Camille Paglia takes aim at the Leftist ideology driving the college campus ‘rape culture’ myth

There are few intellectual liberals whose intentions and arguments align with those of constitutional conservatives and libertarians more closely than Camille Paglia. Unlike many of her nominally liberal academic peers, she does not obscure her reasoning, nor couch a concealed agenda behind red-herring buzzwords and talking points. Paglia tells you exactly what she thinks, and why.

Paglia weighed in this week on the Left’s phony war on the so-called college campus “rape culture,” obliterating the naïve, utopian Leftist thinking that perpetuates the false idea that social conditioning has the power to smooth out all the biological differences between men and women.

“The gender ideology dominating academe denies that sex differences are rooted in biology and sees them instead as malleable fictions that can be revised at will,” she wrote Monday at Time. “The assumption is that complaints and protests, enforced by sympathetic campus bureaucrats and government regulators, can and will fundamentally alter all men.”

Guess what? Nature — and human nature, which the Left tends to reject — doesn’t harbor such idealism:

Current educational codes, tracking liberal-Left, are perpetuating illusions about sex and gender. The basic Leftist premise, descending from Marxism, is that all problems in human life stem from an unjust society and that corrections and fine-tunings of that social mechanism will eventually bring utopia. Progressives have unquestioned faith in the perfectibility of mankind.

The horrors and atrocities of history have been edited out of primary and secondary education except where they can be blamed on racism, sexism, and imperialism — toxins embedded in oppressive outside structures that must be smashed and remade. But the real problem resides in human nature, which religion as well as great art sees as eternally torn by a war between the forces of darkness and light.

The bottom line is a piece of advice that will go unheeded: “Colleges should stick to academics and stop their infantilizing supervision of students’ dating lives, an authoritarian intrusion that borders on violation of civil liberties.”

Read Paglia’s full piece at Time.

Los Angeles: Residents can’t waste water, but the government can

There’s a drought on in Southern California, and Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has already restricted citizens’ water usage with an emergency measure that authorizes $500 per-day fines for anyone caught “wasting” water. Cities, counties and water utilities also have their own restrictions in place.

That’s part of the reason why this short, silent video caught the attention of the Los Angeles Times.

If you don’t quite get the message at first, read the name on the side of the building.

“As officials crack down on homeowners who waste water, more drought-conscious Californians are using social media to broadcast video of what appear to be government agencies breaking their own water-use rules: sprinklers running at city parks in the middle of the day, public workers hosing grass until it becomes a muddy mess,” the Times reported Monday.

“Everybody has to follow the same rules. But there are special cases on some of those rules both with the state ordinance and with ours,” Penny Falcon, water conservation policy manager for the L.A. Department of Water and Power, told the paper.

So … does “everybody” mean “people,” and “special cases” mean “government?” We’re confused.

Connecticut governor’s Sandy Hook panel recommends new restrictions on home schooling

Connecticut parents who’ve chosen to home-school their children would be faced with a new layer of bureaucracy and state regulation, if a new legislative proposal from the governor’s Sandy Hook Advisory Commission succeeds.

The Connecticut Post reported last week that the commission has proposed new regulations for home-schooling parents in a draft proposal of its forthcoming final report on the Newtown school shootings for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

The new home-school regulations would apply specifically to parents of children who have emotional, social or behavioral problems. And they would require parents, for the first time, to submit “individualized education plans approved by the special education director of the local public school district.”

For commissioners on the Sandy Hook panel, the link between the home-schooling of special-needs students and mass murder is provided by Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old at the center of the December 2012 murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Lanza was home-schooled by his mother, who was also murdered in her home on the same day that 26 students and school employees were shot and killed.

“Given the individuals involved in the tragedy that formed the basis of this commission, I think we have thought this issue out at some length and we believe it is very germane and that the actual facts leading up to this incident support the notion of the risk in not addressing social and emotional learning needs of children who may have significant needs in that area who are home-schooled,” said commission member Harold I. Schwartz.

The Washington Post’s Eugene Volokh challenged that leap in logic, noting, for starters, that Lanza was home-schooled only briefly, from age 16 until he obtained his GED.

“I’m just skeptical that the state is going to be terribly good at second-guessing home-schooling parents’ judgment with regard to kids with emotional, social, and behavioral problems (a group that is of course hard for parents to help, but that is hard for state authorities to help, too),” wrote Volokh.

“And that’s especially so if the regulatory scheme is driven by concerns about the tiny, tiny fraction of children whose problems lead them to become mass murderers — a psychological process that, to my knowledge, psychiatry (unsurprisingly) doesn’t really fully understand.”

If this proposal becomes law, it will serve as yet another example of the government’s proclivity to counter extreme, exceptional acts with blanket legislationlegislation that needlessly encumbers many people, all of whom were getting by just fine without shouldering the burden that paternalistic government altruism typically places on law-abiding citizens.

You mean the Swiss get to vote on nationalized health insurance, but we don’t?

On Sunday, voters in Switzerland rejected a referendum proposal to convert their country’s private-sector health insurance system to one managed by the state.

Of course they’d reject a crazy idea like that. But wait a minute: where was our referendum?

Yes, we’re being facetious — kind of. The U.S. is a constitutional republic, and there’s no mechanism in our charter that provides for a nationwide ballot measure. There’s a reason why true democratic systems are often panned as tyrannies of the majority.

In Switzerland, roughly 62 percent voted against state-run healthcare, a margin that’s oddly close to the percentage of Americans who now oppose Obamacare, according to a recent CNN tracking poll. The overwhelming Swiss opposition to a state-managed system rebuffed calls from the political left to place government controls on the cost of healthcare.

“Going public would have been a major shift for a country whose health system is often hailed abroad as a paragon of efficiency, but is a growing source of frustration at home because of soaring costs,” reported Agence France-Presse.

Guess you can’t have your cake and eat it too. But quality healthcare makes for some mighty nice cake.

Switzerland already has a mandate that requires everyone to obtain health insurance, but Swiss residents also enjoy an abundance of private-sector choices all competing for their business. “The current system, used as a model for US President Barack Obama’s controversial healthcare reform, requires that every resident in the wealthy nation of eight million hold basic health insurance and offers freedom of choice among the 61 companies competing for customers,” AFO wrote.

But 61 private-sector choices is a far cry from the mishmash of private insurers and limited number of Obamacare options available in each of the U.S. states — many of which are gripped by virtual insurer monopolies.

Get rich by begging: the Democratic funding strategy

Your mileage may vary; but if you’re a resourceful beggar, it’s apparently possible to eke out a middle-class living by hitting the streets and pleading desperately for strangers to give you money.

Taking a cue from the same playbook, Democratic fundraising groups are outgaining their Republican adversaries this election cycle — in part thanks to their strategy of pretending to be poor.

“Democrats love to cast Republicans as the party of big money, beholden to the out-of-touch billionaires bankrolling their campaigns,” POLITICO wrote last week.

“But new numbers tell a very different story — one in which Democrats are actually raising more big money than their adversaries.”

They’re evidently succeeding by appealing to potential donors’ sense of pity. The guy who runs conservative aggregator website Weasel Zippers posted screenshots Monday of the Democratic fundraising emails he’s been receiving, ostensibly from Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

Their subject lines says things like “I’m begging you,” “I’m pleading (again),” “we keep emailing” and we’re BEGGING.”

“Dems are raking in campaign cash and yet they still send these shameless and dishonest emails,” Weasel Zippers complained.

The recent spate of panhandling emails coincides with a surge in the amount of money Democrats have raised. But nickel-and-diming the Democratic grassroots isn’t the only reason for that surge.

“The analysis shows the fundraising edge widening in August, when the Democratic groups pulled in more than twice as much as their GOP counterparts — $51 million to $21 million,” POLITICO observed.

“[E]ven as Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are working methodically to turn conservative megadonors like the big-giving conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch into the boogeymen of 2014, the party itself is increasingly relying on its deepest pockets as the best chance of staving off a midterm wipeout forecast by oddsmakers,” POLTICO observed.

Department of Defense begins allowing illegal aliens to join the military

The U.S. Department of Defense revealed a policy change Thursday that will open the path to a military career for illegal aliens who came to the U.S. with their parents before the potential recruits reached 16 years of age.

Military Times reported Thursday that the DoD’s Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) policy will “be open to immigrants without a proper visa if they came to the U.S. with their parents before age 16. More specifically, they must be approved under a 2012 Obama administration policy known as Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, or DACA.”

The change appears to be motivated by the Obama administration’s multipronged approach to easing enforcement and legal restrictions that are intended to present barriers to illegal immigration:

The new DoD policy may be the first phase of a broader governmentwide effort to ease pressure on immigrants and create new paths to citizenship. President Obama, frustrated with the failure of Congress to pass any substantial immigration reform, has vowed to aggressively use his presidential authority to change the way immigration policies are carried out.

The report also notes that somewhere between 1.2 million to 2.1 million children under 16 living illegally in the U.S. may, in theory, be eligible for enlistment under MAVNI guidelines. Still, the DoD expects only a small number of that pool to possess “the linguistic skills” that would qualify them for available military roles that require multilingual recruits.

If you’re the kind of person who appreciates some perspective; some context, there’s this: Army Times reported in May that the Army’s drawdown plans call for 30,000 soldiers to be “removed from the active rolls.”

“The Army’s drawdown strategy features a combination of reduced recruiting and re-enlistment missions, early outs for short-timers who are headed to college or are in units scheduled for inactivation, and strict enforcement of disciplinary and performance standards.” Army Times wrote.

Report: McCain would face an uphill battle to keep Senate seat if he runs again in 2016

One wonders if Vegas has opened a book on Senator John McCain’s odds of winning a sixth Senate term.

The speculation machine around whether McCain (R-Ariz.), now 78, will run again — and whether he’d succeed — has slowly gained momentum over the past year. But after various Arizona Republican groups have censured and castigated McCain for drifting too close to the political center, pundits are expressing real incredulity about his chances against more conservative opposition in the 2016 primary.

“The longtime Republican senator is expected to face a tougher challenger and would be a major target for Tea Party groups, given his support for a Senate immigration bill granting a path to citizenship for workers living in the U.S. illegally,” The Hill observed Thursday.

Indeed, it’s not clear where the votes to keep McCain in office will come from — especially if the primary field includes viable candidates who can attack McCain from the ideological right. A poll released by the Citizens United Political Victory Fund in April found McCain badly trailing not only potential conservative candidates whose names were included in the poll, but even a hypothetical nameless candidate — in other words, anybody else. 

A Public Policy Polling Institute survey a month earlier revealed similar results. And McCain was formally censured by the Arizona Republican Party in January — only two weeks after being censured by his hometown GOP base: the Maricopa County Republican Party.

The big advantage McCain will likely have, should he decide to run in 2016, is money. “They’d [McCain’s GOP challengers] have to come out with a very credible candidate to compete with him, someone who could raise a lot of campaign funds,” University of Arizona Political Science professor Barbara Norrander told The Hill.

Report: Obama administration pays WebMD to propagandize Obamacare

WebMD is the Wikipedia of general health information for the English-speaking world. That’s a rough comparison — WebMD also represents itself as an advocate for patients and a current events tracker for health issues. But it nevertheless collects more site visits than any other U.S. health information resource.

WebMD is a corporation; there’s nothing governmental or para-governmental about it. So it must have made perfect sense for the Obama administration to finger WebMD as the ideal proxy propaganda machine to promote the launch of Obamacare.

The Washington Free Beacon reported Thursday that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) continues to pay WebMD for helping to carry out the “Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Health Care Priorities Educational Initiative” as part of a contract that extends through September of 2015.

According to the Free Beacon, the federal government has paid WebMD almost $14 million since contracting with the site in 2011 to show the public the good side of Obamacare. News of that agreement was made public last fall; but at the time, the contract was valued at only $4.8 million.

Crucial to the government’s enlistment of WebMD is its faith in the site as an “official” source of reliable health information. The Free Beacon quotes from the contract agreement:

“The goal of this task order is to encourage providers and consumers to turn to official information sources regarding the ACA and to create an accurate perception of the ACA among health care providers and consumers,” the document said.

Incredibly, WebMD’s entire section on “Health Care Reform” was not funded via the HHS contract, according to WebMD’s Michael Heinley.

“It is first important to point out that no government agency, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Health & Human Services (HHS) or any other third party funded the creation of WebMD’s editorial content (videos or otherwise) that appears in the WebMD Health Care Reform Center,” he told the Free Beacon. “The WebMD Health Care Reform Center provides original, independent editorial content produced by WebMD.”

So the contract is paying WebMD to write about every topic except Obamacare? Sounds like a glitch.

Court denies DOJ request to keep Fast and Furious list hidden…Two days later, Holder heads for the door

Just two days before NPR reported that Attorney General Eric Holder will resign from his job, a U.S. District Judge denied a request by Holder’s Department of Justice to keep secret a listing of documents sought by plaintiffs in a lawsuit over the Operation Fast and Furious (OFF) scandal.

Judicial Watch, which is suing to obtain OFF-related documents the DOJ has refused to release in spite of a 2012 Freedom of Information Act request for the information, touted the ruling on its website, quoting U.S. District Judge John D. Bates, who appeared unconvinced by the DOJ’s argument that it needed more time to produce the OFF list:

Judicial Watch announced today that on September 23, 2014, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that by October 22, the Department of Justice (DOJ) must submit a “Vaughn index” listing Fast and Furious materials Judicial Watch sought in its June 2012 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and subsequent September 2012 FOIA lawsuit (Judicial Watch v. Department of Justice (No. 1:12-cv-01510)). A Vaughn index must: (1) identify each document withheld; (2) state the statutory exemption claimed; and (3) explain how disclosure would damage the interests protected by the claimed exemption.

Bates has given the DOJ until October 22 to cough up the list. Here are his reasons for ending the DOJ stonewall:

The Department first points to Judge [Amy Berman] Jackson’s November 3 deadline in House Committee [lawsuit for DOJ Fast and Furious documents] … But this misreads Judge Jackson’s opinion. As that court reasoned, ‘[s]ince the deadline in Judicial Watch was set first, it makes sense for defendant to complete that effort and then turn his attention to the list that is due in this case’ … This rationale counsels against dramatically shifting the goalposts in this case.

The government argues next that the sheer volume of documents involved in this case requires additional time to produce a Vaughn index, and it relies on the declaration testimony of Allison Stanton, a Director of E-Discovery at the Department of Justice, to substantiate this claim … She produced her declaration as part of the House Committee case, and her testimony describes the Department’s difficulties in responding to the order in that case … Nowhere does Stanton mention the present FOIA litigation or this case’s (much less onerous) Vaughn index requirement.

Finally, the government argues that it must devote significant numbers of attorneys to this matter if it hopes to comply with the current Vaughn index deadline … But the Department has known about its Vaughn index obligations since July 18, 2014 … At best, it means the Department has been slow to react to this Court’s previous Order. At worst, it means the Department has ignored that Order until now.

In light of Tuesday’s ruling, pundits have begun questioning the timing of Holder’s announced departure.

“The timing is interesting,” wrote Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds. “Does Obama think he can get a successor confirmed in the lame-duck session? Is he confident that Dems will still control the Senate next year? Or are the reasons for Holder’s departure sufficiently strong that those considerations don’t matter?”

One piece of speculation from the bully pulpit of the political right seems to indicate the latter: Rush Limbaugh thinks Obama may be preening Holder for a Supreme Court nomination.

Can you nominate someone who’s still in contempt of Congress? If so, that would make for some interesting confirmation hearings.

National Guard recruiter hands out T-shirts at school; school bans shirts because GUNS

Is there an end to these stories? A New York public school has banned the state National Guard from handing out T-shirts during its recruitment visits. The kids can’t wear them to school (who cares?) because the shirts all have gun graphics.

A Guard recruiter visited Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk (RCS) High School last Friday, but was stopped from giving away the shirts after school administrators saw that the garments featured a soldier holding a rifle.

From the Times Union of Albany, N.Y.:

“They’re not allowed to wear anything that would have a weapon on it,” said district Interim Superintendent Alan McCartney, referring to the student dress code. “Our main purpose is education. Wearing pictures of weapons brings to mind those things in our society that are not pertinent to education.”

Because civics and education don’t mix. Riiiight. Soldiers who’ve agreed to kill and die to protect our national interests don’t really carry guns, do they?

At any rate, the school didn’t mess around about banning the shirts. “We did it right on the spot,” said National Guard spokesman Col. Richard Goldenberg of the Guard’s response to officials’ request. The Guard has said it will continue to recruit at the school, but will choose less offensive shirts in its future efforts there.

School administrators freaking out over all things military seems to be a thing at the moment. Just two weeks ago, a Michigan public school refused entry to a parent in uniform who’d come to the campus to speak with a guidance counselor about his daughter’s class schedule.

The reason? The uniformed Army officer’s appearance “might offend another student.”




Obama White House spins press pool reports before they circulate among reporters

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the Obama administration has successfully influenced the content of daily White House Press Pool reports before their authors — press pool reporters — release them for use in newsrooms throughout the country.

Reportedly, the administration doesn’t demand changes as a matter of course. But it does demand them at times. Worse, the White House does demand to read everything the press pool reporters write — which it does without fail.

“When Anita Kumar of the McClatchy newspaper chain covered Obama’s appearance on ‘The Tonight Show’ for the press pool last year, she wrote a detailed account of the taped program,” reported The Post. “…White House press staffers objected to the length of her file, saying it violated an agreement with the program’s producers to limit advance publicity. They told Kumar to pare down her account before they would distribute it.”

The fact that such reports must essentially pass a censorship test — however mild — was unsettling for Kumar.

“The worry is that when you send in a pool report, the White House is reading it and approving it,” she told The Post.

The demands are handled by press aides, who pressure pool reporters with the threat of denying access, as well as outright demands (what are the consequences for refusing?) that entire stories cannot be released, unless the offending content is removed.

The press pool is a conduit for the wider world of news reporting, with pool reporters serving as proxies for the hundreds of other reporters who, logistically, can’t all surround the president with questions at once. The press pool writes up usable summaries of a day’s press conference, and its members send the stories back to their newsrooms. That content then becomes primary source material for political reporting of all types.

The Obama administration is already under tremendous criticism from mainstream media outlets. The Associated Press last week outlined eight ways the White House blocks information from the press, with the AP’s D.C. bureau chief even accusing the administration of “trying to control the information that state and local officials can give out.”

The EPA is still paying the guy who watched tons of porn on his government computer — and got caught in the act

Remember the story about the senior-level EPA employee who got caught by an Inspector General in the act of downloading porn at his work desk? He’d been doing it for years, for hours each day — on the clock.

He hasn’t been fired. He’s still getting paid. He reportedly makes $120,000 per year. The EPA has him on administrative leave while the Office of the Inspector General continues its investigation.

A recent report by Environment & Energy revealed plenty of anger from elected officials over the EPA’s inaction. House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) called the news “simply unacceptable.”

“If this is not a case for the EPA to take someone off the payroll, which the agency’s Inspector General uncovered months ago, then what is?” Issa said. “It is simply unacceptable that this individual would continue to receive compensation courtesy of the American taxpayer.”

The original IG report, released in May, disclosed the investigators’ findings in detail. Allan Williams, Deputy Inspector General for Investigations at the EPA, filled in the Oversight Committee at a May hearing:

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

That revelation was only one finding in a larger IG report that revealed a cavalcade of other employee abuses, including employees getting paid while not coming to work and selling weight-loss products while on the job.

Throwing too much food away is about to be against the law in Seattle

Making public inspectors out of garbage men, the Seattle City Council has approved a new trash ordinance that authorizes sanitation workers to peruse residents’ waste bins for signs that people are throwing too much food away.

Go over the limit — 10 percent of all your trash — and you could face a whopping $1 fine for each occurrence. The ordinance allows trash collectors to document the offenses as they’re out running their daily routes, according to The Seattle Times:

Under the new rules, collectors can take a cursory look each time they dump trash into a garbage truck.

If they see compostable items make up 10 percent or more of the trash, they’ll enter the violation into a computer system their trucks already carry, and will leave a ticket on the garbage bin that says to expect a $1 fine on the next garbage bill.

Another instance of government going the extra mile to help us all. Here’s some more reading on how that’s working out for everyone.

The report quotes the city utilities director, who claims the ordinance isn’t an attempt to raise revenue. Rather, he suggests, it’s intended to encourage people to modify their behavior by negatively reinforcing indiscriminate food disposal.

“The point isn’t to raise revenue,” Seattle Public Utilities director Tim Croll said. “We care more about reminding people to separate their materials.”

There’s always something creepy about people in government, or para-governmental agencies, saying “we” when describing their relationship with the public. It’s a little creepier when they say, “we care.”

If they care enough, they may decide that $1 just isn’t sufficiently punitive to effect the change they’re seeking.

The new law kicks in next July.

Ben Carson inches closer to 2016 presidential run

Image Credit: Sam Rolley

Ben Carson, the retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon whose stock among some conservatives has risen since his famous 2013 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, appears to be growing less coy about his will to seek a 2016 presidential nomination — presumably as a Republican.

Carson appeared Monday on the Hugh Hewitt radio program, telling the conservative host “the likelihood is strong” that he would seek the nomination — unless, that is, the upcoming midterm elections convince him that voters are more interested in the status quo.

Here’s a portion of the transcript:

HH: Now let me finish by going back to those debates. You said there’s a very good chance you’re going to run for president and be in those debates. What is the outside date for you making that formal? Do you think you have to do that in December or January?

BC: I think certainly before May of next year.

HH: That’s pretty late, isn’t it, Dr. Carson?

BC: No, no. I have a lot of consultants. One of the things I’ve learned is you need to talk to a lot of people. The Bible says in the multitude of consulars is safety, and you look at historical things, and you make sure you have all your I’s dotted and your T’s crossed, and we’re doing that.

HH: But you’re also a very straight shooter. And as of right now, you fully expect to be in this hunt and to be on those stages?

BC: Unless the American people indicate in November that they like big government intervention in every part of their lives, I think the likelihood is strong.

HH: And of that, who’s going to be the base Ben Carson primary voter? Who is that individual?

BC: I hope it’s going to be that individual who loves America, who understands that we should place the Constitution on the top shelf, that we should not pick and choose who the winners and losers are in our society, and that we shouldn’t pick and choose which laws we want to enforce, and those people who understand that the person who has the most to do with what happens to you in life is you.

Carson has stated in the past that he doesn’t consider himself a member of a political party, but his views have more closely aligned with those held by base conservatives on most issues (although strong 2nd Amendment supporters have questioned some of his views on the right to bear arms). He was an invited speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), both in 2013 and 2014, and has since been courted by conservative media to share his beliefs about correcting a number of Obama-era policies.

Carson has attributed his continued reticence about seeking the presidential nomination to gauging the will of the people, but he seemed to qualify his former hesitation with a definite statement of intent Monday.

“I want to make sure that it’s clearly something my fellow Americans want me to do,” he told Hewitt. “And I’m also waiting to see what the results are in November, because if the people indicate that they truly do want a nation that is for, of and by the people, then I, along with I hope many other people, would be willing to give it everything we possibly have.”

Carson’s grass-roots popularity has resulted in a strong small-donor campaign to fund the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee PAC. We reported on that organization’s efforts in March; at the time, that PAC had raised more money than a similar grass-roots effort to fund a Hillary Clinton presidential run.

Here’s Carson at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast:


Internet sales tax isn’t dead; it’s just napping until the midterm election is over

Add the debate over the much-discussed Internet sales tax to the list of topics Congress is afraid to touch until after the midterm election has passed.

But that doesn’t mean the idea is dead. Far from it. It’s just too controversial and unpopular to talk about until incumbents have assured themselves they’ll still be in the driver’s seat after November.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reportedly has his sights set on taking up legislation to unleash the states’ power to tax Internet sales as soon as Congress reconvenes after the midterms. The Hill reported Tuesday that Reid intends to bring up the Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA) — a measure he says is “long, long overdue” — when the lame-duck session of the 113th Congress meets this fall to usher president Obama out the door.

You’d think that with a name like the “Marketplace Fairness Act” the law might seek to set limits on taxation. Of course, it’s the opposite. The bill would free states to assess sales tax on transactions between in-state residents and out-of-state retailers. It’s aimed squarely at large online storefronts like Amazon.

Reid may be gung ho on the MFA, but his House counterpart, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), has said he opposes the current bill. According to The Hill, even some congressional Democrats are against it:

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) warned his colleagues last week that anyone trying to combine the two bills was “holding the Internet economy hostage.”

“Anyone who votes for passing MFA alongside ITFA is voting to repeal the Internet Tax Freedom Act,” he said.

Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with devising a way to treat brick-and-mortar retailers and online sellers equally. But the issue is complex.

Online stores already must incorporate sales taxes into transactions initiated in the states where they’re physically located. The loudest advocates for the MFA bill aren’t mom-and-pop operations; they’re companies that operate massive national brick-and-mortar retail networks, like Walmart. And Walmart has an online storefront of its own — a storefront whose sales tax interests align with those of other online retailers.

Heck, five states don’t even have a state sales tax. 

Daily Read: When government expands, nothing gets done

This is a good one. Let’s slam the “there oughtta be a law” mentality for a second.

Government’s reaction to just about every new problem — or “problem” — is to legislate, or to tack on some new stricture to a standing policy.

From county revenue offices to the IRS; from rural water departments to the EPA; from city councils to state legislatures to Congress, every fresh injury brings out advocates — sometimes only one or two advocates — pleading loudly, sincerely, for tighter policies; for more law.

Government has its own self-created version of this: It identifies a problem with itself and goes hunting for a counterproductive solution. Often, government officials find themselves wishing to secure a guaranteed revenue supplement by wresting funds from some administrative procedure (think bumping the cost of a business license or instituting a small fee to obtain a public record). Until the cost of doing business or being a resident of a place governed in such fashion hits its tipping point, things hum along.

Municipalities need to do something about their eyesores, so a city will amend its ordinance on derelict properties to start down a path that can result in all-out seizure. Worse, it will use almost any law against any citizen to seize civil assets — check out what’s going on in Philadelphia. There once was no law to justify such things. But law evolves — if people allow it.

More often, though, the suffocating evolution of law occurs because the dumb demand it. Government expands because of the squeaky wheel. When someone’s voice gets loud enough, government descends. It’s great for government when it has a say in setting the narrative. Lately, that’s been the rule rather than the exception. Make it about race, about gender, about the kids. Get the TV folks talking.

Local TV news abounds with next door neighbors and scene gawkers who offer fundamentally stupid observations about tragedy or crime. They often include maudlin, wry appeals to the powers that be to do something. The national media does exactly the same thing, but with a varnish of makeup, wardrobe and a functionally literate vocabulary.

Well, this is what ultimately happens when the government does something, over and over and over again:

The Veterans Affairs scandal of falsified waiting lists is the latest of a never-ending stream of government ineptitude. Every season brings a new headline of failures: the botched roll-out of Obamacare involved 55 uncoordinated IT vendors; a White House report in February found that barely 3 percent of the $800 billion stimulus plan went to rebuild transportation infrastructure; and a March Washington Post report describes how federal pensions are processed by hand in a deep cave in Pennsylvania.

That’s how Philip K. Howard begins his piece in The Atlantic this week about the hell where government’s many roads of good intention invariably converge.

“The reflexive reaction is to demand detailed laws and rules to make sure things don’t go wrong again,” he continues. “But shackling public choices with ironclad rules, ironically, is a main cause of the problems. Dictating correctness in advance supplants the one factor that is indispensable to all successful endeavors — human responsibility.”

What is this guy — a libertarian?

Howard goes on to indict the risible idea that government can, or should, build an anticipation of every eventuality and exception into new laws, policies and programs. We have FEMA floodplain zone ratings that anticipate a 100-year flood, and insurance companies use those ratings to arrive at their coverage costs. But why stop at 100 years?

Modern government is organized on “clear law,” the false premise that by making laws detailed enough to take in all possible circumstances, we can avoid human error. And so over the last few decades, law has gotten ever more granular. But all that regulatory detail, like sediment in a harbor, makes it hard to get anywhere. The 1956 Interstate Highway Act was 29 pages and succeeded in getting 41,000 miles of roads built by 1970. The 2012 transportation bill was 584 pages, and years will pass before workers can start fixing many of those same roads. Health-care regulators have devised 140,000 reimbursement categories for Medicare—including 12 categories for bee stings and 21 categories for “spacecraft accidents.” This is the tip of a bureaucratic iceberg — administration consumes 30 percent of health-care costs.

And again, with the contrast dialed way up:

Until recent decades, law based on principles was the structure of most public law. The Constitution is 10 pages long and provides basic precepts — say, the Fourth Amendment prohibition on “unreasonable searches and seizures” — without trying to define every situation. The recent Volcker Rule regulating proprietary trading, by contrast, is 950 pages, and, in the words of one banker, is “incoherent any way you look at it.”

There’s not a great exhortation or bullet-point list of recommendations at the end of this article, an omission which surely puts the author at risk of being branded one of those conservative complainers (cough *Tea Party* cough) who doesn’t know how to fix anything — but damn well knows what’s broken.

But hold up. We all know what we want from government, and it’s not unattainable. We don’t want perfection, or some assurance that absolutely everything will be okay because the law is constantly evolving in an emergent, altruistic mission to ensure that every thorny situation will be covered.

We just want less government. We need less government. People need to breathe for themselves.

Call that a recommendation; a workable solution to the problem of a fix-it-to-death political culture. It’s a suggestion that requires no elaboration. And that’s nine-tenths of the reason why most politicians won’t give it the time of day.

Read Philip K. Howard’s full piece for The Atlantic here.

FBI colludes with local police to hide cellphone snooping devices from the public

Local police agencies have been able to gain use of cellphone tracking devices by agreeing with the FBI not to disclose the fact that they’re using them, according to a recently released, heavily redacted document made public last week.

The Tacoma, Washington, police department released a six-page “unclassified” agreement between the FBI and the Tacoma police dating from January 2013. Four pages are completely blacked out, leaving only a small paragraph written by FBI special agent Laura M. Laughlin.

The Harris Corporation sells the devices, called StingRays, here in the United States. StingRays deceive cellphones into picking up the signal the StingRays are sending out by parroting a nearby cellular tower. That accomplished, individuals’ cellphones then begin sending the StingRay their location data, along with pretty much every other piece of metadata that is normally transmitted to a carrier’s tower.

Laughlin laid out the arrangement between the FBI and the local cops:

We have been advised by Harris Corporation of the Tacoma Police Department’s request for acquisition of certain wireless collection equipment/technology manufactured by Harris Corporation. Consistent with the conditions on the equipment authorization granted to Harris Corporation by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), state and local law enforcement agencies must coordinate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to complete this non-disclosure agreement prior to the acquisition and use of the equipment/technology authorized by the FCC authorization.

And that’s all we get.

But it admits that the FBI is using the devices, that it is allowing local cops to piggyback off their agreement with the U.S. distributor of those devices (Harris Corp.) and that the Feds are using non-disclosure agreements to ensure the company (not the public) gets due diligence from all the law enforcement agencies involved.

“Many [local police departments] chose to read the restrictive non-disclosure agreements Harris includes as meaning they should withhold this information from local courts — rather than simply seal the documents or redact them,” wrote TechDirt’s Tim Cushing on Tuesday.

The Department of Justice maintains that as long as the devices aren’t picking up actual conversations, the cops don’t need a warrant to scoop up cellphone data.

“[R]esponding to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) and the First Amendment Coalition, the Justice Department argued that no warrant was needed to use StingRay technology,” wrote the Centre for Research on Globalization last year.

The FBI, which allegedly plays on different turf than the Department of Justice, agrees that warrants aren’t necessary for federal officers to scoop up metadata — or for local police departments to do the same.

The Wikipedia entry on the StingRay phone tracker is pretty informative, if you’re interested in learning more.

Resurrecting the Hillary Clinton-Saul Alinsky speculation machine

The right side of the political Internet is all aflutter over a story in The Washington Free Beacon connecting Hillary Clinton, circa the late 1960s, with infamous socialist fomenter Saul Alinsky. The Beacon offers “previously unpublished correspondence” between the two as a gateway to fresh insights about Clinton’s evolving political philosophy before she became somebody.

The Clinton-Alinsky letters reportedly demonstrate Hillary’s sympathy for Alinsky’s brand of social agitation, particularly since she appears to have initiated their ongoing dialog. While interning at a Berkeley, Calif. law firm in 1971, Clinton fired off this playful/serious missive:

“Dear Saul,” she began. “When is that new book [Rules for Radicals] coming out—or has it come and I somehow missed the fulfillment of Revelation?”

“I have just had my one-thousandth conversation about Reveille [for Radicals] and need some new material to throw at people,” she added, a reference to Alinsky’s 1946 book on his theories of community organizing.

Clinton also buttered Alinsky up by professing her “belief in and zest for organizing” remained strong even after finishing law school and following a more mainstream career track.

This next passage has a ring of starry-eyed religious fervor – something we’ve come to expect in the language of Islamist zealots and theocrats on social media:

The more I’ve seen of places like Yale Law School and the people who haunt them, the more convinced I am that we have the serious business and joy of much work ahead—if the commitment to a free and open society is ever going to mean more than eloquence and frustration.

So did Alinsky respond? Not so much. His secretary did though, implying that Alinsky followed and admired his young would-be disciple. “Since I know [Alinsky’s] feelings about you I took the liberty of opening your letter because I didn’t want something urgent to wait for two weeks,” Georgia Harper, Alinsky’s secretary, wrote Clinton.

All this is just an evolution of a protracted speculation about the link between Clinton and Alinsky – a line of thinking dating back at least as far as the presidency of Bill Clinton. As The Beacon story observes, Wellesley College honored the Clintons’ request to keep Hillary’s thesis discussing Alinsky’s tactics under wraps until 2001.

But just because it’s a small development doesn’t mean it’s insignificant, because connecting the dots between the Clintons’ formative political years with those who shaped their thinking will remain meaningful for as long as either Clinton seeks a public service role.

“Hillary has made much of the fact that she turned away from Alinskyite organizing to seek change from within the political system instead. What these new letters show is that this was also a change of means rather than ends,” National Review’s Stanley Kurtz wrote Monday.

“In this, Hillary has much in common with Obama and other modern Alinskyites. Alinsky wanted community organizers to shun electoral politics. Yet, as I showed in Radical-in-Chief, Alinsky’s New Left followers found ways to combine his methods with electoral politics. This synthesis of Alinskyism and electoral politics, pioneered by Alinsky’s acolytes in Chicago, is what inspired Obama’s career. Hillary was part of the same wave.”

More speculation about the extent to which Hillary straddles the line between an establishment Democrat and a progressive radical at heart… sounds like something worth paying attention to – at least for a few more years.


More MSM backlash against Obama administration’s control-freak idea of ‘transparency’

Members of the mainstream media, already incensed with the Obama administration for reneging on the president’s famous pledge to create the most transparent White House in history, met last week to lick their wounds while putting forth a new set of grievances against the aloof commander in chief.

Associated Press Washington, D.C., Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee spoke to a gathering of journalists last week in Chicago, indexing the media’s gripes with Obama in an eight-point list that it posted Friday to the AP’s blog.

It’s a list that covers familiar ground (the Bush White House was more forthcoming about Guantanamo than the Obama administration) as well as new slights (now that we’re sort of at war, Obama forbids embedded reporters in military staging areas).

But the biggest condemnation of the Obama administration’s false transparency narrative has to do with the very mechanism that affords the media its final say in gaining it: Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Buzbee argued that the White House has completely perverted the intent of the FOIA law, while effectively stealing the usefulness of FOIA requests away from the media and instead milking those same requests to inform the Obama administration’s media strategy.

How could a president manage to accomplish something that sounds so sinister? By monitoring who’s filing FOIAs and making note of the information they’re seeking. Doing that gives the White House a strategic advantage in controlling spin — by using the power of the media against the media itself.

“The administration uses FOIAs as a tip service to uncover what news organizations are pursuing,” blogged Buzbee. “Requests are now routinely forwarded to political appointees. At the agency that oversees the new health care law, for example, political appointees now handle the FOIA requests.”

All of this sounds exactly right, but it also sounds risibly hypocritical to anyone convinced that the mainstream press has done all it can to accommodate a president whose agenda it largely endorses.

Maybe the Obama administration can redeem itself with a hashtag campaign joining the media’s call for greater transparency.

We suggest something like #bringbackouraccess. It’s available.

SWAT raid to shut down Twitter parody of Illinois politician was legal, judge rules

Remember the story about the guy in Illinois who ended up in jail because the mayor of Peoria was butt hurt that the guy had been parodying his administration on Twitter?

Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis had gotten the local cops to stage an honest-to-God SWAT raid at the home of Jon Daniel in an effort to locate the source of the offending Twitter account. Daniel and three others went to jail — on charges of possessing marijuana and nothing else.

That all happened in April. Last week, one of Daniel’s roommates — with the drug charge still hanging over him — learned that a judge had cleared the SWAT raid as justified and legal. Full speed ahead on the felony weed bust.

From The Guardian:

A Peoria judge this week ruled that the police were entitled to raid the house on North University Street on 15 April under the town’s “false personation” law which makes it illegal to pass yourself off as a public official. Judge Thomas Keith found that police had probable cause to believe they would find materials relevant to the Twitter feed such as computers or flash drives used to create it.

Just to be clear: satire isn’t covered in Peoria under the 1st Amendment. If you skewer a public official through parody, you are not exercising a right — you are slandering him. And when the police don riot gear and bring a search warrant to your door to locate slander paraphernalia (like computers) and instead walk away with pot, it becomes a perfectly legal drug raid.

This isn’t a silver lining, but it’s bilateral damage: The Guardian reports that Peoria’s mayor is now the subject of 15 parody Twitter feeds. Too bad for Jim Ardis that Peoria’s SWAT team doesn’t have global jurisdiction.

Daily Read: The influence of Qatar on U.S. policy — and the legal loophole that encourages it

The U.S. is tough on campaign contributions from foreign governments — it’s a complete no-no. But there’s no similar restriction preventing foreign governments from funding nonprofit policy institutes in Washington, D.C.

The result, perhaps the most significant among many, is that Qatar — the “chief sponsor of the Muslim Brotherhood” and the owner of Al Jazeera — has accrued immense influence over the think tanks that often marry ideas to government. It’s not the only nation to do so.

But as The Washington Free Beacon’s Matthew Continetti wrote Friday, “the money Qatar has thrown around town in recent years has created an environment where the views of its government are considered congenial, normal, an “important perspective” worthy of consideration by noted policy analysts, who just happen to become key policy makers.”

Qatar and other would-be U.S. policy shapers are taking advantage of a gap in U.S. law that’s “being exploited to an extent that mocks the very purpose” of the ban on foreign campaign contributions, Continetti writes:

Think tanks can be the vehicles for revolutions in foreign policy. The Gulf state of Qatar, for example, is one of the most generous donors to U.S. nonprofits. It “agreed last year to make a $14.8 million, four-year donation” to the Brookings Institution, the Times reports. And Brookings, in turn, “has helped fund a Brookings affiliate in Qatar and a project on United States relations with the Islamic world.”

I have not been asked to participate in either of these initiatives. But let me take a stab at why “United States relations with the Islamic world” are so terrible. One reason is that radical Muslims have a habit of killing innocent men, women, and children in gruesome ways, and imposing their medieval vision of society upon unwilling populations. But I would not expect the Brookings Institution to focus too much on this angle, since one of the global engines of Islamic radicalism in our time — its financier, champion, and propagandist — is none other than Qatar.

Qatar is the chief sponsor of the Muslim Brotherhood, the global Islamist movement whose offspring include Hamas, al Qaeda, and Islamic Jihad. Hamas’ leader, Khaled Meshal, resides in Qatar’s capital. It is a financial and ideological sponsor of Hamas — whose charter demands not only the destruction of Israel but also the removal of Jews from an Islamic “Palestine” — as well as a supporter of the Taliban, the Al-Nusra front, militias in Libya, and other armed prophets throughout the Ummah. And Qatar is the founder and owner of Al Jazeera, which pushes the Brotherhood line, and whose anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism have reached our shores in the form of Al Jazeera America.

The Qatari regime is awful. And, of course, it is authoritarian. I don’t want its agents and proxies interfering in our intellectual or policy debates, period, especially without having to tell the law enforcement officers of my country what they are doing with their money and why. The current arrangement — by which one has to read closely between the lines to detect Islamist influence in Washington — is unacceptable.

Read Continetti’s full column at The Washington Free Beacon.