Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pay To Fly

Getting into space is getting expensive:
NASA is blaming Congress for the need to pay $424 million more to Russia to get U.S. astronauts into space.

NASA announced its latest contract with the Russian Space Agency on Tuesday. The $424 million represents flights to and from the International Space Station aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft, as well as training, for six astronauts in 2016 and 2017.

That's $70.6 million per seat — well above the previous price tag of about $63 million.

Several U.S. companies are working on rockets and spacecraft to launch Americans from U.S. soil. But that's still a few years away.
It does make Virgin's efforts seem more important...

Chinese Takeout

I'm sure everything will be just fine:
U.S. troops operating on the African continent are now using the recently-launched Apstar-7 satellite to keep in touch and share information. And the $10 million, one-year deal lease — publicly unveiled late last week during an ordinarily-sleepy Capitol Hill subcommittee hearing — has put American politicians and policy-makers in bit of a bind. Over the last several years, the U.S. government has publicly and loudly expressed its concern that too much sensitive American data passes through Chinese electronics — and that those electronics could be sieves for Beijing’s intelligence services. But the Pentagon says it has no other choice than to use the Chinese satellite. The need for bandwidth is that great, and no other satellite firm provides the continent-wide coverage that the military requires.
So the next time we get hacked by China, what will the Pentagon do?

Land Of Confusion

Not only is Obamacare unpopular, it seems that a lot of people don't know it's actually the law:
A new poll finds that many Americans are confused about the health care overhaul legislation commonly called “Obamacare.”
The Kaiser Family Foundation released results of a non-partisan study today finding more than 40 percent did not even know the law was in place.
“Four in ten Americans (42%) are unaware that the ACA [Affordable Care Act] is still the law of the land,” the report says, “including 12 percent who believe the law has been repealed by Congress, 7 percent who believe it has been overturned by the Supreme Court and 23 percent who say they don’t know enough to say what the status of the law is.”
The survey showed public opinion on Obamacare is at its second-lowest rating in the past two years.
Less than half – 40 percent – of adults viewed the ACA favorably, whereas 35 percent said they viewed it unfavorably. Another 24 percent said they did not know or refused to answer.
Under the circumstances, maybe ignorance of the law in this case would be considered a valid defense in disobeying it...

Team Spirit

Here we go again:
A D.C. Council member is preparing to introduce a resolution calling on the Washington Redskins to change its name, perhaps to the Washington Redtails.

Council member David Grosso, an independent elected last year, said he plans to pursue his non-binding resolution because the current name is “a derogatory, racist name.”
....

According to Grosso’s resolution, which he said he plans to formally introduce in a few weeks, the 13-member council would declare that “District residents and their elected representatives should not tolerate commercial or other use of derogatory terminology relating to any people’s racial identity, or which dishonors any person’s race, or which dishonors the name Washington.”

“Washington’s name has been dishonored by association with the word ‘Redskins,’ ” the resolution states. “Because it is well known in America and in nations afar that American Indians have experienced utmost suffering and disrespect over the years.”

Past debates about a Redskins name change have quickly become hung up on what would be an appropriate name for the team.
And they've gone absolutely nowhere fast. But I guess they don't have anything better to do in D.C.

The Battle For Los Angeles

About those evil Koch Brothers:
Despite media attempts to portray them as conservative barbarians, the Kochs, like Los Angeles, are socially liberal. David Koch, who ran for vice president in 1980 as a Libertarian (not a Republican), quite publicly announced he is pro-gay marriage. This issue is the litmus test for Westside Los Angeles nowadays, bar none. (No wonder the media glosses over the Kochs’ views on this.)

What may no longer be a litmus test for Los Angeles is New Deal/Great Society-style economics. Even some of the more devout liberal true believers are beginning to face reality. Keynesianism isn’t working — from Athens to L.A.
The first step in getting help is admitting that you have a problem...

The Wealth Gap

Things have gotten worse for minorities under Obama:
The Urban Institute study found that the racial wealth gap yawned during the recession, even as the income gap between white Americans and nonwhite Americans remained stable. As of 2010, white families, on average, earned about $2 for every $1 that black and Hispanic families earned, a ratio that has remained roughly constant for the last 30 years. But when it comes to wealth — as measured by assets, like cash savings, homes and retirement accounts, minus debts, like mortgages and credit card balances — white families have far outpaced black and Hispanic ones. Before the recession, non-Hispanic white families, on average, were about four times as wealthy as nonwhite families, according to the Urban Institute’s analysis of Federal Reserve data. By 2010, whites were about six times as wealthy.

The dollar value of that gap has grown, as well. By the most recent data, the average white family had about $632,000 in wealth, versus $98,000 for black families and $110,000 for Hispanic families.
So is Obama a racist? Or just his economic policies?

Stalled Motor

Voter fraud, Democrat style:
The American Civil Rights Union wants local election officials to clean up voter rolls in Mississippi. Last Friday, the group filed suit against two counties that have more registered voters than the Census says they have voting-eligible citizens.

The ACRU is stepping into the breach left by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department. Under Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez (now nominated to head the U.S. Department of Labor), the division has refused to enforce Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act, also known as the Motor Voter law. Section 8 requires states to remove ineligible voters from their registration lists.
....

The Obama administration has not filed a single case to enforce Section 8, even though numerous counties in many states have the same disparities between voter rolls and eligible voters as these two Mississippi counties. Their voter registration lists are out-of-date because local officials are not deleting names of those who have died, moved away, or otherwise become ineligible to vote. According to a recent report on the Civil Rights Division by the Department of Justice inspector general, ten witnesses told the IG that one of Obama’s political appointees and Perez’s direct subordinates, Julie Fernandes, told Division staff that the administration was not interested in pursuing any cases under Section 8 because it did not expand voter access.

In fact, Christopher Coates, the former chief of the Voting Section at the Division, recommended at least eight states be investigated for violating Section 8. Perez ignored his recommendation.
They have to get dead and nonexistent voters somehow...

Wasted Days

President Obama's second term hasn't exactly gotten off the ground:
For Obama, the past three months were critical to building momentum for legacy-defining achievements, starting with gun control and comprehensive immigration reform. Like any second-term president, the sprint from Inauguration Day is seen as the most productive time for major new laws.

But the president enjoyed no honeymoon at the start of his second term. Even his push for expanded background checks on gun purchases, which the White House trumpets as an issue with the backing of 90 percent of Americans, was too steep a climb on Capitol Hill.

Obama has alternated between stretches of blasting Congress and wooing lawmakers, essentially running his own good-cop, bad-cop routine. Neither strategy has worked so far. And some Obama supporters are now expressing concern that the first 100 days of the second term were wasted.
To quote Stevie Wonder, you haven't done nothing...

Bubble Man

Why President Obama is out of touch:
A revealing new book from one of the media’s longest serving White House correspondents reports that President Obama surrounds himself only with “idolizers,” and top aides make sure that those whose view might “shake him up too much” are shoved aside.

In “Prisoners of the White House, the Isolation of America’s Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership,” U.S. News correspondent Kenneth T. Walsh also discloses the extent to which Obama relies on polling for his political decisions including a never-before revealed reelection project to investigate the thoughts and feelings of “up for grabs” voters and another dedicated to helping him build a lasting legacy.

Walsh, who has covered the White House for 25 years and written several books on the presidency, credits Obama for trying to get out of the so-called “bubble,” but found that instead the president often relies on a tiny cadre of Chicago aides, thus living in “a bubble within the bubble.”
Unfortunately for President Obama, isolation from reality can't keep it from intruding...

The Law And The Lay Of The Land

This health care reform isn't as easy to implement as some people had hoped:
Among the complex imperatives: pushing reluctant states to set up insurance marketplaces and expand Medicaid programs, keeping an eye on insurance companies as they issue new rate schedules, measuring the law’s effects on small-business hiring, and coaxing healthy young people to buy coverage so the system works economically for everyone else.
....

Fewer than half of the states have indicated that they plan to establish their own health care marketplaces, known as exchanges under the law. Washington is committed to stepping in and establishing them for states that decline to.

Only about half of the states have indicated that they will expand Medicaid under the law, a central ingredient for the goal of providing coverage to those now uninsured. Some people who acquire insurance under the law may have trouble obtaining treatment, because of a shortage of doctors and state-level “scope of practice” laws restricting the ability of others like nurse practitioners to step in.

Most challenging of all is persuading young, healthy Americans — the most profitable customers for insurance companies — to buy their “mandated” coverage next year, even though the penalty for not doing so is a modest $95. White House officials say this group’s participation in health insurance marketplaces is vital to their success because it will offset the cost of less-healthy customers.

The political stakes in meeting these challenges are circumscribed by the long, acrimonious debate that has occurred in the nation’s polarized political culture. White House strategists estimate that 9 in 10 Americans have fixed views one way or the other. They say that only personal experience with the law can move them.
What if they don't want to be moved?

Gas Quake

There's more bad news for Greens:
In a mid-April report on greenhouse emissions, the agency now says that tighter pollution controls instituted by the industry resulted in an average annual decrease of 41.6 million metric tons of methane emissions from 1990 through 2010, or more than 850 million metric tons overall. That’s about a 20 percent reduction from previous estimates. …

The EPA revisions came even though natural gas production has grown by nearly 40 percent since 1990. The industry has boomed in recent years, thanks to a stunning expansion of drilling in previously untapped areas because of the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which injects sand, water and chemicals to break apart rock and free the gas inside.

Experts on both sides of the debate say the leaks can be controlled by fixes such as better gaskets, maintenance and monitoring.
Natural gas-it's good for America, and the environment.

Ghosts Of Benghazi

It appears some people are being warned not to talk:
“I’m not talking generally, I’m talking specifically about Benghazi – that people have been threatened,” Toensing said in an interview Monday. “And not just the State Department. People have been threatened at the CIA.” …

“It’s frightening, and they’re doing some very despicable threats to people,” she said. “Not ‘we’re going to kill you,’ or not ‘we’re going to prosecute you tomorrow,’ but they’re taking career people and making them well aware that their careers will be over [if they cooperate with congressional investigators].”
Loose lips sink careers...

Monday, April 29, 2013

Capitol Smoke

Washington really is going to pot:
While the D.C. government has approved medical marijuana, it is still illegal under federal law. District-based distributors are hoping to avoid clashes with federal authorities even as some prepare to open shop blocks from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Department of Justice.

Capital City Care, a marijuana dispensary with a prime view of the Capitol dome, became the first clinic to obtain its license on April 22. Two others—Metropolitan Medical Center, located within walking distance of federal buildings in Eastern Market, and Takoma Wellness Center in Takoma Park—are expected to be licensed in the coming days.

The federal government still considers marijuana a Schedule I substance, and the Obama administration has cracked down on dispensaries in other states.

However, enforcement has been selective, and D.C. distributors to avoid the federal eye by keeping a low profile and staying within district regulations.

“A large portion of the planning that went into this [D.C. medical marijuana program] was with the idea that Congress or the DEA could shut this program down at any time given the fact that it is in the DEA’s backyard and Congress has budgetary oversight and could interfere with the program that way,” said Morgan Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project. “So the program was really designed to avoid drawing the ire of any of these people.”
I wonder how many politicians will suddenly be seeking "treatment" at these places...

Green Love

Um, what?
Several House Democrats are calling on Congress to recognize that climate change is hurting women more than men, and could even drive poor women to "transactional sex" for survival.

The resolution, from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and a dozen other Democrats, says the results of climate change include drought and reduced agricultural output. It says these changes can be particularly harmful for women.

"[F]ood insecure women with limited socioeconomic resources may be vulnerable to situations such as sex work, transactional sex, and early marriage that put them at risk for HIV, STIs, unplanned pregnancy, and poor reproductive health," it says.

Climate change could also add "workload and stresses" on female farmers, which the resolution says produce 60 to 80 percent of the food in developing countries.
But what if the opposite is happening? Are women to be treated as sex objects no matter what?

Tee Time

For President Obama, vacationing is a full-time job:
Last year, Obama told CBS News that playing golf is “the only time that for six hours, I'm outside." But instead of six hours, GAI counted a round of golf as taking just four hours. Likewise, for presidential vacation hours, researchers attributed just six hours of any day of vacation to leisure activity.

“Like most people, presidents still do work while on vacation,” said GAI President Peter Schweizer. “So we really went out of our way to fairly and accurately reflect how the president spends his time.”

The study applied a similarly generous assessment to Obama’s time spent in economic meetings by counting anything on the official White House calendar even remotely related to the economy as an economic meeting. For example, “Obama meets with Cabinet secretaries” and “Obama has lunch with four CEOs” counted as economic meetings.

GAI’s new report dovetails with its presidential calendar analysis last July that found Obama devotes little time to economic meetings.
Maybe that's one of the reasons the government is broke...

Hoops

And the world didn't end:
I’ve been asked how other players will respond to my announcement. The simple answer is, I have no idea. I’m a pragmatist. I hope for the best, but plan for the worst. The biggest concern seems to be that gay players will behave unprofessionally in the locker room. Believe me, I’ve taken plenty of showers in 12 seasons. My behavior wasn’t an issue before, and it won’t be one now. My conduct won’t change. I still abide by the adage, “What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room.” I’m still a model of discretion…

Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start. It all comes down to education. I’ll sit down with any player who’s uneasy about my coming out. Being gay is not a choice. This is the tough road and at times the lonely road. Former players like Tim Hardaway, who said “I hate gay people” (and then became a supporter of gay rights), fuel homophobia. Tim is an adult. He’s entitled to his opinion. God bless America. Still, if I’m up against an intolerant player, I’ll set a pretty hard pick on him. And then move on.
Sound advice in any situation.

The Sequester that Wasn't There

What if they gave a sequester and nobody cared?
The idea was that even the comparatively minor cuts in spending caused by the sequester would be so painful that voters would demand higher taxes rather than endure cuts in spending.

Problem was, when the spending cuts came, nobody noticed. This led the Obama administration to try to up the pain by focusing cuts in places where people might feel the pain: canceling White House tours for schoolchildren, or furloughing air traffic controllers.

That didn't work either. The tour-canceling just looked mean, and the problem with targeting air travel is that members of Congress, and their top donors, fly a lot. Huge bipartisan majorities in Congress thus quickly passed legislation forcing the FAA to make cuts elsewhere instead.

The whole thing was a bust, and has me thinking that someone in Congress -- or, if he's smart, President Obama -- ought to propose more across-the-board cuts as a means of addressing our swollen deficit and national debt. Critics of across-the-board cuts always say that we should make "smart cuts" instead of using a "meat axe." But the reason why we have a ballooning national debt is that our politicians are clearly incapable of making "smart cuts."
So they make meaningless ones instead...

The Foot In The Door

Why are African American politicians still a minority?
The situation is particularly embarrassing for Democrats, to whom black voters give the vast majority of their support. Until Sen. Mo Cowan (D-Mass.) was appointed in February, the only African-American in the Senate was a Republican — Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina And it’s not lost on high-profile Democrats that the GOP now enjoys more ethnic diversity among its statewide leaders than the party whose president is both an illustration and a beneficiary of America’s changing face.

“We’re not there yet,” conceded Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). “That’s why when people ask me whether the election of President Obama is the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream, I say, ‘No, it’s just a down payment. There’s still a lot of work to do.’”
Judging from the makeup of President Obama's cabinet, I'd say so...

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Bullets For Big Sis

So why is Homeland Security buying so much ammo, anyway?
Dismissed as a concern only of right-wing conspiracy theorists, the reported amounts as high as 2 billion rounds have varied and been explained not as a one-time purchase but a bulk buy over five years to reduce costs. It's one of the rare instances, apparently, a government agency has actually cared about such a thing.

Nayak appeared before Chaffetz's House oversight subcommittee to do what Obama administration officials are loath to do the actual math. Chaffetz has, and his number-crunching raises more questions than DHS has answered to date.

Chaffetz noted that the department currently has more than 260 million rounds in stock. He said the department bought more than 103 million rounds in 2012 and used 116 million that same year among roughly 70,000 agents.

Comparing that with the small-arms purchases by the U.S. Army, he said the DHS is churning through between 1,300 and 1,600 rounds per officer per year, while the Army goes through roughly 350 per officer.

Nayak, acknowledging that the five-tear potential bullet buy could be as high as 750 million rounds, did not contest Chaffetz's math and said the massive buys were needed for training. DHS has procured "approximately 120 million rounds of ammunition per year of all calibers and types and fired approximately the same number of rounds per year, almost exclusively for training purposes," according to Nayak's testimony.

"What does not make sense in the information you provided is that Customs and Border Control used (around 14 million) rounds for operational purposes when they rarely fire their guns," a skeptical Chaffetz said, citing just one example of a particular allocation.
It sounds like a fair question...

Rambling Man

Glenn Beck wanted his freedom:
Among his frustrations at both networks, he said, was the rigid, formulaic thinking about how to produce a talk show. “Most of what we do on television was developed by Desi Arnaz” in the 1950s, he said. “There’s no reason we still do it that way, except that it works. It drives me out of my mind that they are still using what’s called the Desi shoot, three cameras on the floor.”

For Beck, who loves to amble around as he talks, it was an unwanted constraint. “I moved, and they couldn’t follow me,” he said. “I said to them, ‘Get me a sports director, please. Get someone with experience producing sports. Just tell them I’m carrying a ball. I think they can do it.’ But everybody in news was saying, ‘You’re supposed to stay here.’”
Sometimes you've just got to carry the ball...

Tanks But No Tanks

What happens when Congress thinks it knows better than the military about what the military needs:
Lawmakers from both parties have devoted nearly half a billion dollars in taxpayer money over the past two years to build improved versions of the 70-ton Abrams.

But senior Army officials have said repeatedly, "No thanks."

It's the inverse of the federal budget world these days, in which automatic spending cuts are leaving sought-after pet programs struggling or unpaid altogether. Republicans and Democrats for years have fought so bitterly that lawmaking in Washington ground to a near-halt.

Yet in the case of the Abrams tank, there's a bipartisan push to spend an extra $436 million on a weapon the experts explicitly say is not needed.

"If we had our choice, we would use that money in a different way," Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army's chief of staff, told The Associated Press this past week.
I suppose the argument from the politicians is that at least in this case the money's being spent on something that's actually there...

How Not To Blog

Some words of advice from Stacy McCain:
Turn your blog into a series of lectures.
“Here, let me tell you How to Save the World, because you pitiful mortals are obviously in need of my Superior Wisdom.” It’s one thing to go off on the occasional rant, but if that’s all your blog is about — sermons and lectures, as if you are the Oracle to whom readers turn in need of your delphic prophecies — then you’re doing the wrong thing. No one wants to read that crap.
Never link another blogger.
It’s weird that some bloggers would rather link a story in the New York Times or the Washington Post than to link a fellow blogger. Why this is, I don’t know. Sometimes it seems like everybody has the same idea: Grab an MSM headline off Drudge, link it, include a brief blockquote and add some political snark. Not only does this effectively surrender content control to Drudge — so that bloggers are merely replicating the headline selection there — but nobody’s snark ever goes beyond their own readership, because no blogger ever quotes another blogger.
Well, I try as often as possible to include the original source when I link to a news article, and I try not to be too snarky. Also, h/t to Instapundit.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bully For Them

In New Jersey, alleged bullies are fighting back:
At least 16 students, parents or teachers have filed appeals with the commissioner of education since New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights took effect in fall 2011; two have been decided so far. An untold number of others — the state does not keep track — have challenged school bullying findings to their local school boards, the first step in the appeal process.
While the overall number may be a small percentage of the more than 12,000 instances of bullying reported in New Jersey schools in the law’s first year, a review by The Star-Ledger of appeals showed the issues can get complicated. Many cases involve social media or electronic communication; some pertain to events that did not take place at school. Incidents range from elementary to high school.
In other words, name-calling...

Ghosts Of Indiana

Crooked campaigners found guilty:
Former longtime St. Joseph County Democratic party Chairman Butch Morgan Jr. was found guilty of felony conspiracy counts to commit petition fraud and forgery, and former county Board of Elections worker Dustin Blythe was found guilty of felony forgery counts and falsely making a petition, after being accused of faking petitions that enabled Obama, then an Illinois Senator, to get on the presidential primary ballot for his first run for the White House.

Morgan was accused of being the mastermind behind the plot.

According to testimony from two former Board of Election officials who pled guilty, Morgan ordered Democratic officials and workers to fake the names and signatures that Obama and Clinton needed to qualify for the presidential race. Blythe, then a Board of Elections employee and Democratic Party volunteer, was accused of forging multiple pages of the Obama petitions.

"I think this helped uphold the integrity of the electoral system," the prosecutor, Stan Levco told reporters.

“Their verdict of guilt is not a verdict against Democrats, but for honest and fair elections,” he said.
Considering Democrats' past behavior, that's debatable...

Friday, April 26, 2013

Gambling Man

Whoops:
The Manhattan billionaire President Obama wanted to appoint ambassador to France turned down the prestigious position over ties to an alleged Russian mob-run poker ring that was laundered through a Carlyle hotel art gallery, sources told The Post. Marc Lasry, who runs the $12 billion investment firm Avenue Capital in Midtown, withdrew on Tuesday because of his close friendship with Illya Trincher, 27, who was busted last week with 30 others, including Trincher’s pro-poker-playing father, Vadim, and brother Eugene.
He was a crook, but he'd have been their crook...

Albatross

Democrats are getting worried about Obamacare and its effects:
The Democratic party’s fate is tied to this law for the foreseeable future, and legislators know this. If Obamacare turns out well, the party’s future is all sunshine and rainbows. If the implementation process falls into chaos, the ACA will be an albatross hanging around the party’s neck for years to come. Nothing can change that now, hence the growing unease in the President’s party.
Hey, guys-you passed it, you own it...

Dog Days

Why nobody pays attention to "self-described feminists":
In an open letter to UC President Susan Herbst, self-described feminist student Carolyn Luby wrote that the redesigned team logo will intimidate women and empower rape culture.

UConn basketball coach Geno Auriemma said the logo “is looking right through you and saying, ‘Do not mess with me.’ This is a streamlined, fighting dog, and I cannot wait for it to be on our uniforms and court.”

In response, Luby wrote, “What terrifies me about the admiration of such traits is that I know what it feels like to have a real life Husky look straight through you and to feel powerless, and to wonder if even the administration cannot ‘mess with them.’ And I know I am not alone.”
Sometimes a logo is just a logo...

The Pigford Trough

Somewhere, Andrew Breitbart is smiling:
The compensation effort sprang from a desire to redress what the government and a federal judge agreed was a painful legacy of bias against African-Americans by the Agriculture Department. But an examination by The New York Times shows that it became a runaway train, driven by racial politics, pressure from influential members of Congress and law firms that stand to gain more than $130 million in fees. In the past five years, it has grown to encompass a second group of African-Americans as well as Hispanic, female and Native American farmers. In all, more than 90,000 people have filed claims. The total cost could top $4.4 billion.

From the start, the claims process prompted allegations of widespread fraud and criticism that its very design encouraged people to lie: because relatively few records remained to verify accusations, claimants were not required to present documentary evidence that they had been unfairly treated or had even tried to farm. Agriculture Department reviewers found reams of suspicious claims, from nursery-school-age children and pockets of urban dwellers, sometimes in the same handwriting with nearly identical accounts of discrimination.

Yet those concerns were played down as the compensation effort grew. Though the government has started requiring more evidence to support some claims, even now people who say they were unfairly denied loans can collect up to $50,000 with little documentation.
It's just a shame that vindication had to come at so high a cost...

Keep 'Em Flying

Congress tells President Obama to tell the FAA to get back to work:
Congress approved a bill ordering the Transportation Department to move money to the Federal Aviation Administration in order to put air traffic controllers back on the job — and requiring Mr. Obama’s team to make cuts elsewhere in the department.

“I think we all agree the FAA and the administration has handled the sequester poorly,” said Rep. Tom Latham, Iowa Republican. “The administration has played shameful politics with sequestration at the expense of hardworking families.”

The bill passed the House 361-41, and the Senate had already pre-approved the bill unanimously late Thursday night.

It now goes to Mr. Obama, who signaled he will sign it — though the White House was not happy about it.

“It is a band-aid solution. It does not solve the bigger problem,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
But didn't your boss create the problem in the first place? Related: The sequester hasn't worked out as planned.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Betting On Bush

Why President Bush has been enjoying a renaissance:
In all his recent interviews Mr. Bush has been modest, humorous, proud but unassuming, and essentially philosophical: History will decide. No finger-pointing or scoring points. If he feels rancor or resentment he didn't show it. He didn't attempt to manipulate. His sheer normality seemed like a relief, an echo of an older age.

And all this felt like an antidote to Obama—to the imperious I, to the inability to execute, to the endless interviews and the imperturbable drone, to the sense that he is trying to teach us, like an Ivy League instructor taken aback by the backwardness of his students. And there's the unconscious superiority. One thing Mr. Bush didn't think he was was superior. He thought he was luckily born, quick but not deep, and he famously trusted his gut but also his heart. He always seemed moved and grateful to be in the White House. Someone who met with Mr. Obama during his first year in office, an old hand who'd worked with many presidents, came away worried and confounded. Mr. Obama, he said, was the only one who didn't seem awed by his surroundings, or by the presidency itself.

Mr. Bush could be prickly and irritable and near the end showed arrogance, but he wasn't vain or conceited, and he still isn't.
Humility is something that has been sorely lacking in the White House as of late...

Cough It Up

Well, this is certainly timely, what with Bird Flu in the news:
In February, identical bills were introduced in the House and Senate to add seasonal flu vaccines to the IRS code as taxable. The legislation would exact a 75¢ per dose tax on any "vaccine against seasonal influenza." Given that the Centers for Disease Control projects that 135 million doses of flu vaccine will be used this year, the government's take on flu vaccines alone is over $100,000,000 per year.

Along with taxes on other vaccines, this tax would fund the Vaccine Injury Compensation Trust Fund. The fund is a "no-fault alternative to the traditional tort system for resolving vaccine injury claims that provides compensation to people found to be injured by certain vaccines." However, the fund is by no means in the same kind of trouble that other government "trust funds" are.

The balance in the fund (as of November 2012) was more than $3.5 billion. Since the program's inception in 1988, the fund has paid out only $2.5 billion in 25 years for cases involving all vaccines, not just the flu vaccine. This means the balance in the fund could conceivably last another 25 years with no further tax revenue.
And yet, Congress manages to find a reason to try and add some...

The New Luddites

Animal activists attack real science in Italy:
Activists occupied an animal facility at the University of Milan, Italy, at the weekend, releasing mice and rabbits and mixing up cage labels to confuse experimental protocols. Researchers at the university say that it will take years to recover their work.

Many of the animals at the facility are genetic models for psychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.

No arrests have been made following the 12-hour drama, which took place on Saturday, although the university says that it will press charges against the protesters.
Maybe the protesters were afraid of being cured of their own lunacy someday...

None For Us, Please

Well, this figures:
Congressional leaders in both parties are engaged in high-level, confidential talks about exempting lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides from the insurance exchanges they are mandated to join as part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, sources in both parties said.

The talks — which involve Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Obama administration and other top lawmakers — are extraordinarily sensitive, with both sides acutely aware of the potential for political fallout from giving carve-outs from the hugely controversial law to 535 lawmakers and thousands of their aides. Discussions have stretched out for months, sources said.
When their own wallets-and political futures-are on the line, enforced health care doesn't seem as popular as it once was. Update: They've apparently gotten the message.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Picture Man

You just never know:

Quorum Of None

We have a government by consensus:
The Constitution imposes a straightforward quorum requirement on both houses of the legislative branch. Article I, Section 5 states that “a majority of each [house] shall constitute a quorum to do business; but a smaller number of them may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the attendance of absent members . . .”

The plain meaning is that a majority of the membership must be in attendance to conduct legislative business. When any group smaller than a majority is present, it can do only two things: adjourn and compel the attendance of absent members.

Yet Congress—particularly the Senate—too often proceeds without a quorum. The Senate conducts much of its business by “unanimous consent.” This is a procedural device that allows virtually any action to be taken so long as no senator actively objects.
It's also a handy way for them to get around actually doing their jobs...

Empty Savings

The government literally has empty coffers:
This year, the government will spend at least $890,000 on service fees for bank accounts that are empty. At last count, Uncle Sam has 13,712 such accounts with a balance of zero.

They are supposed to be closed. But nobody has done the paperwork yet.

So even as the sequester budget cuts have begun idling workers and frustrating travelers, the government is required to pay $65 per year, per account to keep them on the books.

In this time of austerity, the accounts are a reminder of something that makes austerity hard: expensive habits, built into the bureaucracy in times of plenty. The Obama administration has spent the past year trying to close these accounts with only some success.

“If anyone had kept open a bank account with no money, and was getting a charge every month, they would do everything they could to close it,” said Thomas A. Schatz of the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste. But, he said, the government hasn’t shown the same kind of urgency with taxpayers’ money.

“It’s just lack of attention to detail. And poor management,” he said. “And, clearly, the fact that no one gets penalized for paying money to keep the accounts open.”
On the other hand, it does follow the pattern of a government that spends money it doesn't have...

Caps For Thee

But not for me:
The limit would not apply to Obama’s own pension, which is worth at least $5 million, because it is not in a tax-advantaged account, according to Brian Graff, executive director of the American Society of Pension Professionals & Actuaries. Obama’s pension, which guarantees him a Cabinet-level salary for life indexed to inflation, is a “non-qualified deferred compensation plan, similar to what corporate executives get,” he says.

The proposal would not cap those plans or prevent corporate executives from walking away with retirement packages worth tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, Graff says. But it could discourage some small- and mid-size business owners from continuing to contribute to employee retirement plans when their own balances hit $3 million, he says.

The proposal would save $9 billion over 10 years, but its passage is doubtful. It would be difficult to enforce since individuals would have to figure out when all of their retirement plan balances combined (including defined benefit plans) exceed the limit, which would vary over time.
Maybe they should run for office. That seems to work for some people...

Self Protection

Cuts or no cuts, Obamacare rolls on:
The office implementing most of President Obama's healthcare law is not furloughing its workers as a result of sequestration, its director said Wednesday.

Gary Cohen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, said Wednesday that his office has not cut its workers' hours and pay as a result of the automatic budget cuts that went into effect in March.

Republicans have accused the Obama administration of politicizing the sequester by targeting highly visible programs like airport security and White House tours.
The fact that ObamaCare officials haven't been furloughed shows that the cuts are political, Rep. Greg Harper (R-Miss.) said Wednesday.

"We're talking about at least a 15 percent furlough of current air-traffic controllers, resulting in delays and perhaps safety concerns, but yet this has been a selective political item by the administration," Harper said.
No selective pain, no selective gain...

SNAP Judgment

Speaking as someone who actually uses this program due to medical reasons, I have to say I'm less than thrilled with creating an entire economy around it:
It is Nerios’s job to enroll at least 150 seniors for food stamps each month, a quota she usually exceeds. Alleviate hunger, lessen poverty: These are the primary goals of her work. But the job also has a second and more controversial purpose for cash-strapped Florida, where increasing food-stamp enrollment has become a means of economic growth, bringing almost $6 billion each year into the state. The money helps to sustain communities, grocery stores and food producers. It also adds to rising federal entitlement spending and the U.S. debt.

Nerios prefers to think of her job in more simple terms: “Help is available,” she tells hundreds of seniors each week. “You deserve it. So, yes or no?”

In Florida and everywhere else, the answer in 2013 is almost always yes. A record 47 million Americans now rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, available for people with annual incomes below about $15,000. The program grew during the economic collapse because 10 million more Americans dropped into poverty. It has continued to expand four years into the recovery because state governments and their partner organizations have become active promoters, creating official “SNAP outreach plans” and hiring hundreds of recruiters like Nerios.

A decade ago, only about half of eligible Americans chose to sign up for food stamps. Now that number is 75 percent.
An economy of dependency isn't sustainable in the long run, nor is it wise policy, even if it is "popular."

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bum Rights

The homeless have new rights in California:
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, framed Assembly Bill 5 as an attempt to create a statewide baseline of homeless civil rights, citing a proliferation of municipal ordinances cracking down on behavior like lying or sleeping on the sidewalk as examples of the "criminalization of poor people."

"Today numerous laws infringe on poor peoples' ability to exist in public space, to acquire housing, employment and basic services and to equal protection under the laws," Ammiano said at a Tuesday morning hearing.

Ammiano's legislation faced a backlash from critics who said the bill would sanction behavior like urinating in public while exposing businesses to new litigation, undercutting the will of voters who had passed local ordinances and handcuffing city-level efforts to deal with homelessness. The California Chamber of Commerce included AB 5 on its annual list of "job killers" because it imposes "costly and unreasonable mandates on employers."

The amendments addressed those concerns, Ammiano and supporters of the bill argued. A widely derided provision establishing "the right to engage in life sustaining activities" including "urinating" was deleted. Another amendment jettisoned language prohibiting discrimination by business establishments.

But those changes were not enough to allay the concerns of critics like the League of California Cities, which argued that the bill still imposes onerous new requirements. Lobbyist Kirstin Kolpitcke pointed to a provision requiring governments to compile statistics on arrests and citations for offenses like loitering or obstructing sidewalks.

The bill would also bar local law enforcement from applying laws governing things like eating, sitting or panhandling in public places unless the county has satisfied a set of requirements that include a relatively low unemployment rate, a short wait for public housing and readily available public assistance.
In other words, for the homeless it will be pretty much business as usual...

Le Pink

So France has legalized gay marriage:
France legalized gay marriage on Tuesday after a wrenching national debate that exposed deep conservatism in the nation's heartland and triggered huge demonstrations that tapped into intense discontent with the Socialist government. Within hours, fiery clashes broke out between protesters and riot police.

Legions of officers stayed late into the night, and a protest against the measure turned violent near the Invalides complex of museums and monuments. Protesters threw glass bottles, cans and metal bars at police, who responded with tear gas.

It was an issue that galvanized the country's faltering right, which had been decimated by infighting and their election loss to President Francois Hollande. France is the 14th country to legalize gay marriage nationwide —and the most populous.

The measure passed easily in the Socialist-majority Assembly, 331-225, just after the president of the legislative body expelled a disruptive protester in pink, the color adopted by French opponents of gay marriage.
What if France turned even gayer and nobody noticed?

Tax Of Rain

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation attempts to explain its rain scam:
In an interview with Alison Prost, Executive Director at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, My Fox DC asked why ten counties in Maryland are being levied with the Rain Tax, even though not all counties are responsible for runoff pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

“All residents of maryland are a pollution source,” she replied. “Everyone wants to point the finger at some other source that’s going to solve the problem. It’s going to take all of us collectively, rolling up our sleeves, and also taking responsibility for the choices that we make. This is one way for Maryland residents to own up to the pollution they contribute.”

The Rain Tax essentially charges homeowners for any surface of land they own that does not absorb rainwater. The ultimate goal, according to My Fox, is to reduce storm-water runoff and improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

“We see it as a crucial tool to clean up our local waterways,” Ms. Prost added.
And for the state to clean up, as well...

All Shook Up

Just because you're crazy, doesn't mean someone wasn't out to get you:
Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, was arrested last week for allegedly sending the threatening letters to Obama, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, and a Mississippi county judge. But Curtis has been released from custody amid signs that the case against him has collapsed.

During a court hearing yesterday, lawyers for Curtis contended that he had been framed and pointed investigators toward James Everett Dutschke, a 41-year-old Tupelo man with whom Curtis has feuded. Like Curtis, Dutschke is a martial arts expert, a musician, and a Mensa member.

Dutschke was arrested in January on a child molestation charge in connection with the alleged assault of a seven-year-old girl at the tae kwon do studio he operates. In March, he was named in a three-count felony indictment accusing him of fondling a victim under the age of 16 (each count carries a maximum 15-year prison term). Dutschke, now free on bond, has previously been convicted of indecent exposure.
Mr. Dutschke, you ain't no friend of mine...

Hillary's Fumble

The GOP's report on Benghazi is out, and it doesn't make Hillary Clinton look good:
The 46-page report is a compilation of five committees' conclusions after seven months of investigation since the attack on the U.S. Consulate killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. It was distributed to Republican House members on Tuesday.
The report aims in part to inoculate Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his committee leaders from conservative criticism that they're giving the Obama administration a free pass by opposing the creation of a select committee endorsed by more than half the Republican conference. It's also a first shot at Clinton's legacy at the State Department as she begins to lay the groundwork for a possible presidential run in 2016.
That legacy is a bit more tarnished...

Fake Feed

The perils of false journalism:
Hackers compromised Twitter accounts of The Associated Press on Tuesday, sending out a false tweet about an attack at the White House.

The false tweet said there had been two explosions at the White House and that President Barack Obama was injured. The attack on AP's Twitter account and the AP Mobile Twitter account was preceded by phishing attempts on AP's corporate network.

The AP confirmed its Twitter account had been suspended following a hack and said it was working to correct the issue. The fake tweet went out shortly after 1 p.m. and briefly sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average sharply lower. The Dow fell about 143 points, from 14,697 to 14,554, after the fake Twitter posting, and then quickly recovered. The Dow ultimately closed with a gain of more than 150 points.

A Securities and Exchange Commission spokeswoman declined comment on the incident.

AP spokesman Paul Colford said the news cooperative is working with Twitter to investigate the issue. The AP has disabled its other Twitter accounts following the attack, Colford added.
If you can't trust Twitter, whom can you trust?

Army Men

The Egyptian Revolution unravels:
An argument rapidly gaining traction here holds that the nation could soon slide into economic collapse, or even civil war, unless the military steps in to reassert a dominant role. And surprisingly, among those calling for some kind of coup d’etat are some of the liberal and secular activists who campaigned to end military rule when the generals ran the country in the aftermath of Hosni Mubarak’s fall.

“I think the army has an important role to play in this phase — to get us out of this tragedy that the Muslim Brotherhood has put us in,’’ said Shadi al-Ghazali Harb, a prominent liberal activist, referring to the Islamists headed by President Mohamed Morsi, who took power after presidential elections last year.

It’s not that memories of military abuse and the institution’s wholly undemocratic opacity are so fleeting, Harb and other anti-Islamist activists said. But Egypt’s disorganized and deeply divided opposition has struggled to find agreement on a means to best curb the Islamists’ rising influence in recent months. And some see an opportunity in what they believe is a growing popular sentiment for the kind of intervention that would stop Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in their tracks.
The New Egypt could wind up looking much like the old one...

Building Bush

Time-lapse footage of the George W. Bush presidential library under construction:



It seems to be in keeping with his ongoing comeback.

Virtual Tax

Online taxes, coming soon to Amazon?
The bill would empower states to require online retailers to collect state and local sales taxes for purchases made over the Internet. The sales taxes would be sent to the states where a shopper lives.
Under current law, states can only require stores to collect sales taxes if the store has a physical presence in the state. As a result, many online sales are essentially tax-free, giving Internet retailers a big advantage over brick-and-mortar stores.
The Senate voted 74 to 20 Monday to take up the bill. If that level of support continues, the Senate could pass the bill as early as this week.
Supporters say the bill is about fairness for businesses and lost revenue for states. Opponents say it would impose complicated regulations on retailers and doesn't have enough protections for small businesses. Businesses with less than $1 million a year in online sales would be exempt.
"While local, community-based stores and shops compete for customers on many levels, including service and selection, they cannot compete on sales tax," said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation. "Congress needs to address this disparity."
And, he added, "Despite what the opponents say this is not a new tax."
Well, that depends on your point of view, doesn't it?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Phoning In The Fraud

Those "free phones" are costing a lot of money:
What started out as an effort by President Reagan to help poor people in rural areas have a phone in cases of emergency has mushroomed into what critics suspect is a new welfare program.

"The cost has gone from $143 million a few years ago to $2.2 billion today," Republican Louisiana Sen. David Vitter said, noting that today's cost is 15 times what it was.

The cost of the program increased dramatically after cellphones were added in 2008. Only low-income people on welfare and food stamps legally qualify, but some lawmakers say the program is out of control.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, was incensed when she got an offer of a free phone.

"I got solicitation for a free phone at my apartment, which is certainly not a building where you're going to have people who are qualified for free phones. ... There is clearly money being wasted here."

And Vitter adds, "The FCC, itself, said in a recent year there were 270,000 beneficiaries that had more than one of these subsidized cellphones. That's completely against the law right there."
Who do you call to complain about the phone welfare state?

Clogged Pipeline

The EPA is getting desperate:
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) objected Monday to the State Department’s draft review of the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline route, saying it included “insufficient information” on environmental issues.

In a comment on the State Department’s draft environmental impact statement for the project, EPA said Foggy Bottom failed to fully consider alternative routes for the Canada-to-Texas pipeline.

EPA said the draft review “does not provide a detailed analysis of the Keystone Corridor Alternative routes, which would parallel the existing Keystone Pipeline and likely further reduce potential environmental impacts to groundwater resources.”

Further, EPA urged the State Department to revisit its suggestion that Keystone would not expedite production of Canada’s carbon-intensive oil sands or significantly ramp up greenhouse gas emissions — two major assertions made by the pipeline’s critics.

It said the State Department used an outdated “energy-economic modeling effort” in its analysis that concluded oil sands would find its way to market without Keystone — likely through rail transport.
They're just hoping that the clock will run out on Keystone so that the Obama administration doesn't actually have to make a decision. That strategy doesn't seem to be working out so well...

Abandoning Obamacare

President Obama's "signature domestic legislation" is in serious trouble:
Don’t be surprised if many Democrats in Congress join with Republicans later this year in calling for a one-year moratorium on the implementation of Obamacare. There’s even a chance the Obama administration will join them if the behind-the-scenes chaos at HHS gets bad enough. That wouldn’t be the kind of bipartisanship deal the establishment media has been calling for lately, but it might just be one of the most popular moves Washington could make.
Now that they've finally found out what's in it, could Obamacare be undone by its own supporters? And would they eat crow when it is?

Paper Boys

The Koch brothers enter the newspaper business:
Other than financing a few fringe libertarian publications, the Kochs have mostly avoided media investments. Now, Koch Industries, the sprawling private company of which Charles G. Koch serves as chairman and chief executive, is exploring a bid to buy the Tribune Company’s eight regional newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The Orlando Sentinel and The Hartford Courant.

By early May, the Tribune Company is expected to send financial data to serious suitors in what will be among the largest sales of newspapers by circulation in the country. Koch Industries is among those interested, said several people with direct knowledge of the sale who spoke on the condition they not be named. Tribune emerged from bankruptcy on Dec. 31 and has hired JPMorgan Chase and Evercore Partners to sell its print properties.

The papers, valued at roughly $623 million, would be a financially diminutive deal for Koch Industries, the energy and manufacturing conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan., with annual revenue of about $115 billion.

Politically, however, the papers could serve as a broader platform for the Kochs’ laissez-faire ideas. The Los Angeles Times is the fourth-largest paper in the country, and The Tribune is No. 9, and others are in several battleground states, including two of the largest newspapers in Florida, The Orlando Sentinel and The Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. A deal could include Hoy, the second-largest Spanish-language daily newspaper, which speaks to the pivotal Hispanic demographic.

One person who attended the Aspen seminar who spoke on the condition of anonymity described the strategy as follows: “It was never ‘How do we destroy the other side?’ ”

“It was ‘How do we make sure our voice is being heard?’”
Isn't it about time that another voice was?

Weiner Man

He's back:
Weiner, who is now seriously contemplating a run for mayor of New York City, rejoined Twitter on Monday, tweeting under the confirmed handle @anthonyweiner.

His more graphic tweets in 2011 were sent from an old account: @repweiner.

At press time, Weiner had tweeted only one thing: the link to his “Keys to the City” plan, a brief of policies for New York City billed as “64 Ideas to Keep New York the Capital of the Middle Class.” It is similar to a campaign plan Weiner wrote, which was released concurrently with a New York Times magazine profile of him and his wife, Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
I'm sure there's nothing for him to worry about this time around...

Wanna Buy Some Obamacare?

Scammers are on the loose:
Law enforcement agencies are reporting an increase in these sorts of health insurance scams across the country. Many of the fraudsters seem to be preying on the public’s confusion over the massive changes taking place in the nation’s health care system.

Seniors are often targets — they’re more likely to be home to answer the phone, and they tend to have retirement savings that scammers hope to tap. But they aren’t the only victims: The federal government received nearly 83,000 complaints of “imposter scams” last year — up 12 percent from the year before.

“America’s rife with health scams,” says James Quiggle, communications director at the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud in Washington, D.C. “Crooks are offering fake health coverage, stripped down policies masquerading as real coverage. They’re also selling … fake Obamacare coverage,” he explains.
As opposed to the "legitimate" kind being pushed by the government...

Freedom Man

RIP, Richie Havens.

Here he is at Woodstock:

Chronic Offender

At least she's in a familiar environment:
Since 1978, Chicago Police alone have arrested Miles 396 times, mostly on the North Side — under at least 83 different aliases. Those arrests include 92 for theft, 65 for disorderly conduct, 59 for prostitution-related crimes and five for robbery or attempted robbery. The frustrating truth: The system — strapped by overcrowded prisons and cuts to mental health funding — hasn’t been able to save Miles from herself or to help the communities she menaces. Nothing has worked. Not jail. Not prison. Not countless psychological exams for the woman described as being ‘acutely psychotic.’
The system work-when you know how to game it in your favor...

Euro Daze

So, how's that European unity thing working out?
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday that euro zone members must be prepared to cede control over certain policy domains to European institutions if the bloc is truly to overcome its debt crisis and win back foreign investors.

Speaking at an event hosted by Deutsche Bank in Berlin alongside Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Merkel also defended her approach to the crisis against critics who argue she has put too much emphasis on austerity, saying Europe must find a way to deliver both growth and solid finances.

The comments came two months before European leaders are due to gather in Brussels to discuss moving towards a so-called "fiscal union".

Expectations are low, in part because an easing of the crisis has reduced pressure on leaders to produce a big leap forward in integration, but also due to differences between Germany and its partners, notably France, over the next steps.

"We seem to find common solutions when we are staring over the abyss," Merkel said. "But as soon as the pressure eases, people say they want to go their own way.

"We need to be ready to accept that Europe has the last word in certain areas. Otherwise we won't be able to continue to build Europe," she added.

Tusk said it would be "dangerous" if other countries in Europe felt Germany was imposing its own economic model across the entire bloc.

But Merkel denied that, saying Europe was made up of different cultures and economies with different strengths. The key she said, was for Europe to orient itself towards best practices.
Germany knows best? that hasn't always gone down well, historically speaking...

True North

Thank you, Canada:
A potential bomb plot on a passenger train over the Niagara River has been averted, a police source says. …

One police source said there were several scenarios being looked at during the year the suspects were tracked, including the train plot.

One of the plots uncovered by the RCMP and other agencies was a planned bombing of a passenger train on the bridge that connects Canada and the United States at Niagara Falls, a police source says.

“The plan was to take out a train with passengers on board and the crossing trestle,” said a source. “It was meant to be spectacular and there would have been a lot of carnage.”
In this case, the Canadians were on the ball. Good work.

The Legend Of AJ Clemente

Witness the shortest anchorman career evah:



Not everybody can be Brian Williams...

Off The Job

Those who won't pay, tax:
The only program the IRS has identified for improper payment reporting is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Program. The IRS estimates that 21 to 25 percent of EITC payments were issued improperly in Fiscal Year 2012. The dollar value of these improper payments was estimated to be between $11.6 billion and $13.6 billion.
TIGTA’s analysis of the information the IRS provided to the Department of the Treasury showed that the IRS is not in compliance with all IPERA requirements. Specifically, the IRS has not established annual EITC improper payment reduction targets and has not reported an improper payment rate of less than 10 percent. This is the second consecutive year that the IRS is not in compliance with the IPERA.
Who inspects the inspectors?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Going Dutch

Denmark reconsiders its welfare state:
The Danish model of government is close to a religion here, and it has produced a population that regularly claims to be among the happiest in the world. Even the country’s conservative politicians are not suggesting getting rid of it.

Denmark has among the highest marginal income-tax rates in the world, with the top bracket of 56.5 percent kicking in on incomes of more than about $80,000. But in exchange, the Danes get a cradle-to-grave safety net that includes free health care, a free university education and hefty payouts to even the richest citizens.

Parents in all income brackets, for instance, get quarterly checks from the government to help defray child-care costs. The elderly get free maid service if they need it, even if they are wealthy.

But few experts here believe that Denmark can long afford the current perks. So Denmark is retooling itself, tinkering with corporate tax rates, considering new public sector investments and, for the long term, trying to wean more people — the young and the old — off government benefits.

“In the past, people never asked for help unless they needed it,” said Karen Haekkerup, the minister of social affairs and integration, who has been outspoken on the subject. “My grandmother was offered a pension and she was offended. She did not need it.

“But now people do not have that mentality. They think of these benefits as their rights. The rights have just expanded and expanded. And it has brought us a good quality of life. But now we need to go back to the rights and the duties. We all have to contribute.”
There's something to be said for a work ethic, especially when your society needs one...

Propaganda For Profit

When in doubt, beg, borrow, and steal:
At least seven U.S. communities that received stimulus money as part of a $373 million government program to educate Americans about obesity and tobacco use potentially violated federal law by using the funds to lobby for higher taxes and new local laws, according to a report by the nonpartisan group Cause of Action.

The findings are part of a 19-month investigation by the nonprofit group on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Communities Putting Prevention to Work Program.”

Beyond potentially breaking federal law, the communities also appear to have violated CDC guidelines, according to the 36-page report titled “How the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s … Grant Program Became a Front for Lobbying, Government Propaganda and Cronyism.”

Congressional hearings in 2011 and follow-up letters to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius addressed a potential violation in a South Carolina community.

However, the April 16 report found seven other potential violations and states the CDC’s one recorded violation “was worse than disclosed,” according to the group, whose stated mission is to expose how “government is playing politics in its use of taxpayer dollars.”
Being a shill isn't always what it's cracked up to be...

Green Light Delay

The EPA is being sued for...not being green enough:
Ten states have threatened to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which missed an April 13 deadline to finalize rules on new power plant emissions, unless it issues guidelines promptly.

New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a statement on Wednesday criticizing the agency for failing to complete its New Source Performance Standards to curb greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants despite President Barack Obama’s pledge to combat climate change.

“Today’s notice makes clear that if the EPA does not promptly issue these rules, we will take legal action to hold the agency to its commitment,” he wrote in a letter to the agency.
It couldn't be because the EPA and their bosses in Washington are worried about what the loss of jobs from plant closures might mean for them in the 2014 elections, could it?

The Italian Problem

Actually, it's Europe's too:
It is simply impossible for Italy to function along the lines necessary for the euro to work, and the Italian political system is breaking apart under the strain. No political movement in Italy could carry out the reforms the euro demands and survive in a democratic system. Italians do not want to be Germans and do not know how to operate a German style economy.

Europeans are fond of telling Israelis that Israel must choose between being a Jewish state (by ending the occupation) or being a democracy; some are beginning to realize that Europe faces an even more wrenching choice. Europe can have monetary union or it can have democracy; it cannot have both.
If it chooses the former, as the bureaucrats seem to want to do, what happens to the latter? And what do they do about those countries that don't want to go along?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Union Busting, Obama Style

Obamacare turns out to be anti-union:
There are a lot of unions whose workers are increasingly in competition with small, open-shop firms. And it seems that Obamacare may threaten their continued existence. It's also probably the final nail in the coffin of the oft-expressed hope that folks like the SEIU will find a way to expand unionization in the service industry. Benefits are one of the major ways that unions recruit and retain members. And there's no way that they can compete for low-wage workers with the heavy subsidies the government is offering.

It would be ironic indeed if many of the private sector unions who supported Obamacare (with the promise that these problems would later be fixed) had actually signed their own death warrant. But it seems this may be what has happened. There's no money in the budget for the government to extend subsidies to the union plans, or exempt them from the various coverage expansions and taxes. And there's no money in the union coffers to compete with the government subsidies that have already been enacted.
Bet they didn't see this one coming...

Water Works

California's water projects dry up:
The state has received more than $1.5 billion for its Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund over the past 15 years, but has failed to spend a large part of it in a timely manner, according to a noncompliance letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the state's public health department. The amount is the program's largest unspent sum in the nation, the EPA said.

The fund gives out loans to public and private water systems for drinking water infrastructure improvements, including treatment facilities, pipelines and other projects. In recent years, California has received an estimated $80 million in federal money annually for the fund. The state provides a 20 percent match and manages the loan repayments which helps replenish the fund.

"It's really unacceptable," EPA's regional administrator, Jared Blumenfeld, said of the unspent funds. "It's not like there is a lack of projects. It's a lot of money in this day and age."

The $455 million includes money that has been committed to projects but has not been spent because the projects are not shovel-ready, said Blumenfeld. But because the money is already committed, other water systems that are in need cannot apply for it, he said.

The EPA also found that California also lacks a good system of financial oversight and accountability for the fund. As a result, the state did not accurately calculate revenue from ongoing loan repayments into the fund, the EPA said, meaning an additional $260 million is available for water projects.
Given whose cues they were taking, is this really all that surprising?

The Peoples' Choice

In Russia, elections fix you:
On Friday, the State Department released its annual list of human rights reports and the section on Russia lays out extensive reporting on Putin's own election and the irregularities that surrounded it.

"Domestic and international observers described the presidential campaign as skewed in favor of the ruling party's candidate, Vladimir Putin... Procedural irregularities marred voting, with reports of vote fraud, administrative measures disadvantaging the opposition, and pressure on election monitoring groups," the report stated. "The law provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully in regularly scheduled national and regional elections. However, citizens could not fully exercise this right as the government limited the ability of opposition parties to organize, register candidates for public office, access the media, or conduct political campaigns."

In the period leading up to the election, international observers pointed out that Putin had unfair access to the media and some press outlets were harassed or otherwise warned to cover pro-Putin rallies favorably. Opposition candidates were prevented from appearing in the media.

"Prior to the elections, independent observers, media, and opposition parties reported widespread irregularities, including abuse of administrative resources such as pressuring students, state budget employees, employees of state-owned companies, and others to vote for the ruling party," said the report. "On election day, March 4, independent election monitors observed procedural irregularities in one-third of the polling stations they visited."
You can't have an autocracy without breaking a few laws...

Closed For Business

Who says the sequester doesn't do any good?
The IRS will issue official furlough notices next week to employees detailing that the agency will be closed for five days with unpaid leave for workers this summer because of the sequester.

In a memo to employees, IRS Acting Commissioner Steve Miller said the furlough days will be May 24, June 14, July 5, July 22 and Aug. 30 with two additional days possible in August or September. During these days, all public-facing operations will be closed as will toll-free operations and Taxpayer Assistance Centers.

“Despite successful efforts over the past year to find cost savings and our recent efforts to minimize the effects of sequestration, we still had to make tough decisions on the furlough dates and the best way to implement them,” he wrote in an internal memo shared with FOX Business.
Maybe they ought to have sequesters more often...

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Mediocre Presidency

President Obama's second term hasn't exactly been off to a flying start:
Any objective spectator would have to ask: What exactly has the president accomplished in the first 100 days of his second term? And here the only answer can be that Obama won Chuck Hagel confirmation as secretary of defense despite only four Republican senators voting for him and having Hagel recant all of the positions that endeared him to the antiwar left and right. Some accomplishment.

Almost forgot: Obama has also made the Bush tax rates permanent for 98 percent of Americans and signed the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester into law. And I suppose you can also credit him for signing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

Here is a presidency for which expectations are completely disproportionate to actual or possible achievements.
It doesn't help when Mr. Obama believes his own hype.

Captured

The good news: the 2nd psycho has been caught:
Police have nabbed the 19-year-old suspected Boston Marathon bomber, after a day-long manhunt that completely shut down the city of Boston and several suburbs and left one police officer dead. Some Bostonians flooded into the streets cheered the news, celebrating an end to five days of fear since the bombs wounded more than 175 people and killed three.
An ambulance arrived at the scene to take the wounded suspect, Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, to a hospital. Massachusetts State Police Col. Timothy Alben said he is in serious condition.
Tsarnaev was found in a boat in the yard of a home on Franklin Street, close to where he and his older brother engaged in a shootout with police nearly 24 hours earlier. The homeowner discovered Tsarnaev when he saw blood on the outside of his boat and then lifted the tarp to find a person, covered in blood, inside. Police used a heat-detecting device on a helicopter to find out that he was still inside, and exchanged gun fire with the suspect for the next hour, before he was apprehended.
Excellent work to all concerned. The bad news:
The FBI revealed on Friday that they had interviewed Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011, after a foreign government alerted officials that he had possible ties to extremists.

Federal officials vetted Tamerlan Tsarnaev but their probe not produce any 'derogatory' information and the matter was put 'to bed,' a U.S. law enforcement source said.

The revelation is the first indication that Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his younger brother, Dzhokhar, were known to U.S. security officials prior to Monday's bombings, U.S. authorities said.
Also, via Instapundit, this:
Bad guy #2 was bleeding for 20 hours outside the perimeter the cops and FBI had set. That was a miscalculation I wouldn’t dream of second guessing, but luckily for all of us, a regular guy noticed the torn and bloody tarp on the boat parked out back and called it in. They answered the 911 call and did what was required–excellent! But if Average Joe hadn’t noticed, how long would the officials have kept the city locked down? But I expect we’ll hear how important it is that they have more domestic P.D. paramilitary, oh yeah, and that CISPA that just passed under the radar was a must.

Law enforcement has been working very hard, but how about a little recognition that this was another instance when an alert citizen rose up, without official permission or sanction, to take reasonable, effective steps?
As noted above, kudos to everyone involved.

Scout's Honor

The Boy Scouts lifting their ban:
The Boy Scouts of America on Friday proposed to lift a ban on gay scouts but to continue prohibiting gay adults from participating in the hundred-year-old American institution.

Key donors and supporters, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - the Mormons - and AT&T did not immediately take a position on the proposal, while gay rights groups said continuing to bar gay adults was unacceptable, thought they welcomed the change for youths.

Scout leaders in May will vote on the proposal, which would be a sweeping change for an institution that in 2000 won a Supreme Court battle over its right to exclude gays.
....

If the resolution is approved, "no youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone," Deron Smith, the organization's spokesman, told Reuters.

But the policy is not changed for adults, the group said, and an internal document obtained by Reuters says that when youth members become adults, then they "must meet the requirements of our adult standards" to remain in the group.
Those standards also subject to change?

Body Language

Why a British gym is being sued for sexism:
The venue, owned by fitness company Better in association with Camden Council, attracts hundreds of people from all sections of society: religious, atheist, male, female, young and old. There is no dominant demographic. Everybody is welcome and everybody gets on.

But not everybody is equal.

Because, in an age of political over-correctness, they ban all men and boys for 442 hours every year - simply because they are male.

Adding insult to injury, they still charge them the same full-price membership fee as women, but refuse to offer the equivalent option of male-only sessions.

Not only is this an outrageous business model, but it's also sexist. Especially given that council officials base it almost solely on women's needs.

....

Translated into plain English, this means that a group of agenda-driven feminists say a minority of women 'feel' bad about their bodies. And because heterosexual men are naturally attracted to women, their very existence makes it worse, so they should be banned.

No, seriously.

That's like trying to clean a dirty face by rubbing a mirror.

It also assumes that all men in the gym are straight, when many of them are gay and have no interest in the female aesthetic. In fact, if they really wanted to, these men could be voyeuristic in the showers. So what next - gay and straight hours? And what about lesbians - can they attend women-only sessions, or would it make their straight sisters uncomfortable? Gimme a break.

If these women have issues with their bodies, I truly sympathise - but it's their problem, not mine. Nor is it any other man's.
Since we live in an age in which feelings matter more than facts, I'm sure these women could empathize with their male counterparts over this, couldn't they?

The New Lunacy

So the Boston bombings and climate change are somehow connected?
Mr. Cuomo directly addressed the high-profile situation in the Bay State by employing a phrase he previously used to describe climate change in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy: “the new normal.”

“It’s a terrible situation in Boston. And, unfortunately, … one gets the sense that this is more reflective of the ‘new normal,’ if you will,” he explained. “So much of society is changing so rapidly. We talk about a ‘new normal’ when it comes to climate change and adjusting to a change in the weather patterns. ‘New normal’ when it comes to public security in a post-9/11 world. Where these random acts of violence, which at one time were implausible, now seem all-too-frequent.”
Climate change, the new cause for everything, apparently...

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Slow Pace Of Climate Change

The science still isn't settled:
"The climate system is not quite so simple as people thought," said Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish statistician and author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist" who estimates that moderate warming will be beneficial for crop growth and human health.

Some experts say their trust in climate science has declined because of the many uncertainties. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had to correct a 2007 report that exaggerated the pace of melt of the Himalayan glaciers and wrongly said they could all vanish by 2035.

"My own confidence in the data has gone down in the past five years," said Richard Tol, an expert in climate change and professor of economics at the University of Sussex in England.
Nature doesn't do what ideologues want it to. And carbon trading isn't as profitable as hoped, either.

Drive Thru Rage

When Cops Attack:
"And we were waiting on them to cook the food. And the cop -- I didn't know at first that he was a cop -- pulled up behind us and waited about two minutes, two to three minutes.... And he got out and started yelling, yelling at us, 'Stop holding up the drive-thru line,' this that and the other. He walked back over to his car, got back in, and I said, 'Sorry for the inconvenience, Sir.' And he goes, 'Who has the loud mouth?' And I was, like, 'I said that,' not being smart or anything. He's like, 'Well, you never know who you're messing with.' And I was just like, 'No, Sir, I don't.' He goes, 'Keep your mouth shut.' I was like, 'I'm sorry.' He's like, 'Well, you don't know who you're messing with. And there's some crazy people out there.' And that's when he pulled the gun on me, and kept on yelling at me for about thirty more seconds. And then walked off."

Then the man got back into his car and drove away.

We got a copy of Biumi's training record. He began employment with DeKalb County Police in March of 1988. Over his 24 year history with the department he received more than 17 hundred hours of training, including a course in 2012 on 'ethics and professionalism'.
Apparently it didn't take...

Trail Mix

Ouch:
The House Democratic campaign arm will air a new ad on Friday against South Carolina Republican House candidate Mark Sanford, attacking him for disappearing from the public eye to visit his then-mistress in Argentina while governor in 2009.
"Mark Sanford walked out on us. Violated our trust. Secretly used thousands of taxpayer dollars flying to Argentina and then lied about it," a male voice says in the ad while the picture shows a man walking along a trail. "Maybe Mark Sanford should just keep walking."
The reference to Sanford "walking" alludes to his telling aides that he was "hiking the Appalachian Trail" when he was actually visiting his mistress.
He brought this upon himself, and with his own party abandoning ship, Sanford's prospects don't look good.

Lamer Than Lame

President Obama, America's lamest lame duck?
Nobody listens to what he says anymore, nobody is interested in winning his approval and nobody much cares if he thinks they have “let the country down”. This is typical for a second-term president who has lost all their leverage because they’re no longer running for office and everybody is patiently waiting for the day when he quits the White House. But Obama's difficult personality has doubled the size of the challenge. Gloating in victory, adolescent in defeat – the Prez doesn’t make it easy to work with him. Why should conservative senators give him a legislative victory after he has spent four years painting them as knuckle-dragging rednecks who hate women and the poor?
Related: It's been a bad first quarter.

Big Media Blackout

Lawmakers ask the media why they aren't doing their jobs:
In their letter, the House members say that the Gosnell and the Planned Parenthood lobbying story “surely … meet your threshold criteria for a national news segment.”

“Yet, despite this obvious fact, coverage of these stories has eluded your news divisions. Our modern world offers no shortage of calamities and crimes to occupy the time of writers, video editors, and announces. Nonetheless, we see no excuse for your failure to report these stories other than blatant media bias,” they wrote, adding that the networks have “betrayed” their viewers and undermined their “credibility in the public square.”

The congressmen added that they would “welcome a response” and explanation as to why these stories do “not merit airtime on your programming.”
Because the case messes up their worldview, and the official narrative on choice...

Still Asking Questions

Darrell Issa hasn't forgotten about Benghazi:
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is pushing ahead with his investigation of last year’s fatal attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, by preparing federal agencies to allow employees to lawyer up.

In separate letters to the legal offices of the CIA, State Department and Defense Department, Issa said some witnesses on the issue might need lawyers, if their agencies decide to retaliate against them for their testimony.

“During the course of the investigation, numerous individuals have approached the committee with information related to the attack,” wrote Issa in the letters, which were obtained by The Hill.

He asked agencies to provide details on how to grant outside attorneys the security clearances necessary for them to adequately represent employees discussing classified matters with congressional investigators.
There's still an investigation going on. Just don't tell John Kerry...

Banana Republic Redux

The post-Chavez era doesn't seem to be working out so well:
Already faced with allegations of vote rigging and the surprisingly narrow margin with which he won office, Maduro turned to a tactic from page one of his predecessor’s playbook: blame the United States.

“The (U.S.) embassy has financed and led all these violent acts,” Maduro said on Venezuelan television. He also called Henrique Capriles, the challenger, a “murderer” and coup plotter (which would put him in some familiar company). Reports have emerged that pro-government and opposition thugs alike have rampaged through parts of the country, firebombing political offices and beating up rivals, jailing journalists, and fighting on the streets.

The question now, amidst this chaos: what will happen to the Chavista movement? Without the charismatic Chavez, can it survive? Capriles won a respectable 44 percent of the votes when he faced off against Chavez in elections in February; a few months later, after Chavez’s death, he garnered over 49 percent against Maduro, suggesting that at least some Chavistas don’t think Maduro is quite up to the job, even though he promised to carry on many of the pro-poor policies that Chavez was famous for.

But it’s unlikely that on its own the Venezuelan opposition can take or hold power. With lots of advice from helpful Cubans, the Chavistas have built a political machinery that is determined to hold power no matter what.
Self-appointed rulers have a tendency to do that...

From Russia With Thanks

The Russians tried to bribe whom? Federal agents used a confidential U.S. witness working inside the Russian nuclear industry to gather exte...