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.

Nothing To See Here: Just The National Parks Director Admitting Obama White House Was In On Persecution Plan

Appearing Wednesday at a joint hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Natural Resources Committee, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis found himself admitting that President Barack Obama was well aware of the strategy the Park Service was implementing to turn away veterans from open-air memorials as soon as the government shutdown went into effect:

In the video, Congressman John Mica (R-Fla.), who sits on the Oversight Committee, questions Jarvis specifically about the public outcry over his agency barricading and policing the high-visibility sites at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

MICA: Now you said you take full responsibility for that action. Is that correct?

JARVIS: That’s correct.

MICA: And did you discuss this with the Secretary of the Interior, [Sally] Jewell, at any time?

JARVIS: Yes, I did.

MICA: … Then you didn’t discuss it with anyone in the White House, did you?

JARVIS: Ahm, in — several times on the phone with the White House, I presented with the Secretary my decision, but there was never the reverse. There was never any [unintelligible] coming in. [Mica cuts him off.]

MICA: So you discussed with officials in the White House your action, and you also discussed it with her.

Jarvis appeared to be ready to qualify the nature of those discussions — likely in an effort to absolve the President of any culpability in concocting the “make ’em hurt” strategy — but Mica had already gotten the information he wanted and was ready to move on.

Shutdown Shuts Down: Dems And RINOs Win, Conservatives Lose In Congress’ Capitulation To Obama

The Senate is ending the government shutdown. By the time you read this, the Senate will likely have voted on a bill to fund the government through January 15 of next year and to raise the Federal debt limit until February 7. The only GOP “win” in the Senate bill involves new requirements that Obamacare buyers seeking government subsidies must prove their qualifications by demonstrating low income.

With a House vote expected later in the evening, President Barack Obama is expected to sign off on the bill before the Thursday debt limit “deadline,” as forecast by the U.S. Treasury.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is not expected to delay or attempt to amend whatever the Senate is passing. “We fought the good fight; we just didn’t win,” he said Wednesday on a Cincinnati radio show. “There’s no reason for our members to vote ‘no’ today,” he said later.

Boehner’s full capitulation comes just a day after House Republicans attempted to counter the Senate bill by cobbling together their own last-minute plan before realizing the votes to see it through simply weren’t there.

Even Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who had stood firm against the debt limit deal unless Congress voted to defund Obamacare, stood aside Wednesday to allow the Senate to expedite a vote – even though   Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) cannot bring the measure before the full Senate for consideration today without unanimous consent.

Judging from conservative comments across the internet, there’s a great deal of ambivalence among Republicans as to whether Cruz is to be praised or blamed for his role in the shutdown debate – including Wednesday’s go-along.

On one hand, Cruz mobilized whatever conservative support might have been latent among Congressional GOP leaders and their constituents. He did strike early and often – when tapping into public opinion to defund Obamacare and pressuring Congress to listen to the people’s will would have mattered. He had little GOP support, as the ensuing weeks proved.

On the other hand, there’s no denying that Cruz kept up his tough talk while dialing down his walk, once it became clear that he and Mike Lee (and maybe Rand Paul) were becoming an increasingly isolated three-man army within their own party’s Senate bloc. He or Lee or anyone could filibuster today’s Senate vote and bide more time for leveraged compromise, if leveraged compromise were in the offing.

But the majority of spineless Senate Republicans simply wouldn’t sit at Cruz’ table. A unified pushback against the Democrats never stood a chance of coming together from the balkanized ranks of Republican Senators.

And it’s important to remember there’s little gain in vilifying the few Congressmen who put up a principled fight, when the entire charade was perpetrated from the far left. If Obama and Reid and lock-step Democrats weren’t hell-bent on borrowing more money – Obamacare concessions be damned – there would never have been a fight between the GOP-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate in the first place.

Instead, we’re on track to make debt-ceiling history once again. Now that Obama and the Dems have carte blanche, we should be ticking past the $17 trillion threshold any day now.

Boehner Blinks; Even MSM Says Debt Deadline Not ‘Gloom And Doom’; We’ve Defaulted Before; After Debt Fight, President Pivots To Immigration Reform; Texas Lt. Gov Says Impeach Obama; ATF Whistleblower Training: Leak And Face The Firing Squad – Wednesday Morning News Roundup 10-16-2013

Here is a collection of some of the stories making the Internet rounds this morning. Click the links for the full stories.

  • House Speaker John Boehner is considering letting the House take the initial vote today on a Senate-prepared bill to lift the debt ceiling and restart funding for the shuttered federal government–apparently even if House conservatives object. Source: National Journal…

 

  • All of the grave doom-and-gloom warnings aside, the federal government is unlikely to run out of money Thursday even if the latest hopes for a budget deal don’t pan out. Instead, Thursday is actually the day the Treasury Department will run out of accounting maneuvers that will allow it to continue to borrow money. Source: NBC News…

 

  • Although President Barack Obama and the establishment media routinely describe a potential federal default as “unprecedented,” the United States government has flaked on its debt service several times, and one expert says the current default has already begun. Source: The Daily Caller…

 

  • President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that stalled immigration reform would be a top priority once the fiscal crisis has been resolved. “Once that’s done, you know, the day after, I’m going to be pushing to say, call a vote on immigration reform,” he told the Los Angeles affiliate of Spanish-language television network Univision. Source: Reuters…

 

  • A surprising statement from one of Texas’ top leaders: President Obama should be impeached. This came from Texas Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, who is running for re-election and appeared at a Tea Party candidates forum. Dewhurst called his comments those of a private citizen, but when pressed on that issue by the Texas Observer, he refused to back down.  “That happens to be my view, that the man has committed crimes that do not warrant his staying in office.” Source: CBS Dallas-Ft. Worth…

 

  • After months of anguished debate over mass shootings, gun control and Second Amendment rights, the Justice Department finds itself on the defensive after a training manual surfaced that suggests federal agents could face a firing squad for leaking government secrets. The online manual for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — complete with a photo of a turn-of-the-century firing squad — was obtained by The Washington Times from a concerned federal law enforcement official, and it immediately drew protests from watchdogs who said it showed a lack of sensitivity to gun violence and the continuing hostile environment toward whistleblowers. Source: The Washington Times…

Check back for updates, news and analysis throughout the day. Like us on Facebook. And follow our improved Twitter feed.

Senate Shutdown Proposal Would Exempt Unions From Mandatory Obamacare Tax For One Year

The Senate version of an agreement to end the Federal government shutdown includes a concession to appease unions whose nonplussed leaders became more critical of the Affordable Care Act — a piece of legislation they once ardently supported — in the run-up to its Oct. 1 implementation.

According to The Hill, the Senate agreement would delay an Obamacare tax — the so-called “reinsurance” fee — by one year.

Originally conceived as a three-year implementation tax, the reinsurance fee is designed to stabilize individual Obamacare premiums by generating revenue that is supposed to be pumped into the funding pool as more sick people enroll for new insurance policies, which by law must accept patients with pre-existing illnesses.

From The Hill:

The reinsurance tax figured prominently in discussions at a recent AFL-CIO convention, where workers passed a resolution demanding changes to ObamaCare.

The White House recently denied labor’s top priority on ObamaCare, ruling that union health plans are not eligible for the new subsidies because they are already helped by the tax code.

Democrats could be pushing to delay the reinsurance fee for one year as an olive branch after that apparent slight, though it could also create trouble for insurers on the marketplaces.

Even though the tax is mandatory for all group health plans, unions have successfully twisted the arms of many of Obamacare’s longtime Congressional supporters, persuading Senate backers of the exemption that union enrollees’ policy premiums will needlessly increase — despite the fact that the tax is mandatory for all group health plans.

Under the law, companies that offer health coverage are required to pay a reinsurance fee of $63 per covered person next year, with the fee tapering off over the subsequent two years.

This Graph Illustrates Who Holds America’s $17 Trillion Debt – Including The One-Third Held By Foreign Countries

NPR may have had its reasons for putting together this grid explaining how the Nation’s $16.8 trillion is divvied up – it’s featured in a story that begins “If Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling soon, the U.S. government won’t be able to pay its debts” – but anyone who approaches the infographic with an open mind can come away with their own conclusions.

pm-gov_debt_v-624

In some ways, the image reads like a history lesson in how the U.S. government grew to the bloated monstrosity that future generations will inherit. The Federal government (for NPR’s purposes, the Federal Reserve is included here) owns nearly half of U.S. debt, including $2.6 trillion in Social Security obligations. More than $1 trillion is tied up in Federal and military retirement funds and the Fed itself holds $2.1 trillion.

Many of these obligations stem from the decisions of previous Presidential Administrations and Congressional acts that instituted or expanded government programs – the Clinton-era manipulation of Social Security to keep the Federal budget balanced, not to mention the original creation of the Social Security program itself, are two of many examples.

Foreign banks and governments hold about $5.5 trillion in U.S. debt, amounting to nearly one-third of the $16.8 trillion total. As everyone knows, China holds the most financial sway with $1.3 trillion, followed closely by Japan with $1.1 trillion.

For some numeric perspective, the Federal debt increased an astronomical $4.89 trillion under President George W. Bush, and has increased $6.1 trillion more in the nearly five years that President Barack Obama has been in office. The Federal debt stood at $10.6 trillion when Bush left office.

As Obama continues to drive a hard bargain on insisting that Congressional Democrats get their way in raising the Federal debt limit, here’s Senator Barack Obama in 2006 condemning President Barack Obama’s present rhetoric on raising the debt ceiling:

The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. government can’t pay its own bills. … I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.

 

Union Wants Obama To Waive Federal Employees’ Monthly Bills, Rent, Mortgage Payments Until Shutdown Ends

J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), is asking the White House to give Federal workers a major break during the government shutdown by declaring the Congressional impasse a National emergency.

In a letter to President Barack Obama late last week, Cox asked the President to declare the shutdown an emergency so that employees could become eligible for the kind of temporary financial breaks normally associated with victims of catastrophes like hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes.

Specifically, Cox asked Obama to “call upon the financial and business community to provide arrangements for skip mortgage payments, skip rent payments, skip car loan payments, skip education and other loan payments until this is all over.” He also asked that Federal employees be given free temporary access to free healthcare, gasoline, public transportation, and utilities until “their paychecks have been restored,” according to the Washington Free Beacon.

From the story:

He [Cox] proposed that the White House intervene to declare the shutdown a federal emergency, which would allow workers to collect zero-interest loans from FEMA and force businesses to extend lines of credit to employees.

…Federal workers collected half-paychecks for their last pay period and will not be paid again until after the shutdown ends. House Republicans passed legislation that would allow workers to receive retroactive pay, which would provide workers with lump sum checks at the end of the shutdown.

An AFL-CIO member, the AFGE funds a political action committee that spent the vast majority of its more than $1.1 million campaign contribution allotment on Democrats in the 2012 elections.

The Dream Of Insurance For All: Make Less Money, And Government Will Pick Up The Tab

I was talking with friends and new acquaintances at the local Oktoberfest celebration last week when the topic of Obamacare came up. One couple, a young husband and wife, offered that they earn a comfortable, but not affluent, living. They’re presently uninsured and, newly married, were already planning to shop for health insurance as the new year approaches. The wife, owner of a growing food cart business, is self employed but earns the majority of the couple’s income. The husband earns a salary as an office assistant in a small law group.

I’m paraphrasing here, but when we started talking Obamacare, the husband told us:

You know, my wife and I have been talking about it, and I’m seriously considering going to my bosses and asking them either to give me a dramatic pay raise so we can afford some kind of good insurance of our own choosing, or to give me a dramatic pay cut, so that our combined income qualifies us for subsidies on a half-decent Obamacare insurance plan. With the money we make right now, we can’t afford the Obamacare ‘gold’ or ‘platinum’ premiums unless we qualify for subsidies, and we have no idea if the private plans we’re looking at now will be affordable once the insurance company revises its pricing structure to make up for whatever it could lose if not enough healthy people sign up for its Obamacare coverage.

Like I said, that’s a paraphrase, but that’s the essence of this young couple’s dilemma.

Apparently, their concern is one that’s increasingly shared by many others in the Nation’s middle and lower-middle classes.

A weekend article in the San Francisco Chronicle documented the new phenomenon of people asking for less money just to have President Barack Obama’s affordable insurance.

“People whose 2014 income will be a little too high to get subsidized health insurance from Covered California [the State-managed Obamacare exchange] next year should start thinking now about ways to lower it to increase their odds of getting the valuable tax subsidy,” the story advises.

It goes on:

Take, for example, Jacqueline Proctor of San Francisco. She and her husband are in their early 60s. They have been paying $7,200 a year for a bare-bones Kaiser Permanentehealth plan with a $5,000 per person annual deductible. “Kaiser told us the plan does not comply with Obamacare and the substitute will cost more than twice as much,” about $15,000 per year, she says.

This new plan, Kaiser’s cheapest offering for 2014, would consume about 25 percent of their after-tax income. The new plan still has a $5,000 deductible but provides coverage for things her current policy does not, such as maternity care, healthy child visits and coverage for dependents up to age 26. Proctor has no use for such coverage, since her son is 30.

Premiums are also going up for many people next year because insurers can no longer deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or impose lifetime coverage caps.

All of this has to come out in the wash, and there’s no way for Obamacare to be affordable to someone without making health care payments completely untenable for somebody else.

Nothing illustrates just how regressive a scheme Obamacare is than watching willing participants in the workforce adjust their expectations of the American dream to accommodate a new personal goal in the era of socialized medicine: the goal of earning less money than they have in the past.

“If they can adjust (their income), they should,” Karen Pollitz, senior fellow with the Kaiser Family Foundation, told the Chronicle. “It’s not cheating, it’s allowed.”

No one wants to make less money to do a job that hasn’t changed. Who isn’t betting that middle-class tax fraud increases exponentially in 2014?

Jerry Brown’s Gun Control Vetoes Don’t Go Far Enough

Democratic California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a slew of draconian gun bills last week, calling proposals that further narrow the State’s definition of “assault” weapons an “infringement on gun owners’ rights.”

“I don’t believe that this bill’s blanket ban on semi-automatic rifles would reduce criminal activity or enhance public safety enough to warrant this infringement,” he remarked in vetoing a proposed restriction on any rifle with a removable magazine.

Noting that California already has “some of the strictest gun laws in the country,” Brown vetoed seven gun control bills that had passed the California Assembly.

Those included the rifle bill, as well as proposals that sought to criminalize failure to report missing or stolen firearms, retool the legal definition of a shotgun and restrict the transfer of “unsafe” handguns.

But he also signed into law four other gun control bills, approving a new extension on how long the U.S. Department of Justice can prolong the wait on background checks and limiting the sale of add-ons that increase ammo capacity.

Most devastating to California firearms owners, though, was Brown’s approval of a bill that bans the sale of all forms of lead ammunition — on the grounds that lead pollutes the environment.

Even as he approved that measure, AB 711, Brown offered a perplexing semi-apology to outdoorsmen, the very group most likely to be dramatically affected by the ban. In his signing statement, Brown wrote:

Lead poses a danger to wildlife… Since 2007, California has prohibited it in the eight counties within the [endangered California] condor range.

…I am concerned, however, the impression left from this bill is that hunters and sportsmen and women in California are not conservationists. I know that is not the case. Hunters and anglers are the original conservationists. Since the 1930s, hunters have done more than any other community to conserve species and their habitats, and that is a lasting conservation legacy.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation condemned  the lead ban, noting the new restriction “amounts to a virtual ban on hunting because the federal government considers most types of non-lead ammunition to be ‘armor-piercing’ and limits its manufacture and sale.”

The governor’s legislative update page lists all the new gun laws. For a plain-language rundown, check out this article at The Truth About Guns.