Holiday 2014: Spending up, Internet sales to increase

As the holiday shopping season kicks into full swing this week, new polling data suggest that retailers should expect a slight uptick in shopping activity ahead of Christmas 2014.

According to numbers from the Gallup polling agency, Americans will spend an average of $720 on gifts for loved ones this year, up 3 percent from an estimated average of $704 in November 2013.

Twenty-one percent of Americans told pollsters that they plan to spend at least $500 on holiday gifts, while a quarter said they will spend $1,000 or more on gifts this holiday shopping season. Among those planning to spend less on gifts, 24 percent report that they will likely spend less than $250 on holiday shopping and 15 percent plan to spend between $250 and $499 this year.

Nine percent of those polled said they don’t plan to spend anything on gifts or don’t celebrate Christmas.

If holiday spending is an indicator of economic confidence, Gallup notes: “Though up from 2013, the current spending estimate is well below the November reading in several earlier years, particularly in 2006 and 2007, when the figure exceeded $800.”

The National Retail Federation predicts holiday spending patterns similar to those recorded by Gallup, estimating that Americans will spend an average of $718 on gifts this year.

The retail business group is predicting $620 billion in total holiday sales. That would equate to a 4.1 percent sales hike over the $579.3 billion in 2013 holiday sales.

With Internet sales tax proposals making headlines in recent months, it’s worth noting that retail analysts are referring to 2014 as the year of the omnichannel consumer. That means shoppers are expected to rely on apps and online shopping in addition to traditional retail to check off their holiday wish lists.

Market watchers such as the analysts at IHS Global Insight expect that one $1 of every $7 spent by holiday shoppers this year will come in the form of ecommerce.

Forget the turkey, pardon the economy

The Obama administration last week continued its tradition of dumping its massive regulatory agenda just as Washington shut down for the holidays. This year’s Unified Agenda is comprised of 3,415 regulations, 189 of which are expected to cost more than $100 million.

The latest semi-annual regulatory road map includes an unsurprising dictate for the Environmental Protection Agency to finalize of greenhouse gas rules for coal-fired power plants by 2015. It also calls for the issuance of a final rule on coal ash residue no later than Dec. 19.

The coal as rule could result in as much as $20.3 billion in compliance costs, most of which will be paid by the power sector.

Another EPA rule listed for finalization in the agenda is the government’s attempt to redefine the Clean Water Act’s “Waters of the United States” rule, a process that has been criticized by the nation’s agribusiness community as well as concerned landowners.

Another rule, called a regulatory surprise by The Hill newspaper, is a Consumer Product Safety Commission plan to rethink flammability standards for upholstered furniture. Compliance costs for that regulation are expected to reach upwards of $100 million.

There are also less-controversial provisions included in the agenda — such as a proposed Department of Labor rule to limit workers’ exposure to silica dust.

Because of labor and consumer protections included in the agenda, some pro-regulation groups have decried the administration’s effort to bury the regulatory agenda.

“It’s become an unfortunate tradition of this administration and others to drop these regulatory agendas late on a Friday and right before a holiday,” Matt Shudtz, executive director of the Center for Progressive Reform, told The Hill.

“It’s unfortunate because it’s an update on protections for Americans of all stripes,” he continued. “It lays out the administration’s plan and it deserves more attention.”

Other groups, like the conservative American Action Forum, posit that the Obama White House has good reason to keep its regulatory agenda out of the headlines.

The AAF notes that, since 2009, the administration has created an estimated $16 billion in regulatory compliance costs each year, “tantamount to having a $160 billion tax increase over 10 years.”

From the conservative think tank: “If the administration proposed $160 billion in taxes (over ten years), there would be no question that it would damage growth significantly and would be unpopular with the electorate.

“The Unified Agenda is a tax increase, anti-growth agenda.

SNL mocks Obama’s executive order with ‘Schoolhouse Rock!’ parody

Last week’s rendition of “Saturday Night Live” opened with a skit criticizing President Barack Obama’s decision to grant amnesty to as many as 5 million illegal immigrants via executive order. The skit updates the “Schoolhouse Rock!” classic “I’m Just a Bill.”

In the SNL skit, a “Bill” (Kenan Thompson) is tossed aside by President Barack Obama (Jay Pharoah) in favor an executive order (Bobby Moynihan) to explain how government has really worked in Washington for the past several years amid congressional dysfunction and presidential defiance.

As “Bill” explains his function and how he comes to be, just as he does in the original “Schoolhouse Rock!,” Obama (Pharoah) appears in the skit, knocks the bill down and announces: “There’s actually an even easier way to get things done around here, and it’s called an executive order.”

Enter the executive order (Moynihan), singing: “I’m an executive order and I pretty much just happen… That’s it.”

Asked whether he has to go through Congress, the executive order replies: “Ahh, that’s adorable. You still think that’s how government works.”

By then, “Bill” has returned to protest: “Look at the midterm elections. People clearly don’t want this.”

He is, again, knocked down.

The executive order goes on to explain how presidents have long used his kind to do things like “create a new national park… or a new holiday” before being cut off by the president, who adds, “or bring legal status to 5 million undocument[ed] immigrants.”

To that, the executive order exclaims: “Wait, what?… Oh my God! I didn’t have time to read myself. Whoa! OK, go big or go home, huh?”

Majority still want government out of healthcare

New polling data shows that, for the third consecutive year, a majority of Americans agree that government should not be responsible for providing Americans with healthcare coverage. That’s particularly bad news for the president’s healthcare law, as it has come under renewed fire for comments made by Obamacare architect Johnathon Gruber.

In Gallup’s annual health and healthcare poll, 52 percent of American likely voters said that government has no business in providing universal healthcare. That’s compared to 42 percent who said the government is responsible for providing healthcare coverage for Americans.

As recently as 2006, a strong majority (62 percent) of Americans believed government should provide healthcare.

Gallup reports that age, race and party affiliation all affect opinions on healthcare:

Two-thirds of nonwhites and 60% of 18- to 34-year-olds, both significantly Democratic constituencies, believe it is the government’s responsibility. This sentiment drops well below the majority level among whites and those aged 35 and older, who tend to be more Republican. Even among the group of Americans aged 55 and older, many of whom have government-provided Medicare but who lean Republican politically, 58% say it is not the government’s responsibility to provide healthcare.

The polling data comes as controversy continues to surround Gruber, the Obamacare designer who insulted American voters during a speech and believed trickery was the best way to sell Obamacare on the public.

Lawmakers: Immigration plan could lead to violence, get Obama jailed

Republicans in Congress have spent much of this week warning that the consequences of President Barack Obama’s unilateral immigration reform will be dire. One lawmaker went as far as saying the president’s plans could result in violence in the nation’s streets, while another said that the executive actions could get Obama impeached — or even jailed.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), in an interview with USA Today’s “Capital Download,” predicted that the president’s actions may anger Americans who believe the task of immigration reform should have been left up to Congress.

“The country’s going to go nuts, because they’re going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president, and it’s going to be a very dangerous situation,” Coburn said. “You’re going to see — hopefully not — but you could see instances of anarchy.”

When asked what he meant, Coburn replied, “You could see violence.”

Coburn, who announced that he will retire when his term is up, has had a good relationship with the president inside and outside the Capitol, despite his conservative leaning. But the senator pulled no punches in announcing that Obama’s immigration plan is bad for the country.

“What our country needs now is to be pulled together, not divided further,” Coburn said. “I think it’s a terrible political mistake to divide… us further.”

Coburn noted that the president will probably be challenged and will lose in the nation’s courts, but he added that it will take years. What will happen immediately, the lawmaker contends, is irreparable harm to Obama’s relationship with the new Congress.

The government dysfunction on display could lead Americans to question why they must follow the rule of law when the president doesn’t.

“Instead of having the rule of law… in our country today, now we’re starting to have the rule of rulers, and that’s the total antithesis of what this country was founded on,” Coburn said. “Here’s how people think: Well, if the law doesn’t apply to the president… then why should it apply to me?”

Obama, he continued, is acting like “an autocratic leader that’s going to disregard what the Constitution says and make law anyway.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said that he believes Obama’s unilateral immigration actions are grounds for impeachment and could possibly land Obama in jail.

Brooks based his opinion on a federal statute that makes it a crime to help immigrants enter the country illegally.

“At some point, you have to evaluate whether the president’s conduct aids or abets, encourages, or entices foreigners to unlawfully cross into the United States of America,” he said, according to Slate. “That has a five-year in-jail penalty associated with it.”

Brooks made the remarks before the president’s immigration overhaul had been revealed in full, so the lawmaker said he wasn’t certain of the grounds on which Obama could be impeached.

“If the president is simply not obeying a statute that is noncriminal in nature, that does not necessarily rise to a high crime or a misdemeanor,” Brooks said.

“I don’t know what he’s going to do yet,” he continued. “Until we see what he’s going to do, it is difficult to say whether he is violating a civil statute or violating a criminal statute.”

Because Congress’s Thanksgiving recess kicked off ahead of the president’s immigration announcements, Americans will have to wait to see what, if any, legislative plans the GOP has to respond to Obama’s reforms.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) suggested Wednesday that lawmakers could pass a resolution announcing that the president acted against Congressional will.

“What I would recommend to the House is, they should immediately pass a resolution saying that what he is doing is contrary to the will of the House of Representatives,” he said on Fox News. “That would set up, I think, a very clear-cut case in the court.”

The Kentucky lawmaker also believes that Obama can be challenged in the courts based on a legal precedent (Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer) which says the president’s executive power is diminished if he acts clearly against Congress.

“It may take a while to get him,” Paul said. “But the thing is, history will treat him unkindly on this if he thinks he can become king.”

Florida police say they were fired for blowing whistle on ticket quotas

A group of former Waldo, Florida, police officers have filed a lawsuit that, if successful, would blow the lid off a case of small-town corruption at its worst. The officers allege that they were fired after blowing the whistle on a ticket-writing scheme designed to increase city revenue.

The lawsuit resulted from a long-running scandal that broke after five of the town’s seven officers made public that they were being forced to meet an illegal 12-ticket-per-day quota. Because of the scheme, the north Florida town had become a notorious speed trap.

CBS reported earlier this year:

Waldo’s seven police officers wrote nearly 12,000 speeding tickets last year, collecting more than $400,000 in fines — a third of the town’s revenue.

The problem is there are six different speed limits in just a couple of miles. Drivers enter the city at 65 miles per hour. It then drops to 55, 45 and then 35.

Officers Brandon Roberts, Jeffrey Pedrick, Roy Steadman and Brian Shoaf, plaintiffs in the Alachua County case, say that they tried to bring the ticketing scheme and other misconduct occurring in the police department to local officials’ attention only to be stonewalled and threatened.

Via Courthouse News:

The plaintiff officers say that on Aug. 8, 2014, they submitted a written complaint to Waldo City Manager Kim Worley, and requested the city hold an emergency meeting to discuss their allegations.

They then filed an online complaint with the Florida inspector general’s office in order to secure whistleblower protection while they pursued their effort to expose wrongs at the Waldo Police Department.

According to the complaint, Worley rejected the requested emergency meeting of the city commission, and also rejected the plaintiffs’ request to meet with each city commissioner individually.

“On August 20, 2014, Worley conducted a meeting with Plaintiffs and brought her own counsel in an effort to intimidate Plaintiffs with implicit threats about job security if they continued to pursue their objections and claims,” the complaint continues.

State investigators eventually got involved, putting pressure on local officials and making it impossible for them to continue ignoring the officers’ complains. Before any action was taken on the city’s part, however, Waldo Police Chief Michael Szabo and the department’s interim chief resigned as a result of the state investigation.

The city manager also suggested that Waldo’s commissioners should close down the police department due to “budget problems” as the investigations heated up.

“Worley made this claim despite the fact that the City Commissioners already had approved the 2015 budget, and Plaintiffs had presented other and additional avenues of reducing the budget further to continue to operate the police department without the illegal revenue from Chief Szabo’s quota scheme,” the plaintiffs said.

The commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of eliminating the police department and allowing local patrols to be picked up by the county sheriff’s department. The town’s police department was also reportedly taken over by a sheriff’s deputy.

But the officers involved in the lawsuit are crying foul, noting that the former police chief and other department officials not involved in exposing local corruption and highway robbery were re-hired to “assist” the city moving forward.

The whistle-blowers, according to the complaint, “[W]ere terminated without any significant prior incidents or disciplinary history with Defendant warranting their termination.”

This wouldn’t be the first time officers were punished for informing the public of unsavory police tactics.

In July, Reason Magazine told the story of former Auburn, Alabama, police officer Justin Hanners, another officer punished for blowing the whistle on ticket quotas.

Hanners filed formal complaints to his chain of command and, getting nowhere, eventually began to speak out publically about the abuses. His superiors order him to shut up about the abuses — and when he didn’t, Hanners was fired.

DHS: Prepare for another immigration surge

As the nation awaits President Barack Obama’s unilateral immigration reform announcement, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says that the U.S. should brace for another surge in illegal immigration.

Speaking before the National Press Club on Wednesday, the Washington Times reports that Johnson said the surge will likely result “as the U.S. economy picks up and as seasonal patterns change…”

“We’re determined that we need to do more ourselves for border security,” Johnson said. “I’m concerned about the possibility of another rise in illegal migration.”

The DHS secretary said that provisions to strengthen border security will likely be included in the immigration-related executive actions President Obama is set to reveal Thursday evening.

Johnson’s focus on border security at DHS has been more pronounced than that of his predecessor, Janet Napolitano.

The president touched on the issue of border security in remarks he made Sunday.

“We’ve got severe resource constraints right now at the border not in apprehending people, but in processing and having enough immigration judges and so forth,” Obama said, according to ABC. “And so what’s within our authority to do is reallocating resources and re-prioritizing since we can’t do everything.”

He also acknowledged that DHS will likely be greatly affected by his immigration policy changes.

“Any executive action that I take is going to require some adjustments to how DHS, the Department of Homeland Security, operates where it’s deploying resources, etc.; how are folks processed; what priorities are set up,” Obama said. “And so I want to make sure that we’ve crossed all our t’s and dotted all our i’s — that that’s my main priority.”

Terror-related death toll on the rise, radical Islam deserves most blame

A new study conducted by the Institute for Economics and Peace reveals that nearly 18,000 terror-related deaths occurred throughout the world last year; 82 percent of those were relegated to just five countries.

The institute’s 2014 Global Terrorism Index relays that global deaths at the hands of terrorists increased 61 percent in a year. The figure, while high, is unsurprising given a recent resurgence of Islamic extremism in the Middle East and elsewhere.

From the index: “In 2013, 66% of all fatalities from claimed terrorist attacks were caused by four terrorist groups: the Taliban, Boko Haram , ISIL and al-Qa’ida. The primary targets of terrorist attacks are citizens and private property.”

Eighty-two percent of terror-related deaths occurred in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria.

Iraq, where ISIS extremists are currently gaining ground, was the country most affected by terrorism last year, with 2,492 attacks killing 6,362 people within its borders in 2013.

According to Institute Chairman Steve Killelea, the religious ideology associated with a majority of the terror attacks limits global actors’ ability to quell the bloodshed.

“Over the last decade the increase in terrorism has been linked to radical Islamic groups whose violent theologies have been broadly taught. To counteract these influences, moderate forms of Sunnis theologies need to be championed by Sunni Muslim nations. Given the theological nature of the problem it is difficult for outside actors to be influential,” said in a statement.

According to the report, terror attacks that killed more than 50 people occurred in 24 countries; 75 countries suffered no terror attacks.

While the global terror numbers are staggering, the Institute notes that people throughout the world are still 40 percent more likely to be killed in homicides than terror attacks. For those of us in the U.S., that figure jumps to 64 times more likely.

The full Global Terrorism Index can be viewed on the Vision of Humanity website.

Obama’s immigration overhaul is here

President Barack Obama’s fiat immigration overhaul will be revealed to the American public Thursday at 8 p.m. EST, according to sources close to the White House.

According to reports, the president will address the nation to provide details for his plan to enact executive orders which, with no input from Congress, could potentially grant as many as 5 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. respite from deportation.

Some details of the president’s planned address were inadvertently leaked to the press by a spokesman for the AFLCIO Wednesday, according to the Washington Times. The White House confirmed the information.

“We hear there will be a prime time Thursday evening announcement [to preview] and full unveiling in Vegas on Friday,” AFL-CIO spokesman Jeff Hauser wrote, according to the newspaper. “Can folks begin to work and plan watch parties for Thursday and/or Friday? Unclear whether Thursday night content will be what is ‘celebratory,’ but Friday will be where we need a lot of energy guaranteed.”

Obama is expected to travel to Nevada, home to the nation’s heaviest concentration of illegal immigrants, to rally support for his unilateral actions alongside Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) following the announcement.

There has been much speculation about what the president is legally able to do with regard to immigration reform and what, if anything, the administration could try to accomplish through extrajudicial actions.

According to numbers compiled by The New York Times, the president’s plan is likely to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to include an additional 700,000 young illegal immigrants and “extend protections to live and work in the United States to as many as 3.3 million parents of children who are American citizens.”

An official close to the Obama administration said that the president will likely stop short of making illegal immigrants eligible for subsidized healthcare coverage on the government’s insurance exchange.

“The immigrants would also be unlikely to receive benefits like food stamps, Medicaid coverage or other need-based federal programs offered to citizens and to some legal residents,” The Times reports.

Last week, top Democrats sent a letter to the White House assuring the president that he has “clear and substantial” legal basis to act on immigration reform without congressional consent.

In stark contrast, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), writing for Politico last week, said Obama’s action would “void the election results — and our laws — by moving forward with his executive amnesty decree.

“This decree would operate much like his unlawful ‘Deferred Action': conferring work permits, photo IDs, and Social Security numbers to millions of individuals illegally present in the U.S. — allowing them to take jobs and benefits directly from struggling American workers,” Sessions said. “It is a scheme the Congress has explicitly refused to pass.

“The President will arrogate to himself the sole and absolute power to decide who can work in the U.S., who can live in the U.S., and who can claim benefits in the U.S. — by the millions.”

Likewise, House Speaker John Boehner’s office released the following statement: “If ‘Emperor Obama’ ignores the American people and announces an amnesty plan that he himself has said over and over again exceeds his Constitutional authority, he will cement his legacy of lawlessness and ruin the chances for Congressional action on this issue — and many others.”

The expected backlash from conservative lawmakers isn’t the only thing Obama will risk with his unilateral immigration efforts.

A poll released this week by NBC and The Wall Street Journal shows that 55 percent of Americans do support some of the president’s immigration reform goals. But respondents said they want the goals met in a lawful manner. Thirty-eight percent said that Obama should put away his pen and phone when it comes to immigration reform.

Think tank: U.S. citizens 21st in personal freedoms

The United States ranked 10th in the British Legatum Institute’s annual assessment of citizen prosperity throughout the world.

Unlike similar polls, the institute’s assessment takes into account more than just a country’s GDP or government policies to determine the well-being of citizens. Instead, Legatum seeks to gauge how citizens actually feel about their respective nations.

Using Gallup World Poll Service data from 2013, the think tank registered citizen satisfaction with the economic, government, education, healthcare, security, personal freedom and social records of 142 countries throughout the world.

“Prosperity is more than just the accumulation of material wealth, it is also the joy of everyday life and the prospect of an even better life in the future,” the Legatum Institute says on its website. “This is true for individuals as well as nations.”

The United States’ overall ranking of 10th is one place higher than the nation’s overall score in the same assessment last year. Still, the U.S. ranks behind (in order from ninth to first) the Netherlands, Finland, Australia, Sweden, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, Switzerland and Norway.

Furthermore, the U.S. took major hits in the ranking subcategory scores from last year with regard to for safety and security (down 4 points), education (down 6 points) and personal freedom (down 7 points). The U.S.’s worst ranking was 31st, in the safety and security category — a broad category focusing on how safe citizens feel.

Perhaps most worrying to the average American citizen is the drop in citizen satisfaction with the nation’s personal freedom record, which has declined precipitously under President Barack Obama’s administration.

As recently as 2010 (based on data from 2009), the Legatum Institute ranked the U.S. ninth in overall personal freedom. The most recent rendition of the survey, however, places the U.S. at No. 21, behind Portugal, Malta, France, Costa Rica, Germany, Belgium, Ireland and the U.K, to name a few.

“This is not a good report for Obama,” Legatum spokeswoman Cristina Odone told the Washington Examiner of the report.

The think tank’s findings on personal freedom are in line with previous polling data dealing with how Americans feel about their personal freedom in recent years.

Gallup reported in January that 32 percent of American citizens believe the nation leads the world in individual freedom. And polling data out from that agency over the summer show that 79 percent of Americans were satisfied with the state of individual freedom in the U.S., down from 91 percent in 2006. That translated to a global ranking of 36th with regard to citizen satisfaction with their personal freedom.

“Gallup asks people in more than 120 countries each year whether they are satisfied or dissatisfied with the freedom to choose what they do with their lives. In 2006, the U.S. ranked among the highest in the world for people reporting satisfaction with their level of freedom. After seven years and a 12-point decline, the U.S. no longer makes the top quartile worldwide,” the agency reported at the time.

Man raises funds for ‘#PantsUPDontLoot’ billboard in Ferguson

With tensions high in Ferguson, Missouri, as the nation awaits word from a grand jury on a possible indictment of Darren Wilson, the officer who shot unarmed black teen Michael Brown, a Tennessee resident is coming under fire for a successful crowdfunding campaign to erect a billboard saying “#PantsUPdontLOOT.”

Don Alexander, a resident of Brentwood, Tennessee, has so far raised more than $3,000 for the project on the crowdfunding site IndieGoGo.

“This crowdfunding campaign is for the purchase of a billboard in the Ferguson, MO area. The billboard will display black text on a white background with the text ‘#PantsUPDontLoot,’” he wrote on the funding page.

The phrase to be placed on the billboard satirizes the “Hands up, don’t shoot” chanted by Brown supporters who believe the teen was surrendering when Wilson shot him.

Many people on the left have condemned the billboard campaign, making it necessary for the organizer to withhold certain details about the project “because the companies we choose are being targeted with the intention of shutting us down and making it impossible for the project to move forward.”

The left-leaning Salon called the effort “disgusting.”

Alexander, a self-described supporter of the Ferguson police, reportedly raised the funds with the help of social media and commenters on the online forum St. Louis Coptalk.

On the forum that, according to a Vocative report, has since been taken offline, commenters have expressed concerns for the safety of Ferguson residents if protests are fully reignited.

According to that report, a commenter using the handle “A Concerned Cop” advised: “If you do not have a gun, get one and get one soon. We will not be able to protect you or your family. It will be your responsibility to protect them. Our gutless commanders and politicians have neutered us. I’m serious, get a gun, get more than one, and keep one with you at all times.”

Obama: Gruber among academics ‘I’ve stolen ideas from liberally’

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the White House and top Democrats have spent the past several days pretending that MIT professor and Obamacare architect Jonathon Gruber did little work on the president’s healthcare overhaul. Now, video has surfaced of President Obama namechecking Gruber, infamous for remarks about the “stupidity of the American voter,” as one of many people from whom he’s “liberally” stolen ideas.

The video was reportedly recorded before a Brookings Institution panel in April 2006. (H/T: The Washington Free Beacon):

“You have already drawn some of the brightest minds from academia and policy circles, many of them I’ve stolen ideas from liberally,” Obama said at the time. “People ranging from Robert Gordon to Austan Goolsbee; Jon Gruber; my dear friend, Jim Wallis here, who can inform what are sometimes dry policy debates with a prophetic voice.”

If that — in addition to the countless facts already tying Gruber to the White House and top Democrats — weren’t enough, reports surfaced this week indicating that the elitist professor has visited the White House at least 21 times during Obama’s tenure .

And then there’s former Steve Rattner, Obama’s lead adviser in 2009 for the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry, who joined MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Tuesday, calling Gruber “the man” behind Obamacare.

“Jonathan Gruber was, back in the day in 2009, the guru on health care,” Rattner said. “I remember that when I was in the White House, he was certainly viewed as an important figure in helping to put Obamacare together.”

“I think if you go back and look at the Washington Post or the New York Times or anything from that period you will find Jonathan Gruber’s name all over it as both someone who’s the leading expert on health care quoted by everybody, and as someone who the White House was using — I don’t think we knew the dollar numbers he was paid at the time,” he continued.

More Personal Liberty coverage on “Gruber-gate”:

“Obamacare ideas man: Law wouldn’t have succeeded without ‘stupidity of the American voter'”

“That video of the Obamacare architect deriding ‘stupid’ American voters wasn’t just a one-time thing”

“Architects of Obamacare deserve prison”

“Obamacare designer admits lies were necessary”

“Gruber video of the day: Insulting concerned citizens to frame Obamacare his way”

“The true nature of government and its agents”

Obama, Gruber were on the same page from the beginning

Hotel employee fired for photographing DHS staging area near Ferguson

Navy veteran Mark Paffrath alleged this week that he was fired from his housekeeping job at the Drury Hotels Co. hotel chain and called “a terrorist” for photographing dozens of Department of Homeland security vehicles staged in one of the hotel’s parking garages in Chesterfield, Missouri, located about 25 miles outside of Ferguson.

The 28-year-old took pictures and video of the vehicles bearing logos from the DHS and Federal Protection Services last Thursday and posted them to his Facebook page with the hashtags #Ferguson #NoJusticeNoPeace.

“Why are all these vehicles here, I wonder if it has anything to do with Ferguson? #Ferguson, #No justice, no peace,” he wrote in a caption.

The vehicles and a large number of federal personnel reportedly arrived in the area last week, ahead of a grand jury announcement on whether Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson will be charged in the shooting death of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager whose death has sparked civil rights protests in recent months.

According to estimates in news reports, as many as 100 vehicles and 80 personnel are currently in the area.

Paffrath said he was confronted on Friday by his manager Jeff Barker, who demanded that he remove the posts in question.

The employee said he obliged and continued his workday. But the ordeal didn’t end there.

Argus Streaming News reports that on Saturday Paffrath had another meeting with Drury security director Jim Bohnert, during which he was informed that his employment had been terminated.

“The head of security for Drury was in there, and he pretty much called me a terrorist, saying that I dishonorably served my country for posting those pictures and videos on Facebook,” Paffrath told CNN.

Paffrath also noted that he served three years in the Navy, complete with stints overseas, and was dishonorably discharged. His military history, he said, added considerable sting to the accusation that he’d dishonored the nation.

The former Drury employee also said that Bohnert threatened, “[I]f you repost the photos and video you will have the federal government knocking on your door and you will be incarcerated.”

Paffrath re-posted the photos with the caption, “so apparently, I’m a terrorist lol.”

According to the ASN report, Bohner had formerly served as a St. Louis police officer and was named Assistant Special Agent In-Charge for the United States Secret Service from March 1991 to October 2011.

The security director reportedly told Paffrath that he endangered a $150,000 dollar contract DHS contract the hotel had obtained.

CNN reached out to the hotel company for comment, and was told: “We do not publicly discuss confidential personnel matters. The safety and privacy of our guests and our team members has always been and will remain our top priority.”

Agribusiness groups fret over EPA water rule

Business and agricultural groups have doubled down on criticism of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Waters of the United States rule, which they say will create a flood of economically damaging red tape if passed.

The rule, unveiled earlier this year, has been billed by regulators as an attempt to simplify and clarify which waterways are covered by the Clean Water Act and which ones aren’t. But opponents of the new EPA regulations say that it will only increase the agency’s reach because of broad language giving it the authority to regulate activities near rivers, streams and ponds, as well as dry creek beds, puddles and ditches.

According to The Hill, the American Farm Bureau lashed out against the proposal in comments to the EPA last week.

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

Critics like the American Farm Bureau charge that the EPA regulations will require landowners and agricultural entities to acquire Clean Water Act permits for routine activities like building fences or planting even in areas where water is present only once every few years. The EPA argues that even the smallest collections of water are sometimes connected to larger waterways.

Poultry producers, according to comments filed by the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, National Chicken Council and National Turkey Federation, would be hit particularly hard by the broad new water rule.

“Given the financial and potential criminal liabilities associated with violating the CWA, the connectivity of an area to a navigable water is best established on a case-by-case basis. This vague concept of connectivity cannot be applied universally to all areas and navigable waters, thereby defeating the agencies’ stated purpose of avoiding case-by-case determinations for waters of the US,” the groups commented.

They continued, “The proposed rule would assert jurisdictional authority over countless dry creeks, ditches, swales and low spots that are wet because it rains or a farmer has installed practices to sustain the viability of his operation.

“Even worse, the proposed rule attempts to claim authority over remote ‘wetlands’ and/or drainage features solely because they are near an ephemeral drainage feature or ditch that are now defined as a water of the US subject to CWA jurisdiction.”

Republican lawmakers in both chambers of Congress have spoken out against the EPA proposal and, refreshed by midterm victories, are working on a plan to derail the rule.

In comments about the rule, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said: “[It] presents a grave threat to Americans’ property rights, and its finalization will force landowners throughout the country to live with the unending prospect that their homes, farms, or communities could be subject to ruinous Clean Water Act jurisdictional determinations and litigation.”

Kurdish officials say the U.S. has vastly underestimated ISIS’s numbers

President Barack Obama, earlier this year, dismissed the Islamic State terrorists making gains in the Middle East as a “jayvee” threat. Kurdish officials say not only is that untrue but that the U.S. has vastly underestimated the terrorists whose numbers are growing rapidly.

ISIS is now comprised of as many as 200,000 fighters throughout the Middle East, according to the Iraqi Kurdish leadership. That’s nearly seven times as many as U.S. intelligence officials estimated.

Kurdish presidential chief of staff Fuad Hussein told Britain’s The Independent that the discrepancy is due to intelligence failures to take into account ISIS’s ability to “to mobilize young Arab men in the territory they have taken.”

In many of the war-torn and impoverished areas where ISIS has taken control, the terror group’s ability to provide a $400-a-month salary to recruits creates major incentive for joining.

“We are talking about a state that has a military and ideological basis,” Hussein told the newspaper, “so that means they want everyone to learn how to use a rifle, but they also want everybody to have training in their ideology, in other words brainwashing.”

According to Hussein, ISIS is already a formidable opponent with a fighting strategy that affects “the morale of everybody, including the Peshmerga.”

The Kurdish Peshmerga fighting force, well-regarded in terms of discipline and fighting ability, has so far kept ISIS at bay. But Hussein said he doesn’t believe the terrorists will relent.

“They will fight until death, and are dangerous because they are so well-trained,” he said. “For instance, they have the best snipers, but to be a good sniper you need not only training on how to shoot, but discipline in staying put for up to five hours so you can hit your target.”

Hussein noted that U.S. airstrikes in the region have helped the Peshmerga defend their 650-mile front line against ISIS but said that U.S. boots and heavy artillery on the ground would be needed to defeat the terrorists.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told members of Congress last week that coalition forces are currently making progress in defeating ISIS — but he added that there is a long struggle ahead.

“[ISIS’s] advance in parts of Iraq has stalled, and in some cases been reversed, by Iraqi, Kurdish, and tribal forces supported by U.S. and coalition airstrikes,” Hagel said in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee. “But ISIL continues to represent a serious threat to American interests, our allies, and the Middle East … and wields influence over a broad swath of territory in western and northern Iraq and eastern Syria.”

The Pentagon has asked Congress for $5.6 billion to expand the mission in Iraq and send an additional 1,500 U.S. troops to the region.

Lefty Bill Maher says he’d support Rand Paul 2016

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) continued his efforts to expand the GOP’s reach ahead of 2016 on Friday, appearing for an interview on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

Maher, an outspoken anti-theist and liberal, said that he admires Paul for being “the one Republican who is willing to go to places Republicans don’t usually speak.”

Throughout the interview, Paul and Maher were largely in agreement on issues such as the War on Drugs, reinstating voting rights for nonviolent felons, how the U.S. should go about defeating the Islamic State and even, to some extent, climate change.

“I am available to the Rand Paul campaign,” Maher said of a potential 2016 presidential bid.

But the comedian warned that some of the broader GOP’s positions on issues like climate change would likely be enough to turn off potential Paul progressives.

Paul, whose district is seated in coal country, pushed back, noting that liberty would give average people more ability to help the environment than burdensome regulations.

“[There is] abundant evidence that carbon is increasing and has been increasing,” Paul said. “All that I ask for is that the solution has to be a balanced solution, and that you have to account for jobs, and jobs lost by regulation. And I’m not against regulation, I think the environment has been cleaned up dramatically through regulations on emissions as well as clean water over the last forty or fifty years.”

The senator also noted that he’s currently working on legislation that would get the government out of the way of people looking to use alternative fuel sources.

“It’s going to be called The De-Regulation of Alternative Fuels [bill],” Paul said. “… I’m trying to get the government out of the way of converting your trucks from diesel to natural gas or from gasoline to ethanol.”

The bill, Paul continued, will allow the market to help the environment.

“Some of these fuels are actually cheaper too,” Paul explained. “And if they’re cheaper, then people will go for a cheaper alternative that also is cleaner for the environment.

There’s plenty of strategic benefit to Paul’s continued efforts to appear before audiences that his GOP colleagues usually ignore as the GOP looks to capitalize disillusioned Democratic voters leading into the 2016 season.

The youth-oriented news outlet Vice illustrated how traditionally Democratic young voters could skew right in 2016 in a piece titled “You Might Be a Republican in 2016.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told the magazine that polling numbers make it clear that “there’s a libertarian streak that’s running through young people. And the Republican Party is poised to capitalize on this, if we’re smart.”

The GOP establishment’s blessing of a Paul candidacy has always seemed like a bit of a long shot. But the senator’s outreach efforts combined with the party’s slow march to realizing that its policy have long turned off young people, minorities and all manner of independents could be creating a perfect storm for Paul 2016.

Posthumous gun confiscation underway in New York

Police in Buffalo, New York, have taken the late Charlton Heston’s famed “cold, dead hands” National Rifle Association speech a little too literally and are trolling local obituaries in search of the firearms of deceased gun permit holders.

According to the local WGRZ, Buffalo Police told reporters last week that they are taking on a new effort to identify members who may be holding on to the firearms of deceased residents.

“We recently started a program where we’re cross referencing all the pistol permit holders with the death records, and we’re sending people out to collect the guns whenever possible so that they don’t end up in the wrong hands,” Police Commissioner Daniel Derrenda said.” Because at times they lay out there and the family is not aware of them and they end up just out on the street.”

What’s missing from the police gun-grab scheme, the president of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, is information about what residents can do to keep their loved ones firearms out of police custody.

“They’re quick to say they’re going to take the guns,” Tom King told Fox News. “But they don’t tell you the law doesn’t apply to long guns, or that these families can sell [their loved one’s] pistol or apply to keep it.”

The police department’s tactics have been similarly derided by 2nd Amendment supporters online.

“While a family is still reeling from the loss of a beloved mother, father, brother, son, or sister, uniformed officers from the Buffalo Police Department are going to show up at their doors and attempt to bully the family into surrendering their recently deceased relative’s firearms… all of them, if they can,” Bearing Arms Editor Bob Owens wrote of the scheme, adding that the permit issue was merely an excuse to steal the property.

“The Buffalo PD try to get family’s to turn over what may very well be heirlooms, without allowing the family to pass them along to other family members who might appreciate them,” he added.

Rand Paul wouldn’t support current anti-NSA bill

Though some privacy groups have applauded the Senate’s efforts to move forward with Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) USA Freedom Act, stalwart personal liberty advocate Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) will likely oppose the legislation.

A senior Paul aide told CNN that the senator can’t support the bill because of a number of “significant problems” with the current legislation.

“Sen. Paul does not feel that Sen. Leahy’s reforms go far enough. There are significant problems with the bill, the most notable being an extension of the Patriot Act through December 2017,” the aide said Friday.

The unidentified Paul staffer said that dropping a provision that extends the Patriot Act would be a start to getting the senator to join Republican Sens. Mike Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Texas), Dean Heller (Nev.) and others in support of the legislation.

The privacy advocating Electronic Frontier Foundation offered support for the legislation on Wednesday, but said it doesn’t go far enough.

“The USA FREEDOM Act is a good first step towards successful surveillance reform. It will limit the NSA’s program collecting Americans’ calling records, introduce a special advocate into the secretive court overseeing the spying, and introduce much needed transparency requirements,” EFF noted. “While this bill is not a comprehensive solution to overbroad and unconstitutional surveillance, EFF urges the Senate to pass the bill without any amendments that will weaken it.”

Debates on the bill aimed at cutting back on some National Security Agency spying activities could occur as early as Tuesday.

Will Keystone XL finally be approved?

House lawmakers on Friday passed a bill to approve construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The Senate is expected to vote on a similar measure Tuesday.

Lawmakers in the House voted 251-161 in favor of the legislation aimed at circumventing the need for TransCanada Corp. to get the Obama administration’s approval to go ahead with construction of the pipeline. The company has been waiting for the administration to make a decision for more than six years.

Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), the legislation’s sponsor, said he wants the legislation to move quickly through the Senate to” finally get a bill to the president’s desk that approves this long-overdue Keystone XL pipeline.”

“This will create other economic activity. This will ripple out through the economy,” Cassidy also said of the legislation.

If Keystone supporters in the upper chamber gain the 60 vote majority needed to block a filibuster in passing the legislation, it’ll go to the president’s desk. After years of delaying a decision on Keystone, Obama would then be forced to either pass or veto the legislation, without blaming hurdles within the State Department for his indecision.

On Thursday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest suggested that Obama could veto the legislation.

And Obama, speaking from Asia, said that the pipeline would do little to help U.S. energy independence.

“Understand what this project is: It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else. It doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices,” said Obama, according to USA Today. “If my Republican friends really want to focus on what’s good for the American people in terms of job creation and lower energy costs, we should be engaging in a conversation about what are we doing to produce even more homegrown energy. I’m happy to have that conversation.”

As to whether a filibuster-proof majority is possible for Keystone in the Senate, supporters appeared confident that they had sealed the deal by Friday.

“It is ready for a vote and we have the 60 votes to pass it,” Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said midweek.

Landrieu is currently battling Cassidy for her Senate seat, which could prove instrumental in helping the conservative state Democrat get her colleagues to help her pass the legislation.

NRA says midterms were best election in a decade

In case it isn’t quite clear how Americans feel about the Obama administration’s gun policies, consider this: The National Rifle Association is touting the 2014 midterms as its best election in more than a decade.

The Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard pointed out this week that the NRA, based on numbers from the Sunlight Foundation, scored a 91.2 percent success rate with its midterm campaign spending.

“Our members came out in droves and voted for their rights and their freedom,” Spokesman Andrew Arulanandam told Bedard.

Overall, the NRA spent about $35 million on the elections; and 229 of the 251 of candidates it endorsed won.

Anti-gun fanatic and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, meanwhile, spent about $20 million to promote candidates with gun control agendas who “got walloped,” according to Sunlight.

But as noted earlier in the month by New York Daily News, Bloomberg didn’t suffer total defeat:

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper: Win.

Bloomberg aides on Wednesday hung their hats on Hickenlooper’s narrow win after the NRA targeted him for defeat due to a background check bill he signed.

Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy: Win.

Malloy won narrowly. Bloomberg political aide Howard Wolfson on Wednesday noted Malloy had used his support for a stronger state gun laws to draw a contrast with his opponent.

Supported Washington State’s Measure 594 for statewide background checks on the sales of guns: Win.

The ballot initiative passed. Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety group said It spent $4 million on the effort, and also helped a competing referendum backed by the NRA

While Bloomberg did support some successful ballot initiatives, 2nd Amendment supporters must keep in mind that the NRA’s pro-gun candidates are good for gun rights if voters only hold them to their promises.

Executive order immigration reform could appear by next week

Following reports that top immigration activists in Congress are “very disappointed” with President Obama’s handling of immigration reform in the U.S., White House officials told reporters that Obama could reveal a 10-point immigration plan by the end of next week.

The president, according to the White House, is still awaiting final recommendations from his top immigration advisers, but is “nearing a final decision” on his plan to act unilaterally.

Fox News  reported Wednesday that the plan will include “initiatives that span everything from boosting border security to improving pay for immigration officers.”

Most controversial provision for Republicans would be the inclusion of a deferred action provision that could give 4.5 million illegal immigrants with U.S.-born children legal status in the U.S.

Lawmakers who oppose amnesty legislation could also face an expansion of the president’s “dreamer” program, which expands deferred action to all illegal immigrants meeting certain age and status requirements.

Discounted naturalization applications for a limited number of immigrants and expansions in technology visa programs may also be on the horizon.

Some of the major immigration reforms Obama is expected to roll out were touted in a letter vocal immigration proponents Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) sent to the president this week.

“We hope that your actions will prevent the separation of undocumented family members of U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and DACA beneficiaries and offer protection to others who have long worked in the United States and have established strong ties with our communities. We further hope that they will make our immigration enforcement efforts more sensible and humane,” they wrote in a draft obtained by The Washington Post.

The Democrats also contend that Obama has a “clear and substantial” legal basis to act on immigration reform.

That, however, is not how some of their Congressional colleagues on the other side of the aisle feel. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), writing for Politico this week, said Obama’s action would “void the election results — and our laws — by moving forward with his executive amnesty decree.

“This decree would operate much like his unlawful ‘Deferred Action': conferring work permits, photo IDs, and Social Security numbers to millions of individuals illegally present in the U.S. — allowing them to take jobs and benefits directly from struggling American workers,” Sessions said. “It is a scheme the Congress has explicitly refused to pass.

“The President will arrogate to himself the sole and absolute power to decide who can work in the U.S., who can live in the U.S., and who can claim benefits in the U.S. — by the millions.”

Survey: Americans remain concerned about digital spying

New figures out from Pew Research illustrate that Americans are increasingly concerned about their privacy from government and corporate snoops.

Eighty percent of American adults, according to the survey, believe that citizens should be concerned about the government’s efforts to monitor phone calls and digital communications. And 70 percent said that they are at least somewhat worried about government collecting information on social networks.

From Pew:

More than a year after contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents about widespread government surveillance by the NSA, the cascade of news stories about the revelations continue to register widely among the public. Some 43% of adults have heard “a lot” about “the government collecting information about telephone calls, emails, and other online communications as part of efforts to monitor terrorist activity,” and another 44% have heard “a little.” Just 5% of adults in our panel said they have heard “nothing at all” about these programs.

Just 36 percent said they agree that it is “a good thing for society if people believe someone is keeping an eye on the things they do online.”

A majority of 64 percent of respondents said that instead of spying on Americans digital communications, government regulators should do more to protect individuals’ personal privacy from advertisers.

According to Pew’s figures, 91 percent of Americans feel that they’ve lost control of how companies use their personal information.

Former Obama campaign chief: Rand Paul would be ‘most right-wing’ presidential candidate ever

If you have disagreed with just about everything former top Obama campaign manager Jim Messina has ever said, you ought to be trying to get Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul appointed as the next GOP presidential nominee.

Messina, in an interview published by the online magazine Ozy.com, said that Paul would be “the most right-wing” presidential nominee in the nation’s history.

“I think if you look at his statements and you look at his record he would be the most right wing candidate that any major party has nominated, including Barry Goldwater,” Messina said before adding. “He is that far off the spectrum. I think his chances of winning swing votes in battleground states are my chances of being the starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos.”

The former Obama campaign official jokingly said that he’d fully support Paul or Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) for the GOP nomination. He said a potential matchup between Cruz and Hillary Clinton would be a “wonderful gift.”

Messina, who is currently involved with the left leaning Priorities USA super PAC, also said that Republicans shouldn’t be too encouraged by their 2014 midterm victories ahead of the forthcoming presidential election.

“They are having a fight for the soul of their party, which I think is going to be devastating to them,” he said.

“If you look at the battleground states, more states are coming on the map for us. States that weren’t competitive like Virginia, like North Carolina, Arizona’s going to come in ’16. I think [Clinton’s] a good candidate in some of these places and can make Georgia competitive.”