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‘Homosexual Jim Crow Laws’? Get Real



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“Christians backing this bill are essentially arguing for homosexual Jim Crow laws.” So asserts Kirsten Powers in today’s USA Today. What could justify such an assertion? Nothing. Powers is wrong about the law.

The bill in question is a religious-liberty protection being debated in the Kansas legislature. The bill would protect all citizens from being forced by the government into recognizing or celebrating a same-sex marriage if it ran contrary to their religious beliefs. So how is a bill protecting liberty akin to Jim Crow?

Powers isn’t alone. Slate ran a piece with the headline “Kansas’s Anti-Gay Segregation Bill Is an Abomination.” But the Kansas bill and similar bills that protect liberty are about preventing the kind of coercion that happened under Jim Crow. They protect what should be already protected: basic civil liberties such as freedom of association, freedom of contract, and freedom of religion.

Jim Crow and segregation did the exact opposite. Those wicked regimes legally coerced people to keep them separated, to prevent them from associating or contracting. Yet today, we see liberals of various stripes saying the law should coerce people into associating and contracting.

But freedom of association and freedom of contract are two-way streets. They entail the freedom to choose whom to associate with and when and on what terms; whom to contract with and for what goods. Governmental mandates that force association or prevent association violate these freedoms.

If a central argument of the LGBT movement has been the freedom to live how one chooses sexually, shouldn’t government respect the freedom of citizens to live how they choose in the marketplace? Indeed, respecting religious liberty for all those in the marketplace is particularly important. After all, as first lady Michelle Obama put it: “Our faith journey isn’t just about showing up on Sunday for a good sermon and good music and a good meal. It’s about what we do Monday through Saturday as well.”

The state’s concern for the freedom of its citizens to live out their beliefs about marriage is not unwarranted. As Leslie Ford and I explained yesterday on NRO,  in a growing number of incidents, the redefinition of marriage and state policies on sexual orientation have created a climate of intolerance, intimidation, and even government coercion and discrimination for citizens who believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman and that sexual relations are properly reserved for marriage.

Christian-adoption and foster-care agencies have been forced to stop providing those services because they object to placing children in same-sex households. Other cases include a photographer, a baker, a florist, a bed-and-breakfast, a t-shirt company, a student counselor, the Salvation Army, and more. In each of these instances, there were plenty of other businesses available that were willing to provide similar services.

Powers does not have sympathy for these particular business owners:

It’s probably news to most married people that their florist and caterer were celebrating their wedding union. Most people think they just hired a vendor to provide a service. It’s not clear why some Christian vendors are so confused about their role here. … Christianity doesn’t prohibit serving a gay couple getting married. … Christians serve unrepentant murderers through prison ministry. So why can’t they provide a service for a same-sex marriage?

But many of these professionals understand their professions differently – being a wedding photographer is not simply being “a vendor,” but utilizing God-given talents to tell the story of a particular couple and their relationship. Likewise, many of these professionals understand their obligation to witness to the truth differently – celebrating a same-sex relationship as a marriage affirms that relationship. It is understandable why some religious believers would not want the government coercing them into doing that. The government shouldn’t enshrine Powers’s theology into law and then coerce those who have a different understanding of what their faith requires.

The Kansas bill would prohibit the government from penalizing or taking an adverse action against individuals or employers because they declined, because of their religious beliefs, to provide a service that would compel them to recognize or affirm a same-sex relationship as marriage. The bill would also prevent employers and individuals from facing civil lawsuits for acting in accordance with their beliefs.

Contrary to what some opponents of the bill have suggested, the Kansas policy would only protect religious individuals and organizations from being forced to provide services related to marriage, the celebration of marriage, or similar relationship. It would not allow businesses, individuals, or government employees from refusing to serve someone (or a couple) simply because of his or her sexual orientation.

Kansas currently defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman in its state constitution and does not have state sexual-orientation or gender-identity laws. Still, the bill that passed by the state House last week is important and necessary to prevent future conflicts with religious liberty should a court strike down Kansas’s marriage amendment (as has happened in a number of states) or the state adopt sexual-orientation laws.

Protecting religious liberty and the rights of conscience does not infringe on anyone’s sexual freedoms. Americans are free to live and love how they choose, but they should not use government to penalize those who think and act differently. All Americans should be free to believe and act in the public square based on their beliefs about marriage as the union of a man and woman without fear of government penalty.

— Ryan T. Anderson is the co-author of What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense and the William E. Simon Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. 

Lowry: Obama Delaying Keystone XL to Please Left-wing Billionaire Thomas Steyer



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Obama Apologizes to Art-History Majors, Rubio Slams



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President Obama’s slight towards art-history majors last month didn’t go over well with University of Texas professor Ann Collins Johns, who sent the president a letter defending the degrees. He apologized to her personally in a handwritten letter for his “off-the-cuff” and “glib remark,” saying that art history was one of his favorite subjects in high school.

Obama had made the remarks during a speech in Wisconsin encouraging young people to pursue jobs in “the trades.” “I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art-history degree,” he said.

But the president’s apology drew ire from Senator Marco Rubio. The Florida Republican tweeted that it was “pathetic” for the president to apologize.

Johns admitted on Facebook that she was surprised to receive a personal letter from President Obama. “What I did NOT expect is that THE MAN HIMSELF would write me an apology. So now I’m totally guilty about wasting his time,” she wrote.

Via Talking Points Memo.

Web Briefing: September 15, 2014

Kimmel Mocks Obamacare



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Having trouble signing up on HealthCare.gov? Don’t expect Obamacare-Care to be any better.

Jimmy Kimmel took some shots at the health-care law’s ongoing problems by releasing an ad for the spoof program, which is intended to help users navigate the troubled HealthCare.gov.

In perhaps the biggest sign of Obamacare’s lack of popularity, in the lead-in to the video, Kimmel asked his audience who had already enrolled in Obamacare, and no one raised his hand.

“Really?” a bewildered Kimmel said. “They claim that more than 3 million people have now signed up on HealthCare.gov’s website.”

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These Olympics Just Got a Lot Better



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The ACA, the CBO, and the 2 Million Jobs _____



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There is absolutely no evidence, and every economist will tell you this, that there is any job-loss related to the Affordable Care Act.  — Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, February 18, 2014

The reduction in CBOs projections of hours worked represents a decline in the number of full-time-equivalent workers of about 2.0 million in 2017, rising to about 2.5 million in 2024.  — Congressional Budget Office, The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024, February 4, 2014

There has been enormous confusion regarding the economics underneath the CBO’s projection that 2.5 million (“full-time equivalent”) jobs will disappear by 2024. Some people fill in the blank in this post’s title as “The ACA, the CBO, and the 2 Million Jobs Killed.” Others argue for “The ACA, the CBO, and the 2 Million Jobs People Choose to Leave Voluntarily.” The average reader likely just shrugs at the whole fuss.

Let’s review what the CBO numbers say. First, let’s focus on 2024 alone. In that year the CBO projects that the economy will have reached the conventional definition of “full employment” (here, an unemployment rate of 5.5 percent). In economists’ lingo this means “labor supply equals labor demand.” The fact that the economy is at full employment when the 2.5 million equivalent jobs are gone means two things:

If there are 2.5 million fewer (equivalent) people working, but the unemployment rate is unchanged, then the number of those participating in the labor force has dropped by 2.5 million (again, technically their equivalents). No way around it. If the labor force was unchanged and there were 2.5 million more out of work, the unemployment rate would rise.

If there are 2.5 million fewer jobs supplied, then there must also be 2.5 million fewer jobs demanded, as supply equals demand.

But why would small firms, entrepreneurs, and big corporations combine to give up on 2.5 million hiring opportunities and the products and services they produce? Mechanically, those employers would have to pay higher wages – high enough to lure the 2.5 million out of their homes to work despite their access to Obamacare-subsidized insurance. Unfortunately, at those higher wage rates, the employers run losses. It doesn’t make economic sense to try to fill the positions, and the jobs are lost.

There are lots of ways to raise wages and eliminate jobs. A higher payroll or other labor tax on employers could do the trick. An onerous workplace regulation that made employees more costly would too. Or a direct, economy-wide increase in the minimum wage to, say, $25 an hour would satisfy the objective.

In each of those cases, many would be comfortable saying that the policy “killed” jobs. In the case of the ACA, the channel of influence is more indirect, but the economic impact is exactly the same: The ACA will reduce the number of jobs in our economy.

Proponents of the ACA have also argued that the workers leaving jobs or working less are “better off,” and this makes the outcome different and more desirable. That’s incomplete. The workers are better off, but the taxpayers who finance the subsidies are, of course, worse off.  If, for example, the jobs were lost because a tax was levied on employment, the displaced workers would be worse off, but those who benefited from whatever government program it funds would be better off.  Policies of this sort inevitably involve tradeoffs in the well-being of one group of citizens versus another.

— Douglas Holtz-Eakin is the president of the American Action Forum. 

The Resilience of Ukraine’s Freedom-Fighters



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As Ukrainian civic-reform activists prepare for a possible assault on Independence Square in Kiev by the massed forces of the Berkut (the Ukrainian internal-security forces) and their hired goons (known in Ukrainian as titushki), morale remained high on February 19, the day after some two-dozen activists were killed and many others seriously wounded.

But in the aftermath of yesterday’s bloodshed, high morale and strong resolve go hand in hand with frustration, Ukrainian leaders report: frustration with the inability of the United States, the European Union, and individual European states to bring effective pressure — including stiff sanctions — to bear on the Yanukovych governments and its enablers among the Ukrainian oligarchy and in Moscow (or Sochi, depending what Vladimir Putin is watching today); frustration with a left-leaning European press that portrayed what happened in Kiev yesterday as a confrontation between “right-wing extremists” and “the government;” frustration that the true story of the Maidan movement continues to be missed.

Yesterday’s violence did not just happen; it was initiated by the government in an attempt to crush the Maidan movement. Moreover, the people who have remained steadfast in Independence Square are not “right-wing extremists.” A few are; and others among the activists have indeed thrown Molotov cocktails in an attempt at self-defense. But the overwhelming majority of the Maidan movement, in Kiev and throughout the country, has shown remarkable restraint in the face of violent provocation, severe weather conditions, and all sorts of deprivation and discomfort. Moreover, the movement has been strengthened in recent weeks by middle-class people from all over Ukraine who have simply said, “Enough.” Enough of extortion in small business. Enough of thugs being hired to enforce governmental greed. Enough of lying. And now, after February 18, enough of the state hiring criminals — the titushki — to attack and punish its own people for exercising elementary civil liberties.

Colorful television images of streets in flames in Kiev tell only one part of the Ukrainian story. That story is important: It’s the story of a state at war with its people, and a government that refuses to negotiate seriously with the civic opposition. But those graphic images and that story can obscure the larger story of a self-generated movement of civic renewal, a movement based on a recovery of conscience and informed in many cases by deep religious conviction.

To understand that Maidan movement and its resilience, consider Mihailo.

Keep reading this post . . .

Of Conscience and Catering



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Kirsten Powers writes in USA Today about a proposal in Kansas to let businesses refuse to serve same-sex couples.

It’s probably news to most married people that their florist and caterer were celebrating their wedding union. Most people think they just hired a vendor to provide a service. It’s not clear why some Christian vendors are so confused about their role here.

Whether Christians have the legal right to discriminate should be a moot point because Christianity doesn’t prohibit serving a gay couple getting married. Jesus calls his followers to be servants to all. Nor does the Bible call service to another an affirmation. . . .

Christians backing this bill are essentially arguing for homosexual Jim Crow laws.

Perhaps the proposal in Kansas sweeps too broadly; it is certainly possible, and I have not looked into it. But regardless of the wisdom of the proposal, I do not think Powers’s argument works. I’ll leave aside the Jim Crow comparison, except to note that it seems to me more incendiary than apposite.

The key point, I think, is that whether the state should compel someone to violate his conscience or protect him in his exercise of it cannot turn on the contents of that conscience. As I argued recently in NR, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act seems to me to get this right. It doesn’t make the protection of conscience an absolute principle. It allows the individual conscience to be overridden when it’s the least restrictive means of serving a compelling governmental interest. The inquiry can’t turn, though, on the government’s judgment of a theological question. In the case of the HHS mandate, for example — where, as it happens, Powers has done a fine job of making the case for religious liberty — the argument for coercing the Little Sisters of the Poor can’t be that their theological scruples about contraception are simply incorrect understandings of Christianity. Plenty of Christians believe that they are incorrect. But it’s not the place of the government to make and enforce that call. In my view, a conscientious Christian could certainly take Powers’s view about what florists and caterers should do. But that doesn’t mean that a conscientious Christian who reaches a different conclusion should be forced to act contrary to it.

‘Never Again,’ Again



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No matter where you are in America, no matter how bad your day, your month, your life is going: if you read the new U.N. report on North Korea, you will feel lucky and blessed not to be a North Korean.

For years, I’ve argued that future generations will have utter contempt for our collective tolerance of the horror in North Korea. People still debate why FDR didn’t bomb the train lines to the German death camps. One can only imagine what the debate over our half century of inaction will look like. From a 2009 column:

In his recent visit to Buchenwald, the Nazi death camp, President Obama insisted that we must “bear witness” to the evil of the Holocaust. Such platitudes are the stuff of every president and potentate who visits such places. And that’s fine. It’s what we are supposed to say. But we are also supposed to mean it. After all, it’s easy to say we must bear witness to things that have already happened and promise to “never forget” the sins of others and our own good deeds.

But what of things figuratively happening under our noses and literally transpiring a click away on our computer screens? You can see the slave camps in North Korea — not quite live via satellite, but close enough — where the machinery of suffering chugs along 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Ask yourself: What if Buchenwald were a mouse click away?

Our collective, bipartisan failure to deal with the human suffering in North Korea is chalked up to the fact that Kim Jong Il’s nuclear program is a far more pressing concern than is the brutalization and murder of North Korean citizens.

That is hardly a trivial argument. But it’s looking less compelling every day. Republican and Democratic presidents alike have failed to disarm North Korea because it does not wish to be disarmed; it is a true extortion regime. Its existence is owed entirely to the fact that it has mastered geopolitical blackmail. In exchange for promises to do things it will never do, we give it aid along with as many second chances as it can carry.

Meanwhile, North Korean nuclear brinkmanship and ballistic saber rattling guarantee that outside governments will not exert an ounce of effort on the ongoing humanitarian crisis. “Talking to them about the camps is something that has not been possible,” David Straub, a senior State Department official under presidents George W. Bush and Clinton, told the Post. “They go nuts when you talk about it.” And so, we pretend it’s not happening.

Well, if a bunch of mass murderers take offense, by all means lets drop it. No one really means “never again” anyway.

Speaking of “never again,” my AEI colleague Nick Eberstadt, when not being one of country’s foremost demographers spends much of his free time being one of the country’s foremost experts on North Korea. He has an excellent piece in today’s Wall Street Journal.  He concludes:

Given the bombshell report, democratic governments and independent organizations can no longer act as if they did not know. Their dealings with Pyongyang must always be considered in light of this damning document. Now is the time for the never agains:

Never again should Western humanitarian aid be given to North Korea to hand out at its own discretion, as if Pyongyang were a government like any other.

Never again must Beijing—which like Pyongyang refused to cooperate with the U.N. investigation—be given a free pass for financing, enabling and protecting this most odious of all regimes. Challenge China to veto the referral for crimes against humanity on the U.N. Security Council, and let Beijing go on record defending state-sponsored mass murder. Make the Chinese veto it 20 times if they dare. Beijing is highly sensitive to public shaming, and it must be shamed and penalized for its indefensible support of Pyongyang until it cuts its client-state loose.

Never again must South Koreans avert their eyes from the catastrophe that is befalling their compatriots across the demilitarized zone. And never again must Seoul forget that it is legally bound to grant citizenship to refugees from the nightmare to the North.

Never again must the rest of us live comfortably with the knowledge of what is happening right now to ordinary people in North Korea.

I have a few other never agains.

Never again should Dennis Rodman be treated as anything other than a useful idiot apologist for mass murder and torture.

Never again should people say “we should have done more to stop the Holocaust” while insisting we have no right to do interfere in North Korea.

Never again should we take seriously people who bang the table about Israel’s “oppression” and “genocide” while shrugging at the horrors of North Korea.

Never again should people use the phrase “never again” is they are complicit in sweeping Pyonyang’s barbarity under the rug. 

What the Times Doesn’t Say about the Minimum Wage



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Bias often appears in facts someone omits, not in actual inaccuracies. Take the New York Timesnew minimum wage calculator, which shows how difficult it can be to support oneself on just a minimum-wage income. Left unsaid: Few minimum-wage workers do so. 

The Times’ calculator asks users to try to balance living expenses on a minimum-wage budget. No doubt about it – it’s hard. Not much remains after food, rent, utilities, and transportation expenses. Trying to support a family on a minimum-wage job would be incredibly difficult. But few on the minimum wage actually do this.

The New York Times did not mention that the average family income of a minimum-wage worker exceeds $50,000 a year. How? The vast majority of minimum-wage workers are second (or third or fourth) earners in their family. Minimum-wage jobs are entry-level positions, primarily filled by unskilled and inexperienced workers. Many minimum-wage workers are between the ages of 16 and 24, and two-thirds work part-time.

So while lots of Americans start out working near the minimum wage, few raise a family on it. Instead, as they gain experience, they become more productive and command higher pay. Two-thirds of minimum-wage workers get a raise within a year. The typical pay increase: 24 percent. (Here are more facts the Times avoided mentioning.)

Of course, some workers do remain stuck at the minimum wage. But a host of federal programs ensure they do not fall through the cracks, and that their incomes are higher than the NYT’s calculator shows. (And, as the CBO has noted, these benefits phase out steeply as income rises. Accounting for this makes it unclear how many low-income workers’ finances would improve with a higher minimum wage).

Additionally, raising the minimum wage makes employers more reluctant to hire, which certainly seems unlikely to improve these workers’ situations. Even the Congressional Budget Office estimates President Obama’s proposed hike would cost half a million jobsAside from that, of course, raising the minimum wage makes perfect sense.

— James Sherk is senior policy analyst in labor economics at the Heritage Foundation.

Corker: ‘I’m Anti-UAW’



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The United Automobile Workers’ failure to form a union at a Chattanooga, Tenn., Volkswagen plant after two years of organizing efforts was a result welcomed by Senator Bob Corker. Corker, who vocally opposed unionization throughout the process, has been the target of criticism by pro-union activists for weighing in on the situation. On Wednesday, he continued his outspokenness on the matter.

“I’m not anti-union — I’m anti-UAW because of all the destruction they’ve done to jobs in our country and what they’re about,” Corker, who previously served as mayor of Chattanooga, told Fox News. “This was all about money.”

Last week, workers at the Volkswagen plant rejected joining the union. Had it been successful, it would have been the first foreign-owned plant to have been organized by the UAW.

For more on the fallout after the UAW election, be sure to read Alec’s recent piece on the subject, “Wheels Come Off UAW’s Chattanooga Challenge.”

Coburn Wants Investigation of Labor Department



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In the wake of my NRO report several weeks ago about shenanigans, waste, and allegedly hostile work environments at the Department of Labor, U.S. Senator Tom Coburn has sent a letter to Labor’s inspector general, Scott S. Dahl, requesting an investigation of a series of allegations and reports contained in my story. The letter, dated February 14, asks not only for an investigation of “each of these issues included in this letter” but also of “any others that might arise during this investigation.”

Some excerpts from Coburn’s letter:

I write to you regarding a news article detailing alleged wasteful spending practices among other issues at the Department of Labor. It is disturbing to hear of these activities at a time when the country continues to face high unemployment and a labor participation rate that continues to fall. . . . One of the alleged wasteful spending practices included a Department book club. . . . Most disturbing, is the allegation that the Department hired an outside public relations firm to promote this book club. My office has been told that a firm, Concept Communications, allegedly received a potential no bid contract to the tune of $100,000 to assist in promoting the Department’s book club.

Further, it is disturbing to hear of the current work atmosphere at the Department. Individuals describe the environment as “a pretty hostile environment.” Individuals argue that this work place hostility comes to the detriment of career employees and in the end the public for which the Department serves.

The letter also specified other concerns, including alleged misuse of staff time and effort on glossy posters in every DOL elevator, instructions for employees to vote in an online religious poll, and “weird morale boosting exercises.”

As I had reported: “There’s a sense of entitlement among [Obama’s political] appointees at the Labor Department,” says one source. “They feel that the ethics rules and the rules about effective management and the rules about effectively spending taxpayers’ money do not apply to them.” I and the Daily Caller’s Patrick Howley also have reported, here and elsewhere, that the American Federation of Government Employees has been at odds with the Department on several fronts, again bolstering the idea that something is amiss with the workplace environment.

Senator Coburn is an honorable bulldog on these sorts of abuses. This bears watching.

Gibbs: Obama, Dems Will ‘Have to Step Up’ Efforts to Keep Senate



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With the 2014 midterms fast approaching and Democratic incumbent senators facing tough races, one former Obama White House staff member is urging the president to intensify his efforts to help the party maintain the majority.

“My hunch is they will likely have to step up the efforts, particularly in saving the U.S. Senate,” Robert Gibbs told Morning Joe on Wednesday. “It’s never a bad thing to have the leader of the party doing more events, raising money . . . in an effort to put everybody in a strong position come election day.”

A recent poll found that red-state Democrats will have try to defend seats in five of the ten states where President Obama is most unpopular. Meanwhile, other candidates in more “purple” states have also recently started distancing themselves from President Obama, declining to say whether they would campaign with him.

L. Brent Bozell Jr.



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This is a terrific book about an incredible man, a huge figure in the creation of the modern conservative movement, and a complex soul whose personal struggles are the makings of a fascinating biography. Lee Edwards’s review in the current NR is a must-read. As is the book, by the late Daniel Kelly. You can order it here.

The Strine Strain



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From my most recent NRO article, on the trouble with today’s judiciary: “My grievance is that [Leo Strine and Richard Posner], and an appreciable number of other judges, simply bang down their gavels, bring down resonant and histrionic decisions that are apt to be completely mistaken and to inflict injustice, and continue in their terminal self-absorption.”

Whether you agree or disagree, your comments are, as always, most welcome.
 

And in Venezuela...



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Reuters:

Venezuelan security forces arrested opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez on Tuesday on charges of fomenting unrest that has killed at least four people, bringing tens of thousands of his angry supporters onto the streets of Caracas.  Crowds of white-clad protesters tried to block the vehicle carrying the 42-year-old Harvard-educated economist after he made a defiant speech, said an emotional farewell to his family, and gave himself up to soldiers. Opposition leaders hope Lopez’s arrest will galvanize street demonstrations against President Nicolas Maduro, though there is no immediate sign the protests will topple the socialist leader.

“I am handing myself over to an unfair justice system,” the protest leader told supporters, standing on a platform next to a statue of Cuban poet and independence hero Jose Marti.

“May my imprisonment serve to wake the people up.”

The crowd lifted his wife up to give him a final embrace and hang a crucifix around his neck. Minutes later, he surrendered to military officers, pumping his fist and then stepping into the military vehicle with a Venezuelan flag in one hand and a white flower in the other.

A very brave man.

But…

In a nation split largely down the middle on political lines, ‘Chavistas’ have stayed loyal to Maduro despite unflattering comparisons with his famously charismatic predecessor. Many Venezuelans fear the loss of popular, oil-funded welfare programs should the socialist lose power.

A few days or weeks more may prove me wrong (I hope so), but it’s hard to see Maduro being toppled just yet. As the case of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe reminds us, economic ruin does not always finish off the regimes that brought it about

Will’s Take: Ukraine ‘Asserting Itself’ Against Russia, Putin



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The Ukrainian protests are a sign of national pride and a rejection of Russian president Vladimir Putin​’s efforts to expand his influence over the region, as George Will sees it. Ukraine’s steadfastness to its distinct nationality and culture are ultimately proving resilient as evidenced by pushing back against Putin’s attempts to neutralize those sentiments, as the Soviet Union did during the mid-20th century.

“Today what you’re seeing is nationality asserting itself against the former KGB operative,” Will said on Tuesday’s Special Report. “There’s no question that Putin, who is seen by the world — certainly by those closest to him in Ukraine — as a thug and killer, is being repudiated.”

With the European continent as a whole largely subdued as a result of economic turmoil, Ukraine’s opposition to Putin offers a different story. “Europe has lost of its energy, but it’s not lost its ability of European culture to pull in a decent direction, and that’s what’s going on here,” Will said.

Krauthammer’s Take: Focusing on Climate Change Won’t Help Democrats



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As President Obama shifts focus to climate change, Charles Krauthammer wonders how this new focus will help any Democrats in the impending midterm elections. “The idea that they are going to pivot to climate change as a way to save these Senate seats is quite insane,” Krauthammer said. “The people who care about climate change . . . are not found in the states which the Democrats have to hold on to in the Senate.”

Those who care about climate change are predominantly in Democratic strongholds on the coast who don’t have the same worries as citizens in 2014 toss-up states like Kentucky or West Virginia. “That is why I simply can’t understand why it’s become a thrust of theirs,” Krauthammer said.

“Perhaps because they can’t run on the economy, on jobs and employment, and they can’t run on Obamacare,” he added. “So they really don’t have anything else.”

New Fuel-Efficiency Standards for Trucks: A Political Priority, Not a Policy Improvement



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President Obama announced a new round of fuel-efficiency rules for trucks today, saying that the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency would work together to find new ways to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

The new standards, part of the president’s “year of action,” will doubtless appeal to the green faction of the Democratic party. But the rushed effort seems less sensible when one considers that trucking companies already have a strong incentive to be as fuel-efficient as possible, and further regulation is likely to carry several unintended consequences.  

Fuel is one of the most costly inputs for the trucking industry, so before any regulation at all, the private sector had made extensive efforts to cut down on fuel usage.

“There are no reasons for these standards,” says Daniel Simmons, director of regulatory affairs for the Institute for Energy Research. “[Trucking businesses] already spend a lot of money figuring out how to be efficient. They know where their trucks are, how fast they’re going in real time, how efficient their trucks are, and what they can do to improve efficiency much better than the federal government does.”

The first set of truck efficiency regulations, requiring trucks to cut fuel consumption and emissions by 10 to 20 percent, were implemented seven weeks ago, meaning trucking companies are just beginning to see any of their side effects.

Even before today’s round of regulations, the existing new rules will probably affect the delicate balance underpinning the trucking industry’s business model. There are ways to make fleets more fuel efficient, but they’re expensive, and unless the subsequent fuel savings cover the upfront cost, trucking companies are likely to raise prices, which will eventually affect the cost of the goods they transport.

More worrisome, though, are the potential safety risks of the efficiency innovations. Trucks can reduce their fuel consumption by using lighter tires, but that can also raise the risk of blowouts. Likewise, lower fairings, to reduce the amount of space between the trailer and the road can improve the aerodynamics of the trucks, reducing fuel consumption – but they can also accumulate sleet, and in extreme weather, they can result in flying ice chunks that jeopardize passenger cars.

“We are embarking on a large experiment with these heavy-duty trucks and how you can make them more fuel-efficient,” Simmons says, but “[trucking companies] will be relying on newer technologies instead of time-tested technologies that have proven safe for decades. There could be safety problems, but the point is, we won’t know until they’re tested in the real world.”

By starting preparations for the new round of fuel-efficiency standards now, President Obama ensures that the new standards will be implemented before his second term ends — but also that we won’t have time to assess the possible downsides of new efficiency measures. The rush to implement new rules seems to have less to do with sound policy and more to do with cramming through a political agenda.

— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow for the Independent Women’s Forum.

The Federal Government Makes $100 Billion a Year in Improper Welfare Payments



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How much money does the federal government send to the wrong recipients? In 2012, over $100 billion. My colleague Jason Fichtner and I produced this chart, which shows the amount and rates of improper payments from federal transfer programs, using the data from the Office of Management and Budget’s “High-Error Programs Report.”

(You can find the data and the analysis for this chart here.)

Medicare fee-for-service, Medicare Advantage, and Medicaid top the chart and combine for $61.9 billion in improper spending, which should surprise no one given their sheer size. But their relatively high rates of errors should especially worry us as the federal government is expanding its reach into the health-care market — does anyone think the Affordable Care Act will be any different from other federal health programs?

Interestingly, though Medicare fee-for-service is the biggest drain in absolute terms — wasting nearly $30 billion in 2012 — it’s far from the worst offender on a dollar-for-dollar basis. The Earned Income Tax Credit is responsible for $12.6 billion in improper payments, almost a quarter of what the program spent in 2012. Pell Grants have the lowest amount of improper payments as a share of program spending, at just 2.5 percent, but the program still manages to waste $800 million a year.

This isn’t new, of course – OMB and GAO have been reporting this numbers for years. But it’s still astonishing that people tolerate such high levels of improper payments. The reality is that federal spending has grown too massive to be adequately overseen, and the resultant waste, fraud, and abuse squanders public resources and undermines trust in government.

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