Pervy TSA agents in Denver allegedly used screening system to enable groping of ‘attractive male passengers’

A TSA agent pats down a passenger in this screenshot from a YouTube video.

A local news investigation at Denver International Airport appears to have uncovered a perverse misuse of standard TSA screening practices that allegedly afforded a male TSA agent the opportunity to touch “attractive male passengers” in their most private of places.

Denver-based CBS4 News’ investigation appears to have uncovered enough evidence to make the news outlet confident in some pretty bold assertions:

A CBS4 investigation has learned that two Transportation Security Administration screeners at Denver International Airport have been fired after they were discovered manipulating passenger screening systems to allow a male TSA employee to fondle the genital areas of attractive male passengers.

It happened roughly a dozen times, according to information gathered by CBS4.

… Although the TSA learned of the accusation on Nov. 18, 2014 via an anonymous tip from one of the agency’s own employees, reports show that it would be nearly three months before anything was done.

Lurid stuff. CBS4 looked over law enforcement reports and discovered that, in 2014, a male screener told one of his co-workers that he “gropes” men who go through his screening line, if he finds their looks appealing. From that incident report:

He [the screener] related that when a male he finds attractive comes to be screened by the scanning machine he will alert another TSA screener to indicate to the scanning computer that the party being screened is a female. When the screener does this, the scanning machine will indicate an anomaly in the genital area and this allows (the male TSA screener) to conduct a pat-down search of that area.

There’s more involved in the TSA agents’ nuts-and-bolts manipulation of the screening process, which you can read in detail in the original report.

As with so many of these stories of workaday government employee corruption and abuse, we don’t get names. And it looks as though firing is as severe a punishment as any of the employees is likely to receive. There’ll be no pursuit of criminal charges — at least, unless a victim comes forward.

“Earlier this month a prosecutor from the Denver District Attorney’s Office was asked to review the case,” CBS4 reports, “but she declined to press charges because there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction and no victim had been identified.”

Judicial Watch claims evidence of ISIS camp eight miles from U.S. border

Columbus, New Mexico, a town across the border from the Mexican state of Chihuahua, is reportedly the target of an ISIS cell “for easy access to the United States.”

Nonprofit government watchdog Judicial Watch (JW) released a seemingly well-informed report Tuesday alleging Mexican authorities have discovered at least two terrorist staging “camps” in the west Texas/southern New Mexico border region.

JW claims its sources confirm that both locations bear evidence of having been used by terrorists affiliated with ISIS. Those sources “include a Mexican Army field grade officer and a Mexican Federal Police Inspector,” the report states. It’s not clear from the report whether either of the alleged camps is active or has been abandoned.

Although the ISIS connection is the report’s most tenuously supported claim — at least given the limited information JW presents to establish such a link — the terrorist intent of the campsites’ occupants is evident.

Here’s an extended passage from the JW report:

The exact location where the terrorist group has established its base is around eight miles from the U.S. border in an area known as “Anapra” situated just west of Ciudad Juárez in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Another ISIS cell to the west of Ciudad Juárez, in Puerto Palomas, targets the New Mexico towns of Columbus and Deming for easy access to the United States, the same knowledgeable sources confirm.

During the course of a joint operation last week, Mexican Army and federal law enforcement officials discovered documents in Arabic and Urdu, as well as “plans” of Fort Bliss — the sprawling military installation that houses the US Army’s 1st Armored Division. Muslim prayer rugs were recovered with the documents during the operation.

… According to these same sources, “coyotes” engaged in human smuggling — and working for Juárez Cartel — help move ISIS terrorists through the desert and across the border between Santa Teresa and Sunland Park, New Mexico. To the east of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, cartel-backed “coyotes” are also smuggling ISIS terrorists through the porous border between Acala and Fort Hancock, Texas. These specific areas were targeted for exploitation by ISIS because of their understaffed municipal and county police forces, and the relative safe-havens the areas provide for the unchecked large-scale drug smuggling that was already ongoing.

There’s not a lot of corroboration out there from other sources — yet — but you can read JW’s full report here.

Lerner reportedly asked investigators to drop ‘targeting’ angle in IRS probe

If everything was on the up-and-up when the IRS was outed for using politics as a basis for discriminating against conservative groups, then why would Lois Lerner (allegedly) ask investigators to drop the “targeting” angle of their inquiry?

Last week, Washington Examiner featured an email from January 2013 in which Lerner treated with the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) not to seek a motive behind the tax enforcement agency’s heavy-handed dealings with conservative nonprofit groups during President Obama’s re-election campaign.

“We feel your folks are being too narrow in their view and have decided that because of the language on the earlier BOLO [be on lookout] list regarding Tea Party, everything that followed was tainted,’ Lerner wrote to TIGTA’s Troy Patterson. “They seem to believe that if a case was initially sent to the advocacy group, but ultimately determined to be an approval, that our action in putting it into the advocacy group in the first place is incorrect, and illustrates ‘targeting.'”

The sensible question, then, is “What else would it illustrate?” Lerner’s ready answer seems to be “ineptitude.”

In the same email, Lerner went on to suggest that the whole scandal stemmed from her own administrative languor, a comparatively benign, motive-less bureaucratic sin lacking in discriminatory malice.

Lerner wrote that she was “willing to take the blame for not having provided sufficient direction initially, which may have resulted in front line staff doing things that appeared to be politically motivated,” but that she was “not on board that anything that occurred here shows that the IRS was politically motivated in the actions taken.”

If that sounds even remotely plausible, remember how this scandal broke to the public: Lerner broke it in a bit of frustrated stagecraft — a planted-question ruse intended to offer Lerner and other implicated IRS officials an opportunity to control the unfolding narrative on their terms before an impending IG report could seal their fate.

“The Internal Revenue Service, apparently determined to get out ahead of an inspector general report critical of its handling of tax exemptions for Tea Party groups, came up with a plan,” USA Today reported at the time. “Lois Lerner, the official responsible for the tax-exempt division, would publicly apologize in response to a question at the American Bar Association conference in Washington.”

Not that it would have worked, of course, but the scheme was outed within days of Lerner’s “apology” by then-IRS commissioner Steven Miller, who confessed to a House committee that the whole thing was staged.

Again, if there’s no discrimination, no targeting — in short, no motive — then why stage a moment of contrite revelation in the first place? And why go to the trouble of beseeching TIGTA investigators to stop looking for evidence of a motive, if there’s none to be found?

“It is unusual for the subject of an investigation to plead their case so directly with the inspector general,” PJ Media’s Rick Moran recently observed. “But the [Lerner-TIGTA] email also shows that Lerner was well aware of the problems in her office with targeting and was looking for a break from the IG in reaching his conclusions.

“… The more we read of [the] Lerner emails, the less the bumbling bureaucrat she looks and the more the devious, duplicitous manager she becomes.”

Maryland more or less abducts ‘free-range’ siblings, leave parents guessing

The Maryland couple targeted by police for their “free-range” parenting style got a major scare over the weekend: Their kids were picked up by strangers while walking home, alone, from a playdate.

Who were these “strangers?” The cops.

In a weird circularity of events, the police gave the Meitivs cause to suspect the very foul play that had justified earlier warnings by law enforcement for the couple to curb their hands-off parenting practices. The police picked up their two children, ages 10 and 6, and placed them in the custody of Maryland Child Protective Services — without informing the parents what they’d done.

For two hours, the Meitivs had no idea what had happened to their kids. Here’s how Reason’s Lenore Skenazy summarized it:

Danielle Meitiv, the Maryland Mom who lets her children play outside by themselves — despite the government’s ridiculous demands — just called me. She and her husband were on their way to the Child Protective Services Emergency Crisis Center. Why?

The police picked up the kids while they were outside again sometime Saturday afternoon, and this time the cops took them without telling their parents.

The kids, ages 10 and 6, were supposed to come home at 6:00 p.m. from playing. At 6:30 p.m., Danielle says, she and her husband Sasha were pretty worried. By 8:00 p.m., they were frantic. Only then did someone from the CPS Crisis Center call the parents and tell them that the police had picked the children up.

The Meitivs appear to be under no illusions about the risks associated with allowing their children to roam without constant supervision. As previous stories have made clear, their “free-range” approach is not indicative of a neglectful or lazy abdication of parenting responsibility. Rather, it’s a conscientious decision — a calculated risk they believe is worth taking in order to raise independent and capable offspring in an increasingly buffered and cautious society.

“I think it’s absolutely critical for their development — to learn responsibility, to experience the world, to gain confidence and competency,” Danielle Meitiv told The Washington Post last month.

Reason reports that Alexander [Sasha] Meitiv, the father, was raised in the former Soviet Union “under complete state control” and recognizes “how cruel bureaucracy can be,” according to his wife.

The family was eventually reunited after their weekend ordeal, but only after Alexander and Danielle Meitiv signed an agreement promising the state they would not leave their children unattended. In an earlier encounter — one apparently instigated after a stranger called the authorities to report seeing two unattended children walking on a sidewalk — the parents had been compelled to make a similar promise, and they were placed on a CPS watch list for five years.

Obama ranks climate change among ‘primary’ threats to national security

It’s a good thing we’re living through the sort of peaceful times that aren’t fraught with terror caliphates salivating over opportunities to strike at the West, or with Cold War-revivalist regimes rearing their bellicose heads.

Such tranquility as we presently enjoy allows our president to worry about the real threats to our national security — threats like climate change.

President Obama tackled that particular menace head on last week, telling an audience at Howard University that he and the Department of Defense are on the same page when it comes to waging war against the vicissitudes of climate.

CNS News quoted part of Obama’s speech:

The Pentagon has already said that climate change is a primary national security threat that we’re going to face, and we are working with the Department of Defense to start preparing for that and mitigating for that … And a lot of our international policy and national security policy is centered around the very real concerns that that’s going to raise.

… [W]hat we know is that the temperature of the planet is rising … And we know that in addition to the adverse impacts that may have when it comes to more frequent hurricanes, or more powerful storms, or increased flooding, we also know that it has an impact on public health.

You may hew to the settled-science belief that the climate is changing or you may not, but Obama’s speech asks Americans to indulge his administration in a new assumption in its war-on-climate-change policy: invoking “public health” as a rhetorical analogue for “national security.”

While the federal side of government remains preoccupied with inserting climate change into any policy nook where nothing else is taking up space, at least one state is leaving climate politics out of its workaday policy functions.

The Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands reportedly voted last week to prohibit employees from even mentioning climate change in their official communications, because, as one Republican member told Bloomberg, it’s “not a part of our sole mission.”

Rand-slamming press conference goes quiet in South Carolina as cameras fail to show

What was supposed to be a Democratic National Committee-led counterstrike against Rand Paul’s presidential announcement instead turned into an echo chamber. Only one reporter showed up for a South Carolina press conference intended to criticize Paul’s candidacy.

Acting on a strategic initiative laid down by the DNC, the South Carolina Democratic Party announced a press conference at a waterfront resort in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, in order to answer Paul’s anticipated Palmetto State announcement that same day.

They waited for media RSVPs to roll in. And then waited. Oddly, only one reporter would come — one representing the conservative/libertarian-slanted website Breitbart.

“After RSVP’ing and checking in with plans to show up, this reporter made his way to the event to see what the local Democrats had to say and maybe ask a question or two,” Breitbart’s Matthew Boyle wrote:

Arriving around 10:15 a.m., this reporter was the first — and eventually would be the only — person to show up from the entire media, and the only person to show up who wasn’t there as part of the official Democratic Party delegation despite the fact that several reporters were in South Carolina from national media outlets. The rest of the five or six people at the event were Democratic Party activists, including Chairman Harrison. Two college students, who were aligned with the College Democrats and were supposed to speak if there was a press conference, walked in and sat down in the chairs.

With all that preparation threatening to go to waste, the focus shifted. And the busted press conference turned into something quite different — an antagonistic roundtable group gripe in which Boyle questioned the ragtag Democrats at length about why they don’t like Paul as a presidential candidate. You can read more about how that turned out here.

Maybe the MSM folks have more important things to do at the moment than to attend a presser whose only aim is to dis Paul. After all, there’ll be plenty of time for that kind of stuff once Hillary Clinton is officially in the race.

That’s probably why, on Thursday, a representative sampling of MSM types was hanging out at John Podesta’s house, chillin’ with some beers. Clinton’s campaign team had asked them to come over so they could put their heads together to ground-game her announcement plan.

We’re guessing Breitbart didn’t have to worry about RSVP’ing that one.

Did a big donation help Secretary Clinton switch sides on Colombian trade deal?

A new report suggests that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have used her position to reward a foreign megadonor to her family’s charity by reversing her opposition to a trade agreement between the U.S. and Colombia.

Specifically, the report tracks Clinton’s stance on a free trade pact “liberalizing the exchange of goods between the countries” over the same timeline as the Clinton Foundation accepted millions of dollars in donations from Frank Giustra, head of Colombian oil company Pacific Rubiales. Giustra is also a Clinton Foundation board member who has reportedly donated more than $130 million to the foundation and its projects throughout his life.

International Business Times broke the Clinton-Colombia story Wednesday, noting an interesting synchronicity between the chain of events within Clinton’s State Department and the timeline of Giustra’s donation to the Clinton Foundation.

From the report:

When workers at the country’s largest independent oil company staged a strike in 2011, the Colombian military rounded them up at gunpoint and threatened violence if they failed to disband, according to human rights organizations. Similar intimidation tactics against the workers, say labor leaders, amounted to an everyday feature of life.

For the United States, these were precisely the sorts of discomfiting accounts that were supposed to be prevented in Colombia under a labor agreement that accompanied a recently signed free trade pact liberalizing the exchange of goods between the countries. From Washington to Bogota, leaders had promoted the pact as a win for all — a deal that would at once boost trade while strengthening the rights of embattled Colombian labor organizers. That formulation had previously drawn skepticism from many prominent Democrats, among them Hillary Clinton.

Yet as union leaders and human rights activists conveyed these harrowing reports of violence to then-Secretary of State Clinton in late 2011, urging her to pressure the Colombian government to protect labor organizers, she responded first with silence, these organizers say. The State Department publicly praised Colombia’s progress on human rights, thereby permitting hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to flow to the same Colombian military that labor activists say helped intimidate workers.

… The details of these financial dealings remain murky, but this much is clear: After millions of dollars were pledged by the oil company to the Clinton Foundation — supplemented by millions more from Giustra himself — Secretary Clinton abruptly changed her position on the controversial U.S.-Colombia trade pact. Having opposed the deal as a bad one for labor rights back when she was a presidential candidate in 2008, she now promoted it, calling it “strongly in the interests of both Colombia and the United States.” The change of heart by Clinton and other Democratic leaders enabled congressional passage of a Colombia trade deal that experts say delivered big benefits to foreign investors like Giustra.

Giustra came forward with assistance in raising $1 million in additional donations for the Clinton Foundation’s Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative only months after the trade deal was approved. The trade deal had originally been a non-starter for the Obama administration because the White House — along with Clinton — believed it would exacerbate the sort of human rights violations that concerned the governments of western trading partners.

“[A]n IBTimes review of public State Department documents shows that as the Giustra-Clinton foundation relationship deepened, Hillary Clinton and the State Department never criticized or took action against the Colombian government for alleged violations of labor rights at Pacific Rubiales,” the report notes. “Instead, Clinton’s State Department issued certifications in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 declaring that Colombia has been complying with human rights standards that are required under federal law for continued U.S. military aid to the country.”

But human rights groups have alleged that the on-the-ground labor scene in Colombia told a very different story during that same period. The U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan, a sine qua non addendum the U.S. added to the trade agreement in order to obtain assurances that conditions would improve, was largely overlooked, according to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a U.S.-based human rights watchdog.

“Since 2011, WOLA has continuously informed the U.S. Congress, State Department, Department of Labor and USTR [U.S. Trade Representative] of grave labor violations committed against the USO labor union in the camps of Pacific Rubiales,” a WOLA officer told IBTimes. “Despite the existence of the U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan, our concerns have not been addressed. Pacific Rubiales continues to violate the labor rights of its workers and it impedes independent union affiliation. Colombian and U.S. authorities are doing little to stop it.”

In swing states, Hillary sags as Rand ascends

Hillary Clinton’s approval has taken a hit among likely voters in swing states, as the names of early announcers from the political right begin to enter the mix.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday, Clinton’s onetime lead over other likely and announced presidential candidates has shriveled since February, when Quinnipiac last sampled voters.

“Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s lead is wilting against leading Republican presidential candidates in three critical swing states, Colorado, Iowa and Virginia, and she finds herself in a close race with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky in each state,” the poll summary states. “… In head-to-head matchups, every Republican candidate effectively ties her in Colorado and almost all Republicans effectively tie her in Iowa.”

In Iowa, Paul edged Clinton 43 percent to 42 percent; in Colorado, Paul outpaced Clinton 44 percent to 41 percent. Clinton still holds on to a polling lead over Paul in Virginia, where 47 percent of voters said they prefer her, compared with Paul’s 43 percent. However, Clinton polled higher in Virginia than any of the potential GOP candidates. She beat out Jeb Bush in Virginia by a 47 percent to 40 percent margin.

Elsewhere, other GOP presidential hopefuls generally polled well against Clinton, except for current Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in the Iowa poll. Iowa voters favored Clinton over Walker by a margin of 44 percent to 40 percent.

Quinnipiac lays the blame for Clinton’s sagging poll numbers to voters’ unwillingness to trust her.

“Ominous for Hillary Clinton is the broad scope of the movement today compared to her showing in Quinnipiac University’s mid-February survey,” the university observed. “It isn’t just one or two Republicans who are stepping up; it’s virtually the entire GOP field that is running better against her.

“That’s why it is difficult to see Secretary Clinton’s slippage as anything other than a further toll on her image from the furor over her e-mail.”

The Quinnipiac poll sampled likely voters from March 29 through April 7, questioning just below 1,000 people in each of the swing states.

‘American Sniper’ screening canceled for making University of Michigan students ‘feel unsafe’

Responding to pressure from a group of students and complainers that reportedly numbered fewer than 300, the University of Michigan decided Tuesday to cancel a screening of “American Sniper,” a film dramatizing the career of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.

The university’s Center for Campus Involvement released a statement explaining its quick decision, stating the “impact of the content was harmful, and made students feel unsafe and unwelcomed at our program,” according to The College Fix. The movie had been slated for a Friday screening.

The protest originated with a letter to the university from “Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) and Muslim students on campus,” according to the Fix. The group accuses the university of sanctioning anti-Muslim “propaganda” by showing the film.

“Chris Kyle was a racist who took a disturbing stance on murdering Iraqi civilians,” the collective letter stated. “Middle Eastern characters in the film are not lent an ounce of humanity and watching this movie is provocative and unsafe to MENA and Muslim students who are too often reminded of how little the media and world values their lives.

“The University of Michigan should not participate in further perpetuating these negative and misleading stereotypes.”

Since canceling the movie, the university has fielded waves of petitions calling for its reinstatement.

“If the University prevents a movie like this from being shown, it promotes intolerance and stifles dialogue and debate on the subject and goes directly against the atmosphere UMix [UM’s student union] purports to provide,” read a petition that reportedly made the rounds on campus Wednesday. “As adults at a public university, we should have the option to view this movie if we so choose and have the opportunity to engage on the topics it presents to come to our own conclusions on the subjects. Students should be trusted to interact responsibly on a movie no different than any other film depicting the lives of the troops at war, such as Saving Private Ryan.”

The university responded by agreeing to reschedule the screening for a different on-campus venue at a later date, accompanied by “an appropriate educational panel discussion.”

California to ask residents to snitch on neighbors suspected of wasting water

The California Water Resources Board is expected to unveil an online venue that allows residents anonymously to tell on people and businesses in their community whom they suspect of wasting water.

The measure represents one prong in a multifaceted state government response to a severe water shortage in population centers in coastal areas, the Inland Empire and Central Valley.

According to CBS Sacramento, the program is intended to bolster flagging efforts to persuade water customers to voluntarily reduce their consumption.

“California officials say residents aren’t doing enough to conserve water, and now state officials want residents to report their neighbors and business owners who waste water,” CBS reports.

“The controversial system to ‘snitch’ was created after a report found statewide February was the worst conservation month since they started keeping track last July, with residents only cutting use by 2.8 percent.”

Perhaps the state can volunteer itself as an example for how to go about the nosy business of tattling.

Amid the threat of government fines for wasting water during the earlier days of the water crisis last fall, one intrepid resident with a video camera took to the Internet to share an example of how one receiving station for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power was, ahem, conserving its water.

Now it’s sexist to call Hillary only by her first name

Forget Madonna, Marilyn, Liz and Oprah. While it may be a testament to those icons’ power and fame that they can be recognized simply by their first names, it’s apparently a sexist degradation to Hillary (does she still use “Rodham”?) Clinton to presume the same standard should apply to the former first lady.

Don’t let the fact fool you that there’s literally a “Ready for Hillary” PAC, either. The pros get to call this their way; the antis, not so much. If you don’t have anything nice to say about Hillary … Clinton … don’t say you weren’t warned if her supporters start calling out your overt sexism the next time you forget to use her full name.

“[S]ome Americans, mostly women, don’t think the former secretary of state, U.S. senator from New York and first lady should be called by just her first name,” McClatchy reported Tuesday in a story that made liberal use of the “some people say” journalistic device.

“As Clinton gets ready to kick off her campaign for the White House, some wonder whether calling a female candidate by her first name reinforces gender stereotypes,” McClatchy wrote.

Nothing else in the report credits a specific pro-Hillary group with making that assertion; rather, the story cites this review of Clinton’s 2008 campaign messaging, relying on a collection of anecdotes to flesh out the varying opinions of folks on the street.

But there’s at least one group <a “nofollow” href=”http://personalliberty.com/things-female-reporter-cant-write-hillary-clinton-without-accused-sexism/” target=”_blank”>out there that’s attempting a similar co-opting of words’ meaning, threatening to out as sexist any reporter who uses descriptors like “calculating” and “polarizing” to describe Clinton.

Hillary Clinton, that is.

S.C. cop killing shows police wield immense power over life and freedom

Pretty much anyone with access to an American media source is aware, by now, of the video showing the moment when a 50-year-old man took his last steps on Earth — shortly after encountering a local cop during a routine traffic stop in South Carolina.

Walter Scott was the intended target of at least eight shots allegedly fired by Michael Slager, a 33-year-old North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer. Scott, who allegedly attempted to flee the officer on foot after being stopped for a taillight violation, had already been zapped by a stun gun and showed no signs of surrendering. The video appears to show that Scott was far more interested in escaping custody than in doing harm to the cop attempting to apprehend him.

Either way, Scott was hit by the gunfire and he died. Whatever gunshots landed on Scott’s body, they were fired from behind him as he ran away from the officer. It’s more than fair to say he was defenseless against the use of deadly force.

The cop is white; Scott is black. And mainstream news outlets are predictably excited over a new, tragic piece of fodder to feed their appetite for race-baiting stories of titillating and violent inequalities. In this case, blaming race may be a right call; then again, maybe it’s not. No one knows what’s in the head of Slager, the alleged shooter. He’s been charged with murder; and if he’s indicted, much more of what motivated him to allegedly kill Scott will come to light.

But unless and until that information comes forth, there’s a far more immediate concern that everyone, no matter their color, can share: The cultural and systemic status quo in 2015 almost shrugs at the fact that routine law enforcement actions can rapidly become coroner calls. In the U.S., law enforcement — even regulation enforcement — is implicitly endowed with a state sanction to use deadly force.

“[R]unning from an officer doesn’t result in the death penalty,” Scott family attorney Chris Stewart told CNN, perhaps speaking of the world that should be — instead of the world that is.

Picking up on a story in The New York Times that brings racial identity into its lead sentence, PJ Media’s Michael Walsh observed:

Leave it to the New York Times to instantly racialize the incident; after all, the Narrative must be advanced at every opportunity. But this story is larger than that. Because, in this era of militarized, trigger-happy police, what officer Slager [allegedly] did to poor Walter Scott could happen to any of us

… How? Simple. Give the police near-total immunity for their behavior as “public servants,” instruct them to bring in money by just about any means necessary, rely on the conservatives to support almost any excess, enjoy the blessing of the state and federal courts, and provide them with enough weapons — not just guns, but tasers, nightsticks, huge flashlights, etc. — to take down and out anyone who resists. We can sort out guilt or innocence later, possibly posthumously. Joseph K. had a better chance at justice in Frank [sic] Kafka’s The Trial.

Too often in the U.S., victims of police violence never get anywhere near a trial — either the officer’s or their own.

Homeland Security promises ‘close tabs’ on ISIS fighters back on U.S. soil

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson assured a television audience Sunday that the government is closely watching the movements of an estimated 40 Americans who traveled to ISIS-controlled territory to help expand the Islamic State and have since returned home.

Johnson told CBS News’ Leslie Stahl that DHS is aware of more than 100 Americans who have left to join ISIS — including the 40 who have safely returned to the United States and have resumed their private activities.

“As I understand it, of the 180 Americans who have gone overseas to fight in Iraq and Syria, 40 have come back. I assume you’re keeping close tabs on those 40?” Stahl clarified with Johnson during a segment that aired Sunday on “60 Minutes.”

“We have, in fact, kept close tabs on those who we believe have left and those who’ve come back. A number have been arrested or investigated, and we have systems in place to track these individuals. But you can’t know everything,” Johnson replied.

The flow of Americans to Iraq and Syria — and then back to their U.S. homes — has been going on for months, as a September 2014 report in the New York Post makes clear. Since the trend began, federal law enforcement officials have told the press it is following a strategy of observing them, without always apprehending them, once they’re back on U.S. soil.

“The FBI is keeping a watchful eye on those who have returned home after serving with the barbaric terrorists, who have taken over large portions of northern Iraq and Syria, the administration says,” the Post reported last fall.

A law enforcement source told the Post that the Americans appeared not to be motivated by ideology. Rather, the source described them as “thrill seekers” who have no desire to “come back and blow up America.”

However, the evidence that Islamist ideologues are using the U.S. as a recruitment and staging area for domestic terror plots and overseas fighting isn’t merely circumstantial. Federal officials have charged four men — most recently an Uzbek citizen dwelling in New York City — with an array of crimes centering on an alleged scheme that aimed to funnel “material support,” including people, to the Islamic State.

Failing that, the conspiracy allegedly sought to carry out terror attacks on U.S. soil.

If one of the men would not be able to obtain transport to Syria to join ISIS, for example, he would instead “just go and buy a machine gun, AK-47, go out and shoot all police,” according to a CNN review of a criminal complaint against one of the group’s members.

Utah town wants to collapse dad’s front-yard cardboard box fort

A father in Ogden, Utah, thought it would be fun to take a bunch of 5-by-4-foot cardboard boxes and build his two kids a fort in the front yard. So he did, and now the city is breathing down his neck to have the fort torn down for violating local building codes.

Not content to let Ogden resident Jeremy Trentelman take the fort down at his leisure — or wait for the weather to inevitably render the temporary structure useless — the city wants the fort to come down fast. Trentelman received a notice that he has until April 13 to disassemble the fort or pay a fine.

Trentelman, who built the fort earlier this month, told Yahoo! News the flap over the fort “is just ridiculous.”

“I thought I was just building a fort out of cardboard, tape and a little love, but apparently it’s making a statement,” he said. Trentelman works as a floral designer, and sourced the boxes “from the home and garden center where he works,” according to the report.

The idea was to entice his kids — 3-year-old Max and 2-year-old Story — to learn to love the outdoors instead of getting hooked on passive indoor entertainment. “I had warm, positive memories from my childhood about forts, and thought it was a great way to spark imagination, away from the TV,” he explained.

But the city views the boxes as a violation of building codes, since, according to its interpretation of the ordinance, they’re nothing more than “waste materials or junk” cluttering up Trentelman’s front yard.

Trentelman appears circumspect about the whole affair, though — perhaps because, with a temporary structure, the stakes are lower than they’d be if he’d erected something costlier and more permanent. He’s planning to extend the life of the fort — which, according to Buzzfeed, has already begun to suffer from the erosive effects of outdoor existence — until April 13, just to prove a point.

“It probably would have come down tomorrow,” Trentelman told Buzzfeed for a weekend story. “Now to make sure that it survives, I have been stockpiling some cardboard.”

Missouri may ban junk food, steak and lobster for food stamp users

A Missouri state legislator is seeking support for a bill that would end food stamp recipients’ ability to purchase processed snack foods and sodas, as well as some “luxury” foods, in the Show-Me State.

Republican Missouri State House Rep. Rick Brattin’s bill would amend current state law to prevent participants in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from using their benefits to buy “cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood or steak.”

The goal, Brattin told Kansas City’s KMBC, is to “reduce the luster of the [food stamps] program and it will have the effect of a drawback because the ability to buy anything and everything under the sun will no longer be there.”

Some opposition to the bill’s ban on seafood and steak compelled Brattin to promise a revision in the language “so that low-cost nutritious items are not banned,” KMBC reported.

Currently, all foods that bear nutrition labels are fair game for food stamp purchases in Missouri. According to Washington Examiner, the USDA has been reluctant to release information that reveals SNAP participants’ buying habits nationwide — evidently in an effort to protect large food retailers from negative publicity.

“Information on how many food stamp dollars are redeemed at which stores has long been deemed a ‘trade secret’ by a U.S. Department of Agriculture that critics believe views large retailers, not taxpayers, as its clientele,” the Examiner reported last August.

The USDA has been embroiled since last year in a legal debate over how transparent it can be — or refuse to be — with SNAP sales data, arguing that divulging such information could compromise retailers’ proprietary marketing strategies.

But small retailers have shown little resistance to the idea of sharing their SNAP figures, arguing that Americans should know how public funds are being used by the beneficiaries who receive redistributed wealth.

After the USDA asked for input from retailers last year on whether SNAP data really does rise to the level of a “trade secret,” the response “turned into a soapbox for clerks at small markets who said they are tired of selling unhealthy food to people,” according to the Examiner.

“I think the public should be aware of the SNAP benefit spending. We get people in here that buy just candy and soda,” wrote Annette Griffin, owner of a Missouri convenience store.

“If it is a government program, and not affecting the safety or security of the American people, then the data should be provided for public review,” wrote another service station owner from Yucca, Arizona.

The food stamp flap prompted the Examiner to send observers out into the Washington, D.C., area to collect anecdotal information on what kind of foods SNAP users appeared to be buying with their benefits.

“Days of monitoring food stamp transactions in D.C. by the Washington Examiner found that virtually all purchases were for soda and snacks like Ho-Hos and Little Debbies,” it reported Monday.

“Out of hundreds of transactions, only one person bought bread, and no one bought vegetables.

“No one was observed buying lobster or filet mignon, either — though a nearby seafood mart that specialized in lobster did advertise that it accepted the stamps.”

The EPA’s Clean Water Rule is now in the White House’s hands

The Environmental Protection Agency has sent along to the Obama White House the final draft of its contentious overhaul of the way U.S. bodies of water are defined. A review of the rule from the White House Office of Management and Budget comes next, and then we finally get to see what’s included — and what’s left out — of the final version.

Based on a message EPA director Gina McCarthy blogged Monday, chances are the changes won’t placate the many who argued, during the rule’s comment period, that the EPA was about to gain micromanagement-level controls over seasonal streams, creeks and ponds on private property. McCarthy was short on offering specifics, but she used language that suggests the EPA’s emphasis hasn’t shifted.

“Since it’s not final yet, we can’t speak to every detail,” she wrote, before offering to “broadly share some of the key points and changes.” Here’s her rundown:

  • Better defining how protected waters are significant. A key part of the Clean Water Rule is protecting water bodies, like streams and wetlands, which have strong impacts downstream — the technical term is “significant nexus.” We will respond to requests for a better description of what connections are important under the Clean Water Act and how agencies make that determination.
  • Defining tributaries more clearly. We’ve heard feedback that our proposed definition of tributaries was confusing and ambiguous, and could be interpreted to pick up erosion in a farmer’s field, when that’s not our aim. So we looked at ways to refine that definition, be precise about the streams we’re talking about, and make sure there are bright lines around exactly what we mean.
  • Providing certainty in how far safeguards extend to nearby waters. The rule will protect wetlands that are situated next to protected waterways like rivers and lakes, because science shows us they impact downstream waters. We will provide a clear definition about what waters are considered adjacent waters.
  • Being specific in the protection of the nation’s regional water treasures. We heard concerns that the category we called “other waters” in the rule was too broad and undefined. We’ve thought through ways to be more specific about the waters that are important to protect, instead of what we do now, which too often is for the Army Corps to go through a long, complicated, case by case process to decide whether waters are protected.
  • Focusing on tributaries, not ditches. We’re limiting protection to ditches that function like tributaries and can carry pollution downstream — like those constructed out of streams. Our proposal talked about upland ditches, and we got feedback that the word “upland” was confusing, so we’ll approach ditches from another angle.
  • Preserving Clean Water Act exclusions and exemptions for agriculture. We will protect clean water without getting in the way of farming and ranching. Normal agriculture practices like plowing, planting, and harvesting a field have always been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation; this rule won’t change that at all.
  • Maintaining the status of waters within Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems. Some state and local governments raised questions about waters within these permitted systems. We listened carefully as we did not intend to change how those waters are treated and have considered ways to address this concern. We will also continue to encourage the use of creative solutions like green infrastructure and low-impact development, as many of these communities have advocated.

It’s too early to tell how significant the changes in defining “protected” waterways and catchments will be. And, at any rate, most of this rule’s heft will be felt only insofar as the prevailing administration is willing to torture its meaning. A zealous EPA under a zealous regulatory regime can wield the same statutory power far differently than can a more laissez-faire administration that focuses only on large-scale or egregious abuses and violations.

The Hill reported Monday that a public airing of what the final rule contains could still be months away.

Chris Christie pardons Pennsylvania mom busted for concealed carry in New Jersey

Shaneen Allen, a Pennsylvania mother of two who didn’t know she was entering a “gotcha” zone when she drove across the New Jersey state line with a handgun in her purse, is clear of all charges following an 18-month legal ordeal in which a prosecutor had originally hoped to pursue harsh punishment as a caution to others.

Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pardoned Allen last week “for all criminal charges and indictments arising from the arrest occurring October 1, 2013,” wiping the slate clean. Allen had been charged with unlawful possession of a handgun and unlawful possession of hollow nose bullets. If convicted, she would have had a felony on her (spotless) criminal record and would have served a mandatory minimum of three years in prison under New Jersey’s sentencing law.

Allen, a black woman with two small children, obtained her weapon after enduring a pair of robberies. National Review wrote an excellent summary of her ordeal back in July of 2014:

A single mother of two young children, Allen works more than one job and as a result leaves her home at odd times of the day. After two robberies made her aware of her vulnerability, she became convinced that she should be prepared to defend herself and her family, and resolved to do something about it. Which is to say that Allen bought her firearm, and obtained her concealed-carry permit, not to commit crimes but to prevent them. This has failed to move the prosecutor, Jim McClain, an overzealous man who has routinely declined to use the considerable latitude with which he has been entrusted by the state.

Under New Jersey’s rules, McClain could have declined to press any charges against Allen, recognizing that she was guilty of little more than an innocent mistake. He could have treated it as merely a misdemeanor and sent her to municipal court. He could have permitted her to enroll in one of the diversionary programs that New Jersey has established for peaceful first-time offenders, thereby sparing her both the prison time that will take her away from her children and the felony conviction that will almost certainly destroy her career in medical work. Instead, he has sought punishment to the fullest extent of the law: in this instance, a three-year mandatory minimum jail sentence for illegal possession of a firearm, and an extra year or more for possession of illegal ammunition. This is a travesty of justice.

You may have seen McClain’s name in other news — he’s the New Jersey prosecutor who took the lenient path with NFL running back Ray Rice, who was captured on video in February of last year violently striking and knocking out his current wife in an Atlantic City hotel elevator.

Allen entered New Jersey in order to attend a surprise birthday party for her 3-year-old son. Her gun never left her purse during her ill-fated trip. She had jumped through every requisite hoop in order to legally possess the weapon in Philadelphia. She’d passed an NRA handgun safety course. But she didn’t know that New Jersey doesn’t recognize other states’ concealed carry permits. She spent 40 days in jail before posting bail.

Christie did not remark on features of the case, other than to observe that the state parole board had “made an investigation of the facts and circumstances” surrounding Allen’s request for the pardon.

The usual apologists are not even trying to spin the miserable March jobs report

As weak as the monthly jobs reports have been for a long while, last month’s report is bad enough that the usual suspects aren’t even attempting the typical spin.

According to monthly data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. labor force added a slight 126,000 jobs in March, even as the rate of participation in the total labor force fell, once again, to 62.7 percent. That’s the lowest rate of participation since 1978, and it’s one that the U.S. economy has repeatedly flirted with throughout President Obama’s second term.

“Five times in the last twelve months, the participation rate has been as low as 62.8 percent; but March’s 62.7 percent, which matches the participation rate seen in September and December of 2014, is the lowest since February of 1978,” CNS News reported Friday.

March’s figures also mark the first time in the nation’s history that the number of qualified people who have opted out of the labor force has exceeded 93 million. BLS considers people not to be participating in the labor force if they have not actively sought, held or obtained employment during the most recent four-week period.

While Obama’s Secretary of Commerce blamed the poor report on bad weather, Obama himself blamed globalism and a strengthening dollar.

“Because the economies in Europe are weak, the economies in Asia are weak, the dollar is becoming stronger because a lot of people want to park their money here, they think it’s safer, but that makes our exports more expensive,” Obama told a Kentucky audience. “So we’ve got to stay hungry.”

The BLS numbers also revealed a decline in income for Americans across all economic segments — except those in the top 20 percent — in 2014. The top 20 percent of earners’ annual incomes managed an average of .09 percent growth from July of 2013 to June of 2014. The national average income — including those in the top 20 percent — declined by .09 percent over the same period.

Federal encroachment gambit may be pillar of a Ted Cruz presidential platform

Promising to curb the federal government’s overreaching approach to land management issues may be key to extending Sen. Ted Cruz’s appeal to voters in western states, continuing a theme the Texas Republican began hammering during last year’s standoff between the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.

The strategy could be crucial to helping distinguish Cruz from a crowded field of GOP presidential aspirants, particularly in western states where opposition to heavy-handed federal land-use policy doesn’t always emanate from only one side of the political divide.

“This is something that has been a perennial issue in the West since it became part of the United States,” geography professor James McCarthy told The Hill in a recent story highlighting Cruz’s presidential hopes. “It’s a staple of western politics to complain about that.”

The political upside to poking a stick in the eye of the federal government is, for candidates, appealing — primarily because it makes for good “soft” rhetoric until a candidate chooses to disclose his specific blueprint for reforming the system.

In other words, Cruz and other potential candidates aren’t likely to announce how they’d change the federal government’s land management policies anytime soon, because they’re able to get plenty of mileage from speaking generally.

In Cruz’s case, that doesn’t necessarily mean he lacks ideas.

“Should the senator seek to build a firewall for his campaign in Nevada, he could tout his work on land issues in the Senate, such as his sponsorship of amendments that would prohibit the Interior Department and Forest Service from owning more than half the land in any state,” The Hill noted.

Still, it’s unlikely that Cruz or any other successful candidate will ever attempt to make good on ambitious campaign promises that suggest millions of acres of protected lands could one day be taken away from the Feds and placed under the control of the states.

That kind of promise “will help him in the primaries … but he’ll never have to deliver on it,” McCarthy said.

D.C. drops appeal of court’s concealed carry ruling

Washington, D.C., will stop trying to appeal a court decision that had struck down the city’s unconstitutional ban on the concealed carry of handguns. That’s according to Karl Racine, the attorney general for municipality.

Racine said the city will instead attempt to bolster the controversial law its leaders passed as a replacement for the one struck down by the court last year. Critics of the new law believe it, too, is unconstitutional because of the numerous constraints it places on residents who seek to obtain a concealed carry permit.

The city formerly had banned handguns outright, but a federal court found that ban unconstitutional and ordered the city to craft a new law that would afford Washington residents a means of legally possessing handguns in public.

City leaders responded with a “may issue” permitting ordinance that burdens the applicant with the task of proving to police that he has a demonstrable need to defend himself. Additionally, under the ordinance, the city makes no other provision for justifying to the government the “need” to possess a handgun other than to satisfy a right to self-defense.

Very few people have obtained a concealed carry permit under the new law, and its most vocal critics continue to draw attention to ways in which the city appears to be stonewalling the permitting process.

Nevertheless, the city is pinning its hopes for litigation-free gun policy on its new ordinance. “We need to focus our energies not on litigating old laws, but defending new ones that our leaders enacted in good faith to comply with court rulings while still protecting public safety,” Racine said in a statement.

The new law is already being challenged in a pair of lawsuits, one of which accuses the city of failing to comply with the order U.S. District Judge Frederick Scullin handed down in July of last year.

Treasury Department claims redesigned website is more transparent — as search features disappear

A recent overhaul to a federal website designed to inform the public about how its money is spent has stripped the site of its most robust search features. But that hasn’t stopped the Treasury Department from touting the redesign as a move toward greater transparency — one of the Obama White House’s signature initiatives.

The Treasury Department blogged Wednesday that USASpending.gov has sustained “improvements … in order to make it easier to review existing federal spending data.” Even though Treasury titled that blog posting “Transparency Refresh,” a recent report at the Washington Free Beacon points out that the department has, in fact, dealt the comparative transparency of the old site a significant blow.

“[T]he new site has dramatically limited the ability to easily access how taxpayer dollars are spent in real time and eliminated searching for keywords and sorting government grants and contracts by date,” wrote the Beacon’s Elizabeth Harrington. “Detailed information is only available in bulk.”

By law, USASpending.gov must report on all federal contracts that exceed $3,000. Unlike the old site, the new version does not allow users to view a contract in detail unless he knows the federal grant ID number that corresponds to the contract.

Treasury’s Fiscal Assistant Secretary, David Lebryk, explained Wednesday in a blog post that the reworked site “provides simple searches with user-friendly titles for data elements,” but did not explain that simplifying queries to be “user friendly” evidently was done at the expense of specificity.

“The new site does not allow users to search multiple years simultaneously, by multiple agencies, or for keywords,” the Beacon observed. Without that capability, it’s not possible for a visitor to the site to identify a specific expenditure; rather, a user can get only a general picture of how funds have been used over a range of time or across an entire accounting unit.

In other words, wrote Harrington, identifying a specific government contract using the new site is “virtually impossible, akin to finding a needle in a haystack.”

On average, Americans must work past April 24 to clear tax burden for 2015

The Tax Foundation offers this handy conceptual statistic every year. And it seems that every year the day that working Americans finally begin to keep what they earn is pushed farther away from Jan. 1 and closer to Christmas.

This year’s “Tax Freedom Day” — the day in the calendar year when the average American earner is clear of his total tax burden — is April 24. That’s one day later than the “Tax Freedom Day” for 2014, continuing a trend of tax encumbrance that shows no sign of permanently reversing.

The Tax Foundation uses available data to pinpoint the average tax obligation for all Americans who pay federal, state and local taxes. For 2015, earners will have to advance 114 calendar days into the year — assuming they continue earning for the entire year — before their wages stop going to various governmental collectors and start going into their wallets.

Here’s how the Tax Foundation explains it:

Tax Freedom Day is the day when the nation as a whole has earned enough money to pay its total tax bill for the year. Tax Freedom Day takes all federal, state, and local taxes and divides them by the nation’s income. In 2015, Americans will pay $3.28 trillion in federal taxes and $1.57 trillion in state and local taxes, for a total tax bill of $4.85 trillion, or 31 percent of national income. This year, Tax Freedom Day falls on April 24, or 114 days into the year.

While the concept of projecting a “paid in full” date for government taxes might seem like a gimmick, it offers a useful way to compare the ratio, on average, of America’s total tax burden with earners’ ability to generate revenue. The farther into a calendar year the “Tax Freedom Day” falls, the greater the proportion of earnings (on average) American workers must pay to the government before (legally) holding on to what’s left.

In fewer words, the later “Tax Freedom Day” falls on the calendar, the worse the news is for those who like to keep what they earn. Who wants to work for nearly one-third of the calendar year just to reach the turning point — when everything they earn thereafter finally begins to accrue to their benefit?

The Tax Foundation retroactively applies its “Tax Freedom Day” designation to each calendar year dating all the way back to 1900. While there are some fluctuations, the general trend over the past 115 years has steadfastly progressed (regressed?) toward increasingly later dates in the calendar year before earners can, on average, begin claiming the money they earn as their own.

“The latest ever Tax Freedom Day was May 1, 2000, meaning Americans paid 33 percent of their total income in taxes that year,” the Tax Foundation observes.

But compare that with this:

A century earlier, in 1900, Americans paid only 5.9 percent of their income in taxes, meaning Tax Freedom Day came on January 22. The last time Tax Freedom Day was this late [circa 2015] in the year was 2007 (April 25).

Punish the whistleblowers while they’re young

G.B. Shaw is credited for popularizing a wry truth: Youth is wasted on the young. As we age, most of us tend to reach a point when that observation makes complete sense, but perhaps it should come with a corollary: Maturity is wasted on the old.

What does that mean? It means that adults who are supposed to have achieved some perspective on how to usher along new generations of people ought to know — and ought to do — better than they often do. Even worse is when adults screw things up so royally — precisely while they’re in the act of trying really hard to do what they myopically perceive as the right thing.

Take the case of 11-year-old Brianna Cooper of Ft. Pierce, Florida, a fifth-grader who saw a teacher allegedly abusing her fellow students and recorded, on her cellphone, what transpired.

Brianna’s video got the teacher fired. But it also led to a knee-jerk reaction that got Brianna suspended for five days. Only after a public outcry over the unfairness of punishing a child for blowing the whistle did the school reverse that decision.

West Palm Beach’s WPTV reported:

Instead of receiving praise, Cooper says she was suspended for five days when the school said her video was illegal.

“I thought I did the right thing, but I guess I just got suspended,” Cooper said.

Cooper says one of her science teachers was being mean to a student, so she took out her cellphone and started recording her teacher.

In the recording, Cooper says you hear the teacher say, “Don’t let size fool you. I will drop you… You don’t know me, that’s all I’m saying. So, don’t give me no look.”

Cooper said the teacher had been mean to students before. She says she took the video to prove it.

It got a bit uglier, and then two things happened:

  1. The school opened an investigation and dismissed the teacher (whom administrators declined to name in their press release).
  2. Brianna was suspended, initially for violating the teacher’s expectation of privacy, according to the school. That’s an odd expectation, since students routinely record their teachers for the mundane and benign purpose of recalling their lectures.

Brianna’s mother, Cassie Faulkner, fought to have her daughter’s suspension overturned. She prevailed, but she said the entire incident conveys a bad message to young people whose sense of moral pragmatism is founded, in part, on observing how grown-ups react to adversity.

“It’s pretty much saying to students if you think something is wrong, don’t try and do anything about it,” Faulkner said.