The IRS scandal has appropriately tarred the Obama administration. But IRS abuse is not new: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Richard Nixon all shamelessly used the tax authorities against their political enemies.
Thus, the problem is nonpartisan. More important, to paraphrase Rahm Emanuel, this scandal will be wasted if we don’t use it to advance the cause of liberty. The real issue is the expansive, expensive bureaucratic state, which threatens any system of limited government, rule of law, and individual liberty.
As I wrote in my recent article on American Spectator online:
the broader the government’s authority, the greater its need for revenue, the wider its enforcement power, the more expansive the bureaucracy’s discretion, the increasingly important the battle for political control, and the more bitter the partisan fight, the more likely government officials will abuse their positions, violate rules, laws, and the Constitution, and sacrifice people’s liberties.
One response to the scandal would be tax reform. But failing to address the broader underlying causes of the scandal would set the stage for a repeat performance in some form a few years hence. At the very least the latest IRS abuses should derail the Obama administration’s efforts to ever-expand the federal government.
The response should not be merely defensive. Americans should insist on abolishing the IRS as we know it. Ending tax-based social engineering would help. Moreover, government–and especially the national government–should do less.
Americans must decide if they want to live in a truly free society. Government increasingly attempts to run our lives at our expense. And now, we see yet again, public officials use their power to reward friends and punish enemies. Firing a couple of mid-level IRS employees isn’t enough. People must insist on real change in Washington.
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Senator Reid spins out, This is not the first time the IRS was used as a tool to target political opponents. (Thanks for the newsflash Senator, guess that makes it OK)
The IRS and the income tax are very powerful tools of coercion. Do I think the tactics employed against Tea Party groups recently would be employed by a big government “conservative” against groups which challenged his or her authority?
Driven by gold and silver prices, thieves target coin collections
As Julian Leidman packed up more than $4 million in rare coins after a Connecticut show, the thieves probably already had the prominent collector under surveillance and had laid plans for one of the biggest coin heists in U.S. history.
Leidman eased his minivan onto Interstate 95 south toward his Maryland home and the thieves probably followed, waiting and watching for dozens of miles. Then they saw their opening.
When Leidman stopped for dinner at Tiffany’s restaurant in Pine Brook, N.J., he took a table near a window so he could keep an eye on his vehicle. The thieves sneaked around the side he couldn’t see, smashed a window and took at least five cases.
Most of Leidman’s inventory was gone, more than 2,000 vintage coins and banknotes including one of the coin world’s major prizes — a 1921 Saint-Gaudens $20 gold piece worth as much as a modest home in the suburbs.
Thefts of rare coins have spiked in recent years, experts say, crimes linked to the run-up in gold and silver prices. Coin thieves are often part of organized rings, some from Colombia and others with ties to the Russian mafia, that orchestrate sophisticated, lightning-quick and sometimes ruthlessly violent heists, according to the Numismatic Crime Information Center, a nonprofit organization that tracks coin thefts.
Fairfax County police think thieves probably followed a dealer to his Annandale home after a show in April and snatched coins and banknotes worth as much as $500,000 when the dealer left his car for about 10 minutes. In 2011, a mother and son from Texas were convicted of being part of a scheme to steal $152,000 in coins from a New Market, Va., collector.
“Why rob a bank with cameras, witnesses, and there’s a good chance your picture will end up on the evening news?” said Steve Ellsworth, president of the Virginia Numismatic Society and a coin security expert. “Coin thefts often don’t have witnesses, and criminals can make off with far more money.”
The October 2009 scheme targeting Leidman, which has resulted in a case that is nearing its conclusion in federal court in New York, opens a window on the world of thefts that sometimes seems pulled from a Hollywood script.
Leidman, 65, has been collecting since age 11. His Silver Spring store, Bonanza Coins, is overflowing with boxes, buckets and glass cases full of coins. Leidman is a major player in the coin world, and the illustration of the $20 1907 Indian Head double eagle piece on one wall is a reminder.
Leidman bought the coin — there is only one — for $500,000 in 1979, making it the world’s most expensive coin at the time. He hoped to turn a profit on it, but the market soured and he unloaded it two years later at a loss. It is now worth an estimated $15 million.
Leidman jokes about his bad timing but grows serious when he talks about the theft. He spent four decades building his business, but in the space of a Sunday evening dinner it appeared to be falling apart. His insurance company did not cover the cost of the stolen coins, Leidman said. Some of the coins were his, while others he was selling on commission for other collectors.
Statistics: Posted by DIGGER DAN — Tue Jun 12, 2012 6:22 am
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Big Brother’s Next Target: Your Car
By Brian Sussman
Many are quite concerned about Senate Bill 1813, a massive piece of legislation supposedly devoted to transportation issues. Besides including a provision allowing the IRS the power to revoke passports belonging to those who are delinquent with tax debt in excess of $50,000, it appears that the potential law may be used to measure the size of your carbon footprint each time you get behind the wheel. It’s all because of a vague provision slipped into bill, which has already passed the U.S. Senate and is likely to be rubber-stamped by the House.
Known as the "Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act," SB 1813 is self-described as "[a]n Act to reauthorize Federal-aid highway and highway safety construction programs, and for other purposes" (emphasis mine).
The legislation would declare it mandatory for all new cars in the U.S. to be fitted with black box-like data recorders beginning in 2015. Known as "Mandatory Event Data Recorders," the devices would be capable of monitoring your speed, driving habits, location, and distance traveled. Removal of the device would be a civil offense.
Such data-collection technology is actually pretty simple. The Progressive auto insurance company currently offers a similar app as a cost-savings feature. Known as "Snapshot," the small device is a no-brainer to install and monitors speed, acceleration, braking habits, and miles driven, to determine the driver’s level of risk, which can translate to lower insurance rates.
The text of Senate Bill 1813 never specifically states why such information needs to be collected by the government, but it does indicate that while the measurements would remain the property of the owner of the vehicle, the government would have the authority to retrieve the data in a number of circumstances, including by court order, and pursuant to an investigation or inspection conducted by the secretary of transportation.
Currently, newer vehicles are already equipped with powertrain and airbag control modules that, in the event of a crash, are able to provide law enforcement investigators with critical information when piecing together the cause of an accident — so why does the government need to collect additional information?
I suspect that eco-activists are behind this plan and were able to get this subsection attached to the bill, believing that, somewhere down the slippery slope, the Event Data Recorders could be used to monitor a driver’s carbon footprint.
If you think my suspicions are overreaching, think again. For years, the ultra green California legislature has been considering replacing the state’s gas tax ($0.18 per gallon) with a fee for every mile traveled annually by each vehicle. The mileage would be recorded by black boxes similar to those described in Senate Bill 1813. California’s Department of Motor Vehicles and Transportation Commission have also advocated this pay-per-mile scheme. They’ve even suggested using the tracking data to financially penalize those who choose not to carpool.
And this wouldn’t be the first time the feds have gotten into the carbon footprint measurement business. As I explain in Eco-Tyranny, that’s the intention of the federally mandated Smart Meter, which has likely been attached to your home in place of your old-fashioned, constantly spinning electrical meter. Introduced in the Federal Energy Act of 2005, the Smart Meter measures your energy consumption minute-by-minute, and eventually will be connected to a device known as the Home Area Network, or "The HAN" as developers in the Silicon Valley refer to it. The HAN will communicate with every electrical device in your home, including your Energy Star-approved appliances. In time, the whole shebang will be hooked up to the coming Smart Grid, and your carbon footprint will be known to the second. Eventually, a scenario like this will occur:
It’s a hot afternoon in July. Your air conditioner is keeping the house cooled to 79 degrees; you’re watching the ballgame on a 50-inch flat screen TV; and you’re doing a load of laundry. A blip on a computer screen alerts an unseen bureaucrat that your home is consuming far too much energy, given demands. Automatically, your thermostat will shift to 84 degrees, the TV will be turned off until evening, and the washer/dryer won’t work again until after dark.
Welcome to Smart technology.
Senate Bill 1813 may well be the latest attempt to employ another component of Big Brother-style eco-tyranny.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Tue Apr 24, 2012 5:24 am
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By Peter Finn and Sari Horwitz, Monday, March 5, 2:31 PM
The U.S. government has the right to order the killing of American citizens overseas if they are senior al-Qaeda leaders who pose an imminent terrorist threat and cannot reasonably be captured, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Monday.
“Any decision to use lethal force against a United States citizen — even one intent on murdering Americans and who has become an operational leader of al-Qaeda in a foreign land — is among the gravest that government leaders can face,” Holder said in a speech at Northwestern University’s law school in Chicago. “The American people can be — and deserve to be — assured that actions taken in their defense are consistent with their values and their laws.”
Holder’s discussion of lethal force against U.S. citizens did not mention any individual by name, but his address was clearly animated by the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a senior figure in al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate. Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico, played an operational role in several plots, including the failed attempt to bring down a commercial airliner over Detroit in 2009, according to administration officials. In September, he was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen.
Since the operation, the Obama administration has faced calls to explain the legal framework behind its decision to target Awlaki and release at least portions of a still-classified memorandum by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that contains its evidence, reasoning and conclusions.
Holder’s speech represents the administration’s most elaborate public explanation to date on targeted killings. And it followed a prolonged internal debate about how to balance the need to inform the public about one of the most extraordinary decisions a government can take, without explicitly acknowledging the ongoing classified drone program or the covert operation against Awlaki.
Holder emphasized that he would discuss the issue only in the abstract and would not “discuss or confirm any particular program or operation,” according to an advance text of his speech.
There are currently no known U.S. citizens on target lists maintained by the CIA or the military’s Joint Special Operations Command.
The attorney general’s remarks did not satisfy some of the administration’s critics, who argued that the government has assumed dangerous new powers.
“While the speech is a gesture towards additional transparency, it is ultimately a defense of the government’s chillingly broad claimed authority to conduct targeted killings of civilians, including American citizens, far from any battlefield without judicial review or public scrutiny,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “Anyone willing to trust President Obama with the power to secretly declare an American citizen an enemy of the state and order his extrajudicial killing should ask whether they would be willing to trust the next president with that dangerous power.”
Holder argued that a careful and thorough executive branch review of the facts in a case amounts to “due process” and that the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment protection against depriving a citizen of his or her life without due process of law does not mandate a “judicial process.”
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Mon Mar 05, 2012 7:55 pm
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Here is a $2-billion question. Why do some investors hate Canada’s big three life insurance companies so much they’re selling them short?
A short sale is a high risk strategy because it exposes investors to unlimited losses if they’re wrong. Even worse, anyone shorting has to pay dividends to the owners of the shares, so it’s not a step to be taken on a whim.
Yet Manulife Financial (MFC-T12.71-0.05-0.39%) is the most heavily shorted stock on the TSX, with more than 62 million shares sold in this way. Sun Life (SLF-T20.98-0.20-0.94%) and Great-West Lifeco (GWO-T22.51-0.28-1.23%) also rank high on the most-shorted list. As a group, the three life insurers, the best known companies in their industry in Canada, have a total short position on the TSX amounting to a tidy $2-billion worth of stock, a multibillion-dollar bet on their share prices sagging. There are also additional shares in the companies sold short in the U.S., but the amounts are not as large as in Canada.
Short-selling is the sale of a stock an investor doesn’t own, in the hopes of profiting by buying it back later at a lower price to close out the transaction. The shares that are sold are borrowed through a friendly broker from another investor. Although it sounds complicated, short-selling is merely the reverse of the normal transaction of being “long” – or buying a stock in the expectation of making a profit when the share price goes up.
Given that short selling is a bet on a company slipping on a banana peel, the technique suffers from an image problem of not being a decent thing to do. It’s the reason short sellers are typically a publicity-shy bunch. No investors have publicly claimed credit for the gargantuan anti-life insurance company bet, even though it has been a brilliant strategy in recent months.
Insurers’ share prices were clobbered by last year’s decline in interest rates, which made it harder for life insurance companies to earn high returns on their investments, the source of their profits.
“This short interest, this pessimism, is a reflection of the concern that interest rates, that bond yields, could go lower,” observes Michael Goldberg, an analyst at Desjardins Capital Markets in Toronto.
One explanation for the trade is that some hedge funds are trying to goose their returns on the Canadian financial sector by simultaneously buying shares in banks, the strongest part of the financial system, and selling short the insurers, speculates Martin Braun, president of Adaly Investment Management Corp., a money management firm.
This approach – a kind of giant paired trade – was a definite money spinner in 2011, when the TSX bank index dropped a modest 2.9 per cent, while life insurance companies plunged 30.4 per cent.
Mr. Braun says the shorting may be targeting insurance as a sector, rather than making a judgment on the merits of individual companies.
The bet against the insurers is sizable, by international standards. Data Explorers published a screen last month of 66 global life insurers, and found two of the Canadian companies were among the most shorted in the world, based on how much of the stock was sold this way compared to the total amount outstanding.
Sun Life was tied for being the most heavily shorted, while Manulife was No. 5. In the case of Sun Life, 9 per cent of its stock has been sold short, while for Manulife it was 5 per cent. Data Explorers says the average in the sector is 2 per cent.
Shorting is an expensive proposition. Sun Life sports a 7-per-cent dividend, Great-West 5.5 per cent and Manulife 4.1 per cent, money that the shorts have to fork over to the owners of the shares they’ve borrowed. To be sure, those shorting can offset some of the cost of these dividends by using the proceeds of the sale to buy other high yielding stocks, such as the major banks, which pay out around 4 per cent.
Mr. Goldberg, for one, says interest rates will be the determining factor for the performance of insurance companies. If interest rates rise this year, which is his most likely scenario, “then those shorts are going to get their clock cleaned,” he predicts.
Given the huge short position, there could also be an explosive rally in insurers’ share prices if things turn out better for the industry, aided by short sellers themselves. That’s because any sharp rally would pressure the shorts, and could force them to exit their positions by bidding for the stock, further fuelling any rally.
SELLING THEM SHORT
Company Ticker (TSX) Recent price $ 12-month % chg. Short position (no. of shares)*
Manulife Financial MFC $12.76 -27.2% 62,322,404
Sun Life Financial SLF $21.18 -32.1% 29,738,248
Great-West Lifeco GWO $22.79 -13.8% 25,671,592
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Tue Jan 24, 2012 10:41 pm
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