Thursday, July 15, 2010

Are Overdue Reports Concealing ObamaCare Impact On Medicare?
By: Peter Ferrara
July 6, 2010

Every year, the Annual Report of the Social Security Board of Trustees comes out between mid-April and mid-May. Now it's July, and there's no sign of this year's report. What is the Obama administration hiding?

The annual report includes detailed information about Social Security and its financing over the next 75 years, produced by the Office of the Actuary of the Social Security Administration.

The Congressional Budget Office reported last week in its Long Term Budget Outlook that Social Security was already running a deficit this year. According to last year's Social Security Trustees Report, that was not supposed to happen until 2015, with the trust fund to run out completely by 2037.

With the disastrous Obama economy, the great Social Security surplus that started in the Reagan administration is gone completely.

Every year, the federal government has been raiding the Social Security trust funds to take that annual surplus and spend it on the rest of the federal government's runaway spending, leaving the trust funds only with IOUs backed by nothing but politicians' promise to pay it back when it's needed. Now even that annual surplus is gone. How soon will the trust funds run out completely now?

President Obama keeps telling us a fairy tale that he saved us from another Great Depression. But he is actually leading us into another Depression.

The National Bureau of Economic Research scores the recession as officially starting in December 2007. Thirty-one months later, with unemployment still near 10% and the work force still declining, the NBER says it still cannot determine an official end to the recession.

The longest recession since World War II previously was 16 months, with the average being 10 months. By next month, it will be twice as long as the previous postwar record since the latest recession started. The markets echoed by many pundits are now suggesting a renewed double-dip downturn may be starting, with the comprehensive Obama tax rate increases next year poised to pour napalm on this developing bonfire.

How soon will the trust funds run out with this utter failure of 1930s-style Obamanomics?

The implications for Social Security aren't what the Obama administration is hiding by delaying the annual trustees reports. Those annual reports also include information regarding Medicare over the next 75 years. What the administration is trying to hide are sweeping draconian cuts to Medicare resulting from the ObamaCare legislation, which the annual report will document.

The administration is trying to delay the report until mid-August, when it's hoping the country will be on vacation and won't notice. Or maybe the delay is because the White House is trying to bludgeon the chief actuaries for Medicare and Social Security into fudging the numbers.

Those chief actuaries are dedicated, career professionals who have worked their way up the bureaucracy over decades.

During the Reagan administration, the congressional Democrat majorities and the New York Times made clear to us that tampering with the work of the government's career professionals, let alone the career number crunchers, would be grounds for impeachment.

I'm not certain the rule of law applies to this administration, where the Justice Department cites "payback time" as its reason for not prosecuting Black Panther Voting Rights Act violations.

The CBO confessed to $500 billion in Medicare cuts in the first 10 years of Obama-Care alone. Based on those calculations, the minority staff of the Senate Budget Committee estimated the Medicare cuts as $800 billion in the first 10 years of implementation and $2.9 trillion over the first 20 years of ObamaCare. Truthful annual trustees reports would further document these cuts.

These draconian Medicare cuts are primarily how the president got his claims that ObamaCare would reduce the deficit by over $100 billion over the first 10 years, and a trillion dollars over the next 10 years. The cuts involve slashing payments to doctors and hospitals for the medical care they provide to seniors, and decimating the private option Medicare Advantage program that close to one-fourth of seniors have chosen for their coverage because it gives them a better deal.

Such Medicare cuts would create havoc and chaos in health care for seniors. Doctors, hospitals, surgeons and specialists providing critical care to the elderly will shut down and disappear in much of the country, and others would stop serving Medicare patients. If the government is not going to pay, seniors are not going to get the medical treatment they expect.

Yes, Medicare is more than bankrupt over the long run and needs a fundamental overhaul. But the answer is not to tell seniors their guaranteed benefits will not be cut while the government refuses to pay doctors and hospitals for their care.
Nor is it to decimate Medicare Advantage, which instead should be expanded to all of Medicare. Nor is it to trash Medicare and use the money for a whole new entitlement instead, which is what ObamaCare does.

Ferrara is director of entitlement and budget policy for the Institute for Policy Innovation, general counsel of the American Civil Rights Union and a senior policy adviser on health care to the Heartland Institute.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Journalism Needs Government Help

Wall Street Journal
By: Lee Bollinger
July 14, 2010

Media budgets have been decimated as the Internet facilitates a communications revolution. More public funding for news-gathering is the answer.

We have entered a momentous period in the history of the American press. The invention of new communications technologies—especially the Internet—is transforming the human capacity to speak, perhaps as monumentally as the invention of the printing press in the 15th century. This is facilitating the largest and fastest expansion of global economic growth in human history. Free speech and a free press are essential to a dynamic economy.

At the same time, however, the financial viability of the U.S. press has been shaken to its core. The proliferation of communications outlets has fractured the base of advertising and readers. Newsrooms have shrunk dramatically and foreign bureaus have been decimated. My best estimate is that there are presently only a few dozen full-time foreign correspondents from the U.S. covering all of China, despite the critical importance of that nation to our future.

Both the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission are undertaking studies of ways to ensure the steep economic decline faced by newspapers and broadcast news does not deprive Americans of the essential information they need as citizens. One idea under consideration is enhanced public funding for journalism.

The idea of public funding for the press stirs deep unease in American culture. To many it seems inconsistent with our strong commitment, embodied in the First Amendment, to having a free press capable of speaking truth to power and to all of us. This press is a kind of public trust, a fourth branch of government. Can it be trusted when the state helps pay for it?

American journalism is not just the product of the free market, but of a hybrid system of private enterprise and public support. By the middle of the last century, daily newspapers were becoming natural monopolies in cities and communities across the country. Publishers and editors drew on the revenue to develop highly specialized expertise that enhanced coverage of economics, law, architecture, medicine, science and technology, foreign affairs and many other fields.

Meanwhile, the broadcast news industry was deliberately designed to have private owners operating within an elaborate system of public regulation, including requirements that stations cover public issues and expand the range of voices that could be heard. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld this system in the 1969 Red Lion decision as constitutional, even though it would have been entirely possible to limit government involvement simply to auctioning off the airwaves and letting the market dictate the news. In the 1960s, our network of public broadcasting was launched with direct public grants and a mission to produce high quality journalism free of government propaganda or censorship.

The institutions of the press we have inherited are the result of a mixed system of public and private cooperation. Trusting the market alone to provide all the news coverage we need would mean venturing into the unknown—a risky proposition with a vital public institution hanging in the balance.

Ironically, we already depend to some extent on publicly funded foreign news media for much of our international news—especially through broadcasts of the BBC and BBC World Service on PBS and NPR. Such news comes to us courtesy of British citizens who pay a TV license fee to support the BBC and taxes to support the World Service. The reliable public funding structure, as well as a set of professional norms that protect editorial freedom, has yielded a highly respected and globally powerful journalistic institution.

There are examples of other institutions in the U.S. where state support does not translate into official control. The most compelling are our public universities and our federal programs for dispensing billions of dollars annually for research. Those of us in public and private research universities care every bit as much about academic freedom as journalists care about a free press.

Yet—through a carefully designed system with peer review of grant-making, a strong culture of independence, and the protections afforded by the First Amendment—there have been strikingly few instances of government abuse. Indeed, the most problematic funding issues in academic research come from alliances with the corporate sector. This reinforces the point that all media systems, whether advertiser-based or governmental, come with potential editorial risks.

To take a very current example, we trust our great newspapers to collect millions of dollars in advertising from BP while reporting without fear or favor on the company's environmental record only because of a professional culture that insulates revenue from news judgment.

Or consider another area where we have well established mechanisms of government support for even the most oppositional views: defense counsel in our courts, where government-paid lawyers (including those in uniform military courts) will do their utmost to undermine cases brought by the government itself. Playing the role of calling our government to account is an accepted ethic of the legal profession despite the political hostility it can sometimes generate.

We should think about American journalism as a mixed system, where the mission is to get the balance right.

To me a key priority is to strengthen our public broadcasting role in the global arena. In today's rapidly globalizing and interconnected world, other countries are developing a strong media presence. In addition to the BBC, there is China's CCTV and Xinhua news, as well as Qatar's Al Jazeera. The U.S. government's international broadcasters, like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, were developed during the Cold War as tools of our anticommunist foreign policy. In a sign of how anachronistic our system is in a digital age, these broadcasters are legally forbidden from airing within the U.S.

This system needs to be revised and its resources consolidated and augmented with those of NPR and PBS to create an American World Service that can compete with the BBC and other global broadcasters. The goal would be an American broadcasting system with full journalistic independence that can provide the news we need. Let's demonstrate great journalism's essential role in a free and dynamic society.

Mr. Bollinger is president of Columbia University and author of "Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century" (Oxford, 2010).

Monday, July 5, 2010

Gas Taxes Give Us a Break at the Pump

By Dennis Cauchon
July 2, 2010

When drivers hit the road in large numbers for the Fourth of July holiday, they will have something extra to celebrate — the lowest gasoline taxes since the early days of the automobile.

Holiday drivers will pay less than ever at the pump for upkeep of the nation's roads — just $19 in gas taxes for every 1,000 miles driven, a USA TODAY analysis finds. That's a new low in inflation-adjusted dollars, half what drivers paid in 1975.

Another measure of the trend: Americans spent just 46 cents on gas taxes for every $100 of income in the first quarter of 2010. That's the lowest rate since the government began keeping track in 1929. By comparison, Americans spent $1.18 in 1970 on gas taxes out of every $100 earned.

Although the federal gas tax — 18.4 cents per gallon — hasn't changed since 1993, tax collections are down because today's vehicles go farther on a gallon of gas, cutting tax collections while increasing wear and tear on highways. Inflation since 1993 has eroded the value of the tax to maintain roads.

"The gas tax isn't going to work as the user fee to finance the highway system in the 21st century," says Robert Poole, transportation policy director at the free-market Reason Foundation.

Drivers are on track to spend $55.7 billion on federal, state and local gas taxes in 2010's first quarter, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports. That's down from $68.5 billion in 2000 after adjusting for inflation — even though Americans drive 7% more miles annually.

The American Trucking Associations, motorist club AAA and others favor higher gas taxes to reduce congestion and a backlog of road repairs.

The chance of that happening? "Outlook not good," says Jill Ingrassia, director of government relations at AAA.

Polls show the gas tax is one of the least popular levies. Only 23% support a 10-cent-per-gallon gas tax hike, according to a June survey by the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University.

"The money you pay at the pump doesn't always find its way to potholes," says gas tax opponent Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union.
State and local gas taxes average 30 cents per gallon and have changed little during the recession.

The nation's roads are increasingly financed by other taxes and borrowing. The federal stimulus plan set aside $26.7 billion for roads, most of which will be spent by year's end.

Mullen: Debt, a Security Threat

The American Conservatism of Thurgood Marshall

By Juan Williams
The Wall Street Journal
July3, 2010

Was Thurgood Marshall a conservative? J. Edgar Hoover, an indisputably right-wing voice, certainly thought so: The FBI chief sent Marshall a note congratulating him on his nomination to the high court. So did Malcolm X, who branded the first black Supreme Court justice a "fool" because he didn't embrace mass protest or excuse riots.

But at last week's confirmation hearings for Elena Kagan, the reality of Marshall's record was eclipsed by the myth of the late justice as a wild-eyed, left-wing activist. Several Republican senators expressed concern that Ms. Kagan, a former Marshall clerk, might replicate his approach to applying the law.

"Justice Marshall's judicial philosophy . . . is not what I would consider mainstream," said Sen. Jon Kyl (R., Ariz). The senator depicted Marshall, who sat on the court from 1967 to 1991, as a "results oriented" justice who interpreted the law to fit his political aims and had no regard for a strict reading of the Constitution.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) piled on, claiming that Marshall's record as an "activist" judge constituted a violation of a responsible jurist's oath to apply the law without political favor. Such judging, added Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), "does not comport with the proper role of a judge or judicial method."

Thankfully, Ms. Kagan appears to have escaped any damage from these attempts to paint her as the second coming of this devilish caricature of her former mentor. But the justice's own legacy took some hits, and the truth about his record needs to be set straight before this distortion becomes fixed in the public mind.

First, there are the hard numbers. As a lawyer, Marshall argued 32 cases before the Supreme Court and won 29. That's hardly the record of a man operating outside of the legal mainstream. Marshall's rulings on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals were never overturned by the Supreme Court, and in most of his appellate opinions he joined with the majority of what was then viewed as a conservative circuit. As solicitor general of the U.S. he lost only five of the 14 cases he argued before the Supreme Court.

Even on the high court, Marshall always tailored his opinions to adhere to constitutional principles—not political ideology. For example, in making the case for affirmative action, Marshall did not try to discard constitutional protections for individual rights. In his dissent in the 1978 Regent of California v. Bakke affirmative action case, Marshall wrote: "It must be remembered that during most of the past 200 years, the Constitution as interpreted by this court did not prohibit the most ingenious and pervasive forms of discrimination against the Negro. Now when a state acts to remedy the effects of that legacy of discrimination, I cannot believe that this same Constitution stands as a barrier . . . "

What's at the heart of any charge of judicial activism is Marshall's work as a lawyer. As lead counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund from 1938 to 1961, Marshall won Brown v. Board of Education—the case that ended school segregation by overturning the 1896 case, Plessy v. Ferguson. His argument was that the law must be applied without any distinction based on color or class.

The Supreme Court's unanimous ruling in that 1954 decision required courage, given that segregation, either by law or in fact, had become the norm in much of the nation. If one argues that Marshall encouraged judicial "activism" by seeking to have this overturned, that means Plessy was correctly decided, and racial segregation should have been protected under the Constitution. History has long ruled that is not a winning argument.

Marshall's fidelity to the Constitution was evident outside the court as well. He is a man who bravely stood before crowds of militant black people in the 1950s and '60s to rebut calls for black solidarity in boycotts and protest marches. "Let's stop drawing the line [between] colored and white," he told one group. "Let's draw the line on who wants democracy for all Americans." For this outlook, Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad wrote a newspaper column condemning Marshall. "He is in love with the white race," Muhammad wrote.

Ms. Kagan clerked for Marshall at the end of his time on the Supreme Court when he gave a speech saying the Constitution was "defective from the start," because it allowed slavery while denying women the right to vote. He said the Civil War and the constitutional amendments that followed had saved the Constitution and the nation.
That is not a rant from a crazed liberal with no regard for the rule of law. It is a clear-eyed ruling from a judge who by the measure of fellow civil rights activists, as well as fellow lawyers and judges, believed in a very conservative principle: liberty and justice for all.

Mr. Williams, a political analyst for National Public Radio and Fox News, is the author of several books, including "Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary" (Three Rivers Press, 2000).