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Tuesday
Jan212014

More Health Care Odds & Ends

1. Administration Officials Insist There Have Been No Known Violations Of HealthCare.gov Security…Um, Uh, Hey, Look At That Cute Puppy!

 

Cyber-security expert David Kennedy “recently claimed that ‘gaining access to 70,000 personal records of Obamacare enrollees via HealthCare.gov took about 4 minutes.’”  Also, here is Kennedy’s testimony before the House Science and Technology Committee.

Meanwhile the White House opposed the security bill passed by the House with the support of 67 votes. According to the Administration the bill has “unfunded, unprecedented, and unnecessary reporting requirements.”  In other words, it costs too much.  

 

2. If You Thought Getting Into HealthCare.gov Was Tough, Try Getting Out.

Dave Petno decided to test HealthCare.gov by signing up for a plan.  He found out it actually worked.  Since it was just a test, he wants to cancel the policy.  After numerous efforts he has come to the conclusion: “I can check out anytime I want, but I can never leave.”  

Somebody call Paul Shanklin and tell him he needs to do a parody called “Hotel ObamaCare”:

 

3. 2014 And ObamaCare: Early Warning Sign.

Powerline’s Paul Mirengoff points to a special State Senate election in Northeast Arkansas as a portent of the things to come for ObamaCare supporters.  “The race centered on the issue of whether to continue the Arkansas’ ‘private option,” plan to expand Medicaid,” according to Mirengoff.  Candidate Steve Rockwell supported the plan while his opponent, John Cooper, opposed it.

Cooper won with 57% of the vote.  What’s should make this even more alarming for ObamaCare supporters is that Cooper is Republican, and the GOP has never before won this Senate District (District 21).

Photo: iStockPhoto

Monday
Jan202014

Is it Appropriate for the News Media to Take $30 Million in Grants from Elected Officials?

Maybe Rachel Maddow and Ed Shultz could debate the question.

$30 million ought to pay for a few debates.

Sunday
Jan192014

Voter ID Needed: Major City Finds Voter Fraud; Refers Employees Who Discovered it for Possible Prosecution

In light of continuing propaganda by various scalawags that "voter fraud doesn't exist," and in service to that nonsense and the left-wing cheering the for-now-at-least court decision Friday striking down Voter ID in Pennsylvania, it might be useful to visit reality.

The reality uncovered by New York City's Department of Investigations.

John Fund writes:

Liberals who oppose efforts to prevent voter fraud claim that there is no fraud -- or at least not any that involves voting in person at the polls.

But New York City's watchdog Department of Investigations has just provided the latest evidence of how easy it is to commit voter fraud that is almost undetectable. DOI undercover agents showed up at 63 polling places last fall and pretended to be voters who should have been turned away by election officials; the agents assumed the names of individuals who had died or moved out of town, or who were sitting in jail. In 61 instances, or 97 percent of the time, the testers were allowed to vote. Those who did vote cast only a write-in vote for a "John Test" so as to not affect the outcome of any contest. DOI published its findings two weeks ago in a searing 70-page report accusing the city's Board of Elections of incompetence, waste, nepotism, and lax procedures...

It's an amazing story, with 24-year-olds pretending to be 87, poll workers helping undercover investigators commit fraud, live people casting the votes of the dead.

And as John points out, this isn't the first time an official investigation has found massive voter fraud in New York City. He describes another investigation, one run by a liberal, that likewise found significant voter fraud in New York:

In 1984, Brooklyn’s Democratic district attorney, Elizabeth Holtzman, released a state grand-jury report on a successful 14-year conspiracy that cast thousands of fraudulent votes in local, state, and congressional elections. Just like the DOI undercover operatives, the conspirators cast votes at precincts in the names of dead, moved, and bogus voters. The grand jury recommended voter ID, a basic election-integrity measure that New York has steadfastly refused to implement.
To the liberals who run New York City, enacting measures to deter voter fraud just won't do. Quite the reverse. In the current case, the undercover agents -- despite being city workers engaged in a professionally-run official investigation -- may be prosecuted.

Finding voter fraud just isn't politically-correct, even though vote fraudsters have been known to target the poor and minorities. The left is determined that some crime should pay.

Why is that?

Finally, as a side note on Pennsylvania's voter ID ruling Friday, I recommend this post by Rick Hasen on the Election Law Blog. Defenders of commonsense vote integrity measures such as voter ID should note, as Hasen points out, that the trial judge -- obviously no patsy for voter ID -- explicitly stated that Pennsylvania's voter ID law "was NOT motivated by an attempt to disenfranchise minorities or Democratic voters."

Saturday
Jan182014

ObamaCare Exchanges Not Doing Much To Reduce The Uninsured

A new article from the Wall Street Journal takes stock of various surveys and finds that most of the people who signed up through the ObamaCare exchanges were not previously uninsured:

-Only 11% of consumers who bought new coverage under the law were previously uninsured, according to a McKinsey & Co. survey of consumers thought to be eligible for the health-law marketplaces. The result is based on a sampling of 4,563 consumers performed between November and January, of whom 389 had enrolled in new insurance.

-At Michigan-based Priority Health, only 25% of more than 1,000 enrollees surveyed in plans that comply with the law were previously uninsured, said Joan Budden, chief marketing officer.

-Health Markets Inc., an insurance agency that enrolled around 7,500 people in exchange plans, said 65% of its enrollees had prior coverage. Around 10% were dropping out of employer coverage, either because the employer stopped offering its plan or because they could qualify for subsidies on the marketplaces. Fifteen percent had previous individual plans canceled, and 40% decided to switch into coverage bought through an exchange from previous individual plans.

Let’s assume that 35% of the people signing up on the exchanges were previously uninsured as the Health Markets Inc. survey suggests.  That means of 2.1 million who have signed up for a private plan in the exchanges, only 735,000 were without health insurance.  That’s not going to make much of dent in estimate 48 million who are uninsured.  And it leaves open the  possibility that the exchanges could leave more people uninsured as we still don’t know the fate of the over 4.7 million people who lost their insurance in the individual market under ObamaCare.

(For those without access to WSJ online, a PDF version of the article is here.)

Saturday
Jan182014

Planet Hasn't Warmed Since 1997, Yet Senators Fret the News Media is Covering Actual Crises Instead of Climate Change

WhatGlobalWarmingClimate2WApparently unaware of the scandal in Britain brought about by that government's decision to interfere in its news media's coverage of global warming and climate change, at least two U.S. Senators, Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Brian Schatz (D-HI), are trying to use the influence of their elected offices to pressure TV networks to convince others to agree with the Senators on climate change.

From National Journal:

Senate Democrats pledging to get more aggressive on climate change will soon pressure the major TV networks to give the topic far greater attention on the Sunday talking-head shows.

"It is beyond my comprehension that you have ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox, that their Sunday shows have discussed climate change in 2012, collectively, for all of eight minutes," Sanders said, citing analysis by the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America.

Sanders mentioned the letter during a press conference with most other members of Senate Democrats' new, 19-member Climate Action Task Force...

Let's see. ObamaCare is a mess, Medicare and Social Security are insolvent, intolerably high numbers of Americans can't find work, Afghanistan and Iraq remain in crisis with Americans dying in the former, Iran is progressing on building nuclear weapons and continuing to threaten Israel, Syria is in a civil war, the federal debt is untenable, the NSA is spying on Americans and allied leaders and our President apparently was unaware, numerous serious federal government scandals are being covered up, and the planet hasn't been warming since 1997, and U.S. Senators want to address just the last point, as they play as if they are producers for Sunday morning TV talk shows?

Friday
Jan172014

Pennsylvania Voter ID Down But Not Out

Pennsylvania’s voter protection law was struck down today by a commonwealth judge.  An appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is likely.

Enacted in 2012 but never enforced due to immediate legal challenges, Pennsylvania’s ballot protection law requires that prospective voters present photo identification issued by the commonwealth or a local government or a accredited state school.  Even recently expired driver’s licenses are considered acceptible.  Persons without proper identification are allowed to vote provisionally, but must later authenticate their identity.

Commonwealth Judge Bernard McGinley, an elected Democrat, nonetheless ruled that the law presented a “substantial threat” that “unreasonably burdens the right to vote” by lacking enough access to identification for those still seeking it.  McGinley ruled this despite the fact that Viviette Applewhite, the 93-year-old woman who served as the original plaintiff in the case, easily obtained her voter ID in August of 2012 after having initial concerns that she lacked enough backing documentation to do so.

Project 21 co-chairman Horace Cooper anticipates vindication of Pennsylvania’s voter ID law upon appeal.  He said:

Today’s ruling is a setback for voter integrity.  We look forward to the Commonwealth’s appeal as I’m confident that the voter ID requirements are sound and legal policy.

Friday
Jan172014

Health Care Odds & Ends

1. ObamaCare has increased Medicaid coverage by 3.9 million—NOT SO FAST!  If one examines closely the recent ObamaCare exchange enrollment report, you’ll notice that about 27% of the enrollment in Medicaid is in states that did not expand Medicaid under Obamacare.

I bring this up because Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics noticed that and other problems with the the Medicaid number touted by the Obama Administration.  Read his great article here

After reading Trende’s article, Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post’s Fact Checker delved a little deeper into the numbers.  He ended up giving the 3.9 million Medicaid figure Three Pinocchios and wrote: “Bottom line: This number tells you almost nothing about how the Affordable Care Act is affecting Medicaid enrollment. Reporters need to stop using it.”

2. The Exchange Isn’t Such A Good Deal If You Aren’t Subsidized. That’s what consumers who have to pay the full price of premiums appear to be saying based on number in the latest enrollment report.  From Megan McArdle:

Five million people were deemed eligible to buy a policy on the exchanges; 2.7 million, or 54 percent of them, were eligible for subsidies. But of people who actually selected a plan, 1.68 million, or 80 percent, were subsidized. To put it another way, 62 percent of the people eligible for subsidies selected a plan, but only 8.5 percent of those who weren’t eligible for subsidies actually purchased one.

3. Surprise! ObamaCare To Produce Even More Rules And Regulations!  A new report from the Congressional Research Service examines all the ObamaCare regulations that still have yet to be finalized.  By my count of the appendix, there are at least eight rules that have to be finalized in 2014.  Haven’t gotten into the details just yet, but you are welcome to do so.

4. And For Something Completely Non-Health Care Related: The Best Response To A Phil Donahue Question Ever!

Thursday
Jan162014

Jeff Stier on Genetically-Modified Labeling

Jeff Stier, director of the National Center for Public Policy Research’s Risk Analysis Division, chats with talk radio host and rancher Trent Loos about the politics of genetically-modified foods.

New legislation has been proposed in Congress to label such foods — a measure that has been unpopular at the state level in past ballot propositions and something that Stier does not feel needs to be compelled by the government.

At the end of the interview, Loos makes the declaration:

I’m quite confident that nobody listening — including the host of this program — thought that we would hear the most profound statement as it involves genetically-modified crops coming from an attorney living in New York City, but we just had it happen.

Jeff Stier said today, in case you missed it, if — in fact — genetically-modified foods were dangerous, I would propose a ban, not labeling them.

Thursday
Jan162014

House Votes To Force Obama Admin. To Release Exchange Data

Around noon today the House of Representatives approved H.R. 3362, the “Exchange Information Disclosure Act,” a bill authored by Representative Lee Terry (R-NE).  The vote was 259 to 154 with 33 Democrats joining 226 Republicans to vote aye.

 As I explore in both a National Policy Analysis and an article for The Federalist:

H.R. 3362 requires the Administration to release data on the number of unique website visits, the number of individuals who have “created an account” on HealthCare.gov versus those who have actually enrolled in a plan and how many people are actually paying their premiums.  It also mandates the release of data regarding how many people have had trouble logging on to HealthCare.gov, enrolling in coverage, or calculating their premium subsidy, and the amount of difficulty HHS has had transferring information on enrollees to insurers. The legislation also requires HHS to release such data on a weekly instead of the current monthly basis.

(Terry also added on to the bill with an admedment which can be seen here.)

The bill is needed because the Administration only releases data on the exchanges when it is politically convenient.  From my article:

Witness HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifying before Congress in late October and early November of 2013:

Both the October and November enrollment reports were released 11 days after the end of the reporting period.  According to Sebelius, this was to ensure that the data was reliable.   It was also so that HHS could deal with the “834 piece” that Sebelius mentioned in response to Senator Orrin Hatch’s question.  Known formally as an “834 EDI Transmission,” it is an electronic file that HHS must send to insurance companies to let them know that a person has enrolled in one of their health plans through the exchange.

Fast forward now to December 24, the deadline to sign up on the exchange for coverage that would begin January 1.  If Sebelius’ testimony in late October was any indication, the Administration wouldn’t be able to release “reliable” data on how many people had enrolled through the December deadline until the middle of January.  But on December 29, the Administration announced that more “than 1.1 million people enrolled in a qualified health plan via the Federally-facilitated Marketplace from October 1 to December 24, with more than 975,000 of those enrolling this month alone.”  Two days after that, the Administration released more data showing that over 2.1 million people had signed up through state and federal exchanges.

If data could be released five to seven days after the December deadline, why couldn’t HHS release data in a similarly timely fashion for October and November? It’s not likely that “834 piece” problems would have prevented release of this data in October and November.  Despite any such problems, HHS still would have data on who enrolled in the exchanges.  Furthermore, whatever difficulties HHS was having with 834s don’t seem to be resolved. News stories have appeared as recently as January 15 about patients who have enrolled in health insurance coverage through the exchange only to find, when they sought to use the insurance, that the insurer has no record of their enrollment.

The most reasonable explanation is that the enrollment number for the October period was only about 106,000 and for November about 365,000.  Those figures were a public relations disaster for ObamaCare, and so the Administration wanted to delay their release as long as possible.  But in December, enrollment had jumped to a much more positive, headline-generating 2.1 million, and so the Administration wanted those figures reported as quickly as possible.

All that has to happen now is for Harry Reid to let this bill come up in the Senate and then for President Obama to sign it.  Not impossible, but…

Tuesday
Jan142014

Right v. Left Debate: Should U.S. Supreme Court Strike Down the Executive Branch's Poaching of Recess Appointment Authority from the Senate?

ConstitutionW

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in an important case for the separation of powers, National Labor Relations Board v. Canning.

This is a case testing the constitutionality of the Obama Administration's effort to steal some power from the legislative branch.

In short, the Obama Administration is claiming the president has the authority to decide when the Senate is in recess, and to make recess appointments (temporary appointments without Senate approval that ordinarily would require Senate approval) when he determines the Senate is in recess, even if the Senate disagrees.

The effect of allowing the Administration's point of view to stand would be:

  • transferring some power from the legislative branch to the executive branch;
  • changing the president's recess appointment power from one designed to give the executive temporary powers when the Senate is out of town to one that gives the president the authority to override the Senate when he disagrees with it;
  • to undermine the Constitution, since the meaning of the Constitution's text is clear, and favors the Senate.

Miguel Estrada, arguing against the president's position before the court, told the Justices yesterday, "there is no power in the Constitution to use the Recess Appointments Clause to overcome the opposition of the Senate to the president's nominees."

The Court is tackling three questions:

  • who decides whether the Senate is in recess, the legislative branch or the executive?;
  • does a vacancy have to occur during a Senate recess to be filled via a recess appointment?;
  • does a recess appointment have to be made during a recess between Senate sessions?

On the Main Street Radio Network's Alan Nathan Show yesterday, Democratic strategist Bob Weiner and I reviewed the issues at stake in this case and why, in my view at least, and apparently Alan Nathan's as well, the President's power grab should be soundly rejected by the Court. I also predicted that it will be rejected.

If so inclined, enjoy.

A transcript of the oral arguments before the court can be found online here.

Monday
Jan132014

Another Really Bad Obamacare Enrollment Report

Today’s enrollment report from the Dept. of Health and Human Services finally releases data on the age breakdown in the Obamacare exchanges.  As many of us have expected, the exchanges aren’t even close to the number of young people the Administration claims to need to prevent an eventual death spiral.

But that’s not the really dispiriting data for Obamacare supporters.  What should have them panicking is the data HHS released on subsidies.  Page 11 of the report gives a breakdown.  Of the 1.9 million enrollees for which there is data, about 1.65 million, or 79%, have financial assistance.  That rate is probably as high as financial assistance is going to get.  Despite that, enrollment of the 18-34-year-olds is, well, pitiful.

According to the Administration, about 2.7 million of the projected 7 million enrollees in the exchanges need to be 18-34-years-old—that’s about 39%.  Here is the age breakdown from the report:

Only 24% of those enrolled in the exchanged are between the ages of 18-34, a far cry from 39%.  Those age 45 and over—i.e., those who are likely to make the most medical claims—comprise 55% of enrollment.

The crux of the matter is if an enrollment population is comprised of only 24% 18-34-year-olds when nearly 80% of that population have subsidies, what are chances that the age mix will improve?

Of course, of all age groups, the young invincible cohort seems the most likely to procrastinate until March 31. Thus, it is possible that there are still a lot of young invincibles out there who would get a subsidy and have yet to sign up.  

But there are factors working against that.  As Sean Parnell an I pointed out last September, the subsidy formula is rigged against the young.  And even if someone age 18-34 qualifies for a subsidy, it is often times not enough to cover the large increase in premiums they face on the exchange.

In short, if this is the age breakdown now, chances are there won’t be much improvement in the next two-and-a-half months.  And after March 31, we won’t be talking about whether a death spiral is coming but rather how severe it will be.

 Photo: iStockPhoto

Monday
Jan132014

Has ObamaCare Reduced Medicare Spending? Part 2

Last Friday I examined Jason Furman’s claim that Obamacare has reduced Medicare spending since 2010.  Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, attributed the slower Medicare growth rate to “innovations” contained in Obamacare like penalizing hospitals for patient readmissions and promoting Affordable Care Organizations.

Furman’s claim doesn’t hold water since neither of those innovations had any impact on Medicare finances in 2010-2011 because they didn’t begin until 2012.  Further, the amount of money those changes saved in 2012 was too small to have much of an impact on Medicare’s growth rate.

Rather, what has slowed Medicare’s growth are reductions in the Medicare Advantage program, the program that pays private plans to provide Medicare benefits to beneficiaries.  The first cuts to Medicare Advantage were instituted in 2009 and came into effect in 2010, prior to ObamaCare.  Obamacare was supposed to cut about $13.9 billion from Medicare Advantage between 2011 and 2012 according to the Congressional Budget Office (see page 30).  But as President Obama headed into the 2012 election, he didn’t want to risk the ire of the millions of seniors in Medicare Advantage plans, so he infused Medicare Advantage with about $8 billion in additional funding which the Administration laughingly called a “Quality Bonus Program.”

Still, that wasn’t enough to offset the full cuts to Medicare Advantage in 2011 and 2012, and so the growth rate per enrollee dropped, as seen in this table:

So it’s clear that funding in Medicare Advantage has dropped, but does it account for the slowdown in total Medicare spending? To answer that, I assumed that from 2010 to 2012 Medicare Advantage grew at the same average rate that it grew from 2007 to 2009, 4.1%.  Medicare Advantage would have spent an additional $18.4 billion in 2010, $25.8 billion in 2011 and $39.8 billion in 2012 with a 4.1% growth rate.  Next, I plugged those numbers into total Medicare spending, and then estimated what the real per enrollee growth would have been.  In the Table below, the blue line represents the actual growth rate.  The red line toward the right shows what the Medicare growth rate would have been from 2010-2012 sans the Medicare Advantage cuts.

Now that’s quite a difference, one that strongly suggests that the cuts in Medicare Advantage are largely responsible for the recent slowdown in the growth of Medicare.  And, to answer the question in the title of this post, yes, Obamacare is partially responsible for the slowdown, since it is responsible for the 2011 and 2012 Medicare Advantage cuts.

However, it is misleading for Obamacare apologists like Furman to claim that innovations in the law are reducing Medicare’s growth rate.  In the end, it comes down to old fashion spending cuts.

Sunday
Jan122014

If You Ever Had Any Doubt the Media is Biased on Climate, This Should End Your Doubt

Scandal

The indefatigable David Rose of Britain's Daily Mail, working with British climate blogger Tony Newberry, has today exposed bias in news reporting of climate change of a scale heretofore unknown, even for that never-accurately-covered subject.

He reveals that, in a move orchestrated by the BBC itself and a left-wing lobby group, the British government under the Labor Party paid for BBC personnel to be taught the left-wing, pro-alarmist spin on climate issues for the specific purpose of using the "news" as propaganda.

The seminar project was run by a BBC "journalist." A single seminar, paid for by British taxpayers, cost 67,000 pounds (about $110,00).

What's more, after blogger Newberry noticed, in Rose's words, "a passing reference" to the project "in an official report," the BBC spent at least 20,000 pounds (about $33,000) to keep the public from finding out.

This was done even as BBC executives bragged about the massive influence the program had on the BBC's coverage of climate issues.

Go here to read David Rose's story, which includes generous quotations of BBC personnel bragging about how influential its corruption is.

Go here to read Tony Newberry's Harmless Sky blog, where he has links to PDFs of damning primary documents proving the case against the BBC and the British government.

Some here in the U.S. may say, that's Britain, not the USA; in the United States the government does not spend money to influence people's opinions. They'd be wrong about that, but this corruption influenced us here regardless. The media use each other as sources, and the BBC, very obviously, is a big player and is one of those getting used.

Next time you hear or read a journalist talking about climate change, be sure to double and triple check his information, preferably with primary sources. Otherwise, you risk being told what to think by the British government.

Been there; done that.

Cross-posted on Newsbusters.

Friday
Jan102014

Project 21 Members Give Federal Intervention in Local School Discipline an F

A letter to schools sent out earlier this week by the Obama Administration is telling administrators to literally spare the rod and spoil the child when it comes to matters of discipline.

Because of perceived discriminatory effects of “zero tolerance” and other tough policies against bad behavior, Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan now want school officials to think twice about how disruptive students are punished — if they are punished at all as a result of this edict.

The letter to schools reads:

In our investigations, we have found cases where African-American students were disciplined more harshly and more frequently because of their race than similarly situated white students… In short, racial discrimination in school discipline is a real problem.

Suggestions from Washington include reining in the power of hired security officers and having administrators set the penalties exclusively rather than giving leeway to security or local law enforcement officers.

There is no binding authority for the federal government to enforce the suggested guidelines, but there is the power for the feds to single out and sue a school district as a means of setting an example and instilling fear in other schools.

Members of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network are critical of this federal intervention into what would seem to be largely local matters.

For instance, Project 21 member Bishop Council Nedd II, a former teacher in Washington, D.C., said:

Having spent two years teaching at a public charter high school in Washington, D.C. for what most would agree were some of the most troubled and at-risk youth I feel compelled to chime in on the Obama Administration’s thoughts on classroom discipline.

I knew where I was teaching.  I made a specific decision to teach at the school where I taught.  I knew the group that I was teaching and what the difficulties were.  A disproportionate number of students I taught were essentially raising themselves in the best way they knew how, and under far less than ideal circumstances.  

By the standards with which I was raised, these children were just this shy of feral.   I specifically took on this task, with the hope of making a difference.   However, what is a teacher in a quiet suburban school to do when faced with a child who — by comparison to the rest of the class — seems a bit like a bull in a china shop?  Unfortunately, the decision is easy, when certain things transpire.  Quite simply, one removes the child from class, suspends them or expels them.

Today, teachers are placed in a position where there have to keep the entire class moving at pace.  It’s a no-brainer to have a chronically-disruptive student removed.  

The U.S. Supreme Court rightly decided a long time ago that the schools act in loco parentis in the place of the parents.  Part of that obligation is to uphold local community standards and mores.  This gives the school the obligation to decide what is acceptable in the local school community.  Just as different families may have different standards of what is acceptable, so can different schools.

Additionally, Project 21 member Joe R. Hicks, a former executive director of executive director of both the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission and the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said:

Representing President Obama’s leftist views on race and racial victimization, Eric Holder’s Justice Department has again offered bad advice to the nation’s public school systems.

Claiming school disciplinary policies discriminate against misbehaving black students, Holder has asked school administrators and teachers to avoid discipline nearly altogether to avoid the bizarre notion of a “school-to-prison pipeline.”  But what are teachers supposed to do with students who stand up in a classroom and yell “f—- you” at their algebra teacher?

Yes, black students are “disproportionately” disciplined.  But what if, for a host of cultural, neighborhood and economic dynamics, black kids simply misbehave in school more often than their white or Asian counterparts?

If racism isn’t really any part of decisions about who gets disciplined, why must hard-working teachers ignore, tolerate or excuse bad behavior?

Project 21 co-chairman Horace Cooper, in a panel discussion on the topic that aired on the TVOne network program “NewOne Now with Roland Martin” on 1/9/14, suggested that school choice — a policy largely opposed by the Obama Administration — could contain a solution to schools that ay too quickly rely on draconian disciplinary enforcement matters.

Horace said:

If a parent can pick to go to another school — the school that wants to keep you [as opposed to suspend or expel a perceived problem student] — [other schools] may be more responsive and change their policies to keep you.  If they don’t, they need to go out of business…

The public school system is a monopoly, and monopolies do not respond well to the interests of parents or students… They are the state. 

Friday
Jan102014

About Those December Jobs Numbers…

Even though only a meager number of jobs were created during the month of December and workforce participation fell, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics nonetheless says the official unemployment rate actually dropped at the end of 2013 to 6.7 percent.

Go figure.

Project 21 member Derryck Green, in his monthly “About Those Jobs Numbers…” report that always follows the government’s unemployment announcement, figures there is no reason to celebrate the Obama Administration’s math.  He still sees tough economic times ahead in 2014:

Though it’s a brand new year, it appears it’s the same old story when it relates to jobs and the economy.

Unemployment, it would seem from the government’s press release, slightly dipped to 6.7 percent.

One thing that’s for certain, regardless of the lower December unemployment rate, is that it isn’t the result of enough jobs being created but more likely because more Americans are underworked or giving up hopes of ever finding work.  That’s evidenced by the 2.4 million people considered to be only “marginally attached” to the labor force.

Despite the jobless rate dropping a reported three-tenths of a percentage point, only 74,000 jobs were actually created in December.  That’s opposed to 203,000 jobs created in November.  Expectations were much higher.  It’s not even enough for these new workers to replace the natural workforce attrition rate.

This is the soft underbelly to any claim by the President’s supporters that the economy has turned a corner under Barack Obama’s leadership.

For November and December, the “U-6” jobless rate that measures all of those out of work — including those who are underemployed and able but discouraged dropouts from the workforce — held stable at 13.1 percent.  Also, the workforce participation rate fell two-tenths of a percent (but not in a good way).  Now, that rate is only 62.8 percent — a figure that hasn’t been so low since the Carter Administration.

And, while the official jobless rate is an allegedly better 6.7 percent, the President’s key constituencies continue to suffer at a much higher rate.  Black unemployment, for instance, is 11.9 percent and black teen unemployment is a staggering 35.5 percent.  Hispanic unemployment is at 8.3 percent.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these demographics “showed little change” while the overall rate fell.

There are several other indicators that demonstrate the American economy continues to be held captive by Obama’s economic ineptitude:

  • The seasonally-adjusted number of Americans qualifying for unemployment claims at the end of December was 2,865,000 — an increase of approximately 50,000 over the prior week.
  • Since late December, roughly 1.3 million people have run out of these unemployment benefits because they’ve been out of work so long that they’ve used up their lawfully-allotment of benefits.  If emergency jobless benefits are extended by Congress (a likely possibility), it will be the 12th time since 2008.  Extending unemployment payments for three months would cost an additional $6 billion.  Another year could cost more than $25 billion.
  • Nationally, more than 20 million Americans are unemployed.
  • ADP, the payroll company, expected 238,000 jobs to have been created in the private sector in December.  That was this morning’s hopeful headline prior to the federal jobless announcement of only 74,000 jobs created.  There’s quite a gulf between the prediction and the reality — causing many commentators’ jaws to drop at the government’s 8:30AM announcement.
  • The Social Security Administration said the number of people receiving disability benefits hit an all-time high in December of 10,988,269 recipients — with the average per person benefit coming close to $1,150 per month.  Both the amount of recipients and the amount of benefits are all-time records.

Remember that this President constantly reminds people that the economy is allegedly now in a recovery.  But it would seem to be the worst economic recovery in American history!

Also affecting the state of the economy are the various fees, taxes and penalties associated with ObamaCare — from the penalty of one percent of one’s income (or $95, whichever is higher) for not being insured to increased premiums and deductibles that Americans are responsible to pay for allegedly better insurance plans Obama’s health care mandate that people are forced into joining.  These punitive penalties negatively affect the wallets of middle-class Americans because they forcibly take away money that could be spent in more productive ways — ways that could have demonstrated an increase in consumer confidence in the economy.

Forcing money from the American people against their will — in this case, for mandated health insurance — makes them poorer.  No matter how the Obama Administration attempts to spin this ongoing catastrophe, redistribution is essentially stealing — regardless of how diligent efforts are to assign it with good intentions.

So what’s the plan of the man whose administration is in an executive and moral freefall?  It’s to extend unemployment benefits, increase the minimum wage, reduce income inequality and fight poverty with the creation of so-called “promise zones.”

In other words, Obama reached for campaign gimmicks rather than serious economic policy.  It appears that there’s no gray matter among the President’s brain trust.

That the President is stoically begging Congress to extend unemployment benefits, again, is a tacit admission that the economic policies of his administration failed.  His populist recovery strategy is covering over failure.  Is this even apparent to the President or his advisors?

The President seems to think that increasing the minimum wage is serious and sound economic policy.  He said as much on January 7 when he said that extending unemployment benefits “helps the economy” and “creates new jobs.”

What?  How, exactly?

Again, this is a campaign issue and not a serious attempt at economic policy.  Just 2.6 percent of American workers earned the minimum wage.  Not even three percent!

The President’s approval ratings are in the basement — where many Millennials are coincidentally forced to live due to his economic stewardship — and he’s focused on the minimum wage?  What indicts the President is that data shows that increasing the minimum wages increases unemployment that has a detrimental effect on those who are in dire need of employment and work experience — namely the poor and black teenagers.  Surely, Milton Friedman, Thomas Sowell, Arthur Laffer and Project 21’s Horace Cooper can’t all be wrong.

The President’s other related focus is on income inequality.  This, too, is nothing more than a campaign issue predicated on manipulating emotions as a result of envy, covetousness and greed.

It’s also disingenuous and screams of hypocrisy.

Income inequality has risen under this President, and the rich have gotten richer.  That, and the President and his family just concluded a 17-day, $4 million dollar vacation to Hawaii — a vacation the First Lady continued to enjoy as a present for her 50th birthday at a cost of more than $200,000 during a recovery that has yet to truly manifest itself. 

This causes the President’s credibility to take yet another hit (does he have any left?).  But happy birthday to you anyway, Mrs. Obama. 

And, by the way, what are these promise zones anyway?  This sounds like a game of make-believe that blissfully naïve children play to entertain themselves.

Promise zones?  How about employment zones, Mr. President?  How about picking one geographic area — say, America — and putting as much energy into reducing regulation and creating an economic climate conducive to job creation and hiring as you do into campaigning on less-than-serious issues having little to no positive effect on the American economy?

While Obama fiddles, it can’t be long before increasing numbers of Americans become endeared to other people willing to lead.  Consider Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C), who recently filed an amendment to the bill to extend unemployment benefits that contains a diligent attempt to restore the traditional 40-hour workweek that ObamaCare currently threatens as a result of the employer mandate.  Senator Marco Rubio (R- FL) just gave an impassioned speech about reclaiming economic opportunity while combating poverty through small government, state-led efforts.  And Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) offered a plan last month that would create economic freedom zones (different and substantial from the rhetoric of promise zones) to reduce individual and corporate income tax rates, reduce payroll taxes, and suspend discriminatory Davis-Bacon wage restrictions.

If President Obama’s bluster is any indicator, 2014 will be an interesting yet frustrating year.  With another recycled State of the Union campaign speech — sorry, address — scheduled for later this month, ObamaCare premiums and penalties due and elections in the fall, Americans should prepare for the political rhetoric to drown out the needed discussion on actual solutions to the nation’s problems.

Buckle up, America.  It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

Friday
Jan102014

Has ObamaCare Reduced Medicare Spending? Part 1

Writing in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week, Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, claimed  that the current slowdown in national health care spending “is thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act….Many factors, including the recession and one-time developments like blockbuster drugs coming off patent, have contributed to the slowdown, which started in the middle of the last decade. But the slowdown has deepened since the ACA passed, and evidence shows the law has made a meaningful contribution.” 

Furman also claims that the health care law has impacted Medicare spending. ObamaCare “is directly responsible for a substantial portion of slowdown in Medicare’s growth over the past few years…Notably, the rise in Medicare costs has slowed, with real Medicare spending per beneficiary essentially unchanged from 2010 to 2012.”  As the chart below shows, the rate of real per beneficiary growth in Medicare has almost dropped off a cliff since 2010:

 

But is that slowdown the result of ObamaCare?  Let’s take a look at the factors Furman argues are responsible. First, “Medicare now penalizes hospitals if too many patients need to be readmitted—a change that helped reduce hospital readmission rates by more than one percentage point through 2013, corresponding to 130,000 avoided readmissions.”

That policy change was part of ObamaCare, but it had no impact on the Medicare growth rate in 2010 or 2011 because it didn’t go into effect until October 1, 2012.  Readmissions dropped n 2012 by 70,000, although a study by CMS was unsure as to what caused the decline.  But let’s assume that the new policy was responsible for every bit of the 70,000 drop.  The average Medicare readmission costs about $14,500.  Thus, the new policy may have saved Medicare just over $1 billion in 2012.  Adding that $1 billion into Medicare expenditures for 2012 increases the per beneficiary growth rate from -0.7% to -0.5%.  Thus, changing Medicare’s readmission policy may have had at most a small impact on Medicare finances in 2012.

Next, Furman states that “more than 360 organizations serving five million Medicare beneficiaries have adopted the ACA’s Accountable Care Organization models, letting them share in savings created by improving the efficiency of care, so long as they also provide high-quality care.”  First, the ACO programs run by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) began in 2012.  Thus, just like the readmission policy, ACOs had no impact on Medicare’s growth rate in 2010 or 2011.

Second, Furman’s implication here is that putting Medicare beneficiaries into an Accountable Care Organization (ACO) is an automatic money saver. But the jury is still out on the effectiveness of ACOs.  “Pioneer” ACOs is one program run by CMS. Thirty-two organizations covering 860,000 Medicare beneficiaries participated in this program in 2012.  By the end of the year nine organization dropped out of the program. Eighteen reduced costs but only 13 of those saved enough to return money to Medicare.  The amount of money Medicare received was a mere $33 million, barely enough to make a nick in Medicare’s growth rate.  CMS has another ACO program that began in 2012 called the Medicare Shared Savings Program, but as of yet no data is available on whether it saved any money.

Furman’s explanation for why ObamaCare is responsible for slowing the growth in Medicare falls short.  So, what is causing the slowdown?  Part 2 on Monday.

Photo credit: iStockPhoto

Thursday
Jan092014

Bill Nye the Science Guy Tries to Have It Both Ways on Climate Change

On the January 7, 2014 broadcast of Al Sharpton's MSNBC Show "Politics Nation," Bill Nye of "Bill Nye the Science Guy" tries to have it both ways on climate change.

He's trying to maximize the possibility that this week's cold snap will be perceived by the public as consistent with the global warming theory, while at the same time admitting that no single weather event proves or disproves the catastrophic global warming theory.

It's hard to do both, as he proves.

On Al Sharpton's show, at the 4:17 mark, he says of the cold snap, "It's very reasonable that this is the result of climate change."

Then he protects himself from criticism by noting, correctly, "Tying one specific event to this larger, decades-long change is very difficult..."

But then he spins again: "However, it is consistent with what we'd expect."

If Nye were playing this like a true scientist, that is, objectively, he'd explain that the weather this week proves nothing about the catastrophic global warming theory -- either way. Instead he twice implies cold weather could be occurring because the global warming theory is valid, with just enough straight talk to provide cover.

Nye doesn't exactly impress with some of this other comments on this broadcast. At about 5:05 he says the problem is not global warming, but the rate of increase of CO2 in the atmosphere. That's an odd thing to say, because most of the purveyors have been saying the problem IS global warming, and that said global warming is caused by the increase (not necessarily the rate of increase) of CO2 in the atmosphere. Furthermore, Nye says support for his belief comes from the fact that many more people now live on the earth than did 264 years ago. Even if his novel theory was right, the population growth doesn't prove his theory.

But you be the judge. Here's Nye in his own words:

The concern is not that the world was not once warmer, or that there was not once more carbon dioxide in the air than there is now. It's the rate, it's the speed at which we are adding these greenhouse gases that is of deep concern because we have now, instead of in 1750, let's say about a billion humans on earth, now we have over seven billion humans on earth, and so pumping out all these carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as we all try to live the way we do in the developed world, it is going to be very difficult for large populations to make adjustments. And that is why we're concerned. So this is a teachable moment, this very unpleasant cold snap.

Does that make any sense?

But to be fair, it can be hard to organize thoughts on television. Maybe this is unusual for Nye.

Or not.

On Twitter, last February:

RyanMaue BillNye MSNBC Twitter021013

Ryan Maue is a Ph.D. meteorologist, and his reference is to an MSNBC interview of Nye advertised by MSNBC as:

BillNyeClimateChangeBlizzardMSNC020913

Here's how Nye blamed the February 2013 blizzard on global warming in that MSNBC broadcast:

This could be the future, everybody. This could be the new normal. With all the extra heat energy in the atmosphere, climate change, this could be the way it is going to be, a lot. People say, well it's a blizzard. How can it be global warming? Well, the difference between snow and rain is very small. It's just a few degrees Celsius, a few degrees Farenheit. When the sea surface gets a little more heat on it... there is more evaporation. There's more moisture in the air. And here we are.
I have never seen one of the broadcasts Bill Nye does for kids. Maybe it is all safe stuff, such as putting sugar into club soda and watching it fizz. Maybe all he talks about is asteroids. Maybe he truly is inspiring a generation of young people to grow up to be scientists.

Sadly, though, if he is, he's not inspiring them to be good scientists. You know, critical thinkers.

In this story, "Progressive America has a brand new hero: Bill Nye the Science Guy," Bill is quoted saying, "I fight this fight out of patriotism."

Perhaps he is fighting for his own brand of patriotism, but notice he doesn't claim to be for objectivity.

Addendum: Dr. Ryan Maue has tweeted to suggest another example of Bill Nye's creative thinking (my terms) on climate, here. It is worth visiting.

Addendum, 1/13/14: A friend pointed me to this December 2013 debate between Bill Nye and Marc Morano of CFACT on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight (video and transcript here). Nye was massacred. Nye used the same talking points he would later use in the MSNBC interview, above (the rate of acceleration of CO2 and relative population sizes), wasted time most debaters would have used to argue a disputed point to pin Morano down on the question of whether atmospheric CO2 levels have been increasing (this is not under dispute), and falsely claimed Medieval-era and Roman-era natural warm periods only occurred in Europe. Not long into the interview, Piers Morgan essentially took over for Nye. My sense is that, for all that he talks about climate issues often, Nye does not follow them closely, and I suspect Piers Morgan has reached the same conclusion.

Thursday
Jan092014

School Choice Can Plug “School-to-Prison Pipeline”

Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan recently suggested the best way for schools to cut down on perceived discriminatory student discipline policies — creating an alleged “school-to-prison pipeline” — is for schools to scale back on their disciplinary enforcement.

Horace Cooper of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network said that school choice could help alleviate the problem.  As one can expect, this did not go over well with his fellow panelists on the 1/9/14 edition of “NewsOne Now” on the TVOne network.

In particular, host Roland Martin rudely sought to dismiss Horace’s suggestion — claiming that his own past support for school choice and his support for the Holder/Duncan policy means there cannot be a connection between the two.  Horace, however, noted:

If a parent can pick to go to another school — the school that wants to keep you [as opposed to suspend or expel a perceived problem student] — [other schools] may be more responsive and change their policies to keep you.  If they don’t, they need to go out of business.

Horace added that school systems don’t need to be as responsive right now because they are often the only option available to many families.  Horace said:

The public school system is a monopoly, and monopolies do not respond well to the interests of parents or students… They are the state.

Thursday
Jan092014

Project 21’s Cooper Defends Laffer on Minimum Wage Reform

Horace Cooper, co-chairman of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network, heartily defended Arthur Laffer — the famous (and still active) Reagan-era economist — in a TVOne network debate about reforming the minimum wage to promote black teenage employment prospects.

On the 1/9/14 edition of “NewsOne Now,” Horace took on host Roland Martin, Christoper Metzler of Georgetown University and Ray Baker of Politics365 regarding Laffer’s recent comments on the Fox News Channel in which Laffer said that legislative efforts to raise the minimum wage amounted to little more than a “black teenage unemployment act.”  Laffer added in his interview: “This is the very group that we need to have jobs, not be put out of work because of the minimum wage.”

At the beginning of the discussion, Horace quickly called the notion of abolishing the minimum wage — at least for younger job-seekers — a “brilliant idea.”  He pointed out that “the goal is making hiring black young men more attractive.”  While his opponents sought to imply that any abolition of minimum wage mandates equated to applicants receiving no wages, Horace replied that the wages offered would be determined by the free market in the same manner as the salaries of everyone participating in their debate are determined.  And with those jobs come the prospect of vital training and opportunity for advancement and higher wages.

Noting that minimum wages were initially imposed as a means of “undercut[ting] black employment” in the pre-civil rights era, Horace said that “the overwhelming consensus among economists is that the minimum wage is the primary reason that young black men do not have the job opportunities that they do.”

Wednesday
Jan082014

Stacy Washington Discusses Black Female SNL Hire

On the 1/7/14 edition of “America with Jorge Ramos” on the Fusion network, Project 21 member Stacy Washington talks about the high-profile hiring of a new black female member to the cast of the “Saturday Night Live” comedy show.

Over the past several months that preceded the hiring of Sasheer Zamata, the show’s executives were criticized (to the point they even chose to make fun of themselves on the show) for lacking a regular black female comedian since 2007.

Stacy suggested to Ramos and co-host Mariana Atencio that the shaming the producers received should have been unnecessary because there are plenty of funny people out there who happen to be black and female.  There should not have been a de facto affirmative action policy imposed on the show when a simple search of the Internet could find plenty of qualified and diverse talent.

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