tipsheet
Kevin Glass - Study: Expanded School Breakfast Program Offers Little Benefit to Students
Posted: 7/22/2014 9:11:00 AM EST

The US Department of Agriculture conducted a large experiment with school breakfast programs in public schools from 1999 to 2003, alternately providing either universal breakfasts or breakfast-in-class programs aimed at both expanding access and eliminating the stigma associated with the school breakfast program. Policymakers have long been concerned with low participation rates in the breakfast program and these experiments were designed to combat that problem.

It worked: participation in the school breakfast programs rose. The problem, a new study finds, is that the expanded participation brought largely no benefit to those it was intended to help.

As authors Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach and Mary Zaki of Northwestern University write:

Despite the increase in breakfast consumption under BIC, we find no positive impact on most other outcomes. In contrast to the earlier, quasi-experimental literature, we find no positive impact on test scores and some evidence of negative impacts. Similarly, there appears to be no overall positive impact on attendance rates or child health. There is suggestive evidence that BIC may improve behavior and health in some highly disadvantaged subgroups, though.

The authors urge that their results don't speak against the effectiveness of the school breakfast program as constituted, but merely against efforts to expand the program. They find that the increase in participation resulted largely from students who merely substituted school breakfasts for those they were already getting at home - and that a certain percentage of the increase in participation was from some children eating two breakfasts. The authors write that "the realtively modest measured benefits suggest that policymakers should carefully consider how to trade these off against the increased program costs."

Author James Bovard recently noted:

A 2006 Journal of the American Dietetic Association study concluded that "making universal-free school breakfast available" failed to change "students' dietary outcomes" or reduce the number of kids who skipped breakfast. Similarly, a 2006 Journal of Child Nutrition and Management study and a recent University of North Carolina study concluded that providing universal free breakfasts failed to improve academic performance.

This is a relatively small issue - "efforts to expand access to the federally-provided school breakfast program have largely been ineffective" - but it speaks to the challenge conservatives face in the public policy arena. Some children, and especially at-risk children from low-income families, are malnourished and the federal government has attempted to come up with a policy to increase participation rates in a program aimed at combating the problem; who could be against that?! But it turns out that federal efforts in this arena have been largely a waste of money, and sometimes actively harmful to the very children it's intended to help.

Pointing out that a relatively small program with a modest budget aimed at helping poor, at-risk children might be a waste of money is going to be unpopular. But one small, ineffective, well-intentioned program here, another small, ineffective, well-intentioned program there, and suddenly we're looking at a large, ineffective, well-intentioned government leviathan. In an era where the deciding electoral metric is "cares about people like me," it's hard to build a message that all those well-intentioned programs might not actually work well.

Katie Pavlich - 1000 National Guard Troops on Their Way to the Texas Border With Focus on Criminal Aliens
Posted: 7/22/2014 8:45:00 AM EST

Texas Governor Rick Perry is taking the border crisis into his own hands and announced late yesterday afternoon that he's deploying 1,000 National Guard troops to the border in hopes to stem the wave of illegal aliens pouring into the United States with a focus on stopping criminal aliens who are exploiting overwhelmed resources. The troop deployment will bolster the ongoing law enforcement operation known as Operation Strong Safety, which is "focused on combatting criminal activity in the region resulting from the federal government's failure to adequately secure the border," according to Perry's office.

This deployment builds upon Operation Strong Safety by providing additional personnel that will work seamlessly and side by side with law enforcement officials. It also builds on the National Guard's existing border presence, which has been utilizing air assets to patrol the region looking for illegal activity.

The statistics on crimes committed by illegal aliens since 2008 in Texas are staggering.

Since 2008, more than 203,000 criminal aliens have been booked into Texas county jails. Over the course of their criminal careers, these individuals have committed more than 640,000 crimes in the state of Texas alone, including more than 3,000 homicides and nearly 8,000 sexual assaults.

"There can be no national security without border security, and Texans have paid too high a price for the federal government's failure to secure our border," Perry said yesterday during a press conference. "The action I am ordering today will tackle this crisis head-on by multiplying our efforts to combat the cartel activity, human traffickers and individual criminals who threaten the safety of people across Texas and America."

"It's been approximately a month since I visited a federal detention facility in McAllen and saw first hand the human tragedy unfolding on our southern border. The plight of these unaccompanied alien children has rightfully captured national attention as we learn details of their harrowing journeys," Perry said. "Equally as concerning however is the fact that unaccompanied children only make up 20 percent of those apprehended crossing the border illegally. As the brave men and women of the Border Patrol are pulled away from their law enforcement duties to give humanitarian aide, drug cartels, human traffickers, individual criminals are exploiting this tragedy for their own criminal opportunities."


It has been extensively reported at Townhall that violent gang members from MS-13 and 18th Street are being housed at federal Border Patrol processing centers and that they are exploiting overwhelmed resources in order to recruit more members and to gain easy access to the United States.

Katie Pavlich - Good News: Lois Lerner's "Lost" Emails Might Not Be Lost
Posted: 7/22/2014 8:10:00 AM EST

The IRS may be changing its tune a little bit when it comes to former head of tax exempt groups Lois Lerner's "lost" emails. IRS Deputy Associate Chief Counsel Thomas Kane testified yesterday on Capitol Hill that all of the emails may not have been destroyed and that IRS officials need more time to look into what emails they still have.

According to Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa, they're not sure yet what emails are still available for review and that further investigation is necessary. However, Issa said in an interview with Greta Van Susteren last night that there are more crashed hard drives at the IRS and that many questions surrounding Lerner's correspondence with other IRS officials and employees remain.

"They don't know what they should know because they haven't even looked and even today they're giving us ambiguous answers," Issa said.

Yesterday former advisor to President Bill Clinton, Lanny Davis, called for a special prosecutor to look into the IRS scandal.

Kara Jones - It’s Not Just the VA: Systemic Weaknesses Plague Government Agencies Across the Board
Posted: 7/21/2014 7:30:00 PM EST

Headlines broke in April surrounding an investigative report that revealed 40 veterans had died waiting for appointments at the Pheonix Veterans Affairs Health Care System. Further examination affirmed that this was not a singular instance, but rather a widespread case of bureaucratic corruption.

Between the falsification of waiting lists, the retaliation against whistle blowers, and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation, all eyes have been on the VA the past few months. Should it come as a surprise, then, that numerous commissions, GAO investigations, hearings, and IG reports previously spoke to the inefficiencies of the VA? Nothing was done about this deep, institutional problem until it was too late.

Peter Schuck, Professor Emeritus of Law at Yale Law School, has written a book titled “Why Government Fails So Often: And How It Can Do Better” which chronicles the deep structural flaws that undermine the vast majority of federal agencies. Though the VA is a perfect case study for what he describes in his book, Schuck analyzes a large number of domestic programs and develops criteria for assessing their effectiveness.

At last week’s “Fixing the US Department of Veterans Affairs” panel at the American Enterprise Institute, Schuck outlined several features that contribute to the defective nature of large government service programs:

1. Ever-increasing budgets: In the case of the VA, the budget has doubled in real terms over the past 10 years. Big government agency budget hikes are often driven by demographics and interest group politics.

2. Little to no evaluation of cost effectiveness: Less than one percent of the federal budget is devoted to evaluating the effectiveness of the other 99 percent of the federal budget.

3. Outdated information systems: The storage of information is often antiquated and is usually paper driven. Record keeping is chaotic and files are lost. Additionally, the data relied upon to formulate policy is almost invariably much poorer than the data private market actors use to inform their decisions.

4. Rigid conditions for workforce: Schuck describes these government programs as having “rules so rigid, they would make a strong union blush.” It is very difficult to discipline workers and nearly impossible to fire them. If a problem arises, employees are often simply relocated.

5. Workforce size: The number of employees in these programs are not commensurate with the demands that are placed on them. Demand for service increases as qualifications for benefits ease.

6. Benefits take the form of entitlements: This reduces the amount of discretion that policy makers can exercise when adjusting benefits to accommodate emerging needs and changing costs.

7. Growing resistance of private actors to participate as contractors or workers: The programs are poorly managed and the reimbursement formulae are too often outdated and inflexibly managed.

8. Strong resistance to change: Implementation of reform is impeded by systematic obstacles that are deeply embedded in our governmental system. In terms of the VA, it is almost impossible to relocate a hospital to an area where veteran needs are far more pressing.

9. Fraud, waste, and abuse: Corruption as an extreme form of fraud is endemic and occurs in all of these agencies to some considerable degree.

10. Incentives: The incentives that drive these agencies are often very perverse. The objective of officials is often not to serve the goals of the program, but rather to achieve “bureaucratic objectives that are congruent only on occasion with the public interest that they’re supposed to serve.”


These problems are structural and have little to do with which party is in charge in Washington. Schuck aims to identify the endemic pathologies at large government agencies in order to take appropriate steps toward reform.

Watch Peter Schuck discuss his book on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart:

Additional reading: Check out Jim Geraghty's new book, "The Weed Agency: A Comic Tale of Federal Bureaucracy Without Limits."

Sarah Jean Seman - Econ Prof: America Should Focus Less On Income Inequality
Posted: 7/21/2014 5:47:00 PM EST

Actors in the political arena often wield the buzz term “income inequality” to describe how the system can be unfair for hard working Americans. In December, President Obama even called it “the defining challenge of our time.” While the term may be a useful emotive tool, a recent study revealed it may not be a very burning policy issue; in fact, income inequality has actually been shrinking globally for the last 20 years.

George Mason University economics professor Tyler Cowen explained more on the subject Saturday in the New York Times:

“The economic surges of China, India and some other nations have been among the most egalitarian developments in history.

Of course, no one should use this observation as an excuse to stop helping the less fortunate. But it can help us see that higher income inequality is not always the most relevant problem, even for strict egalitarians. Policies on immigration and free trade, for example, sometimes increase inequality within a nation, yet can make the world a better place and often decrease inequality on the planet as a whole.

The evidence also suggests that immigration of low-skilled workers to the United States has a modestly negative effect on the wages of American workers without a high school diploma, as shown, for instance, in research by George Borjas, a Harvard economics professor. Yet that same immigration greatly benefits those who move to wealthy countries like the United States. (It probably also helps top American earners, who can hire household and child-care workers at cheaper prices.) Again, income inequality within the nation may rise but global inequality probably declines, especially if the new arrivals send money back home.

From a narrowly nationalist point of view, these developments may not be auspicious for the United States. But that narrow viewpoint is the main problem. We have evolved a political debate where essentially nationalistic concerns have been hiding behind the gentler cloak of egalitarianism. To clear up this confusion, one recommendation would be to preface all discussions of inequality with a reminder that global inequality has been falling and that, in this regard, the world is headed in a fundamentally better direction.”

The study’s authors, Christoph Lakner, a consultant at the World Bank, and Branko Milanovic, senior scholar at the Luxembourg Income Study Center, mulled over the political implications of their findings. They suggest that it could weaken our democratic system to hollow-out the “vibrant middle class” that is so largely correlated with democracy.

Rather than focus on inequality within the nation, lawmakers ought to be focusing on wealth-maximizing policies, Cowen noted. The system ought to be fostering overall growth, not redistribution:

“If our domestic politics can’t handle changes in income distribution, maybe the problem isn’t that capitalism is fundamentally flawed but rather that our political institutions are inflexible. Our politics need not collapse under the pressure of a world that, over all, is becoming wealthier and fairer.”

Guy Benson - Battleground Poll: Obama Disapproval Climbs to 57 Percent
Posted: 7/21/2014 5:45:00 PM EST


Politico's latest public opinion survey of competitive 2014 states and districts is reminiscent of NPR's similarly-designed poll released a month ago. President Obama's job approval rating is underwater by double digits (43/57), while the GOP owns a two-point edge on the generic Congressional ballot (which typically favors Democrats), and a seven-point lead on foreign policy. A 45 percent plurality of battleground voters support repealing Obamacare, with an additional 38 percent backing changes to the law. Fewer than one in five favor leaving Democrats' signature healthcare experiment intact. For all of their "fix, don't nix" rhetoric, Congressional Democrats' 2015 budget proposed zero changes to Obamacare, as liberal Senators and pundits alike continue to blindly extol its implementation:


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The Washington Post, meanwhile, adds yet another data point to the very long list of worrisome 2014 turnout indicators for Democrats:



What's perhaps most notable, though, is the partisan difference. Republican primary turnout overtook Democratic turnout for the first time in 2010, and that difference is even bigger this primary season. This is hardly the first warning sign when it comes to Democrats' turnout problem...But if it portends anything close to what's coming in the 2014 election, that's really, really troubling for Democrats.

I'll leave you with one last tidbit from the poll:


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(42/53).
Christine Rousselle - U.S. Territories Suddenly Exempt from Major Obamacare Requirements
Posted: 7/21/2014 2:25:00 PM EST

Good news for the residents of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, et. al: according to a memo quietly posted on the HHS website last Thursday, Obamacare's coverage provisions no longer apply in these areas.

After a careful review of this situation and the relevant statutory language, HHS has determined that the new provisions of the PHS Act enacted in title I are appropriately governed by the definition of "state" set forth in that title, and therefore that these new provisions do not apply to the territories. This means that the following Affordable Care Act requirements will not apply to individual or group health insurance issuers in the U.S. territories: 1 guaranteed availability (Act section 2702), community rating (PHS Act section 2701), single risk pool (Affordable Care Act section 1312(c)), rate review (PHS Act section 2794), medical loss ratio (PHS Act section 2718), and essential health benefits (PHS Act section 2707). Specifically, under this interpretation, the definition of "state" set forth in the PHS Act will apply only to PHS Act requirements in place prior to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, or subsequently enacted in legislation that does not include a separate definition of "state" (as the Affordable Care Act does).

Naturally, this is a complete 180 from the rhetoric espoused by the HHS last year. Under Obamacare, insurance companies operating in America's territories had to accept every insurance applicant, but residents of the territories were not subject to the individual mandate and did not have to actually purchase insurance while still healthy. Additionally, subsidies were not available to residents of territories; only for people living in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. As a result of the law, insurance companies threatened to stop selling new plans altogether in American territories.

When territory officials asked for government leniency last year, they were told that there was nothing possible to remedy this problem:

"HHS, at the request of and with full support from territories, confirmed the Affordable Care Act's market reform provisions that are incorporated into the PHS Act, including the guaranteed availability provision, are applicable to the territories," Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight director Gary Cohen wrote in a July letter to territorial governors.

"However meritorious your request might be," Cohen continues, "HHS is not authorized to choose which provisions...might apply to the territories."

While it is certainly a good thing that the insurance market in these areas isn't going to be completely destroyed, it is somewhat troubling that the administration is continuing to pick and choose its definition of a state depending on the situation. Congress is supposed to write and change laws--not the Department of Health and Human Services.

Cortney O'Brien - Lena Dunham’s Book Tour May Be Coming to a Local Church Near You
Posted: 7/21/2014 2:00:00 PM EST

Lena Dunham isn’t exactly the first person you’d expect to see singing hymns in the pew behind you. Starring in the raunchy HBO show ‘Girls’ and bragging that voting for President Obama during the 2012 election for the “first time” was like losing her virginity are just a couple examples of Dunham’s racy behavior that would make any Christian blush. But, the controversial actress is embarking on a tour for her new book, “Not That Kind of Girl,” coming out in September, that will take place in some churches around the country.

On her tour, Dunham will be reading excerpts from her book, and answering questions from the audience and specials guests, according to the official website. A few stops on her tour include Book People at Central Presbyterian Church, Vroman's at Pasadena Presbyterian Church, and University Bookstore at University Temple United Methodist Church.

There are a few problems with these locations. Dunham’s book seems to be full of sexuality and, judging from the language she uses off screen, it’s likely to be laced with profanity as well. Not exactly appropriate material for a house of God, is it? Here’s just part of her description:

This book contains stories about wonderful nights with terrible boys and terrible days with wonderful friends, about ambition and the two existential crises I had before the age of twenty. About fashion and its many discontents. About publicly sharing your body, having to prove yourself in a meeting full of 50 year old men, and the health fears (tinnitus, lamp dust, infertility) that keep me up at night. I’m already predicting my future shame at thinking I had anything to offer you with this book, but also my future glory in having stopped you from trying an expensive juice cleanse or having the kind of sexual encounter where you keep your sneakers on.

In addition to the book’s controversial content, Dunham will also be promoting Planned Parenthood during the events:

Plus, you’ll learn more about organizations close to Lena’s heart, including a special partnership with Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood is the country’s largest abortion giant - a fact which is no secret to Townhall readers. To promote the organization in church is cruel and out of place, for several bible verses condemn abortion as a sin (“Truly children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psalm 127:3).

Sadly (shockingly?), most of Dunham’s book tour events are sold out.

Churches should be filled with Bibles - not Lena Dunham’s sexually explicit books.

Guy Benson - Evidence: Russia Implicated in MH17 Attack, Europe Weighs Tougher Sanctions
Posted: 7/21/2014 1:05:00 PM EST


Officials at the US Embassy in Kiev took the extraordinary step of releasing to the public a great deal of intelligence on the downed airliner attack this weekend, which clearly points the finger at Moscow. The case against Russia was built in a strikingly candid and prosecutorial blog post on the embassy's official website. Damning:


We assess that Flight MH17 was likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine. We base this judgment on several factors. Over the past month, we have detected an increasing amount of heavy weaponry to separatist fighters crossing the border from Russia into Ukraine. Last weekend, Russia sent a convoy of military equipment with up to 150 vehicles including tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery, and multiple rocket launchers to the separatist[s]. We also have information indicating that Russia is providing training to separatist fighters at a facility in southwest Russia, and this effort included training on air defense systems. Pro-Russian separatist fighters have demonstrated proficiency with surface-to-air missile systems and have downed more than a dozen aircraft over the past few months, including two large transport aircraft. At the time that flight MH17 dropped out of contact, we detected a surface-to-air missile (SAM) launch from a separatist-controlled area in southeastern Ukraine. We believe this missile was an SA-11. Intercepts of separatist communications posted on YouTube by the Ukrainian government indicate the separatists were in possession of a SA-11 system as early as Monday July 14th. In the intercepts, the separatists made repeated references to having and repositioning Buk (SA-11) systems...

Shortly after the crash, separatists – including the self-proclaimed “Defense Minister” of the Donetsk People’s Republic Igor Strelkov – claimed responsibility for shooting down a military transport plane on social media. In an intercepted conversation that has been widely posted on the internet, a known-separatist leader tells another person that a separatist faction downed the aircraft. After it became evident that the plane was a civilian airliner, separatists deleted social media posts boasting about shooting down a plane and possessing a Buk (SA-11) SAM system. Audio data provided to the press by the Ukrainian security service was evaluated by Intelligence Community analysts who confirmed these were authentic conversations between known separatist leaders, based on comparing the Ukraine-released internet audio to recordings of known separatists.


CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is struck by how unusual the move was:


The post also noted that the SA-11 missile system was seen being spirited back into Russia on Saturday -- and that it was missing a single missile from its arsenal, "suggesting it had conducted a launch." A Business Insider piece lays out much of the same information, including photographic evidence (which Russia denies), screenshots from since-deleted social media posts, and partial transcripts of several incriminating separatist phone conversations, intercepted by Ukrainian intelligence and authenticated by the United States. One such discussion demonstrates how keen the Kremlin was to get ahold of the jetliner's "black box:"


When a rebel, Oleksiy, says he doesn’t know who has them, the leader responds: “Do it really quick. Urgently. Moscow asks where the boxes are." The rebel at the site says monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe are there. The leader tells him they are interested in the black boxes. “They must be under our control,” he says. In the second tape, the rebel leader again alludes to outside influences: "Our friends from high above are very much interested in the fate of the 'black boxes.' I mean people from Moscow."


The Moscow-backed rebels restricted access to the crash site for days, scrubbing the scene of evidence, and treating human remains with appalling disrespect. While many European leaders were reluctant to participate in heavy sanctions against Russian interests following Moscow's invasion-by-thinly-veiled-proxy of sovereign Ukrainian territory earlier this year, the MH17 bloodbath appears to have stirred strong passions on the continent. The Washington Post reports that world opinion is shifting swiftly and decisively against Russia:


In the global court of public opinion, the verdict appears to be rendered. Vladimir Putin is guilty. The Russian president could once claim a semblance of a role as a global statesman. But with the downing of a commercial airliner by what U.S. and Ukrainian officials suggest was a Russian missile, supplied to pro-Moscow rebels, Putin was facing a personal barrage of worldwide condemnation that threatened to result in further sanctions on Russia if it did not rapidly change course in Ukraine. Australia has raised the prospect of banning Putin from a meeting of the Group of 20, the world’s most powerful nations, in November if he did not exert more pressure on the rebels who left corpses strewn on the ground for days, contaminated the crash site and hampered an international investigation. Britain, meanwhile, openly accused the Russian leader of sponsoring “terrorism.” ... Particularly in Europe — a continent long leery of going too far to pressure Moscow over its support of separatists in Ukraine — initial shock was quickly gathering into outrage and action. On Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron held a joint phone call on Russia. A Downing Street spokesman said the three leaders agreed that the European Union “must reconsider its approach to Russia and that foreign ministers should be ready to impose further sanctions on Russia when they meet on Tuesday.” ... It suggested a possible turning point in the way Europe — the region with the most economic leverage over Russia — has tactically managed Putin to date...The change was spurred by horrific scenes of dead bodies left uncollected at the crash site, and, later, by the unceremonious loading of corpses onto trains.


With the UK explicitly calling for stepped up sanctions -- much to the chagrin of Russian oligarchs -- the separatists/terrorists have finally relented, granting international observers "nearly unfettered" access to the crash site. But those monitors are still struggling to gain access to the black box, and pro-Russia militias have detained reporters seeking to gather facts about the status of the dead. So what's next? Though President Obama's statement this morning did virtually nothing in the way of answering the critical "or else what?" question, Canada has announced a fresh round of sanctions against Russia, and the EU appears to be mobilizing:



I'll leave you with video of Obama's toughest talk yet in laying the MH17 attack at Moscow's feet. But he doesn't even hint at consequences -- leading a number of media analysts to publicly wonder what the point of the statement was:



UPDATE -

Katie Pavlich - Former Clinton Advisor Lanny Davis: Time For a Special Prosecutor to Look Into IRS Scandal
Posted: 7/21/2014 1:00:00 PM EST

For months Republicans on Capitol Hill have been calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the IRS targeting of conservative groups. Those calls got louder in June when IRS officials claimed they "lost" thousands of emails belonging to Lois Lerner, the woman in charge of tax exempt organizations at the agency during the time tea party groups were singled out for extra scrutiny.

Now former Clinton advisor Lanny Davis is also calling for a special prosecutor, albeit for a different reason.

First, It's refreshing to finally see a Democrat call for a special prosecutor considering Democrats on the Hill have been offering a full-throated defense of the IRS for month, even after hardly credible claims of lost emails and recycled hard drives. That being said, Davis' claim there is no evidence to show the IRS targeting was politically based is just not true. In fact, the vast majority of evidence we have so far shows the opposite. Lerner herself admitted in email that she couldn't think of liberal groups that were being looked at for extra scrutiny, only conservative groups came to mind. Further, considering officials from the Department of Justice were working with the IRS on ways to criminally charge conservative groups, I have no doubt a special prosecutor would hurt Attorney General Eric Holder, not help him as Davis argues.

Second, it's unfortunate Davis only wants a special prosecutor for the sake of optics rather than getting to the truth, but we'll take what we can get I suppose.