The crusade to save the spotted owl continues. It began with limiting timber sales on federally managed lands in order to preserve the owl's preferred habitat. As a result, Teresa Platt writes:
Oregon harvests fell from 4.9 billion board feet (1988) to less than 5%, 240 million board feet (2009).
Yet the spotted owl still struggled to survive and an interloper, the more aggressive barred owl (which is striped) began moving in and taking over the territory. So the Interior Department is working to "remove" some 9,000 barred owls from the spotted owls protected habitat.
The shooting of owls – stripped or spotted – by the government seems a bit extreme and who knows, maybe it accounts for the scarcity of ammunition these days. Perhaps the bullets are being used by federal sharpshooters, busily knocking off undesirable owls.
Maybe we should just leave it alone and let the owls sort it out among themselves.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that questions about Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius for Obamacare fundraising are similar to questions about President Obama's birth certificate:
Texas senator John Cornyn asked former IRS chief Douglas Shulman to apologize to his constituents for the IRS's wrongdoings. Shulman refused. Here's the exchange:
"Mr. Shulman," said Cornyn, "I wonder if you have any words of apology for my constituents and others who feel like the public trust has been violated by IRS."
"I am deeply, deeply saddened by this whole set of events," said Shulman. "I've read the IG's report, and I very much regret that it happened and that it happened on my watch."
Cornyn asked, "Is that an apology?"
Shulman responded, "To your constituents, I don't know the details of your constituents. I do not know what happened to them. I didn't look at particular constituent and taxpayer matters. I mean, as a general principle, as the IRS commissioner, I didn't touch individual cases, and I certainly didn't touch cases that involved political activity, so if i knew the details of it, I could give you an answer."
Cornyn replied, "So it's not your responsibility? The buck doesn't stop with you?"
The former IRS commissioner claimed, "I certainly am not personally responsible for creating a list that had inappropriate criteria on it. And what I know with the full facts that are out is from the inspector general's report which doesn't say that I am responsible for that. With that said, this happened on my watch. And I very much regret that it happened on my watch."
President Barack Obama's former chief of staff, Jack Lew, the current treasury secretary, said today at a Capitol Hill hearing that he was aware "questions had been raised" about the IRS when he was at the White House:
"I was not aware of this audit until I met with the inspector general on March 15, 2013," Lew says.
A senator follows-up, "Had you heard of anything at the White House regarding -- "
"I was not aware of any specific facts," Lew says. "You know, I know that questions had been raised. The fact is, this audit was a publicly posted audit in October 2012. So the fact that an audit was going on was a matter of public record. I had no specific knowledge."
Testifying today on Capitol Hill, Douglas Shulman, the former IRS commissioner, says he "can't say" how the targeting of conservatives by the agency he once led happened:
A senator asks, "If you could just very quickly, in a nutshell, bottom-line: How did this happen?"
"Mr. Chairman," Shulman says, "I can't say that I know that answer."
"But you were commissioner," says the senator.
"I'm six months out of," Shulman started.
The senator insisted that the former IRS must have "some idea about this." But Shulman insisted, "I'm six months out of office. When I left the IG was looking into this to gather all of the facts. I've now had the benefit of reading the report, and that's the full accounting of facts that I have at this point, and so I don't think I can answer that question."
Texas senator John Cornyn has released this video, titled "A Culture of Intimidation," about the IRS's targeting of conservatives in his home state and across the nation:
"The video shows Texans who have been unfairly targeted by the IRS for exercising their Constitutional rights to express their political beliefs. We also launched a new micro-site, 'IRS Targeting Texans,' highlighting the stories of groups being targeted, and inviting Texans to share their stories," says a spokesman from Cornyn's office.
Back in 2011 and 2012, my office was contacted by Texans who were concerned that they were being targeted by the federal government simply for exercising their constitutional right to free speech. At the time, these folks were being subjected to inquiries from the IRS that seemed excessive, unreasonable, and improper. Many around Washington and across the country unfairly dismissed these folks as subscribing to wild conspiracy theories.
Well, we found out the Texans who were targeted were right and the IRS was wrong. These abuses are not simply inappropriate, they're a breach of faith and potentially violations of criminal law.
Below are some of the stories Texans shared with me over the last two years that prompted three separate letters to the Administration, all of which were ignored or dismissed.
If you have been targeted by the IRS, I invite you to share your story here. Let’s make it clear that Texans will not stand for the kind of behavior typically associated with corrupt tin-pot dictators - not with the greatest democracy in the world.
Today, the Government Accountability Office issued a report of preliminary finding on the progress the Department of Homeland Security has made in its efforts to reduce the backlog of immigrant visas. Although almost 863,000 records were "closed" in the last two years, the backlog of potential overstays remains at more than one million [emphasis added]:
In the summer of 2011, DHS reviewed the 1.6 million potential overstay records. As a result, DHS closed about 863,000 records and removed them from the backlog. Since that time, DHS has continued to review all potential overstay records for national security and public safety concerns. However, as of April 2013, DHS continues to maintain more than 1 million unmatched arrival records in ADIS. GAO's preliminary analysis identified nonimmigrants traveling to the United States on a tourist visa constitute 44 percent of unmatched arrival records, while tourists admitted under a visa waiver constitute 43 percent. The remaining records include various types of other nonimmigrants, such as those traveling on temporary worker visas.
The report does note a change implemented since the Boston bombing related specifically to student visas:
Beginning in April 2013, ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) began automatically sending data to ADIS on a daily basis, allowing ADIS to review SEVIS records against departure records and determine whether student visa holders who have ended their course of study departed in accordance with the terms of their stay. Prior to this date, DHS manually transferred data from SEVIS to ADIS on a weekly basis. According to DHS officials, these exchanges were unreliable because they did not consistently include all SEVIS data—particularly data on “no show” students who failed to begin their approved course of study within 30 days of being admitted into the United States.
DHS has yet to comply with federal law requiring reporting of visa overstays, but the GAO notes that Janet Napolitano has said that DHS intends to begin such reporting by the end of the year:
Federal law requires DHS to report overstay estimates, but DHS or its predecessors have not regularly done so since 1994. In September 2008, GAO reported on limitations in overstay data that affect the reliability of overstay rates. In April 2011, GAO reported that DHS officials said that they have not reported overstay rates because DHS has not had sufficient confidence in the quality of its overstay data and that, as a result, DHS could not reliably report overstay rates. In February 2013, the Secretary of Homeland Security testified that DHS plans to report overstay rates by December 2013.
As recently as February, just weeks before sequestration was set to go into effect, nearly every Cabinet-level department had issued warnings of the need to furlough employees in fiscal 2013 due to the across-the-board cuts.
With the fiscal year more than halfway over, however, the number of agencies and department that will in fact require furloughs has dropped dramatically. While some departments, such as Labor and Treasury, have already begun or are moving forward with plans to furlough, the Agriculture, Education, Homeland Security, Justice and Transportation departments have reversed course.
Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, warned his people to expect furloughs of "multiple days." Now, it seems that he has found other ways to economize, including:
... a reduction in hiring. Forty-three percent of the vacancies at Education have gone unfilled in the last two years, according to the department.
Duncan's department has also “reduced its contracts by eliminating or postponing certain tasks.”
It has and continues to reduce travel and large conference spending, slashing 15 percent and 10 percent of their budgets, respectively.
In other words, the sorts of things businesses routinely do in tough times.
It has long been part of the Washington game for officials to discredit a news story by playing up errors in a relatively small part of it. Pfeiffer gives the impression that GOP operatives deliberately tried to “smear the president” with false, doctored e-mails.
But the reporters involved have indicated they were told by their sources that these were summaries, taken from notes of e-mails that could not be kept. The fact that slightly different versions of the e-mails were reported by different journalists suggests there were different note-takers as well.
Indeed, Republicans would have been foolish to seriously doctor e-mails that the White House at any moment could have released (and eventually did). Clearly, of course, Republicans would put their own spin on what the e-mails meant, as they did in the House report. Given that the e-mails were almost certain to leak once they were sent to Capitol Hill, it’s a wonder the White House did not proactively release them earlier.
The burden of proof lies with the accuser. Despite Pfeiffer’s claim of political skullduggery, we see little evidence that much was at play here besides imprecise wordsmithing or editing errors by journalists.
The more the evidence emerges, the more one has to wonder: Could Obamacare have been designed any more poorly? Even those who don’t mind Obamacare’s striking consolidation of power and money in Washington at the expense of Americans’ liberty, or who don’t mind the medical overhaul’s $2 trillion price-tag over its real first decade (2014 to 2023), must be starting to wonder at the sheer ineptitude of those who spearheaded its passage and penned its provisions.
Now comes a report from the Wall Street Journal, further confirming that President Obama’s signature legislation has essentially everything backward. We already knew that Obamacare’s fix for an American health care system that the federal government long ago broke, is to give the federal government far more power over American health care; that its solution to escalating health costs is to mandate greater health benefits (and, hence, higher costs); and that its solution to the pricey overreliance on pre-paid health plans — offered by insurance companies in lieu of real insurance — is to have the government require Americans to buy those pre-paid health plans under penalty of law.
Now, courtesy of the Journal, we learn that Obamacare’s mandated “essential benefits” (so “essential” that tens of millions of people freely forego them when the government doesn’t compel their purchase) really only apply to the small group and individual markets. In the realm of bigger businesses, the mandates won’t similarly apply.
“Many employers and benefits experts have understood the [Obamacare] rules to require robust insurance, covering a list of ‘essential’ benefits such as mental-health services and a high percentage of workers’ overall costs….
“But a close reading of the rules makes it clear that those mandates affect only plans sponsored by insurers that are sold to small businesses and individuals, federal officials confirm….Larger employers, generally with more than 50 workers, need cover only preventive services, without a lifetime or annual dollar-value limit.”
The Journal continues, “Administration officials confirmed in interviews that [these] skinny plans, in concept, would be sufficient to avoid” Obamacare’s penalties. Highlighting the Obama administration’s striking naïveté about government-imposed incentives, the Journal adds, “Several expressed surprise that employers would consider the approach.”
The thoughtful Carl Cannon has written a piece, "Richard Milhous Obama," concluding that our current president has more in common with our 37th than President Obama's partisans would like to acknowledge. The estimable Victor Davis Hanson has weighed in, defending against liberal dissents the proposition that "Nixon Is a Fair Comparison" with Obama.
I protest. Will no one stand up for Richard Nixon? Richard Nixon was a combat veteran, a staunch and brave anti-Communist, a man who took on the liberal establishment and at times his own party's as well, a leader who often thought for himself and had the courage of his convictions, a president who assembled a first-rate Cabinet and one who—while flawed both in character and in policy judgment—usually tried to confront the real problems and deal with challenges of his times. Richard Nixon led neither the country nor his own administration from behind.
I worked for Richard Nixon (well, I worked for two months in the Nixon White House in 1970 as a summer intern). I voted for Richard Nixon (in 1972, my first vote, against George McGovern—and one about which I have no regrets). I knew Richard Nixon (very slightly—I met him on a few occasions in groups in the late 1970s and the 1980s, and then a couple of times when I worked for Vice President Quayle). And so I feel obliged to rise to Richard Nixon's defense, and to say, with all due respect, to our current president: Barack Obama, you're no Richard Nixon.
The show will go on. Sequestration may have cost Washington D.C. tourists a chance to tour the White House, but the Independence Day fireworks will go off as planned. A contract was awarded yesterday to Garden State Fireworks of Millington, NJ for $221,819.77. The listing for bids on the typically business-like fbo.gov website contained this somewhat colorful solicitation:
Provide supervision, labor, materials, supplies and equipment necessary to present an innovative, bounteous, dynamic and attractive fireworks display for Independence Day on the Grounds of the Washington Monument, Washington, D.C. on July 4, 2013.
The National Park Service that puts on the fireworks show each year offers several suggestions for enjoying the show, which is scheduled to begin at 9:10 on the evening of the 4th:
• Consider wearing hearing protection. These fireworks are BIG and LOUD.
• Consider wearing eye protection to protect yourself from falling debris.
Perhaps no other IRS official is more intimately associated with the tax agency's growing scandal than Lois Lerner, director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division. Since admitting the IRS harassed hundreds of conservative and Tea Party groups for over two years, Lerner has been criticized for a number of untruths—including the revelation that she apparently lied about planting a question at an American Bar Association conference where she first publicly acknowledged IRS misconduct.
Still, Lerner has her defenders in the government and the media. Shortly after the scandal broke, The Daily Beast published an article headlined "IRS Scandal’s Central Figure, Lois Lerner, Described as ‘Apolitical.’" Insisting Lerner, and the IRS more broadly, were not not politically motivated has been a central contention of those trying to minimize the impact of the scandal.
The trouble with this defense is that, prior to joining the IRS, Lerner's tenure as head of the Enforcement Office at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) was marked by what appears to be politically motivated harassment of conservative groups.
Lerner was appointed head of the FEC's enforcement division in 1986 and stayed in that position until 2001. In the late 1990s, the FEC launched an onerous investigation of the Christian Coalition, ultimately costing the organization hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours in lost work. The investigation was notable because the FEC alleged that the Christian Coalition was coordinating issue advocacy expenditures with a number of candidates for office. Aside from lacking proof this was happening, it was an open question whether the FEC had the authority to bring these charges.
James Bopp Jr., who was lead counsel for the Christian Coalition at the time, tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD the Christian Coalition investigation was egregious and uncalled for. "We felt we were being singled out, because when you handle a case with 81 depositions you have a pretty good argument you're getting special treatment. Eighty-one depositions! Eighty-one! From Ralph Reed's former part-time secretary to George H.W. Bush. It was mind blowing," he said.