Every journalist has a great story that will never be told, at least not completely, or in any way other than a “hypothetical anecdote.” It’s the nature of the beast. People gravitate toward journalists to tell their stories, and when it comes to insider information on the inner-workings of government, those stories often get relegated to the “interesting, but never-to-be-published” file — a close cousin of the circular one, but these stories stick with whoever knows them.
When it comes to earmarks, I have a great one of those, that I’ll share in the hypothetical sense here. Most people already assume that there is a fair amount of Congressional involvement in garnering government dollars for “pet projects” in a given district. It’s a fair assumption, because politicians often mention jobs created when they are out on stump speeches. When it’s for infrastructure improvements, or something else that’s highly visible to the voters, it’s not surprising to hear boasting about them during the election cycle.
Then there are the ones that no one really wants to own up to promoting. We’ve all seen the video of the shrimp on the treadmill, and politicos and pundits often talk about the “Spotted Owl Society” when referring to special interest groups that enjoy government subsidies.
But, deep within the bowels of government is a whole world of research and development, that reaches like a spider web out into our institutions of higher learning, and into the corporate world. Many of the Congressional earmarks actually fund some of this work, far beyond the view of the voters.
There is a governmental bureaucracy that handles grant requests for all of the dollars that Congress makes available, and theoretically that is where the relationship between the politicians and the bureaucrats ends.
In a speech at an insurance industry event in Colorado, Robert Gibbs, a former White House official, predicted that the Obama administration will permanently nix Obamacare’s employer mandate, a destructive provision of the law that has been delayed twice already:
“I don’t think the employer mandate will go into effect. It’s a small part of the law. I think it will be one of the first things to go,” he said to a notably surprised audience.
The employer mandate has been delayed twice, he noted. The vast majority of employers with 100 or more employees offer health insurance, and there aren’t many employers who fall into the mandate window, he said.
Killing the employer mandate would be one way to improve the law — and there are a handful of other “common sense” improvements needed as well, he said.
The employer mandate is a provision of Obamacare that requires businesses with 50 or more full-time employees, defined as someone who works at least 30 hours a week, to offer health insurance benefits or face a punitive, $2,000 per worker tax.
It’s an odd little story, but the AP report on ZunZuneo, a social media platform released in Cuba and reportedly designed by a US organization (USAID) with ties to the State Department to mimic the functionality of Twitter and — possibly? — stir popular unrest, is fascinating for its implications. Notably: social media may be the modern theater of the neoconservative.
Whatever one’s particular lean on the issue, it’s generally accepted that neoconservatives seek to influence — some call it ideological imperialism — non-democratic systems toward the principals of democracy. Sometimes through diplomacy, sometimes through regime change.
It looks like social media is possibly being tested as a communication tool to effectively stir up revolutionary thought in countries perceived as hostile to X ideology. Something like a Radio Free Europe but through smart phones and text messages.
Reasonable people can disagree on the moral and/or strategic good of such a program, again, depending on your lean toward or away from libertarianism and/or interventionism, but as Ed Morrissey at HotAir points out, this particular program leaves a troubling taste in the mouth:
With control of the Senate hanging in the balance, some have wondered if that could bring to an end Harry Reid’s (D-NV) leadership of the Democratic conference. Many of his colleagues are already expressing support, according to Politico, regardless of the outcome of the 2014 election.
Among those openly backing Reid to serve again as the party’s leader are Sens. Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Mark Pryor — three of the most vulnerable Democrats up for reelection this year:
“Absolutely,” Sen. Mary Landrieu, a vulnerable Louisiana Democrat facing voters this fall, said when asked if she would back Reid as leader no matter the outcome of the November elections. “We all share in success, we all share in the failures; we’re a team. But Harry Reid has tremendous respect of members of our caucus. … I don’t believe that he would be challenged in our party for leadership until he’s ready to step aside.”
“Yeah,” Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, another Democrat facing a tough race, said when asked if he’d back Reid again. “It’s up to him on whether he wants to do it.”
“Harry Reid is our leader, and I certainly do support Harry,” said Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.). “And I have a huge race going on right now, and I will be victorious. And I will be back next year. And we can talk all about that then.”
Other potentially vulnerable Senate Democrats weren’t so willing to express support for Reid. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) hedged on the question, telling Politico he’s worried about their own political survival, while Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) wouldn’t comment.
Pictured: Mayor David Lockhart and Chick-fil-a founder Truett Cathy
Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, is working to recruit new members after suffering nearly two-dozen losses in municipal elections across the country last year.
Among those who have received a membership solicitation is David Lockhart, mayor of Forest Park, a small Georgia city just south of Atlanta.
In the email solicitation, Cyrus Garrett, coalition coordinator for the anti-gun group, stated that its “members are united in their belief that support for the Second Amendment goes hand-in hand with keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and other dangerous people.”
Mayors Against Illegal Guns promised Lockhart “a national voice on this issue and others,” adding that it will also give him “an opportunity to meet and learn from other mayors and policymakers.”
Lockhart, who was elected last year, was unimpressed. The Forest Park mayor didn’t just decline the invitation, he ripped the anti-gun group and its founder.
“I do not support your efforts. I oppose efforts to require private sellers with minimal sales (non-dealers) to perform background checks,” Lockhart wrote to Mayors Against Illegal Guns. “I am proud that gun shows are regularly conducted in Forest Park.”
Nearly 11 months after Lois Lerner refused to offer her testimony before the House Oversight Committee, Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) says the committee is left with no other choice “but to consider a contempt finding.”
In light of the controversy related to last month’s contempt proceeding, which was cut short once Issa interrupted Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD)’s statement, Cummings claimed that Issa never overruled Lerner’s Fifth Amendment claims and never reserved the right to summon her once again before adjourning the hearing.
According to Issa, however, the committee reportedly warned Lerner in writing that that she could be held in contempt if she were to avoid being questioned by pleading the Fifth Amendment one more time.
Whether Lerner was honest or now when she stated, under oath, that she had not broken any laws or provided false information to congress, next week’s vote on whether to hold former IRS official in contempt of Congress may place the issue at the hands of the House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who would have to present the matter to the full House.
According to Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel “Speaker Boehner has been clear, both publicly and privately, that if Lois Lerner does not testify fully and truthfully, she will be found in contempt of Congress.”
In a press conference at the White House on Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters that “the real reason to do the Affordable Care Act, which could not be avoided, was the cost of healthcare in our country was unsustainable.”
“Unsustainable to individuals, to small businesses, to corporate America,” she said. “It was a competitive issue internationally.”
The premium hikes caused by Obamacare have been well-publicized. Recent data suggest that the law has increased cost of health insurance for individuals. These increases surpass the average of the previous eight years combined, a consequence of the law’s actuarial requirements, taxes and fees, as well as the mandated essential benefits.
Small businesses have also cited the higher health insurances costs as an impairment to growth. A survey of small businesses conducted last fall found that owners would drop coverage for employees and trim hours to avoid added costs. This is a fact that the Obama administration has recognized, which is why it has twice delayed enforcement of the employer mandate.
“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” — H.L. Mencken
— March jobs report: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 192,000 jobs were added in March, below projections, and the unemployment rate remained steady at 6.7%. Economists predicted 200,000 jobs and a 6.6% unemployment rate. The labor participation rate, however, ticked up slightly from 63% to 63.2%. This measure of Americans working and actively seeking employment has not been above 64% since December 2011, nearly two years after President Obama took office.
— Restoring the 40-hour work week: The House of Representatives passed a measure yesterday to change Obamacare’s definition of a full-time worker from 30 hours a week to 40 hours. The law’s definition of a full-time worker has caused many businesses to trim hours of part-time employees, known as “29ers,” to escape mandates and penalties. The White House, however, has threatened to veto the legislation, meaning that it’s unlikely the Senate will consider it.
Nick Hankoff is a grassroots coordinator at the Tenth Amendment Center and currently serves as chair at the Los Angeles County Republican Liberty Caucus. A former development associate for Antiwar.com, Nick has been covering the nullification movement that has been sweeping the country after Edward Snowden’s revelations regarding the NSA spying programs surfaced. In this guest post, Nick Hankoff outlines what many have assumed to be the best and most effective way to fight the federal government on issues such as the government mass surveillance tactics: nullification.
As the one-year anniversary of Edward Snowden’s liberation of NSA documents fast approaches, no one may refute the success of his stated goal of spurring public debate. “I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself,” Snowden said.
The headlines went out, Sunday morning interviews aired and re-played, yet the story isn’t going away as Glenn Greenwald still claims the overwhelming majority of leaks are yet to be published. The debate is ongoing, but to what end does it serve the public if real reform doesn’t result?
A coalition compromised of nearly 40 groups expressed support for ending the federal government’s bulk data collection program in a letter to President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and congressional leaders from both parties.
But the groups urged the administration and congressional leaders to go further than the limited duel proposals circulated last week by the White House and House Intelligence Committee by getting behind the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 3361).
“We the undersigned are writing to express support for ending the government’s bulk collection of data about individuals,” the coalition letter states. “We strongly urge swift markup and passage of the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R.3361), which would enact appropriate surveillance reforms without sacrificing national security.”
“This letter focuses on bulk collection,” the groups continue, “but overbroad NSA surveillance raises many more privacy and security issues that Congress and the Administration should address.”
The letter focuses on specific areas of reform. The coalition explains that bulk collection should be prohibited for all types of data, not just phone records. The White House proposal is limited to phone records, leaving loopholes for the federal government to collect other types of records and data.
“Legislation that focuses only on phone records,” the letter says, “may still allow for the bulk collection of, for example, Internet metadata, location information, financial records, library records, and numerous other records that may help ‘identify unknown relationships among individuals.’”