@DarrellIssa Simpler: Abolish the IRS and implement the Fair Tax. And for former IRS employees GS-10 and up, maybe public canings.
— Stephen Green (@VodkaPundit) July 29, 2014
hese debt levels will be driven by the benefit programs that account for more than three-fifths of federal spending. The annual trustees’ reports on Social Security and Medicare, released Monday, shows spending on those two programs continuing to soar as Baby Boomers retire.
Public trustee Charles Blahous warned that the ongoing refusal to fix Social Security means the program’s troubles are already worse than when the program was last bailed out, in 1983. Blahous said fixing Social Security’s shortfall would require either a 21% increase in payroll taxes or a 16.5% benefits cut for all beneficiaries, including current retirees.
Sorry, young people — but old people vote, and the vote for people who will be more than happy to raise your taxes to buy those votes.
Keith Johnson reports for Foreign Policy:
The militants who have conquered broad swaths of Iraq and Syria are turning to good old-fashioned crime — oil smuggling, in this case — to underwrite its main line of work. The money it can earn from illicit oil sales further bolsters the group’s status as one of the richest self-funded terrorist outfits in the world, dependent not on foreign governments for financial support but on the money its reaped from kidnappings and bank robberies. The group has also managed to steal expensive weaponry that the United States had left for the Iraqi military, freeing it from the need to spend its own money to buy such armaments.
But even the millions of dollars a day that the Islamic State seems to be raking in by trucking stolen oil across porous borders is not enough to meet the hefty obligations created by the group’s own headlong expansion. Taking over big chunks of territory, as in eastern Syria and in northern Iraq, could also leave it forced to take on the sorts of expensive obligations — such as paying salaries, collecting the trash, and keeping the lights on — usually reserved for governments.
The IS/Caliphate certainly faces growing pains in the months and years ahead, assuming it doesn’t collapse under the weight of its own rapid expansion. That said, Iraqis might put up with reduced services, provided the trade-off is for a cleaner government with less corruption. Such as usually been the promise of radical Islamist leaders, and they’ve usually delivered — if only long enough to entrench themselves.
In the meantime, the IS/Caliphate seems to have enough cash coming in to support their current objectives, which are to take Baghdad and to conquer even more oil-rich lands.
Washington is going to save you $150,000,000,000 a year! That’s right, $150 billion dollars! Here’s how:
Failing to adequately reduce the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change could cost the United States economy $150 billion a year, according to an analysis by the White House Council of Economic Advisers released on Tuesday.
The report is part of the White House’s effort to increase public support for President Obama’s climate-change agenda, chiefly an Environmental Protection Agency proposal targeting coal-fired power plants, the nation’s largest source of planet-warming pollution. The E.P.A. will hold public hearings, which are expected to be heated, on the proposal this week in Washington, Atlanta, Denver and Pittsburgh.
The rule could lead to the shutdown of hundreds of power plants, a decline in domestic coal production, an increase in electricity rates and a fundamental transformation of the nation’s power supply.
I don’t mean to be a spoilsport, but I have a question: What will the shutdown of hundreds of power plants, reducing coal production, increasing our electricity rates, and fundamentally transforming our power supply going to cost us?
Answer: If you have to ask…
David Ignatius says Secretary of State John Kerry has made a “significant mistake” in a “misconceived” and undermined our “traditional allies” in his “shortsighted” effort to pursue a “short-term deal” with Hamas. To which I ask, tell us how you really think:
Kerry’s error has been to put so much emphasis on achieving a quick halt to the bloodshed that he has solidified the role of Hamas, the intractable, unpopular Islamist group that leads Gaza, along with the two hard-line Islamist nations that are its key supporters, Qatar and Turkey. In the process, he has undercut not simply the Israelis but also the Egyptians and the Fatah movement that runs the Palestinian Authority, all of which want to see an end to Hamas rule in Gaza.
Ignatius hasn’t written a Rah Rah Israel piece, either — he also has critiques of Israel’s military and PR campaigns.
What’s left unsaid however is why Kerry would bolster Hamas at the expense of more moderate regimes in Egypt, the West Bank, and Jordan. It would seem to me to come down to either ego, ignorance, or malice. Or knowing John Kerry, all three.
“I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
Those, according to President Ronald Reagan, are the nine most terrifying words in the English language. Well, Barack Obama did once say he wanted to be a transformational President like Reagan was, so here he is proving Reagan right once more:
Insurance exchange customers who opt for convenience by automatically renewing their coverage for 2015 are likely to receive dated and inaccurate financial aid amounts from the government, say industry officials, advocates and other experts.
If those amounts are too low, consumers could get sticker shock over their new premiums. Too high, and they’ll owe the tax man later.
Automatic renewal was supposed to make the next open-enrollment under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul smooth for consumers.
Just remember that Obama means well.
The paper’s editorial board came out in favor of recreational pot, but one of their reasons might astound you:
There are no perfect answers to people’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use. But neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol, and we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.
Curious that the board doesn’t see many (any?) other problems where federalism might be the least bad solution.
Eliana Johnson has the juicy bits:
The documents reveal the campaign’s most sensitive calculations. Much of the strategizing in the Georgia contest as is typical in southern politics, revolves around race. But the Nunn memos are incredibly unguarded. One is from Diane Feldman, a Democratic pollster and strategist who counts among her clients Minnesota senator Al Franken, South Carolina representative James Clyburn, and former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Feldman, who did not return calls seeking comment, is frank in her characterization of the demographic groups — Jews, Asians, African Americans, Latinos, and gays — that are essential to a Democratic victory. The Nunn campaign declined to comment about the document on the record.
The campaign’s finance plan draws attention to the “tremendous financial opportunity” in the Jewish community and identifies Jews as key fundraisers. It notes, however, that “Michelle’s position on Israel will largely determine the level of support here.” That’s a position she has yet to articulate, and Israel goes unmentioned on her campaign website.
Asians are also identified as key fundraisers. The community is described as “very tight,” one in which people work to “become citizens quickly.” Nunn’s strategists also say there is a “huge opportunity” to raise money from gays, bisexuals, and transgender individuals, who are described as having “substantial resources.”
Sigh, Democrats — it’s always about money with those people.
George Will introduces you to California Governor Jerry Brown’s GOP opponent:
He relishes “turning upside down” the parties’ stereotypes. The Democratic candidate, 76-year-old Gov. Jerry Brown, is “the old white guy.” Kashkari, the 40-year-old son of Indian immigrants, was born in 1973, the year before Brown was first elected governor. Brown is a child of the establishment — his father Pat, California’s 32nd governor, was defeated in 1966 by Ronald Reagan. Jerry Brown, California’s 34th and 39th governor, is a government lifer, having been secretary of state, attorney general and Oakland’s mayor when not unsuccessfully seeking a U.S. Senate seat and the presidency (three times).
Kashkari prospered in the private sector, a place as foreign to Brown as Mongolia. Born in Ohio, Kashkari studied mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois, came to California to work in the aerospace industry, then earned an MBA from Wharton, joined Goldman Sachs and landed a Washington job with a Goldman Sachs alumnus, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. As a treasury official during one of the most dangerous periods in America’s economic history, from July 2006 to May 2009, Kashkari says: “I saw the best in our political system.”
Will sees Kashkari as a state-level Goldwater, who in a losing race could make the GOP a future winner, like Goldwater did in ’64. To my tastes Kashkari might not be the ideal candidate, given his enthusiastic support of TARP. But the GOP desperately needs rebranding and new faces, and Kashkari could help provide both.
Details from TPM:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is reportedly throwing support behind Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), according to the group’s national political director, Rob Engstrom.
Engstrom told the audience at a Committee of 100 meeting that the group would support Landrieu in her fight to win re-election, according to The New York Times’ Joe Nocera.
Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Blair Latoff Holmes told TPM in an email on Monday “no decisions have been made in the LA Senate race.”
Landrieu’s major Republican challenger is Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA).
A U.S. Chamber of Commerce scorecard said Landrieu votes for pro-business legislation more often than Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), according to The Wall Street Journal.
Note that the Chamber’s scorecard tracks “pro business” votes rather than “pro free market” votes.
Big difference — and it says a lot about the Chamber.
Jeff Bezos is testing the patience of investors after Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) missed analysts’ estimates for a second straight quarter, sending the shares tumbling almost 10 percent.
The world’s largest online retailer yesterday reported a second-quarter loss of $126 million, more than double what was predicted, even as sales climbed 23 percent to $19.3 billion. Expenses jumped 24 percent to $19.4 billion.
As a consumer, I love what Amazon does. It’s the first place I go to buy almost everything except for lunch. But investors have been absolutely insane to run up its stock price they way they up, with incredible and unjustifiable P/E ratios. A ten percent drop? That ought to be just the beginning for a company whose expected turn to profits, as John Gruber wrote last year, will probably turn out to be a will o’ the wisp.
The South Korean electronics giant had planned to debut its new smartphone running the company’s home-brewed Tizen operating system in Russia, but the debut has been postponed indefinitely:
It didn’t give any details about what precisely needed to be defined or how long the delay would be, but the reference to the ‘Tizen ecosystem’ hinted at fresh concerns over the availability of apps and related services that are needed to make the product sell.
Such concerns were, in part, behind the decisions of network operators NTT DoCoMo and France’s Orange SA to pull out of promotional campaigns launching the Tizen phone.
Samsung has already launched Tizen-driven smartwatches and cameras, but is desperate to extend it to smartphones in order to gain more control over the end-user experience in its most important products. Its license agreement with Google GOOG restricts its freedom to make more than cosmetic changes to the Android system.
Copying somebody else’s hardware to run somebody else’s software and buying up marketshare is easy. Creating your own ecosystem to protect yourself from even cheaper copycats and bossy software providers is hard.
Situation in eastern regions of Ukraine as of July 28th, 2014. pic.twitter.com/8rBa9xSfGd
— NSDC of Ukraine (@NSDC_ua) July 28, 2014
I’ll remind you of Professor Ditherton Wiggleroom’s July 18 statement:
I think it’s important for us to recognize that this outrageous event underscores that it is time for peace and security to be restored in Ukraine. For months we’ve supported a pathway to peace, and the Ukrainian government has reached out to all Ukrainians, put forward a peace plan and lived up to a cease-fire, despite repeated violations by the separatists, violations that took the lives of Ukrainian soldiers and personnel.
Moreover, time and again, Russia has refused to take the concrete steps necessary to de-escalate the situation.
This is wishful thinking bearing no relationship to reality. That statement is as unserious as a clown wearing a squirting flower, played by Rip Taylor breathing helium. Looking at the map above, why on Earth would Putin have any interest at all in “de-escalating the situation?” Furthermore, it is Putin himself who is escalating the situation — because it’s working for him.
It’s been ten days since that statement, and nothing — not one thing — Obama called for, wished for, or demanded has come to pass. “Petulant impotence,” indeed.
I don’t know who wrote the headline to Jamie Dettmer’s column in The Daily Beast, but they ignorant of history and/or didn’t bother read the dang column. It reads, “The ISIS Caliphate’s Coming Blitz of Baghdad,” even though Dettmer correctly states no further down that the second graf that IS/Caliphate won’t take Baghdad in a blitz. “Blitz” is lightning warfare designed to mass mobile forces at a point of decision away from cities, where fighting bogs down immediately.
Hitler’s Wehrmacht marched into Paris unopposed, after destroying the Allied position in the countryside. This is basic history.
Anyway — enough of the Beast’s ignorant headline writer and on to Dettmer and the 21st Century-style siege of Baghdad:
Until recently, Islamic militant action around Baghdad appeared sporadic, uncoordinated, and lacking a clear strategic purpose. But analysts at the US-based think tank the Institute for the Study of War, who have been plotting the locations and types of attacks in the recent flurry of blasts buffeting the Iraqi capital, have noted a clear pattern developing. They say it suggests the Islamic State is building up to something big and is no longer just focused on consolidating its grip and developing governance in the lands it now controls.
The institute’s analysts predict the caliphate may be readying for an onslaught, possibly timed for the end of the holy month of Ramadan on Monday or during the Eid holiday celebrations this week. The aim would not be to seize Iraq’s capital, which has a very large Shia population with every incentive to fight to the death against an organization that slaughters Shia prisoner en masse. The purpose of the Islamic State offensive would be to sow mayhem and to keep Iraq’s state apparatus from recovering from its stunning defeats in June, when it lost control of Mosul, the second largest city in the country.
If IS/Caliphate takes Baghdad, it will be years or maybe decades before the city is governable again. Minus a very nasty religious cleansing, that is.
There’s a devastating piece today from WaPo’s Fred Hiatt on “the effects of disengagement” under Professor Ditherton Wiggleroom. A small selection:
For Obama the tumult in Egypt and elsewhere was a distraction, not a once-in-a-generation opportunity. The West responded timidly and inconsistently, and the moment was lost.
For Russia, Obama offered Putin a “reset” strategy of improved relations. But when it became clear that Putin wasn’t interested — that he wanted to re-create a Russian empire while blocking the achievement of a Europe whole and free — the West again had no strategic response. Obama could have bolstered a unified Europe with military, diplomatic and trade measures. Instead, as Putin wrecked democracy in Russia, annexed Crimea and fomented war in Ukraine, Obama and his European counterparts were reactive and divided.
In Iraq and Syria, Obama’s predictions proved wrong. Without the 15,000 or so troops that U.S. generals hoped to station in Iraq for training and counterterrorism, the United States had no leverage as Iraq’s armed forces devolved into sectarian militias. When challenged by al-Qaeda, the army and the state itself quickly shattered.
Without Western backing, the moderate rebels in Syria are in retreat.
Somebody with some sense in this White House needs to draw a red line behind Obama, beyond which he cannot disengage.
There is somebody left at 1600 with that much — er, that little — sense, right?
The key to our troubles might be in the word “disengaged.” It isn’t only that our policy has been one, as Hiatt says, “cautious, modulated retreat.” It’s also that Obama himself now seems disengaged from the job of presidenting. I can’t remember the last time he made a foreign policy statement having any discernible relationship with actual facts on the ground. He makes assertions, he blames others, he raises funds, he vacations.
Nice work if you can get it, but I dread to think of the mess his successor will inherit.
It’s the sci-fi disaster scenario that didn’t happen — but barely:
A fascinating NASA presentation suggests that in July 2012 Earth was one week away from being struck by a massive solar storm that would have had devastating effects.
NASA’s own Science News describes this event as being “perilous.” Indeed, as perilous as “an asteroid big enough to knock modern civilization back to the 18th century.”
There are plenty of people here on Earth who are already machinating to send us back to the 18th century. Clearly, there’s something alluring about olden times.
In this case, however, it’s the coronal mass ejection that’s captivating minds. This solar storm “tore through Earth orbit in 2012,” says Science News. “Fortunately Earth wasn’t there.”
I just got back from three days in the woods, with no gadgets, no electricity, no nothin’. It’s fun to get away from all the glowing screens we spend so much of our modern lives staring into, but it’s also a lot of work. I had myself, my two boys, and my young niece to take care of, which meant that by the time I’d finished cleaning up from breakfast, it was nearly time to start on lunch. The afternoons were wet, the nights were cold. At the end of the day I was too tired to even bother with the Kindle I’d brought along. Last night before bed I liberated one of Melissa’s prescription-strength Ibuprofens, just to make sure my woodland collection of aches and pains wouldn’t keep me up. There were extra batteries for a couple of LED lanterns and various flashlights — but if those wore out, then what? Well, civilization was about 45 minutes away by way of an occasionally questionable gravel road.
And if something turned off the lights in town, too?
“Getting away from it all” presumes having something to get away from — and something to get back to, too.
I’ll take modern life, thanks.
A street performer dressed as Spider-Man in New York City’s Times Square was arrested after punching a police officer who scolded him for demanding more money from a couple he had posed with for a picture, police said on Sunday.
The Saturday afternoon incident began when Junior Bishop, 25, was overheard by a police officer refusing a $1 bill from a woman with whom he’d taken a picture, insisting instead on a larger denomination, a police spokeswoman said.
After the police officer told Bishop he could only accept tips but not demand money, the Brooklyn resident began yelling at him, police say. When the officer told him he was under arrest, Bishop punched him in the face, police said.
You know you’re not supposed to do that, right?
Eighteen percent of Americans, or fewer than one in five, say they or someone in their family is better off because of the Affordable Care Act, according to a new poll by CNN. Nearly twice that number, 35 percent, say they or someone in their family is worse off. A larger group, 46 percent, say they are about the same after Obamacare as before.
In nearly all demographic categories — age, income, education, etc. — more people say they are worse off because of Obamacare than say they are better off.
♡bamaCare!!!’s supporters — and this study shows you can find some! — always point to this sick person who got insured despite their preexisting condition, or to that family who got covered at a rate they could afford thanks to the law’s subsidies.
Well, if a law churning that many dollars around can’t produce at least a few winners, then the government is even more incompetent than I think it is.
But the political test of a new government program — not the constitutional test, moral test, or anything other than politics — is if it creates enough winners to add to your coalition, without producing so many losers that your coalition suffers a net loss. Otherwise, the other side is going to gain enough support to alter or abolish that new program.
With that in mind, let’s go back to Byron York:
The CNN numbers are basically consistent with other surveys. The most recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, for example, found that 18 percent said that they or their family were better off because of Obamacare, while 26 percent said they were worse off and 53 percent reported no difference.
Kaiser has been consistently in favor of ♡bamaCare!!! for years, and still found numbers roughly in line with CNN’s. But even if we take Kaiser’s more generous assessment, 26% is nearly 50% more losers than winners — which is a real problem for Democrats, especially when you remember that other polls show that anti-♡bamaCare!!! sentiment is much stronger than pro-♡bamaCare!!! sentiment. In other words, not only are their many more losers than winners, but the losers are much more motivated to do something about it.
And those 53% of Americans in the “no difference” column? Just wait until the law really starts to take effect. If current trends continue, they’re likely to become Angry Losers by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.
Those are potential millions of voters with one very serious pocketbook issue in need of addressing by some political party or other which didn’t foist this law on our country.
That view is as close as I’m going to get to the news for one long and awesome weekend.
The next big player in the Drone Wars? Japan:
For decades Japan has been the world’s playground for design innovation. But now it may become ground zero for the future of something far more hostile: military drones.
The country has positioned itself as one of the unlikely players in the escalating global race for military drones, a move that’s controversial both at home and abroad.
Controversial? Sure, given Japan’s history and Article 9 of its constitution. Unlikely? Not really. Drones play on Japan’s strengths in aerospace and miniaturization, while sidestepping her major manpower weakness. I once had a daydream of a future Japan, barely populated by septuagenarians and up, protected by fully automated swarms of lightning fast and extremely deadly robots and missiles. Think of a retirement home in a dangerous neighborhood, defended by The Matrix.
Isn’t that the way Japan is already going?
Some stories are so weird you just can’t make them up. Take, for instance, the saga of a pine tree planted in honor or late Beatles member George Harrison near the famed Griffith Observatory in 2004.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the tree died as a result of an insect infestation. The culprit? Bark beetles and ladybug beetles that infested the tree, which had grown to more than 10 feet tall as of last year.
The tree was quietly planted a decade ago following Harrison’s death in 2001 as a tribute to the guitarist/singer spending his final days in Los Angeles and Harrison’s love of gardening.
I had no idea he loved to garden — or what else to do with this strange little story.
Once again our homeland is under attack. Missiles from Gaza are flying on our southern cities, and again the civilians are in the front line.
We are shifting our efforts to the south making sure the soldiers know that even though the media might say one thing, they have lots of support and love from all over the world.
Hundreds of pies and other treats are going out to the soldiers, and once again per request we are adding the option to send care packages with toiletries to the soldiers in the field.
Thank you for your support and you for sharing our project with you friends.
Soon as I click Publish on this post, I’m going to grab my Visa and have a couple pies sent out. You might want to, too.
I don’t usually gush over these Trifecta segments, but Bill’s this week is quite good.
Aaron Blake for WaPo:
Americans appear prepared to deal with their historic unhappiness using perhaps the least-productive response: Staying home.
A new study shows that Americans are on-track to set a new low for turnout in a midterm election, and a record number of states could set their own new records for lowest percentage of eligible citizens casting ballots.
The question of Senate control might come down to the percentage of ineligible citizens casting ballots.
So of course I have Google News Alerts set for my real name and for my nom me de blog. And while I am the world’s only living VodkaPundit, I’m not the only Stephen Green sometimes making the news. To wit:
Every month, the Kansas City School Board pays the bill for Superintendent Stephen Green’s district credit card.
Through a public records request, KCTV5 News dug through the transactions to find the card swiped at high-end restaurants for meals with administrators, school board members, consultants and community leaders, along with other questionable transactions.
In just three meals at the Bristol restaurant in the Power and Light District, Green’s card was used to pay the tab for himself and his cabinet staff to dine on lobster, swordfish and filet mignon. The bills totaled $624.65.
Green defends the transactions.
KCTV5 reviewed receipts for nearly two years of transactions to see the district card used at high-end restaurants in Kansas City including Brio, Classic Cup, Capital Grill and Houston’s. But hands down the most meals paid for with taxpayer dollars were spent at Bristol, which is a short walk from the district’s downtown headquarters.
“The crazy thing to me is you have 23 visits to Bristol, with over $2,000 in charges,” said James V. Shuls, director of education policy at the Show-Me Institute in St. Louis. “A ton of other restaurants people are going to and it seems like nobody is really checking these things.”
I hope KC residents remember this guy, next time the district wants to raise property taxes to pay off his Amex.
Changyuraptor is the largest four-winged, feathered dinosaur found yet:
The meat-eating creature, called Changyuraptor yangi, had exceptionally long tail feathers, the longest feathers of any dinosaur, at one foot in length (30 cm). It had feather-covered forelimbs akin to wings as well as legs covered in feathers in a way that gave the appearance of a second set of wings.
Changyuraptor is not considered a bird but rather a very bird-like dinosaur. It illustrates that it is not always easy to tell what is and is not a bird. It measured a bit more than 4 feet long (1.3 meters) and weighed roughly 9 pounds (4 kg).
“Animals like Changyuraptor were probably not engaged in powered flight like modern birds. However, Changyuraptor and dinosaurs like it could flap their wings and certainly had large feathered surfaces on both their forelimbs and hind limbs,” Turner said.
“So this does raise the possibility they could glide or ‘fly’ in a primitive sort of way. The way I like to think of it is: if you pushed them out of a tree, they’d fall pretty slowly,” Turner added.
If you want to try pushing the large meat-eating dinosaur out of a tree, be my guest.