Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, June 27, 2013 9:32 pm

Guess why the IRS only targeted Tea Party groups

Because Darrell Issa told it to, that’s why:

The Treasury inspector general (IG) whose report helped drive the IRS targeting controversy says it limited its examination to conservative groups because of a request from House Republicans.

A spokesman for Russell George, Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration, said they were asked by House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) “to narrowly focus on Tea Party organizations.”The inspector general’s audit found that groups seeking tax-exempt status with “Tea Party” and “patriots” in their name did receive extra attention from the IRS, with some facing years of delay and inappropriate questions from the agency.

But top congressional Democrats have wielded new information from the IRS this week that liberal groups were also flagged for extra attention on the sorts of “be on the lookout” lists (BOLOs) that also tripped up conservative groups.

The spokesman for the Treasury inspector general noted their audit acknowledged there were other watch lists. But the spokesman added: “We did not review the use, disposition, purpose or content of the other BOLOs. That was outside the scope of our audit.”

The admission from the inspector general comes as Democrats have sharpened their criticism of George, with Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) dubbing the audit fundamentally flawed on Monday.

Levin, the top Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, stressed to The Hill on Tuesday that the inspector general did not say the audit was limited to Tea Party groups when it was released in mid-May.

The Michigan Democrat also maintained that the audit’s shortcoming had emboldened Republicans to try to link the targeting of Tea Party groups to the White House.

“You need to get at the facts. And those facts weren’t given to us, even when asked,” Levin said. “The Republicans used the failure of the IG to spell out what they knew as an opportunity to totally politicize this.”

No. You can’t be serious. Darrell Issa politicize something? Issa withhold material information so as to propagate a falsehood widely? Never in a million years.

You know, I’ve been saying that to the best of my knowledge, which I’ll admit isn’t comprehensive, what went on at the IRS went on because of the disproportionately larger number of GOP-leaning tax-exempt groups created since Citizens United. Other people insisted, however, that the disproportionate focus on Tea Party groups meant this wasn’t accidental, that it was part of a conspiracy. Well, they were right and I was wrong. But I’m pretty sure a conspiracy originating with Darrell Issa wasn’t what they meant.

Now why, you ask, would as high a ranking GOP member as Issa do such a thing? I’ll tell you why. The Tea Party is basically indistinguishable from the wingnut GOP base. And while the GOP leadership is perfectly happy to use those rank-and-file people during elections, the only agenda item they really care about is hoovering more money upward to the rich. That’s all. Nothing else. The Tea Party people have a somewhat more complicated agenda, and for them to gain too much power in the party would mean interference with, or at least distraction from, the top agenda item.

So, if you’re a Tea Party member, remember this: Barack Obama didn’t sic the IRS on you. Darrell Issa did. And he did it because he wants your money, end of story. You vote however you want, but you need to be sure to take that fact into the voting booth with you when you do.

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Monday, June 24, 2013 6:12 pm

“This is a uniquely bad time to buy a house.”

I’m not in the market, and if Mike Whitney’s reporting is accurate, you shouldn’t be, either:

… nearly 5 million homes are either seriously delinquent or in some stage of foreclosure. This unseen backlog of distressed homes makes up the so called “shadow inventory” which is still big enough to send prices plunging if even a small portion was released onto the market.   In other words, supply vastly exceeds demand in real terms. Now check this out from Zillow:

“13 million homeowners with a mortgage remain underwater. Moreover, the effective negative equity rate nationally —where the loan-to-value ratio is more than 80%, making it difficult for a homeowner to afford the down payment on another home — is 43.6% of homeowners with a mortgage.” (Zillow)

This might sound a bit confusing, but it’s crucial to understanding what’s really going on. While many people know that 13 million homeowners are underwater on their mortgages,  they probably don’t know that nearly half (43.6%) of the potential “move up” buyers (who represent the bulk of organic sales) don’t have enough equity in their homes to buy another house.  Think about that. Like we said,  housing sales depend almost entirely on two groups of buyers; firsttime homebuyers and move up buyers. Unfortunately, the number of potential move up buyers has been effectively cut in half.  It’s simply impossible for prices to keep rising with so many move up buyers on the ropes.

So, if “repeat” buyers cannot support current prices, then what about the other “demand cohort”,  that is, first-time home buyers?

It looks like demand is weak there, too. According to housing analyst Mark Hanson: “First-timer home volume hit a fresh 4-year lows last month and distressed sales 6-year lows”.

So, no help there either. First-time homebuyers are vanishing due to a number of factors, the biggest of which is the $1 trillion in student loans which is preventing debt-hobbled young people from filling the ranks of the first-time homebuyers. Given the onerous nature of these loans, which cannot be discharged through bankruptcy, many of these people will never own a home which, of course, means that demand will continue to weaken, sales will drop and prices will fall.

Now, despite these appalling numbers, he notes, foreclosures are down by a third from this time last year. Is it because the housing market is really any better? Nope. It’s because the fewer foreclosures the banks follow through on, the fewer losses they have to report, the more profitable they seem and the bigger the bonuses their executives can then claim. The technical term for this behavior is “securities fraud,” and it looks as if every major bank is involved to a greater or lesser degree.

But by all means, let’s reduce enforcement on banks and mortgage companies. Free markets! Murca, hail yeah! Who cares if millions of homeowners and would-be homeowners get hurt?

Friday, June 21, 2013 6:53 pm

The George Zimmerman pool

I wish I were more optimistic than John Cole about the likeliest outcome of George Zimmerman’s trial, but I’m not:

He’ll get acquitted, there will be civil unrest, the usual suspects will show up and there will be marches and counter-marches, and then, of course, because he is black and supposed to heal several centuries of racial wounds, our failed media experiment will demand that Obama make peace for America and “seriously” address racial issues.

Side note- Because I want to save you all some time, I will seriously address racial issues in America right now. There are a lot of racist motherf—–s who think there is no problem killing a black kid with an ice tea and Skittles because he was walking while black in a gated community. There. That’s the f—ing truth, and sadly, it ends there.

So John is opening up a betting pool:

Who will be the media [jerks] demanding Obama get involved in this (because, you know, he is black). Or who will say his was a failed Presidency because there are still racist peckerneck douchebags still running around half the country? Maureen Dowd? The Politico? Tapper? Harwood? Cilizza? Noonan? Fournier? Red State? National Review?

Place your bets in the comments at the link above. Winner gets a … well, I don’t know what the winner gets, other than a rep for having depressingly accurate insight into our 21st-century media.

Thursday, June 20, 2013 7:24 pm

Hospital layoffs are bad, but some things are even worse

Back in ’06 or ’07, I was sitting in an office with senior Moses Cone Health System officials here in Greensboro. They were telling me how much growth they expected and how much hiring, particularly of nurses, they were going to be doing. Regardless of what the rest of the economy was doing, they said, the aging of the Baby Boom was likely to keep the health-care industry growing for quite a while.

Obviously, many things have happened since then, including the Little Depression, the Affordable Care Act and, at flagship Moses Cone Hospital, a new tower. But this week, Cone Health said it would be cutting 300 positions, or 3 percent of its work force, and half of those cuts would be through layoffs, at an expected overall savings of $3 $30 million annually. I say this with nothing but sympathy for both the soon-to-be-jobless employees and the larger organization. I and every member of my immediate family have had multiple experiences with various parts of  Cone Health, and certain billing aggravations aside, I have nothing but good things to say about the organization, its employees and the care we got.

I don’t know whether the layoffs are the right or wrong thing to do in this case. But Cone Health is a not-for-profit organization. Imagine how bad things could get if our monopoly local health system were for-profit.

That’s not rhetorical. Go on, imagine it. I’ll give you a second.

OK, now read this:

A surgeon at Chicago’s Sacred Heart Hospital cut a hole in Earl Nattee’s throat on Jan. 3, the day before he died. It’s not clear why.

The medical file contained no explanation of the need for the procedure, called a tracheotomy, according to a state and federal inspection report that quotes Sacred Heart’s chief nursing officer as saying it happened “out of the blue.” Tracheotomies are typically used to open an air passage directly to the windpipe for patients who can’t breathe otherwise.

Now, amid a federal investigation into allegations of unneeded tracheotomies at the hospital, Nattee’s daughter, Antoinette Hayes, wonders whether her father was a pawn in what an FBI agent called a scheme to defraud Medicare and Medicaid.

“My daddy said, ‘They’re killing me,’” Hayes recalled, in reference to the care he received at the hospital.

Based in part on surreptitious tape recordings, an FBI affidavit lays out allegations that a Sacred Heart pulmonologist kept patients too sedated to breathe on their own, then ordered unneeded tracheotomies for them — enabling the for-profit hospital to reap revenue of as much as $160,000 per case.

The Sacred Heart case is unusual because of the troubling nature of some of the allegations, said Ryan Stumphauzer, a former federal health care fraud prosecutor in Miami who reviewed the affidavit. “A typical indictment might allege phantom billing or improper coding,” he said. “This complaint alleges the hospital and doctors were performing unnecessary invasive surgery to justify false billing.”

It’s also unusual to have recordings from cooperating witnesses, he said, “but it is always very difficult to challenge a physician’s judgment.”

The government has already charged Sacred Heart owner Edward Novak, his chief financial officer and five physicians with Medicare fraud, in a criminal complaint alleging that they gave or received kickbacks in return for patient referrals.

A physician and two Sacred Heart administrators worked with federal investigators, secretly taping conversations with other hospital staff members, according to the complaint. The 90-page FBI affidavit includes a quote attributed to Novak saying tracheotomies were the hospital’s “biggest money maker.” The hospital’s pulmonologist, or respiratory specialist, is quoted as saying during an April conversation that Novak asked him “to provide two more tracheotomy cases for the hospital soon,” before inspectors — who had visited the hospital in March — returned.

It’s like the script for a bad conspiracy thriller (or a Michael Crichton novel, but I repeat myself). And it apparently was going on at for-profit, and ironically named, Sacred Heart. Real doctors who had sworn the Hippocratic oath were cutting unnecessary holes in living human bodies for six figures a pop, and some of those patients died from it.

Fraud charges are good, but they’re really only a good start. If we’re going to have a death penalty, these are the people who should be getting it. They’re going to have eternity to talk shop with Josef Mengele, so we shouldn’t waste any time letting that conversation begin.

Thanks to Jeff Sykes for catching a rather significant typo.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013 6:10 pm

How to read conservative articles on cultural issues

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 6:10 pm
Tags:

By Cerberus at Sadly, No!:

I’m going to try and read this as if it actually was a good faith argument and statement about marriage and not the single most transparent attempt to freak out over the death of the patriarchal model of “Father Knows Best” sitcom fairy tales of what a “father” is “supposed” to mean if you uppity little snot-nosed brats know what’s good for you.

And good luck with that.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013 7:06 pm

I have one question about the so-called “gender gap”: Why isn’t it bigger?

Prominent, powerful Republicans in large numbers have made it clear they don’t think women have the right to control their own bodies. Doubt me? Well, check out this handy-dandy reference guide, ItsNotJustAkin.com. The drop-down* menu features dozens of GOP bigwigs, not all of them men, who have said things about women’s rights that were anywhere from butt-ignorant to sociopathic. It might be one of the more important timesucks you encounter between now and November 2014.

(h/t: My sister Jane)

*In the mobile version.

Friday, June 7, 2013 5:01 am

Matt Yglesias gets shrill. And real.

We’ve heard a lot of bullshit these past several years about Social Security, so as an antitoxin, here’s Matt Yglesias:

The Powers That Be hate Social Security and always will because it’s a program whose entire purpose is to pay people money not to work. That’s not a perverse consequence of Social Security. It’s not a contentious partisan claim about Social Security. It’s not a dubious interpretation of what Social Security is all about. That’s the point. It’s to give people money so they can retire with dignity. “Retire” being a fancy word for “not working.” You’re never ever going to persuade business leaders to stop agitating for cuts in a program that has this feature. Business leaders want people to work! At a minimum, if people are hoping to not work, business leaders are going to want people to save (i.e., loan funds to business leaders) in order to achieve that purpose. Taxing people who are working in order to pay money so that people can enjoy retired life in peace is the antithesis of everything business elites want out of public policy.

And guess what we haven’t done during this era of changing projections? We haven’t cut Social Security benefits. We haven’t raised the age at which people become eligible for Medicare. We’ve done things to reduce budget deficits, in other words, but we haven’t really acted to make it tougher for people to retire. But people don’t like to say they want to make it hard for people to retire so instead they talk about “the deficit,” and they’re not going to stop.

The Powers that Be have had their way for way too long. I think it’s time that the rest of America slapped them and told them to shut their whore mouths.

 

Thursday, June 6, 2013 6:07 pm

Oh, now he’s troubled. Jackass.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner: “As the author of the Patriot Act, I am extremely troubled by the FBI’s interpretation of this legislation.”

Why now, Jim? Didn’t bother you 12 years ago. Didn’t bother you all through the Bush administration. If you had the sense God gave a billy goat and/or were awake in eighth-grade civics, not only wouldn’t you have written the Patriot Act, you’d have opposed it with all your resources and at the top of your lungs, you sorry sack of slime. Lots of very smart people, plus me, told you at the time that this was a wrong call and that it would, inevitably, be misused to justify flat-out crimes. You ignored us. Well, screw you. I hope the government scooped up all your calls and I desperately hope that evidence of a serious crime lies therein. You bent the Bill of Rights over your desk and raped it. The rest of your life in prison is too good for you.

 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 6:03 am

Andy Duncan: Seventh time’s the charm

My friend and former co-worker Andy Duncan, about whom I’ve written a time or two, is what those of us who write for a living call a real writer. I mean, yeah, we’re good enough to put food on our tables with writing in some form or fashion, but we also stare at the work of Andy and writers like him, shake our heads, and mutter, “Daaaaaamn …” Writing is a craft, and a lot of people without any special gifts can become, like me, good, workmanlike writers. Lots of writing and rewriting for 30 years, with some decent editing along the way, can, indeed, allow you to wake up one day at the age of 50 and say to yourself, “Why, yes, I am a writer.” But as far as hard work can take you, you also need a gift to break the surly bonds of Earth and go out into space, where the stars and the nebulae lie.

Andy works as hard at his writing as anyone I know, and harder than most. So do I, for that matter. But Andy has the gift.

Andy’s fiction falls into the general area of sci-fi and fantasy, but much of it is as firmly rooted in the American South and its storytelling traditions as are the work of Faulkner or Agee or O’Connor. When he writes about a blues musician in Hell, Hell is the Mississippi Delta. When he writes a ghost story, it’s set in the Depression-era studios of WBT-AM in Charlotte, with painstaking details that match up with what that studio really was like then. And when an anthology editor got in touch with him once, wondering whether he might have a story on the shelf that involved someone having sex with a ghost, he reported, “I was both proud and ashamed to admit that I had three.”

Six times my friend has been nominated for a Nebula Award, the top prize given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for outstanding work. Six times he was the bridesmaid, not the bride. But 2012 was different: His story “Close Encounters” won the Nebula Award this past weekend for Best Novelette.* What kind of company does that put him in? Well, let’s just say you’ll recognize some of these names even if you’ve never read a sci-fi or fantasy work in your life (and although I’m generally not a fan of the genre, I freely admit that far too many people haven’t). I’ll let him explain the rest of it.

Congratulations, my friend. You are, now and forever, Nebula Award-winning writer Andy Duncan. You’re also a helluva great guy, although they don’t give out cool trophies with astronomical bodies embedded in them for that, more’s the pity.

*A novelette is between 7,500 and 17,499 words. A novella is between 17,500 and 39,999 words. Anything shorter than a novelette is a story. Anything longer than a novella is a novel. You’re welcome.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 6:53 pm

Whack-a-mole

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 6:53 pm
Tags: ,

I’m poking my head up from underground only briefly. It’s been a month: The busiest time of year at work, my own projects and term papers to turn in, and then comprehensive exams in my master’s program, on which I only got official notification of my final grade Sunday. I still have a capstone project to finish by December, and we’re redesigning the website at work. So: though there’s plenty I’d like to say about tornadoes, Benghazi, the IRS and wiretapping, much of it critical of the government, no blogging from me.

But I did stumble across a nice quote I wanted to share on joblessness, the most serious threat facing this country besides climate change. It comes from the low-tech cyclist at Cogitamus:

The problem is, the ability to create widespread abundance doesn’t mean abundance will actually be widespread.  Right now, in the U.S.A. of 2013, we could have an economy where everybody’s working, and where we’re producing a lot more stuff than we are now.  But we’re not in that alternate reality, because many see the economy as a morality play where we’ve got to suffer for our previous (and largely imagined) excesses, and other movers and shakers are simply dead set against a world where people have better choices than to do their bidding.  Many of the people who run our world are quite happy for our economy to run at well under peak efficiency, so long as it puts them and their interests in the driver’s seat.

It’s time to take back the wheel.

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