stop the Insiders and Activists Who Are Exploiting the Financial Crisis to Control Our Lives and Our Fortunes. The talk begins at noon on August 15.

Posted on 08/10/13 12:20 AM by Alex Adrianson

ObamaCare May Give Criminals Your Data

If you don’t sign up for ObamaCare and don’t have employer-provided insurance, you might have to pay a fine of $95. If you do sign up, you might be the victim of identity theft. According to the Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is far behind schedule in its work to create the necessary data hub that would prevent unauthorized sharing and theft of Americans’ private records. Those protections are required by federal law; unless that system is in place, ObamaCare can’t legally open the exchanges on October 1. If the launch went ahead without those protections, anyone who signed up would have immediate standing to sue the government. Avik Roy has some details:

[A]ccording to Gloria Jarmon, Deputy Inspector General for Audit Services at HHS, “several critical tasks remain to be completed in a short period of time…If there are additional delays in completing the security authorization,” the chief information officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) may not have the required “security controls needed for the security authorization decision” to open the exchanges on October 1.

According to Jarmon, CMS has delayed key deadlines by approximately two months, as described in the table below. But despite the fact every other deadline has been pushed back by as many as 73 days, CMS only delayed its final Security Authorization Decision by 26 days.

To out that another way: In March, CMS estimated that it would take 51 days—from July 15 to September 4—to review the final Security Control Assessment report, and make the final Security Authorization Decision, which you can think of as the “green light” that allows the exchanges to go forward, knowing that adequate security controls are in place. Now, CMS is planning to do that 51-day review in just 10 days.

What makes them think that they can accomplish a 51-day review in just 10 days? They don’t. The Obama administration is so determined to get Obamacare up and running on time that they are likely to ignore the legal requirements to adequately review these privacy safeguards.

Even more damning:

[Former Commissioner of the Social Security Administration] Michael Astrue says that it’s apparent from the OIG report that HHS “obstructed” the OIG audit, and notes that “what’s worse…the inspector general only conducted interviews and reviewed paperwork. No auditor actually tried to use the beta version of the system that tens of millions of Americans must use in less than two months.” [Forbes, August 7]

Posted on 08/09/13 11:10 PM by Alex Adrianson

Not Ready for ObamaCare in Oregon

Even pro-ObamaCare Oregon, a state that “started early setting up its online insurance marketplace,” is finding it difficult to get the enrollment infrastructure created on time:

Though Oregon’s health insurance marketplace will launch Oct. 1 as planned, there’s one hitch. People will only be able to immediately purchase health insurance on it with certified insurance agents and “community partners.”

The online marketplace won’t be fully accessible until mid October – at the earliest. […]

[S]tate officials say the phased-in launch is just a matter of debugging the new website.

On Oct. 1, Cover Oregon will list agents and community partners who can walk individuals through the complicated new sign-up, the agency announced at its board meeting Thursday. […]

In addition to working out kinks, Cover Oregon is also dealing with a $16 million shortfall. The Oregon Health Authority, a sister agency, had expected to fund computer programming for Cover Oregon through June with a $59 million federal grant. But documents show the grant ran out in April, due to a “misprojection” of remaining funds. [The Oregonian, August 8]

Posted on 08/09/13 10:31 PM by Alex Adrianson

A Lack of Legal Authority No Obstacle for Obama OPM

This week, the Office of Personnel Management purported to find a solution to the problem of congressional staff losing their generous health insurance benefits because of an ineptly worded provision of ObamaCare. The problem is real, but that doesn’t make the solution legal. As Edmund Haislmaier writes, “the federal government doesn’t actually have legal authority to pay for health coverage for federal workers in a plan that is not one of the plans contracted for by OPM under Title 5 Chapter 89 of the U.S. Code—which authorizes OPM to operate the [Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan].”

OPM, explains Haislmaier, is essentially pretending the law doesn’t say what it says:

According to OPM, anything that meets the general definition of a health plan is now also “a health benefit plan under this chapter” for which the federal government can pay the FEHBP subsidy for a federal employee—even if it is not a plan that OPM “contracted for” or “approved” in FEHBP, and even if it is an “individual” plan and not a “group” plan as required by the statutory definition that OPM relies on.

It was bad enough that Congress had to pass the law to find out what was in it. Now, the Administration is ignoring the law when they don’t like what they find. [The Foundry, August 7]

Posted on 08/09/13 07:30 PM by Alex Adrianson

Sen. Dick Durbin Wants to Know Who the Dissidents Are

The Illinois lawmaker has sent letters to anyone he thinks may have donated to the American Legislative Council, asking them if they support “stand your ground” laws. In the past ALEC has promoted model legislation for “stand your ground” laws, but hasn’t done so since the furor following the Trayvon Martin shooting last year. As reported on the Cato Institute’s blog, Durbin concludes his letter this way:

I plan to convene a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights to examine “stand your ground” laws, and I intend to include the responses to my letters in the hearing record. Therefore, please know that your response will be publicly available.

The Cato Institute received one of the letters. Cato’s President, John Allison, responds this way:

While Cato is not intimidated because we are a think tank—whose express mission is to speak publicly to influence the climate of ideas—from my experience as a private-sector CEO, I know that business leaders will now hesitate to exercise their constitutional rights for fear of regulatory retribution.

Your letter thus represents a blatant violation of our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. It is a continuation of the trend of the current administration and congressional leaders, such as yourself, to menace those who do not share your political beliefs—as evidenced by the multiple IRS abuses that have recently been exposed. 

Your actions are a subtle but powerful form of government coercion. [Cato Institute, August 9]

Posted on 08/09/13 06:46 PM by Alex Adrianson

Elisions of Bliss?

“Monogamish,” “throuple,” and “wedlease” are some new words you may be hearing. They reflect more complex attitudes about adult relationships. But are they healthy attitudes? Ryan Anderson:

Whatever we may think about the morality of sexually open marriages, or multi-partner marriages, or by-design-temporary marriages, the social costs will run high.

If a man doesn’t commit to a woman in a permanent and exclusive relationship, the likelihood of creating fatherless children and fragmented families increases. The more sexual partners a man has, and the shorter-lived those relationships are, the greater the chance he creates children with multiple women. His attention and resources thus divided, a long line of consequences unfold for both mother and child. […]

What these new words and redefinitions have in common is that they make marriage primarily about adult desire, primarily an intense emotional relationship between (or among) consenting adults, regardless of size or shape. And why should relationships among consenting adults be exclusive? Or permanent?

If justice demands redefining marriage to include the same-sex couple, will some argue that it demands including the throuple? Or the wedlease? Love equals love, after all.

Ideas once whispered only in obscure academic journals now secure prominent billing in mainstream outlets. But if we redefine marriage to say that men and women are interchangeable, that monogamish relationships are just as good as (better than?) monogamous relationships, that throuples are the same as couples, and that wedlease is preferable to wedlock, then we’ll witness more broken homes and broken hearts. [National Review, August 8]

Posted on 08/09/13 06:21 PM by Alex Adrianson

Matt Damon, School Choice Advocate

Public school promoter (and actor) Matt Damon has decided to send his kids to a private school in Los Angeles. Explaining that decision, he makes a very good argument for school choice: “I pay for a private education and I'm trying to get the one that most matches the public education that I had, but that kind of progressive education no longer exists in the public system.” [The Guardian, August 2]

School choice is a system in which public funding follows the child to whatever school the child’s family chooses. That system would let Matt Damon’s kids get the education he thinks is best suited for them without forcing Damon to pay more than he already pays in taxes. And it would give every other family the same option, too. 

But here’s something Matt Damon may not have considered: More school choice could also be good for public schools if it forces them to compete for students. Research published recently by Education Next examined how public schools respond to the presence of competition from charter schools. The authors found much evidence that competitive responses are happening:

Where school districts once responded with indifference, symbolic gestures, or open hostility, we are starting to see a broadening of responses, perhaps fueled by acceptance that the charter sector will continue to thrive, or by knowledge that many charters are providing examples of ways to raise academic achievement. [“Competition with Charters Motivates Districts,” by Marc J. Holley, Anna J. Egalite, and Martin F. Lueken, Education Next, Fall 2013.]

Posted on 08/09/13 05:38 PM by Alex Adrianson

Bailing Out Detroit

Can you spot the flaw in that plan?

Posted on 08/09/13 05:02 PM by Alex Adrianson

An Inconvenient Shooting

Nearly one year ago, on August 15, 2012, Floyd Lee Corkins entered the lobby of the Family Research Council and shot building manager Leo Johnson once, shattering his left forearm. Johnson then pinned Corkins against a wall and punched him repeatedly until he dropped his gun. Johnson prevented a mass murder that day, but somehow, as Mark Hemingway observes, the media couldn’t figure out how to fit that event into its prefabricated narrative about politics and violence:

The Family Research Council shooting is one of the few inarguable examples of politically motivated violence in recent years, yet looking back a year later, the incident has garnered comparatively little attention. Corkins openly admits he selected the Family Research Council because the Christian organization is one of the leading opponents of gay marriage in the country. He had Chick-fil-A sandwiches in his backpack because the CEO of the fast-food chain was under fire for publicly supporting a biblical definition of marriage. Corkins said he planned to “smother Chick-fil-A sandwiches in [the] faces” of his victims as a political statement. And in case that didn’t make his motivations transparent, right before Corkins shot Leo Johnson, he told him, “I don’t like your politics.” […]

“A detail sure to reignite the culture wars that erupted around the shooting is the fact that Corkins told FBI agents that he identified the Family Research Council as anti-gay on the Web site of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” wrote the Washington Post during Corkins’s trial in February. It’s a little unseemly for a newspaper, when finally forced to confront actual politically motivated violence, to worry about the shooting’s impact on the metaphorical “culture war.”

And, by the way: “[T]he SPLC doesn’t just name the Family Research Council on its website—it posts the council’s address on a ‘hate map.’ That map is still on SPLC’s website […] .” [Weekly Standard, August 19]

Posted on 08/09/13 12:41 PM by Alex Adrianson

Infrastructure Follows Growth

The history of planes, trains, and automobiles—not to mention steamboats—does not support the President’s infrastructure obsession, write Larry Schweikart and Burton Folsom: “[B]uilding infrastructure was never the engine of growth, but rather a lagging indicator of growth that had already occurred in the private sector. And when the infrastructure was built, it was often best done privately […] .” One example:

Airplanes became a major industry and started carrying passengers by the early 1920s. Juan Trippe, the head of Pan American World Airways, began flying passengers overseas by the mid-1930s. During that period, nearly all airports were privately funded, beginning with the Huffman Prairie Flying Field, created by the Wright Brothers in Dayton, Ohio, in 1910. St. Louis and Tucson had privately built airports by 1919. Public airports did not appear in large numbers until military airfields were converted after World War II. [Wall Street Journal, August 5]

Posted on 08/08/13 05:20 PM by Alex Adrianson

Video of the Week: Government Doesn’t Like Competition

For decades, the city of New York has been using regulations to protect its public transportation system from competition from private commuter services; and the result has been to make the lives of people living farthest from the city center—i.e., those in already underserved areas—a little bit harder. Why does the city make life difficult for people trying to make an honest living by providing a badly needed service? The answer is that the politicians are doing the bidding of a powerful block of voters, the union for public transit employees, which wants to preserve its ability to extract subsidies at the expense of taxpayers. Learn more from this short documentary produced by HonestEnterpriseTV:

Posted on 08/08/13 04:10 PM by Alex Adrianson

Catching Up

We were off last week. Here is a quick rundown of some of the things we missed:

Drew Johnson was fired from his job as the editorial page editor of the Chattanooga Times-Free Press for riffing on Johnny Paycheck with the headline: Take Your Jobs Plan and Shove It, Mr. President. According to Johnson, the paper fired him by creating a policy about changing headlines without approval and then applying it to him retroactively. [Washington Times, August 1] Johnson, by the way, is the founder of the free-market Tennessee Center for Policy Research (now called the Beacon Center of Tennessee), which has done a lot of great policy work as well as investigative reporting. In particular, the group broke the story of global warming fighter Al Gore’s $30,000 per year electric bill back in 2007.

The entire United States code is now available in XML format. Ap creators, get to work!

Congress and the administration have been scrambling to fix a bungled attempt to make sure ObamaCare applies to Congress. But the fault is not, as has been reported, a badly worded amendment introduced by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). Rather, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had replaced the Grassley provision with language that required members and their staff to enroll in an ObamaCare exchange, but made no provision for the government to pay for the coverage. That left congressional staff, many of whom make less than $50,000 per year, looking at a huge cut in compensation. There is no administrative fix that the law allows, conclude Robert E. Moffit, Edmund Haislmaier, and Joseph Morris. [The Heritage Foundation, August 2]

On the other hand, the duty to enforce the law as written didn’t stop the administration from deciding to delay ObamaCare’s mandates on employers. As health care reporter Robert Pear has aptly noted: “The confusion raises the inevitable question: If they did not know exactly what they were doing to themselves, did lawmakers who wrote and passed the bill fully grasp the details of how it would influence the lives of other Americans?”

Another ObamaCare bungle: Congress recently got around to hearing testimony on the question of whether the Internal Revenue Service can extend federal tax credits to federally-created health insurance exchanges despite the fact that ObamaCare as written provides them only for those exchanges established by the states. The dispute sounds arcane, but it’s a big deal because without the tax credits, the employer penalties can’t be applied, which means another major source of ObamaCare funding goes away. Here are some key points from key witness Jonathan Adler:

The [Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act] is quite clear on this point. The tax credits for the purchase of qualifying health insurance plans are provided for under Section 1401 of the PPACA, which creates a new section of the Internal Revenue Code – Section 36B. This provision authorizes tax credits for each month in a given year in which a taxpayer has obtained qualifying health insurance through a state-run exchange. As defined by Section 1401, a “coverage month” is any month in which the taxpayer is “covered by a qualified health plan … that was enrolled in through an Exchange established by the State under section 1311.” The amount of the tax credit is also calculated with reference to a qualifying health insurance plan “enrolled in through an Exchange established by the State under [Section] 1311 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” Section 1311 further establishes the “requirement” that an “Exchange” be “a government agency or nonprofit entity that is established by a State.” To further erase any doubt, Section 1304 of the PPACA also defines “State” as “each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.” The cost-sharing subsidies provided under Section 1402 are similarly limited as this section expressly provides that cost-sharing reductions are only allowed for “coverage months” for which the aforementioned tax credits are allowed. [Internal citations omitted.] [House Oversight Committee, July 31]

President Obama’s economic speeches, writes Richard Epstein, show that “he constantly thinks of his greatest regulatory failures as his great successes”:

No other president has “saved the auto industry,” albeit by a corrupt bankruptcy process, or “taken on a broken health care system,” only to introduce a set of unworkable mandates that are already falling apart, or “investing in new technologies,” which tries to pick winners and ends up with losers like Solyndra. The great advances in energy have come from private developments, most notably fracking, and not from the vagaries of wind and solar energy, which no one has yet figured out how to store for future use when needed.

The President seems utterly incapable of seeing the downside to any of his policy choices. They are announced from on-high as all gain and no pain. In the face of stagnant growth, weak corporate earnings, and continued high unemployment, he shows not the slightest recognition that some of his programs might have gone amiss. [Defining Ideas, July 30]

July 31 was the 101st anniversary of Milton Friedman’s birthday, and whenever we think about Friedman we think about the time he schooled Phil Donahue on the supposed virtue of political elites:

Big profit-seeking corporations aren’t interested in making stuff that makes poor people better off, right? Wrong: The McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger is “the cheapest, most nutritious and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history,” writes Kyle Smith: “It has 390 calories. It contains 23g, or half a daily serving, of protein, plus 7% of daily fiber, 20% of daily calcium and so on. Also, you can get it in 14,000 locations in the US and it usually costs $1.” [New York Post, July 29]

Correction: According to McDonald’s online menu explorer, McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger actually has 440 calories.

The cities that offer the best combination of opportunity, cost, and culture are mostly from the South, write Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox:

Both No. 1, Austin, Texas, and No. 2, New Orleans, are places where people can enjoy the cultural amenities and attitudes of “progressive” blue states but in a distinctly red-state environment of low costs, less regulation, and lower taxes. These places have lured companies and people from more expensive regions, notably California and the Northeast, by being not only culturally rich but also amenable to building a career, buying a home and, ultimately, raising a family in relative comfort.

Like the Texas state capital and the legendary Crescent City, most of our top cities are located in the American South and lower Midwest, and they attract businesses and people not only from other sections of the country but also increasingly from abroad as well. These include No. 3, Houston, and the smaller but burgeoning oil town of No. 4, Oklahoma City. These are followed by three fast-growing, low-cost Southern cities: No. 5, Raleigh-Cary, North Carolina; No. 6, Nashville; and No. 7, Richmond, Virginia.

Ranked eight through fifteen by Kotkin and Cox are: Washington, D.C.; San Antonio; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Dallas; Seattle; Salt Lake City; Charlotte, N.C.; and Columbus, Ohio. [Daily Beast, July 30]

More good news for Texas: Tort reform has made health care easier to find:

By the end of 2013, 10 years and three months after the effective date of HB4 [the tort reform law], the number of licensed physicians in the state will almost have doubled. It is anticipated that Texas will have somewhere close to 60,000 doctors to care for its citizens, almost twice as many as it had in 2003. The number of physicians in Texas is now growing at twice the rate of the state’s population—a statistic that helps prove the success of HB4’s reforms in increasing access to health care.

What is even more impressive, however, is how many physicians are moving to Texas from other states. Rural communities are adding needed specialists, and medical centers in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, and San Antonio are expanding at unprecedented rates. For example, the border community of El Paso has added more than 200 physicians, including orthopedic surgeons, emergency care specialists, pulmonologists, pediatricians, internists, anesthesiologists, family practice doctors, oncologists, and pediatric cardiologists since 2003. Additionally, Memorial Hermann Hospital System added—in just one year—26 pediatric subspecialists; a normal year before enactment of HB4 would have resulted in just one or two new subspecialists. [Internal citations omitted.] [“Ten Years of Tort Reform in Texas: A Review,” by Joseph Nixon, The Heritage Foundation and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, July 26]

William Wilkins, chief counsel of the Internal Revenue Service, met with President Obama two days before providing guidance to IRS personnel on how to handle tax-exempt applications from conservative groups. How fishy is that? Here’s an e-mail shared by TaxProf Paul Caron:

[A]gency general counsels are not authorized to give legal advice to the President. They advise their agency heads. Only the AG and by delegation the Office of Legal Counsel to the President is authorized to give legal advice to the President. In my seven years of working at a General Counsel’s office, I have never once heard of our general counsel meeting with the President. OLC would go crazy if he did. I have worked on a couple of legal opinions that did go to the White House. And each time they were staffed through OLC. Nothing went to the President that wasn’t signed off on by OLC and delivered to him by OLC.

So I can’t for the life of me come up with any kind of innocent explanation for why Obama would have met with the Chief Counsel of the IRS. That meeting shouldn’t ever happen, and especially not without the Commissioner of the IRS being there. [TaxProf Blog, July 23]

Congressional investigators released emails showing coordination between the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission in targeting oversight at conservative groups. In particular, as Kim Strassell reports, the FEC contacted the IRS looking for information on the American Issues Project. So determined was FEC staff to get AIP that it conducted a multiyear investigation that had never been authorized by the FEC commissioners, wrote three different reports presenting three different theories on how the AIP might be exceeding limits on political spending, and tried to rewrite the standards for judging spending without any notice to anyone. Concludes Strassel: “The broader AIP case is, in fact, beyond improper. It’s fishy. The Obama campaign takes its vendetta against a political opponent to the FEC. The FEC staff, as part of an extraordinary campaign to bring down AIP and other 501(c)(4) groups, reaches out to Lois Lerner, the woman overseeing IRS targeting.” [Wall Street Journal, August 1]

Those trying to credit ObamaCare for reducing health care spending have mixed up changes in demand with changes in costs. And also mixed up the order in which things happened. Joseph Antos: “Something happened to make runaway health spending slow down. In 2002, that spending grew 9.7% a year. By 2009, the growth rate fell to 3.9% a year—and did not change for 3 years.” But: “Health reform wasn’t even signed into law until 2010, well after health spending growth had dropped. In the immortal words of James Carville, it’s the economy, stupid. Millions of people lost their jobs during the deep recession that ended in 2009, and many of them still don’t have work. Without a job and the health insurance that comes with it, it’s difficult to pay for health care.” [AEIdeas, July 31]

From Chris Conover, some evidence that employers are shifting their workforces from full-time to part-time in order to avoid triggering ObamaCare mandates:

For every new [full-time] job added to the economy [in 2013], there were 4.3 [part-time] jobs added! In most (non-negative) years, the ratio is the reverse: that is, there are typically 5 FT jobs added for every new PT job. Even in 2004—the year with the second-highest ratio during this time-frame–there were 2 FT jobs for every PT job, yielding a ratio of 0.5. Even if growth in PT vs. FT workers reverted to its historic pattern for the balance of 2013, the year’s average monthly ratio still would be four times as large as the 2nd highest ratio from 2004.

As U.S. News and Report’s editor in chief Mort Zuckerman argues “At this stage of an expansion you would expect the number of part-time jobs to be declining, as companies would be doing more full-time hiring.” [Forbes, July 31]

Posted on 08/07/13 08:51 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Get Perspective on the Scandals

Compare Watergate with today’s presidential scandals with journalist and historian M. Stanton Evans. Evans will give a talk at the Allan P. Kirby Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C. The talk begins 6:30 p.m. on August 8.

• Learn about the struggle to abolish slavery in both the United States and Britain. Teacher and scholar Ray Blunt will talk about “Leadership in the Crucible: Lessons from Wilberforce and Jefferson’s Quest for Abolitionat 6:30 p.m. on August 7 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Celebrate your freedom with shotguns, barbeque, and cigars. The Northwest Freedom Shootout, hosted by the Freedom Foundation, starts at 4 p.m. at the Evergreen Sportsmen’s Club in Olympia, Wash. Tickets are $25 in advance/$35 at the door.

Take stock of how well the government is respecting the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights. John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, will talk about his new book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. Whitehead’s talk begins at noon on August 9.

Posted on 08/07/13 12:58 PM by Alex Adrianson

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