Economy shrinks in Q1 of 2015

The U.S. economy contracted in the first quarter of 2015, revised gross domestic product figures reveal.

The .7 percent contraction comes in the wake of an original estimate that claimed first-quarter GDP had expanded by .2 percent. But the May revision of first-quarter growth indicates an economy that, in a technical sense, is in recession.

From a statement released by the Department of Commerce:

Real gross domestic product — the value of the production of goods and services in the United States, adjusted for price changes — decreased at an annual rate of 0.7 percent in the first quarter of 2015, according to the “second” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the fourth quarter, real GDP increased 2.2 percent.

The GDP estimate released today [Friday, May 29] is based on more complete source data than were available for the “advance” estimate issued last month. In the advance estimate, real GDP increased 0.2 percent. With the second estimate for the first quarter, imports increased more and private inventory investment increased less than previously estimated (for more information, see “Revisions” on page 3).

While Commerce cites an imports/export imbalance, the Obama administration also blamed bad winter weather and Americans’ increased propensity to hold onto their money. White House economist Jason Furman instead pointed to a “combination of personal consumption and fixed investment” as a better indicator of the state of the economy’s true health.

“The first-quarter slowdown was the result of harsh winter weather, tepid foreign demand, and consumers saving the windfall from lower oil prices,” Furman wrote. “The combination of personal consumption and fixed investment, the most stable components of GDP, has grown 3.4 percent over the past four quarters. This solid long-term economic trend complements the robust pace of job growth and unemployment reduction over the last year.”

First the Obamaphones, now the Obama ‘net

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to present a new proposal that would extend subsidies to low-income Americans who want to get online.

The five-member commission, which is directed by three Democrats and two Republicans, intends to expand the current “Lifeline” program, which subsidizes income-eligible residents’ cellphone bills, to also encompass billing for Internet service.

The plan dovetails philosophically with the FCC’s recent net neutrality proposal, which regards the Internet not as a luxury but as a necessity. By elevating it to a utility, the commission can argue that low-income Americans who can’t afford to pay for Internet access are being denied access to an indispensable service.

The FCC’s Democratic majority backs the plan, while its two Republican members generally oppose it.

“[T]here is a legitimate debate whether the Lifeline program should be abolished or significantly scaled back rather than expanding its mission,” Republican commissioner Michael O’Rielly wrote recently. “I would be open to having a thoughtful debate on the best way to address a perceived need in this communications area rather than bootstrapping the old program with new responsibilities.”

While O’Rielly wrote those words before the current plan to expand Lifeline was made public, it’s clear that the two ideologies within the FCC are at odds over the proposal.

“Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a strong advocate of expanding Lifeline subsidies to Internet service, said it simply recognizes the reality of how people communicate today,” Politico reported Thursday.

“In a nod to criticism of the program’s history of abuses, however, Clyburn wants to make some changes. Phone providers have long had the role of determining who qualifies for the subsidies — an arrangement that’s been at the root of many of the problems. Clyburn wants to set up a different system, in which a person eligible for food stamps or free school lunches automatically qualifies for Lifeline.”

That, though, sounds like the opposite of reform.

Lifeline, begun as a landline subsidy in 1985 but greatly expanded to encompass cellphones in 2005, is funded by a fee added to consumers’ phone bills.

The current plan could come up for a vote at the FCC’s June 18 meeting.

Unions beg out of Los Angeles minimum wage increase they helped to pass

The same labor unions that pushed for an increase in the minimum wage in Los Angeles are hoping they don’t actually have to pay the increased rate, now that their wish has come true.

Union leaders asked the Los Angeles City Council for an exemption to the newly approved increase, which is slated to graduate the minimum wage in the city to $15 per hour over between now and 2020.

From Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times:

The push to include an exception to the mandated wage increase for companies that let their employees collectively bargain was the latest unexpected detour as the city nears approval of its landmark legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020.

For much of the past eight months, labor activists have argued against special considerations for business owners, such as restaurateurs, who said they would have trouble complying with the mandated pay increase.

One key union advocate positively sounded like a Republican lawmaker from a right-to-work state in explaining the logic behind the labor leaders’ request.

“With a collective bargaining agreement, a business owner and the employees negotiate an agreement that works for them both,” Rusty Hicks, who heads the L.A. County Federation of Labor, said in a statement. “The agreement allows each party to prioritize what is important to them. This provision gives the parties the option, the freedom, to negotiate that agreement. And that is a good thing.”

That’s only one small logical step away from just flat-out saying that the only thing standing in the way of such unbridled freedom as Hicks describes is … being hamstrung by attachment to a collective bargaining group.

Change his statement from “employees” to “employee” and you get the picture.

Freedom Watch founder files RICO lawsuit against the Clinton Foundation

Freedom Watch founder Larry Klayman, the conservative advocate who’s been a thorn in the side of the Clinton family for years, has filed a racketeering lawsuit against Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation in a federal court in Florida.

The lawsuit is a RICO (shorthand for the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) case, and it formally alleges what many conservative critics have taken as a matter of presumption: that Hillary Clinton, while serving as secretary of state, used her government position to cash in the favors of foreign donors to Clinton Foundation. It also alleges that former Clinton Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills violated Klayman’s 1st Amendment rights by lying about the existence or availability of FOIA-requested information that, it was later revealed, had been housed all along on a non-government computer server in Clinton’s New York home.

The suit’s allegations are much more numerous, and you can view the entire filing here.

The RICO angle focuses on the Clinton Foundation’s alleged role in enriching the Clinton family by proffering favors to donors that, in their fulfillment, required that Secretary Clinton deceive the public, and that she wield policy influence that did not serve the public interest.

The private email server, Klayman argues, was pivotal in providing Hillary Clinton a confidential communication channel for carrying out her alleged influence peddling. From the suit:

Upon information and belief, the server was established in part for the use of Defendant The Clinton Foundation and Defendants Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. Defendant The Clinton Foundation may ownthe server in whole or in part.

As a result, the Defendants concealed from the Plaintiff public records to which the Plaintiff was entitled to under the FOIA Act.

Defendants concealed official government documents such that they were not available to be searched and produced to the Plaintiff under FOIA. Defendants intended to operate a covert enterprise of trading political favors and governmental acts in exchange for donations, which are in effect bribes, to Defendant The Clinton Foundation and/or speaking fees to Defendants Bill and/or Hillary Clinton.

Using concealed communications on the private email server, the Defendants negotiated, arranged and implemented the sale of influence and access to U.S. Government officials and decision-makers and official acts by State and other instrumentalities of the U.S. Government in return for bribes disguised as donations to Defendant The Clinton Foundation and extraordinarily high speaking fees paid to DefendantBill Clinton and Defendant Hillary Clinton.

Klayman is banking on the court sharing in his suspicion that, if the email server can be subpoenaed, it could prove or disprove what he’s alleging. If so, the suit will become the vehicle by which the public may finally glimpse the communications Hillary Clinton destroyed before turning over a curated set of State Department emails to the government.

“Our Congress doesn’t even have the guts to subpoena her documents,” Klayman said in the Washington Examiner. “They’d rather get on Fox News. So we felt had to bring that case. Somebody’s got to do it.”

Left balks at GOP proposal to offer over-the-counter birth control, for some reason

A group of Republican senators is supporting a bill that would make over-the-counter birth control mandatory, while preserving access to birth control for those who obtain it through their insurers.

Surprisingly, though, left-leaning groups like Planned Parenthood hate the idea.

The GOP bill, sponsored by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), reportedly would compel pharmaceutical companies that produce oral contraceptives to apply to the FDA for permission to make their products available without a prescription, and would simultaneously abolish the Obamacare provision that currently prevents enrollees from using their health spending account funds to buy non-prescription medication.

In other words, Gardner’s bill would allow customers to buy birth control simply by visiting a store, and it would allow people covered under an Obamacare plan to pay for it using funds accrued to their health savings plans.

Sounds like a liberating proposition, eh? Maybe — but not if you’re dead-set against the GOP and incapable of agreeing with them, even when they’re agreeing with you.

The prospect of all that easy access to contraception “hasn’t stopped some from flipping out about the bill,” Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown observes:

Jezebel blogger Stassa Edwards admits that “allowing [the pill] to be sold OTC would be a sizeable step in” the direction of expanding access. But “it seems like Gardner and Ayotte’s proposal is a sneaky way to effectively end Obamacare’s mandatory contraception coverage,” she warns. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has previously advocated for OTC oral contraception. But ACOG President Mark S. DeFrancesco cautioned against Gardner and Ayotte’s bill, stating that “instead of improving access, this bill would actually make more women have to pay for their birth control, and for some women, the cost would be prohibitive.

Then there’s Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards, who contorts the group’s well-known stance on access to contraceptives by calling the bill a “sham and an insult to women” that “would give women fewer birth control options and force women to pay twice for their birth control.”

So this bill, for the left, is really a Trojan (apologies if you detect a pun) horse attempt at subverting Obamacare — not an expansion on an Obamacare provision that accomplishes something for which the president himself has advocated repeatedly (but never managed to accomplish).

“To suggest that making birth control pills available for purchase in more places and with less restrictions is to ‘give women fewer birth control options” insults the English language,” Reason argues:

The fact that one pill manufacturer applies for over-the-counter status wouldn’t mean all birth control pill manufacturers would then have to be sold so; there could and likely would still be prescription-only oral contraceptives. Besides, myriad other birth control methods — from hormonal implants to the (much longer-acting and more effective than the pill) IUD — would still be prescription only, and hence still ‘free’ under the contraception mandate. There’s also no reason to think the contraception mandate couldn’t be stretched to require coverage for over-the-counter birth control also.

… [C]ritics like Richards and Edwards are cool with keeping birth control restricted under the mere possibility that it might undermine the contraception mandate — though, once more, there’s no reason why it has to. Gardner and Ayotte’s bill, from what we know about it, would simply make the process for switching birth control brands from prescription to over-the-counter status easier … [and] let women buy this birth control with funds from a health, medical, or flexible savings account.

Much will be cleared up when the full text of the bill is made available — which, unlike Obamacare itself, will probably happen before it actually passes.

D.C. not going down without a fight after court rules against its gun law

Last week, a federal judge reaffirmed an earlier ruling that declared Washington, D.C.’s regressive handgun permitting ordinance unconstitutional.

This week, the city is demonstrating once again that its leaders will do everything in their power to postpone, for as long as possible, that inevitable moment when they must comply with the order of the court.

The city on Monday filed a motion requesting a stay of Judge Frederick J. Scullin’s recent ruling. Scullin’s order, attended by a preliminary injunction against a portion of the city’s permitting ordinance, found that the law places too great a burden of proof on law-abiding residents to demonstrate to the city’s police force that they really need a handgun in order to be allowed to obtain one.

The city had already been ordered to go back to the drawing board and craft an ordinance that would provide a pathway for residents to obtain a handgun, following an earlier court ruling that found the city’s outright ban on handguns unconstitutional. So it came up with an ordinance that made it so difficult for people to obtain permits that those who attempted to satisfy the new requirements filed suit.

Now the city has requested a stay of Scullin’s injunction, arguing that every day that goes by without the current law in full effect is a day that will put more evil guns on the city’s streets.

“This injunction has important public safety consequences, if for no other reason than it will result in an increase in the number of guns carried publicly,” the motion warns.

Isn’t that the idea? Sounds like a feature of the injunction’s intent — not a bug.

In response to Scullin’s order that the city immediately suspend a key requirement of the contested ordinance — the requirement that permit applicants demonstrate a good reason for needing to own a handgun — the city’s attorneys immediately declared their intent to reinterpret that same order. Instead of expediting current permit applications that had already been held up, the city decided to reset the 90-day permit application review process in an effort to buy time while it orchestrated a request for a stay.

That, according to the Second Amendment Foundation (2AF), is ground for the city to be held in contempt. According to The Washington Free Beacon, 2AF responded quickly to the city’s request for a stay by filing a motion of its own — a motion to hold the city in contempt for its recalcitrance in complying with the court.

“The games continue,” that motion alleges. “Defendants [the city] supposedly not understanding the Court’s order, they will ignore it. Of course, Defendants understand the order perfectly well. They simply dislike it…

“If Defendants want a 90 day stay of the Court’s injunction, they need to ask for one. There are requirements and standards — in other words, there is actual law that governs that process. For parties in this Court, let alone government officials, to unilaterally declare a 90 day ‘court-ignoring’ period upon issuance of a preliminary injunction is simply unacceptable.”

Clinton Foundation got millions from Saudi government before Hillary vetted massive arms deal

Another day, another new fracture in the façade of the massive edifice the Clinton family has constructed to conceal its corrupt intermingling of charitable giving and public policy.

Hillary Clinton’s State Department in 2011 cleared an agreement between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia that allowed for the sale of $29 billion worth of military aircraft, supplied by U.S. contractors, to bolster the Saudis’ air force. The deal angered Israel, as well as human rights watchers concerned that the U.S. sends the wrong message by continually affirming the Saudis’ retrograde domestic policies.

A new report revisits that deal’s pre-history, highlighting the Clinton Foundation’s then-recent enrichment at the hands of Saudi government money.

“[I]n late 2011, Hillary Clinton’s State Department was formally clearing the [Saudi] sale, asserting that it was in the national interest,” International Business Times reported Tuesday:

At a press conference in Washington to announce the department’s approval, an assistant secretary of state, Andrew Shapiro, declared that the deal had been “a top priority” for [Hillary] Clinton personally. Shapiro, a longtime aide to Clinton since her Senate days, added that the “U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army have excellent relationships in Saudi Arabia.”

These were not the only relationships bridging leaders of the two nations. In the years before Hillary Clinton became secretary of state, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia contributed at least $10 million to the Clinton Foundation, the philanthropic enterprise she has overseen with her husband, former president Bill Clinton. Just two months before the deal was finalized, Boeing — the defense contractor that manufactures one of the fighter jets the Saudis were especially keen to acquire, the F-15 — contributed $900,000 to the Clinton Foundation, according to a company press release.

The Saudi deal was one of dozens of arms sales approved by Hillary Clinton’s State Department that placed weapons in the hands of governments that had also donated money to the Clinton family philanthropic empire, an International Business Times investigation has found.

The Saudi airplane contract just happened to comprise a huge chunk of a much larger total, with more than a dozen countries — all former Clinton Foundation donors — inking arms deals with the U.S. while Clinton was secretary.

At the State Department, a pattern was emerging. “Under Clinton’s leadership, the State Department approved $165 billion” in military sales to 20 countries that had all previously donated to the Clinton Foundation, IB Times reported.

“That figure — derived from the three full fiscal years of Clinton’s term as Secretary of State (from October 2010 to September 2012) — represented nearly double the value of American arms sales made to the those countries and approved by the State Department during the same period of President George W. Bush’s second term,” the report states.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Clinton’s State Department also cleared $151 billion in additional arms sales to a number of countries under a separate Pentagon program, and all of them had at least one thing in common: prior donations to the Clinton Foundation. And the U.S. defense industry did its part, too, making donations not only to the Clinton Foundation, but also forking over “personal payments to Bill Clinton for speaking engagements,” according to IB Times.

Read the full report here.

Another police agency outed for conducting warrantless Stingray surveillance

Yet another law enforcement agency has been discovered to have spied on thousands of unsuspecting — and unsuspected — citizens via cell-site emulating devices.

The sheriff’s office of San Bernardino County, California, has deployed the devices more than 300 times — presumably eavesdropping on thousands of unwitting residents’ cellphones in the process — without obtaining search warrants or demonstrating probable cause, according to ArsTechnica.

The SBSD released a May 7 memo in response to a public records request, revealing the manner in which it has used the devices — commonly referred to as Stingrays, the trade name for a popular iteration of the device manufactured by Harris Corp.

From a Monday report from ArsTechnica:

In response to a public records request, the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department (SBSD) sent Ars, among other outlets, a rare example of a template for a “pen register and trap and trace order” application. (In the letter, county lawyers claimed this was a warrant application template, when it clearly is not.) The SBSD is the law enforcement agency for the entire county, the 12th-most populous county in the United States, and the fifth-most populous in California.

Stingrays, or cell-site simulators, can be used to determine location by spoofing a cell tower, but they can also be used to intercept calls and text messages. Once deployed, the devices intercept data from a target phone as well as information from other phones within the vicinity. For years, federal and local law enforcement have tried to keep their existence a secret while simultaneously upgrading their capabilities. Over the last year, as the devices have become scrutinized, new information about the secretive devices has been revealed.

This template application, surprisingly, cites no legal authority on which to base its activities. The SBSD did not respond to Ars’ request for comment.

SBSD attorneys also confirmed to ArsTechnica that the agency had used the devices at least 303 times throughout all of 2014, as well as through May 7 of this year.

Because the “pen register and trap and trace order” leaves open a pathway for law enforcement to deploy surveillance with minimal explanation as to its intended target or purpose, the potential for abuse is built in to the process. That’s why, according to Ars, “Washington state just signed into law a new warrant requirement for stingray use, which also imposes stringent disclosure and data minimization standards.”

This article, written from a prosecutor’s perspective, dates from 2009, but it highlights the appeal that pen registers and trap-and-trace orders continue to hold for law enforcement. As long as an agency can explain that surveillance conducted under such an order serves a general purpose in an ongoing investigation, that agency is protected under federal law from disclosing additional information about how it uses Stingrays and similar devices.

Free-range Maryland parents get partial reprieve in child services investigation

A Maryland couple targeted by child protective services for encouraging their children to act independently has been cleared of a neglect charge, though an investigation into the effects of their parenting style has not been fully closed.

You may remember a series of recent stories about Alexander and Danielle Meitiv, parents of two children who drew attention from law enforcement when an anonymous stranger reported seeing the two kids walking unattended late last year. It turned out that the children, aged 10 and 6, were walking home from a local park — an activity their “free-range” parents encouraged.

Montgomery County, Maryland, Child Protective Services (CPS) opened an investigation in response to that tip, visiting the Meitivs’ home and ultimately confiscating the children on another of their adult-free walks — without informing their worried parents.

The Montgomery County CPS ruled out the possibility that the Meitivs had acted with neglect earlier this month, putting to rest the concern that the state could permanently remove their children from the home. But the county’s decision isn’t consequence free. Alexander and Danielle Meitiv will remain on the CPS watch list for five years, unless the county changes its policy.

Danielle Meitiv shared a mixture of relief and concern in a statement following CPS’s decision.

“This ruling confirms that we never exposed our children to a ‘substantial risk of harm,'” she wrote. “Although we welcome the decision, we are concerned that CPS’s misguided policy remains intact. We fear that our family and other Maryland families will be subject to further investigations and frightening police detentions simply because our and their children have been taught how to walk safely in their neighborhood, including to and from school and local parks.”

Another college free-speech zone obstructs students’ 1st Amendment rights

A student at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas, filed suit against the school following an encounter with administrators that prohibited her from displaying a pro-2nd Amendment sign in front of the student center.

Nicole Sanders, a Blinn sophomore, filed the suit in conjunction with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). FIRE, which has prevailed in other, similar free-speech campus cases, describes its mission as to “defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of individual liberty and dignity.”

In February, Sanders and other members of the conservative Young Americans for Liberty club solicited new membership with a display outside the Blinn College student center. The display included a sign that stated “defend your gun rights on campus” and another sign that read LOL — with President Obama’s famous campaign logo replacing the “O.”

The school already has a designated “free-speech zone” — an absurdity that’s come under criticism from FIRE and other constitutional advocates at colleges nationwide. Nevertheless, that’s where Sanders and the other Young Americans for Liberty were doing their soliciting.

In other words, Sanders’ group was playing by Blinn’s rules.

That didn’t stop school administrators from approaching Sanders and informing her that the 2nd Amendment sign was forbidden. From a Campus Reform article in February:

“Gun rights on campus?” Sherri Rich, a Student Leadership & Activities (SLA) assistant, told Sanders in a video obtained by Campus Reform. “Hey, I’m not against guns, okay? But on campus, I’m not so sure.”

Although Sanders was in the school’s designated free speech zone, Rich told the student and her friend that they would be prohibited from continuing their efforts to sign other students up unless they got permission.

Rich did not approach Sanders until she had finished talking with students outside and was relaxing inside the student center with her friend. Campus police accompanied Rich when she talked with Sanders.

“We just don’t allow it,” Rich said, unable to cite a school policy that would prohibit Sanders’s action. “You have to come and get special permission.”

Here’s the accompanying video:

The federal lawsuit Sanders and FIRE filed last week “challenges Blinn’s policy of restricting speech to a tiny ‘Free Speech Area,’ as well as the process that led the college to take over a month to approve a palm card she wanted to hand out to students explaining their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights,” FIRE said in a press statement. “The suit also alleges that one of Sanders’s professors threatened her with retaliation, telling her he would ‘protect me and mine’ if she sought to take action against the school.”

FIRE has a track record of resolving these types of cases in favor of students’ constitutional rights. You may recall the case of Robert Van Tuinen, a Modesto Junior College (MJC) student who was prohibited from handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution across campus — on Constitution Day, no less. FIRE helped Van Tuinen file a federal lawsuit against the school. MJC settled in February of last year, agreeing to revise its speech policies and awarding Van Tuinen $50,000.

Even the left is ready to blame Obama if Supreme Court overturns the Affordable Care Act

Here’s something remarkable: The New Yorker pre-blasting President Obama in case the government loses its Obamacare case before the Supreme Court in King v. Burwell.

The gist of this piece, written by Jeffrey Toobin, is that, if Obama and his allies lose the Burwell case (which is far from certain), he can point fingers and blame his adversaries all he wants … but the whole debacle will be his to own.

Not only will Obama have to own such a loss, but he’ll have to live with the political consequences, Toobin argues in his piece — appropriately titled “Obama’s game of chicken with the Supreme Court” — because the White House made a political decision not to have a back-up plan in place, should the Affordable Care Act suddenly be struck down.

From the article:

As Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, put it recently, “I don’t think they [Obamacare’s opponents] will [win the case]. If they do, that’s a problem that the Republicans have.”

No, it’s not. If the Obama Administration loses in the Supreme Court, the political pain will fall almost exclusively on the President and his Party. To paraphrase Colin Powell and the Pottery Barn rule, President Obama will have broken health care, so he owns it. To the vast mass of Americans who follow politics casually or not at all, Obamacare and the American system of health care have become virtually synonymous. This may not be exactly right or fair, but it’s a reasonable perception on the part of most people. The scope of the Affordable Care Act is so vast, and its effects so pervasive, that there is scarcely a corner of health care, especially with regard to insurance, that is unaffected by it. So if millions lose insurance, they will hold it against Obamacare, and against Obama. Blaming the President in these circumstances may be unfair, but it’s the way American politics works.

As you can see, Toobin doesn’t write with mirth about the possible fallout for President Obama — but he writes realistically nonetheless.

“The headlines [if Obama loses] will read, correctly, ‘Court rules against Obamacare,’ and this will be all that matters,” Toobin predicts. “… Watch for references to a ‘failed Presidency.’ There’ll be plenty of them.

“Understandably, perhaps, the Administration has courted this kind of reaction… In testimony before Congress and elsewhere, Sylvia Burwell, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (and the defendant in the case), said that the Administration has no contingency plan for an adverse ruling in the Supreme Court. But playing chicken with the Justices only works if it works. If the Supreme Court strikes down the subsidies, the Administration will also have to answer for why it didn’t prepare for this possibility.”

That would be interesting, since everyone on both sides of the argument already knows why Obama hasn’t prepared “for this possibility.” It’s right there in Toobin’s column: the president has played chicken with the Obamacare suit, in the hope that the stakes will remain too high for the Supreme Court to do anything but declare victory against any and all challenges to the Affordable Care Act.

“If the Supreme Court rules against him, the President can blame the Justices or the Republicans or anyone he likes,” concludes Toobin, “and he may even be correct. But the buck will stop with him.”

Hillary’s supporters can think of nothing ‘significant’ she accomplished while secretary of state

Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin — the same Mark Halperin who treated Ted Cruz like a billboard for Hispanic stereotypes earlier this month — recently sat down with a group of Hillary Clinton supporters in Iowa to gently question them on why they’re so enthusiastic about putting her in the White House in 2016.

Halperin wasn’t as aggressive in his questioning of Clinton’s small group of everyman fans as he’d been in questioning Cruz. Maybe that’s appropriate: Cruz is a candidate for president; these folks are just, well, folks.

Either way, Clinton’s supporters shared plenty of enthusiasm for their favorite candidate — but they didn’t share much knowledge. In fact, their appreciation for Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state under President Obama was downright vacuous.

One of the panelists among the group of 10 Iowa Democrats (Halperin referred to him as “Bill”) set Halperin up to ask about Hillary’s accomplishments by referencing her work as secretary in some of his general comments.

“There’s definitely some trust issues there, but like everybody else has said, her record pretty much speaks for itself,” said Bill. “She’s eminently qualified to run this country, and I think she’d probably do a pretty good job.”

“Bill, what’s the thing you like most about her?” followed Halperin.

“Her experience; especially in foreign policy and, being secretary of state, I think that’s gonna be a real key — key problem in the next four years.”

Uh-oh. That opened the door for Halperin to follow up with a logical chaser: “What did she accomplish, that you consider significant, as secretary of state?”

The answers — or, rather, non-answers — were so fabulously bad that the videotaped session began to resemble a GOP-orchestrated satire sketch.

“I really can’t name anything off the top of my head,” said one.

“I honestly can’t say I followed along with everything that was going on,” said another.

Others sat in silence. There were a couple of “Uhmm”s and “Ahh”s.

Halperin modified the question a bit; and finally, one of the Democrats explained that Hillary had her baggage, but that she was still the best choice because she had at least been married to Bill Clinton while he was president — and that they were still a married couple. That has to count for something, right?

“You know, her experience… Bill Clinton had a lot of good policies, and, you know, they stayed married; they have to have had something in common, to make it through everything that happened.”

Fair enough.

Nearly half of unemployed Americans ‘have completely given up’ on looking for work

Nearly 50 percent of Americans who are in the labor force, but remain unemployed, have abandoned all attempts at finding a job.

That’s the conclusion of a new Harris poll of 1,500 unemployed Americans, which found that 47 percent have, according to the poll summary, “completely given up” looking for work.

“The economy is giving the unemployed reasons to quit looking for work,” it continues:

  • 47 percent agree with the statement, “I’ve completely given up on looking for a job.” (7 percent said they “agree completely,” 7 percent “agree a lot,” 15 percent “agree somewhat,” and 18 percent “agree a little.”
  • 60 percent say looking for work has been harder than expected. 10 percent say it’s been easier than expected.
  • Nevertheless, 91 percent agree with the statement, “I’m hopeful that I will find a job I really want in the next six months.”

“After searching for four years and being unsuccessful, I am tired of trying,” said one respondent.

In keeping with its contention that the overall economy is just too weak to field employment opportunities that accommodate America’s labor force, a large bloc of respondents said there simply aren’t any jobs available — and they’ve been looking.

“People want to find work, but increasingly many people say there is little they can do to find it,” the poll states. “When asked what is holding them back from finding a job, 46 percent say there are no available jobs.”

On the other hand, the poll found that only 9 percent of those surveyed had spent “more than 31 hours” looking for work in the week immediately preceding the poll. Another 36 percent said they spent “5 hours or fewer.” In addition, many unemployed people are reluctant to move in the hope of improving their chances for employment:

  • 44 percent are “not at all willing” to relocate to a new city/ town for a job. 60 percent are “not at all willing” to move to another state to find work.
  • 64 percent have no plans to go back to school to make them more marketable. 7 percent are currently enrolled in classes, and 6 percent have already attended classes or earned a new degree.

So there may be a mixed message here: The present economy truly is challenging for many earnest and qualified job seekers, yet many others exhibit a languid disposition about their own agency in improving their employment opportunities. The poll appears to affirm that notion under a section titled “Unemployment Compensation is a Helping Hand — and a Holding Pattern.”

Harris found that, while only 20 percent of the respondents reported receiving some form of unemployment compensation, the vast majority of that group admitted they would try much harder to find work if their benefits ran out.

“[I]n a response that raises issues about whether unemployment compensation should be extended or allowed to run out, 82 percent of those receiving benefits said if their unemployment compensation were to run out prior to their finding a job, they would ‘search harder and wider for a job,'” according to the report.

IG report can’t find value in USDA’s $4 billion ‘Beginning Farmers’ assistance program

A new report from the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Agriculture questions whether a $4 billion program that’s lasted through three decades has accomplished anything — anything at all.

The report focuses on the USDA’s “Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Programs,” a series of assistance measures provided through various sub-agencies of the USDA. Its findings are inconclusive, to say the least.

While the IG audit did acknowledge that the government had paid out billions of dollars to farmers, it concluded that there was no way to know whether the money had accomplished the program’s goals — largely because the program never established any goals beyond the one implied by its name. It’s a problem that dates all the way back to 1982, when an earlier Government Accountability Office report advised the USDA to come up with some way to measure the program’s effectiveness.

From the audit:

The Secretary of Agriculture has emphasized providing assistance to beginning farmers, and USDA agencies have provided significant financial resources and technical support to beginning farmers to assist in the establishment and sustainability of farming operations.

However, the Department had not developed an integrated and coordinated strategy to ensure that the Secretary’s direction was effectively implemented during the time period of this review. We found that the Department lacked sufficient performance goals, direction, coordination, and monitoring to ensure success. This has been a longstanding problem. In 1982 and again in 2007, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the Department needed to measure its effectiveness for its beginning farmers and ranchers assistance. As a result, USDA cannot ensure that the $3.9 billion of beginning farmers’ assistance in FYs 2012 and 2013 has achieved effective and measurable outcomes. In addition, the Department had not provided the Office of Advocacy and Outreach (OAO) with the necessary oversight or resources to effectively accomplish its mandated duties.

As if to underscore the directionless nature of the USDA’s program guidance, the auditors wondered whether the agency even has a clear understanding of what a “beginning farmer” or “beginning rancher” even is.

“Another major obstacle in measuring the effectiveness of beginning farmer assistance is the Department’s lack of a standard definition of ‘beginning farmers,'” the report states. “… Each agency we reviewed had its own definition, sometimes incorporating program eligibility requirements into the definition. While we noted some common themes in the definitions (such as using 10 years of farming experience to define the limit), there were subtle differences between the definitions which rendered them quite distinct.”

The USDA “generally agreed” with the findings, according to the audit.

Nerf gun bullet falls out of kid’s pocket; kid gets suspended

A kid in New Jersey was suspended from school earlier this month after it was discovered he had a foam “bullet” — the kind you shoot out of a Nerf gun — in his pocket.

Aarin Moody, a fifth-grader at the Uptown School Complex — a campus of the Atlantic City School District — earned a week-long suspension after he reached into his pocket to fish for a late note from his mother, and the Nerf bullet fell out.

“I pulled out my late slip, and that’s when the item fell out of my pocket and a teacher had seen it,” Aarin told Fox News.

Compounding Aarin’s grave offense was the reported fact that his foam bullet had a toothpick pressed into it — an aggravating circumstance that transformed the device, in school administrators’ eyes, into a “self-constructed weapon.”

Aarin told Fox News that he indeed stuck toothpicks into his Nerf bullets, because he had found that doing so helped them stick in the ground when fired from the Nerf gun. But the fifth-grader said the school’s adults were intentionally casting his simple mistake — if forgetting what benign item you have in your pocket can even be called a mistake — as something more sinister.

“They want me to like say that I did it on purpose, I put it in my pocket to hurt someone,” he told a local newspaper.

At least Aarin wasn’t expelled — which is what the school originally intended to do, until his mother protested the zero-tolerance treatment.

Since serving his week-long suspension, Aarin is now serving an in-school probation, during which the school reserves the right to expel him if it finds something scary — like another piece of foam — in his pocket.

D.C.’s new concealed carry law just as unconstitutional as the old one, according to federal judge

A federal judge has barred the District of Columbia from going forward with a concealed carry permitting ordinance intended to replace an earlier ordinance that had been declared unconstitutional as well.

Judge Frederick J. Scullin’s Monday order found the city’s new law unconstitutional on the grounds that it places too heavy a burden on would-be concealed carry holders to demonstrate to local police that they have a “good reason” for owning a handgun.

Scullin had found the city’s older ordinance unconstitutional because it banned residents from any means of obtaining concealed carry permits.

A handful of applicants under the new ordinance filed a lawsuit against the city after discovering how onerous — to the point of exclusion — the new burden of proof, under the new ordinance, actually is. Not long after that suit had been filed, the city dropped its appeal of the earlier ruling — an appeal to reinstitute the old ordinance’s outright ban on handguns.

In this week’s ruling, Scullin told the city to go back to the drawing board to come up with a way for law-abiding citizens to obtain the handguns covered by the ordinance.

“[F]or all intents and purposes, this requirement makes it impossible for the overwhelming majority of law-abiding citizens to obtain licenses to carry handguns in public for self-defense, thereby depriving them of their Second Amendment right to bear arms,” Scullin stated.

Scullin has ordered a July 7 meeting between both sides in the case to come up with an “expedited schedule” to put the matter to rest. City attorneys have hinted that they may appeal Scullin’s preliminary injunction, which forbids the city from invoking the “good reason” provision in its current ordinance as it processes concealed carry permit applications.

A second private email address emerges in Hillary’s State Department obstruction scandal

Not long ago, a former associate predicted that a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign would be foisted upon Americans one long, slow dumpster fire smoldering with “a new scandal a day.”

Prophetic, yes?

Today’s scandal — and we’re throwing a dart here, because there’s more than one to choose from — involves the revelation that the Clinton camp appears to have lied about having only one private email address, an address she used for official government business while heading the State Department in contravention of federal policy.

The New York Times on Monday published a list of Clinton emails dating from Hillary’s time as President Obama’s secretary of state. All of them relate to Libya in some way, and a lot of them suggest a blurred and conflicting role for Sidney Blumenthal, Clinton family confidant and former aide to President Bill Clinton.

“Much of the Libya intelligence that Mr. Blumenthal passed on to Mrs. Clinton appears to have come from a group of business associates he was advising as they sought to win contracts from the Libyan transitional government,” The Times reported in a related article:

The projects — creating floating hospitals to treat Libya’s war wounded and temporary housing for displaced people, and building schools — would have required State Department permits, but foundered before the business partners could seek official approval.

It is not clear whether Mrs. Clinton or the State Department knew of Mr. Blumenthal’s interest in pursuing business in Libya; a State Department spokesman declined to say. Many aspects of Mr. Blumenthal’s involvement in the planned Libyan venture remain unclear. He declined repeated requests to discuss it.

But interviews with his associates and a review of previously unreported correspondence suggest that — once again — it may be difficult to determine where one of Mr. Blumenthal’s jobs ended and another began.

The Blumenthal connection, a potential scandal in itself, gets the lion’s share of the attention in The Times’ Monday piece.

But there’s that other small, incidental tidbit, hidden in plain sight in the published emails: another private Hillary Clinton email address, active during her time as secretary of state, used in some correspondence that appears to fall under the general description of “official government business.”

The existence of the second email address, “hrod17@clintonemail.com,” is perplexing in light of comments Clinton’s staffers have made to explain away the discovery of her first private email address. In short, Team Hillary has been adamant, from the beginning, that there is no second email address.

“Secretary Clinton used one email account during her tenure at State (with the exception of her first weeks in office while transitioning from an email account she had previously used),” Clinton’s office said in a statement after the original scandal broke. “In March 2013, Gawker [a general interest website] published the email address she used while Secretary, and so she had to change the address on her account.”

But as The Blaze observed Monday, the “hrod17″ address was plenty active alongside Clinton’s other account. “Clinton served as secretary of state from January 2009 to February 2013,” wrote The Blaze. “The emails she sent through ‘hrod17@clintonemail.com’ were sent in 2011 and 2012, according to the documents released by the Times.”

It’s worth noting that all of this discussion centers on the emails that have been made public. There are vastly more that have not been made public, and perhaps will never be.

Clinton herself is showing — it’s too early to tell if she’s feigning — an eagerness for the public to have a peek at the 55,000 privately held emails that her camp voluntarily turned over to the State Department. That act came only after Team Hillary had conducted a self-managed audit using its own undisclosed criteria. It’s self-reported content, and doesn’t even begin to include the untold thousands of additional emails that Clinton and/or her handlers allegedly deleted from her home-housed email server.

Barring a subpoena that might tap into whatever trove of permanent data the NSA presumably has on everyone’s emails — including Hillary’s — there’s no getting at those deleted items. So this whole news cycle focusing on the canonical 55,000 may be a piece of infotainment theater and nothing more.

That would at least make plausible Mrs. Clinton’s recent assertion: “Nobody has a bigger interest in getting them released than I do.”

Guess we’ll know — maybe — come 2016.

USDA tries, fails to boost Michelle Obama school lunch program on social media

One of the Obama administration’s many unintentional running gags is the fiasco surrounding first lady Michelle Obama’s efforts to promote child nutrition through a federal school lunch reform program.

Photos of plates topped with questionably edible-looking cafeteria food, often doled out in meager portions, have been popular pass-arounds among public school kids with social media accounts. Twitter remains awash in #ThanksMichelleObama posts featuring “healthy” school food that kids understandably have been reluctant to eat.

The grass-roots subversion of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act school nutrition program has been so damaging to its reputation, in fact, that the government is making its own play for the hearts and minds of the Twitter and Facebook crowd.

Deborah Kane, National Director for the USDA Farm to School Program, posted a photo of what The Washington Times described as “one picture of a somewhat appetizing child’s lunch” in recent blog post aimed at rehabilitating the program’s image.

“They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in the digital age we have ample opportunity to document and broadcast every moment, meeting and meal,” Kane wrote. “We have all seen those unappetizing photos of food served at school that quickly go viral. A lonesome whole wheat bun atop a sad fish fillet; a mysterious-looking meat mixture served next to an apple. It’s natural to ask, ‘Is this what they serve for lunch!?’

“No, it’s really not.”

If this one picture is worth a thousand words, though, then the thousands of borderline-disgusting pictures tweeted by real students at real schools throughout the country have to be worth what: a billion kajillion words?

Kane went on to ask people to post appealing photos of school food to social media using the hashtag #farmtoschool or #realschoolfood.

“Photos with #ThanksMichelleObama vastly outweigh the USDA-approved #realschoolfood hashtag,” The Washington Free Beacon drily observed.

“Just on Friday [May 15] students tweeted out meals they described as ‘horse meat.'”

Nice try, USDA.

Supreme Court declares double-taxing of income unconstitutional

The Supreme Court on Monday sided with taxpayers in a legal battle over some states’ practice of taxing — or allowing their municipalities to tax — residents who earn income (and pay taxes on it) in other states.

In doing so, the 5-4 Supreme Court decision essentially made illegal a form of double taxation. The case before the court, Comptroller of the Treasury of Maryland v. Wynne, involved certain local taxes, sanctioned by the State of Maryland, on the reported income in 2006 of residents Brian and Karen Wynne.

The Wynnes had earned a portion of their more than $2 million in income thanks to their ownership share in a healthcare company that operates in most of the U.S. states. While they paid the State of Maryland, where they reside, more than $120,000 in income tax for that year, they also sought a tax credit for the income taxes they paid in other states. But Maryland had no legal accommodation for such a credit.

Here’s a synopsis of the case from The Tax Foundation:

The taxpayers in the case, Mr. and Mrs. Wynne, owned 2.4 percent of a company doing business in 39 states. Maryland residents, they paid $123,434 in income tax to Maryland, after applying a credit of $84,550 for taxes paid to other states on income earned outside Maryland’s borders. Maryland disallowed the credit to the extent that it offset the county income tax. The Tax Court upheld the assessment, a Maryland circuit court reversed and sided with the Wynnes, and Maryland’s highest court (the Court of Appeals) agreed, ruling the tax unconstitutional without a credit. The state has now appealed to the Supreme Court.

It’s hard to think of a more blatant example of impermissible state taxation of interstate commerce than Maryland’s tax here. Maryland certainly has the authority to tax the Wynnes — they are Maryland residents — but gets into constitutional trouble when it asserts the power to tax income earned outside Maryland. Until this case, it has generally been undisputed by scholars that such a tax is only permissible if the state credits the taxpayer for taxes paid to another state. Otherwise, states would be able to subject the same income to double-, triple-, quadruple-, etc. levels of taxation. The net result of this would be to strongly discourage interstate investment and commerce of the type the Wynnes undertook, since only by investing within Maryland would income not be subject to gargartuan levels of taxation.

The Commerce Clause is exactly what compelled the Supreme Court’s majority to rule against Maryland and in favor of the Wynnes. Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion acknowledges that the court would be acting against its own precedents if it did not apply the same standard to the Wynnes that it already has applied to corporations.

“We have long held that States cannot subject corporate income to tax schemes similar to Maryland’s, and we see no reason why income earned by individuals should be treated less favorably,” wrote Alito. “Maryland admits that its law has the same economic effect as a state tariff, the quintessential evil targeted by the dormant Commerce Clause. We therefore affirm the decision of Maryland’s highest court and hold that this feature of the State’s tax scheme violates the Federal Constitution.”

The high court essentially argued that Maryland’s now-illegal approach to double taxation amounts to an unconstitutional disincentive for its residents to carry out any income-earning activity outside its own borders. Here’s more from Justice Alito:

Like many other States, Maryland taxes the income its residents earn both within and outside the State, as well as the income that nonresidents earn from sources within Maryland. But unlike most other States, Maryland does not offer its residents a full credit against the income taxes that they pay to other States. The effect of this scheme is that some of the income earned by Maryland residents outside the State is taxed twice. Maryland’s scheme creates an incentive for taxpayers to opt for intrastate rather than interstate economic activity.

Opinion on the case didn’t fall along the same ideological split that often differentiates liberal and conservative interpretations among the court’s nine chief justices. Alito, along with Justices John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer, joined in the majority opinion. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Elena Kagan were the four dissenters.

Sharpton daughter seeks millions from NYC for tripping on sidewalk

SCREENSHOT/Dominique Sharpton posted this photo from atop a mountaintop in Bali, Indonesia, showing she completed a difficult climb.

Dominique Sharpton, oldest daughter of the famous Al Sharpton, is suing the City of New York for slightly more than her dad reportedly owes in back taxes. She allegedly tripped on a city sidewalk late last year, and she is now attempting to hold the city responsible.

From the New York Post, which reported on the younger Sharpton’s lawsuit Sunday:

Shakedown artist Al Sharpton’s eldest child wants $5 million from city taxpayers after she fell in the street and sprained her ankle, court records show.

Dominique Sharpton, 28, says she was “severely injured, bruised and wounded” when she stumbled over uneven pavement at the corner of Broome Street and Broadway downtown last year, according to a lawsuit.

Currently on vacation in Bali, the membership director for her gadfly dad’s National Action Network claims she “still suffers and will continue to suffer for some time physical pain and bodily injuries,” according to the suit filed against the city departments of Transportation and Environmental Protection.

The article goes on to note that Dominique Sharpton told the world about her alleged injury, at the time, by getting on Instragram to declare: “I sprained my ankle real bad lol.”

Though the incident reportedly took place on Oct. 2 of last year, Dominique was “good to go” at a National Action Network march that took place in Washington, D.C., in December. She also posted a photo of herself atop a mountaintop in Bali, a separate Post story revealed on Monday:

Dominique Sharpton posted pictures to Instagram showing she completed a difficult mountain climb in Bali, Indonesia — even though her suit says that “she still suffers” debilitating pain after twisting her ankle in a street crack in Soho last year.

She didn’t seem to realize that her mountaineering exploits might undermine her legal claims as she bragged online about the difficulty of her ascent.

“We hiked UP the mountain, over the clouds… into the SUNRISE,” Dominique, 28, wrote in the May 16 post.

The New York Times revealed last November “more than $4.5 million in current state and federal tax liens against him [Sharpton] and his for-profit businesses.” Dominique Sharpton’s suit is seeking an amount just above that.

Unless New York City fears outsized bad publicity from Al Sharpton, his megaphone and his reputation as a shakedown artist, this case should go nowhere.

But who can blame 28-year-old Dominique Sharpton for trying? You can’t hit if you don’t swing.

Optimism over the direction America’s headed keeps going down, down, down

Every month, we see a poll that reflects how Americans view their country’s future. And just about every month, the view gets dimmer and dimmer.

Gallup just released its latest monthly poll on the topic, and it reveals a steady erosion in Americans’ optimism over the direction they feel the country is heading. Gallup’s historical benchmark to gauge the percentage of Americans “satisfied” with the country’s outlook is 36 percent — the average of all their tracking polls on the subject since the late 1970s.

This year started with the poll already beneath that figure, at 32 percent. When Gallup updated that figure with the results of its May 6-10 poll, the number stood at 26 percent.

“Views of the nation’s direction have certainly been brighter in the past. Majorities of Americans were typically satisfied with the direction of the U.S. between 1998 and mid-2002 — including a record high of 71% in February 1999,” Gallup’s synopsis states:

But satisfaction declined steadily in the latter half of President George W. Bush’s presidency as the public grew disillusioned with the war in Iraq and the national economy suffered. This dip in satisfaction culminated in 7% of Americans, a record low, saying they were satisfied with the direction of the nation in October 2008 as the global economy collapsed and the U.S. stock market plummeted.”

Satisfaction improved significantly during the first year of President Barack Obama’s term — reaching 36% in August 2009. It has not returned to that level since, ranging between 11% and 33% throughout Obama’s time in office.

At no time, in fact, has Obama’s presidency coincided with a satisfaction rate that’s surpassed Gallup’s historical average. As Gaullp’s framing of its latest poll reveals, optimism is a relative thing:

Satisfaction jumped nine points in January to 32%, a promising sign that Americans’ moods were improving after a year of lower figures throughout 2014, ranging between 20% and 27%. Since February, though, satisfaction has dipped only slightly each month, but these small drops have resulted in a six-point decline since the beginning of the year.

Gallup ties the ongoing downturn in public opinion with a commensurate dissatisfaction with the state of the U.S. economy. “The drop in Americans’ satisfaction with the way things are going parallels the recent decline in economic confidence,” it observes. “Americans had a more positive outlook on the economy at the dawn of 2015, but these views, like satisfaction, have edged down in recent months.”

ABC once fired Geraldo over a $200 donation, so he’s understandably confused about this Stephanopoulos thing

Grizzled TV careerist Geraldo Rivera took to social media to point out a strange inconsistency in workplace ethics at ABC News, one of his many former employers.

“In 1985, after fifteen great years, I was fired by ABC News,” began Geraldo:

The official reason for my firing was a non-disclosed $200 donation to a family friend running in a non-partisan mayoral campaign in New Bedford Massachusetts.

The real reason I was fired was because I was estranged at the time from my boss Roone Arledge. I had complained publicly after Roone spiked a colleague’s 20/20 story about the Kennedy brothers’ relationship with Marilyn Monroe. The Kennedy story never ran, I alleged, because of Roone’s relationship with the Kennedy family.

1985

The point is ABC treated my undisclosed $200 donation harshly because the network wanted me out for that unrelated reason.

2015

Now ABC is bending over backward to minimize and forgive George Stephanopoulos’ $75,000 donation to the Clinton Foundation because he is central to the network’s recent success.

In case you don’t know what he’s talking about, he’s referring to a story — first researched by the Washington Free Beacon, but broken (i.e., narrative-scripted) by the more mainstream-friendly Politico — revealing that ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos had donated at least $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation without bothering to mention it to his employer or to his viewers.

Stephanopoulos, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, even grilled the author of a hard-hitting book about the Clinton Foundation in a testy April 26 interview. But he didn’t mention then, or at any other time before the Politico story, that he’s still an active supporter of the Clintons’ cause. It’s a huge conflict of interest. But it’s one that surprises no one who remembers Stephanopoulos’ role in the Clinton administration.

“By neither informing his employer nor the public of his substantial donations to the Clinton Foundation he undermines his ability to do his job,” wrote Geraldo. “Everybody has their secret favorites and personal biases. But donations cross the line for a good reason. Money raises the specter of Pay for Play.”

It gets better:

Up until now there’s been only George’s historic connections with the Clintons to undermine his credible objectivity as the network’s principal political reporter.

The donations look like he’s trying to buy continued access to the family he served so loyally as a political operative in the 1990’s.

Moral of the Story

If Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly, Chris Wallace or Bill O’Reilly made a similar donation to say an educational foundation run by Jeb Bush liberal wolves would be howling in front of Fox News.

Hey, Geraldo said it — not us. “Everybody has their secret favorites and personal biases.” But we’d argue that, in Stephanopoulos’ case, his ongoing conflict of interest pitting his “journalistic integrity” against his loyalty to the Clintons has been a poorly kept secret indeed.

At least ABC News has Stephanopoulos’ back — even if it did once fire Geraldo for a similar, lesser offense. But Geraldo really can’t complain too much. Things are just different in the Stephanopoulos case.

After all, would Geraldo have been fired if ABC News viewed him as a crucial TV adman for the Hillary 2016 campaign?

Apples and oranges, Geraldo.

North Carolina store owner targeted in IRS civil forfeiture case is getting his money back

Lyndon McLellan is getting his money back.

McLellan, a North Carolina convenience store owner, woke up one day to find the IRS had seized his career savings — all $107,000 of it. The agency had flagged McLellan for a practice referred to as structuring or “smurfing” — making multiple bank deposits of less than $10,000 in cash in order to circumvent the legal requirement to fill out a disclosure statement.

McLellan had been making small deposits, incrementally growing his savings. But he wasn’t illegally trying to cram a pile of money, bit by bit, into a savings account, a disclosure-skirting practice the law was ostensibly created to address.

In his case, there never was a pile of money. McLellan had simply been making regular deposits of what he earned at his store — as he was earning it.

The IRS and the U.S. Department of Justice didn’t care about any of that — at least not at first. Despite having changed its civil asset forfeiture policy to end seizures like the one McLellan endured, the agency wouldn’t return the money. It had seized McLellan’s funds only months before the policy change went into effect, and there was no law saying the IRS had to give him any consideration. Notably, McLellan was never charged with any crime throughout his ordeal.

The IRS did offer McLellan a nice insult of a deal: they’d drop their civil forfeiture “case” and return half the money, in exchange for McLellan to drop the campaign to have the full amount — an amount he amassed over 13 years operating a rural convenience store — returned.

The Institute for Justice (IJ), a nonprofit that advocates for people whose civil liberties have been placed in jeopardy at the hands of government, took up McLellan’s case. IJ’s pro bono attorneys understood that public opinion on asset forfeiture had been recently raised by other, similar cases in different parts of the country, so it produced a video telling McLellan’s story. It was widely seen and shared on social media.

Fast forward two weeks: the IRS has backed down, pledging to return all $107,000 of the dollars McLellan earned and saved.

“Yesterday, just two weeks after the Institute for Justice took on the case and brought it to the attention of the nation, the IRS and Department of Justice moved to voluntarily dismiss the case and give Lyndon back 100% of his hard-earned money,” IJ reported May 14.

“… Now, in moving to drop the case almost half a year after the IRS announced its policy change, the government cited the change in policy as its reason for backing down.”

IJ notes that McLellan hasn’t been made completely whole.

He’s “still out tens of thousands of dollars, thanks to the government’s actions,” the report states. “Lyndon paid a $3,000 retainer to a private attorney before IJ took the case on pro bono, and he also paid approximately $19,000 for an accountant to audit his business and to provide other services to help convince the government he did nothing wrong.”

The government isn’t offering to reimburse McLellan those expenses, nor is it offering to pay him interest on the money it stole/borrowed.

McLellan told IJ he was just happy his ordeal was ending, and he expressed a hope that his case would serve as a preventive lesson.

“What’s wrong is wrong, and what the government did here is wrong,” he said. “I just hope that by standing up for what’s right, it means this won’t happen to other people.”