Who cares about entitlements? cuts to Medicare

-4gh.,b12-1June 7, 2018

We all will—in about eight years.

On June 5, Medicare’s trustees published a report warning that the health insurance program will be unable to pay scheduled benefits, not in 2029 as previous thought, but in 2026. The same report maintained the previous year’s estimate that Social Security will become insolvent by 2034. These two programs, Medicare and Social Security, together with their correlative for low-income Americans, Medicaid, are far and away the largest recipients of public money in the federal budget. They bear overwhelming responsibility for the federal government’s $20 trillion debt and nearly $700 billion yearly deficit.

But who cares?

We ask the question literally. Who actually cares? Left unchecked, these programs will swallow the federal budget and require dramatic tax increases to sustain them, leading in turn to permanent economic lethargy. But almost no one cares. For elected officials in Washington, the problem is never sufficiently urgent actually to do anything about it, and in any case, the assumption holds that tampering with benefits is a pretty certain way to lose your next election. For Americans outside Washington, the problem is too abstruse and too complicated to get exercised about. If no one was alarmed by the prospect of an insolvent Medicare in 2029, no one will care about its insolvency in 2026.

Meanwhile the cost of the programs keeps rising—partly because more and more people qualify as beneficiaries, partly because benefits are set by federal statute and rise automatically (hence the apt term “entitlement”). If lawmakers do nothing, taxpayers will have to bail the programs out, and do so again and again, until entitlement programs eat almost the entire non-defense federal budget. That means discretionary spending on infrastructure, research and development, and a vast array of grants to state governments and other institutions—they all get axed or deleted in order to keep paying for retirement benefits and health insurance for the elderly.

The American economy just can’t keep up with our entitlement programs. The Democrats’ answer to this problem, on the rare occasion they offer one, is always the same: Raise taxes. After all, Europeans have partially succeeded in paying for their burgeoning welfare states; why not here? Leave aside the political question of whether Americans, accustomed to greater political freedom and less intrusive government than their European counterparts, are prepared to pay higher taxes to pay for an entitlement state. Americans also have to pay for a superpower military to counter the global foes of Russia, Iran, China, North Korea, et al. Europeans are not thus burdened.

American liberals regard last year’s individual and corporate tax cuts with incomprehending rage. Republicans, they complain, fashion themselves as the part of fiscal responsibility, and yet they’re starving the government of revenue at a time when our largest entitlement programs are about to go bust. It’s a reasonable, if misguided, question. Entitlement programs were racing towards disaster long before the tax cuts. Why? In part, because of huge demographic shifts and the programs’ poor structure. But also because the American economy had hobbled along at 2 or 3 percent growth for a decade. Productivity gains have fallen for even longer than decade. To put it plainly: The Obama-era economy, shackled by punitive corporate taxes and stultifying regulation, was never going to rise to the challenge.

It’s not clear yet that tax reform will escalate growth in the long term. But it has a better chance than the status quo ante.

The bigger question is whether Republicans any longer have the will to make entitlement programs sustainable. The reform ideas are well known on Capitol Hill: raising the eligibility age for Medicare recipients, reducing Medicare subsidies for beneficiaries with higher incomes, altering the formula for Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustments. George W. Bush bravely tried to allow Americans to privatize part of their Social Security savings. (He failed at that effort, but succeeded, alas, at adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.) Paul Ryan proposed an ambitious plan that would have replaced Medicare’s absurdly inefficient direct-payment system with one that supports insurance premiums of plans chosen by beneficiaries.

But Ryan is retiring, and Capitol Hill lawmakers no longer seems interested, if indeed they ever were. President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed fierce opposition to anything resembling “cuts” to Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. It’s a hopeful sign, perhaps, that Howard Schultz, retiring CEO of Starbucks and likely Democratic presidential candidate, called the debt the most pressing domestic policy challenge facing the country. But candidates have often shown interest in such reforms—then lost it as officeholders.

One thing is guaranteed to spur reform: the collapse of one, two, or all three of our major entitlement programs. When 62 million people don’t get their Social Security checks in the mail, we may be sure that major changes will take place—along with a great deal of governmental upheaval and political chaos. If you’re reading this, you’ll likely see it happen. Two thousand twenty-six is just eight years away.

source-The Editors-wkly std-

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Regulatory release–

 20gh.,b12-1

May 24, 2018 The partial repeal of Dodd Frank could have gone farther, but it’s a good start.

In 2010, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and President Obama signed it into law. The legislation, more than 2,000 pages long, imposed cumbersome regulations on financial institutions, which the bill’s authors took to be responsible for the 2008 financial crisis and the consequent recession. The law also established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, an advocacy agency for consumers that, to no one’s surprise, quickly turned into a Naderite anti-corporation attack dog.

Complicated laws passed in the middle of a crisis are guaranteed to make things worse in the long run, and so Dodd-Frank proved. The Democrats, who controlled both House and Senate in 2010, took the blinkered view that the financial crisis had come about exclusively thanks to the unregulated excesses of the private-sector financial industry; regulating that industry was, for them, the only rational response. The law thus deprived the market of liquidity in the middle of a recession—with predictable results.

The Democrats ignored two important points. First, the role of the federal government itself: Government-backed mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae—then as now boasting powerful allies in Congress—encouraged precisely the sort of risky and foolish loans that led directly to the housing-market collapse and attendant financial meltdown. Second, what many of the investment banks did was already illegal: “cooking the books,” to use the popular term. To that extent, it was an enforcement problem, not a regulatory one. Greater regulation of investment banks largely missed the point—though it allowed powerful Democrats in Congress to blame someone other than themselves for the crisis. (The bill’s authors, Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Barney Frank of Massachusetts, both had a long history of encouraging Fannie and Freddie’s worst practices.) One of the law’s further follies is that it shackled small and mid-sized banks with the same provisions despite the fact that they had nothing to do with the financial crisis.

This week Congress partially repealed Dodd-Frank. President Trump, who vowed upon taking office to do a “big number” on Dodd-Frank, signed the bill on May 24. The Senate passed its version with the help of 17 Democrats. In the House, 33 Democrats joined Republicans. This is an extraordinary admission on the part of members of Barack Obama’s party that his signature financial reform was a failure.

Among the aims of Dodd-Frank was to prevent banks from becoming “too big to fail,” the phenomenon in which top-tier institutions grow so immense that the government, and thus the taxpayer, has no choice but to bail them out or risk global meltdown. Dodd-Frank achieved the opposite. By shackling all U.S. banks with the same onerous regulations, the law enabled what economists call “regulatory capture.” The big banks had the resources to cope with the new rules and remain competitive; the smaller ones did not. In essence Democrats, in a misbegotten effort to prevent large financial firms from becoming “too big to fail,” simply made them bigger.

Banks with over $50 billion in assets were all treated the same by Dodd-Frank. So for instance the SVB Financial Group with $53.5 billion in total assets is bound by the same regulations, with commensurately high compliance costs, as J.P. Morgan Chase & Co, with its $2.5 trillion in total assets. The new law rectifies that imbalance by increasing the threshold to $250 billion. There were around 8,400 community lenders in 2007; today there are 5,500. Small community banks and credit unions may rebound now that they no longer face the same strict regulations as those with over $250 billion. Under the new law, only 12 banks will need to abide by the stricter oversight. The solution isn’t ideal—$250 billion is an arbitrary number, and the larger banks must expend enormous resources (i.e., their clients’ money) on compliance rather than investment. But the higher threshold will help smaller banks compete.

The new reform, though, leaves far too much of Dodd-Frank’s structure in place. The egregious CFPB stays. Its mission, “to protect consumers from unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices and take action against companies that break the law,” is redundant. Numerous other federal agencies have the same function and the same powers. The CFPB has gone far beyond its statutory authority to target small and mid-sized businesses its agents believe are taking advantage of consumers—particularly local and regional banks—with the result that these institutions must spend ever more on compliance and legal counsel. The CFPB’s current head, Mick Mulvaney, is attempting to bring the agency to heel, but it’s no easy task. This magazine has called for the elimination of the CFPB before. We can only renew that call. Too many provisions of the 2010 law remain, too. But Republicans have achieved a worthy reform in repealing the worst components of a massively foolish law.

source- The Editors-weekly std- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB-

A community organizes against his library plans.

–74jh.,b26

In Obama’s surprising new foes –           

Barack Obama’s adopted hometown, of all places, his $375 million Obama Presidential Center is running into growing headwinds from a few gutsy souls.

Ironically, the winds aren’t gusting from the usual direction—Republicans and others the left often labels racist Obama-haters. Rather, it’s blowing from the very people who have long lionized Obama: white Chicago lakefront progressives, University of Chicago professors, environmentalists, African-American activists, and a community organization of the kind that once employed Obama as an organizer.

On May 14, a preservationist group called Protect Our Parks filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Chicago, seeking a court order that would bar local government agencies from building Obama’s center in the revered and beautiful Jackson Park, which served as the site of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The group also wants to bar the city from giving control of the center’s site to the Obama Foundation. They are opposed by a phalanx of avid Obama supporters headed by Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and including local labor unions, businesses, newspaper editorial boards, and a range of do-gooders who have uncritically embraced Obama’s library plans.

Imagine if Republicans had concocted a scheme to sell public land for a song to build a Donald Trump presidential library. Protect Our Parks argues that this is what the city of Chicago has done with Obama’s library, asserting that the Chicago Park District and the City of Chicago don’t have the authority to transfer public parkland to a nongovernmental entity such as the Obama Foundation, especially for a nominal amount of money and in violation of state law that bars the “illegal taking of public park land.” The suit claims the sale is “a short con shell game, a corrupt scheme to deceive and seemingly legitimize an illegal land grab.”

If Obama had selected another, better site for his library, there would likely be no fight. But it’s hardly a surprise that his choice of the leafy, peaceful lakefront Jackson Park, designed by the esteemed 19th-century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, ignited a fire under lakefront protection, environmental, and other progressive groups. It’s the place many residents of the nearby economically challenged communities flee—to toss around a Frisbee, grill some ribs, take in the spectacular lakefront view of the downtown skyline, or just lollygag in the shade—away from the gunshots and murders all too prevalent on their neighborhood streets.

But the plans for the Obama Presidential Center also appear to violate the city’s Lakefront Protection Ordinance, which has often been invoked to protect the 19-mile-long string of Chicago lakefront parks from exactly the kind of intrusion the Obama Foundation is proposing. The century-old mandate, first championed by Chicago retailer and civic leader A. Montgomery Ward in the 19th century, seeks to ensure that the lakefront would remain, as Ward described, “forever open, free and clear.” It is why the gorgeous and popular Millennium Park and its centerpiece Cloud Gate public sculpture (known as The Bean) command the downtown lakefront instead of the railroad yards, warehouses, factories, and garbage dumps commonly found in other cities.

Yet over the years the rich and powerful have tried to bend the ordinance to suit their own interests. Most recently, in 2016, lakefront preservationists drove the proposed Lucas Museum of Narrative Art out of town because the supremely ugly, 300,000-square-foot museum would have devoured 17 acres of lakefront property south of Soldier Field. Sadly, some of the same people who so vigorously opposed the Lucas Museum proposal are suddenly mute when it comes to the Obama Presidential Center.

Soaring above the trees and blocking cherished views of Lake Michigan’s south shore lakefront, the drawings of the proposed Obama library’s main structure show a huge concrete monolith. Call it a menhir, the phallic ancient monumental stone, or call it, as some commenters on the Chicago Tribune’s website did, a “butt ugly building,” “the Tower of Mordor,” “a mausoleum,” or “a giant air freshener, the kind you see in the men’s room at Red Lobster.” At 235 feet tall, the structure destroys the human scale of the surrounding parkland. In response to early criticism, the Obama-approved designed was modified, although you have to look closely to see the alterations. It would still loom over the park like a dystopian power plant.

Among the early objectors to the initial Obama plan was a diverse group of more than 120 University of Chicago professors, faculty, and staff whose campus is near the site. They released an open letter on January 8 opposing the museum’s placement in the park and listed more than a score of community, labor, environmental, open space, and other groups whose objections to the project “taken together . . . form an intelligible whole.”

Among those objections are the excessive public costs of at least $175 million for related infrastructure, the surrender of public land to a private entity, and the consumption of 21 acres—the equivalent of two large city blocks—of public space currently under the guardianship of the National Register of Historic Places. The plans for Obama’s center also initially included an above-ground parking lot that would gobble up a section of another historic public park, the Olmstead-designed, mile-long Midway Plaisance. Critics raised such a stink that the planners redesigned it as a below-ground garage within the boundaries of the center.

The list of objections from the University of Chicago group and others goes on: The project would require the relocation of a major thoroughfare linking downtown with the South Side, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars. The location “privileges cars and those who can afford them. Parking is expensive and though public land is being given away all the profits from the parking lot will go to the Obama Foundation. None of the funds go back to the city to improve train lines and public transportation infrastructure.” Visitors who take the train would have to walk across a busy street to get to the center.

Moreover, the president who got his start as a community activist faces criticism from a group of predominantly black community activists who form the Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement Coalition. They say the hiring of five construction firms, mostly African-American owned, was insufficient to meet the crying need for minority employment in the area. They want Obama to sign a community benefits agreement that would guarantee jobs for the center’s neighbors. In other words, they don’t trust Obama unless his foundation puts it in writing. “We cannot take the president’s word on the fact that they’re not going to push African-Americans out,” said activist Jitu Brown at a press conference, as reported by the Chicago Tribune. Brown noted Chicago’s history of hiring minority front firms owned by whites to circumvent minority ownership requirements.

And then there’s the Obama golf course, which as initially proposed would have meant the conversion of two adjacent affordable public golf courses into a Tiger Woods-designed course that would host professional tournaments and cater to the country club set. The golf course also faced enough criticism to force a redesign. In addition to costly infrastructure improvements such as pedestrian underpasses for golfers, there’s concern that the course would impinge on and partially destroy the beloved 4.27-acre South Shore Nature Center. Again, the Obama Foundation claims it is at work on a redesign and that neighborhood golfers won’t be priced out of play.

All of these criticisms give the lie to the Obama Foundation’s endlessly repeated claim that its presence will be a boon to the struggling South Side—potentially “transformational,” we’re told. In fact, if Obama wanted to transform communities in Chicago, he could do so by moving his library to a site farther away from the lake. Plenty of better sites exist on vacant land in needy communities.

Along the Dan Ryan Expressway, block after block of land once occupied by decaying and crime-infested highrise public housing buildings sits invitingly vacant, crying out for someone, anyone, to rescue this forlorn resource. This site is more accessible than the park site: Two Chicago Transit Authority train lines provide a direct connection to O’Hare International Airport, Midway Airport, downtown hotels, and many Chicago neighborhoods. An Obama Presidential Center within rather than outside the community would also be closer to restaurants and other spin-off economic activities that might encourage economic revitalization. The Jackson Park site is isolated from those neighborhoods by busy streets and railroads; virtually no sites for ancillary activities are available adjacent to the center.

Obama’s proposed Presidential Center is a textbook example of how the public interest can be subverted by egos and greed. The good of its neighbors and the city as a whole is giving way to the desires of Hollywood celebrities, wealthy backers of assorted liberal causes, and people who want a dusting of the Obama charisma. From them blindly flow millions of dollars for the Obama Foundation, while information about just how much Illinois taxpayers will have to pay is lost in a fog of generalities and vague promises. In the rush to break ground, too many questions remain unanswered, especially that of the combined total cost of the center, golf course, and infrastructure improvements the Obama Foundation is proposing to make.

As usual in Chicago, cost estimates are squishy and sometimes contradictory. For example, the center’s architects, husband-and-wife team Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, told the Chicago Tribune that the center alone would require a private endowment of $1.5 billion as opposed to an earlier estimate of $1 billion. Constructing the new golf course would cost about $30 million, and it would take an additional $30 million to make infrastructure improvements, Michael Kelly, Chicago Park District general superintendent and CEO, said at a public hearing. That apparently is not included in the $175 million estimate of center-related infrastructure improvements.

But no matter how many redesigns the center, parking garages, and golf course go through, this project, if located where it is proposed, will never be the best it can be. The Chicago Park District, which is to say the public, owns the land. But ownership seems only incidental to the need of so many in Chicago and elsewhere to kowtow to the Obama legend. Never mind the dispossessed communities to whom Obama promised so much but is now delivering so little.

source-Dennis Byrne-wkly std-  Protect Our Parks- Jitu Brown- Chicago Tribune- Tod Williams and Billie Tsien

 

Beyond Boko Haram-

–1kh.,b5

America’s biggest partner in Africa faces a host of internal crises—and its approach to security only makes matters worse.

I once asked a Nigerian taxi driver in a moment of cheap, Tom Friedman-esque curiosity what he wished Americans knew about his country. He responded, “Great culture. Horrible politics.”  It’s hard to imagine a pithier formulation of Nigerian society. Contemporary Nigerian literature is diverse and internationally acclaimed. The Nigerian brothers known as P-Square were Africa’s biggest rap act until they broke up last year, “Nollywood” cinema has spread across the continent thanks to ever-higher production values, and the Nigerian diaspora is one of the best educated in the world.

At the same time, if there are four words most Americans would associate with the country, they are not those of my sagacious cabbie but rather the ones on the signs held by Michelle Obama, Julia Roberts, and other luminaries in 2014: Bring Back Our Girls. The kidnapping of nearly 300 Chibok schoolgirls by the jihadist group Boko Haram was an international cause célèbre featuring a cast of familiar characters: a depraved millenarian warlord, a helpless group of children, and an outraged international community.

But if much of the public’s image of the country is that of an archetypal African tragedy, American investors and politicians are finding Nigeria increasingly difficult to ignore. It is one of the 30 largest economies in the world and among the 10 biggest exporters of oil. It is home to more Muslims than Egypt and more Christians than Italy. It is one of the barometers by which outsiders measure Africa’s progress or lack thereof. Nigeria is at the heart of the “Africa rising” narrative championed by optimists who contend that a young, entrepreneurial population is unleashing Africa’s economic potential. It is also exhibit A for skeptics on the right and the left who worry about the expansion of Islamist militancy across Africa, about the economic and political effects of climate change, or about the dangers posed by exploitative multinationals in the third world.

The country is inarguably America’s most important strategic partner in Africa, and on April 30, Donald Trump welcomed Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, to the White House. The 75-year-old former military leader, who recently announced that he will seek reelection in 2019 despite concerns about his health, is the first African leader the president has hosted since taking office. Discussions of counterterrorism and economic growth dominated the meeting. The issue of terrorism has driven U.S.-Nigerian relations in recent years as Boko Haram and then its splinter group, the Islamic State in West Africa, have made a name for themselves within the global jihadist network.

Trump, like his predecessor, is understandably reluctant to commit U.S. troops to fight Boko Haram, preferring to leave counterinsurgency efforts to the Nigerian security forces and their partners from Chad, Niger, Cameroon, and Benin, which together constitute the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). A small contingent of U.S. special operations forces provides training and assistance. The presence of these advisers undoubtedly deters some of the task force’s more egregious behavior, but the incompetence and abusive practices of the Nigerian security forces nonetheless pose a massive impediment to an effective counterinsurgency. In late 2016, the Obama administration withheld the sale of a dozen A29 Super Tucano aircraft to Nigeria over human-rights concerns. The Nigerian Air Force’s accidental bombing of a refugee camp in January 2017 only validated the concerns further. In December, the Trump administration approved the deal on the grounds that the aircraft would give a much-needed boost to our partner’s fitful efforts against an Islamic State-affiliate.

Boko Haram is far from defeated despite the Nigerian government’s frequent claims to the contrary. While the group’s territorial control has diminished significantly, it still moves freely throughout much of the countryside and can stage large-scale assaults and suicide bombings in northeastern Nigeria, as well as in neighboring Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. The kidnapping of 110 more schoolgirls this February in Dapchi, a northern Nigerian town previously untouched by the violence, should belie any claims that the insurgents are on the back foot. Further, the task of reconstruction in those areas that have been cleared is immense: Millions of Nigerians have been displaced during the nine-year insurgency.

Most Nigerians, though, have never viewed Boko Haram as the greatest threat to the country. More pressing is the growing violence between Fulani pastoralists and non-Fulani farmers in the Middle Belt, the region of states in central Nigeria that are the crossroads between the country’s Muslim north and Christian south. Religious questions have shaped the Middle Belt since the early 19th century, when the charismatic Islamic scholar Usman dan Fodio led the Fulani in a jihad against the Hausa kingdoms and established the Sokoto Caliphate. With British soldiers and traders in the late 19th century came Christian missionaries. Until 1914, the British governed Nigeria as two separate colonies: a southern Nigeria where they proselytized, invested, and built up infrastructure, and a northern one, ruled indirectly and neglected economically. The British promoted a distinct northern identity based on Islam and on Hausa and Fula culture, in opposition to a Christian south dominated by ethnic Igbo and Yoruba (though home to dozens of other ethnicities). Nigeria has never fully overcome the cultural divide resulting from the unification of these two colonies over a century ago.

If the Middle Belt has long seen cultural and religious disputes, the scale of the recent violence is nonetheless notable. A sectarian narrative that has begun to emerge around the various localized conflicts paints Muslim Fulani herders—pushed ever further south in search of pasture as a result of desertification—as an invading force linked to international jihadists. Ethnic militias have formed as the lines between reprisal and preemptive attack blur. Local politicians have rallied their constituencies around these militias as forms of collective defense in the absence of any effective security presence by the state.

The balance of power between north and south is the perennial question in Nigerian politics. Buhari is an ethnic Fula with close ties to a trade group of herders. Impartial as he considers himself, Buhari is attacked incessantly in the Nigerian media, especially by non-Fulanis, for the government’s poor response to the Middle Belt crisis. His recent comments blaming the violence on an influx of weapons through the Sahel following the fall of Qaddafi prompted a deluge of mockery on social media. President Trump may have been alluding to the Middle Belt during his joint press conference with Buhari when he expressed concern about the killing of Christians in Nigeria, saying that “we’re gonna be working on that problem . . . very, very hard.” If his administration is concerned about the plight of Christians in the Middle Belt and hopes to play a constructive role, it first needs to recognize that the sources of the conflict are complex, that the violence is not one-sided, and that sectarian narratives are liable to exacer­bate tensions.

Buhari’s government is also increasingly at odds with Nigeria’s Igbo population. For the past six years, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), an Igbo separatist movement, has combined a mythical pseudo-zionism that posits the Igbo as descendants of ancient Hebrews with very legitimate historical grievances to agitate for independence. The group takes its name from the Republic of Biafra, the self-proclaimed Igbo nation whose attempted secession led to the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-70. In its own words, IPOB seeks to free its peoples from the “shackles of caliphate domination and creeping Islamization” and to remedy the injustices of the civil war, during which more than a million people died in a famine that many scholars consider an act of genocide. IPOB supporters protested outside the White House on April 30, holding signs accusing Fulani of being Sudanese invaders. One explained to me that for Biafrans to accept Buhari’s government would be akin to America accepting rule by the Taliban.

Buhari’s government has officially labeled IPOB a terrorist organization. The Igbo number some 32 million within Nigeria’s population of 190 million, and while IPOB does not necessarily enjoy sympathy among a majority of them, a heavy crackdown on the movement could fuel widespread resentment against the government. The group’s founder, Nnamdi Kanu, disappeared last September after security forces raided his house. The Nigerian government claims to be ignorant of his whereabouts, but IPOB supporters believe he was murdered. Boko Haram’s founder, Muhammad Yusuf, was executed in 2009 while in the custody of security forces, who claimed he died in a failed escape attempt. Leaked footage of his killing turned him into a martyr and helped the insurgency gain traction among wider segments of the population in the northeast. If Kanu has been similarly killed, his death could push many Igbo into the arms of IPOB or even more radical movements.

If IPOB wishes to resurrect the cause of a decades-old conflict, the oil-rich Niger Delta is a region where conflict risks emerging as the result of much fresher wounds. Fighting in the delta began in the 1990s thanks to disputes between foreign oil companies and local minority communities such as the Ijaw and Ogoni. The pervasive corruption of the Nigerian state ensures that most of the profits from the oil industry go to political and business elites in Lagos and Abuja while the delta communities grapple with the environmental damage. The conflict accelerated after the execution of several peaceful Ogoni activists by state security forces in the mid-2000s. Militants frequently blew up or sabotaged pipelines and kidnapped foreign workers for ransom. In 2009, President Umaru Yar’Adua announced an amnesty that included monthly stipends for any militant who would disarm, as well as lucrative contracts to guard oil installations. This bribery tempered the insurgency, but it did not prevent the militants from continuing their other criminal activities (which include drugs and arms trading).

When Buhari took office, he diverted $1 billion from Nigeria’s excess crude account to ramp up the fight against Boko Haram. This cut into the slush fund for the delta militants and, inevitably, prompted a backlash. The fact that Buhari is Fulani led many in the delta to see his move as an attempt to reward a northern community at the expense of the delta populations. That the fight against Boko Haram has been accompanied by staggering corruption has only contributed to this image. In March 2016, a new group called the Niger Delta Avengers began attacking pipelines, causing Nigeria to temporarily fall behind Angola as Africa’s largest oil producer.

The Avengers’ attacks have not yet reached the scale of the conflict prior to the amnesty, but they have exposed a crippling weakness in Nigeria’s approach to security. The smash-and-forget model of brutally suppressing dissent to the point that it morphs into insurgency and then buying off the militants leaves the state in perpetual fear of old foes taking up arms again. In the Niger Delta, any time erstwhile militants are dissatisfied with the state patronage, they can put a stranglehold on the country’s economic lifeblood by attacking the oil infrastructure. What does this foretell for the conflicts in the Middle Belt or for Nigeria’s small Shia population, hundreds of whom were killed by security forces during 2015 protests?

Nigeria’s shortcomings in governance and conflict resolution are intertwined with the generational challenges arising from an ever-more populous and diverse society. If Boko Haram is defeated, the Nigerian government will still face a northeastern population that largely supports political Islam in one form or another. And regardless of if and how the Middle Belt conflicts are resolved, Fulani herdsmen must grapple with an ecological reality that means many will have to seek other forms of livelihood than the pastoralism which has defined their communities for centuries. The Nigerian government can presumably prevent a Biafran state from ever taking form, but Igbo nationalism will not die quietly. The list goes on.

These challenges are as old as the country’s independence from Britain in 1960, and proposals for greater decentralization have gained influential backers in recent years. “Efforts at wishing away the problem associated with the Nigerian federation have only resulted in several tribal, ethnic, and religious movements that have even metamorphosed into terrorist syndicates,” Yakubu Dogara, a stalwart in Buhari’s All Progressives Congress party and the speaker of Nigeria’s house of representatives, said in March. “One can, therefore, no longer fold his arms but engage some of the issues that have confronted us as a nation and threatened the federation.”

Any plan faces strong opposition from many in the country’s political elite, but the rise of such discussions reflects a recognition of the need for new thinking. U.S. policy towards Nigeria, on the other hand, continues to be driven by the same short-term security concerns. The U.S. approach clearly recognizes the gravity of the threat posed by jihadist groups in West Africa. But if the United States ignores Nigeria’s counterproductive approach towards managing both violent insurgency and peaceful dissent, the partnership will be marred by perpetual concern that Nigeria’s conflicts never die, but simply lie dormant.

source-James H. Barnett is a Public Interest fellow in Washington, D.C-. Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF)- Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)-

 

 

 

The wipeout of Obama’s legacy–

–15jh.,b26

President Obama’s legacy is rapidly vanishing. The decision by President Trump to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran is the biggest blow, but it’s only the latest. The elimination of the individual mandate and canceling the yearly bailout of insurance companies have left Obamacare in a precarious condition. Young immigrants whose parents brought them to the United States unlawfully—so-called dreamers—are losing their legal status.

This is historic. Presidents often vow to wipe out big chunks of their predecessor’s legacies. President Eisenhower was going to take on the New Deal. Ronald Reagan targeted the Great Society. Both backed down. Trump, working with congressional Republicans, hasn’t. He’s eager to deflate Obama’s standing and inflate his own.

Obama and Democrats have made Trump’s efforts surprisingly easy. Obama, you’ll recall, succeeded brilliantly in the first two years of his presidency when Democrats controlled Congress. But once Republicans held the House, Senate, or both over the next six years, he ignored Capitol Hill as much as possible. He spared himself the unpleasantness of compromising with Republicans and instead governed by executive orders and regulations.

Decisions taken by the president alone are vulnerable to being erased by subsequent presidents. And that’s what happened to the pact with Iran. It wasn’t a treaty ratified by the Senate. Democrats used the filibuster to block even a nonbinding vote on it. Trump killed the deal with his signature. That was also all it took to quit the Paris accord on global warming.

There were two factors behind Obama’s decision to shun a treaty, which requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate. Winning that lopsided a vote appeared to be impossible. On the other hand, Obama had a backup—Hillary Clinton. She was expected to win the presidency in 2016 and could be relied on to protect the nuclear agreement.

On immigration, Obama might have prevailed if he’d sought congressional approval of legal status for young illegals, the dreamers. Again, Republican votes would have been needed, which meant the bill would be a compromise, not pure Barack. He rejected that. Since Obama had said he couldn’t legally act on his own, it looked like nothing would be done.

Then Obama changed his mind and simply announced the approach known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Neither a regulation nor a law, it is simply a policy. With Obama gone, it lacks a presidential defender. Trump abandoned it, though he’s offered a pact to keep the dreamers here: They’d be legalized and Trump would get his wall on the southwest border. A pretty straightforward exchange, except Democrats oppose the wall. It’s more important to them than the fate of hundreds of thousands of dreamers. Democrats declined.

Which leads to another problem they’ve created for themselves, one that further jeopardizes Obama’s legacy while making political life less of a struggle for Trump and Republicans. Democrats have adopted a strategy of resisting Trump across the board. It’s blind resistance, all anger and ideology, no common sense.

And there haven’t been many exceptions. Perish the thought. When the GOP tax bill was under consideration last year, private talks—chats, really—between a few House Republicans and Democrats blossomed. Republicans were willing to discuss a smaller tax cut, if only to pick up Democratic votes and assure passage. But when a particular tax idea was put on the table, one Democrat’s response was, “If Trump’s for it, I’ve got to be against it.” That attitude left no room for any compromise. It also meant Democrats would have no influence on the tax bill.

I asked a Republican leader what Democrats might have gotten if they’d pitched in. Not only would the size of the tax cut have been trimmed, he told me, but Obamacare’s individual mandate and the full deduction for state and local taxes would have been preserved. It would have allowed Democrats to claim the tax bill “could have been worse” absent their intervention. They were right. From a Democratic standpoint, it’s much worse. That’s why Trump and most Republicans like it.

As much as Obama and Democrats are to blame, the shrinking of Obama’s legacy isn’t entirely their fault. A good bit is the result of Trump’s success and canny choice of issues. On foreign policy, does anyone want to return to the days of appeasing North Korea? Should the American embassy in Israel be moved back to Tel Aviv at the earliest opportunity? Ought we go back to insisting that concessions by Israel provide a path to peace in the Middle East?

On domestic issues, the Obama legacy has better prospects for survival, or at least for being revived by some future Democratic majority. The Democratic mindset on taxes is locked in place. Nancy Pelosi embodies it. She’s impervious to such things as incentives, private investment, and growth. She’s for raising taxes because cutting only benefits the rich. She’s already rich. One can make a case that she’s more influential on the tax issue than Obama.

But all they’ve said and done as Mr. and Mrs. Tax Hike hasn’t changed the country’s mind. It will be an uphill battle to convince Americans to go back to higher taxes. That’s not much of a legacy.

source-weekly std-Fred Barnes

 

Nat. archives stumble onto new Obama scandal — ‘wholesale destruction’ of gov’t records –

June 12, 2018 –59j.,b26

(Conservative Tribune) – The archivist in charge of transferring former President Barack Obama’s records into the National Archives has run across a serious problem, according to a report published Sunday: A lot of the records are missing.

“A first-rate librarian, (David) Ferriero has been driving a much-needed digital overhaul and expansion of the National Archives over the nine years of his appointment,” writer Thomas Lipscomb reported for RealClearPolitics. “This will greatly improve the ability of digital search locally and remotely, as well as accessing the files themselves.”

However, that only works if you have the files you need in the first place. And Lipscomb, well, doesn’t. The former president, it must be noted, signed a law that put electronic communications under the 1950 Federal Records Act. However, it doesn’t seem that his practice is quite what he preaches.

Lipscomb wrote that “the accumulation of recent congressional testimony has made it clear that the Obama administration itself engaged in the wholesale destruction and ‘loss’ of tens of thousands of government records covered under the act as well as the intentional evasion of the government records recording system by engaging in private email exchanges.”

“So far, former President Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Lynch and several EPA officials have been named as offenders. The IRS suffered record ‘losses’ as well. Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy called it ‘an unauthorized private communications system for official business for the patent purpose of defeating federal record-keeping and disclosure laws.’”

It’s worth noting two things. First, this isn’t a minor thing. Lipscomb argued that “America’s National Archives is facing the first major challenge to its historic role in preserving the records of the United States.”

“What good is the National Archives administering a presidential library, like the planned Obama library in Chicago, if it is missing critical records of interest to scholars?” he wrote. “And what’s to prevent evasion of the entire federal records system by subsequent administrations to suit current politics rather than serve scholars for centuries to come?”

And that’s the second thing. In a break from tradition, Barack Obama’s presidential library is actually opting out of any sort of relationship of the National Archives. “The Obama Presidential Center in Chicago’s Jackson Park will take a different route, opting out of the presidential library network operated by the National Archives and Records Administration — and the millions of dollars in federal support that go along with membership,” the Chicago Tribune reported back in May.

“In the months leading up to the announcement, it was widely assumed that the center would have a presidential library, full of documents and artifacts, that was part of the NARA system.”

The spin at that point was that Obama’s decision to opt out of a relationship with the National Archives was a good thing. It would allow Obama to escape several regulations set by NARA in terms of both the design and endowment of the library, among other things. Whether or not that was true — or whether or not this has anything to do with the former administration’s destruction of records — is anyone’s guess, although it certainly looks somewhat more suspicious in this light.

This isn’t the first time that a former Democrat president has faced a controversy over documents that are supposed to be housed at the National Archives. Clinton surrogate Sandy Berger was caught stuffing uncatalogued papers from the archives in his clothing while allegedly “reviewing records for a Clinton response to the 9/11 Commission’s considerations of mistakes made leading up to the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,” Lipscomb noted.

This time, however, the gap in electronic records appears to be a lot bigger, particularly when it comes to Clinton, to Lynch and to the IRS, each of which saw major scandals during the Obama presidency. This could be massive, particularly given that the avoidance of the gaze of the National Archives appears to be totally deliberate. In many ways, the story here is the wholesale destruction of the documents — although quite frankly, bigger scandals could have been hidden within the data.

“How does David Ferriero plan to deal with this unique challenge to his institution? First, it’s not just his problem, although he must address the realities of gaps in the record and how it will affect plans for the new Obama presidential library,” Lipscomb wrote. “But will there be penalties for violating the 2014 law? Is it even possible to continue the great tradition of maintaining an authentic record center for the United States that President Franklin Roosevelt founded 83 years ago, if that law is not supported?”

The answer to the first question is undoubtedly “no.” As with all other scandals that happened under the Obama administration, Democrats aren’t terribly interested in paying them any attention, and their enmity falls upon anyone who doesn’t follow the playbook. Will this be fatal for the National Archives? Well, the Obama administration has just set a precedent, apparently saying that a president is entitled to protect his legacy at the expense of the law.

That could change, however. Look how many stories there have been over reports that President Donald Trump likes to rip up papers and frantic staff tape them back together so they can comply with the Federal Records Act. This is some of the coverage that story got, via Google News:

source- Nat. archives–tea party- Conservative Tribune-(David) Ferriero- Thomas Lipscomb -RealClearPolitics- Chicago Tribune-

 

 

Obamacare threatens to drive insurance rates higher for individuals-

23lh.,b13- -June 08, 2018

Health insurers in multiple states could increase rates sharply on the Obamacare exchanges for 2019, with premiums in Maryland’s individual market set to jump as much as 91 percent.

Insurers seek to charge higher Obamacare insurance premiums, proposing average increases in the individual market of 30 percent in Maryland, 24 percent in New York, and 19 percent in Washington state.

By comparison, the average rate hike of nearly 5 percent sought in Pennsylvania’s individual market under the Affordable Care Act would be peanuts. The liberal Left continue to push their radical agenda against American values. The good news is there is a solution. “It is clear in this that what the ACA has done is created through regulations and subsidies basically a high-risk pool in the individual market,” Ed Haislmaier, senior research fellow in domestic policy studies at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal in an interview.

In Maryland, CareFirst requests an increase of 91 percent for a plan currently covering 15,000 residents.

Maryland and other states blame congressional Republicans’ tax reform package, which repealed Obamacare’s individual mandate when it went into effect Jan. 1, as a reason for the projected rising rates.

New York state’s Department of Financial Services noted that “insurers have attributed approximately half of their requested rate increases to the risks they see resulting from its repeal.”

But Haislmaier said only a small percentage of premium increases are due to Congress’ repealing the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for all individuals to purchase health insurance.

“The question then is to what extent does the individual mandate play a role,” Haislmaier said. “It is interesting that the insurers, in their submissions in New York, varied widely in that—everywhere from zero to [a] 25 percent rate increase.”

Insurance companies have attempted to cut costs at the expense of quality and choice, analysts say.

“Preferred provider organizations allow you to go to more doctors and hospitals; they have a wide network,” Haislmaier said. “One of the things that we have seen happen in Obamacare is to control costs, the insurers moved away from those plans to more restricted networks where you can only go to doctors and hospitals that take lower rates.”

source- the daiy signal- Rachel del Guidice-,” Ed Haislmaier- Heritage-