Amazingly, despite only Democrats writing and voting for Obamacare, it is not their fault when things go wrong: blaming insurance companies for co-op problems

The health insurance co-ops look like they are turning into a financial disaster.  If you believe the Democrats spin, the problems are the fault of insurance companies and "Congress."  From the Washington Post:
. . . While the debut of the Affordable Care Act this month has been marred by widespread computer problems, the difficulties the co-ops face have been less obvious to consumers. One co-op, however, has closed, another is struggling, and at least nine more have been projected to have financial problems, according to internal government reviews and a federal audit. 
Their failure would leave taxpayers potentially on the hook for nearly $1 billion in defaulted loans and rob the marketplace of the kind of competition they were supposed to create. And if they become insolvent, policyholders in at least half the states where the co-ops operate could be stuck with medical bills. 
Although the co-op plan originated in the Senate, resistance to the initial proposal quickly materialized on Capitol Hill, in part because of pressure from insurance industry lobbyists. 
So Congress saddled its new creations with onerous restrictions that, experts say, doomed many co-ops to failure. . . .
But Democrats completely controlled congress, they are the ones who wrote up the bill (in particular, the Democrats in the Senate), and Democrats in both houses of congress provided all the votes.  For Democrats, non-profit co-ops were a compromise that they reached among themselves because of some opposition to a public option.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has rejected a Senate proposal floated in recent days to create privately-run healthcare cooperatives in place of government-run insurance plans.  . . . 
Democrats such as Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Tom Carper (Del.) and Maria Cantwell (Wash.) have been reluctant to sign onto a robust government-run insurance plan, which liberals favor. . . . 
Co-ops would not be controlled by the government but would compete with private, for-profit health plans.  
Although the proposal has gained momentum in the Senate in recent days, Pelosi dismissed the idea as a possible substitute for government-managed healthcare. . . .


Debate on CNN with the head of the Brady Campaign about gun sales online

"CNN asks two gun sales experts about social media site Instagram permitting firearm sales online."

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Yet another error in CBS's Elementary, a smart guy who keeps making inaccurate liberal claims about crime

I have watched a few episodes of CBS's Elementary.  I love crime stories and I have long been a fan of anything even vaguely related to Sherlock Holmes.  But for someone reportedly as insightful as "Sherlock Holmes," this current resurrection of the show in modern day New York City sure makes a lot of silly factual mistakes.  Take this last week's episode entitled "Ancient History."  At about 10:28 in to the show, "Holmes" makes this comment:
"Let's begin with two givens.  Firstly, 76 percent of all murder victims know their assailant.  We, as a species, tend to be killed by those closest to us: our friends, our spouses, business associates."
While it is true that most murders are classified as murders by acquaintances, most people, including apparently "Mr. Holmes," don't have a clue what the term means.  For example, most "acquaintances" are members of rival gangs.  Acquaintances also involve people who have perceived financial relations.  If a cab driver picks up a fare and then the fare kills the cab driver, that is classified as an acquaintance murder.  But if a person comes up to the side of the cab and murders the cab driver, that would be classified as a stranger murder. These are hardly the friends, spouses, and business associates that Holmes refers to.

Gun control advocates misleadingly use this claim to make people afraid of having a gun in the home.  They want to make it seem that people can suddenly lose their temper and if a gun is owned in the home, it will be then used to kill someone.  Of course, the problem with this argument is that about 90 percent of adult murderers have an adult violent criminal record.  There are many other clearly identifiable characteristics for these individuals, and they are simply not your typical citizen.

Of course, Elementary is regularly attacking free marketers and businessmen.  In the episode "We are everyone" (Season 2, episode 3), "Holmes" rejects Ayn Rand as the "philosopher-in-chief to the intellectually bankrupt" (at about 7:24 into the show) and of course the killer leaves the clue: a well read copy of The Fountainhead by Rand.  In the episode entitled "Rat Race" (Season 1, episode 4), "Holmes" blames greedy bankers, not government regulation in the least, for the recent financial crisis.


California Homeowner uses gun to stop home robbery, one of robbers charge in other robber's death

From rural Earlville, California:
Armed intruders were going to shake down the homeowner for cash. 
But the plan went awry and Joel Contreras, the former Earlville homeowner, greeted his intruders with a gun of his own. He shot and killed intruder Raymond Maldonado of Turlock, Calif. 
And in the end, it was fellow intruder Marcus Samarripa who answered for Maldonado’s death. Samarripa never fired a shot — indeed, may have never even handled a firearm — but nonetheless was convicted of felony murder. Friday, he was sentenced to 27 years in prison. 
“I’m really sorry for everything that happened,” a tearful Samarripa told his sentencing judge, “and I’m ready to embark on a journey for a better life.”
Samarripa, 25, of Turlock, Calif., initially was charged with home invasion but prosecutors, after reviewing the case, decided he was the one culpable for his friend’s death. Whereas Contreras was defending his home and had lawful grounds for shooting Maldonado, Samarripa was committing a forcible offense and therefore bore responsibility for any death that followed. . . .



So how can they ban AR-15s when there are programs to teach people how to build them from scratch?

I was amazed how many different guides are easily available on how to make AR-15s from scratch.  So if people can build AR-15s in their home, how stop someone who is seriously interested in getting one from doing so?

Of course, if you aren't interested in building an AR-15, how about an AK-47?  




More fallout from Obama's regulations: Another company kills its internship program

Just a refresher about what Obama did to help young people:
In 2010 his Department of Labor came down hard on unpaid internships – the gigs that can help a young person get her foot in the door and learn about a company or an industry. The view was that kids were being exploited by greedy corporations, who were hiring interns to save money on regular employees. Because this White House can’t imagine a problem that a good dose of regulation won’t fix, the DOL set out new rules governing unpaid internships. 
The DOL mandated that the employer must derive no immediate advantage from the intern’s activities and that the opportunity will be strictly for the benefit of the intern.   They also demanded that the experience be given in an “educational environment,” that the intern must not displace regular employees, that the worker is not automatically hired and that both parties understand that no wages will be paid. It’s hard to imagine a set of rules more likely to shut down these opportunities. . . .
"Derive no immediate advantage"?  Doesn't the Obama administration realize that the students benefit from the training (no one forced them to work for free) and the students might also value seeing what they are doing put to use while they are they?  The claim was that it would be great to make sure that people got paid for their work.  But what a lot of young people have found is that they no longer have jobs.  From the Wall Street Journal:
Magazine publisher Condé Nast, fighting allegations by former interns that they were paid less than $1 an hour for tasks such as proofreading articles and organizing jewelry, is ending its internship program, a company spokeswoman said Wednesday. 
In June, Lauren Ballinger and Matthew Leib, former interns at W Magazine and the New Yorker, respectively, sued the publisher in Federal District Court in Manhattan, alleging that it violated federal and state labor laws. They plan to ask a judge to give their lawsuit class-action status on behalf of Condé Nast interns. 
Mr. Leib alleged that the New Yorker paid him well below minimum wage—in stipends of $300 to $500—for each of the two summers he had worked at the prestigious weekly, where he reviewed and proofread articles. Ms. Ballinger alleged in the complaint that she was paid $12 a day for shifts of 12 hours or more at the fashion magazine. . . . 


Should we really be concerned about the violent crime rate suddenly soaring in the US? Probably not.

If you listen to the Associated Press, it surely sounds as if violent crime has suddenly increased in the US over the last two years.  From the AP:
The government says the rate of violent crime in America went up 15 percent last year and the property crime rate rose 12 percent, signals that the nation may be seeing the last of the substantial declines in crime of the past 20 years. 
Last year marked the second year in a row for increases in the crime victimization survey, a report that is based on household interviews. . . .

The thing to remember here is that the NCVS is a survey.  It is useful in the sense that not all crimes are reported to police, but it is still a survey (even if a very large one).  What the above figure indicates is that the recent increase in serious violent crime (rape, robbery and aggravated assault) as measure by the NCVS is a lot more variable over time.  The increase over the last few years may simply be because the previous drop was "too large."  You might get a survey that shows that there were fewer crimes than they actually were in one year (or even a couple of years).  But over time those errors will likely balance out.    Bottom line is that the decline is probably much closer to the smoother line shown by the FBI UCR data (the red line).  A somewhat similar pattern is also seen with property crimes.

The murder rate data is undoubtedly the most accurate data and it shows a general decline in recent years (though obviously the other crime categories don't need to have moved in lockstep with murder rates).


So why does the Obama administration think that they can effectively threaten a journalist's job if the journalist says anything critical?

From Mediaite:
On Wednesday morning, CNN Newsroom anchor Carol Costello made a rather stunning, if cryptic, revelation. In discussing the firing of national security official Jofi Joseph, Costello agreed with panelist Jason Johnson that the Obama administration can be thin-skinned, and said that “President Obama’s people can be quite nasty. They don’t like you to say anything bad about their boss, and they’re not afraid to use whatever means they have at hand to stop you from doing that, including threatening your job.” . . . 
Another similar comment was made by Bob Beckel, who ran Walter Mondale's 1984 campaign:
The Five co-host Bob Beckel revealed this week that after he spoke out in favor of delaying Obamacare, he received a call from someone connected to the White House who “absolutely bludgeoned” him over the phone for daring to suggest a delay to the health care law. . . . 

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Debate this Friday evening at UC Berkeley on gun control

The Facebook page for this forum is available here.   Here is a debate that Rakove had with Eugene Volokh, and I think that Volokh was much more precise.


Are racial tensions getting worse? How often were these types of attacks by blacks on whites occurring before Obama?

There have been a number of black attacks on whites in revenge for the Zimmerman case (see here, here, and here).  Is this the ultimate evidence of Obama's strategy to divide people?  This new shocking case is from the New York Daily News:
A group of 10 black youths — one of them a 12-year-old girl — surrounded a white couple's car in Brooklyn, viciously beating the husband and yanking the wife to the pavement by her hair as they peppered the two with racial slurs, authorities said.
“Get those crackers!” some of them screamed, according to court papers. “Get that white whore!” 
The confrontation erupted about 7 p.m. Monday, as the marauding group crossed Avenue U at E. 58th St. near Kings Plaza Shopping Center in Mill Basin. 
Ronald Russo, 30, and his wife, Alanna, apparently had the green light and the husband honked at the group to get out of the way. The rowdy kids started kicking the car, according to the criminal complaint. Ronald Russo got out to check on potential damage to his vehicle. . . . 
Ronald Russo was dragged to the ground. Then he was punched and kicked in the head. He felt more blows all over his body, investigators said. He suffered a fractured nose, a broken septum, a blood clot and abrasions to his shoulder. He was treated and released from Beth Israel Medical Center. 
In the midst of the attack, there was a steady chorus of epithets. “White motherf-----!” screamed the attackers, who ranged in age from 12 to 18. 
Alanna Russo, 30, was calling 911 when the 12-year-old girl pulled the woman’s hair and threw her to the ground. The victim’s head slammed into the concrete. She suffered a black eye, bleeding and difficulty breathing, prosecutors said, but she refused medical attention. . . . .

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More trouble for Obama in not following the Obamacare law?

From the UK Daily Mail:
A federal judge on Tuesday refused to dismiss a case that could fatally cripple the Obamacare health insurance law. 
The Affordable Care Act forbids the federal government from enforcing the law in any state that opted out of setting up its own health care exchange, according to a group of small businesses whose lawsuit got a key hearing Monday in federal court. 
The Obama administration, according to their lawsuit, has ignored that language in the law, enforcing all of its provisions even in states where the federal government is operating the insurance marketplaces on the error-plagued Healthcare.gov website. 
Thirty-six states chose not to set up their exchanges, a move that effectively froze Washington, D.C. out of the authority to pay subsidies and other pot-sweeteners to convince citizens in those states to buy medical insurance. 
But the IRS overstepped its authority by paying subsidies in those states anyway, say the businesses and their lawyers. . . .


Obama administration pressing insurance companies not to release exchange signup numbers

There has already been plenty of news regarding Obama administration pressure on companies.  Previously they were pressuring companies not to talk about the data errors in the system.  Now comes word of more pressure on companies not to release the number of people signing up for the program.  From INFORUM:
The Obama administration asked North Dakota’s largest health insurer not to publicize how many people have signed up for health insurance through a new online exchange, a company official says. 
During a Monday forum in Fargo for people interested in signing up for coverage via the exchange, James Nichol of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota told the crowd his company received the request from the federal government earlier Monday. Nichol is a consumer sales manager for the company. 
Still, a spokeswoman from Blue Cross Blue Shield says about 14 North Dakotans have signed up for coverage since the federal exchange went live Oct. 1. That brings total statewide enrollment to 20 – less than one a day. . . . 
An official from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, one of the main the federal agencies handling the federal marketplace, would not directly address questions about the request made of Blue Cross Blue Shield, including whether other insurers were also asked to keep quiet about enrollment. . . .

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Bloomberg keeps weighing in heavily for Democrats

Right now there is a case before the Supreme Court on whether the government can limit total donations that someone makes to federal political candidates.  The limit on the amount given to any one candidate has been upheld previously, but can the government also limit the total amount that you can give to all candidates at $25,000, thus limiting the number of candidates that you can help?  

Well, for Bloomberg these limits are already meaningless because he just goes in and buys million dollar ad campaigns himself.  He did it for Cory Booker a couple of weeks ago and now he is spending $1.1 million on ads for Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia governors race.  Most of people who want to give over $25,000 to candidates during an election cycle at about $2,500 per candidate per race can't put together their own ad campaign.  Bloomberg is doing these donations big time to push candidates who support gun control.  This seems like a case where the current campaign finance regulations let very wealthy people such as Bloomberg play by a different set of rules from everyone else.

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Absentee ballots and vote fraud in Florida, this provides a real example of the danger of absentee ballots

From WSVN TV Channel 7 (Miami/Ft. Lauderdale):
A South Florida congressman's former chief of staff received hugs and kisses from crying family members as he begins his first of 90 days behind bars. 
Jeffrey Garcia surrendered himself in court, Monday, after pleading guilty to illegally requesting hundreds of absentee ballots on behalf of voters during the 2012 election. "It's not about pure intent, it's whether there was attempt to steal somebody's vote, and they definitely did not do that, and there was no such intent," said Garcia's attorney, Henry Bell. 
In all, Garcia pled guilty to one felony charge and three misdemeanors. Garcia could have faced up to eight years in prison. "He only said that he never intended and never did," said Bell. "I think the facts show he actually didn't manipulate anybody's vote, interfere with anybody's ballot. All they did was request the ballots. The way they did it was in violation of the applicable statutes, and that's it." . . .
Apparently this isn't the first time that some Democrats thought that this was a good idea.    Control of the Pennsylvania state Senate actually once changed because of vote fraud involving absentee ballots.  From the New York Times in 1994:
Saying Philadelphia's election system had collapsed under "a massive scheme" by Democrats to steal a State Senate election in November, a Federal judge today took the rare step of invalidating the vote and ordered the seat filled by the Republican candidate. 
In making such a sweeping move, the judge, Clarence C. Newcomer of Federal District Court here, did for the Republicans what the election had not: enable them to regain control of the State Senate, which they lost two years ago. 
Judge Newcomer ruled that the Democratic campaign of William G. Stinson had stolen the election from Bruce S. Marks in North Philadelphia's Second Senatorial District through an elaborate fraud in which hundreds of residents were encouraged to vote by absentee ballot even though they had no legal reason -- like a physical disability or a scheduled trip outside the city -- to do so. 
. . .  Democratic campaign workers forged absentee ballots. On many of the ballots, they used the names of people who were living in Puerto Rico or serving time in prison, and in one case, the voter had been dead for some time. 
"Substantial evidence was presented establishing massive absentee ballot fraud, deception, intimidation, harassment and forgery," Judge Newcomer wrote in a decision made public today. . . .



States with Federally Run Healthcare Exchanges face much larger increases in insurance premiums, 27 year olds face a 50.5 percentage point greater increase

I ran a couple simple regressions to see whether insurance premiums are rising faster under state or federally run Obamacare exchanges.  Fourteen states and the District of Columbia are running their own exchanges.  Eight states are running their exchanges jointly with the Federal government.  Twenty-eight states are letting the Federal government run their exchanges.  The results show that states where the federal government ran the exchanges had a 50.5 percentage point greater increase in insurance premiums for those age 27 than those where the state ran the system and a great 30.7 percentage point increase in premiums for those age 50.  States where the exchanges were jointly run fell in the middle.

To put it differently, it looks as if Obamacare is increasing insurance premiums more in so-called Red states than Blue ones.

Back in July, some supporters of Obamacare were predicting the opposite would happen, though no real explanation seems to have been offered.  

One possibility is that the states that have fought hardest against Obamacare and didn't want the federal exchanges also had the least regulations on health insurance.  Thus, Obamacare's regulations, not the federal exchanges themselves may have been responsible for the much larger increase in premiums.  To test this, I looked at data on on state insurance mandates in 2009 from Ben Zycher and other info rating state level regulations in 2006 from the Heritage Foundation.  

Zycher provides the number of mandates on private insurance by state.  If the different levels of states regulations can explain the large increase in insurance premiums in states with federally run exchanges, including these measures of state regulations should reduce the size of the coefficient for federally run exchanges.  In fact, when these measures are includedif anything, the coefficients for federally run exchanges increase: by either 4.3 or 6.2 percentage points.  

Heritage used a variable for whether the number of Mandated Benefits were greater than 26 in 2006, but that seems arbitrary.  But, with the more recent data from Zycher, I am not going to use his data from 2009.  Heritage also broke the regulations down into three additional categories: Health plan liability (laws create a cause of action against health plans and their employers for damages for harm done to enrollees under assorted liability theories), Direct-access-to-specialists (laws allow subscribers to go directly to a specialist without prior referral from the health care plan primary physician), and Provider due process (laws interfere with a health plan's ability to contract selectively with a provider).

Again, this rejects the notion that existing regulations can explain these results.  The coefficients here show an increase for federally run exchanges: by either 8.2 or 11 percentage points.
Some think that the federally run exchanges were particularly tough on these red states.  Todd Tiahrt, a former Republican Congressman from Kansas, told CNN:
"There was a significant rise in regulations placed on healthcare, which drove the cost of providing healthcare in Kansas up," said Todd Tiahrt, a former Republican Congressman from Kansas. "I think that was the most significant reason, that's why they departed. They felt like they were in a position where it was not profitable to do business in Kansas. So it limited our choices for healthcare providers," Tiahrt said. . . .
BTW, ignoring these increase in premiums, I loved this quote from Obama on Monday:
So here’s the bottom line.  The product, the health insurance is good.  The prices are good.  It is a good deal.  People don’t just want it; they’re showing up to buy it. . . .
The data for the increase in premiums and whether states and/or the federal government are running the exchanges is available in these two slides below.  The average increase for 27 year olds under Obamacare was 62.5 percent.



New piece at Politico: The dumbing down of America's judges

My piece at Politico starts this way:
Think that attending a top university and graduating at the top of the class is the key to your success? Not if you’re headed for a federal judgeship. In fact, today the most accomplished candidates for the bench are the most likely to be rejected. And this phenomenon has only gotten worse with the quality of America’s judges in marked decline. 
The evidence of so-called dumbing down is striking: Tracking federal judge appointments over the past four decades, I found that graduates of one of U.S. News and World Report’s top 10 law schools who also served on their school’s law review had a 30 percent lower confirmation rate than their peers who neither went to top law schools nor did particularly well. Looking at all the nominations from the Jimmy Carter through George W. Bush administrations, I also found that confirmation took about 65 percent longer for the first group — and 158 percent longer for students at top law schools who distinguished themselves further by getting clerkships on circuit courts and then the Supreme Court. On top of that, a federal judge whose opinions were cited 20 percent more often than their peers faced roughly a 60 percent longer confirmation process. 
So why are America’s best and brightest lawyers having such a hard time getting to the bench? A helpful analogy is jury selection. A few years ago, Greg Mankiw, chairman of Harvard University’s economics department, was called for jury duty. . . . .

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Appearance on C-SPAN to talk about "Dumbing Down the Courts," applying economics to understanding judicial confirmations

The video that runs about an hour is available here.  The C-SPAN intro is not completely accurate so you might want to skip the first 30 seconds.  I would have rewritten it as this:
John Lott talked about his book, Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench, in which he argues that partisan politicians don’t like to confirm smart judges from the other political party because they’re afraid that smart judges have the ability to influence other judges.   In his book, he says that judges who graduated in the top 10 percent of their law classes have much longer confirmation processes than judges who don’t. He spoke at an event hosted by the Orange County Federalist Society.

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Some of the benefits from warmer temperatures

Temperatures have been rising since the end of the little ice age in 1850.  Professor Richard Tol of Sussex University has a new study:
The chief benefits of global warming include: fewer winter deaths; lower energy costs; better agricultural yields; probably fewer droughts; maybe richer biodiversity. It is a little-known fact that winter deaths exceed summer deaths — not just in countries like Britain but also those with very warm summers, including Greece. Both Britain and Greece see mortality rates rise by 18 per cent each winter. Especially cold winters cause a rise in heart failures far greater than the rise in deaths during heatwaves. 
Cold, not the heat, is the biggest killer. For the last decade, Brits have been dying from the cold at the average rate of 29,000 excess deaths each winter. Compare this to the heatwave ten years ago, which claimed 15,000 lives in France and just 2,000 in Britain. In the ten years since, there has been no summer death spike at all. Excess winter deaths hit the poor harder than the rich for the obvious reason: they cannot afford heating. And it is not just those at risk who benefit from moderate warming. Global warming has so far cut heating bills more than it has raised cooling bills. If it resumes after its current 17-year hiatus, and if the energy efficiency of our homes improves, then at some point the cost of cooling probably will exceed the cost of heating — probably from about 2035, Prof Tol estimates. 
The greatest benefit from climate change comes not from temperature change but from carbon dioxide itself. It is not pollution, but the raw material from which plants make carbohydrates and thence proteins and fats. As it is an extremely rare trace gas in the air — less than 0.04 per cent of the air on average — plants struggle to absorb enough of it. On a windless, sunny day, a field of corn can suck half the carbon dioxide out of the air. Commercial greenhouse operators therefore pump carbon dioxide into their greenhouses to raise plant growth rates. . . . 

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Warning about how homicides (and crime generally) are measured differently in England and Wales versus the US

A real problem is that homicides in England and Wales are not counted the same as in other countries.  Most strikingly, their homicide numbers "exclude any cases which do not result in conviction, or where the person is not prosecuted on grounds of self defence or otherwise" (Report to Parliament).  The problem isn't just that it reduces the recorded homicide rate in England and Wales, but what would a similar reduction mean for the US?

If taken literally, a simple comparison can be made.  In 2012, the US murder rate was 4.7 per 100,000, a total of 14,827.  Arrests amounted to only 7,133.  Using only people who were arrested (not just convicted) would lower the US murder rate to 2.26 per 100,000.  If about 2/3rds of those arrested are convicted, that would lower the rate to about 1.5 per 100,000.  In 2011, the England and Wales had a homicide rate of about 1.15 per 100,000 (see also here).  (Note there have recently been some serious allegations that British police have been ordered to hide reported crimes, though I am not sure how they could bias the homicide rate.)

To compare conviction rates in the US and England and Wales, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has some numbers here (other related information is available here), though I have continually warned that purely cross-sectional comparisons are not very useful.  But these low conviction rates in England and Wales (555 per 1,000 cases in 1995) are quite inconsistent with the claimed 12 to 15 percent reduction.  If it were taken literally, there should be a 44.5 percent drop in cases as a result of "exclude any cases which do not result in conviction."

Yet, I see other discussions that are somewhat less clear.  Here is another report from the House of Commons that was released in 1999 (it also contains data on how much this adjustment changes the counted number of homicides in England and Wales).

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