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Sign “O” the Times

September 12th, 2014 - 11:10 am

YAHOO

It’s just what the headline says:

The U.S. government threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 a day in 2008 if it failed to comply with a broad demand to hand over user communications — a request the company believed was unconstitutional — according to court documents unsealed Thursday that illuminate how federal officials forced American tech companies to participate in the National Security Agency’s controversial PRISM program.

The documents, roughly 1,500 pages worth, outline a secret and ultimately unsuccessful legal battle by Yahoo to resist the government’s demands. The company’s loss required Yahoo to become one of the first to begin providing information to PRISM, a program that gave the NSA extensive access to records of online com­munications by users of Yahoo and other U.S.-based technology firms.

It’s clear that NSA is out of control, and that since this story is from 2008, it’s a problem above and beyond partisan politics.

I’m not kidding when I say that the NSA needs to disbanded, and anyone currently there at GS-9 or above should be forbidden from working, directly or as a contractor, for its replacement agency.

Bear Flag State Turns Bearish

August 19th, 2014 - 9:45 am

So it turns out that “California Comeback” was based on smoke and mirrors. IBD has the numbers:

This time last year, liberals around the country were trumpeting the big fiscal comeback of the Golden State in the wake of Jerry Brown’s giant tax increase — Proposition 30.

That initiative was passed by voters on Nov. 6, 2012, and it raised the personal income-tax rate on taxpayers making over $250,000 for singles and $500,000 for married couples to as high as 13% — which is the heaviest tax penalty on working and investing in the nation outside of New York City.

What was especially devious is that the tax hit was made retroactive to January 2012. Sacramento was so desperate for money that nobody seemed to mind this after-the fact taxation is really a form of confiscation.

In the short term, it worked and revenues climbed a whopping 21% because California’s top 2% had to pay taxes twice in 2013 — once on their current-year income and a supplemental check to pay for the retroactive tax on income from the year before.

And today? Sacramento’s personal income tax collections declined 11.1% last quarter, indicating that California is all out of tricks for disguising its serious spending problem. Besides, they can only hike taxes retroactively one time, right?

Right?

The numbers, they are awful:

California enrolled 107,000 people in private plans in the first two months. But California has cancelled 800,000 current individual health plans effective January 1––all of whom have to buy a new plan by January 1 or become uninsured. The only place those who are subsidy eligible can get a subsidized plan is in the California exchange. In addition, California has about 2.5 million people uninsured and exchange eligible. A Robert Wood Johnson (RWJ) report estimated that California has 1.4 million of those people eligible for subsidies in the exchange. Given the $250 million in outreach and marketing money the federal government has earmarked for California’s exchange, the dearth of sign-ups so far is concerning.

Similarly, New York enrolled only 45,000 in an exchange plan through November but has over 2 million uninsured. The RWJ report estimated that 563,000 people alone are exchange subsidy eligible. The rule of thumb is that about half of those eligible for the exchanges will be subsidy eligible and half will not. That means that something close to the 563,000 subsidy eligible are also able to buy on the New York exchange.

Washington, the state most believe has done the best job building and running an exchange, has 959,000 uninsured, with RWJ estimating 223,000 are eligible for a subsidy in the exchange, but has only enrolled a total of 17,000 for private insurance in the first two months.

Kentucky has 646,000 uninsured and an estimated 132,000 eligible for subsidies yet has enrolled only 13,000 people in their exchange––both subsidy and non-subsidy eligible.

The rest of the states are either doing no better or are doing much worse.

Remember, the hard number by March 31 is now at least 11,000,000.

Brave Sir Robin

December 12th, 2013 - 10:08 am

LANDRIEU

“Brave Sir Robin” might become a regular headline around here, as the ObamaCare train wreck rollout train wreck continues to unfold.

Anyway, here’s more via Doug Mataconis:

Sen. Mary Landrieu, the vulnerable Louisiana Democrat, tried Wednesday to distance herself even further from both Obamacare and President Barack Obama in the first television commercial of her reelection campaign.

The $250,000 buy continues a marked change in Landrieu’s tone from the start of the year and speaks to how devastating Democrats realize the health care overhaul may be to their hopes of holding the Senate.

Built around news clips, the 30-second ad highlights legislation Landrieu introduced to let people keep their health care plans after the public outcry over hundreds of thousands of cancellations.

Doug adds:

Polling in the Louisiana Senate race has been limited, with the most recent poll more than a month old and those previous to that even older, and while they do show Landrieu with a lead over likely Republican nominee Bill Cassidy, they also show she pulling in less than 50% of the vote, and in some cases only garnering support in the low 40s. This is not where an incumbent wants to be even this far out from election, and especially not in a red state like Louisiana where Mitt Romney won by seventeen points just last year, and polling on the PPACA itself has been largely negative.

And I’ll add a couple things, too.

Sure, Landrieu “tried” to pass some phony-balony legislation which, even had it passed and been implemented without delay (ha!), still would have done nothing to reactivate cancelled policies, or to prevent millions more from coming. Her lame attempts were never anything more than window dressing with a dash of SQUIRREL.

What Landrieu was able to do successfully, was be one of ObamaCare’s staunchest proponents before it became law, and one of its staunchest proponents after it became law.

Now she’s running away from four years of her own best political efforts.

Don’t let her get away with it, Louisiana.

The Fiscal Cliff for Fun and Profit

December 30th, 2012 - 1:11 pm

Laws are made by men, not gods — but you’d never guess that from the talk coming out of (and about) Washington these days.

Democrats behave as though the Clinton tax rates were carved into stone by lightning on Mount Sinai. Republicans want you to believe the same thing about the tax rates enacted just a few years later under President Bush. And the Fiscal Cliff? “Why, that’s a geological formation — an act of God if there ever was one. It’s not our fault if we’re going over it!”

Right. And I’m the Pope of Siam.

Here’s what neither side wants you to remember: No matter what the rates are, our income tax code is a mess. It’s corrupt. And it will never raise enough revenue to pay for all the government we’ve saddled ourselves with.

Those Clinton tax rates the Democrats are so fond of only ever raised about two-thirds of the revenue the Democrats promised us would be collected. And that was during a perfect storm of tax collection. The 1992 recession was short, sharp, and extremely beneficial to our national economy. It set loose a wave of creative destruction which helped set the stage for the information revolution later in the decade. A GOP Congress in 1994 guaranteed enough gridlock (and, briefly, enough spending restraint) to keep things humming even louder. The Y2K bug — remember that? — and the dot com bubble further juiced capital expenditures while filling the Treasury’s coffers with capital gains.

Even so, those magical Clinton tax rates never fulfilled the Democrats’ promises of 1993. I’m repeating this point because I want you to remember it.

Bush and the GOP cut tax rates twice, in 2001 and 2003. Despite the 9/11 attacks, the bursting of the dot com bubble, and a pretty serious recession, tax revenues eventually surpassed those collected under the Clinton tax code. Everything must have been rosy, right?

Wrong.

There are things the Republicans want you to forget, too. The GOP tried to keep things goosed by going on an unprecedented spending spree. At the Fed, Alan Greenspan was happy to play along by keeping interest rates unprecedentedly low. (Both precedents would be very quickly surpassed by the Democrats and Ben Bernanke.) And Clinton’s Community Reinvestment Act added to the fun, by sweeping us all up into a happy, happy housing bubble. Tax revenues guttered when the bubble popped, and have stayed there since. Obamanomics, which consists of standing on the economy’s throat while pounding its face with a moneybag, hasn’t helped.

What neither side wants you to remember is the damage they’ve done to the once-beautiful tax code bequeathed to us by Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. It wasn’t perfect — the AMT and too many deductions remained — but it was a big step in the right direction. The right direction being, if you want to collect taxes, make them simple and make them cheap. After the Tax Reform Act, collections briefly and barely dipped, then soared.

But, as Glen Reynolds likes to say, that didn’t present enough opportunities for graft. Clinton and Bush loaded up the tax code with deductions and credits and loopholes and incentives and subsidies and all the rest, until the giant wheezing beast interferes with every economic decision, big or small.

Politicians love this crap — little men doling out big favors. So do Big Business and their K Street cronies — entrenched interests squeezing out competitors via the tax code, like a boa constrictor smothers its prey. The rest of us? We’re the ones getting squeezed.

So Obama and Boehner can negotiate right down to the wire whether rates will go up on those making $250,000, or on those making $500,000, or maybe it’s on those making $400,000. Or $402,223 and 18 cents, but only if they were born on even-numbered Wednesdays, otherwise it’s $402,223 and 19 cents. It’s all nonsense.

Our problems remain threefold:

1. The promised taxes will not be collected.

2. No level of taxation will ever pay for our unfunded entitlements.

3. The system has become irresponsible and corrupt.

And if you think that #3 might have something kind of causal relationship with #1 and #2, please treat yourself to a well-deserved cookie. You have the kind of simple and honest insight that is as foreign to Washington as a pulled pork sandwich is to a mosque.

There are a few in the GOP who are willing to talk honestly about our spending problem. Their reward for what amounted to idle talk was to lose seats in both houses of Congress, and the reelection of the Six Trillion Dollar Man to the White House. The Democrats have a plan to just tax and spend the crap out of shit until prosperity returns, then blame the Republicans when it doesn’t. The Democrats are — and this just goes to show how corrupt the system has become — the good guys.

And the rest of us? The inside of that boa constrictor is stating to look pretty good. At the very least, it’s certainly close.

Tax THIS!

December 9th, 2012 - 11:30 am

Just a reminder, taxes are already going up on “the rich” in just three weeks:

Starting Jan. 1, investment income for individuals earning over $200,000 and households earning over $250,000 will be subject to a new 3.8 percent tax. Further, regular income above those thresholds will be hit with a .9 percent Medicare surtax. Should the Bush tax rates expire for those workers, those increases will be compounded.

What Obama wants is additional tax increases on top of the ones he and the Democrats imposed two years ago.

UPDATE: I almost forgot why I put “the rich” in quotes. And that is, you’re now “in the top 2% of earners” if you’re in the top 20% of earners. The NYT has that story for you:

Affluent people are much more likely than low-income people to have health insurance, and now they will, in effect, help pay for coverage for many lower-income families. Among the most affluent fifth of households, those affected will see tax increases averaging $6,000 next year, economists estimate. [Emphasis added.]

That top fifth includes households making $75k or so a year. But, yes, please let’s do keep talking about “millionaires and billionaires.”

It’s Obama’s party. We’re just paying for it.

Pay Up, Suckers

October 2nd, 2012 - 11:37 am

Get ready to feel the pinch of ObamaCare and all the rest:

A new study by Douglas Holtz-Eakin of the American Action Forum finds that President Barack Obama’s spending plan would raise taxes on the middle class. “[T]axpayers making as little as $30,000 will carry $1,500 more in taxes annually over the next 10 years,” the study finds.

The significance of this study is that it contradict Obama’s pledge not to raise taxes on the middle class. “If you are a family making less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes go up,” Obama said in 2008.

Stop whining — you didn’t build that.

Middle class taxpayers are already paying for the vile progs’ vile schemes. We’re paying for them at the pump, we’re paying for them at the ATM, and we’re paying for them bigtime at the grocery store. We don’t get a receipt for those invisible taxes, but that doesn’t make them any less real.

Oh, and we’re paying for it most of all with the “new normal” of slow growth and high joblessness. But there’s nothing normal about our crappy economy — it’s just another price we pay for their schemes.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE: Chins up, my fellow Americans! Jim Pethokoukis reports that you won’t be paying that extra $1,500, after all. Really, it’s more like $4,000.

An Idea Whose Time Has Come (for You)

August 8th, 2012 - 2:30 pm

Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan: “Let’s have a maximum income.” No, really:

Let’s have a maximum annual income of, oh, $5 million, pegged to inflation. All income above that would be taxed at 99 percent. Our precious national sports stars, celebrities, and corporate executives could still be fabulously wealthy. The daydreaming poor could still have a nice big number about which to hopelessly dream. Five million dollars a year. Five million! Anyone with $5 million can invest it conservatively enough to earn 5 percent a year and still be making $250K per year without lifting a finger. In other words, $5 million provides you with the means to live as a member of the one percent without ever touching the principal. It’s everything that any reasonable person could ask for, financially speaking.

Let me pull a number out of my ass that seems like a lot. 15,000 sounds like a very big number to me — it has a comma in it and everything. And now I’ll say that 15,000 should be the maximum amount of money a vile prog should ever be allowed to earn in a year. Maybe in 18 months.

(Quit your whining — that’s plenty to cover the basics, especially after ObamaCare kicks in. And the bus is even more efficient than a Prius, anyway.)

And just because I’m smart and mean, anything a vile prog earns over $15,000 will be taxed at… 110%. Because who doesn’t want to give 110%? The coach always told me to give that much. And he was a nice soccer coach, not some crypto-fascist football screamer. And at the end of the year, vile progs who made less than $15,000 will be given an attendance trophy in the shape of a bleeding heart.

Think of all the salary expenses George Soros will save in the first year alone.

The Dark at the End of the Tunnel

July 23rd, 2010 - 11:08 am

If you haven’t read today’s Wall Street Journal column by Senator James Webb (D-VA), you owe it to yourself. The key line is this one, where Webb argues that our “present-day diversity programs work against that notion, having expanded so far beyond their original purpose that they now favor anyone who does not happen to be white.”

What makes it key is: Why now? Why write this column today? What brought this particular issue out at this particular moment?

These questions are important, because Webb’s column is a virtual declaration of war on President Obama — at a time when Obama’s head must be already spinning after two weeks of racial strife from the NAACP and Andrew Breitbart. And a “recovery summer” that’s anything but. So it’s not often I find myself agreeing with Pat Buchanan, and when I do — even only partly so, like today — I always wash afterwards. But when Buchanan says that the White House is in a “panic” because it “fears it is losing white America,” he’s absolutely right.

But what Obama really ought to fear is losing his own party — because Webb’s column is just the most recent sign.

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Tax THIS!

April 7th, 2010 - 5:11 am

The Obama Plan promises a net tax cut for all American families earning less than $250,000 a year — unless they happen to buy any one single thing ever at all.

Tax THIS!

December 12th, 2009 - 11:05 am

Under the Obama Plan, no one making less than $250,000 a year will see a tax increase — except for 68 million middle class Americans who happen to buy health insurance.

Tax THIS!

July 7th, 2009 - 9:29 am

Under the Obama Plan, only taxpayers making more than $250,000 per year will see a tax increase, except for the ones making more than $200,000.

It’s tax code limbo!

Cap & Trade & Decline & Fall

April 17th, 2009 - 12:20 pm

Here it comes:

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday formally declared carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases to be pollutants that threaten public health and welfare, setting in motion a process that for the first time in the United States will regulate the gases blamed for global warming.

The E.P.A. said the science supporting its so-called endangerment finding was “compelling and overwhelming.” The ruling triggers a 60-day comment period before any proposed regulations governing emissions of greenhouse gases are published.

Remember, this will involve no tax increases on anyone making less than $250,000 a year. But those five or six guys who’ll be left still earning that much, man, are we going to sock it to them.

UPDATE: Ed Driscoll calls it a “rendezvous with scarcity” in his latest Silicon Graffiti video.

Will the Real Obama Please Shut Up?

March 22nd, 2009 - 6:36 pm

Here’s President Obama on 60 Minutes tonight:

“Well, I think that— as a general proposition, you don’t want to be passing laws that are just targeting a handful of individuals…And as a general proposition, I think you certainly don’t want to use the tax code—is to punish people.”

And here’s candidate Obama last year:

Mr. Obama, by contrast, started out much more directly, suggesting that if you make $150,000 or less you may be poor or middle class. A family with an income above $250,000, he went on to say, is “doing well.” And if you find yourself in that category, he’s going to target you for a tax hike — all in the name of creating “a sense of balance, and fairness in our tax code.”

So — what will Obama actually do? He talks a great centrist game, even to the point of hiring all kinds of former Clintonites. But when push comes to shove — and these days, that happens almost hourly — President Obama rarely misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity to swing to the left.

Taxes are going up. Sometimes directly, as “on the rich.” Sometimes indirectly, as the savings of the middle class are inflated away. And mostly way-indirectly, as the poor are kept poor thanks to Obama’s budgets putting the economy on permanent slowdown.

Deal with it: He won.

Uncle Sugar II

October 2nd, 2008 - 12:32 pm

Here are just a few items from the Senate’s bailout package:

• The FDIC deposit insurance limit would increase from $100,000 to $250,000 through 2009.

Because encouraging people to spread their risk around just now would be wrong.

• The bill would provide tax relief to victims of recent natural disasters.

Because not enough Texans were on board.

• An AMT “patch” to gloss over the AMT’s “bracket ratchet” for a while longer.

About time, although it doesn’t go far enough. The Senate deserves some mild applause for this move, but few will notice with all the rest of the clutter.

• Mandate some mental health coverage.

Because you’d have to be insane to vote for this thing.

And So It Begins

March 11th, 2008 - 1:25 pm

I just got my first fundraising email from John McCain. You can see the text below the fold.

While I’d almost certainly prefer him over Clinton or Obama, I just can’t bring myself to send money to a man who doesn’t believe that money equals speech.

Serves him right.

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Outrage

June 26th, 2006 - 12:52 pm

Ten years ago, I was working at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Many of the airmen killed at Khobar Towers were deployed out of Eglin; their memorial was eventually built on the base grounds.

I doubt many of their survivors were comforted when they read this startling memoir by Louis Freeh in the WSJ:

It soon became clear that Mr. Clinton and his national security adviser, Sandy Berger, had no interest in confronting the fact that Iran had blown up the towers. This is astounding, considering that the Saudi Security Service had arrested six of the bombers after the attack. As FBI agents sifted through the remains of Building 131 in 115-degree heat, the bombers admitted they had been trained by the Iranian external security service (IRGC) in Lebanon’s Beka Valley and received their passports at the Iranian Embassy in Damascus, Syria, along with $250,000 cash for the operation from IRGC Gen. Ahmad Sharifi.

We later learned that senior members of the Iranian government, including Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the Spiritual Leader’s office had selected Khobar as their target and commissioned the Saudi Hezbollah to carry out the operation. The Saudi police told us that FBI agents had to interview the bombers in custody in order to make our case. To make this happen, however, the U.S. president would need to make a personal request to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.

So for 30 months, I wrote and rewrote the same set of simple talking points for the president, Mr. Berger, and others to press the FBI’s request to go inside a Saudi prison and interview the Khobar bombers. And for 30 months nothing happened.

Meanwhile, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Mr. Clinton ordered the FBI to stop photographing and fingerprinting Iranian wrestlers and cultural delegations entering the U.S. because the Iranians were complaining about the identification procedure. Of course they were complaining. It made it more difficult for their intelligence agents and terrorist coordinators to infiltrate into America. I was overruled by an “angry” president and Mr. Berger who said the FBI was interfering with their rapprochement with Iran.

Finally, frustrated in my attempts to execute Mr. Clinton’s “leave no stone unturned” order, I called former president George H.W. Bush. I had learned that he was about to meet Crown Prince Abdullah on another matter. After fully briefing Mr. Bush on the impasse and faxing him the talking points that I had now been working on for over two years, he personally asked the crown prince to allow FBI agents to interview the detained bombers.

Several weeks later, agents interviewed the co-conspirators. For the first time since the 1996 attack, we obtained direct evidence of Iran’s complicity. What Mr. Clinton failed to do for three years was accomplished in minutes by his predecessor. This was the breakthrough we had been waiting for, and the attorney general and I immediately went to Mr. Berger with news of the Saudi prison interviews.

Upon being advised that our investigation now had proof that Iran blew up Khobar Towers, Mr. Berger’s astounding response was: “Who knows about this?” His next, and wrong, comment was: “That’s just hearsay.” When I explained that under the Rules of Federal Evidence the detainees’ comments were indeed more than “hearsay,” for the first time ever he became interested–and alarmed–about the case. But this interest translated into nothing more than Washington “damage control” meetings held out of the fear that Congress, and ordinary Americans, would find out that Iran murdered our soldiers. After those meetings, neither the president, nor anyone else in the administration, was heard from again about Khobar.

That’s the meat, but read the whole thing. And try and tell me again why Berger and his infamous pants shouldn’t be locked up.

Snark

July 19th, 2004 - 12:35 am

I like a good snark as much as the next guy, but what was Kevin Drum thinking when he wrote this?

END OF THE ROAD….We’ve finally apprehended Bobby Fischer. Thank God our long national nightmare is finally over.

Yes, that’s the entire post.

In case you don’t remember, Fischer is wanted in the US for breaking the economic embargo against Serbia in 1992:

Fischer spoke arrogantly to the press about the irrelevance of the sanctions, and practically dared the United States to keep him from playing. Annoyed, Washington decided to make an example of him; the Department of the Treasury issued a cease-and-desist letter to Fischer, stating that if he played chess in Yugoslavia, he would be in violation of Executive Order 12810. The penalty for defying the order was a $250,000 fine, ten years in prison, or both. Fischer appeared untroubled.

Fischer has spent the last 12 years on the lam, but it’s not like we’ve been out there hunting for him big-time, wasting assets better used to identify some smear on an Afghanistan cave wall as “something which once might have been a bit of Osama’s spleen.”

Nope, Fischer stayed under the radar mostly because it was hardly ever aimed at him.

In fact, “we” didn’t apprehend him at all. Japanese authorities did, for trying to leave the country with a bad passpot — and even so, we’re not exactly pushing Tokyo to turn him over:

A spokesman for the State Department, Richard A. Boucher, said Friday that it had not yet been determined whether the United States would ask that Fischer be turned over to U.S. authorities. He said only that Fischer, who has expressed virulently anti-American views since the warrant was issued for his arrest on Dec. 15, 1992, had been visited in detention by a U.S. consular officer.

So what’s with Kevin’s snark? You got me.

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In the Army

February 3rd, 2004 - 5:33 pm

So much for defending American interests overseas:

The U.S. military has asked South Korea to ban lap dancing and other lewd acts at local nightclubs near its bases, saying they negatively impact military discipline.

The officials said the military was taking similar steps at other bases in the United States and overseas against lap dancing.

The U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, which has 15,000 troops near the border with North Korea, recently sent letters to the South Korean Special Tourist Association and local mayors urging a crack down on lap dancing clubs near barracks.

Do we expect our military to perform when they can’t even relax with a little lapdance after hours?

Seriously though (OK, so I’ve only been half-kidding so far), the funniest part of the story is the Pentagonese for “lapdance” is “client-focused exotic dancing.”

And the Pentagon version costs $250.

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