Nevada Trashes Its Failed Obamacare Website

Nevada became the latest State to abandon its State-managed Obamacare online marketplace Tuesday, ending its relationship with the company that had been hired to set up and manage the Nevada Health Link exchange and referring future customers to the Federal Obamacare website, healthcare.gov.

Nevada’s insurance commission, the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange, unanimously voted to part ways with Xerox after losing confidence that the company could adequately correct a series of ongoing problems with the State exchange website in time for Obamacare enrollment this fall. The Silver State board emphasized that its reliance on healthcare.gov could end at the State’s discretion, should Nevada make a future attempt at contracting to develop a new State-managed Obamacare website.

Nevada had awarded Xerox a $75 million contract, which was supposed to have produced a fully-functioning website and an underpinning enrollment database to track customers’ plans and payments. Silver State exchange board members and elected officials reportedly reached a consensus that it made no sense to push forward with a potentially costly fix, with Xerox at the helm, lacking a clear timetable or estimate of the final bill.

Nevada residents filed a class action lawsuit against Nevada Health Link in early April, alleging that the service failed to insure them even after they enrolled and paid their premiums. On the heels of the class action came a report from consulting firm Deloitte, which had been hired to assess whether it makes financial sense to salvage the Xerox-run exchange. “[T]he current project team has not proven they can successfully deliver the required management, processes or solution to successfully deliver an operational exchange,” Deloitte advised.

Nevada joins Oregon as the two States to give up completely on an in-house Obamacare marketplace for the coming 2015 enrollment period by reverting to healthcare.gov; Maryland and Massachusetts have also abandoned their expensive Obamacare websites to start over on State-managed websites officials hope to deploy in time for fall enrollment. Hawaii’s State-run exchange – the most expensive Obamacare site, per enrollee, in the Nation – also appears to be on the way out.

Bad Money After Worse: Democratic Congressman Pushes Bill For Federal Green Energy Bank

Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has redoubled his efforts to drum up grass-roots support for a piece of legislation that seeks to create a Federal bank dedicated solely to issuing loans for green-energy projects, five years after the same bill died in the Senate.

Van Hollen introduced the bill on April 30, and has been issuing urgent press releases and YouTube videos selling the idea.

Van Hollen’s plan would establish a Federal Green Bank out of an initial offering of $10 billion in Treasury bonds, supplemented by “the ability to acquire another $40 billion from Green Bonds,” as the Congressman explained.

“These funds will spur development of clean energy markets through loans, loan guarantees, debt securitizations, insurance, and other forms of financing support or risk management for qualified clean energy and energy efficiency projects,” Van Hollen’s press release states. “The legislation includes tax provisions on deductibility of foreign-related interest expenses to offset the Green Bank cost.”

Sound familiar?

When the bill first came before Congress in 2009, it passed the House before being killed off in the Senate. That was before the Solyndra collapse of 2011, which left the Federal government on the hook for nearly $400 million out of $536 million it had loaned the company through favorable terms under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act – as well as a host of lower-profile green-energy failures bankrolled by the Administration of President Barack Obama.

Millennial Generation Rejects Affirmative Action In MTV Survey

Last week, MTV released the results of a survey the pop-culture network commissioned as part of a larger, agenda-driven project to normalize cultural outliers, emphasize racial prejudices and, in the company’s own words, “address bias.”  Most of the respondents agreed it’s bad to treat people differently because of the color of their skin – a sentiment that carried over into respondents’ opinions about affirmative action.

Davis Binder Research, the data and consulting agency that carried out the three-month survey, found that the kids don’t think government should intervene with schools and employers to force the selection of applicants based on their racial background.

In fact, 88 percent of the 3,000 young people interviewed for the survey said they couldn’t get behind affirmative action, because it demonstrates preferential treatment based on racial differences. A full 90 percent said schools and employers should treat everyone equally, regardless of race. And 70 percent said it’s “never fair to give preferential treatment to one race over another, regardless of historical inequalities.”

If those results seem to subvert MTV’s historical effort to foment progressive sympathy in young viewers, then maybe it’s a function of phrasing the question wrong – because the survey question leaves plenty of room for free, unencumbered thinking:

Despite the reality of their experience, their unwavering belief in equality trumps all else and makes it difficult for them to support affirmative action (Note ‐ there was no statistical difference by race for first two bullets).

88% believe that favoring one race over another is unfair, because of their belief in equality.

90% believe that everyone should be treated the same regardless of race.

70% believe it’s never fair to give preferential treatment to one race over another, regardless of historical inequalities. (65% for POC [people of color], 74% for White).

The numbers-based portion of the survey that yielded the affirmative action data specifically targeted the young and pop-savvy demographic: 14-24 year-old people who indicated they were MTV viewers. Along with the objective questions, the respondents also got a healthy dose of questions that presumed a general consensus on social issues, without offering the young viewers much wiggle room.

“65% would be interested in a tool to help them work on their biases,” one survey item observed.
“They want to join a campaign to understand more, talk more and develop tools to help combat bias. Two in three (68%) say that they want to join a campaign that, ‘aims to start a conversation around bias, empowering America’s youth to better recognize bias in themselves and their surroundings, challenge it when they see it, and help create a future with more equal opportunity.’”

Obama Administration Puts Money Squeeze On Gun Retailers

The Obama Administration is waging a semi-successful campaign to burden firearms dealers with regulations and veiled scrutiny tied to the consumer credit industry to such an extent that retailers are scrambling, in some cases, to find a bank willing to process customers’ card-based transactions or even handle their merchant accounts.

According to The Washington Times, which reported on what appear to be a multi-pronged strategy emanating from the Administration to bureaucratically hamstring businesses that lawfully deal in firearms, small dealers in particular face the prospect of losing their business, thanks to banks cautious of the Department of Justice’s Operation Choke Point initiative, which ostensibly targets businesses that carry a “reputational risk.”

“[The] Justice Department has launched Operation Choke Point, a credit card fraud probe focusing on banks and payment processors. The threat of enforcement has prompted some banks to cut ties with online gun retailers, even if those companies have valid licenses and good credit histories,” the Times reported Sunday.

That places gun dealers – especially small mom-and-pop operations – in the same company as pornographers, sweepstake scammers and short-term loan sharks when it comes to setting up a bank account or merchant service agreement to accept card-based payment.

Here are some examples the Times listed of firearms sellers who’ve had close calls – or worse – with Operation Choke Point:

• T.R. Liberti, owner and operator of Top Gun Firearms Training & Supply in Miami, has felt the sting firsthand. Last month, his local bank, BankUnited N.A., dumped his online business from its service.

An explanatory email from the bank said: “This letter in no way reflects any derogatory reasons for such action on your behalf. But rather one of industry. Unfortunately your company’s line of business is not commensurate with the industries we work with.”

• Black Rifle Armory in Henderson, Nevada, had its bank accounts frozen this month as the bank tried to determine whether any of Black Rifle’s online transactions were suspicious.

• In 2012, Bank of America suddenly dropped the 12-year account of McMillan Group International, a gun manufacturer in Phoenix, even though the company had a good credit history, the owner said. Gun parts maker American Spirit Arms in Scottsdale, Arizona, received similar treatment by Bank of America, the country’s largest banking institution.

On top of that, banks have been clamping down on gun dealers following a 2011 warning by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) that takes aim at the firearms trade as a “high-risk” business category.

“Basically, what we’re saying is, these types of programs can be, can involve high-risk activities that could create litigation risk and reputation risk for financial institutions,” FDIC General Counsel Richard Osterman told a House panel last month. “So, they need to do due diligence to ensure that the folks who they’re banking are acting in a safe and sound manner.”

Does that apply even to the many mom-and-pop gun dealers who have been doing business “in a safe and sound manner” for decades without government-prompted institutional harassment?

In January, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was already condemning Operation Choke Point as a government scheme to regulate the legal payday loan industry out of business.

“The extraordinary breadth of the Department’s dragnet prompts concern that the true goal of Operation Choke Point is not to cut off actual fraudsters’ access to the financial system, but rather to eliminate legal financial services to which the Department objects,” Issa wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder. “…It appears the Department has indiscriminately targeted an access point to the financial system that countless legitimate merchants rely upon simply because it is ‘faster’ than targeting the actual perpetrators of fraud.”

Issa wrote that before the Operation’s other convenient regulatory uses came into full view. As a web of Federal regulations continues to tighten around the gun trade, his words now reflect what many small gun dealers are experiencing firsthand.

One Thing Republicans, Democrats, Blacks, Whites, Rich And Poor Have In Common: Support For Voter ID

As State courts go back and forth over the Constitutionality of voter identification laws, public opinion appears to strongly favor voter ID as a means of reducing elections fraud. Significantly, a majority of Americans identifying with both major parties supports some form of voter ID law.

The results of a FOX News poll last week reveal that 70 percent of Americans are necessary to prevent fraudulent voting, as opposed to 27 percent who believe the laws aren’t necessary. The remaining three percent did not offer an opinion.

Fox News graphic
FOX News

As the graphic shows, Americans’ opinion on the validity of voter ID laws has remained consistent over time. The current poll’s numbers are virtually identical to the results FOX News observed the last time the same question was asked, in April 2012.

Even a majority of Democrats, whose party leaders are waging the political campaign to treat voter ID laws as a regressive means of denying voting rights to minorities and poor people, favor voter ID laws, by a 55 percent to 43 percent margin. A majority of blacks also favor voter ID, by a 51 percent to 46 percent margin.

In fact, not a single demographic broken down by FOX News yielded a majority of respondents who opposed voter ID laws, as this graphic shows:

Fox News graphic
FOX News

President Barack Obama, then, would be in the minority on the issue. Obama told an audience at Al Sharpton’s National Action Network last month that current voter ID laws are nothing more than a Republican-supported form of voter suppression, enacted to counter a problem that doesn’t exist.

“The real voter fraud is people who try to deny our rights by making bogus arguments about voter fraud,” said Obama. “Across the country Republicans have led efforts making it harder, not easier, to vote.”

Teen Beats Out Two-Term GOP Incumbent In West Virginia State Primary

West Virginia voters advanced 17 year-old high school senior Saira Blair to the November general election for a seat in the State House of Delegates this week, stalling the political career of her opponent, who was seeking his third term.

Blair, a pro-life, pro-gun Republican, defeated 66 year-old incumbent Republican Larry Kump in a low-turnout election to represent counties in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle in Charleston. She received 872 votes to Kump’s 728, and will face Democrat Layne Diehl in November.

Blair, who can’t vote until she turns 18 in July, ran a positive campaign that played up her conservative position on abortion, 2nd Amendment rights, government regulation of small business and taxation. She doubtless received some of her political gifts from her father, Craig Blair, a Republican who currently serves in the State Senate.

In an election-day interview published in Hagerstown-based newspaper The Herald-Mail, Blair said her youth, as well as her direct approach to engaging voters, is an asset.

“I don’t have as many biases because I am younger and so I’m more capable of taking the views of the people directly from the district to Charleston,” she said. “I think I’m fully capable of doing the job, and I don’t think it’s rocket science by any means — not if you just listen to the people… In order to [help the private sector create jobs]…we need to make it a more business-friendly state by lowering the corporate net tax, eliminating the business franchise tax and eliminating the tax on equipment and machinery.”

If Blair wins the general election, she’ll opt to forego her spring semester at West Virginia University, where she plans to enroll as a freshman this fall, so that she can attend the State legislative session when it convenes for 2015.

Blair’s not the only young person making political waves this week. In what could be another indication that voters in some parts of the country are ready for new blood, 18 year-old Kelvin Cletus Green won the mayor’s seat in the small town of Archer City, Texas.

Then again, voters in Archer City didn’t have to think very hard about electing Green – he was the only person who filed to run, so there wasn’t even an election.

Another Test Case In Government’s Ongoing Push To Define ‘Real’ Journalism

Government’s interjection into the ongoing debate about what constitutes “real” media took another turn this week, when advocates for a nonprofit seeking to assert its 1st Amendment protections appealed to the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court’s narrow interpretation of what constitutes journalism.

The case stems from the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) denial of a request from Cause of Action, a nonprofit government watchdog, to waive fees on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests it had filed in 2012. The FTC ruled Cause of Action is not a traditional media outlet and, therefore, must pay FOIA fees for the honor of being treated like one.

Cause of Action appealed the decision in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., but the court denied the group’s appeal last year. Now the group has taken its case to the appeals court, where a group of news organizations and civil liberties organizations filed an amicus brief siding with Cause of Action on Tuesday.

“Despite the best efforts of Congress to emphasize how important it is to broadly define ‘representative of the news media’ for the purposes of a FOIA fee waiver, courts and government agencies have continued to apply inappropriately narrow definitions,” the brief asserts. “This court should ensure that the standard applied aligns with what Congress intended and what best serves FOIA’s goals of government transparency and accountability.”

Among those siding with Cause of Action are several traditional news organizations — including The Washington Post and, remarkably, National Public Radio, Inc. In filing the brief, those entities defended the open-ended intent of the 1st Amendment to preserve freedom of speech for all, as well as for the Amendment’s implicit limitations on government abrogating that freedom:

This case centers on a question that strikes at one of the central accountability principles of democratic government: how far government agencies and the courts can go in defining what is “news” and of “public interest,” and thus merits disclosure without hefty fees to the requester. As advocates for the media and the media’s ability to gather information from the government and disseminate information to the public, amici [“friends” of the plaintiff] have a strong interest in ensuring that both established and new media outlets can obtain fee waivers for public records. Amici also have a strong interest in ensuring that the needs of the public, and not the interests of the government, determine what is “in the public interest,” and that even yet-unpublicized issues can be brought to light in service of that interest.

If the District Court’s denial of Cause of Action’s fee waiver requests is allowed to stand, it could make it much more difficult for new media to obtain public records without being forced to pay prohibitively high fees. This case thus has implications beyond the outcome for the parties directly involved, and could make it difficult for the news media to fully report on the workings of government for the benefit of the public.

In addition to the potential threat to organized media operating within or near the periphery of mainstream journalism, the case has even more profound implications for newsgathering blogs and citizen reporters whose recognition inherently falls far beneath the government’s radar.

If the FTC’s decision is allowed to stand, it will represent a major victory in the state’s ongoing effort to squelch the voices of independent journalists, by pricing public information — information that’s supposed to be free to all — out of the reach of all but the most affluent newsgatherers.

Arkansas Supreme Court Strikes Down Judge’s Voter ID Ruling

Opponents of Arkansas’ voter ID law had less than a month to celebrate their evident court victory against the law before the State Supreme Court reinstated the law, overturning the decision of a circuit judge who’d declared that it violated the State Constitution.

On Wednesday, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that Arkansas 6th Circuit Judge Tim Fox had erred when he struck down the law, because he attempted to issue a blanket ruling encompassing the law in its entirety, when only a portion of the law — that which concerns the casting of absentee ballots — had been contested before his court.

The high court made no ruling on the merits of the voter ID law, leaving the issue for its own day in court as part of a separate Constitutional challenge currently underway in Arkansas.

The Supreme Court agreed with Fox’s original finding. Fox had remarked that the State Board of Election Commissioners had exceeded its authority when it authorized a unique way of addressing as provisional a number of absentee ballots submitted without voter ID. The Board had not put forward a clear consensus on whether a non-ID absentee voter has the right, after the fact, to be informed and to remedy their illegal (that is, non-ID-verified) ballot by presenting identification while the ballot was held in provisional status.

“At issue in the present case are certain rules promulgated by the ASBEC that establish an entire procedure by which an absentee voter, who fails to submit the identification or documentation with his or her ballot as required under section 7-5-201(d)(1)(B), shall be notified of the deficiency and can remedy the deficiency in order to have his or her ballot counted,” the high court’s decision states.

But Fox went too far in his attempt to invalidate the whole of the State’s voter ID law based on that limited challenge to only one part of the law, the court ruled.

The upshot: Voter ID is still the law in Arkansas.

A more interesting aside concerns the Arkansas Supreme Court’s take on the clear division between legislative authority and administrative duty. A quick read-through of the majority opinion in the voter ID case reveals that the Barack Obama Administration’s use of Federal agencies to essentially make laws, as well as to selectively enforce existing laws, would not fare well if Arkansas’ Supreme Court were the arbiter of such things.

Here’s a sampling:

This court has held that “there must be strict compliance with statutory provisions regarding the application for and casting of absentee ballots.” Womack v. Foster, 340 Ark. 124, 153, 8 S.W.3d 854, 871 (2000). Moreover, the law is elementary that an agency has no right to promulgate a rule or regulation contrary to a statute.

…Where the General Assembly has so evidently not provided a procedure for absentee voters similar to that provided for in-person voters, it is clear to this court that the ASBEC’s emergency rules conflict with the election code, because the ASBEC created a procedure that did not exist, and the legislature did not intend for it to exist.

The ASBEC and Webb contend that the ASBEC was given the authority to adopt any regulations necessary to fill statutory gaps and to correct oversights by the General Assembly. However, this contention contravenes the basic principle of separation of powers. By promulgating the emergency rules that it did, the ASBEC was legislating. This court has previously observed it is “not the business of the courts to legislate; and, if a change in the law in this respect is desired, the General Assembly is the branch of government whence the change must come.” Southern Tel. Co. v. King, 103 Ark. 160, 165, 146 S.W. 489, 491 (1912). It is not the courts’ business to legislate; likewise, it was not the business of the ASBEC, as part of the executive branch, to do so.

Ted Cruz Moves To End FCC Stifling Of Net Neutrality

Arguing that “a five-member panel at the FCC should not be dictating how Internet services will be provided to millions of Americans,” Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Wednesday announced his plan to introduce a new bill that would revoke the authority of the Federal Communications Commission to tinker with broadband speeds under an obscure provision in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

“I will be introducing legislation that would remove the claimed authority for the FCC to take such actions, specifically the Commission’s nebulous Sec. 706 authority,” said Cruz.

Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act affords the FCC, in conjunction with State utility service commissions, to take swift action against broadband providers if the FCC determines in its annual report to Congress that they are not, “in a reasonable and timely fashion,” providing convenient, consistent and affordable internet access to customers.

It’s a vague provision that, given the FCC’s proclivity to interpret its administrative powers broadly, gives the agency enormous enforcement power that borders on lawmaking. It was written nearly 20 years ago, when Congress was far more concerned with other networked infrastructure based on cable television and telephone services.

Writing for the Federalist Society in 2012, Howard Waltzman described the contemporary problems posed by the FCC’s reliance on Section 706 to force its square-peg regulatory agenda into a round hole:

Section 706 of the ’96 Act was a somewhat obscure, but now highly debated, provision of the law. Section 706(a) provides that the Commission and State Public Utility Commissions must “encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans . . . by utilizing, in a manner consistent with the public interest, convenience, and necessity, price cap regulation, regulatory forbearance, measures that promote competition in the local telecommunications market, or other regulating methods that remove barriers to infrastructure investment.” Section 706(b) requires the Commission to conduct regular inquiries into “the availability of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans.” If the Commission determines that such capability is not being deployed to all Americans “in a reasonable and timely fashion,” the Commission is required to “take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.”

… But, if nothing else, the complexity and fluidity of the Internet market demonstrates that Section 706 is an unsustainable framework for this rapidly changing market. Congress needs to provide clearer guidance to the Commission beyond simply prodding the agency to incentivize infrastructure investment. Rather than simply telling the Commission that there needs to be more broadband network deployment, Congress should establish a clear framework regarding the Commission’s authority (or lack thereof) over broadband services and infrastructure; the relationship between broadband network providers and applications providers; and what, if any, rules apply to the transmission of applications over the Internet. Twenty-first century technology and services warrant a twenty -first century framework.

That was in 2012. Cruz’ new proposal, on the heels of a fresh eruption of the FCC’s role in the net neutrality debate, would mark the first step in doing exactly what Waltzman recommends: putting Congress, and not a Federal agency chaired by a Presidential appointee, in charge of establishing a framework for the way a Nationwide Internet infrastructure will serve Americans.

Cruz isn’t a maverick on the net neutrality issue, either: Congressional action of one kind or another has bipartisan support. Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) told FCC chairman Tom Wheeler last week that the FCC should not be in the business of turning Internet access into a shop-your-speed bandwith store that favors wealthy content pushers.

“I believe [Obama] pledged to appoint FCC commission that would honor net neutrality and keep net neutrality as law,” Franken told Time magazine in an interview recapping his letter to the FCC. “[But] The latest proposed rules by Wheeler — what he’s really talking about is creating a fast lane where people can pay to have their content treated unequally. That’s not net neutrality. That’s pay for play. That’s antithetical to net neutrality.”

Cruz’ statement on his new bill takes direct aim at that concern.

“More than $1 trillion has already been invested in broadband infrastructure, which has led to an explosion of new content, applications, and Internet accessibility,” said Cruz.

“Congress, not an unelected commission, should take the lead on modernizing our telecommunications laws. The FCC should not endanger future investments by stifling growth in the online sector, which remains a much-needed bright spot in our struggling economy.”

Rand Paul Vows To Block Obama’s Judicial Nominee Until DOJ Comes Clean On Targeting Killings

On Wednesday, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) blasted President Obama’s nomination of a controversial former member of the legal team that green-lit the drone killing of two radicalized Islamist U.S. Citizens in 2010, penning a lengthy column for Breitbart pledging to block the judicial appointing process in Congress until the nominee, Judge David Barron, had squared his position on the assassination of Americans without due process.

“President Obama’s nomination of Judge David Barron to the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals is troubling because it relates directly, again, to the issue of whether this Administration believes we have a Fifth Amendment,” wrote Paul, referencing his now-famous 2013 filibuster, which compelled the Obama Administration to relent – albeit snarkily – via a terse memo from Attorney General Eric Holder.

But Barron’s nomination carries baggage, since the U.S. Department of Justice is withholding advisory documents Barron authored pertaining to the 2010 drone assassinations of Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan – both U.S. citizens. Without knowing Barron’s views on the Constitutional issues in play in both cases, Paul argued, it would be irresponsible to support his elevation to the bench on the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.

“In 2010, Barron was the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, a group that dispenses legal advice to executive branch agencies,” wrote Paul. “That year, Barron circulated a memo that authorized the extra-judicial killing of two American citizens, radical Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and Islamic extremist Samir Khan. Both would be assassinated by a CIA drone the following year.”

I have no sympathy for al-Awlaki, Kahn, or others like them. But that does not mean the president or anyone else in government has the authority to kill an American citizen without due process where there isn’t an imminent threat.

…What is this Administration trying to hide?

On April 21, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ordered that the Department of Justice disclose a redacted version of the Office of Legal Counsel memorandum that authorized the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. David Barron was one of the principal writers of this memorandum. He has spoken openly about his role in crafting the Administration’s legal position that it can kill Americans abroad without due process.

It would be irresponsible for the Senate to move forward on this nomination until the Department of Justice has complied with the court order to disclose this document, which will highlight Barron’s views on international law, the Fifth Amendment and its guarantee of due process, and the civil liberties of our nation’s citizens.

“The right to due process is not some negotiable aspect of our Constitution, subject to the whim of whoever happens to be sitting in the Oval Office,” Paul concluded. “Such legal protections are quintessential to our most basic freedoms, dating all the way back to the Magna Carta. Our constitutional rights are not negotiable… Until that memo is made public, I will do everything in my power to stop David Barron’s nomination to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.”

Read Paul’s full piece here.