Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Same-Sex Marriage Alters Job-Based Benefits

"Until recently, same-sex couples could not legally marry," reports Julie Appleby of Kaiser Health News. "Now, some are finding they must wed if they want to keep their partner's job-based health insurance and other benefits."
With same-sex marriage now legal in 35 states and the District of Columbia, some employers that formerly covered domestic partners say they will require marriage licenses for workers who want those perks.

“We’re bringing our benefits in line, making them consistent with what we do for everyone else,” said Ray McConville, a spokesman for Verizon, which notified non-union employees in July that domestic partners in states where same-sex marriage is legal must wed if they want to qualify for such benefits.

Employers making the changes say that since couples now have the legal right to marry, they no longer need to provide an alternative. Such rule changes could also apply to opposite-sex partners covered under domestic partner arrangements.

“The biggest question is: Will companies get rid of benefit programs for unmarried partners?” said Todd Solomon, a partner at McDermott Will & Emery in Chicago.
It is a reminder that "when marriage laws change, so do tax laws." Some same-sex advocates aren't happy with those changes.
It is legal for employers to set eligibility requirements for the benefits they offer workers and their families — although some states, such as California, bar employers from excluding same-sex partners from benefits. But some benefit consultants and advocacy groups say there are legal, financial and other reasons why couples may not want to marry.

Requiring marriage licenses is “a little bossy” and feels like “it’s not a voluntary choice at that point,” said Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, an organization advocating for gay, lesbian and transgender people.
More at Once, Same-Sex Couples Couldn't Wed; Now, Some Employers Say They Must, PBS

Celebrating, Demanding School Choice

"More than 11,000 rallies and events focusing on school choice are planned this week across the country" to celebrate National School Choice Week (NSCW), reports Mary Lou Byrd.

Economist Milton Friedman first advanced the concept of K-12 education vouchers — a system in which education tax dollars are attached to each child and follow each child to the public or private school of his/her choice.

His rationale was simple: the American public school system is a government monopoly. As happens with all monopolies, public school performance and quality are in decline, and American children as a group are falling behind their peers in other nations.

Introduce competition in K-12 education (as most other industrialized nations have), and the U.S. will (a) erase the inequality of educational opportunity between rich and poor children (i.e., between children whose families can afford private schools and children whose families can not), and (b) vastly improve the quality of education delivered by all American schools, especially government public schools. Moreover, he asserted, competition will cause public schools to become more efficient.  It will apply much-needed brakes to out-of-control public education costs, since private schools typically deliver a higher quality education at about half the cost of public schools.

School choice experiments that began in the 1980s have proven Friedman correct in his assessment of expanded equality, equal opportunity, and cost-containment. Public school systems even began opening "public charter schools" as an alternative to the assigned neighborhood public school in hopes of keeping parents from choosing private school options. For all the right reasons, school choice has expanded in the U.S.

The Institute for Justice, one advocate of school choice that has "defended every major lawsuit filed against school choice programs by teachers' unions and other opponents," told the Washington Free Beacon this week,
School choice is on the rise like never before. There are now over 50 school-choice programs in 25 states that give parents both public and private school options, and about half of those programs have been enacted in just the past five years. ... [S]tate legislatures are increasingly heeding the demands of parents, many of whom are unsatisfied with the performance of their children's assigned public schools and want other options. 
Public opinion on this issue is with the parents.
A new poll released ahead of School Choice Week shows a majority of Americans‐69 percent—favors the concept of school choice. The poll, released by the American Federation for children, another partner of NSCW, also showed 63 percent support private school choice, 76 percent support public charter schools, and 65 percent believe choice and competition among schools improve education.
For all its expansion to date, however, school choice is still available to only a small percentage of the entire K-12 student population. While NSCW's celebration is certainly warranted for the gains that have been made, it also serves as a encouraging reminder of the work that remains to make Friedman's universal school choice vision a reality for all children in the U.S.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Prager U: Myths, Lies and Capitalism

Prager University (which isn't really a university) continues to produce some of the best short video "lessons" on the important issues of our time — videos that have garnered over 29 million views to date.

Below is their latest video lesson in economics, Myths, Lies and Capitalism. If you like what you see — as have almost 100,000 subscribers — check out their other videos in economics, political science, history, life studies, and religion/philosophy.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Common Core and the Wisdom Deficit

In a thought-provoking essay, veteran English teacher Michael Godsey writes that he doesn't teach much "wisdom" in his high school classes anymore, and he wonders who does now that the Common Core has taken hold in public schools.
Secular wisdom in the public schools seems like it should inherently spring from the literature that's shaped American culture. And while the students focus on how Whitman's "purpose shapes the content and style of his text" [in the Common Core]," they're obviously exposed to the words that describe his leaves of grass.  And that's good. But there is a noticeable deprioritization of literature, and a crumbling consensus regarding the nation's idea of classic literature. The Common Core requires only Shakespeare, which is puzzling if only for its singularity.

The Common Core's 10 so-called College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards focus heavily on technical skills and impersonal text analysis and leave little if any room for classical literature. Yet classical literature plays an important role in encouraging students to personally engage in, and examine, literary characters' life experiences and decision-making processes. Through literature, students had the opportunity to garner a certain wisdom from those life lessons and to evaluate truth and appropriately apply it to their own lives.
Admittedly, nothing abut the Common Core or any modern shifts in teaching philosophies is forbidding me from sharing deeper lessons found in Plato's cave or Orwell's Airstrip One. The fine print of the Common Core guidelines even mentions a few possible titles.

But this comes with constant pervasive language that favors objective analysis over personal engagement. Achieve the Core, for example, an organization founded by the lead writers of the standards, explicitly encourages schools to teach students to "extract" information so they can "note and assess patterns of writing" without relying on "any particular background information" or "students having other experiences or knowledge." This emphasis on what they call "text-dependent reading" contributes to a culture in which it's not normal to promote cultural wisdom or personal growth; in fact, it's almost awkward.
Godsey doesn't worry about his own children, or children of families who value classic literature and the life lessons they teach enough to pursue it at home. But he is concerned for the millions of young people who are not so fortunate and who will lose out on the shared wisdom that families once relied on their public schools to transmit.

Source: The Wisdom Deficit in Schools, Michael Godsey, The Atlantic, January 2015

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Abortion Legislation, Pro-Life March in DC

On the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, tens of thousands gathered in Washington DC to March for Life from the National Mall to the steps of the Supreme Court—the largest of many marches in support of life in cities across the nation over the past weekend.

To coincide with the march, House GOP leaders had scheduled a vote on legislation, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, that would have banned elective abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy — the point at which unborn children can feel pain and survive premature birth.  A Quinnipiac poll on the issue in November reported 60% approval among Americans. That legislation was abruptly pulled, however, when female GOP members raised concerns about a provision in the bill that required rape victims to report the crime to law enforcement in order to qualify for an exemption.

In its place a lesser bill, "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," was passed the House in a 242-179 vote, reports the Washington Examiner.
The legislation would make it illegal for individuals to use the Affordable Care Act's insurance subsidies to buy plans that cover abortion services through the new health exchanges. Many states have already passed legislation limiting abortion coverage in exchange plans, but the measure the House approved would apply nationwide and possibly discourage insurers on the exchanges from offering abortion coverage at all.
The switch upset some who supported the stricter measure. Mollie Hemingway chastised Congress for not believing "it's competent enough to make a case against infanticide" when there is clear polling data showing broad support.
A Washington Post/ABC survey showed that 64 percent of Americans favor limiting abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy or earlier. When just women were asked, the figure jumped to 71 percent. Such measures are popular among independents and Americans of various income levels.

Quinnipiac even asked detailed questions about the bill last go-around ... Sixty percent of voters said they would support it, while 33 percent said they were opposed. Even Democrats were evenly divided (46 percent to 47 percent) on the question. We're one of just a small handful of countries, including notorious human rights violators North Korea and china, that allow late-term abortion.
Others were less critical. "While we are disappointed that the House will not be voting on the [20-week abortion ban] today, we are pleased that the House is moving forward to stop taxpayer funding of abortion," said a joint statement by the Susan B. Anthony List, the March for Life Education and Defense Fund and the Concerned women for America Legislative Action Committees.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Growing Business-Builders Essential to Growing Economy

While the president painted a deceptively rosy picture of our economy in his State of the Union address, a more reality-based assessment was delivered recently by Gallup CEO Jim Clifton in Business Journal. He argues that American leaders, having misdiagnosed the cause and effect of economic growth and job creation, are making our economic problems worse.

"This economy is never truly coming back unless we reverse the birth and death trends of American businesses," asserts Clifton. "When small and medium-sized businesses are dying faster than they're being born, so is free enterprise. And when free enterprise dies, America dies with it."
  • Approximately 6 million businesses with one or more employees in the U.S.—the real engines of economic growth—provide jobs for more than 100 million Americans and much of the tax base for everything, from military to social safety net spending.
  • Since 2008, U.S. business "deaths" (shut-downs) have outnumbered new business "births" (start-ups), and we have fallen to 12th among developed nations in terms of business start ups behind countries such as Hungary, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, Israel and Italy.
  • Fewer businesses mean declining revenues and smaller salaries to tax, followed by declining aid for the elderly and poor and declining funding for the military, for education, for infrastructure — in short, for everything.  
Citing Gallup polling data showing Americans believe the economy (59%) and federal spending and budget deficit (58%) are cause for a "great deal" of worry, Clifton argues that ordinary people seem to intuitively understand what America's leaders do not:  that businesses and entrepreneurs are the critical drivers of a strong economy.
Our leadership keeps thinking that the answer to economic growth and ultimately job creation is more innovation, and we continue to invest billions in it. But an innovation is worthless until an entrepreneur creates a business model for it and turns that innovative idea in something customers will buy. Yet current thinking tells us we're on the right track and don't need different strategies, so we continue marching down the path of national decline, believing innovation will save us.

Because we have misdiagnosed the cause and effect of economic growth, we have misdiagnosed the cause and effect of job creation. To get back on track, we need to quit pinning everything on innovation, and we need to start focusing on the almighty entrepreneurs and business builders.

Source: American Entrepreneurship: Dead or Alive?, Jim Clifton, Business Journal, January 13, 2015

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Vermont Abandones Single-Payer Health System

Vermont was the only state to undertake the liberal dream of a state-wide single-payer health care system in lieu of Obamacare (as the Affordable Care Act permitted). After discovering how much it would cost, Vermont has abandoned the idea.

Designed by Jonathan Gruber, the Green Mountain Care plan enacted in 2011 (to take effect in 2017):
  • abolished all private health insurance except those provided by multi-state employers;
  • offered substantially higher benefits: i.e., the state would pay 94% of health costs, compared to 90% under ObamaCare's most expensive plan; and
  • was to be funded entirely by tax collections, with no individual premium payments. 
But "Vermonters were stunned to discover how much their new free health care was going to cost," writes Michael Tanner in the New York Post.
  •  Paying for Green Mountain Care would have required a 160% increase in state taxes by 2019, as much as $2.9 billion annually.
  • The state's top income tax rate would have been raised from 8.95% to an astounding 18%. For high earners that would mean a combined federal-state income tax burden of 56%. Even lower-income Vermonters would have seen a substantial tax hike.
  • Businesses would have been hit with an 11.5% state payroll tax (on top of a federal payroll tax of 15.3% to 16.2%).
  • Payments to doctors and hospitals would have been cut by an estimated 16%, forcing some to leave the state and threatening the viability of local hospitals.
  • And even with all of that, according to numbers released by the governor's office, the plan would be running in the red within four years.
Although "Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, announced that the state was giving up and abandoning its plans for Green Mountain Care, reports Tanner, other states are currently considering legislation similar to Vermont's, including Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington.

Source: Liberal Dream of Single-Payer Health Care Dies in Vermont, New York Post, January 18, 2015