Friday, July 11, 2014

Some members of the armed services, all of whom are currently deployed in war zones, will soon be notified by the Defense Department that they will be involuntarily discharged from the military at the end of their current tours. Why? “Budget cuts.” It’s as simple as that. Shockingly, too, hundreds of Army captains have already been handed the devastating news, according to the New York Post, and more officers are expected to get it, if they haven't already, soon enough.

For obvious reasons, this is an outrageous and heartless way to “thank” combat veterans:
What is astonishing is that the Defense Department thought it would be appropriate to notify deployed soldiers — men and women risking their lives daily in combat zones — that they’ll be laid off after their current deployment. 
As one Army wife posted on, “On some level I knew the drawdowns were inevitable, but I guess I never expected to be simultaneously worried about a deployment to Afghanistan and a pink slip because my husband’s service is no longer needed.”
Awful. To put things in perspective, the government wasted some $100 billion last year alone on frivolous expenditures, and yet it can’t even wait long enough to lay off combat veterans until they’re out of harm’s way? The author describes the Defense Department’s handling of this situation as a “stunning act of callousness.” True. But I’d go a step further, and say its actions are a stunning act of cowardice. This is no way to treat American combat veterans.

And yet, as we’ve seen with the unfolding VA scandal, and now this, combat veterans are often forgotten and mistreated by the same government that purports to represent them. It’s not fair and it’s not right, and Congress should be doing everything in its power to ensure these men and women are taken care of after they retire. Right?

The American people are continuing to struggle with economic uncertainty and are perplexed as to what it’s going to take to turn the economy around. Recent Department of Commerce (DOC) figures are depressing and don’t help for optimism as consumer spending suffered a 0.1 percent decrease in May, adjusting for inflation. This comes on the heels of a 0.2 percent drop in April. It’s no wonder that Americans are reluctant to part with their hard-earned money given the state of the economy at large.

Last week, we were treated to yet another grim reminder that our so-called “recovery” is more like anything but. According to DOC’s most recent review of the data, the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) shrank 2.9 percent in the first quarter of 2014. GDP is critically important because it measures the market value of the goods and services produced by a nation. And while 2.9 percent may not seem like a massive drop, it happens to be the worst such contraction in five years.

The Wall Street Journal provided even greater context, pointing out that the economy performed worse in this quarter than those in which the 9/11 terror attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the implosion of Lehman Brothers occurred. According to their analysis, for the economy to catch up with its previous growth rate, it would need to grow at a rate of more than four percent for the remaining three quarters of 2014, which the Journal said hasn’t happened in over ten years.

Getting our economy moving again is certainly a challenge, but the United States does have one secret weapon in the fight against stagnation which we have yet to deploy: our full international trading power. By passing Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation, Congress can work with President Obama to finalize crucial trade agreements so that American goods and services can flow more freely around the world, supporting domestic jobs and giving our economy the boost it so desperately needs. Unfortunately, TPA has been held up for far too long because of shortsighted political calculation.

Passage of this legislation would help the United States hammer out trade agreements with both new and existing trading partners. Our trade with Europe would increase via the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and we would trade more with Asian and South American allies through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). We sent $2.3 trillion worth of quality American goods and services around the world last year, and these two trade agreements would only enhance our trading clout. And that means maintaining support for the 38 million American jobs – one in every five – which depend on international trade. But trade isn’t immune to economic forces either – the recent Commerce Department report stated that U.S. exports declined by nearly nine percent. This downward trend must be reversed.

The problem lies with members of the President’s own party. Democratic leadership in both houses of Congress, Harry Reid in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House, have vowed to block TPA legislation. Earlier this year, Pelosi said it was “out of the question.” Not at all coincidentally, TPA is also opposed by Big Labor. The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) President Richard Trumka has been an especially strident critic, taking to Twitter to state that his organization “opposes the TPA legislation in the strongest of terms and will actively work to block its passage.” As union membership – and hence, union dues – continue to decline, labor bosses have reason to fear an expansion of free trade. It only accelerates Big Labor’s inevitable fall into irrelevance. That’s been a long time coming; however, it’s shameful for union bosses like Trumka to put their own interests above those of the American workers whose jobs depend on international trade.

But Big Labor won’t get the message as long as Washington politicians like Reid and Pelosi – who take plenty of union campaign contributions – keep heeding their every last word. The President has the power to lean on members of his own party to pass TPA, which would remove roadblocks to trade expansion and give our economy a much-needed shot in the arm. The recent dip in GDP should make clear to him that the time for such action is now.

Lois Lerner Email Found — Warning That Congress Might Read Her Emails

By Todd Beamon

Image: Lois Lerner Email Found — Warning That Congress Might Read Her Emails

But her caution came back to bite her Wednesday as Rep. Darrell Issa released her email that warned about the dangers of such electronic communications.

"I was cautioning folks about email and how we have several occasions where Congress has asked for emails," Lerner wrote on April 9, 2013. "We need to be cautious about what we say in emails."

Lerner's message was written 12 days after she read a draft report on the targeting of tea party and conservative groups by the IRS inspector general and suggested that top agency officials communicated among themselves via an instant-messaging system that was not regularly archived.

Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, released the email at a hearing with IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. The documents were turned over to the panel last week, more than a year after the Oversight Committee subpoenaed all documents relating to the targeting scandal that began in 2010 and continued through the 2012 presidential election.

Among the groups singled out for special scrutiny were the Tea Party Patriots; True the Vote, the voter-rights organization based in Houston, and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, the nonprofit political group advised by Republican strategist Karl Rove.

Lerner retired last year as head of the unit that screened the nonprofit groups' applications for tax-exempt status. She was held in contempt of Congress in May for refusing to testify before Issa's committee.

The IRS disclosed last month that it had lost thousands of Lerner's emails because her computer crashed in the summer of 2011. The hard drives of at least seven other employees connected to the tea party investigation also crashed.

Koskinen has acknowledged to lawmakers that Lerner's hard drive was recycled and presumably destroyed. Backup tapes also were routinely reused after six months.

The IRS generated 24,000 Lerner emails from 2009 to 2011 for investigators because she had copied in other agency employees. The IRS had said that it pieced together the emails from the computers of 83 other workers.

The new Lerner emails will further fuel Republican charges of a cover-up at the embattled agency. Koskinen took the helm in December.

The April 2013 email trail began with Lerner's query to Maria Hooke, an IRS technology employee, and Nanette Downing, the manager of the unit that evaluated the applications. Lerner referenced "conversations" by "OCS" — the Microsoft instant-messaging system the IRS used.

Lerner apparently was concerned about whether such messages were regularly saved and could be part of any subpoena for data by congressional investigators.

"Someone asked if OCS conversations were also searchable — I don’t know, but told them I would get back to them," she said in the email, which was sent at 1:50 p.m. "Do you know?"

"OCS messages are not set to automatically save as the standard; however the functionality exists within the software," Hooke responded at 2:45 p.m. "That being said the parties involved in an OCS conversation can copy and save the contents of the conversation to an email or file."

Hooke then noted that such conversations could be saved — and included in a congressional subpoena.

"To date, OCS conversations are not specifically identified as part of the Electronic Data Request … for information, however, if one of the parties saved the conversation as an email or file they would become part of the electronic search.

"My general recommendation is to treat the conversation as if it could/is being saved somewhere, as it is possible for either party of the conversation to retain the information and have it turn up as part of an electronic search," Hooke concluded. "Make sense?"

"Perfect," Lerner replied at 2:51 p.m.

Lerner's April 2013 e-mails came 12 days after the inspector general gave her a draft of his audit on the targeting scandal. She later disclosed the scandal in response to a planted question at an American Bar Association meeting.

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, one of the Oversight Committee's GOP members, challenged Koskinen about the Lerner emails. The IRS chief responded that he had never seen the document and that he was unfamiliar with the instant-messaging system.

The Oversight Committee is one of three congressional panels investigating the IRS scandal. The others are the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.

The Justice Department and the IRS inspector general are also conducting investigations.