Spinning The Sequester: Obama’s Posh Idea Of ‘Austerity’

Last week, President Barack Obama commemorated the five-year anniversary of the Nation’s economic dive in a White House speech that managed to excoriate his party opposition on the same day that a crazy man was killing people in a Naval yard only a few miles away.

Obama touched on the shooting, saying “we are confronting yet another mass shooting,” before moving on the real topic at hand: blaming Congressional Republicans for the “austere” budget sequestration — a program of spending cuts (not actual budget cuts, mind you, but spending cuts) that Obama himself originally had proposed.

From the President’s Sept. 16 speech:

The problem is at the moment, Republicans in Congress don’t seem to be focused on how to grow the economy and build the middle class. I say “at the moment” because I’m still hoping that a light bulb goes off here.

So far, their budget ideas revolve primarily around even deeper cuts to education, even deeper cuts that would gut America’s scientific research and development, even deeper cuts to America’s infrastructure investment — our roads, our bridges, our schools, our energy grid…

…Instead of making necessary changes with a scalpel, so far at least, Republicans have chosen to leave in place the so-called sequester cuts that have cost jobs, harmed growth, are hurting our military readiness. And top independent economists say this has been a big drag on our recovery this year. Our economy is not growing as fast as it should and we’re not creating as many jobs as we should, because the sequester is in place. That’s not my opinion. That’s the opinion of independent economists.

The sequester makes it harder to do what’s required to boost wages for American workers, because the economy is still slack. So if Republicans want the economy to grow faster, create more jobs faster, they should want to get rid of it. It’s irresponsible to keep it in place.

And if Congress is serious about wanting to grow the economy faster and creating jobs faster, the first order of business must be to pass a sensible budget that replaces the sequester with a balanced plan that is both fiscally sound and funds the investments like education and basic research and infrastructure that we need to grow. This is not asking too much.

The fallacy of Obama’s assertion that it’s “irresponsible” for government to spend money less quickly than he’d like is twofold:

  • First, Obama lives in a closed system of liberal thinking on fiscal policy, one that can conceive of government only in terms of its presence in — not its absence from — every phase of social enterprise. If he truly believes the sequester is a bloodletting of government-supported programs, imagine the culture shock he’d experience if he woke from a long sleep to find American government operating at Tea Party scale.
  • Second, it’s a lie that sequestration is slowing down anything. The juggernaut of government spending, across a kaleidoscope of programs (most of which won’t be familiar to average Americans who think of Federal spending in terms of militaries, Interstate highways, foreign relations, ports, air travel and interstate commerce), is running with as much momentum as any tax-and-spend liberal could hope for.

Reason has culled a list of budget entries published in the Federal Register dating back to March 1, when the sequester first went into effect. It’s 17,679 items long, and it’s only a small part of what the government has authorized since that time. Check it out here.

Harry Reid Will Make Sure Obamacare Gets Funded, But That Doesn’t Mean Conservatives Should Give Up The Fight

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has predicted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would inevitably figure out a way to strike a Republican-backed amendment that defunds Obamacare from the stopgap government funding bill it was to approve this month.

This week, Cruz will likely get to watch that scenario play out.

And, despite strong principled opposition to the Affordable Care Act, there not a lot that Cruz and the Republican Senate minority — several of whom are siding with Senator John McCain and the Democratic majority in supporting the inclusion of Obamacare — can do.

“Harry Reid will no doubt try to strip the defund language from the continuing resolution, and right now he likely has the votes to do so,” Cruz said last week, as the House vote neared. “At that point, House Republicans must stand firm, hold their ground, and continue to listen to the American people.”

The House indeed voted Friday to temporarily fund the government through December, but attached an amendment that strips funding for the Affordable Care Act, which is supposed to start rolling out on Oct. 1.

Within hours of the vote, Reid’s evident strategy for stripping that amendment right back out of the bill began circulating on the Internet.

“Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has not confirmed what procedural path he will choose but colleagues say he is likely to use an ‘amendment to strike’ to kill the House-originated language to defund the new healthcare law while keeping the government funded,” explains a story at The Hill.

What is an “amendment to strike?” It’s a procedurally acceptable placeholder amendment that can be attached to the House version of the bill as it passes through the process of Senate debate with the defunding language completely intact.

Republicans in the Senate (well, all the ones who aren’t siding with McCain’s defeatism) would be obligated to favor the bill as long as it preserves the House version’s defunding language. But Reid’s “amendment to strike” (which serves essentially as a “substitute amendment,” according to a Democratic aide) would permit the scheduling of a future Senate vote so that the Democratic majority could legally remove the defunding measure altogether.

Got all that? Those are the rules of procedure.

“Since you can amend a bill post-cloture, as long as it’s germane, with only a simple majority, it would seem to me that he [Reid] has a way to make this work as he wishes,” Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) explained to The Hill. “…I can’t imagine why any Senate Republican would vote to block cloture or block motion to proceed on a bill they support. I’m assuming that what the House sends over is what we support.”

There’s an air of inevitability hanging over the pending Senate vote, and Democrats will likely be able to convince the mainstream media that their Senate victory (abetted by several Senate RINOs) is the common-sense antidote to the madness perpetrated by the more conservative (and, incidentally, more representative) House GOP.

The defund measure is all but dead; that’s almost certain. But if the Senate’s few strong conservatives don’t anticipate the way Democrats and the media will represent their forthcoming “victory” to the public, they stand to lose the political capital they’ve so diligently cultivated among the voting public and with Congressional leadership.

Summarizing how ugly Congressional Republicans could end up looking over the Obamacare fight in the court of public opinion, The Libertarian Republic’s Keith Farrell advised conservative to pick their battles:

Even with a victory in the House [Friday], the Democrat controlled Senate will likely strip the language from bill concerning Affordable Care, as Senator Cruz predicts. And if, by some miracle, the bill does get to Obama’s desk, he will veto it. Any ensuing standoff would likely be short, and likely result in Republican concession. The GOP and its constituents may need to save their resources and live to fight another day.

Maybe. But Senator Cruz has dug in too deep on Obamacare — and has asked too much of his earnest conservative supporters — to tone down the rhetoric. Wouldn’t the true conservative leadership in both chambers be better off to go down swinging? Once the Affordable Care Act has had some time to work its magic, not only might those who opposed it to the bitter end live to fight another day; they might actually win the next round, with the support of a disgusted public.

Video: Don’t Try Giving Away Copies Of The Constitution At Modesto Junior College

Some crazy kid named Robert Van Tuinen, a student at Modesto Junior College (MJC) in California’s Central Valley, thought it would be appropriate to commemorate Constitution Day on Sept. 17 by passing out free copies of our Nation’s founding document to fellow students walking around the campus.

It didn’t go so well.

Nice try, kid. Did you think this was a free country? Van Tuinen was shut down by college police, who along with school administrators told him he had to do that sort of thing in the campus free speech zone (because the whole U.S. isn’t a free speech zone), and that he’d already missed his chance, at any rate, because he hadn’t scheduled his plan to use the free speech zone the requisite number of days in advance.

George Lucas went to MJC and based his major directorial debut, American Graffiti, about life in Modesto. Now his JuCo alma mater is giving the U.S. Constitution the graffiti treatment.

How Much Government Is Good Government? Americans’ Opinions Evenly Divided

A Gallup survey released Wednesday indicates a virtually dead-even three-way split in Americans’ opinions on the extent to which government “problem-solving” measures should permeate society, with virtually the same proportion of respondents advocating for big government as for small government. Those who believe government should play a moderate role in society comprised the remaining third.

The survey, which used a graduated five-point rating system to gauge Americans’ opinions about the role government ought to play, questioned 1,510 adults over a four-day period earlier this month. On the five-point scale, “5” represents government activism; “1” represents government at its most bare-bones functional.

Gallup worded the survey this way, phrasing the question under the heading “Preference Regarding Federal Government’s Role”:

Where would you rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 means you think the government should do only those things necessary to provide the most basic government functions, and 5 means you think the government should tale active steps in every area it can to try and improve the lives of its citizens? You may use any number from 1 to 5.

An even 33 percent of respondents answered with a “3,” while 19 percent answered “5” and 16 percent answered “1.” Adding the progressives together — the percentage of people who answered either “4” or “5” — and big government appeals to 34 percent of those surveyed. Adding the “1” and “2” responses of small-government advocates yields a nearly identical number: 32 percent.

Things got a bit more interesting when Gallup asked whether people would favor a more limited government if, in the bargain, it meant that their tax burden would decrease. More than half would rather see the government get smaller, in exchange for tax reductions:

Although Americans’ basic preferences are divided between active and limited government, they tilt more heavily in the direction of limited government in a separate question asking for their preferred tradeoff between taxes and government involvement. A majority, 53%, favor less government involvement in addressing the nation’s problems in order to reduce taxes, while 13% favor more government involvement to address the nation’s problems, and higher taxes. Another 31% believe government involvement and taxes should be the same as they are now.

In addition, 55 percent of respondents said they think the current government is attempting to play too active a role in improving people’s lives, compared with 38 percent who believe the government isn’t doing enough. That’s the highest percentage of people who believe the current batch of national elected leaders are too hands-on since Gallup began asking the question in 1992.

Bills Requiring Welfare Recipients To Pass Drug Tests; Do Volunteer Work Move Through Michigan Legislature

The Michigan State Senate has approved a measure that requires able-bodied welfare recipients to show a little good faith if they’re willing to ask for, and receive, government assistance.

According to CBS Detroit, the State Senate passed a bill requiring those receiving public assistance to perform volunteer work. The House Commerce Committee, meanwhile, has vetted a separate bill that would require periodic drug testing, and that would revoke the benefits of any recipient who declines to take the tests, or tests positive.

“The whole intention is to make certain folks have some skin in the game, and I don’t feel that there’s any problem with making folks go out and do some kind of community service in order to receive their cash assistance,” said Republican State Senator Joe Hune, who sponsored the volunteer bill.

The legislation isn’t sitting well with some Democrats, though. “These people, they already need as much money as they can get, they wouldn’t be asking for it if they didn’t need it,” said Democratic State Senator Vincent Gregory. “… A lot of people are embarrassed to even be there [asking for benefits], and they have this put on them — It’s this feeling that ‘This is what the public wants.’ But the public doesn’t want to see people beaten down.”

The legislation has been written to allow for a lot of leeway in its implementation, with Hune noting that the State’s Department of Human Services is better equipped than elected politicians to implement the new programs on a functional level – should the two bills become law.

An accompanying viewer poll on the CBS Detroit website asked readers, “Should People Be required To Perform Community Service To Receive Welfare?”

At last check, the “yesses” had a slight lead over the “nos” – 97.23 percent to 2.77.

Does Harry Reid Hear What He’s Saying?

Close on the heels of his observation that Congressional Republicans must be a bunch of anarchists, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Wednesday the House GOP is “trying to get rid of” the government.

Bristling at the House GOP’s forthcoming plan to defund Obamacare by attaching a proviso to its stopgap government-funding bill, Reid struck a particularly condescending tone.

“We’re waiting to see what comes from the House on whether to fund the government or not,” Reid said. “Waiting to see what the House is going to do — to see what absurd idea will prevail over there.”

Apparently a believer that even a nursery rhyme could sound sinister if it’s recited in an appropriately alarming voice, Reid also accused Republicans of something many true conservatives — without the added hyperbole — embrace as a virtue.

“We have a number of Republican Senators and lots of Republican House members who don’t believe in government,” he said from the Senate floor Wednesday. “They want to get rid of it, and they’re doing everything they can to get rid of it.”

Yeah, guess that’s why they’re mostly career politicians. Reid’s Republicans are a bunch of radical ideologues willing to get elected so that they can subvert the system from within, like sneaky nihilistic ninjas.

But how, even in Reid’s view, does accusing conservative lawmakers of advocating for limited government sound like something that would resonate with all but the stupidest of Americans? Only the strident language makes it sound like a bad thing. And only a child would take emotional cues from the form, and not the content, of a message.

Maybe Reid is hoping there are enough functional illiterates out there who can be persuaded by his words so that the Democrats’ inevitable victory over raising the Federal debt limit can be reported on television to look like a mandate from the people.

IRS Was ‘Acutely’ Aware Of Obama’s Desire To ‘Crack Down’ On Tea Party

A House Oversight Committee investigation finds that Internal Revenue Service staffers involved in the Tea Party political discrimination scandal took their cues on which nonprofit conservative groups to single out for bureaucratic harassment from President Barack Obama and other progressive political leaders.

While the investigation’s most recent report, which began circulating Tuesday, doesn’t explicitly accuse the President or any other elected leader of instructing the IRS to deny Tea Party groups’ applications for nonprofit status, it does allege that IRS staffers had a clear understanding that slowing down conservatives was something the President wanted them to do.

Ongoing portrayals of the Tea Party, in mainstream media, as a menacing assortment of ignorant wingnuts further bolstered IRS staff in their belief that the various conservative groups were ripe for targeting — since no one, evidently, would notice or care if the government decided to illegally violate the free speech of members of a movement the left-leaning media all but described as a hate group.

“In one of the key findings, investigators said negative press coverage of the tea party was one reason why the IRS gave the groups special scrutiny,” reports The Washington Times:

IRS employees were “acutely” aware in 2010 that President Obama wanted to crack down on conservative organizations and were egged into targeting tea party groups by press reports mocking the emerging movement, according to an interim report being circulated Tuesday by House investigators.

…The Republican oversight report traces the growing pressure on the IRS to act, beginning with Mr. Obama’s criticism of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in his 2010 State of the Union address to calls from top members of Congress for the IRS to give special scrutiny to tea party applications.

…Emails among IRS officials, and committee interviews with them, show agency employees were aware of the pressure, sending one another news reports and commenting — in sometimes derisive language — about the tea party applications.

By contrast, the report finds that liberal groups that applied for nonprofit status were typically approved quickly — even as Tea Party applications were stymied for up to three years.

The Oversight Committee’s finding is bolstered by a report Wednesday in USA Today that revealed the IRS was targeting groups “based on the content of their literature, raising concerns specifically about ‘anti-Obama rhetoric,’ inflammatory language and ‘emotional’ statements made by nonprofits seeking tax-exempt status.”

That report found that only 11 progressive groups (out of 162) were named on an internally circulated “propaganda” list, while more than 80 percent were specifically identified as conservative.

This Picture Might Explain The Journalistic Confusion About Guns

With all the mass confusion among reporters in the mainstream media over which bad guy used which bad gun in which bad murdering spree, isn’t it about time someone gave these hapless journalists a little help?

One Twitter user thought so. On Wednesday, Mike Morrison, a self-described “advocate of Liberty,” offered this handy visual reference guide. From now on, Piers Morgan, you have no excuses.

BUYCQ_tCAAA0JYk.jpg large.

Mistake Or Malfeasance? Doesn’t Matter; This Textbook Gets The 2nd Amendment Dead Wrong

It could be the innocent product of overzealous editing, or it could be intentional. Either way, a high school textbook supplement has a lot of parents upset for what it’s telling students about the meaning of the 2nd Amendment.

The Denton, Texas, Unified School District adopted the book, United States History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement Examination, as a supplement to a larger course of study for students aiming to ace the AP U.S. History test to jump-start their college careers.

School officials in Texas say it’s meant to serve as a supplemental guide to assist more thorough study of the Constitution, but the book has drawn anger from some parents who believe it’s a subversive effort to rewrite what the Constitutional framers originally wrote.

The Constitution:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

And now the book:

Second Amendment: The people have a right to keep and bear arms in a state militia.

The paperback version sells for about $37 on Amazon. Until word of the Bill of Rights butchering began circulating among conservative Internet sites this week, it had received almost universal praise from student reviewers throughout the country who’d used it to anticipate the questions they’d face on the AP U.S. History exam.

But the book’s user rating, which appears to have hovered around four stars (out of five), has taken a dive down to two stars just in the past week, after all the publicity began driving angry Constitutionalists to the site.

For some perspective, though, here’s the (hastily written?) opinion of one review from back in 2010, offered by a customer who identifies as an AP teacher (“DBQ” stands for “Document-Based Question”):

The book leaves out a subtantial maount of essential information, and is downright deceptively bias in many areas of national politics. (note the background and inclination of the authors on the inside flap). As the book is highly slanted politically throughout and SELECTIVELY avoids facts that are essential to FULLY answering the DBQs, I would not at all recommend this book to any student who is preparing dilligently for the exam. The political cartoons in this book were especially repulsive in their political slant as well as deceptions for the student. Unless most of the AP readers are teachers/profs. from Boulder Colorado, or Santa Cruz California, the student will fail to be able to provide a well rounded and informed answer on his DBQs which will result in a lowered overall score. This brief readers digest (TIME/NEWSWEEK) version of history should only be used along with another tome that covers both partisan sides of the American political and social spectrum over the past 300 years. Caveat emptor with this one folks!

Youth-slant political website PolicyMic makes the case — perhaps inadvertently — for the argument that the book simply isn’t written by people who understand any portion of the Bill of Rights. PolicyMic’s Saad Asad writes:

Students are taught the complete version in classes, and the supplemental textbook is only used as a quick guide to prepare before the AP exam. As someone who once took these classes, I can attest to the inaccuracy of many of these supplemental textbooks, which are only meant to be review guides.

Although the Second Amendment summary is receiving a lot of criticism, the authors also erroneously summarized the Third Amendment by stating: “The people cannot be required to quarter (house) soldiers during peacetime.” This skims over the clause that explicitly forbids quartering during times of war. In fact, the history of the Third Amendment is explicitly rooted in protesting the British quartering of soldiers in wartime. It would be silly to assume there is some ideological bias behind this summary of quartering.

Whether intentional or just dumb, it’s time for this mangled reimagining of the 2nd Amendment, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights, to end. There’s already enough agenda-driven misinformation being foisted on young people, as ever-zealous progressives carry on their tireless campaign to obscure the plain language of our Constitution.

Another Stimulus-Backed Green Energy Company Goes Broke

ECOtality, the San Francisco-based “leader in clean electric transportation technologies” (they make electric car charging stations), filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday after laying off employees last week and repaying $96 million out of a total $115 million in stimulus money awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2009.

Trading in the company’s stock was halted Tuesday morning; a single share of ECOtality stock can currently be had for 23 cents. The bankruptcy filing is pessimistic, noting the “Company’s common stock will have very little or no value given the amount of the Company’s liabilities compared to its assets.”

Under the filing, ECOtality will receive a $1.25 million loan from Nissan, an unsecured creditor, and will continue to operate until its remaining assets have been sold off.

Critics of the cozy relationship between the Administration of President Barack Obama and the green energy sector told The Washington Times ECOtality’s demise is only the latest example of how government has no business putting its thumb on the competitive scales that weigh a company’s viability in the private marketplace.

“Government is terrible at picking winners and losers for a simple reason: Politics always interferes,” energy policy expert William Yeatman, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told The Times. “That news is only the latest costly reminder that Energy Department bureaucrats shouldn’t be running a taxpayer-backed investment bank for green energy.”

More from the same article:

Jonathan Read, the company’s former CEO, styled himself as a “political beast.” Read boasted about his political connections, and received bonus payments contingent on ECOtality winning DOE support.

One ECOtality executive blamed the company’s financial troubles on Read, who, the executive said, “offered no leadership and either directly or indirectly […] squandered or pocketed all the government money.”

News of a possibly bankruptcy filing had been swirling since August, so it was only natural that investors were waiting in the wings Tuesday with a class action lawsuit. According to The Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch site, the suit alleges that the company knew its finances were dire long before disclosing any negative information to investors

Does that mean the U.S. government, which got had on its $115 million deal, can prosecute?

Despite some Congressional criticism and a Labor Department probe into its payroll practices, that’s a moot question. The Obama Administration, which has vetted speculative green energy ventures in doling out the stimulus money, isn’t likely to take an adversarial position against its own failed policies.

CBO Long-Term Budget Outlook: Bad, Really Bad

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a majorly pessimistic revision to its long-term Federal budget outlook Wednesday, predicting that publicly-held Federal debt will rise to 100 percent of the National GDP within the next 30 years – instead of the already-alarming 73 percent of GDP it accounts for now.

Describing Congress’ annual capitulation to pressure to raise the Federal debt ceiling an “unsustainable” fiscal scheme, CBO director Douglas Elmendorf hinted that disaster lies ahead if the best that government can do is continue its tax-and-spend policy over the long term.

“The federal budget is on a course that cannot be sustained indefinitely,” Elmendorf said. “Because federal debt is already unusually high relative to GDP, further increases in debt could be especially harmful.”

The increasing ratio of debt service (that’s loan repayment for public debt) to GDP is on track to jump from 2 percent of GDP to 5 percent, meaning that the government will be spending more of tomorrow’s dollars to pay for tax-and-spend debt it’s incurring now. That, coupled with an enormous jump in Federal entitlement spending (an even 200 percent by 2038), threatens to commit the lion’s share of tomorrow’s economy to the economic equivalent of treading water.

The upshot is that the Federal debt is on track to reach – literally – 100 percent of GDP within the next 25 years.

“The policy responses to mitigate rising debt levels are all politically difficult,” writes Reason’s Peter Suderman. “Federal policymakers will have to cut spending, increase revenues, or some mix of the two. But it will be especially hard to raise revenues since they’re already on track to be higher as a percentage of GDP than is typical. Rapid changes might negatively shock the system. But letting debt continue to rise is dangerous too: ‘because federal debt is already unusually high relative to GDP,’ the report says, ‘further increases in debt could be especially harmful.’”

Congress is set to fight over another hike in the Federal debt ceiling next month, though an increase is all but inevitable if the government is to avoid defaulting, given its present rate of spending.

Read a pretty in-depth synopsis from the CBO here. Access the full report here.

First Recall; Now Repeal: Colorado 2nd Amendment Groups Aim For Overturn Of Gun Laws

Backers of the successful recall of two Colorado State Senators are pledging to continue fighting for the repeal of the same gun control laws that led to the two Senators’ ouster, following their support of the anti-2nd Amendment legislation earlier this year.

On Breitbart’s Sirius XM radio broadcast Sunday, Jennifer Kerns of Basic Freedom Defense Fund (BFDF) – a Colorado nonprofit established earlier this year in response to the State Legislature’s “appalling act of government overreach” – said the group is only halfway done with the task of remedying a Constitutional infringement perpetrated by elected officials.

“We won and now we want more,” she said, adding that the recall effort’s grassroots success will, hopefully, keep the pressure on the State legislature to overturn the pair of new laws, which have been on the books since July.

One of those laws restricts the size of ammunition magazines to 15 rounds; the other expands background checks to include private sales, as well as firearms sales done online. Sheriffs from 54 of the State’s 64 counties have filed a lawsuit, alleging that the laws are unConstitutional.

In a joint press release Friday, BFDF and Pueblo Freedom and Rights, a “grassroots issues committee,” announced the repeal movement “will not be going away silently into the night,” calling on all State legislators to respond to a survey sent by BFDF last week:

In an effort to understand where State legislators stand on Colorado’s new gun laws, we are writing to ask your position on key issues. As you are likely aware, we recently succeeded in the first successful recall of not one, but two, State officials in Colorado history.

As we consider our next endeavors, we wish to know where every legislator stands on a repeal of Colorado’s unlawful new gun restrictions.

Please take a moment to answer this simple, 2-question survey:

Will you vote for a repeal of Colorado’s new gun laws if given the opportunity in the 2014 legislative session? ___ YES or ___ NO

Would you support a Ballot Initiative that would repeal Colorado’s gun laws? ___ YES or ___ NO

“While we consider Tuesday’s election a significant victory, we realize that these egregious gun laws remain and we want to know where each and every Colorado State legislator stands on them,” said Kerns in the statement. “It is a new day in Colorado and constituents expect their legislators to represent the will of the people. No one is immune from the reach of the grassroots efforts which powered these two recall elections.”

In addition, the two groups sent the same survey to every announced candidate planning to run for a State office in 2014. The responses will be made public Oct. 1.

Colorado voters recalled two Democratic state Senators – Angela Giron and Senate President John Morse – last week in a special election that liberals outside the State claim was unfairly weighted in favor of 2nd Amendment advocates – because mail-in ballots were not allowed.

SWAT-Style EPA Raid In Alaska Shines A Light On Federal Agencies With Arrest Power

After EPA agents in tactical gear swarmed a mining operation in the tiny Alaskan outpost of Chicken last week, the State’s governor blasted the Feds, calling the raid an “absolutely unacceptable” example of government resorting to intimidation tactics to enforce something as nonviolent an (alleged) offense as the Clean Water Act.

Now, a new analysis of government data reveals the EPA is only one of dozens of Federal agencies that have self-contained armed divisions.

Looking past the DEA, FBI and, since 2002, the DHS, there are about 12,000 full-time Federal officers across 40 agencies who can carry firearms and arrest suspects, according to a Fox News analysis of a Justice Department report. Of those, at least a dozen agencies aren’t concerned at all with law enforcement, but nonetheless retain enforcement officers with guns.

“Though most Americans know agents within the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Federal Bureau of Prisons carry guns, agencies such as the Library of Congress and Federal Reserve Board employing armed officers might come as a surprise,” the Fox report states:

The number of federal department [sic] with armed personnel climbs to 73 when adding in the 33 offices of inspector general, the government watchdogs for agencies as large as the Postal Service to the Government Printing Office, whose IG has only five full-time officers.

The late-August raid on Chicken, a small gold mining town near the State’s eastern border, involved officers from the EPA, FBI, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Coast Guard, NOAA and the U.S. Park Service. The Federal agents were allegedly acting in concert with the Alaska Environmental Crimes Task Force, but the State’s Congressional delegation, as well as the State police, weren’t buying it.

“Their explanation – that there are concerns within the area of rampant drug trafficking and human trafficking going on – sounds wholly concocted to me,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)… This seems to have been a heavy-handed, and heavy-armor approach. Why was it so confrontational? The EPA really didn’t have any good answers for this.”

Chicken is a tiny place, with nothing resembling a block-grid infrastructure. Lying near the State’s Eastern border with Canada, it has a current population of seven. The only year-round access to the town is via a small local airstrip.

An Alaska State Trooper spokesperson also told the Alaska Dispatch that the State police had not advised the EPA of any “dangerous drug activity” in the area. “We do not have evidence to suggest that is occurring,” said Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters.

State Department Employees Hold Private Benghazi Memorial After No Official Event Scheduled

A small group of State Department staffers held their own private memorial ceremony last week to mark the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2012 terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. With no official ceremony planned, it was the least they could do.

According to political news site Talking Points Memo, the private memorial ceremony came together after employees realized the agency wouldn’t be organizing a formal commemoration of the tragedy, which took the lives of four Americans – including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

“A State Department staffer who worked with Stevens in Libya and asked not to be named told TPM there were about 20 to 25 staffers at the memorial,” TPM’s Hunter Walker wrote. “The informal gathering was put together after staffers inquired and learned the department would not be holding an official event to mark the anniversary.”

State Department employees were among recipients last week of a widely-distributed internal email, sent by Secretary of State John Kerry, with the heading “Remembering September 11.” That email allegedly referenced both the commercial airplane hijackings and the Benghazi attacks.

But one recipient involved in holding the private memorial said no one in the chain of command offered an explanation for why a formal, organized event had not been planned.

“It was very meaningful — we hugged, told stories, laughed, cried. Someone put flowers by the wall, we stood awkwardly, then we went back to work,” the anonymous State Department source told TPM.

Nanny State: Pittsburgh Residents Face Fines For Parking In Their Own Driveways

Pittsburgh zoning enforcers evidently have decided to begin applying a half century-old law in a way its authors probably never intended, angering residents who now face the prospect of being fined for parking in their own driveways, on their own property.

Under an old local ordinance designed to prevent homeowners from turning their front yards into block party-style parking lots, longtime homeowners who’ve never heard a peep from local officials are wondering why they’re the targets of the sudden enforcement effort, and why the law even exists at all.

The so-called “30-foot law” stipulates that cars can’t be parked within 30 feet of the street. Well, they can — but their owners must first apply to the Pittsburgh Bureau of Building Inspection to receive a zoning variance and occupancy permit. That costs $225. Those who don’t get the permit can be fined up to $1,000 per vehicle.

According to CBS Pittsburgh, one 18-year resident of an area known as Squirrel Hill received a warning letter. Another family had to shell out $2,400 in fines and fees. To avoid transgressing the law, a pregnant mother of seven is having to park her van in a narrow area between her home and her neighbors’ house, and she’s having to exit her vehicle from the passenger’s side door.

In all, about two dozen homeowners have been cited under the dumb law so far.

On Friday, columnist Eric Heyl wrote a scathing, sarcastic indictment of the city’s mystifying turn toward regulatory bureaucracy for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, revealing a pent-up frustration with city leaders for holding residents to a standard they make no effort to apply to themselves:

U.S. Census Bureau statistics released in May showed the number of city residents rose in the past year by a staggering 152. Buoyed by those numbers, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s top administrators must have convened a meeting to discuss maintaining the impressive momentum.

The conversation likely went something like this:

“Fellas, if we want even more people to move here, we have to give them something they can’t get if they reside in the tony communities of Cranberry, Mt. Lebanon or Monroeville. Anyone have any ideas? John?”

“Well … this is just a thought. But what if we begin enforcing an obscure, antiquated city ordinance that prevents people from parking in their own driveway?”

“Perfect! They certainly don’t do that in the suburbs!”

… The driveway ordinance enforcement comes after city officials recently tested another inventive plan to attract new residents with an offering the suburbs don’t supply. After street sweepers failed to show in the South Side for nearly three months, about 250 vehicles in the neighborhood were ticketed for being illegally parked on street sweeping day.

(The city ultimately relented and forgave about $14,000 in fines. But only after the realization that were the fines not erased, the sweeper had a very real chance of being firebombed on its next infrequent South Side appearance.)

Not everyone in local government is staying aloof from the people to whom they’re accountable, though. After learning about the building inspection bureau’s newfound zeal for enforcement, city council member Corey O’Connor is pushing his colleagues to have the ordinance changed. “This could happen tomorrow to any resident in Pittsburgh,” O’Connor said of the steep fines.

O’Connor said the city’s Kafkaesque application of the law has created a “pretty ridiculous problem” that doesn’t even allow residents a sensible means of complying. “If you’re a couple of feet into your own driveway, there shouldn’t be a problem,” he said. But that’s only if you have the $225 occupancy permit. “The funny thing is,” he said, “we don’t tell you [that you] need an occupancy permit.”

Will He Or Won’t He? John McCain, 77, Ambivalent On Whether He’ll Seek 6th Senate Term

Saying he doesn’t want to end up as “one of those old guys that should’ve shoved off,” Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) told Hollywood industry website The Wrap last week that his current term might be his last.

That caused a minor sensation on the Internet. Jaded conservatives weary of McCain’s cross-party liberalism took to political blogs to commemorate the news with comments that were equal parts jubilant and vindictive.

So McCain, currently serving his fifth Senate term, got back out on Twitter to clear things up.

 

The Wrap’s Tim Molloy had overheard McCain’s “last term” comment in a moment of candor while interviewing the Senator at a launch party for — wait for it — Pivot TV, a new network featuring daughter Meghan in a show called “Raising McCain,” an “investigative series.”

While talking with McCain (the Senator) about whether there’ll ever be a place in this world for a la carte cable pricing, Molloy paused as McCain greeted two well-wishers who doted on him for his support of President Barack Obama. From Molloy’s interview transcript (the interviewer’s words are in bold):

What about the idea that a show like a “Breaking Bad” or a “Mad Men” would never exist without bundling?

I think they would exist. I think that, look at [shows] now that are strictly over the internet.

[At this point two supporters of President Obama cut in to thank McCain for being on "our president's side for once in your life." McCain tells them, "The president and I, he's in his last term, I'm probably in mine, the relationship we have had over the past three years is quite good. Quite good."]

Is this really your last term?

Nah, I don’t know. I was trying to make a point. I have to decide in about two years so I don’t have to make a decision. I don’t want to be one of these old guys that should’ve shoved off.

I had a conversation the other day with Barry Diller. And his whole point is, technology is going to overtake all of us. When young people are… not watching television, but gettin’ their information, their entertainment and their news through other means, then there’s bound to be this kind of — you can’t restrict it to just cable. So it’s changing and it continues to change and that’s a good thing.

Clearly, Molloy caught McCain off his pleasant “banter-about-the-television-business” script when he made the smart, instantaneous decision to take ownership of something he’d overheard as a third party and question McCain about it directly. It’s interesting that McCain’s on-record response lacked the candor of his comments to the Obama supporters.

But at this stage in his career in politics, who really knows what John McCain is thinking?

FISA Court Puts Government On Timeline To Declassify Past NSA Spy Authorizations

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) – the secretive court whose purpose is to hear one-sided requests from Federal law enforcement to conduct undisclosed spy operations against Americans and foreigners – ordered the government Friday to make a case for why its cloak-and-dagger operations shouldn’t be declassified.

Giving the government until Oct. 4 to pick and choose examples of past FISC cases that demonstrate why Section 215 of the Patriot Act forms a Constitutional basis to keep dragnet surveillance on citizens a secret, the court essentially placed the burden of proof back on the government – something the court has rarely done in all its years of rubber-stamping the Feds’ warrant requests.

The ruling comes on a motion filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Access Information Clinic. Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes the government to obtain “any tangible things” to aid in counterintelligence operations and terror investigations. It’s the part of the Patriot Act most frequently invoked by the Department of Justice in requesting broad and secret search warrants on behalf of the FBI, NSA and other Federal enforcement offices.

“We are pleased that the surveillance court has recognized the importance of transparency to the ongoing public debate about the NSA’s spying,” said Alex Abdo, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “For too long, the NSA’s sweeping surveillance of Americans has been shrouded in unjustified secrecy. Today’s ruling is an overdue rebuke of that practice. Secret law has no place in our democracy.”

‘Treason’ And ‘Jail’ Deter Tech Leaders From Sharing NSA Spy Requests With Public

Leaders at several major tech companies, including handlers of social media and Internet services, criticized the U.S. government this week for its ironfisted treatment of companies that repeatedly have requested permission to publicly reveal the scale of the National Security Agency’s court-sanctioned surveillance measures.

Speaking in San Francisco at this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt conference — a major event that brings together industry innovators and potential investors — Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said the government’s approach to deterrence has been simple.

“Releasing classified information is treason, and you are incarcerated,” said Mayer.

That response came during a public Q&A, when someone asked Mayer why tech companies have been complaining in general terms about the NSA, but won’t release any information that reveals the nature the government’s demands. Yahoo has gone before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in the past, suing in 2007 for permission to publish information about NSA spy requests. But predictably, the government prevailed.

“When you lose and you don’t comply, it’s treason,” Mayer said.

Yahoo and Facebook have filed fresh lawsuits in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks, arguing that being muzzled by the NSA — with the entire world watching — isn’t just unConstitutional; it’s killing their business.

“Yahoo has been unable to engage fully in the debate about whether the government has properly used its powers, because the government has placed a prior restraint on Yahoo’s speech,” Yahoo argues in its filing. “Yahoo’s inability to respond to news reports has harmed its reputation and has undermined its business not only in the United States but worldwide. Yahoo cannot respond to such reports with mere generalities.”

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg resorted to generalities in his public comments at the Disrupt conference, but reinforced the Yahoo CEO’s assertion that the government is hurting American business and eroding faith in U.S. tech, even as it forces companies to keep quiet about its warrantless, illegal surveillance practices. “Frankly, I think the government blew it,” he said.

“The morning after this [Snowden scandal] started breaking, a bunch of people were asking them [the government] what they thought,” he said. “[They said] ‘don’t worry, we’re not spying on any Americans.’”

“Wonderful, that’s really helpful for companies trying to work with people around the world. Thanks for going out there and being clear. I think that was really bad.”

Poverty In America: Cellphones, TVs, Refrigerators And Microwave Ovens

Living below the poverty line in the United States means having just about the same access to creature comforts and basic household necessities as everybody else.

That’s the report from the Census Bureau, which has published new information on living conditions in the United States taken from data collected through 2011.

According to the data, being poor means you’re less likely to have a computer, dishwasher or deep freeze. But it also means you’re about as likely as the snob hill crowd to have a cellphone, air conditioning, television and some kind of DVR device.

According to the report, titled “Extended Measures of Well-Being: Living Conditions in the United States: 2011,” 80.9 percent of people living below the poverty line have cellphones, while 83.4 percent have air conditioning. Television, a necessity of life, is in 96.1 percent of poverty-level households, and 83.2 percent have a “video cassette recorder” or digital television recording device.

In each case, the percentage of people above the poverty line who own these same things isn’t much higher — because it can’t be.

Here are some other percentages that run down the things that poverty-stricken Americans own. The number in parentheses is provided for comparison. That’s the percentage of Americans living above the poverty line who own the same stuff.

  • Refrigerators: 97.8 (99.5)
  • Clothes washers: 68.7 (88.1)
  • Clothes dryers: 65.3 (86.6)
  • Dishwashers: 44.9 (73.5)
  • Food freezers: 26.2 (37.5)
  • Stoves: 96.6 (98.9)
  • Microwaves: 93.2 (97.4)

Maybe “poverty” is a word that talking heads and the American elected class should retire from domestic discourse to be reserved, instead, as a descriptor of how poor people live in the developing world. Poverty across the world is a condition; poverty in America is nearly always a choice.

Republicans In Tempe-Mesa Legislative District Rebuke McCain On Obama Nominations

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been formally rebuked by Arizona Republicans in the State’s 26th Legislative District for helping to green-light several of President Barack Obama’s controversial nominations for key leadership roles at Federal agencies.

The District 26 Republicans approved the wholly symbolic resolution on Tuesday by a 24-13 vote, accusing him of capitulating to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) by “giving him everything he asked for.”

Here’s the full resolution:

McCain rebuke

Colorado Recall Votes Send A Signal To The Elected Class: Representation Matters

On Tuesday, both of the Colorado State Senators who faced a voter recall — a culmination of massive public backlash over their support of new, unConstitutional gun control legislation — lost their jobs.

Senate President John Morse, a Democrat, was ousted by a slim margin, 9,094 to 8,751 (50.9 percent to 49 percent). Fellow Democratic Senator Angela Giron received 19,355 recall votes (56 percent), compared with 15,201 votes (43.9 percent) to retain her.

Democratic leaders (or in Morse’s case, former leaders) quickly demonstrated they’d learned absolutely nothing from the grassroots-bred ouster, going full extrovert in their post-recall public comments. Every factor leading up to the recall’s successful outcome was flawed except the actions of the two Senators themselves; every recall proponent was just a misguided obstructionist fool, upending a well-tuned process that was supposed to empower Morse, the State Legislature and Governor John Hickenlooper to help save people from themselves.

“The loss of this Senate seat is purely symbolic… You’re not judged by how you got knocked down, but rather by how you got back up,” said a very Howard Dean-like Morse in his teeth-clinching, staccato-paced concession speech. “Our last [legislative] session was phenomenal!”

“I’m a little perplexed,” said Giron, as she conceded. “This is what I know: I know that I have not one iota of regret from what I voted on… This is only going to make us stronger and better. We will win in the end, because we are on the right side.”

Then there’s Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who took to the Internet Wednesday to declare the whole recall effort a sham.

Why? Because mail-in ballots hadn’t been allowed for the special election.

“The recall elections in Colorado were defined by the vast array of obstacles that special interests threw in the way of voters for the purpose of reversing the will of the legislature and the people,” offered Wasserman Schultz, taking a page from Barack Obama’s playbook. “This was voter suppression, pure and simple.”

The races drew a lot of money from out of State, both from the National Rifle Association and the gun control lobbying group Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG). Most of the ridicule over outside influence, in the aftermath, was targeted at MAIG — a personal endeavor of New York City’s billionaire liberal mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who has a track record of advocating for expanded government controls — rather than the NRA, which has a long history of advocating for the 2nd Amendment rights of individuals.

In late August, Giron herself told New Republic the political stakes were extremely high for Bloomberg, who continues to use MAIG as a funnel for campaign funds in support of gun control-minded liberals in State and Congressional-level races Nationwide.

“For Mayors Against Illegal Guns, if they lose even one of these seats, they might as well fold it up. And they understand that,” she said.

Bloomberg had donated at least $350,000 to the losing side in the Colorado recall.

Recall supporter Laura Carno told CBS Denver that the Morse recall sends a clear signal to elected leaders, both in Colorado and nationwide, with visionary legislative schemes that alienate voters: “It is a message to elected officials: You need to pay attention to what your constituents say — not the Vice President, and not Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York — and that’s who he’s been listening to, and not his constituents.”

Morse will be replaced by Republican Bernie Herpin. George Rivera, also a Republican, will replace Giron. The two swing seats will not affect the Democratic majority in the Colorado Legislature.