Obamacare continues to reshape hiring practices, earnings for small businesses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how the Post sets up its story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank God for tattletales and busybodies.

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

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

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

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

Michigan mandates drug testing for some welfare recipients

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

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

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

Those who test positive will be referred to treatment programs.

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

From the final version of the bill:

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the Starbucks salute all over again.

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

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

From Bloomberg News:

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

President Barack Obama wanted to play through.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOP implicates Obama Pentagon nominee in stolen document scandal

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

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

Here’s more from Fox:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama climate scientist hedges on global warming

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

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

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

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

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

From Hot Air:

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

Court rules against EPA in lead bullet case

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supreme Court to hear Obamacare challenge in March 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerry says long-standing Cuba policy has only served to ‘isolate the United States’

Secretary of State John Kerry did his part to help explain the Obama Administration’s pivot toward “normalized” U.S.-Cuba relations Wednesday by saying the only party the U.S. was hurting, as it turns out, was itself.

In a statement Wednesday, Kerry offered this:

I was a seventeen year old kid watching on a black and white television set when I first heard an American President talk of Cuba as an “imprisoned island.”

For five and a half decades since, our policy toward Cuba has remained virtually frozen, and done little to promote a prosperous, democratic and stable Cuba. Not only has this policy failed to advance America’s goals, it has actually isolated the United States instead of isolating Cuba.

Since 2009, President Obama has taken steps forward to change our relationship and improve the lives of the Cuban people by easing restrictions on remittances and family travel. With this new opening, the President has committed the United States to begin to chart an even more ambitious course forward.

Aside from repudiating more than 50 years of U.S. policy, Kerry also may have forgotten his own past, as The Weekly Standard’s Jeryl Bier observed Thursday.

Kerry’s remarks, Bier wrote, appear “to be suggesting they [U.S. policies] were a failure from the start. And in doing so, he apparently misstates his own age at the time President Kennedy made one of the most well known presidential addresses in our nation’s history, and certainly the most notable regarding Cuba.

“… Kerry says he was a ‘seventeen year old kid watching on a black and white television set’ as Kennedy addressed the nation. Kerry, however, was born on December 11, 1943, which would have made him eighteen, less than two months shy of his nineteenth birthday.”

De facto Cuban dictator Raul Castro jumped on the policy reversal quickly, calling on President Obama to issue an executive order to ease the United States’ trade embargo with the island nation.

Meanwhile, even The Washington Post blasted the Obama administration for delivering the Castro regime “a comprehensive bailout” on its litany of human rights abuses.

“Mr. Obama may claim that he has dismantled a 50-year-old failed policy; what he has really done is give a 50-year-old failed regime a new lease on life,” the Post’s editorial board wrote.

Vermont ditches dream of single-payer health coverage

Saying the plan would simply be too expensive to implement and operate, Vermont Gov. Pete Shumlin, a Democrat who very much wanted to see it succeed, has announced the state will not attempt to implement a hybrid form of state-controlled, single-payer health insurance.

Shumlin, who had promoted a single-payer system in principle, never could reconcile his ideal with his reality. He had planned to steer his proposal to a 2017 start date, but was continually cowed by financial exigencies. He even called his own plan, once the numbers had been crunched, “detrimental to Vermonters” and said it would have imposed unacceptable tax increases on small business and individuals.

“The model called for businesses to take on a double-digit payroll tax, while individuals would face up to a 9.5 percent premium assessment,” POLITICO reported Wednesday. “Big businesses, in particular, didn’t want to pay for Shumlin’s plan while maintaining their own employee health plans.”

Abandoning the single-payer plan was a rueful but realistic decision for Shumlin. Single-payer had been “the centerpiece of the Democratic governor’s agenda,” according to the Burlington Free Press, “and was watched and rooted for by single-payer health care supporters around the country.”

“The bottom line,” said Shumlin, “is that, as we completed the financing modeling in the last several days, it became clear that the risk of economic shock is too high at this time to offer a plan I can responsibly support for passage in the Legislature.”

GOP officials in Vermont praised the decision, but said it wasn’t an especially difficult one to make.

“I’ve kept an open mind about the idea, waiting to hear the details,” said Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. “Fortunately we heard them today and I am glad the Governor agrees with many of us.”

California pioneered the trend of not being able to devise a workable single-payer system; it’s tried twice http://www.thenation.com/article/177465/how-revive-fight-single-payer# . Yet the limiting factor in each case has been — you guessed it — money http://reason.com/archives/1994/08/01/california-scheming .

Texas plumber’s work truck turns up in Syria, used as mount for Islamist weaponry

Plumber Mark Oberholtzer of Texas City, Texas was surprised to learn that a work truck he sold three years ago had become the center of attention on the viral Internet. Yet Oberholtz himself confirms that the truck in the photo that’s been making the rounds on Twitter is, somehow, the one he used to own. Its new owners are Islamist militants, and they’re using the truck as a mobile gun mount in Syria.

Oberholtzer, who owns Mark-1 Plumbing, told local news outlets in the Galveston area that the truck was his at one time, but that he had traded it at the AutoNation Ford dealership in Houston three years ago. No one at his business has any idea how it ended up being used as a war machine.

“We had no intentions or no idea that this would even happen,” his son, Jeff, told KHOU News. “To think something we would use to pull trailers, now is being used for terror, it’s crazy. Never in my lifetime would [I] think something like that.”

An AutoNation Ford spokesperson told the news that the truck was auctioned and likely passed through a series of owners before emerging in the Syrian war.

Tolerant academic suggests ‘It’s Okay To Hate Republicans’

American academia has provided an especially safe harbor for progressive intolerance of late, what with the proliferation of campus rape tribunals, gun-free zones and social injustice-fueled pleas to overlook subpar student performance. So it’s natural that one University of Michigan professor should feel emboldened to invite others to literally “hate” Republicans in a recent opinion piece.

“I can’t stand the thought of having to spend the next two years watching Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Ted Cruz, Darrell Issa or any of the legions of other blowhards denying climate change, thwarting immigration reform or championing fetal ‘personhood,'” communications professor Susan Douglas wrote for These Times magazine, in a column originally headlined “It’s Okay To Hate Republicans” (it’s since been changed to the less-inflammatory “We Can’t All Just Get Along.”)

The article has been updated online with an editor’s note distancing the “hate” version of that headline from Douglas. Yet the very first line of the piece Douglas herself penned begins with this flat declaration: “I hate Republicans.”

Free speech is free speech; it’s fine that Douglas hates Republicans and wants you to hate them, too.

Yet contrast the free-speech liberties she’s able to enjoy with those of another, presumably conservative, professor: now-suspended Marquette University professor John McAdams.

McAdams’ thoughtcrime? It wasn’t an overt call to hatred. Rather, it stemmed from his criticism of a fellow professor who allegedly had forbidden any critical discussion or open debate about the relative merits of homosexual marriage… in that professor’s ethics class.

Marquette has since dealt with McAdams by banning him from campus.

House bill could curb IRS practice of seizing assets without probable cause

Baby steps: that’s all we’re talking about here. More helpful solutions to the abusive government practice of civil forfeiture would involve abolishing it outright across all “enforcement” agencies, regardless of their scope and, in a perfect world, the IRS itself.

But a bipartisan bill introduced by two House members this month is a step in the right direction: It takes aim at the IRS by imposing a two-week probable cause discovery period on the agency anytime it seizes a person’s financial assets as part of a collection attempt. That’s a lot better than the open-ended liberty the agency currently enjoys, a liberty that has ruined small businesses and the lives (and livelihoods) of those caught up in the practice.

One of the most notable examples of how the current law aggrandizes the government while trampling on the rights of individuals comes from Iowa, where the owner of a small restaurant had her assets seized as part of an IRS investigation into why the proprietor was making large numbers of small cash deposits without notifying the government.

It turns out, of course, that proprietor Carol Hinders wasn’t violating a law; rather, she was trying to stay on top of her revenues in a cash-heavy business, and she’d trusted others’ advice not to deposit more than $10,000 at a time — unless she wanted to bother with filling out “extra paperwork.”

The agency presumed, of course, that Hinders was craftily attempting to circumvent the $10,000 deposit reporting limit and seized her assets all the same.

The new House bill, sponsored by Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), would limit the IRS’s power to seize and hold someone’s funds indefinitely. It seeks to impose a 14-day period beyond a seizure, during which the agency must either persuade a court that probable cause exists to justify holding onto the money — or give the money back to its owner.

For small businesses like Hinders’, even that would be tremendously disruptive. But it’s still better than nothing. Fourteen days “is still enough time for many businesses to go under,” Washington Examiner recently observed, “but currently there is no protection at all.”

Hand over your 1st Amendment rights if you want to do a job for this Tennessee town

A small Tennessee town has deployed a new tactic in the ongoing effort to shield elected officials from scrutiny and criticism: force anyone who works for the city to promise not to say anything bad about its leaders on Facebook and other social platforms.

The five-member city commission of South Pittsburg, Tennessee, voted earlier this month to adopt a social media policy that, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, forbids city workers, elected officials and contractors from saying “anything negative about the city, its employees or other associates… Examples include posted videos, blogs, online forum discussions, Facebook and Twitter, Commissioner Jeff Powers said.”

The commission approved the policy on a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Paul Don King cast the single opposing vote, saying the city can’t tell people what to say on their own time.”[W]hat we [the board] are trying to say is that if I’m a city employee, you’re trying to tell me what I can say at night,” he told the paper. “I call that freedom of speech. I can’t understand that.”

Plenty of employers place conditions of employment on their employees, and often that includes restrictions on information sharing and, yes, overt criticism. But the employers in this instance happen to include duly elected representatives of the people, and this policy essentially bans employees and contractors — as citizens — from speaking ill of those elected leaders.

Officials in favor of the policy said it’s designed to prevent chronic cases of outright slander against the city, its component administrative units and their individual leaders.

“Criticism is one thing; Out-and-out lies and untruths — that’s another thing,” Mayor Jane Dawkins said.

She’s right — and there’s already a legal recourse for those harmed by “out-and-out lies and untruths.” But it’s one that the city’s leaders appear to be willing to ignore in favor of a policy that makes them the arbiters of free political speech.

Craft brewers challenge Texas law over distribution rights

A trio of craft beer makers is suing the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission over a 2013 law that forbids brewers from retaining the right to distribute their own products and instead reserves those rights for distributing companies.

The law, ostensibly designed to “protect the independence of distributors by prohibiting manufacturers from selling off their territorial rights,” extends the virtual monopoly over distribution that Texas distribution companies currently enjoy. It changes the prior Texas provision that allowed craft brewers to negotiate territorial exclusivity agreements in exchange for payment.

In the process, it prevents brewers from putting their own product in front of the public without being forced, by law, to pay a middleman — with the middleman keeping all of the profit.

“It used to be the case that beer distributors would compensate the brewers in exchange for the right to sell their beer to the marketplace,” Liberty Briefing’s Geoffrey Pike wrote Monday. “With the new law in effect, the distributors get those rights for free and are then able to sell those rights to other distributors.”

The plaintiffs, with the help of attorneys from the Institute for Justice (IJ), drove the absurdity of that point home in their filing.

“This law is like the government forcing authors to give the rights to their books to publishers for free,” IJ’s Matt Miller told The Texas Tribune. “It is unconstitutional for Texas to force brewers to give distributors property that they never earned and don’t deserve.”

The suit also compares the law as granting distributors a power similar to that of eminent domain, since it removes the brewers’ “property” without their consent. Unlike the state’s eminent domain law, however, there’s no common or public benefit to be found — only profit.

Craft brewers in other states — which operate under similar legal restrictions thanks to the infamous three-tier distribution system — are watching the case in the hope it sets a precedent that could eradicate the artificial barrier between small brewers and their customers.

Currently, the suit has three plaintiffs: Austin-based Live Oak Brewing, Dallas-based Peticolas Brewing and Granbury-based Revolver Brewing. According to the Tribune, other small-batch breweries are likely to join in the lawsuit.

Why do these police need an MRAP? To deal with ‘constitutionalists’

The sheriff’s department in Spokane, Washington, is taking heat over its explanation for obtaining a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle (MRAP), after a video of one deputy’s remarks was posted last week to Alex Jones’ YouTube channel.

In the Dec. 7 video, an off-camera questioner asks the deputy why an MRAP — a vehicle whose military usefulness she doesn’t dispute — makes sense for a local law enforcement agency.

His response? “I mean, we’ve got a lot of constitutionalists and a lot of people that stockpile weapons, lots of ammunition. They have weapons here locally.”

Those remarks drew immediate outrage — not only from the viral Internet, but from local residents — for their implication that people who regard themselves as “constitutionalists” are nothing more than ideological enemies of the state, as least as far as law enforcement is concerned.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich defended the deputy’s explanation, saying Infowars had taken the deputy’s comments out of context and used them to “distort the truth,” according to this Infowars report.

A group of local motorcyclists is planning a protest against the sheriff’s office Saturday at the Spokane Valley Police Department, a municipal agency that contracts with the sheriff’s office for law enforcement services.

According to The Spokesman-Review, that event will feature “barbecue food in the parking lot, openly carry firearms and… a Christmas tree to leave letters of complaint directed at the Sheriff’s Office in its branches.”

Republican state Rep. Matt Shea will attend the protest, according to the Review.

‘Teabagger’ plaintiff awarded $1.1 million in damages after jury agrees she was politically harassed by police

A Quogue, New York, woman who spent four days in jail after a sheriff’s deputy arrested her and accused her of being a conservative “Teabagger” has won a $1.2 million verdict in a federal lawsuit, handed down after an eight-day trial ended last week.

Nancy Genovese, a mother of three, was arrested in 2009 for trespassing in connection with an incident at the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard (ANG) base in Westhampton Beach, New York, where she allegedly had been taking pictures of a helicopter. She had intended to use the image on a website devoting to supporting the U.S. armed forces, according to the New York Post.

Instead, personnel at the airfield called law enforcement to report her — even though, her attorneys maintained, she was simply parked at the side of a public road and had not trespassed on the property.

“Southampton cops searched her and found a legally owned rifle that she was transporting from a nearby rifle range,” the Post reported last week.

“She contends a deputy sheriff arrived on the scene later and said to her, ‘I bet you are one of those Tea Party people.’ When Genovese said she’s gone to Tea Party rallies, he allegedly said, ‘You’re a real right-winger, aren’t you?’ and ‘You are a “Teabagger”’ and then added that she’d be arrested for terrorism to make an example of other ‘right wingers.'”

Genovese, now 58, was arrested, but she was released after four days and the trespassing charge was dropped. The sheriff’s office made much of the fact that Genovese had guns in her car, but they were found to be legally owned — even by New York’s standards.

She filed a $70 million federal lawsuit alleging wrongful prosecution in 2010; a jury returned the $1.12 million verdict last week. That amount does not encompass punitive damages, which, according to The Southampton Press, could still be handed down later.