Tag: Government

The Death of the Judiciary

So this was happening:

A member of the Oklahoma House drafted a resolution Wednesday seeking the impeachment of state Supreme Court justices who granted a delay of execution to two death row inmates.

Republican state Rep. Mike Christian told The Associated Press that the five justices engaged in a “willful neglect of duty” when they granted stays of execution Monday to Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner, both of whom were scheduled to be executed this month.

Lockett and Warner, who aren’t challenging their convictions, have filed a civil lawsuit seeking the source of the drugs used to execute them. Pending the resolution of that lawsuit, they asked for a stay of execution.

The Court of Criminal Appeals has said it couldn’t weigh in on the delay of execution because it didn’t have the power or the authority, so the high court said a “rule of necessity” led to its decision Monday. Under the state constitution, the Supreme Court handles civil cases while the Court of Criminal Appeals takes those involving inmates.

The Court later dissolved the stay.

At issue here is that the State of Oklahoma is refusing to reveal the drugs they use to execute people. Ostensibly, this is to protect companies that manufacture those drugs from being harassed by anti-death-penalty activists.

I’ll get into the merits of the case in a moment. But what I want to focus on is what I see as a looming threat to an independent judiciary. Over the last couple of decades, we have seen a slow push to gradually eviscerate the independence of the judicial branch. Politicians rail against “activist judges”, each political side screams blue murder when SCOTUS rules against them and now we finally have impeachment proceedings because of a disagreement with a court. And this isn’t confined to conservatives. Every time SCOTUS rules against liberals, there are cries to impeach the justices or at least limit their terms (conveniently to just after the last Republican President left office).

While these cries might be satisfying to those who rail against “activist” judges and are still fuming from either the Obamacare or the Citizens United decision, I see this as fundamentally dangerous to liberty. Because the protection of our liberty and our Constitutional rights requires an active independent judiciary. Both sides should understand this. Conservatives have won key victories in cases like Heller because the bench decided to act against the “will of the people” as expressed through their legislature. And some of our most bitter defeats — Kelo and Obamacare, in particular — have come about because the judiciary wasn’t activist enough and wouldn’t overturn a law. Liberals have also won key victories — like last year’s gay marriage decision — when the judiciary has over-ruled the “will of the people”.

In the end, this boils down less to any real philosophy about the role of the judicial branch than to whining whenever that branch doesn’t do what we want. Objecting to bad court decisions is fine. In fact, I think it’s required in a healthy Republic. But the tone of the last few years had turned away from criticism to active attacks and calls to limit the independence of the judiciary.

This trend worries me. I have expressed this concern before, but it’s worth repeating. I fear that we are slowly moving toward a regime where there is basically no one protecting our Constitutional rights. Congress and the President rarely, if ever, consider the Constitutionality of their laws. They say that’s for the Courts (in fact, Bush said exactly this when signing the blatantly unconstitutional McCain-Feingold Law). Everyone seems to agree that Presidents are just supposed to enforce the law, never bother with whether those laws violate our basic freedoms (with the exception of the occasional veto). And with the railing against courts for “ignoring the will of the people/legislature”, we’re moving away from judicial review as well. So given these facts, who the hell is defending our Constitutional rights? Jon Stewart?

This is the complete opposite of how things should be. When the government acts, the branches of our government should be like the officers in a nuclear missile silo — nothing happens unless all three turn their keys. All three have to agree that it is within the power of government; all three have to agree that it does not violate our Constitutional rights. Congress must not pass laws that violate the Constitution; the President must veto ones that do and refuse to use unconstitutional powers that the legislature gives him*; the Courts must bounce any law that violates the Constitution.

(*To be clear, this doesn’t mean the President should act on his own or rewrite laws or ignore laws. This power, which would be used very rarely, would only be used in the negative sense of the President refusing to utilize powers that he deems unconstitutional, such as if Congress suspended habeas.)

Now as to this particular case: some commentators are avoiding talking about what the criminals did. I won’t. One shotgunned a teenager and buried her alive. The other raped and murdered a child. While I am neutral on the death penalty, these would probably be the guys you would want to apply it to.

But the issue here is not the horrible crimes that these vermin committed. The issues it that Oklahoma is using a secret recipe for lethal injection — a formula that tonight resulted in the botched execution of one of the two men in this case. When the methods of execution are secret, there is literally no way to decide if it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Now maybe you think with what these guys did, they deserve to suffer. But we have laws and a Constitution for a reason and that reason is to protect everyone from the excesses of government. And when you chip away at anyone’s Constitutional rights, you chip away at everyone’s. The destruction of our Constitutional liberties always starts with people who everyone agrees are despicable, before proceeding to the rest of us. Free speech killers don’t start with Sesame Street; they start with the Klan and the Nazis. Surveillance fetishists don’t start with your backyard; they start with terrorists. And attacks on the protections in our criminal justice system don’t start with some kid smoking pot; they start with murderers and child molesters. There is good reason to believe that at least one innocent man has been executed and a new study claims that one in 25 death row inmates, and perhaps more, are innocent. Do they deserve to suffer?

We can not yield on Constitutional rights, not even with these pieces of human debris. Because once the freedom destroyers gain an inch, they will ask a mile.

But … even if we posit that the Court was wrong to delay these executions, a call for impeachment is ridiculous overkill. The Court did not set them free, commute their sentences or bake them cookies. They simply delayed their executions (as it turned out, for a few days). If the Courts are in danger of impeachment every time they make an unpopular decision, we might as well just do away with the Courts. Try people on Oprah and execute them on Springer. Who cares if innocent people are killed cruelly? It’s what the people want, isn’t it? That’s what baby rapists and child killers deserve, isn’t it?

An independent judiciary is going to make some mistakes and some bad decisions. But a non-independent judiciary that is subject to the whims of the mob is going to make bad decisions constantly. We already have two of our branches constantly doing the wrong thing. Do we really need the third to join in the fun?

Ending the Mandatory Madness

This is a positive step:

Today, by a vote of 13 to 5, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved what the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) calls “the biggest overhaul in federal drug sentencing in decades.” The Smarter Sentencing Act, introduced by Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) last July, would cut mandatory minimum sentences in half for some drug offenses, make the reduced crack penalties enacted in 2010 retroactive, and expand the category of defendants eligible for sentencing below the mandatory minimums. “The Smarter Sentencing Act is the most significant piece of criminal justice reform to make it to the Senate floor in several years,” says Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office.

The Durbin-Lee bill does not go as far as the Justice Safety Valve Act, introduced last March by Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Pat Leahy (who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee). That bill would have made mandatory minimums effectively optional by alllowing judges to depart from them in the interest of justice. The Smarter Sentencing Act is neverthless a big improvement. The crack provision alone could free thousands of prisoners serving sentences that almost everyone now concedes are excessively long. It would dramatically reduce the penalties for certain nonviolent drug offenses, changing 20-year, 10-year, and five-year mandatory minimums to 10 years, five years, and two years, respectively. It would allow more nonviolent offenders to escape mandatory minimums entirely by loosening the criteria for the “safety valve,” allowing two criminal background points instead of just one.

The massive sentences given to non-violent drug offenders are a big reason we now have two million people in prison. I have no problem with courts handing down big sentences to violent criminals; indeed there are some I think get off far too lightly. But when it comes to cases of possession and small-scale dealing, I see no purpose in forcing judges to lock up non-violent criminals for ridiculous amounts of time so they can learn to be real criminals.

I’m dubious that the House will act on this. But I wanted to post this to note who is behind it. The big sponsors are Rand Paul, whom the Left assures us in an evil racist Tea Party Republican, and Mike Lee, whom we are also assured is an evil racist Tea Party Republican. In fact, Mike Lee is such an evil racist Tea Party Republican that he delivered the evil racist Tea Party response to the State of the Union which, um, railed against corporate welfare, income inequality, NSA spying and the Republican establishment.

And yet these two evil racist Tea Party Republicans are advancing an issue that is (or used to be) of great importance to many so-called liberals. Thousands of people’s lives will be improved by this and most of them are of a different color than Mike Lee or Rand Paul. Most of the communities that would benefit are of a different social class.

Guess maybe we should pay more attention to some of those evil racist Tea Partiers, huh? Seems like they might have an idea or two.

Trust Us Now?

Holy crap:

As Edward Snowden prepares to defend himself in a worldwide webinar Thursday, the Justice Department is accusing the private contractor that vetted him and thousands of other intelligence workers of bilking U.S. taxpayers out of tens of millions of dollars by conducting phony background checks.

USIS, the giant private contractor that conducted the background checks of both Snowden and Washington Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis, is accused in a Justice Department lawsuit filed Wednesday night of conducting 665,000 fake background checks between 2008 and 2012.

“USIS management devised and executed a scheme to deliberately circumvent contractually required quality reviews of completed background investigations in order to increase the company’s revenues and profits,” said the Justice Department in its complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Alabama.

This is not the first time we’ve seen this sort of thing — remember the Obamcare navigators? But the epic scale of this deception is amazing. Not just because of the crime that was committed — but because our government needed 1.6 million background checks in just four years. That should give you an idea of just how massive our federal civilian work force is.

But this again illustrates why “just trust us” is not good enough for government surveillance powers. How many of these 665,000 had access to sensitive, classified or personal information? How many have security clearances? How many had access to the NSA’s databases? We are constantly reassured that our government’s power is double-checked and that there is a careful system of checks to make sure it isn’t abused. Then we find out they keep information away from federal judges, cover up sharing of information with the FBI and DEA and faked 40% of their background checks.

Feeling safe now?

Crumbling The Filibuster

Well, this happened. The Senate has voted for a partial nuclear option on the filibuster. Legislation and Supreme Court justices will still require 60 votes. But other nominees will only need a majority. Normally, senate rule changes require 67 vote, but Reid used a different procedure to pass the change 52-48. The primary issue here was the filibustering of three judicial nominees to bring the DC Circuit to its usual contingent of 11 judges.

As you can imagine, the Republicans are furious and are threatening future actions, including other rule changes by majority once they have the Senate back. It also being pointed out … quite correctly … that the Democrats are raging hypocrites on this subject, having spent the Bush years yammering on about process and sacred institutions and traditions. It was only when their judicial nominees were stalled that the suddenly discovered majoritarianism. I can almost guarantee that when the Democrats lose the Senate, they will unpass this rule change during the lame duck session than scream bloody murder when the Republicans try to restore it.

As for the rule change itself, my reaction is that I wish the Republicans had done this ten years ago. They sorta did when the Gang of 14 got judicial nominees through without compromising the filibuster itself. But I wish they’d made this kind of rule change to solve the problem long-term.

The filibuster is a critical check on the majority. It has stopped some of Obama’s dumber ideas (like card check) and almost stopped Obamacare. But I draw the line when it’s being used to hold up nominations that the President is obligated to make. There are nearly a hundred vacancies in courts around the country — vacancies that are slowing court cases and hurting businesses that need legal issues resolved. I spent most of the Bush years attacking Democrats for holding up Bush’s nominees (Janice Rogers Brown in particular); I’m disappointed that the Republicans decided to play the same game.

(While I’m on the subject, I do want to take on one talking point that the anti-filibusterites suddenly discovered when it was derailing their agenda. They frequently point out that the filibuster would theoretically allow senators representing 20.5 states and as little as 11% of the population to stop the Senate. But that has nothing to do with the filibuster; that’s the way the Senate is constructed. It is also theoretically possible for senators representing 25 states and 18% of the population to constitution a “majority”. The point of Senate is not to represent the people; it’s to represent the states. I have a long post cooking on the “scrap the Constitution” meme that has recently emerged on the Left.)

I don’t like the way this has been done. The Republicans are right that the Democrats have opened a can of worms here to further rule changes and the Republicans going by the absolute strict letter of Senate procedure to slow business even further. The way this should have been done is with another Gang of 14.

The Big Deal

Grab onto something, folks. I’m going to agree with Mark Thiessen (H/T: Harley):

Quick: What do Republicans want in exchange for ending the government shutdown? If you know the answer, congratulations — because Republicans sure don’t.

we’ve gone from defunding Obamacare . . . to delaying Obamacare . . . to delaying parts of Obamacare . . . to funding the government piecemeal without touching Obamacare at all. If Republicans have already conceded the defunding of Obamacare, what’s the point of keeping the government closed? Why on earth would the GOP pass “clean” bills to fund individual parts of the government but not the whole government?

This business of passing funding bills for little piece of the government has been driving me a bit crazy. In a rational budget process — even in a shutdown — you would carefully pick which parts of the government to fund. But it’s clear that the strategy has been to identify whatever parts of the government are getting the most complaints (NIH, park service, etc.), pass a tiny bill to fund them and then go on television to bash the Democrats for not assenting to it.

That wins the media cycle but it’s no way to run a government. It’s completely arbitrary. It means that we try to divert funds to highly visible things like the Park Service, which would be one of the last things I would fund right now. More, it encourages partially shutdown services to deliberately make things worse to get their funding restored. Gain Nortion, Bush’s former Interior Secretary, describes how the Park Service has a long history of deliberately inconveniencing people whenever their budget is threatened (this weekend, they have “closed” the Vietnam Memorial — which is a wall that anyone can visit 24/7). No doubt, the Administration doesn’t mind this sort of visibility. But by putting forward little bills to fund whichever government agency is making the loudest noise, the GOP is encouraging this sort of behavior.

Back to Thiessen:

It calls to mind the episode of “Seinfeld” where Jerry and George are coming up with an idea for a show to pitch to NBC — and decide it will be “a show about nothing.” That’s what this standoff has become — the Seinfeld Shutdown, a shutdown about nothing.

Thiessen, however, is not just throwing bricks. He has an alternative proposal: that instead of using the shutdown or the debt ceiling for leverage, the Republicans use the Budget Control Act (aka the sequester). Grover Norquist is on the same page:

I think the original plan for the Republicans was to move the continuing resolution past the debt ceiling and then to sit down with Obama and decide whether he would be willing to trade some relaxation of the sequester for significant reforms of entitlements. That was something Obama might well do. Democrats in the House and the Senate are very concerned about caps and limits in sequestration. Republicans could get significant long-term entitlement reform — all on the spending side, I’m assured by leadership — for some relaxation of sequester.

See, this is what an actual compromise would look like. The Republicans are running around saying Obama won’t compromise because he won’t delay or change Obamacare. But they are not offering anything in exchange other than not blowing up the government. A sequestration-for-entitlements exchange would be a real compromise, giving Democrats something they want. But it would still be a huge win for Republicans — a few billion in spending now for statutory changes in entitlements (e.g., chained CPI) that could save trillions down the road. Statutory changes in entitlements are an especially good thing because, unlike sequestration, they would be very hard for future Congresses to undo.

The thing is, our budget situation is a bit tricky right now. The FY 2013 deficit is below $700 billion and projected to fall more in the next few years. But starting around FY 2018, it starts ramping up again. The reason is entitlements — the wave of retiring Baby Boomers putting a strain on Social Security and Medicare spending.

(This long-term situation has, over the last few years, gotten a lot less horrifying by trillions of dollars. The reason is that healthcare spending has leveled off. Obama is trying to claim credit for this but he’s a bit hoist by his own petard. He delayed Obamacare until after the election both to avoid the political hit and to force the CBO to claim that it decreased the deficit. But those delays also mean the cost curve bent before he did anything. The reasons the cost curve has come down are mainly the down economy and the natural saturation of the healthcare market. I said years ago, when people were projecting that healthcare would eventually consume 2,634% of our GDP, that if something can’t be sustained, it won’t be. It couldn’t and it wasn’t.)

The time to strike on entitlements is now. The longer we wait, the harder it will be and the more dramatic the changes required. You reform entitlements and keep discretionary spending level and you will basically balance the budget within the decade without any further action. Cutting spending further will make the situation even better, but … further cuts will entail either cutting defense spending (which the Republicans oppose) or more discretionary/entitlement spending (which will not happen until the GOP wins an election; which will not happen until they show they can govern).

There are whispers that this deal may happen but it seems to be focusing more on yet another budget committee. But we’ve had eight — count ‘em — eight budget committees. We don’t need another one to tell us what we need. What we need is a deal.

Burn the Computerized Witches!

Holy shit:

The Economic Development Administration (EDA) is an agency in the Department of Commerce that promotes economic development in regions of the US suffering slow growth, low employment, and other economic problems. In December 2011, the Department of Homeland Security notified both the EDA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that there was a possible malware infection within the two agencies’ systems.

The NOAA isolated and cleaned up the problem within a few weeks.

Of course they did. The NOAA has scientists in it to whom computers are not a magic talisman. So they probably cleaned it up with standard software.

If I gave you ten years, you could not imagine what EDA did.

The EDA, however, responded by cutting its systems off from the rest of the world—disabling its enterprise e-mail system and leaving its regional offices no way of accessing centrally held databases.

It then recruited an outside security contractor to look for malware and provide assurances that not only were EDA’s systems clean, but also that they were impregnable against malware. The contractor, after some initial false positives, declared the systems largely clean but was unable to provide this guarantee. Malware was found on six systems, but it was easily repaired by reimaging the affected machines.

EDA’s CIO, fearing that the agency was under attack from a nation-state,

A nation-state? Did he really think that Libya was planning to hit us where it really hurts — at the EDA? Not nuclear weapons or air-traffic control, but an agency so obscure and useless, most Americans couldn’t identify it on a bet? What’s the worst they’d do? Stop another absurd expensive useless boondoggle being inflicted on some poor community?

EDA’s CIO, fearing that the agency was under attack from a nation-state, insisted instead on a policy of physical destruction. The EDA destroyed not only (uninfected) desktop computers but also printers, cameras, keyboards, and even mice. The destruction only stopped—sparing $3 million of equipment—because the agency had run out of money to pay for destroying the hardware.

The total cost to the taxpayer of this incident was $2.7 million: $823,000 went to the security contractor for its investigation and advice, $1,061,000 for the acquisition of temporary infrastructure (requisitioned from the Census Bureau), $4,300 to destroy $170,500 in IT equipment, and $688,000 paid to contractors to assist in development of a long-term response. Full recovery took close to a year.

$823,000 for an investigation into malware? $688,000 for long term … ? I … you … but … this … you gotta …

images

These are the people who we are supposed to trust to look over our electronic communications, to check our cell phones, to keep our information …

Oh, crap:

Another day, another slipup by the Internal Revenue Service.

The incident involves the unwitting exposure of “tens of thousands” of Social Security numbers, according to a recent audit by the independent transparency and public-domain group Public.Resource.org. The identifying numbers were on the Internet for less than 24 hours after being discovered, but the damage was done. And unfortunately, the data-breach concerns some of the most sensitive types of transactions: Those made by nonprofit political groups known as 527s.

Information about 527’s is supposed to be public. However, those forms are supposed to have the SS#’s blacked out. A significant number didn’t. No word yet on whether there was any political bias in the numbers revealed or if all of them were.

This is it, folks. This is the government that is supposed to run our healthcare, move our economy, give us jobs, educate us, feed us, house us, make sure we don’t get fat, force us to breast-feed our children and defend us from terrorists. And they’re responding to malware with a literal sledgehammer and posting documents with our private information on it.

The Law is the Law

I want to address a point that came up in our discussion of the the Kaitlyn Hunt case last week (which is turning out to be a little more complicated than my initial post). No one questions that Kaitlyn was in literal violation of the law. She was an 18-year-old who has sexual contact with a 14-year-old, which is illegal in Florida (and most other states). So shouldn’t we enforce the law? Whatever we may think of the law, she broke it and should be punished, right?

Let’s pull back a moment from that particular case into the broader legal issue. There is a school of thought that says that we should enforce all the laws without exception. If a law is badly written, we should change it. But refusing to enforce a law or making an exception to the law that is not written into it is the pathway to anarchy. That used to be my philosophy but I’ve come to realize that such a rigorous approach puts us on a short road to legal disaster.

The problem is best illustrated in this excellent cartoon. First, we have thousands of laws that apply to any of us at any time. It is almost impossible to go through your life without having violated one of them. We have bureaucrats who are constantly extending not just the law but very real criminal sanctions for violating those laws. Second, we have abandoned the concept of mens rea, that someone had to have had evil intent in violating the law. And so we end up with a situation where a woman picks a father up off the ground and end up with felony charges for violating the Migratory Bird Act.

In an ideal society, we would be constantly looking over our books to remove bad laws, clarify unclear ones and modify or remove outdated ones. But we don’t live in that society. On the contrary, we live in a society where bureaucrats are constantly pushing the boundaries of law and politicians are afraid to change obviously bad laws for fear of being pilloried. Sex offender laws are a perfect example. We’re putting children on these things and ruining their lives. But no politician is willing to do anything about it because they don’t want to be branded as sympathetic to child molesters (even though molesters are a small fraction of those on the registers).

To prevent innocent people from being gobbled up by bad laws, we used to fall back on Common Law. We recognized that laws are not written on stone tablets by God, but crafted by men. As such, they are imperfect and can not anticipate every eventuality. Bureaucracies specifically tend to see things in a very narrow light. So we used to apply common sense to law enforcement, recognizing when someone might be technically violating the law but it made no sense to prosecute them. We recognized that the law is not an end in an of itself. The law is a means. The end is justice. What would be just about putting a woman in prison for picking up a hawk feather?

We should enforce our laws. But we also need to recognize when a law is unjust or when it is simply inappropriate to a situation. We’ve gotten away from the idea that judges and juries are supposed to judge both the case and the law. We think only the Supreme Court can judge laws. But jury nullification and prosecutorial discretion are in the very DNA of this nation, from when juries and prosecutors refused to enforce the King’s unjust laws. Putting someone in jail for violating a badly written law and only then changing the law is like mapping out a minefield by stepping on all the mines.

The Hunt case, specifically, is a little more complicated than her supporters let on. But the general point stands. We should not become robots mindlessly enforcing laws in a Napoleonic fashion. The intent of the law is to protect young teenagers from being taken advantage of by grown adults. If the law is threatening felony charges against a high school senior for having consensual sex with a high school freshman (14 and 18 years old, not 15 and 17), I would submit that the law is faulty. And it is the duty of the prosecutors, the judge and the jury to recognize that and account for that.

“But we need to be a society of laws, not men!” Yes. But if we become a society of rigid adherence to every law on the books, we will all end up in prison. We will all find, whenever the authorities don’t like us, that we have violated some obscure law intended for some completely different purpose. We will find that a federal law intended to protect migratory birds from being hunted to extinction is jailing some lady who picked a feather up off the ground. We will find that sex offender registries intended to protect us from predators ruin the lives of 12-year-old kids. We will find 16-year-old girls who take nude pictures of themselves prosecuted for child pornography. We will find that laws intended to stop 50-year-old men from taking advantage of naive 14-year-old girls snare high school seniors instead.

The law is not perfect. Nor is not perfectible. Let’s not pretend that it is. The question in the Kaitlyn Hunt case — and in any similar case — should not be if she technically violated the law since she clearly did. The question should be if applying the law in this case is just. I’m witholding judgement now since some of the information circulated by her supporters has turned out to be inaccurate (H/T to Thrill for fact-checking me on that). But “that’s what the laws says so … too bad” is simply not enough when it comes to a potentially life-ruining prosecution.

The Farm Follies Continue

The latest CBO report shows that the FY2013 deficit will come in at around $642 billion, a dramatic reduction. Naturally, the usual suspects are calling for more “stimulus” spending now that the deficit problem is “solved”. But they should read some critical points raised by Peter Suderman. The “small” deficit is a result of tax hikes, spending cuts and about $200 billion in one-time revenues (Fannie/Freddie dividends and tax adjustments). The “small” deficit will only last a few years before entitlements and Obamacare began to raise it again even under optimistic budget scenarios. And even under optimistic scenarios, interest payments will reach historic highs.

(As an aside: what’s really hilarious is to watch the Left scramble to explain why “austerity” hasn’t crashed the economy. Most of them are simply going the Krugmann route and ignoring everything they’ve been saying for the last five years.)

So now is not the time to open the spending or tax cut floodgates. Now is the time to keep to build on the budget momentum and reign in entitlements. Now is the time to … oh, shit:

House and Senate farm subsidy supporters are pushing to enact the first big farm bill since 2008. Democratic and Republican supporters say that this year’s legislation will be a reform bill that cuts spending. Hogwash.

Last year, House farm subsidy supporters proposed a bill that would spend $950 billion over the next 10 years, while the Senate proposed a bill that would spend $963 billion. By contrast, when the 2008 farm bill passed, it was projected to spend $640 billion over 10 years. Thus, the proposed House bill would represent a 48 percent spending increase over the last farm bill, while the Senate bill would represent a 50 percent increase.

Congress is bizarrely claiming that they have “cut” the farm bill because it’s 3% less than the original proposal. But not only is this their usual “cut spending growth” trick, it runs into the problem that the farm bill is usually much larger than originally budgeted. Next year’s farm bill be almost 50% more than originally proposed.

The spending “discipline” of the last two years is already eroding in the face of temporary unsustainable deficit reduction. And even worse, it’s opening on one of the many places it shouldn’t: the massive pile of corporate welfare euphemistically called the “farm bill”. Now is not the time to be shoveling more money into this hole. Now is the time to follow the advice P.J. O’Rourke gave twenty years ago: “drag the Omnibus Farm Bill out behind the barn and kill it with an axe.”

The War on the Media

We’ve been covering the recent scandals with Benghazi and the investigation of the AP. Another scandal has emerged this week: the investigation of Jeffrey Rosen, a Fox News correspondent. The Administration tracked his movements in the State Department, tracked his calls and got a warrant for his e-mails. His alleged crime? Stephen Kim, a State Department Advisor, told Rosen that it was believed that North Korea would response to additional sanctions with more nuclear missile tests. Rosen then reported it. And the Feds are basically accusing him being a co-conspirator in a criminal leak case because he encouraged the source.

Read that last sentence again, because Obama’s defenders have been trying to muddy the waters. Obama did not just track Rosen to find out who the leaker was. He did it with the intention of bringing potential criminal charges against Rosen himself for being a co-conspirator.

There is an argument to be made that that the leak endangered a source (and that the AP leak did as well). If we want to have a debate about whether it is a good idea for journalists to acquire and leak classified information, I’m willing to have that. I tend to side against the government keeping secrets, but it’s a worthy debate.

But that’s not the important point here. The important point is whether our government should be investigating and possibly bringing criminal charges against journalists who publicize leaked info. Glenn Greenwald:

Under US law, it is not illegal to publish classified information. That fact, along with the First Amendment’s guarantee of press freedoms, is what has prevented the US government from ever prosecuting journalists for reporting on what the US government does in secret. This newfound theory of the Obama DOJ – that a journalist can be guilty of crimes for “soliciting” the disclosure of classified information – is a means for circumventing those safeguards and criminalizing the act of investigative journalism itself. These latest revelations show that this is not just a theory but one put into practice, as the Obama DOJ submitted court documents accusing a journalist of committing crimes by doing this.

This actually got its start with the prosecution of Wikileaks. While I’m no fan of Wikileaks (and especially not Julian Assange), the legal theory the Administration used to go after them was extremely broad. In fact, they admitted in court that the theory would have allowed them to prosecute the New York Times as well. But everyone ignored that ominous thundercloud because, well, it was Wikileaks. But now we’re seeing that theory extended into the mainstream media.

It is virtually impossible at this point to overstate the threat posed by the Obama DOJ to press freedoms. Back in 2006, Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales triggered a major controversy when he said that the New York Times could be prosecuted for having revealed the Top Secret information that the NSA was eavesdropping on the communications of Americans without warrants. That was at the same time that right-wing demagogues such Bill Bennett were calling for the prosecution of the NYT reporters who reported on the NSA program, as well as the Washington Post’s Dana Priest for having exposed the CIA black site network.

But despite those public threats, the Bush DOJ never went so far as to formally accuse journalists in court filings of committing crimes for reporting on classified information. Now the Obama DOJ has.

I have to give Greenwald credit, as always. Huge swathes of the Liberal Echosphere are either ignoring this story or siding with the government. Three acts in and they still have their head in the sand. I almost think that if Obama had Rachel Maddow dragged off the air in chains, a hundred liberals would spring up to defend the action.

The common thread that ties together the scandals on the AP wiretapping, Benghazi and the investigation of Jeffrey Rosen is the Obama Administration’s absolute obsession with message control. They have prosecuted more whistle blowers and leakers under the 1917 Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined. They have now opened up criminal investigations of journalists who revealed information they wanted kept secret. They not only process, clean and fillet every statement that comes out of their Administration, they want to do it for everyone else as well.

And really, can you blame them?

The press-punishing, speech-chilling, and unabashedly overreaching actions by the Obama administration against the Associated Press and Fox News Channel’s James Rosen lay bare the essential dynamic between any president and a press that is always more prone to being lapdogs than watchdogs: the president feeds or punishes them as he sees fit, while chanting a bogus rosary about “national security.”

Because they tend to share his broad outlook on politics, too many journalists for too long have been in the tank for Obama, explaining away or minimizing his policy failures and reversals. Remember Obama’s heartfelt insistence that he would run the most transparent administration ever? Take a look at this document about warrantless searches of text messages that his administration finally coughed up to the ACLU and get back to me. It’s 15 pages of completely redacted prose. Such a document would be funny if it wasn’t coming from a secrecy-obsessed administration that has put the brakes on fulfilling FOIA requests and has charged a record number of people under the Espionage Act.

Many of the media are still in the tank, trying to explain away or rationalize Obama’s behavior. But I expect with each revelation that comes out — and you know there’s more coming — that this refusal to engage will be chipped away at. Eventually, people are going to realize that when the President feels like he can investigate anyone, no one is safe.

Let me be clear: the President has a duty to protect classified information, especially when that information is critical to national security. But his duty is to find and plug leaks within the government. When he extends that authority to investigating and prosecuting journalists, he is endangering our most basic freedoms.

IRS and AP Scandal Updates

Scandal week continues. And it keeps getting more interesting.

One of the pieces of pravda handed down by this Administration was the the AP wiretap was put in place because of a leak that endangered national security. Um, maybe not:

For five days, reporters at the Associated Press had been sitting on a big scoop about a foiled al-Qaeda plot at the request of CIA officials. Then, in a hastily scheduled Monday morning meeting, the journalists were asked by agency officials to hold off on publishing the story for just one more day.

The CIA officials, who had initially cited national security concerns in an attempt to delay publication, no longer had those worries, according to individuals familiar with the exchange. Instead, the Obama administration was planning to announce the successful counterterrorism operation that Tuesday.

The AP balked and ran the story anyway. And then the investigation was begun. I could be generous and say that this was just a bureaucratic mixup. But I’m not feeling generous. This feels more like two things: a petty way to get back at the AP for stealing Obama’s thunder and a fishing expedition to see if they could find any government sources talking to the AP. Neither justifies obtaining two months worth of phone records.

Meanwhile, more details continue to emerge from the IRS scandal including details of just how invasive the questions were and allegations (unconfirmed) that a pro-Life group was told they couldn’t protest at Planned Parenthood Organizations.

But at least the people responsible are being … oh:

The Internal Revenue Service official in charge of the tax-exempt organizations at the time when the unit targeted tea party groups now runs the IRS office responsible for the health care legislation.

Sarah Hall Ingram served as commissioner of the office responsible for tax-exempt organizations between 2009 and 2012. But Ingram has since left that part of the IRS and is now the director of the IRS’ Affordable Care Act office, the IRS confirmed to ABC News today.

Her successor, Joseph Grant, is taking the fall for misdeeds at the scandal-plagued unit between 2010 and 2012. During at least part of that time, Grant served as deputy commissioner of the tax-exempt unit.

Well, at least the liberals are going to … oh:

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.

The gist of this appalling defense of the IRS’s action by Noam Schieber is that those dumb Tea Party groups provoked the IRS by filing tax forms. Seriously:

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.

This is ridiculous. No one — certainly not anyone who is temperamentally suspicious of the government and the IRS — would wait before confirming their tax status.

Moreover, the IRS has admitted that they selected organizations based on their names and their stated purpose. There is evidence that “provocative” applications from left-wing groups sailed through just fine. In fact, one group had their application approved almost instantly when they changed their name to “Greenhouse Solutions.”

No matter how much the defenders wriggle, these are serious issues. Probably not “impeach the President” issues — Obama is currently wearing a fake moustache and claiming it was all Bush’s fault. But certainly serious enough to warrant investigations, resignations and, in the IRS scandal case, possibly criminal charges.

Sorry, Obama defenders. This is real.

Update: Jon Stewart nails it: