Monday, July 30, 2012

Delta to Comair: ‘Drop dead’

Delta Air Lines recently announced its decision to shut down its regional airline subsidiary, Comair. In a July 30 press release Delta announced that, as part of Delta’s overall plan to reduce the number of regional jets in its network, Comair’s 50-seat jets would be removed from Delta service. Its remaining 70-seat jets will most likely be transferred to other Delta Connection carriers.

According to the press release, Delta intends to drastically reduce the number of regional jets in its network from “nearly 350 to 125 or fewer in the upcoming years.” Delta further said that they did not plan to reduce service in Comair’s Cincinnati base from current levels. Comair will cease operations on September 29.

A major factor in the decision was the price of oil. "The economics just simply do not work," said Delta CEO Richard Anderson in the Wall Street Journal. "The 50-seat RJ fleet was purchased with a fuel-price assumption of $20 a barrel." Oil is currently trading near $100 per barrel.

According to Airline Pilot Central, Comair has 654 active pilots with 147 pilots currently on furlough. The company started in 1977 and was purchased by Delta, which already owned a 20 percent stake, in 1999. Since Delta declared bankruptcy in 2005, Comair has seen its fleet decline and its bases at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport, Orlando, and Greensboro, N.C. close.

The company also owned a flight school in Sanford, Fl., Comair Aviation Academy. After the Delta purchase, the school became known as Delta Connection Academy. The flight school was sold in 2009 and is now known as Aerosim Flight Academy.

Many passengers are not aware that when they buy a ticket on a major airline, they may fly on an airplane operated by a different company entirely. The major airlines have had code share agreements with regional airlines for the past few decades. Regional airlines typically operate airliners with 70-90 seats while the major airline operates larger airplanes.

The regional airline industry has been hit hard by the wave of airline bankruptcies since September 11, 2001. Fortunes of regional airlines rose and fell as their major airline code partners renegotiated contracts for their feeders. Atlantic Coast Airlines, a United Express and Delta Connection Carrier, lost its United contract and attempted to fly solo as Independence Air, only to go out of business in 2005. In the post-2008 period, many regionals furloughed pilots. Pinnacle Airlines, formerly a Northwest carrier and now a Delta Connection carrier, is currently in bankruptcy. Mesaba Airlines, then a subsidiary of Pinnacle, stopped flying in 2012. Mesa Airlines went into bankruptcy in 2010.

Delta’s Comair decision sends a disturbing signal to other regional airlines. They are limited by fuel efficiency from expanding their fleets of 50-seat and smaller jets and by union scope clauses from expanding to larger airliners. As fuel prices increase, regional airlines may continue to shrink unless they can convince their major airline partners to grow their fleets of turboprop airliners, which are more fuel-efficient than jets.

Communities that could support 50-seat regional jets on multiple flights may not be able to fill a larger, traditional airliner. If other airlines follow the trend by eliminating 50-seat jets from service, many small airports across the country might see the number of airline flights decline. Others may lose airline service entirely.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

UN treaty may destroy Second Amendment rights

In the wake of the Aurora, Co. theater massacre there have been calls from the left for a new discussion on gun control. Many believe that the Obama Administration may be about to bypass the discussion, as well as the Second Amendment and Congress, to enact a new era of gun control unilaterally.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, the United Nations will release the final version of its Arms Trade Treaty this today. Many Second Amendment activists are concerned that the treaty will be used as a vehicle to force gun control measures and bans on the American people in spite of strong congressional and public opposition.

According to Yahoo News, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney recently said, “"I think there is an issue about the stalemate in Congress"[on gun laws]. He continued, "And there are things that we can do short of legislation and short of gun laws, as the President said, that can reduce violence in our society and, as he mentioned last night, in our urban centers."

In the past, when President Obama has encountered a congressional stalemate, his response has often been to act unilaterally and without regard to the Constitution or existing law. When Congress did not pass net neutrality rules, President Obama’s FCC did it anyway. Likewise, President Obama’s EPA unilaterally enacted carbon regulations when Congress failed to pass cap-and-trade. Earlier this year, President Obama used recess appointments to fill several positions even though Congress was still in session. In June, the president announced unilateral changes to U.S. immigration policy after Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act. Ironically, in a White House video from 2011, President Obama can be heard saying of the DREAM Act, “I just have to continue to say this notion that somehow I can just change the laws unilaterally is just not true,” yet that is exactly what he did a year later. Earlier this month, President Obama waived welfare’s work requirement, a clear violation of the law that essentially repeals the successful Clinton-era welfare reform.

Now there is widespread fear that the president is going to use the same tactic on America’s gun owners with the UN Arms Control Treaty. According to the Constitution, treaties require approval by a two-thirds majority, 66 votes, in the U.S. Senate. US News reports that 12 Democratic senators have joined 45 Republicans in opposing the treaty. In email responses, both of Georgia’s senators, Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, responded that they are opposed to the treaty. This means that an attempt to approve the treaty would fall far short of the required votes. So why are gun owners worried?

Political strategist Dick Morris points out that the United States is bound by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. According to Morris, under the Vienna Convention the United States is bound by a treaty signed by its representative until the treaty is approved or disapproved by the senate. Under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, treaties are the “supreme law of the land.”

In Morris’ view, the Arms Trade Treaty would take the force of law in the United States as soon as it is signed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. If Obama simply failed to submit the treaty to Congress for approval, it would remain in force because the senate would not be able to disapprove it. If a Republican president submitted the treaty to the senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid would simply refuse to bring it to a vote. The treaty would remain in force until a Republican president presented it to a Republican senate which then voted it down.

Morris writes that the treaty will be administered by an international support unit (ISU). The ISU determines which nations are in compliance with the treaty and can direct those that are not to use “all necessary measures… to prevent the diversion of exported arms to the illicit market or to unintended end users. ” This could mean that the UN could force the US to halt support to freedom fighters like those that toppled Moammar Gadhafi in Libya or even to established nations like Taiwan, which is not recognized by China. Morris believes that it would also lead to gun registration, restrictions on ownership and bans of guns.

Former UN Ambassador John Bolton agrees with Morris. “The real danger,” he writes, “lies in vague, ambiguous stipulations gun-control advocates could later cite as requiring further domestic restraints. In other words, they hope to use restrictions on international gun sales to control gun sales at home.”

A draft of the treaty that circulated last week “would require all countries to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms and to regulate arms brokers” and “prohibit states that ratify the treaty from transferring conventional weapons that violate arms embargoes or facilitate acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes” according to US News. “Crimes against humanity” and “war crimes” are very vague and subjective terms. Such charges have even been alleged against members of the U.S. military.

President Obama has not commented publicly on the arms treaty, but Hillary Clinton released a statement in 2009 endorsing the treaty as it was in the negotiations stage. “The United States,” she wrote, “is committed to actively pursuing a strong and robust treaty that contains the highest possible, legally binding standards for the international transfer of conventional weapons.”

The upcoming election is makes the situation even more complex. Support for gun control has seen a long-term decline according to Gallup. Even in the wake of the Colorado killings, only 41 percent of Americans support stricter gun laws according to Rasmussen. Overwhelming support for the Second Amendment means that even few Democrats admit to supporting more gun control. This is especially true of Democrats in swing districts.

The lack of support for gun control means that it is unlikely that President Obama wants to be seen as advancing gun control measures just before a close election. It is much more likely that President Obama would sign the Arms Trade Treaty as a lame duck or re-elected president. The battle over gun control and ratification of the treaty would then move to the senate where the results of the election could determine the future of the right of Americans to keep and bear arms.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

This weekend: American heritage film series begins in Villa Rica

507px-Washington_at_Prayer_1928_Issue-2cThis weekend Wesley Chapel Methodist Church of Villa Rica will begin a series of videos showcasing America’s Christian heritage. The “American Heritage” video series is produced by historian David Barton and covers the Christian foundations of many American institutions, the religious faith of the founders, and the current movement toward secularization of U.S. history.

David Barton is the founder and president of Wallbuilders, an organization dedicated to preserving and presenting American history “with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built.” Barton has won many awards and honors including a listing in Who's Who in Education, the DAR's Medal of Honor, and the George Washington Honor Medal from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, as well as several Angel Awards, Telly Awards, and the Dove Foundation Seal of Approval.

Barton has written numerous books on U.S. history. These include “the Bulletproof George Washington,” “Separation of Church and State: What the Founders Meant,” and “Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black and White.” His most recent book is “the Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson” coauthored with Glenn Beck earlier this year. He has also written a home school curriculum called “Foundations of Character.”

The American Heritage video series will begin this Saturday at 6:00 p.m. at the Wesley Chapel Methodist Church. The church is located at 2345 Rockmart Road (Highway 101 South) in Villa Rica. Admission to the video series is free. Childcare and refreshments will be provided for a small fee. Proceeds will benefit the Men Through Christ ministry at Wesley Chapel. For more information, contact Andy Chism at 770-689-9941 or

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Obamacare facts: You can’t keep your old insurance

In the rush to pass a government takeover of the health insurance industry, President Obama repeatedly promised that Americans would not be forced to change doctors or insurance. On several occasions, President Obama told voters, “If you’ve got health insurance [and] you like your doctor, you like your plan, you can keep your doctor [and] you can keep your plan.” In reality, millions of Americans will not be able to keep their old insurance policies.

The Affordable Care Act dictates that insurance companies add many coverages that were not previously mandatory. Part 1 Section 1302 of the law defines the “essential health benefits” that congressional Democrats have decided that every American must have. These include maternity coverage, preventive and wellness services, and mental health coverage. In the past, policy holders could opt of these coverages if they did not want them to save money. For example, a man or a woman who could not have children could have maternity coverage excluded. Now it must be bought and paid for even if the coverage is of no use to them. Cost sharing is also limited under this section of the ACA. This means that Americans can no longer choose a no-frills, high-deductible insurance plan.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the government requires health insurance companies to sell more expensive policies. The individual mandate requires that all Americans buy these new, more expensive policies or pay a tax. Obamacare does not allow Americans to choose a basic major medical policy with a high deductible to save money.

Additionally, Section 1302 also empowers the Secretary of Health and Human Services to revise the minimum essential benefits. This means that the HHS Secretary can unilaterally decide that all Americans should have a certain health insurance coverage and require all insurance companies to include it in their policies. As more coverage becomes essential, the cost of insurance is certain to rise.

Another aspect of the law is likely to cause many Americans to lose their entire current policy. A June 2011 survey in McKinsey Quarterly found that 30 percent of employers will definitely or probably stop offering group health insurance when the Affordable Care Act takes full effect after 2014. Among employers “with a high awareness of reform,” the percentage increases to half. More than 60 percent would look for alternatives to traditional group health plans.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

FAA rules may lead to pilot shortage


On February 12, 2009, Colgan Airlines/Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed near Buffalo, N.Y. killing 50 people, including one person on the ground. Part of the legacy of this crash was new regulations by the Federal Aviation Administration to increase the flight hour requirements for pilots at regional airlines.

In February 2012, the FAA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that would increase the flight experience requirement for pilots at FAR 121 airlines to 1,500 hours by requiring first officers to hold the same airline transport pilot license that is currently required of airline captains. In the past, first officers were only required to hold a commercial pilot license. This license required only 250 hours of flight experience.

The FAA proposal created two exceptions. Graduates of aviation colleges and universities and military pilots could earn an ATP certificate with restricted privileges with less than 1,500 hours. Military pilots would need 750 hours and aviation degree holders would need 1,000 hours. The restricted ATP would allow these pilots to serve only as first officers and not as captains.

The new requirements are slated to go into effect next year and some already predicting that the rules will lead to a pilot shortage. USA Today notes that the new rules come at the same time as a new wave of airline retirements. Five years ago the FAA raised the mandatory retirement age for airline pilots from 60 to 65. Pilots who were granted an extension their careers are now facing retirement. As a result, the supply of pilots on airline rosters will be decreasing at the same time that the supply of qualified replacement pilots becomes more limited.

While there are many furloughed professional pilots, many of these are either no longer current or are not willing to work for the wages offered by regional airlines where many of the openings will be. Typical first year pay at a regional airline is about $21,000 according to pay scales posted on Airline Pilot Second year pay depends on the aircraft but can be in the $30,000 range.

Similarly, the new FAA rules will present a significant barrier to pursuing an airline career. Prospective pilots will likely be hesitant to spend the time and thousands of dollars that it takes to earn a pilot license if it means years of building flight time at low-paying jobs before they even qualify for an entry-level airline job, which will not pay well in itself for the first few years.

The logical solution for the airlines would be to pay more to attract more qualified pilot applicants, but the problem here is that the airline industry is heavily unionized. Airlines cannot unilaterally alter the collective bargaining agreement to pay new-hires more. They have to follow the process of negotiating with union representatives and having the new agreement approved by an election of the union members. Union members would most likely not approve increased pay rates for new-hires without inducements such as more pay for senior pilots. Over the past decade, many airline unions have granted concessions in pay, benefits and work rules that they will certainly work to gain back if given the opportunity. Conversely, labor is already significant portion of airline operating costs that airline managements will work to keep as low as possible.

One way around union negotiations that some airlines have used in the past is to offer a signing bonus to new hires. Rather than increasing the hourly rate, the company will offer lump-sum payments. For example, Airline Pilot Central reports that Republic Airways is currently offering a $5,000 signing bonus, paid in two lump sums. Pilots receive half of the money midway through training and the other half when their training is complete.

In the meantime, Airline Transport Professionals, a national chain of flight schools, notes that “Today, regional airlines are hiring every qualified pilot they can recruit at about 800 hours” of flight experience. Pilots hired now will be grandfathered under the new FAA rules, so airlines are recruiting while they can. This provides a good opportunity for low-time pilots to start a career as a professional pilot.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Polls: Obama changed America for worse

Barack Obama promised change in 2008. In 2012, it seems that many Americans are realizing that change is not always positive. Change can be for the better or for worse.

Unfortunately for voters, while he was campaigning, Barack Obama did not get into many specifics on how he would change America. His slogan, “Change we can believe in,” left people to fill in the blanks for themselves. For many voters, that seems to have led to a giant case of buyer’s remorse.

According to a new poll commissioned by The Hill, a political news site, 66 percent of likely voters agree that Barack Obama has kept his promise of “fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” The bad news for Obama is that 56 percent of those polled believe that Obama’s changes have been negative. Only 35 percent believe that Obama has had a positive impact on the country.

This is easy to understand when you consider some of the changes that Obama has wrought. He changed the unemployment rate from 7.8 percent in January 2009 to 8.2 percent today according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This change was the result of spending spree that changed the federal debt from $10.6 trillion in January 2009 to $15.8 trillion today according to Treasury Direct. When stymied by Congress, he changed the constitutional requirement that Congress make the laws by having agencies of the executive branch circumvent Congress and unilaterally enact new legislation. In launching a war in Libya, Obama changed from the traditional policy notifying Congress and seeking approval when going to war. Most notably, President Obama became the first president to change taxes from a source of revenue to a means of forcing American citizens to buy a private product. Obamacare also represented a change from his promise of no individual mandate and lower premiums according to CBS News.

The numbers in the Hill poll are similar to Rasmussen’s Right Direction or Wrong Track poll. In the most recent sampling, Rasmussen found that 62 percent believed the country was on the wrong track. Thirty-two percent disagreed. These polls are troubling for a president who is five months away from re-election and reflect a deep discontent with the president’s job performance even though his personal approval rating is higher.

Obama’s promise can seen as a promise kept, but Americans seem to have learned that not all change is for the better and that things can get worse. Perhaps this fall voters will seek more specifics from candidates and be less willing to accept generalities. Let the voter beware.


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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

No SCOTUS bump for Obama

There had been speculation that the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding President Obama’s health insurance law might result in a bump in the polls for the president. Two weeks after the Court’s landmark ruling, it is now apparent that it did not help the president politically in any last way.

On June 28 when the Court revealed its ruling to the public, President Obama’s Rasmussen approval index stood at -20. The index did climb to a high of -12 on July 7, but has since settled back to -18. This means that President Obama’s disapproval is 18 percentage points higher than his approval.

There was the possibility that the Supreme Court ruling would change some minds on the health care law. The opinion of the Supreme Court might sway some voters to believe that the law was not so bad or unconstitutional after all. Instead, Rasmussen’s health law poll shows that 53 percent still favor repeal while 41 percent are opposed. This is statistically unchanged from before the ruling and for the last several months.

Rasmussen’s new presidential tracking poll, released today, shows Mitt Romney leading the president 47-44. On the issues, the poll notes that voters favor an extension of the low Bush-era tax rates, but are split on whether the rates should be extended or raised for higher income taxpayers. By two-to-one, Americans believe that the country is already overtaxed and most feel that raising taxes will hurt the economy. Forty-nine percent believe that 30 percent should be the highest tax rate for federal, state and local governments combined. The highest tax rate is already 35 percent for federal income taxes alone. It will rise to 39.6 percent if the Bush tax rates are not extended. In contrast to Obama’s policies, 66 percent believe that the government should cut spending.

According to the Real Clear Politics average of polls, Obama has a 1.5 point lead nationally. Looking closer, this reflects a number of older polls. In the four polls from July, Romney leads in two, Obama in one, and one is a tie. More importantly, Romney won both polls that featured likely voters with an average of a two point lead.

In the swing states, Obama leads handily in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania according to Real Clear Politics. Obama also leads by a smaller amount in Colorado, Iowa, and Wisconsin. These polls were all taken prior to the Supreme Court ruling and most used registered voters, however. In Michigan, Obama leads by less than two points in pre-ruling polls. In several polls of likely voters, Romney leads or is virtually tied with the president.

Mitt Romney leads in North Carolina and Missouri. In the most recent Missouri poll, taken in early June, Romney led by seven points. In North Carolina the race is much closer. Real Clear Politics credits Romney with an average lead of just over one point. In the two post-ruling polls, Obama led in one poll by one point while Romney led in another by five points. Both polls used registered voters.

In Florida the race is too close to call. Two July polls of likely voters are split. Romney and Obama each won one of the polls by one point. In Ohio, Obama won two June polls of registered voters handily, but Romney won two earlier polls of likely voters. In Virginia, Obama won a July poll of registered voters by eight points, but Romney won the previous poll of likely voters by five points.

More bad news for Obama is that a poll by The Hill reveals that 68 percent of likely voters believe that Obama has “substantially transformed” the country since he became president. The bad news is that by a margin of 56-35 percent they believe that he has changed the county in a negative way. Similarly, only 30 percent in Rasmussen’s Right Track-Wrong Track poll said that the country was headed in the right direction.

To some extent Obama is performing remarkably well in the polls. In spite of a poor economy, a plurality of voters who feel that he has led the country in the wrong direction, and a signature law that is very unpopular, Obama is holding nearly even with Mitt Romney in national and swing state polls. This would seem to indicate that, while voters are not happy with Obama, they are not yet sold on Romney.

The downside for Obama is that after three in office, people know him and what he stands for. If people don’t support Obama already, they are unlikely to. For this reason, blogger and political strategist Dick Morris holds that undecided voters usually turn against the incumbent. This means that Obama’s percentage of the vote is unlikely to increase, while Mitt Romney is likely to add to his score on Election Day.

More good news for Romney is that Republican fundraising has been going extremely well. According to the Christian Science Monitor, Romney’s fundraising outpaced Obama’s in June. According to CNN, the Romney campaign said that it had earned well over a million dollars from more than 47,000 contributors in the first 24 hours after the Supreme Court decision. The money advantage will help Romney to get his message to the voters as well as to help him put President Obama on the defensive in swing states.

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Elections 2012: Georgia T-SPLOST referendum

On July 31, Georgia voters will go to the polls to decide on T-SPLOST, a transportation special purpose local option sales tax. The election will decide whether voters will approve a one cent sales tax to fund statewide transportation projects. Although Election Day is July 31, early voting has already started.

Details about T-SPLOST can be found on the Investing in Tomorrow’s Transportation Today (IT3) page of the Georgia Department of Transportation website. The T-SPLOST referendum was authorized by the Transportation Investment Act of 2010. The Statewide Strategic Transportation Plan (SSTP) was approved by Gov. Sonny Perdue and the State Transportation Board in 2010.

According to the SSTP, Georgia is currently below average on state transportation funding. This threatens Georgia’s ability to receive federal matching funds. The planners predict that Atlanta’s congestion costs will double over the next 20 years and that the number of workers available within 45 minutes of metro Atlanta will actually shrink by a third due to increased congestion. Congestion in Georgia’s medium-sized cities is forecast to rise to level comparable with Atlanta and Charlotte.

The solution, according to the plan, is three-pronged. First, the plan calls for $15 billion in improvements to Georgia’s freight transportation system including new bypasses, rail capability, and relieving bottlenecks and gaps.

Second, the Atlanta area would receive $29-36 billion, including $8-11 billion from tolls or user fees, for a variety of work. There would be more “managed” (toll) lanes on major routes. The plan would focus on these and other “dual-purpose investments” that can be used by private vehicles as well as mass transit. Atlanta would also have funding for rail transit. The initial plan would maintain the current system and expand short-haul rail lines that connect to the core system. Later, long-haul rail to the suburbs and other cities would be considered.

Finally, new capacity and safety needs for the remainder of the state are estimated at $14 billion over the next 20 years. Much of the spending outside Atlanta involves managing traffic patterns and coordinating transportation growth with developing areas.

Total cost for the program is estimated at $65 billion over the next 20-30 years. The SSTP estimates that the plan will generate 425,000 new jobs and $480 billion in economic benefit for the state. The expansion and upgrade of Georgia’s transportation system is intended to make Georgia more attractive to new business and make its existing businesses more competitive.

T-SPLOST supporters may have an uphill battle. Tax increases are often unpopular and the current economic and political climate is unlikely to help matters. The Georgia Tea Party Patriots is hosting an online petition against the measure, calling it “the largest single tax increase in Georgia history.” The group charges that T-SPLOST funds will be used to bail out MARTA, which is in financial trouble. The GTPP also says that the T-SPLOST will tax food and medicine and points out that the tax is likely to be renewed in 10 years to cover maintenance for the new projects. The group is also concerned about “regional appointed quasi-governments” that are not elected and therefore unaccountable to taxpayers.

Many Georgia businesses favor the T-SPLOST. In an AJC blog, Sadie Fields, former chairwoman of the Christian Coalition of Georgia, alleges that many employees of Atlanta-area businesses feel that their employers are pressuring them to vote for the measure. A rebuttal by John Brock, CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, points out that Atlanta traffic is limiting growth and that T-SPLOST is needed to turn things around.

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation issued a report on the vote that lists several pros and cons. Among the reasons to vote for the bill is the fact that Georgia is 49th in transportation funding and there are improvements that are genuinely needed. In regions where the tax is rejected, local governments will be responsible for an increased percentage of the cost of maintaining local roads. This may lead to higher local taxes. The next chance to vote on transportation improvements will be in 2014.

On the con side, the GPPF notes that a sales tax is not linked to transportation usage. A one cent increase in the gas tax might be better suited to transportation. Much of the money is slated to be spent in Atlanta and too much of Atlanta’s money will be spent on rail transit. Only three percent of commuters use MARTA, but public and rail transit gets almost half of Atlanta’s funds. Finally, the foundation notes that spending is political rather than based on need and there is no long term plan.

The GPPF recommends that voters examine the list of proposed projects for their region when deciding how to vote on the issue. lists the projects by region. The website is a pro-T-SPLOST site paid for Yancey Brothers, a Caterpillar heavy equipment dealer.

The AJC Political Insider blog reports that the T-SPLOST is indeed in trouble. The column quotes a Rosetta Stone poll that shows public opinion is against the new tax by a margin of 37-48 percent. Support is strongest in the Democratic strongholds of DeKalb and Fulton counties where the measure is supported 49-32 percent. Democrats favor the plan 57-24 percent while Republicans oppose it 19-68 percent. The Political Insider also reported that Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers is likely to oppose the plan.

In an election year that is centered around the struggle against government spending and higher taxes, it is ironic that Georgia’s Republicans find themselves advancing a huge tax and spend bill. It is even more ironic that Georgia’s Democrats are the biggest supporters of a measure advanced by Gov. Deal. The down side for Gov. Deal is that Georgia has far fewer Democrats than it did just a few years ago.

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Answering the religious left

The religious left, while still small, has grown somewhat over the last decade. While often perceived as hostile to religion, particularly Christianity, Democrats are somewhat tolerant of religious leftists. As an example, black voters are both heavily religious and heavily Democratic.

The signature issues of the religious left are war, the environment, and poverty. As the American involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq winds down and concerns about global warming abate, the major point of contention between the religious right and left concerns how to address poverty.

A passage frequently cited by religious leftists is Matthew 25:40, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” The theme of charity occurs throughout the Bible. Religious conservatives don’t dispute Jesus’ command to help the poor. The question is how best to do so.

Religious leftists advocate government anti-poverty programs. These programs are notoriously expensive, inefficient and prone to fraud. According to the Cato Institute, the state and federal governments spend more than $1 trillion annually on anti-poverty programs. This translates to $20,610 for every poor person in America, yet the poverty rate is still almost unchanged from 1964 when Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty. As Ronald Reagan put it, “Some years ago the federal government declared war on poverty - and poverty won.”

The left is also fond of pointing to Matthew 22:21 where Jesus tells the Pharisees to “render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's….” Often the second part of the verse, “and unto God the things that are God's” is not quoted. Christians should pay taxes, but they are also commanded to support their local churches and charities. Ironically, statistics from the book “Who really cares?” by Arthur Brooks show that although liberals tend to earn more than conservatives, they give less in terms of money, time and even blood.

The fallacy with unquestioningly rendering to Caesar is that we do not (at least not yet) live under an authoritarian regime. As participants in a republican democracy, it is our duty to make sure that our tax money is spent wisely. In fact the Bible commands it. Since voters are responsible for their government in a republic, they must ensure that the government is a good steward of tax money.

According to Jesus in Luke 16:1-2, a good steward is not wasteful. A good steward works diligently for his money (Proverbs 28:20, Colossians 3:23-24). A good steward invests wisely and diversifies (Ecclesiastes 11:2). Good stewards provide for their own families (1 Timothy 5:8). Even though a good steward pays taxes (Romans 13:6-7), that does not alleviate the responsibility of personally helping the poor and doing so cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:6-8, Acts 20:35).

Government-enforced charity runs afoul of Biblical doctrines in several areas. First and most obvious, the Bible calls for voluntary and cheerful giving. This is not consistent with mandates and taxes that are enforced by the government at the point of a gun.

Second, the Bible clearly values honest work. People who are legitimately in need should be helped, but those who are capable of working should support themselves and their families. In 2 Thessalonians 3:10 Paul wrote, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’” Charity should not go to people who could be working to support themselves. Many government programs actually encourage people not to work because they lose their benefits if they do.

Third, government is wasteful. No one seriously doubts that much of the money that the government confiscates to help the needy is wasted. The waste is two-fold. First, the money flows through bureaucracies at both the state and federal levels. These bureaucracies have high overhead due to expensive buildings and pay and benefits for employees that are substantially higher than their private sector counterparts according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Second, fraud is rampant in government entitlement programs. Untold billions of dollars are lost to fraud every year. Bureaucratic caseworkers with scant contact with their charges are often unable to tell when they are being duped. As entitlement programs grow, the propensity for fraud becomes more likely due to the sheer numbers of people involved.

Finally, government programs ignore the Bible’s warnings against incurring debt. Proverbs 22:7 warns that “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” Psalm 37:21 says, “The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously.” Paul writes in Romans 13:8, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another….” and admonishes “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings” (1 Corinthians 7:23).
What, then, would God think about borrowing 40 cents on the dollar and confiscating money from workers trying to feed their families to pay for a wasteful and inefficient system that encourages the poor not to work? It is hard to imagine that he would be pleased.

The religious left also lacks Biblical support for two other prominent issues. First, with respect to abortion, it is clear from numerous Bible passages such as Matthew 19:14 that Jesus loved little children. In Matthew 18:6, Jesus said that it would be better for a person to have a “great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” than to cause a child to sin. How much worse would it be to physically harm a child than to cause one to sin?

The Old Testament was even more specific saying, “Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood” (Deuteronomy 27:25). In Exodus 21:22-23, there was something akin to a personhood law: “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman's husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life…. ” Jeremiah 1:5 indicates that a baby in the womb is already a person known to God.

The Bible is also clear on same-sex marriage. Most people are familiar with the Old Testament laws concerning homosexuality in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. There are also hints that homosexuality was one of the sins that led to the destruction of Sodom (from which we get the word “sodomy”) and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. Christians are not bound by Old Testament law (Galatians 5:18). Neither is the United States a theocracy (nor should it be). Old Testament laws do provide clues to right and wrong however.

Less commonly known is the New Testament’s condemnation of homosexuality. In Romans 1:24-27, homosexuality is described as God’s judgment on people who “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator….” In 1 Timothy 1:9-11, homosexuals are listed with other sinners including the sexually immoral, slave traders, liars and perjurers. Jude 7 confirms that homosexuality was one of the sins for which Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.

Nowhere does God command Christians to hate homosexuals, but it is clear that God considers homosexuality to be a sinful act that should not be encouraged. Especially when the welfare of children and God’s prohibition against leading children astray (Matthew 18:6) are considered, it becomes clear that same-sex marriage should not be considered for societal as well as religious reasons. The New Family Structures Study by Mark Regnerus, associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, offers compelling evidence that children of same-sex couples do not fare nearly as well as children of traditional families.

Members of the religious left are free to vote for whoever they choose and upon whatever basis they choose. If they believe that their political views are aligned with their religious views, however, they should seek to learn what Jesus and the Bible say about the issues at hand.


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Friday, July 6, 2012

When is a Christian not a Christian?

There’s an old joke about George Washington’s hatchet, the one that he allegedly used to chop down the infamous cherry tree. The story goes that a museum claimed to have Little George’s actual hatchet. It was totally authentic except for the fact that the handle and the head had been replaced.

It strikes me that some Christians are like George Washington’s hatchet. They remove and replace one doctrine with another until sooner or later they bear little resemblance to traditional Christians except in name.

A look at the Roman Road provides a quick overview of basic Christian theology. First, Romans 3:10-12, 23 makes clear that all men are inherently evil and fall short of God’s perfection. Romans 6:23 states that the penalty for our sinful failure is death. Romans 5:8 brings the good news that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This sets the stage for Romans 10:9-10, 13, which explains exactly what is required to become a Christian: To “declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead….” Romans 5:1, as well as several verses in Romans 8, reiterate that it is this faith that our salvation is built upon.

Even this simple formula is sometimes a bit much for our modern minds. The root of the problem for many people seems to be an attempt to reconcile a belief in Christ with unbelief in any unseen, supernatural world.

We’ve been taught that seeing is believing, yet some things cannot be seen. No one can see how the world was created. There is much diversity of thought on the subject, yet Christians can expect to be ridiculed if they state their belief in Biblical creation, sometimes even by other Christians. Similarly, the story of Noah’s flood is also commonly doubted. The idea of a global flood whose only survivors were aboard the Ark seems too fanciful even for some Christians.

If we look to the Bible we can see what Jesus himself believed. For instance, in John 5:45-47 Jesus vouches for the veracity of the writings of Moses. In Exodus 20:11, Moses states that God created the earth in six days. Even more explicitly, in Matthew 19:3-6 Jesus specifically referenced the creation of Adam and Eve. In Luke 11:50-51, Jesus refers to the death of Abel, the son of Adam and Eve, in Genesis 4. In Matthew 10:15, Jesus uses the fates of Sodom and Gomorrah as a warning to towns that would reject the disciples. Jesus even held up the story of Jonah as a foreshadowing of the three days that he would spend in the grave in Matthew 12:40-41.

A close look at the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament leaves little doubt that Jesus knew and believed the stories of the Old Testament. This leaves Christians who doubt the old Bible stories in a conundrum. If Jesus is the Son of God then he is all-powerful and all-knowing. If he is all-powerful and all-knowing then he would not allude to stories that he knew to be false. If Jesus is God then the stories of the Old Testament must be true.

An alternate route is to simply throw out the verses that challenge one’s preconceptions of Jesus. A common claim is that the Gospels cannot be trusted because they were written down so long after the time of Christ. This argument ignores two facts.

The first is that the books of the Bible are not in chronological order. Many of the epistles of Paul and the disciples were put to paper years before the Gospels. Paul is believed to have been killed in AD 64, but the book of Acts closes before his death. Therefore, the year 64 would be the late date for Acts and the Gospels that preceded it. The letters, written earlier than the Gospels, share their message and teachings.

Second, contained within the books of the New Testament are early church creeds that are believed to date back to shortly after the death and resurrection of Christ. One of these creeds, found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, is believed to have been written down by Paul as early as AD 54. The creed would have existed in oral tradition long before that.

Skeptics of the supernatural must cut out much of the Bible to fit their worldview. Jesus also spoke about Satan (Mark 3:23), hell (Matthew 5:29-30), demons (Matthew 12:43-45), and his ultimate return as judge of the world (Matthew 24:30-31). Skeptics must choose to ignore Jesus’ teachings on all of these topics. Peter recorded a warning to such “scoffers” in 2 Peter 3:3-10.

The question is why would a believer in God not be able to believe that he would be able to create and intervene in the world. If God really is God then creation, the virgin birth, the resurrection, and all of the other stories of supernatural intervention are not hard to believe. If they are unbelievable, then do we really believe in God?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Government Dependence Day

This is the most dismal Independence Day in memory.

I’m sure that there have been more dreary Fourths of July in our nation’s history. The first few were under British rule and it seemed that the young nation might not survive to celebrate the anniversary of its birth in peace. In 1826, two American heroes, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4. In 1863, although most Americans did not know it yet, almost 8,000 Americans had just died in battle at Gettysburg. In 1942, Pearl Harbor was a recent memory but the American victory at Midway had lessened the sting of the surprise attack. On several Independence Days it seemed that the country might not be around to celebrate another.

There have been other Independence Days when the celebrations must have felt hollow. Rarely has that been due to the actions of our own government, however.

This year the celebrations come less than a week after the Supreme Court upheld the largest expansion of federal power since the New Deal. The federal government exercised unprecedented control over every American citizen and almost 20 percent of the U.S. economy. The founders, proponents of weak and limited central government, are undoubtedly spinning in their graves.

The passage of the health care law was a betrayal on many levels. Most obviously, the Democrats who voted for the bill betrayed their constituents. A strong majority opposed the bill when it was passed. Rather than persuading people to support their legislation, the Democrats, led by an elitist minority, rammed the bill through Congress using the parliamentary trick of budget reconciliation to avoid a Republican filibuster. They betrayed their oath of office by passing a law that was clearly unconstitutional (Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion notwithstanding).

The Democrats also betrayed the ideals of the founders of the United States. The founder of their own party, Thomas Jefferson said, “A wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circlue of our felicities.”

Jefferson would have been appalled at Obamacare, which is the antithesis of his goals for America. Our government, $17 trillion in debt, cannot be called frugal. It is increasingly involved in even the most trivial aspects of our lives. It takes bread from the mouths of labor to give to those who do not work. By Jefferson’s definition, our government is not good.

Jefferson, who authored the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom would oppose the government forcing religious groups and believers to purchase contraceptive and abortifacient drugs. He would likely oppose abortion, having penned the phrase “right to life” in the Declaration of Independence. He would also oppose the attempts to silence those oppose abortion and same-sex marriage. “No man,” Jefferson wrote, shall “suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

As the author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson would rebuke the authoritarian tendencies of our current president, a man who is only too willing to circumvent the will of the people and their elected representatives in Congress by legislating with federal agencies and Executive Orders. The Revolutionary War was fought to rid Americans of a king. Jefferson would not want a president who acts like one.

Jefferson, who warned that “the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered,” would be angry at the collusion between government and business that birthed Obamacare. Democrats in Congress attacked insurance and pharmaceutical companies as profiteers in the media, but secretly worked with them to craft and pass the bill. The loser in this “crony capitalism” is the American people.

The courts, whose judges swear to “faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me under the Constitution” “without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich,” ignored critical aspects of the Constitution, U.S. law, and American history. Justice Roberts rewrote the ACA and changed the mandate from a penalty to a tax. Thomas Jefferson would say, “Taxation without representation is tyranny!”

Much has been written about the failings of Obamacare, how it will result in a lower quality of health care in the United States, higher prices, and, ultimately, shortages and rationing. Economically, all of these outcomes are extremely likely.

Perhaps more importantly, however, Obamacare might be the undoing of the entire country. For a nation with $17 trillion in debt and a debt-to-GDP ratio that is greater than 100 percent, the last thing that is needed is another multi-trillion dollar entitlement, complete with tax increases, that will suck money out of the private sector and further slow growth. Even worse, the mounting debt load brings the nation even closer to a complete financial collapse.

As the Democrats systematically destroy the aspects of this country that made it great, the current economic morass is increasingly likely to indeed be the “new normal.” Emulating Europe’s welfare state means that the U.S. will also have Europe’s chronically high unemployment, lower income and wages, higher poverty, slower growth, and higher taxes.

By financing entitlements with debt to be repaid in the future, we are mortgaging our children’s lives and making them slaves to the countries and corporations that buy our debt. We are selling their future just as surely as if we blew their inheritance in the casinos of Las Vegas. In the end there will be nothing left: No money and nothing to show for it. We are impoverishing ourselves. As Rep. Paul Ryan said, “This is the most predictable crisis we have ever had.”

The Democrats have no solution to the crisis. Their only answer is to spend more and hope the economy recovers. Most do not even acknowledge the problem.

Lest anyone accuse me of favoritism, the Republicans have contributed to the problem as well. The Republican spending spree under George W. Bush was exceeded only by that of Barack Obama and Franklin Roosevelt. Republicans expanded government through the Medicare prescription drug entitlement (which at least did consider market realities) and the No Child Left Behind Act. On the plus side, the Republicans may have learned their lesson.

The Republicans are our last hope in government. We have already been failed by one political party that is now ideologically closer to Marx and Engels than Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison. We have been failed by the president and failed by Congress. We have been failed by the courts, all the way up to the Supreme Court. Some Catholics already see the need for civil disobedience in resisting Obamacare’s anti-religious mandates. If Republicans are elected and fail to change the direction of the country, civil disobedience will be our only recourse.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.” America isn’t dead, but she is critically ill. It is up to the people to save her.

This Independence Day, let us vow that it will be our last Government Dependence Day.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Obamacare facts: The “Special Needs Child Tax”

The upcoming election will be about the economy and Obamacare. In 2010, Rep. Nancy Pelosi said that “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” In the past two years there has been much analysis of what actually is in the law. This new series will focus on some of the lesser-known aspects of the Democratic version of health care reform.

The first installment details the “Special Needs Children Tax.” According to Americans for Tax Reform, the Affordable Care Act includes a provision that limits contributions to flexible spending accounts. FSA contributions are currently unlimited, but Obamacare imposes a cap of $2,500. This cap goes into effect in January 2013.

Flexible spending accounts allow employees to set aside a portion of their wages before they are taxed to pay for qualified expenses. These contributions must be used within the same year or the funds are lost.

While FSAs can be used for many eligible expenses, such as copayments and doctor visits, they are also commonly used by the families of special needs children to pay for tuition at special schools. ATR notes that such tuition can exceed $14,000 per year. In the past, parents could contribute the entire amount to an FSA and pay their child’s tuition with tax-free dollars. Under Obamacare, they will be taxed on all but $2,500 of the amount. This means that special needs families could see an increase in their taxable income of $12,500 annually.

And they say Republicans are heartless.

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Health care reform after Obamacare

The Supreme Court’s ruling that upheld Obamacare does not mean that the law’s days are not numbered. It is likely that Republicans will sweep this year’s elections and repeal the law before it goes into effect. If the law does go into effect, the Court’s decision that Congress cannot force the states to participate in the Medicare expansion contained in the law means that the complex law is even more unworkable. Gov. Nathan Deal told Georgia Health News that the state had not made a decision on whether to participate in the Medicare expansion. Without major reform, Obamacare will collapse under its own weight, wreaking havoc on the American health care system and the federal deficit as it does so.

The question is what comes after repeal. The status quo of the health industry is also untenable. Reform is badly needed, but it should focus on lowering health care costs through free markets and competition. Obamacare does nothing to lower costs. To the contrary, it increases them and then mandates that people buy the more expensive insurance.

Successful healthcare reform will have several aspects that Obamacare did not. First, successful reform will be bipartisan. The Affordable Care Act was one party’s vision of how the health insurance industry would work. It was crafted in secret behind closed doors and passed by a party line vote that required the procedural trick of using a budget reconciliation to avoid a Republican filibuster. Democrats did not seek Republican input and failed to win a single Republican vote in either house.

Second, successful health care reform must reduce the costs of health care and insurance. If insurance is made more affordable through market reforms, more people will want insurance. The Affordable Care Act essentially ignored competition and the marketplace in exchange for top-down mandates, price controls, and government collusion with the pharmaceutical industry. The result was an immediate increase in the price of health insurance. Many insurers also stopped writing unprofitable policies, resulting in shortages in some markets.

Finally, successful health care reform will simplify and streamline regulations for the industry. The Affordable Care Act, at 2,409 pages, was neither simple, streamlined, nor efficient. It included at least 18 new tax increases, $19 billion in spending through 2013, and created 159 new federal agencies and programs. The bill was so complex that Nancy Pelosi, at the time the Speaker of the House, famously said in a Fox News clip, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

Successful health care reform would re-introduce competition into the health care marketplace. There are several ways of doing this. One is to stop the favorable treatment of employer health plans. Currently, premiums for employer-provided health plans are not taxed, but, if a worker wants to buy an individual policy instead of the one at work, premiums are not tax-deductible unless their medical expenses exceed 7.5 percent of their Adjusted Gross Income. If premiums for all health insurance were deductible, it would provide an incentive for people to shop around for the insurance that best suits their own needs.

Another common theme in competition is encouraging states to allow their residents to buy and sell insurance across state lines. The effect here would be two-fold. First, it would provide a larger market for the state’s insurance companies. If the state’s companies offer quality insurance at competitive prices, their sales and profits should increase. Economies of scale would drive down prices.

Second, states that do not have competitive health insurance laws would see their business go to other states. Each state sets it own standards and regulations for health insurance. States that mandate more benefits typically have higher costs for insurance. By allowing interstate insurance sales, citizens of states where insurance is expensive could buy more basic policies in other states. If the insurance companies and state governments see a sufficient loss of sales in highly regulated states, it would encourage reforms to allow them to compete. Otherwise, the insurance companies would go out of business and the state would lose tax revenue.

A third idea is to open more low-cost clinics. In many cases, patients at a doctor’s office never see a doctor for a routine visit. Instead they are treated by a nurse practitioner. In recent years, pharmacies and retail stores such as Wal-mart and Target have opened small health clinics. These clinics are a boon to the working poor because they often do not require appointments, they provide a fast resolution for routine medical problems, and they are much less expensive than an emergency room or traditional doctor’s office. Additionally, these clinics often have extended hours and are open on weekends. For more complex problems, the clinics refer patients to local primary care physicians or hospitals. The Journal of the American Medical Association sees retail clinics as a way to deal with the current shortage of physicians and as a way for every American to have medical care within a few miles.

Partnerships with private companies provide a great resource for helping to lower health care costs that was totally ignored by the authors of the Affordable Care Act. The possibilities can be seen in Wal-mart’s $4 generic prescription plan. The plan, introduced in 2006, was quickly matched by other retail pharmacies. Today, customers of Publix can even get prescription antibiotics at no cost. The downward pressure on prescription prices started by Wal-mart arguably did more to help consumers than the federal government’s prescription drug entitlement and it was accomplished without government mandates and at no cost to taxpayers.

If the goal of health care reform is to cover as many Americans with health insurance as possible, then it is only logical that reform should reduce the price of health insurance as much as possible. Basic economic law states that as price decreases, demand for a product increases. As health insurance premiums go down, more people will buy policies.

One answer to the high price of health insurance is to allow and encourage companies to write no-frills major medical policies. Every time government mandates that health insurance offer a new benefit, the price goes up. Major medical policies don’t cover everything from mental health to Viagra, but they do protect people against the cost of a catastrophic illness. This is all many people want or need. Consumers should be able to choose high deductibles and be allowed to opt out of coverages like pregnancy, preventive medicine, and contraception in exchange for lower premiums. When regulators try to make a policy all things for all people, the result is expensive and prices many people out of the market.

Additionally, health care pricing should be made more transparent. Few people know how much a visit to the doctor’s office actually costs because most people with insurance pay only a predetermined copay, $20 for example. The only way to find out the actual cost of the visit is to look at insurance documents long after the visit. Such a system makes it impossible to compare prices of competing physicians and hospitals and encourages increased consumption. These factors drive up the cost of health care by limiting the exposure of consumers to the true costs.

Similarly, participants in government programs such as Medicaid and Medicare consume health care at prices that are below market rates according to the Washington Post. The deficit from these government price controls is then passed along to private consumers, further increasing health care costs for everyone else. True health care reform must take steps to control the costs of Medicare and Medicaid, while preserving these programs as safety nets for the truly needy. The Republican “Path to Prosperity” budget plan includes provisions to reform Medicare according to Kaiser Health.

One popular provision of the Affordable Care Act is the requirement that insurance companies cover people with pre-existing conditions at below-market rates. The problem is that the rule gives people an incentive to not purchase insurance until they are sick. A better solution to the problem of pre-existing conditions would be to create assigned risk pools at the state level.

In an assigned risk pool, states require insurance companies to accept otherwise uninsurable customers in proportion to the amount of business that they do in the state. Because these policies are high in risk to the insurance company, their premiums and deductibles are higher. This encourages people not to wait until they are sick to purchase insurance. Georgia has long had assigned risk pools for auto and home insurance. Such a proven concept would make sense for health insurance as well.

A final path to lowering health care costs is tort reform. Tort reform involves limiting the ability of patients to sue for medical malpractice. Malpractice lawsuits, sometimes with outrageously large punitive damage awards, have caused premiums for malpractice insurance policies to increase. This higher cost is then passed along to consumers by doctors and hospitals. Tort reform does not prohibit lawsuits or collecting legitimate damages, but it does discourage frivolous lawsuits and excessive punitive damage awards. Understandably, lawyers oppose tort reform and, because lawyers are a Democratic constituency, Obamacare did not address the issue.

Texas passed a tort reform law in 2003. My San Antonio says that before the reform one in four doctors was sued each year. Eighty-five percent of the suits never went to trial, but still cost an average of $50,000 to defend. Cases that went to trial cost $1.4 million each. These costs led to increased insurance costs for doctors and, ultimately, higher costs for consumers.

According to American Medical News, malpractice insurance premiums have decreased by 30 percent since the law was enacted. The state also saw medical license applications increase by 83 percent when compared with before the reform. A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry said, “Comprehensive medical liability reform has improved access to medical care, particularly in underserved areas….”

Mississippi’s experience was similar. Tort reform was enacted there in 2004. In the following years, malpractice insurance rates fell sharply, lawsuits decreased by 90 percent, and doctors stopped fleeing the state according to a 2008 Wall Street Journal article cited on the blog Captain Kudzu.

There is no single answer for how best to reform the health care industry. Solutions should consider economic realities as well as the needs and desires of the American people. Instead of federal mandates, states should be encouraged to experiment with their own solutions. Obamacare, which became law over the overwhelming opposition of the people, does none of that and is destined to fail.

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Monday, July 2, 2012

Taxation without representation: Why Roberts was wrong

John_RobertsChief Justice John Roberts was wrong in his ruling on Obamacare. The ruling, which left the majority of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in place, was based on Robert’s view that the much maligned individual mandate was a tax. His reasoning regarding the mandate is assailed by the conservative wing of the Court, but, even if he were correct on this issue, the entire law still should have been ruled unconstitutional.

If the mandate is actually a tax, then the Anti-Injunction Act should apply. This 1793 law provides that no one has standing to sue over a tax until they have actually paid the tax. Yet Chief Justice Roberts’ ruling holds that the Act does not apply because “Congress did not intend the payment to be treated as a ‘tax….’”

Roberts explicitly states that Congress did not intend for the individual mandate to be a tax, yet he found that it was constitutional because it was a tax. If Congress had passed a tax law, it would have been constitutional, but this is not what Congress did. Chief Justice Roberts had to rewrite the law, transforming a “penalty” into a “tax,” to find it constitutional. The ruling is an example of judicial activism.

Roberts explains his ruling by saying that the mandate does provide revenue for the government. He then explains that while Congress’ choice of wording, “penalty” vs. “tax,” controls the applicability of the Anti-Injunction Act, it does not affect the constitutional question of whether Congress may mandate the payment. In Roberts’ view, because the only consequence of failing to buy health insurance is a payment to the IRS, the payment is a tax regardless of how Congress labeled it.

Roberts did better on other points of the ruling. Liberals had pointed to Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce as authority to regulate inactivity that affects commerce as well. The majority rejected this view: “The language of the Constitution reflects the natu­ral understanding that the power to regulate assumes there is already something to be regulated.”

Roberts continues, “The individual mandate, however, does not regulate existing commercial activity. It instead compels individ­uals to become active in commerce by purchasing a product, on the ground that their failure to do so affects interstate commerce. Construing the Commerce Clause to permit Con­gress to regulate individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast do­main to congressional authority.”

Similarly, the Necessary and Proper Clause did not justify the mandate because it was not “consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution.” Congress must use means that are within its enumerated powers.

Finally, the majority also put the brakes on Congress’ use of federal money to coerce the states. The ruling notes that, “The Constitution simply does not give Congress the authority to require the States to regulate.” Congress must give the states a real choice without threatening to cut off other funding. Congress can attach conditions to funds, but not threaten to suspend other payments to states as a “means of pressuring the States to accept policy changes.” Roberts specifically states, “What Congress is not free to do is to penalize States that choose not to participate in that new program by taking away their existing Medicaid funding.”

Roberts took flack from both wings of the Court over his opinion. Justice Ginsburg’s dissenting concurrence is strongly worded. Her opinion boils down to one line: “Whatever one thinks of the policy decision Congress made, it was Congress’ prerogative to make it.” Unsurprisingly, Ginsburg (as well as the other three liberals on the Court) would have affirmed the law under the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses. She writes, “We presume the statute under review is constitutional and may strike it down only on a ‘plain showing’ that Congress acted irrationally.” This view sets a very low standard by looking at not whether the law is allowed by the Constitution, she presumes it is, but whether Congress’ actions were reasonable in her eyes.

Ginsburg is particularly vehement in her rebuttal to the majority opinion that Congress may not regulate inactivity as a form of commerce. She explicitly states her support for “[t]he proposition that Congress may dictate the conduct of an individual today because of prophesied future activity” and that “Nothing in this language [the Commerce Clause] implies that Congress’ commerce power is limited to regulating those actively engaged in commercial transactions.” To Ginsburg and the liberals, the Commerce Clause is a blank check for Congress.

The four conservative justices, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Antonin Scalia , jointly dissented against Roberts’ ruling. The four agreed that Congress could not mandate the creation of commerce in order to regulate it under the Commerce Clause. They also agreed that “the scope of the Necessary and Proper Clause is exceeded not only when the congressional action directly violates the sovereignty of the States but also when it violates the background principle of enumerated (and hence limited) federal power.” They agreed that the Medicare mandate was unconstitutionally coercive as well.

On the tax argument, however, the four disagree with Roberts, stating, “In all our cases the two [taxes and penalties] are mutually exclusive. The provi­sion challenged under the Constitution is either a penalty or else a tax.” The dissent continues, “We know of no case, and the Government cites none, in which the imposition was, for constitutional purposes, both.” According to the dissent, case law defines both terms: “A tax is an enforced contribution to provide for the support of government; a penalty . . . is an exaction imposed by statute as punishment for an unlawful act.”

Taking a strident tone, the dissent says, “We have never held—never—that a penalty imposed for violation of the law was so trivial as to be in effect a tax. We have never held that any exaction imposed for violation of the law is an exercise of Congress’ taxing power—even when the statute calls it a tax, much less when (as here) the statute repeatedly calls it a penalty.” The most damning piece of evidence that the dissenters present, “the nail in the coffin,” is that the “mandate and pen­alty are located in Title I of the Act, its operative core, rather than where a tax would be found—in Title IX, containing the Act’s ‘Revenue Provisions.’”

Quoting more case law, the dissenters say, “’Although this Court will often strain to construe legislation so as to save it against constitutional attack, it must not and will not carry this to the point of perverting the purpose of a statute . . .’ or judicially rewriting it.” Yet the dissenters note that this is exactly what the Court does in the majority opinion:


The Court today decides to save a statute Congress did not write. It rules that what the statute declares to be a requirement with a penalty is instead an option subject to a tax. And it changes the intentionally coercive sanc­tion of a total cut-off of Medicaid funds to a supposedly noncoercive cut-off of only the incremental funds that the Act makes available.

The Court regards its strained statutory interpretation as judicial modesty. It is not. It amounts instead to a vast judicial overreaching. It creates a debilitated, inoperable version of health-care regulation that Congress did not enact and the public does not expect. It makes enactment of sensible health-care regulation more difficult, since Congress cannot start afresh but must take as its point of departure a jumble of now senseless provisions….

In the view of the four dissenters, since Congress did not write a severability clause into the law, the correct ruling would have been to strike down the entire law. This would be true even if the majority had only agreed that the coercive nature of the Medicare mandate to the states was unconstitutional. Severability clauses are usually inserted into legislation to stipulate that if one part of the law is found unconstitutional, the rest should remain in force.

Essentially Chief Justice Roberts has turned back the clock to 1765 and the Stamp Act. Our forefathers rejected this tax with the cry of “No taxation without representation!” Ironically, in 2012 we are again faced with taxation without representation. Chief Justice John Roberts, an appointed judge, has created a new tax that contravenes the will of Congress and the people. He also sets the disturbing precedent that under the taxing power of Congress almost anything, including inactivity, is subject to coercive taxes.

The Wall Street Journal quotes Justice Benjamin Cardozo who once said of judicial rulings that, “What is good in it endures. What is erroneous is pretty sure to perish.” In this week’s ruling, the new limits on federal power deserve to endure. The opinion of Justices Roberts and Ginsburg that Congress has the power to coerce its citizens through taxing practically anything, including inactivity, should perish. So should Obamacare.


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