Saturday, February 9, 2013

That Awful Privacy-Killing CISPA Bill Is Coming Back to Haunt Us

February 9, 2013

Casey Chan

(Gizmodo) - We thought we killed all those awful, horrible destroy the Internet-type bills in SOPA, PIPA and CISPA. We might've been wrong. Like a zombie looking for human blood or a sore loser demanding a rematch, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger and Rep. Mike Rogers plan to re-introduce CISPA to the House later this year.

The problem with CISPA, or the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, that made it so damn scary was that it would've allowed any company to give away all the data its collected on you if asked by the government. Sure that sounds okay but CISPA had very vague terms and very little oversight, it could have resulted in a free for all on privacy.

When CISPA came about last year, President Obama threatened its livelihood with a veto. This time around, Ruppersberger is working with the White House to let it go through (it passed the House). He told The Hill:

"We're working on some things…working with the White House to make sure that hopefully they can be more supportive of our bill than they were the last time."

Ideally, CISPA would prevent cyberattacks from happening and make it easier for companies to share info about cyber threats and attacks. But we'll see what shape it'll really take form as it's re-introduced later this year. [The Hill]

UPDATED Reports: Chuck Hagel received funds from Hamas terror group; John Brennan is a convert to Islam

February 9, 2013

It's even worse than we first thought...

SECDEF Nominee Chuck Hagel Received Funds From 'Friends of Hamas'

Senate sources told Breitbart News exclusively that they have been informed that one of the reasons that President Barack Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, has not turned over requested documents on his sources of foreign funding is that one of the names listed is a group purportedly called “Friends of Hamas.”

Former FBI Agent Confirms CIA Nominee John Brennan a Convert to Islam

Yesterday, a former U.S. Marine and FBI agent confirmed [that] John Brennan did convert to Islam...

“Mr. Brennan did convert to Islam when he served in an official capacity on behalf of the United States in Saudi Arabia.”

But, no: our president simply couldn't be a Muslim. Nor a Muslim sympathizer. Those are just conspiracy theories.

The Senate must block both of these outrageous nominees. Call your Senator now -- the number for the Senate switchboard is (202) 224-3121 -- and insist they block these nominations.

Hat tip: Doug Ross

Despicable Travesties of Justice and Other Perversions from the World of Liberal Madness

February 9, 2013


 Item #1 of 8: A judge in England refused to impose a prison sentence for statutory rape on an 18-year-old man who had sex with “a 13-year-old girl he groomed on Facebook” because Adil Rashid “went to an Islamic faith school where he was taught that women are worthless.”

So, basically, if you’re a Muslim guy in England, seventh-graders are fair game. “Go for it,” says Judge Michael Stokes.

Pissed yet? Here's the other seven>>

The New Face of Domestic Terrorism

February 9, 2013

Naomi Jagoda

Douglas MacArthur Elementary
(Photo: Alexandria public school system)
Alexandria police arrest 10-year-old for bringing toy gun to school

A 10-year-old Alexandria boy was arrested after police said he brought a toy handgun to school on Tuesday, a day after he showed it to others on a school bus.

The boy, a fifth-grader at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School whose name is not being released, was charged as a juvenile with brandishing a weapon, police said.

He was also suspended from school, and Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Morton Sherman said further action is being considered, including expulsion.

On Monday, the boy showed the plastic gun to at least one other student during a bus ride home from the school. The 10-year-old did not point it at anyone or threaten to shoot it, but he neglected to mention that the weapon was fake, said Alexandria police spokeswoman Ashley Hildebrandt.

School officials said they learned about the incident Monday evening and immediately started investigating. Alexandria police spoke to school administrators Tuesday morning before the boy got to school.

When the boy arrived, authorities found the toy in his backpack. He was taken into custody, transported to a juvenile detention center for booking and then released to his parents, Hildebrandt said.

"The safety of our students is always our first concern," Sherman said. "We appreciate the quick response and action by our police."

The toy resembled a semi-automatic handgun, said police spokesman Jody Donaldson. It was silver and had a black handle. It also had a orange tip that went into the barrel, showing that no ammunition was coming out of it.

In light of current events involving schools and guns, Donaldson said police "do have a heightened sensitivity to any rumor or concern" about a student possibly having a firearm.

"Any time we get a call like this, we take it very seriously until we can determine the extent of the weapon -- if it's real or not -- and what the student intends to do with it," Donaldson said.

But some people said police and school administrators overreacted.

"A toy gun is no danger to anyone," said Liane Rozzell, executive director of Families & Allies of Virginia's Youth. "A 10-year-old is not a fully formed adult by any means. And that kind of situation should be dealt with outside the courts and the justice system."

Robin Ficker, a Bethesda attorney who represented a 6-year-old Montgomery County student who was suspended last month for pointing his finger and saying "pow," said the schools have become terror-stricken.

"That just shows a certain hysteria with the school administration," Ficker said Tuesday. "What is the point? To say that you don't like guns, you don't like the Second Amendment?"

A letter was sent home to parents of all MacArthur students about the incident.

Washington Examiner Staff Writer Scott McCabe contributed to this report.

Did you know that John Brennan, nominee for CIA Director, is a Muslim convert who was turned to Islam by the Muslim Brotherhood?

February 9, 2013

On Tom Trento’s radio show today, former FBI agent, John Guandolo, who wrote the first Muslim Brotherhood training manual for the FBI, outs John Brennan, Obama’s nominee for CIA Director, as having converted to Islam while working in Saudi Arabia.

Imagine having a CIA Director who thinks like this…

The President’s strategy is absolutely clear about the threat we face. Our enemy is not “terrorism” because terrorism is but a tactic. Our enemy is not “terror” because terror is a state of mind, and as Americans we refuse to live in fear. Nor do we describe our enemy as “jihadists” or “Islamists” because jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam.

Listen to the excerpt with John Guandolo here: Fast Forward to 10:50

source: BareNakedIslam

Pennsylvania Attorney General's Assumption that Closing Gun Law Loophole is Constitutional is DEAD WRONG

February 9, 2013

Is it an oversight or simply lack of knowledge? Does she not realize that the premise gun control itself IS unconstitutional? 

Kathleen Kane, Pennsylvania’s new Democratic attorney general has announced her first initiative since taking office, and it’s a new gun control measure for the state.

Kane is going after a gun law loophole that lets Pennsylvania residents obtain concealed carry permits online from Florida, sometimes even when they can’t be approved for one in Pennsylvania.

Kane announced the decision Friday in Philadelphia. Kane says about 4,000 Pennsylvanians have obtained Florida permits since 2001 which would allow them to buy weapons at stores or gun shows in Pennsylvania.

The attorney general also says that often leads to illegal gun sales, as she announced an agreement with officials in Florida that closes that loophole.

“It does not violate the Second Amendment. There are many things that we can do and our society, like our laws, need to evolve; we are no longer the people from 200 years ago,” said Kane.

Residents with concealed carry permits from Florida residing in Pennsylvania will have four months to obtain a valid Pennsylvania permit.

And these are the people in charge of law enforcement?


“Name That Party” Serial Killer Edition

February 9, 2013

On FOX Chicago News at Nine this evening, station legal analyst Larry Yellen reported on “John Wayne Gacy speaks: FOX 32 uncovers never-before-heard tapes.” Yellen noted:

The part-time clown and one-time precinct captain killed 33 young men between 1972 and 1978--most of them by strangulation, hiding many of their bodies in the crawl space of his Northwest Side home.

What the legal analyst didn’t mention is that Gacy was a Democratic precinct captain. In 1978, he even managed to have his photo taken with First Lady Rosalynn Carter.

Maybe Yellen thinks the serial killer's political affiliation is irrelevant. But would that have been true were Gacy a Republican?


Lack of Oversight Allows Flex of Communist Stranglehold

February 9, 2013

GAO: 35% of Major Federal Regs Issued Without Public Notice

According to the Government Accountability Office, 35 percent of major federal regulations –- those with at least $100 billion in annual economic impact -– were issued without a public notice from 2003 to 2010.

The GAO also said that 44 percent of non-major regulations were issued without a public notice, which is referred to as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).

"During calendar years 2003 through 2010, agencies published 568 major rules and about 30,000 non-major rules," the GAO said in a December report to Congress. "[Federal] agencies published about 35 percent of major rules and about 44 percent of nonmajor rules without an NPRM during those years."

The GAO found a large spike in this practice under President Barack Obama, with the percentage of major rules issued without public notice jumping from 26 percent in 2008 to 40 percent in 2009. The number of major rules issued this way also hit a high point in both 2009 and 2010. (Obama's first year in office as president began in January 2009.)

"In particular, from 2008 to 2009, the percentage of major rules without an NPRM increased from 26 percent to 40 percent," reported the GAO. "Agencies issued the largest numbers of major rules without an NPRM in 2009 and 2010 (34 in each year), though the percentage was higher in 2009 than in 2010."

The Obama administration also drastically increased the use of so-called interim final rules. These rules are effective immediately and issued without public notice but often allow public comment once they are issued. Interim final rules differ from the normal federal rulemaking process in that they skip the normal notice-and-comment period in favor of simply issuing final regulations immediately, with the possibility that the rule can be changed later.

From 2003 to 2010, the GAO found that about 47 percent of all rules without an NPRM were interim rules.

The GAO found a spike in such immediate rulemaking under the Obama administration, jumping from about 11 percent of federal rules in 2008 to 13 percent in 2009 to 22 percent in 2010.

Some of the regulations the GAO found that had been issued without public notice have been some of the most controversial rules issued in the past several years, including the Obama administration's moratorium on offshore drilling, its Cash for Clunkers program, its rule that adult children up to age 26 could remain on their parents' health insurance, and the rules for the TARP bank bailout program begun under former President George W. Bush and continued under President Obama.

Normally, federal law requires that all regulations – both major and non-major – be opened for public comment and inspection through the publication of an NPRM, allowing the public and interested groups to read the regulations and submit comments on proposed changes.

However, the GAO found that many regulations are simply enacted without this notice-and-comment period. In a few instances this was because Congress had directed the agency to simply publish the regulation without giving public notice. However, in most cases the government simply claimed it had "good cause" to publish a regulation without public notice.

The GAO said that under the law a federal agency could claim it had "good cause" to avoid giving public notice if the government thought it was contrary to the public interest or if giving public notice was deemed impractical or unnecessary...

The GAO found that the government claimed this "good cause" exception in about 77 percent of major rules issued without public notice and in about 61 percent of non-major rules.

In many cases, the GAO found that the government cited multiple reasons why it was entitled to use the good cause exception to avoid giving public notice. About 68 percent of major regulations cited that public notice was against public interest; about 55 percent claimed public notice was impractical; and about 49 percent claim it was unnecessary.

In some cases, the GAO found that congressionally imposed deadlines made issuing public notice impracticable while in others the agency found that legislation had already proscribed the content of the rule, making a public notice unnecessary. Emergency response was the next most common reason cited for using the good cause exception.

The GAO sampled 123 major rules issued without an NPRM and found that the government had cited congressional deadline pressure in 36 cases, legislative proscription in 31, and emergency response in 19 cases when claiming it had good cause to forgo giving public notice.

Most of the major rules issued without public notice were issued by two agencies, the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The HHS issued 38 percent of all major rules enacted without public comment while the USDA issued 24 percent.

CNS News

American Communists Roll Out Oppressive Gun Control Package

February 9, 2013

Editor's Note: "When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist...When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat...When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist...When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn't a Jew...When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out." -- Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller

All semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines would be banned, all guns would be registered and no ammunition could be bought without a special permit in California under a sweeping list of bills rolled out Thursday by state Senate Democrats.

The 10-bill package constitutes the single largest gun control push in decades in the Golden State, which already boasts some of the nation's strictest gun laws. It joins equally controversial proposals from Assembly Democrats that would regulate and tax ammunition sales and consider taking the state's 166,000 registered assault weapons from their owners.

This first unified California plan comes less than a month after New York adopted its own sweeping package of new gun controls and President Barack Obama announced a package of executive actions, all in the wake of December's Connecticut schoolhouse massacre. Even as this plan emerged Thursday, House Democrats' gun violence task force was announcing 15 "policy principles," including protecting Second Amendment rights but also instituting universal background checks and reinstating a federal assault weapons ban.

"We respect the Second Amendment right of law-abiding citizens to have guns for hunting, for sport, for protecting their homes and families. But loopholes in California's tough gun laws have been exploited long enough," state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said Thursday.

"We can save lives by curbing the proliferation of guns designed to be fired and reloaded rapidly," he said. "We can save lives by getting guns and ammunition out of the hands of the wrong people. We can save lives if every gun owner knows how to safely handle those guns. And if we can save lives, we must act to do so."

Gene Hoffman of Redwood City, co-founder and chairman of the Calguns Foundation gun rights group, countered that "almost every item in the proposal is wildly unconstitutional." He said the only silver lining is that passing such laws might "accelerate the speed at which the Supreme Court takes these ideas off the table."

Steinberg unveiled the package in a news conference Thursday at the state Capitol, flanked by Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley; Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee; and police chiefs Chris Magnus of Richmond, Ken James of Emeryville and Sylvia Moir of El Cerrito.

A bill by Steinberg would ban future sale, purchase, making, importing or transfer in California of any semi-automatic rifle that takes a detachable magazine, by adding such guns to the state's list of banned assault weapons. Another Steinberg bill would require ownership records for all guns; California now keeps only handgun and assault weapon records.

Hancock's bill would ban possession -- not just manufacture and sale -- of large-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds.

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, has reintroduced a bill to ban "bullet button" kits that let gun owners effectively sidestep the distinction between detachable and fixed magazines for semi-automatic rifles. Another Yee bill would require that guns be properly locked and stored when their owners aren't present, but that bill wasn't included on Steinberg's list Thursday.

That list also included bills that would:

Require anyone wishing to buy ammunition to first get a permit by passing a background check, as Los Angeles and Sacramento already do.

Update the definition of a banned shotgun with a revolving cylinder to include the new technology of a shotgun-rifle combination.

 Prevent unregulated gun loans, with some exceptions, including hunting, in order to keep weapons from those who haven't passed background checks.

Require all handgun owners obtain a safety certificate every year, rather than the every-five-years requirement for purchases of new handguns.

 Prohibit anyone barred from owning a weapon from living in a home where weapons are kept and to expand the list of crimes for which convictions result in being barred from gun possession.

Let the state Justice Department use money from the state's Dealer's Record of Sale system to eliminate the backlog of people identified as no longer allowed to own guns but not yet investigated and contacted by law enforcement.

Yih-Chau Chang, spokesman for the gun rights group Responsible Citizens of California, said it's all "par for the course."

"The violent criminals are simply not going to be affected by any of these proposals," Chang said. "Following the law is the last thing they're going to do, so it's only going to affect law-abiding citizens."


Loss of Liberties Update: FDA Wants New Food Labeling Rule Under Obamacare

February 9, 2013

"If you get it wrong, it's a federal crime, and you could face jail time and thousands of dollars worth of fines."

Supermarkets cry foul as FDA proposes new food labeling rule under ObamaCare

If the Food and Drug Administration gets its way, your trip to the grocery store could get a tad pricier.

Supermarket owners argue a pending federal food-labeling rule that stems from the new health care law would overburden thousands of grocers and convenience store owners -- to the tune of $1 billion in the first year alone.

Store owner Tom Heinen said the industry's profit margins already are razor thin. "When you incur a significant cost, there is no way that that doesn't get passed on to the customer in some form," he said.

The rule stems from an ObamaCare mandate that restaurants provide nutrition information on menus. Most in the restaurant industry were supportive of the idea, but when the FDA decided to extend the provision to also affect thousands of supermarkets and convenience stores, the backlash was swift.

The proposed regulation would require store owners to label prepared, unpackaged foods found in salad bars and food bars, soups and bakery items. Erik Lieberman, regulatory counsel at the Food Marketing Institute, said testing foods for nutritional data will require either expensive software or even more costly off-site laboratory assessments.

Lieberman said failure to get it right comes with stiff penalties: "If you get it wrong, it's a federal crime, and you could face jail time and thousands of dollars worth of fines."

The FDA says much of ObamaCare is aimed at helping Americans live healthier lives, and these proposed labeling requirements would help them do just that. In the text of the proposed regulation, the FDA states: "[The information] should help consumers limit excess calorie intake and understand how the foods that they purchase at these establishments fit within their daily caloric and other nutritional needs."

An Executive Order issued by President Obama in 2011 says agencies are supposed to calculate a cost-benefit analysis for each new regulation and attempt to use the least burdensome regulatory methods possible. Critics of the FDA's food labeling proposal say the agency didn't comply.

"They are required to do it, and they didn't," Lieberman said. "They simply said, 'We can't quantify a benefit from this rule,' and that's because they really can't."

The FDA said Wednesday it has received hundreds of public comments on the proposal and will take them into consideration when finalizing the regulation. It is likely to be released later this spring, and the agency says it will "include a final economic analysis."


Twitter: to censor or not to censor?

Feb. 9, 2013

(AFP) - Twitter's top legal representative met with the French Government today, the latest in a series of communications between the microblogging site and French officials over how to manage hate speech. In the past three months, homophobic and anti-semitic hashtags have caused controversy. On 24th January, a Paris court said Twitter must provide details regarding the identity of the authors of tweets where an official complaint has been made.

Direct Video Link>>

France allegedly paid $17M to rebels

February 9, 2013

PARIS (UPI) -- France paid a $17 million ransom for four of its citizens being held by Islamic militants without winning their freedom, a former U.S. ambassador to Mali said.

In an interview Thursday with the French broadcaster iTele, Vicki Huddleston said the ransom was paid indirectly, by sending it to the Malian government. But Huddleston, the ambassador to Mali from 2002-2005 who is now retired, said at least some of the money reached, France 24 reported.

The four French nationals were abducted by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in 2010 at a uranium mine in Niger. The rebels are now believed to be holding a total of seven French hostages, including three kidnapped in Mali in 2011 and 2012.

The hostages are believed to be held in the Ifoghas mountain range of northern Mali, near the border with Algeria.

Huddleston said France and other European governments have paid a total of $89 million in ransoms after kidnappings in Mali, Radio France Internationale reported. France has now sent a military force to Mali to help the government drive out the insurgents, while Britain and the United States have provided military cargo planes to help fly troops and supplies to the restive African nation.

The French government has denied any ransom payments in the past and had not commented on Huddleston's interview Friday.

Other than being September 11th and World Wide Threats at U.S. Points of Interest, "No warning of Benghazi attack"

February 9, 2013

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testifies before a Senate Armed Service Committee hearing on the attack on the U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on February 7, 2013. UPI/Kevin Dietsch License photo
Panetta: No warning of Benghazi attack

WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- There were no adequate warnings about the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi for an armed response, said U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three of his staff members died in what the U.S. State Department said was a terrorist attack Sept. 11, 2012, on the diplomatic post in Benghazi.

Panetta, speaking Thursday at a U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, said there was no intelligence that would have given the Defense or State departments an indication that an attack on the Benghazi compound was imminent.

"Frankly without an adequate warning, there was not enough time given the speed of the attack for armed military assets to respond," he said.

The attack was initially tied to regional unrest surrounding a controversial film produced in the United States viewed as denigrating to the Islamic Prophet Muhammad but that explanation has been discounted the Obama administration has since termed the event a terrorist attack.

Panetta said the incident wasn't of a nature that U.S. military force could have prevented in time.

"Time, distance, the lack of an adequate warning, events that moved very quickly on the ground prevented a more immediate response," he said.

additional editing: mine

Top 10 Most Taxed U.S. Cities

February 9, 2013

Last year, we counted down the top 10 major U.S. cities with the highest tax burdens based on a 2010 study by the Office of the CFO in Washington, D.C. (Tax Rates and Tax Burdens in the District of Columbia – A Nationwide Comparison). Bridgeport and Philly topped the list then, but how did they fare in the most recent study released using data from 2011?

While federal tax rates stay the same regardless of where the taxpayer lives, the same is not true for state and local taxes. The tax burden of taxpayers living in different parts of the United States varies due to differences in state and local income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes and automobile taxes. So how does your city stack up?

Drumroll please…

The top ten cities* with the highest tax burden for a hypothetical family of three making $50,000 in 2011:

#10 Boston, MA

Paul Revere made his famous midnight ride on horseback here — but today, trading in the horse for a car of your own would cost $303 in taxes per year. The total tax burden for our hypothetical family in Boston sits at 12.2%, or about $6,125 annually.

#9 Burlington, VT

Vermont’s largest city, home to the very first Ben & Jerry’s, was ranked by Forbes as one of the prettiest towns in America — and we’re sure its 42,500 residents agree. But at a 12.3% tax burden ($6,150 per year), it’s #9 on our list of the most taxed cities in America.

#8 Providence, RI

The city of Providence is known for its historic and cultural attractions; it was first settled in 1636 by Roger Williams and was one of the original Thirteen Colonies. As of the 2010 census, 178,042 people lived within the city of Providence — and our hypothetical family paid $6,034 in taxes in 2011. $3,876 was property tax alone.

#7 Louisville, KY

There’s much more to Louisville than just the Kentucky Derby, but while River City’s 741,096 residents enjoy the biggest party in the South, they’re probably not as keen on the 12.7% tax burden ($6,346).

#6 Chicago, IL

The 3rd most populous city in the US is the sixth most taxed. Whether they’re Cubs or Sox fans, our hypothetical family of three forks over $6,412 (12.8%) in taxes every year. That’s a lot of ballpark hot dogs.

#5 Los Angeles, CA

Though inhabitants of the City of Angels owe no income tax, sky-high property tax rates are responsible for the city’s #5 spot. Over $5,100 of our average family’s $6,634 tax bill is property tax.

#4 Columbus, OH

The capital of Ohio was named by BusinessWeek as the best place to raise a family in 2009 — and it’s home to five Fortune 500 companies, including the Limited Brands and Nationwide Mutual Insurance. 787,033 people lived here in 2010.

In 2011, our average family of three paid more than $7,200 in state and local taxes.

#3 Philadelphia, PA

This former temporary U.S. capital was home to over 1.5 million people in 2010.

In addition to its rich history and excellent cheesesteaks, Philadelphia also boasts one of the highest tax burdens in the nation. In 2010, a typical family of three would have paid $8,327, or nearly 17% of their income in various state and local taxes.

#2 Newark, NJ

New Jersey’s largest city sits 8 miles west of Manhattan (#14 on the list of most-taxed cities). Our $50K family of three would pay $8,327 per year in taxes, a whopping 18.3% of their household income.

#1 Bridgeport, CT

Connecticut’s largest city is one of NYC’s outlying suburbs, and an average family of three forks over a staggering 24.5% of their income to state & local taxes. That works out to about $12,250, over $10,000 of which is property tax alone.

Okay, so the Northeast is expensive. And for the record, the least-taxed cities on the list were Billings, MT (6.4%), New Orleans, LA (5.7%) and Cheyenne, WY (4.3%).

Check out the stats in our infographic below. And don’t forget: no matter where you live, there’s a good chance there’s an H&R Block nearby — call us for tax prep help!

Click image to see a larger versionMost Taxed Cities in AmericaThe Top 10 Most Taxed Cities in America via H&R Block
*Report compares tax data from the largest city in each state.

Source: H&R Block

Like Everything Else, Obama is Playing Republicans like a Yo-yo Over Spending Cuts

February 9, 2012

White House warns of damaging "sequestration" spending cuts

The White House is seen with the Washington
Monument (L) behind it and the Jefferson Memorial
(R) in Washington, May 1, 2011. 

Credit: Reuters/Gary Hershorn
(Reuters) - The White House said on Friday that government spending cuts due to take effect March 1 would have harsh consequences for ordinary Americans and the U.S. economy, seeking to turn up pressure on Congress to come up with a plan to avoid what Washington calls "sequestration."

President Barack Obama said the spending cuts could weaken U.S. military preparedness.

"There is no reason, no reason for that to happen," Obama said at a farewell ceremony for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

"Putting our fiscal house in order calls for a balanced approach, not massive, indiscriminate cuts that could have a severe impact on our military preparedness," he said.

In its strongest warnings yet, the White House separately gave examples of what it said program cuts would mean: 1,000 fewer FBI officers, mass layoffs of government meat and food inspectors, and aid benefits slashed for hundreds of thousands of low-income women and children.

"Sequester is a blunt and indiscriminate instrument that poses a serious threat to our national security, domestic priorities and the economy," Danny Werfel, a senior official at the White House budget office, told reporters at a briefing.

"It does not represent a responsible way to achieve deficit reduction," he said.

The administration repeated its plea to Congress to put off the planned reductions, which the White House said would slash non-defense programs by 9 percent across the board and defense programs by 13 percent in the current fiscal year, resulting in "furloughs," or temporary layoffs, for hundreds of thousands of government workers.

White House economic aide Jason Furman said it was up to Congress to work out the details of how to raise revenues and cut spending so both sides have time to agree on how replace the sequester with a more acceptable fiscal belt-tightening program.

"What we're trying to do now is make sure Congress can buy the time it needs in order to do this entitlement reform, tax reform, that's a much better solution to our problems than letting the sequester hit," Furman said.

Republicans said that while they agree sequestration could be devastating, the president must propose spending cuts if he wants to see the deep automatic cuts replaced with something more palatable.

"Spending is still the problem," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner. "It's time to finally make the cuts and reforms we all know are needed to save and strengthen our safety net programs."

Republican aides said there had been no outreach from the White House to senior members of their party on the sequester.

"Not a peep," a Senate Republican leadership aide said.


Sequestration is a legacy of the 2011 impasse between Obama and congressional Republicans over raising the nation's debt limit. Republicans, unhappy about the nation's deficit, wanted to match any increases in the borrowing cap with cuts to government spending.

The president balked at cutting social safety net programs, and the nation came close to defaulting on its debt as a deal eluded negotiators. The two sides finally agreed to raise the debt ceiling but vowed to continue negotiating to cut the deficit, setting up a deadline for the painful automatic sequestration cuts as an incentive to come to terms.

The automatic cuts were reportedly suggested by the White House but were agreed to by both sides. The spending reductions are divided equally among nondefense and defense programs in an effort to make politicians at both ends of the political spectrum feel the pressure to compromise.

The long period of fiscal skirmishing between Obama and congressional Republicans has been blamed by economists for creating a drag on the sluggish U.S. economic recovery because it leaves businesses and consumers uncertain about tax rates and government spending plans.

Defense spending fell sharply at the end of last year, in part because of fiscal uncertainty, contributing to a contraction of the overall economy in the quarter.

Obama's November re-election and gains by Democrats in both houses of Congress have strengthened the president's hand in fiscal negotiations.

The two sides were able to avoid an initial year-end deadline for spending cuts with a deal that raised taxes on the wealthiest while leaving lower rates in place for most Americans. The deal to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" postponed automatic cuts for two months.


Cutting government spending remains a high priority for Republicans, who still control the House of Representatives. However, the White House pushed back on Friday by painting a dire picture of what would happen if the automatic cuts were allowed to go into effect.

Obama wants Republicans to agree to a short-term budget package to avoid the deepest of the automatic spending cuts but has said it needs to be "balanced" - that is, include some increases in revenue from closing tax loopholes. Boehner has said he would block any delay in those cuts unless other spending cuts and reforms are agreed to.

Key Democratic U.S. senators are discussing a plan that could be introduced next week to turn off the sequester for 10 months, through December 31, and pay for it half with new revenues and half with spending cuts, a Democratic Senate aide said.

While no elements have been decided upon yet, provisions under discussion include ideas Democrats have raised before, such as raising taxes on carried interest, a provision aimed at wealthy investors who profit from hedge funds and private equity partnerships.

Tax breaks for corporate jets and large oil companies could also be targeted, along with higher payroll taxes on smaller private firms organized as S-corporations. The senators are also considering reductions in farm subsidies, which they consider a spending cut.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid discussed the plan on Thursday with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and Appropriations Committee Chairman Barbara Mikulski.

(Reporting By Roberta Rampton, Matt Spetalnick, Mark Felsenthal and David Lawder; Editing by Alistair Bell, Todd Eastham and Jim Loney)

Today's Laugher: Liberal on domestic issues, Obama downright hawkish when it comes to terror fight

February 9, 2013

FILE - In this Feb. 7, 2013 file photo, President Barack Obama speaks at the House Democratic Issues Conference in Lansdowne, Va. For all of his liberal positions on the environment, taxes and health care, Obama is a hawk when it comes to the war on terror. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
WASHINGTON (AP) — For all of his liberal positions on the environment, taxes and health care, President Barack Obama is a hawk when it comes to the war on terror.

From deadly drones to secret interrogations to withholding evidence in terror lawsuits, Obama's Democratic White House has followed the path of his predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush. The U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, remains open, despite Obama's pledge to close it, and his administration has pursued leaks of classified information to reporters even more aggressively than Bush's.

"They have maintained momentum in a lot of important areas that we were focused on, and they've continued to build in those areas," said Ken Wainstein, the White House homeland security adviser and a top Justice Department lawyer under Bush. "You can see an appreciation for the severity of the threat, the need to stand up to it, and the need to go on offense at times."

John Brennan's confirmation hearing this week to be CIA director showed just how much Washington — and especially Democrats — has come to accept the same counterterrorism policies that drew such furor in the first years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Brennan refused to call waterboarding a form of torture but called it "reprehensible" and, if CIA director, said he would not allow it. He also said he didn't know whether any valuable information was gleaned as a result. His more than three hours of testimony was received by a mostly friendly panel of senators, and his confirmation is expected to move forward soon.

In October 2007, by contrast, Bush's attorney general nominee, Judge Michael Mukasey, called waterboarding "repugnant" but also refused to say whether it was torture. His confirmation was delayed for three weeks and nearly derailed. No one expects Brennan not to be confirmed.

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said Obama has stopped or softened a number of Bush's security tactics, including ending harsh interrogations, closing secret prisons and, overall, trying to be more transparent about counterterror policy. But he noted that Obama has delivered on his campaign promises to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, take the battle to al-Qaida in Pakistan and Yemen before its members can attack the U.S., and to end the war in Iraq.

"Yes, we're still fighting al-Qaida, but I think there are very few people who would take issue with that," Vietor said Friday. "This president does what he says he's going to do, and I think that's noticed around the world."

Obama's embrace of many of Bush's counterterror policies did not hurt him in his re-election bid last year. In one key rejection of Bush's legacy, Obama repeatedly has said he believes waterboarding — the interrogation tactic that simulates drowning — is torture and illegal and that it will not be used under his watch.

But Brennan, a career CIA officer who has served as Obama's top counterterrorism official since 2009, told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday that because he was not a lawyer he could not answer whether he personally believes waterboarding is torture. The CIA waterboarded at least three al-Qaida detainees before the tactic was banned in 2006.

The parallels between Obama's and Bush's security policies were on sharp display in the run-up to Brennan's hearing over the use of deadly drones to kill suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens, overseas.

A newly surfaced Justice Department memo from 2012 outlined the Obama administration's decision to kill al-Qaida suspects without evidence that specific and imminent plots were being planned against the United States. At Thursday's hearing, Brennan defended the missile strikes by the unmanned drones, saying they are used only against people who are considered active threats to the U.S. — and never as retribution for earlier attacks.

In a way that Bush did not, Obama has sought congressional approval of laws that he then uses as the basis of many of the counterterror policies he has carried over from his Republican predecessor. He successfully lobbied Congress three times to renew the controversial USA Patriot Act, the 2001 law that lets the government put roving wiretaps on U.S. citizens' phones with a secret court order and obtain other personal and financial records with no judicial approval at all.

White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the deadly strikes as legal under a 2001 law authorizing the use of military force against al-Qaida. CIA drones also have been used in attacks, including the 2011 killing in Yemen of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, a cleric with suspected ties to at least three attacks planned or carried out on U.S. soil: the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting that claimed 13 lives in 2009, a failed attempt to down a Detroit-bound airliner the same year and a thwarted plot to bomb cargo planes in 2010.

But Congress has grown increasingly uneasy with at least some of the authorities. Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California, a staunch Obama supporter, calls the military force law "overly broad" and has been seeking to overturn it for years.

"He's got to end that," Lee said. She described a "huge difference in policies" between Obama and Bush but added: "I respectfully disagree on some, including the use of that (use of force) resolution, and that would not matter who was president. That resolution is there until we repeal it, and I want it repealed if we're going to end this state of perpetual war."

Lee is among the dovish Democrats who also are displeased with Obama's decisions to surge U.S. troops to Afghanistan in 2009 and lead NATO military airstrikes at the height of the Libyan crisis in 2011. But, in a testament to his case-by-case deliberations on foreign policy and national security, Obama refused to similarly intervene or arm rebels in Syria and opposes a near-term military strike on Iran. He also ended the U.S. war in Iraq by withdrawing all Americans troops by the end of 2011 as promised.

Still, Obama's hawkish counterterror bona fides are undeniable.

Determined to not bring any terror detainees to Guantanamo Bay, the government has begun interrogating suspects on Navy warships before they are given a chance to speak to a lawyer. The information gleaned from those interrogations, including in the case of al-Shabab operative Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, is not allowed to be used in court but it can be used to pursue others. And the FBI can later question the terror suspects. Al-Shabab is a Somali-based terror group that has been linked to al-Qaida.

The Obama administration also has fought for, and won, the right to withhold evidence in terror lawsuits that it says could threaten U.S. security. The use of the so-called state secrets privilege gives the president limitless power to keep information from becoming public and hampers court oversight in cases that could be embarrassing to the government.

Critics say Obama's use of the state secrets privilege represents a surprising reversal by the constitutional lawyer-turned-president and threatens American civil liberties. Last month, a federal judge in New York chided the Obama administration for refusing to turn over documents in a case relating to al-Alwaki's killing but said she had no authority to order them disclosed.

More than any other president in U.S. history, Obama has invoked the Espionage Act to prosecute government officials accused of leaking classified information to reporters. His administration has used the law six times in leak investigations since 2009 — compared with three since it was enacted in 1917.

"There has been a disturbing amount of continuity between this administration and the former one," said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center Justice's Liberty and National Security Program. The center is a civil liberties program at the New York University law school.

"There's been way more continuity than I think anyone expected, and certainly than candidate Obama had led anyone to expect," Goitein said. "I just think he put his tail between his legs — the national security establishment has become so huge and powerful that he's probably gotten somewhat co-opted despite himself and despite his better judgments and inclinations."

She noted that some of the most powerful players in Obama's national security circle were holdovers from Bush's administration, including Robert Gates, who served as defense secretary, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller and Brennan, who was a top CIA official until he retired in 2005.

In his closing remarks at Thursday's hearing, Brennan somewhat emotionally described himself as someone who is neither Republican nor Democrat — but "who really understands that the value of intelligence, the importance of this intelligence, is not to tell the president what he wants to hear, not to tell this committee what it wants to hear, but to tell the policymakers, the congressional overseers what they need to hear."

"It would be my intention to make sure I did everything possible to live up to the trust, confidence that this Congress, this Senate and this president might place in me," Brennan said.

AP Spins Up the Distractions: Arson attack highlights racism in Israeli soccer

February 9, 2013

Remember folks: In order to change your traditions, anything beyond the norm is racism...

Detail of burned Beitar Jerusalem trophies, Jerusalem, Friday, Feb. 8, 2013. The offices of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team were set on fire early Friday in an apparent arson attack, police said, a day after four of the club's fans were charged with anti-Muslim chanting at a recent game. Tensions have been bubbling ever since the team announced last month it would sign on two Muslim Chechen players — Zaur Sadayev and Gabriel Kadiev — in a break from the team's unofficial tradition of not signing Arabs or Muslims. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
JERUSALEM (AP) — An apparent arson attack Friday on the offices of leading Israeli soccer club Beitar Jerusalem has put a spotlight on longstanding concerns over growing anti-Arab racism among the nation's soccer fans.

The fire, which destroyed historic trophies and mementos, comes after the team broke with its unofficial tradition and signed two Muslim players from Chechnya, enraging its most xenophobic fan-base that has a history of chanting anti-Islam slurs at games.

The incident drew immediate rebukes and promises of a crackdown by authorities ahead of a charged home game against an Arab team that will likely be the debut match for one of the new Muslim players.

Beitar has long tried to contain a tightly knit fan group called "La Familia" whose behavior has had the team docked points and forced it to play before empty stadiums. The group is routinely abusive toward opposing players, taunting them with racist and anti-Arab chants.

Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of Israel's population, now star on the Israeli national team and on every first division team besides Beitar. Some of the league's top goal scorers are Arabs and one team, Bnei Sakhnin, is entirely Arab.

But only after the signing of the Chechnyans did a full-fledged confrontation erupt between the Beitar fans and team management. At the first game after the move, fans unfurled large banners with racist undertones, such as one that read "Beitar pure forever."

When the team refused to back down, the fans turned abusive and began cursing and spitting at players and management. Fearing for the safety of its newest arrivals from Chechnya, Beitar was forced to assign bodyguards to Zaur Sadayev, a 23-year-old forward, and Gabriel Kadiev, a 19-year-old defender, who were both brought over from FC Terek Grozny.

Players who stood up for their teammates were booed and threatened.

"I played in Holland and if I was greeted the way they have been greeted here I can't imagine the outrage there would have been in Israel," said defender Haim Megrelashvili.

With limited tools at his disposal, Head Coach Eli Cohen called on the state to intervene. "This is not just a problem of Beitar Jerusalem anymore," he said.

A day after four of the club's fans were charged with anti-Muslim chanting and police announced they would begin deploying undercover units at upcoming Beitar games, the team's training facility was firebombed in an early morning attack.

Following Friday's attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, himself a Beitar fan, issued a strongly worded condemnation denouncing those opposing integration at Beitar.

"Such behavior is shameful. We cannot accept such racist behavior. The Jewish people, who suffered from boycotts and ostracism, must be a light unto the nations," he said in a statement.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the attack left extensive damage to the team's administrative offices. Walls were charred, as were team trophies, soccer cleats, retired uniforms, championship photos and more. No arrests have been made yet, but Rosenfeld said police suspected the attack was linked to the signing of the new players and pledged police would use "every legal means in order to prevent the continual racism, which is basically destroying the club."

Last week, hundreds of police patrolled a game between Beitar and a second division team from the Israeli Arab town of Umm al-Fahm. No major incidents were reported, and 12 fans from both sides were banned from the game. Police are planning heavy deployment next week when Beitar hosts Bnei Sakhnin.

Team spokesman Asaf Shaked said those who targeted the room that served as a type of team museum knew exactly what was in it.

"You can't put a price on the damage done. We are talking about things that have historical and emotional value," he said. "They (the arsonists) are like terrorists who go after what hurts most and that is what they did."

"La Familia," which is estimated to include between 200-300 members, had previously enjoyed a cult-like status among the team's larger fan base. Shaked hoped that would now change.

"Now people know how dangerous they are," he said. "Maybe this horrific incident will mark a turning point."

Beitar Jerusalem — which has won six league championships and seven cup titles in its 77-year history — is one of the powerhouses of Israeli soccer and has a legendary following that includes several Israeli prime ministers.

The team has historically been strongly aligned with Israel's nationalist right wing and its name, Beitar, comes from the Zionist youth movement that is linked to the ruling Likud Party.

The team and its fans have since been a steady source of support for Likud politics and a string of politicians have served as team chairman. Prime ministers with Likud roots — from Ariel Sharon to Ehud Olmert to Netanyahu — have called themselves fans and made pilgrimages to the club's Teddy Stadium.

But as the Likud Party has become mainstream after years in government, many of Beitar's die-hard fans have gone more extreme.

Beitar's battles are similar to those European clubs have had with their fans. But while in Europe the racism is mostly directed toward blacks and immigrants, in Israel it is toward Arabs and Muslims.

"La Familia" was created in 2005, and it quickly became the team's loudest and most visible supporters. The fans routinely wave huge flags of the outlawed racist Kach party and chant "death to Arabs" and other racist slogans toward Arab players.

The club has been penalized numerous times for the behavior that has included booing during a moment of silence for slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, singing songs deriding Islam's Prophet Muhammad and physically assaulting Arab maintenance workers in stadiums.

Their behavior has blossomed into a national embarrassment and drawn a cascade of condemnations from Israel's president, Jerusalem's mayor and other officials. Olmert recently said he would no longer attend games because of them.

For years, the club's Russian-Israeli owner Arkady Gaydamak refrained from intervening. In fact, he backed the group financially, glowed in their adoration and refused to sign an Arab player for fear of angering them.

After a failed attempt to run for Jerusalem mayor, Gaydamak fled the country in 2008 amid financial scandals in Israel and Europe. Since then, he has drastically cut funding to the team and tried to sell it several times.

Shlomi Barzel, the sports editor of Haaretz newspaper and a lifelong Beitar fan, said the signing of the Chechens came "out of the blue" and was likely an effort by Gaydamak to pursue his business interests in Chechnya.

Ironically, though, he said the move could mark a historic shift in the relationship between the team and its wayward fan base, exposing them as a paper tiger and ushering in a new era as the team attempts to become a mainstay in the European ranks.

"This 'La Familia' gang of bigots tried to flex their muscles and thought they were going to scare someone," he said. "The players and the vast majority of fans rejected them and the club didn't bend. This has turned them into even more outcasts than they were before."


Friday, February 8, 2013

The Twisted Truth on Obama´s Benghazi Response

Feb. 8, 2013

According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, as reported at The Weekly Standard, President Obama was completely aloof from the events in Libya on September 11. He neither asked nor ordered anything. He did not respond to information sent to the White House. He was not involved at all, during the seven-plus-hour attack that resulted in the deaths of four American government employees, including an ambassador.

A few months back, when, for the sake of argument, we were all giving Obama the benefit of the doubt on being human, albeit wretchedly so, I felt compelled to qualify a critique of the president's conscienceless handling of Benghazi with this:

Was the president aware of these events during the first few of those seven long hours? Obviously, he would have been notified of such events immediately, were he available. Equally obviously, the president is always, in theory, available. If he could not be "reached" during those first hours, then the answer to the natural follow-up question -- "Why not?" -- is too twisted to contemplate.

Under questioning from Senator Kelly Ayotte, Panetta has at last set the record straight. We may all dispense with the niceties and call it as it is: Obama is too twisted to contemplate.

Repeatedly, in answer to Ayotte's probing about communications between Panetta and the White House, Panetta explains plainly that, apart from a scheduled meeting in the afternoon of September 11, he had no contact with Obama that day. The president was not involved, and did not wish to be involved, in the communications and decision-making processes of that day. An ongoing terrorist attack on his administration's diplomatic mission in a volatile region on the eleventh anniversary of September 11, 2001 was not considered worthy of his direct involvement.

Ayotte: Did he ever call you that night to say, "How are things going? What's going on?"

Panetta: No, but we were aware that as we were getting information on what was taking place there, particularly when we got information that the ambassador -- his life had been lost, we were aware that that information went to the White House.

Ayotte: Did you communicate with anyone else at the White House that night?

Panetta: No.

Ayotte: No one else called you to say, "How are things going?"

Panetta: No.

Through it all, Obama's White House simply did not respond or engage. Given the auspiciousness of the date and the seriousness of the attack, we must now ask, with the utmost gravity, "Why not?"

Remember that we are not talking about the president's weak response after the fact; the issue is what he was (or was not) doing in real time, as the event unfolded. An attack was ongoing. Distress calls were coming in. At that point, presumably, neither Obama nor anyone else in the U.S. government could have known for certain that this attack was an isolated case. It might, after all, have been one stage in a possible series of attacks. And while it was ongoing, there was, presumably, no way of knowing how the situation would develop, how large the attack force was, whether the Libyan government was complicit in the assault, or how many Americans might be in jeopardy.

And yet in spite of all this uncertainty, mayhem, and danger, Obama remained disengaged, neither responding to nor initiating any communication with his national security apparatus.

If Panetta is to be believed -- and we can only assume that if he is lying, he is doing so to protect his boss from even worse revelations -- then Obama was either completely unavailable that night (September 11!) or completely unwilling to take steps to help Americans who he knew were in the process of being killed in Benghazi.

In a semi-rational world, no government could withstand the exposure of such inhumanity, not to mention such a total failure to carry out its primary duty -- namely, to protect its citizens against foreign aggression. In our current, thoroughly irrational world, there remains little doubt that Obama will emerge unscathed from Panetta's testimony, just as Hillary Clinton will remain untarnished after openly declaring, during her own belated testimony, that the clock has run out on any attempt to unravel the administration's web of lies about Benghazi, since "What difference -- at this point -- does it make?" (I explained this here.)

Heavily armed terrorists carried out a planned attack on a U.S. ambassador. Four Americans, including the ambassador, were killed. The attack lasted for more than seven hours. The U.S. government was aware of the attack from a very early stage and was monitoring events with surveillance technology.

The secretary of defense and his military commanders did nothing. The secretary of state did nothing. The president never called to ask, "How are things going?" His previous evasions of questions about his orders and actions at the time revealed that he took no direct action in response to the attacks. We now learn that he was not even in the communication loop that night.

Thanks to Panetta's testimony, we have once again been forced to drop the veil of humanity we sometimes hold up before this administration in order to keep our sanity. ("Surely he was aware, surely he didn't simply let people die without a thought.") At last, sadly, we have been reduced by Panetta to having to wonder where Obama was that night, what he was doing, and why he was apparently unavailable to involve himself in the biggest national security emergency of his presidency.

Finally, Hillary Clinton's grotesque plea seems appropriate: "What difference -- at this point -- does it make?" Do you really want to know? Or isn't this all just too twisted to contemplate?

Source: American Thinker
additional editing: mine

Restored Payroll Tax Pinches Those Who Earn the Least

Feb. 8, 2013

Eddie Phillips, who made $22,000 last year, has begun juggling bills, paying this one month and that the next.
Jack Andrews and his wife no longer enjoy what they call date night, their once-a-month outing to the movies and a steak dinner at Logan’s Roadhouse in Augusta, Ga. In Harlem, Eddie Phillips’s life insurance payment will have to wait a few more weeks. And Jessica Price is buying cheaper food near her home in Orlando, Fla., even though she worries it may not be as healthy.

Like millions of other Americans, they are feeling the bite from the sharp increase in payroll taxes that took effect at the beginning of January. There are growing signs that the broader economy is suffering, too.

Chain-store sales have weakened over the course of the month. And two surveys released last week suggested that consumer confidence was eroding, especially among lower-income Americans.

While these data points are preliminary — more detailed statistics on retail sales and other trends will not be available until later this month — at street level, the pain from the expiration of a two-percentage-point break in Social Security taxes in 2011 and 2012 is plain to see.

“You got to stretch what you got,” said Mr. Phillips, 51, a front-desk clerk and maintenance man for a nonprofit housing group who earned $22,000 last year. “That little $20 or $30 affects you, especially if you’re just making enough money to stay above water.” So he has taken to juggling bills, skipping a payment on one this month and another next month.

“I’m playing catch-up each month,” he said. “You go to the supermarket and you can’t spend what you used to.”

Jack Andrews has it slightly better than Mr. Phillips. He earns a bit more than $40,000 a year manufacturing ceramics in a local factory, but because his wife, Cindy, is disabled, he is the sole breadwinner. Something had to give now that he is earning about $800 less a year, or $66 a month, and it was the couple’s monthly night out.

“It’s just gotten out of reach,” Mr. Andrews said.

The tax break, which was pushed by the White House to stimulate spending in 2011 and extended in 2012, was always supposed to be temporary. But with pressure building in Washington to reduce the deficit and politicians fighting bitterly over whether to raise taxes on the very rich, the question of how the increase in Social Security taxes would affect the poorest workers did not seem to garner much debate on either side of the aisle.

“I don’t see any reason to consider supporting its extension,” said Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary, in testimony last year. Even Nancy Pelosi, a reliable liberal who leads the Democratic minority in the House of Representatives, was for letting it expire.

The higher rate applies to all earned income up to $113,700. For a household earning $100,000 a year, the two-percentage-point increase means an additional $2,000 a year in payroll deductions. Economists estimate that the payroll tax increase will reduce disposable income by about $120 billion and shave half a percentage point from economic growth in the first quarter — a significant blow given that the economy is expected to expand only 1 to 2 percent in the first half of 2013.

“If you wanted to design a policy to squeeze the spending of lower- and middle-income households, raising the payroll tax is the way to do it,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomic Advisors. “It’s very regressive.”

Retailing analysts and economists say high-end earners will largely be spared.

“I wouldn’t expect it to have much of an effect on BMW consumption,” said Richard H. Thaler, a professor of behavioral science and economics at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. “The people who will notice it the most are the ones making the least.”

In Medford, Ore., Darchelle Skipwith had to scrap her monthly budget and start over when the law changed.

She is buying less meat; driving less often to see her sister, who lives 12 miles away in Eagle Point; and putting less away in savings. In August, Ms. Skipwith, 42, hopes to get a raise of 50 cents an hour at her job stacking shelves at Walmart, which should help make up the difference.

For now, she has no choice but to change her daily routine.

“I added it up — it’s about $75 a month,” Ms. Skipwith said. “That’s not a lot for some people, but mine is the only paycheck. I don’t have extra money coming in.”

Of course, taxes are going up on wealthier Americans, too, with a rise in marginal rates on income above $400,000 for individuals and higher taxes on capital gains and dividends. But millions of individual decisions by poorer Americans in Medford, Augusta, Harlem and elsewhere are quickly adding up.

Complete monthly data for retail sales in January will not be released until later this week, but the weekly data already available for last month showed a steady deterioration in shopping activity.

“There is something going on,” said Chris G. Christopher Jr., senior principal economist at IHS Global Insight. “The payroll tax seems to be cutting into things.”

That pattern was apparent in a Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan survey of consumer sentiment released on Friday, according to Richard T. Curtin, who directs surveys of consumers at the university.

When asked how their financial situation had changed in January, 32 percent of people with incomes below $75,000 said their pay had dropped, compared with 13 percent who said it had increased. By contrast, 38 percent of people earning more than $75,000 said their wages had gone up last month, and 23 percent said they had gone down.

“We rarely see such divergent trends,” Dr. Curtin said. “Mostly it was the payroll tax hurting the lower incomes, while higher-income folks had a boost from things like dividends.”

In fact, as companies paid out dividends to shareholders early to avoid the higher tax rate for 2013, personal dividend income increased at a seasonally adjusted monthly rate of 34.3 percent in December, compared with a 4.5 percent rise in November.

But that did little to help Jessica Price, who holds down two jobs in Orlando. Most weekends she works at a clothing store in a shopping center near the Universal Studios theme park, within sight of the roller coasters, and she spends weekdays collecting tolls on a local expressway.

Ms. Price, 20, whose annual income is $15,000 to $16,000, prefers shopping at Whole Foods, the upscale supermarket chain, which is healthier but more expensive. But since the payroll tax went up, she has been going more often to Publix and Walmart.

“The food that has a lot of fat and food coloring is cheaper,” she said. “It’s a lot more expensive to eat healthier. But now I’m actually looking at the price tag on things rather than grabbing them.”

Source: New York Times

The Opacity of Transparency

Feb. 8, 2013

by Brian LaSorsa

One day after Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, the president-elect’s campaign team launched its official transition website. The administration “will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government,” they wrote.

A little more than four years have passed since that pitiful November—during half of which Bradley Manning has rotted in a handful of military facilities—and, boy, does the administration’s claim sound like a ridiculous joke.

Manning’s trial, which is expected to begin in June, was recently turned on its head by the residing military judge. Colonel Denise Lind ruled that Manning can no longer utilize the “whistleblower defense,” and it doesn’t take a legal scholar to understand this decision’s significance, especially when the US government’s charges against Manning include providing aid to the enemy. Lind’s ruling guarantees that the reason Manning communicated with WikiLeaks will remain struck from the public record; it’s her “official” way of ignoring information that is already widely available.

Anyone with an Internet connection can see why Manning did it. We have numerous chat logs detailing his conversations with hacker/informant Adrian Lamo. When asked about his “endgame” in passing along the classified files, Manning explained that he hoped they would spark “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms.”

“[I] want people to see the truth,” he said, “because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

Far from an application to al-Qaeda, Manning’s act was a guide for the country’s evolution toward a more trustworthy and open government. If this is included in the public record, though, the courts look bad. Thus, in accordance with Lind’s ruling, Manning can only testify to his motives after he’s convicted (or enters a plea deal) to mitigate his sentence, putting the courts in a position to appear lenient and sympathetic.

Since Manning’s conversations with Lamo were relevant enough to justify his arrest in the first place, you’d assume that the chat logs’ contents in their entirety would be equally applicable to the case. That isn’t how it works. Intelligence-gathering is a one-way street in Washington, DC, and poking around the government’s business will do nothing but get you arrested. Spy on taxpayers, though, and maybe you’ll get a promotion.

After Congress reauthorized the FISA Amendments Act in December, which grants the NSA extensive eavesdropping power, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed an FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Justice. Its goal was to review the extent to which the intelligence agency has conducted illegal surveillance against US citizens.

The DOJ sent back 33 pages of white space and scattered hyphens: a complete redaction.

These bureaucrats must waste a lot of time crossing out transcripts because they responded similarly to the ACLU one week later. The organization requested classified FBI memos outlining exactly when the bureau’s agents—a notoriously deceitful bunch—are allowed to track US citizens via GPS technology. This issue dictated national headlines throughout last year’s United States v. Jones case in the Supreme Court. The FBI had attached a 24-hour GPS tracker to a nightclub owner’s vehicle after suspecting him of selling cocaine, and the memos in question constitute the DOJ’s official (and verbatim) interpretation of the Jones opinion, including how the department intended to continue day-to-day operations afterward.

One afternoon the ACLU opened its mailbox and found an answer: 100 pages of white paper seemingly dipped in black ink. No pen strikethroughs, no scattered hyphens, just blacked-out rectangles and an eerie reflection of stars in the night sky.

An empty package would have been more helpful. FOIA requests are called “requests” for a reason. When the bureaucrats from whom you’re requesting secret documents have absolute power in deciding what they do and don’t send, especially when their jobs may depend on you not having the information, what do you expect to happen? Ignoring their occasional cooperation to save face—and the potential for abuse by other nosy miscreants—the feds serve as judge, jury, and executioner. It isn’t the end of the world, though. The DOJ’s fierce black pen probably says more about the organization than any unredacted memo ever will.

In that sense, FOIA requests serve an important purpose, but not the one they’re intended to serve.

Luckily we can still count on some private companies to fight the good fight. Honorable businessmen, when contacted by Uncle Sam for help with spying on their customers, will tell their customers about the solicitation. Google and Twitter have been models for this type of rebellious nobility, going so far as to tell the whole world when they’re tapped in the shadows (even when they’ve complied).

Google, which published its biannual Transparency Report on January 23, noted that government requests for user data have increased by more than 70 percent since 2009, an average of about 119 requests per day in the latter half of 2012. Twitter released its own report the following Monday, tallying the daily receipt of about five information requests and 18 copyright notices throughout 2012.

Obama accepted one of his first anti-secrecy awards during a “closed, undisclosed meeting.” Had there been an audience, he would have been laughed off the stage.