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.

Government Sells Your Private Data To Marketing Companies

Why pay taxes when the government can use you – and your personal information – as a cash cow?

By selling data about individuals to marketing companies – and who has more data on people than the government? – the state can profit handsomely. And government doesn’t need to inform you about what’s going on, nor does it need your permission.

According to an investigative report by CBS Denver, that’s exactly what government – at every level – is doing.

The report interviewed a local businessman who’d begun suspecting that the deluge of well-targeted marketing material inundating his mailbox seemed to come from a source that must be highly informed about his preferences, habits and even recent major events in his life.

He was right: the Colorado Secretary of State’s office was selling his data. A spokesperson for the office confirmed that business owners’ information can be sold to private third-party marketing outfits for anywhere from $200 to $12,000 a pop. And the practice is still young and ripe for enrichment: the Secretary of State only made $59,000 from such sales last year.

“It feels like a betrayal,” said business owner Eric Meer, “Because our government is supposed to protect us, not to sell our information and profit from us.”

In addition to information about people who run their own businesses, the Secretary of State’s office in Colorado also sold voter registration information to marketing companies. Like the business data, the office claims that sale was a cost-recovery operation intended only to help defray the office’s costs of associated with database management.

(As an aside, how hard can it really be to go through the supposedly controversial voter verification process when people you don’t even know can tell you if you’re a registered voter?)

On the local level, Denver’s city clerk’s office sells homeowners’ data in cases involving foreclosures, refinancings or direct home sales. And it doesn’t stop there:

Do you ever notice a surge of confusing mail after refinancing, a foreclosure, or buying a house? The Denver Clerk and Recorder made $32,000 last year selling home sale data.

It happens in college, too. The University of Colorado Boulder buys names from the SAT for 33 cents each and names from the ACT for 34 cents each for recruiting purposes. CU sells student information to private meal plans and storage companies for $15,000 a year.

Even death is for sale. The Social Security Administration sells a “Master Death Index” for $7,500 each. The result – an onslaught of letters to surviving family members asking to purchase a home.

While it’s possible for people to limit phone contact from telemarketers by opting onto “do not call” lists, opponents of government data mining for profit have faced strong opposition from the Direct Marketing Association in mounting similar efforts to establish a “do not mail” list.

And, even if such a list ever comes into existence, the root of the problem – boundless government that answers not to citizens but to profit-motivated third parties – will remain.

Student Safety Cited In L.A.-Area School District’s Hiring Of Social Media Watchdog

Citing the importance of kids’ safety, the Glendale, California Unified School District has hired a third-party social media monitoring service to begin combing through the online postings of 13,000 high school students who attend eight middle and high schools.

According to CBS Los Angeles, the district has hired local company Geo Listening, a self-described “social network monitoring service,” to raise the alarm whenever it comes across postings that, by its own metrics, might indicate a student is heading toward trouble.

The company has agreed to turn over any telltale information to school administrators. It earns $40,500 a year through its agreement with the school district.

“The whole purpose is student safety,” said Superintendent Richard Sheehan. “Basically, it just monitors for keywords where, if a student is considering harming themselves; harming someone else.”

According to Sheehan, during the program’s test period last year, school officials were alerted to a possible student suicide attempt and were able to avert it.

A parent and student quoted in the news report each said they didn’t mind the scrutiny or the new intrusion on the student’s privacy – even if kids’ inner thoughts are now open to a layer of meaning-laden interpretation most carefree teenagers never consider.

Geo Listening CEO Chris Frydrych said his company monitors only public social media postings, and that the service is effective in helping to prevent bullying, self-abuse, drug abuse, vandalism and truancy.

U.S. Dominates Volume Of Government Requests For Facebook User Info Worldwide

Facebook has released a tally sheet enumerating how many times governments have requested information on individual users over the first six months of 2013. In all, there have been more than 25,000 requests from national governments worldwide – and, as you might have guessed, the U.S. is at the front of the pack.

The release, dubbed the “Global Government Requests Report,” not only shows the frequency with which Facebook is approached by governments requesting information, but the number of times Facebook has complied.

Facebook honored 79 percent of the estimated 12,000 U.S. government requests it received in an effort to gain information on an estimated 20,000 individual users.

As Adi Robertson of tech website The Verge explains, the nature of the requests range from trifling to significant.

The table lists anything made by any government branch, from standard law enforcement to more covert activities, and it includes requests for all kinds of information. That means we’re looking at everything from a police subpoena asking for a burglar’s account email address to a secret court order for the IP address of a protestor.

… These numbers appear to have risen slightly from Facebook’s estimates in 2012. Unlike all other country data, the US numbers can’t even be reported exactly. The gag orders associated with FBI national security letters and FISA court requests make it difficult to talk about many orders at all, and Facebook was only allowed to start mentioning them in ranges in June.

As you’ll see on the Facebook press release page, the U.S. is indeed the only country whose numbers are mere estimates; all others are presented with single-digit precision.

Facebook Presence, Habits Could Affect Your Creditworthiness

As social media continues to supplant real living for more people who’ve embraced technology’s offer of an always-on existence, real-world repercussions of laying one’s persona before the public often come along in unexpected ways.

One side effect of America’s turn toward technocracy is the fact that the rest of the digital world is slowly beginning to view a person’s online presence (or lack thereof) as an indicator of his creditworthiness.

The relatively new phenomenon of lenders using Facebook to reach an up-front decision about whether you’re likely to pay back a loan is, for now, confined to that segment of would-be borrowers who lack established credit but who remain highly engaged in social media.

According to a CNN Money report, people who’ve left no footprint with FICO and other credit scoring analysts are increasingly being scrutinized by companies that use Facebook to determine, based on individuals’ social associations and online interests, whether they represent a safe credit risk.

How does it work? Companies like Lenddo find out whether you’re Facebook friends with others who have previously taken out a loan from the company, which bills its business model as “credit based on trust.” If one or more of your Facebook friends hasn’t been timely with loan repayments, it lowers your chances of getting a loan from Lenddo. But if your associates have been timely, your chances of approval increase.

“It turns out humans are really good at knowing who is trustworthy and reliable in their community,” Lenddo CEO Jeff Stewart told CNN Money. “What’s new is that we’re now able to measure through massive computing power.”

It’s not just a person’s Facebook habits that can make or break the technocracy’s judgment of their financial trustworthiness. Small-business cash-advance outfits like Kabbage augment an applicant’s traditional credit score with information mined from Big Data, including applicants’ payment histories through online exchanges like PayPal and eBay.

Most of the companies that have so far turned to the Internet to assess individuals’ credit risks aren’t operating extensively in the United States. But just as the Internet has insinuated itself into many employers’ hiring practices, online-based credit “checks” that examine a person’s habits, preferences and associations are expected to become more common.

The practice is still too new to forecast the fates of those Internet users who have no plans to join Facebook or establish a history of online commerce by buying things off Amazon or eBay. But precedent suggests that those who choose to live free from the tether of technology-based social relationships and financial transactions could face undue burdens as their world comes into contact with that of the majority — a majority that grows increasingly contented with swapping virtual life for real life.