Tag Archives: current-events

How would you grade HEALTHCARE.GOV at this point in time?

I was challenged by people who commented on my last post to opine on the troubled rollout of the federal health insurance exchange HealthCare.gov, and I will oblige.

The best place to start is President Obama’s remarks in the Rose Garden of the White House on Monday.

Shortly before the president’s appearance, White House officials let it be known that the “president will directly address the technical problems with HealthCare.gov – troubles he and his team find unacceptable.” But in that Rose Garden appearance, the president did not explain what the technical problems with HealthCare.gov were, though he did acknowledge their existence and stated “there is no excuse” for them.

He then promised that in a techno-surge he would recruit the best information technology talent in the country to come to the rescue and fix the problems. It made me wonder why the A-team, as the White House now calls it, was not enlisted in the first place.

President Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School. How would he have graded a student’s performance on, say, a term paper or test that the professor viewed as “unacceptable,” especially when there was “no excuse” for the paper’s deficiencies?

One would hope that the grade would have been F, even under modern grade inflation. I certainly would affix that grade to such inexcusably deficient work.

But who exactly should be assigned the F for the troubled rollout of HealthCare.gov?

At the Rose Garden ceremony, President Obama noted, “There’s no sugar coating it, the Web site has been too slow, people are getting stuck during the application process, and I think it’s fair to say that nobody is more frustrated by that than I am.”

That makes it sound as if the president was surprised and then angered by the poor performance of HealthCare.gov. Indeed, in a television interviewTuesday with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN, the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, appears to suggest as much, even though HealthCare.gov is reported to have crashed days before the start on Oct. 1 when only 100 people tried to register simultaneously.

As someone who has lectured on corporate governance and served on corporate boards, I find Secretary Sebelius’s statement astounding. Is this how the project was managed? They knew the Web site was not working and yet decided to go ahead with it anyway, without the president’s personal O.K. for so strategic and risky a decision?

Once elected, a president becomes chief executive of a giant federal enterprise. Anyone familiar with corporate management would have thought that for as ambitious and technically a complex project as the initial rollout of HealthCare.gov – so important to many uninsured Americans and so politically important to the White House – the chief executive would have remained in very close touch with the management team overseeing the project and thus would have been briefed daily or at least weekly on the progress of the project and especially on any problems with it.

Woe to the members of the management team in a corporation if problems with a project are hidden from the chief executive when they become known, exposing the chief executive to embarrassing public relations surprises. Heads would roll. The board, however, would assign the blame for such problems not primarily to the management team and instead to the chief executive himself or herself. He hired and supervised the team.

From that perspective, the blame for the disastrous rollout of HealthCare.gov goes to its entire management team, to be sure, but primarily to the chief executive on top of that project. In my view, not only the proverbial buck stops on the chief executive’s desk, but, for the management of this particular project, the grade of F goes there as well.

It is worth reminding readers, however, that grades on midterm papers or tests do not constitute the overall grade in a course. Students receiving an F on a midterm paper or test often end up with a respectable overall course grade, spurred on in part by that very failure.

Similarly, with enormous effort and, one hopes, constant future supervision by the chief executive, there is hope that the technical problems encountered so far can be fixed in time, with the celebrated A-team of software experts now on the scene.

Finally, it bears emphasizing that the ill-fated rollout of HealthCare.gov should not be taken as a commentary on the concept of health insurance exchanges in general, nor on the Affordable Care Act.

The idea to use means-tested public subsidies to assist low-income Americans to purchase competitively offered private health insurance sold through health-insurance exchanges has been popular among policy analysts and policy makers of both political parties since the 1970s. Any such exchange will have to have roughly the same kind of architecture and tasks as those required for HealthCare.gov, as is shown in the sketch below.

HEALTHCARE.GOV structure needed...

Particular versions of this general construct were built into the Clinton health plan in the 1990s and the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 (Part D of Medicare). It was also part of the health reform plan proposed by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, during the presidential campaign of 2008 and of the Patients’ Choice Act proposed by Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, in 2009.

Indeed, it has been the foundation of every health reform proposal in the United States other than the single-payer Medicare for All idea since the 1970s. And it would be the core of the defined contribution plan now being proposed by Representative Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, for the Medicare program.

Now, it may be argued that private electronic health insurance exchanges – for example, eHealthInsurance.com – have long been available to Americans in the market for individually purchased private health insurance, obviating the need for a new HealthCare.gov. That would imply an unfair comparison.

EHealthInsurance.com is a purely passive exchange that merely lists the policies and estimates of their premiums for sundry health insurers listing on the exchange. It does not grant subsidies toward the purchase of health insurance and establish eligibility for those subsidies, nor does it guarantee prices. It simply refers interested individuals to insurers to purchase policies, which are not community rated but actuarially priced. Such an exchange can be quite simple.

If one wants to couple means-tested federal or state government contributions toward private coverage – as the health-reform plans proposed by both parties do – then by necessity the insurance exchange must ping and interact with numerous other Web sites, each with its own software language of various vintages.

The sketch below illustrates that construct, but only for the most important linkages that must be pinged. HealthCare.gov probably has to ping still other sites. Such an exchange is incomparably more difficult to establish and prone to computer glitches than is, say, eHealthInsurance.com.

Alternative structure...

 

But several states did manage to establish on time such complex health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, with only minor rollout glitches of the sort one would expect. Somehow they managed.

With proper management and more energetic work earlier on, and untainted by the political desiderata reported to have affected the architecture of HealthCare.gov, that Web site’s management team should have been able to achieve the same success. It did not, hence the midterm grade F.

[by Uwe E. Reinhardt, an economics professor at Princeton. He wrote this piece for the New York Times]

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As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by

NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis
normal@usa1usa.com
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Another exciting episode about US Department of Endless Bureaucratic Transactions (US DEBT)…

Endless self-centered bungling...what a great system!

 

 

New episode...CLICK HERE!                                   CLICK ABOVE for this exciting episode…

 

 

This week on “The Government,” Will and his coworkers come face-to-face with an Inspector General, and he isn’t happy about how the Department of Every Bureaucratic Transaction (DEBT) has failed to rein in irresponsible spending. From lavish conferences to botched uniform designs, bureaucrats haven’t exactly been good stewards of taxpayer dollars. Below are the real-life examples of wasteful spending that the Inspector General finds so egregious.

  • IRS Spent $11K On A “Happiness Expert” To Lead A 90 Minute Workshop. “The IRS hired 15 speakers to present at the conference in Anaheim, Calif., including $11,430 for positive psychology guru Shawn Achor — referred to as a ‘happiness expert’ by the sources — to lead a 90-minute workshop” (Kelly O’Donnell and Andrew Rafferty, “2010 IRS Conference Featured ‘Happiness Expert,’ $17K Art Session,” CNBC, 6/4/13)
  • IRS Credit Cards Used For Wine, Romance Novels, Diet Pills And Pornography. (Stephen Ohlemacher,”IRS Credit Cards Used For Wine, Pornography,” The Associated Press, 6/25/13)
  • IRS Spent $119 On Nerf Footballs That Were Never Used. “The Internal Revenue Service lacks sufficient oversight of agency credit cards issued to employees, leading to purchases such as $119 in Nerf footballs sitting unused in a filing cabinet, according to an audit by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.” (Richard Rubin, “Audit Finds $119 of Unused Nerf Footballs in IRS Cabinet, Bloomberg, 6/25/13)
  • The U.S. Army Wasted $5 Billion In Camouflage Development. (Eloise Lee and Robert Johnson, “After Wasting $5 Billion Dollars, The Army Is Eyeing These New Camouflage Patterns,” Business Insider, 9/25/12)
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As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by
NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis
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New bill in US House seeks to protect religious freedom for those who affirm traditional marriage…

Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) is sponsoring a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would guarantee that no person or group could lose their tax exempt status for affirming traditional marriage, or opposing the redefinition of marriage.

The Marriage and Religious Freedom Act has, at the time of this publication, 75 co-sponsors. Most of them are Republican, but at least two Democrats, Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) and Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), are also co-sponsoring the bill.

If enacted, no individual or institution could lose tax-exempt status for believing or advocating that marriage should only be between one man and one woman. Many religious institutions in the United States are non-profits and have a tax-exempt status under the U.S. tax code.

In explaining his reasons for the bill, Labrador cited the words of President Barack Obama, from when Obama announced he changed his position on same-sex marriage.

“Regardless of your ideology, we can all agree about the importance of religious liberty in America,” Labrador said Thursday. “Our bill will protect freedom of conscience for those who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. As President Obama said, ‘Americans hold a wide range of views’ on marriage and ‘maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom’ is ‘vital.’ We agree.”

Due to recent events, there has been growing concern among religious freedom advocates along with the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples in some states. Those who provide wedding services, for instance, have been denied the right to decline working at same-sex weddings, and some religious groups have been denied the right to prefer families with both a husband and a wife for adoption services.

There have also been growing concerns about the abuse of federal power within the Internal Revenue Service, the agency responsible for granting tax-exempt status. In a scandal still under investigation, the IRS reportedly targeted Tea Party, pro-life and conservative religious groups for additional scrutiny and harassment.

Rep. Steve Scalise, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, mentioned the IRS scandal as one reason for his support of the bill.

“I commend Congressman Raúl Labrador for bringing forth this bill and leading on this important issue. As we’ve seen with the IRS scandals, nonprofit organizations and those who support them may be targeted and punished for their beliefs and principles,” Scalise said. “Furthermore, the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage may embolden those in government who want to impose their views of marriage on faith-based organizations. We need this strong legislation to protect freedom of conscience for those who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Raúl’s bill does exactly that, ensuring respect and tolerance for those who affirm traditional marriage.”

The bill also has the support of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Organization for Marriage, Heritage Action, Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Concerned Women for America.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two decisions regarding same-sex marriage. In one of those, Windsor vs. United States, the Court struck down a part of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as between one man and one woman for the purposes of federal law. David Christensen, vice president of government affairs for FRC, argued that the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act is consistent with the Windsor decision.

“This bill affirms that a person’s religious belief in the importance of natural marriage should be treated with tolerance and respect by the federal government,” he said. “The Windsor Court’s ruling urges respect for federalism and the sovereignty of state decisions on marriage law, including laws that define marriage between a man and a woman. This bill merely states that the federal government cannot target or harm a person for their religious views in support of natural marriage.”

[by Napp Nazworth, writing for The Christian Post]

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As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by

NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis
normal@usa1usa.com
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Praying for abortions…is it like asking God to ‘please bless this murder’?

I thought religion and politics don’t mix, so what’s the deal with Democrats praying for abortions?
How many times have we been told that there’s a separation of church and state? Liberals have been pushing city council meetings to do away with prayer to open the meetings.
If you know anything about liberal politicians, they are not against religion as long as they get to control and define it. Liberals have used black churches for decades to support their candidates. Black pastors will get in the pulpit and endorse specific candidates. Try that in a conservative church and the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State will run to the latest IRS office to have the church’s tax exempt status revoked.
How many remember President Obama asking God to bless the bloody abortion business that kills more blacks every year than black-on-black crime in America? “As long as we’ve got to fight to make sure women have access to quality, affordable health care, and as long as we’ve got to fight to protect a woman’s right to make her own choices about her own health, I want you to know that you’ve also got a president who’s going to be right there with you, fighting every step of the way. Thank you, Planned Parenthood. God bless you.” Asking God to bless the killing of pre-born babies by praying for abortions is blasphemous, sick, and evil.
Pro-life...or pro-death. Which side are you on?
Following the President’s example, Iowa Democrat gubernatorial candidates joined with abortion activists to pray for increased abortion access. Let’s be more accurate. They were praying to ask God to help them pass laws so women can kill their pre-born babies.
Here’s the prayer: “We give thanks, O Lord, for the doctors, both current and future, who provide quality abortion care. We pray for increased financial support for low-income women to access contraception, abortion and childcare.  Today, we pray for women in developing nations, that they may know the power of self-determination. May they have access to employment, education, birth control, and abortion. Today we pray for the families who have chosen. May they know the blessing of choice.”
During the entire prayer, State Senator Jack Hatch and Rep. Tyler Olson, both of whom are running for governor, kept their heads bowed and eyes closed, joining in the group prayer.
This is worse than sick. It is pure evil.
Any nation that calls on God to seek His favor to kill people created in His image are worse than pagans. We know what’s growing in a mother’s womb. We can see the images in 3D. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
Now let’s see how appalled the people of Iowa really are.
[by Gary DeMar, writing for Godfather Politics]
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NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis
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Detroit’s woes could be spreading to other cities…

On July 18th of this year, the city of Detroit filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy…the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history, and probably the largest municipal bankruptcy in any advanced nation, ever.

The city’s population has shrunk from 2 million down to 700,000. Both whites and blacks are leaving. Last year Detroit high schools had a dismal 65% graduation rate…but studies are showing that only 25% of first-year high schoolers really end up graduating on time. The children of Detroit have a better chance of going to prison than they do of graduating from high school on time. Almost half of Detroit’s adults are considered functionally illiterate.

Detroit has become a city of single mothers and delinquent dads, in a continuing tale of welfare addiction, family breakdown, and social disintegration.

Detroit is the most dangerous large city in America and one of the most dangerous in the entire world. Its gang activity and crime rates surpass almost all others. Detroit is a city of 11,000 unsolved homicides. Bodies lie in streets for hours due to morgue cutbacks. Victims are stuffed in car trunks, or left in the streets, or dumped in abandoned buildings, which are usually then set on fire. For those still living, police response times average almost an hour.

The circumstances in Detroit should be a giant flashing warning sign to the rest of the USA.

Currently the city owes money to more than 100,000 vendors, contractors, and other lenders. The bill has been put at “around $19 billion,” but it might be even more. Some of the city’s invoices haven’t been paid in years. The average per capita income in Detroit today stands at just under $14,000 per year…less than for a resident of Romania, Botswana, or Belarus. Over the past 60 years Detroit has gone from one of the most prosperous cities in the world, with the highest standard of living, to one of the world’s poorest. During all these years the city was run by one political party, whose politicians said they wanted to create a “fairer” city by raising taxes on businesses and productive individuals, and then redistributing that money. The result? Businesses in Detroit were literally driven out while citizens were uniformly made poor. (This is the same economic policy that is now being nationalized by the Obama administration.)

Detroitification is spreading.

Almost half of Detroit’s property owners are refusing to pay their property taxes…and it’s hard to blame them. The city’s emergency manager says his city “does not provide basic and essential services to the residents who remain” because Detroit is so “infested with urban blight.”

Detroit’s police officers battle internal and external lawlessness. Its citizens battle just to survive. Its leaders battle over the scraps that are left after the union activists, corrupt politicians, bankruptcy judges, teachers, police and fire departments, city clerks, and maintenance workers finish battling for what they can manage to hold onto.

Detroit is a victim, but it is a victim of an imploding national culture, not some mysterious market forces. Detroit is perfectly situated to take advantage of waterway access to the entire world and easy land access to both Canada and the US. Geographically, there are few if any American cities so well off. Despite becoming one of the most prosperous cities in the world, Detroit still collapsed.

Other cities across this country are in various stages of Detroitification. Chicago, Baltimore, New York, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, Portland, Providence, and Houston are all heading in the same direction. Even entire states, like California, Illinois, and Kentucky, are headed there. As far as our country is concerned, there are tens of trillions in federal government obligations that everyone still pretends will be paid. Detroit’s bankruptcy will be nothing compared with a US default on obligations.

Since the beginning of this once-great country, we have been showered with God’s blessings. Now, however, we are promoting and legalizing same-sex marriage while we continue to murder babies and call it “freedom of choice.” We have taken God and prayer out of our schools, and the Ten Commandments from our courtrooms. It’s pretty obvious that the shower of blessings has been turned off because we are no longer “one nation under God.” Like the ancient Israelites in the Biblical book of Judges, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) The problem is that we are therefore doing what is evil in God’s eyes…and doing it deliberately.

[from an article by Robert Morley in The Philadelphia Trumpet, Sept. 2013 issue]

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NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis
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The nightmare of America’s criminal justice system…

If you want to understand all that is wrong with America’s criminal justice system, take a look at the nightmare experienced by Edward Young.

Young, now 43, was convicted of several burglaries as a young man but then resolved that he would turn his life around. Released from prison in 1996, he married, worked six days a week and raised four children in Hixson, Tenn.

Then a neighbor died, and his widow, Neva Mumpower, asked Young to help sell her husband’s belongings. He later found, mixed in among them, seven shotgun shells, and he put them aside so that his children wouldn’t find them.

“He was trying to help me out,” Mumpower told me. “My husband was a pack rat, and I was trying to clear things out.”

Then Young became a suspect in burglaries at storage facilities and vehicles in the area, and the police searched his home and found the forgotten shotgun shells as well as some stolen goods. The U.S. attorney in Chattanooga prosecuted Young under a federal law that bars ex-felons from possessing guns or ammunition. In this case, under the Armed Career Criminal Act, that meant a 15-year minimum sentence.

The U.S. attorney, William Killian, went after Young — even though none of Young’s past crimes involved a gun, even though Young had no shotgun or other weapon to go with the seven shells, and even though, by all accounts, he had no idea that he was violating the law when he helped Mumpower sell her husband’s belongings.

In May, a federal judge, acknowledging that the case was Dickensian but saying that he had no leeway under the law, sentenced Young to serve a minimum of 15 years in federal prison. It didn’t matter that the local authorities eventually dismissed the burglary charges.

So the federal government, at a time when it is cutting education spending, is preparing to spend $415,000 during the next 15 years to imprison a man for innocently possessing seven shotgun shells while trying to help a widow in the neighborhood. And, under the law, there is no early release: Young will spend the full 15 years in prison.

This case captures what is wrong with our “justice” system: We have invested in mass incarceration in ways that are crushingly expensive, break up families and are often simply cruel. With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has almost one-quarter of the world’s prisoners.

This hasn’t always been the case, but it is the result of policies such as mandatory minimum sentences since the 1970s.

In 1978, the United States had 307,000 inmates in state and federal prisons. That soared to a peak of more than 1.6 million in 2009. Since then, the number of inmates has declined for three consecutive years to 1.57 million in 2012. The number of juveniles detained has also begun to drop since peaking in 2000, although the United States still detains children at a rate five times that of the next highest country.

In short, there’s some hope that this U.S. experiment in mass incarceration has been recognized as a failure and will be gradually unwound. Among the leaders in moving away from the old policies are blue states and red states alike, including New York and Texas. But America still has twice as many prisoners today as under President Ronald Reagan.

Almost everyone seems to acknowledge that locking up vast numbers of nonviolent offenders is a waste of money. California devotes $179,400 to keep a juvenile in detention for a year, and spends less than $10,000 per student in its schools.

Granted, mass incarceration may have been one factor in reduced crime in the last couple of decades; there’s mixed evidence. But, if so, the economic and social cost has been enormous — including the breakup of families and the increased risk that children of those families will become criminals a generation later.

There’s also contrary evidence that incarceration, especially of young people, doesn’t work well in preventing crime, especially for young people. One careful study of 35,000 young offenders by Anna Aizer and Joseph J. Doyle Jr. reached the startling conclusion that jailing juveniles leads them to be more likely to commit crimes as adults. Milder sentences, such as electronic monitoring and home detention, were actually more effective at preventing adult crime.

Alternatives to incarceration are both cheaper and more efficient. Youth Villages has an excellent record of working with troubled youngsters and their families, and of keeping them from committing crimes. So do some job-training and education programs. Mass incarceration has been particularly devastating for blacks and members of other minority groups, as well as for the poor generally. In this case, Edward Young is white.

Conservatives often argue that there is a link between family breakdown and cycles of poverty. They’re right: Boys are more likely to get into trouble without a dad at home, and we have a major problem with the irresponsibility of young men who conceive babies but don’t raise them.

We also have a serious problem with the irresponsibility of mass incarceration. When almost 1 percent of Americans are imprisoned (and a far higher percentage of men of color in low-income neighborhoods), our criminal justice system becomes a cause of family breakdown and contributes to the delinquency of a generation of children. And mass incarceration interacts with other government policies, such as the way the drug war is implemented, to have a disproportionate effect on African-Americans. Black men use marijuana at roughly the same rate as white men but are more than three times as likely to be arrested over it.

Young is particularly close to his children, ages 6 to 16. After back problems and rheumatoid arthritis left him disabled, he was a stay-at-home dad while his wife worked in a doctor’s office. When the judge announced the sentence, the children all burst into tears.

“I can’t believe my kids lose their daddy for the next 15 years,” his wife, Stacy, told me. “He never tried to get a firearm in the 16 years I was with him. It’s crazy. He’s getting a longer sentence than people who’ve killed or raped.”

Young’s lawyer, Christopher Varner, of Chattanooga, is appealing the sentence and says he is shaken by the outcome. “It’s shocking,” he says. “That’s not what we do in this country.”

I asked Killian, the U.S. attorney, why on Earth he would want to send a man to prison for 15 years for innocently possessing seven shotgun shells. “The case raised serious public safety concerns,” Killian said.

Oh.

The classic caricature of justice run amok is Inspector Javert in Victor Hugo’s novel “Les Miserables,” pursuing Jean Valjean for stealing bread for hungry children. In that case, Valjean knew that he was breaking the law; Edward Young had no idea.

Some day, Americans will look back and wonder at how we as a society could be much more willing to invest in prisons than in schools. They will be astonished that we sent a man to federal prison for 15 years for trying to help a widow.

[by Nicholas D. Kristof, writing for The New York Times]

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As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by

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Obama ‘never out of words, just out of ideas’… or, Platitudes cannot make Policies…

The president may be out of ideas, but he is never out of words. He has been sharing voluminous amounts of them with audiences over the last two weeks on his latest speaking tour on the economy.

And for good reason.

“If once a week I’m not talking about jobs, the economy and the middle class, then all manner of distraction fills the void,” Barack Obama told the New York Times in a July 24 interview.

He was probably referring to all the “phony scandals,” and things like that.

The president is great when it comes to platitudes. At Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., Obama laid out the “cornerstones” of what it means to be middle class in America: a good job, a good education, a home of one’s own, a secure retirement and affordable health care. He’s less adept at outlining the policies needed to achieve those goals. That’s when Obama is at a loss for words and inconsistent in his explanations. A few examples will suffice.

— No. 1. Because Obama speaks with such authority, it often takes several repetitions before I realize that what he’s saying is total nonsense. For example, he wants to spend $50 billion on infrastructure to create jobs. But the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada’s tar sands to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico, would “create about 50 full- time jobs,” he said at a speech last week at an Amazon fulfillment center in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The State Department did say that the project’s effect on permanent job creation would be negligible. In the interim, however, the pipeline would create, directly or indirectly, as many as 42,000 jobs. That includes subcontractors, suppliers of materials and equipment, and hospitality services (food, clothing, lodging) in addition to 3,900 construction jobs. The same kind of jobs the White House used to promote its $831 billion fiscal stimulus in 2009, explaining that one person’s spending is another person’s income.

What’s the difference between the job-creating potential of Obama’s proposed infrastructure investment and that of the pipeline? One is public, the other is private. If that’s the distinction, he needs to explain it or drop the fiction that hiring to rebuild roads and bridges has a different impact on employment, wages and spending than hiring to build a pipeline.

— No. 2. Another Obama favorite is his contention that the way to “grow the economy” is from “the middle class out.” What exactly does that mean?

“Obama is saying we need an economy where people are paid enough to buy things,” said Robert Litan, director of research at Bloomberg Government, which is part of Bloomberg LP. “It’s Henry Ford economics: Ford made cars, and he paid his workers enough so they could afford to buy them.”

He also paid his workers enough to prevent them from quitting. The idea behind what economists call “efficiency wages” is to pay employees enough to keep them happy, encourage them to work hard, and save the company the expense of hiring and training replacements.

“Obama would like all employers to pay efficiency wages, but he doesn’t have an executive order to do that,” Litan said.

If Obama really wants to “grow the economy,” to borrow that horrific phrase, he needs to understand the dynamic. It’s individuals with ideas — entrepreneurship and innovation — that raise our standard of living. And not just that of the innovators themselves, who get rich off their creative genius. All of us benefit. Productivity growth comes from new technologies — everything from the steam engine to electricity to the telephone to digitalized bits of information — that allow us to produce more with less, reducing costs and raising real incomes.

Obama may not understand how economies prosper — and he could never admit it if he did not — but the path of wealth creation is top down, not inside out. It’s not about class; it’s how an economy works.

— No. 3. Aware that his speeches sound like retreads, Obama has found a new rallying cry for his middle-class advocacy campaign: the claim that concentrated wealth inflates bubbles and destabilizes the economy.

Is he suggesting that the top 1 percent were responsible for the lax lending standards and subprime loans that were at the root of the financial crisis?

No, and though he may not be aware of it, there is support in academia for the notion that income inequality contributed to the bubble. Too bad he latched onto something that fit his worldview without digging deeper to get a firm grasp of the subject.

Raghuram Rajan, the newly appointed governor of the Reserve Bank of India, made the case in his 2010 book, “Fault Lines,” that lower- and middle-income households reacted to stagnant real incomes by taking on more debt. What people couldn’t afford, they bought on credit. The policy response, misguided in Rajan’s view, was to encourage lower lending standards and promote affordable housing. Yet just last week, Obama suggested eliminating “red tape” to make housing more affordable. It would be nice to think he learned something from the economic mess of his first term and its continuation in his second.

In all of his speeches during the last two weeks, Obama pointed out that the deficit is falling at the fastest pace in 60 years. It’s a big applause line. It’s also shortsighted. Today’s shrinking deficit ignores the relentless rise in debt as a share of the economy. Unless the federal government finds a way to raise revenue and/or cut spending over the next decade, there will be steep cuts to the social safety net, programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

If Obama is really concerned about middle class families, he should start looking out for their future.

[by Caroline Baum, in her column for Bloomberg View]

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In other news, polls are now showing Obama’s approval ratings are near all-time lows.

Facing a series of scandals involving everything from the IRS to the NSA – in addition to the growing unpopularity of his signature healthcare law — President Barack Obama’s job approval ratings are at near record lows, sinking to levels last seen more than a year and a half ago.

Gallup’s daily tracking survey
on Saturday showed the president at 41 percent approval, a 7-point drop from just a day earlier. His disapproval rating was at 50 percent on Saturday. His approval rating rose 1 percent on Sunday to 42 percent.

Real Clear Politics’ average of recent polls put Obama’s approval at 43.6 percent and his disapproval at 51.1.

On the economy, the numbers get worse. RCP’s average of polls shows 42.2 percent approve of Obama’s job performance while 53 percent disapprove. On foreign policy, the president garnered 44 percent approval, 47.6 percent disapproval.

The president had an RCP-averaged approval rating of 54 percent as recently as December, but it has slipped steadily since then with a temporary bump in late April. His highest ever approval in the RCP was 65.5 less than a month after his inauguration.

Gallup’s lowest approval rating for Obama was in late December 2011. At that time his approval rating was 38 percent.

The impending implementation of Obamacare and a slew of scandals that the president has recently began calling “phony” may be behind his recent slide in the polls.

On Sunday, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said members of Obama’s own party are distancing themselves from his healthcare law as they head into 2014.

“If this was such a great idea, then all of these senators who are vulnerable in 2014 would have voted for it, and they didn’t,” Priebus said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The media have focused on Republican divisions over tactics, but the GOP has “total unanimity” on getting rid of Obamacare, Priebus said. It’s the Democrats, he said, who are fighting each other over whether to keep Obamacare in place.

Some Republicans from the tea party wing are calling for defunding Obamacare in the 2014 fiscal year budget. Most party leaders say that will force a government shutdown, and the public will blame Republicans.

But Priebus noted that 30 Democrats voted against Obamcare. The true division is on Democratic side, he argued. He said it was “very obvious” the delay in the employer mandate is about getting Democrats elected.

A Fox News Poll conducted Aug. 3-5 on Obamacare saw 31 percent of respondents say “it’s going fine,” while 57-percent said, “it’s a joke.”

Obama also doesn’t fare any better when it comes to the debate over the recent intelligence leaks by NSA turncoat Edward Snowden.

When Fox News pollsters asked about the Justice Department looking at reporters’ records, for instance, 59 percent considered it a “serious situation.” The same percentage considered the IRS targeting of conservative groups to be “serious.”

Sixty-nine percent thought the NSA surveillance of Americans was not a “phony scandal,” while 78 percent didn’t think investigations into the changes in talking points on the Benghazi attack were phony.

On Sunday, Republican Rep. Peter King of New York criticized Obama for showing little leadership in the debate the surveillance program. The  opponents of the program have gotten their message out through the media, King said.

“Basically Obama’s been silent for the past two months,” said King. “He allowed the Edward Snowdens and others in the world to dominate the media.”

King, appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” said that Obama had an obligation as commander in chief to “aggressively and effectively defend his program and he really didn’t do it.”

Finally, despite Obama’s attempt to shift talk to the economy with a series of speeches in recent days, a Fox News poll found that 71 percent of voters say he isn’t saying anything new and would prefer to see him stay in Washington to work things out with Republicans.

A Pew Research Center
poll in mid-July found confidence in an improved economy is lagging. Four in 10 said it will take a long time for the economy to get back on its feet.

[by Greg Richter, writing for NEWSMAX]
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As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by

NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis
normal@usa1usa.com
612.239.0970

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FOX News: Obama has new behavioral modification program for US citizens…

FOX News reported on Tuesday, July 30th, that the government has created a “Behavioral Insights Team,” which is intended to influence the behavior of Americans. It is being referred to as a “nudge” because the team’s approach has been dubbed “subtle.” One can only assume that such “nudges” are  intended to be the second part of a governmental, one-two punch, the first being ham-fisted executive orders. The first forces compliance; the second is designed to mesmerize one into voluntary acquiescence. The program isn’t in planning stages. It has already been implemented. FOX reports:  “…the White House is already working on such projects with almost a dozen federal departments and agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture.”

The government release touts the advantages of the program: “Behavioral sciences can be used to help design public policies that work better, cost less, and help people to achieve their goals…the (Behavioral Insights) team would ‘experiment’ with various techniques, with the goal of tweaking behavior so people do everything from saving more for retirement to saving more in energy costs. Anyone interested in working for the White House in a ‘nudge’ squad? The UK has one and it’s been extraordinarily successful.”

Our prez, Mr. Obummer...The program cites benign examples of its intentions. But White House inspired behavioral modification experimentation won’t stop at cajoling us to save more for our old age.  It is less about helping people achieve their goals than it is to help The Lyin’ King’s regime to achieve its goals. In this, the British government was far more honest. Quoting from the U.K.report: “In 2010, UK Prime Minister David Cameron commissioned the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), which through a process of rapid, iterative experimentation (“Test, Learn, Adapt”), has successfully identified and tested interventions that will further advance priorities of the British government, while saving the government at least £1 billion within the next five years…” Among the U.K.’s concerns were to get tax payers to fork over 30 million pounds of extra tax payments, which they did in three months. They also successfully convinced the public to take advantage of  full-cost, government attic-clearance services. The British government realized a 500% increase in the purchase of  their services and of attic-insulation.  Evidence exists that the Lyin’ King’s power-hungry regime wouldn’t stop there.

Although the White House is painting its usual, self-serving picture, experts warn that there is nothing to stop government’s “we know best” snowball from turning into an avalanche. Michael Thomas, an economist at Utah State University, aired his concerns to FOX News: “Ultimately, nudging … assumes a small group of people in government know better about choices than the individuals making them. And sometimes… government actually promotes the wrong thing.” No kidding.

David Laibson, behavioral economics professor at Harvard University, is working with the government on the program. Laibson’s involvement in the program is right up The Lyin’ King’s alley; his verbal contortions outdo mountain switchbacks. First, Laibson states that “Every intervention would need to be tested to make sure (the program) works well…” Then Laibson added that the way the team will function is still unknown. Finally, Laibson “hopes the government will shy away from involving itself from controversial policies.” Well,  Elvis certainly departed that auditorium ages ago. Laibson ends with a bang: “Let’s say we want people to engage in some healthy behavior like a weight loss program, and then start automatically enrolling overweight people in weight loss programs — even though they could opt out, I’m guessing that would be viewed as offensive …”  Why assume one could “opt out”? Horrifyingly, Laibson believes it would be problematic not because of automatic enrollment but because “a lot of people would say, “…this is judging who I am and who I should be.”

FOX News ends with a cautionary note from Jerry Ellig, an economist with the Mercatus Center: “If you can keep it to a ‘nudge’ maybe it can be beneficial…but nudges can turn into shoves pretty quickly.” Mr. Ellig is dead wrong about a nudge from government being beneficial. A “nudge” from government is never beneficial to anyone except to government. We have almost five years of evidence of that.

[by Marilyn Assenheim, writing for MINUTEMEN NEWS]

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As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by
NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis
normal@usa1usa.com
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San Antonio becoming the new ‘Mecca’ for Christians…

The San Antonio City Council is about to adopt an ordinance that could get any Christian arrested for preaching the Bible or sharing their faith.  They are looking at passing some nondiscrimination ordinances that would make it a crime to exhibit or express any form of bias that could offend someone.  The proposed ordinance says:

“No person shall be appointed to a position if the city council finds that such person has, prior to such proposed appointment, engaged in discrimination or demonstrated a bias, by word or deed, against any person, group or organization on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, age, or disability.”

Anyone found guilty of violating the new ordinance would be given a lifetime ban from being able to hold a city job, being involved with city government or even doing business with the city.

In other words, if a Christian works for the city as a garbage collector or street repair and they tell someone that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin, they could lose their job for expressing their bias.  Or, if you contracted with the city to provide a service, say computer maintenance or repair and you quoted what the Bible says about homosexuality, you could lose your contract with the city.

Any pastor who stands in the pulpit and reads from Leviticus 18, 20 or Romans 1, could be found guilty of violating the nondiscriminatory ordinance and face the consequences.  In fact, the ordinance would make it impossible for any good conservative Bible believing person, minister, church leader or lay person, to work for the city or run for any city office including the city council.

Clearly the ordinance violates the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and religion.  Opponents of the ordinance also point out that it violates Article VI, paragraph 3 of the US Constitution that states:

“No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

They also claim that the nondiscriminatory ordinance violates the Texas Constitution and Texas Religious Freedom Act.  Charles Flowers, Pastor of Faith Outreach International commented, saying:

“The ordinance … says that if you have at any point demonstrate[d] a bias – without defining what a bias is or who will determine whether or not one has been exercised – that you cannot get a city contract.  Neither can any of your subcontractors [who have demonstrated a bias] sign on to the contract.”

Joe Conger of KHOU TV in Houston commented:

“Ever have a Paula Deen moment – make an off-color joke or hold a religious belief?  [Pastor Steve] Branson [of Village Parkway Baptist Church] says keep it to yourself if you’re involved with San Antonio city government. Proposed changes to the anti-discrimination ordinance could get you fired.”

Seems to me that the people of San Antonio need to seriously consider who has been elected or appointed to the city council.  If the council approves the ordinance, the citizens of San Antonio should launch recalls against all who voted for it.  Conservatives and Christians need to start standing up for their rights and for their state and nation and stop allowing left-wing agenda oriented liberals from taking control.

[by Dave Jolly, writing for Godfather Politics]

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As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by

NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis
normal@usa1usa.com
612.239.0970

 

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The new US economy: Fewer working hours, more low-wage work…

The signs aren’t exactly encouraging.

Consider the jobs report released a week ago. The United States added 195,000 new jobs in June, it said, including 322,000 new part-time jobs — a number that comprises only part-timers who want full-time work but can’t find it. Assuming my grade-school arithmetic skills haven’t completely eroded, that suggests that the number of full-time jobs actually declined.

Critics of Obamacare have a ready explanation: The 30-hour-a-week cutoff of the now-postponed employer mandate — which requires many employers to either provide health-care coverage for employees who work at least that much or to pay a penalty — was compelling employers to reduce workers’ hours. That mandate, The Wall Street Journal editorialized, gave businesses “an incentive to hire more part-time workers.”

If the employer mandate really were the problem, then the lot of the American worker wouldn’t look so grim. There is, to be sure, much anecdotal evidence that some employers are cutting workers’ hours to avoid the mandate. A closer look at the long-term rise of part-time work, however, makes clear that the decline of working hours and the rise of low-wage work reflect structural changes in the U.S. economy.

Of the 195,000 jobs created in June, fully 75,000 came in “Leisure and Hospitality” — Labor Department-speak for hotels, restaurants, fast-food joints and bars. Workers in this sector averaged just 26.1 hours a week — a figure that hasn’t changed in the past 12 months, even as Obamacare’s deadlines drew nigh. Thirty-seven thousand retail jobs were added, and these workers put in, on average, 31.3 hours a week. Workers in manufacturing, by contrast, had full-time jobs, averaging 40.9 hours a week — but 6,000 manufacturing jobs were eliminated in June.

Worse yet, the jobs being created paid a lot less than the jobs that were lost. While the average hourly wage of non-supervisory employees in manufacturing was $19.26 in June, it was $13.96 for retail employees and $11.75 for hotel and restaurant workers. Indeed, the median hourly wages of all American workers declined 2.8 percent from 2009 to 2012, according to a study published this week by the National Employment Law Project.

There’s no doubt that if the economy were at full employment, workers’ hours would be longer and their wages higher. But the decline in workers’ hours has been going on for decades: In 1966, the American worker put in an average of 38.7 hours a week; last month, she put in 34.5. More than anything else, this reflects the economy’s shift away from manufacturing to services (a catch-all category that includes retail, restaurants and most everything else). The average workweek in services last month came to 33.4 hours — 7.5 hours shorter than the workweek of manufacturing employees.

The move toward part-time work isn’t the economy’s only epochal shift. Another is the move toward temporary employment; that is, toward an economy in which employers regularly use workers from temp agencies. The advantages are clear: Employers are under no pressure to provide raises or benefits to temporary workers, nor are they legally liable if the workers turn out to be undocumented or are hurt on the job.

Of the new jobs created last month, 10,000 came through temp agencies. Their designation notwithstanding, many temp workers find they’re both full time and permanent. As The New York Times’ Catherine Rampell has pointed out, the average workweek of a temp surpassed that of non-temps in 2009, and it remains longer today. For the past decade, many warehouse workers who load and unload goods for Wal-Mart and other chains have worked steadily in the same job for a succession of temp agencies in places such as California’s Inland Empire — an arrangement that allows Wal-Mart and its ilk to disclaim any responsibility for the conditions in which these employees labor. A number of the foreign-owned auto factories that have sprung up in Southern states — among them, BMW and Nissan — are also staffed by temps, only a fraction of whom are hired by the manufacturers after their initial six months on the job.

Left to its own devices, the American economy is eroding the American job. Hours decline, dragging take-home pay down with them. The identity of the boss becomes mystified, much to the boss’s advantage. A government commitment to full employment, backed up by the public investment required to create it, would bolster not just the quantity but also the quality of our jobs. Republicans are dead set against that, however, and most Democrats appear to have abandoned the fight.

So much for the American job.

[by Harold Meyerson, writing for the Washington Post]

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As always, posted for your edification and enlightenment by

NORM ‘n’ AL, Minneapolis
normal@usa1usa.com
612.239.0970

 

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