Shooting Hoops In The Hermit Kingdom

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a VICE media employee, three Harlem Globe trotters and Dennis Rodman—no, this isn’t the beginning of a “walk into a bar” joke—got together Thursday to tape a made-for-TV basketball exhibition in the Hermit Kingdom for an upcoming HBO show.

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According to the Associated Press, Rodman, three members of the Harlem Globetrotters, VICE correspondent Ryan Duffy and a production crew put on the exhibition between two teams, each featuring two Americans playing with North Koreans. The game ended in a questionable 110-110 tie.

At one point, Rodman told Kim, “You have a friend for life.”

At a time when tensions over nuclear weapons remain high between North Korea and the U.S., VICE media founder Shane Smith said he hoped the stunt would break the ice between the two.

”We knew that he’s [Kim’s] a big lover of basketball, especially the Bulls, and it was our intention going in that we would have a good-will mission of something that’s fun,” Smith said. ”A lot of times, things just are serious and everybody’s so concerned with geopolitics that we forget just to be human beings.”

Do you think this kind of privatized diplomacy is helpful?

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PHOTOS FROM VICE

Liberal Gun Advice: Lie Down And Die, Or Shoot Blindly Through Doors

Protestors took to cities throughout the Nation Wednesday to denounce “Stand Your Ground” laws as they marked the one-year anniversary of the shooting death of 17-year old Trayvon Martin. One woman in Atlanta made remarks that stood out as particularly disturbing to 2nd Amendment advocates in an interview with CBS.

Against a backdrop of anti-gun and pro-Trayvon signs, one protestor — who was wearing a President Barack Obama hat — said she’d rather be murdered than defend herself against an attack.

“Self-defense is not an option. It is not an option,” she said.

“But what if someone’s trying to kill you?” asked CBS Atlanta’s Christopher King.

“They’ll just have to kill me, Christopher,” she responded.
 

 
The woman’s willingness to be killed rather than use a gun in self-defense is nearly as disturbing as “Shotgun” Joe Biden’s latest self-defense advice in an interview with Field and Stream magazine.

“Well, you know, my shotgun will do better for you than your AR-15, because you want to keep someone away from your house, just fire the shotgun through the door,” Biden said.
 
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Let Sequestration Happen, DOJ’s Inside Joke, Going Postal, Regulation Nation And Socialism Sucks: Thursday Morning News Roundup 2-28-2013

Here is a collection of some of the stories that Personal Liberty staffers will be keeping an eye on throughout the day. Click the links for the full stories.

  • Even though Congress and the President continue to scream that the sky is falling, 37 percent of Americans think the sequestration cuts should be made.
  • Here’s a good joke to get your day started: The Department of Justice is patting itself on the back for the government’s “significant improvements” in administering the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Ha, ha, ha.
  • Be careful next time you go to the post office; Federal employees say that morale is low.
  • Viva la socialism… or not so much. It seems that 10 months into his mandate, socialist French President Francois Hollande is the least popular French president in more than three decades.
  • Last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo passed some of the strictest gun control laws in the Nation. Now, he’s making exemptions to the laws for Hollywood elite shooting films and television shows in his State.
  • President and founder of Subway Fred Deluca described some of the challenges payroll tax increases and Obamacare have presented small-business franchisee owners Wednesday on CNBC. He said there are so many regulations now that he would be unable to open the restaurant chain he built in the 1960s.

Check back for updates, news and analysis throughout the day. Like us on Facebook. And follow our improved Twitter feed.

Border Patrol Effectiveness Not Measured By Amount Of Border Patrolled

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano is fond of claiming that U.S. border security is “better than ever.”  However, a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that details how DHS quantifies how well the borders are guarded tells a different story.

The GAO reports shows that only 44 percent of the 2,000 miles that make up the southwest border are actively watched by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CPB).

“At the end of fiscal year 2010, DHS reported achieving varying levels of operational control of 873 (44 percent) of the nearly 2,000 southwest border miles,” Rebecca Gambler, the GAO’s director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues told the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on the Border in a written testimony.

According to the testimony, because of the low levels of “operational control” over vast segments of the U.S. border at the end of fiscal year 2010, DHS simply stopped using the amount of border space it was actively patrolling as a measure of the effectiveness of Border Patrol programs that fall under its authority.

Instead, DHS counts the number of illegal border crossers it catches and uses the number as an “interim” measure of Border Patrol effectiveness. That process, according to GAO officials, hinders Congressional oversight and shields DHS from accountability for ineffective border protection practices it may have in place.

“In fiscal year 2011, citing a need to establish new goals and measures that reflect a more quantitative methodology and an evolving vision for border control, DHS transitioned to using the number of apprehensions on the southwest border as an interim goal and measure,” Gambler testified. “As GAO previously testified, this interim measure, which reports on program activity levels and not program results, limits DHS and congressional oversight and accountability.”

Congress provided Border Patrol with a massive increase in resources in 2004 and has invested about $4.4 billion in southwest border technology and infrastructure since 2006. Some of the money was used to nearly double the number of Border Patrol agents — from about 9,500 to 18,500. Gambler contends that these expansions in funding were provided under the assumption that they would be primarily to increase directly the amount of border space over which the DHS has “operational control.” But because the agency no longer measures its effectiveness in terms of how much border it actively patrols, there is no way of measuring a return on investment.

“Further, studies commissioned by CBP have documented that the number of apprehensions bears little relationship to effectiveness because agency officials do not compare these numbers with the amount of cross-border illegal activity,” Gambler testified.

One explanation for the DHS move to drop actual patrolling of the border from the list it uses to measure Border Patrol’s effectiveness could be that the agency is focusing more resources on creating checkpoints within the U.S. border.

In the years following the funding increases, American travelers in border States have been met more and more often by Constitutionally questionable Border Patrol checkpoints — sometimes up to 100 miles from the border.

Big Pharma Courts Med School Students

A new study explains why so many doctors adhere stringently to the Big Pharma-approved “treat the symptoms” school of medical thought. Even while they are still medical school students and residents, future healthcare providers are already commonly given meals, gifts and industry-sponsored educational materials by pharmaceutical sales representatives.

The study, conducted by students at Harvard Medical School in cooperation with the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, questioned 2,000 medical students and residents representing every medical school in the United States about encounters with Big Pharma sales representatives.

“In medical school and residency, as trainees are learning the fundamentals of their profession, there is a need to ensure the education they receive is as unbiased as possible,” said Aaron Kesselheim, an internist and health policy researcher at Brigham. “However, it is well known that promotional information and gifts from pharmaceutical companies can encourage non-evidence-based prescribing.  Though many institutions have tried to insulate trainees from these effects, trainees’ exposure to industry promotion is still quite high.”

The researchers asked the students about the frequency of their interaction with pharmaceutical representatives, the types of gifts pharmaceutical representatives gave them and whether they thought these interactions affected their learning.

One-third of the students in their first year of medical school reported receiving pharmaceutical industry-sponsored gifts, and more than half of fourth year students did. A majority of students reported that pharmaceutical representatives had helped them educationally, even though a majority of students also acknowledged the interactions opened them up to bias and should be limited.

“Medical schools and academic medical centers need to continue to work on separating students from industry promotion at this highly impressionable time in their professional development,” said Harvard Medical School student Kirsten Austad. “As an alternative, medical schools should provide students with more education about how to interpret clinical trials and ways to approach evidence-based prescribing so trainees can learn to critically evaluate industry promotion when they become practicing physicians.”

The study is published in The Journal of Internal Medicine.

Hagel Sworn In, Ready For Challenges

Chuck Hagel was sworn in Wednesday as the defense secretary after overcoming strong opposition from hawkish Republicans due to past statements about U.S. relations with Israel and Iran. The Administration of Barack Obama eulogized the “bipartisan” confirmation, though only four GOP Senators supported Hagel in a 58-41 Senate vote Tuesday.

From a White House statement:

With the bipartisan confirmation of Chuck Hagel as our next Secretary of Defense, we will have the defense secretary our nation needs and the leader our troops deserve.  From the moment he volunteered for military service in Vietnam, Chuck has devoted his life to keeping America secure and our armed forces strong.  An American patriot who fought and bled for our country, he understands our sacred obligations to our service members, military families and veterans.

Though Hagel endured a contentious confirmation process, his biggest tasks are before him: $46 billion in automatic Pentagon reductions are slated to go into effect Friday, the troop drawdown in Afghanistan continues and the possibility of conflict with Iran looms.

Hagel said he was prepared to meet the challenges in an address to Pentagon employees Wednesday.

“As difficult as our jobs are with the budget and sequestration — I don’t need to dwell on all the good news there — that’s a reality. We need to figure this out. You are doing that. You have been doing that. We need to deal with this reality,” he said. “We’ve got ahead of us a lot of challenges. They are going to define much of who we are, not this institution only, but our country, what kind of a world our children are going to inherit. I mean, that’s the big challenge that we have. That’s the bigger picture of the objective for all of us. Yes, it’s difficult.”

Senator Rand Paul, who has been an outspoken critic of the Hagel nomination, surprised some conservatives with his “aye” vote on Tuesday but had already offered an explanation of why he was among the few GOP members to ultimately support the confirmation.

“I voted for John Kerry and I agree with nothing he represents,” he told a group at the New York Meeting, a monthly conservative gathering, “but I voted for him because I thought there was a level of at least basic human decency and honesty that exists there … and that the president has the prerogative to determine political appointees.”

He continued: “I would never vote for him in an election so I saw it a little bit differently. I see Hagel and Brennan and [Treasury nominee Jack] Lew kind of the same way. I don’t agree with much of their policies with any of them … They’re going to be Obama appointees … On Hagel, there’s criticisms both on the conservative right, and there’s also criticism on the libertarian right.”

Would You Turn In Your Guns For A Beyoncé Concert?

What would it take for you to take your guns up to the local police station and turn them in? A $100 gift card? Some free gasoline?

Michael “Blue” Williams, who heads up a hip hop music company called Family Tree Entertainment, wants to make disarming Americans more fashionable among the younger set, particularly among blacks and Latinos aged 16 to 36.

“That’s the audience they need to reach out for, the ones who are carrying the guns and committing the crimes,” Williams said.

He thinks that can be accomplished by offering mentorships and concert tickets to the hottest new shows in return for guns. Among the tickets up for grabs could be a set to Barack Obama darling and recent headline grabber Beyoncé’s world tour concert. It isn’t clear at this time whether Beyoncé or any other pop stars have agreed to get involved.

According to MSNBC, William’s program, “Guns For Greatness,” is already being considered by New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly; but the commissioner wants to study the proposal further before implementing the program.

If New York implements the program, however, it would be one of the first private-sector gun collection initiatives to spring up in the Nation.

On Gun Control, The Emperor Has No Clothes

Earlier this month, the National Rifle Association leaked a furtively obtained internal Justice Department memo in which a leading official in the Administration of President Barack Obama mused that a ban on so-called assault weapons and large ammunition magazines coupled with a more stringent background check system would have no impact in reducing the availability of certain firearms.

Instead, the official opined, a national gun registration and confiscation system would have to be put into place to eliminate the guns the Obama Administration and certain lawmakers are hell bent to ban.

If the Presidential Administration’s goal is to ban certain firearms incrementally without making obvious that the elimination of all 2nd Amendment rights is the endgame, the memo is damning in its honesty. In a nutshell, the tone is this: “Well, we could actually cut the number of gun murders by simply enforcing existing gun laws, but if you guys want to ban them, here’s how.”

From the memo:

Fatalities from mass shootings (those with 4 or more victims in a particular place and time) account on average for 35 fatalities per year. Policies that address the larger firearm homicide issue will have a far greater impact even if they do not address the particular issues of mass shootings.

The memo goes on to suggest that gun buybacks, magazine bans, background checks, assault weapon bans and the development of “smart guns” are all really fatuous things to suggest if you are a top government official serious about cutting down on gun violence.

A recent Syracuse University study backs the Justice memo’s initial assertion that gun crime would be cut drastically if existing gun laws were simply enforced. According to that report, since Obama took office, the number of gun crime prosecutions in the Nation has dropped significantly. By 2011, there were 40 percent fewer gun-related prosecutions than when they peaked in 2004 under President George W. Bush.

That study prompted members of the House Judiciary GOP to band together and sign a letter criticizing the President that has made such a policy plank of gun control for his Administrations poor record on gun crime. The letter was sent to Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Besides pointing out the overall low number of gun crime prosecutions, the GOP lawmakers lambasted Administration officials for failing to place high value on prosecution of paperwork violations from Federally licensed firearms dealers:

In 2010, there were 76,142 [National Instant Criminal Background Check System] denials screened by the ATF’s Denial Enforcement and NICS Intelligence (DENI) Branch. Of those screened, 4,732 denials were referred to field offices for investigation. However, only 62 prosecutions resulted from these actions,” the letter says. “A prosecution rate this low is not indicative of a Department of Justice that takes the act of illegally attempting to acquire a firearm seriously.

The lawmakers asked Holder to provide records of Justice prosecutions for Federal firearms violations over the past 11 years.

In another recent open letter to the President, Columbine survivor Evan Todd similarly criticized the Administration for gun prosecution failings:

Mr. President, these are your words: “And finally, Congress needs to help, rather than hinder, law enforcement as it does its job. We should get tougher on people who buy guns with the express purpose of turning around and selling them to criminals. And we should severely punish anybody who helps them do this.”

Why don’t we start with Eric Holder and thoroughly investigate the Fast and Furious program?

Todd also noted that it was during the initial assault weapons ban that the Columbine massacre occurred.

Israeli TV: Window Of Opportunity For U.S. Strike On Iran Coming

An Israeli media outlet is reporting that an American strike on Iran is in the cards, as the Administration of Barack Obama expects a “window of opportunity” for U.S. military aggression against the country to open in June.

According to an Israeli television news report, when Obama makes a scheduled visit to Israel next month he will tell Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “sit tight” and let Washington take the stage. In the likely event that continuing U.S. sanctions against the Iranians do not halt the nation’s nuclear ambitions before summer, a U.S. military operation is expected to commence.

On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry said that time for a diplomatic solution to the impasse was running out, since the Iranians continue to enrich uranium. Tehran claims the nation isn’t breaking any international laws because the uranium enrichment is only to make reactor fuel and medical isotopes. But some watchdogs say Iran is quickly enriching enough uranium to pose a significant nuclear threat by summer.

“As we have repeatedly made clear, the window for a diplomatic solution simply cannot remain open forever,” Kerry said in London, on his first international tour as Secretary of State. “But it is open today. It is open now and there is still time, but there is only time if Iran makes the decision to come to the table and to negotiate in good faith.

“We are prepared to negotiate in good faith, in mutual respect, in an effort to avoid whatever terrible consequences could follow failure, and so the choice really is in the hands of the Iranians. And we hope they will make the right choice,” Kerry added.

This week top diplomats from the United States, U.K., France, China, Russia and Germany — all but Germany are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — are meeting with Iranian officials in a hotel in Almaty, Kazakhstan, to try to convince the nation to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent (the point at which it becomes weapons viable) and to export highly enriched uranium. The diplomats are also urging the Iranians to shut down the mountain-shielded Fordo uranium enrichment center, which the nation has refused to do in the past.

Iranian compliance would lead to a lessening of sanctions that have crippled the nation’s economy, according to reports. Some of the reported economic reliefs could include permission to resume Iranian gold and precious metals trading and international banking activity. But not much is expected to come from the latest round of talks with an Iranian Presidential election slated for June, making top officials in the country hesitant to make any deals with Western powers that could be perceived as a result of weakness.

Hollywood Propaganda Film Is The Oscars’ Best Picture

Call it playing the devil’s advocate if you like; but, sometimes, you have to hand it to Iranian government officials: They call ’em like they see ’em. Such is the case with the recent outcry from top Iranian officials that the Hollywood blockbuster “Argo” is an aptly timed anti-Iranian propaganda film.

“Argo,” for those who weren’t interested in forking over $7.50 to line the pockets of Hollywood actors and producers, is a revisionist account of the 1979 rescue of six American hostages from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. The movie portrays brilliant CIA operatives working with compliant Hollywood elite to orchestrate a plan to extract the hostages. How?: By sending a fake movie crew to Iran to scout for shooting locations for their science fiction film.

Of course, in all of the CIA-glorifying, America touting,  the movie leaves out a bit of critical information: The hostage rescue was necessary due to American failures (actually, much like those leading up to the Benghazi, Libya, fiasco in September), and the rescue of the six hostages that is portrayed in “Argo” was actually orchestrated by brilliant Canadians.

Former President Jimmy Carter sums up one of the most obvious inaccuracies in the movie nicely in the interview below:


So, big deal, you say. “Argo’s” producers stole a bit of Canadian thunder in the name of American patriotism. After all, many Canucks still feel all warm and fuzzy falsely believing it was they, and not British soldiers, who set the White House ablaze back in 1814. But, I digress.

The biggest problem with “Argo” was revealed Sunday night when first lady Michelle Obama appeared on national television flanked by American service members to announce the movie won the award for best picture: It is — whether by design or not — a propaganda film. It’s quite appropriate that the first lady announced the award for “Argo,” because the movie pushes propaganda to those who view it that is undoubtedly beneficial to her husband’s Presidential Administration.

President Barack Obama has continued with a war effort on par with anything George W. Bush did, despite many lofty promises during his first campaign. Liberal Americans and anti-war Democrats know this, even if they are unwilling to admit that the Nobel Peace Prize winner in the White House is a wartime President. Furthermore, America is nowhere near wrapping up in the Mideast; in fact, before Obama leaves the Oval Office, an Israeli-backing Iranian invasion is probably in the cards.

As the wheels of war begin to turn more rapidly, Americans must have a barbaric, almost inhuman, face of hate to picture when the name of the enemy is mentioned. “Argo” has handed this over in grand fashion by portraying the Iranians protesting in 1979 as barbaric and unthinking mobs ready to tear apart anyone who was unlike them. Of course, there is little mention of the fact that the revolution that occurred in Iran that year may have never happened had it not been for American hegemony years earlier.

The Iranian Revolution that was sparked in 1979 helped create the “defiant,” near-nuclear Iran that the world knows today. But it isn’t often discussed that the American decision in 1953 to topple one of the most democratic governments Iran had ever known for “strategic” (for British Petroleum Company) reasons (because Iran had nationalized its oil supply) was one of the root causes of the revolution.

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright admitted in March 2000: “In 1953 the United States played a significant role in orchestrating the overthrow of Iran’s popular Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadeqh. The Eisenhower Administration believed its actions were justified for strategic reasons; but the coup was clearly a setback for Iran’s political development. And it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs.”

Some of that anti-American sentiment could stem from the fact that the U.S.-installed Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi to Iran’s top position following the coup. The CIA-backed Shah of Iran then enjoyed 25 years of tyrannical rule over the Iranian people as a U.S. puppet. He also denationalized the Iranian oil supply.

Young Iranians, in 1979, having lived under tyrannical rule because of U.S. meddling for more than two decades, began protesting as a new set of ideas emerged from radical Islamists like Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who promised things could be better.  The hostage crises that provided fodder for “Argo” only ensued after the U.S. refused to return their puppet Shah, who had since fled to America, to face the prosecution from a new Iranian regime.

Believe it or not, it got even sillier as the years went on:

1980: The United States backs and provides support for an Iraqi (that’s Saddam Hussein’s Iraq) invasion of Iran.

1982-1983: The U.S. ups support for Iraq as Iran gains an upper hand in the conflict. CIA fronts in Chile and Saudi Arabia begin sending weapons directly to Baghdad. This went on for years as things like advanced computers, equipment to repair jet engines and rockets, and bacterial cultures to make weapons-grade anthrax were provided to the Iraqi regime.

1985-1986: President Ronald Reagan violated an embargo to deliver weapons to Iran to secure the release of seven American hostages in Lebanon. Yes, it’s a little more complicated than that — but not much. By the time the plan was discovered, more than 1,500 missiles had been shipped to Iran. Three hostages had been released, but they were replaced with three more, in what Secretary of State George Shultz called “a hostage bazaar.”

1987: A skirmish occurs between U.S. and Iranian naval forces.

1988: The U.S. shoots down an Iranian passenger jet that was mistaken for a hostile Iranian fighter aircraft; 290 people died.

1995: President Bill Clinton levies hefty sanctions against Iran for promoting Mideast terror.

2002 and 2003: President George W. Bush brands Iran a part of the “axis of evil.” America subsequently looks for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and finds none, but proceeds to overthrow Saddam, the guy the CIA once armed to kill Iranians.

Now here we are in 2013, and a war with Iran is forever on the horizon. As history demonstrates, successful war efforts require public support. And the first lady of the United States handing over a prestigious award to the makers of a movie that portrays Iran as a country of barbaric animals and Americans as a Nation of powerful, intelligent rescuers can’t hurt. Had the movie given a little more perspective and been a little more historically honest, it isn’t likely that the first lady would have been anywhere near the award ceremony.

Supporters of a hawkish Mideast foreign policy will point out that hindsight is 20/20 and that each reversal of course the U.S. has made in the region was necessary at the time. But those war hawks who also call themselves conservatives should also remember a few other things: America owes $16.6 trillion in debt, sequestration that could kick in by the end of the week is going to cut monetary resources at all levels of government and Iran’s aggressive behavior (now, and historically) appears driven by increased pressure and tightening of sanctions by the West. Can we really afford to keep playing in the sand, even if Hollywood bends the truth to help us picture an enemy worth attacking?