U.S. Fuming Over Israeli Criticism Of John Kerry
Jul28

U.S. Fuming Over Israeli Criticism Of John Kerry

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration pushed back strongly Monday at a torrent of Israeli criticism over Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest bid to secure a cease-fire with Hamas, accusing some in Israel of launching a “misinformation campaign” against the top American diplomat.

“It’s simply not the way partners and allies treat each other,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. Her comments were echoed by the White House, where officials said they were disappointed by Israeli reports that cast Kerry’s efforts to negotiate a cease-fire as more favorable to Hamas. Tony Blinken, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said the criticism was based on “people leaking things that are either misinformed or attempting to misinform.”

Kerry himself, in a speech to the Center for American Progress, noted the criticism but did not give ground.

“Make no mistake, when the people of Israel are rushing to bomb shelters, when innocent Israeli and Palestinian teenagers are abducted and murdered, when hundreds of innocent civilians have lost their lives, I will and we will make no apologies for our engagement,” he said.

The coordinated pushback in Washington came amid growing U.S. frustration with the number of Palestinian civilian casualties as Israel wages an air and ground war in the Gaza Strip. Obama and Kerry have been pressing Israel to accept an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire.

The U.S. has made little progress in achieving that objective. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised speech Monday that his country must be ready for “a prolonged campaign” against Hamas in Gaza.

As Kerry returned from the region over the weekend, Israeli media commentators leveled almost nonstop criticism of his attempts to bring Qatar and Turkey — two countries viewed by Israel as strong Hamas supporters — into the cease-fire negotiations. Kerry was also accused of abandoning some of Israel’s key demands during the negotiations, including demilitarizing Gaza.

In trying to implement the cease-fire over the weekend, “U.S. Secretary of State of State John Kerry ruined everything,” wrote columnist Ari Shavit in Monday’s Haaretz, Israel’s leading liberal newspaper. “Very senior officials in Jerusalem described the proposal that Kerry put on the table as a ‘strategic terrorist attack.’”

U.S. officials disputed the notion that Kerry had formally presented a proposal and cast the document in question as a draft given to the Israelis as part of an effort to gain their input in seeking a weeklong cessation of hostilities. Officials said the draft was based on an earlier Egyptian cease-fire proposal that Israel had accepted but Hamas had rejected.

Psaki said the U.S. was “surprised and obviously disappointed” to see the draft proposal made public. She also argued that there was a difference between the characterization of Kerry’s handling of the negotiations by Israeli media and what government officials were telling the U.S. privately.

“No one is calling to complain about the secretary’s handling of the situation,” Psaki said.

Earlier, Kerry had sought to debunk the notion that the U.S. had backed away from its support for the demilitarization of Gaza, which has been a top priority for Israel.

“Any process to resolve the crisis in Gaza in a lasting and meaningful way must lead to the disarmament of Hamas and all terrorist groups,” Kerry said.

While the Obama administration maintains that it supports Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas, officials have grown increasingly concerned about the civilian casualties in Gaza. The White House said Obama spoke with Netanyahu Sunday and expressed “serious and growing concern” about the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.

More than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed over the past three weeks, Palestinian health officials say. According to the United Nations, about three-fourths of them were civilians. Israel has lost 43 soldiers and two civilians, as well as a Thai worker.

On Monday, a strike on a Gaza park killed 10 people, nine of them children. Israeli and Palestinian authorities traded blame over the attack as fighting in the Gaza war raged on despite a major Muslim holiday.

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Associated Press writers Matthew Pennington in Washington and Peter Enav in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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Statement on the 2014 Social Security Trustees’ Report

Social Security can pay full benefits for close to two decades, the new trustees’ report shows, but will then face a significant, though manageable, funding shortfall that the President and Congress should address in the near future.

Specifically, the trustees estimate that Social Security can pay full benefits until 2033, at which point its combined trust funds will be exhausted. After 2033, even if policymakers failed to act, Social Security would pay about 75 percent of scheduled benefits, relying on Social Security taxes as they are collected. The exhaustion date is unchanged from last year’s report and is within the range that the trustees have projected for some time. In the late 1990s, they projected the exhaustion date as early as 2029; at one point in the last decade, they projected an exhaustion date as late as 2042.

The trustees caution that their projections are uncertain. For example, they estimate an 80 percent probability that trust fund exhaustion would occur between 2029 and 2038 — and a 95 percent chance that it would happen between 2028 and 2041. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently estimated that exhaustion would occur in 2030, largely because CBO expects somewhat faster improvements in mortality. Fluctuations of a year or two in either direction are no cause for either alarm or celebration. The key point is that all reasonable estimates show a manageable long-run challenge that policymakers must address, the sooner the better, but not an immediate crisis.

The trustees’ 2033 exhaustion date is for the combined Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and Disability Insurance (DI) trust funds, the traditional focus of their annual reports. The two funds are legally separate, however, and policymakers must take steps to replenish the disability fund, which faces depletion in 2016. (The much larger OASI fund, viewed separately, would be exhausted in 2034.) DI’s 2016 depletion date is no surprise — the actuaries projected it the last time that lawmakers reallocated revenues between the OASI and DI trust funds, in 1995, as they foresaw that DI was about to experience its peak demographic pressures. Those pressures will subside as the large baby-boom generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) ages out of its late 50s through mid-60s, the ages that dominate the disability rolls. The actuaries project that DI expenditures, as a share of the economy, have already subsided slightly from their recent peak and will be stable in the future — unlike Social Security retirement benefit costs, whose peak lies ahead.

Ideally, policymakers would address DI’s financing needs as part of action on overall Social Security solvency. Both DI and OASI face fairly similar long-run shortfalls. And key features of Social Security — including the tax base, the work history required to become insured for benefits, the benefit formula, and cost-of-living adjustments — are similar or identical for the two programs. In addition, most DI recipients are close to or past Social Security’s early-retirement age. Tackling DI in isolation would leave policymakers with few — and unduly harsh — options and require them to ignore the strong interactions between Social Security’s disability and retirement components.

But regardless of whether policymakers craft a sensible solvency package by 2016 — which now seems unlikely — they’ll need to reallocate revenues between Social Security’s retirement and disability funds. That’s a traditional and historically noncontroversial action that they have often taken between the two trust funds, in either direction. Moreover, a key reason why Social Security’s disability component is scheduled to become insolvent in 2016, compared to 2034 for its retirement component, is that the 1983 Social Security amendments shifted some costs from the retirement program to the disability program even as it shifted some scheduled payroll tax revenues in the opposite direction (from the DI trust fund to the OASI trust fund). The need to replenish DI does not pose a crisis, unless some policymakers treat it as a bargaining chip or seek to hold it hostage to other policy aims.

The overall Social Security shortfall over the next 75 years — 2.88 percent of taxable payroll (the total wages and self-employment income subject to Social Security taxes), or 1.0 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) — is slightly larger than last year’s estimate of 2.72 percent of taxable payroll. A little less than half of this modest deterioration results from the change in the 75-year period under examination (now ending in 2088 rather than 2087); such a change happens in every report. Other factors, including legislation and regulations, changes in economic and demographic assumptions, and improvements in methodology, account for the rest of this change.

As the trustees’ report also indicates, the trust fund is still growing. Although Social Security’s annual tax revenue has slipped below the benefits it pays — which was long expected to occur in the latter half of this decade but occurred sooner because of the Great Recession and tepid recovery — the trust funds continue to earn interest on their holdings of Treasury securities. The combined trust funds’ assets are now $2.8 trillion and will keep growing through 2019.

Nevertheless, the graying of the population means that, even with interest, we will eventually see a mismatch between Social Security’s total expenditures and its total income. That mismatch will result in trust-fund exhaustion in 2033 if policymakers do not take action. At that point, as noted, the combined program could continue to pay about three-quarters of scheduled benefits.

Although Social Security faces no imminent crisis, policymakers should act sooner rather than later to restore its long-term solvency. The sooner policymakers act, the more fairly they can spread out the needed adjustments in revenue and benefit formulas over time, and the more confidently people can plan their work, savings, and retirement.

Acting sooner also helps the budget as a whole by modestly contributing to stabilizing the ratio of debt to GDP — a key test of fiscal sustainability — and limiting interest costs.

But policymakers must do a sound job in addressing Social Security reform. The program’s benefits are the foundation of income security in old age, though they are modest in dollar terms; elderly retirees and widows receive an average Social Security benefit of less than $16,000 a year. Moreover, Social Security benefits replace a smaller share of pre-retirement earnings than do comparable programs in most other developed nations. Also, the median income of elderly married couples from all sources other than Social Security was just $22,000 in 2012, while for non-married elderly people (including widows and widowers), median income from other sources equaled just $2,400. And millions of beneficiaries have no income other than Social Security.

Because Social Security benefits are so modest and make up the principal source of income for the majority of recipients, policymakers should restore solvency through a mix of benefit changes and revenue increases, with increased revenues contributing a majority of the savings. Without such revenues, the required benefit cuts would harm millions of elderly people and people with disabilities who live on modest incomes. Revenues could come from such measures as raising the maximum amount of earnings subject to the payroll tax, broadening the payroll tax base, and, at some point a few decades from now, modestly raising the payroll tax rate. Social Security is a popular program, and poll respondents of all ages, incomes, and political affiliations express a willingness to support it through higher taxes.

Social Security is the most effective and successful income-security program in the nation’s history. Policymakers should design reforms judiciously so that it remains so.

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Take A Look Inside A Romney Family Vacation
Jul28

Take A Look Inside A Romney Family Vacation

Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife Ann recently took a few of their 22 grandchildren on a vacation through the American West, a trip documented by Romney in a blog post on Medium.

“My Mom and Dad began the tradition, showing their grandchildren the majesty of our country and teaching them about the sacrifices and character of the pioneers,” Romney wrote.

Romney said he and Ann hiked over 50 miles with five of their grandchildren, ages 10 through 13. The Romneys taught their grandchildren about their ancestry and even faced some “unexpected obstacles,” including “a very close encounter with a rattlesnake.”

In his blog post, Romney reveals how the trip caused him to reflect on the growing violence in Ukraine and Israel.

“True is the principle that guided America’s founders: united we stand, divided we fall,” Romney wrote. “As we experienced the grandeur of the West, our hearts went out to those millions in the world who suffer.”

To read more from Romney and see photos of his family, visit Medium.

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New York’s Poor Door: Poverty and Proximity
Jul28

New York’s Poor Door: Poverty and Proximity

Recently, an apartment tower in New York provoked outrage rarely seen in a city accustomed to luxury buildings springing up like fungi. The Tower is set to have two entrances: one for full-paying customers and the other, located on a different street, for those who landed an apartment because of a city program to generate affordable housing. The builders of the Tower, located in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, defended this as a small sacrifice for those lucky enough to get a place at their distinguished address. The building’s second-class residents will also be denied access to a child area, the gym, and a swimming pool. Critics have foamed at the mouth crying everything from “A Tale of Two Cities” to “economic apartheid.” And they are right: New York has lost the ability to tolerate class diversity, even within the reign of the most progressive mayor in 50 years.

The question of whether it best serves the poor to live in proximity to the rich has roiled social scientists for decades. On one hand, those in need have access to better schools, infrastructure, safety, and — as a last a last resort — charity, from their better-heeled neighbors. On the other hand, they have to deal with social exclusion which, these days in class-bifurcated New York, is reminiscent of a Dickens novel. Some policy experts in the 1990s, went as far as to say that middle and upper class communities provided more intangible cultural benefits from higher rates of employment and stable families and the culture of the poor was eroding because of their physical separation from the middle class. This group, led by sociologist William Julius Williams, fretted that increased ghettoization would not only exacerbate poverty but would create a “culture of poverty” bestrewn with casual acts of deviance. Yet, proximity does not always equal integration — one just has to examine Rio de Janeiro where millionaires sun tan on their balconies while taking in the view of favela shantytowns where residents swelter in the Brazilian sun bereft of the most basic public services.

Our Victorian forebearers thought very little of living beside the poor. Those in poverty were not thinking of rent-stabilized apartments: they were immiserated in a way that calls up Frederick Engels famous depiction of the working class of Manchester. Yet, the aristocrats of that age needed working class people to form their elaborate household staff and the poor were not far away. The historian Gareth Stedman Jones makes clear in his widely read book, Outcast London, that 19th century society tolerated a concentrated city in which robber barons lived alongside homeless orphans. Stedman Jones shows that one expression of this was the commitment to local charity that slowly faded as London expanded: Rich people moved to tony garden suburbs and no longer felt a benevolent connection to their poor.

Reformers of the Progressive Era in Britain and the United States campaigned to make the state responsible for the alleviation of poverty and successfully launched settlement houses. This movement, while often condescending, helped achieve major victories in health and housing, including New York City’s famous “light and air” refurbishment of dark and putrid tenements. Government intervention eventually produced new and more modern housing projects of such a scale that they created entire neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. Starting in the 1960s, they fell into disrepair and, with the proliferation of drugs, gang violence and increased economic isolation took hold.

The changing notion of fair housing has produced those who support public housing in principle, and fund it with their taxes, while making a point of living nowhere near it. Yet, in the past several years, many cities have experienced increased gentrification as young people fall in love with urban life and forsake the suburbs. This has made cities like New York expensive and in need of strong government policies to protect the poor and middle class. The “poor door” building was participating in one of those policies. In the true fashion of our Victorian ancestors, they managed to vaguely embrace an economically diverse agenda (with its attendant tax breaks) while shaming those less fortunate for receiving their largesse. There are hard questions to be asked about whether our revulsion to this specific implementation of affordable housing should take a back seat to our desire to embrace the wider program and the change it brings. However, this instance should remind us that a very real danger of the program is the ability of the wealthy to smugly tolerate the nearby less-fortunates while never considering them true neighbors.

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‘Straight White Guy Festival’ Fliers In Ohio Park Spark Local Controversy
Jul28

‘Straight White Guy Festival’ Fliers In Ohio Park Spark Local Controversy

A series of fliers advertising a “Straight White Guy Festival” have sparked controversy in Ohio, although local residents and authorities are unclear on whether or not the event is legitimate.

As WBNS-TV reported, the fliers have appeared in and around Columbus’ Goodale Park, which also hosts the city’s annual gay pride parade. The flier claims the event will be held Sept. 20 in the park.

“This kind of thing implies there’s some kind of struggle going on for being a straight white person in Ohio,” Michael Premo of Why Marriage Matters Ohio told the news station. “Straight white people are doing just fine … I think it detracts from the real problems of Ohio that need to be solved, that are being denied their constitutional rights because of who they are, or who the love.”

City officials told the news station that no formal permits have been requested for the festival, casting its legitimacy into doubt. That hasn’t stopped photos of the fliers from generating buzz on Twitter and other social media outlets.

If the fliers are legitimate, it wouldn’t be the first push for an apparent heterosexual counterpart to LGBT Pride. In 2011, Brazilian resident Carlos Apolinario argued for Sao Paolo to adopt a “Heterosexual Pride Day” as “a protest against the privileges the gay community enjoys.”

Three students at Illinois’ St. Charles North High School sparked an outcry during the school’s “Ally Week” in 2010 after they wore T-shirts with the words “Straight Pride” on the front, and a quotation from Leviticus on the back: “If a man lay with a male as those who lay with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination and shall surely be put to DEATH.”

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Lightning Strikes Couple’s Vacation Selfie; No Flash Needed
Jul28

Lightning Strikes Couple’s Vacation Selfie; No Flash Needed

It was supposed to be a sweet vacation selfie — until Mother Nature interfered.

Watch above as lightning strikes too close for comfort, startling Luis Morales Fukutake and his girlfriend during a trip this month to Akumal, Mexico. The bolt appears to cause an explosion behind them. “Almost got hit by a lightning” reads the headline of Fukutake’s video on YouTube.

Fukutake tells the New York Daily News he was on a snorkeling outing when he was ordered out of the water by lifeguards because of a thunderstorm. Still intent on capturing the moment, Fukutake posed in his mask. He said the blast made them drop the camera.

It could have been worse, as visitors to Venice Beach in California discovered Sunday, when lightning killed one man while more than a dozen others were examined after the strike.

Fukutake’s clip has also generated a storm of doubters on YouTube since it was posted July 24.

“Why are you filming yourself taking a selfie? I call shenanigans,” wrote one viewer.

“[P]eople are so gullible it’s hilarious,” wrote another.

What do you think of the video (above)? Let us know in the comment (below), or tweet us @HuffPostGreen.

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Fans Rush The Pitch And Take A Selfie With Mario Balotelli (VIDEO, PHOTO)
Jul28

Fans Rush The Pitch And Take A Selfie With Mario Balotelli (VIDEO, PHOTO)

Manchester City thrashed AC Milan in a 5-1 friendly at Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon, but it was two pitch invaders who became the story of the match.

The two fans crossed onto the pitch in 90th minute and approached Italian footballer and AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli looking for a selfie. Balotelli seemed like a good sport and played it cool, allowing the fans to take a snapshot before they were escorted away by security.

The two fans seemed to have benign intentions, but rushing the field in any sport can lead to serious consequences. But that was apparently not so, according to one of the fan’s own Twitter response after the incident.

[via FTW]

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Republican Voters Break With NRA On Gun Ban For Stalkers
Jul28

Republican Voters Break With NRA On Gun Ban For Stalkers

While Republican voters tend to align with the National Rifle Association in opposing new gun restrictions, they are sharply at odds with the nation’s largest gun lobby when it comes to restrictions based on domestic violence.

More than two-thirds of GOP voters (68 percent) said they would support or strongly support a new law stripping guns from convicted stalkers, according to a new poll by The Huffington Post and YouGov. Fifty-nine percent of Republican voters, and two-thirds of voters overall, support expanding gun restrictions for convicted domestic abusers to include non-married dating partners.

The NRA has said it strongly opposes both proposals, which the Senate will consider on Wednesday in its first-ever hearing on gun violence against women. The gun lobby sent a letter to senators last month urging them to vote against Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) legislation to ban convicted stalkers and abusive dating partners from possessing guns. The letter claims that the bill “manipulates emotionally compelling issues such as ‘domestic violence’ and ‘stalking’ simply to cast as wide a net as possible for federal firearm prohibitions.”

Statistics show that stalking often leads to violent crimes and murder. One study of female murder victims in 10 cities found that three-fourths of women murdered and 85 percent of women who survived a murder attempt by a current or former intimate partner had been stalked in the previous year. There are nearly 12,000 convicted stalkers in the United States who can legally buy a gun.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll found that American voters across the political spectrum — especially women — overwhelmingly support a variety of proposals that would strengthen gun restrictions on accused or convicted domestic abusers. Seventy-seven percent of voters, and 82 percent of women voters, favor expanding federal background checks to include private, unlicensed sellers online and at gun shows. Nearly two-thirds of voters and 71 percent of women voters would like to strip guns from accused domestic abusers who have been issued temporary restraining orders by a judge.

Republican, Democratic and independent voters all consider the issue of gun violence prevention to be an important factor that would influence their votes in November. One in 10 voters said the issue was one of the single most important issues they will consider in the upcoming election, and 54 percent of voters said the issue was a somewhat or very important factor. More than half of Republicans and independents polled and 70 percent of women voters said gun violence prevention was important to their vote.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted July 24-25 among 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. href=”http://today.yougov.com/huffpost/” target=”_hplink”>You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here.

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