Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fed workers owe $3.5 billion in back taxes

Delinquency rate bad – but better than year before ...

The combined unpaid tax amount for federal workers and retirees for 2014 surpasses $3.5 billion, the Internal Revenue Service reported.

The figure is spread among 305,000 federal employees and retirees, the Associated Press reported. And as bad as that back tax amount sounds, it still beats the previous year's amount.

The current delinquency rate is 3.1 percent of 9.8 million federal workers; in 2013, the delinquency rate stood at 3.3 percent.

Department of Housing and Urban Development employees are the worst offenders, with a delinquence rate of 4.7 percent. By contrast, those at the Treasury Department touted the least number of delinquencies, with a rate of 1.2 percent, AP reported.

The report comes as the House Oversight Committee is preparing Wednesday to take up a bill that would label those with "seriously delinquent tax debt[s]" ineligible for employment with the federal government.

The IRS doesn't have current delinquency figures for those outside the federal workforce. In past years, however, the unpaid tax rate for members of the general public stood between 8 percent and 9 percent.

And House and Senate members?

Roughly 5 percent in the House owe taxes; another 3.5 percent in the Senate face a similar situation, AP reported.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Peter King, Dianne Feinstein: We should let AG deny guns to 'known or suspected' terrorists

Rep. Peter King, New York Republican, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, have teamed up to press a new law that would deny the sale of guns and explosives to terrorists -- both known and suspected.

But some are worrying: What exactly constitutes a suspect?

The basic idea behind the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act is to keep firearms out of the hands of the same people who are deemed too dangerous to board plans in the United States, and this bill gives the attorney general the power to do just that, The Blaze reported. If passed, the attorney general would be able to halt transfers and sales of firearms and other explosives to those "known or suspected" terrorists, so long as there is "reasonable belief that the prospective transferee may use a firearm in connection with terrorism," The Blaze said.

Mr. King and Ms. Feinstein see the idea as common sense.

"Federal law already prohibits nine categories of dangerous persons from purchasing or possessing firearms, including the mentally ill and criminals," Mr. King said, The Blaze reported. "Yet, after almost 14 years, we still allow suspected terrorists the ability to purchase firearms. It's time for common sense to prevail before it's too late."

Both Ms. Feinstein and Mr. King asserted that those on terror watch lists were still able to buy guns in 2013 and 2014 about 93 percent of the time.

But Second Amendment watchers say the proposal is a breeding ground of government abuse. One complaint: The text of the bill defines suspected terrorists as anyone who is "appropriately suspected," a term that some say is ripe for watery interpretation, The Blaze said.

The bill has 11 Democratic cosponsors in the Senate and 14 Democratic cosponsors in the House. Mr. King is the sole Republican.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Thought police, coming to a community near you

Thought police, in George Orwell’s dystopian 1949 work, “1984,” were government authorities tasked with rooting out thought crimes – or, the basic mental patterns that were believed to be the genesis for criminal actions – using omnipresent surveillance technologies and intelligence gathering techniques.

Supposedly, that was fiction.

Yet: PredPol is making quite a wave among law enforcement. So is crime mapping. So is AlSight. What are these? In short, technology that fits right in with Orwell’s narrative.

PredPol, short for Predictive Policing, is cloud-based software that takes police incident reports, sifts them through an algorithm and then spits out an analysis of where crimes are most likely to occur on a given shift – and which types of criminal activities are probably going to take place in a given hour. The logic is that officers reporting for their shifts can then use that data and conduct more common sense patrols.

As Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said: “I’m not going to get more money. I’m not going to get more cops. I have to be better at using what I have, and that’s what predictive policing is about.”

Crime mapping, meanwhile, pinpoints the geographical locations of various types of past criminal activities as a way of directing the path of police patrols for the present and future – a sort of intelligence-gathering system. A heavy drug crime area? Send in the drug task force members to conduct undercover buy operations. A rash of home burglaries in the neighborhood? Add extra patrol cars to that part of town.

AlSight, created by the Texas-based BRS Labs, is a bit different – and more Orwellian. This software works in conjunction with data captured on surveillance cameras to first, track and determine what constitutes normal behavior for the area of spy coverage – and second, alert and report those behaviors that step outside the parameters of what’s been determined as normal. The touted beauty of AlSight is that it can take on a human-type consciousness to compare and contrast what’s normal – travelers boarding a train, for example – versus what isn’t – a passenger dropping a bag by a trash barrel and walking away, for instance – and alert the authorities accordingly.

And all three programs are supposed to keep the nation safer – the communities freer of crime. Santa Cruz, Calif, reported a double-digit drop in its crime rate since implementing PredPol. Shreveport just became the second city in Louisiana to adopt crime mapping and call on citizens to help locate the suspect who stole a gun out of a police officer’s patrol car. San Fernando Valley reported substantial drops in burglaries since launching its predictive policing program in 2011. And AlSight has been a monitoring tool of choice for some time for San Francisco’s Municipal Transit Authority, for select spots in Houston, Texas, and for water treatment plants in El Paso.

But the technology brings some queasiness – and constitutional concerns.

Since when is the default operating mode for law enforcement to assume Americans are guilty? Isn’t that, in essence, what these programs, with their catch-all surveillance, and their computerized analytics, are doing – collecting data on citizens who’ve yet to be charged or even suspected of crimes, and then placing at least some of them under targeted police watch?

Innocent until proven guilty used to be the guiding law enforcement light in our republic. Thoughts are not actions – thoughts are never crimes.

Friday, February 6, 2015

How to Select the Next President of the United States

So Mitt Romney’s not running. Hillary Clinton probably is. And the field of Republican candidates who are testing waters, to various degrees, stands in the double digits. How to choose wisely?

As tempting as an “anybody but Obama” mentality might seem, the better rationale – the one that could very well prove the solution to this nation’s political ills – is to consider first and foremost: God.

That’s an odious idea to many, and not just atheists. Plenty of believers still don’t think religion and politics mix; plenty would argue that religion belongs in church and politicians have no business bringing, say, the Bible into their public offices.

But we’re not talking Bible-thumping here. It’s not about preaching the word of God – it’s about living it. It’s about abiding age-old moral precepts and values that don’t change with the times – that have been set in stone by a higher authority – and that teach generation upon generation such ideals as thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit false witness; thou shalt not covet.

Or, how about the godly teachings of remaining humble, and putting service to others above service to self?

Those are qualities and traits that are in dire need on Capitol Hill. Just look at the current White House makeup: Would a president who abided the biblical teaching against lying tell an American public that Obamacare wouldn’t change their doctor? Would a president who actually put service to constituents above the quest for legacy even have shoved Obamacare into law -- or continued to shove it despite the many start-up fails – and dismissed all the poor poll showings and numerous legislative attempts at repeal?

First and foremost, the next president needs to hold himself – or herself – accountable to a higher authority. Why? Because we certainly can’t rein in a runaway president; just look at Obama and his many executive abuses. We need a leader who has the moral maturity and humility of spirit to self-monitor and re-direct as prayerfully prompted.

This is not a new notion for U.S. politicians. One of America’s most iconic images is of George Washington, on bended knee at Valley Forge, in an act of humble prayer.

The idea of a higher authority guiding our nation’s government has been rooted in our system from the start. As most Founding Fathers agreed: The fate of the nation’s freedom rested in the morality of the people.

John Adams: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Fisher Ames: “Our liberty depends on our education, our law, and habits … it is founded on morals and religion.”

Patrick Henry: “Bad men cannot make good citizens. It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains. A vitiated state of morals, a corrupted public conscience, is incompatible with freedom. No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue.”

Good morals, virtuous beliefs, as defined by God – these are the traits we need to look for first in our nation’s presidents. Secondary are their public policy platforms. For a quick cheat-sheet at the polls, just remember this: “Bad men cannot make good citizens,” and sub in the word “leaders” for “citizens.” Politicians who don’t live by a higher moral code and hold themselves accountable to an omnipresent authority – whether Democrat or Republican – are a dime a dozen already. Why should we elect more?

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Obama’s Chicago way with Netanyahu is nothing but a fool’s move

The latest in what’s brewing as the breach-of-protocol tiff between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is that a team of Democrats with ties to the White House have touched down in the Jewish nation, rocked and ready to work on an election campaign – that could actually oust Bibi.

Another example of Obama’s famous Chicago way? Only a short-sighted administration would risk upsetting the hard line rule that Netanyahu represents – and that Israel needs, by the way, in the face of rising nuclear risks from Iran, tensions in Syria and ongoing instability in Egypt. The Islamic State – the recent terror attacks. Is Team Obama so petulant as to put pride before pragmatism?

In a word: yes.

Haaretz wrote that the group V15 – with a reputed mission of “anyone but Bibi” – has joined forces with U.S. political operatives, one of whom, Jeremy Bird, worked as Obama’s field director on his reelection campaign in 2012. The Israeli newspaper headlined its story this way: “The Obama campaign strategist who could break the Israeli elections wide open.”

Newsmax specified the group is made up of five Democrats, under the leadership of Bird. And the Washington Free Beacon, meanwhile, reported that the V15 group was actually working with the U.S.-based OneVoice, an activist organization that’s received two grants from the U.S. State Department in the past year.

OneVoice grants officer Christina Taler said that “we’ve formed a partnership with [V15], but … we’re absolutely nonpartisan. Our biggest emphasis and focus right now is just getting people out to vote.” She insists the OneVoice partnership with the anti-Bibi V15 group is simply a matter of convenience and manpower; the more who’ve united to knock on doors and get out the vote, the better.

Yes – because being perceived as using taxpayer dollars to fund a political campaign to drive Netanyahu from office would appear unseemly to most Americans, wouldn’t it? Taler denied in the Washington Free Beacon report that any grant dollars were being used for the Israeli election efforts. Still, the unseemliness of the White House ties to an anti-Bibi campaign isn’t a small thing. The team of White House-tied Democrats arrived in the Jewish nation just shortly after Obama decried Netanyahu’s acceptance of Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to speak before Congress.

Perhaps “decried” is a soft word. Rather, the White House came out swinging, putting on its Chicago way – its braggadocio and bravado – and, via an unnamed senior U.S. official, issued this statement: “There are things you simply don’t do. [Netanyahu] spat in our face publicly and that’s no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency and that there will be a price.”

Really? What price would that be – that Obama won’t support Netanyahu? That already seems to be taking place, on the very grounds of Israel in the very lead up to the March elections.

Whether the timing of the Democratic landing for the anti-Bibi voter drive is coincidental – or whether it was actually driven by Obama’s anger with the Jewish leader for what the White House considers a serious breach of visiting protocol – is secondary to this: An Israel without the bold governance of Netanyahu at this time would be an even more dangerous place.

An American leadership that doesn’t see that reality, and that is, directly or with silent cheers, pressing forth an anti-Bibi campaign, is only working a fool’s deed that could lead to a dangerous tip in Middle East politics – in favor of evil-doers and terrorists.