Archive for January, 2017

Want higher exam grades?

January 31, 2017

Well, then quit browsing the Internet during class.

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A recent study by psychology researchers at Michigan State University investigated students’ actual Internet usage during classes.

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The students agreed to have their in-class browsing activity monitored .

The researchers then matched the browsing activity with the students’ self-reported browsing behavior, their overall academic readiness (think: SAT / ACT scores), their self-reported motivation and interest in the class, and their performance on the course’s final exam.

Here’s what the researchers discovered …

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Now, government employees are walking in coal miners’ shoes …

January 30, 2017

“Retrain and relocate” sounds so reasonable … unless you’re the one needing to retrain & relocate.
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When the Obama administration declared war on coal, and Hillary famously declared “we’re going to put a lot of coal companies out of business and a lot of coal miners out of work” … most government employees whopped and hollered in delight.

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Their advice: Shake it off, coal miners.

Go back to school and get trained as a java programmer (even if that’s a quantum leap from your skills, education and interests … and as natural as learning to speak Swahili).

Move to thriving locales like Austin or Palo Alto (even if it means leaving 3 generations of family and friends behind).

Suck it up and turn the page, bro.

You’ve got to embrace change and adapt to the changing times (even if the change is artificially induced by government know-it-alls)

Well, it looks like the worm has turned …

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Is financial stress making Americans dumber?

January 27, 2017

Connecting some research “dots” suggests that may be the case.

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A recent Bankrate.com survey says that 40% of respondents or their immediate family ran into a major unexpected expense last year.

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That’s a problem since most Americans (63%) don’t have enough budget-cushion or savings to cover an unexpected $1,000 expense (think, medical bill, house or car repair).

According to the poll, only 37% said they would be able to take the money directly from savings; the rest said they would try to cut expenses (24%), use their credit cards (15%) or borrow money from friends & family (15%). About 1 in 10 had no idea what they’d do.

Predictably, those with higher incomes were most likely to say they would be able to tap savings for emergencies or divert some discretionary spending.

75% of people in households making less than $50,000 a year and 2/3s of those making between $50,000 and $100,000 would have difficulty coming up with $1,000 to cover an unexpected bill.

Even for the wealthiest 20% — households making more than $100,000 a year — more than 1 in 3 say they would have  some difficulty coming up with $1,000. Source

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Obviously, the threat of a large, unexpected expense is emotionally daunting to most Americans.

“It definitely adds stress to everyday life. It hangs over you.”

To make matters worse, there is some evidence that the financial stress may impair “cognitive functioning” – that is, dent a person’s IQ.

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In total, how much do Americans pay in taxes? For what? To whom?.

January 26, 2017

Since tax reform is on the front burner, it’s time for some tax facts.

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Americans pay a tad over $5 trillion in taxes to the Feds, States and Local Governments.

Technical note: In government parlance, the taxes are called “revenue”.

By taxing authority

Drilling down, the $5 trillion is split roughly 50%-30%-20% to the Feds, States and Locals, respectively

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By type of tax

Roughly 1/3 of the $5 trillion is income taxes individual and corporate)

about 1/4 is ad valorem taxes (think sales and property taxes)

just under 1/5 are social insurance (i.e. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid)

… slightly more than 1/5 are fees and charges (think tolls, business licenses)

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* * * * *

Income taxes

Roughly 1/3 of the $5 trillion – about $1.8 trillion — is income taxes

…  83.4% are individual income taxes; only 16.6% are corporate income taxes

… about 80% of income taxes go to the Feds; around 20% goes to the States & Locals

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* * * * *

Ad-valorem taxes

Roughly 1/4 of the $5 trillion in total taxes paid – about $1.2 trillion – is ad-valorem taxes – taxes paid based on the value of something bought or owned.

…  about 40% of ad-valorem taxes are Local property taxes

…  about 1/3 are Sales Taxes …  going mostly to the States

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* * * * *

Social Insurance

Roughly 1/5 of the $5 trillion in total taxes paid – about $961 billion – is social insurance – with about 80% going to the Feds

…  roughly 60% of the social insurance payments going to the Feds is for Social Security

…  almost 1/4 of the social insurance payments going to the Feds is for Medicare.

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Pulling it all together Ken’s Rosetta Stone of Taxes

All the details — now much? to whom? for what?

Click for a PDF: Ken’s Rosetta Stone of Taxes

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PDF          Data Source

>> Latest Posts

To bring back jobs, don’t cut the the corporate tax rate …

January 25, 2017

Rather, double the corporate tax deduction for workers’ wages earned the U.S. workers.

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Let’s start with an interesting analysis from Nate Silver’s  535.com titled Manufacturing Jobs Are Never Coming Back

“It’s understandable that voters were angry about trade. The U.S. has lost more than 4.5 million manufacturing jobs since NAFTA took effect in 1994. And, there’s mounting evidence that U.S. trade policy, particularly with China, has caused lasting harm to many American workers.”

“Manufacturing in particular embodies something that seems to be disappearing in today’s economy: jobs with decent pay and benefits available to workers without a college degree are vanishing. The average factory worker earns more than $25 an hour before overtime; the typical retail worker makes less than $18 an hour.”

“In 1994 there were 3.5 million more Americans working in manufacturing than in retail. Today, those numbers have almost exactly reversed, and the gap is widening. More than 80 percent of all private jobs are now in the service sector.”

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How can that be?  Aren’t we hearing a lot about “re-shoring” and foreign capital investing in U.S. based manufacturing plants?

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Isn’t it time to dust off the Simpson-Bowles Report ?

January 24, 2017

Now that tax reform and spending “rationalization” are on the front-burner, I wonder why there has been nary a mention of old Simpson-Bowles Report.

You may remember that former President Obama commissioned Simpson, Bowles and a blue-ribbon committee to recommend ways to cut the deficit  … and the skyrocketing national debt.

The report took shots at some sacred cows like capping home mortgage deductions and taxing employer-paid healthcare.

But, S-B had the gall to suggest pulling back some entitlements so Obama deep-sixed the report.

Maybe DJT should try to locate a copy.

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Maybe it’s time to re-visit the Simpson-Bowles Report .

Here are some of the highlights …

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Should a family of 5 have to pay more at a restaurant than a family of 3?

January 23, 2017

The answer is obvious, right?

They take up more seats, require more server time, and eat more food.

Why do I ask?

As the GOP moves to Repeal & Replace ObamaCare, a constant refrain is ‘everybody agrees that two popular parts of ObamaCare should be saved: insurability for pre-existing conditions and allowable coverage of ‘adult- children’ on their parents’ policies until they are 26”.

I agree that there needs to be a way to cover pre-existing conditions, but … except for special needs situations, I respectfully disagree re: adult-children.

First, the term “adult-children” gives me the creeps. But, that’s beside the point.

More on point, I don’t care if insurance companies have to carry 26 year olds on their parents’ policies, but I don’t understand why they should “fly free” and that you & I should have to pay for it … not the adult-children’s parents.

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Let me explain …

Now, practically all employer-sponsored  health insurance plans charge premiums in tiers: employee only, employee plus spouse, employee plus children, and employee plus spouse and children. Note: it doesn’t matter if the employee has 1 child or a dozen children … same premium.

Say what?

For example, the United Healthcare plan through Georgetown — which is probably pretty typical — charges:

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Let’s dive a little deeper into those numbers …

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A Inauguration Day irony …

January 20, 2017

Comey probably did cost the Dems the White House …

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Here’s something for Dems to ponder on inauguration day.

My theory of the case from the get-go was that

(1) Hillary did break the law by grossly (and intentionally) mishandling classified information

(2) There was both harm & foul … i.e. foreign agents hacked the info.

(3) Comey brushed past the intent  (which wasn’t really required for criminality) and the harm of the foul … because he didn’t want to go down in history as the brutish guy who stopped the first woman from being elected president.

 

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Here’s the irony for the Dems ….

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The limits of data analytics …

January 19, 2017

Team Clinton worshipped at the altar and got burned.

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Lots of post-election articles about how the Clinton campaign got fixated on their data-rich electorate models, using them to allocate ad dollars, deploy field workers and schedule “market visits” by Hillary and her surrogates.

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What Team Clinton seemed to have forgotten is the old Reagan adage: trust but verify.

The data models – which worked near-flawlessly for Obama – took stage as “shiny objects” that led the Clinton campaign astray.

Politico reported a case study that  illustrated the point …

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Departing AG Lynch’s opens investigation of Comey & the FBI …

January 18, 2017

Her action might prompt re-opening of the Clinton server investigation.

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Departing AG Lynch lobbed a clock-winding-down grenade … unleashing the DOJ’s inspector general to review “broad allegations of misconduct involving FBI Director James B. Comey and how he handled the probe of Hillary Clinton’s email practices.”

Center stage are Comey’s July 5 non-sequiturial press conference (lots of evidence, but issue a stay-out-of-jail free card anyway), his re-opening of the case when classified emails were spotted on Anthony Weiner’s laptop and Comey’s last minute pronouncement for every to fuggitaboutit.

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There are a couple of ways that Dem-loyal Lynch’s ploy might backfire.

First, beyond Comey, the IG said that he’ll be investigating “whether Peter Kadzik, the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, improperly disclosed non-public information to the Clinton campaign” and whether “FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe should have been recused from the case since his wife, Jill McCabe, ran for a Virginia Senate seat and took money from the political action committee of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a fierce Clinton ally.”

Said differently, the IG is likely to find more influence peddling and tampering from the Clinton side than from the Trump side.

Second, while Lynch has narrow-scoped the investigation to exclude her not-so-secret tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton, an in-coming AG might broaden the scope to dig into the “event” that forced Lynch to punt the ball to Comey … setting the stage for his press conference and letters.

Her improprieties certainly contributed to the mess.

Third, and most important, while the IG said that he’s not going to relitigate the findings in the Clinton case, the IG review is likely to rip off some scabs at the FBI and prompt a re-look at the case.

And, there are a couple of plausible motivators for re-opening Clinton’s file …

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Obama’s CIA chief says that Trump is naive about Russia …

January 17, 2017

Wonder if the guy watched the 2012 Presidential debates when Obama mocked Romney and declared the cold war to be over …

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 On the Sunday talk shows, outgoing CIA Director John Brennan had some sharp criticism and warnings for President-elect Trump.

Brennan said  that Trump is a bit naive and doesn’t have a “full understanding” of Russia’s power and the threat to the world posed by Russia’s aggressive actions.

Brennan failed to mention that — up to a couple of months ago — President Obama didn’t consider Russia to be much of a threat.

I wish the shows’ anchors had asked Brennan if he remembered the 2012 Presidential debates?

A key moment was when President Obama ridiculed Gov. Romney’s knowledge of foreign affairs.

The clip is a classic …  try to stay calm when you.watch it

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Here’s more that’ll should make you scream …

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Maybe we’re just not that smart …

January 13, 2017

Yesterday, we reported that the U.S. is, on average, #40 in the world in mathematics.

Usual punditry is that schools are bad … blame it on the teachers.

But, I wondered: is it a bad production process (the schools) … or could it be the raw material going into the process (i.e. innate brain power).

So, the question of the day: how does the U.S. rank on IQ versus other countries?

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Ouch: U.S. math scores continue to drop

January 12, 2017

U.S. now trails 39 countries …

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The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) recently released its 2015 survey results for math “literacy” … and, the results aren’t pretty.

The average for 15-year-old U.S. students slipped to 470 on the PISA scale … down about 3.5% from 2009 … ranking the U.S. #40 among developed nations (see list at end of this post) … 20 points lower than the average of the 35 OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries.

The scores differential versus the OECD countries is roughly equal for the average, 25th percentile and 90th percentile … refuting claims that “our” best are head-to-head competitive with the the rest of the world’s best.

 

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Digging a bit deeper into the numbers ….

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There are 3 Americas (not 2) … thanks to Obamacare.

January 11, 2017

ObamaCare is front & center on the legislative agenda again, so …

Last week, we reported that — according to Gallup — ObamaCare is under water by 7 points (51% to 44%) … and that 29% think their families have been hurt by ObamaCare versus 18% who think that their families have been helped).

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In other words, the disapproval is grounded in the program’s fundamentals.

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Cutting to the chase, an article in the WSJ quoted David Cutler, a Harvard health-care economist:

Obamacare may be “a story of three Americas.”

One group, the rich, can afford health care easily.

The poor can access public assistance.

But for lower middle- to middle-income Americans, “the income struggles and the health-care struggles together are a really potent issue.”

No kidding, Dr. Cutler …

HomaFiles was all over this one back in June:

Remember how healthcare costs were going to drop by $2,500 for every family?

We concluded that in 2016, employees will pay $11,000 out-of-pocket … up $2,500 since 2012.

“Employees” … you know the working class … the middle class.

Here’s the essence of our original post …. worth re-reading …. glad others are catching up to it.

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Milliman – a well-regarded actuarial consulting” firm – has published an annual recap of healthcare spending since 2001.

The Milliman Medical Index tracks the total costs of providing health care to an average family of four covered by an employer-sponsored “preferred provider plan” … that’s about 155 million employees and their dependents.

The total includes the health insurance premiums paid by both the employer and the employee, as well as the actual expenditures for health care paid by the insurance plan and out of pocket by the insured family.

The big news: In 2016, the average healthcare costs for a family of 4 surpassed $25,000 for the first time … the $25,826 is triple the cost to provide health care for the same family in 2001 … and up about $5,000 since 2012.

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The bad(est) news is the increased proportion of the healthcare costs being shouldered by individual employees …

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Flash: Presidential campaigns were hacked by the Chinese.

January 10, 2017

More precisely, I should have said “flashback” to 2008.

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Lots of attention on the alleged Russian hacking of the DNC and Clinton campaign.

Less attention on the Intelligence Community’s assessment that the RNC was hacked, too.

More surprising, there have been no references by Intelligence Agencies or the MSM to China’s hacking of the 2008 Presidential campaigns.

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So, let’s take a stroll down memory lane …

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Intel Report: Like a typical Chinese meal …

January 9, 2017

Fortune cookie was the best part … and I’m hungry again.

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Over the weekend, we posted : Intel Report on Russian hacking … my take.

Now that the dust has settled, I’m getting that “where’s the beef feeling”?

Best I can do is:

Key points: Russians were more #NeverHillary than pro-Trump … no evidence that the election was impacted …  none of the purloined emails were fakes or forgeries … Russians held back some of the juicier information-bombs to drop during Clinton’s expected presidency (and, they still have those morsels stockpiled).

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click to view report

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My questions:

1) How were the sleuths able to able to find cyber-prints in this case but came up empty on the Clinton server (though the FBI reported that there was a high probability the enemy agents hacked that server, too)?

2) Wasn’t there any evidence of other foreign forces hacking into the same information bases, say the Chinese or North Koreans? Or, did our spies succumb to “fixation bias” (with a little “confirmation bias” thrown in) and only looked at a Russian connection? Maybe the problem is bigger and broader than reported.

By the way, what’s up with the Feds failing to haul in the suspect computers & servers and analyzing them for clues and evidence? Geez, on every episode of American Greed, the cops haul off the perp’s computer …

3) What info are the Russians holding in storage, waiting for an opportune time to cause some real havoc? Hmm. Maybe they have some of the classified material that was held safe (?) on Clinton’s and Weiner’s computers. Isn’t anybody worried about that?

Those are the questions that I’d like to see answered.

I’m not holding my breath …

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Though it was generally superficial and disappointing, I did ID one useful part of the report (seriously) …

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Intel Report on Russian hacking … my take.

January 7, 2017

Some interesting assertions … that raise some interesting questions.

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Here’s my take:

First, the non-classified report isn’t very compelling.

For openers, the 25-page report isn’t really 25 pages of report … it has a 3-page summary of a 5-page report … with 17 pages of filler on the front and back (the media “annex”).

Hope my students don’t get a whiff of that report-writing strategy.

And, the report contains mostly top-line assertions with virtually no new news or supporting data.

That’s understandable since the evidence is classified and can’t be revealed to us minions.

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click to view report

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Despite the above, I stipulate that the Russians hacked the DNC and John Podesta’s emails … and fed the info to WikiLeaks and RT media.

Here’s my take on the key points (and the questions that the report leaves unanswered):

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Reports: “All 17 intelligence agencies agree that Russia hacked Podesta and the DNC”

January 6, 2017

Am I the only one wondering why there are 17 spy agencies?

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I’ve been amused at the way the phrase slides off the tongues of the news readers: “All 17 intelligence agencies…”

Certainly aroused my curiosity.

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Sure enough, the U.S. intelligence “community” is officially the composite of 17 overt organizations (more on them later) … but, according to a Washington Post investigation, they’re just the tip of the iceberg.

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Among WaPo’s findings:

  • Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.
  • An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.
  • In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings – about 17 million square feet of space.
  • Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.
  • Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year – a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.

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Back on point, here’s a list of the 17 agencies that make up the U.S. spy network …

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“Most Americans support ObamaCare” … say, what?

January 5, 2017

18% say the law has helped their families; 29% say it has hurt them

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ObamaCare is front-and-center again as the GOP controlled Congress starts the process of repealing and replacing.

A repeated Dem talking point yesterday was how the majority of Americans support ObamaCare.

Sorry, Charlie, but the data doesn’t seem to support the claim.

Gallup has been tracking public sentiment towards ObamaCare for the past couple of years.

Bottom line:

More people have disapproved of ObamaCare since its inception … for most of the past 4 years, a majority has disapproved … most recently, the there has been a 7 point gap – 51% disapproving to 44% approving.

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Why the majority disapproval ?

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What if Trump governs like Obama?

January 4, 2017

President Obama seems determined to leave office ungracefully … spending his lame duck time igniting a steam of transitional stink bombs to welcome the President-elect.

Or, as pundits like to say (when somebody other than Obama is doing it): “taking unprecedented unilateral action”.

Those who are gleefully cheering him on, should keep in mind that what goes around, comes around.

Some day, Trump may be in a lame duck period with a Dem president-elect ready to launch.

When he starts complicating life for the president-to-come, today’s cheer squad will have no legitimacy to whine.

Obama’s recent power plays reminded me of a  “must read” opinion piece in the Washington Post archives.

The article was penned by left-leaning GWU law professor Jonathan Turley

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Turley has long been warning that Dems may think it is clever and appropriate when Obama circumvents the Congress and courts to implement his partisan policies, but that they should be forewarned that what goes around, come around.

Specifically, he says:

Democrats have supported President Obama’s claims of unchecked authority in a variety of areas.

Obama has been particularly aggressive in his unilateral actions.

From health care to immigration to the environment, he has set out to order changes long refused by Congress.

Thrilled by those changes, supporters have ignored the obvious danger that they could be planting a deeply unfortunate precedent if the next president proves to be a Cruz or Trump rather than a Clinton.

While the policies may not carry over to the next president, the powers will.

The Obama model will be attractive to successors who, although they may have a different agenda, have the same appetite for unilateral decisions.

Here are some specifics that he cites:

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They didn’t get Michelle O’s memo on hopelessness …

January 3, 2017

Majority of Americans expect 2017 to be better than 2016.

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FLOTUS Michelle Obama chatted with slimmed-down Oprah recently, lauding her hubbies accomplishments (and fretting that the era of hope & change is ending, replaced by pervasive (and justified) melancholy.

She asserted that her husband had succeeded in keeping his campaign promise of fostering hope.

And, she opined: “The U.S. is entering a time of hopelessness  We are feeling what not having hope feels like. We can feel the difference now.”

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Worry not, Michelle.

Polling firm GFK conducted a survey for the AP that asked people how 2016 was for them personally and what their expectations are for 2017.

Here’s what they found …

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