The Affordable Care Act creates a new health insurance marketplace (the exchange). But because of the great uncertainty about what buyers will enter the market and who will buy what product, the law creates three vehicles to reduce insurance company risk.
Politicians and bureaucrats are notorious for manufacturing euphemisms -- clever but deceptive substitutes for what they really mean but don’t want to admit. That’s how the phrase “revenue enhancement” entered the vocabulary. Some of our courageous friends in government couldn’t bring themselves to say “tax hike.”
“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future,” says a proverb often attributed to Yogi Berra. Imagine the world of freedom, or lack of it. Who could foresee the technologies that make our lives so rewarding and convenient? The same technologies have us all under the government’s giant microscope. Thankfully, the brave have turned the microscope around.
In the months since Edward Snowden revealed the nature and extent of the spying that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been perpetrating upon Americans and foreigners, some of the NSA's most troublesome behavior has not been a part of the public debate.
National Treasury Union President Colleen M. Kelly recently described the 2014 IRS budget allocation as “woefully inadequate.” But the agency has not proven itself to be an efficient steward of taxpayer dollars. Here are ten ways the IRS lost the trust of the American people.
It’s easy to be negative about the U.S. economy these days. Find a glint of silver, and folks come running to point out all of the dark clouds looming about. This, of course, is what we got last week when the monthly jobs report was released from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Folks pooh-poohed the number of jobs and whining that they’re not enough or that it’s less than a bunch of economists thought that it might be. But you know what? Stuff ’em.
Given how poorly states like California and Illinois have funded the pension funds for their own employees, one would think that this would stop dead in its tracks any plan to have the government assist in managing private sector funds too. The spate of recent activity, however, suggests otherwise.
Facts are easy. You can check facts. What supporters of the Affordable Care Act are doing, on the other hand, transcends factual bungling. It’s far more advanced: a warping of reality so debauched it looks like something out of a tale by H.P. Lovecraft.
The problem for NSA apologist is that when guys like Snowden disclose that the government conducts comprehensive surveillance in ways that would have made 1984’s O’Brien drool, it puts the entire progressive agenda in jeopardy.
The east coast and parts of the southern U.S. were to varying degrees paralyzed by blizzards a few weeks ago. The snow as expected rendered the roads treacherous, and in anticipation of slick streets, shoppers flocked to the grocery stores in advance.The rush into grocery stores, and its aftermath, offers worthwhile lessons in economics.First up, […]
The financial world is plodding along like a drunken sailor avoiding debt collectors by keeping no cash in his wallet. It’s not the kind of calm that’s going to last or end well. But the storm will have to wait until after the Olympics.What a game! We’ve never watched ice hockey closely before. But watching […]
“When they come for my gun, they will have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands,” is a common refrain I often hear from the Neo-Cons when there is a threat, credible or otherwise, that the U.S. government is going to take their firearms.And, when I hear this crazy talk, I agree with […]
The highest form of charity, argued the 12th-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, is when the help given enables the receiver to become self-sufficient.But our systems of state charity — aka welfare — have too frequently had the opposite effect: They have actually created dependency. It is time to rethink the way we help people.I’m going to […]
In times of war and national emergency, it’s sometimes necessary to sacrifice civil liberties to secure vital gains in public safety. In those cases, we may have to accept a loss of privacy or freedom rather than invite mass slaughter of Americans.The National Security Agency’s domestic phone records collection is not one of those.Never have […]
President Obama crowed in his State of the Union speech about the economy, even mentioning “a rebounding housing market.” Maybe he was referring to friends in high places, like the seller of Penthouse One in New York, which just closed for $50.9 million, all cash. Millions of mere-mortal homeowners likely wanted to throw something at […]
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is acting in a bipartisan way to cover up the biggest single threat to the bipartisan political alliance that is stripping America of its wealth: the United States Congress.There is no question that the following policy is bipartisan. Democrats and Republicans in Congress are completely agreed that the following information […]
Recent difficulties with implementing the Affordable Care Act have increased opposition to the program. A majority of Americans now oppose it. Problems with the HealthCare.gov website are in all likelihood temporary. However, there are serious long-term problems, particularly considering long-term finance and labor supply issues. Given the mounting difficulties with and growing concerns about the […]
Amidst all the revelations about how the American people, many of whom are absolutely convinced they live in a free society, have their telephone calls, emails, website visits, and who knows what else under surveillance by their own government, let’s not forget the massive infringements on financial privacy that have gone on for decades.Consider, for […]
Image: ShutterstockBitInstant CEO Charlie Shrem, along with alleged co-conspirator Robert Faiella, was arrested by federal authorities last week for allegedly laundering more than $1 million worth of Bitcoins. This is a tiny amount compared to the largest drug-and-terrorism money laundering case ever. Yet when British bank HSBC was found guilty in 2012 of laundering billions, […]
Do you trust your doctor? Most patients assume their doctor is working in their best medical interests whenever he or she orders a diagnostic test or recommends a particular treatment. Customers might wonder whether an unscrupulous auto mechanic is being truthful when he recommends a brake job or a new transmission. But most patients trust […]
The exercise had an awesome name, inspired by the movies: “Quantum Dawn 2.”On July 18, scads of U.S. banks, stock exchanges and government agencies took part in a digital fire drill — a practice run in the event all of Wall Street came under massive cyberattack.This isn’t the first time banks have come under an […]
The faces of the Detroit bankruptcy are the thousands of pensioners whose promised benefits are suddenly part of the restructure negotiation. When Motown filed for Chapter 9 last July, the city had $11.5 billion in unsecured liabilities. The vast majority of this was pension and health care benefits owed to retired city employees.The images of […]
So you’ve maneuvered the Obamacare website, plugged in your top-secret information and found out how much you are forced to pay to avoid a fine.And for some of you, it turns out you qualify for a government subsidy — making the premium sound like a bargain. But signing on that line to accept the government’s […]
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”As the inequality gap grows, there is an ideological battle unfolding in the West.On the one hand, there are those who think government can fix things. It must do more, tax more, […]
On Feb. 7 the United States will once again reach its statutory debt limit, meaning it cannot legally borrow any more money. Since the obvious option of cutting spending to match the amount of revenue that the government collects is off the table for some inexplicable reason, Congress will have to pass a new, higher […]
The New York Times published an interminable article on health care recently. Plenty of facts — how scrupulous are these journalists! — but the article displayed absolutely no comprehension of the basics of cause and effect. I was left wondering about the whole point.The article details how the health care system rewards specialists to an […]
For critics of the surveillance state, it is tempting to see President Obama’s speech a few weeks ago as a partial victory: Prompted by Edward Snowden’s leaks and the public pressure for National Security Agency reforms, he announced significant changes to the program that collects and stores information about all telephone calls. And he promised […]
Until last week, I had managed all of my adult life to avoid jury duty. As a young adult in Topeka, Kan., I was never summoned. For my two decades living in Las Vegas, I was able to call in a couple times declaring economic hardship. Most of the time, I seemed to be off their radar screen. I always suspected it was because I hadn’t registered to vote.
But finally in my new home in this small Southern town, the state got me. There seemed to be no reasonable way out. Alabama finds its victims to serve by choosing from driver’s license records.
My plan was to show up, be asked a couple questions that reveal my hatred of the state, and especially the criminal justice system, be judged as unreliable for the jury box, and be sent on my way.
Unfortunately that’s not how the system works. I’m to serve a two-week hitch. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be picked as a juror, but I’m on call with my local county court system, all for $10 a day and a nickel a mile. The jury coordinator was quick to inform us that we could sign a form and waive payment. “After all,” she said, “the state of Alabama requires that your employers pay you your normal wage for these two weeks.”
She pleaded her case by saying that the county had paid out a couple million dollars in expenses for jurors the previous year and it would be great if we could help them with their budget. Many staff members at the court had been laid off, and even the bailiffs worked on a volunteer basis.
I provided no such waiver.
I was part of a group that seemed to be around 80-90 people. The group was a normal cross section of occupations. I was struck by the half dozen or so self-employed truck drivers that were stuck working for the state for two weeks rather than hauling loads. They had no employer paying them their normal wage.
The largest employer in the city, the local university, was well represented, with various professors, maintenance people, and even the head track coach. They were working for the court, but still getting paid by the taxpayers — a double hit, if you will.
A young, blond woman eyed us impassively as we filed into the courtroom, chewing her gum at a slow, rhythmic pace. She turned out to be the head assistant district attorney. The judge administered the oath and asked some questions. Only in the South would a judge address a jury pool as “all y’all.”
Soon the assistant DA started asking questions to weed out inappropriate juror prospects, and I began to think that I was the perfect candidate. I didn’t know anyone involved in the case, anyone who worked for the DA or the defense attorney’s firm. I hadn’t heard about the attempted murder or the discharge of weapon in an occupied building. I was thinking I might just get selected. I was a blank slate.
Then the question was asked, “Do any of you believe marijuana should be legalized?” As I raised my card with my juror number, I’m wondering what does this have to do with an attempted murder? Shockingly, I was one of only five or six out of 80-90 who believed (or at least would admit it) marijuana use should be legalized. The follow-up question was then, “Those that answered yes just believe marijuana should be legalized, not other drugs, right?”
I quickly interjected, “No, everything should be legalized.”
“What was your number again, sir?”
Remember, 17 states have legalized marijuana for medical use. In a couple weeks, voters in Washington and Colorado will decide if recreational use of marijuana will be legal in their states. In the city of Denver, there are over 200 stores that sell medical marijuana, more than three times the number of Starbucks and McDonald’s combined.
I wasn’t selected for the attempted murder trial and was allowed to leave about 2:30 in the afternoon. “But make sure you call in after 5:00 to see if you have to report tomorrow,” the unselected were told.
The next day, I didn’t have to report, but the following day, I was to be at the jury waiting room at 9:00 a.m. About 9:30 (the court is always running late, it seems), they herded us into the courtroom for voir dire.
This case was a DUI charge along with assault. The questions were similar to cull through the pool to select 13 people (a jury of 12 plus an alternate) to decide guilt or innocence. For those not wanting to answer the questions in front of the other jurors, you are allowed to tell the court your answers without the other jurors present. Also, the judge can ask you to remain for follow-up questioning to clarify the answers provided during voir dire.
Again, I didn’t make the cut. “Please return at 2:00,” was the command.
About 2:20, we filed into the courtroom. The defendant, a small man in his 40s, calmly looked us over as we filed in, as did his attorney, who was nattily dressed in a brown suit accented with an orange tie and pocket scarf.
The assistant DA was again a young woman wearing what seemed to be the standard DA uniform, dark pantsuit with white blouse.
The defendant was charged with trafficking more than 2.2 pounds of marijuana.
The typical questions ensued, and then the big one came from the assistant DA: “Is there anyone here who thinks marijuana is no big deal and should be legalized?” I again held up my card with a half dozen others.
But the DA pressed on. “Of those of you who answered yes, will you be able to put your feelings aside and rule on the facts of the case, recognizing that trafficking marijuana is against the law in the state of Alabama?”
“No,” I said.
“If the facts show that the defendant did indeed traffic more than 2.2 pounds of marijuana, will you be able to rule on the basis of Alabama law, complying with the judge’s order, recognizing that trafficking marijuana is against Alabama statute?”
“No, I believe in jury nullification.”
“OK,” said the DA as she jotted something in her notes.
I figured that would be it. I was wrong again. The questioning was completed and the respective counsels conferred with the judge, who then rattled off a series of numbers: jurors who needed to stay behind for further questioning. My number was among those called, and we were ushered into the hallway.
Waiting in the hallway, I heard one of the jury veterans say to someone, “They’ve got us for two weeks. You might as well find a case you like and shut up, ’cause eventually you’re gonna get picked. You might as well serve on a case you like.”
One at a time, each of us was called into the courtroom for follow-up questions.
When called in, I walked to a designated spot that faced the judge, from which I was to answer questions.
The judge began. “Mr. French, you answered that you couldn’t serve as an impartial juror in this case, is that correct?”
“Yes, your honor. I don’t believe the defendant did anything wrong, even if he did what the state alleges.”
The defense attorney quickly said, “I want this guy.”
“You understand that it is against the law in the state of Alabama to traffic marijuana. Are you saying you cannot uphold the law?”
“I would say, using a famous quote, the law is an ass.”
Once those words left my lips and no rebuke came from the judge, I kept going.
“I would remind this court that if it weren’t for jury nullification, we would still have slavery in this country,” I said while spinning around directing the comments to the defendant and his attorney, both African-Americans, and the district attorney’s team. “I will not be the juror, and this will not be the case, but one of these days a jury must nullify these crazy drug laws.”
This comment produced a wide smile from one of the court’s staff.
The judge was unmoved by my outburst.
“Have you ever served on a jury?” the defense attorney asked.
“No, of course not,” I said. “I’ve never made it this far before. There is nothing she can say,” I said, pointing at the assistant DA, “that will change my mind.”
“I dunno, I’m pretty good,” she replied.
“I’m sure you are, as are your colleagues,” I said. “But the defendant did nothing wrong.”
The judge interjected again, “Are you sure you cannot listen to the evidence and judge the innocence or guilt of the defendant applying the law of the state of Alabama.”
“No, your honor. That man,” I said while pointing to the defendant, “did not do anything wrong. I assume if he did what the charges allege, he was only carrying out a commercial transaction with a willing buyer or seller. It is no different than if he were selling popsicles on a street corner.”
The defense attorney winced and asked, “What do you mean commercial transaction?”
Before I could explain, the judge directed me out of the courtroom.
I waited patiently in the jury room to be excused for the day. After half an hour, the jury coordinator rattled off 13 numbers. None was mine.
“Please call after 5 and see if you must report tomorrow.”
A couple days later, it was front-page news that the defendant in this case was found guilty. He had never laid eyes on or touched the reported 154 pounds of marijuana seized during the police investigation. He accepted delivery of packages delivered via UPS. The packages would remain on his porch and be picked up by a friend. He said he thought the packages contained auto parts. He was merely doing his friend a favor.
“Y’all ever hear of partners in crime? That’s what we got there,” the assistant DA told the jury, according to the local paper.
A police narcotics officer posed as a UPS driver, and when the defendant signed for the delivery of 70 pounds of what turned out to be marijuana, he was arrested and charged with trafficking.
“We’re here because UPS got suspicious,” the assistant DA said. “This is because normal, everyday people smelled something funny.”
The state never proved the defendant wasn’t ignorant of the boxes’ contents or that he had opened a box. They didn’t need to. The state found a dozen normal, everyday people ready and willing to do the state’s drug war bidding.
In his book For a New Liberty, Murray Rothbard questions the legitimacy of compulsory jury duty. “What is this but prison and involuntary servitude for noncriminals?” Rothbard asked. Plenty of people believe jury duty to be a vital civic function. After all, judges are part of the same justice system that the prosecutors are and thus will tend to be biased. Therefore, a fair system depends upon being judged by one’s peers.
But Rothbard points out that slave labor is not efficient labor. Compulsory juries stand the division of labor on its head. Since when would you pick people randomly to do something as important as weighing evidence and determining guilt and innocence? This is a job someone should be trained in. To pick people randomly gives the appearance of being unbiased, but in fact, it accentuates the state’s advantage in the courtroom.