The Police State Retaliates Against Mayor for Pension Reform

Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer

Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer

Mayor Jim Righeimer of Costa Mesa, California, is taking the city’s police union to court saying he was the target of police intimidation for trying to curb pension costs associated with the city’s police officers and other employees.

Costa Mesa has $200 million of unfunded pension liabilities for its government workers. The city has set aside less than 65 percent of the money it needs to pay its pensions. The city also has $36 million in unfunded retirement healthcare liabilities.

To get its fiscal house in order, Mayor Righeimer led the battle to outsource some city services and cut the city’s police force by 60 officers. These actions will reduce future pension costs. But the actions also brought the wrath of local police, its union, and investigators hired by the police union’s lawyers.

Watch Mayor Righeimer describe a retaliatory sobriety test, undercover investigators, and a tracking device on a city councilman’s car all because of pension reform.

Are Young People Better Off Being Uninsured?

priceless_180x270The Affordable Care Act makes health insurance more expensive for young adults while simultaneously making it far less risky to go without insurance, according to a study by Conor Ryan, a health care analyst, and Chris Holt, the director of health care policy, at the American Action Forum. They find that opting out of coverage and paying their own costs out-of-pocket would be the most financially advantageous decision for most young adults.

  • In 2014, 86 percent of young people would be better off opting out. As the penalty rises, that number will drop, down to 66 percent in 2019.
  • By reducing the sample down to only those households who had medical expenditures in 2011, the study determined that 72 percent of those young adult households would be better off opting out of health coverage, with that number dropping to 59 percent in 2019.
  • In a third scenario, which accounted for the inherent value of health insurance, 63 percent of young adults would see a financial advantage from opting out of health insurance, that number dropping to 41 percent in 2019.By reducing the risks of forgoing insurance while at the same time increasing the cost of health coverage, the Affordable Care Act incentivizes young adults to cover their own health expenses and opt out of insurance.

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For the pivotal alternative to Obamacare, please see the Independent Institute’s widely acclaimed book: Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis, by John C. Goodman.

[Cross-posted at Psychology Today and John Goodman's Health Policy Blog]

Patient CARE Act Would Impose 37 Percent Marginal Income-Tax Hike on Late Middle-Aged

11935359_SI have already written twice about three Republican Senators’ health-reform bill (here and here). Nevertheless, it continues to attract attention, and its likely most curious impact has not yet been described. The Patient CARE Act, put forward by Senators Hatch, Burr, and Coburn, would institute changes to marginal-income tax rates that would increase disincentives to work for some, especially those in prime earning years.

One problem with the American welfare state is that it imposes high effective marginal income-tax rates on people at low incomes. Economists describe these as “notches” or “cliffs,” and Obamacare is stuffed with them.

Casey Mulligan of the University of Chicago recently produced an analysis showing how Obamacare increases marginal income taxes across the income spectrum. Mulligan’s analysis is technically complex. A more accessible analysis was written by Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute before the bill was passed.

Obamacare is a nasty tangle of tax hikes, as well as subsidies for premiums, co-pays, and deductibles. Cannon showed that it imposes marginal-income tax rates ranging from about 70 percent to 80 percent on families of four that earn between about $30,000 and $90,000. This means that if a family gets a raise of $1,000, it will lose $700 or $800 of Obamacare benefits. For some individuals, Cannon showed that Obamacare imposes marginal income-tax rates of over 100 percent. (A more recent paper by Ed Haislmaier of the Heritage Foundation details how Obamacare benefits phase out as household income rises.)


Stalin Apologia

Children_are_digging_up_frozen_potatoes_in_the_field_of_a_collective_farm._Udachne_village,_Donec’ published a truly disgusting article on the supposed myths of communism. There are a lot of problems with it, but I’ll focus on this particularly revolting passage, which might seem literally true if you drop the context of what it suggests:

For one thing, a large number of the people killed under Soviet communism weren’t the kulaks everyone pretends to care about but themselves communists. Stalin, in his paranoid cruelty, not only had Russian revolutionary leaders assassinated and executed, but indeed exterminated entire communist parties. These people weren’t resisting having their property collectivized; they were committed to collectivizing property.

This is misdirection. It’s true that Stalin murdered so many people that in absolute terms “a large number” were communists, but in relative terms, they were a minority of his victims. Of course, Stalin’s murder of communists isn’t any more defensible than any other regime’s murder of communists, and it says something that so many regimes, from Maoist China to Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam, slaughtered communists in sectarian crackdowns on political opponents.


Believe It: NSA Collects and Stores Content, Not Just “Metadata”

eavesdroppingPresident Obama has repeatedly attempted to obfuscate the issue of NSA’s actively spying on Americans by repeatedly referring to “metadata”: information about where, when and to whom people make phone calls, but not the actual phone conversations.

Most recently, he garnered wide press coverage by promising to limit the collection of phone metadata.

But this is just a smokescreen. It had already been revealed that phone conversations are routinely recorded and stored—as when the Director of the FBI revealed that NSA had archived phone calls of alleged Boston marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev:

There’s a way to look at digital communications in the past. ...I can tell you that no digital communication is secure.

Newly revealed yesterday, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Yahoo have turned over tens of thousands of their customers’ data to U.S. government authorities every six months as the result of secret court orders.

The tech companies remain under severe gag orders for disclosing what information they are passing on to the government, but even these broad brushstrokes paint a fairly graphic picture:

Yahoo disclosed that it gave the government communications content from between 30,000 and 30,999 accounts over the first six months of 2013, and fewer than 1,000 customer accounts that were subject to Fisa court orders for metadata. [emphasis added]

Communications content that is indefinitely stored, to be read and listened to at will, that can be edited, extracted, twisted to convey guilt from even the most innocent communication:

“If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.”—Armand Jean du Plessis, cardinal-duc de Richelieu et de Fronsac (1585-1642)

If this concerns you, please join our efforts to shut the NSA down. Government doesn’t reform itself.

California’s Immoral Mountain of Debt

Jerry-BrownCalifornia Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed a $155 billion state-spending plan for fiscal year 2014-15, which includes billions to pay down debts. Unfortunately, Brown’s debt proposal doesn’t go nearly far enough.

In the proposed budget, Brown said:

In 2011, the Wall of Debt’s level of outstanding budgetary borrowing totaled $34.7 billion.... The debt has already been reduced to less than $25 billion. The [proposed] budget reduces this debt by more than $11 billion this year, and fully eliminates it by 2017-18.

The so-called “Wall of Debt” includes: deferred payments to schools and community colleges; Economic Recovery Bonds; loans from special funds; unpaid costs to local governments, schools, and community colleges for state mandates; underfunding of Proposition 98; borrowing from local governments (Proposition 1A); deferred Medi-Cal costs; deferral of state payroll costs from June to July; deferred payments to CalPERS; and borrowing from transportation funds (Proposition 42).

These payments of $11 billion are for all the accounting gimmicks and raiding of funds politicians used in years past to create the illusion of a balanced state budget. So the wall stands decidedly on the high side.


Common Ground

10088020_SI often find myself disagreeing with Cynthia Tucker, the Progressive journalist and professor, so I was happy to read a recent column of hers, on the farm bill that just passed the House, and find that she and I share some common ground on our views toward government.

She considers the bill an example of congressional priorities that “...protect the rich and punish the poor, comfort the comfortable while brutalizing the afflicted.” Indeed, it is an example of the cronyism that always accompanies political power, in which those who hold power use it to aid the rich and powerful. Should we expect anything else?

She says about Republicans, “...if they really want to rein in government, if they believe people ought to stand on their own two feet and refuse the ‘welfare state,’ why are they preserving welfare for those who need it least? Do they not see the glaring hypocrisy in their insistence on farm subsidies?” Of course they see the hypocrisy. That’s how cronyism works. You help your cronies, not those who actually might need help.


Health Reform: Senate Republicans’ Proposal Is a $47 Billion Tax Hike with Few Beneficiaries

11356792_SThe health-reform proposal put forward by three Republican Senators (Hatch, Burr, and Coburn) has attracted a lot of attention as the so-called Republican alternative to Obamacare.

Although the reform includes a grab bag of previous Republican reforms, including medical malpractice and Medicaid, its most radical element is a significant change to the private, employer-based system. A previous blog entry explained why the Senators’ feel-good “continuous coverage protection” for the privately insured will have negative consequences, and described a superior alternative.

However, an even bigger problem is that the proposal includes a significant tax hike that will harm most working Americans, in return for a tax credit which very few will enjoy.


More Government Intrusion

acsHave you received a notice in the mail to complete the Bureau of the Census’s “American Community Survey” online? It comes with a warning that failure to do so subjects you to penalties provided under some public law, which no Member of Congress likely read before voting in favor of it.

The survey combines questions that you answered for the last decennial population census, information from your income tax return and other detailed questions about your place of residence and every member of your household. The questionnaire took me about 45 minutes to complete. I wish I had not started it.

How many rooms does your home contain, including bathrooms? How much could you sell it for today? What is the amount of your monthly rental or mortgage payment and does that payment include property taxes and insurance for fire and flood? How much do you pay annually for electricity, water and sewer service? How much did each member of your household earn last year and what were the sources of that income, including welfare payments, if any? What is each person’s ethnic origin (choose from a list of about 20 possibilities or enter something else)? What are the dates of birth for each member of the household (from which information the form conveniently calculates ages)? Is anyone disabled, blind or mentally incapable of holding down a job? Is anyone not currently employed searching for a job?

I’m sure that I have forgotten some of the questions already. But be forewarned that you are required to disclose to the Bureau of the Census private information that I thought already was known to the NSA. And that information goes far beyond the constitutional provision (Article I, section 2.3), allowing for an “enumeration” of the population every ten years, beginning in 1790, for the purpose of apportioning seats in the U. S. House of Representatives.

I wrote a column after the 2010 Census of Population calling it the most expensive one in history, a record set in part because of the bureaucratic failure to replace paper forms with some sort of electronic data collection process. I am not so sure now that governmental collection of information online is such a good idea. Because the costs of paper and postage are substantially lower with online data collection, bureaucrats are able to ask many more questions than they did in the past, while studiously ignoring the opportunity costs of the citizens who are required to respond.

On the other hand, maybe the penalty for noncompliance with the American Community Survey is the same as the one imposed for removing the tag from your mattress.

Et tu, Angry Birds?

Hackers updated the Angry Birds website following news of its misuse by NSA

Hackers updated the Angry Birds website following news of its misuse by NSA

Just when you thought it was safe to relax and have some fun, it turns out that the NSA is even tracking you through Angry Birds:

The National Security Agency has targeted popular smartphone-based social games like “Candy Crush” and “Angry Birds” to pilfer personal information, including phone numbers, e-mails and codes that identify the user’s device, according to documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Apple and other companies have made a great public show of objecting to the NSA’s accessing their customers’ information, suing to be able to publicly disclose surveillance agencies’ issuance of national security orders to them.

But as continuing revelations show, disclosure of “requests” for information through “the channels” are fairly meaningless.

For example, Apple’s recent release discloses that it received between zero and 249 national security orders between January 1 and June 30, 2013, affecting between zero and 249 accounts—which means, exactly what?

In point of fact, as its use of Angry Birds shows, NSA need not bother with such pesky procedures as issuing national security orders at all—it simply hacks at will: “The NSA Reportedly Has Total Access To The Apple iPhone:”

Of course, Apple is hardly the only smartphone maker targeted by the NSA. According to Der Spiegel, Android and even Blackberry have been cracked by the agency, though perhaps not so thoroughly.

With every aspect of your every daily activity captured and indefinitely stored in government facilities, safest to simply assume: anything you say, play, do, or think can and will be used against you when it suits the government to do so.

4th Amendment, anyone?