Puzzler: White House says Obama veto threat on Keystone is actually GOP obstructionism

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest had an interesting, if confusing, take Tuesday on how the Obama administration perceives its role in reaching bipartisan consensus with the Republican-controlled Congress.

Asked whether President Obama’s threat to veto the Republican-backed Keystone XL Pipeline bill isn’t simply an example of Obama’s own reluctance to find common ground with GOP lawmakers, Earnest found a way to make the Republicans the guilty party — even though it would be Obama doing the vetoing.

“[M]aybe it raises questions about the willingness of Republicans to actually cooperate with this administration, when you consider [that] the very first bill that’s introduced in the United States Senate [in the 114th Congress] is one the Republicans know the president opposes,” said Earnest at Tuesday press briefing.

Blaming someone else for what you do rarely makes sense. It makes even less sense when you’re the president. It makes less sense still when the topic at hand isn’t even a party-line issue.

“The Keystone Pipeline bill was supported by a bipartisan group of 59 senators in a vote in November 2014,” CNS News observed Tuesday. “This was not a purely partisan effort.

“… It is quite the logical leap for the White House to claim that President Obama’s repeated actions ignoring, bypassing, and confronting Congress since the midterm elections show anything but openness or a willingness to compromise.”

Sharpton’s bizarre retort to the newspaper that accused him of race-shaming shakedowns

Al Sharpton explained this week that a recent story accusing his nonprofit of blackmailing companies by threatening them with accusations of racism simply isn’t true.

The reason? According to Sharpton, the company that owns the New York Post — the news outlet that first reported on his alleged shakedown tactics — gives money to his nonprofit… just like everybody else.

So that means if Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which owns the Post, gives Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN) a contribution, any story the Post runs that questions his fundraising tactics amounts to nothing more than an abrogation of its parent company’s intellectual honesty… or something like that.

Amazingly, Sharpton actually spoke to conservative website The Daily Caller when it contacted him for an explanation.

“Sharpton’s central defense was that News Corp. — the company that owns the New York Post — also fills his coffers,” The DC surmised.

Some highlights from The DC’s interview with Sharpton:

“I am not going to let them get around the fact that their company has been involved, has donated money, had us on their board of diversity.”

“Why are they doing it?” he [Sharpton] asked. “Are they being shaken down?”

…“I am not prepared to do anything but to say that Rupert Murdoch has given, through News Corp, money to us and that we’re on the board, on their, have been on their diversity board. I am going to force you to use the quote I give you because that is the only quote I am giving you.”

Sharpton called back moments later with more quotes, albeit interspersed with his fixation on the alleged News Corp donations.

But when pressed for detailed comment about other businesses that shower their largesse on the National Action Network, he threatened to hang up again.

“Let’s end this because you playing games,” he thundered.

…The reverend [Sharpton] seemed to find it exculpatory that a good chunk of the [Post] article alleged influence peddling, rather than explicit race hustles.

According to the New York Daily News, Sharpton earns $241,000 a year for directing NAN.

In its original story, the Post had outlined a number of instances in which Sharpton, both personally and through his nonprofit, allegedly used the threat of bad publicity (through insinuations of racism) to coax contributions from corporations that otherwise have no business with Sharpton or his outfit.

“For more than a decade,” wrote the Post, “corporations have shelled out thousands of dollars in donations and consulting fees to Sharpton’s National Action Network. What they get in return is the reverend’s supposed sway in the black community or, more often, his silence.”

Sharpton now says the Post and Murdoch are hypocrites for donating to his network while writing articles critical of his methods.

An alternate take might be that Murdoch — like many of NAN’s other alleged corporate targets — might simply have gotten fed up with being blackmailed. And, as luck would have it, Murdoch just so happens to own a New York newspaper where a bombshell story about Sharpton would make for very interesting reading.

Boehner moves to punish conservative upstarts after securing speakership

A day following his election to a third term as speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) set about to punish members of a small group of conservative dissenting lawmakers who had cast votes against him.

Boehner locked two House lawmakers — Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) and Richard Nugent (R-Fla.) — out of the House Rules Committee, and GOP establishment leaders hinted that Boehner could follow up with further committee assignments intended to strip like-minded conservative House members of their power within the caucus.

Webster emerged as the alternative candidate for the speaker’s gavel to generate the greatest consensus, but still managed to earn only 12 votes in Monday’s roll-call vote. Boehner received 216 votes.

POLITICO offered this synopsis of Boehner’s “revenge” tactic:

The reason for demoting the two Florida Republicans was simple: Webster ran against Boehner for speaker, distributing fliers outlining his candidacy and talking about how he would better adhere to the House rules than the Ohio Republican. Nugent supported his fellow Floridian in the quixotic endeavor, which garnered the support of 12 lawmakers. Webster didn’t even give Boehner a heads-up that he was running, although leadership was aware early Tuesday morning that it could happen.

With Webster openly offering himself as an alternative to Boehner, the GOP leadership thought seats on the Rules Committee were a plum that the pair no longer deserved. It didn’t take more than a few hours for Webster — a legendary former Florida statehouse speaker and state Senate majority leader — and Nugent to find themselves on the outside of a power structure they were once very much a part of.

Boehner himself described his approach to consolidating the House GOP caucus as having a “family conversation” about partisan unity, and even hinted that Webster and Nugent could find themselves back on the Rules Committee at some point — presumably after accepting the establishment bridle.

“We had a situation yesterday where we had to constitute the Rules Committee because of some of the activities on the floor,” Boehner told the press on Tuesday. “Two of our members weren’t put back on the Committee immediately.

“We’re going to have a family conversation… about bringing our team together. And I expect those conversations for the next couple of days will continue, and we’ll come to a decision about how we go forward.”

State removes 17-year-old from home, forces her into chemotherapy

A 17-year-old Connecticut girl was so adamant about declining treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma that she reportedly ran away from home in order to avoid a state-mandated round of chemotherapy. Now, she’s in the custody of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF), thanks to a judge’s order.

According to CBS Connecticut, the unnamed minor — referred to as “Cassandra C.” in court documents — initially refused treatment after her diagnosis in September, and her mother supported that decision.

Then the DCF intervened, petitioning for a court order granting the department temporary custody and forcing her mother “to cooperate with medical care administered to her daughter under DCF supervision.”

From CBS Connecticut:

“Following a hearing at which Cassandra’s doctors testified, the trial court ordered that she be removed from her home and that she remain in DCF’s care and custody,” read court documents. “The court also authorized DCF to make all necessary medical decisions on Cassandra’s behalf.”

… Cassandra and her mother claim that Connecticut’s common law and public policy dictate that DCF cannot force Cassandra to receive medical treatment over her knowing and informed objection and over the knowing and informed objection of her mother, according to the court documents.

The girl’s family is appealing the court order. Their attorney, Michael S. Taylor, told local media that the state’s forcible treatment was a violation of the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

“It’s a question of fundamental constitutional rights — the right to have a say over what happens to your body — and the right to say to the government ‘you can’t control what happens to my body,'” Taylor told WTIC-TV.

“That really ought to be up to Cassandra. It ought not to be for the state to jump in and say ‘well, regardless of your decision, we think we know better.'”

The family is set for a Jan. 8 hearing before the Connecticut Supreme Court. Until then, Cassandra C. remains in the custody of the DCF and continues to receive the treatment to which she and her family object.

Then: Harvard wonks supported Obamacare. Now: Harvard faculty outraged that Obamacare applies to them

It’s not often you see a headline like this in The New York Times: “Health Care Fixes Backed by Harvard’s Experts Now Roil Its Faculty.”

During the law’s development phase, policy wonks at the hoary Ivy League school were among the Affordable Care Act’s most influential and ardent supporters. Now, the Harvard professors whose healthcare plans have been affected by the law’s very real expansion of healthcare costs are, as The Times puts it, “in an uproar.”

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted in November (“overwhelmingly,” The Times observes) to stop the cost increases from taking effect. But that vote came too late to do any good. The increases aren’t as dramatic as those that have affected so many others: Annual deductibles under the new plan are an amazingly low $250 for individuals and $750 for families, and a visit to the doctor costs $20 out of pocket. Outpatient costs are capped at $1,500 (for an individual) and $4,500 (for a family), once the patient has reached those figures by paying a 10 percent share of the cost of treatment.

But that still represents a change significant enough to anger the faculty.

Here’s a highlight:

[S]ome ideas that looked good to academia in theory are now causing consternation. In 2009, while Congress was considering the health care legislation, Dr. Alan M. Garber — then a Stanford professor and now the provost of Harvard — led a group of economists who sent an open letter to Mr. Obama endorsing cost-control features of the bill. They praised the Cadillac tax as a way to rein in health costs and premiums.

… In an interview, Dr. Garber acknowledged that Harvard employees would face greater cost-sharing, but he defended the changes. “Cost-sharing, if done appropriately, can slow the growth of health spending,” he said. “We need to be prepared for the very real possibility that health expenditure growth will take off again.”

But Jerry R. Green, a professor of economics and a former provost who has been on the Harvard faculty for more than four decades, said the new out-of-pocket costs could lead people to defer medical care or diagnostic tests, causing more serious illnesses and costly complications in the future.

“It’s equivalent to taxing the sick,” Professor Green said. “I don’t think there’s any government in the world that would tax the sick.”

Harvard’s president, Drew Gilpan Faust, along with some faculty apologists, are waving off the controversy by stressing that cost sharing, while new and unpleasant, is a good and inevitable feature of a law that purports, over the long term, to be “affordable.”

Harvard’s own experts are in the process of urgently data-crunching, and a fresh debate is now raging over the relative merits of cost sharing against the university’s claim that higher-out-of-pocket payments are warranted.

But another new “feature” of Obamacare is affecting Harvard employees’ range of treatment options — ironically limiting their ability to avail themselves of Harvard-affiliated hospital care in the process:

Some Harvard employees have said they will gladly accept a narrower network of health care providers if it lowers their costs. But Harvard’s ability to create such networks is complicated by the fact that some of Boston’s best-known, most expensive hospitals are affiliated with Harvard Medical School. To create a network of high-value providers, Harvard would probably need to exclude some of its own teaching hospitals, or discourage their use.

“Harvard employees want access to everything,” said Dr. Barbara J. McNeil, the head of the health care policy department at Harvard Medical School and a member of the benefits committee. “They don’t want to be restricted in what institutions they can get care from.”

Who knew that Harvard employees would want the same things everybody else wants?

McConnell invokes kinder, gentler image for GOP-led Congress

New Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is indicating he’ll attempt to steer his party in a benign direction as his leadership style helps shape public perceptions of the GOP — and its presidential nominee’s chances — heading into the 2016 election cycle.

McConnell told The Washington Post he is admonishing elected leaders within his own party not to be “scary” as the GOP takes majority control of both the House and Senate.

McConnell sounded much like a member of the opposing team in his Sunday interview with The Post, identifying with Democratic Party detractors who attempted throughout the 2014 election season to identify Republican candidates as partisan extremists.

“I don’t want the American people to think that if they add a Republican president to a Republican Congress, that’s going to be a scary outcome,” he said. “I want the American people to be comfortable with the fact that the Republican House and Senate is a responsible, right-of-center, governing majority.”

He went on to set forth a rationale that appears to view the party’s bid for the White House in 2016 as a test of the GOP’s ability to demonstrate an abundance of caution.

“Now in charge at both ends of the Capitol, Republicans aim to avoid the worst excesses of the past four years and make sure the public isn’t fearful of the GOP’s course,” The Post helpfully explains:

“There would be nothing frightening about adding a Republican president to that governing majority,” McConnell said, explaining how he wants voters to view the party on the eve of the 2016 election. “I think that’s the single best thing we can do, is to not mess up the playing field, if you will, for whoever the nominee ultimately is.”

McConnell’s evident strategy to avoid scaring off mainstream America between now and 2016 almost perfectly embodies what Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) described as Republican “defeatism” in 2013, back when the party was still evaluating its losses in the 2012 elections.

“My biggest surprise has been the defeatism among some Republicans here,” Cruz had said in a lengthy interview with Rare. “There was such a strong sense of confusion about November’s loss, and many believed we had to retrench and there was no way to stop the president and Democrats from running the table.

“… Contrary to the conventional wisdom, I think Republicans win when we stand for clear principles and draw strong contrasts with the other party. If we make clear that Republicans are fighting for jobs and to protect high-quality health care against Democrats wedded to an ideological dream of government-controlled healthcare, I think we will win. But the only way this happens is if a massive grassroots army makes its voice heard, and demands of our elected officials that they stand up and fight.”

That’s a lot more appealing than McConnell’s “don’t be scary” strategy, which instead comes off making the GOP seem like a creepy, single, middle-aged guy who won’t stop hanging around the playground when the kids get out of school.

Sharyl Attkisson sues the DOJ for alleged computer hacks

Sharyl Attkisson, the former CBS News investigative reporter whose Benghazi coverage got too ambitious for the network to support, is suing the Obama administration’s Justice Department for the illegal role she claims the DOJ played in hacking her computers and spying on her information-gathering activity.

Fox News reported Monday that Attkisson is suing the DOJ for $35 million in damages, saying she wants to demonstrate that victims of illegal government spying should have avenues to strike back.

“I just think it’s important to send a message that people shouldn’t be victimized and throw up their hands and think there’s nothing they can do and they’re powerless,” she said. The DOJ has repeatedly denied any involvement in hacking Attkisson’s computers or spying on her.

CBS News confirmed in August of 2013 that Attkisson’s equipment had been hacked, but made a point of not blaming the Feds:

Evidence suggests this party performed all access remotely using Attkisson’s accounts. While no malicious code was found, forensic analysis revealed an intruder had executed commands that appeared to involve search and exfiltration of data. This party also used sophisticated methods to remove all possible indications of unauthorized activity, and alter system times to cause further confusion. CBS News is taking steps to identify the responsible party and their method of access.

…[August 2, 2013] Friday’s announcement comes on the heels of last month’s revelation that the Justice Department had seized the emails and phone records of Fox News correspondent James Rosen.

To be clear, the federal government has not been accused in the intrusion of Attkisson’s computer; CBS News is continuing to work to identify the responsible party.

Attkisson alleges in the suit that she also was monitored through a hacked Skype account, potentially allowing the perpetrator to listen to her spoken conversation.

Attkisson voluntarily quit working for CBS early last year, following a prolonged conflict with her network peers to bring to air a number of reports she had cultivated during her investigation of the terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Lybia.

California may ban ‘Redskins’ as mascot name statewide

A California assemblyman has drafted a bill that aims to ban the use of the “Redskins” moniker from use at all of the state’s public schools.

Louis Alejo, a Democrat from Watsonville, introduced the bill in early December in order to “phase out that particular derogatory term,” according to the San Jose Mercury News. Alejo titled the bill the “California Racial Mascots Act,” but it targets only the “Redskins” appellation.

From the bill:

This bill would establish the California Racial Mascots Act, which would prohibit public schools from using the term Redskins as a school or athletic team name, mascot, or nickname beginning January 1, 2017, subject to specified exceptions. The bill would also provide that this prohibition may not be waived by the State Board of Education. To the extent that this prohibition would impose additional duties on schools, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program.

According to the Mercury News, there are four high schools (Calaveras, Chowchilla, Gustine and Tulare) in the state that use “Redskins” as their mascots; two others recently changed their mascot names from “Redskins” to “Red Hawks.”

Unsurprisingly, people close to the remaining “Redskins” schools aren’t enthused.

“Tulare Union Redskins are part of a long and proud tradition dating back to 1890,” Tulare district superintendent Sarah Koligian told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Our school has worked closely with our local Indian tribes to include them in the discussion regarding how the Tulare Union Redskin depicts both pride and respect.”

According to The Fresno Bee, Alejo’s bill marks the third attempt in 14 years to institute some kind of statewide ban on “Indian-themed” mascots. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill banning the use of Indian-associated mascot names in 2004.

Unpopular with Arizona GOP, McCain eyes Tea Party ‘purge’ to ease 2016 campaign

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is so disliked by his conservative GOP home base that he may have to purge party leadership at the local level, one party official at a time, in order to shore up his campaign to win another nomination in the 2016 primary election.

According to POLITICO, the Tea Party has become too entrenched in Arizona’s Republican leadership for McCain to make headway — unless his team undertakes an “aggressive and systematic campaign to reshape the state GOP apparatus by ridding it of conservative firebrands and replacing them with steadfast allies.”

From POLITICO:

Team McCain’s goal? Unseat conservative activists who hold obscure, but influential, local party offices.

Under the byzantine rules of Arizona Republican Party politics, these elected officials, known as precinct committeemen, vote for local party chairmen. The chairmen, in turn, determine how state and local GOP funds are spent, which candidates are promoted in an election year, and which political issues are highlighted — all matters of central concern for McCain heading into 2016, when the threat of a primary looms.

Prior to Aug. 26, when the races for the party offices were held, the vast majority of the 3,925 precinct slots were filled by people McCain’s team considered opponents. Now, after an influx of candidates were recruited by the senator’s allies, around 40 percent of those offices — 1,531 to be exact — will be held by people McCain’s team regards as friendly. They will have the power to vote down hostile Republican chairmen in each of their respective localities.

Why would McCain regard the Tea Party or fundamental conservatives as a political obstacle? Because Arizona’s conservatives have made it clear they don’t want McCain as their Senate nominee — and, within the state’s GOP machine, they’re a majority.

You may remember this pair of stories from a year ago, when McCain was censured not only by the Maricopa County Republicans, but also the state GOP. A March poll found that Arizonans, on the whole, aren’t exactly happy with him. A Citizens United poll found, one month later, that a majority of Arizona Republicans literally preferred anyone else to McCain in 2016.

Obamacare continues to reshape hiring practices, earnings for small businesses

Most observers expected the Affordable Care Act to effect a profound shift in the way many businesses approached building a workforce, thanks to requirements that created new costs for employers who retain full-time, benefits-eligible staff.

A year into its operation, Obamacare is doing just that.

According to USA Today, industries that typically rely on low-skilled, low-wage employees for their front-line staffing needs have hired more part-time employees and cut the number of full-timers, a tactic intended to point the part-timers toward the federal- and state-managed insurance marketplaces. Under Obamacare, businesses with 100 or more full-time employees (a number that drops to 50 in 2016) must provide most of those employees with health insurance — or pay the Obamacare penalty.

“A majority of small businesses say the Affordable Care Act already has hurt their profits, forcing them to reduce or postpone investment, withhold raises or trim other types of benefits, according to a new survey by the top small-business trade group,” reports USA Today.

“… Businesses with fewer than 100 employees also already have felt some impact from the health law, says a new survey by the National Federation of Independent Business [NFIB], a small-business trade group. Those that provide health insurance now must offer coverage for mental health and other services — unless they’re grandfathered under existing plans — boosting premiums, says Kevin Kuhlman, NFIB director of federal policy.”

NFIB surveyed 900 small businesses and found that 42 percent had seen increases of at least 10 percent in their health plan costs in 2014. Accordingly, 26 percent said they were planning either to free or reduce their employees’ pay.

When Al Sharpton goes race shaming, he doesn’t aim low

It’s so familiar that you could probably follow the playbook yourself, if you lacked the scruples: Find a major company or personality, verify that they don’t employ a percentage of minorities (or other identity group) that reflects that group’s presence in the general population, and then leverage that information to extract from the company or personality you targeted mea culpas and pre-emptive donations to your nonprofit organization.

In exchange, you’ll shut up about their institutional “racism”… for now.

If you’ve watched Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton operate, you know how this works — probably well enough to do it yourself.

The New York Post took a closer look at how Sharpton has played this game over the years. Going down the list of companies who’ve been shamed into parting with a few dollars — presumably to pay to have the spotlight to focus elsewhere — one thing becomes clear: Sharpton ain’t aiming for the small check.

Here’s how the Post sets up its story:

Anheuser-Busch gave him six figures, Colgate-Palmolive shelled out $50,000 and Macy’s and Pfizer have contributed thousands to the Rev. Al Sharpton’s charity.

Almost 50 companies — including PepsiCo, General Motors, Wal-Mart, FedEx, Continental Airlines, Johnson & Johnson and Chase — and some labor unions sponsored Sharpton’s National Action Network annual conference in April.

Terrified of negative publicity, fearful of a consumer boycott or eager to make nice with the civil-rights activist, CEOs write checks, critics say, to NAN and Sharpton — who brandishes the buying power of African-American consumers. In some cases, they hire him as a consultant.

The cash flows even as the US Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn has been conducting a grand-jury investigation of NAN’s finances.

What happens when a big company puts him off, or tells him to take a hike? GM reportedly spurned Sharpton’s National Action Network for several years in a row, declining to make a donation. In 2006, Sharpton threatened a boycott after a black-owned GM dealership in New York City closed.

GM wrote NAN a $5,000 check, then another one. NAN now calls GM, according to the Post, a “worthy” company.

Sharpton’s organization did something similar to DaimlerChrysler in the early 2000s. And Honda. And Burger King. And Pepsi.

They all pay. It doesn’t just buy them an absence of potential bad publicity; it also buys them an ally in the culture wars — an ally that’s only useful operating in the toxic identity-politics climate he has helped preserve.

“Sharpton sticks up for his corporate patrons,” the Post remarks, citing Sharpton’s reversals and changes of heart, once the money starts flowing to NAN.

NAN is a nonprofit organization, and it’s under investigation for allegedly failing to file financial reports with the State of New York and the U.S. government pertaining to the payroll taxes of its employees — in consecutive fiscal years. Sharpton has defended the nonprofit’s handling of these kinds of problems by saying he’s not the best administrator and that his passions and abilities lie elsewhere.

The nanny state isn’t likely to go away in 2015

A look back at a highlight reel of 2014’s most dispiriting anecdotes of nanny-state failures and overzealous applications of laws and policies doesn’t offer much hope for a freer, more sensible 2015.

Reason recently ran down 10 of the worst examples of “zero tolerance” policies gone wrong this past year, and it’s rife with instance after instance of mindless servitude to bureaucracy. Many of these examples involve kids who’ve suffered because adults have abrogated their individual powers of judgment and discretion — often in the name of guarding against some unlikely worst-case scenario.

There’s the kid in Minnesota who had to stand outside in her swimsuit in freezing temperatures because the grown-ups were scared to make an exception to a school policy:

After the fire alarm went off in Como Park High School in St. Paul, Minnesota, everyone evacuated, including Kayona Hagen-Tietza, 14, who had been swimming in the gym pool and didn’t have time to change. School policy forbids teachers from having students in the car, so she stood outside, barefoot, for 10 minutes in 5-degree weather until a teacher obtained “permission” to let her sit in her car just this once.

Then there’s the Canadian school bus driver who, in a weather crisis, was fired for putting the well-being of her charges ahead of the rulebook:

On a day when the wind chill dipped to -34 Fahrenheit, school bus driver Kendra Lindon’s bus broke down. Knowing it could take a long time for a replacement to arrive — and that kids would be waiting outside till it did — she picked up the few children on her route (including her son) in her SUV. A neighbor noticed two kids sitting in the cargo hold without seat belts and called the bus company. She was promptly fired.

Thank God for tattletales and busybodies.

Then there’s the kid who got a jump start on defacing his permanent record when he made the mistake of … twirling his pencil. Again, another busybody (this time a fellow student) is allegedly to thank for escalating a non-event into something memorable:

Ethan Chaplin, 13, was twirling his pencil, which made the child sitting behind him feel “threatened or uncomfortable.” That’s all it took for the Vernon, New Jersey, school to send Chaplin for a 5-hour physical and psych evaluation. His urine was tested and blood drawn. “We never know what’s percolating in the mind of children, okay?” the superintendent, Charles Maranzano, said. “When they demonstrate behaviors that raise red flags, we must do our duty.”

There’s plenty more where these came from: kids who can’t share lunches, kids who aren’t allowed to wear sunscreen (they could drink it!) and beloved, elderly substitute teachers who get canned for being friends with a lot of children on Facebook.

Gandhi is credited — perhaps unduly — with advising people to “be the change” they wish to see in the world. Regardless, it’s good advice — because it’s pretty much the only civil way to ensure that the nanny state and its servants become more marginal players in society than they were in 2014.

Michigan mandates drug testing for some welfare recipients

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has signed off on a legislative measure that will implement mandatory drug testing for certain recipients of government benefits, making the state the latest among a growing handful to place state-level qualifiers on its administration of federal welfare programs.

Snyder, a Republican, signed off on the “suspicion-based” drug testing measure Dec. 26, saying the one-year pilot program should “help ensure recipients get the wrap-around services they need to overcome drug addiction and lead successful lives.”

According to the Detroit Free Press, the measure will require “welfare recipients or applicants suspected of drug use” to submit to drug testing; those who refuse will become ineligible to continue receiving benefits for a six-month period.

Those who test positive will be referred to treatment programs.

According to the law, the pilot program is to be implemented in three “or more” counties, with the Michigan Department of Human Services field employees determining whether applicants and recipients qualify as “suspicious.”

From the final version of the bill:

(3) Upon initial application and at annual redetermination, the department shall screen family independence program applicants and recipients for suspicion of substance abuse using an empirically validated substance abuse screening tool.

(4) If the results of the substance abuse screening gives the department a reasonable suspicion to believe that the applicant or recipient has engaged in the use of a controlled substance, the applicant or recipient is required to take a substance abuse test.

Legislative Democrats oppose the program, as does the American Civil Liberties Union. Some outside observers have questioned the relevance or effectiveness of attaching drug screening to welfare programs, emphasizing the low number of people who’ve actually failed drug tests in states where similar programs have been implemented.

Soldier’s Hawaii wedding plans scuttled so Obama can play through

SPECIAL/The Marine Corps Base Hawaii’s Kaneohe Klipper Golf Course is in Kaneohe, Hawaii.

It’s the Starbucks salute all over again.

The presidential entourage is in Hawaii to ensure a safe and happy Christmas vacation for the Obama family, and part of the job entails keeping strangers away from the commander in chief. When it comes to the president’s golf time, we’ve seen in the past how seriously they take their jobs.

This time around, Barack Obama’s Hawaiian golf outing forced a pair of U.S. Army captains who’d planned on getting married at the Kaneohe Kipper Golf Course to change their plans at the last minute.

From Bloomberg News:

Natalie Heimel and her fiancé, Edward Mallue Jr., a pair of captains in the Army, were walking from their wedding rehearsal on Saturday at the 16th tee box at Kaneohe Klipper Golf Course in Hawaii when they were informed they’d have to move their wedding, scheduled for the next day.

President Barack Obama wanted to play through.

… “It was kind of ironic they got the letter from them and then, within hours, they were told they had to be moved due to him,” Jamie McCarthy, Mallue’s sister, said in an interview. “It was emotional, especially for her — she’s the bride and in less than 24 hours they had to change everything they had planned.”

If all that looks familiar to you, there’s a reason: the president inconvenienced a bunch of wealthy people (were any of them DNC donors?) at Martha’s Vineyard earlier this year when his golf game took precedence over everyone else’s leisure sport at the Vineyard Golf Club. There was even frisking right on the course.

In either case, there’s really nothing to see here:

IRS says it will be crippled by budget cuts; don’t believe it

Last week, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told the press his agency would face severe limitations in the face of a $346 million budget cut, saying “at some point, we’re going to set a new American record for the number of years in a row we get a budget cut.”

“We’re well beyond cutting out any fat,” Koskinen said. “And we’re now into cutting, as people say, muscle headed toward bone.”

But trimming the beast’s budget by $346 million is more like shaving its back than taking an axe to flesh and bone.

Reason’s J.D. Tucille described Koskinen’s mild threat of delayed customer service and long waits for tax returns as “an all-hands-on-deck spin on IRS cuts,” pointing out that less customer service might actually be a benefit — since it gives the IRS fewer opportunities to screw up:

[T]hat might not be so horrible an outcome, given that IRS assistance involved giving taxpayers bad advice 22 percent of the time back in 1987, 41 percent of the time in 1989, 22 percent of the time in 2002, and 43 percent of the time in 2003. And no matter the advice dispensed by the tax collectors themselves, taxpayers are on the hook for getting it right.

… But it’s not just the call center taking a hit. Koskinen warns that a leaner IRS will collect less revenue.

Well, cry me a river. While I have a dream that someday wind will blow through the broken windows of the Capitol Building and chase trash around the abandoned hallways, this minor budget trim is unlikely to do the job. Federal government receipts are currently at 17.3 percent of GDP (XLS), expected to rise to 18.3 percent next year, and 19 percent in 2018.

Congress’ relatively tame IRS budget is hardly a reprimand for an outfit that, as National Review observes, sets the standard for federal agencies “in thrall to a culture of criminality.”

“None of these [IRS scandal] criminals has been punished,” wrote the Review’s Kevin D. Williamson. “[T]he maddening fact is that Lois Lerner is enjoying a six-figure pension at the expense of the very taxpayers against whom she conducted a corrupt political jihad.”

This is an agency that doesn’t blink when it asks for more money. It does its work with public funds, ostensibly — as all government agencies must claim — for the good of the people whom its serves.

“Given the alternatives,” wrote Tucille, “a few cuts to an IRS that may be at its least dangerous when it’s illegitimately targeting political groups isn’t all that frightening a prospect.”

GOP implicates Obama Pentagon nominee in stolen document scandal

Congressional Republicans are alleging that Alissa Starzak, President Obama’s nominee to serve as general counsel for the U.S. Army, may have played a role in stealing the “Panetta Review,” a batch of classified CIA documents outlining the treatment of terror detainees.

If true, the motive in illegally accessing the documents presumably has to do with damage control. Fox News reported that staffers with the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) and the CIA had “reached explicit agreement on the procedures to be followed if any congressional staffers wanted to access or print CIA documents and take them away,” according to sources.

Here’s more from Fox:

According to this agreement, the desired documents were to be routed to CIA personnel, who would review them and redact sections where necessary; only thereafter, the rules specified, could Starzak and [fellow SSCI staffer Dan] Jones remove such documents from “The Cave,” the non-descript CIA office space provided to the SSCI staff just outside Washington, D.C.

Starzak was nominated to the general counsel post over the summer, but her nomination expired earlier this month. It’s not clear whether Starzak’s nomination will be re-submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee in the next Congress. Fox attempted to ask presumed Committee Chairman-in-waiting Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) about it, but a handler told the outlet McCain was traveling and would not be available for comment.

Both Jones and Starzak took orders in their SSCI roles from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who maintains their alleged interception of classified intelligence material was no big deal.

“Feinstein has long asserted that her staffers did nothing wrong,” reported Fox. “‘To be clear, the committee staff did not “hack” into CIA computers to obtain these documents, as has been suggested in the press,'” she said after the scandal broke earlier this year.

House report: Discriminatory bias fueled IRS’s targeting of ‘icky’ conservatives

A report Tuesday from the House Oversight Committee identified specific instances in which IRS employees demonstrated bias against conservative groups that had applied for tax-exempt status during the campaign season leading up to President Obama’s re-election.

The report alleges IRS employees knowingly handled applications from some conservative nonprofits differently than it handled those of other groups, and that they attempted to control the flow of information about their behavior in order to prolong the breaking of the ensuing scandal.

“These [Tea Party] organizations mostly concentrate on their activities on the limiting government, limiting government role, or reducing government size, or paying less tax. I think it[‘]s different from the other social welfare organizations which are (c)(4),” wrote IRS employee Stephen Seok.

Finding a way not to approve conservative organizations’ applications for tax-exempt status also appears to have been the default position at the agency.

“I think there may be a number of ways to deny them,” wrote IRS tax law specialist Hilary Goehausen of an unnamed conservative organization. “Let me talk to Sharon [Light] tomorrow about it and get some ideas from her as well. . . .This sounds like a bad org. :/ . . . This org gives me an icky feeling.”

The report, helmed by outgoing Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), condemns the agency for fostering an employee culture that encouraged the application of a discriminatory stance as staffers went about the agency’s mission of impartially administering the tax code.

“The IRS and its employees, whose conduct is largely shielded from public scrutiny to protect taxpayers, were not only affected by politics, but by a more basic human failure: a discriminatory outlook on the world,” the report states.

“The IRS’s inability to keep politics out of objective decisions about interpretation of the tax code damaged its primary function: an apolitical tax collector that Americans can trust to treat them fairly.”

Obama climate scientist hedges on global warming

Here we have John Holdren, assistant to the President for Science and Technology, answering a member of the public’s question about the role of mankind in shaping the Earth’s climate. His response is interesting, because it attempts to fuse the president’s politics with the realities (as we currently understand them) of geological time.

Of course, those are two things that don’t reconcile. And Holdren’s response takes into account the eons-long trend of glaciation, as well as the momentary anthropocentric global warming fad:

We know beyond any reasonable doubt that humans are the main cause of the warming of the earth’s climate that has been measured over the past few decades…

While the climate of the earth has changed over the millennia as a result of natural factors — principally changes in the tilt and orientation of the earth’s axis and rotation, and in the shape of its orbit around the sun — those changes occur far too gradually to have noticeable effects over a period of mere decades. In their current phases, moreover, they would be gradually cooling the earth — taking us toward another ice age — if they weren’t being more than offset by human-caused warming.

Holdren doesn’t get himself fired with this, but, as Hot Air points out, he brings some information into the discussion that “the [Obama] administration likely won’t appreciate.” That information is the geological record of natural, cyclical vacillation between ice age and warm period, a trend that shows no indication of having been reversed by mankind’s activities (Holdren doesn’t attempt to disprove this, by the way).

From Hot Air:

Eventually the glaciers come back and that’s something which our biggest brains have no clue how to stop once they start their southward march. Once the process starts, it happens pretty fast, too. (At least “fast” in geological time frames.) It might not spell the actual extinction of the species, but there wouldn’t be room for many people in the habitable areas. There are also theories out there which suggest that a sustained rise in temperatures can actually trigger a faster onset of glaciation. So when you’re done arguing about what to do when the ocean levels rise and swallow Miami, you can figure out how to grow corn on an ice sheet.

Court rules against EPA in lead bullet case

A Federal Court of Appeals has ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has no statutory authority to regulate the lead content of ammunition under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled Wednesday that the EPA lacks the authority to regulate the materials used in the manufacture of firearms cartridges, upsetting more than 100 environmental groups that had goaded the agency into litigating the issue.

The decision has more to do with the letter of the law than its spirit, as this passage from the court’s decision illustrates:

In this case, 101 environmental groups, invoking section 21 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which allows “any person” to petition the Environmental Protection Agency for a rulemaking proceeding to regulate “chemical substances” that “present an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment,” filed a petition with EPA asking it to regulate spent lead bullets and shot. EPA rejected the petition as “not . . .cognizable” under section 21 on the grounds that it largely duplicated an earlier petition that two of the 101 groups had filed. EPA went on to explain that, even were it to consider the petition, it would deny it on the merits because another provision of TSCA, section 3(2)(B)(v), exempts cartridges and shells from the definition of “chemical substance.” The district court held that EPA had authority to classify the petition as non-cognizable under TSCA and dismissed the complaint. Although we disagree with the district court — nothing in section 21 allowed EPA to dismiss this petition as non-cognizable — we nonetheless affirm because the environmental groups have suggested no way in which EPA could regulate spent lead bullets and shot without also regulating cartridges and shells — precisely what section 3(2)(B)(v) prohibits.

It’s evident the EPA knew it never had a case, but was obligated to seek an opinion. The fact that the agency can’t make a distinction between the content of an unspent cartridge and the content of its component parts, the separated bullet and shell casing, is a matter that could be resolved through an amendment to the law — if Congress leans farther left in the future.

Until then, the ruling has no bearing on state legislatures issuing their own regulations on lead in cartridges. Democratic California Gov. Jerry Brown signed just such a ban into effect late last year, making the state the first in the U.S. to outlaw the use of lead in ammunition for hunting.

Supreme Court to hear Obamacare challenge in March 2015

The U.S. Supreme Court will take up King v. Burwell — the case that bears the hopes of many convinced that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is unconstitutional — on March 4, less than three weeks after open enrollment at Healthcare.gov for 2015 has ended.

The plaintiffs in King v. Burwell challenge the ACA by turning the law’s own language against it, arguing that the law does not allow the government to subsidize individuals’ health insurance costs in the states that have not set up their own online healthcare exchanges.

“Critically, the Act only subsidizes coverage through an Exchange established by a state,” the plaintiffs wrote in a court brief (italics preserved):

It [the ACA] provides that a credit “shall be allowed” in a certain “amount,” 26 U.S.C. § 36B(a), based on the number of “coverage months of the taxpayer occurring during the taxable year,” id. § 36B(b)(1). A “coverage month” is a month during which “the taxpayer … is covered by a qualified health plan … enrolled in through an Exchange established by the State under section 1311 of the [ACA].” Id. § 36B(c)(2)(A)(i) (emphasis added). Unless the citizen buys coverage through a state-established Exchange, he has no “coverage months” and so no subsidy.

… Perhaps concerned that some states would refuse to establish Exchanges even at the cost of subsidies, the IRS in 2011 proposed, and in 2012 promulgated, regulations extending subsidies to all Exchanges — not only those established by states under § 1311, but also by HHS under § 1321. 76 Fed. Reg. 50,931, 50,934 (Aug. 17, 2011); 77 Fed. Reg. 30,377, 30,378, 30,387 (May 23, 2012). 6

These regulations (“the IRS Rule”) contradict the statutory text restricting subsidies to Exchanges “established by the State under section 1311.”

The King case has provided the most meritorious legal challenge to Obamacare — a chief reason why so many opponents of the law have ardently followed its progress through the courts.

“Legal scholars and health policy experts have warned that the case is the biggest legal threat against ObamaCare since 2012,” The Hill observed recently.

U.S. offers reward for al-Qaida terrorist after releasing him from Guantanamo

The U.S. government has offered $5 million for information leading to the capture of a terrorist it once had in custody, but whom the administration of George W. Bush set free from the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in 2006.

According to government watchdog Judicial Watch, the reward illustrates the absurdity of the Obama administration’s current focus on accelerating the release of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo and elsewhere.

Now we learn that the U.S. government is secretly admitting that it erred in at least one case, the release of a Saudi national named Ibrahim al-Rubaysh. In late 2006 the Bush administration repatriated him back home under a Saudi Arabian “rehabilitation” program that supposedly reformed Guantanamo Bay jihadists but instead has served as a training camp for future terrorists. In fact, in 2008 counterterrorism officials confirmed that many of the terrorists who return to “the fight” after being released from U.S. custody actually graduated from the laughable Saudi rehab program, which started under Bush and continued under Obama.

It turns out that al-Rubaysh is the poster child for the Saudi rehab’s failures. He’s a dangerous Al Qaeda operative based in Yemen and now, years after freeing him, the United States wants him captured. This month the State Department coined the “senior leader” of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.

The $5 million incentive is only a portion of a larger $45 million allotted by the State Department for rewarding information leading to the capture of eight leaders of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). According to Judicial Watch, the State Department has already spent $125 million in reward money for the apprehension of other terrorists during the Bush and Obama administrations.

“The bottom line remains,” reads the group’s report. “The U.S. had him and let him go. Now it’s offering a chunk of change for his capture.”

Two Pennsylvania Democrats indicted for alleged bribe-for-influence scheme

A pair of Pennsylvania state legislators has been indicted for allegedly accepting cash and gift bribes in return for promising to oppose voter ID legislation.

Pennsylvania State Reps. Vanessa Brown and Jon Waters, both Philadelphia-area Democrats, were indicted Dec. 16 after Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams took up local charges that state Attorney General Kathleen Kane had opted not to pursue.

Both Williams and Kane are Democrats, but Williams did not hesitate to blast AG Kane for appearing to coddle her partisan peers, as well as for invoking the unfounded idea that racial motives might have played a role in the indicted lawmakers’ very public embarrassment. Both lawmakers, as well as Williams are black; AG Kane is white.

“As an African-American and as a law enforcement official, I was disgusted that the attorney general would bring racism into this case,” Williams told reporters after the indictment had been handed down. “It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire for no reason, no reason at all.”

You can read much more from Williams at Pennlive.com, including a point-by-point rebuttal of Kane’s explanation for passing on the case.

Each of the lawmakers admitted they had taken payment in exchange for political influence, following an informant’s recording of a series of conversations leading up to a 2011 legislative vote on a Pennsylvania voter ID law. Brown allegedly accepted $4,000 to oppose the law; Waters allegedly took $7,650. She also allegedly accepted a Tiffany & Co. bracelet in exchange for her vote.

Brown and Waters were indicted in Dauphin County on charges of criminal conspiracy, bribery, conflict of interest and failure to disclose financial information required of public officials who hold elected positions. Both legislators turned themselves in to local authorities after the indictment.

IRS says it’s almost finished with search for Lois Lerner’s ‘missing’ emails

IRS commissioner John Koskinen told the media an Inspector General investigator has nearly finished looking for the missing emails of Lois Lerner, the former official at the center of the scandal involving government’s political discrimination against conservative nonprofit groups.

The missing data — which the IRS has alternately denied having ever existed, or denied having destroyed, or denied being able to recover, or denied having any connection to a larger conspiracy against conservatives — came to the attention of the press when Lerner answered a planted question about the brewing scandal at a legal conference in May 2013.

Lerner infamously went on to earn a contempt of Congress vote after refusing to continue testimony she had begun about her alleged role in the scandal.

Koskinen’s revelation that the search for Lerner’s missing emails is “almost” finished doesn’t necessarily mean the public will be laying eyes on the information anytime soon, though. In fact, the way he phrased his explanation of how the IRS is proceeding in its data search makes it difficult to determine what, if any, new information Koskinen was offering.

Koskinen said the Treasury IG should be done with its email search “in the next several weeks,” and, according to The Hill, that “[t]he only part left to be done is to figure out how many if any emails can they find and that are reproducible… At that point, with any luck at all, we’ll run everything to ground.”