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Terrorism Ransom Insurance

August 22, 2014 at 8:53 am

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From a Los Angeles Times account of how the family and employer of slain reporter James Foley had been trying to raise cash to meet a ransom demand by the terrorists who were holding him captive:

U.S. officials discourage families or private companies from paying ransom, but the government doesn't block them. Many corporations are insured against ransom demands and pay them without public notice, former officials said.

The market for this insurance seems like a fine topic for further journalistic exploration. Can an American company get around American laws against transferring money to terrorist organizations simply by contracting with an insurance company to do it for them?

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Buffett's Noncompliance

August 22, 2014 at 8:42 am

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Bloomberg News has an article critical of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway for failing to meet federal filing requirements:

The world's greatest investor could use some help with record keeping.

In the past two weeks, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. said it missed filing deadlines for investments in Dow Chemical Co. and wallboard maker USG Corp. The latter resulted in an $896,000 penalty.

Buffett, 83, has boasted for years about running Berkshire with a shoestring staff and delegating responsibilities to the heads of operating units like Geico and railroad BNSF. Yet the mistakes raise questions about whether his management approach is suited to an era of increased reporting requirements....

There have been other slip-ups. Since 2012, Buffett's company has had to file overdue reports with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission about holdings in DirecTV, Liberty Media Corp. and Wabco Holdings Inc. Another document concerning an investment in M&T Bank Corp. came three years behind schedule.

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Health Care and ObamaCare

August 20, 2014 at 2:11 pm

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A series of recent articles highlight problems with health care. NPR has a story and the New York Times has a review of the new book Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician, by Sandeep Jauhar, which discusses "unnecessary testing" and "uncoordinated care." Reuters has an article about how "a growing number of doctors simply are not taking contracts with insurance companies," including "45 percent of psychiatrists."

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Icahn on the Dollar Stores

August 19, 2014 at 1:49 pm

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Carl Icahn has a statement out about Dollar General's bid for Family Dollar: "At too many companies in America the hubris of the CEO, supported by a crony Board, costs shareholders billions of dollars, and worse, it costs our economy even more."

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Richard Epstein on Paul Krugman and Milton Friedman

August 19, 2014 at 1:37 pm

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Libertarian (or classical liberal) law professor Richard Epstein has a good answer to Paul Krugman's criticism of libertarianism in regard to pollution, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Motor Vehicles:

One reason why the debate between hard-line libertarians and their fevered opponents like Krugman has taken such a know-nothing turn is that neither side bothers to take seriously the nitty-gritty institutional details on the uses and limits of regulation in a variety of complex areas. Milton Friedman tended to miss these points because his main targets were minimum wage, rent control, and agricultural price supports, where the hard line libertarian solutions make a good deal of sense.

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Federal Aid Compliance Costs

August 19, 2014 at 1:25 pm

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Via Arnold Kling comes a link to an Atlantic article about a for-profit higher-education startup called Minerva:

the school will eschew all federal funding, to which he attributes much of the runaway cost of universities. The compliance cost of taking federal financial aid is about $1,000 per student—a tenth of Minerva's tuition—and the aid wouldn't be of any use to the majority of Minerva's students, who will likely come from overseas.

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Medicare Wheelchairs

August 19, 2014 at 1:15 pm

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The Washington Post takes a look at Medicare fraud involving electric wheelchairs and scooters:

"Let me put it to you this way: An $840 power wheelchair, Medicare pays close to $5,000 for. So there's a huge profit margin there. Huge," said one California man who participated in a recent fraud scheme involving wheelchairs.

Medicare used to set its payments for most power wheelchairs based on manufacturers' suggested retail prices. It did not lower those prices significantly for years, even when it was obvious that wholesale prices were far, far lower. So for scammers, each wheelchair brought a hefty profit.

The story concludes:

Today, even while the wheelchair scam is in decline, that same "pay and chase" system is allowing other variants of the Medicare equipment scam to thrive.

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Avik Roy Health Plan

August 19, 2014 at 1:02 pm

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The health plan advanced by the Manhattan Institute's Avik Roy, which stops short of a full repeal of ObamaCare, is the subject of my column this week. Please check it out at Reason (here) and at Newsmax (here).

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Avik-Care

August 13, 2014 at 2:29 pm

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Avik Roy, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who was a health care policy adviser to Mitt Romney in 2012, is out with a new health reform plan that stops short of a full repeal of ObamaCare. A Manhattan Institute summary is here; the full report is here; and National Review articles about it are here and here. I'll have more to say about it later; for now, suffice it to say there are some elements of it that I like and other elements of it that I don't like.

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Too Much Regulation Spoils A Good Haircut

August 12, 2014 at 1:18 pm

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Charles Lipson's column in the Chicago Tribune concludes:

Instead of loading up the public with a Christmas tree of regulations, bureaucracies and costs, let's impose only essential regulations to protect Chicagoans. Instead of preventing competition, let's encourage it. It would work for Uber. It would work for haircuts, too.

There will be an argument over what qualifies as "essential," but the rest of the column is some help with that. Professor Lipson teaches political science at the University of Chicago.

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What Obama Could Learn on Martha's Vineyard

August 11, 2014 at 10:06 pm

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If President Obama got out and explored Martha's Vineyard with his eyes open, he could get a real education in some of the policy issues that his administration and the country as a whole are struggling to deal with. That's the topic of my column this week — please check it out at Newsmax (here) or Reason (here).

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Maine Regulators Grant Reprieve To Boat-Based Business

August 11, 2014 at 9:59 pm

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Maine state health officials have given Reilly Harvey, the woman who operates a boat-based business selling brownies and lobsters, a temporary reprieve from requirements that would have shut her down for the season, the Portland Press Herald reports:

She said Friday that an inspector had issued the verbal go-ahead to go back out on the water, with a paper license good for 90 days to follow, as long as she equipped Mainstay with a stainless steel washing basin, a 5-gallon jug of town water (versus sea) and a bucket to drain the hot water into after she washes her hands.

She is also required to carry a thermometer to make sure her coolers stay at or below 40 degrees.

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William Kristol and Yuval Levin

August 11, 2014 at 3:50 pm

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William Kristol has an excellent new series of video interviews (including Elliott Abrams' anecdote about George W. Bush hunting flies in the Oval Office with an old-fashioned flyswatter while on secure teleconferences with foreign leaders). The latest one is with Yuval Levin. Some highlights of Mr. Levin's comments:

On decentralization: American society is going through a kind of decentralization where if 40 years ago you would have thought of American society as governed by large institutions – big government, big business, big labor, big academic institutions, big media – working together. And great success meant navigating these institutions in a successful way.

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How Much Does an MRI Cost?

August 11, 2014 at 2:16 pm

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There's a pretty interesting blog post here on the wide variations in the prices quoted and charged for MRI scans in California:How much should you pay?

Well, one person was told the price is $1,850, but if you pay up front, you can save almost $1,300.

The note on our form, shared by our community member: "I was told procedure would be 1850. I have a 7500 deductible. So I talked to the office mgr who said if I paid upfront and agreed not to report the procedure to Blue Cross, that it would be $580."

On our Facebook page, one contributor wrote, "I was going to be billed $830 through my PPO for an MRI. The cash price? $500."

Plenty of other service providers negotiate discounts for individual clients. But the whole situation is a reminder of how hard it is for the government to cost health care cost inflation overall, or the health care part of the consumer price index. Which of the many prices should the government track?

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Maine Regulators Shutter Boat-Based Small Business

August 8, 2014 at 7:43 am

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On Wednesday, the food section of the Portland (Maine) Press Herald ran a friendly profile of a woman, Reilly Harvey, who runs a business selling pies, brownies, and cooked lobsters out of her small boat around "the anchorage between Dix and High Islands."

Today, the same newspaper reports that the state is shutting her down:

Harvey said she was contacted by a state health inspector and told she must pass health inspection standards for mobile vendors – think food trucks – and get her vintage 22-foot wooden launch, the Mainstay, fitted with sinks and hot and cold running water if she is going to continue to serve hot food.

That licensing would happen through the Division of Environmental Health's inspection program. If she wants to continue to serve desserts, she must pass an additional inspection by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

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