Dems want to implement nationwide handgun permits for purchases

New Democratic legislation would require Americans to provide police with fingerprints, photos and personal information to obtain a permit before making any handgun purchase.

Versions of the legislation introduced in both the House and Senate would require all states to adopt licensing schemes similar to purchasing requirements in Connecticut. The bill would not implement a federal licensing program but would funnel grant funds for the state licensing requirements through the Justice Department.

Connecticut’s law, which has been in effect since 1995, requires residents to pass a background check and obtain a special permit from local police for handgun purchases, even those between private parties.

The new legislation to replicate the law nationwide, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Elizabeth Esty (Conn.) and Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and Sens. Chris Murphy (Conn.) and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), is called the Handgun Purchaser Licensing Act.

“In Connecticut, state leaders moved swiftly following the tragedy at Sandy Hook to enact bipartisan, commonsense laws that make our communities safer,” said Esty. “The legislation we are introducing today is a critical reform that will allow other states to adopt lifesaving licensing programs and prevent gun deaths.”

Via a fact sheet about the legislation:

The Handgun Purchaser Licensing Act authorizes a grant program at the Department of Justice to encourage states to establish permit-to-purchase requirements for all handguns, including at gun shows and with private sellers. This grant would help offset the costs associated with the development, implementation, and evaluation of these programs. To be eligible, states must require individuals applying for a license to meet the following criteria:

*Provide proof they are at least 21 years old and a lawful resident of the United States.

*Apply for the license at a law enforcement agency within the state.

*Submit to a background investigation and criminal history check.

*Submit fingerprints and photographs with their application.

*Be eligible to purchase a handgun pursuant to the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.

The bill sponsors cite a Johns Hopkins University study on the Connecticut law as proof that the licensing requirements will make the nation safer. That study showed a 40 percent drop in firearm homicides following the passage of the law.

“Permit-to-purchase laws, which require prospective handgun purchasers to first obtain a license from the police after passing a comprehensive background check, appear to reduce the availability of handguns to criminals and other people who are not legally permitted to buy guns,” study author Daniel Webster reported.

Critics of the study, however, claim that Webster failed to mention that Connecticut’s firearm homicide rate was in rapid decline even before the law went into effect.

Warning: This article contains language that some people may find offensive

An open position should be filled by the most qualified candidate for the job. America is the land of opportunity. Hard work pays off. Men and women have equal opportunity for advancement in modern U.S. society.

All of the above statements seem harmless enough, true even. But, according to faculty leaders of the University of California system, each meets the test for racist or sexist hate speech implying superiority of the white male.

The politically correct inhabitants of the system’s ivory towers list the statements, along with several other utterances and nonverbal cues, under the umbrella of so-called microaggressions. A 2014-2015 training document for UC faculty titled “Tool: Recognizing Microaggressions and the Messages They Send” defines microaggressions as “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

Here’s the training document:

UC President Janet Napolitano, former director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, in January invited faculty and staff of the college system to attend a half-day seminar designed to help university employees “enhance department and campus climate toward inclusive excellence.”

According to a website created for the event, the primary goals of the workshop were to:

  1. Help participants gain a better understanding of implicit bias and microaggressions and their impact on departmental/school climate;
  2. Increase participants’ effectiveness at recognizing and interrupting/addressing microaggressions when they occur;
  3. Discuss tools and strategies for developing an inclusive departmental/school climate.

Other materials provided for the seminar instruct faculty members how the avoid microaggressions when vetting new college employees and how to recognize when others use the dreaded microaggressions and call them out as racist.

Looking through the materials, here’s what we learn.

First and foremost, everyone who is not a white male needs society’s help to protect them from the white male.

Acknowledging that someone is in some way different from you is unacceptable unless they demand that you do, in which case it’s unacceptable not to acknowledge that they are different.

Underplaying race by celebrating the fact that America is a place where people of many races thrive is racist.

It’s too hard for minorities to succeed no matter how hard they work because everyone is racist.

America is not the land of opportunity if you are a woman or a minority.

Saying that you are in no way racist makes you a racist.

And disagreeing with affirmative action policies is a big no-no.

Academic authorities are working overtime to teach students that being offended can kill and that people who aren’t white males are especially susceptible to mortal injury from hurt feelings.

It is, of course, nonsense. But that opinion is racist in the opinion of modern campus thinking because it was left here by a keyboard being manipulated by the hands of a white male — a classical oppressor, if you will.

But, for the sake of argument, suppose a white male with a truly hateful heart visited a college quad tomorrow with a loudspeaker. For hours, shrouded in a rebel flag, he shouts “nigger” while David Allen Coe plays on loop in the background. Will he hurt anyone? Nope. Will anyone listen? Nope.

Remember those dolt frat boys with their racist bus song? Same thing. They’re not really the types anyone is taking seriously.

Meanwhile, college administrators are telling faculty that minorities are easily offended by nature and, as a rule, have incredibly thin skin. Worse, they’re insisting that people who aren’t white males are incapable of standing up for themselves in the face of a rude comment or gesture, that the minority victim of an ignorant remark curls into a helpless ball and is forever held back.

Sometimes it’s the racist it’s hard to see who does the most damage.

DHS to test video surveillance to predict crimes

The Department of Homeland Security is planning to use video surveillance to better understand how people with “malicious intent” behave before committing crimes.

That’s according to a DHS privacy assessment first unveiled by WND. The 14-page document explains that DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate is planning to begin collecting video of passengers at T. F. Green Airport in Providence, Rhode Island, for its “Data Collection for the Centralized Hostile Intent Project.”

According to the document, DHS will begin testing the video surveillance by seeing if agents are able to pick actors carrying out fake terror plots from crowds made up of the traveling public.

From the privacy assessment:

The video data collection will collect Personally Identifiable Information (PII) in the form of facial images and anthropomorphic data. S&T will collect PII from trained (volunteer) actors posing as passengers and may incidentally collect PII from members of the traveling public and airport personnel who may be near them. S&T will collect video images at designated areas throughout the airport, including a TSA security checkpoint, ticket counter, baggage claim, and airport entrance. The trained actors role-play a series of different scenarios (i.e., vignettes) that are video recorded.

No audio or conversations are recorded at any time. During video collection and when feasible, collection sites are cordoned off and physical access to the video viewing area is limited to the trained actors, TSA officers, and project staff. Signs are posted around the video collection sites informing airport passengers and personnel that video recording is occurring and instructing persons to walk around the designated areas.

For now, the privacy risk of the video surveillance is low. But if DHS adopts the strategy in the future, it could mean that unsuspecting travelers could be red-flagged as potential terrorists for any number of benign mannerisms or actions.

The test is being conducted with the help of the same TSA officials who developed the screening process called Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT.

The TSA employs specially trained Behavior Detection Officers to screen crowds in the nation’s airports in search of individuals acting in ways that indicate “stress or deception.”

The agents check their observations against a 92-point checklist divided into categories that assign different point values to different behaviors or characteristics.

Things on the list that could get a traveler flagged include such harmless actions as yawning, complaining, whistling, arrogance, throat clearing or looking disheveled.

As new information on trade treaty continues to surface, lawmakers want transparency for fast-track in the future

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is seeking a rule change that would require the White House to make the details of all trade deals public before they are eligible for passage via fast-track authority.

The proposal comes as the House prepares to vote on fast-track for the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has been kept secret from the public and has been available for review only by lawmakers in a classified setting.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s (D-Ohio) Trade Review Accountability Needs Sunlight and Preview of Any Regulations and Exact Negotiated Components bill would make it impossible for the administration to shroud future trade deals set for fast-track, or Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), in such secrecy.

According to Kaptur, how the White House is currently using TPA upsets constitutional balance of power within government.

“TPA is meant to be an agreement between two equal partners, Congress and the Executive,” Kaptur said. “Unfortunately it has been abused in recent years. Today it has become more of a blank check for the Executive and turned Congress into little more than a rubber stamp. It has gotten so bad that deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership are essentially finished before Congress even has a chance to weigh in. This legislation calls for an end to this dangerous and irresponsible approach and replaces it with sunlight in the form of public access and accountability.”

The Senate passed TPA for the current trade treaty last month, leaving it up to House lawmakers to put the brakes on the Trans-Pacific treaty.

Meanwhile, the American public is still learning details about the TPP treaty from a trove of documents released by WikiLeaks. Breitbart reported Wednesday that the White House’s Trade in Services Act (TiSA), which would be fast-tracked as part of TPP, could unilaterally change U.S. immigration laws.

According to the report, about 10 pages of the leaked documents deal specifically with immigration:

First, on page 4 and 5 of the agreement, roughly 40 industries are listed where potentially the U.S. visa processes would have to change to accommodate the requirements within the agreement.

[Rosemary Jenks, the Director of Government Relations at Numbers USA] explained that under the agreement, the terms don’t have an economic needs based test, which currently U.S. law requires for some types of visa applications in order to show there aren’t American workers available to fill positions.

Secondly, on page 7 of the agreement, it suggests, “The period of processing applications may not exceed 30 days.”

The documents also reveal that the trade agreement could change the number of years visa holders are allowed to remain in the U.S. and do away with face-to-face interviews for visa eligibility.

According to Breitbart, fast-track authority would give the Obama administration the constitutional power to finalize all of the changes without congressional input.

If the government imagines a ‘threat,’ it can bully whoever it wants

The Justice Department is harassing the libertarian publication Reason with a grand jury subpoena because government officials allege that commenters on its website threatened the life of a federal judge with hyperbolic political language.

On May 31, Reason website editor Nick Gillespie published an article discussing the prosecution of Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht and a letter Ulbricht had written to Judge Katherine Forrest in a plea for leniency prior to his sentencing.

Gillespie published the following portion of Ulbricht’s letter:

I created Silk Road because I thought the idea for the website itself had value, and that bringing Silk Road into being was the right thing to do. I believed at the time that people should have the right to buy and sell whatever they wanted so long as they weren’t hurting anyone else. However, I’ve learned since then that taking immediate actions on one’s beliefs, without taking the necessary time to really think them through, can have disastrous consequences. Silk Road turned out to be a very naive and costly idea that I deeply regret.

Silk Road was supposed to be about giving people the freedom to make their own choices, to pursue their own happiness, however they individually saw fit. What it turned into was, in part, a convenient way for people to satisfy their drug addictions. I do not and never have advocated the abuse of drugs. I learned from Silk Road that when you give people freedom, you don’t know what they’ll do with it. While I still don’t think people should be denied the right to make this decision for themselves, I never sought to create a site that would provide another avenue for people to feed their addictions. Had I been more mature, or more patient, or even more worldly then, I would have done things differently.

Forrest was nonplussed by the defendant’s letter and handed down a sentence of life in prison without parole, an even harsher punishment than government prosecutors had sought for the Silk Road founder.

The judge was also careful to make clear her disdain for the political philosophy behind the Silk Road marketplace.

“In the world you created over time, democracy didn’t exist,” she said during sentencing. “Silk Road’s birth and presence asserted that its … creator was better than the laws of this country. This is deeply troubling, terribly misguided, and very dangerous.”

Some of Reason’s commenters were unhappy with the ruling and lashed out in the comment section below Gillespie’s article.

According to a June 2 grand jury subpoena from the government, some of those comments potentially violate federal laws against making interstate threats.

In the subpoena, the investigators demand that Reason produce “any and all identifying information” for the users behind the following comments:

  • “Its judges like these that should be taken out back and shot.”
  • “It’s judges like these that will be taken out back and shot.”
  • “Why waste ammunition? Wood chippers get the message across clearly. Especially if you
    feed them in feet first.”
  • “Why do it out back? Shoot them out front, on the steps of the courthouse.”
  • “I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for that horrible woman.”
  • “There is.”
  • “I’d prefer a hellish place on Earth be reserved for her as well.”
  • “Fuck that. I don’t want to oay [sic] for that cunt’s food, housing, and medical. Send her through
    the wood chipper.”

According to the website PopeHat, which first published the subpoena, there is little reason to believe that the government actually thinks any of the comments represent a true threat to Forrest or any other federal judge.

Ken White wrote on the website:

What of these comments on, then? I submit that they are very clearly not true threats — that this is not even a close call.

True threat analysis always examines context. Here, the context strongly weighs in favor of hyperbole. The comments are on the Internet,  a wretched hive of scum, villainy, and gaseous smack talk. The are on a political blog, about a judicial-political story; such stories are widely known to draw such bluster. They are specifically at, a site with excellent content but cursed with a group of commenters who think such trash talk is amusing.

The “threats” do not specify who is going to use violence, or when. They do not offer a plan, other than juvenile mouth-breathing about “wood chippers” and revolutionary firing squads. They do not contain any indication that any of the mouthy commenters has the ability to carry out a threat. Nobody in the thread reacts to them as if they are serious. They are not directed to the judge by email or on a forum she is known to frequent.

Therefore, even the one that is closest to a threat — “It’s judges like these that will be taken out back and shot” isn’t a true threat. It lacks any of the factors that have led other courts to find that ill-wishes can be threats.

And White isn’t the only one who has described the governments subpoena as bogus. University of Oregon School of Journalism and 1st Amendment scholar Kyu Youm told BuzzFeed: “Generally speaking, anonymity is still a part of freedom of expression, and just because the government wants to unmask the commenters does not mean it has a strong case. At least, if there is doubt as to the validity of the subpoena, anonymity should be given the benefit of the doubt.

“The subpoena is not compelling,” Youm added.

In other words, there is really no chance that anyone will ever be convicted of a crime for making the aforementioned comments.

So why would the government waste time and taxpayer money trying to force Reason to hand over the identity of its commenters?

Former Reason editor and current Bloomberg View columnist Virginia Postrel said in a recent column that the government’s goal goes far beyond identifying the commenters.

She wrote:

Subpoenaing Reason’s website records, wasting its staff’s time and forcing it to pay legal fees in hopes of imposing even larger legal costs and possibly even a plea bargain (or two on the average Joes who dared to voice their dissident views in angry tones) sends an intimidating message: It’s dangerous not just to create something like Silk Road. It’s dangerous to defend it, and even more dangerous to attack those who would punish its creator.

If the government gets its way in this case, free speech suddenly becomes rather costly for all involved no matter the outcome.

Black Chicago pastor on a mission to get Republicans to visit his community

A prominent black Chicago pastor lashed out recently against Democratic politicians who he says are failing the African-American community.

“African-Americans have been loyal to the Democratic Party,” New Beginnings Church of Chicago pastor Corey Brooks told The Daily Beast. “But there is a group of African Americans that feel like the Democratic Party has not been loyal to us.”

The preacher said he is hoping to bring more Republican candidates to his Chicago neighborhood after years of Democratic rule have left it dangerous and largely impoverished.

“We have a large, disproportionate number of people who are impoverished. We have a disproportionate number of people who are incarcerated, we have a disproportionate number of people who are unemployed, the educational system has totally failed, and all of this primarily has been under Democratic regimes in our neighborhoods,” Brooks said. “So, the question for me becomes, how can our neighborhoods be doing so awful and so bad when we’re so loyal to this party who is in power? It’s a matter of them taking complete advantage of our vote.”

Brooks is urging members of his community to support GOP candidates and has invited all active Republican presidential candidates to visit the area. According to The Daily Beast, only Rand Paul — who has made African-American outreach a key part of his campaign — has taken him up on the offer.

Brooks isn’t the first black Chicago activist to attempt to turn African-American voters away from the Democratic Party.

Last fall, Chicago activists Paul McKinley, Mark Carter, Joseph Watkins and Harold “Noonie” Ward produced a imploring African-Americans to consider who the “real oppressors” of their community are.

According to the activists, the answer is abusive black leaders and the broader Democratic Party.

“They always talk about black-on-black crime, and when you hear the words black-on-black crime, the first thing you think of is a black man robbing you or breaking in your house, and that is a black-on-black crime,” McKinley said. “But let’s take it one step further. There’s a black-on-black crime down in city hall, there’s a black-on-black crime down in all the state capitols in America, where all the black folks are voting against our interests.”

Lawmaker wants insurance mandate for gun ownership

A recent legislative proposal from Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) would require Americans to obtain liability insurance before exercising their 2nd Amendment rights.

Maloney claims her legislation, the Firearms Risk Protection Act, would make gun owners act more responsibly.

“We require insurance to own a car, but no such requirement exists for guns,” Maloney said in a statement. “The results are clear: car fatalities have declined by 25 percent in the last decade, but gun fatalities continue to rise.”

According to the lawmaker, the insurance would also help victims of gun violence.

“An insurance requirement would allow the free market to encourage cautious behavior and help save lives,” she said. “Adequate liability coverage would also ensure that the victims of gun violence are fairly compensated when crimes or accidents occur.”

Second Amendment advocates have decried the proposal as a scheme to help insurance companies make money and make gun ownership more difficult without actually doing anything to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

“If it were constitutional, which it is not, to require gun owners to buy liability insurance before they can own a gun, then politicians who support this kind of legislation should be required to buy liability insurance before they open their mouths and/or push legislation,” Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, told WND. “If any in the media support this, then they should also be asked to buy liability insurance.”

If you don’t like perpetual war, Lyndsey Graham doesn’t want your vote

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) really, really wants a war. And he wants voters to know that if he’s elected, he’ll get one.

The notoriously hawkish and scared of the world lawmaker on Thursday told “Fox and Friends” co-host Steve Doocy that Americans who aren’t fans of perpetual war probably shouldn’t vote for him.

“I would take the fight to radical Islam to keep it coming from coming here,” Graham said.

Throughout his lengthy legislative career, Graham has more often than not been an advocate of swinging, rather than simply wielding, the United States’ big military stick. Since his June 1 presidential announcement, the lawmaker has intensified his hawkish rhetoric.

“I want to be president to defeat the enemies that are trying to kill us. Not just paralyze them, or criticize them, or contain them, but defeat them. I’ve come to conclude that we will never enjoy peaceful coexistence with radical Islam, because its followers intend to destroy our way of life,” he told a crowd gathered for his campaign announcement Monday.

The implication is that a Graham White House would likely ramp up U.S. military involvement in the Middle East to levels not seen since troop drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Asked by Doocy whether that was a “tough message” for a GOP candidate to push on voters at a time when “a lot of people are just worn out by war,” Graham answered with little concern.

“Well, don’t vote for me,” the South Carolina senator responded. “Don’t vote for me, because I’m telling you what’s coming: Barack Obama’s policies leading from behind are going to allow another 9/11.

“[ISIS] is large, rich and entrenched,” he continued. “If I’m president they will be poor, small and on the run.”

Then Graham brought forth some serious decider nostalgia. Remember the good old “fighting-them-there-so-we-don’t-have-to-fight-them-here” line?

“I’m trying to tell the American people and the Republican primary voter — the only way I know to defend this country is to send some of us back to Iraq and eventually to Syria to dig these guys out of the ground, destroy the Caliphate, kill as many of them as you can, hold territory and help people over there help themselves,” he said.

It sounds nice, doesn’t it? The prospect of stability in a region that has become so destabilized that it’s being taken over by a group of barbarous, murderous Islamic fundamentalists bent on establishing a caliphate from which it can plan attacks on the West.

Graham is the self-described man with the plan to save the world from all of the problems radiating from the Middle East. After all, as he’s really fond of declaring, “I’ve been more right than wrong when it comes to foreign policy.”

The problem with that statement is this: The only way it could ever be true is if Graham were to say aloud the following words, “The foreign policy positions I have espoused in the past with regard to the situation in Iraq and Syria are substantially responsible for the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”

In 2002, Graham stated unequivocally that the U.S. must topple Saddam Hussein because the Iraqi regime posed a direct “threat to our way of life” in the U.S. Even better, it would be an easily accomplished task.

Graham circa 2003 on how long U.S. troops would remain in Iraq: “Perhaps a year or more … If we’re there through 2009, something went wrong.”

The U.S. toppled Saddam and spent much longer in Iraq. And for all of the dictator’s evil deeds and the threat he posed to many of his own people, no one in Washington really ever explained how exactly he’d threatened the U.S. homeland.

Curiously, Graham and his fellow hawks never seem to mention Saddam’s absence in discussions about the rise of ISIS. But it is a pretty key plot point.

The Washington Post reported earlier this year:

The de-Baathification law promulgated by L. Paul Bremer, Iraq’s American ruler in 2003, has long been identified as one of the contributors to the original insurgency. At a stroke, 400,000 members of the defeated Iraqi army were barred from government employment, denied pensions — and also allowed to keep their guns.

The U.S. military failed in the early years to recognize the role the disbanded Baathist officers would eventually come to play in the extremist group, eclipsing the foreign fighters whom American officials preferred to blame, said Col. Joel Rayburn, a senior fellow at the National Defense University who served as an adviser to top generals in Iraq and describes the links between Baathists and the Islamic State in his book, “Iraq After America.”

Whatever the U.S. military and top intelligence officials failed to anticipate with regard to the role former Saddam acolytes might play after U.S. intervention turned the tables and handed power to the other side in a thousand-year religious civil war, they knew they weren’t destabilizing Iraq for freedom.

And as ISIS grew in power over the years, it became what hawks wanted all along: a tool to meddle in Syrian affairs and topple the regime of Bashar Assad.

A recently declassified intelligence report from August 2012 noted that “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria” comprise “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [al-Qaida in Iraq]” and that “Western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey are supporting these efforts.”

Also from the report: “If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria (Hasak and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).”

Salafist Principality means Islamic state led by a monarch. Like a caliphate. Like the one ISIS is pretty close creating as it beheads its way through Iraq and Syria.

Also from the document: “ISI could also declare an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organisations in Iraq and Syria, which will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of its territory.”

Graham, unsurprisingly, was all about supporting rebels in Syria at around the time this report was produced.

And that’s Graham’s pattern: Say a regime is scary, advocate for toppling it, say whatever replaces it is scary, advocate for eliminating it and repeat.

In reality, with regard to ISIS and the Middle East, the only thing that’s truly scary is the United States’ long list of deliberately poor foreign policy decisions. Even more terrifying is the prospect of a Graham White House. He is, after all, the sort of monster created by decades of U.S. policymakers’ failure to heed President Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell speech warning about letting military and industrial powers run amok.

Lawmakers want to kill ‘Too Big to Fail’ by making the Fed act sensibly in times of crisis

New bipartisan legislation offered in both the House and Senate could limit the power of the nation’s central bank by limiting how it’s able to react during a financial crisis.

No matter how much greed or poor management led to the impending demise of some of the nation’s largest and wealthiest financial institutions during the 2008 financial collapse, the Federal Reserve determined that all was forgiven. The banks, according to the Fed, were simply too big to fail and would require billions of dollars in financial bailouts.

At the height of the banking crisis, the Fed handed out more than $1 trillion in virtually interest-free loans to the nation’s largest banks. The funds were handed exclusively to the United States’ largest and most influential financial institutions, most of which had close ties to top Fed officials.

Legislation proposed in the House by Reps. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) and Michael Capuano (D-Mass.) and in the Senate by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and David Vitter (R-La.) would make sure that future banking crises are handled by the Fed with less cronyism and more market sensibility.

The proposals would bar the Fed from emergency lending unless the funds were made available to a broad range of financial institutions and outright prohibit lending to banks already deemed insolvent. In the event that the Fed does provide emergency funding, the bill would mandate that the money be loaned to struggling institutions at interest rates at least five percent higher than the current rate of Treasury debt.

According to the lawmaker, the Fed’s “unprecedented assistance” during the last crisis gave rise to the problematic assumption among top banking officials that as long as they’re big enough, the government exists as a safety net to hedge against reckless banking behavior.

“While the Dodd-Frank Act brought some reforms, the perception lingers that some financial institutions are simply Too Big to Fail and could be bailed out again,” Capuano said.

Accepting the notion that some banks are too big to fail, the lawmakers contend, provides institutions that are already the nation’s largest and most powerful financial institutions a massive market advantage against smaller lenders.

The new banking proposals come just a week after legislative proposals designed to alter the Fed’s structure to require the central bank to vote publically on any settlements reached with bad-acting banks.

“The Fed needs to be independent, transparent and accountable. But under its current structure, the Board of Governors doesn’t act with complete autonomy and succumbs to groupthink. If Board members can think for themselves and are held accountable, taxpayers are less likely to be asked to bail out the megabanks,” Vitter said of those proposals. “We recently made huge progress to improve the Federal Reserve by requiring that they have at least one member with Community banking experience. This bill will also help fix the too big to fail groupthink we’ve seen at the Fed.”

Big Congress usually faces an uphill battle in passing legislation that changes Fed policy in any substantial way. But the recently introduced proposals come as powerful Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) is putting the final touches on his own massive financial regulatory overhaul. Warren, who is a member of the committee, could have some luck working the aforementioned bipartisan proposals into that package as amendments.

Could you come up with $400 in a pinch? It’s likely you know someone who couldn’t

For much of the country’s population, the American dream is a far cry from the paycheck to paycheck nightmare of their American reality. Just under half of Americans would be forced to take drastic measures such as selling off belongings, borrowing money from family and friends or taking on high-interest payday loans if confronted with a financial emergency requiring a mere $400.

That’s according to the Federal Reserve’s recently released “Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2014.” The report, produced by the Fed’s Division of Consumer and Community Affairs, is intended to “capture a snapshot of the financial and economic well-being of U.S. households, as well as to monitor their recovery from the recent recession and identify any risks to their financial stability.”

As a whole, the report isn’t all bad news. In fact, it even offers evidence of a positive trend in the economic situations of U.S. investors, homeowners and renters nearly a decade after the housing bust that rocked the economy for years.

But buried deep within the report, which was compiled based on the survey answers of 50,000 Americans from all backgrounds, is this caveat:

To determine individuals’ preparedness for a smaller-scale financial disruption, respondents are also asked how they would pay for a hypothetical emergency expense that would cost $400. Just over half (53 per-cent) report that they could fairly easily handle such an expense, paying for it entirely using cash, money currently in their checking/savings account, or on a credit card that they would pay in full at their next statement (referred to here as “cash or its functional equivalent”). The remaining 47 percent indicate that such an expense would be more challenging to handle. Specifically, respondents indicate that they simply could not cover the expense (14 percent); would sell something (10 percent); or would rely on one or more means of borrowing to pay for at least part of the expense, including paying with a credit card that they pay off over time (18 percent), borrowing from friends or family (13 percent), or using a payday loan (2 percent).

The ability to come up with $400 in a pinch varied greatly by income:

Only 31 percent of respondents whose household income is under $40,000 would pay the $400 expense using cash or its functional equivalent, whereas 56 percent of respondents in the middle income group and 73 percent of respondents making over $100,000 would pay this way.

Lacking the savings and financial resources to cover emergency expenses can create all manner of undesirable outcomes. And according to the report, many Americans have already learned that the hard way:

  • “Just under one-quarter of respondents indicate that they or a family member living with them experienced some form of financial hardship in the year prior to the survey.”
  • “Thirty-one percent of respondents report going without some form of medical care in the 12 months before the survey because they could not afford it.”

It’s not a surprise that Americans in lower income brackets would have a more difficult time coming up with cash to cover an unexpected expense equivalent to the cost of the average monthly car payment in the U.S. What is, however, a little surprising is that some 44 percent of middle-class wage earners and 27 percent of those making more than six digits in annual income are running households on such tight margins.

And while there are many potential reasons for higher wage earners to experience cash-flow problems, it’s not unlikely that many fitting the description have economically overextended themselves with living arrangements, student and consumer debt. In fact, the Fed report notes that 1 out of 5 people it surveyed for the report said they had spent more money than they’d earned in the previous 12 months.

The nation’s recent history of mortgage and credit crises makes that a frightening statistic for the economic outlook of tomorrow.

Here’s the full report:

After NSA fight, Rand Paul attempts to protect encryption

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) again stood up to government snoops Tuesday with proposals to block the encryption backdoors so desired by top Justice Department officials and the Obama administration.

In response to increasing calls for looser encryption on consumer communication gadgets from top U.S. law enforcement officials, Paul and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Tuesday set about amending the Senate’s surveillance reform bill to protect encryption. The lawmakers’ proposals would forbid the government from coercing companies to providing access points into their encryption for law enforcement snoops.

The proposals resemble provisions set forth in the Secure Data Act, a standalone bill prohibiting government backdoors in encryption, which Wyden has introduced several times in the upper legislative chamber with little luck.

Unfortunately for privacy groups, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did his best Tuesday to block voting on amendments such as that presented by Paul and Wyden in favor of amendments proposed by establishment GOP lawmakers. The amendments McConnell allowed for consideration, according to 4th Amendment advocates, were ones intended to water down the USA Freedom Act rather than bolster privacy protections. And encryption protections certainly wouldn’t fall in line with surveillance hawks’ desire to increase the ease of government spying.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said earlier this year that heightened encryption on digital communications devices are making it easier for criminals and potential terrorists to operate throughout the U.S.

“The current course we are on, toward deeper and deeper encryption in response to the demands of the marketplace, is one that presents real challenges for those in law enforcement and national security,” Johnson said during a cybersecurity conference in Silicon Valley.

“Encryption is making it harder for your government to find criminal activity, and potential terrorist activity,” Johnson continued.

James Comey, who heads up the FBI, has made similar statements about the need for the companies to lower their encryption standards.

“Tech execs say privacy should be the paramount virtue,” Comey told lawmakers in March. “When I hear that, I close my eyes and say, ‘Try to image [sic] what the world looks like where pedophiles can’t be seen, kidnapper[s] can’t be seen, drug dealers can’t be seen.’”

In recent months the White House has been working to urge tech companies to lower encryption standards to make it easier for law enforcement to access information on Americans’ digital devices.

The technology community, meanwhile, continues to produce advancements that may make it impossible for government surveillance to keep up with encryption changes. That could lessen the need for privacy protections like those proposed by Paul and Wyden.

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt said during a lecture at Johns Hopkins University in November that advances in encryption could eliminate the threat of government surveillance and censorship throughout the world within 10 years.

Rand Paul risks wrath of GOP establishment and Bush political machine with call for 9/11 transparency

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) likely just made a decision that will intensify the GOP establishment’s desire to derail his political career. The 2016 presidential contender on Tuesday introduced legislation that would increase transparency surrounding the 9/11 attacks and could put some uncomfortable scrutiny on the Bush political family.

Paul’s Transparency for the Families of 9/11 Victims and Survivors Act of 2015 would declassify and make available to the public 28 pages of the official 9/11 report that have been kept under wraps for 13 years.

The bill aligns Paul with lawmakers — including fellow Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) along with Reps. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) — who have been pushing for declassification of the information for years.

“I stand with my colleagues today to call for the release of the final 28 pages of the 9/11 congressional Inquiry. I firmly believe the family members of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks have the right to know the details surrounding the tragedies that occurred on that sad day. The American people deserve a government that instills trust and a restoration of their sense of security, and I believe that the Transparency for the Families of the 9/11 Victims and Survivors Act is a step in the right direction,” Paul said.

The 28 pages of the “Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 2001″ were redacted by the Bush administration on national security grounds in 2002.

“I introduced H. Res. 14 to urge President Obama to declassify the 28 pages of the Joint Inquiry report into 9/11 because the 9/11 families deserve peace and the American people deserve the truth,” the Jones said Tuesday. “Releasing these pages will enhance our national security, not harm it.”

The congressman added that he is pleased to have Paul, Wyden and Gillibrand bring the effort to the Senate.

Pushing for transparency against a decision made by a GOP administration — under the sacred cow pretense of secrecy for security — represents a particularly ballsy move for someone seeking the 2016 GOP nomination amid a field of contenders who are loath to criticize the mistakes of the Bush/Cheney regime.

Graham has said repeatedly that the redacted pages “point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier” of the 9/11 attacks. And there is, after all, no shortage of available information about the White House’s unwillingness to consider the presence of potential evildoers in the House of Saud throughout the Bush administration.

Foreign Policy magazine editor Michael Steinberger explained what might produce such unabashed willful blindness of Saudi misdeeds back in 2003:

The links between the House of Bush and the House of Saud are deep, overlapping and notoriously opaque: the Saudi investment in the Carlyle Group, the private equity firm whose rainmakers include George Bush Senior; the Saudi bankrolling of Poppy’s presidential library; the lucrative contracts the Saudis doled out to Halliburton when Dick Cheney was at the company’s helm. The main law firm retained by the Saudis to defend them against the 9-11 families is Baker Botts — as in James Baker, the Bush family consigliere. And, of course, there’s oil, the black glue connecting all these dots.

In short, the Bushies have profited mightily from a relationship with a foreign government that can be indirectly, perhaps even directly, implicated in the September 11 attacks and other terrorist incidents and that has been the driving force behind a worldwide jihad.

There is then obviously a lot on the line for the Bush Dynasty if the redacted pages are made public — especially with Jeb Bush vying for the 2016 nomination. In fact, making the pages public could create a controversy for the Bush family similar to the one the Clinton Foundation’s ties to foreigners has elicited for Hillary Clinton.

That will earn Paul no favor among a GOP establishment that considers the Bush family political royalty.

Still, Paul supporters who have in recent years questioned whether the junior senator from Kentucky would eventually give in to the GOP establishment on matters of defense and government transparency should celebrate his move. If he isn’t torn apart by the GOP spin machine before the primary, Paul could bank on support from Republicans who see the GOP establishment in a new light in addition to voters whose political positions are more in line with the last Paul who ran for president.

Former Clinton aide says ‘money-hungry’ Hillary has no business being president

Kathleen Willey, the former White House aide who accused President Bill Clinton of sexually assaulting her in 1993, offered some harsh words for the Clinton’s during a recent radio interview. Willey described Hillary Clinton as “money hungry” and the “worst role model for a wife and a mother and a politician.”

According to Willey, who is urging women who may have had inappropriate relationships with former president Clinton to speak out, said that Clinton is “absolutely unqualified” to run the U.S. based largely on her history of poor judgement.

“I question her judgement … She enabled his behavior, it’s as simple as that,” Willey said. “She looks the other way, she might throw a tantrum, but she enables it to happen again and again and again and again. And then she chooses to go after the women that he hooks up with to ruin them again and again and again.”

“I don’t see how anybody can respect a woman like that,” Willey added. “Especially another woman.”

Willey, who wrote the book “Target: Caught in the Crosshairs of Bill and Hillary Clinton,” also took the Clinton’s to task for claiming to be dead broke after leaving the White House, describing the former first lady as “money hungry.”

“She is money-hungry, absolutely … She says they were dead broke? … They’ve got money hand over fist. They just can’t seem to make enough. And she doesn’t see any reason whatsoever that there’s anything wrong with this. That’s what bothers me. Where’s the woman’s judgment? She has no sense of good judgment whatsoever. I don’t want that woman to be my president,” Willey said.

The former White House aide went on to question whether both Clintons are suffereing from mental health problems.

“[Hillary] is really looking awfully haggard these days,” Willey said.

“After watching [Bill’s] performance with [NBC News’ Cynthia] McFadden, when he said that I’ve gotta pay my bills, I think he’s showing early signs of dementia or something. He’s not the old Bill Clinton that we all remember. I mean, he was all over the place. Now you’re seeing clips of [Hillary] talking to herself all the time. I think that I want somebody in there who knows what they’re doing, and money isn’t the No. 1 issue for them. They have enough money. They made $30 million … in the last 15 months on speaking engagements. Isn’t that enough?”

Poll: Americans feel Obama is losing to ISIS, want domestic focus from government

A new poll released Monday by Quinnipiac University shows that a solid majority of Americans believe that President Barack Obama is causing the U.S. and its allies to lose the fight against the growing Islamic State terror threat.

According to the poll’s results, 56 percent of Americans disprove of how the president is handling his foreign policy duties, compared to 38 percent who approve.

When asked whether the United States and its allies are winning or losing the fight against ISIS, 64 percent of respondents said the U.S. is losing ground in the fight. That’s compared to just 17 percent who feel the U.S. is winning and 19 percent who weren’t sure.

“Republicans, Democrats and independent voters, and men and women, all agree the U.S. is losing,” a Quinnipiac summary of the poll results said.

And according to Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, Americans believe part of the reason that the U.S. is failing to contain ISIS is that the country is overextended in its foreign obligations.

“Americans, by a huge margin, believe the fight against ISIS is being lost,” Malloy said.

“By a 2-1 margin, voters think the United States is too overextended and should focus on domestic issues.”

Sixty-four percent of respondents to the Quinnipiac poll said that the U.S. should dial down its overseas activities and “focus more on our own problems here at home.” Thirty-two percent, meanwhile, told pollsters that they want the U.S. to “continue to push forward to promote democracy and freedom in other countries” because they believe it makes Americans safer.

If the president and Congress did attempt to focus on fixing domestic problems they’d have their work cut out for them , according to the poll’s results.

Just 2 percent of respondents said they were “very satisfied” with the way things are going in the country today, compared to 26 percent who are “somewhat satisfied,” 32 percent “somewhat dissatisfied,” and 39 percent who are “very dissatisfied.

View the full poll here.

DOJ funds study of ‘far right’ extremists online

The Justice Department has awarded Michigan State University a half million dollar grant to study how “far right” groups spread extremism online.

The $585,719 grant, which was praised by former Attorney General Eric Holder earlier this year, will examine how both the “far right” and Islamic extremist movement uses the Internet.

“There is currently limited knowledge of the role of technology and computer mediated communications (CMCs), such as Facebook and Twitter, in the dissemination of messages that promote extremist agendas and radicalize individuals to violence,” according to the grant. “The proposed study will address this gap through a series of qualitative and quantitative analyses of posts from various forms of CMC used by members of both the far-right and Islamic extremist movements.”

Curiously, a majority of its focus will be on the “far right,” according to The Washington Free Beacon.

“We will collect posts made in four active forums used by members of the far-right and three from the Islamic Extremist community, as well as posts made in Facebook, LiveJournal, Twitter, YouTube, and Pastebin accounts used by members of each movement,” the grant said.

Researchers say they hope to use the information collected to identify patterns in extremist social networking strategies.

“The findings will be used to document both the prevalence and variation in the ideological content of posts from members of each movement,” the grant said. “In addition, we will assess the value of these messages in the social status of the individual posting the message and the function of radical messages in the larger on-line identity of participants in extremist communities generally.”

Holder, during a White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism in February, said such research will help government officials “develop more effective techniques and partnerships for counter-messaging.”

The DOJ grant doesn’t specify what it considers a “far right” group in the U.S., but government officials have repeatedly expressed concerns about a growing sovereign citizen movement in the U.S. in recent years.

In February, CNN reported that “federal and local law enforcement groups view the domestic terror threat from sovereign citizen groups as equal to — and in some cases greater than — the threat from foreign Islamic terror groups, such as ISIS…”

Analysis suggests Clinton presidency would be costly for taxpayers

President Hillary Clinton could be bad news for American taxpayers, according to a new analysis of her attempts to spend taxpayer money as a Democratic New York senator from 2001 to 2009.

The analysis, out from the National Taxpayer Union Foundation, seeks to look beyond Clinton’s most recent government endeavors to better understand what her candidacy could mean for the nation’s fiscal future.

“Hillary Clinton’s campaign website has no policy items outlined yet, and her term as Secretary of State has been the focal point of scrutiny, but her past in the Senate offers the best insight into her fiscal priorities,” NTUF’s Douglas Kellogg wrote on the organization’s website.

The taxpayer watchdog found that Clinton attempted to spend an average of $226 billion annually as a lawmaker. Meanwhile, she sought just $254 million in average annual spending cuts.

“On average, for each dollar to reduce spending, Clinton proposed $892 in new spending in each Congress,” NTUF found.

In total, Clinton averaged 201 bills each year that would create significant spending increases compared to an average of just 3 bills that would cut spending.

“In the 107th Congress, Senator Clinton had no savings proposals on her legislative agenda,” the NTUF report noted. “The most she sponsored was five in the 109th Congress for a total reduction of $381 million.”

Here are some other findings from the NTUF report:

  • In each Congress, Senator Clinton proposed far more new spending increases than decreases. On average, she supported $226.4 billion in new spending each year and $254 million in savings, for a net average of $226.1 billion in annual spending increase.
  • With the exception of the 107thCongress, Senator Clinton tended to support a larger net agenda to increase spending than the average Democrat Senator.
  • The most expensive bill she backed was S. 448 (108th Congress), the Leave No Child Behind Act of 2003, an omnibus bill pertaining to federal programs for children, including increases in spending on education, health care, paid leave, and child care. Annualized cost of $105.4 billion.
  • Clinton also sponsored S. 280 (110th Congress), the Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act of 2007, to establish a cap and trade system. Annualized cost of $53.3 billion.
  • By far the largest savings proposal she supported was S 2260 (109th Congress), the Patients Before Profits Act of 2006, to repeal the Medicare Advantage Stabilization Fund. Annualized savings of $467 million.

IG report: Millions of Defense funds spent on gambling, strippers

When it comes to cutting government spending cuts, both Democrats and Republicans often treat the Pentagon’s bloated budget as a sacred cow that couldn’t spare a dime, lest Americans want to be murdered in the streets by terrorists. Meanwhile, military top brass is losing billions of taxpayer dollars overseas, Congress continues to push the armed forces to take equipment it no longer needs and Americans are still left without a clear picture of what they’re receiving in return for the annual hundreds of billions spent on U.S. defense.

According to a recent report from the Department of Defense’s Inspector General, at least a few million untouchable military dollars have made their way into the panties of strippers or were lost on craps tables.

The report examined spending logged on DOD credit cards issued for government-related travel. The IG report found that the agency logged a total of $3.4 billion on 20 million transactions over a one-year period between July 2013 and June 2014.

Out of that, some $3.2 million was spent at casinos and just under $1 million on various personal expenses, including 646 cardholders’ charges at strip clubs totaling $100,000. The casino charges were made up of 4,437 charges made by 2,636 cardholders.

Here’s one example of improper card use provided in the IG report:

A petty officer first class from the Naval Special Warfare Group used the GTCC at multiple adult entertainment establishments while on official Government travel to El Paso, Texas. While in El Paso, the cardholder spent more than six times his total M&IE at four different adult entertainment establishments, which included Dreams Cabaret, Jaguars Gold Club, Tequila Sunrise, and Red Parrot Gentlemen’s Club.

The petty officer only received $151.50 in M&IE [meal and incidental allowance] for 17 days of travel because his meals were provided, except for the first and last day of travel. However, he still incurred 12 transactions for $1,116 at adult entertainment establishments during his 17 days of travel. The petty officer also charged an additional $642 on his GTCC for food, drinks, and ATM withdrawals at locations that were not adult entertainment establishments. In total, he spent $1,758 on his GTCC but only received $151.50 in M&IE.

Here’s another example of improper spending:

A U.S. Air Force civilian employee from Warner Robbins Air Force Base, Georgia traveled 300 miles (round trip) from his travel location and used his GTCC at a casino. The cardholder was on official Government travel to Hill Air Force Base, Utah and used his GTCC at Ultron ATMs in West Wendover, Nevada.

Ultron ATMs are predominately associated with casinos throughout the United States. On four occasions, the cardholder used his GTCC seven times at the West Wendover location to withdraw over $1,500 from ATMs at a casino where he had nine declined transactions totaling $2,363.

According to the audit, the Air Force was the biggest sources of casino and strip club charges on government issued cards with more than $400,000 in charges. The Army came in second, tallying $350,000 in such charges.

Read the full report.

The GOP ‘sucks,’ but the establishment likes it

Establishment Republicans have doubled down on criticism of 2016 presidential contender Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on the heels of his recent government spying filibuster. But Paul doesn’t seem too concerned about his colleagues’ attempts to smear him because, as he put it: “Right now, the Republican brand sucks.”

Paul’s harsh words for the party at large come from his new book “Taking a Stand: Moving beyond partisan politics to unite America,” released throughout the nation on Tuesday. The Kentucky senator, who has billed himself as “libertarian-ish” and a “different” kind of Republican, argues in the book that environmental conservation, sensible and constitutional national defense and support for minorities are all key conservative values somehow lost on the current GOP establishment.

“Right now, the Republican brand sucks. I promised Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, that I would stop saying the GOP sucks, and I will (except for this last time),” Paul writes.

The lawmaker tells readers how much he enjoys recycling and planting trees on his property.

“You’ll find I’m a tree hugger, literally … I’m a Republican who wants clean air, clean water, and the life-extending miracle of electricity. I compost,” Paul writes.

The lawmaker also muses about how the GOP has become known as the de facto anti-environment party despite the historically significant conservation efforts of Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt: “It boggles my mind to think that somehow Republicans have been branded as a party that doesn’t like the environment.”

Besides environmentalists, Paul also reaches out the minorities, justice reform advocates, Wall Street critics and other groups not traditionally aligned with the GOP establishment with the message: “My Republican Party, the Republican Party I hope to lead to the White House, is willing to change.”

For his efforts to broaden the GOP base, his establishment colleagues and the media establishment have mocked Paul and declared his presidential bid dead in the water.

For instance, Paul said in a recent interview that the GOP shares some blame for the rise of ISIS: “ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately, and most of those arms were snatched up by ISIS. They created these people.”

Louisiana Gov. and generic GOP politician Bobby Jindal promptly took to Twitter to criticize Paul for blasphemy against the Republican Party line:

Sen. Paul’s comments on ISIS take the weakest, most liberal Dem position, showing he is unsuited to be Commander-in-Chief…

U.S. weakness, not strength, emboldens our enemies. His illogical argument clouds a situation that should provide pure moral clarity…

Let’s be clear; evil and Radical Islam are at fault for the rise of ISIS, and people like Pres. Obama & Hillary Clinton exacerbate it…

The next President must have the discipline and strength to wipe ISIS off the face of the earth…

It has become impossible to imagine a President Paul defeating Radical Islam and it’s time for the rest of us to say it…

Evidently, Jindal slept through the part of recent U.S. history where Republican hawks like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) spewed rhetoric mostly indistinguishable from that coming out of the Clinton State Department on arming rebels in Syria and other now FUBAR Arab Spring nations.

New Jersey generic GOP Gov. Chris Christie similarly attacked Paul, along with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), this week for efforts to block renewal of the NSA’s ability to spy on Americans without warrant via the Patriot Act.

Appearing on Fox, Christie said the two were siding with NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

“He’s a criminal, he’s a criminal and he’s hiding in Russia, and he’s lecturing to us about the evils of authoritarian government, while he lives under the protective umbrella of Vladimir Putin,” Christie said. “That’s who Mike Lee and Rand Paul are siding with — with Edward Snowden? Come on.”

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank declared Wednesday that Paul is in trouble, writing, “Paul has a problem: He isn’t running for the Democratic nomination. And though Paul may think his Republican Party’s brand sucks, the primary voters don’t necessarily share his view that the party is too old and too white. His candidacy has so far failed to ignite — and, indeed, he seems to be fading as a force within the party.”

The GOP establishment doesn’t want to change and if Paul keeps pushing it the party will do whatever it can to destroy him. His biggest challenge ahead of the primary will be making sure voters continue to hear his message as his colleagues shout over him with party slogans, uninformed voters like slogans.

Obama administration forces ‘EPA’s unprecedented land grab’ on Americans

The Obama administration on Wednesday announced that it will finalize a controversial Environmental Protection Agency regulation — one that would give the government control over small waterways such as wetlands, streams, puddles and drainage ditches — despite healthy opposition from landowners, businesses and the agricultural community.

The rule, unveiled in March 2014, has been billed by regulators as an attempt to simplify and clarify which waterways are covered by the Clean Water Act and which ones aren’t.

“For the water in the rivers and lakes in our communities that flow to our drinking water to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them need to be clean too,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said Wednesday. “Protecting our water sources is a critical component of adapting to climate change impacts like drought, sea level rise, stronger storms, and warmer temperatures — which is why EPA and the Army have finalized the Clean Water Rule to protect these important waters, so we can strengthen our economy and provide certainty to American businesses.”

Administration officials argue that the need to act was created by Supreme Court decisions in recent years that created questions about the EPA’s authority over small bodies of water.

But opponents of the measure say the new regulations go far beyond clarification. They argue that the new water rules will increase EPA authority over vast swaths of private property with the help of broad language giving environmental regulators new authority to scrutinize business and agricultural activities near very small bodies of water and even dry creek beds.

The American Farm Bureau said of the rules last fall: “The proposed rule provides none of the clarity and certainty it promises. Instead, it creates confusion and risk by providing the agencies with almost unlimited authority to regulate, at their discretion, any low spot where rainwater collects, including common farm ditches, ephemeral drainages, agricultural ponds, and isolated wetlands found in and near farms and ranches across the nation.”

The EPA’s water rule has been stalled for months due to opposition and Capitol Hill Republicans’ vows to fight the regulatory changes. The administration’s move Wednesday signals that the water rules are now finalized and on the fast track to implementation.

In anticipation of further GOP attacks on the new rules, White House officials have portrayed opponents of the rules are fighting clean, safe water for millions of Americans.

According to Obama environmental adviser Brian Deese, only “polluters who want to threaten our clean water” oppose the rules.

Despite the Obama administration smear campaign, GOP lawmakers have again vowed to fight the EPA rule change which they see as a major threat to agribusiness and private land throughout the nation.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said that lawmakers are currently working on legislation that would require the EPA to reverse and rewrite its new water rules.

“The EPA has set themselves up to increase federal control over private lands, and I will not allow it,” Inhofe said in a statement, later adding: “Our committee is planning for a markup on S. 1140 this summer, as we continue our work to halt EPA’s unprecedented land grab and refocus its job on protecting traditional navigable waters from pollution.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) also vowed a strong GOP response to the EPA rules in his chamber.

“The administration’s decree to unilaterally expand federal authority is a raw and tyrannical power grab that will crush jobs,” Boehner said.

He continued: “These leaders know firsthand that the rule is being shoved down the throats of hardworking people with no input, and places landowners, small businesses, farmers, and manufacturers on the road to a regulatory and economic hell.”

Local jail costs are higher than taxpayers think

Local jails are costing taxpayers throughout the country a lot more money than they think. That’s according to a new report from Vera Institute of Justice that factors in expenses not included in the Justice Department’s official accounting of jail costs.

The institute contends that the nation’s failed criminal justice policies of the last few decades have created a situation where local jails are increasingly filled to capacity with low level offenders.

“A look at who is currently in jail — and why — makes it clear that, after decades of rising inmate populations, the costs of jail surely outweigh the benefits,” Vera President Nicholas Turner said in an introduction to the report.

He added, “The jail is one of a community’s largest investments and its funding is drawn from the same sources that support public hospitals, schools, social services, roads, and many other essential functions of local government. It is exactly for this reason that counties and cities are well positioned to reinvest jail savings into programs and services that will help keep many people, especially those who are poor or have serious mental illness, from entering or staying in jail in the first place. And, in terms of public safety, this is a much better investment.”

U.S. jails cost taxpayers about $22.2 billion in 2011, according to a DOJ report from that year. But the Vera analysis indicates that the agency failed to factor in massive amounts of taxpayer money spent by other government agencies to support the nation’s jails.

For instance, Vera found that New York City jails end up costing taxpayers about 50 percent more than the amount stated in the official jail budget once inmate health services, employee benefits, legal costs and various other administrative costs are factored into the jail expenditures.

While that’s an extreme example of the understated cost of local incarceration, it is duplicated to some degree in the books of nearly every jail throughout the nation.

Based on a data set from 35 jail jurisdictions ranging in size from small to large and spanning all U.S. regions, Vera broke down the additional costs thusly:


A separate Vera report from earlier this year found that 75 percent of the people locked up in local and county jails throughout the nation were picked up on nonviolent minor offenses such as skipping fare on public transit, driving on a suspended license or failure to pay government fines. Drug crimes account for about one-fourth of the charges that land people in U.S. jails.

According to the organization, understanding where taxpayer money is spent on local jails will be of little value if policymakers don’t work to reform the criminal justice system as a whole.

“[O]nly by widening the lens — looking beyond the jail to the decisions made by police, prosecutors, judges, and community corrections officials — will jurisdictions be able to significantly reduce the size of their jails, save scarce county and municipal resources, and make the necessary community reinvestments to address the health and social service needs that have for too long landed at the doorstep of the jail,” Vera concluded in its latest report.

View the full report below:

Lawmakers: Government spends too much taxpayer money hiding information from taxpayers

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan leaders are concerned that the government is spending too much time and money fighting Freedom of Information Act information requests, according to a letter the lawmakers sent to U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy of (D-Vt.) asked Dodaro to provide the committee a detailed accounting of how much taxpayer money the government spends fighting FOIA requests.

The lawmakers said they were alarmed by a recent Associated Press report that found: “The Obama administration set a record again for censoring government files or outright denying access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act…”

From that report:

The government took longer to turn over files when it provided any, said more regularly that it couldn’t find documents and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy.

It also acknowledged in nearly 1 in 3 cases that its initial decisions to withhold or censor records were improper under the law — but only when it was challenged.

Its backlog of unanswered requests at year’s end grew remarkably by 55 percent to more than 200,000. It also cut by 375, or about 9 percent, the number of full-time employees across government paid to look for records. That was the fewest number of employees working on the issue in five years.

According to the report, the government spent about $434 million in fiscal 2014 handling FOIA requests and at least $28 million in legal fees to keep information secret.

“This is not how FOIA is supposed to work,” Grassley and Leahy wrote. “Withholding information from the public unless sued undermines the very spirit of FOIA and wastes significant taxpayer money in the process.”

According to the lawmakers, the government is providing incomplete information to taxpayers about how much it actually spends in an effort to withhold information.

“While each agency is required to provide its annual FOIA litigation costs in its report, the reports fail to distinguish between the litigation costs in those cases in which the court found the government to have lawfully complied with FOIA, and the litigation costs in those cases in which the complainant substantially prevailed,” they explained.

To get a better understanding of how far the government has gone to undermine FOIA, the legislative duo has asked for a breakdown of how much taxpayer money each agency has spent trying to thwart Americans’ FOIA requests since 2009.

“This should include not only the complainants’ attorneys’ fees and other litigation costs that the court ordered the government to pay, but also the money the government spent on its own personnel, litigation overhead, and litigation-related expenses in such cases,” they wrote.

Since the beginning of year, legislative proposals to reform the way government handles FOIA requests has appeared in both chambers.

Snowden: Paul’s anti-NSA filibuster represents ‘sea change’ in U.S. attitude

National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden said Thursday that 2016 presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) 10-hour anti-surveillance filibuster represents a “sea change” in the nation’s feelings about government spying.

Snowden made the remarks during an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit.

The whistle-blower said of Paul’s filibuster:

It represents a sea change from a few years ago, when intrusive new surveillance laws were passed without any kind of meaningful opposition or debate. Whatever you think about Rand Paul or his politics, it’s important to remember that when he took the floor to say “No” to any length of reauthorization of the Patriot Act, he was speaking for the majority of Americans — more than 60% of whom want to see this kind of mass surveillance reformed or ended.

He was joined by several other senators who disagree with the Senate Majority leader’s efforts to sneak through a reauthorization of what courts just weeks ago declared was a comprehensively unlawful program, and if you notice that yours did not take to the floor with him, you should call them right now and ask them to vote against any extension of the Patriot Act, because right now it looks like they’re going to force the reauthorization vote to occur during the dark of a holiday weekend.

Paul was joined during his Wednesday filibuster by a handful of his legislative colleagues, including Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and fellow presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has hinted that lawmakers will vote on reauthorizing the Patriot Act without privacy protections this weekend.

Watchdog: FBI neglected Patriot Act privacy protections for years

A watchdog report out Thursday found that the FBI took seven years to fulfill a legal obligation to adopt additional privacy protections for searches authorized by the controversial Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

According to the report, Congress demanded that the agency adopt “minimization procedures” to ensure that it didn’t collect information outside the scope of the FISC authorization and implement a plan for handling such material.

According to the Justice Department’s inspector general, it took the agency seven years to create the “minimization procedures” for digital data and five years to implement similar policies designed to protect business records.

“The [Justice] Department and FBI ultimately produced final minimization procedures specifically designed for Section 215 materials in 2013,” the report says.

“Given the significance of minimization procedures in the Reauthorization Act, we do not believe it should have taken 7 years for the Department to develop minimization procedures or 5 years to address the [office of the inspector general] recommendation that the Department comply with the statutory requirement to develop specific minimization procedures designed for business records,” it continues.

According to the IG report, the FBI’s use of Section 215 to justify data collection between 2007 and 2009 did yield “records of U.S. persons who were not the subject of or associated with the subjects of authorized investigations.”

The report also provides insight into the value of information he FBI obtains through the program, noting: “As with our previous reviews, the agents we interviewed did not identify any major case developments that resulted from use of the records obtained in response to Section 215 orders, but told us that the material produced pursuant to Section 215 orders was valuable in that it was used to support other investigative requests, develop investigative leads, and corroborate other information.”

With the bulk collection authorization set to expire at the end of the month, Section 215 has been at the center of a Capitol Hill debate surrounding the future of the Patriot Act in recent weeks.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) took to the Senate floor Wednesday to launch a 10-hour filibuster against renewal of the provision.

“There comes a time in the history of nations when fear and complacency allow power to accumulate and liberty and privacy to suffer,” the Kentucky senator said at the onset of his speech. “That time is now, and I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged.”

The House has passed a bill called the USA Freedom Act to renew the provision with modest privacy reforms. A handful of Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), meanwhile, want a “clean” extension of the Patriot Act with no limitations. The Senate is expected to vote on the extension Friday.

If Congress fails to come to an agreement about the future of bulk collection under Section 215, the White House has said it could intervene to prevent the indefinite suspension of the spy program.

“We believe [the USA Freedom Act] is the best path forward, both as a practical matter, in terms of getting this done before the deadline, but also in a way that best reflects the need to give our law enforcement authorities and national security authorities the tools that they need to keep us safe while also enhancing the basic privacy and civil liberty protections that the American people deserve,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday.