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InsiderOnline Blog: June 2012

To Do: Get Your ObamaCare Game On

• First, take in the post-mortem on the ObamaCare cases. A panel at The Heritage Foundation on Friday provided the plaintiffs’ perspective on the ruling. Featured speakers included Greg Abbott, Texas Attorney General, and Karen Harned, Executive Director of the National Federation of Independent Business. On Monday you can take in another panel on the decision at the Cato Institute. That panel includes Randy Barnett and David Rivkin, two of the key intellectual architects of the challenge to the government’s commerce clause theory of the case.

• Then get inspired up for the fight ahead. The Becket Fund, the Alliance Defense Fund, the American Center for Law and Justice, and others have taken up the next legal battle: defending freedom of conscience against ObamaCare mandates. Listen to Becket Fund founder Kevin “Seamus” Hasson’s talk last month at the Canterbury Medal Dinner. Speaking about the fight for religious liberty, Hasson declared: “What a great cause to give my life to!” Of course, the best way to protect liberty now will be to repeal ObamaCare entirely. Listen to Heritage Foundation President Ed Feulner’s call to arms. And if that doesn’t fire you up, listen to John Adams’s pep talk to his constituents, circa 1774.

Posted on 06/29/12 02:50 PM by Alex Adrianson

Dodd Frank v. the Economy

The Dodd-Frank reforms appear to have created so much uncertainty that they are stifling the economy. Peter Wallison [The American, June 27] has gathered some evidence of that effect. Here is one representative graph:

Here’s one example of the kind of uncertainty that concerns Wallison:

[I]n the Title IX provisions on housing finance reform, two completely new and important concepts were introduced that had no clear meaning—the “Qualified Residential Mortgage” (QRM) and the “Qualified Mortgage” (QM). The former was supposed to be a high quality mortgage, but what did that mean? The regulators’ first try was a mortgage with a 20 percent downpayment; this provoked a huge outcry in the housing finance industry, and even from members of Congress who had voted for the bill. The regulators went back to the drawing board, and now—almost two years after the act was signed into law—there is still no regulation that defines this key term. No responsible private firm could possibly invest in starting a business in residential finance, or expanding it with new hires, without knowing what the act meant by the term “Qualified Residential Mortgage.”

Posted on 06/28/12 10:56 PM by Alex Adrianson

Fracking Fights Global Warming

Steve Hargreaves [CNN Money, June 22]:

Despite there being no real effort by Congress to address global warming and America’s longstanding reputation as an energy hog, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are falling.

The lackluster economy has something to do with it. But it doesn’t fully explain what’s happening. Consider that even factoring in a stronger economy, forecasters see greenhouse gas emissions continuing to fall.

It’s possible the country may meet its pledge to reduce emissions 17% by 2020. […]

 “The primary reason by far is low natural gas prices,” said Robert Stavins, director of the environmental economics program at Harvard.

Natural gas prices are so low largely thanks to hydraulic fracturing.

Meanwhile, reports Christopher Helman [Forbes, June 22], a new study from researchers at Yale calculates that the benefits from shale gas are about $100 billion per year, against environmental costs of about $250 million—a 400-1 benefit-to-cost ratio.

Posted on 06/28/12 10:28 PM by Alex Adrianson

ObamaCare Will Make Income Inequality Worse

Rising health care expenditures may explain a large part of the appearance of rising income inequality. Health care isn’t free, even when you get it from your employer. It’s part of your compensation. The more health care costs grow, the slower your wages will rise. As Merrill Matthews [Forbes, June 22] explains, that phenomenon is especially a problem for low-income workers:

[Mark J.] Warshawsky, looking at compensation growth between 1999 and 2007, concludes that while income may have become more unequal, total “compensation growth, at around 35 percent, was essentially evenly distributed across all earnings levels.”

Since health insurance costs are relatively the same for every worker at the same company, they would comprise a larger share of a middle-income worker’s total compensation than a higher-income worker’s, even if both were to receive the same percentage increases over time. The net result would be the appearance of a greater income disparity, even though total compensation remained the same.

ObamaCare won’t help:

Because ObamaCare forces people to get comprehensive, and therefore expensive, health coverage, it actually makes the income inequality problem worse. Lower- and middle-income workers will see a much larger percentage of their income—which includes the employer’s contribution since that is part of total compensation—going to health insurance than higher-income workers.

Posted on 06/28/12 10:04 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Grand Plan Usually Ignores Human Nature

… and thus fails:

Posted on 06/28/12 09:41 PM by Alex Adrianson

Unions Don’t Want Workers to Get Paid More for Doing Better Work

 ... report Michael Giles and F. Vincent Vernuccio [Washington Examiner, June 26]:

Currently, union workers’ wages are set by collective bargaining agreements made between a union and an employer. These agreements create not only a floor for wages, but also a ceiling. Pay increases are based on seniority, not merit. In other words, unionized employees can only see an increase in their salary through seniority, no matter how productive or hard-working they are. The RAISE Act would allow employers to give individual workers pay increases without going through a union.

Despite the potential benefits to union members, unions have put up fierce resistance to the proposal. Teamsters President James Hoffa railed against the bill in a recent letter to senators, in which he advised them to “oppose the RAISE Act (S. 3221) which seeks to allow employers to grant wage increases unilaterally to workers of their choosing.” Hoffa’s position boils down to preventing employers from having the ability to give individual raises to union workers for outstanding performance. […]

What is really at stake is union power. On the most basic level, union bosses hope their workers perceive the union—not their individual talents—as the surest way to advancement. An individual raise above the union wage threatens to undermine this union narrative, which is already getting harder to sustain, as the inflexible and adversarial nature of the union wage scale no longer suits the American economy.

Posted on 06/28/12 09:31 PM by Alex Adrianson

Lines to Remember

Sometimes I think it’s a sin
When I feel like I’m winnin’ when I’m losin’ again.
—Gordon Lightfoot, Sundown, 1974

It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.
—Chief Justice John G. Roberts, NFIB v. Sebelius, 2012

Posted on 06/28/12 09:10 PM by Alex Adrianson

Another Tax Increase

Did you hear? President Obama raised your taxes on Thursday. He didn’t announce it, though. Chief Justice John Roberts did from the Supreme Court. From his opinion in NFIB v. Sebelius: “The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain in­dividuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax. Be­cause the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.”

In 2016, the tax is projected to be between $720 and $2400 per year. That tax will hit 3 million middle-income taxpayers, according to an estimate by James Sherk, Ashley Shelton, and Stephanie Jaczkowski [The Foundry, June 29]. You might not have to pay the tax, however, if you have health insurance that meets certain standards. Check with the Department of Health and Human Services on that.

Posted on 06/28/12 09:10 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Big Picture

Randy Barnett [SCOTUS Blog, June 28]:  

In the 1930s & 40s, when Congress was asserting new powers to address the grave distress caused by the Great Depression, the Court relented and allowed it to reach wholly intrastate activity that, in the aggregate had a substantial effect on interstate commerce. This was interpreted by academics to mean that Congress now had a plenary power over anything that affected the national economy, which means any activity at all. The Court would always defer to Congress’s assertion of its Commerce Clause powers.

The New Federalism was attacked precisely because it offered a different vision of the so-called “New Deal Settlement”: although the Court acquiesced to the constitutionality of New Deal-style regulations, when Congress goes beyond this already expansive reading of its powers, the Court will meet any further expansion with skepticism. It will continue to insist on some judicially enforceable limit on federal power. Congress cannot be the sole judge of the scope of its own powers. Today a majority of the Roberts Court reaffirmed this vision.

Academics are sure to react to today’s decision by declaring the New Federalism dead, but they would be wrong to do so. The Founders’ scheme of limited and enumerated powers has survived to fight another day.

Posted on 06/28/12 09:08 PM by Alex Adrianson

We Still Have a Government Enumerated Powers, Maybe

Even though the Supreme Court upheld ObamaCare and its individual mandate on Thursday, it did so on much narrower grounds than liberals would have liked. The Court held that the mandate was valid as a tax, but only four of the Justices were willing to say the Commerce Clause gives Congress the power to force people to buy health insurance. George Will [Washington Post, June 28] celebrates the refusal of the other five justices to read enumerated powers out of the Constitution as a significant consolation prize for conservatives:

By persuading the court to reject a Commerce Clause rationale for a president’s signature act, the conservative legal insurgency against Obamacare has won a huge victory for the long haul. This victory will help revive a venerable tradition of America’s political culture, that of viewing congressional actions with a skeptical constitutional squint, searching for congruence with the Constitution’s architecture of enumerated powers. By rejecting the Commerce Clause rationale, Thursday’s decision reaffirmed the Constitution’s foundational premise: Enumerated powers are necessarily limited because, as Chief Justice John Marshall said, “the enumeration presupposes something not enumerated.”

When Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), asked where the Constitution authorized the mandate, exclaimed, “Are you serious? Are you serious?,” she was utterly ingenuous. People steeped in Congress’s culture of unbridled power find it incomprehensible that the Framers fashioned the Constitution as a bridle. Now, Thursday’s episode in the continuing debate about the mandate will reverberate to conservatism’s advantage.

[Related: Todd Gaziano, The Foundry, June 28; James Taranto, Wall Street Journal, June 28.]

Posted on 06/28/12 06:01 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Legal Fight Against ObamaCare’s Depredations Now Focuses on the First Amendment

The individual mandate and the rest of ObamaCare survived in the Supreme Court on Thursday, but the law faces another set of constitutional challenges. Specifically 23 lawsuits from 56 different plaintiffs claim that the Department of Health and Human Services overstepped its constitutional authority when it required all employers, with only very few exceptions, to cover contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health plans.

Under ObamaCare, HHS must decide what health insurance plans must cover in order to qualify as meeting the law’s individual mandate. Today’s Supreme Court decision addressed the question of whether the individual mandate is a valid exercise of Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce or (the government’s fallback position) its power to lay taxes. The Court ultimately accepted the tax argument. Yet to be heard in court, however, is the 23 lawsuits arguing that forcing employers to cover reproductive health services violates the freedom of conscience that is supposed to be guaranteed to all Americans by the First Amendment.

The Becket Fund is one of the leading advocates in the courts for religious freedom, and it is representing four plaintiffs in these cases. Among the groups representing other plaintiffs in these cases are the Alliance Defense Fund, the American Center for Law and Justice, and the Thomas More Law Center. The Becket Fund has put together an HHS Mandate Information Central page that will track these cases. The page includes an FAQ, a map showing where the plaintiffs are, and listing of each lawsuit with pertinent information and links to key documents.

Posted on 06/28/12 05:05 PM by Alex Adrianson

An Uninspiring Recovery

This recovery has less hiring than the recession, notes John Lott [New York Post, June 28]:

In the year and half before the recession, new hires averaged 5.25 million per month. During the recession (December 2007 to June 2009), they fell dramatically to 4.39 million, hitting 4.2 million per month in December 2008, right before Obama became president.

Yet, instead of rising as they normally would in a recovery, new hires now average just 4.08 million per month. The latest data, released on Wednesday for May, show just 4.18 million — a number still well below the average during the recession.

Yet the economy is still gaining jobs, primarily because fewer people are quitting the jobs they already have, explains Lott: “More than 1 million fewer Americans a month are quitting their jobs than before the recession.” This datum indicates a lack of confidence in the recovery. In a robust recovery, as Lott notes, quits typically rise as people decide the time is right to pursue new opportunities.

Posted on 06/28/12 01:47 PM by Alex Adrianson

Subsidizing Jobs in the Wind Industry Is Very Expensive

“Each wind-energy-related job costs taxpayers between nine and 39 times as much as a job created by the oil and gas sector,” calculates Robert Bryce [Manhattan Institute, June 2012]: “If the big three sources of domestic electricity generation—coal, natural gas, and nuclear, which provide 85 percent of all U.S. electricity—got the same level of subsidy as the wind industry, the cost to taxpayers would be $76.7 billion per year. That would amount to an annual bill of about $246 for every man, woman, and child in the United States.”

Posted on 06/27/12 07:14 PM by Alex Adrianson

Title IX Has Become a Quota System

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972—whose passage 40 years ago this month has been much celebrated—was intended to open doors for  women in collegiate athletics, but there’s another side to the story. As Carrie Lukas [U.S. News & World Report, June 22] explains the law has been turned into a gender quota system that takes opportunities away from men:

[I]n 2007, the College Sports Council (now the American Sports Council) conducted a comprehensive analysis of NCAA data over 25 years (1981-2005), which revealed that, after controlling for the growth in the number of NCAA schools, the number of female athletes per school increased by 34 percent and the number of women’s teams also increased by 34 percent. During the same time period, male athletes per school fell by 6 percent and men’s teams by 17 percent. […]

Making the numbers add up has become a real challenge since women increasingly outnumber men on campus, earning an estimated 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees. Colleges pursuing “proportionality” can try to increase the number of female athletes so that women account for 57 percent of athletes, or—the more surefire and less costly path—eliminate male athletes from the roster. […]

[C]urrent enforcement policies are increasingly outdated and even anti male. How else can one explain why Title IX’s enforcement remains focused solely on athletics, the one extracurricular activity in which men’s participation outpaces women, instead of the many other activities—from theater to student newspapers to academic clubs—that women dominate? How else can one justify that discussions about expanding Title IX into academic disciplines exclusively target the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—again, those few disciplines in which men’s enrollment exceeds women’s?

Posted on 06/27/12 07:01 PM by Alex Adrianson

Consumption Data Debunk Inequality Claims

The “rising inequality” narrative largely falls apart when you look at consumption instead of income:

The chart above is from Kevin Hassett and Aparna Mathur’s “A New Measure of Consumption Inequality,” published this week by the American Enterprise Institute. It shows that the share of consumption spending has been relatively constant for both the top and bottom income groups since the 1960s.

Aside from being a more direct way of measuring well being, looking at consumption fixes the problems with using income tax returns to measure inequality. That’s the Thomas Piketty/Emmanuel Saez method, much cited by Left commentators who almost always fail to point out that the method excludes government transfers from income calculations.

Looking at ownership of durable consumer goods like televisions and washing machines also debunks the notion that inequality has risen. Like Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield did last year [“Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What Is Poverty in the United States Today?” The Heritage Foundation, July 18, 2011] Hassett and Mathur use data from the Department of Energy’s Residential Energy Consumption Survey to compare different income groups on ownership of durable goods.

For many items, Hassett/Mathur find that the gap in ownership between low-income and high-income groups has either narrowed or remained constant since the 1980s. For example, in 1987 low-income households were 13.6 percentage points less likely than middle- and high-income households to own a color television. By 2009, that gap had narrowed to 1.2 percentage points. For some items that were not in widespread use in the 1980s, like computers, Hassett/Mathur find that the gap initially widened, but has been narrowing in the past decade. The authors conclude: “[O]n average, there is a trend toward narrowing the consumption gap between low income and other households.”

Posted on 06/27/12 05:45 PM by Alex Adrianson

Crony Capitalism Can Be Green

The federal government gets advice on biofuel policy from representatives of companies that win contracts from the federal government for supplying biofuel, reports Lachlan Markey [Washington Examiner, June 25]. Here are a few examples from his column on the Biomass Research and Development Board’s Technical Advisory Committee:

The San Francisco-based company Solazyme made headlines in December when the Navy and the Ag Department jointly announced that the former would purchase biofuels from the company for up to $15 a gallon. Less reported was the presence of Solazyme Co-founder and President Harrison Dillon on the panel advising Agriculture on the adoption of biofuels. […]

The Navy biofuels deal also steered federal dollars to a company called Dynamic Fuels, which manufactures biofuels from used cooking oil. Dynamic is a joint venture of Syntroleum Corp. and Tyson Foods. Sitting on the biofuel advisory committee is Robert Ames. Ames was Tyson’s vice president in charge of commercializing the company’s renewable energy projects, including Dynamic Fuels, when the contract went through. In January 2012, Solazyme hired him as its vice president of fuels commercialization.

Advisory committee member William Provine, now the director of Science and Technology External Affairs at DuPont, was until April 2012 a board member at Butamax Advanced Biofuels, a joint venture of DuPont and BP. In 2010, Butamax announced an $8.8 million cost-sharing agreement with DOE for the production of a sugar-based biofuel called isobutanol.

Posted on 06/26/12 06:57 PM by Alex Adrianson

Even the So-Called Red States Have Increased Spending in the Last 10 Years

As this Tax Foundation map shows:

What’s to be done? Matthew Mitchell [The Insider, Spring 2012]:

It might seem that the natural solution is to elect politicians committed to reining in spending, especially on the entitlement programs and pensions at the heart of state and federal overspending. The problem, however, is that even fiscally conservative politicians face significant perverse incentives to spend beyond their constituents’ means. And even if they do manage to trim the budget, today’s cuts can be reversed by tomorrow’s leaders. Luckily, there is hope. Political incentives are shaped, in part, by institutions, i.e., the rules that govern budgeting, electioneering, and legislating.

A review of empirical studies by Mitchell and Nick Tuszynski [“Institutions and State Spending: An Overview,” Mercatus Center, October 2011] quantifies how much of a difference the rules can make. Here’s a rundown of the impact on per capita spending of different spending institutions: strict balanced budget requirement, $180 less; supermajority to raise taxes, $100 to $150 less; line-item veto, $100 less; item-reduction veto, $471 less; unified spending and taxing committees, $1,000 less; multiple spending committees, $200 more; biennial budgeting, $200 more; and automatic shutdown provisions, $80 more.

Posted on 06/26/12 05:43 PM by Alex Adrianson

More Choice

Seventeen hundred kids in Washington, D.C. will have education options they weren’t expecting next year. The Obama administration finally did the right thing by agreeing to preserve funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, explains Michael Q. McShane [The Hill, June 25]:

According to a government-sponsored study, led by Dr. Patrick Wolf at the University of Arkansas, the program increased the graduation rate of students offered vouchers by 12 percentage points (from a rate of 70% to a rate of 82%) and the graduation rate of students that actually used vouchers by 21% (from 70% to a whopping 91%). […]

The cost of the vouchers and administration of the program came to $14 million per year, or $70 million over the five years in which the program was evaluated. By simply multiplying the increased rate of graduation by the 3,512 students who were offered vouchers in the study, we can conclude that there are roughly 421 more students walking the streets of DC with high school diplomas than there would have been absent the program. Multiplying that number by the value of a high school diploma yields a benefit of over $180 million, a return of a over $2.50 for every dollar spent.

Posted on 06/26/12 03:20 PM by Alex Adrianson

An Alternative to the Law of the Sea Treaty

Abandoning territorial claims to the U.S. continental shelf—and thus billions of dollars of mineral wealth—is not the only way of increasing the lawfulness of the seas, as George Will [Newsmax, June 25] notes in his latest column: “If the Navy thinks it cannot operate well without [the Law of the Sea], we need better admirals, not better treaties. Here is an alternative proposal for enhancing the lawfulness of the seas: Keep the money LOST would transfer to [the International Seabed Authority] and use it to enlarge the Navy.”

Posted on 06/25/12 06:20 PM by Alex Adrianson

Toolkit: Get Your Facebook Followers to Follow Your Main Web Site, Too

So you’ve enhanced your Facebook content and developed a following. Now, how do you entice your followers to make the trip over to your main Web site? Here are a few ideas:

Be Visual: Big, bold, clear photographs and graphics are the key to attention on Facebook. Think about what grabs your attention when it pops up in the Facebook newsfeed.

Be Shameless: Modify personal or legally purchased photos in Photoshop to include your Web site at the bottom so that anyone who sees the photo will see your Web site also. Additionally, add text or quotes to the photo that will enhance the meaning of it for your own purposes.

Be Linkable: Always include a link to your Web site or a particular post you are pushing in your status update. You always want your reader to have the option to click over easily.

Be Patient: Don’t post too much! Limit your Facebook posting to one to three times per day and allow each post the time to “breathe” in the newsfeed. Each like, share or comment it receives opens the opportunity for more people to view it and click on the link to your site. By letting your posts “grow,” you will ultimately gain more clicks.

Be Experimental: Try different tactics for your status updates to see which ones make your post stick the most. Include calls to action, occasionally a sensational headline, or leave readers wondering what is so interesting about this link you are promoting.

Be Yourself: Chances are, what you find funny and/or interesting is something your readers or fans will too. Explore how your favorite brands are using their Facebook pages to get your attention and replicate the success in your own way.

—by Ericka Andersen

Posted on 06/22/12 03:31 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Prep for the ObamaCare Ruling

• Get ready for the most important Supreme Court decision in at least a decade. The Court will likely announce its decision in the ObamaCare cases (National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius and Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services) next week. Start by reading Todd Gaziano’s “ObamaCare and the Constitution: What’s Really at Stake at the Supreme Court?” in The Insider, Spring 2012. See also, the helpful chart produced by AEIdeas (June 22) laying out the possible outcomes of the case.

• Stock up on your intellectual capital—for free: Yorktown University is offering nine free lectures online, including Arthur Laffer on supply side economics; the Acton Institute is offering over 70 free lectures from its Acton University program online; and the good folks at the Cato Institute have made nearly 50 titles from the Cato bookstore available for free in e-book format.

• Make a video making the moral case for free enterprise. Then enter it in the American Enterprise Institute’s 2012 video contest. Two minutes could win you $40,000.

• Attend the Centennial Institute and Colorado Christian University’s Western Conservative Summit. The three-day conference features citizen activist workshops; talks by conservative champions such Gov. Jan Brewer and Sen. Tom Coburn; and lots of opportunities to get to know other conservatives. The conference will be held in Denver from June 29 to July 1.

• Find out how Taxmaggedon will affect your state and congressional district. The Heritage Foundation has a new report breaking it down: “The Cost of Taxmageddon: Impact by State and Congressional District,” by William W. Beach, June 14, 2012.

Posted on 06/22/12 03:10 PM by Alex Adrianson

Executive Privilege Is Business as Usual for the Obama Administration

Examples Abound:

“• Even though the Democrat-controlled Senate rejected the President’s cap-and-trade plan, his Environmental Protection Agency classified carbon dioxide, the compound that sustains vegetative life, as a pollutant so that it could regulate it under the Clean Air Act.

“• After the Employee Free Choice Act—designed to bolster labor unions’ dwindling membership rolls—was defeated by Congress, the National Labor Relations Board announced a rule that would implement ‘snap elections’ for union representation […] .

“• After an Internet regulation proposal failed to make it through Congress, the Federal Communications Commission announced that it would regulate the Web anyway, even despite a federal court’s ruling that it had no authority to do so.

“• Although Congress consistently has barred the Department of Education from getting involved in curriculum matters, the Administration has offered waivers for the No Child Left Behind law in exchange for states adopting national education standards, all without congressional authorization. […]

“• Since it objects to existing federal immigration laws, the Administration has decided to apply those laws selectively and actively prevent the state (like Arizona) from enforcing those laws themselves.

“• Rather than push Congress to repeal federal laws against marijuana use, the Department of Justice (DOJ) simply decided it would no longer enforce those laws.

“• DOJ also has announced that it would stop enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act or defending it from legal challenge rather than seeking legislative recourse.” [Matthew Spalding, The Foundry, June 22]

Posted on 06/22/12 10:47 AM by Alex Adrianson

Plastic Bag Bans, Like the Recent One in Los Angeles, Will Hurt the Environment

“In 2011, the United Kingdom’s Environment Agency released a study that evaluated nine categories of environmental impacts caused by different types of supermarket bags. The study found that paper bags have a worse effect on the environment than plastic bags in all nine impact categories, which include global warming potential, abiotic depletion, acidification, eutrophication, human toxicity, fresh water aquatic ecotoxicity, marine aquatic ecotoxicity, terrestrial ecotoxicity, and photochemical oxidation.

“Furthermore, the study found that the average supermarket shopper would have to reuse the same cotton tote from 94 up to 1,899 times before it had less environmental impact than the disposable plastic bags needed to carry the same amount of groceries. This wide-varying amount of reuse that is required until the breakeven point is reached depends upon the type of environmental impact, but the median is 314 times, and it is more 179 times for all but one of the 9 impact categories. […]

“Plastic bags are inexpensive because relatively small amounts of energy and raw materials are needed to make them. These same attributes that make plastic bags affordable and light also make them easier on the environment than alternatives like paper bags and reusable cotton totes. […]

“Another common talking point about supermarket plastic bags is that they are rarely recycled, but this argument ignores the fact that a large portion of supermarket plastic bags (40% in the U.K.) are reused as garbage pail liners.” [James Agresti, Wall Street Journal, June 15]

Posted on 06/21/12 05:20 PM by Alex Adrianson

Anna Schwartz, RIP

“Anna J. Schwartz, a research economist who wrote monumental works on American financial history in collaboration with the Nobel laureate Milton Friedman while remaining largely in his shadow, died on Thursday at her home in Manhattan. She was 96. […]

“Mrs. Schwartz, who earned her Ph.D. in economics at the age of 48 and dispensed policy appraisals well into her 90s, was often called the ‘high priestess of monetarism,’ upholding a school of thought that maintains that the size and turnover of the money supply largely determines the pace of inflation and economic activity.

“The Friedman-Schwartz collaboration ‘A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960,’ a book of nearly 900 pages published in 1963, is considered a classic. Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, called it ‘the leading and most persuasive explanation of the worst economic disaster in American history.’

“The authors concluded that policy failures by the Fed, which largely controls the money supply, were one of the root causes of the Depression. […]

“Mrs. Schwartz was widely known in the profession as the co-author of much of the work that led to Mr. Friedman’s Nobel in economic science in 1976. Her supporters thought the prize might have justly been awarded jointly.

“‘Anna did all of the work, and I got most of the recognition,’ Mr. Friedman said on one occasion.” [Robert D. Hershey Jr., New York Times, June 21]

Posted on 06/21/12 04:02 PM by Alex Adrianson

California’s Renewable Energy Goals Will Cost Its Consumers at Least $3.2 Billion Annually

“Meeting the required renewable generation targets increases electricity rates and reduces consumption below the baseline forecasts. Given the inelastic nature of demand, when electricity prices increase in real terms, electricity expenditures also increase. For instance, in 2015 consumers pay $3.2 billion more for electric power than under the baseline scenario when economic growth is low. These additional expenditures rise to over $4.6 billion during 2020 and then fall slightly, averaging $3.7 billion per year thereafter.

“During the early years of the [renewable portfolio standard] scenario, the stimulus from building the renewable energy facilities offsets the negative effects of higher electricity expenditures. From 2012 to 2014, the average annual net gains in employment are 67,829 and 72,211 under the low- and high-growth scenarios, respectively. […] After 2014, however, the net gains in employment and value added turn negative, and increasingly so as the drag on economic growth from higher energy prices offsets any employment and output gains from building and operating the renewable energy facilities.” [Timothy Considine and Edward Manderson, University of Wyoming, June 2012]

Posted on 06/21/12 03:25 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Newspaper Death Vigil Is On

“The Newspaper Association of America (NAA) recently released data on newspaper advertising revenue for the first quarter of 2012, and the steep decline continues […] . Total print advertising in U.S. newspapers dropped to $4.36 billion from January to March, which was 8.2% below the same period last year, and fell to the lowest level of advertising revenue since the third quarter of 1982. Adjusted for inflation, the advertising expenditures in the first quarter reached the lowest level since the NAA started tracking quarterly advertising expenditures in America’s newspapers back in 1971. Compared to the peak of $18.26 billion (in 2012 dollars) in 2000, advertising revenues have fallen by more than 75%, and appear to be on a sharp downward trajectory.

“Jack Shafer calls this steep decline in ad revenue the ‘popping of the newspaper bubble’ in a Reuters editorial on Friday, and he makes a pretty dire prediction:’ Unlike the tech bubble, the newspaper bubble won’t come back because it can’t. Many of the businesses that once supported newspapers with ads don’t exist on the same level anymore (such as competing department stores and grocery stores) or have found better places to put their ad dollars (the Web, television and Craigslist) or have discovered that they don’t need to spend ad dollars anymore to sell their goods and services (Craigslist again).” [Mark Perry, AEIdeas, June 21]

Posted on 06/21/12 02:58 PM by Alex Adrianson

Supreme Court: SEIU Trampled Non-Members First Amendment Rights with Special Assessment

“As we have noted, by allowing unions to collect any fees from nonmembers and by permitting unions to use opt-out rather than opt-in schemes when annual dues are billed, our cases have substantially impinged upon the First Amendment rights of nonmembers. In the new situation presented here, we see no justification for any further impingement. The general rule—individuals should not be compelled to subsidize private groups or private speech—should prevail.

“Public-sector unions have the right under the First Amendment to express their views on political and social issues without government interference. But employees who choose not to join a union have the same rights. The First Amendment creates a forum in which all may seek, without hindrance or aid from the State, to move public opinion and achieve their political goals. ‘First Amendment values [would be] at serious risk if the government [could] compel a particular citizen, or a discrete group of citizens, to pay special subsidies for speech on the side that [the government] favors.’ Therefore, when a public-sector union imposes a special assessment or dues increase, the union must provide a fresh Hudson notice and may not exact any funds from nonmembers without their affirma­tive consent.” [Knox v. SEIU, Supreme Court of the United States, June 21]

Posted on 06/21/12 02:20 PM by Alex Adrianson

Invoking of Executive Privilege Over 1,300 “Fast and Furious” Documents Is Not the Last Word

“[T]he Supreme Court in United States v. Nixon (1974) held that executive privilege cannot be invoked at all if the purpose is to shield wrongdoing. The courts held that Nixon’s purported invocation of executive privilege was illegitimate, in part, for that reason. There is reason to suspect that this might be the case in the Fast and Furious cover-up and stonewalling effort. […]

“Second, even the ‘deliberative process’ species of executive privilege, which is reasonably broad, does not shield the ultimate decisions from congressional inquiry. Congress is entitled to at least some documents and other information that indicate who the ultimate decision maker was for this disastrous program and why these decisions were made. That information is among the most important documents that are being withheld.

“Third, the Supreme Court in the Nixon case also held that even a proper invocation must yield to other branches’ need for information in some cases. So even a proper invocation of executive privilege regarding particular documents is not final.

“And lastly, the President is required when invoking executive privilege to try to accommodate the other branches’ legitimate information needs in some other way. For example, it does not harm executive power for the President to selectively waive executive privilege in most instances, even if it hurts him politically by exposing a terrible policy failure or wrongdoing among his staff.” [Todd Gaziano, The Foundry, June 20]

Posted on 06/21/12 01:26 PM by Alex Adrianson

Higher Ed Outrage of the Week: Teaching the Kids to Pay Attention to Skin Color

“The University of Minnesota–Duluth (UMD) is now sponsoring an ad-campaign designed to achieve ‘racial justice’ by raising awareness of ‘white privilege.’

“The project disseminates its message, that ‘society was setup for us [whites]’ and as such is ‘unfair,’ through an aggressive campaign of online videos, billboards, and lectures. The ads feature a number of Caucasians confessing their guilt for the supposed ‘privilege’ that comes along with their fair features. […]

“‘You give me better jobs, better pay, better treatment, and a better chance – all because of the color of my skin,’ reads one poster that features a close shot of a Caucasian male.” [Oliver Darcy, Campus Reform.org, June 20]

Posted on 06/21/12 11:31 AM by Alex Adrianson

Health and Human Services Will Kill Medical Innovation with Comparative Effectiveness Research

“Under Mrs. Sebelius, HHS is already using [comparative effectiveness research] to limit access. Medicare won’t pay for a genetic test that reduces the risk of internal bleeding from blood thinners. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has used CER to suggest that a meningitis vaccine that could prevent 4,000 babies each year from dying or suffering brain damage might not be worth paying for. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the agency determining which preventive services will be covered under the new health care law, used CER to conclude mammograms for women younger than 50 and prostate-specific antigen screening of adult men for prostate cancer don’t save enough lives to warrant the expense.

“Yet cancer mortality has declined each year since 1990, and in 2005, overall deaths from cancer declined despite the larger and older U.S. population. In 2007, the rate of decline actually doubled.

“The reason? Since the early 1990s, cancer has been increasingly treated with products tailored to specific types of genetic mutations, individual risk factors and cancer progression. Personalized medicine is making the treatment of cancer and other diseases more effective, less invasive and less costly. Contrary to the CER-driven decisions of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPST), it makes screening imperative.

“CER discounts the value of targeted and personalized medicine at a time when its promise is finally being realized.” [Robert Goldberg, Washington Times, June 19]

Posted on 06/21/12 11:14 AM by Alex Adrianson

The Independent Payment Advisory Board Is Probably Even More Unaccountable Than You Think It Is

“Obamacare forbids Congress to repeal IPAB outside of a brief window in the year 2017—and even then requires a three-fifths supermajority in both chambers plus a presidential signature. Under Obamacare, after 2017 Congress could repeal Medicare, but not the board it created to run Medicare. Congress and the states could repeal the Bill of Rights—but not IPAB. […]

“In effect, Obamacare gives IPAB the power to raise taxes, spend money, place conditions on federal grants to states, and exercise other powers the Constitution reserves solely to Congress. […]

“As if all this weren’t bad enough, we discovered a heretofore unreported feature of Obamacare. According to the statute, if Congress fails to repeal IPAB during that short window in 2017, then in 2020 Congress loses any and all power to restrain these super-legislators.

“The Congressional Research Service and others have reported that Congress will always retain some (limited) power to block IPAB’s edicts, but they misread a crucial part of the statute. They thought they saw the word ‘or’ where the statute actually says ‘and.’ The difference is dramatic.

“As we explain in our new report, under the statute as written, if Congress fails to repeal IPAB in 2017, the secretary must implement IPAB’s edicts even if Congress votes to block them.” [Michael F. Cannon & Diane Cohen, National Review Online, June 15]

Posted on 06/20/12 04:42 PM by Alex Adrianson

Experts: Medicare Fraud Could Be a Cuban Active Measure

“In an unprecedented case, federal prosecutors have charged a Miami man with engaging in a massive money-laundering operation that moved millions stolen from the federal Medicare program into Cuban banks. […]

“Experts who have watched Miami-Dade emerge as the nation’s Medicare fraud capital say the Cuban government’s involvement would not be too far-fetched—though they have no proof to back it up.

“Andy Gomez, a senior fellow of Cuban studies at the University of Miami, said he has heard from sources in Miami and Cuba that the Castro government extorts Medicare bounty from criminals who are allowed to travel freely between here and the island nation.

“More than two dozen people charged with Medicare fraud have fled back to Cuba over the last five years, and many more are suspected of hiding there.

“‘The Cuban government knows what’s going on,’ Gomez told The Miami Herald last year.

“‘The government knows who the fugitives are, and the bigger they are, the more the government expects to be paid by them … It’s a way to obtain hard currency and a way to discredit the Cuban-American exile community.’” [Michael Sallah, Miami Herald, June 18]

Posted on 06/20/12 03:24 PM by Alex Adrianson

There May Just Be Some Things Government Doesn’t Need to Spend Money On

Capital Bikeshare, which rents bikes at more than 165 outdoor stations in the Washington D.C. area, serves highly educated and affluent whites.

“There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, except that the program has received $16 million in government subsidies, including over $1 million specifically earmarked to ‘address the unique transportation challenges faced by welfare recipients and low-income persons seeking to obtain and maintain employment.’ […]

“Capital Bikeshare’s latest user survey finds that 95 percent of its regular patrons have college degrees, 53 percent have a Masters or Ph.D., and 80 percent are white. Fully 0 percent have only a high school diploma and just 7 percent make less than $25,000 a year. More than 90 percent were employed and 14 percent reported they were college students, suggesting that very few welfare recipients are using the service.” [Jim Epstein & Kennedy, Reason, June 20]

Posted on 06/20/12 03:10 PM by Alex Adrianson

All in All, You’re Just Another Brick in the Wall

“It appears the Gates Foundation has spent more than $1 million to develop Galvanic Skin Response bracelets to gauge student response to instruction as part of their Measuring Effective Teachers project. The Galvanic Skin Response measures the electrical conductance of the skin, which varies largely due to the moisture from people’s sweat.

“[…] This simply will not work. The extent to which students sweat is not a proxy for engagement or for learning. It is probably a better proxy for whether they are seated near the heater or next to a really pretty girl (or handsome boy).

“Galvanic Skin Response has already been widely used as part of the ‘scientific’ effort to detect lying. And as any person who actually cares about science knows—lie detectors do not work. Sweating is no more a sign of lying than it is of student engagement.

“I’m worried that the Gates Foundation is turning into a Big Bucket of Crazy.” [Jay P. Green’s Blog, June 19]

Posted on 06/20/12 02:20 PM by Alex Adrianson

Even for the Poor, Waiting Times Are a Bigger Obstacle than Out-of-Pocket Costs

“Although most states try to limit Medicaid expenses by restricting patients to a one-month supply of drugs, North Carolina for a period of time allowed patients to have a three-month supply. Then the state reduced the allowable one-stop supply from 100 days of medication to 34 days and at the same time raised the copayment on some drugs from $1 to $3. Think of the first change as raising the time price of care (the number of required pharmacy visits tripled) and the second as raising the money price of care (which also tripled).

“In a study of this episode (gated with abstract), researchers discovered that a tripling of the time price of care led to a much greater reduction in needed drugs obtained by chronically ill patients than a tripling of the money price, all other things remaining equal.

“This study pertained to certain drugs and certain medical conditions. But suppose the findings are more general. Suppose that for most poor people and most health care, time is a bigger deterrent than money. What then?

“If the study findings apply to a broad array of health services, it appears that the orthodox approach to getting health services to poor people is as wrong as it can be.” [John Goodman, John Goodman’s Health Policy Blog, June 20]

Posted on 06/20/12 01:45 PM by Alex Adrianson

As John Lott Says, “More Guns, Less Crime”

“Murder rates have fallen 13 percent from 2008 to 2011 (1.9% from 2010 to 2011). Violent crimes fell by 15 percent over the same time period. Yet, over that same time concealed handgun permits have gone up by 37 percent from about 5 million to around 8 million.” [John Lott’s Website, June 20]

Posted on 06/20/12 01:20 PM by Alex Adrianson

A Quick Catalog of What Liberals Know That Just Isn’t So

“The story is, in a few brief mottos to stand for a rich intellectual tradition since the 1880s: Modern life is complicated, and so we need government to regulate. Government can do so well, and will not be regularly corrupted. Since markets fail very frequently the government should step in to fix them. Without a big government ee [sic] cannot do certain noble things (Hoover Dam, the Interstates, NASA). Antitrust works. Businesses will exploit workers if government regulation and union contracts do not intervene. Unions got us the 40-hour week. Poor people are better off chiefly because of big government and unions. The USA was never laissez faire. Internal improvements were a good idea, and governmental from the start. Profit is not a good guide. Consumers are usually misled. Advertising is bad. […]

“No. The master narrative of High Liberalism is mistaken factually. Externalities do not imply that a government can do better. Publicity does better than inspectors in restraining the alleged desire of businesspeople to poison their customers. Efficiency is not the chief merit of a market economy: innovation is. […]

“[A]nyone who after the 20th century still thinks that thoroughgoing socialism, nationalism, imperialism, mobilization, central planning, regulation, zoning, price controls, tax policy, labor unions, business cartels, government spending, intrusive policing, adventurism in foreign policy, faith in entangling religion and politics, or most of the other thoroughgoing 19th-century proposals for governmental action are still neat, harmless ideas for improving our lives is not paying attention.” [Deirdre McCloskey, Bleeding Heart Libertarians, June 16]

Posted on 06/20/12 12:10 PM by Alex Adrianson

Administration’s “Discretion” on Deporting Underage Illegals Doesn’t Seem Very Discretionary

“The Administration insists it has wide ‘prosecutorial discretion’ when it comes to enforcing immigration law. No one doubts that judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers should have discretion about what charges to bring and how to handle particular cases. There are always exceptions to the rule. But Friday’s order, which uses the term discretion some 10 times, seems to go beyond discretion to the point of creating a policy scheme contrary to existing law. The exception has become the new rule.

“Imagine a police chief instructing everyone on the police force to issue no speeding tickets to anyone under age 26, regardless of how fast the driver was going. That’s not discretion; it’s a policy instruction that changes the meaning of the law.” [Matthew Spalding, The Foundry, June 19]

Posted on 06/19/12 07:45 PM by Alex Adrianson

Keynesians Used to Believe in Surplus During Good Times; the Politicians Forgot About that Part

“The British government has run a budget surplus in only six of the 37 years since 1975. The American government has run a budget surplus in only five of the 52 years since 1960. The Canadian government has run a budget surplus in only 10 of the 46 years since 1966.” [Neil Reynolds, The Globe and Mail, June 18]

Posted on 06/19/12 03:52 PM by Alex Adrianson

Gun Buy-Back Programs Fail to Take Guns Away from the Criminals Who Would Use Them

“The number of privately owned guns in America keeps rising, and at last count it totaled 270 million, or about one for every adult. But nationally, the homicide rate has fallen by more than half over the past two decades. […]

“After a successful 1974 buyback in Baltimore, the firearm homicide rate jumped by 50 percent. A study of a Seattle effort found it ‘failed to reduce significantly the frequency of firearms injuries, deaths or crimes.’

“This is the pattern wherever turn-ins take place. A 2004 study by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that ‘the theory underlying gun buybacks is badly flawed and the empirical evidence demonstrates the ineffectiveness of these programs.’

“The people who participate are generally those who are least dangerous. Those who are most dangerous have no motive to participate. So when the buyback is done, the number of armed criminals will most likely be unchanged. […]

“As for suicide, the odd thing about people intent on killing themselves is that if a firearm is not available, they can find plenty of other methods that will serve their purpose. The National Academy study said that ‘gun control policies may reduce the number of gun suicides, but they have not yet been shown to reduce the overall risk of suicide in any population’ (my emphasis).” [Steve Chapman, Reason, June 18]

Posted on 06/18/12 03:23 PM by Alex Adrianson

Same Old Same Old Isn’t Going to Get Europe out of Crisis

“[T]he U.S. needs to change the tone and content of its message to Europe. President Obama has been urging European governments to spend more now, even as their borrowing costs and debt far exceed sustainable levels. That might save one of the continent’s tottering governments in the short run, but it would only exacerbate the economic crisis.

Europe needs structural reforms—most acutely in its labor markets—and credible plans to restore fiscal discipline. Past U.S. expressions of sympathy and goodwill should, in light of the continued, unaddressed economic threat, grow into strong urgings and demands that Europe undertake the fundamental reforms needed to restore confidence that growth can again be sustained.” [J.D. Foster and Derek Scissors, The Heritage Foundation, June 15]

Posted on 06/18/12 02:16 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Learn About Coalition Building, the Contraception Mandate, and the Real War on Women

Learn how to build coalitions. The Atlas Economic Research Foundation will host a webinar on coalition building with Grover Norquist on Tuesday, June 19 at 10 a.m.

Examine the legal challenge to the Department of Health and Human Services’ contraception coverage mandate. At noon on Monday, June 18, The Heritage Foundation will host a panel discussion featuring Alabama Attorney Luther Strange, Hannah Smith of the Becket Fund, and The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Alt

Find out how the Left is waging the real war on women. At 2 p.m. on Friday, June 22, the Clare Booth Luce Policy Institute hosts panel featuring Christina Hoff Sommers, Karen Harned, Lala Mooney, and S.E. Cupp. The event will take place at the Longworth House Office Building, Room 1539.

Posted on 06/14/12 02:12 PM by Alex Adrianson

Toolkit: Use the Freedom of Information Act

To really keep your government accountable, sometimes you have to get inside the belly of the beast and use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain government records. Here are a few things to know about how to make Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests:

The federal Freedom of Information Act covers only the federal government. Each state government has its own Freedom of Information Act law. Make sure you know the law governing the jurisdiction from which you are making the request.

You don’t need to be a citizen to make a FOIA request of the federal government. Any individual can make a request. Nor do you need to tell the government why you are asking for records. That’s none of the government’s business. However, if you want to request a waiver of fees or ask for an expedited search, you may need to convince the agency that your request is in the public interest. The presumption of the law is that the government must produce the records, unless the requested information fits an exception specified by the law.

All executive branch agencies, including the Executive Office of the President and independent agencies are covered by the Freedom of Information Act. Congress, however, is not. The personal staff of the President is also exempted.

An effective FOIA request should contain a reasonably accurate description of the records sought and clearly state contact info for clarification. In order to craft a really effective request, you may need to do a little research to know the statutes that govern the agency, as well as the agency’s own published regulations.

Always request that fees be waived in your initial request. In order to get fees waived, you may need to convince the agency that the information you seek is in the public interest. For noncommercial requests, there are no fees for the first two hours of search time and 100 pages of duplication. Agencies have 20 days to respond to a request from the time the request is received. Agencies may not charge fees when they take longer than 20 days to respond.

FOIA requires agencies to divulge records that they create and are under their control, but does not require them to conduct new research in order to respond to your request. Records covered include paper, tapes, digital files, photos, videos, and electronic records.

Be prepared to clarify you request to the agency’s reviewer, and if you believe the agency is not being responsive to your request, you can also take them to court. For assistance with a FOIA request, you can contact the nonprofit group Judicial Watch. For more details on FOIA, see Judicial Watch’s “Freedom of Information Act and Open Records Law Handbook.”

Posted on 06/14/12 11:56 AM by Alex Adrianson

Doctors Give ObamaCare a Bad Grade

“A new survey by Jackson Healthcare finds that a ‘D’ is the mean grade physicians give the health law, despite its primary intention to reduce the cost of healthcare and provide coverage for the uninsured. Physicians who said they were very knowledgeable about the law were even more negative.

“In addition, 68 percent of American physicians disagree that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will have a positive impact on physician/patient relationship.

“Only 12 percent of physicians said the law provides needed healthcare reform. A majority of physicians said the ACA would not improve healthcare’s quality, rising costs or patients’ control over their own health care. They also said it would worsen the amount of control physicians have over their practice decisions.” [Jackson Healthcare, June 11]

Posted on 06/13/12 09:13 PM by Alex Adrianson

25 Years Ago This Week, President Reagan Says “Tear Down This Wall”

“We welcome change and openness, but we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” [Ronald Reagan, Address at Brandenberg Gate, June 12, 1987]

Posted on 06/13/12 08:12 PM by Alex Adrianson

Reagan’s Brandenberg Speech Helped Unravel the Soviet Empire

“‘I can see why Gorbachev would say so, but it was no piece of theater,’ Dieter [Elz], now in his 80s, told me when I called recently. ‘Here stood the most powerful man of the world. And he spoke the most powerful words he could have spoken. This was fact.’ […]

“‘Everyone was aware of the suffering in the East,’ Dieter said, ‘but no one could see what to do about it. Reagan made us understand that maybe things could be different. Here is a piece of wall. Why not remove it? Reagan changed—how would you say it in English? In German, Bewusstsein. Consciousness? Yes. He changed our consciousness.’

“Later I spoke with Yuri Yarim-Agaev. Now a consultant in New York, Yuri trained as a physicist in the Soviet Union. As a young man he had become a dissident, joining Yuri Orlov and other scientists in a group that monitored Soviet compliance with human-rights agreements. […]

“In the 1975 Helsinki Accords, Yuri explained, even the West accepted the division of Europe. ‘Imagine how hard this made our struggle. We almost had to admit that it was hopeless. Then Reagan says, “Break the wall!” Why break this wall if these borders are valid? To us, it was more than a question of Berlin or even of Germany. It was a question of the legitimacy of the Soviet empire. Reagan challenged the empire. To us, that meant everything. After that speech, everything was in play.’” [Peter Robinson, Wall Street Journal, June 8]

Posted on 06/13/12 05:42 PM by Alex Adrianson

Idea for Coordinating Medicare and Medicaid Wins Better Government Competition

“Pioneer Institute is pleased to announce the winner of the 21st annual Better Government Competition (BGC): ‘Coordinating Medicare and Medicaid to Improve Care,’ a proposal to integrate acute and long-term care benefits for those eligible for both programs into a single, comprehensive system managed by the states. The winning entry was submitted by Grace-Marie Turner of the Galen Institute, and Robert Helms, Ph.D., of the American Enterprise Institute. […]

“Nationally, there are about 7.5 million dual-eligible beneficiaries, which carry a total cost of $158 billion. Massachusetts is home to 250,000 dual eligibles; and combined Medicare and Medicaid spending totals approximately $750 million. Demonstrations and experience gained through pilot programs have shown that increased use of coordinated care will lead to a 40 to 50 percent drop in hospitalization and savings to the Medicare and Medicaid programs on the order of 10 percent.

“If implemented, Medicaid Advantage would ensure that Medicaid’s neediest recipients receive the right care in the right setting. These patients account for 40 percent of Medicaid spending, and a much higher share of total spending than non-duals. The new program would save billions of dollars by streamlining cumbersome rules and eliminating spending inefficiencies.” [Link added to original.] [Pioneer Institute, June 11]

Posted on 06/13/12 03:26 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Victims of Communism Continue to Mount

“[T]his is the hallmark of Communistic governments: the peacetime mass killings of their own citizens. It is estimated that the former Soviet Union under Stalin committed 20 million such killings, and that the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Tse-tung committed 65 million: together, 85 million. This number of murders of innocent civilians by their own governments boggles the mind.

“And yet even this number is dwarfed by another, hidden category of victims of communism – victims of China’s One Child Policy.

“Women’s Rights Without Frontiers has learned that a woman in Shanxi Province, China, was forcibly aborted at seven months of pregnancy on June 3, 2012 – just last week.

“Feng Jianmei was beaten and dragged into a vehicle by a group of Family Planning Officials while her husband, Deng Jiyuan, was out working. The officials asked for RMB 40,000 in fines from Feng Jianmei’s family. When they did not receive the money, they forcibly aborted Feng at seven months, laying the body of her aborted baby next to her in the bed.

“Feng Jianmei is not alone. The Chinese Communist Party estimates that it has ‘prevented’ 400 million lives through its brutal One Child Policy. Every one of these 400 million snuffed out lives is a victim of communism.” [Reggie Littlejohn, Remarks at the Fifth Anniversary Commemoration of the Victims of Communism Memorial, June 12]

Posted on 06/13/12 02:47 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Administration Has Missed Nearly Half of the ObamaCare Deadlines for Regulations

“Of the [Affordable Care Act] regulations with legal deadlines, 47 percent, 20 of 42, have broken the mandated implementation schedule. […]

“Two notable regulations that missed their deadlines are also two of the more controversial. The new requirements for the calorie labeling of food in vending machines and menu items will cost restaurants and other small businesses more than $822 million to implement, and generate more than 1.4 million annual paperwork burden hours. However, businesses are still waiting for a final rule, and the proposed version arrived late as well.

“Perhaps the most expensive ‘tardy’ regulation involved forcing health plans and third party administrators to publish a ‘uniform’ summary of benefits for health plans. The Administration was supposed to issue a final rule by March 23, 2011, but a rule was not published until almost a year later. The total cost for the regulation when it did arrive: $146 million and more than 3 million paperwork burden hours.” [Dan Goldbeck, Sam Batkins, American Action Forum, June 7]

Posted on 06/13/12 02:01 PM by Alex Adrianson

Auto Bailout Gave Unions a $26.5 Billion Bonus—or Just a Little More than What Taxpayers Will Lose

“[W]e estimate that the Administration redistributed $26.5 billion more to the UAW than it would have received had it been treated as it usually would in bankruptcy proceedings. Taxpayers lost between $20 billion and $23 billion on the auto programs. Thus, the entire loss to the taxpayers from the auto bailout comes from the funds diverted to the UAW.

“Had the government treated the UAW in the manner required by bankruptcy law, the taxpayers would have been able to recoup their entire investment in the company. The program would have amounted to subsidized loans instead of a direct bailout. The Administration could have kept the automakers running without losing a dime.

“Accomplishing this would have been straightforward. At Chrysler, the Treasury—not the UAW—could have received the $4.6 billion note and ownership of 41.5 percent of the company. At General Motors, the bankruptcy process could have operated normally, reducing GM’s compensation to market levels and raising the value of the government’s shares. The Treasury could have also received the $2.5 billion note, the $6.5 billion in preferred stock, and the excess shares of GM given to the union. The Administration could have directed the firm not to treat Delphi’s UAW members better than non-union retirees and put less money into GM. Had the Administration done so American taxpayers would not have lost $23 billion.” [Internal citations omitted.] [James Sherk and Todd Zywicki, The Heritage Foundation, June 13]

Posted on 06/13/12 11:25 AM by Alex Adrianson

Adding Yet More Teachers to the Public School System Is Not a Way to Fix the Economy

“Despite hiring nearly 3 million more people and spending a resulting $210 billion more every year, achievement near the end of high school has stagnated in math and reading and actually declined slightly in science since 1970. […] [O]n a per pupil basis, a K-12 education has gone from about $55,000 to about $150,000 in real, inflation-adjusted terms. […]

“[T]he public school monopoly is warehousing 3 million people in jobs that appear to have done nothing to improve student learning. Our K-12 government school system simply does not know how to harness the skills of our education workforce, and so is preventing these people from contributing to our economy while consuming massive quantities of tax dollars.” [Andrew J. Coulson, Cato-at-Liberty, June 11]

Posted on 06/12/12 05:03 PM by Alex Adrianson

Nobel Winner Elinor Ostrom Died Tuesday; Her Work Challenged the Conventional Wisdom on Public Goods

“When economists show that market arrangements fail, they usually make the simple recommendation that ‘the’ state should take care of these problems. Elinor Ostrom has demonstrated empirically that ‘the’ state may not be ‘the’ solution. Her work argues for the wisdom of institutional diversity, looking to individuals to solve problems rather than relying on top down, one-size-fits-all solutions. The conventional wisdom assumes that natural resources and environmental problems should be solved in a centralized—and if possible, global—manner. Through innovative analysis in the field, in the experimental laboratory, and in theory, Ostrom’s work has show that creative solutions to problems such as the depletion of common pool resources exist outside of the sphere of national governments. […]

“Ostrom has explored a new domain of the complex institutional reality of social life—the rich institutional arrangements that are neither states nor markets. These are for-profit or not-for-profit entities that produce collective goods for ‘collective consumption units.’ Examples of such ‘consumption units’ abound. They are small and large, multi-purpose or just focused on one good or service: suburban municipalities, neighborhood organizations, condominiums, churches, voluntary associations, or informal entities like those solving the common-pool resources dilemmas studied and documented by Ostrom around the world. […]

“In study after study, she has shown that the principles of individual freedom, responsibility, entrepreneurial creativity, and resourcefulness apply not only to the production and distribution of private goods, they also apply to a large institutional domain outside the market order.” [Paul Dragos Aligica, Reason, October 12, 2009]

Posted on 06/12/12 04:02 PM by Alex Adrianson

The Popping of the Education Bubble Will Be Worse than the Popping of the Mortgage Bubble

“Even when homeowners got hopelessly behind on their mortgages, two options helped. First, they could declare bankruptcy and free themselves of their crippling debt; second, they could sell their houses to pay down most of their loans.

“Students don’t have either of these options. It’s illegal to absolve student loan debt through bankruptcy, and you can’t sell back an education.

“The simple fact of the matter should be obvious by now: Government created this mess, in both instances, by forcing the market to provide loans it would not have granted otherwise. As is its custom, government did by force what no private lender would have ever done by choice. This is the breeding ground for bubbles, and this one will burst just as they all do.” [Antony Davies and James R. Harrigan, U.S. News & World Report, June 12]

Posted on 06/12/12 03:16 PM by Alex Adrianson

You Don’t Have to Be a Moocher

America is at greater and greater risk of becoming another Greece if the burden of government continues to increase. This is just bad economics. But that’s just part of the story. If we continue to allow ourselves to become dependent on government, we’re not just tacking on more unaffordable spending, we’re risking our own freedoms in the process.” [Emily O’Neill, International Liberty, June 11]

Posted on 06/12/12 02:25 PM by Alex Adrianson

A New Eugenics Ahead?

“[L]ast week brought a remarkable breakthrough: a team of scientists mapped nearly an entire fetal genome using blood from the mother and saliva from the father. […]

“Thanks to examples like Irving Fisher, we know what the elites of a bygone era would have done with that kind of information: they would have empowered the state (and the medical establishment) to determine which fetal lives should be carried to term, and which should be culled for the good of the population as a whole.

“That scenario is all but unimaginable in today’s political climate. But given our society’s track record with prenatal testing for Down syndrome, we also have a pretty good idea of what individuals and couples will do with comprehensive information about their unborn child’s potential prospects. In 90 percent of cases, a positive test for Down syndrome leads to an abortion. It is hard to imagine that more expansive knowledge won’t lead to similar forms of prenatal selection on an ever-more-significant scale.

“Is this sort of ‘liberal eugenics,’ in which the agents of reproductive selection are parents rather than the state, entirely different from the eugenics of Fisher’s era, which forced sterilization on unwilling men and women? Like so many of our debates about reproductive ethics, that question hinges on what one thinks about the moral status of the fetus.” [Ross Douthat, New York Times, June 9]

Posted on 06/12/12 01:21 PM by Alex Adrianson

Kids with Gay Parents Do Have Different Experiences Than Those with Straight Parents

“On 25 of 40 different outcomes evaluated, the children of women who’ve had same-sex relationships fare quite differently than those in stable, biologically-intact mom-and-pop families, displaying numbers more comparable to those from heterosexual stepfamilies and single parents. Even after including controls for age, race, gender, and things like being bullied as a youth, or the gay-friendliness of the state in which they live, such respondents were more apt to report being unemployed, less healthy, more depressed, more likely to have cheated on a spouse or partner, smoke more pot, had trouble with the law, report more male and female sex partners, more sexual victimization, and were more likely to reflect negatively on their childhood family life, among other things. Why such dramatic differences? I can only speculate, since the data are not poised to pinpoint causes. One notable theme among the adult children of same-sex parents, however, is household instability, and plenty of it. […]

“Let me be clear: I’m not claiming that sexual orientation is at fault here, or that I know about kids who are presently being raised by gay or lesbian parents. Their parents may be forging more stable relationships in an era that is more accepting and supportive of gay and lesbian couples. But that is not the case among the previous generation, and thus social scientists, parents, and advocates would do well from here forward to avoid simply assuming the kids are all right.” [Mark Regnerus, Slate, June 11]

Posted on 06/12/12 10:22 AM by Alex Adrianson

You’ve Graduated—So What? Excerpts from the Speech Every Grad Should Hear

“Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. […] But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not. […]

“[W]e have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement. We have come to see them as the point—and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole. […] As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans. […]

“The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer. You’ll note the Founding Fathers took pains to secure your inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—quite an active verb, ‘pursuit’—which leaves, I should think, little time for lying around watching parrots rollerskate on Youtube.” [David McCullough Jr., 2012 Wellesley High School Commencement Speech, reprinted at The Swellesley Report, June 5, 2012]

Posted on 06/11/12 04:29 PM by Alex Adrianson

Walker’s Reforms Gave Public Workers a Choice, and That Was the Real Threat to Organized Labor

“Without the thumb of the state tilting the scale by coerced collection, union membership became truly voluntary. Result? Newly freed members rushed for the exits. In less than one year, ­AFSCME, the second-largest public-sector union in Wisconsin, has lost more than 50 percent of its membership.

“It was predictable. In Indiana, where Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) instituted by executive order a similar reform seven years ago, government-worker unions have since lost 91 percent of their dues-paying membership. In Wisconsin, Democratic and union bosses (a redundancy) understood what was at stake if Walker prevailed: not benefits, not ‘rights,’ but the very existence of the unions.” [Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, June 7]

Posted on 06/11/12 04:28 PM by Alex Adrianson

The President Is Wrong: The Private Sector Is Not Doing Fine

“While the private sector lost 4.6 million jobs (a 3.9 percent drop) since the recession began, government payrolls have only fallen by 240,000 jobs (a 1.1 percent drop).” [Amy Payne, The Foundry, June 11]

Posted on 06/11/12 04:02 PM by Alex Adrianson

Collapsing Unemployment Insurance System Imposes Higher Taxes at Exactly the Wrong Time

“Over the past three years, 34 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands exhausted their unemployment insurance trust funds and have borrowed from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits. […]

“As a result of these outstanding federal loan balances, businesses and employees in many of these states now face increases in federal unemployment insurance tax rates. This tax is ostensibly levied at a 6.0 percent rate on the first $7,000 of each worker’s earnings, but if a state’s program meets federal guidelines, state UI taxes are credited against up to 90 percent of the federal tax. […] When a state UI program is insolvent for an extended period of time, this 90 percent credit is reduced by 0.3 percentage points per year. […] Of the states that exhausted their trust funds, 26 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands will see federal UI credit reductions in 2012 due to insolvency.

“These higher federal UI taxes, and higher state UI taxes enacted in many states, come at a time when private sector hiring is already at a low level and states are under significant fiscal pressure. The present method of financing the unemployment insurance system is thus exacerbating negative job growth and tax trends, instead of operating counter-cyclically as the program was intended. Indeed, states generally reduced UI taxes and expanded benefits during good economic times, and are hiking UI taxes and reducing benefits now.” [Internal citations omitted.] [Joseph Henchman, Tax Foundation, June 6]

Posted on 06/07/12 01:41 PM by Alex Adrianson

To Do: Food Denial Edition

• Go ahead, eat a donut. After all, it’s not “Mayor Bloomberg Tell Me What to Eat” Day. It’s National Donut Day.

• Get your fix for news on the war on consumer freedom: The Washington Legal Foundation has a new site that tracks it all: EatingAwayYourFreedoms.org.

• Nominate someone for a Walter Duranty Prize for Journalistic Mendacity. PJ Media and The New Criterion are now accepting nominations for the most dishonest reporting for fiscal year 2011-2012 (July 1, 2011-June 30, 2012). This prize is named after Walter Duranty, the New York Times Moscow correspondent who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for a series of articles that whitewashed Soviet brutality and the state-engineered famine in the Ukraine.

• Find out how liberal you are: Take the Cliché Quiz, based on Jonah Goldberg’s new book, The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas.

Posted on 06/01/12 01:16 PM by Alex Adrianson

Food Bans Don’t Work

“Reducing people’s options for junk foods gets them to cut back on the amount of calories they take in from junk food, but it doesn’t help them to lose weight, according to a new study.

“‘Limiting variety was helpful for reducing intake for that type of food group, but it appeared that compensation occurred in other parts of the diet,’ said Hollie Raynor, a professor at the University of Tennessee and the lead author of the study.

“In other words, people tend to make up for the fewer calories in the restricted food group by eating more calories from other types of foods.” [Kerry Grens, Reuters, May 31]

Posted on 06/01/12 12:58 PM by Alex Adrianson

May Is the Cruelest Month

“Employers created just 69,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said on Friday. That’s the fewest since May of last year. Economists had been expecting nonfarm payrolls to increase by 150,000. (In fact, the result was lower than what any economist polled by Reuters had predicted.)

“Moreover, companies added 49,000 fewer jobs than previously estimated in March and April. […]

“[T]he current 8.2% unemployment rate is 2.5 percentage points above where Team Obama predicted it would be right now if Congress passed his trillion-dollar stimulus plan.” [James Pethokoukis, The American, June 1]

Posted on 06/01/12 12:49 PM by Alex Adrianson

Does More Economic Freedom Lead to More Tolerance?

“Our results suggest that economic freedom is positively related, especially in the longer run, to tolerance towards homosexuals. However, there seems to be no statistically significant general effect on the other tolerance measures. When looking at the five areas of economic freedom, the cross-sectional results indicate that the quality of the legal system and the protection of property rights, as well as the stability of monetary policy and outcomes, play a positive role for tolerance towards homosexuals, while the other areas are not particularly important. We interpret these findings such that stability, safety and an expectation of fairness (in the legal and monetary systems) are conducive to not regarding others as threatening. Moreover, we find that social trust plays an important role, as a mechanism through which economic freedom builds tolerance. It seems that people who trust others they do not know are also tolerant – and that a given level of economic freedom brings about more tolerance the higher the share of people with social trust.” [Niclas Berggren and Therese Nilsson, The Research Institute of Industrial Economics, 2012]

Posted on 06/01/12 12:10 PM by Alex Adrianson

8.2 Percent Unemployment Is Only Part of the Bad News

“The unemployment rate rose slightly to 8.2% in May, holding above 8% for the 40th straight month, the Labor Department reported Friday. But actual employment rates of core working age Americans suggests the true jobs situation is even worse.

“From mid-1987 until the Great Recession, the employment-to-population ratio of 25-54-year-olds usually ranged from 78.5% to 80%. It never fell below 78.2% even during the 1990-1991 and 2001 slumps.

“But now, nearly three years after the recession ended in June 2009, that ratio stands at just 75.7%.” [David Hogberg, Investor’s Business Daily, June 1]

Posted on 06/01/12 11:46 AM by Alex Adrianson

Another Memo from Medicare’s Actuaries Says ObamaCare Assumes Medicare Cuts that Will Never Happen

“The memorandum explains that ObamaCare requires the trustees to assume a steady decline in the hospital reimbursement rates for both Medicare and Medicaid — to about 39% of what private insurance would pay in 2086.

“Worse yet, the trustees must assume that physician reimbursements under Medicaid will drop to 55% of private health insurance by 2086, while physicians serving Medicare patients ‘would eventually fall to 26% of private health insurance levels.’ […]

“The Medicare actuary (rightly) doesn’t believe the government will actually make those cuts. And so it’s taking the unprecedented step, for the third time, of releasing an alternative (read: realistic) scenario.

“The actuary says that hospital expenditures are ‘projected under current law (i.e., ObamaCare) to rise from about 3.8% of taxable payroll ... to 6.3% in 2085.’

“The actuary thinks 9.9% is more realistic.” [Link added to original.] [Merrill Matthews, Investor’s Business Daily, May 29]

Posted on 06/01/12 01:18 AM by Alex Adrianson

Gov. Walker’s Reforms Have Not Been Unfair to Wisconsin’s State Workers

“State and local government employees receive salaries roughly equal to those paid to private sector Wisconsin employees with similar education and experience or working in jobs with similar skill requirements. However, even following Act 10, pension benefits for Wisconsin public employees are roughly 4.5 times more valuable than private sector levels while health benefits are about twice as generous as those paid by larger private sector Wisconsin employers. This difference results in a combined salary-benefits compensation premium of around 22 percent for state workers over private sector workers, with varying but often larger pay advantages for local government employees.” [Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine, American Enterprise Institute, May 29]

Posted on 06/01/12 12:12 AM by Alex Adrianson

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