Sunday, August 10, 2014

Cruising the Web

Obama regrets Netanyahu's high poll approval ratings in Israel because he thinks it will prevent the Israeli prime minister from making the compromises that Obama wants him to make. Gee, low approval ratings in the U.S. hasn't led Obama to make compromises with the Republicans.

I wonder whose high approval ratings trouble Obama more - Netanyahu or Putin?

Eugene Volokh answers a question that I'd had once the medical examiner ruled that the death of James Brady was a homicide. Could John Hinkley be tried for murder? I've often wished that I had a lawyer-on-call to answer questions that I have regarding stories that pop up in the news. The Volokh Conspiracy is the nearest thing to having such a lawyer-on-call.

Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson: Useful Idiots for Hamas.

Check out who is the richest person in each state.

Obama's underestimating of ISIS as a JV team of terrorists is now coming back to haunt the people of Iraq and Syria.

Michael Barone explains why people distrust big government and the real reason why so many states didn't want to set up the healthcare exchanges.
Most important, setting up health exchanges is hard to do. Government doesn't handle information technology well, here or around the world.

The State Department's visa system is currently offline for weeks, keeping businessmen, tourists and exchange students from entering the country. The FBI had to abandon a massive IT project after spending hundreds of millions of dollars.

These bureaucracies did a good job of delivering passports and maintaining files in the industrial age. But they can't keep up in the information age. Moore's Law says that computer capacity doubles in two years or less. Government procurement cycles are a lot longer than that.

Governors and legislators had reason to fear that state health exchange IT wouldn't work well (as it hasn't in about half the states that tried), and they would get blamed. And blamed for being associated with an unpopular law.

All of which suggests a broader lesson. Government was reasonably good at replicating the bureaucratic processes of large corporations in the industrial age. But it's not very good -- it's often downright incompetent -- at replicating the IT processes of firms such as Walmart and Amazon.

Markets work better than government ukase in the information age. The Medicare Part D prescription drug program, with many market components, has produced high satisfaction and costs lower than projections. Obamacare has not done as well.

Obamacare required states to expand Medicaid or lose all Medicaid funds. In June 2012, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that that violates the Constitution. Once they had a choice, some Republican states chose more Medicaid money. But 21 states have said no thanks to the extra funds, and three are debating the issue. Only 54 percent of Americans are receiving Medicaid programs Obamacare promised to give -- or impose on -- everyone.

This is not what Obamacare boosters like Gruber and Cohn expected. They thought Obamacare money would be too tantalizing to resist. But for many or most states it wasn't.

The Obamacare cheerleaders failed to understand that in this information age most Americans mistrust big government policies.
Along the same lines, Richard Epstein and Mario Loyola write about how the federal government has expanded its power over the states in a total reverse of what was the original vision of how our nation would operate.
In many areas, that vital divide is fast disappearing, owing to a relentless expansion of federal power. And both political parties share the blame.

Programs like Medicaid, Common Core, the Clean Air Act, and the federal highway system enjoy popular support because they appear to allow the federal government to accomplish things all Americans want, at least in the short run. But those programs often turn states into mere field offices of the federal government, often against their will, in turn creating a host of structural problems.

Federal officials exert enormous influence over state budgets and state regulators, often behind the scenes. The new federalism replaces the “laboratories of democracy” with heavy-handed, once-size-fits-all solutions. Uniformity wins but diversity loses, along with innovation, local choice, and the Constitution’s necessary limits on government power.

Take Medicaid. On the surface, it looks like a federal matching-grant for state health care programs targeted at the needy. In fact it is the opposite: a way to rope states into match-funding a federal program. Federal Medicaid funds come with so many strings attached that states have little room to deviate from federal dictates—except by expanding their programs to fiscally unsustainable levels, which Medicaid actually encourages the states to do.
Federal spending now accounts for about 30% of a state's budget. The federal government is borrowing money that it then transfers to the states? So why is this happening?
Do the states really need that much help?

They don’t. States have their own taxing authority. The real reason for federal “assistance” lies in the conditions that come attached to it, which allow the feds to dictate state policies and even what the states do with large chunks of their own money. The result is a massive increase in real federal control and real federal spending—entirely behind the scenes.

States like Texas, Florida, and New Hampshire pride themselves on having no state income tax on individuals. But that is only literally true of the 60 or 70 percent of their budgets that comes from state revenue. With respect to the portion derived from federal sources, Washington in effect imposes a high state income tax, which it collects on their behalf. States have no choice about that. Their only viable option is to accept on bended knee the sovereign’s offer to return their money back, in exchange for their obedience. It’s a fair bet few Americans understand what is really going on behind the fa├žade of federal assistance.
Through the growing elephantine federal regulations, grants disguised as supposedly free money to the states, and ever more federal mandates, the federal government gets to impose its will on states. Epstein and Loyola go on to explain why this centralization of power is not a good thing and is so contrary to the vision our founding fathers had of both horizontal checks on power as well as vertical checks between the states and central government. We have lost the virtues of competition between states to achieve better policies.
This interstate regulatory competition could accommodate a wide diversity of approaches, from the progressive safety blanket of Wisconsin to the frontier freedom of Texas. Vigorous interstate competition tended to punish excessive government, leading for example to higher growth rates in states with less restrictive labor laws. It also made it more difficult for special interests to wield government as a tool for extracting benefits from the rest of society in the form of hidden subsidies, cartels, and monopolies. Where special interests reign, market efficiency is lost, leaving everyone worse off.
So high-tax states turn to the federal government to obviate their natural disadvantage compared to low-tax and low-regulation states.
That process undercuts one of the great advantages of a modern economy: the choice that mobility offers to families and businesses. It hastens the erosion of one of our most essential constitutional protections, the separate domains of federal and state governments, each confined to its proper sphere of authority.

American society is blessed with a diverse array of institutions. Not everything needs to be done by government power, either federal or state. When government must act, it’s best to turn to the lowest unit of government capable of dealing effectively with the issue. The Constitution was meant to enshrine that very principle, in order to protect individuals and communities from the pervasive and often overbearing power of central government.

The mounting federal takeover of the states started slowly during the New Deal and has intensified substantially, especially in recent years. That inexorable trend is leading to unsustainable levels of government spending and a regulatory regime that grows more intrusive and oppressive by the day. One solution is paramount: Strengthen the vital but oft-neglected separation of federal and state governments.
Amen. Read the whole essay as they're explain this worrisome trend that of increasing federal power that began in the 19th century but has been increasing exponentially since then.

Is the US Postal Service prostituting itself in its choices of subjects for stamps or are they just exploring another way to market itself? Why would the US Post have a stamp with Harry Potter on it?

Supposedly, calling the University of Mississippi "Ole Miss" is racist. I can see objecting to Confederate names on streets and symbols, but the name itself doesn't have to have a racist connotation. Apparently, a few faculty members object to the name, but the vast majority of respondents to a university study didn't attach any negative connotations to the name. But now that this has become a national story, expect lots of discussion about how racist the school has been or is now to spread. Is that what the university wanted?