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The IRS Scandal: Lessons from Scripture

Bible DPC WMatthew 9:9-13

"As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, 'Follow me.' And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, 'Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?' But when he heard this, he said, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician...'"

Tax collectors were welcomed by Christ at his table because they wished to repent and sought his mercy.

According to Scripture, none of them said, as IRS Commissioner John Koskinen recently did, "I don't think an apology is owed."


Who Does Washington Fear More... Americans, or Foreign Aggressors?

SWAT officers in tactical gearOur best information indicates the number of full-time, armed federal law enforcement officers is nearly 1/3 the projected size of the U.S. Army in the latest Pentagon budget.

It appears Washington fears Americans.

The new Pentagon budget, proposed earlier this year, would cut our Army down to a pre-World War II level of between 440,000 and 450,000 soldiers. That's a decline of over 25% just after 9/11.

At the same time, the federal government is arming up against citizens.

In 2008, according to the "Census of Federal Law Enforcement Officers," there were 120,000 federal employees in 73 agencies authorized to carry guns and make arrests. That was an increase of 12.5% in just four years.

We don't know exactly how many such employees there are today because the every two-year census that started back in 1993 suddenly stopped during the Obama Administration.

When asked why the Census was discontinued, a Justice Department spokesperson said, "Due to available resources and staff we have delayed a number of projects, the Census of Federal Law Enforcement agencies being one."

Justice did, however, find resources to conduct several studies relating to guns last year as it was pushing for more stringent gun control laws.

Even without a more recent Census of Federal Law Enforcement Officers, it is clear that the number of armed federal employees has grown. According to the Census' "Annual Survey of Public Employment and Payroll Summary Report: 2012," there were 192,354 federal employees involved in "police protection." Though this number includes employees who are not sworn officers, including lab technicians, dispatchers and the like, historical data suggests that sworn officers constitute two-thirds of this number, putting the number of full-time armed employees at around 129,000 as of 2012 and likely even more today. That's nearly a third the size of the Obama Administration's proposed Army strength. And bear in mind that this number does not count state, county and local officers.

If we want to demilitarize, perhaps we should start at home.


When Bush Was in the Middle of a World Financial Meltdown, His Employment Numbers Were Still Better Than Obama's Today

QuizzicalBlackManDPCBorderWThe United States should change how we measure the health of the economy. The unemployment rate tells us very little given that those who get discouraged exit the labor market, lowering the unemployment rate.

Wouldn't a better measure be the proportion of employed to the total population?

If that's the measure, it becomes obvious that we're in decline.

In January 2009, the number of Americans with full-time jobs was 115,794,00 and the number last month was 118,727,000 (both seasonally adjusted).

But the population has grown from 305,794,224 in January 2009 to an estimated 318,264,459 last month, meaning that the percentage of Americans with full-time jobs has decreased from 37.8% to 37.3% since President Obama's inauguration.

Some additional interesting statistics...

The number of full-time employed in November 2007, the month before the recession began, was 122,649,000 -- almost 4 million more than today. The population then was about 302 million, meaning that 40.5% of Americans had full-time jobs.

In November 2008, when the world was reeling from the financial crisis, the number of full-time employed was 119,596,000 -- 869,000 more than today. A month later, the number was 118,668,000, almost imperceptible from the number today. The population back then was 305 million, meaning that the percentages of Americans employed were 39.2% and 38.9%, respectively.

So, just to recap... President Bush was in the middle of world financial meltdown and he still managed to beat Obama's economic performance.

(Oh... and, by the way, the uninsured rate was lower in October/November 2008 than it is now, too.)

Let's start measuring unemployment honestly.


Project 21's LeBon Discusses Logic of, Black Support for Voter ID

Dispelling myths about voter identification laws and civil rights concerns, Project 21 co-chairman Cherylyn Harley LeBon tells “D.C. Breakdown” host Angela Rae that — contrary to popular liberal belief — the majority of black Americans actually support a verification of identity at polling places before ballots are given to prospective voters.  This majority support for state-level voter ID laws was found in a poll that also showed the same blacks surveyed supported President Obama strongly on his other agenda items such as economic and health care policy.

On the 6/17/14 edition of this Soul of the South network program, Cherylyn pointed out the logical need for ID for more than just voting, as well as the inherent and real threat to the democratic process from “ghost voters” when there are no simple safeguards in place to safeguard balloting. 


RAD Director Jeff Stier to UN Panel: Private Sector Involvement is Key to Fighting Non-Communicable Diseases


National Center Risk Analysis Division Director Jeff Stier spoke at the United Nations today, urging delegates there to recall that voluntary, private sector initiatives can and should be an effective part of the mix in deterring non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

NCDs, according to the World Health Organization, kill about 36 million people a year worldwide. They include such things as heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases and diabetes.

At the U.N., Jeff said,

I am heartened to hear, both from this roundtable, as well as from the participants in the opening session today, that there is consensus surrounding a multi-stakeholder approach to confronting non-communicable diseases. While industry has been demonized for years, and in some cases rightfully so, I am encouraged that this process recognizes the need for a seat at the table for industry.

I urge the high level meeting taking place in July to include in its outcome document specific and concrete examples of how this engagement with the private sector can be implemented.

The two areas being discussed here today related to the leading causes of NCDs are food products and tobacco products. In both cases, innovations by these industries can be harnessed to help reduce the burden of NCDs worldwide.


In the food industry, innovations and choices already offered by industry to reduce salt content or to substitute non-caloric sweeteners should be recognized and further encouraged. These innovations have come from the private sector and should be leveraged in this U.N. process.

With regard to tobacco-related disease, widely recognized as the greatest contributor to the global NCD burden, the private sector has also innovated to help smokers quit. The growing popularity of e-cigarettes among cigarette smokers is very promising.

These products provide a choice to consumers, allowing them to dramatically reduce their risk of disease.

The concept of reducing harm through innovation should be included in the UN High Level Meeting Outcome document. Thank you.

Jeff reports that H.E. Mr. Courtenay Rattray, Permanent Representative of Jamaica and the chairman of the hearing (officially "the United Nations Interactive Hearing with Non-Governmental Organizations, Civil Society Organizations, the Private Sector and Academia on the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases") said to Jeff in response, "I hear you loud and clear." Rattray also said the involvement of the private sector "is fundamental to fighting NCDs."

More about Jeff's speaking appearance at the United Nations and what he is trying to achieve there can be found here.


NCPPR's Hogberg Discusses Health Care Hassles in Several TV Interviews

Dr. David Hogberg, the National Center’s policy analyst for health care issues, appeared on two television interviews this week.

On the Soul of the South’s “D.C. Breakdown” program on 6/16/14, David was asked about the 8 million people the Obama Administration claims are signed up for ObamaCare through the federal and state health care exchanges.  While that number may be correct, David said it is also highly likely that between 10 and 20 percent of those who signed up for ObamaCare before the mid-April deadline may no longer be attached to ObamaCare by the end of the year because they are not qualified to enroll, non-payment of the policy they signed up for, they got a job with employer-provided care or qualified for and enrolled in Medicaid instead.

David said the Obama Administration has only itself to blame for problems regarding qualifications because, for example, the enrollment system was originally set up to take people on their honor about financial information.  Likewise, there was a lack of foresight into how the policy would develop and evenutally cost that is now causing people to find that policies available to them on the exchanges are much more expensive than they anticipated.

On the 6/17/14 edition of “Wilkow!” on Glenn Beck’s Blaze TV network, David discussed the possible politics and methodology behind a new report by the Commonwealth Fund that purported to find American health care to be both the most expensive and lowest quality among 10 other “peer” countries.  David called the report “utter rubbish.”

Host Andrew Wilkow saw the report as a means for the political left to continue to push American health care toward a government-run single-payer system.  David agreed that the demonizing of American health care was an obvious goal of the report.  He also noted that the way the report was put together — in which Britain was ranked the best peer — seemed to ignore important factors such as wait times, quality of care an conditions and factors such as cancer-survivability that would have made America look much better in comparison.


Chris Christie and John Kasich Want to Tax Virtue?

smoking skullIf a tax on tobacco cigarettes is a "sin" tax, is a tax that stops people from quitting smoking a "virtue" tax?

In "The Christie-and-Kasich Tax Show: Why are they taxing people who are trying to quit smoking?," published by National Review Online, National Center Senior Fellow Jeff Stier and the Heartland Institute's Greg Conley ask why two supposedly conservative governors want to raise taxes on e-cigarettes, devices that help people quit cancer-causing tobacco cigarettes.

Jeff and Greg write, "There's an interesting phenomenon playing out in both New Jersey and Ohio: Two of the country's most prominent conservative Republican governors have proposed new taxes of a sort that haven't appealed even to traditionally liberal, tax-hungry state legislatures in states like Massachusetts and Washington."

In the past, "sin taxes" were sold to us by politicians on the theory that their imposition would make "sinning" more expensive, so people would do less of it. Harsh taxes on tobacco cigarettes were sold to the public in precisely this manner.

But as e-cigarettes help people to stop sinning, aren't taxes on them something akin to a "virtue tax"?

And those of us who live in Maryland thought our state rain tax was bad! At least Maryland doesn't tax virtue - yet.

Jeff and Greg provide more details about the keep-folks-smoking tax in their article:

New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Ohio governor John Kasich have asked their legislatures to enact an excise tax, or sin tax, on the sale of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes).

E-cigarettes are smoke-free, tobacco-free, battery-operated devices that allow smokers to get nicotine without inhaling burning-tobacco smoke. Currently, these products are subject to sales tax, like any other consumer product, in Ohio, New Jersey, and 46 other states.

Jeff and Greg explain more about what is going on in each of the two states:

New Jersey: "Governor Christie announced the plan in the spring but still has not actually specified the rate at which he wants to tax e-cigarette products. That hasn't stopped his Treasury Department from somehow estimating that $35 million in revenue would result from this undefined tax hike. Indeed, his administration has refused to admit that this is a tax hike, instead describing the tax as part of a move to 'level the playing field' between e-cigarettes and combustible cigarettes, the latter of which are taxed at the state level at $2.70 a pack. Putting aside the absurd notion that cigarette markets need to be protected from competition, Governor Christie's adamant denial of the fact that he is seeking to increase taxes should worry any conservative who wants to see him in the White House."

Ohio: "Governor Kasich's Ohio plan would, over two years, raise the state's tax on a pack of actual cigarettes from $1.25 to $1.85, tax e-cigarettes at 49 percent of wholesale price, and raise the state's tax on smokeless tobacco to the same rate. The Kasich administration is claiming that the estimated $850 million in revenue created by these tax increases over a three-year period would allow Ohio to cut income taxes along all brackets."

Jeff and Greg also explain why these particular sin taxes are so antithetical to a core conservative principle:

E-cigarettes are a prime example of the free-market insight that the private sector is better than government at addressing societal problems. E-cigarettes may do more good for public health by getting people to quit smoking than any tax, warning label, or self-righteous taxpayer-funded ad campaign has ever done. So we are bewildered as to why Governors Christie and Kasich would proactively seek to undermine this private-sector approach to smoking by, of all things, taxing it.

smoking skullWhy do Chris Christie and John Kasich want to deter people from using products that help them quit smoking?

The authors have a theory as to what is really going on.

Our best bet is that it has nothing to do with public health per se, and everything to do with another kind of addiction. These proposals underscore the fact that state governments are more addicted to cigarettes than most smokers are: At least some smokers can quit -- but states don't give up tobacco taxes. Now that smokers are quitting tobacco and using the dramatically less risky alternatives, those responsible for state budgets want to keep their hands in our pockets by taxing tobacco-free e-cigarettes. The governors' approach to the real public-health heroes who have quit smoking with e-cigarettes? Pay up.

Jeff and Greg add:

We think sin taxes are a bad idea. But if they do exist, even for e-cigarettes, they should at least have a structure that more accurately reflects the risks of different products.

First, for decades, high sin taxes on cigarettes have been justified by pointing to the costs incurred by taxpayers in treating smoking-related illness. These costs have been overstated, but e-cigarettes, which help people quit, will reduce health-care costs, so no additional tax on them is justified.

Second, advocates for cigarette sin taxes argue that taxes help 'nudge' people to behave differently. Making the cost of e-cigarettes equal to or higher than that of real cigarettes would nudge people in the wrong public-health direction -- away from using the dramatically less harmful alternative to cigarettes.

It's not just Jeff and Greg who say e-cigarettes are much less harmful than smoking. The piece continues:

The chief regulator at the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Tobacco Products, Mitch Zeller, dispelled that notion when testifying before a U.S. Senate committee in May. 'If we look at a subset of smokers who are otherwise unable or unwilling to quit,' and 'we could get all of those people to completely switch all of their cigarettes for one of these noncombustible products, that would be good for public health,' Zeller said. He reiterated that belief earlier this month, telling attendees at a public health conference, 'Let's not lose sight of the bigger picture here -- tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease principally because of the ongoing use of products that burn tobacco.'

Jeff and Greg conclude:

Republican governors, especially those who may have presidential aspirations, could learn a thing or two from Vermont's Democratic governor, Peter Shumlin, who opposed Christie- and Kasich-style taxes in his own state. 'My own view on e-cigarettes is that we should be cautious about taxing a product that we think might be gettin' some folks off of tobacco,' declared Shumlin at a press conference. We couldn't agree more.

Read the entire article at National Review Online.


New HHS Report Also Shows ObamaCare Raising Premiums, Reducing Choice

As noted below, the new report from the Dept. of Health and Human Services shows ObamaCare is likely headed for a death spiral.  The study also reveals that ObamaCare has increased insurance premiums.

The report states that the “national average for the second-lowest cost silver plan premium rate is $226 per month for a 27-year-old, ranging between a low of $127 to a high of $406.” Research by Heritage’s Drew Gonshoronski shows that the average premium in the individual market for all policies for 27-year-olds in 2013 was about $168.  The range was $87 to $500.  Remove New York with its community rating and guaranteed issue laws, and the top of the range is $329.

A new study by Avik Roy of the Manhattan Institute does a county-by-county breakdown of the premiums costs and found that they are, on average 49 percent higher than in 2013.

The HHS report also notes that…

…the amount that a 27-year-old woman with an income of $25,000 (218 percent of the FPL) would pay for the second-lowest cost silver plan is capped at $145 per month.  If she lived in Jackson, Mississippi, the premiums for the second-lowest cost silver plan available would cost her $336 per month before tax credits. Therefore, the amount of the premium tax credit would be $191 per month.  She could apply the $191 per month tax credit toward any plan of her choosing in any metal level. By applying her tax credit to the lowest-cost bronze plan in Jackson, which is priced at $199 per month, she could obtain Marketplace coverage for just $8 per month after tax credits. 

If she receives a tax credit premium subsidy.  If not, then her lowest-cost option is a $150 catastrophic plan.  A National Policy Analysis I authored shows that in 2013 that 27-year-old woman had 26 cheaper options on and 14 cheaper options on (Finder).  For people who receive no premium subsidy or a very small one, premiums on the exchanges are higher than they were in the individual market in 2013.

The report also tries to boost the choice aspect of the exchange by claiming that on average “consumers shopping in the Marketplace can choose from approximately 47 Marketplace plans,” and that there “were a total of 266 issuers by state offering Marketplace plans, ranging from a low of one issuer in New Hampshire and West Virginia to a high of 16 issuers in New York.”  

That same National Policy Analysis shows there were an average of 55 plans to choose from on alone for both male and female 27-year-olds in 2013.  On Finder, there were 77 for men and 84 for women.  For a 57-year-old couple, there were 51 choices on and 61 on Finder. In short, people generally had more insurance choices in 2013 that they presently have on the exchanges.

Research by Ed Haislmaier of Heritage shows that 360 insurance issuers participated in the individual market in 2013—94 more than are on the exchange.  The range was better as well, with 18 issuers in Texas and Florida and 2 for Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

Finally, the HHS report states that “82 percent of the people eligible to purchase a Marketplace plans live in rating areas with at least three issuers of Marketplace plans and 96 percent live in areas with at least two issuers. Fifty six percent can choose from plans offered by five or more issuers.”

That’s pretty much putting lipstick on a pig.  As this helpful pie chart form the report shows, 18 percent live in areas with only 1 or 2 carriers, and nearly half—47 percent—live in areas with 4 or less.


HHS says this “compares favorably with those covered by employer-sponsored insurance.”  Maybe, but that’s apples versus oranges.  How does it stack up with the individual market in 2013?  That comparison would tell us if the exchanges are improving choice or not.

As of right now, I’m unaware of any analysis that looked at the numbers this way for 2013.  If you know of any, let me know.


You Can't Sugarcoat Distasteful Legislation

In a piece for Forbes, Dr. Henry I. Miller and I discuss campaigns to have the government further regulate what we eat and drink in a misguided effort to fight obesity.

When we’ve written about these issues in the past, big-government advocates have rebutted our conclusion by misstating our premise. So up front, we make it clear, that obesity is a serious health problem.  

Obesity is a public health time bomb in young as well as older Americans.  It affects 12.4 percent of children ages 2 to 5, 17 percent of those ages 6 to 11 and 17.6 percent of those ages 12 to 19.  And it is insidious.  It takes a toll on the joints, is associated with several risk factors for cardiovascular disease (including high blood pressure, abnormal lipid patterns, and Type 2 diabetes), and is linked to cancers of the esophagus, breast, uterus, colon, rectum, kidney, pancreas, thyroid, and gallbladder.

There’s no doubt about it. So now, the question is what “we” should do about it. And who are the “we” that the activists want to do things. I once thought “we” are the same people as the “they” in “they say” it’s dangerous to swim after eating, or that Mikey from the Life cereal commercial died in a Pop Rocks accidentBut it turns out, “we” means the government.

But is curbing obesity the responsibility of the government?  The activists who constitute the self-appointed food police think so, and they are not shy about making their radical views known.  Their extreme proposals and hyperbolic rhetoric demonize big food producers and characterize food marketers as the worst sort of hucksters and profiteers.

Here’s how it works. 

The activists argue that obesity rates are sky-rocketing and that this growing public health emergency calls for extreme measures.  However, when the CDC says that childhood obesity has plateaued, and that rates have declined 43 percent among 2-5 year olds in the last decade, the nanny-staters seamlessly change their tune: “See, what we’ve been doing is working.”

Now, there’s legislation in the works that further advances the activist agenda.

Nanny-staters must love California’s SB 1000, a bill passed by the State Senate that will be considered by the Assembly this month.  It would mandate obesity, diabetes and tooth decay warning labels on sugary soft drinks.  But the proposed legislation is unscientific and inconsistent in so many ways. Why would the warning apply only to beverages?

Scientific evidence indicates that liquid calories are not inherently different than solid calories when it comes to weight gain.  As USDA’s Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reported in 2010, “In general, if total calorie content is held constant, there is little support for any effects on energy intake and body weight due to the calories consumed either as liquid or solid… . Thus, Americans are advised to pay attention to the calorie content of the food or beverage consumed, regardless of whether it is a liquid or solid.  Calories are the issue in either case.”  If activists reject scientific evidence, why should we accede to their demands?

Another inconsistency is that the bill requires warning labels for only an arbitrary subset of beverages.  This anomaly is obvious if we compare, for example, a 12 oz Starbucks Java Chip Frappuccino with a regular carbonated soda of the same size.  The former has 330 calories versus 140 for the soda, 13 grams of fat compared to none for the soda, and 46 grams of total sugars versus 39 for the soda – yet because it is milk-based, the Frappuccin would be exempt from the warning label. You don’t have to be a rocket nutritionist to know that this makes no sense.

As it relates to tooth decay, fermentable carbohydrates — including sugars — are the substrate the bacteria in your mouth use to produce the acid that can result in tooth decay.  Fermentable carbs are found in a wide variety of foods — not just sugar sweetened beverages — including but not limited to bananas, raisins and bread.  But tooth decay does not result from just the presence of fermentable carbs, bacteria and a suitable substrate (tooth).  The fourth important factor is time — time in the mouth that the tooth is exposed to the carbs and bacteria.  Thus, the importance of good oral hygiene.

In order to pass these types of laws, the activists use some pretty outrageous rhetorical devices which are unsupported by the science.

The food police subject us to the constant drumbeat of warnings that sugar is the new tobacco and that, therefore, we need warning labels, marketing restrictions and heavy excise taxes to protect consumers from making choices the activists think are unwise.

 But hyperbole about the dangers of food is in vogue these days, so why compare sugar only to tobacco if you can stigmatize it further  as being “just like” heroin?  That’s what best-selling author and advocate Dr. Mark Hyman says in the propaganda film, “Fed Up,” trying to shock viewers with the claim that “you are going become an addict.”  Should we be dispensing methadone to quell the craving for a Big Gulp or a Hershey’s bar?

 “Fed Up” is a good example of slick propagandizing about obesity.  Katie Couric, Laurie David and the lopsided panel of experts they interviewed in the film want us to believe it is an unbiased and factually balanced portrayal of the causes of obesity in the United States.  It is anything but.

 Food police activists love the film — and not only because they all seem to be in it.  “Fed-Up” advances Freedhoff’s thesis that obesity is caused by industry and government, while “personal responsibility” is just a canard cooked up by “big food” to seduce us into becoming helpless Twinkie-munching, soda-swilling zombies.

 Whether it’s California’s proposed warning labels, New York City’s ban on large sodas (currently in litigation), or campaigns to restrict marketing as if food were the same as tobacco (or heroin), activists need the public to buy into the narrative that no matter what happens, ethically-challenged industry will always be part of the problem rather than a potential part of the solution.  They believe the answer is ever more government intrusion and coercion.

We aren’t anarchists. We believe there is a proper place for govenment here. But it’s in advancing food science not political science.

There is, indeed a role for government policy making, but it’s not intrusive, punitive, arbitrary, gratuitous regulation; it’s allowing market forces to stimulate the production of a wide variety of innovative foods, from which consumers can choose.  SB 1000 is yet another example of H.L. Mencken’s observation that there is an easy solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong. 

*** Update: At least some legislators are listening. The California soda warning label bill, SB 1000 failed in the assembly.  


New HHS Study Provides More Evidence ObamaCare Headed For A Death Spiral

A new report from the Dept. of Health and Human Services purportedly showing that the ObamaCare exchanges are improving cost and choice inadvertently provides more data that the exchanges are heading toward an insurance death spiral.  (If you need an explanation of a death spiral, see the definition at the end of this post).

As I’ve noted before:

[Exchange] enrollees’ choice of insurance suggests that the [insurance] pool may be sicker than is optimal for an insurance pool. Sixty-two percent of exchange enrollees have chosen a silver plan. For enrollees at or below 250 percent FPL, 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.” 

Thus far the only data we’ve had to support that theory is the inordinate popularity of silver plans among exchange enrollees.  According to last HHS enrollment report, 65 percent of enrollees chose a silver plan.

But today’s HHS report contains this very revealing table:


Notice that the largest average monthly premium subsidy (“tax credit” in HHS’s lingo) is for those who enrolled in silver plans.  That’s telling because bigger subsidies go to those with lower incomes.  If silver plans have the largest average premium subsidy, then those with lower incomes (i.e., below 250 percent FPL) have chosen silver plans at a higher rate than any other plan.  And they have done so at what looks to be a substantially higher rate—the average premium subsidy for silver plans of $276 is more than $40 higher than for any other plan type.

This is most substantial evidence we have yet that the exchanges have attracted a lot of less-than-healthy folks and that the exchanges are likely headed for a death spiral.

Death Spiral:  A death spiral occurs when the young and healthy drop out of the “insurance pool.” This leads to “adverse selection” in which insurance is primarily attractive to those who tend to be older and sicker. If the insurance pool is comprised largely of older and sicker people, then insurance prices naturally rise to cover their costs. That rate increase results in even more young and healthy people dropping their insurance, leaving the pools even older and sicker than before, and so forth.


IRS Says It Can't Find Still More Emails - And It Kept This Fact Secret from Investigators for Months


Turns out, the Internal Revenue Service has been doling out the bad news slowly when it comes to its ability to retain the emails of employees suspected of being up to no good.

From the House Ways and Means Committee today:

Today, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany Jr., M.D. (R-LA) revealed that the Committee's early work into "lost" IRS emails show the problem is much bigger than the IRS initially admitted to.

In addition to Lois Lerner's emails, the IRS cannot produce records from six other IRS employees involved in the targeting of conservative groups. One of those figures is Nikole Flax, who served as Chief of Staff to Steve Miller, who at the time of the targeting was Deputy Commissioner and would later serve as Acting Commissioner of the IRS - a position from which he was fired for his role in the targeting of conservative groups. The timeframe for which Ms. Flax's communications are purportedly unrecoverable covers when the Washington, DC office wrote and directed the Cincinnati field office to send abusive questionnaires, including inappropriate demands for donor information, to conservative groups.

Camp and Boustany also uncovered that the IRS has been keeping secret for months the fact that the Agency lost these critical records. Ways and Means investigators have confirmed that the Agency first knew of the destroyed emails as early as February 2014 - nearly three months prior to newly installed Commissioner John Koskinen telling the Committee the IRS would produce all of Lois Lerner's emails...

Read it all here.


Supreme Court’s Important Unfinished Business

As is the tradition at the U.S. Supreme Court, justices are leaving the release of their decisions on many of the biggest cases of the term until the very end.

After today’s three opinions, there are 14 rulings still left to be revealed before the Court’s term ostensibly ends on June 30.

Among the cases to be decided include the ObamaCare mandate forcing religious businessowners to compromise their faith, the President’s probable unconstitutional use of recess appointment power, free speech around abortion clinics, coercive union fees and police power to search cellphones.

Currently, there are three more scheduled days — the remaining Mondays in June and this coming Thursday — scheduled to release these opinions.

Horace Cooper, the co-chairman of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network, noted this remaining large parcel of decisions could contain some of the most important rulings in recent memory:

Over the next two weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue rulings in some of the most critical cases to come before the highest court in the land.

The cases that remain offer the American people an opportunity to understand many of the basic principles of our constitutional system.

From the power of the presidency, the scope of religious rights of corporations to whether police can confiscate your cellphone and read its contents, the U.S. Supreme Court is ultimately going to reaffirm our fundamental rights or push us in a post-constitutional direction.

While most Americans can’t name these individual justices, they will likely have remarkable influence on our liberties and freedoms.

top photo credit: iStockPhoto


3 Reasons Obama's University of California at Irvine Commencement Address on Climate Change Was Inappropriate

ObamaClimateSpeechUCIrvineCommencement061414It was inappropriate for President Obama to use his commencement address at the University of California at Irvine for a divisive speech promoting his own views on climate change. Here's why:

  • He hijacked other people's commencement to promote his own views on a contentious issue, no doubt leaving some of the graduates who hold differing views angry and frustrated on an occasion that is supposed to be in their honor.

  • The leader of the country should not be mocking its citizenry, and if an exception is made to this rule it should be either good-natured ribbing or reserved for partisan events where said leader is speaking as the head of his political party, not as leader of the entire country.

  • If President Obama nonetheless was determined to break the above rules of etiquette, tradition and propriety, he should have done a better job of it. Parts of his speech made no sense, and nothing he said was likely to persuade a catastrophic global warming theory fence-sitter to the president's point of view. Thus, the President insulted people, sowed division and hijacked an important ceremony in other people's lives for no gain to anyone, including himself and his agenda.

A few notes on the content of the President's remarks:

The President said: "So the question is not whether we need to act. The overwhelming judgment of science, accumulated and measured and reviewed over decades, has put that question to rest."

Response: Proper science doesn't rest on "judgments," even multiple judgments that someone somehow "measures." It finds proof.

The President said: "The 18 warmest years on record have all happened since you graduates were born."

Response: Our temperature records are very short, and a 16-year period of warming ended about the time today's high school graduates were born. The President could just as accurately said there hasn't been any warming since Bill Clinton was President and that one of his own agencies released data this month showing the United States has cooled slightly over the last decade, but that didn't fit his political agenda.

The President said: "Out West, firefighters brave longer, harsher wildfire seasons; states have to budget for that. Mountain towns worry about what smaller snowpacks mean for tourism. Farmers and families at the bottom worry about what it will mean for their water. In cities like Norfolk and Miami, streets now flood frequently at high tide. Shrinking icecaps have National Geographic making the biggest change in its atlas since the Soviet Union broke apart."

Response: If this is the best evidence the President has for the catastrophic global warming theory, it's a wonder he can say he believes in it with a straight face. Wildfires are affected by many circumstances, and did the President not notice that it snowed a lot last winter? Sea levels have been rising for thousands of years, and the fall of the Soviet Union was only 23 years ago, not even a blink in climate terms. And, by the way, global sea ice is approaching record high levels. Give it up, Mr. President, if this is all you've got.

Columnist Mark Sappenfield of the Christian Science Monitor wrote Sunday that 43 percent of all Americans don't agree with President Obama on climate change, and so with this speech, "Obama is doing more than blowing a raspberry [at] a recalcitrant Congress. He's poking fun at almost half of America." Mr. Sappenfield is exactly right.


Eric Cantor "Became an Ideological Mystery" - And That Was a Problem When It Came to the VRAA


"Cantor became an ideological mystery..."

Those five words leapt out at me when I read James Hohmann and Jake Sherman's "Behind Eric Cantor’s campaign meltdown" in Politico.

Conservatives and other non-racist Americans have been trying for months to get a clear and definitive answer as to where Majority Leader Cantor stood on the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014, legislation introduced by Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner (WI) and ultra-liberals Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

The legislation would change federal voting rights protections so that non-Hispanic white people formally receive fewer voting rights protections than other voters under federal law.

In the past, the goal of voting rights laws (such as the famous Voting Rights Act of 1965) was to protect everyone equally, regardless of race or national origin.

Cantor apparently was talking with liberals about his views of the legislation, but conservatives were left to guess. That's not the way it should work with an ostensibly conservative majority leader.

Bonus: If you haven't seen the video in which James O'Keefe of Project Veritas asks Rep. Sensenbrenner (:53 in the video) about the provision in the legislation singling out white voters for reduced voting rights protection, it's below, and quite instructive.


Cohn's Excuse For VA Failure

Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic has an interesting analysis of the Veterans Administration scandal that runs 12 paragraphs. He should have stopped at 11.  

His final paragraph links VA failure to larger problems in the U.S. health care system:

Of course, it’s worth remembering that some of the problems veterans are having right now have very little to do with the VA and a whole lot to do with American health care. As Phil Longman, author of Best Care Anywhere, noted in his own congressional testimony last week, long waits for services are actually pretty common in the U.S.even for people with serious medical conditionsbecause the demand for services exceeds the supply of physicians. (“It took me two-and-a-half years to find a primary care physician in Northwest Washington who was still taking patients,” he noted.) The difference is that the VA actually sets guidelines for waiting times and monitors compliance, however poorly. That doesn’t happen in the private sector. The victims of those waits suffer, too. They just don’t get the same attention. 

The private sector has long waits similar to the VA? You mean there are health-care organizations out there that have something comparable to 57,000 people on a waiting list and 64,000 who can’t even get on the list? It’s hard to take that very seriously.

Here’s another reason it shouldn’t be taken seriously.  The most recent VA audit released just the other day states that “Critical insights came from asking front-line staff members to rate the degree to which certain factors interfered with timely access to care. The highest scored single barrier or challenge was lack of provider slots, closely followed by the peculiarities of the fourteen day goal.”

Lack of provider slots is likely the result of a lack of providers.  One way of determining whether VA’s lack of providers is due to broader health care forces or something endemic to the VA is to look at the ratio of enrollees to doctors in the VA compared to the U.S. population at large.  The VA ratio is 1 doctor for every 637 enrollees, while for the U.S. population it is about 1 to 381.  (The math for all of this will be put at the end for you to review.) 

That’s not the type of difference that can be attributed to broader health care forces in American.  Rather, it is, the result of bureaucracy.  Of the 281,651 employees in the Veterans Health Administration, about 14,000, or barely 5 percent, are physicians.  Like any bureaucracy, it has surely become top heavy with administrators—that’s where the promotions, power and pay raises tend to be. Furthermore, a bureaucracy is probably not a place many doctors find a joyful place to work.  Upon completing four years of college and then four years of medical school, people don’t usually say to themselves, “You know, I’d love to work at a place with lots of rules and regulations.”  That likely accounts for why the VA has 400 vacancies for primary-care doctors. 

Whatever access problems exist in the private sector pale in comparison to the VA.  The VA doesn’t get its money by attracting patients, leaving bureaucrats there free to pursue their own interests even if it comes at the expense of the care veterans receive.  To suggest that the VA’s problems stem for larger problems in the health system is silly.

MATH:  There are about 8.92 million enrollees in the Veterans Health Administration and just over 14,000 doctors.  8,920,000 divided by 14,000 is 637.  The population of the U.S. is about 318,223,800.  The number of practicing doctors in the U.S. is 834,769.   318,223,800 divided by 834,769 is 381.


Feds Can Fine You $25,000-$250,000 for Putting Wrong Information on ObamaCare Signup Forms


Whoops! If you are one of those sneaky people who thought you could get a higher ObamaCare subsidy by lying a teensy little bit (or more) about your income when you signed up for ObamaCare, you'll want to come clean and start being honest.

It seems there's a a $250,000 penalty for intentionally understating or overstating your income on ObamaCare forms.

If you made an innocent mistake on your forms, you can rest easy: the penalty for innocent mistakes is only $25,000.

Some say the government is unlikely to penalize many people for improper forms, but that's just a guess, and justice under this administration appears to be selective. Also worth noting: You don't get a trial. The Department of Health and Human Services decides if you are guilty and gives you sixty days to appeal a notice from them that you are guilty. If you do appeal HHS then decides if you are right -- or they are. If you are thinking that's not a very objective way to handle things, you're right.


Government Teachers Unions Lose a Round - and Obama Administration Applauds

Students Matter infographicStudents Matter infographic

Conservatives riveted to their TV and computer screens tonight to watch sitting House Majority Leader Eric Canter lose the primary election portion of his House re-election race to an underfunded challenger may have missed another bit of astonishing news: A California judge has ruled against the California teachers union and the State of California in a "when can public teachers be fired" case, and the Obama Administration is applauding the ruling.

The case, Vergara v. California, was brought by students who argued that California's teacher tenure laws had deprived them of a quality education by leaving bad teachers who deserved to be fired in the classroom.

The judge in his ruling said in part: "This Court finds that both students and teachers are unfairly, unnecessarily, and for no legally cognizable reason (let alone a compelling one), disadvantaged by the current [teacher tenure law]." (Emphasis in the original.)

The judge also observed in his ruling that under current law "it could take anywhere from two to almost ten years and cost $50,000 to $450,000 or more" to fire "grossly ineffective teachers." He noted that one trial witness testified that it actually is "impossible" to fire such teachers.

The judge also said poor and/or minority students were especially hurt by the state's teacher tenure law because the poor teachers were disproportionately likely to be assigned to teach at schools in poor areas.

The students were supported in their lawsuit by the non-profit group Students Matter. Of the lawsuit's intent, Students Matter wrote on its website:

Californians shouldn't have to choose: we can create an education system that gives every child a passionate, motivating and effective teacher and gives effective teachers the respect and rewarding careers they deserve. A statewide lawsuit filed by nine brave kids, Vergara v. California challenges the laws that handcuff schools from giving every student an equal opportunity to learn from effective teachers.

California law, backed by the unions, requires that when teachers are laid off, that they be laid off in reverse order of seniority. Education advocates argued that school systems should have the legal ability to lay off the lower-performing teachers ahead of higher-performing teachers, and that it should be easier for the schools to fire poor teachers.

The Los Angeles Times' Stephen Ceasar and Howard Blume quoted the Obama Administration's Secretary of Education applauding the ruling:

United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the decision gives California the opportunity to build a new framework for the teaching profession that protects both the rights of teachers and students.

"The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students. Today's court decision is a mandate to fix these problems."

Writing in the New York Times, Jennifer Medina explained the significance of the ruling for students outside of California:

Both sides expect the case to generate more like it in cities and states around the country. David Welch, a Silicon Valley technology magnate, spent several million dollars to create the organization that brought the Vergara case to court -- Students Matter -- and paid for a team of high-profile lawyers, including Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., who helped win a Supreme Court decision striking down California's same-sex marriage ban. While the next move is still unclear, the group is considering filing lawsuits in New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Oregon, New Mexico, Idaho and Kansas as well as other states with powerful unions where legislatures have defeated attempts to change teacher tenure laws.

Students Matter has extensive additional information about the case here.


Benghazi: They Knew What They Were Getting Into?

AirplaneMoviePoster"Asked by [ABC's Diane] Sawyer why [U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris] Stevens was in Benghazi even though his own diary noted that there were 'never-ending security threats' there, [former Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton said he was there 'of his own choosing'"... apparently trying to shift responsibility for his death away from herself and onto Stevens.

Kind of reminds me of this clip from the movie Airplane!...


Health Care Odd & Ends: Exchange Edition (aka, Bad News Edition).

Although little of the news about the ObamaCare exchanges is good, let’s see if we still can’t find some humor in it.

1. Two Million Discrepancies.  Of the 5.4 million people who signed up on the federal exchanges, about 2.1 million (or 39 percent) have information in their applications that does not match up with what the government has on record.  Of those, 1.2 million are related to income reported by the enrollees which could result in an insurance subsidy that was either too larger or too small.  The other 966,000 have a discrepancy with their immigration or citizenship status.  

But not to worry.  The Dept. of Health and Human Services “believes that most of the errors are small and will be quickly resolved.”


See, told you we’d find something funny.

2. Swell.  “Officials at the Connecticut public health exchange that administers Obamacare reported on Saturday that they are unable to determine whether personal information found in a backpack on a Hartford city street Friday was related to an effort to steal personal information of enrollees of the exchange.”  More here and here.

3. Specialty Drugs and Politics. In May of last year, I noted that expensive specialty drugs were not given much coverage in ObamaCare exchange plans.  Thus the very ill would be exposed to large out-of-pocket costs since specialty drugs are usually taken by patients who are quite sick. This seems like an odd results since ObamaCare was, in theory, supposed to protect such people.  But if you looked at it from a political perspective, it made a lot of sense:

…one of the drawbacks of any government-run health-care system is that the care you get will depend in part on how much political power you have.  This is particularly bad news for those who are really sick.  They tend to lack political clout because: 1. The very sick are relatively few in number, which means they amount to a very limited number of voters, too limited to have much impact on elections; and 2. They are too sick to engage in the type of political activities such as organizing, protesting, etc., necessary to bring about change in health care policy.

People taking speciality drugs amounted to a small number of voters, too small to have much impact on elections. Further, since they are sick, “they probably aren’t organizing get-out-the-vote drives, protests, lobbying efforts, etc.”

A new report from Avalere reveals that the politics of it shows up in the cost-sharing part of the exchanges. Exchange enrollees who make less that 250 percent of the federal poverty level and choose a silver plan are supposed to receive help with the plan’s cost-sharing.  However, the subsidy to help with the cost-sharing goes to the insurance companies.  John Graham explains that the Avalere report shows that few insurance companies use the subsidy to cover the cost-sharing of specialty drugs:

…the plans apply more of the subsidy to the deductible, somewhat less likely to apply it to specialist charges, and much less likely to apply it to the most expensive tier 4 drugs on the formulary. What this means is that generally healthy patients who go to see their primary-care physician occasionally, but need no specialist care or specialty prescriptions, are most likely to benefit from the cost-sharing reductions. Those who need specialist care and, especially,  tier 4 drugs will be less likely to benefit.

This blog has written frequently about how ObamaCare motivates health plans to seek out healthy enrollees and shun sick ones. Avalere’s latest report demonstrates how this is magnified for low-income enrollees. 

Why are insurers able to get away with this?  For starters, lower-income people don’t vote at rates as high as middle-class or upper-income folks.  Lower-income sick people probably vote at even lower rates.  Since such people won’t be putting much if any pressure on their elected officials, they will be exposed to large out-of-pocket costs for their health care needs.

Full Avalere report here.


A Salute to Those Who Bravely Went Ashore Seven Decades Ago

Much love and respect goes out to those who served 70 years ago yesterday in the invasion of Normandy and the beginning of the liberation of Europe from Michael Dozier, a veteran and member of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network:

Imagine being on a ship whose walls do not allow you to see over them.  It slowly creeps toward land.  The closer you get, the louder the thunder gets.

But it’s not thunder.  It is rifle fire and mortar explosions engulfing the place you’re about to occupy.  You are 19-years-old and your commanding officer is 22.

You’re afraid because you see the smoke rising above your boat.  You hear the screams of your fellow soldiers who are laying dying on shore.

You look around at your fellow squad members and watch as they clutch their rifles in one hand and crosses in the other.

You look into their eyes and see the fear that is aggressively overcoming you as well.  You pray as your boat wheels touch solid ground.  The dreaded time has come.

You pray for courage.  You want another minute, but you know that your battle buddy depends on you as much as you do on him.  Your squad depends on you all to do your job.

Your commanding officer yells out orders, but you can’t hear them.  Your other senses have taken over, and you smell the death that surrounds you.  You hear the agony of the wounded, and you taste the sulfur in the air.

It is time.

You think of home.  You remember your high school graduation, your first kiss.  You see your mother’s face smiling in the bright sunlight.  You remember how proud your dad was when you told him you would be serving your country.

The time has come.

You hear the creaking of the sprockets that will lower the landing platform.  Overhead, you see rounds of gunfire zip by.  You close your eyes and hope that, when you open them, you will be sitting at home eating a piece of your grandmother’s homemade apple pie.  As you open your eyes, reality sets in.

You are out of time.

The boat rocks as the ramp is lowered.  Sweat invades your eye sockets – or are those tears that have involuntarily presented themselves.  The ramp opens.  Instinctively, you charge forward.

Your time is now.

It is June 6, 1944.  You are on the shores of Normandy.  This is World War II, and you are a 19-year-old United States soldier who is ready to sacrifice your life for your country.

You are a true hero.

God bless our soldiers and God bless the United States of America.

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