Rand Paul’s Festivus grievances

Sen. Rand Paul on Tuesday kicked off Festivus, the fake holiday popularized by a 1997 episode of “Seinfeld,” with the tongue-in-cheek holiday’s mandatory airing of grievances via Twitter. Using Festivus as an excuse to rib his legislative peers and make calls for better government in Washington has become an annual tradition of the Paul camp.

Paul kept his grievances pretty light this year, mentioning some current political squabbles without going into too much detail. The senator also took the opportunity to spark more rumors about a potential 2016 presidential bid.

Without further ado, here are Paul’s Festivus complaints:

Majority of Americans support new relationship with Cuba

Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and other Republicans may not like President Barack Obama’s recent move to normalize relations with Cuba, but a strong majority of Americans support the plan.

Data collected in a Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that 64 percent of Americans are in favor of a U.S. diplomatic reset with Cuba. While just under half (49 percent) support re-establishing ties with the communist island nation, a strong 77 percent of Democrats are in support of the move.

Americans are especially happy with the idea of lifting travel restrictions, with 78 percent saying it is a good move. Sixty-eight percent of respondents are happy with plans to lift the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba.

Americans with Cuban heritage, such as political objectors to the president’s plan like Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), are split on the changes.

As noted by The Washington Post:

Hispanics are among the most supportive of re-starting diplomatic relations with Cuba; 75 percent support doing so, while 20 percent are opposed. The survey did not include a large enough sample of Hispanics or detailed questions to examine attitudes of Cuban Americans.

A separate survey of Americans with Cuban heritage conducted by Bendixen & Amandi International found the group closely divided on Obama’s decision. Forty-four percent agreed with “Obama’s announcement to begin normalizing relations with Cuba,” while 48 percent disagreed. The survey , sponsored by El Nuevo Herald, the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times, found a clear generational split, with 64 percent of U.S.-born Cubans supporting Obama’s policy while 53 percent of Cuban immigrants opposed it.

GOP lawmakers — with the exception of Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky — mostly agree with Rubio and Cruz on the issue of re-establishing ties with Cuba. Republicans could move to block confirmation of a U.S. ambassador to the nation, cut diplomatic funding for new operations or revisit legislation related to the trade embargo on Cuba when the new Congress convenes after the first of the year.

Gun control advocate to kids: Steal your parent’s gun, give it to your teacher

A public service announcement released by an anti-gun director portrays a young boy stealing a handgun from his mother’s dresser while she reads a book in another room and stuffing it in his backpack before heading off to school.

As the video continues, it seems as though the pensive child is planning to harm his classmates or teachers. But after sitting through class, he pulls the firearm from the bag as his teacher recoils in horror.

“Can you take this away?” he says. “I don’t feel safe with a gun in my house.”

A message at the end of the clip reads, “Our children deserve a safe world. Stop gun violence now.”

Of course, encouraging children to steal legal firearms from their parents and carry them to school is certainly not going to benefit anyone’s safety. Not only could the child have seriously harmed himself or others by handling a weapon without his parent’s permission or supervision, but he could also face serious criminal charges if this liberal fairy tale were to play out in real life.

As BearingArms.com points out:

In the real world, such an act would result in the boy facing numerous felony charges (exact charges depend on state laws) possibly including weapons theft, unlawful possession of a weapon by a minor, illegal concealed carry of a weapon, carrying a weapon onto school property, assault, and brandishing.

He would face the possibility of felony criminal record and mandatory expulsion from his school… and this is the kind of behavior that deranged gun control supporter Sincic is hoping that children will emulate.

The video has been credited to director Rejina Sincic of Rejina Productions.

CBO: War spending since 9/11 at $1.6 trillion

The terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 launched the U.S. into what would become the longest military conflict in the nation’s history. Military operations and counterterrorism efforts in the nearly 14 years since the attacks have cost U.S. taxpayers $1.6 trillion, according to a new Congressional Budget Office report.

“Based on funding enacted from the 9/11 attacks through [fiscal year 2014], CRS estimates a total of $1.6 trillion has been provided to the Department of Defense, the State Department and the Department of Veterans Administration for war operations, diplomatic operations and foreign aid, and medical care for Iraq and Afghan war veterans over the past 13 years of war,” the report says.

The CBO breaks the $1.6 trillion down to $815 billion spent on war in Iraq, $686 billion on war in Afghanistan, $81 billion for “war-designated” funding and $27 billion for air patrols over the U.S. through Operation Nobel Eagle.

The accounting includes all operations through September of this year.

Not included in the CBO’s tally is $64 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funding included in the fiscal 2015 budget for the fight against ISIS terrorists in Iraq and Syria.

The CBO report says that the main factor governing military costs for the nation’s ongoing Middle East involvement “is the number of U.S. troops deployed.”

The actual cost of the military conflicts could, however, be much higher than the CBO’s number because its report doesn’t factor in lifetime medical costs for war veterans or “interest on the deficit or potential increases to the base defense budget deemed to be a consequence of the war.”

Suicide is the leading cause of death from firearm violence

Anti-gun groups continue to point to high-profile murders as a reason to limit gun rights in the U.S. But a new study shows that if they’re really interested in curbing firearm related deaths, they should focus on suicide prevention.

According to research conducted by the University of California, Davis, the overall number of people killed by firearms hasn’t increased in more than a decade even as gun homicide rates have trended downward. That’s because the number of suicides by firearm are on the rise.

“Suicide by firearm is far more common than homicide,” says Garen J. Wintemute, professor of emergency medicine and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at University of Caliornia, Davis.

“Over the past 30 years, firearm suicides have exceeded homicides even when homicide rates were at their highest in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But, since 2006, the gap between the two has been widening, with firearm homicides decreasing and suicides increasing.”

In 2012, there were 20,666 firearm suicides. That’s about 64 percent of all firearm-related deaths recorded for the year.

The suicide rates are highest among white males.

“Suicides among white males accounted for nearly half of the deaths from firearm violence during 2012, and suicide among white men is increasing,” Wintemute says. “The increase offsets any decline we might have seen in overall firearm-related mortality during the 21st century.”

Research: Red light cameras increase ticket revenues, decrease safety

A new study of red light cameras finds that bureaucrats have made exaggerated claims about the safety benefits of the Orwellian intersection monitors. In fact, the research concludes that the cameras actually increase certain types of traffic accidents.

The Chicago Tribune conducted a study of its city’s network of 350 red light cameras, finding that the devices do little good in reducing traffic accidents at intersections. And while the cameras aren’t that great for public safety, the research finds that they do help to pad the city government’s bottom line.

According to the Tribune’s findings, the cameras often cause motorists to unsafely slam on their brakes in a panic to avoid receiving a citation. So while the cameras have decreased right angle car accidents at intersections by about 15 percent, there has been a 22 percent increase in rear-end crashes. Overall, the presence of the cameras could be attributed to a 5 percent increase in accidents.

Worse yet, the Tribune study found, “When intersections experiencing fewer than 4 injury crashes per year are considered, there is a significant increase in all crashes by 19 percent after the installation of RLCs.”

In other words, installing the cameras at intersections where few injury-causing crashes occur actually increases the potential for bodily harm to motorists and pedestrians.

Despite the moot safety merit of the devices, Chicago is looking to expand its largest in the nation collection of red light cameras. And Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale, chairman of the council Transportation Committee, told the Tribune that the plan is related to city finances, not public safety.

“That program needs to be stopped. It needs to be frozen to give us time to re-evaluate everything,” he said. “This is just more proof that this entire program is strictly to generate revenue and always has been.”

People who wish to re-think the traffic cameras are certain to face an uphill battle, considering that the city has raised $500 million in red light camera ticket revenues since 2002.

Americans feeling better about ‘quality’ job availability

There’s good news on the economic front just in time for the new year: The number of Americans who say it is a good time to find a quality job is at the highest level since before the nation’s economic recession.

According to data collected by Gallup, 36 percent of people say it is a good time to find a quality job in the U.S., up from 30 percent in November.

January 2007 marked a high point for the metric, with 48 percent of Americans saying it was a good time to find a job. This month’s numbers are on par with the job outlook recorded in November of that year.

In November 2011, a record low of 8 percent of Americans had confidence that good jobs were available.

While Americans’ confidence in the job market is trending upward, more than 60 percent of people continue to believe that good jobs are scarce in the U.S.

Surprisingly, younger adults, a group whose employment opportunities were ravaged by the recession, are far more optimistic about the job market than older Americans. Forty-three percent of 18- to 29-year-olds believe it’s a good time to find a quality job compared to just 29 percent of people 50 and older.

Lawmaker warns of Obamacare ‘Christmas surprise’

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) warned Americans this week of a proposed rule change at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) which would allow government bureaucrats to renew HealthCare.gov consumers’ policies automatically each year without any knowledge of individual circumstances.

The automatic renewals would apply to Obamacare enrollees who fail to re-enroll on the government’s healthcare website, a scheme Meadow says is designed to keep enrollment numbers elevated.

He writes in a recent commentary piece for The Washington Times:

That’s right, the government will choose your plan, perhaps limit access to your doctor, and ultimately make the decision on what is “best” for you.

Not to worry, just like Lady Justice, who wears a blindfold when determining guilt or innocence, CMS will use a blindfold to pick your plan. The agency will select your plan without knowing your medical history. They will do so without knowing if you are currently undergoing treatment or working with a specific doctor. They will do so without knowing your financial status. Despite the fact that the millions of people who already enrolled chose the plan that they believed was best for them.

CMS has laid the perfect trap: Sign up at healthcare.gov one time in your life and we will never let you go. If you don’t continually re-enroll each and every year, CMS will keep you on the plan that it chooses because, after all, CMS knows what’s best and they always make the best decision. Oh, and if you don’t believe that, please go to the 600 million dollar website that will give you all kinds of testimonials handcrafted by MIT professors.

The changes, as Meadows notes, are entirely unconstitutional:

The basic Constitutional question argued at the passing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was; Can the government force American citizens to purchase a product? Now the question has become; can the government change an individual’s private healthcare provider-without consent-just because that individual is silent and doesn’t opt-in to a new policy? The sound of silence is deafening and frightening.

Speaking of silence, CMS quietly opened a comment period on the new rule that extends until next week — ending on Christmas day.

The lawmaker said that he has sent a letter demanding that CMS do away the provisions or face legislative action from the Republican-controlled Congress after the first of the year.

Obama’s approval low among service members

President Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House has been marked by attempts to transform the culture of the nation’s fighting force with policy changes like the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and allowing female soldiers to assume combat roles. These and other moves from the Obama administration have often placed the military under the political microscope, which has contributed to falling approval ratings for the president among enlisted Americans.

A wide-ranging survey conducted by Military Times shows that 55 percent of active-duty service members disapprove of the commander in chief’s job performance, compared to just 15 percent who approve.

The Military Times reports:

For Obama’s supporters, the cultural changes he’s overseeing are on a level with President Truman’s 1948 order that desegregated the military and put it at the forefront of the national push for racial equality.

But to his critics, his moves amount to heavy-handed social engineering that erode deep-seated traditions and potentially undermine good order and discipline.

According to the poll, support for allowing gays to serve openly in the military has increased since the September 2011 law change barring discrimination based on sexual preference. Just 14 percent of respondents said they continue to oppose the law change.

Likewise, the number of troops who support women taking on more combat roles has increased modestly in recent years. Forty-one percent of respondents to the Military Times poll said that some combat jobs should be open to women, but they still say some jobs should be off-limits to female soldiers.

President Obama’s White House has also place a great deal of focus on sexual assault in the military, requiring new training to address the issue and strengthening protections for victims. But not all troops believe the changes have been effective. Thirty-one percent of respondents said that they don’t believe sexual assaults are as widespread as the administration insists — the same number said they were unsure whether sexual assault training is effective.

Obama’s low approval rating among service members doesn’t mean that the traditionally conservative institution has much more faith in Republican lawmakers.

Via Military Times:

More than one-third of readers who responded to the Military Times Poll said that neither Democrats nor Republicans have been a strong advocate for the military, and 44% think both major political parties have become less supportive of military issues in recent years.

Only 12% believe both parties have the armed forces’ best interests at heart.

Read the full survey at Military Times.

Largest share of Americans view ‘race relations’ as nation’s top problem since L.A. riots

The number of Americans who believe “race relations” or “racism” is the most pressing problem facing the United States is the highest it has been since the nation watched Los Angeles burn in the wake of the 1992 Rodney King verdict.

According to the Gallup polling agency, 13 percent of Americans believe that racial tension is the nation’s top problem, up sharply from just 1 percent in November.

For perspective, about 15 percent of Americans cite “government” as the biggest problem in the U.S. today.

Back in 1992 when a jury failed to bring charges against the four Los Angeles police officers involved in King’s beating, 15 percent of Americans cited “race relations” or “racism” as the nation’s No. 1 issue.

Since that high, the number of Americans saying “race relations” or “racism” is the U.S.’s biggest problem has ranged between 0 percent and 5 percent.

“Prior to this month and the spring of 1992, the last time race relations was a significant top-of-mind issue for Americans was in the 1950s and 1960s, when race was front and center of national policy discussions on civil rights,” Gallup reports. “In 1963, more than half of Americans (52%) said race relations was the country’s biggest problem.

“By the 1970s and 1980s, the percentage of Americans naming racial issues as the nation’s biggest problem tapered off, before erupting in a single poll in the early 1990s.”

Nonwhites cite race relations as the nation’s biggest problem 22 percent of the time, compared to 8 percent of whites.

The recent spike in sensitivity over race relations is largely attributable to the events in Ferguson, Missouri, over the past several months that sparked a national conversation about police and U.S. minorities. Since the Ferguson ordeal began, media sensitivity to the issue has led to widespread coverage of similar instances of perceived police treatment of minorities.

Gallup also reports that the coverage has made U.S. minorities less likely to trust the police.

Sony under fire for canceling ‘The Interview’

What do President Barack Obama, former Gov. Mitt Romney, actor George Clooney, CNN host Fareed Zakaria, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, longtime conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer and Fox News senior producer Justin Craig have in common? They belong to a growing group of critics who say Sony Pictures made the wrong decision to cave to the demands of hackers working on behalf of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and cancel the release of “The Interview.”

Sony released the following statement this week announcing that it would not release “The Interview,” a comedy in which characters played by actors James Franco and Seth Rogan assassinate North Korea’s dictator:

In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release. We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.

Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business. Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale – all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like. We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public. We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.

That decision has led to considerable criticism from people with all manner of backgrounds.

Here’s what’s being said:

President Barack Obama promises the U.S. will respond

“We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” Obama said. “Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like or news reports that they don’t like…”

“That’s not who we are,” he added. “That’s not what America is about.”

The president also said that the U.S. will respond to the North Korean actions “proportionally” and “at a place and time that we choose.”

Former Gov. Mitt Romney urges Sony to release movie online

Actor George Clooney gives Kim Jong Un the finger

Excerpts from an interview with Deadline Hollywood:

“With the First Amendment, you’re never protecting Jefferson; it’s usually protecting some guy who’s burning a flag or doing something stupid. This is a silly comedy, but the truth is, what it now says about us is a whole lot. We have a responsibility to stand up against this. That’s not just Sony, but all of us, including my good friends in the press who have the responsibility to be asking themselves: What was important? What was the important story to be covering here? The hacking is terrible because of the damage they did to all those people. Their medical records, that is a horrible thing, their Social Security numbers. Then, to turn around and threaten to blow people up and kill people, and just by that threat alone we change what we do for a living, that’s the actual definition of terrorism.”

His solution:

“Stick it online. Do whatever you can to get this movie out. Not because everybody has to see the movie, but because I’m not going to be told we can’t see the movie. That’s the most important part. We cannot be told we can’t see something by Kim Jong-un, of all f*cking people.”

CNN host Fareed Zakaria says the U.S. must respond

Via a Washington Post opinion piece:

“The U.S. government has to find a way to respond to this act of aggression on American territory. If not, North Korea will have gotten away with its worst cyberattack to date, as well as the most brazen threat of terrorism in recent times. In its triumph, it will be emboldened. And surely groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State will note that the way to scare countries into submission is to threaten these very kinds of attacks. At that point, the story about the e-mails and Angelina Jolie and movie executives’ salaries will be about much more than a Hollywood comedy.”

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg: Police states can’t meddle in free societies

Remarks Clegg made on a phone in show transcribed by the Telegraph:

“It is just extraordinary that in a free society, we are allowing these online thugs from a police state to intimidate people having a bit of fun at the expense of North Korea.

“We should not allow this appalling police state in North Korea, who obviously have no sense of humour either because this is a comedy film about what happens to the North Korean leader, we cannot allow them to basically intimidate cinema chains and stop people enjoying what is by the sound of it a Christmas comedy film.

“I really do think Sony have got quite a heavy responsibility. Of course they [also] have a responsibility to make sure people are kept safe. But there is a big principle here.

“We cannot have a police state basically through hacking and intimidation stopping free societies like ours having films on in cinemas that we want to see.”

Pundit Charles Krauthammer says screw Pyongyang

On “Special Report with Bret Baier,” Krauthammer suggested that Sony should release the movie for free online.

“It’s a gesture, but also it doubly screws over Pyongyang,” he said.

“The world would see it in far larger numbers than it ever would if it were a paying proposition in the theaters,” said Krauthammer. “I think it would have been punishment for the North Korea regime.”

Fox News senior producer Justin Craig: It’s a dark day for America if movie goes unreleased

Via a Fox opinion piece:

“It’s a dark day for America when we cave over a simple, silly Seth Rogen comedy. It’s embarrassing. It’s humiliating. It’s exactly what these hackers wanted, and it creates an open season for anarchists.”

Obama’s Cuba plan creates rift between Sen. Rand Paul and GOP colleagues

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s notable, yet not unexpected, break from his party on President Obama’s decision to move toward normalizing relations with Cuba has ruffled some Republican feathers and sparked a feud with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, the GOP’s go-to man on U.S./Cuba relations.

By the end of the day Thursday, a spate of Republican lawmakers, including sometimes Paul ally Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), had issued harshly worded statements denouncing Obama’s decision to lift portions of the half-century U.S. embargo on Cuba.

Cruz, whose father was born in Cuba, said of Obama’s decision during a Thursday interview with CNN:

It is the latest manifestation of the failures of the Obama-Clinton-Kerry foreign policy. What we’ve seen for six years is we’ve consistently been abandoning our friends and allies and at the same time appeasing and coddling our enemies. First it was Russia; then it was Iran; today it’s Cuba. That only makes America and the world more dangerous. This was a mistake. This is throwing an economic lifeline to the Castros at a moment when their regime was vulnerable, and it was a serious mistake.

And Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) issued a joint statement following the Cuba announcement calling Obama’s decision to work with Cuba another example of the president’s “appeasement of autocratic dictators, thugs and adversaries.”

But Paul has taken a different view, saying that normalizing relations with Cuba “is probably a good idea” given that Washington’s decades-old policy has had little positive influence on the situation.

“The 50-year embargo just hasn’t worked,” Paul told Tom Roten of WVHU radio in West Virginia Thursday. “If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn’t seem to be working, and probably it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship.”

Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, has since lashed out at Paul, saying he “has no idea what he’s talking about” with regard to Cuba.

According to Rubio, Cuba’s government — not the U.S. embargo — is the only thing hurting the island nation’s people.

“Look, Venezuela’s economy looks like Cuba’s economy now. You can’t even buy toilet paper in Caracas. And there’s no embargo on Venezuela. What Venezuela has in common with Cuba is they both have adopted radical socialist governmental policies,” Rubio said on Fox News’ “The Kelly File.”

“And I would expect that people would understand that if they just took a moment to analyze that, they would realize that the embargo is not what’s hurting the Cuban people,” Rubio added. “It’s the lack of freedom and the lack of competent leaders.”

If the embargo is indeed ineffective, Paul wondered after Rubio’s remarks, why would Republicans advocate for its perpetuation?

Paul posted the following message on Facebook on Friday:

Senator Marco Rubio believes the embargo against Cuba has been ineffective, yet he wants to continue perpetuating failed policies. After 50 years of conflict, why not try a new approach? The United States trades and engages with other communist nations, such as China and Vietnam. Why not Cuba? I am a proponent of peace through commerce, and I believe engaging Cuba can lead to positive change.

Seems to me, Senator Rubio is acting like an isolationist who wants to retreat to our borders and perhaps build a moat. I reject this isolationism. Finally, let’s be clear that Senator Rubio does not speak for the majority of Cuban-Americans. A recent poll demonstrates that a large majority of Cuban-Americans actually support normalizing relations between our countries.

Paul’s latest split with the GOP should make for some interesting political theater come January. As GOP lawmakers line up in the new Congress to challenge Obama’s decision to diplomatically recognize Cuba, the White House will likely be looking for legislative allies to challenge the Helms-Burton Act, a trade embargo law passed by Congress in the 1990s.

Most Americans support religious holiday displays

‘Tis the season for people with nothing better to do to argue over whether religious holiday displays like as Nativity scenes have a place on public property. But according to the results of a recent poll, a majority of Americans have no problem with the displays.

Polling data out from Pew shows 44 percent of Americans feel that Christian holiday symbols should be allowed on government property, even in instances where they are not accompanied by other religious holiday fixtures. Twenty-eight percent report that they are fine with Christian holiday displays as long as other religious traditions are celebrated on the public grounds as well.

Just 20 percent said all religious displays should be banned from government property.

The high level of support for Christian religious displays in America can be explained by another statistic Pew observed:

[M]ost Americans believe that the biblical Christmas story reflects historical events that actually occurred. About three-quarters of Americans believe that Jesus Christ was born to a virgin, that an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus, and that wise men, guided by a star, brought Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. And eight-in-ten U.S. adults believe the newborn baby Jesus was laid in a manger.

In total, 65% of U.S. adults believe that all of these aspects of the Christmas story — the virgin birth, the journey of the magi, the angel’s announcement to the shepherds and the manger story — reflect events that actually happened. Among U.S. Christians, fully eight-in-ten (81%) believe in all four elements of the Christmas story. Even among people who are not affiliated with any religion, 21% believe all these events took place, and 37% believe at least one (but not all) of them occurred.

Just over 40 percent of Americans plan to attend religious services as a part of their holiday celebrations.

Even with high levels of support for religious holiday displays, some groups have challenged the decorations as violations of the Constitution’s separation of church and state.

This week, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and two Franklin County, Indiana, residents sued government officials for a religious display — a Nativity scene that includes no non-Christian religious or secular holiday symbols — at the Franklin County Courthouse.

“Any reasonable person viewing this display would conclude that its principal effect is to advance religion,” said ACLU of Indiana Senior Staff Attorney Gavin M. Rose, who is assisting in the suit. “The First Amendment protects these kinds of displays by individuals and groups on private property, but also makes clear that displays on public property, which is maintained by taxpayers, cannot demonstrate a preference for religion.”

Michelle Obama got asked for help by racist Target shopper

The president and first lady recently told People magazine stories of what they feel were “racist experiences” they have endured being black in America. But while it’s undeniable that there are all manner of examples of a lingering equality deficit when it comes to certain race-related issues in the United States, some Americans might have a tough time taking the Obamas seriously.

Michelle Obama told the magazine how she became offended when no one recognized her as the first lady while on a shopping trip at a Target store.

“The only person who came up to me in the [Target] store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf. Because she didn’t see me as the first lady, she saw me as someone who could help her,” she told the magazine.

Obama added, “Those kinds of things happen in life. So it isn’t anything new.”

So, the first lady went on a shopping trip to Target and was forced to endure an interaction with another human being who needed help getting something off a shelf.

The average American — black, white, yellow, red, green or purple — probably wouldn’t consider such a basic request for help a slight. And would most Americans expect the president’s wife to be slumming around Target in a baseball cap like the rest of us proles?

A thinking person would assume that Obama must’ve looked like “someone who could help” because, at 5 foot 11 inches, she’s rather tall for a woman. Right?

Nope. According to Obama, she was seen as the help.

Because, you know, a black woman shopping in a suburban Target the 21st century is just so out of the ordinary for white folks to see in America.

How unbelievably racist!

Shame on you, vertically challenged Target shopper, for not assuming that the first lady was shopping at your neighborhood Target with you on that fateful day.

It sounds a lot like Obama is suggesting that people shouldn’t have cordial, mundane interactions with people of other races because it could be offensive. But maybe she’s just ticked that she and the president don’t have “dear leader” murals in every town to help Americans living in the real world more easily recognize them when they’re doing mundane things.

But it gets worse. President Obama relayed his own racist memory of being handed keys outside of a restaurant, letting Americans in on a socially repugnant (and totally made up) secret: People in the U.S. have been conditioned to believe that all valets are black, or all black men are valets… or something.

“There’s no black male my age, who’s a professional, who hasn’t come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn’t hand them their car keys,” he said.

The president shouldn’t feel too bad, though. It seems this sort of thing happens to white folks as well — even top U.S. generals dressed in full military regalia.

Back in 2011, none other than top Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett mistook Four-star Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli — the U.S. Army’s No. 2 guy at the time — for a waiter and ordered him to fetch her a glass of wine during a function in Washington.

But Chiarelli took it in stride.

“It was an honest mistake that anyone could have made. She was sitting, I was standing and walking behind her and all she saw were the two stripes on my pants which were almost identical to the waiters’ pants — really,” he told CNN.

Federal judge declares Obama’s immigration actions unconstitutional

A federal judge in western Pennsylvania declared portions of President Barack Obama’s immigration executive actions unconstitutional in an opinion handed down Tuesday.

“The Court holds that the Executive Action is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers and the Take Care Clause of the Constitution,” wrote Judge Arthur Schwab.

Schwab’s opinion, the first addressing Obama’s immigration expansion, says that the president went “beyond prosecutorial discretion,” which the White House had previously said gives the president to act on immigration laws.

The Obama administration’s application of prosecutorial discretion in differing immigrant deportations, the judge argued, could allow future presidents to differ prosecutions in other matters.

“President Obama has stated,” Schwab wrote, “that he is constrained from issuing an Executive Action/Order on immigration because such action would exceed his executive powers… While President Obama’s historic statements are not dispositive of the constitutionality of his Executive Action on immigration, they cause this Court pause.”

The judge also noted that Congress’s inaction on immigration didn’t alter Obama’s constitutional authority.

“Congress’s lawmaking power is not subject to Presidential supervision or control. … Perceived or actual Congressional inaction does not endow legislative power with the Executive.”

The case Schwab ruled on involved an illegal immigrant who was deported and returned to the U.S. — the legal question being whether Obama’s actions protect the individual from future deportation.

Schwab didn’t issue an injunction against Obama’s actions, so it’s unclear what weight the opinion carries.

A separate lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the immigration order, filed by the attorneys general of 24 states, is currently on its way to court in southern Texas. States currently involved include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Census: U.S. to be ‘majority minority’ nation by 2044

New projections out from the Census Bureau show that the U.S. is on track to be a “majority minority” nation by 2044, with white Americans making up just under half of the population.

According to Census, the number of whites in the U.S. will increase modestly through 2025 before experiencing a gradual decline into 2060 due to an increasingly aging population and fewer births.

The year 2044 will mark a tipping point where whites make up 49.7 percent of the U.S. population with the nation’s remaining population being 25 percent Hispanic, 12.7 percent black, 7.9 percent Asian and 3.7 percent biracial.

Over the next 46 years, Census expects the rate of growth for the nation’s Asian and Hispanic populations to double, 129 percent and 115 percent respectively.

A Brookings Institution analysis of the Census numbers contends that the shifting racial numbers likely won’t have a big impact on perceptions of racial disparity:

[C]ontinued racial disparity across generations will occur because of the exit of whites from the younger ages as both old and new minorities take up the slack. Between 2014 and 2060 the minority share of the youth population will rise from 48 percent to 64 percent. While the senior population will also become more diverse, in 2060 whites will still comprise a majority of the age 65 and older population at 55 percent.

While the Census predicts that the racial makeup of the U.S. will certainly change in the coming decades, some observers contend that shifting racial demographics is nothing new to the world’s melting pot nation.

In a 2012 piece, Reason’s Ronald Bailey noted of historical U.S. immigration influxes: “By 2050, just as the earlier waves of Irish, Italian, Jewish, and Polish immigrants were assimilated, so too will today’s Hispanic immigrants and their descendants be. For all intents and purposes, Hispanics will become as ‘white’ as Irish, Italians, Jews, and Poles.”

No, Obama doesn’t have dirt on Boehner… They just both hate their voters

Matt Drudge of Drudge Report fame and a handful of other members of the conservative punditry took the Republican rollover in the latest budget debates to mean that President Barack Obama must have some salacious dirt on House Speaker John Boehner. But the reality is actually probably less exciting, as both men hold positions that require considerable pandering to the establishment views of their respective parties — and both men are increasingly perturbed by dissension in their ranks.

Boehner has long suffered — at least since the 2010 Tea Party sweep — criticism from a vocal minority of libertarian-leaning Republicans who have occasionally derailed the plans of big government good ol’ boys in the GOP. And even when new-blood congressional conservatives have failed to bring about legislative change, they’ve garnered significant populist support for various small-government ideals by publicly, and raucously, criticizing establishment GOP colleagues whose whipping powers have been inflated by longevity.

Boehner hasn’t been shy about expressing his dislike of the most conservative factions of his party. Last year at this time, after a round of much more heated budgetary debates, wherein the GOP’s most conservative members held the speaker’s feet to the fire, Boehner ranted against so-called “outside groups” meddling in Washington politics.

“They’ve lost all credibility,” Boehner said in a press conference at the time.

“They pushed us into this fight to defund Obamacare and to shut down the government. Most of you know my members know that wasn’t exactly the strategy I had in mind,” he continued. “The day before the government reopened one of these groups stood and said, ‘well we never really thought it would work.’”

Boehner’s rant became known as the moment he declared “war” on the Tea Party and conservative groups, along with members of Congress identifying with their libertarian-leaning philosophy quietly embarked on a mission to perpetually buck the House’s top Republican.

Boehner entered this year’s budget showdown in a position of major weakness. He couldn’t allow another GOP-led shutdown to transpire and was well aware of many Republicans’ plan to oppose the spending package unless it included strong provisions to curtail Obama’s recent immigration actions.

Meanwhile, House Democrats quietly began plotting to play on Boehner’s inability to round up votes in his own party to remove two late-breaking provisions that had upset many on the left: one a change to the Dodd-Frank financial regulations to benefit Wall Street and the other allowing campaign donations of up to $1,555,200 ($3,110,400 for couples) to national political parties.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and a handful of other powerful Democrats quickly labeled the Dodd-Frank changes immoral and an affront to the nation’s working class. Almost simultaneously, anti-Wall Street crusader Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) publicly and forcefully criticized the additions.

The Obama administration, on the other hand, issued a statement saying that it disapproved of the additions but urging Democrats to pass the legislation with them intact.

With Boehner claiming to care about undoing the president’s immigration action without ever actually intending to address it and with Obama pretending to care about reigning in Wall Street and crony politics in spite of his record, there was only one option for the political powerbrokers: join forces in the name of campaign promise inaction.

Boehner got the GOP leadership behind the spending bill, and the White House set about rallying Democrats. In the end, the bill passed with 162 Republicans and 57 Democrats voting in favor.

What’s most revealing, however, is who in the House voted against the bill. That list includes 67 of the chamber’s most conservative Republicans and 139 of the most progressive Democrats.

The Democrats have been in unison for so long following the election of Obama that it’s tough to remember the party’s Bush years, when factions were commonplace. But those days appear to be coming back. And if the Republican Party can manage to remain divided, the American public may be in store for a real treat: a government that focuses on constituents as much as it does on establishment politics.

The bill that just passed wasn’t a compromise; it was a win for the establishment. Cronyism on Wall Street got a wink, immigration policy run amok got a nod and politicians got the promise of increased fundraising opportunities. Voters who believed promises about keeping the president’s immigration policy under control or Obama’s lectures about keeping Wall Street honest got nothing.

But if Obama and Boehner can join forces, so too can members of both parties who disagree with them. Isn’t that the sort of bipartisanship the nation needs?

Charles Koch, the left’s bogeyman, is a social liberal

Veteran journalist Barbara Walters was surprised during a taping of her “The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2014″ when she was informed by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch that he considers himself a social liberal.

Koch also informed Walters that all of his contributions to public candidates are all completely legal.

“Do you think it’s fair that just because you have billions of dollars, you can influence elections,” Walters asked.

“Well, I contributed to public candidate campaigns and there is a federal limit on how much you can contribute to each individual candidate,” Koch replied. “I obey the law in that regard and feel I am doing it properly.

Walters went on, saying that Koch is primarily disliked because of his support for conservative candidates before asking him to describe his political views.

“I’m basically a libertarian, and I’m a conservative on economic matters, and I’m a social liberal,” Koch, who is an abortion and gay rights supported, said.

The favorite liberal bogeyman added, “What I want these candidates to do is to support a balanced budget. And I’m very worried that if the budget is not balanced, that inflation could occur and the economy of our country can suffer terribly.”

H/T: Truth Revolt

‘F*ck the police’ on motorist’s radio gets him pulled over by angry cop

A Hialeah, Florida, cop who has managed to rack up 16 internal affairs complaints over his 17-year career decided to try for another last month when he pulled over a motorist because he didn’t like the music coming from the young man’s car. The music playing at the time of the stop: “F*ck tha Police,” N.W.A.’s classic rap song, which has, unsurprisingly, experienced newfound popularity in recent years.

Cesar Baldelomar, a 26-year-old Harvard graduate, was heading to his parents’ house to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal when he passed police officer Harold Garzon, who was standing on the side of the street filling out paperwork related to a traffic accident.

Just as Baldelomar passed the officer, the song on his radio changed, kicking off with the verse to a song that anyone familiar with classic hip-hop has heard: “F*ck tha police / Comin’ straight from the underground. A young n**** got it bad cause I’m brown / And not the other color so police think / they have the authority to kill a minority.”

According to Baldelomar’s retelling of what followed to the Miami New Times, Garzon hollered, “Really? You’re really playing that song?”

After he pulled over, Garzon informed the motorist that it was illegal to play music loud enough to be heard by a person 25 feet away.

But Baldelomar, who reportedly holds two Harvard degrees and is currently studying law at Florida International University, disagreed, noting that the noise statute cited by the cop had been struck down.

“In 2012, the state supreme court struck down any law banning loud music,” he said. “I knew that because it was a case I had actually studied in law school.”

After other officers were called to the scene, Garzon demanded proof of insurance. Baldelomar provided an e-card on his phone.

“It’s got to be paper,” the officer claimed, refusing to take the electronic proof, despite Florida being one of 35 states where e-insurance cards are permitted.

In the end, Baldelomar received three tickets: one for not wearing his seat belt (he says he was), one for having an out-of-state license plate (he’s a legal resident of Massachusetts, where he attended school) and one for failure to provide insurance. He reportedly refused to sign them and plans to contest all three.

Notably absent was a ticket for the noise violation. Baldelomar asked where it was and was told not to get “smart.”

“I’m educated. I know my rights. And I speak English, so I can fight this,” Baldelomar told Miami New Times. “But what about when this happens to someone who’s not so lucky? Policing has to change in this country.”

Sandy Hook families sue gun maker, distributor and seller over 2012 tragedy

A group of family members of the tragic 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit implicating the manufacturer, distributor and seller of the AR-15 rifle used in the commission of the crime.

The civil suit, filed by nine families of Sandy hook victims, names Remington Outdoor Co. subsidiary Bushmaster Firearms International, Bushmaster distributor Camfour and Connecticut-based gun shop Riverview Gun Sales as contributors to the deaths of their loved ones.

At the heart of the lawsuit is the assertion that the Bushmaster AR-15 purchased by Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza’s mother at Riverview Gun Sales in 2010 should have never been marketed to civilian consumers.

“The AR-15 was specifically engineered for the United States Military to meet the needs of changing warfare,” attorney Josh Koskoff said in a release. “In fact, one of the Army’s specifications for the AR-15 was that it has the capability to penetrate a steel helmet.”

The civil suit exploits a loophole in the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act which President George W. Bush signed into law to protect gun makers from being sued when their products are used in a criminal manner. Prior to the passage of the legislation, gun manufacturers and dealers had been sued for negligence by gun crime victims on the grounds that they should have predicted criminal misuse of their products.

The plaintiffs are suing based on so-called negligent entrustment. They’ll attempt to prove that the companies named in the lawsuit were negligent in allowing mentally unstable shooter Adam Lanza to gain access to the firearm.

Dennis Henigan, the former legal action director of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, told The Wall Street Journal that the suit represents a particularly broad application of negligent entrustment.

“The issue in this case will be whether courts are willing to construe the doctrine of negligent entrustment so broadly as to encompass a theory of liability that is based on the sale of a particular gun to the general public instead of to a potentially particular dangerous individual,” he said.

George Kollitides, the CEO of Freedom Group, which owns Bushmaster, addressed attempts to blame his company for the tragedy in an interview with The Washington Times last summer.

“It’s very easy to blame an inanimate object. Any kind of instrument in the wrong hands can be put to evil use. This comes down to intent — criminal behavior, accountability and responsibility,” Kollitides said.

“He killed the gun’s owner, stole her car, stole her gun and then went to a school and killed innocent kids. No background checks could have prevented that. He illegally obtained the guns,” he told. “Only two things could have potentially stopped him: his mother locking up her guns and an armed guard. Even then, he could have driven his stolen car into a playground full of kids. He was intent on killing, which we know is already illegal.”

Even if it seems like the plaintiffs in the case face an uphill battle, the judge presiding over Superior Court in Bridgeport, Connecticut, will have final say in the matter.

Here’s the full lawsuit.

Reports: Afghan quagmire cost nearly $1 trillion with no end in sight

The war in Afghanistan, America’s longest-running military conflict, has cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $1 trillion. And there’s no end in sight.

That’s according to a duo of reports released Sunday by The Financial Times and corroborated by independent researchers. The federal government has never detailed the full cost of the 13-year Afghan conflict.

One FT report breaks down some of the Afghan spending thusly:

  • $765 billion in Congressional appropriations in Defense and State Department spending.
  • Interest paid to the tune of $125 billion on debt the U.S. incurred to fund Afghan war efforts.
  • $134 billion in medical spending for U.S. personnel who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

Interestingly, the FT analysis also notes that a majority — 80 percent — of the Afghan war spending has occurred under President Barack Obama’s watch because he dramatically increased U.S. military action in the country after taking office in 2009.

And while the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is said to be winding down, Obama has ordered 10,000 U.S. troops to remain in the country through 2016.

So what has the costly Afghan war accomplished? Not much, according to the FT reports:

Despite the initial progress, for the past few years the war must be counted a failure. After the winding down of the 2009 “surge” that took the number of Nato troops up to 140,000 — there are now only 13,000 — the Taliban are back in force, and not just in the rural areas where they find it easier to operate. Over 16 days in November, the capital suffered 12 major attacks by insurgents. A series of attacks on Friday and Saturday killed at least 21 people, including 12 members of a landmine clearance team in Helmand and two soldiers of the allied forces near Bagram air base.

Still, the report notes, people on both sides of the Washington establishment are calling for a perpetual U.S. military presence in the country in addition to billions in financial aid to keep the Taliban from undoing modest improvements brought by Western involvement.

To put the current total Afghan war spending into perspective, Congress just approved a $1 trillion bill to almost entirely fund the operations of the U.S. federal government for the next year.

In addition to remaining problems in Afghanistan, the U.S. recently upped its engagement in Iraq to combat a growing threat of a takeover in that country by extremists belonging to the Islamic State (ISIS) terror organization. Of the $64 billion in overseas contingency funding Congress included in its spending bill for war operations, $5 billion has been reserved to combat the ISIS threat.

Research reveals that minimum wage hikes actually hurt workers

The idea of raising the nation’s minimum wage is often championed by entry-level and low-skilled workers, many of whom are forced to live paycheck to paycheck. But a new study from the University of California at San Diego shows that minimum wage hikes can hurt the very workers they are purported to benefit.

USC professors Jeffrey Clemens and Michael Wither examined the 2007 hike that brought the minimum wage to $7.25, finding that the action led to an overall drop in workers take home pay over a three-year period.

“We find that this period’s binding minimum wage increases reduced low-skilled individuals’ average monthly incomes. Relative to low-skilled workers in unbound states, targeted workers’ average incomes fell by $100 over the first year and by an additional $50 over the following 2 years. While surprising at first glance, we show that the short-run estimate follows directly from our estimated effects on employment and the likelihood of working without pay. The medium-run estimate reflects additional contributions from lost wage growth associated with lost experience,” the study says.

The study also found that the employment to population ratio declined at a rapid pace between 2007 and 2009 following the minimum wage hike. Those workers who found themselves out of a job due to the wage hike were often more likely to take unpaid internships, according to the research.

“We find that increases in the minimum wage significantly reduced the employment of low-skilled workers. By the second year following the $7.25 minimum’s implementation, we estimate that targeted workers’ employment rates had fallen by 6 percentage points (8 percent) more in bound states than in unbound states,” the report says. “Binding minimum wage increases resulted in an increase in the probability that targeted individuals work without pay, perhaps in internships, by 2 percentage points.”

Overall, the researchers estimate that the minimum wage hike cost the economy around 1.4 million jobs.

Congressional Democrats, with the backing of President Obama, are currently pushing for a new minimum wage increase to $10.10 per hour. And some states and cities throughout the nation have moved to increase minimum wages locally, raising wages beyond the current Democratic target.

Americans feel politically divided, Washington isn’t helping

A vast majority of Americans think the United States is more politically divided than it has been in years past, and few believe there’s hope for ending partisan gridlock in Washington anytime soon.

According to the results of a recent Pew Research poll, just 44 percent of Americans believe that President Barack Obama will work with congressional Republicans to address the nation’s most pressing problems over the next few years. Even fewer, 28 percent, believe that Republicans are poised to cooperate with the president for the remainder of his time in the Oval Office.

Eighty-one percent of respondents to the Pew survey say that the nation is more politically divided than it has been in the past. And because of a perceived lack of cooperation between Congress and the executive branch moving forward, 78 percent of Americans expect political division in the nation to remain at current levels or worsen over the next five years.

Pew also noted that the number of Americans who expect cordial relations between Obama and the new Republican-controlled Congress is lower than it was following a similar political shift during the Bush administration.

“After Democrats won control of Congress in 2006, 48% said Democratic leaders would cooperate at least a fair amount with former President George W. Bush — 20 points higher than the share saying that about Republicans today. And 52% expected Bush to cooperate with the Democrats,” the polling agency reported.

A lack of cooperation between Obama and lawmakers could have a negative impact on already abysmal approval ratings plaguing both the president and Congress. President Obama’s approval rating is currently at 42 percent, where it has hovered for about a year, and just 22 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing.