- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Just the beginning

With the war on Wal-Mart now heating up in nearly three dozen state legislatures, I put a call in to someone who was in on the ground floor in pushing to force the retailer to spend more on health care for its employees,” Brendan Miniter writes at www.OpinionJournal.com.

“What Maryland’s Delegate James Hubbard, a Democrat from Prince George’s County, had to say was revealing of both why he backed his state’s ‘Wal-Mart bill’ and what this fight is really about: expanding Medicaid and other taxpayer-funded health-care entitlements,” Mr. Miniter said.

“Let’s first understand that the drive to enact anti-Wal-Mart legislation has very little to do with the retail giant except in two respects: dipping into its very deep pockets, and using the controversy surrounding the company to mask the larger agenda of expanding already-bankrupt entitlement programs. Of course, in this war legislators have a ready-made ally in the AFL-CIO, which has its own reasons for going after the nonunionized company.

“With that, let’s turn to Mr. Hubbard. He began our conversation by pointing out that the Wal-Mart bill — which forces companies with more than 10,000 employees to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on health care or pay the state the difference — was always intended to be just the first step.

“Four years ago, he made his intentions clear by introducing legislation to increase cigarette taxes and to use the tax code to compel employers to provide health insurance. Under his legislation the revenue from these taxes would be dumped into a new state fund that would then be used to expand Medicaid eligibility to families with incomes up to 300 percent of the poverty line (up from 200 percent now). But even in a legislature with large Democratic majorities, his bill stalled.

“So Mr. Hubbard and others settled on a new approach — pushing through smaller, bite-sized pieces. The first piece was the Wal-Mart bill. It passed last year and was enacted last month, when the legislature overrode Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s veto. Two weeks ago, Mr. Hubbard was at it again, this time introducing a new bill to mandate that companies with at least 1,000 employees spend 4.5 percent of their payroll on health care or pay the state the difference. Once this piece is in place, Mr. Hubbard told me, the next step will be to create a similar mandate — perhaps 2 percent or 3 percent — for companies with fewer than 1,000 employees. Each year, Mr. Hubbard hopes to expand the mandate to include ever smaller companies with the ultimate goal of ‘health coverage for all Marylanders.’”

Under fire

Faculty at Clemson University are leading protests against a conservative student newspaper that is sponsoring a drawing this week for a replica of an AK-47 assault rifle, the Greenville (S.C.) News reports.

“The Second Amendment is probably one of the least respected amendments that we have, mainly because there’s not enough education about firearms,” said Andrew Davis, editor in chief of the Tiger Town Observer. “So we’re hoping that this event will raise awareness for firearms and incite some very good discussions about the Second Amendment and gun rights.”

The semiautomatic AK-47 — and a .22 Marlin magnum rifle offered as second prize — will never be on campus, Mr. Davis said. The winners will get gift certificates to pick up their prizes off campus.

Clemson English professor John Longo said he was one of several professors who sent an e-mail to university President James F. Barker expressing concern about the drawing.

“Because of my position as the instructor, I’m trying to keep my own political bias out of it,” said Mr. Longo, adding that he and other faculty members were concerned that this might reflect poorly on Clemson University.

Mr. Davis said at least four Clemson professors took classes to the Observer’s ticket booth in front of the university library to protest.

“It’s actually pretty pathetic,” Mr. Davis said.

Pop quiz

Americans apparently know more about “The Simpsons” than about the First Amendment.

Only one in four Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition for redress of grievances.) But more than half can name at least two members of the cartoon family, according to a survey.

The study by the new McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum in Chicago found that 22 percent of Americans could name all five Simpson family members, compared with just one in 1,000 people who could name all five First Amendment freedoms, the Associated Press reports.

Joe Madeira, director of exhibitions at the museum, said he was surprised by the results.

“Part of the survey really shows there are misconceptions, and part of our mission is to clear up these misconceptions.”

Poll under fire

A CBS poll released Monday, which purported to show that President Bush’s job-approval rating has hit an all-time low, is coming under fire from conservatives who criticize its sample as unrepresentative.

Both Greg Sheffield and Brent Baker had posts yesterday at the Newsbusters Web site (https://newsbusters.org) decrying the survey pool as too-heavily Democratic to be a meaningful cross section of the country. The poll had just 34 percent giving Mr. Bush a favorable rating, with even worse numbers for Vice President Dick Cheney.

But Mr. Sheffield pointed out the breakdown of the survey sample: “‘Total Republicans’ contacted: 272 unweighted and 289 weighted. ‘Total Democrats’ contacted: 409 unweighted and 381 weighted. ‘Total Independents’ contacted: 337 unweighted and 348 weighted.”

This is more-heavily Democratic group than the nation at large.

“The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press … shows that in both 2004 and 2005, 30% said they were Republican compared to 33% who said they were Democrats. The new CBS poll (even after being weighted) had a population of only 28% Republicans to 37% Democrats,” Mr. Sheffield added.

Vote buying

The former Democratic Party chairman in East St. Louis, Ill., was sentenced yesterday to a year and nine months in federal prison for plotting to buy votes in the November 2004 election.

Charles Powell Jr., 62, also was fined $2,500. He plans to appeal.

U.S. District Court Judge G. Patrick Murphy decided against prosecutors’ request for a 33-month prison sentence, citing the one-time city council member’s public service, the Associated Press reports.

Prosecutors say votes were bought largely for $5 or $10 each, and many voters who accepted the money were also driven to polls in the city of about 31,000.

Five persons were convicted last summer in the scheme, which Powell was accused of orchestrating. Three of Powell’s co-defendants were sentenced to prison, while a fourth got probation.

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce@washingtontimes.com.

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