Even as State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf continued to insist today that the handover of five Taliban detainees in exchange for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl wasn’t a bad deal for U.S. interests, multiple reports continued to emerge that paint the exchange as a multi-tiered disaster for the Obama Administration.
From anecdotes describing Bergdahl’s extended absence as a desertion that needlessly cost U.S. soldiers their lives, to the VA-beleaguered Obama Administration’s evident surprise at how terribly the swap backfired, to stern scolding from Democratic allies over the operation’s secrecy and dubious legality, to the hometown cancelation of Bergdahl’s planned welcome-home celebration – there’s been no political upside for the Obama Administration. On the heels on multiple scandals, the Bergdahl fiasco – entirely a creation of the Obama Administration – is, simply put, a scandal.
Now comes the video – released to western media by the Taliban – showing the moment of Bergdahl’s release into U.S. custody. It’s a bizarre exchange, and, watching it, it’s hard not to see the interaction between Taliban and Americans as nothing more nor less than a negotiation between a powerful sovereign Nation and…terrorists.
A new CNN poll out Tuesday demonstrates a continuing decline in President Barack Obama’s policy approval rating across nearly all American demographic categories.
Obama’s general disapproval rating debuted at 23 percent in February of 2009, but shot to 50 percent for the first time in December of that year, outpacing his approval rating (48 percent) for the first time. After reaching a historic high of 56 percent (compared with an approval rating of 41 percent) for consecutive months late last year, Obama’s disapproval rating now sits stagnantly at 55 percent (compared with his current 43 percent approval rating).
As Breitbart observed Wednesday, it’s not just that Obama’s approval rating stinks – it’s that key demographics coveted by progressives have turned on him:
On no single issue does a majority of Americans approve of Obama’s position. On many important issues, e.g. health care, immigration and foreign policy, his approval ratings have reached new lows. Perhaps surprisingly, however, his approval ratings are worst among America’s working class…
It should be noted that Obama’s approval ratings have collapsed across the issues, not just with this sub-group. On voters’ top issue, the economy, 61% of voters disapprove of Obama’s performance. Just 38% approve. Obama’s numbers are 7 points worse than they were on the eve of the GOP landslide in 2010. His approval ratings on health care, illegal immigration, gun policy and the federal deficit have all reached new lows, with Obama’s approval mired in the 30s. On the deficit, 67% of voters disapprove of Obama.
As bad as these numbers are, they are worse among America’s working class voters. On every issue, Obama receives lower marks from those earning less than $50k and those who never attended college than the general population. A staggering 67% of those who didn’t attend college disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy, for example. 69% disapprove of his handling of health care.
You can view the full findings in the CNN poll here.
At the same time, Obama’s standing among residents of Arab countries as well as the disputed Palestinian territory, has improved by an order of magnitude in recent years, according to a new report from Zogby Research Services, a K Street consulting firm.
Polling residents of seven Middle Eastern territories – Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Palestinian territories (which the survey treats as its own sovereign entity) – Zogby saw dramatic gains in opinion for Obama. “Despite the persistence of negative attitudes toward several U.S. policies in the Arab World, there has been an uptick in U.S. favorable ratings in some Arab countries and an increase in Arab support for President Obama in all countries,” the study’s summary asserts.
That includes a massive jump in Egypt (three percent approval for Obama in 2011, compared with 34 percent today), as well as double-digit gains in nearly every other Arab state.
Unsurprisingly, occupants of the area at the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict found the Obama Administration to be far more even-handed in its diplomatic temperament than residents in other parts of the Middle East:
When assessing the United States’ efforts to negotiate a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, overwhelming majorities in every country reject the notion that the United States has been even-handed in these negotiations. It is worth noting that while more than eight in ten respondents in Jordan (88%), Morocco (88%), Lebanon (84%), and Egypt (82%) express this view, Palestinians (and Arabs in the Emirates) are less inclined to be negative. Among Palestinians 30% say the United States has been even-handed (along with 31% of those in the UAE), and 57% say they are not confident in U.S. fairness in the negotiations.
Still, Obama has a ways to go before he’s regarded as favorably among Arabs as Bill Clinton, whom the survey describes as “far and away…the most positive U.S. president in recent history.”
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, a Republican, signed into law earlier this year a bill the State Legislature passed that makes passing a drug test an eligibility contingency for some recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits – aka food stamps.
Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which administers the ever-expanding SNAP program, is cautioning State officials not to enforce the new law, because it places State-controlled parameters on a program that’s administered under Federal guidelines.
House Bill 772, now a Georgia law, requires drug testing for SNAP applicants who, according to language in the bill, raise a “reasonable suspicion” that they’re abusing illegal drugs. Approximately two million of Georgia’s estimated 10 million residents are on food stamps. Nationwide, government spending on SNAP benefits more than doubled during the five-year span between 2007 and 2012.
The new law was scheduled to take effect July 1, but the USDA warned health officials this week that placing State qualifiers on eligibility for Federal assistance is a violation of Federal law. The agency sent a letter Tuesday to Georgia Department of Human Services Commissioner Keith Horton, cautioning that Federal law “prohibits states from mandating drug testing of applicants and recipients.”
Defenders of the Georgia law say the Federal government is making a big deal out of a modest and well-intentioned qualifier, although few are arguing that the law does, in fact, add an additional layer of requirements to SNAP guidelines established at the Federal level – in direct violation of Federal law.
But the State-Federal conflict does expand an ongoing debate over whether Congress should modify SNAP and other forms of public assistance to encourage recipients to help themselves at the same time. Congressional Republicans attempted to tag on a drug testing amendment to the Farm Bill last year in the House, but that effort was weighed down by bad – if facile – public relations, and was abandoned.
Describing last year’s Boston Marathon bombing as a “homegrown threat,” Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday the revival of a domestic anti-terror task force originally formed during the Presidency of Bill Clinton. The goal of the Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee, he said, is to augment Federal law enforcement’s focus on foreign-bred terrorism, rooted in culture and ideology, with redoubled scrutiny directed toward “self-radicalized” nutcases in the United States as well.
The Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee (DTEC), said Holder, “Will be comprised of leaders from components within the Department of Justice, and co-chaired by a member of the U.S. Attorney community, the National Security Division, and the FBI.” DTEC will engage in information sharing with multiple tiers of law enforcement nationwide to identify and monitor domestic terror threats.
In his weekly video address Monday, Holder explained the revival of the task force as a counter to “the danger we face” from the 2009 Fort Hood, Texas, mass shooting and the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing, both of which he characterized as “homegrown threats.”
Horrific terror incidents like the tragic shootings at Fort Hood and last year’s Boston Marathon bombing demonstrate the danger we face from these homegrown threats.
Now — as the nature of the threat we face evolves to include the possibility of individual radicalization via the Internet — it is critical that we return our focus to potential extremists here at home.
Former Attorney General Janet Reno first launched the task force following the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City — an attack that later resulted in the execution of Timothy McVeigh and a life sentence for Terry Nichols, both of whom Federal prosecutors characterized as far-right anti-government radicals.
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The Secret Service believes it can develop software to help it determine when you’re being a smart aleck on social media. Why that’s important to the Secret Service, though, is a question no computer can answer.
According to Nextgov, the Secret Service is soliciting bids for proprietary software development that will enable the agency to eye not only the content of social media posts, but – the Feds hope – the intent of the people writing that content as well.
The product is being developed for use by the Secret Service Office of Government and Public Affairs.
In a work order posted on Monday, the agency details information the tool will collect – ranging from emotions of Internet users to old Twitter messages.
Its capabilities will include “sentiment analysis,” “influencer identification,” “access to historical Twitter data,” “ability to detect sarcasm,” and “heat maps” or graphics showing user trends by color intensity, agency officials said.
In addition, the software would be capable of sending out messages of its own, though the work order isn’t specific enough to ascertain whether that’s an automated function (as many of the software’s features evidently are designed to be) or a feature that can be tailored for use by an individual investigator.
Two Democratic Senators have introduced a bill that aims to ban, for life, any former member of Congress from serving as a lobbyist once his public service career has ended.
Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and jon Tester (D-Mont.) introduced a bill that, in addition to ending the pathway to lobbying for Congressmen, also would forbid former Congressional staffers who’ve become lobbyists from lobbying Congress for six years (as opposed to the current limitation of one year) after their employment with a Congressional office has ended.
Currently, former House members only have to wait one year after leaving office to enter the lucrative world of Washington, D.C. lobbying. Former Senators must wait two years. But the new bill would place a lifetime ban on Congressional lobbying for any former Congressman. It would also require K Street firms to make known any consulting work done by former Congressional staffers.
Both Senators had attempted in February to attach an amendment with similar intent to the STOCK (Stop Trading On Congressional Knowledge) Act, but that effort died with virtually no further action following its draft release.
While the new bill has obvious public appeal, Bennet has been criticized in his home State for reviving these accountability measures in order to score cheap and essentially meaningless political points with voters.
“Bennet’s populist K Street bashing makes good, short-term political sense,” wrote The Colorado Observer in late February. “But his rhetoric doesn’t exactly match up with his fundraising habits.”
Taking potshots at nameless, faceless “lobbyists” and proposing tough sounding “lifetime bans” and draconian penalties (even if you have no real intention of ever putting them to a vote) may seem like a good strategy for papering over tens of thousands in contributions from lobbying interests. And that kind of duplicity may fly in Washington (which Mr. Bennet is fond of railing against), but it is likely to be far less convincing with those of us who live two thousand miles from the DC cocktail circuit.
Indeed, the new legislation may – perhaps intentionally – get lost in the shuffle once its backers have taken their political benefit from a couple of favorable headlines.
“Congress has typically not enacted ethics or lobbying reform legislation unless a major scandal adds momentum,” The Hill observed Tuesday. “At present, Bennet and Tester’s bill is not expected to receive legislative action.”
By now, you’ve probably heard about the 19-month-old Georgia baby clinging to life after a local SWAT team executed an unsuccessful no-knock raid on his parents’ home and, in the process, severely injured the child when an officer threw a flashbang grenade into his playpen. But you may not have heard that the task force involved in that raid already was responsible for an innocent civilian death in the recent past.
Bounkham “Bou” Phonesavanh was critically burned when police with the Habersham County Special Response Team (SRT) attempted to enter his parents’ Cornelia, Ga. house last Wednesday to apprehend 30-year-old Wanis Thonetheva — a suspect who allegedly had sold drugs out of the same house the previous day to undercover agents with an affiliated regional drug task force.
The sheriff’s office sought and obtained a no-knock warrant, and showed up at the house the next day. Thonetheva — a suspect who officials believed had used an AK-47 in a previous drug-related altercation with another suspect — wasn’t at the home when the SRT team came calling. But baby Bou and his parents were.
SRT tried to knock in the front door with a battering ram, but officers said it felt as though someone or something was bolstering the door. So they attempted to distract the occupants by tossing a flashbang grenade, which landed right next to Bou in his playpen. The playpen turned out to be the object “blocking” the door.
Three other children were also inside the house but were out of range of the blast. Thonetheva himself was later picked up at another home in Cornelia and charged for allegedly distributing methamphetamine.
Bou suffered severe facial burns, was placed in a medically induced coma, and was scheduled for surgery Monday to allow him to breathe again on his own.
“He didn’t deserve any of this,” Alicia Phonesavanh, the child’s mother, told a local television reporter. “He’s in the burn unit. We go up to see him and his whole face is ripped open. He has a big cut on his chest.”
After the raid, police said they had no idea a child (or, say, four children) was living in the home, and even told the judge who issued the warrant they had seen no evidence that a child was present. A review by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) rapidly found no wrongdoing on the officers’ part, and Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell defended the agency’s policy for conducting SWAT-style no-knock raids.
“Here’s the problem,” The Washington Post’s Radley Balko blogged last Friday: “If your drug cops conduct a raid that ends up putting a child in the hospital with critical burns, and they did nothing that violates your department’s policy, then there’s something wrong with your policy.”
Balko may be on to something there, because, as he noted in a separate post, the Bou incident isn’t the first time the Habersham County SRT has harmed an innocent civilian in the name of drug vigilance.
Bou is fighting to live, but SRT killed its last bystander victim.
In 2009, the same unit killed pastor Jonathan Ayers, who happened to be doing ministry outreach work with a woman whom the SRT had targeted that day for a drug raid. The cops saw Ayers and the woman together in a car, and “switched their focus to him,” as Balko wrote in February.
SRT followed the pair to an ATM, where Ayers withdrew some money to give to the woman so that she could pay her outstanding motel bill and avoid eviction. Plainclothes officers (see Balko’s blog for an image of what one officer was wearing) then rushed the car, and a startled Ayers tried to flee. They shot and killed him. He was completely innocent of any crime. Nevertheless, the GBI cleared all officers of wrongdoing and the agency embarked on a deceitful and (inevitably) unsuccessful campaign to assassinate Ayers’ character.
A Federal jury awarded $2.3 million to Ayers’ wife Abigail, who was pregnant with the couple’s son when Ayers was killed. Harris County has appealed the ruling.
Claiming that Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) floor attacks on the conservative Koch brothers represent a historic abuse of office, Tea Party Patriots has filed a formal ethics complaint against the Senate Majority Leader Monday before the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.
Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin called Reid’s nearly obsessive, hyperbolic public remarks about the Koch brothers, whose political spending trends conservative, an example of “thuggish intimidation” campaigning tactics that improperly use Reid’s elected office as a catbird seat for partisan warfare.
“It’s been generations since a member of the Senate has abused the power of his office to attack private citizens the way Harry Reid has sought to vilify Charles and David Koch,” Martin explained, adding that Reid’s efforts amount to “nothing more than a continuation of the thuggish intimidation campaign mounted by the Obama Administration to target and silence people and organizations Democrats disagree with.”
Martin also pointed out that Reid knows he’s acting out of line when he uses his Senate floor time to steer the day’s topic toward brutal criticism of the Kansas oil billionaires, whom he has repeatedly called “un-American.”
“Reid’s repeated and mean-spirited attacks violate federal laws and Senate rules against using taxpayer-funded resources for partisan politics and he knows it, yet he repeatedly takes to the floor of the Senate and the media to attack those with whom he disagrees — and then turns around and devotes the Senate floor to a ‘talk-a-thon’ on a major donor’s key issue of climate change,” Martin said.
The filing asks the Committee to investigate whether Reid “violated Senate rules by unlawfully and unethically targeting private citizens, Charles and David Koch, whose philosophical and political views are in opposition to Senator Reid’s philosophy and to misuse Senate resources to reward Tom Steyer, a mega-donor to Democrats in the Senate.”
Steyer, a progressive donor driven primarily by environmental concerns, has received increasing scrutiny from Reid’s conservative critics, who counter Reid’s Koch attacks by pointing out the hypocrisy in lambasting the exercise of political free speech through the acceptance of major donations.
Monday’s complaint comes a month after the Roger Villere, who chairs the Louisiana Republican Party, filed a similar complaint — complete with screen captures of anti-Koch campaigning from Reid’s official Senate Twitter account and website — with the Select Committee on Ethics.
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the Obama Administration’s attempt to apply Federal terrorist charges to a case in which a jilted woman smeared some creepy substance on the door handle of her then-husband’s illicit lover.
The court ruled 9-0 today against the government in Bond v. United States, a case in which prosecutors successfully secured a conviction against the defendant, Carol Anne Bond, on the grounds that she violated the Chemical Weapons Implementation Act of 1998.
That Act makes it a Federal crime to own or use any chemical “weapon” and provides for Federal prosecution of such alleged cases.
Prosecutors had argued that Bond had violated Federal terror laws when, upon discovering that her best friend Myrlinda Haynes had gotten pregnant in an affair with Bond’s husband, she retaliated by intentionally applying toxins to things that Haynes might subsequently touch. The government literally wanted to make a Federal case out of her petty behavior.
Chief Justice John Roberts said a ruling in favor of the government’s interpretation of the Act would have “transform[ed] the statute from one whose core concerns are acts of war, assassination, and terrorism into a massive federal anti-poisoning regime that reaches the simplest of assaults.”
Which is exactly what the Obama Administration was hoping the Court would sanction.
Instead, Roberts highlighted the absurdity of expanding the Federal government’s authority to treat virtually any local matter as a Federal crime:
The question presented by this case is whether the Implementation Act also reaches a purely local crime: an amateur attempt by a jilted wife to injure her husband’s lover, which ended up causing only a minor thumb burn readily treated by rinsing with water. Because our constitutional structure leaves local criminal activity primarily to the States, we have generally declined to read federal law as intruding on that responsibility, unless Congress has clearly indicated that the law should have such reach. The Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act contains no such clear indication, and we accordingly conclude that it does not cover the unremarkable local offense at issue here.
Roberts, along with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, opined that Federal law does not apply to a case that is clearly local in its scope of intent.
Although Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito agreed with their colleagues that Bond’s conviction should be overturned, they carried the fallacy of the government’s position even further by indicating the law itself is unconstitutional. A literal reading of the Chemical Weapons Implementation Act, they argued, does suggest the law played the central role in the way in which Federal prosecutors presented their original case against Bond – and therefore should have been outright overturned on Constitutional grounds.
You can have the local home security company come out and plant those little yard signs emblazoned with their logos in your front yard, or you can have this sign, which caught our eye today as we were romping across the Internet:
Definitely an attention-getter.
The sign is sold by Ready To Defend, a pro-gun company that offers signs, door mats and home-defense how-tos at their website. Most of what you’ll see is standard cautionary fare (“Beware Of Owner” or “Go Away”), but there’s just something about a sign that has a well-placed grouping on a target to let would-be bad guys know your house isn’t the one they want to mess with.
Of course, we imagine that most people who would stick a sign like this in front of their home would be prepared to back its message up with action, should the need arise.
Oh, and their “Castle Law Enforced Here” sign is pretty cool, too:
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