- House to Obama: Fire the head of the IRS or we’ll impeach him
(Politics - July 28 2015 - 11:30 PM:)<>
The continuing war of words between the Republicans in the House of Representatives and the leadership of the Internal Revenue Service escalated dramatically late Monday, when the Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issued an ultimatum to President Obama: Fire IRS John Koskinen, or the House will move ahead with Contempt of Congress charges and, perhaps, impeachment.
The Oversight Committee has since 2013 been investigating the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS in the year prior to the 2012 presidential election. The agency has been accused of singling out conservative-leaning groups that applied for tax-exempt status, thereby making it difficult for them to organize opposition to President Obama and other Democratic candidates.
Koskinen was not at the agency when the targeting took place; he took over the agency in December of 2013 in the middle of the investigation that focused on the emails sent and received by Lois Lerner, the former director of the department in charge of tax-exemption rulings.
A former corporate turnaround specialist who came to government service after decades in the private sector, Koskinen was brought in to put a new face on an agency long at odds with the GOP Congress. However, after a brief interlude of kind words and expressions of hope, Koskinen quickly found himself in the committee’s cross-hairs when the agency’s multiple missteps in handling the production of Lerner’s emails – including the destruction of computer backup tapes – became public.
Members of the committee believe that Koskinen knowingly misled them when he testified that the agency had made every effort to secure Lerner’s emails, and on Monday the members’ frustrations seem to have boiled over.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the committee head, held a press conference that featured a 10-minute, professionally produced video outlining the committee’s case for calling for Koskinen’s removal. He followed that up by presenting a 30-page letter to the president, signed by himself and 20 other members of the committee, detailing their complaints against the IRS head.
“Mr. Koskinen should no longer be the IRS Commissioner,” Chaffetz said. “We have asked the President to remove Mr. Koskinen from office.
He added, “We will pursue all constitutional remedies at our disposal, including potential contempt proceedings or perhaps impeachment of Commissioner Koskinen.”
Were the House to move forward with a contempt citation it would be a rarity, but by no means a first. In fact, it wouldn’t even be the first contempt citation in the targeting scandal. The House voted to hold Lois Lerner in contempt last year for her refusal to testify on the scandal.
(The House vote to hold then-Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt in 2012 was notable because it was the first and only time a sitting cabinet-level official had been found in contempt.)
A contempt charge is not just a formality, either. If either the full House or full Senate finds someone in contempt, the chamber’s presiding officer then presents the contempt finding to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, who is obligated to bring the issue before a grand jury. An individual found guilty of contempt is liable to spend up to a year in jail, and faces a fine of up to $1,000.
Contacted Tuesday morning, the IRS did not immediately offer a statement on the letter.
- Here comes the health care spending boom
(Politics - July 28 2015 - 11:20 PM:)<>
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. government expects healthcare spending to increase by 5.8 percent annually on average from 2014 through 2024 as more Americans gain insurance coverage and the improved economy drives patients to visit doctors and hospitals.
The aging population's higher healthcare costs will also push health spending higher starting in 2019, according to a study from the Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Prior to 2014, healthcare spending rates were running around 4 percent per year as the weak economy made people cut back on medical care that they could not afford.
That trend reversed in 2014, when the national healthcare reform law, often called Obamacare, extended insurance to millions of Americans through the expansion of the Medicaid program and new individual insurance plans.
The insurance expansion, as well as the price of new hepatitis C medicines that were introduced last year, contributed to a projected rise of 5.5 percent in 2014 in healthcare spending, the study found.
Average projected 2015 spending will decline slightly to 5.3 percent because the number of newly insured will ease compared with 2014 and because of lower hepatitis C drug prices this year, the study found.
Projected spending for the 2019 to 2024 period will increase to 6.2 percent per year on average due to the aging population, which will increase the number of people covered by Medicare, the insurance program for elderly people and the disabled. The aging population will also increase costs for people with Medicaid coverage, government researchers said.
People enrolled in the Medicare and Medicaid programs have higher medical costs than average Americans.
Medical prices are expected to rise above 2 percent per year starting in 2016, the first increase since 2011 and after years of historically low levels. That is partly due to expectations for higher healthcare wages related to the stronger economy.
Changes in private insurance that have shifted the cost of healthcare to individuals from insurers and employers through higher deductibles and co-pays will hold back further spending increases, the study found. Cuts in payments to doctors from the Medicare program will also hold back costs from rising further.
The government's annual study, published in the August edition of the Health Affairs journal, increased its 10-year projected spending increase to 5.8 percent from the 5.7 percent it predicted in last year's study.
(Reporting by Caroline Humer; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)
- Protesters disrupted Scott Walker's Philadelphia cheesesteak stop with lewd signs
(Politics - July 28 2015 - 10:44 PM:)<>
Presidential candidate and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) was heckled while participating in the time-honored tradition of grabbing a cheesesteak in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Photos of the event showed at least two protesters holding up rather lewd signs while Walker schmoozed at Geno's Steaks, a cheesesteak joint famous for expecting its customers to order in English.
"SCOTT WALKER SNIFFS OWN POO," read one sign, for example.
The Associated Press reported that a campaign aide stood on a bench and tried to block the signs.
It wasn't clear why the protesters did not like Walker. However, one video showed a heckler shouting the name of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), a Democratic presidential candidate.
"You suck!" the man yelled at Walker.
At another point, a heckler told Walker to go back to Wisconsin:
Walker did avoid one notable controversy during his trip to Geno's and another prominent cheesesteak spot, Pat's King of Steaks. In 2004, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry ordered Swiss cheese on his cheesesteaks instead of the customary Cheese Whiz. Walker ordered his food with the apparently more acceptable American cheese.
"Swiss cheese, you get thrown out of town," one Walker supported explained to The Associated Press.
Stopped by 2 iconic places in Philly: Geno's Steaks & Pat's King of Steaks. Yes, I ordered American cheese! -SW pic.twitter.com/C6XmENPSIe— Scott Walker (@ScottWalker) July 28, 2015
- Hillary Clinton: Here's how selfies have fundamentally changed campaigning
(Politics - July 28 2015 - 9:52 PM:)<>
Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton admits that selfies have changed campaigning, at least a little bit.
In an interview with the Daily Times Herald of Carroll, Iowa, the former Secretary of State said that selfies have made campaigning in large crowds much more difficult for her because she can't do meet-and-greets without being overwhelmed by selfie requests.
"This whole phenomenon of everybody carrying around their cameras does interfere, not so much in a smaller group like this," she said of being amid a crowd of about 80 in Caroll.
"But in a bigger group like we were in Ames, people, all they wanted was their pictures," Clinton said. "I didn’t get the quality of interaction that I got right here because the group was smaller."
Though Clinton said the percentage of people asking important questions seems to have dipped slightly in recent years, she denied that the selfie culture has dramatically reduced quality interactions with voters overall.
"For younger people, it’s as important as anything they could have asked me. So I just say, 'OK, we’re going to do it.'"
"I had some really meaningful interactions in and amongst all the selfies," Clinton said.
Much as they had to adapt to YouTube in 2008 and 2012, presidential candidates are all learning how to cope with the flood of supporters seeking selfies this election cycle.
According to The New York Times, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) has a strategy for taking selfies with his shorter fans. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has added 20 minutes onto campaign appearances so he can pose for selfies. Despite misgivings, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) spent two hours in New Hampshire recently chatting with primary voters and taking selfies.
Clinton isn't nearly as selfie-averse as others in the 2016 field.
Earlier this year, Republican presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson decried the selfie in the "Spring Cleaning" edition of The Washington Post.
"Beyond the obvious narcissism of endlessly photographing oneself and blasting it over social networks for others to admire, selfies are dangerous — to animals, sports spectators, artwork and the rest of us," Carson wrote.
The neurosurgeon reserved his strongest criticism for the "selfie stick."
"The selfie stick ushers in a new, even worse and more dangerous era for the form," he said. "The stick doesn't just validate selfies by building a cottage industry around them. It also says, 'Snap them everywhere!'"
- Donald Trump’s net worth — according to someone who isn’t Donald Trump
(Politics - July 28 2015 - 9:47 PM:)<>
Earlier this month, Donald Trump's campaign released a statement claiming that the Republican presidential hopeful is worth over $10 billion. Bloomberg's Billionaire Index took a closer look at Trump's finances and found the real estate mogul is worth significantly less than he insists.
Produced by Alex Kuzoian
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- Donald Trump just sold a Park Avenue penthouse he never lived in for $21 million
(Politics - July 28 2015 - 9:32 PM:)<>
Presidential-hopeful Donald Trump just unloaded a penthouse he never actually lived in for a cool $21 million.
Seeing as Trump never settled in here, the Trump Park Avenue unit looks nothing like his gold-encrusted pad at Trump Tower.
Actually, it looks more like Ivanka Trump's apartment, also located at Trump Park Avenue.
The penthouse has been owned by Trump since he purchased the building (a hotel which he converted to a luxury condo building) in 2001.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the home was bought by a US couple with an international real estate portfolio.
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The fact that Trump never lived in the apartment explains its understated décor. His primary residence at Trump Tower is drenched in gold, marble, and crystals.
The clean white furniture, well-chosen art, and accent pieces have Ivanka's good taste written all over them. Her own apartment in the building has a similar style of décor.
The 6,200-square-foot penthouse — accessible via a private elevator — sits on the 24th floor of the 32-story Trump Park Avenue. It was previously listed at $24.995 million.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider
- New study shows Obamacare is succeeding at one of its most fundamental goals
(Politics - July 28 2015 - 9:29 PM:)<>
It's been nearly two years since the Affordable Care Act was fully implemented. And a new study suggests it's succeeding at one of its basic goals: improving access to care.
Through the first two open-enrollment periods, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reported that as of March 2015, 11.7 million people signed up for private insurance through federal and state marketplaces.
And an additional 12.2 million have been enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program since September 2013.
Previous studies have documented the sharp decline in the uninsured rate.
And a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the implementation of the law colloquially known as Obamacare has led to improved national trends in coverage and access.
Fewer Americans are uninsured, the study showed. Fewer Americans are having trouble getting the medicines they need. And there was a significant plunge among people who reported an inability to afford needed care.
The study also found that the largest improvements in coverage and access occurred among racial and ethnic minorities, which could lead the law to reducing long-standing racial and ethnic disparities in access to care.
Here's a look at key trends from the study, which measures the law's first two open-enrollment periods:
- The number of people insured increased, compared to pre-ACA trends, by 7.9 percentage points.
- The number of people who did not have a personal physician dropped by 3.5 percentage points.
- The number of people who had difficulties getting medications dropped by 2.4 percentage points.
- The number of people who who were unable to afford care dropped by 5.5 percentage points.
- The number of people who reported fair/poor health, dropped by 3.4 percentage points.
- The number of days with activities limited by health decreased by 1.7 percentage points.
The biggest decrease in the rate of uninsured people was among Latino adults. The uninsured rate in that demographic dropped by 11.9 percentage points, compared to about 6.1% among white adults.
Low-income adults in states where Medicaid was expanded also reported more coverage — with a 5.2% point drop in the uninsured rate. They also reported better access, with a 2.2% bigger drop than states where the program was not expanded.
Coupled with other recent reports corroborating those findings, the study's authors said it shows that expansion of Medicaid to even more states would result in benefits for low-income populations. Twenty states have declined to expand the federal Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. The study, however, did not find statistically significant changes in self-reported health for Medicaid patients, which other studies had previously displayed.
The study looked at six different measures to identify how the ACA and Medicaid had influenced people's health in the last two years: being uninsured, not having a personal physician, difficulties in getting medications, difficulties affording medical care for someone in the past year, overall health status, and the percentage of days over the past month in which poor health limited activities.
Data from more than half a million adults was used in the study. Researchers analyzed data from the Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index (WBI), which is based on a cell phone and landline telephone survey from US adults all over the country.
- Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina just compared Hillary Clinton to Tom Brady
(Politics - July 28 2015 - 9:11 PM:)<>
At least one Republican presidential candidate sees a lot of similarities between the New England Patriots' Deflategate scandal and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deleting her email archives.
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina gave an interview Tuesday to Boston-based radio host Howie Carr. She jokingly suggested that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was inspired by Clinton when he instructed an assistant to "destroy" a cell phone during the investigation.
"Maybe Tom Brady learned how to wipe his phone clean by watching Hillary Clinton wipe her server clean," Fiorina said. "I mean, hey, if the secretary of state can just wipe out all relevant information on an investigation involving her, maybe Tom Brady decided, 'I can just wipe out all the text messages as an investigation swirls about me?'"
Fiorina was linking two separate controversies.
Brady was accused of intentionally letting footballs be deflated beneath National Football League standards during an AFC playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts. The NFL decided to uphold Brady's four-game suspension on Tuesday. According to the the league's statement, he destroyed his cell phone "even though he was aware that the investigators had requested access to text messages."
Meanwhile, Clinton has faced criticism over her decision to keep a private email server as secretary of state. She ultimately turned over thousands of pages of emails to government archivists but said she deleted all of the ones deemed personal. Republicans have widely accused Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, of trying to shield her communications from scrutiny.
"That's the problem when we let people get away with stuff like this. When we let a secretary of state — a presidential candidate — get away with this kind of stuff, then the whole culture and climate of our nation deteriorate," Fiorina said in her Tuesday radio interview.
The Boston-based show then gave Fiorina the opportunity to "win some points with all of the Patriots fans up in New Hampshire, Carly, and tell us how you think Tom Brady is being treated as opposed to how Hillary Clinton is being treated."
Fiorina laughed and said the lesson to take away from it all is that you should never cheat.
"I tell my granddaughters all the time: 'Cheaters never win and winners never cheat.' And I think Tom Brady is learning that and he needs to learn it, honestly," she replied.
That answer puzzled the radio hosts.
"Well, he won the Super Bowl," one host said of Brady.
"Are you giving your granddaughters good advice there?" asked another.
But Fiorina held her ground, again connecting the issue to Clinton and other issues, like the ongoing problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"If you talk to Tom Brady and you talk to Patriots fans, they know this is a big loss. It's a big dent in his reputation. It's a big loss in the taste of sweet victory because now everybody wonders whether they really won that game or not. Hillary Clinton is not being held accountable," Fiorina said.
"The trouble is we have a lot of politicians not being held accountable," she added. "Who is being held accountable for the festering problems at the VA? Who is being held accountable for the fact that our border's been insecure for 25 years?"
Other presidential candidates have previously weighed in on the Deflategate scandal. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said he thinks Brady's critics are just jealous of the quarterback's successful life, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) jokingly declared that Clinton herself framed him:
Tom Brady was framed. And I have it on good authority that Hillary did it. Why do you think she deleted her emails? http://t.co/XLEv3uzwUk— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) June 2, 2015
Real-estate mogul Donald Trump has also connected Brady to Clinton:
They had no definitive proof against Tom Brady or #patriots. If Hillary doesn't have to produce Emails, why should Tom? Very unfair!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 11, 2015
- PUTIN: People like Sepp Blatter deserve a Nobel Prize
(Politics - July 28 2015 - 8:35 PM:)<>
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview that he believes people like Sepp Blatter deserve a Nobel Prize for their efforts in bettering their communities. Putin explicitly says he does not believe Blatter is involved in any sort of corruption.
Produced by Emma Fierberg. Video courtesy of Reuters.
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- Watch the F-35 perform a low-alititude flyby at its first-ever civilian air show
(Politics - July 28 2015 - 8:26 PM:)<>
The Experimental Aircraft Association's yearly Airventure Airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin had some special guests this year, as the astronomically expensive, often-delayed, and much-hyped F-35A Lightning II made its commercial airshow debut.
The F-35 sped past crowds during several extremely low flybys. The F-35's agility was on display as it slowed into its approach with landing gear lowered. Then, as if the pilot had a sudden change of heart, the engines roared back to life, the gear retracted, and the F-35 rapdily climed again.
The Air Force's F-35A may have impressed its civilian audience this summer. But the epicly expensive new weapons platform still has a ways to go before it's combat ready. The estimated $1.5 trillion weapons project has been rife with cost overruns and delays. As the plane nears completion it still isn't clear that the F-35 is really an improvement over existing fighter jets, some of which were designed in the 1970s.
Several features of the plane have come in for criticism, including its overly complicated and not-particularly useful $400,000 helmet, which is oversized and limits visibility; and its onboard cannon, which doesn't hold much ammunition compared to earlier close-air support aircraft. The F-35 apparently can't outmaneuver the much older F-16 in a dogfight, either.
Despite the F-35's shortcomings, it looks like the plane will soon become a reality for the Air Force.
Here's video of the F-35's appearance in Oshkosh:
- Senior Western official: Links between Turkey and ISIS are now 'undeniable'
(Politics - July 28 2015 - 7:57 PM:)<>
A US-led raid on the compound housing the Islamic State's "chief financial officer" produced evidence that Turkish officials directly dealt with ranking ISIS members, Martin Chulov of the Guardian reported recently.
The officer killed in the raid, Islamic State official Abu Sayyaf, was responsible for directing the terror army's oil and gas operations in Syria. The Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) earns up to $10 million a month selling oil on black markets.
Documents and flash drives seized during the Sayyaf raid reportedly revealed links "so clear" and "undeniable" between Turkey and ISIS "that they could end up having profound policy implications for the relationship between us and Ankara," senior Western official familiar with the captured intelligence told the Guardian.
NATO member Turkey has long been accused by experts, Kurds, and even Joe Biden of enabling ISIS by turning a blind eye to the vast smuggling networks of weapons and fighters during the ongoing Syrian war.
The move by the ruling AKP party was apparently part of ongoing attempts to trigger the downfall of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.
Ankara officially ended its loose border policy last year, but not before its southern frontier became a transit point for cheap oil, weapons, foreign fighters, and pillaged antiquities.
In November, a former ISIS member told Newsweek that the group was essentially given free rein by Turkey's army.
"ISIS commanders told us to fear nothing at all because there was full cooperation with the Turks," the fighter said. "ISIS saw the Turkish army as its ally especially when it came to attacking the Kurds in Syria."
But as the alleged arrangements progressed, Turkey allowed the group to establish a major presence within the country — and created a huge problem for itself.
"The longer this has persisted, the more difficult it has become for the Turks to crack down [on ISIS] because there is the risk of a counter strike, of blowback," Jonathan Schanzer, a former counterterrorism analyst for the US Treasury Department, explained to Business Insider in November.
"You have a lot of people now that are invested in the business of extremism in Turkey," Schanzer added. "If you start to challenge that, it raises significant questions of whether" the militants, their benefactors, and other war profiteers would tolerate the crackdown."
A Western diplomat, speaking to The Wall Street Journal in February, expressed a similar sentiment: "Turkey is trapped now — it created a monster and doesn’t know how to deal with it."
Ankara had begun to address the problem in earnest — arresting 500 suspected extremists over the past six months as they crossed the border and raiding the homes of others — when an ISIS-affiliated suicide bomber killed 32 activists in Turkey's southeast on July 20.
Turks subsequently took to the streets to protest the government policies they felt had enabled the attack.
Amidst protesters' chants of "Murderous ISIL, collaborator AKP," Erdogan finally agreed last Thursday to enter the US-led campaign against ISIS, sending fighter jets into Syria and granting the US strategic use of a key airbase in the southeast to launch airstrikes.
At the same time, Turkey began bombing Kurdish PKK shelters and storage facilities in northern Iraq, the AP reported, indicating that the AKP still sees Kurdish advances as a major — if not the biggest — threat, despite the Kurds' battlefield successes against ISIS in northern Syria.
“This isn’t an overhaul of their thinking," a Western official in Ankara told the Guardian. "It’s more a reaction to what they’ve been confronted with by the Americans and others. There is at least a recognition now that ISIS isn’t leverage against Assad. They have to be dealt with.”
- The US is losing track of who its friends are in Iraq
(Politics - July 28 2015 - 7:00 PM:)<>
The US is having increasing trouble distinguishing between armed groups that are allied with and opposed to the American-led anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq, Andrew Tilghman reports for the Military Times.
The Pentagon's strategy for Iraq is based upon allied ground forces battling ISIS while the US and its partners provide aerial support and military advisers and training.
On paper, the US is working alongside the Iraqi Security Forces, Kurdish militias, Sunni tribal groups, and sectarian Shiite militias.
But it's becoming difficult for the US to identify which Shiite militias operate independently of Iran. And the US does not want to become a force multiplier for sectarian groups who are an extension of the clerical regime in Tehran's policies in Iraq.
Every militia functions under Iraq's Ministry of Interior. But the Iranian-sponsored militias have informal ties to Tehran that can be difficult to identify US personnel to identify.
"It's a shadow military operating side by side, if you will, with the Iraqi government forces. But these are the forces that the U.S. says it will not support. It becomes very difficult when you try to identify where the units that we'll be supporting are," Rand Corp. senior political scientist Rick Brennan told the Military Times.
This opacity could lead to extremely dangerous situations for US personnel. Tehran previously mobilized many of the Iranian-backed Shiite militias to carry out attacks against US soldiers during the US's operations in Iraq last decade. If cooperation with the militias sours during the war against ISIS, these groups could easily turn their guns on US personnel currently in Iraq.
"When you talk to military people who have fought in Iraq and they are looking at all of these individuals who are now part of the Popular Mobilization Force, they are the worst of the people who were fighting the US when we were there," Brennan said to the Military Times. "They all have blood on their hands, and there is an uneasiness about where this leads."
Aside from the potential danger that the Iranian-backed militias present to US advisers, the existence of the groups further undermines the Iraqi central government while exacerbating sectarian tensions throughout the country.
"The political solution is to have a unified, stable, neutral Iraqi central government that represents the interests of the people," Christopher Harmer, a senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, told Business Insider recently.
"If we have a Shia militia inside Iraq that is loyal to Tehran, that is not helping achieve the political outcome. From a military perspective, the Shia militias are a good thing. From a political perspective, it's destabilizing."
Michael B. Kelley contributed to this report.
- This new nuclear-armed US bomb may be the most dangerous weapon in America's arsenal
(Politics - July 28 2015 - 6:07 PM:)<>
The US just introduced a new type of bomb into its already extensive arsenal, and it may just be the most alarming US weapon yet, Zachary Keck writes for The National Interest.
The new bomb is the B61-12. On its surface, the bomb does not appear to be as dangerous as other weapons in the US arsenal. Although the B61-12 is nuclear-armed, it has a yield of 50 kilotons — tiny compared to the largest nuclear bomb that the US possesses, which has a yield of 1,200 kilotons.
But as Keck notes, that difference in explosive power doesn't tell the entire story.
"What makes the B61-12 bomb the most dangerous nuclear weapon in America’s arsenal is its usability," Keck writes. "This usability derives from a combination of its accuracy and low-yield."
According to the Federation of American Scientists, the B61-12 will be able to strike within 30 meters of its target. This accuracy allows the bomb to destroy targets that would have previously necessitated the use of a larger but more indiscriminate weapon.
As a result of the bomb's relatively low yield, the weapon would produce less nuclear fallout than earlier nuclear weapons, something which would limit unintended casualties from a nuclear attack.
But this lower fallout also lowers the cost and scope of a nuclear strike — which could in turn increase the possibility that the bomb would actually be used in a military engagement.
As it is, the B61-12 may actually expand the range of possible US nuclear targets. In a 2014 conference organized by the Stimson Center, retired US Air Force General Norton Schwartz said that the B61-12's target set goes beyond that of previous gravity-guided nuclear bombs in the US military. This effectively means that the US could now consider the use of aircraft-delivered lower-yield nuclear weapons in a wider range of scenarios.
The concern over the B61-12 — and the thing that could make it is the most dangerous bomb in the US arsenal — is that such an accurate and usable nuclear weapon could encourage military thinkers to start imagining a wider variety of situations in which the use of nuclear weapons would be acceptable.
Once the B61-12 is fully tested and deployed, it will be integrated into existing NATO forces and the F-35 in order to enhance the alliance's nuclear posture in Europe.
- Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard granted parole, will be released in November
(Politics - July 28 2015 - 5:38 PM:)<>
Convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard will be released on November 21 after being granted parole, his lawyers said Tuesday in a statement.
Pollard, who has served 30 years of a life term in a North Carolina prison despite efforts by multiple Israeli governments to secure his earlier release, will be required to remain in the US for five years under the terms of his parole, his attorneys said.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the decision by the federal parole board was unanimous and that the US government didn't oppose his release.
Pollard, 60, pleaded guilty to spying for Israel from June 1984 until his arrest in November 1985.
The former Navy intelligence officer — using his Top Secret and Sensitive Compartmented Information access to national defense information — provided Israel with thousands of pages of US intelligence on military and technical intelligence on the Soviet Union, Arab states, and Pakistan.
The lobby for Pollard's release has become a mainstream cause in Israel, with the general argument being that he has already served nearly three decades for actions that benefited a key US ally but did not harm the national security of the US.
Prosecutors in the case said "Pollard compromised a breadth and volume of classified information as great as in any reported espionage case" in US history.
In 2006 Pollard's handler, superspy Rafi Eitan, told the newspaper Yediot Aharonot that Pollard provided "information of such high quality and accuracy, so good and so important to the country's security" that "my desire, my appetite to get more and more material overcame me."
The statement by Pollard's lawyers noted that the decision "wasn’t in any way related to US negotiations with Iran." Reports over the weekend implied that US officials were pushing to release Pollard to help smooth things over with Israel after Iran and world powers reached a historic nuclear deal.
NOW WATCH: How the US military spends its billions
- Hillary Clinton: Here's the 'principal threat' ISIS poses to the US
(Politics - July 28 2015 - 5:24 PM:)<>
For former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the most important front for the war on the Islamic State may not be in Iraq and Syria.
During a New Hampshire town hall on Tuesday, the Democratic presidential front-runner said that although the war in the Middle East is a top concern, the most immediate threat that ISIS poses to the US is the propaganda that the organization is spreading across the Internet to inspire new followers and gain new recruits.
"We have got to shut down their internet presence, which is posing the principal threat to us," Clinton said.
Though Clinton's comments about ISIS' Internet savvy mostly mirror those made by President Barack Obama and members of his administration, they also reveal something else: Clinton's view of the threat posed by radicals online has slightly shifted since her time as secretary of state.
"I gave a speech when I was secretary of state on Internet freedom, and I believe in that. But I also believe that you've got to look carefully at terrorist groups and criminal cartels and other illegal actors to figure out whether they can use the Internet to cause crimes, to cause harm, to cause terrorist attacks," Clinton said on Tuesday.
Clinton was referring to a speech made in 2010 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., during which she laid out her vision of how the Internet could spread democracy and how the State Department would encourage different countries to embrace Internet freedom through a series of initiatives.
As the New York Times reported in 2010, Clinton's speech was a major pillar of the former secretary of state's "smart-power" foreign-policy strategy. It marked the first speech by a major US official that made Internet freedom a key part of the US's foreign policy agenda.
"The Internet is a network that magnifies the power and potential of all others," Clinton said then.
At the time, Clinton's remarks were viewed mostly as a critique of Internet censors in countries like China — where Google was butting heads with the government over cyber-attacks and censorship of Internet-search results — as well as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
But Clinton's comments on Tuesday suggest that she is perhaps more wary of the Internet's power to spread democracy and is now more concerned about the creative ways that it's being used by extremists and militants.
- America's budget deficit this year will be the lowest since 2007
(Politics - July 28 2015 - 5:21 PM:)<>
Goldman Sachs thinks that the federal budget deficit this fiscal year will be the lowest it's been since the start of the financial crisis.
The Congressional Budget Office's most recent estimate from March puts the deficit for the year ending September 30, 2015 at $486 billion or 2.7% of GDP.
This is virtually unchanged from the $483 billion deficit (2.8% of GDP) that was recorded last fiscal year.
However, in a note to clients on Monday, analysts at Goldman said that recent data points to an upside surprise, and the firm says the deficit will actually go down from last year to $425 billion, or just 2.4% of GDP.
If Goldman is correct, this would bring the deficit down to it's lowest level (both in dollars and as a percentage of GDP) since FY 2007, when it was $160.7 billion (1.1% of GDP). This would also mark the sixth straight year in the decline of defect as a percentage of GDP since it ballooned to 9.8% in 2009.
Here's a chart from Goldman comparing the dollar value of the most recent federal deficits:
So what’s causing the federal government to have less of a deficit than expected?
Goldman is mainly pointing to increased government revenues, though they said that federal spending was slightly lower than expected in 2015.
This is largely due to stronger receipts, mainly from two sources: non-withheld personal income taxes and corporate income taxes. Much of the revenue strength relates to profits, either directly or indirectly. While a good deal of the upside surprise to date has been driven by prior-year activity, trends in receipts most directly tied to current activity have also been healthy; payroll taxes are up about 4% fiscal year-to-date over the prior year, while withheld income taxes are up about 6%.
But those who want the government to be put on a diet shouldn't celebrate just yet.
"Although we expect the deficit to come in modestly lower this year, the improvement is apt to be temporary in our view, with a deficit of $525bn in FY2016 and $500bn in FY2017," Goldman wrote.
The predictions, in turn, are well above the CBO's March estimates of $455 billion deficits in both 2016 and 2017.
- Turkey may have just dragged the US into a strategic quagmire in Syria
(Politics - July 28 2015 - 4:50 PM:)<>
This weekend Turkey and the United States took steps toward getting more heavily involved in the Syrian quagmire.
First, after a year of protracted negotiations, Turkey agreed to allow the United States to use Incirlik airbase to conduct operations against the so-called Islamic State.
In return, the Obama administration has agreed to the establishment of a “safe zone” in northwestern Syria that “moderate Syrian opposition forces” would protect along with Turkish and American airpower.
Second, Turkey undertook airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Syria and the forces of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq.
The early reaction has focused almost exclusively on Ankara’s sudden interest in combatting the Islamic State and the establishment of safe zones as potential “game changers” in the fight against Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Assad regime.
In reality this effort is likely to achieve much less than expected.
It is true that the Turks have gotten more serious about the threat of the Islamic State, especially since the Suruc bombing on July 20. But Ankara, which has grown increasingly uncomfortable as the Kurds have made gains against Islamic State forces in Syria, is primarily interested in suppressing Kurdish nationalism.
This has placed Washington in the odd position of having essentially given the go-ahead to its most reluctant ally in the fight against the Islamic State to combat some of the most effective fighters in that conflict — the Kurds, both the Turkish Kurds of the PKK and the affiliated forces of their Syrian cousins, the People’s Protection Units, known by the acronym YPG — under the guise of combatting the same enemy.
This seems like a steep price to pay for the use of Incirlik while threatening to draw the United States into a war with no end.
The United States and Turkey have until now disagreed over how to deal with the Islamic State. The Turks have maintained the position that bringing down the Assad regime in Syria would go a long way toward defeating the Islamic State.
It is also a position that is politically self-serving since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu have made it a matter of principle that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad “must go.” The Obama administration has taken the view that Ankara was overlooking the possibility that Assad’s demise might actually benefit al-Baghdadi, whose forces would take advantage of the additional chaos and bloodletting that would surely ensue.
The White House has also been more focused on Iraq than Syria, much to Turkish chagrin. As the Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly reported, a number of recent developments altered Turkish and American calculations including the Islamic State’s threat to the Azaz border crossing along the northwest of the Syrian-Turkish frontier and Kurdish control of the Tel Abyad border crossing near Kobani.
There was also the apparent Islamic State suicide bombing, which killed thirty-two people in Suruc, demonstrating the Islamic State’s ability to do damage inside of Turkey. All three developments have combined to convince the Turks that it was time to act, but for Ankara it is not just about the Islamic State.
Balancing threats in Ankara
Ankara clearly has an Islamic State problem, but it also has a Kurdish nationalism problem. The former is new while the latter has been central in the politics of the Turkish Republic since its founding in 1923. Consequently the Turks have made combatting the Kurds their priority.
Over the 13 years since it came to power, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has sought to resolve this historical challenge through a variety of initiatives that would diminish the appeal of Kurdish nationalism for Turkey’s Kurds. These included a $12 billion investment — the AKP insists it was $25 billion — in the predominantly Kurdish southeast in 2005 and 2006, an ill-defined “Kurdish opening” in 2009, and, for the last three years, a peace process with the PKK.
Yet the political pressure has become too much given that Syria’s Kurds have sought to establish an independent canton along the Turkish-Syrian frontier and that they have become partners of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State. In the background, of course, is the advanced state of Iraqi Kurdistan’s drive for independence, the failing peace process with the PKK, and the recent strong showing of the Kurdish-based People’s Democratic Party in Turkey’s parliamentary elections.
The Turks quite obviously fear that these developments will encourage the fourteen million Kurdish citizens of Turkey to seek changes that threaten the republic. This is in part why the Turks stood by and watched when the Islamic State laid siege to the Kurdish-Syrian town of Kobani last year. For Turkey, taking part in coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State and rounding up suspected supporters is a side benefit to the actual goal of disrupting Kurdish plans in Syria and hitting the PKK.
If there is any doubt about Turkish aims, Erdogan declared in late June, “We will never allow the establishment of a state in Syria’s north and our south.”
The Turks deserve praise for the way in which they have managed a huge number of Syrian refugees — 1.8 million by last official count — but in addition to relieving some of the pressure of hosting so many refugees in Turkey, Ankara’s idea of a “safe zone” carved out of northen Syria seems also intended to make sure that Syria’s Kurds are unable to consolidate their battlefield gains against the Islamic State into what they call Rojava, or Western Kurdistan.
The fact that this zone will be under the authority of some as-of-yet-to-be-determined Syrian opposition forces with Turkish and American protection from the air makes it significantly less likely that the Kurds will achieve their aims. Upon the announcement of the safe zone, the Syrian Kurdish leader, Salih Muslim, warned that the Turkish-American plan was essentially a ruse that was cover for sending Turkish forces into northern Syria.
If Muslim is correct, then no one should expect that the forces affiliated with his Democratic Union Party will just allow it to happen. So instead of making the Islamic State their battlefield focus, as they have been doing with American support, the Syrian Kurds will also fight the Turkish army.
Risks for the US
By signing up with the Turks to establish a safe zone and then provide support to the Syrian opposition in its efforts to liberate Idlib and Aleppo, the United States may have cemented an alliance between Assad and the Islamic State.
Defending both the safe zone and liberating large portions of Syrian territory seem way beyond the capacity of “moderate Syrian opposition forces” — though perhaps not the extremist variety. It seems that while Washington has undermined an ally in the fight against the Islamic State, it has given every reason for the Islamic State and Assad’s forces to work together — not unprecedented at all — against the safe zone and approved opposition forces attacking from the north.
Based on experience, Turkish and American officials clearly believe that airpower can be decisive against both Assad’s battered forces as well as Islamic State fighters, but there is no guarantee that what worked in one area will work in another. There can be no assurances of success, but after years of avoiding the Syrian conflict, the Incirlik-for-a-safe-zone trade now puts the United States at risk of getting sucked into it.
What happens if the Syrian opposition forces assigned to protect the safe zone cannot manage it? The Turks would likely happily deploy forces to help, but there would be tremendous pressure on the United States to do the same if only to keep an eye on the Turks. What if, warnings to Assad aside, Syrian air defenses—a major threat according to the Pentagon—bags an American plane? How would Washington respond? Like the debate about a “no-fly zone” at an earlier stage of the conflict revealed, there are myriad ways in which the United States can be pulled into Syria.
How does the agreement with Turkey help the United States achieve its goals in Iraq and Syria?
Ankara is a less potent ally in the fight against the Islamic State than the Kurds, it is no longer a significant player in the future of Iraq, and it maintains a wholly unrealistic view of what will happen in Syria if the Assad regime falls.
The Middle East is hard and Syria is especially complex, but it is difficult to see what the United States gets out of the deal other than the runways of Incirlik.
That is not going to solve either Syria or the problematic conditions that created the Islamic State, but it will pull Washington closer to war on Turkish terms. In Turkish it is called bataklık, or quagmire.
- Mark Cuban just praised Donald Trump for being 'the best thing to happen to politics' in recent history
(Politics - July 28 2015 - 4:48 PM:)<>
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban had nothing but praise for fellow billionaire Donald Trump in a recent post on social media.
Cuban, writing on his Cyber Dust app, said the Republican presidential candidate was "probably the best thing to happen to politics in a long long time."
Trump, a real-estate magnate and television personality, has been at the center of a media firestorm since kicking off his campaign last month.
But Cuban said the only thing that mattered was Trump's breaking political orthodoxy by saying what was truly on his mind.
"I don't care what his actual positions are," Cuban wrote. "I don't care if he says the wrong thing. He says what's on his mind. He gives honest answers rather than prepared answers. This is more important than anything any candidate has done in years."
Indeed, the outspoken investor said Trump "changed the game."
"Up until Trump announced his candidacy the conventional wisdom was that you had to be a professional politician in order to run," Cuban continued. "You had to have a background that was politically scrubbed. In other words, smart people who didn't live perfect lives could never run. Smart people who didn't want their families put under the media spotlight wouldn't run. The Donald is changing all of that. He has changed the game and for that he deserves a lot of credit.
"Now maybe we will accept candidates warts and all and look at what they can do rather than what headlines they create," Cuban concluded. "Congrats Donald."
For his part, Trump thanked Cuban for the praise in a Twitter post on Tuesday. Trump also said he was becoming a fan of Cuban's basketball team:
- Congress is careening toward another cliff — and there's no clear solution in sight
(Politics - July 28 2015 - 4:44 PM:)<>
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans announced plans Tuesday for a quick vote on a three-month highway spending extension, as Congress stared down a deadline to act or see states lose money for road projects during the summer driving season.
The leadership-driven plan would have the House vote on the legislation Wednesday, and then leave town for a five-week summer recess. The Senate would follow suit.
The approach amounts to an admission of failure to come up with a longer-term bill despite claims from all sides that that is the goal. And it kicks the issue into what is shaping up as a messy fall on Capitol Hill, with deadlines on President Barack Obama's Iran deal and funding to keep the government open, among other thorny issues.
"I want a long-term highway bill that's fully paid for. And that's been the goal all year. It continues to be the goal," said House Speaker John Boehner. "We've been trying to do this for four years. It's time to get it across the finish line."
The decision comes after the House and Senate clashed on dueling versions of the highway legislation. The House was pushing a five-month extension that could allow time to craft a much longer-term bill paid for with a tax reform deal sought by leaders of both parties. The Senate embraced a six-year bill that is expected to pass in the next couple days, though only three of those years are paid for.
But neither chamber would accept the other's approach, leaving the short-term extension as the only way out.
"It's frustrating, but the only thing worse than a short-term extension would be to allow funding to run out, so it's the best we can do right now," said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla.
Said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz.: "It's going to be a very vigorous fall."
Authority for federal highway aid payments to states will expire Friday at midnight without action. At the same time, if Congress doesn't act before then the balance in the federal Highway Trust Fund is forecast to drop below a minimum cushion of $4 billion that's necessary to keep aid flowing smoothly to states.
The House's three-month bill also includes $3.4 billion to fill a budget hole that the Department of Veteran's Affairs claims would force it to close hospitals and clinics nationwide. Republicans agreed to it as a necessity while complaining about the VA's failure to anticipate the problem.
It does not include language reviving the federal Export-Import Bank, which the Senate voted 64-29 to add to its version of the highway bill late Monday over angry opposition from conservatives. The bank, a federal agency that underwrites loans to help foreign customers buy U.S. goods, expired June 30 amid conservative opposition.
Supporters in the business community say the bank is necessary for U.S. competitiveness, but conservatives say it amounts to corporate welfare.
The House's approach ensures that the bank will stay dead at least into the fall, with prospects for reviving it uncertain at that point.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
- Here's what happened to America's presidential yachts — and why there isn't one anymore
(Politics - July 28 2015 - 4:41 PM:)<>
The President of the United States gets to travel in style anywhere he goes.
In the air, a specially designed Boeing 747 becomes "Air Force One" as soon as the Commander-in-Chief is on board.
But the President rarely travels by boat anymore, if at all. And having a presidential yacht for leisure isn't the best PR move. (Just ask Britain).
Many ships have served as Presidential yachts throughout the past hundred years — so Business Insider is taking a look back at the retro years of Executive Office travel.
The first naval ship to carry the Presidential flag was the USS Dolphin. One of the first steel-bodied ships produced for the US Navy, she carried Presidents Grover Cleveland and William McKinley from 1893-1897.
After the Dolphin was decommissioned, the first ever wireless radio broadcast originated from her decks while docked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York.
USS Mayflower, a recommissioned a luxury steam yacht, was put into service on July 25, 1905 by President Theodore Roosevelt.
See the rest of the story at Business Insider