As noted on Reason 24/7 earlier today, the Senate Homeland Security Committee has released a report on failures surrounding the terrorist attack in Benghazi on September 11th. The committee concluded that although there may not have been specific warnings about the 9/11 attack in Benghazi, there were plenty of warning signs. Intelligence reports available to the committee (but classified, of course) “provide a clear and vivid picture of a rapidly deteriorating threat environment in eastern Libya--one that we believe should have been sufficient to inform policymakers of the growing danger to U.S. facilities and personnel in that part of the country and the urgency of them doing something about it.”
The committee veers into questions of funding, pointing out that Congress did not give the President what he wanted for the diplomatic security budget. (Or, as the committee found, “Congress’ inability to appropriate funds in a timely manner has also had consequences for the implementation of security upgrades”) Funding fell $127.5 million in 2011 (before, the Senate report notes, the Senate “restored” $38 million of that) and $275 million 2012. Nevertheless, the committee admits “the Department of State’s base requests for security funding have increased by 38 percent since Fiscal Year (FY) 2007, and base budget appropriations have increased by 27 percent in the same time period.” The funding would have been irrelevant anyway, as the committee’s very next finding was that “[t]he Department of State did not adequately support security requests from its own security personnel in Benghazi.” Further, the committee finds that the Benghazi facility’s “temporary status also made it difficult to procure funds for security upgrades” from within the State Department itself. The State Department, in fact, relied on the February 17 Brigades (a local militia) and “unarmed Libyan guards” from a private security contractor in Benghazi, as officials were aware of the Libyan government’s inability to meet its treaty obligations of securing diplomatic facilities. The report notes the U.S. requested security support for Ambassador Chris Stevens’ September visit to Benghazi; the Libyan government posted a police vehicle “which sped away as the attack began”.MORE »
The chief of detectives shoved his hands into the pockets of his trenchcoat and tugged at the brim of his fedora. “We’ve got a murder on our hands, gentlemen.”
“Aw man, on New Year’s Eve? Who’s the stiff?” asked the sidekick character.
“Some guy named Cuts. Bush Tax Cuts. He died right at midnight, and it looks suspicious." Ira Stoll has the lowdown.View this article
- The State Department, the Defense Department and the Obama administration as a whole get a thorough reaming in a Senate report on the Benghazi fiasco. Expect major repercussions— I'm kidding, of course. Nothing will happen.
- Increasingly euro-skeptical Britain could be offered second-class "associate member" status say senior officials in Brussels. Given Angela Merkels's oh-so-reassuring take on matters European, that might be a nice first step toward the exit.
- Just a reminder: Those trillions and trillions of dollars in "spending cuts" under discussion in D.C. don't involve any actual spending cuts at all.
- Stepping up the excitement quotient on the looming new year, China dispatched its newest warship to assert its claim to the disputed and resource-rich Spratly Islands.
- Scientists say that very basic Earthlife could survive and reproduce on Mars. This includes microbes and, possibly, your in-laws.
- Erika Menendez apparently shoved Sunando Sen in the path of a speeding subway train because she hates Muslims and Hindus. When, oh when, will we ban these lethal mass-transit devices?
- The family of pregnant Caitlan Coleman, missing with her husband in Afghanistan, have made a new appeal for her safe return. The two, apparently lacking any survival instincts, were traveling across central Asia.
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The Hearst newspapers profile Ron Paul as his long political career ends. They lard it with a fair amount of completely point-missing stuff about "numbers of bills he passed" as a legislator and, in this author's estimation, ahem, grossly understate the importance of the mind-changing he's done as the most effective libertarian proselytizer of the past couple of decades (though it does mention it). I stand by my prediction that the only really important political story for America's future of the past 5 years, when looked at from the perspective of, say, two decades from now, will prove to be Ron Paul's rEVOLution.
The story refers to his political campaigns as "low cost" without mentioning that his official (non-SuperPAC) 2012 haul was only slightly less than that of two of his more prominent competitors, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, combined.
The wrap up of the story is nice though, including the indomitable Paul's refusal to call his leaving Congress a political retirement:
Paul doesn’t apologize for shunning go-along, get-along politics.
“Tweaking a bill?” he asked rhetorically. “I never got much of a charge out of that, and that’s how Washington works.”
As he prepares to depart from Washington after three separate stints in Congress over the past 36 years, Paul is gloomy about the state of liberty in America.
“Leaving Washington, it’s in a lot worse shape than when I first came there,” he said, thinking back to his first special election victory in 1976. “Everything’s worse. Our liberties are less. We are in endless wars. The economy is in shambles. And the government is dysfunctional.”
Still, the Pennsylvania native sees hope for the nation in the tens of thousands of young people who have embraced his message of liberty and are slowly infiltrating the American political system.
“Outside of Washington, I am very optimistic,” he said.
After leaving office, Paul says he will divide his time between his home in Texas and his Campaign for Liberty, based in Alexandria, Va. He says he will continue “stirring up the grass roots” and will spend more time doing something he loves — “going to as many college campuses as possible.”....
Ron Paul says he’s not ready to vanish from the political scene, and he’s definitely not ready to speculate about whether another Paul will seek the presidency.
His response: “Who knows?”
Bonus Pauliana: The Houston Chronicle collates 50 of his best lines.
More than 50 great Paul lines can be found in my book, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.
Thanks to California’s incoming Democratic supermajority, Sacramento leaders are taking a closer look at Proposition 13, the well-known ballot initiative the limits property tax increases.
California has some of the highest taxes in the nation. It tops in sales taxes, income taxes and gas taxes. Even with the restrictions of Prop. 13, California’s property taxes rank 15th in the nation.
Changing Prop. 13 would be a pretty tough sell, but it looks like state Democratic leaders are going to give it a try by invoking the idiosyncratic, subjective concept of “fairness” as it applies to taxes. The Contra Costa Times helps pass along the talking points:
"It is time for a fix, because Proposition 13 is broken," said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who plans to introduce a bill next year aimed at forcing businesses to pay higher property taxes.
The landmark 1978 measure rolled back property taxes and capped yearly increases until a property is sold, but critics say one of its unintended consequences was shifting more of the Golden State's property tax burden from businesses to homeowners.
In addition to Ammiano's bill, two constitutional amendments heading to the Legislature would allow voters to approve local parcel taxes for schools and libraries on a 55 percent vote, rather than the 66.7 percent now required.
In a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, 58 percent of registered voters said they favored a "split roll" property tax, in which commercial properties would be reassessed annually or semiannually according to their market value, while taxes on residential properties would continue to be capped at 2 percent annual increases. And since Democrats took full control of the Legislature in last month's election, some legislators have suggested that it's time for a so-called "split roll."
The reporting includes some lovely graphs showing the change in the tax burden in their readership area as a larger percentage of property taxes come from residents rather than commercial properties.
But there’s a lot of context missing from the story. What percentage of the property owned within these counties is commercial or industrial? Why is it operating on the assumption that a closer tax burden percentage is fairer? If 67 percent of percent of San Francisco County is residential property, wouldn’t a 67 percent residential property tax burden also be fair?
Furthermore, the reporting completely ignores the extremely important context of the other costs of doing business in California, costs that are driving businesses out of the state. In addition to having the highest sales taxes in the country, only eight other states have higher top corporate tax rates than California. How have business closures impacted these numbers? And what percentage of government revenue funds services meant for residents as opposed to business? And what percentage of government services “meant for businesses” is actually the bureaucracy designed around extracting more fees out of them?
Obviously Ammiano wants California voters to consider one idea of fairness – “It’s unfair when somebody pays less taxes than me.” When you can get folks into that mindset, you can game the numbers to make it look like California business are getting some sweet deal from Prop. 13, when in fact everything else about the state is conspiring to get that money in other ways.
California’s tax receipts (pdf) are 10.8 percent less than projected for November 2012, off everywhere except in sales taxes. Even worse, government expenditures are 4.9 percent above what was budgeted for the month. Even if the state’s projections had been on the mark, the state is still spending more than it is taking in. And despite the projection failures, the state is still taking in more revenue than it did last year.
For those of you who haven't slipped into an ennui-fueled coma after weeks of artificially tense fiscal cliff discussions, here's a reality check: There are no real cuts under discussion by our fearless leaders in Mordor on the Potomac Washington, D.C. This is business as usual for federal budget discussions, but we still need the occasional reminder as apparatchiks such as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta whine about the horrendous impact of reductions in their budgets (even while reassuring Pentagon workers that their jobs are safe). The fact is, the discussions in D.C. are all about how much to increase taxes and spending. Anton Wahlman at The Street has a nice roundup on what "spending cuts" means in Washingtonese:
I'm sure you have all heard the "spending cut" numbers: $1 trillion, $2 trillion, $3 trillion, $4 trillion... wait, did I just say $4 trillion? Wasn't ALL Federal government spending last year $3.8 trillion?
Lesson No. 1: These spending cut numbers are always talked about in 10-year terms. It's like giving 10 binding New Year's resolutions in one fell swoop. "I will lose 20 pounds per year for 10 years." But you only weigh 190 pounds, and that's 200 pounds over 10 years? You will weigh less than zero? Huh?
That brings us to the second point. Let's take a $4 trillion spending cut, over 10 years. That's $400 billion per year. Does that mean that spending now will be $3.8 trillion minus $400 billion, i.e., $3.4 trillion, per year, for the next 10 years?
The U.S. government talks about spending cuts measured against some imaginary number that it could have spent, in its fantasy land. For example, the U.S. government could have spent $5 trillion -- by starting a war with planet Mars or Luxembourg, say -- but luckily Congress and the president agreed to hold off on this expensive enterprise. They estimate this war would have cost $400 billion per year. So now we will only spend $4.6 trillion per year.
Since we spent $3.8 trillion last year, a normal person would call this an $800 billion spending increase -- from $3.8 trillion per year to $4.6 trillion. Only in Washington, D.C. is this referred to as a $4 trillion spending cut -- $400 billion per year over 10 years.
If Wahlman's take sounds too loaded, too awfully tendentious, to you, try tax-hike advocate Henry Blodget over at Businesss Insider, who responds to critics who took him to task for defending an emphasis on tax increases.
... I received some notes explaining that the Republicans were absolutely right to reject Obama's plan because "our problem is not a tax problem—it's a spending problem."
And you know what, Democrats? The writers of those notes were partially correct:
We DO have a spending problem.
If we are ever to get our budget deficit under control, we need to trim long-term spending growth.
But blaming the whole deficit problem on "spending" ignores the other half of the problem: Taxes.
Our federal tax revenue right now is historically low.
To begin to address our deficit problem, therefore, we need to trim spending growth and increase taxes.
Blodget helpfully provides some graphics derived from St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank data. He thinks these support his case for the need to increase taxes to meet the demands of ever-rising spending. I think it shows that Americans aren't in a position to supply high levels of revenue to support even the levels of federal spending we saw a few years ago — let alone the run-up-the-credit-cards-before-they-find-out-I'm-dying levels we see now.
Since Blodget draws from St. Louis Federal Reserve data, it's probably worth seeing what that institution has to say on the matter. And, in fact, there's quite a lot of information from which to draw. Here's an interesting excerpt from an article by Fernando M. Martin.
From 1950 to 2008, federal revenue averaged 18.0 percent of GDP. Revenue fell substantially below the historical average in recent years, mostly because of a series of tax provisions (in 2001, 2003, 2009, and 2011-12). For example, in 2012 revenue as a percent of GDP was only 15.8 percent. Before 2009, only 1950 had a lower figure. Back then, unlike now, the budget was roughly balanced. If current law is not overturned, revenue as a percent of GDP is expected to rise drastically over the next few years—to 18.4 percent in 2013, 19.6 percent in 2014, and 20.3 percent in 2015—and surpass its historical maximum by 2019. In contrast, the alternative scenario, which would extend most tax provisions, would eventually return revenue to its postwar average. The difference in revenue between the two scenarios accounts for about two-thirds of the difference in the projected deficit over the next 10 years.
Total federal outlays averaged 19.8 percent of GDP between 1950 and 2008. If interest payments on the debt are subtracted, outlays drop to 17.8 percent of GDP. Given the revenue figures above, then, we can see that the federal government has, on average, run a postwar policy of a zero primary deficit. The government deviated drastically from this policy with its response to the recent financial crisis and subsequent recession; total outlays averaged 24.0 percent of GDP between 2009 and 2012.
Martin favors the automatic "sequestration" mechanism over a political solution on the assumption that politicians will devise a scheme that will keep both debt and government growing. Note that, in Martin's article, the "low" levels of revenue about which Blodget complains are relatively close to the historical average even during a time of economic distress, and projected to merge with it, while federal spending is wildly higher than the norm, as a percentage of GDP.
So yes, we have a spending problem, not a tax problem. And that means the only serious solution involves real spending cuts.
Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay has said that Canadian officials are considering what Canadian forces might be able to contribute to the planned intervention in Mali, which aims to dislodge Al Qaeda militants from the north of the country.
From The Globe and Mail:
“We are contemplating what contribution Canada could make,” Mr. MacKay told reporters at CFB Halifax Sunday, where he announced a rent cap for some defence housing.
“Training is something that Canadian Forces are particularly adept at doing,” Mr. MacKay said. “We have demonstrated that repeatedly … throughout our history. But certainly the training mission in Afghanistan is testament to that commitment and that ability and is something that has garnered the admiration of recipient nations but other countries as well that emulate Canadian training techniques.”
MacKay’s statement contradicts earlier comments from Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, who said that the Canadian government was not planning on sending troops to Mali. Were Canada to commit troops it would be the latest in quite a long list of countries preparing to get involved.
French peacekeeping veteran General Francois Lecointre was recently announced as the leader of the E.U.’s mission in Mali. The E.U.’s mission is separate from the Africa-led mission approved by the UN Security Council, which will include 3,300 troops.
Earlier this month UPI reported that the French were putting pressure on Algeria to back intervention and that although the U.S. was not planning on sending troops to the region it is “likely to become the main financier of any regional operation.”
Although the planned intervention in Mali seems to be gathering considerable support there is good reason to think that the fight against Al Qaeda will lead to difficulties similar to those that we have seen in Afghanistan.
Our campaign in Afghanistan succeeded in displacing much of Al Qaeda from the country. However, many Al Qaeda fighters are now in Pakistan. If the planned intervention in Mali is successful there is a good chance that we could see something similar, with Al Qaeda militants moving to a bordering country like Niger.
It should be of little reassurance that UN Ambassador Susan Rice described the plans for the intervention as “crap,” saying, quite rightly, that the planned African force does not have the skills required for the mission in Mali. Canadian officials ought to consider how likely it is that thousands of unprepared occupying troops will improve the situation in Mali.
As 2012 becomes history, today is the last day for readers to make a tax-deductible donation to Reason Foundation, the 501(c)3 nonprofit that publishes this website, Reason magazine, and Reason TV.
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Earlier in December, Matt Welch and I spearheaded a week-long webathon featuring special swag for generous contributors. Those deals may be off the table, but there are still plenty of reasons to help us keep on keeping on (and that's apart from whatever tax benefit you might realize. Matt and I spell some of them out in this video recorded during the webathon (skip ahead to 5.20 if you don't want to listen to ear-splitting feedback...):
At the end of the year we seem to be getting even more endtimes fervor than usual, between the fizzled Mayan apocalypse and the not-yet-fizzled fiscal cliff, which is basically the Mayan apocalypse for policy nerds. As a final farewell to the doom-filled year of 2012 and in anticipation of all the new millennial strangeness awaiting us in 2013, I give you the most Criswellian Marxist text of the 1960s, J. Posadas' pamphlet "Flying saucers, the process of matter and energy, science, the revolutionary and working-class struggle and the socialist future of mankind," which someone has kindly translated and posted at marxists.org.
Many people have already seen UFOs. General MacArthur, that Yankee murderer, said with regard to the disappearance of a plane that had struck a strange object: "perhaps we -- together with the Soviets -- will have to make war against an enemy arriving from outside Earth". But conciliation of this type has its limits. Capitalism has no interest in UFOs and, as such, makes no research into them. It has no interest in occupying itself with these matters because they cannot reap profits, nor are they useful to capitalism. But people see in UFOs the possibility of advancement and progress. This thus accelerates the fall of the bourgeoisie, shown in all its uselessness....
[C]apitalism tries...to spread the impression that this is fantasy, so people will not think that there are superior forms of relations and that capitalism is incapable of reaching this level. The workers' state will act in a different way, because it has an objective interest in developing socialism. But at all events, the facts are coming to light in spite of the smokescreens, because there have already been many testimonies. The capitalist ruling circles, the chemists, the military, are hiding the facts....
The essential task is to suppress poverty, hunger, unemployment and war, to give everyone the means to live in dignity and to lay the bases for human fraternity. To this end, we must suppress the capitalist system, as well as the bureaucracy of the workers’ states and Communist Parties who do not want to seize power....We must appeal to the beings on other planets, when they come here, to intervene and collaborate with Earth's inhabitants in suppressing poverty.
That just scratches the surface of the essay, which also claims that elephants live 260 years and that time is merely "a notion picked up by a society divided into classes." Enjoy the whole thing.
Wikipedia, the first infallible source to emerge since the Koran, informs us that Posadas was an Argentine Trotskyist (and, for a time, a well-known soccer player) who in the early '60s argued that the socialist millenium would emerge from a nuclear war. ("Atomic war is inevitable. It will destroy half of humanity: it is going to destroy immense human riches. It is very possible. The atomic war is going to provoke a true inferno on Earth. But it will not impede Communism.") The article also says that the Posadists played a minor role in the Cuban revolution, and that late in life Posadas embraced "esoteric ideas that bordered on the New Age with writings about communicating with dolphins and humans giving birth under water."
The entry sounds like it was written by Ken MacLeod on mushrooms, and I'd be tempted to blame the thing on a Wikipedia prankster if the same details didn't also appear in the Fortean Times feature "Trots in Space." If anything, the latter piece makes the man's views on nuclear war sound even more enthusiastic: "Posadas predicted that atomic war was 'the supreme opportunity for the forces of the world revolution,' which would come swiftly. 'After the destruction commences, the masses are going to emerge in all countries -- in a short time, in a few hours.'...As time wore on, Posadist nuclear war doctrine became more impatient, demanding of the Soviets and Chinese that they hurry up and annihilate capitalism with a pre-emptive first strike right now." If the extraterrestrials won't invade, we'll just have to do the job ourselves.
[Via jamie k.]
Should you lose your business if a handful of your customers break the law without your knowledge or consent? The Philadelphia District Attorney says yes. In 2008, the DA filed a civil asset forfeiture action against Danny Boy’s II, a corner bar in the Holmesburg neighborhood of northeast Philly suspected of being a “nexus” for drug activity.
Civil forfeiture, a practice recently labeled “state-sanctioned theft” by a Pennsylvania judge, allows the government to seize assets—cars, cash, homes—without first, or ever, proving that the property’s owner committed a crime. Danny Boy’s II owner Tammy McClurg was never even charged with one.
But the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ordered her to shut down for nearly two years while she fought the taking. In addition to paying legal fees, McClurg, a single mother of three, had to keep up on mortgage payments, utility bills, and taxes for the bar, her sole source of income.
Philadelphia police had arrested several patrons in and around the bar, including her (now former) brother-in-law and the nephew of a contractor hired to do electrical work, for dealing drugs.* McClurg told the court that she did what she could to prevent illegal activity, a tall order in what is a pretty rough neighborhood. At trial, a police officer testified that drug dealing in the area is constant: “Work hours. School Hours. 24/7.”
According to a recent Philadelphia City Paper investigation, the DA brings hundreds of forfeiture cases against real estate each year, and it splits the proceeds with the Philadelphia Police Department. Combined with seizures of cash and other property, the DA and police rake in around $6 million annually from forfeitures. Few cases ever reach a neutral arbiter—owners must attend multiple rounds of hearings run by assistant district attorneys before they see a judge—and even when they do the deck is stacked against them.MORE »
Drug control policies, like gun control policies, tend to be driven by irrational fears rather than a calm assessment of the facts. This year various drug panics influenced public opinion and public policy. Jacob Sullum picks five that stand out.View this article
A few days ago CNN host Piers Morgan got into it with the head of a gun-rights group. Now more than 87,000 people have signed an online petition demanding that Morgan, who is British, be deported for his “hostile attack against the U.S. Constitution.” But the First Amendment does not exempt British nationals, which means those signing the petition are also committing a hostile attack against the Constitution. The irony is probably lost on them, says A. Barton Hinkle.View this article
Writing in today’s Wall Street Journal, James Bovard highlights the absurdity of U.S. agricultural policy:
Current farm programs—which consist of massive subsides, price supports and various marketing restrictions—were enacted in 2008 and expire on Dec. 31. That should be cause for rejoicing, except that the system is rigged against consumers and taxpayers.
Instead of Americans enjoying a bounty after the clock runs out, federal farm policy will automatically revert to a farm bill drawn up in 1949. That will compel the Department of Agriculture to roughly double the price supports for dairy and other farm products thanks to a mystical doctrine called "parity."
The doctrine was concocted by Department of Agriculture economists in the 1920s to "prove" that farmers were entitled to higher prices than the market provided. The official parity calculation was based on the ratio of farm prices to nonfarm prices between 1910 and 1914, the most prosperous non-wartime years for farmers in American history....
The ultimate absurdity of the "dairy cliff" is that there is no need for federal intervention in dairy markets. The supply and demand for the vast majority of food products made in America function just fine without government price controls. The worst disruptions have perennially occurred for a handful of items such as sugar and corn, as well as dairy products, which are under political protection. Politicians have long exploited these disruptions to help drum up donations to their re-election campaigns.
Read the whole thing here.
In a recent column for Reason.com, Baylen Linnekin made the case for scrapping the farm bill and replacing it with nothing at all. In a recent column of my own, I explained how the Supreme Court’s excessive deference to economic regulation has its roots in a protectionist New Deal law passed to benefit America’s dairy industry.
- World stocks look set to end 2012 up almost 13 percent despite stalled fiscal cliff negotiations.
- The neutrino may be its own anti-particle, which could help explain the scarcity of anti-matter.
- Obama says that the day of the Newtown shooting was the worst of his presidency.
- Hillary Clinton has been hospitalized after a blood clot caused by a concussion earlier this month was discovered in a follow-up exam.
- The Syrian military is making a push to take back a strategic suburb in Damascus.
- More building materials are to pass into Gaza after Israel relaxed shipping restrictions.
Have a news tip? Send it to us!
A Saudi court has sentenced Egyptian designer Nagla Wafa to five years in prison and 500 lashes for fraud. Wafa was accused by a Saudi princess of cashing a check from a joint business venture but not following through on a promise to start a restaurant together.
Some histories of jazz are significant contributions to the cultural history of the United States. In Why Jazz Happened, Marc Myers of JazzWax.com has given us another important contribution. But this, George H. Smith writes in his review, is a contribution with a difference.View this article
Rather than looking at ways to slice money off the top of the income distribution and funnel it into government programs with spotty records of success, writes Nick Gillespie, we should address the ways in which government is already stacking the deck against the younger and poorer among us.View this article
The setup: New York City’s Hot 97 has a segment called “Everyday Racism” where different guests recount an experience of racism in their every day lives. The rapper Big Boi (one half of the Outkast duo) was on the show last month, and explained how a white woman came up to him at the airport the day after the election and said “congratulations on your win last night,” to which the rapper responded “bitch I voted for Gary Johnson.” One of the DJ asks “you really said I voted for” to which Big Boi says yes, he really did. Video below:
Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) is leading the charge to privatize the state’s liquor store system. In opposition stands the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, which counts about 3,000 state liquor store employees among its members. Reporting from Pennsylvania, Eric Boehm looks at how the union is resisting the effort to privatize the state-owned liquor monopoly.View this article
There’s no shortage of bad news when it comes to the issue of food freedom, be it crackdowns on small food producers, the spread of bad regulations, or the publication of yet another questionable food research study. But as Baylen Linnekin observes, this year also had its share of good news for those who support the right to the right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat, and drink the foods of their own choosing. Here are the biggest food policy success stories of 2012.View this article