Tag: usa today

Fake ID Foolishness

In this USA Today story, identity-based security mavens sputter about the availability of high-quality fake IDs that include digital holograms, credit-card quality plastics, and specialty inks found in “more secure” drivers’ licenses. Along with adding technical security measures to cards, states that once made driver licensing easier reversed course and discontinued issuing licenses over the counter so they could new-fangle their IDs. All this inconvenience and expense has done nothing but require bad guys (and college students) to order their driver’s licenses at sites like ID Chief.

One could have predicted all this:

The more valuable a driver’s license is for access to work, mobility, goods, and services, the more likely people will seek to acquire this document illegally. Reforms … may “stiffen” state-issued identification card processes, but they leave it brittle.

Meanwhile the expense and inconvenience of restricted access to identification cards will fall on all Americans—including the ones who need drivers’ licenses for the simple purpose of driving. Honest, law-abiding Americans will suffer impingement on their freedom of action, their individual power, and their security from identity-based frauds. The REAL ID Act is full of reforms that do not fix.

Instead of “strengthening” our national identification system, policies that reduce the value of breaking identification systems will improve identification. Jujitsu is needed much more than brawn.

That’s yours truly, writing in the 2006 Cato book, Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood.

Trade Helps Explain Texas-Sized Job Growth

As its governor, Rick Perry, weighs a run for the White House, Texas has drawn attention for its healthy job growth. Since the recession ended in June 2009, Texas has accounted for half of the net new jobs added to the U.S. economy, according to the lead story in this morning’s USA Today. That’s quite a record for one lone state.

We’ll leave it to others for now to argue over how much credit Gov. Perry can claim. Some credit surely goes to high oil prices, fueling job growth in a sector important to the Texas economy. Another reason for its relatively strong job growth is a friendly business climate, including no state income tax and relatively light regulations. And for those who scapegoat trade for the nation’s persistently high unemployment rate, consider that Texas is the nation’s number one trading state. As the USA Today story notes:

Overseas shipments by Texas’ strong computer, electronics, petrochemical and other industries rose 21% last year, compared with 15% for the nation, according to the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank. The state also benefits from its proximity to Latin American countries that are big importers of U.S. goods … The surge creates jobs for Texas manufacturers and ports.

As I can attest from recent speaking engagements in San Antonio and Laredo, Texans have embraced their state’s position as the nation’s leading gateway for trade with NAFTA-partner Mexico and the rest of Latin America.

While politicians and union bosses from other states grumble about allegedly unfair trade, the latest trade and job numbers show that the people of Texas are making the most of the opportunities created by our more open economy.

 

Obama Admin. Repeats Discredited Cost-Shifting Claim in Federal Court

Defending ObamaCare in federal court yesterday, the Obama administration’s acting solicitor general, Neal K. Katyal, peddled the widely discredited claim that the uninsured increase your and my health insurance premiums by $1,000:

“When people self-finance their health care,” Katyal contended, “that raises the cost of health care overall by $43 billion a year, and that raises the average family’s premiums by $1,000 a year. That will price untold numbers of people out of the market.”

That estimate comes from two left-wing groups, Families USA and the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

When President Obama himself made this claim, FactCheck.org reported:

[Obama] said ”the average family pays a thousand dollars in extra premiums to pay for people going to the emergency room who don’t have health insurance.” That’s from a recent report by Families USA, a group that lobbies for expanded government coverage. But another study for the authoritative Kaiser Family Foundation thinks that figure is far too high.

Serendipitously, the same day that Kaytal was repeating this discredited claim in federal court, USA Today reported:

Jack Hadley, senior health services researcher at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va…has found that privately insured individuals don’t end up paying higher premiums to make up for the uninsured because hospitals that serve lower-income families don’t have a lot of patients with insurance. He said the government pays about 75% of those unpaid hospital bills either by direct payment or through a disproportionate payment of Medicaid. (emphasis added)

ObamaCare’s Premium Refunds: Bad News for the Sick

USA Today and Politico Pulse report that ObamaCare has prompted BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina to rebate $156 million to its customers in the individual market.  This may seem like good news.  It’s actually bad news, particularly for BCBS’s sickest customers.

Pre-ObamaCare, BCBS’s customers – whether healthy or sick – had coverage with an insurer that had already pre-funded their future medical needs. Competition protected them from BCBS skimping on care: if BCBS got a reputation for skimping, it would have a hard time enrolling new customers.

Post-ObamaCare, BCBS no longer needs that pile of cash, so they’re returning it to their customers. That hurts sick enrollees because BCBS is doling it out to all enrollees – not just the sick enrollees whom that money is supposed to serve. This cash-out is actually a transfer from the sick to the healthy.

Also, every BCBS customer who is sick or becomes sick in the future will have less protection against their insurer skimping on care. Competition used to discourage insurers from providing lousy access to care, but under ObamaCare competition will reward skimping. Under ObamaCare’s price controls, insurers that gain a reputation for providing quality coverage to the sick will attract sick people and go out of business.  Insurers that gain a reputation for providing lousy access to care will drive away sick people and thrive.

USA Today Abets ObamaCare Supporters’ Misinformation Campaign

An article in today’s The USA Today titled, “With Many Still in Dark, Groups Shed Light on Health Care Law,” aims to correct misinformation about ObamaCare.  Ironically, the article is itself a monument to misinformation.

It begins:

True or false: The new health care law will cut Medicare benefits for seniors. It will slash Medicare payments to doctors. It will ration health care.

In three polls conducted last month, large percentages of Americans answered “true” to each statement. All three are false.

In fact, two of the three statements are 100-percent true.

First, ObamaCare will cut payments to the private health insurance companies that provide coverage to the 20 percent of Medicare enrollees who participate in the Medicare Advantage program.  That will eliminate many types of coverage for seniors in Medicare Advantage.  That should be painfully obvious, but if you require confirmation, visit FactCheck.org.  ObamaCare will also ratchet down the price controls that Medicare uses to pay hospitals and many other health care providers.  It should likewise be obvious that that will reduce access to services that are ostensibly “guaranteed” to all enrollees.  But again, if you need confirmation, check in with Medicare’s chief actuary, who works for President Obama.  We can debate whether that’s good or bad.  What’s not up for debate: ObamaCare in fact “will cut Medicare benefits for seniors.”

Second, it is also true – ipso facto – that ObamaCare “will ration health care.”  To ration is to limit consumption.  When ObamaCare reduces coverage for Medicare Advantage enrollees and reduces access to care for all Medicare enrollees, it limits seniors’ consumption of medical care.  We can debate whether that’s good or bad.  What’s not up for debate: that is rationing.

Finally, yes, it is technically false that ObamaCare “will slash Medicare payments to doctors.”  But since current law will slash Medicare payments to doctors if Congress does nothing, and since an earlier version of ObamaCare would have eliminated those cuts, but ObamaCare’s architects dropped that provision so as to make ObamaCare appear deficit-neutral… well, perhaps the public can be forgiven if it confuses “eliminating a provision that would have prevented cuts in Medicare payments to doctors” with “slashing Medicare payments to doctors.”

USA Today continues:

The debunked idea raised by opponents during congressional debate that “death panels” could make end-of-life decisions is seen as real by nearly half of those surveyed.

I’ll rate this statement misinformed and misleading.

First, Sarah Palin’s claim about “death panels” was true at the moment she said it, even if she didn’t know why.

Second, by rationing Medicare enrollees’ access to medical services (see above), ObamaCare will effectively make end-of-life decisions for seniors.  According to Medicare’s chief actuary, ObamaCare could force one in six hospitals to stop accepting Medicare patients.  If ObamaCare results in there no longer being a hospital bed waiting for Grandma at the end of her life, that’s an end-of-life decision.  It wasn’t a personalized decision.  It’s not even necessarily the wrong decision.  But let’s drop this nonsense about ObamaCare not making end-of-life decisions for seniors.  And ObamaCare did create a panel that will make many of these implicit rationing decisions.  It’s called the Independent Payment Advisory Board.

But my guess is that people tell pollsters that ObamaCare will make end-of-life decisions because they understand the Golden Rule, and that he who pays the piper calls the tune.  So long as the government purchases medical care, it will be the government that decides who receives it and who doesn’t.  And ObamaCare gave government a lot more of the gold.

USA Today packed a lot of misinformation into this one sentence:

The National Council on Aging posed 12 questions about the law to 636 seniors and found that fewer than 17% of them knew half the answers.

Actually, it’s NCOA that doesn’t know the answers.  Here are a few of their poll’s true-false questions:

  • “The new law will result in future cuts to your basic Medicare benefits.” A plurality of seniors (42 percent) responded “true.”  And they’re right: as Medicare’s chief actuary has explained and as NCOA should know, ObamaCare will reduce access to care for Medicare enrollees.  That’s a benefit cut, unless you think “coverage without care” counts as a benefit.  Yet according to NCOA, the correct answer is “false.”  Just 22 percent of seniors agreed.
  • “Under the new health reform law, Medicare Advantage plans will cut benefits and increase premiums.” NCOA says the correct response is “don’t know,” and that’s the answer that 56 percent of seniors gave.  Perhaps seniors haven’t read the chief Medicare actuary’s report, which found that ObamaCare “will result in less generous benefits packages” in Medicare Advantage and “when the MA provisions will be fully phased in, enrollment in MA plans will be lower by about 50 percent.”  But NCOA should have read that report, and should therefore know that the correct answer is “true.”
  • “The new law is projected to increase the federal budget deficit over the next ten years and beyond.” Again, a plurality (49 percent) responded “true.”  Again, they’re right.  Yet NCOA thinks the correct response is “false.”  No doubt NCOA would point to the Congressional Budget Office projections that ObamaCare will reduce the deficit.  But those projections are valid only if  ObamaCare “remain[s] unchanged throughout the next two decades, which is often not the case for major legislation.” The CBO wrote this would particularly be a problem with ObamaCare, which “would maintain and put into effect a number of policies that might be difficult to sustain over a long period of time.”  So one could reasonably interpret the CBO to have projected an increase, not a decrease in the deficit.  Alternatively, seniors could have been thinking about former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who projected in The New York Times that ObamaCare “would raise, not lower, federal deficits, by $562 billion.”  There are lots of reasons why “true” is in fact the correct answer.  (One of them is that NCOA used the passive construction “is projected.”)  Only 14 percent of seniors agreed with NCOA.
  • “As a result of the new law, the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund will be extended by about 9 years to 2026.” A majority of seniors responded “don’t know” (54 percent), while another 22 percent responded “false.”  Either answer is more correct than NCOA’s preferred answer (“true”).  There are no assets in the Medicare “trust fund.”  Thus there is no date by which those non-assets will be exhausted.  Indeed, the “trust fund” has absolutely no effect on Medicare’s solvency.  The very premise of this question is a fraud.  Someone needs to educate seniors about the Medicare trust fund, but NCOA is not the group to do it.
  • “The health care reform law will cut Medicare payments to doctors.” A plurality of seniors responded “true” (45 percent), while only 14 percent of seniors gave NCOA’s preferred response (“false”).  But again, perhaps seniors can be forgiven on this one (see above).

USA Today should have dug a little deeper.

More misinformation:

More than four in 10 people in the Kaiser poll wrongly believe the law included a government panel to make end-of-life decisions for Medicare patients.

Again, ObamaCare does include a panel that would implicit rationing decisions, including for Medicare patients at the end of life (see above).

More misinformation still:

As the Department of Health and Human Services issues the regulations needed to implement the law, it’s trying to get the facts out through its website, healthcare.gov. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is helping, most recently with a cable TV ad featuring Andy Griffith.

FactCheck.org found that Andy Griffith used “weasel words” to “mislead” seniors about ObamaCare.  How is USA Today not aware of that?

Libertarian Politics in the Media

Peter Wallsten of the Wall Street Journal writes, “Libertarianism is enjoying a recent renaissance in the Republican Party.” He cites Ron Paul’s winning the presidential straw poll earlier this year at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Rand Paul’s upset victory in the Kentucky senatorial primary, and former governor Gary Johnson’s evident interest in a libertarian-leaning presidential campaign. Johnson tells Wallsten in an interview that he’ll campaign on spending cuts – including military spending, on entitlements reform, and on a rational approach to drug policy.

Meanwhile, on the same day, Rand Paul had a major op-ed in USA Today discussing whether he’s a libertarian. Not quite, he says. But sort of:

In my mind, the word “libertarian” has become an emotionally charged, and often misunderstood, word in our current political climate. But, I would argue very strongly that the vast coalition of Americans — including independents, moderates, Republicans, conservatives and “Tea Party” activists — share many libertarian points of view, as do I.

I choose to use a different phrase to describe my beliefs — I consider myself a constitutional conservative, which I take to mean a conservative who actually believes in smaller government and more individual freedom. The libertarian principles of limited government, self-reliance and respect for the Constitution are embedded within my constitutional conservatism, and in the views of countless Americans from across the political spectrum.

Our Founding Fathers were clearly libertarians, and constructed a Republic with strict limits on government power designed to protect the rights and freedom of the citizens above all else.

And he appeals to the authority of Ronald Reagan:

Liberty is our heritage; it’s the thing constitutional conservatives like myself wish to preserve, which is why Ronald Reagan declared in 1975, “I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.”

Reagan said that several times, including in a Reason magazine interview and in a 1975 speech at Vanderbilt University that I attended. A lot of libertarians complained that he should stop confusing libertarianism and conservatism. And once he began his presidential campaign that fall, he doesn’t seem to have used the term any more.

You can see in both the Paul op-ed and the Johnson interview that major-party politicians are nervous about being tagged with a label that seems to imply a rigorous and radical platform covering a wide range of issues. But if you can call yourself a conservative without necessarily endorsing everything that William F. Buckley Jr. and the Heritage Foundation – or Jerry Falwell and Mike Huckabee – believe, then a politician should be able to be a moderate libertarian or a libertarian-leaning candidate. I wrote a book outlining the full libertarian perspective. But I’ve also coauthored studies on libertarian voters, in which I assume that you’re a libertarian voter if you favor free enterprise and social tolerance, even if you don’t embrace the full libertarian philosophy. At any rate, it’s good to see major officials, candidates, and newspapers talking about libertarian ideas and their relevance to our current problems.

FAA Says Wasteful Spending ‘All Good’

It’s not uncommon to hear the claim made that the “stimulus” would have had a greater economic impact had the money been focused on infrastructure. But proponents of public “investment” in infrastructure seem to forget that the government allocates capital on the basis of politics rather than economics. Government is naturally inefficient because it is immune to the market signals that guide private actors who stand to lose their own money should an investment not pan out.

A perfect example is federal spending on airport infrastructure. The USA Today’s Thomas Frank has been doing good work looking at how the Federal Aviation Administration distributes funds to the nation’s airports. In his latest piece, Frank analyzed FAA records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and found that taxpayer money is being put to questionable use:

Airports have spent $3.5 billion in federal money since 1998 on projects the Federal Aviation Administration rated as low priority because they do little to improve the most pressing needs in the nation’s aviation system…The money comes from a program that is supposed to improve aviation safety…But the program also has funded terminals at little-used airports, hangars to store private jets, and parking areas that are free to customers.

For example, Frank reports on Pellston Regional Airport in Michigan, which “used $7.5 million in federal funds to build a terminal with stone fireplaces and cathedral ceilings. The airport averages three departures a day.”

But the FAA sees it differently:

‘They’re all good projects,’ said Catherine Lang, FAA acting associate administrator for airports.

C@L readers who get stuck in congested airports this holiday season may wish to keep that quote in mind.

In a sister piece, Frank quotes Lang as saying that the terminals at these airports are “crumbling, loaded with asbestos and have no other source [of money].” If airport infrastructure in this country is truly crumbling, then why is the FAA expending scarce resources on stone fireplaces?

Frank cites more examples:

  • Lake Cumberland Regional Airport in Kentucky got $3.5 million to build a glass-fronted terminal in 2004 that was largely unused until the first passenger flights began this June. The airport now has six flights a week.
  • Montgomery Regional Airport in Alabama got $22 million to build a $35 million terminal with a sloping glass facade and a rotunda topped with a domed ceiling that reflects the historical architecture of the state Capitol.
  • Halliburton Field Airport in Duncan, Okla., got $700,000 for a terminal with a pilot room and a reception room. The airport, open only to private planes, has 24 landings and takeoffs a day, mostly local pilots in piston-engine planes.

We should be looking to privatize infrastructure as this Cato op-ed states:

First, privatization would reduce the responsibilities of the government so that policymakers could better focus on their core responsibilities, such as national security. Second, there is vast foreign privatization experience that could be drawn upon in pursuing U.S. reforms. Third, privatization would spur economic growth by opening new markets to entrepreneurs.

I suppose the drawback would be that politicians would be denied the fun of spending other people’s money, not to mention the campaign contributions.