More Than Half Believe Obamacare Will Make American Health Care System Worse

A Rasmussen poll released today shows more than half of American voters sampled believe the implementation of the Affordable Care Act will ultimately damage the quality of health care offered in the United States.

The poll, which surveyed 1,000 likely voters by phone over the weekend, found that people are largely happy with the quality of the health care they have been receiving – although 52 percent don’t expect that to last under Obamacare:

“[M]ost voters (52%) still believe the system will get worse under the new law, while six percent (6%) expect it to stay about the same. Twelve percent (12%) are undecided,” the report states.

In addition, people are beginning to see the financial consequences of the way Obamacare affects the health care marketplace, with one-fourth reporting the law has forced their insurer to modify their health coverage – even though only two percent said they’d successfully signed up for an Obamacare plan through an online marketplace:

One-out-of-four voters (25%) say their health insurance coverage has changed as a result of the health care law. Two percent (2%) have signed up successfully for health insurance through the health exchange websites created by the new law, but given the problems those websites are having, 51% favor delaying the requirement that every American have health insurance by January 1.

Dropping Like Flies: The Insurance Policies Obama Promised Everyone They Could Keep

Let’s start with a video:

It’s tempting for us to run this video at the top of every story we publish about Obamacare; the disparity between the word and the deed is just that outrageous. Look at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Joe Biden trapped in their insane, frozen rictuses of approbation behind the lying President at the 1:17 mark. Only a political career built on lies could earn someone the ability to grin like that.

It’s happened in Florida (300,000 policy terminations) and in California (119,000 terminations). It’s happening everywhere. But now, Obamacare’s goal-post moving network of new requirements is bringing mass individual insurance policy cancellations right to the doorstep of Washington, D.C.

CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield is canceling more than 76,000 individual policies in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., because of changes in the Affordable Care Act that don’t allow BlueCross to “grandfather” in current policyholders who, under Obamacare, must now meet coverage guidelines that differ from those of the policies they currently — or, rather, formerly — held.

The Washington Examiner reports that the 76,000 terminations represent more than 40 percent of the 177,000 Blue Cross CareFirst customers in the D.C. region:

“Of the 177,000 individuals under age 65 who are covered by CareFirst, about 76,000 of them are in a non-grandfathered plan — a plan that will not comply with the guidelines imposed by the Affordable Care Act at their time of renewal this year or next,” CareFirst said in an email in response to an inquiry by the Examiner.

It continued, “These individuals in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and portions of Northern Virginia will be required by the health law to purchase a new ACA-compliant health plan. This phenomenon is not unique to CareFirst and its members, but rather a result of industrywide changes in accordance with new ACA health plan standards.”

Industry-wide indeed. Blue Cross FloridaBlue has terminated roughly 300,000 policies — about 80 percent of its individual customer base. Kaiser Permanente has notified 160,000 policyholders — about half its customer base in California — that their current plans are going away. An incredible 800,000 policies offered through Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, Aetna “and others” in New Jersey must be scrapped because they don’t meet Obamacare’s “keep your policy” grandfathering requirements.

At the same time, Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in those States which have set up their own health insurance exchanges is far outpacing the enrollment rate for would-be paying customers who’d rather be penalized than pay the ridiculous Obamacare prices.

Summarizing the first days of the Obamacare rollout, industry watcher Bob Laszewski cites Washington State as one example:

Washington state appears to be off to a very clean start. They are saying they have finalized enrollment for about 25,000 lives––most in Medicaid. They also say another 37,000 have completed insurance exchange applications that are awaiting premium payments due in December. Washington has about 1 million uninsured and another 200,000 in the individual market. So, they appear to be on their way to enrolling about 5% of their potential market in both Medicaid and the exchange. That likely says something about where exchanges would be if they had not had the problems.

I will suggest that comparing Washington state’s health exchange experience to that of the federal exchange in the coming months, and the many states running their own exchange who also had problems, will be helpful in understanding just how damaging this start was.

For perspective, Laszewski points out that the American individual health insurance marketplace is made up of about 19 million people (a remarkably low number to begin with). Of those, 16 million have held policies that do not qualify to be “grandfathered” in under Obamacare’s new industry and individual regulations.

In each case, circumstances differ greatly from one individual policy to the next. But in the majority of cases, result is the same: You can’t, it turns out, keep your current plan.

Cops, Social Media Collude On New Ways To Block Internet Posts That Organize Public Protest

We’ve already passed along a couple of disturbing things that have come out of this year’s International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) meeting, which wrapped up earlier in the week in Philadelphia.

Kenneth Lipp, an independent journalist and internet consultant, attended the event and has reported on his blog that police and social media services are in the process of teaming up to nurture development of techniques that would effectively squelch public protest organized and planned through the internet.

“Police Departments worldwide are aggressively developing methods and policy to avail themselves of both the public relations and the Big Data resources of ‘social media,’ and adapting to social media platforms as environments for strategic and tactical intelligence,” Lipp writes.

[N]ot yet reported in the press, a senior police officer from the Chicago PD told a panel on Monday that his department was working with Facebook’s security chief to block users’ [sic] from the site by account (person), IP, and device (he did not say if by UUID or MAC address or other means of hardware ID) if it is determined they have posted what is deemed criminal content. Facebook’s Joe Sullivan was scheduled to speak according to the original schedule for the panel “Helping Law Enforcement Respond to Mass Gatherings Spurred by Social Media,” but was unable to attend… [emphasis added.]

The PrivacySOS blog joined the criticism Thursday by lambasting Facebook, which already is handing the government anything it requests without compensation, for potentially colluding with police to institute a “kill switch” that targets grass-roots, organic dissemination of internet information about public protests – gatherings which, if the Constitution still means anything, can’t even be construed as illegal in and of themselves.

The ramifications are sinister: protests are implicitly illegal to law enforcement officials who view this sort of capability as an asset. Worse, sharing information on the internet about planned peaceful events, regardless of their protection under the 1st Amendment, could itself be interpreted as a crime by cops more enamored by the awesome power of technology than its awesome potential for oppressive misuse.

More Americans On Government Entitlement Than Working Full Time

There are more Americans receiving some form of means-tested government benefit than there are full time workers, according to Census Bureau data released recently.

Well, actually the data is for 2011 – but there’s every reason to believe the gap has only widened since the reporting period two year ago.

From CNS News:

There were 108,592,000 people in the United States in the fourth quarter of 2011 who were recipients of one or more means-tested government benefit programs, the Census Bureau said in data released this week. Meanwhile, according to the Census Bureau, there were 101,716,000 people who worked full-time year round in 2011. That included both private-sector and government workers.

That means there were about 1.07 people getting some form of means-tested government benefit for every 1 person working full-time year round.

What are “means-tested” benefits? Any government entitlement that is contingent on a person’s income or demographic qualifications. In many cases, means testing is applied to scale the amount of money higher-income Americans must pay the government (chiefly in taxes) in order to offset the meager or nonexistent amount that benefit recipients must pay to cover the overall cost of entitlement programs.

Food Stamps (SNAP) is a means-tested entitlement. So are Medicaid, SSI, WIC and TANF. In fact, simply being a recipient of one of these programs is now adequate proof, so far as the government is concerned, that you qualify for other means-tested entitlements you may not yet be receiving.

CNS breaks down the 2011 numbers further:

Among the 108,592,000 people who fit the Census Bureau’s description of a means-tested benefit recipient in the fourth quarter of 2011 were 82,457,000 people in households receiving Medicaid, 49,073,000 beneficiaries of food stamps, 20,223,000 on Supplemental Security Income, 23,228,000 in the Women, Infants and Children program, 13,433,000 in public or subsidized rental housing, and 5,854,000 in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Also among the 108,592,000 means-tested benefit recipients counted by the Census Bureau were people getting free or reduced-price lunch or breakfast, state-administered supplemental security income and means-tested veterans pensions.

Back in 2011, American Enterprise Institute scholar Andrew Biggs wrote a lengthy piece outlining the regressive and intrusive character of means testing as a way of calculating (and, indeed, justifying) entitlement benefits. Agree with his conclusions or not, the piece offers a thorough explanation of means testing, as well as the financial stakes of propping up and expanding government entitlements at a time when American is on the cusp of a historic surge in the drawdowns on its number-one means-tested benefit – Medicaid.

Read Biggs’ full piece here.

Congress, Not The President, Can Delay Obamacare’s Individual Mandate

It appears as though President Barack Obama has decided to delay the individual mandate for Obamacare enrollment by up to six weeks.

But that’s a violation of the Affordable Care Act.

As The Washington Times noted Wednesday, the President is the enforcer of the law that Congressional Democrats passed — not the editor:

Even if Obama wanted to extend the open enrollment period, he wouldn’t be allowed to without an act of Congress — at least if he wants to follow the law he signed.

Though the health care law granted the Secretary of Health and Human Services discretion to define dates for the open enrollment period to occur each year, it also specified that the initial enrollment period (i.e. the current one) had to be announced by July 1, 2012.

Specifically, Section 1311 of the healthcare law reads, “ENROLLMENT PERIODS: The Secretary shall require an Exchange to provide for– (A) an initial open enrollment, as determined by the Secretary (such determination to be made not later than July 1, 2012).”

Given that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has already determined that the enrollment period must end on March 31 — and nearly 16 months has passed since she made that determination — extending the period would require an act of Congress to change the law.

Of course, the rule of law hasn’t stopped the Obama Administration from cherry-picking which parts of Obamacare to roll out — and which parts to exclude for groups the Chicago Tribune calls “special pleaders” — before now. In July, the Administration let big businesses off the hook for one year. Then in September, the President promised small businesses and Spanish speakers a one-year reprieve. Labor unions — Obama’s most ardent cheerleaders in 2008 and 2012 — continue to pressure the President to grant them exemptions, and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) remains convinced that will eventually happen.

For any delay to be lawful, it must be amended by Congress in the law itself or abrogated altogether by repeal or replacement. Congress is taking baby steps in the direction of amending the law to allow for an individual delay, with Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) drawing up competing bills that would waive the individual mandate.

Democrats are at least smart enough to disembark a sinking ship, momentarily at least, during an election cycle. CNN’s Dana Bash tweeted Wednesday that every Senate Democrat who’s running for re-election in 2014 will also support a one-year delay — even though their support would likely come in the form of pressuring Obama to circumvent the law, once again, by simply announcing the delay without any action on the part of Congress.

Eminent Domain Abuse: Seattle Condemns Private Parking Lot For Construction Of Public Parking Lot

On Monday, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously and without discussion to seize the property of a 103-year-old resident so that the city could “mitigate for the loss of short-term, on-street parking during construction along the downtown waterfront and replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct.”

The property is already a parking lot, one that profits its owner and not the City of Seattle. Owner Myrtle Woldson has understandably resisted repeated overtures from the city to buy the land.

So the city just took it, and doubtless now holds the leverage in negotiating a compensation price. Long-term plans call for a municipal parking structure to supplement another parking facility the city is already mismanaging.

The Freedom Foundation, which has chronicled the city’s several other abuses, had this to say:

In addition to eminent domain abuse, the City of Seattle has recently been in the news for hiding public records, and sinking the farm boat. The common thread among all three of these stories is that, in Seattle, central planning takes priority over people. In this case, they decided it was critically important to seize a parking lot from its 103-year-old owner so that it can be a parking lot. At least this is their stated justification.

The Puget Sound Business Journal reported two weeks ago that the Woldson was likely to have bequeathed the high-value waterfront property to a charitable organization, despite reports she’s declined private offers of up to $20 million for the land.

“The dispute between the city and Miss Woldson, as she prefers to be called, makes Seattle look like Darth Vader going after the property of a centenarian,” observed the Journal’s Marc Stiles.

Colorado Democrat Pushes Obamacare Waiver For Constituents In Mountain Resort District

Democratic Congressman Jared Polis is planning to request an individual exemption from Obamacare for affluent residents of the ski resort communities that comprise his legislative district in Colorado.

Polis, who until recently has been a firm supporter of Obamacare, told Health Policy Solutions Wednesday that even wealthy families in cities like Keystone, Breckenridge and Aspen (although Aspen lies just beyond his district) are experiencing sticker shock as their existing insurance policies increase in cost – or are canceled outright – under Obamacare.

“We will be encouraging a waiver,” he said. “It will be difficult for Summit County residents to become insured. For the vast majority, it’s too high a price to pay.”

The HPS story that quotes Polis also focuses on the reactions residents have when they see, for the first time, what they’re being asked to pay for health care through Colorado’s State-run Obamacare exchange.

From the story:

“People take one look at the rates and they walk out the door,” said Tamara Drangstveit, executive director of the Family and Intercultural Resource Center, the group that is leading efforts in Summit County to enroll people in new plans that start on Jan. 1 through Colorado’s health exchange.

… Health coverage guides have worked with some clients for up to 90 minutes and walked them through the entire enrollment process only to have them suffer sticker shock and bail when it came time to pick a plan.

“They literally are walking out the door,” Drangstveit said.

Asked how many have purchased plans so far, she said: “Nobody. Zero.”

Polis has requested answers from the State insurance commissioner about why people in his district are being asked to pay, in typical scenarios, nearly double what their distant neighbors in the Denver area are paying for health insurance.

“For example,” he wrote, “a 40-year-old individual in Summit County purchasing a bronze-level plan from the Rocky Mountain Health Plans Statewide PPO would pay a minimum of $427.80 a month – compared to $339.18 in Boulder and $296.41 in Denver for the same plan. This discrepancy between counties is repeated for plans on and off the state health exchange, and at bronze, silver, gold, and platinum levels.

“I respectfully request that DOI provide my office with a thorough explanation for these price differentials.”

Polis is preparing to request that Summit County be reclassified under the insurance rating schedule established for neighboring counties to the west, where the cost of living is not as high.

Great – so who’s going to pick up the difference in cost if his constituents do manage to get reclassified? Other Coloradans, as well as other Americans who subject themselves to the 2014 Obamacare enforcement process known as “tax season.”

Win For 4th Amendment: Court Rules Police Can’t Use GPS To Track Cars Without Probable Cause

A court has ruled that the secret placement of a global positioning system (GPS) device on a suspect’s car constitutes a search under the 4th Amendment, and that law enforcement cannot track suspects in such a manner without first obtaining a warrant based on probable cause.

On Tuesday, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, in a 2-1 opinion, that police cannot simply walk up to an unattended vehicle and plant a hidden GPS to be indiscriminately monitored for an unspecified period of time, with the anticipation that the vehicle will eventually be used in the commission of a crime.

Rather, the court found mobile GPS tracking to be a “vastly broader endeavor” than other forms of 4th Amendment searches — one that law enforcement cannot exploit through open-ended, warrantless surveillance of suspects who they assume will eventually do something illegal.

The appellate case in question, United States v. Katzin, illustrates exactly that. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provided a synopsis Tuesday:

In this case, police suspected three brothers, Harry, Mark, and Michael Katzin, of robbing several pharmacies. Without getting a warrant from a judge, FBI agents attached a GPS tracking device to Harry Katzin’s car in order to follow its movements. The government used the GPS device to track the Katzins as they drove to and from another pharmacy, and arrested them as they drove away. Before trial, the Katzins argued that police had violated their Fourth Amendment rights by using the GPS tracker without a warrant, and the district court agreed. Today’s ruling affirms that decision.

But the Court rejected the prosecution’s two arguments defending the warrantless GPS tracking.

The government had argued the police were legally entitled to track the car under an “automobile exception” carved out by previous legal precedents. But the Court repudiated that assertion, pointing out that the so-called exception arose from a case in which police performed a warrantless search of a parked car — not one whose movement could not be predicted, nor the future behavior of its owner accounted for. In other words, the police cannot “leave behind an ever-watchful electronic sentinel in order to collect future evidence” as they had done in the Katzin case.

The Court also spurned the government’s argument that the police involved in the GPS surveillance acted in good faith by adhering to the ever-changing environment, as they interpreted it, surrounding electronic surveillance law. In their opinion, the judges chided the police for their “Constitutionally reckless” behavior:

Where an officer decides to take the Fourth Amendment inquiry into his own hands, rather than to seek a warrant from a neutral magistrate — particularly where the law is as far from settled as it was in this case — he acts in a constitutionally reckless fashion. Here, law enforcement personnel made a deliberate decision to forego securing a warrant before attaching a GPS device directly to a target vehicle in the absence of binding Fourth Amendment precedent authorizing such a practice.

The Stupid, Lopsided War Against Electronic Vapor Devices

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is set to pack on new regulatory muscle any day now, as the announced end-of-October deadline for new regulations against the so-called “electronic cigarette” industry approaches.

The FDA is attempting an end run around an earlier Federal court decision that shot down the agency’s attempt to ban the devices, after the FDA lost its argument that vaporizers fall into the category of drug delivery devices because they have the capability of delivering nicotine to the user.

So, instead, the FDA is seeking to regulate vaporizers under the same authority it’s been given to regulate tobacco products.

That’s stupid. But, for now, the only people who seem to care that a public health revolution in the making is on the verge of being stamped out by government sanctimony are those who’ve kicked the smoking habit in favor of vaporizers, along with a number of start-up companies – at least those that haven’t yet been bought up by the tobacco industry – that market the devices. The number of vaporizer users – or “vapers” – is surging dramatically, but it’s still paltry compared to the pervasiveness of the tobacco industry.

Writing for the New York Post today, Jacob Sullum (and a few commenters) elegantly condemned the FDA’s chicken-little attempt to demonize electronic vaping by (wrongly) associating the behavior with smoking combustible tobacco:

 Sales of electronic cigarettes have risen dramatically in recent years. Whether you see that development as an opportunity or a threat depends on whether you view the matter rationally or through a fog of prejudice that makes anything resembling a cigarette look sinister, regardless of the risks it actually poses.

… Maria Azzarelli, coordinator of the Southern Nevada Health District’s tobacco control program, recently told the Las Vegas Sun that “no one can say right now whether e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative to cigarettes.” Really? No one can say whether inhaling vapor containing nicotine, flavoring and propylene glycol, which the FDA has approved as an ingredient in food and medicine, is safer than inhaling smoke?

… [W]hy the strange resistance to e-cigarettes, which contain no tobacco and generate no smoke, among people concerned about the health hazards of tobacco and smoking? Like other activists and some politicians, Azzarelli claims to be worried that e-cigarettes will make the conventional variety seem glamorous again. “We’re very concerned that what [was] becoming passé — smoking — is now coming back,” she says.

In other words, Azzarelli and her fellow activists worry that a product whose main selling point is avoiding the scary hazards and offensive stench of smoking somehow will make smoking more appealing. That fear seems implausible, to say the least, and there is no evidence to support it.

But bureaucratic will (and, possibly, tobacco money) is on the side of overreaction. Something must be done, because, well, the kids and the tobacco tax dollars, and the eroding market share, and the tobacco lobby.

Forty-one State attorneys general sent a letter to the FDA last month, pleading with the agency to meet its October deadline on imposing restrictions against the vaping industry. They fret that the products are being marketed to kids – a risible belief. Vaporizer manufacturers can’t keep up with the demand they’ve seen from adult smokers lining up to make the switch, and the vaping market would have to mature over the course of many years before it could even afford the luxury of corrupting itself by seeking out future nicotine addicts. Customers in the here and now are already queued up around the block, taking what they hope will be their last puffs on tobacco cigarettes.

The vaporizer market is resigned to some form of FDA regulation, and has openly embraced the agency’s forthcoming restriction on selling and marketing to minors. That won’t hamper the industry, because – unlike Big Tobacco – nobody in the industry was doing that in the first place.

But they draw a line when it comes to demonizing vaporizers by applying all of the same advertising restrictions, health warnings and taxes that have grown, over decades, to encumber Big Tobacco. Their product has only nicotine in common with Big Tobacco, and that simply isn’t reason enough to hand the reins of power to government in the name of protecting their smoke-free adult customers from themselves.

One Post commenter brought the words of C.S. Lewis to bear on the government’s hypocritical and dangerous regulatory push into the vaping world – words that apply to nanny government and its executors wherever they may be found:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Senators Call For Investigation Into EPA’s Use Of ‘Armed Intimidation Tactics’

Back in August, the Environmental Protection Agency drew harsh criticism from State officials for orchestrating a heavy-handed SWAT-type raid to investigate an innocuous allegation that a mining company might be violating the Clean Water Act.

Now a small number of conservative Senators want to launch an investigation of their own into why the EPA would use such heavy-handed tactics without a shred of evidence their enforcement team would encounter any civilian hostility.

Senator David Vitter (R-La.), the ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder Tuesday calling on the Department of Justice to investigate the August raid of the tiny mining outpost in Chicken, Alaska. That raid — a joint operation of the EPA, FBI, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Coast Guard, NOAA and U.S. Park Service — was strongly condemned at the time by Governor Sean Parnell, Alaska’s Congressional delegation and even the Division of Alaska State Troopers.

Here’s Vitter’s letter, in its entirety:

Dear Attorney General Holder:

I write to request that the Department of Justice (DOJ) examine whether Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) law enforcement agents are conducting criminal investigations in accordance with guidelines approved by the Attorney General. Recent events in Alaska suggest that EPA agents may be abusing their discretion during criminal investigations, perhaps encouraging excessive intimidation, and I am concerned that EPA is reluctant to address this serious issue. DOJ’s input would be useful in my evaluation of EPA’s law enforcement tactics, particularly when raiding small businesses.

As you may be aware, EPA and other state and federal agencies conducted an armed raid this past August against small operation miners in Alaska. According to several news outlets, EPA needlessly intimidated the miners while investigating supposed Clean Water Act violations, going so far as to wear full body armor and carry guns in confronting the surprised miners.

EPA’s extreme show of force is counterproductive, and the agency’s inadequate response to questions regarding the armed raid leads me to request DOJ’s investigation. For example, EPA defended its actions by claiming that EPA law enforcement agents are “required to carry firearms to safely and effectively perform their responsibilities,” and that environmental law enforcement “always involves the potential for physical, or even armed confrontation.” However, EPA appears not to appreciate the latitude provided when deciding to utilize armed officers, as the relevant authorizing statute makes clear that the carrying of firearms is a discretionary option for EPA agents, not a categorical requirement.   Congress thus recognized that environmental law enforcement can be safely accomplished in many instances without the use of firearms, and that there exists no mandate to intentionally intimidate.

Further, although EPA has apparently claimed the agents were armed in response to human and drug trafficking concerns raised by the Alaska State Troopers, the Troopers have expressly denied this account. This discrepancy has yet to be explained by EPA, and it raises the question from which environmental statute the agency derives enforcement authority in human and drug trafficking issues.

Indeed, as one commentator has put it, “EPA refuses to explain why it chose its Enforcement Task Force to do what were basically compliance checks of . . . mines.” Because EPA refuses to explain its actions, and noting that federal law requires EPA to perform its criminal enforcement activities in accordance with guidelines approved by the Attorney General, I ask that DOJ investigate this particular incident and the broader circumstances of what should have been routine compliance checks. In conjunction with this request, please provide responses to the following inquiries no later than November 29, 2013:

1) Concerning the armed raid in Alaska discussed above, please investigate and provide details on the exact circumstances which led to EPA’s decision to utilize the enhanced tactics. Please also specify the alleged Clean Water Act violations that EPA agents were investigating, as well as the basis for EPA’s belief that Clean Water Act violations had occurred.

2) Does DOJ have procedures or review mechanisms in place to ensure that EPA decisions to utilize armed enforcement agents are conducted in accordance with EPA guidelines? If so, please specify. Please also provide any DOJ analyses, memoranda, or other information from the past ten years regarding EPA’s compliance with these guidelines.

3) Again concerning the armed raid in Alaska discussed above, did EPA arm its agents in accordance with the latest version of agency firearms guidelines approved by the Attorney General? If yes, please explain the steps EPA took to ensure compliance with the guidelines. If no, please explain how EPA failed to ensure compliance with the guidelines.

4) Federal law also provides that only those EPA law enforcement officers “with responsibility for the investigation of criminal violations of a law administered by the [EPA]” may carry firearms. Does EPA have the responsibility to administer any drug trafficking or human trafficking laws?

5) EPA has stated that “[e]nvironmental law enforcement, like other forms of law enforcement, always involves the potential for physical, even armed, confrontation.” Is it DOJ’s position that environmental law enforcement equates to other forms of federal law enforcement, such as border patrol, terrorism activities, and drug trafficking?

6) Federal law requires that EPA agents conduct certain criminal investigations “in accordance with guidelines approved by the Attorney General.” In a 2009 law review article, a DOJ attorney wrote that EPA’s guidelines “were approved by the Attorney General on June 26, 1989.” Please provide a copy of EPA’s 1989 guidelines as well as any Attorney General correspondence approving the guidelines. Please also provide any subsequent versions of the guidelines.

If you have questions regarding the requests, please feel free to have your staff contact the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works at 202-224-6176. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

David Vitter

Ranking Member

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

So far, DOJ hasn’t issued a response.

Democrats On Delaying Obamacare: It’s OK As Long As It’s Our Idea

Now that it’s irrefutably obvious to everyone that the Oct. 1 rollout of Obamacare has been — and remains — a stillborn disaster, all the evil conservative talk about delaying the health plan during the government shutdown farce has become more palatable for Democratic leaders who, only days ago, were unwavering in their hasty support of keeping the program on schedule.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reversed course Monday, telling reporters the Administration of President Barack Obama could opt, even now, to push back the deadline for mandatory individual healthcare coverage if the glitchy, inaccurate healthcare.gov website continues to shut out the few would-be applicants from completing their enrollment, or provides them pricing information that changes after their enrollments have been completed.

From FOX News:

Carney was peppered with questions on whether the administration would be open to delaying the requirement on individuals to buy health insurance, if the website continues to lock out would-be customers. Echoing Obama, Carney said repeatedly that the country is just three weeks into a six-month enrollment process and suggested it’s too early to make any decisions of that magnitude.

But he did not close the door on the option.

Asked if the administration is looking for flexibility in applying the mandate, Carney said: “Whatever conclusions you draw about the way the law is written, I think you can draw. The law is clear that if you do not have access to affordable health insurance, then you will not be asked to pay a penalty because you haven’t purchased affordable health insurance.”

None of that points unequivocally toward a delay in Obama’s implementation of the law for regular people. But it does represent a sea change from the hard-line rhetoric Democrats deployed against conservative Congressmen who called for a delay or defunding during the debt limit standoff. The White House’s new, soft language that entertains all options owes chiefly to the President’s debt ceiling victory over a confused and impotent Senate GOP caucus.

Now that Obama holds the momentary upper hand in framing the upcoming second round of budget fights along Democratic Party talking points, the idea of delaying the individual mandate clearly seems more palatable for the President. But if recent history is any indication, don’t expect that to last.

A political problem has appeared: With the Obamacare rollout already nearly a month behind schedule, a Republican is floating a bill to delay the law’s mandatory individual enrollment. And that could easily lure the Obama Administration and its Congressional servants, like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) into a partisan fight that tosses the best interests of the American people out the window (once again). Democrats won’t concede to any piece of legislation, no matter how sensible or beneficial (even to the beleaguered President himself), that smells like a political assassination from the right.

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has a point: You can’t change the rules of the game on people after the game has started. After all, would you expect your landlord to pay you a prorated amount of the rent you’d overpaid if he decided to kick you out in the middle of the month? The law would.

“How are you going to go after people next year using the IRS to punish them if the thing you’re forcing them to buy isn’t available for them?” Rubio argued. “So the law I’m going to introduce basically delays that requirement until the [Government Accountability] Office has certified that it’s been up and running and effectively working for six months consecutive,” Rubio added. “I think that’s a prudent approach given the problems that it’s facing by the White House’s own admission.”

Of course it is. But any early GOP attempt to solve Obamacare’s most immediate problem — the problem of forcing Americans to hold up their end of the deal, even as the government effectively pleads for more time — is only setting Congress up for an imminent repeat of the partisan debt limit fight it had temporarily “solved” only a week ago. And that benefits no one — including Congress.

Rebound: 90 Million Eligible Workers Have Dropped Out Of Labor Force

There are 316 million people – men, women and children – living in the United States.

Of that number, approximately 245 million are eligible to work according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By the bureau’s most recent count, there are 155,559,000 people working at some kind of job – and, as new numbers released Tuesday reveal, there are 90,609,000 more eligible workers who have elected to drop out of the labor force.

That’s more than one third of eligible workers who, for various reasons, aren’t factored into the BLS unemployment computation – which would explain, at least in part, why the unemployment rate remains stable (it’s currently at 7.2 percent, down from 7.3 percent in August.) Employment in the U.S. increased by about 133,000 people last month, but 73,000 eligible workers dropped out during the same period.

That continues a five-year trend. The pre-recession labor force remained relatively stable until late 2008, when it began a numbers dive that persists to this day. Since President Barack Obama took office, the percentage of eligible Americans participating in the labor force has sunk from 65.7 percent to a new low of 63.2 percent.

For some perspective, here’s a 10-year graph taken from the BLS website:

BLS GRAPH

Crime Falls After Houston Neighborhood Ditches Police; Hires Private Security

Sharpstown, a Houston suburb, tired of property crimes and inadequate police service in their community, so the Sharpstown Civic Association got together and entered into an agreement with private security firm SEAL Security Texas to patrol its streets.

What do you think happened? Even though the SEAL patrols aren’t authorized to make traffic stops, they do have arrest power – and crime has decreased. Burglaries have fallen by almost half, and the ubiquity of the additional patrol units has even led to violent crime being halted while in progress.

From KHOU News:

The direct link of accountability between the customer (Sharpstown) and the service provider (SEAL Security) has, so far, ensured quality protection without residents fearing the sort of Constitutional violations and abuses that come with traditional police officers’ imperviousness to reprimand, firing or prosecution. The contract with SEAL is approaching the one-year mark, and residents are pleased. After all, they have the option to “fire” the security firm if they don’t see results.

Formerly, the civic association had contracted with the constable’s office for a deputy to patrol the area. The SEAL contract, however, ups that number to three or four officers at once, even though it’s costing the association about half what the constable’s office charged.

Law Enforcement Laments: Americans Informed About How We Abuse Their Rights Are Hurting Our Ability To Abuse Their Rights

The Director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation stood before his law enforcement peers Sunday and warned them that they were all in danger of losing their technological toys in the ongoing effort to spy on non-suspects and to create probable cause out of thin air. The revolt of public opinion elicited by Edward Snowden’s revelations about government’s spy methods has simply made secret surveillance too unpopular and has attracted too many fresh sets of watchful civilian eyes.

Of course, GBI Director Vernon Keenan spoke of this as a bad thing, in the process revealing just how comfortably ensconced American law enforcement has become in its echo chamber of police-culture entitlement.

Speaking at the conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (a gathering that also features draconian surveillance cheerleaders such as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder), Keenan talked about how the law enforcement community must be careful in the near term if it wants to hang on to wonderful technologies like facial recognition software, license plate scanners and unmanned surveillance drones.

From Reuters, which reported on Keenan’s weekend speech:

“The scrutiny that the NSA has come under filters down to us,” Keenan said at the annual gathering that draws top law enforcement from the United States and elsewhere with workshops, product exhibits and conferences.

“…If we are not very careful, law enforcement is going to lose the use of technology.”

Watching the watchers is, in other words, a momentary public relations nuisance that, if negotiated skillfully by the police, will blow over. The only reason police need to be careful about abusing their powers right now is because all eyes are on them. Eventually, they’ll win the day — if they don’t make too great a spectacle of themselves in the meantime.

“Law enforcement should join us, instead of fighting us, as we seek to advance privacy protections for everyone in the United States,” responded a blogger for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. “After all, if they are only interested in spying on the ‘bad guys,’ what do the police have to hide?”

Note from the Editor: Under the Obama Administration, the NSA, the IRS, and the State and Justice departments are blatantly stepping on Americans’ privacy—and these are just the breaches we’re aware of. I’ve arranged for readers to get a free copy of The Ultimate Privacy Guide so you can be protected from any form of surveillance by anyone—government, corporate or criminal. Click here for your free copy.

Race And Government Regulation: No 1st Amendment Rights For Asian-American Band ‘The Slants’

A Portland, Ore.-based group of young American musicians — all of Asian descent — can’t give their band the name they’ve been fighting for since 2009. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has rejected the name because of sensitivity concerns.

Is the name obscene? Does it slander someone? Does it incite sedition?

Nope. But these guys have been trying for four years, without success, to trademark the name “The Slants.”

Phew, that’s a relief. At least they didn’t try for something on the safe side of the 1st Amendment, like “Dead Kennedys” or “Murder City Devils,” or offer lyrics like “I shot Reagan — and I’d shoot him again and again and again.”

The patent office isn’t having any of it, telling the group the name disparages people of Asian ethnicity. One of the patent office’s two cultural citations in justifying their rejection of the name comes from the Urban Dictionary’s user-generated definition of “slant.”

Try falling back on a user-based source like Urban Dictionary or Wikipedia to qualify a term paper citation and see what grade you get. Yet both were good enough for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to make its case against the 1st Amendment.

In the band’s first defeat in 2009, the patent office argued that “slant” is offensive to people of Asian descent — regardless of whether that’s what the band intends. The band members, in fact, have said they like the ambiguity of the word and its many interpretations, and that anyone who wants to infer racial undertones from the name hopefully will come away with a positive impression after hearing the music.

Now the band members are planning an appeal in Federal circuit court. They note that the patent office has cleared more than 760 applications in which the word “slant” (or some variant) is used. Yet only they, with their Asian background, have been rejected.

Band manager Simon Tam subtly noted the perverse racism implicit in the patent office’s position, telling the Portland Business Journal  that “[t]heir only justification for applying an accusation of disparagement on our case but no other applicant was based on my race.”

In fact, the implication is that if we weren’t Asian, there wouldn’t be any problems because people wouldn’t associate our name with an obscure racial slur.

And while it’s true that the people in the band can be identified by a band’s name, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the members literally embody the name of the band. No one thinks “The Rolling Stones” are literal masses of undulating rock or that “Led Zeppelin” is a metallic reincarnation of the Hindenburg blimp.

He’s right, of course; but getting bogged down in the nuances of meaning and intent misses the bigger picture.

The Slants’ case is just the latest of many instances that pit a seemingly well-intentioned government nanny, citing a perfectly plausible-sounding reason such as safety or equality, against the Constitutional rights of all Americans. The patent office lost a similar case involving a motorcycle group called “Dykes on Bikes” in 2005, after a Federal appeals court overturned its decision not to allow a trademark filing to proceed.

Our founding documents were diligently crafted to protect citizens from — guess who? — the government itself. Now, not only is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office guilty of meddling and racism, but it’s also guilty of knowingly violating the 1st Amendment.

Consumer Reports On Obamacare: ‘Stay Away’

Consumer Reports has bailed on Obamacare, at least for now.

The consumer advocate magazine is cautioning would-be volunteers who wish to enroll in overpriced government-managed health coverage to “stay away” from the bug-ridden rabbit hole at www.healthcare.gov.

“If all this is too much for you to absorb, follow our previous advice: Stay away from Healthcare.gov for at least another month if you can. Hopefully that will be long enough for its software vendors to clean up the mess they’ve made,” advises Consumer Reports’ Nancy Metcalf, whose tolerance for the Federal health care marketplace has steadily eroded over the course of its bad rollout, now three weeks in the (un)making.

Her assessment comes after repeated attempts at walking through the enrollment process, and doesn’t even begin to consider the cost and coverage merits (or lack of them) of the Affordable Care Act itself.

Working with Phoenix-based software tester Ben Simo, who’s been tracking the many problems that plague the Federal health care website, the magazine ran through all the many hang-up points in the online sign-up process, concluding that completing an Obamacare application is equal parts faith and gritty determination. Metcalf’s enrollment walkthrough is fraught with advice like this:

If you are truly successful, you should receive an “account activation” e-mail within a few hours to verify that the email address you gave was legit. Answer it promptly, because if you don’t, Healthcare.gov will time you out. If the e-mail never comes, you’ll have to go back to square one.

The magazine continues to hold out hope that the technical problems will eventually all be solved, but its bottom-line advice even for people who’ve bought in to the big-government corporatism of Obamacare – at least for now – remains unequivocal: don’t be an early adopter.

Get More Sleep To Sweep Away More Mental Clutter

The basics of taking care of yourself — drinking plenty of water, eating fresh and healthy foods on the periphery of the grocery store (and not the aisles), staying active, and making time for sleep — will always win out over the most recent miracle-working snake oil on the market.

A study in the journal Science corroborates the common-sense approach when it comes to sleep. Using laboratory mice, researchers from the University of Rochester and New York University found that the brain evacuated cellular waste during sleep by pumping cerebral spinal fluid through tissue.

The waste, which includes amyloid beta, a protein that in excess is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, is sent away from the brain and into the circulatory system, where it makes its way to the liver.

The study marks the first scientific finding that demonstrates the existence of a mechanical necessity associated with sleep to ensure brain function. The reason the waste-clearing activity must occur during sleep is simple: There’s less going on in your head when you’re at rest and unconscious. The pathways that brain fluids travel during the day, like nighttime expressways, are uncluttered from traffic.

During sleep, the study shows, brain cells shrink by approximately two-thirds. That constriction affords more rapid movement of cerebrospinal fluid through the interstitial spaces, traveling through dedicated channels (not mixing with blood in the brain) to perform its janitorial routine.

In the laboratory mice, the researchers found that sleeping expedited the removal of brain toxins twice as fast as when the mice were awake. When mice — and people, for that matter — wake from sleep, the cerebrospinal fluid pathways constrict as brain cells hydrate and squeeze them closer together. That sends the fluid to the outer periphery of the brain, where it remains until another round of sleep opens the way for another deep-cleaning cycle.

Access the study’s landing page here, where you can read an abstract, an editor’s summary and other articles analyzing the new findings.

Then get some rest.

Wasn’t This Supposed To Be A ‘Clean’ Continuing Resolution? What’s With All The Pork?

Maybe it depends on what your definition of “clean” is. If “clean” means “bereft of any semblance of fiscal conservatism,” then yes, the shutdown-ending continuing resolution to raise the Federal debt ceiling is exactly the gift President Barack Obama was asking for when he and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) famously demanded that Congress pass a “clean” debt bill.

Likewise, if “clean” means “back-loaded with undisclosed pork spending that will only be made known once we’ve passed the bill and then read it,” then — praise Congress — they carried out the task admirably.

Following the Obamacare strategy of ramming a bill through before each member has a chance to see what all it says, Congress gave deceased Senator Frank Lautenberg’s millionaire widow a $174,000 death benefit, a $3.1 million allocation to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, almost half a billion dollars in Department of Transportation money for roads destroyed by Colorado flooding, and — most egregiously — a $2 billion carrot for Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who can go back to the Bluegrass State a hero for tripling the original $775 million allotted by Congress for dam construction on the Ohio River.

Any of these extras might (or might not) be justifiable if they passed through the committee process on their way to an appropriations vote. But they slid through on Obama’s “clean” debt limit bill instead. The McConnell buy-off is particularly revealing, since the Senate Minority Leader evidently wielded his party leverage not to join the few conservative Senators in insisting on a focused piece of legislation, but rather to stay viable with back-home voters.

Predictably, Democratic leaders closed ranks when criticism arose in the hours after Obama signed off on the bill.

“What difference does it make?” chafed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) when questioned about the add-ons. “Why are we talking about this? We’re talking about a bill that, as I said last night, I’m not asking anybody to vote for this bill on the merits.

CNS News quoted Pelosi further:

“My members have some of the same questions, not certainly in terms of the death penalty to the Lautenberg family [Ed. note: death penalty?], but when you have a CR, it is an appropriation, and this, yes would be the normal place for them to do that,” adding that it was consistent with what would be in a continuing resolution.

But not a “clean” resolution, right?

Obamacare ‘Slow Start’ Goal Of 500,000 Enrollments By Oct. 31: Only 464,000 To Go!

Yesterday we told you about the finding that fewer than 1 percent of visitors to healthcare.gov had actually enrolled for their Obamacare. Today comes a report from The Associated Press that reveals the White House had higher hopes for the President’s socialized healthcare scheme — much higher hopes.

According to the AP, which glimpsed an internal memo circulated in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in early September, the White House had envisioned a worst-case rollout scenario in which only half a million people (494,620 is the precise figure) would be enrolled through the healthcare.gov website by the end of October.

But, one week into the disastrous rollout of the Federal government’s online healthcare marketplace, only 36,000 people have signed up. That’s 464,000 fewer, so far, than President Barack Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had projected. Worse, HHS set a goal of 7 million people for the six-month enrollment period that runs through March 2014.

Even if you give the White House social engineers the benefit of the doubt and round up the full month of October to five full weeks, there will be only 180,000 Federal insurance buyers if 36,000 people continue to enroll every week. If that rate holds through March 31, healthcare.gov would have enrolled 1,080,000 people — far short of the projected 7 million.

Long term, the goal of Obamacare is ostensibly to get 50 million uninsured Americans on Obamacare.

The to-date figures apply only to the Federal insurance marketplace offered in the 36 States that have declined to participate in Obamacare and set up their own State-run insurance websites. There’s not yet been a big-picture report of how many people have signed up through the 24 State-run exchanges, though it’s a safe bet that number, if added to the 36,000 who’ve enrolled through the Federal website, still would come nowhere close to the Obama Administration’s unrealistic projections.

For example, California, the Nation’s most populous State, manages its own Obamacare online marketplace. After one week, the State had processed only 43,616 applications — and only 16,311 of those had been completed with household eligibility determined.

Obama’s Hometown Paper Takes Down President Over Obamacare: ‘Stop Blaming Republicans’

President Barack Obama’s hometown paper, the Chicago Tribune, endorsed the Illinois Senator in both his Presidential election campaigns.

But the Tribune has had enough of Obama’s accomplishment numero uno – Obamacare.

The paper ripped into Obama this week with a blistering editorial takedown of the socialized medicine mess, saying the time has come “…for the Obama administration to level with Americans about what’s happening here. It’s time to stop blaming Republicans and start talking about what needs to change.”

Last spring, President Barack Obama said “there will still be, you know, glitches and bumps” in the rollout of the new system. But what we’re seeing now is no glitch or bump. There is a growing mountain of evidence that Obamacare has fundamental problems in design and implementation.

…The Department of Health and Human Services under chief Obamacare cheerleader Kathleen Sebelius has had three years to develop this system. It has busted deadline after deadline, all the while promising that the system would be ready on Oct. 1. It has overpromised and underdelivered. The excuse? Demand was unexpectedly high, crashing servers. Unexpected? Americans have been bombarded with marketing campaigns and news stories and outreach efforts on behalf of Obamacare.

The piece takes down Obamacare’s chief conceptual pillar – that mass enrollment will buttress the government subsidies program for those who can’t afford the full cost of health care – by pointing out the disincentive of skyrocketing costs for those would-be buyers who are just starting to realize how unaffordable the Affordable Care Act really is.

Those who have managed to browse the marketplace have often been hit by sticker shock. Take Adam Weldzius, a nurse practitioner and single father from Carpentersville. He sought the same level of coverage on the exchange as he and his 7-year-old daughter have now, with the same insurer and the same network of doctors and hospitals. At best, Weldzius found, his monthly premium of $233 would more than double. If he chose a plan priced at the same level, the annual deductible would be $12,700, more than three times his current $3,500 deductible.

The editors reiterate their call for the President to grant the same one-year delay that’s been afforded businesses and “special pleaders,” but even they acknowledge the stubborn Administration simply isn’t going to budge just to help out regular folks.

Read the entire piece at the Chicago Tribune’s website.

Supreme Court To Hear Case Against UnConstitutional Asset Forfeitures Against Citizens Awaiting Trial

If citizens awaiting trial are truly innocent until they have been proven guilty in court, why does the state have the power to commence their punishment (and cripple their chances of a solid legal defense) from the moment of their indictment?

The Supreme Court will hear a case this week that could shape the future of Federal forfeiture laws, laws that allow the state to seize and freeze the assets of the accused. Aside from violating the 5th Amendment (which guarantees the government cannot seize personal property without due process), as well as the 6th Amendment (which ensures the accused a right to legal counsel of their choosing), forfeiture laws also effectively return the burden of proof to the accused by robbing them of the wealth they could otherwise use to pay for a robust legal defense.

Before the high court is the case of Kerri and Brian Kaley, a New York couple who in 2007 were charged in a seven-count indictment with illegally receiving obsolete or overstocked medical equipment tossed aside by Ethicon, the device company that employed Kerri Kaley, and conspiring to resell the equipment to a Miami-based distributor.

At no time has Ethicon ever alleged that the Kaleys stole any of the equipment the company had voluntarily disposed of. Rather, the couple learned in 2005 that they were the target of a Federal investigation into the growing “gray market” for unneeded medical devices caught in the bureaucratic limbo between vendors, which didn’t want them anymore, and hospitals, which routinely render unused devices obsolete by adopting newer, pricier equipment as it becomes available.

The Kaleys had retained Miami criminal defense attorney Howard Srebnick, who has remained on the case throughout its long history. The couple had planned to finance their long and expensive legal battle chiefly via a $500,000 home equity loan against their property, which they converted to certificates of deposit. After their indictment, the government seized all of that with the expectation that the Kaleys would never get the money back once they had been found guilty (or had pleaded to some of the charges).

As Reason succinctly stated in a Wednesday piece, the pre-trial forfeiture assures prosecutors that the Kaleys “can no longer afford to pay the lawyers they chose and trust, the people who have been representing them for eight years and are familiar with the details of their case.”

According to The Miami Herald, Srebnick, the Kaley’s longtime attorney, will argue before the Supreme Court that his clients:

…should be allowed to keep their bank accounts and other worldly possessions unless prosecutors can show before trial that the evidence supporting an indictment justifies the seizure of those assets.

For decades, prosecutors have only needed to point to a federal grand jury indictment to argue that defendants’ assets are traceable to the criminal allegations and therefore can be seized. And judges have almost always ruled in the prosecution’s favor because of the presumption that the grand jury found “probable cause” that a crime was committed.

The Kaleys’ chances, though, appeared to be better than those of many defendants. In a related but separate case arising out of the Federal investigation, fellow Ethicon employee Jennifer Gruenstrass went to trial and was found not guilty.