Friday, February 14, 2014
The Privileged People
Politicians say, "We're all equal," and pretend that they represent everyone. But, in fact, they constantly pick winners and losers. America is now like the place described in George Orwell's book "Animal Farm": "All animals are equal," but some are "more equal than others." "Animal Farm" was about Communism, but today the allegory applies to our bloated democracy, too.
During the "fiscal cliff" negotiations that Congress and the media made sound so tough -- as if every last penny were pinched -- Congress still managed to slip in plenty of special deals for cronies.
--NASCAR got $70 million for new racetracks.
--Algae growers got $60 million.
--Hollywood film producers got a $430 million tax break.
When America's going broke, how do moviemakers get a special break? By lobbying for it. Movies are a sexy business, so 42 states offer film producers "incentives" to film there. (State legislatures are as shortsighted as Congress).
Michigan offered the juiciest handouts until the state ran out of taxpayers' money. Now Ohio, Louisiana and Georgia (that's why the latest "Hunger Games" movie was shot in Georgia) offer the biggest handouts. The mayor of Los Angeles recently declared a "state of emergency" -- not over an earthquake or storm, but because so much moviemaking has left California for states with bigger subsidies.
The U.S., which used to pride itself on being more free-market than Europe, is now hardly different from France, which crippled its economy by subsidizing all sorts of old industries, and even gives money to producers of American films that mention France.
Politicians everywhere are always eager to help out people who helped get them elected. In the U.S., labor unions were big supporters of President Barack Obama, and -- presto -- unions got 451 waivers from Obamacare.
Congressional staff got a special exception, too. Funny how many of these laws are supposed to be great for all of us but, once passed, look ugly to the privileged class. So they exempt themselves.
Even the crusade to save the earth is captured by the "special" people. Subsidies for "green energy" were supposed to go to the best ideas. Yet somehow your money went to companies like Solyndra, whose biggest shareholder just happened to be an Obama backer who bundled money for the president.
And somehow Al Gore, who had a modest income when he entered politics, reaped $200 million from brilliant investments after he left office. He must just be really smart.
On my TV show this week, progressive commentator Ellis Henican says this cronyism is "inevitable" and doesn't really bother him: "If we want roads and bridges and prisons and a military and a safety net, someone somewhere is going to benefit from that. But you can't use that as an excuse to not do important things for our society."
I say it's one more reason to keep government small.
Politicians doling out favors quietly shift where society's resources flow, who gets employed, what ideas are pursued.
It distorts the economy and the culture -- and it turns us into a nation of favor-seekers instead of creators and producers.
What about all the new businesses that would have gotten investment money but didn't have Gore on their boards? What new ideas might have thrived if old industries weren't coddled? We don't know. We will never know the greatness of what might have existed had the state not sucked the oxygen out of the incubator.
Because of government's favor-granting, Washington, D.C., is now the place where the well-connected go to get rich. For the first time in history, six of the richest counties in the U.S. surround D.C. When a small group of people gets to dispense $3.6 trillion and set rules that can help or kill your idea, you want to suck up to them.
As long as government has the power to grant favors, cronies and their lobbyists will seek those favors out. The privileged win. The people lose.
Coverage Gap Leaves Millions Struggling
A growing insurance coverage gap is trapping millions of low-income Americans without affordable coverage thanks to yet another failure of ObamaCare. When the law was passed in 2009, Democrats in Washington believed they could hide its tremendous cost by passing some of it on to the states through forced expansion of their Medicaid programs. Thankfully, the Supreme Court put an end to that farce in 2012 when it struck down the provision, though regrettably it stopped short of throwing the whole law in the trash.
By that time, Medicaid had already grown prohibitively expensive in some states, consuming as much as 50% of their annual budgets. Freed of the burden of carrying the federal government's water, Republican governors and legislators in 24 states refused to take the bait, opting instead to protect their states' fiscal health. Now, many low-income families are learning the hard way that they don't earn enough to qualify for federal subsidies to purchase insurance, but they also earn too much to enroll in Medicaid. In other words, they're caught in a coverage gap. And then there's the problem highlighted last week of people opting not to work as much in order to avoid losing their subsidies. Only a law born in Washington could create such a cosmic joke.
Well, people may not be able to keep their insurance, but at least they can keep their doctor, right? Not exactly. Reports are coming in from around the nation of chronic care patients in danger of losing their coverage as insurance companies cut hospitals and other providers from their plans. For example, Seattle Children's Hospital is threatening legal action against Washington State's insurance commissioner over being excluded from a major insurance network. Dr. Sandy Melzer said, "We're seeing denials of care, disruptions in care. We're seeing a great deal of confusion and, at times, anger and frustration on the part of these families who bought insurance thinking their children were going to be covered, and they've found that it's a false promise." Indeed, the bottom line is that ObamaCare is a false promise.
Political targeting of Walker supporters proves it can happen here
It can’t happen here. Government targeting and intimidation against political opponents is something found in North Korea or Iran, not in the United States of America.
Tell that to conservative groups in the state of Wisconsin whose leaders have had their private homes raided by local police due to their attempts to support Gov. Scott Walker (R) during the labor unions’ failed attempt at recalling him from office.
After losing at the ballot box, Big Labor allies in the Milwaukee County district attorney’s office have conducted a secret witch hunt of their opponents’ activities that is specifically designed to intimidate and discourage their future political participation.
Using leaks to the media to question credibility, coupled with kicking in a few doors to make a dramatic statement, the Milwaukee district attorney has proven that it can, in fact, happen here.
Now, one of those groups has had enough and has filed a federal lawsuit against the high-profile Walker opponent.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Wisconsin Club for Growth and its director, Eric O’Keefe, names four Milwaukee prosecutors including special prosecutor Francis Schmitz and District Attorney John Chisholm.
The lawsuit’s description is eerily reminiscent of the actions of the IRS in targeting conservative groups. It charges that the defendants have spent four years using their official offices attempting to harass and silence political opponents.
Wisconsin has been at the center of a heated legislative battle that has seen many public employee unions lose their capacity to compel employees to pay dues. Attempts to change the majority in the Senate as well as to recall the governor have fallen flat. Now, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, NEA and their state affiliates are engaged in a last-ditch challenge to Walker’s reelection.
Chisholm, who appeared in an ad supporting the public-employee-union-led effort to recall Walker, is charged with using his office to affect the outcomes of the upcoming 2014 election by knocking potential Walker supporters to the sidelines through legal intimidation.
O’Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth serve as exhibit A for the impact of this local prosecutor’s jihad against Walker supporters, as they have been forced to hire a bevy of lawyers while avoiding normal political activity.
As the federal lawsuit moves forward, the bullying tactics of prosecutors will be laid bare as they are forced to defend their actions.
And Americans will learn that, yes indeed, it can happen here. The only question is do they still care?
Poof: A Scandal Disappears
Remember the IRS scandal? It's gone. Poof. So flaccid has press interest in the story become that President Barack Obama made bold in an interview with Fox News to say there was not a "smidgen of corruption" in the IRS's conduct.
It requires terrific confidence in the passivity of the press to float the discredited "Cincinnati did it all" dodge since we know that IRS employees in that office were taking direction from Washington. We further know that IRS offices in California, Oklahoma, Washington, D.C. and other places have been identified as singling out groups with "Tea Party" or "Patriot" in their names.
Obama's confidence in the press is not misplaced. Despite juicy opportunities to delve into the story of government abusing its power, reporters have let the matter drop.
There was no smoking gun showing that Obama personally ordered the harassment of conservatives, some explain. Is that the standard? Because it seems the press applied a different yardstick to Chris Christie. Well, there's a "scandal attention cycle," says the Columbia Journalism Review. To some extent, this is true. But there are different rules for Democrats, and particularly for Obama.
To review: When the behavior of the IRS was first revealed in May of 2013, the press furor was considerable. The president was alarmed enough about the damaging story to hold a press conference. "If ... IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on," he said, " ... then that is outrageous, and there is no place for it." He continued, "I will not tolerate it, and we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this."
Or not. Now it's just "bone-headed decisions out of a local office." This is tamely accepted. If it concerned just a local office, why did Obama fire the director of the IRS? Why did Lois Lerner plead the Fifth and resign? (Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee erred by not granting her use immunity and intensely questioning her about what really happened. They could still do it.)
It was also a non-scandal when the Justice Department appointed an Obama donor to investigate the IRS. Nor did the press follow up on uncontested accounts of IRS employees leaking confidential taxpayer information -- which is a felony.
Last week, Catherine Engelbrecht, a small businesswoman from Texas who founded True the Vote and King Street Patriots, testified about her ordeal at the hands of the federal government. After she became politically active, she was subject to personal and business audits by the IRS going back several years. Then the FBI came knocking to ask about someone who attended one of the meetings of the King Street Patriots. The IRS returned with an armamentarium of questions about True the Vote. Then the Occupational Safety and Health Administration showed up to examine her business with a fine-tooth comb. (They fined her $17,500.) Finally, the Engelbrechts were graced with a visit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
Engelbrecht's experience should chill anyone concerned about government intimidation, overreach, arrogance and abuse of power. But most of all, it should alarm the press -- supposedly the fierce guardians of the First Amendment. The press made Sandra Fluke a household name when she testified before a House subcommittee about the terrible injustice she would suffer if taxpayers did not purchase her contraceptives for her. Yet Engelbrecht, an ordinary person merely attempting to join with other Americans in petitioning the government for redress of grievances, was hammered by a succession of powerful government agencies. Not even a bleat from the press about this flagrant assault on free speech.
Government agencies should operate in a strictly neutral and nonpartisan fashion. If they become politicized, we've entered banana republic territory. The press, by failing to beat the drums on this, is complicit in corruption that goes far beyond a "smidgen."
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Posted by JR at 1:37 AM