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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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On DOJ's Investigation of the IRS: The Fix is In, and Here's How We Know


Attorney General Eric Holder says that the Department of Justice's investigation into alleged wrongdoing at the IRS isn't over and that the leaks that no charges will be brought are false, because the investigation is on-going.

Now we have the President of the United States, in a February 2 interview with Bill O'Reilly, repeating what the leak said. Namely, that there was just a lot of confusion over at the IRS and no lawbreaking... not a smidgeon of corruption.

How can both these things be right?

Either Holder lied before the Senate Judiciary Committee or Obama lied in his interview with O'Reilly.

Furthermore, I think it is absolutely stunning that in the middle of a DOJ investigation into the IRS, the President of the United States announces what the conclusion of the investigation is.

There can be no better indication than this that the fix is in.


Should Ecig Ads Be Banned?

Activist groups want the government to ban advertisements for E-cigarettes. A spot for e-cigarette brand NJOY, which aired in some markets during the Super Bowl, has sparked controversy.

In an op-ed in today’s New York Post, the Heartland Institute’s Greg Conley joins me in writing, 

One of Sunday’s most controversial Super Bowl ads came with the message “Friends don’t let friends smoke.” Bizarrely, it’s organized anti-smokers in the public-health establishment who want the commercial banned.

The line comes in an ad for the NJOY King, an electronic cigarette produced by Scottsdale, Ariz.-based NJOY. The commercial shows people helping each other in situations like moving a couch up a flight of stairs or helping a friend in a bar fight. Then one man starts to light up a cigarette, only for his friend to offer him an NJOY King.

For most people, the message is clear: If someone close to you smokes cigarettes, try recommending they switch to a smoke-free alternative.

Those who care about public health should be rejoicing that the private sector is not only placing anti-smoking ads on the country’s largest stage, but that the ad actually offers smokers an appealing alternative to smoking.

Many smokers complain that nicotine gum and patches, which are promoted by government-funded anti-smoking campaigns, aren’t satisfying; e-cigs give those trying to quit an experience closer to smoking. Many ex-smokers who’d failed to quit smoking with the government-endorsed solutions are now succeeding with e-cigarettes.

Yet the response from many of America’s most prominent anti-smoking groups is a call for a ban on all TV and radio advertising of e-cigs. Last year’s NJOY Super Bowl ad made activists furious. That ad, which also ran in select markets, focused on distinguishing between smoking and vaping (for the vapor emitted from e-cigs). Yet Bill Pfeifer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association’s Southwest chapter, fumed that the NJOY ads were “slick misinformation” that should be banned by the Food and Drug Administration, and that both CBS and the NFL should have benched the ads.

Why would the American Lung Association, whose purpose is to reduce lung disease, oppose letting smokers learn about smoke-free e-cigarettes, which even opponents acknowledge are dramatically less harmful than smoking? Because, they argue, some e-cigs look like the real thing.

No, really. E-cigarette opponents say the products should be demonized because they look like cigarettes, or as the World Health Organization claims, they “normalize” smoking.

That’s nonsense.

That some e-cigs look, feel and taste somewhat like cigarettes is actually what makes them so appealing to people trying to quit smoking. Yet if it were up to activist groups, alternatives to cigarette smoking would be entirely unappealing — and therefore ineffective.

As Clive Bates, the former head of Action on Smoking and Health, the largest anti-smoking group in the United Kingdom, recently stated at an e-cig investors conference held in New York City, “If you’ve got a very, very low risk product that no one wants to use, you don’t get much harm reduction.”

Instead, Bates encourages a pragmatic view of harm reduction that recognizes that so long as a product is far less hazardous than smoking, it should be free to compete with deadly combustible tobacco cigarettes.

And public-health advocates should favor giving them competitive edges over cigarettes, such as the opportunity to advertise to adults on TV.


The Faces of ObamaCare: Watch as Employees at a Pennsylvania Company Learn about Their New Health Plan Under ObamaCare

Pittsburgh's WTAE-TV went inside a car repair business in McKeesport, PA to watch and record as employees learned the details of their new health plan under ObamaCare.

It's really very affecting; it seemed to me that some of the employees were having a hard time not breaking down.

We must repeal ObamaCare. We simply must.


The ObamaCare 'Risk Corridors' Are STILL An Insurance Company Bailout

Two more noted writers, both in Forbes and both conservatives, have argued that the “risk corridors” in ObamaCare are not an insurance company “bailout.”  (If you don’t know what a risk corridor is, go here and scroll to the end.)

Dr. Scott Gottlieb writesIn Obamacare, these schemes [including the risk corridors] are an unlimited taxpayer lifeline, designed to reimburse complicit insurers for the many laws of economics and common sense that Obamacare deliberately violates. The three R’s [including the risk corridors] aren’t a bailout. They’re an inevitable form of financial aid..”

Yevgeniy Feyman writes:

The main reason the program exists is because insurers generally have less experience in how to accurately price policies in the individual market than the group market, and have virtually no experience pricing policies for the new demographics under Obamacare. Risk corridors serve as a “bridge over troubled waters….[A]ny conservative reform plan for universal coverage will have to use similar methods of risk adjustment. The point here is simple – if you want insurers to participate more broadly in the individual market, you’ll need to offer a carrot to offset the unavoidable uncertainties. And railing against risk corridors now will make them a hard sell further down the road. Risk adjustment mechanisms get you the buy-in of insurers, but they also helps keep premiums at manageable levels while insurers develop enough experience to properly price plans on their own.

The problem with both of these analyses is they fail to define the term “bailout.”  If you want to show that a particular policy is not a bailout, you need to provide a definition of the term and then explain why the policy doesn’t fit the criteria of the definition.  Neither Gottlieb or Feyman do that.  Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic did provide a definition in his attempt at arguing that the risk corridors were not a bailout.  The problem was that the risk corridors actually do fit his definition of bailout.

Running the terms “bailout” and “definition” through Google returns “an act of giving financial assistance to a failing business or economy to save it from collapse.”  If one accepts that as a definition, then the risk corridors are a bailout.  They are financial assistance given to insurance companies on the exchanges.  Few insurers will probably collapse without the risk corridors.  But the business they do on exchanges could very go under with that financial assistance.  As history shows, health insurers leave markets that are regulated the way the ObamaCare exchanges are.


Minimum Wage Could Cause Maximum Pain for America’s Most At-Risk

A minimum wage increase, a earning rate that affects just 1.1 percent of Americans workers over the age of 25, is one of the key 2014 policy priorities for President Barack Obama and his supporters.

It’s a small goal that could have a devastating effect on the American workforce over the long term.  A 2006 report by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the minimum wage increases disproportionate harm among low-skilled workers.  Milton Friedman, the famed Nobel laureate in economics, said: “I have often said that the most anti-black law on the books of this land is the minimum wage law.”

This view of minimum wage politics causing more harm than good is shared by members of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network.

Project 21 member Christopher Arps, a founder of the social networking web site for black conservative, said:

It should really make one evaluate their priorities if they see stalwart political allies run around in limousines, patting themselves on the back for alleged compassion while advocating for a minimum wage increase.  A few workers get a few extra pennies in their paychecks, but what’s really in it for them — especially if mandated wage increases force bosses to cut back, eliminating jobs and worsening things?

And how can we believe the President really wants “to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work, and hard work pays off” when his administration effectively eliminated work requirements to receive welfare benefits?  Unbelievable!

But one can apparently get away with that when so many people get their news from the three networks and Jon Stewart.

Additionally, Project 21 member Kevin Martin, the owner of a small environmental abatement business, said:

President Obama’s call for an increase in the minimum wage is another attempt at keeping his populist rhetoric going.  The truth of the matter, however, is that many small business owners pay their workers well above the minimum wage each and every day because they want to remain viable and prosper in this economy.

When the jobs are difficult and workers must be skilled, employers would never dream of paying only the minimum wage because there is competition and a desire to see the job is done well.  It’s as simple as that.

There is a disconnect here because President Obama refuses to look at the real reasons why small businesses in particular are not hiring new employees.  It is because new federal regulations and increasing fees and taxes at every level are crushing small business owners.  Many small business owners, in this economic climate, are often forced to repair and rent equipment than buy new things.  Likewise, small business owners would rather maintain and reduce their workforce to the functional minimum to offset the costs of operating in the Obama era.

President Obama can use Costco as a prop in his cheerleading for that minimum wage increase, but Costco is a big, multinational corporation able pay well above the current federal minimum wage.  For small businessman in communities across the nation such as myself, we must face tough choices that often require doing more with less.  And an increase in the minimum wage is going to make that process even harder.

A lot of small businesses may no longer be able to survive.  Obama’s State of the Union address showed that he refuses to change course.  This is also the reason why we have 92 million Americans no longer in our workforce and a jobless recovery.


Success Stories Of ObamaCare Exchange Show Why It Will Fail

The Health Care Blog at the Health and Human Services website routinely recounts the experiences of people signing up for health insurance on the ObamaCare exchanges. But what HHS often considers a “success story” is in fact an example of why the exchanges are likely to fail.  For example:

One of the most important benefits of the Affordable Care Act is that insurance companies will no longer be able to turn you down or charge you more because you have a pre-existing condition.

This is good news for Americans like Diane, an attorney from Michigan. Recently, Diane enrolled for coverage using after going without insurance for over six years. Her pre-existing condition made  finding a quality, affordable health insurance plan nearly impossible

As many critics have warned, the rules governing the ObamaCare exchanges like community rating and guaranteed issue would make the exchanges more attractive to folks who were older and sicker and less attractive to the young and healthy.  The leads to a “death spiral” or, as the case may be with ObamaCare exchanges, a bailout for the insurance companies and then a death spiral.  The story of Diane suggests that this process is in the beginning stages.

The HHS blog has quite a few similar examples.  There’s Jacob:

Before the passage of the Affordable Care Act Jacob, a father of three from Arkansas, was forced to shop around for a high-risk insurance plan.

Jacob’s pre-existing condition also forced his three children and wife to be on a separate health insurance. When the family included Jacob in his plan, they were denied coverage. That’s not all, says Jacob:

“Even with my wife and kids on a separate plan, one of my sons is charged extra because he had trouble gaining weight after he was born.”

There’s Noelle:

When soccer is your passion, not being able to hold down food because of an esophagus condition called Esophagitis is a roadblock.

“I struggled a lot with the condition these last 5 years, living without health insurance. Solids and liquids don’t go down easily, and throwing up a lot makes it very hard to get the nutrition I need as an athlete.

My employer doesn’t offer health insurance, and I’ve tried to get coverage through the individual market and couldn’t because I was either denied coverage or would have to pay 4 or $500 a month, way out of my price range.”

And James

For James, a 29 year old in Pensacola, FL, a normal week involves hunting, welding, fishing, and before January 1st, worrying about his lack of health insurance.

“I’ve always been able to afford health insurance—they just wouldn’t cover me, because I’m a diagnosed diabetic. Being without health insurance was terrifying because you could be bankrupted by someone else not paying attention on the road. Or what if something bad happened in the shop?”

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, James was able to enroll in coverage without worrying about his pre-existing condition.

People who are costly to insure and some getting premiums well below what they’d get on a less regulated market—in the long run, there is only one way this ends.

Of course, that depends on whether these examples are representative of many of the people signing up on the exchanges.  Surely, a few anecdotes do not add up to data.

For that, let’s turn to the most recent enrollment report.  Or, rather, let’s turn to Spencer Cowan’s recent analysis of the enrollment report.   At the Weekly Standard, Cowan explains why the choice of plans that exchange enrollees are making is indicative of trouble to come.  He notes that the silver-level plans

which represent 60 percent of all plans sold to date through the Obamacare exchanges.  In fact, the silver-level plans are three times more popular than the cheaper bronze-level plans and sixty times more popular than the cheapest catastrophic-level plans, which are available only to enrollees under 30 years old.

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.

Cowan goes on to explain why they would choose silver over the even more generous gold- and platinum-level plans.  In short, though, the evidence suggests the exchanges are creating exactly the type of insurance pool that is headed for a death spiral.


Random Thoughts On SOTU

1. No, I did not watch the State of the Union address last night.  I wanted to watch TV that kept me interested.  I was completely sincere in this tweet:


Read it here this morning.

2. Maybe the Hatch-Burr-Coburn health plan did do some good. I don’t think much of their health care plan for reasons I list here.  But, perhaps by releasing it a day before SOTU, it prevented President Obama from saying the Republicans “don’t have a plan.” Or maybe the President has just gotten tired of saying that. Or maybe he realized he couldn’t say it in a direct way and so said, “We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against.”  


Moreover, we can take the money we save from this transition to tax reform to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes — because in today’s global economy, first- class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure. We’ll need Congress to protect more than 3 million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer. That can happen.

But — but I’ll act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible. 

Why?  Because STIMULUS worked out so well the first time!

4. Obama wants to raise the minimum wage.  Here’s a better idea: Let’s let states and cities experiment with lowering the minimum wage.  States and cities would be able to apply for a four or five-year exemption from federal minimum wage laws and could set minimum wages lower than the federal rate or set no minimum wage at all.  Then we can see what happens to employment in those areas, especially among sectors of the economy most impacted by the minimum wage such as minority teenagers. Alas, Obama would never agree to that since he believes that the minimum wage is surefire poverty-prevention device, despite all of the research showing that raising it harms employment.  It will have to wait for another administration.


More Black Conservative Criticism of Obama’s State of the Union Address

Last night, just minutes after the end of the State of the Union, ten members of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network issued blistering rebuttals to President Barack Obama’s angry rhetoric and sweeping promises.

Today, some of those same members have expanded their remarks while more Project 21 members added their own criticisms.

Derryck Green, who writes a monthly analysis about the state of the economy for Project 21 every month on the day federal jobless estimates are announced, added:

President Obama lacked the political capital coming into last night’s State of the Union address that he had last year.  People have rightly lost faith in his leadership.  It’s a result of his ineffective economic policies and the nightmarish effects of ObamaCare’s implementation (among many other things).

Knowing this, one would think that the President would humbly approach the American people with serious and constructive ideas to address the perils facing our nation.

Instead, the President chose to recycle the stale messages of increasing the minimum wage (for federal employees), feeding the envy that characterizes income inequality (which, by the way, increased during his presidency) and talked about a meaningless pledge from some corporations to give the long-term unemployed a “fair shot” at a new job.

The problem is that there are too few jobs and too many unemployed thanks to President Obama’s economic policies that have stifled growth and expansion.

As usual, the President prefers shallow campaign-style issues to serious economic policy.

As a result, President Obama once again demonstrated that progressives and their economic policies don’t seem to be focused on — or concerned with — creating and generating wealth.  They only appear interested in the redistribution of it. 

Five years or so into the President’s so-called recovery — a recovery that feels worse than the actual recession — it’s safe to say his administration has shown a remarkable and indefensible indifference to the U.S. economy at the expense of millions of Americans.  And he doesn’t seem bothered by it.  With the unemployment rate dropping because over 92 million Americans out of the workforce; a labor-force participation rate matching a 35-year low, 47 million Americans on food stamps and emergency unemployment benefits close to being extended, issues such as minimum wage and wealth redistribution — though characteristic of an unsound and unserious economic strategy — aren’t the solutions that are going to jumpstart a lagging economy.

It appears the President prefers empty campaign rhetoric to serious, thoughtful and productive economic policies.

Project 21 member Ak’bar Shabazz, a small businessman and music promoter, said:

Last night, President Obama spoke about income inequality, high corporate profits and stagnating wages for workers.  He said he intends to help rectify this situation by at least increasing the minimum wage for federal workers by executive order.

This is a clear indication that the one who was supposed to unite the country has become impotent.  He has to resort to force and strong-arm tactics to enact his version of change.

Of course, any increase in the minimum wage will have a minimal impact for Americans until inflation is reigned in by stopping the quantitative easing that has caused it to skyrocket.

Dr. Elaina George, a board-certified and award-winning otolaryngologist, commenting on President Obama’s cheerleading of his health care takeover, warned:

The power to choose your doctor and for you, in partnership with your doctor, to decide your course of treatment is the foundation of excellent medical care.

With the “Affordable Care Act” — ObamaCare — the government has inserted itself to become the final arbiter of your care.  It will ultimately decide who the health winners and losers are.  Proponents of ObamaCare want people to believe that the system is so broken that it can only be fixed through fundamental change.  The disastrous roll-out has certainly fed the argument for a single-payer system, and there is an argument to be made that the government bailout written into the bill has actually already ushered in single-payer since whomever controls the money controls the access and thus makes the rules.

As the ObamaCare train wreck continues to roll out, it will become painfully obvious to patients that — although they have health insurance with no pre-existing conditions, free birth control and preventative care — they still may not be able to afford to access medical care when they need it because the out-of-pocket costs from their co-insurance and deductibles are so high.  Or they will find that, because they qualified for a subsidy, they will have that money clawed back the following year if their financial situation improves.  Even if they took the Medicaid option, they will be unable to leave any of their wealth to loved ones because the government will take it to recoup payments made for their health care.

Physicians will ultimately find that they will have no control of their talents.  They will be considered to be providers of services that are a “right” that must be given for whatever value the government deems to be fair.  They will become interchangeable with the health care team and, with that “innovation,” individualized health care and the art of medicine will be gone forever.

The antidote to what is ailing the American health care system is not more government intervention, but more choice via free-market medicine.  

Project 21 member Demetrius Minor, a youth minister and former White House intern during the George W. Bush presidency, said:

If the job market was so great, there wouldn’t be a push for unemployment benefits because there would be a greater incentive to work.

I actually attempted to watch the entire State of the Union address, but the President’s glorification of an anemic economy forced me to turn away.  A weak labor force and a generation welcoming a $17 trillion debt as a family heirloom is not economic progress.

Project 21 member Darryn “Dutch” Martin, a business consultant, remarked about Obama’s move to raise the federal contracting minimum wage:

Where’s Obama’s budget authority to do this?

Congress authorizes spending levels, not contract terms.  The executive branch negotiates contracts within their authorized spending levels.  So, yes, a president can issue this kind of executive order.  But it doesn’t give him any more money to spend.

So, when prices go up, things won’t get done until Congress authorizes more money. 


Will Iowa Be Next To Ban Use of E-cigarettes in Public Places?

Iowa’s Attorney General wants his state to ban the use of E-cigarettes wherever cigarette smoking is banned.

In a guest column on the op-ed page of today’s Des Moines Register, I explain why doing so would be a terrible idea. 

The law’s findings clearly state the purpose of the smoking restriction: A reduction of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke “would improve the public health of Iowans.”

Restricting the use of e-cigarettes, known as “vaping” for the vapor they emit, would undermine the very goal of this law.

First, it wouldn’t reduce exposure to environmental smoke, better known as second-hand smoke, because there is no smoke. There isn’t even any first-hand smoke.

More important, a ban on vaping in public places would damage public health because it would make e-cigarettes a less convenient alternative to cigarette smoking. It would also send the implicit (and incorrect) message that they are also equally dangerous, not only to the user, but to those exposed to the vapor.

An indoor air study conducted in 2011 by New York’s Clarkson University found “no significant risk for bystanders for cancer or non-cancer risk for either children or adults as a result of exposure to e-cigarette vapor.” Numerous studies since 2011 have confirmed these findings. Further, since 2011, product standards for the vast majority of products have improved exponentially.

It is critical to note that e-cigarettes are attractive alternatives to cigarettes, in part because, like the FDA-approved gum and patch, they provide nicotine. Nicotine, while highly addictive, is not particularly harmful at the levels at which it is consumed.

While nobody should initiate use of any nicotine products, be they pharmaceutical, e-cigarettes or certainly tobacco-burning cigarettes, Iowa legislators and the attorney general should know that it’s not the nicotine that makes cigarettes dangerous. It’s the burning tobacco that makes traditional cigarettes harmful to users and those exposed to the smoke. E-cigarettes contain no tobacco.

E-cigarettes are a product created by profit-driven private sector innovation that is doing what many hundreds of millions of dollars of government spending, costly litigation, addictive excise taxes, warning labels and punitive regulations have been unable to do: help cigarette smokers quit happily.

It is no wonder the likes of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg have smoke coming out of their ears about e-cigarettes. They understand that in order to maintain not only their huge budgets, but their basis for authority to control personal decisions and private businesses, they must demonize, delegitimize and defeat e-cigarettes every step of the way. Treating them as equal to cigarettes would be a dangerous first step.

The attorney general has also asked the Legislature to consider an excise tax, or “sin” tax, on e-cigarettes over and above the state’s sales tax. The Legislature should proceed with caution. If Iowa taxes e-cigarettes on par with tobacco cigarettes, the state would be using the tax as an overly-blunt tool to treat products with drastically different risk profiles as if they were the same.

Using taxes to influence behavior is a bad idea. But if the state wanted to think creatively about using taxes to “nudge” behavior and improve public health, it should consider a zero excise tax and reducing the sales tax on e-cigarettes by half to encourage cigarette smokers to quit. Arguments that e-cigarettes should be taxed to discourage youth from purchasing them are bogus. The Legislature should simply ban the sale of e-cigarettes to youth.

Those who oppose e-cigarettes as a tool for harm reduction claim that the products are a “gateway” to smoking. However, preliminary studies, as well as empirical evidence, show that e-cigarettes are a major gateway away from smoking.

A study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in November looked at 1,300 college students, average age 19. Only 43 of those told researchers their first nicotine product was an e-cigarette, and only one of the 43 later switched to cigarettes. The vast majority of the 43 who tried an e-cigarette weren’t using nicotine or tobacco when researchers followed up.

“It didn’t seem as though it really proved to be a gateway to anything,” said researcher Theodore Wagener, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City.

Critics also rely on the flimsy argument that vaping “normalizes” smoking because people may think vaping is smoking. That’s nonsense. Vaping normalizes not smoking.

When thinking about e-cigarette regulations, the Legislature should remember what doctors are taught: First, do no harm.


I Don't Trust President Obama to Mean What He Says

Can President Obama be trusted to try to keep the promises he makes in his State of the Union address? Does ObamaCare's HHS contraception and early abortion drug mandate harm women or the poor in some fashion, and if so, is it because they want these services or because they'd rather get paid in cash than contraceptives?

Democratic strategist Bob Weiner and I debated these and other questions on the Mainstreet Radio Network's Alan Nathan Show on 1/27/14.

I don't trust President Obama to mean what he says.

Not even on the things we all broadly agree with.

Take voting rights. At last year's State of the Union address, Obama complained about long lines to vote in Florida in 2012, and said he'd appoint a commission to find out went wrong. Well, he did appoint the commission, but the commission has since reported that some innocent screw-ups combined with a lack of resources caused the problems.

The U.S. has a federal agency set up to get Florida those resources.


Except the agency, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, has no commissioners.

Hasn't had any since 2011.

Possibly Bush's fault? Hmmm, probably not, him having left office in 2009 and all.


To be fair, President Obama appointed commissioners years ago, but they were too radical (and they really are radical) to get through the liberal Senate. And Obama has done nothing to get them through or to replace them with people who can get confirmed and get the issues in Florida straightened out before the next election. Which is pretty soon.

Maybe Obama doesn't care all that much about getting the polling places in Florida all fixed up after all.

And then there were President Obama's pledges at last year's SOTU to improve cybersecurity. (Edward Snowden, call your office. On second thought, stay the h*ll away from it; you've done enough damage already.)

But aside from Snowden and leaks, did the President really try to improve cybersecurity? It's hard to say he has, since the ObamaCare websites lack even the basic cybersecurity tools required by federal law. People working under his direction -- people who, he claims, were reporting to him on progress regularly -- were already working on the website when he gave last year's speech. Did he not question them about security issues?

Apparently cybersecurity was important enough to mention in the SOTU, but not important enough to ask a subordinate about.

These and numerous other examples give the public plenty of reasons to believe that whatever President Obama promises in the SOTU, he can't be trusted to keep those promises.

We really can't trust him to even try.

Last year, among many other things, he said he wanted to get a minimum wage increase through Congress, get more gun restrictions passed and have what he calls "comprehensive immigration reform" (as opposed to reform, I suppose).

The left has buzzed about the minimum wage a bit, especially over the last few weeks, but did anyone see President Obama making an effort to put together a coalition on the Hill to get the mandatory federal minimum wage increased? I sure didn't (not that it's a good idea).

The President stopped talking about new gun restrictions soon after it became clear getting them through Congress might be hard, too. (Again, I'm glad he failed, but he claimed he wanted it done and didn't really try.)

And the President knows how to get "comprehensive" immigration reform: Get the southern border closed. All kinds of people will support amnesty if that actually happens, and he knows it. But although he claims to support a closed border, does he take the steps necessary to get it close to that condition? Nope.

In the early years of our Republic, Presidents sent a written State of the Union report to Congress. No speech. Maybe we should return to those days. With no camera, and no microphone, the President just might limit his report to things he truly is committed to doing. And the rest of us can stop wasting our time watching him say things he doesn't really mean.


The Senate GOP's Cadillac And Honda Civic Plan Tax

Yesterday Republican Senators Orrin Hatch (UT), Richard Burr (NC) and Tom Coburn (OK) released a proposal for health-care reform. Some commentators are suggesting that Hatch-Burr-Coburn is an incremental approach in that while it “would not usher in a free market for health insurance,” it would “offer individuals more freedom than now exists under Obamacare.”

I’m all for incrementalism as long as it is in a direction of greater liberty.  Further, the plan does have some good parts such as capping Medicaid funds and giving states greater flexibility to experiment with Medicaid, and a tax credit for the purchase of health insurance (although the tax credit needs to apply to everyone, not just those at 300% of the federal poverty level or below.)  Hatch, Burr and Coburn should also be praised for providing examples (albeit hypothetical ones) about how their plan would impact individuals and families.  This “telling stories” is a crucial tactic in passing any piece of major legislation.  Democrats do it all the time, so it’s good to see the GOP finally trying to sell policy this way.

That said, their proposal has a big flaw, what might be called a “de facto Cadillac plan tax.”  Under ObamaCare, the Cadillac plan tax is an excise tax that applies to pricier insurance plans:

A 40 percent excise tax will be assessed, beginning in 2018, on the cost of coverage for health plans that exceed a certain annual limit ($10,200 for individual coverage and $27,500 for self and spouse or family coverage). Health insurance issuers and sponsors of self-funded group health plans must pay the tax of 40 percent of any dollar amount beyond the caps that is considered “excess” health spending.

The Hatch-Burr-Coburn plan goes beyond that.  It “caps the tax exclusion for employee’s health coverage at 65 percent of an average plan’s costs” (italics added).  In 2013 the average employer-based plan cost about $5,884 for an individual and $16,351 for a family (see page 2).  Under Hatch-Burr-Coburn, any individual would be taxed at the marginal income-tax rate on any dollar of his heath plan that exceeded $3,825 ($5,884 multiplied by 65%).  For a family, it would be any dollar that exceeded $10,628.

In short, this legislation doesn’t just hit “Cadillac” plans.   It also taxes Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Toyota Corolla plans.  

I don’t see how this can be sold politically.  First, the ObamaCare Cadillac plan tax hasn’t proven popular, and it only hits a small percentage of plans, at least initially.  Legislation that taxes every health plan that’s above the average, and even many that are below, would be hugely unpopular.  “If you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan as long as you don’t mind paying new taxes on it,” isn’t a winning slogan.  Finally, recall that Obama hit McCain over the head in 2008 for offering a health care plan that, in effect, raised taxes on health benefits.  You can expect Democrats and liberals to launch a similar attack on the Hatch-Burr-Coburn plan should it ever become THE “Republican plan.”

In short, the Hatch-Burr-Coburn plan asks conservatives and libertarians to take incremental steps toward a free market, but then adds a 500 pound weight to our backs, thereby making it impossible to take any steps at all.  The GOP can do much better. 

UPDATE: After talking with some Senate staffers, it was clear I did not describe the tax portion correctly.  Here is a new post describing it with my thoughts.


Project 21's Nedd on Gay Grammys Wedding

At last night’s Grammy Awards, where the news was supposed to be about the year’s best musical performances, politics became performance art as 33 couples — many of them same-sex couples — were married at the awards ceremony.

The couples were married by Queen Latifah (who was authorized to do so by Los Angeles County officials) during the live performance of the song “Same Love” by Grammy nominees Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, accompanied by Madonna (who later sang her song “Open Your Heart”), Mary Lambert and Trombone Shorty.

During the “ceremony,” Latifah recited song lyrics that said: “Whatever god you believe in, we come from the same one.  Strip away the fear, underneath, it’s all the same love.”  Macklemore, from a fake altar, yelled: “No freedom till we’re equal.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, the president of the homosexual activist group GLAAD, called it “the latest in a long line of signs that our nation not only accepts, but celebrates the love and commitment of gay couples today.”  The New York Times reported Grammy officials said that the mass wedding, broadcast on network television, was in keeping with “the show’s long history of addressing timely social issues through music.”

Project 21 member Council Nedd II, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Missionary Church, did not feel the event was appropriate — nor did he appreciate the common theme of comparing gay rights to the black civil rights struggle of the 20th century.

Bishop Nedd said:

The Devil has been clever in creating the idea that he does most of his work in a red suit with a pitchfork, and behind clouds of smoke.  Everyone knows to stay away from that.

However, when Macklemore & Lewis, Madonna and Queen Latifah put on a spectacle at the Grammys — with a song that twists scripture for its own purposes — it really doesn’t seem so bad.

When, during the next gay pride parade, the police and firemen show up and sic police dogs on the marchers and attack them with fire hoses and riot batons, then you can talk to me about black and gay being comparable.


If Administration Released ObamaCare Enrollment Data Early, It Must Be Good

Late last week the Obama Administration announced that 3 million people had enrolled* in private plans on the ObamaCare exchanges.  Although such data about January enrollment was supposed to be released in mid-February—Administration lackeys have previously said that data released prior to the middle of the month isn’t “reliable”—the Administration’s action fit a pattern as I’ve explained elsewhere:

Right now, the Administration treats information about the exchange in a manner that can be charitably described as “politically convenient.”  If the data reflects poorly on Obamacare, the Administration finds all sorts of barriers that prevent expediting its release.  It releases the data only when it can no longer afford not to and then releases as little as it can get away with.

Amazingly, those barriers vanish into thin air on the rare occurrence when the data can be used to put a positive spin on Obamacare.   In such instances, the Administration releases the numbers faster than you can complete the sentence, “If you like your health plan…”

When enrollment numbers were bad, as they were in October and November, they couldn’t be released until the middle of the following month, as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius emphasizes in the video below.  But when they hit 2.1 million in December and now 3 million, there was no problem releasing the data early.

The pattern shows that nothing this Administration says about enrollment data can be taken at face value.  It also means that the data that we still don’t havethe number of people who have had difficulty enrolling in coverage, how many enrollees have paid their first premium and how many times HHS has failed to transfer crucial information to insurance companies—probably don’t paint a pretty picture.  

The House of Representatives passed a bill that would force the White House to release such data.  Unfortunately it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.  For the time being, only pressure from Congress and the media will get the Administration to release more information about the exchanges.

*When the Administration uses the term “enrolled” it means “selected a plan.”  Insurers, on the other hand, mean “paid the first premium.”  As the Daily Caller notesAmericans are still in the dark about the number of people that have actually purchased [exchange] plans.”


Either ObamaCare is Racist, or Voter ID Isn't

ID neededIs it racist to ask for an ID?

I admit that ObamaCare, voter ID and racism do not seem related at first glance, but hear me out.

The central selling premise (other than "if you like your doctor or health plan, you can keep them") of ObamaCare was its universality.

That is, we were told that if ObamaCare was adopted, everyone would have health insurance coverage.

Able-bodied adults under 65 would pay their own way (with lower rates!), except for a few unable or unwilling, who would receive financial help from other Americans (we'll be watching for the thank-you notes). Disabled and elderly would receive Medicare, and the poor would receive Medicaid.

What do all of these programs have in common? You have to sign up, and to do that - here's where the racism comes in - you have to prove who you are.

Moreover, to stamp out fraud, very many patients with ObamaCare-approved providers have to show an ID every time they go to the doctor.

Why I myself must show a photo ID every time I see my doctors, and they know what I look like (granted, they've seen me naked, so perhaps forced themselves to forget).

If ObamaCare is universal, then everyone can get enrolled. Which means that everyone can be expected to prove who they are. Just as they do with voter ID.

Either neither of them is racist, or they both are.


Will ObamaCare's Disasters & Benghazi Affect Obama's Popularity in 2014? A Right-Left Radio Debate on the Alan Nathan Show

Will ObamaCare's disastrous rollout affect Obama's popularity in 2014? How about the Benghazi coverup? Can Obama help his poll numbers by discussing income inequality?

For those with an interest, here is an audio recording of my latest weekly debate with Democratic strategist Bob Weiner on the Main Street Radio Network's Alan Nathan Show.

As usual, the conversation had raucous moments, particularly (in my mind) after Bob tried to excuse cabinet- and presidential-level dishonesty on Benghazi by pivoting to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. No doubt Bob has beefs about a few of my points as well.


Newsome Echoes Reagan: Job Creation is the Best Social Program

As part of an ongoing series of reports on income inequality, Project 21 member Hughey Newsome provided expert commentary on the January 24 edition of “Special Report with Bret Baier” on the Fox News Channel.  Hughey talked about remedies to income inequality that don’t require the government to redistribute American wealth.

This segment dealt with the “social fabric” of the income inequality debate, with Fox News correspondent Jim Angle pointing out that “there is one key principle in the debate over income inequality – it’s not about equality of income.”

Hughey and others featured in the report discussed how equality of opportunity is the key to earning and advancement potential, and how strong families and education are paths to success.

At one point, Hughey echoes President Ronald Reagan by saying:

Giving someone a job is the best assistance that you can give them to get out of poverty as opposed to a government handout.  It’s so true.

Reagan once famously quipped: “I believe the best social program is a job.”


Project 21 Members Support Senator Scott

In what was apparently his odd way of honoring the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Reverend William Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, chose to demean the first black senator to serve in the South since the Reconstruction era.

On January 19, at the Zion Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carolina, Reverend Barber gave a fiery speech that lionized progressive politics and demonized conservatives.  When it came to Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), the Palmetto State’s black junior senator, Barber said:

A ventriloquist can always find a good dummy… [T]he extreme right wing down here finds a black guy to be senator and claim he’s the first black senator since Reconstruction and then he goes to Washington, D.C. and articulates the agenda of the Tea Party.

After the initial outrage over his insensitive analogy, Reverend Barber doubled-down on his reticence.  At a speech later in the week in Asheville, North Carolina, he added:

The question is not so much having all this indignation over a metaphor… What people should have righteous indignation over is the pain and the misery that is being caused by extremist politics.

Senator Scott, on the Fox News Channel, called Barber’s initial comments “philosophical bigotry.”  Project 21 member Stacy Swimp called what Barber said “pejorative,” saying:

Reverend William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP essentially hurled a pejorative at Senator Tim Scott when he called Scott a ventriloquist’s dummy for conservatives.  This kind of commentary has no place in a civil society.

I have met Senator Scott.  We come from the same neck of the woods in Charleston, South Carolina.  I know his personal testimony.  It is one of redemption, restoration and victory.  Senator Scott did not have it easy growing up.  In fact, all the odds were against him.  Yet he overcame.

Senator Scott’s life represents everything Reverend Barber should believe about the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That he personally, falsely and publicly attacked Scott for obvious political purposes says that the Reverend is not only out of touch with reality but also indicates he likely has no meaningful relationship to God.

Reverend Barber’s immediate resignation should be requested by the NAACP.  Most importantly, his role as a minister of the gospel of any spirit-filled church should be called into question and re-examined.

Senator Scott was more magnanimous in a statement about the incident that he gave to the Daily Caller:

I will honor the memory of Dr. King by being proactive in holding the door for others and serving my fellow man.  And Reverend Barber will remind me and others of what not to do.

Project 21 member Kevin Martin was pleased that Senator Scott took the high road.  But Kevin nonetheless took the NAACP to task for its longstanding political slant, saying:

When it comes to conservatives of color, it would seem that the NAACP — the group that’s supposed to be helping to advance people of color — puts out the “liberals only” sign in much the same manner as Dixiecrats in the old days put out “whites only” signs.  It is also evident to me that, when it comes down to Congress, some blacks are allowed to advance because they are politically acceptable at the same time others are attacked.

Senator Tim Scott’s response to the vicious attack on him by an NAACP leader who should have known better and should have shown more decorum indicates that Senator Scott is more about uniting Americans rather than dividing them.


Friday Laugh Provided By Krugman

Going back through some of my past blog posts, I found this one from late July of last year about a Paul Krugman column.  Here’s a quote from Krugman’s missive sure to generate a chuckle:

Yet even as Republican politicians seem ready to go on the offensive, there’s a palpable sense of anxiety, even despair, among conservative pundits and analysts. Better-informed people on the right seem, finally, to be facing up to a horrible truth: Health care reform, President Obama’s signature policy achievement, is probably going to work.

And the good news about Obamacare is, I’d argue, what’s driving the Republican Party’s intensified extremism. Successful health reform wouldn’t just be a victory for a president conservatives loathe, it would be an object demonstration of the falseness of right-wing ideology. So Republicans are being driven into a last, desperate effort to head this thing off at the pass.

Yeah, ObamaCare—how’s that working out for you Mr. Nobel Laureate?

Photos: iStockphoto 


Post's March for Life Coverage Fair! (You're Welcome)

After being taken to task for virtually ignoring what they now report is “the world’s largest” pro-life event that has been happening on their home turf for decades, it appears the shareholder activism of the National Center’s Free Enterprise Project prompted the Washington Post to upgrade its coverage of the annual March for Life.

Every January 22, the anniversary of the release of the Roe v. Wade opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court, hundreds of thousands of pro-life activists converge on the nation’s capital in all forms of weather.  That should be enough of a story all by itself.

Yesterday, the federal government was officially closed.  It was the day after a major (by D.C. standards) snowstorm that paralyzed the region.  Yet March for Life organizers reported that hundreds of thousands still attended (and the Post reported temperatures at the March were near the single digits and that many buses and trains bringing people to the March were cancelled due to the weather).  Police no longer issue crowd estimates.

Coverage of this major event in the Washington Post used to be meager.  Not this year.

This year’s March for Life received coverage on page 2 of the front section of the Post.  Last year, it was covered on page 1 of the Metro section – and received less-favorable coverage than a story that appeared the following day about a rally of less than a thousand people who supported gun control.

I raised the skewed and apparently biased reporting on pro-life activism from both 2013 as well as over the course of more than two decades at last year’s Washington Post shareholder meeting (the last one, since the Post was later sold to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and is no longer a publicly-traded entity).

At the 2013 Post shareholder meeting, I pointed out to then-CEO Donald Graham that alienating pro-life sympathizers in particular and conservatives in general with such slanted reporting on issues and events of importance to them such as the March for Life is “not a winning business model.”

Graham admitted the paper’s staff “make[s] mistakes,” and agreed that criticism of the Post’s coverage of the March was valid.  Post publisher (and now also CEO) Katherine Weymouth also conceded that mistakes were made, and later noted in one-on-one conversation with me after the meeting that the Washington Post newsroom was likely around “90 percent” liberal and that the reporters’ and editors’ personal bias “obviously… comes through” in coverage.

It’s nice to see that some public shaming of the Post for this may have brought about more objectivity in reporting about the pro-life movement.

Yesterday’s page 2 article contained two photos of the March for Life, both of which showed march participants.  Usually, the hundreds of thousands of people who show up were marginalized by one photo of marchers and one photo of pro-abortion opponents on the sidelines.  Approximately 18.75 column inches was devoted to a very positive portrayal of the March while 4.25 column inches featured reaction the Obama Administration and other supporters of abortion.

Additionally, the article — authored by Post reporters Michelle Boorstein and Carol Morello — seemed to be much more accommodating that usual mainstream media reports about pro-life activism.  For example:

  • Graphic images of fetuses and angry sermons shouted through bullhorns were rare Wednesday.
  • This year’s theme was adoption, an effort to show more empathy to mothers…
  • Monahan said this year’s theme shows that activists are trying to reach out to a new generation…
  • …[S]he and her peers are different from earlier generations in their style — they don’t hold signs of aborted fetuses, for example.

At the shareholder meeting, I pointed out that the Washington Post coverage of the March for Life in 2013 had not changed much since then-Post ombudsman Richard Harwood took the paper to task 23 years before for biased March coverage that he wrote “left a blot on the paper’s professional reputation.”

This year, the Post’s reporting changed for the better — and it would seem that the Free Enterprise Project’s shareholder activism can definitely take at least some — if not all — of the credit.

The Post is now a private possession of Jeff Bezos.  As the founder of Amazon, Bezos has been highly successful in bringing the American public what they want.  There are no more shareholder meetings in which the Free Enterprise Project can push for objective reporting on abortion, but it can be hoped for that this year’s trend sticks.


Project 21’s Nedd: “Gay is Not the New Black”

In an interview with WorldNetDaily, Project 21 member Council Nedd II — the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Missionary Church — speculated that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have remained more conservative than his former colleagues had he lived.

Bishop Nedd was critical of the black civil rights lobby for becoming overtly political in the years since Dr. King’s death, and for President Obama in particular for playing the race card as a means of pushing policy.  Council mentioned the promotion of special rights for homosexuals as an example of the civil rights lobby putting politics ahead of purpose.

Council said:

Gay is not the new black.  There are lots of people who lived and died and suffered merely because of race.

Any individual who happens to be homosexual, they’re already covered under the law because of their color, because of their sexuality, because of various other things.  It’s not a separate classification and personally I’m offended by it.

I’m offended by the politicians who caved on the issue, and I’m offended by pastors who sold out on the issue and decided, “You know what, I don’t really care what the Bible says.  The black president wants me to support this so I’m going to support this.”

It’s absurd.

Commenting on how President Obama and his supporters use race as a means of pushing a political agenda, Council said:

He’s implemented or tried to implement a number of failed policies.  And when it didn’t work out, he pulls the race card.  I just think that’s inappropriate and I think it’s just tacky.

Contemplating a history in which Dr. King was not the victim of an assassin’s bullet, Project 21’s Nedd noted that Dr. King “was first and foremost a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”  Comparing Dr. King to his own father — who grew up in the same era — Council thought that Dr. King “would probably be a fairly conservative individual.”

Council pointed out:

I think he would say that a major victory had been accomplished.  If you think about it, the world that he lived in and the world he knew was a very segregated America.  At the end of his life, there were riots in the street.  They were turning water hoses and dogs on children in parts of this country and because of the advent of television, people were able to see it and were rightly appalled by what they saw.

In relation to his former colleagues, Bishop Nedd also suggested that Dr. King would have likely remained focused on spirituality rather than special interest politics.  He said:

I don’t think he was necessarily interested in the political pandering that you see people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton do.  He was on a mission, and the mission was to march for civil rights.  But he never gave up his calling as a minister of the gospel, and his ministry was evident in his approach that he took to try to achieve civil rights for all Americans.

To read the entire WorldNetDaily interview with Bishop Nedd, click here.  TO read Project 21’s Martin Luther King Day press release, which also features a commentary from Council, click here.

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