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The Nanny State Suffers a Setback

Very good news:

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s controversial plan to keep large sugary drinks out of restaurants and other eateries was rejected by a state appeals court on Tuesday, which said he had overstepped his authority in trying to impose the ban.

The law, which would have prohibited those businesses from selling sodas and other sugary beverages larger than 16 ounces (473 ml), “violated the state principle of separation of powers,” the First Department of the state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division said.

The decision, upholding a lower court ruling in March that struck down the law, dealt a blow to Bloomberg’s attempt to advance the pioneering regulation as a way to combat obesity. Beverage makers and business groups, however, challenged it in court, arguing that the mayoral-appointed health board had gone too far when it approved the law.

A unanimous four-judge panel at the appeals court agreed, finding that the board had stepped beyond its power to regulate public health and usurped the policy-making role of the legislature.

In particular, the court focused on the law’s loopholes, which exempted businesses not under the auspices of the city’s health department and left certain drinks, such as milk-based beverages, unaffected.

As a result, grocery and convenience stores – such as 7 Eleven and its 64-ounce Big Gulp – were protected from the ban’s reach, even as restaurants, sandwich shops and movie theaters were not. Meanwhile, milkshakes and high-calorie coffee drinks like Starbucks’ Frappucinos would have remained unfettered.

“The exceptions did not … reflect the agency’s charge to protect public health but instead reflected the agency’s own policy decisions regarding balancing the relative importance of protecting public health with ensuring the economic viability of certain industries,” Justice Dianne Renwick wrote for the court.

Bloomberg will, of course, appeal this ruling. And I imagine that he will try to find other ways to officiously meddle in the lives of ordinary citizens. But it is always nice to see officious meddling slapped down. And we have seen it with the reaction of the New York state court system to the soda ban.

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How Obamacare “Works”

$12 billion ain’t exactly chicken feed:

President Barack Obama’s decision to delay implementation of part of his healthcare reform law will cost $12 billion and leave a million fewer Americans with employer-sponsored health insurance in 2014, congressional researchers said Tuesday.

The report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office is the first authoritative estimate of the human and fiscal cost from the administration’s unexpected one-year delay announced July 2 of the employer mandate – a requirement for larger businesses to provide health coverage for their workers or pay a penalty.

The analysts said the delay will add to the cost of “Obamacare’s” insurance-coverage provisions over the next 10 years. Penalties paid by employers would be lower and more individuals who otherwise might have had employer coverage will need federal insurance subsidies.

“Of those who would otherwise have obtained employment-based coverage, roughly half will be uninsured (in 2014),” CBO said in a July 30 letter to Representative Paul Ryan, Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee.

Under Obama’s healthcare reform law, employers with 50 or more full-time workers were supposed to provide healthcare coverage or incur penalties beginning January 1. But the requirement will now begin in 2015.

The delay intensified doubts about the administration’s ability to implement Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement and stirred Republican calls for a similar delay in another Obamacare mandate that requires most individuals to have health insurance in 2014.

Note that the decision to delay the implementation of Obamacare was made by an imperial presidency that isn’t being called an imperial presidency by all of the people who were worried about the supposed imperial presidency of George W. Bush, because now that their guy is the imperial president in question, having an imperial presidency is presumably not a big deal anymore.

Oh, and there is also this:

Be careful you don’t fall off the Obamacare “cliff” when the boss asks you to put in some overtime.

Working more could ultimately mean thousands of dollars less for you under a quirk in the new health-care law going into effect this fall. This could prompt some people to cut back on their hours to avoid losing money.

“Working more can actually leave you worse off,” the price-comparison site ValuePenguin.com notes in a new analysis.

“It’s sort of an absurd scenario,” said Jonathan Wu, ValuePenguin.com’s co-founder. “It’s something for people to be aware of.”

In that scenario, an individual or family whose annual income surpasses maximums set by the federal government—if only by $1—will totally lose subsidies available to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

The loss of those subsidies in some cases will mean that people potentially would have been better off financially if they had worked less during the year, Wu said. And they then would have to work significantly more to make up for the lost subsidy.

“I think they’d be surprised to see how drastic it is,” said Wu. “I’d be kind of shocked to see if I make $100 less (in total income each year), I get all these benefits, but if I make $100 more, I get nothing.”

“You basically don’t want to fall in that hole,” said Wu, adding that he believed contractors and others with more control over their incomes would be apt to adjust their hours worked to avoid the subsidy cliff.

Don’t you love how much we are finding out about the health care “reform” bill, now that we have passed it?

Bergoglio and Branding

Patrick Ruffini on what the Republican party can learn from Pope Francis:

Months ago, Catholics and other observers wondered changes would be in store with the election of Cardinal Bergoglio. Most honed in on how he might differ from Benedict XVI on doctrinal grounds, or in reining in the Roman Curia. These are the kinds of substantive matters that Very Serious People, and those who pretend to be like them in the media, are supposed to care about. And they are quite important in the long-term unfolding of history. 

But ask the average man on the street what has changed about the Church with the new Pope, and most will not be able to name a single policy change that Francis has instituted. Rather, they will cite his common touch, and his genuine acts of humility, as evidence that the Catholic Church has reinvigorated itself. 

In fact, it is probably right to say that people see Francis as more of a radical reformer than he actually is because of these deeply personal touches. In a way, it doesn’t matter as much what Francis does policy-wise, because his personal example is inspiration enough. 

This is not only the story of one Pope, but the it is the story of all transformational figures who were able to rally people of different backgrounds and beliefs. At the center of the story of Reagan, Thatcher, Churchill, FDR, and some might even say the 2008 Obama was a magnetic persona that fit into a carefully crafted narrative. Having a leader who is much different than what we have come to expect turns out to count for a whole lot, much more than the substantive nitty-gritty of policy. 

This admittedly superficial view of what drives political change does have an upshot for wonks. If policy doesn’t matter as much to winning elections, the wonks have more running room to implement short-term unpopular policies or to resist whole cloth changes demanded in the name of “rebranding” if they can find a popular leader who can bring the public along. 

Call this the 70-20-10 rule. 70 percent of what it will take to pull off a successful rebrand will flow directly from the personality of the leader. 20 percent will come from the specific policies they put in place — very important, but also very boring, and thus downplayed by the media. And 10 percent will come from tactical changes. Yet, policy, message, and tactics do matter when two parties are otherwise stalemated because of a lack of inspirational leadership on either side (which is often the case).

There can be little question but that Republicans need rebranding. Pope Francis is succeeding at rebranding the Catholic church and making it more welcoming to the masses, despite the fact that very little has changed in terms of church policy. The GOP should be looking to emulate his success.

Brainbuilding

For those among us who want to make sure that we remain sharp, there is bookreading, chess, Go, crosswords, exercise, and this. I played n-back games for a while a couple of years ago, and have fallen off the wagon. I need to get back on it.

In Some Blog Posts, I Don’t Even Have to Offer Editorial Comments

Link:

In order to ensure Americans understand how to access the benefits available to them when many provisions of the Affordable Care Act go online October 1, the Obama administration announced last month that it is setting up a call center that will be accessible to Americans 24 hours a day. 

One branch of that call center will be located in California’s Contra Costa County, where, reportedly, 7,000 people applied for the 204 jobs. According to the Contra Costa Times, however, “about half the jobs are part-time, with no health benefits — a stinging disappointment to workers and local politicians who believed the positions would be full-time.” The county supervisor, Karen Mitchoff, called the hiring process “a comedy of errors” and said she “never dreamed [the jobs] would be part-time.”

Health Care “Reform” and a Revealing Quote

Remember the Obama administration’s decision to delay the implementation of the employer mandate section of Obamacare? Sure you do. Now, check out the following quote from Democratic operative Chris Lehane on why the delay is a good idea for the Obama administration and for Democrats:

“You’d have preferred to avoid this. On the other hand, you potentially go into the midterms now in a situation where people are getting savings, and you’re not going to have the potential peril of some small businesses or restaurant owners making people part-time,” Lehane said.

(Emphasis mine.) Yeah, let’s not worry about small business or restaurant owners making more and more workers part-time. Let’s worry about those calamities after people have voted in 2014, and let’s take them off the table for now so that the people don’t vote against Democrats next year. That’s the important thing.

Note, by the way, that Lehane doesn’t even try to deny that as a consequence of health care “reform,” we will increasingly see full-time employees moved to part time status in an already weak economy. And other Democrats don’t really try to deny it either.

Your Government at Work

Behold:

A new report by the inspector general of the IRS found that a small group of top executives at the IRS ran up “extremely high travel expenses” in recent years, with some basically commuting each week to work in Washington, D.C. by plane from around the nation.

“In some cases, the travel days exceeded the number of business days due to employees remaining in travel status during the weekends and holidays,” the report said.

An IRS source told me the most frequent travelers were four different officials inside the tax agency who “work” in Washington, at IRS headquarters, but actually live in Dallas, Minneapolis and Atlanta.

In other words, they would fly weekly to and from Washington, D.C. by plane, and then bill the taxpayer for that travel and their extended stay in D.C. – and it is not a temporary situation, but has been going on for years.

One IRS official, labeled “Executive B” in the report, traveled to Washington, D.C. a total of 282 days in Fiscal Year 2012, claiming almost $127,000 in travel costs. (That’s $450/day if you do the math.)

In FY 2011, “Executive B” traveled to Washington 238 days, with total travel costs of almost $116,000.

“In such cases, the cost and frequency of travel indicate that some executives may not live in the best location to economically accomplish their roles and responsibilities,” the report noted.

“Executive C” spent 213 days in Washington in FY 2011 at a cost of just over $105,000.

More examples from that same year include “Executive A” spending 290 days in Washington for $88,951 in expenses; “Executive G” spent 193 days in Washington for $86,433 in costs.

While such examples might not seem to make sense to some, it has evidently been seen before at the IRS.

“I retired from IRS 13 years ago,” one of my Twitter followers wrote me on Tuesday night, “and it was a common practice even then.”

Makes you feel proud, doesn’t it?

Fantastically Good News

Everyone will be pleased to note that President Obama is going to give “a series of back-to-back speeches” on the economy. That’s a series of two speeches in a row; surely a comfort to those who have lost jobs and lost economic ground during this administration, and who have to worry about how to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads and the heads of their families–never mind the idea of occasionally going out, taking vacations and having enough money to send the kids to college when the time comes. Since, as we all know, speeches from this president cure all ills, I am certain that the Roaring Teens are just around the corner. I am equally certain that the media needn’t focus on the dismal performance of the economy during the lifetime of this administration–a focus they surely would not have neglected had a Republican been president since January 20, 2009.

More Obamacare Revelations

We continue to find out what is in the health care reform bill:

Quote of the Day

Presently before the court is the motion of the defendant, Sony Pictures Classics, Inc. (“Sony”), seeking dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The plaintiff, Faulkner Literary Rights, LLC (“Faulkner”) has responded in opposition. The court has viewed Woody Allen’s movie, Midnight in Paris, read the book, Requiem for a Nun, and is thankful that the parties did not ask the court to compare The Sound and the Fury with Sharknado. Further, the court has thoroughly considered the filings and relevant law. The motion is due to be granted.

At issue in this case is whether a single line from a full-length novel singly paraphrased and attributed to the original author in a full-length Hollywood film can be considered a copyright infringement. In this case, it cannot.

–Judge Michael P. Mills, Chief Judge, United States District Court, Northern District of Mississippi. Faulkner Literary Rights, LLC v. Sony Pictures Classics Inc.

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