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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a statement Wednesday, Kerry offered this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vermont ditches dream of single-payer health coverage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

California pioneered the trend of not being able to devise a workable single-payer system; it’s tried twice . Yet the limiting factor in each case has been — you guessed it — money .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craft brewers challenge Texas law over distribution rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A dose of ideology with your National Park vacation?

Another sign of government’s ideological encroachment on the citizens it purports to serve: U.S. Park Service employees are reportedly schooling park visitors on climate change.

National Journal recently published a story about Brian Ettling, a ranger at Crater Lake National Park, who attempts to persuade visitors of the urgency of global warming by appealing not to their eschatological sensibilities, but to their budgets instead.

“I try to shift the conversation away from polar bears and ice caps. I tell people there are a lot of things they can do to save money on their electric bill that will also help the environment. Usually, I can get through to them that way,” Ettling told the Journal.

Ettling is among the number of park employees who are more frequently peppering their guest interactions with climate evangelism. “[P]ark rangers are increasingly delivering the message that global warming is taking a toll on the iconic areas,” the Journal reported:

The National Park Service trains staff to talk to visitors about global warming, an initiative that has won support in the highest reaches of the administration. Earlier this month, the White House issued a directive asking the Park Service to create a national blueprint for climate education. Park rangers won’t be required to teach climate change. But officials say the project will encourage parks to up their educational offerings.

Even as some employees embrace the idea of lecturing park visitors, others believe their mission shouldn’t involve taking sides on an issue that falls on one side of a heavily polarized debate. Some rangers reportedly “experience anxiety at the thought of talking about an often controversial subject.”

That’s understandable. Many of them probably never thought their job might one day require them to serve as mouthpieces trumpeting a political agenda.

America racist? Compared to whom?

As media outlets both in the U.S. and abroad continue to search for the next racially charged controversy, the one that will write the next chapter in their unfolding narrative of America’s latent, festering racial polarity, they could benefit from pausing to examine the facts.

One significant fact: The U.S. is among the least-“racist” nations in human history.

Citing the World Values Survey’s five-year global data on how receptive people throughout the world are to the idea of living next door to someone of a different race, The Daily Caller’s Jamie Weinstein arrived at this:

With all the recent race clanging on MSNBC and other cable news networks, now’s probably a good time to remind everyone that America is among the least racist countries in the world.

I know this statement will be shocking news to regular viewers of “PoliticsNation,” but it also has the quality of being true.

The data supporting that conclusion was taken from people living in 50 countries from 2011 to 2014. Among other questions, residents in each country were asked what kind of neighbors they would not want — and only 5 percent of Americans responded with “people of a different race.”

Residents of other first world nations didn’t come off quite so tolerant: Japan (22 percent), Germany (15 percent) and France (22 percent). As for India, Russia, China and the Middle East? Well, just check out how they fared on this map created by The Washington Post.

The media attention devoted to the Ferguson, Missouri, non-indictment scaled the perception of America’s “race problem” out of all proportion to the reality. Other nations’ media outlets, as well as the United Nations itself, weighed in. Suddenly, again, racism is perceived to be alive and thriving in America (thanks, mainstream media! thanks, identity politics profiteers!).

“Blacks make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population,” Weinstein reminded readers. “There aren’t too many examples of a democratic country electing someone from such a distinct and previously persecuted minority to their top office… It means something that the United States elected an African-American president.”

It is totally impossible, for instance, to imagine a person of color being elected to lead any major country in Europe, at least anytime in the near future. Same with Canada. Same with a racial or religious minority anywhere in Asia or Africa.

Americans care about jobs, economy — not climate change or the ‘wealth gap’

Periodically, a poll will come out that demonstrates an inverse relationship between the Obama administration’s agenda points and the desires of the American public. That is, if the Obama administration is fixated on “income inequality,” it’s a safe bet that the public is fixated on something else.

A new poll from USA Today and the Pew Research Center finds that trend has survived the midterm elections. As in the past, most Americans appear to want very different things from their government than the Obama administration is interested in providing.

For example, page 8 of the poll addresses Americans’ top concerns. Global warming and income inequality don’t even make the list. And even race relations — experiencing something of a topical renaissance, thanks to media reports linking racism with police brutality — barely make the cut.

So what are people interested in? Jobs, the general economy and the role that changing America’s immigration policy may play in affecting jobs and the economy.

“The share of Americans citing economic issues as the most important problem facing the nation has declined significantly over the course of 2014,” Pew observed:

In the current survey, 34% say economic issues are the country’s top problem, down from 48% in January of this year.

And as the national unemployment rate has moved lower, the percentage specifically mentioning ‘unemployment’ as the most important problem facing the nation has declined ten points from 20% to 10%.

Nonetheless, more continue to cite economic issues as the biggest problem facing the country than any other set of issues. Overall, 18% mention dissatisfaction with government, Obama, partisanship or gridlock as the country’s top problem, up slightly from 13% earlier this year.

In other words, the public’s top concerns have pretty much stayed the same: work, wealth and opportunity. The way those concerns manifest from one polling cycle to the next can be affected by whatever policy issues seem most relevant at the time, but it all comes down to jobs and money.

Congress’ budget deal includes campaign finance provision aimed at shoring up the two-party establishment

In a budget deal so massive and hurried that it’s almost impossible anyone could have read it before voting on it, Congress included a provision that profoundly expands the amount of money single donors can contribute to political causes during an election cycle.

It’s a change that received no prior discussion or public acknowledgment, according to The Washington Post:

The provision — one of the most significant changes to the campaign finance system since the landmark McCain-Feingold measure — was written behind closed doors with no public debate. Instead, it surfaced at the last minute in the final pages of a 1,603-page spending bill, which Congress is rushing to pass to keep government operations from shutting down.

While leaders from both major parties wouldn’t comment to the Post on the provision, neither camp can claim the partisan high ground. The provision raises the limit on individual contributions for national party committees to three times the current amount.

It’s a move “heralded by party supporters, who said it would replenish the official Democratic and Republican organizations, which were left weakened by a 2002 ban on soft money and the subsequent rise of super PACs and other outside groups,” the Post observed.

In other words, it consolidates fundraising power for the two-party system, just as that system has been stung by the early signs of a changing, more populist political landscape.

“Republican and Democratic congressional leaders have entered into a Faustian bargain to return the massive corrupting contributions raised by federal officeholders for the national parties that Congress banned in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002,” one watchdog told the Post in an earlier report.

GOP Senate staffers going on Obamacare

To make a point about the perceived disconnect between elected elites and the rest of America, Republican Senators have all agreed to place their staffs not on the federal employee health benefits program, but under Obamacare instead.

Republican leaders behind the populist move have called for their Democratic counterparts to follow suit and force their staffs onto Obamacare, saying it’s not right for lawmakers to exempt staffers while the rest of the country grapples with the healthcare law.

“Washington should have to live under Obamacare just like everybody else until we repeal it,” Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who proposed the measure later approved by the Senate Republican Conference, said in a statement. “And we won’t be complicit in Obama’s illegal rule designed to protect Washington insiders.”

According to The Hill, the measure affects all staffers working for GOP senators: “The Republican policy applies to all staff regardless of whether they work in a personal, committee or leadership office. Cloakroom and other aides are also included.”

Even as it approved the measure, the GOP conference called on Senate Democrats to impose their own rules limiting staffers to buying healthcare through the Obamacare exchange. But for Democrats, that’s easier said than done.

“It’s a tricky issue for lawmakers who risk alienating staff by pushing them off the popular federal employee health plan,” The Hill observed.

Indeed, House Republicans voted against forcing staff onto the Obamacare exchanges last month, and it’s “unlikely,” according to the Washington Times, that Senate Democrats will adopt a similar resolution.

Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made news last fall when reports surfaced that he’d exempted some of his staff from having to drop their federal health benefits in order to go on the Obamacare exchange.

Federal gun control may be dead for now, but some congressional Democrats eye a resurrection

The aspirations of federal gun control advocates came to nothing last year, and the murmurs of its bitter clingers provided only a marginal distraction during this year’s voting cycle — widely viewed as a referendum on President Obama’s agenda. Yet there are a few Democratic lawmakers who hope the 114th Congress revisits gun control legislation, however unpopular that choice might be.

Unsurprisingly, more than one of the gun control revivalists hail from Connecticut, site of the mass murder spectacle that kicked their agenda into high gear in late 2012. The lowest-hanging fruit, legislatively speaking, will be the promotion of a universal background check law.

“When you don’t pass background checks, it’s just much more likely that someone will get their hands on an illegal gun and use it to kill their neighbors or their classmates,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), recently told The Hill.

“… We know the chances of passing this legislation became a little bit less likely given November’s results, but we are not going to cease fighting until we remove the stain of Congress’s inaction from this town.”

Murphy’s fellow Connecticut Senator, Democrat Richard Blumenthal, echoed the “do-nothing Congress” trope.

“Congress’s failure to act makes it, in fact, an aider and abettor to those deaths that could be prevented,” he said.

Aware that they’ll be advocating a position that’s neither popular nor politically expedient, the Connecticut duo and a number of other Democrats nevertheless pledged this week to bring universal background check legislation back to a vote during the upcoming Congress.

“Background checks won’t stop everyone, but it’s our first line of defense,” Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), told The Hill. “We need to expand it, we need to do it now.”

Illinois (again) seeks to make it a crime to record conversations with the police

Undeterred — perhaps even emboldened — by a state supreme court decision striking down an old law forbidding people from surreptitiously recording police encounters, the Illinois General Assembly has passed a slightly modified version of that same law, which now awaits a signature from Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.

According to the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI), a free-market nonprofit, the new draft of the law is “nearly as bad as the old one.”

“The bill would make it a felony to surreptitiously record any ‘private conversation,’ which it defines as any ‘oral communication between 2 or more persons,’ where at least one person involved had a ‘reasonable expectation’ of privacy,” IPI reported last week.

“When does the person you’re talking to have a reasonable expectation of privacy? The bill doesn’t say. And that’s not something an ordinary person can be expected to figure out.”

That’s an enormous grey area the state supreme court directly addressed when in struck down the old law in March.

“The court ruled that the law was overbroad and violated the First Amendment right to free speech because it prohibited recording and publishing speech that was obviously not private at all, such as ‘a loud argument on the street,’ ‘a political debate in a park’ and ‘the public interactions of police officers with citizens,'” IPI reported at the time.

Now, though, the revamped law’s vagueness appears to have been crafted precisely in order to discourage citizens from taking any chances by presuming their encounters with police meet the threshold of surpassing law enforcement’s “reasonable expectation” of privacy.

At least the state’s lawmakers aren’t shy about their position: The new bill passed the Illinois Senate on a 46-4-1 vote; it sailed through the state’s House of Representatives by a margin of 106-7.

Gruber and government have a long, friendly history predating Obama and the Affordable Care Act

Call it the stupidity of the American voter. Too-honest Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber has been accepting public funds for his policy expertise for a long time: far longer than Obamacare — or even Obama himself, for that matter — has spent time on the national stage.

Gruber — an MIT economist whose boasts about Obamacare’s complexity being one of its strengths have recently vindicated much of the criticism aimed at the Affordable Care Act’s passage — didn’t just begin receiving government pay for services rendered during the Obama administration. He’s been at this since President Bill Clinton was in office.

“For the $2.2 million MIT economist Jonathan Gruber has been paid by the federal government since 2000,” CNS News reported Tuesday, “he collected $516,000 during Clinton’s presidency, $1,248,000 during the Bush administration, and $452,600 after President Barack Obama took office.”

After serving under Clinton as an assistant secretary for economic policy in the Treasury department, Gruber began a series of paid-witness gigs for the feds, serving as a compensated expert witness on behalf of the Department of Justice. By the time Clinton left office, Gruber had received a combined $516,000 for five court testimonials.

He went on to receive more than $1.2 million under George W. Bush, racking up 11 more expert witness gigs — the least-lucrative of which paid him $13,500. Most of his testimony served the government’s ongoing regulatory campaign against Big Tobacco, according to CNS.

Gruber testified Tuesday before the House Oversight Committee on the extent to which his now-viral Obamacare revelations reflect the way in which the healthcare law was sold not only to the public, but to the lawmakers who passed it on a partisan vote. He sort of owned up to his condescension. But, then again, nobody was telling him he had to pay back the money he’d been paid.

“I am not an expert on politics, and my tone implied that I was, which is wrong,” he said. “In other cases, I simply made insulting and mean comments that are totally uncalled for in any situation. I sincerely apologize both for conjecturing with a tone of expertise, and for doing so in such a disparaging fashion. It is never appropriate to try to make oneself seem more important or smarter by demeaning others.”

Wisconsin police chief asks people to volunteer to have their homes searched for guns

The chief of police of Beloit, Wisconsin, is asking local residents to voluntarily allow law enforcement to search their homes for firearms, evidently in an effort to raise awareness of “gun violence” — an issue he believes to pose a threat “as serious as the Ebola virus.”

Beloit Police Chief Norm Jacobs is spearheading the new home-search program in order to help homeowners locate guns “they didn’t know were in their own homes,” according to Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR).

It’s also designed to coax people into viewing “gun violence” as a public health epidemic in a fashion similar to the way the media portrays other public health issues.

“Gun violence is as serious as the Ebola virus is being represented in the media, and we should fight it using the tools that we’ve learned from our health providers,” Jacobs told WPR.

Jacobs also said the police might be able to locate “toy guns” that had somehow been modified into lethal weapons.

“Maybe we’ll find a toy gun that’s been altered by a youngster in the house — and we know the tragedies that can occur there on occasion,” he said.

WPR reports that Beloit (population 36,000) has endured seven homicides this year in which guns allegedly were used.

‘Independent’ Senate candidate Greg Orman was funded by Democratic PAC (and ended up losing anyway)

Few people ever bought the idea that Greg Orman, the candidate who lost last month’s general election for a Kansas Senate seat to Republican incumbent Pat Roberts, was the “independent” he claimed to be. Vice President Joe Biden even swept in at the 11th hour before Election Day to virtually remove all doubt.

But newly filed campaign finance reports reveal that Orman was receiving a lot of money, albeit indirectly, from the Senate Majority PAC. As the name might suggest, that’s a PAC with pretty close ties to outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

From The Kansas City Star Sunday:

Campaign reports filed late last week revealed that key Democrats funneled money to Greg Orman’s campaign for the U.S. Senate in Kansas.

A political committee known as the Senate Majority PAC run by former advisers to Majority Leader Harry Reid sent about $1.5 million to two other campaign committees that were backing Orman’s campaign.

By law, Orman and his campaign could not have been involved in the transaction.

The money exchange was secret until last week’s reports because they were made on or after Oct. 16, meaning they didn’t have to be disclosed until last week. Political interests often exploit that loophole to keep some transactions secret until after the election.

The report goes on to state that Reid’s camp didn’t want Orman to appear to be as partisan, ahead of the election, as he actually was and that they “didn’t want to fuel the idea that Democrats were backing Orman.”

That strategy was supposed to leave Orman free to continue campaigning on the promise that he’d keep an open mind and caucus with whichever party would better represent Kansans’ interests in Washington, D.C.

In the end, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. With Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) losing her runoff race late last week, the party composition for the incoming 114th Congress stands at 54 Republicans to 46 Democrats.

IRS mistakenly spent billions of dollars on improper tax credit payouts in FY 2013

A recent report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has revealed that the Internal Revenue Service improperly paid out nearly $15 billion in Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) payments for fiscal year 2013 — a chunk representing almost one-fourth of the total EITC payments made for that same year.

The September report, which was made public last week, also found the IRS had improperly paid out at least $5.9 billion (and possibly as much as $7.1 billion) in Additional Child Tax Credits (ACTC) for FY 2013.

The TIGTA report estimates $14.5 billion of the total $63 billion in Earned Income payments was made in error. However, the agency’s greater problem lies in figuring out a way to curb the systemic shortcomings that continue to allow excessive and improper payments of the Additional Child credits.

“Processes have been developed to identify improper EITC payments and their root causes,” the TIGTA report states. “However, the IRS has not developed processes to quantify or identify the root causes of improper ACTC payments.

“The IRS has continually rated the risk of improper ACTC payments as low. However, TIGTA’s assessment of the potential for ACTC improper payments indicates the ACTC improper payment rate is similar to that of the EITC…

“Significant changes in IRS compliance processes would be necessary to make any significant reduction in improper payments.”

Elsewhere, the report asserts that the tax enforcement agency hasn’t “developed a strategy to identify the root causes of ACTC improper payments.”

Last year, a TIGTA report revealed the IRS had essentially lost $67 million in funds supposedly marked for the implementation of Obamacare.

Last month, another TIGTA report found the agency continues to be lax in enforcing its own policy concerning employees who maintain outside employment and avoiding conflicts of interest.

State senator pens column suggesting Alabama may need to start defining who is or isn’t a ‘journalist’

The Montgomery Advertiser ran an opinion piece Friday authored by Alabama Senate president pro tempore Del Marsh, a Republican. What did Marsh have on his mind? Well, the headline flatly stated, “Defining ‘journalist’ may become necessary.”

Marsh begins by pledging that “[f]reedom of the press is not going anywhere in Alabama,” then follows that handshake and smile with this:

With the national explosion of partisan political blogs and shady, fly-by-night websites offering purposely skewed and inaccurate interpretations of hard news events, I recently asked the Secretary of the Senate to put together a definition of what qualifies as a legitimate journalist.

Marsh said he’s concerned that “a number of partisan bloggers” might want to be credentialed for the State House press rooms in order to report on the legislature. But because they’re allegedly “partisan,” they can’t be trusted to write anything that’s less politically or emotionally freighted than the opinions offered by their mainstream peers.

“Allowing agenda-driven bloggers the same access and legitimacy as serious, long-established and unbiased reporters could soon create a confusing, circus-like atmosphere and blur the line between promoting opinions and reporting facts,” Marsh fretted. “… Because the Legislature does not have a definition of what constitutes a ‘journalist,’ anyone with a smartphone or a Facebook page could demand press credentials.”

Asking the government to tell you what a journalist is (or isn’t) is like asking a serial killer for his definition of “victim.” Aware (however dimly) of the potential for such criticism, Marsh got the Alabama Press Association to “assist the Senate staff in determining a proper definition of what constitutes a journalist meriting access to the press room.”

That’s like asking Coke to explain all the reasons why Pepsi isn’t a “real” cola. It’s a collusion between government and traditional media under the guise of preserving law and order — from both entities’ points of view. It’s a convenient one, as well: They share many of the same interests.

Arizona county considers refusing to offer employment to anyone who smokes

Arizona’s second most-populous county may soon require all prospective employees to submit to tests for the presence of nicotine in their bodies, automatically disqualifying anyone who tests positive from further consideration for employment.

According to the Tucson-based Arizona Daily Star, the Pima County board of supervisors is expected to vote Dec. 16 on whether to implement the new policy, which, if passed, would take effect in 2015.

Under the proposal, the county would reserve the right not to hire smokers (not people who seek to take smoking breaks on the job, but smokers, period) and would institute a hefty 30 percent health insurance surcharge on current employees who use tobacco products.

The county has indicated approximately 32 percent of its current workforce uses tobacco. As for potential new hires? They’d “have to provide proof they have been tobacco and nicotine free for a year in the form of a doctor’s note or drug test,” according to the Star.

Those smokers who already work for Pima County could see a new form of negative reinforcement, in the form of the surcharge, if the new policy is approved:

For current employees, there’s a carrot and a stick. Nonsmokers who sign an affidavit that they are nicotine-free are eligible for a $5 health-care discount each biweekly pay period. Tobacco users will pay 30 percent more on top of their existing health-care costs.

For example, a single employee pays about $21 premium for health care per pay period. If that employee smoked, they would have an additional $6.30 surcharge on each check — that adds up to $163.80 per year. In July 2017 the charge would increase 50 percent of their health-care premium.

Included in the proposed screening process (as well as the surcharge for current employees) are those who “vape” on non-combustible electronic nicotine delivery devices, or e-cigs.

The county’s HR director told the newspaper that the proposal isn’t intended to be punitive; rather, it’s “an attempt to encourage people to be healthy.”

That’s one way of looking at it. One might also say it’s an attempt to assist insurers in their never-ending quest to reduce costs and maximize profit, via a ceaselessly refining process of risk assessment and regulation.