Thursday, June 13, 2013

U.S. considers taking in Syrian refugees

A resettlement plan aims to help both the hard-hit Syrian families and the Middle Eastern countries that are straining to support 1.6 million refugees.

WASHINGTON — Two years into a civil war that shows no signs of ending, the Obama administration is considering resettling refugees who have fled Syria, part of an international effort that could bring thousands of Syrians to American cities and towns.
A resettlement plan under discussion in Washington and other capitals is aimed at relieving pressure on Middle Eastern countries straining to support 1.6 million refugees, as well as assisting hard-hit Syrian families. [1,6000,000?  Really?  1.6000,000?)
The State Department is "ready to consider the idea," an official from the department said, if the administration receives a formal request from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, which is the usual procedure.
The United States usually accepts about half the refugees that the U.N. agency proposes for resettlement. California has historically taken the largest share, but Illinois, Florida, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia are also popular destinations. [Explains a lot.]
U.N. refugee officials, diplomats and nongovernmental relief groups plan to discuss possible resettlement schemes at a high-level meeting this week in Geneva. Germany already has committed to taking 5,000 people.
"It was probably inevitable that in this crisis, with these overwhelming numbers, governments would start moving in this direction," said Lavinia Limon, chief executive officer of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a Virginia-based advocacy and service group. "But there will be resistance."
The Obama administration supports rebels trying to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, but is wary of deeper involvement in Syria. B.S.- (Barbara Streisand)
The issue is politically sensitive on several levels.
Congress strongly resisted accepting Iraqi refugees, including interpreters who had worked with U.S. forces, after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Most lawmakers share White House caution about getting more engaged in Syria and may have little appetite for a major influx.
But Susan Rice, President Obama's new national security advisor, and Samantha Power, Obama's nominee for U.S. ambassador to the U.N., both have been strong advocates for refugees. They may make the White House more receptive to at least a partial opening.
Homeland security officials require careful vetting of refugees, with multiple interviews and background checks before they are allowed to enter the country. Under normal circumstances, the screening process can take a year or longer.
U.S. officials are likely to be extra careful with Syrian refugees. As Islamic militants take a more prominent role in the rebel forces, officials worry about fighters with Al Qaeda ties trying to enter the country. Two resettled Iraqis were convicted of trying to send arms to Al Qaeda from their home in Bowling Green, Ky.
The refugee dilemma is more acute for countries that lie on Syria's borders.
Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, which have absorbed the bulk of the refugees, worry that a resettlement plan could actually widen the flood if Syrians see a chance for a better life in North America, Europe or Australia.
Jordan and Lebanon each have taken in about 500,000 refugees and Turkey has more than 375,000, according to the U.N. refugee agency. It predicts that the total number of refugees will double to 3.2 million by the end of the year.
Turkey already has demanded that the West take some its refugees, even proposing an airlift to fly them abroad. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has faced angry protests against his government for giving refuge to so many Syrians, declared last month, "We are the first victims of the Syrian situation."
Some Middle Eastern officials worry they may get stuck housing and feeding refugees for months or years while the West does the vetting, leading to an even longer logjam and more domestic political turmoil.
"Their view is that unless this involves big numbers, it's not worth doing," said a European official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject. "You need to be talking about tens of thousands of people."
Western officials try to discourage poor foreigners who are seeking a more comfortable life or business opportunities in the West. They say resettlement is only for those who can't go home, and seek to dispel notions that an easy life awaits.
According to a State Department publication aimed at refugees, "Cars are not provided.... Most Americans value self-reliance and hard work. They expect newcomers to find jobs as soon as possible and to take care of themselves and their families."
Another sensitive issue is who qualifies for resettlement. Western countries often prefer intact, well-educated families with familiar religious backgrounds.
But experts say 80% of the Syrian refugees are women and children, many with war-related injuries or psychological problems that could hamper finding work or going to school.
Kirk Johnson, founder of the List Project, which has pushed for Iraqi resettlement, said it may be difficult to sell Syrian resettlement to Congress. He said it would require an advocacy effort and sympathetic lawmakers, "and I don't seen either of those necessary ingredients."
Yet most refugee advocates predict that Americans will ultimately help the Syrians.
"Americans have a long tradition of welcoming refugees," said Daryl Grisgraber, a Washington-based Middle East specialist at Refugees International, which provides advocacy and services for refugees. "They'll respond here, too."

The difference between liberals and conservatives...

I am eternally grateful for Rodger Ailes and for the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation, which gave Rodger the opportunity for this little diddy:
It seems a liberal in a hot-air balloon is lost and late for an appointment and descends  for directions. 
The conservative he meets pulls out a GPS device and tells him exactly where he is.
"You must be a conservative,” the balloon man says. The man on the ground asks how he knows that. 
The reply: “Everything you've told me is technically correct, I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is, I’m still lost. Frankly, you haven’t been very much help so far.”
"The conservative replies that 'the balloon guy must be a liberal'. 
How does he know? 
"You don’t know where you’re going or where you've been, you've risen to where you are on hot air, and you made a promise that you have no idea how to keep. Now you expect me to solve your problems.  The fact is, you’re in the same place you were before we met and now it’s my fault?!”
CEO & Chairman of Foxnews, Rodger Ailes

File this under, "What's good for the Goose is good for the Gander"

Oh, the Irony....  The healthcare they want for the rest us us is not good enough for them.  Please note that all emphasis is mine:

Obamacare? We were just leaving …

Dozens of lawmakers and aides are so afraid that their health insurance premiums will skyrocket next year thanks to Obamacare that they are thinking about retiring early or just quitting.
The fear: Government-subsidized premiums will disappear at the end of the year under a provision in the health care law that nudges aides and lawmakers onto the government health care exchanges, which could make their benefits exorbitantly expensive.
Democratic and Republican leaders are taking the issue seriously, but first they need more specifics from the Office of Personnel Management on how the new rule should take effect — a decision that Capitol Hill sources expect by fall, at the latest. The administration has clammed up in advance of a ruling, sources on both sides of the aisle said.

If the issue isn't resolved, and massive numbers of lawmakers and aides bolt, many on Capitol Hill fear it could lead to a brain drain just as Congress tackles a slew of weighty issues — like fights over the Tax Code and immigration reform.  [Brain drain?  From Capital Hill?  This would require us to believe they have brains to drain....]

The problem is far more acute in the House, where lawmakers and aides are generally younger and less wealthy. Sources said several aides have already given lawmakers notice that they’ll be leaving over concerns about Obamacare. Republican and Democratic lawmakers said the chatter about retiring now, to remain on the current health care plan, is constant.

Rep. John Larson, a Connecticut Democrat in leadership when the law passed, said he thinks the problem will be resolved. “If not, I think we should begin an immediate amicus brief to say, ‘Listen this is simply not fair to these employees,’” Larson told POLITICO. “They are federal employees.”  [Really?  Are federal employees more important than private sector employees?  The hubris of these people is breath taking.  The private sector has been addressing these issues of increased "healthcare" costs - really should be referred to a health insurance costs - for decades.  It's nice they finally get a taste of what it's like out here in fly over country. ]

Republicans, never a fan of Democratic health care reform, are more vocal about the potential adverse effects of the provision.  “It’s a reality,” said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas). “This is the law. … It’s going to hinder our ability with retention of members, it’s going to hinder our ability for members to take care of their families.” He said his fellow lawmakers are having “quiet conversations” about the threat.  [Why quiet conversations?  Why are they not screaming it from the roof tops?  Why are they not warning us?  Why didn't they protect us from the hideous monstrosity of government over reach?  Why has Medicare & Medicaid not been more vocal?  Oh, wait, because the law was written that Medicare & Medicaid (and AARP) could NOT send out warnings of impending cuts and increased costs.  - Yes that is true.]

Alabama Rep. Jo Bonner said the threat is already real, especially for veteran lawmakers and staff. If they leave this year, they think they can continue to be covered under the current health care plan.

“I've lost one staffer who told me in confidence that he had been here for a number of years and the thought of losing the opportunity to keep his health insurance on Dec. 31 [forced him to leave]. He could keep what he had and on Jan. 1 he would go into that big black hole,” said Bonner, who had already planned his resignation from Congress. “And then I’ve got another staff member that I think it will be a factor as she’s contemplating her future.”

Lawmakers and aides on both sides of the aisle are acutely aware of the problems with the provision. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have discussed fixes to the provision. Boehner, according to House GOP sources, believes that Reid must take the lead on crafting a solution. Since Republicans opposed the bill, Boehner does not feel responsible to lead the effort to make changes.

The Affordable Care Act — signed into law in 2010 — contained a provision known as the Grassley Amendment, which said the government can only offer members of Congress and their staff plans that are “created” in the bill or “offered through an exchange” — unless the bill is amended.

Currently, aides and lawmakers receive their health care under the generous Federal Employee Health Benefits Program. The government subsidizes upward of 75 percent of the premiums for the health insurance plans. In 2014, most Capitol Hill aides and lawmakers are expected to be put onto the exchanges, and there has been no guidance whether the government will subsidize those premiums. This is expected to cause a steep spike in health insurance costs.

There have been many options for fixing the problem discussed throughout the year, including administrative fixes and legislative tweaks. One scenario seen as likely on Capitol Hill would have OPM simply decide that the government could still subsidize insurance on the exchanges.
House Democratic leadership says the issue must be resolved.

“The leadership has assured members that fixing this issue is a top priority,” said one Democratic leadership aide. “This issue must be fixed by administrative action in order that the flawed Grassley Amendment’s spirit is honored and all staff and members are treated the same.”  [Yeah, I could see how being treated just like everyone else in the nation could be construed as "flawed" by the typical inside the beltway bureaucrat.]

It could be politically difficult to change this provision. The provision was put in the bill in the first place on the theory that if Congress was going to make the country live under the provisions of Obamacare, the members and staff should have to as well.

The uncertainty has created a growing furor on Capitol Hill with aides young and old worried about skyrocketing health care premiums cutting deeply into their already small paychecks. Some longtime aides and members of Congress, who previously had government subsidized health care for life, are concerned that their premiums will now come out of their pension.
If their fears are borne out, the results could be twofold. Some junior staff will head for the private sector early while more seasoned aides and lawmakers could leave before the end of the year so they can continue under the old plan.

Several lawmakers said departures could run the gamut from low-level staff to legislative aides, to senior aides and lawmakers. Capitol Hill is an attractive workplace for politically ambitious college graduates, but a core of Capitol Hill aides stick around for decades, serving as institutional knowledge, and earning prized retirement packages.  [Then the Grassley amendment will do the job elections never could seem to accomplish - finally draining the swamp!  Perfection!]

OPM, which administers benefits for federal employees, is expected to rule in the coming months on how congressional health care is to be administered.  OPM did not respond to a request for comment.

More than a dozen senior aides interviewed by POLITICO about the issue declined to be named out of fear for future job prospects. The problem is most acutely felt at the staff level, where aides make between $35,000 and roughly $170,000 and budgetary problems have all but stopped pay increases and bonuses. Lawmakers have questioned leadership aides about the future of their health care.

Between the constant uncertainty surrounding sequestration, and the likelihood aides will soon be paying for the subsidy portion of their health care coverage, congressional office budgets are being squeezed once again, and it’s causing a lot of concern amongst chiefs of staff regarding how to best handle the situation,” said one chief of staff to a senior Democratic member of the House. “Do we give raises to junior level aides so they can afford to pay for their higher health care costs, and if so, where do we find the funds to do so? Additionally, leadership has been relatively silent in terms of providing guidance to offices, which is frustrating.”  [Wow.  That sounds eerily like a private sector comment.  I guess it's never too late to learn something new.] 

There are other ways that aides can fully avoid this problem. If they’re married, they can join their spouse’s health care plan. If they are 65, they can go on Medicare.  But the focus right now is centered on lawmakers trying to figure out how to offset potential increases in premiums.

“I know other members are doing the same thing in terms of what we can do to offset [premiums],” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said. “You are particularly limited now because of course we've had the cuts in the [member office allowances] on top of this. You just don’t have a lot of options.”

Cole added, “A lot of the staff stays on largely because of the benefit levels and particularly if you've got people with families and it’s extraordinarily important to them … it’s just not right.”

Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Oh, the irony....

Here comes the mileage police...
Q: How will the government track your mileage?
A: Given the recent NSA leaks, they likely already are... (if your car gets a safety or emissions test they already have the data...)

States consider fees for hybrids to recoup lost gasoline taxes

By Chris Kardish
Associated Press
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina is joining a growing number of states exploring new fees for hybrid and electric car owners to help make up for revenue those drivers aren’t paying in gas taxes on their fuel-efficient vehicles.
The proposal strikes many owners of alternative-fuel vehicles and some advocacy groups as a wrong-headed approach to balancing priorities of promoting U.S. energy independence with sustainable infrastructure funding. But policymakers and some experts argue taxing hybrid and electric vehicle owners is a matter of making sure all drivers help maintain the roads they use and construct new ones.
Gas taxes are the most vital source of transportation funding, making up nearly 40 percent of all state highway revenues and more than 90 percent at the federal level, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But those revenues haven’t kept up with rising construction costs, falling 41 percent in real value at the federal level since they were last increased 18 years ago, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. The same non-partisan research group estimates that state and local gas-tax revenue fell 7 percent to $38 billion between 2004 and 2010.
Many transportation organizations and other groups say an overhaul that moves the system to a tax based on miles traveled is needed, but those reforms come with their own hurdles and for now states are looking for other fixes. At least 10 states are considering or have passed legislation to collect fees from owners of electric or hybrid cars. [emphasis added]
“I think so far what we’re seeing is the trend seems to be either an additional annual fee or some type of registration fee seems to be much more popular than the miles-driven tax, because that is a newer technology and raises some privacy concerns,” said Kristy Hartman, a transportation and environment analyst at the NCSL. [emphasis added]
New Jersey scrapped a plan to charge vehicles by miles traveled amid pushback from media and legislators, opting instead for a flat fee on electric cars[emphasis added]
North Carolina senators included an additional $100 annual registration fee for electric-car owners and a $50 fee for hybrid drivers. They estimate the new fees will raise $1.5 million annually. The Senate’s provision would have to survive budget negotiations with the House, which is expected to release its full spending plan in the coming days.
Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake and a chief budget-writer, argues the policy ensures all drivers are contributing their fair share toward maintaining the roads and services they all use.
“I just seems logical to me that they should pay a small fee for the use of the highways and the wear and tear they put on the highways,” he said.
But that policy, along with the end of a pilot program offering four interstate plug-in stops, is troubling to many drivers of fuel-efficient cars.
Ryan Turner, an IT professional in Chapel Hill, said he and many other drivers of alternative-fuel vehicles chose their cars because they’re concerned about the environment and the country’s dependence on oil. The Chevrolet Volt driver helped advocate for a statewide plug-in vehicle readiness plan.
“On its face, it’s reasonable for electric owners to contribute toward road tax in some way,” he said. “I think what’s suspect is that, given all the issues we have in this state, given the state’s woeful effort so far to promote electric vehicles as part of some statewide agenda, it is suspect that this vehicle tax is a priority given the small amount of the revenue it will bring in.”
The policy looks especially arbitrary when more and more conventional cars are achieving fuel efficiency that’s comparable to some hybrid cars, Turner added.
Jay Friedland, legislative director for the advocacy group Plug In America, has asked legislators in other states to phase in special fees after the number of alternative-fuel vehicles reaches 100,000, arguing administrative costs make such policies counter-productive before states reach a critical mass.
“We generally say this is a period of time when you should be incentivizing these vehicles, but after a while, yes, everyone should be paying their fair share,” he said.
North Carolina has an estimated 30,000 hybrid and electric cars registered in the state.
Plug In America supports a vehicle-miles tax, and Friedland said his organization swayed Washington lawmakers to include a study of that policy in the state’s own bill targeting alternative-fuel vehicles.
“Fundamentally, the mechanism exists (for charging a miles-traveled tax), but I don’t know of any states that are currently doing that yet,” he said. “We’re really on the edge of this, because we’re for once actually watching fuel consumption going down, and that’s why we’re watching these taxes come up.”
Berry Jenkins of the Carolinas Association of General Contractors said bigger reforms are ultimately needed to address infrastructure in the long term. He’s part of a coalition of businesses and regional transit groups that endorses miles-traveled taxes. The problem, he said, are concerns that they system would require intrusive new technologies and that fuels apprehension among political leaders.
“It’s never going to be a convenient time to ask people to pay more for infrastructure,” he said.

Scandal number ????

Now, even the MSM, in this case via CBS News, are beginning to break cover-ups.  Of course, their motives are always suspect.  Could be breaking now to take the heat off some of the other State Department scandals like Benghazi?  Regardless, we welcome them back to journalism.