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Does Congress’ New Funeral Protest Law help the Troops?

-This article was originally published at Hot Air.

On Monday, President Obama signed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 into law. Among other things, the law puts specific restrictions into place for protestors at military funerals. From Huffington Post:

The new law will have strong implications for the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas-based organization…Westboro Baptist Church has drawn media attention for its brand of protest, which frequently links the deaths of soldiers to America’s growing acceptance of gays.

Under the new legislation, protests must be held at least 300 feet from military funerals and are prohibited two hours before or after a service. The law counters a 2011 Supreme Court ruling, which found that displays such as Westboro’s were protected under the First Amendment.

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Should Bloggers Have to Disclose Financial Interests in Their Writing?

-This article was originally published at Hot Air.

Yesterday, it was reported that a judge is requiring Google and Oracle to disclose any journalists and bloggers they pay, as a result of a series of intellectual property lawsuits unsuccessfully filed by Oracle. From the article:

In a surprise order, U.S. District Judge William Alsup said “the court is concerned” that Oracle and Google may have hired authors to comment about their ongoing court case. Now, Judge Alsup wants the parties to submit a list of their paid propagandists.

The unusual request comes months after the “World Series” of intellectual property trials in which Oracle unsuccessfully sued Google for billions.

The trial was remarkable not only for the large damage figures but for Oracle’s decision to hire Florian Mueller, a self-described “patent analyst” who also takes money from Microsoft. In his FOSS Patents blog, Mueller wrote a series of one-sided posts over the course of the trial such as “Oracle Java patent rises like Ph0enix from the ashes.”

Despite a lack of legal training, Mueller holds himself out as a patent expert to the media and typically does not disclose that he is paid by the companies he reports on (he disclosed an Oracle relationship briefly at the outset of the trial but did not do so subsequently or to other media). Mueller has also blocked me and other journalists who have questioned his impartiality from viewing his Twitter feed.

I have mixed feelings on this order. My initial reaction was and is to support it, both in this specific case and in general. After all, shouldn’t journalists ethically disclose such things, in order to provide a full picture to the public that is trusting them to provide unbiased information? There is certainly potential for a slippery slope here, but I don’t think this particular step is unreasonable.

On the other hand, I am certain the issue is more complicated than I realize. Rather than speak out of turn, I asked a number of bloggers and journalists for their thoughts on the matter. Below are the (surprisingly varied) opinions I received in response:

Dan Joseph, video journalist with the Media Research Center: “I think this judge made the right decision. Aside from the legal implications, for journalists this is a moral issue. Any journalist who doesn’t reveal that they are financially associated with the person or company that they are reporting on is defying one of the basic rules of journalistic ethics. If I ever did something like that, I’d be so ashamed of myself that I’d probably re-apply to journalism school.”

Tim Devaney, national business reporter at The Washington Times: “It’s a mistake to call these people journalists. Real journalists never accept money from sources to publish a story or opinion. That’s unethical. Any reporter that secretly does that is a disgrace to the profession. Don’t mistake them as a journalist. We don’t want to be associated with them.”

Erick Erickson, Editor of “Yes, if a journalist is getting paid by a company they are covering then they should have to disclose it. We require consultants for candidates to disclose that at RedState. Journalists should have to do the same.”

Jill Stanek, Editor of “It’s not honest journalism if the writer doesn’t disclose a paid interest in the topic, product, or company. Honest journalists wouldn’t have to be ordered to make full disclosure.”

Nick R. Brown, technology policy analyst and editor of “The transparency of financial interests for any blogger or journalist is both ethical and admirable, but to be legally binding is another matter entirely. What happens when this slippery slope leads to the blogs of 501(c)(3)’s being legally bound to divulge interests? Conservatives may foam at the mouth to expose organizations like FreePress who hide behind their walls while chiding others on the issue of transparency, but anticipating conservative closets to be full of unicorns and rainbows in comparison to the left would be unwise. Ultimately, this is another example of an overreaching arm of government.”

Adam Brickley, blogger: “I wont speak to the legal aspects, but the use of paid bloggers as sock-puppets is not entirely unheard of. A lot of people try to push info to bloggers the same way they do to traditional media, which is great, but there’s a line that’s crossed when money is involved. Paid bloggers should not be able to market their opinion as independent or objective; that would be like buying ad space in the Washington Post and using it for an article without a disclaimer.”

John Hawkins, Right Wing News: “Disclosure can be a trickier subject than people realize. From my perspective, the only hard and fast rule is that if a company or candidate pays you directly for your services or for consulting, that’s something that has to be disclosed. After all, if a group like Americans for Prosperity pays the travel expenses for bloggers who are attending one of their conferences, do the bloggers need to disclose that later? How about receiving something of value that isn’t money, like links or promotion?

The key thing for readers to remember is that there actually are no hard and fast rules. If you talk to 10 different bloggers, you’ll get 10 different sets of ethical standards. That doesn’t mean anything untoward is going on, but the point is, if someone does step outside of the ethical norms, there’s no “10 Commandments of Blogger Ethics” that anyone can point to in order to prove them wrong.

Do the Rich Pay Their Fair Share?

-This article was originally published at Hot Air.

Last week, Georgetown law professor Peter Edelman wrote about poverty in America in theNew York Times. Edelman spent most of his time outlining what he sees as the causes of poverty in America, but he did offer some basic liberal fare when it came to solutions:

We know what we need to do — make the rich pay their fair share of running the country, raise the minimum wage, provide health care and a decent safety net, and the like. But realistically, the immediate challenge is keeping what we have. Representative Paul Ryan and his ideological peers would slash everything from Social Security to Medicare and on through the list, and would hand out more tax breaks to the people at the top. Robin Hood would turn over in his grave.

Edelman’s ideas are, of course, philosophically laughable to readers of this site – for example, the wealthy already pay a higher average tax rate than everyone else. Unfortunately, they are popular within certain segments of Congress, the media, higher education, etc. Their appeals to emotions (“Robin Hood would turn over in his grave”) often make conservatives look cold and heartless. So how do we turn the tables, especially when it comes to taxes? Simply put, we break down the math of taxes into the most easily understood manner possible – direct comparisons.

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Poor, Conservative-Maligned Law Student Introducing Obama at Campaign Event

-This article was originally published at Hot Air.

A few months ago, Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke made headlines for supporting the HHS Mandate in testimony to Congress, and her name exploded into the national scene after Rush Limbaugh made her a target of scorn and mockery. At the time, liberals defended Fluke against Limbaugh’s attacks, pretending she was simply some new-to-politics college student being unfairly maligned by conservatives.

While this defense has been debunked for months, after tomorrow it should be considered entirely dismissible. From Daily Caller:

Fluke is expected to introduce Obama in downtown Denver at the Auraria Campus, during a campaign stop centered on his economic plans, the outlet noted. Fluke’s appearance will likely add a second dynamic, with the campaign, in recent months, attempting to highlight differences between Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s stances on women’s issues to Obama’s left-leaning approach.

Of course, this is not Fluke’s first foray into “women’s issues.” She has been involved with pro-abortion organizations, apparently made a stink about Georgetown’s contraceptive insurance policy before she came to the university, and generally has been something of a liberal political activist. Oh, and she joined VP Biden and other liberals in July to make a speech to the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union convention.

The Obama campaign has jumped back into attacking Romney over his positions on abortion and contraception as of late, even as one ad was hammered by Fact Check for inaccuracies. With Fluke apparently becoming further entrenched with the Obama apparatus, is it okay to criticize her now? Or is that still out of line?

Obama, a Tweet, and Medicare

-The article was originally published at The American Spectator.

Since Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) became the GOP nominee for Vice President, the future of Medicare has gone from being an important secondary issue to the issue most mainstream pundits (and both campaigns) are talking about. The Romney campaign has released an ad hammering Obama over his Medicare cuts, liberals and conservatives alike have gone after the Obama and Romney campaigns, and the Obama campaign Twitter feed seems to only stop talking about Medicare and the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act) when it wants to talk about how bad Ryan and Romney are for women.

A number of the Tweets from the campaign have their inaccuracies, but one claim in particular on August 15 was egregiously inaccurate:

“FACT: The President’s health care law extends the life of Medicare by eight years without cutting benefits to seniors.”

I won’t get into the life extension debate — that’s been dealt with by others — but his claim that the Affordable Care Act won’t cut benefits to seniors is the President’s version of trying to have his cake and eat it too.

How is this happening? Superficially, the President is correct. He won’t cut benefits to seniors. Instead, the law has components that may cut payments to health care providers, per certain programs it has enacted. Will this impact benefits to seniors? Consider somerecent congressional history regarding the so-called “Doc Fix,” including how many doctors began refusing Medicare patients:

As explained in a 2011 Medicare actuarial study, Congress enacted [the law that created the Doc Fix] “to limit growth in spending on physician services to a sustainable rate, roughly in line with the rate of overall economic growth.” This effort lasted for five years, and in 2002, the New York Times reported: “For the first time, significant numbers of doctors are refusing to take new Medicare patients, saying the government now pays them too little to cover the costs of caring for the elderly.”

This practice of refusing new Medicare patients has continued to this day, which is why Congress regularly delays implementation of the Doc Fix. From the link above:

…[F]or every year since 2003, various congresses and presidents have legislatively overridden this so-called “sustainable growth rate” to ensure that Medicare patients have access to care. However, instead of removing this provision entirely, they overrode it one year at a time. Hence, each year, the distance between reality and what the law specifies became wider. This explains why Medicare was due to cut payments for physicians services by a whopping 27% this year.

Now, liberals may argue that the cuts will happen, especially with the power given to the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) to enact cuts that may be politically unpopular. Additionally, they cite CBO reports noting the cuts are set to happen. However, as I pointed out in the Hot Air Green Room two months ago, many are the policies that aresupposed to happen in CBO’s estimates that never actually do because of a lack of political courage. CBO accounts for this, actually, in its secondary budget estimates:

The CBO baseline budget expectations are those based upon current law. The alternative scenario is based upon expected political actions, aka current policy, and shows a fiscal scenario that is far, far worse than the baseline expectations. [Is] the baseline budget more feasible than the alternative scenario, given the delayed implementation of several major policies in recent years, including ending the Bush tax policies, implementing the payment reimbursement cuts in the “Doc Fix,” and taxing millions of Americans under the AMT?

So, in short, with this one Tweet, the President has set himself up for one of two lies: either his law will harm seniors by limiting their access to health care providers, or his law won’t make the cuts it promises, thus not increasing the life of Medicare as much as he claims.

The country’s financial situation desperately calls for reforming the entire federal government, especially Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the Pentagon, and the tax code. Cuts are going to be a part of the solution, whether by design (Congress actually doing its job) or from external forces (think international investors and inflation), but for the President to claim he can have his cake and eat it too is intellectually dishonest.