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Monday
Jun302014

Repeal The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival Act

One almost has to give the President Obama points for chutzpah.  He signs an executive order that has resulted in a huge flood of underage illegal immigrants into the nation, and now he wants Congress to authorize the spending of $2 billion to clean up the mess.

Well, I say give it to him.  But only in a bill that contains language that repeals the president’s executive order, known as the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals”, and also contains language that prevents Obama or any other president from ever taking such an action again.

President Obama agrees to those two provisions, he gets his $2 billion.  Otherwise, forget it.

The President signed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in June of 2012.  It allowed “undocumented children who were brought here by their parents to stay in the U.S. for two years or more, if they meet certain requirements.

“An unintended consequence is that parents now believe that if they send their children alone across the U.S. border, they will receive a permit to stay even if apprehended by Border Patrol. The policy was never intended to invite a wave of children to enter the country without their parents, but that’s been the result.”

Indeed, the Border Patrol has arrested 52,000 children at the border this year who came without their parents. Another 39,000 women with children have also been apprehended.

The one drawback if Republicans in the House push such a deal is the Obama Administration, Senate Democrats, the liberal press and others will call them cruel and willing to hurt children.  So, be ready for that.  

In fact, get out in front of the issue.  When Republicans in the House make their counteroffer, they must get up and say, “This is needed to end a policy that has cruel results for those most vulnerable among us, children.  It encourages families to send children alone to the U.S., which is no doubt a harrowing journey for an adult, let alone a child.  They are at great risk.  Thus, it’s time to end this terrible policy.”

There needs to be both some backbone and creative thinking in the GOP Caucus on this issue.

Sunday
Jun292014

Harris v. Quinn: Tomorrow's Supreme Court Sleeper Case May Not Be So Sleepy

ALT TAGI wonder if SEIU President Mary Kay Henry is getting much sleep tonight.

Nearly all eyes turned toward the Supreme Court tomorrow are focused on the combined Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Woods cases -- but two First Amendment-related decisions are to be handed down tomorrow, and the one few people have heard about could be just as big.

The other case, Harris v. Quinn, examines First Amendment free speech issues that arise when public employee union collective bargaining intersects especially keenly with the formation of public policy.

I write "especially keenly," because of course whenever a public sector union successfully makes a demand, the public feels it in some form.

Background

In Harris v. Quinn, employees of disabled persons who receive Medicaid were forced to support, through compulsory fees for collective bargaining purposes, a public sector labor union that lobbies for expanded public Medicaid expenditures.

The union considers this lobbying to be a form of collective bargaining, because the workers will be paid more if certain Medicaid reimbursement rates are increased.

Some of the affected workers, however, oppose expanded Medicaid reimbursement rates because of the burden it places on the public. These individuals believe that being forced to pay their "fair share" of what the union considers collective bargaining is in fact a violation of their First Amendment free speech rights. They say the union is forcing them to lobby for a change in Medicaid policy with which they disagree.

Why This Matters - Big Time

An intriguing aspect of Harris v. Quinn is that while the public policy nature of the issues in which the union has engaged itself here are especially keen, it is undeniable that every collective bargaining action by a public sector union has some public policy impact.

Thus, any government employee who is forced to contribute to a public sector union to offset its collective bargaining expenses could make the same claim as the disgruntled workers in Harris v. Quinn: Why should I be compelled to make political speech with which I disagree?

In 1977, the Supreme Court examined this question when Detroit public school teachers, forced to pay service charges to a teachers union equal to the amount of dues, objected to the union's use of a portion of their service charges for expressly political purposes, such as support for specific candidates for public office. The high court, in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, ruled then that the union could charge non-members service fees for collective bargaining activities, but could not charge them for expressly political or ideological work.

The Obama Administration, unsurprisingly, argued before the court in Harris v. Quinn that the protections afforded workers by the compromise arrangement made in Abood is sufficient to safeguard the workers' First Amendment rights.

The plaintiffs in Harris v. Quinn, who do not support the union's views toward Medicaid expansion, disagree. They say they don't care that the union considers lobbying for Medicaid expansion to be part of its collective bargaining duties; as far as they are concerned, the union is engaging in political speech with which they disagree, and they don't want to be forced to help pay for it.

What Could Happen

If the high court rules in favor of the petitioners tomorrow, a huge change in U.S. labor law is possible -- one that results in public sector unions losing access to mandatory service fees from workers who chose not to join a union, but who still must pay for their share of that union's collective bargaining activities.

If that happens, expect to hear MAJOR screaming and protesting from unions.

Intriguingly, rumor has it that Justice Alito is writing the majority opinion in this case. In the oral arguments, Justice Alito equated a teachers union's ability to force a teacher to contribute to causes with which he or she disagrees as a condition of employment to an ability by unions to deny a person's right to become a teacher. So we can probably assume he's sensitive to the rights of public workers to be employed without donating against his or her will to political causes.

And even more intriguingly, the court scheduled the release of Harris v. Quinn for the last day of the term -- the evening of which justices can go out of town, where it is harder for unions to find them for protests.

Harris v. Quinn came about as a result of what many consider to be a union overreach, as public sector unions sought to unionize people who in many cases are employed by a member of their own families, not the government. If the case results in all public sector workers being released from paying compulsory service fees nationally -- still a longshot, admittedly -- it will turn out to have been the most ill-advised overreach in the history of organized labor.

Friday
Jun272014

We Have an Absolute Right to Not Participate in Abortion Against Our Will

ALT TAG

Here's hoping that when the U.S. Supreme Court hands down Burwell (formerly Sebelius) v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell on, presumably, Monday, it not only delivers a resounding victory for Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Woods by a 9-0 margin (I actually predict 6-3), but bases the victory not just on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but the First Amendment itself.

That way, if the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is ever repealed (which is not, alas, farfetched), we won't have to re-litigate the freedom to not be forced to help others commit abortion against our will.

Not being forced to participate in an abortion is an absolute right, not one that should be seen as owing its existence to transitory statutory law.

Victories for freedom should be permanent ones. Better a 5-4 decision that includes the First Amendment than a 9-0 on RFRA alone.

Friday
Jun272014

Intellectuals and the VA: Veterans Suffer Because Of A Bad Idea

I have a new National Policy Analysis out today entitled, “Intellectuals and the VA: How A Bad Idea and Bad Reporting Contributed to a Health Care Catastrophe.”

It traces how Phillip Longman’s book Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Healthcare Is Better Than Yours created an amen chorus of academics, policy wonks and journalists promoting the idea that VA health care is the best in the U.S. It also examines how Longman’s idea was absorbed by politicians who were supposed to be overseeing the VA and the consequences that had for veterans.  Here are a few excerpts:

In all the finger-pointing over the Department of Veterans Affairs scandal, one group has thus far largely escaped accountability: intellectuals.

The people whose work begins and ends with ideas — academics, policy wonks and, to some extent, journalists — helped create an atmosphere of complacency regarding the Veterans Health Administration that led to the catastrophe.

By now, the story is familiar. Employees at the VA were manipulating data on wait times for care so that the VA appeared better than it was at meeting its standard of a maximum 14-day wait for treatment. Many whistleblowers at the VA were harassed and, in a few cases, even fired. The result was that over 57,000 veterans waited at least three months for a doctor’s appointment while nearly 64,000 veterans were never added to any waiting list. We may never know exactly how many of these veterans suffered in pain or saw their conditions worsen while they waited for treatment. We do know the deaths of at least 23 veterans are attributable to delays.

From 2000 to 2011, there were at least 26 reports — six from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and 20 from the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG)—that examined wait times within the VA system. They cover the gamut. They examine both wait times in general and wait times for specific treatments such as cancer care and rehabilitation for the blind. They cover wait times across the entire VA to specific locales such as West Palm Beach, Chattanooga, Dallas, Portland and, yes, Phoenix. And there were even a few reports on the possible manipulation of wait-time data.

Twenty-six reports in 12 years should have been an alarm bell that something was wrong, but to hear some intellectuals tell it, the VA, despite awful scandals in the past, had transformed into a wonderful system of health care by the 1990s.

The politicians who were charged with oversight of the VA clearly absorbed the belief that the VA was the best health care system in the U.S.:

In late 2009, then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said at an Army medical symposium that the VA operated “more than 1,400 points of care, where nearly 18,000 VA doctors, 49,000 VA nurses, and a legion of clinical and support staff provide some of the best care anywhere.” At his confirmation hearing, VA Undersecretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel said, “I have spent my entire professional life in the Veterans Health Administration striving to provide the ‘Best Care Anywhere’ to America’s Veterans.”

…During Shinseki’s confirmation hearing, Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) said the VA “does provide some of the best health care in the world.”

As Congress debated ObamaCare during 2009 and 2010, the VA’s quality medical system was a common theme. At a markup for the legislation, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said, “And the VA, in fact, has been the leader in electronic medical records and in looking at health information technology and new quality measures, but that is a completely government-run system.” Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) seconded that sentiment, claiming, “everybody agrees [the VA] is the best health care system in the country.”

The result of that idea was lax Congressional oversight: “There were two hearings on wait times held in late 2007, one by the Senate Special Committee on Aging and the other by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. After that, there was almost nothing until 2013.”

Mark Tapscott at the Washington Examiner has given it a nice write up here.

And check back a little later as I’ll have a list of the 26 reports from GAO and OIG if you are interested.  UPDATE:  The list is posted here.

UPDATE: The website RARE has now run a version of the paper.

Friday
Jun272014

Progressive Labor Laws Hurt Poor, Black Americans

Minimum wage laws — a centerpiece of President Obama’s class warfare agenda — has its origins in anti-black sentiment?

Yes!

That fact and other unsettling details about the racial underpinnings of progressive labor laws are laid bare by Project 21 co-chairman Horace Cooper in a new paper published by the Capital Research Center.

Featured in the June issue of the Capital Research Center’s “Labor Watch,” Horace chronicles a myriad of landmark labor laws to show how many of them were tainted by the Jim Crow law mentality of the era in which they were created.  But, rather than throwing them on the ash heap of history like other racial laws of that era, these progressive labor laws are still championed by the left and their troubling histories are largely ignored by those regularly hypersensitive about issues of race.

In the paper, “The Untold, Racist Origins of ‘Progressive’ Labor Laws,” Horace writes:

Many federal labor laws in the United States originated in efforts to saddle black men with extra burdens and limitations, in order to (as racists often put it) “protect white jobs.”  Tragically, these laws, in one form or another, remain on the books today and continue to hamper the ability of blacks, especially men, to enjoy gainful employment.  Yet so-called Progressives hail these laws for their supposedly humanitarian effects, and praise the sponsors of these laws for their supposedly good intentions.

For instance, the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which requires a “prevailing wage” (read: local union rate) for federally-financed or federally-assisted construction projects, had the “primary objective… to make it harder for black tradesman to compete for work on federal construction projects.”

Horace also notes:

In the 1920s and ‘30s, black tradesmen were generally barred from joining most labor unions, which meant that any mandated “union wage” was effectively a “white man’s wage” and, at the time, would not be paid to an itinerant, non-unionized black construction crew.

Even the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, the “quintessential labor-law achievement of the Progressive movement” that allowed union organizing, collective bargaining and labor strikes had “racially significant exceptions” in the fact that the law did not apply to agricultural and domestic workers — groups that had extremely large black participation rates.

And the minimum wage guarantee set up by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 also contained an exemption for agricultural jobs.

Horace points out how these unfair laws continue to affect black America:

The laws all but eviscerated opportunities for blacks, particularly unskilled black men, and the racial consequence — to use a liberal term, the disparate impact of these laws — continues today…

Before these laws were enacted, blacks were making rapid progress.  Hiring blacks made good economic sense and practically every black man that wanted a job could have one.  Black employment empowered the community and led to dramatic gains in terms of lifestyle.  Black employment was so robust that non-black communities organized and successfully created roadblocks to give one group — white men — a competitive advantage.  The effects of these policies persist today.

To read the full test of Horace Cooper’s paper on unfair and racial labor laws created by the Progressive Movement, click here.

Thursday
Jun262014

Bloomberg Soda Ban a Bust, Project 21’s LeBon Comments

In a devastating blow to the New York City nanny state of former mayor Michael Bloomberg, judges on the New York State Court of Appeals voted to uphold two lower court rulings thus keeping the city government from banning the sale of certain soft drinks in certain places under the mayor’s regulatory grip.

This was the last possible appeal, and the extent of the former mayor’s overreach in crafting the ban may deal a devastating blow to other nanny state policies in the Big Apple and elsewhere because the ruling now calls into question the authority of the city’s Board of Health.

Under Bloomberg’s rule, the Board of Health imposed a ban that prohibited specified sugary soft drinks from being served in containers larger than 16 ounces.  Besides the assault on consumer choice and basic freedom, the plan was criticized for having many exceptions (milkshakes and coffees were exempted from the ban that was largely seen as targeting carbonated beverages) and only restaurants, theaters, arenas and other venues under the authority of the Board of Health were affected.

The judges voted four to two to go along with the lower court rulings that stopped the ban from going into effect, with Judge Eugene F. Piggott, Jr. writing that the Board of Health “exceeded the scope of its regulatory authority.”

In dealing this blow to city regulators, other harsh rules imposed by the New York City Board of Health such as the infamous ban on trans fats and the menu calorie-count requirement – things that are now championed by the likes of the Obama Administration – could be at risk.

Project 21 co-chairman Cherylyn Harley LeBon, a long-time critic of nanny state policies in general and the Bloomberg soda ban plan in particular, is cheering the judges’ decision to curtail the power of city bureaucrats.  Cherylyn said:

While we all acknowledge that obesity is a problem in our country, attempting to mandate behavior by regulation is not the best approach.  I am glad that New York’s Court of Appeals ruled that the city’s health board lacked authority to impose the ban.  I wholeheartedly agree.

We should focus on programs which help individuals make better choices for themselves and encourage schools to increase physical education programs and after-school activities promoting activity instead of sitting in a room.

In the end, individuals have to be motivated to change their behavior.  Limiting the availability of soda in one establishment only motivates people to patronize another business – it did not dissuade people from wanting to consume soda.

Thursday
Jun262014

The Constitution Beats Barack Obama, 9-0

An amusing side note to the major Supreme Court case decided today, NLRB. v. Noel Canning, is how many people believe Noel Canning is a man.

For example, this lead paragraph in The Wire:

In a narrow ruling that preserves much of the presidential recess appointment power, the Supreme Court struck down President Obama's 2012 recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. The court was unanimous in its judgement for Noel Canning, who challenged the president's decision to fill vacancies on the NLRB, even though the Senate was holding "pro forma" sessions to prevent the president from using that power....

Here's a photo of "Mr." Noel Canning:

NoelCanningCorpGoogleEarthB

If you think Mr. Canning bears a remarkable resemblance to a Pepsi-Cola bottling plant, you'd be right.

The Wire is owned by Atlantic Media, which, as the owner of the Atlantic and National Journal (among other media properties), is big enough to have editors.

On the merits of the case: President Obama was trying to use his recess appointment power not to overcome the fact that the Senate was out of town and unavailable to confirm his nominees, but to overcome the fact that the Senate did not approve of his nominees. The Constitution gives no authority to the President to use the recess appointment power to bypass Senate opposition to his nominees. As such, the President's actions were improper, and the Court was right to strike them down.

NLRB v. Noel Canning is an important case for the protection of the Constitution during an Administration that has been shameless about seizing powers belonging to the other branches of government. Fortunately, the Court saw the President's illegal and improper maneuver for what it was, and the Constitution won, 9-0.

I commented further here.

Thursday
Jun262014

Lesson of the VA: Employees More Likely To Cheat When They Can't Be Fired

The VA scandal is, in part, the result of the fact that most employees at the VA have civil service protections, which makes it very difficult to terminate their employment.

When employees have goals they can’t meet—such as a 14-day waiting standard—and not meeting them means they don’t receive promotions, raises and bonuses, well, the incentive among employees to manipulate the data is much higher when they can’t be fired.  We’d like all people to be honest, even those who have civil service protection, but the odds are on honesty going down the crapper when there are few consequences for dishonesty.

From the Office of Inspector General interim report, here’s a few of the tactics that VA personnel resorted to in order to goose the wait time numbers:

-Don’t put them on the list:  At the Phoenix facility, the OIG “identified an additional 1,700 veterans who were waiting for a primary care appointment but were not on the EWL [electronic waiting list]…The length of time these 1,700 veterans wait for appointments prior to being scheduled or added to the EWL will never be captured in any VA wait time data because Phoenix HCS staff had not yet scheduled their appointment or added them to the EWL. Until that happens, the reported wait time for these veterans has not started. Most importantly, these veterans were and continue to be at risk of being lost or forgotten in Phoenix HCS’ convoluted scheduling practices. As a result, these veterans may never obtain their requested or required primary care appointment.”

-Use the first open date, not the date requested by the patient: “…it appears that a significant number of schedulers are manipulating the waiting times of established patients by using the wrong desired date of care. Instead of schedulers using a date based on when the provider wants to see the veteran or when the veteran wants an appointment, the scheduler deviates from VHA’s scheduling policy by going into the system to determine when the next available appointment is and using that as a purported desired date. This results in a false 0-day wait time.” “Overall, 13 percent of scheduling staff interviewed indicated they received instruction (from supervisors or others) to enter in the ‘desired date’ field a date different from the date the Veteran had requested.” 

 Now, none of this is to suggest that data manipulation doesn’t happen in the private sector. Of course it does!  But, in the private sector, there are actually consequences:

-GlaxoKlineSmith PLC’s former head of R&D in China—whom Glaxo fired this month, saying a scientific paper he helped write contained “misrepresented” data—has denied any involvement in data manipulation.

Glaxo didn’t say who was responsible for misrepresenting the data in the paper, which was published in Nature Medicine in 2010. But earlier this week, the company said it had fired Jiangwu Zang, the company’s China R&D chief, after a company investigation found problems with some data in the Nature Medicine paper.

-Barclays sacked five staff over Libor manipulation scandal. Investment bank chief Rich Ricci tells banking standards commission 13 were disciplined – but others had already left.

-Apparently, even the press frowns on this:  ”April 1 may forever haunt Colin Crawford, Los Angeles Times Director of Photography, and Brian Walski, a staff photographer covering the war in Iraq for the paper. That was the day Walski was fired, after it was revealed that a photo he submitted on Sunday was actually a composite of two images he had captured.”

-Even firms that are only partially private sector hand out pink slips to data manipulators: Government Motors General Motors “Tavera recall gets murkier as company fires staff for fudging data.”

Such consequences increases the amount of honesty in the private sector and prevents more data manipulations from happening than otherwise would.  Thus, it makes good sense that some of the VA reform proposals contain provisions making it easier to fire VA employees.   

Thursday
Jun262014

Black Conservatives Discuss Canning Case

Today’s big decision from the U.S. Supreme Court was a unanimous ruling against the Obama White House in the case of NLRB v. Canning.

The justices found that President Obama acted improperly in making recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board at a time when the Senate was in session.

A president acting decisively in this manner, such as making appointments during a crisis when senators were out of town, was more of factor when travel was not so easy.  In this case, the Senate was in session and the appointments in question were controversial nominees who likely would not pass Senate muster had a vote even been scheduled.

Project 21 members are speaking out about the Canning decision and what this means and says about the Obama Administration method of governing.

Project 21 co-chairman Horace Cooper, a legal commentator who taught constitutional law at George Mason University and is a former leadership staff member for the U.S. House of Representatives, lays a lot of the blame for the circumstances that brought the justices wrath upon this executive branch overreach on Attorney General Eric Holder, the Obama Administration’s chief legal officer.

Horace said:

The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling makes clear that President Obama should never have attempted these appointments to the NLRB.

This is yet another loss based on ill-considered legal reasoning.

The Obama Administration has been ill-served by the Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder.  Recommending to the President that he has authority he clearly lacks created unnecessary conflict and will result in a host of challenges to the activities of the NLRB.

An Attorney General committed to the Constitution more than to his political party would never have let this happen.

Project 21 Deroy Murdock, a syndicated columnist and Fox News Channel contributor applauded this limit on Obama’s quest for increased and unbalanced executive power:

Today’s unanimous Supreme Court decision in the NLRB v. Canning case is a major and much-welcome rebuke to Obama’s “go-around Congress” approach to governing.

As he grows more dictatorial by the day — using his “pen and a phone” to issue decrees and re-write ObamaCare and other legislation at his whim — the Supreme Court has put our Dear Leader back in his place.

While Obama may not like it, the federal government is composed of three separate and co-equal branches of government.  Obama should learn from this humiliating defeat, stop behaving like a Third World despot and cooperate with Congress when he hopes to change public policy or appoint federal officials.

Thursday
Jun262014

Project 21's Derryk Green: Federal Unemployment Numbers Not What You Think

Project 21 member Derryck Green tells Soul of the South host Angela Rae that the reported decline in the government’s unemployment calculations is “not impressive,” noting that factors such as a lack of confidence on the part of potential employers and the many people despondent and living under “a heavy blanket of apathy” has profoundly affected workforce participation.  This factor, which is as bad as it was in the late 70s Carter era of malaise, is more authoritative and shows a more negative picture of the nation’s employment crisis.

On the 6/17/14 edition of “D.C. Breakdown,” Derryck notes many new college graduates are unable to find good jobs, and are often forced to make ends meet by taking jobs below their skill level.  Job creators are wary, with many thinking it more prudent right now to try to “ride out the Obama wave.”  But the longer the innovators and the employers wait, the harder it is likely to be to restart America’s stalled economy.

This perilous cycle of circumstances forces many young people to move back in or remain living with their parents and makes it difficult — if not impossible — for them to repay expensive student loans.

As for the performance of President Obama in dealing with the problem, Derryck says Obama makes the situation worse because he “advocates for equality [in the economy]… not wealth creation.”  Congressional inactivity also adds to the problem, and conservatives need to be more convincing and forceful with a counter-narrative to the agenda of the Obama Administration and its supporters.

Wednesday
Jun252014

Skeleton of VA Nursing Home Patient Found After Missing 15 Years

Carl McKenzie, a psychiatric patient, had been missing for four months from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salem, Virginia.  In late March, his body was finally found in some underbrush near the hospital.  That same day, a groundskeeper found patient Leonard Cunningham who had been missing since February.  Cunningham was hanging by a rope on a tree not far from where McKenzie had been found. In response, the authorities initiated a clearing of the underbrush that covered much of the facility. 

In May, that effort resulted in the discovery of a skeleton.  It’s wristband revealed it to be a patient who had wandered off from the facility’s nursing home 15 years earlier.

After that, measures were taken to improve the search procedures at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salem, but the effectiveness of those measures is open to debate. In December of that year, Roy Phillips, a Korean War veteran who could barely walk, went missing from the hospital.  A search was organized but was called off later that night.  Two groundskeepers found Phillips the next morning dead from exposure.

While that sounds like something that happened recently at the VA, it occurred back in 1992.

It’s no secret that the VA has had a long history of such scandals.  Ironically, though, I found the above story in Phillip Longman’s book Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care Is Better Than Yours. In a piece that will be out shortly, I show how the idea popularized by Longman’s book is, in part, to blame for the VA waiting list scandal.

One of Longman’s contentions is that the VA works so well because of its computerized medical record system known as VistA.  Supposedly VistA enables physicians and other health care providers to avoid making serious, sometimes deadly, medical errors.  That makes this recent story about the VA seem rather curious:

Two psychiatric patients at a veterans facility in Brockton received no regular evaluations of their condition for years, part of a “troubling pattern of deficient patient care” that federal investigators say they have confirmed at veterans health care facilities nationwide.

One of the neglected patients at the Brockton Community Living Center who had been admitted for “significant and chronic mental health issues” was living in the 106-bed facility for eight years before he received his first psychiatric evaluation, investigators reported.

The other unidentified patient, although he was classified as 100 percent mentally disabled due to his military service, had only a single “psychiatric note” placed in his medical file between 2005 and 2013.

How good is a medical record system if it takes eight years for a patient living in a VA facility to receive an evaluation?  Granted, errors will happen even in the best record system, but that’s one pretty big error. I suspect that as this scandal unfolds we are going to find out that VistA isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

To read more about VA disasters, a report released yesterday by Senator Tom Coburn’s is a good place to start. Here’s one example:

A nurse at the Lexington medical center was charged with killing a World War II veteran and eventually admitted fault with very little consequence. The veteran, who served in Europe, was killed by a morphine overdose at a VA Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky in September 2006. The nurse who administered the lethal dose was charged with murder. Some of the veteran’s family members said the nurse “harassed them for two years to try to get them to admit guilt” in the death. The veteran’s stepdaughter said, “the FBI was here a couple of times. They interrogated me and tried to make me say I did it and not to ruin the VA hospital’s reputation.”The court found the “additional doses of morphine provided by” the nurse “were a contributory cause of” the veteran’s death and she eventually pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter. At least two other veterans cared for by the same nurse “died under suspicious circumstances” after being given morphine, according to a special agent with the VA Inspector General (IG). The nurse was sentenced to “time served of eight days.” Eight days represent significantly less time than most veterans spend waiting to receive care at a VA center.  

Tuesday
Jun242014

The U.S. Supreme Court Should Stop Keeping Secret What Cases It is Handing Down and When

Supreme CourtWould you look twice at one of these people, dressed normally, at the supermarket?

Far be it for me to criticize the U.S. Supreme Court, which has ways many and sundry of communicating that its members are superior to those of us who are (so it thinks) mere peons in comparison, but why must the public go through, every year, the suspense of waiting until the Court hands down decisions to find out which decisions it is handing down?

Each case handed down is of keen interest to some people, but each case is not of equal interest to all people. Nonetheless, the court forces everyone with an interest in any case to set aside time, over and over again, in case any given day in which decisions are handed down is THE DAY in which the decision(s) they care about are handed down.

It's obnoxious, that's what it is.

I realize many people are content to wait to learn to decision of the court on the news, but many others -- the parties to the cases, attorneys, reporters, government officials and policy analysts like myself -- have specific work to do when certain cases are handed down. Yet we aren't allowed to schedule that work in advance because the court doesn't have the simple courtesy to give advance notice: "Monday we will be handing down Jarndyce v. Jarndyce."

Heck, even to post on the court website the night before what is scheduled for morning release would be better than the current situation, in which thousands of people repeatedly set aside time to deal with, report upon or analyze the aftermath of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, only to find the court instead has handed down a decision on Argentinian bonds.

And for their part, how many Jarndyce v. Jarndyces did the Argentinians have to sit through, waiting for their decision?

There's no reason the court can't tell us what decisions will be handed down when once it knows, and don't tell me "tradition." That might get me started on some of the other "traditions" of the court, one of which was "corruption." Hopefully we gave that one up.

My belief is that the justices enjoy being the only ones in the know. It's really impossible to watch the rude way they treat attorneys in the court without recognizing that a few of them have gotten way too big for their gowns.

Oh, and the part I said about "far be it for me to criticize the U.S. Supreme Court"? If you haven't noticed by now, I take that back. In addition to making more than one bazonkas decision, and interrupting the lawyers too much, and jerking people around as to when specific decisions will be handed down, the Court should allow cameras in the courtroom so we the people can watch and hear the arguments as they are made in real time, as well as the interruptions, excuse me, questions, made by the justices.

Doing so would help educate people about the arguments made in cases. Transcripts of oral arguments are good and appreciated, but let's face it, many people (inexplicably) avoid reading. It's not good of them, but it is true. And much of the news media ignores aspects of stories if there's no footage. Ratings, you know.

I wrote an article on this in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel in 2000 when the court was hearing arguments in Bush v. Gore. Public interest in that case was a wee bit high, but we mere peons in the public weren't allowed to watch. Might discomfit our betters.

Maybe if the public had been able to watch, more people would have understood the issues grappled with, and fewer would have been bitter at the result. I don't know how many times in the intervening 14 years I've read comments by bitter Gore partisans about that case -- comments that made it clear they did not understand the issues (other than the presidential race) on the table.

My take: Who cares if Justice Souter wanted to go to the supermarket without being recognized? He quit anyway.

P.S. Here is a group circulating a petition to the Chief Justice asking for cameras in the courtroom.

Tuesday
Jun242014

Commonwealth Fund Study: Cost Versus Access

I recently appeared on the Andrew Wilkow show to discuss the new Commonwealth Fund study that purports to show that the U.S. health care system is dead last among 11 industrialized nations.  

Greg Scandlen adds some more points about the flaws in the study at The Federalist:

Commonwealth places excessive emphasis on costs to bring down the American ranking. In virtually every instance of the U.S. ranking below other countries it is due to the cost of care. For instance, in questions of access to care it reports on the number of people who –

  • “Had medical problems but did not visit the doctor because of cost in the past year.
  • “Did not get recommended test, treatment, or follow up because of cost in the past year.
  • “Did not fill a prescription of skipped doses because of cost in the past year.”

(Bolding mine) Note that it is unconcerned about access denied or delayed for other reasons such as availability of services.  One might think that having access to a needed service, even if it costs you something, is far better than not having access at all. But that is not how Commonwealth sees things. It is also unconcerned about how the service is paid outside of direct out-of-pocket spending.

Yes, I may have a substantial copayment in getting a needed treatment, but how much more in taxes would I have to pay to avoid that out-of-pocket expense? Is it more efficient to pay taxes to a government agency, which then pays the provider for the service, or to skip the administrative burden and pay the provider directly? Passing the money through Washington before it goes to the provider means paying many additional people to handle the money.

Read it all here.

And here is my appearance on “Wilkow!”:

Sunday
Jun222014

The IRS Scandal: Lessons from Scripture

Bible DPC WMatthew 9:9-13

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

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

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

Saturday
Jun212014

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

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

It appears Washington fears Americans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday
Jun202014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some additional interesting statistics...

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

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

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

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

Let's start measuring unemployment honestly.

Thursday
Jun192014

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

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

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

Thursday
Jun192014

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

JeffStierUnitedNationsCroppedBorder061914W

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

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

At the U.N., Jeff said,

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

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

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

JeffStierUnitedNations061914BCroppedW

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday
Jun192014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday
Jun182014

Chris Christie and John Kasich Want to Tax Virtue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff and Greg add:

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff and Greg conclude:

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

Read the entire article at National Review Online.

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