Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Cruising the Web

As the WSJ points out, not only does the IRS have a partisan streak, it also has a foreign policy. We see this in the case of Z Street, a non-profit that seeks to inform people about issues relating to Israel. So, for their own reasons, the IRS delayed its application for tax exempt status because they were "giving special scrutiny to groups whose missions might conflict with Administration policies." Sound a bit shifty to you? Of course. And so Z Street sued for viewpoint discrimination and the House Ways and Means Committee has obtained emails to demonstrate how the IRS was regarding a pro-Israel group with suspicion.
The "current cases" would have been applications like Z Street's in which Israel-related activity was apparently being scrutinized for its ideological and policy content. The government says Z Street got special scrutiny because it was focused in a region with a higher risk of terrorism, which is hard to believe and in any case doesn't explain all of the IRS's behavior.

It doesn't cover, for instance, why one questionnaire we've seen from the IRS to another Jewish group applying for tax-exempt status asked, "Does your organization support the existence of the land of Israel?" and "Describe your organization's religious belief system toward the land of Israel." No matter the answers, they should not affect the processing of an application for 501(c) status. The State-IRS emails reveal a political motivation for IRS scrutiny that gives Z Street powerful evidence for its suit charging IRS bias.

On Monday the IRS filed an appeal of the judge's decision denying its motion to dismiss Z Street's case. The government says the action stops all discovery while the appeal is pending, a process that could take months or even years. By filing the appeal on the last possible day, the Justice Department is running out the clock on discovery during the remainder of the Administration.

This is a whole lot of effort to prevent discovery in a case that is not even seeking damages. Ways and Means uncovered the email exchange between State and the IRS only after Treasury was forced to turn over documents it had previously withheld. What else did it lose in the ether?
Gee, I wonder how the hard drives are doing for this people involved in this case. But, seriously, doesn't it make even Democrats uncomfortable to have the IRS ask questions on an "organization's religious belief system" whether it's toward Israel or anything else? And now the Obama administration is trying its darnedest to avoid having to turn over documents involved in this case. Everything they do is so fishy that it stinks right through my computer.

Of course, the IRS having a foreign policy that is antagonistic towards Israel isn't all that surprising. Our Secretary of State seems to have the same problem. He's even willing, as David Ignatius writes, to " undercut not simply the Israelis but also the Egyptians and the Fatah movement that runs the Palestinian Authority, all of which want to see an end to Hamas rule in Gaza." Kerry is in such a rush to get a cease-fire that he doesn't seem to care how he does it even if he engages in futile appeasing of Hamas. Perhaps Kerry isn't anti-Israel as much as he is desperate to achieve a cease-fire. But the effect is the same.

And now the administration is ticked off that Israel had the nerve to criticize Kerry. In case the administration doesn't understand how Kerry angered the Israelis, Jonathan Tobin explains:
Kerry’s disastrous intervention in the current fighting demonstrated the utter and complete incoherence of the position that he has carved out for the United States. On the one hand, Kerry has prioritized the effort to create a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But by seeking to save Hamas by granting it concessions in the form of open borders rather than forcing the demilitarization that he belatedly endorsed, Kerry is making such a peace deal impossible.

The depth of the contradictions here are hard to comprehend. On the one hand, following President Obama’s lead, Kerry has praised Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas endlessly as a true partner for peace even though the PA chief has repeatedly turned down chances to negotiate seriously. But by seeking to place constraints on Israeli military actions directed at degrading Hamas’s capability to launch terror attacks, Kerry is actually undermining Abbas. His cease-fire proposal wasn’t so much an insult to Israel as it was to the PA. Though publicly condemning Israeli actions, it’s no secret that Abbas is hoping that the Jewish state will remove his on-again-off-again rival/partner in the Palestinian government from the scene. By endorsing the proposal for a cease-fire that came from Hamas allies Qatar and Turkey, Kerry stabbed Abbas in the back.

But the incompetence didn’t begin with one ill-considered piece of diplomatic ineptitude. It must be understood that nothing that is going on today—including the grievous casualty toll inside Gaza—would have happened had not Kerry single-handedly forced both Abbas and the Israelis into a negotiation that both knew would only lead to disaster. Throughout the nine months during which the secretary orchestrated a new round of peace talks between Israel and the PA, the administration was warned that the problem wasn’t just that the effort couldn’t succeed so long as the Palestinians were divided between Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas. It was that once the failure occurred, it would provide a justification for a new round of violence in the same manner that past such efforts had done. Kerry not only ignored those warnings but raised the stakes by personally speaking about a third intifada happening if the two sides didn’t do as he bid. Those who pointed out that this was a self-fulfilling prophecy were denounced as insufficiently supportive of peace. But the reality is that Kerry not only set the stage for this new outbreak, he more or less gave Hamas a green light to go ahead and start shooting.

The only common threads in Kerry’s diplomatic endeavors have been his enormous self-regard and a clear animus for the Netanyahu government. Either of these foibles would be forgivable if Kerry were focused on actions that would advance a two-state solution. But by pushing for a settlement when Abbas was unable to comply and then disingenuously blaming his failure on Israel, Kerry hurt the PA and set back any chance for peace. Once Hamas escalated the current fighting, he again took his eye off the ball and focused entirely on pushing for a cease-fire that would enhance the Islamists’ prestige and marginalize the Palestinians that he had championed.

A NYT writer is also falling prey to the copying from Wikipedia bug. I can use this example with my students to show them that just changing a couple of words doesn't mean they're not plagiarizing.

And now women are not supposed to laugh in public in Turkey.

How many ways can the IRS pervert the First Amendment? Bryan Preston reports on how the IRS has formed a deal with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist group, to listen in on churches to make sure that they're not politicking.
Democrats routinely campaign from the very pulpit of majority black churches. It happens every single election cycle. Pastors in those churches regularly push parishioners to support the Democratic Party, to support specific government social policy, and even specific candidates for office.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has not sued to get the IRS to investigate any of that. Its targets are churches that align with the more conservative Pulpit Freedom Sunday movement. That tells us what the foundation and the IRS will really be investigating.

The IRS will be monitoring churches to listen for pastors supporting the right to life, the sanctity and traditional definition of marriage, traditional values in general, perhaps even patriotism. Those are the churches, based on the angle that the foundation lawsuit takes, that will potentially find themselves under IRS investigation.

There is no way to know for sure which churches and denominations will come under investigation, though, because the IRS-FFRF deal is being kept secret, according to LifeNews. The Alliance Defending Freedom is using a Freedom of Information request against the IRS to force it to disclose the details of its plans for investigating churches.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is October 5 this year. Congress’ investigations of the IRS abuse scandal has the FFRF’s anti-church campaign on hold for now.

It’s a given that the militant atheist group will plant its operatives in participating churches to gather evidence it will use if and when the current investigations of the IRS are finished.
There is something quite invidious to have the IRS forming an alliance to send in people to report on what pastors say from the pulpit. If ever there was an excessive entanglement of government in religion, this would qualify. Apparently, the IRS isn't familiar with basic constitutional history of the Establishment Clause.

Matthew Dickinson, a political science professor at Middlebury, has an intelligent column refuting the idea that the presidency has become more difficult. First off, he reminds us that, compared to many nation's political leader, our chief executive office is designed to be relatively weak. He also refutes the idea that America in an increasingly divided country. People are still polarized; it is just that the lines of polarization are now along party lines when that has usually not been the case.
The more empirically valid charge is that modern presidents must deal with a very polarized Congress – the most partisan polarized Congress since the 19th century. Both Cillizza and Brownstein argue that it is very difficult for presidents to get legislation passed through a Congress that is so deeply polarized along partisan lines. But the link between partisan polarization and legislative productivity is more complex than this simple narrative would have one believe. Nelson Polsby, in his classic work "How Congress Evolves," describes how a cross-partisan conservative coalition of southern Democrats and Republicans stymied the passage of liberal legislation from 1937 until the mid-1960s. More generally, building on Polsby’s observation, studies show that too little polarization in Congress is as counterproductive to legislative productivity as is too much. This is because under conditions of limited partisan polarization, we often see great divisions within parties (see Polsby’s description of the Democrats during the era of the conservative coalition), and little difference across them – exactly the conditions that James MacGregor Burns complained about in his classic study of American political gridlock in the early 1960s. Evidence shows that legislative productivity under these conditions of weak polarization is as limited as under the deep polarization in Congress presidents confront today.
And finally, he refutes the notion that the world is more difficult today than it has been for previous presidents. Really? The Civil War? Great Depression and WWII? The Cold War? Vietnam? Things are tough in the world, but then that has been the case more often than not for the past century or more. Let's remember that we're commemorating the anniversary of The Great War this week and stop being so myopic about our own era's difficulties.

If you go over to read Dickinson's essay, you can try your skills at this quiz on the presidency. I thought I was pretty good on presidential trivia, but there were some new ones for me. Every week, I ask my kids a trivia question of the week and they can win extra credit by finding out the answers. Here are my questions from last year. See what you know.

You know - it's just not a great idea for school districts to spend their money on buying every student a laptop. Hoboken has found that out.
By the time Jerry Crocamo, a computer network engineer, arrived in Hoboken’s school system in 2011, every seventh, eighth and ninth grader had a laptop. Each year, a new crop of seventh graders were outfitted. Crocamo’s small tech staff was quickly overwhelmed with repairs.

We had “half a dozen kids in a day, on a regular basis, bringing laptops down, going ‘my books fell on top of it, somebody sat on it, I dropped it,’ ” said Crocamo.

Screens cracked. Batteries died. Keys popped off. Viruses attacked. Crocamo found that teenagers with laptops are still… teenagers.

“We bought laptops that had reinforced hard-shell cases so that we could try to offset some of the damage these kids were going to do,” said Crocamo. “I was pretty impressed with some of the damage they did anyway. Some of the laptops would come back to us completely destroyed.”

Crocamo’s time was also eaten up with theft. Despite the anti-theft tracking software he installed, some laptops were never found. Crocamo had to file police reports and even testify in court.

Hoboken school officials were also worried they couldn’t control which websites students would visit. Crocamo installed software to block pornography, gaming sites and Facebook. He disabled the built-in web cameras. He even installed software to block students from undoing these controls. But Crocamo says students found forums on the Internet that showed them how to access everything.

“There is no more determined hacker, so to speak, than a 12-year-old who has a computer,” said Crocamo.

All this security software also bogged down the computers. Teachers complained it took 20 minutes for them to boot up, only to crash afterwards. Often, there was too little memory left on the small netbooks to run the educational software.
After several years of all sorts of problems, they're locking away all those laptops. But hey, there went some federal stimulus dollars. It must have been worth it right? I'm sure it led to some jobs in Hoboken for people to repair all those broken computers even if it didn't do anything for the kids' learning.

Check out the Devil's Dictionary of Dating.