Day: July 26, 2017

Medicaid: The Snag in Obamacare Repeal


One of the big concerns of Republican holdouts in Senate legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare is Medicaid. Many rural and low-income Americans depend on the program. But Medicaid is a huge expense; it’s the feds’ fourth largest outlay, behind only Defense, Social Security, and Medicare. But more than that, Medicaid’s growth rate is also cause for concern.

At the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the fact sheet for national health expenditure (NHE) lists data for 2015 that helps us put Medicaid costs into context. The first fact is that total national healthcare spending was $3.2T in 2015, about the same as all federal revenue. The second fun fact is that Medicaid spending was $545.1B, and its rate of growth was 9.7 percent, which was significantly faster than the other major components of national healthcare.

Medicaid, however, is a federal-state program. Another report from the CMS, the “2016 Actuarial Report on the Financial Outlook for Medicaid,” breaks down spending between the feds and the states in its Executive Summary on page iii (page 9 of the pdf): “Federal Medicaid outlays in 2015 were $349.8 billion and grew 16.0 percent over the previous year, in large part due to the Medicaid eligibility expansion.” An annual growth rate of 16 percent seems particularly unsustainable in a welfare program like Medicaid.

For 2015, total federal receipts were $3.249T (see Table 1.1, page 26). That means that Medicaid spending was equal to more than 10.7 percent of all federal revenue. Since the total federal deficit in 2015 was $438 billion, if Congress enacted a new tax that fully paid for Medicaid, they’d still be $88 billion shy of a balanced budget. However, Congress couldn’t hike all tax rates by 10.7 percent just to fund Medicaid because some taxes are “dedicated,” like the payroll tax, and the programs they fund, like Social Security, are already cash-flow negative.

Inasmuch as individual income taxes contributed $1.54T to federal revenue in 2015 (Table 2.1, page 34), we would have needed a tax rate hike on all individual income of more than 22.7 percent just to pay for Medicaid. And we’d have needed to take that cut right off the top, as we do with the payroll tax, because our new “Medicaid Tax” could not be subject to any exemptions. And with our hypothetical Medicaid Tax back in 2015, we’d still have been $88 billion shy of budget balance. Of course, we can’t put all of blame for the federal deficit at the feet of Medicaid, but it’s a huge part of it.

Many Americans don’t seem to care about deficits, even as our Day of Reckoning draws nigh. But they should care, because the CBO recently revised its projection for 2017’s deficit upward, to $693 billion. That uptick in the deficit, if it proves accurate, would be deeply disappointing to conservatives. On page 10 of the actuarial report above, CMS projects: “Over the next 10 years, expenditures [for Medicaid] are projected to increase at an average annual rate of 5.7 percent and to reach $957.5 billion by 2025.”

Oh, by the way, the several States spent $204B on Medicaid in 2015, which constituted 37 percent of Medicaid’s total. So, one wonders how much larger Medicaid spending (and the federal budget deficit) would have been had all the states opted to expand the program. In “The Uninspiring Medicaid Debate” in July, Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner wrote that the Medicaid expansion didn’t apply to pregnant women and children, and:

It’s also worth noting that nearly two-thirds of Medicaid spending actually goes to the elderly and disabled in nursing homes. In fact, an entire industry of eldercare lawyers and accountants exists to help the middle-class elderly shield their assets so that Medicaid can pick up the tab for their long-term care. Medicaid reform might actually force states to consider whether all Medicaid recipients are equally in need of taxpayer-funded support.

One tends to think of medical insurance as being for hospitals, surgeries, drugs, MRIs, lithotripters, and stuff like that. Medicaid’s original mission, however, seems to have “mission creeped” into shielding the estates of the middle class, leaving the taxpayer to pick up the bills for those who have assets. But one doesn’t need a financial advisor; one can shield the family fortune simply by giving it to one’s heirs while still alive. The federal gift tax allows one to make an unlimited number of tax-free $14,000 gifts each year, (although no individual recipient can receive more than $14K in a year without incurring gift taxes). So if one has two children, one can reduce one’s assets by $112,000 in just four years; with four children, it would take two years.

But should the taxpayer be required to pay for those who can pay for themselves? And should such gaming of the system be allowed to continue? If middle class heirs don’t want to see their parents’ estates (their inheritance) eaten up by nursing homes, then they might consider taking in their aging parents themselves.

Republicans have created a problem for themselves with their rhetoric: they’ve been calling for repeal and “replace.” But replace what? Replace the mandates? That would still be some kind of mandate, no? When a screw in your glasses falls out and is lost, you need a replacement; i.e. an exact clone of the tiny item that kept your spectacles on your face. A near relative of the screw, one that doesn’t exactly fit, won’t suffice, (although I’ve found a paperclip will work for a while if one doesn’t mind being thought nerdy). What the GOP really should be trying for is not to “replace” Obamacare, but to “supplant” it with something quite different, something sustainable.

“Replace” has become too much. Republicans should shoot for a simple repeal, and deal with the thorny issues of Medicaid reform in a later bill. But if the price of the holdouts is to retain the Medicaid expansion, then retain the expansion. And if the holdouts are concerned about the uninsurable enrollees in the subsidy program, then throw the truly desperate with pre-existing conditions into Medicaid. But that’s it; the rest of Obamacare must go, because it’s rotten to the core.

If Republicans can’t get something done on Obamacare this year, their leadership in Congress should be replaced, and repeal holdouts should be “primaried” with challengers who will clean their clocks in the primaries of 2018.

Medicaid seems to be the snag, the sticking point, in repealing Obamacare. As for those who depend on Medicaid, we should empathize with the plight of America’s middle and working classes; they’ve been getting the shaft for forty-some years. But Congress cannot continue to borrow and spend like it has been; not even in the name of compassion, because Congress will eventually hit a wall and destroy the currency. On that fine day, talk about how much we’re going to spend on the needy (or anybody else) will be absurd.

Jon N. Hall of Ultracon Opinion is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City. 

One of the big concerns of Republican holdouts in Senate legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare is Medicaid. Many rural and low-income Americans depend on the program. But Medicaid is a huge expense; it’s the feds’ fourth largest outlay, behind only Defense, Social Security, and Medicare. But more than that, Medicaid’s growth rate is also cause for concern.

At the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the fact sheet for national health expenditure (NHE) lists data for 2015 that helps us put Medicaid costs into context. The first fact is that total national healthcare spending was $3.2T in 2015, about the same as all federal revenue. The second fun fact is that Medicaid spending was $545.1B, and its rate of growth was 9.7 percent, which was significantly faster than the other major components of national healthcare.

Medicaid, however, is a federal-state program. Another report from the CMS, the “2016 Actuarial Report on the Financial Outlook for Medicaid,” breaks down spending between the feds and the states in its Executive Summary on page iii (page 9 of the pdf): “Federal Medicaid outlays in 2015 were $349.8 billion and grew 16.0 percent over the previous year, in large part due to the Medicaid eligibility expansion.” An annual growth rate of 16 percent seems particularly unsustainable in a welfare program like Medicaid.

For 2015, total federal receipts were $3.249T (see Table 1.1, page 26). That means that Medicaid spending was equal to more than 10.7 percent of all federal revenue. Since the total federal deficit in 2015 was $438 billion, if Congress enacted a new tax that fully paid for Medicaid, they’d still be $88 billion shy of a balanced budget. However, Congress couldn’t hike all tax rates by 10.7 percent just to fund Medicaid because some taxes are “dedicated,” like the payroll tax, and the programs they fund, like Social Security, are already cash-flow negative.

Inasmuch as individual income taxes contributed $1.54T to federal revenue in 2015 (Table 2.1, page 34), we would have needed a tax rate hike on all individual income of more than 22.7 percent just to pay for Medicaid. And we’d have needed to take that cut right off the top, as we do with the payroll tax, because our new “Medicaid Tax” could not be subject to any exemptions. And with our hypothetical Medicaid Tax back in 2015, we’d still have been $88 billion shy of budget balance. Of course, we can’t put all of blame for the federal deficit at the feet of Medicaid, but it’s a huge part of it.

Many Americans don’t seem to care about deficits, even as our Day of Reckoning draws nigh. But they should care, because the CBO recently revised its projection for 2017’s deficit upward, to $693 billion. That uptick in the deficit, if it proves accurate, would be deeply disappointing to conservatives. On page 10 of the actuarial report above, CMS projects: “Over the next 10 years, expenditures [for Medicaid] are projected to increase at an average annual rate of 5.7 percent and to reach $957.5 billion by 2025.”

Oh, by the way, the several States spent $204B on Medicaid in 2015, which constituted 37 percent of Medicaid’s total. So, one wonders how much larger Medicaid spending (and the federal budget deficit) would have been had all the states opted to expand the program. In “The Uninspiring Medicaid Debate” in July, Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner wrote that the Medicaid expansion didn’t apply to pregnant women and children, and:

It’s also worth noting that nearly two-thirds of Medicaid spending actually goes to the elderly and disabled in nursing homes. In fact, an entire industry of eldercare lawyers and accountants exists to help the middle-class elderly shield their assets so that Medicaid can pick up the tab for their long-term care. Medicaid reform might actually force states to consider whether all Medicaid recipients are equally in need of taxpayer-funded support.

One tends to think of medical insurance as being for hospitals, surgeries, drugs, MRIs, lithotripters, and stuff like that. Medicaid’s original mission, however, seems to have “mission creeped” into shielding the estates of the middle class, leaving the taxpayer to pick up the bills for those who have assets. But one doesn’t need a financial advisor; one can shield the family fortune simply by giving it to one’s heirs while still alive. The federal gift tax allows one to make an unlimited number of tax-free $14,000 gifts each year, (although no individual recipient can receive more than $14K in a year without incurring gift taxes). So if one has two children, one can reduce one’s assets by $112,000 in just four years; with four children, it would take two years.

But should the taxpayer be required to pay for those who can pay for themselves? And should such gaming of the system be allowed to continue? If middle class heirs don’t want to see their parents’ estates (their inheritance) eaten up by nursing homes, then they might consider taking in their aging parents themselves.

Republicans have created a problem for themselves with their rhetoric: they’ve been calling for repeal and “replace.” But replace what? Replace the mandates? That would still be some kind of mandate, no? When a screw in your glasses falls out and is lost, you need a replacement; i.e. an exact clone of the tiny item that kept your spectacles on your face. A near relative of the screw, one that doesn’t exactly fit, won’t suffice, (although I’ve found a paperclip will work for a while if one doesn’t mind being thought nerdy). What the GOP really should be trying for is not to “replace” Obamacare, but to “supplant” it with something quite different, something sustainable.

“Replace” has become too much. Republicans should shoot for a simple repeal, and deal with the thorny issues of Medicaid reform in a later bill. But if the price of the holdouts is to retain the Medicaid expansion, then retain the expansion. And if the holdouts are concerned about the uninsurable enrollees in the subsidy program, then throw the truly desperate with pre-existing conditions into Medicaid. But that’s it; the rest of Obamacare must go, because it’s rotten to the core.

If Republicans can’t get something done on Obamacare this year, their leadership in Congress should be replaced, and repeal holdouts should be “primaried” with challengers who will clean their clocks in the primaries of 2018.

Medicaid seems to be the snag, the sticking point, in repealing Obamacare. As for those who depend on Medicaid, we should empathize with the plight of America’s middle and working classes; they’ve been getting the shaft for forty-some years. But Congress cannot continue to borrow and spend like it has been; not even in the name of compassion, because Congress will eventually hit a wall and destroy the currency. On that fine day, talk about how much we’re going to spend on the needy (or anybody else) will be absurd.

Jon N. Hall of Ultracon Opinion is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City. 



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The Loss of Meaning and Truth in American Life


“The last man (German: der letzte Mensch) is a term used by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  The last men are tired of life, take no risks, and seek only comfort and security.” His “last man” thus was a prototype for the attitudes of millions now living in Western civilization and the United States. This writer notes that this increasingly present, even dominant, mindset rejects meaning, truth, rationality, and God as living and necessary realities to be grasped. The idea of membership and participation as part of an honored nation-state and as part of Western civilization is diluted or altogether rejected. This rejecting mindset is nihilistic and left wing. It can be characterized as anti-life, anti-liberty, and anti-the pursuit of happiness. It can be characterized as anti-American. It can be characterized as anti-faith and anti-family.

The nihilistic/leftist climate is characterized by many behaviors, ideologies, attitudes, and lifestyles. Owing to space constraints, only three of these anti-culture mindsets will be depicted.

1. Lives are to be pacifistic and comfortable. Not only “just wars” are ruled out, but all wars. Wars of self-defense required by patriotic identity means you are a tool of cultural and political imperialists. The military is a matter of last resort, and will be composed of the members of an underclass upon whom contempt rather than honor is heaped. Peace is not a reprieve from the horror of war, but a longed-for euphoria to be bought at any price.

Geopolitical peace and peace of mind are blurred in a kind of pseudo-unity which pretends to be the meaning of “love your neighbor as yourself.” This important Biblical command declines into a fuzzy, neo-Beatles sense of life, an unspoken mantra that afflicts the non-thinking masses, especially so those on the left. Rodney King’s 1992 response to the Watts riots in Los Angeles made him the prophet of the new, vacuous understanding of “love your neighbor” when he said “why can’t we all just get along.” A new version of “love” was suddenly manifested in this sophomoric one-liner. You see, when Christ tells us to love our enemies, he did not anticipate that in our brave new world there would be no enemies, no divisions between the true and the false in values or belief. When Christ said the truth will set you free, to the modern atheistic mentality, the mentality that dominates in the Democrat Party, truth is not needed to set us free because what is true for you is not necessarily true for me.

The comforts of society have become paramount, including gourmet food, video games, intense involvement with social media, merriment based on drinking, drugs, and sex, and sports frenzies. TV shows and magazines flooding supermarkets and pharmacies divert us with endless gossip about celebrities whom the masses can identify with in their endless affairs, squabbles, break-ups, addictions, and self-indulgence. “Reality TV” takes us into an ocean of unreality as we enter into virtual realities where life is simulated, not lived. Consider the perennial favorites, “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette.” Who would really want to bring one of those shallow, handsome boy-toys home to mom and dad? Additionally, mass gatherings at EDM, rock, and hip-hop “concerts” (concerts without concertos) are of utmost importance in helping distract society from self, sin, and sorrow.

2. The distinction between ruler and ruled becomes attenuated. Thus, tried and true systems of governance in our republic come under attack by simple-minded commentators, like MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, who smugly asserts that no other country in the world would allow the person coming in second based on votes cast (Trump) to win the Presidency. Mr. O’Donnell stupidly fails to appreciate the rigorous and historically informed frame of reference of our Founders. They instituted checks and balances — including the Electoral College — expressly to protect us from the tyranny of the majority. On the one hand, there was the tyranny of the king, but on the other hand, grasping a reality expressed long ago by Aristotle in his Politics, they understood there was also a danger arising from a tyranny of the majority, and took steps to protect our republic from that danger.

Instead, O’Donnell and the left turn against the informed dialogue and conclusions of our Founding Fathers. The left reverts to the political ideas and ideals of the French Revolution. These ideas and ideals are governed by the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau whereby political power does not center in the states or with individuals enjoying natural rights, as in the U.S., but rather political “freedom” is governed by a mystical collectivity called the General Will. There is a paradigm shift and the French Revolution with its bloody tyrannies of the majority, anti-clericalism, and penchant for war becomes the paradigm replacing the peaceable kingdom of the U.S. (Strangely, the left wing likes to portray the U.S. as imperialistic and colonialist abroad, arriving at this conclusion not from the facts, but from the Marxist model that insists that all of capitalism depends on imperialism for its growth. If the facts, as in the case of the USA, do not fit, assert the Marxist dogma anyway.)

3.  Alienation, anxiety, and anger increasingly dominate the psyches of the population. Alienation implies separation and fragmentation: men from women, humans from nature, citizens from country, and civilization (in favor of global or even intergalactic identification), creatures from their Creator, and, intra-psychically, self from itself. These alienations, in a vicious circle, give rise to and in turn are intensified by anxiety and anger. Worry and fear arise because of these schisms. The unity of life is broken, mangled in each of the above-mentioned divisions. Intense loneliness besets increasing numbers of people. What Freudians call separation anxiety does not, however, arise mainly from the trauma of birth, but from vast cultural, philosophical, and spiritual disconnects.  

Vast manipulations by people in power, irresponsible choices, Luciferian interventions, and fallen spirituality have led us too far down the path where meaning is lost. Vast numbers of people believe that meaning and truth should be replaced with deconstructionist relativism, anarchy, and meaninglessness. Reasoning and understanding are devalued, quaint relics of the past. This writer’s students in philosophy repeatedly insist that every person has a right to his or her own opinion, and that no statement of belief or value is or can be better than any other.

Look at the passionate contempt with which President Donald Trump was greeted when he stated that we are withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord in order to “reassert American sovereignty.” The globalist governance people, speaking in the name of climate control, could hardly control themselves. To them, love of country is merely a disguise for aspirations of imperialistic conquest and dominance. Sovereignty is a concept that should disappear sooner rather than later. Instead of preserving sovereignty, the nations of the world should be preserving ice caps. Also, look at the offense he gave to so many of his Democrat opponents when, in Poland, he affirmed his desire to defend Western civilization. For them, there is nothing to defend. They are already alienated from our country and our civilization. The mere mention of these terms in a positive way causes spasms of anxiety and intense anger — anger already fomenting within — to erupt.

The intra-psychic alienation and cultural disintegration continues. Faith in God, love of country, upholding of family values are disparaged on a scale that could not have been imagined a generation ago. Unless these are restored as top priorities, we shall witness our culture sinking into a tragic oblivion.

“The last man (German: der letzte Mensch) is a term used by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  The last men are tired of life, take no risks, and seek only comfort and security.” His “last man” thus was a prototype for the attitudes of millions now living in Western civilization and the United States. This writer notes that this increasingly present, even dominant, mindset rejects meaning, truth, rationality, and God as living and necessary realities to be grasped. The idea of membership and participation as part of an honored nation-state and as part of Western civilization is diluted or altogether rejected. This rejecting mindset is nihilistic and left wing. It can be characterized as anti-life, anti-liberty, and anti-the pursuit of happiness. It can be characterized as anti-American. It can be characterized as anti-faith and anti-family.

The nihilistic/leftist climate is characterized by many behaviors, ideologies, attitudes, and lifestyles. Owing to space constraints, only three of these anti-culture mindsets will be depicted.

1. Lives are to be pacifistic and comfortable. Not only “just wars” are ruled out, but all wars. Wars of self-defense required by patriotic identity means you are a tool of cultural and political imperialists. The military is a matter of last resort, and will be composed of the members of an underclass upon whom contempt rather than honor is heaped. Peace is not a reprieve from the horror of war, but a longed-for euphoria to be bought at any price.

Geopolitical peace and peace of mind are blurred in a kind of pseudo-unity which pretends to be the meaning of “love your neighbor as yourself.” This important Biblical command declines into a fuzzy, neo-Beatles sense of life, an unspoken mantra that afflicts the non-thinking masses, especially so those on the left. Rodney King’s 1992 response to the Watts riots in Los Angeles made him the prophet of the new, vacuous understanding of “love your neighbor” when he said “why can’t we all just get along.” A new version of “love” was suddenly manifested in this sophomoric one-liner. You see, when Christ tells us to love our enemies, he did not anticipate that in our brave new world there would be no enemies, no divisions between the true and the false in values or belief. When Christ said the truth will set you free, to the modern atheistic mentality, the mentality that dominates in the Democrat Party, truth is not needed to set us free because what is true for you is not necessarily true for me.

The comforts of society have become paramount, including gourmet food, video games, intense involvement with social media, merriment based on drinking, drugs, and sex, and sports frenzies. TV shows and magazines flooding supermarkets and pharmacies divert us with endless gossip about celebrities whom the masses can identify with in their endless affairs, squabbles, break-ups, addictions, and self-indulgence. “Reality TV” takes us into an ocean of unreality as we enter into virtual realities where life is simulated, not lived. Consider the perennial favorites, “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette.” Who would really want to bring one of those shallow, handsome boy-toys home to mom and dad? Additionally, mass gatherings at EDM, rock, and hip-hop “concerts” (concerts without concertos) are of utmost importance in helping distract society from self, sin, and sorrow.

2. The distinction between ruler and ruled becomes attenuated. Thus, tried and true systems of governance in our republic come under attack by simple-minded commentators, like MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, who smugly asserts that no other country in the world would allow the person coming in second based on votes cast (Trump) to win the Presidency. Mr. O’Donnell stupidly fails to appreciate the rigorous and historically informed frame of reference of our Founders. They instituted checks and balances — including the Electoral College — expressly to protect us from the tyranny of the majority. On the one hand, there was the tyranny of the king, but on the other hand, grasping a reality expressed long ago by Aristotle in his Politics, they understood there was also a danger arising from a tyranny of the majority, and took steps to protect our republic from that danger.

Instead, O’Donnell and the left turn against the informed dialogue and conclusions of our Founding Fathers. The left reverts to the political ideas and ideals of the French Revolution. These ideas and ideals are governed by the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau whereby political power does not center in the states or with individuals enjoying natural rights, as in the U.S., but rather political “freedom” is governed by a mystical collectivity called the General Will. There is a paradigm shift and the French Revolution with its bloody tyrannies of the majority, anti-clericalism, and penchant for war becomes the paradigm replacing the peaceable kingdom of the U.S. (Strangely, the left wing likes to portray the U.S. as imperialistic and colonialist abroad, arriving at this conclusion not from the facts, but from the Marxist model that insists that all of capitalism depends on imperialism for its growth. If the facts, as in the case of the USA, do not fit, assert the Marxist dogma anyway.)

3.  Alienation, anxiety, and anger increasingly dominate the psyches of the population. Alienation implies separation and fragmentation: men from women, humans from nature, citizens from country, and civilization (in favor of global or even intergalactic identification), creatures from their Creator, and, intra-psychically, self from itself. These alienations, in a vicious circle, give rise to and in turn are intensified by anxiety and anger. Worry and fear arise because of these schisms. The unity of life is broken, mangled in each of the above-mentioned divisions. Intense loneliness besets increasing numbers of people. What Freudians call separation anxiety does not, however, arise mainly from the trauma of birth, but from vast cultural, philosophical, and spiritual disconnects.  

Vast manipulations by people in power, irresponsible choices, Luciferian interventions, and fallen spirituality have led us too far down the path where meaning is lost. Vast numbers of people believe that meaning and truth should be replaced with deconstructionist relativism, anarchy, and meaninglessness. Reasoning and understanding are devalued, quaint relics of the past. This writer’s students in philosophy repeatedly insist that every person has a right to his or her own opinion, and that no statement of belief or value is or can be better than any other.

Look at the passionate contempt with which President Donald Trump was greeted when he stated that we are withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord in order to “reassert American sovereignty.” The globalist governance people, speaking in the name of climate control, could hardly control themselves. To them, love of country is merely a disguise for aspirations of imperialistic conquest and dominance. Sovereignty is a concept that should disappear sooner rather than later. Instead of preserving sovereignty, the nations of the world should be preserving ice caps. Also, look at the offense he gave to so many of his Democrat opponents when, in Poland, he affirmed his desire to defend Western civilization. For them, there is nothing to defend. They are already alienated from our country and our civilization. The mere mention of these terms in a positive way causes spasms of anxiety and intense anger — anger already fomenting within — to erupt.

The intra-psychic alienation and cultural disintegration continues. Faith in God, love of country, upholding of family values are disparaged on a scale that could not have been imagined a generation ago. Unless these are restored as top priorities, we shall witness our culture sinking into a tragic oblivion.



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Criminal probe opened into DoD purchase of Afghan Army camouflage that didn't blend in


The top government watchdog for Afghanistan reconstruction testified Tuesday that a criminal investigation has been opened into the controversial purchase of forest camouflage-patterned uniforms for Afghan National Army soldiers.

The U.S. military has been accused of wasting millions on the dark green “relish” uniforms that stand out in the desert setting. Only 2 percent of Afghanistan is covered by forests.

“These problems are serious,” Special Inspector General John Sopko told the House Armed Services Committee. “They are so serious that we started a criminal investigation related to the procurement of the ANA uniforms.”

Sopko said he also wants a review of all organizational clothing and individual equipment contracts made by the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A), which is responsible for the bulk of the training, advising and assisting of Afghan security forces.

Sopko said CSTC-A bought more than 1 million uniforms with a proprietary pattern without testing its effectiveness between 2007-2015.

The purchase came with a $93 million pricetag – of which up to $28 million could have been shaved off.

“This $93 million procurement demonstrates what happens when people in the government don’t follow the rules,” Sopko told the panel.

He highlighted 10 specific areas of concern with the CSTC-A, including that it only showed the Afghan minister of defense proprietary camouflage patterns owned by one company – Canadian manufacturer HyperStealth Biotechnology Corp.

“CSTC-A failed to consider other available camouflage patterns including those owned by the Department of Defense which would have been cheaper perhaps and equally effective,” Sopko said, faulting CSTC-A for not testing the effectiveness of the pattern.

At the time, the Afghan minister of defense reportedly liked the “woodland, urban and temperate patterns” which came at an additional cost of $28 million.

Sopko also called out U.S. commanders for buying uniforms that came with pricier features like zippers instead of buttons and 88,000 extra pairs of pants.

In a memo obtained by Fox News on Monday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis cited Sopko’s report and criticized the Pentagon for its “cavalier” spending on uniforms for the Afghan National Army.

Mattis highlighted the overspending in a July 21 memo to the Defense Department’s acquisition, policy and finance chiefs. He called the purchase an “example of a complacent mode of thinking” and cautioned the department that the missteps are “not to recur.”

He added that “buying uniforms for our Afghan partners, and doing so in a way that may have wasted tens of millions of taxpayer dollars over a ten-year period, must not be seen as inconsequential in the grand scheme of the department’s responsibilities and budget.”

The U.S. has been involved in the Afghanistan war for almost 16 years. Nearly $110 billion has been appropriated in Washington for reconstruction in Afghanistan.

Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson contributed to this report. 



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Mom's pic goes viral


Summers VonHesse loves her postpartum belly, and she hopes other moms can appreciate theirs, too.

VonHesse (follow her at @socalsummers) recently uploaded a body-positive swimsuit photo to Instagram. In it, she’s standing in the sand and working her angles. In the caption accompanying the picture, VonHesse talks about her self-love journey — and how one of the biggest barriers to her body confidence has been her postpartum belly.

“Something I have — that a lot of women identify with — is a flabby, stretched-out belly,” she shares, noting that the loose skin on her stomach is the result of both weight fluctuations and pregnancy. “You can do all the crunches in the world … It’s there to stay.”

More from SELF

VonHesse says she’s long struggled to accept this part of herself — “that flabby, stretch-marked pouch thing I have,” to use her words. And her insecurity has only been exacerbated by the fact that she rarely sees images of postpartum stomachs that look like hers. “It’s not something I see portrayed ever — in a beautiful, natural way,” she says. “Yet so many women have it.”

VonHesse has since “come to terms with her pouch.” And she says she hopes this swimsuit photo will help other women love their bodies, too — regardless of their so-called “body imperfections.”

“I FEEL and LOOK [amazing] in s— like this,” she writes, noting that she didn’t retouch the photo. “You can too.”

Many of VonHesse’s followers commented on the photo, thanking the self-love Instagrammer for her candor and body positivity. “You are flipping amazing! My bod is very similar to yours,” one commenter wrote. “You are a beautiful lady. The pouch and marks make who you are,” another added.

VonHesse’s post is a reminder that everyone should be able to feel totally comfortable in their own skin, and if someone wants to put on a swimsuit or a pair of short shorts, they should be able to do that without worrying about being judged. Cheers to VonHesse for taking the sun and sand by storm this summer, and for reminding people they’re perfect as they are.

This article originally appeared on SELF.com



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Nude photo sparks outrage


She just can’t keep away from controversy.

Kendall Jenner stripping off on social media is just another average day for the Victoria’s Secret model, but her latest shoot has raised eyebrows for the wrong reasons — because she posed with a cigarette.

The model, 21, captioned the image “I don’t smoke” on Instagram, prompting accusations that she was “glamorizing” smoking despite saying she doesn’t.

It’s the latest in a long line of eyebrow-raising career choices from the “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” star, including her controversial Pepsi ad and a much-criticized line of “disrespectful” rapper T-shirts she released with her sister, Kylie Jenner.

Kendall stripped off on Instagram, posting the sexy black-and-white image which showed off her Victoria’s Secret model figure while she posed on a tabletop, beneath a chandelier.

But some of Jenner’s followers were less than impressed that she had posed with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth.

“Why do you take photos with cigs if you don’t?” one follower asked.

Another user wrote: “You don’t smoke but you like to smell like them? I don’t understand,” while others accused Kendall of being a “bad influence” for “glamorizing” the habit.

This article originally appeared on news.com.au.



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Appeals court blocks DC's concealed-carry law on Second Amendment grounds


A federal appeals court on Tuesday struck down a District of Columbia gun-control measure that the court said is essentially an outright ban in violation of the Second Amendment.

D.C. requires gun owners to have a “good reason” to obtain a concealed carry permit.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down the regulation as too restrictive in a 2-1 decision, The Washington Post reported.

“The good-reason law is necessarily a total ban on most D.C. residents’ right to carry a gun in the face of ordinary self-defense needs,” Judge Thomas B. Griffith wrote, according to the paper.

“Bans on the ability of most citizens to exercise an enumerated right would have to flunk any judicial test.”

Judge Stephen F. Williams joined Griffith in the decision.

The decision deals another legal blow to efforts by city officials to rewrite gun regulations since the Supreme Court declared a Second Amendment right to gun ownership in a 2008 D.C. gun case, the paper reported.

John R. Lott, Jr. of the Crime Prevention Research Center called the decision huge.

Right now, there are about 124 concealed handgun permit holders in D.C., Lott told Fox News. “If D.C. were like the 42 right-to-carry states, they would have about 48,000 permits.  Right now D.C. prevents the most vulnerable people, particularly poor blacks who live in high crime areas of D.C., from having any hope of getting a permit for protection.  

The lone dissenter, Judge Karen Henderson, said the district’s regulation “passes muster” because of the city’s unique security challenges as the nation’s capital and because it does not affect the right to keep a firearm at home.

Gun rights groups and Republican attorneys general from more than a dozen states told the court that the District’s system is unconstitutional because the typical law-abiding citizen could not obtain a permit, the paper reported.

City officials could ask all the judges on the circuit to rule on the matter, if they elect to appeal the decision.



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Maxim model defends sexy pic


It’s not unusual for people to share revealing pictures of themselves on social media. However, one Instagram star received heavy criticism for a sexy bikini shot from her recent vacation, so she decided to fire back at her haters with a message about self-love.

Maxim cover model Alexis Ren is well-known for posting barely clothed photos of herself for her 10 million Instagram followers. But one of her latest pics caused quite an uproar.

After sharing a photo of her tanned body in a barely-there red bikini, Ren received a wave of backlash for showing off her body. Reactions included comments like, “Put on some clothes,” “Put on a shirt,” “Eat,” and “Too skinny.”

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While Ren is probably all too familiar with people criticizing her posts, the model decided she’d had enough. So she took to Twitter to address some of the comments.

Back in April, Ren confessed on Twitter that she was in a “toxic state of mind” and had been dealing with an eating disorder since the death of her mother.

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“I’ve gone through a lot as far as health,” she explained to Fox News. “I overworked myself to a point of malnourishment. I’m stronger, happier, and healthier than I’ve ever been… In the last six months I’ve opened up to my followers about my struggles in my day-to-day. I think being vulnerable to other humans is a form of strength.”



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Connecticut man asks Trump to halt imminent deportation to Jamaica


By most accounts, Hugh Williams’ life represents the American Dream — a Jamaican immigrant who came to Connecticut nearly 20 years ago, working as a supervisor at the Home Depot to provide for his wife and three sons, one of whom is in the U.S. military.  

But Williams is set to be deported Thursday to his native Jamaica over a 2002 felony marijuana conviction his lawyer said was the result of shoddy legal advice given by an attorney who is now disbarred.

Williams’ last hope, he said, is a pardon from President Trump.

“It’s broken my life apart,” Williams, 37, said of the deportation order, which was issued in 2012 but not enforced until President Donald Trump unveiled new immigration policies that have consequently brought old deportation orders to new life. 

“He’s the boss — I know he can help me,” Williams said of Trump, who — in a twist of irony — was his pick for president during the 2016 campaign.

Williams was arrested in 2002 for felony possession of marijuana — his first and only arrest in his life, his lawyer, Ryan McGuigan, told Fox News.

Based on advice from his attorney at the time, Williams pled guilty to felony possession of marijuana and served three years of probation without incident. The attorney, Joseph Dimyan — who was later disbarred for stealing money from his own clients — also advised the father of three to use a pseudonym while he was in court, according to Williams.

“Had Mr. Williams been charged with the same offense today, he could have used a drug program or pled to an infraction,” McGuigan said.

On a return trip from Jamaica in 2012 — 10 years after the marijuana arrest — Williams was held up in U.S. Customs at John F. Kennedy International Airport after a fingerprint scanner revealed he had previously been convicted of a drug charge using a false name.

Williams was soon issued a deportation order, though it was not enforced. Under the Obama administration, many immigration lawyers said their clients often were told they faced no immediate risk of being deported and could temporarily remain, so long as they committed no crimes.

Shortly after Trump took office, however, Williams was told his time here is up.

“It was the new enforcement from the Trump administration that became the issue,” McGuigan said. “This is what happens when you cast a wide net. Obviously there are dangerous felons who need to be deported — people who came here illegally with the intent of committing crimes in our country. And then there are many people, like Mr. Williams.”

In early June, Williams was informed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement that he will be deported to Jamaica on Thursday, July 27.

An ICE spokesman, meanwhile, was not immediately available when contacted Thursday. The agency told the Associated Press last month that it is tracking nearly 970,000 immigrants with deportation orders. The majority — 82 percent — have no criminal record, according to the AP.

Williams, who lives in Waterbury, Conn., with his wife, a U.S. citizen, said the imminent deportation order is “tearing his family apart.”

“Our family has suffered an emotional breakdown,” echoed his wife, Carolene.

Williams — a longtime supervisor at a nearby Home Depot — has three teenage children. His 19-year-old son is currently training with the U.S. military.

“Mr. Williams has led his life in an exemplary fashion ever since his first and only arrest,” said McGuigan. “Because of the bad advice of Mr. Dimyan, Mr. Williams is to be deported this Thursday.”

But McGuigan said he’s certain Trump could intervene in the final hour.

“The president of the United States can stop the execution of any deportation,” McGuigan said. “I’m confident if he [Trump] got word of this, he would have some compassion.”

“This would be a wonderful opportunity for the administration to show good judgment,” he said. “Anybody with a heart would feel for this man.”  

Cristina Corbin is a Fox News reporter based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @CristinaCorbin.



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DEM'S IT AIDE ARRESTED Wasserman Schultz staffer accused of bank fraud


A House IT staffer at the center of a congressional computer equipment scandal has been arrested by federal officials and charged with bank fraud, Fox News has learned.

Fox News is told officers and agents from the U.S. Capitol Police, the FBI and Customs and Border Protection were involved in the arrest of Imran Awan at Dulles International Airport. 

Awan, 37, of Virginia, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to one count of bank fraud during his arraignment in federal court in Washington, D.C. He was released but will have to wear a GPS monitor and abide by a curfew. 

Awan also was ordered to turn over all his passports. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Aug. 21. 

Law enforcements authorities for months have been looking into how Awan may have double-billed the House for equipment like computers, iPads, monitors, keyboards and routers. Several relatives of Awan worked for House Democrats and were fired months ago. Awan, however, was kept on staff by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., even though he was no longer allowed access to the House server network.

Wasserman Schultz, though, has now fired Awan. Spokesman David Damron said Tuesday in a statement:

“Mr. Awan previously served as a part-time employee but his services have been terminated. No charges, evidence or findings from the investigation have been formally shared with our office, so we cannot comment on them.”

Authorities also have looked into IT workers putting sensitive House information on the “cloud” and potentially exposing it to outside sources.

Fox News is told that federal officials arrested Awan at Dulles airport in suburban Virginia as he was “trying to leave the country.” 

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The criminal complaint and affidavit said he had bought a ticket to fly Monday to Doha, Qatar, and then Lahore, Pakistan, with a return flight booked for early January. The affidavit specifically alleged he engaged in a scheme to defraud a Congressional Federal Credit Union. It did not appear to go in depth into the other matters investigators have been looking into. 

Meanwhile, the counsel for Wasserman Schultz, the former Democratic National Committee chairwoman, recently began negotiating with Capitol Police for access to her laptop in the case. Until this point, she had resisted USCP efforts to look at her computer – even suggesting “consequences” for the agency if the computer was not promptly returned.

Fox News first reported last week that arrests were coming in the case.

Awan and his relatives worked for House Democrats for more than a decade, earning hundreds of thousands of dollars. But Awan declared bankruptcy in 2012.

Awan is of Pakistani descent, and Democratic sources have argued the family’s ethnicity is a factor in the attention they’re receiving. 

Fox News’ Chad Pergram and Jake Gibson contributed to this report. 



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