Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cruising the Web

In an illuminating column, Michael Cannon explains why the article from the NYT about the confusion surrounding how the phrase "through an Exchange established by the State" got into the section of the ACA concerning federal subsidies. Cannon notes that the article contradicts the government's argument that the phrase was actually "a term of art" to mean the exact opposite of what the words mean. In fact it was a deliberate choice by Harry Reid not to refer to both state and federal established exchanges.
The Times explains that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and other Senate Democrats rejected language that would have converted “through an Exchange established by the State” into a term of art.

The ACA was the merged product of two bills, one produced by the Senate’s Finance Committee and the other by the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The Times explains—as Adler and I explained three years ago—that in merging the two bills, Reid et alia rejected language from the HELP bill that would have created full equivalence between state-established and federally established Exchanges. (Adler and I also showed that Congress rejected a House-passed bill that contained similar equivalence language.)

The fact that the law’s authors rejected such language suggests the non-equivalence that appears in the ACA was intentional....

The Times reports that the HELP bill “clearly allowed subsidies in all states.” On the contrary, as even the government and its allies acknowledge, the HELP bill conditioned Exchange subsidies on states implementing that bill’s employer mandate.

The Times claims the ACA’s federal-Exchange provisions come from the HELP bill. On the contrary, they are a reorganized version of the Finance bill’s federal-Exchange provisions.

The Senate Finance Committee’s former Democratic staff director claims the idea of a federal fallback Exchange did not appear in the Finance bill. On the contrary, federal fallback Exchanges appeared in the chairman’s mark (p. 11) introduced on September 22, 2009, and in every subsequent draft of the Finance bill and the ACA.

When merging the Finance and HELP bills, Reid did not just “[take] the language on tax credits from the Finance Committee.” Under his supervision, drafters added the restrictive language “through an Exchange established by the State” to the ACA’s tax-credit eligibility rules in multiple places. As Adler and I explain in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, “Restricting tax credits to Exchanges ‘established by the State’ was no accident. This phrasing was added to Section 1401 in multiple places at multiple times in the drafting process . . . under the supervision of Senate leaders and White House officials. . . . This requirement survived multiple rounds of revisions throughout the drafting process, including revisions to the cross-references attached to it.” (Links in the original)
Read the rest of Cannon's essay. It refers to the arguments he made in an amicus brief that he and Jonathan Adler submitted to the Court. I sure hope that the justices read that brief since it refutes some of the mythology that the Democrats have put out to try to explain why that phrase doesn't mean exactly what it says.

I'm sure these are all just coincidences.
I just thought I’d contribute a detail to the latest news about the Clintons’ byzantine financial arrangements, specifically the limited-liability company Bill Clinton used to channel his “consulting” profits.

The original Associated Press story said that WJC, LLC, the “shell company” in question, was formed in Delaware in 2008.

It’s more interesting when you find out the specific date. I searched the database of the Delaware Department of State’s Division of Corporations. There is one listing for WJC, LLC. According to the information on file, the company was formed December 3, 2008. President Obama had confirmed Hillary Clinton as his choice for secretary of state just two days earlier, on December 1, 2008.

I am not supplying any conclusions here. I’ll simply note that this is a pattern in the ongoing Clinton controversy. For instance, the domain name for, Hillary’s private email system, was registered on January 13, 2009, eight days before the Senate confirmed Clinton as the country’s top diplomat. Why the rush to arrange all these complex and secretive business affairs immediately after Clinton’s future as the most powerful Cabinet member was set in motion?

Bill Clinton's shell company is just very complicated to understand and to explain. And complexity in financial arrangements is never good for a candidate.
The newly released financial files on Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton's growing fortune omit a company with no apparent employees or assets that the former president has legally used to provide consulting and other services, but which demonstrates the complexity of the family's finances.

Because the company, WJC, LLC, has no financial assets, Hillary Clinton's campaign was not obligated to report its existence in her recent financial disclosure report, officials with Bill Clinton's private office and the Clinton campaign said. They were responding to questions by The Associated Press, which reviewed corporate documents.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to provide private details of the former president's finances on the record, said the entity was a "pass-through" company designed to channel payments to the former president.

Perhaps California voters will finally realize that the Democrats in their state have long had the wrong priorities.
Wherever he goes, Tom Del Beccaro asks California voters which they would prefer: high-speed rail or more water. Invariably, the answer is the same.

“Everybody says water,” said Mr. Del Beccaro, a Republican who’s running for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2016. “I think every dime that exists should be allocated there. [But] we are spending more than 15 times the amount on a train than we are on new water.

“In my speeches, I also ask people to raise their hand if they think we have a train crisis,” he adds.

Republicans have endured a decadeslong dry spell in California politics, but a third year of severe drought, coupled with Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandatory water restrictions and the ensuing fines, has emerged as a potential game changer for the 2016 election.

Rand Paul's recent accusation that Republican hawks "created ISIS" demonstrates why he will never and should never win the Republican nomination for president. As the WSJ writes,
Mr. Paul is intelligent enough, and his misreading of recent Middle Eastern history is so flagrant, that he might be trying to deflect attention from his own misjudgments. In Mr. Obama’s second term, the U.S. has largely followed Mr. Paul’s foreign-affairs preferences to the letter, and the result has been more chaos and disorder.

The origins of the Islamic State are al Qaeda in Iraq, or the post-Saddam Hussein insurgency that suffered a near-total defeat amid General David Petraeus’s surge and the Sunni Awakening. The weak guerilla remnants of that organization survived on the peripheries of Iraq and Syria between 2008 and 2011 and then filled the security vacuum that Mr. Obama left behind by withdrawing all U.S. forces.

The Islamic State’s revival was also aided by its sanctuary over the border in Syria as that country revolted against the rule of Bashar Assad. Far from supplying arms to the rebels, Mr. Obama explicitly rejected U.S. intervention in 2011. CIA Director Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton again advocated aiding the rebels in 2012, but Mr. Obama refused again.

As for the U.S. bombing of Assad, Mr. Paul can’t blame ISIS on something that never happened. Mr. Obama briefly considered bombing in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons, only to panic at the last minute and toss the decision into Congress after a stroll on the South Lawn. The ensuing Perils-of-Pauline political melodrama, in which Mr. Paul joined the Paulines who opposed any U.S. intervention, guaranteed little was done.

Mr. Paul seems to think he can win the GOP nomination on an anti-interventionist platform, though we think he’d be better off focusing on his domestic agenda. But if he wants to run as an Obama Republican on foreign policy, he shouldn’t also adopt the Obama trick of rewriting history. It reflects poorly on his judgment as a potential Commander in Chief.
The other GOP candidates are happy to jump all over Paul for his accusations and well they should. The party doesn't need a nominee who echoes Barack Obama in placing blame anywhere than on the very actions that Rand Paul advocates.

Elizabeth Warren's hypocrisy is revealed. She has built up her populist bona fides by railing against the practices she believes led to the financial collapse of 2009. One of those exacerbating factors were people who flipped houses - buying houses and then selling them a few months later for a profit. Jillian Kay Melchior and Eliana Johnson have delved into Warren's financial records and discovered that, despite her excoriation of house-flipping, she earned quite a bit of money back in the 1990s from -- flipping houses.
The profits from these flipped homes adds up: Even excluding the property sold by her brother, Warren and her husband have made at least $240,500 flipping homes (before deducting the unknown sum they invested in remodeling). In her 2014 autobiography, Warren wrote of the events that precipitated the financial crisis that “everyone seemed to have a story about someone they knew who was getting rich by flipping houses.”

She omitted a crucial one.
There is nothing wrong with someone making money by flipping houses. It helps a neighborhood if foreclosed properties are bought up, improved, and then sold. But what is just so irritating is that Warren would criticize an action that she herself had benefited from.

Joel Kotkin discusses some data on the geography of racial opportunity that might surprise people who haven't been paying attention to demographic and economic changes in the past 50 years.
We found, for all three major minority groups, that the best places were neither the most liberal in their attitudes nor had the most generous welfare programs. Instead they were located primarily in regions that have experienced broad-based economic growth, have low housing costs, and limited regulation. In other words, no matter how much people like Bill de Blasio talk about the commitment to racial and class justice, the realities on the ground turn out to be quite different than he might imagine.

Perhaps the greatest irony in our findings is the location of many of the best cities for minorities: the South. This is particularly true for African-Americans who once flocked to the North for both legal rights and opportunity. Today almost all the best cities for blacks are in the South, a region that has enjoyed steady growth and enjoys generally low costs. Indeed, of the top 15 cities for African-Americans, 13 are in the old Confederacy starting with top-ranked Atlanta, No. 2 Raleigh, No. 4 Charlotte, No. 6 Virginia Beach-Norfolk, No. 7 Orlando, No. 8 Richmond (a distinction it shares with Miami and San Antonio), as well as four of Texas’ large metro areas: No. 12 Houston, No. 13 Dallas-Ft. Worth and No. 8 San Antonio. The only two other metros are “inside the Beltway”: the metropolitan expanses of Washington and, surprisingly, Baltimore.

What accounts for this? ....But outside the Beltway region, the explanations tend towards more basic economics, like job creation, low housing prices and better opportunities for starting businesses.

Ironically, blacks – 6 million of whom moved to the North during the great migration -- are once again voting with their feet, but back to the same region in which, for so long, they were so harshly oppressed. Between 2000 and 2013, the African-American population of Atlanta, Charlotte, Orlando, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Raleigh, Tampa-St. Petersburg and San Antonio all experienced growth of close to 40 percent or higher, well above the average of 27 percent for the nation’s 52 metropolitan areas with more than 1 million residents....

What this study shows us is, if nothing else, the relative worthlessness of good intentions. As we have seen over the past 50 years, the expansion of transfer payments, while critical to alleviating the worst impacts of poverty, have not generally been best at promoting upward mobility for African-Americans and, increasingly, Latinos. If higher welfare costs and political pronunciamentos were currency, New York, Los Angeles, Boston and San Francisco would not be, for the most part, stuck in the second half of our rankings.

Ultimately what really matters are the economics of opportunity. Many of the cities that scored best for all three groups -- the Washington, D.C. area, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio and Austin -- have enjoyed stronger than normal economic growth over the past decade. In the areas around the nation’s capital, government employment has been a critical factor; in the other areas more generalized business growth has taken the lead. In contrast, notes University of Washington demographer Richard Morrill , many regions that have seen rapid de-industrialization and slow housing growth have developed “barbell” economies based on a combination of ultra-high-wage industries, like technology and finance, and low-end service jobs.

There are other policy implications. Blue state progressives are often the most vocal about expanding opportunities for minority homeownership but generally support land use and regulatory policies, notably in California, that tend to raise prices far above the ability of newcomers -- immigrants, minorities, young people -- to pay. Similarly blue state support for such things as strict climate change regulation tends to discourage the growth of industries such as manufacturing, logistics and home construction that have long been gateways for minority success.

Given the persistence of racial tensions, this data begins to give us a clearer understanding of what actually works for America’s emerging non-white majority. Denunciations of racism, police brutality and xenophobia may be all well and good for one’s sense of justice. But if you want actually to improve the lives of minorities, we might consider focusing instead on policies that promote economic opportunity, keep living costs down, and allow for all Americans to enjoy fully the bounty of this country.

George Will has been one of the most tireless opponents of campaign finance reform. He writes today to explain why there really is no such thing as "outside" money and that the main effect of campaign finance reform laws has been to weaken parties.
Reformers regret super PACs as a source of “outside” money. Greg Weiner asks: Outside of what? Weiner, an Assumption College political scientist, wonders: Who decreed that campaigns are the private property of the two parties and their candidates? Today, parties and candidates welcome supportive super PACs as a necessity, given the reformers’ regulatory regime. But parties and candidates would prefer to receive the money that goes to the super PACs, which can frustrate the parties’ and candidates’ desires to control America’s political conversation.

Super PACs can annoy parties by enabling inconvenient candidates to compete in primaries and can annoy even candidates they favor by forcing certain issues into the campaign dialogue. So, Weiner argues, super PACs are new devices that actually restore something old — an era when “campaigns were communicative free-for-alls rather than regulated, top-down affairs.” The First Amendment, which takes no cognizance of parties or candidates, hardly supports making them privileged, semi-exclusive conduits of the political conversations.

Mollie Hemingway notes "four sketchy things in Hillary Clinton's emails."And David Ignatius also notes the sycophancy underlying the Blumenthal memos and the response from Hillary's underlings.
But the Blumenthal papers were taken seriously at State. Clinton sent them on to her overworked aide, Jake Sullivan, with such notations as "Useful insight, pls circulate," or "very interesting," or in one instance, "We should get this around asap."

Sullivan duly read the missives. What's mildly troubling is that in several instances he asked senior State Department officers to respond, at a time when they were super-busy with real events in Libya.

But helping and flattering the secretary were part of the job. When she gave a speech or an interview, aides chimed in with compliments such as "pitch perfect," or "powerful presence," or "wonderful." Praise came even from a top aide to Sen. John McCain, who wrote of a "wonderful, strong and moving statement" on Benghazi in an email slugged: "Wow."

These memos recall other dubious back channels involving oil-rich Middle East nations. Libya snared President Jimmy Carter's brother Billy as an emissary in the late-1970s. The Iran-contra scandal began in 1985 with an Iranian information peddler named Manucher Ghorbanifar, whom the CIA dubbed a "fabricator" but the White House embraced, anyway.

The danger of Washington's courtier ethos is that it can lead to bad policy, or no policy. You can't escape the feeling that Clinton and her aides were passing around Blumenthal's emails when they should have been framing a better plan to deal with Libya's disintegration.

When Pat Robertson claimed that Hurricane Katrina was divine retribution for abortion in America, and when Robertson and Jerry Falwell mused whether 9/11 was also God's punishment for social trends they disliked, they were rightly excoriated. Let's see if Al Sharpton garners the same backlash for his musing about the storms killing people in Texas.
“Talking about the weather,” Sharpton said on his syndicated show.

“All of the storms, the tornadoes, the flooding in Texas. Is this a rebuke from God, which many callers said today it is. And others are saying it is just a natural result of man using fossil fuels and abusing the environment — and it’s climate change, global warning. We’ve done it to ourselves.”

Notably, Sharpton left no room for a third explanation: that the storms and flooding are just a particularly severe turn in the natural weather cycle.

While it is obvious why Sharpton adopted the common liberal talking point that climate change is to blame for the extreme weather, it is unclear why he believes it’s possible God would be punishing Texas.
So I guess that Hurricane Sandy was an expression of God's fury against New York and New Jersey.