Monday, March 4, 2013

Megyn Kelly Still Outraged For Defenseless ‘Sitting Duck’ Antonin Scalia, Not For Racially Entitled Voters 
8:49 pm, March 4th, 2013 video


Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly continued her outraged defense of minority voting rights on Fox News’ America Live, but only in that alternate universe where Mr. Spock has a beard and does Jedi Mindmelds. In this universe, Kelly was still bothered by people like Rachel Maddow calling Justice Antonin Scalia a “troll,” and explained to her America Live panel that it angered her because “these Supreme Court justices cannot come out and defend themselves. They don’t speak publicly.”

I’m prepared to believe that Megyn doesn’t watch Fox News, but refuse to believe that she doesn’t at least read Mediaite.

In case you missed it, Justice Scalia angered many last week when, during oral arguments in the current Shelby v Holder case regarding Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, he referred to the Act’s protections as “racial entitlement.” From the transcript
And this last enactment, not a single vote in the Senate against it. And the House is pretty much the same. Now, I don’t think that’s attributable to the fact that it is so much clearer now that we need this. I think it is attributable, very likely attributable, to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement. It’s been written about. Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes.

I don’t think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act. And I am fairly confident it will be reenacted in perpetuity unless — unless a court can say it does not comport with the Constitution. You have to show, when you are treating different States differently, that there’s a good reason for it.

That’s the — that’s the concern that those of us who — who have some questions about this statute. It’s — it’s a concern that this is not the kind of a question you can leave to Congress. There are certain districts in the House that are black districts by law just about now. And even the Virginia Senators, they have no interest in voting against this. The State government is not their government, and they are going to lose — they are going to lose votes if they do not reenact the Voting Rights Act.

Even the name of it is wonderful: The Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?

Scalia’s meaning is comically clear, especially when you read it in context: Congress is too afraid of the blacks and their race-traitor brethren to do the right thing, and let Shelby County suppress black votes through redistricting. Even the Virginia senators!

But if you didn’t catch Scalia’s meaning, Megyn Kelly has you covered. Before tossing to her panel, and before claiming (on her hard news program) that Supreme Court Justices “cannot come out and defend themselves,” Kelly played the audio of Scalia’s remarks so the audience could decide for themselves. Just kidding, she offered this “hard news” interpretation of the above passage:
Justice Scalia seemed to suggest that the federal government no longer needs to keep an eye on Southern voting in this way, that folks can just bring individual lawsuits if there are cases of discrimination, like they do up North. And the way he phrased it, saying what Congress is doing is voting for a quote, racial entitlement, got some people very fired up.
Scalia and others may have made “suggestions” to that effect elsewhere in those oral arguments, but the passage that got Maddow to call Scalia a “troll” isn’t about any of those things, it’s about Scalia taking on a new role for the Court: Official Congressional Sac. He’s not saying that it’s wrong to apply the law only to some states. He’s not even saying it’s wrong to apply it to these states. He’s saying that Congress is too afraid of the racial equality “lobby” to do the right thing. In my book, that “logic” alone is enough to earn Scalia the “troll” designation (if too many people vote for a law, the Court has to step in?), but he’s also saying that protection from racial discrimination is a “racial entitlement,” one of the many little extras America gives you for being black. 

Luckily, Megyn Kelly is there to protect Antonin Scalia’s rights, or he’d have to wait for Fox News to book him again.

To the extent that Scalia’s remarks are open to interpretation, Kelly could easily have just played them, instead of offering a biased summary, and her assertion that Scalia is a poor sitting duck is just wrong. On the matter of name-calling, I tend to agree that a respect for offices and institutions is generally a good thing, but Rachel Maddow wasn’t just “calling names” when she said Scalia was being a troll, she was describing a specific behavior, and supported her conclusion with facts. It’s not the same thing, just as saying that Justice Scalia’s remarks were racist isn’t “calling names.”

The most disturbing part of this story, from a media standpoint, is what I see as Megyn Kelly’s complete lack of perspective. Of the many outrages in this story, Antonin Scalia’s wounded bill should be of concern to no one. Well, almost no one. That’s called knowing your audience.

Here’s the clip, from Fox News

Analysis: Castro brothers' successor may inherit a very different Cuba

Fidel Castro, left, and his brother, Raul, are preparing to pass the torch of power to a new generation.

By Carlos Rajo, Telemundo

News analysis

(Editor's note: An earlier version of this article led to a correction)

Raul Castro’s recent announcement that he will leave power in 2018, and his appointment of 52-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel as first vice president and his de facto successor, are signs of the glacial pace of political change in Cuba.
Certainly, these announcements won’t satisfy those who for decades have been waiting for the Castro brothers’ exit.

Nevertheless, the move marks the beginning of the passing of the torch of power to a new generation.

For the first time in half a century, there is the real possibility that a person who did not fight in the Cuban Revolution will lead the country. Diaz-Canel was not even born when Fidel Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista in January 1959. Since then, a Castro has been in power in Cuba: first the now-retired, 86-year-old Fidel, and from 2006 to now, his younger brother, Raul, 81.

This generational change does not mean that Cuba will move to a different political system. There is no going back to capitalism, Raul Castro told the National Assembly on Sunday. Nevertheless, the move toward a generational change must be seen in the context of other reforms implemented by the younger Castro. 

Cuba's new Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, right, was not even born when Fidel Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista in January 1959.

These reforms already are changing the face of Cuban socialism. Castro has introduced private farms, cooperatives in industries and activities outside agriculture, and an array of small business. Granted, these are restricted and heavily regulated, but still they are earning profits and starting to create a segment of wealthier, successful entrepreneurs. Cubans are also now allowed to sell houses and cars, and more recently, to travel abroad if they can get a visa from another country.

While little is known of Diaz-Canel’s ideology, it is likely that as the appointed Castro successor he is on board with the reforms.

The U.S. State Department reacted tepidly to Castro’s announcement and made clear that it would not be sufficient to prompt a lifting of the U.S. trade embargo. Although President Barack Obama doesn’t have election constraints in formulating a Cuba policy in his second term, the issue remains emotionally and politically charged in the U.S., and Congress is not likely to change its mind and lift the embargo while a Castro remains in power.

That doesn’t mean relations can’t change, however.

For instance, the Obama administration could remove Cuba from the list of states that sponsor terrorism. Cuba had been on that list since 1982, when it had the financial support of the Soviet Union and could afford to help guerrilla groups in Central and South America.

Cuba doesn’t have the resources to help armed groups - or even the political will to do so. Cuba is not Syria, North Korea or Iran in terms of being a threat to the U.S.

However, the lifting of the embargo is likely only after a period of more normal relations between the countries. There is also a legal obstacle: According to the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, the U.S. will recognize the legitimacy of a Cuban government only when someone other than a Castro is in power. For now, at least, it seems that won’t happen until 2018.
The generational change in Cuba is real. Not only does Diaz-Canel take the place of the 83-year-old Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, but the composition of others organs of power is younger as well. Eighty percent of the members of the National Assembly were born after the revolution, and the average age of members of the Council of State is 57, with about 60 percent having been born post-revolution.

As is the tradition in Cuba, Diaz-Canel owes his influential position to one of the Castros -- in this case, Raul. As far back as 2003, the younger Castro talked about the “solid ideological firmness” of the electrical engineer, who also has served as a university professor and party boss in the Cuban provinces of Villa Clara and Holguin. Notably, Diaz-Canel served in the armed forces under Raul Castro and earned a reputation as a good manager of the military’s diverse commercial enterprises.

Slideshow: Life of Castro

A look at the life and times of the Cuban leader who has outlasted nine U.S. presidents.

Diaz-Canel will have to be careful. There have been several young leaders who once looked like they had been chosen as a Castro successor but later fell from grace. In every case -- Roberto Robaina, Carlos Lague, Felipe Perez Roque -- they went from being the heir apparent to being suddenly demoted without much ceremony or explanation. The difference is that all were put in their positions of power by Fidel Castro and were demoted when they fell out of favor with him. Diaz-Canel is said to be Raul Castro’s favorite.

Assuming that nothing extraordinary happens before 2018, that Raul remains healthy and that there are no ideological purges – “corruption” is the favorite accusation of the Cuban leadership when it comes to making demotions -- the big question for Cuba, and for Diaz-Canel himself, is the success of Raul’s reforms.

If they work well, perhaps the regime will develop a sort of hybrid socialism-communism with a dynamic, state-controlled capitalist economy. Or maybe day by day the reforms will penetrate Cuban society and ultimately destroy one the few communist systems left in the world. Diaz-Canel, meanwhile, will start toying with the torch of power.

Only time will tell whether -- when the day comes in 2018 or sooner -- the Cuba that Diaz-Canel has known will still be there for him to rule.

Telemundo is NBC News' Spanish-language partner.
Fidel Castro makes 1st extended public appearance since 2010
Cuba pushes swap: its spies jailed in US for American contractor held in Havana
Cuba's little capitalists venture into a budding economy

Obama Faces Political Risks in Emphasizing Effects of Spending Cuts 

Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Obama on Monday at the first cabinet meeting of his second term. It was also the first cabinet meeting for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, next to him.
Published: March 4, 2013

WASHINGTON — As the nation’s top Democrat, President Obama has a clear imperative: to ratchet up pressure on Republicans for across-the-board spending cuts by using the power of his office to dramatize the impact on families, businesses and the military.
But as president, Mr. Obama is charged with minimizing the damage from the spending reductions and must steer clear of talking down the economy. A sustained campaign against the cuts by the president could become what one former aide called “a self-fulfilling kind of mess.” 

As a result, Mr. Obama is carefully navigating between maximizing heat on Republicans to undo the cuts while mobilizing efforts to make sure that the steep spending cuts do not hurt Americans. His advisers acknowledge the potential political perils ahead as the president struggles to find the right kind of balance.

At his first cabinet meeting of his second term on Monday, Mr. Obama called the cuts an “area of deep concern” that would slow the country’s growth, but promised to “manage through it” while pursuing a robust agenda. It was an echo of his formulations from the White House podium on Friday, when he began to dial back the dire warnings about long lines at airports and furloughs of F.B.I. agents, to name a couple, that he had made over the past several weeks.

“I’ve instructed not just my White House but every agency to make sure that regardless of some of the challenges that they may face because of sequestration, we’re not going to stop working on behalf of the American people,” Mr. Obama said, using the formal name for the spending cuts.

The president’s approach is unlikely to satisfy Mr. Obama’s most partisan backers, who view blaming Republicans for the deep spending cuts — especially in the military — as a tantalizing opportunity for political gain. And stepping back from a battle over the cuts could allow the significantly lower spending to become the “new normal” for the federal budget.

But a high-profile focus on the cuts in the months ahead is risky, too.

If severe economic pain ultimately fails to materialize, Mr. Obama could be blamed for hyping the situation, much like his cabinet secretaries were in recent weeks. (Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, for example, was criticized for declaring the nation would be “less safe” because of furloughs of border patrol agents.)

Seeking short-term political gain with the spending cuts could also make more difficult the president’s hopes for a longer-term budget deal with Republicans on taxes and entitlement spending.

Mr. Obama’s team is keenly aware that the more he focuses on the cuts, the more he threatens to divert attention from his second-term priorities on guns, immigration and preschool.

“You can’t simply put them on hold and simply deal with this,” David Axelrod, a former top adviser to Mr. Obama, said in an interview. The danger of sounding the alarm on the sequester, he said, is that “you can so magnify the impact of it so that it becomes an even bigger self-fulfilling kind of mess.”

Mr. Obama was careful during his first term to seize on any bit of good economic news so that no one could accuse him of hurting the economy by his statements. That desire to be upbeat — as in 2010, when administration officials declared a “recovery summer” just before the economy dipped again — sometimes got him into trouble.

The question now for the president is how much to keep up the drumbeat of concern about the spending cuts in the weeks ahead.

In talking points distributed by the White House to Democratic pundits on Friday, advisers suggested focusing on how Republican refusal to accept tax increases will “threaten our national security and hundreds of thousands of middle-class jobs and our entire economy while too many Americans are still looking for work.”

But the document also urges them to make the point that it is time to turn to other issues. Former Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Democratic leader during the Clinton years and the first term of George W. Bush, said he expects the president will not spend much time talking about the cuts.

“What he has to do is say, ‘I warned you about this, it’s going to happen, it’s gradual, but at the same time, we’ve got a country to run,’ ” Mr. Daschle said. “You’re not going to hear him with much more hyperbolic rhetoric.”

Senior White House aides said as much on Friday before Mr. Obama formally signed the order putting the cuts into effect. They told reporters that sequestration cuts would not be the only thing the president talks about — or even the majority of what he talks about — in the weeks ahead.

But they said he will try to score a political point when opportunities arise.

Aides continue to bet that they will. Even without Mr. Obama’s intervention, White House officials said they expect the effect of the cuts will slowly become more visible.

Government workers will begin forced furloughs in April, air control towers in small towns will eventually close and a lack of overtime for airport security officers will make lines longer over time.

“This is a slow-roll disaster instead of a meteor hitting,” said Matt Bennett, a Clinton-era adviser and the vice president for communications at Third Way, a liberal research group. “It’s coming on slowly. You are going to see it popping up.”

But it’s also possible that the severe angst is limited to relatively small communities of interest: federal workers, defense contractors, service providers who depend on government grants. If that happens, Mr. Obama would have little leverage to use against Republicans.

“It’s imperative not to lose sight of the rest of the agenda,” said Jim Manley, a former top aide to Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader. “They are smart enough to realize it’s a delicate balancing act.”

Debt Group Pans White House Call for 'Petit Bargain'

Devin Dwyer Mar 4, 2013, 5:56 PM

As the sequester spending cuts begin to take effect, the White House today pointed to one potential silver lining: significant progress in the battle to tame the nation's deficit and debt.

"The 'big deal' has been partly accomplished," declared White House spokesman Jay Carney, when asked whether President Obama still had hopes for a sweeping deficit reduction compromise with Republicans.

Indeed, Obama and Congress have already signed into law roughly $2.5 trillion in savings over the next decade, including the so-called $1.2 trillion sequester cuts, more than $600 billion in new tax revenue and $400 billion in interest savings.
It's more than halfway to the $4 trillion goal set out by Obama's fiscal commission and embraced by both parties in August 2010. 

So, what's left to be done? "It may be the 'petit bargain,' I guess," Carney joked today. "If you, you know, go all French."

Enter a prominent bipartisan group of debt and deficit experts, who aren't laughing.

"If they won't go big, we shouldn't go petit," Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, told ABC News. "At least we could go medium."

MacGuineas, who also heads the Fix the Debt campaign co-founded by Obama fiscal commission chairmen Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, said in the two years since policymakers set their $4 trillion goal things have gotten worse.

The magic number to trim is now closer to $6.5 trillion over a decade, she said.

"It's jaw-dropping. It's a painful reaction of when you wait to take action, the costs go up," MacGuineas said. "That's the amount of cuts it would take to bring us to the same level, putting our debt on a downward path."

More sobering: There's little sign Obama and Congress will compromise to address the biggest drivers of U.S. debt.

"They haven't done any of the tough stuff, any of the important stuff, they haven't reformed the tax code," Bowles told ABC News' Jonathan Karl last month. "They haven't done anything to slow the rate of health care to the rate of growth of the economy, they haven't made Social Security sustainably solvent."

Obama says he has a plan on the table to trim an additional $1.8 trillion from the deficit over the next decade through a combination of tax code reforms and changes to entitlement programs. Experts say it would be a step forward but not nearly enough to celebrate.

"We support any plan that's big enough to fix the problem. His plan isn't," MacGuineas said. "But you could super-size it."

Brian Williams Tells Alec Baldwin: ‘I Have Profound Disappointments In My Country’
 by Noah Rothman 
 2:24 pm, March 4th, 2013

NBC News anchor Brian Williams sat down with actor Alec Baldwin an installment of his podcast Here’s The Thing. In the interview which airs on WNYC, Williams told Baldwin that he believes his political opinions have been “cleansed” from his reporting. When pressed on those political opinions and asked if he has any strong feelings about public policy, Williams admitted that he has “profound disappointments in my country.”
“My work has been so cleansed, as I see it, as I’ve tried, of political opinions over 27 years,” Williams told Baldwin. 
No one needs another blowhard yelling at them. No one gives a rat’s patootie about my opinion. So that’s nice that I don’t have to share it. I’d have to form one first on half of these issues, and people, and I can try to call it down the middle, and try to be fair about it, and do a ‘just the facts’, with a little fun around the margins. 
“Do you have political opinions?” Baldwin asked. 

“I sometimes don’t know,” Williams replied. “I have the same disappointments in my patriotism. As a great man once said, I yield to no one. I love this country. I love the American idea. I have profound disappointments in my country. I feel we ought to be in space.”

He added that the nation’s “spirit of community” appears to him to be increasingly on the wane. Williams said that social media has contributed to this phenomenon.

“I sometimes think, post-war America, post-Vietnam America, has kind of become exhausted,” he said. “I have another theory that the growth of self, all things self, has taken away our spirit of community. We can do this, cohesion, American-ness. When an average American citizen has followers — I know you have your own history with social media. You take a citizen who works in a restaurant. They now have the preoccupation of followers.”

Williams said that speaking of oneself in the first person, which was rarely used in the 1940s and 50, is now dominant. The celebration of the self, Williams said, is a lamentable modern development.

Kerry urges Egyptian economic reform on Cairo trip

Some critics say the U.S. is not changing its policy in Egypt, choosing to back Islamists instead of democracy and human rights. NBC's Ayman Mohyeldin reports. 
By Arshad Mohammed, Reuters

Secretary of State John Kerry will stress the importance Egypt achieves political consensus for painful economic reforms needed to secure an IMF loan, a senior U.S. official said on Saturday.

Kerry arrived in Egypt on his first visit to the Arab world since taking office for talks with the leaders of a country mired in political and economic crisis two years after the overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

With Egypt's pound and foreign currency reserves sliding, the official said that if Cairo could agree on a $4.8 billion loan from the IMF, this would bring in other funds from the United States, European Union and Arab countries.

However, the official said the United States believed Egypt needed to increase tax revenues and reduce energy subsidies - measures likely to prove highly unpopular.

"His basic message is it's very important to the new Egypt for there to be a firm economic foundation," the official told reporters as Kerry flew to Cairo.

"In order for there to be agreement on doing the kinds of economic reforms that would be required under an IMF deal there has to be a basic political ... agreement among all of the various players in Egypt," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Jacquelyn Martin / AP
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, meets with Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby, at far right, in Cairo, Egypt on Saturday, March 2, 2013. 

Egypt said on Thursday it would invite a team from the International Monetary Fund to reopen talks on the loan and the investment minister expressed hope that a deal could be done by the end of April.

The loan was agreed in principle last November but put on hold at Cairo's request during street violence the following month that flared in protest at a planned rise in taxes.

While the tax rise was withdrawn, Islamist President Mohamed Mursi is likely to face violent protests as any cuts in subsidies demanded by the IMF will push up living costs in a country where poverty is rife.

Energy subsidies soak up about 20 percent of the government budget, bloating a deficit set to soar to 12.3 percent of annual economic output this financial year.

Clashes in Mansoura, Port Said
Early on Saturday, young protesters fought interior ministry police in the Nile Delta city of Mansoura, where one protester was killed and dozens injured. In the Suez Canal city of Port Said, protesters torched a police station, security sources said.

While the protests were unrelated to Kerry's visit, they were examples of the frequent outbreaks of unrest faced by Egypt's government.

Clashes are commonplace, with young people and Egyptians demanding Mursi reform the interior ministry's police force. The president is accused of not taking police reform, a key demand of the uprising that toppled Mubarak, seriously.

Kerry will stress the need for agreement across the political spectrum on reforms and winning approval in the Shura Council, Egypt's upper house of parliament.

"What they need to do is ... things like increasing tax revenues, reducing energy subsidies, making clear what the approval process will be to the Shura Council for an IMF agreement, that kind of thing," said the official.

Hopes for consensus between the ruling Islamists and opposition parties seem slim. Liberal and leftist opposition parties have announced a boycott of parliamentary elections, scheduled for April to June, over a new constitution produced by an Islamist-dominated assembly and other grievances.

Kerry meets opposition leaders on Saturday but many senior figures were not on the list of expected participants, including Hamdeen Sabahy, who came a close third in presidential elections last year and former U.N. nuclear agency head Mohamed ElBaradei.

Kerry does not wish to be seen as lecturing Egyptians and will not explicitly tell opposition parties to renounce their boycott of the lower house polls, the U.S. official said.

However, he will make the case for them to take part.

"If they want to ensure that their views are taken account, the only way to do that is to participate. That they can't sit aside and just assume that somehow by magic that all of this is going to happen," the official said. "They've got to participate."

The Worst Of All Possible Options Is Doing Nothing

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo and Congressman Mike Simpson

Contact: Lindsay Nothern
Monday, March 4, 2013 

Episode: McClure Symposium on Federal Fiscal Issues 2/19/13

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., fiscal commission leader Alan Simpson, and Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget President Maya MacGuiness discuss bipartisan ways to tackle spending cuts and tax reform. Sponsored by the University of Idaho’s James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research. Moderated by Idaho Public Television’s Greg Hahn.

Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyoming), Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and President of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget Maya MacGuineas recently joined us at a federal fiscal issues symposium hosted by the University of Idaho’s McClure Center for Public Policy Research. The symposium provided an opportunity for us to sit down with some of those working to find solutions to America’s fiscal crisis and discuss with Idahoans the debt crisis that threatens our nation’s future. 

America is at a debt to Gross Domestic Product ratio that no nation in the last 200 years has been able to sustain without serious economic consequences. As panelist Maya MacGuineas framed it, our debt levels are already doing damage: “Our economy is not growing as fast as it otherwise could be…We are not going to be able to have a vibrant economy until we quit borrowing so much.”

The solutions are difficult but achievable, and require that all options must be on the table. We know that we must control federal spending, and a revenue solution is part of the remedy. We know that we must have budget enforcement mechanisms that will finally keep Congress within adopted budget limits, and we know that there is a pathway out of this if we act now.

Episode: McClure Symposium on Federal Fiscal Issues Highlights 2/22/13

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., fiscal commission leader Alan Simpson, and Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget President Maya MacGuiness discuss bipartisan ways to tackle spending cuts and tax reform. Sponsored by the University of Idaho’s James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research. Moderated by Idaho Public Television’s Greg Hahn.

We also know that the worst of all possible options is doing nothing. If we do nothing, our entitlement programs—Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security—continue screaming toward insolvency. If we do nothing, the bond markets will solve this program rather than Congress or the President, and the consequences will be devastating. But, we have opportunities to make progress in this terrible crisis.

We have the opportunity to reform the overly-burdensome tax code and make America a strong, competitive economy again. We must enact pro-growth tax reform, which would simplify the tax code for all Americans, grow our economy and make American businesses more competitive. We have the opportunity to reform our entitlement programs and put them on paths to solvency. We also have the opportunity to put in place budget enforcement mechanisms that give Americans confidence that federal spending limitations will be honored. Achieving these reforms would reassure America’s future.

This is the economic challenge of our lifetime and will determine the future of our country. We must come together and work out a solution that includes tax and entitlement program reform, deficit reduction and tough budget enforcement mechanisms. It should, and must, include the participation of all Americans in finding and implementing solutions.

During the symposium, we took questions about whether spending cuts through sequestration are expected to take effect, the future of Social Security and Medicare, the impacts of potential defense spending cuts and expected changes in support of veterans. We heard from a small business owner seeking tax certainty and simplicity and a family physician wondering about the impacts on affordable health care if something or nothing is done to address the deficit. We heard from a local mayor and county commissioner wondering about the impacts of deficit reduction on the ability of communities to provide necessary services. We heard from a dairy farmer interested in passage of a Farm Bill with existing farm programs. We heard from a college student and teacher wondering about the potential impacts of deficit reductions on education. We thank the McClure Center for hosting this valuable discussion.

We hope that through this symposium and others more Americans gain a deeper understanding of the solutions necessary to avoid the worst option—doing nothing—by utilizing our opportunities to strengthen our economy.

Historical Military Pay Rates

The Defense Finance Accounting and Service (DFAS) maintains an archive of historical pay charts dating back to October 1, 1949. You may find it interesting to see how the current military pay compares to what service members made in the past.

The dates below reflect effective dates for the military basic pay rates, which may differ from the effective dates for the various allowances and other pay entitlements. These charts are intended for reference only and are not for official pay purposes. These charts are all in PDF format.

PDFs below require viewer software .

A rare glimpse inside Pakistan's ground zero for terrorists

The tribal area of Pakistan's North Waziristan, along the border of Afghanistan, has been strictly forbidden for foreigners, until now. NBC's Amna Nawaz gets an exclusive look into ground zero of Pakistan's fight against terror.
By Amna Nawaz and Waj S. Khan, NBC News

MIRANSHAH, Pakistan — It's been called the most dangerous place in the most dangerous region on the planet.

A rugged swath of tribal territory nestled between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Waziristan is ground zero for some of the region's most notorious militant groups and warlords, including the Pakistani Taliban and Haqqani network.

North and South Waziristan are hit by more U.S. drone attacks than anywhere else in the world.

NBC News obtained rare access to South Waziristan and last week became the first foreign team of journalists to report from North Waziristan.

Long-ignored by the rest of the country, Waziristan is one of the least developed and least educated sections of Pakistan. Literacy rates for women in some areas are in the single digits. With little infrastructure, funding, or investment, many make their living by engaging in criminal activity, cross-border smuggling, or signing up to join militant groups.

The Taliban is believed to pay 10,000 - 12,000 Pakistan rupees a month (roughly $100 - $120) to foot soldiers, with bonuses for carrying out ambushes, killing a soldier, or even members of military families.

Confronting the violence, the Pakistan military is diversifying its campaign in the "war on terror," no longer just fighting in the region, but also beginning to rebuild it.

"There are only less than half a percent of people who are fighting as terrorists. What about the more than 99.5 percent of people?" asks Maj. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, who commanded the army division in South Waziristan in 2010 before becoming official military spokesman.

Pakistani Army Maj. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa discusses the impact the "war on terror" has had on Waziristan. "The motto we adopted was 'build better than before,'" he told NBC News.

In the wake of a major operation in 2009, the Pakistan Army has largely succeeded in pushing back the militant threat from South Waziristan. The area is now considered secure and tribal communities that fled the fighting are starting to return.

Bajwa realized that if the tribal communities weren't given something to replace their previous way of life, they might again become willing to help or harbor terrorists.

"Looking at it in a larger security context, you can't really separate development from security," said Bajwa. "So we're doing this to serve the larger purpose as well. "

Public floggings
In the village of Chagh Malai, the army constructed a marketplace, complete with dozens of individual shops carrying everything from cloth to medicine to household supplies. Tribal communities here previously maintained individual shops in their homes or in roadside stalls. The marketplace, army commanders said, gives them a sense of community and a central commercial gathering place. They have plans to build 30 complexes like it across the area.

Tribal elder Akhlas Khan excitedly toured the market last week, introducing store owners and showing off inventory.

"Previously, I'd have to travel four or five hours to get these," he said, gesturing to a small shop carrying electrical goods. "Now, I only need to come here!"

Pakistan Army commanders on the frontlines of the battle for Waziristan talk about the challenges they face and how important it is to develop this isolated part of the world. NBC News' Amna Nawaz reports.

In Sararogha, South Waziristan, an 88-shop market complex now stands at the same site the Taliban — once headquartered here — used to use for public floggings and executions.

"These communities, the vast majority of them, have seen the worst kind of atrocities known to the human race," said Maj. Gen. Ahmed Mahmood Hayat, commander of the Pakistan Army's 40th Division in South Waziristan.

"They've been subjected to coercion — mental and physical -- by the terrorists in order to acquiesce them to support," he added. "They've seen their loved ones being butchered in front of their own eyes. So that is the kind of trauma this society has seen. And therefore the greater the challenge to bring back the confidence of these people into the state machinery."

Trading routes and schools
At the heart of the army's plans to rebuild the area is a 370-mile road — funded in large part by USAID money. The road, half of which is complete, will connect the isolated and insular tribal communities to each other, as well as the rest of mainstream Pakistan and to trading routes across the border in Afghanistan.

When finished, the roadway will offer a third link from Pakistan to Afghanistan, and the army hopes, will encourage business development along its path through Waziristan.

In addition to the road project, the army has taken on development projects far outside its traditional roles. 

Waj S. Khan / NBC News
A tribesman waits in line at a 'Distribution Camp' set up on the side the newly constructed Tank-Makeen road in South Waziristan. Radios and mattresses are the items of choice popular among locals, who belong to one of the most impoverished communities in Pakistan. 

Along with the markets, two military schools, known here as Cadet Colleges, were built in South Waziristan to offer young men a rigorous education and boarding-school environment, unlike any educational opportunity available in the region before.

Col. Zahid Naseem Akbar, principal of the Cadet College, Spinkai, said he hopes the school will gives boys in the area the same opportunities as those elsewhere in the country.

"They have the same potential as any other citizen of this country has," Akbar said. "And I think we owe it to them that we provide them the opportunity to join the mainstream."

The army is overseeing the rebuilding to schools demolished by the Taliban and building schools for the first time in some areas, including for girls. The military established the Waziristan Institute for Technical Education -- a vocational school to train young men who missed their early education during Taliban rule.

And the army is restoring water supplies and electrical systems and funding what they call "livelihood projects," training and empowering local small businesses in everything from honey bee farming and fruit orchards, to auto repair and transport services.

"The strategy that the Pakistan army has adopted is a people-centric strategy," Hayat said. "So the more areas you've able to clear, the more infrastructure you're able to build, the more people you are able to bring back and sustain. Provide them economic opportunities. That is the measure of success."

Ideal habitat for Taliban
Frontline commanders all say the battle for Waziristan will not be won with hearts and minds alone. Security operations continue, gradually increasing what they call their "elbow space" in the region.

Both North and South Waziristan feature snow-capped peaks, deep valleys, hidden caverns, and daunting mountain ranges which provide natural cover. It's the ideal habitat for the Taliban and other groups seeking refuge and covert routes for travel between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Amna Nawaz / NBC News
A Pakistani soldier hikes toward an observation post near the border between North and South Waziristan. With little infrastructure, funding, or investment, many in the area make their living by engaging in criminal activity, cross-border smuggling, or signing up to join militant groups.

Atop a 6,000-foot high post in South Waziristan, Brig. Hassan Azhar Hayat said despite securing the area, the struggle to hold it against "pockets of resistance" is constant. His troops, he says, still carry out targeted operations on an almost daily basis.

"That's why the military's presence is so important here right now in this area, that we keep increasing our perimeter of security," Hayat said. "This is guerrilla warfare. It cannot happen that you're able to eliminate the complete Taliban in any form. So it is different warfare altogether."

North Waziristan remains the only one of the seven tribal agencies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in which the Pakistan military has not launched a significant military operation.

Despite public pressure from the U.S. to act, Pakistani commanders there cite the complexity of the region, the politicized nature of the debate, as well as the increasing stakes of the approaching 2014 drawdown of troops across the border as critical to their operation's timeline.

Mohsin Raza / Reuters
Images of daily life, political pursuits, religious rites and deadly violence.

Maj. Gen. Ali Abbas, the commanding officer of the 7th Infantry Division of the Pakistan Army, currently stationed in North Waziristan, said his region must be considered separately because of the number of influences at play. However, 40,000 troops are stationed in North Waziristan, which shares a 113-mile border with Afghanistan, 

"North Waziristan is not like any other agency in Pakistan," Abbas said. "It's very different. It's very complex."

Despite the territory won and economic investments made, there is concern within the local community about a backslide to the time of Taliban rule. Khan, the tribal elder, doesn't want the army to leave until the entire area has been won and a civilian administration has taken over control. Army commanders say their commitment is clear.
"The army will stay here as long as the army is desired by the local people to stay here, and mandated by the government of Pakistan to stay here," Hayat said. "We're here for the long haul. This is our backyard. We cannot ignore it."

Communities in South Waziristan have been slow to return to the region after the end of military operations. In some sections, crumbling homes and untended stretches of land dot the landscape. Small clusters of mud-walled homes sit empty. Army commanders hope as word of their development efforts spreads, more of those who fled the fighting will return. They are taking, they say, a very long view.

"If we really want to change this area, the approach is to do it over one generation," Bajwa added. "Look at the next 10 years. If we put a child in the school now, and 10 years on, we bring him out of the school, we put him into a college, I think we have done our job."

From alcohol to kites: An A to Z guide to the Islamic republic of 'Banistan'

In Pakistan's largest city, 'Old Glory' is flammable and profitable

'Zero Dark Thirty' unofficially banned in Pakistan

When to let go forever - it flummoxes even the experts
By Charles Ornstein, 

My father, sister and I sat in the near-empty Chinese restaurant, picking at our plates, unable to avoid the question that we'd gathered to discuss: When was it time to let Mom die?

It had been a grueling day at the hospital, watching — praying — for any sign that my mother would emerge from her coma. Three days earlier she'd been admitted for nausea; she had a nasty cough and was having trouble keeping food down. But while a nurse tried to insert a nasogastric tube, her heart stopped. She required CPR for nine minutes. Even before I flew into town, a ventilator was breathing for her, and intravenous medication was keeping her blood pressure steady. Hour after hour, my father, my sister and I tried talking to her, playing her favorite songs, encouraging her to squeeze our hands or open her eyes.
Doctors couldn't tell us exactly what had gone wrong, but the prognosis was grim, and they suggested that we consider removing her from the breathing machine. And so, that January evening, we drove to a nearby restaurant in suburban Detroit for an inevitable family meeting.

My father and sister looked to me for my thoughts. In our family, after all, I'm the go-to guy for all things medical. I've been a health-care reporter for 15 years: at the Dallas Morning News, the Los Angeles Times and now ProPublica. And since I have a relatively good grasp on America's complex health-care system, I was the one to help my parents sign up for their Medicare drug plans, research new diagnoses and question doctors about their recommended treatments.

In this situation, like so many before, I was expected to have some answers. Yet none of my years of reporting had prepared me for this moment, this decision. In fact, I began to question some of my assumptions about the health-care system.

I've long observed, and sometimes chronicled, the nasty policy battles surrounding end-of-life care. And like many health journalists, I rolled my eyes when I heard the phrase "death panels" used to describe a 2009 congressional proposal that would have allowed Medicare to reimburse physicians who provided counseling to patients about living wills and advance directives. The frenzy, whipped up by conservative politicians and talk show hosts, forced the authors of the Affordable Care Act to strip out that provision before the bill became law.

Politics aside, I've always thought that the high cost of end-of-life care is an issue worthy of discussion. About a quarter of Medicare payments are spent in the last year of life, according to recent estimates. And the degree of care provided to patients in that last year — how many doctors they see, the number of intensive-care hospitalizations — varies dramatically across states and even within states, according to the authoritative Dartmouth Atlas.

Studies show that this care is often futile. It doesn't always prolong lives, and it doesn't always reflect what patients want.

In an article I wrote for the Los Angeles Times in 2005, I quoted a doctor saying: "There's always one more treatment, there's always one more, 'Why don't we try that?' ... But we have to realize what the goals of that patient are, which is not to be in an intensive-care unit attached to tubes with no chance of really recovering."

That made a lot of sense at the time. But did it apply to my mom?
We knew her end-of-life wishes: She had told my dad that she didn't want to be artificially kept alive if she had no real chance of a meaningful recovery. But what was a real chance? What was a meaningful recovery? How did we know if the doctors and nurses were right? In all my reporting, I'd never realized how little the costs to the broader health-care system matter to the family of a patient. When that patient was my mother, what mattered was that we had to live with whatever decision we made. And we wouldn't get a chance to make it twice.

As my mom lay in the ICU, there was no question that her brain function was worrisome. In the hours after she was revived, she had convulsions, known as myoclonus, which can happen if the brain lacks oxygen. After that, she lay still. When the neurologist pricked her with a safety pin, she didn't respond. When he touched her corneas, they didn't reflexively move.

I began checking the medical literature, much like I do as a reporter. I didn't find anything encouraging. Studies show that after 72 hours in a coma caused by a lack of oxygen, a patient's odds of recovery are slim to none. I asked my writing partner in New York to do additional research. She, too, found nothing that would offer much hope.

But couldn't my mom beat the odds? Harriet Ornstein was a feisty woman. At age 70, she had overcome adversity many times before. In 2002, weeks before my wedding, she was mugged in a parking lot and knocked to the pavement with a broken nose. But she was there to walk me down the aisle — black eyes covered by makeup. She had Parkinson's disease for a decade, and in 2010 she suffered a closed head injury when a car backed into her as she walked down a handicapped ramp at the drugstore. Mom persevered, continuing rehabilitation and working to lead as normal a life as possible. Might she not fight through this as well?

Truth be told, I was already somewhat skeptical about physician predictions. Just last summer, my dad's heart stopped, and it took more than 10 minutes of CPR to revive him. Doctors and nurses said a full neurological recovery was unlikely. They asked about his end-of-life choices. Mom and I stayed up late talking about life without him and discussing the logistics of his funeral. But despite it all, he rebounded. He was home within weeks, back to his old self. I came away appreciative of the power of modern medicine but questioning why everyone had been so confident that he would die.

Also weighing on me was another story I wrote for the Los Angeles Times, about a patient who had wrongly been declared brain-dead by two doctors. The patient's family was being urged to discontinue life support and allow an organ-donation team to come in. But a nursing supervisor's examination found that the 47-year-old man displayed a strong gag-and-cough reflex and slightly moved his head, all inconsistent with brain death. A neurosurgeon confirmed her findings.
No one was suggesting that my mom was brain-dead, but the medical assessments offered no hint of encouragement. What if they were off-base, too?

Over dinner at the Chinese restaurant, we made a pact: We wouldn't rush to a decision. We would seek an additional medical opinion. But if the tests looked bad — I would ask to read the actual clinical reports — we would discontinue aggressive care.

A neurologist recommended by a family acquaintance came in the next morning. After conducting a thorough exam, this doctor wasn't optimistic, either, but she said two additional tests could be done if we still had doubts.

If more tests could be done, my dad reasoned, we should do them. My sister and I agreed.

On Friday morning, the final test came back. It was bad news. In a sterile hospital conference room, a neurologist laid out our options: We could move my mom to the hospice unit and have breathing and feeding tubes inserted. Or we could disconnect the ventilator.

We decided it was time to honor my mom's wishes. We cried as nurses unhooked her that afternoon. The hospital staff said it was unlikely that she would breathe on her own, but she did for several hours. She died peacefully, on her own terms, late that night — my dad, my sister and I by her side.

I don't think anyone can ever feel comfortable about such a decision, and being a health reporter compounded my doubts.

I was fairly confident that we did what my mom would have wanted. But a week later, when I was back in New York and had some emotional distance, I wondered how our thinking and behavior squared with what I'd written as a reporter. Did we waste resources while trying to decide what to do for those two extra days? If every family did what we did, two days multiplied by thousands of patients would add up to millions of dollars.

Curious how experts would view it, I called Elliott S. Fisher. I've long respected Fisher, a professor of medicine at Dartmouth and a leader of the Dartmouth Atlas. The Atlas was the first to identify McAllen, Texas, subject of a memorable 2009 piece in the New Yorker by Atul Gawande, for its seemingly out-of-control Medicare spending.

I asked Fisher: Did he consider what my family did a waste of money?

No, he said. And he wouldn't have found fault with us if we decided to keep my mom on a ventilator for another week or two, although he said my description of her neurological exams and test results sounded pessimistic.

"You never need to rush the decision-making," he told me. "It should always be about making the right decision for the patient and the family. ... We have plenty of money in the U.S. health-care system to make sure that we're supporting families in coming to a decision that they can all feel good about. I feel very strongly about that."

Plenty of money? How did this mesh with his view that too much money is spent on care at the end of life? He said his concern is more about situations in which end-of-life wishes aren't known and cases where doctors push treatments for terminal illnesses that are clearly futile and that may prolong suffering.
"I don't think the best care possible always means keeping people alive or always doing the most aggressive cancer chemotherapy," he said, "when the evidence would say there is virtually no chance for this particular agent to make a difference for this patient."

I left the conversation agreeing with Fisher's reasoning but believing that it's much harder in practice than it is in theory. You can know somebody's wishes and still be confused about the appropriate thing to do.

The past few weeks have been the most difficult of my life. I hope what I learned will make me a better, more compassionate journalist. Most of all, I will always remember that behind the debate about costs and end-of-life care, there are real families struggling with real decisions.