Archive for February, 2014
February 28th, 2014 at 2:37 pm
Michelle Obama: New Food Labels Will Help Counteract the Fact That America’s Moms are Morons
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As a veteran of a speechwriting shop or two, I’m amazed that no one in First Lady Michelle Obama’s office thought to reel in the remarks that she made yesterday about the new FDA nutritional labeling guidelines that I blogged about yesterday. Here’s how the First Lady described the hellish odyssey of a mother in the supermarket under the current regime:

So there you stood, alone in some aisle in a store, the clock ticking away at the precious little time remaining to complete your weekly grocery shopping, and all you could do was scratch your head, confused and bewildered, and wonder, is there too much sugar in this product? Is 50 percent of the daily allowance of riboflavin a good thing or a bad thing? And how on Earth could this teeny little package contain five whole servings?

This stream of questions and worries running through your head when all you really wanted to know was, should I be eating this or not? Is this good for my kids or not? And if it is healthy, how much of it should I be eating? But unless you had a thesaurus, a calculator, a microscope, or a degree in nutrition, you were out of luck. So you felt defeated, and you just gave up and went back to buying the same stuff you always buy.

I’m not sure who these mothers are who find themselves overmatched by the grocery store, but it seems to me they probably need more help than just better labels on food. For the rest of us — all of whom seem capable of acquiring foodstuffs without an epistemic shutdown — this remains a $2 billion exercise in irrelevancy.

February 28th, 2014 at 10:11 am
Video – Comcast-Time Warner Merger: Antitrust Hysteria
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In this week’s Freedom Minute, CFIF’s Renee Giachino discusses the irrational antitrust hysteria by critics of Comcast’s proposed purchase of Time Warner Cable and explains why their concerns are baseless in fact and reality.

February 27th, 2014 at 7:09 pm
Obama Administration Forcing Food Companies to Spend $2 Billion to Change Fonts
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Following on Ashton’s post below, there’s yet another Obama Administration initiative that will reach deep into the pockets of the food industry.

As Politico notes, the FDA is overhauling the labeling requirements for nutritional information on consumer products. The new labeling requirements will more conspicuously display calorie counts, change the definitions of serving sizes, and mandate the description of added sugars. Unsuprisingly, this push is being spearheaded by the First Lady’s office (which invites the question of who empowered Mrs. Obama to do anything in the lawmaking department).

There’s certainly some limited utility to this nutritional information, though I imagine it probably would have emerged (albeit perhaps in a slower fashion) from market demand as Americans became increasingly diet conscious. That said, these changes are incredibly minor. Here, courtesy of Politico, is what the current labels look like by comparison with the new ones:

Current Label

Current Label

Proposed Label

Proposed Label

Now, you may be thinking “What’s the harm?” And that’d be a reasonable response if this was a cost-free exercise. According to the FDA, however the cost to the food industry to make this change will run around $2 billion. That, by the way, is enough to finance about 150,000 lap band surgeries.

It says something remarkable about the Obama Administration’s failure to engage in even the most basic cost/benefit analysis that that would be a less crazy way to tackle this supposed problem.

February 26th, 2014 at 5:29 pm
ObamaCare Menu Regulations Could Decrease Food Options

“Tucked deep in the Affordable Care Act is language requiring all restaurants with at least 20 locations to list nutritional information alongside each and every item on the menu,” writes Peter Doocy at Fox News.

The purpose is to inform customers about the nutritional value of a menu item before ordering.

This regulation hits made-to-order eateries particularly hard, since in practice the restaurant would have to provide customers with things like calorie counts on-the-fly – a nearly impossible task for places like Domino’s where up to “34 million different pizza combinations [are] available at the chain, when all crusts and cheeses and toppings are factored in.”

To make matters worse, the cost of compliance will fall on franchisees; i.e., the small business owners most at risk under the new regulation.

Domino’s and other groups are pushing for a solution that would deem restaurant owners compliant if they provide the nutritional information online or through an app.

But if that fails, it’s easy to see eateries cutting back on menu options and clamping down on substitutions. “Have-it-your-way” may soon become “Talk to the FDA.”

If the proposed nutritional rule goes into effect as-is, Americans can add food to the growing number of health-related choices – including doctors, hospitals and insurance plans – that are being reduced thanks to Obamacare.

February 25th, 2014 at 11:47 am
Homeland Security Hearing Should Emphasize Intellectual Property Protections and Stopping Piracy
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At 10:00 a.m. tomorrow, the House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing with new U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson entitled “The Secretary’s Vision for the Future – Challenges and Priorities.”  The hearing provides a perfect opportunity for Chairman Michael McCaul (R – Texas) and his committee to emphasize America’s commitment to Intellectual Property (IP) protections, and to ensure that combating IP theft – both the anti-counterfeiting operations and efforts to stop online IP piracy – remain on the front burner.

Correctly and justifiably, many divisions and agencies within the Department focus on national security, but it would also be useful for the Committee members to discuss others that have a role in our economic well-being.  A large and diverse coalition of businesses recently came together to write Secretary Johnson, stressing upon him the importance of protecting American ingenuity and our competitive edge by reinforcing the need for strong enforcement of IP.  American companies continue to create the world’s most innovative goods and products, and fully two-thirds of all U.S. exports come from industries that depend on the recognition of strong IP rights.

Unfortunately, whenever creators succeed in building brands that consumers come to trust, there will in turn be nefarious characters who seek ill-gotten profit from someone else’s good name and hard work.  Fake consumer products, medicines, apparel and other goods can be found online, and unsuspecting shoppers end up with inferior, even dangerous products from unknown sources both domestic and abroad.  Consequently, absent significant effort by U. S. enforcement agencies, those knock-off goods can end up in hurting both the purchaser and the company unfairly being copied.  Whether manifested by state-sponsored theft of U.S. military technology, Eastern-bloc crime bosses using revenue of fake goods to fund their syndicates or simply domestic swindlers trying to scam consumers, U. S. policy makers and officials need to do what it takes to stop the bad guys to help ensure fair play as well as our safety.

Emphasizing that point at tomorrow’s hearing will provide an important step in that path.

February 24th, 2014 at 2:23 pm
After ObamaCare: More Insurance, Less Health?

Pay now or pay later.

That’s the choice facing millions of Americans required by Obamacare’s individual mandate to select a health insurance plan through a state or federal exchange.

Insurance companies like Aetna, Humana and Blue Cross and Blue Shield who are participating on various exchanges report that the most popular choices among consumers are middle-of-the-road “silver” plans that typically offer moderate premiums but high deductibles and coinsurance.

Deductibles require policyholders to pay all of the cost for medical care up to  a certain threshold before the insurance company assumes responsibility, while coinsurance commits the policyholder to paying a certain percentage for the cost of medication. (Co-pays, on the other hand, are capped at a flat amount.)

The increased costs are likely to reduce the number of doctor and hospital visits as consumers become choosier. “When deductibles and co-payments are high, patients tend to think twice about their health care purchases, making them more likely to shop around for the best deal,” says health policy expert Bruce Japsen.

Indeed, basic economic theory teaches that knowing the price of something impacts a person’s behavior significantly. But while this may help people who would otherwise overuse health care to scale back, it can – and most likely will – have the effect of convincing people to underuse necessary treatment options for fear of the cost. Thus, we could end up with more people covered by health insurance but a more unhealthful population.

One of the key policy battles on the horizon is how to harness this new transparency in health care prices. Liberals will likely want to subsidize health care until they can socialize the entire industry. Conservatives will be predisposed to favor a market-based solution. But simply repealing Obamacare and its disastrous tax on medical devices, among others, and saying “let the market figure it out” won’t be enough – especially in a campaign context.

Some conservatives may favor working within the system to incent both consumers and health care companies to better align need and cost. Others may prefer to explore deregulating parts of the industry, such as allowing physician assistants and qualified nurses to do more of the work of a doctor while still under supervision (perhaps remotely via technology). These and other ideas need to be deliberated on intensely now so that conservatives aren’t caught off-guard when the electorate is ready for an Obamacare alternative. If not, we’ll all pay dearly for lacking a consensus at the moment we need it most.

February 21st, 2014 at 5:24 pm
Contra Sebelius, ObamaCare Already Killed at Least 33,000 Jobs

“There is absolutely no evidence – and every economist will tell you this – that there is any job loss related to the Affordable Care Act [i.e. Obamacare],” Kathleen Sebelius said earlier this week.

The Health and Human Services Secretary was responding in part to a report by the Congressional Budget Office estimating that President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy will result in 2.5 million job losses by 2024.

The only explanation that renders Sebelius’ statement (barely) plausible is her phrasing in the present tense: “no evidence… that there is any job loss related to” Obamacare. Sebelius is talking about the present, while the economists at the CBO are projecting into the future.

But even this generous reading won’t survive the fact that Obamacare has already killed 33,000 jobs in the medical device industry, according to the Advanced Medical Technology Association.

Thanks to a 2.3 percent excise tax on each medical device sold since January 2013, industry members report shedding 14,000 jobs, with an additional 19,000 openings left vacant.

The biggest losers were research and development branches, and manufacturing. Regarding the latter, 10 percent of companies surveyed said they moved their plants overseas.

These numbers show just how democratic is Obamacare’s impact on jobs. R&D positions are some of the highest paid in a firm, while manufacturing jobs can range from low- to middle-income.

On the bright side, to date the medical device tax has netted the federal government a cool $3.8 billion, so at least Secretary Sebelius has some extra money to funnel through Medicaid and Obamacare exchange subsidies.

Somehow though, decreasing the number of jobs and increasing the amount of tax revenue doesn’t seem like a long-term formula for success.

Maybe an economist should tell Madame Secretary.

February 21st, 2014 at 11:09 am
CFIF TechNotes
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The tech policy arena in recent days has understandably been dominated by two issues in the news – the proposed Comcast/Time-Warner Cable merger and the refusal of Net “Neutrality” proponents to allow that pernicious campaign to finally die a justified death.

Regarding the Comcast/Time-Warner  Cable merger, the Heritage Foundation’s James Gattuso offers one of the better primers.  He rightly criticizes the anti-merger hyperbole, and notes that the agreement is actually a sign of increased competition, not diminishing competition:

To begin with, these companies do not compete with each other.  Comcast and Time-Warner Cable (not to be confused with Time-Warner, the media firm from which TWC was hived off in 2009) operate in geographically distinct cable TV franchises around the country.  They do not overlap.

Moreover, while they are the largest and second-largest cable TV firms nationally, that metric is largely meaningless.  The paid television marketplace includes many other competitors, ranging from telecommunications firms such as Verizon and AT&T to satellite providers such as DIRECTV, to a growing band of Internet TV providers such as Netflix and Apple TV.  It’s a diverse marketplace, in which Comcast and TWC together serve barely 30 percent of subscribers. (In fact, Comcast has pledged to divest cable systems to keep the share below that figure). “

The Wall Street Journal provided the same reassurance, confirming that “a merged Comcast and TWC still has plenty of competition”:

[U]nlike the markets for beer, air travel and wireless, cable companies don’t compete with each other.  They have local franchises and compete against telephone, wireless and satellite companies.  So there’s no market overlap between systems owned by Comcast and those of Time Warner Cable.  Comcast, which is dominant in Philadelphia, will get millions of new customers in New York and Los Angeles.  But how can dominance in one geographic region give Comcast new pricing power in a different area?”

And the following day, the  Journal’s Holman Jenkins takes a nice swipe at the toxic un-dead specter of Net “Neutrality” as it relates to the proposed merger:

But standing in the way is the tired concept of ‘net neutrality,’ beloved by regulators and mau-mau groups but never enacted by Congress and frequently questioned by the courts. Yet now, thanks to America’s deranged merger approval process, Time Warner and Comcast risk having just such rules imposed on them (and no one else) as extortion for regulators approving their deal.”

With federal overregulation already exacerbating what has been the most sluggish economic recovery in recorded U.S. history, and with the American public listing big government as the nation’s foremost threat, the bottom line is that bureaucratic interference via Net “Neutrality” or in the private proposed merger of Comcast and Time-Warner remains a bad idea.

On a different and more optimistic note to end the week, however, Notre Dame philosophy professor Don Howard and the Manhattan Institute’s Mark Mills anticipate the upcoming arrival of self-driving automobiles, so long as overactive government regulators referenced above don’t spoil the party:

The self-driving-car solution is clear.  Congress should pre-empt Nhtsa and the trial lawyers and pass a National Autonomous Vehicle Injury Act.  The Fords and Nissans and Googles and Qualcomms should voluntarily create an Autonomous Vehicle Event Reporting System.  And industry players should also create a National Autonomous Vehicle Compensation System.  (Vaccine compensation is funded with a de minimis tax on each dose.)  Last November, Nhtsa Administrator David Strickland told Congress that ‘in addition to the devastation” that “crashes cause to families, the economic costs to society reach into the hundreds of billions of dollars.  Automated vehicles can potentially help reduce these numbers significantly.’

That potential has already been realized, whether regulators understand it or not.  If the human toll from highway accidents were a disease and we knew there was a cure, it would be immoral not to marshal every corner of government and industry to deploy it.”

So allow the private sector to move forward, whether through voluntary mergers or technological innovation, beyond the interference of overzealous government regulators.  What a novel concept.

February 21st, 2014 at 11:00 am
Liberty Update
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Center For Individual Freedom - Liberty Update

This week’s edition of the Liberty Update, CFIF’s weekly e-newsletter, is out. Below is a summary of its contents:

Lee:  Liberal 9th Circuit: Second Amendment Rights not Limited to One’s Home
Senik:  Problems at the Obama Library [Satire]
Ellis:  White House Mulling More ObamaCare Extensions Ahead of Midterms

Podcast:  Is Climate Change Alarmism Actually Harming the Environment?
Jester’s Courtroom:  Fan Mail Leads to Lawsuit

Editorial Cartoons:  Latest Cartoons of Michael Ramirez
Quiz:  Question of the Week
Notable Quotes:  Quotes of the Week

If you are not already signed up to receive CFIF’s Liberty Update by e-mail, sign up here.

February 21st, 2014 at 7:42 am
ObamaCare: Less Choice, Rising Premiums and Broken Promises
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In an interview with CFIF, Abigail MacIver, Florida Director of Policy and External Affairs at Americans for Prosperity, discusses how Americans are losing access to trusted doctors and facing higher premiums and deductibles, and why state lawmakers should be held accountable for ObamaCare.

Listen to the interview here.

February 18th, 2014 at 4:57 pm
New Study: Digital Thieves’ Profits from Ad-Supported Content Theft Reached Quarter-Billion Dollars in 2013
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An alarming new report from the non-profit Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA) calculates for the first time the sheer advertising revenue improperly gathered by online thieves who pirate copyrighted material:  a quarter of a billion dollars in 2013 alone.

These content thieves flagrantly steal others’ artistic creations and offer them on low-cost sites, making for a low-risk/high-reward crime that deprives creators of the fruits of their efforts and imagination.  It’s a large and growing racket, and the advertising revenue at the center of this study is merely one way that online thieves obtain profit.  Content theft sites in many cases also profit from subscription fees that often dwarf ad revenues illicitly obtained (the illegality sometimes unbeknownst to the advertisers).

Among the new study’s findings:

  • Content theft sites reaped an estimated quarter of a billion dollars in ad revenue alone in 2013.
  • The largest content-theft sites in the sample made more than $3 million in ad revenue in 2013
  • The 30 largest sites that make revenue exclusively through ads averaged $4.4 million in 2013.
  • The most heavily trafficked BitTorrent and P2P sites, which rely exclusively on advertising revenue, averaged a projected $6 million per year in 2013.
  • Even the smallest content theft sites were projected to average $100,000 in ad revenue in 2013.
  • 30% of the most heavily trafficked content theft sites carried premium brand advertising and 40% carried secondary brand advertising
  • The sites studied in the sample had a profit-margin of 80-94%.  Content thieves rely on stealing the rights-protected work of others, and distributing on low-cost sites.  It’s a low-risk, high reward business.”

Fortunately, solutions exist.  Legitimate advertisers can boost their existing best practice standards, as the technology used to identify and stop rogue sites already exists.  After all, legitimate companies and brands don’t place ads on pornography or racist/hate websites, and they can similarly increase efforts to ensure that they’re not advertising on thieves’ sites. Although no single, simple, foolproof, immediate solution exists (just as no such solutions exist to any other crime afflicting society), well-meaning and legitimate Internet participants should unite and implement voluntary, reasonable and technologically-feasible efforts to cut into online piracy.

As the new DCA report demonstrates, copyright thieves profit enormously from improper ad revenue.  The harm they inflict, however, stretches far beyond that particular method ill-gotten gain.  The works they steal cost billions to create, and such crimes deprive the innovators who pour their time, resources and hard work into creating them of the rightful rewards for their labor. Hopefully, DCA’s new data can help bring an end to that.

February 18th, 2014 at 10:37 am
Ramirez Cartoon: King Obama
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Below is one of the latest cartoons from two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Ramirez.

View more of Michael Ramirez’s cartoons on CFIF’s website here.

February 17th, 2014 at 6:58 pm
Remembering the Men Behind Presidents Day

Don’t know much about American history?

Blame the federal government.

Back in 1968, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson agreed to move Veterans Day, Memorial Day and George Washington’s birthday to designated Mondays to ensure three-day weekends throughout the year. Since the change would mean that Washington’s birthday (February 22nd) would never be celebrated on the prescribed third Monday of February, the new holiday became known as Presidents Day.

The motivation was primarily economic.

“The three-day weekend was favored by federal workers, private sector labor unions, the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and an array of tourist-related industries and trade associations,” writes Carl Cannon. “It was even pro-family, its backers proclaimed. It was a win-win-win.”

The results were predictable. Today, many people don’t know that we celebrate the living on Veterans Day and the fallen on Memorial Day. Others don’t realize that some presidents – like George “Father of His Country” Washington and Abraham “Savior of His Country” Lincoln (born Feb. 12th) – deserve more attention and appreciation this time of year than their Oval Office brethren.

One way to overcome this misconception in the future is to acquaint one’s self with some of the best works on Washington and Lincoln. Ron Chernow and Richard Brookhiser have well regarded biographies on Washington. Harry Jaffa has two outstanding books on Lincoln.

Reading any of these ahead of next year’s edition of Presidents Day will go a long way toward reclaiming part of what makes America exceptional – Her exceptional leaders.

February 17th, 2014 at 1:22 pm
The IRS Targeting Scandal: Voters Believe More Than “a Smidgen of Corruption”

In an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that aired on Super Bowl Sunday, President Obama declared that there was “not even a smidgen of corruption” with regard to the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups.

The American people are not buying it.

According to a Fox News poll released last week, a whopping 64 percent of registered voters, including a majority of Democrats, think the targeting scandal does suggest corruption at the IRS.  A mere 27 percent don’t view the IRS’s targeting as corrupt.

When questioned about whether Congress should continue to investigate the IRS scandal, an even greater majority says “Yes!”

Majorities of Republicans (83 percent), independents (72 percent) and Democrats (60 percent) agree lawmakers should persist until they ‘feel they know the truth.’

For the poll results, click here.

February 17th, 2014 at 10:47 am
The IRS’ Latest Target: The First Amendment
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In an interview with CFIF, Peter Roff, contributing editor at U.S. News & World Report, discusses the Obama Administration’s use of the IRS to silence its critics by limiting the First Amendment rights of tax exempt groups.

Listen to the interview here.

February 14th, 2014 at 1:12 pm
Video: Dumbing Democracy Down
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In this week’s Freedom Minute, CFIF’s Renee Giachino discusses the disturbing level of civic illiteracy in the United States and offers some advice on what all of us can do to help spread the word about the basic principles of American government and why it makes our country so special.

February 14th, 2014 at 11:15 am
Liberty Update
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Center For Individual Freedom - Liberty Update

This week’s edition of the Liberty Update, CFIF’s weekly e-newsletter, is out. Below is a summary of its contents:

Lee:  IRS, Obama Administration Suffer Unanimous New Legal Defeat
Senik:  On ObamaCare, the President Gives Up

Video:  Dumbing Democracy Down
Podcast:  The IRS’ Latest Target: The First Amendment
Jester’s Courtroom:  A Lawsuit That Really Stinks

Editorial Cartoons:  Latest Cartoons of Michael Ramirez
Quiz:  Question of the Week
Notable Quotes:  Quotes of the Week

If you are not already signed up to receive CFIF’s Liberty Update by e-mail, sign up here.

February 13th, 2014 at 4:55 pm
A Second Amendment Victory in California
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And it comes from the most unlikely of places, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Just over the AP wires from San Francisco:

A divided federal appeals court on Thursday struck down California’s concealed weapons rules, saying they violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

By a 2-1 vote, the three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said California was wrong to require applicants to show good cause to receive a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

“The right to bear arms includes the right to carry an operable firearm outside the home for the lawful purpose of self-defense,” Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain wrote for the majority.

Judge Sidney Thomas dissented, writing that the good cause requirement limited the number of people carrying concealed handguns in public to those legitimately in need.

This represents a massive shift in California, long home to some of the nation’s most restrictive gun control laws.

The Ninth Circuit’s ruling conflicts with those from three other federal appellate courts, which means this issue could eventually make its way to the Supreme Court . For today, anyway, Second Amendment rights are stronger in the Golden State than they have been at any time in recent memory.

February 13th, 2014 at 12:43 pm
Should the Brakes Be Put on Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications?
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In an interview with CFIF, Marc Scribner, Research Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, discusses “talking cars” and the significant challenges that remain to insure that security and privacy issues related to the technology have been addressed. 

Listen to the interview here.

February 13th, 2014 at 11:36 am
Not Even a Smidgen of Corruption
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Below is one of the latest cartoons from two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Ramirez.

View more of Michael Ramirez’s cartoons on CFIF’s website here.