Thursday Morning News Roundup 12-6-2012

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.

  • If President Barack Obama and Congress fail to come to agreement over the fiscal cliff, high-income Californians would end up paying the Nation’s highest tax rate of nearly 52 percent because of the passage of Proposition 30.


  • More bad news about the National Defense Authorization Act. Lawmakers have proposed an amendment that would add a national online sales tax.



  • The CIA scrubbed and abandoned the United States’ diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, within eight hours of the fatal Sept. 11 attacks, according to a report.


  • Pot smokers in Washington State are jubilant as they spark up joints under Seattle’s Space Needle.




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DHS Grants Not Making Anyone Safer

In a new report, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) points out that America’s burgeoning homeland security apparatus is undermining the safety of the Nation with wasteful spending while robbing citizens of precious individual liberty.

Coburn’s report “Safety At Any Price: Assessing the Impact of Homeland Security Spending in U.S. Cities” takes a look at some of the ways that taxpayer dollars have been spent with the supposed purpose of making American cities safer.

The Senator singles out the Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) which provides government grants for the militarization of local police forces and other localized homeland security initiatives. But Coburn argues that the Federal government’s careless handouts are leading to gross misspending on unnecessary equipment.

DHS has spent an estimated $35 billion on grant programs over the past decade, $7.144 billion of which was directed to UASI grants. Coburn argues that it is unclear whether the many billions in spending has actually served to make American cities any safer from potential terror threats, pointing out some questionable uses of the grant funding throughout the Nation.

  • Michigan officials used DHS grant funding to purchase 13 sno-cone machines.
  • Officials in Cook County, Ill., spent $45 million in DHS funds on a failed video surveillance network.
  • City officials in Columbus, Ohio, were given $98,000 to purchase an underwater robot.
  • The tiny New Hampshire town of Keene (pop. 23,000) bought an armored military vehicle for its 40 cops to use during patrols of the local pumpkin festival.

Coburn also outlines a number of more mundane expenses in the report such as purchases of office equipment for local police forces or security upgrades to sports complexes. The biggest concern, the Senator argues, is that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is unable to define how, specifically, the billions of dollars in spending directly improves homeland security or disaster preparations.

From the report:

Given our nearly $16 trillion national debt, and the federal government’s many competing responsibilities, it is important that Congress carefully consider what we can afford and what investments on anti-terrorism programs will yield the best return on investment in terms of improved security. Before Congress embraces a consolidation plan, and allocates another $35 billion in homeland security grants, it is essential that DHS’s address the difficulties it has had to this point implementing the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) and other DHS grant programs.

The report also pointed out that DHA allowed cities to use grant funds to pay for officials’ attendance at the HALO Counter-Terrorism Summit in San Diego in late October. “The marquee event over the summit, however, was its highly promoted ‘zombie apocalypse’ demonstration,” the report said.

America In Danger Of Downward Mobile Status

Due to a growing number of Americans opting to forgo advanced education degrees because of skyrocketing college costs and diminishing job markets, some education experts say the Nation is in danger of becoming a place where downward mobility is the social norm.

Andreas Schleicher, special adviser on education at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), said in a recent BBC interview that there is a growing trend of younger Americans being less educated than their parents. At the current rate, he said, the United States will soon be the only major economy on Earth where most members of younger generations are less educated than their parents.

This could lead to the Nation falling behind significantly in its ability to compete in an international economy.

“It’s something of great significance because much of today’s economic power of the United States rests on a very high degree of adult skills — and that is now at risk,” Schleicher said. “These skills are the engine of the US economy and the engine is stuttering.”

The education expert’s remarks come on the heels of OECD reports that show the balance of global economic dominance shifting heavily in the next half century. The report shows the United States dropping from 23 percent of total global gross domestic product to just 16 percent by the year 2060. Conversely, China is expected to make gains from 17 percent to 28 percent in the same timeframe.

IMF: Spending Cuts Slow Growth More Than Tax Hikes

A new study conducted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) takes into account decades of economic data about the world’s industrialized nations to examine how changes in government spending affects economic output.

According to the report, which researchers say is the first of its kind, fiscal negotiators in the United States would do well to tread lightly in coming weeks as they work to flesh out an agreement over the Nation’s economic problems. The IMF paper says that in its current state of recovery from the 2008 recession, cutting too much government spending could stall growth in the overall economy. The researchers predict that for every dollar the government cuts, it is possible that $1.80 in economic output will disappear having a “statistically significant…and sizeable” negative economic impact.

The paper goes on to indicate that raising taxes on Americans by one percent would only knock 0.1 percent out of the overall economy.

The paper indicates that however the fiscal negotiators tackle the economic recovery process, IMF suggests slower is better.

“When feasible a more gradual fiscal…consolidation is likely to prove preferable to an approach that aims at ‘getting it over quickly,’” the paper says.

Wednesday Morning News Roundup 12-5-2012

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.

  • Budget hawk Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is at it again. This time he has pointed out how snow cone machines are being bought to protect the homeland.


  • Motorists in New York City are suing the city government, alleging that red light cameras have been rigged to catch more drivers and write more tickets to provide revenue.


  • President Barack Obama is seeking help with American tax policy from… MSNBC hosts.


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Disability Insurance Overwhelmed, Increasingly Scammed

Politicians use one word endlessly throughout campaign seasons: jobs. But they don’t often talk about the millions of Americans who seemingly don’t want them, including the millions opting to go on disability.

Social Security’s disability insurance program has long been a godsend for Americans injured or unable to work because of physical impairments. Evidence shows, however, that a growing number of people are opting for disabled to be their career of choice by defrauding the system.

An aging Nation and tough economic times have seen disability claims skyrocket so much that the Social Security Administration can’t keep up. This is creating a backlog of applicants and making it hard for many who are legitimately disabled to get disability benefits.

Meanwhile, the opportunity to make an average of $1,100 a month without having to work has become increasingly popular with scammers. The system is being defrauded by recipients who often claim to have ailments that are both chronic and nearly impossible for healthcare professionals to refute.

Despite increasing quality of healthcare in the United States over the past several decades along with special provisions put in place in the 1990s via the Americans With Disabilities Act (both of which make it easier for those with disabilities to lead normal lives), more and more people are claiming to be too disabled to work.

Conservative columnist Michael Barone points out in a recent piece that about half as many people entered the disability rolls (4.1 million) as did the workforce (8.8 million) in the years between 1996 and 2011. He also notes that the age of the average disability recipient is dropping, with more than 15 percent of those on disability younger than 50 in 2011.

Since 2009, the disability program has paid out more than it collects. In 2011, total outlays were $128 billion, while the program’s revenues totaled only about $94 billion. Disability insurance is expected to be the first portion of the larger Social Security system to reach total insolvency.

TSA On The Highway

If you thought you could avoid intrusive encounters with the Transportation Security Administration by simply avoiding the airport, you’re wrong. The agency is seeking permission to expand its reach to highways and other transportation hubs throughout the Nation.

The TSA is currently seeking permission from the Office of Management and Budget to conduct “security-related assessments” of about 750 long-haul trucking operators as well as 140 public transportation agencies.

Under an initiative dubbed the Highway Baseline Assessment for Security Enhancement (BASE) program, the TSA will work to find ways to “fill security gaps” related to transportation on American highways and interstates.

The agency states in a Federal notice:

TSA’s Highway BASE program seeks to establish the current state of security gaps and implemented countermeasures throughout the highway mode of transportation by posing questions to major transportation asset owners and operators. Data and results collected through the Highway BASE program will inform TSA’s policy and program initiatives and allow TSA to provide focused resources and tools to enhance the overall security posture within the surface transportation community.

The TSA has already taken measures to set up airport-style checkpoints at a number of rail stations and last year examined trucks and buses on Tennessee highways.


The Government Has Your Emails, All Of Them

A National Security Administration whistle-blower said in a recent interview that the U.S. government collects massive troves of data about American citizens, which it could use against anyone it chooses.

Speaking with RT, William Binney, a former NSA mathematician and code breaker, said that the Federal government uses a powerful data collection tool to store the contents of virtually every email sent by anyone in the Nation.

“[T]he FBI has access to the data collected, which is basically the e-mails of virtually everybody in the country. And the FBI has access to it. All the congressional members are on the surveillance too, no one is excluded. They are all included. So, yes, this can happen to anyone. If they become a target for whatever reason — they are targeted by the government, the government can go in, or the FBI, or other agencies of the government, they can go into their database, pull all that data collected on them over the years, and we analyze it all. So, we have to actively analyze everything they’ve done for the last 10 years at least,” he said.

Binney said the government is collecting the information in bulk without any regard to whether the individuals whose information is being stored is subject to criminal investigation at this time or is considered a threat to national security. According to the former NSA agent, the data is collected with a powerful information technology device called Naris which is capable of collecting all information being sent over fiber optic cables in the United States. The information is then stored in vast data collection centers where it can be searched later by Federal agents.

This sort of vast data snooping by the Federal government was first brought to light when it was discovered that the NSA was working with AT&T to monitor customer phone and Internet activity via a secret office at the company’s headquarters. The discovery led to a lawsuit and much stonewalling by the Federal government.

Binney says government surveillance of data over fiber optic networks has increased since the first lawsuit was filed against AT&T for allowing Fed snoops to mine its data networks. He claims that under the Administration of Barack Obama the government has even had to build larger facilities to store all of the data it is collecting from Americans’ inboxes.

“They are doing more. He is supporting the building of the Buffdale facility, which is over two billion dollars they are spending on storage room for data. That means that they are collecting a lot more now and need more storage for it,” he said. “That facility by my calculations that I submitted to the court for the electronic frontiers foundation against NSA would hold on the order of 5 zettabytes of data. Just that current storage capacity is being advertised on the web that you can buy. And that’s not talking about what they have in the near future.”

Good Doctors Listen Carefully

New research suggests that a doctor can better the health of a patient simply by ensuring that a relationship is built upon trust and empathy.

Researchers from Michigan State University have shown that doctors who listen carefully have happier patients with better health outcomes not only because they make better treatment decisions, but also because empathy actually changes the brain’s response to stress and increases pain tolerance.

“This is the first study that has looked at the patient-centered relationship from a neurobiological point of view,” said Issidoros  Sarinopoulos, the lead researcher. “It’s important for doctors and others who advocate this type of relationship with the patient to show that there is a biological basis.”

In the study patients were randomly assigned to one of two types of interview with a doctor before undergoing an MRI scan. One set was asked only specific questions about clinical information such as their medical history and what drugs they were taking. The other patients were assigned doctors who addressed any concerns participants had about the procedure and asked open-ended questions, allowing them to talk freely about their jobs, home life and other psychological and social factors affecting health.

The patients were then given a series of electric shocks while looking at a photo of a doctor who they were told was supervising the procedure. Using the MRI, researchers measured activity in the anterior insula — the part of the brain that makes people aware of pain.

Individuals who had a previous patient-centered interview showed less activity in the anterior insula when they were looking at a photo of the interviewing doctor than when the doctor in the photo was unknown. They participants also self-reported less pain when the photos showed the known doctor.

“Medicine has for too long focused just on the physical dimensions of the patient,” said MSU professor of medicine Robert Smith, who co-authored the paper. “Those clinical questions are important and necessary, but we’re trying to demonstrate that when you let patients tell their story in an unfettered way, you get more satisfied patients who end up healthier.”

Tuesday Morning News Roundup 12-4-2012

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.

  • Law enforcement officers are lobbying wireless phone providers to keep detailed logs of Americans’ text messages for two years in case they’re needed for future criminal investigations. Welcome to 1984.
  • A National Security Administration whistle-blower says that every person in the United States is under virtual government surveillance.
  • Iran said that it has captured a U.S. intelligence drone in its airspace over the Gulf in the past few days, but the U.S. military quickly denied having lost any unmanned aircraft.

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