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The Free Market Unleashed!

Looking for fresh meals delivered to your home? No problem. Innovative entrepreneurs are responding, as the Wall Street Journal reports. As is the case when the free market is unleashed, you and I are the winners as we enjoy a new service and more people are hired. This story is a really fun read, giving us all a peek at what it takes to start and operate a business that’s breaking new ground.

By staying focused and keeping a close eye on details and customer experience, the meal-kit companies and their investors are hoping to avoid the fate of dot.com era food industry failures such as Webvan and Kozmo.com and more recent fizzles, like gourmet food delivery startup Pop-Up Pantry.

Survival depends on more than just avoiding spoiled tofu. The businesses must also manage their growth ahead and fend off competition from online grocers such as Fresh Direct and AmazonFresh, both of which offer meal kits.

The businesses are positioning themselves to capitalize on Americans’ willingness to order even fresh food online. Each meal kit includes a dinner recipe and all the premeasured ingredients needed, from chicken to thyme to miniature red and yellow peppers. Customers prepare the dinners, typically at a price of $10 to $12 a person a meal. Delivery is handled mainly by a third party, a move that reduces capital investment, but puts a key part of the customer’s experience in outside hands.

And, here’s a really interesting tidbit.

Some key aspects of the businesses don’t easily lend themselves to technology: Blue Apron’s data team labored fruitlessly to create an algorithm that would predict a recipe’s popularity based on the underlying ingredients, but found they couldn’t quantify the magic of how those ingredients come together.

Now let’s hope government bureaucrats stay out of it and let these creative risk-takers thrive.


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Will Legislature Protect Wake Taxpayers From Local Sales Tax Hike?

Sam Hieb reports on legislative action that could protect local taxpayers in Wake County from a possible sales tax hike.

The General Assembly may have gummed up the works for tax-hike supporters in the state’s two largest counties, Wake and Mecklenburg. The state Senate passed a bill capping local sales tax levies at 2.5 percent, which is Mecklenburg’s current rate. If the House — which passed a different version of the bill — goes along with the Senate’s version, and Gov. Pat McCrory signs the measure into law, Mecklenburg would have to cancel its sales tax referendum.

Meantime, in Wake County, commissioners have not decided whether to ask voters for a quarter-cent hike on top of the current 2 percent rate. Even if the commission puts the 0.25 percent raise on the November ballot, the tax cap bill could preclude Wake from joining Orange and Durham counties in creating a regional transit system, heavily reliant on fixed rail, because the county would have to impose a half-cent sales tax dedicated to transit to join the regional system.

Stay tuned.

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Fracking Gives Raleigh Entrepreneurs Big Opportunities

The lifting of North Carolina’s moratorium on fracking has at least two area entrepreneurs eyeing how their products can not only help the industry but, in the process, expand their businesses.

Yes, folks, sound energy policy, including going forward with fracking, is key to North Carolina’s future, as JLF’s Becki Gray explains here. 

Natural gas development is occurring in 32 states. With the potential for rich gas deposits in at least 10 counties, North Carolina needs to become one of those states. Hydraulic fracturing and natural gas exploration measures advanced during the short session.

Under Session Law 2014-4, the moratorium on fracking was lifted, the deadline for fracking rules is Jan. 1, 2015, permits can be issued soon after all rules are in place, and a new Oil and Gas Commission will adopt rules and oversee the development of any oil and gas resources that are uncovered. The new fracking regulations protect the environment, the industry, and property owners, and ensure the health and safety of citizens.

Extracting natural gas can have a significant impact on state and local economies with job creation, capital investments, and tax revenues. Just as 31 other states have done, North Carolina has established a severance tax to ensure that costs of natural gas extraction are paid for by the industry and that taxpayers receive benefits from production.

Many states are seeing game-changing boosts to their economies. Perhaps most significant is that natural gas development can reduce energy costs.

A little-reported provision in the fracking bill could have long-term and significant impacts on energy costs in North Carolina. Section 27 orders the State Energy Office to study and make recommendations on comprehensive long-range energy policy, looking at not only environmental impacts but also the economic effects of different sources of energy.

Thank you to legislative reformers and the governor for supporting safe exploration of our state’s resources. I can’t wait to see the economic growth that comes from it.



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Obamacare supporters like to argue that legal challenges over the law’s language about who qualifies for subsidies and who doesn’t are much ado about nothing — just  a drafting error in Obamacare. Uh, no, says a key architect of the federal takeover of health insurance/health care delivery. The Daily Caller has the story. 

But Jonathan Gruber, an economics professor at MIT who worked closely with the Obama administration to create and draft the health-care law, said as far back as 2012 that states that didn’t step up to make their own exchanges wouldn’t be able to offer premium subsidies.

“In the law, it says if the states don’t provide [exchanges], the federal backstop will,” Gruber said in a newly unearthed 2012 presentation. “The federal government has been sort of slow in putting out its backstop, I think partly because they want to sort of squeeze the states to do it. I think what’s important to remember politically about this, is if you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits.”

Gruber’s argument is important: the federal government wants to pressure states into building their exchanges, or they’ll be the ones responsible for keeping subsidies away from their constituents.

“But your citizens still pay the taxes that support this bill. So you’re essentially saying to your citizens, you’re going to pay all the taxes to help all the other states in the country. I hope that’s a blatant enough political reality that states will get their act together and realize there are billions of dollars at stake here in setting up these exchanges, and that they’ll do it. But you know, once again, the politics can get ugly around this.”

Here’s what I keep wondering: Why isn’t the Obama administration — and other Obamacare supporters — arguing that this is the problem of the 36 states that didn’t set up an exchange? North Carolina is one of the 36. The answer? Because making that argument would focus people on the real costs of Obamacare and that is exactly what supporters do not want you to do.

For the real Obamacare story, follow JLF’s health and human services policy analyst Katherine Restrepo. You can sign up for her free weekly newsletter. 



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Phil Gramm: Let Freedom Be The Rallying Principle For Health Care Reform

Remember the debate over HillaryCare? Former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm sure does. He was in the middle of the fight to fend off the first attempt at a government takeover of the health care/health insurance system in our country. Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Gramm offers advice, steeped in his experience dealing with HillaryCare, for ending ObamaCare and restoring freedom and choice to our system.

The opportunity to restore freedom of choice may arise well before January 2017. If the Supreme Court decides to let Congress clarify its own intent on federal exchange subsidies, Republicans should demand that all American families be guaranteed the freedom to opt out as a precondition to bringing up any legislation to “fix” ObamaCare.

Republicans should not underestimate the power of freedom in the health-care debate. In 1994, when 74 senators had either co-sponsored President Clinton’s health bill—or a very close alternative—Sens. John McCain, Paul Coverdell and I set out to try to defeat HillaryCare. The media in Washington largely ignored our opposition, but we conducted over 40 public forums around the country in hospitals and other medical settings.

We talked about efficiency and people looked at their watches. We talked about costs and they yawned. But in Atlanta, when my mother attended the meeting and I started to talk about her freedom to make her own health-care choices, people started to respond and HillaryCare started to die.

In the end the debate was not about money or efficiency. It was about freedom. This same principle offers our only real hope of stopping the suffering under ObamaCare now and repealing it in 2017.

As it has been throughout history, freedom is a powerful force for reform.

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University of Arkansas Report: Charter Schools More Productive Than Traditional Public Schools

A new University of Arkansas report finds that public charter schools are more productive than traditional public schools in each of the more than 20 states studied, including North Carolina.

Titled “The Productivity of Public Charter Schools,” the report documents that students gained an average of 17 additional points in math and 16 points in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for every $1,000 invested.

In this video clip, Dr. Terry Stoops, John Locke Foundation director of research and education studies, calls the report good news for North Carolina charter school supporters.

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Life Sure Is Fun When You’re Spending Other People’s Money

Carolina Journal’s Barry Smith reports on shenanigans in Tarboro, as revealed in State Auditor Beth Wood’s audit of town spending.

State Auditor Beth Wood said an audit pointing out hundreds of thousands of dollars in misspending by top Tarboro officials should serve as a call for governing boards across North Carolina to ratchet up their oversight of public spending.

“It’s a huge message to cities and councils, that their board members, their commissioners, their city council members are watching their operations,” Wood said Tuesday. “These are the things that council members should have their arms around.”

Wood’s office issued an investigative audit finding numerous violations and irregularities centered on former Tarboro Town Manager Sam Noble.

The investigative audit found that, over a six-year period, Noble made nearly $366,000 in purchases that exceeded the scope of his duties and that he obtained more than $87,000 for universal life insurance premiums without approval of the Tarboro Town Council.

The audit chides Noble for failing to comply with the town’s purchasing policies. The report says that many of the items purchased appeared not to relate to his job as a town administrator.

Among reimbursements Noble received were $15,405 for items purchased at the Apple Store, $19,665 for purchases at Boater’s World, $8,316 for items from Dick’s Sporting Goods, $11,071 for Best Buy, and $8,533 for items purchased at Bass Pro Shops. Items purchased included shirts, coolers, gun holsters, life vests, flashlights, helmets, wetsuits, marine equipment, knives, and jackets.

He also purchased police equipment, including handguns, that were not necessary for his duties, the report says. “A former police chief said there was no reason the former town manager needed all the police equipment and clothing,” the report said.



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They’re Counting On You Not Checking Into Their Ridiculous Claims

Over at sister blog The Locker Room, Jon Sanders points out more false information being spread about important legal rulings and policy debates. Sanders begins:

Looks like another disinformation campaign is underway in reaction to court ruling unfavorable to Obamacare. This one regards the Halbig ruling that Obamacare subsidies shall be distributed only to individual market exchange consumers living in states that have set up their own health insurance exchanges.

Continue reading Jon’s analysis here.

Be sure to stay on top of facts about Obamacare by reading analysis of Katherine Restropo, JLF’s health and human services analyst.

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“One’s right and one’s wrong, that’s really the gist of it.”

Carolina Journal’s Dan Way reports on the two conflicting Court of Appeals Obamacare rulings that were released Tuesday.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Tuesday ruled 2-1 that the federal government cannot tax employers in order to provide health insurance subsidies in North Carolina and 35 other states that refused to establish Obamacare exchanges, potentially threatening the national health reform.

That same day, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond unanimously upheld the subsidies, rejecting similar arguments by plaintiffs in another case. Both lawsuits charged the IRS with rewriting the law in 2012 illegally.

Because of the split in the circuit court decisions, legal observers believe the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately will decide the issue, which affects more than 50 million people who bought taxpayer-subsidized insurance policies on the federal exchange.

“One’s right and one’s wrong, that’s really the gist of it,” said Sam Kazman, general counsel of the Washington, D.C.-based Competitive Enterprise Institute, of the decisions. Kazman coordinated the plaintiffs’ arguments in the Halbig v. Burwell case before the D.C. Circuit, and also worked on the King v. Burwell case before the 4th Circuit.

Continue reading for the details on each case.

And don’t forget to follow the analysis of Obamacare made by JLF health and human services analyst Katherine Restrepo.

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Nanny-Staters Want Shopping Carts To Tell You What To Buy

Vicki Alger, writing for the Independent Women’s Forum, has the latest idea from the nanny-staters: $30,000 talking shopping carts.

The USDA “MyCarts” would be divided into sections separating a variety of healthy foods, colored-coded, and rigged with algorithms capable of determining when shoppers had met their USDA-certified healthy food minimums. Grocery stores would be required to modify their POS systems and aisles according to USDA specifications. A typical grocery store would need to spend around $30,000 for 300 new MyCarts costing $30,000 each (p. 30).

Can you guess who would end up paying for all of this? Say hello to $10 bananas.

You can read the 80-page U.S. Department of Agriculture report here. 



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