Bigger Government Means More Corruption

July 1, 2014

Phineas Fahrquar:

This brings to mind a quote from Tacitus: ” The more numerous the laws, the more corrupt the State.”

Originally posted on International Liberty:

I’ve posted more than 3,500 items since I started International Liberty. And if you look at the earliest posts, way back in April of 2009, you’ll find that one of the very first of them made the link between big government and big corruption.

My premise was very simple. When government is very large, with all sorts of power to provide unearned wealth via taxes, spending, and regulation, then you will get more sleaze.

Sort of like the way a full dumpster will attract lots of rats and roaches.

A story in Fortune reports that government corruption at the state level is very costly.

…corruption is everywhere, in one form or another. And it’s costing U.S. citizens big time. A new study from researchers at the University of Hong Kong and Indiana University estimates that corruption on the state level is costing Americans in the 10 most corrupt states…

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North Korea: the nightmare of living under a god

April 11, 2014

North Korea Yeonmi Park

There’s an interesting and frightening interview posted to Business Insider today with Yeonmi Park, a woman who escaped from North Korea with her family as a teenager, but needed years to get over the brainwashing she endured there. An indoctrination so intense, she believed the late Kim Jong Il could read her mind:

Yeonmi Park grew up in North Korea, under the watchful eye of then-leader Kim Jong-il.

Though she escaped with her family when she was 15, it took her years to get over the intense brainwashing she experienced. In a recent interview with Australian public broadcasting channel SBS, Park went into unbelievable detail about growing up in the totalitarian state.

Growing up in North Korea, according to Park, was like “living in hell.” She describes constant power outages, no transportation, and watching classmates and friends disappear without a trace. While that may be unsurprising, the most interesting part of Park’s experience is her admission that she believed Kim Jong-il to be “a god” who could literally read her mind.

“I had to be careful of my thoughts because I believed Kim Jong-il could read my mind. Every couple of days someone would disappear,” Park said.

Ms. Park’s story is part of a larger program on mind-control shown by SBS, the Australian public broadcaster.  The whole show is worth watching.

In an article at SBS, she tells more of her own story:

I lived in North Korea for the first 15 years of my life, believing Kim Jong-il was a God. I never doubted it because I didn’t know anything else. I could not even imagine life outside of the regime.

It was like living in hell. There were constant power outages, so everything was dark. There was no transportation – everyone had to walk everywhere. It was very dirty and no one could eat anything.

It was not the right conditions for human life, but you couldn’t think about it, let alone complain about it. Even though you were suffering, you had to worship the regime every day.

I had to be careful of my thoughts because I believed Kim Jong-il could read my mind. Every couple of days someone would disappear. A classmate’s mother was punished in a public execution that I was made to attend. I had no choice – there were spies in the neighbourhood.

George Orwell’s 1984 depicts the UK after an atomic war and a Socialist revolution. Big Brother is a de facto god to the people: his every word the undeniable truth, no matter how it contradicted what he might have said just the day before. Your innermost thoughts known to him, and he held the power to make you willing to accept your own death and the deaths of those close to you as just. His Animal Farm is a parable of a just revolution hijacked by an anti-democratic cadre, who maintain power by turning the other animals against each other and all into slaves. Both are taught as works of fiction, but Yeonmi Park’s story reminds us that they were more like docu-dramas and that the story hasn’t come to an end.

It reminds me of a saying of John Adams:

“It is weakness rather than wickedness which renders men unfit to be trusted with unlimited power”

Our second president was right, but left something out: it’s not just that Mankind is too morally weak for any one person to hold absolute power, but there is also the weakness that makes us willing to surrender our responsibilities as citizens and entrust a small group of people or a single person with unlimited power. It is dangerous because, eventually and inevitably, that power will fall into the hands of evil men.

And then what is to stop them from proclaiming themselves gods?

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


On birthday parties, income inequality, and big government

January 20, 2014
"By invitation, only."

“By invitation, only.”

So, in all the excitement of the NFL’s “championship weekend” the featured the 49ers thrilling come-from-ahead loss in Seattle (1), I forgot it was Michelle Obama’s 50th birthday. You can bet she didn’t forget, though, enjoying a lavish party attended by 500 celebrities and political stars. An intimate soirée, in other words.

Like Byron York, I’ve no need to know the details, assuming the party was paid for with private money, but the intense secrecy surrounding it is intriguing:

It’s not easy to enforce discipline on successful, wealthy, and famous people used to having their own way. But the White House apparently did not want to see photos of the first lady’s glittery gala circulating around the Internet. So it imposed a strict rule: No cellphones. “Guests were told not to bring cellphones with them, and there was a cellphone check-in area for those who did,” reported the Chicago Tribune. “Signs at the party told guests: No cellphones, no social media.” People magazine added: “Guests had been greeted by a ‘cell phone check’ table where they deposited their camera phones on arrival and it was understood that this was not an occasion for Tweeting party photos or Facebooking details.” The publications cited sources who insisted on anonymity for fear of White House reprisal.

“So great was the secrecy surrounding the party,” the Tribune reported, “that guests were handed an invitation — on their way out, the sources said.”

Kind of amusing for the Most Transparent Administration in History, no?

York speculates on the reasons for the secrecy, including the aforementioned privacy. But, he also touches on another, one that I think is at least equally valid – political messaging:

Or maybe, since the president has announced he is devoting the rest of his time in office to an “inequality agenda,” the White House felt photos of a champagne-soaked, star-studded party would be somewhat off-message.

I’m willing to bet this is it. The Left is singing like a chorus about income inequality and the widening gap, hoping to distract us all from the rolling disaster of Obamacare, and Michelle’s big blow-out would sound a loud discordant note, if it had gotten out on the Internet.

The truth the Ancien Régime misses while enjoying their luxurious parties at Versailles-on-the-Potomac, however, is that their parties are not the problem. No one really cares whether Michelle invites five, fifty, or five-thousand guests. No one cares (other than as an object of mockery) how many snobby dinner parties Anna Wintour throws for her glitterati friends.

The real problem, according to David Malpass in the Wall St. Journal, is that the Left’s preferred big-government, class warfare policies make the dread inequality worse more often than not:

Big government expansions in recent years have harmed individuals with modest incomes while exempting or benefiting people with higher incomes. These include the federal takeover of the mortgage industry, and the Federal Reserve’s decisions to keep interest rates near zero and buy some $3 trillion in bonds. Both of these expansions channel credit to the government and the well-connected at the expense of savers and new businesses.

Middle-income earners used to be the primary beneficiary of the rise in the value of their houses. Housing gains now lift Washington, allowing the government to pay itself huge “dividends” from Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Reserve, which owns nearly $1.5 trillion in the government’s housing-related bonds. The government promptly spends the windfalls, fueling a further accumulation of wealth and income for those with Washington access.

The financial industry is making billions in profits fueled by the government’s provision of zero-rate loans for those with connections and collateral. Wall Street’s upper crust is the epicenter for financing the contractors, lobbyists and lawyers that help the government spend money. Meanwhile, government grabs a huge share of the profits generated by small businesses. It piles on opaque regulations, complex tax rules and countless independent agencies, producing a system that works against small businesses and the middle class. The Affordable Care Act takes pains to exempt Congress, government, corporations and unions, but leaves the rest severely exposed, adding to inequality.

This week’s congressional budget deal saw a narrow group of Washington’s elite legislators and lobbyists working over the weekend to divvy up nearly $1.1 trillion in discretionary spending for 2014. Much of the spending and all of the lobbying and debt underwriting costs will benefit those with high incomes while the extra debt falls heavily on the middle class.

Thus while Our Betters in D.C. and Manhattan and Hollywood graciously deign to run our lives for us (when they’re not attending a fancy-dress ball or jetting off to another exclusive resort), the burdens they impose on our lives really just enrich their friends at our expense and leave us holding the bag.

There’s a genuine opening or moment for a populist revolt coming. Not the Left-wing, class warfare kind the progressives like to sucker us with (and for which far too many fall), but a Jacksonian, democratizing electoral uprising against governing elites represented largely, but not exclusively, by today’s Democratic Party. A rising that would restore opportunity for us all, not trap us like Europe in social democratic amber.

We saw the first wave of this with the Tea Party rising of 2010, and Obamacare creates the conditions for another. The question is, will the Republican Party have the sense and the skill to take advantage of it?

We’ll see.

Footnote:
(1) Okay, I’m done pouting. Really. Just wait’ll next year…

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


More Bad News from Government-Run Education: The Corrosive Centralization of Common Core

January 17, 2014

Phineas Fahrquar:

Just what our over-bureaucratized, union dominated schools need: more centralization and control from distant masters not responsible to the people.

Originally posted on International Liberty:

I’ve posted hundreds of charts over the past several years, including on favorite topics such as tax code corruption and counterproductive government spending.

But arguably the most powerful and compelling chart I’ve ever shared is on the topic of education. Prepared by my Cato colleague, Andrew Coulson, it shows that massive increases in spending and bureaucracy (which accompanied increasing federal involvement and intervention) have had zero impact on educational performance.

Keep that chart in the back of your mind as we consider what George Will has to say about President Obama’s scheme – known as Common Core – to expand federal involvement and intervention.

We have several excerpts, beginning with this passage outlining some of his concerns.

Common Core…is the thin end of an enormous wedge. It is designed to advance in primary and secondary education the general progressive agenda of centralization and uniformity. …proponents of the Common Core want its…

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Introducing the 2013 Federal Register: Last year’s 80,000 pages worth of **job-creating rules & regs

January 12, 2014

Only 80,000 pages. The government must be slacking…


#Obamacare Follies: Calorie info on all vending machines

January 3, 2014
"Does Nanny approve?"

“Does Nanny approve?”

Nancy Pelosi once said we’d have to pass the ACA bill in order to find out what’s in it. The latest escapee from Pandora’s box? Vending machine operators across the nation now must display calorie information for every item stocked on each and every machine.

That’s about five million machines, btw:

The rules will apply to about 10,800 companies that operate 20 or more machines. Nearly three quarters of those companies have three or fewer employees, and their profit margin is extremely low, according to the National Automatic Merchandising Association. An initial investment of $2,400 plus $2,200 in annual costs is a lot of money for a small company that only clears a few thousand dollars a year, said Eric Dell, the group’s vice president for government affairs.

“The money that would be spent to comply with this — there’s no return on the investment,” he said.

“Return on investment?” Don’t you know the State has a higher purpose in mind than your grubby profits, you capitalist-roader kulak? Prepare for liquidation!!

(Ahem.)

Carol Brennan, who owns Brennan Food Vending Services in Londonderry, said she doesn’t yet know how she will handle the regulations, but she doesn’t like them. She has five employees servicing hundreds of machines and says she’ll be forced to limit the items offered so her employees don’t spend too much time updating the calorie counts.

“It is outrageous for us to have to do this on all our equipment,” she said.

Brennan also doubts that consumers will benefit from the calorie information.

“How many people have not read a label on a candy bar?” she said. “If you’re concerned about it, you’ve already read it for years.”

But Kim Gould, 58, of Seattle, said he doesn’t read the labels even after his choice pops out of a vending machine, so having access to that information wouldn’t change what he buys.

That last line is the key, in my mind. I’ve learned from the Real World Job that most people will ignore signs, especially if it’s providing information they already know, such as “that pack of sugared donuts probably isn’t good for you, even if you are drinking a diet soda.” If they’re interested in the information, it’s already printed on the product. If they’re not, adding another warning label for them to ignore when they’re hungry isn’t going to change much at all, certainly not enough to justify the non-productive compliance costs. (If I have to sink more money into obeying regulations, then I have less to hire more people if my business does well. Economics, progressives. You should try learning it sometime.)

But shouldn’t all this be the individual’s business,  in any event? We know roughly which foods are good for us and which aren’t, and that too much of almost anything is bad. But if I choose to have that Three Musketeers bar, I don’t need the government hanging over me like a nag and a scold, and I don’t need them forcing vendors to raise prices to compensate for the government’s useless, onerous rules. This is another example of the infantilization of the citizen through the cancerous growth of the State, as it claims jurisdiction over anything even remotely tied to health.

A recent survey showed a record number of Americans — 72%! –feel government is a bigger threat to the United States than Big Business or Big Labor.

And it’s finding out just what’s in the ACA that’s convincing them.

via Jim Geraghty (Be sure to read the rest — it’s an eye-opener.)

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


(Video) #Obamacare – “Victims of government” UPDATED: Gateway Pundit to lose his insurance

December 12, 2013

From Senator Ron Johnson* (R- WI), the story of Kathi Rose, a minister in Wisconsin who learned she was losing the health insurance she was satisfied with and that replacing it would cost her roughly $4,000 per year more. This is helping people? Making them “more secure?”

As Johnson points out in the video, this is not only a financial hardship for Kathi and her family, but also an invasion of their liberty and a threat to the health of her family. This is just one example of a story being played out again and again across the nation and illustrates once more why this anti-constitutional monstrosity has to be repealed.

*A freshman, elected in the “Tea Party” class of 2010. And one of the very good candidates we found that year. Turned out to be a good senator, too.

via Ben Howe

RELATED: Nearer to home for many of us is the story of Jim Hoft, aka “Gateway Pundit,” who suffered a near-fatal disease earlier, but was saved by the excellent care paid for by his insurance — care he still needs. Guess what? Jim is losing his insurance and may lose the doctors he trusts. To quote Jim, “Why is our government doing this to us?”

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Iran can go on enriching, but music teachers must be stopped

December 7, 2013

music teacher violin

And you guys worry about Iran getting nuclear weapons? Fools! Thank God the FTC is there to protect us from the danger of unregulated violin instructors!

The Federal Trade Commission was created in 1914 in the age of oil barons and rail tycoons to bust the big trusts. Today, it’s busting a smaller enterprise – the Music Teachers National Association.

Last March, the FTC sent notice to the MTNA that it was under investigation for “anti-competitive practices.” At issue: a passage in the trade association’s ethics code that says teachers should not actively recruit from other teachers.

“We feel that that provision not only protects the students but ensures that teachers are going to get along well with their colleagues, ” says Gary Ingle, the MTNA’s executive director. 

Ingle says it’s a method of avoiding the rare conflict, where, for example, an accomplished student pianist may be approached after a competition by a rival instructor who promises to help the student win the next competition.

The FTC sees it as a threat to America’s consumers. 

There’s nothing in the rules that prevents a student from seeking out another teacher on their own, of course, and the FTC hasn’t shown how anyone has been harmed by a rule that prevents teachers from poaching each other’s students, but, apparently some bored bureaucrat decided that SOMETHING MUST BE DONE about this clear and present danger.

The MTNA has removed the rule while it figures out how to respond to the FTC’s investigation. So far, it’s amounted to a waste of member’s dues:

MTNA’s Ingle says that’s already happening. His 12-member staff in Cincinnati, Ohio has had to compile 17 years worth of records, including its by-laws, ethics code, journals, finances and membership to satisfy the FTC’s demands.

Sounds like what the IRS did to conservative groups, no? Beat them into submission by hitting them with burdensome documentation demands — and legal fees, should the group decide it needs representation.

Obama’s America: Where nothing is beneath the Federal government’s notice, except Iranian nukes.

via reader Lance

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


A Government Database about our Sex Lives: Gee, What Could Go Wrong?

September 21, 2013

Phineas Fahrquar:

And you can rest assured the NSA would never illegally tap into this. Really. Oh, stop laughing.

Originally posted on International Liberty:

I’ve shared several videos that make the case against Obamacare.

Here’s one narrated by a Dutch woman warning that America shouldn’t repeat the mistakes of European government-run healthcare.

Here’s one from Reason TV about how free markets produce lower healthcare costs.

Here’s one explaining the need to deal with the government-caused third-party-payer crisis.

And I had to reluctantly admit that even one of Karl Rove’s group produced an effective video on Obamacare harming young people.

I think all of those videos are well done and contain critical information, but I suspect the humor in this clever video may change even more minds. Or at least it will be more widely watched.

Fortunately, the creepy Uncle Sam is only symbolic at this stage. While Obama probably would prefer a single-payer system like the one in the United Kingdom, where doctors and other medical personnel actually are government bureaucrats, the immediate danger…

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The potential threat to liberty in driverless cars

September 3, 2013
And he's driving, too.

And he’s driving, too.

Yesterday, I wrote about the European Union proposal to mandate speed governors on all cars, which would be automated to force a driver to slow down, should he exceed the legal speed limit. As an aside, I mentioned the trend toward driverless cars and the potential for state control of those.  (And hacking, let’s be honest. But that’s another issue.)

Jonah Goldberg thought along the same lines this morning and imagined some of the “fun” we could have:

Let’s be fair: The experts aren’t always wrong, and even when they’re wrong, their arguments aren’t necessarily unreasonable given their assumptions. But if you follow the logic of mandatory seatbelts and motorcycle helmets, red-light cameras and anti-texting laws (1) to their natural conclusion, it’s easy to imagine that some bureaucrats will want to co-author your car’s software.

And then what? Will you ever be allowed to go over the speed limit again? Police are already drooling to see our GPS data. Will that become automatic too? Will the cops have the power to tell your car to stop whether you want it to or not? Will authorities be able to tell your car to take a detour to alleviate traffic? Make it turn around when it gets too close to certain off-limit areas?

Whoever thought that driving your own car could be the next “live free or die” moment?

Footnote:
(1) I am, however, strongly in favor of laws against cell phone use and texting while driving, having nearly been run down several times by people paying more attention to their phone than to the road. Studies show phoning while driving is as impairing as driving while drunk. And texting isn’t much better.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


European Union to put speed limiters on all cars?

September 2, 2013
I said, no fun allowed!

Nanny says “Slow down!”

The world’s biggest nanny-state has decided that too many people are dying on Europe’s highways. Rather than leave that problem up to the member nations, the Euro-mandarins in Brussels have proposed to put speed-limiters, some of them satellite-controlled, on all cars. Go too fast, and Nanny puts on the brakes:

Under the proposals new cars would be fitted with cameras that could read road speed limit signs and automatically apply the brakes when this is exceeded.

Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary, is said to be opposed to the plans, which could also mean existing cars are sent to garages to be fitted with the speed limiters, preventing them from going over 70mph.

The new measures have been announced by the European Commission’s Mobility and Transport Department as a measure to reduce the 30,000 people who die on the roads in Europe every year.

A Government source told the Mail on Sunday Mr McLoughlin had instructed officials to block the move because they ‘violated’ motorists’ freedom. They said: “This has Big Brother written all over it and is exactly the sort of thing that gets people’s backs up about Brussels.

“The Commission wanted his views ahead of plans to publish the proposals this autumn. He made it very clear what those views were.”

I’d like to think the minister illustrated his point with the traditional English two-finger salute. And this should be really popular in Germany, where the “need for speed” on the autobahns is a well-known national trait. So, what’s next? EU directives on how one shall cut one’s steak, with a minder showing up to measure each piece with calipers to make sure it isn’t too large?

This is another illustration of the control-freak nature of the Left (1): it’s not enough to set speed limits and levy fines for violating them, nor even to suspend driving privileges for repeat violations. Nope, they have to stand over you constantly lest you pass the bounds of what they determine to be proper. Go too fast, and Nanny will make you slow down.

Democrats in Washington and Sacramento must be green with envy.

Afterthought: Speaking of which, driverless cars are on the way. Who needs speed limiters when bureaucrats can control the whole vehicle? (2)

via David Burge

Footnotes:
(1) The whole European Union government is a statist paradise. The small-government, liberty-of-the-individual politician is a rare sight.
(2) Please. It’s only a matter of time before some progressive genius decides driverless vehicles should have Internet-based governors on them. For your own good, of course.

RELATED: Dan Mitchell make this part of his question of the week – “What’s More Worrisome, Big Brother Monitoring Where You Drive or Big Brother Controlling How You Drive?”

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


#IRS: Going after veterans’ groups?

August 28, 2013
"Thanks for your service?"

“Thanks for your service?”

Well, here’s a surprise (he wrote in sarcasm): while harassing Tea Party and other conservative groups –and interfering with their ability to participate in the 2012 elections, coincidentally enough– our public servants in the IRS decided it would be a good idea to audit veterans organizations, the members of which are largely opposed to the Obama administration.

Coincidentally.

From The Army Times:

A Kansas senator wants the IRS to explain why veterans groups are being asked to prove their members actually served in the military.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said he is “troubled” by an IRS rule that could make veterans service organizations provide DD-214 separation documents “for every member at posts around the country.”

The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group, has about 2.4 million members and 14,000 posts. Veterans of Foreign Wars, with 1.5 million members, is the nation’s second largest veterans group. It has more than 7,600 chapters

The policy that has Moran and others excited was published in January 2011 in an Internal Revenue Service Manual chapter covering tax-exempt veterans’ service organizations. Apparently, the policy is just now getting attention from veterans’ groups.

The tax code sets requirements for veterans groups to qualify for exempt status; for example, 75% must be current or former members of the Armed Services. That’s reasonable enough, but what has Moran and others up in arms is the apparent lack of notification to these groups that they have to provide DD-214s and that failure to comply can mean fines of up to $1,000 per day.

As you can imagine, American Legion, VFW, and other groups are pretty upset, and Moran has some questions for IRS Acting Commissioner Werfel that he wants answered. Now.

From Bridget Johnson at PJM:

  • What legal authority does the IRS have in carrying out a mandate for personal, military service records? Was this mandate reviewed by IRS general counsel? Please provide documentation that gives the IRS the authority to collect this information;
  • Under whose leadership was this mandate initiated, for what direct purpose, and who had approving authority for this mandate?;
  • Were veteran service organizations ever specifically notified of the requirement? If so, please provide the documentation that was issued to these organizations. If not, please explain why organizations were not notified; and
  • Is it true that an organization unable or unwilling to provide this information could be charged penalty fees of $1,000 per day? Please provide clarification regarding the penalty for noncompliance.

I can see auditing groups about which there have been reports of fraud. But that would be on an individual, case-by-case basis when there’s been credible reports of a violation. But this kind of blanket “prove to us you’re not doing anything wrong” sweep looks like more of the “We don’t like small-government/conservative types, so we’re going to make their lives miserable” arrogance that we’ve seen plenty of already from our “Lois Lerner” bureaucracy. Rather than a conspiracy, it seems like Leviathan has developed an attitude problem towards their bosses — us.

And it looks like an attitude adjustment is in order.

PS: But I do want to thank the IRS for handing every Republican candidate in veteran-heavy areas even more wonderful material for campaign commercials. You guys are the bestest!

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


The Obamacare Problem Isn’t Messaging, It’s Statism

July 1, 2013

Phineas Fahrquar:

You can bet your bottom dollar that, when the Republicans retake Congress and the White House and move to repeal Obamacare, Democrats will run to the mics to plead that it only needs “a few fixes.” Bunk. It’s a monstrosity and has got to go. Mitchell’s right: the problem isn’t Obamacare’s “messaging;” the problem is Obamacare.

Originally posted on International Liberty:

The political elitists in Washington are worried that the American people are lukewarm – or even downright hostile – about Obamacare.

You can imagine two of them having a conversation, with the first saying, “Don’t these stupid peasants realize we’re giving them stuff?!?” and the second responding “We need the riff-raff in flyover country to feel grateful so they’re more likely to vote in favor of continued dependency!”

It never occurs to them that maybe, just maybe, people value freedom. Or, even if they don’t care about liberty, perhaps they object to the fact that government costs a lot and delivers very little. Nobody likes paying for a steak and getting a hamburger, after all.

But the statists think it’s just a matter of messaging, and this mindset is even seen in news coverage.

Here’s some of what Politico wrote today.

Obamacare MessagingThe Obama administration and its health-law allies are…

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Great moments in bureaucratic stupidity: requiring a disaster plan for a magician’s rabbit

June 30, 2013

And yet the bureaucracy wonders why we laugh and point at them. Magician Marty Hahne received a letter from the US Department of Agriculture ordering him to submit a disaster plan for the rabbit he uses in his act:

My USDA rabbit license requirement has taken another ridiculous twist. I just received an 8 page letter from the USDA, telling me that by July 29 I need to have in place a written disaster plan, detailing all the steps I would take to help get my rabbit through a disaster, such as a tornado, fire, flood, etc. They not only want to know how I will protect my rabbit during a disaster, but also what I will do after the disaster, to make sure my rabbit gets cared for properly.  I am not kidding–before the end of July I need to have this written rabbit disaster plan in place, or I am breaking the law.

Oh, he also has to prove he’s received training in how to implement Operation Save The Bunny.

My plan: In the event of disaster, Mr. Hippity-Hop is on his own.

File this under “Things so stupid, they have to be real.”

via Iowahawk

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Debunked: #IRS not targeting progressive groups like they did Tea Party groups

June 25, 2013

On Monday, The Hill and others carried a story that seemed to strongly change the narrative of the IRS “targeting scandal.” In testimony before the House Ways and Means committee, acting IRS head Danny Werfel said that the targeting had gone on longer than originally thought –into 2013– and that it had included liberal and progressive groups:

But Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), the top Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said that the IRS told Congress for the first time on Monday that “progressive” was also a term used on BOLO lists. 

In a release, Ways and Means Democrats stressed that liberal groups were among almost 300 groups seeking tax-exempt status that Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration reviewed for the May audit outlining the targeting of Tea Party groups. 

Levin said Monday that the audit left that information out, and called for Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) to bring Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration Russell George back for more testimony. 

“The audit served as the basis and impetus for a wide range of Congressional investigations and this new information shows that the foundation of those investigations is flawed in a fundamental way,” Levin said in a statement.

This would seem to weaken at least one aspect of what has been a major scandal for the Obama administration, that conservative and Tea Party groups were singled out inappropriately for special attention that amounted to political harassment and a denial of equal treatment under the law, based on their political views. If left-liberal groups were given similar treatment, then the charge becomes one of mere bureaucratic incompetence, rather than political persecution. And it would tie in with the administration’s favorite defense in scandals: “We’re not evil. We’re just stupid.”

But… Not so fast.

Writing for National Review, Eliana Johnson looks at this new revelation and finds yet another smokescreen:

Acting IRS commissioner Danny Werfel on Monday told reporters that the now-infamous “Be On The Lookout” list was far broader than was originally disclosed in the Treasury Department inspector general’s report. Reports from outlets including the Associated Press, which I cited in my original report, and now Bloomberg News, confirmed Werfel’s account, indicating that various versions of the list not only included terms like “tea party,” but also “progressive,” “Occupy,” and “Israel.” 

A November 2010 version of the list obtained by National Review Online, however, suggests that while the list did contain the word “progressive,” screeners were in fact instructed to treat “progressive” groups differently from “tea party” groups. Whereas screeners were merely alerted that a designation of 501(c)(3) status “may not be appropriate” for applications containing the word ”progressive” – 501(c)(3) organizations are prohibited from conducting any political activities – they were told to send those of tea-party groups off IRS higher-ups for further scrutiny. 

That means the applications of progressive groups could be approved on the spot by line agents, while those of tea-party groups could not. Furthermore, the November 2010 list noted that tea-party cases were “currently being coordinated with EOT,” which stands for Exempt Organizations Technical, a group of tax lawyers in Washington, D.C. Those of progressive groups were not. 

In other words, “Nice try, Representative Levin, but you might want to contact the White House to find out what’s next on the list of distractions.”

This does raise several questions, though. First, Acting Commissioner Werfel surely had to know of the disparate treatment of conservative and liberal groups and its significance in this scandal. Why bring this up as if it was exculpatory? A little “suggestion” from the White House? It may be time for him to come back to testify under oath to explain himself.

Second, this scandal has been known for weeks, and there have been days of testimony by various Right-wing groups complaining about mistreatment by the IRS. If lefty groups were similarly picked on, where were they? Why didn’t they demand to be heard? Why didn’t the Democrats produce them as witnesses? Surely they deserve justice, too, don’t they?

As Johnson’s research shows, they weren’t at the hearing because they had no complaint. The bureaucracy wasn’t interfering with the exercise of their constitutional rights.

Just ours.

RELATED: Evidence shows 12 different IRS groups targeted conservatives across the land. Those “rogue agents” sure got around. Jay Cost on the need for bureaucratic reform to protect the republic.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


You’re not paranoid if they really are out to get you, @SharylAttkisson

June 14, 2013

A few weeks ago, I mentioned CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson’s strong suspicions that her home and work computers had been accessed by unknown persons. Coming in the wake of revelations about the government’s seizure of phone records for journalists and editors at the Associated Press and a secret warrant for phone records and email belonging to Fox reporter James Rosen charging him with being an unindicted co-conspirator under the Espionage Act of 1917, Attkisson’s accusations couldn’t be dismissed as paranoia or mere attention-seeking.

In fact, she was right:

“A cyber security firm hired by CBS News has determined through forensic analysis that Sharyl Attkisson’s computer was accessed by an unauthorized, external, unknown party on multiple occasions late in 2012. Evidence suggests this party performed all access remotely using Attkisson’s accounts. While no malicious code was found, forensic analysis revealed an intruder had executed commands that appeared to involve search and exfiltration of data.

This party also used sophisticated methods to remove all possible indications of unauthorized activity, and alter system times to cause further confusion.

CBS News is taking steps to identify the responsible party and their method of access.”

Now, as an expert contacted by the Post’s Erik Wemple points out, this doesn’t necessarily mean it was the government:

Eugene H. Spafford, a Purdue University professor and specialist in computer security, said that Attkisson’s initial statements about computer intrusions left open a wide field of possibilities, from viruses to botnet activity to acquaintances to criminal gangs to the government. 

And an investigative reporter as determined as Attkisson, who’s looked into many sensitive topics –such as Fast and Furious… hmmm…–  could well have alarmed many different types of people who might want to find out what she knows, who she’s talking to, etc.

But, in late 2012, Attkisson was writing a series of articles on the Benghazi massacre that weren’t toeing the government line. Indeed, she was asking some tough questions, especially about the lack of a military rescue mission:

CBS News has been told that, hours after the attack began, an unmanned Predator drone was sent over the U.S. mission in Benghazi, and that the drone and other reconnaissance aircraft apparently observed the final hours of the protracted battle.

The State Department, White House and Pentagon declined to say what military options were available. A White House official told CBS News that, at the start of the attack, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “looked at available options, and the ones we exercised had our military forces arrive in less than 24 hours, well ahead of timelines laid out in established policies.”

But it was too late to help the Americans in Benghazi. The ambassador and three others were dead.

(hat tip: Ed Morrissey for the reminder of this)

That highlighted paragraph indicates anonymous sources. And if the government was forcing access to James Rosen’s phone records and emails (and his parents’ emails), and CBS was talking to anonymous sources giving out information embarrassing to the Obama administration, then it’s not at all hard to look at the break-in into Attkisson’s computers and wonder if something similar happened here.

It will be interesting to see what CBS discovers, and I suspect the relevant committee’s of Congress will have even more work when they do find out who was behind it.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Not enough scandals for you? Here, have four more!

June 11, 2013

Via Gabriel Malor at Ace’s, who laments that the misbehavior at the EPA has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed so far by the IRS, NSA, Rosen, and so many other stories. He collects them all in a handy post, but here’s a summary:

  • Remember former Administrator Lisa Jackson’s hidden email account using a fake identity? Well, that non-existent person somehow won a departmental award.
  • The Freedom of Information Act is supposed to enhance government transparency by establishing procedures by which people can demand access to information. But, in the bureaucratic Mandarin Land of today’s EPA, only conservative groups have to pay for the information — and pay a lot. Naturally, leftist groups regularly get waivers.
  • Contractors turning public property into man-caves.
  • This is the bad one: the EPA released the personal information of 80,000 farmers and ranchers to radical environmentalist groups. But, don’t forget, we can trust the government with our private information.

Read the rest of Gabe’s post for more, and some acerbic analysis.

Meanwhile, I’m adding EPA to the list of government agencies that Congress needs to have taken out back and shot (1). It seems to be growing by the day (2).

Footnotes:
(1) Dear PRISM: that’s called a figure-of-speech. Don’t flag me, bro!
(2) Phineas’ List of Government Departments To Scrap, A Work In Progress:

  • EPA
  • IRS
  • HUD
  • HHS
  • Commerce
  • Labor
  • Education
  • Transportation
  • Energy
  • Agriculture
  • Homeland Security

Some of these may well have necessary functions worth preserving — the Census, for example — but I’m willing to bet 80-100% of each could be dumpstered, saving us a lot of money and headache.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Oh, no. This won’t set off conservative and libertarian alarm bells at all.

May 11, 2013

"The State watches over you"

“The State watches over you”

I mean, what’s so threatening about a biometric database of all adult Americans being in the immigration bill, citizen?

The immigration reform measure the Senate began debating yesterday would create a national biometric database of virtually every adult in the U.S., in what privacy groups fear could be the first step to a ubiquitous national identification system.

Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation (.pdf)  is language mandating the creation of the innocuously-named “photo tool,” a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.

Employers would be obliged to look up every new hire in the database to verify that they match their photo.

This piece of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act is aimed at curbing employment of undocumented immigrants. But privacy advocates fear the inevitable mission creep, ending with the proof of self being required at polling places, to rent a house, buy a gun, open a bank account, acquire credit, board a plane or even attend a sporting event or log on the internet. Think of it as a government version of Foursquare, with Big Brother cataloging every check-in.

Emphasis added.

Nah, there are no 4th Amendment illegal search and privacy concerns here. Nothing to see, carry on. After all, wingnuts, you demanded greater security in the immigration bill and, well, here ya go! The government will make sure only bona fide Americans get jobs by keeping track of each and every one of us. And if they should find other uses for the information, well, that will be for the public good, too.

And you thought Person of Interest was just fiction.

If this Wired story is true, this provision is reason enough to kill the bill.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Quote of the Day: On #GunControl, Obama, and lameducks

April 18, 2013

Writing in the Telegraph, Tim Stanley makes a trenchant observation in the wake of the defeat the gun-control bill in the Senate yesterday and the President’s angry reaction:

4. Barack Obama is a lame-duck president. Nobody listens to what he says anymore, nobody is interested in winning his approval and nobody much cares if he thinks they have “let the country down”. This is typical for a second-term president who has lost all their leverage because they’re no longer running for office and everybody is patiently waiting for the day when he quits the White House. But Obama’s difficult personality has doubled the size of the challenge. Gloating in victory, adolescent in defeat – the Prez doesn’t make it easy to work with him. Why should conservative senators give him a legislative victory after he has spent four years painting them as knuckle-dragging rednecks who hate women and the poor?

Narcissists just can’t stand it when their carefully nurtured inflated sense of self-esteem is punctured. When it happens, they take it personally and we get petulant tantrums, as we saw yesterday.

But this is just one victory for civil liberties against Progressive usurpations. Obama may have been checked in Congress on this, he may have little “banked political capital” left to shove major legislation through, but the presidency still has immense regulatory power, and Obama has often expressed regret that he couldn’t just bypass Congress.

The fact is that he can, quite effectively. So, while we indulge in a little justified satisfaction in this win for reason and constitutionalism, let’s also remain wary.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Hide your IRAs: Obama admin. — “We think you’ve saved enough!”

April 12, 2013
"Shakedown"

“We’re here for your fair share.”

Or maybe it’s the off-ramp to Cyprus.

Over at lefty blog Talking Points Memo (h/t Joel Gehrke), Brian Beutler has noted an interesting item in the White House’s latest budget proposal: a cap on the amount one is allowed to save in tax-deferred accounts. Anything over that is open to the taxman.

Per the budget, “Individual Retirement Accounts and other tax-preferred savings vehicles are intended to help middle class families save for retirement. But under current rules, some wealthy individuals are able to accumulate many millions of dollars in these accounts, substantially more than is needed to fund reasonable levels of retirement saving.”

But how would they close this loophole?

One way experts believe financial managers avoid the current annual contribution limit to IRAs is by using IRAs to participate in investments and assigning those investment interests a nominal value vastly below fair market.

Obama wouldn’t curb this practice directly. Instead his budget calls for an overall cap of about $3 million on the net balance across all of an individuals’ tax-preferred accounts. Only have one IRA? It can hold $3 million. Have three? Their holdings must sum to $3 million or less.

The $3 million figure is approximate. A formula would set the cap at a level just high enough to finance an annual distribution of no more than $205,000 per year in retirement for someone retiring this year.

Now, I can imagine TPM is just thrilled with this; it just reeks of class warfare disguised as “fairness.” We’ve got “reasonable levels” (Defined by whom? Oh, wait…) and the ever popular “loophole,” with its scent of someone getting away with something, cheating the rest of us.

What the administration is talking about, I believe, are self-directed IRAs  and other retirement vehicles that allow you to invest your money where you see fit (1). When you sell the stock and withdraw the funds, under the rules you’re taxed at a much lower rate. It’s a great vehicle for wealth creation and the encouragement of saving for retirement.

And that’s what they can’t stand. The rules as written prevent them from taxing this sheltered wealth to fund their bloated spending, so they’re going to change the rules. Oh sure, they say this is aimed the the “Romneys” of the world, those rich people who have sheltered more the $3 million, but how long do you think that barrier will last? About as long as it takes them to realize they need more.

Rocco always wants more.

This idea to tax sheltered money isn’t new; FDR, to whom Obama acolytes compare him, has his own undistributed profits tax, to punish businesses that were holding on to cash. (Look out, Apple!) That scheme blew up in Roosevelt’s face as business investment collapsed and the nation entered a new recession in 1937-38. You can bet a move like this would have its own unintended consequences, which the social engineers at Team Unicorn would blame on anyone but their own ham-handed, grasping, greedy policies.

This is progressivism showing its face as Leviathan. Forget that it was your skill and acumen and good habits that accumulated that wealth (and, through investing it, helped others by creating jobs, &c.); forget that this is, in the end, your money, yours to dispose of as you see fit, beyond that portion needed to fund the basic functions of government.

Forget all that.

The administrative state beloved by progressives knows what’s best. It has its plans and goals for us all, because it has divined the national will. Thus all the resources of the nation are at its disposal to meet those goals.

Including your retirement accounts.

This budget is dead on arrival, thank Heaven, but don’t think this scheme is going away. Oh, no. Once broached, it’s out there, waiting.

PS: I wonder if this is where Obama got the idea?

Footnote:
(1) You know: your money, your property, your liberty.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


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