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Updated: 5 hours 3 min ago

Federal Agents Storm Couple’s Property, Seize $60,000 Car for Violating Emissions Standards

5 hours 20 min ago

Homeland Security agents raided a North Carolina couple’s property and seized their $60,000 Land Rover Defender, claiming it violated EPA emissions standards. Jennifer Brinkley said the agents didn’t give her a chance to defend her rights to keep the car before hauling it away. She and her husband have 35 days to appeal the alleged violation, but the government won’t reveal the car’s location.

The post Federal Agents Storm Couple’s Property, Seize $60,000 Car for Violating Emissions Standards appeared first on Daily Signal.

Voter ID Wins Another Round in Wisconsin

5 hours 34 min ago

In a victory for election integrity, the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the state’s voter ID law against separate challenges by the NAACP and the League of Women Voters. The justices joined the state supreme courts of Georgia, Indiana and Tennessee—as well as the U.S. Supreme Court—in finding laws requiring photo IDs to vote constitutional.

The judges in Wisconsin concluded the plaintiffs in the Wisconsin cases “failed to prove” the law was discriminatory or would keep anyone from voting.

Justice Patience Roggensack, who wrote the majority opinion in both cases, said in the NAACP case that “the burdens of time and inconvenience associated” with obtaining an ID “are not undue burdens on the right to vote and do not render the law invalid.”

This is particularly true, she wrote, because needing a photo ID “is a condition of our times where more and more personal interactions are being modernized to require proof of identify with a specified type of photo identification.” Requiring a photo ID, she added, is a “familiar” burden to voters because it accompanies “many of our everyday tasks.”

Although the Wisconsin law does provide that a free photo ID can be obtained for voting, the court also held that the state could not charge a fee for any supporting documentation needed to obtain the ID, such as the cost of a birth certificate. Because Wisconsin has a tradition of “jealously guarding and protecting” the right to vote, payment of any fee cannot be “an electoral standard.” Thus, the court interpreted the new photo ID law to require the state Division of Motor Vehicles, which issues driver’s licenses and photo IDs, to issue IDs for voting “without requiring documents for which an elector must pay a fee to a government agency.”

With that proviso, the court found the photo ID law constitutional and “reasonably related to the State’s significant interests” in “protecting the integrity and reliability of the electoral process, maintain public confidence in election results and preventing voter fraud.”

In both cases, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who was appointed to the court in 1976 by former Democratic Gov. Patrick Lucey, wrote dissenting opinions. In the League of Women Voters case, which was decided by a 4-3 vote, she claimed, as have other opponents of voter ID laws, that Wisconsin’s law “brings the specter of Jim Crow front and center.” This is racial demagoguery of the worst kind.

This decision lifted the injunction that had been issued by a state circuit court. It does not affect another injunction issued by federal District Court Judge Lynn Adelman, a Clinton appointee and former Democratic state senator. As I have previously written, Adelman refused to follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, in which a majority of the Court upheld the constitutionality of an ID law in Indiana that was even stricter than Wisconsin’s law.

Wisconsin’s attorney general, J.B. Van Hollen, has appealed that decision to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. He hopes the state supreme court’s decisions will help him convince the appeals court to overturn Adelman’s decision, according to his spokeswoman, Dana Brueck.

Gov. Scott Walker (R), probably said it best. “Voter ID is a common-sense reform that protects the integrity of our elections,” he said in reaction to the decisions. “People need to have confidence in our electoral process and to know that their vote has been properly counted.”

The post Voter ID Wins Another Round in Wisconsin appeared first on Daily Signal.

Sudanese Mom, Once Sentenced to Die for Her Faith, Can Call America Home

5 hours 35 min ago

The Sudanese mother who was sentenced to death for refusing to renounce her Christian faith safety arrived Thursday night in the United States.

Her husband, U.S. citizen Daniel Wani, cried tears of joy, according to a report in the New Hampshire Union Leader.

“Thank you so much,” Wani, a resident of Manchester, N.H.,  told reporters. “I am so relieved.”

Meriam Ibrahim Ishag, who like her husband is a native of Sudan, had been charged with and convicted of adultery and apostasy for marrying a Christian and refusing to convert to Islam.

According to media accounts, her Muslim father abandoned his family when she was 6. Raised by her Orthodox Christian mother, she went to college, graduated from medical school, and in 2011 married Wani, also a Christian.

After her brother lodged a complaint against her on the grounds that her marriage to a non-Muslim isn’t valid, a Sudanese court sentenced her to 100 lashes and death by hanging after giving birth. Ishag’s 2-year-old son, Martin, joined her in prison, where she gave birth to daughter Maya in late May.

Ishag, a physician, did not speak to reporters immediately upon arriving in the U.S.

Sudanese officials allowed her to leave that country last week. The family flew from Rome, where Ishag was blessed by Pope Francis at the Vatican, to Philadelphia, where Mayor Michael Nutter called her a “world freedom fighter.” Then it was on to the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, where well-wishers waving American flags greeted ishag and her family.

Her brother-in-law, Gabriel Wani, told reporters that the family is ready to “relax.” He said Ishag was being offered asylum in the U.S. and was to meet soon with State Department officials.

Ishag’s final stop was Manchester, the area where her husband lives and works and they plan on making their new home together.

 

The post Sudanese Mom, Once Sentenced to Die for Her Faith, Can Call America Home appeared first on Daily Signal.

Russia: Time to Act on INF Violations

5 hours 52 min ago

American officials have confirmed that Russia has been violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

The INF Treaty was concluded in 1987 and prohibits all ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Pointing to official Russian media sources, defense analysts Mark Schneider and Keith Payne contend that Russia has been developing and testing both. Furthermore, Russian officials regularly threaten to unilaterally withdraw from the INF Treaty. Even Vladimir Putin hinted at this as early as 2007.

How should the U.S. respond? According to Michaela Dodge, The Heritage Foundation’s policy analyst for defense and strategic policy, the U.S. should strengthen transatlantic partnerships, particularly through sustained missile defense improvements. In particular, the land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense system, set to deploy in Romania (2015) and Poland (2018), should remain on track. The U.S. should also re-evaluate its strategic posture and embrace a “protect and defend” strategy while continuing to modernize all three legs of the nuclear triad.

Thomas Karako of the Center for Strategic and International Studies agreed that the U.S. should “respond firmly through diplomatic and other means, take concrete steps to hedge against formal or informal treaty lapse, and finally take to heart the lessons learned about Russia’s troubling arms control record.” It might be prudent, Karako suggests, to remind Putin that the coming Aegis Ashore systems could be adapted to defeat INF-range cruise missiles.

But the Obama Administration’s passivity is just as much at fault for encouraging Russia’s blatant violations. Former Senators Jon Kyl (R–AZ) and Kit Bond (R–MO) write that “the Obama White House’s non-response to this violation has contributed to Putin’s perception of U.S. indecision and weakness.”

Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton stated that President Obama’s failure to confront Russia early on only made the Administration look inept and submissive in the face of Russia’s treaty violations: “It forms a pattern of Russian behavior under Putin that is very threatening to American interests.”

Clearly, Russia cares little for international norms and agreements. President Obama’s approach of simply hoping for Moscow’s compliance in arms control agreements, coupled with a lack of enforcement, makes for a poor policy. “After all,” Senators Kyl and Bond ask, “if the enforcement of nuclear weapons arms control obligations is not worth the attention of the President of the United States, what is the point of the obligations?”

Harrison Menke is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, pleaseclick here.

The post Russia: Time to Act on INF Violations appeared first on Daily Signal.

The Legacy of Milton Friedman: Educational Opportunity Continues to Expand

9 hours 53 min ago

Thursday marked 102nd birthday of the late, great Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. It is both fitting and proper we remember his legacy of freedom crossed many disciplines—including education.

Milton Friedman once remarked that there are “two alternative ways of organizing an economy: top-down verses bottom-up; central planning and control versus private markets; more colloquially, socialism versus capitalism.” This is no less true with education.

Yet America has seen a half-century of growing centralization of education, without meaningful results.

Friedman knew school choice—applying market forces via parents to one of society’s most essential functions—offered the alternative. Indeed, he is widely acknowledged as the father of the school choice movement.

“A stable and democratic society is impossible without widespread acceptance of some common set of values and without a minimum degree of literacy and knowledge on the part of most citizens,” Friedman once said. “Education contributes to both.”

Friedman understood that a well-educated citizenry is essential for a free society. He also knew that an educational marketplace was better equipped to educate a free people than centralized schooling. This is why Friedman developed the idea of school vouchers, which give parents the freedom to send their child to a private school using all or part of the per-pupil public funding.

Freidman’s educational philosophy promoted an environment where parents are free to choosethe best educational option to meet their child’s individual needs, whether public, private, charter, virtual or home school.

Educational choice raises all boats. It empowers families to determine the school environment that best suits the needs of their children. It puts competitive pressure on schools that fail to meet the needs of the student body, improving outcomes for both students who exercise school choice and students who remain in underperforming schools.

His goal, he said once on CNBC, was to “have a system in which every family in the U.S. will be able to choose for itself the school to which its children go.”

If Friedman were alive today, he would see America moving aggressively toward that goal.

Friedman’s legacy of school choice has grown more expansive—and more innovative.

As of 2014, there are 41 private school choice programs in 24 states and the District of Columbia. More than 300,000 students are currently participate in a private school choice option

Heritage fellow Virginia Walden Ford says when all school choice policy options are considered—for example, deductions for homeschooling expenses—more than 1 million children now benefit from choice in education.

And, in 2011, Arizona enacted the nation’s first education savings account option, which could be considered a refinement of Friedman’s original voucher idea.

ESAs allow parents of eligible students to fully customize their child’s education with 90 percent of the per-pupil state funding that would have followed their child to a public school. With an ESA, parents can purchase a variety of education-related services, such as tuition, curricula, tutoring, therapies, and can even roll over unused funds into a college savings account.

Last month, Florida passed the nation’s second education savings account program.

Public support also continues to grow for universal school choice. According to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice’s annual Schooling in America Survey, the public supports universal access over means-tested school choice programs by 65 percent.

Milton Friedman understood school choice as 21st century education reform that would open the door for every child to receive the best education possible. As school choice proliferates around the country, Friedman’s labor is bearing fruit— breaking down monopolies and promoting freedom in education.

In honor of Friedman’s birthday, we must rededicate ourselves to that unfinished task which remains before us, the true end of his philosophy of educational choice: educational freedom in America.

The post The Legacy of Milton Friedman: Educational Opportunity Continues to Expand appeared first on Daily Signal.

Jobs Report: The Status Quo Remains the Same

10 hours 17 min ago

On the jobs front, it’s a story of not much better and not much worse.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ July employment report shows middling growth in the labor market. It shows no hint of economic backsliding, but it also shows few signs of the robust growth many economists hoped for—and expected.

The report stated employers added a net 209,000 jobs in July—matching the average growth over the past 12 months. This represents decent job growth, but it throws cold water on hopes that the almost 300,000 net jobs added in June reflected an accelerating labor market. Furthermore, wages tend to rise and workweeks lengthen when the job market heats up; neither happened in July. Average workweeks remained flat (34.5 hours) and average hourly earnings rose one cent to $24.45. June’s encouraging numbers now look like statistical noise around a trend of more modest growth

If the economy already stood at full employment, economists would welcome adding 200,000 jobs a month. But the economy needs to add approximately 120,000 jobs a month just to keep pace with population growth. Job growth in the 150,000-200,000-per-month range means unemployment will come down slowly.

Indeed the household survey showed the unemployment rate rising a statistically insignificant 0.1 percentage points to 6.2 percent as the number of unemployed rose over the month (+197,000 workers). Fortunately this increase occurred because of slightly higher labor force participation (+329,000 workers) and not because of net job losses. Both changes occurred well within the household survey’s statistical margin of error. The labor market appears to be neither accelerating nor decelerating.

Further evidence of this comes from one of the most accurate unemployment forecasting models—the Barnichon-Nekarda model based on labor force inflows and outflows. The model, which accurately predicted July’s unemployment rate, projects unemployment will hover around 6 percent for the rest of the year.

On the other hand, the economy does not appear headed for a recession. Economists feared this possibility after the economy unexpectedly contracted in the first quarter. Fortunately growth recovered in the second quarter, and today’s job growth further dispels those fears. A contracting economy does not add 200,000 jobs.

One discouraging trend: Part-time employment did not drop as hoped. The Bureau of Labor Statistics uses two measures of part-time employment. It asks workers how many hours they worked in the previous week and how many hours they usually work. In June both measures jumped by more than 800,000 workers—accounting for all the month’s net job growth. Some economists warned this surge in part-time employment reflected the weakness of the economy, but others took a wait-and-see approach since these numbers tend to jump around a lot because of the household survey’s large margin of error. But the figures for part-time employment changed little in July, dropping somewhat in one measure and rising slightly in the other. Both remain well above where they stood in the spring, which means the labor market remains weaker than the headline figures suggest.

The post Jobs Report: The Status Quo Remains the Same appeared first on Daily Signal.

Taxpayers Cover Cost of Flying Immigrant Children to Hawaii

17 hours 20 min ago

HONOLULU—Although 2,500 miles from the continental United States, Hawaii has joined the list of states temporarily housing unaccompanied minors from Central America who have illegally crossed into America through the U.S.-Mexico border.

Who’s paying to transport the minors to Hawaii? You, the taxpayer.

Some 60,000 Central American youths fleeing their home countries have come to the United States in the past few months. That number could reach 90,000 by the end of the year.

Politicians, border agents and social service workers call the migration a “humanitarian crisis.”

Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said between Jan. 1 and July 7, eight minors were discharged from the unaccompanied alien children program to sponsors in Hawaii.

Wolfe couldn’t offer any details on the ages and countries of origin of the children, where the children are now living, or who is sponsoring them in Hawaii. But he said the sponsors are “mostly family members of the child. In fact, more than half are parents of the minor.”

Federal taxpayers cover the cost of transportation and housing for the refugee children, including airfare to Hawaii, Wolfe said.

Federal taxpayers also pay sponsors’ costs of transportation, Wolfe said.

Former U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, R-Hawaii, said although he feels for the children and is sympathetic to their plight, he doesn’t believe taxpayers should be covering their airline tickets to Hawaii.

Djou said if children in Central America hear that they could get an all-expense trip paid to Hawaii from the federal government, more might cross the border illegally.

“What an incentive,” Djou said.

The average length of stay in the program is now less than 30 days, Wolfe said. But Hawaii immigration attorney Clare Hanusz said the children could be here much longer, depending on the immigration court calendar.

Read more on Watchdog.org.

The post Taxpayers Cover Cost of Flying Immigrant Children to Hawaii appeared first on Daily Signal.

Terry McAuliffe Underestimates Child Immigrants in Virginia

17 hours 20 min ago

Gov. Terry McAuliffe said the border crisis is a federal problem, not Virginia’s, and that undocumented children are only being housed at one location in the state—even though news outlets have confirmed more.

During a Wednesday radio interview on WTOP, a caller asked the Democratic governor how he is going to handle the border crisis now that it has reached Virginia in terms of jobs and schools. McAuliffe pinned the blame on Congress’ failure to pass immigration reform and said there was “nothing we can do at the state level.

“Now, we don’t have an issue in Virginia—we only have really one facility, that is the federal government contracting with a private contractor, Joe Gibbs,” McAuliffe said, referring to the former Washington Redskins coach’s nonprofit Youth For Tomorrow in Prince William County. “That is not the state. That is the federal government contracting with a private entity, which they’re entitled to do.”

More than one facility in Virginia is housing unaccompanied minors in Virginia, however.

The Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center in Alexandria has housed 310 minors since 2007, according to Krystal Kimrey, the center’s executive director. Since April, 51 undocumented children have arrived—19 in April, 11 in May, 12 in June, and nine in July, according to Kimrey.

“We house up to 20 [Unaccompanied Alien Children] youth at one time,” Kimrey wrote in an email.

The Roanoke Times reported earlier this month that more than half of the children living at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Detention Center—about 24—are undocumented. The federal government has held a federal contract for the past five years to house unaccompanied minors there.

The federal government has been tight-lipped on requests as to where else they’re placing these children.

“We do not identify regular/permanent Unaccompanied Alien Children program shelters for the safety and security of minors and staff at the facilities,” Kenneth Wolfe, deputy director of public affairs for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.

HHS’ office of Refugee Resettlement placed 2,234 unaccompanied minors with sponsors typically relatives—in Virginia from Jan. 1 to July 7.

That only represents children who have actually been placed in homes, not children who are still being held in detention centers and other facilities.

Read more on Watchdog.org.

The post Terry McAuliffe Underestimates Child Immigrants in Virginia appeared first on Daily Signal.

Did New Jersey School’s Anti-Bullying Policy Go Too Far?

17 hours 21 min ago

Education officials in New Jersey are being sued for allegedly infringing on a student’s free-speech rights when he was accused of bullying another student.

According to a lawsuit filed by the Rutherford Institute, a school nurse sent a letter to parents informing them a student had head lice. While fourth-grade students were working in small groups, one student asked a girl why she had dyed her hair. A third student, identified in the legal brief as “L.L.,” said the girl dyed her hair because she was the one with head lice.

The incident was reported to the Tenafly, N.J., school’s bullying specialist, who “launched a formal investigation and had L.L. removed from class so she could proceed to question him about the incident,” according to the lawsuit. The specialist also interviewed other students and required L.L. to complete a sensitivity assignment.

The teacher then explained to the class why it was important to be nice, which embarrassed L.L. since his classmates knew his comment had spurred the additional instruction. L.L. was stigmatized as a bully, according to the brief.

“The kid didn’t know what was going on,” said John Whitehead, founder and president of the Rutherford Institute. “He wasn’t demeaning her intentionally. He knew what the facts were. He made a factual statement. Then the entire class was reminded of what the kid had done and looked at the kid like Dr. Evil.”

The lawsuit alleges the state statute is too broad to allow for constitutional rights outlined in the First Amendment.

“Our client, all this sensitivity training—he ended up worse than the girl that had the lice,” Whitehead said. “They have to think about what they’re doing to the kid who’s [allegedly bullying].”

The policy is too extreme for common sense, he said.

“I would put this in the category of political correctness gone crazy amuck,” he said. “They don’t take into account what it does to the student who is called a bully when he’s not a bully. What do you do, put tape over your mouth so you don’t make a mistake?”

Whitehead and Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center, said policymakers need to remember the place and purpose of free speech when considering anti-bullying laws and policies.

“Public schools have a number of obligations, in terms of students they serve,” Paulson said. “They have to create a safe and secure learning environment, and that would mean shielding students from harassing behavior. But equally important is that they instill in young people an understanding of the core principles of the First Amendment and the importance of being able to share ideas freely. They’re not mutually exclusive.”

Read more on Watchdog.org.

The post Did New Jersey School’s Anti-Bullying Policy Go Too Far? appeared first on Daily Signal.

‘Whatever It Takes’: U.S. Action Encourages Opposition to Venezuelan Regime

17 hours 22 min ago

At dawn last Friday, a group of hooded men — hidden, but unmistakably officers from Venezuela’s Military Intelligence — burst into the cell of political prisoner Leopoldo Lopez. They repeatedly punched him, then tied him up and took his belongings.

For almost five months, Lopez, an opposition leader jailed after the Venezuelan government accused him of inciting violent student protests, had awaited trial in Ramo Verde prison.

Lopez, 43, the Harvard-educated leader of Voluntad Popular, or the Popular Will party, already had been stripped of his rights by a regime threatened by his fast rise. He was not allowed to present evidence or speak at his closed-door trial, which began two days before the assault in his prison cell.

“He’s strong,” Pedro Vasquez, the Miami-based U.S. coordinator of Popular Will, said of Lopez, a marathon runner known for his physical fitness and voracious reading. “He believes that this was needed — that he can prove by being a victim of this government that it is violating human rights.”

Two days after the assault, Venezuela’s government again flexed its might — to the embarrassment of American diplomats.

The United States failed to secure the extradition of Hugo Carvajal, a former Venezuelan general who is wanted here on drug charges and had been detained on the Dutch island of Aruba.

Indictments filed in federal courts in New York City and Miami charge that Carvajal, military intelligence chief under former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, was on the payroll of Colombian narcotics traffickers. He coordinated the transportation of drug shipments, the court papers say.

Authorities in Aruba last week arrested Carvajal, sparking accusations from Venezuela that he had been “kidnapped,” and warning that Aruba would suffer economic consequences. On Sunday, they freed the general when the Dutch government determined that, as Venezuela’s appointed consul in Aruba, he has diplomatic immunity.

Coincidental in its timing or not, the U.S. State Department on Wednesday announced it had imposed travel restrictions on Venezuelan government officials for human rights abuses alleged to have occurred during the anti-government protests, in which 43 civilians were killed. The officials, who were not named, will have their U.S. visas revoked.

“With this step we underscore our commitment to holding accountable individuals who commit human rights abuses,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said, adding:

Our message is clear: Those who commit such abuses will not be welcome in the United States.

Supporters of imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, his image behind them, demonstrate July 23 at a courthouse in Caracas. (Photo: Leo Ramirez/Newscom)

In the U.S., Off the Radar

As the Obama administration faced crises in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, and Gaza, among other places, Venezuela mostly has stayed off the radar. This despite being the top oil-producing country in Latin America and a major transit source for U.S.-bound drugs — led by an anti-American regime.

Previously, the State Department had opposed U.S. action, arguing for the socialist government of President Nicolás Maduro and its opponents to arrive at a diplomatic solution.

But Congress has pressured the Obama administration to become more directly involved.

On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of nine senators led by Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging the administration to levy “targeted sanctions” against Venezuelan officials linked to human rights violations.

The House of Representatives adopted a resolution in May calling on President Obama to revoke or deny visas and freeze the assets of Venezuelan officials involved in the crackdown on protests. The issue stalled in the Senate.

Opposition leaders who had braced to confront the Venezuelan government alone told The Daily Signal that they welcome the news of the travel restrictions.

“What’s happened over the last few weeks has been devastating for a population that keeps getting bad news that the bad guys always win,” said Pedro Burelli, former director of Venezuela’s state oil company, who lives in Washington, D.C. Burelli added:

It’s a step in the right direction to say that there are consequences here.

 

At a news conference, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says opposition leader Leopoldo López ‘is going to pay.’ (Photo: Santi Donaire/Newscom)

Burelli has been involved in a separate, stranger confrontation with the Venezuelan government.

In May, top Venezuelan officials accused him, others in the opposition, and U.S. diplomats of conspiring to assassinate Maduro — who has struggled to win public support since replacing Chavez, the longtime president who died last year.

Most analysts dismissed the government’s claims of an  assassination plot as an attempt to distract attention from its problems. Venezuela has the highest inflation rate in South America and has suffered shortages of electricity and water.

“It was almost laughable,” Burelli said of the charges in an interview with The Daily Signal.

Ana Quintana, research associate on Latin America at The Heritage Foundation, said Maduro — like Chavez before him — continues to be a direct threat to U.S. security interests and regional stability, championing an aggressive anti-American foreign policy and pursuing relationships with U.S. adversaries Iran, Russia, and Syria.

The Venezuelan government previously provided clandestine support for Iran’s energy sector in violation of international sanctions, she said.

Venezuela also subsidizes the Castro regime in Cuba. Caracas gives Havana an average of $10 billion in subsidized oil and petro dollars yearly, according to research by Quintana. She said:

There’s always been violence against the opposition and the [U.S.] Department of Treasury has long known that significant officials in the government traffic drugs. It took the U.S. to be caught with their pants down, where someone who we had a warrant for their arrest was let go, for action to occur. The sanctions are a good thing, but they are incomplete. They should also target illicitly obtained assets.

Venezuelans protest in Caracas. (Photo: Jimmy Villalta/Newscom)

The Opposition Stands Strong

Burelli, the opposition leader and former oil executive,  said the Obama administration has been reluctant to assert itself in Venezuela for reasons similar to why it has been hesitant to become too involved in helping the Syrian opposition topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Many disparate opposition group are active in Venezuela, each with its own strategies.

“The issue is not that they’re not united,” Burelli said. “The issue is that there are differences in opinion about the purpose, the strategy and the diagnostics.” He added:

Some see the government as a dictatorship that will not cede power through the electoral route. Then there are people who believe this is a crooked, twisted democracy and that you have to fight to try to unseat them. The next opportunity to do that is the parliamentary elections in 2015, and therefore you should not do something to disrupt that. Because, by the time elections come, the electorate will be so angry at Maduro that you have a good chance at unseating him electorally. Arguing and discussing is a part of democracy.

In a bid to align strategy, in 2008 many of the groups joined a coalition called the Democratic Unity Roundtable (known as MUD).

The Popular Will Party, which Lopez founded in 2009 on the principles of progress, democracy, and social action, is known as the most “reputable” group in the faction, Quintana said.

The previous year, the government barred Lopez, former mayor of the municipality of Chacao, from public office for six years — even as he planned to run for mayor of Caracas. Two years into his first term as mayor of Chacao, Lopez had helped to remove Chavez temporarily from the presidency.

After leading the protests that began in February, Lopez was arrested on charges of arson, terrorism, and homicide — charges that human rights groups decried as politically motivated.

Hugo Chavez, who died last year, commanded more respect with Venezuelans than his successor. (Photo: Newscom)

Vasquez, the Popular Will official responsible for promoting the Venezuelan story in the United States, says the party remains strong even while its leader — who has a wife and two children — is behind bars.

The corruption is his home country prompted him to leave 23 years ago for Plantation, Fla., Vasquez said:

You have two types of people in Venezuela. Some don’t leave because of the situation and some don’t come back because of the situation. I didn’t see a future for my kids in Venezuela.

Vasquez develops the party’s strategy along with Carlos Vecchio, a Yale fellow who is Popular Will’s national political coordinator.

In February, Venezuelan authorities hit Vecchio with similar charges: arson, public instigation, damaging public and private property, and criminal association. He went into hiding before fleeing to New York in June.

“The government persecuted him, so he flew the country,” Vasquez said. “Now you have a leader outside Venezuela coordinating an international movement. He was directly involved with what’s happening.”

With their friend Lopez imprisoned, fellow opposition leaders hope the new U.S. action becomes impetus for larger change.

“The goal is not to get Maduro out of power,” Vasquez said. “We have to change the system that implemented him to power. The issue is not him. It’s socialism.”

He added:

We are trying to take control of the country in a democratic way because that’s the way we know how to do it. But we have to realize this is not a democratic government. When we digest that information and change the strategy to do anything in our power to get our country to democracy, then we will be successful. We will do whatever it takes.

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez delivers a speech to right-wing activists, in Chacaito, Caracas, Venezuela, on Feb. 18, 2014. (Photo: Xinhua/Boris Vergara)

 

This article has been modified.

 

The post ‘Whatever It Takes’: U.S. Action Encourages Opposition to Venezuelan Regime appeared first on Daily Signal.

Lawmaker Challenges Top Obamacare Official’s Ties to HealthCare.gov Contractor

17 hours 22 min ago

Andrew Slavitt, a former executive at the technology company tasked with “saving” HealthCare.gov and now second in command at the agency overseeing Obamacare, yesterday ran into sharp questions from a House panel about a potential conflict of interest in his new role.

Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., pressed Slavitt on his previous job at OptumInsight/QSSI and that company’s continuing involvement with HealthCare.gov.

“How are you able to manage your former employer, and doesn’t this create a conflict of interest?” Griffith asked Slavitt during the new Obamacare official’s testimony before the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Slavitt, the new principal deputy administrator at Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, didn’t go into specifics, but said he had limited contact with his former employer. He assured Griffith and other subcommittee members that he was taking the proper steps to maintain ethical standards and noted that he had signed an ethics pledge.

“As a public servant, I have a very clear set of rules to follow,” Slavitt said.

The Daily Signal previously detailed lawmakers’ concerns about Slavitt’s potential conflict of interest.

>>> Company That ‘Saved’ HealthCare.gov Faces Questions of Cronyism

CMS, Slavitt’s new employer, is the federal  agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that oversees implementation of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, including the website HealthCare.gov.

Slavitt joined the Obama administration in June, leaving a job as group vice president at OptumInsight/QSSI to take the No. 2 job at CMS under Administrator Marilyn Tavenner. In 2012, he made the maximum contributions allowed by law to the Obama Victory Fund and Obama for America (now Organizing for Action).

Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va,. asks whether Andrew Slavitt has a conflict of interest. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Slavitt told lawmakers yesterday that he rid himself of any financial stakes in OptumInsight/QSSI, including stocks and investments.

>>> Obamacare Official Gets Ethics Waiver as Former Company Faces Scrutiny

OptumInsight/QSSI is the sister company of UnitedHealthcare, a health insurance company that offers plans on both the federal and state-run online insurance exchanges. Both companies are subsidiaries of UnitedHealth Group.

QSSI, which had won a contract with CMS to construct Obamacare’s federal data hub, was acquired by OptumInsight in September 2012, weeks before President Obama’s re-election.

The Obamacare agency then brought in the renamed OptumInsight/QSSI to “save” HealthCare.gov after its disastrous rollout in October 2013. The company serves as a “senior adviser” on the project.

Typically, those who leave the private sector for posts in the federal government must wait at least one year before engaging in any work involving the previous employer.

As The Daily Signal previously reported, however, Slavitt received an ethics waiver allowing him to resume work immediately on matters involving his former employer. The waiver, granted July 11 by the Department of Health and Human Services, was made public two weeks ago.

At issue for lawmakers is UnitedHealthcare’s ability to gain competitive advantage over other insurance companies because of data available to its sister company, OptumInsight/QSSI, as a result of its work on HealthCare.gov and the federal data hub.

After UnitedHealth Group acquired QSSI in 2012, HHS officials began designing a firewall to prevent the parent company from obtaining Obamacare-related data from its subsidiary. HHS, however, halted construction of the firewall.

Administration officials responsible for Obamacare have not responded to questions from Republican lawmakers on completion of the firewall. A spokesman for CMS did not answer The Daily Signal’s questions regarding the technological safeguard.

During his questioning, Griffith asked Slavitt about the firewall:

We have a situation again where there’s an appearance of a conflict or impropriety. … It would appear that the folks at QSSI who then report at UnitedHealth Group, and if that’s the case, aren’t they able then to gain information on competitors by participating in the process and in all these meetings, and get an advantage over their competitors in the health care websites?

Slavitt sought to clarify the relationship between sister companies UnitedHealthcare and OptumInsight/QSSI, but did not address the subject of the firewall.

The post Lawmaker Challenges Top Obamacare Official’s Ties to HealthCare.gov Contractor appeared first on Daily Signal.

Split on Border Spending Bill Prompts Republicans to Delay Recess

July 31, 2014 - 11:37pm

On their last scheduled day in session before leaving for August recess, House Republican leaders pulled legislation to address the border crisis after conservatives criticized the proposal for failing to address the problem.

Wary of leaving town without addressing the border crisis, lawmakers planned to stay in Washington, D.C., Friday to resolve the split among members in hopes of passing a spending bill intended to slow a surge of illegal immigration into the country.

The Democrat-controlled Senate, meanwhile, failed to adopt a border spending bill Thursday.

In a statement, House Speaker John Boehner addressed the dilemma facing Republicans:

This situation shows the intense concern within our conference about the need to ensure the security of our borders and the president’s refusal to faithfully execute our laws. There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action, to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries. We will continue to work on solutions to the border crisis and other challenges facing our country.

Crucially, to some conservatives, the spending plan does not include language to address President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which delays deportation for certain immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children.

“You have to address DACA,” says @DanHoller, communications director for @Heritage Action

That program, created by Obama through executive action in 2012, “defers action” against illegal immigrants who have continuously resided in the United States since 2007 and who came to the country before their 16th birthday.

Conservatives believe Central American families misinterpret that legislation as a free pass into the United States, leading parents to send their unaccompanied children on a dangerous journey through Mexico over the border into Texas.

“Our point of contention is that no matter what you put in the bills, you have to address DACA,” said Dan Holler, communications director for Heritage Action for America, the lobbying arm of The Heritage Foundation. “The House leadership has tried to address that point with a separate vote, but it contains weaker language than what some wanted. People abroad see DACA as a way to get legal status.”

In a signal to the resistance to the border spending plan, House leadership planned to hold a second vote on a separate bill that would stop DACA, but  only if the emergency funding legislation won passage.

Believing he did not have enough votes to pass the pared-down $659 million emergency spending measure, Boehner pulled the legislation from consideration Thursday afternoon.

The House spending plan, short of of the $2.7 billion that Senate Democrats proposed and the $3.7 billion that Obama had requested, would beef up border security and speed the deportation of Central American children migrating to the U.S. illegally—achieved by changing a 2008 law intended to combat human trafficking.

Those who supported the House plan seemed to do so reluctantly.

“There is nothing in the bill that I am opposed to,” Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., told The Daily Signal. “It does not go far enough. Maybe when we control the Senate we can go further.”

The White House, and other critics, quickly pounced on House Republicans’ indecision.

And by pulling their own bill, the House GOP once again proves why the President must act on his own to solve problems

— Dan Pfeiffer (@pfeiffer44) July 31, 2014

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican who recently deployed 1,000 National Guard troops to his state’s border to address the crisis, was among those who decried Congress’ inaction.

“While Texas has taken what steps it can to mitigate the damage caused by a porous border, Congress and the president have a duty to address our border security issues without further delay,” Perry said in a statement. “Congress should not go into recess until the job is completed.”

The post Split on Border Spending Bill Prompts Republicans to Delay Recess appeared first on Daily Signal.

Heritage Action Offers Bipartisan ‘Opportunity’ Agenda as Recess Reading

July 31, 2014 - 10:19pm

As lawmakers prepared to head home from Washington for the long August recess, one ambitious organization sent them packing with a blueprint for delivering conservative policy reforms that emphasizes opportunity for all Americans.

Heritage Action for America, the lobbying arm of The Heritage Foundation, today delivered “Conservative Policy Agenda: Opportunity for All, but Favoritism to None” to all members of the House and Senate ahead of the summer break.

Three months before midterm elections, one of its authors describes the treatise as a call to action that challenges lawmakers to renew their commitment to just such a “bold agenda.”

It’s time for lawmakers on Capitol Hill to return home with an ear to the concerns of Main Street, Heritage Action Chief Executive Officer Michael Needham said in an interview with The Daily Signal, the multimedia news organization of The Heritage Foundation:

We feel there’s a real need for conservatives in Washington, D.C., to reconnect with the American people, who increasingly feel that they don’t have a voice in Washington. And this lays out the groundwork for lawmakers to be able to go home and talk about opportunity for all but favoritism for none, which would be a new way of operating here in Washington.

The Conservative Policy Agenda outlines a dozen legislative priorities focused on promoting a strong, thriving economy, a commitment to marriage and religious liberty, and a vigorous foreign policy.

>>> Read More: Opportunity for All, Favoritism to None

To boost the economy, the agenda calls for the end of housing finance agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, implementation of a flat tax, and the defense of Internet freedom — policies that Heritage Action argues will bring the country back to its free market roots and away from government intervention.

Though some Democrats as well as Republicans are shifting their attention to the fiscal challenges confronting the country, the group’s agenda puts equal emphasis on the importance of family and religion. The report reads:

While Washington focuses on policies that grant favoritism to the well-connected, the next generation of Americans faces an uphill struggle against social breakdown, a welfare system with the wrong incentives, and poor educational opportunities.

Reforms proposed to promote a “strong society” include eliminating marriage penalties in the welfare system, increasing choice and competition in public education, and improving Medicare and Medicaid — a common thread woven through conservative agendas.

Heritage Action praises the Supreme Court in the policy agenda for its 5-4 ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which said the government cannot require certain businesses to provide abortion-inducing drugs or devices in employee health plans when doing so would violate deeply held religious beliefs.

“This is a step in the right direction, but this recent decision neither protects all Americans’ religious freedom when it comes to health care nor ends the danger they face from the marshalled forces of intolerance,” the agenda reads.

In its third theme, the policy agenda encourages a robust military and strong foreign policy.

Recent cuts to Pentagon spending led to a decrease in troop strength in the Army and Marine Corps, and the Navy had to reduce its fleet even as China “aggressively expands” its own, the report says.

Heritage Action advocates a “thorough, transparent defense appropriations process” that would set Pentagon spending “through an analysis of the threats our nation faces, the capabilities needed to meet those threats, and — only then — the programs needed to achieve those capabilities.”

Needham said release of the group’s Conservative Policy Agenda comes as Americans, grown increasingly cynical toward Washington, are more likely to voice concerns to senators and congressmen when they return home for the summer break.

“It’s important for members of Congress to be going home and talking about positive reform ideas which reconnect Washington, D.C., to conservative values our country shares,”  he  said.

Though the Heritage Action agenda promotes conservative principles and reforms, the think tank’s lobbying arm distributed copies to all 535 Republicans and Democrats in Congress with the pitch that the ideas should garner bipartisan support. Needham said:

We’re putting out good ideas, and we don’t care who takes them up, whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat or anybody else. These are the ideas the American people want, these are the ideas America needs if we’re going to remain the strong, free country that we’ve been, so we’re making sure that everybody in Washington has access to them and we’re hoping that everyone rallies around them.

 

The post Heritage Action Offers Bipartisan ‘Opportunity’ Agenda as Recess Reading appeared first on Daily Signal.

Baker Who Won’t Make Cakes for Same-Sex Weddings Appeals Mandatory Re-Education Order

July 31, 2014 - 5:35pm

Jack Phillips, the cake artist facing legal action and a ruling to re-educate his staff because he declined to design a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony in 2012, has filed a notice of appeal with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., said in his appeal he would be happy to provide other baked goods, but he could not design a wedding cake for them because of his beliefs about marriage.

In the appeal, Phillips says that he “declined [the same-sex couple’s] request, explaining that he would be happy to provide any other baked goods, but he could not design and create a wedding cake for them because of his beliefs about marriage.”

As he said at the time: “I don’t feel like I should participate in their wedding, and when I do a cake, I feel like I am participating in the ceremony or the event or the celebration that the cake is for.” In the same vein, Phillips does not design cakes for Halloween celebrations because he does not believe he should participate in what he believes is a pagan holiday.

Following the incident, the American Civil Liberties Union then filed a lawsuit against Masterpiece Cakeshop. On May 30, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission upheld a December ruling by Administrative Law Judge Robert N. Spencer that Phillips had discriminated against the couple “because of their sexual orientation.”

The commission’s order requires Phillips to design wedding cakes for same-sex ceremonies in violation of his beliefs, institute re-education classes for his staff on the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act and send quarterly “compliance” reports to the commission for two years.

Phillips claims in his appeal that under the First Amendment, the government cannot compel him to convey a message with which he does not agree.

As many celebrity cake-makers agree, creating a wedding cake is not an assembly line production. It takes hours of careful work to design cakes that reflect the interests, personality and commitment of the couple. In fact, the same-sex couple he turned away obtained a cake from a nearby bakery with a rainbow-filled center, a design about their relationship.

This is the issue at the heart of the appeal: Phillips claims the government should not be forcing business owners to betray their consciences and convey what they do not believe. Even more importantly, he says, the government should not be in the business of “rehabilitating” consciences or “re-educating” its citizens to change their moral beliefs about the definition of marriage.

 

 

The post Baker Who Won’t Make Cakes for Same-Sex Weddings Appeals Mandatory Re-Education Order appeared first on Daily Signal.

Q&A: Ebola in Africa Not Yet a National Security Issue

July 31, 2014 - 4:31pm

This latest outbreak of the Ebola virus is getting a great deal of attention, as it should. Here are some questions that need to be asked and some answers you need to know:

What is Ebola?

The Ebola virus is a severe, often fatal disease that is in the hemorrhagic fever category. The symptoms include sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in most cases, both internal and external bleeding.

How deadly is Ebola?

The fatality rate is between 60 percent and 90 percent, and there is no known vaccine or cure. In previous outbreaks it has killed 79 percent of those infected. Treatment requires intensive infection control precautions. Isolation and comfort often is the only recourse.

Where does it come from?

Ebola is found primarily in central Africa near tropical rain forests. Its name comes from the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it was first reported in 1976. Like most viruses, there are multiple strands. The current outbreak in West Africa is of the Zaire Ebola virus, the most virulent of the strands. More recent outbreaks have occurred in central and southeastern Africa.

How is it transmitted?

Ebola is normally transmitted via blood or bodily fluids of infected animals or humans. It also can be transmitted by contact with contaminated environments. Humans initially come into contact with the virus when someone handles or eats raw meat from an infected bat or monkey.

Why does it matter?

More than 670 have died and more than 1,000 have been infected in the last six months. The current Ebola outbreak started in Guinea in February and spread to Liberia in March and Sierra Leone in May. The disease is being closely monitored in these countries—precautions have included closing schools, cancelling public gatherings, increasing border checkpoints, quarantining communities—but containment is difficult because public health and sanitations standards are poor in much of the region. Nigeria also is now on high alert following the death of a Liberian man who flew into Lagos, Africa’s largest city, last Saturday.

The incubation period for Ebola is two to 21 days. Only then do infected persons exhibit signs of the disease. This means infected persons could travel to other areas on planes etc., before they know they are sick. Although it cannot be passed on until symptoms begin to show, the disease could be inadvertently introduced to new populations before the carrier knows they are contagious. Family members of Ebola victims, morticians handling their bodies and healthcare workers are at elevated risk.

Why is this outbreak different from previous outbreaks?

Previous Ebola outbreaks have been confined to small villages and limited geographic areas. The current outbreak affects large urban areas where the disease can spread more easily given the close proximity of people and their increased access to transportation. The current outbreak has reached the point where the U.S. has suspended Peace Corps programs in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Two Peace Corps volunteers are under observation for the virus.

Are we at risk in the U.S.?

Although the Centers for Disease Control says there is “no significant risk” of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S., it has alerted the American medical community. This is to ensure that no one makes an assumption that any initial symptoms are the flu or some other less concerning illness, but will be checked as expeditiously as possible. There has never been true outbreak in a developed country, according to Doctors Without Borders, but three times (twice in the US, once in Italy) individuals exposed to infected monkeys developed antibodies.

The well-developed medical “alert system championed by the CDC gives the U.S. a great deal of resilience in cases like this. Unlike other viruses, such as measles, SARS or influenza, Ebola does not spread through the air.

The post Q&A: Ebola in Africa Not Yet a National Security Issue appeared first on Daily Signal.

Do Large Banks Enjoy a Subsidy? GAO Wavers

July 31, 2014 - 4:08pm

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a new report that examines whether “too big to fail” banks enjoy a cost advantage over smaller banks due to implied government protection.

The GAO report hedges its findings carefully. It says that large banks may still have a cost advantage over smaller banks due to the perception that they will be bailed out (i.e., that they are “too big to fail”), but this advantage “may have declined or reversed” since the 2008 financial crisis.

In today’s written congressional testimony on the study, Lawrance L. Evans, the GAO’s director of financial markets and community investment, makes two careful points that highlight the difficulty in estimating any possible cost advantage these firms may enjoy:

  1. “Our analysis suggests that large bank holding companies had lower funding costs than smaller ones during the financial crisis but provides mixed evidence of such advantages in recent years.”
  2. “Given the nature of this analysis and associated limitations, our results should be interpreted with caution.”

Given that firms in any industry can generally lower their average costs as they increase the size of their operations, separating out specific subsidy effects for large banks—from implied government protection—is a difficult, if not impossible, task. Regardless, several Members of Congress have already decided they need to remedy the situation.

Senators Sherrod Brown (D–OH) and David Vitter (R–LA), who requested the report, have already introduced a bill that would raise capital requirements for large banks without providing much regulatory relief. In a joint statement released today, the Senators noted:

Wall Street lobbyists may try to spin that the advantage has lessened. But if the Army Corps of Engineers came out with study that said a levee system works pretty well when it’s sunny—but couldn’t be trusted in a hurricane—we would take that as evidence we need to act.

The fact that Congress wants to punish firms for being given bailout money from Congress would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous to the economy. These firms have already been forced to accept an enormous increase in regulatory costs, and now certain Senators want to impose punitive capital requirements and/or force the companies to divest (i.e., break up).

A much simpler solution would be for Congress to stop bailing out financially troubled firms. One good way to ensure that such an option is credible is to amend the bankruptcy code so that large financial firms have a viable bankruptcy alternative.

Senators Pat Toomey (R–PA) and John Cornyn (R–TX) have already introduced a bill that would help do just that. In fact, the House Judiciary Committee has just released a discussion draft of its own bankruptcy bill, and it appears the House Financial Services Committee is about to introduce similar legislation.

If Congress can’t stop bailing out banks under current law, they should fix the law to make their task easier.

The post Do Large Banks Enjoy a Subsidy? GAO Wavers appeared first on Daily Signal.

The Government Should Stop Discriminating Against Religious Adoption Agencies

July 31, 2014 - 3:46pm

Kelly Rosati, whose four children joined her family through foster care adoption, knows first-hand the pain and difficulties caused by a broken child welfare system.

“These are kids who wake up every day not knowing if they are going to be moved that day, who have no permanence in their lives,” Rosati said. “Many of them have only known neglect, abuse and abandonment.”

“Because we don’t have orphanages in America,” she says, “we think we don’t have orphans—but we do.”

Every year about 400,000 children spend time in our nation’s foster care system, with roughly 100,000 eligible for adoption, as we point out in our recent Backgrounder. Many bounce from home to home and are never adopted. Many will “age-out” of foster care, facing increased risk for low academic achievement and poverty.

And yet various states have adopted policies that would require faith-based providers to place children with same-sex couples, in violation of some agencies’ deeply held beliefs that children deserve a mom and a dad – effectively forcing these agencies out of adoption and foster care service. These policies do nothing to help children and unnecessarily limit the number of good agencies working on their behalf.

On Wednesday,, Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., and Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., introduced the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act, which would protect the right of child welfare providers, including private and faith-based adoption and foster care agencies, to continue providing valuable services to families and children. The federal government and states receiving certain federal child welfare funds would be prohibited from discriminating against a child welfare provider simply because the provider declines to provide a service that conflicts with their religious or moral convictions.

This is good policy. The efforts of faith-based organizations and the work of more than 1,000 private, licensed foster care and adoption providers across the United States are helping to increase the number of children adopted every year.

As vice president of Community Outreach for Focus on the Family, Rosati directs the organization’s Wait No More program. Wait No More conducts one-day events that provide the tools, information, and network to encourage families to consider opening their homes and lives to the hundreds of children waiting for adoption in their own communities.

To date, 2,700 families across 17 states have begun the process of adopting children who are in foster care. In Colorado alone, the number of children in foster care waiting for adoption was reportedly cut in half within just a couple of years because of ongoing efforts such as Wait No More and other faith-based collaborations.

Private providers handle roughly a quarter of the domestic adoptions by non-relatives that occur in the United States. Faith-based agencies also provide spiritual, emotional and relational support to families that seek to adopt or become foster parents they are less likely to receive from state-run agencies.

Foster care and adoption policy should seek to increase the number of families willing to foster and potentially adopt children, not risk reducing the number of agencies or families working for children. Provided these agencies meet basic requirements, they should be free to operate according to their values, especially their reasonable and religiously informed beliefs about marriage.

Protecting religious liberty in this instance takes nothing away from anyone. Couples who do not wish to work with faith-based agencies because of a difference of belief are free to work with another private provider or directly with the state offering foster care services. A diversity of providers only increases the chances more children will end up in permanent, loving families.

America’s foster care programs are in dire need of systemic reform. Foster care and adoption policy always should put the best interests of children first, and that means removing barriers to families seeking to adopt and providers seeking to place children in those loving homes.

The post The Government Should Stop Discriminating Against Religious Adoption Agencies appeared first on Daily Signal.

How Our Broken Accreditation System Increases College Costs

July 31, 2014 - 2:48pm

One of the most disheartening trends in America today is the steep and relentless increase in the cost of higher education. As almost everything else in our economy has gotten better and more affordable, tuition at public four-year colleges has nearly quadrupled since 1982.

The hardest hit by these skyrocketing costs are middle-income families who struggle to pay those prices out of pocket but don’t qualify for needs-based assistance. Meanwhile, the changing economy is making post-secondary education more important than ever.

Today, most students and families’ only option is federal student loan programs, which offer some temporary relief but lead to decades of debt. And for students who never acquire the skills necessary to succeed in today’s economy—because they leave college early or because they pursue a major that doesn’t prepare them for the job market—this debt can become overwhelming.

So far, the federal government’s only response to this catch-22 is to marginally reduce the interest rate on student loans.

But instead of asking how Congress can help students pay off exorbitant loans, we should ask how Congress can reduce the cost of higher education so students won’t have to go so far in debt.

It all starts with recognition of two important facts. First, in today’s society, getting a four-year college degree is not the only way to obtain the knowledge and skills necessary to start a successful career. For many students, apprenticeships or occupational training programs make more sense than a bachelor’s degree.

Second, in recent years educational entrepreneurs and innovators have used new technology to redesign the traditional educational model—through online courses, for instance—making post-secondary cheaper and easier than ever before.

Unfortunately, federal law ignores both of these facts. Our current system makes it harder and more expensive for students to access alternatives to the traditional college track. The primary roadblock facing these students is our outdated, inefficient accreditation system, which is made up of various non-governmental agencies that determine which educational institutions or programs are eligible for federal student-loan money.

Under current law, students can access federal loans and grants only if they attend schools that are officially “accredited.” But for a school or occupational training program to acquire this stamp of approval—and thus be able to admit students who are paying their tuition bills with federal loans—it must go through a review process conducted by faculty members of already-accredited schools.

This is a classic case of the regulated becoming the regulators. Expensive degree-issuing colleges and universities get to decide who joins their elite club, and they have a strong financial incentive to lock out new, more affordable educational models that could be a better match for some students.

The lack of competition is a primary driver of rising tuition, which gives too many students an impossible choice—crippling debt or limited opportunities.

We believe there is a better way.

We have introduced the Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The HERO Act will allow states to experiment with their own accreditation systems. Under our plan, states could choose to accredit alternative education providers such as apprenticeships, specialty schools, professional certifications, all the way down to individual courses. This way, students who have been locked out of the current system would be able to use federal student loans and grants to gain access to the skills they need at lower prices on a schedule that works for them.

Our reforms don’t touch the traditional accreditation system, which works well for existing universities. It creates a new, parallel system that opens doors for the millions of low- and middle-income and non-traditional students the current system leaves behind.

Many would benefit from education alternatives to traditional brick-and-ivy institutions, and we owe it to our students to give states the opportunity to develop these options. The HERO Act is an important first step towards ensuring that higher education is affordable and accessible and gives our students the resources, skills and education to succeed.

The post How Our Broken Accreditation System Increases College Costs appeared first on Daily Signal.

Lawmaker Moves to Tax Sugary Drinks

July 31, 2014 - 2:41pm

A Connecticut lawmaker hopes to open another front in the war on childhood obesity and diabetes. On Wednesday, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat, introduced a bill that would impose a national tax on sugary soft drinks.

DeLauro’s legislation, the Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax Act, would levy a one-cent excise tax for every teaspoon of sugar within a beverage. DeLauro believes that her legislation would improve overall national health by discouraging soda consumption.

“People want to be healthy and they want their kids to be healthy,” DeLauro said. “But we are in the midst of dual epidemics, with obesity and diabetes afflicting our nation and the related, astronomical health care costs.”

Introduced on the eve of August recess, the bill stands little chance at passage. DeLauro hopes, however, to raise the issue’s national spotlight. Wednesday marks the first time a soda tax has come to the floor since 2009 when lawmakers contemplated a similar tax to fund the Affordable Care Act.

Harold Goldstein, the executive director of the California Center for Public Health, predicts DeLauro’s legislation would “do more to curb the diabetes and obesity epidemics than anything that has been done to date.”

The American Beverage Association argues that argument has gone flat and furthermore that a soda tax is a historic non-starter that’s already failed.

“People don’t support taxes and bans on common grocery items, like soft drinks,” Christopher Gindlesperger, an ABA spokesman said. “That’s why the public policy debate in the U.S. has moved away from taxes and bans and onto real solutions.”

Politicians should focus on more pressing issues “and leave the grocery shopping to us” Gindlesperger said.

Chris Dubay, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, agrees and notes that the bill “is not the proper way to use the tax code.”

Dubay fears the measure would turn government revenue collection “into a political tool” and open the door to future persecution of “other political pariahs.”

The post Lawmaker Moves to Tax Sugary Drinks appeared first on Daily Signal.

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