Friday, May 29, 2015
Empty Hats performs "The Two Magicians" at the 2015 Hoggetowne Medieval Faire in Gainesville, Florida.
Thursday, May 28, 2015
New Horizons: New Horizons Sees More Detail as It Draws Closer to Pluto
Supporters of the NSA’s large scale spying on the American people claim the program has made our country safer. Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
This week, I stood on the Senate floor for over 10 hours explaining just that. We should never give up our rights for a false sense of security, but supporters of the PATRIOT Act are also presenting voters with a false choice. This week, the Investigator General reported that the FBI has not cracked a single terrorist plot thanks to the invasive spying powers implanted under the PATRIOT Act. Let me reiterate that: even the most vocal defenders of the spying program have failed to identify a single thwarted plot.
When will we realize that trading liberty for security is a monumental mistake? The Revolutionary War was fought to protect against writs of assistance, general warrants written by soldiers not judges. Our Founding Fathers believed that the right to be left alone—the right to be secure in your own persons—is the most cherished of rights.
Politicians like Senators Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Governors Jeb Bush and Scott Walker have all endorsed the NSA domestic surveillance program. Alone among presidential candidates, I am leading the fight to end this unconstitutional program. They are threatening our rights, freedoms, and privacy by encouraging the NSA to continue their warrantless tapping of American’s cell phones, and all without good reason.
Two independent, bipartisan presidential commissions have now said that not a single terrorist has been caught or terrorist plot stopped by this program. The only thing this program is stopping is the freedom and right to privacy of law-abiding citizens. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recognized this infringement and deemed the NSA spying program to be illegal. Additionally, a recent Pew Research Poll shows that a majority of Americans want the PATRIOT Act changed.
These politicians claim there is ‘ample evidence’ that bulk data collection of law-abiding citizens has played a major part in our anti-terrorist efforts. This is simply not true, when the facts have been independently reviewed by private and public organizations.
In a report issued Thursday, the Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz said that between 2004 and 2009, the FBI tripled its use of bulk collection under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. Section 215 allows for secret court orders to collect “tangible things” that could be relevant to a government investigation—a far lower threshold and more expansive reach than a warrant based on probable cause. The list of possible “tangible things” the government can obtain without a warrant is seemingly limitless and can include things like driver license records and Internet browsing history.
Though the invasive program was tripled, FBI agents can’t point to any major terrorism cases they’ve cracked thanks to the key snooping powers in the PATRIOT Act.
In 2013, an irritated Matt Drudge posted on his Facebook: “It’s now Authoritarian vs. Libertarian. Since Democrats vs. Republicans has been obliterated, no real difference between parties…”
Drudge was upset with Republicans who were siding with Obama in defending NSA mass surveillance and the administration’s desire to intervene militarily in Syria. The conservative Internet news king was despondent about the state of the GOP, writing, “Why would anyone vote Republican? Marching us off to war again; approved more NSA snooping. WHO ARE THEY?!”
It was a good question. Who were these Republicans going along with Obama’s agenda?
On Friday, Senator Rand Paul made national news when he blocked reauthorization of the Patriot Act, arguing that Section 2015 still allowed government collection of all Americans’ metadata. Paul believes this practice violates the Constitution, particularly the Fourth Amendment. Earlier this month, a top federal court ruled NSA mass surveillance illegal.
Many Republicans slammed Paul, believing the program should continue. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie accused Paul of being a “misguided” libertarian ideologue. Bill Kristol, editor of the neoconservative Weekly Standard said, “Rand Paul has now decided he wants to be a liberal Democrat.”
A liberal Democrat? But in 2013, Drudge had called Republicans “authoritarians” for supporting Obama’s national security agenda. Now, Kristol is accusing Paul of being a Democrat for opposing that agenda.
What’s going on here?
Drudge actually got it right two years ago.
Saying you stand for the Constitution and liberty sounds good, and virtually every Republican says both. Saying you want to protect the country is admirable, and of course Republicans say this too.
But how does this rhetoric actually flesh out policy-wise? If Paul attempts to limit the executive branch or scope of federal agencies, his Republican critics essentially say these government powers should be unlimited. If federal courts agree, ruling NSA surveillance illegal or unconstitutional, Paul’s critics deem national security so crucial that the Constitution should be overridden. “People seem to have forgotten 9/11” complained Senator John McCain after the court statement against the NSA in early May.
National security Republicans never outright admit that they are for unlimited state power or against the Constitution, but instead dismiss protests that liberty is being threatened as the complaints of the naïve, “misguided” or even “liberal Democrats.”
In opposing the Patriot Act, Paul says national security is important but not at the expense of the right to privacy. His critics insist 9/11 changed all that.
In fact, hawks like Christie, Kristol, Senators McCain, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton always cite 9/11 as the reason we must spy on citizens indefinitely, take aggressive military action perpetually, and should give the president more war powers than he’s even willing to give himself.
Paul was able to temporarily block the Patriot Act on Friday thanks to a number of Democrats. But there are many Democrats who side with national security Republicans.
As Drudge noted, simple Republican vs. Democrat or conservative vs. liberal doesn’t accurately label this current divide in our politics.
If the opposite of limited government is unlimited, and if the opposite of constitutional government is unconstitutional or anti-constitutional…
The opposite of libertarian is authoritarian—liberty can no longer be afforded and government’s authority must constantly increase to do what it takes to keep us safe.
Ronald Reagan warned where “government expands, liberty contracts.”
President Obama’s administration on Wednesday claimed dominion over all of America’s streams, creeks, rills, ditches, brooks, rivulets, burns, tributaries, criks, wetlands — perhaps even puddles — in a sweeping move to assert unilateral federal authority.
The Environmental Protection Agency, along with the Army Corps of Engineers, says it has the authority to control all waterways within the United States — and will exercise that authority.
“We’re finalizing a clean water rule to protect the streams and the wetlands that one in three Americans rely on for drinking water. And we’re doing that without creating any new permitting requirements and maintaining all previous exemptions and exclusions,” EPA head Gina McCarthy told reporters Wednesday.
The moves comes as part of the Clean Water Act and federal officials say they are simply trying to help businesses comply with regulations.
“This rule is about clarification, and in fact, we’re adding exclusions for features like artificial lakes and ponds, water-filled depressions from constructions and grass swales,” McCarthy said. “This rule will make it easier to identify protected waters and will make those protections consistent with the law as well as the latest peer-reviewed science. This rule is based on science.”
The Supreme Court has twice questioned the breadth of powers decreed under the Clean Water Act, prompting Wednesday’s actions.
McCarthy claimed the new powers would “not interfere with private property rights or address land use.”
“It does not regulate any ditches unless they function as tributaries. It does not apply to groundwater or shallow subsurface water, copper tile drains or change policy on irrigation or water transfer.”
Not surprisingly, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, THE top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, loves the plan.
Paine arrived in America from England in 1774. A friend of Benjamin Franklin, he was a writer of poetry and tracts condemning the slave trade. In 1775, as hostilities between Britain and the colonies intensified, Paine wrote Common Sense to encourage the colonies to break the British exploitative hold and fight for independence. The little booklet of 50 pages was published January 10, 1776 and sold a half-million copies, approximately equal to 75 million copies today.
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
David Duchovny cried tears of joy over the first script of Fox’s upcoming revival of “The X-Files.”
“I just read it about an hour ago and I started crying reading the first page,” the actor told EW.
He explained, “It was just so strange to see the names on the page. It had nothing to do with the script itself. It was just like, I’d been talking about this for a long time. We’d been planning it for a long time. It took a long time to get all the people in the same place and get the deal with Fox. So let’s say two years we’ve been talking about doing it. Now it’s the fun part. Now we actually get to do it. That was nice and strangely emotional for me, and I’ll have to figure out how to use that [in the performance].”
Although story lines are being held very secret, Duchovny did say the first script is “fantastic.”
Starting production in June, “The X-Files” revival has creator and writer Chris Carter back at the helm. Duchovny and Gillian Anderson reunite in the roles of FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, respectively.
Duchovny also confirmed what Fox co-head Dana Walden told reporters earlier this month about the mix of standalone and mythology episodes for the revival.
“Even though there’s only six [episodes], there will be a mix,” he said. “It’s not really ‘The X-Files’ without the mythology.”
The actor says the series doesn’t end with the upcoming season. In fact, he would be down for another.
“I would be open to doing another cycle,” Duchovny said. “I don’t know that I could do a 20-episode version of this show at this point in my life, and I don’t know that Gillian could. But I think everybody is open ended on what happens after this. Certainly, we didn’t bring it back with the idea of ending it.”
“The X-Files returns to Fox with a two-night event starting Sunday, Jan. 24 at 10 p.m. following the NFC Championship Game and then continues on Monday, Jan. 25 at 10 p.m.
Empty Hats performs "Tom of Bedlam" at the 2015 Hoggetowne Medieval Faire in Gainesville, Florida.
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Eventually, it was decided that Star Fox 2 would eschew the linear, level-based design of the original and introduce a more tactical and open arrangement, with random elements that would make every play-through different. “Eguchi-san wanted to investigate a more ‘Rogue-like’ structure to the game,” Cuthbert explains. “I think you can tell from Animal Crossing that he likes that kind of iterative, exploratory style game, based on algorithms.” Miyamoto was fully in favour of the shift, seeing it as an opportunity to experiment with new styles of gameplay. “He often says Star Fox is his ‘test bed’ for new ideas,” continues Cuthbert. “The series was never intended to be limited to linear 3D scrolling stages, and he will often say that the only reason they did that was to get the best speed and performance out of the Super FX Chip.”
Speaking of which, the version of Super FX which was to be included in Star Fox 2 was more powerful than the one which powered its predecessor. “It was the same chip used in Yoshi’s Island and had a few improvements we didn’t use, such as being able to rasterize polygons into the SNES sprite format,” says Cuthbert. “However, the main advantage we used was that it was twice the speed.”
Cuthbert worked feverishly on the new title, once again uprooting himself from his native England to Nintendo’s Kyoto-based headquarters for the duration of the development period. While he was still technically an employee of Argonaut Software, communication with the UK studio was minimal. “I basically lived in Japan and worked at Nintendo with very little contact to Argonaut during development,” he says. Star Fox 2 was shaping up to be a massive improvement over its already stunning ancestor, and would push the ageing SNES to its very limits. However, during the development period Sony and Sega both launched their powerful new 32-bit home consoles, the PlayStation and Saturn – and as a result drastically altered the public’s perception of what 3D visuals should look like. The playing field was changed overnight and it was clear that Star Fox 2 – despite clearly running on older hardware – would be compared the latest 3D games hitting the market. It says a lot about Nintendo as a company that it had the gumption to pull the plug on the title completely.
Ken Follett follows up his #1 New York Times bestseller Fall of Giants with a brilliant, page-turning epic about the heroism and honor of World War II, and the dawn of the atomic age.
Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants, the first novel in his extraordinary new historical epic, The Century Trilogy, was an international sensation, acclaimed as “sweeping and fascinating, a book that will consume you for days or weeks” (USA Today) and “grippingly told and readable to the end” (The New York Times Book Review). “If the next two volumes are as lively and entertaining as Fall of Giants,” said The Washington Post, “they should be well worth waiting for.”
Winter of the World picks up right where the first book left off, as its five interrelated families—American, German, Russian, English, Welsh—enter a time of enormous social, political, and economic turmoil, beginning with the rise of the Third Reich, through the Spanish Civil War and the great dramas of World War II, up to the explosions of the American and Soviet atomic bombs.
Carla von Ulrich, born of German and English parents, finds her life engulfed by the Nazi tide until she commits a deed of great courage and heartbreak. . . . American brothers Woody and Chuck Dewar, each with a secret, take separate paths to momentous events, one in Washington, the other in the bloody jungles of the Pacific. . . . English student Lloyd Williams discovers in the crucible of the Spanish Civil War that he must fight Communism just as hard as Fascism. . . . Daisy Peshkov, a driven American social climber, cares only for popularity and the fast set, until the war transforms her life, not just once but twice, while her cousin Volodya carves out a position in Soviet intelligence that will affect not only this war—but the war to come.
These characters and many others find their lives inextricably entangled as their experiences illuminate the cataclysms that marked the century. From the drawing rooms of the rich to the blood and smoke of battle, their lives intertwine, propelling the reader into dramas of ever-increasing complexity.
As always with Ken Follett, the historical background is brilliantly researched and rendered, the action fast-moving, the characters rich in nuance and emotion. With passion and the hand of a master, he brings us into a world we thought we knew, but now will never seem the same again.
Though supporters of President Obama’s healthcare program tout its success in providing insurance to millions of Americans, recent rate filings from large insurers have revealed that the law is built on a shaky foundation.
In recent weeks, large insurers selling coverage through Obamacare have proposed massive rate increases for 2016 – even exceeding 40 percent – because they haven’t been able to sign up enough young and healthy customers.
This is an ominous sign for the future of Obamacare, because two federal programs that were supposed to act as training wheels for insurers in the early years of Obamacare by absorbing excess risk are set to expire after 2016. If insurers don’t do a better job of attracting a healthier risk pool, 2017 promises to be a rocky year for insurance markets, regardless of which party is in control of the White House.
In the first two years of the implementation of Obamacare’s insurance exchanges (2014 and 2015), insurers set rates with the expectation that the government would absorb a certain degree of risk and they made assumptions about the medical costs of their enrollees.
Now that insurers have had more time to look at the claims coming in from those enrolling from Obamacare, they’re finding that the pool of customers is older and sicker than originally projected, driving up medical costs. Meanwhile, federal help isn’t what they anticipated.
CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, the largest health insurer in Maryland, proposed an average increase of 30.4 percent for 2016 (with a range of 19.3 percent to 45.7 percent).
A similar story is playing out among insurers who have filed rate proposals throughout the country. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee asked for an average increase of 36.3 percent. In South Dakota, Wellmark proposed a 42.9 percent average increase.
Earlier this month, a federal appeals court ruled that while the surveillance agency has long claimed to be acting in accordance with Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the text of that law in fact authorizes no such program. The Obama Administration has been executing a policy that the legislature never passed into being.
But the law that doesn’t even authorize the program is set to expire at the end of the month. And so the court reasoned that Congress could let it expire or vote to change it. For this reason, the court declined to issue an order shutting the program down.
President Obama didn’t shut the program down either. One might think the illegality of its ongoing operations would bother him, but he’s effectively punted to Congress too.
Days ago, the House of Representatives acted: they voted overwhelmingly, 338 to 88, “to end the National Security Agency’s mass collection of phone records from millions of Americans with no ties to terrorism,” passing the USA Freedom Act, an effort “to rein in NSA surveillance while renewing key sections of the… Patriot Act.” The bill divided civil libertarians, some of whom thought it didn’t go far enough because the government could still access bulk data held by phone companies.
That brings us to the wee hours of Saturday morning. “After vigorous debate and intense last-minute pressure by Republican leaders, the Senate on Saturday rejected legislation that would end the federal government’s bulk collection of phone records,” The New York Times reports. “With the death of that measure — passed overwhelmingly in the House — senators then scrambled to hastily pass a short-term measure to keep the program from going dark when it expires June 1 but failed.”
The outcome is good for civil libertarians: the House is in recess; barring the unexpected, the phone dragnet will end June 1, when key provisions of the Patriot Act expire. And Senator Rand Paul seems to deserve extra credit for that outcome: “The measure failed in the Senate 57 to 42, with 12 Republicans voting for it, shortly after midnight because Mr. Paul, a candidate for the White House, dragged the procedure out as he promised to do in fund-raising tweets and emails.”
Hillary Clinton wiped “clean” the private server housing emails from her tenure as secretary of state, the chairman of the House committee investigating the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi said Friday.
“While it is not clear precisely when Secretary Clinton decided to permanently delete all emails from her server, it appears she made the decision after October 28, 2014, when the Department of State for the first time asked the Secretary to return her public record to the Department,” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of the Select Committee on Benghazi, said in a statement.
Clinton was under a subpoena order from the panel for all documents related to the 2012 attacks on the American compound there. But David Kendall, an attorney for Clinton, said the 900 pages of emails previously provided to the panel cover its request.
Kendall also informed the committee that Clinton’s emails from her time at the State Department have been permanently erased.
Gowdy said that Clinton’s response to the subpoena means he and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will now contemplate new legal actions against Clinton.
“After seeking and receiving a two week extension from the Committee, Secretary Clinton failed to provide a single new document to the subpoena issued by the Committee and refused to provide her private server to the Inspector General for the State Department or any other independent arbiter for analysis,” Gowdy said.
Clinton previously said she decided to delete the emails after her lawyers reviewed the server for work-related correspondence. She said the deletion of private emails occurred “at the end” of that review.
In a letter provided to the committee, Kendall said Clinton would not be turning over the server to a third-party for review and that the emails no longer exist on the private server located in her New York home.
“There is no basis to support the proposed third-party review of the server that hosted the email@example.com account,” Kendall wrote. “To avoid prolonging a discussion that would be academic, I have confirmed with the secretary’s IT support that no emails…..for the time period January 21, 2009 through February 1, 2013 reside on the server or on any back-up systems associated with the server.”
When former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton turned over 30,000 emails she’d sent using a private server to the State Department, she gave the government a hard copy.
Instead of, uh—what’s that thing, where you transfer a message electronically? And then you don’t have to print it out? And that’s instantly searchable by the recipient computer?
Oh right, emailing! Instead of emailing the emails to the State Department or transferring them via some other convenient, digital method, she printed all 30,000.
Once the papers arrived at State, they had to be re-digitized, a process which took 12 employees more than 2,400 hours at taxpayer expense.
But it gets worse.
As Newsbusters points out, giving the State Department print copies allowed Clinton to conceal quite a lot of important information:
Investigators will not get the background “electronic fingerprint,” which is not displayed to either the writer or the recipient. This can include (the) originating IP address (as opposed to the email address itself), the server it was sent from, timing information that cannot be easily manipulated (as opposed to the header, which is easy to type or alter in paper format), and whether or not there was an attachment at some point in a multi-level conversation.
The Georgia cop who killed a teenager last month who was allegedly holding a video game controller — not a gun — was fired from her previous job, where she received numerous reprimands, personnel records show.
Euharlee police Cpl. Beth Gatny is on paid administrative leave after the Feb. 14 shooting death of Christopher Roupe, 17, at his home in Bartow County in north Georgia.
Christopher’s family say the Junior ROTC member who wanted to join the Marines was holding a Wii controller when he answered a knock on the door from Gatny and a second cop who were there to serve a warrant on his father. The police affidavit claims Christopher had a pistol in his hand.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation hasn’t yet issued its report saying who’s right.
A police officer shot and killed Christopher Roupe, 17, when he opened the door of his Bartow County, Ga., home on Feb. 14.
Personnel records obtained by NBC station WXIA of Atlanta show Gatny was fired from the police department in Acworth, a suburb of Atlanta, after a 10-year stint there, for failing to report to work. Her claims for disability compensation were rejected as “not medically supported,” according to the records, and she joined Euharlee police nine months ago.
Gatny’s Acworth records also show four car accidents in two years and reprimands for refusing to follow orders and for leaving her weapon with a civilian while she had her picture taken, WXIA reported.
And in an odd parallel to the shooting of Christopher, Gatny was investigated in 2008 for having fired her service weapon at a suspect who was trying to remove his backpack because she believed the suspect was going for a gun...
Friday, May 22, 2015
Empty Hats performs "Johnny Jump Up" at the 2015 Hoggetowne Medieval Faire in Gainesville, Florida.
Thursday, May 21, 2015
The Senate’s frenzied efforts to finish work on controversial trade and national security legislation are being complicated by a Rand Paul filibuster launched Wednesday.
Sen. Paul’s (R-Ky.) filibuster hampers the GOP-led Senate’s efforts to pass the big-ticket items before the Memorial Day recess. The new twist in this week’s Senate deliberations is a huge test for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is a Paul ally.
Paul, who is running for the GOP presidential nomination, began speaking on the Senate floor against the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs in the middle of a debate over fast-track trade legislation.
Paul’s move will require McConnell to get a series of unanimous-consent agreements if he is to stick to his timeline of passing fast-track and an extension of the Patriot Act this week. Any one senator can block such an agreement, and there are many who feel strongly about trade and the nation’s spying powers. Senate officials say there is a chance proceedings could extend well into the holiday weekend.
Aides say fast-track and a short-term extension of surveillance authority likely have the votes to pass the upper chamber. But the Senate might not have enough time to get the bills done over the next couple of days.
Furthermore, key provisions of the Patriot Act expire June 1, and lawmakers are not scheduled to return to Washington before then. The House, meanwhile, is expected to leave town Thursday.
House GOP leaders note they have passed an NSA reform bill, which is backed by most congressional Democrats and President Obama. McConnell and other Senate Republicans strongly oppose it.
Senate Democrats, who have been extremely divided over trade this month, have shifted strategies. Instead of focusing on fast-track, they are now talking much more about NSA reform — which has pitted Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) against McConnell.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who often serves as a bellwether of the Democratic caucus, said she planned to vote in favor of advancing fast-track on Thursday. Democrats who oppose the trade bill acknowledge it has the votes to pass eventually.
But senators will have to decide whether they want to spend the recess in the Capitol instead of barbecuing or attending parades in their home states.
On Wednesday, McConnell told reporters he planned to “grind” ahead. He told his colleagues that he would keep the Senate in session through the three-day weekend if that’s what it takes to get its work done.
“Mitch is being smart. With all these games going on back-and-forth, he’s telling people we’re going to be here as long as it takes. That’s going to put pressure on people to compromise,” a Republican senator said after a meeting of the Senate GOP steering committee.
In the last Congress, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), then Senate majority leader, often threatened to work though weekends. Many times, Reid would back off or deals would be struck in time for members to catch their planes back home.
But McConnell is now running the Senate, and he plays his cards very close to the chest.
A GOP leadership aide said that no matter what, the pending bills would be addressed before the Senate adjourns.
The Senate will vote on cloture to a legislative package that includes the substance of the trade language. Without cooperation from the entire Senate, a combined 60 hours of procedural time would have to elapse before a final vote on fast-track.
Paul’s filibuster, however, threw the endgame into confusion; he launched into an open-ended talkathon, relieved at times by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah).
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) jobs report for December counted 74,000 jobs created last month. That was less than half the 200,000 new jobs expected.
Nevertheless, the BLS reported those 74,000 new jobs as reducing at least what it calls the U3 unemployment rate by three tenths of a percentage point, from 7.0% to 6.7%. That was because 347,000 workers fled the work force altogether last month, and so were no longer counted as unemployed.
Those 347,000 workers leaving the workforce altogether were almost 5 times (4.689) the 74,000 new jobs created. But the BLS, and the New York Times, still count that as headline unemployment plummeting on net to 6.7% from 7.0%. In fact, all of the decline in the U3 headline unemployment rate since President Obama entered office has been due to workers leaving the work force, and therefore no longer counted as unemployed, rather than to new jobs created.
Those 347,000 for December, 2013, however, are still out there not working, and suffering. Indeed, they joined a near record of more than 102 million Americans not working in December, all still out there and suffering without jobs. Those 102 million Americans are the human face of an employment-population ratio stuck at a pitiful 58.6%. In fact, more than 100 million Americans were not working in Obama’s workers’ paradise for all of 2013 and 2012.
The 102.159 million Americans not working in December is not the all-time record of Americans not working. That all-time record was set in October, 2013, at 102.896 million. The employment-population ratio that month was an even more pitiful 58.2%.
That was the lowest in 30 years, all the way back to 1983, the first year of the recovery from Reagan’s recession, which finally slayed the historic double digit inflation of the 1970s. The employment-population ratio of 57.9% in 1983 was up by the fifth year of Reagan’s recovery to 61.5%, on its way to 63.0% in 1989. That represented an increase of 17 million jobs since that recession started in July, 1981.
But that was when America was following pro-growth economic policies. Today we have President Obama emphasizing equality rather than growth, and after 5 years of Obama as President, we still have not recovered all of the jobs lost since the recession began in 2007. When the recession began in December, 2007, the economy was employing 146.273 million Americans. Today, after 5 years of Obamanomics, in December, 2013 the number of Americans employed was still only 144.586 million, about 1.7 million fewer jobs.
President Obama is not the only President to be challenged by a recession while in office. Since the Great Depression, there have been 10 other recessions before this last one. On average, all the jobs lost in those recessions were recovered within two years after the recession started, as reflected in the official historical data, which is well presented on the website of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. But here we are today under President Obama, more than 6 years after the recession started, and we still have not recovered all of the lost jobs!
Moreover, Obama apologists cannot say that Obama’s recovery from the recession is so bad because the recession was so bad. The historical record for the American economy has always been the worse the recession, the stronger the recovery. America has forgotten that experience, because Reaganomics produced 25 years of steady, often booming growth, from 1982 to 2007, with only two, short, shallow recessions. But under every other President in U.S. history, going back for well over a century at least, the economy was in a booming recovery within 5 years as President Obama has had, even under Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression!
Today’s economic reality is better represented by what the BLS calls the U6 unemployment rate. That rate includes discouraged workers who have given up looking for a job in the past 4 weeks, and others the BLS considers marginally attached to the work force. It also includes involuntary part time workers who want a full time job but could only find part time work. That U6 unemployment rate was 13.1% in December.
As the Shadow of Mordor grows across the land, the Companions of the Ring have become involved in separate adventures. Aragorn, revealed as the hidden heir of the ancient Kings of the West, has joined with the Riders of Rohan against the forces of Isengard, and takes part in the desperate victory of the Hornburg. Merry and Pippin, captured by Orcs, escape into Fangorn Forest and there encounter the Ents. Gandalf has miraculously returned and defeated the evil wizard, Saruman. Sam has left his master for dead after a battle with the giant spider, Shelob; but Frodo is still alive -- now in the foul hands of the Orcs. And all the while the armies of the Dark Lord are massing as the One Ring draws ever nearer to the Cracks of Doom.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Empty Hats performs "Ready for the Storm" at the 2015 Hoggetowne Medieval Faire in Gainesville, Florida.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
In one of her last gigs on the paid lecture circuit, Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed an eBay summit aimed at promoting women in the workplace, delivering a 20-minute talk that garnered her a $315,000 payday from the company.
Less than two months later, Clinton was feted at the San Francisco Bay-area home of eBay chief executive John Donahoe and his wife, Eileen, for one of the first fundraisers supporting Clinton’s newly announced presidential campaign.
The two events spotlight the unusually close financial ties between Clinton and a broad array of industries that have issues before the government and paid millions of dollars to her and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, in the months preceding the launch of her presidential campaign.
Disclosure documents filed by Hillary Clinton last week revealed that the couple have earned about $25 million for delivering 104 paid speeches since January 2014.
While Bill Clinton’s lucrative speaking career since leaving the White House in 2001 has been well documented, the new disclosures offer the first public accounting of Hillary Clinton’s paid addresses since she stepped down as secretary of state. And they illustrate how the Clintons have personally profited by drawing on the same network of supporters who have backed their political campaigns and philanthropic efforts — while those supporters have gained entree to a potential future president.
Silicon Valley is one place where those overlapping interests come together, according to a Washington Post analysis of the new Clinton disclosures.
Out of the $11.7 million that Hillary Clinton has made delivering 51 speeches since January 2014, $3.2 million came from the technology industry, the analysis found. Several of the companies that paid Clinton to address their employees also have senior leaders who have been early and avid supporters of her presidential bid.
The tech sector was the largest single source of speaking fees for Clinton, followed by health care and financial services, according to the Post analysis. Bill Clinton also made substantial income speaking to tech groups but focused more heavily on financial services, insurance and real estate companies.
A Hillary Clinton campaign spokesman declined to comment.
While it is common for former presidents to receive top dollar as paid speakers, Hillary Clinton is unique as a prospective candidate who received large personal payouts from corporations, trade groups and other major interests mere months before launching a White House bid. In some cases, those speeches gave Clinton a chance to begin sounding out themes of her coming campaign and even discuss policy issues that a future Clinton administration might face.
Monday marked another day and another dodge for Hillary Clinton, who is increasingly coming under attack for not answering questions on the campaign trail.
The numbers are in dispute, but the rough estimate is that Clinton has only fielded 13 questions from the press during the first 37 days of her official candidacy for the White House.
During a swing through northern Iowa on Monday, she again sidestepped the national press at the Mason City home of Dean Genth and Gary Swenson, backers of then-senator Barack Obama in 2008. She largely stuck to outlining the pillars of her campaign, including campaign finance reform, and took no questions from reporters during or after the event.
Republicans have in recent days resurrected their attack line that Clinton is “hiding,” a popular description for the former secretary of state among her critics while she was winding down her paid speaking career and gearing up to announce her candidacy earlier this year. And some GOP presidential hopefuls have themselves gotten in on the action, both by drawing contrasts and by explicitly criticizing her.
Jeb Bush, for example, told an audience in Iowa this weekend he had “asked someone to kind of add up the questions that I’ve been asked by people who can ask whatever they want, and, of course, the press that follows me around from time to time,” according to the Washington Examiner. “And we’re probably around 800 to 900 questions asked and hopefully answered.”
“Hillary Clinton has been a presidential candidate for a month maybe, and she’s had 13 questions asked by press,” he added.
Clinton’s allies have started hitting back, while her campaign itself has remained largely silent on the topic. The pro-Clinton group Correct The Record on Monday emailed reporters pointing out that Clinton has taken 20 questions from “everyday Americans,” while posing 117 questions of her own to them.
“While other candidates are using the media to further their own agendas and attack each other, Hillary Clinton is displaying the qualities of a true leader by meeting with the people she hopes to champion as the next President of the United States,” the group wrote.
Genth, one of Clinton’s hosts on Monday, told the print pool reporter that he was not concerned about Clinton’s lack of press interactions.
“We all know she is going to get grilled time and time again throughout campaign season,” he said. “If you want to know what she thinks, read [her book] Hard Choices.”
During a 2007 Republican presidential debate, candidate Ron Paul said of the Iraq War, “We never should have gone in.”
Most on the debate stage that night laughed at him.
In the Wall Street Journal, former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote of the reaction to Paul, “The debate was full of fireworks about Iraq, about its essentials — the rightness of the endeavor…” adding, “After Mr. Paul spoke, it seemed half the room booed, but the other applauded.”
Noonan continued, “When a thousand Republicans are in a room and one man of the eight on the stage takes a sharply minority viewpoint on a dramatic issue and half the room seems to cheer him, something’s going on.” Noonan observed, “As he spoke, you could hear other candidates laughing in the background.”
“They should stop giggling, and engage in a serious way,” she advised.
Last week, they finally did.
Likely 2016 candidate Jeb Bush was forced, begrudgingly, to say that his brother had made a mistake in invading Iraq, after originally saying the war was justified. In the three days it took for Bush to clarify, most of the Republican presidential field rushed to say they thought the war was a mistake. Chris Christie said it. Ted Cruz said it too. John Kasich chimed in. Rand Paul has always it was a mistake to invade Iraq. Marco Rubio said it was a mistake and then tried, clumsily, to take it back.
But why would Republicans start saying this now?
For the same reason Jeb Bush saw the practical need to change his position—if you want to become president, it’s become a necessity.
For years—including in 2007—most Americans considered the Iraq War one of the worst foreign policy decisions in modern history. Because of its overwhelming unpopularity, supporting or defending the Iraq War has become a significant political liability.
Just ask Hillary Clinton.
Last week reflected Republicans finally playing catch-up—albeit almost a decade after Ron Paul had tried to tell them the same thing.
When viewed through a partisan lens, support for something even as tragically misguided as the Iraq War is not hard to understand. In 2007, that war still had support among most Republicans because it was the primary feature of George W. Bush’s foreign policy. Supporting it, and opposing a vociferous anti-war left, had been integral to Republican identity for a better part of the decade.
Republicans had no more intention of disavowing their president’s foreign policy agenda than Democrats had in running away from Obama’s healthcare agenda (unless politically forced, similar to Jeb Bush). Popular or not, logical or not, these positions were part of who they were as a party.
And this partisan stubbornness has cost Republicans dearly.
Many Republicans continued to mock Paul throughout his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, while the Iraq War and its legacy played no small part in delivering the White House to Barack Obama. Twice.
On stage that night in 2007 when Ron Paul was laughed at, stood 2008 Republican nominee John McCain, an early supporter of the Iraq War and unrepentant hawk. Also present was 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, who said, “It was the right decision to go into Iraq.”
To get rid of this baggage, or begin to get rid of it, there would have to be a dramatic break or some visible shift within the GOP.
That’s what last week was about.
Seventeen months before President Obama dismissed the Islamic State as a "JV team," a Defense Intelligence Agency report predicted the rise of the terror group and likely establishment of a caliphate if its momentum was not reversed.
Hours after delivering a hawkish foreign policy speech, in which he lambasted critics of post-Sept. 11 domestic surveillance tactics, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) ramped up his rhetoric further against those whom he derided as “civil liberties extremists.”
During a Monday town hall meeting at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in this southern New Hampshire town, Christie raised the 9/11 attacks in an extended riff about where he comes down in the ongoing debate between personal liberty and public security.
“All these people are talking about liberty,” he said. “How did that attack steal our liberty? We acted differently. We conducted our lives differently. We were reticent. We were scared.”
Christie said that this collective reaction to 9/11 qualified as “stealing of our liberty, too.”
Then he upped the ante with a dramatic flourish.
“And there are going to be some who are going to come before you and are going to say, ‘Oh, no, no, no. This is not what the Founders intended,’” he said. “The Founders made sure that the first obligation of the American government was to protect the lives of the American people, and we can do this in a way that’s smart and cost-effective and protects civil liberties. But you know, you can’t enjoy your civil liberties if you’re in a coffin.”
Christie’s vivid imagery harkened back to some of the life-or-death themes that ran through former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential bid at a time when 9/11 was fresher in the public memory.
The brash New Jersey governor’s allusion to a coffin was particularly pointed in a state where voters are proud of their famous state motto, “Live Free Or Die.”
Indiana, 1818. Moonlight falls through the dense woods that surround a one-room cabin, where a nine-year-old Abraham Lincoln kneels at his suffering mother's bedside. She's been stricken with something the old-timers call "Milk Sickness."
"My baby boy..." she whispers before dying.
Only later will the grieving Abe learn that his mother's fatal affliction was actually the work of a vampire.
When the truth becomes known to young Lincoln, he writes in his journal, "henceforth my life shall be one of rigorous study and devotion. I shall become a master of mind and body. And this mastery shall have but one purpose..." Gifted with his legendary height, strength, and skill with an ax, Abe sets out on a path of vengeance that will lead him all the way to the White House.
While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for saving a Union and freeing millions of slaves, his valiant fight against the forces of the undead has remained in the shadows for hundreds of years. That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln, and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than 140 years.
Using the journal as his guide and writing in the grand biographical style of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, Seth has reconstructed the true life story of our greatest president for the first time-all while revealing the hidden history behind the Civil War and uncovering the role vampires played in the birth, growth, and near-death of our nation.
Monday, May 18, 2015
The New Minstrel Revue performs "Rusalka" at the closing pub sing at the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire in Gainesville, Florida.
Friday, May 15, 2015
Last week, Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., introduced an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill. It required the NSA and other government agencies merely to obey the Patriot Act, not the Fourth Amendment. That the data to be collected are “relevant to an ongoing national security investigation” doesn’t mean that there is probable cause that the person whose records are collected has committed a crime.
The language was taken from Sec. 214 of the Patriot Act, which amended Section 402 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1842).
Amash’s amendment did not attempt to enforce the standard set in the Fourth Amendment, which requires “probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” That the data to be collected is merely relevant to an ongoing national security investigation doesn’t necessarily mean that there is probable cause that the person whose records are collected has committed a crime.
That means the Patriot Act is unconstitutional, according to any reasonable interpretation of the Fourth Amendment.
The NSA’s activities do not even meet the lower standards set by the Patriot Act. They are illegal even under an unconstitutional law.
It is important to remember the difference between “constitutional” and “legal.” Legal means the activity in question complies with existing law passed by a legislative body. Constitutional means the legislative body had been given the power to pass the law in the first place.
The U.S. Congress not only wasn’t given the power to pass the Patriot Act, it was strictly prohibited from doing so by the Fourth Amendment. Congress passed the legislation anyway. The NSA hasn’t even complied with that.
There’s more Orwellian double-speak in action in Congress.
On Wednesday, the House passed the USA Freedom Act 338-88. As is always the case in the District of Corruption, the new law does exactly the opposite of what its name purports.
The bill overturns the recent ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that National Security Agency bulk telephone metadata collection exceeded what was authorized in the so-called USA Patriot Act. The misnamed Freedom Act actually expands the statutory basis for the large-scale collection of most data.
Now phone companies have to hold, search and analyze the data at government’s request. The Freedom Act authorizes the government to order phone companies to turn over records based upon a “specific selection term.” Think of it as using a search term in a search engine.
A non-specific term can turn up a vast amount of unrelated data that will find its way into the NSA’s computers. In short, it casts an even wider net than the one the NSA was using without authorization, but now it’s an “authorized” net.
If the USA Freedom Act, which passed the House overwhelmingly Wednesday, really reins in the National Security Agency’s bulk telephone metadata collection program, why did so many Republican critics of mass data collection vote against it?
This not only included Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., who spearheaded a bipartisan push to end blanket surveillance in 2013, but a virtual who’s who of libertarian-leaning Republican members of the House and their conservative fellow travelers: Thomas Massie, Raul Labrador, Dave Brat, Tim Huelskamp, Jim Jordan, Tom McClintock, Mark Meadows, Mick Mulvaney, Walter Jones, Mark Sanford and Jimmy Duncan. Duncan is the only Republican still in Congress who voted against the Iraq War.
Amash, who explains all his votes on Facebook, argues that the bill in its current form erodes a recent U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruling that the mass data collection isn’t legal under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
The third-term congressman writes, “It’s true that the bill ends the phone dragnet as we currently know it — by having the phone companies themselves hold, search, and analyze certain data at the request of the government, which is worse in many ways given the broader set of data the companies hold — but H.R. 2048 actually expands the statutory basis for the large-scale collection of most data.”
In other words, a federal court ruled that there was no statutory basis for the blanket data collection being carried out by the NSA. The USA Freedom Act as now written, Amash contends, provides one.
From tales of chivalrous knights to the barbarity of trial by ordeal, no era has been a greater source of awe, horror, and wonder than the Middle Ages. In handsomely crafted prose, and with the grace and authority of his extraordinary gift for narrative history, William Manchester leads us from a civilization tottering on the brink of collapse to the grandeur of its rebirth-the dense explosion of energy that spawned some of history's greatest poets, philosophers, painters, adventurers, and reformers, as well as some of its most spectacular villains- the Renaissance.
Empty Hats performs "Galway Girl" at the closing pub sing at the 2015 Hoggetowne Medieval Faire in Gainesvile, Florida.
Thursday, May 14, 2015
Despite over $205 million in federal taxpayer funding, Hawaii’s Obamacare exchange website will soon shut down. Since its implementation, the exchange has somehow failed to become financially viable because of lower than expected Obamacare enrollment figures. With the state legislature rejecting a $28 million bailout, the website will now be unable to operate past this year.
According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser the Hawaii Health Connector will stop taking new enrollees on Friday and plans to begin migrating to the federally run Healthcare.gov. Outreach services will end by May 31, all technology will be transferred to the state by September 30, and its workforce will be eliminated by February 28.
While the exchange has struggled since its creation, it is not for lack of funding. Since 2011 Hawaii has received a total of $205,342,270 in federal grant money from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In total, HHS provided nearly $4.5 billion to Hawaii and other state exchanges, with little federal oversight and virtually no strings attached.
Despite this generous funding, the exchange has underperformed from day one. In its first year, Hawaii enrolled only 8,592 individuals – meaning it spent almost $23,899 on its website for each individual enrolled. Currently over 37,000 individuals are enrolled in Hawaii’s exchange – well below the estimated 70,000 enrollees that is required to make the website financially viable.
When federal agents stormed into Lyndon McLellan’s North Carolina convenience store last October without warning and accused him of trying to put one over on the government, the small business owner wasn’t sure what was happening.
“They asked me if I knew what ‘structuring’ was and then they showed me some cash deposits I made in a 24-hour period,” he told FoxNews.com.
The IRS agents apparently were suspicious because of deposits McLellan had made of just under $10,000. Banks are required to report transactions over $10,000; making multiple deposits of less than $10,000 to evade that requirement is known as “structuring.”
Under this pretense, enforcement agents accused McLellan of the con and seized all $107,000 from his bank account.
“It leaves you numb,” McLellan told FoxNews.com. “I was in a state of shock.”
McLellan is one of many business owners who have been caught up in a controversial federal practice known as civil forfeiture. Under this policy, federal agents have been able to seize the property and bank accounts of anyone they suspect of having criminal ties. The burden of proof falls on the owner even if no charges are filed.
What’s unique in McLellan’s case is that he’s still battling to get his money back, despite the IRS pledging late last year to pull back on its use of civil forfeiture — and despite even the IRS commissioner suggesting agents erred in locking down his money.
Before the federal seizure last year, McLellan had spent more than a decade running L&M Convenience Mart, a gas station, restaurant and convenience store in Fairmont, N.C.
In an instant, his business account was gone. And then it got worse.
Rumors quickly spread in the tiny town that McLellan’s money was frozen because of suspected ties to drugs, fraying the good reputation he’d spent years building in the community.
“Several people thought it was drug-related but when I told them what really happened they said, ‘How in the world can they take your money?’ That’s the answer I’ve been waiting on too,” he said.
McLellan claims he didn’t do anything wrong. The IRS has never alleged he committed a crime nor has the agency brought any criminal charges against him. Instead, McLellan, 50, was verbally accused of structuring cash deposits to avoid bank reporting requirements, under a measure originally meant to target drug dealers, terrorists and others trying to launder money through criminal activity.
In the vast dominion of Seven Cities, in the Holy Desert Raraku, the seer Sha'ik and her followers prepare for the long-prophesied uprising known as the Whirlwind. Unprecedented in size and savagery, this maelstrom of fanaticism and bloodlust will embroil the Malazan Empire in one of the bloodiest conflicts it has ever known, shaping destinies and giving birth to legends . . .
Set in a brilliantly realized world ravaged by dark, uncontrollable magic, this thrilling novel of war, intrigue and betrayal confirms Steven Eirkson as a storyteller of breathtaking skill, imagination and originality--a new master of epic fantasy.
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Just Desserts at the closing pub sing at the 2015 Hoggetowne Medieval Faire in Gainesvile, Florida.
Joseph Rivers was hoping to hit it big. According to the Albuquerque Journal, the aspiring businessman from just outside of Detroit had pulled together $16,000 in seed money to fulfill a lifetime dream of starting a music video company. Last month, Rivers took the first step in that voyage, saying goodbye to the family and friends who had supported him at home and boarding an Amtrak train headed for Los Angeles.
He never made it. From the Albuquerque Journal:
A DEA agent boarded the train at the Albuquerque Amtrak station and began asking various passengers, including Rivers, where they were going and why. When Rivers replied that he was headed to LA to make a music video, the agent asked to search his bags. Rivers complied.
The agent found Rivers’s cash, still in a bank envelope. He explained why he had it: He was starting a business in California, and he’d had trouble in the past withdrawing large sums of money from out-of-state banks.
The agents didn’t believe him, according to the article. They said they thought the money was involved in some sort of drug activity. Rivers let them call his mother back home to corroborate the story. They didn’t believe her, either.
The agents found nothing in Rivers’s belongings that indicated that he was involved with the drug trade: no drugs, no guns. They didn’t arrest him or charge him with a crime. But they took his cash anyway, every last cent, under the authority of the Justice Department’s civil asset forfeiture program.
Rivers’s life savings represent just a drop in the Justice Department’s multibillion-dollar civil asset forfeiture bucket. Rivers has retained a lawyer in the hope of getting at least some of his money back. Rivers says he suspects he may have been singled out for a search because he was the only black person on that part of the train.
There is no presumption of innocence under civil asset forfeiture laws. Rather, law enforcement officers only need to have a suspicion — in practice, often a vague one — that a person is involved with illegal activity in order to seize their property. On the highway, for instance, police may cite things like tinted windows, air fresheners or trash in the car, according to a Washington Post investigation last year.
The DEA declined to comment in detail to the Albuquerque Journal’s Joline Guierrez Krueger, though it did say that Rivers was not targeted because of his race. The Albuquerque DEA office did not immediately respond to a request by The Washington Post for more information about the case.
Once property has been seized, the burden of proof falls on the defendant to get it back — even if the cops ultimately never charge them with a crime. “We don’t have to prove that the person is guilty,” an Albuquerque DEA agent told the Journal. “It’s that the money is presumed to be guilty.”
The practice has proven to be controversial. Earlier this year, then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced measures restricting the use of some types of civil asset forfeiture. But as the Institute for Justice noted in a February report, these changes only affect a small percentage of forfeitures initiated by local law enforcement agencies, not federal ones like the DEA. About 90 percent of Justice Department seizures won’t be affected at all.
Asset forfeiture is lucrative for the DEA. According to their latest notification of seized goods, updated Monday, agents have seized well over $38 million dollars’ worth of cash and goods from people in the first few months of this year. Some of the goods may be directly related to ongoing criminal investigations, but most of them are not.
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who energized conservatives, independents and even many progressives in 2013 with his 13-hour drone filibuster, has now threatened to do the same if the Senate attempts to reauthorize the National Security Agency’s mass data collection programs. The New Hampshire Union Leader reports:
“I’m going to lead the charge in the next couple of weeks as the Patriot Act comes forward,” he said in a one-on-one interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader. “We will be filibustering. We will be trying to stop it. We are not going to let them run over us. And we are going to demand amendments and we are going to make sure the American people know that some of us at least are opposed to unlawful searches.”
This statement comes on the heels of Paul’s praise for the recent Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision calling the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records illegal. This court decision might impact the upcoming congressional fight over reauthorizing several key provisions of the Patriot Act, including Section 215 that has been used to justify warrantless surveillance and data collection.
Paul’s potential filibuster could pit him against one of his strongest supporters in GOP leadership, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has been fighting to extend the Patriot Act. McConnell introduced legislation last month to reauthorize the Patriot Act until 2020 without any meaningful reforms or revisions.
Megyn Kelly interviewed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on her program Monday night. For a spectacularly awful 30 minutes, the Republican presidential nominee proceeded to defend virtually every non-libertarian position a GOP candidate could conceivably hold.
Most notably, he expressed vociferous support for his brother’s Iraq War—not just in its original context, but even with the benefit of hindsight. He also defended Common Core, the controversial national education standards for math and English, because American children are falling behind their international competitors and our schools need standards—even though those standards are being imposed on the states via federal pressure and are loathed by adherents of every ideology, from Tea Party activists to teachers unions.
Control of this organization has just been lost and the future of the nation thrust into peril.
When the five candidates being considered to head this mysterious agency suddenly go missing, covert counterterrorism operative Scot Harvath is summoned to Washington and set loose on the most dangerous chase ever to playout on American soil.
But as the candidates begin turning up murdered, the chase becomes an all-too-public spectacle, with every indicator suggesting that the plot has its roots in a shadowy American cabal founded in the 1700s.
With the United States on the verge of collapse, Harvath must untangle a web of conspiracy centuries in the making and head off the greatest threat America has ever seen.
This is thriller writing at its absolute best, where the stakes have never been higher, nor the line between good and evil so hard to discern.
Monday, May 11, 2015
The Sahnobar dancers perform at he closing pub sing at the 2015 Hoggetowne Medieval Faire in Gainesville, Florida.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled that section 215 of the USA-PATRIOT Act never authorized the National Security Agency’s collection of all Americans’ phone calling records. It’s pleasing to see the opinion parallel arguments that Randy Barnett and I put forward over the last couple of years.
Two points from different parts of the opinion can help structure our thinking about constitutional protection for communications data and other digital information. Data is property, which can be unconstitutionally seized.
As cases like this often do, the decision spends much time on niceties like standing to sue. In that discussion—finding that the ACLU indeed has legal standing to challenge government collection of its calling data—the court parried the government’s argument that the ACLU suffers no offense until its data is searched.
“The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures,” the court emphasized. Data is a thing that can be owned, and when the government takes someone’s data, it is seized.
In this situation, the data is owned jointly by telecommunications companies and their customers. The companies hold it subject to obligations they owe their customers limiting what they can do with it. Think of covenants that run with land. These covenants run with data for the benefit of the customer.
Far later in the decision, on the other side of the substantive ruling that section 215 doesn’t authorize the NSA’s program, the court discusses the Supreme Court’s 2012 Jones decision.Jones found that attaching a GPS tracking device to a vehicle requires a warrant.
After expanding to accommodate the requirements of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) last year, a Wisconsin-based health insurance provider, founded in 1892, announced it will be closing its doors.
Assurant Health opted not to participate in the first Obamacare enrollment period in 2013; however, in November of that year, the company announced it would be selling plans in 16 states in 2014.
The company and industry watchers blamed its losses directly on the impact of Obamacare. Following implementation of the requirements to participate in the ACA exchanges, Assurant lost $63.7 million in 2014. The insurer raised its rates by 20 percent in 2015, in hopes of returning to profitability, but lost between $80 to $90 million during the first quarter of this year.
Assurant currently provides plans for approximately 1 million people, with a revenue of about $2 billion.
“In a letter to its shareholders, [the company] said it lost money because of a reduction in recoveries under Obamacare’s risk mitigation programs and increased claims on the health care law’s 2015 policies,” theDaily Signal reports.
“It’s significant,” Andrew Edelsberg, a vice president of the rating agency A.M. Best, told The Daily Signal of how Obamacare affected Assurant Health. “It’s impacted the industry.”
Friday, May 8, 2015
Fiasco is a more strongly worded title than you might expect a seasoned military reporter such as Thomas E. Ricks to use, accustomed as he is to the even-handed style of daily newspaper journalism. But Ricks, the Pentagon correspondent for the Washington Post and the author of the acclaimed account of Marine Corps boot camp, Making the Corps (released in a 10th anniversary edition to accompany the paperback release of Fiasco), has written a thorough and devastating history of the war in Iraq from the planning stages through the continued insurgency in early 2006, and he does not shy away from naming those he finds responsible. His tragic story is divided in two. The first part--the runup to the war and the invasion in 2003--is familiar from books like Cobra II and Plan of Attack, although Ricks uses his many military sources to portray an officer class that was far more skeptical of the war beforehand than generally reported. But the heart of his book is the second half, beginning in August 2003, when, as he writes, the war really began, with the bombing of the Jordanian embassy and the emergence of the insurgency. His strongest critique is that the U.S. military failed to anticipate--and then failed to recognize--the insurgency, and tried to fight it with conventional methods that only fanned its flames. What makes his portrait particularly damning are the dozens of military sources--most of them on record--who join in his critique, and the thousands of pages of internal documents he uses to make his case for a war poorly planned and bravely but blindly fought.
Looney Lucy and Lady Ettie perform at the closing pub sing at the 2015 Hoggetowne Medieval Faire in Gainesville, Florida.
Thursday, May 7, 2015
A federal court has decided that the National Security Agency’s bulk, warrantless collection of millions of Americans’ phone records is illegal.
The sweeping decision from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday represents a major court victory for opponents of the NSA and comes just as Congress begins a fight over whether to renew the underlying law used to justify the program.
That program “exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized,” Judge Gerard Lynch wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel.
The law “cannot be interpreted in a way that defies any meaningful limit,” he added.
Additionally, the government’s rationale behind the program represents “a monumental shift in our approach to combating terrorism,” which was not grounded in a clear explanation of the law.
The Second Circuit’s decision provides the most significant legal blow to the NSA operations to date and comes more than a year after a lower court called the program “almost-Orwellian” and likely unconstitutional.
The appeals court did not examine the constitutionality of the surveillance program in its ruling on Thursday.
The Second Circuit is just one of the three appeals courts examining challenges to the NSA’s phone records program, which may ultimately land at the Supreme Court.
Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes the government to collect “any tangible things” that the government proves are “relevant to” an investigation into suspected terrorists.
With the blessing of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — the secretive federal court overseeing government intelligence operations — the government has interpreted that mandate to allow it to collect massive amounts of records containing “metadata” about people’s phone calls, including the numbers involved in the call and when it occurred.
While seemingly benign, metadata can reveal “civil, political, or religious affiliations,” Lynch wrote, as well as personal behavior and “intimate relationships.”
But that reading, the court ruled, is far beyond what Congress ever intended.
“If the government is correct, it could use § 215 to collect and store in bulk any other existing metadata available anywhere in the private sector, including metadata associated with financial records, medical records, and electronic communications (including e‐mail and social media information) relating to all Americans,” Lynch wrote.
“Such expansive development of government repositories of formerly private records would be an unprecedented contraction of the privacy expectations of all Americans.”
THE ABC has questioned whether parents should read to their children before bedtime, claiming it could give your kids an “unfair advantage” over less fortunate children.
“Is having a loving family an unfair advantage?” asks a story on the ABC’s website.
“Should parents snuggling up for one last story before lights out be even a little concerned about the advantage they might be conferring?”
The story was followed by a broadcast on the ABC’s Radio National that also tackled the apparently divisive issue of bedtime reading.
“Evidence shows that the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t — the difference in their life chances — is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t,” British academic Adam Swift told ABC presenter Joe Gelonesi.
Gelonesi responded online: “This devilish twist of evidence surely leads to a further conclusion that perhaps — in the interests of levelling the playing field — bedtime stories should also be restricted.”
How Private DNA Data Led Idaho Cops on a Wild Goose Chase and Linked an Innocent Man to a 20-year-old Murder Case
The New Orleans Advocate recently published a shocking story that details the very real threats to privacy and civil liberties posed by law enforcement access to private genetic databases and familial DNA searching.
In 1996, a young woman named Angie Dodge was murdered in her apartment in a small town in Idaho. Although the police collected DNA from semen left at the crime scene, they haven’t been able to match the DNA to existing profiles in any criminal database, and the murder has never been solved.
Fast forward to 2014. The Idaho police sent the semen sample to a private lab to extract a DNA profile that included YSTR and mtDNA—the two genetic markers used to determine patrilineal and matrilineal relationships (it’s unclear why they reopened the case after nearly 20 years). These markers would allow investigators to search some existing databases to try to find a match between the sample and genetic relatives.
The cops chose to use a lab linked to a private collection of genetic genealogical data called the Sorenson Database (now owned by Ancestry.com), which claims it’s “the foremost collection of genetic genealogy data in the world.” The reason the Sorenson Database can make such an audacious claim is because it has obtained its more than 100,000 DNA samples and documented multi-generational family histories from “volunteers in more than 100 countries around the world.” Some of these volunteers were encouraged by the Mormon Church—well-known for its interest in genealogy—to provide their genetic material to the database. Sorenson promised volunteers their genetic data would only be used for “genealogical services, including the determination of family migration patterns and geographic origins” and would not be shared outside Sorenson. Its consent form states:
The only individuals who will have access to the codes and genealogy information will be the principal investigator and the others specifically authorized by the Principal Investigator, including the SMGF research staff.
Despite this promise, Sorenson shared its vast collection of data with the Idaho police. Without a warrant or court order, investigators asked the lab to run the crime scene DNA against Sorenson’s private genealogical DNA database. Sorenson found 41 potential familial matches, one of which matched on 34 out of 35 alleles—a very close match that would generally indicate a close familial relationship. The cops then asked, not only for the “protected” name associated with that profile, but also for all “all information including full names, date of births, date and other information pertaining to the original donor to the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy project.”
This is when the case starts to sound like something out of the TV show “CSI.” Sorenson linked the crime scene DNA to DNA from a man born in 1952. That man didn’t fit the age profile of the murderer, so the cops used Sorenson’s genealogical information to trace his male descendant line and find his son, Michael Usry Jr., born in 1979. Then the cops searched Usry’s Facebook page and found he had some Facebook friends who lived somewhat near Idaho Falls. And then through Google searches, the cops learned Usry was a filmmaker who had been involved in making a few short films that had homicide or killings in the story line. (The cop noted in a warrant affidavit “these short films have won awards in several film festivals.”) Based on this completely circumstantial evidence, the Idaho investigators got a warrant to collect a swab of Usry’s DNA.
They called up Usry, told him they were investigating a hit-and-run, and asked him to meet with them. Usry thought he “had nothing to hide” and agreed to the meeting. They took him to an interrogation room, questioned him without a lawyer present, and eventually collected a DNA sample. Then Usry sat on pins & needles for a month waiting for the results.
When the results came in, it turned out Usry’s DNA didn’t match the crime scene sample—despite the close familial markers and other circumstantial evidence, he wasn’t the murderer.
Usry was lucky. The forensic crime scene DNA sample came from semen and likely was single source (meaning it contained DNA from only one person). This means that it was relatively easy for the cops to compare Usry’s DNA against the forensic sample and determine conclusively the two didn’t match. In many cases today, however, forensic samples come instead from“touch” DNA—miniscule samples of DNA deposited on physical surfaces that people have touched. Touch DNA is less reliable and harder to match both because it may not include enough DNA for meaningful interpretation and because it often contains DNA from multiple persons—some of whom may have had no connection to the crime at all. With touch DNA, lab analysts may see a match where none exists. Just this year in San Francisco, the San Francisco Chronicle revealed a crime lab analyst had been making assumptions about poor-quality, incomplete genetic evidence and testified at trial that one of the profiles she generated matched the defendant, which was false. This analyst’s misconduct could affect as many as 1,400 cases. When touch DNA analysis expands to include familial markers, the risk of misidentification only increases.
This risk will increase further as state and local law enforcement agencies begin to use Rapid DNA analyzers—portable machines that can process DNA in less than an hour. These machines will make it much easier for police to collect and analyze DNA on their own outside a lab. Currently, because forensic DNA analysis in a lab takes so long, we generally see its use limited to high-level felonies like rape and murder. However, Rapid DNA manufacturers are now encouraging local police agencies to analyze DNA found at the scene of low-level property crimes. This means much more DNA will be collected and stored, often in under-regulated local DNA databases. And, because most of the forensic DNA found at property crime scenes is likely to be touch DNA—this only increases the risk that people will be implicated in crimes they didn’t commit.
Most states and the federal government don’t yet extract YSTR and mtDNA and so don’t store it in their criminal DNA databases. For this reason, even if one of your relatives already has DNA in a criminal database, the risk you would be implicated through familial searching is low. But if the cops can access private databases—especially private databases like Ancestry.com and 23 and Me that collect matrilineal and patrilineal markers—everyone’s risk increases.
This case highlights the extreme threats posed to privacy and civil liberties by familial DNA searches and by private, unregulated DNA databases. People should be able to learn about their ancestors and relatives and about possible risks for genetic diseases without fear that their data will be shared with the cops without their consent. However, Usry’s case shows that we can’t count on private companies’ internal policies to keep our private data safe, and we should think twice before sharing our genetic information with a third party.