Obama Administration Secretly Got NSA Restrictions Lifted in 2011

This is one of those stories that would have been sensational, had it come immediately on the heels of Edwards Snowden’s bombshell revelation about the extent of the National Security Agency’s reach into the digital lives of ordinary Americans. Instead, it’s likely to get lost in the white noise of President Barack Obama’s many second-term, Constitution-shredding scandals.

Over the weekend, The Washington Post revealed that, in 2011, the Obama Administration secretly won permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to overturn restrictions on the NSA’s power to search and store the digital communications of all Americans without first obtaining a warrant. FISC is the secret court whose sole purpose is to vet extraordinary surveillance requests from Federal law enforcement agencies.

Neither the 2011 reversal nor the original ban intended to limit the scope of NSA phone searches was publicized. The Post reported:

What had not been previously acknowledged is that the court in 2008 imposed an explicit ban — at the government’s request — on those kinds of searches, that officials in 2011 got the court to lift the bar and that the search authority has been used.

Together the permission to search and to keep data longer [six years instead of five] expanded the NSA’s authority in significant ways without public debate or any specific authority from Congress. The administration’s assurances rely on legalistic definitions of the term “target” that can be at odds with ordinary English usage. The enlarged authority is part of a fundamental shift in the government’s approach to surveillance: collecting first, and protecting Americans’ privacy later.

Those same powers had been explicitly blocked, at the government’s request, during the Administration of George W. Bush.

But the Obama Adminstration sought — and received — a reversal from the court. National Intelligence General Counsel Robert S. Litt told The Post the government explicitly requested the ban be dropped so that the government, which has all but forsaken spying on obvious targets (like Islamist jihadi extremists in the United States), could move quickly to intercept a domestic terror threat.

Denied Sept. 11 Event Permit, ‘2 Million Biker Ride In DC’ Defiantly Gathers Steam

Organizers of Wednesday’s “2 Million Biker Ride In DC” took to the Internet over the weekend to report they’d been denied an event permit to ride on Washington, D.C. – even as a planned “Million Muslim March” was given the green light for a symbolic Sept. 11 demonstration.

Then they took to the Internet to report they’d only been galvanized by that denial.

By Monday afternoon, bikers from across the country were posting photos of motorcycle caravans already en route to the Capital.

maine bikers

 

The Washington, D.C. rally was conceived as a retort to what many patriotic bikers viewed as an overt insult by the American Muslim Political Action Committee, which targeted the 12th anniversary of the World Trade Center attack for its “Million Muslim” event. The march is intended to urge President Barack Obama to make good on his early campaign promises of a more “transparent” government – particularly where Islamists’ roles in the attacks are concerned.

bikers file

Tomorrow’s Recall Vote For Gun Control-Supporting Colorado Senators Draws Strong Early Turnout

Tomorrow’s the day when two Colorado State Senators will find out whether their support of new, controversial gun laws adopted earlier this year will put a major damper on their own political careers. Early voting patterns suggest Tuesday’s turnout for a recall vote of Senator Angela Giron and Senate President John Morse will likely rival that of a Presidential election.

Morse and Giron, both Democrats, are facing voter-initiated recall elections aiming to remove them from office following their support of a trio of reactionary gun control laws that went into effect in July. Those laws, passed rapidly in the aftermath of last December’s sensationally violent school shooting in Connecticut, restrict the size of ammo magazines, strengthen a ban on so-called “assault” weapons and put the cost of mandatory background checks on would-be gun buyers.

Massive voter backlash, outrage from in-State gun manufacturers and organized opposition from county sheriffs culminated in the recall effort, which emanates from a broad cross section of residents who feel the State’s policies have begun to feel too great an influence from liberal sensibilities in and around Denver, its urban hub.

Early voting began late last week and will end tomorrow. The Denver Post published an article Saturday headlined “Sen. John Morse recall: Republicans dominate,” signaling a possible indication of the outcome.

Morse’s district, which lies entirely within El Paso County and centers on the City of Colorado Springs, is home to a mere 26 percent of Republican registered voters. But, of the 9,485 people who’d voted last week, 41.36 percent were registered Republicans.

“Democrats have a lot of votes to make up if they want to keep Morse in office,” observed the newspaper.

Rand Paul Explains Why Senate Should Vote ‘No’ On War With Syria

Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) authored a guest column in Wednesday’s “Ideas” blog on the Time magazine website, forcefully arguing against President Barack Obama’s newfound love of interventionist Mideast policy and drawing sharp distinctions between the proposed Syria strikes and the post-9/11 Afghan war.

Expanding on former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s assertion that, for the U.S., “war should be the politics of last resort,” Paul offered an  unequivocal corollary: “America should only go to war to win.”

As The Washington Post observed Tuesday, Paul has garnered the necessary clout, both in the public eye and within the Senate, to push a discussion of the GOP’s longstanding hawkish stance on military intervention toward a new, far more limited paradigm; one a close Paul ally described as “a resurgent realist foreign policy.”

Syria fails to pass any of the tests Paul ascribes as necessary requisites for Washington to even consider a military strike: threatened American interests, threats against the interests of American allies, a clear path to victory, an exhaustion of nonmilitary, political options, and a clear understanding of our enmities and alliances on the ground.

War should occur only when America is attacked, when it is threatened or when American interests are attacked or threatened. I don’t think the situation in Syria passes that test. Even the State Department argues that “there’s no military solution here that’s good for the Syrian people, and that the best path forward is a political solution.”

The U.S. should not fight a war to save face. I will not vote to send young men and women to sacrifice life and limb for stalemate. I will not vote to send our nation’s best and brightest to fight for anything less than victory. If American interests are at stake, then our goal should not be stalemate.

If American interests are at stake, then it is incumbent upon those advocating for military action to convince Congress and the American people of that threat. Too often, the debate begins and ends with an assertion that our national interest is at stake without any evidence of that assertion. The burden of proof lies with those who wish to engage in war.

Of course, Paul goes on to raise far more questions than the Obama Administration has even publicly countenanced: are we on the same side as Islamic rebels? What will our involvement do to Syrian-Israeli tensions? Are we fighting for the spread of democracy or Islamic theocracy? What happens to the Christian minority – nowadays one of the first casualties of any destabilized Middle Eastern state?

“The President and his Administration have not provided good answers to any of these questions,” he writes. “Those who seek military action have an obligation to publicly address these concerns before dragging our soldiers into another Middle Eastern war. Shooting first and aiming later has not worked for us in the past, and it should not be our game plan now.”

Paul said late Wednesday he would not filibuster a Senate vote on whether to authorize war against Syria, evidently to avoid taking a stance that could be viewed as an obstruction of Congress’ Constitutional power to deliberate and vote on a declaration of war. But he’s made it clear that any such vote should happen quickly – and that he plans to lead the “no” movement from the front.

Court Rules White House Visitor Log Exempt From Freedom Of Information Requests

A three-judge panel for the Washington, D.C. Judicial Circuit has issued a summary judgment that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) does not apply to requests for Secret Service logs that track recent visitors to the White House.

Ruling Friday on a motion filed by nonprofit advocacy group Judicial Watch, Judge Merrick Garland opined that Congress had never intended FOIA to the movements of the President, because it “could substantially affect the President’s ability to meet confidentially with foreign leaders, agency officials, or members of the public,” and “could render FOIA a potentially serious congressional intrusion into the conduct of the president’s daily operations.”

The White House voluntarily disclosed the scheduled comings and goings of former IRS Commissioner Douglas Schulman after the IRS-Tea Party targeting scandal broke earlier this year, but more recently has refused to confirm whether IRS chief counsel (and political appointee) William Wilkins had visited the White House in April of 2012, only days before helping shape the discriminatory guidelines that have since come to define the scandal. Visitor logs from 2012 indicate that he did.

The Washington, D.C. Circuit ruled that records of White House visits fall not under FOIA, but the more-secretive Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978. The ruling came after the Secret Service denied a  Judicial Watch request for “all official visitors logs and/or other records concerning visits made to the White House” over the course of seven months, according to a Courthouse News report.

The Secret Service maintained that the White House’s voluntary disclosure policy would eventually kick in, making visitor records available 90 to 120 days after the visits had taken place. But Judicial Watch motioned for a court to force the Secret Service to comply under FOIA, which the D.C. Court denied.

Homeownership Among American Blacks Lowest In 18 Years

Homeownership among American black families has contracted to its lowest point in 18 years, according to a Tuesday report by Bloomberg. The new information comes at a time when the decline in homeownership for the general population has stabilized and, in some demographics, is on a slight rebound.

According to the report, “18 years of economic progress” for blacks in the U.S. “has vanished, with a rebound in housing slipping further out of reach and the unemployment rate almost twice that of whites.”

Bloomberg doesn’t blame the Obama Administration for that recent reversal, but Breitbart’s John Nolte does.

“Had Obama enacted proven economic policies after becoming president, the economy and housing market would have already rebounded and beyond. But Obama chose big government policies, and now we find ourselves in the middle of a so-called recovery that only our pathetic and subservient media could spin as ‘good enough,’” writes Nolte.

“[A]fter a half-century of a War on Poverty and five years of a black man as president, the gap between white and black in every important economic area is still just as wide as it was trillions and trillions of taxpayer dollars ago.”

From the Bloomberg report:

The homeownership rate for blacks fell from 50 percent during the housing bubble to 43 percent in the second quarter, the lowest since 1995. The rate for whites stopped falling two years ago, settling at about 73 percent, only 3 percentage points below the 2004 peak, according to the Census Bureau.

In late August, the Pew Research Center released a report that showed poverty among black Americans, which had fallen steadily since the Civil Rights era, had begun inching higher again over the past decade.

The poverty rate among black Americans now stands at 28 percent, compared with 10 percent among whites, while black unemployment rate stands at 12.6% — nearly double the 6.6 percent unemployment rate among whites.

 

The Islamist Extremists Kerry Calls ‘Moderates’; Obama’s House Problem On Syria; The EPA’s Clean-Water Cops; Unemployment Up; Viking Bicyclists From Hell – Thursday Morning News Roundup 9-5-2013

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

 

  • Secretary of State John Kerry’s public assertions that moderate Syrian opposition groups are growing in influence appear to be at odds with estimates by U.S. and European intelligence sources and nongovernmental experts, who say Islamic extremists remain by far the fiercest and best-organized rebel elements. Source: Reuters… 

 

  • As members of Congress consider President Obama’s request to authorize military force in Syria, following evidence that President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons killed over 1,400 people, a ThinkProgress analysis of the public statements of 400 Representatives found that 200 lawmakers have either decisively ruled out supporting the measure or say they are unlikely to back it. Just 49 of the 400 members of the House of Representatives said they will definitely or likely vote in favor or the resolution. Source: ThinkProgress…

 

  • When agents with the Alaska Environmental Crimes Task Force surged out of the wilderness around the remote community of Chicken wearing body armor and jackets emblazoned with POLICE in big, bold letters, local placer miners didn’t quite know what to think. Did it really take eight armed men and a squad-size display of paramilitary force to check for dirty water? The EPA has refused to publicly explain why it used armed officers as part of what it called a “multi-jurisdictional” investigation of possible Clean Water Act violations in the area. Source: Alaska Dispatch… 

 

  • A Gallup measurement of the unadjusted unemployment rate for the U.S. workforce was 8.7% in August, up from 7.8% in July and from 8.1% in August 2012. The U.S. workforce participation rate in August was 66.4%, a decline from 67.7% in July, and down from 68.1% in August 2012. The seasonally adjusted U.S. unemployment rate for August was 8.6%, up from 7.4% in July. Source: Gallup… 

 

  • The NYPD says thugs are beating and mugging bike riders on a popular Manhattan bike path, stringing up ropes to clothesline the unsuspecting bikers, beating them with brass knuckles and then making off with their pricey rides. Investigators said they think the attackers could be targeting people with high-end bikes. Source: CBS New York… 

 

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Newspaper: Voter ID Laws Have Positive Effect, If Any, On Minority Turnout

On Tuesday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published the results of its investigation into how mandatory voter identification has affected the frequency with which different demographic groups go to the polls in Georgia since the voter ID law went into effect there five years ago.

The results don’t offer much statistical comfort for Attorney General Eric Holder and others who’ve made a Federal case — literally — over the Supreme Court’s historic ruling this summer to strike down part of the civil rights-era Voting Rights Act, an outdated law that unfairly leashed several States’ powers to draw their own voting districts.

While requiring voters to present a valid form of State-issued photo identification failed to catch a single documented case of voter fraud in five years, it also didn’t stymie the will of non-white voters in Georgia to play an active part in the process of self-government.

The AJC found that, in the State’s new era of voter ID, minorities are actually turning out to vote at a faster rate than the population of their demographic is growing.

“Turnout among black and Hispanic voters increased from 2006 to 2010, dramatically outpacing population growth for those groups over the same period,” writes reporter Shannon McCaffrey:

Elections data reviewed by the AJC show that participation among black voters rose by 44 percent from 2006 — before the law was implemented — to 2010. For Hispanics, the increase for the same period was 67 percent. Turnout among whites rose 12 percent.

It was expected that African American turnout would spike in 2008, when Barack Obama became the first person of color to win the presidency. And it did rise to historic highs in Georgia.

Black participation fell in 2010, as it did for all demographic groups. Still, a far greater share of black voters turned out in 2010 than in 2006, showing that Obama was not the only factor driving turnout.

Critics of laws in Georgia, Pennsylvania and other States requiring voters to demonstrate proof of identity at the polling place have argued that minorities and poor people will be excluded from de facto voter eligibility because many don’t currently possess any of the forms of ID required under the law.

“Over thirty states considered laws that would require voters to present government-issued photo ID in order to vote,” complains the well-intentioned American Civil Liberties Union. “Studies suggest that up to 11 percent of American citizens lack such ID, and would be required to navigate the administrative burdens to obtain it or forego the right to vote entirely.”

It doesn’t take a study to “suggest,” however, that everyone who legally operates a motor vehicle in the United States has some form of valid driver’s license, and that –rich or poor, citizen or expat — each of them was, at least once, “required to navigate the administrative burdens to obtain it.” Requiring voter ID is no more restrictive than that; in fact, it’s far more permissive.

In Georgia, any eligible voter who doesn’t have one of the several passable forms of qualifying identification (a passport, a military or government employee ID, a State college or university student ID, a driver’s license — even an expired one) can apply for a free — yes, free — Georgia Voter Identification Card at their local registrar or department of motor vehicles. Applicants have to show proof they’re registered voters, and the list of documents that identifies them and verifies them as citizens and residents is intentionally broad.

“If you look at the numbers, they clearly show that critics of this law were wrong,” Hans von Spakovsky, a former legal counsel to the Justice Department’s civil rights division who now works for the conservative Heritage Foundation, told the AJC. “Their argument has always been it would depress turnout, but it didn’t happen — quite the opposite.”

Northern California County Votes To Secede From State; Nothing Happens

The Republican-leaning rural county of Siskiyou, California has taken the first step toward seceding from the State.

County supervisors in Siskiyou, which lies in extreme Northern California along the Oregon border, voted 4-1Tuesday to secede, citing a strong dissatisfaction with the near absence of home rule. Ed Valenzuela, Chairman of the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors, cast the lone vote not to secede, saying the people had elected him to operate within the existing political structure.

The vote comes in response to pressure from residents who have complained that their interests are not represented in Sacramento, and that the legislature will continue to neglect their concerns over local resources – chiefly water – that are exploited to benefit the more populous areas of the State.

While the vote has no legal teeth, it does reflect a strong secessionist spirit that, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, predates World War II. Residents and some county leaders are encouraging neighboring Oregon and California counties to join the secession movement in the hope of realizing a decades-old dream of establishing a new U.S. State – the “State of Jefferson,” named in honor of the Nation’s third President.

“I haven’t had one contact in regard to this issue that’s in opposition,” county supervisor Michael Kobseff told the Chronicle.

The road to secession is likely to remain untraveled, however, since both the California Legislature and the U.S. Congress would have to recognize secession and the creation of a new State.

Texas Cops Subject Of Federal Police Brutality Suit

A Houston-area family has filed a Federal lawsuit against three Harris County, Texas, officers after a subpoena of video footage from a 2011 ordeal revealed the cops used excessive force against the family following a routine traffic stop.

The September 2011 incident involved plaintiff David Scherz and four other family members, including his mother. Police pulled over Scherz for allegedly running a stop sign in front of his own home. The subpoenaed video begins with a compliant Scherz already in handcuffs and being placed on the ground. There’s no public evidence of how a routine stop so quickly escalated to such a degree that the suspect needed to be restrained.

But the actions of the police at the scene offer a self-explanatory narrative of everything that follows, once Scherz’s mother comes outside to find out what’s going on. One of the officers placed her in custody for “interference with public duties,” as backup began to arrive to help make sure everyone stayed on the ground.

In all, five family members were arrested and charged with something. And the charges against all five, including Scherz, were later dropped by the Harris County District Attorney’s office, which later confirmed that none of the charges — including the original traffic stop — was warranted.

At the 2:02 video mark, any doubt is erased that this incident offers some gray area for interpretation. Deputy Constable Jimmie Drummond, who now serves as a police captain in another county, is seen running up to Scherz, who had been handcuffed and lying prone on the ground for several minutes, and repeatedly kicking him in the ribs. Drummond, who is 6 feet 5 inches tall and not thin, later told a reporter he remembered only “kicking a dog, but not a person.”

Randall Kallinen, the attorney who filed the Federal suit, told The Houston Chronicle there’s no question the police acted far outside the scope of their training and turned a benign situation into an explosive one.

“He [Drummond] kicked him [Scherz] five times, broke his ribs, that’s definitely excessive force,” said Kallinen. “All of the experts I’ve talked to said there is no professional police maneuver to kick someone who is being held down, that’s not an acceptable tactic by any police department. And as cover-up charges, everyone was arrested at the scene and charged with a crime as a means to try to cover up this excess force case.”

In all, five people were arrested and jailed: Scherz, his father, his mother, his aunt and his sister, Elizabeth Scherz. One officer can be heard in subpoenaed audio from the incident targeting Elizabeth Scherz, saying “get her — she has a camera.” She was charged with felony assault of a police officer.

White House To Give Unions Obamacare Subsidies

The worm has turned on the once-cozy relationship between organized labor and President Barack Obama.

Outraged at the President’s stoic silence in the face of labor unions’ pleas for massive changes to Obamacare (a plan they once ardently supported), union leaders have begun playing out the fight over the Affordable Care Act in the court of public opinion, launching verbal salvos against the Administration to any reporter who’ll listen.

The union complaints that Obamacare will gut their members’ so-called “Cadillac” insurance plans has made the AFL-CIO say things like “You made the problem; you fix it” and the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers issue a statement calling for its “repeal or complete reform.”

So now, in a further piecemeal enforcement of the very law he strove so diligently to convince Congress to enact, the President appears to be throwing his old union buddies a bone.

On Monday came several reports that the White House will likely provide healthcare coverage subsidies to labor union members who already have health insurance plans through their employers — despite the fact that such subsidies are intended, as the law itself states, for those who lack any form of health insurance.

Forbes reports:

The issue at hand is the way Obamacare affects multi-employer health plans, also known as Taft-Hartley plans. These plans consist of employer-sponsored health insurance that is arranged between a labor union in a particular industry, such as restaurants, and small employers in that sector. Approximately 20 million workers in the United States are covered under such arrangements…

Workers with employer-sponsored coverage don’t qualify for subsidized coverage on Obamacare’s insurance exchanges. Those subsidies are designed for low-income people who aren’t offered coverage from their employers, and have to shop for insurance on their own. But the labor union leaders want those subsidies to also apply to their members with employer-sponsored coverage, even though they already get those benefits tax-free due to the employer tax exclusion for health insurance.

That amounts to special treatment. The subsidies written into the Affordable Care Act were intended to assist the poor, those who were never able to afford insurance prior to the panacea of Obamacare. For the Administration to retroactively apply an exemption for any group that isn’t singled out in the law itself — in this case, organized labor — is as naked a concession to the political players who matter to Obama as was the vile healthcare exemption the White House crafted to benefit Congress and Capitol Hill staff.

EU Plan Would Set 70 MPH Speed Limiters In All European Cars

A proposal before the Mobility and Transport Department of the European Commission would require all new cars sold in the European Union to be fitted with speed limiting devices that would restrain vehicles from traveling at more than 70 miles per hour.

The plan could outfit new cars with cameras that read posted speed limit signs on roadsides and relay the information to a computer, which would moderate excessive speed by applying a car’s brakes without driver control.

According to Britain’s The Telegraph, the “scheme would work either using satellites, which would communicate limits to cars automatically, or using cameras to read road signs. Drivers can be given a warning of the speed limit, or their speed could be controlled automatically under the new measures.”

Like the comical porn ban proposed before the EU earlier this year, the speed-policing plan is still in development and could face a strong headwind in some member nations. One unnamed British government source said the country’s Transport Secretary is opposed to the idea because it violates motorists’ freedoms. “This has Big Brother written all over it and is exactly the sort of thing that gets people’s backs up about Brussels.”

Brussels is the unofficial seat of most EU central operations, although the pan-European organization has no official capital.

The European Commission’s Mobility and Transport Department announced the measure as a top-down effort to do something about highway safety in member nations, though there is a wide disparity in traffic safety statistics from one country to the next. The proposal would even go so far as to retrofit older vehicles so that they, too, would comply with the forced top speed.

Safety – one of the state’s greatest weapons.

White House Quiet Mouse On Syria; Union Members Quit AFL-CIO Over Obamacare; Fed Employees Get 1 Percent Raise; Russia Warns Travelers On U.S. Extradition; Rodman’s ‘Friendly Gesture’ To Hermit Kingdom – Tuesday Morning News Roundup 9-3-2013

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

 

  • Even as President Obama prepares to commit an act of war in Syria, the White House has scaled back the public questioning it will tolerate about what the president is doing, holding only one televised briefing in the past seven days to justify the president’s position to the American people. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has all but disappeared, briefing reporters in any forum – televised or not – only once since holding an off-camera “gaggle” aboard Air Force One August 10. Source: White House Dossier…

 

  • In what is being reported as a surprise move, the 40,000 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) announced that they have formally ended their association with the AFL-CIO, one of the nation’s largest private sector unions. The Longshoremen citied Obamacare and immigration reform as two important causes of their disaffiliation. Source: Breitbart…

 

  • President Barack Obama issued an alternative Federal pay plan late Friday, setting an across-the-board increase for civilian federal employees of 1 percent in 2014. The figure matches the amount the president requested in his fiscal 2014 budget proposal. Obama issued a separate plan providing 1 percent boost in monthly basic pay rates for military service members. “To call this raise inadequate is an understatement, but it is good news all the same,” said J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. Source: Government Executive… 

 

  • Countries often issue travel advisories warning citizens of danger abroad: war, for instance, or a terrorist threat or an outbreak of disease. The Russian Foreign Ministry posted advice of a somewhat different nature on Monday, cautioning people wanted by the United States not to visit nations that have an extradition treaty with it. Source: The New York Times… 

 

  • Dennis Rodman said he isn’t going to North Korea to win the release of a jailed American. “I am just going there as a friendly gesture,” he said. The former NBA star has landed in North Korea on what he calls a mission to hang out with his friend, authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un. Rodman first met Kim — a die-hard basketball fan — during a visit in February to promote the sport and make a film. Source: MSN… 

 

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Does Pelosi Know If She Wants To Be House Speaker Again?

While Democrats hope to topple the Republican grip on the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2014 Presidential midterm elections, former majority leader (and current minority leader) Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has indicated she isn’t interested in returning to a gavel position if her party regains control.

At least that’s what she told National Journal’s Ben Terris in a Q&A interview published last Thursday.

“No, that’s not my thing. I did that,” she said when asked whether she wanted the job again.

While that might come as a mild shock to Pelosi detractors who watched her tell Congress — following her own ascendance to the role in 2006 — that she was making history and breaking the “marble ceiling” for all women everywhere, what happened after last week’s interview went public is no shock at all.

National Journal became the target of a walkback effort from the Pelosi camp, which angrily disputed the publication’s stated wording of the question Terris had asked — “Do you want to be speaker again?” — as well as the way in which it may have influenced her response.

Pelosi’s office sent out an emailed press release in an effort to secure for the 73-year-old Congresswoman a seat at whatever table may be set by the 2014 elections:

“The Leader fully intends to be a Member of a Democratic Majority in the 114th Congress,” offered spokesman Drew Hammill. “The rest is up to her colleagues, as the Leader has long stated publicly.”

A day after the Q&A article posted, this addendum had appeared on the piece’s webpage:

UPDATE: 1:10 p.m., Friday, August 30

Speaker Pelosi’s office blasted a press release this afternoon contesting the wording of NJ’s question and asking for a correction. In fact, the recorded audio file supports the edited transcript above. Here is the question and answer, from the tape:

National Journal: Do you wish for the chance for the speaker position again?

Pelosi: No, that’s not my thing. I did that.

Obamacare’s Widening Gyre Of Inaccessibility For Low-Wage Workers

Few publications have voiced as much unfettered hatred for Obamacare as Investor’s Business Daily. While many conservative news sources have drawn direct connections between the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandates and their potential effects on the healthcare coverage marketplace, IBD has consistently gone a step further, sussing out some of the more subtle ways Obamacare could harm the broader economy.

The latest such report came last Friday, when IBD explained how the low-wage service industry is likely to continue an already-begun trend of paring back employee hours (an effort to dodge the ACA’s 30-hour insurance threshold) until the number of low-wage earners working part time makes the recession-era service economy, in hindsight, look like a veritable job fair.

IBD’s Jed Graham breaks down the Obamacare-scare phenomenon this way:

The White House and like-minded economists have disputed the notion that ObamaCare is having a meaningful impact on work hours by noting that the private-sector workweek has recovered pretty much back to where it was in 2007, before the economy tanked.

But that view from 40,000 feet overlooks what is happening in industries likely to feel the brunt of ObamaCare’s employment impact: those in which wages are modest and the ranks of the uninsured are high.

A more rigorous analysis of monthly industry data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals a stark contrast between workers in low-wage industries and the rest of the private sector.

For the 30 million workers in industries where nonsupervisors average about $14.50 an hour or less, the workweek has been shrinking pretty steadily for the past 18 months, reversing a fledgling recovery in work hours.

As of June, these workers averaged 27.7 hours per week — only four minutes more than the record low hit in March 2009.

And preliminary data point to a further decline in the low-wage workweek in July, possibly to new depths. Sectorwide July data show the workweek shrank in both the leisure and hospitality and retail industries, among others. Those two industries alone account for nearly 75% of these 30 million low-wage jobs.

Things are still tough all over, right? Maybe so, but the trend that’s emerging in the low-wage, uninsured employment sector is particularly dire when compared with those who’ve been working longer hours in better-paying jobs. The workweek for those who’ve held jobs of more than 30 hours per week has remained relatively stable, with the number of hours and minutes worked in a typical week actually rising, slightly, above the pre-recession level.

But for the low-wage demographic, there exists an ever-widening feedback loop in which slashed worker hours leads to fewer people who can afford to opt in to insurance exchange coverage. That, in turn, shrinks the pool of paying participants in the State-run Obamacare health insurance exchanges, which means that the cost of each policy will necessarily have to rise.

“The trajectory of the low-wage workweek should be a concern, considering that many employers delayed hard decisions amid confusing regulations that were late in coming,” IBD states. “Further, employer penalties will keep pace with health insurance premiums, which reliably grow far faster than hourly wages for modest-skill workers. That means the employer mandate’s bite may become more painful over time.”

At some point, especially after subsidies have maxed out in 2015 (or 2016 or beyond, at the rate the delays keep coming), can individual customers — or the employers still trying to offer coverage plans to their full-time workers — afford it?

Facebook Adding Facial Recognition ‘For Privacy’

Facebook changed the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities portion of its user disclosure on Thursday in order to accommodate a novel use of its members’ personal information: using their profile pictures to help enrich the company’s facial recognition technology.

Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan said the massive social media company will cull photos for the facial recognition technology in order to protect their privacy.

“Our goal is to facilitate tagging so that people know when there are photos of them on our service,” said Egan. “Can I say that we will never use facial recognition technology for any other purposes? Absolutely not. If we decided to use it in different ways we will continue to provide people transparency about that and we will continue to provide control.”

Facebook has also updated its disclosure to clarify its relationship with third parties in the sharing of user data. “We may enable access to public information that has been shared through our services, or allow service providers to access information so they can help us provide services,” the disclosure helpfully reveals.

Because users’ profile pictures are public, Facebook can use the photos to feed its controversial facial recognition technology, which, to date, has been limited to tagging photos to a user’s ID data so that they show up on public Facebook searches.

But, as Egan’s comments make clear, it’s a liquid playing field that Facebook reserves the right to change at any time.

Rush: Conservative Credibility Absent In Pop Culture – And That’s A Problem

How is it that conservatives dominate talk radio, nonfiction book sales and, in large measure, network news (largely because of the Fox News juggernaut) – yet can’t mount a successful National political campaign to place even a nominal conservative in the White House?

Rush Limbaugh observes that conservatives – especially real conservatives – have no credibility among consumers of more overtly entertainment-oriented mass media. Movies, music, scripted television, fiction writing – that sort of thing.

In short, conservatism’s first-sight glance isn’t cool.

It’s true that many people who gobble up the low-hanging fruit provided by the Miley Cyruses and Michael Bays of the world aren’t interested in the authentic “coolness” of living a life guided by rugged adherence to a conservative code. Personal discipline is tough and doesn’t pay instant dividends the way mindless consumption does. After all, it’s a lot easier to kick back with a pizza and cheer for (or against) Nick Saban’s well-oiled machine on Saturdays than to spend that same time cultivating a talent of your own; one that could allow you the chance to become a well-oiled machine in your own endeavors.

But not everything about conservatism is inherently incompatible with consumer culture. And there’s no reason why the too-often clumsy aesthetics attached to conservative media appearances (have you seen the fit of Rand Paul’s suits?) have to stick out with such conspicuous awkwardness. A good book isn’t harmed by having a beautiful cover, and that’s a message Limbaugh drives home:

How do elections happen the way they do? We own books; we own talk radio; we own cable news. Well, the answer is, we’re nowhere in the pop culture. We are nowhere in movies. We’re nowhere in television shows.  We are nowhere in music. Nowhere!

That’s a slight exaggeration. Somebody’s watching Duck Dynasty, and there are plenty of people out there who like Ted Nugent’s music. But Limbaugh’s general message is right on target.

 

Congress To Obama: Striking Syria Is Not Your Call

A Republican-led group of Congressmen from both political parties sent President Barack Obama a strong message about his Constitutional role Thursday, delivering a letter advising him there’s a Constitution that explicitly demarcates the boundaries separating Congress’ war powers and the President’s power to enact what Congress approves.

The letter, authored by Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) and delivered late Wednesday, had the support of 98 Republicans and 18 Democrats in the House of Representatives.

Here’s the full text of the letter, with a Hat Tip to political website Roll Call for transcribing it:

Dear Mr. President,

We strongly urge you to consult and receive authorization from Congress before ordering the use of U.S. military force in Syria. Your responsibility to do so is prescribed in the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973.

While the Founders wisely gave the Office of the President the authority to act in emergencies, they foresaw the need to ensure public debate — and the active engagement of Congress — prior to committing U.S. military assets.  Engaging our military in Syria when no direct threat to the United States exists and without prior congressional authorization would violate the separation of powers that is clearly delineated in the Constitution.

Mr. President, in the case of military operations in Libya you stated that authorization from Congress was not required because our military was not engaged in “hostilities.”  In addition, an April 1, 2011, memorandum to you from your Office of Legal Counsel concluded:

“…President Obama could rely on his constitutional power to safeguard the national interest by directing the anticipated military operations in Libya—which were limited in their nature, scope, and duration—without prior congressional authorization.”

We view the precedent this opinion sets, where “national interest” is enough to engage in hostilities without congressional authorization, as unconstitutional.  If the use of 221 Tomahawk cruise missiles, 704 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, and 42 Predator Hellfire missiles expended in Libya does not constitute “hostilities,” what does?

If you deem that military action in Syria is necessary, Congress can reconvene at your request.  We stand ready to come back into session, consider the facts before us, and share the burden of decisions made regarding U.S. involvement in the quickly escalating Syrian conflict.

Although most of the names undersigning the letter aren’t those of Congressional power players, they do reveal it isn’t only Republicans who are wary of the President’s Constitutional overreach. And the more bipartisan this pre-emptive caution against the President’s abuse of the separation of powers, the better. A true two-party stand against executive end-runs past Congress should quiet the inevitable chorus of hawks who will defend any war measure Obama takes by pointing backwards to George W. Bush’s equally unConstitutional Iraq experiment.

Missouri Legislature Set To Nullify Federal Gun Laws

In what would be one of the most far-reaching peacetime attempts by a U.S. State to negate a Federal law that imposes restrictions exceeding those found in the Constitution, the Missouri State Legislature is expected to override a Governor’s veto and criminalize the enforcement of Federal gun laws throughout the State.

The Republican majority in the Legislature is being joined by a handful of Democrats in overriding Democratic Governor Jay Nixon’s veto of HB 436 — also known as the “Second Amendment Preservation Act” — last month. Nixon had rejected the bill on the grounds that, predictably, it violates the Supremacy doctrine and also includes punitive provisions — such as allowing for citizens to sue reporters who connect them with gun ownership or to sue officers who attempt a Federal gun arrest — that violate the 1st Amendment.

Observers believe, though, that when the Legislature convenes on Sept. 11, both chambers will have the numbers necessary to override Nixon’s veto. In the original vote, the measure passed the House 116-38 and the Senate 26-6.

Legislative Democrats seem to favor the bill because it’s politically expedient to satisfy the will of people.

“Being a rural-area Democrat, if you don’t vote for any gun bill, it will kill you,” House Democrat Ben Harris told FOX News. “That’s what the Republicans want you to do is vote against it, because if you vote against it, they’ll send one mailer every week just blasting you about guns, and you’ll lose.”

In addition, some Democrats see a vote in favor of overriding the veto as a no-harm, no-foul proposition, since many feel that a subsequent court challenge would succeed in striking down the nullification law.

Part of the Federal-State battle is a principled conflict over government infringement on the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. But for many Republicans both in Missouri and nationwide, it’s about Federal encroachment on State powers generally, whether over gun rights, State voter-approved medical marijuana use or the nullification of Obamacare in some States.

A Montana law that sought a lesser measure of State control over unConstitutional Federal gun laws had been in effect since 2009. That law, the Montana Firearms Freedom Act, exempts from Federal regulation any gun (with exceptions for fully automatic guns and large-bore military firearms) that has remained in the State since the time of its in-State manufacture, dating back to October of 2009. But even though that law was worded specifically to comply with the Constitution’s interstate commerce provisions, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck it down just last week.

Need A little Protection With That iPhone? Check Out The Knucklecase

There will always be situations in which packing heat for personal protection isn’t practical or convenient. There are times, too, when even ardent concealed carriers simply forgot to walk out the door with their firearm. And some people who aren’t comfortable toting a gun around everywhere still might like to have something in their hand, purse or pocket that gives them a slight advantage over would-be attackers.

For those people, there are already a lot of options – but now you can add the concept of encasing your iPhone in metal knuckles machined from a solid block of aluminum to that list.

knukkles

Meet the Knucklecase, an American-made product that promises to protect your iPhone while simultaneously adding a little strategic leverage to your personal protection plan.

We stumbled across the Knucklecase while perusing the internet, so we haven’t actually laid hands on one. But the Facebook comments indicate at least a few people are impressed.

For one thing, most people who fall into the iPhone demographic almost always have their phones on them – even if they’re just hopping out of their car in flip flops and a t-shirt to run into a convenience store or bank. That means Knucklecase owners can carry their protection with them everywhere they carry their phone, without even having to think about it when they leave the house.

For another thing, even though “brass knuckles” are widely regarded as an offensive weapon – one typically stored out of sight and out of mind until their owners are ready to use them in an attack – this device will, by default, often find itself in a phone owner’s hand and ready for defensive use.

The product is (so far) avoiding State-by-State legal grey areas by being sold as a novelty phone case, thought the company helpfully warns air travelers:

TSA loves Knucklecases!  They will hold you up and confiscate them at security so please check yours in.

For now, only iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 models can be outfitted with the Knucklecase. No word on whether an Android smartphone version is in the works.

Big Sis’ Long Goodbye Ends With Speech Urging ‘Common-Sense’ Immigration Reform

Outgoing Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s long goodbye ended Tuesday with a farewell speech in which she urged Congress to pass some form of amnesty for the 11 million or so illegal aliens now living in the United States.

Napolitano said unilateral grants of amnesty, either through her own self-willed enforcement oversights or through President Barack Obama’s threat to bypass Congress, are no substitutes for legislation that would structure a systematic plan whereby illegal aliens could know what to expect as they walk a path toward U.S. citizenship.

In particular, Napolitano called on Congress to devise legislation that accommodates “dreamers” — the youngest generation of illegal aliens who, as children, entered the country with their parents. Dreamers know no life outside of the one they’ve lived inside the United States, despite remaining undocumented throughout their young lives and their ongoing status as illegal aliens.

Napolitano criticized Congress for failing to tackle what she called “common-sense immigration enforcement priorities,” which, she said, would devote enforcement resources to “criminals, national security and public safety threats” instead of the deportation of workaday illegal aliens.

“Congress had a chance to give these so-called dreamers a way to stay in our country through the Dream Act, but unfortunately, that legislation failed to garner the 60 votes needed for cloture, falling just five votes short, despite strong bipartisan support,” Napolitano said.

The Dream (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act was proposed in a very different political climate, coming early in George W. Bush’s first term and only a month before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. Napolitano’s remarks referred to a 2007 Senate iteration of the bill, which fell short of defeating a filibuster by a 52-44 cloture vote.

Napolitano defended DHS’ handling of illegal immigration during her tenure, saying Congressional gridlock on immigration reform had justified her liberal interpretation of her own powers as DHS Secretary and had freed her to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” under the Obama Administration to stop the ticking clock counting down the length of time “dreamers” can remain in the United States.

Napolitano, a former Arizona Governor, will take up her new position as the president of the University of California system next week. To her yet-unnamed DHS successor, she advised “a large bottle of Advil.”

Harvard Study Finds Violent Crime Rises As Gun Ownership Falls

Harvard University has released a study on whether it’s possible to discern patterns of cause and effect between gun ownership and the incidence of violent crime.

Study authors Don B. Kates and Gary Mauser did find such a relationship: an inverse one.

The study, called “Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide?” compares data on “intentional” deaths in European countries with American data, and finds that in locations where gun control proliferates, the murder rate goes up.

The murder rate in Russia, where handguns are banned, was 20.52 per 100,000 people in 2002. But in Finland, where gun ownership stands near 40 percent of the population, there were only 1.98 murders per 100,000 residents during the same period.

Russia’s present murder rate of 30.6 deaths per 100,000 also dwarfs the 7.8 per 100,000 murder rate in the U.S.

From the study:

[T]he burden of proof rests on the proponents of the more guns equal more death and fewer guns equal less death mantra, especially since they argue public policy ought to be based on that mantra. To bear that burden would at the very least require showing that a large number of nations with more guns have more death and that nations that have imposed stringent gun controls have achieved substantial reductions in criminal violence (or suicide). But those correlations are not observed when a large number of nations are compared across the world.

Is America Listening To The Wrong Clown?

 

You’d think that, after all the needless hoopla over his innocent pantomime of President Barack Obama earlier this month at the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association finals, entertainer Tuffy Gessling – who’s been barred from ever taking part in the event again – would be a sad clown. But you’d be wrong.

Gessling spoke with CBS affiliate KCTV-5 in Kansas City Monday, offering a dose of rationality in the same mainstream media forum that has spent the past two weeks manipulating emotionally volatile racist detractors into an indignant frenzy. He said he’s received both support and scorn, but just wants everyone to step back and realize we live in a pretty great Nation – one that’s safe and comfortable enough to allow idle citizens the leisure to view trifles like his clown act as a five-alarm cultural fire.

 

 

“I actually think that a lot of people have lost their ability to laugh,” said Gessling, who’s been the target of anonymous threats to his life and property. “Look at the country as a whole, there is a lot more to be mad at than a rodeo clown at a rodeo trying to make somebody laugh.”

The intrepid reporters at KCTV asked Gessling which political party he identified with, hoping to reveal a motive for his harmless (and time-honored) politically-flavored stunt.

“I am a rodeo clown,” he responded. “I didn’t do this to do any hating on anyone. I did this to be funny. I did it to be a joke… I didn’t think anything more of it than what we’ve done 15 years ago, 10 years ago, five years ago, when we’ve done it with Bush, Clinton and Ronald Reagan.”

By now you know what Gessling is supposedly guilty of: donning a mask of President Barack Obama’s face and allowing himself to be the slapstick target of a charging bull – complete with fanfare from the public address announcer and a second rodeo clown.

The racist allegations baffle Gessler, who said politicians have always provided a reliable stream of clown fodder. Gessler said he wasn’t seeing the President’s color when he and his clown friends skewered him – he just saw the man who’d been elected to the highest political office in the land.

“I never did anything because of anybody’s race. I don’t care what color somebody is. If they’re blue, white, green, polka dotted, striped … it doesn’t bother me one bit,” he said.

In fact, Gessling said he respects the office of the Presidency and would view any encounter with the real President Obama as an honor.

“If President Obama turns out [at one of my performances], I would be honored to shake his hand,” he said.