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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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You'll Never Guess Who Just Spent Big Bucks to Help the Poor Get Good Lawyers

Shattered DreamsDownload a free PDF copy of this book and read the "Police Power" chapter to learn why civil asset forfeiture must be abolished

I wrote in July that the huge public employee labor union AFSCME decided to stop working with the United Negro College Fund because the UNCF accepted a $25 million contribution from Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation to fund college scholarships for black students.

AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, thought the black students should do without the scholarship money because... well, that was unclear. AFSCME hates -- and I do mean hates -- limited government advocates because smaller government means fewer government employees, which means more dollars for taxpayers and less for AFSCME.

That said, giving scholarships to black students doesn't make the government smaller, so why should AFSCME mind?

In that spirit, I wonder what AFSCME thinks of the just-announced Koch donation to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The grant, according to Carl Hulse in the New York Times, will help finance "a program to provide scholarships and training for public defenders. The grant will also pay for a review of indigent defense programs to see what works in providing legal representation to those who can’t afford it."

AFSCME seems to be keeping its mouth shut about this grant, but I looked in vain for any sort of praise from the left or from liberal bloggers, though there was praise from numerous quarters on the right.

Shattered DreamsDownload a free PDF copy of this book and read the "Civil Asset Forfeiture" chapter to learn even more about why civil asset forfeiture must be abolished

I can only assume the left doesn't care about poor people who need lawyers, which doesn't surprise me a bit.

For my part, I hope some of the grant is used to help defense lawyers fight civil asset forfeiture, as I assume it will, directly or indirectly. Civil asset forfeiture allows government to take the property of innocent people because someone else used it in a crime. This abusive process should not exist, yet few of our lawmakers (on the state or federal level) are working to stop it because government likes our money and our stuff, and not enough of us have kicked up a fuss.

I suspect most of us think the victims of these laws will always be someone else, but those sorts of assumptions are only true until they aren't.

The National Center for Public Policy Research has written several books shining a spotlight on a host of corrupt and dangerous government practices, and a slew of preposterous, ineffective, and costly regulations. A consistent theme in the books (see the chapters on police power and civil asset forfeiture) are stories of ordinary, honest people victimized by civil asset forfeiture. Several of the books are available free, in PDF form. If you aren't already aware of the gross behavior of our "public servants" in this arena, I invite you to download free copies. If you agree with me that civil asset forfeiture must be stopped, consider sharing a copy or two of these free books with friends.


Sharpton Sojourn to St. Louis to Push for Ferguson Indictment Lacks Reason, Promotes Tension

In the four days leading up to the mid-term elections (coincidentally, of course), MSNBC host Al Sharpton plans to move his political grandstanding to Ferguson, Missouri.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sharpton will go to Ferguson “to pressure St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch to file criminal charges [against Ferguson officer Darren Wilson] in Michael Brown’s shooting death” this past August 9.

Members of a grand jury, who have been examining the details of the shooting since late August, are expected to complete their work by mid-November.  Local officials are already worried about renewed violence if Wilson is not indicted, and recent leaks to the media that Brown’s wounds indicate he may have attacked Wilson and that he had drugs in his system don’t seem to bode well for prosecutors.

A four-day Sharpton visit surely cannot help keep tensions in Ferguson at a minimum.

Project 21 co-chairman Horace Cooper — a legal commentator previously interviewed over 50 times on the situation in Ferguson, including by hosts on 50,000-watt radio stations WHO-Des Moines, KOA-Denver and WBZ-Boston as well as the USA Radio Network, SiriusXM satellite radio and the Fox News Channel on television — had this to say about Sharpton’s upcoming sojourn to Fergson:

Sharpton can pretend that there is conclusive evidence that this was an unjustified shooting, but that’s not what the facts show.

Arguing that “the only gun at that scene was Wilson’s” is a non-sequitur.  Half of all officers killed in the United States are shot with their own gun.  The real issue is why is Michael Brown’s blood on Wilson’s firearm, and why was it in the patrol car?  A reasonable explanation is that Michael Brown was trying to assault the officer.

Sharpton’s alarmist rhetoric that fear of young black men is leading to frequent shootings is unfounded and unsupported.  He would better serve the nation if he went into urban communities and started a conversation about ending the gang-banger lifestyle and focusing on education instead.

The white-on-black shooting meme is a complete fabrication, and no one is helped by perpetuating the falsehood.


What Is The National Popular Vote Movement?

Note: This post was written by NCPPR’s research associate, Jonathan Hanen.

Much attention in the conservative press has been paid to the issue of voter ID and ballot integrity laws in various states and the Justice Department’s attempts to halt them. But the far-left’s forceful attempt to abolish the Electoral College without amending the US constitution has largely gone un-noticed.

Partisans of the National Popular Vote (NPV) movement believe they can legally enact a direct popular election of the president by establishing an interstate compact between the roughly eleven large states it would take to garner 270 of the 538 electoral votes needed to win.

If it were to be enacted, the NPV compact would render irrelevant the votes in the remaining states that have thus far refused to comply with the compact.  Thus far, the compact has only been ratified in the state legislatures of the Northeastern liberal strongholds of NY, NJ, MA, VT, RI, and MD, the left coast redoubts of CA and WA, plus IL, HI, and the District of Columbia.


Supporters of the NPV argue their case in two stages.  First, they contend that our present system of electoral federalism has failed to ensure the relative equality of states. They claim that the Electoral College and the winner-take-all system (except for ME and NB) unjustly privilege the few large states with a high concentration of electoral votes over the many small states. They point to the fact that presidential candidates only campaign in a handful of swing states after the primaries are over.

Second, they assert the claim that a Presidential election is illegitimate if the results of the popular vote do not coincide with the result of the Electoral College’s winner-take-all system.  For evidence, they cite not only the outcome of the 2000 Presidential election in which Bush won the electoral college but narrowly lost the popular vote, but also the 2004 and 2012 elections where 60,000 votes in Ohio and 200,000 votes in a handful of states would have reversed the outcomes.

The coming series of blog posts will examine why the NPV compact is not only impractical for representative democracy but also fails to safeguard federalism and the democratic principle. 


New York City Council Considers Pro-cigarette Legislation


I'll be visiting with members of the New York City Council today. They are now considering a bill to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in New York City. My arguments against the proposal are laid out in an op-ed I wrote for today's New York Post.

If they read it before we meet, the successful meetings will be very brief.

New York City was the first major city to ban vaping, the use of e-cigarettes, wherever cigarette smoking is banned. Cities around the country have followed suit.

As a result, smokers who are trying to quit are forced to take their e-cigarettes outside together with the smokers. Now the council may go further and ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes.

Councilman Costa Constantinides’ bill, introduced this month, would be a blow to smokers who want a less harmful alternative that actually tastes good.

Flavors are critically important because they make e-cigarettes attractive to smokers who are trying to quit. Smokers who’ve switched from smoking to vaping regularly report that they enjoy the various flavors of e-cigarettes, often more than the flavor of burning tobacco.

In fact, in a survey published last November in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, participants reported that e-cig flavors, including fruit flavors, were “very important” to them in their effort to quit or reduce smoking.

No, the ban wouldn’t immediately send folks back to smoking. They’d just buy their e-cigs online and outside of the city. So the initial impact would be to hurt legitimate businesses that are trying to offer their customers an appealing and less harmful alternative to cigarettes.

The real harm of the bill comes later, when other legislatures follow our example. I’ve testified against bans on public vaping at City Council meetings around the country.

Almost every time, the supporters cite the impressive fact that New York City passed a similar law. In fact, it’s probably their best argument. The same would happen if Constantinides’ poorly considered bill becomes law.

As is often the case, those calling for a ban to restrict the choices of adults tell us that their goal is to protect children.

“These flavors are direct marketing to children,” Constantinides said when introducing the bill. “They appeal to children, and we’re taking them out of that market.”

That’s absurd. Legislatures around the country, including the City Council, have already banned the sales of all e-cigs to minors. The Food and Drug Administration’s proposed rule does the same.

The council and the Health Department should get back to basics and make sure stores don’t sell e-cigarettes, flavored or not, to kids.

Perhaps while they are at it, they might be able to stop the greater threat, sales of actual cigarettes to kids. It’s all too common here, for all the Health Department’s aggression in other areas.

Flavor-ban proponents also argue that until all the science is in, it’s better to be safe than sorry. But that “precautionary principle” approach doesn’t apply so simply here.

The World Health Organization, the FDA and scientists at leading anti-smoking groups such as the Legacy Foundation have all recognized that while e-cigarettes have risks, they also have potential to help people reduce their harm dramatically by switching from smoking.

Specifically, the Legacy Foundation’s David Abrams lauds e-cigarettes as a “disruptive technology,” telling the Washingtonian, “I think we’re missing the biggest public-health opportunity in a century if we get [the regulations] wrong.”

He adds, “We’ve got to thread this needle just right. We’ve got to both protect kids and non-users and use it as a way to make obsolete the much more lethal cigarette.”

The FDA has proposed rules to govern e-cigarettes, but hasn’t opted to ban flavors. Instead, the agency is looking into not only the science of e-cigs, but how products such as flavored cigarettes are being used.

It won’t have to look far: Vapers report that the appeal of flavors have made the much more lethal cigarette obsolete, at least to them.

Councilman Constantinides’ proposed ban would not only “thread this needle” the wrong way, it would stick smokers not in the finger, but in the lungs, by suggesting flavored cigarettes present a risk in the same category as smoking.

Jeff Stier is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.


Nine "Diseases" CDC Considers More Important Than Ebola

The best way to determine the priorities of any government agency is to look at how its budget is spent. Unfortunately, a detailed budget from the Centers for Disease Control isn’t available, so we must use other methods to determine the CDC’s priorities.

Examining an agency’s press releases is another good method.  Press releases represent the face that those who run an agency want to put forward to the public, so if an agency puts out more press releases on, say, smoking rather than Ebola, it’s a pretty good bet that the folks who run the agency put more importance on tobacco-related illnesses.

So, my industrious research associate and I examined the CDC press releases from July 2009—shortly after current CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden took over—up to the end of July of this year when CDC first started paying attention to the current Ebola outbreak.

During that time, CDC issued 104 press releases on diseases that most people probably think the CDC should monitor, for instance communicable diseases like HIV and tuberculosis, and those passed on by insects like the Heartland Virus.  However, only one of those press releases dealt in any way with Ebola.

Here, then, are other types of “diseases” that received more press releases than Ebola: 

The first thing to notice about the table is that some of these aren’t even “diseases,” e.g., automobile accidents, smoking and breast feeding.  Others such as cancer and diabetes certainly qualify as a disease, but by and large, they are non-communicable, so it’s questionable whether the CDC should be tracking them.

The CDC should have been tracking and preparing for Ebola.  Since Frieden took over, there have been at least three outbreaks of Ebola in Africa, two in Uganda—one in May 2011 and the other in mid-to-late 2012—and the other in Congo in 2012.  With that much warning, why wasn’t the CDC preparing for a possible outbreak on American soil?

The table above suggests that under Frieden political crusades have become more important to the CDC.  Campaigns against smoking and obesity, or promoting breast feeding, no doubt please various parts of the political left.  By contrast, the CDC wouldn’t get as much political mileage from talking about all the things it’s doing to prevent an Ebola outbreak.

If the CDC’s press releases are any indication, politics has been a big priority for Frieden.  It appears CDC resources have been used for those purposes instead of protecting Americans against one of the deadliest viruses known to man. 


1. Press releases on cervical cancer were excluded from the above table since it can be spread by a virus. 

2. There were other such non-diseases that received one press release including climate changemedical billssexual violence and gay and lesbian health


In Three Segments, Watch a Black Legal Eagle Demolish Voter ID Critics

Against vociferous critics and a skeptical host, Project 21’s Horace Cooper soundly and succinctly justified the need for polling place protections against voter fraud and dispatched the various alarmist attacks on this commonsense safeguard to protect American democracy.

On Al Jazeera America’s “Inside Story” program on 10/15/14, Horace – the co-chairman of the National Center’s black leadership network – rebutted allegations against ballot protections made by Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center and Ashley Spillane of Rock the Vote as well as host Ray Suarez, proving the real threat to civil rights is voter fraud and that simple protections such as requiring valid identification to vote are lawful and popular.

In pointing out to the host why ballot protection laws are necessary and defending them against allegations presented by Weiser they may intentionally discriminate on the basis of race, Horace explained that it is:

part of the legislatures’ responsibilities to see to it that the constitutional right they have to lay out the election rules are carried out in a way that brings confidence in the minds of the citizens in that community as well as the state legislature itself.  As it happens – when this is polled – blacks, whites, browns, the entire diaspora of America supports this between 60 and 70 percent… [People] say one of their biggest reasons for not participating is they don’t believe their vote will count, and this measure – when they’re told about it – encourages them to go in and participate because it means that their vote will be more meaningful.

When it was suggested that protections of voting are unnecessary because there are few proven cases of voter fraud, Horace noted that there are many well-respected and commonly accepted laws that also catch few offenders such as federal kidnapping, tax fraud and bank fraud and that courts are not the proper venue to deal with the issue of the validity of the policies.  He asked:

Is that really the standard we’re supposed to be living by – that if we only see a few of these things happen, we need to go ahead on and shove that out the door?… There are a lot of criticisms that I hear that are the kind that should be presented to a lawmaker, not the courts.  These are policy arguments, not legal questions.

Horace also noted that there appears to be a partisan interest fueling the campaign against voter ID laws.  While critics of ballot protections in general complain that they will suppress voting, Horace noted that there is not the same concern about the rural access (distance and numbers of polling stations) for the likely reason that rural voters are largely white and old and that gerrymandering was never an issue until more conservative state legislatures began using the tactic to break up liberal maps that augmented their power.  He said “it’s whose ox is getting gored and not a real, legitimate issue about protected rights.”

Horace added about such complaints:

It’s only when it serves this useful purpose to claim that poor, vulnerable groups are being targeted.  I’d love to hear about the states where blacks and Latinos actually voted in lower numbers after this occurred now that we’ve had six years since that decision [from the Supreme Court validating such protections] came down.


Claims of Racist Ebola Care "Absurd" and "Hurtful" 

Project 21 member Council Nedd II was one of the first people in America to contract the H1NI swine flu virus in 2009.  His doctor sent him home, much like doctors originally turned away Thomas Eric Duncan, the first American fatality due to the Ebola virus.  Council does not believe he was initially denied care because of the color of his skin, but because his doctor honestly could not believe that he was “Patient Zero” in his region for that particular flu pandemic. 

But Jesse Jackson has whipped some people into a frenzy now with a claim that the color of Duncan’s skin may have been a determining factor in his care and now his death from Ebola.  Duncan’s family has since said they also believe race was a factor in Duncan’s care.

On the 10/15/14 edition of “The Rick Amato Show” on the One America News Network, Council debunked Jackson’s claim in no uncertain terms, saying: 

The question is, you know, would they be crying racism if Jesse Jackson hadn’t put the idea in their head.  [Duncan’s] death is regrettable, obviously, but he got the best treatment in the world.  He got the best medical treatment that was available to him.  And for Jesse Jackson to come, after the fact, and say “well, he died because, essentially, because of racism” — no, Mr. Duncan died from Ebola… It’s absurd and it’s hurtful.


Skip a Stone at Your Peril: EPA Ponders Pond and Puddle Regulations

Through a low-profile attempt to rewrite existing regulation, the Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to become the “lord and master over land throughout the United States” by making a tiny but powerful change to the Clean Water Act that could effectively create federal zoning authority.

On the 10/10/14 edition of “The Rick Amato Show” on the One America News Network, National Center senior fellow Dr. Bonner Cohen reported how the EPA has proposed changing the Clean Water Act to expand the law’s authority from only “navigable waters” to simply the “waters of the United States.”  This, Bonner says, would make the federal government the ultimate authority over almost all land use decisions because the coverage of the law would expand from “rivers, streams, bays and channels” to “isolated” bodies of water such as ponds, ditches and perhaps even puddles.  And the change is expected to also cover activities on the land surrounding these newly-regulated isolated waters.

If implemented, Bonner warns that this will not only create new rules and long delays for even the smallest land use determinations (particularly for those living in rural areas), but making the federal government the ultimate arbiter of land use decisions will also leave those who are denied approval very little or no recourse.


Teaching Is Too Important To Be Left To Teachers

The other evening I got into an twitter debate with twitter user “@albanianhobbit”—a woman who appears to be a teacher in Florida. I’ll have more comments on that next week. For now, I’d like to focus on her final comment in the exchange:

The gist seems to be that while I can disagree with her, “teaching” needs to be left to professionals like her.

My response to that is: NOT A CHANCE!  Parents should be involved the entire way, challenging teachers when they are not preforming and, when feasible, pulling their kids out of schools that fail. (Unfortunately, it’s not always feasible to pull kids out of a failing public school, but it would be under a voucher system.  But that’s another post for another day.)  In short, the ultimate decision about a child’s eduction should reside with the parents, not the teachers.

Let’s start with the fact that the only reliable way to succeed financially in this nation begins with a good education.  Any student who graduates high school with only sixth grade reading and math levels is probably in for a long climb out of poverty.

Next, if a student receives such a poor education, who pays the cost?  First and foremost will be the student, who at 18 faces a world of limited job opportunities.  Second are the parents of that child who will watch the hopes and dreams they had for their child evaporate.  If they are generous parents (i.e., most parents), they will be assisting their child financially as he struggles to get on his feet despite his lousy education.

What cost will the teachers pay?  They might not receive a bonus, or maybe they’ll move up the pay scale a little slower. They might get transferred to an even worse school.  But they’ll be in almost no danger of losing their jobs.  In short, the price paid by teachers for being wrong pales in comparison to that paid by the child and the parents. 

As someone who is a few months away from being a parent myself, I’m going to do my best to reside in an area with good public schools.  But there is no guarantee, and if my child isn’t getting a good education, I won’t hesitate to pay for tutors to help him get ahead.  If push comes to shove, my wife and I have decided we will either home school or find a way to pay for private school.  And I’ll get to do all of that while I’m paying property taxes to support the public schools.  Ultimately, my wife and I will be paying the cost if the public school fails my child.

The decision over anything should be left to those who pay the greatest cost for being wrong.  In the case of education, the child is the one who pays the ultimate cost, but children are in no position to make decisions regarding their education.  Thus, the decision should lie with those who pay the second highest cost for being wrong.  And those, of course, are the parents.

The thinking represented by the tweet above seems to be that decisions should be made by those with “expertise.”  Yet expertise is no substitute for having the proper incentives to get the decision right.  And no one has a greater incentive than those who pay the cost for being wrong.

Leaving teaching solely in the hands of teachers amounts to leaving the decisions in the hands of those who pay little to no cost for being wrong.  To quote Thomas Sowell, “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”  

That’s a pretty good description of how decisions have been made in public school systems over the last few decades.  It’s also a good explanation of why so many public schools continue to produce dismal results.


What Does It Say of the Administration's Priorities...

Ebola DPC

...when, after one Ebola death and two infections in Dallas, the Administration still hasn't sent as many personnel to Dallas as it did to Ferguson following the shooting death of Michael Brown?


Congratulations to Bethany Diamond on her Wedding Day

BethanyDiamondWCongratulations to Bethany Diamond, an invaluable member of the National Center for Public Policy Research staff, who is getting married this afternoon.

I'm sure everyone at the National Center joins me in wishing her and her soon-to-be husband many years of happiness together.

Bethany is marrying Scott Whitlock of Newsbusters and the Media Research Center. The National Center has worked with both institutions for many years and are huge fans, but this is the first time we've been "in laws."

Looking forward to it!


ObamaCare And Employer-Based Insurance: Costs Going Up, Quality Going Down

On Wednesday, we took a look at the effect ObamaCare is having on employment.  It’s also worth examining the impact it is having on employer-based insurance.

In their recent surveys, the Federal Reserve Banks of Dallas, New York and Philadelphia asked businesses whether ObamaCare was causing them to make changes in their health care plans:

That ObamaCare is causing most businesses to make changes in their health plans is not a surprise.  But what kind of changes?  The Dallas Fed survey did not ask questions about that.  The New York and Philadelphia Fed, fortunately, did:

The one bit of good news is that the percentage of businesses that are increasing the number of employees covered exceeds those that are covering fewer employees.  Other than that, the changes are all bad.  The percentage of businesses that are increasing employee contributions, premiums, deductibles, out-of-pocket maximums and co-pays far exceed the percentage that are reducing them in every single case.  As for range of services covered and size and breadth of the networks, the differences between the percentage of businesses that are reducing them versus increasing them aren’t as large, but they are still substantial.

In short, costs are going up and quality is going down.  But, then, what did you expect when the government got involved? 


Eating Snow's Siblings

My lovely wife fixed me a plate of Snow’s Siblings this morning:

And they tasted even better than usual after watching this video:



The Ripple Effect Of ObamaCare On Jobs

With ObamaCare’s employer mandate less than three months from coming into effect, it’s a good time to review what impact ObamaCare is having on the job market.

1. Part-Time, Outsourcing, Lower Wages, etc. In August, the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta, Dallas, New York and Philadelphia all released reports on ObamaCare’s impact in their respective regions.  The Atlanta Fed surveyed businesses in its region about the “elevated levels of part-time employment.”  There were many reasons for the increase in part-time employment, with one reason being “a large amount of uncertainty around the future cost of health care and the future pace of economic growth.”

The Atlanta Fed did not survey businesses about the specific effects ObamaCare was having on employment, but the Dallas, New York and Philadelphia Feds did.  Here’s a summary table:

If you squint real hard you’ll find one indicator in there going in the right direction (barely). Otherwise, the table shows that if you mandate that employers with 50* or more full-time employees, with “full-time” defined as 30 hours a week or more, must provide insurance to their employees, then employers have an incentive to decrease the total number of workers they hire and pay them less, hire more part-time workers, outsource more work and charge higher prices.  That President Obama unlawfully suspended that mandate until after the 2014 election makes an awful lot of sense now, doesn’t it?

2. Those Who Most Need Full-Time Work Are Having A Harder Time Finding It.  At one point various liberal economists claimed ObamaCare’s employer mandate was not increasing part-time work.  Then Jed Graham of Investor’s Business Daily dug into the data and found that the reason part-time employment was not increasing is that the number of hours worked was increasing for people in relatively high-paying jobs.  But, for workers in industries where the average hourly wage was $14.50 or less, the number of hours worked had been declining:

Graham states, “Overall, in these low-wage industries which employ 30 million rank-and-file workers, the average workweek shrank to 27.3 hours per week in July….For low-wage industry workers…the recovery in the workweek from a then-record low 27.5 hours in mid-2009 began to reverse in the latter half of 2012, and it’s been pretty much all downhill since then.”  Thus, for employees who are least likely to have employer-provided insurance, employers appear to be limiting the hours those work.  Given the relatively low wages, it is likely that there are many workers in this group who are in need of full-time hours.

3. What Ever Happened To ‘Job Sharing’?  I haven’t seen anything in the news lately about the new practice of “job sharing” whereby businesses share employees so that employees can work close to full-time hours—yet the businesses can list them as part-time to avoid the employer mandate. Back in February of last year, the Wall Street Journal reported, “It’s already happening across the country at fast-food restaurants, as employers try to avoid being punished by the Affordable Care Act. In some cases we’ve heard about, a local McDonalds has hired employees to operate the cash register or flip burgers for 20 hours a week and then the workers head to the nearby Burger King or Wendy’s to log another 20 hours. Other employees take the opposite shifts.”

In July 2013, the Huffington Post reported on different owners of Fatburger franchises engaging in the practice and noted, “The Fatburger scheme is legal, as long as the franchises technically have different owners, according to Catherine Ruckelshous, the legal co-director at the National Employment Law Project, a low-wage worker advocacy group”

It seems likely that the practice is accelerating as the January nears.  Unfortunately, the practice is not without costs.  The owners will no doubt have more paperwork costs while employees will have the added time and travel costs of working at more than one eatery.  I doubt those costs will be that big, but they could be entirely avoided if the employer mandate were repealed.

*In 2015 the employer mandate will only apply to employers with 100 or more full-time employees per another unlawful decree by the Obama Administration.  Presumably it won’t apply to companies with 50 or more full-time workers until 2016.


Labor Force Participation Lowest Since Carter!

While President Obama and his supporters may love that the official unemployment numbers — released today by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics for September —is the lowest monthly report since July of 2008, the devil is in the details and are much more ominous.

What’s bad about the 5.9 percent official unemployment rate?  Further into the BLS report, it’s noted the labor force participation rate dropped to 62.7 percent.  That’s also a record of sorts, but not something to celebrate.  The labor force participation rate has not been that low since February of 1978!  This translates to 92.6 million Americans NOT in the workforce.

No wonder that official rate is so low.  But there’s trouble evident in the factor that really counts.  The alternative U-6 unemployment rate — the rate that includes the unemployment, underemployment and those who aren’t looking for work because they have given up — is double the official rate at 11.8 percent.

Not even the President’s most ardent supporters can deny that the economy, and the jobless numbers, rest on precarious footing.  A new report from the radical left-wing Center for American Progress noted “beneath the top line numbers, [the job market] still has a long way to go before it returns to historically healthy conditions.”

In his monthly “About Those Jobs Numbers” analysis of the unemployment numbers and the state of the economy under Obama in general, Project 21 member Derryck Green remains unconvinced things have turned a corner under the President’s leadership.

Like most people, it seems, Derryck remains skeptical about recovery in the near-term.  Of course, Derryck hopes for change, but he — like so many others — is cynical about the performance and potential of the Obama agenda:

There’s a lot on the nation’s plate right now.  President Obama’s perpetual, head-shaking incompetence in dealing with threats — whether it’s confronting the perils of ISIS, dealing with Iran as it continues its pursuit of nuclear weapons, the socio-economic consequences of illegal immigration and the potential new costs of amnesty or Ebola as well as the new and mysterious enterovirus — has created a tendency to overlook the nation’s lagging economic situation even though this also poses a very serious threat to the national well-being.

And, as if on cue, the President — in an attempt to remind people he hasn’t forgotten about our continued financial struggles — took to giving yet another campaign-style speech.  At Northwestern University, Obama praised his administration’s economic achievements.  At this point in his presidency, however, the fact that he has to reassure us that the economy is slowly recovering seems to signal that a majority of Americans don’t feel as optimistic as the President would mislead them to be.

According to one poll, almost 60 percent of likely voters disapprove of Obama’s leadership on the economy.

There’s a good reason very few Americans believe in the President these days.  Given Obama’s tendency to aggressively flee from the responsibility of leadership on almost every issue, losing the public trust may be the least of his worries.

For example, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that — based upon its third estimate of second quarter data — the GDP grew at an annual rate of 4.6 percent.  That’s an increase from its previous estimate of 4.2 percent.  But, before opening bottles of cheap champagne, know that — when averaged with the first quarter’s 2.1 percent contraction — means the economy only grew 1.25 percent so far this year.

As for today’s jobless report, the overall unemployment rate dropped slightly to 5.9 percent while the U-6 rate was double at 11.8 percent.  The unemployment rate for blacks and black teens is at 11.0 percent and 30.5 percent, respectively.  Black women seem to be getting hit pretty hard as almost ten percent of black women over 20 years old are unemployed.

The labor force participation rate dropped to 62.7 percent, while 92.6 million remain out of the workforce.

Job creation for the month of September was up from the previous month, with varying estimates.  ADP, a private source, estimated that 213,000 private sector jobs were created, while the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics said 248,000 jobs were created.  But there were 7.1 million involuntary part-time workers in September.  These are the ones who want more work but cannot find it.  So though jobs were created, which is good, not enough full-time jobs are being created at a pace needed to have the kind of economic impact many Americans need.

Speaking of not having enough jobs, a survey from Rutgers University found that 20 percent of workers were laid off in the last five years (post-recession!), and more than 20 percent of those who lost their jobs still haven’t found another one.  The survey reports it took almost seven months for nearly 40 percent of those who were laid off to find another job.  Furthermore, half of the estimated 30 million people who were laid off and then found new work are now being paid less than their previous jobs.

The Senate Budget Committee released a report showing the stark facts related to this jobless recovery.  The report said that 25 percent of Americans in their prime working years — the almost 30 million Americans between the ages of 25-54 — aren’t working.

There’s other sad economic related news to note:

  • A recently-released Pew Research Center report shows a majority of Americans — 79 percent — sees the current economic conditions as fair or poor while only 22 percent see the economy improving a year from now.  So when the President says to trust him that things are better as he did in his speech at Northwestern University, most Americans simply don’t feel the same way.
  • The negative effects of ObamaCare on businesses continues to grow.  According to data released by the American Action Forum, take-home pay at small businesses was dramatically reduced by almost $23 billion as a result of ObamaCare-related insurance premium increases — totaling nearly $1,000 per employee.  The report also found insurance-related premium increases were responsible for the loss of over 350,000 jobs.  The employer mandate is supposed to begin in 2016, which means this kind of business-related preparation will likely increase and lead to more lost jobs.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that 46,496,145 Americans receive SNAP “food stamp” assistance.  This amount is large enough to fill Yankee Stadium 925 times.

No matter how hard President Obama shakes his pom-poms in an effort to fool the public into believing his economic policies are successful, too many Americans remain unemployed, underemployed, making lower wages and dealing with rising costs.  Very few Americans appear to believe things will improve — economically or otherwise — under the President’s tepid and uninspiring leadership.

My prayer is that the resiliency of American workers, and those who desperately desire to work, is eventually rewarded. 


300,000 More People Find Out That If You Like Your Plan You Really Can't Keep It

Last year, somewhere between 4 million and 6 million people with plans in the individual market lost those plans because they did not meet ObamaCare requirements. President Obama later issued an executive order letting insurers maintain those plans for another year.  For some this came too late, but other people were lucky enough to keep their plans for 2014.

Alas, that’s now coming to an end. Last month, we learned that 250,000 people in Virginia would lose their plans by the end of November.  Earlier this week, news outlets reported that a total of about 50,000 people in Kentucky, Alaska, Tennessee, New Mexico, North Carolina, Maine and Colorado will lose their insurance.

I doubt we’ll see anywhere near the number of cancellations that we saw last year.  On the other hand there are still three more months to go in 2014, so who knows?

And for your viewing pleasure:


Revealed: The Secret Reason ObamaCare's Insurance Options are So Mediocre

LittleGuySquashBigGuyWA just-released federal study reveals the secret behind the inferior insurance options presented on the ObamaCare exchanges.

The small health insurance companies apparently are being driven out of the exchanges.

As reported by Richard Pollock for the Washington Examiner:

Insurance companies with a small share of the health insurance market have virtually disappeared from ObamaCare state health care exchanges, replaced by big-foot carriers that have traditionally dominated the market, according to a congressional watchdog study.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office found in a study made public earlier this week that in 40 states the largest insurers either maintained or boosted their market share through the health exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act. The GAO analysis is the first federal study published focusing on how competition within the health insurance market has been affected by ObamaCare.

The study also found that small-insurer offerings nearly vanished from the exchanges. In 2012, consumers in the individual insurance market on average could choose among 36 small-market company carriers in their state, each holding a market share of five percent of or less.

But by 2014 those consumers could on average choose from only three insurers in their state exchanges, a decline of more than 90 percent.

In the small-group insurance market, at least 15 small-market carriers were available to consumers before ObamaCare. But under the exchanges, consumers found only three insurance companies still competing on average...

Pollock reports the GAO study was requested by Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, M.D.

I am suspicious that there is a causal connection between this and what Dr. David Hogberg discovered and revealed in his latest ObamaCare study for the National Center. David found that many policies on the individual market before ObamaCare had lower premiums and lower or equal deductibles and out-of-pocket costs than the cheapest plans now on the ObamaCare exchanges.

David also found that health insurance policies on sale in the private market before ObamaCare's debut offered health care consumers a greater choice of hospitals and physicians than do the health insurance plans on the ObamaCare exchanges today.

Is a key reason consumer options are more limited on the ObamaCare exchanges the absence of the smaller and more flexible insurance companies? These smaller firms not only filled a market niche of their own, but helped keep the big insurance companies on their toes.

Read the rest of Richard Pollock's Examiner article here; David Hogberg's study, here.


Common Core: Number Sense?

By now, you’ve no doubt seen this photo:


Common Core, it seems, takes the simple way of doing math and makes it convoluted.

Well, , who was a math teacher for seven years, argues that too many people aren’t taking the time to learn what Common Core is about.  In fact, he claims, the bottom part of that photo makes sense while the top part does not.

He doesn’t exactly inspire confidence when he “admits” that the bottom part is “totally confusing” and “ridiculous.”  But let’s parse his main argument:

The top is how most of us learned subtraction. I’m sure your teachers taught you what was going on mathematically, but do you really remember what they said? Probably not. For us, it’s just an algorithm. You can do it without thinking. You hope there’s no “borrowing” of numbers involved, but if you had to do it by hand, you could probably pull it off.

The problem with that method is that if I ask students to explain why it works, they’d have a really hard time explaining it to me. They might be able to do the computation, but they don’t get the math behind it. For some people, that’s fine. For math teachers, that’s a problem because it means a lot of students won’t be able to grasp other math concepts in the future because they never really developed “number sense.”

First off, no, I don’t remember what my teachers said (who does?)  Why is that even important?  It’s not. What matters is that they taught you math and you know how to use it.  

Second, why is it important to know why it works as opposed to using it properly?  It doesn’t seem that crucial either.  When you are balancing your checkbook, which matters more, that you know 100-12=88 or that you know why 100-12=88?  I suspect that it’s more important for most people who use math on a regular basis, such as engineers, computer programmers, accountants, etc., to be able to use the math correctly.  I doubt the “why” of it does much to help them do their jobs properly.

Third, even if the “why it works” is important, how does the bottom part teach that?  You’ll notice in Mehta’s essay there is no explanation of how using the bottom approach enables a student to understand the “why it works” any better than the top part.  It’s also not clear it helps the student develop “number sense” (a term that, you’ll also notice, Mehta never defines).  Perhaps the bottom approach is better for those things, but without actually explaining why, Mehta seems to be saying “trust me on this.”  

Finally, and related to number three, is there any evidence that the Common Core approach to math will help students learn the “why” or develop better “number sense”?  And, more importantly, is there any evidence that they will be able to do math at least as well as the students who used the old method?  Mehta doesn’t point to any.  

Perhaps this approach was tested rigorously before being applied on a wide scale.  But I’m skeptical.  This wouldn’t be the first time the education establishment adopted a new approach that had little empircal evidence to back it up.  Take a look at the controversy over the Phonics versus Whole Language approach to learning reading. By the early 1990s, Whole Language had largely replaced Phonics as the way of teaching reading. How’d that work out?


Health Care Odds & Ends: Skinny Network Edition

About two weeks ago, NCPPR released my study on insurance quality in the ObamaCare exchanges versus the individual market.  One finding was that the quality of provider networks—the network of physicians, hospitals and other health care providers available through an insurance plan—had declined on the exchanges.

Well, here’s more:

1. Zero Percent Of Physicians.  Avalere recently completed a study for the American Heart Association that examined the physicians available through three low-cost silver plans on the exchanges in 10 metropolitan areas.  Specifically, Avalere examined whether the plans covered 10 physicians in a metropolitian area in three specialties: cardiologists, neurologists, and diagnostic radiologists.  A physician was included in the list of 10 if he was one of the 10 highest in terms of Medicare payments (suggesting that he was one of the most in demand in the area among Medicare beneficiaries).  Here are the results:


So, if you live in Louisville, you have a silver plan, and your elderly aunt on Medicare recommends a good cardiologist in the area, you may be out of luck. (Although, the study notes that some of the physicians included in the Louisville area were actually in Lexington, which may have effected the results.) Regardless, the numbers are not that good in Los Angeles, Atlanta or San Jose either.

The next page in the study (page 12) shows the percentage of physicians covered by the plans broken down by specialty.  Zero percent of the top 10 cardiologists are covered in Los Angeles.  It’s the same with diagnostic radiologists in Atlanta, Chicago, and Durham.

2. Network Quality Won’t Improve In California (And May Get Worse).  The Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday that the “state’s largest health insurers are sticking with their often-criticized narrow networks of doctors, and in some cases they are cutting the number of physicians even more, according to a Times analysis of company data.”  Apparently reducing networks by itself won’t be enough to cover costs in some instances, according to the article. Insurer HealthNet is dumping one of its Preferred Provider Network plans and “switching to a plan with 54% fewer doctors and no out-of-network coverage, state data show. Yet premiums for that stripped-down policy are going up as much as 9% compared with pricing for the PPO….HealthNet said its cutbacks were necessary to avoid even steeper rate hikes.”

Premium hikes and even skinnier networks!  Thanks ObamaCare!

3. The Solution To This Politically-Created Problem?  Why, More Politics, Of Course!  A class action lawsuit has been filed against Anthem Blue Cross in California accusing the insurer of “misleading ‘millions of enrollees’ about whether their doctors and hospitals participate in its new reform plans.”  Here’s betting that will be the first of many.

In South Dakota, skinny networks will be on the ballot.  Voters in the Mount Rushmore State will be able to vote on an “any willing provider” initiative that would require insurers to accept any physician as long as he or she meets the insurer’s standards.  Of course, forcing insurers to expand their networks will likely result in higher premiums, but don’t count on supporters of this initiative to acknowledge that fact.  Here’s betting that this initiative will also be the first of many.

4. On A Different Note: Did ObamaCare Increase The Number Of Uninsured?  Part 2.  Last week, I posted some information that a comparison of the 2013 CPS survey with the 2014 Q1 CPS survey from the Census Bureau showed an increase in the number of uninsured under ObamaCare.  However, Adrianna McIntyre at The Incidental Economist points out that the surveys show no such thing.  The explanation is a bit complex, but the short of it is that the 2013 CPS survey measures the uninsured in a different way than does the 2014 Q1 CPS survey.  Thus, it is inappropriate to make comparisons of the rate of the uninsured using these two surveys.  


Can't Bloomberg Businessweek Reporters Do A Google Search?

At Bloomberg Businessweek, reporter John Tozzi recently linked to one of my blog posts in this sentence: “Americans sometimes accuse Britain’s single-payer system of rationing of health care.” More on that in a bit.

Tozzi’s piece focuses on the drug Sovaldi and Britain’s National Health Service (NHS).  The NHS’s National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) decided to approve the use of Sovaldi, a “miracle” drug that can cure hepatitis C that is very expensive—up to $1,000 a pill.

After claiming that the NICE has decided that paying for the expensive drug now will save costs later on, Tozzi states:

That’s not the case in the U.S., where health care is paid for by a mix of employers, private insurers, and government programs such as Medicaid and Medicare. Hepatitis C can take 20 to 30 years to cause liver scarring that might require a transplant. An insurer paying for Sovaldi now is probably preventing an expensive treatment that would have ultimately been paid for by another part of the health-care system—most likely Medicare, the federal insurance program for Americans 65 and older. Insurers don’t have much incentive to do that, even if it would save the U.S. health system money in the long run. (Italics added.)

That second paragraph strongly implies that insurers in the U.S. aren’t paying for Sovaldi.  To check that, all you have to do is put the words “Sovaldi” and “insurer” into Google.  There you find articles—like this one in Reuters and this one in the Boston Globe—that describe the struggles of insurers in the U.S. to cover the cost of Sovaldi. But we also learn that by May “30,000 people have received hepatitis drug Sovaldi,” that the “drug contributed to a first-quarter financial loss at Partners HealthCare, the giant Boston system that runs Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals” and that “MassHealth, the government Medicaid program that insures many patients directly, spent about $10.8 million on the new hepatitis C treatment during the first three months of the year.”

Insurers, it seems, are paying for Sovaldi.  It would have been nice if Tozzi had done a bit of Google searching before he wrote his love letter to the NHS.

Here are a few other things he could search on Google:

1. The NHS, wait lists for treatment and cancelled surgeries. The Google search on this one is a bit tough, but one can eventually find the NHS’s own data showing that 3 million people on the wait list for surgery, 809,000 patients were waiting for a diagnostic test and 15,600 operations were cancelled at the last minute in the second quarter of 2014.

2. NICE and the drugs that it has declined to fund, such as Benlysta,” “Novartis,” “Sorafenib” and “Avastin.”  The first is a treatment for lupus while the last three can extend the life of cancer patients.  The Rare Cancers Forum notes that 16,000 patients annually could benefit from cancer drugs rejected by NICE.

3. What happens to patients in Britain who could benefit from a drug but must endure NICE’s approval process.  For example, put “Alice Mahon” and “Lucentis” into Google.  Mahon is a former Labor MP who was going blind in one eye because of macular degeneration. Lucentis is a drug that treats macular degeneration, but at the time Mahon needed it, NICE had not finished its approval process.  Mahon went blind in one eye because of the time it took for NICE to approve Lucentis. Mahon said, “I have been an ardent supporter of the NHS all my life, and now feel totally let down.”  (For more on Mahon and others like her, see National Center’s publication “Shattered Lives.”)

In short, all it takes is some Google searching to discover that rationing in the NHS is not a matter of “accusations.”  It’s well-established fact.