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Saying One Thing, But…



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We hear a lot from the EU about the wickedness of fossil fuels, the horrors of fracking and so on, so (if accurate, and it seems to be) this report from The Washington Post makes interesting reading:

The European Union is pressing the United States to lift its longstanding ban on crude oil exports through a sweeping trade and investment deal, according to a secret document from the negotiations obtained by The Washington Post. It’s not entirely surprising. The EU has made its desire for the right to import U.S. oil known since the U.S. started producing large amounts of it in the mid-2000s. It signaled again at the outset of trade negotiations, and its intentions have become even more clear since.

This time, though, the EU is adding another argument: Instability on its Eastern flank threatens to cut off the supply of oil and natural gas from Russia. “The current crisis in Ukraine confirms the delicate situation faced by the EU with regard to energy dependence,” reads the document, which is dated May 27. The leak comes in advance of another round of discussions on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which kicked off last fall and is expected to encompass $4.7 trillion in trade between the U.S. and the European Union when it’s finished (here’s an explainer on the deal). That won’t happen for several years — if ever — but knowledge of the E.U.’s position has inflamed the already-hot debate over whether to allow the U.S.’ newfound bounty of crude oil to be exported overseas.

Particularly irksome to environmentalists is the EU’s request that the U.S. make a “legally binding commitment” to export its oil and gas, which U.S. negotiators have so far resisted, according to the correspondence. (The U.S. Trade Representative declined to comment on a leaked document, except to say that it’s too early to characterize its position on any matter).

“We find it particularly outrageous that a trade agreement negotiated behind closed doors is being used as a means to secure automatic access to both crude oil and natural gas,” said Ilana Solomon, director of the responsible trade program at the Sierra Club. “By lifting the ban, you’re creating a whole new market for the oil industry to export to, and windfall profits for oil companies, which means more money to frack more, to produce more, to burn more….”

It would take a heart of stone not to laugh.

Should the US sign a legally binding agreement committing it to permit free export of its oil and gas? I don’t think so. And if that means walking away from the TTIP so be it. The EU has decided to go with what is (theoretically at least, but…) a low carbon approach to its energy supply. Its leaders should be made to account for that to their electorates. For them to gain legally-guaranteed access to America’s wicked fuel while at the same time lecturing the US about the wickedness of that fuel would be to facilitate a hypocrisy too far.

The degree to which the US should permit the export of such fuels is an entirely different debate, but the argument that European nations should be given access to US oil to wean them off their unhealthy dependence on Russian energy resources is one that should not be pushed too far either as a matter of fact (how much difference would it really make in the reasonably foreseeable future?) or strategy: somehow these nations have to be persuaded to assume much more responsibility for their own defense. Is an easy assist on the energy question the best way to achieve that?

NATO members have a longstanding commitment to spend at least two percent of GDP on defense, but it is a commitment honored for the most part in the breach.  Check out this March piece in The Washington Post for details. It doesn’t make pretty reading, If Europeans want the US to take their strategic worries seriously, it would be good if they could show that they did too.

The War on Israel Is Being Waged by a Hamas-Syria-Iran Troika



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While the world powers seek to end Iran’s illicit nuclear-weapons program, the Islamic Republic and its strategic partner Syria are supplying the Palestinian terrorist entity Hamas with conventional arms – which Hamas is using right now to target Israel.

Hamas launched a long-range Syrian-made M320 rocket at Israel on Tuesday. Iran furnished Hamas with similar long-distance rockets during Israel’s 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense. A recent report from the U.N. (yes — the U.N.!) outlines Iran’s role in funneling weapons to Hamas in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza. (Pillar of Defense was an eight-day mini-war that resulted in preventing large-scale Hamas aggression since it concluded.)

Israel has termed its new operation to stop Hamas rocket fire Operation Protective Edge. The conflict now appears to be headed toward a full-blown war, largely because Hamas has rained over 200 rockets into Israel and targeted the country’s nuclear reactor in Dimona.

What should the Obama administration do? State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “We . . . support Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks.” So far, so good. But the U.S. still defends and funds the Palestinian Authority–Hamas unity regime.

As Clifford D. May, my colleague at FDD, showed in early July, U.S. taxpayers are paying handsome salaries to Palestinian jihadists, to the tune of $400 million a year in overall aid to the Palestinian state.

American taxpayer dollars are now involved in the third Hamas war against America’s most important ally in the Middle East. What will it take to jolt the U.S. administration out of its Middle East slumber and pull the plug on its recognition and funding of the Hamas-PA regime?

In a separate but related note, Algeria’s World Cup team donated its $9 million prize money to Gaza last week. I strongly suspect FIFA will neither suspend Algeria’s team nor fine it for possibly funding Hamas’s terrorist policies. While Germany humiliated Brazil at the World Cup, Hamas lobbed missiles at the German tourist cruise ship “AIDAdiva” off the coast of Israel. Predictably, Germany chose not use its warships in the Mediterranean to strike back.

On the media front, the French can’t seem to forgive Israel for defending itself. The paper Libération, citing the wire service AFP declared, “Rockets fired at Jerusalem after deadly offensive against Gaza.”

The Israeli cartoonist Dry Bones neatly captures, with biting sarcasm and irony, the reaction of many countries/people to Hamas missile attacks on Israeli cities:

Finally, the BBC, whose coverage of Israel over the last decade has not been sympathetic to the Jewish state, to put it mildly, issued a surprisingly apt headline, “Israel under renewed Hamas attack,” on Tuesday. But the headline apparently later morphed into ”Israel step up plans to stop rocket attacks from Gaza on Wednesday. The BBC did, however, document the fact that Hamas posts inaccurate photographs on social media to advance its terrorist agenda — some of the photographs used are from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

For some excellent on the ground multimedia coverage of Operation Protective Edge, see Israeli journalist Seth J. Frantzman.

To decimate state-sponsored terrorism in the Middle East (e.g., Hamas and Syria) and across the globe, the West will need to dismantle Iran’s terroristic nuclear and conventional-weapons apparatus. The place to start is the ongoing negotiations in Vienna with the mullah regime. 

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The Tax Treatment of U.S. Citizens Abroad Is Absurd and Unfair, and Getting Worse



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The Wall Street Journal has an article by David ​Kuenzi today about the nightmare faced by Americans living abroad trying to comply with the U.S. tax code. America is one of the few countries that taxes its citizens living abroad on their income earned there, which means that expatriates have to file taxes in the country where they live and in the U.S. Most people can claim a credit on their U.S. returns for foreign taxes paid, but this doesn’t generally eliminate the double taxation of part of their non-U.S. income. This whole issue is likely the main reason behind a recent increase in Americans trying to renounce their citizenship. 

But just as important, the cost of compliance and the consequences for failing to comply can be terrible. This is particularly brutal for middle-class American living abroad, and it’s been worsened by the recently passed Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which is the topic of the WSJ’s piece.  

Fatca requires these institutions to report on the financial holdings of their U.S. clients with the aim of reducing the incidence of off-shore tax evasion by wealthy Americans. Yet officials are less willing to discuss how Fatca worsens the already profoundly unjust tax treatment of millions of middle-class Americans living abroad.

The vast majority of U.S. expatriates living abroad harbor a strong sense of patriotism that includes a willingness shoulder their fair share of the nation’s tax burden. Deep resentment arises, however, when they confront the byzantine complexity of preparing a tax return that includes non-U.S. income and non-U.S. financial accounts. Fatca demands rigorous compliance with arcane rules that the IRS has until now never even attempted to enforced on a widespread basis. For Americans abroad, desperately trying to comply, the outcome to family finances is often disastrous.

Here are some of horror stories reported by the Journal:

In one case, a California school teacher lost her Swiss husband of 30 years to cancer. In the ensuing family trauma, she failed to file a foreign asset disclosure form to report her husband’s Swiss pension. Despite having paid all of her U.S. taxes on time, she is advised by a California law firm to enter the IRS’s Off-Shore Voluntary Disclosure Program. She paid the firm a retainer fee of $124,000 to begin the OVD process and was told to expect penalties of up to $800,000.

In Malaysia, a modest, local family business was thrown into financial turmoil when the authorities discovered that because one of the founder’s daughters, a partial owner of the business through a family trust, married an American and took U.S. citizenship. The entire business was, as a result, subject to complex U.S. accounting and U.S. tax reporting requirements.

In Toronto, an American-born professor made no investments in anything other than bank saving accounts for fear of running afoul of one of the scores of obscure U.S. tax rules regulating investments outside the U.S.

The compliance cost is huge, and so is the tax bill. Here is one example:

An American family living in Germany that buys five or six different German-domiciled mutual funds to create a diversified portfolio is faced with tax complications that almost defy belief. They will have to report each of their six non-U.S. mutual funds on separate forms, every year. The IRS Instruction manual for this Form 8621 estimates that the time needed to prepare the form include “Recordkeeping, 15 hr., 4 min; Learning about the law or the form, 11 hr., 13 min; Preparing and sending the form to the IRS 20 hr., 21 min.”

In other words, the U.S. government expects this family to spend more than 200 hours annually preparing and filing the forms necessary to report their six mutual funds bought from a local German investment advisor. Furthermore, once the filing is made, the tax payers will find their investment gains taxed annually and subject to a tax rate no less than 39.6%, and potentially much higher.

The whole thing is here.

The U.S. should move to a territorial tax system, under which incomes of Americans living in the U.S or abroad would only be taxed by the country where the income is earned. Under that system, you wouldn’t have this outrageous double taxation and you would have no reason to force absurd compliance costs on American expats.

Web Briefing: July 11, 2014

Hunting Photos Glorify Violence, but ‘Kill Kendall Jones’ Facebook Page Apparently Doesn’t



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Facebook recently removed the controversial pictures of Texas cheerleader Kendall Jones with animals that she had hunted in Africa. 

The Texas Tech University sophomore had outraged animal activists with her Facebook page that displayed photos of her posing with carcasses of leopards, lions, and rhinos.

A Facebook spokesperson told Mashable that the pictures violated the social network’s standards. They were said to have broken Facebook’s rule regarding “graphic images shared for sadistic effect or to celebrate or glorify violence,” as outlined on this ”Facebook Community Standards” page. 

“We remove reported content that promotes poaching of endangered species, the sale of animals for organized fight or content that includes extreme acts of animal abuse,” the spokesperson said. 

An online petition that called on Mark Zuckerberg to “Remove the page of Kendall Jones that promotes animal cruelty” had earned over 325,000 signatures by the time the photos were removed, but the spokesperson said this did not influence the decision to take down the photos. 

Apparently, though, a Facebook page entitled “Kill Kendall Jones” does not violate Facebook standards. The page, which has earned almost 1,000 “likes,” displays the same photos that were taken down from Jones’s original page. 

The page also displays this creative Photoshop job:

 

Juneau Empire reporter Matt Woolbright reported the page as “harassment” and a “credible threat of violence” when he came across it. But Facebook responded that the page did not violate the site’s Community Standards:

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De Blasio’s New York Sees 8 Percent Increase in Shootings



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As of June 30, New York City has seen an 8 percent increase in the number of shooting incidents since last year. According to an NYPD report, there are been 521 incidents so far this year, compared with 482 during the same span of time in 2013.

Former NYCPD officer and security expert Lou Palumbo believes this increase is the result of the abandonment of the city’s “stop-and-frisk” policy. If the question is whether there is a correlation between higher violence and the NYPD’s curtailment of the policy, he said on CNN, “the answer is unequivocally yes.”

He recalled that when Bill Bratton became NYC police commissioner 20 years ago, there were over 2,200 homicides in the city annually, which they were then able to reduce to about 500 per year. “Stop-and-frisk was one of the most effective tools that was implemented,” he said. “That’s the statistical truth.”

Palumbo acknowledged that there has been a lag between when stop-and-frisk was seriously curtailed — in the final year or so of the Bloomberg administration — and the increase in shootings. “It takes a little bit of time until it filters to the street that the police are in the hands-off mode,” he explained.

“The simple truth of the matter is the individuals that carry out these acts with firearms realize now that the police have been instructed to lay off,” Palumbo said. “They have no fear or reticence about carrying weapons.”

Do Children of Same-Sex Couples Do Better? Regnerus Responds



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Over at Public Discourse, Mark Regnerus responds to the Australian study of 500 children of same-sex couples, which compared a convenience, volunteer sample of gay families with the average Australian child:

To compare the results from such an unusual sample with that of a population-based sample of everyone else is just suspect science. And I may be putting that too mildly.

Non-Random Samples and Social Desirability Bias

It’s not the first time this approach has met with considerable publication and media success. The ACHESS study is a lot like the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS), except that it’s larger and newer. I realize that 500 cases is not a number to scoff at, and that such populations are a small minority to begin with. But until social scientists decide to do the difficult, expensive work of locating same-sex attracted parents (however defined) through random, population-based sampling strategies—preferably ones that do not “give away” the primary research question(s) up front, as ACHESS did—we simply cannot know whether claims like “no differences” or “happier and healthier than” are true, valid, and on target. Why? Because this non-random sample reflects those who actively pursued participating in the study, personal and political motivations included. In such a charged environment, the public—including judges and media—would do well to demand better-quality research designs, not just results they approve of.”

He goes on to make an analogy to political polling:o

“Snowball sampling doesn’t cut it. When I want to know who’s most apt to win the next election, I don’t ask my friends whom they support. Nor do I field a survey asking interested people to participate. No, I want a random sample of the sort often conducted by Gallup, NORC, or Knowledge Networks.”

Qualitative research has its place but its place is not to make large scientific claims of certainty.  Maybe not the scholars’ fault, but the media’s certainly.

Ted Cruz: Obama Plans on Border Surge ‘Continuing Indefinitely’



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President Obama’s request for $3.7 billion in supplemental funding amounts to an “admission” that he plans for the influx of immigrant children to “continue indefinitely,” according to Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas).

Cruz said that only five percent of the funding would provide for “boots on the ground” along the southern border.  “This is an HHS and social services bill that is entitled border security to make it appear as if it’s responding to the problem,” Cruz told National Review Online. 

“But this supplemental bill is an admission by the president that he has no intention of solving this problem, and, indeed, that he anticipates it continuing indefinitely, because he is simply asking for money to deal with those kids who are coming after they’ve been brutalized, rather than taking the necessary steps to prevent them from coming here in the first place, to prevent them from being victimized,” Cruz also said.

The Center for Immigration Studies points out that almost half of the money requested would pay for resettlement of the immigrants. 

“Of the $3.7 billion being requested, fully $1.8 billion (about 49 percent of the total) is for resettlement costs to be appropriated to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — not just for the UACs, but for entire family units, including adult men and women,” Dan Cadman writes. “There is no reason to think that the accommodations will be temporary, insofar as the funds include authorization ‘for acquisition, construction, improvement, repair, operation, and maintenance of real property and facilities.’”

 

Ted Cruz Doesn’t Echo Sarah Palin’s Impeachment Call



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Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) chose not to echo Sarah Palin’s call for House Republicans to impeach President Obama, though he reiterated his belief in the “lawlessness” of the president. 

“That is a decision for the House of Representatives,” Cruz told National Review Online when asked if he agrees with Palin. ”I serve as the ranking member of the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and, in that capacity, I have been working hard to describe in comprehensive detail the lawlessness of President Obama and the Obama administration. We’ve put out a series of reports about the consistent pattern of this administration disregarding the law, refusing to enforce the law, unilaterally changing the law — which is utterly unprecedented and is a profound threat to individual liberty.”

Cruz didn’t make it explicit, but his comments on impeachment contained a reminder that Senate Democrats would never vote to remove Obama.

“It ought to be a bipartisan concern,” he continued. ”Anyone who believes in the constitutional checks and balances should be dismayed about a president who claims the authority to pick and choose which laws to follow and which to ignore. Sadly, Senate Democrats have not demonstrated the courage of being willing to stand up to their own president. And indeed Harry Reid is President Obama’s chief enabler by preventing the Senate from engaging in any meaningful oversight or holding the president accountable for his lawlessness.”  

 

Paul and Booker on Criminal-Justice Reform



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Like Eli Lehrer, I’m sympathetic to the goals of the senators’ new bill. But I have reservations about its means, at least if Ed O’Keefe’s write-up in the Washington Post is accurate.

Currently 10 states set the age at which someone can be tried in adult criminal court below 18, a move that the senators said in their statement “sends countless kids into the unforgiving adult criminal system.” In hopes of reversing the trend, Booker and Paul propose giving states that change the minimum age preference when applying for federal community police grants. The same preference would be given to states that allow nonviolent offenders to petition to have their criminal records sealed. 

I’m not sure I like this method of trying to get the states to do what federal lawmakers want them to do. I’m even less sure it fits with Senator Paul’s principles. Shouldn’t he be for abolishing these grants, rather than using them to get a say in what state governments do?

Why Cleveland Works for the Republicans



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Does a party increase its chances of winning a state in the presidential election if it holds its national convention there? No, John Fund and Jim Geraghty say, pointing to the Republicans’ track record on that question in recent years.

But we don’t know, for example, how much closer Romney came to winning Florida in 2012 than he would have if the convention had not been in Tampa. If it helped him in Florida by even a tenth of a percentage point, that’s significant, because when deciding on the location a couple of years in advance, the party can’t know how close the election in that state might turn out to be.

John points out the risk that unions in Cleveland could sabotage the Republican convention in 2016. They could, but they could do that anywhere. Given its size, I assume New York has more union members than Cleveland does, but if they made trouble for the Republican convention at Madison Square Garden in 2004, no one noticed. Delegates voted. The nominee gave a speech and then won the election. It was fine.

As for anti-Republican snark from Ed FitzGerald, it’s from his campaign office. He’s the Democratic nominee for governor (and trailing Governor John Kasich in the polls). The statement from FitzGerald’s public office — he’s the county executive of Cuyahoga County — is positive and nonpartisan, as are his comments to media. He is credited for spearheading Cleveland’s campaign to land the Republican convention. Remember when the Republican nominee for president in 2008 told us we shouldn’t be afraid if his opponent won the election? That’s the spirit of FitzGerald’s effort, except here the parties are reversed.

Jim points out that the location of a national convention is good at least for providing a narrative for the national party. He describes the stereotype that the RNC avoided by not choosing Dallas. (The deal-breaker for Dallas, by the way, may have been simply its inability to guarantee convention space and enough hotel rooms in June as well as in July.)

The prefabricated narrative involving Cleveland is that the GOP is reaching out to the rust belt. That’s reasonable enough, although it’s been a long time since manufacturing was the engine that drove Cleveland’s economy. Clevelanders are proud of that history, but it’s a bit remote, like the stories behind the architectural antiquities that a present-day Roman passes every day on his way to work. Yes, Cleveland is no longer so big or so rich, no longer a capital of the Republican party, as it was long ago, in the days of William McKinley and Mark Hanna, but that’s not such a bad historical backdrop against which to live your life in the here and now. You can visit the tombs of James Garfield and John D. Rockefeller Sr. in Lake View Cemetery on the East Side, near the border with Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland.

Today, Cleveland is a smaller, leaner city. The two largest employers there are the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals. Unemployment in the region the past five years has been below the national average.

True, Cleveland and the surrounding region remain heavily Democratic, and even a mass visitation from warm, friendly Republicans who tip generously is unlikely to turn the bluest precincts, but I’m skeptical of the assumption that it won’t have an effect at the margins, which, as I say, can make the difference in a close election. Party affiliation is correlated with population density. In that, the Cleveland media market, the region within about a 50-mile radius of downtown, is like the rest of the country. The less densely populated exurbs and outer-ring suburbs include a lot of independent voters whose inoculation against the Republican party is relatively weak. They’re willing to listen.

They’re hungry for the attention, in fact. “Somebody loves us!” sums up the local reaction, on my reading of it. In how many other cities would a Democratic politician lobby the Republicans to hold their national convention there, where it would work to the advantage of his political opponents? Even Clevelanders loyal to the Democratic party are predisposed to reciprocate the RNC’s flattery, as they experience it. If the Republicans can keep the Democratic candidate’s percentage in Cuyahoga County under 60 percent, they’ve pretty much won the state.

The ‘Reasonable’ Response to Hamas Is Obliteration



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As a terrorist organization is lobbing rocket after rocket at the Israeli civilian population, President Obama is urging Israel to act with “reasonableness and restraint.”

Let’s define “reasonable.”

When an enemy force consistently and deliberately does all that it can to terrorize and kill as many of your citizens as possible, with no regard for the difference between military and civilian targets, the “reasonable” thing to do is obliterate that enemy. Destroy it. There is nothing unreasonable about self-defense, and there is nothing unreasonable about destroying an armed enemy force. In fact, our own military has a long and proud history of destroying enemy armed forces, and our nation and the world tend to achieve far better outcomes when our military is given the free hand to do the truly reasonable thing: defeat the enemy.

But since we’re defining “reasonable,” let’s also define “unreasonable.”

It is unreasonable to expect Israel to exercise more restraint than the United States would under similar circumstances. It is unreasonable to demand that Israel abide by made-up rules of “proportionality” that we’ve rightly rejected for our own armed forces. It is unreasonable to assume that the so-called “honest broker” role requires this nation to blind itself to truth and violate its own laws by funneling hundreds of millions of dollars per year to a terrorist “unity” government. 

Between the United States, which has pledged to continue funding the Palestinian government, and Israel, which is now dropping bombs to protect itself from terrorist aggression, the only nation that is violating international norms and its own laws is the United States. It’s a violation of federal criminal law to provide support to a designated terrorist organization, like Hamas. Yet the Obama Administration has been unable to provide any meaningful reassurance that the money we send the Palestinian Authority won’t aid Hamas, a member of the PA’s government. Meanwhile, the right of national self-defense — which Israel is now exercising — is embedded in the U.N. Charter.

So, who’s truly reasonable?

The Cost of Clothing Kids



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Ed Gresser estimates that “eliminating baby-clothing tariffs might cut young American parents’ clothing bills by $70 to $90 per child each year.” Canada eliminated its last year.

Obama’s Border Request



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Here is a devastating critique

Florida Awarded $7 Million for Wasting Just $47 Million in Food-Stamp Funds



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Florida will receive a $7 million bonus from the federal government for its low levels of incorrect food-stamp spending in 2013, according to Fox News the state improperly handed out a mere $47,829,887 last year.

The Department of Agriculture is granting Florida the award for “saving” taxpayers money. The state’s Department of Children and Families’ wasted funds represents an error rate of 0.81 percent (out of the $6 billion the state received from the federal government), the second lowest rate in the country.

Watchdog.org reports that the state’s error rate was 0.7 percent last year, the lowest rate of any state, earning it an $8 million award. The national average was an error rate of 3.2 percent, and Vermont had the highest at 9.66 percent.

Florida official Mike Carroll expressed pride in his state’s comparatively low error rate in a statement. “We are pleased Florida is again being recognized as a leader for quality and accuracy in processing food assistance applications. The department is committed to helping individuals in crisis and being able to quickly assist families and individuals in need of these resources is one of our principal functions.”

Potemkin Press Tour of Illegals Camp Lags U.S.S.R. Standards



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As a journalist, I have been fortunate enough to visit and write from South Africa under apartheid, El Salvador during its Marxist insurgency, the Soviet Union under Communism, and Cuba during the endless reign of the immortal Fidel Castro. In each of these places, I was permitted — in fact, invited – to ask questions, challenge the thoughts of my hosts, and photograph what I saw.

I enjoyed slightly tighter access on the USS John C. Stennis, an American aircraft carrier, and on the Israel Defense Force’s Dov Air Base just outside Tel Aviv. I was free to question uniformed personnel and quote them, although — for security reasons — I was asked not to identify them by name, and didn’t.

In all of these spots, I was permitted to make audio recordings of my meetings and even take photographs, with a few limited restrictions on those military facilities.

Thus, I was stunned and disgusted by Obama’s below-U.S.S.R.-grade rules imposed on journalists invited to a “media tour” of the temporary shelter for illegal aliens at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. This visit, scheduled for 2:00 p.m. Central time tomorrow, is supposed to familiarize journalists with the locale at which the U.S. government is housing some 1,200 unaccompanied alien children who recently have broken into the United States. This is not a serious opportunity for journalists to learn about this place in depth and probe those detained there, as well as their hosts. Instead, this is a propaganda stunt worthy of North Korea.

Quoting directly from a July 7 invitation to this event, consider the handcuffs that Team Obama has forged for news people who bother to attend this sham field trip:

- No recording devices will be allowed

- No questions will be allowed during the tour

- No interacting with staff and children at the shelter

- We ask that your questions be provided via email or phone after the tour to Kenneth Wolfe [Deputy Director, Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of Health and Human Service]

- HHS ACF [Administration for Children and Families] public affairs will provide answers to your follow up questions as quickly as possible

- We will provide photos of the facility after the tour

- There will be no on-site interviews by HHS staff before or after the tour, all inquiries go to Kenneth Wolfe

“The purpose of this 40-minute tour is to show members of the press the interior of the shelter and explain the care we provide while these children remain in our custody,” explained Jesus Garcia, special assistant to the deputy assistant secretary for external affairs, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. His invitation added: “The tour guide will detail what goes on from room to room and the services youth are provided on a daily basis.” Garcia claimed that these harsh restrictions on press freedom are necessary “In order to protect the safety and privacy of the children.”

Keep reading this post . . .

How the High Costs of Public-Sector Pensions Affect States’ Economic Growth



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Today my colleagues and I on the labor team at the Competitive Enterprise Institute released the first installment in CEI’s new three-part series ”The High Cost of Big Labor,” which looks at the economic impact of labor policies on U.S. states, including right-to-work and collective-bargaining laws.

Using the different methodologies and research available, economist Robert Sarvis ranks the states based on the financial status of their public pension programs in “Understanding Public Pensions; A State-by-State Comparison.” His analysis shows that the severity of underfunding is clearly greater than official reports show, no matter how you calculate it, and that there is a consensus throughout all studies on which states are in the worst shape.

As my colleague Aloysius Hogan put it, “Individuals and businesses in states with underfunded pensions – or considering a move to such a state – need to understand that the piper will have to be paid eventually. Without significant reform, these debts will adversely affect individuals and business by forcing state governments to raise taxes, cut public services, or both. According to CEI’s latest ranking, states can no longer hide behind different methods for calculating pension debt, because those who are in real trouble rise to the top — these states need to enact reform now.”

Sarvis’ overall ranking shows New Mexico, Illinois, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Ohio are facing some of the biggest gaps in funding of their public-pension programs. One of the main problems, Sarvis explains, is that until recently government actuaries were allowed to use an unrealistic rate for calculating investment returns. Specifically, governments were allowed to value and report pension liabilities using a discount rate based on a wishfully high rate of return – not on the certainty of those liabilities coming due.

In other words, the castle of public-sector retirements has been built on sand.

Krugman, Fiscal Conservatism, and Me



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Paul Krugman, citing Brad DeLong, points out that a recent New York Times Magazine article on reform conservatism featured me and Ramesh very heavily. I certainly agree that its featuring me so heavily was odd (though Ramesh deserves such prominent placement and more), and that it left out some crucial people—like Reihan Salam, Ross Douthat, and others far more significant than I. Ramesh takes up the subject of the reform conservatives a bit more fully on the homepage today, if you’re interested. 

But then, in an understandable effort to figure out who the heck I am, Krugman points to a post of mine from last year in which I said I thought it was ridiculous to suggest that conservative fiscal worries were based on a paper that two economists (Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff) had published in 2010 and that then turned out to have made significant errors. He doesn’t point to my ever relying on or referring to that paper (or to another by Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna that he also mentions), which I didn’t, and he doesn’t make the case that fiscal conservatism did not exist before these papers were published (in 2009 and 2010) or that Republicans didn’t complain about deficits and federal spending and their effects on the economy before that time. Instead he points to a March, 2011 report published by the Republicans on the Joint Economic Committee that refers to both of those earlier papers. 

I’m sure Krugman has, in his time, referred to academic work that has later turned out not to be valid, as the JEC staff apparently did here, but I’m also sure he hasn’t based his overall perspective on economics or fiscal policy on any one or two papers, as they clearly didn’t either. What I’m not so sure about is what any of that has to do with reform conservatism, or anything else really. 

McCain Criticizes Rules Barring Communication with Border Staff and Detainees



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Senator John McCain (R., Ariz.) expressed multiple concerns with the government’s handling of the ongoing border situation during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s border-security hearing on Wednesday. 

Testifying before the committee, Juan Osuna, the director of the Justice Department’s Executive Office of Immigration Review, said the office has found that 46 percent of juveniles do not show up for their immigration hearings. He noted that not showing up does carry “considerable consequences,” as the judge can issue an order of removal. 

But McCain noted that in 2013, only 1,669 out of 20,805 immigrants – about 1 in 20 — were actually sent back. As a result, they “have every reason to believe . . . that there is ample incentive for them to come to this country.”

McCain also expressed his resentment at the rules regarding visits to immigrant-processing facilities where many of those who have recently crossed the border have been taken. 

McCain asked why one is not allowed to take photographs, to which Gil Kerlikowske, the Customs and Border Protection commissioner, explained that “the children have a right to privacy.” 

McCain also read aloud the memo issued by Kerlikowske, which stated that visitors to the border may not “have any physical or verbal contact with CBS detainees and/or staff.” He then asked, “Are you telling me I can’t even speak to the staff there?” 

Kerlikowske answered that they would make “special arrangements for special considerations.”

But McCain said that during his visit to the facility in Arizona, he was told not to speak with any of the staff or children, who were following his instructions. This, McCain said, prevented him from carrying out “responsibilities I have in my own state.”

“You have overstepped your responsibilities and your authority, sir,” he told Kerlikowske. “I want those instructions revoked as far as members of Congress are concerned and I want it done today.”

New York’s Natural History Museum to Host Adult Sleepover



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There’s a cultural metaphor in here somewhere. Gothamist reports:

While the American Museum of Natural History has been hosting Night at the Museum sleepovers for kids, there’s never been an adult-only one. Ever. Until now. They’ve just announced their first sleepover for grown-ups, which will take place on Friday, August 1st.

The American Museum of Natural History confirms it:

“A limited number of 21-years-and-up guests will be able to enjoy a more sophisticated version of the popular event at A Night at the Museum for Grown-Ups, which will feature special guided tours, food, music, drinks, and behind-the-scenes access. The event will last from 6:30 p.m. until 9 a.m. the next morning.”

Among the highlights: “You will sleep in your sleeping bag . . . under the big blue (clean) whale! When you wake up there will be a breakfast snack.”

And, of course, attendees will enjoy the obligatory Neil DeGrasse Tyson-led Science! extravaganza: “There will be a midnight viewing of the Dark Universe Space Show, narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson.”

At present, there has been no confirmation that the first 100 to sign up will be allowed to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until they reach retirement.

Obama Cracks Joke about Playing Pool: ‘Don’t Ask Who Won’



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Images of President Obama playing pool amid the border crisis aren’t going over well, but that didn’t stop him from ribbing Colorado governor John Hickenlooper about their game the next day.

“You should not ask him who won,” he laughed during a speech in Denver on Wednesday. “Really, don’t ask Governor Hickenlooper who won at pool.”

Perhaps unbeknownst to him, the president has come under fire for shooting pool as others have called for him to be more attentive to the situation on the border with the surge of unaccompanied immigrant children. Representative Henry Cuellar, a fellow Democrat, has sharply criticized the administration, saying he was “floored” by images of the president.

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