Researchers: How About A Per Calorie Tax To Curb Obesity

New research on obesity will likely be music to the ears of progressive bureaucratic busybodies who favor high taxes and controlling every aspect of citizens’ lives: Scientists at the National Bureau of Economic Research say the answer to America’s growing obesity problem is a policy of jacking up food prices with higher taxes.


In their study, the researchers contend that making Americans pay a sort of per calorie tax on the foods they purchase would encourage national weight loss. They said that a 10 percent hike in the cost of a calorie could lower the percentage of body fat in youths about 8 percent or 9 percent.

“An increase in the price of a calorie regardless of its source would improve obesity outcomes,” according to the nonprofit’s research.

The report strengthens the arguments of people who say that increasing prices on fast food would help with obesity.

“A calorie tax would get you the biggest bang for the buck,” Abigail Okrent, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said of the research. “It’s the most direct way of taxing obesity.”

The idea of a calorie tax, however, would likely not be a hit with the public. The Washington Post, which initially hyped the obesity tax, polled its readers on the issue, finding a majority opposed to the suggestion.


Tea Party A ‘Terror Threat’ Equal To Muslim Extremists, For Obama Backers

A new Rasmussen Reports survey reveals that American voters who identify with President Barack Obama now consider the Tea Party just about as sinister a terrorist threat as radical Muslim extremists.

But take away the filter of political allegiances, and the survey demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of Americans still regard Islamic terrorists with anti-American agendas as a greater threat than small-government conservatives, with 51 percent of all those surveyed saying islamofascism represents the Nation’s greatest threat, compared with 13 percent who view the Tea Party in the same fashion.

Another 13 percent view political and religious extremism — evidently of the non-Islamic sort — as most significant, with militia groups attracting the concern of another 6 percent. Two percent said the Occupy Wall Street movement threatens America the most.

The survey, which polled 1,000 “likely voters” by phone this week, showed that Americans who approve of the job Obama is doing have a severely different outlook on what constitutes a threat to American interest. Among Obama supporters, 29 percent identified Muslim extremists as the top threat, compared with a close 26 percent who evidently fear a conservative cross-section of natural-born American citizens: Tea Party conservatives. Those who responded that they “strongly approve” of the Obama Administration actually fear the Tea Party more than they fear Islamist violence.

On the other hand, 75 percent of those who disapprove of Obama named Muslim radicals as the biggest threat, compared with 1 percent who cited the Tea Party.

Interestingly, a connection appears between working for the government and fretting over the Tea Party. Among government workers, 20 percent said the Tea Party should be the Nation’s chief terrorist concern, compared with 12 percent of private sector employees who hold the same view.

Terrorism represented only one focus of the survey, though. Overall, 57 percent of respondents in a February Rasmussen poll said economic challenges present the most significant threat to America — compared with only 27 percent who identified the biggest threat to be terrorism.

Marco Rubio’s Big Immigration Mistake

What a sad transformation it’s been to see Senator Marco Rubio go from being a Tea Party hero to an apologist for the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill.

Back in 2010, Rubio was a handsome and articulate State Senator in Florida when he decided to run for the U.S. Senate. Doing so meant defying the Republican establishment’s hand-picked selection, then-Governor Charlie Crist.

There were two make-or-break issues in the Republican primary that year. The first was Barack Obama’s massively expensive stimulus program. Crist was so enamored of it that he actually agreed to have a photograph taken of him publicly embracing the President. We’ll never know how many votes that hug cost him, but it was a bunch.

Rubio said that counting on Federal handouts to create jobs was a huge mistake. He called instead for letting the free enterprise system work, by lowering taxes and reducing regulation. The voters made it clear which message they preferred.

The other issue that marked a sharp disagreement between the two candidates was immigration reform and, in particular, amnesty for the millions of people who were in this country illegally. Crist endorsed amnesty; Rubio, the son of immigrants from Cuba, said he was unalterably opposed to it. In speech after speech, Rubio repeated this warning in some form: If you grant amnesty in any form, you will destroy any chance we ever have of having a legal immigration system that works here in America.

It was those two stands, more than any others, that made Rubio a Tea Party favorite and led to his victory over his much more liberal opponent. Crist subsequently resigned from the Republican Party and joined the Democrats.

But since then, Rubio agreed to become one of four Republican members of the Senate’s Gang of Eight. Since two of his Republican colleagues were John McCain of Arizona and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and the Democrat members included Chuck Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, you won’t be surprised to learn that the final agreement includes amnesty.

It was also apparent that a whole lot of horse-trading was going on behind the scenes to ensure passage of the bill. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), one of the Tea Party heroes who has not abandoned his opposition to the current immigration bill, castigated the “laundry list of buyoffs” that has been made to insure a favorable vote. These include:

  • Diverting a chunk of the money for border security to Maine — a State that, so far as I know, has never had a problem with illegal immigrants hiking in from Canada — to win the support of Susan Collins, that State’s Senator.
  • Some special bequests for the seafood industry in Alaska, so that State’s two Senators, Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich, will get behind the bill.
  • And in one of the smelliest deals of all, a $1.5 billion jobs program, the price demanded by Vermont’s socialist Senator Bernie Sanders for his support.

All of that helps explain why Cruz said, “Rarely do we see so transparently how votes in the Senate are bought and sold.” Oh yes we have, Senator. It’s just that in the past they were called “earmarks.”

After weeks of behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing, the current immigration bill was finally made available for Senators to see last Friday afternoon. The Senate was expected to vote on some of its most important provisions just 72 hours later. Does the process remind you of the way Obamacare was rushed through Congress?

No matter. The bill was approved yesterday by a vote of 68-32, followed by a ton of self-congratulation among the victorious Senators. The measure now goes to the House of Representatives, where it will face a much tougher battle.

If there’s any lesson we’ve learned over the recent past, it’s that we can’t trust a politician’s promise. Yet that’s exactly what this current measure does when it comes to protecting our borders. It calls for beginning the legalization process now and says that border protection will follow. “Trust us on this” is the refrain.

Are they crazy?

The proposal says that the border is “secure” when it catches or keeps out 90 percent of those who try to enter the country illegally. That’s far from perfect, but it’s sure a heck of a lot better than we’ve been doing.

The question is: Who decides when that goal is achieved? The current legislation calls for the President and his minions to make that determination. We’re supposed to trust the same folks who have screwed up on so many fronts for so long. That’s ridiculous.

Instead, Congress should be the branch that determines when our border is secure. Members of the House of Representatives are a lot more accountable to the voters than any President — especially a lame duck who won’t run for office again.

What This Bill Doesn’t Do

There’s been a lot of talk about what this bill does, including all of the promises about tightening up our borders. But far more important is something it doesn’t do. In fact, it’s an issue that is almost never even mentioned in the immigration debate.

I’m referring to the absurdity of granting citizenship to each and every child who is born within our borders — no matter if the parents are here legally or not.

That’s right. It is the official policy of the U.S. government that any child, born in this country to illegal immigrants, automatically and immediately becomes a citizen of the United States.

Such infants are sometimes referred to as “anchor babies,” because their immediate and automatic citizenship is the “anchor” on which a host of other claims, from welfare to others’ citizenship, can be made.

On the face of it, this sounds patently absurd. How can a newborn baby be eligible for citizenship when his parents are not? Not merely eligible, mind you, but granted it automatically? The new citizen is immediately entitled to all the benefits that accompany citizenship: schooling, medical care, food stamps and other welfare, and a whole host of “public assistance.”

This is not how it should be. Yes, it’s true we are a Nation of immigrants. But what a difference there is between this process and what our predecessors experienced. Many of us have grandparents or great-grandparents who overcame incredible obstacles to become citizens of this country. Before they were accepted, they had to pass a rigorous and demanding test. The questions they were asked and their answers had to be in English.

As an essential part of the process, every immigrant was required to renounce allegiance to the country he had left and to swear allegiance to his newly adopted home, the United States. And every new citizen was thrilled to do so.

There was a solemn ceremony, often conducted by a judge sitting high on a bench above them, issuing the oath of allegiance. Friends and family welcomed the new citizens with flag waving, hugs and tears, and enthusiastic applause.

That is what citizenship for an immigrant used to mean — and still does, for many adults who follow the rules. But today, we are required to grant the same privileges to anyone whose mother can sneak across our border a few hours before her baby is born. That is insane. And it must be changed, if we ever hope to regain control of our immigration policies.

Rubio recognizes that many of his supporters disagree with him on immigration. A Rasmussen poll says his support among conservatives has dropped 15 percent since February.

Rubio admits it’s been difficult for him to hear “the growing anger in the voices of so many people who helped me get elected to the Senate and who I agree with on virtually every other issue.”

Rubio, there’s an easy solution here: Please come back to your base. Remember why so many of us hailed your triumph three years ago. And return to the principles that lead to your amazing victory.

As the son of (legal) immigrants and a proud Hispanic yourself, you are in a unique position to insist that first we must secure our borders. That’s our right — and our obligation. And that we must end the absurdity of granting instant citizenship to anchor babies.

If you’ll use your eloquence and enthusiasm to make sure we don’t compromise here, you’ll be doing a huge service to the country you love.

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

–Chip Wood

No, IRS Really Didn’t Attack Liberals With Same Vigor

Earlier this week, left-leaning Americans latched on to reports that the Internal Revenue Service targeted liberal nonprofits with the same vigor that it has conservative groups vying for tax-exempt status. But a review of the numbers tells a different story.

According to revelations from the Treasury Department’s inspector general, just six progressive groups were subject to increased scrutiny; 292 conservative groups were put under the IRS microscope. Furthermore, the IG noted in a letter to Congressional Democrats, 100 percent of Tea Party groups seeking nonprofit status were put under review, compared to just 30 percent of progressive groups.

Liberals based claims that the IRS also heavily targeted progressive groups on the inclusion of progressive groups on the agency’s so-called Be On The Lookout, or BOLO, list. The Treasury inspector, however, said that list was not used in targeting the groups at the heart of the controversy.

From the IG letter:

Based on the information you flagged regarding the existence of a “Progressives” entry on BOLO lists, TIGTA performed additional research which determined that six tax-exempt applications filed between May 2010 and May 2012 having the words “progress” or “progressive” in their names were included in the 298 cases the IRS identified as potential political cases. We also determined that 14 tax-exempt applications filed between May 2010 and May 2012 using the words “progress” or “progressive” in their names were not referred for added scrutiny as potential political cases. In total, 30 percent of the organizations we identified with the words “progress” or “progressive” in their names were processed as potential political cases. In comparison, our audit found that 100 percent of the tax-exempt applications with Tea Party, Patriots, or 9/12 in their names were processed as potential political cases during the timeframe of our audit.

“At this point, the evidence shows us that conservative groups were not only flagged, but targeted and abused by the IRS,” said Sarah Swinehart, a spokeswoman for Ways and Means Chairman Representative Dave Camp (R-Mich.), responding to the IG letter.

White House Offers ‘Civic Hacking’ Award As Hackers, Whistle-Blowers Continue To Be Skewered

In honor of the National Day of Civic Hacking earlier this month, 22 government organizations, including the White House, NASA and the Peace Corps, provided data to a group of tech-savvy hackers with the goal of finding novel uses for the data sets. Now, Federal officials are calling on the public to nominate hackers throughout the Nation to be considered for a White House Champion of Change for Civic Hacking award if their work was done for the greater good of the public.

A statement from the White House Office of Science and Technology policy:


Here are a few suggestions: Pfc. Bradley Manning, Andrew “Weev” Aurenheimer, Aaron Schwartz and, of course, NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

These individuals, and many others, may have not all been involved in “hacking” in the traditional sense; but all of them have used technology to provide Americans with valuable information and, more importantly, affirmation that new technologies give individuals the power to challenge even the most powerful institutions.

Perhaps if the government ever stops prosecuting whistle-blowers and information leakers, it will begin giving them awards.

Plea Bargaining Is Governmental Extortion

Plea bargaining is the process whereby a prosecutor comes to an agreement with a defendant to resolve a criminal case. Roughly 90 percent of all criminal cases resolve through the process of a plea bargain. The plea bargain is a contract of sorts, and the terms of the agreement often may vary considerably from one case to another.

A plea bargain will always include the defendant’s pleading guilty to at least one crime. What varies is the crime pleaded to or the punishment imposed. For example, a plea bargain occurs when a defendant is charged with two separate crimes, and he pleads guilty to one in exchange for a dismissal of the other. A plea bargain also occurs if the prosecutor offers a specific punishment and the judge agrees to it in exchange for the defendant’s pleading guilty. There are many variables that affect plea bargaining; however, the common thread in all plea bargaining is that the government avoids the burden of a jury trial and the defendant gets, in theory, a more favorable resolution of his case.

At first glance, this may sound like a great idea — a win-win, right? I contend it is not. In practicality, what happens is that defendants may face criminal charges that there may be little evidence to support. This process is called “overcharging.” Overcharging works to threaten the defendant into accepting a plea bargain. The fear of criminal sanctions associated with overcharged allegations is a deterrent for individuals to exercise their right to a jury trial because of the uncertainty of the outcome.

It gets worse, though. Judges are responsible for sentencing and, generally speaking, they have wide discretion in how severely any given defendant is punished. However, it is illegal for a judge to punish someone for going to trial. In other words, if a person demands his right to a trial and he is convicted, the judge should not impose a more severe sentence after the trial than he would have imposed had the person pleaded guilty.

The issue then is: If a person could get the same sentence after a trial that he would get before trial, what incentive is there for him to give up his right to trial by pleading guilty? The answer, of course, is that there isn’t much incentive at all. So again, as a practical matter, many judges commonly impose more severe penalties after a trial to provide additional incentive to plead.

As support for this claim, I offer California Rule of Court 4.423(b)(2). This provision allows a judge to be more lenient in sentencing a defendant who, “… voluntarily acknowledged wrongdoing before arrest or at an early stage of the criminal process.” Obviously, a person who exercises his right to trial loses the benefit of this provision and a more severe sanction may be imposed.

So when does discovering truth and achieving justice occur within a system where defendants are being “threatened” by the executive and judicial branches of government to enter a plea and give up their right to a trial? Who knows? I contend the government’s primary goal is not justice but to get convictions. This goal is plainly stated in this quote from prosecutor Michael Mermel, “The taxpayers don’t pay us for intellectual curiosity. They pay us to get convictions.”

The truth is unless society takes proactive measures to eliminate plea bargaining, it is here to stay. In 2011, California introduced 725 new laws. I believe five to 10 of them were laws directed at criminalizing previously legal behavior. Each year, more and more laws are passed at the Federal, State, county and city levels. Across the United States, there are literally tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of criminal laws that the citizenry risks running afoul of. What is legal today may not be legal tomorrow. With the number of people being charged and the growing number of criminal laws available to charge us, our system would collapse if citizens actually exercised their right to a trial. The plea bargain has become an effective tool (as evidenced by the 90 percent statistic given above) in our government’s bag to nullify our rights, further its growth and keep the criminal cases moving.

The truth is that a citizenry with rights is a burden upon the government in achieving its agenda. The government most certainly fights to achieve its agenda, but are we fighting to protect our rights?

Know your rights. Stand for freedom.

–Nathan Wente

Originally published by the US~Observer.

License Plate Scanners Saturating U.S. Police Departments, With No Limits On Data Hoarding, Privacy

In early May, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) were hit with a lawsuit over their refusal to release information the agencies had collected through the use of license plate scanners.

Plate scanners are small devices mounted atop police patrol vehicles. They digitally “read” license plates continuously, with no need for direct input from the officer inside the car. They scan all the time; and, if so configured, they can accompany each scan with a color photograph of the vehicle, its occupant(s) and, of course, the license plate itself.

There are no Federal or State laws — or even standards and guidelines — that require police departments to handle the data they collect in any specific fashion, and there are no restrictions that limit the sharing of data between agencies across all levels of law enforcement: local, Federal and State. If law enforcement wants to compile data over a period of years, never disposing of any of it, they can.

Using only the data collected from license plate scanners, police can piece together a very accurate narrative — complete with pictures — of who you are, what you drive, who accompanies you, where you go, how you dress — even whether you have any obnoxious political or ephemeral bumper stickers.

In areas where patrol cars are equipped with scanners, individual vehicles are recurrently scanned with amazing frequency.

An incredible story by the Center for Investigative Reporting describes the experience of Michael Katz-Lacabe, a San Leandro, Calif., resident who works in the computer security consulting field. Leery of the city’s adoption of the license plate scanners in 2008, he asked the city for a record of all the times his car had been scanned and photographed:

The results shocked him.

The paperback-size device, installed on the outside of police cars, can log thousands of license plates in an eight-hour patrol shift. Katz-Lacabe said it had photographed his two cars on 112 occasions, including one image from 2009 that shows him and his daughters stepping out of his Toyota Prius in their driveway.

That photograph, Katz-Lacabe said, made him “frightened and concerned about the magnitude of police surveillance and data collection.” The single patrol car in San Leandro equipped with a plate reader had logged his car once a week on average, photographing his license plate and documenting the time and location.

License plate scans are held for as long as the agency responsible for handling the information wants to hold them. And the independent third-party tech companies they hire to deploy and catalog the data are few enough, and capable enough, to be employed by layers of government, from the State of California to the CIA to the Department of Defense. You can see the potential (likely already very fully realized) for cross-pollination these separate-but-related government agreements hold. Mega-banks hold contracts with the same companies that develop the license plate technology, using numbers and location-based data-gathering as an analytical tool.

Precipitating the Los Angeles police lawsuit were the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which last year had requested one week’s worth of license plate scanning records from the LAPD and LASD. Both agencies refused, claiming it formed a component in the body of evidence used in ongoing police investigations.

But this is not probable-cause evidence. This is full-scale surveillance of people who’ve done nothing wrong; people who aren’t suspects. The ACLU predicts there will be license plate scanners in use by 85 percent of the Nation’s law enforcement agencies, and that law enforcement is already pursuing the development of a proprietary, Google-style search engine to unify and link all motorist data, enabling police everywhere to know your motoring habits simply by tapping on a keyboard and hitting “return.”

Senate Says ‘Si’ To Immigration Bill; FDA Gets Its Shot At Tobacco; Obama’s Bush-League SCOTUS Record; Tweeting Race War Rages Over Zimmerman; Amnesty Show Senate The Love – Personal Liberty Digest™ P.M. Edition 6-27-2013

Brush up on the day’s headlines with Personal Liberty’s P.M. Edition news links.

Senate Immigration Bill Passes With Healthy Majority

The Senate passed its amnesty-laden immigration reform effort on Thursday with the support of a strong majority made up of all Democrats and 14 Republican members of the legislative chamber. Read More…

Amnesty Supporters Chant ‘Yes We Can’ At Passage Of Senate Immigration Bill

Democrats in the Senate gallery had reason to cheer with the passage of the amnesty-laden Gang of Eight immigration bill Thursday. Watch Them Chant…

FDA Flexes Regulatory Muscle Under 2009 Tobacco Control Act

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) dipped its toe in new regulatory waters this week, approving new tobacco products for the first time since the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 was enacted. Read More… 

Obama’s Batting .370 Before SCOTUS – Half The Success Rate Of His Predecessors

This year’s Supreme Court session hasn’t been kind to the Administration of President Barack Obama. Find Out Why… 

Twitter Explodes With Threats Against Zimmerman, Random Whites

As the George Zimmerman trial drags on, the Twitter watchers over at Twitchy have noticed an alarming trend—an explosion of people taking to the Internet with death threats against Zimmerman and random white people if the defendant is found not guilty. Read The Tweets… 

Amnesty Supporters Chant ‘Yes We Can’ At Passage Of Senate Immigration Bill

Democrats in the Senate gallery had reason to cheer with the passage of the amnesty-laden Gang of Eight immigration bill Thursday.

Passage of the bill, touted by Senate Democrats and 14 RINOs, drew cheers of the Barack Obama campaign slogan “Yes we can” from observers at the Capitol.



No word on whether Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham or Marco Rubio joined chorus with the Obama sycophants.

FDA Flexes Regulatory Muscle Under 2009 Tobacco Control Act

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) dipped its toe in new regulatory waters this week, approving new tobacco products for the first time since the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009 was enacted.

In some ways, it’s hard to tell if the precedent set by Congress and President Barack Obama in approving the FSPTCA is a good thing. There’s certainly plenty of overreach – forcing tobacco companies to take up marketing real estate on their own products with ever-larger FDA warnings, banning “flavored” cigarettes (D’oh! Cloves are now ‘cigars!’) and gerrymandering the boundaries that define what’s acceptable in advertisements.

But a possible silver lining—if there is such a thing where government regulation is concerned— is the FDA’s new role in standardizing product quality. It’s debatable whether that’s a responsibility that should fall to the FDA, but the fact that tobacco companies are now required to disclose what’s in their product to the government could represent a baby step toward a future when they make that same disclosure to the public.

The FDA first gained regulatory purview over tobacco products in 2009 under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.

Obama’s Batting .370 Before SCOTUS – Half The Success Rate Of His Predecessors

This year’s Supreme Court session hasn’t been kind to the Administration of President Barack Obama.

In an analysis of cases pleaded before the High Court between 1985 and 1997, Economics Professor Linda R. Cohen and Law Professor Matthew L. Spitzer found:

Studies of public litigation at the Supreme Court find that the government tends to prevail and that it is more successful than the petitioner or respondent…The pattern is striking: the government wins in over 70 percent of the cases where it is the petitioner, and it wins in just under 60 percent of the cases where it is the respondent.

The Obama Administration, however, can only dream of those kinds of numbers. The Daily Beast has pegged his batting average at .370 before SCOTUS over this year’s court session, which started last October and ended this week. Not so hot, especially when you consider how well other Presidents have fared.

Worse, though, is the disproportionate number of times the Supreme Court’s decisions against the President haven’t featured even a single dissenting opinion, as noted Wednesday in the Washington Times:

Ilya Somin, a constitutional law professor at George Mason University, said it is striking to take into account the number of times the Obama administration has been on the losing end of unanimous decisions.

“When the administration loses significant cases in unanimous decisions and cannot even hold the votes of its own appointees — Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — it is an indication that they adopted such an extreme position on the scope of federal power that even generally sympathetic judges could not even support it,” said Mr. Somin, adding that presidents from both parties have a tendency to make sweeping claims of federal power. “This is actually something that George W. Bush and Obama have in common.”

That observation corroborates one of the central features of bipartisan American politics: fundamentally, party politicians differ only over how most effectively to manipulate public opinion – and, it appears, judicial opinion – to their benefit. Obama has successfully gamed the public in consecutive Presidential elections. But he stinks at gaming his intellectual peers (or, perhaps, his superiors) on the bench who, like the President, hold J.D.s with specialization in Constitutional law.

Breaking: Senate Immigration Bill Passes With Healthy Majority

The Senate passed its amnesty-laden immigration reform effort on Thursday with the support of a strong majority made up of all Democrats and 14 Republican members of the legislative chamber.

The bill, which passed 68-32, brings nearly 11 million undocumented aliens in the U.S. one step closer to a path to citizenship.

Republicans who voted in favor of the bill were: Senators John McCain (Ariz.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Jeff Chiesa (N.J.), Susan Collins (Maine), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Dean Heller (Nev.), John Hoeven (N.D.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who did not support the Senate bill, said earlier this week that the effort fails to address the root causes of illegal immigration.

“The way I see it is we have to look at what causes illegal immigration. People come here to pick crops, three-hundred to four-hundred thousand people come in every year to pick crops, but only a few of them are using the work visa program,” Paul said. “So, every year, two-, three-, four-hundred thousand illegal immigrants come into this country to pick crops. If you want to have less illegal immigration, you need to expand the work visa program.”

The so-called Gang of Eight bill actually reduces work visas and puts into place no system for holding Congress accountable for ensuring border security.

The bill is not expected to gain traction in the House.

Report: CIA-NYPD Collaboration Had ‘Irregular Personnel Practices’

WASHINGTON (UPI) — CIA officers were embedded with the New York Police Department in the 10 years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, an agency report said.

The once-classified inspector general’s review, completed by the agency’s inspector general in December 2011, found that the four CIA analysts were assigned at various times to “provide direct assistance” to local police, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

The report also raised concerns about the relationship between the two organizations.

One officer who helped conduct surveillance operations in the United States said he believed there were “no limitations” on his activities because he was on an unpaid leave of absence and exempt from the prohibition against domestic spying by the CIA, the report said.

Another embedded analyst who was on the spy agency’s payroll said he was given “unfiltered” police reports that included information unrelated to foreign intelligence, the inspector general’s report said.

CIA Inspector General David Buckley found the agency-NYPD collaboration was rife with “irregular personnel practices,” lacked “formal documentation in some important instances,” and agency supervisors exercised “inadequate direction and control.”

The executive summary was declassified in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a non-profit, civil liberties group, which provided it to The New York Times.

“The CIA is not permitted to engage in domestic surveillance,” said Ginger McCall, the director of the group’s Open Government Project. “Despite the assurances of the CIA’s press office, the activities documented in this report cross the line and highlight the need for more oversight.”

CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said Buckley found no violations or evidence that the agency’s support to the Police Department constituted “domestic spying.”

The department has slapped  with lawsuits alleging unconstitutional surveillance of Muslim communities and mosques in New Jersey and New York.

Police spokesman Paul J. Browne said the lawsuits were meritless and that Buckley’s report found nothing illegal. He said the last embedded CIA official left in 2012.

“We’re proud of our relationship with CIA and its training,” Browne said, saying it was partly responsible for the absence of casualties from a terror attack in New York since Sept. 11, as well as from anthrax attacks.

Terrorists, he said, “keep coming and we keep pushing back.”

Stafford Student Loan Rates On Path To Double Next Week

WASHINGTON (UPI) — Interest rates on some new federal student loans appear destined to double next week, U.S. senators say, with a Monday deadline looming.

The Senate’s attention has been focused on completing a major immigration bill before Congress leaves Friday for a weeklong recess, so the prospects of reaching a quick deal on the student-loan issue are slim, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

“If I were a betting person I would say it’s unlikely it gets done this week,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., a member of the Senate Republican leadership.

Without congressional action, the interest rate on new Stafford loans will double from 3.4 percent to to 6.8 percent beginning Monday. The hike doesn’t affect existing loans.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he had hoped to strike a deal with Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the committee’s ranking Republican, but hasn’t been able to do so.

“Everyone’s focused on immigration right now,” Harkin said. “They haven’t turned their thoughts to this. We talked about it in caucus a couple times, but people are focused on the immigration bill.”

Alexander and Thune downplayed the significance of the Monday deadline, saying lawmakers could return to Washington in the second week of July and deal with the loan issue retroactively, the Journal said.

“Even if we don’t reach a deal at the end of the week … we do it soon after we get back, then we can put the new system into law and students will have time to plan for the loans they are taking out for this fall,” Alexander said.

The federal loan interest rate was to increase last year, but Congress enacted a one-year fix. President Obama has called on Congress to pass legislation to avert the increase this year as well.

The Republican-led House passed a bill that would link the student loan interest rate to the government’s borrowing costs and allow a loan’s rate to reset annually. Obama proposed tying the rate to the 10-year Treasury note yield, but with a smaller difference between the two, and fix the rate for the life of the loan.

Senate Democrats oppose the House bill, saying it would set the rate too high. Republicans object to a Democratic bill that would freeze rates for two more years, saying it would cost about $8 billion and that they oppose raising taxes or adding to the deficit to cover the cost.

Chicago Police Empty Auto Lot After Stolen Vehicles Found

CHICAGO (UPI) — Tow trucks worked overnight in Chicago to remove over 80 cars and trucks from an auto lot after police found stolen vehicles and parts there, authorities said.

Police said they had not determined how many of the vehicles, removed from the lot in the city’s West Englewood section Wednesday evening and early Thursday morning, were stolen.

A number of vehicles appeared damaged, the Chicago Tribune reported Thursday.

The lot’s owner, who name was not reported, was arrested, the newspaper said.

Police executed a search warrant at 8 p.m. Wednesday after a GPS unit on a stolen car led them to the lot, authorities said.

U.S. Exec Freed After Being Held Captive By Chinese Employees

BEIJING (UPI) — Workers at a medical supply factory outside of Beijing Thursday released a U.S. executive they had been holding captive for six days, officials said.

Chip Starnes, co-owner of Specialty Medical Supplies, based in Florida, was released after reaching an agreement with his workers, who were demanding severance pay, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Details of the settlement — reached by Starnes, lawyers, representatives of the local labor union and government officials at about 5:30 a.m. Thursday — were not disclosed, but Starnes said he ended up giving money to employees who had already received severance packages.

“Money has been wired and I expect to be out having cocktails by this evening,” Starnes, 42, said Thursday before his release.

Starnes arrived at his factory Friday to finalize severance payments for 30 of his employees who were being laid off because their jobs making plastic injection moldings were being moved to Mumbai, where production costs are lower, USA Today reported.

The factory’s 100 other employees, fearing the rest of the company may close down as well, barricaded Starnes in his office and demanded similar severance package.

“Everything has been properly resolved,” said Chu Lixiang, a local trade union official. “I just want to tell foreign investors that Huairou has a very good investment environment and fully fledged laws, they don’t have to be scared.”

Starnes said he plans to keep his business in China and wants to sign new contracts with some of the employees who held him captive, ABC News reported.

North Korean Bank, Company And Individual Sanctioned By Treasury Department

WASHINGTON (UPI) — A bank, a front company and an official tied to North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction programs are subject to sanctions, the U.S. Treasury Department said.

Daedong Credit Bank — along with its front company DCB Finance Limited and DCB’s representative Kim Chol Sam — were designated under an executive order that targets proliferators of WMD and their supporters, the Treasury Department said Thursday in a release.

Financial operations carried out by DCB, DCB Finance Limited, and Kim Chol Sam are responsible for managing “millions of dollars” in transactions that support the North Korean regime’s “destabilizing activities,” the department said.

The Treasury Department said Son Mun San, the external affairs bureau chief of North Korea’s General Bureau of Atomic Energy, would be subject to sanctions for his work directing North Korea’s nuclear-related research efforts.

The GBAE, already under U.S. and U.N. sanctions, is responsible for North Korea’s nuclear program.

“North Korea’s dangerous and destabilizing illicit nuclear and ballistic missile program continues apace, supported by North Korean financial institutions like Daedong Credit Bank,” said David S. Cohen, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. “We are committed to increasing the sanctions pressure on North Korea until it complies with its international obligations.”

Japan Approves World’s First Human Stem Cell Clinical Trial

TOKYO (UPI) — A Japanese government panel has approved the world’s first clinical research using human induced pluripotent stem cells, officials said.

The panel of the country’s Health Ministry has issued approval for governmental scientific research institute Riken and the Foundation for Biomedical Research and Innovation to conduct a clinical research plan to use iPS cells for retinal regeneration, Kyodo News reported Wednesday.

Kyoto University Professor Shinya Yamanaka co-won the 2012 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his development of iPS cells, which can grow into any type of human body tissue and are seen as candidates for regenerative medicine and drug development.

The clinical research team will try to develop treatment techniques using iPS cells to cure age-related macular degeneration, a condition that can cause sudden vision loss due to retinal damage.

The team said it would extract skin cells from several patients, create iPS cells from them, develop them into pigment epithelium of the retina and transplant them into the patients’ retinas.

The researchers said they would attempt the transplants next year.

U.S. To Reduce Use Of Chimps In Government-Funded Research

WASHINGTON (UPI) — The U.S. National Institutes of Health announced Wednesday it plans to reduce substantially the use of chimpanzees in biomedical research it funds.

The NIH said in a release it would designate for retirement most of the chimpanzees it currently owns or supports.

NIH Director Francis S. Collins has accepted most of the recommendations made by an independent advisory council for implementing a set of principles and criteria for the use of chimpanzees in NIH-funded research, the release said.

While the NIH plans to retain but not breed as many as 50 chimpanzees for future biomedical research, the chimpanzees designated for retirement could eventually join more than 150 other chimpanzees already in the Federal Sanctuary System, operated by Chimp Haven in Louisiana under NIH oversight.

“Americans have benefited greatly from the chimpanzees’ service to biomedical research, but new scientific methods and technologies have rendered their use in research largely unnecessary,” Collins said.

“Their likeness to humans has made them uniquely valuable for certain types of research, but also demands greater justification for their use.

“After extensive consideration with the expert guidance of many, I am confident that greatly reducing their use in biomedical research is scientifically sound and the right thing to do.”

Swarming Ants Wrecking Air Conditioners Along U.S. Gulf Coast

AUSTIN, Texas (UPI) — An invasion of “crazy” ants in areas of the U.S. Gulf Coast has wreaked havoc on electronic devices, especially air conditioning units, experts say.

Tawny crazy ants, named for their color and their “herky-jerky” pattern of foraging, first showed up near Houston in 2002.

Hailing from northern Argentina and southern Brazil, they seek out cavities to nest in, like walls, basements — or air conditioning units.

Less than 1/8 inch long, their small size allows them to crawl inside cellphones, computers and appliances, where protected cavities are “just great” for them, Edward LeBrun, a researcher at the University of Texas, told LiveScience.

Reproducing in large numbers, sometimes outnumbering local species of ants 100-to-1, they’ve developed a preference for swarming into electronics devices like air conditioners and farm equipment like pumps, experts said.

In one case, the ants quickly spread to 90 out of 150 air-conditioning units in an apartment building in Waco, Texas, said Mike Matthews, who works for Austin-area pest control business The Bug Master.

“When you open these things up, you see thousands of the ants, just completely filling them up,” he said.

That infestation took about two months to control, he said.

Fourth Of July Is The Deadliest Day On The Road

NORTHBROOK, Ill. (UPI) — The Fourth of July is the deadliest day on U.S. roads, killing an average of 135 people each year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says.

Sanjay Gupta, executive vice president of marketing, innovation and corporate relations at Allstate, said car crashes are the No. 1 cause of death for everyone ages 1-34, but teens crash four times more often than any other age group.

Teens accounted for 6 percent of the driving fatalities on July 4 but continue to be particularly susceptible to distracted driving incidents. The Allstate Foundation found 75 percent of teens said reading and responding to texts is distracting behind-the-wheel, up from 49 percent in 2009.

“Putting down the phone, never texting while driving and always wearing a safety belt can help make sure that everyone returns home safely after their Independence Day celebrations,” Gupta said in a statement. “It’s great to see that teens are evolving in their behavior and perceptions around texting, but our research still found that 39 percent of teen drivers admit to texting behind the wheel and 6 percent said they do it a lot.”

Parents should be positive role models when they’re behind the wheel, Gupta said.

All drivers — parents and children together — can pledge not to text and drive, and help reduce distracted driving deaths and injuries at

No survey details were provided.

Jobless Claims Drop By 9,000

WASHINGTON (UPI) — The U.S. Labor Department said first-time jobless benefits claims dropped by 9,000 to 346,000 in the week that ended Saturday.

The department revised the previous week’s estimate from 354,000 to 355,000. This set the four-week rolling average at 345,750, down 2,750 from the previous week.

The largest increases in initial claims for the week that ended June 15 were in California, where claims rose by 15,341, Pennsylvania with a gain of 4,882 and Florida with a gain of 4,850).

The largest decreases were in Illinois, down by 3,401, New York, down by 2,090, and Georgia with 1,893 fewer claims.