Monday, November 2, 2015

Last Call For The Austerity Death Star

The practical upshot from the chaos in the House GOP with Orange Julius now gone and Paul Ryan now Speaker of the House is that the Austerity Death Star will soon be fully operational.

The Wisconsin Republican who claimed the gavel last week is one of Congress’ preeminent tax experts, an ardent advocate of rewriting the code with lots of ideas on how to do it. Over the years, he’s gone further than most lawmakers in pushing politically fraught changes that have gone nowhere, such as wiping out a major tax break for employer-provided health plans and making it harder for the wealthy to claim the hugely popular mortgage-interest deduction.

But now Ryan has far more power to put the issue on Washington’s agenda— and the latest budget deal between congressional leaders and the White House should give him ample room to launch his speakership without being distracted by constant battles over funding the government and raising the debt limit. So some advocates are recalibrating the odds of a long-elusive tax overhaul that they say could spur new jobs and bring corporate money back from overseas.

Sweeping tax change won’t happen this year, supporters say, with lawmakers still staring at a stack of unfinished business — or next year, when the 2016 election will loom even larger. But they say it’s suddenly a lot more likely in the early years of the next presidency, especially if the Republicans win the White House.

It certainly comes as close to guaranteeing it as possible,” said a top Republican staffer. “It’s his No. 1 priority — it’s what he cares about most.”

The sort of ambitious reform Ryan has in mind, which would be the first since 1986, promises to cut both individual and corporate tax rates in exchange for junking scores of credits, deductions and other special provisions. Any rewrite would be hugely controversial, with an array of powerful interest groups sure to line up to defend their favorite provisions, not to mention many Democrats who’ve long complained that Ryan’s plans amount to a giveaway to the rich. 
In a speech to the House just before his swearing-in Thursday, Ryan named tax reform as one of his top priorities.

It was bad enough when the Ryan Austerity Budget was a club used to get sequestration into play in 2013. But as Speaker, Ryan now has significant power as far as bringing his austerity monster to life. If you still had questions as to what’s at stake a year from now, better hope the GOP doesn’t have the keys to both Congress and the White House when Congress gets called into session in January 2017.

Otherwise, the Austerity Death Star is going to do a pretty good job of blowing America up.

That'll Learn 'Em, Texas-Style

The Texas state Supreme Court takes up a case today on homeschooling and religious liberties, and asks if parents who homeschool under Texas law are required to actually teach their children anything practical at all if they claim there's no point, as the Rapture is coming.

Laura McIntyre began educating her nine children more than a decade ago inside a vacant office at an El Paso motorcycle dealership she ran with her husband and other relatives. 
Now the family is embroiled in a legal battle the Texas Supreme Court hears next week that could have broad implications on the nation's booming home-school ranks. The McIntyres are accused of failing to teach their children educational basics because they were waiting to be transported to heaven with the second coming of Jesus Christ. 
At issue: Where do religious liberty and parental rights to educate one's own children stop and obligations to ensure home-schooled students ever actually learn something begin? 
"Parents should be allowed to decide how to educate their children, not whether to educate their children," said Rachel Coleman, executive director of the Massachusetts-based Coalition for Responsible Home Education. 
Like other Texas home-school families, Laura and her husband Michael McIntyre weren't required to register with state or local educational officials. They also didn't have to teach state-approved curriculums or give standardized tests. 
But problems began when the dealership's co-owner and Michael's twin brother, Tracy, reported never seeing the children reading, working on math, using computers or doing much of anything educational except singing and playing instruments. He said he heard one of them say learning was unnecessary since "they were going to be raptured." 
Then, the family's eldest daughter, 17-year-old Tori, ran away from home saying she wanted to return to school. She was placed in ninth grade, since officials weren't sure she could handle higher-level work. 
The El Paso school district eventually asked the McIntyres to provide proof that their children were being properly educated and even filed truancy charges that were later dropped. The family sued and had an appeals court rule against them, but now the case goes Monday to the all-Republican state Supreme Court. 
In court filings, the McIntyres say the district is biased against Christians and accuse its officials of mounting a "startling assertion of sweeping governmental power."

This is a pretty big case if only for the fact that one in six homeschooled children in the US live in Texas, mainly because Texas's homeschooling regulations are extraordinarily lenient. Given where Texas is on homeschooling and where SCOTUS is on religious liberties in a post-Hobby Lobby decision America, I'm not only betting this case goes to SCOTUS, but becomes a major precedent in a few years.

Keep an eye on this one, folks.

Boot To The Head (Of State)

Yeah, reality is a bitch sometimes when you're leader of the free world, huh.

Since 2013, President Obama has repeatedly vowed that there would be no "boots on the ground" in Syria.

But White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the president's decision Friday to send up to 50 special forces troops to Syria doesn't change the fundamental strategy: "This is an important thing for the American people to understand. These forces do not have a combat mission."

Earnest said the promises of "no boots on the ground" first came in the context of removing Syrian President Bashar Assad because of his use of chemical weapons. Since then, Syria has become a haven for Islamic State fighters.

USA Today's  Gregory Korte goes on to list 16 times that President Obama said there wouldn't be "boots on the ground" and yet, here we are with at least SOCOM forces in Syria. The right will say we need another 199,950 troops or so, and the left, zero.  There's no distinction here,  "Obama lied!" is what both sides will claim.

To this I say "you were idiotic not to think we'd have special ops troops on the ground in Syria, because that's what they are there for."  Whether or not Josh Ernest should have admitted as such is definitely arguable, but let the screaming about "That Nobel Peace Prize-winning war criminal" continue long enough and just maybe we can elect someone who really will put hundreds of thousands of troops in Syria, Iran, and Yemen while we're at it.

Meanwhile, Russian airliners are mysteriously breaking up over the Sinai. Things are getting weird out there and it's not a good thing. Maybe having a couple of guys out there keeping tabs on Syria isn't a wholly bad idea.


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