Posts Tagged ‘usa today’

Trumped Up Scandal

May 15, 2013

Well, I must say I feel like a fool. I actually thought that the IRS targeting Tea Party and conservative organizations was an example of the improper use of a government agency to intimidate and harass people with dissenting viewpoints. Lucky for me, I read Noam Scheiber‘s piece in the New Republic. Mr. Scheiber has explained everything and straightened me out.

Democrats can’t say it; Barack Obama can’t say it; and the IRS certainly can’t say it, so here goes: The only real sin the IRS committed in its ostensible targeting of conservatives is the sin of political incorrectness—that is, of not pretending it needed to vet all the new groups that wanted tax-exempt status, even though it mostly just needed to vet right-wing groups.

How do we know this? Because, for one thing, the people submitting the questionable applications were overwhelmingly right-wingers. As others have pointed out, the early Obama era was a boom time for conservative activists, who were forming groups faster than NBC burns through “Today Show” hosts. This coincided with a series of court rulings that made it possible for these groups to claim tax-exempt status without disclosing their donors under section 501c4 of the tax code.1 As a result, there were suddenly way more non-disclosing political groups trying to claim tax-exempt status than there ever had been, and the vast majority were right-leaning. No surprise, then, that the IRS would focus on whether these groups actually qualified for that status—something that was questionable since the law said their primary activity needed to be “social welfare,” not politicking.

But, in fact, the IRS’s great conservative crackdown is even more innocent than that. It turns out that the applications the conservative groups submitted to the IRS—the ones the agency subsequently combed over, provoking nonstop howling—were unnecessary. The IRS doesn’t require so-called 501c4 organizations to apply for tax-exempt status. If anyone wants to start a social welfare group, they can just do it, then submit the corresponding tax return (form 990) at the end of the year. To be sure, the IRS certainly allows groups to apply for tax-exempt status if they want to make their status official. But the application is completely voluntary, making it a strange basis for an alleged witch hunt.

So why would so many Tea Party groups subject themselves to a lengthy and needless application process? Mostly it had to do with anxiety—the fear that they could run afoul of the law once they started raising and spending money. “Our business experience was that we had to pay taxes once there was money coming through here,” says Tom Zawistowski, the recent president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, which tangled with the IRS over its tax status. “We felt we were under a microscope. … We were on pins and needles at all times.” In other words, the groups submitted their applications because they perceived themselves to be persecuted, not because they actually were.

So you see. There were just so many shady Tea Party groups forming that of course the IRS had to be very careful vetting all the applications. Oh but wait. According to USA Today, liberal groups had very little trouble getting tax exempt status.

In the 27 months that the Internal Revenue Service put a hold on all Tea Party applications for non-profit status, it approved applications from similar liberal groups, a USA TODAY review of IRS data shows.

As applications from conservative groups sat in limbo, groups with obviously liberal names were approved in as little as nine months. With names including words like “Progress” or “Progressive,” these groups applied for the same tax status and were engaged in the same kinds of activities as the conservative groups.

The controversial, 3-year-old strategy to manage the increasing number of political groups seeking tax-exempt status came under fire Tuesday. The agency’s own inspector general blamed IRS leadership for “ineffective management.”

The Justice Department wants to know if that was more than just mismanagement. Calling the IRS’ actions “outrageous and unacceptable,” Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday that he has asked the FBI to investigate. “We’re examining the facts to see if there were any criminal violations,” he said.

A federal official who has been briefed on the matter said the investigation could focus on potential violations of civil rights law, including targeting groups based on political affiliation and infringing free speech. The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, said authorities could consider possible violations of the Hatch Act, which restricts political activities of government workers.

There goes that narrative.

Mr. Scheiber wonders why the Tea Party organizations might be anxious to make sure all their paperwork was in order. For many organizers of the Tea Party, this was their first actual experience with political activism. Despite the liberal talking point that the Tea Party is Astroturf, most Tea Partiers are not the sort of professional protesters found in Soros funded Left wing political pressure groups. Quite a few of these people owned their own businesses and most were used to the idea of obeying the laws and regulations they were subject to. Also, Tea Party activists knew full well that liberal politicians from the President on down and the mainstream media hated them. The Tea Party has been called racist, bigoted, fascist, Nazis, and worse by tolerant, compassionate liberals.No slander was too outrageous to fabricate about the Tea Party. They had good reason to want to make sure everything was in order.

Fine—there’s no law against neurosis. But, to borrow a thought experiment from my colleague Alec MacGillis, consider all this from the perspective of the IRS’s Cincinnati office, which handles tax-exempt groups. You’re minding your own business in 2009 when you start to receive dozens of applications from right-leaning groups, applications you didn’t solicit and don’t require. You peruse a few of the applications and it looks like many of the groups, while claiming to be “social welfare” organizations, have an overtly political purpose, like backing candidates with specific ideological agendas. Suffice it to say, you don’t need an inquisitorial mind to decide the applications deserve careful vetting. One Tea Party activist from Waco, Texas, has complained that an IRS official told her he was “sitting on a stack of tea party applications and they were awaiting word from higher-ups as to how to process them.” The quote is intended to sound nefarious—an outtake from some vast left-wing conspiracy—but it’s actually perfectly straight-forward: The IRS was unexpectedly flooded by dodgy 501c4 applications and was at a loss over how to manage them.

Why did they have to wait for word from higher up? Did they not have a standardized procedure for processing 501c (4) applications? Why are conservative applicants somehow more dodgy than liberal ones. According to USA Today, the vetting only applied to groups with names like “Tea Party”.

Let’s try a thought experiment of our own. Suppose a Republican administration were caught giving extra attention to liberal groups that were active in protesting against the President’s policies. Would Noam Scheiber have such a blase attitude about the matter? I think it is more likely that every liberal columnist and pundit in the country would be screaming bloody murder.

So the crime here had nothing to do with “targeting” conservatives. The targeting was effectively done by the conservative groups themselves, when they filed their gratuitous applications. The crime, such as it is, was twofold. First, in the course of legitimately vetting questionable applications, the IRS appears to have been more intrusive than justified, asking for information about donors whose privacy it should have respected. This is unfortunate and intolerable, but not quite a threat to democracy.

Second, the IRS was tone deaf to how its scrutiny would look to the people being scrutinized, given that they all subscribed to the same worldview, and that they were already nursing a healthy persecution complex. Which is to say, the IRS didn’t go about its otherwise legitimate vetting in a very politically-correct way. “It’s part of their job to look for organizations that may be more likely to have too much campaign intervention,” a law professor named Ellen Aprill told The Washington Post. “But it is important to try to make these criteria as politically neutral as possible.”

Again, according to USA Today, the crime had everything to do with targeting conservatives. The people who work for the IRS must have a good idea of the anxiety even a routine inquiry produces in most Americans. Getting official letters demanding to know details about donors, books read, personal lives of board members and their families must be a terrifying experience, even for people who do not have an anti-government world view. The people behind all this were counting on that.

The article goes on about profiling and implies that conservatives are hypocrites for supporting profiling Muslims as potential terrorists while opposing the idea of conservative groups being profiled as engaging in fraud for requesting tax exempt status. There are some interesting reader comments, though. I will omit the names of the people who made the comments.

Considering how right-wing conservatives beginning with Newt Gingrich have targeted the IRS for crippling budget cuts and rigamarole that prevent it from effectively auditing tax returns (“… the average person [has] a one-in-200 chance of an audit, which is down from one-in-112 in 1999, and one-in-60 in 1996, according to new data from the IRS”) I would say this sounds like a case of turnabout-is-fair-play.

I am down on democracy these days because the right wing has abandoned its responsibility to govern. Very well then: if they will not govern, they will damn well be ruled.

Don’t you think an organization named after a famous tax refusal protest MIGHT deserve a little extra scrutiny, especially if they are claiming to be a “social welfare” organization? As far as I know, the members of the Boston Tea Party didn’t claim they were the Boston United Way.

So, these people believe that a proper function of government is to punish people who are against high taxes. Interesting. Also, why do we right wingers have to choose between being rulers or being ruled. Personally, I don’t want to rule anyone. I want to be left alone.

 

 

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Deja Vu

September 11, 2012

Here is another item I read at USA Today. It seems to me that I have seen something like this before but I can’t quite remember where.

Egyptian demonstrators climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo today and pulled down the American flag to protest a film they say is insulting to the prophet Mohammad.

Update at 2:07 p.m. ET: CNN reports that U.S. security guards fired a volley of warning shots as the crowd gathered outside the embassy walls.

CNN adds that the embassy had been expecting a demonstration and cleared all diplomatic personnel earlier from the facility.

Original post: The Associated Press reports that embassy officials say there was no staff inside at the time.

Reuters reports that protesters tried to raise a black flag carrying the slogan: “There is no god but Allah and Mohammad is his messenger.”

The news agency says about 2,000 protesters have gathered outside the embassy and about 20 have scaled the walls.

The AP says the protesters were largely ultra-conservative Islamists.

Iran’s FARS news agency says the film is the work of a group of “extremist” members of the Egyptian Coptic Church in the United States.

Al Ahram online says the film is reportedly being produced by U.S.-based Coptic-Christian Egyptians, including Esmat Zaklama and Morees Sadek, with the support of the Terry Jones Church in the United States.

Jones is the evangelical pastor who stirred controversy last year by threatening to burn a Quran in public.

CNN says the film in question is a Dutch production.

The AP says clips of the film available on YouTube show the prophet having sex and question his role as the messenger of Godâ??s words.

After the protest, the U.S. Embassy issued this statement on its website:

The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims â?? as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of other

The Grand Mufti of Egypt Sheikh Ali Gomaa strongly condemned the movie, AllAfrica.com reports.

“Freedom of speech does not warrant desecrating sanctities,” Gomaa said in a statement Sunday.

Oh, yes. Iran. An embassy seizure would be all we need to complete the “Carterization” of Barack Obama.

By the way, I am a little disgusted by the U. S. Embassy’s statement, not to mention Ali Gomaa’s. Yes, freedom of speech does indeed mean that you have to tolerate what you might believe to be desecration. Otherwise, it is not really freedom of speech at all.It is not an abuse of the universal right of free speech to question or even to insult someone’s religious beliefs. Even, if it were, no hurt feelings justify the sort of violent rage these people have demonstrated.

The fact that this Grand Mufti of Egypt is excusing these people’s’ actions, and perhaps even encouraging them is a good indication what direction Egypt is heading. The fact that the U. S. Embassy, which ought to be standing up for freedom of religion and expression has issued such a mealy mouthed, spineless statement is a good indication that we are not going to do anything to stop Egypt from going down the road to Hell.

 

Digital Bibles

August 23, 2012

 

I read this article in USA Today about the increasing use of digital Bibles in church services.

Not too long ago, the sight of someone using an electronic device during a worship service might lead an observer to assume that person was not fully engaged. But not anymore. Reading the Bible used to mean reading a book, but increasingly, people are getting the Word on smartphones, iPads and other electronic devices.

So then, what will happen to the printed Bible? The last word has not been written on that, but experts speculate that its unchallenged reign is over.

These days I am more apt to take my Kindle to church than an actual printed Bible. One of the first e-books I bought for my Kindle was a Bible and I have always had one on whatever PDA or smart phone I have been using. I find the electronic format very useful since you can have a great many translations, as well as commentaries, dictionaries, and other resources all in one easy to carry package. There do seem to be a few drawbacks.

The Rev. Michael Nabors, pastor of New Calvary Baptist Church in Detroit, has at least 20 hardcover Bibles in the office of his church. He recently began using an iPad during Bible study, but sticks to a hardcover version in the pulpit. He doesn’t think many of his older members would appreciate him using his iPad.

“What if he’s up there preaching and the battery dies or something like that? I hope he has a real Bible next to him, so he can look up what he needs to look up,” said Isabella Howard, 62, of Detroit, a longtime member.

She wouldn’t trade her hardbound Bible for any e-version.

“I feel closer to God with this,” she said referring to her Bible. “I don’t have to plug up anything. All I have to do is open it up and read it.”

For others, there are more liturgical reasons to shun e-Bibles during worship.

A representative of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit said it would be impractical for a priest to use an e-reader during mass because the Holy Book is held high, carried down the aisle and placed for display on the altar as part of the opening of the service.

“It would be really strange to process an iPad down the aisle and place it on the altar,” said Dan McAfee, director of Christian Worship for the archdiocese.

“E-Bibles are great for personal study, but they can’t be used for liturgical books,” he said. “The Bible is a sacred book — a one of a kind — not just a file among many files in an iPad.”

I guess having a priest holding up an iPad during a Catholic mass would be a little like replacing the candles with little electric lights. You could do it, but the effect wouldn’t be quite the same. I would imagine that some of the more enthusiastic preachers who handle a Bible during sermons might be wary of dropping an expensive e-reader.

In my opinion it is the words in Scripture that are important and the physical medium through which we read those words is not very important, so I do not feel the sentimental attachment to the printed Bible, nor do I feel that I am missing anything even though the Bible I read is one file among many on my kindle. The Bible was probably one of the first books produced in codex form, as opposed to the scrolls of ancient times, and was the first book printed in the West. It is only proper that it is prominent among e-books.

 

 

Encyclopedia Britannica No Longer Printed

March 16, 2012

I read the story by USA Today a couple of days ago. The Encyclopedia Britannica will no longer be available in printed form but they will be continuing their online version. To be honest, I’m surprised they have been printing them this long.

After 244 years and more than 7 million printed sets, the company is announcing today that it will no longer publish a print edition. The last, 32-volume print version, published in 2010, weighs 129 pounds and sells for $1,395.

Only 12,000 sets of the final edition were printed, company President Jorge Cauz says, and 4,000 remain in its inventory.

In an increasingly digital world where the online Encyclopaedia Britannica — which is much larger than the printed version — is updated every 20 minutes, Cauz says, publishing on paper no longer makes sense.

This is the end of an era. When I was a child, the local library allow people to check out older editions of encyclopedias. I used to check out a volume of The World Book Encyclopedia, take it home and skim through the articles. You can pick up a lot of trivia that way. Looking up random articles in Wikipedia is just not the same.

I suppose that within a century the printed book will be a obsolete as the clay tablets the Babylonians used.

The Encyclopedia Babylonica

Erin Brockovich Invetigating Illness

January 31, 2012

The story is here on abc.com.

Environmental activist Erin Brockovich has launched her own investigation into the mysterious illness causing facial tics and verbal outbursts among 15 teenagers in Le Roy, N.Y.

Most of the teens have been diagnosed with conversion disorder — a psychological condition that causes physical symptoms like jerky tics, convulsions and even paralysis. But Brockovich suspects groundwater contamination from a chemical spill from more than 40 years ago may be behind the Tourette-like symptoms.

“They have not ruled everything out yet,” Brockovich told USA Today. “The community asked us to help, and this is what we do.”

Don Miller, whose 16-year-old daughter, Katie, still suffers from debilitating tics, said his sister contacted Brockovich for help.

“We’re just trying to eliminate everything, and she wants to eliminate that it’s the environment,” said Miller. “It’s a possibility and she wants to either prove it is or it isn’t something in the environment.”

Maybe I am getting too cynical, especially about lawyers and activists, but I have a feeling that whatever she turns up will earn her law firm a pile of money.

 

 

Moral Equivancy about Norway

July 26, 2011

I didn’t think that it would take the Left long to exploit the killings in Norway to promote their own agenda and I was right. At the very least they will use this atrocity to pretend that Christianity is somehow inherently violent while still refusing to make the connection between the violent teachings of Islam and the violent acts of some of the adherents of that faith.

Consider this cartoon which appeared in USA Today today.

If I were unencumbered by facts and logic as many liberals are,  I could see the parallel between two isolated incidents sixteen years apart and the more than 17,000 terrorist attacks by Jihadists in just the last ten years since 9/11. Not to mention the fact that Timothy McVeigh identified himself as an agnostic and was inspired by “The Turner Diaries“, which was written by William Pierce, a neo-Nazi who had contempt for Christianity.It’s not clear yet what Anders Breivik’s religious affiliation is, but it is notable that, as far a I know, he did not quote from the Bible to justify his murders, nor have any Christian leaders, of any denomination done anything to condemn both of these murderers. In contrast, Osama bin Laden was considered a hero by many Muslims and violence is still preached in all too many mosques in the West.ut

There is simply no parallel between the actions of an evident lunatic and terrorists acting on the teachings of a religion that does indeed preach hate and intolerance. But, look for this distinction to be blurred by the media in the coming days, weeks, and years.

USA Today and “Climate Deniers”

May 17, 2011

USA Today has published a remarkably dishonest editorial on their opinion page today, titled “America, Pick Your Climate Choices” I say that it is dishonest because on the fourth paragraph, it refers to those who have not drunk the climate change, global warming, climate catastrophe, or whatever they are calling it this week, Kool-Aid, as “deniers”. This, of course is meant to evoke Holocaust deniers, thus placing those of us who believe in actual science in the same league as fringe groups who deny well-established historical facts. To make sure we get the implication, USA Today compares the “deniers” to birthers in the very next paragraph, calling them;

a vocal minority that refuses to accept overwhelming evidence.

And what is this “overwhelming evidence”. Well;

Late last week, the nation’s pre-eminent scientific advisory group, the National Research Council arm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued a report called “America’s Climate Choices.” As scientific reports go, its key findings were straightforward and unequivocal: “Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by human activities, and poses significant risks to humans and the environment.” Among those risks in the USA: more intense and frequent heat waves, threats to coastal communities from rising sea levels, and greater drying of the arid Southwest

There is no mention of any actual empirical evidence that climate change is occurring. This is simply an argument from authority. Given the fraud and self-deception that many climate scientists have been engaging in (climategate?) I am not inclined to accept such authority at face value.

The editorial continues;

The Climate Choices report didn’t generate big headlines because its conclusions aren’t new; they are consistent with the scientific consensus about global warming. That consensus acknowledges some uncertainty in the extent to which climate change is the result of human activity, and how bad global warming will be if nothing is done.

Scientific hypotheses are not accepted based on consensus but on the quality of the evidence. If the evidence favors a hypothesis than it is accepted, until the next observation or experiment. Note that the consensus is in fact no consensus at all since even the report confesses that there is uncertainty about the extent that climate change is the result of human activity.

To continue with the editorial;

If the deniers want a more legitimate basis for resistance, it is this: Even bold and costly national U.S. actions to limit greenhouse gases will be ineffective unless developing nations also curb their emissions. It’s hard to imagine China and India acting, however, if the U.S. doesn’t lead.

Yes, it’s hard to imagine the governments of China and India being so foolish as to wreck their economies to fight a chimera. Unfortunately, our political class is not so pragmatic.

And finally, USA Today makes some recommendations;

The Climate Choices report, requested by Congress, suggests investing in clean-energy technology, looking for ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and — most important — putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions. “Cap-and-trade,” a complex but proven way to use market forces to reduce pollution, passed the House in 2009. Like health care reform, though, it has become so unpopular in GOP circles that at the first Republican presidential debate this month, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty abjectly apologized for once supporting the idea. “I’ve said I was wrong,” Pawlenty groveled. “It was a mistake, and I’m sorry.”

In other words, wasting the taxpayer’s money, in a time of record deficits, on unproven technologies and getting the EPA involved in every single economic transaction. I am sure the Chinese would be delighted to see us destroy our economy in such a fashion.

I also note the snide way in which they criticize the actions of Republican politicians. God forbid public officials actually listen to the opinions of the public.

Finally, the National Academy of Sciences is not an unbiased institution. They have been on the global warming bandwagon at least since 2005. Among their members is Michael Mann, known for his climate change fraud, the hockey stick graph. 255 members of the Academy signed a letter published in Science magazine decrying “political assaults” against climate change scientists, by which they apparently mean holding them to at least minimal standards of honesty.


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