Government watchdog: Reporter’s computer wasn’t hacked, she broke it

Just after Former CBS reporter Sheryl Attkisson slammed the Obama administration’s anti-1st Amendment tactics at a Senate hearing Thursday, the Department of Justice’s Inspector General charged that her claim that she’d been spied on by government agents is false. According to the Feds, Attkisson’s backspace key was just stuck.

Related: “Obama treats journalists like ‘enemies of the state’”

Attkisson has long been a critic of the government’s treatment of journalists and whistleblowers because she believes she has firsthand experience of the abuse. In a book titled “Stonewalled,” the former reporter accused the DOJ of hacking into her computer and deleting files related to the terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and the botched “Fast and Furious” gunrunning operation.

According to the OIG, an incident where text was eliminated from her personal computer “appeared to be caused by the backspace key being stuck, rather than a remote intrusion.”

Furthermore, the watchdog charges that whoever inspected Attkisson’s personal computer before the government investigation altered the computers logs.

“The OIG’s forensic examination further found what appeared to be searches and queries performed by an examiner with knowledge of computer logs,” the report noted.

“However, it appeared that the searches and queries were conducted while the computer was in operation and without write protecting the drive, which altered file information. This method of forensic examination is not forensically sound nor is it in accordance with best practices.”

OIG further charges that, when asked for a copy of the report from the technician who did the examination, Attkisson said, “My attorney says our material isn’t yet in a form that’s ready to share.”

IP addresses found on the machine which Attkisson said she believed to be evidence of government intrusion were “common, non-suspicious sources such as Internet cookies, Google searches, and web access to the [redacted] shipping web site,” according to the government watchdog.

In other words, either the government is covering its tracks or Attkisson sucks at technology as much as certain IRS officials.

Rand Paul beautifully trolls Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) recently released an audio clip on Soundcloud that he claimed to be a secretly recorded telephone conversation between likely 2016 presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. The clip, which is of an imagined phone call, is an excellent piece of satire on modern U.S. political dynasties.

The audio, produced by Rand PAC, begins with niceties between the imaginary Clinton and Bush until the former Florida governor informs the former first lady: “Well, it’s true — I’m thinking about running for president.”

“Well, Jeb, so am I,” Clinton responds.

Bush suggests that the two should “work something out,” prompting Clinton to explain: “What do you mean, Jeb? It’s clearly my turn: Bush, Clinton, Bush. Now, Clinton.”

Bush then informs Clinton that the GOP is ready to regain control of the White House and “there hasn’t been a Republican White House without a Bush since 1977.”

“Let me shoot straight with you, Jeb, OK? Bill and I are dead broke and need a place to stay; 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is calling me home — I’ve still got the back door key,” Clinton says. “Being president offers a lot more job security than writing another memoir.”

In the end, the two agree that it may be a good idea to work something out.

“We both agree on so many issues: bigger government, Common Core and amnesty for illegal immigrants,” Clinton says.

Bush agrees, saying, “Well, we’ve both got problems. You’ve got problems with the grass roots, and I’ve got all those damn conservatives. What say, we make a deal?”

The clip ends abruptly as Bush says he has to get the other line because “Mitt keeps calling.”

Listen to the full clip below:

Immigration drama heats up with DHS funds on the line

By the end of the day Tuesday, it will be clearer whether congressional Republicans have any chance of making good on promises to reverse President Barack Obama’s unilateral immigration overhaul.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Friday that the first of a series of procedural votes will take place on a Department of Homeland Security funding bill that will likely contain language walking back some of Obama’s immigration actions.

The House has already passed its version of the bill, complete with language that would reverse almost all of the president’s immigration policies.

“The House-passed bill we’ll consider would do two things: Fund the Department of Homeland Security and rein in executive overreach. That’s it,” McConnell said Friday. “It’s simple, and there’s no reason for Democrats to block it.”

Republicans face considerable pressure in coming weeks as a Feb. 27 deadline looms for reauthorizing funding for DHS’s national security operations.

But with strong Democratic opposition making it highly unlikely that the GOP could muster the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the upper chamber, the Senate version is expected to be tamer.

Obama, Senate Democrats and past and current homeland security officials have all actively encouraged Republican senators to pass a clean DHS funding bill and take the immigration fight elsewhere.

“I would strongly recommend to my colleagues: Do not play politics with the security with the United States of America,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said from the Senate floor Thursday.

Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat, vowed Friday that his party will block any funding bill that contains immigration riders.

Top Republicans in the House, meanwhile, say that there’s no chance of a clean bill getting their support.

With the GOP in a tight spot, there are a few ways the funding drama could play out.

Republicans could push for a short extension in funding, giving them time to pressure Democrats ahead of a vote on a more permanent funding bill.

In another scenario the GOP could simply allow for a partial shutdown of DHS to occur, which could become interesting based on the Obama administration’s handling of the 2013 government shutdown.

Unfortunately for conservatives, the most likely option is that the GOP will give in to Democrats and separate the issue from the DHS bill altogether. The political right, after all, has never been keen on looking weak on national security issues.

Students opt for junk food contraband to avoid Michelle Obama’s gulag lunches, nutrition experts say

As Congress prepares to reauthorize the first lady’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 officials at the School Nutrition Association are asking lawmakers to rethink the tough nutrition standards.

“SNA supports strong federal nutrition standards for school meals, including calorie caps and mandates to offer a greater quantity and variety of fruits and vegetables,” SNA CEO Patricia Montague said.

“However, some of USDA’s regulations under the law have unnecessarily increased costs and waste for school meal programs and caused many students to swap healthy school meals for junk food fare.”

The problem, SNA says, is that students are opting out of school lunch programs in droves to avoid unappealing menu options provided by schools struggling to meet the standards with common cafeteria foods.

“Many schools are doing a great job serving healthy meals at the current reimbursement rates,” Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told Agri-Pulse. “But it can be tricky for smaller schools, schools with lower participation rates, schools in areas with higher costs of living, etc.”

In order to correct the problem, SNA says that Congress needs to increase the federal government’s per meal reimbursement for school breakfasts and lunches by 35 cents and roll back nutrition standards that require 100 percent of grains served in schools to be whole grains.

Obama treats journalists like ‘enemies of the state’

Former CBS reporter Sheryl Attkisson told senators on Thursday that a journalist’s job of “getting at the truth has never been more difficult” than it is under the Obama administration.

Testifying before the Senate confirmation hearing for Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, Atkins said that the Obama Justice Department has potentially done “long-term damage to a supposedly free press” and urged Lynch to enact policy changes to end the DOJ’s abuse of journalists.

“Facets of federal government have isolated themselves from the public they serve. They covet and withhold public information that we as citizens own. They bully and threaten access of journalists who do their jobs, news organizations that publish stories they don’t like and whistleblowers who dare to tell the truth,” Attkisson said.

The reporter, who is one of many journalists who’ve been spied on by the government, then outlined a number of incidents where she was personally bullied by White House officials waging a “frenzied campaign” to chill reporting in the U.S.

“If you cross this administration with perfectly accurate reporting they don’t like, you will be attacked and punished,” she said. “You and your sources may be subjected to the kind of surveillance devised for enemies of the state.”

Do you stash cash?

Americans may be getting a break at the pump and feeling less stressed about the economy as a whole, but that’s not stopping many people from socking away extra cash for an emergency.

According to a new survey from the credit card giant American Express, 29 percent of Americans eschew traditional financial institutions when it comes to at least some of their savings. And among those who prefer keeping cash and coins on hand, 53 percent say their physical holdings are nestled in a secret location.

“We’ve long asked people about how they’ve planned to keep their savings, and for the past few years, we’ve seen an uptick in people saving cash,” said Kimberly Litt, public affairs manager at American Express.

“I’ve also heard of people using it as a budget technique, keeping cash in envelopes set aside,” Litt added.

Financial anxiety plays a large role in the decision to go the cash-on-hand route. The poll found that about 20 percent of respondents expect to face a significant financial emergency in the year ahead.

“We saw a surge of this back in 2008, when the banking crisis was going on,” security expert Todd Morris told CNBC.

Stashing cash has long been popular among older generations, but the poll illustrates that millennials are actually the most likely to hide their savings somewhere other than the bank. Sixty-seven percent said they currently have hidden savings.

Most financial experts say that stashing cash around the house is a bad idea that leaves savings vulnerable to theft or disaster. Preppers, on the other hand, routinely point out the importance of having cash within reach in case financial services are disrupted in an emergency situation.

Pentagon declares taxpayer spending in Afghanistan confidential

A policy change to protect “sensitive information” at the Defense Department means that watchdogs will soon have no way to track how billions in taxpayer dollars are being spent on ongoing U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.

For years, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction has kept U.S. lawmakers and taxpayers apprised of how their money was being spent in war-torn Afghanistan. Though the Afghan war officially ended in 2014, more than 9,000 American troops remain in the country to provide training and support.

In its latest quarterly report to Congress, SIGAR said that it will no longer be able to provide up-to-date information on the effectiveness of $65 billion worth of “strength, attrition, equipment, personnel sustainment, infrastructure, and training” programs because all Pentagon information on the Afghan National Security Forces is now classified.

Adding insult to injury, the Pentagon decided to make the information classified after much of the necessary information had already been shared with the watchdog.

“[The Pentagon] is about to come and scrub our computers of the data,” Alex Bronstein-Moffl, SIGAR’s director of public affairs, told a reporter for Fusion.

As a result, SIGAR’s latest assessment of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan was reduced to a few broad budgetary matters involving transportation, police training and operations and a $500 million U.S. loan to the country to help it balance its books.

SIGAR listed some of the important investigations halted by the move with the following queries to the State Department:

*Please provide a broad definition of the terms “unavailable” and “present for duty.”

*Total amount of funding that the United States has expended on Afghan National Army food from Afghan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) for the current year.

*How has the $25 million authorized by Congress for women in the Afghan army been used?

*Total amount of funding that the United States has expended on Afghan National Police salaries from ASFF for the current year.

*Please provide details of DOD/NATO-funded contracts to provide literacy training to the ANSF, including: a. the cost of the contract(s) and estimated cost(s) to complete

*Please confirm that the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force-Afghanistan (CJIATF-A) is dissolved.

*Please offer an assessment of the anticorruption initiatives of Afghan Ministry of Defense and Afghan Ministry of Interior

In response to a SIGAR attempts to understand the decision, top U.S. commander to Afghanistan Army General John Campbell said he is unable to provide a “precise reason why certain information was considered unclassified in the past.”

“I can advise that given the risks that continue to exist against our forces and those of Afghanistan, I have directed that sensitive operative information or related materials, that could be used by those that threatened the force, or Afghan forces, be classified at the appropriate level,” he wrote to SIGAR.

SIGAR isn’t the only entity confused by the move, as The New York Times noted Thursday:

Some of the information could certainly be seen as demoralizing, such as the attrition rates within Afghan forces. But the potential for embarrassment is not considered a legitimate rationale for classifying information, and both Republican and Democratic members of Congress have expressed skepticism about General Campbell’s move.

In other words, as President Barack Obama attempts to wash the Afghan conflict from the U.S. conscience before the end of his term, the move to classify spending in the country looks more political than it does tactical.

Gas tax drama continues in Washington

Politicians and bureaucrats have been calling for hiking the federal gas tax since the price of gasoline began its steady decline last year. The talk of raising the tax has led 50 conservative organizations to join forces to lobby in opposition of the increase.

Among the groups fighting against the tax hike are high profile organizations such as Americans for Tax Reform, FreedomWorks the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity.

“Falling gas prices are the first significant relief many Americans have experienced in years,” AFP Vice President of Government Affairs Brent Gardner said. “Congress should let them take advantage of it rather than treating it as just another opportunity to reach into people’s pockets and take more away in taxes. Lower-income Americans deserve a break from trying times, not to be slapped with another tax that disproportionately affects them.”

Indeed, Americans are currently saving at the pump. AAA reported late last month that falling gas prices in the U.S. already saved American motorists more than $14 billion on fuel costs in 2014.

If the trend continues throughout 2015, AAA says that the number could jump to as much as $75 billion by this time next year.

But supporters of hiking the tax — AAA being among them — have pointed out that a tax hike is needed because the current gas tax of 18.4 cents a gallon brings in about $34 billion each year for maintenance projects that typically cost the federal government $50 billion each year.

“While no one wants to pay more, we urge you to support an increase to the federal fuels user fee, provided the funds are used to ease congestion and improve safety, because it is the most cost efficient and straightforward way to provide a steady revenue stream to the Highway Trust Fund,” the Chamber of Commerce, AAA and the American Trucking Association told lawmakers in a letter this week.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are already considering raising the gas tax.

Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe (Okla.), who just entered his second term running the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said earlier this month that the gas price drops give lawmakers looking for new infrastructure funding new options for increasing revenue. The lawmaker argued that a tax increase should be left on the table for discussion.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Republican Bill Shuster, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, gave anti-tax advocates hope earlier this month when he said he didn’t believe Congress could muster the votes for a gas tax increase.

But AFP and its conservative allies aren’t taking any chances. They sent their own letter to Congress this week, arguing that any perceived lack of infrastructure funding stems from a “spending problem, not a revenue problem.”

“Rather than asking Americans for even more of their hard-earned paycheck to fund reckless Washington spending, Congress should seek an alternate solution that properly prioritizes federal transportation infrastructure needs, reduces costly and time consuming bureaucratic hurdles, and further empowers state and local governments in conjunction with the private sector,” the letter said. “In doing so, Congress can create a system that is efficient and responsive, and ensures that the United States has the best and safest transportation network in the world.”

With the current transportation funding bill — which determines the nation’s gas tax rate — set to expire in May, the conservative groups are urging lawmakers to find ways to fund transportation projects without damaging the economy.

“Not only is increasing the gas tax an ineffective way to address the nation’s transportation infrastructure needs, it would further increase the burden of government on families and business — and would disproportionately hurt lower income Americans already hurt by trying times in our economy,” the groups wrote.

“A higher gas tax means higher prices not just on gas, but on goods and services throughout the economy,” they continued. “These increased costs would inevitably be passed down to consumers, resulting in a regressive tax hike on middle- and lower-income Americans.”

While the future of the federal gas tax remains uncertain, a number of states have already began taking steps to increase their infrastructure revenues by raising gas taxes on residents while the price at the pump remains low.

First World problem: Students protest milking, pizza chain

A group of University of California, Berkeley, students gathered outside of a local Domino’s Pizza store to shame the company for thanking the cows “grieving mothers” that provide the cheese for its pizzas.

“Today we’re protesting Domino’s recent advertisements that ‘thank’ dairy cows for their ‘help’ in enabling them to make pizza,” the college’s Organization for Animal Advocacy wrote on their Facebook page to hype the protest. “It is never okay to rape someone, steal their children and milk, or kill someone for palette pleasure. Help us speak on behalf of dairy cows today.”

The ad campaign the students are angry about features commercials and pizza boxes giving credit to the farm animals that make pizza possible.

“This pizza couldn’t have been made without help from Stella, Edna, Abigail, Estelle and Nancy… [w]ithout them, your cheesy and delicious pizza would be, well, less cheesy and delicious,” one new Domino’s ad says of the cows.

Just for fun, what do you think might happen if all the dairy producers supplying milk for Domino’s cheese immediately stopped milking abusing cows?

Here’s how one agricultural expert explained it on a message board back in 2005, “If a cow is producing much more than 20 pounds per day, stopping milking her in one fell swoop will cause severe udder stress including inflammation, and the more she’s milking the greater the chance that this stress and the resulting infection could kill her. Unfortunately, we have first-hand experience about this in this region (45 miles south of Montreal) since a few years ago we had a devastating ice storm that killed electric power for several days. One farmer who couldn’t get a generator lost a bunch of high producing cows when he wasn’t able to milk them. (He had about 150 cows, and milking by hand was out of the question.)”

Rand Paul does Snapchat interview, says he’s down for a drone hunt

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) got hip with the youngsters this week, conducting an interview with CNN via the popular disappearing-message app Snapchat.

Paul offered candid answers to a range of questions including whether he wants to be the nation’s next president, how he feels about Hillary Clinton’s speaking fees and his opinions on drones.

Clinton’s $200,000 speaking fee is “obscene,” Paul said, adding, “I guess she can pay her chauffeur well now.”

And when CNN’s Ashley Codianni asked Paul if he’d like to live in the White House after 2015, he replied, “Maybe.” http://www.politico.com/story/2015/01/rand-paul-id-have-shot-that-drone-out-of-the-sky-114679.html

The senator then added, “They may have to make the fence and guard the fence a little bit better than they have been doing lately.”

Referencing the recent drone incident at the White House, Codianni asked the lawmaker if the flying vehicles should be banned.

“Drones should only be used according to the Constitution,” Paul offered. “But if they fly over my house, they better beware because I’ve got a shotgun.”

Comments on a video of the exchange drew mixed reviews for both Paul and CNN, which heralded the tech-enabled interview as a historic moment.

“Rand is a perfect candidate to attract young voters, f*ck Romney and Bush,” one commenter chimed.

Another was wholly unimpressed, saying: “Historic? Seriously CNN? THIS is what we will record in the annals of history? A snap chat with Rand Paul? How much more f*cking stupid are you going to get CNN? Please, just tell me. I try hard to be nice online but I draw the line at you.”

Throwing away food in Seattle could cost you

If you buy your food, should you be able to waste it as you please? Not in Seattle, where residents currently risk a fine if they are found guilty of improperly disposing of food.

The Emerald City this month became the first in the nation to mandate under the possibility of penalty that homeowners sort food out of the trash before taking it to the curb for pickup.

The city says that the new food waste requirements are part of a “public education” campaign to encourage residents to compost perishable refuse.

Seattle explains the new ordinance on its website:

Starting January 1, 2015, all commercial establishments that generate food waste or compostable paper would have to subscribe to a composting service, compost their food waste on-site, or self-haul their food waste for processing. (Single-family and apartments are already required to have composting service.)

As of July 1, 2015 all commercial, single-family and multi-family garbage containers that would be found to contain more than 10 percent recyclables or food waste by volume would face penalties of Seattle municipal code.

Single-family properties whose garbage contains more than more than 10 percent recyclables or food waste by volume would receive a notice on their garbage container and a $1 fine would be levied on their bi-monthly garbage bill.

Multi-family and commercial properties whose garbage contains more than 10 percent recyclables or food waste by volume would receive a warning notice. Upon the third notice, the property would receive a $50 fine.

In addition to the fines, the city will continue its practice of publicly shaming residents with food in their trash by attaching red tags to trash bins found to contain food waste.

A waste contractor for the city explained the process of inspecting the trash to NPR, explaining that a quick look into the cans is usually enough to spot offending items.

“You can see all the oranges and coffee grounds,” he said. “All that makes great compost. You can put that in your compost bin and buy it back next year in a bag and put it in your garden.”

Seattle has long been picky about its trash. It prohibited yard waste from the garbage in 1988, prohibited recyclables from the garbage in 2005 and began curbside food waste collection in 2005.

The city says the latest ordinance will bring it closer to its goal of composting 60 percent of residents’ refuse by 2015.

“Based on the success of Seattle’s existing recycling and yard waste ordinances, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) projects that the food waste law will divert 38,000 tons of food scraps from the landfill via composting,” the city said.

Other cities throughout the nation have composting mandates, but don’t go as far as inspecting trash and fining residents.

Congressional Republicans making moves on immigration

GOP lawmakers in both chambers are moving forward with plans to derail the immigration overhaul President Barack Obama carried out via executive action last year.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told House Republicans Tuesday that a plan to sue the Obama administration is currently in the works.

“We are finalizing a plan to authorize litigation on this issue — one we believe gives us the best chance of success,” Boehner reportedly said.

The lawsuit will likely mirror last year’s GOP effort to sue the administration over the Obamacare employer mandate.

Boehner’s announcement came after the GOP leadership quashed a controversial border bill.

Meanwhile in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said lawmakers in the chamber will vote on a House-approved funding bill that contains language to defund Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

“We’re hoping to be able to finish that bill by the end of the week and then once Keystone is completed, we’ll go to DHS, [it] will be the next in the lineup in the Senate,” he said, according to The Hill.

DOJ official wants tech companies to make spying on Americans easier

A top Justice Department official said Tuesday that tech giants who have taken steps to protect customer data from government snoops are guilty of creating a “zone of lawlessness” and protecting criminals.

Leslie Caldwell, who serves as assistant attorney general to the DOJ’s criminal division, told a crowd at the State of the Net conference in Washington that tech companies such as Apple and Google should make it easier for law enforcement to collect users’ information and digital communication data.

“We understand the value of encryption,” she said. “We understand the importance of security, but we’re also very concerned that there not be what I would call ‘the zone of lawlessness,’ where there’s evidence that we could have lawful access to… that we’re prohibited from having because of a company’s technological choices.”

Caldwell claimed that the changes have created “significant obstacle to us being able to successfully prosecute” rapes, murders and other crimes.

Caldwell’s remarks echo those made by other government officials, including President Obama ,FBI Director James Comey and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, after Apple and Google recently increased encryption to better protect their customers from government snoops and other hackers.

Attorney General Eric Holder called the move “worrisome.” And Comey encouraged lawmakers to update the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which mandates that wiretap access for law enforcement be built into conventional telephone networks, to include Internet and digital modes of communication.

DEA program morphs into full-on vehicle surveillance

A Drug Enforcement Administration license plate tracking program designed to monitor vehicles with suspected ties to drug traffic has ballooned into a massive roadway surveillance program, according to a report.

The program uses special cameras placed along U.S. roadways to log information about vehicle movements — including current location, direction and time — and to record visual images of drivers and passengers.

Originally, the DEA tracking program was relegated to border areas such as Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas, where narcotics trafficking from Mexico is common. But documents obtained by The Wall Street Journal indicate that the program has expanded as the agency has begun sharing information with other federal agencies along with state and local authorities in recent years.

The newspaper reported this week:

The documents show that the DEA also uses license-plate readers operated by state, local and federal law-enforcement agencies to feed into its own network and create a far-reaching, constantly updating database of electronic eyes scanning traffic on the roads to steer police toward suspects.

The law-enforcement scanners are different from those used to collect tolls.

By 2011, the DEA had about 100 cameras feeding into the database, the documents show. On Interstate 95 in New Jersey, license-plate readers feed data to the DEA — giving law-enforcement personnel around the country the ability to search for a suspect vehicle on one of the country’s busiest highways. One undated internal document shows the program also gathers data from license-plate readers in Florida and Georgia.

Federal officials reportedly said they always intended to expand the national vehicle database program but, according to WSJ, they “wouldn’t say how many other states are now feeding data into the system, citing concerns that disclosing such information could help criminals avoid detection.”

An American Civil Liberties Union information request revealed that the vehicle database contains at least 343 million records.

The ACLU also noted:

The program also apparently data mines license plate reader data “to identify travel patterns.” The extent of this data mining is unknown. Is the DEA running all of our license plate reads through a program to predict our likelihood of committing a crime? Are we all suspects if we drive on a certain road? What else does the DEA think it knows about us just from the collection and analysis of our locations via license plate reader data?

Along with growth in the geographical area it covers federal officials have also been keen on expanding the ways in which their vehicle tracking program can be used.

A 2010 DEA email uncovered by WSJ highlights an emphasis officials place on using the tracking program to seize the assets of people the government suspects of criminal activity.

“DEA has designed this program to assist with locating, identifying, and seizing bulk currency, guns, and other illicit contraband moving along the southwest border and throughout the United States,” the email said in part. “With that said, we want to insure we can collect and manage all the data and IT responsibilities that will come with the work to insure the program meets its goals, of which asset forfeiture is primary.”

Chomsky on ‘American Sniper': What’s so patriotic about bad foreign policy?

Longtime U.S. foreign policy critic and famed linguist Noam Chomsky weighed in on the recently released “American Sniper” film; he’s not impressed.

Chomsky, during a Cambridge, Massachusetts, event hosted by The Baffler, referenced a positive review of the film published in The New York Times.

“America’s coastal intelligentsia, which has busied itself with chatter over little-seen art dramas while everyday Americans showed up en masse for a patriotic, pro-family picture which broke all attendance records in its opening days,” Chomsky quoted the piece.

The political commentator then asked: “What was the patriotic, pro-family film that so entranced everyday Americans? It’s about the most deadly sniper in American history, a guy named Chris Kyle, who claims to have used his skills to have killed several hundred people in Iraq.

“He describes what the experience was like, so I’ll quote him. His first kill was a woman, who walked into the street with a grenade in her hand as the Marines attacked her village. … Kyle killed her with a single shot, and he explains how he felt about it.”

“‘I hated the damn savages I’d been fighting,'” Chomsky quoted Kyle. “‘Savage, despicable, evil — that’s what we were fighting in Iraq. That’s why a lot of people, myself included, called the enemy savages. There was really no other way to describe what we encountered there.'”

Chomsky said he hadn’t seen the film but had read reviews, noting that there has been both heavy praise and harsh criticism for the film.

The New Yorker, Chomsky noted, “said it was great, kept to the cinematic values, said it was well done — but there were others who found it appalling, including [Newsweek’s] Jeff Stein, a former U.S. intelligence officer who wrote a very critical review, keeping to the content.”

Chomsky reserved criticism for Kyle, saying that “we’re all tarred by the same brush insofar as we tolerate or keep silent about official policy.

“The mentality helps explain why it’s so easy to ignore what is most clearly the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern history, if not ever — Obama’s global assassination campaign, the drone campaign, which officially is aimed at murdering people who are suspected of maybe someday planning to harm us,” Chomsky continued.

“I’d advise you to read some of the transcripts with drone operators,” Chomsky said. “They’re hair-raising — the guys who are sitting in front of computers in Las Vegas.”

Recalling President Barack Obama’s comment that “evil does exist in the world” upon receiving a Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, Chomsky observed, “He’s right, and he knows exactly where to find it.”

New House Freedom Caucus plans to undo RINO rule

A group of nine GOP lawmakers who believe the Republican Party has lost touch with its conservative base announced Monday that they are forming a new caucus to fight for legislation aimed at limiting the size of government.

“The House Freedom Caucus gives a voice to countless Americans who feel that Washington does not represent them. We support open, accountable and limited government, the Constitution and the rule of law, and policies that promote the liberty, safety and prosperity of all Americans,” the caucus says in its mission statement.

The lawmakers who make up the new House Freedom Caucus say the group is meant to serve as an alternative to the Republican Study Committee, which has rallied for right-leaning causes in Congress for more than 40 years.

Some of the founding members of the new caucus recently opted to leave the RSC and others plan to serve as members of both groups moving forwards.

The RSC has come under fire in recent years as more and more moderate Republicans joined, diluting its conservative policy agenda.

Daily Caller editor James Antle noted of the GOP mainstay earlier this month: “Membership in the RSC has exploded from 7 percent of the House Republican Conference to more than 70 percent. As late as 2000, the group had just 40 members. After the 2010 elections, it received over 60 new members from the GOP freshman class alone.”

The Freedom Caucus, meanwhile, is planning to take on new members on an invitation-only basis and says it will add only about 30 members (29 members would give the group the numbers needed to block establishment GOP legislation it doesn’t support).

It’s already evident that the new caucus is poised to become a thorn in the side of the House’s GOP establishment, as two of its founding members, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan and Mark Meadows of North Carolina, voted against allowing Ohio Republican John Boehner to serve another term as speaker. Other members include: Reps. Scott Garrett of New Jersey, Jim Jordan of Ohio, John Fleming of Louisiana, Matt Salmon of Arizona, Raúl Labrador of Idaho, Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina and Ron DeSantis of Florida.

New York lawmaker wants children banned from gun shows

One New York state lawmaker believes that allowing children younger than 12 to attend gun shows increases the possibility that the youngsters will be future perpetrators of firearm crimes.

Concerned that the firearms industry is making firearms and shooting sports too appealing to children, Hell’s Kitchen-area New York state lawmaker Linda Rosenthal wants to ban children from entering gun shows.

“As the gun industry prepares a public campaign to broaden the appeal of guns, it is important that we establish reasonable age limits for admission to gun shows by children,” the lawmaker said in a memo attached to her proposal. “Within New York State and other areas of jurisdiction, we have myriad regulations that seek to protect minors from exposure to certain potentially dangerous situations and influences.”

Rosenthal reasons that children should be restricted from gun shows in much the same way they’re restricted from “watching films or playing certain video games that portray deadly weaponry and gunplay.”

“Currently, however, minors of any age may gain unfettered access to a gun show,” she lamented in the memo.

Rosenthal’s legislation makes no provision for youth gun show attendance with a parent or guardian, simply stating that it would, “PROHIBIT ENTRANCE TO THE GUN SHOW OF ANY PERSON WHO IS UNDER THE AGE OF TWELVE YEARS OF AGE.”

“As our State continues to look for solutions to violence involving guns, we must begin by limiting the exposure of young children to these weapons and their capabilities,” the New York lawmaker said in her memo.

Guns.com tried unsuccessfully to get Rosenthal to explain how the proposed legislation would affect her Manhattan constituents.

The website noted:

In researching four different gun show listing sites to include Gunshow Monster, American Gun Shows, Gunshows USA, and Gunshow Trader, of the more than 60 shows listed in New York state so far for 2015, few if any are in Manhattan. In fact, the closest shows listed to Rosenthal’s district are in Long Island, some 50 miles away, leading to the conclusion that by far the biggest impact for her bill would be in other parts of the Empire State.

What Rosenthal’s legislative proposal would do — even if only in the smallest of ways — is make it more difficult for firearms enthusiasts and sportsmen in New York’s many rural regions to pass along traditions of responsible gun ownership. More often than not, lifelong gun owners are responsible gun owners. And what better place to encounter some of these folks than at a local gun show?

Certainly, Rosenthal is capable of imagining a worse scenario for a young person’s earliest encounter with guns than the “situations and influences” at a civic center full of folks who understand the devastating consequences of improper firearm use.

Related: “Anti-gun liberals don’t understand, lifelong gun owners are safe gun owners”

School scolds physician dad for contents of daughter’s lunch

A substitute teacher in Kirksville, Missouri, sent a letter to the parents of a primary school student because she didn’t approve of the contents of the young girl’s lunch. The youngster’s father, who is a doctor, promptly set the nosy educator straight.

Dr. Justin Puckett and Mrs. Kylene Puckett received a letter from the Kirksville Primary School informing the parents that their child’s packed lunch, which she believed contained chocolate, crackers, a pickle and marshmallows, was nutritionally deficient.

“Dr. and Mrs. Puckett, The cafeteria reported to me that Alia’s lunch today included four chocolate bars, a bag of marshmallows, Ritz crackers and a pickle. Please see that she packs a proper lunch tomorrow,” the note said.

The letter, which Dr. Puckett posted to his Facebook, ended with a request for a parent signature. The irked parents filled in the space provided with the words “request denied.”

“The letter didn’t have what she had, correctly,” Dr. Puckett told local reporters. “She had four pieces of ham, a whole protein meat, she also had some pickles, which we admittedly cheat on pickles every once and awhile as a vegetable, because some fights just aren’t worth having.”

“She also had four marshmallows in a Ziploc bag and then she had three very small pieces of chocolate,” he added. “She ate one for lunch and then she also gave her brother and another friend one at an after school program.”

But, Puckett contended, the teachers’ mistake isn’t what irritated him.

“What does bother me is that it just seems that we are constantly being inundated with the inability to be parents of our children,” he said.

The healthcare professional continued, “I’m responsible for them and for the choices that they make and do whether it’s at school or not.

“I have the ultimate responsibility to raise my children and I take that role very, very seriously and so maybe I took it bit more personally that there was some offense that maybe I wasn’t doing a good job in that duty, something that is my number one job.”

The school’s principal has since apologized for the incident.

Many conservatives have cited the Pucketts’ story as yet another example of a growing mentality that communities and institutions should have more authority to determine minors’ best interests than parents.

Related:

‘Free-range’ parents under scrutiny for letting kids walk home from the park

Washington mom refuses flu vaccine for baby; state threatens confiscation

Update: Connecticut Supreme Court rules teen must continue receiving treatment against her will

American satisfaction with federal tax rates hits 12-year low

Surprise! Americans are dissatisfied with the amount of federal income taxes they are forced to pay.

Polling data out from Gallup shows that 63 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the federal tax rate, the highest number recorded by the polling agency in 12 years.

“It is only exceeded by the 51% recorded in mid-January 2003, a week after President George W. Bush proposed extending certain 2001 tax cuts and implementing new ones, measures that ultimately became known as the 2003 Bush tax cuts,” Gallup reported.

A majority of those upset over federal taxes, 46 percent, say that the nation’s income tax is too high. Spread-the-wealth pandering from President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats doesn’t appear to be encouraging many people to willingly fork over a larger share of their earnings to the taxman — just 4 percent of respondents think their taxes are too low.

Thirteen percent of those polled said they are unhappy with taxes but offered few specifics about how the system should be changed.

Middle-class and wealthy Americans are similarly likely to call for tax cuts.

“Majorities of Americans in all income groups, except those in the lowest income bracket, are dissatisfied and believe taxes should be reduced,” Gallup said. “About as many Americans in households bringing in less than $30,000 per year are satisfied with the amount Americans pay in federal income taxes (39%) as say they should be decreased (31%).”

Broken down by political affiliation, Democrats (47 percent) are far more likely to be satisfied with the amount of taxes they pay than Republicans (23 percent) or independents (29 percent). Even so, just 5 percent of Democrats say they would support a tax hike and 31 percent would like to pay less.

Tax proposals from Obama and Democrats in Congress in the past year have increased anti-tax attitudes among Republicans.

“Republicans’ preference for decreasing taxes has swelled by nearly 20 percentage points — from 44% to 61% — which largely accounts for the increase in this viewpoint nationally,” according to Gallup.

According to Gallup, Americans’ support for Obama’s plan to cut certain taxes on the middle class while increasing capital gains and inheritance taxes hinges largely on who controls the message in Washington in coming months.

“If Americans view this plan as mainly providing significant tax relief for the middle class, it should be received positively,” Gallup predicts. “But if Republicans are successful at defining it as an effort to raise revenue to not just pay for middle-class tax credits, but to expand government spending, concern could prevail.”

Cruz: It’s common sense that Americans who join terrorists should lose citizenship

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) re-introduced legislation Friday that would strip U.S. citizenship from individuals suspected of traveling overseas to fight alongside ISIS and other known terror organizations.

“We’ve seen the grave consequence of the Obama-Clinton-Kerry foreign policy unravel with respect to Iran, Russia and now Yemen,” Cruz said of the legislation. “These consequences are not confined to faraway lands. They directly threaten America and our allies.”

“That is why this week, I am re-filing the Expatriate Terrorist Act, which prevents Americans who have fought abroad for designated terrorist groups from returning to the United States,” he said. “I look forward to working with senators on both sides of the aisle on this and additional measures to secure our nation and restore America’s leadership in the world.”

Cruz first presented a version of his Expatriate Terrorist Act (E.T.A.) last year, but Senate Democrats quashed the proposal because it hadn’t been examined by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Legislation that grants the government the ability to strip citizenship from Americans is a serious matter, raising significant constitutional issues,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) at the time.

Cruz responded to objections against the legislation with disappointment, saying that his common-sense proposal was meant to quickly address a direct threat to the safety of American citizens.

“The question is very simple: would any reasonable person want an American who is right now in Iraq, who is right now training with ISIS, who is right now taking up arms, who is right now participating in crucifying Christians, who is right now beheading children, who [has] right now participated in beheading two American journalists, who is right now standing arm in arm with virulent terrorists who have pledged to take jihad to America — would anyone of good conscience in either party want that person to be able to come back and land in LaGuardia airport with a U.S. passport and walk unmolested onto our streets?” he said.

Cruz contends that the changing nature of global terror threats– including the increasing ease with which terror groups can reach out to and radicalize Westerners using social media — merits a new discussion about providing due process to people who leave the U.S. to join foreign radicals.

Along with his legislative announcement, the Texas lawmaker released a video criticizing President Barack Obama’s foreign policy and weak response to global terror.

The video, titled “It’s Time To Face Reality,” challenges statements Obama made on Russia, Iran, Yemen and Islamic terrorism.

‘Privacy is dead': Tech giants and researchers discuss the end of anonymity in Davos

The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, kicked off this week with tech industry giants discussing the future of technology and what it means for individual privacy. They concluded that the world’s current understanding of privacy will soon become a thing of the past.

“Welcome to today. We’re already in that world,” Harvard computer science professor Margo Seltzer said, adding, “Privacy as we knew it in the past is no longer feasible… How we conventionally think of privacy is dead.”

According to Seltzer, it’s not far-fetched to imagine a world where mosquito-sized drones controlled by corporations, governments or individuals perpetually observe people or collect biometric information.

“It’s not whether this is going to happen, it’s already happening,” she said of the possibility of surveillance becoming more pervasive. “We live in a surveillance state today.”

Another Harvard academic, Sophia Roosth, discussed the inevitability of individuals’ personal genetic information being available through the Internet in the near future, saying that possible government uses of such information will lead to an “age of genetic McCarthyism.”

While the Harvard researchers’ predictions might sound outlandish to observers who haven’t kept up with the latest developments in the relationship between technological advances and privacy concerns, the venue at which they were made should relieve any suspicion of outright paranoia.

Traditionally, the forum in Davos opens with Nobel laureate economists discussing the world economy. This year, technology and privacy took center stage, underscoring the import of a serious global discussion about protecting individual privacy.

Other panelists joining the discussion included tech industry leaders Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo; Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce; John Chambers, CEO of Cisco; Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT; and Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T.

Mayer emphasized government’s responsibility to be transparent in its quest for digital information about citizens.

“When you go through security at the airport, when you sign up for a driver’s license, you know exactly what you’re disclosing to the government and you know what you get in exchange,” she said.

Political scientist Joseph Nye also discussed government surveillance, contending that there are often unintended consequences to setting up online surveillance networks.

“Governments are talking about putting in back doors for communication so that terrorists can’t communicate without being spied on. The problem is that if governments can do that, so can the bad guys,” Nye said.

Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth noted that future developments in technology designed to make life easier will, as it already has in some respects, give snoops an array of options for gathering extremely personal data.

“All the data in my phone is available to the government because I shared it.”

“I’ve lost my privacy rights. Now what happens when that goes into your home? If you have a robot in your home, you lose the privacy even in your own home,” Roth said.

“We don’t want to get rid of the technology, but we do have to be careful… for some of these technologies, you’re much better off keeping the genie in the bottle.”

Note from the Editor: Under the Obama Administration, the NSA, the IRS, and the State and Justice departments are blatantly stepping on Americans’ privacy—and these are just the breaches we’re aware of. I’ve arranged for readers to get a free copy of The Ultimate Privacy Guide so you can be protected from any form of surveillance by anyone—government, corporate or criminal. Click here for your free copy.

Gas tax increase appears stalled at federal level as states plan hikes

Good news! Lawmakers who were pushing to increase the nation’s gas tax just as Americans began getting some relief at the pump appear poised for failure.

According to Pennsylvania Republican Bill Shuster, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, the unpopularity of raising the gas tax makes it unlikely that supporters could get the votes needed for congressional passage.

“The popular thing that a lot of people are talking about is the gas tax. But I just don’t believe the votes are there in the Congress at this point to do that,” Shuster told a Wednesday gathering of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington.

Instead, lawmakers interested in increasing government funding for infrastructure improvements will have to look for alternatives such as working with Democrats to include the funds in a broader tax reform package.

“The number one source that’s being talked about is this repatriation of funds,” Shuster continued. “So, as we go through this process and tax reform, it’ll be part of tax reform. We’ll figure out how to get there.”

In his State of the Union speech Tuesday, President Obama expressed interest in finding common ground with Republicans on transportation funding, saying, “When it comes to issues like infrastructure and basic research, I know there’s bipartisan support in this chamber.”

Shuster, who contends that producing a long-term transportation bill should be a priority for lawmakers, said Obama is right to suggest that U.S. infrastructure improvements can be made without too many partisan obstacles.

“We’re looking for places that we can work together with the president, and I think one of those places is in transportation and infrastructure in this country,” he said. “The president mentioned it — not as much as I would’ve liked, but he mentioned it in his State of the Union address.”

The federal gas tax was last increased in 1993, bringing it to its current level of 18.4 cents per gallon. While the tax provides about $34 billion in infrastructure revenue each year, lawmakers calling for an increase have noted that the federal government currently spends a yearly average of $50 billion on transit projects.

Even as Washington’s push to hike the federal gas tax is faltering, the discussion is gaining steam in statehouses throughout the nation.

Governors and lawmakers in South Dakota, Iowa, Utah, Louisiana, New Jersey, Georgia, Michigan and Tennessee are at various stages in discussions about increasing fuel taxes at the state level. In Arizona, Gov. Nikki Haley is also proposing a fuel tax increase. Her plan calls for a gas tax increase of 10 cents per gallon — but only if legislators restructure leadership at the state department of transportation and lower the state income tax rate from 7 percent to 5 percent.

Arizona state lawmaker wants to end private party gun sales without background checks

An Arizona Democrat has submitted three new legislative proposals aimed at ending gun sales between private parties without a background check and putting new restrictions on youth firearms use in the state.

Two of the measures proposed by Arizona state Rep. Randall Friese would make it a crime for residents to privately sell or buy firearms without the assistance of a federally licensed firearms dealer to conduct a background check.

Via Guns.com:

House Bill 2118 would prohibit the current practice of private gun sales in the Grand Canyon State by legislative action. With few exceptions, it would require that most transfers first go through an FFL who would conduct a background check for which they would be allowed to collect a $20 fee.

Exceptions would include those for military and law enforcement, those loaned a gun for target practice at a shooting range provided it stays on the premises of the range, security guards using company-owned guns and those loaned a firearm by the owner for hunting as long as the owner accompanies them.

Violations of the law, should it take effect, would be considered Class 5 felonies. Under state law this would bring punishments ranging between 6 months and 2.5 years imprisonment.

The companion measure, HCR 2009, uses the same language but would send the question to the voters in the form of a ballot initiative.

The third measure would prohibit individuals under the age of 14 from possessing or firing any firearm “capable of shooting more than one shot automatically, without manual reloading, by single function of the trigger.” The bill would make an exception for youth shooters under the supervision of a firearms instructor at a firing range.