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Obama’s Executive Clemency Program Putting Firearm Offenders on the Streets

We’ve often mentioned that President Obama, despite his insistent shaming of America over its supposed lack of gun regulation, has shown little interest in enforcing the gun control laws already on the books.

But it gets worse. A lot worse.

Information has now arisen that the Obama administration is granting executive clemency to dozens of felons imprisoned for firearm-related offenses, some whose crimes involved possessing or using a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking crimes. These criminals will for the most part be released back into the very communities that they exploited and victimized with their offenses.

The revelations were detailed in a March 31 letter from Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-AL) to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch. According to the letter, of more than 200 federal inmates granted release under the president’s initiative for executive clemency, “33 were convicted of firearm-related offenses.”

These include, according to the letter:

  • Seven convictions of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime;
  • Four convictions of possession of a firearm by a felon; and
  • Two convictions of use of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense.

Sen. Shelby expressed his frustration with the administration’s actions:

Communities in my state, like other towns and cities all over America, are working hard to clean up their streets and make their communities safer. This is a constant struggle for some areas. Yet, this announcement from the President sends an unfortunate and resounding message to criminals everywhere: if you are convicted of a crime involving a gun, the federal government will go easy on you.

The president’s moves seem to be a glaring contradiction to his assertion last year that “the one area where I’ve been most frustrated and most stymied … is the fact that the United States of America is the one advanced nation on earth in which we do not have sufficient common sense gun laws.”

Surely Obama’s advisors have apprised him of the hundreds of federal gun control laws already on the books. So you would think he’d be using every tool at his disposal to deal with the violent crime that, for example, plagues his own home town in particular.

But rather than focus on violent criminals, Obama’s most recent and highly-touted gun control offensive targeted hobbyists and collectors who make occasional gun sales, licensed dealers, and expanding the attack on veterans to include Social Security recipients. 

But rather than focus on violent criminals, Obama’s most recent and highly-touted gun control offensive targeted hobbyists and collectors who make occasional gun sales, licensed dealers, and expanding the attack on veterans to include Social Security recipients.

Sen. Shelby’s letter raised questions about whether the administration is following its own guidelines in the granting of executive clemency. These include prioritizing applicants who “are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels” and who “do not have a significant criminal history.”

The administration’s actions would seem to point inescapably to two possible conclusions. One possibility is that the president really is allowing dangerous criminals back out on the streets of their communities. If that’s the case, then his actions are reckless and irresponsible and gamble with innocent lives for the sake of politics.

Another is that he genuinely believes that individuals who use or possess guns to perpetrate drug crimes are not really a threat to public safety. If that’s true, then he is dangerously misinformed. It also makes his obsessive focus on purely technical violations of gun control laws – e.g., re-categorizing hobbyists as “dealers,” banning veterans from possessing firearms, and recently expanding the attack on veterans to include Social Security recipients – seem even more like political persecution and less like serious crime control.

Whatever the case may be, President Obama’s latest moves merely add to his reputation as more interested in style than substance.

This November, voters should carefully consider whether Obama’s would-be successor really has their best interests at heart or whether, like Obama, the next president would vilify his or her political opponents, while simultaneously coddling the very criminals that put innocent lives at risk.

Privatize Social Security — Even if the Market Crashes by Michael D. Tanner

There have been many good, if ultimately unconvincing, arguments against allowing younger workers to privately invest a portion of their Social Security taxes through personal accounts. There have been even more silly ones.

One of the silliest is the one regurgitated Monday by ThinkProgress, that this week’s stock market decline proves that “If Social Security Had Been In Private Accounts The Stock Market Drop Could Have Been A Disaster.”

Few personal account plans would require a retiree to cash out their entire account on the day that the market crashed. But what if they did? It is important to understand that someone retiring Monday would have begun paying into their account 40 years ago when the Dow was at 835.34. After yesterday’s decline, it opened at 15,676 today. Over those 40 years, the worker would have made roughly 1,040 contributions to their account. Only 48 of them would have been at a time when the market was higher than today’s open.

Yep, even after Monday’s crash, the worker would have made a tidy profit. In fact, his return would have been substantially higher than what he could expect to receive from Social Security.

The last time that defenders of the status quo made this argument was 2009, during the market crash that led into the Great Recession. At that time the market hit a low of 6,547.  Obviously, if workers had been allowed to start investing then, they would have done pretty well. But more importantly, retirees in 2009 would have done well too, once again better than Social Security.

Cato published this comprehensive study of that downturn and its impact on personal accounts.

Social Security is running nearly $26 trillion in future unfunded liabilities. It cannot pay promised future benefits to young workers without substantial tax hikes. We should begin a discussion of how to reform this troubled program.

A start to such a discussion would be to retire the canard about market crashes and personal accounts.

Cross-posted from Cato.org and TannerOnPolicy.

Michael D. Tanner

Michael D. Tanner

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, studying poverty and social welfare policy, health care reform, and Social Security.

Can We Afford ‘Affordable Care’? by D.W. MacKenzie

Does the Supreme Court decision upholding health insurance subsidies prove that Obamacare is here to stay?

With its legality settled, the longevity of the healthcare program is supposed to be politically inevitable. The millions of voters who receive subsidies from the Affordable Care Act will not tolerate the loss of this money. Insurance companies will no doubt also lobby to prevent any loss of ACA subsidies, as stockholders and employees are major beneficiaries of this program.

Political factors may well preserve the ACA in the short run. But the Court’s ruling came on the heels of a gloomy report from the Congressional Budget Office that may prove to be more decisive for the law than all of Chief Justice Roberts’ legal gymnastics.

The CBO forecasts anemic economic growth and rising public debt for decades to come. Projected revenues and projected spending indicate a growing imbalance in federal finances, driven by long-term unfunded liabilities in old entitlement programs — mainly Social Security and Medicare.

The Affordable Care Act was supposed to control health insurance costs — hence the name. Unfortunately, things are not working out that way, and insurance companies are pressing for significant rate increases.

Consumers might hope that government officials would resist pressure for rate increases, but such actions are unlikely: Stock prices for major health insurers rose sharply after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Obama administration. Clearly, investors expect the ACA to benefit health insurers. And in Oregon, state regulators actually raised premiums higher than insurers requested, just to keep companies in the market. Rising premiums will likely drive more subsidies, worsening the looming debt and entitlement crisis.

Politicians have ignored these issues for decades because they seemed like “long-term” problems, and political pressures from elections and lobbying force them to be shortsighted. The short-term financial situation is being shored up by the willingness of investors to buy federal debt at low rates.

The trouble is that the long term isn’t as far off as it used to be. The CBO indicates that the fiscal situation in the federal government worsened significantly over the past few years, even as the deficit was declining. Further deterioration in federal finances is expected over the next decade. How much longer will private investors continue to finance this soaring debt?

A large part of the problem with rising debt is that financing it requires steady economic growth, but large public debts can crush growth. Federal debt is a millstone on the economy, the burden of which could at some point lead to national bankruptcy. The ACA, with its enormous subsidies and regulatory compliance costs, will simply pile on an already unaffordable mass of federal spending programs.

The bottom line is that Supreme Court maintained the ACA subsidies legally,but the American people will not be able to maintain them financially.

The passage and continued defense of the Affordable Care Act is an example of the rank irrationality of public budgeting. The outcome of our political and legislative processes over the past few decades has been to create a myriad of wasteful and financially unsustainable federal programs. Meanwhile, the analytical office the legislative branch of government has been quietly raising the alarm about to the direction and sustainability of government finances. It would seem that delirium is winning out over reason.

There is, of course, nothing truly inevitable about the growth of federal spending. Federal spending developed into its present irrational state because many people pressed for this growth.

But spending can and will be curtailed. Citizens can push for real spending cuts through the electoral process. Otherwise, investors in financial markets will at some point put a sharp and sudden stop to government excesses.


D.W. MacKenzie

D. W. MacKenzie is an assistant professor of economics at Carroll College in Helena, Montana.

RELATED ARTICLE: Under Obamacare, Uninsured Rate Fell to Lowest Level in 50 Years. Why There’s More to That Number.

Social Security Administration Stripping Gun Rights of Millions of Seniors

As the L.A. Times reported this morning, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is currently developing a program to strip the Second Amendment Rights of over four million Americans currently receiving SSA benefits through a “representative payee.”  Not only would this amount to the largest gun grab in American history, but according to the published report, would take place without any due process protections for recipients, amounting to a nullification of Second Amendment rights for millions of Americans who don’t pose a threat to themselves or anyone else.

This new program appears to have been instigated by the SSA in response to a memorandum issued by Obama in January of 2013 which directed all federal agency executives to “improve the availability of records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).” This memorandum required all agency heads to submit to the Department of Justice (DOJ) a plan for “sharing all relevant Federal records” for submission to the NICS.

Evidently, Obama’s SSA bureaucrats read “all relevant Federal records” to mean all Social Security recipients who have a “representative payee” assigned to their accounts to help them manage their payments and receipts. Obviously, many individuals swept up in this egregious case of bureaucratic over-reach would not otherwise be prohibited from owning, possessing, or acquiring firearms under federal law.

The federal prohibitions against acquiring or possessing firearms apply to those “adjudicated as a mental defective,” among others. The term “adjudication,” however, refers to a determination made after a judicial-type process that includes various due process protections.  In no case does the federal law describe or contemplate the type of prohibition by bureaucratic fiat exercised by the SSA in developing its guidelines for those with “representative payees” assigned to their accounts.

But SSA is not alone in this directive. The memorandum names several agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Transportation, and “such other agencies or offices as the Chair may designate.” Potentially, bureaucrats in all these agencies could be working hard to identify and forward “all relevant Federal records,” to the NICS pursuant to the Obama mandate.

In total, this program could easily grow to include many more millions of Americans who have any connection to the Federal government through the various agencies named in the memorandum.

Unfortunately, this fits a pattern of abuse within the Obama Administration which is clearly hell-bent on destroying the Second Amendment in any way possible. As we reported previously (here and here), the Veterans Administration (VA) has already implemented a similar program to designate veterans as “prohibited persons”  when they have a fiduciary assigned to administer their VA benefits.  Like the SSA program described above, the VA procedures are also devoid of significant due process protections or any requirement that the beneficiary be found a danger to self or others. According to the L.A Times article, 177,000 vets have been swept into NICS with the bureaucratic short-cut.

The implications of this policy are too far reaching to fathom at present. Social Security is one of the more prolific and relied upon Federal programs in American history. That Obama’s directive could so easily be implemented within the SSA suggests that bureaucrats could effectively cloak such a program in any agency within the growing leviathan that is the federal government.

EDITORS NOTE: Readers who may wish to call or write their members of congress may do so using the Congressional switchboard at 202-225-3121 or send an email to their lawmaker by using the NRA-ILA “Write Your Representatives” tool.

Bernie Sanders Thinks the Middle Class Is Deteriorating: He’s Wrong! by Corey Iacono

Sen. Bernie Sanders is a democratic socialist running for President of the United States, and his passionate populist message has won him many admirers on the left. His willingness to push for radical progressive policies (such as top income tax rates of 90 percent), which mainstream Democrats are too moderate to embrace, is steadily eroding Hillary Clinton’s dominance of the Democratic primary field.

There are several “facts” upon which Sanders has built his campaign. Probably the most important is the claim that the American middle class has been declining for quite some time. According to Sanders’s website:

The long-term deterioration of the middle class, accelerated by the Wall Street crash of 2008, has not been pretty…

Since 1999, the median middle-class family has seen its income go down by almost $5,000 after adjusting for inflation, now earning less than it did 25 years ago.

The situation is clearly dire, and the right man for the momentous job of saving the middle class is Sen. Sanders. Well, at least that’s [the] message his campaign seeks to convey.

But what if the middle class isn’t becoming worse off over time? What if the American middle class is actually doing as well as ever? Would Sanders’s supporters be as likely to endorse his more radical ideas if they weren’t convinced that the middle was becoming poorer over time — and that only progressive policies could reverse this trend?

It’s worth taking the time to examine Sanders’s claim that the middle class is worse off now than in the past. He doesn’t cite a source for his statistic, but it seems to rely on looking at the median household income over time and adjusting for inflation using the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

This is a problematic methodology because it does not control for the well-known fact that the median household has itself grown smaller over time. Even if median income stayed the same over time, a decline in the number of people in the median household over time would lead to an increase in income per household member.

Additionally, Sanders’s statistic looks at income before taxes and transfers. Transfer payments and tax credits (like the Earned Income Tax Credit) make up a significant portion of income for many lower-income families. Not controlling for these factors understates their true economic well-being.

The figures cited by Sanders also fail to take into account the fact that a larger proportion of worker compensation comes in the form of non-cash benefits (such as health insurance) now than in the past.

According to research published by the National Tax Journal, “Broadening the income definition to post-tax, post-transfer, size-adjusted household cash income, middle class Americans are found to have made substantial gains,” amounting to a 37 percent increase in income over the 1979-2007 period.

Similarly, in 2014, the Congressional Budget Office found that adjusting for changing household size and looking at income after taxes and transfers, households in all income quintiles are much better off than they were a few decades ago.

The incomes of households in the three middle income quintiles grew 40 percent between 1979 and 2011. Somewhat surprisingly, given the histrionics about the state of America’s poor, income in households in the lowest quintile was 48 percent higher in 2011 than it was in 1979.

Research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis comes to even more optimistic conclusions.

The Consumer Price Index is widely understood to overstate inflation — among other reasons, by failing to accurately account for improvements in quality and consumer substitutions for newer or cheaper goods — which is why the Federal Open Market Committee uses an alternative measurement for inflation, the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) price index, which includes more comprehensive coverage of goods and services than the CPI.

If the CPI does, in fact, overstate the extent to which prices rise over time, then it also consequently understates the growth in real, inflation-adjusted incomes over time.

Indexing median household income (post taxes and transfers) to inflation using the PCE, rather than the CPI, and adjusting for the long-run decline in household size shows that median incomes have “increased by roughly 44 percent to 62 percent from 1976 to 2006.”

Moreover, the focus on statistical categories ignores what is happening at the level of individuals and households, which may move up or down the income ladder, through different income quintiles. And studies have consistently shown that this income mobility has not changed in decades.

While the rate of growth for some income categories in recent years has been sluggish, the claim that middle incomes are declining precipitously is false. Based on these findings, it seems appropriate to conclude that Sanders’ claim that there exists a “long-term deterioration of the middle class” is patently untrue.

Learn more about wage “stagnation” from former FEE president Don Boudreaux:

Corey Iacono

Corey Iacono is a student at the University of Rhode Island majoring in pharmaceutical science and minoring in economics.