Government’s path of least resistance for would-be homeowners

After a disastrous housing market crash exacerbated by artificially depressed pricing points for lower-income, first-time homeowners, you’d think the people in charge of crafting loan policy in the U.S. would have learned a thing or two about the realistic cost of entry into the housing market.

But this is the government. According to Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle, the lessons of the housing crisis of the early 2000s appear to be little more than a distant, fuzzy memory for regulators.

“We just spent six years learning, the very hard way, that you can’t borrow yourself rich,” she wrote last week. “That knowledge is too expensive to throw away so easily.”

At issue is the current push by progressive groups, lawmakers and some in the mortgage industry to lower down payments on homes for first-time buyers so that they can get in the door before having to worry about paying the lifetime cost of their loan.

“The government agencies that drive most of the housing market are pushing for lower down-payment standards on mortgages, easing the 20 percent requirement that has become standard for much of the market,” McArdle wrote. But, she warns, the large pool of buyers who take advantage of the low-threshold approach isn’t homogenously free of the risk of default. And they’re unlikely to see any growth in the value of their property unless the housing market swells throughout the life of their loan:

Is there a good public-policy reason to encourage people to make a heavily leveraged bet on continued upward movement in home prices? Presumably, the argument is that many homeowners have done very well out of this over the past 50 years; rising home values sowed the seeds of many a college education and retirement fund.

But there are huge drawbacks to housing, too. Leveraged bets are great when they pay off; when they don’t, they leave you dead broke. Especially a bet on a large, illiquid asset such as a house. Put a homeowner into one of these gambles at the age of 35, send the local housing and job markets south a few years later, and the end result is a broke middle-age person with trashed credit in desperate need of a good rental unit. Which legislators should know, because we seem to have a lot of them around right now.

So who, then, can buy a house and expect to reap some passive financial reward as the property increases in value? It’s certainly not people who can’t afford to make a significant down payment, she argues.

But buying a house is a good idea only if you meet the following conditions:

  1. You can afford a sizable down payment to cushion you from the effects of local economic downturns or you have a super-stable job, such as working for the government or your father-in-law, that makes you unlikely to ever miss any payments.
  2. You can afford the maintenance as well as the payments, insurance and property taxes.
  3. You have good disability and/or mortgage insurance to make sure that you do not miss any payments even if you break your back and can’t do your job anymore.
  4. You are pretty sure you do not want to leave your area or move to a larger, more expensive home anytime in the next five years.
  5. Your payment is a reasonable percentage of your take-home pay (I shoot for under 25 percent; anything over 35 percent is far too risky).
  6. You have a sizable emergency fund to deal with contingencies.
  7. You can afford other forms of savings, rather than counting on your house as a piggy bank for future needs. In general, if declining home prices would send you into a hysterical panic about your financial situation, you are buying too much house.

How many homeowners do you know who meet those sensible conditions? Yet buying a house without thinking through one’s total financial commitment, over a span of decades, is “gambling,” McArdle argues.

And it looks as though the government will continue to make it dangerously easy for first-time buyers to go gambling.

Judicial Watch: Valerie Jarrett recruited to spin Fast and Furious scandal for Eric Holder

We’ll probably be seeing more stories like these in coming days, as Judicial Watch pores over the 1,323 pages of document names the Department of Justice handed over to a federal court last week.

Judicial Watch, the nonprofit government watchdog suing the DOJ for the release of Fast and Furious information that President Obama has so far kept secret under an assertion of executive privilege, wrote Friday that Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett entered the picture just as the scandal was starting to hit the news.

It appears that Holder jumped on the scandal by seeking advice from Jarrett immediately after investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson released an October 2011 story showing that Holder was aware of the operation for far longer than he had previously admitted, under oath, to Congressional investigators.

From Judicial Watch:

Practically lost in the 1,000-plus pages of records is an index that shows Jarrett was brought in to manage the fact that Holder lied to Congress after the story about the disastrous gun-running operation broke in the media. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) ran the once-secret program that allowed guns from the U.S. to be smuggled into Mexico so they could eventually be traced to drug cartels. Instead, federal law enforcement officers lost track of hundreds of weapons which have been used in an unknown number of crimes, including the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona.

The files received by JW include three electronic mails between Holder and Jarrett and one from former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke to Jarrett. The e-mails with Holder are all from October 4, 2011, a significant date because, on the evening of October 3rd, Sheryl Attkisson (then at CBS news) released documents showing that Holder had been sent a briefing paper on Operation Fast and Furious on June 5, 2010. The paper was from the director of the National Drug Intelligence Center, Michael Walther.

This directly contradicted Holder’s May 3, 2011 testimony to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, during which he stated that he, “probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.” The October 4, 2011 date may also be significant because it came shortly after the August 30, 2011 resignation of U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke and reassignment of acting ATF director Kenneth Melson to the position of “senior forensics advisor” at DOJ.

Lest there be any doubt about Holder’s intentions in getting Jarrett’s attention, we have the DOJ’s descriptions of what the emails discussed. “The description of one of the e-mails, written from Jarrett to Holder, reads, ‘re: personnel issues.’ Another, also from Jarrett, reads, ‘outlining and discussing preferred course of action for future responses in light of recent development in congressional investigation,'” Judicial Watch wrote.

The group hopes to eventually get its hands not only on a truncated list of all the items the DOJ is trying to keep hidden, but the documents themselves. In the meantime, you can see the list for yourself at this page, where Judicial Watch has posted the entire thing.

Obama claims executive privilege for Eric Holder’s wife, mother in Fast and Furious lawsuit

The Obama administration met its Oct. 22 deadline for submitting a listing of all the Fast and Furious papers for which it’s claiming executive privilege for the Department of Justice, giving Judicial Watch — the plaintiff in the lawsuit against the DOJ to share the actual documents — its first look at what kind of stuff the government is trying to hide.

Among the 15,662 documents listed in the “Vaughn Index” the DOJ submitted are some interesting things. The department is claiming that its assertion of executive privilege extends to the wife of Attorney General Eric Holder, as well as his mother.

From Judicial Watch:

The document details the Attorney General Holder’s personal involvement in managing the Justice Department’s strategy on media and Congressional investigations into the Fast and Furious scandal. Notably, the document discloses that emails between Attorney General Holder and his wife Sharon Malone — as well as his mother — are being withheld under an extraordinary claim of executive privilege as well as a dubious claim of deliberative process privilege under the Freedom of Information Act. The “First Lady of the Justice Department” is a physician and not a government employee.

The “Vaughn Index” originated from a 1973 case in which the court decided that a government agency could not simply declare some of its documents exempt from a Freedom of Information Act request. The index compels defendants (usually government agencies and their representatives) to list the items it wishes to withhold, along with an explanation of why sharing the information would be damaging.

As of Wednesday, Judicial Watch has only had access to the government’s index for a handful of hours, but here are some of the watchdog group’s initial takeaways:

Numerous emails that detail Attorney General Holder’s direct involvement in crafting talking points, the timing of public disclosures, and handling Congressional inquiries in the Fast and Furious matter.

President Obama has asserted executive privilege over nearly 20 email communications between Holder and his spouse Sharon Malone. The administration also claims that the records are also subject to withholding under the “deliberative process” exemption. This exemption ordinarily exempts from public disclosure records that could chill internal government deliberations.

Numerous entries detail DOJ’s communications (including those of Eric Holder) concerning the White House about Fast and Furious.

The scandal required the attention of virtually every top official of the DOJ and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Communications to and from the United States Ambassador to Mexico about the Fast and Furious matter are also described.

Many of the records are already publicly available such as letters from Congress, press clips, and typical agency communications. Ordinarily, these records would, in whole or part, be subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. Few of the records seem to even implicate presidential decision-making and advice that might be subject to President Obama’s broad and unprecedented executive privilege claim.

Judicial Watch also points out that Fast and Furious may have been supplanted by more recent Obama administration scandals, but the gun-walking scheme that hatched the scandal has created problems that won’t go away anytime soon.

“Guns from the Fast and Furious scandal continue to be used in crimes,” JW wrote. “Just last week, Judicial Watch disclosed that a Fast and Furious gun was used in gang -style assault on a Phoenix apartment building that left two people wounded. We figured this out from information we uncovered through another public records lawsuit against the City of Phoenix.”

D.C. making it ‘as difficult as possible’ to acquire handguns despite court order

Last month, the Washington, D.C., city council grudgingly agreed to revise a local ordinance to bring the city into compliance with a judge’s order mandating a path to concealed carry for residents.

Now, it appears that the city is doing all it can to make it prohibitively inconvenient and expensive for anyone thinking about actually taking advantage of the change.

The new ordinance isn’t exactly 2nd Amendment-friendly, requiring anyone who wants a permit to finish an 18-hour training course and ensuring that law enforcement has the final say in whether a person truly needs a concealed carry permit.

And city administration is dragging its feet to live up to its own end of fulfilling even those mandates, offering a passive resistance to the change that, according to the Washington Times, is “emblematic of the city’s reluctant scramble to comply with the July order that overturned the District’s ban on carrying handguns in public.” It’s charging $75 just to apply for a permit and requires firearms instructors who wish to provide the mandatory training to shell out a $435 fee.

From the Times:

The District’s newly minted concealed carry laws require gun owners seeking permits to complete 18 hours of firearms training.

One problem: As of Wednesday, the day before a court-ordered deadline for the permitting process to begin, no instructors had been approved to teach the compulsory course.

… George Lyon, a firearms instructor and one of four gun owners involved in the court case that overturned the D.C. ban on carrying guns in public, said a $435 certification fee might discourage some trainers from applying.

“This is another example of them making the process as difficult and expensive as possible,” Mr. Lyon said.

He said he has not decided whether to pursue approval by D.C. Metropolitan Police as an instructor. “It’s definitively an inhibition. Maryland does it for nothing, and D.C. has to charge $435?”

But before a resident can even enroll in a training course — whenever the city gets around to certifying the instructors and taking their money — the police have to determine that he’s a legitimate candidate to hold a CC permit.

“The training class would not be required until Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier decides whether a legal gun owner has demonstrated a ‘good reason’ to carry a firearm,” reported the Times. “The regulations say the investigative process to qualify for permits could take 90 days or longer for gun owners to demonstrate that they are targets of specific threats.”

As the NSA scandal matures, outrage fizzles into business as usual

It’s been 16 months since The Guardian published its first story on the National Security Agency’s bulk collection program, launching a series of reports that would introduce the public to cryptic terms like PRISM and Boundless Informant.

Since the initial outrage over the U.S. government’s warrantless collection of personal data from millions of people who aren’t suspected of any crimes, though, little has changed about the way the government scoops up that very same data. Not even the sanctimonious anger of elected leaders has resulted in any meaningful reforms to protect Americans’ 4th Amendment rights.

On Tuesday, the editorial board of USA Today (not just a single columnist, but the entire editorial board) published a scathing condemnation of the government’s all-talk, no-action response to the entire scandal. The piece levels most of its ire at everyone’s favorite target: Congress.

“After leaks last year revealed a vast web of government surveillance of innocent Americans, the outrage in Washington could hardly be contained… Yet the program lives on,” USA Today wrote:

The government is still collecting and storing telephone call records of tens of millions of Americans who have done absolutely nothing wrong. The “metadata” show who they call, when they call and how long they talk.

… One plan on the table goes a long way toward an overdue rebalancing of security and liberty. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has teamed with some key conservatives, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on a compromise that has drawn support from many of the warring parties: most privacy advocates, the tech industry, the U.S. attorney general and the director of national intelligence.

… Whether this Congress has the courage to do so remains to be seen. With only a lame-duck session left after the Nov. 4 elections, time is not on the side of change. Nor is the threat from ISIL.

It’s always nice when a mainstream news source is compelled to credit Ted Cruz with standing behind a sensible plan. But the piece fails to mention the earliest Congressional response to the NSA scandal: a near-miss House vote on a sweeping amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act sponsored by Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.).

That amendment would have barred the NSA “and other agencies” from indiscriminately collecting bulk data under the aegis of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, and would have limited data collection only to suspects targeted with warrants issued on a case-by-case basis by the controversial and secretive Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court.

No wonder Democratic candidates are fleeing the Obamas: The first family doesn’t know anything about them

It’s sometimes said that bad publicity is better than no publicity, but you’ve got to wonder if that’s a sentiment that Senate candidate Bruce Braley shares.

The Iowa Democrat, who’s competing against GOP candidate Joni Ernst for the Senate seat being vacated by “retiring” Democratic incumbent Tom Harkin, keeps getting slighted whenever the Obamas attempt to endorse him. Apparently, the first family doesn’t know his last name — or even the office he’s seeking.

“The relationship between the White House and Senate Democrats hit a new low Tuesday evening after the administration’s press office released a transcript of first lady Michelle Obama’s appearance in Iowa on behalf of Democratic Senate candidate Bruce Braley,” National Journal reported Wednesday.

“The problem: The subject line of the e-mail referred to Braley as the “Democratic candidate for governor.”

In case you missed it, Braley is running for one of Iowa’s Senate seats. He isn’t running for governor.

In an election year when Democrats are already dodging associations with the Obama administration, thanks to the president’s unpopular handling of almost every issue, the White House keeps throwing fuel on the fire. Misidentifying Braley as a gubernatorial candidate isn’t the first family’s only screw-up in its efforts to support his candidacy.

Michelle Obama repeatedly called him “Bruce Bailey” at a rally in Iowa earlier this month, eventually invoking the Bailey last name a total of seven times.

“Obama continued to mispronounce the Braley’s name five more times until she was interrupted by an audience member, who made her aware of her continued slip-up,” reported CNN http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/11/politics/stumping-in-iowa-first-lady-stumbles-on-candidates-name/ .

“‘Braley?'” she asked, looking quizzical. ‘What did I say? I’m losing it,’ she laughed. ‘I’m getting old.'”

Democratic leaders, effectively on an island separated from the politically toxic Obama administration, have responded to these sorts of careless gaffes with strong criticism of the White House.

“Indicating the sensitivity of the mistake, top Senate Democratic officials wasted no time lashing out at the Obama administration’s political team in response, suggesting it was acting like a junior varsity operation two weeks before the midterms,” National Journal http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics/senate-democratic-officials-start-lashing-out-at-white-house-20141022 reported Wednesday.

Another Democratic leader’s book bombs after publisher’s exorbitant payoff

It hasn’t been so very long ago that Hillary Clinton’s “Hard Choices” underperformed after garnering its author a lavish publisher’s advance. Now another high-profile Democrat’s book has tanked in even more spectacular fashion, but only after its author was assured a tidy sum of guaranteed money.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo released “All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life” last week, and it’s been getting trashed both by reviewers and by non-customers. In its first few days on sale, the book’s only managed to move a reported 945 hardcover copies:

Clinton’s book, a poorly reviewed piece of tepid “insider” talk, has been out since June. It hasn’t been doing so great either — but it still managed to sell 920 copies in the same week that Cuomo’s memoir was released.

Clinton received a reported $14 million advance for “Hard Choices.” Cuomo’s take for “All Things Possible” can’t match that figure, but still assured him a reported $700,000 advance from Harper, its publisher. That’s guaranteed money, regardless of how the book performs.

“For New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), the consequence of an extremely muted memoir release is that the only people reviewing his book on Amazon are the kinds of readers who see it as a paperweight or hamster-cage liner,” The Huffington Post observed Tuesday. “And those are the five-star reviews.”

Ouch.

Cuomo’s been rumored as a possible Democratic presidential candidate for 2016.

Mainstream media downplays voter outrage as midterm elections approach

Ahead of the Nov. 4 midterm elections, the major television news outlets are covering the anticipated anti-Obama voter backlash with far less fervor than in 2006, when a public disgruntled with President George W. Bush handed control of Congress over to Democrats.

According to an analysis by the conservative Media Research Center (MRC), the three U.S. broadcast news networks are covering this year’s elections — widely anticipated to be a net loss for Democratic incumbents — with a frequency that pales in comparison to the incessant anti-GOP coverage they offered ahead of the 2006 midterms.

According to the MRC, the Big Three networks are “all but ignoring” the possible shift in Congressional control:

In less than two weeks, voters head to the polls in midterm elections that seem certain to yield strong Republican gains, if not outright control of the U.S. Senate. Such a political sea change is big news, but a new Media Research Center study finds that, in contrast to their enthusiastic coverage of the 2006 midterms when Democrats made big gains, the Big Three broadcast evening newscasts are all but ignoring this year’s political contests.

MRC analysts studied every election story on the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts from September 1 through October 20 in both 2006 (the midterm election in George W. Bush’s second term) and 2014 (the equivalent election under President Barack Obama). Even in a changing media landscape, Big Three evening newscasts are a principal news source for more than 23 million viewers, beating all of their broadcast and cable competition.

Our analysts found that, when Democrats were feeling good about their election prospects eight years ago, the CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and ABC’s World News aired a combined 159 campaign stories (91 full reports and another 68 stories that mentioned the campaign). But during the same time period this year, those same newscasts have offered a paltry 25 stories (16 full reports and 9 mentions), a six-to-one disparity.

In addition, ABC’s “World News Tonight” has neglected to offer even a single story on the midterms. “[T]his year, a regular viewer of ABC’s evening newscast would have no indication that any [elections] were even taking place,” MRC observes.

NBC even launched an in-depth series of stories in the run-up to the 2006 midterms, featuring individual Congressional races that promised to flip party control from the GOP to the Democrats.

“It wasn’t biased for the networks to sift through polls and predict bad news for Republicans eight years ago,” MRC concludes.

“But now that the party labels are reversed, those same networks are showing their bias by giving so much less airtime to the bad political news for Democrats this year.”

Pennsylvania opens path to lawsuits over local gun ordinances that supersede state law

The Pennsylvania legislature approved a bill Monday that provides a pathway for “membership organizations” to sue cities in the Keystone State for passing any local ordinances that go beyond state law in regulating the possession and use of firearms. Republican Gov. Tom Corbett is expected to sign it into law.

Democratic leaders are predictably outraged.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer Monday:

“If you are a resident of Forest County and you don’t like the Norristown gun law,” said Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery), “you could hire Johnnie Cochran and bill a township $100,000 an hour or whatever he charges to win the case.”

…Former Gov. Ed Rendell, a gun control advocate who has worked with the advocacy group CeasefirePA, has vowed to target in the Nov. 4 election Southeastern Pennsylvania lawmakers who voted for the measure.

“This bill is outrageous,” Rendell said last week. “People all over the commonwealth support the basic notion that someone who loses their firearm should report it.”

According to the Inquirer, 28 mostly urban municipalities have local ordinances that require owners to report missing firearms.

The mayors of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh — both Democrats — united in their opposition to the law, issuing a joint statement decrying its potential to encourage “gun violence.”

“Gun violence represents a particularly tragic epidemic in poorer communities in cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Parents, family members, and community leaders are naturally compelled by concern for their loved ones to do everything in their power to combat the shootings that destroy lives,” they wrote.

The law, which goes into effect 60 days after the governor signs it, not only will give member organizations like the National Rifle Association legal standing to sue municipalities over local gun laws, but also to recover legal fees and court costs from the cities if they prevail.

All the outrage from the left begs an obvious question: Why would Democrats oppose this law unless they already knew what the outcome would be for any lawsuit that arises from it?

Obama throws embattled Democrats under the bus

President Obama is increasingly the target of critics who maintain his decisions are motivated by optics instead of principle. But it’s not always clear whether Obama harbors a desire to influence the public’s perception of the Democratic Party in general or of himself in particular.

Obama did his critics a favor this week, throwing fellow Democrats under the bus just as they head into the final two-week stretch of the midterm election season.

Appearing on Al Sharpton’s radio show Monday, Obama said that many Democratic incumbents in Congress who’ve shunned his support during their midterm re-election campaigns are the very same people who have supported his ideas.

“The bottom line is, though, these are all folks who vote with me; they have supported my agenda in Congress; they are on the right side of minimum wage; they are on the right side of fair pay; they are on the right side of rebuilding our infrastructure; they’re on the right side of early childhood education,” he told Sharpton.

Those comments come even as incumbents like Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), as well as newcomers like Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes of Kentucky all hedge on their support for the same policies Obama continues to insist are party consensus-builders.

“These are folks who are strong allies and supporters of me, and I tell them: I said, ‘You know what? You do what you need to do to win. I will be responsible for making sure our voters turn out,'” he said.

The president appears to be doubling down on his now-infamous Oct. 2 remark that signaled the midterms are nothing less than a nationwide voter referendum on his policies.

“[M]ake no mistake: These policies are on the ballot, every single one of them,” Obama told an audience at Northwestern University.

That comment had been repeatedly deployed in GOP campaign advertisements — a phenomenon that will likely be duplicated using his latest comments to Sharpton.

“The president’s remarks appear tailor-made for Republican attack ads in states like Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Kentucky and Alaska, where GOP candidates have painted their Democratic opponents as rubber stamps for the administration’s policies,” The Hill wrote Tuesday. “Democrats in those races have worked hard to distance themselves from Obama, with polls showing his approval ratings mired in the low 40s.”

It’s good to be friends with Sen. Kay Hagan, as long as she can get re-elected

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) is among the vulnerable Senate incumbents in this year’s midterm elections, so it’s probably vital to everyone who’s allegedly benefited from her back-scratching government largesse that she stay firmly planted in office for another six years.

That appears to apply particularly to Randall Gore, the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development office in Hagan’s home state. Hagan recommended Gore to President Obama after she took office in 2009, and the Senate confirmed him.

Now the USDA’s representatives in North Carolina are in a position to return the favor — something Carolina Journal insinuated last week in a fascinating article about a possible conflict of interest involving a USDA energy grant to a business co-owned by Hagan’s family.

From Carolina Journal:

Earlier this week, CJ reported on the $50,000 grant from the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program. The grant paid for the second phase of a solar energy installation at a building in Reidsville owned by JDC Manufacturing, a company co-owned by Kay Hagan’s husband Charles “Chip” Hagan and Chip’s brothers John and David. Another Hagan family-owned company, Plastic Revolutions, leases space at the JDC building.

The first phase of the solar project — along with other energy upgrades at the site — was underwritten in part by a stimulus grant to JDC of $250,644. As part of the application for the stimulus grant, JDC said it would provide “leveraged funds” amounting to $187,983, or 43 percent of the total project cost of $438,627. As the project neared completion, JDC reported the project ended up costing $114,519 less than projected. But JDC passed on none of the savings to taxpayers, and kept the entire $250,644 in stimulus funding.

Less than a year after pocketing the $114,519 in savings from phase one, JDC went back to taxpayers asking for an additional $50,000 to fund phase two. Both phases of the solar project were installed by another Hagan family business, Solardyne/Green State Power, a solar energy company owned and managed by Chip Hagan, the Hagans’ son Tilden, and their son-in-law William Stewart.

If true, this resembles the sort of secret-handshake dealing that routinely unfolds whenever some pipe-laying company’s owner’s brother gets elected as chairman of the local county commission. Local-bid contracts have a way of going to those guys, and often there’s a government grant subsidizing part of the cost.

Like many improvement grants, from ARRA to CDBGs, this case appears to carry on the proud tradition of pouring a significant chunk of the free money not into the community, but into the pockets either of political cronies or necessary-evil special interest groups.

Carolina Journal reports it’s had trouble getting information about the USDA grant from the state office.

“After first agreeing to allow Carolina Journal to inspect the documents relating to a taxpayer-funded U.S. Department of Agriculture energy grant to a company owned by family members of U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, the USDA Rural Development office in Raleigh later said the matter was being handled in Washington — implying the USDA’s headquarters in the nation’s capital.”

What are the odds the Journal gets its response after the midterm elections are in Hagan’s rearview mirror?

More people loathe Harry Reid than Koch brothers

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may hate the Koch brothers, but there are a lot of people — evidently living everywhere except Nevada — who hate Harry Reid.

In fact, more people despise Reid than the villainous Koch brothers, whom Reid himself so despises.

According to last week’s Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, the Kochs have a lot of catching up to do if they want to be as reviled as Reid. The majority leader races past them in negative polling, with 28 percent of voters saying they hold a “very negative” opinion Reid, compared with only 19 percent who harbor the same antipathy for the Koch brothers.

Similarly, 11 percent said they hold a “somewhat negative” view of Reid, compared with only 8 percent who feel the same way of the Koch brothers.

Not that the conservative Kochs aren’t getting a lot of help in the race to the bottom of public opinion polling.

If the goal is to get people to hate you, then Reid has been the Kochs’ biggest ally. He spent much of the early half of 2014 hyperbolically slamming the duo from the Senate floor and on Twitter, even going so far as to support a failed Constitutional amendment aimed at curbing the Kochs’ ability to donate to federal election campaigns.

It’s probably a good thing for Reid that the campaign finance amendment failed, anyway.

“Reid has often ranted about the Koch brothers’ evil plan to ‘buy our democracy,’” The Washington Free Beacon wrote last week. “But as it turns out, the single largest donor — by far — to outside spending groups this cycle is Reid’s good friend Tom Steyer, an environmentalist billionaire.”

Which gets more mainstream coverage: NFL scandals or Obama scandals? (Hint: It’s not even close)

If you have a hunch that the mainstream media selectively edits out stale political content and shields the Obama administration from the sight of its own spilled milk, you probably could guess correctly that more vapid fare gets the lion’s share of news coverage.

You’d be right. Compare and contrast the frequency of the major TV networks’ “news” coverage of the myriad NFL scandals with its coverage of the Obama administration’s (even more myriad) scandals. According to NewsBusters:

Since September 4 (the start of the NFL regular season) through October 15 the networks, on their evening and morning shows, devoted a total of 171 (NBC 71, CBS 55, ABC 45) stories or briefs to five NFL players (Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Jonathan Dwyer, Ray McDonald, Greg Hardy) embroiled in domestic abuse cases. Number of stories on Obama scandals over that same time period? Just three. And while no one would dispute the seriousness of the charges underlying the NFL cases, the question has to be asked doesn’t the state of the body politic deserve at least the same amount of coverage as the state of the NFL?

To be fair to the mainstream press, the TV news divisions have a gift for giving airtime to  the Obama administration’s problems without framing them as scandals. Nearly every talking head who’s been consulted to discuss the administration’s handling of the ongoing Ebola scare has trotted out the same discredited talking points handed down by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

And the CDC has been loath to affirm anything that the president hasn’t explicitly authorized. Hence, CDC Director Tom Frieden’s comically evasive remarks on the reasons why banning travel to and from West Africa won’t slow the spread of the virus here on this continent.

NewsBusters offers detailed accounts of how the TV networks’ anchors have earnestly portrayed the gravity of the NFL’s many problems. But that same gravity has been missing whenever the topic turns to the Obama administration’s bumblings and missteps.

“[T]the same kind of urgency expressed in the language used and in the amount of stories (171) devoted to the NFL’s scandal was not utilized in covering the latest developments in the following Obama scandals,” NewsBusters remarked.

Minimum wage group offers pay that undercuts the wage they’re demanding

In another case of reality trumping idealism, a progressive group advocating for a dramatic bump in the federal mandatory minimum wage has inadvertently revealed a bit on unintentional hypocrisy.

The Seattle-based Freedom Socialist Party needed a Web developer, so it put out an online job posting. It describes the necessary qualifications and job responsibilities, and it even clearly states the hourly wage.

Problem is the Freedom Socialist Party isn’t offering its future Web developer nearly as much as the minimum wage it’s demanding from the government. The party wants a $20 mandatory minimum wage, but it’s willing to pay a Web developer only $13 per hour.

From the party’s Web page describing its policy platform:

Restore funds and programs that aid seniors, the poor, children, single mothers and the homeless. No cuts to Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare. Raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour. Provide a guaranteed annual income. Free medical care for all, including reproductive services and abortion. End foreclosures and expand low-cost public housing.

This clearly isn’t a case of leading by example.

Pundit Press took a screen capture of the party’s online job posting. Sure enough, the group offers “$13.00/hour or negotiable depending on experience.”

The ad was posted recently; here’s a link to its Craigslist post — if you’re interested in putting your Web dev skills to use for $13 per hour.

Obama administration has prosecuted media leakers more than all other presidential administrations combined

The American Civil Liberties Union is among the many advocates for putting a halt to the federal government’s ongoing prosecution of Pulitzer-winning reporter James Risen. In researching facts pertaining to the Risen case, the ACLU discovered an interesting fact: The Obama administration beats all of recorded history in its rate of jailing accused media leakers.

“Partially because of press freedom concerns, sentencing in media leak cases has historically been relatively light,” the ACLU’s Gabe Rothman wrote this week. “Not so under President Obama. When it comes to sending these folks to jail, the Obama administration blows every other presidency combined out of the water — by a lot.”

Here’s Rothman on the contrast between the Obama administration and everybody else:

By my count, the Obama administration has secured 526 months of prison time for national security leakers, versus only 24 months total jail time for everyone else since the American Revolution. It’s important — and telling — to note that the bulk of that time is the 35 years in Fort Leavenworth handed down to Chelsea Manning.

Rothman lists eight separate cases under Obama that have either already produced jail sentences or for which the case disposition is still pending. By far, the longest sentence was handed down to Manning, who was given 420 months for his role in delivering intelligence documents about the Afghan and Iraqi wars to WikiLeaks.

For his part, Risen is still waiting for the federal government to decide whether it will continue its attempts to compel him to testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling. Sterling is a former CIA employee suspected of informing Risen about the government’s alleged sabotage of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

Risen published a 2006 book, “State of War,” which discussed the covert program but did not reveal the source of the information. He won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting that same year for stories about U.S. spying.

Risen also won the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award for journalism earlier this month. In accepting the award, he told an audience he believes Obama “hates the press.”

The Obama administration’s only West African travel ban applies to U.S. soldiers in the hot zone

The Obama administration has authorized U.S. military commanders of troops deployed to Ebola-afflicted West African countries to exercise their own discretion in instituting quarantines for soldiers and support personnel whom they suspect of coming into contact with the virus.

That’s a harsher stance than the administration has taken on restricting air travel to and from countries like Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

So far, Obama has not instructed the State Department to issue any travel bans involving Ebola-stricken populations, despite the United States’ first-ever case of Ebola having been introduced by a man who boarded a U.S.-bound plane from Liberia.

American soldiers, whom Obama ordered to Africa to play supporting roles in securing treatment centers in Ebola zones, will be more closely guarded. There are about 500 soldiers there now, but the administration has authorized the deployment of up to 4,000.

“In an unprecedented move to protect U.S. troops that might be exposed to Ebola, U.S. military commanders are being given the authority to quarantine troops for 21 days at a Defense Department facility where they will be monitored for signs of the disease and treated if they do contract the virus, a Defense Department memo explained,” CNN reported Wednesday.

In July, Obama moved quickly to institute a travel ban to Israel in the midst of a foreign policy skirmish with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama described that short-lived restriction as a “prudent action” that had nothing to do with his difference of opinion with Israel over its defensive stance against Hamas rocket attacks originating from the Gaza Strip.

Ben Carson bootstrap PAC claims more than $10 million in fundraising

The political action committee behind a grass-roots effort to “draft” Dr. Ben Carson into a presidential campaign has reportedly raised more than $10 million in mostly small donations, outstripping a similar effort staged by supporters of presumed Democratic contender Hillary Clinton for the most recent fundraising period.

The Draft Ben Carson for President Committee announced Tuesday it had added $3.3 million to its war chest in the third quarter of 2014, far more than the $2 million raised in Q3 by the pro-Clinton Ready for Hillary PAC. Both camps have surpassed the $10 million mark in total donations.

On the heels of this week’s fundraising reports, Bloomberg is speculating Carson is “on the verge of running” for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

He has expressed reluctance every step along the path to such an endeavor, though, appearing deferential to the will of those who beg him to seek the presidency. “If the Lord grabbed me by the collar and made me do it, I would. It’s not my intention,” he told FOX News shortly after his speech at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast strongly endeared him to political conservatives.

“He was set to retire on a golf course,” Bloomberg observes. “He bought an organ and was determined to learn to play (‘I just love Bach organ music, it just inspires me,’ he says.) He was going to learn a few languages.” But his famous speech, which criticized President Obama’s policies even as Obama himself sat two chairs away, set Carson on a more ambitious course.

“Honestly, after the prayer breakfast things began to happen that I wasn’t anticipating,” he told Bloomberg. “Then the question became can you just walk away and do what you want to do and just leave all of those people who were just clamoring and saying you’ve gotta do this.”

Houston subpoenas sermons of pastors who oppose homosexuality from the pulpit

The 1st Amendment is coming up against local discrimination laws in Houston, where the city council has subpoenaed sermons from several pastors who’ve allegedly referenced the city’s lesbian mayor or portrayed homosexuality as immoral before their congregations.

Houston passed an anti-discrimination ordinance in May, approving a piece of local legislation pushed by mayor Annise Parker, a lesbian who described the measure as “the most personally satisfying and most personally meaningful thing that I will do as mayor.” Several religious leaders in Houston have remained vocal in their opposition since that time. A petition to hold a referendum on the law drew far more than the required number of signatures, but was declared “invalid” by the city attorney. A voter lawsuit challenging that decision is now pending.

Equal rights is one thing; forcing pastors into court over the convictions they share with willing churchgoers is another. To mount its defense in the lawsuit, the city has subpoenaed the sermons and “other communications,” according to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), in an effort to demonstrate the law’s opponents are violating the ordinance if they are telling congregants that homosexuality is a sin.

ADF, which is representing five Houston pastors in the case, posted a release to its website Monday criticizing city leaders for conducting what ADF’s Erik Stanley described as a “witch hunt.”

“City council members are supposed to be public servants, not ‘Big Brother’ overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge. In this case, they have embarked upon a witch-hunt, and we are asking the court to put a stop to it,” Stanley said.

An Oct. 9 legal brief filed by ADF on the pastors’ behalf questions the constitutionality of the city’s subpoena.

“[T]he discovery requests demand materials that are protected by the First Amendment privilege governing discovery of nonpublic documents and communications relating to a political campaign and political strategy,” ADF wrote.

ADF also condemned the city’s handling of the petition to hold a referendum on the ordinance.

“In June, the Houston City Council passed its ‘bathroom bill,’ which sparked a citizen initiative to have the council either repeal the bill or place it on the ballot for voters to decide,” the group’s online statement reads. “The public submitted more than three times the legally required number of valid signatures, which the city secretary, who is entrusted by law to examine and certify petitions, certified as sufficient. The mayor and city attorney defied the law and rejected the certification.”

Update: On Friday, attorneys for the city of Houston filed a preliminary response to an amended motion filed by the pastors who were served subpoenas demanding their sermons. The response read:

In order to reduce the issues that will need to be decided by the court, however, Defendants revise Request No. 12.

Request No. 12 originally read:

All speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuals, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.

Defendants hereby revise Request No. 12 as follows:

All speeches or presentations related to HERO or the Petition prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.

Another reason people don’t trust the government: Census uses legal threats to force survey response

If you’re among the Americans who’ve received the U.S. Census Bureau’s supplemental American Community Survey (ACS) in the mail, you may have noticed that your response to the lengthy questionnaire is, uh, mandatory.

That’s because the Census Bureau is having trouble convincing people to trust the government with answers to personal questions about how much money they make and what their property is worth.

Instead of employing positive reinforcement to entice people to respond to the 30-page document, the Census Bureau opts to “favor the ‘stick’ above [the] ‘carrot’ when mailing out questionnaires,” as Reason’s J.D. Tucille puts it.

The Bureau’s Tasha Boone, the survey’s assistant division chief, outlined some of the challenges ACS faces in a recent presentation to the National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations. She lamented in the accompanying document that the public’s “[p]erception of ‘irrelevant’ or unnecessary questions raises concerns about privacy” and that “[d]istrust of government is pervasive.”

“Just a thought, but a bit of self-awareness might be lacking in the preference she expressed,” wrote Tucille, “…for the existing [survey mailout] that threatens in bold, capital letters, ‘YOUR RESPONSE IS REQUIRED BY LAW.’

“That should settle those privacy and trust issues.”

The ACS survey goes far beyond the basic decennial census, probing U.S. residents for information about their jobs, their healthcare, their property, their transportation and even their marital history.

The ACS survey has encountered strong opposition from constitutionalists who maintain the government simply has no business collecting highly personal information about people who reside in the U.S.

The Rutherford Institute slammed the survey in a 2012 letter to the Commerce Department, demanding that the questionnaire be overhauled so that it asks “only questions on subjects covered by the census itself.”

The group also urged Commerce to stop threatening people with $5,000 fines for neglecting to comply.

Civil forfeiture shouldn’t be this funny

We almost hate sharing this video clip, because while it absolutely condemns the police practice of civil forfeiture — a practice we’ve written about before — it does so with such hilarity that it’s easy to lose sight of just how serious, unjust and unconstitutional a practice it is.

Nevertheless, HBO’s John Oliver provides a remarkably informative and incisive takedown of civil forfeiture, sussing out the obvious conflict of interest inherent in state laws allowing police to seize and keep the property of people who are never charged with a crime.

Oliver also does a great job emphasizing the absurdity of levying charges against property — instead of innocent people — as a police workaround whenever law enforcement wants to steal the property of citizens whom it knows have violated no law.

It’s more than 15 minutes long, but we’re betting you’ll end up watching every second.

Enjoy and share.

H/T: Daily Signal

Obama’s empty deficit-reduction boast

President Obama is propping up any little victory he can massage a narrative out of in order to rally the troops ahead of the November midterms. Usually, there’s little substance underlying the braggadocio.

So it is with his self-congratulation over the much-touted reduction in the federal deficit. The president has repeatedly boasted that the deficit has fallen from a steep $1.4 trillion a few short years ago to $486 billion in 2014. “The tea party is going to have to find something else to complain about,” one Forbes contributor recently intoned.

Yes, that’s a much smaller number. But what’s the context? “Smaller” relative to what?

“[I]t’s it’s worth putting the declining deficit in context, and remembering that, as a Senator, Obama probably would have been appalled by his current deficits,” Reason’s Peter Suderman observes:

The [2014] year’s deficit total, just shy of half a trillion dollars, represents a big drop from the $1.4 trillion peak it hit in Obama’s first term. (More than 40 percent of that reduction came as a result of tax hikes.) But the reduction only came following a massive 800 percent increase in annual deficits.

Notably, it’s still much higher than the typical deficits during the Bush years, which, you may recall, were worrisomely large — indeed, they were large enough that Obama, as a Senator in 2005, declared that “you don’t have to be a deficit hawk to be disturbed by the growing gap between revenues and expenses.” Between the 2006 and 2007 fiscal years, the deficit dropped from $248 billion to $160 billion.

So we started from a bad place, went to a far worse place, and then receded (for the moment) to a place that’s still worse than where we started. Great.

“Simply citing the 66 percent fall in deficits over the past five years without context is misleading, since it follows an almost 800 percent increase that brought deficits to their highest levels in post-war history,” remarked the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB).

And the federal deficit is probably at the lowest point it’s likely to reach under Obama and the 113th Congress — and probably long after that.

“[T]he deficit remains more than three times as high as in 2007 (1.7 percentage points higher as a percent of GDP) and is projected to grow over time,” commented CRFB. “Under CBO’s current law baseline, annual deficits will return to trillion-dollar levels by 2025. Under their more pessimistic Alternative Fiscal Scenario, the deficit will reach $1.5 trillion in 2025, exceeding the nominal-dollar record set in 2009.”

Finally, the ratio of debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) is growing — an indicator that places any deficit number, however low it may appear, into a context that’s both quantitative and qualitative.

And it’s the qualitative context that looks especially bad.

“[O]ver the same period that deficits fell by 66 percent, nominal debt held by the public grew by 69 percent — from $7.5 trillion to $12.8 trillion,” wrote CRFB. “As a percent of GDP, debt has grown extremely rapidly, from 35 percent of GDP in 2007 to 52 percent of in 2009 and to over 74 percent in 2014.

“… While the deficit has indeed dropped significantly, this drop followed a massive increase, was largely expected, and does not suggest the country is on a sustainable fiscal path. Currently, debt levels are at historic highs and projected to grow unsustainably over the long run.”

For more information on CRFB’s number-crunching, as well as illustrative charts and graphs, check out the nonprofit organization’s Oct. 8 report.