5.31.2013

IRS Targetting - More to Come

There's more to come on the IRS targeting of conservative groups.  It also seems they've targeted conservative individuals or at least individuals whose tax returns might indicate conservative tendencies.  These include adoptive families at least, but it seems it also includes those engaged in pro-life activism, evangelical religious organizations, and more.

How much of that is just a cultural mindset at the IRS based on the typical east coast liberal assumption that conservatives are, by definition, crazies, and how much of that is based on crass political thuggery is yet to be determined.  But it's not good, either way.  Not good at all.

By way of proposing a fix, let me suggest at least three changes - I'll take any one of them, but I'd prefer all three.

Replace the current byzantine tax code with a flat tax - no tax credits, no tax deductions, no nothing.  You make a buck, you send in a dime.  Period.

Make withholding of taxes an opt-in, rather than mandatory standard.  Taxes are a bill like any other and should be treated as such.

End the presumption of guilt implicit in tax enforcement regulations, policies, and laws - make the government prove we lied instead of requiring us to prove we didn't.  If IRS bureaucrats can plead the 5th, why can't we?

Societal Suicide, New York City Edition

New York City is proposing to give non-citizens the right to vote.  In other words, the city council of New York is going to endorse, encourage, and protect large-scale vote fraud in their city.

When you get a ballot, does it not often include both local and national matters on it?  Who's going to make sure these non-citizens only vote on the New York City ballot, and don't also cast ballots regarding the state and national elections?

This is beyond the very question of what kind of self-loathing is entailed in encouraging those who have absolutely no commitment to the societal contract embodied in our Constitution, state constitutions, city charters, and all the rest other than to extract money from those who are citizens.

The privilege of voting must accompany the responsibility of being part of the society within which one votes and at least some form of minimal commitment to that society.  If it does not, then it is simply a form of societal cutting - slitting our collective wrists and bleeding out whatever might remain of our cultural and societal identity.

Sympathy Eludes Me

One gets the impression that this story is supposed to make the reader sympathetic to the plight of these Hezbollah folks in Lebanon, but I confess that I'm having a hard time.

In the first place, it's Hezbollah.  They're not exactly a band of scrupulous and noble warriors fighting for truth and justice.  They're terrorists.  The rocket attacks they're experiencing in this city have been the near-constant experience of Israelis for years - often because of Hezbollah's attacks.  How many civilian Israelis have they killed?  How many more would they kill if they thought they could get away with it?

Then there's the fact that they're supporting Assad's regime in Syria - the guy who has basically run Lebanon as a puppet state for a decade.  The rebels aren't angels, either, and the only real difference between them running Syria and Assad's regime is which sub-group gets the money and which gets the prisons, the torture chambers, and the bullets.  If ever there were a situation where the unofficial, tongue-in-cheek, SEAL motto applied, it's the Syrian civil war ("Kill 'em all and let God sort it out").

And the poor girl we're supposed to feel sorry for ran up to the roof to watch a rocket attack.  Hello?  I've been on the receiving end of rocket attacks like that, and I know that one can feel as if it's not all that dangerous - a rocket still has to hit pretty close to take you out.  The blast radius is about 60m (200', a little less) for a 120mm rocket and the kill zone is around 40m.  There's usually something by way of cover within 40m of somebody in a city like this, so if you're not up on the roof and fully exposed, it's got to hit even closer than that.  If you're not fully exposed.  These things are not holiday fireworks, after all.  They are designed to kill and maim.

All of which is to say, I can understand why this 20-year-old, with the typical youthful sense that it won't happen to me, would run outside and up to the roof to watch the attack.  I don't understand why her parents didn't have the sense to tell her that was a stupid thing to do and to stay inside.  It'd be like telling your kid to have a good time as he heads upstairs to watch the tornado.  Dumb.

UPDATE: Included the link to the story now.  Sorry 'bout that.

5.30.2013

Recounting, Again, Obama's Contempt for the Constitution and the Law

I've said for the last 5 years that Obama has no intention of upholding the rule of law, that he wants to be a tyrant, and that the oath he swore (twice, now) upon taking up his office is meaningless to him.

Ramesh Ponnuru, no wild-eyed extremist as some might wish to paint me, details some of the history of the president's actions in contempt of the Constitution and the laws he swore to uphold.

- Claiming authority to make recess appointments when the Senate was not in recess;
- Directing the IRS to apply taxes and credits from Obamacare where that law expressly excludes such taxes and credits;
- Contrary to established case law, defining the freedom to exercise religion as merely the freedom to worship where one wishes;
- Requiring religious institutions and individuals to act in violation of their religious beliefs regarding the administration of contraceptives and abortifacient drugs;

I would add:

- Ignoring immigration law;
- Ignoring whistle-blower protection laws;
- Using the IRS to attack political opponents;
- Using the EPA to attack political opponents;
- Refusing to enforce voter rights laws;
- Attacking freedom of the press;
- Illegally selling weapons to drug cartels;
- Using drones to assassinate American citizens abroad;
- Encouraging and supporting appointees who routinely lie under oath to Congress

I'm sure there are other instances, but that's all I can think of off the top of my head.

No, Bush did not do these things.  No president since Nixon has so routinely flouted the Constitution, the law, and the limits on executive authority as flagrantly as Barack Hussein Obama.

But he will not be impeached or threatened with impeachment.  Republicans do not have the votes to do so, in large part because the media, that supposed  paragon of virtue in defense of liberty, has largely encouraged and covered for the Obama administration in all of this.  Liberals are never held accountable for the damage they do.

5.29.2013

Idiot Congressmen Want HHS to Police Your Exercise

Give the government control of health care and you give the government control of everything, because sooner or later, almost anything can and surely everything will be defined as a health issue.  Salt and soda are already regulated in New York City and there are other cities and state governments who want to.  So does the Federal Government.

And now a bill has been introduced in both houses of Congress requiring the Federal Government to "prescribe physical activity" for all Americans.  My mother, my wife, my children, and even members of my congregation already harass me about exercise.  I stopped going to the doctor because I saw no reason to pay somebody to do what so many were willing, even eager to do for free.  But that's not enough.  Congress thinks the Feds should also harangue me about exercise.

We're $17,000 billions in debt.  We've got long-term systemic unemployment around 10% (the 7.2% number is because so many have dropped out of the labor pool), and these nincompoops want to make sure I get enough exercise.

Get this - one of the bill's sponsors is a Republican (from Illinois)!  Is there a single, solitary Republican in the state of South Dakota who would think the federal government should dictate how much exercise people have to have?  A single one?  All the arguments about RINOs in this state pale by comparison.

Ridiculous.  Absolutely ridiculous.  But that's the natural result of Obamacare.

The Unique Value of Western Culture and Civilization

Riots in Stockholm - helpfully described as being "immigrants."  They were responding to an incident where police shot and killed a man.  The man was wielding a machete, agitated and threatening, and speaking a language other than Swedish.

As you might gather, the "immigrants" are muslims.  The man wielding the machete was speaking Arabic and also a muslim.  This came right on the heels of two muslims murdering a soldier in London, hacking him with machetes as he left his barracks.

The willingness of Europeans to accept large numbers of unassimilated muslims from Africa and the Middle East is coming to a head.  In the next few years we will see if the hemlock of multiculturalism has sapped Europeans of the will to maintain their own culture and heritage, or if they will assert themselves and the cultural traditions of the West.  It is by no means clear at this point which it will be.

But bear in mind:
It is the West that has a tradition of political freedom, and nowhere else except to the extent they are influenced by Western culture and civilization
It is the West that affirms religious freedom, and nowhere else except to the extent they are influenced by Western culture and civilization
It is the West that has a tradition of economic freedom, and nowhere else except to the extent they are influenced by Western culture and civilization.
It is the West that has a tradition of tolerance and inclusion, and nowhere else except to the extent they are influenced by Western culture and civilization.
It is the West that has developed a tradition of personal freedom, irrespective of race, ethnicity, language, education, gender, or anything else, and nowhere else except to the extent they are influenced by Western culture and civilization.

And the West has developed these traditions over centuries building on three primary sources - Greek philosophy, Roman law, and Christian religion.

No, we have not been unanimous in the application of these liberties.  No, we did not grant them all at once to all our people.  They have developed over time.  But they developed in the West and nowhere else; not Central or Eastern Europe, not the Middle East or Asia, not Africa or the Americas, but only where we had all three of these elements jostling together - Western Europe and its off-shoots.  And it will require a robust re-assertion of all three strains if the freedoms they spawned are to be maintained in the face of assaults from a resurgent Islam, mere materialist philosophy, multiculturalism, and the kind of neo-paganism evident in the idolatry of the state.  

I don't know that Europe is capable of that any longer.  Ten years ago, I would have said that the U.S. still is, but I'm not so sure any longer.

5.24.2013

IRS Scandal an Argument for Gutting IRS (and Government Generally)

Dan Foster lays out part of the reason why it's easier to just gut the IRS than to try to find the particular culprits in that maze and root them out.

It goes back to the weird laws governing federal civil service - laws intended to protect bureaucrats from political pressure in many instances, but which in effect make it more likely that a federal employee will die on the job than be fired, no matter what they've done.

Adoption Audits Conducted Despite Unusually High Compliance Rate in 2011

More on those adoption audits, since it seems the IRS targeted adoptive families in 2011 as well as 2012.

In 2011, they found no evidence of fraud and of 35,000 returns claiming the adoptive child tax credit that were audited via correspondence (that is, the taxpayer did not have to actually go in to an IRS office), a mere 17% were found to under report the tax owed.  The rate for returns audited in such a fashion generally is 86%.

Remember, too, that in 2012, a paltry 1.5% of the amount claimed on the adoptive child tax credit was disallowed, although 90% of those returns received extra attention and 69% were audited.

This is a massive witch hunt intended to harass families who adopt children.  There is no rational basis for this kind of targeting and it is of a piece with the IRS going after conservative groups.

I repeat, yet again, that the only possible solution is to reduce the power and authority of the Internal Revenue Service.

It's not that all IRS workers are leftist shills, or that they're bad people.  But it is a massive, intrusive, poorly overseen agency trying to hold people accountable to an incomprehensibly byzantine tax code that impedes the collection of taxes as much as it impedes the conduct of business.  It is also too easily manipulated to political ends in violation of those rights and privileges which should attend a free people.  And the only way to get rid of the IRS and its too-easily abused power is to get rid of the tax code it is responsible for enforcing.

The Benghazi Picture Taking Shape

Well, it's starting to come out why our ambassador was ordered by Secretary of State Clinton to Benghazi, despite all the security warnings and such like.  Stingers - Man-Portable Air Defense missiles (HAT TIP: Jim Geraghty).  Both these sources make clear that some of this needs substantiation, but it is the only explanation I've seen so far that pulls all the pieces together with some coherence.

The Libyans had some 20,000 of them in their arsenals which, as you might expect, fell into rebel hands.  They didn't all stay in Libya.  But there was also an initiative within the State Department to arm Libyan rebels, too.  The CIA opposed this because - also as you might expect - they believed (correctly) that a significant portion of these weapons would end up in the hands of terrorist organizations connected to al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran.  Hillary knew better than Gen. Petraeus, so the U.S. went ahead and supplied sophisticated weapons to our enemies in Libya.

After the rebels defeated Kaddafi, Hillary decided we'd better get those weapons back.  So she sent our ambassador to negotiate with these al-Qaeda elements to repurchase the weapons - those same al-Qaeda elements that instead attacked the compound and murdered our ambassador.

That rather explains a lot.  It explains why the administration (or was it just Clinton?) orchestrated the leaks regarding Gen. Petraeus' peccadillos so as to force him out at the CIA.  It explains the misinformation campaign - letting folks know the real reason our ambassador was in Benghazi would point out just how wrong-headed Hillary is and how blunderingly naïve U.S. foreign policy has been under the Obama-Clinton partnership and we can't have that.  It also explains why the State Department interfered to prevent the military from responding to the attacks - those attacks would have gone in by air, and why was Stevens in Benghazi?  To buy back loads of anti-aircraft missiles.  You know - the kind that shoot down airplanes and helicopters.  It could very well have turned into another Desert One fiasco.

The whole mess in Benghazi was initiated by Hillary in an effort to save her bacon after overruling the CIA and issuing MANPADs to al-Qaeda affiliated Libyan rebels.  And everything afterwards was also orchestrated to save Hillary's posterior so she is still a viable candidate in 2016.  Yeah, Obama's the president and so he bears responsibility for this, but I must admit that I feel for him just a bit here.  He made the mistake of believing Hillary is as smart as her propaganda makes her out to be (a mistake Bill made when he let her try to manage health-care reform back during his presidency).  But Hillary is not that smart.  She's gullible, naïve, unsophisticated, and just plain dumb when it comes to international relations and every aspect of her work at State backs that up.

And so do the graves of four Americans killed in order to cover her backside.

UPDATE: Jim Geraghty goes over some public sources that corroborate, but do not definitively substantiate, the initial column in greater detail.

Senate Democrats Upset Apple Complies with Tax Law

Some Senate committee hauled in some representatives from Apple, Inc. the other day to chew them out.  The kind of malfeasance Apple displayed just couldn't be tolerated.

What malfeasance was that, you ask?

Complying with U.S. tax law in a manner that put the smallest possible dent in the company's profits.  It's not that Apple isn't paying taxes.  They did, to the tune of $6 billion in 2012.  But they're keeping a fair bit of money overseas and Congress wants to tax that money, too.

Currently, if a U.S. corporation earns money in, say, Germany, the U.S. government considers that company liable for taxes in the U.S.  As long as it stays in Germany, the U.S. government can't really get at it, so they only levy the tax if the company brings their money back to the U.S.

Oh, let's not forget.  Since they made the money in Germany, the German government is also levying taxes on it.

Like any sane and rational corporation, Apple doesn't want to bring that money back to the U.S. because they'd then be paying taxes on it twice - once to the German government and once to the U.S. government.  Foreign governments like this arrangement because it gives U.S. corporations a tremendous incentive to invest where they are rather than in their U.S. activities.

But Apple wanted to pay out a dividend to their U.S. shareholders, which would have meant bringing some of that foreign money back to the U.S. and thus paying taxes on it.  What to do?  Ah!  We'll borrow the money from our overseas subsidiaries.  Loans aren't profits, so they aren't taxed.  Our shareholders get a good return and we don't get double-taxed on the same profits.

Perfectly legal.  Perfectly rational.  And perfectly infuriating to the Democrats in the Senate who find it intolerable that corporate tax accountants and attorneys are smarter than they are.

It's also just one more example of why we need a flat tax.  Just shove all the crap out of the way, toss in a cost-of-living deduction that is standard across the board, and go.  And it's only taxed here if it's earned here.

5.23.2013

It Ain't Over 'Til the Fat Lady Sings - and She Ain't Singin' Yet

The IRS says they've stopped their unconstitutional (though, according to Ms. Lerner and Mr. Miller, perfectly legal) harassment of conservative groups.

The conservative groups dispute that.

IRS Targets Adoptive Families

Here's something a bit chilling.  The Internal Revenue Service is not only targeting conservative groups connected with the Tea Party.  They've targeted folks who adopt.

That's right.  If you adopt and claim the adoption tax credit, just assume the IRS will audit you.  Ninety percent - let me repeat that - ninety percent of returns claiming the adoption tax credit were subject to additional review and sixty-nine percent were audited.  More than 2/3 of taxpayers claiming the child adoption tax credit were audited and almost all of them were subject to additional review.  Some 55% of those audits turned up absolutely nothing.  Only 1.5% of adoption credit claims were actually disallowed.  This harassment resulted in an average delay of 4 months (126 days) in resolving tax returns and - if warranted - collection of refunds due.  This is not including the additional costs imposed on the taxpayer to comply with the IRS demands.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion mills are supported by your tax dollars without any real review or oversight.  But try to reduce abortion by adopting one baby, and the full force of the federal government is going to come after you to try to find some way to nail your backside.

But, hey, President Obama says we shouldn't listen to those folks who say the government can't be trusted.  I guess it's all right then.

We need to eliminate the IRS and to do that, we need to vastly simplify taxation.  A flat tax isn't just a good economic policy.  It's becoming clear we need it to preserve our liberty.

5.22.2013

President Schultz?

It's interesting that Obama's defense in all this is, "Nobody told me."  I guess his staff didn't want to interfere with his tee time?

Every boss I've ever worked for has had one cardinal rule: Make sure I'm not blind-sided.  To hear the White House spokesman, you'd think our president has given his staff exactly the opposite instruction.  Maybe his real name is Schultz?


 
I remember when Reagan was president, and the whole Iran-Contra thing was going on.  Reagan said he didn't know anything about it, too.  Perhaps he didn't.  I don't expect presidents to be omniscient.  But then, as now, it is the president's job to know and it is the job of his staff to make sure he is aware of what is happening in his administration.  If staff members are interfering with the president in the performance of his duties by withholding vital information, they should be fired.  The president should never be finding out about actions of his administration from the morning papers.

Make a God Out of Government, End Up Ruled By the Devil

So, it was a planted question at a lawyer's meeting on a Friday afternoon that first blew the lid on this IRS intimidation scandal.  One gets the impression that the idea was this would allow folks in the administration to brush off the IG report as old news, or at least get a public apology on record so as to permit a kind of "mistakes were made, we've stopped, and we've apologized, so let's move on" approach.

It didn't work.

The former head of the IRS has resigned, but it turns out he was going to resign anyway.  Another individual from the department responsible for the intimidation has also been dismissed from her post - and promoted.  There is no indication that any of the "low-level" functionaries will lose their jobs over this, either.  Indeed, the now former head of the IRS flatly stated to Congress that he doesn't think they've done anything illegal.

Where are the freedom-loving leftists who were so worried that Bush might be inquiring into their library books?  Where are those "dissent is the highest form of patriotism" robots from the days of Bush?  What if we get a Republican and a conservative in the White House in 2016 - will they remember that they said none of this was illegal in 2013?  

Did Bush ever go after reporters and news organizations the way Holder and the so-called "Justice" Department are going after the AP and Fox?  They don't have to actually succeed in any prosecution against Fox and the AP, remember.  All they have to do is frighten reporters away from asking serious questions or seeking solid information.  The Washington Post is duly aghast, but the NY Times is still shilling for the administration.

Several groups have now filed suit against the IRS on the basis of these revelations.  I hope they win.  Because it most definitely is illegal.  The fact that the IRS bureaucrat Lerner has declared her intent to plead the 5th amendment (can't be required to testify against yourself) shows they think it may well have been illegal, too.  The basic law of this land grants freedom of assembly and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances, as well as freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

Although the contrast between the Bush administration and the Obama administration on these matters - along with the press and public reaction - are striking, we should not thereby conclude that this problem would be solved by changing the party from which the president comes.  The simple fact of the federal government's size, intrusiveness, and scope make this kind of thing a perpetual temptation to who ever is in power, regardless of party.  Human nature is human nature, and long ago it was noted that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.  If we would limit the corruption, we must limit the power of the federal government.  Firing a few people, passing a new law or new regulation, tweaking this or that - none of that will change the fundamental dynamic underlying the IRS abuse.

I have long said that the fundamental problem facing the United States and western civilization in general is the idolatry of the state - the notion that for every problem there is a government solution.  If you make a god out of government, you end up being ruled by the Devil.

5.18.2013

CRCNA's Office of Social Justice Distorts Church, Distracts from Mission, Part II

For Part I, go here.

All this activity of OSJ, advocating for specific legislation, even to the point of specific legislative text (without, by the way, making it easy for recipients of their advocacy literature to read that text themselves), distorts the Church and distracts from our core mission.

The Church exists to bear witness to Jesus Christ.  That is our first, middle, last, and only task.  Everything else the church does must support it - music, sermons, social action (or inaction), charities, and all the rest.  Sever that from Jesus, and all of it is pointless.

The activity of the Church in the political sphere must never lose sight of the fact that our objective is Christ and pointing people to Jesus.  But when we allow ourselves to get caught up in the weeds of specific legislation - often legislation that is difficult even for the lawyers and accountants and specialists who study law and legislative policy and so on for a living - we put that at risk.  Instead of being seen as a witness to Jesus, we become seen as merely one more faction within the body politic.  What is more, we end up being forced to participate in the sausage machine that is called the political process and sooner or later that will mean compromising our principles - compromising our witness - for short-term political gains.

What happened to the Church in the early years of the century just past when she gave herself over to political causes (progressive/liberal at the time)?  There was a brief period of power ascendant, that eventually collapsed as those churches saw their membership vanish.  The organizations they spawned to maneuver the levers of power became coopted, and the church became little more than a tool of the faction they'd tied themselves to.  The same thing happened to evangelicals when they tied themselves to the GOP in the 1980s.  Nobody thinks of the Family Research Council as primarily a Christian organization, but as a conservative Republican one.  Nobody thinks of Sojourner's as being first and foremost a Christian magazine, but as a leftwing and Democrat (if not at times socialist or even Communist) one.  And these are overtly parachurch organizations, not connected to a denomination.

What OSJ is doing risks bringing this identification down on the CRCNA as a whole - an identification not with the Kingdom of Heaven and the Lord to whom we bear witness, but an identification with a very earthly political power, or rather, one particular faction agitating for earthly political power.

Now, if all OSJ did were state principles and call on all Christians but particularly Christian Reformed politicians to give an account of their votes in light of those principles, they would be providing a great service.  They don't.  They don't even readily give an account of their own advocacy that shows how it connects to those principles.  As a result, it risks distorting the church by turning it into a lobbying organization within this earthly kingdom, and it distracts from its witness to Jesus.

Which is why I insist that OSJ needs to disband or sever its connection to the CRCNA.

CRCNA's Office of Social Justice Distorts Church, Distracts from Mission, Part I

There seems to be some confusion regarding what I wrote below and the CRCNA's Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action! and immigration.  Not surprising.  When one vents, one invites confusion, and I was venting - dangerous, particularly in public.  I said in that earlier post,
they offer nothing to outline principles of Christian truth that they want you to see incorporated into legislation. They just want you to advocate for specific amendments to a specific piece of legislation - and if you haven't read them, you aren't encouraged to do so (there are no links to the actual amendments or the text of the law itself as proposed).
My intended antecedent was the action alert sent out by OSJ (and quoted in the comments section of that earlier post), not OSJ as such.  If you go to OSJ's web site, you will find some actually rather decent principles regarding immigration.  But what you won't find, either there or in this action alert, is why those principles require you, as a "person of faith," to advocate against all the GOP amendments and in favor of all the Democrat amendments being considered.  They simply assert it, as if it were common knowledge, give out a boilerplate script, provide no links to the actual texts or even summaries of the amendments or the legislation, and nothing to say what principles would be violated/upheld by which amendment.

There's also a reason I put the "or maybe you're not Christian" of the title in parenthesis, and with a question mark, too.  It is insinuated throughout that "people of faith" will naturally agree with them (a common theme in all their action alerts, and no, I don't know why, as an organ of the CRCNA, they don't bother to specify which faith we're people of).  I think this is a result of the echo chamber in which OSJ mostly operates, not an intentional insinuation.  They just never really pay attention to reasoned Christian viewpoints other than their own.

But legislation like this is always complex and multi-faceted.  There are trade-offs, deals, connections to other laws and so on that mean supporting a particular amendment or bill is never so cut and dried as OSJ's action alerts make it seem.  It is entirely possible for a committed Christian, concerned about both immigrants (legal and illegal) and citizens, to take positions diametrically opposite of those OSJ is advocating.  Similarly with regards to debt, spending priorities, farm bills, and every other issue OSJ takes specific, legislative positions on.

Consider, too, that OSJ is supported largely by ministry shares, which is to say, denominational dues.  If your church is part of the CRCNA and you donate to your church, there's a very good chance you're also donating to OSJ.  You are therefore paying to support political activism you disagree with, perhaps strongly so (as is my case).  Because OSJ is supported by those dues, located in the head offices of the CRCNA, and an official agency of the denomination, they can go to legislators and say, "This is the CRC position..." - and they do.  But why is the CRC, as a church, even taking a position on Grassley amendment # 17 (or whatever it is)?  And what does it mean for those members of the CRC who think differently when their denomination's official position is opposed - are they less faithful as members of the church?  Are they less Christian?  Less Reformed?

The implications of the OSJ's activities in advocating for this particular bill and multiple other issues of similar complexity and difficulty, strongly suggest the answer to those questions is, "yes."

Now, if the Family Research Council wants to do something like this, that's fine.  I don't have to send them money when I donate to my local church and I can explain myself to the local church board to suggest this not come from the general fund, but be a separate offering I can easily avoid.  The FRC can't claim to speak for all evangelicals because it's patently obvious that not all evangelicals give them money or endorse their positions.  I still am not that keen on what FRC does with its statements, but they don't include me and leave ample room for Christians of good will to disagree.

If OSJ wants to do that, then fine - sever ties with the denomination and go off with their leftwing buddies to advocate for whatever the want.  But if it's going to remain a part of the denomination, then they need to cease and desist from these uniformly leftwing action alerts, stick to first principles, and invite multiple viewpoints on how those principles apply to given situations, problems, and proposed solutions.

5.17.2013

The Lighter Side of a Socialist Failure

In case you hadn't heard, there's a serious shortage in Venezuela - a shortage of toilet paper.  Socialism can produce the crap, but can't clean it up, it seems.

Anyway, via National Review's Corner, I came across this, and thought, "Maybe she could get married in Cartagena?"

IRS Scandal Symptom of Big Government, Not Obama

IRS shenanigans went beyond conservative groups applying for 501(c)(4) status to harassment of existing conservative groups.  Information demanded included lists of students, along with personal information about those students and their participation in the educational programs sponsored by these conservative educational groups.

The IRS, remember, is also the agency tasked with enforcing compliance with Obamacare provisions.

When Obamacare first came up, I and others mentioned the likelihood of the government using its control of the health care industry to reward friends and punish political enemies.  We were told such a thing couldn't happen here, that it was just rightwing nut job lunacy.

It doesn't look so loony now, does it? 

Who leaked Romney's tax returns?  It had to be somebody who actually had access to them, right?  Those would either be Romney's accountants and lawyers - and they wouldn't countenance such a thing as it would kill their business.  Who would use them if they couldn't trust them to keep things confidential?  They would want to know, root out, and prosecute if anyone in their offices had violated that confidentiality.  That leaves folks in government, and the folks in government who had access were in the IRS.  Quite a bit of sensitive financial information on conservative groups and individuals has been leaked to the press over the last 4-5 years.  While I'm not sure one can say the source is always the IRS, it's got to be that agency often because nobody else has the information and you can't leak what you don't have.

There are reports that they've targeted a sitting member of Congress, too, when he challenged the IRS a while ago concerning these activities.

There's been a pattern of dishonesty from the IRS regarding all of this since 2010.

Yeah, two people have resigned.  They're still going to collect pensions - hefty ones, paid for by the taxpayers they've harassed.  These are criminal offenses.  Do you think for a moment that Holder's politicized "Justice" Department will lift a finger to prosecute them?  Hardly.

Don't think, either, that just changing the people at the helm will fix this.  The last guy to get caught out doing this sort of thing, you may recall, was a Republican.  Put this much power and information and control in the hands of government, and the temptation to redirect it for partisan political ends will come upon anyone - even the folks like me who are objecting to it now that we're feeling the sting of it.  A government system of the sort we've built over the last 80 years is veritably begging to be corrupted like this.  There is only one solution - to dramatically reduce the reach, the power, and the scope of the federal government.

5.16.2013

CRCNA Says Support Amnesty (or Maybe You're Not Christian?)

The CRC Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action! strikes again.

I just got an "action alert".  They like the amnesty bill now heading to the Senate Judiciary Committee.  They want us to agitate for every amendment proposed by a Democrat, and against every amendment proposed by a Republican.

In other words, they offer nothing to outline principles of Christian truth that they want you to see incorporated into legislation.  They just want you to advocate for specific amendments to a specific piece of legislation - and if you haven't read them, you aren't encouraged to do so (there are no links to the actual amendments or the text of the law itself as proposed).  They don't really want you to think for yourself on the issues.  They just want you to call and repeat their boilerplate leftism.

The Office of Social Justice is not, and has not ever been, a voice of Christian principle in politics.  It is solely a political voice in the church, seeking to enlist the Gospel of the Kingdom of God in support of a particular narrow understanding of what the City of Man should be like.  In this, it grossly distorts the church and her mission. 

That there are groups who do the same thing for conservatives (FRC, Christian Coalition, etc.) does not absolve them, and indeed, OSJ is worse.  These others are obviously parachurch organizations which the institutional church may ignore or attend to as they wish.  They make, for they can make, no claim to speak for all Christians or for the Church of Jesus Christ as such.  But the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action! is an official organ of the Christian Reformed Church in North America.  As such, it most decidedly does claim to speak for the one acceptable Christian position on these matters and thus insinuate that those who disagree are either not Christian or not as faithful as they are.

The Office of Social Justice should be disbanded or severed from the institutional church.

UPDATE: See here and here for a 2 part clarification and fuller explanation of my position.

5.15.2013

Evidence of a Corupt System

Here's what I mean about the IRS scandal indicating more than the mere moral failure of a few elected politicians, but a corruption of the entire system.  In addition to harassing conservative groups with demands for information the IRS had no legal authority to demand, delaying those groups' progress through the vetting system, and otherwise preventing them from participating in the political process on a footing similar to many leftist political groups, the IRS took the confidential information gleaned from this process and distributed it to at least one leftwing group (Pro Publica).

What was it Nixon did?  He arranged to steal a confidential debate briefing book from the McGovern campaign headquarters at the Watergate Hotel.  He then used the power of the executive branch to attempt to stifle other opponents, whistle-blowers, and so on, including the use of confidential IRS files for partisan political purposes.

Obama won't be impeached - he's a liberal and liberals are never held to account for such things, and besides, we don't know if this was done with the encouragement and knowledge of his campaign or it was just a leftist bureaucrat using his (her?) position to carry water for the Democrats.  To be honest, I'm not sure which would be worse - that these IRS employees were acting on orders from the President or one of his chief advisors, or if they were acting on their own out of the perverse love for statism in their own hearts.  I rather suspect the latter, just as the Ohio state official was when Joe the Plumber's financial information was leaked to the press.

Regardless, I'd like someone to explain to me how what Obama's IRS did is significantly different from what Nixon was doing in 1971 and '72.  I'm not seeing it.  The folks who did this need to be summarily fired, surrendering all benefits they may have accrued within the civil service, and prosecuted for gross breaches of confidentiality and abuse of their offices.  They should not receive a taxpayer funded pension after this, but I could go for some taxpayer funded room and board along with a nice orange jump suit.  The political interference of the civil service needs to be challenged head on.

Before South Dakota Jumps in Medicaid Pool, Check If There's Any Water

A study was conducted recently in Oregon - a very interesting study, as I've said before - and Avik Roy has some further analysis of it.

The study was conducted over 3 years and looked at people without health insurance.  Some were given access to Medicaid.  Others were not.  Then it looked at how they fared over the three years and came to the conclusion "that Medicaid 'generated no significant improvement in measured physical health outcomes.'"

Here in South Dakota, as in other states, we've been debating whether to expand Medicaid coverage to people at 139% of the official "poverty line" or not.  Supposedly the federal government will cover the bulk of the cost.  Bear in mind that the Federal government is already nearly $17,000 billion in debt and still borrowing heavily, which is to say, they're broke. Before they can make the payments, they've got to have the money.

Before we put ourselves on the hook for millions of dollars to expand Medicaid in South Dakota, we should conduct such a test - an objective test - ourselves.  We've got 45,000 supposedly without insurance.  How many of them are eligible for the expanded Medicaid, I don't know.  But let's take a random sample of some 5,000-10,000 and split them into three groups - one left without insurance, one with Medicaid, and one with high deductible catastrophic insurance from a private insurer and a Health Savings Account.  Then let's track how they fare over the next 5 years or so to find answers to the following questions:

1) What are the comparative health outcomes?
2) How much does each group cost us - including uncompensated and/or charity care? (presumably those without insurance will still have access to emergency rooms, etc. which costs are borne by all of us)
3) What is the frequency with which they avail themselves of medical services? (that is, what is the affect on demand for medical services)
4) How many in each group end up obtaining private insurance of their own over time and how soon do they do so?  How many of these subsequently give up that private insurance, and why?

Before we obligate our state, our taxpayers, and our children to these expensive programs, let's dig a little to see if they actually work.  The Oregon study indicates Medicaid doesn't.

5.14.2013

IRS Harrassment and AP Phone Tapping More Serious Than Benghazi

While I am obviously upset about the president's failure in Benghazi, it is simply that - a failure.  The dishonesty in attempting to cover up the failure is as common to politics as water is to the sea.  It is also very much a personal failure.  What I mean by that is the inaction of the president and his servants (SecDef and SecState) do not indicate a corruption of the system, just a moral failure on the part of the individuals within that system.  So, in a way, it's a small thing if one can say the unnecessary deaths of four people is small.

But the actions of the Internal Revenue Service, which, as I suspected, were not merely the rogue actions of a few low-level minions, but instigated much further up the chop-chain - those actions indicate a corruption of the system itself.  When the government can use its power to harass, oppress, and punish citizens simply for disagreeing with the president, and do so with impunity, we are no longer able to truly call ourselves free.  We may have the trappings of freedom, but the situation has change dramatically for we have those trappings only to the extent our government suffers us to have them and not as an inherent right of citizenship in the United States.

And I could say the same thing about the Justice Department's tapping of telephone lines at the AP.  This is a blatant abuse of power for the purpose of silencing voices disagreeable to the administration.  It is a gross violation of the essential compact between the citizens of this country and the government that is supposed to be their servant, not their master.

I believe I recently said elsewhere that those with no principle beyond the mere acquisition and maintenance of power cannot be trusted with power.  That was true when it was Nixon.  That is true when it is Clinton or Obama and the modern day Democrat Party.

Obama, the Politician, Accuses other Politicians of Playing Politics

The president's response to the Benghazi hearings is to accuse the members of the House conducting the hearings of playing politics ("...has a lot to do with political motivations").

Duh.  They're politicians.  And so is the president.  And so is Hillary Clinton.  Of course they're playing politics.  That's the game everyone in Washington, D.C. is playing.  It's as if the team losing at half time during the Superbowl were complaining that the other team is only playing football.  It's the Superbowl.  What else would they be playing?  Well, this is Congress and the president in Washington, D.C.  Does the president expect them to be playing cribbage?

The facts remain:
1. Ambassador Stevens and others requested stronger security measures.  They were denied. 
2. The embassy informed State and CIA of increased al-Qaeda related activity in Benghazi and the rising threat level.  Sec'y of State Hillary directed her ambassador to go there anyway. 
3. Washington was informed almost immediately that it was a terrorist attack on our ambassador.  They told the world it was a spontaneous response to a movie hardly anybody had seen anywhere and arranged for the producer of that movie to be arrested on trumped up charges.
4. There were military and intelligence assets in place ready, even eager to respond.  They were ordered to stand down, thus abandoning our people in the field.
5. Two former SEALs ignored those orders and went anyway.  They were not supported and were subsequently killed by the enemy.
6. When the proverbial "3 a.m." call came in (at 5 pm, by the way), the president told his SecDef and then chairman of the Joint Chiefs to "handle it" and went to bed before heading out to a fund raiser in Las Vegas the next day.
7. When it became clear that people were upset, the administration appointed a "review board" to draft excuses and exculpate everyone rather than to actually review what happened.

In short, the President, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of Defense displayed incredible callousness towards our people in the field, setting them up for such an attack and then abandoning them to their fate once the attack was underway.  These compassionate Democrats couldn't bring themselves to bother with those they'd ordered into harm's way once they were actually threatened.  Then they lied, blustered, and covered it - all with the eager assistance of the mainstream media - to avoid the political fallout from these multiple failures, lest the president not be re-elected.

In these actions, they essentially told every soldier, Marine, sailor, airman, special forces operator, ambassador, Intelligence operator, and anyone else out there putting their lives on the line for this country (along with their families) that they'd better watch their own backs because the guys at the top don't care.

And believe me, every one of them, down to the lowest recruit, got that message loud and clear.

5.10.2013

IRS Admits Targeting Conservatives

Well, the Internal Revenue Service has come out and admitted they were targeting conservative groups for harassment and additional scrutiny in the run-up to the 2012 election.

Is it paranoia when they really are out to get you?

And then to think a mere statement of apology is sufficient to placate their victims - it does not speak well of the general intelligence in that agency.  It is precisely this abuse of power that is behind the call for shrinking the size and scope of the federal government. 

The simple fact is that the government bureaucracy is, on the whole, not neutral.  It is decidedly left wing.  The bureaucrats at State and CIA sought to undermine the Bush administration during a war.  The bureaucrats at the IRS are shilling for Obama during the 2012 election.  They are no more objective than is CBS News.  That doesn't mean everybody in government is a Democrat.  Hardly.  But the culture at the upper echelons is one that favors statists.  This is both understandable and natural.  Over time, the sorts of people who get promoted when a bureaucracy is small will tend to be those who believe in their particular department's mission and capability.  They'll want to expand it for that reason.  Democrats expand the bureaucracy.  This creates a symbiotic relationship between statist politicians and the statists hired for the civil service.  The fact that such hirelings are largely immune to the desire of conservative presidents to diminish them by either firing them or otherwise shrinking their agencies means they become an entrenched force for leftist-statist thought.

I highly doubt that it was mere "low-level workers" behind it, but I also doubt it was "high-level appointees" behind it, either.  It is simply a culture in the bureaucracy that accepted the Democrat/media/leftwing spin regarding these conservative groups because they are themselves leftists.

Innocent?  Not really.  Conspiracy?  Does it need to be?  The power of the IRS has too long been largely unchecked.  We don't need an apology.  We need a tax code that is less invasive, a government that is smaller, and an end to the tyranny of the nanny state.

5.09.2013

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Just Swaps One Mess for Another

I am ambivalent about the so-called "gang of eight" immigration reform.  I don't trust it.

I don't trust either Congress or the president (or any of the potential future GOP presidents) on the matter.  "Immigration Reform" can mean many things, but it has rarely meant something beneficial.  The idea that it needs to be "comprehensive" is just another way of saying it needs to be so big and sweeping that nobody will notice all the special carve-outs, layers, bennies, and other things in there that would, on their own, stand no more chance than a snowball in the Lake of Fire.  Comprehensive legislation is legislative legerdemain and would prove just once more that, if we have to pass it to find out what's in it, we won't like what's in it.

But the immigration system - if it can even rightly be called a system - badly needs overhauling.  It is cumbersome, time-consuming, confusing, top-heavy, misguided, and at times just plain stupid.

I don't want to reward those who ignored the law over these last many years, but neither do I want to punish those who are victims of their law-breaking, particularly those who came as children and infants and were lied to about their status.

I want to keep out those who would do us harm, or who come here because our welfare entitlements are so much more than the average income in their home country.  But for those who want to come here to be Americans and are both willing and able to work hard to support themselves, it should be a fairly easy proposition.

I like the influence of other cultures, other ways of looking at things, and the creativity spawned when they bump up against each other, but there is also a single American culture to which these various groups should aspire to assimilate.  After all, if their home culture was so great, why'd they need to come here?

Balancing these competing objectives is hard.  It will be hard to do it addressing them severally.  Addressing them comprehensively is a recipe for merely replacing one bureaucratic mess with another equally unwieldy, counterproductive mess.

UPDATE: The Senate committee, including at least 2 GOP senators, rejects amendment that would require southern border be secure before any illegal alien becomes eligible for legal status. Like I said at the beginning, I don't trust either party on this matter for both are trying to find a way around the will of the voters rather than a way to implement that will.

Benghazi - They Could Have; They Did Not

Senator Ted Cruz neatly summarizes what we know of the Benghazi fiasco.  The picture it paints of President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Secretary Panetta is not a pretty one.

The fact is, they could have acted to prevent the attack.  They did not.  They could have acted to prevent the attack being successful if it were launched.  They did not.  Once the attack was launched, they could have acted to defend and extract our people.  They did not.

Instead, they abandoned our men in the field, lied about what happened to protect their own backsides, threw baseless accusations out against an American citizen (and several opposition politicians), and saw to it that this American was arrested on trumped up charges so as to appease our enemies.  In this craven, cowardly, dishonest policy, they were eagerly aided and abetted by a national press more concerned with protecting Obama's political future than the lives of Americans asked to serve that same president.

It is a shameful, disgraceful, episode.  As grateful as I am for the hearings being conducted in the House at present, I have no illusions about any one of the chief actors in this tragedy ever being held even slightly responsible for it.  They're liberals, and liberals are never held to account.  That fact is why I have not voted for a Democrat for any office since 1996.

Why 1996?  President Clinton was guilty of a crime.  He lied about it.  He got others to lie about it.  He committed perjury in regards to it.  He got others to do the same.  There was not one iota's difference between what President Clinton did regarding Monica Lewinsky, and what President Nixon did regarding Watergate.  But when Nixon did it, there were Republicans of principle who said he had to go, and he duly went.  When Clinton did it, not a single, solitary Democrat at any level of government was prepared to say - and say with their votes - that he had to submit to the laws he swore on oath to uphold.  Not one.

A party that has no principle but the acquisition and retention of power cannot be trusted with power.

5.08.2013

Minnesota's Democrats Haven't Learned

Well, this should be good for South Dakota's economy (HAT TIP: Powerline).  Also for Wisconsin and Iowa.  At a time when the economy is struggling, Minnesota's Democrat legislature and governor are looking to impose some $2.5 billion in new taxes on the poor schlubs who elected them.

This huge tax increase will fund such things as a 35% increase in legislators' own pay and benefits (if the state's senate gets its way).  How'd you like to be able to give yourself a 35% pay raise?

Yes, I know.  There are businesses and firms for whom the cost of relocating will make it, in the short term, better to remain in Minnesota.  And there are those who have family and other emotional connections who will remain despite the increase in the cost of living there.  But for those who can relocate easily, and for businesses looking for a location to begin with, Minnesota is looking less attractive already.  If you want to know what that will look like long-term, check out California, Illinois, Detroit, and other locations where Democrats hold unchecked sway.

The housing market in Sioux Falls, though, should improve as a result.

Unfettered Liberty Is No Liberty

Over at National Review Online, Jay Nordlinger is posting his notes in conversation with the book, The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia by Roger Kimball.  He spends some time talking about the line from the French Revolution to the death camps of Germany, Russia, Cambodia, China, and elsewhere.  He thinks there is one.  Others think not.

Nordlinger's right.  I was first introduced to this idea in Bernard Lewis' book The Muslim Discovery of Europe, and found it picked up, expanded, and detailed in Michael Burleigh's books Earthly Powers and Sacred Causes.  The foolishness unleashed on the world by the French Revolution has caused untold pain, misery, and death.

In the course of this discussion on Kimball's book (which I haven't read, but shall), Nordlinger says, "Kimball remarks an 'irony': that 'relativism and tyranny, far from being in opposition, are in fact regular collaborators. . . . This surprises many people, for it seems at first blush that relativism, by loosening the sway of dogma, should be the friend of liberty'.”  It doesn't surprise me.

Relativism - the idea that there is no objective truth - necessarily rejects the notion that there are moral standards to which those who rule are accountable outside the limits of their power.  If he can act and he desires to act, then for the relativist, it is moral to act.  The only available constraint on one's actions is having the power to act, so a relativist who rules has effectively no constraint at all within the scope of his power and authority. 

One can be a tyrant without being a relativist, but the end state of relativism in authority is always tyranny.  Tolerance as the core of a creed necessarily becomes horribly intolerant.  Multiculturalism is invariably censorious.  If one is to remain free, freedom must be constrained by morals, which is why so many of the founders of this country, seeking to establish an ordered liberty, pointed out that our Constitution was only suitable for a moral or religious people.  The disordered liberty of absolute relativism (or libertarianism, for that matter) is ultimately no liberty at all.

5.07.2013

Same Poison

Bill Ayers is a bit miffed, poor thing.  Somebody suggested that his efforts to blow people and places up is not materially different from what the Boston bombers did.

He claims they were trying to stop killing by killing, making the ridiculous claim that Americans in Vietnam were killing "6,000 civilians a week."  He was a noble warrior in the cause of peace, don't you know. 

He was and is none of those - neither noble, nor a warrior, nor in the cause of peace.  Even so, how is his self-perception (and self-justification) materially different from the self-perception of those terrorists who attacked on September 11, 2001?  Or Major Hassan at Ft. Hood?  Or these Boston brothers?  Do not he and many others in the halls of academia agree with the calumny that we are imperialists only after muslim oil and shedding their blood to get it?  When Bush was president instead of their fellow Alinskyite, was not "No Blood for Oil" their silly rallying cry?  Does not Ayers continue to paint a picture of the United States as the only real problem in the world and thus a suitable target for the likes of these nouveau-terrorists? 

I sure don't see much daylight between Ayers' Weather Underground and these new terrorists.  Granted, the new ones are motivated by a marriage of Marxism/Socialism with Islam, and Ayers' Marxism is married to juvenile anarchist ravings, but the core poison is the same.

5.03.2013

Iraq - The Good War

A worthwhile read on the Iraq Campaign in this war.

My piece of that war was relatively minor, but I am damn proud of the fact that I had a part in it at all.  I am even prouder of the work done by the men and women I served with then and in the years since.

As the author says, we did good, and we did it well.

I'll also say that, if Iraq succeeds it's because we gave them a chance.  If it returns to the same sort of cess pool that all the other muslim governments of the Middle East seem to have come from, it will be because they blew that chance.

Interesting Medicinal Study

There's an interesting study on Medicaid out.

Bear in mind that it's one study.  In one state.  And like all studies, it is not itself definitive but would require greater corroboration.

But it is interesting.  It makes an attempt to track the actual health benefits - not health care benefits - of expanding Medicaid.  That is, does increasing health care benefits actually improve health?

No.  There was no measurable difference in health outcomes between those added to the Medicaid rolls and those who remained without insurance.  The only thing they could find was that those who got the new Medicaid benefit felt better about it and went to the doctor more often.  This is nothing more than saying, as Foster points out, that people like getting stuff for free and that when something is free, people take more of it.

We hardly needed a study or anything else to tell us that.  We've known that for centuries.  But the point of expanding "access to health care" is to improve health, not just increase demand (and thus, cost) and appease our appetite for free stuff.  So if expanding access has no appreciable impact on actual health, there's no valid reason for it.  It's just an expensive waste.

Like I said, it's just one study, but it bears further objective investigation.  Sadly, that's not likely to happen, given the politicization of everything these days.

What's in a Name

When starting a business, it's important to pay careful attention to the name.  One must also pay careful attention to acrostics the name might be susceptible to.  "Southern Lighting and Ultraviolet Technology" might not be a great name, for instance, no matter how descriptive it might be (I hope there isn't a company called that, by the way).

Well, there's this shop in New Hampshire called "Finders Keepers."  A would-be patron decided that meant the fire pit he found on the front porch of the thrift store was his to keep, so he loaded it in his car and drove off.

He's being charged with shoplifting.

5.02.2013

Don't Panic

There is one thing that's cropped up recently which, while not new, is at least not as frequently in the news.  There is a hue and cry that the military is going to court martial people for being Christian.

Uh, no.  They're not.

Now, the DoD has been consulting with a rather rabid group of anti-Christians who claim talking about Jesus is "spiritual rape."  The DoD, like all government organizations, consults with odd-ball groups every so often.  Well, actually rather frequently.  Some they even fund by congressional act.  That does not mean a substantive change is in the works for government policy.

In the first place, quite a few - a majority, even - of those who volunteer to serve are Christians or sympathetic to Christianity.  Court-martialing people for being Christians would decimate our armed forces, raise hackles in Congress, and completely undo the DoD.  There are stupid people in the Pentagon (including, according to some, the current SecDef), but that doesn't mean they're suicidal.

In the second place, they can't court-martial someone for being Christian.  Being Christian is not a violation of the UCMJ, nor is it ever likely to be so.  They can't court-martial a Christian for talking about Jesus, either.  Aggressive proselytizing is considered prejudicial to good order and discipline, and it is.  And using one's rank to pressure subordinates into adopting any religious and/or political views is also prejudicial to good order and discipline.  These are already forbidden by the UCMJ, in other words, and have been for many years.  Nor can you go evangelizing in uniform in a way to suggest that the military and the government of the United States hold to a single particular religion or expression of faith.

But they aren't going to prosecute Christian chaplains for being Christian chaplains.  When I made my rounds in the command, I did, of course, talk occasionally about Jesus.  I wore a cross on my collar as part of my official uniform insignia, too, and to my knowledge nobody is proposing a change to the chaplain's insignia or uniform.

So this is a bit of fear-mongering over at the Family Research Council.  The fact that the DoD is going to such a group also indicates to me that the motive is political.  The objective is to make Christian groups fly off the handle, get spun up into incoherent sputtering, thus making it look as if Christians are irrational if not positively anti-reason.  This will help to marginalize Evangelical Christians on other matters that are more important to the administration.

The country is becoming more secular, and the culture has decided to target Christianity as one of the bastions of traditional morality.  The trend is something that merits concern, but measure concern to the actual threat and do not let us be provoked into rash flailing.  Be cunning as serpents, innocent as doves.