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Rick Moran

Rick Moran is PJ Media's Chicago editor and Blog editor at The American Thinker. He is also host of the"RINO Hour of Power" on Blog Talk Radio. His own blog is Right Wing Nut House.
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Breaking: Three Dead in Shootings at Two Kansas City Jewish Centers

Sunday, April 13th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

This is absolutely ghastly — and on the eve of Passover.

A gunmen is in police custody after shootings at two Jewish Community Centers resulted in at least 3 dead and one teenage boy critically injured.

Kansas City Star:

Three people were killed Sunday when a gunman opened fire at the Jewish Community Center and a senior living facility in Johnson County.

Police arrested the suspected shooter outside Valley Park Elementary nearby by 2:45 p.m. He smiled and reportedly made anti-semitic statements as he was led away.

The victims were killed in gunfire at the center at 5801 W. 115th Street and the Village Shalom senior living facility 5500 W. 123rd St. about 1 p.m.

The gunfire at the west side of the Jewish Community Center came as hundreds of high school singers from across the metro area were expected to audition for the KC SuperStar contest and actors were rehearsing for a production of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“There were tons of kids because this was about to start at 1 o’clock,” said Ruth Bigus, the publicist for KC SuperStar.

Parents were gathered at a nearby fast food restaurant waiting for word while the campus was locked down.

Matt Davis was shopping for bar mitzvah suits with his son when he heard about the shooting at the Jewish Community Center, where his daughter was dancing. He headed to the center and saw the suspect, a heavyset man in handcuffs, being arrested at the school nearby. The man was smiling.

“I was wondering why is the guy smiling when he’s being arrested,” Davis said.

The unidentified suspect shouted “Heil Hitler” to reporters as he was led away by police.

What’s impressive is that there appeared to be well planned, perhaps even rehearsed emergency procedures for just such an eventuality:

With urgency — “Let’s go, let’s go!” — staff hustled about 60 people into a room where they were preparing to hold the SuperStars auditions, Nessel said.

“They did a great job,” he said. “It was not a panic, it was ‘We have a procedure here, let’s follow it,’ ” he said.

The community center staff kept the group informed as best they could. After about 15 minutes in the room, a worker came in and told them, “There’s been a shooting in the parking lot between here and Sprint. We’ll keep you on lockdown. You’re safe here. The police are on top of the situation,” Nessel recounted.

“That’s what you want to hear, that we’re safe,” he said.

Later, someone explained to them that the situation had been cleared up but said they had to stay a while longer while invesigators combed the area for evidence. In all, they were locked down for about an hour and a half.

It will be a melancholy Passover across the land this week.

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Obama Administration Files Brief Supporting Placement of Mount Soledad Cross

Sunday, April 13th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

The Department of Justice filed a brief with the Supreme Court indicating that it would support advocates who are fighting to keep the Mount Soledad Cross on federal land outside of San Diego. But Justice stopped short of endorsing a ruling by SCOTUS at the present time. Instead, they urged the high court to send the case back to the 9th circuit for further review.

However, if the lower court rules against the cross and the case ends up in the Supreme Court, the administration indicated that it would side with cross advocates.

At issue is whether the cross violates the separation between church and state because it sits on federal land. That land, purchased by Congress when the cross first came under threat, was designated a war memorial and the administration argues that for that reason, it is not an unconstitutional promotion of religion.

LA Times:

The administration’s position, sent to the court this week, means the high court will likely have to decide the fate of the San Diego cross, but not this year.

The cross atop Mount Soledad was erected in 1954, but it has been under legal attack since 1989. A decade ago, Congress tried to resolve the matter by taking possession of the land and declaring it a national memorial to honor veterans.

But several vets, including the Jewish War Veterans of the United States, sued, contending the Christian cross was a religious symbol.

The 9th Circuit agreed, and last year U.S. District Judge Larry Burns ruled the cross must come down. But he also put his ruling on hold while the government appeals.

Recently, several groups urged the Supreme Court to allow them to skip the 9th Circuit appeal. The high court has rejected similar requests in the past to intervene in the matter.

U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. advised against this procedural shortcut, noting there is no great urgency because the judge put his ruling on hold.

But he added the 9th Circuit’s earlier ruling was “wrong” and needs to be overturned, either by the appeals court or by the Supreme Court.

“The United States remains fully committed to preserving the Mount Soledad cross as an appropriate memorial to our nation’s veterans,” he said.

This is one of those happy circumstances where political calculation goes hand in hand with doing what’s right. It will please veterans groups as well as religious liberty advocates while putting some subtle pressure on the 9th circuit if SCOTUS, as expected, sends it back to the lower court.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule later this year.

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For Unproven Theory, Scientists Propose Unproven Solutions

Sunday, April 13th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

What’s even more dubious than claims of catastrophic warming? Claims that scientists know what to do about it.

The IPCC released a report warning that unless a “rapid shift” to green energy is undertaken, we’re all going to die…or, something.

And even that may not be enough. The group is saying that we “might even need to enlist controversial technologies that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

We’ll get started right away on those gigantic atmospheric scoops to remove all those offensive greenhouse gases.

It’s more of the same from the IPCC, with a little more hysteria to get our juices flowing.

USA Today:

“There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual,” said Germany’s Ottmar Edenhofer of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who co-chaired the IPCC report, the third in a series released in the past year. The Working Group III report, written by 235 scientists from 57 countries, looks at myriad ways to fight climate change and serves as a potential road map for policymakers who plan to negotiate a new climate treaty next year in Paris.

“If we do nothing, temperatures will continue to rise,” co-author Leon Clarke, a scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said from Berlin after wrapping up a week of discussions there to finalize the report’s wording. “It’s not necessarily a phaseout of fossil fuels,” he said, but rather “a phaseout” of power plants and other facilities that don’t capture the carbon they emit.

Holding emission increases to 3.6 degree Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial levels — a goal sought in international agreements — will require “heroic efforts” and a “massive” shift in the energy sector, says another U.S. co-author, David Victor, professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego. “It’s doable in theory … but it will be extremely difficult.”

Despite efforts to mitigate climate change, the report says global greenhouse gas emissions rose 2.2% annually in the past decade — nearly twice the annual rate of 1.3% from 1970 to 2000. It says fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes, which rose as the global population and economy grew, accounted for 78% of the emissions’ increase between 1970 and 2010. It says about half of cumulative man-made carbon emissions since 1750 has occurred in the last 40 years.

The IPCC report says delaying action will only escalate the costs of transitioning to energy that emits less or zero greenhouse gases. It doesn’t endorse any single approach but cites the value of planting forests, boosting energy efficiency and — by 2050 — at least tripling the share of energy from zero-carbon sources such as nuclear, solar and wind.

It also points to more ambitious measures such as “bio-energy with carbon capture and storage” or BECCS, in which power plants produce fuel by burning biomass — trees, plant waste, wood chips — then capture and store the CO2 emissions underground. Victor says BECCS holds appeal for the future because it produces energy while actually reducing emissions.

So we denude the planet of trees to save us from global warming? What’s not to like?

In truth, there is no proof — experimental proof, mathematical proof, or proof via any known scientific process — that any of these “solutions” will work. Models may be suggestive that reducing emissions will mitigate climate change, but do we invest trillions of dollars into marginal technologies based on modelling? Given the IPCC’s track record of models predicting temperature rise, perhaps we ought to try a little harder to gather hard evidence of possible success before going off half-cocked.

Besides, reducing man’s imprint on the climate may not be enough. Perhaps the scientists could invent a machine that shuts down volcanoes. It would probably be easier than trying to run a modern economy on solar and wind power.

But this is not about the economy. It’s about control — and enriching people like IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri who is massively invested in green energy schemes.

All in a day’s work for the IPCC.

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Firefight Between Ukraine Government Forces and Pro-Russian Rebels

Sunday, April 13th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

There has been a firefight in the Eastern Ukraine city of Slaviansk as pro-government forces sought to dislodge pro-Moscow militias from a police station. Groups of armed men sympathetic to Russia have taken over government buildings throughout the Eastern Ukraine in an attempt to force an overreaction by Ukraine’s government that would give Vladimir Putin an excuse to invade.

The Kiev government reports dead on both sides in Slaviansk.

Reuters:

One Ukrainian state security officer was killed and five wounded on the government side in what interior minister Arsen Avakov called Sunday’s “anti-terrorist” operation.

“There were dead and wounded on both sides,” Avakov said on his Facebook page, adding that about 1,000 people were supporting the separatists.

The Russian news agency RIA reported that one pro-Moscow activist was killed in Slaviansk in clashes with forces loyal to the Kiev government. “On our side, another two were injured,” RIA quoted pro-Russian militant Nikolai Solntsev as adding.

The separatists are holed up in the local headquarters of the police and of the state security service, while others have erected road blocks around Slaviansk, which lies about 150 km (90 miles) from the Russian border.

However, details of the fighting remain sketchy. A statement from the administration of the eastern Donetsk region indicated the security officer may have been killed between Slaviansk and the nearby town of Artemivsk. Putting the number of wounded at nine, it said “an armed confrontation” was going on in the area.

Kiev accuses Moscow of trying to deepen violence and chaos in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic it once ruled. The Kremlin, it says, wants to undermine the legitimacy of presidential elections on May 25 which aim to set the country back onto a normal path after months of turmoil.

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Kiev was “demonstrating its inability to take responsibility for the fate of the country” and warned that any use of force against Russian speakers “would undermine the potential for cooperation”, including talks due to be held on Thursday between Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union.

With Russian troops still massed on Ukraine’s border, President Obama has once again warned the Russians against military action. Vice President Biden will visit Ukraine for the second time in 3 months later in April.

As pro-Russian activity rose in eastern Ukraine over the weekend, the White House voiced concerns that Russia might once again advance past Ukrainian borders.

Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Kiev on April 22, the White House announced, to meet with leaders in and outside of the government to reinforce American support and talk about Ukrainian security. Last month, Biden traveled to Europe and met with leaders of NATO members Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to reassure them after Russia’s initial incursion into Crimea.

President Obama’s National Security Council warned that similar developments were seen in Crimea before Russian forces moved in — and warned Russian President Vladimir Putin not to invade.

“We are very concerned by the concerted campaign we see underway in eastern Ukraine today by pro-Russian separatists, apparently with support from Russia, who are inciting violence and sabotage and seeking to undermine and destabilize the Ukrainian state,” NSC spokeswoman Laura Lucas Magnuson said in an e-mail. “We saw similar so-called protest activities in Crimea before Russia’s purported annexation. We call on President Putin and his government to cease all efforts to destabilize Ukraine, and we caution against further military intervention. We will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

Multiple news outlets reported pro-Russian demonstrations in eastern Ukraine, and ABC’s Dragana Jovanovic and Alexander Marquardt reported a number of government buildings were taken over by apparent militiamen wearing mismatched camouflage in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk.

Putin would prefer to gobble up a few more Ukrainian provinces by forcing the Kiev government to hold plebiscites in several Russian majority regions. But putting pressure on the Ukraine government by unleashing the pro-Russian militias could easily backfire if Kiev overreacts or goes too far in their effort to regain control of the restive eastern provinces. Putin could “justify” his military intervention if that were to occur, but the Ukraine government appears not to be rising to the bait.

What seems clear is that Putin appears willing to play the long game — waiting out the Kiev government who will eventually be forced into capitulation.

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Obama’s America: Children Liable for the Government Debts of Their Parents

Saturday, April 12th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Hit and Run’s J.D. Tuccille calls the practice “feudal” — requiring the children of parents who owe money to the federal government to pay the bill years later. If so, don’t be surprised if the Obama administration brings back the rack. Or perhaps they won’t go all Medieval on us and just reinstall the stocks as corporal punishment.

One of the truly unique and exceptional things about America in the late 18th century was that the sins of the father could not be visited on the son. That tradition stood — until now. And as Tuccille explains, it was a two step policy change that brought this stinkburger about:

The new multi-generational debt collection practice required a two-step policy change. One was the elimination of the 10-year statute of limitations on debts to the federal government. The other involves the Social Security Administration insisting that if tiny tots indirectly benefited from public assistance collected by adults decades ago those now-grown ex-tots are responsible for any overpayments the feds may claim.

The elimination of the statute of limitations may, on its face, allow the government to go after individuals responsible for incurring debt, but the longer time horizon means accurate records can be hard to come by. According to Fisher, “Social Security officials told Grice they had no records explaining the debt.”

How do you collect a debt that you can’t prove exists? Through the sheer grinding weight of the state, of course.

Going after the next generation—which never made the decision to incur a debt to begin with—really is a massive break from previous policy.

Most financial websites advise heirs that they are responsible for parents’ debt only if they cosigned loans, held joint accounts, or shared community property with the deceased. Beyond that, the debt adheres to the debtor’s estate and may devour any inheritance. The estate belonged to the debtor and passes to heirs only after bills are paid. But the debt stops there.

What’s interesting about this policy is that other federal agencies aren’t following it; only the Social Security Administration and Treasury Department seem to be engaged in this generational theft. Others, like the FTC, aren’t enforcing the change.

In a Washington Post article, one victim of this astonishing policy tells her story:

A few weeks ago, with no notice, the U.S. government intercepted Mary Grice’s tax refunds from both the IRS and the state of Maryland. Grice had no idea that Uncle Sam had seized her money until some days later, when she got a letter saying that her refund had gone to satisfy an old debt to the government — a very old debt.

When Grice was 4, back in 1960, her father died, leaving her mother with five children to raise. Until the kids turned 18, Sadie Grice got survivor benefits from Social Security to help feed and clothe them.

Now, Social Security claims it overpaid someone in the Grice family — it’s not sure who — in 1977. After 37 years of silence, four years after Sadie Grice died, the government is coming after her daughter. Why the feds chose to take Mary’s money, rather than her surviving siblings’, is a mystery.

Across the nation, hundreds of thousands of taxpayers who are expecting refunds this month are instead getting letters like the one Grice got, informing them that because of a debt they never knew about — often a debt incurred by their parents — the government has confiscated their check.

I couldn’t find anything on this issue published before today. And yet, it’s apparently been a rule for 3 years. Why hasn’t this issue been challenged in court?

Grice found a lawyer willing to take her case without charge. Vogel is exercised about the constitutional violations he sees in the retroactive lifting of the 10-year limit on debt collection. “Can the government really bring back to life a case that was long dead?” the lawyer asked. “Can it really be right to seize a child’s money to satisfy a parent’s debt?”

But many other taxpayers whose refunds have been taken say they’ve been unable to contest the confiscations because of the cost, because Social Security cannot provide records detailing the original overpayment, and because the citizens, following advice from the IRS to keep financial documents for just three years, had long since trashed their own records.

In Glenarm, Ill., Brenda and Mike Samonds have spent the past year trying to figure out how to get back the $189.10 tax refund the government seized, claiming that Mike’s mother, who died 33 years ago, had been overpaid on survivor’s benefits after Mike’s father died in 1969.

“It was never Mike’s money, it was his mother’s,” Brenda Samonds said. “The government took the money first and then they sent us the letter. We could never get one sentence from them explaining why the money was taken.” The government mailed its notice about the debt to the house Mike’s mother lived in 40 years ago.

Are you getting the feeling that we’re living in Venezuela or some other banana republic rather than America? No due process. No explanation. Just intimidation and the realization that you would probably spend your life savings to fight for a couple of hundred or thousand dollars.

Welcome to the Transformed United States of America.

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Breaking: Bureau of Land Management Won’t Enforce Court Order Against Bundy Cows

Saturday, April 12th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

The Bureau of Land Management announced that it would not enforce a court order to round up cows owned by Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, effectively ending the siege at the southern Nevada ranch.

Associated Press:

“Based on information about conditions on the ground, and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public,” BLM Director Neil Kornze said.

“We ask that all parties in the area remain peaceful and law-abiding as the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service work to end the operation in an orderly manner,” he said.

The roundup began April 5, following lengthy court proceedings dating back to 1993, federal officials said. Federal officers began impounding the first lot of cows last weekend, and Bundy responded by inviting supporters onto his land to protest the action.

“It’s not about cows, it’s about freedom,” Utah resident Yonna Winget told ABC News affiliate KTNV in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“People are getting tired of the federal government having unlimited power,” Bundy’s wife, Carol Bundy told ABC News.

By Sunday, April 6, one of Bundy’s sons, Dave Bundy, was taken into custody for refusing to disperse and resisting arrest, while hundreds of other protesters, some venturing from interstate, gathered along the road few miles from Bundy’s property in solidarity. Dave Bundy was later released.

A spokesman for the Bundy encampment told ABC News roughly 300 protesters had assembled for the protest, while a BLM representative estimated there were around 100 people.

“We want a peaceful protest, but we also want our voices heard,” said Cliven Bundy’s sister, Chrisie Marshall Bundy.

Victory for Bundy? Not exactly. Perhaps the government will now do what they should have done in the first place instead of descending on an American citizen’s property with 200 armed agents.

If the issue is monetary — Bundy not paying grazing fees — then there is absolutely no reason the government can’t sit down with Bundy’s lawyer at a neutral site and negotiate while not under threat of a gun. Even if the issue is that poor, picked upon Desert Tortoise, accommodations can be made as well. The turtles don’t need 600,000 acres to thrive — but neither does Bundy need 600,000 acres to feed his cows.

When government chooses to intimidate instead of negotiate in good faith, they should expect this kind of resistance. I’m not sure it’s necessarily a good thing for citizens to threaten government officials, but the situation would never have gotten to this point if the government had treated its people as citizens instead of subjects to be bullied and pushed around.

The BLM may wait for things to die down and then return to enforce the court order. If they try the same tactics, it’s likely they’ll meet the same resistance. “It’s about the freedom of America,” said another of Bundy’s sisters, Margaret Houston. “We have to stand up and fight.” If the only thing they accomplish in the end is put the government on notice that citizens won’t sit still for this kind of bullying, something positive will have come out of this mess.

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We’re Number One…Again…Sorta

Saturday, April 12th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Gee…I guess that “smart diplomacy is beginning to show dividends after all.

According to Gallup, we’ve regained our position as the least hated world power in, well, the world. Bragging rights for being the most despised world power in the world goes to Russia, with China a close second.

Of course, none of the five entities — US, Russia, China, Germany, and the EU — get more than 46% approval in the annual survey, which makes the honor of leading the pack somewhat dubious. Still, what with the Ukraine, Syria, Obamacare, the economy, and all the other problems facing the administration, a little bit of not-so-bad-news can’t hurt.

The world felt a little better about U.S. leadership last year, giving it the highest global approval ratings out of five global powers, including Germany, China, the European Union, and Russia. For the seventh straight year, Russia had the lowest median approval ratings in the world.

Disapproval ratings of the world leaders essentially mirror the approval ratings, with the U.S. (24%) and Germany (20%) garnering the lowest median disapproval and China (29%) and Russia (31%) earning the highest disapproval. The leadership of the EU falls in the middle (26%).

Gallup asked residents in as many as 137 countries last year to say whether they approve or disapprove of the job performance of the leadership of the U.S., the EU, Germany, China, and Russia. Gallup has been tracking how the world feels about each of these international leaders since 2007, with the exception of the EU, which Gallup first measured in 2008. The image of U.S. leadership was the only one that improved between 2012 and 2013.

High Approval Ratings for All in Sub-Saharan Africa

Nearly all global powers evaluated receive their highest approval ratings from residents of countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The exception is Russia, which gets its highest marks from its neighbors (formerly Soviet Union countries). The high ratings in sub-Saharan Africa may at least be partly related to the amount of foreign aid that countries, such as the U.S., send to Africa. Researchers Benjamin Goldsmith, Yusaku Horiuchi, and Terence Wood found in a recent paper that certain types of foreign aid “positively affect[s] how publics in recipient countries regard the U.S.” The commercial foothold that countries like China are getting in the region might also help explain some of these high ratings.

But despite the overall high approval ratings, some global powers are losing ground in sub-Saharan Africa. The U.S., for example, saw its ratings in the region return to their lowest level since Gallup started tracking this in 2007.

The U.S. and Germany receive their highest approval ratings in the world from the same country — Guinea. Guinea also ranks among the top five highest scores for each of the five global powers. On the opposite end, the country that expresses the highest disapproval for nearly all global powers measured is the Palestinian Territories. Palestinians hold the highest disapproval rating in the world for the U.S., the EU, and Germany.

Maybe we should make the “Made in USA” designation on those aid containers a lot bigger.

The curious case of Germany, who appears on this list both as a single country and as part of the EU, raises some questions. When people give their opinion of the EU, are they told to forget that Germany is a part of it? Since some people believe the EU is Germany, why have a separate designation at all? Just one of the oddities of this poll.

With the anti-American propaganda machine working 24-7 all over the world, it’s surprising we garner as much approval as we do in this poll. Most of the thug regimes in the world use America as a whipping boy and scapegoat the US to account for their citizens’ miserable lives. And, of course, there’s a lot of envy of America and fear — both real and imagined — of our military and what it might do.

Ultimately, only some liberals and 13-year old girls care what other nations, caught in the grip of an unreasoning and illogical anti-Americanism, think about the US. That’s the price we pay for being a (declining) superpower.

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Iran Continues to Rub America’s Nose in 1979 Hostage Drama

Saturday, April 12th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Iran would never come out and say openly, “Here’s a reminder of how we humiliated you 35 years ago by seizing your embassy and holding your people hostage.” Even for the cloistered leadership of Iran, that would be too obvious.

But neither are they basking in subtlety when they name a participant in that terrorist act as UN ambassador.

On Friday, the US State Department denied a visa to Hamid Abutalebi, an admitted member of the group of students who masterminded the taking of our embassy in Tehran in 1979. Mr. Abutalebi was destined to become the new Iranian ambassador to the UN.

Now the Iranians are saying that there isn’t anyone else who can do the job and they plan on taking the denial of the diplomat’s visa to the UN.

Reuters:

“We have no replacement for Mr. Abutalebi and we will pursue the matter via legal mechanisms envisioned at the United Nations,” Abbas Araghchi, a senior Foreign Ministry official, was quoted by Iran’s official IRNA news agency as saying.

“Based on an agreement with the United Nations, America is bound to act according to its international commitments,” Araghchi said, as quoted by IRNA. The United Nations said it had no comment at this time on the U.S. decision.

American law allows the Washington government to bar U.N. diplomats who are considered national security threats. But Obama’s potentially precedent-setting step could open the United States to criticism that it is wielding its position as host nation to improperly exert political influence.

Araghchi is also a top negotiator in Iran’s talks with big powers on defusing a stand-off over its disputed nuclear activity. Iran has said Washington’s rejection of Abutalebi will not affect the talks, whose next round is set for May 13.

Abutalebi says he served solely as a periodic translator for the Islamist students who seized the U.S. embassy hostages, and he has since evolved into a moderate figure favoring, like President Hassan Rouhani, a thaw in Iran’s ties with the West.

Since an uproar among former U.S. hostages and U.S. lawmakers over Abutalebi broke out, Tehran has steadfastly stuck by its choice, describing him as a seasoned diplomat who has served in various capacities in Western countries.

“Dr. Abutalebi is one of the most capable, experienced and rational diplomats in Iran,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told IRNA. He served as Iran’s U.N. envoy for eight years before taking his current job last year following Rouhani’s election on a pledge to ease Iran’s international isolation.

In comments posted on Facebook late on Friday, Abutalebi said the U.S. move against him set a “wrong new precedent.”

Vahi Ahmadiah, a hardline conservative cleric who heads the Iranian parliament’s foreign affairs and national security committee, said: “America has no right to inject its issues into an international matter. It has shown (here) its hostile nature again. It uses every chance to hit out at the Islamic Republic.”

It was unclear whether the matter might play into the hands of hardliners in Iran’s unwieldy power structure. They are keen to discredit Rouhani’s campaign to improve long-hostile relations with the West, especially Washington, but have been held in check for now by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Get that? It’s America’s fault if nuclear talks blow up because so-called “hardliners” in Iran will gain the upper hand if Abutalebi is denied his UN seat. If the imaginary “moderates” in the Iranian leadership came up with this clear, deliberate insult by sending a hostage taker back to America in triumph, how much worse can the hardliners be?

Does anyone really believe that the Iranians weren’t fully cognizant of the ruckus that would ensue by naming Abutalebi to a post in America? This is a government that, 35 years after the event, still requires its citizens to scream “Death to America” after Friday prayers. The hostage taking has been raised to mythical heights by the leadership, making it the seminal event in the creation of the Islamic state.

But the Iranians are surprised at our attitude?

I call bullcrap on that. Subsequently, no nation should be forced to endure such a deliberate and calculated insult as that being offered by the Iranians. How would they like it if we named William Rogers, captain of the USS Vincennes that mistakenly shot down an Iranian passenger aircraft in 1988, as our ambassador to Tehran if relations are ever restored?

The Obama administration should ignore whatever diktat comes from the UN about granting this hostage taker a visa. Most of the UN would like to see the US humiliated anyway, so rather than play into their hands, the administration should send a message that such insults will not be tolerated.

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Can We Credit the New Conceal Carry Law in Chicago for Reduced Homicide Rate?

Sunday, April 6th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

The city of Chicago is seeing significantly fewer homicides and gun rights advocates are claiming that the new conceal-carry law is the reason.

Through March, there are 6 fewer homicides than this time last year, and 55 fewer than 2012. It’s the fewest number of homicides reported in the first three months of the year since 1958.

City officials disagree with the notion that the conceal carry law has anything to do with the reduction.

Citing newly-released police data, the Sun-Times reports Chicago’s first quarter of 2014 tallied the lowest number of homicides since 1958. The numbers reflect six fewer homicides than the same period in 2013, and 55 fewer homicides since the same time in 2012.

“This is now the sixth consecutive quarter that we’ve had significant reductions of murder and violence in the city,” Chicago’s Police Supt. Garry McCarthy told ABC Chicago in an interview Tuesday. “We’re pleased, but of course we have a lot of work to do.”

Though the homicide rate has improved from years past, the homicide total is already past 50 in the first three months of the year.

In the past weekend alone, there was one homicide and 13 shooting victims in a 36-hour span — largely on the city’s South and West Sides, the Tribune reports.

McCarthy acknowledged to ABC that even in crime-heavy areas where incidents are down, “perception lags to [the] reality of crime.”

“You don’t reduce the murder rate in Lincoln Park the way that you do in Roseland,” McCarthy said. “Roseland is where we’re seeing great gains, but sometimes people don’t feel that. When the murder rate goes down from ten to eight, do you feel 20 percent better? No. We understand it.”

The city’s top cop said crime across the board is down, attributing the progress to better police training and community-based initiatives aimed at keeping kids off the street.

McCarthy also touted the recovery of 1,300 illegal guns during the first three months of the year while taking a jab at the state’s new concealed carry law.

McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel both staunchly opposed concealed carry in Chicago, prompting the top cop to point out the department made the first arrest in Illinois of a concealed carry permit holder after the man allegedly threatened to shoot someone in a rent money dispute.

“We’re going to have tragedies from this,” McCarthy said of concealed carry in Chicago. “The answer to gun violence is not more guns — it’s less guns.”

While any reduction in crime is good, and it’s always better for responsible citizens to have the option of arming themselves, it’s impossible to say whether or not you can credit the conceal carry law for any drop in crime statistics.

The murder rate has been dropping for the last six quarters in the city — long before conceal carry became legal. It’s also a fact that the horrible winter weather in Chicago has played a role in a general drop in criminal activity.

I wouldn’t put any stock at all in the the boast by city officials that some of the drop in the murder rate is because the police have confiscated 1300 guns. In a city of 3 million, that might be 0.5% of the total, which hardly makes a dent in guns used for illegal purposes.

But there is little doubt that there is a rough correlation nationwide in states where conceal carry is adopted and a drop in violent crime.

It may be a combination of factors that have led to the drop in Chicago’s murder rate. But you can’t ignore the adoption of conceal carry as one of those factors, nor can you dismiss the impact of such laws on the crime rate nationwide.

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What Does the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Need with 96 Armed Agents?

Sunday, April 6th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

The proliferation of federal agencies with armed agents is one of the most worrisome aspects of the growth in government. Just last summer the EPA carried out an armed raid on a mine in Alaska to enforce the Clean Water Act — a bit of government intimidation that residents say was totally unnecessary:

It looks like a took a Congressional hearing in Washington, DC to get the ball moving, but Alaska Governor Sean Parnell announced last Thursday, the same day as a hearing on the issue, that a special counsel will investigate the EPA’s armed raid over the summer of the mining town of Chicken, Alaska (population 7 at the last census). The agency sent a heavily armed team eight strong over possible violations of the Clean Water Act, an act the miners said amounted to intimidation. Residents questioned the need for armed agents to participate in what amounted to a water safety check, as well as the public safety threat the action posed.

And who can forget the Gibson Guitar raid by armed agents of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The EPA, the USFWS…the Department of Education? It’s getting ridiculous — and frightening.

Watchdog.Org:

It may come as a surprise to many U.S. taxpayers, but a slew of federal agencies — some  whose responsibilities seem to have little to do with combating crime — carry active law enforcement operations.

Here’s a partial list:

That’s right, NOAA — the folks who forecast the weather, monitor the atmosphere and keep tabs on the oceans and waterways — has its own law enforcement division. It has a budget of $65 million and consists of 191 employees, including 96 special agents and 28 enforcement officers who carry weapons.

“There’s no question there’s been a proliferation of police units at the federal level,” said Tim Lynch, director of the Project On Criminal Justice for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C. “To me, it’s been a never-ending expansion, a natural progression, if you will, of these administrative agencies always asking for bigger budgets and a little bit more power.”

It’s been estimated the U.S. has some 25,000 sworn law enforcement officers in departments not traditionally associated with fighting crime. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and in a tabulation compiled by the Wall Street Journal in 2011, 3,812 criminal investigators are working in areas other than the U.S. departments of Treasury, Justice, Defense and Homeland Security.

Lynch says it’s hard to tell how much money federal agencies spend on their respective law enforcement divisions.

Oftentimes, the armed agents appear to be used more for intimidation than law enforcement. When armed EPA agents come on your property to cite you for violating the Clean Water Act, or because you’ve run afoul of wetlands regulations, you’re probably not going to give them any lip or backtalk. And you will be more inclined to cooperate.

But what does the NOAA need with 96 armed agents? They predict hurricanes and other severe storms, which is very valuable and saves lives, but it’s hard to see a mission for a law enforcement branch of the agency.

“NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement protects marine wildlife and habitat by enforcing domestic laws and international treaty requirements designed to ensure these global resources are available for future generations,” NOAA spokesman David Miller said in an email to New Mexico Watchdog, pointing out that the division has existed since 1970. “Our special agents and enforcement officers ensure compliance with the nation’s marine resource laws and take enforcement action when these laws are violated.”

They may have had an armed division since 1970, but I bet they didn’t have nearly 100 armed agents. This is, in classic terms, mission creep. And it’s especially true for most agencies after 9/11:

But many other federal agencies established their own after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In the aftermath of the attacks, the FBI shifted its attention to tackling terrorism, and Congress gave permanent powers to inspectors general in more than two dozen agencies.

By last count, 25 agencies with law enforcement divisions fall under their respective offices of inspectors general.

With their growth has come criticism that officers are becoming overly militarized.

“The whole notion of police operations these days, that they’re dressed to kill, that they’re up against an enemy, is wrong,” Johnson said. “Citizens are not the enemy.”

We have what amounts to a national police force. The FBI is severely constrained by statute as to what kind of crimes for which they can intervene. The EPA, Education Department, NOAA and most other agencies have few, if any restrictions and can bend and shape the law to interpret a mandate just about any way they wish.

Congress has had hearings on police powers for individual agencies but the broad problem of militarizing the federal government has not been examined. It’s time this worrisome growth in armed federal agencies is brought before the people and Congress get busy reigning the practice in.

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Buried in Doc Fix, GOP Passes an ‘Improvement’ in Obamacare

Sunday, April 6th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Buried deep in legislation that prevents cuts in payments to doctors treating Medicare patients, is a small tweak to Obamacare that “eliminated a cap on deductibles for small group policies offered inside the law’s health care exchanges as well as outside; the cap was set at $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for families.”

A help for small businesses? No doubt. The problem is that it passed the Republican House largely because it was approved by a surprise voice vote with members not aware that the Obamacare fix was in the bill.

There has been little outcry from Obamacare opponents because this isn’t the first “fix” the GOP has supported. And while the leadership is not touting the change, some members might wonder why they handed the Democrats an easy victory.

Associated Press:

Fittingly in an era of divided government, now that the change has been made, officials in both parties are once more at odds, each describing it as a victory for their side in a ceaseless political struggle.

Asked if the legislation strengthened the law, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said, “I would hope so. I believe that” it does. He added, “So there are changes being made. But the Republicans have to get over if they hate ‘Obamacare’ and are going to repeal it,” he added.

Rory Cooper, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said, “This is another in a series of changes to Obamacare that the House has supported to help save Americans from being harmed by the law, and we’re glad to see the President signed it into law.” Cantor was involved in negotiations on the legislation, which were overseen by Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Reid.

While Cooper described the change merely as one of several designed to prevent harm, the episode marks the first time Republicans have agreed to make it easier for anyone to obtain coverage under the law.

According to a list maintained by the office of the House Republican whip, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, five of the eight previous changes signed by Obama reduced funding; one repealed a minor voucher provision; one jettisoned a section dealing with home care for the elderly; and the other eliminated a tax reporting requirement.

In this case, though, large business organizations that support repeal pressed Republicans to make the change.

“Repealing the annual limitation on deductible would free up an important “lever” that employers need as they struggle to design affordable plans that meet the requirements” of the law, R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, wrote senior lawmakers. He expressed satisfaction with HHS’ waiver, yet added, “a more permanent and predictable solution is critical.”

Democrats said the now-defunct limitation was inserted into the original law in an unsuccessful attempt to win the vote of former Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine. She supported the bill in the Senate Finance Committee but opposed it on the Senate floor.

If the change is so good, why didn’t the leadership let the rank and file in on what a great thing they were doing in addition to passing the Doc Fix? Probably because they know it reeks of hypocrisy for the party to so vociferously proclaim their opposition to Obamacare while supporting ways to “fix” the legislation to lessen its negative impact on constituents.

You can’t blame them for doing so, but at the same time, the optics are horrible. The base has made it pretty clear that they want no changes to Obamacare that don’t include repeal — with the exception of the repeal of the individual mandate which would be tantamount to killing Obamacare anyway.

At least the leadership is smart enough not to make a big deal out of passing the tweak. And Democrats are grateful for all the help they can get in lessening the negative impact of Obamacare on the American people.

A few more “tweaks” like this one and the GOP will take part ownership of this monstrosity.

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Dem Rep: Members of Congress Aren’t Paid Enough to Live Decently

Saturday, April 5th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Virginia Representative Jim Moran (thank God, no relation) is retiring from Congress after this term. But before he settles down with his ill gotten gains, he decided to broach the subject of congressional pay and complain how there wasn’t enough of it.

In an interview with Roll Call, Moran said that the congressional salary of $174,000 a year just didn’t cut it, and that some congressmen were suffering the indignities that such a niggardly sum imposed upon them.

He says that some members sleep in their offices or are forced to live in tiny apartments while they’re working in Washington because they can’t afford anything else. Members must maintain a residence in their home district, as well as live in DC, which means, Moran claims, that it’s hard to stretch that $174,000 so that a member can live “decently.”

“I think the American people should know that the members of Congress are underpaid,” Moran told CQ Roll Call. “I understand that it’s widely felt that they underperform, but the fact is that this is the board of directors for the largest economic entity in the world.”

The senior appropriator pointed out that some members have taken to living out of their offices to save money, while others have “small little apartment units” that make it impossible to spend the time they should with their families.

Most state legislatures provide their members with a per diem allowance, Moran argues, so the federal government should do the same.

The Legislative Branch appropriations bill introduced by Republicans on Wednesday aims to show the chamber’s commitment to austerity by holding spending at current levels. It would continue a freeze on lawmaker salaries that has been in place since 2010.

As for a dollar amount, Moran hasn’t yet thought that through. He said it would probably be consistent with what the federal government provides to other employees.

“…[T]he fact is that this is the board of directors for the largest economic entity in the world.” Um, no Congressman. The fact is, you’d like to think you control the economy like a board of directors controls a company. But even if it were true, you want a raise for the job you’ve done?

A pay increase without merit — doesn’t that say something about the state of America in the Obama years? Burger flippers wanting $15 an hour, Democrats wanting to raise the minimum wage to more than $10 an hour — what value does Congressional labor impart to the country? How many days a year do they work? What have they done to warrant an increase? Or should we just give them a raise because they’re such nice guys and gals?

So OK, we get it. Certainly some members of congress suffer hardships because they can’t stretch $174,000 to meet expenses for maintaining two residences year round. But if they’re forced to leave their families at home, the US taxpayer pays for their travel to and from the district. And since the congressional workweek is 3-4 days a week, that leaves plenty of time for a member to jet home to see his family several times a month. An ideal family life? If the member doesnt’ like it, he doesn’t have to run for office.

But most members have spouses who work, or who were wealthy before they came to congress. According to a report by Open Secrets, there are 268 of 535 members of Congress who are worth $1 million or more. The point being, the vast majority of members don’t need their salaries increased in order to live comfortably.

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Muslim Parents in Dearborn Upset About Flyer for Easter Egg Hunt

Saturday, April 5th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

The flyers were handed out at public schools and referenced an Easter egg hunt at a nearby Christian church. So, some Muslim parents get an outrage twofer: They can claim bias against Muslims and play the old atheist trick of claiming that passing the flyer out at public schools violates the separation of church and state.

The Daily Caller:

The Muslim parents assert that the flyers – emblazoned with the word “Eggstravaganza!” – violate the separation of church and state widely ascribed to the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, reports the Detroit Free Press.

Students at three Dearborn elementary schools received the flyers. A large number of Muslim students attend the schools.

The “Eggstravaganza!” is scheduled to take place on April 12 event at Cherry Hill Presbyterian Church in Dearborn.

The flyer urges students to RSVP “to secure your free spot,” note the Free Press. The associated imagery includes a festive bunny and some eggs.

The event will feature a traditional Easter egg hunt as well as an egg toss and a relay race.

“It really bothered my two kids,” parent Majed Moughni told the Free Press. “My son was like, ‘Dad, I really don’t feel comfortable getting these flyers, telling me to go to church. I thought churches are not supposed to mix with schools.”

Right after the page break, I am calling BS on that parent.

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Baseball Fans Swing and Miss With Petition to Make Opening Day a Holiday

Sunday, March 30th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Barack Obama may be a terrible president, but even awful presidents are capable of coming up with one good idea.

In Obama’s case, it’s the beloved White House petition process known as “We the People.” Of course, the petitions are no more an authentic expression of the people’s will than an Occupy Wall Street rally, but for sheer inventiveness — and demonstrations of stupidity — you can’t beat it.

Some of my favorites:

Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016

Those who sign here petition the United States government to secure funding and resources, and begin construction on a Death Star by 2016.

By focusing our defense resources into a space-superiority platform and weapon system such as a Death Star, the government can spur job creation in the fields of construction, engineering, space exploration, and more, and strengthen our national defense.

There were several efforts to seriously figure out how much a Death Star would cost.

And keeping with the Star Wars theme:

Let Alderan secede from the Galatic Republic.

It’s a little late for that.

For sadistic inventiveness, I like this one:

Let everyone punch Grover Norquist in the dick.

…Have Grover Norquist brought forth in chains and put on public display.

Once Grover Norquist has been secured, anyone who wishes will be allowed to punch him once, and only once, square in the dick.

The second most popular petition? “Let Texas Secede” with nearly 125,000 signatures.

All in good fun, right? Everything from “Repeal Obamacare” to “Let Canada Secede from the United States.” It’s a block party for democracy and everyone from the really hot girl next door to your perpetually drunk neighbor down the block who tries to shoot your dog when he digs in his yard is represented.

Now comes a group of baseball fans who want to make opening day a national holiday. Too late this year — The Dodgers opened the season last week playing two games against the Diamondbacks in Australia.

But their hearts are in the right place.

The Hill:

Baseball fans are striking out with their petition for President Obama to declare Major League Baseball’s Opening Day a national holiday.

In a response, White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest writes that although presidents have celebrated Opening Day for more than a century, the request is “a little outside our strike zone.”

“Creating permanent federal holidays is traditionally the purview of Congress,” Earnest writes. “So, it’s up to the men and women on Capitol Hill to decide whether to swing at this pitch.”

More than 100,000 people had signed the White House petition, which said that Opening Day “is more than just the beginning of the season.”

“It’s a symbol of rebirth,” the petition reads. “The coming of spring. The return of America’s national pastime. It’s a state of mind where anything is possible. You can feel the electricity in the air. Opening Day brings with it the promise of a new beginning. Every fan is in good spirits. It’s a day of celebration. It’s a day of hope. It’s a day that, for generations, has been looked forward to by baseball fans every off-season.“

Obama on Tuesday will honor the 2013 World Series champions, the Boston Red Sox, at the White House.

“Meanwhile, I’ll spend that day visualizing what it would be like to welcome my 2014 World Series Champion Kansas City Royals to the White House,” Earnest, a lifelong Kansas City Royals fan, writes. “That is, after all, the best part of Opening Day: every team is tied for first place and poised to make a run at the Fall Classic.”

While baseball drips with tradition, I doubt whether there are too many people who signed that petition who are conservatives. Another federal holiday would cost the taxpayer up to $500 million. Seems a steep price to pay to celebrate what used to be our national pastime.

Besides, it’s much more fun to simply call in sick and play hookey from work to attend the game. Lying to your boss in order to get a mental health day is the American way and workers have been doing it for a hundred years.

Play ball!

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Senator Walsh Introduces Military Suicide Prevention Bill

Sunday, March 30th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Every day, on average, 22 veterans commit suicide — twice the average per 100,000 for the civilian population. It’s an epidemic that experts say is preventable in many cases if proper recognition and intervention is undertaken.

It would be easy to blame the Veterans Administration, but the issue is far more complicated than that. In fact, researchers are discovering that those veterans predisposed to commit suicide exhibited symptoms before they enlisted. The Military Suicide Research Consortium conducted a study that found “that most of the Army’s enlisted men and women with suicidal tendencies had them before they enlisted, and that those at highest risk of making an attempt often had a long history of impulsive anger.”

This past week, 30 veterans fanned out across Capitol Hill to visit congressional offices to lobby in favor of paying more attention to the issue of military suicides. They were from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a group that has made suicide prevention its top priority for 2014:

They’re asking Congress to fund more mental health providers, more care and more access to it. They want an evaluation of what works and what doesn’t. And they want President Barack Obama to appoint an official to focus on the issue.

“Caring for the men and women who have defended freedom is a solemn responsibility that belongs to policymakers, business leaders and citizens alike,” Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told the House and Senate veterans affairs committees this month. “Our warriors continue fighting different types of battles long after our wars are over, and we must continue our fight for them and their families.”

Rieckhoff’s association wants the government to fill 1,000 mental health care positions now open, to ensure that troops receive seamless care as they leave military service and become veterans and to increase mental health care eligibility for combat vets from five years after discharge to at least 15 years.

The VA is not entirely blameless. While they have rapidly increased the number of mental health professionals working for the department and increased funding for suicide prevention programs, the rate of suicides, which had been going down the first decade of the century, spiked in the last few years. At this time, the department has over 1,000 mental health jobs available. Not filling them is a cause for concern.

That’s where The Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act comes in. The legislation was introduced by former Army Brigadier General and Adjutant General of the Montana National Guard Senator John Walsh, who was appointed in February to fill out the remaining term of Senator Max Baucus.

Among the bill’s key objectives is to give veterans more time to receive mental health treatment.

Currently, when a service member separates from active duty — whether they are transitioning to being a veteran or becoming a Reservist or a member of the National Guard — they have five years to receive care from the Department of Veterans Affairs, O’Gorman said. Sometimes it can take longer than five years for service members and veterans to realize they’re experiencing the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress and other mental injuries.

About 25% of IAVA’s members, O’Gorman said, have experienced a delayed onset of PTSD after getting out of the service.

Many times, five years is just not long enough for veterans who are dealing with the stigma of mental health issues. It can take many years to emotionally come to grips with the diagnosis alone, and then it takes time to find and receive the right care.

To address that, Walsh’s bill would extend the time to receive mental health treatment from five years to 15 years.

The legislation also seeks to improve the quality of mental health care providers by making their jobs more competitive with the private sector, O’Gorman said. Right now there are more than 1,000 open jobs at the VA for mental health care jobs, including psychiatric nurses, physician assistants and psychiatrists, among others, she said.

The bill will introduce a pilot initiative that would allow a student to have their loans repaid if they work for the VA, O’Gorman said.

It also calls for annual reviews of care programs within the Defense Department and the VA to ensure resources are being used effectively to help service members and vets struggling with mental health issues.

Further, the legislation points out that the VA and the Defense Department use two different computer systems and mandates that those systems be amended so that they speak to each other more seamlessly.

The legislation would also try to streamline the way the Pentagon and the VA prescribe medication. Currently, they use different drug prescription protocols, Walsh and military experts told CNN, and that can create a difficult situation.

Some will argue — obviously not very loudly — that we don’t have the money. But we sent these men and women off to war, they fought in our name and did so to protect us. Quite simply, we owe them — a debt that includes caring for their minds as well as their bodies. And if we have to spend more money to prevent them from falling so far into hopelessness and despair that they don’t see any way out except taking their own lives, it seems an extraordinarily small price to pay in return for their service.

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Christie Apologizes to Adelson for ‘Occupied Territories’ Remark Before GOP Jewish Group

Sunday, March 30th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Speaking before the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas on Saturday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie uttered a faux pas that raised a few eyebrows among attendees — including billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who is searching for the right candidate to back in 2016.

Christie was talking about a trip to Israel he took with his family in 2012:

I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day.”

The reference to “occupied territories” sent a murmur through the crowd. Most conservative Jews reject the Palestinian designation of Gaza and the West Bank being “occupied,” so the gaffe was not insignificant.

But neither is it a campaign killer. Christie met later with Adelson and apologized:

Not long after his speech, Christie met with Adelson privately in the casino mogul’s office in the Venetian hotel and casino, which hosted the RJC meeting.

The source told POLITICO that Christie “clarified in the strongest terms possible that his remarks today were not meant to be a statement of policy.”

(Also on POLITICO: Kasich bonds with Adelson in Vegas)

Instead, the source said, Christie made clear “that he misspoke when he referred to the ‘occupied territories.’ And he conveyed that he is an unwavering friend and committed supporter of Israel, and was sorry for any confusion that came across as a result of the misstatement.”

Adelson accepted Christie’s explanation, the source said.

The mini-controversy and quick apology highlight both the importance of Adelson as the reigning mega-donor in GOP politics, as well as the tricky terrain that Middle East politics can pose for American politicians courting Jewish donors and voters.

Before the meeting, Adelson ally Morton Klein, president of the hawkish Zionist Organization of America, had confronted Christie about his use of the term, telling POLITICO he explained to the New Jersey governor that “at minimum you should call it disputed territories.”

Christie was non-committal, said Klein, who concluded afterwards that the governor “either doesn’t understand the issue at all, or he’s hostile to Israel.”

Besides the comment, Christie largely impressed the crowd Saturday night with tales of his own trips to Israel.

He also criticized the Obama administration’s approach to foreign policy, which the crowd distrusts deeply.

“We cannot have a world where our friends are unsure of whether we’ll be with them, and our enemies are unsure of whether we’ll be against them,” Christie said to loud applause.

Christie recounted meeting the hawkish Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an RJC favorite, and being “extraordinarily taken by his strength and resolve.”

Christie was one of three Republican governors to speak to the crowd Saturday night. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio also spoke to the crowd, offering a strong defense of Israel, too.

Sheldon Adelson is emerging as the Whale of Whales for the Republican Party. He supported Newt Gingrich in the 2012 primaries, and donated heavily to Mitt Romney’s campaign. That election cycle, he spent $92 million in supporting GOP candidates at every level.

For good or ill, Adelson will be a kingmaker in 2016. There are other bundlers who will give valuable assistance to other candidates, but it appears that when Adelson goes in, he goes all in — something that will give whomever he supports a leg up heading into the primaries.

As for Christie, it’s not a good sign that he didn’t realize beforehand that “occupied territories” was a loaded phrase. It’s doubly disturbing that he appeared to be unaware of the significance of his mistake. Is he tone deaf? Or simply stubborn? I can’t believe Morton Klein’s suggestion that Christie is “hostile” to Israel, so perhaps the governor should educate himself on the peace process so he doesn’t make any more “misstatements” that get him into hot water with an important party group.

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Newsbusters’ Noel Sheppard Dead at 53

Sunday, March 30th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Noel Sheppard, prominent conservative media critic and one of the founding contributors and editors at Newsbusters, died of cancer yesterday. He was 53 years old.

Newsbusters publisher Brent Bozell posted a short, elegant tribute to his friend and colleague:

Our Noel Sheppard passed away yesterday (Friday) morning at about 5:00 AM. Say a prayer for the soul of a man we’ll all miss professionally, and many, many of us will miss personally as well. Noel was not just a force of nature, he was a very good man.

How quickly this all happened. Just two months ago, Noel wrote about suddenly getting cancer at 53 called “Cancer’s Ray of Hope.” Nine days ago, he wrote us and said he was interested in writing about his “progress” — and he put “progress” in quotes. We were all wishing for better news, and really couldn’t imagine this was a battle that would end this way.

Noel joined us and was introduced to us by Matt Sheffield at the founding of NewsBusters in 2005, and he became our Associate Editor. It must be said that no blogger here was more prolific and more popular.

Matt Sheffield, one of Newsbusters’ founders, penned a tribute to Sheppard that describes why he will be missed so dearly:

Noel never intended to become a professional blogger once he began submitting pieces online. But just as America turned out to love reading blogs, Noel took to the new medium like a fish to water. Eventually, it became a full-time gig for him as he sold his financial planning business to pursue blogging full-time for us at NewsBusters as a mid-life career change.

It was a perfect combination. Noel loved attention and NewsBusters readers loved his work, making him by far the blog’s most popular writer. Very frequently, he single-handly brought in half of the site traffic each month.

In an earlier time, Noel would’ve been an ace reporter or well-known editor, such was his talent for spotting the hot story and writing about it in an engaging way. He also had the rare ability to make dry subjects interesting.

Sadly, Noel’s combination of brio, intelligence, and popular touch are all too rare in the conservative world. Noel and I spoke many times about the fact that too many conservatives and libertarians seem more interested in getting read by Republican congressional staffers than by millions of their fellow Americans. My upcoming book on the future of the American Right is inspired by many of these conversations. (For those interested in some of our preliminary thoughts on the topic, see this piece we published together in the American Spectator in 2012.)

Like everything he did, Noel threw himself into his career as a writer, literally blogging at least one post a day on NB before he fell ill to cancer and was admitted to the hospital in January. Weekend readers could always count on Noel to have something new and interesting for them to read.

Sheppard’s nose for news and his ability to distill the essence of a story into a few well written paragraphs that were enlightening as well as thought provoking is a rare combination. He will be missed at Newsbusters, but also around the right side of the internet.

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Gawker’s Adam Weinstein Wants to Put You in Jail for Being a Climate Change ‘Denier’

Saturday, March 29th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

I don’t know how serious Adam Weinstein is about wanting to arrest, try, and jail people he considers “climate change deniers.” It could be that he gets a kick out of goosing some of the conspiracists who lump global warming advocates in with Men in Black, the NWO, and FEMA slave labor camps. No one can possibly be serious about putting people in jail for what they believe, or what they say, right?

But he apparently is. And that’s why this post gives me a spot of nausea when I read it. People with ideas like Weinstein’s are the reason other people are buying guns. This should not be seen in any way as a direct personal threat against Weinstein. But he has to understand that when liberals talk like this, they are the ones threatening others. They are the ones who would take away what the Constitution guarantees. They are the ones that many people think they need protecting from.

Rush Limbaugh and his ilk who prattle on about a climate-change conspiracy may be geese, but they are free geese and can say what they want without threat of incarceration. Make fun of them if you will. Chastise them, ridicule them, try arguing logically with them. But punish them with imprisonment for disagreeing with you and the dominant scientific theory about climate change? Well, let’s just say that you will pardon me if I wonder if Josef Stalin is one of your closest advisors.

Weinstein explains his “off with their heads” idea:

This is an argument that’s just being discussed seriously in some circles. It was laid out earlier this month, with all the appropriate caveats, by Lawrence Torcello, a philosophy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

There is a clear precedent, Torcello says, in L’Aquila, Italy, where six seismologists were convicted of manslaughter in connection with a 2009 earthquake that killed 309 people. The scientists weren’t convicted because they failed to predict an earthquake; no one can make such a prediction with reliable precision. But they were convened to study a series of tremors the week before the quake, and tacitly signed off on a government official’s public message that “the situation looks favorable” and residents should chill out with some wine.

Their “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information,” the court found, contributed to the residents’ fatal lack of preparations for bigger tremors.

First of all, I would ask Mr. Weinstein to look out the window and tell us what he sees. The Leaning Tower of Pisa? St. Peter’s Basilica? An Italian restaurant?

Yes, this is America. I could give a hoot in hell what they do in Italy. We don’t do that sort of thing here. And judging by some of Mr. Weinstein’s previous writings, where he excoriates the rich and powerful and upsets all sorts of applecarts, he should hit his knees every night and thank Gaia he lives in a place that won’t arrest him for what he thinks and says.

Apparently, the only people who need go to jail are those who disagree with him.

In addition to being an authoritarian douchebag, Weinstein is a sneering elitist:

Those denialists should face jail. They should face fines. They should face lawsuits from the classes of people whose lives and livelihoods are most threatened by denialist tactics.

Let’s make a clear distinction here: I’m not talking about the man on the street who thinks Rush Limbaugh is right, and climate change is a socialist United Nations conspiracy foisted by a Muslim U.S. president on an unwitting public to erode its civil liberties.

You all know that man. That man is an idiot. He is too stupid to do anything other than choke the earth’s atmosphere a little more with his Mr. Pibb burps and his F-150′s gassy exhaust. Few of us believers in climate change can do much more—or less—than he can.

Nor am I talking about simple skeptics, particularly the scientists who must constantly hypo-test our existing assumptions about the world in order to check their accuracy. That is part and parcel of the important public policy discussion about what we do next.

But there is scientific skepticism… and there is a malicious, profiteering quietist agenda posturing as skepticism. There is uncertainty about whether man-made climate change can be stopped or reversed… and there is the body of purulent pundits, paid sponsors, and corporate grifters who exploit the smallest uncertainty at the edges of a settled science.

I’m talking about Rush and his multi-million-dollar ilk in the disinformation business. I’m talking about Americans for Prosperity and the businesses and billionaires who back its obfuscatory propaganda. I’m talking about public persons and organizations and corporations for whom denying a fundamental scientific fact is profitable, who encourage the acceleration of an anti-environment course of unregulated consumption and production that, frankly, will screw my son and your children and whatever progeny they manage to have.

Those malcontents must be punished and stopped

Why punished? Is Weinstein a sadist as well? Stopping them is a legitimate goal, but punishing people for disagreeing with you is positively Hitlerian.

The point is made in the article that “more deaths can already be attributed to climate change than the L’Aquila earthquake and we can be certain that deaths from climate change will continue to rise with global warming.” If you follow that link to the World Health Organization site, you will discover that the WHO makes no such radical and extravagant claims:

That estimate includes deaths as a result of extreme weather conditions, which may be occurring with increased frequency. Changes in temperature and rainfall conditions also may influence transmission patterns for many diseases, including water-related diseases, such as diarrhoea, and vector-borne infections, including malaria. Finally, climate change may affect patterns of food production, which in turn can have health impacts in terms of rates of malnutrition. There is further evidence that unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions would increase disease burdens in the coming decades. The risks are concentrated in the poorest populations, who have contributed the least to the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.

“May be occurring…may influence” — there are so many caveats in that one statement it’s hard to keep track of them. It’s a nice educated guess, but lacks scientific substance. Weinstein should have followed the link and found out for himself how tenuous the reed that the statement about deaths from climate change rested upon.

It’s also clear Weinstein is extravagantly ignorant of government regulation. There is no such critter as “unregulated consumption and production.” That is a shockingly idiotic statement. There are tens of thousands of regulations that cover every industry in the nation, delving into every corner of almost every business in the country.

Tens of thousands of regulations that dictate everything from whom a business can hire, how they can fire them, workers’safety, product safety, disposal of hazardous chemicals and waste — the list is endless. Most of these regulations are necessary to protect the health and safety of workers, or to prevent businesses from taking short cuts that might harm the consumer or environment. But there are thousands of needless, burdensome regulations that any rational observer would put down as “overregulation.”

Only someone truly ignorant of government would even hint that industry is “unregulated.” And that’s why Weinstein’s entire critique of climate skeptics reeks of sanctimony. Weinstein doesn’t want to regulate consumption and production. He wants to control it, hence the gross exaggeration about unregulated business. There is one positive from Weinstein, which I’ll explain on the next page.

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Maryland to Abandon $157 million Obamacare Exchange Site

Saturday, March 29th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Maryland has had nothing but trouble with its Obamacare exchange site since it went live last October 1. Only 49,000 people have been able to endure the excruciating process to sign up for insurance — about 1/3 the total they were shooting for.

The site has been plagued with technical and human problems — shockingly bad management as well as the software glitches and poor design that’s been blamed on the contractor, Noridian Healthcare Solutions. The HHS Inspector General’s office is looking into those issues as well as the Medicaid enrollment process that may be giving the green light to people who aren’t eligible.

It appears now that Maryland officials are throwing in the towel and are going to scrap the site entirely, replacing it with one similar to the more successful Connecticut exchange.

Gone forever — $157 million in taxpayer funds. One might consider sending the culprits to jail except there’s no law in the US against public incompetence and stupidity.

The Washington Post reports:

Marylanders will be able to use the exchange even as it is being overhauled. The first enrollment period opened Oct. 1 and closes Monday for insurance coverage that kicks in this year. A second open enrollment period starts Nov. 15.

Like Maryland, Connecticut was one of the first and most enthusiastic states to embrace the idea of building its own insurance exchange rather than using a federal site to implement the law’s sweeping changes in health-care coverage.

But unlike Maryland, where the system crashed within moments of launching and has limped along ever since, Connecticut’s exchange has worked as smoothly as any in the country.

Maryland is not alone in having deep-seated problems with its health marketplace. Technical issues also have plagued Oregon, Minnesota and Hawaii. But Maryland will be the first to walk away from its site, a particular embarrassment for Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), who was placed in charged of implementing health-care reform in Maryland by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).

It was not immediately clear how much more money Maryland may have to invest to get a fully functioning system, according to the two individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the changes.

The money the state has already spent has gone toward development and operation of the Web site and for agency operating costs. The existing Maryland system will stay operational for “a period of time” while the Connecticut version is being installed, one of the individuals said.

O’Malley told reporters Friday morning to expect an announcement on the future of the troubled exchange next week. The exchange board is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

“We still have stuck applications. We still wrestle with it every day,” O’Malley said at a news conference. “The clock was ticking, and we have been changing the flat tires on this rolling car for the last five, going on six months now. And it has gotten better with every new fix applied to it, [but it is] still not working as it was supposed to work.”

As bad as Maryland’s problems are, no state tops Oregon for sheer mismanagement and incompetence in their state insurance exchange. Not one, single Oregonian has been able to sign up online using the Cover Oregon site. More than $300 million has been earmarked for the project, of which $190 million has already been spent. An investigation has begun by the General Accountability Office into where that money went and how the project was so brutally mismanaged.

The problems don’t stop there. One state legislator is alleging a cover up by some Cover Oregon officials who may have lied to Congress and falsified documents in order to keep the federal dollars flowing.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber authorized an independent review by Atlanta-based First Data Government Solutions and what they discovered suggests that some Cover Oregon officials had no business running a mommy blog much less an enormously complex project:

Among First Data’s findings:

  • Cover Oregon was a complex, multi-agency project, with “no single point of authority.”
  • The governance structure “was not effective at the project level,” with competing priorities and conflict between agencies.
  • The project lacked a “consistent, cohesive enterprise approach” and “lack of authoritative direction.”
  • Communication and transparency also were lacking, slowing the decision making process: “communication and collaboration across agencies was limited at best.”
  • Oracle’s continued reassurances led Cover Oregon to believe the October rollout was achievable and the agency “continued to reassure the state.”
  • The project did not have a “holistic plan B to address contingencies if the website was not going to be available” because staff did not consider that the website wouldn’t be operational for months.

The inspector general is going to be busy. In addition to Maryland ($157 million) and Oregon ($303 million), several  other states are experiencing massive problems with their exchange sites. Hawaii ($205 million), Vermont ($165 million), Massachusetts ($135 million), Nevada ($83 million), and Minnesota ($153 million) have seen varying degrees of incompetence and poor performance that has necessitated massive overhauls and scrutiny from the Feds. Not all of these sites are likely to be abandoned, but this course of action is actively being considered in several of  them.

There is no law against wasting taxpayer money. Perhaps there should be when the level of incompetence and mismanagement reaches these proportions. This is a special kind of corruption — a crime of hubris and stupidity. Perhaps it deserves a special kind punishment to go with it.

In early America, colonists used the stocks to shame and punish people for petty crimes. Perhaps we could round up the lot of them — including officials at HHS who designed and built healthcare.gov — and set up several dozen stocks on the Washington Mall and invite the public to pay them a visit to jeer at them and throw rotten fruit at their heads. It certainly would be gratifying for the public, and who knows? Maybe the bureaucrats will learn their lesson.

 

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Key for Vulnerable Democrats: Run Like a Republican

Saturday, March 29th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Some vulnerable Democratic senators running in red states are finding it hard to run on the issues being pushed by national party leaders like the minimum wage increase and the “war on women.” So they’ve taken the attitude that if you can’t beat ‘em — join ‘em. They are adopting some Republican positions on the issues in a desperate effort to stave off disaster.

Senator Mark Pryor, one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents, is opposed to one of the party’s centerpiece legislative goals: the minimum-wage hike. Senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Begich of Alaska both favor increased oil and natural gas drilling. All of these Democratic senators have been highly critical of Obamacare, but have stopped short of advocating repeal. To do so would lead to a cutoff in support from the national party.

But who’s to say what will happen before the election?

Supporting Obamacare or not, most of these vulnerable Democrats are rejecting the agenda being put forth by the national party, eschewing the issues designed to appeal to a narrow segment of the Democratic base in order to goose turnout in November.

The Washington Post reports:

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said that those are measures that would have their greatest impact on young people, unmarried women, Latinos and African-Americans — all of whom can be difficult to turn out in years when there is no presidential election.

“This doesn’t replace a broader economic message. In the long run, we have to do that. But in the short run, this is very helpful,” said Lake, who has warned that the Democrats face a large turnout disadvantage in a year when Republican voters appear to be more motivated.

GOP pollster Neil Newhouse said the Senate Democrats’ targeted strategy echoes that of Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, where he emphasized a number of “niche group” issues such as the Dream Act, mandatory contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act, student loan expansion and support for same-sex marriage.

“This is all about turnout. They’re not doing this to win swing voters,” Newhouse said.”They’ve got to do this. Otherwise, they’re totally doomed.”

While endangered Democrats support the measures, they also appear skeptical that those issues will be the ones that carry the day in their home states, many of which lean Republican.

“Raising the minimum wage I think is the right thing; it’s an important thing to do,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who is battling for reelection. “But the real goal should be to create thousands of jobs in Louisiana that pay between $50,000 and $100,000.”

Indeed, she said that she plans to be more focused on her support for policies that put her at odds with some in her party, such as increased domestic drilling and energy production.

“I’m not going to spend all my time talking just about the minimum wage,” Landrieu said,”because as chair of the energy committee, I want to focus on creating more jobs that pay 60-70-80-100 thousand dollars a year.”

Her views are shared by other vulnerable Democrats in conservative states, such as Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.), who is publicly opposed to his party’s minimum wage proposal, and Mark Begich (Alaska), who has joined Landrieu in pushing for more drilling.

Among the other measures the Democrats have promised: a proposal to make college more affordable; to make it more difficult to cut Medicare benefits or boost the eligibility age; to discourage businesses from offshoring; to lower the cost of child care, and to put more money into infrastructure.

If Pryor and the rest of them talk up most of these issues, they will get creamed. They are going to have their hands full defending their Obamacare vote to begin with, and will also be forced to defend an economy that is vastly underperforming.

And they will be running fast and furiously away from President Obama — a hard thing to do when the leader of your party is the president of the United States.

The bottom line is that the more Republican they sound, the better chance they have of keeping their jobs.

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Colorado House to Consider Controversial Vaccination Law

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Colorado’s House Health Insurance and Environment Committee has passed a bill that would make it more difficult for parents to opt out of the state’s child vaccination requirement. The bill would mandate a state-sponsored education program for parents who don’t want their child vaccinated and would force those parents to “acquire the signature of a health care professional confirming disclosure of possible health risks ‘to the student and the community.’”

Similar measures have passed in three other states, while many other states are considering the question of mandatory vaccinations for school attendance.

The debate in Colorado was passionate.

State Rep. Dan Pabon (D) proposed the bill to ensure that parents are more informed and “that they’re not just opting out simply because of convenience,” according to the Denver Post.

“Vaccine refusal results in higher rates of vaccine-preventable disease,” Pabon said. “This is a public health issue. These are very serious diseases.”

Colorado has the sixth-highest rate of non-vaccinated public school kindergarteners. The bill will also mandate all licensed schools and day care centers to release public records on the percentages of their non-vaccinated children.

“There are kids who can’t get vaccinated because they’re immuno-compromised and are being exposed to vaccine-preventable diseases,” Pabon argued on Thursday. “To add on top of that, older populations that have medical conditions are also at risk.”

Although the bill would not eliminate the personal belief exemption, parents opposing the legislation argued that increased education mandates could lead to the erosion of parental rights during Thursday’s testimony before lawmakers.

“Parents have a constitutional right to parent their children,” Susan Lawson, whose daughter developed encephalitis after a routine vaccine when she was a year old, told CBS Denver. “I am not an uneducated woman.”

Anti-vaccination advocacy group National Vaccine Information Center has also attacked the proposal as one that “singles out and discriminates against a minority of parents with sincerely held personal beliefs … by assuming they are uneducated and should be forced into a state approved ‘education’ program.”

When my mother heard of the breakthrough by Jonas Salk in developing a vaccination against polio, she fell to her knees and thanked God for his mercy. We, today, have absolutely no conception of the rank fear that gathered in the breasts of parents prior to the polio vaccine. Every cold in our family would put her on edge. And all of us grew up in an age before vaccines for measles, mumps, and whooping cough. These diseases were — and are — childhood killers. I’m sure the controversy today over vaccines would perplex her to no end.

The odds of a child dying from measles are 50 times greater than the child experiencing any life-threatening side effects from that vaccine. Prior to 1963 before the vaccine was introduced, there were 4 million cases of measles per year in the U.S. with an average of 450 deaths. On the other hand, there are severe reactions to the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella) in only 1 of about 2 million doses. What rational parent makes a choice not to vaccinate their children?

The supposed link between autism and vaccinations has been debunked over and over, and yet the belief still persists. The Centers for Disease Control examined the question of autism and the safety of vaccines in general:

Evidence from several studies examining trends in vaccine use and changes in autism frequency does not support such an association between thimerosal and autism. Furthermore, a scientific reviewExternal Web Site Icon by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that “the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal–containing vaccines and autism.” CDC supports the IOM conclusion that there is no relationship between vaccines containing thimerosal and autism rates in children.

The IOM also recently conducted a thorough review of the current medical and scientific evidence on vaccines and certain health events that may be observed after vaccination. It released a report in August 2011 on 8 vaccines given to children and adults that found the vaccines to be generally safe and serious adverse events following these vaccinations to be rare.

We are paying a price for our scientific ignorance. Parents who don’t have their children immunized do so largely because they think the diseases are wiped out or there is little chance their children will be infected. But because of falling rates of vaccinations among children, these diseases are making a roaring comeback:

Measles, mumps, whooping cough — all deadly diseases. Until recently, they were virtually eliminated thanks to vaccines that prevent kids from getting sick.

But now doctors see an alarming trend — more and more people are coming down with these diseases.

“Kids die from measles on a regular basis. Kids are in hospitals and can die from whooping cough very commonly. So these kids are at risk,” said Dr. Scott Krugman, Chairman, Department of Pediatrics, MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center.

Here in Maryland, cases of whooping cough are skyrocketing — tripling from 123 cases in 2011 to nearly 370 last year. Outbreaks of measles and mumps have swept through states across the country.

The explanations made by parents for not vaccinating their kids are pathetic, as you’ll see on the next page.

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Libya’s Chaos More a Threat to US Than Iraq Ever Was

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

It’s a bold statement to make, but after reading this gloomy report from the Associated Press that all but comes out and says that Libya is a failed state, it’s not that difficult to measure the extraordinary danger to the US and our interests from the chaos in Gaddafi’s creation.

The list of direct threats to the United States and our interests is a long one, and includes shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, millions of weapons fueling conflicts around the world, the ascension of Islamist terrorists, the support for terrorism among some militias, and the lack of government control in a strategically positioned country.

Iraq was — and still is — a huge mess. But even at it’s height, the conflict in Iraq was sectarian in nature and religion still fuels the terrorism afflicting the Iraqi people today.

By contrast, the conflict is Libya is being driven by a government widely seen as illegitimate and incapable of protecting anyone. The rise of the militias, which threatens a civil war, has meant that weapons sales to fund militia activities are destabilizing many other countries as well.

Smuggling abroad is also big business. Abdel-Basit Haroun, a former top intelligence official, said tribes and militias that control the eastern, western, and southern borders are engaged in arms smuggling.

A 97-page report released in March by United Nations Panel of Experts said weapons that originated in Libya were found in 14 countries, often reaching militant groups. The report said smuggling is mainly from Libyan militias’ arsenals.

Sophisticated man-portable, ground-to-air missile systems, known as MANPADS, have reached four conflict zones, including Chad and Mali.

“Fears that terrorist groups would acquire these weapons have materialized,” the report said.

A MANPADS that militants in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula used to shoot down an Egyptian military helicopter this year originated in Libya, it said.

Libyan weapons were also found in Somalia, the Central African Republic and in parts of Nigeria where the militant group Boko Haram operates, it said.

In Niger, weapons used in the country’s first suicide attack — last May — were typical of the Libyan arsenals and appear to have been smuggled in through Mali.

Another major destination for Libya’s weapons is Syria. The report said investigators found that Qatar has been using its air force flights to transport weapons from Libya and eventually to Turkey, from where they are passed to rebels in Syria. The report said Russian-made weapons bought in 2000 by Gadhafi’s regime were found in the hands of Islamic militant rebels in Syria.

“In a very real sense, Libya is exporting its insecurity to surrounding countries,” wrote one of the authors of the report, Brian Katulis, a senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Efforts by Libya to control the weapons traffic have gone nowhere. In a Catch-22, militias say they cannot surrender their weapons until there is a proper military and police force to keep security in the country, yet the regular forces cannot be rebuilt when militias have so much power.

Under the Libyan government’s Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration program, some 160,000 militiamen have been registered under the Interior Ministry’s Warriors Affairs Agency. A small portion of them have given up their weapons and demobilized. But most have been assigned various security tasks in an attempt to rope militias under state aegis.

Zuhair al-Ugli, the head of communications for the Warrior Affairs Agency, said there is no mechanism for dealing with the tide of guns.

“The state is paralyzed in collecting the weapons,” he said.

As in Iraq, the US may have won the war but lost the peace. In Iraq, the US was successful to some degree, in training the police and army to protect the government. In Libya, it does not appear that NATO is making any progress at all in that department 3 years after the fall of Gaddafi.

This is not an attempt to minimize the mistakes made in Iraq by US policymakers. But very little has been said about the titanic failure of American policy in post-Gaddafi Libya — a failure that could lead to attacks on the homeland as well as the destabilization of other nations that would complicate our foreign policy.

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British Law Society Directs Lawyers to Adopt Sharia Law When Writing Wills for Muslims

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

This is a first even for Islamist-friendly Great Britain. The Law Society has given “guidance” to all lawyers in Great Britain that would allow solicitors to write Sharia-compliant wills. In effect, this guidance creates a two-tier system of law for the nation; one based on secular principles and one on religious principles found in the Koran.

One lawyer called it “astonishing.” Another referred to the “undermining of democratically determined human rights-compliant law in favour of religious law from another era and another culture.” However you want to look at it, it marks the ascension and codification of a body of law inimical to western values and traditions.

The Telegraph explains how:

It opens the way for non-Muslim lawyers in High Street firms to offer Sharia will drafting services. The document sets out crucial differences between Sharia inheritance laws and Western traditions.

It explains how, in Islamic custom, inheritances are divided among a set list of heirs determined by ties of kinship rather than named individuals. It acknowledges the possibility of people having multiple marriages.

“The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir of the same class,” the guidance says. “Non-Muslims may not inherit at all, and only Muslim marriages are recognised.

Similarly, a divorced spouse is no longer a Sharia heir, as the entitlement depends on a valid Muslim marriage existing at the date of death. This means you should amend or delete some standard will clauses.”

It advises lawyers to draft special exclusions from the Wills Act 1837, which allows gifts to pass to the children of an heir who has died, because this is not recognised in Islamic law.

A couple of things should be pointed out. The guidance only gives lawyers the ability to write Sharia-compliant wills at the request of Muslims who want it. There is nothing in the guidance that forces lawyers to write Sharia wills for non-Muslims.

But there is little doubt that by establishing another legal philosophy at odds with traditional British law, the latter is undermined.

The guidance, quietly published this month and distributed to solicitors in England and Wales, details how wills should be drafted to fit Islamic traditions while being valid under British law.

It suggests deleting or amending standard legal terms and even words such as “children” to ensure that those deemed “illegitimate” are denied any claim over the inheritance.

It recommends that some wills include a declaration of faith in Allah which would be drafted at a local mosque, and hands responsibility for drawing up some papers to Sharia courts.

The guidance goes on to suggest that Sharia principles could potentially overrule British practices in some disputes, giving examples of areas that would need to be tested in English courts.

Currently, Sharia principles are not formally addressed by or included in Britain’s laws.

However, a network of Sharia courts has grown up in Islamic communities to deal with disputes between Muslim families.

A few are officially recognised tribunals, operating under the Arbitration Act.

They have powers to set contracts between parties, mainly in commercial disputes, but also to deal with issues such as domestic violence, family disputes and inheritance battles.

But many more unofficial Sharia courts are also in operation.

Parliament has been told of a significant network of more informal Sharia tribunals and “councils”, often based in mosques, dealing with religious divorces and even child custody matters in line with religious teaching.

They offer “mediation” rather than adjudication, although some hearings are laid out like courts with religious scholars or legal experts sitting in a manner more akin to judges than counsellors.

One study estimated that there were now around 85 Sharia bodies operating in Britain. But the new Law Society guidance represents the first time that an official legal body has recognised the legitimacy of some Sharia principles.

The road to ruin? Perhaps not, but it’s a road that leads to a dead end. Eventually, Brits are going to have to decide just how far they take this bow to diversity and multi-culturalism by allowing one part of their population to develop separate legal and cultural values and institutions. Will Muslims demand being tried for murder in a Sharia court? Or theft, where the punishment is lopping off a hand? The more authorities give, the more the Muslim minority will take.

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California Gubernatorial Candidate Has an Interesting Past

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Glenn Champ is a man with a past — a criminal past — and he wants the voters of California to elect him governor because, as a criminal, he can deal better with politicians.

No, really. He said that.

A registered sex offender, someone who served time for voluntary manslaughter (“a tragic accident”), Mr. Champ was introduced to delegates at the state’s semi-annual convention and allotted 10 minutes to make his case.

LA Times:

Champ’s rap sheet is lengthy. Court records show that in 1992, he pleaded guilty to carrying a concealed firearm. In 1993, he was convicted of two counts of assault with intent to commit rape and as a result was placed on the state’s sex-offender registry.

In March 1998, he accepted a plea deal on a charge of loitering to solicit a prostitute; later that year, he pleaded no contest to a voluntary manslaughter charge after hitting a man with his vehicle, for which he was sentenced to 12 years in state prison, according to court records.

In an interview Friday, Champ acknowledged his criminal record, which was reported by KMJ radio in Fresno.

Champ said the assault case “was just for picking up some underage prostitutes” and resulted in a 90-day jail sentence. He said he turned his life around after the incident.

“I found the Lord when I got arrested for picking up the prostitutes,” Champ said. “I was like most people, ignorant in the darkness, in the very dark. I had no peace, had no love, had no joy. And now I do. Praise God for that…. I’ve grown considerably since I met Christ.”

He called the voluntary manslaughter case a “tragic accident.”

“There was a situation where the gentleman, he was a little bit drunk and was trying to get violent and I left the area as quick as I could and apparently he got in the way. I didn’t see him or even know I hit him until about four hours later, till it came on the news,” Champ said.

Champ said his life experience could help him deal with politicians in Sacramento. He calls them criminals, saying, for example, that they routinely infringe upon constitutionally protected gun rights.

“I know what the criminal mind thinks, and I know how it works and I know how to stop it, and that’s something [other politicians] don’t get,” Champ said.

I doubt that knowledge gleaned from being a sexual predator would translate easily to running government, although the way that some politicians screw tax payers, he might be on to something.

What was the state GOP thinking?

A spokesman for Brulte, who introduced the candidates after the close of official convention business Sunday, declined to say whether the chairman was aware of Champ’s past. In a written statement, Brulte said five of the six GOP gubernatorial candidates who have qualified for the ballot participated in the party’s convention, and four of them were available to address attendees Sunday morning.

Another candidate, Laguna Hills Mayor Andrew Blount, also spoke.

“We’re not in the business of vetting candidates, and we don’t pick winners and losers,” Brulte said. “Republican voters should get to decide who runs against Jerry Brown.”

That statement goes a long way toward explaining why the California Republican party is a joke. There are Democratic supermajorities in both chambers and the last “real” GOP governor who wasn’t a celebrity tool was Pete Wilson whose term ended in 1999. Only 15 out of the 53 House members are Republican and no US Senator has been elected from the GOP since Pete Wilson in 1988.

Perhaps the state party should, in fact, be in the business of vetting candidates — at least keeping the certifiable loons, crazies, sex offenders, and murderers off the ballot.

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Another ‘Hate Crime’ Hoax on Campus

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

It’s getting so that no self-respecting racial agitator can get away with anything these days.

Leastwise at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, where a whiteboard on a dorm-room door featured some rather crude racist comments that so upset everyone they were probably about to announce that sensitivity training would be undertaken by the entire student body.

They needn’t have worried. The offensive language on the whiteboard was placed there by the resident of the dorm room. But until they discovered the hoax, there was much hand-wringing, assurances that racism didn’t exist at the school, and promises to do better.

MLive reported the original story:

Students who live in the residence hall said they were surprised by the incident, saying signs of racial tension haven’t been present in the past.

One resident, Andrew Seawood, a freshman from Stevensville, said the slurs were upsetting because the residents of Copeland typically get along with one another.

“It was a little surprising when they did say something was written,” he said. “Everybody gets along with everybody.”

Others were angry.

Mattie Johnson, a sophomore from Southfield, said she was “appalled” that such intolerance exists in 2014.

“We’re a multi-racial community, and we shouldn’t treat each other like that,” Johnson said. “We’re all Lakers, we should all get along.” …

In addition to the drawing of a person being hanged, the slurs also included hateful remarks written about Black History Month.

Is it really “hateful” to write “F**k Black History Month”? It’s crude. It’s anatomically impossible. But given that the “F” word has lost all shock value whatsoever due to overuse, I question whether “hateful” was the proper descriptive.

Donzelle Collins, a sophomore from Detroit, said the incident suggests the university still has ground to cover in building an inclusive campus.

He and others said black and minority students still make up a relatively small portion of the university’s overall student body. In fall 2012, 5 percent of GVSU students were black, according to federal data.

“It wasn’t a surprise, considering the area we’re in,” Collins said.

An emergency meeting was hosted Monday by the university’s chapter of the NAACP to discuss the incident. On Wednesday, students on campus said there was a strong turnout at the meeting.

Note the racialists rushing to take advantage of the publicity. An “emergency” meeting? Where’s the fire? One stupid sign on one dorm-room door and the college twists itself into a pretzel trying to prove how “inclusive” they are. Truly pathetic.

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The Wild and Wacky World of Pacifica Radio

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

I read this article in the LA Weekly with a growing sense of wonderment. As weird and bizarre as things are getting at the Los Angeles headquarters of Pacifica Radio, a very small public radio network with 4 other outlets across the country, it promises to become even more surreal in the near future.

The gist of the story is hard to believe. The former/current executive director of the network, Summer Reese, was fired by the board, but refused to recognize their authority. When the board padlocked the doors to the station’s offices, Reese, along with a dozen or so supporters, including her mother, used bolt cutters to break the lock and enter the building. They are now “occupying” the premises, promising to stay until…whenever.

When is “whenever”? Presumably when Reese gets to remain where she is and get paid for it.

The “storied history” of Pacifica, as LA Weekly puts it, sounds like the station has been managed by a combination of escapees from an insane asylum and terribly precocious, evil little children:

Ian Masters, host of Background Briefing, a smart if rather sedate, hourlong public affairs show on KPFK, has been publicly calling for an end to this experiment in democracy, which sees board members elected by both listeners and staff members two out of every three years.

“We’re no longer a radio network, we’re a sad political glee club,” Masters says. “We desperately need adult supervision.”

Voters don’t seem to have any clue who they’re voting for, and turnout is low. Last year’s elections were called off due to lack of funding. Termed-out and retiring board members were replaced by the runner-up candidates in the most previous vote, leading, rather perversely, to the board majority flipping to the minority, the removal of Summer Reese and Reese’s subsequent sit-in.

The national board is dominated by two factions: the new majority, which Masters calls the “Radio Havana crowd,” and the new minority, which Masters dubs the “conspiracy and quackery crowd” — the latter group in 2010 approved a motion calling for all KPFK programs to question the “official story” of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

While board members have so far declined to say why they fired Reese, members of the various groups have made wild claims about one another.

Reese accuses her enemies of plotting to cover up financial malfeasance and even embezzlement. Reese’s opponents accuse her of incompetence and scheming to turn over control of the organization to Gary Null, an alternative-medicine guru and longtime Pacifica host, who sells his own vitamins and nutritional supplements during pledge drives — for which he takes a healthy cut, according to several board members and managers who spoke to the Weekly.

Reese also has been castigated for some of her fringe beliefs — her résumé includes stints working for the lawyer of Sirhan Sirhan, and for a man named Peymon Mottahedeh, a non-lawyer who nevertheless founded the Freedom Law School, which claims to help clients avoid taxes.

Reese admits to having no Social Security number, saying she is legally exempt because of a “religious objection.” When asked her religion, she says only that she’s a Christian; when asked whether she pays income taxes, she says only, “I don’t think that’s relevant to the article.”

All of this has obviously upset the delicate sensibilities of liberals, who bemoan the potential loss of a left wing voice in an “homogenized broadcast media landscape” as LA Weekly puts it.

The recent internal strife at Pacifica underlines a depressing truth for liberals, for whom the radio network is — or at least was — an important voice in an increasingly homogenized broadcast media landscape.

“If this goes under, anyone to the left of NPR will have nowhere to go,” Masters says.

Anyone to the left of NPR has fallen off the earth so we don’t have to worry about them. Still, it would be a shame if Pacifica was forced to fold its tent. Just think of all the unintended entertainment we’d miss — certainly a far sight funnier than what they put out over the air.

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Issa to Holder: Give us Details on Lerner DoJ Interview

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa has once again asked Attorney General Eric Holder to supply his committee with all documents surrounding the interview the Justice Department conducted with former IRS executive Lois Lerner.

Issa and other Republicans on the committee are upset because Lerner voluntarily submitted to an interview at Justice without asking for immunity while taking the Fifth twice before the Oversight Committee.

The Hill reports:

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) accused the Justice Department of standing in the way of their investigation into the stricter scrutiny that the IRS gave to conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.

Issa and Jordan pressed Holder for all the documents relating to the scope and timing of the department’s interview with Lerner, the IRS official who first apologized for the agency’s treatment of Tea Party groups.

“For over eight months, the committee has sought to carry out its oversight obligations in concert with the Department of Justice’s law-enforcement duties,” Issa and Jordan wrote to Holder. “At every stage, the department has refused to fully cooperate with the committee.”

GOP lawmakers have said they resent that Lerner would twice take the Fifth Amendment in front of Congress, while sitting down with federal authorities without any promise of immunity. Republicans are also angry that an attorney in the department’s IRS investigation donated to President Obama.

Bill Taylor, Lerner’s attorney, has said his client agreed to sit down with federal authorities because she believed she would be treated fairly. That’s not the case, Taylor said, at the House Oversight Committee, which he accused of running a partisan investigation that sought to vilify Lerner.

In their letter, Issa and Jordan asked for details about when and where the Lerner interview took place and who was involved. They also asked whether Lerner took the Fifth in that interview but did not request a transcript.

House Republicans have shown interest in holding Lerner in contempt of Congress, after they ruled that she waived her Fifth Amendment rights by defending herself in an opening statement in May 2013. Democrats have maintained that Issa dropped the ball on that front by not fully warning Lerner that she would face contempt charges if she did not answer questions at a hearing this month.

For its part, the Justice Department has also recently brushed aside GOP requests that it appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS’s treatment of groups seeking tax-exempt status.

I wonder what Lerner’s attorney means by his client being “treated fairly” at DoJ and not by Congress. Could he mean that the questions asked by Holder’s “investigators” weren’t quite as penetrating or complete, or that the questioners tossed softballs so that Lerner could easily avoid culpability?

We don’t know because Eric Holder doesn’t think Congress has a right to know. This isn’t surprising at all, considering the level of cooperation by DoJ with congressional investigations into Fast and Furious and other scandals exposed by Congress.

Since the Oversight Committee has already held AG Holder in contempt, it’s hard to see what else they could do to him — save having him arrested and thrown into the clink until he cooperates. Public shaming hasn’t worked either. And don’t bother asking the president to intervene on their behalf, given that stonewalling the committee is probably Obama’s strategy to begin with.

So Issa and the Republicans on the Oversight Committee are left to stew while Holder continues the IRS “investigation” headed by a long time contributor to Obama’s Senate and presidential campaigns.

Nothing to see here…move along.

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Putin’s K Street Lackeys

Sunday, March 16th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Lobbyists on K Street have grown fat and rich representing the interests of some of the world’s really bad actors and governments. They’re free to make their money any way they choose, of course — just like we’re free to curse them for the lackeys of foreign thugs and hooligans they are.

All lobbyists representing foreign governments have to register with the Justice Department, so it’s not like they can hide their affiliations. Still, representing reprobates like Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a choice — a profitable one to be sure, but a choice nonetheless. Should the choice of working for a foreign government that oppresses its own people, and threatens its neighbors come with a price? Even in an imperfect world, it most certainly should. And that price should be that companies and individuals that possess a conscience must shun these lobbyists that seek to influence our own policy makers on behalf of oppressive dictators.

This article in The Hill details the connections that some of the most influential lobbying shops in DC have with Russia. One such company is the PR giant Ketchum:

Ketchum has worked for the Russian government since 2006, when it helped the country prepare for the G8 Summit in St. Petersburg. The firm held with research and media rollout for Putin’s 2007 “Person of the Year” award by Time Magazine and contacted The New York Times last year about an op-ed written by the Russian president, according to Justice Department records.

Putin’s government has also paid out handsomely to Alston & Bird, a law and lobby firm under subcontract with Ketchum to represent Russia. That firm has earned almost $1.4 million since coming on board with Ketchum in 2009, according to Justice records.

An Alston & Bird official directed questions about representing Russia to Ketchum.

Work for foreign governments is among the most lucrative niches on K Street, but it often comes with controversy.

James Thurber, an American University political science professor who has studied the influence industry extensively, said lobby firms weigh two factors when taking on and then standing by a foreign client: income and image.

“My inclination is they would never say it’s about the bottom line but it’s about the bottom line. It’s about profit,” Thurber said.

“They have determined that the income from a controversial client is more important than the poor optics of representing said client. … People have said that dictators deserve representation but I have a different view on that. People have to make a decision about what is morally and ethically correct.”

Ketchum also represents Gazprom, the Russian state-owned oil and gas company, according to Justice records. Venable, another law and lobby firm, is under subcontract with Ketchum to represent the energy company.

The scrutiny facing Ketchum is familiar to veterans on K Street who have had to weigh the risks of taking on controversial foreign clients.

“There are some governments we have decided not to pitch,” said one K Street executive. “There is a reputational risk. If their actions are so bad, they reflect badly on our company, and we don’t want to do anything that would hurt our long-term or short-term image.”

One marker firms use to vet foreign clients is to gauge their relations with the United States.

“If the State Department deals with the nation in a straight-up way and doesn’t consider them rogue, then we would consider having them as a client,” said the executive.

John Podesta, White House counsel for President Obama and former chief of staff for Bill Clinton, started a lobbying outfit in 1988 with his brother Anthony. Now known as the Podesta Group, that company has accepted $900,000 over the last two years from a group known as the “European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, a Brussels-based organization sympathetic to [former Ukraine President] Yanukovich and his political party,” according to Wikipedia. You may recall that Yanukovich wanted to take Ukraine closer to Russia, which was the proximate cause of the unrest that eventually forced him to flee office.

There’s nothing illegal about lobbying for a foreign government, although some on Capitol Hill have grumbled that it should be. Representing the interests of another country, often at the expense of your own nation’s best interests, makes me wonder how some of these guys sleep at night. I suppose if you’re sleeping in a $2 million house, it makes it easier.

But then, unless you’re a conscienceless cad, you probably have nightmares about what you’re doing anyway.

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Benefit Experts Agree that Obamacare Can Survive Fewer Enrollments

Sunday, March 16th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Even though it looks like about 2 million fewer Americans are going to enroll in an Obamacare insurance plans than the White House predicted, many benefit experts say that should be enough to avoid a catastrophic meltdown.

President Obama said as much last week. But some of the consultants had words of warning for the administration as well.

Forbes:

Health benefits consultants said there is reason to worry about whether enough younger Americans have signed up due to the website issues early on that may have hurt enrollment.

In addition, slow signups in certain states that have continued to have more technical issues, such as Oregon, could trigger health plans to sustain greater losses and consider pulling out of the program, benefits consultants said.

“From an actuarial perspective, the fact that the rollout was poor hurt initial enrollment, and the recent extension of the transitional policies through October 2016 may likely keep many out of the single risk pool, at least for the short term,” said Tammy Tomczyk, principal and consulting actuary with Oliver Wyman Consulting Actuaries.

So far, however, health insurance companies have said the enrollment is trending younger and there have been few surprises that would require them to pull out of the program.

Americans can still enroll through the end of this month for coverage in 2014. Under the law, millions of Americans can get a subsidy of up to $5,000 to purchase an array of health plan choices that include those sold by Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, Aetna (AET), Cigna (CI), Humana (HUM), UnitedHealth Group (UNH), depending on the state.

Despite the technical issues that dogged the healthcare.gov website and prevented millions of Americans from signing up in October and much of November, benefits consultants said they always expected the enrollment to be slow.

“Six or seven million people doesn’t sound like much in a population of 300 million, but when you consider that the majority of Americans gets their health insurance through employers, and another large chunk is covered by government programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Tricare, you’re left with 12 million covered in the Individual market and about 48 million uninsured pre-ACA,” said Helen Leis, partner in the health and life sciences practice group at Oliver Wyman, “Six or seven million of that is good uptake after less than six months. We expect to see about 22 million lives on the public exchanges by 2018.”

The rollout is barely half finished. All we’ve seen so far is what happens to people who had individual insurance plans. The other shoe in this scenario are the immense problems that are going to occur when the employer mandate kicks in. It’s impossible to predict at this point how many employers are going to drop insurance coverage, how many are going to have to increase the amount that employees contribute to company plans, and what happens to the small business market.

Obamacare might not implode but problems with the law are not going to go away.

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Pilot of Flight 370 Was an ‘Obsessive’ Supporter of Opposition Leader

Sunday, March 16th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

This may be a blind alley, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

One of the pilots of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, attended the trial of controversial opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim just hours before the plane took off. The opposition politician was being retried on sodomy charges after his original guilty verdict had been overturned.

Co-workers describe Shah as an “obsessive” supporter of Ibrahim. Coupled with the revelation that Shah had a homemade flight simulator in his house, the suggestion he may have hijacked the plane himself and flown it to a still-unknown destination is not completely out of the question.

The Daily Mail reports:

Zaharie’s co-workers have told investigators the veteran pilot was a social activist who was vocal and fervent in his support of Ibrahim.

‘Colleagues made it clear to us that he was someone who held strong political beliefs and was strident in his support for Anwar Ibrahim,’ another investigation source said. ‘We were told by one colleague he was obsessed with politics.’

In their interviews, colleagues said Zaharie told them he planned to attend the court case involving Anwar on March 7, just hours before the Beijing flight, but investigators had not yet been able to confirm if he was among the crowd of Anwar supporters at court.

Zaharie is believed to be separated or divorced from his wife although they share the same house, close to Kuala Lumpur’s international airport. They have three children, but no family members were at home yesterday: only the maid has remained there.

n the days after Flight MH370 disappeared, Zaharie was affectionately described as a good neighbour and an eccentric ‘geek’ who had a flight simulator at home simply because he loved his work so much.

Malaysian officials initially appeared keen not to direct any suspicion towards Zaharie or his co-pilot, 27-year-old Fariq Abdul Hamid, who was last week revealed to have invited two women passengers into the cockpit and smoked on an earlier flight to Phuket.

But evidence of the way the plane’s transponder and communication systems were disabled and the way the plane was expertly flown over the Indian Ocean apparently using navigational waypoints meant only a skilled aviator could have been at the controls. Investigators were also baffled by why, if hijackers took over the plane, there was no Mayday call or signal from the two pilots to say the cockpit had been breached.

At yesterday’s press conference, the suspicion over the pilot’s involvement mounted as prime minister Najib Razak said that investigators had found ‘deliberate action’ on board the plane resulted in it changing course and losing contact with ground crews.

As a result of the new information, Malaysian authorities had ‘refocused their investigation on crew and passengers aboard’, he said. Police sealed off the area surrounding Zaharie’s home and searched the house shortly after the press conference.

A homemade flight simulator may, indeed, point to a dedicated pilot. It could also point to someone practicing how to steal away an aircraft without being tracked. Intricate knowledge of the inner workings of the aircraft would be necessary to turn off all the systems that allow aviation authorities to keep an eye on the bird. Is Shah that clever? Much more on the next page.

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Hollywood Rallies for Tax Breaks…for Hollywood

Saturday, March 15th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

It appears that some one percenters actually don’t like the idea of raising taxes. This is especially true in the vital and strategically important industry of filmmaking.

Or maybe it isn’t. I mean, it’s not like our national security is at risk if they make a film in Louisiana rather than California, right? Except don’t tell Hollywood movers and shakers that. They are so full of self-importance that they don’t care how hypocritical they look by lobbying the state for tax breaks for their industry while they support tax increases on almost everyone else.

On Saturday, the industry joined with small businesses who thrive off movie and TV shows at a rally to urge state lawmakers to cut them some slack on taxes — for the children, of course.

The Daily Caller reports:

While many of the once alive and active Hollywood studios have become vacant, film production in states with generous tax credits has been booming.

Louisiana is just one example of this phenomenon. The year before it enacted its tax credit (2002), production spending in Louisiana was only $3.5 million. By 2010, that figure had jumped to $674 million, making for a 19,000-percent increase.

Georgia, Texas, and New York, among others, have also lured film production to their cities by establishing expansive tax credits.

Recognizing the dramatic impact California’s onerous operating costs have had on the industry, parties typically associated with encouraging tax increases are now petitioning for California to demand less of the entertainment sector and become more competitive.

Warner Bros, FilmLA, the city and county of Los Angeles and the national labor union representing working actors are just a few of the traditionally left-wing entities that have formally voiced their support of lowering taxes on film makers.

Many businesses and organizations that are not even directly involved with production have been touched by the decline in the industry.

Ray Bidenost, principal of Chef Robért Catering, also has serious concerns about the outflow of capital and jobs.

“In this slow-growth economy, the state of California cannot afford to stand by while literally billions of dollars flow to other regions of the country, or overseas,” he said in a statement.

Bidenost added that lawmakers needed to make California more competitive to ensure that “the movie and TV industry, which is an integral part of the California economy, returns and flourishes here — so that we can continue to provide good-paying jobs for thousands of Californians and their families.”

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Senate Balks at Confirming Anti-Gun Hysteric for Surgeon General

Saturday, March 15th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

I’ve made fun in the past of some Second Amendment advocates who see black helicopters full of Men in Black out to take their guns from them in every effort at regulating firearms.

In the case of President Obama’s choice for Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, they may be right.

Wall Street Journal:

A number of Senate Democrats have indicated that they might oppose President Barack Obama’s choice of Vivek Murthy for the post of U.S. Surgeon General, according to Senate aides, putting the nomination at risk over the issue of gun control.

Dr. Murthy’s nomination is opposed by the National Rifle Association, the country’s largest gun lobby, because he has expressed support for gun control, calling it a public-health issue.

Chris Cox, executive director of the group’s political arm, said in a Feb. 26 letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) that the NRA opposed Mr. Murthy because of his support for a “wide array of gun control policies,” including a federal ban of certain semiautomatic firearms, often called assault weapons, and their ammunition.

“Given Dr. Murthy’s lengthy history of hostility towards the right to keep and bear arms, along with his calls for the full weight of the federal government’s health apparatus to be used to target lawful gun ownership, there is little reason to believe that he would not work to further a gun control agenda if confirmed as Surgeon General,” Mr. Cox wrote.

The White House hasn’t yet alerted Senate leaders how they plan to proceed on the nomination, according to a senior Senate Democratic aide, who said that as many as 10 Senate Democrats are still considering whether to support Dr. Murthy.

White House officials said they were “recalibrating” their strategy.

Questions over Dr. Murthy’s ability to clear the Senate arose just over a week after the chamber blocked Mr. Obama’s nominee to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Debo Adegbile. Several Democrats joined Republicans last week to oppose Mr. Adegbile after opponents highlighted his role in an effort to commute the death sentence of a high-profile, convicted murderer.

The vote marked the first time the Senate had refused to advance one of Mr. Obama’s nominees on the floor since it changed its rules to speed such confirmations last year.

“Vivek was approved out of Committee with bipartisan support, but after the Debo vote, we are recalibrating the strategy around his floor vote,” a senior White House official said Friday. “We expect him to ultimately get confirmed and be one of the country’s most powerful messengers on health and wellness.”

Murthy made all the right noises at his confirmation hearing:

MURTHY: To start, I do not intend to use the Surgeon General’s office as a bully pulpit for gun control. That is not going to be my priority, as we spoke about. My priority and focus is going to be on obesity prevention. There are a number of public health challenges that are facing our nation. My concerns with regard to issues like gun violence have to do with my experience as a physician, seeing patients in emergency rooms, who have come in with acute injuries, but also seeing many patients over the years who are dealing with spinal cord injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and other chronic complications from gun violence. But if given the opportunity to serve as Surgeon General, I’d like to point out a couple of things. One is that I recognize that the role is not to be a legislator or a judge the role is to be a public health educator and to bring the country together around our most pressing healthcare challenges and I believe at this point that obesity is the primary health challenge of our time, and that’s where I intend to put my focus. [Senate HELP Committee, 2/4/14]

Murthy might not use his office as a “bully pulpit” but what worries me is that when the White House cracks the whip during their next go-around on gun control, this guy is going to be all over TV talking about guns as a “public health issue.” So he’s been in emergency rooms and seen the result of the right to bear arms. There are casualties of free speech too. Perhaps we should make politically incorrect speech a matter of “public health” as well.

You don’t bargain away constitutional rights because there is a cost associated with them. That’s ass backwards logic and if this fellow doesn’t realize it, he shouldn’t have been nominated in the first place.

Sooner or later, those with an anti-liberty agenda will find a way to push something they don’t like into the sphere of public health where, with Obamacare operational, government can now bludgeon people into submission who disagree with them.

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Russia ‘Considering’ Requests to Intervene in Eastern Ukraine

Saturday, March 15th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Well, of course they are. And I’m sure these “requests” are just as legitimate as the requests made by Sudeten Germans asking Hitler to “protect” them in 1938.

Vladimir Putin has missed his calling. Rather than working as an autocrat, he should have gone into the theater. Actor, director, stage manager — there isn’t anything he couldn’t do.

Putin has designed a production in Ukraine that should win him a Tony Award. And tomorrow, when the curtain rises on his musical comedy, How to Succeed with Annexation without Really Trying, the world will stand in awe of his skills at manipulation and showmanship.

In truth, Putin has created the exact conditions necessary to justify an invasion of eastern and southern Ukraine. He has engineered protests in three major cities — Kharkov, Donetsk and Lugansk — where at least three people have died and dozens have been injured. As if on cue, the Russian Foreign Ministry ominously warned about the “excesses” of ultranationalists — code for fascists. Ukraine’s government officials have said the provocations were “well planned.

Whether you believe Moscow or Kiev is irrelevant. Neither side is to be complimented on their accuracy or honesty. What’s clear is that Vladimir Putin is the master of events and it is up to him whether there will be peace or war with Ukraine.

His propaganda machine is in full swing.

The Associated Press reports:

This is Ukraine today, at least as seen by most Russian news media: the government is run by anti-Semitic fascists, people killed in protests were shot by opposition snipers and the West is behind it all.

And the room to disagree with that portrayal is getting smaller by the week.

With Crimea set to hold a referendum Sunday on whether to merge with Russia, the push to demonize Ukraine’s leadership has reached fever pitch. Authorities in Ukraine have responded by blocking Russian TV channels.

Lev Gudkov, head of a respected independent Moscow-based polling agency, says the propagandist tone of Russian state television has reached new levels.

“For intensity, comprehensiveness and aggressiveness, this is like nothing I have ever seen over the whole post-Soviet period,” Gudkov said.

News bulletins on top network Channel 1 carry extensive reports detailing purported rampant lawlessness to vague threats of reprisals against ethnic Russians and Jews, as well as showing interviews with talking heads alleging foreign-engineered plots.

NTV, owned by gas giant Gazprom’s media arm, on Thursday aired a report about purportedly hacked email correspondence between U.S. and Ukrainian officials on plans for staging an attack on military jets. The piece goes on to claim that the incident was to serve as an excuse for the United States to take military action against Russia.

It is steadily becoming conventional wisdom in the most widely watched news shows that those shot dead during protests in Kiev last month were victims of shadowy figures possibly hired by opposition forces.

Right Sector, a radical ultranationalist group that spearheaded the most violent assaults against riot police, is a subject of scaremongering daily exposes. For all the attention it has received, the group has not been granted any posts in the new government and observers say it has little actual clout.

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US to Give Up Control of Internet

Saturday, March 15th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

The news — dumped quietly by the Commerce Department on a late Friday afternoon — that the US would not renew its contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is being greeted with joy in international quarters and trepidation by some businesses.

US oversight of ICANN is largely credited with the creation of an internet that works smoothly and with little censorship. What would a non-US controlled internet look like? It depends who the stakeholders are and how much control the world cedes to individual governments.

Russia and China (and a block that includes mostly Muslim Arab countries) have been agitating for this change for years. The question is how can internet freedom be maintained when such powerful dictatorial forces are arrayed in favor of censorship?

As this Wall Street Journal article points out, it’s really our own fault that there has been intense pressure for the government to relinquish oversight of ICANN. The NSA spying scandals have caused most of the world to lose trust in US stewardship of the net.

The action had been debated among technologists and policy makers, but the prospect of the U.S. relinquishing control concerns some businesses because of the potential for censorship.

“If you hand over domain-name registration to someone who doesn’t want certain classes of domains registered, then you’re setting up a censorship structure,” said Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, which represents businesses.

In recent years U.S. policy makers have pushed back against calls from nations including China and Russia for the U.N. and ITU to have a greater role in overseeing the structure of the Web. U.S. officials have previously argued that such an arrangement would lead to the repression of free speech and the Balkanization of the Internet.

“We thank the U.S. government for its stewardship, its guidance over the years. We thank them today for trusting the global community to replace this stewardship with the appropriate accountability mechanisms,” Icann CEO Fadi Chehadé said.

Icann will launch the process later later this month at Singapore event and collect input throughout the year, with an aim of having the new governance structure completed by September 2015 when the existing contract with the Commerce Department expires. Anyone with an interest in how the Internet is managed is invited to take part.

According to Larry Strickling, administrator for the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration the new governance model must ensure that Icann is free from government influence. The plan must also fulfill several other conditions, such as preserving the security and stability of the Internet while keeping it open and free from censorship.

Those are worthy goals, but are they even possible when a majority of governments around the world are authoritarian dictatorships? The Heritage Foundation thinks that once freed from Commerce Department oversight, ICANN will line up with governments who want to censor the net:

Broadening international governance of the Internet may sound like a fair and appropriate course of action. But such a path will allow bad actors to greatly constrain human rights and freedoms. The irony of the Montevideo Statement is that, in trying to combat balkanization of the Internet and Internet surveillance, it makes ICANN more vulnerable to autocratic and despotic regimes, which use broad and repressive censorship and surveillance programs.

A positive aspect is that ICANN is a consensus-driven organization that is limited to policies, standards, and operations for IP addresses and the Domain Name System that creates easy-to-remember web domains such as “heritage.org.” Similarly, other organizations, including the IETF, the IAB, and the Internet Society, are also consensus-based organizations with specific functions. As long as these organizations are limited in purpose and make consensus-based policy decisions, the U.S. can ensure a free and powerful Internet through consistent involvement and engagement with Internet-governance organizations.

Furthermore, the U.S. must work with these various Internet governance organizations as well as allies to prevent the ITU from taking over responsibility for the Internet. Unlike ICANN and other non-profit organizations, the ITU is a political organization that autocratic governments can use to exercise and justify increased power over crucial aspects of the Internet, especially within their borders. Defeating cyber sovereignty and other efforts that empower the ITU and autocratic governments should be central to the U.S. Internet freedom agenda.

One might feel reassured about internet freedom if the Obama administration was committed to preventing other nations from controlling it. The fact is, the administration well knows the lay of the land and that the ITU, goaded on by China, Russia, and Arab countries, might seek to hijack internet governance and turn the regulators into puppets to serve their interests.

This would be highly unlikely — unless the US allowed it to happen. Given the internationalist bent of the administration, such a turn of events cannot be ruled out.

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Sharyl Attkisson, ‘Fast and Furious’ Investigative Reporter, Resigns from CBS

Monday, March 10th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Sharyl Attkisson, whose hard-hitting investigation into the gunwalking scandal known as Fast and Furious was known to anger the White House, has resigned from CBS News.

Attkisson cited liberal bias at the network and an insufficient dedication to investigative journalism.

Politco reports:

CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson has reached an agreement to resign from CBS News ahead of contract, bringing an end to months of hard-fought negotiations, sources familiar with her departure told POLITICO on Monday.

Attkisson, who has been with CBS News for two decades, had grown frustrated with what she saw as the network’s liberal bias, an outsized influence by the network’s corporate partners and a lack of dedication to investigative reporting, several sources said. She increasingly felt like her work was no longer supported and that it was a struggle to get her reporting on air.

At the same time, Attkisson’s own reporting on the Obama administration, which some staffers characterized as agenda-driven, had led network executives to doubt the impartiality of her reporting. She is currently at work on a book — tentatively titled “Stonewalled: One Reporter’s Fight for Truth in Obama’s Washington” — which addresses the challenges of reporting critically on the Obama administration.

Feeling increasingly stymied and marginalized at the network, Attkisson began talking to CBS News President David Rhodes as early as last April about getting out of her contract. Those negotiations intensified in recent weeks, and her request was finally honored on Monday.

Reached by phone, Attkisson described her resignation as “amicable.” She said she will now turn her attention to the book, which is being published by HarperCollins, a division of NewsCorp (and not by Simon & Schuster, a division of CBS Corporation.)

Sonya McNair, the senior vice president for communications for CBS News, said in a statement: “CBS News veteran Sharyl Attkisson is leaving the news division to pursue other endeavors. We appreciate her many contributions and we wish her well.”

But Attkisson had become a polarizing figure at the network, sources there said. While some championed her relentless dedication to investigations — ranging from defective Firestone Tires to the Fast and Furious gunwalking scandal — others saw evidence of a political agenda, particularly against President Obama. (The bulk of Attkisson’s work since 2009 has focused on the failures or perceived failures of the Obama administration, including the administration’s failed green energy investments and the attack in Benghazi, though she has reported on several Republican failures as well.)

Others have suggested that CBS News itself was politically biased: “It’s no secret that Sharyl has been unhappy about CBS’s lack of interest in investigative reporting, especially when it comes to stories about the Obama administration,” a source close to Attkisson said.

Attkisson reported her computers at home were hacked last June. Since then, CBS has been investigating the hack, but no answers have been forthcoming. At the time her computers were surveiled, she was covering the Benghazi attack and raising uncomfortable questions for the administration.

Attkisson won’t have a problem finding a job. Expect her reports to show up on Fox News eventually.

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