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The official blog of the National Center for Public Policy Research, covering news, current events and public policy from a conservative, free-market and pro-Constitution perspective.

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Thursday
Feb192015

Democrats Made Their Individual Mandate Bed; Now They Can Lie in It

If a public policy requires quite a few substantial exceptions and alterations to get it to work, that’s usually a clue that it wasn’t a good policy to begin with.

A case in point is ObamaCare’s individual mandate.  The Internal Revenue Service has already decided to waive late penalties for anyone who fails to pay their individual mandate tax on time.  Now Democrats want to give people subject to the individual mandate what amounts to a big do-over.

The individual mandate was supposed to push people to sign up for health insurance by fining them if they didn’t.  The problem, as far as Democrats are concerned, is that people who didn’t get insurance will face their first fine after the second enrollment period for the ObamaCare exchanges ends. (The final day was last Sunday, February 15.)  Assuming that many of the people who didn’t enroll during the first enrollment period in 2013 also didn’t enroll in the second one, they’ll have to pay the fine twice—one this year and once next year. In short, if the first mandate penalty pushes them to buy insurance, it will come too late to avoid another fine come tax-time in 2016.

According to the Washington Times:

[Democrats] say it’s unfair to expect health care consumers to have followed the law’s coverage mandate because their first round of Obamacare taxes aren’t due until April.

Democrats said Americans filling out their taxes will get their first big reminder about needing health care coverage if they have to pay a penalty for last year, which could goose them into signing up for this year — except the deadline for penalty-free enrollment in the federal exchange for 2015 expired Sunday. Those who aren’t covered this year will face an even bigger tax wallop next year.

“Without a special enrollment period, many people making a shared responsibility payment won’t have another opportunity to get health coverage this year,” Reps. Sander M. Levin of Michigan and Jim McDermott of Washington, the top Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement.

Apparently the Democrats’ pleas have gotten the attention of officials in Washington State who announced “that residents who face Obamacare’s tax penalty for lacking health insurance can qualify for a special enrollment period through April 17.” Given President Obama’s penchant for extra-legal illegal executive orders, it would be no surprise if he did the same for federal exchanges in the very near future.  

So, people who have to pay the individual mandate tax not only get a break on late penalties, some of them also get an extended enrollment period.  How, exactly, is that fair?  And while we are on the subject of fairness, how is it fair to grossly violate Americans’ liberty as ObamaCare’s individual mandate has? (And, no, claiming that people being uninsured puts a supposed burden on the rest of us doesn’t hold water.)

Finally, is it unfairness that really bothers Democrats here? Or, is the real problem that people who get to pay the individual mandate tax twice might show up at a voting booth in surly mood? In that case, tough. Those same Democrats had no problem with this system when they passed it into law. If they didn’t realize at the time that the individual mandate could create such problems, then they are foolhardy.  Let them suffer the consequences for it.

Wednesday
Feb182015

TV Host Mobilizes Viewers to Fight for National Center in Campaign for Political Freedom at Costco

FEP’s Justin DanhofLast week, National Center Free Enterprise Project Director Justin Danhof told One America News Network host Rick Amato about how Costco management is effectively creating an atmosphere that allows for the potential political persecution of its employees in the workplace.  Since then Amato’s outrage for the callousness of the retail giant has encouraged him to use his program as a tool to make a difference in this situation.

Amato began that effort on the 2/17/15 edition of “The Rick Amato Show” when he interviewed Justin again to talk about the Costco problem and ask his viewers to get involved by calling a Costco executive to complain about this threat to employee political freedom.

The National Center had asked Costco to amend its code of conduct to make sure employees at all of its stores cannot be discriminated against for their private political beliefs – a threat that exists for private sector employees in half of the United States.  Costco management fought the National Center’s shareholder proposal on the topic and won the ability to ignore it.  Furthermore, Costco Chairman Jeffrey Brotman rebuffed Justin at the company’s recent shareholder meeting, claiming the company had the situation under control and encouraged employee political participation.

Justin remains skeptical, and he told Amato:

I think that it’s a pretty strange response, considering the fact that Costco has about 195,000 employees.  I’m pretty sure that the chairman of the board can’t oversee every one of them on a daily basis to make sure that some supervisor in a Costco location isn’t taking an adverse action against them.

As Justin further explained, the threat of persecution can detract from participation in America’s political processes.  He noted:

[R]ight now in America, we have hecklers’ vetoes deciding who can be employed, where and how.  And we think that in a country where we have a tremendous amount of freedoms, where we have the freedom to select our government, to select our leaders – [it’s a shame] so few people partake in that.

That’s why we think that this project is important – for our employers to make it clear.  And we think it can have a domino effect and spread.  And hopefully your viewers can help with that.

Amato was incensed by Justin’s story, calling the behavior of Costco management “fascist.”  He instructed his national viewership to call Costco’s head of investor relations to let the company know how they felt about their fight against the National Center.  Amato declared:

I’m going to make a call to action to our viewers right now.

If you are as troubled as I am, as Justin Danhof is, at the actions of Costco executive management allowing themselves to fire any employee – primarily conservative and libertarian employees – who have political speech outside of work which Costco does not agree with.  If you want to call on this publicly-traded company to change their policy, we’re going to give out a phone number right now, on the screen… That is the direct line, direct phone number, directly to the executive vice president of investor relations for Costco, a gentleman by the name of Richard Galanti.

Sunday
Feb152015

Major Online Retailer Offers 10 Percent Off for Customers Typing "Liberty" at Checkout

The National Center's Free Enterprise Project fights liberalism in America's corporate boardrooms, and has found plenty of it to fight.

As a result, I may be more sensitive than most when a company appears to be signaling that it appreciates the key founding principles of our nation, but I was pleased to see this when shopping online this afternoon for new pants for one of our constantly-growing sons:

LLBean Liberty

Ten percent off all purchases through Monday, February 16 if you enter the word "liberty" at checkout!

Our Free Enterprise Project mostly works with publicly-held corporations, and has had little if any contact with L.L. Bean, which is privately owned by the Bean family. I don't even know the CEO's name.

What I do have, though, is a firm suspicion that at least some company executives appreciate one of our nation's key founding principles: Liberty.

I bought their pants.

Sunday
Feb152015

TV Host Amato Takes Up National Center Cause, to Announce Campaign Against Costco Tuesday Night

FEP’s Justin DanhofAfter his interview with the National Center’s Justin Danhof, nationally-seen television talk show host Rick Amato wants his viewers to help him take on retail giant Costco for actively fighting against the political freedoms of its employees.  Watch on this coming Tuesday to see Amato when he brings Justin back on his programs and announces what he wants his viewers to do.

Will it be a boycott?  Will it be a mass cancellation of existing membership?  Tune in to find out on 2/17/15 at 10:00PM eastern to find out and when he has Justin on again.  The “Rick Amato Show” can be seen on the One America News Network.  OANN is found on Verizon FiOS channel 116, AT&T U-Verse channel 208 and CenturyLink Prism channel 209 as well as many local cable providers.

Justin, the director of the National Center’s Free Enterprise Project, was on Amato’s 2/11/15 edition to discuss the FEP’s many shareholder proposals to protect private sector employees nationwide from being able to be fired at will for their political beliefs.  While political speech of private sector employees is protected in some states, the National Center has been seeking changes in corporate employee policies so, as Justin explained, “that no supervisor can come to you and say, ‘I don’t agree with your politics – you’re out of here.”

Justin further explained on the program:

A lot of folks just instinctively think, “Wait a minute, don’t I have First Amendment protections?  You’ve got to remind folks, of course, that the First Amendment protects you against the government.  It doesn’t protect you against private action.  And your employer, in this situation, is the private actor.

While many companies already accepted the National Center proposal and either amended or are in the process of amending their codes of conduct, the retail giant Costco fought the National Center to keep the proposal off the agenda at their recent shareholder meeting and were allowed to do so by the Obama Administration’s Securities and Exchange Commission.  Justin noted:

So the shareholders didn’t even get to vote at Costco on our proposal.  So I flew out to Washington State and I asked the chairman of the board, Jeffrey Brotman, why in the world would Costco fight to retain the right to fire its employees for their private political actions.

The answer I got was similar to something you’d hear from the Obama Administration.  It was essentially: We know better.  [Costco leaders] don’t want the shareholders, even though we’re a publicly-held company, to have any say in this matter whatsoever.  So Costco, as it stands, has retained the right to fire its employees for their private political actions.

And this should be very concerning for all Costco employees – particularly because the leadership of Costco, including the chairman, Jeffrey Brotman, is a well-known progressive.  The former CEO, you may recall, Jim Sinegal, spoke at the 2012 Democrat National Convention, where he echoed President Obama’s statements on “you didn’t build that.”  It came right out of the Democrat Party playbook.  And, so, if you a conservative worker at Costco, you have some cause for concern.

Sharron Angle, the 2010 candidate challenging incumbent senator Harry Reid (D-NV), who was in the studio with Amato, said she was not surprised by what Justin explained.  She said:

What happens with the law is this: If it isn’t against the law, people do it until it pushes somebody to do just what Justin has done.

This can’t be something you can do with impunity.  You have to go ahead and give people their civil rights.  And this is right up there with freedom of religion.

Angle and Amato immediately suggested making a plea to the millions of viewers of the network to consider making an economic decision to not do business with Costco because it will not protect all of its employees from potential political retribution for their beliefs.  In teasing what might be in store on the 17th, Amato said during this interview segment that he would like “to make life a little bit uncomfortable for the management at Costco for not being sensitive to the needs of their employees.  Let’s put it this way, sensitive it a nice word – for being fascist toward the needs of their employees.”

Thursday
Feb122015

Obama Displays His Ignorance While Getting on High Horse

President Obama continues to display how little he really knows.  After demonstrating his historical illiteracy last week by mouthing off about the Crusades, yesterday he upped the ignorance ante by attacking office supply company Staples.  

According to Obama, Staples is limiting the hours its employees work to avoid violating the ObamaCare employer mandate.  Staples denies this, saying it is a long-standing policy.  Here is Obama’s scolding:

It’s one thing when you’ve got a mom-and-pop store who can’t afford to provide paid sick leave or health insurance or minimum wage to workers … but when I hear large corporations that make billions of dollars in profits trying to blame our interest in providing health insurance as an excuse for cutting back workers’ wages, shame on them.

(Isn’t he doing this just after he lectured us to stay off our high horses? — the Wife.)

It would almost surely be news to Obama that Staples has been struggling as of late.  According to Forbes:

On a full-year basis, Staples reported $23.1 billion in 2013 revenue, a 5.2% drop over 2012 full-year revenue. Full-year operating income came in at $1.2 billion, resulting in earnings of $1.16 per share, a 17% decline over full-year 2012 earnings.

In an effort to stop the bleeding and achieve $500 million in cost savings by the end of 2015, Staples said that it plans to close 225  of its 1,846 stores in North America by the end of 2015.

How many more stores would Staples have to close and how many other employees would be out of a job if the company had to also pay for health insurance?  

Next, when Obama says, “when I hear large corporations that…,” I wonder if he’s heard about any other employers who have cut back employee hours due to the mandate?  Jed Graham of Investor’s Business Daily has kept track of employers who have announced they are reducing employee hours.  Here’s part of his list.  Notice anything?

Of the 450 employers that have publicly announced they are reducing employee hours in response to ObamaCare’e employer mandate, 364 of them are public employers. 

Wonder why Obama doesn’t criticize them? Maybe it’s ignorance?

Wednesday
Feb112015

ObamaCare: Patients Pay the Cost, Social Engineers Do Not

Aren’t social engineers great?  They get to test their ideas without having to pay the cost if those ideas fail. Indeed, to the extent that the ideas are tested on us, we are the ones who suffer any hardship as a result. Nice work if you can get it.  

From the New York Times:

But other problems may be related to the process by which the plans are created. Under the Affordable Care Act each state was asked to select a benchmark plan as its standard. It had to cover certain “essential health benefits” like maternity care and prescription drugs; it had to have a defined actuarial value depending on the level of plan. Silver plans, for example, had to cover 70 percent of charges, leaving consumers with 30 percent. But within those parameters, competing insurers had leeway to set premiums, co-payments and deductibles, and to create networks by negotiating with doctors and hospitals. Naturally, they created policies that met the core criteria while minimizing their financial risk.

Suddenly there were hundreds of new insurance products that had never been tested in real time. Their shortcomings are now playing out in various ways.

Back in September, NCPPR posted a study showing how ObamaCare regulations were resulting in insurance policies with inferior quality compared to what existed in the individual market prior to the ObamaCare exchanges.  We found that on the dimensions of out-of-pocket costs and provider networks, the exchange plans were inferior to the plans on the individual market.

Sadly, more and more consumers are finding that out.  The Times relates the story of New York resident Karen Pineman who broke her ankle playing tennis.  Her exchange plan resulted in nearly $1,800 in co-pay to have a a cast put on.  However, when she needed to see an orthopedist, the closest one in the network of her Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan was 14 miles away from her in Stamford, Connecticut:

When she called to protest, her insurer said that Stamford was 14 miles from her home and 15 was considered a reasonable travel distance. “It was ridiculous — didn’t they notice it was in another state?” said Ms. Pineman, 46, who was on crutches.

She instead paid $350 to see a nearby orthopedist and bought a boot on Amazon as he suggested. She has since forked over hundreds of dollars more for a physical therapist that insurance didn’t cover, even though that provider was in-network.

At one point, I might have taken a bit of Schadenfreude in the fact that Ms. Pineman voted for Obama and was a ObamaCare supporter.  Not anymore.  If people have a serious medical problem and ObamaCare makes it more difficult, as was the case with Ms. Pineman, it is sad, if not tragic, regardless of her politics.

Then there is the tale of Allison Chavez, who signed up for a policy on Covered California at about the same time she was starting treatment for breast cancer.  Here’s what happened next:

But in March, while in the middle of treatment, she was notified that several of her doctors and the hospital were leaving the plan’s network. She was forced to postpone a surgery as she scrambled to buy a new commercial policy that included her doctors. “I’ve been through hell and back, but I came out alive and kicking (just broke),” she wrote in an email.

One of the problems with government policy (and a good reason we should have limited government) is that the people paying the cost for those policies are seldom the ones imposing them.  In the case of ObamaCare, the patients pay the costs while the folks responsible for the policy get away largely unscathed.

Tuesday
Feb102015

Why Do We Have a Lower Ethical Standard for Presidents Than for News Anchors?

Brian Williams Barack Obama

Why do we have a lower standard for presidents than for nightly news anchors?

Brian Williams has just lost his job for six months because he lied to the American people, but compared to Barack Obama, he's a mere piker.

How often have we heard this president and his administration boast of its success in making the United States the #1 producer in oil and gas when this rise occurred despite Obama's best efforts to shut it down?

For Brian Williams to be as big a liar as Obama, he wouldn't have just had to have claimed to be on the helicopter that was hit by RPG fire, but would have had to fire the RPG that hit it.

So, let Brian Williams stay... Make Barack Obama step down.

Tuesday
Feb102015

Gianno Caldwell's Project 21 Media Debut Tackles Ukraine, ISIS and Other Foreign Policy Issues — and Brian Williams

 

“Brian Williams’ career at NBC is dead,” said Project 21 member Gianno Caldwell, “but it’s alive and well if he wants a job at TMZ.”

Gianno made a big splash during his first appearance on the One America News Network and first live media for Project 21!

On the 2/9/15 edition of “The Rick Amato Show,” apart from that light-hearted zinger near the end about the embattled NBC anchorman, Gianno largely discussed serious foreign policy issues during Amato’s “Grassroots Citizens Panel.”

Talking about the upcoming meeting between the French, German and Ukrainian governments to try to work out a solution to end Russian intervention into Ukraine — and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refusal to help arm the Ukrainians — Gianno said:

She should really be sending lethal weapons to the Ukrainian people to fight.  And, I believe, in that particular situation, that she wants a diplomatic situation after it’s been so long of an ongoing crisis that a diplomatic solution is less likely to be had.

When the topic arose about an additional American show of force in the region, including stationing American military equipment in the region, Gianno added:

It’s better for us to have a presence and be prepared just in case than to have nothing there at all… We’ve seen time and again that with conflicts like these — they may start off as small, but they grow big and become detrimental to our safety as well.

Switching gears to the invitation for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress, and domestic political fallout over it, Gianno said:

I kind of disagree with Speaker Boehner breaking protocol.  However, I think it might have been necessary to hear from the Israeli people to [determine] what their thoughts are so we can come up with a real strategy [for the Middle East] moving forward.

Asked about the feelings of lawmakers he has interacted with, Gianno added:

Folks are more willing to hear from the prime minister directly so they can get his views, and also directly have a communication link to him, rather than going through [the White House].

Fellow panelist Wendy Patrick, a legal commentator, noted, “that last point, I think, is excellent.”

Gianno also called hip-hop star Akon “admirable” for planning to hold a concert to raise funds for anti-ISIS forces fighting the terrorists in Kurdistan.  Besides the monetary support Akon is bringing to the fight, Gianno said there is a valuable cultural benefit as well:

I think the attention that he’s bringing to this very, very important cause is going to bring more celebrities to the table and fold.  And, as you know, a lot of millennials get their information from social media… This is going to cause more folks to know more about ISIS. 

Friday
Feb062015

Behind the Gun, Another Community Activist Gains Clarity regarding Police Procedures

Another community activist and vocal critic of the police has gained a new perspective on police procedures after spending time in a cop’s shoes.  Members of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network, once again, are not surprised.

This time, Quanell X, the leader of the New Black Panther Party in Houston, Texas, underwent police training simulations with the Missouri City Police Department.  He was run through a series of live and video simulations that are based on real-life situations faced by officers.  He was armed with a fake gun and Taser.

The results — filmed by KHOU-TV — were eye-opening.

Facing a man holding a baby who rushed at him with a knife, Quanell X used his Taser.  But he admitted that, at the time he chose to use force, he was not clear of the threat posed to him:

To be honest with you, I never saw the knife.  But I saw him come out of his pocket with something like [a weapon].  If he would have pulled a lollipop out of his pocket, the same way he just did, I still would have used force to stop him.  And then somebody could have said, “All he had was a lollipop.”  But you don’t know when it’s happening so fast like that.

He also admitted “I can easily see me pulling my gun on a simple call” in a high crime area.  In other simulations, Quanell X’s slow reactions to danger lead to him being “shot” by assailants.  In training, he was shocked at the number of times he fired while under stress.

In the end, it seemed that Quanell X gained a new appreciation, and perhaps will be less critical, of law enforcement.  On the training ground, his advice to the people he has marched with against the police in the past was:

Please, brothers and sisters, if [police] tell you to do something — do it.  When the suspect started being combative or argumentative, I’m gonna pull my gun.

Project 21 members active in both law enforcement and community policing see this sort of thing as a positive move toward healing the rift between police and black communities, which deepen after accusations are made by those lacking a full knowledge of what it is like for officers forced to make quick decisions involving deadly force.

Project 21 member Carl Pittman, a 20-year veteran of law enforcement (including in the Houston metropolitan area) and a retired member of the U.S. Marine Corps, said:

The phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words” has never been more fitting.

The call by Houston area black activist Quanell X for those asked by the police to comply is long overdue.  Incidents involving Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York might never have happened had they complied with officer instructions.

The facts must control the outcome of these investigations, not fear.  These incidents are directly related to conduct, not color!

Additionally, Project 21 member Nadra Enzi, a community policing activist in New Orleans, said:

It’s too easy to demonize police officers who are often white and deify black predators from afar.

Actually placing oneself in an officer’s shoes takes a lot more character and competence than hoodie marches or chanting “Hands up!  Don’t shoot!”

Safety is the 21st century’s civil rights movement.  Hopefully, Mr. X will upgrade his advocacy accordingly.

Quanell X’s experience and apparent epiphany in Houston is similar to what happened to Reverend Jarrett Maupin in Phoenix.  That community activist also seemed to gain a newfound respect for law enforcement and understood the need to comply with their instructions after going through his own use-of-force simulations.  Project 21 members also commented Reverend Maupin’s revelation.

Friday
Feb062015

About Those Jobs Numbers for January: Obama’s Economic Bravado Relies on Defining down Success

With every new month comes the federal government’s assessment and report on the previous month’s jobless numbers.

Project 21 member Derryck Green uses this first-Friday announcement to comment on the state of the economy in general and employment in particular under President Barack Obama’s stewardship.

This month, on the heels of Obama’s State of the Union address, Derryck sees the usual class warfare rhetoric setting an agenda that only seems to be successful if one is willing to redefine what success means:

When it comes to the economy, there continues to be very little success to celebrate unless the understanding of what constitutes success is defined downward.

Under President Obama, economic success is currently characterized as a descent downward to effectively paper over the pain of millions of struggling Americans.

The President, possibly realizing this fact a mere six years too late, devoted a significant portion of his uninspiring State of the Union address about his alleged passion to revive “middle class economics.”  This, however, seemed to be nothing more a continuation of his predictable pattern of recycling class warfare campaign rhetoric that pushes wealth redistribution in lieu of actual economic policies facilitating more job creation and thus will ensure more employed Americans.

Proof of the President’s apparent lack of a real plan for the economy was his $4 trillion dollar budget that was generally ill-received.  The President’s budget contained around $2 trillion dollars in tax increases, with an obvious intent to redistribute at least some of that revenue to the struggling middle class.  But it bears repeating that redistribution of wealth isn’t economic growth.  Reduced regulation and incentivizing the market in a way that leads to substantial job creation, as well as wage increases, is what stimulates economic growth.

Of course, job creation still isn’t where it should be.  The private firm ADP suggested the private sector created only 213,000 jobs in January.  This is far below expectations — shocker — and down from the 252,000 jobs the government reported were created in December.

In its latest monthly report, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics claimed that 257,000 jobs were created in January, just slightly better than last month’s numbers.  But the official unemployment rate still rose to 5.7 percent.

Among the various racial demographics, the unemployment rates for blacks fell slightly to 10.3 percent.   In big news, black teen unemployment fell below the 30 percent level for one of the few times under Obama’s watch to 29.7 percent.  Unemployment for Hispanics, however, increased from 6.5 percent to 6.7 percent (and Hispanic teen unemployment rose from 19.1 percent to 22.1 percent).  White unemployment rose slightly while Asian unemployment fell.

Then there is the U-6 alternative measure that reports an unemployment rate of 11.3 percent.  Once again, this rate — that includes those looking for work, underemployed and discouraged and not looking — is nearly twice what the government considers the official rate.

Slightly encouraging was that the labor force participation rate rose to 62.9 percent, but it remained in the same two-tenths of a point limbo it has been in since last April.  Approximately 9 million people remain officially unemployed, 6.8 million people are underemployed and 682,000 people are discouraged and no longer actively looking for work.

Month after month, free of the political rhetoric characterizing President Obama’s economic declarations, I’ve chronicled the conditions that characterize this so-called recovery under President Obama’s stewardship.  During this time, I’ve reported how employment numbers coming out of the Census Bureau were allegedly falsified in an what could likely have been an effort to absolve Obama from his responsibility for, and his contribution to our perpetually weak economy.  At worst, the true nature of the economy was intentionally underreported at the time for deceptive political and ideological reasons related to Obama’s 2012 reelection effort.

Our nation’s economic health hangs on the number of people who remain unemployed, are underemployed and who are not in the workforce.  Other factors include the numbers of jobs created, especially if that’s below monthly population growth.  Also, consider the amount of jobs generated the past several years and the possibility that many of those jobs have gone to immigrants — both legal and illegal — as opposed to native-born Americans.  All of these specific economic indicators are what the Obama Administration neglects to mention, and what his spokesmen seem to actively decide to ignore.

This past week, Jim Clifton, the chairman and CEO of the Gallup polling firm, penned a commentary confirming common sense and what Project 21 has been relaying for months — that the reported unemployment rate of 5.6 percent, which was released for last December is largely baloney due to the method in which the government officially counts the jobless.  Clifton called it “The Big Lie.”

For example, if people just give up looking for work, they aren’t counted among the unemployed.  They are simply ignored.  At the same time, if someone works a single hour each week and earns more than $20, they also aren’t counted as unemployed.  They are technically part of the workforce, and thus would not have been part of the 5.6 percent of those unemployed last December.  Additionally, those who worked part time but want or need full time work are counted as employed as well.

This is one major reason why those who are savvy about our economy and how the government works refer to the alternative unemployment measure, the U-6 rate, as the indicator of the actual unemployment rate.

As Clifton warned:

The official unemployment rate, which cruelly overlooks the suffering of the long-term and often permanently unemployed as well as the depressingly underemployed, amounts to a Big Lie.

The unemployment numbers are a measure that benefits Obama, yet continues to stifle this economic recovery.  It seems a high price to give him bragging rights.

In a separate commentary, Clifton further wrote that, for the first time in 35 years, more businesses are dying than are being created.  Since 2008, business creation has fallen below the business failure rate.   As reported by the Breitbart news service: “America has just 6 million businesses with one or more employers — 3.8 million of which have four or fewer employees.  In total, these 6 million U.S. companies provide jobs for more than 100 million people in America.”

Clifton wrote:

There are about a million companies with five to nine employees, 600,000 businesses with 10 to 19 employees, and 500,000 companies with 20 to 99 employees. There are 90,000 businesses with 100 to 499 employees. And there are just 18,000 with 500 employees or more, and that figure includes about a thousand companies with 10,000 employees or more.  Altogether, that is America, Inc.

That’s not all.  There are several other things continue to point out the anemic recovery that Barack Obama celebrates: 

  • The economy’s growth last quarter was only 2.6 percent, with GDP growth dramatically down from previous quarters.  When the year was averaged out, the economy only actually grew 2.4 percent in 2014.  Many economists celebrate the apparent best year of economic growth since 2010 — which shows how hard they’re trying to find something to celebrate.  Again, this is defining success down.
  • The Center for Immigration Studies found that, since 2009, the Obama Administration quietly gifted around 5.5 million work permits for “non-immigrant foreigners who arrived as tourists, students, illegal immigrants or other types of migrants.”  According to the Center, this is outside the law and the limits set by Congress.  This, yet again, is at the expense of American workers.  If the number of people already given work permits is added to the number of people included in Obama’s new lawless executive action of delayed deportation of illegal immigrants, more than 10 million foreign workers will be added to the economy by the end of this year.  This will further suppress wages due to the increased pool of labor.  When that number is combined with the average yearly flow of immigrants into the country, Obama could have added potentially 18 million foreigners to the economy since 2009.  This wouldn’t necessarily be an issue if we had a strong economy that wasn’t hamstrung by regulations, poor job creation and government mandates.
  • Tax revenues hit a record $739,482,000,000 for the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2015.  Yet, according to the Monthly Treasury Statement, the federal government ran a $176,664,000,000 deficit during that save time.  The White House projected that, for the totality of Fiscal Year 2015, the federal government will take in more than $3.1 trillion in tax revenues — another record.  Still, the President is intent on raising taxes.
  • John Deere and DreamWorks Animation both downsized, laying off hundred of employees.  And RadioShack has filed for bankruptcy.
  • Homeownership rates are at a 20-year low, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.  By government estimations, slightly fewer than 64 percent of Americans owned their home at the end of last year.  And prices in the rental market continue to climb.
  • ObamaCare continues to do its part to further hamper the economy.  A recent Congressional Budget Office report projects the President’s signature legislation will cost the government $1.993 trillion while taking in more than $643 million in new taxes, penalties and fees over the next decade.  But it will still leave close to 30 million uninsured and will average out to a cost of $50,000 per person insured under ObamaCare.  This is despite the fact that Obama promised us — repeatedly — that passing this impractical bill wouldn’t add a dime to our taxes.
  • The Census Bureau reports that 20 percent of all children in the country now rely on food stamps.  Prior to the recession, that number was just one in eight.

Obama claimed in his State of the Union address that “[t]he shadow of crisis has passed” and we were going to “turn the page.”

It may be a different page, but it’s the same old story.

Thursday
Feb052015

New Study: Three Ways Consumers Could Pay Exorbitantly Higher Premiums on the ObamaCare Exchanges in 2015

Back in September, the Indiana Business Journal noted that, although some new insurers were offering lower-priced plans on Indiana’s ObamaCare exchanges, consumers wouldn’t necessarily save money:  ”Because of wrinkles in how Obamacare’s generous tax subsidies are calculated, the entrance of new insurers in the Indiana market will likely push down the size of those tax credits and push up the amount consumers receiving those credits must pay.”

In October, the Denver Post found a similar problem for Colorado: “Colorado health-insurance consumers relying on tax credits will see their share of premiums rise an average of 77 percent next year if they keep the same plans, according to the state’s preliminary analysis. While premiums overall are not expected to increase significantly in 2015, the way tax credits are calculated under the Affordable Care Act is creating challenges for Colorado consumers.”

Those concerns are confirmed by my new study, released today by NCPPR.  The study examined how changes in exchange subsidies affected consumers in 51 metropolitan areas who purchased the cheapest bronze plan in 2014 and kept that same plan in 2015.  It examined the effects on a 27-year-old single person making $25,000 annually and a 57-year-old couple earning $50,000 annually.

In Indianapolis, the subsidy declined $18 per month for a 27-year-old while the bronze plan increased $13 per month, for an annual premium increase of $365 (numbers may not add up due to rounding.)  For a 57-year-old couple, the subsidy dropped $95 per month while the bronze plan increased $52 per month, for an annual premium increase of $1,764.

In Denver, the subsidy declined $31 per month for a 27-year-old and $159 per month for a 57-year-old couple, while the bronze plan rose $13 and $61 per month, respectively.  The 27-year-old will pay about $535 more a year while the 57-year-old couple will pay $2,640 more a year.

Denver was not the worst.  That honor went to Jackson, Mississippi, where a 27-year-old will pay $1,168 more annually and a 57-year-old couple will pay $3,292 more a year!  (To see how an area in your state fared, see Tables 5 and 6 near the end of the study.)

A consumer might be able to avoids such hikes by shopping around for a new plan, but as John Merline states in Investor’s Business Daily, “While the federal government hasn’t released numbers on how many automatically re-enrolled in last year’s plans, some states have. In California, roughly 61% simply kept their same ObamaCare plans from the year before.”

In all three of the above cases, premiums rose because the subsidy declined and the bronze plan increased. But there are two other ways that exchange consumers could see their premiums increase.

Consumers could also pay higher premiums is if they have a policy that decreased in price but did not decrease as much as the subsidy. That happened in New Hampshire.  For a 57-year-old couple, the subsidy declined $163 per month while the bronze plan dropped $11 per month, resulting in a premium increase of $152 per month, or $1,824 annually.

Finally, it is even possible for consumers to pay higher premiums on an exchange in which the subsidy increased.  Consumers on those exchanges who own a policy that increases more than the subsidy increases will pay higher premiums.  In Miami, Florida, a 57-year-old couple with the cheapest bronze plan in 2014 is seeing a monthly premium increase of $129 ($1,548 annually) because the subsidy increased $18 per month but the cheapest bronze plan rose $147 per month.

Here are a few other highlights:

-There were exchanges in 26 areas where a 27-year-old who bought the cheapest bronze plan in 2014 and kept it in 2015 would pay at least $100 more annually, and 12 areas where he would pay at least $300 more annually.

-In 36 areas, a 57-year-old could would pay at least $500 more annually, and in 16 areas, they would pay at least $1,000 more annually.

-Switching to a cheaper plan would save money in most areas.  But even if consumers switched to the cheapest bronze plan of 2015, they would still end up paying more in most areas.  There were 29 such areas for a 27-year-old and 33 for a 57-year-old couple.  Additionally, there were 16 areas where a 27-year-old would pay at least $100 more annually and a 57-year-old couple would pay $500 more annually even after switching to the cheapest bronze plan.

Wednesday
Feb042015

IRS Gives ObamaCare Tax Delinquents Special Treatment

The Administration is granting more special privileges under the banner of ObamaCare.  This time, it’s for people who owe taxes on the subsidy they received on the exchanges for 2014.  From Kaiser Health News:

Consumers who received too much in federal tax credits when buying insurance on the health law’s marketplaces last year got a reprieve of sorts from the Internal Revenue Service this week. Although they still have to repay some or all of the excess subsidies, the IRS won’t ding them with a late payment penalty if they don’t repay it by the April 15 tax deadline….The IRS will allow people to repay what they owe on an installment basis. But be forewarned: Interest will continue to accrue until the balance is paid off.

The Galen Institute has counted 47 changes (soon to be 48) that have been made to ObamaCare since the law took effect.  Here are some of the more notorious ones:

-Employer-mandate delay: By an administrative action that’s contrary to statutory language in the ACA, the reporting requirements for employers were delayed by one year. (July 2, 2013)

-Congressional opt-out: The administration decided to offer employer contributions to members of Congress and their staffs when they purchase insurance on the exchanges created by the ACA, a subsidy the law doesn’t provide. (September 30, 2013)

-Self-attestation: Because of the difficulty of verifying income after the employer-reporting requirement was delayed, the administration decided it would allow “self-attestation” of income by applicants for health insurance in the exchanges. This was later partially retracted after congressional and public outcry over the likelihood of fraud. (July 15, 2013)

A few thoughts in no particular order:  In the Kaiser article, Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University who’s an expert on the health law (and a foremost apologist), said, “They’re trying to make this work.”  Yeah…how’s that going so far?

The article also states that, “This penalty reprieve only applies to the 2014 tax year.”  For now.  But the smart money is on the reprieve becoming an annual feature.

Finally, I suggest we apply the spirit of ObamaCare to all income taxes.  We shouldn’t have to send in documents to verify our income.  “Self-attestation” of our income should be sufficient.  And if we get it wrong and eventually owe back taxes, we shouldn’t get dinged with a late penalty.  Sound like a good idea?

Friday
Jan302015

CoOportunity Health: The Solyndra of ObamaCare

Under ObamaCare, health Co-Ops—non-profits that provide insurance—are allowed to receive federal grant money to start up operations in the ObamaCare exchanges.  There are 24 such Co-Ops.

CoOportunity Health, which serves Iowa and Nebraska, was the first one to collapse. The Iowa State Insurance Commissioner, Nick Gerhart, took over the failing CoOportunity Health in December.  Last week, he announced he’d be liquidating it.  But look on the bright side: The $146 million in taxpayer dollars lost on CoOportunity Health is a bargain compared to the $536 million that went down the drain known as Solyndra!

CoOportunity Health’s problems were twofold.  First, it signed up a lot of people who have chronic conditions and then couldn’t charge enough in premiums to cover their medical claims.  According to the Des Moines Register, “Federal officials wouldn’t let CoOportunity charge enough in premiums to cover those people’s costs, and the carrier wound up losing piles of money before dropping out in October.”

The second problem was President Obama’s November 2013 decision to allow insurers to let people keep their plans through 2016 even if they didn’t meet ObamaCare standards.  Although at least 4 million (and probably closer to 6 million) people on the individual market lost their plans, Obama’s executive order did save some of them, including many who had policies with Wellmark in Iowa.  “Critics of the extensions say this means insurers [like CoOportunity Health] just entering the market must take on people with chronic illness without having much chance at attracting Wellmark’s relatively healthy, long-standing customers,” according to the Register.

So, on the one hand, ObamaCare forces insurers to take all comers, including people with serious and costly illnesses.  On the other hand, the action needed to make good on the President’s repeated promise that “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” prevents those insurers from attracting healthier customers that can help cover the costs of the sicker ones.  Nice system you got there!

The future looks bleak for most of the other 23 Co-Ops.  A recent report by A.M. Best found that only one Co-Op had not incurred losses by the 3rd quarter of 2014.  The losses among all of the Co-Ops totaled $244 million.

We were warned.  Back in July 2013, the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services released its investigation of the applications to the Federal Government by 16 Co-Ops.  It stated there was “little evidence of private monetary support in any of the 16 applications we reviewed. Additionally, 11 of 16 CO-OPs reported estimated startup expenditures in their applications that exceeded the total startup funding ultimately provided by CMS.”  As the Heritage Foundation’s Ed Haislmaier put it, “The government is a lousy venture capitalist.”

Taxpayers have forked over $2 billion to health Co-Ops, and it would be more if Republicans hadn’t shut the grant program down in the 2012 “fiscal cliff” legislation.  That move was heavily criticized at the time.  Now it looks prescient.  Kudos to the GOP for that one.  

Thursday
Jan292015

Illegal Immigration Has Black Americans “Struggling for Our Very Lives”

With access to jobs, housing, education and health care all at risk for black Americans because of the influx of illegal immigrants into the United States, Project 21 member Ted Hayes said blacks are “struggling for our very lives.”  As an advocate for the homeless in Los Angeles, Ted explained that he sees this struggle on a regular basis.

Describing the hardships he has seen in the black community when illegal immigrants are willing to price themselves below their prospective black counterparts and thus beat them out for jobs, Ted said:

[F]or people to be brought into this country to undercut our ability to improve ourselves is… it’s immoral…

We’re not struggling for a better lifestyle, we’re struggling for our very lives.  These folks — I know it’s hard in Mexico, but they’re seeking a better lifestyle.  And their lifestyle is literally taking the life out of us.

In a panel discussion with Cesar Luna of the group Border Angels on the 1/29/15 edition of “The Rick Amato Show” on the One American News Network, Ted took particular offense when Luna — citing alleged comments by well-known black radical Angela Davis — suggested the plight of black Americans and illegal immigrants are similar in nature.

Luna began to tell host Rick Amato, “We share the same struggle…,” but Ted broke into the exchange and quickly retorted:

No we do not!…

You guys think that Angela Davis and the Congressional Black Caucus speak for all of us.  No, they don’t…

How did we come here?  How did so-called black people — how did we come to this country?… Let me tell you how we came here.  We came here unwillingly.  We were brought here as slaves.

Your folks came here willingly.  You cannot compare border invasion and occupation of a land to chattel slavery.  That’s like comparing your struggle to the Holocaust.  You can’t do that!

This is Ted’s second appearance on Amato’s program representing the Project 21 black leadership network over just the past few days.  Amato interviewed Ted one-on-one on 1/22/15 about his feeling that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have “agitated” problems related to race relations and how Ted wants to help “rediagnose” America’s remaining civil rights problems.

In this wide-ranging interview, Ted talked about everything from the history of the African slave trade to motivations for the recent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.

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Thursday
Jan292015

"Government Overreach" Lands Parents in Hot Water for Letting Kids Walk to Park Alone

When police and social workers were called in to essentially check on the fitness of parents in a Washington, D.C. suburb because they had let their kids walk to and from a park alone, it set off a national discussion on the concept of “free-range parenting.”

For anyone who grew up in the previous century, it was just called parenting at that time.  But now, in some areas, there are limits being imposed — by society and sometimes by the law — on how much freedom parents can give their children.

Project 21 Co-Chairman Cherylyn Harley LeBon discussed this trend and its ramifications with host Rick Amato on the 1/28/15 edition of “The Rick Amato Show” on the One America News Network.

Noting that the activities of the children, who safely made the approximately one-mile trek between their home and the park, were originally noted and phoned into government authorities by a neighbor, Cherylyn asked:

Is this really appropriate for a neighbor to call Child Protective Services?

Let me tell you, Rick.  There are… serious reasons why Child Protective Services should be called: neglect, abuse — all these things that teachers, people dealing with children are trained to look for signs.  These children were walking to the park and home.  The parents knew where they were…

Who’s the nosey neighbor that did this?   And — in my opinion — has no right [to call the authorities].  These children were not abused in any way.  They don’t have bruises.  They’re not hungry.  There are no other signs of neglect.  And this is how Montgomery County is going to spend their time?

Citing discussions that she has read on-line and been involved in herself, Cherylyn added that the seemingly dominant trend of “helicopter parenting” — in which parents are hyper-involved in their affairs of their children — can possibly lead to problems for these children later in life when they must act on their own.  She said:

Children in this day and age are shielded, and they’re not able to make decisions.  And they’re micromanaged — every aspect of their life is micromanaged up to the point of when they turn 18 and go off to college or start working or whatever the case may be.

And then, Rick, they’re unable to make decisions because heretofore they weren’t allowed to make their own decision.

I think this is really just parenting gone… overboard.  And it’s also, I think, just government overreach.

Thursday
Jan292015

Project 21’s Emmett an Early Critic of Obama’s “Free” Community College Plan

National Center staff member Bethany Whitlock helped write this blog post.

As part of his State of the Union address, President Obama proposed a new initiative to offer young Americans essentially free community college education.  Then, in his proposed tax plan that was released shortly thereafter, it was discovered there would be a provision in it to get rid of existing tax breaks in the 529 savings plans millions of middle class American families use to save and pay for college tuition.

Even Obama put almost a quarter of a million into a 529 plan for his own daughters in 2007!  Yet the plan was to now take away this popular program.

In an apparent quest for more revenue to help pay for his free community college plan and other things, it seemed Obama’s 529 rollback would then present a clear and present danger to those saving for better educational opportunities.  It perhaps meant some family aspirations would be downgraded and even require using those community college scholarships. 

Project 21 member Shelby Emmett warned about the myth of free education well in advance of Obama’s anti-529 revelation.  On the 1/9/15 edition of “The Big Picture” on the RT network, Shelby told host Thom Hartmann:

It sounds great, but again, this isn’t free.

They just said how this is going to be paid — federal tax dollars will be paying for it.  That’s my money, your money, our money.  Then the states have to contribute.  The states are already paying more for their funding at the education level…

After Obama’s plan to get rid of the 529 tax break made headlines, another leak said the move was no longer being considered (but is something the Obama Administration might like to revisit later).  It seems that, for now, the President will have to find another way to pay for his “free” community college plan instead of effectively taking it from the college funds of the middle class.

Wednesday
Jan282015

HealthCare.Gov: Incompetence on a Massive Scale

Last Friday, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Health and Human Services released its report on what went wrong with HealthCare.gov in 2013.  (“You would have had a lot less to read if they’d just focused on what didn’t go wrong!” — the Wife.)

Anyway, the incompetence revealed by the report is staggering.  It shows that an agency like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is ill-equipped to handle a complex process of contracting with private businesses to put together a website.  Here are a few highlights:

-CMS did not develop the required acquisition strategy for the Federal Marketplace [Healthcare.gov] project.

-Health and Human Services’ regulations did not require acquisition plans for most Federal Marketplace contracts.

-There were 60 contracts in total that had to be awarded.  The OIG considered six of them to be “key contracts.”  Only two of the six key contracts underwent CMS Contract Review Board oversight prior to award.

-For the six key contracts, few companies submitted proposals and even fewer submitted technically acceptable proposals.  

-For many of the remaining 54 Federal Marketplace contracts, CMS sought or received proposals from only one company. 

The report contained some eye-catching passages like this one:

For the seven contracts that required acquisition plans, only five contracts had acquisition plans in their contract files. However, these acquisition plans did not all address certain planning elements, such as risks, constraints, and market research conducted. In addition, four of the five acquisition plans were missing required signatures from CMS officials.  (Italics added.)

It’s hard not to imagine that those missing signatures were intentional.  If some of the CMS higher-ups realized early on the process was a mess, then leaving off their signatures would give them plausible deniability: “Where did this come from?  I never signed off on it!”

So, what was the cause of such gross incompetence?  Perhaps CMS was staffed by a lot of incompetent people from 2010-2012? That may be part of the explanation for what happened, but the incompetence is also rooted in the incentives that bureaucrats face.  To see this, take a look at this passage from the OIG report:  

The complexity of the Federal Marketplace underscored the need for CMS to select the most qualified contractors. However, CMS did not perform thorough reviews of contractor past performance when awarding two key contracts. CMS also made contracting decisions that may have limited the number of acceptable proposals for much of the key Federal Marketplace work. In addition, CMS selected contract types that placed the risk of cost increases for this work solely on the Government.

Can you imagine groups in the private sector not opening up a contract to multiple bidders to find the best one? Can you imagine them not doing due diligence on the past performance of those contractors?  No doubt those things do happen in the private sector, but there are potentially severe consequences.  You can lose a lot of money or you can be fired if things go wrong.  

By contrast, it’s very difficult to fire government employees, and those employees don’t have their own money on the line.  With those incentives, it’s an uphill battle to achieve success. 

Monday
Jan262015

Parody: Why All Good Christians Must Support ObamaCare’s Medicaid Expansion

People who do not support ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion aren’t very good Christians.  So says Ohio Governor John Kasich.

Last Tuesday, when asked about his expansion of Medicaid, Kasich replied, “Now, if you ever read Matthew 25, I think, ‘I wanna feed the hungry and clothe the naked,’ and I have to tell you — I read a horrible story in The Wall Street Journal on the weekend about people, one man in particular freezing to death over in Montana.  And they’ve turned down about half a billion dollars of help, I’m told. That disturbs me.”

This is not the first time Kasich, a Republican, has emphasized how important  supporting Medicaid is to Christianity.  In his 2013 State of the State address, he said that his belief in Medicaid expansion was grounded in his personal faith.  He explained that his support came from lessons he learned “from the Good Book…I gotta tell you, I can’t look at the disabled, I can’t look at the poor, I can’t look at the mentally ill, I can’t look at the addicted and think we ought to ignore them.”

In June, Kasich upped the ante by telling a state legislator, “Now, when you die and get to the, get to the, uh, to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not gonna ask you much about what you did about keeping government small, but he’s going to ask you what you did for the poor. Better have a good answer.”

King Solomon, in all of his wisdom, could not have been more eloquent.

 

 

Shockingly, the Ohio Legislature, controlled by Republicans, didn’t heed Kasich’s warning of eternal damnation and decided against expanding Medicaid.  The Heathens!

But Saint Kasich was not deterred.  Using his executive authority, he unilaterally expanded Medicaid late last year.

It turns out that expanding Medicaid, even via executive fiat, is indeed an act of Christian charity.  Shortly after the Ohio expansion, the cloudy skies above Kasich opened up, and a voice from heaven proclaimed, “This is my beloved Governor, with whom I am well pleased. ”

For those of you unfamiliar with the segment of Matthew 25 that Kasich alluded to, it reads:

Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you used government to force people to give me something to eat, I was thirsty and you used government to force people to give me something to drink, I was a stranger and you used government to force people to invite me in, I needed clothes and you used government to force people to clothe me, I was sick and you used government to force people to look after me, I was in prison and you used government to force people to come visit me.

Of course, some aspects of Medicaid are un-Godly.  For example, among all physicians, nearly one-third are no longer seeing new Medicaid patients and that number may well be over 45 percent for some specialists.  The most likely reason is that Medicaid’s reimbursement rates are among the lowest of all health care plans.

Then there are the access problems.  Medicaid patients have more difficulty getting timely appointments with primary care physicians, specialists and ambulatory clinics than patients with private insurance.  Medicaid patients are far more likely to go to the emergency room for care versus patients with private insurance.  For the most part, they are going because they need the care, not because they are there for some minor ailment. 

Nor is Medicaid particularly efficient.  The U.S. spends over $415 billion on Medicaid, and, according to the Oregon health experiment, Medicaid has no noticeable impact on patient health.  Other research suggests that children at hospitals that are more reliant on Medicaid funding have more adverse events.  Similarly, patients with Medicaid are more likely to be be diagnosed with late-stage cancer than patients with private insurance who are more likely to receive diagnoses at earlier stages.  

However, only the uncharitable would say that we shouldn’t expand Medicaid.  As Kasich is showing us, it is the duty of all good Christians everywhere to repair it. That means supporting more Medicaid funding.

Finally, what about the man who froze to death in Montana?  In January 2007, 48-year-old Bryan Dennis was found dead of hypothermia in a truck at a U-Haul store in Bozeman.  He was unemployed at the time and had been staying in motels.  He’d told a friend he was going to sleep in U-Haul trucks.

The Heathens will no doubt point out that, based on the scant details, it’s not clear that a Medicaid expansion such as Kasich’s would have helped this man.  They might also ask why it was the responsibility of the government—i.e., taxpayers far away from Montana—to help this man and not the responsibility of the people who were in close proximity to him?

But those are the concerns of the heartless.  As Governor Kasich has reminded us, using government to force people to help the poor is the same as Christian charity.  After all, when you meet St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, one of the questions you will have to answer is, “Did you support a generous Federal Matching Percentage?”

Monday
Jan262015

Medicaid Money Laundering--It's Perfectly Legal!

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam is trying to build support for his Medicaid expansion plan.  One method he’s proposing is a long-running scam called “hospital assessment fees.”

To understand how these fees work, it’s important to know first that Medicaid is a matching program.  For every dollar a state spends on Medicaid, the federal government will match that dollar and then some.  (In some states, the feds match $2 for every $1 the state puts up.)

Hospital assessment fees are a way for a state government to appear that it is spending more money on Medicaid without actually doing so.  Here’s how it works: A state government imposes assessment fees on hospitals and then adds that money to its Medicaid funds.  With more Medicaid funds, the state will receive even more matching funds from the federal government.  Then the state ensures that enough matching funds go back to the hospitals to cover the amount they paid in assessment fees.  In some cases, hospitals will even get more back than they paid in—see Indiana.  Usually, the states will siphon off the extra fees from the hospitals to spend on some other program.  

By now you’ve probably figured out that if people do this in the private sector, they can go to prison for money laundering.  But if a governor and state legislature do it, it’s just creative accounting.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 23 states already scam the federal Medicaid program this way.  But it’s not the only legal way to launder money via Medicaid.  Another scheme is succinctly described by the Wall Street Journal:

The swindle works like this: A state overpays state-run health-care providers, such as county hospitals or nursing homes, for Medicaid benefits far in excess of its typical rates. Then the federal government reimburses the state for “half” of the inflated bills. Once the state bags the extra matching funds, the hospital is required to rebate the extra money it received at the scam’s outset. Cash thus makes a round trip from states to providers and back to the states—all to dupe Washington.

This has been going on for quite some time.  Back in 2004 the Government Accountability Office studied it and said, “States’ financing schemes undermine the federal-state Medicaid partnership, as well as the program’s fiscal integrity.”

This assumes that Medicaid, or any government program for that matter, has much fiscal integrity to begin with.  Nevertheless, it’s just one more thing that politicians can do that the government can put you in jail for if you try it in the private sector.

Sunday
Jan252015

Project 21 Membership Tackles Tough Middle East, Islam Issues

While members of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network are popular for their interviews about race relations, the diverse experiences and skills that Project 21 members bring to the table make them qualified to speak on a broad array of issues.  One of these issue areas happens to be another major news item right now -- unrest in the Middle East.

There are three members in particular who are commenting on what’s going on regarding Middle East geopolitics and expansion of radical Islam.

Regarding the recent death of King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia, Project 21 member Michael Dozier, PA, Ph.D., a consultant on national security issues, said:

Do not shed a tear for the late King Abdullah.

His kingdom is considered by many to be one of the biggest sponsors of terrorism.  People will read and hear from the mainstream media about how he made Saudi Arabia an ally of the United States, but they will likely not report how he sponsored Afghanistan’s odious Taliban movement since at least 1996 and channeled funds to Hamas and other groups that have committed terrorist acts in Israel and in other parts of the Middle East.

As Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute pointed out, Abdullah's monarchy bankrolled schools and charities rife with hatred of the West and America in particular.  He wrote that children “are also taught that the United States is the center of infidel power in the world and is the enemy of Islam.”  It is speculated that the schools are essentially recruitment centers for terrorists and other extremist groups.

King Abdullah’s death, along with the uprising in Yemen, will further destabilize the Middle East.  ISIS, among other enemies of the United States, may look at this as an opportunity to put pressure on the kingdom and its new leader to support its cause.

Regarding the Iranian nuclear program, possible sanctions against Iran and the invitation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress in February, Project 21 member Kevin Martin, a Navy veteran whose tours often took him to the Middle East, said:

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama warned Congress not to pass legislation to authorize sanctions against Iran because his administration is negotiating over Iran’s nuclear program.

Iranian officials previously said its nuclear program is not open for discussions.  And Iran’s leaders also don’t think the State of Israel has a right to exist.

The very fact that Israelis have faced attacks from Iranian-backed terrorist elements in the past is reason enough for the Obama Administration to seek Israeli input on any nuclear deals or sanction.  The White House, however, has made it all too clear they don’t want it.  Congressional leaders are taking a much different tack, seeking such input at the very least in the form of inviting the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to address a joint session of Congress.

Many members of Congress obviously feel they have reason to be cautious about such deals.  There need not be a repeat of the approach the Clinton Administration took towards North Korea’s nuclear program – a negotiation in which the Clinton Administration took a tack of trusting but not verifying.  Iran and North Korea are two peas in a pod, and intelligence agencies suspect they are actually working together.

I feel the Obama Administration may be rushing into a useless deal to simply save face as the Iranian government runs out the clock in a fashion similar to the North Korea in the 1990s.  The United States only true ally in the region – Israel – has reason to be nervous.

Finally, there is the concern about the expansion of radical Islam.  Project 21 member Bishop Council Nedd II, the rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Central Pennsylvania and Archbishop of Abu Dhabi, wrote late last year about the need to stand up to the expansion of extremist elements of Islam into places such as Africa.  In an August 2014 New Visions Commentary entitled “A Firewall Is Needed against Militant Islam,” Council wrote:

[F]or human rights reasons, it is necessary to build a firewall to stop the international expansion of radical Islam.  Wholly different from peaceful followers of the Muslim faith, the adherents of radical Islam threaten the free expression of faith worldwide because they refuse to tolerate any religious views but their own.

The firewall should be on the African continent…

If militant Islam spreads into Kenya, nations throughout the rest of the continent are likely to be lost in relatively short succession.  South Africa may hold out, but it would eventually succumb as well…

[T]his is not a call to holy war.  It’s not a modern-day crusade.  It’s the need for tolerant people to collectively say “no” to radicals who want to impose their will upon others by any and all means — including heinous acts of violence.

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