Harry Reid Loses Both The Vote And The PR Campaign As Constitutional Amendment Bill Goes Down In Flames

Remember that supposed Constitutional amendment to restrict political spending by the Koch brothers and repudiate the Citizens United decision? The one that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was hell-bent on bringing up for repeated floor votes? The one that was supposed to be the “salvation of our country,” as Reid declared in May?

Well, consider the country unsaved. The amendment bill died today. And thanks to some procedural Russian roulette from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), it appears to have died for good.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), aimed to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution handing Congress the regulatory power to limit and oversee campaign spending for federal elections. It would also have granted the same power to states to similarly regulate state-level campaign spending. Reid had drawn a line in the sand earlier this year, saying such an amendment is do-or-die for an American elections system hijacked by Koch money.

“It’s been tried before, we should continue to push this and it should become our issue. That really puts the Koch brothers up against it. We believe and I believe that there should be spending limits,” he had said. “… We’re going to arrange a vote on it. We’re going to do it until we pass it because that’s the salvation of our country.”

The bill was never anything more than political theater, a scripted token of Reid’s Koch-ranting midterm elections strategy designed to lay blame at Republicans’ feet for obstructing campaign finance reform. “This bill has no chance of amending the Constitution, or Harry Reid wouldn’t be ready to stage a floor show themed around a phony battle against evil Republicans intent on frustrating its chances,” we wrote in May. “This is the kind of bill that makes for great Sunday news show fodder once it’s failed.”

One big problem: The bill didn’t fail the way Reid had planned. It failed honestly, so to speak, rather than dishonestly. From Washington Examiner today:

Democrats never really thought the measure would go anywhere, as they drafted it on the assumption Republicans would immediately block it. Democrats had hoped then to hold up the vote as an example of GOP obstructionism, a ploy they expected to exploit ahead of the November congressional elections.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Reid’s bluff Monday when he allowed the measure to advance on an initial procedural vote, turning what was supposed to be a Democratic messaging bill against them. McConnell allowed a second procedural vote to pass Wednesday on a voice vote.

The Kentucky Republican then blasted Reid for wasting Senate time on a measure he knew had a slim chance of passing.

So the measure died in today’s partisan 54-42 vote. (It needed 60 to continue.) As majority leader, Reid typically votes against ill-fated bills he supports, since he can reconsider a measure after having voted against it. But since the thing made it all the way to a full Senate vote, he was compelled to vote his… conscience… on a motion to proceed.

Here’s a link to the Examiner’s Tuesday story on how McConnell and the Senate GOP got set to win this one. It has a funny headline.

One-Third Of Voters Don’t Even Know Which Party Controls House, Senate

In two months, U.S. voters will determine whether Congress continues into President Obama’s last two years with a Democratic Senate and a Republican House. But a chunk of those likely voters don’t even know which party currently holds the majority in each chamber.

Rasmussen Reports said Thursday that only 63 percent of likely voters have a clue about which party is in charge of the House and the Senate. As for the remainder, many of them aren’t simply ignorant — they’re (somehow) misinformed.

Twenty percent (20%) mistakenly believe Democrats control the House, while 17% are not sure. Similarly, 18% think the GOP is in charge in the Senate, but 19% are not sure.

This is even less awareness than voters expressed in March of last year. Remember, too, that these are respondents who are the likeliest to vote this November and so presumably are more politically aware than most other Americans.

Broken down by demographics, Rasmussen reveals that “women and those under 40” know less about the present arrangement of party control over the bicameral legislature. As for likely voters who claim a party affiliation, “Republicans are more aware than Democrats and unaffiliated voters, but a sizable number of GOP voters don’t know which party controls which house of Congress.”

And while the general public perceives Republicans to be anti-Obamacare, the party-line votes against the original law — as well as all the repeated GOP-led repeal efforts — haven’t exactly earned each and every Representative a commensurate level of notoriety for their efforts.

“Even though not a single Republican member of either the House or Senate voted for the new national health care law, 31% of likely voters say they are not sure how their representative in Congress voted on Obamacare, an issue at the forefront of this election cycle,” Rasmussen states.

At least we’re all self-aware in our ignorance. Only nine percent of those surveyed indicated they believe that Americans make for well-informed voters.

House Votes To Block EPA Power Grab That Would Regulate Small Waterways On Private Property

In a somewhat bipartisan vote, the House of Representatives on Tuesday approved H.R. 5078, a “statement” piece of legislation that aims to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s unprecedented reach for regulatory power over small streams, ponds and similar catchments on private lands.

The measure passed on a 262-152 vote, with 227 Republicans and 35 Democrats supporting it. One Republican and 151 Democrats voted against the bill; 17 congressmen did not cast a vote. It now heads to the Senate, where vulnerable Democrats are feeling pressure from lobbies on both sides to kill the bill or save it. The Obama administration indicated on Monday that the President is likely to veto the bill if it makes it to his desk, saying the law is “not an act of good government.”

That’s to be expected, because the EPA’s vision for redefining language in the Clean Water Act to include small catchments and seasonal creeks is in lockstep with the Obama administration’s overarching program of expanding the government’s role in environmental stewardship.

Land-use industries such as oil, farming and the construction trades hailed the House approval of the bill and focused their attention to its passage in the Senate.

“Allowing these agencies to radically increase their jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act would impede the fledgling housing recovery by greatly increasing the number of construction sites required to obtain permits, which would also delay and raise the cost of home building projects,” the National Association of Homebuilders’ Kevin Kelly said Tuesday. “… Today’s House vote sends a strong message to the EPA to go back to the drawing board to find a common-sense middle ground plan that will maintain environmental safeguards and protect landowners from unnecessary regulation.”

“Passage of H.R. 5078 isn’t just a clear rejection of the overreach that lies in the EPA’s proposed Waters of the U.S. rule,” the American Farm Bureau Federation said in a statement after the bill passed. “Today’s action is an unmistakable signal that the tide is turning against those who ignore the constitutional separation of powers in the United States. We will ditch this rule.”

Separation of powers and federal encroachment were clearly on the mind of the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), who titled his legislation the “Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act.”

“For more than 40 years, America’s waters have been made cleaner and safer by a balanced regulatory partnership between the states and the federal government. The basis for this partnership was a commonsense understanding that not all waters are subject to federal jurisdiction, and that the states must have the primary responsibility for regulating waters within their own boundaries,” Southerland said from the House floor Tuesday.

“But now, decades of success have been put at risk under the guise of ‘clarifying’ the scope of the federal jurisdiction. Under its proposed rules, federal agencies like the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers would see their regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act drastically expanded to the point of covering almost any body of water throughout America — from ditches to culverts to pipes to watersheds to farmland ponds.”

Those environmentalists who view the government as a just arbiter of land use issues weren’t happy with the vote.

Salon’s Lindsay Abrams characterized the bill’s robust GOP support as “hysterical rhetoric” and accused Republicans of “twisting” a benign, much-needed clarification of policy language into an election-year issue to politically isolate rural-state Democrats.

For more on what the bill actually says, just check it out.

Commissioner Koskinen Says IRS Tries To Follow The Law ‘Whenever We Can’

Take comfort in knowing that, just as you only try to follow federal tax law “whenever you can,” the agency that collects and enforces those same laws is right there with you.

What? You always follow federal tax law because you don’t have much of a choice? Never mind then — the IRS hasn’t got anything in common with you.

At a House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing today, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told the panel the IRS sometimes does what the law prescribes. “Whenever we can, we follow the law,” said Koskinen, prompting a quick retort from Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), according to The Hill: ““I encourage you to follow the law in all instances.”

Koskinen’s remarks came amid a barrage of questions about how the IRS will manage to ensure that everyone who’s required to report their healthcare coverage information to the agency this tax season will provide accurate information. It’s a crucial point: The Obama administration has missed the mark repeatedly in assurances about deadlines, premium costs, the security of patient information and the expediency of incorporating insurance verification into the annual tax-filing gauntlet.

Healthcare.gov’s Andy Slavitt faced questions about such concerns, with House members pointing out the website was recently reported to have been hacked — just one of several serious rollout failings that have engendered, in Slavitt’s own words, a “trust gap” between congressional overseers and the public on one hand, and the Obama administration on the other.

Wednesday’s hearing came only a few days after another potential IRS scandal-within-a-scandal emerged, when a Department of Justice spokesman reportedly called Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) office by mistake in an attempt to drum up some help on how to continue shaping the IRS narrative in its ongoing political discrimination scandal involving conservative nonprofits. Issa is chair of the House Oversight Committee, which has an ongoing investigation into the scandal.

“Apparently thinking he had reached the office of Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.) [Cummings is on the House Oversight Committee], [DOJ spokesman Brian] Fallon said the department wanted congressional staffers to get documents to selected reporters so that officials could comment on them ‘before the majority’ did,” The Hill reported Tuesday.

“After Issa spokesman Frederick Hill replied that Oversight Committee staffers would have to examine those documents first, the line went silent, and Fallon placed the call on hold for three minutes.

“When he returned to the line, Fallon was ‘audibly shaken,’ according to an account of the conversation that Issa recounts in a letter sent to [Attorney General Eric] Holder.”

You can read the letter Issa sent to Holder following that incident here.

Every Day They’re Unemployed, More Jobless People Go Shopping Than Look For Work

Looking for a job — especially when jobs are hard to find — is a drag. But shopping’s fun. And because so many people in the U.S. can live funded and jobless at the same time, more of them are spending their days buying stuff — not even necessary stuff — than looking for work.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey (ATUS), unemployed people from 2009 through 2013 spent more time shopping for nonessential goods on a daily basis than hunting for a job or following up on invitations to job interviews.

From CNS News, which recently crunched the BLS’ survey numbers:

Only 18.9 percent of Americans who were unemployed (in surveys conducted from 2009 through 2013) spent time in job search and interviewing activities on an average day, according to BLS. Yet 40.8 percent of the unemployed did some kind of shopping on the average day — either in a store, by telephone, or on the Internet. 22.5 percent of the unemployed, according to BLS, were shopping for items other than groceries, food and gas.

The upshot, then, is that 22.5 percent of unemployed Americans shopped for stuff other than gas and groceries, while only 18.9 percent looked for work. Unemployed Americans also spent 9.24 hours per day, on average, sleeping and 5.93 hours per day on leisure and social activities.

Statistics released by the Census Bureau last month revealed that 110 million Americans — more than 35 percent of the population of the United States — are now receiving some form of means-tested welfare from the government. Add in Medicare and Social Security, and that number jumps above 150 million, or just under half the U.S. population.

As Cato Institute fellow Michael Tanner recently observed, the present surge in welfare benefits is a legacy of presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. “[T]he growing welfare caseload cannot be blamed solely on President Obama,” Tanner wrote in National Review.

“True, the number of people on welfare has increased by 12.5 million since he took office. But welfare also increased during the Bush administration: The proportion of households receiving SNAP (food stamps), TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), or SSI (Supplemental Security Income for the disabled) increased 36 percent during his presidency.”

VA Officials Allowed To Influence Inspector General Report To Downplay Alleged Role In Patient Deaths

A draft of an Inspector General’s report on a Phoenix Veterans Affairs hospital was modified to include softer language absolving VA officials of any alleged role in causing delays that may have contributed to patient deaths — but only after the draft, without that benign language, had been submitted to VA administrators and then released to the public.

The Washington Examiner reported on the “crucial” omission Monday, noting that agency officials succeeded in effecting revisions to the version of the IG report that went public — evidently in an attempt to avoid the criticism that might have followed if the public had reviewed the harsher, final version.

“The single most compelling sentence in the inspector general’s 143-page final report on fraudulent scheduling practices at the Phoenix veterans’ hospital did not appear in the draft version, according to a staff analysis by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs,” wrote the Examiner.

“It was inserted into the final version, the only one that was released to the public, after agency officials had a chance to comment and recommend revisions.”

That meaning of that sentence revolves on the omission of a passage that proclaimed the IG could not “conclusively” prove that Phoenix VA officials’ delays had led to anyone dying:

While the case reviews in this report document poor quality of care, we are unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the deaths of these veterans.

“No such language appears in the draft version that was sent by the IG to agency officials for comment,” the Examiner reported.

That means the higher-ups in the VA thought the draft of the report was too damning, and they persuaded the IG to dress it up for their benefit. The IG had already concluded that the Phoenix VA had falsified appointment logs to conceal the delays in patient care.

Government Jacks The Cost Of Renouncing U.S. Citizenship

The State Department is about to quintuple the cost for renouncing U.S. citizenship, even as the number of Americans who voluntarily abrogate their relationship with the Unites States continues to surge. Talk about an inversion of the concept of supply and demand.

Even as the number of people renouncing their U.S. citizenship is on pace to exceed 4,000 this year, setting a new record in the process, the government is taking steps to get one last ounce of money from each soon-to-be ex-citizen in the bargain. 

Yahoo News reports that the State Department this week is hiking the price of renunciation from $450 to $2,350 — evidently in an attempt to create an incentive for tax-weary Americans to think twice before severing their formal commitment to their country. It’s perhaps an interesting footnote to mention that, before 2010, renouncing one’s U.S. citizenship didn’t cost a cent

In 2013, 2,999 people renounced their citizenship, obliterating the next-highest annual number, 1,781, who walked away from U.S. citizenship in 2011. 

Unsurprisingly, the chief reason for cutting ties seems to focus on the way the U.S. government requires its citizens to report (and pay taxes on) the wealth they generate in other countries. The U.S. and Eritrea are the only countries in the world that tax their citizens on everything they earn, whether it’s earned at home or abroad. Too, the record-setting number of freshly minted expatriates coincides with a general surge in the American tax burden. 

“[T]the most likely cause appears to be the Obama-era crackdown on U.S. citizens hiding wealth overseas,” observes Yahoo News:

From 2001 to 2008, 3,937 people who had lived on U.S. soil for at least eight years either renounced their citizenship or gave up lawful permanent resident status, according to Andrew Mitchel, an international tax attorney in Centerbrook, Connecticut, who tracks the figures closely.

From January 2009 to the quarter ending June 30, 2014, the number rose to 9,566, according to a Yahoo News analysis of the figures published on a quarterly basis by the Internal Revenue Service.

The rise has coincided with a campaign that has scooped up about $6 billion in taxes, interest and penalties from more than 40,000 U.S. taxpayers since 2009.

Government policies to quell expatriation have increasingly targeted the wealthy. New renouncers have to pay what amounts to an “exit tax” — one “predicated on the legal fiction that you sell all of your worldwide property at its fair market value on the day before you expatriate,” according to liberty blogger Mark Nestmann.

Currently, the threshold for the “exit tax” stands at $2 million in global net worth and the long-term fulfillment of a couple of tax liability prerequisites before you renounce. 

If you’re interested, here’s what the government has to say to those thinking about renouncing their citizenship. But before you round up $2,350 and head to a U.S. consulate, read this first.  

America’s Labor Force Is Becoming Less Flexible As Government Becomes More Intrusive

It’s getting harder and harder to get hired into a legitimate job, as municipal, state and federal regulations continue to chip away at the incentive for ambitious individuals to seek a profit – or for job seekers (particularly low-skilled ones) to pursue employment.

That’s a sentence that could have been written decades ago, but the present gauntlet of licensing and regulation (on the startup side), as well as the increasingly rigorous employee vetting process (on the labor side) have clouded the United States’ once-flexible labor environment so that it’s coming to resemble Europe’s or Japan’s.

That’s the conclusion of Steven Davis and John Haltwanger, two American researchers who presented some of their findings to Fed chair Janet Yellen and her European counterparts at an economic conference last month in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. They point to the ongoing ossification of America’s once-fluid labor force, as well as an ever-escalating government regulatory threshold that makes entry into the ranks of the employed more difficult than it’s ever been.

From an analysis of their research in The Economist:

Some of this may be down to structural changes in the economy…But less benign forces are also at work. The spread of occupational licensing, for everything from horse massage to hair braiding, has raised barriers to entry for occupations that once required little or no training. American employers used to be free to sack workers more or less as they pleased, but that “employment at will” doctrine has been eroded somewhat by court decisions that have established an implicit contract between employee and employer. That makes firms less likely to fire people, and therefore to hire them. The authors also finger the information revolution: a job applicant these days could be undone by a criminal record, a poor credit history or even an impolitic Facebook posting, all of which are easy to find online.

On the labor side, that trend is particularly harmful to young, low-skilled job seekers – mostly male. “All this…could explain why the employment rate (the share of the population with jobs) has fallen so much for less educated men in recent decades,” notes The Economist. “[P]olicymakers should not try to increase turnover for its own sake, but rather remove artificial barriers that trap workers in poorly paid, insecure jobs.”

The advent of mandatory, portable, one-size-fits-all health insurance (Obamacare) was supposed to represent the removal of one such barrier, but nothing the government does to improve people’s lives occurs in a vacuum. “In America, Obamacare could improve fluidity by making it easier for employees to change jobs without losing health insurance,” the analysis observes.

“But it could also expand the ranks of part-time workers by requiring employers to provide insurance only for full-time ones. That is something America’s bifurcating job market could do without.”

Only The Rich Are Getting Richer In The Obama Era

The September bulletin from the Federal Reserve includes an observation that presents a problem for the Obama administration’s avowed war on income inequality: Over the past three years, only the very rich have increased their wealth. On average, everyone else — and that’s roughly 97 percent of all Americans — is either treading water or drowning.

According to the Fed bulletin, the wealth held by the richest Americans has surged to historically high levels, but it’s not a trend that extends to the upper-middle, middle and lower classes — in other words, the vast majority.

Here’s how the Fed’s Board of Governors describes the disparity:

Income inequality, particularly the share of income received by the top 1 percent of the income distribution, has received increased attention in recent years. The Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) is uniquely capable of contributing to our understanding of trends in income and wealth inequality because the survey collects data on net worth in addition to income, and it also effectively samples affluent families.

Data from the 2013 SCF confirm that the shares of income and wealth held by affluent families are at modern historically high levels. Also, the gains in income and wealth shares have been concentrated among the top few percentiles of the distribution. Contrary to some analysis of Internal Revenue Service data indicating wealth gains are isolated to the top 1 percent, or even 0.5 percent, data from the SCF show that the top few percent of families have experienced rising shares of income and wealth.

The bulletin goes on to show that only the top three percent of income earners in the U.S. has both rebounded from and added to their wealth since the general economic downturn beginning in 2007. 

The Fed bulletin came only days ahead of the latest data dump from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which revealed that the nation added some 60,000 fewer jobs in August than the already-tepid 200,000 jobs most economists had expected. 

Even MSNBC didn’t try to spin that. 

Ban On Homemade Guns One Signature Away From Becoming Law In California

California Governor Jerry Brown has but to sign a bill passed by the legislature for homemade guns both past and future to become illegal in California, except under strict conditions that document the weapons with government-issued serial numbers.

The state legislature approved SB 808 last week, sending the bill to Brown’s desk for a signature to enact it into law. The bill, which made national headlines for its Democratic sponsor’s so-sad-it’s-funny press conference in January, will essentially ban the manufacture of 3D-printed guns, as well as set severe restrictions on other forms of DIY firearms.

Here’s the video from that non-event, staged by state Senator Kevin de Leon:

Here’s more on the bill from Guns.com:

…SB808…would require a state Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms background check and authorization before assembling a firearm in the home of a state resident. Additionally, before this could be granted, the candidate would have to show proof that building the gun would not violate local city or county codes.

It would further require those who in the state that have already made their own gun after December of 1968 to obtain and engrave or affix a DOJ-issued serial number and prohibit the sale, transfer or inheritance of these guns.

In a final step, all guns made by unlicensed homebuilders would have to be serialized, have that serial number logged by the DOJ, and kept on record. Furthermore, homebuilders would have to pay a fee.

Noncompliance could result in up to a $1,000 fine and/or a year in prison.

De Leon described the legislation as taking a “modest approach to address these new threats to public safety” in a press release last week, noting that recent advances have opened the way for “dangerous individuals” to “manipulate technologies at the expense of public safety.”

Lost Emails Here; Lost Emails There…IRS ‘Lost’ Emails Of Five More Employees Tied To Lerner Scandal

The number of IRS employees whose emails were allegedly “lost” by the tax enforcement agency officially rose by five today, according to an early report from The Associated Press.

All five of the employees, whose names were added Friday to the agency’s updated list of workers who suffered computer crashes, are reportedly tied in some way to the political discrimination scandal centered on former exempt organizations division director Lois Lerner.

There are now nearly two dozen current and former IRS employees connected to the scandal whose computer hard drives have allegedly crashed since President Obama launched his reelection campaign. Notwithstanding that, lawyers for the IRS admitted in late August that all of the missing emails are likely recoverable from the government’s deep trove of redundant data storage — if only it weren’t so much work to locate them.

Also on Friday, nonprofit group Judicial Watch, the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the IRS over the discrimination scandal, revealed that Lerner and other IRS employees had been exchanging communication about a “secret research project” that involved inappropriately obtained donor lists for a variety of nonprofit groups — the overwhelming majority of which were conservative.

DNC Chair Overplays The ‘War On Women’ Trope, Doing Her Party No Favors In The Process

Nearly three years ago, at a time when Republicans were circling the wagons to fight a “jobs killing” anti-Obamacare bill, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who now chairs the Democratic National Committee, called for a bipartisan drawdown on savage and violent rhetoric in politics.

But that was then.

This week, Wasserman Schultz abandoned that plan in the name of perpetuating the Democrats’ midterm strategy of accusing Republicans of waging a war on women. In a blistering portrayal of Republican Scott Walker, she criticized the Wisconsin governor for grabbing women “by the hair and pulling us back.”

“Scott Walker has given women the back of his hand. I know that is stark. I know that is direct. But that is reality… What Republican Tea Party extremists like Scott Walker are doing is they are grabbing us by the hair and pulling us back. And it’s unacceptable.”

Wasserman Schultz offered that assessment on Wednesday during a panel on women’s issues in Milwaukee. The comparisons to language describing domestic violence were immediate.

“I’m thoroughly disgusted that they would use the plight of women who have been the victims of domestic violence to make a case against our governor,” said Wisconsin state Senator Leah Vukmir, a Republican.

“I think the remarks were absolutely hideous and the motive behind them was despicable,” Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, also a Republican, said.

“Attacking and controlling a woman by using her long hair — the shining emblem of her femininity repurposed as a hand grip — strikes a deep chord,” wrote conservative blogger (and University of Wisconsin law professor) Ann Althouse. “It is a chord I believe Wasserman Shultz meant to strike. She wanted to reach through our conscious, critical mind and stir that most powerful emotion, fear.”

The invocation of the “war on women” has become such a Pavlovian trope for Congressional Democrats that many no longer pause to assess the relative costs and benefits of trotting it out to serve a momentary partisan use. Certainly, Wasserman Schultz herself isn’t bothering to take stock of whether comparing Walker to a caveman is really helping advance her supposedly pro-woman ideology, or exposing her insincerity in promoting it.

Here’s what she said back in 2011, when the idea of kinder, gentler rhetoric could be dressed up as a uniquely Democratic one:

I think all of us need to be more careful about the words that we choose to use, including things like the title of the repeal of health-care reform. I’m glad that Speaker Boehner chose to verbalize a different title for that bill, but they, so far, have refused to actually change the title of ‘Job-Killing Healthcare Repeal.’ I think we need to be leaders by example, and when we do that, then hopefully we’re gonna be able to push the shock jocks and others outside our process to take a page from our book. And if we have a more productive civil discourse, then we can really live up to President Obama’s words and Christina Taylor Green’s dreams, her expectations for our democracy.

But that was then. Things are more dire now for Democrats, so Wasserman Schultz is leading by a different kind of example.

Few Fooled By DOJ’s Political Motives

Put this in the “no kidding” category: A majority of Americans believes the supposedly-impartial U.S. Department of Justice is more preoccupied with politics than justice whenever it insinuates itself into a local matter that has made national headlines.

A Rasmussen survey released late last week found that 54 percent of Americans believe the DOJ is acting out of political motivations whenever it swoops into a town like Ferguson, Missouri to conduct a criminal investigation.

“Just 35% think the Justice Department is more concerned with making sure justice is done when it decides to investigate a local crime independent of local police,” Rasmussen observed. “But 54% think instead that the Justice Department is more concerned with politics when it makes those decisions. Eleven percent (11%) are undecided.”

In addition, people seem to think (for some reason) that local cops — for better or worse — are a more appropriate resource than the feds to tackle local problems.

“[O]nly 20% of voters favor federal control over local police departments. An overwhelming majority (74%) believes police departments should continue to be controlled by local authorities,” Rasmussen found.

The Congressional Black Caucus is pressuring the Obama administration to create a new federal law enforcement position within the DOJ to monitor any local police agency that accepts federal funding. The CBC calls the prospective occupant of such a position a “Czar.”

“If someone isn’t tasked with ensuring the implementation of equitable policing in cities across the country, then no one will do the job,” the CBC wrote to President Obama.

“The Administration must appoint a federal Czar, housed in the U.S. Department of Justice, who is specifically tasked with promoting the professionalization of local law enforcement, monitoring egregious law enforcement activities, and adjudicating suspicious actions of local law enforcement agencies that receive federal funding.”

No MSM Coverage For Tea Party ‘Buycott’ To Help Looted Ferguson Businesses

The St. Louis Tea Party has organized a series of shopping sprees at businesses in Ferguson, Missouri ravaged by more than a week of looting and rioting. Unless you live in the St. Louis TV market, it’s a human-interest story likely to be left out of mainstream media reports from Ferguson.

The idea behind the so-called “Buycott” is simple: Tea Party followers in the St. Louis area are trying to turn out as many people as they can to shop at Ferguson businesses over the long Labor Day weekend, because, as organizers assert, “shop owners in Ferguson and Dellwood weren’t rioting. They were watching their American Dream of owning their own lives go out through broken windows.”

Here’s the full pitch from the event’s Facebook page:

We all have work to do. Ferguson businesses and families are still struggling with the effects of the riots. The demonstrations didn’t break their windows or steal their inventories. Rioters did. Looters did. And the shop owners in Ferguson and Dellwood weren’t rioting. They were watching their American Dream of owning their own lives go out through broken windows.

Everybody shops on Labor Day Weekend. All we’re asking is that you consider doing that shopping in Ferguson and Dellwood.

Bill Hennessy, one of the founders of the local Tea Party, shared on his blog last week an anecdote from one of his group’s early post-rioting forays into one of the affected stores:

We targeted the small businesses that were hit hard by violence–violence committed (mostly) by out of town agitators, criminals, vandals, and hooligans.

We drove to Ferguson to make two statements with our actons: 1) Ferguson is OUR community, and 2) Ferguson is open for business.

I met Dellena. Dellena owns the 911 Beauty Salon on West Florissant in Dellwood. Her landlord got foreclosed on, which meant she lost her home, just before the riots. So she moved all her inventory from her house to the store. Then the riots happened, and they took her inventory.

God bless Dellena.

I insisted on buying something–all the people in the salon were so happy and kind. She didn’t have much for white guy gray hair, but she took the time to pull together some gift bags. Then she didn’t want money, but I made her take it.

A gentleman (my age) in the salon (husband?) asked who we were with. I told him “St. Louis Tea Party.”

“Tea party?” he said. “You bad boys,” and chuckled. Then he looked at me, very serious. He said, “The tea party came up here to do this?”

“Oh, yeah,” I said. “We don’t want to see Ferguson go south.”

He laughed. And he looked at me. Then he was quiet, lost in thought for a minute. When he came out of it, he was like our best friend. Laughing, giving us crap about stuff, telling stories. He admitted baseball can be like “watching grass grow.”

In that moment of reflection, I’m sure he was trying to reconcile “tea party” with what he was seeing–four white people, ages 18 to 50, laughing, spending money, empathizing.

That moment made the whole event worthwhile.

The event has been reported locally, and the Tea Party is by no means the only local group turning out to show meaningful support to Ferguson residents left to count their losses after the looting subsided.

“To be needlessly fair to the media, the effort has gotten some positive local coverage, and there are no doubt no many, many groups – churches, fraternal organizations and the like – that are helping out Ferguson in ways we’ll never hear about,” observed BizPac Review Thursday.

“But this is the St. Louis Tea Party, a branch of a national movement of everyday Americans that the mainstream media generally treats like the Second Coming of the Klan. It’s a mostly white group working to help the mostly black businesses that were almost destroyed by mostly black rioters – and since that doesn’t fit any mainstream media narrative, most of America will never hear about it.”

Damn shame.

Bashing The Koch Brothers While Taking Soros Money: It’s A Democrat Thing; You Wouldn’t Understand

In a condescending evasion, the head of yet another progressive PAC is justifying his group’s acceptance of funds from progressive billionaire George Soros, even as he condemns conservative committees for saying “yes” to contributions from the libertarian-aligned Koch brothers. The difference, he argues, is simply that he’s on the good guys’ side.

BuzzFeed reporter Andrew Kaczynski started sparring on Twitter Wednesday with Brad Woodhouse, a Democratic strategist who was tapped earlier this year to run American Bridge 21st Century, a Soros-funded Super PAC.

Kaczynski called out Woodhouse for sending a predictable evil-Koch-money story out to reporters via email, retorting  “so you dislike big money @woodhouseb only when it isn’t your ideology. I understand now” on Twitter.

That prompted a dumb response by Woodhouse: “well, they’re not looking to screw the middle class to enrich themselves – so yeah – maybe you do get it.”

“I guess @woodhouseb your billionaires are better than their billionaires,” Kaczynski zinged back.

Since there is no substantive way to disagree with that, Woodhouse played the “you don’t understand” card and tried to end the discussion. He made a couple of ad hominem insults, so Kaczynski dropped the mic with this:

“Since you’re outraged by billionaires influencing politics @woodhouseb will American Bridge be refunding largest-donor George Soros?”

Nice. Here’s FactCheck’s rundown of American Bridge 21st Century PAC, whose chief benefactor in the 2012 election cycle was George Soros. Soros is on track to repeat – if not top – his 2012 contributions for this year’s midterms.

“The majority of PAC funds are used for tracking and recording Republican candidates as part of an extensive opposition research operation,” observes FactCheck.

If that’s the case, then Woodhouse was just trying to do his job. The wrong guy just happened to notice.

 

DOJ Wins Mortgage Abuse Settlement, Gives Part Of The Take To La Raza And ACORN

The U.S. Department of Justice received a massive settlement from Bank of America — touted by Attorney General Eric Holder’s office as “the largest civil settlement with a single entity in American history” — over BoA’s alleged obfuscation of the risks associated with residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) during the recent housing crisis.

But, just as it did two years ago when it took $335 million in a settlement with Countrywide Financial Corp., DOJ has structured a deal which ensures a big chunk of that money never finds its way into the hands of the minority and underrepresented groups who paid higher home interest rates because of their racial – and not their credit – status.

In the BoA settlement, announced last week, the first money – about $7 billion – goes to the plaintiffs. Then much of it is tied up in BoA obligations to offer settlement-enforced loans for low-income housing.

As for what’s left? After four years of BoA rehab, DOJ is giving away the leftovers to progressive activist groups like the National Council of La Raza, the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and even a rebranded local arm for ACORN in New York – all under the pretense of investing in boots-on-the-ground community advocacy in areas with demographics that match those of the plaintiffs.

What that really amounts to, as Investor’s Business Daily scathingly put it, is the creation of a “massive slush fund for Democrat special interests.”

Extortion: Radical Democrat activist groups stand to collect millions from Attorney General Eric Holder’s record $17 billion deal to settle alleged mortgage abuse charges against Bank of America.

Buried in the fine print of the deal, which includes $7 billion in soft-dollar consumer relief, are a raft of political payoffs to Obama constituency groups. In effect, the government has ordered the nation’s largest bank to create a massive slush fund for Democrat special interests.

Besides requiring billions in debt forgiveness payments to delinquent borrowers in Cleveland, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Oakland, Detroit, Chicago and other Democrat strongholds — and up to $500 million to cover personal taxes owed on those checks — the deal requires BofA to make billions in new loans, while also building affordable low-income rental housing in those areas.

If there are leftover funds in four years, the settlement stipulates the money will go to Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Account (IOLTA), which provides legal aid for the poor and supports left-wing causes, and NeighborWorks of America, which provides affordable housing and funds a national network of left-wing community organizers operating in the mold of Acorn.

In fact, in 2008 and 2009, NeighborWorks awarded a whopping $25 million to Acorn Housing.

As Judicial Watch points out, this isn’t the first time Holder’s DOJ has done this. But the scale of this deal dwarfs what transpired in 2012, when “Countrywide Financial Corporation doled out $335 million to settle its discrimination lawsuit with the feds.”

“The money was supposed to be distributed to more than 200,000 minority victims who supposedly were charged higher interest rates and fees than white borrowers based on their race not their credit,” JW states. “Instead, a chunk of the money went to Democrat-tied groups not connected to the lawsuit, including the scandal-plagued Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and the open-borders National Council of La Raza (NCLR).”

 

 

Obama: ‘We Don’t Have A Strategy Yet’ To Move On The Islamic State

White House staffers had a major cleanup job on their hands after President Obama got done with his statement on a pair of global crises today.

“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet,” Obama responded when asked whether he would approach Congress for authorization to intervene with the Islamic State in Syria.

Here’s his full response (H/T: Zero Hedge):

QUESTION: Do you need Congress’s approval to go into Syria?

OBAMA: You know, I have consulted with Congress throughout this process. I am confident that as commander in chief I have the authorities to engage in the acts that we are conducting currently. As our strategy develops, we will continue to consult with Congress, and I do think that it’ll be important for Congress to weigh in and we’re – that our consultations with Congress continue to develop so that the American people are part of the debate.

But I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet.

I think what I’ve seen in some of the news reports suggests that folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at than we currently are. And I think that’s not just my assessment, but the assessment of our military, as well. We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans, that we’re developing them. At that point, I will consult with Congress and make sure that their voices are heard.

But there’s no point in me asking for action on the part of Congress before I know exactly what it is that is going to be required for us to get the job done.

That would sound prudent, maybe, if the Islamic State (at the time calling itself ISIS) hadn’t been storming Mosul and Kirkuk, while obliterating a swath of the Iraq-Syria border, in June. Regardless of whether you advocate a strong statement of intent to do something or to do nothing, this isn’t a crisis hasn’t exactly crept up on the world.

Press Secretary Josh Earnest was on Twitter ASAP, saying exactly the opposite of what Obama had just said:

Federal Debt Has Doubled Since 2007

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released an update to its ten-year budget and economic outlook report Wednesday. It begins by touting the ongoing reduction in the federal budget deficit – that is, in the simplest terms, the amount of money the government is spending each year beyond what Congress budgeted for that year. In other words, we’re getting nominally closer to hitting the number Congress sets for the budget, but we’re still spending more than that.

Read on, though, and you’ll find the statistic that actually matters: the actual federal debt held by the public is growing rapidly, and is closing in on a figure that parallels three-quarters of the United States’ annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Right now, that number represents 74 percent of the annual GDP – up twofold from 2007 – and it’s on track to hit 77 percent of GDP by 2024. Publicly-held debt is the only type of federal debt reported on the government’s books as a liability. It outpaces the other type of federal debt – debt held by government accounts – by almost three to one. Debt held by government accounts, according to the Government Accountability Office, “represents balances in the federal government’s accounts—primarily trust funds—that accumulate surpluses…Trust funds for Social Security, Medicare, Military Retirement and Health Care, and Civil Service Retirement and Disability account for the vast majority of the total debt held by government accounts.”

Here’s the CBO’s Doug Elmendorf, who authored the official remarks on the updated projections:

Looking ahead, CBO’s baseline projections show what we think would happen if current laws governing taxes and spending generally remain unchanged. Those baseline projections are designed to serve as a benchmark that policymakers can use when considering possible changes to laws.

…We expect that federal debt held by the public will reach 74 percent of GDP at the end of this fiscal year—more than twice what it was at the end of 2007 and higher than in any year since 1950. And in our baseline projections, that debt reaches 77 percent of GDP in 2024 and is on an upward trajectory.

Such large and growing federal debt would have serious negative consequences, including:

  • Increasing federal spending for interest payments;
  • Restraining economic growth in the long term;
  • Giving policymakers less flexibility to respond to unexpected challenges; and
  • Eventually increasing the risk of a fiscal crisis.

Remember, that projection operates on the assumption that the next president and Congress won’t approve accelerated borrowing and spending, but will instead maintain the rate of increase that exists now.

The federal debt currently stands (or rises, rather) at $17.65 trillion.

 

Having It His Way: Candidate Slams Burger King Move While Husband’s Stock In Acquired Company Climbs

Not pleased that Burger King is acquiring a Canadian company and relocating its headquarters to Canada, where the corporate tax rate is lower (and not universally applied to global revenues), Democratic candidate Sean Eldridge is slamming the deal — even as his husband watches his stock in one of the partner companies climb.

Eldridge, who’s seeking to topple incumbent Republican Congressman Chris Gibson in New York’s 19th Congressional District, told the Catskill, New York, paper The Daily Mail that Burger King’s attempt to set down roots in a country where the (lower) corporate tax rate applies only to the money it makes in that country is “really frustrating,” and that Congress needs to make the law more punitive for other companies who would follow suit.

“… I think we need to reform our tax code so that we are not benefiting companies that are sending jobs elsewhere,” he said.

But Eldridge’s husband, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, is benefiting from the deal — at least, so long as it’s profitable for shareholders. And Eldridge’s campaign, in turn, is benefiting from Hughes’ wealth.

From The Washington Free Beacon on Thursday:

[Burger King] announced this week that it will acquire Canadian fast food chain Tim Horton’s and shift its corporate headquarters north of the border. The move, commonly known as a tax inversion, will allow Burger King to pay Canadian corporate tax rates, which are substantially lower than American ones.

Eldridge did not say whether investors in the deal are also unpatriotic. They include his husband, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who owns between $50,000 and $100,000 in Tim Horton’s stock, according to Eldridge’s financial disclosure forms.

Tim Horton’s stock has shot up more than 25 percent since Burger King announced the acquisition.

… To the extent that the inversion improves Burger King’s bottom line, it will also benefit not just the company, but also its shareholders and those of Tim Horton’s, which include Hughes.

Eldridge has recently tried to turn his husband’s fortune into a political asset, claiming his financial independence will free him from obligations to “special interests.”

Eldridge last week got dodgy when he was asked about whether he’d hang around his Congressional district if he failed to defeat Gibson, saying he was “very much committed to the Hudson Valley.” In that spirit, Hughes has reportedly bought up several homes not only in the 19th district, but in the nearby 18th as well, according to a separate Free Beacon story. Eldridge was born in Montreal and has been a U.S. citizen since 2006.

Former HHS Cyber Security Director Guilty On Numerous Child Porn Charges

The former acting director of cyber security for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was convicted on Tuesday of several child pornography crimes, including “engaging in a child exploitation enterprise,” according to an official release from the Department of Justice.

Timothy DeFoggi, 56, who held a top-level security clearance as cyber security director for HHS, was convicted by a federal jury of engaging in a child exploitation enterprise, conspiracy to advertise and distribute child pornography, and accessing a computer with intent to view child pornography. The Maryland resident was tried in Nebraska, where several people accused of participating in an Omaha-based online child pornography ring already have been convicted. 

DeFoggi registered as a member of a website called PedoBook (it is what it sounds like) in March of 2012, and remained a member of the site until the FBI shut it down in December of that same year. 

The PedoBook site was a part of the so-called “deep web,” concealed from typical search access by means of the Tor browser, which (ideally) offers anonymous internet searching of deep web sites both illicit (think drugs, fringe porn and hit men) and benign (hobbyists and serious members-only information-sharing groups that don’t want to be bothered by newcomers from the “public” internet). Tor is also touted as an option for regular folks who just want to surf the internet but are spooked by the NSA (though it’s by no means infallible). 

“Through the [PedoBook] website, DeFoggi accessed child pornography, solicited child pornography from other members, and exchanged private messages with other members where he expressed an interest in the violent rape and murder of children,” DOJ stated in its press release. “DeFoggi even suggested meeting one member in person to fulfill their mutual fantasies to violently rape and murder children.”

DeFoggi’s attorney argued that talking about “disgusting fantasies” on the internet isn’t the same as enacting them — a valid point, if not for the preponderance of evidence that DeFoggi was indeed viewing child pornography. 

“Law enforcement caught DeFoggi red-handed when serving a search warrant at 5:30 a.m. in April 2013,” reports the Omaha World-Herald. “When officials entered his house, DeFoggi was in the midst of downloading child pornography, federal prosecutor Keith Becker told the jury during his closing arguments.”

It took a federal jury two hours to convict him. He’ll be sentenced in November.

Vice President Biden Won’t Rest Until His Granddaughters Have Equal Rights

On Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden took a stand on Twitter, where the Obama administration goes any time it really needs to take a stand. On this outing, which coincided with Women’s Equality Day, Biden’s thoughts were heavy:

Take a nap, Joe.

Just make sure your granddaughters don’t get jobs at the White House, and everything should be okay.