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.

Rural Oregon Residents Organize Community Patrols To Offset Lapsed Sheriff’s Coverage

Regular readers of Personal Liberty Digest™ may recall a May story that described what can happen when people are confronted by the reality that the police provide neither blanket preventive protection, nor an instant recourse, against crime. Crime is unpredictable by nature, typically affecting people when criminals know their targets are at their most vulnerable. And that’s a fact no amount of police coverage will ever change.

When a woman in rural Josephine County, Ore., called 911 to send a deputy to help fend off an ex-boyfriend who ultimately entered her home and attacked her, the dispatcher told her: “Uh, I don’t have anybody to send out there.” The attacker didn’t kill the woman, but he did hurt her. The cops later caught up with him and arrested him for kidnapping, sex abuse and assault.

That attack came at a time when the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office had laid off 23 deputies, closed its Major Crimes Unit and slashed its in-service patrolling hours to eight-hour weekdays. Budget cuts from the termination of Federal timber subsidies, which had long helped fund the sheriff’s office, had forced the sheriff’s office to make the cuts. Residents had already voted down an additional ad valorem tax, leaving the county with no other option.

In the wake of that decimation, former law enforcement officials in the area decided to come up with a stopgap solution. It’s not one that will prevent imminent crimes from occurring, but it could sanction the popular acceptance of a do-it-yourself ethic — one that encourages people to view personal protection as an individual responsibility, and not the sole task of cash-strapped, far-flung rural sheriff’s offices.

From a FOX News report Thursday:

Ken Selig — who was the longest-serving law enforcement officer in all three local agencies when he was forced to retire from the department due to cuts — told FoxNews.com he found the sheriff’s declaration unacceptable. And he felt compelled to guard his community’s vulnerable members.

“Who else is going to protect you when your government can’t?” Selig said.

Over the objections of county officials, who viewed the ad valorem increase as the only viable solution, Selig and a friend created the North Valley Community Watch, a grass-roots crime-fighting organization that covers all of Josephine County and recruits residents to participate in monthly training sessions that focus on personal safety. The group has about 100 members, as well as a smaller, 12-member response unit that will respond at the scene of any non-life-threatening situation. (The group is still leaving life-threatening response scenarios to the sheriff’s office in order to avoid the wrath of the sheriff’s office, but the response team does carry firearms.)

Selig doesn’t claim that the watch group — one of several similar groups that have emerged to address the lapse in law enforcement coverage — is a cure-all, or that it can miraculously stop crime before it starts. But he does believe that citizen involvement makes a big difference in changing the culture of dependency on the state for personal protection — a culture in which criminals thrive.

“We believe responsible citizens doing responsible things make it hard for criminals to do irresponsible things,” he told FOX News.

Ohio State Senator Caves On Controversial Home School Law

You may have seen our recent story about a controversial Ohio proposal to regulate who can and can’t home school their children by submitting parents to a background check process.

That bill, introduced by Democratic Ohio State Senator Capri Carafo, was informally known as “Teddy’s Law” in commemoration of a home-schooled child who was beaten to death at home by his mother’s abusive boyfriend.

The proposal generated a lot of controversy, with home schooling advocates decrying a new State intervention in their domestic affairs as the “worst-ever home school law;” an idea “breathtakingly onerous in its scope.” The pressure quickly got to Carafo.

By the time our report on “Teddy’s Law” went live, Cafaro had already withdrawn the bill. The State Senator announced late last week her intent to pull Ohio SB 248, saying the passions it brought out in people demonstrate there’s more to consider about the rights of parents to decide what’s best for their children than her bill was intended to address.

“SB 248 was never meant to be a policy debate about educating children in the home,” Cafaro said. “It was meant to address weaknesses in the law pertaining to child protection. Unfortunately, the true intent of the bill to curtail child abuse has been eclipsed by the issue of home schooling… After consultation with Teddy’s family, we have collectively decided the best course of action is for me to withdraw SB 248, and instead pursue a more comprehensive approach to address the current challenges in the state’s social service and criminal justice system.”

Cafaro also pledged not to include any language in future child-protection proposals that would single out home schooling for special government scrutiny.

 

Report: More Than Half Of Counties Covered By Healthcare.gov Can’t Afford Obamacare’s ‘Affordable’ Prices

A USA Today report Thursday shows that the Affordable Care Act is anything but affordable in more than half of the counties in the 34 States where eligible buyers must purchase insurance through Healthcare.gov, the Federal government’s online insurance marketplace.

According to the analysis, more than half of the counties on the exchange don’t even offer customers a basic bronze-level health care plan. Among the color tiers that denote insurance plans that run the gamut from affordable to luxurious, the low-tier bronze plans are regarded as the cheapest, in part because they require higher copays and have higher maximum payout limits that customers must meet each year before the insurance plan kicks in.

“More than half of the counties in 34 states using the federal health insurance exchange lack even a bronze plan that’s affordable — by the government’s own definition — for 40-year-old couples who make just a little too much for financial assistance,” the piece reports:

Many of these counties are in rural, less populous areas that already had limited choice and pricey plans, but many others are heavily populated, such as Bergen County, N.J., and Philadelphia and Milwaukee counties.

More than a third don’t offer an affordable plan in the four tiers of coverage known as bronze, silver, gold or platinum for people buying individual plans who are 50 or older and ineligible for subsidies.

…”The ACA was not designed to reduce costs or, the law’s name notwithstanding, to make health insurance coverage affordable for the vast majority of Americans,” says health care consultant Kip Piper, a former government and insurance industry official. “The law uses taxpayer dollars to lower costs for the low-income uninsured but it also increases costs overall and shifts costs within the marketplace.”

The newspaper considered whether premiums for the most affordable insurance plan, at any “color” level, amounted to more than 8 percent of an eligible customer’s annual household income – a method similar to that employed by the government to calculate whether people are eligible to opt out of buying coverage under Obamacare based on their ability to cover the cost of the premiums they’d have to pay.

“[T]he analysis clearly shows how the sticker shock hitting many in the middle class, including the self-employed and early retirees, isn’t just a perception problem,” the paper found. “The lack of counties with affordable plans means many middle-class people will either opt out of insurance or pay too much to buy it.”

Democrats’ Greatest Hits: A 2013 Video Retrospective (Now Send Us Your Favorites)

The Washington Free Beacon has put together a video montage of the stupidest things that Democrats have said in 2013, drawing from the oratories of leftist talking heads, elected officials and Obama Administration appointees to compile a train wreck of gaffes, dissemblings and bone-headed obfuscations.

Our favorite is State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki telling the AP in August that “there was a determination made that we need to — not need to make a designation” over whether the U.S. would regard the ouster of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi as a coup d’état. It’s almost painful to watch Obama’s staffers die inside, little by little, each time they attempt to maintain dignity while telling mind-bendingly absurd lies that hew to the party line.

But there’ll always be a special place in our hearts for Vice President Joe Biden’s “boom!” pantomime in January, when he stood up in front of a bunch of mayors at a Washington, D.C. conference, put on his best wooden-toothed grin, and pretended to shoulder-fire his most beloved 2nd-Amendment-approved weapon: the humble 12-gauge.

What do you think? Did they miss any other silly sayings from Democrats in 2013?

Hey, while you’re at it, give us your favorite (or least favorite) one-liners from Republicans as well. We’ll put them in a separate, year-end post if we get some quality submissions.

Send your favorite political bloviating moments from 2013 to newstips@personalliberty.com and use “Dumb Politicians” in the subject line.

Just be sure to indicate whether you’d like to remain anonymous, be credited by name, or be credited with your nickname. And, of course, you’ve got to provide us with a link to your source.

H/T: The Washington Free Beacon

Government Isn’t Obligated To Inform Healthcare.gov Users When Site Compromises Their Private Info

If you enroll in Obamacare at Healthcare.gov and later find out that your financial information or identity has been stolen by hackers, it likely won’t be because the government called to warn you of the security breach.

That’s because the government isn’t obligated to let you know if Healthcare.gov fails to protect your information from criminals.

According to a report this month at Watchdog.org, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was approached with concerns about informing site users of any security breaches, but elected not to address them in 2012 as it issued its final ruling establishing how Healthcare.gov and the State-run online markets would function.

HHS solicited input ahead of finalizing healthcare exchange program rules in March 2012. But HHS dismissed the concerns of at least two commenters about how it planned to handle potential online break-ins that could compromise patient records. From the Federal Register, here’s how HHS responded:

Comment: Two commenters asked that HHS ensure that Exchanges promptly notify potentially affected enrollees in the event of a data breach or unauthorized access to PII. One commenter suggested that HHS ensure that an Exchange conducts an investigation and hold the breaching party accountable, both legally and financially, for notification and investigation following the breach or unauthorized access.

Response: We do not plan to include the specific notification procedures in the final rule. Consistent with this approach, we do not include specific policies for investigation of data breaches in this final rule. We do, however, plan to release guidance that addresses breach procedures.

Comment: One commenter requested that the final rule include privacy and security standards for storage, retention, and response to legal and civil matters. Another commenter stated that HHS should not retain PII longer than is necessary to carry out an authorized Exchange function.

Response: While the rule does not specifically mention storage, retention, or response to legal and civil matters, we believe that the final rule adequately addresses privacy and security standards for all potential uses of data, including storage and retention. We therefore do not include these elements in the final rule. We expect privacy and security standards developed by the Exchange will address the storage of information when it is not in use.

Strangely, the stringent privacy protections established by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) apply to everything about Obamacare except the government-managed healthcare websites it established. That means the doctors, hospitals and insurance companies are in violation of the law if they don’t inform you about any behind-the-scenes activity that compromises your privacy — but the government itself is immune from the same law.

“In other words,” notes Watchdog.org, “the health plan itself is covered by HIPAA and any breaches of security that affect a consumer who has purchased a specific plan would have to be reported. But the process of choosing and purchasing a plan through the federal exchange — along with any information entered into the federal exchange as part of that process — is not subject to HIPAA protections.”

Ohio Proposal Would Force Homeschooling Parents To Receive Permission From The State

An Ohio State Senator is hoping to change State law so that parents who homeschool would first have to pass a social services investigation before receiving either a denial or a State-sanctioned “recommendation.”

Informally known as “Teddy’s Law,” the proposal was devised by Democratic Senator Capri Cafaro in reaction to a violent January incident that led to the death of a 14-year-old boy whose mother had taken him out of the public schools.

Theodore Foltz-Tedesco died of injuries he sustained in a beating at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend, Zaryl Bush, inside his home. His mother, Shain Widdersheim, had taken him out of public school after teachers began to suspect an ongoing pattern of abuse (they were very right) and reported their suspicions to authorities.

Bush has since been sentenced to life in prison for killing Teddy, and Widdersheim received 15 years for child endangerment and obstruction.

Senator Cafaro reasons the tragedy wouldn’t have happened if there had been a government mechanism to vet Widdersheim before she was allowed to take her son out of school.

But Teddy’s Law is receiving stiff opposition from homeschoolers and the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), who argue that a pattern of child abuse inside a home doesn’t occur just during school hours, and that far deeper problems lie at the root of domestic abuse cases like the one that led to Teddy’s death.

HSLDA staff attorney Mike Donnelly explained last week why he believes Teddy’s Law is misguided and, ultimately, an onerous burden on homeschooling parents.

HSLDA condemns child abuse and is saddened by Teddy’s death. HSLDA supports the prosecution of child abusers like Bush and the improvement of systems that prevent child abuse. However, this proposed law does not actually address the problems that led to Teddy’s death and instead unfairly targets homeschooling.

… Teddy Foltz-Tedesco was killed because those responsible for protecting him did not step in as the law or common sense would have dictated. Why? Although news reports indicate that abuse had been reported for years prior to Teddy’s death, it does not appear that any serious intervention was made by government authorities charged with investigating such allegations. Why was not enough done to protect Teddy from known abuse?

Even if, as SB 248 [Teddy’s Law] would require, his mother had sought social service’s approval to homeschool and was denied, he still would have been at home subject to abuse after school. Regardless of where he went to school, Teddy was left by authorities in a home where they knew abuse was occurring.

Clearly, SB 248 would not have saved Teddy.

But Cafaro argues that government must establish a safety net that clears parents as fitting chaperones before releasing children back into their own homes.

“The objective there is to make sure the child services agency has all the information on that family that is looking to home school that child, and then they refer that, ‘Yay’ or ‘Nay — should this child be educated at home?’ — And they pass that along to the superintendent of schools and the process goes from there,” Cafaro told WKBN last week. “[We must] [m]ake sure there is a checks and balances so children like Teddy Foltz-Tedesco don’t fall through the cracks, which happened so tragically earlier this year.”

When Gun Control Groups Unite

Michael Bloomberg, New York City’s departing mayor, is merging his pet gun control group with Moms Demand Action, another gun control nonprofit formed in the wake of last December’s sensational Connecticut school shooting.

You may remember Moms Demand Action for its absurd, image-driven gun control ad campaign back in April. The ads featured young kids, placed in school settings, holding scary-looking black rifles and staring pensively into the camera.

You’re likely a bit more familiar with Bloomberg’s gun control group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG). Most recently MAIG earned headlines for failing to mobilize enough support to help pro-gun control legislators in Colorado survive a voter recall after the State enacted knee-jerk firearms restrictions earlier this year. MAIG outspent the National Rifle Association on advertising in that effort by a significant margin, just as it has done in the year since the Sandy Hook, Conn. elementary school murders – with no success to show for the effort.

The merger is intended, according to MAIG chairman John Feinblatt, to combine MAIG’s funding with Moms Demand Action’s grassroots activism. Moms Demand Action will fill something Feinblatt calls “the intensity gap” as Bloomberg, who’s no longer tasked with running the Nation’s largest city, maps out a new gun control strategy, on a National scale, for 2014.

Obama Administration Quietly Delays Jan. 1 Enrollment Deadline By One Day

The Administration of President Barack Obama has authorized an unannounced postponement in the registration deadline for Obamacare enrollees wanting insurance coverage beginning Jan. 1.

The one-day postponement pushes the enrollment deadline back from midnight tonight until midnight tomorrow (or, technically, 11:59 p.m. Tuesday), even though the Healthcare.gov website still was experiencing crashes Monday.

According to The Washington Post, which first reported on the delay, “without any public announcement, Obama administration officials have changed the rules so that people will have an extra day to enroll, according to two individuals with knowledge of the switch.”

Here’s more from the Post:

One individual familiar with the unannounced extension said that it is, in part, intended as a buffer in case the Web site has trouble if a last-minute surge of insurance-seekers proved more than the computer system could handle.

According to the two individuals, both of whom spoke on condition of anonymity about a matter that is not public, the one-day extension is automatic, built into the software, and cannot be overridden by individual insurers if they object.

Asked to explain the reason for the extension — and why it was kept secret — officials at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency overseeing the health exchange, at first declined to respond. By early afternoon, Julie Bataille, director of CMS’s office of communication, said the official deadline for signing up for Jan. 1 coverage remains Monday, but she added: “Anticipating high demand and the fact that consumers may be enrolling from multiple time zones, we have taken steps to make sure that those who select a plan through tomorrow will get coverage for Jan 1.”

Of course, insurers aren’t permitted to stop accepting enrollees who manage to make it through the Healthcare.gov enrollment gauntlet during the extra 24-hour period between midnight tonight and midnight tomorrow – even though they’re just now finding out about the delay.

And this delay marks yet another unilateral change to legally-imposed enrollment deadlines the Obama Administration has made without Congressional authorization.

Barack And Michelle Ask Moms To Become Obamacare Community Organizers On Their Grocery Trips

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle met with eight moms at the White House last week to establish a nebulous cultural association between domestic nurturing and the Affordable Care Act, with the President entreating mothers everywhere to become community organizers for Obamacare the next time they’re in the cereal aisle.

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“There’s something about moms,” said the President. “Nothing can replace telling stories in the grocery store to somebody who may be skeptical. And that kind of face-to-face interaction makes this concrete and it describes exactly why this is so important.”

“The words I think of are ‘peace of mind,’” the first lady added. “Every family needs the peace of mind to know they’re going to have the safety net they need. As Barack said, these stories are powerful… I’d urge everyone out there who has a story to share it.”

According to Valerie Jarrett, who says she doesn’t really hold much sway with the Obamas anyway, “The first lady is the best salesperson” for Obamacare.

From POLITICO:

She’s getting involved now, Jarrett said, because she’s the right person to convey the message of the moment: that the uninsured — especially young people and minorities — should look for insurance on exchanges and that those with insurance are already feeling the benefits of the law.

As this phase continues, Obama will speak out more on health care, Jarrett said. People familiar with the White House’s plans expect more engagement by the first lady in 2014.

The timing of her involvement, after controversies have eased and ahead of the holidays, is no accident.

“There is no question that they wanted to keep her away from the mess [of] it,” said Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist who has a good relationship with the East Wing. “Now that things have started to smooth out and they’ve been able to get to a point of focusing more on the benefits and those folks who are able to sign up for insurance, it’s the right moment for the first lady to get involved.”

The right moment. Sure, be our guest.

At least right now, perhaps the first lady would like to rethink her grocery-gossip advice. She probably doesn’t want somebody’s mom to share this story. Or this one. Or this one right here. And speaking of domestic nurturing, for heaven’s sake, don’t let anybody’s mom share this one. Heck, why not? Here are four more. And, unless Michelle and Barack are going for irony, the grocery store probably isn’t the ideal venue to share this story, or this one — especially if a store employee is within earshot.

Report: Obama Knew Healthcare.gov Was Broken, But Politics Dictated That He Forge Ahead With Rollout

For some reason, it’s buried pretty far down in the story, but a revelation reported Friday by CBS News demonstrates that President Barack Obama has been putting politics ahead of policy for a long, long time when it comes to the launch of his pet health care website.

According to CBS, Teresa Fryer, chief information security officer for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), told members of Congress Tuesday that she “explicitly recommended” that the website not be given the green light before its Oct. 1 rollout, but that higher-ups wouldn’t hear of it.

From the report:

In another security bombshell, Fryer told congressional interviewers that she explicitly recommended denial of the website’s Authority to Operate (ATO), but was overruled by her superiors. The website was rolled out amid warnings Fryer said she gave both verbally and in a briefing that disclosed “high risks” and possible exposure to “attacks”.

Fryer also said that she refused to put her name on a letter recommending a temporary ATO be granted for six months while the issues were sorted out.

“My recommendation was a denial of ATO,” Fryer told Democrats and Republicans who sat in on the day-long interview. According to Fryer, she first recommended denying the ATO to CMS chief information officer Tony Trenkle based on the many outstanding security concerns after pre-launch testing.

“I had discussions with him on this and told him that my evaluation of this was a high risk,” Fryer told the [House Oversight] committee. Trenkle retired from his CMS job on Nov. 13. He has not responded to CBS News interview requests.

With the website’s problems looking less likely to resolve anytime soon, and with customers Nationwide increasingly disgusted with premium increases under Obamacare, is it any wonder that President Obama decided Friday to unilaterally delay the health mandate for individuals whose old insurance plans got canceled?

It’s a political move; 2014 is an election year, and Obamacare hangs like a Sword of Damocles over the heads of Congressional Democrats. Here’s hoping voters don’t forget that Friday’s executive decree marks the 14th time  Obama has unConstitutionally changed his signature law – a law passed by Congress – without Congress having any say in the matter.

Maryland May Scrap Awful State-Run Obamacare Market And Just Send Everybody To Healthcare.gov

The editorial board of The Baltimore Sun is embracing a suggestion by Representative John Delaney (D-Md.) that the State should consider abandoning its troubled healthcare online marketplace and just refer everyone who plans to sign up for Obamacare to the Federal Healthcare.gov website.

How bad does Maryland’s Obamacare enrollment process have to be to make Healthcare.gov seem like a preferable choice?

The editorial states:

If the exchange is able to replicate its best weekday and weekend performance during every one of the 104 days between now and the end of the open enrollment period on March 31, Maryland will still only achieve about three-quarters of its goal of signing up 150,000 people with private coverage. The site may be better, but better isn’t good enough.

Under those circumstances, the question raised by Rep. John Delaney, a Montgomery County Democrat, about whether it would be better for Maryland to scrap its effort to build its own exchange and instead join the federal one has merit. Indeed, Gov. Martin O’Malley acknowledged on Monday that the option — and all others — remain on the table.

… Mr. Delaney’s question gets to one of the key issues: Knowing what we know now, should we conclude that such ambitious features [as Maryland’s online marketplace is supposed to offer] are simply unfeasible and cut our losses? But it also raises another: Are we now at a point where the disruption of switching to the federal exchange would be greater than that of working through the current system?

The Sun also calls out Democratic Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley for possessing “no small amount of hubris and political ambition” in attempting to establish Maryland’s $107 million online insurance market as a full-featured flagship site that other States would seek to emulate.

Of course, deploying a site backed by such visionary goals is hard to do when your marketplace director goes on a Caribbean vacation in the middle of a disastrous site launch and then resigns in disgrace.

“We can have the best policy ideas in the world, but if no one thinks we can execute, no one will trust us to do them,” Delaney said last week in positing the idea of scrapping the State exchange. “I think the Maryland exchange is an example of Democrats not managing well.”

Remember: Delaney is a Democrat.