Wednesday, April 3, 2013

I Survived Sequestration: Doomsday predictions about lower government spending haven’t come true!

National Review ^ | 04/03/2013 | Michael Tanner

This week marks the one-month anniversary of one of the most terrifying events in American history: the sequester. So, with great trepidation, I have climbed out of my bunker to survey the devastation and send off this column.
I was shocked to discover that somehow mankind had survived. Government spending had been cut, or at least the rate of growth had been slowed, yet everywhere I looked people were going about their daily lives as if nothing had happened. There has been no outbreak of diseases from tainted, uninspected meat. Airplanes have not fallen from the sky; indeed, they continue landing and taking off more or less on schedule. The American military is still conducting operations around the world, in countries both important and obscure. Al-Qaeda has not established the caliphate in Kabul, let alone New York. Mass starvation had been held at bay, for the time being.
Several federal agencies were forced to impose hiring freezes, but the federal government is hardly closing its employment business. In just one week last month, nearly 4,600 job listings were posted on USAJobs.gov, the federal government’s recruiting site. These include, according to Senator Tom Coburn, a counsel for the Morris K. Udall Scholarship Foundation with a salary of up to $155,000, a director for the Air Force History and Museums Policies and Programs with a salary of up to $165,300, law librarians at the Justice Department with salaries reaching $115,742, a Department of Labor assistant to answer phones at a salary of up to $81,204, four public-affairs specialists earning up to $116,000, and 23 recreation aides.
There has been some real pain, of course, depending on where you look. The White House cancelled some public tours. The National Archives was forced to return to the hours of operation it maintained prior to 2008. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s staff apparently could no longer afford “high quality” meals in the Capitol cafeteria. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released thousands of undocumented immigrants from detention centers — wait, actually, that happened before the sequester started. Meanwhile, some federal officials continue to warn that eventually terrible things really will happen.
The dreaded furloughs of federal workers have turned out to be less than advertised. The Continuing Resolution passed by Congress a couple of weeks ago provided federal agencies with additional flexibility to prioritize spending and avoid staff cuts. For example, the Department of Agriculture was able to reallocate $55 million from other parts of its budget to the agency’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, meaning that inspectors haven’t faced furloughs and meat remains generally edible. Likewise, the border patrol, corrections agencies, and the federal weather service have all avoided furloughing workers. While the Defense Department was not able to avoid furloughs completely, it has reduced the length of expected furloughs from 22 days to 14, and will perhaps reduce the furloughs to even fewer days.
For a time, the Obama administration tried to find appropriate horror stories, but with a notable lack of success . . . and disregard for the truth. School systems in West Virginia did not actually send out thousands of pink slips to teachers, janitors in the Capitol didn’t lose their jobs, and so on. After a string of Pinocchios from independent fact checkers, the administration seems to have gone silent.
I admit, I was perplexed. How had the world avoided devastation? Sure, this was a pretty small cut in spending, less than three cents out of every dollar the federal government spends (less, actually, because nearly half the “cuts” actually occur in future years, but are counted, with typical Washington budgetary legerdemain, this year). But weren’t we sure that any attempt to reduce government spending would return us to the Dark Ages?
But we should have known: This is far from the first time that spending advocates have cried wolf. One can go all the way back to Bill Clinton’s welfare reform, which, it was solemnly predicted, would throw 2.7 million more children into poverty. Instead, poverty, child poverty, and African American–child poverty all declined after the law was passed.
But it is a given that the next time Congress proposes to cut spending — or even hesitates to increase it — we will again hear tales of woe and impending disaster. We should all bear in mind, then, that we made it past the Ides of March this year, sequester and all.
— Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.

Is Disability the New Welfare? Large numbers of Americans are applying for disability benefits.

National Review ^ | 04/03/2013 | Jonah Goldberg

The government in Britain recently did something interesting.

It asked everyone receiving an “incapacity benefit” — through a disability program slowly being phased out under new reforms — to submit to a medical test to confirm they were too disabled to work. A third of recipients (878,000 people) didn’t even bother and dropped out of the program rather than be examined. Of those tested, more than half (55 percent) were found fit for work, and a quarter were found fit for some work.

But that’s Britain, where there’s a long tradition of gaming the dole. Americans would never think of taking advantage of the taxpayers or misleading the government. Well, except for the couple of dozen people who have pleaded guilty to scamming the Long Island Rail Road’s federal disability system in a $1 billion fraud scheme. A billion bucks would pay for a lot of White House tours.

Though hardly isolated, the LIRR scandal is an obvious black-and-white case of criminality. The real problem resides in a grayer area.
In 1960, when vastly more Americans were involved in physical labor of some kind, 0.65 percent of workforce participants between the ages of 18 and 64 were receiving Social Security disability-insurance payments. Fifty years later, in a much healthier America, that number has grown nearly nine-fold to 5.6 percent.
In 1960, 134 Americans were working for every officially recognized disabled worker. Five decades later that ratio fell to roughly 16 to 1.
Some defenders of the status quo say these numbers can be explained by the entry of women into the U.S. workforce, the aging of baby boomers, and the short-term spike in need that came with the recession.
No doubt those are significant factors. But not nearly so significant as to explain why the number of people on disability has been doubling every 15 years (while the average age of recipients has gone down) or why such a huge proportion of claim injuries can’t be corroborated by a doctor.
Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute and the Harvard School of Public Health notes in his recent book A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic that 29 percent of the 8.6 million Americans who received Social Security disability benefits at the end of 2011 cited injuries involving the “musculoskeletal system and the connective tissue.” Fifteen percent claimed “mood disorders.”
It’s almost impossible, Eberstadt writes, “for a medical professional to disprove a patient’s claim that he or she is suffering from sad feelings or back pain.” And that’s assuming a doctor wants to disprove the claim.
In an illuminating and predictably controversial exposé for This American Life, NPR’s Planet Money team tried to figure out why, since 2009, nearly 250,000 people have been applying for disability every month (while we’ve averaged only 150,000 new jobs every month).
The answers fall on both sides of the gray middle.
One factor has to do with what correspondent Chana Joffe-Walt calls the “Vast Disability Industrial Complex.” These are the sometimes shady, sometimes well-intentioned lawyers who fight to fatten the rolls of disability recipients. These lawyers get a cut of every winning claimant’s “back pay.” The more clients, the bigger the take. That’s why they run ads on TV shouting, “Disabled? Get the money you deserve!”
Then there are the doctors. Joffe-Walt profiles one rural Alabama doctor who signs off on disabilities for pretty much anyone lacking a good education on the assumption that their employment prospects are grim.
That points to the even bigger parts of the story. As the nature of the economy changes, disability programs are sometimes taking the place of welfare for those who feel locked out of the workforce — and state governments are loving it. States pay for welfare, the feds pay for disabilities.
There are those who are quick to argue that this is all bogus, there’s nothing amiss with the disability system that greater funding and a better economy won’t fix. Maybe they’re right. One way to find out would be to ask every recipient to get a thorough examination, just as they did in Britain. Maybe the results here in the United States would be interesting, too.
— Jonah Goldberg is the author of the new book The Tyranny of Clichés.

Where did all the money go? How $700 million in Katrina relief money went missing!

Yahoo ^ | 04/03/2013 | Jeff Zeleny, Richard Coolidge, and Jordyn Phelps

Where did all the money go?

“Your guess is as good as mine,” David Montoya, the inspector general of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, says of $700 million in missing taxpayer money that Louisiana homeowners were given in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to elevate and protect their homes from future storms.
A new report released from the inspector general’s office shows that more than 24,000 homeowners who received grants of up to $30,000 to elevate their homes either misspent or pocketed the money.
“The fact of the matter is that the money they received was for a specific purpose and the specific purpose was to elevate these homes to avoid future catastrophes,” Montoya tells Power Players.
He rates the home elevation program as little more than a complete failure.
“Considering there was just under $1 billion earmarked for this particular program and there's $700 million that wasn't used for that, I’d give it a very low D,” he says.
But the lessons learned from the failed home elevation project provides a useful roadmap as Congress moves to offer recovery funds to victims of Hurricane Sandy.
“Clearly, to give money out on the front end right after a disaster, when many of these people lost everything, with a promise to do something down the road, I think is counterproductive to what the program was designed to do,” says Montoya.
Montoya says his office will recommend that, for future disaster relief programs, funds are disbursed to individuals only after the project has been completed.
(Excerpt) Read more at news.yahoo.com ...

Obama Pushing For Banks To Make MORE Risky Loans At Taxpayer Expense...AGAIN!

Confounded Interest ^ | 04/03/2013 | Anthony B. Sanders

Administration Encouraging Banks To Approve Riskier Mortgages
Here we go again. This is reminiscent of Clinton/Cisneros/Cuomo’s National Homeownership Strategy that help almost destroy the banking system and left millions of households in foreclosure: nhsdream2
According to the Washington Post (4/2, Goldfarb, 489K),the Administration “is engaged in a broad push to make more home loans available to people with weaker credit, an effort that officials say will help power the economic recovery but that skeptics say could open the door to the risky lending that caused the housing crash in the first place.” The Post adds that “administration officials say they are working to get banks to lend to a wider range of borrowers by taking advantage of taxpayer-backed programs…that insure home loans against default.” Additionally, housing officials “are urging the Justice Department to provide assurances to banks, which have become increasingly cautious, that they will not face legal or financial recriminations if they make loans to riskier borrowers who meet government standards but later default.”
At least mortgage purchase applications should rise. And IF the banks fall for it, house prices should begin to rise.
But what about Richard Cordray and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and their 10 Commandment of Mortgage Lending? Are they asking the Department of Justice to ignore the new laws? OR is this getting taxpayer-backed programs (e.g., Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and FHA) to open the floodgates?
Ed DeMarco, the acting director of FHFA (the regulator of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks) is the proverbial last man standing.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us.
“I can’t believe they will fall for the same thing Clinton did … again!”

America Loves Its Conspiracy Theories

Newser ^ | 04/03/2013 | By Ruth Brown

It's official: Americans love their conspiracy theories. Public Policy Polling asked voters to weigh in on 20 more infamous ones, and the results show that a not-insignificant number of people believe that President Obama is the anti-Christ (13%), Big Foot exists (14%), and the planet is secretly ruled by the New World Order (28%; 4% think our societies are actually ruled by "lizard people"). Among the other results:
  • 21% believe the government covered up a UFO crash in Roswell; 29% believe in aliens
  • 6% believe Osama bin Laden is alive; 5% think Paul McCartney has been dead for decades
  • 15% think there's mind-control technology hidden in TV signals
  • 37% think global warming is a hoax
  • 7% think the moon landing was faked
  • 15% think Big Pharma develops new diseases as a way to make money
  • 14% see the CIA's hand in the 1980s crack epidemic
Click here to read the full results.

How Texas Could Mess With Us (How about 8 more Ted Cruz's in the US Senate?)

Slate.coom ^ | 11/12/12 | J turrentine

Texas can legitimately claim to be holding an unusual ace up its sleeve, a short clause in the state's 1845 annexation agreement that's well known to any serious state historian, though far less well known to the average Texan. Buried beneath some highly boring details about how the republic's resources were to be transferred to the federal government in Washington is language stipulating that "[n]ew States, of convenient size, not exceeding four in number, in addition to said State of Texas, and having sufficient population, may hereafter, by the consent of said State, be formed out of the territory thereof, which shall be entitled to admission under the provisions of the federal constitution." Put plainly, Texas agreed to join the union in 1845 on the condition that it be allowed to split itself into as many as five separate states whenever it wanted to, and contingent only on the approval of its own state legislature. For more than 150 years, this right to divide—unilaterally, which is to say without the approval of the U.S. Congress—has been packed away in the state's legislative attic, like a forgotten family heirloom that only gets dusted off every now and then by some politician who has mistaken it for a beautiful beacon of hope.

the division clause remains on the books. Its legality has been discounted by some and defended by others, but the issue has never been put to rest in any authoritative, legally binding way. (Snopes.com is uncharacteristically wishy-washy on the matter; newly minted liberal demi-god Nate Silver, hardly the gullible sort, seems far more credulous.) Until that day comes, dreamers and dissidents will continue to view it as a sneaky way to ensure Texas' political supremacy in this era of the closely divided Senate and the opportunistically wielded filibuster.
(Excerpt) Read more at slate.com ...

Resolution Annexing Texas to the United States
(1 March 1845)
The annexation of Texas was a key issue in James K. Polk’s U. S. presidential election campaign of 1844. As a result, Polk’s victory that November was interpreted in the United States as a mandate to annex the ten-year old republic. Early the following year, a joint resolution for annexation passed both houses of the U. S. Congress—even before Polk’s inauguration. It was signed by outgoing President Tyler on March 1, 1845, subject to acceptance by the Republic of Texas.
The following summer, the Convention of 1845 met in Texas to consider the annexation issue. By a vote of fifty-five to one, the convention accepted the annexation offer by passing an Ordinance with virtually the same wording as the U. S. resolution.
The resolution, as shown below, contains several interesting provisions unique among the states. Under the agreement, Texas was to retain all of its “vacant and unappropriated lands,” as well as its public debts. In addition, Texas, which claimed a land area about 50 percent larger than that of the present state, was given the option to form out of its territory up to four additional states. The issues of land boundaries and public debt, however, would not be finally resolved until the Compromise of 1850.
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States in Congress assembled, That Congress doth consent the territory properly included within, and rightfully belonging to the Republic of Texas, may be erected into a new State, to be called the State of Texas, with a republican form of government, to be adopted by the people of said republic, by deputies in convention assembled, with the consent of the existing government, in order that the same may be admitted as one of the States of this Union.
2. And be it further resolved, That the foregoing consent of Congress is given upon the following conditions, and with the following guarantees, to wit:
First, Said State to be formed, subject to the adjustment by this government of all questions of boundary that may arise with other governments; and the constitution therof, with the proper evidence of its adoption by the people of said Republic of Texas, shall be transmitted to the President of the United States, to be laid before Congress for its final action, on or before the first day of January, one thousand eight hundred and forty-six.
Second, Said State, when admitted into the Union, after ceding to the United States, all public edifices, fortifications, barracks, ports and harbors, navy and navy-yards, docks, magazines, arms, armaments, and all other property and means pertaining to the public defence belonging to the said Republic of Texas, shall retain all the public funds, debts, taxes, and dues of every kind, which may belong to or be due and owning to said Republic of Texas; and shall also retain all the vacant and unappropriated lands lying within its limits, to be applied to the payment of the debts and liabilities of said Republic of Texas, and the residue of said lands, after discharging said debts and liabilities, to be disposed of as State may direct; but in no event are said debts and liabilities to become a charge upon the Government of the United States.
Third, New States, of convenient size, not exceeding four in number, in addition to said State of Texas, and having sufficient population, may hereafter, by the consent of the said State, be formed out of the territory thereof, which shall be entitled to admission under the provisions of the federal constitution. And as such States as may be formed out of that portion of said territory lying south of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes north latitude, commonly known as the Missouri compromise line, shall be admitted to the Union with or without slavery, as the people of each State asking permission may desire. And in such State or States as shall be formed north of said Missouri compromise line, slavery, or involuntary servitude, (except for crime) shall be prohibited.
3. And be it further resolved, That if the President of the United States shall in his judgement and discretion deem it most advisable, instead of proceeding to submit the foregoing resolution of the Republic of Texas, as an overture on the part of the United States for admission, to negotiate with the Republic; then,
Be it Resolved, That a State, to be formed out of the present Republic of Texas, with suitable extant and boundaries, and with two representatives in Congress, until the next appointment of representation, shall be admitted into the Union, by virtue of this act, on an equal footing with the existing States as soon as the terms and conditions of such admission, and the cession of the remaining Texian territory to the United States be agreed upon by the Governments of Texas and the United States: And that the sum of one hundred thousand dollars be, and the same is hereby, appropriated to defray the expenses of missions and negotiations, to agree upon the terms of said admission and cession, either by treaty to be submitted to the Senate, or by articles to be submitted to the two houses of Congress, as the President may direct.
Approved, March 1, 1845.

ICE Agent Reveals Shocking Details About Obama’s Dismantling of Immigration Enforcement

Stand With Arizona ^ | 04-03-2013 | John Hill

chris crane
by John Hill
Stand With Arizona


Chris Crane, president of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council 118, made a number of stunning revelations during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee — and he’s begging Congress for help. The ICE union boss argued that agents are no longer allowed to arrest illegal aliens solely for illegal entry or expired visas and morale is at an all-time low.
Most Americans would be shocked to find out that immigration agents are regularly “prohibited from enforcing the two most fundamental sections of United States immigration law,” he said. Instead, the administration has ordered that only illegals charged or convicted of “very serious criminal offenses” may be arrested or charged by ICE agents and officers.
“In fact, under current policy individuals illegally in the United States must now be convicted of 3 or more criminal misdemeanors before ICE agents are permitted to charge or arrest the illegal alien for illegal entry or overstaying a visa,” he added. That is unless the misdemeanors involve assault, sexual abuse or drug trafficking.
Even more shocking, Crane said ICE agents or officers who witness a violation of immigration law are prohibited from making arrests and even from asking questions “under the threat of disciplinary action.”
Citing a recent morale survey disseminated throughout federal agencies, Crane said ICE ranks 279 out of 291 in employee morale and job satisfaction. He has previously asked the Obama administration to help address the plummeting morale and dissatisfaction among ICE agents.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration is continually making it nearly impossible for agents to enforce federal immigration law because they allow special interests groups to influence policy, Crane explained.
The day-to day duties of ICE agents and officers often seem in conflict with the law as ICE officers are prohibited from enforcing many laws enacted by Congress; laws they took an oath to enforce,” he said. “ICE is now guided in large part by influences of powerful special interest groups that advocate on behalf of illegal aliens.”
Crane continued: “These influences have in large part eroded the order, stability and effectiveness of the agency, creating confusion among ICE employees. For the last four years it has been a roller coaster for ICE officers with regard to who they can or cannot arrest, and which federal laws they will be permitted to enforce. Most of these directives restricting enforcement are given only verbally to prevent written evidence from reaching the public.”

All of these restrictions being placed on ICE employees has put them in increased danger and the agency has seen assaults against ICE officers and agents continue to rise as “ICE arrestees become increasingly more violent and criminal in nature.”
You may be surprised to know that ICE agents are also prohibited from carrying life saving protective equipment like Tasers while on duty. Crane said ICE won’t approve the equipment due to “political reasons.”
Death or serious injury to ICE officers and agents appears more acceptable to ICE, DHS and administration leadership than the public complaints that would be lodged by special interest groups,” he added.
Crane closed with this:
“In closing, while deeply concerned by the actions of our agency, as well as the current state and future of immigration enforcement, we are optimistic that all of these matters can be resolved with the assistance of members of Congress.
Only time will tell if lawmakers will answer the repeated pleas for help.

URGENT: Because of the above outrages, Chris Crane and 10 other ICE agents and officers are suing DHS, charging that unconstitutional and illegal directives from Secretary Janet Napolitano and ICE Director John Morton order the agents to violate federal laws or face adverse employment actions.
PLEASE HELP CHRIS CRANE AND THE ICE AGENTS WIN THEIR SUIT AND RESTORE THE RULE OF LAW TO IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT -
PLEASE DONATE AT THIS LINK.

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The ObamaCare tax credit trap (Despite promise, Obama raised taxes on the Middle-Class)

Red State ^ | 4/3/2013 | By: John Hayward

Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi encouraged us to pass ObamaCare to find out what was in it. Here’s the latest grisly surprise, courtesy of the Associated Press:
Millions of people who take advantage of government subsidies to help buy health insurance next year could get stung by surprise tax bills if they don’t accurately project their income.
President Barack Obama’s new health care law will offer subsidies to help people buy private health insurance on state-based exchanges, if they don’t already get coverage through their employers. The subsidies are based on income. The lower your income, the bigger the subsidy.
But the government doesn’t know how much money you’re going to make next year. And when you apply for the subsidy, this fall, it won’t even know how much you’re making this year. So, unless you tell the government otherwise, it will rely on the best information it has: your 2012 tax return, filed this spring.
What happens if you or your spouse gets a raise and your family income goes up in 2014? You could end up with a bigger subsidy than you are entitled to. If that happens, the law says you have to pay back at least part of the money when you file your tax return in the spring of 2015. That could result in smaller tax refunds or surprise tax bills for millions of middle-income families.
Funny, I seem to recall Barack Obama swearing that he’d never raise taxes on the Sainted Middle Class. Just wait until they get their surprise tax bills in 2015! I’m sure everyone will have a good laugh about the whole crazy situation.
(Excerpt) Read more at redstate.com ...

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