We won’t know how much Obamacare will cost for 2015 until after the November elections

Because every policy decision the Obama administration makes is motivated primarily by politics, the president has ordered the department of Health of Human Services (HHS) not to release pricing for health coverage purchased through Healthcare.gov until after the November midterm elections are over.

The Obama administration told the media last week that HHS plans to unveil a revised pricing structure for 2015 no earlier than the second week of November. The midterm election will be held on Nov. 4.

According to The Associated Press, Healthcare.gov will not include 2015 pricing numbers until mid-November. The open enrollment period for 2015 runs from Nov. 15 until Feb. 15 of 2015.

The delay may have something to do with the likelihood that Obamacare rates will increase. “In some cases, these increases are going to be huge,” Downtrend’s Joseph R. Carducci wrote:

Even slight changes [in 2015 policies] can have big repercussions in terms of the types of premiums and plans available. Those who received raises or otherwise had their income go up this year might find themselves losing their ObamaCare subsidies entirely (or they may be significantly reduced), negating a good part of the effect of that income increase. Those with less income might even no longer qualify for private insurance and be forced into Medicaid.

Believe it or not, there are also a number of reports indicating the most popular low cost plans within ObamaCare have seen the sharpest rate increases. And we haven’t even discussed the impact of the employer mandate which will also have some significant effects.

HHS is casting the delayed pricing as a boon for customers because it ostensibly gives them more time to shop for healthcare coverage. That would make sense if customers could, you know, see the cost of the products they’re comparing. Without that crucial feature, though, people could shop for an infinity — and they still wouldn’t be able to tell whether they’d be getting adequate insurance value for their money.

“Despite claiming this move is about [giving] consumers ‘more time’ to make a decision about a health plan, this delay in sign up is purely to further protect vulnerable Democrats who are up for re-election in 2014,” Townhall commented.

Late poll shows GOP candidates with an edge in states with close races

Tight Senate races in a few key battleground states appear to be leaning in favor of Republicans, with less than a month left before a general election that will determine the big-picture political climate on Capitol Hill that ushers President Obama out of office.

A Fox News poll out Wednesday shows GOP candidates with slight leads in five close races, although none falls outside the poll’s margin of error.

“New Fox News battleground polls show a Republican trend in the fight for the U.S. Senate. The GOP candidates — helped by anti-Barack Obama sentiment and strong support from male voters — lead in all five states: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas and Kentucky,” reported Fox.

While the margins may be close across the board, the scant GOP lead nevertheless reflects a shift in momentum in Kansas, where incumbent Republican Senator Pat Roberts has regained a lead over his Independent and Libertarian opponents.

“The Senate race clearly remains competitive, as 44 percent of likely voters in Kansas back Roberts, with 39 percent for independent Greg Orman and 3 percent for libertarian Randall Batson,” Fox observes. “Yet Orman was up by six points in a two-way matchup three weeks ago (48-42 percent).”

Perhaps most discouraging for Senate Democrats is the Arkansas race, where Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor trails Republican candidate Tom Cotton by seven points in the Fox poll. Polling numbers in the Pryor race often have been cited as among the most significant indicators of Democrats’ chances of retaining control of the Senate.

If the race in Arkansas, as elsewhere, boils down to a referendum on Obama’s policies — something the president himself infamously declared last week — then Cotton may stand to benefit far more than Pryor.

“Voters in Arkansas disapprove of Obama’s job performance by nearly two-to-one. Thirty-two percent approve, while 61 percent disapprove,” wrote Fox.

“Meanwhile, by a 50-41 percent margin, likely voters in Arkansas oppose creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the U.S. Those opposed favor Cotton by nearly 40 points.”

See the full results of the Fox News poll here.

Obama deploys emojis to wordlessly narrate agenda to low-information youth

Images have a power to convey ideas in a way that words don’t. And when you’re trying to convey ideas to a demographic that you perceive to be functionally illiterate (because that’s the demographic whose help you sorely need), images can do the trick — especially if they’re dumb ones.

The White House is deploying a new social media campaign meant to draw the interest of the millennial generation, and it’s using emojis — those graphical permutations of the ubiquitous yellow smiley face — to get its message across. Emojis, you probably know, were birthed from the use of ASCII-based text messaging in the early days of email and cellular phones. What was once a simple text-smiley face became a graphic, as device and networking technology grew more sophisticated.

It’s the graphical emojis the Obama Administration is planning to wield in its PR campaign. According to BuzzFeed, the campaign is intended to sell Democrats’ ideas, by way of the Obama administration, in the final month heading into the November election:

Starting Thursday, White House social media accounts will blast out charts, graphs, and yes, emojis, aimed at catching the eye of young voters weeks before the November elections.

…Younger Americans have traditionally been a Democratic base group, and Obama’s team has done a masterful job of turning them out in his presidential campaigns. But college aged voters have much lower turn out rates in non-presidential election years, and the White House is hoping to prop up those numbers during next month’s crucial election that will determine control of the Senate.

The White House isn’t just trotting out emojis for the campaign; it’s also attempting to appeal to the (allegedly) ignorant young masses with quick-hit factoids and itemized lists that emulate youth-appeal pop culture sites like… well, like BuzzFeed.

“Even the staid administration report illustrating administration efforts to reduce student loan costs and boost enrollment in the Affordable Care Act…has a youthful flavor,” the site reports. “’15 ECONOMIC FACTS ABOUT MILLENNIALS,’” reads the cover of the White House Council Of Economic Advisors report.”

Reporter restricted from another Wisconsin Democratic rally headlined by Michelle Obama

A reporter affiliated with Watchdog.org was banned from covering a Democratic Party event headlined by first lady Michelle Obama in Wisconsin Tuesday, just more than a week after another reporter was forbidden from speaking with crowd members attending another Democratic event in the same state.

Adam Tobias, a writer for Wisconsin Reporter — Watchdog.org’s state-level newsgathering outlet — had planned to cover a rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, but he was told by a media representative from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin that he could not attend because Watchdog.org isn’t a real news outlet.

Here’s a link to Watchdog.org’s main website.

Tobias wrote about his experience Tuesday for Watchdog:

Melissa Baldauff, communications director for the state Democratic Party, informed Wisconsin Reporter on Monday it wasn’t allowed to attend the event at the Overture Center because the online publication isn’t a legitimate news source.

…Baldauff, who agreed to speak to Wisconsin Reporter on Monday outside the offices of the Democratic Party and Burke for Wisconsin, initially attributed the denial to a lack of space — even though a request for media credentials was submitted Saturday, shortly after the Burke campaign sent a news release outlining the logistics.

But that answer changed when Baldauff, who repeatedly declined to explain the process for selecting which media outlets can participate, was told Wisconsin Reporter would be doing a story on press being turned away from the political fundraiser.

“Well, you’re not the press though, so, thanks,” Baldauff said as she left the hallway and closed an office door.

Tobias notes that Wisconsin Reporter is indeed “credentialed by the Wisconsin Capitol Correspondents Board to cover legislative sessions at the statehouse, and has been for years.”

The news outlet attempted to contact Obama’s press office in order to ask whether the first lady and her handlers had anything to do with the muzzle treatment, but received no response.

Another reporter for a different news outlet had a similar experience at an Obama/Burke event late last month.

On Sept. 29, Meg Kissinger, a reporter for Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, tweeted that she and other media representatives had been instructed not to speak to audience members at a Burke rally headlined by the first lady. In her Journal Sentinel report, she simply observed: “Burke and White House staff also told reporters not to talk to people in the crowd before the event.”

Study: Obamacare incentivizes a massive shift to part-time working hours

Obamacare will erode full-time employment and bolster the ranks of America’s part-time employees, thanks to “implicit” and “explicit” taxes that entice both workers and their employers to follow or avoid the government’s path of least resistance to qualifying for healthcare coverage.

That’s the conclusion of a 47-page study released Tuesday by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a nonprofit that researches and advocates for free-market policy.

Titled “The Affordable Care Act and the New Economics of Part-Time Work,” the study identifies several Obamacare features likely to drive a fundamental shift in labor demographics, as more people and businesses begin complying with the law:

“Starting this year, the United States’ working population will face three major employment disincentives resulting from the very benefits the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides: (1) an explicit tax on full-time work, (2) an implicit tax on full-time work for those who are ineligible for the ACA’s health insurance subsidies, and (3) an implicit tax that links the amount of available subsidies to workers’ incomes.

“The ACA’s overall impact on employment… will arguably be larger than that of any single piece of legislation since World War II,” the authors assert. Mercatus expects nearly half of the U.S. labor force to experience “significant changes,” under Obamacare’s regressive incentives, to work less.

“The ACA may put millions of Americans in a position in which working part time yields more disposable income than working full time,” the summary states. “This occurs when the ACA’s generous assistance to part-time workers for health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses offsets much of the income they forgo by working fewer hours. The lack of this insurance assistance for full-time workers amounts to a tax on full-time work.”

In addition, the study forecasts a twofold increase over previously reported estimates of how dramatically Obamacare will affect U.S. productivity in terms of total hours worked.

“This analysis, combined with lessons from labor market history, leads to an estimate that the ACA will reduce employment and aggregate hours by slightly more than 3 percent, or about 4 million full-time-equivalent workers,” the authors predict.

“This is nearly double the contraction indicated in prior studies, mainly because some previous work underestimated the size of the ACA’s employer penalty and did not consider the full range of tax effects.”

The full results of the Mercatus Center study can be viewed here. A synopsis of its findings is here.

DEA takes a real person, makes a fake Facebook page out of her identity and starts trolling the Internet for drug perps

The DEA stole — or, rather, fabricated — the online identity of a woman arrested and sentenced to probation on drug charges. As her trial date neared, a DEA agent used her real name, along with photos taken off of her confiscated cellphone, to create a Facebook account representing her without her knowledge or consent.

“The government said he had the right to do that,” BuzzFeed reported Monday.

One day in 2010, a friend asked Sondra Prince (her last name has since changed) about some pictures of Prince she’d seen on Facebook. One involved Prince sitting on the hood of a BMW wearing shorts and a tank top; another photo shows her splayed, face down, across the hood with her heels kicked up.

“At least I still have this car!” the caption read.

But Prince hadn’t posted that photo or written those words. In fact, according to BuzzFeed, she didn’t even have a Facebook account — at least, not one she knew about.

“She was surprised; she hadn’t even set up a Facebook page,” the story reports.

“But while she was awaiting trial, [DEA agent Timothy] Sinnigen created the fake Facebook page using Arquiett’s real name, posted photos from her seized cell phone, and communicated with at least one wanted fugitive — all without her knowledge.”

Prince, a resident of Watertown, N.Y., has now filed a federal civil suit in New York against the DEA and Sinnigen.

According to The Washington Post, the government is arguing Sinnigen received implied consent from Prince for law enforcement to do whatever it wanted with the contents of her cellphone — including falsely representing Prince online.

From The Post:

“Sinnigen posted photographs from [Prince’s] phone, to which he had been granted access, to the undercover Facebook page,” an August court filing by the government states. “… Defendants admit [Prince] did not give express permission for the use of the photographs contained on her phone on an undercover Facebook page, but state [that Prince] implicitly consented by granting access to the information stored in her phone.”

Sinnigen is invoking qualified immunity in the lawsuit.

Note from the Editor: Under the Obama Administration, the NSA, the IRS, and the State and Justice departments are blatantly stepping on Americans’ privacy—and these are just the breaches we’re aware of. I’ve arranged for readers to get a free copy of The Ultimate Privacy Guide so you can be protected from any form of surveillance by anyone—government, corporate or criminal. Click here for your free copy.

Washington school district bans playground swings over safety concerns

In the ongoing effort to remove any semblance of self-imposed risk from civilized society, a school district in the state of Washington has banned swing sets from all of its playgrounds.

The Richland School District has decided to phase out the kinetic playground equipment, citing “pressure from insurance companies over the liability,” according to KEPR-TV News.

“As schools get modernized or renovated or as we’re doing work on the playground equipment, we’ll take out the swings, it’s just really a safety issue, swings have been determined to be the most unsafe of all the playground equipment on a playground,” Richland School District’s communications director, Steve Aagard, told KEPR.

For many observers, abolishing a time-honored fixture of childhood play represents a dramatic step backward in the losing battle to preserve and grow a young person’s sense of individual freedom in America’s increasingly effete and passive culture.

“Of course some kids get hit by swings and of course there are some injuries — even awful ones — but that does not automatically mean we must ban swings,” Lenore Skenazy wrote at Reason Tuesday. “If it did, we would have to ban all solid food because some kids choke. We would have to ban all bikes because some kids wipe out and hurt themselves. We would have to chop down all of America’s trees as well — at least in parks and playgrounds — because some children climb them and fall off.”

While some parents oppose the school district’s decision, not everyone views banning playground swings as a bad thing.

“I actually witnessed an accident with my own eyes one time,” parent Muge Kaineoz, who agrees with the ban, told KEPR. “By the time you could do something about it she [a small child] was knocked out.”

There’s that passive culture thing, pervading public thought.

Regulating things to death — even activities that bear risks — won’t stop unless people make it stop, Skenazy urged.

“The school district says ‘pressure from insurance companies over the liability is part of the issue,’” She wrote.

“The only sane thing to do is push back. Heck, most insurance companies would like to keep children seatbelted to their chairs and strapped to blood pressure cuffs, just in case of any heart conditions.”

Mike Rowe: Want a job? Follow the market and stop fretting about your dreams

Not that TV host Mike Rowe needs any more hits on his Facebook page, but his advice to one Facebook follower is worth sharing: Stop worrying about following your passion and focus first on doing a good job in a career that fills a need in the labor market.

Stephen Adams of Auburn, Alabama, had written Rowe with a polite challenge to Rowe’s earlier remarks discouraging young people from blindly following their dreams as they set about looking for a career.

Rowe answered back on Facebook, civilly explaining that too many American kids treat job hunting like a consumer endeavor and that they often have no idea how far removed from reality their esoteric passions — as well as their aptitude to excel at them — truly are.

It’s advice that’s worth repeating in full — occasional grammatical mistakes and all. Rowe essentially tells people to ask not what the labor market can do for them, but rather what they can do for the market:

Hi Stephen

A few years ago, I did a special called “The Dirty Truth.” In it, I challenged the conventional wisdom of popular platitudes by offering “dirtier,” more individualistic alternatives. For my inspiration, I looked to those hackneyed bromides that hang on the walls of corporate America. The ones that extoll passersby to live up to their potential by “dreaming bigger,” “working smarter,” and being a better “team player.” In that context, I first saw “Follow Your Passion” displayed in the conference room of a telemarketing firm that employed me thirty years ago. The words appeared next to an image of a rainbow, arcing gently over a waterfall and disappearing into a field of butterflies. Thinking of it now still makes me throw up in my mouth.

Like all bad advice, “Follow Your Passion” is routinely dispensed as though it’s wisdom were both incontrovertible and equally applicable to all. It’s not. Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it. And just because you’re determined to improve doesn’t mean that you will. Does that mean you shouldn’t pursue a thing you’re passionate about?” Of course not. The question is, for how long, and to what end?

When it comes to earning a living and being a productive member of society – I don’t think people should limit their options to those vocations they feel passionate towards. I met a lot of people on Dirty Jobs who really loved their work. But very few of them dreamed of having the career they ultimately chose. I remember a very successful septic tank cleaner who told me his secret of success. “I looked around to see where everyone else was headed, and then I went the opposite way,” he said. “Then I got good at my work. Then I found a way to love it. Then I got rich.”

Every time I watch The Oscars, I cringe when some famous movie star – trophy in hand – starts to deconstruct the secret to happiness. It’s always the same thing, and I can never hit “mute” fast enough to escape the inevitable cliches. “Don’t give up on your dreams kids, no matter what.” “Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have what it takes.” And of course, “Always follow your passion!”

Today, we have millions looking for work, and millions of good jobs unfilled because people are simply not passionate about pursuing those particular opportunities. Do we really need Lady GaGa telling our kids that happiness and success can be theirs if only they follow their passion?

There are many examples – including those you mention – of passionate people with big dreams who stayed the course, worked hard, overcame adversity, and changed the world though sheer pluck and determination. We love stories that begin with a dream, and culminate when that dream comes true. And to your question, we would surely be worse off without the likes of Bill Gates and Thomas Edison and all the other innovators and Captains of Industry. But from my perspective, I don’t see a shortage of people who are willing to dream big. I see people struggling because their reach has exceeded their grasp.

I’m fascinated by the beginning of American Idol. Every year, thousands of aspiring pop-stars show up with great expectations, only to learn that they don’t have anything close to the skills they thought they did. What’s amazing to me, isn’t their lack of talent – it’s their lack of awareness, and the resulting shock of being rejected. How is it that so many people are so blind to their own limitations? How did these peope get the impression they could sing in the first place? Then again, is their incredulity really so different than the surprise of a college graduate who learns on his first interview that his double major in Medieval Studies and French Literature doesn’t guarantee him the job he expected? In a world where everyone gets a trophy, encouragement trumps honesty, and realistic expectations go out the window.

When I was 16, I wanted to follow in my grandfathers footsteps. I wanted to be a tradesman. I wanted to build things, and fix things, and make things with my own two hands. This was my passion, and I followed it for years. I took all the shop classes at school, and did all I could to absorb the knowledge and skill that came so easily to my granddad. Unfortunately, the handy gene skipped over me, and I became frustrated. But I remained determined to do whatever it took to become a tradesman.

One day, I brought home a sconce from woodshop that looked like a paramecium, and after a heavy sigh, my grandfather told me the truth. He explained that my life would be a lot more satisfying and productive if I got myself a different kind of toolbox. This was almost certainly the best advice I’ve ever received, but at the time, it was crushing. It felt contradictory to everything I knew about persistence, and the importance of “staying the course.” It felt like quitting. But here’s the “dirty truth,” Stephen. “Staying the course” only makes sense if you’re headed in a sensible direction. Because passion and persistence – while most often associated with success – are also essential ingredients of futility.

That’s why I would never advise anyone to “follow their passion” until I understand who they are, what they want, and why they want it. Even then, I’d be cautious. Passion is too important to be without, but too fickle to be guided by. Which is why I’m more inclined to say, “Don’t Follow Your Passion, But Always Bring it With You.”

Carry On

Mike

If only America’s political and cultural “leaders” would muster the courage to dispense this kind of frank advice…

Pulitzer-winning reporter slams White House: ‘I think Obama hates the press’

New York Times reporter James Risen received the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award for journalism on Sunday. Risen, who won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize — after spurning two presidential administrations by refusing to reveal his sources for a series of stories on NSA surveillance — used his acceptance speech to condemn the federal government’s accelerating encroachment on 1st Amendment rights.

“Today, the U.S. government treats whistle-blowers as criminals, much like Elijah Lovejoy,” Risen said, referencing the award’s namesake.

Elijah Lovejoy was an early 19th-century abolitionist whose writings on slavery earned him a violent death at the hands of an angry mob of slavery apologists. The Lovejoy award was started in 1952 and is given by Colby College, a private liberal arts school in Maine.

Speaking at Colby on Sunday, Risen said the government has shifted dramatically from a culture that promotes individual freedoms to a culture of reprisals against the individual — all for the aggrandizement of state power.

From the Waterville, Maine Morning Sentinel:

Risen said Americans now slip off their shoes in airports, observe the killing of Americans who have not been given due process and watch the government use torture tactics and conduct mass surveillance of people’s communications.

“Meanwhile, the government has eagerly prosecuted whistle-blowers who have tried to bring any of the government’s actions to light,” he said.

There is a new basic assumption, he said, that there is a need for a global war on terror.

“Today, the U.S. government treats whistle-blowers as criminals, much like Elijah Lovejoy.”

The crackdowns on leaks by the Bush and Obama administrations have come with a “veneer of law,” an attempt to make the crackdowns look legal, he said.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Risen’s appeal of a lower court’s decision that ordered him to reveal the source of a 2006 series of stories on the NSA’s Stellar Wind surveillance program — a series he co-wrote with fellow New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau.

Risen recommitted to protecting the anonymity of his source as he accepted the Lovejoy award — even if doing so means he will spend time in prison. “I would go to jail to protect the confidentiality of sources,” he said.

Then he let loose on the Obama administration’s disregard for the 1st Amendment.

“I don’t think any of this would be happening under the Obama administration if Obama didn’t want to do it. I think Obama hates the press. I think he doesn’t like the press and he hates leaks.”

Risen should know: Obama took the extraordinary measure of renewing the George W. Bush administration’s subpoena compelling him to testify in the NSA case. That renewal has led directly to the court cases which have landed Risen in limbo between freedom and imprisonment.

Daily Read: How anti-GOP is Rand Paul’s rhetoric on civil liberties?

Reason’s Jacob Sullum writes this month about Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) recent overtures to court black voters and whether that outreach squares with Paul’s criticism of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — two positions that would appear to conflict.

They don’t, Sullum argues. In fact, they reconcile perfectly as two instances in which Paul views the government as going too far to put an authoritarian stamp on individual liberty.

“[I]n the last two years, the Kentucky Republican has emerged as his party’s most passionate voice on criminal justice reform, decrying the system’s disproportionate impact on African Americans,” Sullum begins.

“You might think Paul, widely seen as a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, is trying to redeem himself with black voters who were alienated by his criticism of the Civil Rights Act. Yet both positions spring from the same wariness of state power, as illustrated by the senator’s comments on the over-the-top police response to the unrest that followed the August 9 shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri.”

At the very least, Paul is willing to tread into grey ideological areas that, so far as the establishment wing of each political party is concerned, can only exist in purest black or white. In other words, he’s willing to let himself be seen as thoughtful, an assessor of ideas based on their merits — rather than their political connotations.

Paul’s support for Attorney General Eric Holder’s call to end mandatory minimum sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders, Sullum argues, serves as a great example:

Paul’s positions on criminal justice issues also take some serious guts. He is not just reaching out to a segment of the electorate that is overwhelmingly hostile to Republicans; he is challenging members of his own party to rethink their reflexive support of law enforcement and tough-on-crime policies.

“There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace, but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response,” Paul wrote in Time on August 14. “There is a systemic problem with today’s law enforcement,” he added, and “big government has been at the heart of the problem,” fostering the militarization of police equipment and tactics.

Paul went further, encouraging Republicans to consider what it feels like to be on the receiving end of excessive police force and excessive criminal punishment. “Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system,” he said, “it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them. This is part of the anguish we are seeing in the tragic events outside of St. Louis, Missouri.”

Whether you agree with all of that, it’s hard not to see that Paul often takes risks other GOP establishment leaders simply aren’t willing to take. And usually, those risks are founded on principle — not fear of political backlash.

The question, though, is whether Paul can get very far as a presidential candidate by taking that approach.

Read Sullum’s full piece on Rand Paul at Reason.

 

IG Report: IRS illegally using audit quotas to measure agent performance

You know how some police forces allegedly use quotas to make sure their officers are out doing the Lord’s work of writing people enough traffic tickets? Well, the IRS is taking the same approach to rating its agents’ performance, in some cases applying the quota metric to determine whether employees are auditing enough people and businesses.

That’s according to a September report, released publicly late last week, by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. What’s more, the use of quotas as an employee assessment metric was outlawed in the late 1990s. That makes their use within the IRS plainly illegal.

“On July 22, 1998, the President signed the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 (RRA 98) into law,” notes the IG report. “RRA 98 Section (§) 1204 restricts the use of enforcement statistics.  Specifically, RRA 98 § 1204(a) restricts the use of enforcement statistics and prohibits the IRS from using any record of tax enforcement results (ROTER) to evaluate employees or to impose or suggest production quotas or goals.”

Here’s more on the 1998 law:

RRA 98 § 1204(b) requires employees to be evaluated using the fair and equitable treatment of taxpayers as a performance standard. The IRS refers to this standard as the retention standard.  The retention standard requires employees to administer the tax laws fairly and equitably; protect all taxpayers’ rights; and treat each taxpayer ethically with honesty, integrity, and respect.  This provision of the law was enacted to provide assurance that employee performance is focused on providing quality service to taxpayers instead of achieving enforcement results.

RRA 98 § 1204(c) requires each appropriate supervisor to perform a quarterly self‑certification.  In the self-certification, the appropriate supervisor attests to whether ROTERs, production quotas, or goals were used in a prohibited manner.

So, if we trust the government to police itself, the spirit of the law is on the taxpayers’ side. But, of course, that’s not how it’s played out in practice.

The report concludes that, as of 2013, some IRS supervisors were still using “tax enforcement results” (like the amount of money collected following an audit or the number of fraud cases an agent processes) to determine whether employees are doing a good job.

“The following issues were identified,” the report states:

* Section 1204(a) — 13 potential violations in which seven IRS managers used ROTERs to evaluate employees and/or suggest production quotas or goals.

* Section 1204(b) — 55 instances of documentation noncompliance in which 21 IRS managers did not maintain proper documentation that showed they evaluated their employees using the fair and equitable treatment of taxpayers as a performance standard.

* Section 1204(c) — three instances of noncompliance in which an IRS manager did not certify in writing to the IRS Commissioner or provide documentation whether ROTERs and/or production quotas or goals were used in a prohibited manner.

The same Inspector General’s office also made public a report last week revealing that the IRS has compromised the privacy of some private taxpayers. The report found instances in which the IRS failed to redact personal information from tax documents the agency has released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

John McCain wants Lindsey Graham to run for president — and Graham’s thinking about it

South Carolina GOP Senator Lindsey Graham is thinking about running for president.

Graham told The Weekly Standard in a lengthy interview that he isn’t crazy about other potential Republican candidates’ positions and that he’s been encouraged by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to consider entering the race for the GOP presidential nomination.

“I’ve strongly encouraged him to give it a look,” McCain told the Standard. “I think Lindsey has vast and deep experience on these issues that very few others have. I happen to like a lot of these guys — I like Jeb Bush, Chris Christie. Ted Cruz has gone out of his way to tell people how much he agrees with me on national security.”

Not sure why McCain felt the need to throw a wacko bird into that mix.

Graham said he is interested in a presidential run, once his Senate campaign is in the bag. He’s fed up with President Obama’s inscrutable foreign policy, and he thinks he is capable of repairing the damage the next president will inherit from the current one.

“If I get through my general election, if nobody steps up in the presidential mix, if nobody’s out there talking​ — ​me and McCain have been talking​ — I may just jump in to get to make these arguments,” he said.

Has the gun control movement fizzled?

Progressive support for government’s effort to exert control via innovative interpretations of the 2nd Amendment isn’t likely to die off. But — at least for now — it appears to have slithered back into its dark hole.

Over the past year, an assortment of court rulings, state legislative measures, strong gun sales and highly publicized political meltdowns — especially the voter recall effort of pro-gun control lawmakers in Colorado — have left gun control proponents struggling to regain lost traction.

They’re not likely to retake lost ground anytime soon, according to OpenCarry.org’s John Pierce, who told Examiner this week that, for the time being, gun control “seems to have run out of steam entirely.”

That leaves everyone else on stronger footing to focus on correcting the many 2nd Amendment infringements that still criminalize full and free access to firearms.

From Examiner:

“All in all the anti-gun movement is appears going no-where fast,” claims OpenCarry.org’s Mr. Pierce. Looking ahead, Pierce predicts that the Supreme Court will eventually grant certiorari to a case “so as to resolve the split of authority as to whether the Second Amendment provides a fundamental right to carry guns outside the home.”

The right to bear arms in some states has suffered at the hands of state or local lawmakers who’ve passed legislation that forces residents to demonstrate to police that they “need” concealed carry permits — and only in self-defense situations.

Yet even those restrictions have faced tough sledding in the courts. A court decision recently forced the Washington, D.C. city council to revise an ordinance so that residents could apply to law enforcement for permission to carry concealed handguns. But that still leaves D.C. as a “may-issue” zone, where the burden of proof falls to the citizens to seek government’s permission to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights.

Trust the IRS to compromise the security of your private data

When the IRS has to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (don’t laugh; apparently they only stonewall some of the time), anything in the released documents that can be traced back to a private taxpayer is supposed to be redacted.

But according to an audit from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, that doesn’t always happen.

A Treasury IG’s report on the IRS’ compliance with FOIA requests released in September found that the agency “may be inadvertently disclosing taxpayer information” by failing to redact tax ID numbers and banking information, among other data, that can be tied to individual taxpayers.

Here’s the relevant portion of the IG report:

Those disclosures releasing sensitive taxpayer information are summarized as follows with some requests having more than one issue.

Seven occurrences which released Personally Identifiable Information that was outside the scope of what the requestor’s Power of Attorney or designated representative was authorized to receive.

Six occurrences which released Personally Identifiable Information of third-party taxpayers.

Two occurrences which treated taxpayer-related information (such as revenue agent reports, bank records, etc.) inconsistently by redacting information on some pages, and then releasing it on others.

In addition to Personally Identifiable Information, there was one occurrence in which a taxpayer’s Discriminant Function Score was released to the requestor as well.  This numerical score is given to tax returns based upon a computerized classification process that by IRS policy is for “official use only.”  The IRM specifies that release of this information could impair tax administration and should not be disclosed.

Office of Disclosure officials stated that these inadvertent disclosures could have resulted from several contributing factors, such as:

An oversight by the caseworker when completing the review of responsive records.

An oversight by management in the review of the case files.

While the report characterizes these failures as inadvertent, the IRS has a recent history of lapses that appear to favor government over citizens.

“The new audit comes on the heels of revelations the IRS has intentionally disclosed information about some high-profile taxpayers — directly to the White House,” Watchdog.org noted in a recent story.

“Although the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration launched an investigation into how the White House got that information, the report was never made public.”

Daily Read: Why not everyone can pay low-wage employees as much as Costco does

If the federal mandatory minimum wage gets a bump, it will create a rising tide that will lift all boats. Or so say the advocates and protestors urging Congress to pass a minimum wage increase.

Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle does a good job explaining why that simply isn’t so.

An efficiency wage — that is, “[p]aying workers more than the going market rate for their skill level” — relies on a standard wage set by market forces, and whatever net economic benefit that achieves cannot be duplicated by artificially controlling the price of labor.

McArdle explains:

As you can see, this concept is very exciting. But that excitement can get out of control; it frequently leads hot-blooded young progressives to conclude that if we just paid everyone more, all the companies would be more profitable! This is folk wisdom akin to believing that everyone should buy a lottery ticket because your cousin won $1 million that day.

Here’s what they are missing: Efficiency wages only work because the workers are getting more than they could make elsewhere. If everyone was paying the same wages, all the benefits to the employer would disappear.

The market compels some employers to pay more. “A wage is generous or stingy not by some naturally ordained scale, but in comparison to your alternatives,” she writes.

McArdle uses Henry Ford’s decision to pay his assembly workers $5 per day — an enviable sum, at the time — as an example. There was no rising-tide economic theory behind that decision; instead, Ford’s reasoning was much more pragmatic:

Ford Motor Co. moved to a high wage because Ford Motor Co. had a turnover problem.

…Understandably, turnover was high. And turnover is expensive.

…[I]magine if we could go back to 1913, the year before the $5-a-day revolution, and we offer those workers a chance to work for $8.50 an hour at Wal-Mart, 40 hours a week. Adjusted for inflation, that would be a 25 percent raise, a shorter workweek, and instead of tightening a bolt for nine hours in a dark and dangerous auto plant, they’d get to spend their time walking around a nice, air-conditioned, well-lit store. And the chance to buy health insurance!

That higher wage would have value for the employees who earn it precisely because similar jobs pay less.

Read Megan McArdle’s full piece at Bloomberg View.

Federal agency weighs in on the EPA’s power-grab water rule: It will hurt small businesses

The Small Business Administration (SBA), an agency of the federal government, has come out against the Environmental Protection Agency’s controversial new watershed proposal, warning that, if implemented, the rule will harm small businesses.

The SBA Office of Advocacy wrote a lengthy letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy Wednesday, asking that the EPA “withdraw the rule.”

“Advocacy [SBA] and small businesses are extremely concerned about the rule as proposed,” the SBA wrote. “The rule will have a direct and potentially costly impact on small businesses. The limited economic analysis which the agencies submitted with the rule provides ample evidence of a potentially significant economic impact. Advocacy advises the agencies to withdraw the rule and conduct a SBAR [Small Business Advocacy Review] panel prior to promulgating any further rule on this issue.”

McCarthy has defended the rule, which aims to “clarify” the definitions of some terms used by the Clean Water Act that establish its jurisdiction over waterways. Here’s a helpful EPA cheat sheet in support of the rule, which features myth-shattering EPA claims like this one:

MYTH: This is the largest land grab in history.

TRUTH: The Clean Water Act only regulates the pollution and destruction of U.S. waters. The proposed rule would not regulate land or land use. Tweet the truth

For a rule that’s intended to clear up old definitions, there’s an incredible degree of obfuscation going on with statements like that. If the rule “only regulates the pollution and destruction of U.S. waters,” then where does the government get to draw containment lines surrounding water’s endless journey as it permeates the ground? The agency knows water is bounded by gravity and hydraulic forces  — not property deeds and surveyed lines — and that regulating water is tantamount to regulating the terrain through which it flows.

And, yes, “Tweet the truth” is included for each and every one of the EPA’s talking points.

SBA didn’t buy the EPA’s assertion that redefining “waters of the United States” is a benign administrative correction:

The proposed rule defines “waters of the United States” within the framework of the CWA as the following seven categories:

* All waters which are currently used, were used in the past, or may be susceptible to use in interstate or foreign commerce, including all waters which are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide;
* All interstate waters, including interstate wetlands;
* The territorial seas;
* All impoundments of a traditional navigable water, interstate water, the territorial seas or a tributary;
* All tributaries of a traditional navigable water, interstate water, the territorial seas or impoundment;
* All waters, including wetlands, adjacent to a traditional navigable water, interstate water, the territorial seas, impoundment or tributary; and
*On a case-specific basis, other waters, including wetlands, provided that those waters alone, or in combination with other similarly situated waters, including wetlands, located in the same region, have a significant nexus to a traditional navigable water, interstate water or the territorial seas.

The proposed rule defines several terms for the first time: “neighboring,” “riparian area,” “floodplain,” “tributary,” and “significant nexus”; and it clarifies the terms, “adjacent” and “wetlands.” The rule leaves the regulatory definitions of “traditional navigable waters,” “interstate waters,” “the territorial seas,” and “impoundments” unchanged.

In other words, it changes everything except the Act’s existing terms describing huge bodies of water.

“Concerns raised by small businesses as well as the agencies’ own economic analysis both indicate that small businesses will see a cost increase as a result of the revised definition,” SBA concluded.

“The EPA and the Corps [of Engineers] have obligations under OMB guidance, and the RFA [Regulatory Felxibility Act] to measure and communicate this increase. Their certification of no small business impact is inappropriate in light of this information.”

Rand Paul rips Obama for college audience: ‘He’s just going to do whatever the hell he wants’

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) let loose on President Obama Tuesday at the University of South Carolina, going into candidate mode in using some of his strongest language yet to condemn the president’s dismissal of constitutional forms and the rule of law.

“The president says that ‘if Congress won’t act, I must.’ That sounds like what you hear from a Third World autocrat. That doesn’t sound like someone who believes in a Republic and rule of law,” Paul told a small student audience.

“‘If Congress won’t act, I will?’ Congress is too messy for him. Democracy is too messy for him so he’s just going to do whatever the hell he wants.”

Don’t hold back, senator.

Paul was referring to Obama’s general reliance on fiat rule at the expense of constitutional checks and balances, but his remarks were intended as a direct criticism of the president’s unilateral action to mount a military response to ISIS.

“I think we should do something [about ISIS], but the president is going about it the wrong way,” he said.

“That worries me and it should worry all of us. And it hasn’t been just with war powers. It’s been with immigration, it’s been with healthcare. He’s acted outside the law and we have basically a constitutional confrontation now between an overbearing and arrogant executive who doesn’t believe in the law and a Congress that hasn’t really stepped up to enforce the law.”

Breitbart, which periodically posts exclusive opinion columns penned by the GOP presidential hopeful, had access to Paul following the speech, and learned that the political left is paying enough attention to Paul’s message to send their partisan paparazzi to his speaking engagements — in the hope of collecting attack fodder:

At the event, Paul communications director Sergio Gor told Breitbart News three leftwing trackers-political operatives who wield video cameras to record statements to attack their political opponents-were present: one from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), another from pro-Hillary Clinton operative David Brock-run group American Bridge and another from a local leftwing group.

Paul said the extra attention stems, in part, from his cross-party appeal as a candidate who’s willing to distance himself from establishment GOP positions he considers stagnant or harmful. “I think they fear me because I am outside the mold and I will attract Democrats and Independents and that I can create new constituencies that would allow the Republican Party to win again,” he said.

Paul’s comments came as part of a far-ranging speech that touched not only on foreign policy, but also on domestic surveillance, student loans, civil liberties and, of course, the Fed.

“I’m going to keep pushing for a vote on audit the Fed, and this is the second time I think it’s passed the House and it passed with what 350 votes? There’s overwhelming bipartisan support for it,” Paul said, according to Breitbart.

California’s governor vetoes drone bill, clearing cops to spy from above without needing a search warrant

California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill over the weekend that would have forced law enforcement to obtain a search warrant in order to use unmanned aerial vehicles — in other words, drones — to conduct aerial surveillance of potential suspects.

In a brief statement to the state assembly Sunday, Brown said the bill went too far in proscribing drone surveillance, even though he admitted there are “undoubtedly circumstances where a warrant is appropriate.”

But for now, it will be up to the police to determine the appropriateness of those circumstances.

“I am returning Assembly Bill 1327 without my signature,” wrote Brown:

This bill prohibits law enforcement from using a drone without obtaining a search warrant, except in limited circumstances.

There are undoubtedly circumstances where a warrant is appropriate. The bill’s exceptions, however, appear to be too narrow and could impose requirements beyond what is required by either the 4th Amendment or the privacy provisions in the California Constitution.

The full text of the bill can be found here. Here’s a rundown of the relevant portion:

TITLE 14. UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEMS

1. (a) A public agency shall not use an unmanned aircraft system, or contract for the use of an unmanned aircraft system, except as provided in this title. This title shall apply to all public and private entities when contracting with a public agency for the use of an unmanned aircraft system.

(b) A law enforcement agency may use an unmanned aircraft system if it has obtained a warrant based on probable cause pursuant to this code.

(c) A law enforcement agency, without obtaining a warrant, may use an unmanned aircraft system in all of the following circumstances:

(1) In emergency situations if there is an imminent threat to life or of great bodily harm, including, but not limited to, fires, hostage crises, “hot pursuit” situations if reasonably necessary to prevent harm to law enforcement officers or others, and search and rescue operations on land or water.

(2) To assess the necessity of first responders in situations relating to traffic accidents.

(3) (A) To inspect state parks and wilderness areas for illegal vegetation or fires.

(B) For purposes of this paragraph, “wilderness areas” means public lands without permanent improvements or human habitation.

(4) To determine the appropriate response to an imminent or existing environmental emergency or disaster, including, but not limited to, oils spills or chemical spills.

(d) A public agency other than a law enforcement agency may use an unmanned aircraft system, or contract for the use of an unmanned aircraft system, to achieve the core mission of the agency provided that the purpose is unrelated to the gathering of criminal intelligence.

(e) A public agency that is not primarily a law enforcement agency, but that employs peace officers or performs functions related to criminal investigations, may use an unmanned aircraft system without obtaining a warrant to achieve the core mission of the agency provided that the purpose is unrelated to the gathering of criminal intelligence, and that the images, footage, or data are not used for any purpose other than that for which it was collected.

1. A public agency that uses an unmanned aircraft system, or contracts for the use of an unmanned aircraft system, pursuant to this title shall first provide reasonable notice to the public. Reasonable notice shall, at a minimum, consist of a one-time announcement regarding the agency’s intent to deploy unmanned aircraft system technology and a description of the technology’s capabilities.

2. (a) (1) (A) Except as permitted by this title, images, footage, or data obtained by a public agency, or any entity contracting with a public agency, pursuant to this title shall not be disseminated to a law enforcement agency unless the law enforcement agency has obtained a warrant for the images, footage, or data based on probable cause pursuant to this code, or the law enforcement agency would not have been required to obtain a warrant to collect the images, footage, or data itself, as specified in Section 14350.

As you can see, the law left plenty of room for useful exceptions that don’t entail secret, indiscriminate spying: disaster assessment, traffic accidents, “hot pursuit” situations involving threats to public safety, wildfire surveillance and, after all that, criminal investigations with a search warrant.

“A warrant requirement does not prevent law enforcement from using drones, which are cheap and useful technology; it checks the scope of drone surveillance by involving legal standards and a judge,” Slate’s Margot E. Kaminski wrote in anticipation of the governor’s decision.

“California’s drone bill is not draconian. It includes exceptions for emergency situations, search-and-rescue efforts, traffic first responders, and inspection of wildfires. It allows other public agencies to use drones for other purposes — just not law enforcement.”

California Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, a Republican from Camarillo and the bill’s sponsor, told The Los Angeles Times that Brown had sided with the wrong side in the still-emerging codification of electronic privacy law.

“We’re increasingly living in a surveillance society as the government uses new technology to track and watch the activities of Americans. It’s disappointing that the governor decided to side with law enforcement in this case over the privacy interests of California,” Gorell said.

According to Ars Technica, 10 other states already deny police the authority to conduct warrantless drone surveillance: Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Montana, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin.

 

Detecting a pattern here? IRS accused of ‘losing’ emails in lawsuit unrelated to Tea Party scandal

A plaintiff in a lawsuit against the IRS — a suit that has nothing to do with the political discrimination scandal — is alleging that the tax enforcement agency destroyed electronic documents in a variety of formats to cover its demands for unpaid taxes the plaintiff says it does not owe.

NetJets, an Ohio-based Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary specializing in jet rental and timeshare ownership of private aircraft, sued the IRS in 2011 for relief after claiming it overpaid more than $600 million in ticket taxes that apply to the commercial carrier category — but not to private plane owners who travel in their fractionally owned planes.

According to The Columbus Dispatch, the government countersued NetJets for failing to “pay its federal tax liabilities…in full.”

“Congress amended the tax code in 2012, clarifying that the ticket tax does not apply to operators such as NetJets, whose customers buy fractional ownership in planes operated and maintained by NetJets,” the Dispatch reported Wednesday.

NetJets alleged in a recent filing that important evidence in the case stored on three IRS employees’ computers had been completely erased, “including the computer of ‘an excise-tax policy manager and a key decision maker regarding the application of the section 4261 ticket tax to whole and fractional aircraft-management companies,’” the Dispatch reported.

That data, the filing alleges, included emails “and other electronic documents that the Government was required to produce” — data that NetJets claims would demonstrate the company’s compliance with the tax code.

On its face, this allegation has nothing to do with partisan political bullying and everything to do with squeezing dollars out of U.S.-based businesses and their customers. If the IRS is guilty of destroying data to cover its partisan political machinations, is it far-fetched to imagine the agency wouldn’t also go to similar lengths to preserve its ability to overreach its enforcement authority?

 

Senate Democrats target Kroger in latest gun-free campaign

Senate Democrats have found a new front in the perpetual war against the 2nd Amendment: Kroger grocery stores.

A trio of Senate Democrats has co-authored a letter to Kroger’s CEO, describing open carry advocates who’ve previously brought long guns into at least one Kroger location as “gun extremists” and asking that the company ban customers from openly carrying firearms in all of its stores.

By forbidding in-store open carry, the lawmakers argued, Kroger “would be sending an important message about [its] commitment to the safety of” shoppers and store employees.

Here’s more of that letter, as quoted in The Hill:

Gun extremists in several states have exploited the current Kroger policy by flaunting assault rifles as they shopped. These bizarre displays must be terrifying for Kroger employees and customers. The current Kroger policy allows for these demonstrations.

Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) co-signed the letter, delivered Tuesday to Kroger CEO W. Rodney McMullen.

“To the best of our knowledge,” wrote Bearing Arms’ Bob Owens Tuesday, “there was one incident of AKM open carry in a Kroger in Texas, more than a year ago. No laws were broken, and to the best we can determine, none of the customers or employees were even alarmed by the incident.

“… There have been no incidents of violence or intimidation associated with lawful open carriers in or around the chain’s stores…”

After persuading several other national retailers and restaurant chains to forbid open carry, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America set its sights on Kroger, the country’s largest dedicated grocery chain (and second-largest general retailer, behind Walmart) — with Feinstein, Murphy and Blumenthal in tow.

Murphy posted the full text of the letter on his Senate website, which you can find here.

Decorated cop allegedly breaks into woman’s home, says ‘Sometimes I’m a bad guy’ and beats her

A Bronx police officer fresh off being honored with the department’s second-highest commendation allegedly broke into a 30-year-old woman’s home that same night, told her something extremely creepy, dragged her out of her bed and beat her.

According to the New York Daily News, officer Eugene Donnelly pleaded not guilty Monday to misdemeanor charges of assault, criminal trespass and criminal mischief. He’s been without his gun and badge while remaining on limited duty since the June 10 incident.

Donnelly was honored on June 10 for heroism in apprehending a man who had allegedly fired a gun at him. He shook hands with the mayor at that event. But according to the Daily News:

Donnelly, who works at the 46th Precinct in the Bronx, tied one on to celebrate, drinking himself into a stupor. He went to a pal’s Woodlawn apartment to sleep it off.

But before dawn on June 11, a 30-year-old neighbor of Donnelly’s pal was startled awake by the cop breaking the chain lock on her front door, prosecutors said. The woman told detectives the intruder, who she didn’t know, was standing beside her bed in his underwear.

“Sometimes I’m a good guy, but sometimes I’m a bad guy,” Donnelly told the woman, according to a criminal complaint.

Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson said Donnelly then threw the woman on the floor and “pummeled her about the head.”

Before leaving the apartment, Donnelly guzzled a container of milk he grabbed from the fridge.

“Sometimes I’m a good guy, but sometimes I’m a bad guy.” Kinda adds a whole new layer of complexity to that good cop/bad cop trope, huh?

Surveillance video allegedly showed Donnelly at the apartment; a still image from that footage was used to create a wanted poster. He’s expected back in court on Dec. 10. If convicted, he could spend up to a year in jail.