U.S. Dominates Volume Of Government Requests For Facebook User Info Worldwide

Facebook has released a tally sheet enumerating how many times governments have requested information on individual users over the first six months of 2013. In all, there have been more than 25,000 requests from national governments worldwide – and, as you might have guessed, the U.S. is at the front of the pack.

The release, dubbed the “Global Government Requests Report,” not only shows the frequency with which Facebook is approached by governments requesting information, but the number of times Facebook has complied.

Facebook honored 79 percent of the estimated 12,000 U.S. government requests it received in an effort to gain information on an estimated 20,000 individual users.

As Adi Robertson of tech website The Verge explains, the nature of the requests range from trifling to significant.

The table lists anything made by any government branch, from standard law enforcement to more covert activities, and it includes requests for all kinds of information. That means we’re looking at everything from a police subpoena asking for a burglar’s account email address to a secret court order for the IP address of a protestor.

… These numbers appear to have risen slightly from Facebook’s estimates in 2012. Unlike all other country data, the US numbers can’t even be reported exactly. The gag orders associated with FBI national security letters and FISA court requests make it difficult to talk about many orders at all, and Facebook was only allowed to start mentioning them in ranges in June.

As you’ll see on the Facebook press release page, the U.S. is indeed the only country whose numbers are mere estimates; all others are presented with single-digit precision.

Report Shows How Recession Hit U.S. Families

WASHINGTON, (UPI) —  The number of U.S. households with an unemployed parent and a child under 18 living at home soared from 2005 to 2011, a Census Bureau report says.

The report, titled “America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2012,” says there were 2.4 million households in 2005 with an unemployed parent and at least one child under 18 in 2005. By 2011, that number had grown 33 percent to 3.2 million, the Census Bureau said Tuesday.

“During the recession, economic well-being worsened for families with children. Home ownership among families declined, while food stamp receipt and parental unemployment increased. Even after the recession officially ended in 2009, these measures remained worse than before it began,” said report co-author Jamie Lewis, a demographer in the Census Bureau’s Fertility and Family Statistics Branch.

In some states, the statistic escalated dramatically, including Nevada with a 148 percent increase, Hawaii at 95 percent, Florida at 93 percent, and Connecticut, New Jersey and California each with gains of more than 60 percent.

In the same period, the number of households with children under 18 who owned their own homes plummeted, dropping by 15 percent to 20.8 million.

The largest declines were in Michigan, Arizona and California, with drops of 23 percent in Michigan and 22 percent in Arizona and California.

In Ohio, the decline was 20 percent. In New Hampshire and Florida, it was 19 percent, the Census Bureau said.

In another statistic that could be related to economics, the report said a higher percentage of adults ages 25 to 34 were living in their parents’ home in 2012 than was the case in the early 2000s.

Among young adult men, the percentage rose from 13 percent to 17 percent from 2000 to 2012. For young adult women, the percentage rose from 8 percent to 10 percent, the report said.

Medications Of Breastfeeding Mothers Do Not Harm Baby

ROCKVILLE, Md., (UPI) —  Doctors often tell new mothers to stop taking medications while breastfeeding to protect the infants, but this may not be needed, U.S. researchers say.

Hari Cheryl Sachs of Rockville, Md., said many mothers are inappropriately advised to discontinue breastfeeding or avoid taking essential medications because of fears of adverse effects on their infants. This cautious approach may be unnecessary in many cases, because only a small proportion of medications are contraindicated in breastfeeding mothers or associated with adverse effects on their infants, Sachs said.

Previous statements on this topic from the American Academy of Pediatrics provided physicians with data concerning the known excretion of specific medications into breast milk. More current and comprehensive information is now available on the Internet, as well as an application for mobile devices, at LactMed at: toxnet.nlm.nih.gov.  Therefore, with the exception of radioactive compounds requiring temporary cessation of breastfeeding, the reader will be referred to LactMed to obtain the most current data on an individual medication, the study said.

This report discusses several topics of interest surrounding lactation, such as the use of psychotropic therapies, drugs to treat substance abuse, narcotics and herbal products, as well as immunization of breastfeeding women.

The findings are published online ahead of the print edition of Pediatrics.

Half Of U.S. Teen App Users Avoid An App Due To Privacy

PHILADELPHIA, (UPI) —  Almost 6-in-10 U.S. teens say they have downloaded an app, but more than half of teen app users avoided an app due privacy concerns, researchers say.

Lead author Mary Madden, senior researcher for the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project, and colleagues at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University found 26 percent of teen app users have uninstalled an app because they learned it was collecting personal information.

In addition, 46 percent of teen app users turned off location tracking features on their cellphone or in an app because they were worried about the privacy of their information.

In focus group discussions, participants said they primarily downloaded social media and game apps to their phones and tablets, though they also downloaded apps relating to music, news and the weather. When choosing which apps to download, participants stated that they typically downloaded free ones.

Survey data showed boys stand out as the most active app downloaders, and girls were most likely to disable location tracking features on their phones and in apps.

“Teens are on the front lines of figuring out the complex world of privacy management of on their mobile devices,” Madden said in a statement. “They realize that cellphones can be used to monitor their whereabouts, and they will avoid apps if they feel like the data requests are unnecessary or excessive.”

The findings were based on a U.S. phone survey of 802 parents and their 802 teens ages 12-17, conducted July 26-Sept. 30, 2012. The margin of error for the full sample was 4.5 percentage points.

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard gathered data from focus groups from February to April.

Facebook Reveals Requests By World Governments For User Data

MENLO PARK, Calif., (UPI) —  Facebook has issued a report revealing it fielded requests from 74 countries for data on at least 38,000 users in the first half of 2013.

The report released Tuesday provided details on the scale and scope of data requests Facebook received from governments around the world, requests made both for security investigations and criminal cases, The Washington Post reported.

The United States made the most requests, the report said, asking for access to more than 20,000 accounts; Facebook said it supplied the requested data in around 79 percent of cases.

Britain made the second-most requests for data from Facebook, 1,975 requests from 2,337 user accounts, while France, Germany, India and Italy also made more than 1,000 requests during the first half of 2013, Facebook’s report said.

Facebook said on its Web site it plans to release such reports regularly; in so doing it will join a number of technology firms, including Google and Twitter, which have been issuing regular reports on data access requests in past years.

Washington-based non-profit The Center for Democracy and Technology hailed the Facebook report but called on the Obama administration to allow technology firms to be even more specific about the number and scope of requests issued by the U.S. government.

“[We] hope that the Obama administration and Congress will work together to ensure that companies like Facebook can soon engage in meaningful transparency reporting about the full range of government surveillance of Internet users,” Kevin Bankston, the group’s free expression director, said in a statement.

Condo Association Threatens Fine For U.S. Flag In Window

BOSTON, (UPI) —  A Boston man said he believes his condo company would violate a federal law if it follows through with plans to fine him for a U.S. flag in his window.

Mark DiGiovanni, 52, said the company that manages his condominium building sent him a “gentle reminder” Monday he could face a $25-per-day fine for violating the “white curtains only” rule by putting a U.S. flag in his window, the Boston Herald reported Tuesday.

DiGiovanni said he plans to challenge the fine, which he said would violate the 2005 federal Freedom to Display the American Flag Act. The act says condo associations “may not adopt or enforce any policy, or enter into any agreement, that would restrict or prevent a member of the association from displaying the flag of the United States” in their own condo.

Condo association trustee Sean McGrail said the association was reacting to a violation of the colored curtains ban. He said the board does not plan to comment further on the dispute.

Ohio Couple Die On Same Day, Just Before 66th Anniversary

RUSSIA, Ohio, (UPI) —  An Ohio couple died on the same day in the same nursing home, nine days before their 66th wedding anniversary, their family said.

Harold Knapke, 91, and Ruth Knapke, 89, had known each other since they were in elementary school, their children told CNN. They died Aug. 11 at the Versailles Health Care Center in Russia, Ohio.

Harold Knapke appeared to become sicker after he was told his wife had contracted an infection that would almost certainly kill her, their daughter, Margaret Knapke, said.

In the end, he went first.

“I think he realized what was happening and wanted to pave the way for her,” their son, Ted, told CNN.

Ruth Knapke told her children she had a crush on her husband in third grade but his family moved to a different town.

The two got together during World War II when he was stationed in Germany. Ruth’s brother-in-law, when he discovered Harold Knapke was from the same part of Ohio, suggested he get in touch with her.

They married in 1947 and had six children. He became a teacher and principal in Fort Recovery, Ohio, and she worked as a school secretary.

Decades later, they were buried together after a joint funeral.

“Mom and Dad were ordinary people,” another daughter, Ginny Reindl, said. “I guess if people can learn from our story it’s that there is love that lasts, and that’s a good thing.”

Appeals Court: Asking For Lawyer Doesn’t Imply Guilt

NEW YORK, (UPI) —  Prosecutors may not use a suspect’s request for a lawyer during police questioning as evidence of guilt, a U.S. appeals court in New York ruled.

A suspect’s silence alone in police interrogations isn’t enough to trigger Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, citing a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

But requesting an attorney during a police interrogation before arrest automatically triggers such protections and the government was wrong when it used a suspect’s sudden silence during the interrogation in making a case for his guilt, the appeals court said.

“A request for a lawyer in response to law enforcement questioning suffices to put an officer on notice that the individual means to invoke the privilege,” the court said in a case involving a man convicted of trying to sneak a foreign national into the United States.

The appeals ordered a new trial for Tayfun Okatan, convicted by a jury in 2011 of three charges of trying to bring German citizen Munir Uysal illegally into the United States.

Okatan did not bring Uysal into the United States, and the evidence of his guilt “was purely circumstantial and far from overwhelming,” the court said in recounting the lower court proceedings in Albany, N.Y.

Yet, a federal prosecutor told the Albany jury the defendant’s sudden silence after asking for a lawyer revealed the “kind of conduct that someone who’s been caught engaged in,” the appeals court said.

That is unconstitutional, the court ruled.

“The Fifth Amendment guaranteed Okatan a right to react to the question without incriminating himself, and he successfully invoked that right,” said the court, whose ruling can be found at tinyurl.com/UPI-Appeals-Court-Ruling.

The prosecutor’s comment to the jury about the defendant’s failure to testify was, in effect, a penalty “for exercising a constitutional privilege,” the court said, quoting the Supreme Court.

“In order for the privilege to be given full effect, individuals must not be forced to choose between making potentially incriminating statements and being penalized for refusing to make them,” the appeals court said.

“Accordingly, we conclude that where, as here, an individual is interrogated by an officer, even prior to arrest, his invocation of the privilege against self-incrimination and his subsequent silence cannot be used by the government in its case in chief as substantive evidence of guilt,” the court ruled.

The Justice Department had no immediate comment on the ruling.

U.S. Air Force Chief Apologizes For Sequestration Furloughs

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan, (UPI) —  The chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force apologized Tuesday to staff members furloughed this year due to budget cuts forced by sequestration.

Gen. Mark A. Welsh III issued the apology in Japan during his first visit to Asia since assuming the top Air Force job a year ago, Stars and Stripes reported.

“I’m sorry that we as a nation didn’t figure out a way to do this better,” Welsh told airmen and civilian employees in an all-call at Yokota Air Base.

In an interview before his address, Welsh called sequestration a “brutal mechanism” because it requires across-the-board cuts.

He said it is causing a big headache for Air Force planners and is preventing the Air Force from working with a “predictable top-line number” for the 2014 budget.

Welsh said the topic he spends more time on than anything else is sexual assault in the military.

He said he adamantly opposes an idea proposed by some in Congress of removing authority over prosecution of sex crimes from the chain of command.

“”You can’t fix it from outside the chain of command,” he said.

Florida Will Be Asked To Cover Zimmerman’s Legal Expenses

ORLANDO, Fla.,  (UPI) —  George Zimmerman will ask the state of Florida to cover his legal costs to win an acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, his lawyer said.

Defense attorney Mark O’Mara said he would soon prepare a motion asking Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson to authorize payments for the $200,000 to $300,000 it cost to defend Martin, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

State law requires Florida to pay Zimmerman’s legal bills because he was acquitted of second-degree homicide charges by a six-member Seminole County jury in July.

The money will come from the state agency that pays the non-lawyer legal expenses of indigent defendants.

O’Mara said he is in the process of adding up the numbers but estimated the request would total $200,000 to $300,000.

Martin, an unarmed black high school student, was shot to death in Sanford, Fla. Feb. 26, 2012.

Moments before the shooting, neighborhood watch volunteer Zimmerman had called police describing the teen as suspicious.

Government Spies Love Facebook; School Spies Love Facebook Syria Strike Looms; Russia, China Warn U.S. To Stand Down; Some Blacks Abandon Liberalism; And D.C. Vies For 2024 Summer Olympics— Tuesday Morning News Roundup 8-27-2013

Here is a collection of some of the stories making the Internet rounds this morning. Click the links for the full stories.

  • Government agents in 74 countries demanded information on about 38,000 Facebook users in the first half of this year, with about half the orders coming from authorities in the United States, the company said Tuesday. Source: The Associated Press
  • Missile strikes against Syria could be launched “as early as Thursday,” senior U.S. officials said Tuesday as the White House intensified efforts for an international response to a suspected chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds in a Damascus suburb last week. Source: CNBC
  • Russia and China have stepped up their warnings against military intervention in Syria, with Moscow saying any such action would have “catastrophic consequences” for the region. Source: BBC
  • The Glendale Unified School District has hired a Hermosa Beach company to monitor public social media posts made by its students to find out when teens are in trouble or causing it. Source: CBS Los Angeles
  • The Republican National Committee commemorated the 50th anniversary of the March of Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech with a luncheon Monday. The most rousing speech of the luncheon came from Bob Woodson, head of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprises, who criticized black leaders over Trayvon Martin. Woodson, who is black, said groups including gays and immigrants have been prioritized over poor black people in American society. “Everybody has come in front of them on the bus – gays, immigrants, women, environmentalists,” Woodson said. “You never hear any talk about the conditions confronting poor blacks and poor people in general.” Source: The Washington Post
  • Officials in Washington Tuesday announced plans to seek the 2024 Summer Olympics, a bid to finally bring the world games to one of the few major capital cities to never hold the event. Source: Washington Examiner 

Facebook Presence, Habits Could Affect Your Creditworthiness

As social media continues to supplant real living for more people who’ve embraced technology’s offer of an always-on existence, real-world repercussions of laying one’s persona before the public often come along in unexpected ways.

One side effect of America’s turn toward technocracy is the fact that the rest of the digital world is slowly beginning to view a person’s online presence (or lack thereof) as an indicator of his creditworthiness.

The relatively new phenomenon of lenders using Facebook to reach an up-front decision about whether you’re likely to pay back a loan is, for now, confined to that segment of would-be borrowers who lack established credit but who remain highly engaged in social media.

According to a CNN Money report, people who’ve left no footprint with FICO and other credit scoring analysts are increasingly being scrutinized by companies that use Facebook to determine, based on individuals’ social associations and online interests, whether they represent a safe credit risk.

How does it work? Companies like Lenddo find out whether you’re Facebook friends with others who have previously taken out a loan from the company, which bills its business model as “credit based on trust.” If one or more of your Facebook friends hasn’t been timely with loan repayments, it lowers your chances of getting a loan from Lenddo. But if your associates have been timely, your chances of approval increase.

“It turns out humans are really good at knowing who is trustworthy and reliable in their community,” Lenddo CEO Jeff Stewart told CNN Money. “What’s new is that we’re now able to measure through massive computing power.”

It’s not just a person’s Facebook habits that can make or break the technocracy’s judgment of their financial trustworthiness. Small-business cash-advance outfits like Kabbage augment an applicant’s traditional credit score with information mined from Big Data, including applicants’ payment histories through online exchanges like PayPal and eBay.

Most of the companies that have so far turned to the Internet to assess individuals’ credit risks aren’t operating extensively in the United States. But just as the Internet has insinuated itself into many employers’ hiring practices, online-based credit “checks” that examine a person’s habits, preferences and associations are expected to become more common.

The practice is still too new to forecast the fates of those Internet users who have no plans to join Facebook or establish a history of online commerce by buying things off Amazon or eBay. But precedent suggests that those who choose to live free from the tether of technology-based social relationships and financial transactions could face undue burdens as their world comes into contact with that of the majority — a majority that grows increasingly contented with swapping virtual life for real life.

Drinking Coffee Can Lower Suicide Risk

A new study by the Harvard School of Public Health seems to show that coffee drinkers have a lower risk of suicide than non-coffee drinkers.

Researchers reviewed data from three large caffeine studies and found that the risk of suicide for adults who drank two to four cups of caffeinated coffee per day was about half that of those who drank decaffeinated coffee or very little or no coffee.

The lower risk of depression and suicide in coffee drinkers can be explained by the fact that caffeine acts as a mild antidepressant. It boosts certain neurotransmitters in the brain like serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline. Caffeine also stimulates the central nervous system.

The risk of suicide is reduced by about 50 percent in coffee drinkers, researchers found. However, researchers did not find any major difference in suicide rates among those drinking more than four cups a day — although they admit that the sample size of those drinking more than four cups and committing or attempting suicide was small.

However, in a previous HSPH coffee-depression study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the investigators observed a maximal effect among those who drank four or more cups per day. One large Finnish study showed a higher risk of suicide among people drinking eight or nine cups per day. Few participants in the two HSPH studies drank such large amounts of coffee so the impact of six or more cups/day of coffee was not addressed in these two studies.

New Jersey AG’s Report: State Troopers Don’t Follow Own Rules

The office of acting New Jersey Attorney General John Jay Hoffman released a new report last month revealing that too many highway patrol officers in the Garden State break the department’s own rules, using excessive force during routine traffic stops, using motorists’ race as a determinant when bringing out police dogs and improperly searching vehicles.

The report, which covered the first six months of 2012, notes that the State police break rules at a “troubling” rate and doesn’t do enough self-monitoring to catch their repeated occurrence or to correct the officers responsible. Out of 155 cases the police self-reviewed during early 2012, they failed to identify such mistakes nearly one-third of the time.

An independent police expert who helped the Federal government monitor the New Jersey State Police during the execution of a recently ended consent decree said the new report is “disturbing.”

“By the time you reach 30 percent, that’s getting pretty serious,” Samuel Walker told The Star-Ledger.

The most recent in the Federally mandated series of periodic reports was released in July by the New Jersey Office of Law Enforcement Professional Standards (OLEP). OLEP is an internal division that was set up to monitor the State following the department’s 2009 exit from the Federal consent order, which had set Federal watchdogs to ensure the department had curbed its practice of racially profiling black on the New Jersey Turnpike by singling them out for “routine” traffic stops.

In addition to finding the State Police had used excessive force in a number of stops — an allegation the police themselves deny — the report also found that Troopers seemed to be deploying police dogs on a disproportionate number of black motorists.

“White drivers made up 48 percent of all stops, yet only 30 percent of motor vehicle stops with canine deployments,” according to the report. “Black drivers made up 39 percent of all stops and 61 percent of canine deployments.”

The findings also indicate troopers did not advise all suspects of their Miranda rights and often failed to activate their patrol cars’ dashboard cameras and microphones during traffic stops. The Feds now require dashboard recording of New Jersey State Police as a means of self-monitoring, a required condition of the lifting of the consent decree.

Want To Make Sure Your Spouse Doesn’t Cheat? Work For The NSA

Despite a recent report that paints employees as low-morale victims of a media-fueled cavalcade of spy scandals, working for the National Security Agency (NSA) undoubtedly comes with some unique perks.

One of the great side effects of digital omniscience is the ability to find out if your husband, wife, boyfriend or mistress is cheating on you. Monday’s online news editions were filled with reports indicating that’s exactly what some NSA staffers have done.

“Staff working at the National Security Agency — the eavesdropping unit that was revealed to have spied on millions of people — have used the technology to spy on their lovers,” states The Telegraph. “The employees even had a code name for the practice — ‘Love-int’ — meaning the gathering of intelligence on their partners.”

“Spy agencies often refer to their various types of intelligence collection with the suffix of ‘INT,’ such as ‘SIGINT’ for collecting signals intelligence, or communications; and ‘HUMINT’ for human intelligence, or spying,” reported The Wall Street Journal. “The ‘LOVEINT’ examples constitute most episodes of willful misconduct by NSA employees, officials said.”

The story comes only a week after an internal NSA inquiry disclosed the agency had broken the law thousands of times in the last year by spying on people who weren’t suspected of any crimes and who hadn’t been targeted by a search warrant.

Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she had been told the love-interest spying was limited to only a few instances and involved significant others who weren’t actually in the U.S. at the time the surveillance supposedly was carried out. Of course, all of this self-disclosure is coming straight from NSA officials — a reporting procedure that’s supposed to qualify as “Congressional oversight.”

“Clearly, any case of noncompliance is unacceptable, but these small numbers of cases do not change my view that NSA takes significant care to prevent any abuses and that there is a substantial oversight system in place,” said Feinstein. “When errors are identified, they are reported and corrected.”

The Senator places great confidence in the self-policing resolve of an agency whose larger abuses were never self-reported. Would any of these “errors” be identified even now if it weren’t for the conscience (we’re told) of a lone whistle-blower and the freedom of a foreign press to tell his story?

Weapons Of Mass Repetition

In 2003, then-Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency James Clapper told reporters that Saddam Hussein moved his stockpiles of chemical weapons to Syria in advance of the second Gulf war, calling it the “the obvious conclusion one draws.” Clapper’s assessment was echoed by a general with the Iraqi Air Force, Georges Sada, who noted as many as 56 flights and multiple truck convoys carted the weapons of mass destruction across the border. The pre-invasion WMD pipeline is further touted by Israeli intelligence, Syrian dissident accounts and even American satellite imagery. Though there was no doubt Saddam had possessed and used chemical weapons (a fact to which the victims of Iraqi chemical attacks in both Kurdistan and Iran would doubtless testify were they not dead from chemical-weapons exposure), they had vanished from Iraq. Putting aside the hotly debated veracity of President George W. Bush’s infamous rationale as well as the eyewitness accounts of those few people who survived the aforementioned war crimes in Iraq and Iran, the question requires an answer: Where did Saddam’s stockpile of chemical weapons go?

Last week, the Syrian government of Bashar Assad decided to cross whatever line comes after the “red line” that President Barack Hussein Obama declared uncrossable more than a year ago. In a move that seemed only slightly less desperate than would one by the Comcast flack assigned to make MSNBC palatable to the viewers who avoid it like it causes brain cancer, Assad deployed chemical weapons — which he likely borrowed from his fellow Ba’athist wacko, who used to live next door — against his own people.

The body count from Assad’s chemical attack remains unclear, but the reaction was spectacular. By Sunday afternoon, sources were indicating the Obama Administration was preparing a naval strike package against Syrian government targets. By the time you read this, there may well be neighborhoods in Damascus that are even more depressingly miserable than they were before.

But how did the United States of Barack Obama find itself in such a predicament? I was under the impression that the election of Obama in 2008 permanently ended war, oppression and religious intolerance. I mean, they gave the guy the Nobel Peace Prize without a shred of collateral. I’m willing to admit that dealing with the Mideast at a diplomatic level would test the mettle of even a marginally competent statesman — something to which Obama can only aspire.

The Democrats spent most of the 2000s shrieking to the rafters about the warmongering failures of President George W. Bush. Some of their criticisms, although issued for the wrong reasons, were correct. Once it became apparent the WMDs were gone, the whole endeavor became a replay of Vietnam — only with much cooler action scenes and a lower number of wasted American lives. In Iraq, we whacked a homicidal islamofascist and replaced him with a group of homicidal islamofascists because the former was becoming increasingly troublesome and because he had used WMDs before.

Then, Obama got elected in no small way as a result of being one of the few candidates who could say they said “no” to the war. Well, Dennis Kucinich could say that, but he talks to space aliens. And I think Hillary Clinton still says it, but Clinton has always had kind of a weird relationship with reality. Darn it all, Bush had lied to America about WMDs; and any candidate who wasn’t either Obama or the spaceman from Ohio with the semi-hot wife was clearly in on the sham with Bush. We were done with war and done with using phantom WMDs to justify it.

Though he ended direct combat operations in Iraq, Obama replaced them with indirect and somewhat indiscriminate targeting of civilians in Yemen. And despite an apparent media blackout on the topic, combat operations in Afghanistan are still very much a going concern. We certainly remember the recent unpleasantness in Libya — although everyone in the Obama Administration short of the postmaster general lied about it, some of them under oath. I don’t know about the rest of you, but Obama’s idea of hope, change, peace and improving America’s standing in the eyes of the world seems oddly similar to Bush’s. The only real difference appears to be that Bush was more discerning about spying on his own people and was whole let less “droney” — at least over domestic soil.

Look, we can all have a big discussion about the merits of America’s self-assigned role as policeman to the world’s crappiest precincts. I happen to believe there is logic to neutralizing those who seek to do us harm before they can board Air Jihadistan for their flight to Allah’s secret grotto via Cairo; Tel Aviv, Israel; Berlin; Paris; Oslo, Norway; London; New York; Shanksville, Pa.; and wherever else all the hippest suicide bombers are pressing the “send” button on the hotline to the afterlife. I also happen to believe that not everyone who disagrees with me is necessarily enabling islamofascism like Al-Jazeera. But it’s worth noting that we spent nearly 10 years stomping on islamofascists in Iraq — and are still doing so in Afghanistan — over WMDs we knew existed and thought might have been moved to Syria. The guy who won the White House in 2008 and again in 2012 swore up and down that not only was he was going to deliver peace in our time, but he was going to make the world unite in harmony. (Calls to mind that old, cloying Coke jingle.)

In this late age of Obama, countries upon which we could generally count to not completely devolve into an ululating rendition of the Hatfields and McCoys have devolved into open warfare. The Egyptians — evidently not content with behaving like medieval Christians — are now targeting 21st century Christians. And now, we’re gearing up for war in Syria because some lunatic islamofascist used WMDs against a bunch of lunatic islamofascists. Scroll past the endless speeches about hope and change. Ignore the pronouncements by every Democrat from Central Park West to Malibu that Obama would be the most awesome thing short of the second coming, if not even cooler than that. The Navy is preparing to engage in direct action against the homicidal islamofascist running Syria, presumably to replace him with a group of homicidal islamofascists, and all because he used WMDs, which Administration official Clapper says he got from Iraq. “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

–Ben Crystal

Remembering Delbert Benton

Delbert Benton survived the slings and arrows of this world for 88 years. Benton survived the Great Depression. He survived the deprivations of the Dust Bowl. He survived the multiple ailments, such as polio, which lay in wait for so many of his generation. He survived World War II, although the Battle of Okinawa left him with the parting gift of a Japanese bullet in his leg. After risking his life to save the world from the threat of fascism, Benton returned to his home and lived a peaceful life as an employee at Kaiser Aluminum.

Benton survived far more than most people are ever asked to endure. He never wrote a bestseller, recorded a chart-topping tune, starred in a blockbuster Hollywood movie, sat on the board of some multinational conglomerate, ran for public office or hosted a syndicated TV show. The footprint Benton left on the world was comparatively small.

Indeed, Benton may have lived a life that seems, upon examination, to have been fairly unremarkable. But it likely meant everything to those who loved him — among them a cancer-stricken son who learned of his father’s fate while fighting cancer in the same hospital to which his dying father was rushed following the fatal assault. The sacrifice he and his compatriots risked on the beaches of the Pacific absolutely meant everything to a grateful Nation. And while he may have lived a life quite ordinary by a celebrity-obsessed culture’s standards, he deserved a better end than being beaten to death by a couple of junior varsity thugs in a parking lot.

As a father, Benton deserved to bid farewell to his family. As a man, he deserved to meet his maker on his own terms. As a warrior who put his life on the line for his country, he certainly deserved better than to meet his maker at the hands of flashlight-wielding trash who ought to have been offering him a light for his cigarette, if not the respect worthy of a survivor of so much.

At the very least, he deserved better than to have his commander in chief ignore his senseless and brutal demise. In the wake of the equally senseless and brutal murder of Chris Lane, President Barack Obama’s mouthpiece claimed he was “not familiar” with the case. I remarked at the time that Obama seemed at far less a loss for words following the death of a kid who apparently reminded him of his imaginary son. The murder of Benton elicited nary a peep from the President and his front men.

Mr. President, I’ll remember Delbert Benton; but he still deserved better than to be forgotten by you.

–Ben Crystal

Body Mass Index Not Accurate

PHILADELPHIA (UPI) — The body mass index, based on weight and height, is not an accurate measure of body fat content, two U.S. researchers say.

Those who are obese are predisposed to diabetes, heart diseases, sleep apnea, cancer and other diseases. Although several studies have shown an increase in mortality in obese people, recent research suggests obesity can protect against death from all causes, including chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart failure and stroke, Rexford Ahima, M.D., Ph.D., and Mitchell Lazar, M.D., Ph.D., of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania say.

This so-called “obesity-mortality” paradox suggesting a beneficial influence of obesity has generated a lot of controversy, Ahima said.

“There is an urgent need for accurate, practical and affordable tools to measure fat and skeletal muscle, and biomarkers that can better predict the risks of diseases and mortality,” Ahima said in a statement.

“Advances to improve the measurement of obesity and related factors will help determine the optimal weight for an individual, taking into account factors such as age, sex, genetics, fitness, pre-existing diseases, as well novel blood markers and metabolic parameters altered by obesity.”

The researchers noted in an article published in the journal Science that the true impact of obesity might not be appreciated because population studies often describe associations of BMI and health and mortality risks without assessing how intentional or unintentional weight loss or weight gain affect these outcomes.

“Future research should be focused more on molecular pathways, especially how metabolic factors altered by obesity change the development of diabetes, heart diseases, cancer and other ailments, and influence the health status and mortality,” Lazar said.

Americans Don’t Want A Red-Line War; Congressional Dems Eye Massive Federal Firearm Tax; Forcing Clergy To Render Unto Caesar; Too Dumb To Care About The Bill Of Rights — Personal Liberty Digest™ P.M. Edition 8-26-2013

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

Obama Prepares Syria Strike Over War-Weary Americans’ Objections

It looks like President Barack Obama is getting ready to retaliate against Syria for crossing his “red line” on the use of weapons of mass destruction – but a new poll shows that almost nobody wants the U.S. to get involved in yet another inscrutable war in the Middle East. Read More… 

Bill Before Congress Would Tax Handgun Sales At 20 Percent; Ammo At 50 Percent

Two Democratic Congressmen are sponsoring a House bill that seeks to place a Federal tax on the sale of handguns and ammunition – to the tune of 20 percent and 50 percent, respectively. Read More…

Atheists Seek End To Clergy Home Tax Break

The U.S. Justice Department says in a legal filing leaders of an atheist group qualify for the same housing tax exemption priests receive. The paradoxical position comes in response to a lawsuit by the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which seeks to end the parsonage tax break granted to priests, ministers, rabbis and other clergy by the U.S. government. Read More… 

Watch Dumb Americans Sign Petition To ‘Support Obama And Repeal The 5th Amendment’

In which media agitator Mark Dice effortlessly enlists the low-information set to help him call for the abolition of the right not to testify against oneself. Watch…   

Obama Prepares Syria Strike Over War-Weary Americans’ Objections

It looks like President Barack Obama is getting ready to retaliate against Syria for crossing his “red line” on the use of weapons of mass destruction – but a new Reuters poll shows that almost nobody wants the U.S. to get involved in yet another inscrutable war in the Middle East.

The poll surveyed Americans’ opinions on whether U.S. should intervene in the Syrian conflict – regardless of whether President Bashar al-Assad violated basic human rights by using chemical weapons against civilians. It found that 60 percent of Americans are opposed to any intervention in Syria, while only 9 percent believe the U.S. should get involved. Even when asked whether it could be proved that chemical weapons have been used against civilians in Syria, only 25 percent of those polled said the U.S. would be justified in intervening.

Many who offered comments along with their poll responses justified their opposition by saying the U.S. can’t effectively police the world and that it’s not a job that President Obama, like his Presidential forebears, should assume.

Ahead of any possible military action against Assad, Obama’s critics are sharpening their knives against the President’s possible capitulation to the same second-term modus operandi of predecessors, who mired the U.S. in Middle Eastern conflict on the pretense of righting moral atrocities.

“In many ways, President Barack Obama has rehabilitated the presidency of George W. Bush in ways which the conservative president’s supporters never could,” writes Mediaite’s Noah Rothman. “This is especially true in relation to the conduct of the global war on terror; an area of public policy in which Obama arguably had the broadest public mandate to govern in ways radically dissimilar to his predecessor.”

In other words, President Obama has come full circle from his promise of “change,” and will stand amongst the Bushes when history remembers his role in extending America’s enforcement ambitions in the Middle East at the run of the 21st Century.

Atheists Seek End To Clergy Home Tax Break

MADISON, Wis. (UPI) — The U.S. Justice Department says in a legal filing leaders of an atheist group qualify for the same housing tax exemption priests receive.

The paradoxical position comes in response to a lawsuit by the Freedom from Religion Foundation in Madison, Wis., which seeks to end the parsonage tax break granted to priests, ministers, rabbis and other clergy by the U.S. government. The tax break allows them to claim part of their income as a tax-free housing allowance.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, who receives a $15,000 housing stipend from the Freedom from Religion Foundation, is suing the federal government because she has to pay taxes on that money while “ministers of the gospel,” as the law defines priests, do not.

In response, the federal government said rather than agree to end the parsonage exemption it could be extended to Gaylor because she is the leader of a religious movement — albeit one that does not believe in God.

Legal maneuvering aside, Gaylor told The (Nashville) Tennessean the government has missed the point of her lawsuit — not to mention the fundamental difference between her atheist group and a religious order.

“We are not ministers,” she said. “We are having to tell the government the obvious — we are not a church.”

But government lawyers and some scholars said the argument isn’t as cut and dried.

Taoism and Buddhism are recognized religions that don’t recognize a deity and their leaders are afforded the tax break. So belief in God, the government argues, can’t be the defining trait of a religious movement.

“Plaintiffs may not presume that a law’s reference to religion necessarily excludes beliefs that are specifically non-theistic in nature,” the government argued in a motion to dismiss the foundation’s suit.

Scholars agreed, atheist groups mirror religious groups in some ways. Phil Zuckerman, professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., said the government is partially correct atheist groups share some traits with organized churches.

He compared devout members of a religion to devout sports or music fans, noting they share much of the same behavior — common customs, a system of belief that elevates a star athlete or singer to a god-like level. But the comparison, Zuckerman said, breaks down when you consider whether sports fans really think an athlete has supernatural powers.

“Soccer fans don’t really believe that David Beckham was born of a virgin,” he said. “They don’t really believe Jimi Hendrix is a god.”

The lawsuit has not been resolved though Zuckerman said it’s unlikely a court will strike down the parsonage tax break.