American Hikers Released From Iranian Prison

Two American hikers who have been held in Iranian prison for more than two years were each released on $500,000 bail ($1 million total) Wednesday, according to reports.

The release ends a standoff between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his rivals in the country’s judicial system. Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were arrested after crossing an unmarked Iranian border two years ago. They were sentenced last month to eight years imprisonment in the country.

Ahmadinejad announced plans to release Bauer and Fattal last week, just ahead of his appearance before the U.N. General Assembly in New York. One judge had signed the paperwork Saturday, but Ahmadinejad left for that meeting in New York on Monday with the two Americans still behind bars, according to ABC NEWS.

The release followed a power struggle in Iran since Ahmadinejad’s announcement of a fast release. Iran’s judiciary, which is directly controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reminded the public that only the courts have the power to control the release’s timing.

Bauer and Fattal were released to Swiss and Oman officials, who also handled arranging the payments of the bail because of the United States’ economic sanctions on Iran.

Justice Department Gets Royal Treatment At Conferences

An audit at the Justice Department unveiled more than $121 million in wasteful spending on conferences in 2008 and 2009, including $4,200 muffin purchases and $8.24 cups of coffee.

Recently implemented rules require the Department to investigate incidences of wasteful spending at taxpayer expense. A report released on Tuesday outlines some of the department’s most wasteful expenditures.

The report concludes that the government body made no “reasonable” attempt to avoid wasting taxpayer dollars:

This is because the OJP(Office of Justice Programs) Financial Guide circularly defines “reasonable” prices as the prices that would have been incurred under the circumstances at the time the cost was incurred by a prudent person. As shown by the high cost of individual meals and refreshments incurred by the OJP and OVW (Office on Violence Against Women) events reviewed – $47 and $76 lunches and $8 cups of coffee – we do not believe that event planners took the steps necessary to minimize meal and refreshment costs.

The report also said that while the Justice Department spent more than $600,000 to pay event planners, no real evidence existed that it conducted cost benefit analysis when picking meeting places for conferences.

The statement says:

Another justification offered for food and beverages at conferences is that hotels sometimes agree to waive meeting space rental fees provided that DOJ purchase a minimum amount of food and beverages for the event. For the reviewed conferences, this minimum amount ranged from between $25,000 and $50,000; however, conference planners spent much more on food and beverages than what would have been required for free space…Although free meeting space may provide an opportunity to save money, no component or event planner reviewed assessed whether the cost of meals and refreshments was less than the cost that meeting space would have been had it not been provided by the hotels for free. Without a cost-benefit analysis that compares the value of free meeting space to the cost of meals and refreshments, we could not determine whether conference costs were reduced by a component or event planner ordering a set amount of food and beverages and receiving meeting space at no cost.

As public outrage begins following the release, many politicians have also voiced concerns over massive bureaucratic spending. According to CNN, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) — a longtime advocate of reducing the reach of bureaucratic agencies — released a statement following the report denouncing the agency’s extreme waste.

“Sixteen-dollar muffins and $600,000 for event planning services are what make Americans cynical about government and why they are demanding change. The Justice Department appears to be blind to the economic realities our country is facing. People are outraged, and rightly so,” he said.

Fed Institutes “Operation Twist”

The Federal Reserve has reached back to the 1960’s trying to implement a policy that will lower interest rates to spark economic growth.

The Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee voted 7-3 Wednesday to embark on what’s informally called “Operation Twist,” taking the unusual step of shifting $400 billion into longer-term bonds, according to POLITICO.

The Fed issued a statement outlining its intentions:

The Committee intends to purchase, by the end of June 2012, $400 billion of Treasury securities with remaining maturities of 6 years to 30 years and to sell an equal amount of Treasury securities with remaining maturities of 3 years or less. This program should put downward pressure on longer-term interest rates and help make broader financial conditions more accommodative. The Committee will regularly review the size and composition of its securities holdings and is prepared to adjust those holdings as appropriate.

According to reports, the Fed has taken it upon itself to fix the economy because of running stalemates between the Administration of Barack Obama and Congress. Many lawmakers believe the latest action is very risky, saying that further intervention by the Fed will erode the already weakened U.S. dollar or promote more borrowing by overleveraged consumers.




Gays In Military May Now Admit Sexual Preference

Tuesday marked an official end to the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, opening a new era in which gays are allowed to openly serve in the military.

“Today, the discriminatory law known as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is finally and formally repealed. As of today, patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love,” said President Barack Obama in a speech. “As of today, our armed forces will no longer lose the extraordinary skills and combat experience of so many gay and lesbian service members. And today, as Commander in Chief, I want those who were discharged under this law to know that your country deeply values your service.”

The President said he was proud to sign the Repeal Act into law last December because he believes that it will enhance national security and increase military readiness.

“Today’s achievement is a tribute to all the patriots who fought and marched for change; to Members of Congress, from both parties, who voted for repeal; to our civilian and military leaders who ensured a smooth transition; and to the professionalism of our men and women in uniform who showed that they were ready to move forward together, as one team, to meet the missions we ask of them,” said Obama.

Former service members separated from the military under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” based solely on their sexual orientation will be eligible to reapply to return to military service. Gen. Gary S. Patton, chief of staff for the Pentagon’s repeal implementation team, said their applications will be evaluated using the same standards as all other candidates, and decisions will be based on needs of the service.

The Department of Defense (DOD) maintains that nothing will change now that the policy has been officially repealed except that homosexuals may now freely admit sexual preference without fear of discharge.

Oversight Committee To Investigate Crony Capitalism

In light of controversy surrounding White House involvement with failed energy company Solyndra and wireless start-up LightSquared, Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said on Tuesday that his committee plans to investigate government loan programs to private corporations.

“I want to see when the president and his cronies are picking winners and losers… it wasn’t because there were large contributions given to them,” the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee said Tuesday morning on C-SPAN.

Issa, the GOP’s self-proclaimed “chief watchdog” said that the committee plans to seek answers to questions like how a company that requires Federal subsidies can still afford to make large contributions to political campaigns. The government has provided hundreds of loans to companies in the tech, green energy and automotive industries.

Issa is also poised to investigate LightSquared, a wireless company, amid allegations that the White House pressured an Air Force general to revise testimony before a closed congressional hearing to aid the company after information surfaced demonstrating interference between the company’s products and military GPS. Emails between the company and the White House show a close relationship between LightSquared’s CEO Sanjiv Ahuja and top level Democrats. Administration officials met with executives from the company on the same day that the CEO wrote a $30,400 check to the Democratic National Committee.

Issa said that the reason crony capitalism is dangerous is that politicians pick businesses as “winners” for ideological reasons or simply because the companies supports them politically, and disregard any true market indicators that will be the true measures of success.

Howard Dean Goes Against Dems On Obamacare

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean swam against the current of his party and backed a McKinsey & Co. survey that said Obamacare will cause a third of private businesses to drop their employee health coverage.

Dean told MSNBC’s Morning Joe: “The fact is it is very good for small business. There was a McKinsey study, which the Democrats don’t like, but I do, and I think it’s true. Most small businesses are not going to be in the health insurance business anymore after this thing goes into effect.”

Democrats have discredited this study, mainly because it goes against Obama’s assertions that most Americans who don’t want to change healthcare providers won’t have to, but businesses dropping coverage will force most employees to do just that.

The President also said his health proposals will not add “one penny” to the deficit, but the figures in the study that Dean supports suggest that 30 percent of employers — not the government’s original figure of just 7 percent — would drop private coverage as a result of Obamacare. Doing so will result in an overall price increase of roughly $1 trillion for Obamacare, a definite addition to deficit spending.

Protesters Occupy Wall Street

About 1,000 people gathered on Wall Street Saturday afternoon to protest bank bailouts and corporate favoritism, according to the International Business Times.

By Sunday, between 300 and 400 people hung around Chase Manhattan Plaza for a protest dubbed “#OccupyWallStreet.” An additional group of people marched uptown on Broadway with signs reading “end corporate welfare” and “we are too big to fail” and others denouncing capitalism.

The protest was originally organized by Adbusters magazine as a call to end political favoritism for bankers and corporations; it was referred to by organizers as a “Tahrir Square moment for America.”

Organizers characterized the event as follows:

The group is mainly young, with a tendency toward black T-shirts, bicycles, and hand-rolled cigarettes. A few have accents from Spain and Greece, through which they share stories from this year’s uprisings in those countries. They vary in their levels of experience with the modified-consensus process that the Assembly employs—together with its concomitant courtesies, no-nos, and hand signals. There are those who have never done anything like this before, and then those who are coming freshly-inspired and well-rehearsed from taking part in the three-week Bloombergville encampment earlier in the summer. There’s a contingent from the LaRouchePAC, and there’s a big, bearded man in the back who, against the wishes of some, keeps snapping photos. A police car cruises by from time to time, but it doesn’t stop. Their stories are ordinary, but in a charmed sort of way. One regular at the Assembly moved to New York from North Dakota on a whim, and without a job, a few months ago after finishing a master’s degree and breaking up with his girlfriend; almost immediately he found out about September 17 and has been working on the Arts & Culture Committee full-time. Another is a filmmaker who has just been in Egypt interviewing the leaders of the Tahrir Square protests. Yet another is a Vietnam vet from Staten Island with a sagely smile. Still others drift by through the park, stop to listen, and then keep walking, or stay.

Many young people were involved in the protest. While it did not reach the height of protests recently witnessed in Europe, it has raised concerns that the current economic crises in the U.S. could spark such violence.






Obama Vows Tax Increases On High Earners

President Barack Obama on Monday spoke at the White House Rose Garden about his proposal to cut the Federal deficit and pay for his American Jobs Act.

Congress’ Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, aka supercommittee, has until Thanksgiving to produce a plan to cut deficits over the next 10 years by at least $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion. The White House and standing Congressional committees have until Oct. 14 to make recommendations to that panel. The President’s announcement Monday was the first part of that process.

Obama claimed that his plan will cut $2 in spending for every dollar spent by reducing military spending, government waste and reforming tax laws. The Administration claims that the plan pays for the President’s jobs bill and produces savings of more than $3 trillion over the next decade, on top of the roughly $1 trillion in spending cuts signed into law in the Budget Control Act – for a total savings of more than $4 trillion over the next decade. The Administration says that the plan will reign in deficit spending by 2017.

Obama again asked Congress to pass his bill immediately, saying that it includes ideas from both sides of the political spectrum.

“There shouldn’t be any reason for Congress to drag its feet, they should pass it right away,” the President said.

Obama denied that his tax proposal was class warfare, saying it was simply fair for those who have done well to pay their “fair share.” The President called on the supercommittee to undertake comprehensive tax reform, and laid out five principles for it to follow: lower tax rates, cut wasteful loopholes and tax breaks, reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion, boost job creation and growth, and follow the “Buffett Rule” that people making more than $1 million a year should not pay a smaller share of their income in taxes than middle-class families pay. The plan also calls for an end to 2001 and 2003 tax breaks for top earners and fewer deductions for those making more than $250,000.

Obama also said that he not allow Medicare to be touched as a means by which to reduce the deficit without first making sure that wealthy Americans have “paid their fair share.”

Romneycare Put Massachusetts Economy In Critical Condition

The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University in Boston has released a report that shows former Governor Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts healthcare reform bill has had ill effects on employment.

Romney signed the Massachusetts healthcare reform law titled An Act Providing Access to Affordable, Quality, Accountable Health Care. Romney claimed the law would not only expand coverage to all Massachusetts residents but would also reduce healthcare costs. The law was  used as the blueprint for President Barack Obama’s 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Beacon Hill study finds that the unintended consequences include devastating already cash-strapped employers in the State.

The study said:

…supporters of the Massachusetts reform plan argued that it would enable all residents to obtain high quality health insurance, ease the financial burden on hospitals for providing care to the uninsured, lower the cost of health insurance and eliminate ‘job‐lock’ by providing portability of insurance through the Connector [government approved insurance provider]. A key concept that proponents used to generate support was that of ‘shared responsibility.’ To be effective, said supporters of the new law, any health care reform proposal requires individuals and families, employers and government to share the burden of expanding coverage. As this study will show, this view of ‘shared responsibility’ has economic consequences.

The institute concedes that “shared responsibility” — which essentially equates to more regulators, more regulation and burdensome mandates on all — has caused many employers to move to other States and dissuaded potential new employers from considering the State as a place to operate.

The study said:

The state economy created 18,313 fewer jobs in 2010 than it would have had HCR [healthcare reform] not been in place. Keeping people employed under the health care reform law also hurt profit margins, causing firms to reduce investment in Massachusetts. We estimate that investment in Massachusetts was from $21.28 million and $29.32 million lower in 2010 as a result of HCR. The job losses have crimped income and wage growth in Massachusetts. Real (price‐adjusted) disposable income is, on average, $2.48 billion or $376 dollars per person lower in 2010 than it would have been without HCR.

According to the study, the law has harmed both the private sector and public services. The measure that was supposed to save money has cost an estimated $4.3 billion shared between the public and private sectors and taxpayers. The high cost shows up in rising labor costs for employers and higher insurance premiums for individuals — an increase of about $81.13 per year on single healthcare plans and $246.55 per year on family plans. The taxpayer paying higher premiums for his own insurance is also paying higher property and sales tax in the state for public sector insurance.

The study said:

These growing costs have absorbed a larger portion of state resources. In the private sector, the same resources could have been used to fund investment, job creation and consumer spending, which would have yielded better economic performance. In the public sector, state local governments could have saved money through reduced health insurance premiums and reduced spending, thus also reducing the need for recent sales and property tax increases.

The study concludes that many employers have opted to “vote with their feet” and do business in States not yet crippled by government healthcare mandates. The study suggests that when reforms take effect nationwide via Obamacare, the same consequences will occur.

The study said:

When states or the national government adopt policies that raise costs, local employers are put at a disadvantage and many opt to relocate to other jurisdictions. For firms with a global focus that might mean moving operations out of the country. When policies adopted at the state level impose costly mandates, companies and workers can respond by moving across state lines. The ability of firms and workers to migrate in response to such policies causes short-term jobs losses and long‐term reductions in wages and living standards.

PA Judge: Insurance Mandate UnConstitutional

A Federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled against President Barack Obama’s plan to require all Americans to purchase health insurance or face penalties, saying the mandate exceeds the powers granted both the President and Congress by the Constitution.

Federal District Judge Christopher C. Conner said the Federal government’s power to regulate interstate commerce does not give it the power to force individual citizens to unwillingly purchase any product, including health insurance.

Barbara Goudy-Bachman and Gregory Bachman, a married couple with children, opt to pay for health-related expenses out of pocket with savings, and sued Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius over the mandate. The couple, who are self-employed, dropped their own health coverage because it exceeded the cost of their mortgage payments. They said the 2014 mandatory insurance infringed upon their right to choose a proper method of caring for their family.

The Judge’s opinion did not agree completely with the couple on all issues, but did challenge the right of Federal government to meddle in personal affairs. An excerpt from the opinion follows:

This court’s role in that system is to assess the matters presented before it on the basis of the constitutional text and Supreme Court guidance, consonant with the principles of stare decisis. See Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803). The minimum coverage provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act exceeds Congress’s authority under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. The court does not reach this conclusion because the alternative would be disastrous to this nation’s future, such as the Bachman’s prediction of America evolving into a socialist state. These suggestions of cataclysmic results stemming from Article III authorization of an individual mandate are both unproductive and unpersuasive. Should the Supreme Court determine that the Commerce Clause extends to anticipatory mandates, or, that the health care market is unique for purposes of Commerce Clause analysis, the Supreme Court will delineate clear limits to that power. Until that occurs, the minimum coverage provision of the Patent Protection and Affordable Care Act cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny.

The case will join the ranks of 30 different lawsuits in various Federal jurisdictions around the country challenging the Obama healthcare plan. Separate lawsuits have already reached appeals courts in Richmond, Va., Atlanta and Cincinnati. The issue will most likely ultimately land on the bench of the Supreme Court.





Study Finds More Children Treated For Overdose

A study conducted by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital has found that the number of children who received emergency medical treatment after unintentionally ingesting prescription drugs has increased greatly in recent years.

The dramatic increase has convinced the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to launch a new initiative — PREVENT — in order to combat the amount of prescription drug accidents among children. Randall Bond, M.D., an emergency medicine physician at Cincinnati Children’s, studied patient records from 2001 to 2008 in the National Poison Data system, an electronic database of all calls to members of the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Bond studied children 5 years old and younger exposed to a potentially toxic dose of a single pharmaceutical agent, either prescription or over-the-counter. A total of 453,559 children were included in the study.

“The problem of pediatric medication poisoning is getting worse, not better,” said Bond, who also directs the Drug and Poison Information Center at Cincinnati Children’s. “More children are exposed, more are seen in emergency departments, more are admitted to hospitals, and more are harmed each year.”

According to the CDC, more than 70,000 emergency department visits result from unintentional medication overdoses among children younger than 18 each year. About one in 180 2-year-olds are treated for medication overdoses. About 80 percent of all child-related medication incidents among children under the age of 12 are due to unsupervised children taking medications on their own, and 10 percent in this age group are due to medication errors.

Bond attributes the rising number of incidents to a rise in the number of medications around younger children. A 1998 survey found that half of adults had taken at least one prescription medication in the preceding week and 7 percent had taken five or more. In 2006, the same surveyors found that 55 percent had taken at least one prescription medication in the preceding week, and 11 percent had taken five or more. The doctor considers the increased number of medications in the home along with carelessness as the two biggest factors in child-medication poisoning.

“Prevention efforts at home have been insufficient,” Bond said. “We need to improve storage devices and child-resistant closures and perhaps require mechanical barriers, such as blister packs. Our efforts can’t ignore society’s problem with opioid and sedative abuse or misuse.”

Obama Plays Political Chess With Jobs Bill

The Administration of President Barack Obama is continuing its “pass this bill now” attitude in relation to the President’s jobs bill, but it’s being met with trouble even within his party.

According to an article published by The Hill, Democratic lawmakers are disappointed with several of the President’s proposals to pay for the $447 billion stimulus package, including an elimination of tax breaks for the oil-and-gas industry.

According to reports, traditionally conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats have lashed out against the White House’s proposal that short-term economic stimulus will have long-term positive impacts on the economy.

“The White House probably expected stronger support from Democrats than it’s gotten so far,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. “After all, this bill’s top selling point, according to the president, was both parties should like it. Yet, so far, the only thing both parties in Congress seem to agree on is that there’s got to be a better way. It seemed like the only Democrats who were even willing to talk about it here on Capitol Hill were tearing it apart.”

At a Thursday White House press briefing, the President’s plan for pushing his bill through came into question. Though the he has urged Congress to “pass this bill” more than 100 times, Obama has yet to discuss the bill with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).  A reporter at the briefing asked Press Secretary Jay Carney about Obama’s reasoning for avoiding discussion with the Republican leader.

“I didn’t know you were working for the Speaker on his scheduling. The fact is — he will talk to the Speaker, but it is — the President has put forward a detailed piece of legislation. The elements of that plan are very clear. The Congress can and should act on it very quickly. It’s not complicated. The proposals are very simple. And they reflect — they are the kinds of proposals that have gained bipartisan support in the past,” Carney said.

Obama has, more than once, mentioned a bridge in Boehner’s district — the Brent Spence Bridge — that will receive repairs as a result of the $447 billion jobs proposal.  Many people believe that this is no coincidence, but more of a political chess move by the President to pressure the House Speaker to urge Congress to pass the bill to avoid angering his constituents at home.

The Brent Spence Bridge connects Cincinnati with Covington, Ky., making Obama’s political highlighting of its disrepair bad public relations for both McConnell — the Republican senator from Kentucky — and Boehner.


$19 Billion In Unemployment Insurance Wasted

The Department of Labor on Wednesday announced that it will award $191 million to States to provide “unemployment insurance program integrity and technology infrastructure systems” amid reports that the agency spent about $19 billion on payments made in error over the past three years.

“I was pleased to join Vice President [Joe] Biden today in announcing efforts to reduce government waste, fraud and abuse,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis in a press release. “We owe it to the American people, especially those who rely on unemployment insurance as a safety net, to be responsible stewards. This funding will help ensure state UI programs have integrity and run efficiently.”

The Federal program monitored by agencies on a State-by-State basis are expected to come under more scrutiny now than ever, though Solis said that there will be no real expansion in benefit denial, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Improper payments usually occur when recipients claim benefits even though they have returned to work, employers or their administrators don’t submit timely or accurate information about worker separations, or recipients don’t correctly register with a State’s unemployment agency.

According to The Journal, Indiana had the highest error rate, with improper payments accounting for more than 43 percent of the total amount paid. The Labor Department will also target Virginia, Indiana, Colorado, Washington, Louisiana and Arizona in particular for their high error rates.

Republican Novice Beats Seasoned Democrat In “Deep Blue” NYC

In a clear sign of President Barack Obama’s unpopularity, New York voters in a district that traditionally supports Democrats — the President carried it with 55 percent there in 2008 — have elected Republican political novice Bob Turner to fill sexting Representative Anthony Weiner’s former seat.

Turner, a retired media executive, beat Democratic State lawmaker David Weprin in a 53 to 47 percent victory early Wednesday morning. Turner said the victory was a message to Obama that his failed policies are angering Americans.

“We’ve been asked by the people of this district to send a message to Washington and I hope they hear it loud and clear,” he said in a speech. “We’re ready to say, ‘Mr. President, we are on the wrong track.”‘

Despite being endorsed by The New York Times, raising about twice the campaign funds that Turner did and being Jewish in an area with a largely Jewish population, Weprin could not score a victory for Weiner’s seat. Many people attribute his loss to his support of Obama on many issues, including uneasy relations with Israel. Weprin also voted to legalize same-sex marriage in the state, a move that shut down support from socially conservative Democrats in the district.

Most analysts say Obama probably will win more votes in New York state in 2012 than the GOP candidate, but that if Republicans can win in “deep blue” New York City districts like Turner has just done, there could be major upsets for the Democrats in the Presidential election.

TSA: Children May Keep Shoes On, Sometimes

Children 12 years old and younger may soon get to keep their shoes on at airport security checkpoints and will be patted down by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials using “less invasive methods.”

The information comes from testimony to Congress from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who said the new practices will roll out in coming months. Napolitano said the changes may not, however, be all-encompassing to ensure “unpredictability” in security screening.

Reports that the TSA does not use common sense when it screens air travelers abound. Young children and the elderly will still be subjected to random blanket searches, according to Napolitano’s rule of exception. Last year, the government began using a more invasive pat-down than what had been used in the past, involving screeners’ feeling travelers’ genital and breast areas. The newly “modified” child pat-down will now involve several trips through the metal detector and imaging machines, to get a “clear picture” to ensure the child is not carrying explosives.

These steps, which are aimed at quelling dissent against invasive TSA procedures, come within a week of the agency’s announcement that it will spend $44.8 million to expand its digital strip-search technologies to more airports in the United States.

“Currently, there are nearly 500 AIT [Advanced Imaging Technology] units at 78 airports nationwide. Today’s purchase of 300 millimeter wave units is off of an existing contract with L-3 Communications and includes the option to purchase an additional 200 units. President Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget included the purchase of 500 units, and the President’s fiscal 2012 budget requests funding for an additional 275 units,” said a TSA press release.

Another Department of Homeland Security (DHS) development announced in Napolitano’s address is a massive expansion of the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign. A DHS press release said:

The “If You See Something, Say Something™” campaign originally partnered with the NFL in January 2011 during the Super Bowl XLVI, and is now expanding the campaign to the Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, and San Diego Chargers with digital and video materials displayed at each stadium. Similarly, the “If You See Something, Say Something™” campaign partnerships with MLB began last season and has now expanded to the Chicago White Sox and the Baltimore Orioles. The USTA has announced their partnership with the “If You See Something, Say Something™” campaign for a second year, and have displayed digital and print materials during all matches. Other partnerships with the “If You See Something, Say Something™” campaign have been recently launched by the states of Florida and Maryland, the cities of Baltimore and Newark, the Inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, and state and major urban area fusion centers across the country.

Supreme Court Petitioned To End Misdemeanor Strip Searches

A New Jersey man is taking a case of what he calls a violation of his 4th Amendment protection against unreasonable search to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Albert Florence was arrested by mistake in 2005 because of a bench warrant issued for a fine he had paid off years earlier. Despite having documentation of compliance with the court, a New Jersey state trooper arrested Florence during a routine traffic stop as his wife and child watched. Florence then spent seven days in jail.

Florence was reportedly strip searched at two separate jails, despite there being no evidence that he had any contraband or violent behaviors. Florence sued and lost and then appealed to a Philadelphia Court of Appeals, where he also lost.

The courts both ruled that it is not unreasonable to search all incoming prisoners, no matter the charge, citing recent appeals court rulings that found there is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits blanket strip searches of incoming prisoners.

A 1979 Supreme Court verdict in Bell v. Wolfish sanctioned “the practice of body-cavity searches of inmates following contact visits with persons from outside the institution; and the requirement that pretrial detainees remain outside their rooms during routine inspections.” That decision was once interpreted by Federal courts to mean that reasonable suspicion must be noted before individuals arrested on minor charges are strip searched.

The American Bar Association has backed Florence in his fight, issuing a brief to the Supreme Court.

Nearly 14 million Americans are arrested each year. Many of these arrests are for misdemeanor offenses or a civil infraction that—like the offense of which petitioner was accused—do not suggest a motive or opportunity to smuggle contraband into a prison. Neither the Petitioner nor this majority of arrestees should be subject to the grave intrusion of a strip search on admission to a detention facility unless there is individualized, reasonable suspicion of possession of contraband.

Florence has been joined in his petition for suit against two New Jersey jails by others who have been strip searched following misdemeanor offenses. In the brief, Florence’s attorney outlines other instances in which people arrested for minor offenses were strip searched over the years: Sister Bernie Galvin, a nun arrested in California at an anti-war protest; Bettye Heathcock, arrested in Washington, D.C., for leaving a parking garage because the toll was too high; Karen Masters, arrested in Kentucky for failing to appear in traffic court because she was given the wrong date by the judge; Vivian Anderson Smith, arrested in Maryland for not showing up for a child support hearing. The brief also includes a list of other misdemeanor offenses for which one might be strip searched.

The lawyers also allege in the brief that some officers knowingly conduct unnecessary strip searches because of underlying sadism and desensitization to subjects’ humiliation. The brief cites a book by Phillip Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, which is based on a study of a simulated prison in 1971. Zimbardo observed two groups of Stanford University students, one designated prisoners and one designated guards, to observe the effects of the manifestation of absolute power of one individual over another. The study lasted only days before the “guards” became so abusive and degrading to their “prisoner” counterparts that the study had to be ended.

Florence’s lawyer also said in the brief to the court that 18 states, including New Jersey, prohibit search without reasonable suspicion, further supporting the 4th Amendment to the Constitution.

Economic Experts: Fed Out Of Ammo

According to an article by The Associated Press, those watching the Federal Reserve as it makes further moves in hopes of stimulating the economy should expect only a small blip on the economic radar.

Experts, anticipating more Fed action, have already named the central bank’s next round of action “Operation Twist,” representative of the 1960s plan to keep short-term rates unchanged and lower long-term interest rates (effectively “twisting” the yield curve). Many people say that the idea worked then, but it is a largely futile defense against this 21st century global economic meltdown.

The Fed hinted late last week that it will intervene once again. The hint came just as President Barack Obama rolled out his $480 billion new job plan. But many economists, referencing not-so-distant history, believe that more Fed manipulation will have very short-lived benefit, followed by long-term pain.

The last round of Fed action, totaling $600 billion, left the stock market flopping after a short-lived 29 percent rally. The next round could raise worries among money managers about inflation. The Fed is essentially printing money when buying bonds, and pumping more cash into the economy that will eventually lead to higher prices. People are left to wonder: Is the .05 percent expected economic growth worth higher prices at the pump and the local supermarket?

Many experts also concede that the simple fear of Fed intervention can trigger inflation. If money managers worry about inflation, they are more like to buy oil, gold and other commodities to hedge investments, thus driving up the cost of gas, food and other goods.

Some experts say that more intervention cannot hurt the economy. Most experts say it will do very little good or further damage. But, they say, it is the only ammo the Fed has left.

Playground Politics: Blitzer Bullies Paul While Others Sprint Backward On Issues

CNN’s Tea Party Debate on Monday was less focused on the ideals of limiting government, protecting civil liberties and strengthening State’s rights, and more on giving headliner candidates a forum to highlight neoconservative values. Issues regarding the Federal Reserve, Social Security reform, the economy, immigration, taxes and the role of government came to the table, but the answers were not always clear.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, a mainstream media-declared front-runner, took flak from the other 2012 GOP candidates throughout the debate. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, with whom Perry clashed at the debate on Sept. 7, continued to assert that although Texas’ economy remains comfortable under Perry, it can be attributed to good legislation and luck in the past.

“Well, look, I think Governor Perry would agree with me that if you’re dealt four aces that doesn’t make you necessarily a great poker player. And four aces — and the four aces that are terrific aces are the ones the nation should learn from, the ones I described, zero income tax, low regulation, right to work state, oil in the ground and a Republican legislature. Those things are terrific,” said Romney when asked how much credit the Texas Governor deserves for his State’s success.

The Federal Reserve was mentioned several times throughout the debate, and each of the candidates said that something must be done about the institution, but most offered no specifics. Former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania said he believes the Federal Reserve should be audited and changed to a single charter, meaning it would no longer have the ability to meddle in issues such as job creation, shifting its focus to sound money. Herman Cain, who formerly worked for the Federal Reserve, agreed with Santorum, saying the central bank needed to be audited and “narrowed.” The story remained the same from Representative Michele Bachman of Minnesota. Perry and Romney echoed similar sentiments: Audit and shrink the Federal Reserve. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, who has long been outspoken about his position on the Federal Reserve — he wrote the 2008 book End The Fed – was not asked for a response on the issue.

The debate also offered ample opportunity for the candidates to backtrack on things they supported in the past and to spin the issues to suit their Presidential ambition. A question about when a President should use executive orders brought to light Perry’s mandatory inoculation of a drug provided by a company with which he was affiliated, per executive order as top dog in Texas. He was quick to say that it was a mistake.

“What I’m saying is that it’s wrong for a drug company, because the governor’s former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company. The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor, and this is just flat-out wrong. The question is, is it about life, or was it about millions of dollars and potentially billions for a drug company?” said Bachmann, calling Perry out on the issue.

And Santorum asked the audience to consider why, in Texas, it was even necessary for young girls to receive a drug that guards against a sexually transmitted disease unless “Texas has a very progressive way of communicating diseases in their school by way of their curriculum.”

Romney began his own backward sprint when the issue of Obamacare was brought up to debate. President Barack Obama famously modeled the plan after one that Romney himself created for his own State.

“[W]ith regards to Massachusetts care, I’m not running for governor. I’m running for president. And if I’m president, on day one I’ll direct the secretary of Health and Human Services to grant a waiver from Obamacare to all 50 states. It’s a problem that’s bad law, it’s not constitutional. I’ll get rid of it,” Romney said.

When moderator Wolf Blitzer set his sights on Paul with regard to the candidate’s idea that government has no business in healthcare to begin with, the candidate noted that communities can pick up the slack more effectively than big government ever will.

“Let me ask you this hypothetical question,” Blitzer said. “A healthy 30-year-old young man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides, you know what? I’m not going to spend $200 or $300 a month for health insurance because I’m healthy, I don’t need it. But something terrible happens, all of a sudden he needs it.”

Paul responded that not having health insurance should be his right, though it was an unwise decision, but that the government certainly could not take care of him. Blitzer asked if the candidate was suggesting that “society should just let him die.”

Paul answered using his experience as a young physician in the 1960s when he worked for a hospital alongside church members and charity workers to care for those in need.

“[W]e’ve given up on this whole concept that we might take care of ourselves and assume responsibility for ourselves. Our neighbors, our friends, our churches would do it,” Paul said. “The cost [of healthcare] is so high because they dump it on the government, it becomes a bureaucracy. It becomes special interests. It kowtows to the insurance companies and the drug companies, and then on top of that, you have the inflation. The inflation devalues the dollar, we have lack of competition. There’s no competition in medicine. Everybody is protected by licensing. And we should actually legalize alternative health care, allow people to practice what they want.”

Bachmann also fielded the question, but steered the issue back to Obamacare; however, she never actually said what might happen to Blitzer’s hypothetical sickly man.

“[T]his is why I’m running for the presidency of the United States, because 2012 is it. This is the election that’s going to decide if we have socialized medicine in this country or not. This is it,” she said.

The debate next took a dive into the immigration debate, although the answers sounded familiar with terms like “strategic fences,” “boots on the ground,” “fewer incentives” and very little else that the public has not heard from so-called conservative candidates in the past. Perry offered a tough stance, saying that he has the most experience dealing with illegal aliens in his home State, although some candidates were less impressed than Perry with his policy.

“Well, I mean, what Governor Perry’s done is he provided in-state tuition for — for illegal immigrants. Maybe that was an attempt to attract the illegal vote — I mean, the Latino voters,” said Santorum. “But you attract Latino voters by talking about the importance of immigration in this country. You talk about the importance of — as — as Newt has talked about for many years, having English as the — as the official language of this country… We’re a melting pot, not a salad bowl. And we need to continue that tradition.”

Perry said that he opposes Obama’s DREAM Act — a program that provides education and “paths to citizenship” for illegal aliens — although his plan is similar.

“In the state of Texas, if you’ve been in the state of Texas for three years, if you’re working towards your college degree, and if you are working and pursuing citizenship in the state of Texas, you pay in-state tuition there,” he said in defense of his own immigrant-friendly legislation.

In discussing foreign policy, Paul was booed by the audience when he said that al-Qaida attacked the U.S. on 9/11 because of interventionism on the part of the government.

“As long as this country follows that idea, we’re going to be under a lot of danger. This whole idea that the whole Muslim world is responsible for this, and they’re attacking us because we’re free and prosperous, that is just not true,” he said. “Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda (sic) have been explicit — they have been explicit, and they wrote and said that we attacked America because you had bases on our holy land in Saudi Arabia, you do not give Palestinians fair treatment, and you have been bombing…”

Paul was also quick to note that while defense spending is necessary to protect the country, outright interventionist military spending is irresponsible.

“…I would say there’s a lot of room to cut on the military, but not on the defense. You can slash the military spending. We don’t need to be building airplanes that were used in World War II — we’re always fighting the last war,” he said. “But we’re under great threat, because we occupy so many countries. We’re in 130 countries. We have 900 bases around the world. We’re going broke.”

Perhaps the most revealing moment of the debate came at the end, when the candidates were allowed to offer anecdotally what they would bring into the White House if elected. Some candidates focused on the issues; some candidates’ focus was more personal. An abbreviated list of what each of the eight candidates would bring follows:

  • Santorum: an extra bedroom for his seven children
  • Gingrich: an end to White House czars
  • Paul: a bushel of common sense and a course on Austrian economics
  • Perry: his wife, Anita
  • Romney: a bust of Winston Churchill
  • Bachman: copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights
  • Cain: a sense of humor
  • Huntsman: his Harley and his motocross bike

A complete transcript of the debate can be found at

College Degree, Boost Or Bust?

A report recently released by the Institute For Financial Literacy on 2010 consumer bankruptcy demographics found that over the past five years, bankruptcy rates for individuals with college degrees are on the rise.

The study says that while the vast majority of those who file — 70 percent — did not finish college, the number of debtors with college degrees increased by 20 percent over the past half-decade due to a slow-moving economy. The Great Recession has taken a toll on young people across the board; those under the age of 34 are 30 percent more likely to file for bankruptcy protection than they were five years ago. The study also notes that the number of individuals earning more than $60,000 a year who file is up by about 66 percent.

Using a sample of 52,851 individuals seeking bankruptcy as an option for debt reconciliation, the Institute surveyed the following: gender, age, ethnicity, education, personal income, employment, marital status and cause of financial distress.

The Census Bureau released an American Community Survey this month that says “…there is a clear and well-defined relationship between education and earnings” but was careful to mention that there are an indeterminable number of factors that could impact an individual’s earnings. The study considered statistics from the past four decades.

But institutions that once touted college degrees as safety nets for financial success have been, over the past several years, met with dissidence — even from within in many cases — as government aid allows more and more students to attain degrees.

A study done earlier this year by Rutgers University said that only a little more than half of 2006 to 2010 college graduates interviewed were employed full time. Because the number of college graduates able to find work seems to be in step with falling numbers of employment on the wide spectrum many graduates have opted to work on post-graduate studies as they await a better employment outlook.

In December, Richard Vedder, writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education, penned an article entitled “The Great College-Degree Scam.” In his work, Vedder, the director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, essentially concedes that the government push for higher education has saturated the job market and forced more graduate and post graduate degree holders to take jobs for which they are overqualified and/or underpaid.

“…[T]he push to increase the number of college graduates seems horribly misguided from a strict economic/vocational perspective. It is precisely that perspective that is emphasized by those, starting with President Obama, who insist that we need to have more college graduates,” Vedder writes.

The professor also writes that he believes that the degree, having lost its value as a true measure of an individual‘s willingness to struggle in pursuit of knowledge, has become little more than a cheap pre-employment screening device for business, though one that actually costs private sector businesses more than they know.

“…[C]redential inflation arises from a perceived need by individuals to demonstrate potential employment competence through a piece of paper, i.e. a college diploma. Employers are using education as a screening and signaling device, at a low cost directly to them (although not costless because of the taxes they pay to sustain much of this), but at a high cost to the prospective employees and to society as a whole.”

Vedder concludes that, while many institutions and government officials are aware of changing trends and some are simply ignorant of them, they continue to push dated ideas that protect special interests.

“Many of those advocating more access are well meaning and have pure motives, but they are ignorant of the evidence. But higher education is all about facts, knowledge—learning how the world works and disseminating that information to others,” he writes. “Some in higher education KNOW about all of this and are keeping quiet about it because of their own self-interest. We are deceiving our young population to mindlessly pursue college degrees when very often that is advice that is increasingly questionable.”

Vedder’s arguments were based on data collected representative of years between 1992 and 2008.

Evidence from the aforementioned studies demonstrates that data collected in more recent years shows a decline in the value of a college degree as educated job seekers face more competitive markets and are increasingly unable to fend off economic hardship. The Census study, however, focusing on long term trends dating back to the 1970s, determines that while there are unknown factors, college is still the best route to higher earnings.












No Jail Time For Canadian Mother Who Killed Her Newborn Son

A Canadian woman, who in 2005 strangled her newborn child and threw his body over a fence, was not sentenced to jail time by a Canadian Court because there are no laws in the country protecting children in the womb and newborns, according to LifeSiteNews.          

Katrina Effert was found guilty of second-degree murder by two juries, although both times the judgment was thrown out by the appeals court. Last May, the Court of Appeal of Alberta overturned her 2009 murder conviction and replaced it with the lesser charge of infanticide, according to LifeSite.

Canadian Criminal Code says a woman who has not “fully recovered” from the effects of birth can be found guilty of the lesser charge of infanticide if the infant is murdered by the mother while her “mind is disturbed.”

Effert delivered her child secretly in her parents’ home at the age of 19, and strangled the infant to hide the birth. Defense attorneys argued that the young woman was mentally disturbed because she was overwhelmed by the hidden pregnancy, the Alberta Court of Appeals agreed.

Last Friday, Effert got a three-year suspended sentence from Justice Joanne Veit of the Edmonton Court of Queen’s Bench. She was able to walk out of court, although she will have to abide by certain conditions. According to the article, Veit believed Canadians feel compassion for Effert.

“Naturally, Canadians are grieved by an infant’s death, especially at the hands of the infant’s mother, but Canadians also grieve for the mother,” she said.

The judge attributed the country’s lack of abortion legislation as a reason that mothers like Effert take matters into their own hands.

European Economic Crises Compound

The European economic crises continued to compound on Monday with threats of a Greek default coming closer to reality, and European banks holding masses of country debt came under fresh threat.

Markets across Europe are collapsing, fueled by the situation in Greece and rumors that France’s three largest banks — which hold tens of billions of euros worth of Greek debt — may see their ratings cut by a top credit agency this week.

According to The Washington Post, some European banks are trading at bottoms not seen since the worst of the 2008 financial crisis.

The New York Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500 and NASDAQ fell sharply after the markets opened on Monday with European shares at two-year lows. The biggest issue facing Europeans is the alarming speed at which the economic crisis is unfolding.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) dropped 82 points late Monday morning, in a volatile session and the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500-stock index fell six points. By the end of the day Monday, S&P closed at 8 points up and DJIA was up 65 points.

Some experts say that despite European turmoil, markets in the U.S. should remain steady as American investors focus more on problems with their own failing economy. The problems associated with the European crises have been blamed heavily on the inability of the euro to act as a unifying force among the many diverse economies that it represents.

“The euro was conceived to bring a lot of unity to the European markets,” said Randy Bateman, chief investment officer of Huntington Funds to The Wall Street Journal. “[But] they never really built in a fail-safe mechanism. The economies that constitute the European community are just too diverse.”







Pawlenty Endorses Romney Campaign

Prior to the Tea Party Debate Monday night, former GOP candidate Tim Pawlenty, during an appearance on Fox News, endorsed former rival Mitt Romney for the 2012 GOP Presidential nomination.

“Alone among the contenders, [Romney] possesses the unique qualifications to confront and master our severe economic predicament. His abiding faith in our country’s exceptional historical position as a beacon of freedom will make him the most important leader in a world that depends upon a strong America to stay at peace,” Pawlenty said.

According to Deseret News, the endorsement comes only months after Pawlenty criticized Romney for passing a health bill in Massachusetts which President Barack Obama said was a model for his own healthcare legislation. Pawlenty called Obama’s plan “Obamneycare” after both Obama and Romney.

After being asked about his sudden change of opinion, Pawlenty said he now believes Romney is dedicated to repealing Obamacare.

Pawlenty also said he believes Romney has better plans for Social Security reform than Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is considered Romney’s biggest rival at this point in the race.

“Gov. Romney wants to fix Social Security. He doesn’t want to abolish it or end it,” Pawlenty said. “Gov. Perry has said in the past that he thought it was ‘failed.'”

Pawlenty is joining the Romney campaign as a national co-chairman but said he would not consider any other positions in the Romney camp.

“I’m not going to consider being VP. I was down that path once before with John McCain,” he said. “That won’t be part of the future for me.”



Major Blackouts In Southwest

A major power outage in the Southwest on Thursday left nearly 6 million people in Arizona and California in the dark, causing travel delays and offering an example of what major metropolitan blackouts look like in the U.S.

Arizona Public Service Co. (APS), Arizona’s largest power producer, blamed the blackout on the error of a single employee which led to the shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear power plant. A press release from the company explained, however, that other problems developed causing the widespread outage.

“The outage appears to be related to a procedure an APS employee was carrying out in the North Gila substation, which is located northeast of Yuma. Operating and protection protocols typically would have isolated the resulting outage to the Yuma area. The reason that did not occur in this case will be the focal point of the investigation into the event, which already is under way.”

According to a Daily Mail story, FBI officials ruled out terrorism while power plant authorities struggled to find the cause of the outage that started around 4 p.m. local time. Mike Niggli, chief operating officer of San Diego Gas & Electric Co., said a transmitter line between Arizona and California was severed, causing the larger outage. Extreme heat in some areas also may have caused some problems with power lines.

The power outage also caused problems along the U.S./Mexican border as lights went out as far as Tijuana, Mexico. The largest similar example of a large scale blackout took place in the Northeast in 2003, when 50 million people were left without power in areas like New York City. The event led to 11 deaths.

Large scale blackouts in major metropolitan centers should be considered disasters, because they can lead to panic and mass confusion. Dealing with them is aided by survival preparation.

To prepare for these situations, individuals should consider things like having non-perishable food stores because refrigeration units will shut off as will most retail payment systems.

It is also necessary to have ample amounts of water stored in the event that water works grids are rendered unusable. It is also prudent to have extra required medication.

The best defense against outages is a backup generator, but flashlights and radios are also very important. In large blackouts, communication networks may collapse along with the grid. Landline and cellular networks may fail, but short text messages should still get through.

Blackouts may lead to a major spike in criminal activities like looting and robbery, so staying in the home and having weapons for protection is also important.