Obamacare ideas man: Law wouldn’t have succeeded without ‘stupidity of the American voter’

One of the pivotal players in the creation of the Affordable Care Act said the law could never have happened without one crucial ingredient: “the stupidity of the American voter.”

Conservative nonprofit American Commitment unearthed a year-old video of Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber speaking at what appears to be a policy panel.

In the clip, Gruber defends the law’s essential goodness, but points out that progress requires breaking a few eggs:

This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO [the Congressional Budget Office] did not score the mandate as “taxes.” If CBO scores the mandate as “Taxes,” the bill dies. Okay? So it’s written to do that. In terms of risk-rated subsidies, if you had a law that… made it explicit that healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed. OK?

… Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically… call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically, that was really, really critical to get anything to pass. And that’s the second-best argument.

… Yeah, there’s things I wish I could change, but I’d rather have this law than not.

Gruber, an economics professor at MIT, served as a White House consultant during the crafting of the Affordable Care Act. He wasn’t simply a random consultant, though. His contract with the Department of Health and Human Services described his expertise as “a sole sources basis for technical assistance in evaluating options for national healthcare reform.”

As the fallout from Obamacare’s rocky launch began to lay some of the blame for legal challenges to the law at Gruber’s feet, the law’s Democratic supporters began to distance themselves from him.

Now they have one more reason.

Harry Reid vows to keep hammering the Koch brothers

From the do-what-works department: Senate Majority Leader (for now) Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the Democratic caucus aren’t done with the Koch brothers — not by a long sight. Vowing to continue a strategy that did the Democrats no favors in the midterm elections, Reid and other party leaders have indicated they’ll redouble their efforts to turn the American people against the pair of wealthy conservative political donors.

“[D]espite Republicans — and some Democrats — publicly decrying the [Koch-bashing] strategy after Tuesday’s GOP wave as an ineffective waste of money, Reid told allies on election night that he planned to continue hammering the brothers, according to an operative close to him,” POLITICO reported Friday.

Reid isn’t the only one pledging to remain dogged in the anti-Koch rhetoric. “[B]ig-money liberal groups ranging from the Democrats’ Senate campaign arm and House super PAC to the outfits run by billionaire Tom Steyer and conservative-turned-liberal enforcer David Brock all signaled that they intended to pursue anti-Koch spending and oppo [ad hominem] tactics headed into the 2016 election,” the story continues.

Brock’s progressive group issued a post-election memo to fellow Democratic leaders that suggests the midterms, somehow, may actually have improved the effectiveness of the party’s strategy of demonizing the Kochs.

“This will be easier now that they [Republicans] are in power,” the memo intoned, according to POLITICO.

But not all Democratic operatives agree that sustaining the anti-Koch campaign will produce better results than it has to date.

“It’s utterly ineffective,” one operative said, lamenting that the anti-Koch campaign has all the optics of insider politics — instead of the populism that Reid and others have been banking on. “[T]his strategy is more about the candidates. It says, ‘Look at me! Help me — they are spending money against me.’ There’s no connection between that and voters,” said Democratic strategist Thomas Mills.

Black Americans continue to languish in the Obama economy

Who isn’t benefiting from the Obama economy? Black people who want to work, that’s who. The latest round of employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) continues to indicate that black Americans are among the big losers in the president’s hollow economic “turnaround.”

As the labor force posted its first real net gains in many months, October’s employment data shows that black people in the workforce continue to fare poorly. Last month, 114,000 blacks dropped out of the labor force. The number of blacks with jobs in the U.S. as a whole also fell by 41,000.

Those numbers came in the same report that showed increases in net employment numbers for the general population.

“[T]he employment picture for all Americans aged 16 and older improved from September to October, as the overall unemployment rate declined from 5.9 percent to 5.8 percent, the number of employed increased from 146,600,000 to 147,283,000, and the number of unemployed decreased from 9,262,000 to 8,995,000,” CNS News reported Friday.

The labor participation rate — the same metric that found 114,000 black people had stopped looking for work — also improved for the general population, according to the BLS.

“Those not in the labor force, which are those who not only did not have a job, but they did not actively seek one in the last four weeks, declined from 92,584,000 to 92,378,000,” CNS News reported.

The October unemployment rate for black Americans came in at 10.9 percent, compared with 5.8 percent for the population as a whole.

Pelosi wants to fight on as House minority leader

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has indicated she isn’t ready to cede her party’s leadership to a younger generation just yet. Following a midterm bloodbath for congressional Democrats, Pelosi said she wants to stay on as minority leader because she still has unfinished business to check off her agenda.

According to The Hill, Pelosi sent a letter to House Democrats beseeching her caucus to keep her as minority leader — evidently because she’s passionate about strengthening voting rights before she walks away from her leadership position.

“To succeed, we must inspire, educate and remove obstacles to participation,” wrote Pelosi. “Only by changing our political environment and broadening the universe of the electorate can we build a strong sense of community and an economy that works for everyone.

“This basic and even non-partisan challenge, which many of you told me you share, has convinced me to place my name in nomination for leader when our Caucus meets… I respectfully request your support, your comments and your participation.”

Pelosi is joined by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) in the effort to keep current party leaders in top congressional roles. All three have indicated they wish to remain in their leadership roles (in Reid’s case, as Senate minority leader) in the 114th Congress.

The new Congress convenes on Jan. 3.

Condoleezza Rice hits Democratic race baiters hard in post-midterm comments

Now that her most visible public role involves selecting worthy contenders for a college football playoff, you might think Condoleezza Rice would stifle her impulse to speak plainly about partisan political squabbles.

Hardly. Rice unloaded on Democrats for one of their pet midterm campaign strategies Thursday, telling Fox News that racial fearmongering is an insulting, ineffective and reality-blind tactic that has no place in modern America — a country she described as “the best place on Earth to be a minority.”

“The idea that you would play such a ‘card,’ and try fearmongering among minorities just because you disagree with Republicans — that they are somehow all racists — I find it appalling. I find it insulting,” she said.

“Of course we still have racial tensions in this country. But the United States of America has made enormous progress in race relations, and it is still the best place on Earth to be a minority.”

The former secretary of state under President Georges W. Bush drove her point home in overt fashion.

“As a Republican black woman from the South, I would say to them, ‘really?’ Is that really the argument you’re going to make in 2014? … I’ve been black all my life — I don’t need anyone to tell me how to be black,” she scolded.

Rice’s comments come two days after voters handed the U.S. Senate majority to Republican candidates and further cemented the GOP’s firm majority in the House of Representatives. One GOP victory that upended the Democrats’ race-baiting narrative was that of South Carolina Republican Tim Scott, who won an overwhelming victory in his Senate race.

Scott became the first elected black Senator from the Palmetto State (or anywhere else in the South) since 1881.

Predictably, the progressive side of the political landscape had no congratulations to offer. Perhaps they were taking their cues from the NAACP, which gave Scott one of the lowest ratings of any member of Congress — using qualifiers that align closely with the agenda of the Obama administration — in its civil rights “report card.”

Berkeley’s soda tax a small win for the nanny state in Tuesday midterms

The midterm sweep may have signaled a strong nationwide lean away from the progressive left Tuesday, but at least one bastion of progressivism managed to advance the nanny state.

Residents of Berkeley, California, approved a ballot measure making the city the first in the U.S. to institute a true sin tax on high-calorie sodas and sweetened drinks. The new tax is set to take effect at the start of 2015.

The idea that government has an obligation to protect beverage consumers from themselves was most infamously popularized by former Republican New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose efforts to penalize residents for buying large sugary drinks was ultimately repudiated by the courts.

Berkeley’s measure, known to voters as ballot measure D, will impose a 1-cent tax on every ounce of each beverage included under the law. Those include not only sodas, but also sweetened energy drinks, teas and coffee drinks. The measure passed by a simple majority vote.

Supporters of the local measure were emboldened by the victory, pledging to carry the sugar tax campaign to other parts of the U.S.

“We fully expect other communities to take on the soda industry and succeed,” said Dr. Vicki Alexander, who represents the “Yes on D” movement, in a release Tuesday.

DOJ dumps Fast and Furious docs as midterms take over the news cycle

The U.S. Department of Justice unloaded tens of thousands of pages of documents it had previously withheld under a claim of presidential privilege late Monday, just as the mainstream news cycle ramped up its wall-to-wall coverage of the midterm elections.

DOJ dumped more than 64,280 pages of Fast and Furious documents Attorney General Eric Holder had, until Monday, refused to share with government watchdogs and congressional overseers under a claim that the information the documents contain was protected after President Obama asserted a claim of executive privilege.

The documents will remain closed for public scrutiny as the House Oversight Committee and other members of Congress review them for any security-sensitive information.

The document dump represented “a move Republicans said was an admission by President Obama that he overstepped his legal bounds,” according to The Washington Times.

“Investigators had sought the documents for years, with the House even suing in federal court to force their release,” The Times’ Stephen Dinan wrote Tuesday.

“Mr. Obama had asserted executive privilege, claiming the documents were part of the ‘deliberative process’ of White House decision-making and therefore didn’t need to be divulged, but the court rejected those claims.”

Government watchdog Judicial Watch has also sued for the release of the documents, sparking a months-long slow burn of periodic court orders and deadlines that saw the DOJ lose ground in its effort to keep the information concealed.

Holder, already in contempt of Congress for refusing to release the documents, was ordered by a federal judge in August to release the information to the Oversight Committee.

The Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), interpreted the prodigious document dump as indirect evidence that Obama and Holder have been spuriously invoking executive privilege all along.

“The sheer volume of last night’s document production — which consists entirely of documents that the Justice Department itself acknowledges are not covered by Executive Privilege — shows that the President and the Attorney General attempted to extend the scope of the Executive Privilege well beyond its historical boundaries to avoid disclosing documents that embarrass or otherwise implicate senior Obama Administration officials,” the Committee stated in a Tuesday release.

DOJ wants lawsuit against EPA’s carbon rule to go away

By now, you’re probably familiar with the EPA’s proposed cap-in-trade rules change, a flexing of the agency’s regulatory power that has given campaign fodder to GOP candidates in states whose economies rely heavily on the coal industry.

The proposal, part of the Obama administration’s larger effort to introduce new EPA regulations that heavily politicize government’s role in environmental advocacy, was immediately targeted with a lawsuit filed by Ohio-based Murray Energy Corp.

Murray argues that the EPA is (of course) attempting to assert powers it has never claimed before and that the agency is attempting to reimagine the Clean Water Act in ways that aren’t merely unconstitutional, but also are harmful to an entire sector of the U.S. economy.

But the DOJ has stepped in, filing a motion on Monday requesting that the court dismiss the company’s lawsuit. DOJ argues — with legal precedent seemingly on its side — that an entity like Murray cannot have standing to sue over the rule while it is still in the proposal stage. In other words, no one can sue over the rule until it is, in fact, a rule.

According to The Hill, Murray’s representatives acknowledge that the lawsuit’s timing is unusual. But, the company claims, the EPA is putting businesses in unusual positions by taking extraordinary measures.

“The plain language of the Clean Air Act clearly prohibits the Obama administration’s radical Environmental Protection Agency from promulgation of these unlawful and very damaging rules, and the EPA’s motion to dismiss does not change this fact,” a Murray spokesman said in response to DOJ’s motion to dismiss.

Judge slams Obama’s activist Department of Housing and Urban Development

A U.S. District Court judge has reversed a rules change published last year by President Obama’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), repudiating the department’s attempt at wielding policy measures to legislate outcomes that Congress never intended when it passed the Fair Housing Act.

Judge Richard Leon, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, scolded HUD in his ruling Monday for attempting to speak where Congress — the legislative body from which the department’s regulatory powers flow — had plainly remained silent.

In particular, Leon admonished HUD for attempting to change its rules so that its application of fair housing policy would achieve equal outcomes — instead of equal opportunity to obtain housing under the law, as Congress intended.

HUD strayed beyond its powers last winter, according to a Weekly Standard report, when it “published a regulation pursuant to the Fair Housing Act that defines discrimination as actions or policies that while neutral and nondiscriminatory in their intent have a disparate impact, shown through statistics, on a group of persons defined in terms of race (and other protected groups):

The legality of the new rule was challenged almost a year ago by two of the largest among the trade associations representing homeowner’s insurers, the pith of their argument being that in passing the Fair Housing Act Congress defined discrimination as disparate treatment — the different treatment of individuals on account of race — and not as disparate impact. The agency thus lacked the authority to make the new rule.

Leon agreed, siding with the plaintiffs who brought the suit, arguing that Congress only intended the Fair Housing Act to provide a level playing field — not to forcibly reconstruct social demographics by using policy as a social engineering tool.

“In the FHA, Congress has included no such effects-based language,” Leon wrote in his 32-page ruling. “… It takes hutzpah (bordering on desperation) to argue” that the FHA is meant to produce equal outcomes.

“This is, yet another example of an Administrative Agency trying desperately to write into law that which Congress never intended to sanction,” Leon surmised.

Tea Party terrorists, Texas edition

Desperate hours heading into the midterm election brought out the worst in Texas this past week, with the Bexar County Democratic Party placing a last-minute Spanish-language attack ad that flatly calls Tea Party conservatives “radical terrorists.”

Bexar County encompasses San Antonio. The ad has appeared on the Univision Network in the local market ad space. The video is embedded below, but here’s how the San Antonio Express-News describes it:

The Univision ad begins by showing the United States and Mexican flags waving next to each other, with a narrator saying, “These two flags represent friendship, liberty, opportunity and justice.”

That image is quickly replaced by the tea party’s “Don’t Tread on Me” banner.

This flag, the narrator warns us, is “muy peligrosa” (very dangerous).

“It’s the flag of the tea party Republicans. They are radical terrorists and they want to take matters into their own hands, affecting our children and families with violence and firearms on the border and in our cities.”

That accusation is accompanied by photos of Texas militia members in camouflage uniforms and a worried woman holding tight to her child.

“[A]ny Democrat who resented hearing about how Barack Obama ‘palled around’ with terrorists, simply because former Weather Underground radical William Ayers hosted a fundraiser for him in the 1990s, should appreciate” that the attack ad blatantly conflates border militia groups in particular with the Tea Party movement as a whole, the Express-News’ Gilbert Garcia criticized.

That’s true, but he doesn’t go far enough. It’s a race-baiting ad, plain and simple, for the Latino media market. Aaron Peña, a former Democratic state representative who later switched to the GOP, told Breitbart News the ad demonstrates the “race-baiting and fear-mongering that Democrats are doing all over the country.”

“This is a complete embarrassment to Democrats all across the state, that the modern Democrat party would stoop to the lowest of the low,” he said. “It’s dirty, despicable, and desperate.”

The Republican Party reportedly plans to target Univision with a protest, according to Raw Story.

Weapon hysteria of the day

An Ohio high school student is being punished for taking an assignment seriously enough to come to class prepared with all the tools he needed to fulfill it. One of those tools included a knife, so the adults naturally freaked out.

Da’von Shaw, a sophomore at Bedford High School in Bedford, Ohio, was tasked with a healthy-eating demonstration for class. “I put in the slogan, ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away,'” Shaw told WOIO News.

That meant he had to bring an apple or two to school and demonstrate his understanding of how to prepare a healthy breakfast. “He intended to show how he prepares his food,” the news report explained. “He brought apples, Craisins and a knife to cut the apples with; but the demonstration never happened.”

That’s because as soon as he produced the knife, the teacher intervened. “When I took out the knife the teacher then told me that I couldn’t use it, so I didn’t hesitate I just gave it to her,” he said.

Shaw thought that was the end of it. But, of course, it wasn’t. Later that same day, he was informed that the school had decided to suspend him for five days for bringing a knife to school. Zero tolerance and all.

“You can’t take a person with no intentions to harm and put them as a criminal,” his incensed mother, Shakila Wilson, told the local news.

WOIO tried to talk with the superintendent of the school system for their new report, and this happened:

At school district offices Superintendent Sherman Micsak entered a room where we waited and told us to turn off the camera, and he wouldn’t talk about any student on camera.

That is proper, but he brusquely told us he wouldn’t discuss general district policy on camera, telling reporter Paul Orlousky, “You can come on upstairs,” while telling cameraman Marty DeChant “you can stay here.”

He was told, “Well we’re here to interview you on camera.”

Micsak replied, “Well, I’m not gonna be on camera.”

The school district Micsak administers isn’t privately held; it’s the Bedford City School District.

How likely is Obama to enter lame-duck policy dump mode after this week’s midterms?

With the midterms only one day away, the possibility of a decisive power shift in Congress continues to read as a fait accompli for most political pundits. But what about the president’s power? His pen and phone haven’t gone anywhere.

Writing for The Wall Street Journal last week, University of Chicago political science professor Charles Lipson said executive amnesty isn’t the only controversial unilateral action President Obama may have in mind once the post-election smoke clears.

“[A]s soon as the voting is done (perhaps after runoffs in Louisiana and Georgia), several big shoes will drop,” Lipson predicts. From immigration policy to foreign policy, Obama may use the post-election months as a clearing house for unpopular, imprudent or even illegal agenda markers.

Here are some highlights:

On immigration: “The Department of Homeland Security recently ordered more than four million green cards and visas for next year and says it might order another 29 million for future years.”

On the Keystone XL pipeline: “Given his druthers, the president almost certainly would prefer to kill this project and appease his environmentalist supporters. But he won’t do that before the final votes are tallied for Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, who is running for re-election. She is in favor of the project, and her campaign hinges on the perception that, as chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee, she actually affects policy.”

On ISIS: “[I]t is now virtually impossible to tell who our ‘friends’ are since America’s opposition to ISIS, a Sunni group, makes the U.S. effectively a partner of its Shiite opponents in Tehran and Damascus… Everyone wonders what the president’s strategy really is and whether he will stick to it after the election.”

On Iran: “If the president cuts a major deal on Iran’s nuclear-weapons program—which will surely include major concessions on U.S. economic sanctions, he will face a storm of controversy among the public and on Capitol Hill. Worse, Mr. Obama might refuse to submit the deal to Congress, claiming that it is an agreement and not a treaty requiring Senate approval. That could generate a true constitutional crisis.”

Obama may even be waiting to authorize the release of the Department of Defense’s report on the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap — a signal that the report may contain some upsetting conclusions about whether the former Taliban hostage was an alleged deserter. If it turns out that Bergdahl indeed forsook his post, the optics for Obama will be awful. “People will ask why the president gave up so much for a turncoat and why the president held a Rose Garden celebration to mark Sgt. Bergdahl’s return,” Lipson notes.

Short-term health insurance plans could accelerate Obamacare’s financial problems

For paying customers, there’s an increasingly popular way to opt out of a commitment to an Obamacare plan without running afoul of the law: Buy cheaper, short-term coverage that can be renewed on an annual basis.

It appears to be a low-risk — if not necessarily high-reward — solution to the problem of complying with the Affordable Care Act, one that saves customers money and offers them the flexibility to re-evaluate their decisions on a yearly basis. But it also may signal a quickening of the structural problem inherent in Obamacare’s financial philosophy.

That’s because as more people of a certain demographic go for short-term insurance, fewer are available to pay the lion’s share of Obamacare’s shared costs.

Fox News posits such a phenomenon could “put the government-subsidized plan into a death spiral,” as young, generally healthy people buy year-long “maintenance” insurance plans and stay away from more expensive Obamacare plans that offer too much coverage in exchange for too much money:

The plans, the only ones allowed for sale outside of ObamaCare exchanges, generally cost less than half of what similar ObamaCare policies cost, and are increasing in popularity as uninsured Americans learn they are required to get health coverage.

… As long as customers stay healthy, they can renew the short-term plans. If patients get sick while covered, the plans provide for their care until the end of the term, when customers can be declined. But such plans can work well with ObamaCare, because if stricken policyholders can still buy insurance through the Affordable Care Act, where insurers must charge sick and healthy people the same rate.

… In theory, if enough young and healthy people switch to short-term, non-ObamaCare plans, it could cause a “death spiral” for ObamaCare plans where prices soar and healthy customers look elsewhere.

Supporters of the Obamacare exchange system maintain that, although a short-term plan can cost half as much as an exchange-based policy, they won’t steal the market away from the exchanges because people buying their own short-term insurance don’t qualify for a government subsidy to help them pay their premiums.

That’s a difficult line of thinking to follow, since people who are willing to pay out of pocket for cheaper insurance are effectively voting against a subsidy with their wallets.

But the short-term plans do have a couple of potential drawbacks, according to Fox. For one thing, even though a short-term policyholder is technically in compliance with the law, he still has to pay a penalty for opting out of Obamacare. In addition, the policies function on a traditional model that excludes potential customers who have pre-existing conditions.

“Basically, people making $37,000 or less should go on ObamaCare,” one short-term provider told Fox. “People with serious pre-existing conditions — they should go on ObamaCare.

“But for everyone else, including the penalties and including the subsidies [for ObamaCare plans], we cost 30-50 percent less and have that freedom of choice with providers.”

What became of a year-old ethics complaint against Harry Reid?

A year ago, watchdog group Cause of Action filed an ethics complaint against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), alleging he inappropriately intervened in the visa approval process for foreign investors attached to a Las Vegas casino hotel that was getting its legal counsel from his son’s law firm.

Now, Cause of Action is refiling that same complaint, because the original one, according to Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard, “has mysteriously disappeared.”

Cause of Action filed its original complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee in October of 2013, and received a signed receipt two months later — a definitive indication the committee knew of, and was in possession of, the complaint.

Fast forward to this month, when Cause of Action received a communication from the committee’s chief counsel alleging the panel “never received” the original filing. Cause of Action sent a letter (viewable here) last week to Ethics Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) inquiring about the strange disappearance; here’s how Cause of Action describes what happened:

On October 22, 2014, after media reports of the determination request, John C. Sassaman, the Committee’s Chief Counsel and Staff Director, called Cause of Action and indicated the Committee had “never received” the complaint. In light of the National Journal’s findings regarding the Committee’s ineffectiveness, the notion that Committee staff may have lost or otherwise misplaced Cause of Action’s complaint against the Majority Leader is plausible. However, the available evidence contradicts the Committee’s claim.

To begin with, the complaint was sent certified mail and Cause of Action received a signed return receipt from the Senate dated December 20, 2013.3 But even if the Senate mails failed in this case, and the complaint was lost by Senate employees, the evidence is that the Committee learned of the complaint’s filing and allegations from direct press inquiries and likely obtained it directly from Cause of Action’s website in January, 2014.

The story made a lot of news at the time, and it’s hard to imagine it never reached the committee’s attention — even if an innocent mix-up offers a plausible excuse for the original filing’s misplacement. Nevada journalist Jon Ralston kept the issue alive in Reid’s home state, and it’s unlikely, anyway, that the majority leader (or his partisan ally heading the Ethics Committee) would neglect any story that complicates a $300 million investment deal guided, in part, by Reid’s own son.

Cause of Action is a conservative watchdog — one that “has ties to Koch Industries, a Reid critic,” Bedard wrote Tuesday.

Ah. “Mystery” solved?

Another civil forfeiture horror story

This Iowa woman ran a successful Mexican restaurant for nearly four decades until the IRS showed up at her home one day in 2013, informing her that her business bank account had been frozen and her cash assets – more than $30,000 – had been seized by the government.

Carole Hinders, who owns Mrs. Lady’s Mexican Food, had apparently been “guilty” of making small cash deposits to her business bank account because, according to Business Insider, “her mother told her the bank had to do ‘extra paperwork'” if she deposited more than $10,000 at a time.

The government requires that banks receiving more than $10,000 in cash deposits in single transactions report the deposits to the feds. Hinders’ consistent behavior of depositing less than that amount had, over time, raised the IRS’ suspicion that she was hiding something.

Hinders’ restaurant, though, accepts only cash or checks, not debit or credit cards, and Hinders has an aversion to storing large amounts of cash on-site.

“How can I be committing a crime by depositing money I worked for and deposited in my own bank account?” she asked. “Over 30 years of banking at the same bank, no one ever mentioned I was making my deposits ‘wrong.'”

“Civil forfeiture turns the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ on its head,” a representative for the Institute for Justice says in the video.

“Once your property’s taken, it’s up to you to prove your own innocence to get it back in expensive litigation against the federal government.”

Making no endorsement of the video’s click-through at the end, we still recommend checking out endforfeiture.com, the Institute for Justice’s website devoted to reversing civil forfeiture horror stories like Hinders’.

Houston mayor relents; withdraws subpoenas of local pastors who allegedly preached against homosexuality

Houston mayor Annise Parker held a press conference Wednesday to announce the city is dropping subpoenas against several local pastors who allegedly violated a local discrimination ordinance by preaching against homosexuality.

Parker, beset by the scandal that arose after news spread of her administration’s decision to subpoena pulpit speech, came full circle with the decision to withdraw the subpoenas Wednesday. She had pledged just last week to rework the phrasing of the subpoenas, in order not to offend the sensibilities of those who protested that they infringed on the constitutional right to free speech.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Parker remained defiant, even as she capitulated to her critics:

The move is in the best interest of Houston, she said, and is not an admission that the requests were in any way illegal or intended to intrude on religious liberties. The subpoenas were part of a discovery phase in a suit filed by opponents of the equal rights ordinance, who largely take issue with the rights the law extends to gay and transgender residents.

“I didn’t do this to satisfy them,” Parker said of critics. “I did it because it was not serving Houston.”

For constitutional conservatives, the case had served as an example of how stifling the far left’s nominal push for tolerance of minority groups can be for the rights all share in common. Parker, a lesbian, considered the local ordinance a defining achievement of her first term, describing it as the “most personally satisfying and most personally meaningful thing that I will do as mayor.”

The pastors had been subpoenaed in connection with a lawsuit over the validity of a petition to hold a voter referendum on the “Houston Equal Rights Ordinance,” even though they were not parties to the lawsuit.

The mayor’s office evidently had intended to canvass the sermons for examples of how local religious leaders were using the mayor’s homosexuality, which the pastors allegedly believe to be immoral, as a political wedge to motivate churchgoers to rally in favor of a referendum vote.

Obamacare causing insurance premiums to soar

A new study targeting a diversity of demographic groups has revealed a massive spike in across-the-board insurance premiums since the implementations of the Affordable Care Act – especially for those who previously enjoyed lower rates because they posed a lower risk burden to insurers.

The study, done by the price-shopping health insurance website HealthPocket and shared with select media outlets in advance of publication, focused on health coverage for both sexes among three distinct age groups – 23 year-olds, 30 year-olds and 63 year-olds – and found that the least damaging price spike still amounted to a whopping 22.7 percent increase (for 63 year-old men) and 37.5 percent increase (for 63 year-old women).

From there, it gets much worse. According to PR Newswire, the youngest group in the study is taking it on the chin:

Premiums in the pre-reform and Obamacare individual health insurance markets were examined for nonsmoking men and women ages 23, 30, and 63 to determine if premiums were affected differently based on age and sex. HealthPocket found that the average health insurance premium increased by double digits for each group examined though some groups saw a much steeper increase than others.

Using government data for on-exchange and off-exchange individually purchased health plans in the two largest metropolitan regions in each state, HealthPocket calculated the average 2013 and 2014 premiums across all plans for each selected demographic profile. The largest increase was observed for young men age 23. The average premium across all plans increased 78% for 23 year-old men in the 2014 Obamacare market as compared to the 2013 pre-reform market. In comparison, 23 year-old women saw their average premium increase by nearly 45%. For 30 year-olds, the average premium increased 73% for men and 35% for women. For 63 year-olds who are not yet Medicare-eligible, women had a higher increase to average premiums than men. The Obamacare market’s average premium for 63 year-old women was 37.5% higher than the pre-reform market while the increase for 63 year-old men was 22.7%.

Of course, it’s feast or famine with Obamacare: you can either afford to pay more, or you can afford to get covered for free, or at a substantially subsidized rate. This study obviously covers those who have had the misfortune of earning their way into the full-price category.

“The study doesn’t include the federal premium subsidies offered to those earning between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty limit,” The Washington Times  noted in an analysis of the report Wednesday.

In related news, a survey released this week showed that, as of May 2014, fully one-fourth of all active physicians in the U.S. have declined to participate in insurance plans offered under Obamacare. “That number of 214,524, estimated by American Action Forum, is through May 2014,” reported CNS News Tuesday, “but appears to be growing due to plans that force doctors to take on burdensome costs.”

Government’s path of least resistance for would-be homeowners

After a disastrous housing market crash exacerbated by artificially depressed pricing points for lower-income, first-time homeowners, you’d think the people in charge of crafting loan policy in the U.S. would have learned a thing or two about the realistic cost of entry into the housing market.

But this is the government. According to Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle, the lessons of the housing crisis of the early 2000s appear to be little more than a distant, fuzzy memory for regulators.

“We just spent six years learning, the very hard way, that you can’t borrow yourself rich,” she wrote last week. “That knowledge is too expensive to throw away so easily.”

At issue is the current push by progressive groups, lawmakers and some in the mortgage industry to lower down payments on homes for first-time buyers so that they can get in the door before having to worry about paying the lifetime cost of their loan.

“The government agencies that drive most of the housing market are pushing for lower down-payment standards on mortgages, easing the 20 percent requirement that has become standard for much of the market,” McArdle wrote. But, she warns, the large pool of buyers who take advantage of the low-threshold approach isn’t homogenously free of the risk of default. And they’re unlikely to see any growth in the value of their property unless the housing market swells throughout the life of their loan:

Is there a good public-policy reason to encourage people to make a heavily leveraged bet on continued upward movement in home prices? Presumably, the argument is that many homeowners have done very well out of this over the past 50 years; rising home values sowed the seeds of many a college education and retirement fund.

But there are huge drawbacks to housing, too. Leveraged bets are great when they pay off; when they don’t, they leave you dead broke. Especially a bet on a large, illiquid asset such as a house. Put a homeowner into one of these gambles at the age of 35, send the local housing and job markets south a few years later, and the end result is a broke middle-age person with trashed credit in desperate need of a good rental unit. Which legislators should know, because we seem to have a lot of them around right now.

So who, then, can buy a house and expect to reap some passive financial reward as the property increases in value? It’s certainly not people who can’t afford to make a significant down payment, she argues.

But buying a house is a good idea only if you meet the following conditions:

  1. You can afford a sizable down payment to cushion you from the effects of local economic downturns or you have a super-stable job, such as working for the government or your father-in-law, that makes you unlikely to ever miss any payments.
  2. You can afford the maintenance as well as the payments, insurance and property taxes.
  3. You have good disability and/or mortgage insurance to make sure that you do not miss any payments even if you break your back and can’t do your job anymore.
  4. You are pretty sure you do not want to leave your area or move to a larger, more expensive home anytime in the next five years.
  5. Your payment is a reasonable percentage of your take-home pay (I shoot for under 25 percent; anything over 35 percent is far too risky).
  6. You have a sizable emergency fund to deal with contingencies.
  7. You can afford other forms of savings, rather than counting on your house as a piggy bank for future needs. In general, if declining home prices would send you into a hysterical panic about your financial situation, you are buying too much house.

How many homeowners do you know who meet those sensible conditions? Yet buying a house without thinking through one’s total financial commitment, over a span of decades, is “gambling,” McArdle argues.

And it looks as though the government will continue to make it dangerously easy for first-time buyers to go gambling.

Judicial Watch: Valerie Jarrett recruited to spin Fast and Furious scandal for Eric Holder

We’ll probably be seeing more stories like these in coming days, as Judicial Watch pores over the 1,323 pages of document names the Department of Justice handed over to a federal court last week.

Judicial Watch, the nonprofit government watchdog suing the DOJ for the release of Fast and Furious information that President Obama has so far kept secret under an assertion of executive privilege, wrote Friday that Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett entered the picture just as the scandal was starting to hit the news.

It appears that Holder jumped on the scandal by seeking advice from Jarrett immediately after investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson released an October 2011 story showing that Holder was aware of the operation for far longer than he had previously admitted, under oath, to Congressional investigators.

From Judicial Watch:

Practically lost in the 1,000-plus pages of records is an index that shows Jarrett was brought in to manage the fact that Holder lied to Congress after the story about the disastrous gun-running operation broke in the media. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) ran the once-secret program that allowed guns from the U.S. to be smuggled into Mexico so they could eventually be traced to drug cartels. Instead, federal law enforcement officers lost track of hundreds of weapons which have been used in an unknown number of crimes, including the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona.

The files received by JW include three electronic mails between Holder and Jarrett and one from former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke to Jarrett. The e-mails with Holder are all from October 4, 2011, a significant date because, on the evening of October 3rd, Sheryl Attkisson (then at CBS news) released documents showing that Holder had been sent a briefing paper on Operation Fast and Furious on June 5, 2010. The paper was from the director of the National Drug Intelligence Center, Michael Walther.

This directly contradicted Holder’s May 3, 2011 testimony to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, during which he stated that he, “probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.” The October 4, 2011 date may also be significant because it came shortly after the August 30, 2011 resignation of U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke and reassignment of acting ATF director Kenneth Melson to the position of “senior forensics advisor” at DOJ.

Lest there be any doubt about Holder’s intentions in getting Jarrett’s attention, we have the DOJ’s descriptions of what the emails discussed. “The description of one of the e-mails, written from Jarrett to Holder, reads, ‘re: personnel issues.’ Another, also from Jarrett, reads, ‘outlining and discussing preferred course of action for future responses in light of recent development in congressional investigation,'” Judicial Watch wrote.

The group hopes to eventually get its hands not only on a truncated list of all the items the DOJ is trying to keep hidden, but the documents themselves. In the meantime, you can see the list for yourself at this page, where Judicial Watch has posted the entire thing.

Obama claims executive privilege for Eric Holder’s wife, mother in Fast and Furious lawsuit

The Obama administration met its Oct. 22 deadline for submitting a listing of all the Fast and Furious papers for which it’s claiming executive privilege for the Department of Justice, giving Judicial Watch — the plaintiff in the lawsuit against the DOJ to share the actual documents — its first look at what kind of stuff the government is trying to hide.

Among the 15,662 documents listed in the “Vaughn Index” the DOJ submitted are some interesting things. The department is claiming that its assertion of executive privilege extends to the wife of Attorney General Eric Holder, as well as his mother.

From Judicial Watch:

The document details the Attorney General Holder’s personal involvement in managing the Justice Department’s strategy on media and Congressional investigations into the Fast and Furious scandal. Notably, the document discloses that emails between Attorney General Holder and his wife Sharon Malone — as well as his mother — are being withheld under an extraordinary claim of executive privilege as well as a dubious claim of deliberative process privilege under the Freedom of Information Act. The “First Lady of the Justice Department” is a physician and not a government employee.

The “Vaughn Index” originated from a 1973 case in which the court decided that a government agency could not simply declare some of its documents exempt from a Freedom of Information Act request. The index compels defendants (usually government agencies and their representatives) to list the items it wishes to withhold, along with an explanation of why sharing the information would be damaging.

As of Wednesday, Judicial Watch has only had access to the government’s index for a handful of hours, but here are some of the watchdog group’s initial takeaways:

Numerous emails that detail Attorney General Holder’s direct involvement in crafting talking points, the timing of public disclosures, and handling Congressional inquiries in the Fast and Furious matter.

President Obama has asserted executive privilege over nearly 20 email communications between Holder and his spouse Sharon Malone. The administration also claims that the records are also subject to withholding under the “deliberative process” exemption. This exemption ordinarily exempts from public disclosure records that could chill internal government deliberations.

Numerous entries detail DOJ’s communications (including those of Eric Holder) concerning the White House about Fast and Furious.

The scandal required the attention of virtually every top official of the DOJ and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Communications to and from the United States Ambassador to Mexico about the Fast and Furious matter are also described.

Many of the records are already publicly available such as letters from Congress, press clips, and typical agency communications. Ordinarily, these records would, in whole or part, be subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. Few of the records seem to even implicate presidential decision-making and advice that might be subject to President Obama’s broad and unprecedented executive privilege claim.

Judicial Watch also points out that Fast and Furious may have been supplanted by more recent Obama administration scandals, but the gun-walking scheme that hatched the scandal has created problems that won’t go away anytime soon.

“Guns from the Fast and Furious scandal continue to be used in crimes,” JW wrote. “Just last week, Judicial Watch disclosed that a Fast and Furious gun was used in gang -style assault on a Phoenix apartment building that left two people wounded. We figured this out from information we uncovered through another public records lawsuit against the City of Phoenix.”

D.C. making it ‘as difficult as possible’ to acquire handguns despite court order

Last month, the Washington, D.C., city council grudgingly agreed to revise a local ordinance to bring the city into compliance with a judge’s order mandating a path to concealed carry for residents.

Now, it appears that the city is doing all it can to make it prohibitively inconvenient and expensive for anyone thinking about actually taking advantage of the change.

The new ordinance isn’t exactly 2nd Amendment-friendly, requiring anyone who wants a permit to finish an 18-hour training course and ensuring that law enforcement has the final say in whether a person truly needs a concealed carry permit.

And city administration is dragging its feet to live up to its own end of fulfilling even those mandates, offering a passive resistance to the change that, according to the Washington Times, is “emblematic of the city’s reluctant scramble to comply with the July order that overturned the District’s ban on carrying handguns in public.” It’s charging $75 just to apply for a permit and requires firearms instructors who wish to provide the mandatory training to shell out a $435 fee.

From the Times:

The District’s newly minted concealed carry laws require gun owners seeking permits to complete 18 hours of firearms training.

One problem: As of Wednesday, the day before a court-ordered deadline for the permitting process to begin, no instructors had been approved to teach the compulsory course.

… George Lyon, a firearms instructor and one of four gun owners involved in the court case that overturned the D.C. ban on carrying guns in public, said a $435 certification fee might discourage some trainers from applying.

“This is another example of them making the process as difficult and expensive as possible,” Mr. Lyon said.

He said he has not decided whether to pursue approval by D.C. Metropolitan Police as an instructor. “It’s definitively an inhibition. Maryland does it for nothing, and D.C. has to charge $435?”

But before a resident can even enroll in a training course — whenever the city gets around to certifying the instructors and taking their money — the police have to determine that he’s a legitimate candidate to hold a CC permit.

“The training class would not be required until Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier decides whether a legal gun owner has demonstrated a ‘good reason’ to carry a firearm,” reported the Times. “The regulations say the investigative process to qualify for permits could take 90 days or longer for gun owners to demonstrate that they are targets of specific threats.”