The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 16, 2013

Obama, Congress must explain NSA work

The Mankato Free Press

---- — No American wants another 9/11, but neither do we want government overreach in the name of national security that tramples our constitutional right to limit unwarranted government intrusion into our private matters.

Edward Snowden’s recent revelations about the National Security Agency’s surveillance tactics give us reason to ask whether the government is operating within those principles. President Barack Obama and Congress must fully explain the latest electronic surveillance programs and make sure safeguards are adequate to protect individual privacy.

The nation debated this issue during George W. Bush’s administration, resulting in the passage of the Patriot Act, which was unprecedented legislation that this newspaper supported to bolster intelligence gathering. But debates over where to draw the boundaries of privacy and national security will never be completely settled.

The potential for government overstep will continue to crop up with time and technological advances. For protections to remain strong, checks and balances designed to balance individual rights with the collective safety of the nation need to be constantly reviewed.

Dallas Morning News

Transparency for Medicare

Information can be efficiency’s best friend. The more participants in the marketplace know about the true costs and benefits of various goods and services, and about the behavior of other individuals and firms, the easier it is for them to get the most for their money.

The U.S. health-care system notoriously lacks transparency, which may be a reason why it produces poorer results at higher cost than do systems elsewhere.

Now a federal court in Florida has opened a legal pathway to more Medicare transparency. Judge Marcia Morales Howard vacated a 33-year-old injunction that barred HHS from ever telling the public how much it reimburses individual health-care providers. The gag order was imposed at the request of the American Medical Association, which claimed its members’ financial privacy was threatened. Critics argued successfully that doctors’ privacy is now outweighed by the public’s interest in knowing what happens to a flow of taxpayer funds.

However, mandatory public disclosure remains the unrealized goal of a bipartisan Senate bill which seeks to set up a free, searchable Medicare-payment database.

Doctors should stop resisting the transparency movement and join it. After all, their profession is founded on a belief in free inquiry and the unhindered flow of useful information.

Washington Post

Why the Marketplace Fairness Act is ... fair

A bill that would require the collection of sales taxes due for online purchases sailed through the U.S. Senate in a 69-27 vote in May, but it faces tougher going in the House.

The Marketplace Fairness Act would require virtual merchants to collect sales taxes just as their Main Street rivals do. It would bring equity to a marketplace now tilted against brick-and-mortar retailers.

Online sellers enjoy an unfair advantage now because they’re not required to charge for state and local taxes. Their customers are supposed to pay the tax to their states, but rarely do so.

Some House members oppose the bill because they say it amounts to a tax increase — that sounds like an argument against any effort to clamp down on illegal tax avoidance. The tax already exists, the obligation to pay it already exists. But the tax isn’t being collected by some merchants.

Online merchants complain that it would be burdensome for them to calculate the many different local tax rates and remit money to the states.

That argument was more compelling at the dawn of e-commerce — when cellphones were still dumb and this Internet thing was an iffy proposition.

It’s time for the House to move on this. Online businesses will adjust to the new landscape in no time. Every merchant should be treated equally when it comes to collecting sales tax, no matter where and how they operate.

The Chicago Tribune

Obama boosts Venezuelan leader. Why?

Nicolas Maduro, the former bus driver chosen by Hugo Chavez to lead Venezuela after his death, has been struggling to consolidate his position since his election in April. With the economy stalling, inflation spiking and shortages spreading, the new president appears at a loss about how to respond, other than to blame domestic and foreign enemies.

One government, however, has chosen to toss Maduro a lifeline: the United States. Last week Secretary of State John F. Kerry announced the Obama administration would like to “find a new way forward” with the Maduro administration and “quickly move to the appointment of ambassadors.”

The Venezuelan leader has expelled two U.S. military attaches, claimedt they were trying to destabilize the country; he claimed the CIA was provoking violence; and he called Obama “the big boss of the devils.”

Kerry’s words amounted to a precious endorsement for Maduro — and the Obama administration appears bent on cultivating him regardless of his actions. This looks like a reset for the sake of reset, launched without regard for good timing or the cause of Venezuelan democracy.

Washington Post