Friday Digest

President Snickers Loves the IRS

May 31, 2013
“The natural cure for an ill-administration, in a popular or representative constitution, is a change of men.” –Alexander Hamilton

Asked on Wednesday if the White House is “satisfied with the responsiveness” of IRS officials testifying before Congress, Press Secretary Jay Carney answered, “Well, that’s a broad question, but the answer is yes.” Of course Barack Obama and his mouthpiece Carney are satisfied – the IRS targeted Patriot and Tea Party groups (and possibly pro-Israel groups) helping to swing the 2012 election in Obama’s favor, and then IRS officials either pleaded complete ignorance of the doings of their subordinates or took the Fifth Amendment in order to avoid questions. They might be satisfied, but this is a serious abuse of power, not a Snickers commercial.

June promises to be a busy month for those investigating the IRS. The House Oversight Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee are all probing for answers. Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA), chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight, obtained all communications using the terms “tea party,” “patriot” or “conservative” from former acting IRS director and first sacrificial lamb Steven Miller. Boustany now knows the names of others involved and will be pursuing them. Oh, and the IRS is investigating itself, so there’s that.

This week, Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ), filed suit against the IRS on behalf of 25 conservative groups, saying, “The IRS and the federal government are not going to get away with this unlawful targeting of conservative groups.” Ten of the organizations he represents still have not been approved for tax-exempt status. Sekulow provided letters to NBC News revealing that the extra scrutiny didn’t originate in the IRS’s Cincinnati office as we were told at first. Indeed, one letter bore the stamp-signature of Lois Lerner – the same official who last week claimed innocence before pleading the Fifth. Letters came “from four different offices, including [the] Treasury [Department] in Washington, DC,” Sekulow says.

As for how high up the ladder this scandal goes, former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman visited the White House an astounding 157 times during his tenure – which happens to coincide with the targeting in question. His successor, Steven Miller, visited numerous times as well. But Shulman’s predecessor in the Bush administration, Mark Everson, visited the White House just one time. So what gives?

Shulman’s first answer was, “Um, the Easter Egg Roll with my kids.” Cute, but that doesn’t explain why he visited the White House more than any cabinet member. He says he has “no memory” of discussing it and contends “it would not have been appropriate to have a conversation with anyone at the White House” on political audits at the IRS. Shulman further denied ever being told to scrutinize conservative groups. Then again, this is the same man who denied in March 2012 that the IRS was even targeting these groups. Can he be trusted now?

In the end, we don’t expect anyone to truly be held accountable for this serious breach of trust by the Obama administration. In fact, one IRS official was promoted. The IRS has inordinate power as the agency with first dibs on your paycheck and the arbiter of tax status for political groups. And the IRS is beholden to a corrupt and thuggish administration run by a former community organizer from Chicago. As long as Barack Obama is in the Oval Office, there’s only so much house cleaning that can happen. Besides, he’s “satisfied” with how things are going.

Video of the Week

To see an implausibly long line of “I don’t know,” “I can’t remember,” and “I wasn’t aware” responses from various administration officials, including the president, watch the buck stops where?

Government and Politics

News From the Swamp: Holder’s Got it Covered

The scandal involving the Obama Justice Department’s snooping into the electronic files of investigative journalists grew wider this week thanks in large part to Attorney General Eric Holder’s congressional testimony. When asked by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) if the Justice Department could prosecute reporters under the Espionage Act for disclosure of material, Holder replied, “This is not something I’ve ever been involved in, heard of, or would think would be wise policy.” (The “I don’t know” refrain was common in his testimony – see the montage.) Holder’s words run contrary to his actions, however. Not only did he personally approve a warrant to search Fox News correspondent James Rosen’s email account, but he also shopped it with two federal judges before finding a third willing to agree. This bald-faced contradiction opens Holder to perjury charges, which the House Judiciary Committee is currently investigating.

Holder may think he’s got his bases covered, but he may become too much of a political liability even for this lawless administration. Then again, he contends that he’s still the best candidate to investigate his own actions at Justice. House committee members are not so confident.

Holder tried to meet with bureau chiefs of major news organizations this week to lay out the Justice Department’s subpoena policy. But Holder insisted that the meeting about “transparency” be off the record, and only a few unprincipled outlets, such as Politico, The Washington Post and Bloomberg News took the bait. The Associated Press, The New York Times, CNN, Reuters and Fox News were among those that stayed away.

Government policy under Barack Obama is to silence whistleblowers through intimidation, and its latest attack on the press indicates that the ends justify the means. Rosen is but one example of many reporters who have been investigated with or without their knowledge. What they all have in common is that they worked on stories critical of the Obama administration and its policies. If it should be proven that Eric Holder did commit perjury and engaged in the systematic intimidation and persecution of journalists trying to do their jobs, then nothing short of his resignation will serve to make up for the wrongdoing.

Immigration Front: Can the Bill Pass the Senate?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says the Gang of Eight’s immigration reform package can pass the Senate. “I think we have 60 votes,” he said. “Remember, we start out at 55 Democrats.” Reid thinks he’ll lose two or three Democrats but pick up at least eight Republicans. Others aren’t so sure of that tally, though. Either way it doesn’t stand a chance in the House, which is working on its own version and whose Speaker, John Boehner (R-OH), has already indicated he won’t take up the Senate bill.

The Senate’s bill, which by many estimates is already over 1,000 pages (the final page count remains unclear), is severely lacking in border security. It provides legal status for illegals (some might call that amnesty) while only requiring a plan to secure the border. Besides, the Secure Fence Act of 2006 already requires that the Department of Homeland Security “achieve and maintain operational control over the entire land and maritime border of the United States.” It specifies that 700 miles of fence be built along the nearly 2,000-mile border. Barack Obama declared the border basically secure with just 36 miles of that fence completed. What makes the new requirement for a plan any different? Just declare the border “secure” and voila! – 11 million new Democrat voters. Gang of Eight member Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is working on beefing up the security provisions by actually laying out the plan rather than leaving it to DHS, but it remains to be seen if he will be successful.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden continues to cast illegals as the victims. Biden laments that people whose first act in the U.S. is to break the law by entering illegally are “required to constantly live in fear” because of our laws. No doubt the system is broken, but Biden’s “argument” for amnesty is pathetic given how many already subsist on welfare.

Hope ‘n’ Change: Trouble With ObamaCare Continues to Mount

The battle for religious freedom continues as a number of court cases seek to roll back the ObamaCare contraception mandate. Hobby Lobby received a hearing this week before the full Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking redress against the mandate that forces it to compromise the owners’ religious beliefs. The family-owned company, which employs over 22,000 in 41 states, faces fines in excess of $1 million per day if it chooses conscience over the government’s heath care dictatorship. This week two other family-owned businesses, Korte and Luitjohan Contractors and Grote Industries, took their cases against the mandate to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. There are currently over 190 plaintiffs challenging the mandate.

Meanwhile, unions are beginning to realize that ObamaCare may not be in their best interest. Quick to support the bill but slow to understand its consequences, the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers along with other trade unions are complaining that – this just in – ObamaCare will end up gutting benefits for their members. Union leaders are so upset with the Obama administration and Democrats in general that they’re threatening “consequences” in the 2014 elections unless they receive a broad waiver from the law.

Furthermore, ObamaCare has generated 122,000 new diagnostic codes for medical professionals to deal with along with its hundreds of thousands of pages of regulations. Now, thanks to the miracle of crushing bureaucracy, doctors will be required to categorize Three Stooges-like injuries sustained from walking into lampposts, encountering turtles or – true story – burning water skis.

New and Notable Legislation

It begins. Reps. Ron Kind (D-WI) and Aaron Schock (R-IL) introduced the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Act, H.R. 2179, which will empower the Department of Health and Human Services to create exercise guidelines for all Americans. How long before such guidelines become mandates under ObamaCare?

The BIG Lie

“Nothing in the [health care law] will require you to change your coverage.” –Barack Obama, still peddling the same false story

Perhaps nothing in the law specifically requires change, but it will cause change through its regulatory provisions. Just wait for the insurance cancellation notices to start rolling in this fall.

Economy

High Taxers Claim Apple Is Rotten to the Core

Apple Inc. is an American success story with few peers, but certain members of Congress are criticizing the company for using legal accounting methods to minimize tax payments to Uncle Sam. “It seems to me,” whined Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), “they ought to want to help pay the expenses of this country so that everybody can have a fair shot.” While Apple indeed has devised legal methods to protect its overseas profits in both the United States and Ireland (the latter is its overseas base), it still pays roughly the same overall tax share as its foreign competitors because of its domestic income and the steep U.S. corporate tax rate – the highest in the industrialized world. To entice business, other nations, including Ireland, have cut rates over the last two decades.

Yet Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) took the occasion of a Senate hearing to chastise Apple CEO Tim Cook for taking advantage of “loopholes” in the tax system – or “gimmickry,” as Levin described it – to maximize the amount accruing to shareholders, research and development, and its tens of thousands of employees. Instead of Levin’s sputtering about “alchemy,” the real magic could come from potential American jobs created if the U.S. lowered its corporate tax rate to be more competitive with other industrialized nations. And if Rep. Ellison wants to give everybody a “fair shot,” he should be the first in line to encourage that reform. When a company’s tax return is over two feet high, as one Apple executive claimed before the Senate, that’s innovation stifled.

OPEC Now the Ones Over a Barrel

For decades, Americans who owned automobiles or heated their homes with heating oil were at the mercy of a few oil-rich nations colluding to corner the petroleum market. As their share of the American oil market increased, OPEC nations grew fat and happy on the petrodollars we were shipping overseas in return for that black gold. So, needless to say, recent innovations in the domestic oil industry that have led to new discoveries and increased American production aren’t exactly welcome news in the OPEC camp, particularly among its African members, because our domestic shale oil competes directly with their crude oil. Meanwhile, most Persian Gulf nations, led by Saudi Arabia, see an increasing supply as inevitable and can adjust production to try to prop up the price. “Experts” at the International Energy Agency predict a 21 percent increase in U.S. and Canadian production over the next five years.

This market surge from nations outside the cartel is endangering governments in Algeria, Iran and Venezuela, all of which heavily depend on high oil prices for funding much of their governments. Angola and Nigeria are also alarmed about their estimated oil revenues dropping by one-quarter from previous years. Exports from these African nations plunged 41 percent between 2011 and 2012. Yet Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi remains confident that prices can stay high enough to keep production as is. “The pie is getting bigger,” said al-Naimi. It’s virtually certain that American supplies can’t completely neutralize OPEC’s influence, but we can become a significant counterweight to the cartel while prospering from exporting ours as well.

Income Redistribution: Tesla Repays Loan

Just 40 months after receiving a $465 million loan from the Department of Energy and five months after making its initial payment on the loan, electric-car maker Tesla has repaid the full amount, nine years ahead of schedule. Great, right? Not so fast. A loan that wasn’t good in the first place doesn’t suddenly become good by being repaid, and as National Review’s Veronique de Rugy points out, this is a loan that never should have been made. “[T]he real problem with these loan programs,” de Rugy writes, “is that … most of the money goes to companies that could have gotten capital on their own. Tesla, for instance, managed without the help from the federal government for the first nine years of its existence.” Indeed, even Tesla co-founder, CEO, chairman, and product architect Elon Musk admitted that Tesla didn’t need the government loan to succeed and called it only “a helpful catalyst.”

Additionally, while Tesla benefited from $465 million in taxpayer dollars, companies not receiving federal funds found themselves on an uneven playing field. As de Rugy notes, not only do the Obama-favored companies receive money but they also enjoy lower interest rates (a.k.a., tax cuts,) better borrowing power, and good dibs on state subsidies – in essence, a contrived competitive edge for companies that, in Tesla’s case, can fare just fine without Uncle Sam’s support. We’re glad Tesla repaid what it owed. But the repayment hardly justifies the federal government’s using taxpayer dollars to pick which companies get a bureaucratic boost.

Security

Chinese Hackers Compromise U.S. Defenses

The Defense Science Board, a Pentagon advisory group, released a report this week indicating that Chinese hackers successfully accessed designs for some advanced U.S. weapons systems. The Washington Post reports, “Among more than two dozen major weapons systems whose designs were breached were programs critical to U.S. missile defenses and combat aircraft and ships.” Obviously, the Chinese could use the designs both to thwart our technology and to bolster their own. As one military official put it, “They’ve just saved themselves 25 years of research and development. It’s nuts.”

For the first time, the Pentagon specifically named the Chinese government and military as the culprit. Naturally, the Chinese government denies the charge, and even insists it was a victim, too. Naming the Chinese is a start, because the U.S. cannot tolerate such breaches. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, “[C]yber security is a key priority of this administration. … It is an issue that we raise at every level in our meetings with our Chinese counterparts, and I’m sure will be a topic of discussion when the president meets with President Xi [Jinping] in California in early June.” Oh good, he’ll “discuss” it. That’s a relief. Perhaps the Pentagon should also rethink the joint exercises with China’s navy planned for 2014.

In related news, the Iranians are apparently trying to hack into the U.S. energy grid, where they could wreak all sorts of havoc. Facing sanctions over its nuclear program, Iran certainly has an economic interest in causing energy problems for the U.S. The only good news, we suppose, is that Iranian hackers are nowhere near as capable, so far, as their Chinese counterparts.

On Cross-Examination: Benghazi Edition

“The biggest scandal of all, the biggest question of all is what was the president doing in those eight hours [of the attack in Benghazi]. He had a routine meeting at five o'clock. He never after, during the eight hours when our guys have their lives in danger, he never calls the secretary of defense, he never calls the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he never calls the CIA director. Who does he call? About five hours in he calls the secretary of state, and after the phone call she releases a statement essentially about the video and how we denounce any intolerance. It looks as if the only phone call was to construct a cover story at a time when the last two Americans who died were still alive and fighting for their lives. There’s the scandal and that, I think, has got to be uncovered.” –columnist Charles Krauthammer

Meanwhile, Obama still claims that al-Qa'ida is “on a path to defeat” with the State Department’s annual report on terrorism. The same report notes six terror attacks in Benghazi before the one that killed four Americans.

Department of Military Readiness: Sequester

The U.S. Air Force Academy graduation was Wednesday, and, as with USNA and USMA last week, Barack Obama grounded the traditional flyovers while blaming the Republican Sequester. Obama continues to shrink the military in general, including furloughing 750,000 Defense employees beginning in July. Meanwhile, he and his entire entourage were off to Chicago on Air Force One ($180,000 per operating hour) for lavish fundraisers.

Warfront With Jihadistan: Syrian Update

The Obama administration continued its slow, bumbling approach to Syria over the last two weeks, while events on the ground appeared to improve for Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Hezbollah has entered the fray openly and in force, with thousands of fighters assisting the Syrian Army in recent combat operations. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is also on the ground in Syria assisting the regime, and there are credible claims of Russian advisers as well. The various rebels continue clamoring for more weapons and for help neutralizing the Syrian Army’s biggest advantage – airpower. In what was a political rather than military move, the Obama administration on Wednesday publicized its request for a Pentagon plan to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria. Of course, the plan for that no-fly zone has been ready for months if not years, and it only requires updating the details as new intelligence comes in on day-to-day Syrian military dispositions. The only thing required now is to order the plan put into action.

Regarding the rebels’ need for arms, the EU – led by British and French determination – approved dropping the arms embargo that prevented arms going to either side. Small arms, ammunition and perhaps some heavy weapons should soon find their way into the hands of Syrian rebels. Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain’s surprise visit to Syria on Monday may help the effort to provide arms to the rebels, even if the visit was largely symbolic. McCain, who has been a leading voice for greater U.S. intervention against Assad, traveled less than one mile into Syria from Turkey.

On the other side, Russia plans to deliver S-300 surface-to-air missiles to the Syrian government, along with a list of small arms. The S-300 is a large leap forward in Syria’s ability to defend its airspace. The original version (known as the SA-10 in the West) is a highly capable, long range, very-low-to-very-high altitude system able to defend against aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. The latest version, the S-300 PMU-½ (known as the SA-20 in the West) is a true game-changer, even for an already highly competent air force. Its presence in Syria would greatly increase the risk to any air operations. The specific S-300 system to be delivered is not known, but Israel has made it clear that it will not acquiesce to the S-300’s arrival, the only question being the method Israel chooses to neutralize it.

Kerry’s Palestinian Plan Flops

Secretary of State John Kerry recently suggested a new way to achieve peace in the Middle East: purchasing it. Last week at the World Economic Forum in Jordan, Kerry unveiled a plan that he claimed would reduce Palestinian unemployment by two-thirds (the current unemployment rate is a whopping 21 percent) and increase gross domestic product by 50 percent. The $4 billion proposal included a mix of agricultural, construction and tourism projects and would be funded not by U.S. taxpayers but the private sector. Otherwise, it was rather vague. The State Department would not release the names of the companies involved; it would only confirm that their recruitment was spearheaded by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

For his efforts, Kerry got his hand slapped by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who stated that the PA’s goals are political, not economic. Abbas reiterated the demand that Israel pull back to its 1967 borders and relinquish East Jerusalem. In the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, Saudi Arabia proposed Israel’s doing so in order to bring peace to the region, an idea applauded by both Kerry and the Arab world.

Israeli President Shimon Peres somewhat mockingly called Kerry’s plan “imaginative,” essentially applauding his efforts while letting him know that they were something out of fantasyland. This sentiment was later confirmed by Abbas, who used his time on the floor to blame Israel for the lack of peace in the area. One thing remains clear: The ongoing problem with the Palestinians won’t be solved by throwing more money at it.

Culture

Second Amendment: Gun Makers Leave States

Connecticut has long been home to a number of firearm manufactures, but that’s quickly changing following state lawmakers’ decision to exploit the Sandy Hook massacre to increase gun restrictions. In fact, the state ranks number seven in firearm production, providing nearly 3,000 direct jobs and thousands more through business channels. But Mark Malkowski, founder and owner of Stag Arms, is the latest in a string of companies announcing their intention to set up shop elsewhere. “[T]he state seems to want to be able to both have their cake and eat it, too,” notes HotAir’s Erika Johnsen. “The new gun-control laws did not restrict gun manufacturing in Connecticut, but merely the ability of those businesses to sell and distribute what they manufacture in the state – but they sure would like for those jobs to stick around!” In other words, they’re more than happy to reap the benefits of booming business – as long as the product is sold elsewhere. It’s a typical leftist double standard.

Colorado is facing its own backlash. Magpul Industries joined nearly two dozen plaintiffs, including 54 county sheriffs, in suing the state. The lawsuit’s focus is on two recently implemented gun control measures: universal background checks, and a ban on “high-capacity” magazines (a term arbitrarily defined as a magazine holding more than 15 rounds). While Magpul is joining the fight, they’re moving forward with relocating. Duane Liptak, director of product management and marketing, explained that the legal action is a matter of devotion and principle: “[W]e will not turn our back on our native state.” Simultaneously, several lawmakers face recall efforts. The message here is that Democrats were naive to believe they could trample the Constitution without a fight. We commend those who are standing to defend Rule of Law.

Red Cross Sits on $100 Million

The Red Cross is taking heat for sitting on $110 million of the $303 million the organization raised for disaster relief following Hurricane Sandy last October. With many victims still struggling, some are wondering why the Red Cross hasn’t used more of the donations to help people get back on their feet. Officials claim the large pool of money is waiting to be disbursed for unforeseen needs, and they promise that all the money will eventually be allocated accordingly.

There is, however, a deeper issue here, and you can thank – what else? – bureaucratic hurdles. “Part of the delay in spending, officials said, is to wait to see how the hardest-hit states allocate a $60 billion pot of federal relief dollars and address gaps in the government aid package,” reports the Associated Press. Recall the congressional fight that ensued over how much money the federal government should allocate for Sandy-ravaged areas. Much of that money has yet to be spent. Consider this a case study on one of the downsides of federal aid: Here we have freely given charitable donations sitting idle while bureaucrats try to determine how to use confiscated taxpayer money first.

Village Academic Curriculum: Up Is Down, Black Is White

As part of “Spirit Week,” Tippecanoe School for the Arts and Humanities in Milwaukee recently had a themed dress day called “Gender Bender Day.” The object was to have elementary and middle school students and teachers dress up like the opposite sex. When angry parents complained, the school district responded in two ways. The school changed the name to “Switch It Up Day,” and a school board member insulted parents by charging that they were “using the kids for political purposes.” Many parents kept their children home from school the day the “celebration” happened, and the local Fox affiliate “didn’t find any kids who showed up to school dressed like the opposite sex. It turns out mostly teachers and other staff members had the Switch It Up spirit.”

In other news, an elementary student at Old Mill Pond Elementary School in Palmer, Massachusetts, became the latest in a long line of victims of so-called “zero tolerance” policies related to guns and violence. While riding the bus to school, the six-year-old showed classmates his plastic G.I. Joe gun – roughly the size of a quarter – and another student yelled to the bus driver about it. The overreaction resulted in the boy’s having to write a letter of apology to the bus driver, serve detention and be temporarily suspended from riding the bus. Other students have become victims of this leftist insanity just this year for biting a pastry into the shape of a gun, having a computer desktop background picture of a gun, using little green plastic soldiers on cupcakes, pointing a finger while saying “pow” and showing off an orange-tipped cap gun. What, exactly, are our children learning?

And Last…

Individual liberty and free enterprise bring about good things both great and small – among them, potable water and sanitary toilets – and for those things we should be thankful. But according to Hollywood actor Matt Damon, “780,000,000 people – that’s twice the population of the United States – lack access to clean water.” U2 frontman Bono and celebrities Olivia Wilde and Richard Branson joined Damon to do something about it. For starters, the group is going on a “toilet strike.” Damon explained that he “won’t go to the bathroom until everyone in the world has access to clean water and sanitation.” The ploy is, of course, a humorous one meant to draw serious attention to the problem, something made clear by the group’s video. But in order to know whether these wealthy do-gooders actually made charitable contributions to the cause, we’ll just have to wait for the IRS audits of their tax returns.

Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus et Fidelis!
Nate Jackson for The Patriot Post Editorial Team

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