Totalitarian regimes were all over the headlines this week. North Korean despot Kim Jong Un successfully quashed the release of an American movie, raising serious questions about the power of foreign terroristic threats over U.S. free speech. And President Barack Obama announced that he intends to bring about the end of a half century of chilly relations with Cuba, which remains in the hands of former dictator Fidel Castro’s family. Therefore, you can now enjoy a Cuban cigar but not watch a film critical of a dictator. Wait, what country is this?
It’s hard to tell whether IRS commissioner John Koskinen has a realistic grasp of the way the agency he leads is perceived by more than half the Congress, as well as an unknowable number of American citizens. But he apparently believes casting the agency’s financial troubles in a pitiful light makes for a sympathy-generating tactic.
Koskinen responded to Congress’ recent $346 million IRS budget cut Thursday by indicating the agency could impose a temporary shutdown on itself to save on personnel costs, furloughing employees in order to save an estimated $29 million per day.
“There isn’t any more give in the system. You make any further cuts in this organization and the wheels are going to start falling off,” Koskinen told the press Thursday.
“At some point, we’re going to set a new American record for the number of years in a row we get a budget cut.” Koskinen stressed that furloughs, which would halt all agency activity on a day-by-day basis, aren’t being planned — but that they couldn’t be ruled out.
He also took the opportunity to credit the budget reduction for potentially delaying the timely processing of Americans’ tax returns for 2014.
“Everybody’s return will get processed. But people have gotten very used to being able to file their return and quickly get a refund. This year we may not have the resources,” he said.
The IRS will operate on a $10.9 billion budget for the coming fiscal year. The largest annual budget the agency has ever received came in 2010, when it was allocated $12.15 billion.
In a video produced by Campus Reform, students at George Washington University gleefully sign a petition to deport U.S. citizens in return for providing citizenship to illegal immigrants.
“Please sign our petition for President Obama to deport one American citizen, in exchange for one undocumented immigrant,” read the petition. “Everyone must be allowed a shot at the ‘American Dream.’ Americans should not be greedy. Let us right the wrongs of our past and make another’s dreams come true.”
According to the campus activism organization, about two-thirds of the students they spoke with in an hour agreed to sign the petition.
“It makes sense,” one student said. “Like, I’ve noticed that there is a lot of like hatred against undocumented immigrants and it’s not necessarily their fault.”
Police in Franklin County, Washington, were overruled by a federal judge this week in their attempt to admit evidence in a criminal case against a man they had been surreptitiously spying on via a webcam they had nailed to an outdoor utility pole.
U.S. District Judge Edward Shea ruled that the cops could not admit as evidence the warrantless footage they had collected from the camera, which they remotely operated for six weeks outside the home of a man they suspected of selling drugs.
U.S. attorneys had argued that the evidence didn’t require a warrant, since a pan-and-scan camera operated remotely did not substantially differ in its information-gathering abilities from a human enforcement officer standing out in public to survey the same area.
But Shea repudiated that argument, noting that a) the camera was effectively concealed from the suspect’s view, whereas an officer would be conspicuous, and b) the camera operated 24 hours a day, whereas a human surveillance effort, sanctioned with a warrant, would have forced the department to make decisions about whether to allocate 24-hour manpower to collect evidence on their suspect, Leonel Vargas.
“The American people have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the activities occurring in and around the front yard of their homes particularly where the home is located in a very rural, isolated setting,” Shea wrote. “This reasonable expectation of privacy prohibits the warrantless, continuous, and covert recording of Mr. Vargas’ front yard for six weeks.”
Shea also made note of law enforcement’s peculiar decision not to train the camera on Vargas’ home when the police were in the midst of conducting a raid on the house.
The worst-selling issue of People magazine this year was the June 16 edition featuring Hillary Clinton on its cover — a feature timed to coincide with the release of her poorly reviewed, slow-selling book “Hard Choices.”
According to Adweek, Clinton’s cover helped People to a sales total of 503,890 copies for its June 16 issue, compared with its top-selling Aug. 25 cover of Robin Williams, which sold 1.17 million copies.
The Hillary cover, showing Clinton holding on to the back of a chair with both hands, drew its share of mockery for its unwitting allusions to feebleness. At the time, The Washington Free Beacon satirically snarked:
The cover looks innocent enough at first glance, but a close analytical reading reveals what can only be interpreted as a deliberate effort to call attention to the former Secretary of State and Goldman Sachs affiliate’s advanced age (66 years, 7 months).
Notice the subtle placement of the word “grandmother” at the bottom of the page, next to what a layperson might reasonably assume to be an old person’s walker in Clinton’s hands.
Homeland Security officials are worried that a solar storm in the future could leave millions of Americans without power and cause massive infrastructure failures throughout the nation.
That’s according to a 2012 FEMA document outlining the government’s response plan for severe “space weather” that wreak havoc on the power grid and electronic equipment.
“An analysis of the space weather impacts indicates that the greatest challenge will be to provide life-saving and life-sustaining resources for large numbers of people that experience long-term power outage from damage to the U.S. electrical grid,” the FEMA document says.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is responsible for monitoring solar activity, has predicted that a solar storm could render useless 300 electrical transformers that are difficult to replace and leave “130 million people without power for years.”
Large solar disruptions occurred in 1859 and 1921, but at the time electrical systems were limited.
According to federal officials, a storm on par with the 1921 magnetic storm could black out the eastern U.S. and Pacific Northwest.
“The extreme geomagnetic space weather event will cause widespread power outages to a large number of people (approximately 100 million people) in a multi-region, multi-state area of the U.S. due to geomagnetic induced currents damaging EHV transformers, especially along coastal regions,” the report says.
House lawmakers voted last week to pass the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (CIPA), legislation that would put in place infrastructure protections against solar storms.
The Senate Intelligence Committee released a report this week accusing the CIA of engaging in torture. Alternative media saw the release of the report for what it was: a political tactic employed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is just weeks away from losing her powerful position as chairwoman of the committee. The mainstream media, however, jumped on the opportunity to pummel President Obama’s predecessor — one of their favorite pastimes.
Earlier this week, we told you about Norm Jacobs, the Beloit, Wisconsin, police chief who’d announced a plan to solicit local residents willing to voluntarily invite the police into their homes to conduct firearms searches.
That idea has died on the vine. Apparently, a lot of people in Beloit had a problem with it.
According to the Beloit Daily News, an angry public forced the city to abort the program almost as soon as it had been announced.
“Amidst backlash from the public, the Beloit Police Department withdrew its offer to inspect homes for illegal firearms about a week after it announced the program,” the paper reported late Wednesday. Jacobs admitted the idea had garnered “a lot of negative feedback,” although he maintained that much of it originated from people outside Beloit who had heard about the story after it went viral.
But Jacobs said the spirit of the idea isn’t going away.
“Just because we put a name to it doesn’t mean it was any different than what we could have done before,” he told the Daily News. “I’m hoping that more people in the community will come up with ideas to make their neighborhoods safer.”
In what has to be a world-first, a U.S.-based academic lecturer has identified a correlation between the Third Reich and the Tea Party.
In so doing, he’s struck upon a wholly original intellectual abstraction that will aid young learners in making convenient associations between the vicissitudes of the contemporary political culture with which they’re familiar, and those of less-familiar political systems created by other people, in other places, from other times.
A student who said he attends South Texas College in Weslaco, Texas, recorded the Eureka! moment during an otherwise mundane lecture session last month. The video, which allegedly portrays Dr. Blake Armstrong laboring at his craft, appears to show the teacher astonished at the inspired spontaneity of his own discovery.
“In 1931, which was really interesting… the Nazis: people were kind of tired of them,” the alleged Dr. Armstrong teaches. “They’ve been around since 1920 — 11 years now. They’ve won seats… they’re like, the Tea Party! — That’s such a good example!”
Regaining his composure, the scholar rights himself: “Don’t tell anybody I said that, though.”
Fortunately, at least one intrepid student didn’t heed that request, determining instead to share an inspired moment of discovery with a knowledge-needy world:
With a shutdown looming, House lawmakers announced Tuesday that they plan to vote on a short-term spending bill to extend the government funding a few days past the Thursday deadline until a long-term solution is reached.
The final government funding bill, which would keep most federal functions funded through Sept. 2015, is expected to be revealed by the end of the week. The $1 trillion measure could get a House vote by the weekend.
The Senate is expected to vote on the measure shortly after the House, depending on whether any senators see the need for further debate on the measure.
Meanwhile, some GOP lawmakers are still hoping to move forward with the idea of a “Cromnibus” spending bill that would fund most government activities through the end of the next fiscal year, but includes a continuing resolution to only partially fund some immigration-related functions. That would allow lawmakers to revisit immigration funding with the intention of challenging President Obama’s amnesty maneuvers early next year.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, meanwhile, is urging his colleagues to force a shutdown over the president’s immigration actions, though top Republicans insist he can’t muster the votes for the fight.
In the unlikely event that lawmakers fail to come to an agreement to fund the government through next fall, federal agencies will likely begin gearing up for a shutdown similar to the one that drove down Congressional approval ratings last year.
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