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Friday
May162014

ObamaCare Death Spiraling--The Young Enrollees Aren't That Healthy

New evidence further strengthens the case that the ObamaCare exchanges are headed for a death spiral.  

First, a new McKinsey report confirms that the young invincibles (or, at least the 18-29-year-old portion of them) are the least likely among all age groups to have paid their first premium (p.6):  

As I’ve noted before, the 18-34-year-olds will probably account for a disproportionate share of the group that does not pay their premiums.  That means the crucial 18-34-year-old demographic will be even smaller than the 28 percent of exchange sign-ups recently reported by HHS.  As that number decreases, the risk of a death spiral increases.  (For even more on the age imbalance of the exchanges in certain states, see this American Action Forum report.)

Next, a few insurers are releasing their rate hikes for next year.  From Virginia:

…the Anthem HealthKeepers Inc. plan offered by a unit of WellPoint Inc. said it would raise premiums by an average of 8.5% across its individual plans in Virginia, which cover about 110,000 people and are sold on the online insurance exchange set up by the health law, as well as directly to consumers.

….The Virginia filings show other health plans proposing rate increases ranging from 3.3% for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States, Inc., with around 10,000 members in the state, to 14.9% for CareFirst BlueChoice Inc., which said it had about 32,000 members. CareFirst said in its filing that it had seen the average age of its enrollees rise by several years. Neither WellPoint nor Kaiser immediately commented Sunday.

From Washington state:

Molina Healthcare (MOH), with 2,000 enrollees in Washington, aims to cut premiums by 6.8%. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan seeks just a 0.6% rise. But those carriers account for just 3% of state’s combined enrollment.

Meanwhile, Group Health Cooperative filed for an 11.2% rate increase for its nearly 24,000 exchange enrollees, about 16% of Washington’s total.

Weighting proposed rates by the size of the exchange operator suggests an average 8.8% hike.

Are those the types of increases that will likely drive younger and healthier people to leave the exchanges?  Only time will tell, but the fact that these increase are considerably higher than inflation (thus far about 1.77 percent in 2014) is a bad sign.

Another bad sign is the overall health of exchange enrollees.  Here are the results of a survey from Gallup:

 

Among the all U.S. adults, 50 percent report they are either in excellent or very good health.  The corresponding percentage for exchange enrollees is 37.  

That problem is showing itself in North Carolina:

“Not as many of the state’s young and healthy enrolled as expected,” Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina announced in a press release. The company expected 50 percent of its Obamacare exchange customers to be younger than 35, but just 32 percent of customers are below age 35 and just 25 percent are between the ages of 18 and 34.

 ….Even worse, the insurer believes that its few young invincible sign-ups are less healthy than expected as well.

“Early self-reported data indicates that BCBSNC’s young ACA customers (ages 18-34) are less healthy and seeking more medical treatment than we typically see in this age group,” according to the statement.

Blue Cross of North Carolina probably won’t be the last insurer faced with this problem.

When ObamaCare critics, myself included, talked about not enough young and healthy signing up, we too often used young as synonymous with healthy because young people usually are healthier.  But the viability of a health insurance risk pool depends on enough healthy people signing up.  And the big problem for the ObamaCare exchanges is that they may actually be attracting young people who are less healthy on average.  

Thursday
May152014

Project 21’s Martin Says #BringBackOurStrongForeignPolicy

So far, #bringbackourgirls has not secured the release of the hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorist group.  No matter who flashes the hashtag – be it First Lady Michelle Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron or nearly-naked fashion models – these African Islamists seem unwilling to listen to the sound reasoning of a blank sheet of paper and a marker.

It also begs the question: do Islamist militants even tweet?

Upping the ante of late, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has offered to negotiate and even swap imprisoned militants for the girls.  America has sent “advisors,” planes and drones to assist in finding the girls.

With the lack of progress thus far, Nigerian troops have engaged and killed Boko Haram members.  Even Nigerian civilians are fighting back.

In other words: it’s on.

Why is Boko Haram kidnapping and killing Nigeria’s children in the first place?  It’s a hatred of the west, principally.  “Boko Haram” translates into “western education is a sin.”  They are kidnapping boys.  They are kidnapping girls.  In a nutshell, they believe in Sharia law that essentially says women should be at home tending to the needs of their husbands and not learning math.

It’s a series of hate crimes.

So why is the shocking kidnapping of all these innocent girls the thing that has finally made the world spring to attention about these radicals?  More importantly, why did the U.S. State Department pointedly choose not to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization until just recently – despite the attacks on boys, girls, Christians and Muslims?

Under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s leadership, the State Department resisted labeling Boko Haram a terrorist group.  It eventually was – in 2013, during John Kerry’s tenure.

During their era of innocence in American eyes, Boko Haram even openly threatened to kill the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria.  And that was before Benghazi!

This is a bit much for Kevin Martin, a member of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network.  A Navy veteran who traveled in the Muslim world while serving our nation, Kevin is aghast at the way the Obama Administration – and the Clinton State Department, in particular – allowed the Boko Haram threat to go unaddressed and to fester.

Kevin said:

Boko Haram is a very dangerous Islamic terrorist group that has been destabilizing northern Nigeria for years.  Their terrorist actions over the last four years include mass murder, kidnapping and forced conversions to Islam.  There are thousands of victims of their actions and many more grieving family members and friends.

While some Americans are only now discovering the extend of Boko Haram’s past crimes through social media’s #bringbackourgirls – and, even then, it is mostly restricted to efforts highlighting the group’s kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian school girls – the truth of the matter is that the Obama Administration had the chance to label Boko Haram a terrorist group as far back as 2011 and refused to do so.

It’s apparent that this neglect was because of the politically correct fear of labeling a group of African Islamists as terrorists.

But the facts are clear.  Since 2011, Boko Haram has grown stronger.  This is especially the case following the Libyan civil war, when the group was allegedly able to obtain several types of heavy weapons – including MANPAD anti-aircraft weaponry.  Possession of such armament essentially puts Boko Haram on par with Nigerian military.

While some conservatives – including me – question the effectiveness of the social media activism of Michelle Obama and others, the real question that remains is this: why, when the Obama Administration and the State Department had the chance, did it refuse to label Boko Haram as a terrorist group.

The Obama Administration inaction of a few years back – under the leadership of Hillary Clinton – likely only emboldened Boko Haram – which lead up to this particular kidnapping that has given them the worldwide attention they have obviously been seeking.

top photo credit: iStockPhoto

Tuesday
May132014

Don't Get Your Science News from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Though really, what sane person would get his science news from This Week Tonight with John Oliver?

But just in case some of you don't know any better, Oliver's recent skit, "Climate Change Debate," had a glaring error -- sadly, one that makes the skit substantially less funny.

So if you haven't seen it yet, you might want to watch it first, and then find out about the error.

OK, here's the error. Oliver's writers apparently are under the impression that global warming "skeptics" are at odds with the 97% of scientists who are said to agree that humans cause global warming. That's not so. The skeptics are among the 97% of scientists who agree that humans cause global warming.

That's how the percentage gets nearly to one hundred.

How can that be, you say? Neither Jon Stewart nor Rachel Maddow ever said any such thing.

Last Week Tonight with John OliverDon't expect to get science news from a comedy show.

Jon Stewart is selling comedy and Rachel Maddow is selling liberalism, that's how. They aren't science educators, and don't pretend to be.

Here's the deal. Despite all the contentiousness of the global warming debate, there really is not much debate that the Earth has warmed since the end of the Little Ice Age in the 1800s, and that the Earth warmed during various decades since (and cooled during others, and didn't change much in still others). So scientists -- alarmists and skeptics alike -- pretty much agree that there has been global warming.

So, if the global warming theory is defined as "the Earth has warmed and humans have caused it," do skeptics believe humans have caused it?

Most skeptics believe humans have caused some of it and nature has caused the rest of it. Climatologist Dr. Roy Spencer, for example, a very prominent skeptic and a key man behind the UAH dataset (which provides the ongoing atmospheric temperature records used by alarmist and skeptic scientists alike), believes humans have caused about half of observed warming. That puts him firmly among the 97% of scientists who believe, as John Oliver puts it, that "climate change exists." That also makes him a skeptic, because he does not agree with alarmists that warming is overwhelmingly human-caused and he does not believe human-caused global warming will inevitably cause a catastrophe.

Yet the ignorance and nastiness of the global warming debate is such that, according to Google, the alarmists and allied left-wing propaganda groups such as Think Progress have have called Dr. Spencer a "denier" no less than 34,000 times.

RoySpencerDenierGoogle051314

So if Dr. Roy Spencer, skeptic, had been in John Oliver's skit, he would have been seated with Bill Nye (preferably in his place, as Nye doesn't seem to know the North Pole from the South, and isn't a scientist anyway) as one of the 97 scientists. And many of his skeptic friends would have been there with him.

The debate, dear friends, is not whether the planet has done any warming over the last 140 years or so, or even in the late 20th Century, or even whether humans have caused any of that observed warming. The debate is over whether humans have caused the overwhelming amount of said warming (or even all of it), as alarmist scientists and activists like Al Gore believe, and whether said warming inevitably will cause a catastrophe for humankind (as the alarmists and activists also believe).

If you think about it, you'll realize the 97% figure always did sound a bit fishy. Out side of North Korean elections, when do 97% percent of people ever agree on anything?

Only when the question is asked so broadly, nearly everyone agrees.

Monday
May122014

Leftist PC Police Threaten Free Speech

In the space of just a few weeks, the quality of American freedom has been cheapened and its future made uncertain by a renewed assault of left-wing radicals bent on having their own way — and running roughshod over all other opinions in the process.  It’s political correctness all over again.

To follow are the some of the most high-profile recent examples of this re-invigorated, authoritarian thought police of the far-left:

  • Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice felt compelled to turn down an invitation to speak at the commencement of Rutgers University and receive an honorary degree because of campus protests against her diplomacy during the George W. Bush Administration.
  • A private conversation made public, in which owner Donald Sterling made inappropriate racial remarks to his then-girlfriend, led to the NBA banning Sterling from professional basketball for life and leaving him in a position where Sterling may essentially be forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers team that he owned and nurtured for decades (possibly to investment groups that include those who protested him).
  • After it was revealed he made a donation to a California referendum campaign to define marriage as solely between a man and a woman (a referendum that won by a large margin of victory in 2008), software CEO Brendan Eich was forced out of his job at Mozilla.
  • Similarly, the Benham brothers found their upcoming reality show about house flipping cancelled before an episode was ever aired because of one of the brothers in particular and the family in general being outspoken against homosexuality and abortion.  It is reported that the basic cable network HGTV was “bullied” into removing the show from its schedule by gay activists.

This intolerance is political.  It is issue-driven.  It is meant to ensure a leftist agenda prevails despite legality, logic or popular support.

In Washington, despite liberal declarations in 2008 that America was entering a “post-racial” era, the race card seems to be played more than every.  Free speech through political contributions (from conservatives, at least) is under fire even though the U.S. Supreme Court, for one, continues to invalidate onerous campaign finance restrictions.  Adherence to traditional values, and being outspoken about it, for instance, can put a target on someone’s back.

Kevin Martin, a member of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network, condemns this resurgence of political correctness and intolerance of a diversity of viewpoints that now seems to permeate American society, saying:

As more Americans sour on President Obama’s failed brand of progressive politics, a very vocal minority of hardcore partisans wants to shoot down any support for traditional ideas in our constitutional republic.

This radical fringe — which remains unrestrained by others who share their beliefs but either don’t wish or are afraid to attempt to check their zeal — thinks it has the right to be the thought police of America.

While sternly denying corporate identity when Mitt Romney or the U.S. Supreme Court recognized it, these people now bestow a similar personhood on government.  More precisely, they now appear to seek to personalize policy in such a way that opposition to the will of the government can get someone tagged as racist because the government — in their view — is now Barack Obama.

Anyone who believes our government should be held accountable also seems likely to be similarly smeared by these people as a racist.

Furthermore, this cadre of radicals does not limit its policing of thought to one’s feelings on government.  Whatever it seeks to redefine, it wants to set the prevailing opinion that must be held by all.  Americans who have spoken out on the issues of traditional marriage, for example, have found themselves attacked, protested and forced out of public and private positions they have earned on merit because they dare to hold views counter to the mob.

These radicals have also sought to imprint their opinions on America through the media, public institutions and schools.  Anyone who is found to hold beliefs counter to theirs are often smeared as racist, traditionalist, nativist, sexist or homophobic because what this small minority has not yet been able to do is stop the exchange of ideas that Americans have come to appreciate and is still guaranteed by our Constitution.

photo credit: iStockPhoto

Sunday
May112014

Think Progress is Wrong to Claim Protecting Lands for Future Generations is a "Uniquely American" Idea

Royal National ParkIf Think Progress is right that preserving natural lands for future generations is a "uniquely American" idea, then Royal National Park in Australia, created in 1879 and shown here, must not exist.

I've been writing about Think Progress' announcement Friday of a new series dedicated to convincing Americans that anyone who believes our federal government should own less than 28 percent of our national land area is a wild-eyed right-wing fringe radical.

Friday I noted how unfair it is that western states have far less control over their own land area than eastern and midwestern states. Saturday I pointed out that Think Progress' belief that federal land ownership is equivalent to public access is charmingly naive at the level of Mary Poppins.

Today, smaller fare: I merely suggest that Think Progress is wrong to claim that leaving large tracts of public lands in a more-or-less natural state is a "uniquely American idea."

I'm easily as devout a patriot as anyone at Think Progress, but really, its "only in America" attitude about national parks and wilderness areas is a bit unsubstantiated. Other countries really do have parks and protected lands.

Australia created its first national park during the same decade we created ours, in the 1870s.

And Canada, for example, seems quite sure it has "vast expanses of intact natural areas," some of which are government-owned lands while others are privately owned. Canada created its first national park in 1885 -- after the creation of Yellowstone in 1872, to be sure, but not much after.

So does the USA have the greatest amount of protected land area? Maybe that's what Think Progress meant?

Nope. Russia has more (1,523,570 sq. km to our 1,383,174).

How about the greatest percentage of its land area under protection?

Nope. Germany has more (40.5% to our 14.8%). We're not even second (UK, 24.4%), or third (Japan, 16.3%), or fourth (France, 15.1%).

Other countries with protected natural lands include but are not limited to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Greece and Sweden, with quite a few others.

Where did Think Progress get the idea that having "places held in trust" for future generations to enjoy is "uniquely American"?

Did it make it up?

Saturday
May102014

Think Progress is Wrong to Equate Federal Ownership of Land with Public Access to Those Lands

Troublesome Wilderness Study AreaThis is the Troublesome Wilderness Study Area in Colorado, owned by the federal government. If you want to see it in person, you'll have to walk.

I wrote yesterday of the left-wing special interest group Think Progress' rather silly belief that in owning 28 percent of the nation's land area, the federal government owns exactly the right amount of land (or possibly not enough?) and that if the feds owned any less, dangerous harm to America's heritage would result.

Today I point out the ignorance of Think Progress in believing:

By seizing public lands [from the federal government], special interests are* infringing upon a uniquely American idea: that there are places held in trust for all Americans – present and future – to hike, fish, camp, hunt, and enjoy.

And also in believing federal land ownership is synonymous with access to said lands by the public, by writing, "Public lands are a place for all Americans."

Think Progress, meet your comrades in the environmental movement. Clearly, you have not been introduced, as getting humans off many federal lands is one of its goals. See here or here or here or here or here or elsewhere.

Approximately one-third of U.S. Forest Service System lands, equalling 58.5 million acres, are "roadless." That's a land area larger than Great Britain, and it means as it sounds: if you want to enjoy them, or fish and camp on them as Think Progress suggests is their purpose, you'll have to walk.

Some further 4 million acres of federal lands in the Rocky Mountains are similarly inaccessible. They are either totally surrounded by private land or no roads exist on which they can be accessed.

78 countries are smaller than that.

Who loses fishing and camping access to these lands if they are sold?

Hikers. Really energetic hikers. They are the only ones who can get in.

And let me remind Think Progress that no one except the feds had access to many federal lands during the 2013 government shutdown -- you know, the one President Obama forced because he did not want to delay implementation of ObamaCare, right before he delayed implementation of ObamaCare?

If the feds don't own the lands, people can have access to them no matter what hijinks are going on in Washington.

*It is unclear who exactly Think Progress believes is presently seizing public lands. The only land seizure I know of recently is in Ukraine.

Saturday
May102014

Never Compliment a Liberal for Getting Something Right - It Just Makes Them Want to be Wrong Again

SalonandSlateLogosLast week, I applauded Salon magazine for having the integrity to point out that its fellow liberal magazine, Slate, didn't know what it was talking about.

Slate claimed conservative opposition to Common Core is solely based on the fact that Common Core is connected with the left.

Salon disagreed with Slate, saying many liberals dislike Common Core and that many of those who oppose it, regardless of their politics, dislike it on the merits.

I ended my piece complimenting Salon with these words:

Understanding issues and analyzing actual concerns takes more work than writing pieces with a simplistic left-good; right-bad meme. Maybe that's too much to expect from Slate.

But perhaps there's hope. If you had asked me yesterday, I would have said it was too much for Salon.

I spoke too soon. Salon published another piece, contradicting the one I complimented. Now it agrees with Slate.

Never compliment a liberal for getting something right. It seems to make them want to be wrong again.

The left just isn't comfortable with being right.

Friday
May092014

Think Progress is Wrong to Claim the Federal Government Should Own 28% or More of America's Lands

LandsOwnedbyFederalGovernmentW

Ever fearful that someone other than our Washington overlords might have some power and influence, the ever-creative Think Progress announced today a new series intended to demonize anyone who believes it makes sense for the federal government to own less land than 28 percent of America's land area.

A premise behind its concern appears to be that only the federal government can manage land wisely: that government manages it better than private citizens and the feds manage land better than states or localities.

Think Progress genuinely appears to believe that local and state governments are run by yokels who would pave over Yosemite, given half a chance (does that sounds like something Gov. Jerry Brown would do to you?), and that if a private citizen owns something wonderful, he can be counted on to destroy it.

If the feds are so great at land management, why does the National Park Service -- manager of the lands we value most above all -- have a $11.5 billion maintenance backlog?

Don't blame the recession: The maintenance backlog has been a serious problem for many years.

One way to address the maintenance backlog would be to limit federal "ownership" of land only to that land with unique qualities -- the lands the American people truly want preserved -- and that land used for military purposes. The rest could be sold to the states in which they are found, to be managed by those closest to them, and with the greatest motivation to see that they are managed well. Some of those lands, in turn, could be sold by the states, giving the states and localities access to property tax revenue from private landowners.

There is simply no reason for 81 percent of Nevada and 66.5 percent of Utah to be "owned" by the federal government.

It's also unfair that 93 percent of all federal land is owned in just 13 states. Why should Idaho (61.7% federal control) have substantially less control over its land than Kansas (.06% federal control) or Iowa (.03% federal control) or Nebraska (1.1% federal control)? Is Idaho really that different than Kansas, Iowa or Nebraska?

And why is it fair for western states to have far, far less control over their lands than eastern states?

Friday
May092014

New Study Shows Link Between Health Insurance And Mortality

A new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine researches the expansion of insurance under RomneyCare in Massachusetts and finds a link between insurance status and mortality.  Specifically, the study (henceforth the Sommers-2014 study) found that about every “830 adults gaining health insurance [prevented] 1 death per year.”

Thus, we have another entry into the debate over whether there is a link between having insurance and mortality.  And unlike the silly Wilper-2009 study, this one is a pretty solid study, using a quasi-experimental design.  Basically, the researchers compared a set of counties in Massachusetts with similar counties in other states both before and after RomneyCare came into effect in 2006.  The mortality rate in the Massachusetts counties dropped 2.9% post-RomneyCare relative to the other counties.

That said, there are only two studies in this debate that use the best type of study design, the randomized controlled trial, and both of those studies found no link between insurance status and mortality.  (If you want to know more about difference in study design, this power-point presentation is pretty good.) Both of those studies have their shortcomings, though, including small sample size and abbreviated period of study.  The Sommers-2014 study had relatively large sample size and was able to study affects over four years.

However, the Sommers-2014 study has its shortcomings too.  Phil Klein at the Washington Examiner notes that Massachusetts has the most per capita physicians of any state in the nation and has some very high quality medical institutions.  Klein writes:

So it’s possible that what the Massachusetts study picked up is not necessarily that increasing health insurance coverage decreases mortality in general, but doing so in an area with a vast pre-existing medical infrastructure with a high concentration of skilled doctors and world-class medical facilities is what makes the difference.

Another shortcoming in the Sommers-2014 study is that its unit of analysis is counties, not individuals.  Because of this, the study can’t measure the impact of health status, smoking status and body mass index.  A 2009 study by Dr. Richard Kronik found that excluding those factors increases the strength of the relationship between insurance status and mortality.  Include them and the relationship all but evaporates.

In fairness, the Sommers-2014 study did compare counties that were very similar in their demographic characteristics such as age, median income, employment and poverty rates, and so forth.  Thus, it’s possible that health status, smoking status and body mass index are also relatively similar in all counties in the study.  But since they aren’t measured, we ultimately don’t know, and it leaves open the question whether the study’s findings on insurance status and mortality would weaken or disappear if those factors were included.

Thursday
May082014

If Politicians Care About Liberty, They Need To Fight For It--And Too Many Republicans On The E&C Committee Don't Know How To Do It

A little over a week ago I wrote, “Alas, the GOP is not called the stupid party for nothing.  If Republicans are really serious about restoring liberty in health care, then they need better tactics than talking without first thinking and preemptive surrender.”  

Case in point was yesterday’s House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on ObamaCare enrollment. Watching it wasn’t painful.  It was excruciating.

Republicans let the Democrats walk all over them.  The Democrats touted the “8 million enrolled” figure unchallenged, even though the insurance industry officials brought up to testify said between 10 and 20 percent of pre-March sign-ups had not paid their premiums.  I never heard one Republican counter with something like, “Well, if 10 to 20 percent don’t end up paying their premiums, we aren’t going to have 8 million enrollees, are we?  Indeed, if it closer to 20 percent, then the final number won’t even reach Obama’s goal of 7 million.” Granted, I stopped listening three-quarters of the way through, but I’d bet good money no GOP member said anything like that in the part I missed.

As usual, the Democrats’ attack dog, Henry Waxman, laid down an effective barrage of things that the GOP had been wrong about on ObamaCare.  It was effective, in part, because no one fired back.  For example, Waxman dismissed the GOP claim that ObamaCare would cost jobs.  Someone should have pointed out the Congressional Budget Office report that said ObamaCare would reduce work hours to the equivalent of 2.5 million jobs.  Waxman also claimed that the premiums on the exchange had come in lower than the CBO estimate.  Couldn’t one of the Republican members noted that the premiums are much higher than what was available on the actual individual market in 2013?

As I wrote in that same post a week ago, “While committee hearings are nominally for the purpose of gathering information, they’ve increasingly become used to score political points.  Republicans need to acknowledge that and use some of their time in that hearing to launch attacks against ObamaCare.”

Time for GOP members of the E&C Committee to step up their game.  A lot.

****

On a different note, yesterday I commented on the phenomena of “duplicates” in the exchange.  Duplicates are individuals who, due to website glitches, signed-up more than one time.  Yesterday I wrote, “If only 80 percent of enrollees pay premiums, then enrollment will be around 6.4 million, not 8 million.  The number of duplicates (and we don’t know how many duplicates there are) will further erode that number.”  

Upon further reflection, the number of duplicates won’t further erode the enrollment number because they are already part of the rate of non-payment of premiums.  In other words, suppose Mr. Smith opened three accounts, signed up for insurance in all three, but is paying a premium on only one.  The insurers are receiving no premiums for the two “duplicate” sign-ups, and thus the duplicates are probably included in the total number of sign-ups who have not paid their premiums. 

Wednesday
May072014

Donald Sterling-NAACP Link Further Hurts Reputation of Civil Rights Lobby

Virtually everyone knows about the race controversy that will cost Donald Sterling the ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball team.  It’s more than likely, however, that fewer people are aware of the relationship between Sterling and the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP.

Despite past legal action and accusations that called Sterling’s character into question, particularly regarding race, the local NAACP gave Sterling a lifetime achievement award in 2009 and planned to give him another similar high honor this coming May 15.

Sterling has been a major donor to liberal causes, including the NAACP.  And, as California NAACP president Alice Huffman admitted to USA Today, big donors can get awards.  Apparently, they can get such awards without much vetting of their past (or present).

This apparent pay-for-play behavior cost the NAACP’s LA chapter president, Leon Jenkins, his position in the group.  Jenkins, a disbarred lawyer and disgraced former judge already raised eyebrows among his peers, but the Sterling controversy finally led to his exit.  He apologized for “the negative exposure I have caused” the NAACP.

Kevin Martin, a member of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network, notes that this toxic relationship between Sterling and the NAACP reveals the potential for terrible damage as it leads to the assumption that the once-unimpeachable civil rights lobby may now be available for purchase:

With the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP having given Donald Sterling a major lifetime humanitarian award in the past – and its willingness to do so again this month, until controversy overtook events after Sterling’s racial comments dominated the news – it proves to me what concerned blacks and others have largely held to themselves for a long time: the credibility of the NAACP could be for sale to the highest bidder.

When Sterling was last feted by the NAACP’s Los Angeles affiliate, he was in the midst of negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice over accusations he discriminated against minorities in apartment rentals.  This year, he was set to share the stage with the mayor of Los Angeles and Al Sharpton even though there was the factor of this settlement with the Justice Department and further accusations that his ownership style with the Clippers created a “plantation mentality.”

When the people demanded action in the wake of the comments Sterling made to his then-girlfriend becoming public knowledge, what the NAACP planned to do became very relevant because it appears to show that they were willing to look the other way for years as long as Sterling donated to progressive causes.

The outrage from the civil rights establishment to the Los Angeles NAACP and now-former chapter president Leon Jenkins could be seen as a calculated response to the exposure of the real and inappropriate connection between Donald Sterling and the political left.

Wednesday
May072014

Project 21’s Cooper Comments on Congressional Contempt Charge for Lois Lerner

Lois Lerner, the former IRS manager considered to be a key player in the alleged targeting of conservative organizations, was charged with contempt of Congress for her unwillingness to assist congressional investigators.  Lerner asserted her innocence before a congressional hearing last year, and simultaneously attempted invoke her 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Horace Cooper, the co-chairman of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network and a former staff member for the congressional leadership, is commenting on the bipartisan 231-187 vote for the charge that will now likely move the Lerner case to the U.S. Department of Justice and a court where it can be determined whether or not she must testify about her involvement in any unethical partisan agenda at the nation’s tax-collecting agency:

Tonight, a bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives voted to formally hold Lois Lerner in contempt and request that the U.S. Department of Justice name a special counsel to prosecute her alleged crimes.

Every American should be able to expect that they will not be mistreated by the IRS, and that they certainly shouldn’t have to fear that they will be targeted solely because of their political views.

The power of the IRS is significant and, for most Americans, it is an agency that can engender fear because of how it can affect a person’s life.  It is incumbent upon those civil servants to act with care and high regard for the right of all Americans to hold whatever beliefs they may choose.

This vote makes clear that Ms. Lerner’s breach was serious and likely violated federal law.  She and any others who aided her in these apparently egregious acts of political targeting must be held accountable.

Political freedom is a value that we can all come together in support of — left, right and middle.  I commend the congressmen who stood up for the liberty of all Americans to participate, or not, in the political arena free from reprisal.

Wednesday
May072014

Holder Urged to Act Quickly on House Request for Criminal Contempt Probe in IRS Case

A guest post by Horace Cooper, attorney, legal commentator and Project 21 co-chairman:

Today the House of Representatives voted to hold Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress and to formally request that the DOJ begin a criminal probe of her actions.

This vote is the culmination of nearly a year of investigation by the House Oversight Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee into IRS abuses. The evidence uncovered so far makes clear that numerous right-of-center organizations and think-tanks were subjected to special scrutiny by IRS and, in the process, it is likely that federal laws were broken. Last month the Ways and Committee voted to formally request that the DOJ begin a criminal investigation of Ms. Lerner and the Oversight Committee voted to hold her in contempt.

Ms. Lerner now has the dubious distinction of being one of a dozen executive branch officials since the 1970s -- including Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joe Califano, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and EPA Administrator Anne Gorsuch -- to be held in contempt by a Congressional committee.

I commend the House for taking aggressive steps to hold Lois Lerner accountable. Today's announcement makes it clear that wrongdoing cannot be ignored by the Justice Department or the White House. It is in the interest of every American that we have an IRS that doesn't single out groups or individual for mistreatment based on their political views -- this isn't just dangerous, it is UnAmerican.

Today's action signals that the House is serious about its determination to get to the root of the illegal use of the IRS to punish conservatives generally and opponents of the White House in particular. I urge Mr. Holder to act quickly.

Wednesday
May072014

Health Care Odds & Ends: ObamaCare Exchanges Edition

1. Non-payment of premiums and duplicates.  Two things you’ll be hearing out of the Energy and Commerce Committee hearing today is that roughly 20 percent of exchange sign-ups have not paid their first premium and something new known as “duplicates.”  

Naomi Lopez Bauman of the Illinois Policy Institute explains how duplicates will affect final enrollment numbers.

According to [AHIP] testimony:

“Duplicate enrollments: Because of the challenges that surfaced with the launch of the Exchanges in October 2013, some consumers were advised to create a new account and enroll again. As a result, insurers have many duplicate enrollments in their system for which they never received any payment. In cases where an insurer has a new enrollment for a consumer who previously enrolled, they are not expecting that original policy to be effectuated – even though that data is still reported.”

In other words, due to website glitches, some individuals may have enrolled multiple times. In these cases, the government may count all of these enrollments toward the total enrollment number. The insurer, knowing that the individual enrolled multiple times, will count that individual as having paid.

For example, if there are three people with one enrollment each and one person with two enrollments, the government will report this as five total enrollments. If the first three people paid for each of their policies and the fourth person paid for one policy, the insurer will report 100 percent payment. In this way, the government numbers may be further overstating enrollments.

If only 80 percent of enrollees pay premiums, then enrollment will be around 6.4 million, not 8 million.  The number of duplicates (and we don’t know how many duplicates there are) will further erode that number.

2. The idiots in Oregon, Hawaii, Maryland, Vermont, and now Massachusetts. Massachusetts is the latest state to junk its insurance exchange website.  Oregon and Maryland have also scrapped their exchanges, while Hawaii and Vermont continue to have major problems.  Here’s Phil Kerpen’s analysis of how much it has cost federal taxpayers to run those exchanges:

Over at Investor’s Business Daily, John Merline notes: “Add it all up, and ObamaCare’s startup cost is at least $6.7 billion. Even if every one of the 8 million enrollees pays their premiums all year, the cost is more than $837 per sign-up. And if recent surveys are correct that just a third of enrollees previously lacked coverage, ObamaCare will have cost $2,500 for each newly insured person.”

An encore of John Oliver on Oregon (Warning: strong language):

3. Encounters with a Hack. Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute made the argument that ObamaCare sets up incentives for people to go without insurance.  Michael Hiltzik (who else) of the Los Angeles Times makes the unfounded claim, not once, but twice, that Cannon is advocating people should go without insurance. In the process, Hiltzik shows his intellectual caliber by calling Cannon’s argument not just “obtuse” but “blindingly obtuse,” along with “clueless,” “ghoulish,” and “asinine.”  Cannon, of course, handles it like the classy gent he is.

I’ve had my own encounter with Hiltzik.  I’ve also had a similar encounter with Brian Beutler of Salon who falsely accused me of encouraging people to go without insurance.  Birds of a feather…

4. Young and Not-So-Invincbles.  One of the crucial indicators as to whether the ObamaCare exchanges will enter a death sprial is the number of 18-34-year-olds—the “Young Invincibles” who will sign up.  However, the 18-34-year-olds may not be that invincible—i.e., they’ll have substantial medical claims—as many of us initially thought.  I’ve written about that here.  Here’s more suggestive evidence.  The Gallup poll surveyed the newly insured on the exchanges and found that about 43% of sign-ups ages 18-64 said they were in excellent or very good health, versus 51% of all people 18-64.  Now, that could mean that we have an inordinate number of unhealthy people among that 50-64 age cohort.  On the other hand, many of the 18-34-year-olds in the exchange may be less healthy than 18-34-year-olds are generally.  Gallup didn’t break it down by age, so we can’t know for certain.  Either way, though, it’s another hint that a death spiral is coming.

Tuesday
May062014

Has the SEIU Changed Its Mind About the Tea Party Being Racist?

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I heard a radio ad this morning this morning that attempted to show that support for the SEIU's demand for pay hikes of up to 40% for employees at Johns Hopkins Hospital is broad-based by including a quote from a worker identifying himself as a "Tea Party Republican" in support of the demand.

Now I'm confused.

Wasn't it the SEIU that was said to have assaulted black Tea Party member Kenneth Gladney at a town hall in St. Louis a few years back?

Was this supposed "Tea Party Republican" forced to say these things in SEIU propaganda materials, much like the Vietcong forced captured American GIs to admit to committing atrocities against the people of Vietnam?

Since the ad was on radio, I can't really tell whether he was blinking "t-o-r-t-u-r-e" in Morse code as the late Jeremiah Denton did in 1966.

Isn't this the same SEIU that has repeatedly accused the Tea Party of being racist, calling one Tea Party group's campaign to stop voter fraud "an innovative tactic in suffrage suppression reminiscent of the days of Jim Crow" and accusing the Tea Party of "threatening calls, racist taunts and dangerous behavior..."

All this leaves us with several options...

1. The SEIU was lying when it suggested that the Tea Party movement is racist.

2. The SEIU was telling the truth about the racism of the Tea Party movement, but is okay with it so long as it helps them get more money.

3. The "Tea Party" spokesman the SEIU used wasn't a member of the Tea Party at all.

4. All of the above are true.

5. Numbers 1 and 3 are true.

My money is on option 5.

Tuesday
May062014

Project 21’s Kevin Martin Takes on Bennie Thompson Targeting Clarence Thomas

Last week, Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS), a veteran congressman and ranking minority member of the Committee on Homeland Security, shocked Capitol Hill by calling U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas an “Uncle Tom.”

In the wake of referring to Thomas by this disrespectful slur on a radio program broadcast by the New Nation of Islam, Thompson was given a chance to atone for his inappropriate comment – yet he only doubled-down on the offense.

In that subsequent interview with CNN’s Dana Bash, Thompson refused to distance himself from the outlandish comment he made about the long-time respected jurist.  In fact, rather than repudiating the “Uncle Tom” term, Thompson actually qualified his hate speech by pointing out to Bash that “the people I represent have a real issue with and African-American not being sensitive to these issues” such as affirmative action and voter ID requirements.

Thompson said this is a “real problem” that he claimed made him and his constituents consider Thomas to be an “Uncle Tom” and that “he doesn’t like being black.”

Kevin Martin, a member of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network, is taking Representative Thomas to task for his unseemly speech, saying:

It would appear that progressives such as Representative Bennie Thompson have chosen the low road in attacking Justice Clarence Thomas.

I would expect that, if Representative Thompson actually believed in the rule of law, which his comments appear to indicate he does not, he would understand that the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court base their decisions on the merits of the law.  They are not supposed to inject their personal views into their rulings.

Furthermore, I believe Thompson’s personal attacks on Thomas are out of his frustration over the fact that the Court ruled against key parts of the progressive agenda.

Along with other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Thompson has tried to convince Americans that opposition to President Obama’s failed agenda is race-based.  In reality, I consider very little opposition to Obama to be based on the President’s race.  Instead, I see it rooted in his flawed policies such as his partisan health care takeover, failed stimulus spending packages and the growing national frustration for the lack of transparency and unwillingness to be held accountable.

It looks like Representative Thompson is simply looking for a scapegoat because Americans are repudiating a progressive agenda he so blindly supports.

Monday
May052014

Shaming Insurers Into Declining Taxpayer Funds Might Not Work--And That's A Shame

Last week at Humana’s shareholder meeting I asked CEO Bruce Broussard whether he would promise not to take any taxpayer money from ObamaCare’s risk corridors.  (Humana declined.)  Christopher Flavelle of Bloomberg criticizes our efforts, saying we are “trying a new tactic to gum up the works on Obamacare: publicly shaming insurance companies into refusing federal money that’s designed to keep premiums affordable.” 

At one point in the article Flavelle asks, “Why would a company voluntarily decline federal money to which it was entitled by law, which is designed to serve a purpose (keeping premiums reasonable) that most everyone supports?” But earlier in the article he writes:  

…successful companies tend not to require government bailouts. Humana, like other big health insurers, is doing great, its share price having significantly outperformed the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index since the Affordable Care Act was signed in March 2010.

Indeed, why should a company that’s doing so well as Humana take taxpayer money?  If it is prospering, then it shouldn’t have much trouble covering any losses it takes on the ObamaCare exchanges.

Then there is Flavelle’s claim that the risk corridors “are designed to protect health insurers against financial loss if the people who first sign up for policies through the state exchanges cost more to cover than the insurer anticipated” and “they’re designed to keep insurers in the exchanges and keep premiums down.”

That’s a nice theory.  How’s it working out?  

Well, health industry officials have warned that hefty premiums hikes, some in the neighborhood of 100 percent, could be coming for 2015.  Wellpoint has described its likely premiums increases in the “double-digit plus” range. Insurer Cigna recently said it expected to take losses on the exchanges because “people who signed up during the early months of enrollment for the new Obamacare plans were older than it expected, bought richer coverage and used medical services more.”  If history is any guide, that will likely mean premium increase of at least double digits. (Aetna and Humana have also said they plan to take losses on the exchanges, although that was before the late surge in sign-ups.)  

Finally, insurers are apparently certain enough that substantial rate hikes are coming for 2015 that they “fear that it will put them at the center of the political blame game over President Barack Obama’s healthcare law.”

It appears that the risk corridors won’t do that much to keep premiums down.  The losses on the exchanges may well be big enough that insurers both take taxpayer money and substantially increase premiums.  In fact, it’s possible that insurers made this year’s premiums too low knowing that any loss would be bailed out by the risk corridors.

In short, we are getting big premiums increases and a taxpayer bailout.  To avoid the latter, shaming insurance companies is one of the few tactics that are left.

Friday
May022014

About Those April Jobs Numbers: Obama’s Economy Flattens the Spirits of Citizens

With it being the first Friday of the month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its newest unemployment figures.

Once again, it’s not good news by any estimation despite expected celebration among the President’s supporters that the rate went down a few tenths of a point.  The official unemployment rate for April was a misleading 6.3 percent.  Participation is low with people leaving the workforce in large numbers.  Things are pretty much as bad as they were last month and the month before that and so on.

Project 21 member Derryck Green, in his monthly “About Those Jobs Numbers…” analysis of the unemployment news and the economy in general, is left feeling a little flat about the jobs announcement:

Flat.

President Obama uses the term as a perjorative against his critics when he calls opponents of his environmental regulations “flat-earthers.”

But “flat,” in the Obama universe, is — unfortunately — a term that can be better used to describe the way the President is handling the economy.

Other terms the mainstream media used just this week to assess the America’s current economic state of affairs included “crawl,” “stall,” “brutally slow” and “barely registers a pulse.”

These terms were included in reports about the unsettling news that the federal Bureau of Economic Advisors announced that the gross domestic product, widely considered to be the leading indicator of economic growth, grew by only 0.1 percent during the first quarter of 2014.

Almost flat.

It’s an abysmal showing for the economy, especially since the American people are consistently being assured by Obama and his supporters that we are in a period of recovery.

The Federal Reserve, in part, tried to blame the weather.  Think about that for a minute.  On one hand, people are causing global warming and need to have more regulation of their behavior.  On the other, the Fed is now claiming global cooling may have brought the gears of the nation’s economic engine to a slow grind.  Do they really believe they can have it both ways?

Obviously, they do.  And, while they seem to live in a fantasy world, the rest of America is left to suffer.

That’s where flat comes in again.

Flat also describes the national employment situation.  The official jobless rate for April, as determined by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, was an unacceptable 6.3 percent for April.

It looks like a significant drop of four-tenths of a point, but the labor force dropped in size in April by 806,000 workers.  A lethargic percentage of people are active in the workforce, and 2.2 million are considered “marginal” and 783,000 are considered “discouraged.”

All in all, it’s ultimately yet another month where there has been little change.  It was a push.  Flat.  Depressing.

What’s worse, the U-6 alternative rate that includes the same jobless numbers as the official rate does plus those people who are underemployed and those able-bodied individuals who are so despondent that they’ve stopped looking for a job (to end up with what some people consider to be the true unemployment rate) was still extremely high at an astronomical 12.3 percent.

Only 288,000 jobs were created in April.  The labor force participation rate was 62.8 percent.  That’s at Carter era levels.

It’s a travesty.

To make matters even more dire, things are also still flat for many of the key constituencies in the Obama coalition.  For example, the black unemployment rate for April was 11.6 percent.  Black teen unemployment, in particular was much worse.  It was a through-the-roof 36.8 percent — rising by seven-tenths of a point.  Hispanic overall unemployment was 7.3 percent.

A conservative war on women?  There were almost 4.5 million jobless women in April.  How are the sloganeering policies of the Obama Administration such as “equal pay” and “minimum wage” — and even employer-supplied contraception — going to help women when they lose their job under this economy or cannot find one in the first place?

But it’s not just women having payroll problems.  Reports suggest there is diminishing American wage for all Americans.

For instance, a new report by the National Employment Law Project found that low-income jobs are the one sector of the labor market that gained a bit during the alleged period of recovery while mid-level and high-paying jobs disappeared in the Obama era.  NELP’s report notes, “the types of jobs available to unemployed workers, new labor market entrants and individuals looking to move up the career ladder are distinctly different than they were prior to the recession.”

Additionally, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that workers 40 years ago were making more than people are today.  In inflation-adjusted dollars, the median salary for men in 1973 was $51,670.  In 2012, the median was down to $49,398 — a 4.4 percent decrease.

In New York City, officials there are claiming that more people are working but earning a lot less.  The New York Times reported that, in 2011, 46 percent of New York City residents were at or under 150 percent of poverty level.  It was reported: “While more people were working, wages were lagging because most jobs were generated in lower-wage hospitality and retail fields.”  It was also suggested this trend and the despondency it caused was what got Mayor Bill de Blasio — a politician who is even further to the left of President Obama — elected last year.

There are jobs out there, but it seems Obama isn’t interested in them.  Case in point: the Obama Administration once again delayed the approval and construction of the full Keystone XL pipeline that would bring crude oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and create thousands of jobs in construction and related industries and supportive businesses.  The Obama Administration, which has vetted the pipeline proposal for years and has thus far concluded there are no environmental hazards of merit, nonetheless delayed a final decision in a Good Friday announcement with announcing that still more consideration was being asked of eight more federal agencies.

The delay of the Keystone XL pipeline decision angers even Obama’s steadfast supporters at this point.  Terry O’Sullivan, the general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America — a union that supported both of Obama’s presidential campaigns — wrote in the Washington Post: “No one seriously believes that the administration’s nearly dark-of-night announcement [of the latest delay]… was anything by politically motivated.”

Similarly, shale production in Ohio is creating new jobs that are “growing [at a rate] faster than the job market as a whole.”  But, as a fossil fuel, it’s not really a job market that President Obama seems excited to champion.  Remember, the people who push for increased fossil fuel production and against Obama’s regulatory regime and risky alternative energy scheme are considered to be flat-earthers.

There are jobs out there.  From new reports, however, the quality of many of those jobs are unsatisfactory for the majority of Americans.  Those that are considered desirable do not appear to exist within the realm of Obama’s favor.  It’s an uncomfortable situation that is leaving the American job market and the American economy… flat.

Friday
May022014

Publisher of Local NY Paper that "Outed" Registered Gun Owners in Interactive Map Sends Tweet Denigrating NRA Chief to Her Twitter Followers

If you were the president and publisher of the Journal News, the newspaper that a year ago published the names and home addresses of legally-registered handgun owners in two New York counties on an interactive map, would you send out this tweet to your followers, and end forever in the public mind any question that you were objective on gun issues?

JanetHassonNRAStarkRavingMad042914

Me either.

This week, two National Center staffers, myself and Jeff Stier, attended the shareholder meetings of two major media companies: Gannett, owner and ultimate publisher of the Journal News, as well as America's most popular newspaper, USA Today, and many other media properties, and the New York Times.

I brought up the gun map, and the tweet, at Gannett, and Jeff asked Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr. to add some genuinely conservative columnists to the Times editorial page.

We'll be issuing a press release Friday morning describing the responses we received at each company. Stay tuned.

Update: Here it is.
Thursday
May012014

New ObamaCare Enrollment Report Shows Death Spiral Is Likely

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HHS has just released the latest enrollment report for the ObamaCare exchanges.  A few notable statistics:

-8,019,763 people have signed up for a plan on the exchanges.

-About 3.8 million of those signed up in the last month of the enrollment period.

-2.2 million (28 percent) of the people who selected a Marketplace plan during the initial open enrollment period were young adults between the ages of 18 and 34. 

-47 percent of the total number of people who selected a Marketplace plan and 52 percent of the young adults (ages 18-34) who selected a Marketplace plan did so during the last month of the initial open enrollment period 

Let’s first focus on those last two bullet points.  Sign-ups of the crucial 18-34-year-old cohort jumped from 25% in early March to 28% at the end of the enrollment period.  That’s not a surprise given that young people are likely to be disporportionately represented among people who do things at the last minute.  But the fact that over half of that age group chose their plan during the last month should worry ObamaCare supporters.  People who are flakey enough to wait until the last minute are probably also flakey when it comes to paying premiums.   Thus, that 28 percent number will decline and it will, of course, be no where near the 38 percent the Obama Administration says is needed to keep the risk pools stable.  (FYI: The Kaiser Family Foundation says the low number of 18-34-year-olds doesn’t matter much.  Seth Chandler says they are wrong.)

While the 18-34-year-old cohort has been dubbed the “young and healthy,” a more accurate moniker might be “young and somewhat healthy.”  68 percent of 18-34-year-olds on the federal exchanges chose a silver plan.  As I’ve written previously:

Why does this matter for the death spiral?  Because so many enrollees choosing silver plans suggests that the risk pool may be sicker than is optimal. For enrollees at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level, silver plans tend to offer the most coverage for the lowest price.  For persons under 250 percent FPL, ObamaCare offers help with copays and deductibles, but only if the consumer chooses a silver plan. The actuarial value for a silver plan is 70 percent (that is, a silver plan must, on average, cover 70 percent of a policyholder’s medical claims), but when the subsidies for cost-sharing are included, the actuarial value rises to between 73 and 94 percent. As one writer notes, “Why would someone opt for a silver-level plan over a cheaper bronze or catastrophic-level plan? The most plausible explanation is that the enrollee anticipates incurring significant medical expenses over the coming year, which is to say that he’s not healthy.” 

Since income tends to be lower the younger one is, a lot of those 18-34-year-olds are probably in that <250 percent FPL range.  The inordinate number of 18-3-4-year-olds choosing silver plans suggests that the exchanges have attracted young and healthy people that are not that healthy.

We’ve seen hints that the ObamaCare exchange risk pools are in trouble, from greater use of expensive prescription drugs, to hefty premiums increases coming for 2015.  That, along with today’s enrollment report, means the exchanges are poised for a death spiral.