Not surprisingly, signatures began pouring in for a petition to bestow French citizenship upon one Lassana Bathily shortly after a gun-wielding terrorist was killed infiltrating a kosher grocery store where he worked last week. The Muslim immigrant is credited with saving countless French lives by assisting civilians away from the gunman and into hiding. As of this writing, the petition has already garnered more than 300,000 signatures. As a result the French government has agreed to honor the request:
A Malian Muslim who hid shoppers from an Islamist gunman during an attack on a Jewish supermarket in Paris will be given French nationality, the Interior Ministry said on Thursday.
After the gunman had already killed people during a hostage taking in the store on Friday, 24-year old shop attendant Lassana Bathily hid several people in the store's freezer, turned off the light and told them to stay calm.
He then escaped to look for help. After initially being suspected of being an accomplice, he was able to tell police what was happening inside the store, where four Jewish hostages were killed before police shot gunman Amedy Coulibaly, a Frenchman of Malian origin.
Watch Bathily explain in his own words what happened:
I’m struck by how calm he sounds. After all, I suspect if the gunman had seen him when he went upstairs, he would have been summarily executed. Nevertheless, his actions reportedly saved every person trapped in that grocery store. So if you're wondering why more hostages weren't killed that terrible day, it's largely because of this man.
Bathily will become a French citizen on January 20.
Freshman Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) has been selected to give the Republican response to the president's State of the Union address on January 20. Ernst, the first woman elected to federal office in the history of Iowa, is also the first female combat veteran to serve in the Senate.
The announcement was made this afternoon at the GOP's legislative retreat in Hershey, PA.
Speaker of the House John Boehner said that Ernst's election to the Senate was a perfect example of an "only-in-America" story.
“Sen. Ernst’s life is a quintessential ‘only-in-America’ story. She built a campaign by listening to the people of Iowa and focusing on their priorities, especially jobs and our still-struggling economy. She knows that our federal government is too big, our spending is too high, and our tax code is broken. And, she knows first-hand the sacrifices our men and women in uniform make to keep us all safe in a dangerous world,”
Last year's response to the State of the Union was delivered by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA). In 2013, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) delivered the GOP response, and the sip of water he took mid-speech was dubbed "water bottle-gate." Rubio posted congratulations to Ernst on his Instagram today, and warned her to stay hydrated before her speech.
Around 11:45am, South Dakota Sen. John Thune and House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State stated that this is the time to unveil “America’s new Congress;” one that pushes policies that builds a “healthy economy from the bottom up.” Economic growth, expansion of opportunities, and reinvigorating entrepreneurism seem to be some of the main themes at this retreat, along with immigration.
When asked if House and Senate Republicans would spend political capital to push tax reform, Sen. Thune said that depends on how much capital President Obama is willing to invest in pushing this initiative. Thune noted that there’s a lot of interest with his colleagues, they feel it will spur economic growth, and activity. But, it all depends if the White House wants to take the plunge with Republicans on it.
Rep. Rodgers added that Americans already know that the American tax code is too complicated, costly, and House Republicans are eager on streamlining the process and making it simpler.
Today, President Obama is calling on Congress, cities, and state governments to provide their labor forces with a week of paid sick leave; he will request $2 billion in new spending to pay for the initiative. If this new legislative push is successful, tens of millions of workers are poised to benefit from it (via AP):
Renewing a push for paid leave for workers, President Barack Obama on Thursday will call on Congress, states and cities to pass measures to allow tens of millions of workers to earn up to a week of paid sick time a year, the White House said.
He'll also ask Congress for more than $2 billion in new spending to encourage states to create paid family and medical leave programs.
In addition, Obama will take steps to provide federal employees with up to six weeks of paid sick leave to care for a new child. And he'll propose that Congress pass legislation to give federal workers an additional six weeks of paid parental leave.
Details on how Obama would raise the $2 billion to help states will be in the budget proposal the president releases next month, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said Wednesday.
Obama wants Congress to pass legislation that has been sponsored since 2005 by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., to allow workers to earn up to seven days, or 56 hours, of paid sick leave to care for themselves or a sick family member, obtain preventive care or deal with domestic violence. Under the Healthy Families Act, workers would earn an hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work. Employers that already provide paid sick time would not have to change their policies as long as the time earned can be used for the same purposes.
Obama will also call on states and cities to adopt similar legislation; some already have, as the White House noted in a fact sheet.
More than 40 million U.S. private sector workers don't have any type of paid sick leave, Jarrett said, meaning they lose pay if they stay home when sick or to care for someone who is.
Rodgers said they would look at the White House’s proposal. When ABC News’ Jeff Zeleny pressed Rodgers about House Republican support for the measure, Sen. Thune said that they welcome the White House to the debate; commenting that Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Zeleny’s home state, already has a good workplace flexibility bill on the table. He mentioned it was considered in the previous Congress.
NBC’s Luke Russert asked Thune about the prognosis regarding keeping DHS funded and operational. It’s a pervasive issue at this retreat, and Russert noted that Senate Republicans from bluish states might be hesitant to back the bill that came out of the House yesterday.
Thune laughed, and said, “The magic number is 60.” He also noted that after speaking with House Republicans, both chambers believe the president engaged in executive overreach; Senate Republicans will challenge that–the House has already done so. Yet, unlike the House, an appropriation bill from the Senate will be contingent on the 60-vote threshold. This is where legislative realism comes into play, which is said to be on the docket for discussion at this retreat.
In keeping with the DHS line of questioning, Thune and Rodgers were asked about the recent foiling of an ISIS-inspired attack on Capitol Hill. Twenty year-old Christopher Lee Cornell of Ohio was arrested by the FBI after he allegedly told an informant that he planned to detonate pipe bombs in the U.S. Capitol and then shoot members of Congress and their staff.
Rodgers noted that it highlights the threats America faces, her gratitude for the Capitol Police, all security entities that keep them safe, and the need to get the DHS bill funded.
As the two tried to leave the podium, they were asked about the problems the IRS would face come tax season due to cuts to their funding. Thune cited the IRS targeting scandal, noting there’s not much sympathy for agencies that participate in such irresponsible activities. Nevertheless, he noted that the IRS’ function of collecting taxes is important and that resources to carry out that mandate should be met in full.
At the same time, I don’t think the IRS is a government entity that ever had much popularity, even before the targeting fiasco.
As they tried to leave again, they were hit with a question about voting for a clean DHS funding bill. Thune said the discussions will continue, but he wants the opportunity for his colleagues to vote on it, like in the House, but noted that there could be different ways “to get the point across” to the White House over immigration.
Although the Affordable Care Act has not led to soaring insurance costs, as many critics claimed it would, the law hasn't provided much relief to American workers either, according to a new study of employer-provided health benefits. Workers continue to be squeezed by rising insurance costs, eroding benefits and stagnant wages, the report from the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund found. Nationwide, the average contribution an employee made to an insurance premium in 2013 and the average deductible together represented 9.6% of the median income of American households with members under age 65. That is up from 8.4% in 2010 and nearly double the 5.3% that households were paying for employer-provided health coverage in 2003. "Workers are paying more but getting less protective benefits," the report's authors noted.
California's budget, which bounced back after years of deficits, is now being squeezed by rising healthcare costs for the poor and for retired state workers. The mountain of medical bills threatens to undermine Gov. Jerry Brown's efforts to strengthen state finances — his central promise of the past four years. Enrollment in the state's healthcare program for the poor, known as Medi-Cal, has exploded by 50% since President Obama's signature law took effect. Although the federal government picks up most of the tab, state costs have also been growing, and faster than expected...Over the next year, total Medi-Cal enrollment is expected to reach 12.2 million, he said — about one-third of the state's population. It was less than 8 million in 2013. Even though costs are increasing, advocates for the poor say the state has not allocated enough money to provide healthcare to those who are still struggling years after the recession. Payments for Medi-Cal services were reduced during years of budget crises, making doctors more reluctant to participate in the program.
The 2008 economic crash and slow recovery cost the American economy more than 2.5 million jobs for a prolonged period of time. There were numerous things both good and bad that the government did and could have done to mitigate the economic pain - but a new study suggests there was one policy that was particularly harmful.
Jeffrey Clemens and Michael Wither, two economists at the University of California at San Diego, studied the minimum wage hikes that took place around the country in 2009 and found that the states with large minimum wage hikes suffered greater job loss than those without. In fact, they found that the minimum wage hikes might have accounted for as many as 1.4 million (!) jobs lost during the 2008 recession due to minimum wage hikes.
What had happened was that, before the recession hit, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed a law that would hike the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour by 2009. When the economic crisis happened, Congress did nothing to attempt to alleviate these minimum wage hikes, providing the economists with this experiment.
As Clemens and Wither write:
In July 2009 roughly half of US states were bound by the new federal minimum to increase their minimum wage rates by 70 cents, from $6.55 to $7.25 per hour. The remaining states’ minimum wage rates changed by an average of roughly 10 cents...
Over the late 2000s the average effective minimum wage rate rose by nearly 30% across the United States. Our best estimate is that these minimum wage increases reduced the employment of working-age adults by 0.7 percentage points. This accounts for 14% of the employment rate’s total decline over this time period and amounts to 1.4 million workers. A disproportionate 45% of the affected workers were young adults (aged 15 to 24).
This is more than just a small effect of these minimum wage hikes. This is massive, and targeted at young adult workers. The authors also found that take-home incomes suffered - that low-skill workers' incomes fell by more than $100 over the subsequent years after a minimum wage hike. "Two years following the minimum wage increases we study," the authors write, "low-skilled workers had become significantly less likely to transition into higher-wage employment."
This is another study to add to the canon of economic literature finding negative employment effects from minimum wage hikes. While there's a distinct school that argues that minimum wage hikes result in no or even positive employment growth, the plurality of economic literature finds at least a small effect. This study isn't about a small effect though - it suggests minimum wage hikes are hugely harmful.
President Obama made a $10.10 minimum wage a major feature of his rhetoric over the last couple of years. With information like this, it might be prudent for President Obama and other minimum wage boosters to leave wage laws to state legislatures to decide. 20 states introduced a higher minimum wage in 2015. We can observe what happens there without foisting a potentially job-killing policy on the nation as a whole.
Hat tip: Sam Bowman
Rush-hour traffic this morning in Boston was disrupted by a group of protestors who inserted their arms into cement barrels, blocking traffic for nearly two hours in both directions on Interstate 93. The protesters were protesting "police and state violence against black people" and wanted to "disrupt business as usual." Twenty three people were arrested.
However, according to Massachusetts State Police Col. Timothy Alben, the protests did more than ruin a morning commute for thousands: they endangered people's lives, specifically the lives belonging to victims of a car accident in Easton, MA. The ambulance that was transporting someone with life-threatening injuries from the crash was unable to travel to a hospital with a level 1 trauma center and was forced to divert to a lesser-equipped hospital. Four other ambulances from a nearby town were dispatched to cut people out of the cement barrels on the highway.
Alben did not mince words when it came to his feelings about the protesters, calling them "immature and irresponsible."
That is what I am talking about when we talk about unintended consequences. People's rights are people's rights, but you are endangering people's lives with this conduct.
And I would say to you that this is not only immature and irresponsible, but the conduct is reckless. It is endangering people's lives.
Look. It's perfectly fine to be upset or angry with the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and dozens of others. It is not, however, fine to block a major-freaking-highway to protest their deaths. That is terrifying, and they're insanely lucky nobody was killed as a result of their actions.
It’s the battle of the “RINOS.” Mitt Romney isn’t all that impressed by Jeb Bush. He sees him as a flawed candidate, who cannot beat Hillary Clinton in the general election.
David Freedlander of the Daily Beast wrote that while Romney was on the stump raising cash for Republicans in the 2014 midterms, he would tell folks he’s not running in 2016. But privately he told some Republican donors that he would toss his hat into the ring if there were no emerging consensus candidate. As for his thoughts on Bush, one donor allegedly heard Romney say that "a Bush can’t beat a Clinton," but, “someone is going to catch fire,” he added:
As the primary season heats up, this analysis has been echoed by others, who say that a Clinton-Bush matchup would boil down to a race between the peaceful, prosperous 1990s and the 2000s with its War on Terror and Great Recession—a comparison that the GOP wants to avoid.
But people inside Romney world see other flaws as well. They point out that Bush has not run a competitive race since 1998, when he was elected Florida governor, a lifetime ago in politics. They see someone who has problematic positions on education and immigration, probably the two most crucial issues to the Republican base. They see someone who does not seem to have the stomach for a nasty nationwide battle for the nomination, and a 2016 rollout that has been shaky at best, with its awkward cellphone videos and avoidance of the public and the press.
“They have not done a lot to flush out the details of his candidacy,” said Tom Rath, a senior adviser to Romney in both his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, speaking of Bush. “His time as governor was quite a while ago. A substantial number of Republicans have never heard him deliver a speech. Mitt is a proven commodity.”
This commodity, Rath pointed out, proved its value in the 2014 midterms, when Romney became one of the Republican Party’s most sought-after surrogates, stumping for winning candidates from Alaska to Florida.
And if Romney insiders think that Bush is a flawed candidate, there are certainly many Republicans who feel the same way about Romney.
“Mitt has shown his colors,” said one major fundraiser to Romney’s 2012 effort. “And as a campaigner he is totally s**t.”
This also comes after the Wall Street Journal editorial board said that Romney 3.0 was “recycled” trash. As Noah Rothman at Hot Air aptly noted:
The Journal closed by observing that Romney does not bring anything to the table that the many other prospective candidates vying to lead the GOP. They failed to make any recommendations, but this editorial clearly suggests that Romney should get out of the way and make room for some new blood.
Yet, that’s not what Team Romney is urging Mittens to do, and by Team Romney, I mean his family.
The family that once said “no” to a 2012 presidential run (Mitt voted no) has seemingly warmed up to the idea of another Romney run for the presidency; a point pushed by Mitt’s campaign advisers months after his loss to Barack Obama in 2012, according to Matt Viser of the Boston Globe:
Over the holidays, Romney gathered with his family in the ski resort of Park City, Utah. In between Christmas services with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a Brigham Young basketball game, hanging 22 stockings over a very large fireplace — as well as a chance encounter with Conan O’Brien — the family discussed whether its patriarch should again run for president.
Ann Romney, once cool to the idea, shifted over the past few months and is now encouraging her husband to run again, a person close to the family said. Romney’s oldest son, Tagg, has also been encouraging Romney to run for several months. Romney’s other sons have mixed views, but all have said they would be supportive if he decides to get in the race, the person close to the family said.
So, what about Romney and Bush–if this does become a showdown? Is Bush’s chance of clearing, or reducing, the 2016 GOP field over?
Not really. Mitt doesn’t seem to be the candidate to challenge Bush from the right. As Nate Cohn over at the New York Times pointed out, Romney’s biggest problem with the GOP in 2012 wasn’t the Tea Party; it was evangelicals:
Mr. Romney just isn’t an especially credible standard-bearer for conservatives. It’s probably less of a problem for him than it was four or eight years ago, but his past heresies on issues like health care and abortion will still pose some sort of challenge.
Mr. Romney’s big problem in 2012 wasn’t among Tea Party supporters; it was among evangelicals. Mr. Romney performed significantly better among Tea Party supporters who weren’t evangelical than he did among evangelicals who weren’t Tea Party supporters.
But a successful challenge to Mr. Bush from the right would have to involve winning a lot of these voters, even though they have been Mr. Romney’s biggest weakness. There is no viable anti-establishment coalition that does not include large percentages of evangelical Christians. Mr. Romney — a Northern Mormon with a history of moderate politics — has not been very effective at winning them over.
Cohn mentions that Iowa is full of evangelical voters, though Romney is leading by a huge margin in that state.
Yet, these two flawed candidacies can turn into an ugly war of attrition due to the money and fundraising capabilities of both Bush and Romney. Then, we have two wealthy white men duking it out, leaving each other–and the GOP–bloodied as Hillary, who is also a flawed candidate, easily consolidates the Democratic base to attack the entire Republican field.
Conservatives could feel frustrated again as the race boils down to who has more money and who is more moderate. I mean, the wealthy elite of the GOP once again rising to the top, both flawed, one relatively untested in national elections, and the other a two-time loser; can you hear the balloon deflating–and with it the GOP’s chances of retaking the White House?
Oh, and given Hillary’s “dead broke” gaffe, which many viewed as a disastrous slip-up, let’s not kid ourselves that Democrats wouldn’t rehash Romney’s “47 percent” comment. Do we want to defend that again to the liberal media?
And, that will probably be around the same time we build bunkers to brace for the “I’m not concerned about the very poor” attacks as well.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, infamous for his defiant congressional testimony about the inappropriate targeting of conservative tea party groups, is warning that budget cuts to the agency will cause delayed refunds, more identity theft, long wait times for help and a possible shut down of the agency. More from Forbes:
With a week to go before tax season opens, taxpayers were already bracing for a potentially “miserable” filing season. It turns out that it could live up to the hype.
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Koskinen has advised employees that the budget cuts will result in reduced services to taxpayers. In an email to employees sent earlier today, Commissioner Koskinen advised that “realistically we have no choice but to do less with less.”
Notice how Koskinen doesn't mention the extra hell Obamacare rules are putting tax filers through this year...
Maybe Koskinen should ask IRS employees who owe back taxes to pay up in order to help fill the gap. Or how about avoiding handing out bonuses worth millions to employees who owe back taxes to the federal government?
Commissioner John Koskinen announced the bonuses in an email to employees on Monday, saying they were a way to reward long-suffering staffers who have put up with budget and workforce cuts and are still keeping the agency humming.
But the payout, worth millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money, isn’t sitting well with congressional critics, who said it sends the wrong message at a time when the agency is reeling from several scandals, and when even staffers who are delinquent on their taxes can collect bonuses.
“It’s no wonder the American people find it hard to believe the IRS needs more money when the agency fails to collect back taxes from their own employees and instead rewards them with bonuses,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican who is poised to become chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance next year. “American families have been doing more with less for far too long now, and it is time the IRS [does] the same.”
Oh, and then there's the $3.3. billion federal government employees owe in back taxes.
Federal employees owe a total of $3.3 billion in back taxes to the federal government, according to Internal Revenue Service data released Thursday.
In all, 318,462 federal employees owed back taxes as of last Sept. 30 — an increase of 2.6% from the previous year. That puts the average tax bill at $10,391, according to IRS data obtained by USA TODAY under the Freedom of Information Act.
Further, the IRS budget has increased over past years.
Before Koskinen whines about Americans getting a break through less funding of the IRS, he should demand employees within his agency are held to the same standards as the rest of us. For some context, Americans spend 6.1 billion hours per year preparing their tax returns at an average cost of $168 billion. If they don't, they get fined and threatened with prison.
Long-term tax reform is the only real solution to IRS budget problems, but imagine Koskinen's outrage over that proposal.
For those anxiously awaiting the nation’s next religious freedom showdown, look no further than Atlanta, where a growing controversy is currently unfolding over the recent dismissal of Fire Rescue Chief Kelvin Cochran, who last year wrote and distributed a self-published book that espoused his Christian beliefs, among them were the condemnation of homosexuality.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says he fired Cochran last week for exhibiting poor judgment and insubordination during an initial 30-day suspension over the former chief’s book, “Who Told You You Were Naked.” In the book, Cochran condemns homosexual acts as “vile, vulgar and inappropriate.”
Just days before hundreds of thousands of people will gather in the nation’s capital for the annual March for Life, pro-lifers on the West Coast will get their chance to celebrate the beauty and dignity of every human life at OneLifeLA, the first-ever large-scale pro-life event in The City of Angels, on Jan. 17.
The event, which is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, will include a walk, entertainment, and a host of renowned speakers who will discuss pro-life topics ranging from abortion and adoption to human trafficking and euthanasia.
Ryan Bomberger, Chief Creative Officer of The Radiance Foundation, Townhall columnist, and keynote speaker of the event, will debut a new video ad, “Never Picture Perfect,” which addresses what happens when those who are considered “imperfect” are discarded.
“Life is never picture perfect. And that’s what makes it so beautiful,” Bomberger, an adoptee and adoptive father, said in a statement. “I was born as a result of rape, yet my courageous biological mother chose life and made a loving plan of adoption. We all find throughout our lives that we are stronger than our perceived or actual circumstances.”
Sadly, with more than 200,000 abortions done each year, California has the highest number of abortions of any state in the nation, making this event particularly important in spreading the prolife community’s message that every life matters—planned or unplanned, perfect or “imperfect.”