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A Nation That Is 'Boston Strong'

8 hours 27 min ago

Photo: CJ GUNTHER/EPA/Newscom

After the bombing shattered the Boston Marathon last year, hundreds of runners left their shoes behind in a spontaneous memorial. Many wrote messages on them.

Those are now part of an exhibit at the Boston Public Library—but thousands of people added pairs of their own running shoes to an outdoor memorial in addition to cards and flowers over the past few days.

Boston was a tragic reminder that terrorists still seek to do us harm, but the survivors have amazed the country. Brothers Paul and J.P. Norden each lost a leg in the attack last year. Yesterday, CNN reported that they set out to walk the 26.2-mile marathon route with family and friends.

As President Obama said: “One year later, we also stand in awe of the men and women who continue to inspire us—learning to stand, walk, dance and run again.”

Following memorials in Boston yesterday, this year’s marathon will take place on April 21. It will be the second-largest in the history of the race, with 36,000 official participants. Security will be tighter; spectators won’t be able to join in and run alongside registered runners, and there will be restrictions on bringing backpacks into the area.

Those changes show the continued adaptability of security and law enforcement personnel on the ground—who responded bravely to the bombing last year. It is imperative that individual Americans remain vigilant and that our leaders continue to take a proactive approach to stopping terrorism.

Photo: Yin Bogu Xinhua News Agency/Newscom

Terrorists have succeeded in attacking the U.S. homeland four times since 9/11, including the Boston Marathon bombing, which killed three people and wounded at least 264 others. But more than 50 plots have been thwarted before the public was in danger. At the one-year anniversary of the Boston attack, it is worth taking a moment to be thankful for all the safe events the nation has held in the past year.

And thank you, Boston, for leading the way—for reminding us all that the people of your city, and America, will not be intimidated.

“It is time to take back Boylston Street and to take back the finish line,” said race director Dave McGillivray. “It is time to run again.”

Read the Morning Bell and more en español every day at Heritage Libertad.

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The post A Nation That Is 'Boston Strong' appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation.

Rendering to God What Is God’s

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 16:11

Photo: Getty Images

This year tax day falls on Tuesday of the Christian Holy Week—the day on which, according to the Gospel accounts, Jesus was asked about paying taxes to Caesar.

Using an age-old political tactic, Jesus’ opponents posed a question that’s answer was sure to alienate some segment of the public. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” asked the Pharisees and Herodians. The tribute tax was a reminder of Roman subjugation of Israel. If Jesus endorsed the tribute it would turn the crowd against him—the same people who had just given him the first century version of a ticker-tape parade, welcoming him to Jerusalem. On the other hand, refusing to answer could lead to charges of insurrection against the Roman overlords.

After asking for the Roman coin used to pay the tax, Jesus responds with a question of his own: “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” The coin featured a profile of Caesar. Jesus’ last word in the episode is well known: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

It was a powerful message about ultimate allegiance and civil authority. One of the first truths taught in the Bible is that human beings are made in the image of God. Jesus’ lesson was clear: If Caesar could claim a coin made in his image, God’s claim went to their very lives. That was a tribute the Pharisees and Herodians, like Caesar, had failed to render properly. They were already seeking a way to end Jesus’ life and, in a matter of days, the Romans would crucify him—so denying the authority of the One who sent him.

Today we have a strong sense that civil authority must not demand—and religious believers should not render to it—ultimate allegiance. Conscience should be free to respond to a higher authority. The founding of the United States was especially concerned with such limits. Our constitutional order was designed to allow citizens to reconcile dual allegiances to God and to civil authority without forcing believers to abandon or moderate their primary loyalty to God. The First Amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion.

Throughout American history we have had a robust understanding of religious liberty. It includes the freedom to speak and act publicly according to the dictates of one’s faith. But, more recently, some have characterized this liberty as the freedom of worship—that is, privately, within the four walls of a sanctuary or private home.

During this Holy Week two families who seek to run their businesses consistent with their faith await a verdict from the U.S. Supreme Court. The Obamacare HHS mandate requires the Greens, who own Hobby Lobby; the Hahns of Conestoga Wood Specialties; and nearly all other employers to provide coverage for abortion-inducing drugs and devices in their health plans. Coverage of such life-ending means would violate the religious convictions (evangelical and Mennonite, respectively) of these two families.

The Supreme Court heard their case last month and is expected to issue a decision by the end of June. This is a ruling that will affect not just the Greens and the Hahns, but our government’s understanding of what it means to respect citizens’ freedom to continue rendering to God what is God’s.

The post Rendering to God What Is God’s appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation.

Ukraine Takes Action to Quell Russian-Provoked Unrest

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 15:57

Photo: Pochuyev Mikhail Itar-Tass Photos/Newscom

Today, the Ukrainian military began “anti-terror” operations to wrest control of some eastern police stations and government buildings from pro-Russian militants who had seized these installations during the previous week. These militants, along with suspected Russian Special Forces, have stirred up unrest in cities in eastern Ukraine, capturing government buildings and demanding additional autonomy and closer relations with Russia. The U.S. can take steps to help mitigate the impact of Russia’s asymmetrical warfare; however, we must also be prepared to respond should Russia opt for a full-scale military invasion against Ukraine. Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine has made one thing very clear: the Russian reset is dead, a fact that Michael McFaul, the author of the Russian reset policy, admitted to in a recent interview. Moving forward, the U.S. must recognize Russia for what it is: a strategic competitor. In order to achieve its goals, Russia is willing to use brute military force, as demonstrated by its invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, or asymmetrical warfare, such as it is currently employing in the remainder of Ukraine. The U.S. must strongly condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine, reiterate our commitment to NATO allies in Eastern Europe, and take strong, affirmative steps to raise the costs of any further Russian military incursions into Ukraine. Crimea needs to be a wakeup call for the Obama administration; strategies must be in place to respond swiftly and strongly to any further full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Furthermore, the U.S. must reassure our NATO allies in Europe that the U.S. can be counted on. Even if the crisis in Ukraine dies down, U.S.-Russia relations moving forward must change. As Heritage notes:

Russia’s behavior is a direct violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and a full invasion of the rest of the country should come at a high price for Russia both diplomatically and economically. Regardless of further aggression, the U.S. should change the way it deals with Moscow.

Despite the wishful thinking from the Obama administration, Russia today is not a helpful, honest partner for peace and stability. Indeed, Europe remains important, and U.S. leadership and military strength on the continent remain vital to U.S. national interests. The U.S. must enact strong, strategic policies toward Russia that will hopefully mitigate ongoing Russian actions in eastern Ukraine, and raise the cost of any further military incursion, while securing for our allies in NATO their own territorial integrity and sovereignty against any future Russian hostility.

The post Ukraine Takes Action to Quell Russian-Provoked Unrest appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation.

2014 Tax Day Chart: Who Pays the Most?

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 14:41

Which taxpayers experience the greatest tax burden—and who pays the most in taxes?

As Americans navigated the labyrinthine tax code this Tax Day, many taxpayers were hit with the President’s myriad tax increases that have contributed to the country’s quickly recovering revenues.

Despite calls for more taxes on the rich, this Heritage chart reveals that the recent increases disproportionately affect the working wealthy. The top 10 percent of all income earners paid 71 percent of federal income taxes in 2010, yet they earned 45 percent of all federal income. Compare that to the bottom 50 percent of earners, who earn 12 percent of income yet pay only 2 percent of federal income taxes.

So when Obama and advocates of higher federal taxes opine that the rich do not pay their “fair share,” they are correct—affluent income-earners pay a whole lot more than they would pay if we had a proportional tax code instead of the highly progressive one we have today.

While taxes have increased for most taxpayers, the wealthy are increasingly shouldering the federal burden relative to the rest of the population. The Wall Street Journal’s John McKinnon notes that this burden has shifted largely as a result of the changes passed at the start of 2013 during the fiscal cliff debates. These changes include a “bump in the top ordinary income rate to 39.6% from 35%, a limit on itemized deductions and an increase in the top rate on investment income.”

But all taxpayers faced an average tax increase of 1.8 percent in 2013. Indeed, Heritage expert Curtis Dubay found out that there were 13 increases that kicked in at the beginning of the year, six of which came on the coattails of Obamacare. Taxpayers also face state and local tax burdens that remain high in much of the country and the prospect of rising payroll taxes in the future.

In addition to stifling economic growth, many of these new taxes—especially those on income—penalize success and discourage work. As Dubay has written, it is imperative to reform these issues in the code so families can earn more “but would not pay higher marginal tax rates on their higher earnings. The tax code would not punish families as it does today for being more successful and for earning higher compensation because they are more productive.”

Reform represents a pro-growth agenda that would encourage work and savings much more than the current system, which mostly rewards those who can best exploit the arbitrary breaks in the tax code. If President Obama and Congress are serious about creating a more just and efficient code—in which everyone paid his “fair share”—they should reform the code rather than levying more taxes on Americans and further complicating the system with additional rules.

 

The post 2014 Tax Day Chart: Who Pays the Most? appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation.

2014 Tax Day Chart: Who Pays the Most?

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 14:15

Which taxpayers experience the greatest tax burden—and who pays the most in taxes?

As Americans navigated the labyrinthine tax code ahead of tax day, many felt the sting of the President’s myriad tax increases.

Despite calls for more taxes on the rich, the Heritage chart shown above reveals that the recent tax increases disproportionately affect the working wealthy. The top 10 percent of all income earners paid 71 percent of federal income taxes in 2010, yet they earned 45 percent of all federal income. Compare that to the bottom 50 percent of earners, who earn 12 percent of income yet pay only 2 percent of federal income taxes.

So when Obama and advocates of higher federal taxes opine that the rich do not pay their “fair share,” they are correct—affluent income-earners pay a whole lot more than they would pay if we had a proportional tax code instead of the highly progressive one we have today.

While taxes have increased for most taxpayers, the wealthy are—relative to the rest of the population—increasingly shouldering the federal tax burden. The Wall Street Journal’s John McKinnon notes that this burden has shifted largely as a result of the tax changes passed at the start of 2013 during the fiscal cliff debates. These changes include a “bump in the top ordinary income rate to 39.6% from 35%, a limit on itemized deductions and an increase in the top rate on investment income.”

But the tax misery is not limited only to the well-to-do. All taxpayers faced an average tax increase of 1.8 percent in 2013. Indeed, Heritage tax expert Curtis Dubay uncovered no less than 13 tax increases that kicked in at the beginning of the year, six of which came on the coattails of Obamacare. Taxpayers also face state and local tax burdens that remain high in much of the country, as well as the prospect of rising payroll taxes in the future.

In addition to stifling economic growth, many of these new taxes—especially those on income—penalize success and discourage work. As Dubay has written, it is imperative to reform the tax code because families would be able to earn more, “but would not pay higher marginal tax rates on their higher earnings. The tax code would not punish families as it does today for being more successful and for earning higher compensation because they are more productive.”

Reform represents a pro-growth agenda that would encourage work and savings to a far greater extent than the current system, which rewards those who can best exploit the arbitrary breaks in the tax code. If President Obama and Congress were serious about creating a more just and efficient tax code—in which everyone paid his “fair share”—they would reform the tax code, rather than levying more taxes on Americans and further complicating the system with additional rules.

The post 2014 Tax Day Chart: Who Pays the Most? appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation.

Federal Agency Loses Money Selling Government Reports. The Catch? They’re Already Free

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 13:42

Photo: Getty Images

A federal agency selling government reports that are otherwise free is the target of a new bill meant to curtail government waste.

“With a money-losing profit model only the government could design, the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) sells free government reports to other federal agencies and the public—at a loss,” said Senator Tom Coburn (R–Okla.), who is co-sponsoring the bill with Senator Claire McCaskill (D–Mo.), in conjunction with Representative Jim Bridenstine (R–Okla.) and Representative Henry Cuellar (D–Texas).

Introduced earlier this month, the Let Me Google That For You Act notes that NTIS is “tasked with collecting and distributing government-funded scientific, technical, engineering, and business-related information and reports” despite losing “about $1.3 million over the last 11 years on its products.”

GAO investigations revealed that NTIS “sold only 8 percent of the 2,500,000 reports in its collection between 1995 and 2000.”

Between 1990 and 2011, about 74 percent of its reports “were readily available from other public sources,” and 95 percent of those “were available free of charge.”

Coburn sent a letter to NTIS requesting that publications such as his own Wastebook—an annual publication about wasteful federal spending—be made available for free. NTIS offers the 2011 copy for $48.

The new bill, which calls for the termination of NTIS operations, is currently being considered in committee.

According to Bridenstine, “Only the Federal Government would attempt to sell what you can get for free, make no money, then subsidize the failure.”

“President Ronald Reagan said that ‘the closest thing to eternal life is a government program.’ The NTIS sadly confirms this conclusion,” stated Heritage fellow Romina Boccia, noting that the GAO’s 2014 report on duplication and overlap once again highlights NTIS.

“The bill would direct the Department of Commerce to move any critical NTIS functions that are not related to its outdated research dissemination model into another office within the department,” Boccia explained. “This approach would eliminate waste and sensibly consolidate other functions thereby avoiding needless duplication.”

The post Federal Agency Loses Money Selling Government Reports. The Catch? They’re Already Free appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation.

Testing the Tests: Common Core Implementation Continues to Prove Problematic

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 12:38

Common Core proponents are doing their best to boost public perceptions of new national standards and tests as the fall implementation deadline looms.

Last week, Vox reported, “Common Core tests are in classrooms—and they’re actually working.”

But then the article’s author, Libby Nelson, goes on to state:

There have been glitches and frustration, yet the feedback has also been positive.… Districts and states are arguably learning something more important: whether tests will work (emphasis added).

Early feedback from the states, however, suggests that there might be more frustration than esteem for the new tests.

New York and Kentucky are still the only two states to have fully implemented the standards and begun testing—others are only in the field-testing stage. Their results last year were emblematic of things to come.

Due to testing complications, Kentucky was forced to discontinue scoring for one of Common Core’s prized components: the constructed-response questions, which are meant to test students’ critical thinking abilities.

Furthermore, Kentucky recently announced it is withdrawing from the Common Core–aligned Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC) exam. In a letter to Mitchell D. Chester, the chairman of PARCC’s governing board, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (D), education commissioner Terry Holliday, and state board president Roger Marcum said that the state is withdrawing due to fiscal costs, among other things.

New York is also facing similar battles as parents question the national standards and tests and seek ways for their children to “opt out.”

Common Core and the effort to create national standards and tests is a push to centralize what children are being taught in school. The glitches, frustration, and failures of Common Core implementation are symptoms of the greater problem of national standards: They further distance educational decision-making authority from the hands of parents and local leadership who know the children’s needs far better than distant bureaucrats do.

The post Testing the Tests: Common Core Implementation Continues to Prove Problematic appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation.

The Crime of Being Bullied: 15-Year-Old Special Needs Student Convicted of Disorderly Conduct for Recording Evidence of Bullying

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 11:31

Photo: Robin Nelson/ZUMApress/Newscom

It’s a horrific case study in bullying. A high school sophomore who suffers from comprehension delay disorder (an information-processing disorder), ADHD, and an anxiety disorder was regularly shoved and tripped, nearly burned with a cigarette lighter, and psychologically tortured by his peers. He fought back in the only way he could, documenting the abuse on his school-issued iPad. His mother, Shea Love, submitted the evidence to school administrators.

And the administrators took action. Not against the bullies. Against their victim.

According to BenSwann.com, a sophomore at South Fayette High School in McDonald, Pennsylvania, whose name has been withheld at the family’s request, suffered a year of abuse before he decided to take a stand. After researching anti-bullying websites, he used his school-issued iPad to make a seven-minute audio recording of his treatment during math class, where the most intense bullying took place. He later explained his actions: “I wanted her (Love) to understand what I went through…. I wanted it to stop. I just felt like nothing was being done.”

What exactly is on the recording? According to Love, as the teacher is attempting to help her son with a math problem, a student says, “You should pull his pants down!” Another student replies, “No, man. Imagine how bad that (c**t) smells! No one wants to smell that (t**t).” Then, a loud noise is heard—the sound of book being slammed down next to Love’s son after a student feigned hitting him in the head with it. Laughter follows.

Love submitted the recording to the school’s administrators hoping they would punish the perpetrators. Disgracefully, these “educators” decided to blame the victim. Love says that instead of handling the matter internally, Principal Scott Milburn summoned South Fayette Township Police Lieutenant Robert Kurta to the school to interrogate her son in the presence of the associate principal and the dean of students. Prior to Kurta’s arrival, the faculty members pressured the student, whose mother was not present, to delete the recording. By the time Love arrived at the school, her son was understandably distraught.

Then something surreal happened. Love’s son was first threatened with felony wiretapping, but the charge was later reduced to disorderly conduct. Felony wiretapping? Disorderly conduct? This conduct is not even remotely the sort at which such statutes are directed, and the mind reels at the idiocy of these charges. Using the criminal law to target this helpless 15-year old is a disgraceful exercise of prosecutorial discretion.

Unbelievably enough, District Judge Maureen McGraw-Desmet found the bullied student guilty. The student plans to appeal, and his next court appearance is April 29. To add insult to injury, while the school kicked Love’s son out of the special education math class, the bullies remain enrolled.

The school will not comment on the matter. That’s not just unacceptable—it’s despicable. Love’s son is not only owed an apology from Principal Milburn and reinstatement into the math class, but the school should conduct a thorough investigation into his continuing torment. The bullies should be punished. And the victim’s conviction should be reversed on appeal.

The post The Crime of Being Bullied: 15-Year-Old Special Needs Student Convicted of Disorderly Conduct for Recording Evidence of Bullying appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation.

The Left Is Missing the Real ‘War on Women’

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 10:32

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, founder and president of the AHA Foundation, a non-profit humanitarian organization dedicated to help protect and defend the rights of women in the West from oppression. (Photo: Newscom)

Feminists and others on the Left are usually very good at “outrage,” especially when it can be expressed on behalf of what they believe is an oppressed group. Which is why it is both surprising and disappointing that they missed two amazing opportunities recently to be rightly outraged on behalf of women both in America and internationally.

Apparently they didn’t see the decision by the University of Michigan to ban the screening of “Honor Diaries,” a film featuring women’s right’s activists from all over the world taking on the issues of forced marriage, child marriage, female genital mutilation, and other forms of “honor” violence. It also appears they were unaware of the decision by Brandeis University to rescind its invite to Ayaan Hirsi Ali—a woman who has committed her life to fighting atrocities happening around the globe to women and young girls—to receive an honorary degree and speak at its commencement in May.

Where is the outcry for women’s rights?

The Feminist Majority Foundation, despite all sorts of press releases and blog posts about campaigns to end sexual violence and stop violence against women on college campuses, could find no room on its website for a comment on the Brandeis snub of Hirsi Ali or the banning of the “Honor Diaries” screening.

And over at the National Organization for Women? Just more of the same tired arguments on “equal pay” and the wage gap, multiple posts related to abortion and birth control and, for good measure, another rant against something Rush Limbaugh said. But the silencing of women’s rights activists on American college campuses? Not a peep.

Or what about Left-leaning groups such as the Center for American Progress (CAP), with sections on its website dedicated to “Religion and Values” and another to “Women’s Rights”? Nothing. Though, interestingly, I saw someone representing CAP in a television interview on the subject, making the case that Hirsi Ali’s views received more attention after she was uninvited from Brandeis than had she been allowed to speak. Is that what the folks at CAP call a win for free speech?

It appears that feminist organizations, and frankly the American Left, have been silenced by groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which, through intimidation tactics, shuts down any effort it deems to portray Islam in a negative light. CAIR and its allies like to claim that people like Hirsi Ali and the producers of “Honor Diaries” are Islamophobic. It’s important to note that CAIR was founded by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization.

Had Hirsi Ali been allowed to speak, one of the points she would have made is this:

The connection between violence, particularly violence against women, and Islam is too clear to be ignored. We do no favors to students, faculty, nonbelievers and people of faith when we shut our eyes to this link, when we excuse rather than reflect.

The oppression that women in some predominantly Muslim societies continue to face is tragic. And regrettably, such “honor”-based violence is spreading as an increasing number of immigrants representing those communities are bringing their beliefs with them. It’s happening in Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, and yes, the United States.

Sadly, in this real war on women, the American Left appears to be missing in action.

The post The Left Is Missing the Real ‘War on Women’ appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation.

A Little 'Happy' Song for Your Tax Day

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 09:10

Does dividing business and personal expenses — and seeing how the government wasted your money — get you down?

Whether or not you’ve heard Pharrell’s hit song “Happy,” you can appreciate this Tax Day parody by Reason’s Remy.

The post A Little 'Happy' Song for Your Tax Day appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation.

TV Star Praises Immigrant Parents, Says 'I'm Weirdly Patriotic'

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 08:54

In an interview last month, TV star Mindy Kaling confessed that she is “weirdly patriotic.”

“This is going to make me sound like I’m a thousand years old,” Kaling, who stars in Fox show The Mindy Project, told PBS’ Charlie Rose, “but this could only happen in America and I’m weirdly patriotic because my parents are immigrants and I feel so unbelievably lucky that it just came from grit.”

Kaling also celebrated her immigrant parents and talked about how they had been able to live out the American dream.

“I virtually never saw either of my parents growing up because of how hard they worked but I sort of applied that to entertainment and it worked out,” she remarked. “Which, to me, just makes me feel kind of good about the country in a way, because I couldn’t have done this in India, I don’t think.”

The post TV Star Praises Immigrant Parents, Says 'I'm Weirdly Patriotic' appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation.

Where Did Your Tax Money Go?

Tue, 04/15/2014 - 04:30

It’s pretty unreal when you see it.

Your 2013 tax dollars—which are due today—went primarily to pay for government benefits.

Major entitlements (Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) gobbled up 49 percent, while more federal benefits took another 20 percent. These additional “income security” benefits include federal employee retirement and disability, unemployment benefits, and welfare programs such as food and housing assistance. Obamacare spending didn’t really kick in until 2014, so that will show up in next year’s breakdown.

See how this compares to last year’s breakdown: National defense has been cut, while the major entitlements picked up an even larger percentage.

Is this where you expect the government to spend most of your money?

Heritage’s Romina Boccia, the Grover M. Hermann Fellow, reminds us how we ended up in this situation:

Everything changed when the U.S economy crashed in 2008. Job losses and a drop in personal income led many more Americans to rely at least temporarily on government programs to make ends meet.

… But the worst is yet to come: The Congressional Budget Office projects that public debt will reach an economy-crushing 100 percent in less than one generation. Unlike the unpredicted drop in U.S. fiscal health brought about by the recent recession, this time, structural problems are driving the decline.

Those “structural problems” Boccia mentioned are on display in the chart above. The federal budget is structured around entitlement programs—and they don’t leave room for much else. Here’s a sobering thought: “The federal government could cease all other operations, including its core constitutional duty to provide for the national defense, and would still end up in a fiscal hole within a generation.”

That’s right—we’re on track for all our tax money to go to Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid (including the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Obamacare), and interest on the debt. Don’t forget the debt. Your 2013 tax dollars covered only 80 cents of every dollar spent by the federal government. The other 20 cents were borrowed from younger generations.

This is why Heritage advocates entitlement reforms—we need to free our economy from these weights dragging it down. And that doesn’t mean we leave beneficiaries high and dry.

Where would you like to see your federal tax dollars go? Let us know in the comments.

BONUS TAX FACT:

Did you give the government an interest-free loan from your paycheck this year? If you got a tax refund, you did. Heritage’s Rachel Greszler looked at the numbers: The average tax refund in 2013 was $2,755. That’s $230 per month that a family could have been using.

Read the Morning Bell and more en español every day at Heritage Libertad.

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The post Where Did Your Tax Money Go? appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation.

NY Times Editor: Obama Administration 'Most Secretive White House' in Recent Years

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 15:19

Newscom

Jill Abramson, in her third year as the first female executive editor of The New York Times, describes President Obama’s administration as extremely secretive.

“The Obama years are a benchmark for a new level of secrecy and control,” Abramson said in an interview with The Takeaway. “It’s created quite a challenging atmosphere for The New York Times, and for some of the best reporters in my newsroom who cover national security issues in Washington.”

She continues:

I would say it is the most secretive White House that I have ever been involved in covering, and that includes — I spent 22 years of my career in Washington and covered presidents from President Reagan on up through now, and I was Washington bureau chief of the Times during George W. Bush’s first term.”

Last month, New York Times reporter and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner James Risen said the Obama administration is “the greatest enemy of press freedom that we have encountered in at least a generation.”

The post NY Times Editor: Obama Administration 'Most Secretive White House' in Recent Years appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation.

Woodward on IRS Scandal: 'There Is Obviously Something Here'

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 15:13

The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward was skeptical during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” regarding President Obama’s claim that there isn’t “even a smidgen of corruption” at the Internal Revenue Service.

“There is obviously something here,” Woodward said of the IRS targeting scandal. “And the question is: Does this [House] committee know how to investigate?

Columnist George Will, who also appeared on the panel, cited five actions by former IRS official Lois Lerner:

1)      She delayed approving conservative groups’ tax-exempt status. The inspector general of the IRS said this delay was not caused by an increase in applications.

2)      She said Tea Party groups in Texas and Kentucky were  dangerous.

3)      “IRS employees have violated the Hatch Act by using federal resources for campaigning, and obviously for Barack Obama.”

4)      “Confidential taxpayer information of … the National Organization for Marriage was leaked to a rival group.”

5)      “She said with regard to Crossroads GPS, the most important conservative group:  ’We are working on a denial of the application.’ ”

Woodward described an IRS audit as “a 10-ton truck coming at you. And it’s the sort of thing that the leadership and the White House should take a position: ‘Look, we will not tolerate this.’ ”

Fox News’ Brit Hume blamed the media for a lack of coverage, saying that in the past these actions would have created “a hothouse sort of atmosphere, in which all investigations end up being accelerated.”

This process “brings the issue out and you get to the facts,” Hume said, but now “the story has been basically dormant.”

Hume pointed out that when the IRS issued draft rules on which  activities by advocacy groups would be considered “political,” the agency sparked outrage in the form of more than 150,000 comments from both sides of the aisle.

The post Woodward on IRS Scandal: 'There Is Obviously Something Here' appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation.

Most Small Businesses Burdened by Costly Tax Preparation Process Support Tax Reform

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 15:08

Photo: Michael Blann/Getty Images

Small businesses are increasingly burdened with tax preparation costs, with a majority spending over a week per year on federal tax preparation and thousands of dollars on external accounting firms, according to the National Small Business Association’s (NSBA) 2014 Taxation Survey released last week.

According to the report, “the current U.S. Tax Code punishes work, investment, risk-taking and entrepreneurship, and is becoming an insurmountable hurdle for the growth of existing businesses and creation of new firms.”

This year “nearly 60 percent of small firms spend more than 40 hours per year on federal taxes alone,” while 40 percent spend over 80 hours, or two weeks.

Nearly half spend over $5,000 on the administrative side, while “just 12 percent report they handle their taxes within their firms”—the overwhelming majority pays external tax firms to handle taxes.

The complexities of tax preparation led 73 percent to report “federal taxes have a significant to moderate impact on the day-to-day operation of their business.” As such, 67 percent “support broad tax reform that will reduce both corporate and individual tax rates coupled with reduced deductions.”

The survey, conducted online last month with over 1,100 small businesses as participants, found that the most widely embraced deficit reduction proposals include entitlement-spending reforms and “an across-the-board budget cut for federal agencies.”

Heritage Research Fellow Curtis Dubay released a report last week outlining the benefits of tax reform, which would include a healthier economy that would yield higher annual incomes and a system where everyone pays “their fair share.” Meanwhile, the tax filing process would be easier, less burdened by government influence, and less likely to be impacted by the IRS’ “bad behavior.”

However, Dubay noted, “tax reform is unlikely this year because of the one-sided nature of current efforts”—namely Rep. Dave Camp’s (R–Mich.) proposal that is faced with “little willingness to advance the cause beyond what either President Obama or the Senate is prepared to do.”

The post Most Small Businesses Burdened by Costly Tax Preparation Process Support Tax Reform appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation.

Paul Ryan’s Budget Won’t Pass. This Is Why It Still Matters

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 14:55

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Newscom

Even symbolic gestures can sometimes be important. Consider “The Path to Prosperity,” drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R–Wis.) budget committee and passed by the House last week. It has no chance of becoming law, but—if it did—it would put the country on a path toward a balanced budget within a decade.

Contrast that with President Obama’s budget: It would leave the country awash in red ink, and it mustered just two votes in the House. Meanwhile, “The Democratic-controlled Senate has no plans to pass a budget plan,” USA Today dryly reports.

That’s a shame, because, in a concrete way, a written budget tells the story of the United States from one year to the next. As John F. Kennedy put it, “To govern is to choose,” and by outlining that on which the government is spending taxpayer dollars, a budget explains what we’re choosing to do.

Unfortunately, the budget process has disappeared in recent years. Instead of written budgets, Congress governs by continuing resolutions. Lawmakers agree to spend money in dribs and drabs instead of looking at the big spending picture.

Sadly, this style of governance is by choice. “No legislative process can work unless legislators want it to; the failure to budget is the product of a deliberate choice,” warns Patrick Louis Knudsen in a new paper on budget process reform. Knudsen discusses several options that could improve the process.

Consider entitlements. Even when lawmakers were passing budgets, several expensive programs weren’t included: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid grow year by year. But not because lawmakers voted on them; rather, they’re open-ended demands on the federal purse. Changing that would be a positive step. Knudsen writes:

Placing these programs on specific budget paths would largely end the favorable treatment that they receive as a result of their autopilot construction. It would constitute a major step toward restoring a comprehensive practice of budgeting, one that subjects all programs to roughly equivalent disciplines. It also would reinforce the constitutional aim of using budgeting as a means of limiting government.

Convincing lawmakers to fix the budget process won’t be an easy task. But Knudsen argues that it can be done: “Congress has demonstrated an ability to complete necessary legislative work if there is no other choice.”

It’ll be up to voters, then, to leave Congress with no choice. There are many ways to balance a budget. But actually enacting one is a necessary first step.

The post Paul Ryan’s Budget Won’t Pass. This Is Why It Still Matters appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation.

Al-Qaeda: 'Spreading Like Wildfire'

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 13:30

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on March 17, 2012, shows fire fighters at the scene following a two bomb attacks on security buildings in the heart of the Syrian capital Damascus which killed several people, state television said. AFP PHOTO/HO

Last week, a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee held a hearing provocatively titled “Is Al-Qaeda Winning?” The answers that the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade received were profoundly unsettling.

Former Senator Joseph Lieberman (I–Conn.) testified that Syria had become a key focal point of al-Qaeda’s efforts. He noted that there are more foreign militants fighting in Syria today than in Iraq and Afghanistan combined over the past 10 years:  “Put very bluntly, Syria has become the most dangerous terrorist sanctuary in the world today—and the United States has not coherent or credible policy for dealing with it.”

>>> Read More: The Arab Spring Descends into Islamist Winter: Implications for U.S. Policy

Frederick Kagan, director of the critical threats project at the American Enterprise Institute, warned that the Obama Administration has underestimated the threat posed by al-Qaeda’s ideology, which has inspired a global insurgency. He assessed that al-Qaeda’s “brand is spreading like wildfire, the groups affiliating themselves with it control more fighters, land and wealth than they ever have, and they are opening up new fronts.”

Heritage Foundation analysts long have warned about the more permissive environment that al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups have exploited in many countries destabilized by the “Arab Spring” uprisings.  Syria, in particular, has been a magnet for foreign militants and a rich recruiting ground for al-Qaeda.

>>> Read More: A Counterterrorism Strategy for the “Next Wave”

Al-Qaeda has made a comeback in Iraq, and gained followers in Egypt, Libya, Mali, East Africa, and Yemen

The chief takeaway from the hearing was that the Obama Administration needs to focus more on the revolutionary threat posed by al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the Middle East and Africa. Furthermore, the administration should alter its narrow definition of the al-Qaeda threat, which it currently holds as “the immediate terrorist threat posed by the al-Qaeda core group based in Pakistan.”

Related:
Al-Qaeda Seeks American Recruits in Syria
Al-Qaeda Resurges in Iraq
These Words from Obama Are Frightening—and Revealing

The post Al-Qaeda: 'Spreading Like Wildfire' appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation.

It’s Time to Protect Religious Liberty in the Marriage Debate

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 12:18

For years, a central argument of those in favor of same-sex marriage has been that all Americans should be free to live and love as they choose; however, does that freedom require the government to coerce those who disagree into celebrating same-sex relationships? A growing number of incidents demonstrates that the redefinition of marriage and state policies on sexual orientation have created a climate of intolerance and intimidation for citizens who believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman and that sexual relations are properly reserved for marriage.

Now these citizens are facing a new wave of government coercion and discrimination. State laws that create special privileges based on sexual orientation and gender identity are being used to trump fundamental civil liberties such as freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion.

Consider the case of Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene Flowers, who is being sued by the state of Washington. In March 2013, she met with long-time customers who asked her to arrange the flowers for their same-sex wedding ceremony. Stutzman felt that she had to decline because of her “relationship with Jesus Christ,” and her belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. While she was happy to sell and arrange flowers for any other occasion (the same-sex couple were happy costumers of hers for nine years), she  didn’t want to use her artistic skills to help celebrate a same-sex wedding ceremony.

As Stutzman explains:

I think most artistic people—especially painters—put their hearts into their arrangements.  It’s part of them, it’s part of who they are. And I think that’s the same thing with a florist.

A month later, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed suit against Stutzman, contending that she had violated the state’s sexual orientation law. The state of Washington is seeking a $2,000 fine and a court order forcing Barronelle to violate her conscience by using her artistic talents to celebrate a same-sex relationship.

>>> Read More “Protecting Religious Liberty in the State Marriage Debate”

Stutzman is not the only small business owner whose religious liberty is at risk. As we note in a new Backgrounder, “Protecting Religious Liberty in the State Marriage Debate,” she is joined by other families across the country who are being hauled into court for their belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

Cake makers, photographers, family bakeries, and adoption agencies, among others, have faced penalties and lawsuits for working in accordance with their faith.

This shouldn’t happen in America. Part of the genius of the American system of government is its commitment to protecting the liberty and First Amendment freedoms of all citizens while respecting their equality before the law. The government protects the freedom of citizens to seek the truth about God, to worship according to their conscience, and to live out their convictions in public life. Likewise, citizens are free to form contracts and other associations according to their own values.

State and federal policy should respect Americans’ ability to live and work in accordance with their beliefs. Even in states where marriage is redefined, government should not coerce individuals and organizations to violate their moral or religious beliefs about marriage. Although Americans are free to live as they choose, no one should demand that government compel others into celebrating their relationship. And Americans should continue to work for laws that reflect the truth about marriage. If marriage is redefined, attempts to marginalize the view of marriage as one man and one woman will only increase.

For citizens like Barronelle Stutzman, the consequences are becoming apparent. Read more about it here.

The post It’s Time to Protect Religious Liberty in the Marriage Debate appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation.

CBO Report Estimates 2014 Deficit at Half a Trillion Dollars: Why The Real Deficit Number is Actually Higher

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 11:54

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Today the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its updated projections for the 2014 federal budget. CBO reports the 2014 deficit at $492 billion, just shy of a half a trillion dollars. However, this estimate should be taken with a heap of salt: It is arguably misleading to the extent that the operations of mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs), are improperly accounted for in the budget. Without that distortion, both spending and the deficit in 2014 would be higher by about $85 billion.

What’s curious about this CBO report is that it makes no mention of Fannie and Freddie’s impact on the budget, in contrast with previous reporting. In its Monthly Budget Review for March 2014, for example, CBO was very forthright about the distorting effect that the current GSE reporting has on the budget. CBO explained that:

Much of the drop in spending [over the past six months] occurred because payments from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to the Treasury were $42 billion more than they were last year. (Such payments are recorded in the budget as offsetting receipts—that is, negative outlays.)

Just a few hours from tax day, it is especially important that Congress and taxpayers understand that the GSEs pose a real and costly risk for the budget and how their current off-budget status distorts federal reporting on spending and the deficit. Treasury’s cash-flow method currently employed to account for GSE operations keeps trillions in potential taxpayer liabilities off the books.

Last week, the House passed the Budget and Accounting Transparency Act (H.R. 1872) which would put Fannie and Freddie on-budget. This would require the Treasury to more accurately report the impact the GSEs have on the federal budget by incorporating risk estimates about the $4 trillion in GSE mortgage guarantees.

Beyond 2014, the CBO report projects that deficits will begin growing again in 2017, before reaching trillion dollar levels by 2023. The public debt would rise from 72 percent of GDP to 78 percent of GDP. Meanwhile, the national debt, which includes borrowing from federal government agencies including the Social Security trust fund, would increase by, on average each year, a trillion dollars, surging from more than $17 trillion today to past $27 trillion in 2024.

With or without the GSE budget distortion, a half a trillion dollar deficit is little cause for celebration. Instead, lawmakers should begin the important process of putting the budget on a path to balance. Moreover, honest accounting for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be a bipartisan priority, short of GSE elimination.

The post CBO Report Estimates 2014 Deficit at Half a Trillion Dollars: Why The Real Deficit Number is Actually Higher appeared first on The Foundry: Conservative Policy News from The Heritage Foundation.

The Two Faces of the Wind Industry

Mon, 04/14/2014 - 11:22

A new report from the Department of Energy projects slower growth and a “direct and negative” impact on U.S. wind manufacturers if a $22-per-megawatt-hour (after tax) production tax credit (PTC) is not extended.

A projected drop in new installation is not surprising. You get more of something when you subsidize it and less of it when you don’t. What is surprising, however, is the anticipated gloom and doom from an industry that claims that it is cost-competitive as a result of innovation and lower costs.

Last August, the American Wind Energy Association boasted that wind energy is the cleanest form of energy and “on its way to taking the title as the most affordable source as well.” It made no mention of the wind PTC helping to achieve cost competitiveness but instead argued that the “cost savings have occurred due to the continual hard work and innovations of our industry. Wind turbine costs have dropped by 90 percent since 1980, and as the industry matures, production costs will likely continue their current downward trend.”

Further, The New York Times recently ran a piece entitled “Wind Industry’s New Technologies Are Helping It Compete on Price”—although the Times also ran an article 22 years ago in which the industry made similar arguments.

But the reality is it doesn’t matter if wind is dependent on the taxpayer for production or cost-competitive without the PTC. In either case, there’s no need for a generous subsidy. If any energy source is not economically competitive, then the government should not artificially prop up the technology to create a market that wouldn’t exist without the subsidy. And if producers do have an economically viable idea, then they shouldn’t need the handouts from Washington in the first place.

If Congress elects not to extend the PTC, a near-term decrease in new installation clearly won’t be the desired outcome the wind industry wants, but it will do much more for the industry’s viability in the long run. The wind manufacturers that concentrate on innovating and lowering costs, not securing the next handout, will have a better chance of being competitive with other energy sources. And this is true of all energy sources, not just wind.

Congress should prevent any new targeted tax credits and force the sunset of those already on the books to make all American companies more competitive by lowering rates across the board.

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