Presidential scholars find Obama overrated, polarizing

President Barack Obama is “overrated” and possibly one of the worst inhabitants of the White House to date, according to a survey of scholars who belong to the American Political Science Association.

Presidential scholars questioned in the Brookings Institution survey were more likely to rate Obama as one of the nation’s worst presidents than one of its best by a margin of 3 to 1. Likewise, they were twice as likely to describe the current president as overrated than underrated.

“Obama does not perform well on more specific dimensions of presidential greatness, often viewed as average or worse,” Brookings noted. “For example, he is the midpoint in terms of both personal integrity and military skill (e.g., 10th of 19 in both categories), but falls to 11th when it comes to diplomatic skill and 13th with respect to legislative skill.”

Another problem, according to the scholars, is Obama’s ability to polarize the nation.

“One area where there is significant expert consensus about the president, however, concerns how polarizing he is viewed as being — only George W. Bush was viewed as more a more polarizing president,” Brookings said.

Obama’s lackluster performance in the survey can also be partially attributed to the dashed hopes of people who held the current president in too high regard from the beginning.

“It is easy to infer that scholars and the public alike expected greatness from Obama early on and awarded it to him prematurely,” Brookings said. “Compare, after all, the fact that Obama’s first ranking in a major greatness poll was at #15; one must go back a half-century to Lyndon Johnson to find a president who entered the rankings at a higher number (#10), and LBJ was a well-known figure on the national stage who entered office after the national tragedy of his predecessor’s assassination.”

Even though they “view his skills and performance as mediocre to poor,” Brookings found that scholars still tend to hold Obama in high regard personally. In fact, the current president tied James Madison as the 7th most popular choice of which chief executive should be the fifth face of Mt. Rushmore.

“It could be worse for Obama,” Brookings concluded. “Barring unforeseen scandal, he’s unlikely to become significantly less popular, and as he enters his post-presidency, he is likely to experience the same slow rise up the greatness polls George W. Bush has had.”

Cruz trolls Obama on FCC’s Internet plan

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has continued his fight to halt the Federal Communication Commission’s plan to regulate the Internet like a public utility by trolling President Barack Obama with a new video.

On Friday, Cruz shared a video containing a mock weekly address from an Obama happy that the FCC plan was completed.

“Today I am happy to announce that the FCC has taken over the Internet,” says the mock Obama, before adding that the World Wide Web is now under control of the same government responsible for

The video is a parody of a video Obama released last fall to endorse the FCC plan.

On his website, Cruz explains his opposition to the plan:

The Internet is an incredible platform for 21st century jobs, growth, and opportunity — we need to make sure it continues to be.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration is attempting to impose outdated 1934 rules on the Internet that are certain to stifle innovation. The FCC’s net neutrality plan will drive up the cost of consumer Internet plans, impose billions of new taxes on the Internet, and allow a panel of five unelected bureaucrats to regulate and control every aspect of the Internet.

RELATED: “Critics worry that FCC rules will kill the Internet”

Americans rate ISIS and Russia high on list of critical threats

A majority of Americans consider Russia to the be country most threatening to U.S. interests, though the former Cold War foe is still low on the list of concerns compared to the Islamic State terror organization.

According to data compiled by Gallup, 18 percent of Americans consider Russia to be the United States’ top enemy.

Here’s how other top U.S. foes stacked up:

  • 2: North Korea (15 percent)
  • 3: China (12 percent)
  • 4: Iran (9 percent)
  • 5: Iraq (8 percent)

Americans considered China to be the nation’s top enemy last year and named Iran as the biggest threat in 2011 and 2012.

Russia’s newfound place at the top of the list of foes can be largely attributed to its show of force in Eastern Europe. Gallup reports that favorable views of the country among Americans have plummeted in recent years, noting, “Russia’s favorable rating has declined 10 points in each of the last two years. Just three years ago, Americans’ views of Russia were more positive than negative.”

Seventy percent of Americans currently say they have an unfavorable opinion of Russia. Meanwhile, just under half (49 percent) said that they believe Russia’s military capabilities are a critical threat to the U.S.

Still, Americans are less apt to feel threatened by Russia when it’s listed alongside various other geopolitical problems facing the U.S.

Just 4 percent of respondents said that “countries where ISIS operates” are the top U.S. enemies. But in a separate Gallup poll, 84 percent of respondents said that “Islamic militants currently operating in Iraq and Syria” are a critical threat to the U.S.

Russia’s military power was considered a critical threat 49 percent of the time, less often than “international terrorism” (84 percent), the development of nuclear weapons in Iran (77 percent) and North Korea’s military power (64 percent).

More gun rights could be coming your way on both the state and federal levels

Concealed carry laws could be getting a makeover, thanks to various state-level legislative initiatives to make it easier to carry a firearm for personal protection and a proposal being considered in Congress.

A growing number of states are opting to do away with concealed carry permit requirements as constitutional carry legislation advanced last week in New Hampshire, Kansas, Mississippi and Montana.

If successful, the residents of those states would be permitted to carry a firearm for personal protection concealed without having to apply for a permit.

“This bill recognizes that the simple act of putting on a coat should not require a permit,” New Hampshire State Sen. Sharon Carson said of the concealed carry legislation in her state last week.

Americans living in Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Vermont and Wyoming already enjoy unrestricted concealed carry.

New Hampshire State Sen. Jeb Bradley used Vermont as an example of how constitutional carry should work in a speech to his state legislature last week.

“Our radical and dangerous neighbor to the west — Vermont, which has allowed concealed carry without a license for 200 years without a problem — is the safest state in the nation,” he said.

But people living in states where concealed carry is, or may become, unrestricted may still want to consider obtaining a permit if they plan to carry out of state.

That’s because Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced last Thursday legislation that would do away with the current confusion surrounding concealed carry reciprocity by establishing uniform reciprocity in all states with permits.

The Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2015 would treat concealed carry permits much like driver licenses and give permit holders the right to carry concealed in any other state that issues permits.

“This bill strengthens two of our nation’s fundamental rights — the right of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves and states’ rights to adopt laws that are best suited for their residents,” Cornyn said in a statement.

Concealed carry is currently permitted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, though some jurisdictions make it much harder than others for residents to obtain a permit.

Reciprocity varies throughout the nation. In gun-friendly Alabama, for instance, authorities already recognize valid permits issued by any other state. On the other end of the spectrum are states such as New Jersey, Connecticut and Maryland that recognize only in-state permits.

Cornyn’s legislation, despite the inclusion of provisions that protect individual states’ concealed carry laws, has drawn criticism from gun control groups that claim universal reciprocity would undermine state’s rights.

“Under this scheme, even if a state has determined that public safety requires live-fire training for permit holders, the state would have to allow permit-holders from other states without any training requirement to carry guns on their streets,” the group Everytown for Gun Safety said in a report on universal reciprocity.

Supporters say that the reciprocity legislation is aimed only at keeping law-abiding gun owners on the right side of the law when they travel out of state.

“Our fundamental right to self-defense does not stop at a state’s borders. Law abiding citizens should be able to exercise this right while traveling across state lines,” the National Rifle Association’s Chris Cox said in a statement.

The push for doing away with permit requirements for concealed carry is not without critics as gun control advocates continue to lash out at concealed carry in general.

The New York Times editorial board last week cited a recent concealed carry study from the Violence Policy Center as “an alarming check on all the swagger about the woeful phenomenon of more citizens packing more guns.”

The study found that 722 nonself-defense deaths in the U.S. since 2007 were related to concealed carriers. What The Times failed to mention is that 84 percent of those were suicides by people with concealed carry permits.

Critics worry that FCC rules will kill the Internet

The Federal Communication Commission and the Obama administration continue to tout net neutrality as a populist answer to corporate favoritism online. Critics of the plan, however, are increasingly worried about the FCC’s lack of transparency in crafting the rules.

At worst, some say, the current net neutrality plan is a massive government power grab of the one place where ideas are spread with limited meddling by gatekeepers; at best, it’s a solution in search of a problem destined to stifle technological innovation and online competiveness.

With the FCC expected to approve the net neutrality rules at a Feb. 26 hearing, Congressional Republicans are scrambling to hold hearings to investigate the rule-making process. Currently, lawmakers in both chambers are actively seeking information whether the White House pressured the FCC on the rules.

Since the agency has released only limited information about its 322-page Internet proposal, the lawmakers have little to go on in predicting the extent to which the bureaucrats want to regulate online activities. But based on the complaints of FCC commissioner Ajit Pai, a Republican, the government is looking to gain “broad and unprecedented discretion to micro-manage the Internet.”

“It is worse than I imagined,” Pai told reporters Tuesday.

The dissenting commissioner also claimed that the FCC rules will likely also lead to billions of dollars in new taxes.

Former Democratic Congressman Rick Boucher of Virginia made a similar argument in a Wednesday column for The Wall Street Journal. Boucher, an honorary chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance, backed up his argument with a study of how a similar Internet regulatory scheme imposed in Europe has limited broadband access to populations and increased costs by stifling provider incentive.

He wrote:

Consider capital investment, without which broadband networks do not exist and cannot be modernized. Fixed-broadband operators in the U.S. invested $137 billion in 2011 and 2012, more than four times Europe’s $31 billion over the same time period. U.S. mobile operators, at $55 billion, invested twice as much as their European counterparts’ $29 billion. Even when the comparison is made as a percentage of industry revenue, the U.S. investment advantage persists.

Europe’s “wholesale-access” regulatory regime, under which fixed operators must make their networks available to competitors at a regulated price, was ostensibly designed to promote competition. Yet in Europe, powerful incumbent carriers hold 65% of the local telephone market, while in the U.S. 59% of the local telephone market is served by new competitors. More than 90% of U.S. households can choose from among 10 or more providers.

European officials eventually learned from their mistakes and opted in 2013 to take steps to scale back regulatory burdens on Internet providers.

Boucher believes that makes it a particularly bad time for U.S. officials to be considering similar Internet regulations because they could “send capital overseas to a more welcoming investment environment.”

Other critics of the net neutrality plan have focused on the inconvenience consumers could face if the government becomes more heavily involved in their day-to-day online activities.

A group called Protect Internet Freedom is releasing comical videos detailing how future Internet users could find themselves burdened by confusing new Internet taxes and regulations on their personal computers and devices.

On its website the group argues that the current proposal’s basis in Title II of the antiquated 1934 Communications Act will lead to what basically amounts to a massive middle-class tax increase.

“The various state and local rules alone could add an additional $84 or more to your household’s yearly Internet bill for each wired and wireless Internet account you have. When you add it up, Title II classification will likely cost users $15 billion in new fees.”

Most maddening to many critics is that it’s not net neutrality they oppose, it’s making the Internet a public utility.

And the FCC, Broucher noted, can “use its existing authority to adopt strong network-neutrality protections without reclassifying broadband as a public utility.”

So why would the FCC go so far? If congressional Republicans are able to dig up any communications between the agency and the White House, Americans may get the full answer.

In public, Obama claims it’s about making the Internet operate more smoothly for the people.

“You know what it feels like when you don’t have a good Internet connection,” he said back in January. “Everything is buffering, you try to download a video and you’ve got that little circle thing that goes round and round, it’s really aggravating.”

Of course, it’s probably safe to assume the president has grander ambitions for Internet control given the headaches it has caused for the White House during his tenure.

Rand Paul says Hillary Clinton’s failures helped build ISIS

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said this week that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should take much of the blame for the Islamic State terror group’s rise to power in the Middle East.

According to Paul, U.S. actions in Libya under Clinton’s watch gave the ISIS militants room to grow.

“The disaster that is Libya is now a breeding ground for terrorists and is a breeding ground for armaments. So I really do blame Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya for creating a lot of the chaos that is spreading throughout the Middle East,” Paul said on “America’s Newsroom.”

The Kentucky Republican has long been vocal in his opposition to U.S. intervention to quell unrest in the Middle East.

“To those who wish unlimited intervention and boots on the ground everywhere, remember the smiling poses of politicians pontificating about so-called freedom fighters and heroes in Libya, in Syria, and in Iraq. Unaware that the so-called freedom fighters may well have been allied with kidnappers and are killers and jihadists,” he said on the Senate floor in September.

As for the war proposal to fight ISIS released by the White House Tuesday, Paul said he’s concerned that it contains too few limits on how far U.S. intervention could go.

“We’re still looking at it,” he told The Huffington Post. “I’m concerned about it really having no limitations on how big the war can become and how many troops can be on the ground.”

Last year, Paul introduced his own proposal to stop ISIS’s spread. It contained language to “sunset” a 2001 authorization of military force in the Middle East while providing limited power for the U.S. to attack high value targets, ground forces for intelligence gathering and rescuing U.S. hostages.

Prison reform measures introduced in Senate

Bipartisan legislation introduced Thursday aims to reduce the nation’s growing prison populations by giving judges more discretion in sentencing for nonviolent offenders arrested on drug charges.

The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015, introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), gives judges the ability to sentence nonviolent drug offenders below existing mandatory minimums without doing away with mandatory sentencing.

“A lot of people like to refer to the fact that it costs $20,000 a year in this country to put a person in a minimum security prison, but that, in my opinion, is not the most significant cost,” Lee said of the proposal. “The most significant cost is the human one.”

Supporters of the reform effort cite a 500 percent increase in the U.S. prison population since tough-on-crime legislation was rushed through Congress in the 1980s.

A separate prison reform effort was unveiled by two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier in the week.

The Corrections Oversight, Recidivism Reduction, and Eliminating Costs for Taxpayers in Our National System (CORRECTIONS) Act would attempt to reduce the prison population by offering convicts reduced time in return for participation in recidivism reduction programs.

That legislation is sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Obama’s ‘intentionally’ vague request for war powers

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have recoiled at the vagueness of President Barack Obama’s request for an authorization of use of military force (AUMF) to pursue ISIS terrorists in Iraq and Syria. But the White House said Wednesday that the president’s plan was “intentionally” vague.

House Democrats centered much of their criticism of Obama’s request on the inclusion of phrasing which prohibits “enduring offensive ground combat operations.” The lawmakers expressed concern that the phrase leaves the door open for U.S. ground forces being sent to battle in the region without a clear withdrawal date.

House Democrats also want the president’s latest proposal for a three-year AUMF to include a provision ending the 2001 force authorization which Obama is currently relying on to justify actions in the Middle East.

“Without one, any sunset of the new authorization will be ineffectual, since the next president can claim continued reliance on the old one,” Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, are also complaining about the vagueness of Obama’s proposal — but their biggest gripe is that it doesn’t include enough language to indicate that large-scale military operations are on the horizon.

“I believe that if we are going to authorize the use of military force, the president should have all the tools necessary to win the fight that we are in,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters. “As you’ve heard me say over the last number of months, I am not sure that the strategy that has been outlined will accomplish the mission the president says he wants to accomplish.”

The White House countered the bipartisan criticism Wednesday, saying that the AUMF proposal was intentionally broad to avoid placing “overly burdensome constraints” on the president as the situation in the Middle East evolves.

“[The president] needs the flexibility to be able to respond to contingencies that emerge in a chaotic military conflict like this,” White House press secretary told reporters.

Earnest went on to say that the administration does not expect a long-term, large-scale military conflict but stopped short of clearing up the confusion behind the term “enduring” by saying he has no “specific number to assign to that word.”

Report says Americans are being robbed of justice by the nation’s jails

When politicians and activists talk about prison reform, they seldom mention the 3,000 jails that serve as detention centers at the municipal and county levels throughout the nation. But that could change following the release of a new report highlighting an alarming increase in the number of Americans incarcerated in the facilities for minor violations.

The justice system is designed to reserve jail for the detention of people awaiting trial who have either been deemed a threat to the public or who pose a significant flight risk. But according to the study, “Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America,” a majority of the nearly 731,000 people locked away in the nation’s jails on any given day fall into neither of the aforementioned categories.

In fact, the study released Wednesday by the VERA Institute of Justice says that 75 percent of the people locked up in local and county jails throughout the nation were picked up on nonviolent minor offenses such as skipping fare on public transit, driving on a suspended license or failure to pay government fines. Drug crimes account for about one-fourth of the charges that land people in U.S. jails.

That would explain why the rate of jail incarceration in the U.S. has nearly tripled since 1983 as the rate of violent and property crime has plummeted.

“While the country has continued to grow safer — at least by the most common measures of public safety — an ever-larger proportion of the population is being sent to jail, though research demonstrates that there is little causal connection between improved public safety and an increased use of incarceration,” the report notes.

And as the number of Americans held in jails has increased over the past three decades, so too has the length of time individuals picked up by police are likely to stay in jail. The average jail stay as of 2013 was 23 days, according to the report.

In many cases, the report says, prisoners are doing time pretrial — meaning that some Americans are doing considerable amounts of time in cases where the state can’t prove they’ve committed a crime.

“[S]ince the proportion of jail inmates that are being held pretrial has grown substantially in the last thirty years — from about 40 to 62 percent — it is highly likely that the increase in the average length of stay is largely driven by longer stays in jails by people who are unconvicted of any crime,” the report states.

Increases in pretrial incarceration throughout the nation are largely due to the inability of many defendants to raise the funds required to post bail, according to the report. And bail amounts are often set too high for a defendant’s charge because of court fee schedules and prosecutors who pile on charges in hopes that something will stick.

“When out-of-reach bail amounts are combined with overloaded courts, a situation arises in which defendants can spend more time in jail pretrial than the longest sentence they could receive if convicted,” the report points out. “These cases, in particular, turn our ideals about justice upside down. Sentenced to ‘time served’ and released, the system punishes these individuals while they are presumed to be innocent, and then releases them once they are found guilty.”

Worse yet, many low-income people find themselves back in jail for failure to pay mountains of court-mandated fees.

The report also ascribes the increasing number of Americans in jail to a number of other factors, including: misguided “war on drugs” policies, informal arrest quotas in police departments and the arrests of mentally ill people who need medical care rather than incarceration.

Whatever the reason for the increase in the number of those jailed, VERA says it is having a negative impact on community safety and stability in addition to the taxpayer bottom line.

On paper, local jurisdictions spend a combined $22.2 billion on jails annually. But taking into account the societal consequences of disrupting lives, jobs and housing situations with jail time for minor offenses, the report argues that the figure ends up being much higher.

Read VERA’s full report here.

2nd Amendment tax holidays give American sportsmen a break

Here’s some good news on the right to bear — and buy — arms. In a bid to give sportsmen and other firearms enthusiasts “a little bit of a break” at the onset of hunting season, Tennessee lawmakers have proposed an annual 2nd Amendment Tax Holiday for purchases related to shooting sports.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) and state Rep. Kelly Keisling (R-Byrdstown), would suspend state and local sales tax on firearms, ammunition, archery equipment and other hunting supplies during the first weekend in September each year.

Niceley says that the legislation is designed to provide some economic relief for sportsmen, as ammunition prices “have gone up outrageously” and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission has voted to increase the cost of hunting and fishing licenses.

“Guns are high and ammunition is extremely high,” he said. “The government has bought a lot of ammunition and run the prices up.”

In addition to helping firearm enthusiasts and outdoorsmen, the lawmaker says the bill will benefit retailers and the state.

“Look at it like it’s a loss-leader. I mean, people come in and buy tax-free guns and ammunition and then they end up buying some camouflage or whatever and kind of stimulate sales,” said Niceley.

According to the Congressional Sportsman’s Foundation, which supports hunting tax holidays, the nation’s nearly 40 million sportsmen spend $90 billion hunting, fishing and shooting each year.

“With little to be lost and much to be gained, it is advisable that legislators explore opportunities in their governing tax code and support legislation that spurs economic growth in the outdoor sporting goods and firearm industries,” the foundation says on its website.

Niceley and Keisling modeled their legislation after recently implemented hunting tax holidays in Mississippi and Louisiana.

According to estimates, Louisiana resident saved more than $800,000 in taxes on firearm related purchases during the tax holiday last September.

South Carolina implemented the nation’s first hunting tax holiday in 2008 and in the last few years lawmakers in Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Colorado and Wyoming have introduced similar proposals.

White House doubles down on claim that climate change is more alarming than terrorism

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that the Obama administration indeed considers climate change a bigger threat to the U.S. and its interests than global terrorism.

President Barack Obama said in a Vox interview published Monday that the media is guilty of overstating the threat of global terrorism compared to issues such as global warming.

“Is the president saying, as he seems to be implying here, that the threat of climate change is greater than the threat of terrorism?” ABC News’ Jonathan Karl asked Earnest Tuesday in a bid to clarify Obama’s remark.

Earnest insisted that because of global anti-terror efforts “terrorist organizations no longer have that same capacity” to harm American citizens.

“The point that president is making is that there are many more people on an annual basis who have to confront the impact, the direct impact on their lives of climate change or on the spread of a disease than on terrorism,” Earnest added.

Obama’s Internet plan ‘worse than I had imagined’ says FCC commissioner

During a press conference Tuesday, a Republican on the Federal Communications Commission’s five-member panel warned that the government’s plan to regulate the Internet is more intrusive than it appears.

Ajit Pai, one of two Republican FCC commissioners, said that the agency has selectively released details of its net neutrality plans in a bid to downplay “this massive intrusion to the Internet economy.”

“It is worse than I imagined,” Pai told reporters.

“The American people are being misled about President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler released a fact sheet last week detailing key points of the FCC’s plan. But the agency says it won’t release the full 322-page proposal until the commission votes on it later this month.

Pai is calling for the release of the proposal, which he says contains provisions that could “explicitly opens the door to billions of dollars in new taxes on broadband” and give the FCC “broad and unprecedented discretion to micro-manage the Internet.”

“We should be able to have an open and transparent debate to see the president’s plan,” Pai said.

The commissioner also contends that the Obama White House may have improperly influenced the proposal, a concern shared by lawmakers on two congressional committees currently investigating the net neutrality proposal.

In a letter to Wheeler this week, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) requested documents related to the proposal and an explanation of “what new factors” led the FCC to divert from an earlier net neutrality proposal.

Johnson and other Republicans charge that recent meetings between Obama administration officials and FCC commissioners are clear indicators of White House meddling in the rulemaking process.

“Since the FCC is an independent agency that derives its authority from Congress and not the White House, it is highly concerning that the White House would seek to take on this level of involvement in the regulatory process of the FCC, or attempt to supplant completely the agency’s decision-making apparatus,” Johnson wrote in the letter.

In a separate letter, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has requested that the FCC hand over any communications between its members and the White House.

“[R]eports indicate that views expressed by the White House potentially had an improper influence on the development of the draft Open Internet Order circulated internally at the Commission on February 5, 2015,” Oversight chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R.-Utah) wrote in the letter.

Liberals and conservatives are equally likely to deny science, researchers say

Pundits on the political left routinely accuse conservatives of being science deniers. But new research indicates that liberals are just as likely to ignore scientific information as their conservative counterparts when data contradicts their worldview.

Researchers at Ohio State University tricked 1,518 people from across the country into revealing their ideologically charged science biases by telling them they were selected to evaluate a new educational website about science. After gathering demographic and political information, the researchers asked questions about scientific subjects to access the accuracy of the participants’ beliefs.

The researchers discovered that U.S. liberals are in no position to question the scientific savvy of conservatives.

“Liberals are also capable of processing scientific information in a biased manner,” Erik Nisbet, co-author of the study and associate professor of communication and political science at The Ohio State University, said. “They aren’t inherently superior to conservatives.”

The research showed that people both groups tend to resist facts that challenge their political beliefs — though conservatives typically had stronger emotional responses to the science with which they disagreed.

According to the researchers, climate change and evolution were the issues that made conservatives more likely to lose faith in science, while liberals denied facts about hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and nuclear power.

That could explain why conservatives had stronger feelings.

“Climate change and evolution are much bigger issues in the media and political discourse than are fracking and nuclear power,” Nisbet said.

“The fact that the issues that challenge conservatives are currently more polarizing in society today may intensify feelings.”

Members of both groups were more likely to deny facts on issues that have received considerable political attention.

“Even liberals showed lower trust in science when they read about climate change and evolution, issues about which they generally agree with the scientific community,” said study co-author R. Kelly Garrett, also an associate professor of communication at Ohio State.

“Just reading about these polarizing topics is having a negative effect on how people feel about science.”

According to Garrett, the bottom line is that all Americans are capable of unfounded biases when ideology becomes derailed by fact.

“Calling people names is not a solution,” the researcher said, noting that communication is key to reaching policy agreements on matters involving controversial science.

College: Forget sticks and stones; words are weapons

Students at the University of Michigan are being bombarded with an “Inclusive Language Campaign” designed to encourage the avoidance of words and phrases that may offend others.

According to a report in The College Fix, school administrators hope to use the campaign to “address campus climate by helping individuals understand that their words can impact someone and to encourage individuals to commit to creating a positive campus community.”

From the report:

Students have been asked to sign a pledge to “use inclusive language” and to help their peers “understand the importance of using inclusive language,” according to campaign materials.

Though only in existence for one semester, the Inclusive Language Campaign has maintained a strong presence throughout the university. Students roaming the campus frequently encounter posters of all sizes reminding them: “YOUR WORDS MATTER,” and asking questions such as: “If you knew that I grew up in poverty, would you still call things ‘ghetto’ and ‘ratchet’?”

Ghetto, insane, fag, illegal alien, tranny, gypped and gay are just a few of the words students are as asked to omit from their vocabularies.

The campaign, which cost the university about $16,000, also encourages students to avoid costumes with racial undertones.





Bloomberg: No 2nd Amendment for minorities

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently said that firearm crime could be reduced by eliminating the 2nd Amendment rights of young minority populations in the U.S.

According to a report in the Aspen Times, Bloomberg told a gathering at the Aspen Institute Friday that “95 percent of murders fall into a specific category: male, minority and between the ages of 15 and 25.”

Keeping guns out of the hands of people in the group would save lives, the former mayor said.

“These kids think they’re going to get killed anyway because all their friends are getting killed,” Bloomberg said. “They just don’t have any long-term focus or anything. It’s a joke to have a gun. It’s a joke to pull a trigger.”

Bloomberg was often criticized as a supporter of racially charged policing during his mayoral tenure, largely because of the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practices. The department received national attention over stop-and-frisk in 2011 with a bevy of complaints that minorities were stopped more often than whites.

During his speech Friday, Bloomberg recalled a New York Baptist minister’s remarks on the policy to defend the practice.

“While I’m sitting there waiting for him to introduce me, he said to his congregation, ‘You know, if every one of you stopped and frisked your kid before they went out at night, the mayor wouldn’t have to do it,’” Bloomberg said. “And so I knew I was going to be OK with that audience.”

The former NYC mayor also weighed in on poverty, education and drug policy during the event.

Bloomberg called marijuana reform “one of the stupider things that’s happening across our country.”

“What are we going to say in 10 years when we see all these kids whose IQs are 5 and 10 points lower than they would have been?” he asked. “I couldn’t feel more strongly about it, and my girlfriend says it’s no different than alcohol. It is different than alcohol.”

How’s the economy? The answer depends on whom you ask

President Barack Obama’s critics have been “proven wrong” when it comes to the economy, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said Monday.

Lew said that the Labor Department’s most recent positive jobs numbers, a falling annual deficit and low oil prices are indicative of average Americans enjoying economic breaks they haven’t seen in years.

“We’re seeing a comeback in manufacturing, now we’re seeing housing and construction come back,” Lew said during an interview with CNBC. “And we’ve seen the deficit go way down, all at a time when we have people who are now finding the security of having healthcare coverage that they didn’t have before.”

According to the Labor Department, U.S. job creation has averaged 336,000 for the past three months.

“I think that the critics who said all these things, we’re going to hurt the economy, have been proven wrong,” Lew told CNBC.

The Treasury official said that the U.S. economic recovery could now be described as “self-sustaining” and that Americans are heading for “a good period ahead.”

“I think that it is time to say that we’ve really turned the corner and we’re now in an economy that’s growing,” Lew said.

Critics of the White House’s economic policies, meanwhile, are quick to point out that officials like Lew may be basing their optimism on faulty data.

That was the gist of a column written last week by Gallup CEO Jim Clifton, who contends that the Labor Department’s employment numbers are “extremely misleading.”

“Right now, we’re hearing much celebrating from the media, the White House and Wall Street about how unemployment is ‘down’ to 5.6%,” Clifton wrote. “The cheerleading for this number is deafening. The media loves a comeback story, the White House wants to score political points and Wall Street would like you to stay in the market.”

The polling organization’s CEO noted that the Department of Labor leaves out of its official unemployment data millions of Americans who have given up looking for work as well as those who are working part-time but unable to find full-time employment. Clifton relayed that “few Americans know” the government is happy to count people who perform “a minimum of one hour of work in a week and are paid at least $20″ as employed.

“There’s no other way to say this. The official unemployment rate, which cruelly overlooks the suffering of the long-term and often permanently unemployed as well as the depressingly underemployed, amounts to a Big Lie,” Clifton wrote.

Clifton contends that U.S. unemployment is actually at its highest in three decades.

PSA: Understand the issue before you shout about it online

Some Internet commenters lashed out with misplaced xenophobic rage after a Vermont lawmaker unveiled a proposal to add a Latin motto to accompany the state’s English dictum, “Freedom and Unity.”

Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia County) introduced legislation to add the official motto, “May the 14th Star Shine Bright,” or “Stella Quarta Decima Fulgeat” in Latin, in Vermont at the suggestion of a middle-school student.

“Vermont used to make its own coins and on that coin, called a Harmon cent, was that Latin language which we are now seeking to have brought forward into the 21st century and have a Latin motto,” said Benning.

Unfortunately, when a local media outlet covered the story and posted it to Facebook last month with the headline “Should Vermont Have an Official Latin Mott?” some people mistook the dead language for the geographic region to the nation’s south where Spanish is the prevailing tongue.

Hilarity ensued and it quickly became difficult to discern sarcasm from outright ignorance.

Here’s a collection of some comments left on the post:

  • “NO! We are American…”
  • “NO NO NO!! Do we have a korean or japanese or russian or german????”
  • “Why ????????? were Americans!!!!”
  • “This is America, we speak American here!”
  • “ABSOLUTLY NOT!!!! sick and tired of that crap, they have their own countries”
  • “Take two tacos and call me in the morning …”
  • “How do you say idiotic senator in spanish? I’d settle for deport illegals in spanish as a back up motto”
  • “Seriously?? Last time I checked..real vermonters were speakin ENGLISH.. NOT LATIN..good god…”
  • “No, I think maybe a Muslim motto would be more appropriate. Are you kidding me?”
  • “it should say ‘Go back where you came from”
  • “My question is, are we Latin, or are we Vermonters? Alright ten, English it is…..”
  • “This is America! Not Mexico.

By the time other commenters began catching on to the confusion, sarcasm dominated with comments like, “We don’t need any of them Romans taking our jobs!!!”

To be fair, there were also ton of comments arguing — rightly — that Benning’s proposal is a total waste of legislative time.

Democrats again dredge up Clintonesque gun magazine ban legislation

Despite failing to enact significant gun control measures when they still had a majority in the Senate, ranking Democrats are again pushing for new restrictions on the 2nd Amendment. The latest proposal from Democrats on the Hill is a familiar foe of firearms enthusiasts: a ban on so-called high capacity magazines.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.) introduced their Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act in both legislative chambers Thursday with the support of the Newtown Action Alliance and a handful of powerful fellow Democratic lawmakers.

The bill would revive a portion of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 that disallowed the importation, sale, manufacture, transfer or possession of firearm magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds.

Language in the bill reaches beyond traditional magazines, also prohibiting any “belt, drum, helical feeding device, or similar…” firearm implement that can be modified to hold more than 10 rounds.

The tubular magazines common on many .22LR caliber rifles would not be covered by the ban.

The legislation would allow for magazines made before its implementation to be grandfathered in with the provision that federal funds from the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program will be used for aggressive buyback campaigns.

“There is no place in our communities for ammunition magazines designed for military-style shootouts, which have been used inside Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Aurora, in Fort Hood, and in Tucson — and it is well-past time for Congress to listen to the American people and put this high-capacity magazine ban back in place,” Menendez said of the legislation.

Supporters of the legislation contend that limiting the capacity of firearm magazines could lower the number of casualties in future mass shooting tragedies.

The Newtown Action Alliance, in a statement, said that shooters currently have access to high capacity magazines which “significantly increased a shooter’s ability to kill large numbers of people quickly.”

“In Newtown, we know firsthand the devastating damage that is wrought when high capacity-magazines are paired with semi-automatic assault weapons,” the group said. “The Sandy Hook shooter used a 30-round high-capacity magazine to fire 154 shots in less than five minutes, killing 20 innocent children and six educators. The lives of 11 children were spared when the shooter changed his magazine on that tragic day.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said that the legislation will save American lives by “depriving mass murderers of a key means of massacre.”

Despite the Democrats’ claims, research conducted by criminology professor James Alan Fox and Monica J. DeLateur in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy suggests that a magazine ban is unneeded and would do little to improve the outcomes of mass shootings.

The researchers wrote:

Only 14 of the 93 incidents examined by this gun-control group involved assault weapons or high-capacity magazines. Of course, limiting the size of ammunition clips would at least compel a gunman to pause to reload or switch weapons, potentially giving others a brief window of opportunity to escape or even intervene.

However, such an initiative would likely affect only newly produced accessories. Unfortunately, there is an ample supply of large-capacity magazines already in circulation for anyone determined enough to locate one.

The current magazine ban effort has little chance of success in the current congressional climate — but that Democrats continue to reintroduce such legislation bears significance with GOP-control always only an election away.

Lawmakers want Congress to be able to work from home

Two House lawmakers have introduced a bill urging Congress to investigate ways for lawmakers to vote and attend committee meetings virtually when they aren’t in Washington.

The resolution sponsored by Reps. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) asks House lawmakers to consider ways innovative ways for lawmakers to “implement hearings, conduct debate, meet, and vote” in the virtual realm. It also asks the Committee on House Administration to identify best practices for conducting legislative business via the Internet.

“[R]ecent advances in technology that would make a virtual Congress possible, such as electronic voting, video conferencing, and secure telephones and Internet connections,” the resolution says.

The lawmakers cite post 9/11 “security challenges of gathering government officials in one specific place” and the potential for cutting lawmaker travel costs among reasons to explore a “virtual Congress.”

“[G]overnment operating costs are far too high, and new, innovative savings must be found,” the resolution states.

Pearce and Swalwell also argue that the plan would give lawmakers and staffers to better stay in touch with the constituents who send them to Washington.

“[M]any congressional staffers do not spend time in the district for which they were hired to work, and are less in touch with the needs of constituents,” the resolution states.

Read the full resolution here.

The lawmakers’ proposal isn’t a new idea.

J.H. Snider, a longtime advocate of using technology to make lawmakers more accessible to the public, argued in a speech several years ago that there is a constitutional argument for embracing the idea of he calls an e-Congress.

“The founding fathers had a clear notion that they wanted American democracy based on a system of checks and balances. They were fearful of having an individual branch of government become too powerful. Clearly, if Congress cannot convene, then the system of checks and balances breaks down. Power would tend to concentrate in the congressional leadership. But more troubling, it would concentrate in the President of the United States,” Snider said at the time.

Scholars rank Kerry last in diplomatic effectiveness

A survey of leading academics in international relations fields ranks current Secretary of State John Kerry as the least effective top diplomat the nation has seen in the past 50 years.

The 2014 Ivory Tower survey, a project of Foreign Policy magazine and the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) project, provides insight to how 1,615 scholars studying international relations view the world’s current state of diplomatic affairs.

The scholars appear none too impressed with Kerry’s two-year tenure, placing him dead last in a ranking of the “most effective U.S. secretary of state of the past 50 years.”

Henry Kissinger landed in the top spot on the list with 32.2 percent of the vote and the No. 2 spot was dominated by “don’t know.”

Here’s how other modern secretaries of state stacked up:

  1. James Baker: 17.71 percent
  2. (tie) Madeleine Albright: 8.70 percent
  3. (tie) Hillary Clinton: 8.70 percent
  4. George Shultz: 5.65 percent
  5. Dean Rusk: 3.51 percent
  6. (tie) Warren Christopher: 1.53 percent
  7. (tie) Cyrus Vance: 1.53 percent
  8. Colin Powell: 1.07 percent
  9. Condoleezza Rice: 0.46 percent
  10. Lawrence Eagleburger: 0.31 percent

It’s worth noting that the academics interviewed also listed global climate change as the “most important” foreign policy issue facing the U.S. today. Perhaps they’d like someone to send Al Gore to Foggy Bottom?

Read the full results.

Paul comes under attack from ‘Audit the Fed’ critics

Sen. Rand Paul’s effort to carry his father’s torch in calling for an audit of the Federal Reserve has a better chance of success in Congress this year than ever before. And, predictably, critics of the plan are beginning to shriek wildly about how Paul’s version of monetary transparency could drive the nation to economic ruin.

Paul reintroduced his “Audit the Fed” last week in the House with the help of 30 co-sponsors, including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and a lone Democrat, Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.

The legislation’s supporters say it would grant the Government Accountability Office the authority to audit the Federal Reserve and provide congressional oversight for the central bank’s credit facilities, securities purchases and quantitative easing activities.

“A complete and thorough audit of the Fed will finally allow the American people to know exactly how their money is being spent by Washington. The Fed’s currently operates under a cloak of secrecy and it has gone on for too long. The American people have a right to know what the Federal Reserve is doing with our nation’s money supply. The time to act is now,” Paul said in a statement regarding the bill.

Similar incarnations of Paul’s legislation have passed in the House in previous years but always stalled in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — despite thinking “we should audit the Federal Reserve” — simply never allowed the legislation to be brought up under his rule. With the Republican takeover in Congress, Paul’s legislation has a real chance of growing legs in 2015 — that, at least, appears to be the case, based on the number of critics shrieking about the dangers of auditing the central bank.

The Hill newspaper reported that a number of regional Fed officials have spoken out, claiming that Paul’s bill has the potential to do irreparable damage to the nation’s economy.

“Who in their right mind would ask the Congress of the United States — who can’t cobble together a fiscal policy — to assume control of monetary policy?” Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, told the paper.

Fisher added that Paul was only trying to create a boogeyman with the help of economic  outsiders  who view the Fed as “some kind of combination of Hogwarts, the Death Star, and Ebenezer Scrooge.”

The central bank’s critics, Fisher also said, haven’t taken the time to examine “the copious amounts of reports and speeches and explanations we emit.”

Charles Plosser, who heads up the Philadelphia Fed, said that it was a bad idea to give Congress the power “to audit and question monetary policy decisions in real time.”

“This runs the risk of monetary policy decisions being based on short-term political considerations instead of the longer-term health of the economy,” Plosser told The Hill.

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen has vowed to fight Paul’s legislation and is scheduled to testify before Congress later this month.

Fed officials aren’t the only group challenging the audit legislation. But, as The Hill points out, they could be one of the most dangerous enemies to a potential 2016 presidential contender: “The twelve presidents of the Fed’s regional banks are well connected, their boards of directors stacked with influential business leaders.”

Anti-audit rhetoric has also begun cropping up outside the halls of central bank buildings, primarily on the opinion pages out national media outlets.

“Not this again,” Washington Post opinion writer Catherine Rampell recently wrote of Paul’s bill before warning that the senator’s plan is “extraordinarily dangerous to the health of the U.S. economy.”

She explained:

The problem is, despite the name, this bill is not really about transparency. It’s about subjecting more of the Fed’s day-to-day operations — including policy deliberations in which Fed officials, for now, feel free to speak candidly — to the scrutiny of politicians who can pick discussions apart to score political points as policy is being set in real time. The likely result is a chilling effect on open dialogue, as Fed officials try to avoid making any comments in meetings that might lead to harassment from Congress, and more sensitivity to short-term political pressures.

And in USA Today, Business columnist Darrell Delamaide described “Audit the Fed” as “a Trojan horse designed to impose political control over monetary policy” and the result of personal philosophical beliefs in the Paul family “that some have characterized as paleo-conservative.”

He wrote:

[I] it’s not an economist seeking to breach the sacrosanct concept of central bank independence.

Instead, an ophthalmologist-turned-senator is carrying on the crusade begun by his father, an obstetrician-turned-congressman, to hobble and eventually eliminate what they see as a pernicious modernity — an issuer of a currency not tied to gold.

It isn’t true that Paul’s current legislation has anything to do with gold. The only conceivable reality in which it would lead to a gold standard is a pretty bad one — one that involves economic collapse due to total loss of American faith in the Fed.

Journalists: Yeah, we think the government is spying on us

Nearly 7 in 10 U.S. journalists believe they may have been spied on by the U.S. government. More say that simply being in the newsgathering business is probably enough to increase the chances that intelligence agents will dig through an individual’s calls and emails.

Former CBS reporter Sheryl Attkisson slammed the Obama administration last week during congressional testimony, saying that the current president subjects U.S. reporters “to the kind of surveillance devised for enemies of the state.”

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

About the same time headlines of the former reporter’s harsh remarks broke, an Inspector General report which sought to assail Attkisson’s credibility began working its way through the news cycle.

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

But whether the government actually spied on Attkisson or not appears to make little difference in how a majority of U.S. journalists feel about the federal government’s relationship with the news trade.

In a survey of 454 media figures, Pew Research found that 68 percent “believe that the U.S. government has probably collected data about their phone calls, emails or online communications.” Eight in 10 of those surveyed said that merely being a reporter increases the likelihood of becoming the subject of a government intelligence-gathering operation.

A majority of the reporters told Pew that the threat of surveillance hasn’t prevented the pursuit of stories.

“Just 14% say that in the past 12 months, such concerns have kept them from pursuing a story or reaching out to a particular source, or have led them to consider leaving investigative journalism altogether,” Pew reported.

But many reporters have changed the way they work, Pew noted: “Nearly half (49%) say they have at least somewhat changed the way they store or share sensitive documents, and 29% say the same of the way they communicate with other reporters, editors or producers.

“And among the 454 respondents who identify as reporters, 38% say that in the past year they have at least somewhat changed the way they communicate with sources.”

The findings are particularly relevant considering that many of the journalists surveyed work primarily in beats pertaining to national security, government, foreign affairs, science and technology.

Pew pointed out that a majority of those polled are familiar with key tech security concepts:

* 77% are familiar with what constitutes “metadata”

* 76% are familiar with the difference between HTTP and HTTPS sites

*65% are familiar with proxy servers

*59% are familiar with two-factor authentication

*37% are familiar with digital threat modeling

In other words, these aren’t the paranoid opinions of knee-jerk bloggers.

Even as government meddling is a matter of concern in the news world, it failed to rank No. 1 with a majority of journalists.

Pew reported: “Legal action against journalists was most commonly named as a second place priority; 56% place it second. And while just 4% see electronic surveillance as the biggest of these challenges, another 28% place it second on their list. Most revealing, 61% of respondents rank hacking of journalists or news organizations as the smallest challenge of the four, making it the clear lowest priority.”

The biggest problem reporters say they face is a lack of resources in newsrooms.

Read Pew’s full report here.

Who reads your email?

If government snoops wanted to read a letter you retrieved yesterday from your mailbox, they’d need to show you a warrant. But if you have emails that’ve been sitting in your email inbox for more than 180 days, an investigator could be reading them right now.

A bipartisan duo of House lawmakers is trying to change that.

Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), along with 223 co-sponsors, reintroduced the Email Privacy Act on Wednesday.

The legislation would require police to get a warrant before searching Americans’ email and other documents or items stored digitally in the cloud with an update to the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

“The last time Congress updated our email privacy laws, we were two years removed from the release of the first Macintosh computer,” Yoder said in a statement. “It’s time Congress modernized these outdated statutes to ensure that the rights protected by the Fourth Amendment extend to Americans’ email correspondence and digital storage.”

The federal government currently argues that electronic communications older than 180 days are the digital equivalent of trash at the curb and, thus, fair game for warrantless searches.

Yoder told Roll Call that he believed most Americans assume email conversations are as private as phone calls and text messages.

“And the law should catch up and treat it the same way,” he said.

While the privacy legislation has hefty support and a Senate companion bill sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), there’s no promise of passage. Polis and Yoder introduced the same legislation last year with 272 co-sponsors and the bill never made it to the House Judiciary Committee for markup.

The Securities and Exchange Commission was largely responsible for urging lawmakers not to vote on the previous version of the email privacy bill. As a civil regulatory agency the SEC lacks the power to obtain warrants and relies heavily on subpoena enabled email snooping in its investigations of American businesses and individuals.