Relief from the Hagel Budgets

Diem Salmon /

Secretary Chuck Hagel served as the head of the Department of Defense (DOD) for a grand total of 21 months and, like those previous to him, was an enabler to President Obama’s misguided foreign policy. As the world continues to deteriorate, the next Secretary of Defense will have to do what previous Secretaries have failed to do—fundamentally change the nation’s foreign policy to acknowledge the threats facing the United States, and more importantly, identify the resources needed to protect the nation.

Secretary Hagel presided over two budget cycles and multiple strategic reviews. All these documents attempted to sell the same narrative: The United States could credibly meet emerging threats at the reduced budget levels. This, of course, was pure fantasy and has been soundly rejected by many of those in Congress and the defense community.

The new Secretary of Defense cannot continue the trend of playing politics with the defense budget. This person must reverse course and begin to inject strategic thinking back into the Pentagon. The recent bipartisan National Defense Panel provides a good review of the state of our military and what resources are required to actually meet national security requirements. This would be a good place for the Secretary to start. The United States cannot afford another two years of the same policy.

Should Your Tour Guide Have to Pass a Government Exam? - Daily Signal

Should Your Tour Guide Have to Pass a Government Exam?

Diem Salmon / Andrew Kloster / James Mazars de Mazarin /

Should guides have to pass a multiple-choice history test, background check and drug screen to be eligible to provide tours in cities?

The Supreme Court could be taking up that question soon. The Institute for Justice has asked the Court to consider an important First Amendment case from New Orleans, which requires its tour guides to pass these tests before they can provide tours of the Crescent City.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a similar law in the District of Columbia in June, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the New Orleans law the same month.

These licensing requirements are a problem for numerous reasons. Clearly, these laws implicate First Amendment rights to free speech. By imposing requirements on citizens before they can speak and penalizing them for noncompliance, these laws chill speech and must meet a high burden to pass constitutional muster.

These types of laws also stifle economic growth and innovation. It seems obvious that occupational licensing requirements make some sense in highly skilled fields such as law or medicine, where the state has a significant interest in ensuring high standards of professionalism.

But these requirements have infected many other occupations that don’t implicate health, safety or morals in any way, such as floral arrangers, casket manufacturers, tour guide operators, hair-braiders and even interior designers. are only some of the types of business that have been regulated for no good reason. Most infuriating is that these barriers mostly prevent low-income workers from seizing economic opportunities.

So why would locales pass these laws? Simple, protectionism. While protectionism is not per se unconstitutional, it is not a good reason for a law. In the absence of more compelling reasons, regulations designed purely to increase entry barriers to a profession should be struck down.

For example, until the law was ruled unconstitutional, prospective tour guides in the District of Columbia had to pay $200 to the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to take a test and another $400 to get training from “experts” on the test. These fees and the test were completely unnecessary, a fact the D.C. Circuit noted when it struck down the law.

Even if one agrees consumers should be protected from a bad tour experience, can’t the free market handle that? Bad tours will get bad reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor and similar websites, and customers will flock to those who are known to give good tours. Also, trade groups could get involved and certify tour groups or guides without the heavy hand of government.

The wealth of information available today means government has even less need to regulate such matters. But don’t count on that stopping established “professional” groups from getting together and lobbying their local governments to stop would-be competitors.

Perhaps the Supreme Court eventually will take note.

Taxpayers May Be on the Hook for Another Massive Bailout. This Time, It’s Unions Who Might Benefit. - Daily Signal

Taxpayers May Be on the Hook for Another Massive Bailout. This Time, It’s Unions Who Might Benefit.

Diem Salmon / Andrew Kloster / James Mazars de Mazarin / Rachel Greszler /

If you’re a worker and you have a pension, there’s a government agency that will pay that pension if your company is unable to fulfill those financial promises made to you and your colleagues.

There’s just one catch: that government agency has a massive deficit right now.

According to the recently released 2014 annual report from the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, the deficit in PBGC’s multiemployer program increased by $34.2 billion, from $8.6 billion in 2013 to $42.4 billion in 2014.

This massive deficit is problematic for the millions of workers who stand to receive mere pennies on the dollar in promised pension benefits.

It’s also a problem for taxpayers, who could be charged with bailing out private sector pensions that were never intended to be public liabilities.

Both policymakers and the public have paid relatively little attention to the dire financial status of PBGC’s multiemployer program. This year’s report of a five-fold deficit increase may help expose an overlooked problem.

The five-fold increase in PBGC’s multiemployer deficit from 2013 to 2014 is primarily the consequence of 10-year budgeting. As a government entity, PBGC subscribes to the typical 10-year budget window, but in doing so, it excludes all potential liabilities that are expected to occur outside the 10-year window. Therefore, the stream of future benefit payments from plans that are expected to become insolvent 11 or more years in the future are excluded from PBGC’s reported budget.

While the impending insolvency of certain large multiemployer (or union) pension plans has been known to PBGC for quite some time, it was not until 2014 that those plans’ expected insolvency was recorded in PBGC’s budget. As the PBGC report noted, the expected insolvency within 10 years of two very large plans added $26.3 billion to expected liabilities in PBGC’s multiemployer program while the expected insolvency of another 14 plans added another $9.0 billion to liabilities.

Although not specifically cited in the report, the two large plans are elsewhere identified as the Central States Teamsters and United Mineworkers. According to testimony from the Government Accountability Office, the insolvency of one of these very large pension funds would quickly bankrupt PBGC’s multiemployer program, leaving many PBGC beneficiaries with mere pennies on the dollar in promised benefits.

For example, a promised $24,000 pension would be reduced to less than $13,000 in guaranteed PBGC benefits upon the plan’s insolvency, but then would be reduced to less than $1,500 per year based on incoming PBGC revenues. Such drastic cuts in benefits would be devastating for many retirees and workers. It’s clear there would be pressure for yet another taxpayer bailout.

While the financial status of PBGC’s multiemployer program took a nosedive, the deficit in PBGC’s single-employer program did the opposite, declining in size by $8 billion to $19.3 billion. The stark differences in financial trends between PBGC’s single employer and multiemployer programs suggests that the special preferences and provisions allowed to multiemployers – both through federal regulation as well as PBGC’s different program structures – should be curbed.

In general, multiemployer plans are given far more freedom over factors, such as interest rate assumptions, that dictate required contributions from employees to their pension plans. Within PBGC, the multiemployer program has significantly lower premiums that lack any risk-based component. In addition, insolvent multiemployer pension plans are allowed to continue operating outside PBGC’s authority even after bankruptcy. In contrast,PBGC takes over insolvent single employer plans.

Although some differences in plan governance may be warranted, the drastically different financial trends of multiemployer versus single employer plans suggests stricter rules are needed for multiemployer pensions.

Policymakers should seek immediate reforms, such as stricter rules governing multiemployer pension plans and transforming PBGC to a more private-like insurance structure. Without significant and immediate reforms, millions of workers’ promised pension benefits could be drastically cut or a federal bailout could force taxpayers to bear private sector pension costs.

Cybersecurity: Time for the U.S. to Stop Negotiating with China and Start Acting - Daily Signal

Cybersecurity: Time for the U.S. to Stop Negotiating with China and Start Acting

Diem Salmon / Andrew Kloster / James Mazars de Mazarin / Rachel Greszler / David Inserra / Ellen Prichard /

It comes as no surprise that the U.S.–China cybersecurity talks at the Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) largely failed. While Obama was in China The Washington Post reported that the Chinese were the prime suspects in hacks against both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).

The USPS announced that 800,000 employees had their personal data stolen including names, addresses, and Social Security numbers. NOAA reported that four websites were compromised, but it is unknown if any data was stolen.

There have been constant reminders throughout the past year that the U.S. government’s cybersecurity needs improvements. It’s likely that every federal department has been hacked, Robert Anderson, executive assistant director of the Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch of the FBI told the Senate Homeland Security Committee in September 2014.

Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Homeland Security Stewart A. Baker noted,

It’s the case that the U.S. and Russia and other countries are much more cautious about getting caught because they think there are going to be consequences. It’s only the Chinese that think there are no consequences to getting caught.

China has been unapologetic about its activities when confronted by U.S. officials. The U.S. government needs to deter China from hacking if there is going to be any positive change. The indictment of five military members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army for their role in hacking the U.S. was a step in the right direction, but further action is needed. The U.S. should take legal action against Chinese companies known to steal U.S. designs and technology and should consider doing more to weaken China’s grip on its domestic Internet through counter-censorship technologies.

In addition to deterring nation-state hackers, the U.S. must also take better steps to defend itself. Information sharing between the government and the private sector should be a top priority. With the proper policies in place, sharing data on the threats that are evolving will allow others to protect themselves before the attack reaches them. Information sharing can occur across international borders with allies and between federal government departments. This will strengthen privacy and security.

Protecting the supply chain adds another layer of security to cyber infrastructures. As the technology industry has expanded so has outsourcing to different countries. This global supply chain is very important to ensuring that electronics are produced at low cost but it also allows potential vulnerabilities to be inserted into a product by a malicious actor. Companies can address this weakness through private sector–developed cybersecurity supply chain ratings and accreditation. Such an accreditation system will encourage companies to achieve higher ratings through better and safer practices. With companies having different levels of accreditation, consumers will also have more information with which to make risk-based cybersecurity decisions.

Obama’s visit to China only reinforces the fact that this problem cannot be solved by negotiating with the nations that are attacking us—only firm deterrence and agile defensive measures will better protect the U.S. in cyberspace.

Ellen Prichard is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.

Family Gets Relief From Obamacare’s Mandatory ‘Abortion Fee,’ but Pro-Lifers Aren’t Rejoicing Just Yet - Daily Signal

Family Gets Relief From Obamacare’s Mandatory ‘Abortion Fee,’ but Pro-Lifers Aren’t Rejoicing Just Yet

Diem Salmon / Andrew Kloster / James Mazars de Mazarin / Rachel Greszler / David Inserra / Ellen Prichard / Kelsey Harkness /

A pro-life family won’t be forced by Obamacare to pay for others’ abortions through a “secret fee” after all.

Barth and Abbie Bracy, who have four children, filed a lawsuit earlier this year against government officials, arguing that they failed to offer health insurance plans that didn’t cover elective abortions.

The Connecticut couple voluntarily dismissed their suit against federal and state officials after the state added options under Obamacare that, for the first time in Connecticut, will not require participants to pay for others’ abortions.

BracyLetter3

“While we are pleased that Connecticut families will now have a choice to avoid paying this abortion surcharge, it is a shame that other families won’t have that choice, and that most Americans don’t even know that they must pay this secret fee,” said Casey Mattox, a senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization that represented the Bracys.

That “secret fee” was uncovered in a Sept. 15 report by the Government Accountability Office, which found that more than  1,000 Obamacare plans cover abortion while remaining eligible for tax subsidies.

>>> Commentary:  How Obamacare Forces You to Subsidize Plans That Cover Elective Abortion

Federal law forbids taxpayer subsidies for elective abortions. The Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, requires every plan that covers elective abortions to collect a separate fee used exclusively to pay for those abortions. That requirement was the government’s attempt to prevent tax dollars, as Obama promised, from directly funding abortion.

The GAO report found that many insurers were failing to collect from policyholders the required separate payment for abortion coverage.

“The severe lack of transparency in Obamacare plans continues to leave many consumers unaware that they could be signing up for a plan that includes abortion coverage,” said Sarah Torre, a policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation who closely follows the issue of Obamacare and abortion. Torre added:

Worse, the health care law requires that insurance companies offering elective abortion coverage collect a separate premium of at least $12 a year from individuals to cover the procedures. No one should be forced to pay a hidden surcharge that’s used to pay for other’s abortions.

>>> Commentary:  Forcing Individuals and Taxpayers to Fund Elective Abortion Coverage

After the Bracys’ insurance company dropped them from their private plan, they discovered that Connecticut offered no health insurance options for citizens who object to paying for abortions, forcing them to violate their pro-life, religious beliefs.

Although Connecticut added plans acceptable to the Bracys to its online insurance marketplace under Obamacare, four other states highlighted in the GAO report have yet to offer plans that don’t include abortion coverage. That leaves pro-life families in Rhode Island, New Jersey, Vermont and Hawaii to face situations similar to that of the Bracys.

The Bracys, who are Catholic, see themselves as an example of Americans who feel deceived by Obama, who back in 2009 promised: “[U]nder our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions.”

Barth Bracy works as executive director of Rhode Island Right to Life, a 45-minute commute from the family’s home in Dayville, Conn.

He met his wife Abbie during a 15-year stint in the Philippines as a missionary. Today he serves as a deacon at the family’s local church.

“God is the center of our individual and family lives,” Bracy told The Daily Signal in an earlier interview regarding the family’s pro-life views and opposition to the abortion surcharge.

>>> Family of Six Says They’ll Go Uninsured Before Paying Obamacare’s ‘Abortion Fee’

To truly protect individuals and families, Heritage’s Torre said, Congress should repeal Obamacare and move forward with “real health care reform.” She said:

Americans deserve a health care system that increases access, decreases costs and allows individuals and families to choose health care without subsidizing life-ending procedures.

To address remaining issues of transparency in Obamacare’s 2015 open enrollment period, which began Nov. 15, the Family Research Council teamed up with the Charlotte Lozier Institute to make information about abortion coverage clearly available in this state-by-state map.

The Ethanol Mandate Proves the Government Is a Poor Central Planner - Daily Signal

The Ethanol Mandate Proves the Government Is a Poor Central Planner

Diem Salmon / Andrew Kloster / James Mazars de Mazarin / Rachel Greszler / David Inserra / Ellen Prichard / Kelsey Harkness / Katie Tubb / Nicolas Loris /

The federal government’s mandate to require Americans to use expensive, inefficient biofuels is so broken and dysfunctional that they can’t even decide the ideal target amount of production.

On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) again announced that it would not determine the amount of ethanol and biofuels required to be mixed into every American’s fuel tank for 2014 by the Energy Independence and Security Act. In 2005, Congress mandated that alternative fuels, primarily corn-based ethanol, progressively be added to gasoline and diesel and that the EPA annually adjust the targets originally set by Congress as needed. Now that 2014 is almost over, the EPA has failed again to clarify the standards. Friday’s non-decision should remind us again of some of the reasons why it’s high time Congress repeal what some have accurately labeled a “Soviet-style production quota system” for the nation’s fuel supply.

1. The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) hurts drivers, eaters, taxpayers, and the environment. Because of the RFS, Americans have to pay more for fuel than they normally would without the mandate, and the fuel they put in their tanks is less energy efficient because ethanol isn’t as energy dense. Further, the increased demand for corn for use in ethanol increases the price of corn by as much as 68 percent, which affects not only Americans but the world, because corn is a staple food in many countries as well as a staple feed for livestock. In addition, ethanol has proven to be harmful to smaller engines.

Although environmental organizations initially supported the mandate to reduce oil use and greenhouse gas emissions, many now argue that the ethanol mandate is poor environmental policy. When radical environmentalists and free-market groups, the U.N., motorcyclists, ranchers, anti-poverty groups, restaurants and, others agree on something, maybe it’s time to listen.

2. The system is broken and full of uncertainty. The EPA was supposed to have published a proposed set of standards in September 2013 and finalized in November so that industry/refineries could plan for the following year. Through a series of delays and extensions, the final standards only just came out last week.

Imagine if a teacher required students to regularly turn in homework and take tests but told students the grading scale hadn’t been determined yet. Imagine further that while the teacher promised to produce the grading scale before school started, she hadn’t yet developed it with two months of school left to go. Parents would be up in arms and students would be worried that their efforts might not have been enough and would cost them dearly. The teacher would rightly be fired.

Congress, however, continues to let a similar “teacher”—the EPA—carry on with a broken system which Congress itself created. Those in favor of the mandate are quick to say it creates “market certainty.” It’s hard to see how that is the case.

3. Unmet targets indicate why the federal government is a poor central planner. In fact, some targets have been missed by a long shot. The EPA routinely has had to keep cellulosic biofuel targets well below what Congress stipulated because the technology to turn corn refuse into fuel isn’t economically viable. Congress’s target for 2013 was to have 1 billion gallons in the nation’s fuel supply; in its 2013 revised target the EPA only mandated 6 million—less than 1 percent of the original target.

On the other hand, there is “too much” ethanol. Congress anticipated Americans would be driving a lot more than they are. In addition, because older or smaller vehicles can only safely handle a certain proportion of ethanol, we have run up against what some call a “blend wall” where the market has no outlet for more ethanol. When not enough of the cellulosic ethanol is produced, the EPA fines refineries and when there is the potential for too much ethanol or biodiesel, the EPA stamps down demand.

4. Only politically connected groups benefit from the RFS. A handful or organizations stand to benefit from the RFS such as corn and soybean growers, ethanol refiners, plant-based ethanol producers, and the politicians who get their votes. In fact, it appears that the string of delays for the 2014 standards occurred because the agriculture and ethanol lobbying arms were unhappy that the EPA originally proposed to cut the ethanol requirement for the first time in the mandate’s existence. But the RFS is a clear case of concentrated benefits to a handful of connected industries at the expense of the rest of America and the environment.

To make matters worse, the mandate stifles competition and growth in the alternative fuels industry. Instead of relying on a process that rewards competition and innovation, the mandate guarantees a market for the ethanol producers’ product and prevents the industry from achieving the price point at which the technology will be economically viable. When the government plays favorites, it traps valuable resources in unproductive places.

The path forward to remove favoritism and provide market opportunities for competition and innovation is to remove those policies that create those incentive structures. Congress should repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Amid Crises, Obama Pushes Out Hagel as Defense Secretary - Daily Signal

Amid Crises, Obama Pushes Out Hagel as Defense Secretary

Diem Salmon / Andrew Kloster / James Mazars de Mazarin / Rachel Greszler / David Inserra / Ellen Prichard / Kelsey Harkness / Katie Tubb / Nicolas Loris / Josh Siegel /

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel resigned today after less than two years in the post amid the struggles of President Obama’s national security team to respond to a slew of global crises.

Hagel, the only Republican in Obama’s Cabinet, is widely believed to have been pushed out by the president as he seeks a different approach to enduring challenges such as the Islamic State terrorist group and the deadly Ebola virus.

Hagel, 68, a low-key former U.S. senator from Nebraska and combat veteran of the Vietnam War, had been skeptical about the Iraq War. He endured a brutal confirmation process in the Senate, where critics questioned his familiarity with the issues, to get the top Pentagon job.

>>> Commentary: Chuck Hagel Learned to Love the Bomb. Will His Successor?

Hagel came in with the assignment from Obama to manage the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and to lead a significant paring of the military budget.

In an awkward announcement of his departure shortly after 11 a.m. from the White House’s State Dining Room, Obama, with Hagel and a sullen-looking Vice President Joe Biden flanking him, thanked Hagel for providing a “steady hand” and “bolstering America’s leadership in the world.”

Obama, listing what he called accomplishments on Hagel’s watch, said it was the “appropriate time” for Hagel to go.

After Hagel’s own gracious but general remarks, the president initiated a hug with the man he called a close friend and adviser.

Chuck Hagel’s a great friend, patriot. No one cares more about men and women in uniform. pic.twitter.com/qbl8JDTXfT

— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) November 24, 2014

Hagel becomes the third defense secretary to resign under Obama, following Robert Gates and Leon Panetta.

He called his tenure the “greatest privilege” of his life and vowed to stay on and work “just as hard every moment” until the Senate confirms his successor.

Hagel ended his remarks by offering a hearty “Happy Thanksgiving” to “team members” seated in the audience, including the also-departing Attorney General Eric Holder, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Such politeness and deference may have been Hagel’s undoing, some argue.

Hagel and Obama shared mutual opposition to the Iraq War from their former perches on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Obama noted his gratitude that his Republican colleague had accompanied him on a trip to Afghanistan after he won the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.

“This news is unsurprising,” said Steve Bucci, a foreign and national security policy expert at The Heritage Foundation who is a former top Pentagon official and Army Special Forces officer. Bucci, calling the forced resignation a “diversion,” told The Daily Signal:

 Hagel never really had the skills for the position; he was put in place solely to provide cover for the budget slashing at the Department of Defense. By kicking him to the side of the road, Obama loses nothing, save a timid voice who was just starting to point out that the president’s Iraq/Syria policy was not working. The foreign and defense policy failure is the president’s, and firing Hagel is nothing more than a diversion, the equivalent of saying, ‘Ignore that man behind the curtain.

Michael O’Hanlon, the director of research for the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution, agrees that Hagel was made a scapegoat by Obama.

In an interview with The Daily Signal, O’Hanlon, who specializes in U.S. defense strategy, said Hagel has done a good enough job in his position.

“Hagel has done a good job with the Asia re-balance and the administration was right with Russia and Ukraine to use diplomacy and sanctions rather than military involvement,” O’Hanlon said. “It’s not a DOD problem.”

But Hagel had struggled to articulate the administration’s strategy to counter the rise of the Islamic State, the brutal terrorist group also known as ISIS or ISIL, and fought with the White House’s National Security Council over how to best deal with Syria’s three-year civil war.

>>> ISIS Video Shows British Hostage ‘Reporting’ Fall of Syrian Town

Hagel recently sent a memo to Rice arguing for more clarity on how to confront Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The White House is carrying out out a limited military role in Syria focused on combating ISIS —  and not on removing the dictator Assad from office.

Dempsey, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, seemingly grabbed the spotlight from Hagel in recent months by frequently making public comments about the possible need to send U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS.

Obama has resisted that possibility.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a friend and critic of Hagel’s, hinted at heavy-handedness in Obama’s approach to foreign affairs and defense policy as a reason for the broken partnership. In a statement, McCain said:

I know that Chuck was frustrated with aspects of the administration’s national security policy and decision-making process. His predecessors have spoken about the excessive micro-management they faced from the White House and how that made it more difficult to do their jobs successfully. Chuck’s situation was no different.

O’Hanlon contends that Obama’s approach to decision-making is fine. It’s just that the president has made some bad decisions in the Middle East, O’Hanlon says.

“I don’t think relationships are necessarily poor,” said O’Hanlon, commenting on the theory that Obama has thorny relations with some in his Cabinet, including Hagel. “The president is supposed to make big decisions. It’s just that in this part of the world, he has made some incorrect decisions. He wanted to end those wars and it is within his rights to make those decisions. I don’t buy the micro-managing theory.”

Whoever helps Obama make future military decisions will still have an important role.

Michèle A. Flournoy, a former under secretary of defense, and Ashton B. Carter, a former deputy secretary of defense, were quickly mentioned as potential Hagel successors.

Bucci calls both of those candidates “very capable.”

O’Hanlon lists three high-profile names Obama also ought to consider: David Petraeus, former director of the CIA; Stanley McChrystal, former commander in Afghanistan under Obama, and John Allen, who is currently a special presidential envoy in the fight against ISIS.

“All three command tremendous respect in that region,” O’Hanlon said.

The successor will have to be flexible in confronting the challenge of the Middle East, O’Hanlon says.

“He should be looking for someone with tremendous experience who has realism and creativity when it comes to the Middle East,” O’Hanlon said. “That person needs to anticipate things and to know that whatever you try may go wrong.”

But Bucci argues that the next defense secretary might not hold much weight in carrying out Obama’s policies.

“He needs to pick someone who is competent and has the spine to stand up to the president,” Bucci said. “But whoever he puts in there won’t have an ability to make a lot of difference.”

 

 

Second State Pulls Plug on Contract with Jonathan Gruber Over ‘Stupid’ Remarks - Daily Signal

Second State Pulls Plug on Contract with Jonathan Gruber Over ‘Stupid’ Remarks

Diem Salmon / Andrew Kloster / James Mazars de Mazarin / Rachel Greszler / David Inserra / Ellen Prichard / Kelsey Harkness / Katie Tubb / Nicolas Loris / Josh Siegel / Melissa Quinn /

Another one bites the dust. After videos surfaced of Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber calling the American people stupid, North Carolina became the second state in two weeks to pull its contract with the economist.

State Auditor Beth Wood, a Democrat, decided to terminate Gruber’s $200,000 contract late last week, according to a timeline of work done for North Carolina by Gruber, a health economics professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Gruber’s comment that it was all right to mislead people to get a desired outcome that he favored led our auditors to determine he had at least the appearance of an independence impairment,” Bill Holmes, a spokesman for the auditor’s office, told WRAL-TV.

>>> Meet the Man Who Found the Jonathan Gruber Videos

Gruber’s comments also led to the termination of his $400,000 contract with the state of Vermont. He was paid $160,000 before Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, decided to end the contract.

North Carolina’s Office of the State Auditor hired Gruber last November to look at the effectiveness of Community Care of North Carolina, a state program that provides managed care to those enrolled in Medicaid.

Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican who took office in January 2013, has worked with state lawmakers on potential state Medicaid reforms.  Gruber spent the year analyzing data from the state Department of Health and Human Services to determine whether Community Care of North Carolina should be included in reform plans.

The timeline from the auditor’s office shows that the agency took note of the media attention Gruber garnered Nov. 12 after videos of him mocking the American public went viral on social media.

Wood then met with state legislative leaders Nov. 18 to discuss terminating Gruber’s contract, which officially was ended the next day.

Holmes told The Daily Signal in an email:

Dr. Gruber demonstrated that he had at least the appearance of what we call an ‘independence impairment.’ That is, he at least appeared to lack independence in this matter.

The auditor’s office will pay Gruber $100,000 for his work with the state.

Over the past two weeks, multiple videos of Gruber discussing the Affordable Care Act have come to light. In the first one to surface, from a 2013 event before North Carolina hired Gruber, the MIT professor discusses how the Obama administration and Senate Democrats manipulated the language of the health care bill to ensure its passage.

>>> The Millions of Dollars Jonathan Gruber Got from You, in One Chart

In the video, Gruber tells his audience that Senate and House Democrats passed the Obamacare law with a deliberate “lack of transparency,” a feat he attributed to the “stupidity of the American voter.”

Subsequent uncovered videos show Gruber calling the American people “stupid” and mocking a man who expressed concerns about the effects of Obamacare.

Obama Downplays His Role in 2016: Voters Want ‘That New Car Smell’ - Daily Signal

Obama Downplays His Role in 2016: Voters Want ‘That New Car Smell’

Diem Salmon / Andrew Kloster / James Mazars de Mazarin / Rachel Greszler / David Inserra / Ellen Prichard / Kelsey Harkness / Katie Tubb / Nicolas Loris / Josh Siegel / Melissa Quinn / Kate Scanlon /

President Obama doesn’t expect to be heavily involved in the 2016 presidential election because voters will be looking for “that new car smell,” he told George Stephanopoulos on ABC News’ “This Week.”

“You know, they want to drive something off the lot that doesn’t have as much mileage as me,” said Obama.

The president said the best way for him to serve the American people and a “potential successor” is to spend the next two years “making this government work a little bit better for ordinary folks.”

The president said that at the end of his term, he’d be happy to do “selective things” for candidates, “but I suspect that folks will be ready to see me go off to the next thing.”

“You know, they’re—they’re probably not going to be looking at me to campaign too much. … One of the things about our society, which is great, is that we don’t have real long memories. And, you know, we get—we get impatient for the next thing.”

Chuck Hagel Learned to Love the Bomb. Will His Successor? - Daily Signal

Chuck Hagel Learned to Love the Bomb. Will His Successor?

Diem Salmon / Andrew Kloster / James Mazars de Mazarin / Rachel Greszler / David Inserra / Ellen Prichard / Kelsey Harkness / Katie Tubb / Nicolas Loris / Josh Siegel / Melissa Quinn / Kate Scanlon / Michaela Dodge /

When Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel entered the Obama administration, he was a proponent of U.S. unilateral nuclear weapons reductions. He believed that nuclear weapons are irrelevant and that the U.S. would be better off getting rid of them.

Now, he’s resigned—and his change of opinion on nuclear weapons might surprise you.

Hagel leaves after having proposed to spend an additional $1.5 billion a year on nuclear forces to mitigate issues identified in this month’s Independent Review of the Department of Defense Nuclear Enterprise (the Independent Review) and the Pentagon’s own review. The increase in investment is overdue and must be maintained by the next secretary of defense. Indeed, the problem the next secretary will face is President Obama’s commitment to reducing the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

In 2009, President Obama declared his desire for a world without nuclear weapons. Although he promised to maintain the U.S. nuclear deterrent, he negotiated the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia and then retreated on his nuclear modernization promises when the first opportunity presented itself. New START failed, and Russia today deploys more nuclear warheads than the United States. The president promised to speed up the Chemical Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility at Los Alamos, but the administration cancelled the plan a year after New START entered into force. The president promised to deploy all four phases of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, a missile defense plan for the protection of the United States and the European allies, but the administration canceled the last phase of the EPAA last year.

In Berlin in 2013, Obama declared his desire to further reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal by a third. Reality interfered yet again when it became clear that Russia is increasing the number of its deployed nuclear weapons under New START and massively modernizing its nuclear arsenal, including building new nuclear warhead designs. In comparison, the newest nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal are built based on designs from the 1970s. The reality is that nuclear deterrence remains extremely relevant in the current world and the United States has not been serious in thinking about its deterrent for some time.

The Independent Review identified a significant gap between the soldiers who operate the nuclear system and the leadership as one of the core problems of forces that operate U.S. nuclear weapons. The report emphasizes that the issue needs “to be addressed quickly and effectively.”

The problem starts in the While House and its dedication to nuclear disarmament ideology. The next secretary of defense will have to deal with the world as it is, not as the president imagines it. A strong nuclear deterrent remains a cornerstone of a sound U.S. nuclear weapons policy and deserves an attention as such.