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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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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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When Your Enemy Makes the Case Against Obamacare For You

Sunday, March 9th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

You almost want to feel sorry for Donald Taylor, head of the Unite Here union, who, too late, woke up to what Obamacare is doing to the Middle Class.

Almost — but, in the end, uh-uh.

Taylor’s union represents about 265,000 low wage service workers in the hospitality industry and the nightmare of Obamacare is just beginning for them.

Washington Examiner:

A national union that represents 300,000 low-wage hospitality workers charges in a new report that Obamacare will slam wages, cut hours, limit access to health insurance and worsen the very “income equality” President Obama says he is campaigning to fix.

Unite Here warned that due to Obamacare’s much higher costs for health insurance than what union workers currently pay, the result will be a pay cut of up to $5 an hour. “If employers follow the incentives in the law, they will push families onto the exchanges to buy coverage. This will force low-wage service industry employees to spend $2.00, $3.00 or even $5.00 an hour of their pay to buy similar coverage,” said the union in a new report.

“Only in Washington could asking the bottom of the middle class to finance health care for the poorest families be seen as reducing inequality,” said the report from Unite Here. “Without smart fixes, the ACA threatens the middle class with higher premiums, loss of hours, and a shift to part-time work and less comprehensive coverage,” said the report, titled, “The Irony of Obamacare: Making Inequality Worse.”
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Based on government and private reports, polling and statements from administration officials, the report, to be sent to pro-union members in Congress, charges that low-wage workers are taking the hit under Obamacare, while wealthy insurance companies fatten up on government subsidies.

The sheer unfairness of it all rankles Taylor. Too bad he couldn’t get outraged before the vote was taken that passed Obamacare in the first place:

Unite Here’s document charges that the administration is putting union health care into a “death spiral.” It endorsed criticism that employers will move workers to part-time status to avoid the requirement that those working 30 hours or more a week be provided health insurance — or else the company pays a penalty. And it says the Affordable Care Act will shift workers from union insurance to the more expensive Obamacare health exchanges, costing them up to half of their pay to cover premiums.

“The information addresses the very unfortunate irony of Obamacare,” Taylor said in his letter about the report. “Namely, that it will inevitably lead to the destruction of the health care plans we were promised we could keep. And, as a result, it will lead to greater income inequality for the very segment of the population Obamacare should want to help most.”

Trot this guy out the next time Obama rails against Republicans for supporting income inequality.

That won’t happen, but Taylor’s comments are a window into the thinking of other union heads who have complained off and on over the last few months about the effect of Obamacare on their members. Their complaints ring hollow considering it was their support that helped bring the law into being in the first place. Incredibly, Democrats are telling the unions to suck it up and play ball:

Taylor also suggested that Democrats in Washington are telling unions to stop griping about the impact of Obamacare on their members. He quoted a Senate aide saying, “Labor needs to regress to the mean.” Said Taylor: “In other words, roll back what you have and take one for the team. Ironic, given that Congress and the president carved out an exemption for staffers on the ACA. We cannot sit idly by as the politicians carve up our health plans while they carve out exceptions for themselves and every special interest feeding at the trough in Washington.”

The truth hurts — especially when it is late in being recognized.

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Kim Jong-Un Orders Massacre of 33 Christians

Sunday, March 9th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

They’re being charged with attempting to overthrow the regime, but their real crime is that they were working with jailed South Korean Christian missionary Kim Jung-wook to set up 500 underground churches in North Korea.

They are not being “executed.” Using that word would lend some legality and moral framework to Kim’s action. This is nothing less than a massacre of innocent human beings — a slaughter that should raise an outcry in every civilized nation of the world.

The Daily Mail reports:

Thirty-three North Koreans face execution after being charged with attempting to overthrow the repressive regime of Kim Jong-un.

The Koreans have landed themselves in hot water after it emerged they had worked with South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jung-wook and received money to set up 500 underground churches. It is understood they will be put to death in a cell at the State Security Department.

Experts believe the North Koreans are being punished more harshly than usual as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un combats a wave of dissatisfaction at the regime’s isolationist “juche” doctrine.

Missionary Kim Jung-wook was arrested and jailed last year for allegedly trying to establish underground churches. Last week he held a press conference at which he apologized for committing “anti-state” crimes and appealed for his release from North Korean custody.

He told reporters that he was arrested in early October after entering the North from China and trying to make his way to Pyongyang with Bibles, Christian instructional materials and movies.

Kim Jung-wook said he had received assistance from South Korea’s intelligence agency.

“I was thinking of turning North Korea into a religious country, and destroying its present government and political system,” he said at the time.

“I received money from the intelligence services and followed instructions from them, and arranged North Koreans to act as their spies. And I also set up an underground church in China, in Dandong, and got the members to talk and write, for me to collect details about the reality of life in North Korea, and I provided this to the intelligence services.”

A South Korean intelligence source in China took issue with Kim’s account, saying that the missionary did not enter North Korea voluntarily, but was kidnapped by agents of the Pyongyang government in China.

During Kim Jung-wook’s press conference, North Korean officials also showed video of North Koreans who confessed to coming into contact with the missionary.

The North Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported that they said that Kim told them to build a church on the site where a massive statue of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-Sung, stands in Pyongyang whenever the regime falls.

Anyone who believes those coerced “confessions” should be institutionalized for having lost touch with reality. The question now is whether Kim will carry through with his bloodthirsty plan. Or will he demonstrate his “mercy” by commuting the sentences to something less than death?

Kim is liable to make the same mistake Roman emperors made when they tried to stamp out Christianity, as I’ll explain on the next page.

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Palin Rocks CPAC, Bashes Establishment GOP

Sunday, March 9th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

When CPAC organizers invited Sarah Palin to give the keynote speech at the conference, they must have been aware of the former Alaska governor’s desire to lead the charge against inside the Beltway Republican establishmentarians and what she considers their insufficient zeal in fighting the Obama administration’s policies.

To that end, Palin brought her conservative Inquisition to CPAC and didn’t disappoint the crowd. She railed against GOP “Beltway Boys,” accusing them of joining “the lapdogs in the lame-stream to trash the foot soldiers who fought for America.”

Palin is referring to the effort by Ted Cruz to defund Obamacare and the criticism of the senator by the Republican leadership for making such a futile gesture. Cruz’s gambit shut the government for 16 days, and despite attempts at trying to place the blame solely on Cruz and Republicans, the public ended up blaming both sides for the mess.

Palin stopped short of endorsing Cruz for president. After all, she may want to take the plunge herself, although she received only 2% in the CPAC straw poll. But it’s clear that she sees Cruz as a soul mate and ally in an effort to purge the Republican Party of those they consider weak-willed and insufficiently committed to stopping the president’s agenda.

ABC News reports:

“I do believe that the eyes of America are open. Unfortunately though, some would want you to hit the snooze button and roll back over. Like ‘Hush America, go back to sleep little lambs,’” Palin said. “Some of these folks are in the GOP establishment.”

Palin shared particular praise for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, whom she endorsed during the Texas Senate primary in 2012 over the establishment-backed candidate.

“Thank you, Texas because liberty needs a Congress on Cruz control,” Palin said. “The awakening began, and Sen. Ted Cruz helped keep them awake. His filibuster, it worked in waking people up to the folly of a government takeover.

“He told his colleagues it was time, time to stand up, time to use the tools of the Constitution, the power of the purse and to fulfill their campaign promises and to stop Obamacare,” she said. “But our army balked. We hoped that they were just reloading, but instead they retreated, and worse, worse, they joined the lapdogs in the lamestream to trash the foot soldiers who had fought for America.”

Cruz’s Kamikaze tactics no doubt energized much of the right. But as far as an “awakening” of the electorate, Cruz’s gambit actually delayed the public’s realization of just how bad Obamacare was when, predictably, the press concentrated their fire on Republicans for causing the government shutdown just at the moment that the rollout of Obamacare was becoming a monumental disaster. It wasn’t until after the shutdown that the full import of Obamacare’s follies began to be noticed.

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Civil War Brewing in Libya?

Sunday, March 9th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Ordinarily, word that the Libyan government was close to open warfare with militias wouldn’t be news. But in this case, the issue is oil revenue and whether the government gets it, or powerful separatist militias. And the government is apparently going to go to the mattresses to make their point.

A North Korean tanker has been loading oil at docks seized by separatist militias in the east and the government has ordered the military to destroy the ship rather than have the revenue fall into the hands of the militias.

Prime Minister Ali Zidan gave the order to bomb the ship yesterday, but the military did not carry out that order. Whether the military simply refused, or, as they claim, couldn’t obey the order because of the weather, Zidan has one gigantic headache that his government appears ill-equipped to deal with.

AFP:

Libyan separatists loaded oil onto a North Korean tanker for a second consecutive day on Sunday, ignoring the central government’s threats of military action, an industry official said.

The separatists are former rebels who have turned against the interim authorities in the restive North African country after toppling veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi in the 2011 uprising.

Since July separatists have been blockading oil terminals in eastern Libya that they had been entrusted with guarding over demands for autonomy in eastern regions and a share in lucrative oil revenues.

On Saturday they began loading oil onto the Panamanian-flagged “Morning Glory” tanker docked at Al-Sidra terminal.

Prime Minister Ali Zeidan ordered them to stop or else the tanker would be bombed, while Oil Minister Omar Shakmak denounced the separatists for an “act of piracy”.

On Sunday the defence ministry said orders for military action had been issued to the armed forces, the official Lana news agency reported.

The ministry ordered the chief of staff, the navy and the air force “to deal with the tanker that entered Libyan waters without a prior permit from the legitimate authorities,” Lana said.

The report came as National Oil Corporation spokesman Mohamed al-Hariri said that the Morning Glory was “still inside the harbour and loading is underway”.

Hariri said he expected the operation to continue until the end of Sunday, noting that the ship could take up to 350,000 barrels of crude oil.

But he was unable to give details on any plans by the authorities to stop the tanker from leaving the port.

- Plans to intercept ship -

However, military sources said plans were in place to intercept the tanker before it leaves Libya’s territorial waters.

Prime Minister Zeidan told a news conference late Saturday that the attorney general had given the order for the ship to be stopped.

“All parties must respect Libyan sovereignty. If the ship does not comply, it will be bombed,” he said.

Zeidan said the authorities had told the vessel’s captain to leave Libya’s waters, but added that armed gunmen on board were preventing him from setting sail.

A spokesman for the self-proclaimed government of Cyrenaica in the east, the political wing of the separatists, had said Saturday that oil exports from Al-Sidra had begun.

“We are not defying the government or the Congress (parliament). But we are insisting on our rights,” said Rabbo al-Barassi, who heads the Cyrenaica executive bureau formed in August.

It’s clear that the writ of the Zidan government does not run very far outside of Tripoli. His western allies aren’t doing much besides kibitzing on the sidelines. Taking on the separatists over oil could lead to a shooting war — a turn of events that the country can ill afford given it’s wretched economic condition and lack of cohesion. But Zidan has very little choice if he wants a country to rule at all.

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Stolen Passports on Malaysian Airliner Raise Terror Questions

Saturday, March 8th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

NBC News is reporting that the U.S. government is investigating a possible terrorism link to the apparent crash of a Malasyian airliner bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. An Italian national and Austrian national who reported their passports stolen last summer were listed on the passenger manifest despite not being on board the flight.

Authorities point out that there are other reasons passports are stolen, including drug smuggling. Officials are currently going over the passenger manifest looking for anyone with ties to terror groups.

“We are aware of the reporting on the two stolen passports,” one senior official said. “We have not determined a nexus to terrorism yet, although it’s still very early, and that’s by no means definitive.”

Both passports were stolen in Thailand, sources told NBC News.

An Italian man who had his passport stolen a year ago was on the passenger manifest for the jet, but his father told NBC News on Saturday that he was safe and on vacation in Thailand.

In Austria, the foreign ministry confirmed to NBC News that police had made contact with a citizen who was also on the passenger list, and who reported his passport stolen two years ago while traveling in Asia.

“We believe that the name and passport were used by an unidentified person to board the plane,” a spokesman for the ministry said.

It is unusual for one person to board a plane with a stolen passport and very rare for two to do it, terrorism analysts say.

The Italian on the passenger list was Luigi Maraldi, 37. His father, Walter Maraldi, told NBC News from Cesena, Italy: “Luigi called us early this morning to reassure us he was fine, but we didn’t know about the accident. Thank God he heard about it before us.”

Malaysia has not seen significant terrorist activity, and airport security there has tended to be exemplary.

Asked earlier whether terrorism was suspected in the disappearance of the jet, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said authorities were “looking at all possibilities,” The Associated Press reported.

Earlier in the day, U.S. officials told NBC News that “all we know is something quick and catastrophic” happened to the plane.

Just what happened to the aircraft and where it went down are both matters of speculation, but terrorism is a very real possibility as I’ll explain on the next page.

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IRS to Provide Congress with All Lerner Emails Since Targeting Began

Saturday, March 8th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

One imagines that the reason the IRS has changed its tune and will now supply all the emails Congress requested eight months ago is that they’ve had the opportunity to go through them and have found nothing incriminating.

But the value of of examining all of Lois Lerner’s emails during the months in question has to do with the two-track approach to the IRS investigation that Republicans have initiated.

The first track is an examination of the targeting scandal and all the related issues associated with IRS actions. The second, and equally important, track, is getting to the bottom of how the IRS came up with its new set of regulations that govern what “political activity” is legal for 501(C)(4) organizations.

The significance of the IRS relenting in giving Congress Lerner’s emails is that she was at the center of conversations at the agency regarding how these rules were developed — and why. Republicans want to know why political activities that were legal under the old rules have suddenly been declared illegal by the IRS.

The Daily Mail reports:

The powerful House Ways and Means Committee will get everything from disgraced former IRS official Lois Lerner’s email account since a few weeks before Barack Obama became president.

And Republican committee members are hoping they’ll find a smoking gun tying the Obama administration to the years-long scheme to play political favorites with nonprofit groups’ tax-exemption applications.

After eight months of back-and-forth stonewalling, the IRS has agreed to turn over the complete contents of Lerner’s email account, along with other documents that two congressional committees have been demanding.

‘If there’s not a Holy Grail email in this round of documents,’ a senior staffer to a Ways and Means committee member told MailOnline, ‘then we’re not going to find it.’

‘Whether that’s because Lerner covered her tracks or because the IRS is shredding documents, we’re probably never going to know.’

More likely, Lerner was smart enough not to commit anything to writing — if, indeed, she is trying to hide something. A good investigator would be able to glean clues about missing emails from sometimes unrelated communications, so the IRS probably didn’t do much shredding.

The IRS has proposed a rewrite of its regulations governing communications restrictions on ‘public benefit’ organizations that are exempt from paying federal income taxes.

That redesign of the rules began long before Lerner herself exposed the IRS’s pattern of holding up right-wing groups’ applications, often with dozens of intrusive questions over several years.

The effects of the agency’s desired rule change would be substantial: Organizations would be prohibited from emailing information, or publishing anything online, about candidates’ voting records during the last 60 days before an election.

Tea party groups, which began their rise to prominence five years ago, comprised most of the organizations that the IRS targeted beginning in 2010. Their political free-speech concerns have driven more than 146,000 public comments to the IRS, demanding that the regulatory revisions be scrapped.

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Saudis Designate Group Administration Called ‘Moderate Islamists’ as Terrorists

Saturday, March 8th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

The Arab Spring ended in ignominy many months ago, but one policy relic from that faux reformation was the notion that the US and the west could work with the Muslim Brotherhood. Former DNI James Clapper even went so far as to claim that the MB was “secular” — a bit of lunacy that he had to hastily walk back.

Saudi Arabia harbors no such delusional thinking. They have declared the Muslim Brotherhood and two other Syrian Islamist groups as terrorists. And they have told their own citizens fighting against Bashar Assad’s rule in Syria that they have 15 days to return home or face imprisonment.

As a major financier and supplier of weapons to the rebels in Syria, the Saudis are trying to clean up the Syrian opposition under pressure from the US while trying to prevent blowback from terrorists who may try to destabilize the Kingdom.

Christian Science Monitor:

A Saudi Interior Ministry statement said King Abdullah approved the findings of a committee entrusted with identifying extremist groups referred to in a royal decree earlier last month. The decree punishes those who fight in conflicts outside the kingdom or join extremist groups or support them.

The king’s decree followed the kingdom enacting a sweeping new counterterrorism law that targets virtually any criticism of the government.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been targeted by many Gulf nations since the July 3 military overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in Egypt, himself a Brotherhood member. Saudi Arabia has banned Brotherhood books from the ongoing Riyadh book fair and withdrew its ambassador from Qatar, a Brotherhood supporter, along with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

In a statement, the Muslim Brotherhood condemned Saudi Arabia’s decision.

“It is one of the founding principles of the group not to interfere in matters of other states, and this new position from the kingdom is a complete departure from the past relationship with the group, since the reign of the founding king until now,” the statement read.

Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Attie praised the decision, saying it “reflects the coordination and solidarity” between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. He said he hopes that other countries make the same decision.

“We expect other countries to fulfill their responsibilities in the fight against terrorism,” Abdel-Attie told journalists Friday.

The Saudi statement, carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, identified the other terrorist groups named as al-Qaida’s branches in Yemen and Iraq, the Syrian al-Nusra Front, Saudi Hezbollah and Yemen’s Shiite Hawthis. It said the law would apply to all the groups and organizations identified by the United Nations Security Council or international bodies as terrorists or violent groups. It said the law also would be applied to any Saudi citizen or a foreigner residing in the kingdom for propagating atheism or pledging allegiance to anyone other than the kingdom’s leaders.

The counterterrorism law bans meetings of the groups inside or outside of the kingdom and covers comments made online or to media outlets.

The administration has been insisting that the Brotherhood has given up violence and doesn’t support terrorism. They conveniently leave out the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood helped create and still supports Hamas — the Palestinian group still designated as a terrorist outfit by the State Department. And where they got the idea that the Brotherhood was “moderate” in anything is a mystery. One need only look at the constitutional changes they tried to impose in Egypt to see that their radical, pro-Shariah law agenda was anything but “moderate.”

But the White House ultimately saw the Brotherhood as a partner in the Middle East — even though the group maintained it was a sworn enemy of Israel and the west. The fact that the citizens of Egypt rose up and tossed them out — with the help of a military coup — gives the lie to the administration’s policy toward the Brotherhood and shows how badly they miscalculated.

The designation of al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Yemen and Iraq was to be expected. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — an extremely violent al-Qaeda offshoot — has been fighting everybody on all sides in Syria. The US has been urging the Saudis to stop funding these Islamist groups who have been buying weapons from Qatar. The Kingdom, along with Bahrain and the UAE have withdrawn their ambassadors due to Qatar’s continued support for violent Islamist groups, citing fawning coverage of the terrorists from Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based TV network.

The blacklisting of al-Nusra may affect the rebel effort to overthrow President Assad. Al-Nusra is considered to be one of the most effective fighting forces in the war and denying them money and supplies could hurt the rebel cause.

But US pressure — and the Kingdom’s own sense of self-preservation — has placed the terrorist group on the outside looking in.

The Brotherhood has now come full circle — from outcast political group, to running Egypt, to once again being blackballed. Let’s hope this cures our naive policy makers of any idea that we could work with Islamists dedicated to destroying Israel and establishing a caliphate from the Middle East to Indonesia.

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Greens to Kerry: Approving Keystone a ‘bigger mistake’ than Vietnam

Friday, March 7th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Do they realize that this kind of hysteria only hurts their cause? Or is it that their lives are so empty and worthless that nothing short of seeing themselves battling evil to save the world will fill the hole in their souls?

The Hill:

Academy Award-winning actor Jared Leto and 13 other young activists, including the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, are calling on Secretary of State John Kerry to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

After speaking with top State Department officials on Thursday, the activists sent a letter to Kerry, digging deep into the secretary’s past when he testified in Congress against the Vietnam War.

“In 1971, when you were roughly our age, you asked ‘How can you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?’ ” the letter states. “We stand at such a point today, with respect to an even greater challenge, an even bigger mistake — the imminent threat of catastrophic climate disruption.”

“We dare to believe that it’s not just an accident of history that this recommendation falls to you,” the letter said.

Among the co-signers was Leto, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar a week ago for his performance in “Dallas Buyer’s Club.”

Other co-signers included Guster guitarist Adam Gardner and Connor Kennedy, who was arrested a last year with his father at an anti-pipeline protest.

Ben Gosthall, leader of the Bold Nebraska campaign against Keystone XL, also joined in signing the request, which made the rounds before the final day the State Department would accept public comments on the $5.4 billion oil-sands pipeline.

Why does the State Department give these “activists” the time of day? Their ability to contribute technical or scientific information to the debate is nil. You have to wonder if celebrity worship has infected Foggy Bottom.

Put their comments on a piece of paper and hand it in like everyone else. Getting a meeting with State Department employees is a waste of time,

And yeah…approving Keystone is just like 56,000 Americans getting killed. Right. That must mean that building coal fired electric plant is like dropping another Hiroshima bomb. And all the fracking going on is like the asteroid strike 63 million years ago that killed off the dinosaurs.

The problem with using hyperbole and exaggeration as criticism is that eventually, you have nowhere to go with it and you end up sounding like a lunatic.

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Neither Snow, Nor Rain, Nor Gloom of Night Shall Keep our President from his Appointed Vacation

Friday, March 7th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Nor, apparently, war or the threat of war.

Russian tanks may be revving their engines on the borders of Ukraine, ready to begin Sevastopol Grand Prix, but that’s not going to keep President Obama from jetting off to Key Largo for a little fun in the sun.

Politico:

The situation in Ukraine won’t keep President Barack Obama from taking a weekend getaway in South Florida with his family.

Obama will stick with his plans to travel to a beachfront resort in Key Largo following a visit Friday to a Miami high school, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One.

“There’s always a chance the schedule could change, but I don’t anticipate any changes,” Earnest said.

The president is bound to face criticism from Republicans for spending the weekend away from the White House while he and other foreign leaders remain stymied by Russia’s refusal to pull back troops from Ukraine.

Obama will be able to monitor the situation, Earnest said: the president is traveling with a deputy national security adviser, will be able to engage in talks in a “secure fashion,” and can meet “all the responsibilities that he has.”

CNN helpfully explains why this is no big deal:

While the White House signaled earlier in the week that a long-planned getaway in South Florida could be nixed due to overseas events, the commander-in-chief and his family will remain in Key Largo for the weekend.

All presidents are routinely criticized for taking time off even though the chief executive always travels with a full retinue of aides and secure communications equipment. This means he can work and the requirements of the job are never far away.

This is true — up to a point. While every president leaves themselves open to criticism for sneaking away for a weekend, I can’t recall it happening when our primary geopolitical adversary is poised to start a shooting war in Europe.

Just sayin’.

What do you suppose Vladimir Putin is thinking when he hears that Obama is off to Florida with his family to play golf and soak up some rays while he holds a massive air defense exercise and 150,000 Russian troops are on the border of a much smaller neighbor?

What would you think if you were Putin?

More: 

White House Releases New Obama Phone Photo in Ukraine Crisis

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Uninsured MIA in Obamacare Enrollments

Friday, March 7th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

A study conducted by McKinsey & Co. reveals that only one in ten of new Obamacare enrollees in February were previously without insurance.

Washington Post:

The new health insurance marketplaces appear to be making little headway in signing up Americans who lack insurance, the Affordable Care Act’s central goal, according to a pair of new surveys.

Only one in 10 uninsured people who qualify for private plans through the new marketplaces enrolled as of last month, one of the surveys shows. The other found that about half of uninsured adults have looked for information on the online exchanges or planned to look.

The snapshots from the surveys released Thursday provide preliminary answers to what has been one of the biggest mysteries since HealthCare.gov and separate state marketplaces opened last fall: Are they attracting their prime audience?

Their “prime audience” being the reason the law was supposedly passed in the first place; covering the uninsured. And what of the uninsured who do enroll in a plan? How many have paid their first month’s premium?

The survey also attempted to measure what has been another fuzzy matter: how many actually have the insurance for which they signed up. Under federal rules, coverage begins only if someone has started to pay their monthly insurance premiums. Just over half of uninsured people said they had started to pay, compared with nearly nine in 10 of those signing up on the exchanges who said they were simply switching from one health plan to another.

One might expect the uninsured to begin to enroll in greater numbers when they can tear themselves away from their iphones and X-Boxes and discover there’s such a thing as Obamacare. From the McKinsey report:

The most common reason for not enrolling cited by both previously insured and previously uninsured respondents continues to be perceived affordability challenges (this was cited by ~50 percent of the respondents who had not yet enrolled).

Over 80 percent of the respondents who cited affordability as the reason for not enrolling are eligible for subsidies; 66 percent of these consumers were not aware of their subsidy eligibility status or subsidy amount.

You know these people are dense when there’s all that free money sitting out there and they don’t even know they’re eligible to get it.

There is no doubt that there are millions of people who don’t have insurance. What these figures prove is that there are millions of people who don’t want insurance — even though in most cases it would be in their interest to purchase some. But we live in an age when the government tells us what is in our best interest and forces us to act. It’s a radical form of communitarianism that subsumes the individual notion of responsibility and substitutes collective control — a forced altruism that punishes a citizen who refuses to act for the greater good.

And health insurance may be only the beginning.

 

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US to Israel: Stop Assassinating Iranian Nuke Scientists

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Because we wouldn’t want to upset our new friends in Tehran by slowing down their nuclear weapons program, right?

Dan Raviv, writing for CBS News reports:

Recently, as I sought to update a book I co-wrote about the history of Israel’s intelligence agencies, sources close to them revealed that they felt pressure from the Obama Administration – more than a hint – to stop carrying out assassinations inside Iran.

Although Israel has never acknowledged it, the country’s famed espionage agency – the Mossad – ran an assassination campaign for several years aimed at Iran’s top nuclear scientists. The purpose was to slow the progress made by Iran, which Israel feels certain is aimed at developing nuclear weapons; and to deter trained and educated Iranians from joining their country’s nuclear program.

At least five Iranian scientists were murdered, most of them by bombs planted on their cars as they drove to work in the morning. Remarkably, the Israeli assassins were never caught – obviously having long-established safe houses inside Iran – although several Iranians who may have helped the Mossad were arrested and executed.

In addition to strong signals from the Obama Administration that the U.S. did not want Israel to continue the assassinations, Mossad officials concluded that the campaign had gotten too dangerous. They did not want their best combatants – Israel’s term for its most talented and experienced spies – captured and hanged.

President Obama – much to the discomfort of Israeli officials – is pursuing negotiations with Iran. The United States is one of the P5+1 nations, continuing to talk with the Iranians about rolling back some of their nuclear potential.

Sources told us that Netanyahu has now ordered the Mossad to focus on hunting – inside Iran and elsewhere – for evidence that the Iranians are cheating on the commitments they made in their interim agreement with the P5+1 last November.

For comparison purposes, suppose the Japanese had assassinated Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the atomic bomb project at Los Alamos? The bomb almost certainly would have been built anyway, although given Oppenheimer’s talents, probably not in the same time frame.

But that’s because America had a long bench — a bevy of talented, brilliant physicists, any one of which might have stepped in and finished the project if Oppenheimer had been killed. Iran has a very thin bench, and it could be that some of their scientific personnel are virtually irreplaceable. If you’re looking for a weakness in your enemy that can be exploited, killing a scientist that might bring a halt to the nuclear weapons project for even just a few months would seem to fill the bill.

Apparently, Israel thought the return on the assassination program wasn’t worth the risk of exposing key personnel. But I find it curious that the US would urge Israel to forgo the use of a recognized weapon of war when their survival is at stake.

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Domestic Politics Driving Putin Policy in Ukraine

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

There is more to Vladimir Putin’s actions in the Ukraine than geopolitical calculations. The wave of patriotic fervor Putin’s invasion has unleashed in Russia reminds us that “wag the dog” scenarios are not confined to western democracies.

The Russian people are ready for this. The loss of empire following the breakup of the Soviet Union has rankled Russian nationalists for two decades, and now that Putin seems in an ascendant position — especially over the American president — there has been a burst of support for the Russian president and a wave of sympathy for Russian-speaking Ukrainians.

Reuters reports:

If the status quo established in the last few days holds, with Russian forces already in charge in Crimea, he can hope to have won back Crimea without a shot being fired in anger or the necessity of taking on another drain to the state coffers.

Even if a pullback is forced on him, Putin will still portray himself as the defender of national interests and those of Russians abroad. In the eyes of many voters, he hopes, he will not have given up Ukraine without a fight.

While he has been busy defending national interests, his lieutenants have been lambasting the West over Ukraine, accusing it of manipulating events and working with a government chosen by gun-toting “extremists”.

Combined with an orchestrated wave of nationalist indignation over attempts to limit use of the Russian language and persecute Russians in a country many consider an extension of their own, Putin’s stance plays well at home.

His insistence that Ukraine’s new leaders stick to the terms of a European Union-brokered political agreement last month with Yanukovich goes down well.

This month, his popularity ratings have bounced back to almost 70 percent, according to an opinion poll by independent pollster Levada.

“Putin has not forgiven the fact that the agreement was not fulfilled and that is one of his greatest motivations. He considers he is acting in a symmetrical way,” said Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin spin doctor.

“I think that the authorities think it’s very helpful that people are getting themselves worked up about this… And the majority feel in a patriotic mood about Crimea and Ukraine. I think it’s positive for the Kremlin. They won’t refuse action.”

[...]

But there is a risk Putin could be forced into action over Crimea by the nationalist thinking that he has let loose – and this would be particularly risky if he were pushed into action to defend Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine.

The decision to seek authorization to send in troops looked less like a prelude to war and more like a threat aimed at getting Kiev and the West to cut a deal, Professor Mark Galeotti from the Center of Global Affairs at New York University wrote on his blog.

“As the language toughens and the troops roll, though, it’s getting harder to believe that common sense is going to prevail in the Kremlin.”

A climb-down by Putin at this point doesn’t seem likely. At the very least, to satisfy the nationalist emotions he has unleashed in Russia, he would have to “liberate” the Crimea by bestowing independence, or, best case scenario for the west, work out a negotiated settlement with Ukraine that would expand Crimea’s autonomy.

But there is a danger that the pro-Russian eastern provinces, encouraged by success in the Crimea, might initiate their own separatist movement. Would Putin feel himself obligated to support such a movement with troops already in the country? On such questions might rest war or peace.

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Lerner to Testify on Her Role in IRS Targeting Scandal (UPDATE: Not True?)

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa confirmed on Fox News Sunday that former IRS official Lois Lerner, the center of the targeting scandal, will testify without taking the 5th Amendment at a hearing to be held later this week.

Issa added that she did not receive immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony.

CNN:

Lois Lerner, former director of tax exempt organizations for the IRS, will testify this week on Capitol Hill, Rep. Darrell Issa said Sunday.

Issa said he received word from Lerner’s attorney that she will provide testimony to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about her role in potentially unfair targeting of certain political groups by the IRS.

Issa, chairman of the committee, made the confirmation on “Fox News Sunday.”

Lerner retired last year after being placed on administrative leave by the IRS after she said the IRS applied extra scrutiny to both conservative and liberal political groups seeking tax-exempt status between 2010 and 2012.

She testified before Issa’s committee in May, reading a statement saying she had not broken any laws or regulations, but invoked her Fifth Amendment privileges in refusing to answer questions.

Republicans said Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment rights by reading that statement.

Issa said Sunday that Lerner was given no immunity ahead of her testimony. He speculated she’s willing to testify now because of mounting evidence against her.

“We’ve interviewed the people all around her to build a case for why she is at the center of this targeting,” Issa said.

On the contrary, Lerner may have agreed to testify because there is no case against her — or, at least a case that the Feds are willing to make. The FBI has already said there was no criminal wrongdoing by the IRS. And does anyone really believe Eric Holder’s Justice Department would indict her?

Issa will continue with his investigation. But unless he has some kind of smoking gun email or a witness who will directly contradict Lerner’s story, the scandal is stuck in neutral. Lerner herself is not expected to be very forthcoming. Expect a lot of “I don’t recall” answers. And the IRS continues to stonewall, impeding the investigation to the best of their ability.

The committee may put as much emphasis in their questioning of Lerner on how the new rules governing political activity by tax exempt organizations were developed as it will on the ins and outs of the targeting scandal. Lerner was closely involved in the initial discussions about those regulations and emails show that she was keenly interested in making previously legal activity, illegal.

UPDATE:

Politico is reporting that Lerner’s attorney is saying that Issa is wrong, that Lerner intends to assert her 5th Amendment rights.

Rep. Darrell Issa doesn’t know what he’s talking about, the attorney for former IRS official Lois Lerner said Sunday.

Issa, the California Republican who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee, told “Fox News Sunday” that Lerner, the former head of the IRS tax-exempt division, would testify before his committee Wednesday, which he said he had been told by her attorney.

That attorney, William W. Taylor, said Issa is wrong.

“As of now, she intends to continue to assert her Fifth Amendment rights,” Taylor told POLITICO. “I do not know why Issa said what he said.”

Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment rights not to implicate herself when she appeared before the committee in May 2013, but only after delivering a brief statement defending herself. At the time, Issa and other Republicans said she had waived her Fifth Amendment rights by delivering the statement.

 

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Mobilization! Ukraine Calls Up Reserves While Troops Surround Crimea Military Base

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Ukraine’s new prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, warned that his country was “at the brink of disaster” as Russian troops continued to move into the Crimea and the government in Kiev called up the military  reserves in preparation to defend the country from the Russian invasion.

In the Crimean town of Perevalne, several hundred soldiers wearing no insignia but arriving in trucks bearing Russian license plates surrounded a Ukrainian military base. Ukrainian soldiers stood behind a tank at the base’s gate in a standoff with the foreign troops.

No shots have been fired — yet.

According to this CNN report, two other bases were also targeted by what a Ukrainian defense ministry spokesperson said were Russian troops:

Amid signs of Russian military intervention in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, Russian generals led their troops to three bases in the region Sunday demanding Ukrainian forces surrender and hand over their weapons, Vladislav Seleznyov, spokesman for the Crimean Media Center of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, told CNN.

Speaking by phone, he said Russian troops had blocked access to the bases, but added “there is no open confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian military forces in Crimea” and that Ukrainian troops continue to protect and serve Ukraine.

“This is a red alert. This is actually a declaration of war in our country,” Yatsenyuk said.

Speaking in a televised address from the parliament building in Kiev, Yatsenyuk called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to “pull back the military and stick to international obligations.”

“We are on the brink of disaster,” he said.

In Brussels, Belgium, NATO ambassadors were scheduled to hold an emergency meeting on Ukraine.

“What Russia is doing now in Ukraine violates the principles of the U.N. charter,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters.

“Russia must stop its military activities and threats,” Rasmussen said, adding, “we support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. … We support the rights of the people of Ukraine to determine their own future without outside interference.”

Noble words that are no doubt falling on deaf ears in Moscow.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s acting defense minister, Ihor Tenyuh, told a closed-door session of parliament that the country does not have the military force to resist Russia in the Crimea.

New York Times:

But the Ukrainian military has only a token force in the autonomous region — a lightly armed brigade of about 3,500 people, equipped with artillery and light weapons but none of the country’s advanced battle tanks, said Igor Sutyagin, a Russian military expert at the Royal United Services Institute in London. The forces also have only one air squadron of SU-27 fighters deployed at the air base near Belbek.

A senior NATO official said that Ukraine’s small naval fleet, which was originally part of the Black Sea Fleet, had been boxed in by Russian warships.

The Russian takeover of Crimea was relatively easy, in part because the Ukrainian military was careful not to respond to a provocation that would excuse any larger intervention. The military — which has seen its top leader change constantly with the political situation — has also made a point of staying out of the internal political conflict in Ukraine.

The question is, just how far is Vladimir Putin willing to go with this adventure? If Putin is satisfied with securing the Crimea, it is likely that Ukraine will make a stink at the UN, but won’t go to war to save the region.

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No, the West Won’t Go to War Over Ukraine

Saturday, March 1st, 2014 - by Rick Moran

There seems to be a misreading of what the U.S. and Great Britain are obligated to do under the agreement signed in 1994 that gave Ukraine certain assurances about its territorial integrity in exchange for Kiev giving up its stockpile of nuclear weapons.

My friend and colleague at PJ Media Bryan Preston is wrong when he writes, “Russia knows that the United States has a security treaty with Ukraine….” There is no “security treaty.” Far from it. The “Budapest Memorandum” contains no language that can be construed as obligating the US, Great Britain, or Russia to come to Ukraine’s aid if her territorial integrity is threatened.

You can read it here. It says, in part:

1. The United States of America, the Russian Fed
-eration, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Northern Ireland, reaffirm their commitment to
Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the CSCE
[Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe]
Final Act, to respect the Independence and Sovereignty
and the existing borders of Ukraine.

2. The United States of America, the Russian Fed
-eration, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Northern Ireland, reaffirm their obligation to refrain
from the threat or use of force against the territorial in
-tegrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that
none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine
except in self-defense or otherwise in accordance with
the Charter of the United Nations.

3. The United States of America, the Russian Fed
-eration, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Northern Ireland, reaffirm their commitment to
Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the CSCE
Final Act, to refrain from economic coercion designed
to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by
Ukraine of the rights inherent in its sovereignty and
thus to secure advantages of any kind.

4. The United States of America, the Russian Fed
-eration, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Northern Ireland, reaffirm their commitment to seek
immediate United Nations Security Council action to
provide assistance to Ukraine, as a non-nuclear-weapon
State Party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of
Nuclear Weapons, if Ukraine should become a victim
of an act of aggression or an object of a threat of aggres
-sion in which nuclear weapons are used

The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) became the the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) a year after the Budapest Memorandum went into effect. There is nothing in the OSCE principles that would require any member state to come to the military defense of another.

And there is nothing in the Budapest Memorandum which requires the U.S. to take military action to protect Ukraine.

How about Russia’s invasion?

Is there anything legally binding about the “Budapest Memorandum” regarding Russia’s obligations to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity?

“That’s actually a much more complex question than it may sound. It is binding in international law, but that doesn’t mean it has any means of enforcement,” says Barry Kellman is a professor of law and director of the International Weapons Control Center at DePaul University’s College of Law.

Reading the agreement, it becomes obvious that Russia has willfully violated it. Perhaps the next time a U.S. president comes to the Senate with a nuclear arms reduction treaty, senators will remember that.

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It’s Beginning to Smell Like the 1970s

Saturday, March 1st, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Russia rolling into other countries with impunity. A declining standard of living. Stagnant economic growth. And a weakling in the White House who seems paralyzed to do anything about it at all.

The second decade of the 21st century? Or the late 1970s?

The Carter-Obama comparison isn’t new. But if history does, in fact, have a nasty habit of repeating itself, the last few years have begun to look an awful lot like the Carter era.

Consider: As has too often happened in recent quarters, the rate of growth has been revised downward as more information has been digested. GDP grew at an annualized rate of 2.4% in the fourth quarter of 2013 following an initial estimate of 3.2%. That is not an insignificant fall-off and coupled with the weather-blamed slow growth in the first quarter of this year, the continued paltry job growth, wage stagnation, and a softening housing market, there is a growing belief that this is the new normal and we better get used to it.

The Congressional Budget Office is through waiting for a decent recovery and is now basing its economic projections on the basis that what we’re experiencing in the economy is how it’s going to be for the foreseeable future.

New York Times:

The part of the past that you deem most relevant can be critical in determining your outlook for the future. And nowhere is that clearer than in the changing economic forecasts that come out of the Congressional Budget Office.

This year’s short-term and long-term economic forecasts are substantially worse than last year’s, even though the economy performed better than expected in 2013. What changed was that the C.B.O. economists essentially decided that they would no longer treat the recent years of poor economic performance as a sort of outlier. They have seen enough of a slow economy to begin to think that we should get used to sluggishness.

They think that Americans will earn less than they previously expected, that fewer of them will want jobs and that fewer will get them. They think companies will invest less and earn less. The economy, as measured by growth in real gross domestic product, will settle into a prolonged period in which it grows at an average rate of just 2.1 percent. From 2019 through 2024, job growth will average less than 70,000 a month.

Not only do they forecast an economy with less growth than in any comparable period since the Great Depression, they think interest rates will rise substantially, to the great discomfort of the federal government, which will have to pay ever-rising amounts of interest to service the rising national debt.

Some economists think that the CBO is wrong, that you can’t have slow growth and high interest rates. That may be so. But other economists are forecasting similar doom and gloom.

Reason magazine:

In “Is U.S. Economic Growth Over?,” a 2012 working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, the Northwestern University economist Robert Gordon argued that the country was in for 25 to 40 years of very slow growth. In particular, Americans in the bottom 99 percent of the U.S. income distribution could expect only 0.2 percent annual increases in their real per capita disposable incomes. This is dramatically lower than the 2 percent annual increase in incomes that occurred in the century before 2007. Gordon attributed this fall-off in growth to six “headwinds” and the slowing pace of technological innovation.

Gordon extends his analysis in a new study, “The Demise of U.S. Economic Growth: Restatment, Rebuttal, and Reflections.” In this paper, also published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Gordon revisits four of his six growth-slowing headwinds: demography, education, inequality, and government debt. (The other two are globalization and energy and environmental concerns.) He also attempts to bolster his argument that technological progress is stagnating.

The 1980 presidential race featured then-Governor Jerry Brown going on national television and telling Americans that the good times were over and we would have to learn to live in an “age of limits.” This was following Jimmy Carter chiding the American people for having lost faith in government, and the future, because of high inflation, high interest rates, and high unemployment.

The resulting recovery of American economic growth and optimism seems like destiny in hindsight. But Ronald Reagan couldn’t have done it without a resilient citizenry who believed in themselves and a brighter future.

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Russian Parliament Approves Putin Request to Invade Ukraine

Saturday, March 1st, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Because of threats to ethnic Russians and the need to protect its naval personnel, Russian President Vladimir Putin asked and received permission from the Russian parliament to intervene in the Sudetenland Ukraine. The vote in the upper chamber was the final step in what appears to be a carefully orchestrated series of events that will give Putin broad latitude in dealing with Czechoslovakia/Poland Ukraine.

As justification, the Washington Post is reporting that the Russian government is claiming that “unidentified gunmen directed from Kiev” had  taken over a German radio station  tried to take over the Crimean Interior Ministry headquarters overnight.

The move comes after pro-German Poles the pro-Russian regional prime minister in Crimea had requested help from Russia to keep the peace.

Meanwhile, in Kiev, the new Ukraine government made it clear they would not fight to keep Crimea. But what about other provinces in the east and south with pro-Russian majorities?

Putin may have designs on them too.

“As a result of this treacherous provocation there were casualties,” the ministry said in a statement. “With decisive action, the attempt by vigilante groups to seize the Interior Ministry building was averted. This confirms the desire of prominent political circles in Kiev to destabilize the peninsula. We encourage those who give such orders from Kiev to show restraint. We believe it is irresponsible to continue whipping up the already tense situation in the Crimea.”

That account was disputed in Simferopol, the Crimean regional capital. Igor Aveytskiy, who was named by the Kiev government to serve as chief of Crimea’s national police, said in an interview that “all was peaceful” at the building overnight.

The story line was different in Moscow.

There, a council of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, asked Putin to intervene.

“The deputies are calling on the president to take measures to stabilize the situation in Crimea,” Duma chairman Sergei Naryshkin said, “and use all resources available to protect the Crimean population from lawlessness and violence.”

Next came Valentina Matviyenko, chairman of the upper house, the Federation Council.

“Perhaps in this situation we could grant the Crimean government’s request,” she said, “and send a limited contingent there to provide security for the Black Sea Fleet and Russian citizens living in Crimea.”

Then Putin made his request, and 30 minutes later a Federation Council committee approved it.

Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who helped negotiate a 1994 memorandum on Ukrainian territorial sovereignty, and tweeted Saturday that there is “no doubt in my mind that Russia is violating its commitments.” He also called the Russian move a violation of a 1997 treaty between Ukraine and Russia.

According to Josh Rogin writing in the Daily Beast, technically, those mysterious armed men occupying the airports and parliament building aren’t Russian troops. They’re military contractors who perform security duties for the Russian government:

Private security contractors working for the Russian military are the unmarked troops who have now seized control over two airports in the Ukrainian province of Crimea, according to informed sources in the region. And those contractors could be setting the stage for ousted President Viktor Yanukovich to come to the breakaway region.

The new Ukrainian government in Kiev has accused Moscow of “an armed invasion and occupation” in the Crimean cities of Simferopol and Sevastopol, where well-armed and well-organized troops with no markings or identification have taken control of the airports. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Secretary of State John Kerry over the phone Friday that no Russian military or marines have been deployed outside of the base of the Black Sea Fleet, which is anchored nearby, officials in both governments said.

Lavrov was technically telling the truth, but the troops are being directed by the Russian government. Although not confirmed, informed sources in Moscow are telling their American interlocutors that the troops belong to Vnevedomstvenaya Okhrana, the private security contracting bureau inside the Russian interior ministry that hires mercenaries to protect Russian Navy installations and assets in Crimea. Other diplomatic sources said that the troops at the airport were paramilitary troops but not specifically belonging to Vnevedomstvenaya Okhrana.

Now Putin will send in the real thing — Russian ground troops.

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11 Million Small Business Employees to See Premiums Rise under Obamacare

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

In a Friday night document dump, along with the usual flotsam and jetsam of the administration came a bit of bad news for small business in America.

Nearly two thirds of small businesses who offer insurance to employees will see their premiums increase. That covers 11 million employees and their families. Since those costs to businesses are usually passed down to employees in the form of higher contributions, Obamacare will impose what amounts to a pay cut on millions of workers.

The premium increase comes on the heels of several years of skyrocketing health insurance costs for small businesses. The National Small Business Administration released a poll earlier this month that showed the average cost of health insurance per employee rising from $590 in 2009 to $1,121 in 2014.

And now — the hammer falls.

Washington Post:

CMS officials note that there is “a rather large degree of uncertainty associated” with their latest estimates, as the number of small businesses that offer health insurance going forward and how much they will pay for that coverage will depend on many more factors than the new rules analyzed in their report, including tax breaks for small firms and the success of new online insurance portals.

However, that didn’t stop critics of the law from casting the report as the latest in a long line of evidence that the statute will hurt more small businesses than it helps.

“The Obama administration has finally been forced to disclose what we’ve long feared — the president’s health care law means higher premiums for millions of American workers,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement about the report. “For all the promises of lower costs for small businesses, the administration now admits that far more of these workers will pay higher than lower premiums under the law.”

House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) called it “devastating news” and blasted the administration for waiting nearly four years to publish estimates about the law’s effects on small-business insurance premiums.

In terms of its expected economic footprint, it has been a rough few weeks for the president’s signature law, commonly called Obamacare. First, the Congressional Budget Office reported that the law will prompt roughly 2 million people to exit the workforce, driving down the country’s economic output. And more recently, several states have reported that the law’s new online insurance marketplaces have not attracted many small businesses.

There is a great deal of uncertainty regarding just how much of an increase for small bussiness Obamacare will cost. Investors Business Daily believes the extra costs will be “significant”:

One study, for example, found that 63% of small employers in Wisconsin will see premiums jump 15% because of ObamaCare. A separate study found that 89% of small companies in Maine would see rate hikes of 12% on average.

Another, by consulting firm Oliver Wyman, concluded that ObamaCare would push up small group premiums nationwide 20%.

Will the president and Democrats admit to this lie?

In 2009, Obama promised small businesses that his plan would “make the coverage that you’re currently providing more affordable.” Later he said it would drive small-business premiums down by 4% in its first year, and as much as 25% by 2016.

As recently as last summer, Pelosi was proclaiming that “if you’re a small business … it lowers costs,” while Waxman said the law would make “high-quality healthy insurance more affordable and more widely available for small businesses.”

As with most everything else associated with this wretched law, the Republicans will be hard pressed to take advantage of the situation politically. The increases for small business employees won’t come until next year — after the mid terms. You can explain to voters how something is going to hurt them, but they usually have to actually get kicked in the face to get mad about it.

This is by design, of course, along with all the other delays. If the Democrats do manage to hang on to the Senate, it will be because they have been as dishonest about the Obamacare rollout as they were when passing it.

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Obama’s Celebrity Friends Prefer Social Media to Appearing with him in Selling Obamacare

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

President Obama’s A-List celebrity friends are finding something else to do rather than help him promote Obamacare.

“It seems that not even the president’s most fervent and committed supporters want to get too close to ObamaCare,” says The Hill:

Some of Obama’s most powerful allies — figures including Oprah Winfrey, Bruce Springsteen and Beyoncé — have stayed in the wings for the enrollment push.

Less than a year ago, Jennifer Hudson, Amy Poehler, and representatives for Winfrey and Alicia Keys were guests at the White House to discuss a strategy to promote the healthcare law.

Many expected this would lead to an advertising blitz full of famous faces. But, with limited exceptions, stars have largely failed to participate in a substantial ad campaign to promote Obama-Care’s new coverage options.

To date, the only noteworthy celebrities appearing on behalf of ObamaCare in national ads are retired NBA players Magic Johnson and Alonzo Mourning, who left professional basketball in 1991 and 2009, respectively.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sought to leverage the National Football League’s massive outreach, but that effort was scuttled by Republicans, who pressured the league to stay out of it.

Last fall, the administration promised to backload its advertisements to coincide with the wave of sign-ups expected in February and March. Instead, the administration is relying on social media to get the message out.

The White House told The Hill on Monday its intention was to enlist celebrities for a landmark social media campaign, and in this sphere at least, celebrities have eagerly shown their support for the law.

People magazine’s 2013 Sexiest Man Alive Adam Levine, artists ranging from Lady Gaga and John Legend to Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready and dozens of other celebrities have encouraged followers on Twitter and Instagram to #GetCovered or send an #ACAvalentine.

Others, like Hudson, have cut sketches for websites including Funny or Die, and in the case of Scarlett Johansson, submitted pro-ObamaCare messages through groups such as Planned Parenthood.

An administration official told The Hill that social media is one of the best ways to reach young people directly, and to expect those efforts to continue. The official noted that tens of thousands of people tweeted using the hash-tag “GetCovered” over Valentine’s Day weekend.

President Obama’s campaign-style events that plug Obamacare have featured mostly minor celebrities, compared to the star-studded events in 2008 when he was running for president. There is a level of toxicity associated with the law that might elude young people who are unaware of the world around them anyway, but wouldn’t escape older, wiser Americans who avoid signing up.

In short, the celebrities are voting with their feet in not loaning the president their star power to sell Obamacare. They may support him. They may support Obamacare. But it won’t be at the expense of their image with the vast majority of Americans.

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NFL to Make Racial Slur a 15-Yard Penalty

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

CBS Sports is reporting that the National Football League is considering making the use of a racial slur against your opponent a 15 yard penalty.

John Wooten, the head of the Fritz Pollard Alliance told CBS that he wants to eradicate the N-word entirely from the league — “policed from the parking lot to the equipment room to the locker room.”

Wooten spoke about his desire to eradicate the word completely from NFL workplaces at the Fritz Pollard event during the combine, wanting it to be fineable and policed throughout team facilities, and received a standing ovation according to those in attendance. Wooten said he will continue being vigilant about this with the NFL office and Commissioner Roger Goodell.

“I will be totally shocked if the competition committee does not uphold us on what we’re trying to do,” Wooten said. “We want this word to be policed from the parking lot to the equipment room to the locker room. Secretaries, PR people, whoever, we want it eliminated completely and want it policed everywhere.”

The NFL had no comment, but league sources did confirm that the idea of “respect” among teammates is a priority. The league is studying major changes to workplace policies in the wake of the Wells report, and Goodell and Troy Vincent from the league office have already met with 35 players to discuss issues of workplace conduct.

Wooten said the competition committee will formally decide whether or not to support his measure at the meeting in March, and then present it to owners. Wooten is “extremely hopeful” it will pass.

“I think they’re going to do what needs to be done here,” he said. “There is too much disrespect in the game.”

It’s commendable that the league is looking seriously at this issue. While the use of the N-word on the field has been a psychological weapon for decades — trying to rile an opponent the same way he might allude to his wife’s supposed infidelity in order to incite the player to do something stupid — the league might also consider cleaning up the game in other areas.

Since January of 2000, there have been 685 felony arrests of NFL players. This is an epidemic of lawlessness that the league has addressed only sporadically. Then there is the shocking number of NFL players who fathered numerous children by different mothers out of wedlock. This is an issue that the NFL has not addressed publicly and appears to want to keep a secret.

Rid the game of the N-word? Absolutely. But tolerating a culture that has players thinking themselves above the law and beyond common standards of moral behavior makes language policing meaningless.

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Christine O’Donnell Still Looking for Answers from the IRS

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

It’s been almost four years since Christine O’Donnell announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate. And it’s been four years of stonewalling, denial, and stalling from the IRS regarding the matter of her tax records being given to a reporter.

O’Donnell penned an op-ed in the New York Post recounting her four-year quest for accountability that reads like something out of a Wes Craven novel:

On March 9, 2010, around 10 a.m., I announced my plans to run for senate representing Delaware.

Later that same day, my office received a call from a reporter asking about my taxes.

It’s since come out, after a halting and unenthusiastic investigation, that a Delaware Department of Revenue employee named David Smith accessed my records that day at approximately 2 p.m. — out of curiosity, he says.

That these records ended up in the hands of the press is just a coincidence, the IRS claims.

[...]

I wasn’t the only one preyed upon by the IRS, of course. The agency admits to targeting conservative nonprofits, asking them for membership lists and other data not required while delaying their tax-exempt status. And opponents of President Obama have been subjected to audits soon after criticizing the administration.

What we all have in common: no answers.

In January 2013, a US Treasury Department special agent told me that my tax records were compromised and misused. That was three years after my campaign. Now, in the 12 months since, no one has been called to testify, no more answers given.

How did Smith’s curiosity become an erroneous tax lien? How did the material end up in the hands of a journalist? Neither Smith, nor anyone else in the Delaware Department of Revenue, nor anyone at the IRS has never been placed under oath to explain this.

Fortunately, two congressional committees are working hard to break the stonewall and get answers. The House Ways and Means Committee has joined the Senate Judiciary Committee in an investigation into what happened and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has publicly raised questions about this case.

In a brutal irony, even if Congress does track down answers, they may not be able to share what they discover with me.

This is because the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), the agency looking into my case alongside Congress, cannot publicly disclose any information about what it finds in this investigation.

That’s supposedly according to Section 6103 of the US code which is intended to protect the privacy of personal tax information.

Too bad it didn’t protect mine.

There is such clear wrongdoing in this case that it’s amazing there is any controversy about investigating it. And yet, Democrats appear to be trying to block the probe and are even trying to smear the office of inspector general:

While there has been bipartisan support for resolving these cases, Congressmen Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) and Matthew Cartwright (D-Pa.) are attempting to further impede investigations into my case as well as others. Shortly after the Ways and Means Committee confirmed it was investigating my case, these congressmen attacked TIGTA, accused that agency of being pro-Republican and called for an ethics investigation.

Trying to intimidate the messenger into changing the message is bizarre. This administration has a history of treating problematic inspector generals as political enemies. This undermines accountability and transparency in government — something that gives the lie to President Obama’s oft-stated goals for his administration.

O’Donnell can only wait while Congress pushes forward with its investigation. But she has a right to ask where she can go to get her reputation back from an agency that so callously — and illegally — took it.

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NY Times Says Stimulus Bill a Success: DC Dogs Agree

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Is the New York Times auditioning to replace the White House blog as the main public organ of the administration?

Sure looks that way:

Of all the myths and falsehoods that Republicans have spread about President Obama, the most pernicious and long-lasting is that the $832 billion stimulus package did not work. Since 2009, Republican lawmakers have inextricably linked the words “failed” and “stimulus,” and last week, five years after passage of the Recovery Act, they dusted off their old playbook again.

“The ‘stimulus’ has turned out to be a classic case of big promises and big spending with little results,” wrote Speaker John Boehner. “Five years and hundreds of billions of dollars later, millions of families are still asking, ‘where are the jobs?’ ”

The stimulus could have done more good had it been bigger and more carefully constructed. But put simply, it prevented a second recession that could have turned into a depression. It created or saved an average of 1.6 million jobs a year for four years. (There are the jobs, Mr. Boehner.) It raised the nation’s economic output by 2 to 3 percent from 2009 to 2011. It prevented a significant increase in poverty — without it, 5.3 million additional people would have become poor in 2010.

And yet Republicans were successful in discrediting the very idea that federal spending can boost the economy and raise employment. They made the argument that the stimulus was a failure not just to ensure that Mr. Obama would get no credit for the recovery that did occur, but to justify their obstruction of all further attempts at stimulus.

So the American Jobs Act was killed, and so was the infrastructure bank and any number of other spending proposals that might have helped the country. The president’s plan to spend another $56 billion on job training, education and energy efficiency, to be unveiled in his budget next month, will almost certainly suffer a similar fate.

This may be the singular tragedy of the Obama administration. Five years later, it is clear to all fair-minded economists that the stimulus did work, and that it did enormous good for the economy and for tens of millions of people. But because it fell short of its goals, and was roundly ridiculed by Republicans and inadequately defended by Democrats, who should have trumpeted its success, the president’s stimulus plan is now widely considered a stumble.

I’m sure the Times considers a “fair minded economist” to be someone who agrees with them. Fortunately, many do not. In fact, the president’s former OMB director, Peter Orszag, scrapped the whole jobs “created or saved” lexicon because as liberal economist Lawrence Katz said, it was a “silly exercise.”

As for the rest, let’s just say there is a lot of room for disagreement about whether the stim bill staved off a depression or how much more the economy grew because of it. And, of course, the Times fails to finish its own sentence on jobs; that the White House promised the unemployment rate wouldn’t top 8% (it eventually hit 10.1%) and the fact that even if they’re right about 1.6 million jobs “created or saved,” more than 8 million lost their jobs in the recession.

As for keeping people out of poverty, is it just a coincidence that the Times failed to mention any year beyond 2010? Those 5.3 million who were “saved from poverty” then are almost certainly in poverty now, given that the poverty rate has increased 6.7 million since Obama took office.

So, was the stim bill a total failure? Of course not, as these Washington, D.C. dogs can attest:

Washington, D.C. is not only home to many of the nation’s wealthiest zip codes, but it also where you can find some of the plushest dog parks.

The capitol’s elite pooches can thank President Barack Obama’s stimulus package for their green AstroTurf parks.

The conservative group Americans for Tax Reform noted in a press release that the Capitol Hill Marion Park received a whopping $90,825 in stimulus funds. The mountains of taxpayer dollars made the doggy playground one of the “Best Places to Hang With Your Dog in the DC Area,” according to the local CBS news affiliate.

The Chicago Tribune reported that the five figures were spent on repainting the fence, repairing the sidewalk, and purchasing new benches and trash cans for the park.

The DuPont neighborhood S Street Dog Park was also a beneficiary of the Obama administration’s stimulus package. ATR explains that due to taxpayer funds, the park is now equipped with state-of-the-art AstroTurf and a new doggy water fountain.

These dog parks are located in so-called “Super Zips,” or communities where the average salary is $120,000 or higher. As reported by the Washington Post, Washington, D.C. has one-third of the nation’s “Super Zips.” It is likely that these dog parks are not being used by the low income individuals that Obama and Democrats have vowed to protect.

No doubt the stim bill saved a lot of dog walking and dog groomer jobs.

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What’s Next for Ukraine?

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

The Ukrainian parliament put the finishing touches on its legislative coup that overthrew the Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovich. They named the new speaker of parliament president, impeached Yanukovich, seized his opulent country house, and appointed new ministers to fill out the cabinet. They plan to vote in a new prime minister by Tuesday.

Two questions overhang the events in Ukraine: What will Russia do about this turn of events, and will the rest of Ukraine accept what parliament has done?

As for the latter question, signs are hopeful that Yanukovich’s party will accede to reality and allow the change in government.

What will Vladimir Putin do? At the moment, the Russian prime minister is taking a “wait and see” attitude.

Reuters reports:

“In these days the most important thing is to form a functioning government,” said Vitaly Klitschko, a former world boxing champion and a leading figure in the uprising.

“We have to take very important steps in order to ensure the survival of the economy, which is in a very bad shape,” he told a news conference. He denied there had been a coup.

“Parliament is the last legal official institution in Ukraine,” he said. “Nobody knows where the president of Ukraine is. We tried to find him all day yesterday. His location is unknown. He left the country without a president.”

Even the president’s Party of the Regions, backed by many of the wealthy “oligarchs” who dominate Ukraine’s post-Soviet economy, seems to have given up on a wavering leader with whom Moscow had last week appeared to be losing patience.

“The changes that have happened, have happened. It’s already done,” said Tatyana Bakhteyeva, a parliamentarian from Yanukovich’s home region of Donetsk. Party lawmakers issued a statement blaming Yanukovich and his entourage for the crisis.

Instability in Ukraine, a vast territory of 46 million, is a major concern for both Russia, where President Vladimir Putin supported the Yanukovich administration financially, and for the European Union to the west, which had offered Ukraine a far-reaching trade pact that Yanukovich rejected in November.

It was that decision, taken after threats of retaliation from Moscow, which sparked the protests. The European Union, which has worked closely with the United States on Ukraine, said the trade deal was still open, and EU aid was on offer.

Klitschko is expected to challenge Tymoshenko for the presidency, elections for which have been scheduled for May. And while Tymoshenko has a large, loyal following, the corruption charges that landed her in jail will probably dog her campaign.

As Christopher Dickey points out at the Daily Beast, Tymoshenko is no angel:

In a country with endemic and rather extraordinary corruption—which is really the most important issue for many Ukrainians—Tymoshenko’s best hope may be that Yanukovych has left behind such obvious symbols of his stupid cupidity. On Saturday, the people of a nearly bankrupt nation flooded into his Yanukovych’s country estate to gaze in wonderment at the extravagances he left behind, from gilded bathroom fixtures to his own-brand vodka, terraced gardens, and a personal menagerie.

All that makes Yulia Tymoshenko’s alleged corruption look rather like ancient history, but it doesn’t erase the memories altogether. It is a fact she half-acknowledged when she apologized to the crowd in Kiev last night for the unspecified mistakes of the past and talked about turning the page.

Ukrainians remember that in the 1990s, before the braids, Tymoshenko was a shrewd businesswoman with dark hair and a dark side: tough, unrelenting, unforgiving, and in a league with then-Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko. She amassed an enormous fortune in the natural gas business. People started calling her “The Gas Princess.” And there she was helped by the sweetheart deals Lazarenko allegedly sent her way.

Given all the talk that later charges against Tymoshenko were trumped up or falsified in the Ukraine, it’s probably important to know that her ally Lazarenko was prosecuted in the United States, where he was convicted and imprisoned for money laundering and other crimes. Tymoshenko was not charged in that case and she has denied wrongdoing, but she was named explicitly as part of the conspiracy detailed in the indictment.

Walter Russell Mead doesn’t see a “Ukrainian Spring” either:

There are three possible futures for Ukraine. In the short term some kind of continuation of the status quo of indecision and drift seems the most likely alternative, but such a volatile and unsatisfactory status quo is unlikely to endure into the indefinite future. When and if the status quo finally ends, Ukraine can go one of two ways. One is partition: the east and the west go their separate ways, as the eastern portion returns to the Kremlin’s embrace, and the west prepares for the EU. The alternative is that either Moscow or the West succeeds in drawing the whole country to its side.

Mead points out that the latter possibility is unlikely, writing: “Ukrainian society is unable to produce a strong and united government that could limit the influence of foreign interests and lobbies so that the Ukrainian state and people would follow a consistent course toward either Moscow or Brussels, much less find some kind of effective pathway in between.”

And Putin?

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Ted Nugent Says He Apologizes, ‘Not Necessarily to the President’

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

I am posting this because I work for a living and giving our readers a chance to comment on Mr. Nugent’s racist, Nazi/KKK-inspired epithet directed at the president of the United States is good business. It will drive traffic to the site and get a lot of people to comment.

Otherwise, I think that Nugent should be shunned by decent people regardless of party or ideology.

Here’s Ted Nugent’s notion of an “apology”:

“I did cross the line. I do apologize, not necessarily to the president, but on behalf of much better men than myself, like the best governor in America, Gov. Rick Perry, the best attorney general in America,” Ted Nugent said on the show of Ben Ferguson, a conservative radio host.

“On behalf of those professional politicians and those who put their heart and soul into representing we the people so aptly like the gentlemen I just mentioned, I apologize for using the street-fighter of subhuman mongrel instead of just using more understandable language such as violator of his oath, the Constitution, the liar that he is,” Nugent said.

“I apologize for using the term subhuman mongrel and I will try to elevate my vernacular to the level of those great men that I’m learning from in the world of politics,” Nugent added.

Hear audio on next page.

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Krauthammer Destroys Global Warming Theory in 89 Seconds

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

That’s how the Foundry headlined their blog post on Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer’s appearance on Bret Baier’s show last night.

The Daily Caller:

“The president pretends that this is all settled science,” he began. “Newton’s laws were considered settled for 200 years until a patent clerk [Albert Einstein] in Switzerland turned them over with a single paper in 1903 — and that was pretty settled science. The idea that this is all settled is absurd.”

“However, even if you accept it, then you look at what he did last week,” Krauthammer continued. “He wants to pretend that these individual weather events are caused by global warming, which is supposedly the settled science. And The New York Times — which is not exactly a right-wing rag — it says that there is no definitive evidence that it is causing the drought in the West Coast.”

“In fact — and I’m quoting here,” he said, “the most recent computer projections suggest that as the world warms, it should be getting wetter, not drier, out there in the winter. So if you accept the settled science of climate change, you would have the exact opposite affect of what we saw last week in California.”

“So the arrogance of this is rather appalling,” Krauthammer claimed, “but worse is the application of it to our economy. Shutting the coal industry, hurting us in mass transit, getting us out of our large cars. All of this is driven by this ideology, which in and of itself is a matter of almost theology.”

The “climate blitz” by Secretary of State Kerry who is traveling the world pushing “solutions” to global warming began with Kerry identifying climate change as “the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction” — a bit of lunacy that had even climate scientists criticizing him.

But it hardly matters. The president himself lied about the drought being caused by climate change when the most current models show exactly the opposite. Nor did either man mention the IPCC conclusion that there has been a 15 year pause in warming.

It seems clear that this administration will forge ahead, creating policies based on outdated or non-existent science. In the process, they are likely to destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs, cause electric bills to skyrocket, and dig into the pockets of consumers by making energy far more expensive than it needs to be.

But hey! At least we’re saving the world, right?

Krauthammer video:

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Breaking: Ukrainian Parliament Votes Out Yanukovich

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

A remarkable turn of events in the Ukraine as a coup, or some kind of transition, seems to be underway. After signing the agreement with the opposition to hold new elections, curtail his power, and allow for a “government of national unity,” President Viktor Yanukovich fled the capital for the more friendly eastern city of Kharkiv.

At that point, the pro-Yanukovich speaker of Parliament resigned and was replaced by a supporter of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Parliment then declared the president constitutionally unable to carry out his duties and set an early election for May 25. Protestors took over the president’s office, and rumors are swirling that Yanukovich has already resigned.

Several Yanukovich deputies resigned, including the interior minister, whose successor, a pro-opposition deputy, said that the police had now switched sides and were supporting the protestors.

Is any of this “legal”? Many eastern cities are refusing to accept the new government and Yanukovich himself has referred to the actions of the opposition as a “coup.”

Reuters reports:

The apparent toppling of the pro-Russian leader looks likely to dramatically alter the future of the former Soviet republic of 46 million people, pulling it closer to Europe and away from Moscow’s orbit.

It is also a stark reversal for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dream of recreating as much as possible of the Soviet Union in a new Eurasian Union, in which Moscow had counted on Yanukovich to deliver Ukraine as a central member.

The Ukrainian parliament, which decisively abandoned Yanukovich after loyalists defected, declared the president constitutionally unable to carry out his duties and set an early election for May 25.

Deputies in the assembly stood, applauded and sang the national anthem.

In a television interview shortly beforehand, which the station said was conducted in the eastern city of Kharkiv, Yanukovich said he would not resign or leave the country, and called decisions by parliament “illegal”.

“The events witnessed by our country and the whole world are an example of a coup d’état,” he said, comparing it to the rise of the Nazis to power in Germany in the 1930s. He said he had come under fire. “My car was shot at. I am not afraid. I feel sorrow for my country,” he told UBR television.

Despite his defiance, the dismantling of his authority seemed all but complete with his cabinet promising a transition to a new government, the police declaring themselves behind the protesters and his jailed arch adversary expected to go free.

Parliamentary supporters of Yanukovich did not attend the session that voted out the president. They were in Kharkiv at a regional political conference. Needless to say, they are not accepting the new situation in Kiev:

Leaders of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking eastern provinces, however, voted to challenge anti-Yanukovych steps measures taken by parliament in Kiev. Eastern regional politicians meeting in Kharkiv adopted a resolution saying the measures “in such circumstances cause doubts about their … legitimacy and legality.

“The central state organs are paralysed. Until constitutional order and lawfulness are restored … we have decided to take responsibility for safeguarding constitutional order, legality, citizens’ rights and their security on our territories.”

The governor of Kharkiv, Mikhaylo Dobkin, told the meeting: “We’re not preparing to break up the country. We want to preserve it.”

The military seems to be sitting it out, so it’s hard to see how the pro-Russian deputies can do much about the situation.

Russian President Putin appears to be a big loser, as Ukraine will now try to integrate its economy into the EU. This will be a difficult business since Ukraine is near sovereign default. It’s not like the EU needs another weak sister to prop up — not with Greece looking for a third bailout. But Ukraine has the potential to be an important market for EU members, and IMF loans may be forthcoming if the country agrees to some market reforms.

Whatever you want to call it — a coup or peaceful transition — the last few hours have been among the most dramatic in Ukraine’s history.

Also read: 

White House Takes Credit for Ukraine Deal

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Public Sector Workers Hit Hard By Obamacare Mandates

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

This is not another “unintended consequence” of Obamacare. The cuts in hours for part time workers, whether in the public or private sectors, was predicted by opponents of the ACA all along, and dismissed by the law’s supporters as “scare mongering.”

In reality, it was a no-brainer. The delay in the employer mandate means we won’t have a good handle on how many full time positions will become part time, nor will we know how many part time hours will be cut to get the employee under the 30 hour a week threshold for Obamacare coverage.

But that’s by design, of course. No news is good news for Democrats if the bad news can be put off until after the mid terms.

Public employees are being affected now because local government’s obligation to supply health insurance to employees will be based on hours worked this year.

New York Times:

Mark D. Benigni, the superintendent of schools in Meriden, Conn., and a board member of the American Association of School Administrators, said in an interview that the new health care law was having “unintended consequences for school systems across the nation.”

In Connecticut, as in many states, significant numbers of part-time school employees work more than 30 hours a week and do not receive health benefits. “Are we supposed to lay off full-time teachers so that we can provide insurance coverage to part-time employees?” Mr. Benigni asked. “If I had to cut five reading teachers to pay for benefits for substitute teachers, I’m not sure that would be best for our students.”

In Medina, Ohio, about 30 miles south of Cleveland, Mayor Dennis Hanwell said the city had lowered the limit for part-time employees to 29 hours a week, from 35. Workers’ wages were reduced accordingly, he said.

“Our choice was to cut the hours or give them health care, and we could not afford the latter,” Mr. Hanwell, a Republican, said. The city’s 120 part-time employees include office clerks, sanitation workers, park inspectors and police dispatchers.

Mr. Hanwell said that new rules issued by the Internal Revenue Service this month did not address the city’s fundamental concerns about the cost of providing health insurance.

Lawrence County, in western Pennsylvania, reduced the limit for part-time employees to 28 hours a week, from 32. Dan Vogler, the Republican chairman of the county Board of Commissioners, said the cuts affected prison guards and emergency service personnel at the county’s 911 call center.

In Virginia, part-time state employees are generally not allowed to work more than 29 hours a week on average over a 12-month period. Thousands of part-time state employees had been working more than that, according to the state personnel agency.

Virginia officials said they could not extend coverage to part-time wage workers because of the expense. Health benefits cost the state an average of more than $11,000 a year per employee.

Forget the impact on local budgets, what about the employees affected? For tens of thousands of families, it means significantly less income — perhaps the difference between covering expenses and not being able to make ends meet. It may force a significant number of these part time employees who are losing income to apply for federal benefits like food stamps and other assistance.

There are currently more than 7 million part time workers who have either had their hours cut or can’t find a full time job. How many of those workers will be affected when the employer mandate takes hold? It’s a pretty good bet that most of those workers who had their hours cut back to part time won’t see an increase that would put them over 30 hours a week — not unless the economy picks up substantially and companies can afford more full time help. It’s a signature element of Obamacare that a slowing economy will push more people into part time work, thus denying them health insurance they might have received otherwise.

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Kerry: Climate Change ‘Another Weapon of Mass Destruction’

Sunday, February 16th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

One reason you can’t debate global-warming advocates on the merits of their case is because their arguments are impossibly over the top, filled with exaggerated claims of impending doom and catastrophe.

When someone says to you that the world is going to end, how can you answer that rationally?

We’re used to it by now, of course. Calling climate realists “Nazis” and comparing them to the Klu Klux Klan is just part of everyday conversation with these people. If you challenge them on a point of logic or science, they never respond directly. Instead, they personalize their rejoinder by accusing you of being anti-science — or worse.

Secretary of State John Kerry is now on what is being called a “climate change blitz” — a diplomatic full-court press to talk up global warming and the catastrophe that is just around the corner.

The Hill reports:

“When I think about the array … of global threats, think about this: terrorism, epidemics, poverty, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction — all challenges that know no borders. The reality is that climate change ranks right up there with every single one of them,” Kerry said in a speech at the American Center in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The speech begins a climate blitz by Kerry, who said he will “engage in a series of public and private discussions on the urgency of addressing climate change — particularly on the national security implications and the economic opportunities.”

Kerry pledged to put climate change front and center in all U.S. diplomatic efforts. As of this week, Kerry said he will instruct all chiefs of missions at U.S. embassies across the globe to “make climate change a top priority and use all the tools of diplomacy that they have at their disposal.”

Adding weight to his message, Kerry went so far as to call the changing climate itself a weapon.

“In a sense, climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction,” Kerry said.

Starting with Jakarta, Kerry plans to call on the world to tackle climate change, and his remarks painted a uphill battle for the globe in the years ahead.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say to you that the entire way of life that you live and love is at risk,” Kerry said to Jakarta, which he said is on the front line of the climate change battle.

Offering a stark contrast to the comments flooding political talk shows in the U.S. on Sunday, Kerry made a detailed, direct argument for action.

“The science of climate change is leaping out at us like a scene from a 3-D movie,” Kerry said. “And let there be no doubt in anybody’s mind that the science is absolutely certain.”

Kerry took a jab at the climate deniers in Congress, saying that he and President Obama don’t have time to meet with the “Flat Earth Society.”

“We certainly should not allow more time to be wasted by those who want to sit around debating whose responsibility it is to deal with this threat, while we come closer and closer to the point of no return,” Kerry said.

Where to begin? Calling climate change “the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction” is loony. Not wrong, not just an exaggeration — it’s full-blown lunacy. You have to deliberately suspend belief in reality to make such a nonsensical statement. I haven’t heard any reputable scientist — even those who are climate-change believers — makes such an idiotic comparison.

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Life in Prison Not Good Enough for Race Activists in Dunn Verdict

Sunday, February 16th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Michael Dunn was found guilty of four counts of attempted murder for shooting up an SUV full of black teenagers, one of whom died as a result. Dunn, who is white, says he asked the kids to turn down music that was blaring from their SUV. After they refused, he claims to have seen a gun emerge from one of the windows which is when he opened fire.

On the charge of first-degree murder in the death of 17-year old Jordan Davis, the jury couldn’t reach a verdict. Racial activists have now resurrected the ghost of George Zimmerman to “prove” that a young black man in Florida can’t get “justice.”

Except Dunn, who is 47 years old, is facing a mandatory 20 year sentence for each count of attempted murder. The chances are slim and none that he will ever see the outside world again.

CNN:

The incomplete finale to this emotional, hot-button trial — partly because of the fact Dunn is white and the teenagers who were shot at, including Davis, are black — echoed George Zimmerman’s trial for the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin about 120 miles down the road in Sanford, Florida. While stand your ground wasn’t used by Dunn, his lawyers did argue that he fired in self-defense.

Given the partially hung jury, State Attorney Angela Corey said prosecutors would press for a new trial in Duval County on the murder charge.

“Justice for Jordan Davis is as important as it is for any victim,” said Corey, whose office also handled the Zimmerman case.

Even without a final decision on the murder count — and pending defense appeals — the 47-year-old Dunn is looking at a lengthy prison term.

Prosecutor Erin Wolfson explained Saturday night that each attempted second-degree murder conviction carries a minimum sentence of at least 20 years. There’s also a 15-year sentence possible on the conviction for shooting in the teenager’s vehicle.

“You are looking at basically at life in prison,” Strolla said, even as he vowed to challenge the convictions. “At 47 years old, that’s a life sentence regardless of count one.”

The decision to convict on these counts, and not on murder, didn’t come easily for a jury that had deliberated for about 30 hours since getting the case late Wednesday.

Judge Russell Healey acknowledged earlier Saturday that the jury of four white women, two black women, four white men, an Asian woman and a Hispanic man was “struggling, obviously.”

“But it’s not for want of trying to reconcile all of this,” he said then. “I think we’ve got some analytical people in there who are trying to do just that — trying to analyze this from every possible angle.”

The lack of a murder conviction upset some, including protesters who marched outside the Jacksonville courthouse calling for Corey to lose her job. “The people united will never be defeated,” they also chanted.

Yet Davis’ mother, Lucia McBath, didn’t express any anger when she addressed reporters Saturday night. Her family, she said, is “so very happy to have just a little bit of closure.”

“It’s sad for Mr. Dunn that he will live the rest of his life in that sense of torment, and I will pray for him,” McBath said. “And I’ve asked my family to pray for him.”

Trayvon Martin’s parents claimed that Davis’ death is a reminder that “racial profiling and stereotypes” may serve as the basis for illegitimate fear “and the shooting and killing of young teenagers.”

The fact is, Dunn’s story has a lot of holes, as I’ll explain on the next page.

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How to Stand Up to Eco-Bullies

Sunday, February 16th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Tom Harris has an excellent article up at PJ Media.com on how cold weather is far more damaging to people than hot weather (Tom Harris and Dr. Madhav Khandekar: Cooling Kills: Governments Must Shift to Cold Preparation”).

As a companion piece, here’s a video of Tom’s appearance on CFRA talk radio in Ottawa discussing his attendance at a conference about how the skiiing industry in Canada will be affected by global warming; i.e., the snow will disappear.

Tom’s advocacy for climate realism was met with a pretty shocking reaction by the warmists.

YouTube Preview Image

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Doctors Abandoning Private Practice in Droves to Work at Hospitals

Saturday, February 15th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Doctors are leaving private practice to become employees of hospitals, according to this story in the New York Times. The decline in private practice physicians actually began a few years ago when changes to Medicare forced many physicians who practiced individually or in small group offices to make the move to a salaried position in a hospital.

But there is no doubt that Obamacare has exacerbated the problem. The onerous recordkeeping is one big reason why private practice physicians are becoming extinct. Private physicians can’t afford the extra employees to meet the demands of Obamacare paperwork.

Dr, Paul Hsieh explained in a PJ Media series we published on the rollout of Obamacare:

The second component of Big Medicine is the shift of doctors away from independent private practice and towards becoming hospital employees. Doctors face many of the same pressures as hospitals. As eWeek reported, “Doctors are abandoning their private practices to join large health organizations so they can lower their costs and meet government mandates on electronic health records.”

By becoming hospital employees, doctors lose autonomy, but enjoy more regular hours and a more predictable salary. In return, hospitals gain access to a guaranteed supply of patients from their employee-physicians. Last year the Washington Post reported, “[T]he number of physicians who own their firms dropped from 57 percent in 2000 to 43 percent in 2009, and it’s projected to continue falling to 33 percent by 2013.” As oncologist Patrick Cobb recently told CNN, “We have a joke that there are two kinds of private practices left in America. Those that sold to hospitals and those that are about to be sold.”

[...]

In contrast, the shakeup in health care is towards greater — not lesser — consolidation. This is because the government — not patients — will be increasingly in charge of the money. Under ObamaCare, government is projected to account for a whopping 66% of overall health spending. More centralized control of health spending will inevitably mean more centralized control of health care.

Nor is this centralization of health care some “unintended consequence” of ObamaCare. Rather, it is an explicitly desired goal. In 2010, Obama health advisor Nancy-Ann DeParle wrote in the Annals of Internal Medicine that the health law will “accelerate physician employment by hospitals and aggregation into larger physician groups” and that “physicians will need to embrace rather than resist change.”

Whether physicians resist the change or not is beside the point. The precipitous decline of private practice physicians will allow hospitals to jack up their prices — exactly the opposite effect of what the government intended with Obamacare.

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