Colorado Bureaucrat Withstands Pressure To ‘Trash’ Obamacare Numbers

In an assiduous effort to minimize any negative publicity surrounding the rollout of Obamacare in his home State, Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) attempted to get the Colorado Division of Insurance (DOI) to lie about the number of Coloradans whose existing policies were being canceled. But one DOI staffer wasn’t going to be bullied by the Senator.

The Complete Colorado, an independent political blog covering State politics, got access to emails that DOI Director of Internal Affairs Jo Donlin had sent to colleagues after being pressured by Udall.

Udall, an ardent supporter of Obamacare, wanted the State to report low policy cancellation numbers — but low cancellation rates were not what the numbers showed. According to The Complete Colorado:

At the height of controversy surrounding President Obama’s promises on the federal health care overhaul, U.S. Senator Mark Udall’s office worked assiduously to revise press accounts that 249,000 Coloradans received health care cancellation notices. Because the 249,000 figure was produced inside the Colorado Division of Insurance, Udall’s office lobbied that agency to revise the figure, or revise their definition of what qualified as a cancellation.

Donlin sent out a warning to colleagues in a Nov. 14 email last year, letting DOI employees know where the agency stood on the matter:

Sen. Udall says our numbers were wrong. They are not wrong. Cancellation notices affected 249,199 people. They want to trash our numbers. I’m holding strong while we get more details. Many have already done early renewals. Regardless, they received cancellation notices.

Donlin followed that up the next day by contacting Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s office, as well as Udall’s staff, with her breakdown of the DOI accurately arrived at the 249,000 figure. It’s worth noting also that, during the same six-week Obamacare launch window that saw the 249,000 in-State cancellations, only 3,700 Coloradans had actually enrolled in a new plan through the State-run Obamacare marketplace.

As the original story observes, the timing of Udall’s original communication with DOI — in which he first pressured the agency to spin the high cancellation numbers — came as the Senator was in the midst of an abrupt about-face in his support for the first-year mandates attached to the Affordable Care Act.

Obama’s ‘Promise Zones’ Picked For Their Strategic Value To Democratic Party

President Barack Obama designated five areas Thursday as Economic Promise Zones: three in cities, one in rural Kentucky and one on the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma – and nearly all of them offer Democrats stronger political inroads with resistant local voters.

Obama described the ‘Zones as places where kids would, with the Federal government’s help, have the same opportunities to realize the American Dream as kids in more affluent parts of the country.

“They’re neighborhoods where we will help local efforts to meet one National goal: that a child’s course in life should be not by the ZIP code she’s born in, but by the strength of her work ethic and the scope of her dreams,” the President said.

The cities selected for the first zones are Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Antonio, while the Kentucky zone covers a multicounty region in the southeastern Highlands area. Obama said the program will be expanded to 20 locations Nationwide during the next three years.

“And each of these communities is designing from the bottom up – not the top down – what it is they think they need, and we’re working with them to make that happen,” he said. “And each of these communities is prepared to do what it takes to change the odds for their kids.”

The president said the idea was born from his own experience as a community organizer on Chicago’s South Side and on the work of people like Geoffrey Canada, who formed the Harlem Children’s Zone.

As Breitbart observed Thursday, most of the five announced locations have “interesting connections” that suggest their selection wasn’t arbitrary, nor solely based on the President’s altruistic desire to end poverty:

One of the main priorities in the 2014 election for Democrats is unseating Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), so Southeastern Kentucky, where the voters are heavily GOP, is a target which may allow Democrats to make some inroads.

San Antonio’s targeted district is the home of Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro, the twin brother of San Antonio mayor Julian Castro who is marked as a future star for the Party. That district, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index, is only scoring a D+3, so Joaquin Castro could be in trouble.

Although Philadelphia is a Democratic stronghold, there are three suburbs nearby where GOP incumbents may be replaced by Democratic opponents: the Sixth and Eighth, which are both R+1, and the Seventh which is a tossup.

Oklahoma’s Second District is one of the five Promise Zones, and it includes the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Obama has been trying to reach out to the Choctaw nation for some time; Deborah Powell, Native American Development Specialist for the Housing Authority of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, was a guest in Michelle Obama’s box for Obama’s 2010 State of the Union Address.

The “Promise Zone” program will be administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and will dangle tax incentives and grants in front of the selected communities in order to create a dependence partnership between local government, businesses and agencies and the Federal government “to create jobs, leverage private investment, increase economic activity, expand educational opportunities, and improve public safety.”

The UPI contributed to this report.

Obama’s Poverty Pivot Invites More Poverty

As President Barack Obama attempts to stave off an election-year repeat of the public relations disaster he saddled his own party with in 2013, he’s kicking his policy rhetoric into community-organizing mode.

Launching an income inequality initiative is Obama’s way of bailing incumbent Congressional Democrats out of the Obamacare debacle they created, as they enter the 2014 campaign season. But it obviously won’t cause Obamacare to swerve from its predictable course, and it arms GOP challengers — if they’re smart enough to seize on it — with rich political fodder.

That’s because it’s illogical and factually nonsensical for the Obama Administration, in particular, to promote “income equality” policies that, in fact, demonstrably swell the ranks of the “impoverished” in America. And if precedent offers any indication of how the future will look, “poverty” under Obama is only going to increase.

In the United States, “poverty” in its classical sense is an almost meaningless word, especially among the elected class. Poverty does hold significant value as a political tool, though — and that’s what Obama is banking on in an election season that features a lot of embattled Congressional Democrats.

Democrats need a strong voter turnout to retain their Senate majority, but midterm elections are typically low-turnout affairs that tend to draw a disproportionate number of disgruntled voters to the polls. Given the year Obama had in 2013, the disgruntled voter demographic favors the GOP this year — so Democrats need a tent-pole issue to get their own political base disgruntled about.

That’s where “income inequality” comes in. But there’s a problem: The Obama Administration and its subservient, partisan Senate minions are more open than any other elected incumbents to criticism when it comes to poverty policy.

“Although the President often rails against income inequality in America, his policies have had little impact overall on poverty,” The Washington Times observed Tuesday. “A record 47 million Americans receive food stamps, about 13 million more than when he took office.”

The piece continues:

The poverty rate has stood at 15 percent for three consecutive years, the first time that has happened since the mid-1960s. The poverty rate in 1965 was 17.3 percent; it was 12.5 percent in 2007, before the Great Recession.

About 50 million Americans live below the poverty line, which the federal government defined in 2012 as an annual income of $23,492 for a family of four.

President Obama’s anti-poverty efforts “are basically to give more people more free stuff,” said Robert Rector, a specialist on welfare and poverty at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

“That’s exactly the opposite of what Johnson said,” Mr. Rector said. “Johnson’s goal was to make people prosperous and self-sufficient.”

But an America stocked with prosperous and self-sufficient citizens would obviate the far-left progressive leadership that has come to dominate the Democratic Party, because there’d be precious few people left in this country enthralled by the false promise of receiving something for nothing.

EPA Takes Land From State In Violation Of Century-Old Congressional Act

Republican Wyoming Governor Matt Mead issued a statement Monday blasting the Environmental Protection Agency for unilaterally ignoring Congressionally established law in order to take roughly 1 million acres of property out of State jurisdiction and hand it over to two Indian tribes.

The EPA ruled in December that a 1905 law that allowed non-Indians to establish homesteads inside the disputed territory did not end the territory’s reservation status. But Congress had made no such distinction at the time it passed the law.

The Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes, each of which occupies the Wind River Indian Reservation (located in the west-central portion of the State), had approached the EPA with a “Treatment as a State” request in order to acquire jurisdictional control over the territory under the Clean Air Act.

The EPA ruling’s overt implication is that the tribes now have the legal prerogative to be notified of any air quality permit filed within 50 miles of the reservation’s boundary.

But the ruling has other implications that concern municipal and State officials — especially “that land that the state, Fremont County and the city of Riverton consider to be under local jurisdiction is, in fact, Indian Country,” according to the WyoFile nonprofit news blog. “And,” WyoFile observes, “as part of the Wind River Indian Reservation, the city and surrounding area could be subject to federal policing, among other laws.”

Mead has responded to the ruling by pledging to ignore it, and to wage a court battle to have the EPA’s decision overturned.

“I understand that the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes have a different opinion about the Wind River Reservation Boundary,” his statement reads. “My deep concern is about an administrative agency of the federal government altering a state’s boundary and going against over 100 years of history and law. This should be a concern to all citizens because, if the EPA can unilaterally take land away from a state, where will it stop? …The federal government clearly had a predetermined outcome it sought to uphold.”

Income Inequality: Obama Rewards More Donors With Posh Ambassador Posts

President Barack Obama demonstrated his commitment to ending income inequality in America this week by asking the Senate to lavish five major Democratic donors with cherry ambassadorships in conflict-free countries like Iceland, New Zealand and The Netherlands.

Obama sent his picks to the Senate on Monday for confirmation, even though the nominees knew before Congress went on its Christmas break that they were in line for the posts. Here’s the rundown, courtesy of the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation government watchdog blog:

  • Rob Barber, a Massachusetts attorney nominated to represent the United States in Iceland, has donated more than $80,000 to Democratic campaigns, according to records compiled on Influence Explorer from the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in Politics. Political Party Time shows that Barber helped host a fundraiser last year for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

 

  • Colleen Bell, a Hollywood soap opera producer whom Obama has tapped to be ambassador to Hungary, has donated more than $293,000. Her husband, fellow “The Bold and the Beautiful” producer Bradley Bell, was an especially enthusiastic funder of the Obama campaign. The couple also hosted a star-studded fundraiser for the president at their home during the last campaign, PT records reveal.

 

  • Timothy Broas, nominated to serve as ambassador to the Netherlands, has donated more than $183,000 to Democrats in addition to showing up in Party Time as a fundraising host.  As USA TODAY has reported, Obama is giving Broas a second chance at a job the DC “super lawyer” opted out of in 2012 after a drunk driving arrest.

 

  • Dwight Bush, a DC investment banker who hopes to take over the embassy in Morocco, has, together with his son, Dwight Bush Jr., made more than $140,000 in campaign contributions. With a few strategic exceptions that money went almost entirely to Democrats.

 

  • Mark Gilbert, a former baseball player turned investment banker, has donated nearly $436,000 to Democratic candidates and causes. Perhaps endearing him still further to Obama, Gilbert used to play outfield for the president’s beloved White Sox. That makes him a rarity among members of the First Fan’s favorite team, most of whom prefer Republicans. [Note: Gilbert is in line for an ambassadorship to New Zealand.]

The secular version of American simony isn’t unique to the Obama Administration. As we reported in July of last year – just after Obama had outraged our European allies by cashing in political favors with another of his ambassadorial nominations – the practice has a long and corrupt history regardless of who the President has been. But wouldn’t the President of Hope and Change, who’s set to take on the wealth gap and renew his partisan focus on equal opportunity for all Americans – carve out a little more credibility for his legacy by being the first to buck that trend?

What’s Wrong With This Picture? McConnell ‘United’ With Tea Party, Rand Paul In Campaign-Season Propaganda

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) knows that 2014 could be a long year for himself and other Congressional GOP colleagues who’ve variously attempted to conceal their RINO hearts with occasional weak overtures toward highly self-willed Tea Party conservatives.

With election season in high gear, there’s a lot of lost ground to recover with conservative voters and not much time to do it. But Washington careerists like McConnell are too elite and too aloof from their constituents to understand that they couldn’t make up the ground they’ve lost — even if the campaign season were 100 years long.

Empty symbolic gestures like the one McConnell attempted Monday represent more of the same from the unprincipled, spineless RINO set — intelligence-insulting, eleventh-hour photo ops that are designed to remind conservative voters that the GOP at its most moderate is supposedly less repugnant than any alternative.

From The Hill:

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sought to emphasize his Tea Party ties Monday by signing papers to file for reelection with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

In a video released Tuesday, McConnell is shown signing his filing papers with Paul and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer (R), who are both Tea Party favorites in Kentucky.

McConnell, long a target of grassroots conservatives, is facing a primary challenge from businessman Matt Bevin, who has already won the backing of some prominent national conservative groups.

The incumbent has been working to shore up support on his right flank for months. He won Paul’s endorsement and has emphasized conservative causes, like the Balanced Budget Amendment. He voted against a two-year budget deal approved by Congress last month.

In the filing video, titled “United,” Paul touts McConnell’s work as GOP leader in the Senate.

“What he has done, and what allows him to be the most powerful Republican up there is that he can pull people together,” Paul says, “United on ObamaCare. United for a Balanced Budget Amendment.”

Paul’s comments answer another attack McConnell is facing from his left flank, where he’s up against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes — that his leadership abilities have waned and his seniority in the Senate has made him simply out of touch with Kentucky.

It’s a ruse that infuriates the Tea Party — in part, because it bears the obvious signs of the RINOs’ manifest lack of sincerity. And it doesn’t help when anonymous insiders or hot mics catch people like McConnell saying stuff like the Tea Party is “nothing but a bunch of bullies” whom the GOP establishment intends to “punch” in the nose.

Lundergan Grimes, McConnell’s likely Democratic challenger, is onto something: McConnell is out of touch, and his spineless leadership represents a great squandering of his position of power within the Senate.

What’s more perplexing is Paul’s willingness to get this cozy with McConnell — a conservative albatross in his home State — in front of jaded conservative voters.

As surely as the GOP believes some of Paul’s Tea Party sheen can magically rub off on McConnell, it must also realize McConnell’s lukewarm leadership, lacking for a principled ideological foundation, can stain the conservative reputation of anyone who dares stand too close.

Please, Rand, just step away.

GAO: Carmakers Collect And Keep Drivers’ Location Information

The Government Accountability Office released a report Monday that reveals major carmakers are collecting information about where motorists travel, and that they retain that info indefinitely — without any legal obligation to dispose of it.

The GAO report indicates auto manufacturers use drivers’ factory-installed onboard navigation systems, such as General Motors’ OnStar, to collect location information, and that each company follows its own internal policy about how long that information is retained.

Additionally, car owners — almost none of whom even know about the automakers’ practice — have no recourse to ask the companies to dispose of their location information.

Car companies have justified the practice by pointing out the services that location tracking enables them to provide to consumers. By collecting location data, onboard navigation systems can give motorists a slew of location-specific information, including traffic updates, map directions, roadside assistance and stolen vehicle monitoring.

The GAO report covers the information collection practices of the Big Three U.S. automakers, as well as Toyota, Honda and Nissan. “If companies retained data, they did not allow consumers to request that their data be deleted, which is a recommended practice,” the report noted.

The automakers also use the location data to “track where consumers are, which can in turn be used to steal their identity, stalk them or monitor them without their knowledge,” the report continues. “In addition, location data can be used to infer other sensitive information about individuals such as their religious affiliation or political activities.”

In other words, automakers are exercising the same secretive powers as the National Security Agency — only they’re being paid by customers for the privilege.

In spite of that similarity, so far only Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) has publicly condemned the practice.

“Modern technology now allows drivers to get turn-by-turn directions in a matter of seconds, but our privacy laws haven’t kept pace with these enormous advances,” said Franken, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, in a prepared statement Monday. “Companies providing in-car location services are taking their customers’ privacy seriously — but this report shows that Minnesotans and people across the country need much more information about how the data are being collected, what they’re being used for, and how they’re being shared with third parties.”

Hopefully, the small handful of Congressmen who have an actual track record of standing up for Americans’ 4th Amendment rights will expand upon, and strengthen, Franken’s benign comments. Otherwise, this story will probably slide innocuously back into the low-contrast hum of the 24-hour news cycle until someone decides to file a class-action lawsuit.

Watch Jay Carney Dissemble To Avoid Addressing His Own Talking Point On Obamacare Enrollment

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told CBS News’ Major Garrett that the demographic mix of Obamacare enrollees was a crucial determinant of the health care law’s long-term viability. He’d kind of been backed into a corner, because Garrett was after him about the Obama Administration’s deafening silence on just how far short enrollment is from the Administration’s stated goal of 7 million customers.  Garrett had quoted HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who had said, only one day before Obamacare’s Oct. 1 launch last year, that “success looks like 7 million people having signed up by the end of March 2014.”

Carney came back with this:

It’s important to understand that it is not — that there’s not some magic number: 6,999,999 and the system collapses; one more than that and it functions perfectly. The issue, obviously, is there has to be some volume — some estimates have been as low as 2 million — but what that make-up looks like, both demographically and geographically. So all of these issues are important.

Demographics matter, of course, because hordes of very poor, very sick people who receive subsidies to finance their expensive medical treatments simply can’t pay for their own treatments – let alone everyone else’s. Obamacare needs young, reasonably high-income enrollees to pay for the program’s enormous safety net, and the sum of the last three months’ worth of news reports strongly indicates that just isn’t happening.

Flash forward to Tuesday (Carney has to be dreading these press briefings more and more every day), when Carney found himself back in front of reporters.

One of them asked whether the Obama Administration knows – or has any plans to release whatever it knows – about the demographic composition of the people who’ve so far enrolled in Obamacare.

He had a hard time delivering a response that featured complete sentences. Carney’s dissembling reply did feature this:

But you know, when — the issue here is I guess this is sort of — this is the new thing where we’re — you know, we’re going to find some problem in the system. Well, first of all, we acknowledge problems when they arise and when they need to be fixed.

We acknowledge that there needs to be the right mix for the marketplaces to be maximally effective. We believe we will achieve that mix. But, you know, we’re not going to even imagine or hope that you’ll take our word for it. You’ll evaluate it as you, you know, see the proof of it when — as you have with the enrollment figures, when the numbers that were obviously terrible in October and gradually improved after that.

So, you know, we’ll — we’re committed to getting the data to you and you can judge it for yourselves.

Got all that?

At least he admitted the launch numbers were “terrible.”

H/T: Washington Free Beacon

North Carolina Cop Shoots, Kills 90-Pound Schizophrenic Teen Holding A Screwdriver

A mother and father in coastal North Carolina called the police to help get control of their teenage son, who suffered from depression and schizophrenia. He allegedly was experiencing a psychotic episode and had grabbed a small screwdriver. The distressed parents told the police that their son, who stood 5’3’’ and weighed less than 100 pounds, was acting “disoriented.”

Two police officers — one Boiling Spring Lakes municipal officer and one Brunswick County sheriff’s deputy — showed up at the family’s home and tried to talk to 18-year-old Keith Vidal in an effort to calm him down. Local news reports indicate that the two officers were making headway with the troubled young man simply by talking to him.

But then, a third officer from the neighboring town of Southport showed up, entered the home and told the two other officers to use a Taser on Vidal. So they did — allegedly, more than once. The officers ended up on the ground when the Southport officer allegedly remarked, “We don’t have time for this.”

From WECT News in Wilmington:

[Mark] Wilsey said officers had his son down on the ground after the teen was tased a few times and an officer said, “We don’t have time for this.” That’s when Wilsey says the officer shot in between the officers holding the teen down, killing his son.

“There was no reason to shoot this kid,” Wilsey said. “They killed my son in cold blood. We called for help and they killed my son.”

… Neighbors said Vidal played with their children and he never was violent. They said he had a history of depression and schizophrenia, but he was never harmful to others.

District Attorney Jon David held a news conference Monday but said he would not release the names of the officers involved until after the State Bureau of Investigation wraps up its inquiry. An SBI investigation is required anytime a law enforcement officer in North Carolina is involved in a shooting.

“We called for help, and they killed our son,” Wilsey told Time Warner Cable Triad News. “No reason for it; deadly force. There was no reason. They had Tasers on them, and they didn’t have to even tase him – they could have just talked to him, talked to him another 10 minutes.”

Michelle Obama’s Reviled School Lunch Program Caves To Demands That Food Taste Better, Be More Filling

First lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to combat child obesity by scaling back calories served up in public schools has been unpopular and counterproductive. Her role in folding the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 into the overarching agenda of her “Let’s Move!” childhood obesity program may be starting to fade, though.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said last week it will permanently relax rules that limit public schools’ lunchroom options, including calorie count and portion sizes, affirming the agency’s face-saving 2012 decision to temporarily lift those same requirements in the face of public backlash.

Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota announced Friday that the USDA had agreed to  loosen those requirements to the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program.

“A one-size-fits-all approach to school lunch left students hungry and school districts frustrated with the additional expense, paperwork and nutritional research necessary to meet federal requirements. These are exactly the changes included in our Sensible School Lunch Act.”

Senator Mark Pryor (D- Ark.) said he and Hoeven, both of whom have been outspoken critics of the 2010 legislation, took point in applauding the changes.

“After hearing from educators, parents, and students, Senator Hoeven and I stepped in to help school districts who were frustrated with the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program’s strict new rules,” Pryor said Friday. “I’m glad the USDA followed our lead and made these much-needed administrative changes that will give our school districts the permanent flexibility they need to keep our kids healthy and successful.”

“Today, the USDA made the permanent changes we have been seeking to the School Lunch Program,” Hoeven added. “A one-size-fits-all approach to school lunch left students hungry and school districts frustrated with the additional expense, paperwork and nutritional research necessary to meet Federal requirements. These are exactly the changes included in our Sensible School Lunch Act.”

The Sensible School Lunch Act is a bill that would amend standing Federal law governing school lunch programs so that school districts would have more flexibility in choosing how to configure their menus at the local level. It was introduced in March of 2013 in the House by Congressman Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), and has been dormant since then.

It’s great that Obama’s rubber-stamp approach to school lunches was so unpopular that it ultimately failed, but the manner in which the rules were changed begs one question: How is the USDA’s administrative tweak any different from the dozens of administrative tweaks the Department of Health and Human Services has made to Obamacare, all at the President’s behest?

The modifications were aimed at limiting fat and salt, reducing portion sizes and increasing fruit and vegetable servings. For kindergarteners through fifth-graders, their meals were capped at 650 calories. Sixth- through eighth-graders were allowed 700 calories per meal, while high school students got 850.

Reid: GOP Just Wants To Make Obama Look Bad

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) set a welcoming, bipartisan tone to kick off the new year today, noting that the only ideological ambition his Republican Senate foes harbor is to “make President [Barack] Obama look bad.”

Reid followed that up with a call for cooperation between both political parties – because, of course, only one party (not his) has been guilty of not cooperating.

“We have been able to get a few things done, but we have been unable to get some important things done – because the goal by the Republicans in the Congress — not the Republicans in the country, but the Republicans in the Congress — is to do everything they can to make President Obama look bad,” said Reid in his first Senate floor speech this year.

Of course, it’s no surprise. The recent strategy of Senate Democrats has been one of successfully displacing public opinion about Democrats’ own political recalcitrance onto the GOP, and then digging in to wait for attrition to take its toll. It’s how Democrats won the government shutdown fight, and Reid was singing the same song back then. He used almost identical phrasing in early December during a Nevada television interview. From NBC 3 in Las Vegas:

“I pride myself in being able to work with my Republican colleagues,” Reid said. “But it’s been pretty difficult lately. They’ve done everything they can to make Obama look bad…Legislation is the art of compromise. Consensus building – we don’t have that now. The Tea Party will not allow Republicans to compromise.”

Congressional Republicans have done a fine job of compromising and capitulating without any Tea Party checks on their political temerity. It’s inconceivable that the rank and file GOP Congressman possessed either the media clout or the cultural influence necessary to precipitate a sea change in public opinion about President Obama.

On the other hand, there is at least one person who wields tremendous influence over how the President is perceived in the court of public opinion.

We’ll give you one guess.

Facebook Sued For Storing, Sharing Private Message Data

A lawsuit against social media giant Facebook alleges the company has been secretly capturing and storing the contents of users’ private messages in order to share that information with third parties to craft targeted advertising tailored to appeal to members’ most intimate tastes.

In a case that could upend private individuals’ understanding of what the promise of “privacy” from the for-profit sector means, the suit claims Facebook scans the content of private messages and then tracks any web links the sender may have included to profile that sender’s online activities. Although Facebook operates across the globe, the allegations, if true, mean the company is clearly violating the U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act whenever it stores private user content that originates in the United States.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are asking the U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., to certify the case as a class action that would advocate for users of the website who have included web links in their Facebook-hosted private message communications anytime in the past two years. The plaintiffs also want Facebook to admit to, and end, the practice, and to pay as much as $10,000 in damages for each verified instance.

The complaint against Facebook notes the evident profit motive behind the company’s assurance to users that their information is private, when, in fact, the company allegedly exempts itself from its own promise.

“Representing to users that the content of Facebook messages is ‘private’ creates an especially profitable opportunity for Facebook,” it reads. “…This practice is not done to facilitate the transmission of users’ communications via Facebook, but because it enables Facebook to mine user data and profit from those data by sharing them with third parties — namely, advertisers, marketers, and other data aggregators.”

Facebook has denied the allegations. Company leaders were among several representatives from the tech sector who recently chided President Barack Obama for failing to take seriously the National Security Agency’s onerous demands for private information from corporate social media and electronic service providers — like Facebook.

Firearms Company Magpul Makes Good On Pledge To Leave Colorado Over Gun Control Laws

Magpul, maker of gun accessories like grips, mounts, sights and magazines, was among the first firearms companies to take a principled stand against gun control laws passed last year in Colorado, where the company had done business for the past 14 years.

In March, Magpul announced that it would not continue to operate in a State that limits its residents’ 2nd Amendment freedoms while playing host to firearms manufacturers that can make — but not sell — their goods in Colorado.

It wasn’t just idle talk: Magpul makes 30-round magazines, which are now illegal under Colorado’s new ban on mags that hold more than 15 rounds.

“If we’re able to stay in Colorado and manufacture a product, but law-abiding citizens of the state were unable to purchase the product, customers around the state and the nation would boycott us for remaining here,” Magpul COO Doug Smith told The Denver Post shortly before the Democratic-controlled State Legislature and Governor John Hickenlooper approved the new gun laws. “Staying here would hurt our business.”

Now Magpul is making good on that pledge. The company announced late last week that it has secured new manufacturing and distribution facilities in Cheyenne, Wyo., and will move its corporate headquarters to one of three locations under consideration in northern Texas.

In last week’s announcement, Smith and Magpul CEO Richard Fitzpatrick each reiterated the reason the company elected to move its operations.

“Magpul made the decision to relocate in March 2013 and has proceeded on an aggressive but deliberate path,” said Smith. “These dual moves will be carried out in a manner that ensures our operations and supply chain will not be interrupted and our loyal customers will not be affected.”

“Moving operations to states that support our culture of individual liberties and personal responsibility is important,” said Fitzpatrick. “This relocation will also improve business operations and logistics as we utilize the strengths of Texas and Wyoming in our expansion.”

Menacing Flutes Destroyed By Vigilant Customs Agents To Protect America From Eco-Terror…And Art

Agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection valiantly averted a potential threat last week to the Nation’s environment — as well as citizens’ possible overexposure to aesthetics — by destroying 13 rare flutes that, being made of wood and all, ostensibly posed a threat of introducing “exotic plant pathogens” into the ecosystem.

The flutes, hand-made and owned by virtuoso Canadian musician Boujemaa Razgui, are rare instruments that Razgui has traveled with and played throughout his career. They’ve seen action throughout the U.S. and in Europe, where Razgui has played the instruments with professional ensembles and individually at colleges, churches, synagogues, mosques, theaters and weddings. Based in New York, he holds a green card and is legally self-employed as a musician in the United States.

Now the flutes have seen their last action at JFK International Airport, where Customs officials discovered the instruments and, without Razgui being present or consulted about their purpose, smashed them to pieces after mistaking them for bamboo sticks.

“I fly with them in and out all the time and this is the first time there has been a problem. This is my life,” Razgui told the Boston Globe. He discovered the instruments were missing after receiving his intercepted luggage, and consulted with airport officials. “They told me they were destroyed. Nobody talked to me. They said I have to write a letter to the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. This is horrible. I don’t know what to do.”

Customs has defended the agents’ actions and says they simply acted according to prescribed protocol — even though protocol authorizes the destruction of “green,” undried wood materials, even though the instruments were made of dried wood. Customs is dubiously claiming that the instruments were indeed made of undried wood — no, wait; that indeed they only saw green bamboo sticks and no instruments — and that their destruction was justified.

Of course, that’s news to Razgui, who’s flown into and out of the U.S. with the instruments for years without incident, and who maintains that Customs didn’t wait for an explanation of what they were looking at before acting hastily.

At any rate, history is on his side. Remember when the Feds swooped in and raided Gibson Guitar Corporation’s Tennessee facilities in 2009 and again in 2011? They were looking for — and allegedly found — “endangered” wood. As The Blaze pointed out last May, however, the raids may have been politically motivated. And Gibson appears to have been singled out, since their exotic-wood-using competitors have never been targeted for breaking environmental law.

Detroit Police Chief Endorses Concealed Carry For A Safer City

Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who’s been on the job since July of last year, started blowing minds this week by telling anyone who would listen that law-abiding citizens who possess concealed carry permits — and the pistols to accompany them — make for wonderfully effective crime deterrents.

Craig spoke at a press conference Thursday, telling reporters he once believed in gun control. But over the course of a 36-year career in law enforcement, Craig found that violent criminals believed in gun control, too. After all, why would bad guys want to increase the probability that their victims are capable of matching force with force?

From a Friday story in The Detroit News:

If more citizens were armed, criminals would think twice about attacking them, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said Thursday.

Urban police chiefs are typically in favor of gun control or reluctant to discuss the issue, but Craig on Thursday was candid about how he’s changed his mind.

“When we look at the good community members who have concealed weapons permits, the likelihood they’ll shoot is based on a lack of confidence in this Police Department,” Craig said at a press conference at police headquarters, adding that he thinks more Detroit citizens feel safer, thanks in part to a 7 percent drop in violent crime in 2013.

Craig said he started believing that legal gun owners can deter crime when he became police chief in Portland, Maine, in 2009.

“Coming from California (Craig was on the Los Angeles police force for 28 years), where it takes an act of Congress to get a concealed weapon permit, I got to Maine, where they give out lots of CCWs (carrying concealed weapon permits), and I had a stack of CCW permits I was denying; that was my orientation.

“I changed my orientation real quick. Maine is one of the safest places in America. Clearly, suspects knew that good Americans were armed.”

Craig had actually begun making similar statements to media last month, telling a Detroit radio host he believes there’s a direct link between “good Americans with CPLs” and reduced crime.

The chief’s candor has taken some 2nd Amendment supporters in Michigan by surprise. “I’m not ready to say he’s pro-gun just yet,” Detroit gun safety instructor Rick Ector told the newspaper, “but it’s vastly different from what police chiefs have said in the past.”

Here’s hoping Craig doesn’t run into a buzz saw of sanctimonious and misguided opposition in a city crippled — and very much still haunted by — decades of progressive leadership.

Pregnant Nurse Refuses Flu Vaccine, Loses Job

A Pennsylvania nurse faced a choice: Accept a mandatory flu vaccine in order to comply with workplace policy at Lancaster General Hospital, or decline the vaccine and be at ease that she wasn’t doing anything to endanger her pregnancy — after two previous miscarriages.

She chose not to receive the vaccine, and she was fired. She told her employers she was happy to wear a mask while interacting with patients, but that was, for the hospital, an unacceptable alternative.

Dreonna Breton, 29, had worked at the hospital for five years. In the past year, she’s had two miscarriages, and she didn’t want to introduce any complications into her current pregnancy by injecting her body with anything extraneous to her pregnancy until after her child is born.

“It’s frustrating to me to be forced to do something that you’re not comfortable with,” Breton told CBS Baltimore. “The known risks are low. I understand that. But there are still risks.”

The American College of Obstetricians and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend flu vaccinations for expecting mothers as a safe preventive for both mother and unborn child.

But Breton said having control over how she brought her baby to term is more important than jumping through hoops for the sake of her current job.

“I’m not worried. I’m not worried because I know I did the right thing for me,” she said.

She told the local TV station she has no plans to sue to win back her job. She just wants hospitals to think about how their blanket policies can affect the freedom of their employees — many of whom are medically trained — to make their own healthcare choices.

New Year, New Laws

Are you ready to greet 2014 with more government? Not surprisingly, the government is. From municipalities to States to the whole Nation, plenty of new laws and policy tweaks will be in effect by the time you read this. Will any of them affect you?

In the case of Obamacare’s fines for not signing up for insurance, it’s hard to say. Jan. 1 was supposed to have been the deadline to enroll for coverage, via Healthcare.gov, in order to have insurance that lasts the whole year. Penalties assessed by the Internal Revenue Service against eligible citizens’ tax refunds (there’s technically no provision to enforce the penalty against anyone who actually owes the government money) were not to be levied unless holdouts aren’t enrolled by April 1. Here’s how that penalty is supposed to be assessed.

But with President Barack Obama applying the King’s quill to one Obamacare change after another, it’s not clear whether anyone will even face a penalty — or, as the Supreme Court calls it, a “tax” — this election year.

Obamacare is easily the most far-ranging new law that (sort of) kicks in this year. But others are at least interesting, even when they aren’t controversial.

CNN compiled a sampler of other new laws rung in by the New Year: some quirky, some that vastly overreach the Constitutional powers of the state. Nearly all are completely unnecessary.

Connecticut, for example, is now forcing people who buy State-defined “assault weapons” and high-capacity mags onto a State registry.

California is expanding SNAP (food stamp) eligibility to “homeless youth,” striking down a standing minimum wage stipulation. And kids in California can now use whichever bathroom they want at school, regardless of their anatomy.

New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and California are all hiking the mandatory minimum wage.

There are a few positive signs at the State level, though.

Arkansas joins the ranks of States requiring voter ID. Oregon is prohibiting employers from forcing their workers to share personal passwords for their social media accounts. And Illinois has made it illegal for law enforcement to deploy search drones without obtaining a warrant. Also in Illinois, drones can’t be used to mess with outdoorsmen in the field — a reaction to a plan by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to monitor hunters through something it had dubbed the “Air Angels” program.

Are there any local laws, new or old, that drive you crazy? There are a lot of strange things on the books, especially at the State and municipal level, that seem absurd to people who live elsewhere. A few of them seem absurd to the people who have to live with them.

Share your dumb local laws with your fellow readers in the comments. If you really have a stinker, go ahead and drop us a line at newstips@personalliberty.com.

2013: The Year Of Too Many Cops Doing Too Many Bad Things

This may have been the year the police state topped itself for abuse of power and double standards. We’ve reported this year on plenty of outrageous crimes for which cops have received little or no punishment, but there were too many cases of cop abuse this year to stay on top of in real time.

Take the case of Milwaukee officer Michael Vagnini, who was sentenced to 26 months in prison earlier this year for conducting a series of illegal strip searches over the course of at least two years. The searches involved anal probing, willful humiliation and genital fondling; and a series of lawsuits filed by the victims allege far worse.

Vignini’s family thinks the sentence is too harsh, but the victims’ attorneys can’t believe two years is all he got.

Vagnini pleaded no contest in April to four felony charges of misconduct in public office, as well as to four misdemeanor charges for conducting illegal strip searches, in exchange for prosecutors’ dropping of seven counts of sexual abuse against him. He, along with three other officers, had all been placed on suspension with pay for their involvement in the ring of illegal searches, but Vagnini’s participation — along with the fact that all the victims are black — provided the common threads that ran through each incident.

Cavity searches in Wisconsin cannot be done by police officers — only medical professionals under the sanction of a search warrant.

Vagnini’s abusive behavior may have begun before 2008, when anecdotal complaints of illegal searches began coming in to the Milwaukee Police Department; but the department began investigating the allegations in 2010. Court documents reveal that he would initiate contact with his targets by pulling them over on probable cause for not wearing a seat belt or having windows with illegal tinting.

Then, according to a summary of lawsuits filed against Vagnini, he’d start “searching.” From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Robert Mann, 55, contends that Police Officer Michael Vagnini stopped him as he was walking near N. 31st St. and Atkinson Ave. in June 2011 and without probable cause, pulled down Mann’s pants and put his hand in Mann’s rectum “in an unsafe, unhygienic, and intentionally humiliating fashion.”

No drugs were recovered from Mann.

[A] juvenile, identified as K.F., was 15 when he was riding in a friend’s car that was stopped by police on N. 26th St. in December 2011. According to the suit, he was ordered out of the car before Vagnini reached into the teen’s pants, touching his genitalia and his anus while Police Officer Jacob Knight watched.

No drugs were found, but K.F. was still taken to a police station and cited for an ordinance violation. The suit does not specify the violation.

In July 2009, Chavies Hoskin, 28, was stopped while driving on N. 13th St. Vagnini reached into Hoskin’s pants and pulled a bag with cocaine from Hoskin’s anal area, while Sgt. Jason Mucha and Officer Thomas Maglio watched.

Hoskin was charged with delivery of cocaine. His suit contends that the officers lied in reports, and that Vagnini also falsely testified under oath about how and where he found the cocaine.

Because Vagnini avoided sexual abuse charges, he does not have to register as a sex offender. The other three officers, whom the investigation deemed to have only assisted while Vagnini performed the cavity searches, got fines and community service.

“[W]hy should twisted individuals get lighter sentences for these acts due to their wearing a badge and a uniform?” asks watchdog website Police State USA. “If a gang of strange men approaches a person, accosts them, threatens them with violence, detains them against their will, and penetrates their orifices with parts of their bodies, that should be considered rape or sexual assault, and those involved should be considered accomplices.  That’s what would happen to a normal person without a badge.  ‘Official misconduct’ is only the tip of the iceberg for these monsters.”

Maybe so. Nevertheless, 26 months is apparently a devastating sentence for Vagnini’s family, who packed the courtroom awaiting the June ruling. “His wife broke down sobbing when Circuit Judge Jeffrey Wagner finally announced the sentence at the end of the two-hour hearing, and Vagnini was led away in handcuffs,” the Journal Sentinel reported.

H/T: The Daily Caller

Grudging Harvard Prof: Tea Party Is Here To Stay

Despite all the mainstream media punditry that’s ready to shovel dirt over the casket of grass-roots conservatism and truly liberal (as opposed to radical progressive) thought, at least one Harvard professor thinks the Tea Party isn’t going away anytime soon.

Harvard sociology professor Theda Skocpol actually believes Americans are more fed up today with the ossified stubbornness of the political class than they were in 2007, when “Tea Party” became a household phrase.

It’s clear from the tone of his article that Skopcol is anything but an apologist for conservative values (he calls sequestration “draconian budget cuts,” conservatives “saboteurs” and Ted Cruz “arrogant”), but she sees the future written in Americans’ present disgust with the government they have now:

Americans may resent the Tea Party, but they are also losing ever more faith in the federal government—a big win for anti-government saboteurs.

Then she ponders how to be rid of “the damage the Tea Party is inflicting on American politics” and faces some realities that, though she laments them, are hard to ignore:

For one, at least three successive national election defeats will be necessary to even begin to break the determination and leverage of Tea Party adherents. Grassroots Tea Partiers see themselves in a last-ditch effort to save “their country,” and big-money ideologues are determined to undercut Democrats and sabotage active government. They are in this fight for the long haul. Neither set of actors will stand down easily or very soon.

Also worth remembering is that “moderate Republicans” barely exist right now. Close to two-thirds of House Republicans voted against bipartisan efforts to reopen the federal government and prevent U.S. default on loan obligations, and [John] Boehner has never repudiated such extortionist tactics. Tea Partiers may not call for another shutdown right away, but they will continue to be able to draw most GOP legislators and leaders into aggressive efforts to obstruct and delay. In the electorate, moreover, more than half of GOP voters sympathize with the Tea Party and cheer on obstructionist tactics, and the remaining Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are disorganized and divided in their views of the likes of Ted Cruz.

…Finally, Democrats need to get over thinking that opinion polls and media columns add up to real political gains. Once the October 2013 shutdown ended in supposed total victory for President Obama and his party, many Democrats adopted a cocky swagger and started talking about ousting the House GOP in 2014. But a clear-eyed look shows that Tea Party obstruction remains powerful and has achieved victories that continue to stymie Democratic efforts to govern effectively — a necessary condition for Democrats to win enthusiastic, sustained voter support for the future, including in midterm elections.

Those pesky obstructionists! If only they’d allow Democrats to “govern effectively.”

Of course, those who watched Democrats shut down the government, blame the Tea Party, and then proceed not only to get everything they wanted in the first place – but to rewrite the rules of Senate procedure to their benefit – see a very different set of political motivations than the ones Skopcol sees.

It’s almost as if, grudgingly, progressives are already trying to take control of the narrative for the kind of political fight they’re (finally) realizing they’re doomed to face in the years ahead.

Run On Guns In California As New Registry Deadline Approaches

California residents are lining up to beat a new ban on unregistered shotguns and rifles, as a 2011 law that creates a State registry for long guns is set to go into effect at the start of the new year.

The law basically treats all long guns sold after Jan. 1, 2014 as handguns. It was passed in a legislative session that also saw the revocation of any form of open carry statewide.

Currently, California handgun owners must register their weapons in a statewide database. But starting next week, owners of long guns must do the same.

As 2013 draws to a close, CBS Sacramento reports that California residents are racing to stores in the hope of acquiring long-barreled firearms before the law requires them to join the ranks of registered gun owners:

Even though the law is at least temporarily boosting his bottom line, Just Guns owner John Deaser isn’t a fan. He says requiring people to register their rifles and shotguns is an unnecessary invasion of privacy.

In the last week of 2013, he says sales of long guns are up 30 to 50 percent.

The new registry ends California gun dealers’ standing practice of destroying the records of their customers as soon as they’ve cleared a background check. It also means that guns currently in existence, including heirloom weapons that have been handed down from one generation of family members to the next, will have to be registered for the first time when they next change hands.

The new State registry will record the make, model and serial number of every firearm owned or purchased in California; and gun owners must voluntarily report any transfer of ownership to the State.

Say Goodbye To Incandescent Bulbs As Government Ban Takes Effect

A law signed by President George W. Bush is set to enter its final phase in a long-term plan by Congress to phase the simple incandescent light bulb out of existence. Starting in 2014, you won’t be able to legally get your hands on household 60-watt and 40-watt incandescent bulbs.

Some artists, architects, photographers and people who do specialized work in medicine, engineering, research and other demanding fields prefer incandescent bulbs for the quality or the stability of the light they produce, despite their relative inefficiency compared to fluorescent and LED bulbs. Others question the benefit of alternatives to incandescent bulbs in saving energy or preventing environmental damage.

Standards outlined in the Energy Independence and Security Act, which Bush signed in 2007, make it illegal to manufacture or import 40- and 60-watt incandescent bulbs into the United States after Dec. 31 of this year, leaving it up to stores to sell off what they have left. Those same standards have already phased out the 100-watt bulb (in 2012) and 75-watt bulbs (this year).

And while the change was set in place in the name of conservation, critics argue Congress and the President ignored the role of free choice when they agreed to limit American consumers’ options. If the incandescent bulb is so bad, they argue, the free market will eventually drive them into marginal use anyway — just as film cameras still exist, but have been roundly eclipsed by digital cameras in the hands of average consumers.

According to The Heritage Foundation, the flap over phasing out incandescent bulbs reflects the government’s increasingly statist role in tinkering with even the smallest choices of American citizens:

Proponents of government-imposed efficiency standards and regulations will say, “So what? There are still plenty of lighting options on the shelves at Home Depot; we’re saving families money; and we’re reducing harmful climate change emissions.”

The “so what” is that the federal government is taking decisions out of the hands of families and businesses, destroying jobs, and restricting consumer choice in the market. We all have a wide variety of preferences regarding light bulbs. It is not the role of the federal government to override those preferences with what it believes is in our best interest.

Families understand how energy costs impact their lives and make decisions accordingly. Energy efficiency has improved dramatically over the past six decades — long before any national energy efficiency mandates.

If families and firms are not buying the most energy-efficient appliance or technology, it is not that they are acting irrationally; they simply have budget constraints or other preferences such as comfort, convenience, and product quality. A family may know that buying an energy-efficient product will save them money in the long term, but they have to prioritize their short-term expenses. Those families operating from paycheck to paycheck may want to opt for a cheaper light bulb and more food instead of a more expensive light bulb and less food.

Some may read this and think: Chill out — it’s just a light bulb. But it’s not just a light bulb. Take a look at the Department of Energy’s Federal Energy Management Program. Basically anything that uses electricity or water in your home or business is subject to an efficiency regulation.

When the market drives energy efficiency, it saves consumers money. The more the federal government takes away decisions that are better left to businesses and families, the worse off we’re going to be.