September 22, 2014

US has 'legal basis' for strikes against ISIS in Syria, Power says

President Obama has the authority to launch strikes against Islamic militants in Syria, even without a stamp of approval from the United Nations, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. said Sunday.
Samantha Power said that, while there's broad support among U.N. Security Council members for taking the fight to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as ISIL, the United States has the legal right to launch Syrian strikes without the group's explicit backing.
"Consistent with the U.N. charter, we [think] – it would depend on the facts and circumstances of any particular strike in Syria – that we have the legal basis we need," Power said on ABC's "This Week" program.
Asked specifically about the possibility that Russia would veto such authority, Power suggested the Russians would back the United States.
"Russia has vetoed in the past, but on very different issues," Power said. "Russia has made clear, for a long time, its opposition to ISIL."
Power said a meeting of the U.N. Security Council, convened by Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday, left U.S. officials confident that the international community is universally supportive of the fight against ISIS.
"It showcased just how much support there is on the Security Council and in the broader international community for the anti-ISIL effort," she said.
Obama on Wednesday will be in New York to address the U.N. General Assembly in a bid to rally more international support behind that effort.
"Because we’re leading the right way, more nations are joining our coalition," Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio address. "Over 40 countries have offered to help the broad campaign against ISIL so far – from training and equipment, to humanitarian relief, to flying combat missions."
While France last week joined the ISIS fight by launching direct air strikes on the terrorist militants in Iraq, no country has yet committed to helping the United States should Obama expand those strikes into Syria.
Power acknowledged that no other country has said explicitly that they would join an aerial campaign in Syria. But she strongly suggested that such support is forthcoming.
"It will be up to each country to announce for itself whether it's prepared to participate in a combat role or can provide military equipment," Power said. "I will make you a prediction … which is that we will not do the airstrikes alone."

September 19, 2014

Onerous ATF rules threaten to put gun dealers out of business

Doug Stockman always has had a passion for firearms, so 20 years ago he made a business out of it.

Today, his shop, SSG Tactical, is one of the largest gun dealers in Virginia, with 10 employees, training classes and concealed-carry fashion bags.

Mr. Stockman and co-owner Kurt Sebastian are part of an industry that adds $31.8 billion to the U.S. economy — roughly equivalent to Nigeria’s national budget.

But Mr. Stockman and others in the industry worry that heightened federal scrutiny and government regulations will put them out of business.

Last year, when an inspector from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives dropped by SSG Tactical’s Fredericksburg shop for an unannounced audit, Mr. Stockman thought he was prepared.

Each of the roughly 7,500 guns his business sold that year required a Form 4473, the federal document that the purchaser and seller must complete, in addition to a background check.

The Form 4473 asks questions such as where the purchaser lives and whether the person has ever committed a crime.

Leaving one of the 132 items on the six-page questionnaire blank, or filling it in incorrectly, is an ATF violation. One violation can lead to a license revocation, which would put Mr. Stockman out of business.

Out of SSG Tactical’s 7,500 guns sold, the company could have made as many as 990,000 mistakes from the Form 4473 alone.

Turns out, Mr. Stockman’s team made about 180 errors — a 99.98 percent accuracy rate.

The majority of the violations were on the 4473 and included incorrect information on ethnicity, wrong dates and leaving a box empty when the city and county go by the same name, Mr. Stockman said.

“These mistakes were anything but willful — they were simply human error,” he said. “Now, if anything more turns up, in any future audit, we could lose our license — our business.”

Federal law obligates licensed firearm dealers to record all transactions so guns connected to crimes can be traced. In addition to 100 percent compliance on the Form 4473, dealers must log all “acquisitions and dispositions” by manufacturer, purchaser, model, serial number and caliber, and the date the dealer bought and sold each gun.

All paperwork needs to be kept for 20 years and be made available for inspection. Mr. Stockman’s audit took about seven months to complete and required him to make one of his full-time employees available to help ATF’s compliance officer sift through the shop’s records.

“The government is making it virtually impossible to grow a business,” said Mr. Stockman. “The amount of oversight and regulations has only grown over the years and in this administration.”

Read the entire article

September 18, 2014

Spike in energy costs could push 840,000 Americans into poverty

A 10-percent increase in home energy costs would push 840,000 more Americans below the poverty line, according to a new report from two Republican senators.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Tim Scott of South Carolina released their report on energy insecurity to highlight some of the repercussions from regulations that they say could raise energy costs, although the study does not advocate a specific policy.

"The lack of affordable energy disproportionately impacts minorities and the working poor, and many families feel the sting of higher energy costs," wrote Scott and Murkowski, the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. They are set to introduce the report Thursday at a Washington event hosted by the Manhattan Institute.

The report also said that for nearly one-fifth of American families of four, a 10-percent hike in energy costs would equal the amount spent on groceries for two to three weeks.

"Any policy proposal that would tend to increase the cost of energy should therefore be fully evaluated for its impact on energy insecurity, in order to give policymakers a complete picture of its potential consequences," the report said.

Energy insecurity means that people lack access to fuel, can't afford to keep their home at a reasonable temperature or have their service cut off for failing to pay bills, the senators said.
Whether it's realistic to assume a 10-percent increase in energy costs is a matter of debate.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration, the statistics arm of the Energy Department, forecasts an average 3.1 percent increase in electricity prices this year — but those projections take only current policies into account. Implicit in the analysis from Murkowski and Scott is that proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations will further raise those rates.

"A 10-percent increase in energy costs was chosen because it is realistic, and could be the result of the enactment of public policies, shifting market conditions, or unexpected events. Higher increases are also possible," they wrote.

The report examined the effect of household energy spending increases in three areas: The number of homes that see a reduction in "spendable budget"; the number of households pushed into poverty; and the amount a household spends on energy as a percentage of average gross income, which the senators called the "average household energy burden."

Murkowski and Scott found that Midwest and Southeastern states — the ones conservatives and industry groups said would be disproportionately hit by the EPA's proposal to cut emissions at power plants — are more likely to have a "high household energy burden" and be in poverty than others. For Southeastern states, that ranged between 12-18 percent of homes. In the Midwest, the spread was between 9 and 12 percent in states such as Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.

The EPA, however, has said its proposed power plant rule — due for finalization next June — would reduce electricity bills 9 percent by the time it is fully implemented in 2030. That's because it expects states to improve energy efficiency at an annual clip of 1.5 percent, driving down energy use.

The EPA also says the proposal would save billions of dollars in medical costs by pushing older, dirtier coal-fired power plants into retirement — many families who are most susceptible to emissions from those power plants are lower-income as well. The agency also says its proposal would blunt the effects of climate change by reducing use of greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels, which most climate scientists say drives global warming.

September 17, 2014

Steve Scalise Lobbyist Adviser: GOP Must Pass Amnesty 'Pronto' After Midterms

A GOP lobbyist who has been advising House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) is urging Republicans to pass comprehensive amnesty legislation "pronto" if they gain control of Congress after the midterms.

Even though Republicans may take back the Senate by running against President Barack Obama's executive amnesty, John Feehery argued that Republicans must not oppose Obama and ram through amnesty if they control Congress. 

"They should pass immigration reform, pronto," he wrote in Tuesday's The Hill.

Though former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) was ousted because of his support for amnesty, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has reportedly told Obama that there would be a "good chance" of comprehensive amnesty legislation passing in the next Congress. 

As Breitbart News has noted, "Feehery has supported Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey and favored Charlie Crist over Marco Rubio," and he "works at a lobbying firm founded by a Bill Clinton adviser who persuaded Clinton to infamously pardon Marc Rich."

Feehery wrote that "Republicans will gain more for their brand by proving they can govern than they will in continuing to oppose the president," and that is why they should no longer view Obama as the enemy. Feehery's theory is that Republicans will take back the White House in 2016 only if they "prove they can run the country in 2014 — and they can only do that with the cooperation of President Obama."

Breitbart News previously reported that Feehery, who has referred to conservatives and Tea Partiers as "haters" and the "bad guys," also "worked for former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-IL), whom Rush Limbaugh has described a 'sweetly irrelevant' pushover who was the 'most compliant loser on the face of the earth.'"

Michel infamously used to tell freshman Republicans, "Every day I wake up, I look in the mirror, and I say to myself, 'Today you're going to be a loser.' And after you're here awhile [freshmen], you'll start to feel the same way. But don't let it bother you. You'll get used to it.'" 

As Limbaugh noted, Newt Gingrich "refused to get used to it, and instead spent ten years methodically recruiting and training his own private army" and eventually took back the House for Republicans in the historic 1994 "Contract with America" election. But Feehery doesn't like Republican winners, and he said the Contract with America "was an exercise in overpromising and underdelivering." 

This is nothing new for Feehery, who, as Breitbart News noted, "has a history of being critical if not outright hostile about the Tea Party":
“It is time to get rid of the Tea Party. They are an embarrassment,” he wrote in a January post titled, “Tea Party Must be Crushed” 
Feehery described he modern Tea Party as ”a collection of wing-nuts, racists, hucksters, extremists, con-men and front-men, who collaborate with Hollywood and left-wing organizations to plot the demise of Republicans in good standing.” 
Chief among the “good” Republicans, he wrote was Mitch McConnell, who he described as “probably the most conservative leader of either party in the history of the Senate.”
Source

September 16, 2014

GAO: EPA Rules To Retire More Coal Plants Than We Thought

The number of coal-fired power plants slated to be shut down in the coming years is higher than the federal government anticipated, according to the Government Accountability Office.

GAO found that power companies have already or plan to retire 13 percent of the country’s coal-fired power capacity through 2025 due to federal environmental rules — above the GAO’s 2012 prediction that only between 2 and 12 percent of the country’s coal capacity would retire through 2025.

But the retirements could go even further, GAO noted, as the Energy Department’s statistics arm projects retirements “from 2012 through 2020 could reach approximately 50,000 MW or about 16 percent of net summer generating capacity available at the end of 2012.”

These planned coal plant retirements are, at least in part, due to Environmental Protection Agency Regulations governing air and water emissions from power plants. In particular, the EPA’s Mercury Air Toxic Standard, or MATS, was estimated to shutter 4.7 gigawatts (about 11 percent) of coal-fired power — a low-ball estimate at this point.

The government watchdog also found that federal agencies have only taken “initial steps” to make sure EPA rules wouldn’t harm the reliability of the electrical grid.

The GAO notes that federal agencies “have taken initial steps collectively and individually to monitor industry progress responding to EPA regulations including jointly conducting regular meetings with key industry stakeholders,” but past and upcoming “actions on the four existing regulations, as well as EPA’s recently proposed regulations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing generating units, may require additional agency effort to monitor industry’s progress in responding to the regulations and any potential impacts on reliability.”

The GAO’s report has reinforced concerns from Republicans that the EPA’s air pollution rules are closing down too many coal plants and threatening the viability of the electrical grid.

“Plant retirements are higher than projected. Electricity prices are rising,” said Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who asked the GAO to investigate agency actions on grid reliability. “Even factors beyond our control – such as last winter’s weather – are on a collision course with the shutdowns caused in part by new federal regulations.”

Last winter parts of the U.S. were in peril of going dark when frigid weather and snowstorms ravaged the country. As more coal plants are shut down, parts of the country heavily reliant on the fuel for electricity could find themselves in a tough position if generating capacity is taken offline without any consideration for its effect on electricity service.

“Despite it all, the agencies in charge still have not fully adopted GAO’s recommendation for a formal, documented process to protect reliability,” Murkowski said. “In reading this report, their actions come across as a check-the-box exercise, rather than a robust effort to protect families, consumers, and businesses across the country.”

The GAO’s report, however, did not take into account a recent EPA rule that regulates carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. The EPA’s own analysis found this rule would force up to 19 percent of the U.S. coal-fired capacity to shut down and cut coal production by up to 28 percent. The rule would also raise retail electricity by as much as 6.5 percent by 2020.

“Under the provisions of this rule, EPA projects that approximately 46 to 49 GW of additional coal-fired generation (about 19% of all coal-fired capacity and 4.6% of total generation capacity in 2020) may be removed from operation by 2020,” the EPA says in its regulatory impact analysis.

The EPA denies that all the closures are the result of its regulatory actions.

“EPA’s analysis focuses on the amount of capacity that may retire in response to our actions, it is a reflection of what we think is caused by the regulation itself, and not intended to be an estimate for the broader trends in the industry,” an agency spokeswoman told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “There are a number of contributing factors that have led to recent announcements of retirements.”

“For example, average natural gas prices delivered to the electric power sector hit a 14 year low in 2012, while average coal prices hit a 25 year high (according EIA),” the EPA continued. “At the same time, electric demand has been flat, and new renewables and NGCCs were brought online.”

“The final MATS was released at the end of 2011, just as this transition was occurring,” the EPA told The DCNF. “All these factors contributed to economic decisions to retire some plants, who could no longer compete as they once had.”

The agency spokeswoman concluded, “GAO itself acknowledges that these factors contributed to why their own estimate of retirements is below what we’re seeing today.”

September 15, 2014

Obama sought repeal of Bush war resolution now used to justify Islamic State strikes

President Obama’s first initiated war against an Islamic terrorist group is authorized, the White House says, by George W. Bush-signed legislation that Mr. Obama has criticized and wanted to repeal since last year.

Since beginning airstrikes last month against the Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL, the White House has said it does not need congressional approval to carry out such missions.

Last week, on the 13th anniversary of al Qaeda’s attacks on the United States, the administration announced why, saying President Bush’s Authorization for Use of Military Force resolution in 2001 is all the authority Mr. Obama needs.

In a May 2013 speech to a military audience at the National Defense University, Mr. Obama portrayed the law as dated and as a potential blank check to get the U.S. into wars.

“The AUMF is now nearly 12 years old,” he said. “Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.”

Last week, The Washington Times asked a National Security Council spokeswoman whether the president still wants to repeal the authorization, given the rise of the Islamic State terrorist group.
“On the 2001 AUMF, we remain committed to engaging with Congress and the American people to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF,” the spokeswoman said. “The president has made clear that he wishes to take America off a permanent war footing.”

Two days later, the White House cited the authorization as Mr. Obama’s go-ahead for airstrikes on the Islamic State.

Said Charles “Cully” Stimson, a national security law analyst at the Heritage Foundation: “There’s not only a disconnect but a failure to clearly articulate in a public forum the legal basis for the strikes.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest defended the irony of the president’s reliance on a war authorization law that he has wanted to be changed and repealed since at least 2013.

Mr. Earnest did not repeat the call for repeal Thursday as he explained to reporters why the 2001 resolution applies to the Islamic State.

“The president is ready to engage in a conversation with members of Congress as it relates to this specific AUMF,” he said. “And we welcome or would welcome a show of support from the United States Congress for the strategy that the president has laid out.”

Mr. Obama went on national TV Wednesday night to announce a counterterrorism campaign to destroy the Islamic State over time. The U.S. will provide airstrikes, intelligence, training and advice. Iraqis and Syrians will muster their ground forces.

Mr. Obama campaigned for re-election as a president who was put into office to “end wars, not start them.”

The Obama administration has not given a name to the military operation, a departure from past Pentagon practices.

Congressional aides said that, by relying on a law tied to the Bush administration, Mr. Obama avoids signing new legislation that would officially and historically link him to the war against the Islamic State.

Mr. Stimson believes the constitutional lawyer in Mr. Obama “would prefer to work with Congress for a narrowly tailored ISIS-specific AUMF that has a ‘sunset’ provision within it.”

“But the political reality is that if he were to ask for one and not get it, that would be politically damaging,” the national security analyst said. “If he were to ask for one and get it, then he would be the author, the owner, of an Obama AUMF, which probably, according to their political calculus, would hurt them even more.”

The 2001 law authorizes military force against al Qaeda and its associated groups. The Obama administration argues that the Bush authorization applies to the Islamic State group, a version of al Qaeda in Iraq, which waged war against U.S. troops and the Baghdad government beginning in 2004.

“It is the view of this administration that the 2001 AUMF continues to apply to ISIL,” Mr. Earnest said.

Although al Qaeda and the Islamic State have had public disagreements over how and whom to kill, and in what numbers, some al Qaeda fighters view the offshoot as the one created in Osama bin Laden’s image.

“So these ties between ISIL and al Qaeda persist,” Mr. Earnest said.

As for Mr. Obama’s call to repeal the authorization he now embraces, Mr. Earnest said the president has always said, “Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue.”

In August, the White House justified its bombing campaign in Iraq as the prerogative of the commander in chief. It also has sent at least seven notifications to Congress about actions against the Islamic State to comply with the 1973 War Powers Act.

Mr. Stimson said the letters “are a direct reflection of the administration’s public stated position that these are more like counterterrorism operations and not war, like against Taliban and al Qaeda and associates. I think that’s a tough one to swallow for some people.”

September 12, 2014

The Nuclear Option: A Foreign Policy Conducted in a Drug-Addled Haze

See, kids, this is why you don’t do drugs. And this is why you will always eventually regret voting for somebody who boasted of all the coke and dope he did while smoldering about his absentee father.

President Choom Gang has demilitarized our military. He sends the Department of Health and Human Services to the Mexican border to welcome and take care of tens of thousands of illegal children streaming across. And now he wants to deploy American troops into West Africa to combat the Ebola virus.

Boy, is this confusing.

Mr. President, with all due respect: Are you still smoking dope?

Just when you thought things could not get any more disastrous, President Obama announces plans to drag America back into some degree of the war on terrorism.
It is a war we would not need except for his utter malfeasance as commander in chief and blithe disregard for already-spilled American blood and treasure.

It is a war he ran two political campaigns promising to get us out of.

It is a war he has always argued we did not need.

Worst of all, it is a war America’s soldiers will have to fight every step of the way with one eye cast behind them to see if the politicians in Washington — especially their commander in chief — are still with them. Will those politicians once again abandon the troops and their deadly mission as soon as the political winds shift?

In an honest world without all the pot haze, confusing munchies and addiction tremors, Mr. Obama would now admit what the majority of Americans already realize, according to latest polling: This presidency is a failure.

If Mr. Obama was elected on any cogent platform other than the vague and hip promise of “hope and change,” it was because of his credentials as the anti-war candidate.

It was this single claim that gave him the opening to challenge Hillary Rodham Clinton for the 2008 Democratic nomination in the first place. It also vaulted him well past all the other Democrats in the field who had voted for the Iraq war.

And against the original mad warrior John McCain, the general election was a breeze for the anti-war crusader.

So even before Mr. Obama won the White House, he was telegraphing to our entire world of enemies that he would beat a hasty retreat if elected. Once he became president, he began withdrawing from the fields of battle. He all but deserted Iraq.

Now, everybody acts all surprised that into this vacuum marched new enemies even fiercer and more deranged than the last ones.

That the president is even considering renewing the war on terrorism is a convincing exoneration of his predecessor’s “strategery” for combating terrorism. And it is a crushing repudiation of the entire premise of the Obama presidency.

What is heart-wrenching about all of it is that it will be America’s brave men and women in uniform who will, dutifully, carry out this zany, rearguard mission launched entirely to provide political cover for a bunch of politicians back home before another election.

Seriously, it was better when Mr. Obama did not have a strategy. And even better when he was loafing around with the Choom Gang smoking weed and snorting coke.

Remember, kids: Don’t do drugs.

September 11, 2014

This time, Obama didn't ask for permission on airstrikes

One year after he abandoned a bid for congressional approval of Syrian airstrikes, President Obama saved himself from another rebuke in an address to the nation Wednesday.

Instead, Obama told lawmakers he didn’t need their support to extend airstrikes from Iraq to Syria, showcasing a major shift for a commander in chief that once argued such actions must include authorization from Capitol Hill.

“My administration has also secured bipartisan support for this approach here at home. I have the authority to address the threat from [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria],” Obama insisted in a rare prime-time address.

The president said he would “welcome” support for his efforts but in no way was asking for a permission slip from lawmakers who balked at his previous call to conduct a military strike against the regime of strongman Bashar Assad.

It was a striking difference from 2013, when the president had no interest in taking on a campaign of Syrian airstrikes by himself.

“Even though I possess the authority to order military strikes, I believed it was right, in the absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security, to take this debate to Congress,” Obama explained last year.

“This is especially true after a decade that put more and more war-making power in the hands of the president, and more and more burdens on the shoulders of our troops, while sidelining the people’s representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force,” he added.

While lawmakers could authorize the arming and training of Syrian opposition forces, Obama will continue airstrikes in Iraq and start them in Syria regardless of whether Congress specifically endorses such an action. It is unlikely that lawmakers would unite behind military strikes ahead of competitive elections in November.

A senior administration official, previewing the speech to reporters, claimed that a post-Sept. 11 authorization of force against al Qaeda gave Obama the authority to conduct airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. Some Democrats adamantly disagree with that legal interpretation, however.

White House officials said that because Obama is pursuing airstrikes against the Islamic State and not the Assad regime, he is not bound by the same obligations this time around.

But others warned that the president was laying the foundation for an open-ended commitment without congressional oversight, the very development he warned against just a year ago.

“Congressional force authorizations should be limited to situations that truly require war, not a free pass to use the full wartime power of our military wherever there is any potential terrorist threat around the world,” said Heather Hurlburt, a senior fellow in national security at the nonprofit Human Rights First.

“Obama can’t indefinitely continue a bombing campaign using his inherent authorities,” she added. “The White House now needs to work with Congress to ensure any force authorization from Congress is narrowly tailored to [the Islamic State].”

But for a president repeatedly burned by an uncooperative Congress, philosophical shifts were less concerning than showcasing a concrete plan to combat the Islamic State.

“How long do you think it would take Congress to unite behind [airstrikes]?” asked a former senior administration official. "If the president waited around for lawmakers, it would be ‘Why is he dragging his feet?’ This was the right thing to do, and I think even most Republicans acknowledge that.”

September 10, 2014

Cruz Letter: Why is the IRS Auditing Breitbart News?

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, today sent the following letter to the Internal Revenue Service regarding its decision to audit Breitbart News Network, LLC.

The full text of the letter is available here.

Dear Commissioner Koskinen:

I write to express deep concern over the recent announcement by Breitbart News that the Internal Revenue Service recently notified the Breitbart News Network, LLC that it would be subject to a far-reaching, burdensome, and open-ended audit.

As you know, the Breitbart News Network LLC is a conservative-leaning press outlet. It has editors and reporters who cover daily political news and regularly breaks stories that are critical of the Obama Administration's policies. To conduct this audit, Breitbart News Network, LLC was asked to provide the IRS with all of its organizational documents, financial records, W-2s, W-4s, 1099s, and K-1s filed, personal income tax returns for each member of the company, payroll tax forms, information regarding properties and assets acquired by the company, bank statements, and array of other records documenting revenues, expenses, and depreciation costs.

This media audit, coupled with the recent proposal of 49 Senate Democrats to amend the Constitution to give Congress plenary power to regulate political speech, paints a disturbing picture of a coordinated assault on the First Amendment.

In another time, under another Administration, the decision to audit a conservative news organization might not have risen to a worrisome level of concern. However, given the IRS's disturbing track record of illegally targeting conservative organizations-including the IRS recently paying a $50,000 settlement for having wrongfully leaked a conservative group's confidential tax information-and the persistent refusal by the current Department of Justice to meaningfully investigate or prosecute those crimes, the decision to audit Breitbart News Network, LLC appears highly questionable.

For the IRS to behave like a partisan political organization, targeting media organizations whose views differ from the President's, would represent a gross abuse of power. It would undermine the statutory mission and integrity of the IRS. And it would likely subject IRS employees to criminal prosecution.

I very much hope that is not the case.

I would therefore like to ask you the following questions:

How many other news organizations have been audited since President Obama has been in office?
How many of them could be identified as conservative- or liberal-leaning?


Have any other news organization been subjected to this sort of far-reaching and oppressive inquiry, including requesting the personal tax records of editors and reporters?


At what point does the IRS decide to take action to audit a news outlet?


Does the IRS worry that its extremely burdensome auditing process could effectively silence the press?


Previously, Senator Durbin wrote the IRS asking that it examine the tax-exempt status of Crossroads GPS, a Republican organization that spends money electing Republicans. Did the IRS ever receive any communications from any elected official asking it to examine Breitbart News Network, LLC?


Who, precisely, is responsible for making the decision to audit Breitbart News Network, LLC?


I appreciate your timely response.

Sincerely,

Ted Cruz
United States Senator


Source

September 9, 2014

9/11 13 Years Later and the Importance of '110 Stories'

It’s hard to believe it’s been 13 years since that horrific terrorist attack on American soil. That day on 9/11 in 2001, four coordinated attacks were made on our nation, including the unforgettably, frighteningly horrible fall of the Twin Towers at NYC’s World Trade Center. I was lucky: I worked in Tower Two of the WTC for five years before moving to California. My cousin Fred was not: a bond trader at Canter Fitzgerald on the 106th floor of Tower One, he was one of the thousands of innocent people who never made it home that day; one of the thousands of lives needlessly lost forever.

I think of him and all the innocent people who lost their lives on that tragic day. More than three thousand people, mostly but not all Americans, died in that tragic attack. The entire world has changed as a result of 9/11 and the lives of all Americans changed from that day.
Many Americans, especially those under the age of 20, don’t understand the gravity of emotion, fear, and anger we experienced that sad day. Tell a teenager what it was like getting on an airplane without taking off your shoes and they’ll think you’re from Mars. Many may not know why it happened, how it happened, or even who masterminded that destructive day that has affected the heart and soul of Americans and other free peoples, all over the world.

For my cousin Fred, for those teenagers, for those who served with courage and gave the ultimate sacrifice and for the future of our country: those are some of the reasons my friend and former Marine Arleigh Dotson and I are producing Sarah Tuft’s powerful play 110 Stories on Thursday, September 11 at 7:30 pm at the James R. Armstrong Theater in Torrance. As we did successfully last year, we’re presenting the play as a staged reading, giving the actors the opportunity to let the powerful personal dialogues of 9/11 survivors tell their unforgettably moving stories.

110 Stories shares the emotions, experiences, and fears of those who survived the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor in 1941. Featuring playwright Sara Tuft’s superb writing we will tell the stories and portray the lives of the survivors with a great cast that includes Dean Cain (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Out of Time, Beverly Hills 90210), Elya Baskin (Air Force One, Spiderman 2 & 3) and Lee Purcell (Valley Girl, Big Wednesday, Persons Unknown).

We also want to honor and support the men & women in our Armed Forces. They are called upon to selflessly protect our American way of life, our freedom, and the liberties most of us take for granted, so proceeds from Thursday night’s performance will benefit two excellent local non-profit organizations: Politiquest, which benefits voters with non-partisan debates and voter information, and Operation Gratitude, which serves our men and women in the Armed Forces in active combat theaters worldwide with thousands of care packages each year.

Everyone involved in the production is contributing their time, resources, and energies for the very same reason: to remember and honor the lives of the people who died that day. For the cast, the producers, the show staff and management, and the audience too, it’s a time when individuals come together to be part of a memorial and memorable performance for those who were lost.

We are producing the play again this year because we will never forget what happened that day, we will never stop honoring the innocents who died on 9/11 and continue to remind ourselves of the American values that are at the heart of what makes our country great. We want to educate every generation of our youth about this horrific and historic event and to always remember and honor the lives lost from that day. 

September 8, 2014

Fighting For The Poor: Former ACORN Lawyer Sells Home For $21 Million

The former top lawyer for the Association for Communities Organizing for Reform Now (ACORN) just made a killing selling his ritzy New York City townhouse.

Arthur Z. Schwartz, who served as ACORN’s general counsel during the tumultuous years of 2009 and 2010, sold his 8,540-square foot house for a cool $20.89 million — quite a few pennies more than the $499,990 he bought the house for in 2003. According to the New York Observer, Schwartz did make some significant improvements to the house, which likely drove up its value.

But the legal blog Above the Law wonders how the ex-ACORN lawyer was able to afford such a luxurious house and the ritzy upgrades to it considering his work record of primarily representing left-wing groups.

Schwartz currently serves as the board president for the public law firm Advocates for Justice. According to the firm’s statement of purpose, they “fight for the rights of the poor and the rights of working people, to fight for racial justice and equal rights, and to assist those who organize the poor and working people, and who advance the fight for equality.”

Schwartz’s biography describes him as one of New York’s top labor lawyers and as working for labor interests for over 30 years. It even lists a long quote of praise from liberal Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer.

“All too many people get involved are doing it because they’re saying there’s something in it for numero uno. But there are lots of people who are in it for the right reasons.  And if you had to pick someone who symbolizes that it would be Arthur Schwartz,” Schumer said in 2003. “Whenever anyone calls on Arthur to do something good, he’s there and he doesn’t ask what’s in it for him and he doesn’t ask how much money there is. He just does it.”

ACORN was a community-organizing group that declared it worked for the interests of the poor. It was rocked by scandal after James O’Keeefe recorded undercover video of ACORN workers in 2009 advising him and a fellow activist on how to engage in criminal activity. The group closed down in 2010 following the controversy.

In 2009, then ACORN general counsel Schwartz trashed O’Keefe for going after an organization “whose principal purpose is to help poor people.”

Source

September 5, 2014

IRS Employee In Florida Charged With Bogus Filings, Wire Fraud

An IRS employee has been charged with skimming money off tax refunds through an elaborate scheme by which the employee encouraged clients to file bogus Residential Energy Credits, Historic City News reports.

The residential energy credits on Form 5695 were allegedly over-inflated, resulting in excessive refunds to which the individuals were not entitled. Charles Corbitt, the accused IRS employee in West Palm Beach, Florida, filed tax returns for clients while he was still employed at the IRS. After falsifying energy credits and obtaining lower tax liabilities for his clients, he apparently took a portion directly from tax refunds as a tax preparation fee.

The indictment detailed an example where Corbitt once secured a $6,029 tax refund for a woman when he marked down that she had made energy efficient improvements to her home. Despite no actual improvements being made, Corbitt collected a $300 fee, which was placed in the bank account of his former girlfriend. Corbitt would often calculate the preparation fee based on a flat rate or in proportion to the size of the refund.

Currently investigating the matter is the IRS and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. United States Attorney A. Lee Bentley III announced the charges on Wednesday and stated that Assistant United States Attorney Malisa Chokshi will be named as the prosecutor.

If convicted of the wire fraud charge, 36-year-old Corbitt could face up to a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.

Source

September 4, 2014

Obama Admin Actuaries: Obamacare’s Going To Spike Health Care Spending

Obamacare and an aging population are going to send health care spending far back up beginning next year, according to a Wednesday report. 

According to a report published in the journal Health Affairs by actuaries from federal Obamacare administrator the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the health-care law is contributing to a renewed boost in health care spending. The findings contradict the White House’s own line on health spending, after officials attempted to claim a recent slowdown in health spending growth as a trimuph of Obamacare.

In 2013, health spending grew at a slower rate of 3.6 percent, according to the Health Affairs study, “as a result of the sluggish economic recovery, the effects of sequestration, and continued increases in private health insurance cost-sharing requirements.” 

Next year, though, CMS actuaries expect health spending to climb even higher, projecting 5.6 percent growth in 2014, 4.9 percent growth in 2015 and 6.1 percent every year afterward through 2023. One primary drivers of the skyrocketing health care spending: Obamacare.

“The combined effects of the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansions, faster economic growth, and population aging are expected to fuel health spending growth this year and thereafter,” according to the report.

But the Obama administration has bragged that its health-care law was doing the opposite.

“For years, healthcare costs in America skyrocketed, with brutal consequences for our country,” White House health policy adviser Jeanne Lambrew wrote in a January blog post. “The Affordable Care Act, for the first time in decades, has helped to stop that trend.”

The CMS report would appear to contradict that. It largely vindicates some independent health experts’ view that economic downturn over the past several years stopped many Americans from spending on health care. 

The actuaries expect the Medicaid expansion — currently only accepted by 27 states — to boost program spending by 12.8 percent in 2014; but not to worry, Medicaid spending is scheduled to grow only 6.7 percent in 2015, when a temporary boost in payments to health care providers will expire (though that will likely make doctors even more difficult for Medicaid patients to find).

In 2013, that left governments of all levels with a $1.3 trillion bill for health care. But by 2023, federal, state and local governments are projected to be spending $2.5 trillion on health care, due to Obamacare subsidies, the Medicaid expansion and Medicare growth.

September 3, 2014

Email Reveals Lois Lerner Ignored Political Expenditures By Unions

The official at the center of the Internal Revenue Service tea party scandal once dismissed complaints that labor unions were not reporting millions of dollars in political activities on their tax forms, according to an email obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

In 2007, Lerner responded directly to a complaint that some major labor unions reported completely different amounts of political expenditures when filing with the IRS and the Department of Labor.
At the time of the email, Lerner was the Director of Exempt Organizations at the IRS.

Lerner wrote, “We looked at the information you provided regarding organizations that report substantial amounts of political activity and lobbying expenditures on the DOL Form LM-2, but report little to no political expenditures on the Form 990 filed with the IRS.”

“We believe this difference in reporting does not necessarily indicate that the organization has incorrectly reported to either the DOL or the IRS,” Lerner concluded.

Don Todd, the deputy assistant secretary of the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) at the time the email was sent, confirmed seeing Lerner’s email and remembering similar complaints at the time. OLMS oversees labor union financial disclosures within the Department of Labor.

“The law’s never been enforced,” Todd told TheDCNF. “The IRS was telling us it would cost more to enforce the law then they would collect.”

In 2006, the year leading up to Lerner’s email, the national headquarters for the AFL-CIO reported no direct or indirect political expenditures with the IRS on their 990 form, leaving the line 81a blank. That same year, the AFL-CIO reported $29,585,661 in political activities with the Department of Labor.

Also in 2006 the Teamsters Union reported no political expenditures with the IRS while at the same time reporting $7,081,965 with the Labor Department.

Again in 2006, Unite-Here reported no political activity with the IRS and $1,451,002 with the Labor Department.

In 2005, the National Education Association also reported no political expenditures with the IRS while at the same time reporting $24,985,250 with the Labor Department.

Labor union political spending overwhelmingly benefits Democrats. Todd told TheDCNF Lerner may have been playing favorites. Lerner has been accused of singling out tea party groups applying for tax-exempt status.

Lerner acknowledged in the 2007 email, “The definition of political campaign activity required to be reported on Form LM2 coincides with the definition of political campaign activity expenditures required to be reported on Form 990.”

But she did offer some possible reasons for the discrepancies. “The Form LM-2 does not separate this reporting from the reporting of lobbying expenditures,” she wrote. 

“Furthermore, even if section 501(c)(5) labor organizations were required to report their lobbying expenditures, the amount required to be reported on Form LM-2 includes activity, such as attempting to influence regulations, that is not required to be reported as lobbying, as the IRS limitations apply to legislative lobbying.”

Lerner conceded, “Having said that, we did see some instances that raised concerns and we referred that information to our Dallas office to determine whether examination is warranted.” It does not appear any further investigation was conducted.

The Bush administration mandated more detailed disclosure requirements for labor unions, but they were relaxed by the Obama administration’s Labor Department.

An IRS spokesman told TheDCNF the agency had no “immediate comment” on the matter.

Source

September 2, 2014

Did Brennan dodge a bullet?

CIA Director John Brennan may have dodged a bullet over his agency’s potentially unconstitutional snooping on the Senate, but critics insist his reprieve is only temporary.

Calls for the spy leader to resign after the CIA admitted that officials spied on the Senate have lost steam in recent weeks, since lawmakers left town for a five-week summer recess.

November’s midterm elections and crises from Syria to Ukraine could distract Congress from forcing the director to offer a public mea culpa in the short term.

But lawmakers and advocates pushing for a change at the top of the spy agency say that the issue has only been temporarily sidelined and won’t disappear for good.

"I absolutely stand by my call for CIA Director John Brennan to resign," Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), the first senator to call for him to step down earlier this summer, said in a statement to The Hill.

"The CIA's spying on its overseers in Congress and Brennan's failure to acknowledge any serious wrongdoing by the agency demonstrate a tremendous failure of leadership,” he added. 

“There are still significant unanswered questions about the search of the Senate Intelligence Committee's computers — and Director Brennan and CIA leadership must be accountable to Congress on this matter," said Udall.

The CIA’s inspector general caused a shockwave on Capitol Hill a month ago, when it concluded that five agency officials had “improperly accessed” Senate Intelligence Committee computers to review staffers’ files and emails.

The snooping was conducted through a network to share files for the Senate committee’s report on the CIA’s history of “enhanced interrogation” techniques, such as waterboarding.

The admission set off a whirlwind of criticism for the agency and validated charges from committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who accused the CIA of unconstitutionally violating the separation of powers during a March floor speech.

It was especially bad news for Brennan, who had flatly denied Feinstein’s allegation as groundless and “beyond the scope of reason in terms of what we’d do.”

At least three senators — Udall along with Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — called for Brennan to resign after the incident, and many more put the spy chief on notice to offer a full explanation.

Then: Nothing.

The CIA inspector general report came out on July 31, the day many lawmakers were already eyeing flights back home for the August recess. Empty desks on Capitol Hill prevented the incident from turning into a full-blown scandal and added to the radio silence about the issue in the press.

“The news on this dropped the day that everyone was going out of town,” said one Senate aide who asked not to be named. “That’s the whole reason it’s fallen off the radar.”

Once Congress comes back this week, the aide said, focus will return to the CIA’s spying.

“This is not something that’s going to go away,” said the aide.

Raha Wala, senior counsel at Human Rights First, said it was “frustrating” that the spying had been “overshadowed by other events and by congressional recess.” But Wala hoped lawmakers would put pressure on Brennan and the White House “to ensure that there’s real accountability for these kinds of actions and there are measures put in place to ensure that it never happens again.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee has not announced any future public hearings, however, which could make a showdown unlikely for now. 

Feinstein has also praised Brennan's response to the spying and has not indicated that she wants to publicly rake him over the coals.

Additionally, political math in the precious few weeks between Labor Day and the midterm elections on Nov. 4 could further cloud the issue.

“What I’ve heard is people are looking at it as ‘How is this going to help me in the election?’” said James Lewis, director of the strategic technologies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “If it doesn’t help, they won’t pursue it.”

Topic No. 1 is who will control the Senate in January,” he added. For many congressional offices, “this is less important.”

There are, though, a number of opportunities for Brennan to feel the heat.

After the CIA’s inspector general confirmed the spying allegations, Brennan referred the matter to an internal accountability board chaired by former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who used to sit on the Senate intelligence panel. If his board finds any indication that Brennan knew about or condoned the officials’ infiltration of Senate computers, his job would almost certainly be in jeopardy.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is also preparing to release an unclassified version of its report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation methods, many of which President Obama has called torture. The redacted version of the 6,800-page document is expected to chronicle horrific abuse done in the name of fighting terrorism. 

Brennan was not in charge of the agency when those policies were implemented under former President George W. Bush, but he will nonetheless have to walk a tightrope to both defend the institutional reputation of the CIA and atone for its history. Statements that show disrespect for Congress could put him back in the hot seat.

More broadly, tensions between the agency and its congressional overseers are riding high, and trust between the two institutions is almost nonexistant. Any intelligence failure or verbal slip-up could cause simmering outrage to spill over.

“Because of all of these other developments, I think that the atmosphere is kind of super-heated,” said John Prados, a CIA historian and project director at George Washington University’s National Security Archive.

“Any other thing that can serve as a spark to ignite the gasoline makes the very whole thing very hot indeed.”