Venezuelan Opposition Leader’s Letter To Pope Francis Puts Our Domestic ‘Problems’ In Perspective

While establishment leaders from both parties and their many hangers-on in mainstream media feed the 24-hour consumer news cycle with banal and insipid debates about partisan wars on women, homosexuals, minorities and the poor, there are people outside the U.S. who would love to have our problems – and who would likely be confused by the political games Americans lawmakers play with non-issues in order to incite indignity in ignorant voters.

Take Venezuela, where Hugo Chavez’ successor, Nicolas Maduro, is alternating between free-market threats and populist-pandering bread and circuses in order to quell an ongoing uprising that has killed at least 50 people and featured police state treatment in the face of popular protest.

Forget gay marriage and minimum wage: Maduro has declared war on basic human rights – private property, free speech, self-determination and peaceful dissent. People in Venezuela don’t have the sort of problems our elected class tries to convince us we have – they have problems that don’t have to be explained by enlightened interpreters. And many of the fundamental problems Americans do face are buffered from the meddling of most elected leaders, safe from legislative adjustment and secreted from the 24-hour news cycle and its vapid talking heads. Our problems are a slow suck toward tyranny, but there are places in the world where we can see in real time where we might be headed.

Read this appeal to Pope Francis, penned last week by Venezuelan opposition leader (and Princeton educated) Leopoldo Mendoza, for some perspective on what a real war on freedom looks like. It sure as hell doesn’t look like a “war on women” or some such similar nonsense in this country:

His Holiness

Pope Francisco

Supreme Pontiff

With deep admiration and full of humility, I ask your blessings to the people of Venezuela in moments of profound difficulty for all Venezuelans hit by the most severe economic crisis, by insecurity accompanied by unleashed impunity and the loss increasingly accelerated of our freedoms for all Venezuelans, especially those of us who have contrary thoughts to those who govern today.

I am writing this letter from the underground and within a few hours of appearing before the manipulated justice of my country, which has issued an arrest warrant attributing against me the crimes of murder and terrorism, for the simple fact of having called our people to exercise our right to protest as it is protected in our Constitution and the fundamental rights of free men. This situation of persecution and criminalization of protest has affected hundreds of youth who have been detained, tortured and subjected to unfounded processes that seek to plant fear and limit the voice of millions of Venezuelans who promote change.

I have taken the audacity to write these lines because I am convinced, as millions are in Venezuela , that your voice , your guidance and your blessing to our people at this time can make a profound impact on the next destination of our country.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to talk with the Polish leader Lech Walesa, who I asked what was the most decisive event in his years long struggle that culminated with the fall of communism, his response was immediate and very precise: The visit and the message of John Paul II to Poland.

I understand that the historical circumstances are very different , but like the twilight years of communism in Europe, now in Venezuela we are living in times of deep despair and hopelessness, a word, a sentence, a message from you I’m sure could make a significant impact, the encounter of our people with peace, liberty and democracy.

Chances are when you read this letter I will already be jailed on the orders of Nicolas Maduro; a situation that I ‘m willing to take on if in something it contributes to awaken our people on the need to together make a change.

With the mere fact that you read these lines and keep a place in your heart for the Venezuelan people will give us immense strength to move forward, guided by the teachings of Christ our Lord.

Benediction,

Leopoldo López Mendoza

Sure enough, López was arrested the next day.

Economic Stimulus, Round 2: Obama Proposes ARRA-Lite

Only a week removed from the five-year anniversary of the $830 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus package, President Barack Obama — evidently heedless of that plan’s failure to spur economic growth — is changing up the acronym and pitching the whole idea all over again.

If approved by Congress, the new stimulus, which focuses primarily on redeveloping infrastructure, will amount to ARRA-lite. Introducing the plan Wednesday during a visit to St. Paul, Minn., Obama proposed a total of $302 billion in infrastructural projects over a four-year span. He also pitched a reload of a competitive grant program created during the ARRA era — code named TIGER — to further award development funds to State and municipal applicants.

TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) doled out $3.5 billion to handout-drunk States, cities and counties during ARRA’s original run.

Here’s a White House summary of what Obama’s proposing this time around:

$206 billion to invest in our nation’s highway system and road safety. The proposal will increase the amount of highway funds by 22 percent annually, for a total of about $199 billion over the four years. The proposal would also provide more than $7 billion to improve safety for all users of our highways and roads.

$72 billion to invest in transit systems and expand transportation options. The proposal increases average transit spending by nearly 70 percent annually, for a total program of $72 billion over four years, which will enable the expansion of new projects (e.g., light rail, street cars, bus rapid transit, etc.) in suburbs, fast-growing cities, small towns, and aging rural communities, while still maintaining existing transit systems.

$19 billion in dedicated funding for rail programs. The proposal also includes nearly $5 of billion annually for high performance and passenger rail programs with a focus on improving the connections between key regional city pairs and high traffic corridors throughout the country.

$9 billion in competitive funding to spur innovation. The proposal will make permanent and provide $5 billion over four years, an increase of more than 100 percent, for the highly successfully TIGER competitive grant program and propose $4 billion of competitively awarded funding over four years to incentivize innovation and local policy reforms to encourage better performance, productivity, and cost-effectiveness in our transportation systems.

How does this get paid for? Well, Obama says he can get us $150 billion closer to the total. But then, Congress, he’s all ears.

“The President is proposing one way to pay for this investment, by using $150 billion in one-time transition revenue from pro-growth business tax reform, but will work closely with Congress and listen to their ideas for how to achieve this important objective,” the White House release states.

Five years ago, the Obama Administration hyped the passage of ARRA by predicting it would lower unemployment to 5 percent — and virtually guaranteeing it would at least fall below 8 percent — by January 2013. But unemployment pretty much hovered between 8 percent and 9 percent throughout his first term in office. And only through a creatively deployed calculus that celebrates lower unemployment rates — even though they’re achieved by a mass exodus of laborers from the U.S. workforce — did unemployment hit the mid-6 percent range at the end of 2013.

Conscripted Benevolence: IRS Enforcing Obamacare’s Individual Mandate Under ‘Shared Responsibility’ Tax Payments

The Internal Revenue Service published an update to its tax-season guidelines Tuesday that makes it clear the agency will be taking an Obamacare penalty from Americans’ Federal tax returns in 2015 if they don’t demonstrate proof of coverage under an eligible health plan.

That the Administration of Barack Obama, already fully involved in selectively enforcing his signature accomplishment, is moving forward with the individual mandate isn’t a surprise to anyone who’s been following Obamacare’s á la carte implementation.

But the IRS’s language in delineating its Health Care Tax Tips this week bears a sinister, groupthink Orwellian tone. As Americans for Tax Reform observed Tuesday, the agency “employs [the] Orwellian term ‘Shared Responsibility Payment’ to describe [the] Obamacare individual mandate tax.”

President Obama’s Internal Revenue Service today quietly released a series of Obamacare “Health Care Tax Tips” warning Americans that they must obtain “qualifying” health insurance — as defined by the federal government — or face a “shared responsibility payment” when filing their tax returns in 2015. The term “shared responsibility payment” refers to the Obamacare individual mandate tax, one of at least seven tax hikes in the healthcare law that directly hit families making less than $250,000 per year.

…Once fully phased in, the Obamacare individual mandate tax will rise steeply, to a maximum of 2.5 percent of Adjusted Gross Income or $2,085 — whichever is higher.

Here’s how the IRS phrases its directions for reporting proof of coverage:

4. Your 2014 tax return will ask if you had insurance coverage or qualified for an exemption. If not, you may owe a shared responsibility payment when you file in 2015.

This admonishment to help share the cost of a healthcare subsidy for which we are all responsible is preceded by three other “tips” — two of which amount to an IRS-sponsored sales pitch for Obamacare:

There are a few basic tips to keep in mind about the new health care law. Health insurance choices you make now may affect the income tax return you file in 2015.

1. Most people already have qualified health insurance coverage and will not need to do anything more than maintain qualified coverage throughout 2014.

2. If you do not have health insurance through your job or a government plan, you can buy it through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

3. If you buy your insurance through the Marketplace, you may be eligible for an advance premium tax credit to lower your out-of-pocket monthly premiums.

Elsewhere, the IRS explains the “shared responsibility” payment more fully, assuring taxpayers that the agency will not confiscate more than $285 from most families who file in 2014 for the Obamacare subsidy pool (although a few wealthy stragglers with bad financial planning skills are, in theory, exposed to “sharing” even higher amounts).

If you (or any of your dependents) do not maintain coverage and do not qualify for an exemption, you will need to make an individual shared responsibility payment with your return. In general, the payment amount is either a percentage of your income or a flat dollar amount, whichever is greater. You will owe 1/12th of the annual payment for each month you (or your dependents) do not have coverage and are not exempt. The annual payment amount for 2014 is the greater of:

  • 1 percent of your household income that is above the tax return threshold for your filing status, such as Married Filing Jointly or single, or
  • Your family’s flat dollar amount, which is $95 per adult and $47.50 per child, limited to a maximum of $285.

The individual shared responsibility payment is capped at the cost of the national average premium for the bronze level health plan available through the Marketplace in 2014. You will make the payment when you file your 2014 federal income tax return in 2015.

These tax tips apply to the 2014 calendar year, the first year the Obamacare penalty will be assessed. As noted earlier, anyone who’s not able to prove he’s covered will soon be forced to begin “sharing” much more than $285 a year — up to $2,085 per household or 2.5 percent of their adjusted income (whichever is higher) once the law is operating at full steam in 2016.

Democrats’ Obsession With A Hillary Clinton White House Signals Upside-Down Priorities

What is with Democrats’ far-gone fascination with Hillary Clinton? Is there some underlying compulsion to realize yet another “first” superlative in the linear pageant of progressive American statecraft? In a time when Americans have already demonstrated an electoral will to put a black man in the White House, is it really so revolutionary to put a woman there simply on the merit that she’s a “she”?

Another political poll out today seems to indicate Democrats’ appetite for meaningless paper milestones remains insatiable. A full 80 percent of Democrats indicate they want Hillary to run for President in 2016, while only 13 percent do not.

The New York Times/CBS poll shows that interest in a Clinton campaign far exceeds Democrats’ interest in other early-days candidates. Only about 40 percent say they want Vice President Joe Biden in the race. Senator Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) is a distant third place at 22 percent.

Clinton’s record is shakier than Barack Obama’s was when he was a little-known Senator warming Oprah Winfrey’s guest couch. “She has more sooty baggage than a 90-car freight train,” Camille Paglia, a true 1960s liberal and one of the Nation’s few remaining intellectual nonconformists with a public voice, wrote last summer:

And what exactly has she ever accomplished — beyond bullishly covering for her philandering husband? She’s certainly busy, busy and ever on the move — with the tunnel-vision workaholism of someone trying to blot out uncomfortable private thoughts. I for one think it was a very big deal that our ambassador was murdered in Benghazi. In saying ‘I take responsibility’ for it as secretary of state, Hillary should have resigned immediately. …As far as I’m concerned, Hillary disqualified herself for the presidency in that fist-pounding moment at a congressional hearing when she said, ‘What difference does it make what we knew and when we knew it, Senator?’ Democrats have got to shake off the Clinton albatross and find new blood.

Where are the rank-and-file Democrats who would heed that message? Right now, they’re too busy confusing exceptionalism and enfranchisement with merit.

California College Settles Lawsuit Alleging 1st Amendment Violation Of Student Who Handed Out Constitution Copies

In September, we wrote about how one college student’s civic-minded attempt to exercise his 1st Amendment guarantee of free speech backfired awfully at a California junior college. But after a lawsuit and several rounds of bad publicity, the college has backed down, agreeing to pay damages and promising to lift its restrictive “free speech zone” policy.

The settlement was a bargain for Modesto Junior College, which bought its way out of bigger potential legal and public relations headaches by agreeing to alter its unConstitutional campus policy and paying plaintiff Robert Van Tuinen $50,000 in damages.

In September, Van Tuinen ran into Administrative opposition when MJC officials learned he was handing out free copies of the U.S. Constitution outside of the designated “free speech” area of campus. This occurred on Sept. 17, the anniversary of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. Constitution Day, a day of recognition established by Congress in 2004, falls on Sept. 17 each year, attended by mandatory (if lightly enforced) educational offerings from public schools and Federal agencies throughout the U.S.

After the college banned Van Tuinen from distributing the Constitution, telling him he needed a permit and could use only a delineated area of campus recognized as a free speech zone, he filed a lawsuit against the Yosemite Community College District and several MJC administrators, including college president Jill Stearns.

On Monday, the public school agreed to revisit its restrictive policy on free speech as part of its settlement with Van Tuinen. Key to the settlement was the college’s agreement to end its policy forcing students and faculty to obtain administrative permission to exercise their 1st Amendment rights throughout all “generally available” public spaces on campus.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) assisted Van Tuinen in the case; read FIRE’s statement responding to the settlement here.

Here’s the video that sparked the entire controversy last year:

Obamacare Will Force Higher Premiums On Majority Of Small-Business Employees

Another day, another government report that asks Americans to lower their expectations for Obamacare even further (if that’s possible). The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a sub-agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, said late last week that Obamacare will increase health insurance premiums for about 11 million Americans employed by small businesses.

The CMS report — which the Administration of Barack Obama managed to delay well beyond its post-sequestration due date — notes that changes to the Public Health Service Act brought about by Obamacare will adversely affect some 11 million small-business employees, while reducing insurance premiums for 6 million. For the majority whose premiums will go up, their employers will also have to decide whether to absorb a proportion of the increased cost.

“There is considerable uncertainty as to whether small employers will decide to terminate their existing offer of health insurance coverage and send their employees to individual market Exchanges,” the report acknowledged.

CMS said its forecast numbers represent a best guess, but it nevertheless projected that those who will see premiums increase will outnumber those who see a decrease by a 65 percent to 35 percent margin:

Once the new premium rating requirements go into effect, it is anticipated that the small employers that offer health insurance coverage to their employees and their families would have average premium rates. Therefore, we are estimating that 65 percent of the small firms are expected to experience increases in their premium rates while the remaining 35 percent are anticipated to have rate reductions. The individuals and families that receive health insurance coverage from their small employer generally contribute a portion of the premium. For this analysis, if the employer premium increases, it is assumed that the employee contribution will rise as well. Similarly, if the employer premium is reduced, the  employee contribution is assumed to decrease. This results in roughly 11 million individuals whose premiums are estimated to be higher as a result of the ACA and about 6 million individuals who are estimated to have lower premiums.

The Daily Caller observed Monday that many of the small businesses whose owners will be faced with hard decisions about their healthcare offerings were supposedly reprieved from forced insurance changes this year by the Obama Administration’s unilateral decision to delay portions of the law’s employer mandate.

“The small businesses which CMS fears may begin cutting coverage altogether aren’t subject to the employer mandate requirement. After the latest Obamacare delay, even medium-sized businesses between 50 and 99 employees will have until 2016 to comply with the requirement to provide employees coverage, opening the possibility of more companies laying off employees so they can cut out increasingly expensive insurance coverage altogether,” wrote the DC’s Sarah Hurtubise.

In other words, the qualifying pool of Obamacare-eligible Americans is on track to grow larger, as small companies force their employees off of employer-backed insurance; while the pool of well-funded customers whose forced overpayments are supposed to subsidize the entire program will continue to shrivel.

Ted Cruz’ Name Carries Weight For Texas GOP Candidates, With Or Without His Formal Endorsement

Even though he isn’t up for reelection this year, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is finding his name widely circulated among Texas Republicans trying to find moral high ground in their ideological game of last man standing.

That’s true not only in the few instances in which he’s publicly endorsing candidates, but in the many instances when candidates invoke his idealism to illustrate that they hew to similarly uncompromising positions as Washington, D.C. iconoclasts.

From the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, here’s a list of instances in which politically aspirational Texans are calling on the name of Ted Cruz to cement their rapport with conservative voters:

• In the Senate District 10 race, Republican Konni Burton of Colleyville snagged one of the few endorsements Cruz has given. “She’s a tireless, unwavering warrior for the conservative cause. Konni is a fighter and will serve the people of Texas well. I urge voters in her district to support her,” Cruz has said.
• In the race for the 32nd Congressional District, which pits longtime U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions of Dallas against Tea Party activist Katrina Pierson, the challenger’s website features a photo of Cruz and a quote from him: “Katrina Pierson is an utterly fearless principled conservative.”
• Four Republicans on the Texas Supreme Court who are seeking re-election — Chief Justice Nathan Hecht and Justices Jeff Brown, Jeff Boyd and Phil Johnson — picked up a joint endorsement from Cruz. “I wholeheartedly endorse all of them,” he posted on his Facebook page. “These justices are judicial conservatives, and we can depend on them to uphold the law.” Hecht is among those touting the endorsement on his website.
• State Sen. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, is running for Texas Attorney General and his website features a photo of him standing next to Cruz with one comment from the senator: “Ken Paxton is a tireless conservative warrior.”
• Wayne Christian, a Republican seeking a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, has sent out campaign fliers featuring photos of Cruz with the question “Who stood with Ted Cruz?” and the answer “Wayne Christian stood with Ted Cruz when he was only polling 2%.”

Cruz is, of course, a polarizing public figure. Someone who’s earned as much respect from his political base also cultivates a concomitant measure of hatred from political adversaries. But Texas Republicans are betting that Cruz’ popularity in his home State will tip the balance in favor of conservatism – and electoral victory – when the last ballot has been counted in this year’s midterm elections.

Supreme Court Strikes Blow To 4th Amendment With Homeowner Consent Ruling

The Supreme Court ruled today that police, without a warrant, may legally enter and search a dwelling even over the vehement protestations of an occupant, so long as a co-occupant grants them access.

That decision reverses a 2006 ruling, which held that the refusal of even one occupant to allow a warrantless search was sufficient to keep law enforcement from entering a home.

Today’s ruling in Fernandez v. California was handed down in a 6-3 opinion, led by Justice Samuel Alito writing for the majority. The case involved an LAPD search of a house they believed harbored a robbery suspect. The suspect, Walter Fernandez, wouldn’t let them inside the house. But the police argued that Fernandez’ girlfriend, Roxanne Rojas, looked sketchy enough to suggest a probable cause for domestic violence – an unrelated charge. They went in and arrested Fernandez on the DV charge, removed him from the home, and in the meantime sought and got on-site permission from Rojas to search the home. That search produced evidence that tied Fernandez to the robbery – the reason the police had shown up in the first place.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito argued that Rojas’ permission carried equal weight (really, greater weight) with that of Fernandez’ denial:

A warrantless consent search is reasonable and thus consistent with the Fourth Amendment irrespective of the availability of a warrant… Denying someone in Rojas’ position the right to allow the police to enter her home would also show disrespect for her independence.

Compare Alito’s words with those of retired Justice David Souter, who wrote the majority opinion for a similar case – with a very different outcome – in November of 2006:

The pragmatic decision to accept the simplicity of this line is, moreover, supported by the substantial number of instances in which suspects who are asked for permission to search actually consent, albeit imprudently, a fact that undercuts any argument that the police should try to locate a suspected inhabitant because his denial of consent would be a foregone conclusion.

This case invites a straightforward application of the rule that a physically present inhabitant’s express refusal of consent to a police search is dispositive [that is, settled and absolute] as to him, regardless of the consent of a fellow occupant.

It appears evident that the police got their man, and no one is bemoaning a travesty of justice for a man whom evidence suggests had committed a crime. But today’s ruling is a back-door way into people’s homes – one without a guarantee that law enforcement will always be in the right. It invites the police to escalate impromptu searches by keeping them persistent at a dwelling until they get what they came for. It creates an invitation to law enforcement to find someone – anyone – living in a home whom they can convince to grant them access, after first being explicitly refused access by another occupant.

Whereas Souter and the majority found, in 2006, that one refusal was enough to force police to demonstrate probable cause to search a home, Alito has invited the police to go fishing for the most gullible or legally naive resident who might be found at the premises. All they need is a “yes” – any “yes.”

Americans View Obama As A Weak Diplomat Who Gets No Global Respect

President Barack Obama is, in the eyes of the majority of Americans, a President who is failing to earn respect from his global peers – even as Americans continue to believe the U.S. as a Nation commands international respect.

That’s the finding of a Gallup poll released Monday, which revealed 53 percent of Americans now view Obama as a man who isn’t respected by other world leaders. Only 41 percent believe the President does hold the esteem of foreign heads of state.

Those are the lowest polling numbers for Obama’s diplomatic prestige since he first took office. The President fell not only in the eyes of Republicans, but also of Democrats and Independents – in fact, the sinking numbers are primarily the result of his drop among Democrats and independents.

Last year, 80 percent of Democrats said Obama held the respect of global leaders. This year, that number is down to 69 percent. Only 19 percent of Republicans and 34 percent of independent voters said Obama is respected as a world leader this year – down from 21 percent and 49 percent, respectively.

Here’s more from Gallup:

Americans’ perceptions of how other nations view the U.S. have not changed in the past year, but their opinions of how world leaders view the president have. Now, Americans believe other world leaders generally do not respect Obama. This could be related to a series of tense moments in the past year between Obama and prominent foreign leaders, many of whom are close U.S. allies.

Americans themselves are not overly positive about the way the president is handling foreign affairs specifically, with 40% approving of his job in that area, one percentage point above his low last November.

The President still has a way to go before sinking to the lowest poll number ever, set by George W. Bush in 2007, when only 21 percent of Americans believed other leaders respected him.

Then again, Obama’s overall poll numbers have begun to bear a peculiar similarity to his predecessor’s.

Soros Group’s Political Spending Tripled In 2013

George Soros, billionaire hero to progressive activists looking for a financial lifeline everywhere, ramped up political spending threefold through his Open Society Policy Center and its financial affiliate in 2013 – and there’s no reason to believe he’s slowing down.

According to The Washington Post, Soros-funded lobbying tripled in 2013, from $3.25 million to $11 million. Unlike many of the business titans that top the list, which either orchestrate their own lobbying from within or dole the money to paid professionals, the Soros group prefers to give their causes the money and turn them loose – grass roots style.

The Open Society Policy Center itself attributes most of the jump in spending last year to the mounting progressive push to get Congress to accept a wholesale immigration reform plan in 2013.

The Open Society Foundations – the money-granting policy machine affiliated with the Open Society Policy Center that Soros first launched in 1979 – gave the lion’s share of its 2013 grant funds to the Alliance for Citizenship, an immigration-reform nonprofit. So far, that money hasn’t produced results – and in a Congressional election year, it’s unlikely to in 2014.

From the Post:

The Alliance for Citizenship organized hundreds of events across the country in August, hoping that its town halls, prayer vigils and sit-ins would propel action on immigration. While momentum has stalled, the organization is still at it, marching and meeting with members of Congress and their staffs.

But the spending appears to be more about saturation than quality, with sheer volume trumping short-term success. As the Post observes, Soros agreed late last year to co-chair the most well-organized of the several political action committees anticipating a Hillary Clinton bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination – pledging titanic resources to back “a candidate who hasn’t even announced.”

Obama’s False ‘7 Million’ Obamacare Claim Earns Dubious Four Pinocchios From WaPo

President Barack Obama told an assemblage of Democratic governors last week that, thanks to Obamacare’s mandatory Medicaid expansion in States that match the Federal government’s health care subsidy, “We’ve got close to seven million Americans who have access to health care for the first time.”

It’s nowhere close to being true. Even Obama Administration apologist The Washington Post couldn’t find a grain of truth in the statement.

The newspaper’s Fact Checker feature targeted the President’s boast today, noting that debunking the Administration’s frequent lies about Obamacare’s success “is like playing whack-a-mole. Every time we rap someone for getting it wrong, the same problem pops up someplace else. But here is the ultimate authority — the president of the United States — making the problematic claim that everyone counted under the administration’s Medicaid math is getting ‘access to health care for the first time.’”

What is true is that there’s no way to know right now how many people have access to health care “for the first time” because of the Medicaid expansion – but it’s certainly lower than 7 million. That’s because Obama included in his boast new Medicaid enrollees not only from the Medicaid-expanding Obamacare States, but also in the 21 States that have rejected the plan. Whoever enrolled in Medicaid in States like Florida and Texas would have enrolled in it anyway since last October. Obamacare simply doesn’t have any effect on Medicaid eligibility in States that aren’t participating in Obamacare.

Of those enrollees who do live in States that embraced Obamacare, many of the claimed 7 million were already on Medicaid last year – they just renewed their coverage and got counted in Obama’s imaginary 7 million figure. Obama likely used an even less rigid standard: the CBO’s estimate of people who were simply eligible for continued Medicaid coverage in 2014.

The Post’s various sources peg the tally of people who are getting (free) insurance for the first time because of Obamacare somewhere between 1.1 million and 2.6 million.

“In any case, no matter how you slice it, it does not add up to 7 million,” the Fact Checker states. “It is dismaying that given all of the attention to this issue, the president apparently does not realize that the administration’s data are woefully inadequate for boastful assertions of this type.”

What a great observation: the President doesn’t realize that his data is too transparently false to be useful as a bolster for his own lies. And for that – and not for actually lying – does the Post question his judgment.

2012 The Strongest Gun Manufacturing Year In U.S. History; Thanks, Obama!

The most recent report on firearms manufacturing from U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) reveals that American gun makers churned out more weapons in 2012 — the last full year for which the ATF has complete data — than any other in the Nation’s history.

Thanks, Obama.

The ATF’s Annual Firearms Manufacturing and Export Report, released in January, shows U.S. manufacturers produced 8,578,610 weapons in 2012, and exported only 287,554 of them — about 3.4 percent. The rest were sold domestically, both to government and to private consumers.

To no one’s surprise, industry professionals thank President Barack Obama’s gun control agenda for the surge in public interest in firearms.

“Barack Obama is the stimulus package for the firearms industry,” Gun Mag editor Dave Workman told Bloomberg Businessweek. “The greatest irony of the Obama administration is that the one industry that he may not have really liked to see healthy has become the healthiest industry in the United States.”

Topping manufacturing volume in 2012 were Sturm Ruger & Co. and Smith & Wesson. Both companies have also seen dramatic jumps in revenue, particularly during the first year of Obama’s second term. Sturm Ruger’s sales through the first three quarters of 2013 rose 45 percent above the company’s nine-month figures for 2012, while Smith & Wesson enjoyed a 25 percent increase over its fiscal year 2012 sales.

The ATF has tracked manufacturing statistics since 1986.

FCC Backs Away From 1st Amendment-Infringing Plan To ‘Study’ Newsrooms

Facing massive backlash from the public over its announced plan to place government contractors in the newsrooms of TV stations and print media to “study critical information needs,” the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced it would abandon the idea only one day after the plan was made public.

The FCC billed its “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs” as a hands-off way to gauge “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations” by placing monitors at news outlets to observe the degree to which news organizations rely on input from the communities they serve.

But the FCC has absolutely zero authority to regulate print media, and it would introduce unConstitutional infringements by extending the scope of its regulatory practices over broadcast services to include government scrutiny of content and content creation.

“No one’s that stupid – we know exactly what they’re trying to do,” said Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren Thursday in an interview with Ajit Pai:

http://youtu.be/_bUjv9mLvZg

Pai, himself an FCC commissioner, was among the earliest and most vocal critics of the plan. He described its methodology this way:

First, the agency selected eight categories of “critical information” such as the “environment” and “economic opportunities,” that it believes local newscasters should cover. It plans to ask station managers, news directors, journalists, television anchors and on-air reporters to tell the government about their “news philosophy” and how the station ensures that the community gets critical information.

The FCC also wants to wade into office politics. One question for reporters is: “Have you ever suggested coverage of what you consider a story with critical information for your customers that was rejected by management?” Follow-up questions ask for specifics about how editorial discretion is exercised, as well as the reasoning behind the decisions.

The FCC caved today, releasing a statement that tried to control the damage by minimizing the eventual scope of the project and admitting that the study, in its present form at least, reaches too far:

By law, the FCC must report to Congress every three years on the barriers that may prevent  entrepreneurs and small business from competing in the media marketplace, and pursue policies to eliminate those barriers. To fulfill that obligation in a meaningful way, the FCC’s Office of Communications Business Opportunities consulted with academic researchers in 2012 and selected a contractor to design a study which would inform the FCC’s report to Congress. Last summer, the proposed study was put out for public comment and one pilot to test the study design in a single marketplace – Columbia, S.C. – was planned.

However, in the course of FCC review and public comment, concerns were raised that some of the questions may not have been appropriate. Chairman Wheeler agreed that survey questions in the study directed toward media outlet managers, news directors, and reporters overstepped the bounds of what is required. Last week, Chairman Wheeler informed lawmakers that that Commission has no intention of regulating political or other speech of journalists or broadcasters and would be modifying the draft study. Yesterday, the Chairman directed that those questions be removed entirely.

To be clear, media owners and journalists will no longer be asked to participate in the Columbia, S.C. pilot study. The pilot will not be undertaken until a new study design is final. Any subsequent market studies conducted by the FCC, if determined necessary, will not seek participation from or include questions for media owners, news directors or reporters.

Any suggestion that the FCC intends to regulate the speech of news media or plans to put monitors in America’s newsrooms is false. The FCC looks forward to fulfilling its obligation to Congress to report on barriers to entry into the communications marketplace, and is currently revising its proposed study to achieve that goal.

Holder Feeling Heat From House Democrats Over Furtive Use Of FBI National Security Letters For Domestic Spying

A pair of House Democrats is adding a bipartisan flavor to months of GOP-led protestations over the way President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice circumvents the spirit of Constitutional protections against warrantless searches and seizures.

Congressmen Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) and David Cicilline (R.I.), both Democrats, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder this week demanding the DOJ explain its rationale for relying on the FBI’s secret National Security Letters, which allow Federal law enforcement to compel banks and Internet providers to give up private customer information — without their knowledge or consent.

National Security Letters are among the Patriot Act’s many freedom-choking legacies. The DOJ welcomes the FBI’s interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act to include the FBI’s use of National Security Letters to collect wire-based data, as the two Congressmen point out, on a “case-by-case basis.”

Here’s the full text of the letter:

Dear Attorney General:

Over the past several months, the media has focused on Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act.  Section 215 permits the government to obtain “any tangible thing” if there are “reasonable grounds to believe” the information sought is “relevant” to an investigation “to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”

Under this authority, the National Security Agency collects records on virtually every phone call made in the United States.  We understand that the Federal Bureau of Investigation may also use Section 215 to collect telephone records on a case-by-case basis.  Section 215, of course, requires the government to obtain the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before it may demand these records from a communications service provider.

On February 4, 2014, at a full committee hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, we questioned Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole about a different investigative tool—National Security Letters, or “NSLs.”

NSLs permit the FBI to obtain, among other things, telephone records, email subscriber information, and financial transaction records that are “relevant to an authorized investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”2 NSLs are issued by senior FBI officials.  No judicial finding is necessary.

The Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies noted that “foreign intelligence investigations are especially likely to implicate highly sensitive and personal information and to have potentially severe consequences for the individuals under investigation.”3 The Review Group was “unable to identify a principled reason why NSLs should be issued by FBI officials when section 215 orders . . . must be issued by the FISC,”4 and therefore recommended that “all statutes authorizing the use of National Security Letters should be amended to require the use of the same oversight, minimization, retention, and dissemination standards that currently govern the use of section 215 orders.”

As we consider reforms to the government’s surveillance capabilities, it would be helpful to understand more about the interplay between Section 215 and NSLs.  To that end, we ask the following questions:

  • Presumably, anything that the government can obtain through an NSL it can also obtain through a Section 215 order from the FISA court.  Given the overlap with Section 215, why are NSLs necessary?
  • In what instances would the FBI choose to use an NSL instead of Section 215?  In what instances would the FBI choose to use Section 215 instead of an NSL?
  • In 2009, the Department of Justice reported that the FBI had made 21 applications for business records to the FISA court.  In 2010, the number of requests jumped to 205.  In a 2011 letter to Senator Patrick Leahy, FBI Director Robert Mueller explained that “over the last two years, the FBI has increasingly had to rely on business records orders to obtain electronic communications transactions records that historically were obtained with NSLs.”6 Why did the FBI shift from NSLs to Section 215? Does it still rely on Section 215 for these purposes?  Does the FBI’s dependence on one authority or the other shift over time?

Although the government periodically reports certain aggregate numbers to the House Judiciary Committee, we require a side-by-side comparison of (1) the FBI’s use of NSLs, (2) the FBI’s use of Section 215, and (3) the NSA’s use of Section 215, which often generates leads for the FBI.

We therefore request that you provide, for all fiscal years from 2006 to the latest available reporting period, the following information:

  • The number of NSLs issued by the FBI, the statutory authority for each such NSL, and the number of U.S. persons targeted by such NSLs;
  • The number of times that the FBI has requested a Section 215 order from the FISA court, the number of such orders modified and granted, and the number of U.S. persons targeted by such orders;
  • The number of “RAS-approved” selectors used by the NSA to query telephone metadata; the number of searches conducted with those selectors; and the number of times these queries generated a tip to the FBI.

We ask that you provide this information as soon possible, but no later than March 7, 2014.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. If you have any questions, please contact John Doty from Congressman Nadler’s Office at 202.225.5635 or William Walsh from Congressman Cicilline’s Office at 202.225.4911.

Sincerely,

Jerrold Nadler   Member of Congress

David Cicilline     Member of Congress

Even the NSA must go through at least a pantomime of the judicial process, via the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), to obtain legal authorization to spy on everyone. But, as The Hill’s Julian Hattem notes, the FBI can rely on National Security Letters without any judicial review whatsoever.

While it’s obvious that this election season has plenty of Democratic Congressmen pretending to act like outraged Republicans in order to save their seats, Nadler and Cicilline have at least — perhaps unwittingly — made a bipartisan matter out of something the Obama Administration has preferred, so far, to treat as a fringe issue that draws complaint only from “right-wing” Constitutionalists.

New Hampshire Legislator Moves To End Pass-Throughs Of Federal Military Equipment To Local Police

New Hampshire State Representative J.R. Hoell witnessed citizens’ outrage at one local police department’s refusal to listen when Concord residents petitioned against the department’s decision to buy a Lenco BearCat armored personnel carrier with $258,000 of Homeland Security grant money.

Concerned that their police force, like many others throughout the country, was coming to resemble a military outfit more than a civilian-funded, protect-and-serve crime-prevention and response unit, 1,500 Concord residents signed a petition last year opposing the department’s purchase of such a vehicle.

Here’s how Lenco describes the vehicle:

The BearCat, our best selling truck, may be used as a S.W.A.T. or Military Counter Attack and Rescue Vehicle and is often used in hostile Urban Environments or as a Patrol/Reaction Vehicle on a Military Base. The BearCat, with its standard NIJ IV armor and 4WD system, can carry up to 10 people through varying terrain. The BearCat has been embraced by several DoD and DoE Security Forces and, because of its affordability, low maintenance expenses, ease of use and superior armor level, is increasingly the replacement vehicle of choice for up-armored Humvees. It may also be equipped with our optional Mechanical Rotating Turret with Cupola (Tub) and Weapon Ready Mounting System, suitable for the M60, 240B and Mark 19 weapons system.

Sounds Beirut-ready.

At an August city council meeting, hundreds of people showed up to oppose the pending purchase; about 50 of them got to speak at a public hearing that night to voice their concern over the police-on-steroids message that buying such a vehicle would send.

The department committed to the BearCat anyway, on the strength of an 11-4 council vote a month after the hearing.

Police Chief John Duval tried to paint opposition to the purchase in extremist colors, arguing that libertarian radicals from the Sovereign Citizens, Free State Project and Occupy New Hampshire pose “active and present challenges” to the Concord police department.

But the controversial move didn’t just upset a few alleged nut cases; it became the central bickering point for an active city council election later in the fall, when five of the seven contested council seats were challenged by a total of eight newcomers who framed the race as a referendum on what kind of police department the city should maintain. Here’s a local resident’s blog post about how that turned out. (Hint: Three of the incumbents who voted in favor of the purchase aren’t on the council anymore.)

After watching Concord residents’ concerns go unheeded, Hoell, a Republican with a libertarian streak, introduced a bill in the current legislative session that aims to end municipal acquisitions of military equipment — not only via Federal grants, but also through the Department of Defense Excess program, which essentially gives police departments cast-off military equipment for free.

Under Hoell’s bill, the Police Equipment and Community Engagement (PEACE) Act, no State or municipal agency would be permitted to buy or acquire any “military style equipment” for a police force unless the purchase is first approved by affected citizens at a public meeting.

“I introduced the bill because the citizens of Concord were overwhelmingly opposed to their police department having MRAP vehicles and it was ordered anyway,” Hoell told Dave Lindorff of investigative nonprofit WhoWhatWhy:

I don’t see any reason for police to have armored vehicles, or even fully automatic weapons.

…The role of the state is to make sure the citizens have the best law enforcement and not one that’s overly militarized. Whatever happened to police wearing blue? Now they are dressed in black, head to toe, and when they go to serve warrants at people’s homes, they break the door down, and they wear masks.

…I don’t know, maybe it’s a military thing. But it’s not community policing.”

The bill is currently before a Legislative committee. Here’s hoping this idea spreads beyond the Granite State.

UPDATE: Texas May Investigate Alleged Voter Registration Overreach By Battleground Texas

Well, that didn’t take long. We told you this morning about the Project Veritas video that documents a Battleground Texas representative who gleefully appears to be breaking Texas election law by admitting that she and other Wendy Davis activists retain contact information for voters whom they’ve registered.

Today, an elections administrator for Bexar County (population 1.7 million) told a local television station she had filed a report on the allegations with the Texas Secretary of State’s office. The same administrator also said the woman depicted in the video, had submitted 861 voter registrations in Bexar County.

If the Secretary’s office deems the allegations fit for an investigation, it can forward the case to the Texas Attorney General’s office, which holds investigative authority, according to Breitbart Texas.

Battleground Texas responded to the allegations by keeping things general, saying their voter registration activities are patriotic and that their field agents had broken no laws.

 

Biden: Puttering Obamacare Off To A ‘Hell Of A Start’; NSA Wants More; DHS Scraps License Plate Database; GOP Plans Anti-Reg ‘Blitz’; McCain Would ‘Love’ To Be In Charge Of Armed Services Committee – Thursday Morning News Roundup 2-20-2014

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

  • Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday that it would be a good start for the Federal health care law if 5 million to 6 million people sign up by the end of March, an acknowledgement that enrollments might fall significantly short of the Obama Administration’s unofficial goal of 7 million. Biden acknowledged that “we may not get to 7 million, but if we get to 5 or 6 million that’s a hell of a start.” Source: NBC News… 

 

  • The government is considering enlarging the National Security Agency’s controversial collection of Americans’ phone records — an unintended consequence of lawsuits seeking to stop the surveillance program, according to officials. Source: The Wall Street Journal… 

 

  • Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Wednesday ordered the cancellation of a plan by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to develop a national license-plate tracking system after privacy advocates raised concern about the initiative. Source: The Washington Post… 

 

  • House Republicans next week will pass a legislative package aimed at making Federal regulations more transparent and less costly to the economy. The legislation is the GOP’s latest attempt to reduce the regulatory red tape that they say is stifling job creation. Source: The Hill…

 

  • Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday night said if Republicans win control of the Senate this year, he would want to be chairman of the Armed Services Committee. McCain was asked in an interview on Phoenix radio station KFYI’s “The Mike Broomhead Show” how he would envision a GOP takeover.  “I would be so happy to be chairman of the Armed Services Committee,” he said. Source: The Hill…

Check back for updates, news and analysis throughout the day. Like us on Facebook.

White House Economists Push Obama’s Minimum Wage Hike By Urging Employers To ‘Accept’ Lower Profits

President Barack Obama’s White House has put its own spin on Tuesday’s report from the Congressional Budget Office — a report that anticipates another 500,000 lost American jobs if the President manages to get the Federal minimum wage increased to $10.10 per hour.

As you might have guessed, it’s a pretty socialist spin.

On their official whitehouse.gov blog, economists Jason Furman and Betsey Stevenson squinted to find a few silver linings in the CBO report, concluding that the CBO didn’t take into account all the variables mentioned in several cherry-picked academic studies Furman and Stevenson cherry-picked themselves to spin their case.

Furman chalked most of his and Stevenson’s disputing of the CBO’s job-loss findings up to “respectful disagreement among economists.”

But it’s the last paragraph in the blog that reveals the Administration’s socialism. Furman and Stevenson actually advocate for systemic wealth redistribution by suggesting that employers “accept” lower profit margins.

Here’s the offending passage:

Overall the logic for the finding that raising the minimum wage does not result in large adverse impacts on employment is that paying workers a better wage can improve productivity and thereby reduce unit labor costs. These adjustments, along with others that firms can make, help explain why the increase in the minimum wage need not lead to a reduction in employment. Higher wages lead to lower turnover, reducing the amount employers must spend recruiting and training new employees. Paying workers more can also improve motivation, morale, focus, and health, all of which can make workers more productive. In addition, by reducing absenteeism, higher wages can increase the productivity of coworkers who depend on each other or work in teams. In addition, businesses can adjust in other ways rather than reducing employment (for example, by accepting lower profit margins). CBO’s estimates do not appear to fully reflect the increased emphasis on all of these factors from the recent economics literature.

The CBO report itself said an increase in the minimum wage would benefit the people who received the increase, so that’s a non-issue. The report’s finding that 900,000 people would be raised out of poverty with a $10.10 minimum wage is dubious, because the impoverished class of Americans under Barack Obama’s perverse extension of “poverty” into the middle class shows no signs of stopping its expansion.

The problem with that language is that it’s misleading: Employers “accept” lower profit margins when they shape benefits packages that buffer the full cost of health insurance from their group-insured employees. But they don’t have any choice but to “accept” lower profit margins that are written into Federal law; we’re already witnessing that with Obamacare. In fact, we’ve been witnessing the minimum wage as a creeping socialist tool since it first took root in 1938 (the Supreme Court had declared the minimum wage unConstitutional only three years earlier, before upholding it as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act.)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro illustrated a socialist notion of “acceptance” earlier this month when he gave domestic businesses a weekend-long amnesty to comply with his “Fair Prices Act” — a sliver of that Nation’s wealth-redistribution scheme that differs only from the current American minimum wage battle in its advanced-stage desperation. “I have called for self-regulation of products and prices,” he announced. “I’ll give businesses until Monday to comply. Come Monday, if I find companies violating the Law of Fair Prices, I’ll take more radical measures.”

Breaking The Rules To Turn Texas Blue

Project Veritas, the conservative nonprofit founded by controversial one-man media army James O’Keefe, has had its troubles over the years. But O’Keefe’s latest video seems to suggest that the Democratic “Battleground Texas” political action committee is stretching the law in order to track and influence the new voters its field representatives are signing up.

At the :50 mark, Battleground Texas field organizer Jennifer Longoria describes what she and other activists do with the personal information they take down whenever they persuade someone to register to vote. If the video can be believed, it’s against Texas voting laws.

Longoria: So every time we register somebody to vote, we keep their name, number…

Investigator: And that’s from the voter registration form?

Longoria: Right from the form. That data collection is the key.

Key to what? Staying in touch with the people they’ve registered in order to promote the gubernatorial campaign of State Senator Wendy Davis, as the video makes clear.

Texas law prohibits the “registrar” — that is, the person registering another as a voter — from keeping that information for any use other than the maintenance of voting lists within the Secretary of State’s office. It’s illegal to “transcribe, copy, or otherwise record a telephone number furnished on a registration application,” under the State’s election code.

Here’s the relevant part:

Sec. 13.004.  RECORDING AND DISCLOSURE OF CERTAIN INFORMATION BY REGISTRAR.  (a)  The registrar may not transcribe, copy, or otherwise record a telephone number furnished on a registration application.

(b)  The registrar may transcribe, copy, or otherwise record a social security number furnished on a registration application only in maintaining the accuracy of the registration records.

(c)  The following information furnished on a registration application is confidential and does not constitute public information for purposes of Chapter 552, Government Code:

(1)  a social security number;

(2)  a Texas driver’s license number;

(3)  a number of a personal identification card issued by the Department of Public Safety;

(4)  an indication that an applicant is interested in working as an election judge; or

(5)  the residence address of the applicant, if the applicant is a federal judge or state judge, as defined by Section 13.0021, or the spouse of a federal judge or state judge, and included an affidavit with the registration application under Section 13.0021 or the registrar has received an affidavit submitted under Section 15.0215.

(c-1)  The registrar shall ensure that the information listed in Subsection (c) is excluded from disclosure.

(d)  The voter registrar or other county official who has access to the information furnished on a registration application may not post the following information on a website:

(1)  a telephone number;

(2)  a social security number;

(3)  a driver’s license number or a number of a personal identification card;

(4)  a date of birth; or

(5)  the residence address of a voter who is a federal judge or state judge, as defined by Section 13.0021, or the spouse of a federal judge or state judge, if the voter included an affidavit with the application under Section 13.0021 or the registrar has received an affidavit submitted under Section 15.0215.

FCC Not Done With Net Neutrality Fight

It looks as though the Federal Communications Commission is ready to dive back into the net neutrality debate. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced Wednesday the agency is ready to move forward with plans to overhaul rules that govern the way Internet service providers handle online traffic.

Wheeler’s announcement comes on the heels of a D.C. appeals court ruling last month that overturned the agency’s standing net neutrality rules because, according to the panel, they were too ambitious.

That decision stated the FCC treated Internet service providers in much the same fashion as older telephone companies, which operate under heavy government oversight. The FCC has said it will not appeal the ruling, opting instead to revisit its current open-Internet guidelines – including a new approach to rules that prevent Internet companies from blocking or otherwise limiting online access.

Wheeler said the agency will also will seek to increase the level of transparency surrounding providers’ management of network traffic – though some critics argue that enforcing the “transparency” provisions will prove difficult, since providers negotiate agreements that, so far, have never been opened to government scrutiny.

Videos: Obamacare Is Now A Mainstream Joke

In the early going, Obamacare has proven such a manifest failure that it has, at last, become one of the few (out of many) Obama-Administration missteps to make it into mainstream cultural consciousness as a complete joke.

Here’s a segment from a Fox News affiliate in Florida that creatively uses a highlight reel of Obama stammers and goofs to illustrate just how difficult it is for regular people to understand the labyrinthine Affordable Care Act, with all of the President’s post-launch fiat legislative changes and qualifiers. It aired on the local news (note how Dubya-like Obama sounds at the :48 marker when he finally spits out “not a Breathalyzer.”)

Late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel has had his fun with Obamacare in the past, too. But he drove home the message that Obamacare is little more than a punchline when he asked the studio audience Tuesday whether anyone had actually signed up. Not a single person had: