SANA, Yemen — The American-backed government of Yemen abruptly collapsed Thursday night, leaving the country leaderless as it is convulsed by an increasingly powerful force of pro-Iran rebels and a resurgent Qaeda.
The resignation of the president, prime minister and cabinet took American officials by surprise and heightened the risks that Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, would become even more of a breeding ground for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has claimed responsibility for audacious anti-Western attacks — including the deadly assault on Charlie Hebdo in Paris this month.
Charles Schmitz, an analyst with the Middle East Institute and an expert on the Houthis, said that of all Yemen’s many political crises, Thursday’s was among the worst yet.
“We’re looking at the de facto partitioning of the country and we’re heading into a long negotiating process but we could also be heading toward war,” he said.
Deep in the Silver Lining Briefing Book is the news that an Iranian backed rebel group hates the US but hates Al Qaeda even more, so Obama's got that going for him.
Although the Houthis, who are believed to be financed by Iran, are strongly anti-American, they are even stronger opponents of Al Qaeda. The Houthis are dominated by a Shiite Muslim sect, the Zaydis, while Al Qaeda is rabidly anti-Shiite.
While the Houthis now control the capital, Sana, and many parts of northern Yemen, Al Qaeda has been strongest in Sunni tribal areas in Yemen, and has used Sunni anger at the swift rise of the Houthis as an effective recruiting tool — particularly in oil-rich areas of eastern and southern Yemen.
So mark up your scorecards - we are counting in Iran to carry the fight in Iraq against ISIS as well as the fight against Al Qaeda in Yemen, even as we pretend to talk tough on ongoing sanctions (and we all deal with $50 oil). Great - the enemy of my enemy is my other enemy.
Ryan Ellis, contributing at Forbes, notes a predictably bizarre proposed Obama tax increase:
Obama's New State Of The Union Tax Hike On Middle Class 529 College Savers
One tax hike in particular was very odd, since it’s aimed almost exclusively at middle class families with kids–the exact demographic the goodies in the tax plan is targeting.
The levy in question would increase taxes on college savings accounts known as “529 plans” (after their section in the Internal Revenue Code). By definition, these accounts are really only used by middle class families. Poorer households don’t have the extra income to save (and even if they have a little, there are much higher priorities like retirement or saving for a home). Very wealthy families might use 529 plans, but it’s far more likely that they have complex trust arrangements set up for their children.
According to the Investment Company Institute (the trade association for the mutual fund industry), there was $245 billion accumulated in 529 plans in 2014. With just south of 12 million accounts open, that means there’s an average balance of about $21,000 in these plans. This is not a mechanism for rich Democrats like the Kennedys or the Gates to shelter wealth.
The tax hike in question - currently, interest, dividends and capital gains from invested assets are not subject to taxes even when withdrawn. Under Obama's proposal, the plan assets can grow tax-deferred but atre subject to taxation upon withdrawal.
As to the notion that plan investors are "middle-class", well, yes but...
A GAO study from December 2012 suggests that these plan investors were basically too rich, too well educated and too white to be deserving of any special treatment from Obama. How rich?
Families with 529 plans or Coverdells typically had much more wealth than families without these accounts, according to our analysis of SCF data. Based on our analysis of the 2010 SCF, we estimate that the median financial asset value for families with 529 plans or Coverdells was about $413,500, which is about twenty-five times the median financial asset value for families without 529 plans or Coverdells (about $15,400).
For example, families with 529 plans or Coverdells had more retirement assets than other families. Of families with 529 plans or Coverdells, about 94 percent had retirement assets, such as those in 401(k) accounts or traditional pensions. In contrast, approximately 49 percent of families without 529 plans or Coverdells had these retirement assets. Further, the median value of retirement assets was much greater for those with 529 plans or Coverdells. Specifically, the median value in retirement accounts was about $213,600 for families with 529 plans or Coverdells, while the median value for families without 529 plans or Coverdells was about $40,300. A larger share of families with 529 plans or Coverdells (27 percent) also believed they will have more than enough retirement income from pensions and Social Security to maintain current living standards than the share of families without 529 plans or Coverdells (16 percent), which may put them in a better position to save for college.
$400,000 in retirement savings? Obama's agent will make more than that on Barack's big book deal when he finally leaves office. My goodness, Sasha and Malia's agent may make that much.
Further, the median income of families with 529 plans or Coverdells was about three times the median income of families without these accounts. Specifically, families with 529 plans or Coverdells had median incomes of about $142,400 per year compared to $45,100 for other families.
A full $142,000 per annum? Break out the private jets! Folks with long memories will remember candidate Obama pledging not to raise taxes on families earnng less than $250K, but we are long past the sell-by date with that one.
And I mentioned "too white". For whatever reason, this was a key point in the study:
Also, a larger proportion of respondents in families who had 529 plans or Coverdells were non-minorities, according to our analysis of SCF data. Specifically, about 84 percent of respondents whose families had 529 plans or Coverdells identified as white (non-Hispanic). In contrast, about 69 percent of respondents in families without these accounts said they were white (non-Hispanic). Moreover, only 5 percent of respondents in families with 529 plans or Coverdells identified as Black/AfricanAmerican, compared to 14 percent without these accounts. While SCF does not provide insight on why more white families use 529 plans than others, a 2010 Sallie Mae study found that a larger percentage of white parents saved for college in general when compared to African-American and Hispanic parents. Further, the study found that white families save more for college even when controlling for income.
White people earn more and save a higher percentage of their income? Then stick it to 'em. As to whether this has a disparate impact on Asians, who are likely to be high savers and college-oriented, well, stick it to them, too.
A summary table was included:
So now a family earning $140K per year is among "the rich" who are over-saving for college and their retirement. Fortunately Barack is here to battle for social justice! And even better, this plan is DOA in the Republican Congress.
BUT THEN AGAIN: Reihan Salam reminds us that these college subsidies often simply subsidize higher tuitions.
The NY Times discuses a silver lining in the Supreme Courts decison to hear (and presumably endorse) a Federal right to gay marriage:
Gay Marriage Case Offers G.O.P. Political Cover
WASHINGTON — The news Friday that theSupreme Court will rule on same-sex marriagebrought elation from gays and lesbians who are hopeful the justices will grant them the constitutional protections they have long sought.
But another group also saw a possible reason to celebrate if the court does indeed rule that way: Republicans.
If the high court resolves the issue as expected in June, it could deliver a decision that has the benefit of largely neutralizing a debate that a majority of Americans believe Republicans are on the wrong side of — and well ahead of the party’s 2016 presidential primaries.
To have the question disposed of and dispensed with, many Republicans say, could make their opinions on the matter largely moot, providing a political escape hatch that gives them an excuse to essentially say: “It’s been settled. Let’s move on.”
But then again...
With the center-right 2016 hopefuls expressing a certain sense of acceptance that same-sex marriage in all 50 states could be a foregone conclusion, there is an opening for socially conservative candidates like Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, and Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, to make gay rights a wedge.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, another possible Republican contender, has also signaled that he would push hard on the issue.
The impact of a decision allowing gay couples to marry could also echo beyond that narrow question, prompting greater demands on the right for commitments from candidates about who they would or would not appoint to the bench.
“A decision redefining marriage will highlight even more the importance of Supreme Court appointments,” said Russell Moore, a senior official with the Southern Baptist Convention. “Evangelicals and other social conservatives will want to hear from candidates what sort of judicial philosophy they will look for in making appointments. The usual clichéd slogans won’t be enough.”
Surely the apparent importance of judicial nominees will be affected by just how many of the current justices end up supporting a right to gay marriage. In the unlikely event of a 9-0 ruling, it will be hard for any candidate to insist that they won't nominate softies and activists like Scalia, Thomas and Alito.
OK, 9-0 is not likely - Scalia was unhappy with Lawrence v. Texas and unhappy with Windsor, so he is likely to deliver another blistering dissent this summer. But there were three dissents in Windsor (Scalia, joined by Thomas and Roberts in part, Roberts and Alito) and Roberts will be voting with at least one eye on the history books, so Supreme Court savants can tell me whether the right to gay marriage has a shot at seven or more votes.
Obama was unexpectedly modest back during his Dem primaries victory speech in June 2008 when he proclaimed that "this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow...".
Slow?!? Actually, his ascension has reversed the rise of the seas! OK, a lot of his early supporters are backing away and why should Neptune be any different? But let's be dazzled by science!
A team of researchers reported Wednesday that the ocean did not rise quite as much as previously believed in the 20th century. They proposed a seemingly tiny adjustment that could make a big difference in scientific understanding of the looming problem of sea-level rise.
Instead of rising about six inches over the course of the 20th century, as previous research suggested, the sea actually rose by approximately five inches, the team from Harvard and Rutgers Universities found.
Charles Blow of the NY Times is still going on about cops, race and guns, and he won't let facts get between him and the narrative.
Another video in another police shooting emerged this week — and it shows yet another case that demands empathy, and an understanding of the fraught moments that can lead to such an outcome, and the complexity of the legal process that follows.
The video showed an officer in Montana shooting and killing a passenger in a car at a traffic stop in a “high crime” area of Billings.
The dashcam video shows the young police officer, Grant Morrison, approaching the passenger side of the car and immediately saying...
The incident results in Richard Ramirez, who was high on methamphetamines, getting fatally shot.
Ramirez’s family was not happy. As CBS News reported: “Ramirez’s family wanted criminal charges against the officer and said Ramirez was a victim of racial profiling.” Morrison is white, Ramirez was “half-Mexican.”
By the way, this was not the first time in Morrison’s five-year career that he had shot and killed an unarmed man who was high on methamphetamine and who failed to comply with his instructions. In February of 2013, Morrison shot and killed Jason James Shaw. In that case, another officer testified that Morrison said, “I know you have a gun!” and “I will shoot you.” Morrison was also cleared by a jury of wrongdoing in that killing.
Oh, and by the way, or by the wayside, since Mr. Blow neglects to mention it - Mr. Shaw was white. Actually, in the Times stylebook he is probably "white supremacist white" despite an absence of tatoos (it's a Montana thing...).
Among the issues raised by Mr. Blow is, inevitably, race:
There is also the question of whether bias and profiling play a role in officers’ propensity to use deadly force, as Ramirez’s family suggest. There is some conflict here. Studies using simulations in 2002 and 2005 showed that people were more likely to shoot unarmed black men, while, in the case of the latter study, letting armed white people slip by. On the other hand, a study published last year found that participants “were more likely to feel threatened in scenarios involving black people. But when it came time to shoot, participants were biased in favor of black suspects, taking longer to pull the trigger against them than against armed white or Hispanic suspects.”
These are not apples-to-apples studies, and the scenarios don’t neatly align with the Morrison shootings, but it is worth considering that the science around the issue does not make for simple talking points.
"[T]he scenarios don’t neatly align with the Morrison shootings". Can't disagree there, but let's talk about the role race played anyway.
After almost 15 years of a disappointing economy, it’s easy to get pessimistic. Incomes for the middle class and poor have now been stagnating over a two-term Republican presidency and well into a two-term Democratic one. Thegreat wage slowdown of the 21st century has frustrated Americans, polls show, and raised serious questions about what kind of policies, if any, might change the situation.
Yet if you look around the world, you can find reasons for hope.
While wages and incomes have stagnated in the United States (as well as in Japan and large parts of Europe), they have not done so everywhere. In Canada, a broad measure of incomes has risen about 10 percent since 2000, even as it’s fallen here. In Australia, it’s up 30 percent.
These aren’t just any countries, either. They’re among those most similar to the United States: far-flung, once ruled by Britain, with a frontier culture and a commitment to capitalism. Though Australia and Canada obviously are not identical to the United States, it certainly seems worth asking what they’re doing differently.
It may be worth asking, but it won't be worth answering if the answer includes "restricted, skill-based immigration".
Financial Distress Connected to Medical Bills Shows a Decline, the First in Years
Whee hee! And a big "Told ya so!" to the haters out there!
Left unmentioned by Ms. Sanger-Katz is the self-declared mission of the Commonwealth Fund behind this study:
The mission of The Commonwealth Fund is to promote a high-performing health care system that achieves better access, improved quality, and greater efficiency, particularly for society's most vulnerable, including low-income people, the uninsured, minority Americans, young children, and elderly adults.
So ACA cheerleaders are cheering for the ACA - did anyone see that coming?
Fortunately this is not a pro-pharma study funded by Big Pharma or a global-warming skepticism piece funded by Big Oil or libs would be leaping from window ledges.
I will leave it to the pros to pick apart this study. My quick thought is that the data surveys are from 2001, 2003, 2005, 2010, 2012, and 2014, with a lot of "Peak Bad" occurring in 2010 and 2012, as we emerged from the recession.
I am also intrigued by the news that among those earning over $200,000 with insurance coverage, 25% skipped a prescription or treatment becausee of cost (high earners without insurance skipped at a 55% rate.) That makes me think it ain't all about the money.
As to the Times headline, the brief includes this:
Fewer Americans reported medically related financial difficulties in 2014. The number of adults who said they had problems paying their medical bills in the past 12 months or were paying off medical debt declined from 75 million people in 2012, or 41 percent, to 64 million, or 35 percent, in 2014 (Exhibit 7, Table 3). This is the first time since The Commonwealth Fund began asking these questions in 2005 that these numbers have dropped. The 2014 rates were similar to those reported by adults in 2005.
Again, was 2005 a halcyon year for health insurance or just a better economic year than 2010-2012?
And the link between medical bills, health insurance and bankruptcy has been and continues to be phony. The loss of income and lack of disability insurance are surely bigger drivers of an eventual bankruptcy than the actual medical bills. And in any case, if bankruptcy was the problem, catastrophic coverage would be the solution, not the free annual physicals touted by the ACA.
SOME RECENT FLAVOR: A couple of days back the Commonwealth Fund explained why charging smokers higher health insurance premiums is unfair. I'll have more if/when I recover from the eyeburn.
At a recent Seahawks football game in Seattle, Shy Sadis, 41, took a drag on a slim vapor pen that looked like a jet black Marlboro. The tip glowed red as he inhaled.
But the pen contained no nicotine. Instead, it held 250 milligrams of cannabis oil loaded with THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
“Nobody noticed,” said Mr. Sadis, who owns several marijuana dispensaries in Washington State. “You pull it out of your pocket, take a hit like a cigarette, put it back, and you’re done. It’s so discreet.”
The device, called a JuJu Joint, heralds a union that seems all but inevitable: marijuana and the e-cigarette, together at last in an e-joint. For years, people have been stuffing marijuana in various forms into portable vaporizers and into the cartridges of e-cigarettes. But the JuJu Joint is disposable, requires no charging of batteries or loading of cartridges, and comes filled with 150 hits. You take it out of the package and put it to your lips — that’s it. There is no smoke and no smell.
Sure, its illegal in most states (now!), but good luck enforcing laws against it.
Barack Obama and other top Administration officials take a pass on the huge (but strangely exclusive) pro-liberty, anti-terror demonstrations in France. Thank heaven the days of "Go it alone" cowboy diplomacy are over!
Barack Obama n’est pas Charlie — or at least, he wasn’t this weekend.
Don’t look for the president or vice president among the photos of 44 heads of state who locked arms and marched down Boulevard Voltaire in Paris. Nor did they join a companion march the French Embassy organized in Washington on Sunday afternoon.
Joe Biden was back home in Wilmington, Delaware. Neither they nor any high-level administration official attended either event.
France’s top diplomat in the U.S. tried, diplomatically, to make the best of it.
“Thank you to Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary at the Department of State, who has represented the U.S. Authorities at the demonstration in DC. A friend,” Ambassador Gérard Araud tweeted Sunday evening, as criticism of the administration mounted.
Geez, a full Assistant Secretary of State? And of course we sent our Ambassador, Obama bundler Jane Hartley, who most people could not pick out of a lineup. What, no Deputy Postmasters General were available?
Speculation is that security concerns kept top officials away. That is not implausible - if the Secret Service can't even secure the White House they will be lost in Paris. Fortunately, not even this Administration is stupid enough to admit that they skipped a rally against terrorism for fear of terrorism.
Of course, maybe Obama was being polite and was afraid that his presence would steal the spotlight from French President Hollande and the European and other leaders. Or more probably, Obama was afraid that his presence would not steal the spotlight.
As they say in DC: Liberté, egalité, keep away.
Of course, we should note that this was not really a National Unity rally - the "far-right" party that won 25% of the French vote in European elections last spring was not invited. So, this was a Partial Unity rally in favor of constrained free expression - vivé la France! Philip Gourevitch of the New Yorker has more on the French politics behind the non-invitation. On the other hand:
Le Pen claims she is ready to participate, just like she attended a ceremony in March 2012 to honor the victims of the Mohamed Merah terrorist attack. The French presidential campaign was fully underway at the time, and Nicolas Sarkozy invited all electoral candidates to Montauban. At the time, it would have been awkward for a candidate not to be invited or for a candidate to refuse to participate.
On the streets, people said it was impressive that world leaders had gathered, but Pablo de Gastines, a French illustrator, said the moment went “way beyond politics.” He held up a work he had painted that was inspired by Eugène Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People,” in which he had inserted pens and pencils as symbols of freedom.
“There is a very strong feeling here,” Mr. de Gaskins said.
Echoing many others in the crowd, Mr. de Gaskins said his main concern now was that the far-right National Front party would try to use the situation to divide the French public. “We need to make sure that they do not capture our liberty by capitalizing on what extremists did,” he said. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front, was excluded from the rally.
Exclusion of Evil Rightiesl Righties makes a timeless fit to the Times narrative, free expression and national unity notwithstanding.
But with the horror and fears raised by the attacks still fresh, it was important and proper that the first response in Paris — as elsewhere in France, across Europe and across the Atlantic — was a resounding and united demonstration of outrage and solidarity. Simply by turning out in vast numbers, the marchers eloquently demonstrated a shared conviction that Charlie Hebdo was exercising a right fundamental to democracy, the right of free expression. No perceived provocation, no grievance and certainly no religious conviction justifies killing those who wield only a pen.
Read casually, one could mistake that for a call for free speech. But don't be fooled by their use of "exercising a right fundamental to democracy, the right of free expression".
Perhaps the greatest danger in the wake of the massacres is that more Europeans will come to the conclusion that all Muslim immigrants on the Continent are carriers of a great and mortal threat. Anti-immigrant sentiments were already at a dangerous level, making it essential for national and pan-European leaders in coming days to underscore that extremism is not inherent to the Muslim faith, and that the Islamists themselves are hardly a single entity.
So shutting out the National Front was simply a response to the "greatest danger". With these guys the danger is never the terrorism, it is always the expected right-wing over-reaction.
PUTTING THE 'SPECIAL' BACK IN THE SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP: Blistering criticism of Team Obama in the Daily Mail masks the news that at least the Brits now realize it is not just them.
STOP THE MUSIC! Matt Yglesias reads the National Front policy prescriptions and finds something sensible - France needs to dump the Euro.