New Carolina Journal Online features

Barry Smith reports for Carolina Journal Online on an audit exposing a doctor who overcharged the state for thousands of hours never worked at state prisons.

Julie Tisdale’s Daily Journal questions Cumberland County’s agreement to shift tax money from schools to a proposed minor-league baseball stadium.

The Navy shakes up its career structure

Per the Navy Times:

The Navy deep-sixed all of its 91 enlisted ratings titles Thursday, marking the beginning of an overhaul of the rigid career structure that has existed since the Continental Navy in a radical shift sure to reverberate through the fleet and the veterans community beyond.

Sailors will no longer be identified by their job title, say, Fire Controlman 1st Class Joe Sailor, effective immediately. Instead, that would be Petty Officer 1st Class Joe Sailor.

Officials say the controversial move will improve sailors’ lives and ease their transition into the civilian workforce by broadening their skills in this tectonic shift in Navy’s personnel system to redraw the traditional lines between enlisted job specialties — a massive shake-up that is only beginning. Within the next three to four years, earlier if possible, the service plans to allow sailors to retrain in related skills, expanding their worth to the Navy while reaping broader assignment opportunities as well as increased advancement changes and greater access to special pays and bonuses that come with the most critical skills.

As a civilian that follows the Navy and military justice closely, let’s just say that the Navy’s existing rank/rating structure is pretty much incomprehensible to those that haven’t served in one of the sea services. Good to see the Navy do something about that.

Meanwhile on the Outer Banks…

Per the Virginian Pilot, this happened earlier this week:

An abandoned makeshift boat that may have carried Cuban refugees washed ashore in Avon Tuesday afternoon.

The boat made of metal pipe, angle iron, wood and pieces of rigid foam carried a store of supplies including bottles of water, sardines and fuel, said Jarvis Williams of Jarvis’ Towing.

“It was amazing,” he said.

Someone reported the boat to authorities Tuesday. Rangers from Cape Hatteras National Seashore and members of the Avon Volunteer Fire Department came to see it between Avon Fishing Pier and beach access ramp 38, said Michael Barber, spokesman for the seashore.

The boat did not appear damaged and showed no signs that it had capsized, Williams said. Supplies were intact. A diesel engine still cranked. Labels on water bottles and fuel containers were from Cuba.

The boat appeared to have been abandoned for a while, said Joe Darling, ranger at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The Coast Guard had not marked the boat with orange paint to signify the occupants had been rescued, a typical practice, he said.

Weird.

Leef offers another reason to give thanks (for nothing) to Justice Kennedy

George Leef’s latest Forbes column focuses on U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s role in helping states that want to tax Internet commerce.

Probably the greatest rarity among politicians would be one who said (and really believed), “The government collects plenty of money as it is and I don’t want to plunder the taxpayers any further.” The vast majority of them know that spending tax dollars helps them remain popular and that’s why they’re constantly looking for new revenue streams.

They will even trample upon clear legal rulings when they get in the way of their designs on the wealth of the citizens they supposedly serve. A new example is the renewed push by state officials to impose sales taxes on out-of-state transactions, especially Internet purchases.

This is a rather old battle that seemed settled by the Supreme Court almost a quarter century ago.

In its 1992 decision in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, the Court held that a state can only tax sellers who have a physical presence within the state. Otherwise, such taxation runs afoul of both the Due Process and Commerce Clauses of the Constitution. …

… State officials, however, keep trying to pry the lid off the Internet treasure chest. One such effort led to a case that reached the Court last year, Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl. Based on Quill and earlier precedents, the Court ruled against a Colorado attempt to collect the taxes indirectly, by imposing a “use tax” on good purchased online. …

… The problem is that in his concurring opinion, Justice Kennedy opined that the Court needs to revisit Quill.

Commenting on the holding in Directing Marketing Association, the New York Times wrote, “Tuesday’s ruling was not especially consequential. But Justice Kennedy’s concurrence seemed likely to prompt new suits on Internet sales taxes.”

In that opinion, Kennedy stated, “When the Court decided Quill, mail-order sales in the United States totaled $180 billion, but by 2008 e-commerce sales alone totaled $3.16 trillion per year.” That bothers him because he thinks this hole in the tax structure leads to “startling revenue shortfalls in many states, with concomitant unfairness to local retailers and their customers who pay taxes at the register.”

Judges usually create trouble when they depart from their proper roles to meddle in public policy. This is an excellent example.

Medicaid Expansion – still a bad idea

Folks interested in facts, know the fiscal costs of Medicaid expansion, are well aware of the human costs of Medicaid expansion and understand that Medicaid reform must be the pre-cursor to any expansion.  The good folks at the Mercatus Institute explain why Medicaid expansion is a poor use of taxpayer dollars.

  • Spending on Medicaid expansion enrollees is nearly 50% higher than the government projected
  • Medicaid enrollees obtain only 20 to 40 cents of value for each dollar the government spends on their behalf.
  • Medicaid enrollees were significantly more likely than others to experience complications, to spend additional time in the hospital, and to die in the hospital.
  • Medicaid enrollees frequently receive inferior medical treatment, are often assigned to less-skilled surgeons, and tend to receive poorer post-operative instructions.
  • In an Oregon Medicaid expansion experiment, Medicaid enrollment increased outpatient visits, hospitalizations, the use of prescription medications, and emergency room visits, but it did not produce discernible improvements on any of the three physical health metrics evaluated: blood pressure, cholesterol, or blood sugar.
  • Expanding Medicaid increases demand for health care services, and therefore affects the allocation of those services.
  • Medicaid enrollment may reduce an enrollee’s medical debts by as much as $1,000. But from a societal perspective, there is no gain. The benefit to enrollees and providers is fully offset by the cost to taxpayers.
  • Claims that ACA’s Medicaid expansion saves states money is fully offset by the cost of higher federal spending and thus federal taxes.

Read Mercatus Institute senior research fellow, Brian Blase’s Forbes post here.

The benefits of growth without the growth

Andy Puzder explains in a Real Clear Politics column why Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s policies would not lead to the benefits she promises.

After Monday’s debate, one thing remains crystal clear: Secretary Clinton believes that government can create the benefits of economic growth without any actual economic growth. Burdened by politically motivated policies that are incapable of producing genuine economic growth, what else could she believe? …

… So, to get GDP back on pace, we need to understand why economic growth has been so anemic. According to the US Commerce Department, one of the primary causes has been a decline in investment. Faced with the world’s highest corporate tax rate and looking to a future of 2% growth, businesses are understandably reluctant to invest.

Trump’s solution is to incentivize business investment by lowering the corporate tax rate and encouraging businesses to invest their foreign earnings in the US. As Trump stated in the debate, “I’ll be reducing taxes tremendously, from 35 percent to 15 percent for companies, small and big businesses.” He would also reduce the growth destroying regulatory burdens American businesses must bear, keep our energy dollars and jobs in the US by an “all of the above” energy policy, and negotiate more equitable trade deals to reduce our massive trade deficits. If the idea is to increase business investment, drive economic growth and create jobs, this is a “tremendously” effective approach.

Clinton, on the other hand, would raise taxes on “the wealthy” to “make the economy fairer”, further discouraging investment and condemning us to prolonged abysmal economic growth. She would also further enlarge the regulatory state and destroy energy industry jobs in the name of global warming. In her efforts to make the economy “fairer”, Clinton would sacrifice even the potential for economic growth.

Lacking that potential, Clinton turns to government mandates as the means to address stagnating wages, the decline in good paying jobs, the shrinking middle class, and growing income inequality. Her policy proposals include government mandates raising the federal minimum wage, forcing businesses to share more of their profits with employees, and increasing paid family leave and sick days. In other words, she would try to provide employees with the benefits of economic growth (increased wages and benefits) without any actual economic growth.

These proposals certainly have political appeal but there is a serious problem. When, as Clinton proposes, government attempts to create the benefits that come from economic growth without the underlying growth necessary to support the increased costs, businesses must act to reduce those costs. The simple solution is to reduce the number of their existing employees. Another solution is to reduce growth as increased labor costs decrease profit margins and discourage investment. In other words, fewer jobs. The minimum wage, if you don’t have a job, is zero (and there are no benefits).

Federalist column highlights EMP danger

Those who heard James Carafano‘s recent presentation for the John Locke Foundation will not be surprised by a new Federalist column from James Hyde. It explains the real danger emanating from North Korea’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

… [I]gnoring Kim Jong Un is an error we may not live to regret.

What kind of an attack could Kim hurl at us, you ask? One that could kill between 75 percent and 90 percent of our population, relegating Americans to endangered society status and transporting those surviving back in time to the mid-1800s—if we’re lucky. …

… [I]t’s not the threat of a nuclear missile attack that concerns Dr. Peter Pry (who heads the Taskforce for National and Homeland Security, and for which I volunteer some of my time), ex-CIA director James Woolsey, Center for Security Policy Founder and President Dr. Frank Gaffney, and others who closely monitor nuclear developments in the DPRK. We are all deeply concerned about the horrendous potential for Kim Jong Un to use just one device—one which poses a threat far more devastating than a full-on Russian nuclear attack. …

… EMP stands for “electromagnetic pulse,” and it is truly devastating to anything and everything that has a microchip in it or is part of the crumbling, antiquated, and hopelessly snarled convergence of wires we call our electric grid.

The grid comprises three major sections: the Eastern Interconnection, which provides the nation with 75 percent of its power; the Western Interconnection; and the Texas Interconnection, all of which hopelessly lack the kind of hardening we need to protect them.

An EMP-based weapon would do a good deal of damage. But if the last two DPRK tests involved thermonuclear devices, they could become Super-EMPs. When those are put aboard a satellite and detonated 300 miles above the center of the U.S., just one of them would impale technology addicts on a painful and sharp withdrawal spike, while tossing our urban and suburban populaces into abject panic and chaos.

Stepping up the government’s role in maternity leave

Hadley Heath Manning understands the typical conservative arguments (involving costs and constitutionality) against federal government involvement in maternity leave. She also understands that nonconservatives reject those arguments. So her Washington Examiner column offers other reasons to reject a federal government role in addressing this issue.

Americans who believe that government maternity leave programs would improve their lives and help people in need are focused on just that: How would this affect people like me? The national budget and the Constitution are at best secondary considerations. …

… [T]his issue presents an opportunity for conservatives to explain the tradeoffs that come with government entitlement programs and explain how the real problem with government leave programs is that they won’t actually improve Americans’ lives. In fact, they could backfire on the very women they are intended to help.

A government takeover of maternity leave – whether it’s a mandate on employers or an entitlement program – would limit women’s opportunities and our freedoms. The best argument against government maternity leave is that it would come with serious downsides for women’s lives. And when women hear about an alternative, free-market solution, they prefer it to one-size-fits-all mandates.

In the case of maternity leave mandates, often proposed by Democrats, the result would be clear: If you force all employers to offer paid leave, some employers will be less likely to hire and promote women, as this requirement raises the cost of employing women. Mandates limit the flexibility of women to negotiate individualized compensation plans with their employers (and the majority of employers offer some form of paid leave benefits without a government mandate).

Trump’s proposal to use unemployment insurance to fund maternity leave is much less intrusive than the plans offered by Democrats. Even so, it represents a costly, government-centric solution to a problem that would be better solved by the private sector, where women are free to find the work-life balance that best suits their preferences, their family’s needs, and their budget.

Another alternative to one-size-fits-all government intervention would be to allow families to save tax-free for a family leave period. This type of savings account, called a “Personal Care Account” (PCA) is more popular with the public than government meddling in maternity leave.