Monday, March 24, 2014

Some of my best friends, to coin a phrase, are lifetime government employees. When they stop working, their pensions will put them among the highest-earning retirees in the country. On a personal level, I'm glad my friends' retirement will be so comfortable. But as a taxpayer, I know that their good fortune, multiplied by hundreds of thousands of government workers like them, will only worsen a swelling political and fiscal crisis.

Around the country governments are facing a tidal wave of pension obligations that they haven't figured out how to pay for. By some estimates, the states' long-term unfunded pension liabilities add up to more than $4 trillion. There is no way to meet such a staggering financial burden without sacrificing more and more of the basic services — public safety, education, roads and infrastructure — that governments are formed to provide. Already some cities — from Vallejo, Calif., to Detroit, Mich., to Central Falls, R.I. — have been driven into bankruptcy by the unaffordable retirement benefits they have promised public-sector workers. And there has been talk in Congress of crafting a bankruptcy option for states, a proposal that no longer seems as outlandish as it once did.

Everywhere, the writing is on the wall. In San Jose, reports The Washington Post, "the roads are pocked with potholes, the libraries are closed three days a week, and a slew of city recreation centers have been handed over to nonprofit groups." Taxes have been raised, public services cut, and the number of city employees drastically reduced. Yet annual retirement payouts for ­public-sector workers continue to climb, thanks to lavish pensions that enrich municipal retirees with as much as 90 percent of their former salaries — and court decisions barring pension benefits for public-sector employees from being rolled back.

The result, in San Jose and across the country, is the "startling injustice" of poor and working-class taxpayers forced to make do with less and less so that the gold-plated pensions of public-sector retirees, which already gobble an outsize share of government budgets, can keep devouring more and more.

Dismay at that injustice is increasingly bipartisan, as it becomes clear that liberal priorities will die on the vine without pension reform. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, who is pushing a state constitutional amendment that would empower governments or voters to stem out-of-control retirement costs, is a Democrat. So is Chicago's Rahm Emanuel, who says his city is teetering "on the brink of a fiscal cliff because of our pension liabilities." So is New Bedford's former mayor Scott Lang, who was warning back in 2009 that public pensions and health benefits were strangling government's ability to provide basic services. "It's absolute insanity," he told the Boston Globe. "They're unsustainable."

Now a new study from the American Enterprise Institute strengthens the case for public-pension reform — especially for progressives troubled by income inequality and a growing societal wealth gap.

Andrew G. Biggs, a former deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration, explodes the claim routinely made by government labor unions that public pension benefits are actually quite modest. It's easy to give the impression that average retirement benefits for government workers are unremarkable, he writes, by including payments to elderly beneficiaries who left government long ago, or short-term workers who receive only a minuscule pension for their time in government.

But focus on pension payments made to lifetime government employees retiring now, and it's clear that public-sector workers, even in retirement, tend to be quite well paid indeed.

In the average state, an average career government employee receives combined pension and Social Security income higher than 72 percent of that state's full-time working employees, Biggs calculates. The figure is lower in some states, including Massachusetts (45 percent); in others, such as Pennsylvania (87 percent) or Oregon (90 percent), it's much higher. Bear in mind that these sums don't include health-care benefits, which typically boost retirees' income by thousands of dollars.

And how much is a full-career public employee pension worth in dollars and cents? In the average state, those lifetime retirement benefits — again, not including health coverage — have a present value worth $768,940. In many states, they're worth even more — $848,735 in Massachusetts, for example, and more than $1.3 million in Nevada.

For the average career government employee retiring today, pension benefits will equal 87 percent of their final salary. Those benefits are eating taxpayers alive, as the pension bomb ticks ever louder.
Jim Jordan wants to know what the White House knew about the IRS targeting scandal, and when they knew it-- as if we didn’t know. The conservative Representative from Ohio has penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling for a special prosecutor to investigate the activities of the IRS and, more specifically Lois Lerner, the former IRS official who is at the center of the controversy.

Jordan essentially is saying where there is smoke there is fire, and oh yeah, where there’s fire, there is fire too.

“Emails and testimony that we confronted Ms. Lerner with showed her saying that the tea party is ‘very dangerous,’” writes Jordan, “ordering a ‘multitiered review’ (read: delay) of the cases, and managing the optics of her operation so it would not be revealed as a political project.”

Make no mistake, this goes all the way up to the White House, to the Oval Office, and for that reason this will not be going away.

That was practically guaranteed when Lerner showed up at Congress twice and invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself.

Those who try to ride the revolutionary tiger, by letting it out of the cage, make a tasty meal eventually.

And the tiger makes no distinction between the president and a department head.

Congress does however. And so does the electorate.

From the day that Congress passed Obamacare under Democrat control, there has never been a time in which Obama’s political position did not grow weaker. He lost the US House of Representatives in 2010, and only narrowly controls the Senate.

Sure he won reelection, but his second term could end up being more of a curse than a blessing.

The White House has been enmeshed in a series of scandals, missteps and poor politics that’s only become more obvious, and more quickly moving since Obama’s reelection.

As the president has grown weaker, he’s become more and more reckless, telling bigger and bigger lies.

I often tell candidates, especially ones who are political novices, that they have to keep one thing in mind about politics: eventually through the miasma of lies, distortions and rhetoric, politics, at the highest level, is eventually about truth; about absolute, positive truth.

The Soviet empire did not collapse because socialism is an inefficient form of government. It collapsed because as an inefficient form of government it tried to prop itself up with lies about record harvests and tractor production that just didn’t exist.

The beauty of economics, as it relates to politics, is that it will brook no lies.

The truth eventually wins out.

Obama can try to brazen his way through any one of dozens of scandals that now surround the most incompetent administration since Warren G. Harding, but the truth is out. The economics are against him.

And that’s why people no longer trust him.

Impeach him? Certainly, if you can prove beyond a doubt he’s committed a crime.

But there is no reason to make the man a martyr.

The only impeachment that was ever going to work was the one Obama eventually got; and that’s the one he provided himself.

He’s the guy we warned you about all along. In fact, he’s worse than the guy we warned you about.

And no matter what Lois Lerner or Jim Jordan have to say about it, Obama himself was the guy who caused his own impeachment of the public trust.

In the end, like the Politburo, Obama will be done in by his own lies.

It took the Soviets 70 years to collapse the system.
It took Obama about two years to collapse on himself.

That he got the two years to begin with was more about the group delusion that Obama was the Messiah than anything substantive he’s done.

“A nation and a woman are not forgiven the unguarded hour,” writes Karl Marx, “in which the first adventurer that came along could violate them.”

Let’s hope Marx got that part wrong too.
A Ukraine divide: Congress, world leaders debate how to counter Russia

Deja Vu: About 5,000 people demonstrated Sunday in Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, in favor of holding a referendum on secession and absorption into Russia, just as Crimeans did earlier this month before their region was annexed. President Obama this week will work for a united front against Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Associated Press)President Obama will try to forge a consensus on Ukraine when he meets this week with top allies in Europe, but he has had trouble winning unity even back home, where Democrats and Republicans are sparring over the outlines of U.S. policy, including military and financial aid.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress agree on the need to pass legislation showing a unified front against Russian President Vladimir Putin, and party leaders generally concur on the outlines, but add-ons and tangential fights have left them gridlocked.
Mr. Obama is under increasing bipartisan pressure to deliver military aid to Ukraine’s nascent government. His advisers are saying only that the president is considering such a step.

“I think we could do more in terms of communications equipment that we can help them with, technical assistance. In addition to that, they’ve put in a request for us in NATO for some small arms,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican who is traveling in Ukraine, told CBS“Face the Nation.” “I think there are some things that we could do that don’t involve our boots on the ground but really help them also stand up and help their military really at this time.”

Tensions remain high in Ukraine, where an air force commander was detained after his base in Crimea, which Russia annexed last week, was stormed by pro-Russian forces, according to an Associated Press report. In Donetsk, the principal city in the pro-Russian Donbass area of eastern Ukraine, about 5,000 people demonstrated Sunday in favor of a referendum on secession and absorption into Russia — the same scenario this month in Crimea.

With that backdrop, senators will hold a first test vote Monday evening on a plan that would extend loan guarantees to Ukraine, push for broader sanctions against Russia and increase the quota of U.S. aid to the International Monetary Fund.

But the House has overwhelmingly passed a bill that just involves $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees. Republican leaders are hoping to push through another bill this week that would codify existing sanctions, push Mr. Obama to sanction others, boost American radio broadcasting into the region and require more scrutiny of Russian financial institutions.

“The U.S. and our European friends should be bolstering the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. That means aiding Ukraine’s fledgling democracy, with its May elections looming, and bolstering its economy, including by helping break Putin’s energy grip over Eastern Europe,” said Rep. Edward R. Royce, California Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which will vote Tuesday on the bill.

The key sticking point is the IMF quota.

Republicans contend it is a separate issue, and they fought it out in January when Mr. Obama last tried to increase the quota. At that point, Republicans insisted that the IMF quota be tied to a halt in Mr. Obama’s proposal to have the Internal Revenue Service crack down on nonprofit groups in the U.S. that want to spend money on issue advertising.

In January, both sides agreed to a truce. That now has ended.

The issue splits Republicans deeply.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who was the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, mercilessly mocked his colleagues two weeks ago when the Senate adjourned without passing the bill. Mr. McCain said he may not like the IMF changes but holding up the bill was a disservice to Ukraine.

“I have been embarrassed before on the floor of the Senate,” he said. “But I have not been embarrassed this way about members of my own party.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican and a potential 2016 presidential candidate, also said his colleagues should drop the IMF fight and pass the bill.

On the other side are some Democratic dissenters. Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said she was surprised the Senate didn’t pass the straightforward loan guarantees that the House cleared and that could have been signed into law.
Despite Mr. McCain’s criticism, urgency hasn’t been apparent.

Both chambers of Congress are returning from 10-day recesses, and neither chamber has worked a full five-day week this year.

The White House shows no sign of backing down. Even as he was being questioned about military aid to Ukraine, Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken was shifting the subject Sunday back to the aid package in Congress — and highlighting the IMF portion.

“We’d like to get this loan guarantee done. Congress is coming back. We hope it’ll pass the loan guarantee and IMF quota reform,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

Even as he tries to corral lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama will be seeking similar unity overseas. Like in Washington, all sides agree on the need to roll back Mr. Putin’s advances but disagree on the steps that should be taken.

The president arrives in the Netherlands on Monday and will hold several one-on-one meetings with other leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, before attending a Group of Seven nations meeting. The G-7 used to be known as the G-8, but the club of wealthy nations ousted Russia after its Ukrainian adventurism.

The rest of the week, Mr. Obama will visit Brussels, Rome and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Another reason BNI keeps focusing on the pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

 Bare Naked Islam

The captain of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 received a two-minute call shortly before take-off from a mystery woman using a mobile phone number obtained under a false identity.


UK Daily Mail (h/t Susan K)  It was one of the last calls made to or from the mobile of Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah in the hours before his Boeing 777 left Kuala Lumpur 16 days ago.


Malaysia Airlines MH370 pilot Zaharie Shah reportedly an ‘obsessive,’ ‘fanatical’ activist for opposition party

Malaysia Airlines MH370 pilot Zaharie Shah reportedly an ‘obsessive,’ ‘fanatical’ activist for opposition partyInvestigators are treating it as potentially significant because anyone buying a pay-as-you-go SIM card in Malaysia has to fill out a form giving their identity card or passport number. Introduced as an anti-terrorism measure following 9/11, this ensures that every number is registered to a traceable person. But in this case police traced the number to a shop selling SIM cards in Kuala Lumpur.


They found that it had been bought ‘very recently’ by someone who gave a woman’s name – but was using a false identity. The discovery raises fears of a possible link between Captain Zaharie, 53, and terror groups whose members routinely use untraceable SIM cards.  Everyone else who spoke to the pilot on his phone in the hours before the flight took off has already been interviewed.


The Mail on Sunday revealed last week that Zaharie is an avid supporter of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, a distant relative, and may have attended a controversial court hearing where Anwar was jailed for five years. It took place only a few hours before the flight.  (SEE LINKS AT BOTTOM)


The pilot’s good friend, Anwar Ibrahim, opposition party leader, has been 
endorsed by Muslim Brotherhood radical Islamofascist and spiritual leader 
Youssef al-Qaradawi

The pilot's good friend, Anwar Ibrahim, together with Muslim Brotherhood radical Islamofascist and spiritual leader Youssef al-QaradawiAlthough the couple – who have three children – were separated, they had been living under the same roof.  A source said: ‘Faizah has been spoken to gently by officers but she has not been questioned in detail to establish her husband’s behaviour and state of mind in the days leading to the incident.


‘This is partly for cultural reasons. It is not considered appropriate in Malaysia to subject people in situations of terrible bereavement to the stress of intensive questioning.’ The softly-softly approach has been challenged by the team of FBI agents working with Malaysian police. They have pointed out that she may hold ‘vital clues and information’ to Zaharie’s mental state.


‘The whole world is looking for this missing plane and the person who arguably knows most about the state of mind of the man who captained the plane is being left alone,’ said a source close to the FBI team.  The source added: ‘If we want to eliminate the chief pilot from the inquiry, we must interview her in detail to find out what his state of mind was.’



The mystery caller emerged when Malaysian investigators examined the phone records of both Zaharie and his co-pilot, 27-year-old Fariq Abdul Hamid. Investigators were keen to trace the caller and interview them, although they have stressed that the fact the SIM card was registered to a non-existent ID card does not necessarily indicate a criminal or terrorist connection.


Political activists in Malaysia sometimes use SIM cards bought with bogus identity cards if they fear that their phones may be bugged by the country’s authoritarian ruling party.


The timing of the call has intensified scrutiny on Zaharie as investigators struggle to establish whether the cockpit crew, a catastrophic accident or hijackers are to blame for Flight MH370’s disappearance.


malaysia-flight_2855403bMeanwhile FBI experts in the US are continuing to examine the hard drive of a flight simulator seized from Zaharie’s home after it emerged that programs he used on it had been deleted.  Zaharie used the home flight simulator to practise extreme landings, including on remote Indian Ocean islands such as the US air base in Diego Garcia, investigators have revealed.


The hard drive was flown to the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, at the end of last week after Malaysian investigators failed to retrieve the deleted files, which they suspect may have been ‘buried’ in an elaborate process to cover  the user’s tracks.


The pilot's at home flight simulator
The pilot’s at home flight simulator



MALAYSIA AIRLINES 370: Terror plot investigated after Al-Qaeda informant told court that several Malaysian men were planning an airline hijacking
MISSING Malaysia Airlines Flight 370′s ‘devout’ Muslim pilot was also a political fanatic
ISRAEL on high alert for possible attack from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane