April 17, 2015

The biggest defenders of the death tax are the experts at getting around it

Republicans have again picked up the fight against inheritance taxes, and they have the public on their side. Democrats, on the other hand, have an important industry behind them.

The House on Thursday passed a bill that would totally repeal the estate tax, also known as the death tax. The Senate already passed an amendment doing this same thing during the the budget debate. President Obama on Tuesday promised to veto repeal, saying it would "add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit to provide large tax cuts exclusively to the very wealthiest Americans."

Obama wants to go in the opposite direction: His 2014 budget called for increasing the estate tax rate to 45 percent and lowering the exemption to $3.5 million. Again, he pitches this as a story of the wealthy versus average taxpayers. But if you peek behind the curtain of populist rhetoric, you see plenty of big money, heavy lobbying, and hypocrisy on the side of the death-taxers.

Consistently, about two-thirds of Americans tell pollsters that they oppose the death tax. The Family Business Coalition has brought together dozens of groups this year to advocate repeal of the death tax, groups as widely diverse as the National Council of Farm Cooperatives, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, and the Association for Hose and Accessories Distribution.

These groups represent business owners who, if they have enough success, will be subject to the death tax. The tax could force heirs to liquidate the family business in order to pay the tax bill. This unfairness is a major reason most Americans dislike the death tax, even though very few will ever pay it.

But some segments of the population feel differently — most notably, the estate-planning industry. A survey by an industry magazine in 2011 found that 63 percent of estate-planning attorneys opposed repeal of the estate tax.

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April 16, 2015

Justice Department officials may have shared taxpayer info with White House

Attorneys from the Department of Justice's tax division may have improperly shared confidential taxpayer information with President Obama's White House staff for political reasons, a watchdog group said.

Cause of Action, a nonprofit government watchdog group, filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests Wednesday for records demonstrating whether Justice attorneys — some of whom worked directly on elements of the Internal Revenue Service targeting scandal — leaked protected information to Obama administration officials while detailed to the Office of White House Counsel.

"Documents obtained by Cause of Action have revealed that since 2009, several DOJ Tax Division attorneys, many of whom have been involved in litigation where ... protected information was involved, have elected to serve the president as 'clearance counsel,' " Daniel Epstein, president of Cause of Action, wrote in a letter to Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department's inspector general.

Epstein said his group has identified at least nine tax division attorneys who have also served in the White House between April 2009 and December 2014.

These attorneys helped vet potential candidates for appointments to high-level posts, Epstein said.

That practice "raises ethical and legal questions because of these attorneys' access to confidential taxpayer returns and return information," the letter continued.

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April 15, 2015

No DEA agents fired for Colombia prostitute parties, internal report reveals

An internal Drug Enforcement Administration report showed the agency gave its agents a mere slap on the wrist for purchasing the services of Colombian prostitutes, sometimes with taxpayer money and sometimes as they let local police watch their weapons and personal property.

The report and a Tuesday hearing on it prompted a key congressman to say that the DEA chief needs to resign.

A summary of the internal report shows the DEA doled out punishments to 10 of its agents, which ranged from a letter of caution to a two-week suspension. None of the agents who participated in the parties was fired.

“They appear to have fraternized with cartel members, accepted lavish gifts and paid for prostitutes with no concern for the negative repercussions or security vulnerabilities they created,” an angry Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, said at a Tuesday hearing on the matter.

In one instance, money to pay prostitutes at a farewell party for a high-ranking DEA official was included in an “operational budget” that used government funds for the party, the report said.

DEA agents also rented undercover apartments in Colombia and used them to host prostitutes, the DEA said in its internal report.

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April 14, 2015

$753 million in federal agreements were approved by unqualified officials

Department of Transportation officials issued nearly $753.7 million in contracts, though they lacked certifications that they had either the authority or training to do so.

One out of every four contracting officers at the transportation agency who were reviewed in an inspector general report made public Monday could not prove that they held required certifications, but that didn't stop them from approving more than 3,400 actions regarding contracts.

It appears the uncertified officials doubted getting the required credential was not worth the effort. "A well-trained workforce is critical to ... be effective stewards of taxpayer dollars," the inspector general said. However, officials "questioned whether certification training was worth the time taken from employees' jobs."

Of the 63 contracting officers reviewed, the certifications for 10 had been expired for up to seven years. Their authority to approve contracts was never revoked.

Three DOT agencies claimed their officers had taken the necessary steps to renew their certifications, despite missing documentation.

Evidence was missing for some of these officers because they left the agency. For others, officials didn't properly track the documentation.

One of these officers lacked both certification and authorization to approve contracts, but awarded a contract worth as much as $4.1 million.

Five more officers never received certifications to award contracts at the dollar amounts they were authorized to approve and granted more than $21.8 million.

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April 13, 2015

New Regulations Could Make Internet More Expensive

Stricter regulations approved by the Federal Communications Commission could mean higher Internet bills for consumers, federal officials warn.

When the FCC passed its Open Internet order in February, the agency “put broadband in the same regulatory category as phone service, opening the door for the charges,” which consumers already pay on their phone bills, The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday. 

The average household pays about $3 per month toward the Universal Service Fund, which is tasked with expanding telecommunications services to schools and underserved areas, cumulatively providing the fund with just under $9 billion last year.

The Times says, “It’s not clear yet” whether the reclassification will result in higher overall fees for consumers, because the FCC only establishes the overall size of the USF, leaving the telecoms to apportion the fees among their customers.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler assured a skeptical Congress the agency has no plans to raise the USF’s funding level, meaning most customers would see the new broadband fees offset by reduced fees on their phone bills. “You would have a reduction in one area that may be accompanied by an increase in another that should end up washing out because the gross number is the same,” he explained.

Critics of the FCC’s new rules, however, predict the agency will be unable to resist the urge to raise the fee, with so many new contributors available. 

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April 10, 2015

Lying Democrats: Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton, Eric Holder have no shame

Something happens to men and women when they gain a proximity to power. Most in public service, one can only assume, begin with noble purpose: to serve, to change and improve the world — whether that be a small town or, literally, the world.

Soon enough, many — not all, but many — want only to stay in that position of power, and will do what it takes, whatever it takes, to stay there. Where once they talked only of their dreams and ambitions, not for themselves, but for those they served, soon enough they spend their days tearing down — their campaign foes, opposing political parties and, in the end, anyone who doesn’t think like them.

Both parties are guilty of it, but Democrats seem to relish the dysfunction. The most liberal among them eventually lose all perspective, begin to believe that the ends justify the means, dismiss criticism as driven by partisanship and end up far, far away from where they began.

These past few weeks have brought some pure examples of this miserable human trait. The perpetrators: the Democratic leader of the Senate; a former secretary of state; and the highest law official in the land, the attorney general.

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April 9, 2015

How Deep Is This Education Official’s Involvement In The Rolling Stone Hoax?

A top-ranking official at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has emerged as a potentially key figure in Rolling Stone’s false article, “A Rape on Campus.”

Catherine Lhamon, who heads the Department’s civil rights wing, was identified in a letter sent last month by University of Virginia Dean of Students Allen Groves to Steve Coll and Sheila Coronel, the two Columbia Journalism School deans who conducted a review of the Nov. 19 article, written by disgraced reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

Groves’ letter was included as a footnote to the Columbia deans’ report, which was released on Sunday and cataloged the failures and lies that led to the article’s publication.

In the letter, Groves wrote that he has suffered “personal and professional” damage as a result of Erdely’s reporting and comments Lhamon made about him which were included in the article.

As the Rolling Stone article fell apart, Lhamon’s involvement has gone virtually unmentioned. But a deeper look reveals her ties to Emily Renda, a University of Virginia employee and activist who put Erdely in touch with Jackie, the student whose claim that she was brutally gang-raped by seven members of a fraternity on Sept. 28, 2012, served as the linchpin for the 9,000-word Rolling Stone article.

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April 8, 2015

21 Days: Treasury Says Debt Has Been Frozen at $18,112,975,000,000

According to the Daily Treasury Statement for Friday, April 3, which was published by the U.S. Treasury on Monday, April 6, that portion of the federal debt that is subject to a legal limit set by Congress closed the day at $18,112,975,000,000—for the 21st day in a row.

$18,112,975,000,000 is about $25 million below the current legal debt limit of $18,113,000,080,959.35.

DAILY TREASURY STATEMENT-04-03-2015
Table III-C on the Daily Treasury Statement for April 3 shows that the federal debt subject to a legal limit began April at $18,112,975,000,000 and closed both April 2 and April 3 at that level.

The debt first hit $18,112,975,000,000, according to the Daily Treasury Statement, on March 13, which was the day Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and other congressional leaders saying that he was planning to declare a “debt issuance suspension period.”

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April 7, 2015

VA Officials’ $288K ‘Relocation Payment’ Tied To Little-Known House Buyout Program

A high-ranking Veterans Affairs official who was paid nearly $300,000 to relocate from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia last year was issued that hefty payout as part of a little-known program used to incentivize “highly qualified candidates,” TheDC has learned.

Diana Rubens, the former undersecretary for field operations, was paid $288,000 last year under what’s called the Appraised Value Offer program to take a job as the director of the Philadelphia VA regional benefits office.

Formerly known as the Guaranteed Home Buy Out, AVO serves as a back-up for VA and Veterans Benefits Administration employees who agree to relocate to take jobs at other stations.

Rubens’ massive payout — which is $270,000 more than the agency’s average relocation payment – was brought to light last month by Florida Rep. Jeff Miller, the chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

“The government shouldn’t be in the business of doling out hundreds of thousands in cash to extremely well-compensated executives just to move less than three hours down the road,” Miller said last month.

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April 6, 2015

Ex-Im boosted foreign exports for company charged with bribing foreign officials

Export-Import Bank funds went to a company accused by federal prosecutors of bribing foreign officials, records obtained by the Washington Examiner show.

The U.S. government's Export-Import Bank is the subject of a congressional funding battle, with small-government types saying its "corporate welfare" for massive corporations like Boeing and should be eliminated.

The federal agency has figured prominently in the rhetoric of early presidential contenders. Its employees, in an effort to preserve their jobs, say that most of its transactions help small American businesses.

They also grease multimillion dollar foreign deals for companies like Diebold Inc., which the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission charged in 2013 with foreign corruption in China and Russia.

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April 3, 2015

Ex-IRS ethics office lawyer disbarred for … ethics violations

A lawyer who worked in the IRS ethics office was disbarred Thursday by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, which concluded she misappropriated a client’s funds from a case she handled in private practice, broke a number of ethics rules and showed “reckless disregard for the truth” in misleading a disbarment panel looking into the matter.

The lawyer, Takisha Brown, reportedly had bragged that she would never be punished because her boss would protect her, but an IRS spokesman said Wednesday that she was no longer an employee at the agency.

“Our records indicate that this employee no longer works for the IRS,” spokesman Matthew Leas said, though he wouldn’t comment further on the case, which became another black eye for the embattled tax agency when The Washington Times first reported on it last year.

Ms. Brown had her licenses suspended and then was disbarred after misusing money she won for a client in an automobile accident case. Under terms of the deal, Ms. Brown was to use part of the settlement to pay the victim’s medical bills, but the lawyer withdrew the money herself and ignored repeated requests from the client’s physicians to make good on the bills, the appeals court said.

Ms. Brown also misled a disbarment hearing panel when it began looking into the matter, the court said.

“The record amply supports the conclusions that Ms. Brown intentionally misappropriated funds and made false statements with reckless disregard for the truth,” the appeals court concluded in a 14-page order finalizing her disbarment.

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April 2, 2015

Clintonites vs. Transparency: Gov. McAuliffe vetoes sunshine law for state-hired lawyers

It's an opportunity for corruption, or at least collusion and cronyism: State governments sign deals with private-practice lawyers, who then file lawsuits with state backing, kicking most of the money back to taxpayers, but holding onto a big chunk of the cash. (To be fair, the lawyers often have to spend some of their profits on campaign contributions to the politicians who gave them the plush deal).

The New York Times had a piece on these shady deals between states and private attorneys:
While prospecting for contracts, the private lawyers have also donated tens of thousands of dollars to campaigns of individual attorneys general, as well as party-backed organizations that they run. The donations often come in large chunks just before or after the firms sign contracts to represent the state. ...

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April 1, 2015

Scientists Say New Study Is A ‘Death Blow’ To Global Warming Hysteria

A new study out of Germany casts further doubt on the so-called global warming “consensus” by suggesting the atmosphere may be less sensitive to increases in carbon dioxide emissions than most scientists think.

A study by scientists at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Meteorology found that man-made aerosols had a much smaller cooling effect on the atmosphere during the 20th Century than was previously thought. Why is this big news? It means increases in carbon dioxide emissions likely cause less warming than most climate models suggest.

What do aerosols have to do with anything? Well, aerosols are created from human activities like burning coal, driving cars or from fires. There are also natural aerosols like clouds and fog. Aerosols tend to reflect solar energy back into space, giving them a cooling effect that somewhat offsets warming from increased CO2 emissions.

The Max Planck study suggests “that aerosol radiative forcing is less negative and more certain than is commonly believed.” In layman’s terms, aerosols are offsetting less global warming than was previously thought. And if aerosols aren’t causing as much cooling, it must mean carbon dioxide must be causing less warming than climate models predict.

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March 31, 2015

Hillary Clinton withheld information from Congress. Now what does Congress do?

On September 20, 2012, just nine days after the terrorist attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, the House Government Oversight Committee sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton requesting that she turn over "all information … related to the attack on the consulate."

About two weeks later, on October 2, 2012, Clinton responded, saying she would cooperate fully with the investigation into what went wrong in Benghazi.

"We look forward to working with Congress and your committee as you proceed with your own review," Clinton told committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa. "We are committed to a process that is as transparent as possible, respecting the needs and integrity of the investigations underway. We will move as quickly as we can without forsaking accuracy."

We now know that that statement was not true. We know because Hillary Clinton herself told us.

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March 30, 2015

Health Industry Paid Acting CMS Chief Millions When He Joined Gov’t

When Andy Slavitt reported for work as deputy administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last June 10, he pocketed at least $4.8 million in tax-free income from major health-care companies.

That’s according to financial disclosure forms obtained by The Daily Caller, now published for the first time.

On June 27, he sold additional stock he personally held, raising his total windfall from the health industry to $7.2 million.

United Health Group was Slavitt’s most recent private sector employer.

The financial disclosure documents permit the public to examine for the first time Slavitt’s financial relationship with United Health Group, which is the largest health insurance company in the nation.

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