Constitutional Federalism Beats Feds’ Bribery of the States



FederalismAlmost five years ago the final Common Core national standards were published. These national standards epitomize government that has grown beyond all constitutional bounds. As elected officials learned more about the “voluntary” standards, the less they liked, and efforts to reverse course are underway in the states as well as Congress.

Certainly, federal overreach is nothing new in education, but in recent years as Washington politicians have extended the tentacles of government even more into our daily lives, Americans are literally fed up. READ MORE

The TSA: A Brief Tale



TSA inspectionThis Christmas I flew out of town with my fiancé to see his family. Since we’d be out of town for several days, I checked a bag with the airline.

We arrived to our destination without any fuss and drove to see his family. As I went to my bag to retrieve some things before bed, I was greeted by a note from the TSA. The paper stated that my bag had been searched as a part of necessary “security” precautions.

Aside from looking like a five-year-old had packed my bag, everything seemed fine (I’m a careful packer—so the fact my folded clothes were left in wads was particularly irritating). Upon further inspection, however, I realized some things were missing from my luggage.

Those things were my underwear.

Now, in the “best” case scenario, either these items were taken out of my bag and accidentally put in someone else’s (that’s awkward) or the person who searched my bag decided fruit of the loom posed a security risk (I always thought those characters from the commercial looked shady). Worst case scenario, some TSA agent stole my underwear.

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Last week’s GDP Estimate Included a Massive Upward Revision in Health Spending



21908269_SLast week’s third estimate of 3rd quarter GDP contained a significant upward revision to the real (inflation-adjusted) increase in GDP, from a 3.9 percent in the second estimate (released in November) to 5.0 percent in the third estimate.

November’s second estimate of 3rd quarter GDP included very tempered growth in health spending. The third estimate blows that out of the water. Much of the upward revision to the GDP estimate was due to health spending.

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Keystone Kops Play Kryptos Kristmas Kwiz at Our Peril



Cloud securityThe Cloud is not secure. This not-surprising news is among the revelations from further exploration of the Snowden archives in an article posted at Spiegel.

Among the investigation’s conclusions: the U.S. government and its allies—the so-called Five Eyes alliance, made up of the secret services of Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States—”pursue a clear goal: removing the encryption of others on the Internet wherever possible.”

Very little web and other electronic communication is secure. Those advertising themselves as such, including Skype (“Sustained Skype collection began in Feb 2011,”), websites designated as “https”—the final “s” standing for “secure”, and VPN “Virtual Private Networks”—are not. READ MORE

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? Don’t Worry, They’ll Guard Themselves!



riotpoliceQuis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guards themselves?

Do not fret, mis amigos. Our guardians have already made ample provision for guarding themselves. They have, among other upstanding actions, appointed ombudsmen, established offices of inspector generals, enacted the Administrative Procedure Act, and created internal affairs divisions in police departments. So, as anyone can plainly see, our rulers have done everything humanly possible to discourage and punish their misconduct and abuse of power, even going so far as to maintain within their very precincts of power, at public expense, officials whose sworn duty is to ferret out all malfeasance and misfeasance and thus to guarantee that every public official and employee upholds the highest standards of integrity and legality at all times.

These efforts have clearly been a great success, given that complaints against the authorities are rarely voiced and, when voiced, are nearly always found by the proper authorities to be groundless. As a rule, only ideological extremists and social misfits utter so much as an unkind word about the government’s conduct.

The 100th Anniversary of the Christmas Truce



christmastruce2

British and German troops meet in no man’s land. Boxing Day, 1914. Photographed by 2nd Lt Cyril Drummand, RFA.

This Christmas marks the 100th anniversary of the spontaneous “Christmas Truce” created by trench-warfare soldiers of World War I.

All along the European front, soldiers lay down their arms on Christmas day, and took the chance that those on the other side would join them in observing their common holy day:

A German soldier, Karl Aldag, reports that both sides had been heard singing hymns in the trenches. German troops coming into the lines bring Christmas trees. Some men begin to place them on the parapets of the fire trenches.

In today’s era of torture as the new normal, I suspect we regard with special nostalgia images relayed in letters such as this from a front-line British soldier to his mother, of soldiers coming out of their trenches, shaking hands and wishing one another a happy Christmas, holding a joint burial service for their dead, and otherwise marking the day of Christ’s birth:

I went out myself and shook hands with several of their officers and men. From what I gathered most of them would be glad to get home again as we should.

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Putin’s Collapsing Russia



Ruble-PutinVladimir Putin, who worked for the Soviet Union’s KGB from the time he graduated from college through the Soviet Union’s dissolution, obviously is nostalgic for the days in which the Soviet Union was regarded as one of the world’s two superpowers, as it was when Putin joined the KGB in 1975.

When Putin first became Russia’s president in 2000, the country appeared to be moving increasingly toward a western-style democratic government, but now Putin appears to be as permanently ensconced as Russia’s head of state as the Soviet premiers that ran the country from 1917 through 1991. Even during the four years when Dmitry Medvedev held the office of president, Putin was obviously the man in charge. Russia’s democracy has, for practical purposes, evolved into dictatorship.

Russia’s economy, which showed capitalist promise in the 1990s, remains heavily dependent on natural resources, and the recent decline in oil prices shows the degree of dependence. Meanwhile, Putin’s government threatens any economically powerful Russians who dare speak out against him (perhaps justified because the wealth of Russian oligarchs tends to come from cronyism). Strong elements of the old Soviet command economy mingle with Putin’s political dictatorship.

Then there is Russia’s foreign adventurism, from the invasion of Georgia in 2008 (parts of Georgia are still occupied by Russian troops) to the Ukrainian invasion in 2014. Little by little, Putin is trying to reconstruct the old Soviet empire, and one has to wonder which former Soviet Republic might next be targeted.

Putin’s attempt to re-create the old Soviet Union’s glory days is seemingly oblivious to the factors that led to its ultimate collapse. The political system produced cronyism and economic hardship for most Russians, the economic system caused the Soviet Union to fall increasingly behind the capitalist West, and one of the justifications for dissolving the Soviet Union was that it was too costly for Russia to support the other Republics.

From all appearances, Putin is trying to transform the Russia of 2000, with all of its promise to take its place among European democratic market economies, into the old Soviet Union, by implementing all of the characteristics of the old Soviet Union that led to its collapse.

In the short run, there is good reason to be wary of Putin’s collapsing Russia because of the damage it can do to others, but in the long run, Putin appears to be intent on designing a country based on a model that has already been demonstrated to become weaker, and therefore less threatening, over time.

Obamacare Premiums Higher in States with ‘Active Purchaser’ Exchanges



11935359_SSixteen states plus the District of Columbia chose to set up their own Obamacare exchanges, in which insurers offer subsidized health insurance to individuals. States had two ways to set up exchanges. Ten set up exchanges where the exchange itself was the “active purchaser,” meaning that it negotiated premiums, provider networks, and number and benefits of plans sold. Seven set their exchanges up as “clearinghouses”: Any insurer that met the regulatory standard was able to contend on the exchange.

The conceit behind the active purchasers was that the exchange could get a better deal for individuals than could individuals themselves. Well, the results for the first year are in: “Active purchaser” exchanges had premiums 13 percent to 20 percent higher than “clearinghouse” exchanges, according to research just published in Health Affairs.

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Photo Explaining Obamacare’s Perverse Incentives Is Worth a Thousand Words



CAM001091-2Health insurers in Obamacare’s exchange plans have perverse incentives to attract healthy patients and deter sick ones from enrolling. This is because the law forbids insurers from charging premiums that reflect applicants’ likelihood of incurring high medical costs. Although there are risk-mitigation mechanisms to overcome this, they appear to be inadequate.

If this photo does not tell us that insurers want healthy people to apply, I don’t know what will.

A little context: I took this photo in a train on the Metro in Washington, DC, just a few days ago. CareFirst, which holds the Blue Cross Blue Shield license in Maryland, is the dominant insurer in the metropolitan area. It has major market share in the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan (FEHBP). Open enrollment for the FEHBP ran from November 10 through December 8. The Metro is the perfect place to attract public servants’ attention, so CareFirst buys lots of advertising space during FEHBP open enrollment. Those ads usually feature middle-aged actors, who project a staid bureaucratic image as they peruse their choices for the upcoming year.

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I Can’t Believe There’s No Butter! Bad Trade Policy Burns Christmas Bakers



16949272_SI love to cook. From my great grandmother’s recipe for fried chicken (fried in lard, of course) to my mom’s recipe for Kentucky burgoo (think stew), there are a few kitchen staples this cook can’t do without. The star of many southern recipes is butter. Perhaps famous southern cook Paula Deen put it best:

“I’d rather die with a stick of butter in my hand than a celery stalk.”

Truer words were never spoken.

In my local grocery store I have my choice of a LOT of butter. Salted butter, unsalted butter, organic butter, sticks of butter, tubs of butter, and butter made with olive oil are all available for a few dollars (so is that thing next to it called margarine...but we don’t have to talk about that stuff).

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