Dispatches from the campaign trail, July 25, 2014

• The Karl Rove-founded Crossroads GPS runs an ad using a statement by Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan opposing the expanding federal debt to attack her for voting to increase the debt ceiling and refusing to support a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

• 2nd Congressional District Democratic nominee Clay Aiken made a low-profile campaign stop in Asheboro, and said he planned to spend at least four days a week visiting the communities in the district. The “American Idol” runner-up also took a few shots at incumbent GOP Rep. Renee Ellmers.

• Aiken will stop in Raleigh Wednesday for a fundraiser at the Southland Ballroom. Sponsors include former Gov. Bev Perdue and her husband Bob Eaves, Raleigh City Councilwoman Mary-Anne Baldwin, and a host of Democratic Party luminaries. The Red Clay Ramblers will perform (see first #ncpol item).

• Rep. Walter Jones, R-3rd District, will be one of the featured speakers next week at the annual Young Americans for Liberty conference in the Washington, D.C. area. The keynote address at the libertarian-leaning meeting will be given by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

IBD on the IRS scandal

Editors at Investor’s Business Daily have lingering concerns about the scandal surrounding the Internal Revenue Service.

Lois Lerner’s lost emails from the critical period when the IRS was serving as a political arm of the Obama administration and targeting Tea Party and other conservative groups suggest by themselves a conspiracy to obstruct justice as well as being a violation of the Federal Records Act, which requires paper copies of such critical emails to be printed and stored just in case of computer problems.

This conspiracy to obstruct justice is further suggested by some Lerner emails that she and the Obama administration wished had been lost — especially one sent by Lerner to a Maria Hooke.

“I had a question today about OCS,” Lerner stated in the email. “I was cautioning folks about email, how we have had several occasions where Congress has asked for emails and there has been an electronic search for responsive emails — so we need to be cautious about what we say in emails.”

OCS is the IRS’ Office Communications Server, a form of online chat system that circumvents email.

When she learned that OCS messages were not set to automatically save, Lerner wrote, “Perfect.”

Clearly Lerner had a keen interest in keeping her communications from Congress and the American people.

Among the unanswered questions about this issue:

1. First, what happened to the IRS’ IT asset managers who seemingly vanished during this critical period? IAITAM , which runs the only worldwide certification program for IT asset managers, says its records show that at least three IRS IT asset managers were moved out of their positions at the time of the May 2013 inspector general’s report that detailed the agency’s targeting practices. What can they tell us?

2. The hard drives in question are federal property and cannot be destroyed or recycled without proper documentation. “Proper IT asset management requires clear proof and records of destruction when drives are wiped or destroyed,” notes IAITAM President and founder Barbara Rembiesa. Where are these records?

3. IAITAM asks if the drives were destroyed by an outside IT asset destruction unit, a not-unusual practice among federal agencies. If so, it adds an entire second layer of documentation of the destruction of these assets, including who approved it.

Barnes likes GOP Senate candidates, including Tillis

Fred Barnes tells Weekly Standard readers that he’s impressed with the crop of candidates Republicans have lined up for U.S. Senate races this year, including North Carolina’s Thom Tillis.

Republicans have distinct advantages in Senate races this year, including President Obama’s low job ratings, the number of vulnerable Democrats, and an unhappy national mood. But there’s another advantage: the generally high quality of their candidates. This wasn’t the case in 2010 and 2012, when Republicans blew chances to capture the Senate.

Strong candidates aren’t everything in elections. Money and the political landscape matter. And in a landslide, even poor candidates are swept into office. But as a rule, the better the candidates, the better the prospects for winning. This is especially true in national elections, where candidates get greater scrutiny. …

… Then there are the four red states with Democratic incumbents–Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Alaska. Once again, Republicans are blessed with able, attractive candidates. As a result, all five races are tossups or lean Republican. …

… The reelection campaign of Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in North Carolina is backed by liberal groups and out-of-state money. And she looks stronger than she did a few months ago. Republicans chose state House Speaker Tom Tillis to run against her. He trails slightly in polls but has a solid shot at ousting her.

During Barnes’ last trip to North Carolina, he discussed with Carolina Journal Radio/CarolinaJournal.tv North Carolina’s importance as Republicans try to retake control of the Senate.

National Review writer defends Thomas the Tank Engine

Charles Cooke of National Review sets his sights on one of the silliest critiques of popular culture seen in these silly times.

Those among us who were worried that we had finally reached Peak Nonsense were thrilled last week when a trailblazer named Tracy Van Slyke pioneered a newfangled extraction method and wrote up her findings in the Guardian. In one of the corners of silliness that had hitherto been unreachable to the rest of us, Van Slyke uncovered the contention that Thomas the Tank Engine was not a sweet and benign television show, beloved worldwide by parents and their offspring alike, but instead a dangerous source of “subversive messages” from which “children everywhere” must be “saved.” Thomas and his friends, Van Slyke griped, “toil away endlessly on the Isle of Sodor — which seems to be forever caught in British colonial times”; they are overwhelmingly male, which sets “a bad example for girl wannabe train engineers”; and they are ruled by a fat, “imperious, little white” man called Sir Topham Hatt, who acts as the “Monopoly dictator of their funky little island.” All in all, she deduced, the program is a hive of “classism,” “sexism,” and “anti-environmentalism bordering on racism,” and “the constant bent of messages about friendship, work, class, gender and race” are all but guaranteed to send her “kid the absolute wrong message.” “Look through the steam rising up from the coal-powered train stacks,” Van Slyke opined, and you quickly “realize that the pretty puffs of smoke are concealing some pretty twisted, anachronistic messages.” Okay then. …

… For the sake of time, we might dispense with what is actually “obvious” at the outset: that the characters in Thomas the Tank Engine don’t have “pre-existing schedules,” because they’re trains, and even anthropomorphized locomotives are ultimately at the mercy of those driving them; that Hatt “orders” them about because he’s the controller of the railway, and . . . again, because they’re trains; and that Hatt is “white” because the show in which he stars is set in the 1940s on a British island that is nestled in the middle of the Irish Sea somewhere between western England and the Isle of Man. Today, the Isle of Man is almost exclusively white; in 1945, when the first Railway Series book was published, the Isle of Man was actually 100 percent white. Likewise, in 2014, England is 85.4 percent white, and western England much more so than that; in 1945, England was almost completely white. It would have been extraordinarily odd if the Fat Controller — a man in charge of a transportation system on a fictional island squeezed in between the two places — had been from Nigeria.

Still, what seems to vex Van Slyke more than anything else is that the trains’ sense of self-worth is in some way contingent on the Fat Controller’s opinion of them. “Inevitably,” she writes, “the trains get in a fight with or pick on one another (or generally mess up whatever job they are supposed to be doing) until Hatt has to scold one of them about being a ‘really useful engine.’” This is problematic, she suggests, “because their sole utility in life is their ability to satisfy his whims.” One wonders how well she understands children. Hatt is intended to be not the hero within the books but instead a facilitator for the other characters’ antics. In consequence, his being reasonably strict serves not as propaganda but as a useful and extremely common literary means by which the characters with whom the children identify — the trains, invariably — might get into mischief. Van Slyke is correct when she intuits that the trains are pleased when they are praised by Hatt. But she misses that they also derive pleasure from being a little naughty — from rebelling against his master. Thomas, Awdry explains in the second book, is “a cheeky little engine” — one prone to push at the rules. Without those rules, there is no rebellion.

A government agency that grows like a weed

9780770436520In 1981, the federal government devoted $20.2 million to an agency focused on fighting … weeds. By 2012, the budget had grown to $493.58 million, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agency of Invasive Species was planning a move to its own building on the National Mall.

What? You’ve never heard of the agency or its building? Well, there is a good reason for that. The agency, the building, and the budget figures are not real. They are the creation of National Review contributing editor Jim Geraghty, who mixes disturbing facts about an overgrown government with the fictional elements of his new novel, The Weed Agency: A Comic Tale of Federal Bureaucracy Without Limits. (Copies will be available for purchase Monday when Geraghty speaks to the John Locke Foundation’s Shaftesbury Society.)

The story is phony, but one wishes it were less plausible. Geraghty warns us in an author’s note that the government actually does have a “Federal Interagency Committee for the Management of Noxious and Exotic Weeds, the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force, and the Federal Interagency Committee on Invasive Terrestrial Animals and Pathogens.” Plus the U.S. Department of Agriculture is one of more than a dozen departments and agencies — including NASA — involved with the federal “National Invasive Species Council.”

As Geraghty developed his story of a low-profile government agency led by career bureaucrats interested mostly in preserving their jobs and budgets, no matter who’s in charge of Congress or the White House, this reader cringed every time he encountered a footnote. Each one signaled a case in which an outlandish detail that should have been fictional turned out to be true.

And the characters of Adam Humphrey and Jack Wilkins, USDA AID’s long-serving administrative director and assistant, serve as the mouthpieces for Geraghty’s observations about the worst elements of an unaccountable bureaucracy. Without giving away too much of the plot, the following passage details their reaction to a crisis that occurs in 2006, when the agency’s budget is $257.8 million.

Wilkins closed the door behind him and spoke in a hushed, terrified tone.

“Humphrey … we screwed up.”

“How bad?”

“Think of the Hindenburg … crashing into the Titanic … as it sails to Pompeii … with Ford Pintos sent to rescue the wounded.”

“Calm down and tell me everything you’ve learned.”

“I didn’t write anything down, as you instructed — okay, I wrote it on my hands.”

“Good. The last thing we need are any … unflattering memos or other paperwork to be requested by Congress or FOIAed.”

“Everything that has ever bothered me about this place joined forces just as this cheatgrass wave was coming up from Mexico. The complacency, the miscommunication or lack of communication, the lack of urgency, the pervasive belief that somebody else was out there taking care of the problem, the human cholesterol of incompetent staff that were too much trouble to fire, everyone waiting for approval from everyone else before taking actions, the endless meetings, the postponed meetings, the rescheduled meetings, the missed meetings, the memos that went unread, the e-mails that were ‘skimmed’ — I swear to God, the next time I need to tell people something, I’m posting it above the urinals and on the bathroom stall doors.”

“So you’re saying our staff missed red flags,” Humphrey said uneasily.

“It was a friggin’ Turkish army parade, Adam!” Wilkins was furious. “Every farmer in California was finding these things and reporting them! They didn’t get noticed because there was a backlog of old reports piling up! When people did start passing the reports up the chain, everybody acted like it was just another day at the office, instead of the … the … the Pearl Harbor of weeds!”

Humphrey stood for a moment, trying to grasp the enormity of the foul-up now detailed in marker ink up and down his assistant’s forearms.

“Wash your hands,” Humphrey said.

You’ll have to read the book to learn how the crisis came about and how Humphrey and Wilkins go about trying to save their skins.

This weekend on Carolina Journal Radio

Pundits and prognosticators have spent a lot of time discussing Mark Walker’s dominating win over Phil Berger Jr. in North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District Republican primary runoff election. Rick Henderson offers his thoughts about the 6th District, other runoff results, and the high-profile U.S. Senate race during the next edition of Carolina Journal Radio.

Duke research scholar Chris Conover analyzes the risks associated with having no heath insurance, while the Pope Center’s Jenna Ashley Robinson discusses the most recent debates about the conflict between athletics and academics on college campuses.

Plus you’ll hear an update on the governor’s NC GEAR government efficiency project and reaction to a new state law that will allow military families to proceed with lawsuits linked to water contamination at Camp Lejeune that extended into the 1980s.

New Carolina Journal Online features

This week’s Carolina Journal Online Friday interview features Donna Martinez’s conversation with Sarah Curry about gross domestic product in North Carolina.

John Hood’s Daily Journal offers bad news to those who want to see higher taxes for passenger rail in the Triangle.

Powerful governments never like dissent

In another of his superb Freeman articles, economics professor Sandy Ikeda today writes about how socialism leads to the stifling of dissent.

Not just de facto socialism, of course. Obama and his allies would gladly silence all criticism of their relentless politicization of the country and are doing as much as they can get away with in that regard.