Live Off the Grid, Get Forced Out Of Your Home

Cape Coral, Fla., resident Robin Speronis had a pretty cool thing going. She had decided to live a resourceful life — one free from any ties that would force her dependence on a utility infrastructure to meet her basic needs.

Speronis was living off the grid. Now she’s facing eviction because she agreed to share her enthusiasm for off-grid living with a local television station, and the city government saw the story.

Widowed since 2010, when her husband died of a neuromuscular disease, Speronis decided to devote herself to resourceful living. She had devised a rainwater-collection system using rain barrels (beloved by academics and ecologists) and a colloidal silver generator disinfecting system, acquired solar batteries, learned to cook on a propane camp stove and contented herself with life in a well-maintained, modest, easy-to-care-for home.

She has no refrigerator and no oven. She uses a camping shower to bathe. When she’s ready to use the restroom, she fills her toilet tank with some of the rainwater she’s collected. Her way of living is far from derelict or destitute, and Speronis takes a lot of pride in her home and the life she’s chosen.

“My message was to create, so I created a happy place… a place where I get up, and I’m like, ‘This is beautiful,’” she told Ft. Myers-Cape Coral TV station WFTX last month.

“It was an interest in empowering myself, like we did when we got off the health care system. I wanted to look at every other part of my lifestyle and say, ‘Do I need this? Is this of value to me? If it went away tomorrow, what would I do?’ The more I got into it, the more exciting, the more of an adventure it became,” she explained.

The story aired Nov. 14. The next day, code enforcement officials posted on her door a notice that she must vacate the property. Robin reportedly owns her home outright and is not in arrears on any taxes.

A Cape Coral code compliance official told WFTX Speronis’ home was targeted because it lacks electricity and running water. But “neither is mentioned as a requirement in the code cited by the city on the notice.”

If Speronis resists the city throughout the eviction process and doesn’t meet the code department’s demands, the county sheriff could forcibly remove her from her home. But with the help of a local attorney who has stepped up to represent her pro bono and a pretty indomitable attitude, Speronis has no plans to step away from the life she chose.

“Cape Coral needs to be afraid of me. I’m not afraid of them,” she told the station in a follow-up story.

Oregon Pulls The Plug On Exorbitant, Ineffective Hipster Ads For Obamacare

After spending at least $8.3 million on a television jingle intended to extoll Obamacare’s goodness and drive residents to the State’s messed-up insurance exchange website, Cover Oregon is pulling the plug. The advertisements won’t run on television anymore, because the State can’t advertise a product it’s having tremendous difficulty delivering.

Who wouldn’t love to see that in regular TV rotation? But Bruce Goldberg, acting executive director for Cover Oregon, said Monday the ads are useless because the State’s insurance website, which hasn’t successfully enrolled a single person in a health insurance plan, is still useless.

“Cover Oregon is changing its tune when it comes to its catchy Portlandia-style TV spots, which attracted national attention — not all of it positive,” reported KATU Monday. “The problem? The spots still in circulation have been pushing people to use the unworkable online exchange.”

“We’re doing our best to get through the applications that we have and while we’re doing that, we think it’s appropriate to hold off on any further advertising,” Goldberg said at a Monday press conference.

Goldberg’s comments came on the same day he also encouraged 13,000 people who are losing their portability health coverage, which is supposed to serve as a temporary stopgap for people who’ve been laid off from a job or had their old policies canceled, not to count on obtaining coverage through the State exchange.

“Nobody has a list of who the portability people are,” Goldberg said. “Those individuals need to go directly to the market and buy a plan if they want to be assured coverage Jan. 1.”

New Colorado Law Will Treat Drivers Who Refuse Breathalyzer Tests As Criminals

Starting in 2014, Colorado drivers who refuse to submit to roadside sobriety tests will be treated by police as though they have a record of driving drunk – regardless of whether they actually do.

According to ABC 7 in Denver, “any Colorado driver who refuses a sobriety test will be branded a ‘persistent drunk driver.’”

In Colorado, people who refuse a blood or breathalyzer blood alcohol test are already treated as drunk drivers, even if they haven’t been drinking and refuse the test on principle. But the new law will allow the State to place drivers who refuse the tests on a one-year suspension, requiring them to install and use a breathalyzer machine in their cars every time they wish to start their vehicles – and that’s after a two-month waiting period during which they won’t legally be allowed to drive at all.

The new law puts sobriety test decliners in the same category as people with multiple drunk driving convictions, who also must install interlock breath-testing equipment before their cars will start.

More Americans Beginning To See Government Itself As The Nation’s Worst Enemy

Whatever Congress and President Barack Obama had in mind at the start of the President’s second term, it likely wasn’t this: A December Gallup poll reveals more Americans identify the government — not the economy, immigration, healthcare or the wealth gap, but the government itself — as the single biggest source of the Nation’s problems.

Gallup asked people a simple, open-ended question: “What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?” Twenty-one percent of people indicated they were more dissatisfied with the government than with any other problem on a National scale.

That was the largest single group response, followed by the general economy (19 percent), healthcare (17 percent), unemployment (12 percent), the Federal deficit (9 percent), moral decline (7 percent), poverty (5 percent) and a slew of other 3 percent and 2 percent categories (immigration, war, a loss of civility, the court system).

The year began at a particularly polarizing time for this kind of poll, as a polarizing President fresh off a polarizing re-election victory was inaugurated into a second term in office. Yet an earlier iteration of the same Gallup poll reflected Americans’ disgust with government hadn’t yet overtaken other concerns when January started.

The general economy was the chief fretting point for people back in January, followed by the Federal deficit. Dissatisfaction with government started the year in third place and hummed along there for most of the year (with a momentary blip into second place as sequestration spending “cuts” began in March) — until the government pseudo-shutdown and the launch of Obamacare combined to launch public disgust into the stratosphere. The Oct. 1 Gallup poll showed 33 percent of respondents thought the government was the Nation’s biggest problem — far more than the 19 percent who still eyed the economy as the biggest fear.

Such a rapid and dramatic collapse in public trust isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for Obama’s campaign to shelter everyone under the umbrella of government, nor is it a pat on the back to Congress, which generated an incredible amount of news for a 11-month span in which it accomplished almost nothing (other than revolutionizing Senate procedure on Obama’s behalf).

“[T]he trend,” commented Breitbart’s Frances Martel Monday, “seems to be that Americans become increasingly worried about problems when the government announces it will try to fix them — and are they truly so wrong to think, to paraphrase a great Republican, that government might not be the solution, but the problem itself?”

Job Posting: Team Obamacare Needs A Media Handler To Avoid Appearing ‘Ignorant And Unaware’

Team Obamacare is forming its own in-house Media Matters of sorts, as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) prepares to hire a media agency that will keep its finger on the pulse of what everyone across TV, print and the Internet is saying about the Affordable Care Act.

While it’s not surprising that cabinet-level offices expend some resources to keep daily tabs on how the public feels about its performance, the idea in this case seems to go beyond that. Reading the stipulations for the contract, it looks as though the department is playing catch-up.

From a hiring notice posted to the Federal Business Opportunities website Dec. 9:

Agency officials will be able to make better decisions if they have an easier, faster, more reliable way to get all the latest information about their organization and its mission. Providing HHS officials with timely, easy-to-digest information on a daily basis keeps them in the best position to react to fast-moving events and unfolding issues of concern to the Department. Without this knowledge, HHS leaders can be left ignorant and unaware of what the public, Congress and stakeholders may be saying and reacting to, thus leaving HHS officials less than fully informed in their decision making processes.

While the Secretary, the agency heads, and senior leaders across the Department are critical customers, it is important to the Department in general that staff at all levels in all agencies be aware of how the Department and its agencies are being cast in the public eye. All HHS staff essentially are “ambassadors” to the public on the Department’s behalf.

“Ignorant and unaware” have been the order of the day at HHS, especially where its relationship with the White House is concerned. The Government Accountability Institute revealed earlier this month that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and President Barack Obama did not meet in a scheduled setting a single time during the three-year run-up to the Oct. 1 launch of Obamacare.

“Equally shocking,” noted POLITICO at the time, “over the same period, the President’s calendar lists 277 private meetings with his other Cabinet secretaries (excluding full Cabinet meetings).”

Keeping The Peace: Cops Rescue Neighborhood From Resident Who Washes Car In His Own Driveway

A Garden City, N.Y., man was trying to wash his car in the driveway of his home when the cops showed up. Apparently, his neighbor wanted to get the guy in trouble, so he (or she) called the police to report the man was violating a local ordinance by washing his car on his own property.

The police were happy to oblige:

Even though the man protests that the car is entirely on his own property, the police respond by saying that washing a vehicle in a public place is against the law — and even though the car is on private property, “It’s still in public view.”

Sting-Happy Cops Falsely Accuse Child’s Caretaker Of Sex Crime, Distribute His Photo, Get Sued For $5 Million

Charles Couch was a college student who also held a job with Cambrian Homecare of Long Beach, Calif., where he helped chaperone a boy with Prader-Willi Syndrome – a rare disorder that results in mental retardation and arrested sexual development. One day in 2012, he and the boy were at the beach in Manhattan Beach when the child needed to use the restroom at a nearby public toilet.

But Manhattan Beach cops were there ahead of them, on the prowl as part of a sting operation to target would-be sexual predators who prey on kids in public bathrooms. The cops had no prior knowledge of Couch, or that he would be visiting the beach that day with the disabled child.

After the child spent a long time in the bathroom (the product of another of Prader-Willi’s many symptoms), he came outside and whispered to Couch, “There is a man looking at me in the stall!”

Couch understandably decided it was time to put as much distance between his charge and the strange man in the bathroom as possible. So he tried to leave with the child. Instead he was tackled, cuffed and taken to jail. That “strange man,” of course, turned out to be a cop.

Under questioning, Couch was “accused of being sexually interested in other men, and asked if he would take his own little brother to a party to get ‘laid.’”

At least that’s what Couch is now alleging in a $5 million Federal lawsuit against the Manhattan Beach Police Department, its chief of police, and five detectives. The complaint alleges Couch was falsely arrested and subjected to unreasonable search and seizure and discrimination.

To top it off, the police department evidently had no compunction about disseminating Couch’s picture to the media – even though he was never charged with a crime. About a month after the incident, Couch saw his own picture, accompanied by his name, in a local newspaper with a circulation of 70,000 readers. His name and picture were on the Internet. He appeared as a sex offender to strangers who knew nothing of the truth. He quit school because the cops confiscated his laptop computer – the one he used for academics – in a fruitless search for child porn.

The suit seeks damages for violation of Couch’s 4th and 14th Amendment rights, as well as punitive damages for allegations of perjury against one of the accusing officers.

Tech Leaders Not Amused By Obama’s Veer Toward Obamacare Boosterism In Meeting To Discuss NSA Reforms

President Barack Obama met with executives and experts from major global technological companies today at the White House. The techies were there out of concern for their various companies’ roles as sometimes-unwilling middleman facilitators in the National Security Agency’s spy dragnet behemoth.

People like Apple’s Tim Cook, Google’s Eric Schmidt and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, along with upper-level company reps from Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, AT&T and many other tech giants all sat down at one table with Obama for two and-a-half hours to urge for government reforms to the NSA’s bulk data surveillance program, in part to rehabilitate the private tech sector’s image among customers leery of its complicity in the NSA dragnet.

Several of those in attendance were co-authors of a group letter sent to the White House last week that criticized the government for aggrandizing power at the expense of individual rights.

“The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual – rights that are enshrined in our Constitution,” that letter scolded.

But at Tuesday’s meeting, Obama wanted to devote equal time to Obamacare and – and the Technorati was having none of it.

The President’s repeated and jarring attempts to steer the conversation toward his signature “achievement” irritated the techies, who reported they did not feel comfortable talking about other aspects of Obama’s broader policy agenda when they were clearly there to talk about one thing: the tenuous intersection between government, technology and the private sector.

“That wasn’t what we came for,” one company VP told The Daily Mail. “We really didn’t care for a PR pitch about how the administration is trying to salvage its internal health care tech nightmare.”

Here’s more from that story:

One executive said that meeting participants were dead-set against straying from the principal focus of the meeting – the uncomfortable and legally untenable position they are in when the National Security Agency demands access to their digital records.

The White House said in advance that the meeting would include a discussion of, but the company executive said the only subject that mattered to the participants was the NSA.

“He basically hijacked the meeting,” the executive said. “We all told the White House that we were only there to talk about what the NSA was up to and how it affects us.”

Yet Obama, according to insiders, repeatedly peppered the discussion with reassuring words about how the Affordable Care Act’s marquee website was well on its way to becoming functional.

According to The Guardian, the tech execs were unwavering in their insistence on keeping the serious focus of the meeting on the matter at hand.

Senior executives from the companies whose bosses were present at the meeting said they were determined to keep the discussion focused on the NSA, despite the White House declaring in advance that it would focus on ways of improving the functionality of the troubled health insurance website,, among other matters.

“That is not going to happen,” said an executive at one of the major tech companies represented at the meeting. “We are there to talk about the NSA,” said the executive, who was briefed on the company’s agenda before the event.

In light of the tech industry’s newly-galvanized solidarity against partnering with the Obama Administration to snoop on people, as well as a judge’s ruling Monday that the NSA has been violating 4th Amendment protections, Obama’s attempt to swerve the topic in other directions came off as especially inappropriate and self-serving.

As another unnamed executive told The Guardian afterward, “There’s only one subject that [industry] people really want to discuss right now.”

And it’s not Obamacare.

Bribery, Smuggling, Sex Crimes: DHS Inspector Reports More Than 7,000 Criminal Complaints Against Employees In First Half Of 2013

A recently released report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reveals 7,868 complaints of criminal misconduct reported to the OIG in the first half of this year. There’s no silver lining in that statistic — but at least 2013 is on pace to improve on 2012, when the department received 17,690 complaints of employee criminal misconduct.

The report, published Dec. 11, indicates many criminal complaints stem from allegations of corruption among border security personnel and of theft in the general workforce. But it also identifies a range of employee crimes including sexual assault and child pornography.

Infiltration of drug cartels into the rank and file of the DHS border security apparatus tops the OIG’s list of crime-curbing priorities. “OIG is particularly concerned with the smuggling of people and goods across the Nation’s borders,” the report states. “Smuggling continues to be a large-scale business and remains dominated by drug trafficking organizations that seek to systematically corrupt DHS employees to continue their schemes.”

From Page 21, under the “Employee Accountability and Integrity” heading:

A sample of our 2013 casework demonstrates the wide range and scope of unlawful misconduct in which Department employees engage. For example, in one case we learned that a CBP [Customs and Border Protection] employee was observed meeting with members of a known drug-trafficking organization. Later, he made arrangements with individuals he believed to be smugglers and allowed a vehicle driven by an undercover agent to pass through a border patrol checkpoint without being inspected. He also met with a confidential informant and received an $8,000 cash bribe payment in an envelope. After we arrested him, he resigned and pleaded guilty to one count of accepting a bribe.

Similarly, we investigated a CBP employee who was accepting bribes to allow narcotics through his inspection lane. We had and agent pose as a narcotics smuggler and pay the employee a series of bribes in exchange for allowing what he believed to be illegal narcotics enter the United States. He was found guilty of conspiracy and bribery.

This year, a USCIS [Citizenship and Immigration Services] employee pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography, and was sentenced to 37 months incarceration and 120 months of supervised release. …We also arrested a senior ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] law enforcement officer who was involved in child pornography. He was sentenced to 70 months Federal incarceration, followed by 240 months of supervised release.

The report also recounts other examples, including those of an employee selling stolen government equipment on eBay, and a Border Patrol agent stopping a woman in a remote location and sexually assaulting her.

The report notes that many of the prescribed remedies to these kinds of criminal abuses of power have either already been put in place, or were put in place in previous fiscal years. “The Anti-Border Corruption Act of 2010 required that, by January 4, 2013, CBP administer applicant screening polygraph examinations for all law enforcement applicants prior to hiring,” the report states. “CBP reported that this goal was met in October 2012.”

But the auditors don’t follow observations like this with any fresh opinion on the evident inefficacy of the department’s established anti-corruption measures.

OIG reports that, of the 7,868 complaints it received through the first half of fiscal year 2013, it’s launched 320 investigations that have led to 76 prosecuted cases, 83 convictions and 41 “personnel actions.” The report doesn’t comment on the range of the severity of “personnel actions.”

For the full 2012 fiscal year (each fiscal year begins Oct. 1), the department opened 1,030 investigations, had 132 cases accepted for prosecution, got 178 convictions and took 106 “personnel actions.”

Obamacare Damage Control: Compelling Insurance Companies To Give Away Coverage For Free

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is leaning on insurers to help it out of its own Obamacare debacle, urging for-profit coverage providers to begin covering enrolled customers when Jan. 1 rolls around, even if those customers haven’t paid their first premium.

There’s a reason for that — though it’s not a good one. In order for customers to pay for something they buy online, they first have to be able to use a website that offers them a payment mechanism. HHS still has not been able, with any consistency, to nail down that part of the website infrastructure that’s supposed to send would-be enrollees to the final-step pages where they pay their insurers directly.

Some customers believe they have paid — and maybe they have — while others can’t get that far into the enrollment process because the website crashes or locks them out. Still others believe they have enrolled in, and attempted to pay for, one kind of insurance — when, in fact, the website instead magically enrolls them in, and bills them for, a different plan.

“What’s wrong with ‘urging’ insurers to offer free care?” Forbes contributor Avik Roy wrote over the weekend. “That’s not the same as forcing them to offer free care.”

Except that the government is using the full force of its regulatory powers, under Obamacare, to threaten insurers if they don’t comply. All you have to do is read the menacing language in the new regulations that HHS published this week, in which HHS says it may throw otherwise qualified health plans off of the exchanges next year if they don’t comply with the government’s “requests.”

The government is requiring people to get on health insurance. It has set enrollment deadlines. But if you can’t pay, you can’t be enrolled. And if the Federal website that Obamacare’s implementation team has set up to allow people to sign up and pay for insurance isn’t working, there’s no way for people to pay for a health plan — if they’re fortunate enough to make it that far into the glitchy process. The law obligates people to buy insurance, but the lawmakers who’ve so encumbered their constituents make no accommodation to facilitate a timely compliance with the law.

And since, under the Obamacare scheme, the government is just a go-between that passes customer enrollment through to the private insurers (whom customers must ultimately pay), it lacks the free-market compulsion that drives private businesses to avoid, by any legal means, losing money. So HHS sends out emails to the insurance companies “urging” them to give customers who can’t use the broken Federal website a break.

In short, the government breaks it — and then asks the private sector to fix it at its own expense.

John Beale, The EPA Climate Change ‘Expert’ With The Long, Outlandishly Fraudulent Career, To Be Sentenced For Theft

John C. Beale, the former senior policy adviser in the Office of Air and Radiation – and the highest-paid EPA employee before his admission in September of lying his way to nearly a million dollars’ worth of unearned government money and benefits – will face sentencing Wednesday for a single count of theft of government property.

Beale, 64, was regarded as one of the EPA’s top climate change policy experts at the time of his “retirement” in September of 2011. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy began to wonder why he was still on the payroll in March of 2012 – six months after she had helped fete Beale and other EPA retirees at a retirement party on a yacht. He had worked for the EPA since 1989, and had perpetrated a lavish fraud over much of that time that afforded him the luxury of being absent from work for up to 18 consecutive months by falsely telling coworkers he was a CIA operative. Even his wife (allegedly) believed him.

Beale helped to write the Clean Air Act in 1990 and led EPA delegates at United Nations climate change conferences in 2000 and 2001. He was also instrumental in negotiating carbon reduction deals with China and other Asian polluters.

At the time of his plea agreement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia released a statement that could easily be mistaken for hyperbole, were it not true.

All told, between January 2000 and April 2013, Beale was absent from his duties at the EPA for about 2 ½ years in which he was drawing a salary and benefits.

For more than a dozen years, Beale engaged in a pattern and scheme of deception during which he lied to the U.S. government, his supervisors, friends, and his family to avoid performing his job at the EPA.

…“John Beale stole from the government for more than a decade by telling lies of outlandish proportions,” said U.S. Attorney [Ronald] Machen.  “He dodged his work at the EPA for extended periods by claiming that he was away working on operations for the CIA.  He even got a parking space for three years by falsely claiming that he had malaria. Today’s guilty plea is proof positive that lies do catch up with you and that eventually fraudsters will be held accountable for ripping off the American taxpayer.

“The details of this remarkable story are unfathomable – and yet they happened. An absence of even basic internal controls at the EPA allowed an individual to commit multiple frauds over a long period of time,” said Inspector General [Arthur] Elkins.

When he retired, Beale was earning a combined salary and bonuses of $206,000 per year – even more than McCarthy, his boss. In his plea agreement, he confessed to defrauding the government of $886,186 since 2000. He faces up to 37 months in prison and must pay more than $1.3 million in restitution and forfeiture of illegally-obtained government property.

The Washington Post also reported last week that the EPA  had been warned in 2010 of Beale’s fraudulent claim to bonus pay to which he was not entitled, but that the agency took no action.

Another Poll Shows Americans Don’t Think Gun Control Prevents Crime

Despite the efforts of 2nd Amendment revisionists to link mass shootings and urban violence with Americans’ Constitutionally protected right to bear arms, public will remains on the side of the 2nd Amendment. A recent Reason/Rupe poll is the latest survey to demonstrate that most Americans aren’t convinced that tougher gun laws have anything to do with lowering the crime rate.

The poll, released late last week, shows that 63 percent of Americans surveyed believe criminals are going to get their hands on guns, regardless of whether new laws are enacted that make it tough for people to obtain firearms.

The poll asked: “Do you think tighter restrictions on buying and owning guns would be effective or would not be effective in preventing criminals from obtaining guns?” Sixty-three percent of respondents answered “not effective,” while only 32 percent answered “effective.”

Broken down by political leanings, 70 percent of Republican respondents thought gun control is ineffective. Fifty-two percent of Democrats agreed, while only 44 percent of Democrats said gun control would help. “Nonwhite women” was the only demographic category in which more people favored gun control, by a margin of 50 percent to 44 percent.

The results suggest the massive outlay of advertising money spent by gun control advocates in 2013 hasn’t yielded much success. Despite the fact that gun control groups outspent their gun rights adversaries by a 7 to 1 margin this year, public opinion has steadily turned against gun control as a salve for violent social ills.

Judge Forces Home-Schooled Kids Into Public School

A Florida judge surprised both parties in a fall custody hearing by declaring that the divorced couple’s children must cease their home-schooling regimen and begin attending public schools. Now, a prominent home-schooling advocacy group is urging the court to reconsider its position.

The nonprofit Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) filed an amicus brief on behalf of the children, whom both parents had agreed should be raised Catholic, after the judge interrupted a hearing meant to hammer out visitation rights to instead order the kids into the public school system.

From HSLDA’s report on the filing:

The mother and father have been fighting over visitation for years, and a scheduled hearing last summer seemed to be just the latest skirmish in the war. A court-appointed psychologist testified that the children were all doing well academically. But at the hearing, the guardian ad litem — appointed by the court to represent the children’s best interest — testified that her “gut reaction” was that the children should be in public school for socialization. The guardian also used the mother’s “ultra Catholic” beliefs as evidence against homeschooling, even though the divorce agreement had mandated that the children be raised Catholic.

Without warning, the judge used the hearing not just to rule on the visitation schedule, but also to order the kids into public school, even though the father had not made education an issue before the hearing. The judge lectured the mother, “When are they going to socialize? Is homeschool going to continue through college and/or professional schooling? At which point are these children going to interact with other children, and isn’t that in their best interest?” With that, the judge changed a long-standing court order permitting homeschooling and ordered the children into the local school.

The amicus brief seeks to disabuse the court of a number of long-held misconceptions about home schooling, including academic studies that demonstrate home-schooled children, on average, are well socialized, score well on standardized college entrance exams and go on to perform well as college students.

“Every mother who homeschools her children is familiar with the unfortunate myths that arose about socialization and academic preparation,” the brief argues. “Those myths have been empirically dispelled by a wide variety of research. On all counts homeschooling meets the standards set by public schools, and virtually all of the research demonstrates that homeschoolers far exceed that bar.”

Obama Doubles Down On NSA Dragnet, Preserves Centralized Administrative Structure Linking Military With NSA

Despite urging from intelligence officials who sought to institute a measure of face-saving accountability before a public angry over illegal government spying, the Administration of President Barack Obama has decided to keep the one-man administrative umbrella that oversees both the National Security Agency and Cyber Command, the military’s digital intelligence arm.

That decision serves as a strong declaration of intent for Obama, even as new revelations exposing the extent of the NSA’s extra-Constitutional powers come to light almost daily. As in the past, both the NSA and Cyber Command will continue to operate under the stewardship of Gen. Keith Alexander and whomever may succeed him when he retires in March.

Even Director of National Intelligence and infamous truth obfuscator James Clapper has suggested that NSA and Cyber Command should be reorganized under separate leaders, since their missions are fundamentally very different.

An Obama-appointed review panel even recommended the same thing, further suggesting that a civilian would provide more appropriate leadership for the NSA.

From The Washington Post, which reported Friday on the fallout from the decision:

The decision by President Obama comes amid signs that the White House is not inclined to impose significant new restraints on the NSA’s activities and favors maintaining an agency program that collects data on virtually every phone call that Americans make, although it is likely to impose additional privacy protection measures.

… Some officials familiar with the decision to keep on person in charge of both the NSA and Cyber command expressed disappointment. They say that the missions of the two organizations are fundamentally different: spying and conducting military attacks. “It’s a mistake,” said another U.S. official. “Cyber Command and NSA each needs its own full-time head, and [Obama] could have continued the coordination and close working relationship between the two organizations without them being led by the same individual.”

In so many words, the Obama Administration intends to pay lip service to demands for government accountability by allegedly imposing “additional privacy protection measures” – an imposition that necessarily must stake its validity on the will of the American people to trust the government to keep its word – while doubling down on government’s inherent prerogative to monitor the private, lawful activities of American citizens.

Florida Court Tells Public University It Can’t Ban Guns In Cars

A Florida appeals court has ruled that a State university in Jacksonville can’t ban guns from being stored in cars parked on campus. That may be a small victory for the 2nd Amendment, but it is a victory.

The Florida 1st District Court of Appeal delivered a 12-3 ruling Tuesday that overturned a circuit judge’s earlier decision to throw out a lawsuit brought jointly by student Alexandra Lainez and Florida Carry, Inc. The original suit, brought by Lainez against the University of North Florida, argued the Florida Legislature, and not the university, holds sole power under the State’s Constitution to regulate whether firearms can be carried on campus at public universities.

Circuit Judge L. Page Haddock had thrown out the lawsuit at the university’s request, but Lainez and Florida Carry appealed, noting that Florida law grants only K-12 school districts the power to regulate on-campus weapons.

The 1st District Court sided with Lainez, with Justice L. Clayton Roberts writing in the majority opinion:

We hold that the legislature has not delegated its authority under the Florida Constitution to regulate the manner of bearing arms to the state universities and reverse the orders on appeal.

…There are certain places where firearms can be legally prohibited. But the Legislature has recognized that a citizen who is going to be in one of these places should be able to keep a firearm securely encased within his or her vehicle.

Judge Scott Makar interjected the protections of the State (but not the U.S.) Constitution in his consenting opinion:

In Florida, the constitutional right of the people to keep and bear arms in defense of themselves is older than the State itself. …It is a personal, individual liberty, entitled to protection like other constitutional rights. Like any civil right established in the state or federal constitutions, the legislative branch may choose to pass laws designed to facilitate its exercise or protect against its infringement, which Florida’s legislature has done repeatedly over the past fifty years on the specific topic at issue: safely-secured firearms in motor vehicles.

The Florida Legislature had set the groundwork for Tuesday’s ruling as early as 1987, when it passed a law prohibiting municipal or county governments from instituting gun control laws more restrictive than the State’s own gun laws. But that law didn’t have a workable enforcement mechanism, and it went unheeded by many local governments.

Then, in 2011, the Legislature added teeth to the existing law. From BizPac Review:

In 2011, the Legislature passed another law containing a series of threatening local jurisdictions or agencies with fines against the agency heads, removal from office for elected officials and allowing for personal damages up to $100,000 for violations, Friday said.

When that law passed, most local governments changed their laws to comply before it came into effect Oct 1, Friday said. UNF and some other agencies didn’t.

The university’s insistence on doubling down on its gun-control sovereignty proved its undoing in the Lainez case. UNF had a standing policy that banned all firearms on campus.

According to university officials, UNF has no intention of complying with the district court’s ruling until the school decides whether to appeal the case.

Here’s more from the BizPac Review story:

In an emailed statement Wednesday, UNF Associate Director for Public Relations Joanna Norris wrote that the university is still reviewing its options on whether to appeal the case. Until it makes that decision, she wrote, the university’s policy prohibiting weapons on campus will remain in effect.

[Florida Carry attorney Eric Friday] said that means the university intends to continue breaking the law.

“In other words, despite the express, well-reasoned opinion of this court, they intend to continue violating students’ rights until they have to comply,” he said.

It will be interesting to see whether the university openly violates the appeals ruling if it learns that Lainez, a 24-year-old mother who’s held a concealed carry permit for three years, is back on campus with firearms in her car.

“I felt that it was important to stand up for it and see it through so that the students are allowed to have the opportunity,” Lainez, who commutes to UNF 30 minutes each way, told Jacksonville’s Fox 30 News. “There are many times that if I do go to campus, you’re leaving late, very early, traveling. You never know what could happen, campus to home or vice versa. So it’s important to be able to carry your gun when you go with you. It’s something I feel is protection.”

Issa To Sebelius: HHS Committing Criminal Obstruction By Blocking Obamacare Contractors From Testimony

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has had a bully pulpit from which to criticize the square-wheeled rollout of Obamacare. But his rhetoric is escalating. Now, he’s not just calling the Department of Health and Human Services inept — he’s calling it criminal. He may be right.

Wednesday’s dodgy, evasive testimony from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, combined with continued stonewalling from third parties hired to steer the website, prompted Issa to send Sebelius a letter essentially accusing her department of a crime.

Issa’s angry letter states HHS is willfully blocking Congressional oversight by compelling contractors like Creative Computing Solutions, the Maryland-based company tasked with developing portions of, not to answer any questions from the Oversight Committee.

From the letter:

Pursuant to the Committee’s oversight I requested relevant documents from several companies that contracted with the Department of Health and Human Services for work related to the website. The Department subsequently instructed those companies not to comply with the Committee’s request. The Department’s hostility toward questions from Congress and the media about the implementation of Obamacare is well known. The Department’s most recent effort to stonewall, however, has morphed from mere obstinacy into criminal obstruction of a congressional investigation.

In a December 6, 2013, letter to Creative Computing Solutions, Inc. (CCSI), the Department [HHS] claimed that the company is contractually precluded from producing documents to Congress. The letter further stated that the Department will respond to requests from Congress on the company’s behalf. It is my understanding that CCSI was not the only contractor to receive a letter like this. The letter to CCSi stated that the company is:

[Not] authorized to disclose to third parties information collected or maintained by or on behalf of a federal agency, including information collected, or information produced during security testing.

If you receive a request for this information from Congress, CMS [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] will respond directly to the requestor and will work with the requestor to address its interests in this information.

…The Department’s attempt to threaten CCSI for the purpose of deterring the company from providing documents to Congress places the officials responsible for drafting and sending the letter on the wrong side of federal statutes that prohibit obstruction of a congressional investigation. Obstructing a Congressional investigation is a crime.

Issa then provides the relevant portion of the statute: Section 1505 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code:

Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication influences, obstructs, or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which any pending proceeding is being had before any department or agency of the United States, or the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation is being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years…

Issa said CMS, under the chain of command leading up to Sebelius, had essentially “threatened” CCSI and other companies by implying legal action would ensue if the companies lawfully handed over documents subpoenaed by the Oversight Committee. Issa said it “strains credulity” to think that Sebelius really believes that a “… contract between the Department [HHS] and a private company [that] supersedes Congress’ constitutional prerogative to conduct oversight” is anything but bogus.

Report: Harry Reid Personally Intervened To Reverse Visa Denials For Asian Finanicers Of Vegas Development Project – A Project Retaining The Services Of Son Rory’s Law Firm

“This one is going to be a major headache for us all because Sen. Reid’s office/staff is pushing hard and I just had a long yelling match on the phone.”

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) legislative affairs official Miguel Rodriguez wrote those words one year ago, steadying himself against the corrupt favor call-in he’d allegedly just been handed down from on high.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had suddenly become interested in the visa status of several Asian investors in the SLS Hotel, an in-process Las Vegas casino redevelopment known, in its Rat-Pack heyday, as the Sahara.

The urban redevelopment project centering on the SLS Hotel is served by the law firm of Lionel, Sawyer & Collins. One of that firm’s shareholders – and a key part of the SLS redevelopment project – is lawyer, former Clark County Commissioner and failed Nevada gubernatorial aspirant Rory Reid.

Rory Reid is also the son of Senator Harry Reid.

The Asian investors attached to the SLS project had applied for visas, but SLS’ efforts at swiftly expediting their applications instead ended in an unequivocal rejection, with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security declaring the case did not meet criteria for an expedited decision.

According to The Washington Times, which first reported Tuesday on the political connections behind Senator Reid’s intervention with the visa process, “The decision, dated Dec. 17, 2012, stated flatly that ‘there is no appeal or reconsideration of this decision.’”

The Times’ riveting story, which did not mention Rory Reid or his law firm by name, opened a floodgate of fresh diligence from news outlets eager to take their own peek into the political background of the SLS project.

What Nevada journalist Jon Ralston quickly found was Rory Reid.

From Ralston|Reports Thursday:

The SLS hotel/casino, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went out of his way to help, is represented by his son, Rory Reid.

One day after The Washington Times reported that the majority leader had pushed Homeland Security officials to overrule a decision not to award visas to Asian investors in the SLS (where The Sahara once stood), I discovered that Reid’s son was representing the owners at the same time this was occurring in 2012. The majority leader’s office portrayed his intervention, as expected, as Reid just doing his job to help create jobs. But did his son push him to intervene?

Reid’s office says no. “The SLS project creates nearly 9,000 badly needed jobs and has the support of Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval,” the majority leader’s spokeswoman, Kristen Orthman, told me. “That is the calculus in Sen. Reid’s support of the project. We have a long-standing office policy that strictly bars any member of the staff’s family or the Senator’s family from lobbying our office on behalf of their clients. That policy applies in this case.”

How does it apply in this case? More to the point, how is that particular standing policy even the one in question? Sure, Rory Reid doesn’t have to pick up his smart phone and txt his dad abt his prblmz wit SLS prjct, but why on Earth would he have to? Orthman said nothing in the Ralston story about Senator Reid’s office having a standing policy that prohibits the Senator from meddling in the affairs of cabinet-level offices on behalf of his son.

If the Times’ email sources tell the whole story, Senator Reid expressly intervened to get a DHS decision reversed:

But that [flat visa rejection] simply prompted Mr. Reid to personally reach out to the top official at USCIS, Alejandro “Ali” Mayorkas, setting into motion a process that consumed top political officials inside the Homeland Security and Commerce departments and ultimately resulted in a ruling that granted expedited status to the hotel over the objections of career officials.

“Ali had a call with Sen. Reid on these I-526 cases on Tuesday of this week,” Mr. Rodriguez wrote top officials on Jan. 11. “While no guarantees were made on the call, Ali did promise the Senator that USCIS would take a ‘fresh look’ at the expedited request.”

Government officials did a lot more than give a fresh look — forwarding from Mr. Reid’s office the names of people involved with the hotel project that could help the federal agency change its mind on the expedited status request. Mr. Reid’s staff repeatedly made the case that the hotel would lose its potential funding for its renovation if Homeland Security’s USCIS didn’t expedite the visas.

Orthman cited 9,000 reasons – “badly needed jobs” – as well as the prior support of Nevada’s Republican Governor to suggest a justification for Senator Reid’s sudden involvement. There are, perhaps, at least 300 million more reasons she didn’t cite: the $300 million financial instrument Rory Reid’s firm helped SLS secure, either in part or in whole, through the Asian investors – financial backers whose visa status dictated whether their money “could be brought into the country and paired with the JP Morgan financing to underwrite the renovation of the hotel,” according to the emails obtained by The Washington Times.

HHS Reveals 365,000 Have ‘Selected’ Obamacare; Still No Word On How Many Have Actually Purchased

A two-month report released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services claims a combined 364,682 people had “selected” an Obamacare insurance plan through either the Federal website or through one of the State-managed exchanges, as of Nov. 30.

The report doesn’t say how many among that tiny group had actually committed to buying the insurance they’d placed in their online shopping carts.

For perspective, there are roughly 200,000 more people living in Wyoming, the Nation’s least populous State, than the almost 365,000 who took their potential Obamacare purchase at least as far as the virtual cash register. In order to actually enroll in Obamacare, as with any coverage, a customer has to enter into a contract agreement with an insurer that discloses to the customer what they’re paying and what they’re getting and that assures the insurer that the customer is committed to paying.

HHS hasn’t made those figures public yet — if it even knows them at all.

In the buildup to the Oct. 1 launch of Obamacare, HHS had projected 1.2 million people would enroll during the law’s first two months of implementation, with a total of 7 million enrolled by the March 31, 2014 closing bell for open enrollment.

In the meantime, 5 million healthcare plans (so far) have been canceled in the first Obamacare wave, as insurers drop individual policies that don’t conform to the law’s one-size-fits-all benefits scheme.

Lawsuit: NYPD Breaks Windows, Enters Home, Beats Family, Crushes Parakeet, Files Charges That Don’t Stick

A New York City woman is suing the New York Police Department for officers’ behavior in a Labor Day 2012 incident in which police allegedly broke windows to gain warrantless access to her home, beat and pepper sprayed her family members, and intentionally killed her pet parakeet by crushing it underfoot.

According to the lawsuit, Evelyn Lugo, who lives on Staten Island, was entertaining some of her sons and daughters at her home when police stopped and questioned one of her sons, Edwin Avellanet, who had briefly gone outside to take out the trash. The cops wanted to know about a traffic cone someone in the family allegedly had placed in front of the house to reserve a parking space.

When Avellanet refused to provide the identification the officers demanded (on the grounds he’d done nothing wrong), they allegedly attempted to detain him by grabbing his arm. Avellanet managed to break free and run into the house, with the police in alleged pursuit.

The police allegedly responded by breaking out several first-floor windows. Lugo went to the door to see what all the commotion was about; but, she said, the police charged into the home the second she opened the door — and threw her to the ground.

The suit states the cops then went inside, struck Avellanet two or three times with a hard object and beat and pepper sprayed at least two other people, including a woman who allegedly was thrown into a dresser. Atop that dresser was a birdcage that held Lugo’s parakeet, Tito. The impact knocked the cage off the dresser and sent Tito onto the floor.

“I screamed, ‘The bird!’ ” Lugo’s daughter, Anna Febles, told the New York Daily News a week after the incident. “And he [the officer] said, ‘F— the bird,’ and he, like, stepped on it.”

From New York DNA Info:

Lugo’s son, daughter and family friend were arrested and all three were taken to Staten Island University Hospital in custody.

They were treated for multiple facial lacerations and lacerations to the head. Lugo’s daughter was also treated for an asthma attack, the court papers say.

Those arrested included two of Lugo’s adult children and a family friend. Avellanet himself was never arrested or charged with a crime. The charges against the three who were arrested were later dismissed and the records sealed by the Richmond County Supreme Court.

“It was completely uncalled for,” said Jason Leventhal, Lugo’s attorney. “There was no excuse for going into the house without a warrant.”

Lugo is suing the department for unlawful search and seizure, excessive force and malicious prosecution.

Snowden Trove: NSA Uses Browser Advertising Cookies To Track, Hack Targets

Another day, another not-at-all shocking revelation about the NSA’s spy dragnet from the trove of classified information Edward Snowden supplied to The Washington Post and The Guardian.

The latest reveal comes from the Post, which reported Tuesday the National Security Agency tracks and singles out targets for hacking by following the same modus operandi advertisers use to tailor their Internet come-ons to the preferences and habits of individual computer users.

That involves placing third-party tracking cookies – small files that remain on a computer after a browser has visited, and then left, a website – which can relay information about the user’s browsing habits and history the next time he visits the same site. They’re used by advertisers to create long-term browsing histories for what companies presume to be a single individual, or small number of individuals using a single device, so that the ads that appear on a website continually reflect advertisers’ best guesses, based on the user’s browsing habits, at what that person is most likely to want to buy.

The NSA is, of course, not interested in selling anything. But by using a proprietary, Google-developed iteration of cookie – coupled with GPS location data—on unsuspecting computer or mobile phone users, government spies can identify a target and even create a gateway for warrantless, secret hacking.

From the story:

According to the documents, the NSA and its British counterpart, GCHQ, are using the small tracking files or “cookies” that advertising networks place on computers to identify people browsing the Internet. The intelligence agencies have found particular use for a part of a Google-specific tracking mechanism known as the “PREF” cookie. These cookies typically don’t contain personal information, such as someone’s name or e-mail address, but they do contain numeric codes that enable Web sites to uniquely identify a person’s browser.

In addition to tracking Web visits, this cookie allows NSA to single out an individual’s communications among the sea of Internet data in order to send out software that can hack that person’s computer. The slides say the cookies are used to “enable remote exploitation,” although the specific attacks used by the NSA against targets are not addressed in these documents.

By using the GPS location data Apple and other computer and smartphone software companies pre-install on computing devices, NSA can link an individual’s physical whereabouts with their internet activities, giving the government, under most circumstances, a very refined idea of who you are and what you’re doing.

Read the story, including some newly-released slides that show how the NSA characterizes its track-and-hack abilities for employee training, here.

Half Of Uninsured Americans Now Think Obamacare Was A ‘Bad Idea’

It’s increasingly apparent that Obamacare is failing to lure the very demographic that its advocates have long pledged the health care law will most benefit: people without health insurance.

A poll conducted last week by NBC and The Wall Street Journal finds that uninsured Americans in particular believe, now more than in the past, that Obamacare should never have happened.

From the summary:

In a sign that may not bode well for the president, the law’s unpopularity jumped the most among the uninsured, who stand to be among the main beneficiaries of the law. Fully half of uninsured Americans now think the law was a bad idea. In September, 34% saw it that way.

The failed rollout of Obamacare – both as a functional product and as a beneficial policy – has simultaneously derailed Obama’s second-term political leverage and diminished public trust in his transparency as an honest leader.

“The President is being weighed down by one issue, his health-care law,” said Democratic pollster Fred Yang, who helped direct the poll. “It’s probably fair to say that as goes health care, so goes the Obama presidency for the next year.”

Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who worked on the poll alongside Mr. Yang, said the damage to the President’s standing could linger. “When you dent a President on honesty and straightforwardness,” he said, “you have done major damage that can be difficult and time-consuming to repair.”

Worse for Democrats, Obamacare – President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation – has become a political albatross around the Democratic Party’s neck. “For the first time since 2011, participants gave the GOP a slight edge, 44% to 42%, on which party they would like to see control Congress next year,” the authors observe.

TSA’s Latest Heroics: Disarming Passenger’s Sock Monkey Puppet

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) averted a potential tragedy last week when a security agent in St. Louis managed to confiscate a 2-inch toy pistol from the holster of one air passenger’s sock monkey puppet before she boarded her plane.

According to Seattle-based King 5 News, Phyllis May — a Redmond, Wash., resident who owns a small business selling sock monkey puppets — was attempting to board a Seattle flight in St. Louis with her spouse when a TSA agent spotted one of her dolls, a cowboy-themed creation she’d named “Rooster Monkburn” in commemoration of the famous fictional True Grit character.

May had the outlaw monkey in a carry-on bag that also contained another sock monkey and some monkey-making sewing supplies.

“[The agent] held it up and said, ‘whose is this?’ I realized oh, my God, this is my bag,” May told King 5:

“She said, ‘This is a gun.’ I said, ‘No, it’s not a gun; it’s a prop for my monkey.’”

“She said, ‘If I held it up to your neck, you wouldn’t know if it was real or not,’ and I said ‘Really?’”

The TSA agent told May she would have to confiscate the tiny gun and was supposed to call the police.

“I said, ‘Well go ahead.’ And I said, ‘Really? You’re kidding me right?’ And she said, ‘No, it looks like a gun.’”

In a classic dereliction of duty and lapse of judgment, the unnamed TSA agent never did call the cops, instead returning to May all of the doll-making supplies that had momentarily been confiscated — minus the “pistol.”

“I understand she was doing her job,” said May, “but at some point doesn’t common sense prevail?”

The TSA released a statement concerning the incident Monday, predictably standing behind the agent’s actions and reiterating the agency’s policy on confiscating “realistic” fake weapons.

“TSA officers are dedicated to keeping the nation’s transportation security systems safe and secure for the traveling public,” the agency said. “Under longstanding aircraft security policy, and out of an abundance of caution, realistic replicas of firearms are prohibited in carry-on bags.”

Outgoing Mayor Bloomberg Pushes Mandatory Flu Vaccinations For All NYC School Kids

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who will hand the city’s leadership to Bill de Blasio in three weeks, is making a last-minute push that, if successful, will force all children who attend public schools or licensed daycares to get annual flu vaccinations – regardless of their parents’ possible objections.

The New York City Board of Health will vote today whether to implement rules that compel school-age children, as well as infants six months old and older who attend licensed day cares, to receive flu immunizations every year. The Board of Health is stocked with Bloomberg appointees with a history of green-lighting the mayor’s other public health initiatives like big soda bans and new smoking regulations.

The Autism Action Network (AAN), a Nationwide advocacy group for autistic people of all ages, plans to protest the vote today. AAN Executive Director John Gilmore told the New York Observer the organization doesn’t simply oppose the mandate because of any belief in a connection between vaccinations and the onset of autism, but rather because it places in the state’s hands a decision fraught with costs and benefits that parents, more properly, should make.

“The Bloomberg administration is wildly exaggerating the benefit of the flu shot and we think they are wildly underestimating the risks involved with it,” said…Gilmore.

…“There are risks associated with every medical procedure,” he said, citing allergic reactions, toxic mercury used as a preservative and questions as to whether the Board’s move is legal given state government jurisdictions.

Although the proposal did get a public hearing two months ago, Gilmore criticized Bloomberg’s 11th-hour strategy for getting the flu vaccine mandate approved, and portrayed today’s protest as a warning shot Mayor-elect de Blasio should heed before embracing the public health policies of his predecessor.

“This is basically to put the mayor-elect [on alert], make him aware that this is an issue that he’s going to have to deal with it. It’s not going to go away,” Gilmore told the Observer. “He is kind of doing this in a stealth fashion. He just proposed this about 6 weeks ago. I don’t think there was any announcement.”