The IRS Scandal Rears Its Head

The Obama Administration’s IRS scandal is multi-faceted. In addition to the persecution of conservative non-profits by Lois Lerner et al., the question has been percolating for some years whether Obama’s IRS has transferred confidential taxpayer information to Obama’s White House in violation of federal criminal laws. The issue first arose when Austin Goolsbee of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers told reporters that he had information about Koch Industries that could only have come, illegally, from confidential IRS files. When questions were asked, the administration immediately clammed up.

Years later, the judicial system may be poised to expose another layer of Obama corruption. A group called Cause of Action began a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of the Treasury, and for several years, your taxpayer dollars have funded the administration’s cover-up.

But nothing lasts forever, and a federal court in Washington, D.C. has finally overruled the Treasury Department’s frivolous objections, and ordered Treasury to respond to Cause of Action’s request for documents. That request relates to the Department’s Inspector General’s investigation–which began a long time ago, and probably has long been concluded–and asks for “[a]ll documents pertaining to any investigation by [TIGTA] into the unauthorized disclosure of [26 U.S.C.] §6103 ‘return information’ to anyone in the Executive Office of the President.”

That is an extraordinarily narrow request for documents which, one would think, could have been responded to in a few hours. But the administration’s evasion has gone on for years. Now that the court has ordered the administration to respond, its lawyers have asked for more time. The Treasury Department’s lawyers wrote Cause of Action’s counsel an email that reads in part:

My client wants to know if you would consent to a motion pushing back (in part) TIGTA’s response date by two weeks to December 15, 2014. The agency has located 2,500 potentially responsive documents and anticipates being able to finish processing 2,000 of these pages by the December 1 date. It needs the additional two weeks to deal with the last 500 pages to determine if they are responsive and make any necessary withholdings. We would therefore like to ask the court to permit the agency to issue a response (including production) on December 1 as to any documents it has completed processing by that date, and do the same as to the remaining documents by December 15.

So the Obama administration has identified 2,500 documents relating to its investigation of illegal transfers of information from the IRS to the White House. That is a news flash, obviously. But what follows is laughable. The government, with all its resources, needs two weeks to deal with a lousy 500 documents? The numbers here are risibly small. In litigation, we typically count documents to be produced in the millions, not the hundreds. A competent lawyer or paralegal can get through 500 documents in a few hours at most.

What does this tell us? 1) Based on Mr. Goolsbee’s comments several years ago, there is every reason to believe that Barack Obama’s White House has illegally received confidential taxpayer information from the IRS. 2) Confronted by a lawsuit, the Obama administration, instead of responding forthrightly, has danced around the issue for years and erected every possible procedural barrier. 3) When finally brought to heel by a court, the administration asks for a ridiculously long period of time to produce a tiny number of documents on its own investigation of criminal behavior by the IRS and the White House. If Barack Obama wanted the results of the investigation to become public, he could order it, and we would have the relevant data in 15 minutes. But secrecy is the watchword of the Obama administration.

Koch Industries asked for the results of the Treasury Department’s investigation long ago, but was told that it would be illegal for the Obama administration to provide such information. Why? Because by doing so, they might reveal confidential taxpayer information about…Koch Industries!

This particular story is farce, not tragedy. It will wend its absurd way through the court system for years to come, probably arriving at no conclusion until the scofflaw Obama administration is safely out of office. In the meantime, federal criminal laws governing the privacy of IRS data, like the criminal laws generally, are a source of hilarity among Democrats. Democrat cronies sip Scotch and light cigars–I hope not with $100 bills–laughing at the rest of us who work to pay the taxes that support them in the luxury to which they have happily become accustomed. I have always thought that the term “ruling class” was ridiculous as applied to the United States, but the Obama administration is causing me to re-think that view.

How many members of the Nixon administration ultimately went to jail? I think no more than five or ten. The Obama administration has violated criminal statutes with an abandon that Nixon and his minions never dreamed of. An accounting remains; I think there are a considerable number of Obama minions and cronies who should be behind bars.

Did Obama pressure Gov. Nixon to keep the National Guard out?

I noted here that the National Guard wasn’t in Ferguson last night, and I wondered why. After all, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon had declared a state of emergency in the St. Louis area — the potential emergency being the impending grand jury decision — and had mobilized the National Guard. In addition, the mayor of Ferguson had requested the Guard’s presence.

Yet, the National Guard was nowhere to be seen in Ferguson. It should have been. The local police force was not up to the task of preventing the vandalism, looting, and arson that followed announcement of the grand jury’s decision.

Why wasn’t the National Guard deployed? Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder believes that Nixon was pressured by President Obama into not sending the Guard to Ferguson. Appearing on Fox News, Kinder asked:

Where were they [the National Guard] last night? The law-abiding citizens and business owners and taxpayers of the St. Louis region have the right to ask this governor to answer some questions.

Here’s my question that the governor must answer: Is the reason that the National Guard wasn’t in there was because the Obama administration and the Holder Justice Department leaned on you to keep them out?

I cannot imagine any other reason why the governor who mobilized the National Guard would not put them in there to stop this before it started.

I can. Nixon may be incompetent or he may be soft-headed. But Kinder’s explanation — that Obama and/or Holder pressured Nixon — seems at least as plausible.

Via NRO.

Trayvon and Mike

Last night, basketball player Lebron James tweeted this graphic:

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 6.34.40 PM

As many have noted, there are obvious parallels between the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown cases. Both were young black men who were, as we were told countless times, unarmed. Both were shot by men portrayed as white authority figures–Darren Wilson, a police officer, and George Zimmerman, a “white Hispanic” who, as a neighborhood watch volunteer, was a sort of honorary policeman, just as he was an honorary white man.

Supporters of Martin and Brown would prefer to leave the similarities there. But there are more: Martin thought he was a tough guy, a martial arts aficionado, and had been kicked out of high school for burglary. Brown was high on marijuana and had just robbed a convenience store when he encountered Officer Wilson.

Martin attacked Zimmerman and was seen by an eyewitness sitting on top of Zimmerman and punching his face. The 300-pound Brown likewise attacked Officer Wilson, calling him a f****** p***y and apparently attempting to wrest his gun away. They both made the same mistake: they attacked (unintentionally in Martin’s case, intentionally in Brown’s) a man with a gun. As a legal matter, both killings were rather obviously justified as self-defense, although my own opinion is that Wilson probably could have handled the situation better.

It is striking that the activists and race-baiters have chosen to raise two such weak cases to mythic status. In both instances, they were wrong on the facts. They claimed that Zimmerman shot Martin “execution style,” when in fact Zimmerman was on his back, getting his head banged into the pavement by Martin and in fear for his life. They said that Brown was trying to surrender–”hands up, don’t shoot!”–when in fact, he attacked Wilson inside Wilson’s police vehicle and was advancing on him again when the fatal rounds were fired.

Why did activists bet so much on two such weak cases? Can no instances be found where African-Americans have been shot by whites when it was NOT in self-defense? That can’t possibly be true. But those whites probably weren’t policemen, or even neighborhood watch volunteers. Maybe the activists just didn’t have any better cases to politicize.

Beyond that, though, I wonder whether the activists are really disappointed that, once again, their campaign to imprison a white man has failed. In their world of perpetual grievance, failure is success. If there had been a strong case against George Zimmerman, he would have been convicted. If there had been a strong case against Darren Wilson, he would have been indicted. But those results would not have advanced the Left’s preferred narrative: America is still a racist country.

For leftist race-baiters, failure is success. When they press a weak case and it fails, they claim vindication. With the grand jury declining to indict Darren Wilson, President Obama could say:

We need to recognize that this is not just an issue for Ferguson, this is an issue for America. [T]here are still problems and communities of color aren’t just making these problems up. …[T]here are issues in which the law too often feels as if it is being applied in discriminatory fashion. … [T]hose who are only interested in focusing on the violence and just want the problem to go away need to recognize that we do have work to do here, and we shouldn’t try to paper it over. …America isn’t everything that it could be.

Keeping African-Americans perpetually down is a core goal of the liberal movement and the Democratic Party. So Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin have to be victims, not aggressors.

Still, the truth is that they were victims. Not victims of a mythical white power structure–the concept is laughable as applied to either George Zimmerman or Darren Wilson. And certainly not victims of a racist judicial system. On the contrary, in both cases America’s court system rendered the right verdict under tremendous pressure to bend the truth to political expedience.

Rather, Martin and Brown were victims of an African-American culture in which the family has been pretty much destroyed, government checks have largely replaced employment, education is disparaged, criminality is respected, and racial animosity is a sign of authenticity. That culture has worked well for the Democratic Party, but it has been an utter disaster for millions of young black men like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

Global Cooling Under Way?

Oh who knows, but it is still interesting to note that the Great Lakes are already icing up, the earliest this has occurred since satellite monitoring began 40 years ago:

Ice is already starting to develop on Michigan’s Great Lakes. This is the earliest ice on some of the Great Lakes in at least 40 years.

According to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, on November 20, 2014, three of Michigan’s Great Lakes had ice starting to form. Lake Superior and Lake Michigan were one-half percent ice covered, while Lake Huron had one percent ice. Lake Erie was not reporting any ice as of Nov. 20, 2014.

Decent early season ice coverage records date back to 1973. Last Friday was the earliest date that all three Great Lakes already had ice since the better reporting of early season ice began.

I’m sure the climatistas will rush to explain that this is fully consistent with global warming climate change, and they may well be right, except that when everything is consistent with climate change, you’re going to stop being believed. Occam’s Razor might suggest another explanation.

Meanwhile:

Antarctica’sice paradox has yet another puzzling layer. Not only is the amount of sea ice increasing each year, but an underwater robot now shows the ice is also much thicker than was previously thought, a new study reports.

The discovery adds to the ongoing mystery of Antarctica’s expanding sea ice. According to climate models, the region’s sea ice should be shrinking each year because of globalwarming. Instead, satellite observations show the ice is expanding, and the continent’s sea ice has set new records for the past three winters. At the same time, Antarctica’s ice sheet (the glacial ice on land) is melting and retreating.

I’m sure it doesn’t mean anything.

Time to Revitalize Congress?

Scott kindly noted a couple days ago my appearance earlier this month at Yale’s William F. Buckley Program on the topic of James Burnham. While Burnham’s classic Suicide of the West was the main focus of the conference, in rereading the Burnham corpus before the conference I was struck by one of his neglected books, Congress and the American Tradition (1959).

Even in 1959 Burnham could see the capacities of Congress atrophying under the relentless advance of what only later came to be called “the imperial presidency.” In the final chapter, entitled “Can Congress Survive?”, Burnham returns to the central theme of The Managerial Society. See if this doesn’t sound familiar:

’Laws’ today in the United States, in fact most laws, are not being made any longer by Congress, but by the NLRB, SEC, ICC, AAA, TVA, FTC, FCC, the Office of Production Management (what a revealing title!), and the other leading ‘executive agencies.’ How well lawyers know this to be the case! To keep up with contemporary law, it is the rulings and records of these agencies that they have chiefly to study. How plainly it is reflected in the enormous growth of the ‘executive branch’ of the government—which is no longer simply executive but legislative and judicial as well—in comparison with that of the two other branches. Indeed, most of the important laws passed by Congress in recent years have been laws to give up some more of its sovereign powers to one or another agency largely outside of its control.

Voila—you have the perfect description of Obamacare, and Dodd-Frank, just to name two recent pieces of “legislation” that are really just a massive enumeration of administrative to-do lists.

But as in The Managerial Revolution, he didn’t reduce this, as our friends at the Federalist Society are wont to do, to a mere decay of the non-delegation doctrine by the Supreme Court, or the consequent breakdown in the separation of powers, or even just the aggrandizement of the presidency. He saw it as a manifestation of deeper trends of modernity going back as far as the Renaissance.

Here’s how he put it in Congress:

On a world scale the fall of the American Congress seems to be correlated with a more general historical transformation toward political and social forms within which the representative assembly—the major political organism of post-Renaissance western civilization—does not have a primary political function.

In The Managerial Revolution, Burnham put it this way:

The shift from parliament to the bureaus occurs on a world scale. . . The rules, regulations, laws, decrees have more and more issued from an interconnected group of administrative boards, commissions, bureaus—or whatever other name may be used for comparable agencies. Sovereignty becomes, de facto and then de jure also, localized in these boards and bureaus. They become the publicly recognized and accepted lawmaking bodies of the new society.”

This is happening everywhere in modern government, not just in the United States, which is why tweaks to constitutional law are not sufficient unto the day.

More from Congress about the importance of the budget:

Congress has let major policy decisions go by default to the unchecked will of the executive and the bureaucracy. The twenty-pound, million-itemed budget that is dropped annually into Congress’ lap perfectly symbolizes the paralyzing effect of too many details. Since that kind of budget cannot be comprehended, it obviously cannot be effectively controlled. . . . Congress keeps an illusory appearance of mastery in its own legislative house, but in reality loses control of basic decisions.

This is why I said at the Yale conference that if Burnham were alive today, he’d probably favor bringing back congressional budgeting earmarks with a vengeance. It is the only way to control the administrative state. But instead of piddly earmarks about a bridge or a vanity research center, we should have thousands of earmarks, directing in great detail how the administrative agencies are to implement the laws Congress has enacted.

The public holds Congress in very low esteem these days, but Burnham would probably say that the deeper reason for public dismay about Congress is the underlying atrophying of Congress’s political functions. His Congress book ends with a stark warning:

To date, of course, the American Congress, though fallen, is not dead. But its own history as well as the apparent trends of our age pose the question: Can Congress survive?

The question means: Can Congress survive as an autonomous, active political entity with some measure of real power, not merely as a rubber stamp, a name and a ritual, or an echo of powers lodged elsewhere.

If Congress ceases to be an actively functioning political institution, then political liberty in the United States will soon come to an end.

Breaking: Supreme Court to Review EPA Mercury Rules

Just announced in the last hour:

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether the Obama administration went too far with new power-plant pollution caps the government estimates will cost almost $10 billion a year.

The justices today said they will hear industry and state contentions that the Environmental Protection Agency didn’t adequately consider those costs when it limited mercury and other hazardous power-plant pollutants. The affected companies include American Electric Power Co. (AEP)Duke Energy Corp. (DUK) and Southern Co. (SO)

High court review of the rule threatens to stop a legal winning streak for EPA air-pollution regulations. In June, the Supreme Court upheld the agency’s requirement that power plants, refineries and chemical factories curb their carbon emissions. In April, the justices backed a rule targeting pollutants that cause smog and acid rain across state lines.

The mercury rules are some of the stupidest rules the EPA has ever promulgated, so let’s hope this appeal succeeds.

 

Oil, Oil, Toil and Trouble

The fall OPEC meeting is under way right now in Vienna, and all eyes are on the Saudis, to see whether they will lead a strategy to stop the fall in oil prices, which is putting the crimp on Iran, Russia, and Venezuela, among other worthies. We’ve commented previously about what the Saudis may be up to (here and here), and today Business Insider reports that the Saudis show no interest in curtailing production to shore up the price, and in fact may be willing to go for two years or more with falling prices, with some Saudi insiders saying the real objective is to retard the shale oil revolution in the United States and elsewhere (since shale oil is more expensive to produce):

OPEC’s biggest crude producer Saudi Arabia will have its sights set on the upstart US shale oil business at a crucial cartel meeting to debate possible output cuts on Thursday.

Analysts say the kingdom is content to see shale oil producers — and even some members of the cartel — suffer from low prices and will resist pressure to reduce output and shore up the cost of oil. . .

Analysts say the kingdom is strong enough to withstand lower prices.

“Saudi Arabia wants to try and knock out shale oil competitors from the market,” said Saudi economist Abdulwahab Abu-Dahesh.

“They have the fiscal strength to remain steadfast for two to three years,” he told AFP.

Oil prices have collapsed to four-year lows on factors including dampening demand in a sluggish world economy, a sharp rise in output from shale oil and other unconventional sources, and a strong dollar. . .

Fahad Alturki, chief economist and head of research at Jadwa Investment in the Saudi capital said that as prices fall into the $70 range “we think the basic survival of the shale oil producer will be a question”.

He said the kingdom doesn’t need to make major production cuts because continuing lower prices will push shale producers out of the market, reduce excess supply and raise prices.

“So I think Saudi Arabia is happy with such a dynamic,” said Alturki.

If crushing the U.S. shale oil boom is the object of Saudi policy (doubtful this can succeed, but that’s another post), it may be time to think of some counter moves. One idea popular over the years is an oil import fee of $5 or $10 a barrel. It would put a floor under the market price of oil in the U.S., and assure the profitability (in theory) of U.S. produced oil. I’ve always disliked the idea for all of the usual reasons, but when dealing with a cartel basic principles of market economics sometimes need to yield. Among other things, it would hit consumers and oil-using industries, who are the biggest beneficiaries of the current fall in oil prices.

But I doubt we’ll see this idea proposed, for a simple reason: Who else might be in favor of the U.S. shale oil boom turning into a bust? Maybe the current occupant of the White House? Does Obama really want to help the oil industry in the U.S.? The question hardly needs asking. So maybe the clever thing would be for Republicans to propose a temporary oil import fee (expiring in two or three years) combined with opening up federal lands to new oil exploration and production. Might be fun to watch Democrats squirm over that choice.