House Oversight Growing Impatient With IRS’s Sluggish Response To Tea Party Inquiry

Republicans on the House Oversight Committee investigating the Internal Revenue Service-Tea Party discrimination scandal are all but threatening contempt charges if top IRS officials don’t stop stonewalling the Committee’s request to hand over former Exempt Organizations director Lois Lerner’s emails.

Current IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has balked at the blanket request, telling the Committee it would take years for the agency to comb through Lerner’s old correspondence and redact sensitive information concerning taxpayers. Besides, he argued Wednesday, the Oversight Committee has all the important stuff already.

“What they want is something that’s going to take years to produce,” he told the panel. “… You may want to have this investigation go on forever. We have provided you all the emails relevant.” Koskinen went on to say he didn’t expect the agency would able to produce all of Lerner’s emails, as well as those of other IRS employees with possible ties to the scandal, before the end of this year (or, in other words, until after the November midterm elections).

Determining whether potential evidence is relevant isn’t part of the IRS commissioner’s job, shot back Congressman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

“What part of ‘all’ don’t you and the IRS understand?” he asked Koskinen. “We don’t care what you think is irrelevant. … We don’t want the excuses anymore. Prioritize them.”

Through its chief counsel, the House also released a memo Wednesday asserting that Lerner, who has continued to withhold testimony under her controversial invocation of her 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination, is still in jeopardy of a contempt charge if she does not agree to provide testimony about how the IRS carried out its targeting of conservative nonprofit groups.

Lerner, who offered a statement of innocence to Congress before pleading the 5th, has since maintained that her claim of innocence in no way conflicts with her right to plead the 5th.

Harry Reid: You Fools Don’t Know How To Use The Internet And Sign Up For Obamacare

You’re all idiots — that’s why you haven’t signed up for Obamacare yet.

Thus spake Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) today, opining on why President Barack Obama’s signature piece of social reform hasn’t taken off with the American public.

“We have hundreds of thousands of people who tried to sign up who didn’t get through,” he said. “There are some people who are not like my grandchildren who can handle everything so easily on the Internet, and these people need a little extra time. It’s not — the example they gave us is a 63-year-old woman came into the store and said, ‘I almost got it. Every time I just about got there, it would cut me off.’ We have a lot of people just like this through no fault of the Internet, but because people are not educated on how to use the Internet.”

Never mind that the Obamacare website itself is unstable and that its database underpinnings are unreliable. (The same can be said for many of the State-run Obamacare websites as well, some of which haven’t successfully enrolled a single person.) And never mind that plenty of people are Internet-savvy enough to get online and pay their bills, read their email, check the weather forecast and comment on websites like this one about how awful Obamacare is.

As one YouTube commenter sagely observed, “The Internet gets you [to] the website, ONCE YOU ARE ON THE WEBSITE the internet has done its job and its [sic] now the WEBSITE NOT THE INTERNET.”

At any rate, “a little extra time” is apparently what many of Reid’s tech-ignorant luddites will get, so long as they’ve thrown their names into the Obamacare queue. The Obama Administration announced today that people who begin an online Obamacare application before the March 31 deadline will be allowed to wait until mid-April to finish it — relying on nothing more than the “honor system” to verify that they began the process before the deadline.

Former Dodd-Frank Policy Wonks Walk Through Washington’s Revolving Door

If you were among the Washington government workers who helped bring the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to life, the chances are good that you’re now entertaining a host of attractive job options in the private sector.

That’s because there are plenty of companies right down the street from your old government digs that need your expertise in order to stay on the right side of the law. And who better to hire than those who helped roll out the law?

According to The Hill, more than two dozen former Federal workers involved in deploying Dodd-Frank’s new regulations “have decamped from government for lucrative jobs in the private sector.”

Many of the officials who were foot soldiers in the Dodd-Frank effort have moved on to law firms, with several now advising clients on how to comply with the complex rules that they themselves had helped to write.

…Dodd-Frank veterans who left government reject the suggestion they are cashing in and say it’s preposterous for critics to think they are helping clients find loopholes in the law.

Hiring reciprocity between government policymakers and private consulting firms has become commonplace.

Companies with headquarters inside the Washington Beltway reel in many of the policy wonks with whom they’ve established strategic relationships during their time as government regulators, because there’s no more effective way to recruit the kind of expertise that can help navigate complex policies and laws.

“Critics of the ‘revolving door’ between government and the private sector bemoan the trend, arguing it helps financial institutions move the levers of Federal policy,” observes The Hill.

“We’re seeing the revolving door much more frequently in the financial services sector, more so than any other industry I’ve seen,” one government affairs lobbyist told the publication.

Supreme Court Appears Split On Hobby Lobby’s Obamacare Challenge

The Supreme Court appeared evenly divided over Hobby Lobby’s challenge to Obamacare’s so-called contraception mandate in oral arguments Tuesday, with Justice Anthony Kennedy standing out as the sole member who still may be reserving judgment over whether employers with religious objections can decline to subsidize birth control coverage for their employees under the law.

Lawyers for Hobby Lobby and Pennsylvania-based Conestoga Wood Specialties, the plaintiffs in a pair of related lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, argued for nearly 90 minutes before the court Tuesday morning. When they were finished, it was evident that Kennedy remained the lone swing vote on the court.

SCOTUSblog has a narrative recap of Tuesday’s proceedings. Attempting to flesh out the limitations of each side’s argument, Kennedy appeared to play devil’s advocate for both sides during oral arguments. But he seemed to grow more aggressive toward the government’s position as the morning wore on.

From SCOTUSblog:

When it was Solicitor General [Donald B.] Verrilli’s turn at the lectern, he found immediately that Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito, Jr., were ready to pounce, disputing each of the government lawyer’s core points about the need for the contraceptive mandate in this context.

…When Verrilli said the Court has never found a right to exercise religion for corporations, Alito wondered if there was something wrong with the corporate form that it would not be accorded religion freedom rights.  Did Verrilli agree, Alito said, with a lower court’s view that the only reason for a corporation to exist was to “maximize profits?”  Verrilli said no, but Alito had made his point.

…As Verrilli’s situation worsened, Justice Kennedy moved in to wonder why it was that Congress would allow a government agency — the Health and Human Services Department — “the power to decide a First Amendment issue of this consequence….  That is for Congress, not for an agency.”  Kennedy would repeat that criticism later in the argument.

…The low point for Verrilli, however, came late in his argument, when Justice Kennedy told him bluntly: “Under your view, for-profit corporations can be forced to pay for abortion.  Your reasoning would permit that….  You say that for-profit corporations have no standing to litigate what their shareholders believed.”

On the other ideological end of the bench, liberal justices questioned whether exempting a corporation’s owners form a legal provision on religious grounds doesn’t amount to treating the corporation itself as a “person” possessed of individual rights — rights that trump those of their employees.

The plaintiffs also came under bench scrutiny for asking the court, in some justices’ view, to start down a slippery slope of religiously defensible corporate exemptions from Federal laws.

“If your argument was adopted,” Justice Elena Kagan told the plaintiffs’ attorneys, “then you would see religious objections come out of the woodwork” — including, she added, religiously based objections to vaccinations, blood transfusions or any other service a company’s owners might object to on religious grounds.

The court is expected to rule on the pair of cases in June.

Navy Top Gun Trainer: Social Conditioning Focus Is Suffocating Retention Efforts

Social “conditioning” programs aimed at making the U.S. military a kinder, gentler, more lawsuit-proof workplace have begun supplanting its core mission: fighting and killing enemies.

That’s the open message a former Top Gun instructor is sending the U.S. Navy’s top brass.

The website of the nonprofit U.S. Naval Institute is featuring this month a lengthy study by Commander Guy Snodgrass, who cautions that a lack of trust in senior Naval leadership – borne from a combination of factors that includes too great an emphasis on social issues and not enough on fighting wars – is precipitating a severe enlistment and retention crisis.

“Put simply, there is no dollar amount that can be spent, or amount of training that can be conducted, that will completely eradicate complex issues such as suicide, sexual assault, or commanding officer reliefs for cause – yet we continue to expend immense resources in this pursuit,” he wrote.

“Sailors are bombarded with annual online training, general military training, and safety stand-downs – all in an effort to combat problems that will never be defeated. The perception is that these efforts are not undertaken because they are incredibly effective, but rather because of significant political and public oversight…Sailors continue to cite the over-focus on social issues by senior leadership – above and beyond discussions on warfighting – a fact that demoralizes junior and mid-grade officers alike.”

Snodgrass, an F-18 pilot who went on to write speeches for the Pentagon Chief of Naval Operations, doesn’t solely attribute the Navy’s retention problem to its leaders’ forced fixation on sensitivity training – he lists a number of factors, each of which poses a serious problem on its own: attitudes of millennial-generation recruits about work for pay, sustained campaigns that lack tangible and principled objectives, a distressed global economy, and changes in promotional incentives within the Naval command hierarchy.

Supreme Court To Hear Hobby Lobby’s Obamacare Contraception Lawsuit Today

The Hobby Lobby lawsuit over whether government can impose Obamacare mandates on companies whose owners’ religious beliefs conflict with portions of the law is set to go before the Supreme Court today.

At issue is the Obamacare contraception coverage mandate, which requires employers to provide birth control coverage for employees as part of their overall health insurance. The outcome could determine the extent to which the government can enforce Obamacare’s contraception insurance mandate.

It could also determine whether Constitutional protections for individuals’ religious freedoms will be construed, by the courts, as equally applicable to the companies those individuals own — and how an employer’s religious views will reconcile with the religious views of their individual employees.

The plaintiffs, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties of Pennsylvania, are invoking the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which prohibits the government from placing a “burden [on] a person’s exercise of religion.” The companies aren’t the only ones that have filed suit over the mandate; the High Court consolidated dozens of similar cases in accepting the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga suits.

“[W]hether it is the individuals, the corporations, or both who are exercising religion, the government cannot simply wish away the reality that its policies substantially burden Respondents’ religious exercise in a wholly unjustified manner,” the plaintiffs argued in a brief last month.

The government maintains that companies are not provided the same Constitutional protections reserved for individual citizens.

The Supreme Court will hear 90 minutes of oral arguments from both sides today.

Don’t expect a decision by the Court to revolutionize Obamacare — as SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston observed in an analysis of the case last week, “[t]he nation’s politics, and many of its legislatures (including Congress), are absorbed with debates over whether to keep the law, to amend it, to render it unenforceable, or to repeal it altogether. None of that depends upon the outcome of this case. The Court has not been asked to strike down any part of the law, and it almost certainly won’t volunteer to do so.”

‘White House Director Of Progressive Media’ Is A Job That Actually Exists

Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report tweeted last week that he’d just paid his first Obamacare penalty as a small-scale employer. He toyed with words, recasting the penalty as a “liberty tax.” But Jesse Lee, White House Director of Progressive Media, used his official Twitter page to call Drudge a liar, saying he couldn’t have paid a penalty because there isn’t one for anyone paying 2013 taxes. Lee was wrong about that, but the mainstream media took off with the disinformation, and a whole lot of people made fools of themselves.

That’s a synopsis of what happened, and it was predictable and interesting for 15 minutes. But what continues to puzzle us is the fact that “White House Director of Progressive Media” is a thing that exists.

The Obama Administration created the “Progressive Media and Online Response” position in 2011, just as President Barack Obama’s second Presidential campaign was ramping up. Obama hired Jesse Lee, who’d had plenty of experience using the Internet as a community organizing tool (the White House calls it “online outreach”), to the position. The newly created role was first announced by a blogger for The Huffington Post.

The job of White House Director of Progressive Media appears to be one of accepting the People’s money as remuneration for issuing unilateral political attacks on elected leaders, private individuals, companies, nonprofits and news outlets under the safe cover of a government job — one that exists at the leisure of the President of the United States.

At the time, NewsBusters’ Aubrey Vaughan described things this way:

The White House is amping up its vigilance in silencing its critics with the creation of a new communications position designed to respond to unfavorable online stories about the President.

Attacking critics is nothing new for the administration, and the creation of this position is only the latest effort to throw the considerable weight of the White House bully pulpit behind efforts to attack Obama’s critics. For the president, this tactic began during the campaign and has continued to date.

Until now, though, the fight was mostly funded by the DNC or campaign teams, as is standard practice for the sort of oppositional approach this position seems poised to adopt. But as an official White House position, taxpayers are actually the ones footing the bill for Obama’s new attack dog.

Lee indeed performed his attack dog function on cue last week, when he responded to the Drudge tweet with this (false) retort:

Lee’s role isn’t one that’s gotten a lot of attention since the 2012 campaign season. But we’re betting Lee just inadvertently raised the profile (and, hopefully, the scrutiny) of the White House propaganda machine by hitching his star to Drudge’s wagon.

Asian Americans Defeat Progressive California Effort To Institute Affirmative Action In College Admissions

A legislative bid to partially reinstate preferential treatment for racial minorities in the college admissions process was defeated in California earlier this month, thanks to a grassroots campaign spearheaded by Asian Americans who had no desire to watch deserving applicants cast aside by racist, progressive social policy.

The proposal would have put an amendment on the November general election ballot to exempt colleges and universities from a portion of Proposition 209 – passed in 1996 – that prohibits discrimination or preferential treatment based on race, ethnicity and national origin.

But a robust effort led by Asian Americans already weary of having to score “140 points more than whites, 270 points higher than Hispanics and 450 more points than blacks” on the SAT college entrance exam defeated the partisan effort.

The groups that played the most active role in deflating Legislative Democrats’ support for the amendment aren’t Tea Party types – they’re Asian special interest groups. But on this topic, their message to lawmakers was similar to Constitutional conservatives’ “hands-off” approach to government. From an analysis in The American Conservative:

In the end, it was the Democrats—for the most part, the party that really matters in California state politics—who folded on SCA 5. And it was Chinese-Americans who were the pivotal group in the measure’s defeat.

Olivia Liao, president of the Joint Chinese University Alumni Association, was quoted in the local press describing the initiative as racist. “[Legislators] feel like the Chinese-American community isn’t paying attention to politics,” Liao said, according to the Pasadena Star News. “We are concerned citizens. We need to stand up when things are not right; we need to be heard. We shouldn’t have any [exceptions)] related to race. After all, America is a free country.”

The newspaper also quoted Marina Tse speaking out against SCA 5. “It has a negative impact on high-performing students and Chinese students,” Tse said. “We need to put merit and academic performance as a priority.”

“What this episode demonstrates is that the zero-sum politics of divvying up a fixed pie — rather than expanding it — is a losing game for Democrats, precisely because America is becoming more diverse,” observed Reason’s Shikha Dalmia today. “…[I]t’ll be a losing battle to ask Asians to conform to the mentality of white liberal guilt.”

Indiana Ditches Common Core Standards

Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law a bill that dumps the State’s participation in Federal Common Core educational standards and requires instead that Indiana come up with its own set of guidelines.

“I believe our students are best served when decisions about education are made at the State and local level,” said Pence today. “By signing this legislation, Indiana has taken an important step forward in developing academic standards that are written by Hoosiers, for Hoosiers, and are uncommonly high.”

Indiana was an early adopter of Common Core in 2010, and was eventually joined by 45 other States in adopting the Federal benchmark model. President Barack Obama has promoted the nationwide adoption of Common Core standards by offering States incentive grants through the Federal “Race to the Top” initiative.

Indiana is the first State to drop the controversial one-size set of standards. Pence said he believes the replacement standards currently being developed by State educators, stakeholders and elected representatives will provide a blueprint for academic achievement that more faithfully reflects the aspirations of his constituents.

“As the task of writing our new academic standards continues, I am grateful to the more than 100 Indiana educators who have put thousands of hours into a comprehensive, transparent, and rigorous process of academic review and am confident that our state will produce Indiana standards that will prepare our students for success in college, careers, and life,” he said.

Rock, Paper, Scissors: Oregon Obamacare Exchange A Model For Failure

We’ve written a lot about Cover Oregon, perhaps the most corrupt, wasteful, inefficient and glitchy among all the many corrupt, wasteful, inefficient and glitchy government-run Obamacare health insurance markets. But as the enrollment deadline for Obamacare approaches, we may soon be reading its valediction.

To say the rollout of Covered Oregon has been a mess is to understate the case.

There are the millions of dollars thrown at silly, insipid television advertisements designed to appeal — insultingly so — to the granola set. There’s the accidental extension of insurance benefits to 4,000 illegal aliens. There’s been a reversion to paper processing in order to offset the lack of a functioning online enrollment interface. There have been alarming, nearly constant lapses in security and the protection of patients’ personal information. There have been firings and resignations — most recently last week, when director Bruce Goldberg resigned amid a fresh round of investigative findings by an auditor. There’s even a Federal investigation.

And nobody dissembles and deflects blame more shamelessly than Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber, who’s managed to change his story by the day to suit the latest crisis.

Now, with a week to go until the Obamacare enrollment deadline passes, Cover Oregon is imploding on itself, while State politicians attempt to rewrite the narrative to expunge from the permanent record their past support for the program.

As of Friday, the online exchange had not successfully enrolled a single person in an insurance plan, even as hastily hired processors juggle thousands of alternate paper applications in a bureaucratic morass worthy of a sitcom. Here’s how KATU described one processor’s account of Cover Oregon’s efficiency problems last week:

It feels like a scene ripped from “The Office.”

Source A was deep in the middle of processing an application when a manager walked in.

“He said stop what you’re doing, lock your computers, get up,” Source A said. “I’m going to count you off by threes. Ones over here, twos over here, threes over here.

“We were told to play rock-paper-scissors against everybody in our little group and then the remaining people out of those would play against each other and we would get a certificate.”

Work was piled high. Problems with the system meant hours went by some nights with no work completed, so the staff had a backlog of applications.

Source A didn’t want to play a game of rock-paper-scissors when it felt so much like playing a game with people’s health.

“I told him, I was like, this was not a morale booster,” Source A said. “We were working. And I just went back and sat down and it was really pointless, but it was 15-20 minutes of wasted time.

In the midst of such fun, nobody knows what to do to get Cover Oregon working so that State residents can, at long last, freely avail themselves of artificially priced, one-size-fits-all health insurance. Kitzhaber has requested from the Feds an extension to the March 31 enrollment deadline. He’s also begun confessing that Oregon might need to simply ditch its own State insurance exchange and just refer everybody who wants Obamacare to Healthcare.gov.

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.

Holder Won’t Appoint Special IRS Prosecutor In Tea Party Scandal

In January, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) approached U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder with a request that the Department of Justice get serious about its purported investigation into Internal Revenue Service discrimination against conservative organizations. Two months later, the DOJ has shrugged it off.

Cruz was among many conservatives angered by the DOJ’s languor in pursuing the source of the IRS’s discriminatory targeting of Tea Party groups. The agency’s political usefulness to President Barack Obama during his second run for the White House, through its selective delaying of conservative groups’ applications for tax exempt status, has been reflected in the partisan DOJ’s conduct of the resulting investigation.

DOJ set Barbara Kay Bosserman, an Obama campaign donor, in charge of the investigation, assuring a conflict of interest that would favor the IRS’s (and therefore Obama’s) position. News that Bosserman would lead the investigation led Cruz and others to question whether the DOJ would undertake any discovery efforts at all.

“It strains credulity to say that, out of the over 114,000 employees of the Department of Justice, the only possible choice to lead the investigation was a major political donor to President Obama,” Cruz wrote in January. “This, on its face, is a significant conflict of interest.”

But DOJ indicated this month that Holder wasn’t interested in launching an objective inquiry into the matter.

“This investigation has been and will continue to be conducted by career prosecutors and law enforcement professionals in accordance with all department policies and procedures that are designed to ensure the integrity of an ongoing criminal investigation,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik responded. “The department remains committed to integrity and fairness in all of its law enforcement efforts, without regard to politics.”

Cruz shot back last week, characterizing the absurdity of the decision by invoking history.

“Just as nobody would trust John Mitchell to investigate Richard Nixon, nobody should trust a partisan Obama donor to investigate the IRS’s political targeting of President Obama’s enemies,” he said. “Sadly, ‘in the discretion of the Attorney General,’ Eric Holder has chosen to reject the bipartisan tradition of the Department of Justice of putting rule of law above political allegiance.”

Why Would Anyone Vote For Hillary? Because She’s A Girl, That’s Why

Among likely voters in the 2016 Presidential election, those who say they would vote for Hillary Clinton indicate their choice is based not on her qualifications or statesmanship, but on the fact she could make history as the first female U.S. President.

Being a girl trumped all other reasons those polled in a Gallup survey, released today, gave for favoring Clinton if she were to run for President.

From the summary:

Clearly Clinton’s “unique selling proposition” is that she would be the first woman president. Nearly one in five Americans mention this historic possibility as a positive, including 22% of women, 27% of 18- to 29-year-olds, and 30% of Democrats. A Gallup analysis of a similar question, asked of a representative Gallup Panel sample in 2007, also found that Americans were more likely to mention her being the first woman president than any other positive factor.

To Gallup’s open-ended poll question – “In your view, what would be the best or most positive thing about a Hillary Clinton presidency?” – 18 percent of respondents indicated the fact that she “would be [the] first woman president,” followed by nine percent who said they value her foreign policy expertise or other experience.

Predictably, the party-line breakdown reflects a very different set of responses. Among Democrats, 30 percent said electing America’s first female President formed the basis of their support, followed by 16 percent who attributed their support to Clinton’s experience.

Republicans responded to the same question in lower numbers across the board (because few Republicans have any inclination to vote for Clinton for any reason), but 11 percent said they’d vote for her just to accomplish a change in leadership, followed by seven percent who said electing a female President was the deciding factor.

Like Republicans, independent voters didn’t answer that poll question in great numbers, either. But 17 percent put the girl thing at the top of their list of reasons to vote for Clinton, while eight percent cited her experience.

Issa Challenges Treasury Department Over Obamacare Politics

Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, is calling on the Treasury Department to explain its Constitutional role in delaying Obamacare’s employer mandate. Issa alleges the Treasury Department is caught up in President Barack Obama’s political strategy to put off as many harmful Obamacare provisions as possible until after the 2014 Congressional midterm elections.

Issa and other Republican Congressmen wrote to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew Thursday, asking the Treasury Department to provide all of its correspondence with the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services over the employer delay, which the Obama Administration pushed forward in February.

The Treasury Department’s final rule included Obama’s proposed delay for companies that employ 50 to 99 employees, even though Congress has never amended the Affordable Care Act to accommodate a change to its standing stipulation that businesses must choose between offering healthcare coverage or paying a fine.

The only reason, said Issa, is that the White House is attempting to slow the rollout of the most damaging portions of Obamacare by instructing HHS and the Treasury Department to change the law through behind-the-scenes policy tweaks.

“Information obtained by the Committee suggests that last year’s decision to delay the employer mandate was made by the White House and not the Treasury Department,” Issa wrote. “We were surprised to learn that the White House Chief of Staff knew about the employer mandate delay prior to the head of the department implementing the program. This finding raises serious questions about whether the White House directed the delay of the employer mandate for political reasons.”

According to The Hill, which reported on the Oversight Committee’s challenge Thursday, one Treasury staffer admitted to the Committee that “he couldn’t recall” any conversations about whether the Treasury Department can legally implement changes to the law:

Issa cited testimony from Treasury Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Mark Mazur, who in an interview with Oversight said repeatedly he couldn’t recall if anyone at Treasury discussed whether the agency had the legal authority to delay the mandate.

“These admissions are stunning: there are more than two thousand attorneys in the Department of Treasury, and the official responsible for tax policy cannot recall a single one inquiring into the legal authority for the employer mandate delay,” the letter says. “Furthermore, Mr. Mazur’s responses are inconsistent with the Department’s claim that it relied upon an asserted authority under § 7805 of the Internal Revenue Code.

“While we believe that Obamacare, including its penalties on employers, is bad policy and should be repealed, it is clear that by law the Administration cannot act unilaterally to delay unpopular aspects of Obamacare until after the next November election.”

Study: Mandatory Minimum Wage Increase Will Lead To Layoffs, Hiring Freeze

Nearly 40 percent of U.S. employers will lay off workers to offset operational costs if President Barack Obama is successful in persuading Congress to raise the Federal mandatory minimum wage, according to the Nation’s largest private staffing service.

A study released Wednesday by Express Employment Professionals indicates 38 percent of businesses that hire minimum-wage workers will scale back their existing workforce if they have to accommodate a Federally mandated hike in the minimum wage. An additional 54 percent said they would cease or reduce hiring, while 65 percent said a minimum wage hike would force them to pass along the cost of the added payroll by raising the prices of the products and services they offer.

Employers that Pay Minimum WageAmong all businesses, including those that do not pay minimum wage, 19 percent responded that they would lay off some employees, while 39 percent said they would scale back hiring. And 51 percent said they would pass along the cost of doing business — even though they hire no minimum wage workers — by raising prices.

“When the minimum wage is increased, it puts pressure on all companies to increase pay for their entry level employees, even for companies that presently pay above the current minimum wage of $7.25/hour,” Express Employment Professionals explained in its survey summary. “In effect, entry level pay will rise to $10.10 an hour and workers at or slightly above that level will also seek pay raises since they previously made more than the minimum wage. Therefore, costs can increase even for companies that don’t currently pay the minimum wage.”

Obama has focused on a nationwide minimum wage increase as one part of his overall agenda to close the gap between the Nation’s wealthiest and poorest working residents. “Raising the minimum wage wouldn’t just raise their wages — its effect would lift wages for about 28 million Americans,” the President said in February. “It would lift millions of Americans out of poverty and help millions more work their way out of poverty without requiring a single dollar in new taxes or spending.”

He has also described a forced minimum wage increase as a catalyst for a “virtuous cycle” of government-led altruism that can be carried out in the private sector.

CFPB Hit With FOIA Lawsuit After Refusing To Disclose Cost Of Luxe Building Makeover

After eight months of trying to get an affirmative response from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) after filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the Washington Examiner has filed a lawsuit against the agency for refusing to release financial records relating to the lavish remodel of its Washington, D.C. offices.

The Examiner filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Wednesday with help from nonprofit government watchdog Judicial Watch. According to Examiner Executive Editor Mark Tapscott, the paper filed the suit because withholding information about how the public’s money is being spent is “exactly the kind of information the FOIA is meant to make available to taxpayers.”

Documents to explain why a government bureau is spending so lavishly on renovations to its headquarters are exactly the kind of information the FOIA is meant to make available to taxpayers.

…We shouldn’t have to go to court to get them, but it’s important to make the point that the American people have just as much of a right to know what CFPB is doing with their tax dollars as they do their local dogcatchers.

The renovation project at CFPB headquarters has more than doubled since it was first announced, ballooning from an estimate of $55 million to $139 million. The Examiner had filed a FOIA last July to request not only financial information relating to the project, but also design documents created by star project architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merill, in hopes of reconciling the scope of the renovation with its escalating cost.

Formed in 2011, the CFPB was created out of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, but the agency has been the target of conservative criticism almost from the beginning for its wide-ranging powers and aloofness from the citizens it was tasked with protecting.

“[F]rom its inception, the CFPB has been placed dangerously out of reach of the American people,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton Wednesday. “And it has acted with arrogant indifference to attempts to pierce its veil of obdurate secrecy. This lawsuit could help shed some much-needed light on what is otherwise an essentially covert operation with oppressive control over consumer finances.”

How Much Influence Did Phony, Convicted EPA Leader Have Over Environmental Policy?

Senate Republicans issued a report Wednesday targeting the influence convicted fraud John Beale, who stole $900,000 from the government and lied to EPA coworkers about having a fantasy dual life as a CIA agent, had over the agency’s far-ranging clean air regulations – regulations that affected millions of lives and billions of private-sector dollars.

The report alleges that Beale, the highest-paid employee working at the EPA before his staged retirement in 2011 (he continued receiving pay and benefits well into 2012), played a lead role in shaping government emissions standards during his stint as senior policy advisor in the Office of Air and Radiation.

Beale helped to write the Clean Air Act in 1990 and began directing the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone and particulate emissions policy efforts in 1995. In that role, he oversaw the writing of policy that, according to Senate Republicans, forced the closure of coal plants and put a lot of people out of work.

“Today’s report connects the dots between John Beale and the numerous air regulations that he’s responsible for, regulations with a lasting impact that are costing many Americans their jobs and hard-earned wages,” said Senator David Vitter (R-La.), the ranking Republican in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Despite having no scientific or policy credentials, Beale was recruited into the EPA in the 1980s by a friend from his college days, Robert Brenner, who worked at the agency.

“Rather than recruit someone with the requisite experience, Brenner sought out Beale in what appears to be a decision based solely on their personal friendship rather than any experience or credentials,” the Senate report observes.

Responding to the report, EPA officials defended the environmental policies written under Beale’s guidance. Beale “was just one of a large number of people from a number of disciplines across the Agency who provided input on those rules,” EPA spokeswoman Elisha Johnson told The Washington Times. “The standards followed the routine open, transparent and public process, providing opportunities for public and interagency review and comment prior to their finalization.”

Beale was sentenced to two years in prison in December of 2013. He admitted to investigators that he had, while working at the EPA, successfully taken off work for months at a time by relying on a fabricated story about his important work as a CIA operative to deceive his peers at the EPA. He announced his retirement in 2011 and was feted at a lavish yacht party, but somehow remained on the payroll months after he stopped coming to work.

McConnell Campaign Slammed For Using Cops To Control The Press

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was excoriated by the paper of record in his old Kentucky home Wednesday after his re-election campaign used the cops to obstruct a member of the media from covering a campaign press conference earlier in the week.

According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, staffers banned reporter Joe Sonka of the Louisville Eccentric Observer (LEO) , a local alt-weekly newspaper often critical of the Senator, from a McConnell campaign press conference Monday at a Louisville hotel.

Campaign staffers called the Louisville Metro Police on Sonka, after McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton told the press that Sonka had been banned from the event because at least one other reporter in attendance didn’t want him there.

In an editorial Wednesday, The Courier-Journal said that’s nonsense, and came to Sonka’s defense as fellow member of the press.

When Joe Sonka, LEO news editor, attempted to enter the room at Louisville’s Hilton Garden Inn with other reporters gathered for a news conference, an LMPD officer blocked his access, according to Courier-Journal political writer Joseph Gerth.

No one with the campaign offered any plausible answers why.

The most implausible came from Mr. McConnell. Asked at the press conference by reporters who managed to get in why Mr. Sonka was excluded, Mr. McConnell said he didn’t know, giving some credibility to critics who accuse him of being out of touch.

Jesse Benton, Mr. McConnell’s campaign manager, initially claimed Mr. Sonka was barred because other reporters objected to his presence.

But he refused to identify them and the notion of reporters having veto power over other reporters is absurd.

Mr. Benton changed his story for Politico, saying that Mr. Sonka simply wasn’t wanted at a “private event” where “select members of the media were invited to attend for an intimate question and answer session.”

For a rundown of Sonka’s previous encounters with the McConnell camp, check out Sonka’s own account of their rocky past. It’s clear from Sonka’s description that McConnell doesn’t like to be asked about Federal pork.

According to Sonka, Benton told him at one point he would indeed be allowed into the room where the conference was scheduled — on the unacceptable condition that he not ask any questions. When Sonka took a seat in the lobby outside the event, with the door to the press conference fully closed, he said an unidentified person evidently attached to the McConnell camp walked up to a nearby officer and whispered in the officer’s ear.

Then, “the officer told me that I couldn’t even sit alone in the empty lobby — with the door to the conference room closed — or else I would be arrested. I laughed and went 20 yards down the hall to another seat that they said was acceptable.”

With continued PR missteps like this one, or the gun stunt at the Conservative Political Action Conference, or the one in which McConnell threatened to punch conservatives “in the nose,” one wonders just how steep a hill Matt Bevin, McConnell’s challenger from the right, must climb to defeat him in Kentucky’s GOP primary this November.

“Perhaps McConnell’s terrible poll numbers are getting to the campaign?” wrote Sonka. “Despite spending millions of dollars on ads — along with pro-McConnell Super PACs spending millions as well — McConnell’s approvals have only gotten worse, with the Bluegrass Poll showing him with a 32 percent approval rating, 27 percent favorable rating and a 4 percent deficit to Alison Lundergan Grimes.”

The takeaway: If your bid to become the next Senate Majority Leader is in the tank, you can always shore up your image by handpicking the media reps who’ll be “covering” your campaign. And, if some muckraker shows up wanting to ask substantive questions — well, you can always call the cops.

Video: Texas Cops Struggle With High School Kid, Subdue Him, Then Snap His Arm

A fight broke out earlier this month at a Texas high school, and campus police responded at the scene. Video from the fracas looks pretty heated, although the brief clip makes it difficult to determine the role one unfortunate participant, in particular, may have played.

But whatever his role was, he got a rapid dose of reality, thanks to the actions of one violently zealous campus cop. It isn’t an easy video to watch if brute force and breaking bones make you squeamish.

Note: It appears that the YouTube version of this video has become unavailable since this story was first posted. We’re keeping the link active, just in case it reappears. In the meantime, here is another link to the KBMT News story, which also includes portions of the video.

Whatever the kid in this video was doing, it appears he wasn’t willing to simply comply with the police. The female officer attempting to detain him certainly has her hands full.

But then the cops get him on the ground. He’s apprehended. Cuff him and sort out the story.

Instead, campus police officer Steve Rivers of the Beaumont Independent School District drops down beside the unnamed juvenile to administer his own on-the-spot punishment. Moments later, as the young man’s left arm continues to climb further and further up his back in an unnatural contortion, there’s a snap and a scream. Rivers has broken the kid’s arm. The cops keep his head shoved into the ground.

Each person can decide for himself if the act appears accidental or intentional.

The incident took place March 7 at West Brook High School in Beaumont, and it was captured by a bystander holding a cellphone. The video was published to YouTube on March 17. Rivers has since been placed on administrative leave without pay, according to KBMT News, while the school district and police investigate.

James Carville’s Pep Talk For Mid-Term Democrats Sounds A Lot Like A Eulogy

Former Clinton strategist and Democratic pundit James Carville wrote a strange, self-deceiving piece of empty optimism for The Hill this week, calling on Democrats to look on the bright side of their political plight as the 2014 midterm elections approach.

The piece is, evidently, part of an ongoing relationship between Carville and the Washington, D.C. media outfit. And if the column is any indication of what he’ll bring to the table for the rest of the year, all we can say is…more, please.

Normally an incomparable firebrand, Carville defied his own nature by cherishing every sorry nugget of hypothetical political advantage he could dig up to explain why Democrats should be happy about their chances at the polls this year. Stepping far outside his character as an aggressive, no-apologies liberal who dismisses the opposition by relegating the other guys’ talking points to archaic irrelevancy, Carville found some pauper’s measure of rainy-day cheer in the blind faith that somehow, between now and November, voters’ attitude toward incumbent Democrats might just change for no reason.

The fundamental consideration is this: if the election were held in the current climate, it wouldn’t be hard to argue that the Democrats might have a bad, perhaps even awful, election ahead of them. However, the one thing we know is that it is not going to be held now — it is going to be held in November. This is a case where we don’t know if there is going to be a political climate change or not. Suffice to say, I am pulling for some political climate change.

This is like telling a cop who pulled you over for speeding that everyone else is speeding too. All it does is demonstrate just how busted you really are, while setting the cop up for the classic retort: “But you’re the one I pulled over.” Carville offers no substantive recommendation on how the Democrats can turn things around; he’s simply wishing in the wind. The Democrats are caught in a maelstrom of their own making, and their brightest point of optimism is that they have no idea which way the capricious winds will blow them next.

That’s not optimism; that’s a foxhole prayer to the God you thought you didn’t believe in.

Carville says something similar about the public’s negative reception of Obamacare before helpfully concluding that, by November, “[i]f we continue on this trajectory the climate might be more favorable.”

That level of strategizing is what guides people flying kites. It’s not what guides a superfunded political party planning to win a multi-tiered National election.

Summing up with a timely basketball analogy, Carville sends ‘em out with a bang:

“My advice is to assume improved conditions and to throw the lead pass.”

Yeah, Democrats – go ahead and take that advice.

Insurance Premiums Have Skyrocketed Under Obamacare

A major nationwide health insurance exchange has revealed that the Affordable Care Act is costing people, on average, a whole lot more than they would have paid for health insurance premiums in the pre-Obamacare market. And these kinds of increases aren’t reflective of incremental annual adjustments; they’re massive.

A cost report from online insurance exchange eHealthInsurance supplied to the Washington Examiner shows Obamacare has increased premiums by anywhere from 39 percent to 56 percent, depending on the customer’s situation.

Here’s a rundown of the cost summary eHealthInsurance provided the Examiner’s Patrick Bedard:

— Premiums have increased by 39 percent to 56 percent, compared to pre-Obamacare coverage. As of Feb. 24, the average premium for an individual health plan selected through eHealth without a subsidy was $274 per month, a 39 percent increase over the average individual premium for pre-Obamacare coverage.

— The most recent average premium for plans without a subsidy chosen by families was $663 per month, a 56 percent increase over the average family premium in Feb. 2013, which was $426 per month.

— For both individual and family applicants, bronze plans have been the most popular plan type chosen since the beginning of open enrollment.

— Shoppers chose less expensive plans as open enrollment progressed.

The company’s report comes just as the Obama Administration issued another meaningless update this week to its tabulation of the number of people who have “enrolled” in Obamacare.

The White House now puts the total at 5 million, although that proclamation — still short of the anticipated 7 million first-year goal — comes with the usual bevy of caveats, all unmentioned by the White House. Up to 20 percent probably haven’t paid for insurance and, therefore, aren’t enrolled in anything. And, of those who have enrolled (and paid), there’s no determination of how many already were covered under a separate health plan the previous year.

That means the number of previously uninsured people who are getting insurance for the first time, thanks to Obamacare, is still far lower than the Administration’s optimistic tally. But no one knows, yet, how small that number truly is.

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 copies.

Nearly Half Of Americans Think Press Exaggerates Urgency Of Global Warming

As the United Nations readies another urgent report that inevitably will call on governments to step up their spending and regulatory powers to thwart anthropogenic climate change, average Americans appear poised to embrace more global warming gloom and doom with a collective shrug.

Gallup reported Monday that 42 percent of Americans believe that news reporting portraying global warming as a serious issue is generally exaggerated, compared with 23 percent who believe the coverage is generally correct. An additional 33 percent believe the press gets it right most of the time.

The 42 percent isn’t even the highest proportion of media skeptics Gallup has recorded. In 2010, the polling service found 48 percent of Americans questioned the validity of the dire coverage global warming received in the mainstream press.

Meanwhile, the percentage of people believing that media reports underestimate the significance of global warming has fluctuated since 2000, but has trended downward, overall, from a high of 34 percent to a present low of 23 percent — the lowest point in the tracking poll’s 16-year history.

“Since 2011, attitudes about the perceived seriousness of global warming have been steady, but public opinion has changed notably since Gallup first asked the question in 1997,” the survey summary observes. “Fewer Americans now say the seriousness of global warming is generally correct; at the same time, the percentage finding the threat generally exaggerated has increased, and since 2009 has consistently been at or above 40%, a mark it never reached in the years before.”

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a global driver for government regulatory expansion to address climate-related issues, is due to release the latest in an ongoing series of reports on the impacts of anthropogenic climate change by the end of March. British newspaper The Independent previewed a draft copy, and the result is predictable: more dire warnings from the IPCC’s panel of scientists.

The IPCC report pins nearly every conceivable kind of forthcoming social and environmental problem on man-made global warming, including threats to sea-level zones, food supply, global gross domestic product, public health, regime stability and human security, and “cultural heritage” landscapes.

Obama White House Secretly Rewrote Freedom Of Information Act To Ensure Political Advantage; Damage Control

Apparently, President Barack Obama got away with a subtle, but fundamentally expansive, act of furtive self-protection in 2009 by positioning the White House, for the first time in the Nation’s history, to intercept any Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that involve not only the Executive Branch, but any other government activity that the Executive Branch could fabricate a reason for caring about.

According to a report issued today by government watchdog Cause of Action,  an unpublicized memorandum from Gregory Craig – who served at the time as White House Counsel – instructed all executive agencies to “consult with the White House Counsel’s Office on all document requests that may involve documents with White House equities… This need to consult with the White House arises with respect to all types of document requests, including Congressional committee requests, GAO requests, judicial subpoenas, and FOIA requests.”

As the Washington Examiner observed Tuesday, the Freedom of Information Act has, throughout its long history, never been modified to accommodate this new, expansive language. A proposal currently before Congress, if it becomes law, would actually amend the FOIA to favor the curious public, streamlining the application process and expediting responses from government agencies.

That’s a far cry from the secretive 2009 memorandum that effectively altered the law to benefit the sitting President.

Although the memo illegally (but successfully) broadened the White House’s prerogative in obstructing FOIA requests, the most damaging phrase is “White House equities.” Evidently, no one but the White House is gifted with the authority to interpret what it means.

“An instructive example of how ‘White House equities’ is construed – and ultimately abused – is the White House’s review of FOIA requests concerning the well-publicized conference spending scandal at the General Services Administration (GSA),” Cause of Action explains. “E-mails between GSA and the White House Counsel’s Office show that the Administration affirmatively sought to review document requests related to politically-sensitive issues.

“…All the more egregious is the fact that the President has used White House equities to reverse the FOIA process: FOIA is designed to inform the public on government behavior; White House equities allow the government to withhold information from the media, and therefore the public, by having media requests forwarded for review. This not only politicizes federal agencies, it impairs fundamental First Amendment liberties.”

That’s as sinister as it is illegal. Rewriting the Freedom of Information Act by any means other than Congressional amendment is illegal, and taking extraordinary, unConstitutional action to rewrite the law expressly to gain a political advantage – including the possible eradication or falsification of evidence of wrongdoing – is a wilful criminal subversion of public service.

High Taxes Increasingly A Reason To Flee The Garden State

A decade of sky-high personal income tax on wealthy residents, coupled with a series of regressive taxes that find other ways to bilk money out of the lower income brackets, threatens to propel an unprecedented rate of emigration out of New Jersey, as residents seek other places to shelter from State government more of the wealth they’ve earned.

That’s the finding of a recent study by Regent Atlantic, a New Jersey-based investment advising firm, which concludes that “the belief that New Jersey has some of the highest income taxes in the nation adds to the growing desire to move out of the state.”

Since 2004, New Jersey has taxed its wealthiest residents — those earning $500,000 or more per year — at a base rate of 8.97 percent, up from a previous base of 6.37 percent. A 2010 study by two Princeton sociologists maintained that the so-called “millionaire’s tax” instituted in 2004 had no detrimental effect on New Jersey’s wealthy population, a finding the Regent study does not explicitly dispute.

Those whom the State forces to pay the “millionaire’s tax” account for only 1 percent of New Jersey’s population — yet that small demographic pays 42 percent of all personal income tax statewide. And 39 percent of New Jersey’s State-collected tax revenues (as opposed to Federal apportionments, etc.) come from the personal income tax.

The new study finds that the income tax, along with onerous estate taxes, property taxes and multiple layers of fees and taxes that predominate at both the municipal and State levels, are driving wealth out of New Jersey as residents find ways to set down legal roots elsewhere — primarily in the less-choking tax environments of neighboring Pennsylvania, and Florida.

And the study cautions that New Jersey will reach a population tipping point, particularly among its wealthiest residents, if the Legislature doesn’t attempt to reform its tax and spending matrix across the board:

While tax migration may currently be more of a threat than an actual problem, it could represent a growing challenge for New Jersey’s future. Several professionals we interviewed believe it is already a major problem for the state. Sam Weiner, a tax attorney with Cole Schotz, says, “New Jersey income and estate taxes have become such a prominent issue that residency has become a prime topic in every other meeting that I have.” Michael Grohman, a tax attorney with Duane Morris, LLP, claims that his wealthy clients are “leaving [New Jersey] as fast as they can.”

…The belief that New Jersey has some of the highest income taxes in the nation adds to the growing desire to move out of the state. The combination of these factors could cause businesses and wealth to leave the state, with New Jersey’s already weak economy continuing to struggle.

Population trends won’t tell the whole story — the study makes no claim that high taxes alone are causing a net population loss. But there are some interesting observations to note about New Jersey’s population and demographic trends since 2000.

Between the 2000 and 2010 census, New Jersey experienced a net population gain of 4.5 percent, less than half the national average of 9.7 percent over the same period. That drop-off came after the State had gained 8.9 percent in the decade between 1990 and 2000. Since 2010, the State’s overall population growth has continued to wane, increasing only .7 percent between 2010 and 2013.

Since 2010, the rate of emigration out of New Jersey has accelerated faster than the influx of immigration — much of it illegal — into the State, and aging baby boomers comprise the fastest-growing native population demographic.