OIG report slams government for poor, costly oversight for Obamacare contractors

Only days following reports that the IRS has retained the services of the same contractor accused of botching the Healthcare.gov website, an inspector general’s report is slamming the federal government’s sloppy, inattentive and ultimately costly lack of diligence in vetting and overseeing Obamacare contractors.

The Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) unveiled its criticism last Thursday, accusing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) of failing to protect public funds when it failed to conduct background checks on contractors and, once contractors had been retained, did not hold contractors accountable for cost and deadline overruns.

“For a project of this size and importance, CMS missed opportunities to leverage all available acquisition planning tools and contracting approaches to identify and mitigate risks,” the OIG report states:

When awarding the Federal Marketplace contracts, CMS did not always meet contracting requirements. For example, CMS did not develop an overarching acquisition strategy for the Federal Marketplace or perform all required oversight activities. Moreover, for a project of this size and importance, CMS missed opportunities to leverage all available acquisition planning tools and contracting approaches to identify and mitigate risks. Specifically, CMS did not exercise the option to plan for a lead systems integrator to coordinate all contractors’ efforts prior to the launch of the Federal Marketplace. The complexity of the Federal Marketplace underscored the need for CMS to select the most qualified contractors. However, CMS did not perform thorough reviews of contractor past performance when awarding two key contracts. CMS also made contracting decisions that may have limited the number of acceptable proposals for much of the key Federal Marketplace work. In addition, CMS selected contract types that placed the risk of cost increases for this work solely on the Government.

The report goes on to identify numerous instances in which CMS requested or received contract proposals from only a single company. It also notes CMS “did not perform thorough reviews of contractor past performance,” as was undoubtedly the case with contractors such as CGI Federal.

HHS severed its ties with CGI after the first botched rollout of Obamacare website Healthcare.gov. Seven months afterward, the undeterred IRS hired CGI to provide “critical functions” for the agency’s Obamacare tax enforcement program.

Wisconsin Governor moves ahead with drug-testing plan for welfare recipients

Joining a handful of other states that have attached conditions to receiving government welfare benefits, Wisconsin may soon become the latest to compel some welfare and state-subsidized healthcare recipients to pass a drug test in order to remain eligible.

Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker recommitted to the drug-screening plan — a key campaign promise — during his state of the state address in early January. Previews of his state budget, due for release on Feb. 3, reveal that the drug-testing program will move forward this year.

“Walker committed to drug testing recipients of BadgerCare Plus health coverage and also pledged free treatment and job training for those testing positive for drugs,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

“… The governor said the drug-testing proposal would apply only to able-bodied adults, not the elderly or children, and would include transitional jobs initiatives. Walker wants to test all FoodShare and BadgerCare applicants but limit the drug testing for unemployment benefits to certain applicants.”

BadgerCare Plus is a reimbursement program for healthcare coverage. It was originally aimed at Wisconsin residents who occupy the demographic no-man’s land between employer-sponsored health insurance and Medicaid eligibility. The “Plus” appellation, added in 2008, accompanied an expansion of the program to cover more of the state’s indigent residents, particularly children.

States like Georgia, Maine and Michigan have already approved similar plans, often to the aggravation of the federal government, which is currently fighting several of the new rules.

In Wisconsin, there was plenty of opposition to Walker’s plan from the left. Democratic lawmakers called the proposal a political move intended to galvanize Walker’s conservative base as he ponders a presidential run in 2016.

“This proposal is more about making headlines than finding real solutions,” state Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Schilling told the Sentinel. “Rather than getting distracted by presidential posturing, we need to work together and find real solutions that will create jobs.”

Note: An earlier headline had the wrong name for the governor. We regret the error.

IRS contracts for Obamacare service with company behind botched Healthcare.gov rollout

CGI Federal, the same company the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) essentially fired following the disastrous launch of Healthcare.gov in 2013, now holds a contract with the IRS to help manage the tax enforcement agency’s Obamacare tax program.

According to The Daily Caller, seven months elapsed between the time HHS sent CGI Federal packing and the time the IRS award the company a fresh contract to help it carry out its Obamacare enforcement.

“After facing a year of embarrassing failures, federal officials finally pulled the plug on the company and terminated CGI’s contract in January 2014,” the DC reported Wednesday.

“Yet on Aug. 11, seven months later, IRS officials signed a new contract with CGI to provide ‘critical functions’ and ‘management support’ for its Obamacare tax program, according to the Federal Procurement Data System, a federal government procurement database.”

That new contract is worth nearly $4.5 million and runs through mid-August.

An attorney with a nonprofit government watchdog told the DC that CGI Federal — even before the IRS went vendor shopping for its Obamacare program — had become the “poster child for government failure.”

“I am shocked that the IRS has turned around and is using them for Obamacare IT work,” the Project on Government Oversight’s Scott Amey said.

That might sound like typical partisan hyperbole, were it not for the fact that CGI Federal has other recent blemishes on its record of helping deploy Obamacare websites.

“Last year, CGI was fired by the liberal states of Vermont and Massachusetts for failing to deliver on their Obamacare websites,” the DC notes. And Massachusetts’ Obamacare site “never worked, despite the state paying $170 million to CGI.”

Washington, D.C. leaders weigh offering municipal voting rights to non-citizens

Some members of the Washington, D.C. city council, led by at-large council member David Grosso, are advocating a new law that would extend municipal voting rights to permanent residents who are not U.S. citizens.

Grasso introduced his proposal, the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015, Tuesday in order to “reignite” a “conversation” about offering non-citizens access to the mechanism of choosing local representatives.

Here’s Grasso’s explanation , taken from his announcement of the proposal:

This morning along with Councilmembers Allen, Nadeau, Evans and Silverman, I introduced the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015. This bill would grant voting rights in local municipal elections to D.C. residents who are not U.S. citizens but have permanent residency status.

“All politics is local” is a common phrase in the U.S. political system and what most District residents care about are the tangible things that affect their day-to-day lives like potholes, playgrounds, taxes, snow removal, trash collection, red light cameras and more. All of these issues are important to voters in D.C. Unfortunately, not all of our residents have a say in choosing the officials who make these decisions. In my opinion, that is unjust.

Since 1970, the District of Columbia has had a steady increase in the number of foreign-born residents. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2012), approximately 53,975 residents in the District are foreign born, but not naturalized U.S. citizens. Over 90% of that population is 18 years of age or older. These are taxpayers who should have the opportunity to have their voices heard in local elections.

For most of American history, non-citizens were permitted to vote in 22 states and federal territories. It was not until the 1920s that, amidst anti-immigrant hysteria, lawmakers began to bar non-citizens from voting in local and statewide elections. Unfortunately, this hysteria continues across the United States, but it does not need to continue any longer in the District of Columbia.

Currently, there are seven jurisdictions where non-citizens can vote in local elections in the U.S., six of which are in neighboring Maryland. None of these cities or towns has experienced incidents of voting fraud with regard to non-citizens voting in federal elections. A similar bill was introduced in the Council in 2004 and unfortunately, due to the political climate at the time regarding immigration reform, it did not receive full consideration by this Council. Eleven years later, the time is now to reignite this conversation.

If approved, the law would not make Washington, D.C., the first municipality to offer the vote to non-citizens. “Currently, half a dozen towns or jurisdictions in Maryland, including Takoma Park, allow the practice, while Chicago allows all (presumably legal) residents to vote in school board elections,” The Weekly Standard observed Thursday. “In much the same vein, non-citizens in California now have the right to act as poll monitors, to practice law (even if an illegal alien), and also to serve on juries.”

Al Sharpton gets invited to an Oxford debate and promptly chickens out

MSNBC host, race profiteer and Obama confidante Al Sharpton received the honor of an invitation to participate in debate about U.S. race relations, hosted by the Oxford Union in London.

Set for Friday, Jan. 23, the event will feature participants representing the ideological spectrum: a Black Panther leader, a liberal writer and a pair of conservative radio hosts. Oxford-style debates adhere to the classical form: point, counterpoint — with the audience voting on each side’s position once at the beginning and again at the end, after all parties have had a chance to influence opinion.

A debate — that means there would be articulate, informed people offering ideas and challenging others’ ideas. Live-action discourse in real time isn’t exactly Sharpton’s métier, so credit him for doing the obvious and chickening out.

According to Breitbart, Sharpton was slated to defend the position that America is “institutionally racist” and had confirmed that he would participate before “shocking his esteemed hosts” and reversing course.

Sources have indicated that Sharpton, who is an informal adviser to both President Obama and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, has asked Oxford for an opportunity to speak but not debate the counter argument. ‘He wants to control the event, because he won’t debate the facts and the real issues including how his own conduct impacts race relations in the U.S.,” stated [conservative debater David] Webb. “He doesn’t want to be exposed for what he really is — a shakedown artist and racial coward. After years of conning people into giving him money by fanning the flames of racism, he’s just too afraid to have a civil, fact-based conversation about the issues of race in America.”

Sharpton is still planning to attend the event, and is even being allowed to speak outside of the debate format and field questions from the audience. But the persuasiveness of his opinions won’t be assessed alongside those of his would-be colleagues.

Healthcare.gov shares personal info with third parties

If you needed another reason to resort to anything but Healthcare.gov to satisfy your health insurance needs, here’s one more: The federal government’s online place of business for Obamacare shoppers surreptitiously shares enrollees’ personal data with outside vendors, who in turn can use that data for advertising or to enrich their market research.

If that sounds like an unpleasant oversight from the people who brought you a busted, unsecured and non-functioning website in the first year of Obamacare’s release, it’s not. That’s because, according to the Feds, data sharing isn’t a bug; it’s a feature.

When The Hill followed up on an AP story about the data sharing, a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokesman touted secret data sharing as a “best practice” for the government-run health insurance marketplace.

“We deploy tools on the window shopping application that collect basic information to optimize and assess system performance,” said CMS’s Aaron Albright in a statement. “We believe that the use of these tools are common and represent best practices for a typical e-commerce site.”

The Healthcare.gov fine print discloses that any information you submit may be passed among government agencies as well as insurance companies. It also advises that the Feds reserve the right to share your personal data — your address, your personal habits (such as whether you’re a smoker), your income level — with “contractors that perform functions for the Marketplace to accomplish the specific functions they’re engaged to perform.”

That’s a pretty open-ended statement, leaving the way open for a pretty open-ended amount of data sharing — all covered by a single general disclosure foisted on the user in the fine print, on the front end. Once your info is out there, it’s out there — and, the government argues, you have no one to blame but yourself if that info ends up in places you’d rather it hadn’t.

Oh, and about that “best practices” claim?

“Things got a little sticky when an Administration spokesman assured the Associated Press that ‘HealthCare.gov comports with standards set by the federal National Institute for Standards and Technology,'” Breitbart observed Tuesday.

“… Even if the harvested data is never used for anything except personalized health-care advertising, it could prove unnerving for HealthCare.gov users, especially as their new Big Doctor in Washington becomes more concerned with ‘improving’ their lifestyles to reduce health care costs. And it’s all being done without our knowledge, or permission, because Big Doc thinks we gave our individual dignity away forever on the night of the 2008 presidential election.”

Moving data shows population shift favors right-to-work states

An analysis of data from three of the nation’s largest moving companies shows that right-to-work states continue to enjoy a net influx of new residents, while many states that don’t give workers a choice about union membership remain among the least-popular destinations for relocating Americans.

Although the U.S. Census Bureau will release updated data on migration demographics later in 2015, a Watchdog analysis of data from Allied Van Lines, Atlas Van Lines and United Van Lines reveals a similar trend: Right-to-work states rank at or near the top for people looking to put down new roots.

“While each state’s weather and other variables are obviously major factors, data from the three shipping companies suggest Americans are unconvinced by union propaganda about low wages and deadly conditions created by right-to-work laws,” Watchdog’s Jason Hart wrote Tuesday.

For example, Allied Van Lines’ list of the top 10 states with the highest ratio of inbound moves for 2014 features seven right-to-work states (Idaho, Arizona, Florida, Texas, South Carolina, Utah and Wyoming) and only three states without a right-to-work law (Montana, Alaska and Oregon).

Conversely, only three right-to-work states make the company’s bottom 10 list for the lowest ration of inbound moves: Michigan, South Dakota and Iowa. The other seven states at the bottom (New Jersey, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, Connecticut and Maryland) are all pro-union.

The other two companies’ top- and bottom-10 lists are similar: Texas, Florida and Idaho make an appearance in each company’s top 10; New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Illinois and West Virginia appear in each company’s bottom 10.

Allied Van Lines noted in its 2014 “Magnet States Report” that Texas has been its clients’ No. 1 “most Inbound State” for a decade:

Texas maintained top status as Most Inbound State on Allied’s report, which uses internal data to track U.S. migration patterns. Texas’ net relocation gain of 1,973 families in 2014 is calculated by the difference between inbound moves and outbound moves performed by Allied Van Lines, one of the world’s largest moving companies.

Texas has also demonstrated strong population growth (adding 1.3 million new residents since April 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau) and has increased non-government jobs by 12 percent since 2007, according to the American Enterprise Institute.

Florida had a strong showing as the next most magnetic state with 1,751 moves, well above its 2013 net gain of 1,115 moves.

Rounding out the top five magnet states in 2014 are Arizona (no. 3), South Carolina (no. 4) and Colorado (no. 5).

“We’ve seen for a number of years now that Americans are voting with their feet and leaving forced unionism states for Right to Work states,” the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s Patrick Semmens told Watchdog.

“… Once you adjust for the cost of living (which as a whole is lower in Right to Work states), workers in Right to Work states have $3,000 more disposable income each year.”

No rush to embrace establishment GOP candidates in early presidential poll

As talk of the 2016 presidential race heats up, so too does the media interest in potential candidacies of the heirs to the GOP’s establishment mantle: Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. Yet a recent tracking poll of voter attitudes finds there’s not a lot of enthusiasm to revisit a Romney candidacy or to send another Bush to the White House.

According to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released this week, media buzz about the two Republican power players hasn’t set voters’ imaginations on fire. Since September 2014, voters’ positive approval of Romney has skidded from 32 percent to 27 percent. Since November of last year — when the poll last measured Bush’s approval — the former Florida governor’s response has fallen from 26 percent to 19 percent among all voters.

On the flip side, a lot of people continue to hold negative views of both potential candidates. In recent polling, 40 percent of voters viewed Romney negatively, hewing closely to Romney’s “negative” rating of 39 percent last September. Similarly, Bush holds a 32 percent “negative” rating in the recent poll — essentially unchanged from 33 percent figure he received in the November poll.

While neither candidate is likely to represent conservative voters’ first choice, Romney holds an edge over Bush when it comes to appealing to the Republican Party’s base. Romney got a 52 percent “positive” rating from Republican voters in the recent poll, while Bush enjoyed a favorable rating from only 37 percent of self-identified Republicans.

Despite his dynastic associations, Bush still doesn’t have quite the name recognition of Romney, who lost the 2012 presidential election to Barack Obama. But among those who do recognize Bush, there’s been a decline in his favorable polling in the days since he began touting to the media his interest in the presidency.

“While former Florida governor Jeb Bush is not quite as well-known as Romney, with 13 percent of respondents saying they don’t know the name, he’s also seen a drop in approval since announcing that he’s ‘actively exploring’ a 2016 run,” explained the poll summary.

Note: This story has been updated to change 2008 to 2012. We regret the error.

Washington mom refuses flu vaccine for baby; state threatens confiscation

The foster parent of an infant in Tacoma, Washington, is facing a state ultimatum: Have your entire family vaccinated against the flu or surrender your baby to the government.

So far, foster mom Jamie Smith has chosen against vaccination. It’s a choice that comes with a tremendous consequence. The Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) informed Smith she has until February to vaccinate the baby — born on Christmas Day — as well as everyone else in her home.

If she doesn’t, she’ll be violating a state requirement that compels foster parents to inoculate themselves and their households. That means the foster child, by law, is subject to state confiscation.

Smith told local news outlet KOMO-TV that she’s concerned about potential side effects from the vaccine. “I’ve done a lot of research on it and I don’t like some of the side effects that it has,” she said.

Yet Smith isn’t militant about it. Her husband, whose employer requires flu shots, has gotten one. Yet Smith, who’s played the role of foster parent to seven other children, told the press she’s willing to hand the infant back to the state before she’d force the other children in her house to be vaccinated.

“Unfortunately, I have to think about our kids who are in the house first and to me they’re more important, their safety, than trying to fight to keep this little guy,” Smith said.

The degree of power the state exerts over individuals in the name of public health is an ongoing source of controversy. A Connecticut teenager diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma was removed from her home and forced into chemotherapy last month after she and her mother told state health officials they preferred not to undergo the treatment.

In early January, the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the state’s right to enforce its treatment mandate.

Lindsey Graham getting serious about running for president

Now that he’s bagged ringing establishment endorsements from both sides of the Senate aisle — here’s one from John McCain (R-Ariz.) and another from Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) seems to be getting earnest about entering the crowded field of GOP presidential candidates.

Graham told NBC News Sunday that he’s formed an exploratory committee to assay his chances of connecting with potential voters outside his home state, where he sailed through an attrition-heavy Senate primary election last November.

Graham, who’s extremely unpopular among South Carolina’s conservative GOP contingent, won his June 2014 party primary in part because of his opponents’ collective weakness. He had no fewer than six primary challengers in the Republican primary — each of whom strove to stand out as the preferred, ideologically purer conservative alternative.

On the national stage, though, Graham has support — at least for now — where it counts: the Washington, D.C. establishment.

“We’re not polling, but we set up a ‘testing the waters’ committee under the IRS code that would allow me to look beyond South Carolina as to whether or not a guy like Lindsey Graham has a viable path,” Graham told NBC News’ Chuck Todd.

“I don’t know where this will go, but I am definitely going to look at it… I think the world is falling apart, and I’ve been more right than wrong when it comes to foreign policy, but we’ll see.”

That line about the world “falling apart” advances the same talking point that McCain, who’s been particularly enthusiastic about priming Graham for the White House, made last week when he joked to the media that his “illegitimate son” — Graham — has a good head for foreign relations.

“My illegitimate son Lindsey Graham is exploring that option,” said McCain when asked about the 2016 presidential race. “So I am strongly encouraging Sen. Lindsey Graham, particularly with the world the way it is today. No one understands the world today in the way that Lindsey Graham does, in my view.”

Is Harry Reid serving his final Senate term?

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could be closing out his long political career in the U.S. Senate, choosing “retirement” — i.e., declining to seek office again — over the risk of defeat at the hands of a Republican challenger.

That’s the upshot of an analysis from the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, which last month placed Reid at the front of its tally of “most vulnerable” Senate Democrats in the 2016 election cycle.

This month, the Center for Politics’ Geoffrey Skelley expands on that assessment by noting that Reid — whom he describes as “the heartiest of the ‘Senate survivors'” for repeatedly beating the odds at election time — may be facing a number of unrelated circumstances that could conspire against his deciding to run again in 2016.

The circumstance that matters most is competitive adversity: if the GOP fields a strong and well-known candidate, Reid might opt out of the 2016 race. Here’s a Jan. 15 snippet from Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the Center for Politics’ elections analysis journal:

In the Crystal Ball’s first batch of 2016 Senate ratings in December 2014, we identified Reid as probably the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in this Senate cycle. While we rate the contest as Leans Democratic, the prospect of a possible challenge from popular Gov. Brian Sandoval (R-NV) could seriously endanger Reid’s future in Congress’ upper chamber, and Reid’s weak approval ratings also make him potentially vulnerable to other, less heralded Republicans. It’s also possible that he will retire, although his heavy fundraising and public comments suggest that he’s running again. That said, Reid just suffered significant injuries in an exercising accident, and his wife and daughter have also had recent illnesses.

You may have heard about Reid’s recent injury, which he has attributed to a mishap while getting his exercise:

However he was hurt, the 75-year-old Reid has since been doing business remotely, “a prisoner of sorts at his home in D.C.’s Ritz-Carlton,” according to Roll Call’s #WGDB blog.

AG Holder moves against civil forfeitures

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder moved late last week to set new limits on the practice of civil asset forfeiture by local police and sheriff’s departments throughout the country, closing off access to a federal program that had enabled local law enforcement to claim — and keep — private property, with or without an associated criminal charge.

Holder shut the door on local law enforcement’s use of the federal “Equitable Sharing” program for civil asset forfeiture, a program that allows local police to seize private property in their role as proxy enforcers of federal statutes. Under those partnerships, the feds receive a portion of seized property, while the local cops hang on to the rest.

“[E]ffective immediately, the Justice Department is taking an important step to prohibit federal agency adoptions of state and local seizures, except for public safety reasons,” Holder announced in a statement:

Federal adoption of property seized by state or local law enforcement under state law is prohibited, except for property that directly relates to public safety concerns, including firearms, ammunition, explosives, and property associated with child pornography. To the extent that seizures of property other than these four specified categories of property are being considered for federal adoption under this public safety exception, such seizures may not be adopted without the approval of the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division. The prohibition on federal adoption includes, but is not limited to, seizures by state or local law enforcement of vehicles, valuables, and cash, which is defined as currency and currency equivalents, such as postal money orders, personal and cashier’s checks, stored value cards, certificates of deposit, travelers checks, and U.S. savings bonds.

This order does not apply to ( 1) seizures by state and local authorities working together with federal authorities in a joint task force; (2) seizures by state and local authorities that are the result of joint federal-state investigations or that are coordinated with federal authorities as part of ongoing federal investigations; or (3) seizures pursuant to federal seizure warrants, obtained from federal courts to take custody of assets originally seized under state law. This Order also does not affect the ability of state and local agencies to pursue the forfeiture of assets pursuant to their respective state laws.

Because Eric Holder is Eric Holder, of course the reversal doesn’t apply to guns and ammo. And we are skeptical of the extent to which local cops may attempt to beg their way into task force partnerships with the Feds, since joint operations are still fair game for seized assets.

But this is definitely a good step.

Arizona will require civics exam as condition for high school graduation

Arizona lawmakers have made the state the first in the U.S. to require a basic understanding of civics in order for students to receive high school diplomas.

New Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law last week a bill making the test mandatory, although the law leaves it up to schools how best to instruct students to prepare to pass it.

In September, Republican State Rep. Steve Montenegro proposed that the state require students to pass the same 100-question civics test the federal government uses to test foreigners who apply for U.S. naturalization.

“Every single student in Arizona and across the United States of America should have basic knowledge and understanding of American government,” Montenegro said at the time.

According to The Arizona Republic, the civics requirement has set a precedent that 17 other states may soon follow. A consultant pushing the legislation in state houses across the country said North Dakota is likely to be the next state to implement the change.

While the law has its critics, it has been well received by others.

Moses Sanchez, a Tempe parent, shared his enthusiasm for the new requirement — one born of personal experience.

“As an immigrant and naturalized citizen, I observed and assisted my parents as they studied for their citizenship test and shared in their pride as they passed it,” he told the Arizona Senate Education Committee. “As a parent, I support this bill.”

While the naturalization process requires a foreign applicant to correctly answer 6 out of 10 questions administered verbally by an immigration official, the Arizona schools version will require students to correctly answer 60 questions out of 100. Students can take the test as early as their 8th grade year, and can retake it until they pass.

‘Free-range’ parents under scrutiny for letting kids walk home from the park

Last month, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, self-described “free-range” parents of two children — a 10-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl — had agreed to allow their kids to make the mile-long walk from a nearby park to their Silver Spring, Maryland, home.

Acting on a tip, the cops picked up the kids about midway through their journey. According to The Washington Post, the Meitivs are now under investigation for suspicion of neglect.

The parents told the newspaper they are thoughtful in their parenting style, and that they’ve made a conscientious choice to afford their kids enough mundane independence to allow them to experience both the joys — and the consequences — of a sensible measure of unsupervised activity.

“The world is actually even safer than when I was a child, and I just want to give them the same freedom and independence that I had — basically an old-fashioned childhood,” Danielle Meitiv told the Post. “I think it’s absolutely critical for their development — to learn responsibility, to experience the world, to gain confidence and competency… Parenthood is an exercise in risk management.”

A couple of hours after the cops had deposited the kids back at home, the family received a visit from Montgomery County Child Protective Services (CPS). They asked Alexander, the father, to sign a pledge that the kids wouldn’t be left unsupervised in any way until CPS could “follow up” with the family the following week. He grudgingly agreed after CPS threatened to remove the children from the home.

Since then, CPS representatives have attempted to visit the family at home — and, according to the Post, they’ve been turned away. Danielle explained that allowing the government into her home to assess the merits of her parenting “seemed like such a huge violation of privacy.”

“I think what CPS considered neglect, we felt was an essential part of growing up and maturing,” her husband added.

Poll shows most Americans don’t believe the Obama administration’s sunny spin on employment data

The alternative media isn’t the only corner of society that’s having a hard time seeing an upside in the months-long trend of bipolar BLS employment statistics, which the Obama administration routinely touts for its consistently declining unemployment percentages.

In fact, 3 out of 4 Americans believe the White House just isn’t telling the truth about the number of people who’ve managed to find work and financial stability in the current economy.

“Many Americans — especially Republicans — simply don’t believe the data,” observes YouGov, which released a poll Wednesday reflecting the attitudes of Americans on the economy and personal finances. “Only one in four think (sic) the unemployment figures are accurate. More than half think there are more people unemployed than the Bureau of Labor Statistics figures say there are.”

For reference, here’s our take on the BLS’s three most recent monthly jobs reports, covering December, November and October of 2014.

In addition, the general mood about the state of the economy is just downright sour.

“[W]hen Americans talk about the economy or its effect on them, they tend to paint a more negative than positive picture of how things are,” the poll summary reports.

“A third [of respondents] say their conversations with friends and family about the economy are mostly negative; just 19 percent have mostly positive discussions. This is personal: only one in four Americans think they are personally better off today than they were when Barack Obama took office in 2009. A third say they are worse off.”

Soros looms large as Ferguson protesters’ chief enabler

Mega-rich progressive George Soros, Emperor Palpatine’s real-life doppelganger, has been the chief enabler of the protest movement that’s inconvenienced urban dwellers throughout the U.S. ever since a grand jury declined to indict an officer for shooting and killing a black teen in Ferguson, Missouri.

That’s the conclusion of an analysis out Thursday from The Washington Times, which examined the tax filings from his nonprofit organization, Open Society, to identify Soros’ philanthropic beneficiaries.

“Mr. Soros spurred the Ferguson protest movement through years of funding and mobilizing groups across the U.S., according to interviews with key players and financial records reviewed by The Washington Times,” the story flatly asserts.

How? Money, mostly. In just one year’s time, Soros “emboldened” (The Times’ word) grass-roots organizations and their activist followers by pouring at least $33 million into those organizations’ coffers. The Daddy Warbucks treatment had its appropriate effect:

The financial tether from Mr. Soros to the activist groups gave rise to a combustible protest movement that transformed a one-day criminal event in Missouri into a 24-hour-a-day national cause celebre.

Of course, everything the protesters do is voluntary, as the Open Society Foundation’s director, Kenneth Zimmerman, points out. “The incidents, whether in Staten Island, Cleveland or Ferguson, were spontaneous protests — we don’t have the ability to control or dictate what others say or choose to say,” he said.

But The Times alleges a high degree of shared intuition among the many players in the nationwide protest movement, suggesting that each plays its role inside an “echo chamber” tailored to make organization and mobilization easier.

Of course, what The Times describes could be nothing so nefarious or elaborate. It could be simply grass-roots organizing at its most perfect — something, by its very nature, that a conservative-leaning publication inherently might not recognize. You make the call:

The plethora of organizations involved not only shared Mr. Soros’ funding, but they also fed off each other, using content and buzzwords developed by one organization on another’s website, referencing each other’s news columns and by creating a social media echo chamber of Facebook “likes” and Twitter hashtags that dominated the mainstream media and personal online newsfeeds.

… With the backing of national civil rights organizations and Mr. Soros’ funding, “Black Lives Matter” grew from a hashtag into a social media phenomenon, including a #BlackLivesMatter bus tour and march in September.

… Colorlines is an online news site that focuses on race issues and is published by Race Forward, a group that received $200,000 from Mr. Soros’s foundation in 2011. Colorlines has published tirelessly on the activities in Ferguson and heavily promoted the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and activities.

At the end of the #BlackLivesMatter march, organizers met with civil rights groups like the Organization for Black Struggle and Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment to strategize their operations moving forward, Ms. Solomon wrote. OBS and MORE are also funded by Mr. Soros.

This sort of dot-connecting goes on for quite a while. By the end of it, “echo chamber” begins to seem an inadequate description for a coterie of groups that occupy such a claustrophobic ideological, organizational and financial space.

Some questions the 2016 Democratic presidential candidates should — but won’t — be asked

Most lists teased by the Internet are facile clickbait — a truth everyone already knows.

This list is clickbait, too — deservedly so — but it’s anything but facile.

The Washington Free Beacon’s Andrew Stiles came up with a list of 20 questions he’d love for some intrepid moderator to ask Democratic candidates in the 2016 presidential primary campaign season.

As you can see from the very first question…

  1. Which group poses a greater threat to Americans: ISIS or the NRA?

… there’s a kind of genius at play here.

Most of these questions follow a similar logic, asking candidates to essentially make an on-the-spot choice between simple common sense and loyalty to an agenda that manifestly abuses common sense.

Here are a few other examples:

  1. Which is a greater threat to American values: radical Islam? Or Islamophobia?

  1. President Obama has said with respect to wealth in America: “At some point you’ve made enough money.” Do you agree? Please explain.

  1. Show of hands: Would you accept a budget deal that consisted of 90 percent tax increases and 10 percent cuts to Social Security benefits?

  1. In your opinion, do Wall Street traders and investment bankers have a generally positive, or a generally negative influence on American society?

He saves what may be the best for last, though. Question 20 asks each candidate to choose which of their fellow Democrats, participating in the same debate, is the most out of touch with average Americans — and to explain why. That would be revealing, but probably not in the way that the candidate answering the question would wish.

As with most things that make too much sense, this is pure fantasy. No candidate will be subjected to such cruelty as these questions deign to inflict.

But we can dare to dream. Check out Stiles’ full list of 20 questions for Democratic candidates here.

Gallup CEO: Numbers show American entrepreneurship is dying

The chairman and CEO of Gallup authored the summary attached to a Tuesday data report whose numbers indicate (or, if you’ve been paying attention, corroborate) a troubling truth: Existing American businesses are dying off at a faster rate than new ones are growing.

In “American Entrepreneurship: Dead or Alive?” Gallup CEO Jim Clifton attempts to stress the urgency of this simple fact:

We are behind in starting new firms per capita, and this is our single most serious economic problem. Yet it seems like a secret. You never see it mentioned in the media, nor hear from a politician that, for the first time in 35 years, American business deaths now outnumber business births.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the total number of new business startups and business closures per year — the birth and death rates of American companies — have crossed for the first time since the measurement began. I am referring to employer businesses, those with one or more employees, the real engines of economic growth. Four hundred thousand new businesses are being born annually nationwide, while 470,000 per year are dying.

The business “birth rate” compared with its “death rate” — that’s a metric that even the simplistic mainstream press can understand. Clifton includes this graph, which tracks the Census data over time:

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Just by looking at the graph, it’s obvious that this is a trend that accelerated apace beginning in 2005 — and, since 2009, dying businesses have still reliably outnumbered startups. So why hasn’t this been widely discussed in the 24-hour news cycle?

“My hunch is that no one talks about the birth and death rates of American business because Wall Street and the White House, no matter which party occupies the latter, are two gigantic institutions of persuasion,” Clifton notes. “The White House needs to keep you in the game because their political party needs your vote. Wall Street needs the stock market to boom, even if that boom is fueled by illusion. So both tell us, ‘The economy is coming back.'”

Fat chance, he says — as long as political leadership (he never explicitly names Bush or Obama, but he doesn’t have to) espouses false optimism and drive-by camera fodder in deference to the quick and easy vote:

Our leadership keeps thinking that the answer to economic growth and ultimately job creation is more innovation, and we continue to invest billions in it. But an innovation is worthless until an entrepreneur creates a business model for it and turns that innovative idea in something customers will buy. Yet current thinking tells us we’re on the right track and don’t need different strategies, so we continue marching down the path of national decline, believing innovation will save us.

I don’t want to sound like a doomsayer, but when small and medium-sized businesses are dying faster than they’re being born, so is free enterprise. And when free enterprise dies, America dies with it.

Read the rest of Clifton’s great piece at Gallup.

Refreshing transparency in the gun control agenda: Washington, D.C. mayor ‘hates guns’

Unlike many stories about gun control and its proponents’ obfuscating agenda, this one’s pretty cut and dried. The mayor of Washington, D.C. has no problem admitting and even boasting of her disdain for firearms.

“You have a mayor who hates guns,” Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Tuesday to an audience at the St. Augustine Catholic Church. “If it was up to me, we wouldn’t have any handguns in the District of Columbia. I swear to protect the Constitution and what the courts say, but I will do it in the most restrictive way as possible.”

According to The Washington Post, those words drew “sustained applause” from her audience: members of the Washington Interfaith Network.

Bowser has only been in office for a week, but her stance on gun control makes her a logical heir to the city’s ongoing battle with the courts over its reluctance to comply with any order that favors the spirit of the 2nd Amendment.

The Washington, D.C. city council grudgingly acquiesced to a court order in September that forced the city to revise an ordinance making it virtually impossible to legally carry a concealed weapon. Then it promptly set about dragging out that process and devising ways to ensure the new process of obtaining a handgun is as onerous as possible on those who apply.

Some who are eligible for Obamacare subsidies refuse them ‘out of principle’

How many people are out there who are choosing, in this first year of Obamacare penalties, to pay the penalty instead of complying with the law — even when they’re eligible for a government subsidy?

Though their numbers aren’t known, those people are apparently out there, according to an article this week at U.S. News. “Some consumers are ditching subsidies out of principle, opting to pay more for health insurance,” the magazine reports.

“I wanted a minimal plan and I’m not allowed to have it,” Kansas City chiropractor Grace Brewer, a self-described Obamacare “casualty,” explained. “That seems like an encroachment on my freedom.”

Instead, Brewer will simply forego insurance this tax year (the deadline for enrollment looms Feb. 15) and pay the inevitable penalty — even though she’s aware that her earnings make her eligible for a government subsidy if only she’d relent and buy some insurance.

But Brewer won’t do that. “I want to pay my own way. I will not take a handout,” she told U.S. News. “… Somebody has to stand up and this is the only way I can do it. I will not be signing up under duress. I’m taking care of myself.”

Whether that’s an admirable DIY-style example of civil disobedience or an exercise in self-flagellating futility (or a frustrating combination of both), Brewer’s not alone. Here’s more from the same article:

Her sentiment is unusual, but brokers say they do hear from clients who are eligible for subsidies — which are based on household income and not assets — but want no part of them. Health officials have been boasting that 6.6 million people have enrolled in health coverage through state or federal marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act, but in sharp contrast stands a small group of Americans who say they want nothing to do with the plans, even if they would save money. Their reasons vary: Some are protesting Obamacare, while others simply feel it’s unethical to accept taxpayer dollars to pay for health insurance.

The article offers plenty of other anecdotes from nonplussed Americans in situations similar to Brewer’s, but — as with so many other personal decisions — the lure of subsidies is often too powerful, even for those who despise Obamacare on principle.

One Kansas-based consultant explained it this way: A lot of her clients are philosophically opposed to Obamacare, but after seeing what the government will pay to help them buy insurance, many of those same customers “swallowed hard but filed for the subsidized plan.”

Congress takes aim to ‘reform’ tech-sector immigration, despite election-season GOP posturing

For all the election-season partisan squabbling and posturing we got last year over immigration reform — supposedly a one-party issue, if you’re among the GOP mainstream — the new Congress is now in session and everything is pretty much business as usual.

Take immigration reform as it pertains to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workers. Last fall, it seemed like a cut-and-dried issue: The Democrats were for it and the Republicans were against it. Now, with everyone safely sworn in for the 114th Congress, the battle lines are a little different: Almost everyone is for it, except for a handful of Tea Party types, along with a few old-school GOP conservative holdouts.

A bipartisan group of senators is preparing to revive a stalled 2013 bill aimed at loosening the current threshold of 65,000 H-1B visas annually for immigrants working in the tech sector. It’s a move that’s supposed to alleviate an espoused shortage of labor among U.S. tech companies.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) heads up the PR team behind the Immigration Innovation Act — a bill that would increase the annual number of STEM visas from 65,000 to 115,000. According to The Hill, Hatch is joined by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in co-sponsoring the bill.

Hatch called the bill a “commonsense approach to ensuring that those who have come here to be educated in high-tech fields have the ability to stay here with their families and contribute to the economy and our society.”

But Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the perennial, reliable opponent of the reform agenda, opposes the bill, saying it’s a veiled attempt at artificially cheapening the cost of labor for big U.S. tech companies, resulting in suppressed wages for an American tech labor pool that’s not as scant as the bill’s backers claim.

The data suggests that Sessions is onto something. Over the past year, you’ve probably noticed stories like this, this and this.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), meanwhile, is rattling the saber over the Obama administration’s unilateral action on immigration enforcement, but that appears to be a quid-pro-quo political stance that focuses on DHS funding, while ignoring the ramifications of the STEM bill before the Senate.

The Hill reported Tuesday that Boehner is threatening to caucus against funding the Department of Homeland Security unless President Obama revisits his executive action on immigration — a move intended mainly to force Obama into compromise on unrelated issues like military spending and the Keystone XL pipeline.

“[B]oth Obama and Republicans expressed an interest in finding common ground on areas like cybersecurity, trade and taxes, according to pool reports and readouts,” The Hill reported. “Republicans said they also pressed Obama on approving the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, which the president has vowed to veto, and sending up a new military authorization for fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”

No mention, though, of where the Speaker stands on the Senate’s efforts to open a new floodgate for foreign STEM workers.

Obamacare: Turning tax season into a feeding frenzy for ‘specialists’

If you watch TV, you may have seen a recent surge in advertising geared toward driving lower-to middle-class taxpayers to the offices of tax preparing specialists, who — so the ads tell us — are armed with expertise on how the Affordable Care Act will affect the tax-filing process — a process that, in years past, was relatively simple for millions of wage earners.

That’s because of Obamacare’s reliance on the tax code to enforce its mandatory-insurance requirement (and on the IRS to assess penalties). The law’s complex rules and conditions mean that people accustomed to doing their own taxes will face a lot of new questions on their 1040 forms.

Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle sees a cottage industry emerging from Obamacare’s new, labyrinthine rules:

If you [had] no income outside a modest salary, and not much in the way of potential deductions such as huge mortgage interest or state tax bills, then there was really no reason to use a tax preparer. Even the mathematically challenged should, with the aid of a calculator, be able to fill out their 1040EZ forms just fine. But Obamacare has introduced a significant level of complexity into the taxes of lower-middle-class wage earners. More of them are going to need an accountant to negotiate the process — or risk owing the government hundreds of dollars because they didn’t fill out the forms correctly.

The money doesn’t go to the government, of course, but in many ways this looks like a tax: Suddenly, people with simple incomes are going to need to pay a significant sum to keep themselves out of trouble with the IRS.

But for many, tax-preparing services may become harbingers of bad news: informing a lot of people who received Obamacare subsidies last year that they’ll have to pay some of that money back to the government.

“[T]he big Obamacare event of this year will not be the exchange enrollments, but tax season, when people who got too much in subsidies find out how much money they owe the government,” McArdle speculates. “Tax preparers, to judge from my Twitter feed, have been panicking for months. But now they face the Herculean job of communicating that panic to the public.”

This is the first tax year in which Obamacare’s penalties will be assessed; it’s also the first year for the IRS to step in as the enforcer of the healthcare law. The relative ease or difficulty of the tax season — especially for the many Americans who have been accustomed to taking the path of least resistance in filing their taxes and receiving refunds — may play a significant role in shaping the reform politics of GOP leaders in the new Republican-controlled Congress, who have vowed to overhaul and/or repeal the law.

Judge rebukes ‘irrational’ regulatory barriers to business ownership in Texas hairstylist case

A federal judge repudiated a Texas law that requires people who work as hairstylists to mount a series of regulatory hurdles, saying that the state cannot impose a single, uniform set of requirements on everyone who seeks to earn a living as a stylist or barber.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks said a Texas law that forced Senegalese hairstylist Isis Brantley to equip her Dallas-area hair-braiding school with costly sanitary redundancies (like multiple sinks) “does not make sense” because Brantley isn’t engaged in an endeavor that requires the traditional fixtures as a sanitary measure.

Brantley had attempted to teach the technique at a community center, but was blocked by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, which informed her she did not meet the educational requirements to work in her field, and that state regulations required a minimum of five sinks at her place of business.

She went to court, arguing through her attorney that regulation just for regulation’s sake is unconstitutional. Brantley has been engaged in a struggle to deregulate the hair-care profession in Texas since her arrest in 1997 for braiding hair without a barber’s license. According to the Christian Science Monitor, she “helped change Texas law in 2007 to allow people to do that, but has been blocked in her attempts to establish a hair-braid school.”

The order comes just as the political climate favoring bureaucratic barriers to entry for all manner of light trade-based professions may be shifting in the Lone Star State. In August, Republican Governor-elect Greg Abbot proposed an overhaul of the state’s licensure model for small businesses such as cosmetology, coaching, dog training and interior design.

“Texas should scale back its licensing laws considerably,” Abbott’s proposal asserts. “Doing so will create more opportunity for individuals and result in increased economic growth. For example, when Mississippi repealed its cosmetology license requirement for hair braiders and replaced it with a registration requirement, 300 new braiders registered with the state. Not only did they relocate from neighboring states, but also stopped working in Mississippi in secret and became open members of the economic community.

“… Requirements that otherwise limit the ability of qualified individuals to pursue their chosen career path are unnecessary and should not be adopted.”