The EPA is still paying the guy who watched tons of porn on his government computer — and got caught in the act

Remember the story about the senior-level EPA employee who got caught by an Inspector General in the act of downloading porn at his work desk? He’d been doing it for years, for hours each day — on the clock.

He hasn’t been fired. He’s still getting paid. He reportedly makes $120,000 per year. The EPA has him on administrative leave while the Office of the Inspector General continues its investigation.

A recent report by Environment & Energy revealed plenty of anger from elected officials over the EPA’s inaction. House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) called the news “simply unacceptable.”

“If this is not a case for the EPA to take someone off the payroll, which the agency’s Inspector General uncovered months ago, then what is?” Issa said. “It is simply unacceptable that this individual would continue to receive compensation courtesy of the American taxpayer.”

The original IG report, released in May, disclosed the investigators’ findings in detail. Allan Williams, Deputy Inspector General for Investigations at the EPA, filled in the Oversight Committee at a May hearing:

One such investigation involves a career EPA employee who allegedly stored pornographic materials on an EPA network server shared by colleagues. When an OIG special agent arrived at this employee’s work space to conduct an interview, the special agent witnessed the employee actively viewing pornography on his government-issued computer. Subsequently, the employee confessed to spending, on average, between two and six hours per day viewing pornography while at work. The OIG’s investigation determined that the employee downloaded and viewed more than 7,000 pornographic files during duty hours.

That revelation was only one finding in a larger IG report that revealed a cavalcade of other employee abuses, including employees getting paid while not coming to work and selling weight-loss products while on the job.

Throwing too much food away is about to be against the law in Seattle

Making public inspectors out of garbage men, the Seattle City Council has approved a new trash ordinance that authorizes sanitation workers to peruse residents’ waste bins for signs that people are throwing too much food away.

Go over the limit — 10 percent of all your trash — and you could face a whopping $1 fine for each occurrence. The ordinance allows trash collectors to document the offenses as they’re out running their daily routes, according to The Seattle Times:

Under the new rules, collectors can take a cursory look each time they dump trash into a garbage truck.

If they see compostable items make up 10 percent or more of the trash, they’ll enter the violation into a computer system their trucks already carry, and will leave a ticket on the garbage bin that says to expect a $1 fine on the next garbage bill.

Another instance of government going the extra mile to help us all. Here’s some more reading on how that’s working out for everyone.

The report quotes the city utilities director, who claims the ordinance isn’t an attempt to raise revenue. Rather, he suggests, it’s intended to encourage people to modify their behavior by negatively reinforcing indiscriminate food disposal.

“The point isn’t to raise revenue,” Seattle Public Utilities director Tim Croll said. “We care more about reminding people to separate their materials.”

There’s always something creepy about people in government, or para-governmental agencies, saying “we” when describing their relationship with the public. It’s a little creepier when they say, “we care.”

If they care enough, they may decide that $1 just isn’t sufficiently punitive to effect the change they’re seeking.

The new law kicks in next July.

Ben Carson inches closer to 2016 presidential run

Image Credit: Sam Rolley

Ben Carson, the retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon whose stock among some conservatives has risen since his famous 2013 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, appears to be growing less coy about his will to seek a 2016 presidential nomination — presumably as a Republican.

Carson appeared Monday on the Hugh Hewitt radio program, telling the conservative host “the likelihood is strong” that he would seek the nomination — unless, that is, the upcoming midterm elections convince him that voters are more interested in the status quo.

Here’s a portion of the transcript:

HH: Now let me finish by going back to those debates. You said there’s a very good chance you’re going to run for president and be in those debates. What is the outside date for you making that formal? Do you think you have to do that in December or January?

BC: I think certainly before May of next year.

HH: That’s pretty late, isn’t it, Dr. Carson?

BC: No, no. I have a lot of consultants. One of the things I’ve learned is you need to talk to a lot of people. The Bible says in the multitude of consulars is safety, and you look at historical things, and you make sure you have all your I’s dotted and your T’s crossed, and we’re doing that.

HH: But you’re also a very straight shooter. And as of right now, you fully expect to be in this hunt and to be on those stages?

BC: Unless the American people indicate in November that they like big government intervention in every part of their lives, I think the likelihood is strong.

HH: And of that, who’s going to be the base Ben Carson primary voter? Who is that individual?

BC: I hope it’s going to be that individual who loves America, who understands that we should place the Constitution on the top shelf, that we should not pick and choose who the winners and losers are in our society, and that we shouldn’t pick and choose which laws we want to enforce, and those people who understand that the person who has the most to do with what happens to you in life is you.

Carson has stated in the past that he doesn’t consider himself a member of a political party, but his views have more closely aligned with those held by base conservatives on most issues (although strong 2nd Amendment supporters have questioned some of his views on the right to bear arms). He was an invited speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), both in 2013 and 2014, and has since been courted by conservative media to share his beliefs about correcting a number of Obama-era policies.

Carson has attributed his continued reticence about seeking the presidential nomination to gauging the will of the people, but he seemed to qualify his former hesitation with a definite statement of intent Monday.

“I want to make sure that it’s clearly something my fellow Americans want me to do,” he told Hewitt. “And I’m also waiting to see what the results are in November, because if the people indicate that they truly do want a nation that is for, of and by the people, then I, along with I hope many other people, would be willing to give it everything we possibly have.”

Carson’s grass-roots popularity has resulted in a strong small-donor campaign to fund the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee PAC. We reported on that organization’s efforts in March; at the time, that PAC had raised more money than a similar grass-roots effort to fund a Hillary Clinton presidential run.

Here’s Carson at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast:

 

Internet sales tax isn’t dead; it’s just napping until the midterm election is over

Add the debate over the much-discussed Internet sales tax to the list of topics Congress is afraid to touch until after the midterm election has passed.

But that doesn’t mean the idea is dead. Far from it. It’s just too controversial and unpopular to talk about until incumbents have assured themselves they’ll still be in the driver’s seat after November.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reportedly has his sights set on taking up legislation to unleash the states’ power to tax Internet sales as soon as Congress reconvenes after the midterms. The Hill reported Tuesday that Reid intends to bring up the Marketplace Fairness Act (MFA) — a measure he says is “long, long overdue” — when the lame-duck session of the 113th Congress meets this fall to usher president Obama out the door.

You’d think that with a name like the “Marketplace Fairness Act” the law might seek to set limits on taxation. Of course, it’s the opposite. The bill would free states to assess sales tax on transactions between in-state residents and out-of-state retailers. It’s aimed squarely at large online storefronts like Amazon.

Reid may be gung ho on the MFA, but his House counterpart, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), has said he opposes the current bill. According to The Hill, even some congressional Democrats are against it:

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) warned his colleagues last week that anyone trying to combine the two bills was “holding the Internet economy hostage.”

“Anyone who votes for passing MFA alongside ITFA is voting to repeal the Internet Tax Freedom Act,” he said.

Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with devising a way to treat brick-and-mortar retailers and online sellers equally. But the issue is complex.

Online stores already must incorporate sales taxes into transactions initiated in the states where they’re physically located. The loudest advocates for the MFA bill aren’t mom-and-pop operations; they’re companies that operate massive national brick-and-mortar retail networks, like Walmart. And Walmart has an online storefront of its own — a storefront whose sales tax interests align with those of other online retailers.

Heck, five states don’t even have a state sales tax. 

Daily Read: When government expands, nothing gets done

This is a good one. Let’s slam the “there oughtta be a law” mentality for a second.

Government’s reaction to just about every new problem — or “problem” — is to legislate, or to tack on some new stricture to a standing policy.

From county revenue offices to the IRS; from rural water departments to the EPA; from city councils to state legislatures to Congress, every fresh injury brings out advocates — sometimes only one or two advocates — pleading loudly, sincerely, for tighter policies; for more law.

Government has its own self-created version of this: It identifies a problem with itself and goes hunting for a counterproductive solution. Often, government officials find themselves wishing to secure a guaranteed revenue supplement by wresting funds from some administrative procedure (think bumping the cost of a business license or instituting a small fee to obtain a public record). Until the cost of doing business or being a resident of a place governed in such fashion hits its tipping point, things hum along.

Municipalities need to do something about their eyesores, so a city will amend its ordinance on derelict properties to start down a path that can result in all-out seizure. Worse, it will use almost any law against any citizen to seize civil assets — check out what’s going on in Philadelphia. There once was no law to justify such things. But law evolves — if people allow it.

More often, though, the suffocating evolution of law occurs because the dumb demand it. Government expands because of the squeaky wheel. When someone’s voice gets loud enough, government descends. It’s great for government when it has a say in setting the narrative. Lately, that’s been the rule rather than the exception. Make it about race, about gender, about the kids. Get the TV folks talking.

Local TV news abounds with next door neighbors and scene gawkers who offer fundamentally stupid observations about tragedy or crime. They often include maudlin, wry appeals to the powers that be to do something. The national media does exactly the same thing, but with a varnish of makeup, wardrobe and a functionally literate vocabulary.

Well, this is what ultimately happens when the government does something, over and over and over again:

The Veterans Affairs scandal of falsified waiting lists is the latest of a never-ending stream of government ineptitude. Every season brings a new headline of failures: the botched roll-out of Obamacare involved 55 uncoordinated IT vendors; a White House report in February found that barely 3 percent of the $800 billion stimulus plan went to rebuild transportation infrastructure; and a March Washington Post report describes how federal pensions are processed by hand in a deep cave in Pennsylvania.

That’s how Philip K. Howard begins his piece in The Atlantic this week about the hell where government’s many roads of good intention invariably converge.

“The reflexive reaction is to demand detailed laws and rules to make sure things don’t go wrong again,” he continues. “But shackling public choices with ironclad rules, ironically, is a main cause of the problems. Dictating correctness in advance supplants the one factor that is indispensable to all successful endeavors — human responsibility.”

What is this guy — a libertarian?

Howard goes on to indict the risible idea that government can, or should, build an anticipation of every eventuality and exception into new laws, policies and programs. We have FEMA floodplain zone ratings that anticipate a 100-year flood, and insurance companies use those ratings to arrive at their coverage costs. But why stop at 100 years?

Modern government is organized on “clear law,” the false premise that by making laws detailed enough to take in all possible circumstances, we can avoid human error. And so over the last few decades, law has gotten ever more granular. But all that regulatory detail, like sediment in a harbor, makes it hard to get anywhere. The 1956 Interstate Highway Act was 29 pages and succeeded in getting 41,000 miles of roads built by 1970. The 2012 transportation bill was 584 pages, and years will pass before workers can start fixing many of those same roads. Health-care regulators have devised 140,000 reimbursement categories for Medicare—including 12 categories for bee stings and 21 categories for “spacecraft accidents.” This is the tip of a bureaucratic iceberg — administration consumes 30 percent of health-care costs.

And again, with the contrast dialed way up:

Until recent decades, law based on principles was the structure of most public law. The Constitution is 10 pages long and provides basic precepts — say, the Fourth Amendment prohibition on “unreasonable searches and seizures” — without trying to define every situation. The recent Volcker Rule regulating proprietary trading, by contrast, is 950 pages, and, in the words of one banker, is “incoherent any way you look at it.”

There’s not a great exhortation or bullet-point list of recommendations at the end of this article, an omission which surely puts the author at risk of being branded one of those conservative complainers (cough *Tea Party* cough) who doesn’t know how to fix anything — but damn well knows what’s broken.

But hold up. We all know what we want from government, and it’s not unattainable. We don’t want perfection, or some assurance that absolutely everything will be okay because the law is constantly evolving in an emergent, altruistic mission to ensure that every thorny situation will be covered.

We just want less government. We need less government. People need to breathe for themselves.

Call that a recommendation; a workable solution to the problem of a fix-it-to-death political culture. It’s a suggestion that requires no elaboration. And that’s nine-tenths of the reason why most politicians won’t give it the time of day.

Read Philip K. Howard’s full piece for The Atlantic here.

FBI colludes with local police to hide cellphone snooping devices from the public

Local police agencies have been able to gain use of cellphone tracking devices by agreeing with the FBI not to disclose the fact that they’re using them, according to a recently released, heavily redacted document made public last week.

The Tacoma, Washington, police department released a six-page “unclassified” agreement between the FBI and the Tacoma police dating from January 2013. Four pages are completely blacked out, leaving only a small paragraph written by FBI special agent Laura M. Laughlin.

The Harris Corporation sells the devices, called StingRays, here in the United States. StingRays deceive cellphones into picking up the signal the StingRays are sending out by parroting a nearby cellular tower. That accomplished, individuals’ cellphones then begin sending the StingRay their location data, along with pretty much every other piece of metadata that is normally transmitted to a carrier’s tower.

Laughlin laid out the arrangement between the FBI and the local cops:

We have been advised by Harris Corporation of the Tacoma Police Department’s request for acquisition of certain wireless collection equipment/technology manufactured by Harris Corporation. Consistent with the conditions on the equipment authorization granted to Harris Corporation by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), state and local law enforcement agencies must coordinate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to complete this non-disclosure agreement prior to the acquisition and use of the equipment/technology authorized by the FCC authorization.

And that’s all we get.

But it admits that the FBI is using the devices, that it is allowing local cops to piggyback off their agreement with the U.S. distributor of those devices (Harris Corp.) and that the Feds are using non-disclosure agreements to ensure the company (not the public) gets due diligence from all the law enforcement agencies involved.

“Many [local police departments] chose to read the restrictive non-disclosure agreements Harris includes as meaning they should withhold this information from local courts — rather than simply seal the documents or redact them,” wrote TechDirt’s Tim Cushing on Tuesday.

The Department of Justice maintains that as long as the devices aren’t picking up actual conversations, the cops don’t need a warrant to scoop up cellphone data.

“[R]esponding to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) and the First Amendment Coalition, the Justice Department argued that no warrant was needed to use StingRay technology,” wrote the Centre for Research on Globalization last year.

The FBI, which allegedly plays on different turf than the Department of Justice, agrees that warrants aren’t necessary for federal officers to scoop up metadata — or for local police departments to do the same.

The Wikipedia entry on the StingRay phone tracker is pretty informative, if you’re interested in learning more.

Resurrecting the Hillary Clinton-Saul Alinsky speculation machine

The right side of the political Internet is all aflutter over a story in The Washington Free Beacon connecting Hillary Clinton, circa the late 1960s, with infamous socialist fomenter Saul Alinsky. The Beacon offers “previously unpublished correspondence” between the two as a gateway to fresh insights about Clinton’s evolving political philosophy before she became somebody.

The Clinton-Alinsky letters reportedly demonstrate Hillary’s sympathy for Alinsky’s brand of social agitation, particularly since she appears to have initiated their ongoing dialog. While interning at a Berkeley, Calif. law firm in 1971, Clinton fired off this playful/serious missive:

“Dear Saul,” she began. “When is that new book [Rules for Radicals] coming out—or has it come and I somehow missed the fulfillment of Revelation?”

“I have just had my one-thousandth conversation about Reveille [for Radicals] and need some new material to throw at people,” she added, a reference to Alinsky’s 1946 book on his theories of community organizing.

Clinton also buttered Alinsky up by professing her “belief in and zest for organizing” remained strong even after finishing law school and following a more mainstream career track.

This next passage has a ring of starry-eyed religious fervor – something we’ve come to expect in the language of Islamist zealots and theocrats on social media:

The more I’ve seen of places like Yale Law School and the people who haunt them, the more convinced I am that we have the serious business and joy of much work ahead—if the commitment to a free and open society is ever going to mean more than eloquence and frustration.

So did Alinsky respond? Not so much. His secretary did though, implying that Alinsky followed and admired his young would-be disciple. “Since I know [Alinsky’s] feelings about you I took the liberty of opening your letter because I didn’t want something urgent to wait for two weeks,” Georgia Harper, Alinsky’s secretary, wrote Clinton.

All this is just an evolution of a protracted speculation about the link between Clinton and Alinsky – a line of thinking dating back at least as far as the presidency of Bill Clinton. As The Beacon story observes, Wellesley College honored the Clintons’ request to keep Hillary’s thesis discussing Alinsky’s tactics under wraps until 2001.

But just because it’s a small development doesn’t mean it’s insignificant, because connecting the dots between the Clintons’ formative political years with those who shaped their thinking will remain meaningful for as long as either Clinton seeks a public service role.

“Hillary has made much of the fact that she turned away from Alinskyite organizing to seek change from within the political system instead. What these new letters show is that this was also a change of means rather than ends,” National Review’s Stanley Kurtz wrote Monday.

“In this, Hillary has much in common with Obama and other modern Alinskyites. Alinsky wanted community organizers to shun electoral politics. Yet, as I showed in Radical-in-Chief, Alinsky’s New Left followers found ways to combine his methods with electoral politics. This synthesis of Alinskyism and electoral politics, pioneered by Alinsky’s acolytes in Chicago, is what inspired Obama’s career. Hillary was part of the same wave.”

More speculation about the extent to which Hillary straddles the line between an establishment Democrat and a progressive radical at heart… sounds like something worth paying attention to – at least for a few more years.

 

More MSM backlash against Obama administration’s control-freak idea of ‘transparency’

Members of the mainstream media, already incensed with the Obama administration for reneging on the president’s famous pledge to create the most transparent White House in history, met last week to lick their wounds while putting forth a new set of grievances against the aloof commander in chief.

Associated Press Washington, D.C., Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee spoke to a gathering of journalists last week in Chicago, indexing the media’s gripes with Obama in an eight-point list that it posted Friday to the AP’s blog.

It’s a list that covers familiar ground (the Bush White House was more forthcoming about Guantanamo than the Obama administration) as well as new slights (now that we’re sort of at war, Obama forbids embedded reporters in military staging areas).

But the biggest condemnation of the Obama administration’s false transparency narrative has to do with the very mechanism that affords the media its final say in gaining it: Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Buzbee argued that the White House has completely perverted the intent of the FOIA law, while effectively stealing the usefulness of FOIA requests away from the media and instead milking those same requests to inform the Obama administration’s media strategy.

How could a president manage to accomplish something that sounds so sinister? By monitoring who’s filing FOIAs and making note of the information they’re seeking. Doing that gives the White House a strategic advantage in controlling spin — by using the power of the media against the media itself.

“The administration uses FOIAs as a tip service to uncover what news organizations are pursuing,” blogged Buzbee. “Requests are now routinely forwarded to political appointees. At the agency that oversees the new health care law, for example, political appointees now handle the FOIA requests.”

All of this sounds exactly right, but it also sounds risibly hypocritical to anyone convinced that the mainstream press has done all it can to accommodate a president whose agenda it largely endorses.

Maybe the Obama administration can redeem itself with a hashtag campaign joining the media’s call for greater transparency.

We suggest something like #bringbackouraccess. It’s available.

SWAT raid to shut down Twitter parody of Illinois politician was legal, judge rules

Remember the story about the guy in Illinois who ended up in jail because the mayor of Peoria was butt hurt that the guy had been parodying his administration on Twitter?

Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis had gotten the local cops to stage an honest-to-God SWAT raid at the home of Jon Daniel in an effort to locate the source of the offending Twitter account. Daniel and three others went to jail — on charges of possessing marijuana and nothing else.

That all happened in April. Last week, one of Daniel’s roommates — with the drug charge still hanging over him — learned that a judge had cleared the SWAT raid as justified and legal. Full speed ahead on the felony weed bust.

From The Guardian:

A Peoria judge this week ruled that the police were entitled to raid the house on North University Street on 15 April under the town’s “false personation” law which makes it illegal to pass yourself off as a public official. Judge Thomas Keith found that police had probable cause to believe they would find materials relevant to the Twitter feed such as computers or flash drives used to create it.

Just to be clear: satire isn’t covered in Peoria under the 1st Amendment. If you skewer a public official through parody, you are not exercising a right — you are slandering him. And when the police don riot gear and bring a search warrant to your door to locate slander paraphernalia (like computers) and instead walk away with pot, it becomes a perfectly legal drug raid.

This isn’t a silver lining, but it’s bilateral damage: The Guardian reports that Peoria’s mayor is now the subject of 15 parody Twitter feeds. Too bad for Jim Ardis that Peoria’s SWAT team doesn’t have global jurisdiction.

Daily Read: The influence of Qatar on U.S. policy — and the legal loophole that encourages it

The U.S. is tough on campaign contributions from foreign governments — it’s a complete no-no. But there’s no similar restriction preventing foreign governments from funding nonprofit policy institutes in Washington, D.C.

The result, perhaps the most significant among many, is that Qatar — the “chief sponsor of the Muslim Brotherhood” and the owner of Al Jazeera — has accrued immense influence over the think tanks that often marry ideas to government. It’s not the only nation to do so.

But as The Washington Free Beacon’s Matthew Continetti wrote Friday, “the money Qatar has thrown around town in recent years has created an environment where the views of its government are considered congenial, normal, an “important perspective” worthy of consideration by noted policy analysts, who just happen to become key policy makers.”

Qatar and other would-be U.S. policy shapers are taking advantage of a gap in U.S. law that’s “being exploited to an extent that mocks the very purpose” of the ban on foreign campaign contributions, Continetti writes:

Think tanks can be the vehicles for revolutions in foreign policy. The Gulf state of Qatar, for example, is one of the most generous donors to U.S. nonprofits. It “agreed last year to make a $14.8 million, four-year donation” to the Brookings Institution, the Times reports. And Brookings, in turn, “has helped fund a Brookings affiliate in Qatar and a project on United States relations with the Islamic world.”

I have not been asked to participate in either of these initiatives. But let me take a stab at why “United States relations with the Islamic world” are so terrible. One reason is that radical Muslims have a habit of killing innocent men, women, and children in gruesome ways, and imposing their medieval vision of society upon unwilling populations. But I would not expect the Brookings Institution to focus too much on this angle, since one of the global engines of Islamic radicalism in our time — its financier, champion, and propagandist — is none other than Qatar.

Qatar is the chief sponsor of the Muslim Brotherhood, the global Islamist movement whose offspring include Hamas, al Qaeda, and Islamic Jihad. Hamas’ leader, Khaled Meshal, resides in Qatar’s capital. It is a financial and ideological sponsor of Hamas — whose charter demands not only the destruction of Israel but also the removal of Jews from an Islamic “Palestine” — as well as a supporter of the Taliban, the Al-Nusra front, militias in Libya, and other armed prophets throughout the Ummah. And Qatar is the founder and owner of Al Jazeera, which pushes the Brotherhood line, and whose anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism have reached our shores in the form of Al Jazeera America.

The Qatari regime is awful. And, of course, it is authoritarian. I don’t want its agents and proxies interfering in our intellectual or policy debates, period, especially without having to tell the law enforcement officers of my country what they are doing with their money and why. The current arrangement — by which one has to read closely between the lines to detect Islamist influence in Washington — is unacceptable.

Read Continetti’s full column at The Washington Free Beacon.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t identify the three branches of government

An important midterm election is just around the corner, so it’s fortunate that the electorate is boning up on civics this year in order to make informed choices about the nation’s future.

What? What’s that, you say? Oh. Wrong electorate. Turns out, in this country, most of us know nothing about our Constitution — or how it establishes the divisions of our national government.

A survey released last week by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that only 36 percent of Americans could name all three branches of government and that 35 percent “could not name a single one.”

And it’s all downhill from there.

“Just over a quarter of Americans (27 percent) know it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto,” the survey also found, along with the revelation that 20 percent believe there exists a legal intermixing between the branches of government. “One in five Americans (21 percent) incorrectly thinks that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is sent back to Congress for reconsideration,” Annenberg reports.

Putting it gently, Annenberg Public Policy Center Director Kathleen Hall Jamieson suggested revisiting the way American schools teach civics.

“Although surveys reflect disapproval of the way Congress, the President and the Supreme Court are conducting their affairs, the Annenberg survey demonstrates that many know surprisingly little about these branches of government,” she wrote. “This survey offers dramatic evidence of the need for more and better civics education.”

As if on cue, Republican Arizona State Rep. Steve Montenegro last week proposed strengthening his state’s graduation requirements to include a 100-question civics test — the same one required of applicants for U.S. naturalization.

“Every single student in Arizona and across the United States of America should have basic knowledge and understanding of American government,” Montenegro explained at a press conference last Wednesday.

If you’re among those who don’t know the three branches of government, you’re off the hook on the 100-question civics test. But it might not hurt to enter some remedial civics self-education. If you’re that far behind, maybe you should start here.

Better yet, go to the source.

Sunday news show roundup

It was all ISIS, all the time on the TV news junket Sunday, with U.N. Ambassador Susan Power making not one but two visits to network news sets to advance the Obama administration’s insistence that U.S. air strikes against ISIS terrorists will be augmented by a yet-to-be-disclosed coalition featuring contributions from other nations.

Power never uttered the phrase “coalition of the willing,” but she did tell ABC’s “This Week” that other countries are on board to lend their relative might to the air campaign.

“I will make you a prediction — which is that we will not do the airstrikes alone, if the president decides to do the airstrikes,” said Power.

She never said which countries have agreed to support the U.S.-led containment effort against ISIS, but repeated her “coalition” comments on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” telling Bob Scheiffer that the U.S. would “leave it to other nations to announce for themselves what their specific commitments to the coalition are going to be.”

And so continues the Obama administration’s politics-first, outcomes-second initiative to counter ISIS.

Not that there isn’t plenty of political will from Congressmen for such an approach. Congress’ cop-out final week in Washington got virtually no coverage Sunday, upstaged instead by guest spots from hawks like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to sell the emotional side of the terrorists’ human rights abuses.

“I have a picture of what I estimate to be a 6-year-old girl in a gingham party dress: white tights, a little red band around her wrist, Mary Janes — and she’s lying on the ground and her head is gone,” Feinstein told Schieffer.

“This is the mentality of the group that we are so concerned with. They have killed thousands, they are marching on, they have an army, they are well organized.”

Former British prime minister Tony Blair indicated his country is in sync with the Obama administration’s decision to take the fight to ISIS, but suggested a real defeat would require more than just air strikes. Instead, said Blair, it would require actual fighting from western troops.

“[T]his [ISIS] problem isn’t going away,” Blair said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“I think you’ll find that the policy undergoes a process of evolution, where people realize in different situations you’re having different strategies, and there may be situations in which we are prepared to use combat force. …[T]here will undoubtedly be, over time, a need to hit ISIS not simply through an aerial campaign, but also on the ground.”

Nevertheless, Blair went on to assert that western forces’ eventual defeat of ISIS should not be followed by a western occupation of Iraqi and Syrian territory left in the ensuing power vacuum.

City Considers Allowing Police Warrantless Access To Homes To Check For Underage Drinking

In a move that, if adopted, would almost certainly be brought into the courts, a northern New Jersey town is contemplating an ordinance that would grant local police access — without a search warrant — into private residences in order to check up on allegations of underage drinking.

Officials in the town of Montville, on the western edge of the New York metropolitan area’s sprawl, are discussing the new ordinance — perhaps counterintuitively — in terms of keeping underage drinking in check while helping young people avoid establishing criminal records that can follow them throughout their lives.

“While teens caught drinking face criminal charges under state law, officers under the Montville proposal could choose to let underage drinkers face lesser penalties,” CBS New York reported Thursday.

But many residents, both young and old, aren’t buying it.

“I am not in favor of them just coming into the homes, because there — other people have said — there are children that do make mistakes on various occasions, and that’s more of a parent responsibility rather than a police responsibility,” resident Anna Cecire told CBS.

“I just feel that it’s not really their business to be going into people’s houses,” echoed teenager Brendan Zevits. “If you want to do that, you need to get a warrant.”

The Montville council is expected to hammer out some reportedly gray areas in the ordinance’s language at a Sept. 23 meeting.

Of course, they could just do the sensible thing and toss this bad local law in the trash. If they don’t, it’s hard to imagine that a judge wouldn’t do it for them.

Remy Skewers Obama Administration On ISIS: Kill Them With ‘A Weapons-Grade Entitlement Program’

None of us can do anything about the Obama administration’s “arm our enemies” strategy to contain ISIS, just as we can’t do anything about Obamacare, the IRS scandal, government waste or the administration’s laughable hashtag campaigns to win the “war” on women or return female hostages from the clutches of Boko Haram.

But if the Obama administration can use social media to get its messages out, so can everyone else. Reason TV’s Remy is back today with an original satirical video mocking the absurdity and futility of the White House’s deliberative process as it tries to find political solutions to decidedly non-political problems (like ISIS).

Hilarity in the span of a minute. Tear and share.

Best line: “We should ban guns there — they’ll turn their guns in!”

Concealed Carry In Washington, D.C.? Only If You Can Convince The Cops

Washington, D.C. — already among the gun-freest of gun-free zones — is closing in on a new local law that would create an avenue for residents to obtain concealed carry permits. But it’s anything but a 2nd Amendment win.

In July, a U.S. district judge struck down the city’s ban on carrying handguns in public, sending city leaders scrambling to craft a law that brings D.C. into compliance with the court’s decision. Their solution won’t thrill many 2nd Amendment advocates: make the city a “may issue” zone.

What that means is anyone in Washington, D.C., who wishes to obtain a concealed carry permit for his handgun would have to demonstrate to law enforcement a rather extraordinary “need” for one: a death threat, a stalker, a history of abuse at the hands of a violent spouse.

As for everyone else? Don’t even bother applying.

Irvin B. Nathan, attorney general for the District of Columbia, attempted to explain this at a press conference on Wednesday. “Living in a high-crime area is not sufficient to establish the good cause,” he said. “Getting death threats, being the victim of domestic violence and having the threats or re-occurrence — that would be good cause. It has to be personalized. It has to be something specific.”

The law would open the limited path to a concealed carry permit to D.C. residents who already own a registered handgun, as well as holders of firearms permits in the states, even if they do not permanently reside in the city.

Under the “emergency” measure, which city leaders are taking in order to beat the 90-day stay of the district court decision, open carry would be outlawed. The Washington, D.C., chief of police would be responsible for issuing the concealed carry permits, which could only be obtained after the applicant completes a safety training program.

The proposal is scheduled for a Tuesday council vote, and would be in effect for 90 days from the time the mayor signs it into law.

In February, a U.S. appeals court invalidated an attempt by several California counties to defend a similar “show cause” condition for the issuance of concealed carry permits, saying the effort represents an infringement on California residents’ 2nd Amendment rights.

The Left Has An ‘Extreme’ Base Of Its Own — And It’s Not Ready For Hillary

It may not be as definable as the Tea Party (or maybe it is, if only the mainstream media would harp on it constantly), but the progressive left has an ideological base that’s busy vetting potential 2016 presidential candidates. And if their early grumblings are any indication, Hillary Clinton is too “establishment” to earn their vote of confidence.

We’ve mentioned the Google group called “Gamechanger Salon” in the past; several members of the progressive online circle are bona fide members of the mainstream press. Since news of that group’s existence first appeared, some of its insiders have begun acknowledging their deliberative process to the outside world, explaining some the ideological sine qua nons that, for them, will make the difference in whether a Democratic candidate can pass the true-believing progressive’s sniff test.

Let’s put it this way: For these people, Hillary Clinton is no deep-blue Ted Cruz. She’s more like a periwinkle Chris Christie.

The Hill examined a trove of emails exchanged among members of the Gamechanger Salon group for a Thursday piece headlined “Left blasts Clinton in secret emails,” concluding from those conversations that there’s “significant dissatisfaction” among the far left with the idea of a Hillary nomination.

But why? Because she’s too close to the middle.

“In the emails spanning over a year — starting in June 2013 through July of this year — frustration with Clinton is evident,” wrote The Hill:

Clinton’s too much of a hawk, too cozy with Wall Street, hasn’t spoken out enough on climate change, and will be subject to personal questions and criticisms, members of the group stated in the emails.

… “[A] Clinton presidency undos [sic] all our progress and returns the financial interests to even more prominence than they currently have,” Melissa Byrne, an activist with the Occupy Wall Street movement, said in a November 2013 email.

… “I also came to know how close she was to the pro-Wall Street forces inside the administration and out, and the downsides on foreign policy are all very real. So I will hesitate for a long time before jumping into her campaign,” [Democratic strategist Mike] Lux wrote in a group email.

… One of Clinton’s biggest critics among the group is Guy Saperstein, a major Democratic donor and part owner of the Oakland Athletics baseball team.

In emails, Saperstein called a report out in December of last year that Clinton offered a “reassuring” message to Goldman Sachs executives “horrific,” and slammed her for “ducking a lot of issues, like the Keystone pipeline.”

You get the idea. Clinton is the establishment candidate.

So who does the far left seem to want? The Hill points to Democratic Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Warren’s been exceedingly demure about seeking the presidential nomination.

But she was also on Letterman this month. Hmm.

Does It Bother You That Boehner Probably Isn’t Going Anywhere As House Speaker?

Whatever happens to the Senate majority after November’s midterms, it’s a sure bet that the GOP House majority is untouchable. As the elections inch closer, and as Congress takes a super-early break for campaigning, it’s almost equally assured that Congressman John Boehner (R-Ohio) won’t be losing his grip on the Speaker’s gavel once the dust clears.

Boehner, fresh off a last-minute, pre-break legislative compromise that saw the funding of Obamacare, Planned Parenthood and the president’s still-evolving arms alliance with Syrian “moderates” to combat ISIS, is quietly riding a pre-election strategy of see-no-evil, do-no-evil for GOP incumbents who just want to win this fall without rocking the boat.

“House Republicans are not touting a national manifesto ahead of the midterm elections, as they did with 1994’s Contract with America,” The Washington Post observed today. “Their plan to offer a replacement for President Obama’s health-care law has fizzled.

“The sudden elevation of Boehner, 64, is surprising for a party overloaded with tea party stars and White House hopefuls. Yet in a summer of Republican unease and tumult, Boehner’s workmanlike manner and institutional standing has led to a string of successes and new-found support.”

It’s a perfect situation for Boehner, who sees no need to whip up a conservative-ideology offensive against languishing Democrats — even though doing so would put them further on their heels.

In other words, Boehner’s the perfect guy to remain in charge if all the GOP cares about is playing not to lose.

 

More Stonewalling From Eric Holder To Conceal Fast And Furious Papers

The Department of Justice has filed yet another request to forestall a court order that could require the release of tens of thousands of pages’ worth of documents pertaining to the Operation Fast and Furious gunwalking scandal — a scandal that’s dogged the Obama administration since ATF whistleblowers first approached Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) with their concerns about the secret program in early 2011.

The DOJ filed a request Monday before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, asking the court to allow the department to keep under wraps more than 60,000 pages of Fast and Furious documents until the appeals process following her ruling on whether the documents are protected under executive privilege — if it is an unfavorable one for the DOJ — has run its course.

In other words, the DOJ is asking the court to let the documents stay hidden not only while it argues they’re protected under executive privilege, but even for the duration of the inevitable appeal the department would file if Jackson decides they aren’t covered under executive privilege, as both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have maintained.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee wants the documents, but Holder and Obama have so far successfully stalled their release — even after the House held Holder in contempt for refusing to hand them over in 2012.

Jackson has previously demonstrated no special deference to the Obama administration, ordering the DOJ last month to hand over an itemized listing of the documents in question — but not (yet) the documents themselves — by Oct. 1.

The scandal came to light following the death of border patrol agent Brian Terry in 2010. Terry was murdered in a gunfight with alleged illegal immigrants; two guns connected with the Fast and Furious operation were later discovered at the crime scene.

A number of ATF agents, alarmed at Terry’s death and convinced that the gunwalking strategy was undermining its purpose, approached Grassley with their information in early 2011, leading to a congressional investigation.

Court Denies Qualified Immunity For Police Who SWAT-Stormed Florida Barber Shop To Conduct Licensing ‘Inspection’

Law enforcement officers who conducted a warrantless SWAT-style raid on an Orlando barber shop, ostensibly to help inspectors conduct a routine occupational licensing exam, violated the proprietors’ 4th Amendment rights and are not protected from personal liability under the qualified immunity doctrine.

So ruled the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta on Tuesday, harshly condemning Orange County, Florida, officers for their 2010 raid of the Strictly Skillz barber shop — a staged event the court compared to “a scene right out of a Hollywood movie.” That’s how the court began its 44-page ruling:

It was a scene right out of a Hollywood movie. On August 21, 2010, after more than a month of planning, teams from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office descended on multiple target locations. They blocked the entrances and exits to the parking lots so no one could leave and no one could enter. With some team members dressed in ballistic vests and masks, and with guns drawn, the deputies rushed into their target destinations, handcuffed the stunned occupants — and demanded to see their barbers’ licenses. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office was providing muscle for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s administrative inspection of barbershops to discover licensing violations.

What’s incredible about this show of force is that the inspectors had visited the same business only two days before — without the muscle — and discovered the shop was in total compliance with all occupational licensing requirements. No violations whatsoever. Reason reports that the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation is authorized “to conduct such inspections only once every two years.” Yet there they were again, two days after finding everything aboveboard, with a small army of police. The cops told customers to leave immediately and handcuffed Brian Berry, Strictly Skillz’ owner, as well as two barbers.

The entire hit had been an orchestrated effort to discover evidence of illegal activity that had nothing to do with occupational licensing — though that was the cover story for the raid — and everything to do with contraband. Berry sued the police and the police appealed, arguing their actions were within the scope of legal searches (Really? Without a warrant?) and the officers protected from personal liability under the qualified immunity doctrine.

No way, said the court.

We first held nineteen years ago that conducting a run-of-the-mill administrative inspection as though it is a criminal raid, when no indication exists that safety will be threatened by the inspection, violates clearly established Fourth Amendment rights. …We reaffirmed that principle in 2007 when we held that other deputies of the very same Orange County Sheriff’s Office who participated in a similar warrantless criminal raid under the guise of executing an administrative inspection were not entitled to qualified immunity. …Today, we repeat that same message once again. We hope that the third time will be the charm.

… [T]he plaintiffs contend that the search of Strictly Skillz, which they allege was undertaken with an inordinate display of force, failed to conform to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement for reasonableness. Because we have twice held, on facts disturbingly similar to those presented here, that a criminal raid executed under the guise of an administrative inspection is constitutionally unreasonable, we agree.

…It has long been clearly established that a warrantless administrative inspection must be narrowly tailored to the administrative need that justifies it. Here — where the authorized purpose of the inspection was simply to check for barbering licenses and sanitation violations, and there is no indication that the defendants had any reason to believe that the inspection would be met with violence — the manner in which the supposed inspection of Strictly Skillz was undertaken was unreasonable from its inception and was, in fact, a search. Our cases and those of the Supreme Court have long and repeatedly put officers on notice of these facts. Because, under the facts alleged by the plaintiffs in this case, Vidler and Leslie were active participants in the unconstitutional search of Strictly Skillz, a jury could find them liable for the plaintiffs’ resulting constitutional injuries.

Decisions like this, precipitated by lawsuits over illegal searches, need to happen much more often.

Read much more on the court’s decision at Reason, with plenty of backstory here.

House Votes To Audit The Fed

Ron Paul tried this in 2012. Now the House of Representatives is trying again, with some Senate support from Paul’s son Rand: passing a law requiring the comptroller general of the Government Accountability Office to audit the Federal Reserve.

The House voted 333-92 today in favor of a bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), that would expose the Federal Reserve to an audit that delves further into the Fed’s monetary policymaking process and market operations than the current annual audit built into the board’s oversight. Only one Republican congressman voted against the bill; 106 Democrats voted in favor of it also.

As he did in 2012 to advance his father’s efforts, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

Rand Paul justified the need for additional scrutiny and accountability in a lengthy January rant:

[D]on’t let anyone tell you we already have an audit of the Fed. No meaningful audit of the Fed exists and when the primary auditor and overseer of the Fed was asked about $9 trillion dollars, the Inspector General had no clue what had been purchased with $9 trillion dollars. Is there a chance, that the Fed only has our best interests at heart? Sure. But when trillions of dollars change hands, wouldn’t you want to know who got the money and did anyone enrich themselves in the process? $9 trillion is over half of our entire national debt. This is money that is being doled out, in secret, by our central bank. This is, in a sense, laundering money from the American people to bail out big banks and Wall Street.

… The purpose of my bill is to eliminate the current restrictions on GAO audits of the Fed, along with mandating that the Federal Reserve’s credit facilities, securities purchases, and quantitative easing activities become subject to Congressional oversight. Looking into what the Federal Reserve does with our money has significant support from both parties, many members of which have heard the same concerns back home in their states and districts. The Federal Reserve is one of the most secretive institutions in our history. For decades, the people in charge at the Fed, politicians and various “experts” have insisted that such secrecy was integral to its independence and effectiveness.

I can see no reason why the American public should not be allowed to see behind the veil of secrecy at the Fed.

Paul’s full remarks are archived at Breitbart TV.

Obama Administration Begins Collecting Ethnic Data On Gun Buyers

It’s a felony to lie when you fill out ATF Form 4473, the info sheet the federal government requires prospective gun buyers to use when attempting a purchase from any federally licensed reseller.

Form 4473 is required before a federal background check can commence via the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), and it asks people things about themselves that the government — if it were to magically begin abiding by the 2nd Amendment — would not ask.

But the Obama administration has modified the form in order to glean even more information about gun buyers, and it made the change in relative silence. Perhaps that’s why stories about outraged gun owners are just now making the rounds, even though the form was amended back in 2012.

It’s a subtle change, and one many people may not have noticed, if they’ve ever had to fill out the form more than once. Before 2012, Form 4473 asked “applicants” (an absurd term for an American citizen intending to buy a gun) to identify their race. Since 2012, the form asks for both racial and ethnic background information.

From The Washington Times, which first reported on the fresh backlash Tuesday:

The Obama administration quietly has been forcing new gun buyers to declare their race and ethnicity, a policy change that critics say provides little law enforcement value while creating the risk of privacy intrusions and racial profiling.

With little fanfare, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in 2012 amended its Form 4473 — the transactional record the government requires gun purchasers and sellers to fill out when buying a firearm — to identify buyers as either Hispanic, Latino or not. Then a buyer must check his or her race: Indian, Asian, black, Pacific Islander or white.

… On its prior 4473 forms, the bureau had been collecting race data.

One such critic, New Jersey attorney Evan Nappen, surely has the right of it when he finds only a political motive for the change.

“This issue concerns me deeply because, first, it’s offensive, and, secondly, there’s no need for it. If there’s no need for an amendment, then there’s usually a political reason for the change. What this indicates is it was done for political reasons, not law enforcement reasons,” Nappen told The Times.

We’ve featured Nappen before, and he perfectly diluted the way in which government foments and capitalizes on a fear culture surrounding firearms with this pithy phrase: “I do think we’ve gotten to a point where common sense is uncommon.”

What other reason, then, could there be? Is it a civil rights thing?

“If there is a civil rights enforcement reason for the ATF to collect this data, I have not heard that explanation from ATF or any other federal agency,” Laura Murphy of the American Civil Liberties Union told The Times.

In a separate but related story, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) introduced a bill on Wednesday that aims to do away with the ATF. Sensenbrenner called the bureau a “largely duplicative, scandal-ridden agency that lacks a clear mission.”

Good thing he’s not an anonymous blogger. Those sound like some pretty extreme words.