Ted Cruz Moves To End FCC Stifling Of Net Neutrality

Arguing that “a five-member panel at the FCC should not be dictating how Internet services will be provided to millions of Americans,” Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Wednesday announced his plan to introduce a new bill that would revoke the authority of the Federal Communications Commission to tinker with broadband speeds under an obscure provision in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

“I will be introducing legislation that would remove the claimed authority for the FCC to take such actions, specifically the Commission’s nebulous Sec. 706 authority,” said Cruz.

Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act affords the FCC, in conjunction with State utility service commissions, to take swift action against broadband providers if the FCC determines in its annual report to Congress that they are not, “in a reasonable and timely fashion,” providing convenient, consistent and affordable internet access to customers.

It’s a vague provision that, given the FCC’s proclivity to interpret its administrative powers broadly, gives the agency enormous enforcement power that borders on lawmaking. It was written nearly 20 years ago, when Congress was far more concerned with other networked infrastructure based on cable television and telephone services.

Writing for the Federalist Society in 2012, Howard Waltzman described the contemporary problems posed by the FCC’s reliance on Section 706 to force its square-peg regulatory agenda into a round hole:

Section 706 of the ’96 Act was a somewhat obscure, but now highly debated, provision of the law. Section 706(a) provides that the Commission and State Public Utility Commissions must “encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans . . . by utilizing, in a manner consistent with the public interest, convenience, and necessity, price cap regulation, regulatory forbearance, measures that promote competition in the local telecommunications market, or other regulating methods that remove barriers to infrastructure investment.” Section 706(b) requires the Commission to conduct regular inquiries into “the availability of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans.” If the Commission determines that such capability is not being deployed to all Americans “in a reasonable and timely fashion,” the Commission is required to “take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.”

… But, if nothing else, the complexity and fluidity of the Internet market demonstrates that Section 706 is an unsustainable framework for this rapidly changing market. Congress needs to provide clearer guidance to the Commission beyond simply prodding the agency to incentivize infrastructure investment. Rather than simply telling the Commission that there needs to be more broadband network deployment, Congress should establish a clear framework regarding the Commission’s authority (or lack thereof) over broadband services and infrastructure; the relationship between broadband network providers and applications providers; and what, if any, rules apply to the transmission of applications over the Internet. Twenty-first century technology and services warrant a twenty -first century framework.

That was in 2012. Cruz’ new proposal, on the heels of a fresh eruption of the FCC’s role in the net neutrality debate, would mark the first step in doing exactly what Waltzman recommends: putting Congress, and not a Federal agency chaired by a Presidential appointee, in charge of establishing a framework for the way a Nationwide Internet infrastructure will serve Americans.

Cruz isn’t a maverick on the net neutrality issue, either: Congressional action of one kind or another has bipartisan support. Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) told FCC chairman Tom Wheeler last week that the FCC should not be in the business of turning Internet access into a shop-your-speed bandwith store that favors wealthy content pushers.

“I believe [Obama] pledged to appoint FCC commission that would honor net neutrality and keep net neutrality as law,” Franken told Time magazine in an interview recapping his letter to the FCC. “[But] The latest proposed rules by Wheeler — what he’s really talking about is creating a fast lane where people can pay to have their content treated unequally. That’s not net neutrality. That’s pay for play. That’s antithetical to net neutrality.”

Cruz’ statement on his new bill takes direct aim at that concern.

“More than $1 trillion has already been invested in broadband infrastructure, which has led to an explosion of new content, applications, and Internet accessibility,” said Cruz.

“Congress, not an unelected commission, should take the lead on modernizing our telecommunications laws. The FCC should not endanger future investments by stifling growth in the online sector, which remains a much-needed bright spot in our struggling economy.”

Rand Paul Vows To Block Obama’s Judicial Nominee Until DOJ Comes Clean On Targeting Killings

On Wednesday, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) blasted President Obama’s nomination of a controversial former member of the legal team that green-lit the drone killing of two radicalized Islamist U.S. Citizens in 2010, penning a lengthy column for Breitbart pledging to block the judicial appointing process in Congress until the nominee, Judge David Barron, had squared his position on the assassination of Americans without due process.

“President Obama’s nomination of Judge David Barron to the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals is troubling because it relates directly, again, to the issue of whether this Administration believes we have a Fifth Amendment,” wrote Paul, referencing his now-famous 2013 filibuster, which compelled the Obama Administration to relent – albeit snarkily – via a terse memo from Attorney General Eric Holder.

But Barron’s nomination carries baggage, since the U.S. Department of Justice is withholding advisory documents Barron authored pertaining to the 2010 drone assassinations of Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan – both U.S. citizens. Without knowing Barron’s views on the Constitutional issues in play in both cases, Paul argued, it would be irresponsible to support his elevation to the bench on the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.

“In 2010, Barron was the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, a group that dispenses legal advice to executive branch agencies,” wrote Paul. “That year, Barron circulated a memo that authorized the extra-judicial killing of two American citizens, radical Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and Islamic extremist Samir Khan. Both would be assassinated by a CIA drone the following year.”

I have no sympathy for al-Awlaki, Kahn, or others like them. But that does not mean the president or anyone else in government has the authority to kill an American citizen without due process where there isn’t an imminent threat.

…What is this Administration trying to hide?

On April 21, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ordered that the Department of Justice disclose a redacted version of the Office of Legal Counsel memorandum that authorized the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. David Barron was one of the principal writers of this memorandum. He has spoken openly about his role in crafting the Administration’s legal position that it can kill Americans abroad without due process.

It would be irresponsible for the Senate to move forward on this nomination until the Department of Justice has complied with the court order to disclose this document, which will highlight Barron’s views on international law, the Fifth Amendment and its guarantee of due process, and the civil liberties of our nation’s citizens.

“The right to due process is not some negotiable aspect of our Constitution, subject to the whim of whoever happens to be sitting in the Oval Office,” Paul concluded. “Such legal protections are quintessential to our most basic freedoms, dating all the way back to the Magna Carta. Our constitutional rights are not negotiable… Until that memo is made public, I will do everything in my power to stop David Barron’s nomination to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.”

Read Paul’s full piece here.

Reid’s Sudden Zeal For Campaign Finance Amendment Just More Koch Brothers Rhetoric

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced on Wednesday his intention to hold repeated floor votes, if necessary, on a piece of legislation he’s aiming straight at the Koch brothers, Reid’s favorite conservative-libertarian punching bag in the 2014 election cycle.

And this is no ordinary footnote of a bill; it’s a proposal to amend the Constitution.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) would authorize Congress to regulate fundraising and spending for Federal campaigns, authorize States to do the same for State elections, and, as Udall puts it, “not dictate any specific policies or regulations, but instead allow Congress to pass campaign finance reform legislation that withstands constitutional challenges.” The text of the bill is here.

“It’s been tried before, we should continue to push this and it should become our issue. That really puts the Koch brothers up against it. We believe and I believe that there should be spending limits. We’re going to push a constitutional amendment so we can limit spending because what is going on today is awful,” Reid told BuzzFeed Politics.

“We’re going to arrange a vote on it. We’re going to do it until we pass it because that’s the salvation of our country.”

Of course, this bill has no chance of amending the Constitution, or Harry Reid wouldn’t be ready to stage a floor show themed around a phony battle against evil Republicans intent on frustrating its chances. This is the kind of bill that makes for great Sunday news show fodder once it’s failed: “If you’ll remember, back in 2014 my Democratic colleagues and I fought in the Senate to bring about a Constitutional amendment that would level the playing field for candidates and make elections focus on the American people instead of big corporate donors. But my friends in the Republican Party would not cross the aisle on that important vote to clean up our elections laws, because they’re too vested in the old big-money system.”

The hypocrisy of that move won’t be lost on anyone familiar with opensecrets.org, which currently lists the Democratic Party’s haul for the 2014 midterms at nearly $100 million more than what the Republicans have raised.

The page devoted to Reid, who plans to run again in 2016, is pretty interesting, too. “Large individual contributions,” which channel most corporate money to a campaign by passing it through the hands of a person to keep things legal, represent $13,633,682 of Reid’s support from 2009-2014. Another $4,743,764 came from PACs, which can receive corporate money as well. Reid himself thought enough of his candidacy to throw $99,750 of his own money behind it. “Small individual contributions” — donations of less than $200 from living, breathing people — came in at $2,091,999.

At least Reid is being remarkably transparent about one thing: his motives for getting hung up on a Constitutional amendment right here at the start of summer 2014.

“The Koch Brothers, I’m not walking away from them,” he told BuzzFeed. “I’m going to be on their tail for the whole campaign because if they think [Mitt] Romney was watched closely by me, that’s nothing compared to what it’s going to be like with the Koch Brothers.”

New Mexico County Defies Feds In Another Ranching Dispute

The governing body of a rural county in southern New Mexico threw down the gauntlet against the Feds this week in another land use dispute, voting to defy the U.S. Forest Service by granting local ranchers access to a watering hole for cattle that the Forest Service had gated and declared off limits.

In a 2-0 vote, the Otero County commission agreed to authorize the county sheriff to open the disputed gate, clearing the way for approximately 200 cattle to venture into a 23-acre area the Forest Service had, for years, quarantined to protect a natural spring and the meadow jumping mouse, which inhabits the area.

“We are reacting to the infringement of the U.S. Forest Service on the water rights of our land-allotment owners,” Otero County Commissioner Tommie Herrell told the Reuters news service. “People have been grazing there since 1956.”

“The winds are blowing, we’re in a drought. Sacramento Mountains are dry. So whatever water source these animals can find, they have to be able to get to it,” fellow commissioner Susan Flores told KVIA news earlier this month.

A Forest Service supervisor told KVIA that both parties in the dispute had remained civil in their disagreement so far, assuaging present concerns that the land-rights battle will take on the acrimonious tenor of the Nevada dispute involving Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management.

“We all recognize that there are different ideas and value systems at play here,” Travis Moseley said, “and I respect that.”

Pressure From Democratic Senator Contributed To Washington-Led IRS Discrimination Against Conservatives

Judicial Watch, the organization that has done more than anyone except House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) to untangle the skein of corruption in the scandal over the Internal Revenue Service’s discriminatory targeting of conservative groups, released on Wednesday another round of revelations gleaned from IRS emails it obtained via a FOIA request.

The government transparency organization disclosed today that, contrary to Obama Administration talking points in the weeks immediately following the scandal, the marching orders for the agency’s discriminatory targeting came from Washington, D.C., and not from a rogue batch of employees in the IRS field office in Cincinnati.

That confirms what former Cincinnati employee Cindy Thomas reportedly told her superiors last May, accusing former exempt organizations division director Lois Lerner (now under a Congressional contempt charge) of throwing the Cincinnati office under “a convoy of Mack trucks.”

“Cincinnati wasn’t publicly ‘thrown under the bus’ [but] instead was hit by a convoy of Mack trucks,” Thomas wrote to Lerner on May 10 of last year – the same day Lerner was apologizing for the scandal and blaming it on the Cincinnati office. “As you can imagine, [Cincinnati] employees and managers furious. Was it also communicated at that conference in Washington that the low-level workers in Cincinnati asked the Washington office for assistance and the Washington office took no action to provide guidance to the low-level workers?”

The other revelation from today’s Judicial Watch release is the apparent involvement of a career Democratic Senator, Carl Levin of Michigan, in fomenting IRS discrimination against conservative nonprofits organizations during President Obama’s reelection campaign.

“The documents also show extensive pressure on the IRS by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) to shut down conservative-leaning tax-exempt organizations,” Judicial Watch said in a press release. “The IRS’ emails by Lois Lerner detail her misleading explanations to investigators about the targeting of Tea Party organizations.”

Here’s more:

A series of letters between Senator Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Subcommittee on Investigations, and top IRS officials throughout 2012 discuss how to target conservative groups the senator claimed were “engaged in political activities.” In response to a Levin March 30 letter citing the “urgency of the issue,” then-Deputy Commissioner Steven Miller assured the senator that IRS regulations were flexible enough to allow IRS agents to “prepare individualized questions and requests” for select 501(c)(4) organizations.

The newly released IRS documents contain several letters and emails revealing an intense effort by Levin and IRS officials to determine what, if any, existing IRS policies could be used to revoke the nonprofit exemptions of active conservative groups and deny exemptions to new applicants. In a July 30, 2012, letter, Levin singles out 12 groups he wants investigated for “political activity.” Of the groups – which include the Club for Growth, Americans for Tax Reform, the 60 Plus Association, and the Susan B. Anthony List – only one, Priorities USA, is notably left-leaning.

And then there’s much more, including a synopsis of emails Levin sent the agency with increasing urgency ahead of the 2012 Presidential election “intensifying his [Levin’s] campaign against predominantly conservative nonprofit groups.”

“These new documents show that officials in the IRS headquarters were responsible for the illegal delays of Tea Party applications,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in today’s statement. “It is disturbing to see Lois Lerner mislead [sic]the IRS’ internal investigators about her office’s Tea Party targeting. These documents also confirm the unprecedented pressure from congressional Democrats to go after President Obama’s political opponents. The IRS scandal has now ensnared Congress.”

South Carolina Republicans Censure Lindsey Graham Only One Month Before Primary Election

The best that Republican challengers hoping to unseat incumbent Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) can hope for in next month’s South Carolina primary election is that somebody will force him into a runoff. Repeated polling ahead of the June 10 primary shows that Graham will finish first, but it’s an open question whether he’ll end up with the clear 50 percent of votes needed to avoid a runoff against the second-place finisher.

But there’s a lot of antipathy toward Graham among South Carolina conservatives; and, in the home stretch ahead of the primary, it appears to be growing. On Monday, the Charleston County Republican Party became the ninth local party in the State during the current election cycle to formally censure Graham by an executive committee vote.

The 39-32 vote may have been close, but, as Ben Swann observed Tuesday, Charleston County is supposed to be an electoral haven for Graham.

“The Charleston County Party is located in the ‘low country’ which is considered a Graham stronghold,” wrote Joshua Cook. “The fact that Graham was censured by executive committeemen who represents voters in their precincts shows how weak and vulnerable Graham really is.”

The resolution itself lists 30 separate grievances against Graham’s Senate voting record, as well as for siding with Congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama on a range of issues. His body of work in the Senate is “fundamentally inconsistent with the South Carolina Republican Party Platform,” according to the censure resolution.

Here’s a sampling:

[Senator Graham:]

  • Voted to Confirm Obama’s appointment to Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection: In July of 2013, Senator Graham voted with the Democrats to confirm Richard Cordray, a noted leftist promoter of aggressive economic regulation, as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, while Senator Scott voted in opposition.
  • Supported arming Al Qaeda / Muslim Brotherhood Revolutionaries in Syria: In June of 2013, Senator Graham called for supplying American arms to known affiliates of Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and assistance in the form of a “no-fly zone” and bombing of Syrian airfields.
  • Supported amnesty but not border control: In June of 2013, on the issue of an immigration bill that provides effective amnesty to illegal aliens without taking action to close the border first, Senator Graham joined the Democrats in invoking cloture and supporting the bill while Senator Scott voted in opposition.
  • Supported NSA spying on private American citizens: In June of 2013, Senator Graham displayed a cavalier attitude, as he has done repeatedly, toward Americans’ right to privacy by stating “It does not bother me one bit for the National Security Administration to have my phone number…”
  • Supported abridging the First Amendment for those who criticize the government: In June of 2013 Graham displayed a similar cavalier attitude about restricting freedom of speech: “Who is a journalist is a question we need to ask ourselves,” he said. “Is any blogger out there saying anything—do they deserve First Amendment protection? These are the issues of our times.”
  • Supported massive new Internet sales tax: In May of 2013, Graham joined Democrats in voting to pass a massive new Internet sales tax with burdensome reporting requirements. Senator Scott and most Republicans opposed the bill.
  • Supported restrictions on the Second Amendment: In April of 2013, when he had the opportunity to join fellow Republicans in support of a filibuster against unconstitutional limitations on the right to keep and bear arms, Senator Graham voted to invoke closure against those Republicans opposed to the bill.
  • Supported Obama’s drone program against American citizens: In March of 2013, when Republican Senator Rand Paul bravely stood up to the White House to seek reassurances that drone strikes would not be used on American soil in contravention of the Constitution, Senator Graham stated that he was “disappointed in Senator Paul and that his positions were ‘not a Republican view.’”
  • Supported subordinating American sovereignty to the United Nations: In November of 2012, and in prior years, while Senator DeMint was strongly opposing the Law of the Sea Treaty, which would unconstitutionally cede American sovereignty rights to the United Nations, Senator Graham sided with Democrats and failed to support Senator DeMint.
  • Supported giving foreign aid to terrorist governments in the Middle East: In October of 2012, when Republican Senator Rand Paul began running advertisements attacking Democrats for voting to continue foreign aid to Middle-East countries who are actively anti-American, Senator Graham defended the Democrats.

And those are just the first 10. Keep reading and you’ll find support for Obama nominees to the Supreme Court, voting with Democrats to keep George W. Bush-era tax cuts from becoming permanent, coming down in favor of “cap and trade” environmental policy and even nationalizing the banking system.

States With Democratic Governors Raise Taxes; Those With Republicans Lower Them

If the Republican Party is working for the people who vote their candidates into office anywhere at all, it appears to be happening in the States, where the election of GOP Governors and lawmakers tends to correlate to results that reflect the party’s platform more closely than at the Federal and executive levels.

Take a newly released survey of recent taxation trends in all 50 States. In broad terms, those States that have had Republican Governors in office since 2011 have seen a net decrease in State taxes of $36 billion. Over the same time period, States with Democratic Governors have seen a net State-level tax increase of $58 billion.

The report, released last week by Americans for Tax Reform, notes that the comparison represents a general trend rather than a one-to-one correlation between political affiliation and States’ fiscal policies. Yet the trend is there, led by Democratic Governors Pat Quinn of Illinois ($12 billion in higher taxes) and Martin O’Malley of Maryland ($3 billion since 2011; $11 billion since 2008).

“It should be noted that many, but not all, Democrat governors have raised taxes,” the report summary states. “In fact, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) recently went against the Democratic governor grain by signing a corporate tax cut into law this year.

“However, in general, Democrat governors have been increasing taxes in their states, while Republican governors have been moving in the opposite direction. With some of the politicians on this list considering a White House run, this is a compilation worth saving.”

View Americans for Tax Reform’s item-by-item review of each of the tax increase initiatives led by Democratic Governors here. It’s worth mentioning that California voters have approved about $18 billion in increased tax initiatives under Democratic Governor Jerry Brown. Subtract that amount from the national total, and the tax increases under Democratic Governors still total $40 billion.

The Obama Recovery: U.S. Economy May Have Shrunk In First Quarter Of 2014

It will be May 29 before the U.S. Department of Commerce updates its estimate of how the Nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) performed during the first fiscal quarter of 2014, but it’s looking more and more likely that the worth of what the U.S. is producing has declined for the first time since the middle of 2009.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that fresh data from the Commerce Department on retail sales and business inventories, the latter of which grew slugglishly in March. That information, combined with an earlier Commerce GDP report of anemic 1st-quarter growth, set off a series of negative estimates from five major fund management firms, all of which anticipate an imminent announcement that the economy has, in fact, contracted.

“A couple weeks ago, the Commerce Department said U.S. economic output expanded at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 0.1% in the first three months of the year. A near-stall for the economy, for sure, but at least it wasn’t worse,” WSJ observed, before offering this:

Based on more up-to-date figures, including the March trade data released last week, private forecasters now expect gross domestic product contracted in the first quarter for the first time in three years.

The latest evidence came Tuesday, when the Commerce Department released reports on retail sales and business inventories. Retail sales in February and March were revised up, but business inventories grew less in March than the agency had assumed in its GDP calculations.

Incorporating the new data, J.P. Morgan Chase on Tuesday estimated GDP contracted at a 0.8% rate in the first quarter. Macroeconomic Advisers put the contraction at 0.7%. Barclays Capital predicted a 0.6% decline. Pierpont Securities estimated output fell at a 0.4% rate. Action Economics estimated a 0.2% decline.

Any of those estimates, if correct, will mark the first time the U.S. economy has contracted since President Obama’s first year in office.

The GDP shrank by 2.8 percent in 2009, and has “recovered” marginally since, with annual growth margins of 2.5 percent (2010), 1.8 percent (2011), 2.8 percent (2012) and 1.9 percent (2013). Under President Clinton in the 1990s, the GDP routinely saw annual gains in excess of four percent, followed by a roller coaster ride for eight years under President Bush, whose best year came in 2004, when the GDP grew by 3.8 percent.

Minnesota Ends Law Enforcement’s Civil Forfeiture Money Grab

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, a member of the State’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, signed into law last week a bill that ends the police practice of civil forfeiture — a private property confiscation ruse used by law enforcement that, although it denies citizens their due process, nonetheless remains legal in many States.

Under established civil forfeiture laws, a person can lose his money and/or his property — most often a vehicle or real estate — if he can’t prove in civil court that his belongings have not been used in the commission of a drug crime or that custody of his belongings has not, at some time in the past, passed through the hands of a person accused of a drug crime. Under the former civil forfeiture law, a person does not have to be accused of a crime in order for the State to claim his property. Worse, a person can be acquitted of a drug crime in criminal court — yet still lose his belongings to the State under civil forfeiture provisions.

The new law changes all that in Minnesota, removing the burden of proof from citizens accused, but not convicted, of a crime and instead placing it back on the State. The law also affirms the right to due process of the accused, by requiring either a criminal conviction or a guilty plea before the State can enrich itself by divesting a citizen of his belongings.

“Previously,” Forbes’ Nick Sibilla explained last week, “if owners wanted to get their property back, they had to prove their property was not the instrument or proceeds of the charged drug crime. In other words, owners had to prove a negative in civil court. Being acquitted of the drug charge in criminal court did not matter to the forfeiture case in civil court.”

In Minnesota, as elsewhere, an accused person’s resistance to having his property seized by the police is predictably low, thanks to a perverse conflation of civil and criminal law, as well as simple demographics.

“Most of the victims of asset forfeiture are poor and politically weak, and cannot easily fight a prolonged legal battle to get back their possessions,” The Washington Post’s Volokh Conspiracy blog noted Saturday. “In many cases, state law gives owners have [sic] so little effective opportunity to challenge the confiscation of their property that the seizures end up violating the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which forbids states from taking away property rights without ‘due process of law.’”

Although the new Minnesota law provides a much-needed check on law enforcement’s self-enriching confiscation routine and relieves citizen bystanders caught in the crossfire of the politically charged drug war, the Volokh Conspiracy’s Ilya Somin — a George Mason law professor who’s done his share of civil liberties litigation — questions the very existence of asset forfeiture in law enforcement:

The Minnesota reform is a good step in the right direction that other states should copy. But it might be even better to simply ban asset forfeiture completely. Even if a defendant has been convicted of a crime, the appropriate remedy is to punish him for it and — if possible — force him to pay compensation to the victims. But there is no reason to allow the state to enrich itself by seizing property that happened to be somehow used in the commission of the offense, even if it was not illegally obtained and is not needed for victim compensation. If a thief uses his legitimately acquired car to flee the scene of a crime, we should certainly punish him for the theft and force him to compensate the victim for their loss. But that’s no reason to let the police seize the car and sell it for their own profit.

Most Obamacare Enrollees Already Had Coverage

Even as some Democrats and their apologists declare victory in the war of words over Obamacare, reports continue to emerge that reveal the law’s shortcomings.

A new survey by the McKinsey consulting company has found that only 26 percent of people who enrolled in a healthcare plan under the Affordable Care Act were without some form of insurance prior to their enrollment — a finding that lends perspective to the White House’s glowing self-assessment of the impact the President’s healthcare law.

McKinsey’s April survey, one in a series of periodic surveys assessing the progress of Obamacare, reflects a more-of-the-same pattern for Obamacare enrollees, with the vast majority of those who bought insurance through an online exchange reporting that they had healthcare coverage prior to last year:

  • Enrollment continued to grow — at the time of our April survey, 90 percent of the respondents who indicated that they had previously had coverage, and 13 percent of those who were previously uninsured,2 reported that they had enrolled in a plan. Of all respondents who reported having selected a new ACA plan at the time of the April survey (either on or off the exchanges), 26 percent reported being previously uninsured. This percentage is similar to the one we found in our February survey (27 percent).
  • Eighty-seven percent of all respondents who reported having selected a new 2014 ACA indicated that they had already paid their first premium. Reported payment rates were higher among those previously insured and those aged 30 or older. A slightly lower percentage of respondents (80 percent) reported that they definitely intend to pay future 2014 premiums; that intention was lower among those previously uninsured than among those previously insured (71 percent vs. 83 percent).
  • A higher percentage of those previously uninsured reported having shopped for a plan in our April survey than in our February survey (61 percent vs. 44 percent); however, the conversion rate — the percentage who said they had purchased a plan after shopping for one — remained much lower among the previously uninsured than among the previously insured (for example, 21 percent vs. 84 percent in April, and 23 percent vs. 71 percent in February).
  • As in earlier surveys, perceived affordability was the reason most often given for not enrolling by both previously insured and previously uninsured respondents. About 90 percent of all those citing perceived affordability challenges were subsidy-eligible, and among these subsidy-eligible respondents, awareness of the subsidies has remained low.

The Administration of President Barack Obama has recently celebrated the relatively high percentage of enrollees who actually appear to have followed through by paying their first premium. Yet it ignores most of the asterisks that shape the real meaning of that lone statistic.

The McKinsey report does not, noting that most people who aren’t signing up cite the unaffordability of the policies available and pointing out the redundancy of the Administration’s boast that Obamacare has extended health coverage to a wide swath of Americans who were previously uninsured. It turns out that 74 percent of those “new” enrollees are new only to Obamacare — but not to being covered under a health insurance plan.

And, as ever, government’s enticement of free stuff has played a crucial role in persuading those without any kind of insurance to buy in to Obamacare: “Among previously uninsured, subsidy-eligible respondents, those who indicated that they were aware of the subsidies were almost three times as likely to have reported enrolling as those who were unaware,” McKinsey observes.

The political takeaway is that Democrats know Obamacare will hurt them in the midterms and that the most efficacious way to handle the albatross around their necks is to declare victory — citing Republicans’ relative quiet on the law, of late, as evidence.

A more pragmatic view of the situation would be for Democrats to recognize that Obamacare is such a massive liability for their candidates in 2014 that their Republican opponents can take it for granted as a virtual voter-referendum issue. Many GOP candidates are intensely focused on their own party primaries, where consensus on Obamacare is a given. At the same time, those who can afford to look past the primary season have begun opening new fronts to attack their Democratic opponents on other issues.

As November approaches, though, expect more than a few Republicans to take Obamacare out of their back pocket — where it’s been safely kept ever since the law thudded out the gate in October of last year.

House Bill Would Force Health Insurers To Share Rate Info With Congress, Since The White House Won’t

Virginia Congressman Morgan Griffith has introduced a bill before the House of Representatives that, if it becomes law, would mandate that health insurers share with Congress the same information they share with the White House about annual rate adjustments before they take effect.

Griffith, a Republican, introduced the so-called Insurance Rate Transparency Act on Friday, commenting on his Congressional website the bill is squarely aimed at the Obama Administration’s reticence in sharing with Congress – and, by extension, the public – what it knows about how the Affordable Care Act affects projected premium increases for consumers.

While campaigning in 2007, now-President Obama said “I have made a solemn pledge that I will sign a universal health care bill into law by the end of my first term as president that will cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family’s premiums by up to $2,500 a year.”

Thus far, Obamacare has seemingly failed to fulfill the President’s promise. And some of the nation’s largest health insurance providers were unable to confirm such a reduction under Obamacare when I recently asked them about that promise at a Committee hearing.

At this hearing, the insurance providers indicated that their rates would be filed with the Department of Health and Human Services and various states by the end of June. Since the Administration has delayed open enrollment until after the 2014 elections, many Americans simply will not know what premium increases they will face in the exchanges. The Insurance Rate Transparency Act would ensure that the American people are not kept in the dark for political reasons.

Here’s a video of Griffith questioning insurers at a May 7 hearing about which way rates are heading under Obamacare:

Currently, insurers are only required to “submit their rates to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and certain states – including the Commonwealth of Virginia – so that any rate changes and increases in premiums can be reviewed and certified,” Griffith observed. Under his proposal, however, HHS would have 30 days after it had received that information to hand it over to Congress.

Obamacare Plans Milk Deductibles For All They’re (Not) Worth

If you’re unfortunate enough to be attached to a health plan that has revised its prescription drug co-pay policy under Obamacare, expect to pay out of pocket for all of your medications until you’ve spent enough money to meet your annual deductible.

According to a report last week by health policy research company Breakaway Policy, in conjunction with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, while prescription drug co-payments may be incorporated into an Obamacare plan, they are virtually meaningless for most patients because they don’t kick in until the patient has paid out of pocket for medications up to their annual deductible.

The out-of-pocket requirement applies to policies crafted around “combined deductible” plans, which make up half of the middle-tier “silver” Obamacare plans the study examined:

Of the 1,208 unique Silver plans analyzed, approximately half (641) offer combined deductibles under which medical and prescription drug expenses accumulate to a single deductible. The average combined deductible for those plans is $2,267 for a 27 year-old individual. The other approximately half of plans (567) have two separate deductibles, a medical deductible towards which expenses for medical services accumulate and a drug deductible towards which expenses for prescription drugs accumulate.

Obamacare customers in that first group will have to pay every penny of their prescription costs out of pocket before their co-pay kicks in — all while paying monthly premiums.

Obamacare has already been blasted for driving up deductibles — a fact that only exacerbates the out-of-pocket drug mandate.

That means hefty out-of-pocket expenses for Obamacare plan holders, especially since Obamacare deductibles are “relatively high” as compared to employer-sponsored insurance plans.

“In addition to being relatively high as compared to the ESI [Employer-sponsored insurance] market, deductibles under [Obamacare] Exchange plans are being applied to products and services not generally subject to the deductible in ESI plans, such as prescription drugs and physician visits,” the study concludes. “This could further complicate enrollees’ task of evaluating plans’ cost sharing provisions, as they will not only have to consider the amount of deductibles but also the way they are applied.”

Note from the Editor: As you’ve just read, the Obamacare abomination doesn’t bode well for anyone. But if you know how to navigate the system you can still control your own healthcare—as every American should! My trusted friend and medical insider, Dr. Michael Cutler, and I have written a concise guide to help you do just that. I urge you… Click here for your free copy.

Obamacare Patients In SoCal Go To Tijuana To Get Affordable Care

Some Southern Californians who’ve signed up for Obamacare are opting to head south of the border to Tijuana, Mexico to get affordable out-of-pocket treatment instead of dealing with insurance deductibles at home.

A USA Today report Wednesday highlighted the financial incentive as one among several factors that prompt many Obamacare enrollees living in the border region to head to Mexico for basic medical treatment. Most are legal immigrants or naturalized citizens conversant in the Spanish language and in the medical establishment in Mexico.

Traveling to Mexican physicians isn’t a new phenomenon for people seeking lower general health care costs, but the advent of the Affordable Care Act has contributed to an increase in such traffic.

From the report:

Some of these patients now going to Mexico remain uninsured, or work for employers in the U.S. offering insurance plans that pay for medical care in Mexico. Others have signed up for Obamacare to cover emergencies or avoid a fine – but face high deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses.

“Even with insurance, it can sometimes be cheaper in Mexico,” said Steven Wallace, who is associate director the UCLA center and has studied why Mexican immigrants seek care in Mexico.

One woman who works in Riverside County, Calif. told USA Today she’s covered under a higher-tier Platinum Obamacare plan – but she hasn’t found it useful for helping defray the cost of basic care. “The Obamacare plan, she said, is just for emergencies,” the story observes.

In Tijuana and other border towns, many doctors will see patients for as little as $15, and typically conduct sessions with patients that last far longer than many general practitioners’ hurried appointments in the U.S.

“[Mexican insurance executive Christina] Suggett said appointments typically last 30 minutes or more and the doctors don’t rely heavily on nurses or medical assistants – a contrast to often more rushed encounters in the United States.”

IRS Audited 1 In 10 Conservative Donors Flagged In Tea Party Scandal

On Wednesday, GOP Congressmen revealed the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) audited 10 percent of the conservative donors it had uncovered through improper or illegal discriminatory targeting as part of its political discrimination against conservative and Constitutional groups.

Ten percent is a far higher audit rate than that endured by the general population, a fact House Republicans used to demonstrate there’s still plenty of undisclosed information about the targeting scandal that certain IRS employees — and perhaps the Obama Administration — is holding back.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, who came on board in the wake of last year’s scandal, sat before a House Ways and Means hearing on Wednesday to address GOP leaders’ concerns that, under his leadership, whatever the IRS was doing to disadvantage conservatives in 2012 — when Barack Obama was seeking a second Presidential term — has stopped.

“The committee uncovered new information indicating that after groups provided the information to the IRS, nearly one in 10 donors were subject to audit… The abuse of discretion and audit selection must be identified and stopped,” Congressman Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.) told Koskinen.

“[The] IRS has long insisted that Americans should not worry about political targeting at your agency because the IRS has layers of internal protections to guard against it. But in the course of our investigation, however, we found that [former exempt organizations administrator] Lois Lerner acted in defiance of these internal protections.”

Koskinen stayed quiet on the subject of how the agency came to audit conservatives at such an extraordinary rate, but agreed that people’s political views shouldn’t play a role in how the IRS singles out taxpayers for scrutiny.

“Every taxpayer deserves the right to assume that they will be treated fairly no matter what their political beliefs, what organization they belong to, who they voted for in the last election,” he said, adding that a small number of conservative groups identified in the IRS scandal still have not been granted the nonprofit status they first sought in 2012.

California Congressman Fights To Preserve Soldiers’ Right To Smoke

House Democrats and Pentagon officials are contesting a proposed amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that, if approved, would ensure tobacco products could continue to be sold at military commissaries and bases.

The amendment, introduced by Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), comes in response to a proposal by the Pentagon that aims to ban the sale of cigarettes in military stores as a means of promoting good health. In March, the Department of Defense included this language in a memo intended to steer operational policy:

“Although we stopped distributing cigarettes to our Service members as part of their rations, we continue to permit, if not encourage, tobacco use. The prominence of tobacco products in retail outlets and permission for smoking breaks while on duty sustain the perception that we are not serious about reducing the use of tobacco.”

This week, Hunter took aim at that idea with an amendment which essentially outlaws the DoD from banning the sale of anything in commissaries that wasn’t already for sale at the start of the year. And his rationale for doing so was a rhetorical tour de force:

As somebody who used the exchanges and lived on base for a number of years at Camp Pendleton, we do use the exchanges almost purely for beer and tobacco. The young Marines that go to war and fight for everybody in this room, they use those exchanges purely for tobacco and some beer – sometimes water and Gatorades, and little snacks to take to the field.

Just because we join the military to serve this country doesn’t mean that we can’t do it comfortably in the smallest ways possible. We sleep in the dirt for this country. We get shot at for this country. But we can’t have a cigarette if we want to for this country, because that’s unhealthy.

Well, I’ll tell you what. If you want to make us all healthy, then let’s outlaw war, because war is really dangerous. It was bad for my health, and it’s bad for other people’s health. So if you truly want to make it so we’re all healthy, then we shouldn’t have a military at all – because that in and of itself is dangerous.

Hunter served two tours in Iraq and another in Afghanistan as a Marine, so he speaks from an experience that many of the amendment’s adversaries in Congress simply can’t claim.

“Especially for the enlisted ranks and the young officers, it’s important that what few amenities we get to keep when we join the service –and give our lives up to Uncle Sam for four years – that those amenities, we get to keep them,” said Hunter.

Most Oppose Obamacare Contraception Mandate

A new poll from the Family Research Council (FRC) finds that the embattled Obamacare mandate requiring employers to offer health plans that cover contraception and morning-after coverage isn’t popular with the majority of Americans.

Released today, the poll targeted only the Obamacare contraception mandate, asking the following straightforward question:

As you may know, the President’s healthcare law contains the HHS mandate which requires that all private healthcare plans, including both employer based health plans and individual market health plans, cover preventative care services for women, which includes all FDA approved contraceptives, including drugs that can destroy a human embryo, and sterilization services without a direct cost to the patient. Employers that offer their employees’ healthcare plans that do not includes these drugs and services will be fined up to $100 per day per employee. Do you support or oppose this law?

Fifty-three percent of respondents said they oppose the mandate; 40 percent said they oppose it “strongly.” But only 43 percent said they support the law – with 26 percent saying they “Strongly” support it.

WPA Opinion Research, which conducted the poll on behalf of the FRC, said the results reflect complexities in the views of potential voters whom establishment candidates from both parties typically attempt to shoehorn into black-and-white ideological groups.

“There is broad opposition to the healthcare mandate that forces employers to cover contraceptives,” concluded WPA. “Additionally, Democrats should be wary about being on the wrong side of this issue as voters that typically support them tend to oppose the mandate.”

Porn In The EPA

An Inspector General’s report on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and members of the House Oversight Committee said Wednesday that the agency has either turned a blind eye toward — or actually rewarded — employees who watch tons of porn, sell diet pills out of their offices, get paid for not working, or hire their friends and relatives into paid internships.

The headline-getter is the unnamed porn-watcher. Allan Williams, Deputy Inspector General for Investigations at the EPA, told the House Oversight Committee Wednesday that the “career EPA employee” had watched hours of porn daily on his workplace computer.

Here’s a portion of Williams’ actual testimony:

One such investigation involves a career EPA employee who allegedly stored pornographic materials on an EPA network server shared by colleagues. When an OIG special agent arrived at this employee’s work space to conduct an interview, the special agent witnessed the employee actively viewing pornography on his government-issued computer. Subsequently, the employee confessed to spending, on average, between two and six hours per day viewing pornography while at work. The OIG’s investigation determined that the employee downloaded and viewed more than 7,000 pornographic files during duty hours.

That’s a lot of porn. USA Today reported Wednesday that the employee had been doing this since 2010. Williams said the case has been handed over to the Department of Justice.

Then there’s Renee Page in the EPA Office of Administration, whom the report alleges to have sold jewelry and weight loss products out of her office while on the clock. Page also allegedly hired 17 relatives and friends as paid interns and finagled money from the department’s budget to give to her daughter.

Finally, the report reveals a number of pay-for-no-work cases at the EPA. One involves an employee who, for five years, held a work-from-home position but did no actual work. Of course, she received more than half a million dollars in “earnings” and performance bonus pay. In all, the employee had worked from home for more than 20 years.

The report accuses an EPA “senior executive” of letting it all slide:

During the same investigation, the OIG also found evidence that implicated a senior executive. This senior executive, who was the absent employee’s prior supervisor, remained aware that the employee had been teleworking for more than 20 years with very little substantive work product to show during this time. The senior executive knew about the arrangement between the employee’s current supervisor and the absent employee. This senior executive took no action,even though he knew the EPA was being defrauded. Upon receiving a target letter from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the senior executive retired and was not prosecuted. Furthermore, the DOJ declined to prosecute either the absent employee or the current supervisor.

… During the course of the OIG’s investigation, the absent employee’s supervisor informed us that he was not the only EPA manager who was allowing employees not to report for duty.

Yet another employee who had become “physically unable” to do any work because of a debilitating illness had nevertheless worked from home for several years, before moving into an assisted living facility.

“When the employee entered the facility, the employee’s supervisor was aware of the employee’s condition and situation; however, the now former supervisor continued to allow and facilitate the employee’s retention of a full salary and benefits,” the report alleges.

If all this isn’t enough, just take comfort in the knowledge that the EPA is the same agency that gave us John Beale.

How Can Progressives Stop The Rise Of Conservative Media? By Regulating Them Like Political Action Committees

There’s apparently a rift among officials at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) over whether to pursue new regulations against privately owned media outlets that, through story selection and/or the tone of their reporting, promote a political ideology or favor political candidates.

The catch, of course, is that such scrutiny coincides with the recent rise of conservative media outlets — particularly Internet-based ones like the Drudge Report aggregator — to supplement the well-entrenched stranglehold that conservative talk shows now hold on the radio market.

FEC Chairman Lee E. Goodman, a 2013 Republican appointee of President Barack Obama, told Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard that “[t]here are some in this building that think we can actually regulate” media voices that offer a political slant, a possibility that makes him “concerned about disparate treatment of conservative media.”

Here’s more from the Examiner:

“I think that there are impulses in the government every day to second guess and look into the editorial decisions of conservative publishers,” warned Federal Election Commission Chairman Lee E. Goodman in an interview.

“The right has begun to break the left’s media monopoly, particularly through new media outlets like the internet, and I sense that some on the left are starting to rethink the breadth of the media exemption and internet communications,” he added.

Noting the success of sites like the Drudge Report, Goodman said that protecting conservative media, especially those on the internet, “matters to me because I see the future going to the democratization of media largely through the internet. They can compete with the big boys now, and I have seen storm clouds that the second you start to regulate them. There is at least the possibility or indeed proclivity for selective enforcement, so we need to keep the media free and the internet free.”

The idea behind the new push for FEC regulation is simple, and completely unConstitutional: Treat conservative news organizations and aggregators like they’re part of the Nation’s campaign finance machinery and subject them to Federal elections laws. Of course, the FEC’s entire existence revolves around administering campaign finance laws targeted at political candidates and those who support them financially. The FEC was not conceived as a back-door 1st Amendment cop; and neither it, nor any other government entity, has the Constitutional authority to limit free speech.

Goodman has cautioned about the six-member FEC’s more sinister long-term intentions before, penning an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal earlier this year that cites specific examples of the FEC’s recent dalliance with media censorship:

David Gregory and George Stephanopoulos should be concerned. The same Federal Election Commission that represented to the Supreme Court that it could ban books now claims the authority to censor Sunday-morning news programs.

This startling assertion of government power became public in December when the FEC released an enforcement file in the case of a Boston television station’s regular Sunday-morning news program, “On the Record.” The station, WCVB, had invited two congressional candidates (a Democrat and a Republican) into its studio to appear on “On the Record” in the weeks leading up to the 2012 election and formatted the joint appearance as a 30-minute debate.

Another candidate (a libertarian) who was not invited filed a complaint alleging that the value of WCVB’s production costs and airtime constituted unlawful corporate contributions to the two candidates who were invited. Corporate contributions to federal candidates are illegal and people who make them face stiff fines, injunctions, and can even go to prison.

Although the FEC dismissed the Boston case, Goodman warned that the agency should not even be saddled with the power to arbitrate such issues.

“A decision to approve implies the power to disapprove,” he wrote. “And in the case of FEC regulatory authority over corporate contributions, the power to investigate, punish and even enjoin is the power to censor news programs like ‘On the Record,’ ‘Meet the Press’ and ‘This Week.’ The upshot of the WCVB decision is that every television newsroom must look over its shoulder whenever it invites two or more candidates to a joint appearance.”

Add to that Goodman’s concern that the FEC’s compulsion to regulate media is aimed squarely toward conservatives, and it’s evident that the commission’s progressive members have no problem with the Constitutional implications of a government enforcement agency exerting media control.

Goodman’s chairmanship expires in December, but his board tenure doesn’t expire until 2019. At least he’s willing to speak out.

Obama’s Hot Election-Year Issues Are Exactly The Ones Voters Don’t Care About

Polls are easy-come, easy-go, but last week’s Pew/USA Today poll gauging the mood of voters ahead of the midterm elections covered a lot of ground. The upshot, USA Today found, is that Republicans stand to gain Congressional seats this November.

One takeaway that may have gotten lost in the ensuing coverage is this interesting tidbit: President Obama’s focus on a political cocktail of immigration reform and climate change to kick off the summer-long campaign season is at or near the very bottom of the list of important issues that voters say will influence their decisions at the ballot box.

Worse for Democrats, their figurehead stands to lose them votes on the three top issues that voters do place at the top of their list of priorities – jobs, health care and the Federal deficit.

Think of it as an inverse pyramid: as voters’ concern about a given issue goes up, the President’s attention to that issue (or his success in attempting to address it) goes down.

On jobs – the top priority for 27 percent of voters: 800,000 people dropped out of the workforce in the latest BLS monthly report, a statistic that magically lowered to official unemployment rate by discounting that number from the pool of people the government considers to be “unemployed.” Health care

On health care – the top priority for 21 percent of voters: Despite the Administration’s recent efforts at claiming victory in the Obamacare sign-up period, insurers are now saying that many of the reported 8 million enrollees may be “duplicates,” and that anywhere between 10 and 20 percent of unique enrollments represent people who never paid their premiums. Obamacare is a mess of a talking point for Democrats in their respective local districts, with officials like Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urging Democrats to highlight it in their campaigns, even as embattled Democrats like Congressmen Joe Garcia of Florida and Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona run campaign ads taking on Obama like he’s the bad guy.

Meanwhile, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz pretends Obamacare’s time in the spotlight has already come and gone, and that there’s nothing left for voters to see – in direct contradiction of what voters told the pollsters last week.

On the Federal deficit – the top priority for 19 percent of voters: Like the BLS unemployment statistics, the recent report from the Congressional Budget Office that the Federal deficit is at its lowest point in 70 years is a numbers-massaging game that many voters aren’t buying. The CBO calculates the deficit by using the U.S. GDP as a baseline – and the GDP took a swan dive in the late Bush years and has been crawling since then. Forbes had an excellent article last month that further explains why Obama, of all people, knows he can’t play up a Federal deficit statistic as a point of pride for his Administration.

How did voters rate immigration reform and climate change on the to-do list for Congress? Only six percent named immigration as their top priority – the lowest figure measured in the poll.

As for climate change? It didn’t even make the list.

House Holds Lerner In Contempt

The House of Representatives voted today to hold former IRS administrator Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about her knowledge of how the agency carried out discriminatory stonewalling of conservative nonprofit organizations as President Barack Obama campaigned for reelection.

The 231-187 vote, approved by all House Republicans and six Democrats, moves the criminal contempt charge to the office of the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. Early speculation by pundits and Congress members put the chances of a prosecution moving forward against Lerner at 50-50.

Unlike the Department of Justice’s shrugging off of similar contempt charges against Attorney General Eric Holder in 2012, Lerner’s case isn’t safely ensconced by the protection of an executive privilege memo from the Obama Administration. While the President could authorize such an order, that, too, would signal to House Republicans who’ve investigated the IRS scandal that Obama indeed believes Lerner knows something he’d rather her not reveal.

“They wouldn’t have a pre-established Justice Department decision on this one,” law professor Charles Tiefer told The Hill.

“If DOJ decided for whatever reason not to go forward with Lerner in an instance where executive privilege was not raised, that indeed would be new and would signal a further weakening of the congressional contempt statute,” Stan Brand, former House counsel, told POLITICO.

Some House Democrats called the vote a McCarthyist witch hunt and insinuated Republicans weren’t focusing on important topics during an election season. But few actually took issue with the contempt charge on its merits.

The quote of the day came from Oversight Committee Democrat Elijah Cummings – who himself has been implicated in the scandal recently, for allegedly communicating with the IRS to direct the agency’s attention to a Texas conservative group ripe for discriminatory targeting.

“I am not defending Ms. Lerner,” he said. “But I cannot vote to violate an individual’s 5th Amendment rights just because I want to hear what she has to say.”

The Republican Establishment’s Fear Of The ‘L’ Word

One day before Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) tied with Jeb Bush to top yet another hypothetical GOP Presidential poll, potential Republican competitor Rick Santorum hatched a media strategy that’s likely to be widely duplicated in some GOP factions if Paul’s Presidential stock continues to rise: making “libertarian” sound like a dirty word.

As Santorum and just about every other Republican name brand knows, Rand Paul is not an outright libertarian — at least, not Rand Paul the Senator, GOP party member and possible Presidential candidate. He’s a fiscal conservative who strongly advocates for government to play no extra-Constitutional role in sorting out Americans’ civil liberties.

But he’s also Ron Paul’s son, and — for GOP establishment types, as well as the party’s conservative-right faction — that may turn out to be his greatest political liability through the 2016 primary season. He’s aware that a successful Presidential run will necessarily require casting a wider net, striking a tone with dispassionate voters that isn’t strident. He’s also aware that getting elected President is virtually impossible without persuading stalwart donor titans that he has a steady hand on their apple cart. In his talking points, his speech on foreign policy and individual liberties (drugs, homosexuality, religious freedoms) is restrained and, at times, politically vague in a way his father’s speech never was.

But even Paul’s deference to civil liberties, or the mere shadow of his father’s strongly polarizing legacy, is enough fodder for conservatives — like Santorum — who’ve shown the early signs of ascending along the GOP’s establishment path to political fortune. Late Monday, Santorum made sure to put as much distance between that dirty “L” word and his brand of Republican conservatism as possible, telling CNN “the Republican Party is not a libertarian party.”

No kidding. But the message he sent was more subtle: There’s no room in Santorum’s Republican Party for ostensible “libertarians” like Rand Paul.

We’ve trod this ground before. Last summer, back when the implications of the GOP’s new-blood insurgency were even murkier for 2016, Personal Liberty’s Sam Rolley discussed how the very idea of libertarianism can fracture the party:

The reason the GOP isn’t packed with politicians like Paul, Ted Cruz (Texas) and Justin Amash (Mich.) is because establishment Republicans are fond of accusing any lawmaker who dares question government’s power of having “libertarian ideas.” And it’s certainly an effective strategy, packing a one-two punch that makes foreign policy hawks balk at the idea of a Federal government unwilling to stick cannon in the face of any nation brazen enough to question American imperialism — and giving religious-right conservatives nightmares about a GOP moving toward accepting gays, abortions, drugs and all-out godlessness.

Santorum’s tactic for resisting even a little bit of libertarianism in the GOP is to anoint it an enemy and then charge straight at it. And it looks like the libertarian enemy in the Republican Party is going to be Rand Paul — not because he’s a dogmatic libertarian, but because his GOP detractors believe in the vote-swaying power of his perceived baggage.

“He’s not my leader, I can tell you that for sure,” Santorum said. “His father and I had some disagreements during the last campaign.”

At this point, Ron Paul could publicly disown his son, but it wouldn’t matter. The far political right is determined to steer Rand Paul’s political career into his father’s long, indelible shadow.

Democracy Alliance’s Mixed Signals

Democracy Alliance (DA), the “philanthropic” pass-through organization that helps move secret contributions from benefactors — like George Soros and Tom Steyer — to the campaign war chests of progressive Congressional candidates, is finally beginning to receive a trickle of mainstream scrutiny for the striking inconsistency between its message and its methods.

DA was formed in 2005 by Soros and other very wealthy progressives with the initial aim of promoting leftist social goals through philanthropy. When Vice President Joe Biden asked for campaign help during President Barack Obama’s bid for re-election, though, DA got directly into politics. There is a very tightly knit, and largely well-concealed, chain of communication and financing between the constellation of major DA donors and Democratic candidates who increasingly view the organization as a magic well of campaign cash.

Those same candidates hew to a campaign strategy that blasts the ostensible ties between Big Money cronies (hello, Koch brothers) and conservative politics. That line of argument holds that evil billionaires manipulate conservative politicians by lavishing their campaigns with private wealth, and they are lavished in return by corrupt policymaking that ensures the rich get richer.

While that sounds like a fine description of corporate-political cronyism in general, it has nothing to do with partisanship. Or, if it does have to do with party affiliation, the Democrats need to re-examine their talking points — because they’re trouncing their Republican rivals in the campaign finance arms race.

On cue, the DA spring meeting in April played out like an allegory of that particular strain of progressive hypocrisy. Here’s a sampling of POLITICO reporter Kenneth P. Vogel’s takeaway from the event:

Democratic attacks on the Koch brothers for secretive campaign spending have become a virtual plank in the party’s platform, but it turns out big-money liberals can be just as defensive when their own closed-door activities are put in the spotlight.

Stop for a moment; who said anything about the Koch brothers being defensive? Oh, only Vogel himself. So this should be a puff mainstream media piece about like-minded donors and politicians, right?

During a gathering here of major Democratic donors this week that has raised more than $30 million for liberal groups, questions about the party’s split personality on the issue were dodged, rejected or answered with an array of rationalizations. That is, when they weren’t met with recriminations or even gentle physical force.

…The liberal strain of the argument is usually sprinkled with a heaping helping of moral superiority. Their most generous backers are giving to candidates and causes that could hurt their bottom line by raising taxes on the denizens of their elite tax bracket, the argument goes, whereas conservative big donors are seeking to pad their pockets by trying to slash taxes and regulations that impinge on their business.

… [Obama adviser Valerie] Jarrett refused to make eye contact with a reporter asking such a question on Monday night, while [New York Mayor Bill] de Blasio on Sunday night said, “My friend, we’re not doing media right now. We’re happy to talk to you another time,” as a handler stepped between the quick-walking mayor and a reporter. When [Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan] Grimes, following a closed-door meet-and-greet with major donors Tuesday, was asked about liberal efforts to vilify the Kochs and other major conservative donors, she said, “I sure appreciate your time. You have to go through our communications department,” then stepped into an elevator and stood behind an aide.

Communications staffers for de Blasio and Grimes did not respond to subsequent requests for comment.

Democracy Alliance staff chastised a reporter during an attempt to interview major donor Jonathan Soros as he headed toward a panel on campaign finance reform. “Sir, you’re not allowed to go past here,” said one staffer, as another grabbed this reporter’s arm to prevent him from walking with Soros, who co-founded a super PAC, called Friends of Democracy, that intends to spend as much as $6 million in 2014 boosting candidates who support campaign finance reforms including enhanced disclosure.

Soon after, three hotel security officers approached to put the kibosh on additional inquiries.

Vogel also points out one of the progressive mind’s central delusions: that the means justify the ends, so long as the actors convince themselves (and, crucially, everyone else) that they’re acting on principle instead of self-interest.

“You can focus on the irony, but it’s not hypocrisy because we’re not trying to get something for our donations,” donor Arnold Hiatt told Vogel.

If wealthy donors truly believe that, then — to politicians’ great delight — they’ve admirably elevated the phrase “useful idiot.”

Supreme Court Passes On New Jersey Gun Control Case

The U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed its ongoing hands-off stance on taking up cases involving 2nd Amendment rights today, declining without comment to hear a New Jersey case that challenges the Constitutionality of a State law forbidding lawful gun owners from carrying their firearms in public.

In passing on the highly scrutinized case, Drake v. Jerejian, the court allows to stand a ruling that affirms the state’s power to limit a gun owner’s right to carry a concealed weapon outside the home “for self-defense.”

The implicit merit attached to the case is that self-defense is, in fact, the central issue underlying the intent of the 2nd Amendment. SCOTUS blog, which first reported the Supreme Court’s non-action today, summarizes the merits this way:

Issue: (1) Whether the Second Amendment secures a right to carry handguns outside the home for self-defense; and (2) whether state officials violate the Second Amendment by requiring that individuals wishing to exercise their right to carry a handgun for self-defense first prove a “justifiable need” for doing so.

On both points, the Supreme Court would certainly have had a clear path to rule the State law unConstitutional.

By way of speculation, there could be a hidden silver lining in the Court’s inaction: If the only way to accept this case on the merits was to weigh the plaintiffs’ argument attaching the concept of “self-defense” to the intent of the 2nd Amendment, then the Court could have set a bad precedent — even if it had ruled in favor of the plaintiffs — if its ruling whittled down the 2nd Amendment’s meaning to apply only to “self-defense” when, in fact, the Founders wrote an Amendment that is manifestly broad in scope.

“Self-defense,” except perhaps from the government itself (as inferred from the 2nd Amendment’s understood acceptance of the need for a well-regulated militia), isn’t mentioned in the original document, and no action by the Supreme Court is at least preferable to an action that limits the 2nd Amendment only to that application.

Nonetheless, the plaintiffs end up the big losers in this instance. Drake v. Jerejian arose from a challenge to a New Jersey law requiring lawful gun owners to demonstrate to their government an “urgent need,” based on their need for self-defense, to take their guns with them anywhere outside the home. According to Newark’s Star-Ledger, gun owners must obtain the approval of both a “police official and a judge” for a permit that allows them to carry a concealed handgun at large.

The case was first filed by a store owner who, after experiencing an ordeal at the hands of kidnappers, applied for and was denied a concealed carry permit. Over its life span, the case has taken on other plaintiffs, and it currently involves a different plaintiff whose job involves transporting cash. Like the original plaintiff, the current plaintiff cites self-defense as his basis for requesting a concealed carry permit for a handgun.

Attorney Alan Gura, who’s won two previous landmark cases involving municipal gun laws before the Supreme Court, had been representing the plaintiffs in the Drake case. He told Reason today that the court’s passivity on the issue is amounts to a form of neglect for precedents it’s already established against overzealous local limitations on the scope of the 2nd Amendment.

“We’ve seen courts rubberstamp just about any kind of law that violates the Second Amendment,” said Gura. “Unless the Supreme Court decides to enforce its pronouncements, the Second Amendment will apply only to the extent that some lower courts are willing to honor Supreme Court precedent.”

Read more on the ruling at the Star-Ledger, and follow its history on the SCOTUS blog.