I’d apologize for the lack of updates lately, but you get what you pay for. The past couple months have been crazy busy between three jobs—one day job and two online evening jobs—and something had to give. This site was it. I hope to begin posting a little more often now that the busiest time of year for my day job is starting to slow down, but that is offered without guarantees.
The Supreme Court handed down two decisions earlier today on the gay marriage issue. The first struck down the Defense of Marriage Act as being enacted solely because President Bill Clinton, who signed the legislation into law, hates gay people.
The second decision was to sidestep ruling on California’s Prop. 8, which stated that marriage in the state was only between one man and one woman, by ruling that Prop. 8 supporters had no standing to appeal a ruling by an outrageously biased judge to the federal courts.
I’ll leave it to others to better analyze what this means for gay marriage in the state, but I want to point out my immediate reaction to the ruling (on Twitter) and answer a couple critiques.
Wow, death of the CA initiative process. If Gov & AG don’t want to defend, then no one can.
— Matthew Hoy (@hoystory) June 26, 2013
Which is exactly what happened with Prop. 8. Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris are pro-gay marriage. They didn’t want to defend the votes of 7 million Californians in opposition to their political preferences. (Ironically, the same Supreme Court that ruled that Prop. 8 supporters didn’t have standing didn’t have any concerns about allowing the House of Representatives attorneys to have standing after President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder refused to defend DOMA.)
Which prompted Twitter user @azevin to disagree.
Not true. Private party w actual injury can. MT @hoystory: death of the CA initiative process. If Gov & AG dont want to defend, no one can.
— Avi Zevin (@azevin) June 26, 2013
also, state can appt agent for these types of cases. MT @hoystory: death of the CA initiative process. If Gov & AG dont defend, no one can.
— Avi Zevin (@azevin) June 26, 2013
@hoystory call your legislator. Pass a proposition. Create a standing position or officially make prop proponents agents. Problem goes away.
— Avi Zevin (@azevin) June 26, 2013
I’ll give Avi Zevin the first point. In many cases a party with an actual injury should still be able to sue to have a proposition enforced, I’ll leave it to California constitutional scholars and lawyers to determine how widely the courts are likely to apply that right. To take an example from recent news, let’s say that Gov. Brown comes to his senses and acknowledges tomorrow that the California High Speed Rail project can’t be built with the funding, ridership and other promises that were made to California voters when they approved the project.
Do proponents have standing to sue to force the state to go forward?
If the Prop. 8 proponents didn’t have standing even though they gathered the signatures, paid for ads, got out the vote to defend their proposition in court, then I suspect that no one does.
The other suggestions Zevin noted don’t offer much in the way of relief in this Democrat Party-run state either. While my state representative is a Republican, Republicans in the state couldn’t get anything passed to remedy this sort of situation over Democratic opposition.
A proposition runs into the same problem. Californians pass it. The Democrat governor and legislature don’t want to enforce it, proponents don’t have standing to sue.
Officially make the prop proponents agents? Why would Gov. Brown and AG Harris want to do that? They want the proponents to lose. If they can slash the tires on their bus and prevent them from ever getting to the courtroom to argue, why make them official and possibly lose?
I suspect that creating a standing position would suffer from a similar issue. How would this position be filled? Appointment by the governor or legislature? The Democrats control both, why not leave it vacant? The voters? And California voters would select someone of the opposite party why exactly?
The initiative process in California was designed by the original progressives around the turn of the 20th Century to offer citizens a way around the corruption of politicians in Sacramento. The Supreme Court today took that power away.
Zevin may be right that the initiative process isn’t dead, but what conservative-leaning group would come into the state now to try and pass a politically popular (but not among the Democrat political class) initiative that would cost millions of dollars and lots of effort knowing that it could all be so easily undone in the courts?
And that’s why the initiative process is dead.
*UPDATE* Today’s sign that the apocalypse is near: Mother Jones magazine political blogger Kevin Drum agrees with me.
For those who come here for politics, sorry, but this one is videogame related.
Originally posted at majornelson.com.
When I saw Microsoft’s announcement of “no rentals, you can lend a game to a friend only once, no private party transfers” I thought surely the only reason they’re doing this is because Sony’s worked out a deal with EA, Ubisoft, etc. to require the exact same restrictions on the PS4. I thought: “We’re moving closer to a PC gaming model where new game prices drop relatively quickly and there are frequent, deep-discount sales.”
And today we found out that I was wrong.
I pre-ordered a console from Amazon after Microsoft’s press briefing this morning. I won’t be cancelling the pre-order just yet. I may be able to flip it for some more $ around the Christmas season if there appears to be a shortage. Or, I can cancel it the week before it ships.
I wasn’t really bothered by the new kinect sensor—if they ever did anything nefarious with the microphone and cameras, people would go to jail and users would have some extra money in their pockets. I was only mildly annoyed by the 24-hour check-in. I figured that was part and parcel with the new DRM model and Sony would have something similar.
If the situation sits as it is today. At launch I’ll be switching from the Xbox with my 10-year gold live membership over to the Sony PlayStation. The “wow” TV integration, skype, etc. aren’t nearly enough to keep me on your platform—and at a $100 premium (though I’m well enough off that the extra cash isn’t in and of itself a dealbreaker).
I’ll miss Forza and Halo, but few other exclusives.
Frankly, I’m a little bit dumbfounded by how all of you in Redmond thought this would fly without Sony on board. I thought: “They’ve got to have Sony on the same page, don’t they? They couldn’t possibly think this sea-change would be a good idea unless it was a fait accompli because gamers would have no other choice. This wouldn’t be a differentiator between the two products. Right?”
Over the next few days, Microsoft is going to get a well-deserved dressing down by the gaming press. You’ve seen a lot of that here on the comment thread of your own blog and I suspect that the only major difference between those articles on Joystiq, Kotaku, Polygon, etc. is going to be that the latter will use fewer cuss words.
I doubt you’ll take my advice, though it is offered in good faith, but there’s still time to fix this—and the fix is pretty easy.
1. For the tinfoil hat wearers, provide a nice heavy sock they can put the kinect sensor in when not in use. They could order it online.
2. You need to lose your DRM scheme.
Publishers have been complaining for years about the used games market, but you can’t go it alone. You could only have done this in conjunction with Sony and the other publishers. That didn’t happen. Publishers will continue to battle the used game market as they have for several years—frequent updates and add-ons that keep the original games in customers’ hands.
I like that you can install games to the hard drive and not need the disc in the console. I don’t know the specifics of how your DRM works. I don’t know if the disc itself has some sort of unique identifier or whether publishers need to print a unique code in the game box to identify the particular purchaser. Whatever it is, allow it to be traded or sold freely.
3. Always-on connection not required for single-player. I realize a substantial part of this is required for your DRM scheme. Let it go. If someone wants to sell a single-player version of the game, but then keep their console offline so they can still play a game they’ve sold, just … let … it … go. The number of people who would do this is such a small number, you’ll lose more money in potential sales to people annoyed by the brick-like qualities of their console if their internet connection goes down for a week in the middle of nowhere than you gain thwarting those thieves.
If you “fix” your DRM, a lot of other issues go away. Game rentals are back—yay! You can give a game away, trade it, sell it without having to use one of your pre-approved middlemen.
There is a way back. Take the path I’ve laid out.
Over the past week or so, some of the more devoted (and blinkered) supporters of the IRS have tried to make the case that the agency’s targeting of conservative and tea party groups was all a big mistake and anyway, it’s the GOP’s fault.
The latest example of this is the Brookings Institution’s Henry J. Aaron who argued that one of the things that caused the targeting was a lack of funding for the IRS.
Others have made a similar argument, that the IRS agents—now numbering more than 80—requested more paperwork, filed more documentation and did overall more work because they were undermanned and underpaid. This argument doesn’t pass the laugh test. Normal people know when you’re swamped with work, you don’t intentionally make more work for yourself. Instead, you choose some things that you just let slide. That’s obviously not what happened here.
Aaron makes a slightly different argument: He claims that a lack of funding for the IRS led to a dearth of training and oversight.
The toll from short-changing the IRS is not just lost revenue. When resources are so meager and the return to enforcement is so high, administrators are loath to divert budget and staff from chasing evaders to staff training and oversight. It would be absurd to say that the administrative abuses now so much in the news are caused by meager budgets—after all, real live people who should have known better did what was done and real live supervisors failed to stop them from doing it. But a major reason why training and oversight were missing is that short-sighted, penny-pinching members of Congress deprived the IRS of enough money and staff to do what Congress asked them to do.
Unfortunately for Aaron, as more and more details come out, it’s clear that there was no lack of oversight or training. Contrary to early reports, this wasn’t a couple of rogue agents in Cincinnati doing this on their own. The supervisors, the ones who would do the training that Aaron says a cheapskate Congress wouldn’t give them money to do, were the ones directing the harassment.
And then came this bit of inconvenient news for Aaron’s theory: The IRS spent about $50 million to hold 220 conferences for employees between 2010 and 2012 when the targeting was going on. Doesn’t sound like a lack of training or supervision was going on to me.
There’s no excuse for the IRS’s behavior. None. People like Aaron would do well to hold their tongues, because the scandal shows every sign that it will get worse before it gets better.
Last week, appearing before the House Oversight Committee, Lois Lerner told the elected officials that she had done nothing wrong.
I believe her.
Let me rephrase that. I believe that she believes she’s done nothing wrong.
Because, it turns out, what she was doing from 2010 through sometime in 2012 and possibly continuing even today if some of the reporting is to be believed (and at this point, who wouldn’t believe it?), is the same thing she’s been doing for decades.
Back in the ’90s, Lerner was employed at the FEC and was investigating Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition. Here’s a transcript of a deposition where Lerner questioned Lt. Col. Oliver North.
Q: (reading from a letter from Oliver North to Pat Robertson) “‘Betsy and I thank you for your kind regards and prayers.’ The next paragraph is, ‘Please give our love to Dede and I hope to see you in the near future.’ Who is Dede?”
A: “That is Mrs. Robertson.”
Q: “What did you mean in paragraph 2, about thanking -you and your wife thanking Pat Robertson for kind regards?”
A: “Last time I checked in America, prayers were still legal. I am sure that Pat had said he was praying for my family and me in some correspondence or phone call.”
Q: “Would that be something that Pat Robertson was doing for you?”
A: “I hope a lot of people were praying for me, Holly.”
Q: “But you knew that Pat Robertson was?”
A: “Well, apparently at that time I was reﬂecting something that Pat had either, as I said, had told me or conveyed to me in some fashion, and it is my habit to thank people for things like that.”
Q: “During the time that you knew Pat Robertson, was it your impression that he had – he was praying for you?”
O: “I object. There is no allegation that praying creates a violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act and there is no such allegation in the complaint. This is completely irrelevant and intrusive on the religious beliefs of this witness.”
O: “It is a very strange line of questioning. You have got to be kidding, really. What are you thinking of, to ask questions like that? I mean, really. I have been to some strange depositions, but I don’t think I have ever had anybody inquire into somebody’s prayers. I think that is really just outrageous. And if you want to ask some questions regarding political activities, please do and then we can get over this very quickly. But if you want to ask about somebody’s religious activities, that is outrageous.”
Q: “I am allowed to make-’’
O: “We are allowed not to answer and if you think the Commission is going to permit you to go forward with a question about somebody’s prayers, I just don’t believe that. I just don’t for a moment believe that. I ﬁnd that the most outrageous line of questioning. I am going to instruct my witness not to answer.”
Q: “On what grounds?”
O: “We are not going to let you inquire about people’s religious beliefs or activities, period. If you want to ask about someone’s prayers-Jeez, I don’t know what we are thinking of. But the answer is, no, people are not going to respond to questions about people’s prayers, no.”
Q: “Will you take that, at the first break, take it up- we will do whatever we have to do.”
O: “You do whatever you think you have to do to get them to answer questions about what people are praying about.”
Q: “I did not ask Mr. North what people were praying about I am allowed to inquire about the relationship between-’’
O: “Absolutely, but you have asked the question repeatedly. If you move on to a question other than about prayer, be my guest.”
Q: “I have been asking you a series of questions about your relationship with Pat Robertson, the Christian Coalition. . . . It is relevant to this inquiry what relationship you had with Pat Robertson and I have asked you whether Pat Robertson had indicated to you that he was praying for you.”
O: “If that is a question, I will further object. It is an intrusion upon the religious beliefs and activities of Dr. Robertson. And how that could – how the Federal Government can be asking about an individual’s personal religious practices in the context of an alleged investigation under the Federal Election Campaign Act, I am just at a complete loss to see the
relevance or potential relevance, and I consider that to be also intrusive.”
Q: “Was Pat Robertson praying for you in 1991?”
O: “Same objection.”
A: “I hope so. I hope he still is.”
Today, another of Lerner’s past targets came forward with a similarly disturbing story of the way Lerner comported herself as an FEC lawyer.
In 1996 Lois Lerner, the IRS official at the center of the harassment of Tea Party groups seeking tax exempt status, was head of the enforcement division of the Federal Elections Commission(FEC). That year Al Salvi was the Republican nominee for the US Senate from Illinois, his Democrat opponent was then congressman Dick Durbin.
During the final weeks of the campaign Salvi loaned himself over a million dollars to buy ads in the Chicago media market. This in turn prompted the Democrat party’s campaign arms to file complaints with the FEC and in kind the FEC, specifically Lois Lerner, filed charges against Al Salvi.
That is when Mr. Salvi contends Lois Lerner made him the following offer, “Promise me you will never run for office again, and we’ll drop this case.”
Al Salvi refused that offer and would fight the FEC complaint against him for several more years before a Judge tossed out the complaint.
Lois Lerner has been getting away with questionable behavior for the better part of 20 years. Why wouldn’t she believe that she’d done nothing wrong?
Last week the IRS official in charge of the tax-exempt organizations sorta-testified before Congress to the fact that she’d done nothing illegal before invoking her Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination for her non-illegal actions.
Today, Obama spokesflack Jay Carney had this to say about the quality of the testimony IRS officials have been providing Congress.
Q: Are you satisfied, is this White House satisfied, with the responsiveness of people it sends up to testify about matters of congressional interest?
Carney: Well, that’s a broad question, but the answer is yes.
I can’t make this stuff up.
And here’s some special bonus video of the quality of testimony Attorney General Eric Holder has provided when not perjuring himself:
The Columbia Journalism Review’s tagline is “The future of media is here.” If it is, then journalism is in worse shape than it appears—and that takes some doing.
In the days following Kirsten Power’s “Come to Jesus” column calling out the mainstream media for its failure I pointed out to a shocked Mollie Hemingway of GetReligion.org on Twitter that the Big 3 media criticism sites: Poynter, CJR and Jim Romenesko had all maintained radio silence on the issue. It reinforced the criticism of many on the right that even the self-appointed media watchdogs are too cozy with the journalists they cover.
Today, when the news broke that the Obama Justice Department had named Fox News Channel James Rosen a co-conspirator in a plot to violate the Espionage Act by doing something called reporting, I checked the usual suspects. Romenesko had a brief post with links. Poynter had a more extensive brief with lots of good quotes and links. And CJR responded with absolutely zero commentary on the site. The top three “Must-Reads From Around the Web” are all about the Rosen case, but no original reporting. Or did they?
The article that picture links to is here. It refers to the Benghazi, IRS and Associated Press phone records scandals, but not today’s Rosen revelations. I realize one shouldn’t impute malice when mere incompetence can explain it, but what the heck is going on at CJR? What are they suggesting?
Does anybody know what’s going on around here?
If you missed much of the testimony of outgoing, acting, IRS Commissioner Steven Miller before a House committee on Friday, then you didn’t see one of the most infuriating performances by an ostensibly public servant in recent history. Miller, who will leave his post two weeks early cannot be trusted with a hot dog cart, let alone the most feared bureaucracy in the United States government.
This clip is the exchange that should have Miller doing community service cleaning rest stop toilets with a toothbrush for the rest of his life.
Ryan: You said in your answer that you were “aware that some 200 501(c)4 applications fell into this category, we did group these organizations together to ensure consistency, to ensure quality. We continue to work those cases.” You didn’t mention targeting based on ideology. You didn’t mention targeting based upon buzzwords like “tea party” or “patriots” or “9/12.” You knew that, but didn’t mention that to this committee. Do you not think that that’s a very incomplete answer?
Miller: I answered truthfully.
You think that kind of answer would fly if given to an IRS auditor?
And the news out of the hearing got worse.
Seriously? Some IRS agent thought they had the authority to ask a pro-life group about the content of their prayers? The proper response would’ve been:
I think we should all send the IRS the content of our prayers right now. Mine include the words “smite,” “whore of Babylon,” and “flat tax.”
— Anthony Sacramone (@strangeherring) May 18, 2013
If you were dealing with any less powerful bureaucracy.
The congressman in the above video missed the proper follow-on question to Miller’s ridiculous response: Can you imagine any context where requesting the contents of the prayers of an American taxpayer is valid IRS business?
We’ll be talking about the IRS for awhile longer. The “fine public servant” who was in charge of the office that was targeting conservative groups, but didn’t know anything about it, received more than $100,000 in bonuses over the last four years and is now in charge of the IRS’ Obamacare implementation.
There’s also the question of whether President Obama or one of his higher-ups directed the IRS to do this. In Friday’s Wall Street Journal, columnist Kimberly Strassel eloquently pointed out that he did, merely by the way he’s conducted himself over the past four years.
President Obama and Co. are in full deniability mode, noting that the IRS is an “independent” agency and that they knew nothing about its abuse. The media and Congress are sleuthing for some hint that Mr. Obama picked up the phone and sicced the tax dogs on his enemies.
But that’s not how things work in post-Watergate Washington. Mr. Obama didn’t need to pick up the phone. All he needed to do was exactly what he did do, in full view, for three years: Publicly suggest that conservative political groups were engaged in nefarious deeds; publicly call out by name political opponents whom he’d like to see harassed; and publicly have his party pressure the IRS to take action.
Mr. Obama now professes shock and outrage that bureaucrats at the IRS did exactly what the president of the United States said was the right and honorable thing to do. “He put a target on our backs, and he’s now going to blame the people who are shooting at us?” asks Idaho businessman and longtime Republican donor Frank VanderSloot.
Speaking of VanderSloot, here’s what happened to him.
And Obama got reports back that his order was successfully received. People complained to Congress. Congress held hearings and people like Mr. Miller above lied.
The political higher-ups at the Treasury Department knew about this in 2012—before the election—and never passed that information onto the White House. There are even reports that the White House counsel knew of this scandal three weeks ago, yet failed to tell President Obama, who claims that he first learned of it when it was reported in the press a week ago. If that is true, the White House counsel needs to be sacked.
It’s been 40 years since the IRS was politicized in this fashion. It didn’t take a phone call to get the dirty tricks started. All it took was Obama identifying the “bad guys” and his acolytes at the IRS dutifully rode into action. People need to be fired, not just asked to leave their jobs two weeks early. Some people probably need to spend some time in a federal prison as well.
How zealously Obama takes on the IRS will say a lot about how this will affect the rest of his presidency.
I saw a brief report on the news today that the IRS has a $92 million “bonus” budget and the average IRS worker gets about $5,500 in bonuses every year. Zeroing out that practice would be a good first step for Congress reining in an out out-of-control bureaucracy.
This morning’s “Morning Jolt” e-newsletter written by National Review’s Jim Geraghty has some discussion of the Obama administration scandal du jour that the IRS targeted conservative groups with “Tea Party” and “Patriot” in their names for extra
harrassment scrutiny when filing for tax-exempt status. We don’t yet know who exactly knew what and when. There’s no evidence that President Obama, or even anyone in the White House, gave direction to the IRS to take a harder look at these groups. But as Geraghty notes, they don’t always have to.
One point to keep in mind: sometimes no organizational boss has to explicitly say that there’s a great incentive to target a particular political foe. Sometimes these sorts of illegal and unjust incentives simply resonate throughout the culture of an organization. If everyone within a particular office culture (i.e., Internal Revenue Service employees) believes that a particular group is particularly bad (conservatives) and another group is good (liberals), there will be enormous psychological incentives to pursue the “bad” groups, both out of personal beliefs and out of reinforcing groupthink.
There’s a simple, direct method for changing the culture, of course: fire anybody involved.
This is the same way media bias works in the vast majority of newsrooms across the country. It’s not that they conspire with one another or get orders from on high. They all just think the same way.
The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times have each provided excellent case studies of this over the past couple of days.
As Mark Steyn noted in a weekend column regarding how the media has assiduously avoided covering Benghazi:
The dying Los Angeles Times reported this story on its home page (as a sidebar to “Thirteen Great Tacos In Southern California”) under the headline: “Partisan Politics Dominates House Benghazi Hearing.” In fact, everyone in this story is a Democrat or a career civil servant. Chris Stevens was the poster boy for Obama’s view of the Arab Spring; he agreed with the president on everything that mattered.
The Los Angeles Times isn’t alone in this attitude toward the Benghazi story, but most news outlets do a little better in hiding their disdain.
Earlier today, Abortion “doctor” Kermit Gosnell became convicted child murderer Kermit Gosnell as he was convicted on 3 counts of killing newborns by cutting their spinal cords with scissors. The story from the so-called Paper of Record is a case study in how pro-abortion (not pro-choice) reporters must torture language to hide obvious truths.
The verdict came after a five-week trial in which the prosecution and the defense battled over whether the fetuses Dr. Gosnell was charged with killing were alive when they were removed from their mothers.
The English language has a multitude of words for just about everything–and if it doesn’t, it will make one up at a ginormous rate. The word for “fetuses … removed from their mothers” is “baby.” Not only is it more accurate. It saves a lot of typing.
Earlier today, three whistleblowers testified before a House committee investigating security decisions made prior to the Benghazi attack, the attack itself, the Obama administration’s response to the attack and charges of a cover-up.
If you were counting on the Big 3 broadcast networks and the establishment press to tell you what this was all about, you’d have had a tough time. Nothing illustrates this situation better than CBS News’ web page late this afternoon. At about 2 p.m. PDT (my late, brief lunch break), this was the Most Popular search on the CBS News homepage:
This was the most discussed story:
Here is a complete screenshot of the CBS News page at that same time. See if you can locate the subject of those two stories.
You’ll need to click on it to see it full size, but for those having difficulty finding Waldo, it’s at the bottom under the “Politics” header.
So much for the idea of giving your customers what they want.
Journalism. Wound. Self-inflicted.
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