Monthly Archives: May 2013

What’s Up May 31, 2013?

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· Asteroid fly-by on Friday sparks debate over readiness for ‘Armageddon’-style event

The passage close to Earth of a mountain-sized asteroid expected Friday has reignited discussions among scientists about how to deal with the improbable — but definitely possible — circumstance of an asteroid predicted to hit the planet.

1998 QE2, as the asteroid is designated, will pass Earth at what NASA calls a “safe distance” of about 3.6 million miles — 15 times the distance to the moon, but nonetheless a near miss in astronomical terms — at just before 5 p.m. Eastern on Friday.

The asteroid is not named for the Cunard cruise line’s famous transatlantic ship the Queen Elizabeth II, but rather according to a naming convention based on the year it was discovered.

The asteroid, which is estimated to be 1.7 miles long, but whose shape is still undetectable, will be closely examined by radar telescopes as it passes, NASA said in a statement.

The agency is planning a variety of social media events to mark the passage, and allow the public to listen in to scientists as they debate and discuss what they are learning from the fly-by.

NASA says it “places a high priority on tracking asteroids and protecting our home planet from them” through its Near-Earth Object program.

For more than a decade the program has run Sentry — a computer system that automatically analyses constantly updated astronomical data, looking for asteroids or other objects that might be on a collision course with Earth.

In 2016, NASA will launch a robotic space-probe to one of the most potentially dangerous of the objects in the Sentry database — asteroid (101955) Bennu. The OSIRIS REx probe will enable scientists to study the asteroid and even bring a small sample of it back to Earth for study.

Without years of observation and exact knowledge of an asteroid’s size and shape, it is hard to predict the exact future course they will take as their orbits are erratic, but (101955) Bennu is one of a group of such bodies known as Apollo asteroids which have an orbit that intersects with the Earth’s — creating a small but hard to calculate risk of a collision.

Recent calculations by NASA scientists show a 1 in 1,800 chance that Bennu will collide with Earth in the year 2182. Story Continued

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· SYRIA’S ASSAD ‘CONFIDENT IN VICTORY’ IN CIVIL WAR

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Syrian President Bashar Assad said in an interview broadcast Thursday that he is “confident in victory” in his country’s civil war, and he warned that Damascus would retaliate for any future Israeli airstrike on his territory.

Assad also told the Lebanese TV station Al-Manar that Russia has fulfilled some of its weapons contracts recently, but he was vague on whether this included advanced S-300 air defense systems.

The comments were in line with a forceful and confident message the regime has been sending in recent days, even as the international community attempts to launch a peace conference in Geneva, possibly next month. The strong tone coincided with recent military victories in battles with armed rebels trying to topple him.

The interview was broadcast as Syria’s main political opposition group appeared to fall into growing disarray.

The international community had hoped the two sides would start talks on a political transition. However, the opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said earlier Thursday that it would not attend a conference, linking the decision to a regime offensive on the western Syrian town of Qusair and claiming that hundreds of wounded people were trapped there.

Assad, who appeared animated and gestured frequently in the TV interview, said he has been confident from the start of the conflict more than two years ago that he would be able to defeat his opponents.

“Regarding my confidence about victory, had we not had this confidence, we wouldn’t have been able to fight in this battle for two years, facing an international attack,” he said. Assad portrayed the battle to unseat him as a “world war against Syria and the resistance” — a reference to the Lebanese Hezbollah, a close ally.

“We are confident and sure about victory, and I confirm that Syria will stay as it was,” he said, “but even more than before, in supporting resistance fighters in all the Arab world.”

Assad has said he would stay in power at least until elections scheduled in 2014, but he went further in the interview, saying he “will not hesitate to run again” if the Syrian people want him to do so.

Taking a tough line, he also warned that Syria would strike back hard against any future Israeli airstrike.

Earlier this month, Israel had struck near Damascus, targeting suspected shipments of advanced weapons purportedly intended for Hezbollah. Syria did not respond at the time.

Assad said he has informed other countries that Syria would respond next time. “If we are going to retaliate against Israel, this retaliation should be a strategic response,” he said.

Russia’s S-300 missiles would significantly boost Syria’s air defenses and are seen as a game-changer, but Assad was unclear whether Syria has received a first shipment.

Earlier Thursday, Al-Manar had sent text messages to reporters with what it said was an excerpt from the interview.

The station quoted Assad as saying Syria had received a first shipment of such missiles. The Associated Press called Al-Manar after receiving the text message, and an official at the station said the message had been sent based on Assad’s comments.

In the interview, Assad was asked about the S-300s, but his answer was general.

He said Russia’s weapons shipments are not linked to the Syrian conflict. “We have been negotiating with them about different types of weapons for years, and Russia is committed to Syria to implement these contracts,” he said.

“All we have agreed on with Russia will be implemented and some of it has been implemented recently, and we and the Russians continue to implement these contracts,” he said.

Earlier this week, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Israel considered the S-300s in Syrian hands a threat and signaled it was prepared to use force to stop delivery. Israel had no comment Thursday.

The S-300s have a range of up to 200 kilometers (125 miles) and can track and strike multiple targets at once. Syria already possesses Russian-made air defenses.

The U.S. and Israel had urged Russia to cancel the sale, but Russia rejected the appeals.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this week that the U.S. is concerned about Moscow’s continued financial and military support for the Assad regime, said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

Meanwhile, Assad dismissed Syria’s political opposition as foreign-directed exiles who don’t represent the people of Syria.

The Syrian National Coalition has been meeting for more than a week in Istanbul to expand its membership, elect new leaders and devise a strategy for possible peace talks.

Coalition members got bogged down in personnel issues for much of the time. On Thursday, they announced that under current circumstances, they will not attend peace talks.

In the interview, Assad reiterated that the Syrian government is ready to attend in principle, though he said any agreement reached there would have to be put to a referendum.

“We will go to this conference as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. Whom do they represent?” he said of the opposition.

“We know that we are going to negotiate with the countries that stand behind it (the opposition) and not to negotiate with them. When we speak with the slave, we are indirectly negotiating with the master,” he added.

The coalition’s decision not to attend the talks could torpedo the only peace plan the international community has been able to rally behind, although prospects for its success appeared doubtful from the start.

Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said she hoped it was not the coalition’s final word on the Geneva conference. She said Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, is in Istanbul trying to help the opposition sort through its internal problems. Once members have decided on issues such as expanded membership and leadership, the U.S. hopes they will recommit to peace talks, Psaki said.

Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, accused the coalition of trying to set preconditions, by demanding that Assad’s departure from office must be the focus of any peace talks. He called such a demand “unrealistic.”

He urged the U.S. and Europe to “restrain those who are encouraging such unacceptable and aggressive approaches on the part of the National Coalition.”

If the diplomatic option is now off the table, following the opposition’s decision, the West, including the U.S., will have to come up with a new approach. President Barack Obama could face renewed pressure to help the rebels militarily.

The opposition linked its decision to stay away from the conference to an ongoing battle for the strategic town of Qusair and the role of Hezbollah in helping Assad.

Iranian-backed Hezbollah is heavily involved in the 12-day-old push to drive rebels from the town. Coalition officials said Thursday that hundreds of peopled wounded in the fighting were trapped in the town.

“The talk about the international conference and a political solution to the situation in Syria has no meaning in light of the massacres that are taking place,” coalition spokesman Khalid Saleh told reporters. He said the group will not support any international peace efforts in light of the “invasion” of Syria by Iran and Hezbollah.

Both sides value Qusair, which lies along a land corridor linking two of Assad’s strongholds — Damascus and an area along the Mediterranean coast. For the rebels, holding the town means protecting their supply line to Lebanon, just 10 kilometers (6 miles) away.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in the 26-month-old Syrian conflict that has had increasingly sectarian overtones. Members of Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority dominate the rebel ranks and Assad’s regime is mostly made up of Alawites, an offshoot sect of Shiite Islam. Story Continued

· Lawyer: Zimmerman prosecutor withheld evidence

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A court employee who retrieved photos and deleted text messages from Trayvon Martin’s cellphone has been placed on administrative leave after an attorney testified that prosecutors didn’t properly turn over the evidence to the defense, an attorney said Wednesday.

Former prosecutor Wesley White said he was ethically obligated to reveal that Fourth Judicial Circuit Information Technology Director Ben Kruidbos retrieved the data that weren’t turned over.

Kruidbos was placed on leave shortly after White testified during a hearing in George Zimmerman’s second-degree murder case on Tuesday. White said Kruidbos was interviewed by state attorney investigators twice before the action was taken.

White said he wasn’t surprised of possible evidence violations by Zimmerman prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda.

“I was saddened by it, but I’m not surprised,” he said.

White first learned about the evidence through Kruidbos more than a month ago, he said.

Phone and email messages left at the office of Fourth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Angela Corey were not immediately returned.

Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in 17-year-old Martin’s killing and has pleaded not guilty, saying he acted in self-defense. Circuit Judge Debra Nelson has denied a defense motion to delay the trial, which scheduled to begin on June 10.

White led the Nassau County state attorney’s office before resigning in December, citing differences of opinion with Corey. He is now in private practice.

White said the photos Kruidbos retrieved were of a hand holding a gun and one depicted drugs. The content of the text messages wasn’t specified.

“I’m an officer of the court and I’m obliged to inform the court of any misconduct or any potential misconduct coming before the court. Whether it’s by the defense or prosecution,” White said.

The defense released photos of a gun, marijuana plant and Martin’s text messages publicly, saying that if prosecutors planned to paint Zimmerman as the aggressor and Martin as the innocent bystander, they wanted the information to defend him. Attorneys won’t be able to mention the teen’s drug use, suspension from school and past fighting during opening statements at the trial, Nelson ruled Tuesday.

Nelson has set a full hearing on the turning over of evidence for next week.

Defense attorney Mark O’Mara has previously brought a handful of motions alleging that the state attorney’s office had been slow to turn over other evidence.

White said his disclosure to the defense isn’t sparked by any animosity toward his former employer.

“It has to do with the rule of law,” White said. “When Mr. Kruidbos testifies next week, it will be his testimony and not my own.”

O’Mara said Tuesday that he felt compelled to bring this matter to the attention of the judge after a hearing earlier this month in which De la Rionda was emphatic that he’d turned over all evidence related to Martin’s cellphone.

“(Kruidbos) knew information that nobody else would know about what (the state attorney’s office) didn’t give us,” O’Mara said. “The picture of the gun in the hand, for example, had not been turned over to us. But that had been created back in late January within the state attorney’s office.

“That inquiry, if in fact it continues and it certainly should, could lead to some very dire consequences for those who made presentations to the judge that were not accurate.”

O’Mara reported on the defense team’s website Wednesday that Zimmerman’s defense fund had less than $5,000 left. The fund had raised almost $315,000 by January.

His attorneys are calculating that Zimmerman needs another $120,000 to put on a good defense, or even another $75,000 to give him a fighting chance. Story Continued

· May 30, 2013 – American Voters 4-1 Want Special Prosecutor For IRS, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; But Fixing Economy Is More Important, Voters Say 3-1 –  American voters say 76 – 17 percent, including 63 – 30 percent among Democrats, that a special prosecutor should be appointed to investigate charges the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today.

President Barack Obama gets a negative 45 – 49 percent job approval rating, compared to 48 – 45 percent positive in a May 1 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University, conducted before the IRS allegations surfaced.

The president’s biggest drop is among independent voters, who give him a negative 37 – 57 percent score, compared to a negative 42 – 48 percent May 1. He gets a negative 9 – 86 percent from Republicans and a positive 87 – 8 percent from Democrats, both virtually unchanged. Women approve 49 – 45 percent while men give a negative 40 – 54 percent score.

Americans are divided 49 – 47 percent on whether Obama is honest and trustworthy, down from 58 – 37 percent, the last time Quinnipiac University asked the question September 1, 2011.

Support for an independent prosecutor to probe the IRS issue is 88 – 6 percent among Republicans and 78 – 17 percent among independent voters, 78 – 17 percent among men and 74 – 18 percent among women.

“There is overwhelming bipartisan support for a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “Voters apparently don’t like the idea of Attorney General Eric Holder investigating the matter himself, perhaps because they don’t exactly think highly of him. Holder gets a negative 23 – 39 percent job approval rating.”

American voters say 43 – 32 percent that congressional criticism of the Obama Administration’s handling of the terrorist attack in Libya is ‘just politics.’ Voters say 44 – 33 percent, however, that members of Congress who criticize the way the Obama Administration handled the IRS are raising ‘legitimate concerns.’ Criticism of the Justice Department’s seizure of journalists’ phone records also raises ‘legitimate concerns,’ voters say 37 – 24 percent.

Of the three controversies, 44 percent of voters see the IRS probe as the most important, with 24 percent citing Benghazi and 15 percent picking the AP records seizure.

But voters say 73 – 22 percent that dealing with the economy and unemployment is a higher priority than investigating these three issues.

“The fact that voters say 34 – 25 percent that the economy is getting better also may be a reason the president’s job approval numbers have not dropped further,” Brown added.

American voters disapprove 66 – 24 percent of the job the IRS is doing.

A total of 68 percent of American voters are “somewhat dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with the way things are going in the nation today, while 32 percent are “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied.” Voters also have negative opinions of political parties:

47 – 42 percent unfavorable opinion of the Democratic Party;

50 – 35 percent unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party;

38 – 28 percent unfavorable opinion of the Tea Party.

Only 3 percent of voters trust the federal government to do the right thing almost all the time, while 12 percent say they trust it most of the time; 47 percent say some of the time and 36 percent hardly ever. That compares to results of a Quinnipiac University poll in July 2010, four months before the Republican sweep that year on the back of anti-government sentiment, when 2 percent said almost always, 16 percent said most of the time; 50 percent said some of the time and 31 percent said hardly ever.

“All of these investigations may be having a negative effect on voters’ willingness to trust the federal government.to do the right thing,” said Brown.

From May 22 – 28, Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,419 registered voters with a margin of error of +/- 2.6 percentage points. Live interviewers call land lines and cell phones.

The Quinnipiac University Poll, directed by Douglas Schwartz, Ph.D., conducts public opinion surveys in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Iowa and the nation as a public service and for research. Story Continued and to include the data from the poll

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What’s Up May 29, 2013?

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· Obama embraces role as consoler in chief to remain above the frayPresident Obama will gain one more day of respite from the controversies that have crowded in on his administration Tuesday, as he tours the New Jersey coast to inspect the recovery and rebuilding efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

The Garden State visit follows a presidential speech Monday to mark Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery and a trip to tornado-stricken Oklahoma on Sunday.

Both weekend occasions permitted Obama to appear above the fray — the commander in chief and consoler in chief, respectively — rather than as a political figure pinned down in the Washington trenches.

The trip comes as his administration faces tough questions over a trio of controversies: the IRS political targeting scandal, the Justice Department’s leak probes and the handling of the Benghazi mission attack.

Tuesday’s New Jersey trip will be undertaken in the company of Gov. Chris Christie (R), a visit that will evoke memories of their joint tour of affected communities shortly after Sandy hit. At that point — late October last year — the presidential election campaign was in its closing days.

Some conservatives reacted with fury to Christie’s praise of Obama at the time, contending that any chance of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney riding a surge of late momentum was choked off by Sandy and its aftermath. Radio host Rush Limbaugh dismissed the New Jersey governor as “a fool.”

Last year’s Obama-Christie appearance was dramatic and high profile, but it is not unusual for the sharp edges of political partisanship to be softened in the wake of a disaster, as the president’s day in Oklahoma showed.

Two of the state’s most prominent Republicans, Gov. Mary Fallin and Rep. Tom Cole, accompanied Obama. Both expressed their admiration for the president’s actions in the days since a massive tornado ripped through Oklahoma City suburbs.

Late last year, Cole described Obama’s initial plan to avert the “fiscal cliff” of tax rises and spending cuts as “laughable” and “the most fraudulent position ever” in an interview with The Weekly Standard.

But after he and Fallin had seen Obama off on Air Force One for the trip back to Washington over the weekend, Cole told reporters gathered on the tarmac that the president had “made an awfully good impression on the people of Oklahoma.”

Obama, for his part, was able to make explicit what is often implicit in the role of a president, as he spoke next to the ruins of the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., where seven children perished.

“I want to make sure everybody understands I’m speaking on behalf of the entire country,” he said. “I’m just a messenger here today, letting everybody here know that you are not alone, that you’ve got folks behind you.”

Obama’s Memorial Day address at Arlington also permitted the president to embrace the role of head of state rather than political player.

He even spoke of Washington itself in grander, more elevated terms than usual — especially for a man who often struggles to contain his contempt for the political culture of the nation’s capital.

“Beyond these quiet hills, across that special bridge, is a city of monuments dedicated to visionary leaders and singular moments in the life of our Republic,” Obama said. “But it is here, on this hallowed ground, where we choose to build a monument to a constant thread in the American character.”

Skeptics would note that fine words often bring little change. Obama has delivered well-received speeches at more intense moments of national trauma yet the basic political landscape has gone unaltered afterward. The two most notable examples came in the wake of the January 2011 shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and after the massacre in Newtown last December.

The Memorial Day weekend did not bring a total cessation of political hostilities.

On Sunday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told ABC’s “This Week” that he believed the three controversies centered upon the IRS, Benghazi and DOJ meant that Obama was “really losing the moral authority to lead this nation.”

On “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) suggested that the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups had its roots in Obama’s own “take no prisoners attitude.”

The political arrows were not all being fired in one direction, either. Briefing the media aboard Air Force One on the way to Oklahoma, White House principal deputy press secretary Josh Earnest responded to a reporter’s question about what the disaster said about the role of government by first saying: “It’s not a day for politics.”

He then continued: “That said, I think it is evident to any impartial observer here what an important role the federal government can play in providing assistance to our people at their time of urgent need. And you talk about an agency like FEMA that, when this president took office, did not have a very good reputation.”

The jab at the president’s predecessor, George W. Bush, and the widely criticized response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina was unmistakable.

Such moments fuel skepticism even among politically-unaligned observers.

“[Obama] can walk along what’s left of the boardwalk with Chris Christie, but if he then goes out the next day and starts jabbing Republicans in the House and the Senate, it doesn’t do anything to show he’s bipartisan or nonpartisan,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University professor who specializes in political communications.

Still, as he readies himself for Tuesday’s New Jersey trip, the president has plenty of reasons to savor another day’s break from politics as usual. Story Continued

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· Washington launches four different investigations into IRS scandal

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Capitol Hill aides spent their Memorial Day weekend scanning hundreds of pages of documents related to the IRS scandal in order to prepare their bosses for what will inevitably be a frantic month of June involving multiple simultaneous investigations into government wrongdoing. By the time lawmakers return to session next week, at least four different investigations will be underway.

As The Daily Caller has reported, at least five different IRS offices including Cincinnati, Ohio; Baltimore, Maryland; Chicago, Illinois and El Monte and Laguna Niguel, California improperly targeted conservative nonprofit groups for extra scrutiny between 2010 and 2012.

The IRS’ shenanigans, chronicled in a damning report by Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George, started when a “team of [IRS] specialists” came together in April 2010 to process the tax-exempt nonprofit status of conservative groups that might be “potential political operations” (page 13 of the IG report). The IRS added “additional specialists” to this effort in December 2011.

The IRS also launched audits of existing conservative nonprofit groups including the Virginia-based Leadership Institute, demanding to see training materials and personal information about the organization’s 2008 college interns.

So for those of you keeping score at home (this reporter is still waiting for Ken Starr to send in his bracket picks) The Daily Caller presents a list of some of our favorite investigations into potential IRS wrongdoing. Which one will come up with the “Alexander Butterfield” quote?

1. The House Ways and Means Committee – Oversight Subcommittee

As head of the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee, Republican Louisiana Rep. Charles Boustany has conducted the toughest probe into the IRS scandal so far. Boustany managed to acquire “all communications containing the word ‘tea party,’ ‘patriot,’ or ‘conservative,’” from recently-resigned IRS acting director Steven T. Miller. He also got the names of everyone involved with the improper targeting.

Republican Ways and Means chairman Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan also raised awareness of the issue by reaching out to the public, asking Americans to write in with their own stories of IRS harassment.

“Your story is critical to moving the investigation forward,” according to a form created on the Ways and Means’ Committee’s website asking for users’ stories, which also includes a two-year timeline of the scandal beginning in August 2010.

Boustany was in prime position to jump on the IRS scandal. Back in September, long before the current scandal, his subcommittee grilled Steven T. Miller with concerns about the IRS’ implementation of Obamacare. Story Continued

· Claim: Holder ‘Beginning to Feel a Creeping Sense of Personal Remorse’President Barack Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, is “beginning to feel a creeping sense of personal remorse.” The feelings of “remorse” began for Holder after he read an article in the Washington Post about how the Justice Department, which he heads, investigated Fox News reporter James Rosen.

At least, this is the story unnamed aides are telling the Daily Beast.

“[F]or Attorney General Eric Holder, the gravity of the situation didn’t fully sink in until Monday morning when he read the Post’s front-page story, sitting at his kitchen table. Quoting from the affidavit, the story detailed how agents had tracked Rosen’s movements in and out of the State Department, perused his private emails, and traced the timing of his calls to the State Department security adviser suspected of leaking to him. Then the story, quoting the stark, clinical language of the affidavit, described Rosen as ‘at the very least … an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator’ in the crime,” reports the Daily Beast.

“Holder knew that Justice would be besieged by the twin leak probes; but, according to aides, he was also beginning to feel a creeping sense of personal remorse.”

But while Holder could deny knowing about the Justice Department looking into the Associated Press’s records, he had signed off on the Rosen case. “In the Fox case, however, Holder knew he bore a direct measure of responsibility. He had approved a search-warrant application that equated a reporter’s newsgathering activities with criminal conduct. That put Holder at the center of the brewing controversy, all while the Obama administration was being buffeted over allegations that the IRS had targeted conservative groups and by the continuing Benghazi tempest.” Story Continued

· Terror police called in after prison warden stabbed in attack ‘inspired by Woolwich murder’ 

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Three prisoners were reported to have held the warden, who suffered a fractured cheekbone, hostage before stabbing him during a four-hour stand-off with guards on Sunday afternoon.

The attack at Full Sutton prison in East Yorkshire was said to have left the officer “badly shaken”, while a female prison guard was also understood to have been injured as she tried to intervene.

The incident reportedly took place after a prison imam called for inmates to pray for Drummer Rigby.

The North East Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) has been called in to lead the investigation.

A spokesman said: “Inquiries are ongoing to establish the circumstances surrounding the incident. Given the potential nature of the incident and the range of skills and expertise within the North East CTU, the unit is leading the investigation at this time.”

A source told The Sun: “This had all the hallmarks of a pre-planned attack inspired by the Woolwich atrocity.

“It’s something officials have feared could happen for years and now it finally has.

“The officer was frankly lucky to survive. The attack was brutal.”

The warden, said to be in his 30s, was reportedly set upon near the kitchens of the jail’s E Wing.

A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spokesman said: “An incident involving three prisoners took place at HMP Full Sutton on 26 May from 4.25pm and was successfully resolved at 8.40pm after staff intervened.

“A police investigation is ongoing.”

The MoJ would not comment on reports that the attackers were Islamic extremists.

Drummer Rigby was hacked to death in the street in Woolwich, south east London, last week.

Two suspected Islamist terrorists, Michael Adebowale, 22, and Michael Adebolajo, 28, are accused of his murder.

In 2009, nine prisoners, including some terrorists, were caught planning to escape from Full Sutton in a hijacked helicopter.

Last year’s annual report on Full Sutton by the Independent Monitoring Board said the prison had seen an increase in Muslim prisoners and referred to “tensions between them and other prisoners.”

More than a fifth (22%) of the prison’s inmates in 2012 were Muslims. Story Continued

· NIKE CUTTING TIES TO LIVESTRONG 

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Nike, which helped build Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong cancer charity into a global brand and introduced its familiar yellow wristband, is cutting ties with the foundation in the latest fallout from the former cyclist’s doping scandal.

The move by the sports shoe and clothing company ends a relationship that began in 2004 and helped the foundation raise more than $100 million, making the charity’s bracelet an international symbol for cancer survivors.

But the relationship soured with revelations of performance-enhancing drug use by Armstrong and members of his U.S. Postal Service team.

Nike said Tuesday it will stop making its Livestrong line of apparel after the 2013 holiday season. Foundation and company officials said Nike will honor the financial terms of its contract until it expires in 2014.

Those terms were not disclosed.

Nike dropped its personal sponsorship of Armstrong last October after U.S. Anti-Doping Agency exposed the team doping program and portrayed Armstrong as its ringleader. And after years of denials, Armstrong admitted earlier this year he used performance-enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France seven times.

Officials at Livestrong, which announced the split on Tuesday, said the foundation remains strong and committed to helping cancer patients worldwide through its survivorship programs.

Armstrong, who started the charity in 1997 as the Lance Armstrong Foundation, was pushed off the board of directors in October and the organization later changed its formal name to Livestrong.

In a statement, Livestrong officials said the foundation is “deeply grateful” to Nike.

“Together, we created new, revolutionary ways of thinking about how non-profits fuel their mission and we’re proud of that,” the foundation said.

A Nike spokesman did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.

Armstrong declined comment, noting he no longer has a relationship with Livestrong or Nike.

Livestrong officials say the charity remains on solid financial ground.

“This news will prompt some to jump to negative conclusions about the foundation’s future. We see things quite differently. We expected and planned for changes like this and are therefore in a good position to adjust swiftly and move forward with our patient-focused work,” the foundation said.

The foundation said it reduced its budget nearly 11 percent in 2013 to $38.4 million, but said Tuesday that revenue is already 2.5 percent ahead of projections. The foundation also noted that last month, it received a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities based on financial health, accountability and transparency. Story Continued

· The Taxonomy of Scandals: Is Obama Nearing a Breaking Point?  – From Iran-Contra to Charles Rangel, Americans can tolerate some of Washington’s transgressions. But the president’s cluster may signal more trouble to come. By Lloyd Green..

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Not every scandal is Watergate Redux. If the God-fearing voters of South Carolina could forgive Mark Sanford for his “hike” off the Appalachian Trail, then it may not come as a shock that Americans are cutting the president some slack over IRS overreach, a concerted Justice Department war on the press, and the deadly fiasco in Libya, followed by a bumbling attempt to get the story straight.

Even scandals have hierarchies. Nowadays, voters are prone to judge politicians less harshly when the alleged wrongdoings involve defending the country or sins of the flesh. Avarice will likely bring a politician down, unless the pol can be portrayed as a champion of the little guy or a cause. However, when the scandal is hatched in the White House, and is a raw abuse of power for its own sake, all bets are off.

National security? Think back to the Iran-Contra affair, in which the Reagan administration traded arms for hostages with Iran and used the proceeds to fund the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. Newspapers howled, Congress investigated, and the “I” word, impeachment, was bandied about. In the end, however, Ronald Reagan served his two full terms, and Vice President George H.W. Bush won the 1988 presidential election going away.

Sex? Louisiana gave Senator David Vitter a pass, just as Sanford’s constituents did this month. By contrast, New York’s Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner resigned in disgrace because their proclivities struck too many as just too odd.

Greed? It ranks in the upper tier of the scandal scale. Unless the accused can garner sympathy, the pol is usually finished. In the last decade, Representatives Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney, William Jefferson—a diverse lot—took bribes and went to prison. Nobody shed a tear.

But, if a politician can transform financial irregularities into something bigger than himself, he can grow up to be president. Take Richard Nixon, who as a senator in the early 1950s, was aided by a donor-funded campaign slush fund. After having been tapped by Dwight Eisenhower to be his running mate on the 1952 Republican presidential ticket, Nixon’s salary supplement came to light.

Invoking his daughters’ dog and his wife’s cloth coat, Nixon delivered his infamous Checkers Speech. The speech riffed off Nixon’s own class resentments, and played to the GOP’s Main Street base. Ike, the five-star general, had been outflanked.

More than a decade later, when faced with an investigation and expulsion from Congress for misusing congressional funds, Harlem Congressman Adam Clayton Powell told his supporters to “keep the faith,” and for a while they did. After he was expelled from the House, Powell’s constituents reelected him, until he was defeated in the 1970 Democratic primary by a former federal prosecutor named Charles Rangel.

History can repeat itself. Rangel, after having been censured by the House in late 2010 for a litany of abuses, survived reelection.

Watergate? It remains the gold standard of scandal. Nixon harnessed his own personal demons to the presidency, orchestrated a criminal conspiracy from the White House, subverted the FBI, and, yes, unleashed the IRS upon his political enemies. A broad bipartisan House Judiciary Committee majority found his sins to rise to the level of impeachable offenses. The late New York Congressman Hamilton Fish, Jr., personally took Nixon to task for failing to supervise his subordinates. According to Fish, “the size and complexity” of the Executive Branch did not excuse the president from lax or nonexistent oversight.

So where does today’s scandal cluster leave President Obama? In a recent CNN poll, a majority said the wave of scandals raises important issues, and that Congress isn’t overreacting. Nearly three in four told Washington Post pollsters the IRS acted inappropriately. Six of 10 told a Fox News survey that the administration went too far in seizing Associated Press phone records. As for the IRS, its reputation has taken a beating.

Still, the public’s view is nuanced, buffeted by the competing concerns of free expression and national security, a tension alluded to by Obama during his speech at the National Defense University on Thursday. If Iran-Contra teaches us anything, it is that Americans will live with a modicum of Executive Branch law-breaking if it is the price for keeping our enemies at bay. Story Continued

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· House Republicans express “great concern” about possible Holder perjuryRepublicans on the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday expressing “great concern” about the possibility that Holder lied under oath during his testimony earlier this month on the Justice Department’s seizing of journalists’ records, CBS News has learned.

On May 15, Holder told the committee he wasn’t involved in “the potential prosecution” of a member of the press under the Espionage Act for disclosing classified information. “This is not something I’ve ever been involved in, heard of, or would think would be wise policy,” he said.

WH: “Self-evident” that Holder’s congressional testimony was truthful

Shortly thereafter, reports began to surface that the Justice Department, in addition to seizing telephone and email records of Associated Press reporters, had seized the the emails and phone records of Fox News correspondent James Rosen. While Holder had recused himself from the AP proceedings, the Washington Post reported that the attorney general had personally signed off on the search warrant for Rosen’s records.

In the search warrant, the FBI called Rosen a “criminal co-conspirator” and suggested there’s probable cause that he violated federal law. Rosen was not charged with any crime.

House Judiciary Republicans, in their letter, raise the possibility that Holder perjured himself by issuing an ironclad denial of any involvement in the investigation and potential prosecution of reporters. “The media reports and statements issued by the Department regarding the search warrants for Mr. Rosen’s emails appear to be at odds with your sworn testimony before the Committee,” they wrote. “We believe – and we hope you will agree – it is imperative that the Committee, the Congress and the American people be provided a full and accurate account of your involvement in and approval of these search warrants.”

The White House defended Holder on Wednesday, with press secretary Jay Carney saying it was “self-evident” that Holder told the truth. “I think based on what he said, he testified truthfully,” Carney said. “The attorney general talked about prosecution,” he explained, while the case in question was completed with no further charges or prosecution slated.

Asked Tuesday if he regrets signing off on the warrant, Holder told reporters: “I’m not satisfied (with the Justice Department’s guidelines involving the news media in criminal investigations).”

Holder in the hot seat at congressional hearing

Holder: I wasn’t involved in AP secret phone probe

The leak investigation sprang from Rosen’s report in 2009 that North Korea would respond to sanctions with more nuclear tests. That information was classified when Rosen reported it, leading to an FBI investigation to uncover Rosen’s source that quickly shifted focus to scrutinize Rosen himself.

Agents monitored Rosen’s movements in and out of the State Department. They searched his personal emails and combed through his cell phone records, an unprecedented level of government surveillance of a journalist.

Last week, President Obama, who’s come under bipartisan criticism for the digging into journalists’ records, said he directed Holder to conduct a review of Justice Department’s guidelines for probes that involve journalists and said Holder would meet with media groups as part of that review.

Those meetings will begin on Thursday, with Holder scheduled to meet the Washington bureau chiefs of several major media organizations to chart a path forward for leak investigations that balances law enforcement and national security concerns with a respect for press freedom.

An official close to Holder told CBS News the meetings would be “forward looking,” and will not include a discussion of the facts surrounding the AP subpoena and the Rosen search warrant.

On Tuesday, Holder voiced optimism about the likelihood that the meetings will result in a truce of sorts between the Justice Department and the press, which has savaged Holder’s department and the rest of the Obama administration for what they see as an overzealous prosecution of security leaks. Story Continued and to watch the video

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What’s Up May 27, 2013?

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· The Honor of Muslims The honor of Muslims is the Syria that stands up, doubly insurgent, fighting on two fronts: that of a dictatorship that has become insane, killing with a vengeance (conservative estimates, at least 80,000 dead), and that of political Islamism, represented within the rebellion by the Al Nosra jihadi front, an affiliate of al Qaeda, which the head of French diplomacy has suggested (and rightly so) including among the “terrorist organizations” the UN has outlawed.

The honor of Muslims is this ANP, the Awami National Party that, in this other hell — this other cauldron of poverty and death that is the Pakistan of the Taliban — pays a high price for its support for anti-terrorist operations American special forces are carrying out in the tribal zones at the border with Afghanistan. They have suffered dozens of deaths, their leaders assassinated or threatened with assassination, car bomb attacks threatening all of their meetings; and yet the ANP continues, refusing to back down, campaigning in the catacombs and never abandoning its dream of an Islam compatible with secularism.

The honor of Muslims is these Libyans — in reality, a majority — who, just a year ago, in the first free elections their country has ever known, disowned the Muslim Brotherhood and brought to power a moderate coalition which itself appointed as Prime Minister a democrat, enemy of the deadly thesis of the clash of civilizations, former president in exile of the Libyan League for Human Rights, who has never compromised with Gaddafiism, the man who led the first delegation of free Libyans received by Sarkozy at the Elysée Palace on March 10th, 2011: Ali Zeidan.

The honor of Muslims was this other great figure who, 20 years ago, also honored me with his friendship and who, in charge of the destiny of a Bosnia at war, refused the choice of the devil. The West prevaricated, the West shrank from the issue, the West — without admitting it, but sometimes, even saying so — played the Serbian card, the same way it is playing the Bashar al Assad card today. But, backed against the wall with his hands tied behind him, all the while invested with what he considered the sacred task to protect a people who were being bombarded day and night, he resisted the temptation to which others might have given in, to accept, for lack of anything better, the only concrete assistance being offered — that of Iran.

The honor of Muslims is those American academics (Azar Nafisi, Ahmed al-Rahim), those civic movements (the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism), and the simple citizens of Dearborn, Detroit and elsewhere who, right after September 11, condemned terrorism, denounced such “sheiks of death” as Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the loony preacher of Al Jazeera, and declared their unshakeable allegiance to the United States of America, their country.

The honor of Muslims is Palestinians like Yasser Abd Rabbo and others, many others, who, a little over a decade ago at Geneva, joined forces with Israelis to conceive and present the only plan for peace to this day which is serious, viable and immediately applicable, as it rests on the precondition of simultaneous mutual recognition. By doing so, they knew they would provoke the rage of Hamas and Hezbollah; they knew that they, the true Palestinian patriots, would pass for traitors to the cause. And they also knew that they would never know another day of unthreatened tranquility in their respective lives. And yet they did it, they remained steadfast, they never regretted it, and they never backed down.

The honor of Muslims is the Imam of Drancy, Hassen Chalghoumi, who combats anti-Semitism as fiercely as he does racism and went to Israel, with a delegation of other French imams, to pray at Yad Vashem much as he prayed at the graves of the victims of the slaughter of Toulouse. He too is taking great risks; he too might, at any moment, pay for his courageous choice with his own life, and those of his loved ones. Need one mention that he is subject to this other tribunal, that of public opinion, which has already singled him out and which, frivolous and capricious, equally ready to adore as to abhor, to pass from mere suspicion to inflamed ire, to entertain conspiracy theories as to acknowledge courage, has already begun looking for nits to pick, suspecting him of dark hidden motives. But he hasn’t backed down either, nor has he deviated from the fine line of his commitment.

The honor of Muslims is Islam, simply Islam, when it is true to its principle, which signifies (as everyone knows but, unfortunately, some have often forgotten): peace. Story Continued

· SOME UNIONS NOW ANGRY ABOUT HEALTH CARE OVERHAUL

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Some unions now angry about health care overhaul – By SAM HANANEL, Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Some labor unions that enthusiastically backed President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul are now frustrated and angry, fearful that it will jeopardize benefits for millions of their members.

Union leaders warn that unless the problem is fixed, there could be consequences for Democrats facing re-election next year.

“It makes an untruth out of what the president said _ that if you like your insurance, you could keep it,” said Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. “That is not going to be true for millions of workers now.”

The problem lies in the unique multiemployer health plans that cover unionized workers in retail, construction, transportation and other industries with seasonal or temporary employment. Known as Taft-Hartley plans, they are jointly administered by unions and smaller employers that pool resources to offer more than 20 million workers and family members continuous coverage, even during times of unemployment.

The union plans were already more costly to run than traditional single-employer health plans.

But Obama’s Affordable Care Act has added to that cost _ for the unions’ and other plans _ by requiring health plans to cover dependents up to age 26, eliminate annual or lifetime coverage limits and extend coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

“We’re concerned that employers will be increasingly tempted to drop coverage through our plans and let our members fend for themselves on the health exchanges,” said David Treanor, director of health care initiatives at the Operating Engineers union.

Workers seeking coverage in the state-based marketplaces, known as exchanges, can qualify for subsidies, determined by a sliding scale based on income. By contrast, the new law does not allow workers in the union plans to receive similar subsidies.

Bob Laszewski, a health care industry consultant, said the real fear among unions is that “a lot of these labor contracts are very expensive, and now employers are going to have an alternative to very expensive labor health benefits.”

“If the workers can get benefits that are as good through Obamacare in the exchanges, then why do you need the union?” Laszewski said. “In my mind, what the unions are fearing is that workers for the first time can get very good health benefits for a subsidized cost someplace other than the employer.”

However, Laszewski said it was unlikely employers would drop the union plans immediately because they are subject to ongoing collective bargaining agreements.

Labor unions have been among the president’s closest allies, spending millions of dollars to help him win re-election and help Democrats keep their majority in the Senate. The wrangling over health care comes as unions have continued to see steady declines in membership and attacks on public employee unions in state legislatures around the country. The Obama administration walks a fine line between defending the president’s signature legislative achievement and not angering a powerful constituency as it looks ahead to the 2014 elections.

Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Firefighters, said unions have spent more than a year trying to get a regulatory fix that would allow low-income workers in union plans to receive subsidies too. But labor leaders say they have been told it won’t happen. And new legislation is unlikely anytime soon.

Both Hanson and Schaitberger said the frustration could spill over into the 2014 election cycle if union concerns aren’t addressed.

“It started out with some anxiety, and I think it’s translated into more anger,” Schaitberger said.

Sabrina Siddiqui, a Treasury Department spokeswoman, declined to discuss the specifics of any negotiations between the administration and union officials. But she said the law helps bring down costs and improve quality of care.

Katie Mahoney, executive director of health policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said employers were concerned about possible increases in health care costs and would do what was needed to keep their businesses running and retain worker talent. The Chamber has not taken a position on the union concerns, but Mahoney said it was highly unlikely that the administration would consider subsidies for workers in the union plans.

“They are not going to offset the expense of added mandates under the health care law, which employers and unions are going to pay for,” Mahoney said.

Unions say their health care plans in many cases offer better coverage with broader doctors’ networks and lower premiums than what would be available in the exchanges, particularly when it comes to part-time workers.

“It’s not favoritism. We want to be treated fairly,” said Hansen, whose union has about 800,000 of its 1.3 million members covered under Taft-Hartley policies. “We would expect more help from this administration.”

Unions backed the health care legislation because they expected it to curb inflation in health coverage, reduce the number of uninsured Americans and level the playing field for companies that were already providing quality benefits. While unions knew there were lingering issues after the law passed, they believed those could be fixed through rulemaking.

But last month, the union representing roofers issued a statement calling for “repeal or complete reform” of the health care law. Kinsey Robinson, president of the United Union of Roofers, Water proofers and Allied Workers, complained that labor’s concerns over the health care law “have not been addressed, or in some instances, totally ignored.”

“In the rush to achieve its passage, many of the act’s provisions were not fully conceived, resulting in unintended consequences that are inconsistent with the promise that those who were satisfied with their employer-sponsored coverage could keep it,” Robinson said. Story Continued

· Dem: Republicans throwing infrastructure ‘under the bus’A Washington state Democrat is accusing Republicans of “throwing American infrastructure … under the bus” after a bridge collapse there this week.

The portion of Interstate 5 in Washington that runs over the Skagit River collapsed on Thursday after a truck hit an overhead support structure, but Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) cited the incident in an interview as proof Republicans were blocking infrastructure investment to hurt President Obama politically.

“Well, they have clearly spent the whole last five years trying to tear the president down, but they have done it by throwing the American infrastructure and the society under the bus,” McDermott said in an interview with MSNBC host Al Sharpton.

“We have the most long-term unemployed that we have had since the 1930s and there’s no excuse for that,” McDermott continued. “There is plenty of work in this society that needs to be done and all it means is that the Congress has to step up, put the money up, and we can have it.”

McDermott suggested that lawmakers could find extra money to pay for transportation projects by raising the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax.

More from The Hill

“We haven’t raised the gas tax for bridges and highway since 1993,” McDermott said. “And there is just no reason that we shouldn’t be doing this and putting America back to work. All the other problems that face us would be gone if we had put people back to work.”

No deaths were reported in the incident, but parts of the bridge are still in the water. Story Continued

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· Port Authority releases photo of One WTC workers at dizzying heightsThe World Trade Center has tweeted a photo of its workers placing the spire on top of One World Trade Center tower, at incredible heights of 1,700 feet.

The spectacular photo, taken on May 10th, shows the brave iron workers installing the final sections on top of One WTC, with New York City sprawled beneath them.

The new tower, which sits at Ground Zero, stands at 1,776 feet tall including the spire, which is 408 feet tall.

It’s already the tallest building in New York City and once completed, will become the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the third tallest in the world.

One World Trade Center is set to open in 2014, thirteen years after the destruction of the Twin Towers during the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. Story Continued

· Bridge Collapses And Structurally Deficient Bridges Across The CountryIn his State of the Union address this year, President Obama urged repairs of “the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country.” He proposed a plan called “Fix it First,” which would have invested $50 billion in repairing transportation infrastructure, starting with the most urgent repairs.

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Instead, Congress failed to avoid the sequester and transportation repair spending faces a $1.9 billion cut.

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The collapse of the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Skagit River in Washington State on Thursday once again sounded alarms over our nation’s aging infrastructure. While this incident had no fatalities, there are hundreds of other bridges in Washington with worse sufficiency scores and more than 150,000 structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges across the nation. Story Continued

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·

Why Democrats Can’t Be Trusted to Control Wall StreetWho needs Republicans when Wall Street has the Democrats? With the help of congressional Democrats, the Street is rolling back financial reforms enacted after its near meltdown.

According to the New York Times, a bill that’s already moved through the House Financial Services Committee, allowing more of the very kind of derivatives trading (bets on bets) that got the Street into trouble, was drafted by Citigroup — whose recommended language was copied nearly word for word in 70 lines of the 85-line bill.

Where were House Democrats? Right behind it. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, Democrat of New York, a major recipient of the Street’s political largesse, co-sponsored it. Most of the Democrats on the Committee, also receiving generous donations from the big banks, voted for it. Rep. Jim Himes, another proponent of the bill and a former banker at Goldman Sachs, now leads the Democrat’s fund-raising effort in the House.

Bob Rubin — co-chair of Goldman before he joined the Clinton White House, and chair of Citigroup’s management committee after he left it — is still influential in the Party, and his protégés are all over the Obama administration. I like Bob personally but I battled his Street-centric views the whole time I served, and soon after I left the administration he persuaded Clinton to support a repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act.

Jack Lew, Obama’s current Treasury Secretary, was chief operating officer of Citigroup’s Alternative Investments unit, a proprietary trading group, from 2006 to 2008, before he joined the Obama administration. Peter Orszag, Obama’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget, left the Obama Administration to become Citigroup’s vice chairman of corporate and investment banking, and chairman of the financial strategy and solutions group.

All these men are honorable. None has broken any law. But they and their ilk in congress — the Democrats who are now rolling back Dodd-Frank — don’t seem to appreciate the extent to which Wall Street has harmed, and continues to harm, America.

It’s not entirely coincidental that the Obama administration never put tough conditions on banks receiving bailout money, never prosecuted a single top Wall Street executive for the excesses that led to the near meltdown, and still refuses to support a tiny tax on financial transactions that would bring in tens of billions of dollars as well as discourage program trading.

Democrats can’t be trusted to control Wall Street. If there were ever an issue ripe for a third party, the Street would be it.

ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers “Aftershock” and “The Work of Nations.” His latest is an e-book, “Beyond Outrage,” now available in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. Story Continued

·

Privacy advocates wary of push to mandate auto ‘black boxes’  –  The increasing computerization of cars allows them to capture and transmit data that can help improve highway and driver safety, federal officials said.

But the technology also raises privacy concerns about the ownership and unintended uses of that data, experts said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is seeking a law that would require automakers to install “black boxes” in every new car and light truck sold starting September 2014. But unbeknownst to their owners, many vehicles already carry event data recorders, or EDRs. The NHTSA estimates that about 96 percent of all 2013 vehicles have the devices.

The recorders, typically triggered by a crash or air bag deployment, can produce data generated shortly before and during a crash, including vehicle speed, whether the brake was used and whether the driver’s seat belt was buckled. The device records data from a variety of vehicle sensors and typically is attached to the floor.

“EDRs provide critical safety information that might not otherwise be available to the NHTSA to evaluate what happened during a crash — and what future steps could be taken to save lives and prevent injuries,” said David Strickland, the agency’s administrator, in a statement.

But privacy advocates say the technology is a new source of data collection on consumers.

For example, some auto insurance companies are offering on-board devices that monitor mileage data and other driver behavior, often in exchange for discounted insurance rates.

“It is going to be harder and harder for people to ever get off the grid. There are so many ways now that you can be monitored,” said Thaddeus Hoffmeister, a University of Dayton associate professor of law.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington D.C.-based public interest research group, has urged the NHTSA to adopt comprehensive privacy safeguards for vehicle owners and operators, including driver ownership of data, limitations on disclosure and better security for the data collected.

Thirteen states have passed laws that limit use of the recorders. Ohio is not among them.

The Dayton Daily News obtained a copy of the proposed law, which would require the recorders as mandatory equipment in vehicles that weigh less than 8,500 pounds. The proposal also includes standardized data collection requirements and mandates that automakers provide a commercially available tool for copying the data.

The law would make it possible to seek civil penalties for failure to provide an event data recorder or one that performs properly.

The cost per recorder is estimated to be $20 per vehicle, because the devices capture data that is already being processed by the vehicle. The estimated total costs associated with the proposal would be $26.4 million for technical improvements and other costs related to the 1.32 million vehicles that don’t currently have recorders.

The NHTSA said it would treat recorder data as the property of the vehicle owner and that it would not be used or accessed by the agency without owner consent.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said it does not object to the concept of requiring all light vehicles to be equipped with EDRs, but it “strongly opposes” a law to impose such a mandate. Most alliance members have voluntarily installed the recorders in their vehicles for many years, officials said.

Some automakers, including General Motors, have been installing car “black boxes” since the 1990s to help measure and improve the performance of vehicle safety equipment.

Electronic data recorder evidence has been accepted by courts in at least 19 states, as well as in federal court, in cases involving crash investigations, according to Harris Technical Services, a Florida-based crash reconstruction firm.

Progressive Insurance offers a voluntary, usage-based insurance program called Snapshot that collects driver data in exchange for an insurance discount. This month, Progressive surpassed more than 7 billion miles of driving data from the more than 1 million customers who have used Snapshot, said company spokeswoman Erin Vrobel.

Snapshot uses a small device that plugs into the vehicle’s on-board diagnostic port to collect data on how much the customer drives, the time of day they drive and how many times they brake hard. Progressive uses that information to calculate the customer’s rate, with an average annual savings of $150, Vrobel said.

“The device doesn’t have GPS, so we don’t know your location,” she said.

Travelers Insurance offers a similar program, IntelliDrive, in eight states. In the program, vehicle operation data is wirelessly transmitted to the company in exchange for a small discount. Travelers markets the voluntary program to the parents of teen drivers, who can track how, when and where their child drives, said Tony Hare, the company’s managing product director.

Customers can monitor their teen’s driving using a secure online dashboard. They also can receive email or text alerts when their teen drives outside of parameters set by parents, including speed, time of day or geographic boundaries. Unlike cars’ black boxes, the IntelliDrive device uses GPS technology, as well as an accelerometer to track acceleration and braking information.

Travelers maintains the data, but doesn’t use it for rating customers, Hare said.

“We use it at a high level for research purposes so that we can understand how vehicles are used,” he said. Story Continued

· The NRA Is Wrong: The Myth of Illegal Guns –  by Matthew Parker

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The NRA says gun control won’t work because illegal guns are so easy to get. But as a convicted felon, I know Adam Lanza never could have gotten an illegal firearm.

There is a prolific myth in the United States which asserts that illegal firearms are easily obtainable. Bolstered by pro-gun lobbyists like the NRA, we are led to believe that, in most cities in America, there is a shady character on a particular street corner who will sell a gun to anybody, no questions asked, and because of this, there is no reason to eliminate loopholes allowing legal sales of firearms to, well, shady characters.

I’m a convicted felon who lives in the Bronx. Despite the nonviolent nature of my crimes—my convictions range from counterfeiting to felony-shoplifting to possession of narcotics and drug paraphernalia—I cannot legally purchase a firearm. But given my somewhat shady past (not to mention the Bronx being the Bronx) I’m fairly certain that I could find a shady character close to home who will sell me a gun illegally—with three caveats: I’d risk being sent back to prison if caught, I would be putting my life in danger, and the price of weapons bought in such deals can be in excess of five times their retail cost. To put this in perspective, the assault weapon that Adam Lanza used to murder 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, last December, which has retail value of between $1,000 and $2,000, could cost between five and ten grand on the streets.

My point is that purchasing firearms illegally should be an ordeal, and that effective background checks would be the first step in making it so. But what’s also pertinent is that Lanza was not a shady character with a long criminal history, and so would have had no experience moving in illicit circles. Background checks may have forced him to do so—to risk being arrested, robbed, or even killed in some dark alley for the substantial sum he’d have needed in order to buy a gun illegally.

There is, of course, a legitimate argument that background checks would not have prevented the Newtown massacre. This is likely true, but it’s also equally true that Lanza would have been denied easy access to legal firearms if his mother, the purchaser and owner of the assault weapons he used (and the first one to be murdered by Lanza) had utilized trigger locks and/or a gun safe—prudent safety features that any good NRA member would wholeheartedly advocate.

Can any level-headed American honestly picture Adam Lanza gaining the confidence of hardened, street-level arms dealers?

But let’s suppose for a minute that she did, and that Lanza, after failing a background check, would have had to purchase his weapons from some inner-city shady character. Can any level-headed American honestly picture Adam Lanza, the spineless murderer of children, gaining the confidence of hardened, street-level arms dealers?

And let’s not stop there. What if Jared Loughner or James Holmes had to go out into the streets and risk their lives in order to obtain their weapons? Loughner killed six and injured 14 in Tucson, Arizona, in January of 2011, and Holmes is responsible for murdering 12 and wounding 58 in Aurora, Colorado in July of last year. It would have been an ordeal for them to buy illegal weapons simply because, like Lanza, they were not immersed in lawlessness.

When pro-gun lobbyists insist that it’s relatively easy for criminals to obtain firearms illegally they have the luxury of categorizing Lanza, Loughner, and Holmes as criminals because it is after the fact of their crimes. But if you examine the scenario before the fact it’s plain to see that you’re dealing with sick individuals whose criminal proclivities existed solely in their minds. Their first step in becoming criminals was getting their hands on guns and ammunition. Holmes and Loughner, in particular, were able to buy their weapons legally, passing the nominal background checks that currently exist with ease. So the question remains: How do we mold an effective law that would flag psychotics attempting to buy guns?

Every inmate admitted into the Arizona Department of Corrections is required to take a mandatory psych test. I took it on four separate occasions, one for each time I was sentenced to an Arizona State prison. The test runs about two hours, and was quite proficient at identifying the mentally disturbed—especially those prone to violence. Incoming inmates who failed this test were automatically removed from general population and redirected for further psychological evaluation.

This simple test should be mandatory for any individual who wishes to purchase a firearm.

Which brings us back to the original question: How easy would it have been for Lanza, Loughner, and Holmes to have purchased their weapons illegally? In response I challenge any pro-gun lobbyist and/or pundit to pocket a few thousand dollars and head out alone into the streets of any major city, find a shady character, and purchase a firearm illegally in the same manner that a psychotic and/or criminal would have to do if we had effective background checks in place.

But all this is, of course, academic, since a watery background-check bill was recently defeated by the Senate, leaving me to wonder if there aren’t a lot more shady characters out there than we are led to believe. Story Continued

– I have a difficulty understanding why Matthew Parker makes the claims he does. Recently I met some drug users that have felony convictions on their records that have weapons. They all think that they can get rid of the weapons if the police stop them thus preventing the curse of having a weapon and being convicted of another felony. Granted those drug users are in Texas and all Texans feel they should have a handgun in them at all times for self-protection. PdC

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What’s Up May 24, 2013?

· Sen. Ted Cruz: ‘I don’t trust Republicans’ 

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Wednesday that he doesn’t trust members of his own party to negotiate a budget conference report.

Cruz’s remark came after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he thought it was “bizarre” that a member of his own party was objecting to forming a conference committee with the House to work out a budget.

McCain said the objections suggested Senate Republicans didn’t trust House Republicans to hold the party line in negotiations.

“Isn’t it a little bizarre, this whole exercise?” McCain said after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) objected to going to conference. “What we’re saying is that we don’t trust our colleagues on the other side of the Capitol.”

Cruz responded that he doesn’t trust Republicans.

“The senior senator of Arizona urged senators to trust House Republicans … and frankly, I don’t trust Republicans,” Cruz said. “It’s the leaders of both parties that got us in this mess. … A lot of Republicans were complicit in this spending spree.” Story Continued and to watch the video

REPORT: DOJ SEIZED RECORDS OF FIVE FOX NEWS PHONE NUMBERS

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The Obama Justice Department has seized the phone records of numbers that are associated with White House staffers and, apparently, with Fox News reporters, according to a document filed in the case of Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, on October 13, 2011. Kim is a former State Department contractor accused of violating the Espionage Act for allegedly leaking classified information to James Rosen, a Fox News reporter. Ronald C. Machen, Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, who is prosecuting the case, has seized records associated with two phone numbers at the White House, at least five numbers associated with Fox News, and one that has the same area code and exchange as Rosen’s personal-cell-phone number (the last four numbers are redacted).

In all, Machen has seized records associated with over thirty different phone numbers. In the filing that included the new information, the last four digits of each telephone line targeted by the Obama Administration are redacted. Two of the numbers begin with area code 202 and the exchange 456, which, according to current and former Administration officials, are used exclusively by the White House. (The phone number for the White House switchboard is (202) 456-1414.)

At least five other numbers targeted by the government include the area code 202 and the exchange 824. The phone number for the Fox News Washington bureau, which is publicly available, is (202) 824-0001. Rosen’s work phone number at Fox News begins with the same area code and exchange.

William Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney, told The New Yorker this afternoon, “Because that information is sealed, I can’t confirm the owner or subscriber for any of those records.” Asked if the phone numbers of any reporters had been targeted in the Kim investigation, Miller said he could not comment.

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that, as part of the investigation of the Kim leak, Obama’s Department of Justice seized e-mails from Rosen’s personal Gmail account. In the search warrant for that request, the government described Rosen as “an aider, and abettor, and / or co-conspirator” in violating the Espionage Act, noting that the crime can be punished by ten years in prison. Rosen was not indicted in the case, but the suggestion in a government document that a reporter could be guilty of espionage for engaging in routine reporting is unprecedented and has alarmed many journalists and civil libertarians.

The document uncovered today suggests the government seized “call detail” records from Rosen’s work and cell phones, which would show whom he called, who called him, how long they spoke, and the times of the calls. The document suggests that the government was seeking only the subscriber records for the two White House numbers targeted, information that a government source said would include the name of the official who used the specific line.

Because the last four digits of each phone number are redacted in the government filing, it is impossible to determine who exactly was targeted by the Justice Department.

Here is the full list of the phone numbers included in the filing, which lists evidence that the prosecution was sharing with the defense:

(202) 506 (Comcast)

(202) 777 (ATT)

(212) 601 (ATT) (According to NewsCorp, the main number for the Fox Business Channel is (212) 601-7000.)

(202) 549 (ATT Wireless) (Rosen’s cell phone begins with these digits.)

(202) 615 (ATT)

(202) 213 (ATT Wireless)

(202) 213 (TracFone)

(202) 824 (The main number for Fox News’s Washington bureau is (202) 824-0001 and Rosen’s work line starts with these six digits.)

(202) 861 (Verizon) (Time uses this area code and exchange, but so do other unrelated entities.)

(202) 883 (Verizon)

(202) 293 (Verizon)

(202) 728 (Verizon)

(202) 456 (Verizon) (The White House uses this area code and exchange.)

(202) 547 (Verizon)

(202) 647 (Verizon) (The State Department uses this area code and exchange.)

(718) 720 (Verizon)

(703) 979 (Verizon)

(202) 628 (Verizon)

(202) 577 (Verizon wireless)

(202) 329 (Verizon wireless)

703-472 (Verizon wireless)

(202) 577

(703) 342

(703) 883

(304) 558 (Frontier Communications)

(212) 301 (Verizon)

(202) 628 (ATT)

(917) 562 (ATT)

As of May, the government has handed over sixteen thousand two hundred and eighty-six pages of unclassified documents and three thousand two hundred and three pages of classified documents to the defense in the Kim case. Because many of the filings are under seal, it is not possible to determine what other information was collected in the leak investigation.

But e-mail and phone records were not the only information collected about journalists. According to another document in the case, “the United States has also produced a CD containing voluminous [Department of State] badge records for media personnel for the period March 1, 2009, through September 30, 2009.”

Rosen declined to comment on the case. Asked if the phone numbers of any reporters had been targeted in the Kim investigation, a spokesperson for Fox News said they were not familiar with the new information regarding Fox’s phone records and directed The New Yorker to a statement released yesterday by Michael Clemente, the executive vice-president for News at the cable channel: “We are outraged to learn today that James Rosen was named a criminal co-conspirator for simply doing his job as a reporter. In fact, it is downright chilling. We will unequivocally defend his right to operate as a member of what up until now has always been a free press.” Story Continued

· U.S. ATTORNEY INVESTIGATING FOX NEWS DONATED TO OBAMA

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The US Attorney for the District of Columbia, Ronald C. Machen – the man responsible for the aggressive surveillance and phone record scrutiny at Fox News – is also a big donor to the Obama Campaigns. At the time of his appointment, the Washington Post wrote a profile on Machen including this tidbit:

Over the years, he has donated $4,350 to Obama’s campaigns. He gave $250 to Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign in 2003, a year before Obama, then an Illinois state senator, emerged on the nation’s political radar, according to campaign finance records.

Furthermore, in June of 2012, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) questioned Attorney General Eric Holder about the appointment of Mr. Machen to head-up the leaks investigation. During the questioning Sen. Cornyn revealed that not only was Machen a donor to the Obama campaign, he was also a volunteer for Obama for America. Cornyn called into question whether he could conduct the leaks investigation in a fair and non-partisan way. Story Continued

Why does this surprise the National Media? This has been happening since time began in the political world. They trade favors and donate money hoping to gain favors and a decent jobs to get back at the other side. What else is new: prostitution? PdC

· Holder OK’d search warrant for Fox News reporter’s private emails, official says

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Attorney General Eric Holder signed off on a controversial search warrant that identified Fox News reporter James Rosen as a “possible co-conspirator” in violations of the Espionage Act and authorized seizure of his private emails, a law enforcement official told NBC News on Thursday.

The disclosure of the attorney general’s role came as President Barack Obama, in a major speech on his counterterrorism policy, said Holder had agreed to review Justice Department guidelines governing investigations that involve journalists.

“I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable,” Obama said. “Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs.”

Rosen, who has not been charged in the case, was nonetheless the target of a search warrant that enabled Justice Department investigators to secretly seized his private emails after an FBI agent said he had “asked, solicited and encouraged … (a source) to disclose sensitive United States internal documents and intelligence information.”

Obama’s comments follow a firestorm of criticism that has erupted over disclosures that in separate investigations of leaks of classified information, the Justice Department had secretly seized private emails that Rosen exchanged with a source and the phone records of Associated Press reporters.

A Justice Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The law enforcement official said Holder’s approval of the Rosen search, in the spring of 2010, came after senior Justice officials concluded there was “probable cause” that Rosen’s communications with his source, identified as intelligence analyst Stephen Kim, met the legal burden for such searches. “It was approved at the highest levels– and I mean the highest,” said the law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said that explicitly included Holder.

Kim has since been indicted on charges that he leaked classified information to Rosen about how North Korea would respond to a United Nations resolution condemning the country’s nuclear program. He has denied the charges.

In an affidavit in support of a search warrant to Google for Rosen’s emails, an FBI agent wrote that the Fox News journalist — identified only as “the Reporter” — had “asked, solicited and encouraged Mr. Kim to disclose sensitive United States internal documents and intelligence information.”

“The Reporter did so by employing flattery and playing to Mr. Kim’s vanity and ego,” it continued. “Much like an intelligence officer would run a clandestine intelligence source, the Reporter instructed Mr. Kim on a covert communications plan that involved” emails from his Gmail account.

The affidavit states that FBI agents had tracked Rosen’s entrances and exits of the State Department in order to show that they had coincided with Kim’s movements. Based on that and other findings, the affidavit by FBI Agent Reginald B. Reyes, stated, “There is probable cause to believe that the Reporter has committed a violation” of the Espionage Act “at the very least, either as an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator of Mr. Kim.”

It also said that Google was specifically instructed not to notify “the subscriber” — Rosen — that his emails were being seized.

In new documents disclosed Thursday, the Justice Department sought and obtained approval to keep the search warrant, which was approved by a federal magistrate, under seal. It was unsealed in November 2011, but never made a part of the docket of Kim’s case and went unnoticed until this week.

Justice officials have since said they do not intend to criminally charge Rosen, but media groups have condemned the issuance of the search warrant itself.

“The Justice Department’s decision to treat routine newsgathering efforts as evidence of criminality is extremely troubling and corrodes time-honored understandings between the public and the government about the role of the free press,” said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

In his speech Thursday, Obama reiterated his determination to pursue leak investigations. “We must enforce consequences for those who break the law and breach their commitment to protect classified information,” he said.

But, he said, “Our focus must be on those who break the law,” not journalists. He said he was calling on Congress to pass a media shield law and had raised the issue with Holder, “who shares my concern.”

As part of the Justice Department review of guidelines, the president said, Holder will convene a group of media organizations to hear their views and “report back to me by July 12th.” Story Continued

· Obama Orders DOJ Review of Leak Investigations

President Obama is a little uneasy with the way journalists have been dragged into the Justice Department’s aggressive pursuit of national security leak investigations. In fact, he has ordered Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct a 45-day review of the department’s guidelines on the issue.

That bit of news was buried in the middle of the president’s hour long speech today at National Defense University.

“Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs,” President Obama said. “Our focus must be on those who break the law.”

And then the news: “I have raised these issues with the attorney general, who shares my concern. So he has agreed to review existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters, and will convene a group of media organizations to hear their concerns as part of that review. And I have directed the attorney general to report back to me by July 12th.” Story Continued

· Boy Scouts vote to lift ban on gay youth

GRAPEVINE, Texas — The Boy Scouts of America voted on Thursday to end its controversial policy banning gay kids and teens from joining one of the nation’s most popular youth organizations, ditching membership guidelines that had roiled the group in recent years.

Over 60 percent of The National Council of 1,400 delegates from Scouting across the country voted to lift the ban, BSA officials said. The ban on gay leaders was not voted on, and will remain in place.

“Today, following this review, the most comprehensive listening exercise in Scouting’s history the approximate 1,400 voting members of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Council approved a resolution to remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone,” the BSA said in a statement following the vote.

“The resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting. A change to the current membership policy for adult leaders was not under consideration; thus, the policy for adults remains in place. The BSA thanks all the national voting members who participated in this process and vote.”

The policy change will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, “allowing the Boy Scouts of America the transition time needed to communicate and implement this policy to its approximately 116,000 Scouting units,” the BSA said.

But the outcome of the historic ballot is not going to end the debate: Some opponents on the right said they would pull their sponsorships of packs and troops, and parents threatened to take their boys out of Scouting; LGBT activists said the policy change doesn’t go far enough because gay adults still wouldn’t be allowed to participate.

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Terri Hall, left, of San Antonio, Texas, stands with her son Nathaniel Hall, 8, as they rally near where the Boy Scouts of America are holding their annual meeting.

Still, Zach Wahls of Scouts for Equality said this is a step in the right direction.

“Scouts for Equality is honored to be a part of the movement that has achieved a tremendous victory towards the fight for equality in America and we are proud to call ourselves Scouts. We look forward to the day where we can celebrate inclusion of all members,” he said.

Added GLAAD spokesperson Rich Ferraro, “The Boy Scouts of America heard from religious leaders, corporate sponsors and so many Scouting families who want an end to discrimination against gay people, and GLAAD will continue this work with those committed to equality in Scouting until gay parents and adults are able to participate.”

The ban on gay Scouts has been the subject of much soul-searching in the century-old organization – from local troops and councils to online petitions to national board meetings. The dispute was even heard by the Supreme Court, which said 13 years ago that as a private membership organization, the BSA was free to decide who it would admit.

Last summer, the Boy Scouts reaffirmed their anti-gay policy after a two-year examination by a committee. Since then, some local chapters had been pushing for reconsideration.

More than 70 percent of Boy Scout units are sponsored by religious groups, and this compromise proposal has split them. One of the Southern Baptist Church leaders, Dr. Frank Page, last week implored the Boy Scouts not to change the policy. But The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints – the BSA’s biggest charter partner – had given tacit endorsement to the plan.

BSA President Wayne Perry said the vote came after an “extensive,” “exhaustive,” and respectful” dialogue among the members of the organization.

“It’s a very difficult decision, but we are moving forward together,” he said. “Our vision is to serve every kid.”

The stakes are huge for the BSA, which boasts nearly 3 million youth participants.

“This has been a challenging chapter in our history,” said Wayne Brock, the BSA’s Chief Scout Executive. “Our goal through all of this was to put the kids first.”

Rusty Tisdale, assistant Scoutmaster for a troop in Ellisville, Miss., hopes there is a local option that would allow the decision on gay members to be made at the troop level. Otherwise, he will pull his kids.

“I’m not happy as a parent,” Tisdale emailed to NBC News. “The gay activist isn’t happy and will not be until homosexuals can be leaders, etc. So there will be more pressure, and more fighting, And more acquiescence. No thanks.”

“There are other activities for my kids to do,” he added. “There are other organizations that I can support with my time and money.”

John Stemberger, from Orlando, Fla., has two sons in the Boy Scouts. He started a group opposing the change called “On My Honor.” After the decision was announced, he said he and his sons — who have yet to reach Eagle Scout — were leaving the Boy Scouts.

“Sex and politics just have no place in the Boy Scouts of America,” Stemberger said. “The entire process was disappointing.”

David Metcalf, 55, and his son Sean Metcalf, a 13-year-old Star Scout with Troop 226, from nearby McKinney, Texas, came to Grapevine to hear the results of the vote. The troop is chartered by Peach, a Christian homeschool organization.

“We’re very disappointed,” he said. “I will compare it to a funeral.”

Sean, wearing his Boy Scouts uniform, said he didn’t know if he could continue being a Scout.

“I hope I can continue,” he said. “It depends if my parents feel safe to let me stay.” Story Continued

· Bridge collapse that sent cars and drivers plunging into river was caused by a truck hitting the overhead bar as three victims escape alive

A bridge collapse that sent cars and drivers plunging into the Skagit River in Washington State was caused by an over-sized truck that collided with the span of structure, authorities have said.

‘For reasons unknown at this point in time the semi struck the overhead of the bridge causing the collapse,’ State Patrol Chief John Batiste revealed at an overnight news conference.

The truck made it off the bridge and the driver remained at the scene and cooperated with investigators, he added.

Three passengers were pulled alive from their vehicles after they plunged tens of feet into the water below at around 7pm on Thursday. Even more were pulled from the debris, but rescuers said no one died in the dramatic accident and all victims have been accounted for.

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As the rescue operation remains underway, it was revealed that the bridge was previously recognized by state authorities as being ‘functionally obsolete’ as a result of certain structural changes that required attention.

The I-5 runs through the state, crossing the Skagit River at a number of different points, but the bridge where the collapse happened was between Burlington and Mount Vernon.

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Both the north and southbound lanes of the bridge fell into the water, and as such both directions of the highway have been closed in the area.

There were early eyewitness reports that people watching were screaming that a man was stuck inside his truck that fell in the water during the collapse.

Jeremiah Thomas, a volunteer firefighter, said he was driving in the area when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye.

‘The bridge just went down, it crashed through the water,’ he said. ‘It was really surreal.’

At least two vehicles – a car and the pickup with a trailer attached – fell into the river, officials said.

Vehicles in the water, which is about 15 ft. deep at the point of the incident, could be seen bobbing on the surface and were likely resting on collapsed portions of the bridge.

Dan Sligh and his wife were in their pickup truck on Interstate 5 heading to a camping trip when a bridge before them disappeared in a ‘big puff of dust’, he said.

‘I hit the brakes and we went off,’ Sligh said from hospital, adding he ‘saw the water approaching … you hold on as tight as you can.’

Desperate search: Eyewitnesses said that they could hear a man screaming from one of the trucks that fell in the water

Sligh, who was dumped into the chilly waters with his wife and another man in a different vehicle, dislocated his shoulder in the plunge. He managed to pop it back in to place before calling out to his wife, who he described as being in shock.

The three victims were taken to Skagit Valley Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. The other man was reported in stable condition at United General Hospital in Sedro-Woolley, hospital CEO Greg Reed said.

Officials were quick to note that it would not be a massive accident, as highway trooper Mark Francis told local station King 5 News that because the bridge is in a relatively rural area, he does not expect mass casualties.

The bridge, which was built in 1955, was inspected twice last year and repairs were made, Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson said.

‘It’s an older bridge that needs a lot of work just like a good number of bridges around the state,’ she said.

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Location: The bridge itself is in a rather remote area between the towns of Burlington and Mount Vernon but the interstate itself is a major thoroughfare that connects Seattle to Canada

Officials are now working on plans for either a temporary or permanent replacement, she said.

According to a blog that monitors transportation reports, the 2010 inspection called for an estimated $1,035,000 in repairs to bring the bridge and its connection to the surrounding riverbank up to satisfactory levels.

The bridge was not classified as structurally deficient, but the Federal Highway Administration listed it as being ‘functionally obsolete’ – meaning the design is outdated, such as having low clearance.

The bridge has a sufficiency rating of 57.4 out of 100, according to federal records, which is well below the statewide average rating of 80, according to an Associated Press analysis. Story Continued

· Who Says Women Aren’t Sexist?

Sari had been working in book publishing for a long time. And she was the first to admit: She preferred to work with women. In her experience, women were far superior to men as editors. They were better suited to collaborating with writers. They were more patient, more nurturing. “Women can coax far better material from writers than men,” Sari told me plainly. “It’s just a fact.” She believed it to her core.

Which is why by the time Sari ascended to the position of editorial director of a large publishing group, the majority of her hires were women. And in cases where she did hire a man, or perhaps inherited one, she admitted she was harder on him than she ever would be with her female employees, questioning his decisions or micromanaging him until she felt he’d adequately proven himself. “I have this feeling, this belief, that since male editors are often so arrogant, their own egos clash with the writer’s and prevent great material from happening,” she told me. “And I can’t have that happening with any of my projects. So I end up pushing and pushing and keeping constant tabs, jumping all over a guy for even the tiniest misstep. It’s exhausting, but that way, I can avoid one mistake from turning into many.”

When I suggested to Sari that she was behaving in a pretty obviously sexist manner, she was shocked. In her mind, she was simply reacting to facts and patterns she’d seen over her long career. “Sexist?” she asked. “It’s not like I’m asking them to move furniture while the women sit around painting their nails. They’re men — they’re not babies. They should be able to put up with some strong direction.” And that, of course, was exactly my point: By banking on the fact that men should be “tough enough” to handle her criticism and demands, she was piling on them her own bias. She was treating them not as individuals but as a collective group defined exclusively by their gender. Reverse the roles — imagine Sari as a man and her “problem” employees as women — and it’s easy to see how Sari’s prejudicial treatment was influenced by gender in a way that made it difficult for the men who worked for her, more than the women, to please her, and ultimately to succeed.

We don’t tend to think of women as sexist, largely because historically, sexism has been something perpetrated by men towards women. But sexism refers simply to unequal treatment in relation to a person’s gender. It often involves a power dynamic — common in the workplace — and can happen to, and be inflicted by, anyone. Many feminists have rejected the notion that women can be sexist towards men because women lack the institutional power than men have. Except we know that’s changing, most notably at work, as more females rise to management positions, a trend that will only continue to grow, since women now comprise the majority of college and graduate students nationwide.

The rise of females in power positions may be one reason that more and more men are reporting having experienced discrimination at work — even more so than women. A 2006 study commissioned by staffing agency Kelly Services found that nearly 35 percent of men said they believed they had experienced discrimination over the past five years at work compared with 33.3 percent of women. Of course, like Sari, many women may be surprised to find that they can, in fact, be sexist, or that the “preferences” they hold in the workplace may actually be dangerously prejudicial. In many cases, such sexism is what researchers have dubbed “benevolent sexism,” a less overt form of sexism that often plays on stereotypes such as the idea that men should always open doors, or that women are more nurturing and kinder than men. They are comments or attitudes that are seemingly positive — such as, a man can surely handle criticism — but serve to cause feelings of unease, or lead to unequal treatment. And, according to study conducted at the University of Florida, such sexism is practiced by men and women in equal measure.

Tracy, a regional manager for a large department store chain, would not have said that she believed women were inherently more talented salespeople than men. But she often managed her employees according to that notion, assigning men to easier shifts, which often had them working during the day — and earning less commission than their female counterparts — or holding extra trainings exclusively for male sales staff on topics like “What to Wear to Work” and “How to Talk to Women.” At the same time, Tracy did acknowledge that she tended to favor her female employees — especially single mothers who were working to support a family. “Giving the women the better shifts felt like female solidarity, like I was performing a necessary duty,” she said. “Women so often get a raw deal, I figured what’s the harm in doing my part to advance the female movement?”

Except, of course that idea is sexist, too — that women need help. Tracy’s intentions were good, of course, but the result was still the same: She was using her position of power to keep one gender down and/ or lift the other up. But speaking up, lobbying, or otherwise going above and beyond for a woman, when you might not have done the same for a man, is a subtle way of reinforcing the idea that women need to be spoken up, lobbied, and gone above and beyond for. It’s not taking them seriously.

Practicing a non-sexist work environment means treating people equally regardless of gender. Ultimately, Sari realized that much of her attitude towards male editors was an outcome of her own struggle to succeed — something she always assumed was harder because she was a woman. Likely she wasn’t wrong, but the answer isn’t to pay the sexism forward. “I maybe had a bit of a chip on my shoulder,” she said later. “I had to prove myself coming up as an editor, and now that I was in charge, I wanted men to know what that was like.” Given that so much sexism is benevolent, or unintentional, ending the cycle means paying attention, and recognizing that sexism is sexism and, in any form, is damaging to the idea of gender equity. It’s also about recognizing that the best workplaces are built on the ideals of hard work, talent, and dedication — three qualities that know no gender. Story Continued

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What’s Up May 22, 2013?

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· After IRS, Benghazi scandals, public trust shifts to GOP

The Democratic Party’s edge over the GOP on who the public trusts more on ethics and corruption issues has flipped in the wake of the IRS and Benghazi scandals, according to Rasmussen Reports.

Not only do voters trust Republicans more now, they have their highest level of confidence in the GOP and the lowest level in Democrats in seven months.

While the Democrats had an eight-point “trust advantage” over Republicans a month ago, Rasmussen’s latest poll said that edge has disappeared and now the GOP has a two-point advantage.

“With growing questions about Benghazi and actions taken by the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department, Democrats’ noticeable edge over Republicans in voter trust in the area of government ethics and corruption has disappeared,” said Rasmussen.

In their latest poll, 39 percent of likely voters trust Republicans more to handle the ethics and corruption issue. Slightly less, 37 percent, still trust Democrats and 24 percent are unsure.

But, said Rasmussen, “this marks a big shift from March when Democrats held an eight-point trust advantage over the GOP – 42 percent to 34 percent. Now the president’s party trails by two. The newest finding is the highest level of confidence in Republicans and the lowest level for Democrats since October. It’s also the smallest gap between the two parties in nearly a year.” Story Continued

· FBI ID’S BENGHAZI SUSPECTS _ BUT NO ARRESTS YET

U.S. officials say they have identified five men they believe might be behind the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year. The officials say they have enough evidence to justify seizing them by military force as suspected terrorists _ but not enough proof to try them in a U.S. civilian court as the Obama administration prefers.

So the officials say the men remain at large while the FBI gathers more evidence. The decision not to seize the men militarily underscores the White House’s aim to move away from hunting terrorists as enemy combatants and toward trying them as criminals in a civilian justice system.

The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss sensitive briefings publicly. Story Continued

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·

Half Of America Wants To Impeach Obama, According To Impeachable Polling Outfit

Big news this week from WorldNetDaily, America’s pre-eminent source of far-right fringe theories and weird scams: about half of America would like to see Obama impeached, including a lot of Democrats. Yeah, sure, you may have heard that Obama’s overall approval ratings have held steady after this past week of scandal reporting, but look between the lines, dude. Un-skew the numbers, man!

Per WND: “It may be early in the process for members of Congress to start planning for impeachment of Barack Obama, but the American public is building a serious appetite for it,” said Fritz Wenzel, of Wenzel Strategies, which did the telephone poll Thursday. It has a margin of error of 4.36 percent.

“Half or nearly half of those surveyed said they believed Obama should be impeached for the trifecta of scandals now consuming Washington.”

Actually, on the issue of the Benghazi scandal, where four Americans were killed when in what may have been a politically motivated series of moves, a surging danger to Americans at the Foreign Service facility there was ignored until al-Qaida-linked terrorists attacked, 50.1 percent of Americans said Obama should be impeached. That included 27.6 percent of the responding Democrats.

Similar numbers are reported using the ongoing IRS inquiry and the Department of Justice’s seizure of phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors.

Of course, the wording of the poll questions could be described as “leading,” if we’re being really, really charitable. Here’s one: “The administration of Democrat Barack Obama has still not satisfied congressional and media questions about just what it knew and when it knew it about the terrorist attack on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, last September 11. That attack killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya. The Obama administration has changed its explanation of that attack several times since and has so far refused to identify those officials who made key decisions not to send help to stop the attacks, and who decided not to initially call the killings a terrorist attack. Knowing that and anything else you may be aware of about this issue, do you agree or disagree that President Obama should be impeached over his handling of this situation?”

Back in February, HuffPost Pollster’s Emily Swanson dove deeply into the way poll respondents frequently use the idea of “impeachment” as a catch-all way of expressing disapproval, and found that “simply asking whether people support or oppose it may produce results that overstate their support.” Using three different methodologies, Swanson demonstrated that depending on how the question is asked, support for impeachment varies considerably.

But more importantly, how reliable is Wenzel Strategies? That’s like asking, “How reliable are these six meth-tweakers I found in a mud hole, handed a pile of tin cans and a calculator, and told that they were now a polling organization?” But don’t take my word for it, let’s go to the scoreboard: Story Continued

· Sharyl Attkisson’s computers compromised

Sharyl Attkisson, the Emmy-award winning CBS News investigative reporter, says that her personal and work computers have been compromised and are under investigation.

“I can confirm that an intrusion of my computers has been under some investigation on my end for some months but I’m not prepared to make an allegation against a specific entity today as I’ve been patient and methodical about this matter,” Attkisson told POLITICO on Tuesday. “I need to check with my attorney and CBS to get their recommendations on info we make public.”

In an earlier interview with WPHT Philadelphia, Attkisson said that though she did not know the full details of the intrusion, “there could be some relationship between these things and what’s happened to James [Rosen],” the Fox News reporter who became the subject of a Justice Dept. investigation after reporting on CIA intelligence about North Korea in 2009.

On Sunday, The Washington Post reported that the Justice Dept. had searched Rosen’s personal e-mails and tracked his visits to the State Dept. The court affidavit described Rosen as “at the very least, either as an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator” of his government source, presumably because he had solicited classified information from that source — an argument that has been heavily criticized by other journalists.

Attkisson told WPHT that irregular activity on her computer was first identified in Feb. 2011, when she was reporting on the Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal and on the Obama administration’s green energy spending, which she said “the administration was very sensitive about.” Attkisson has also been a persistent investigator of the events surrounding last year’s attack in Benghazi, and its aftermath. Story Continued

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· IRS tea-party bloodbath continues in Congress, as evidence emerges that IRS’s own internal probe ended in May 2012, six months before election, but was hidden from legislators

Tempers flared in a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Wednesday, with members on both sides of the aisle castigating the Internal Revenue Service for targeting conservative groups with special scrutiny, and then hiding the practice from Congress.

Rep. Darrel Issa, the committee’s chairman, said that the committee learned just yesterday that the IRS completed its own investigation a year before a Treasury Department Inspector General report was completed.

But despite the IRS recognizing in May 2012 that its employees were treating right-wing groups differently from other organizations, Issa said, IRS personnel withheld those conclusions from legislators.

‘Just yesterday the committee interviewed Holly Paz, the director of exempt organizations, rulings and agreements, division of the IRS,’ Issa said. ‘While a tremendous amount of attention is centered about the Inspector General’s report, or investigation, the committee has learned from Ms. Paz that she in fact participated in an IRS internal investigation that concluded in May of 2012 – May 3 of 2012 – and found essentially the same thing that Mr. George found more than a year later.’

‘Think about it,’ he continued: ‘For more than a year, the IRS knew that it had inappropriately targeted groups of Americans based on their political beliefs, and without mentioning it, and in fact without honestly answering questions that were the result of this internal investigation.’

Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin testified that he was unaware of that IRS investigation until he read other officials prepared testimony just a few days ago.

Documents: IRS letters harassing conservative groups came from Washington, DC headquarters and from California offices, despite Inspector General’s focus on Cincinnati employees

Lois Lerner, the Director of Exempt Organizations at the IRS, made a brief opening statement recounting the recent history of the agency’s scandal. Her attorney told the committee on Tuesday in a letter that she would refuse to answer questions by invoking her protections under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

‘I have not done anything wrong,’ she said. ‘I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations and I have not provided false information to this or any other committee.’

Christina King (L) and Lynne Sherrer (C) hold signs during a tea party demonstration against the IRS on Tuesday in West Palm Beach, Florida. Tea party groups were targeted for special vetting by the tax agency for several years.

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Lois Lerner asserted her Fifth Amendment privilege while giving an opening statement defending herself, bringing one committee member to claim she could no longer assert it at all

Lois Lerner: ‘I have not done anything wrong’

Issa dismissed Lerner from the hearing, over objections from South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, who insisted that she should be forced to answer questions since she had ‘waived her right’ to refuse ‘by issuing an opening statement.’

‘She ought to stay and answer questions,’ Gowdy said, to sudden applause from some in the audience gallery.

Issa then kept Lerner in the hearing room, asking her if she would answer any questions at all.

‘I will not answer any questions or testify today,’ she replied.

Issa then asked if she would answer questions about her previous testimony before Congress.

‘i decline to answer that question, for reasons I have already given.’

Lerner was dismissed a second time and left the hearing room with her lawyer, but not before Issa cautioned that she could be recalled and forced to testify in the future if committee attorneys determined that she had forfeited her Fifth Amendment rights by making an opening statement.

It’s unclear if Lerner will be forced to testify at a later date. One Republican said she should be required to face cross-examination as though she were in federal court

Protesters in Washington, DC on Tuesday carried hand-made signs with political messages, including one that wouldn’t be family friendly if it were spelled out

One top Democrat breathed fire, warning that prosecutions could result.

Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch said that if witnesses stonewalled the committee there would be legal consequences.

‘If you refuse to answer,’ Lynch said, ‘you will leave us no choice but to ask for a special counsel or the appointment of a special prosecutor to get to the bottom of this.’

‘I hope that’s not the approach of the IRS going forward, ‘he added. ‘Because there will be hell to pay.’

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee member Rep. Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat, threatened to call for a special prosecutor if IRS officials stonewalled Congress

Lynch later castigated Douglas Shulman, the former IRS Commissioner who ran the agency while its abuses were going on, for failing to tell Congress the truth about what his agency had already concluded in the investigation that ended in May 2012.

Shulman testified in March 2012, two months earlier that there was ‘absolutely’ no special targeting of conservative groups going on.

‘At no time, to the best of my memory, was I ever given the impression that these [IRS employees] were only [looking closely] at conservative groups’ Shulman told Lynch on Wednesday.

‘You misled Congress. Make no question about it,” Lynch snapped back.

‘You did nothing. You abdicated your responsibility.’

One protester in Washington wore a ‘FREE HEALTHCARE’ t-shirt with plenty of sarcastic fine print on Tuesday. The IRS’s involvement with implementing President Obama’s Affordable Care Act has been a key rallying cry in tea party groups’ criticism of the IRS

Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, linked the tea party scandal with the implementation of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

‘This administration, this agency, the very agency charged with enforcing Obamacare,’ Jordan said in an opening statement, ‘systematically targeted groups that came into existence because they opposed Obamacare – and they started the targeting the very month, March 2010, that Obamacare came into law – expects us to believe it is the work of ‘two rogue agents.’

The Obama administration, Jordan reminded those in the hearing room, also ‘told us and told the American people that the attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi was the work – was caused by a video.

‘The people don’t buy it,’ he said. ‘The American people get it. They just want this administration to give them the truth. And that’s why this hearing is so important.’

The great escape: Lerner leaves the Oversight Committee hearing room as members sparred over whether she could read an opening statement and then refuse to testify. The committee is investigating allegations that the IRS targeted conservative non-profit organizations for special scrutiny

Committee member Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, said Lois Lerner shouldn’t be allowed to assert her Fifth Amendment protection, since she had already defended herself in an opening statement

Wolin also disclosed that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew got a heads-up in March – a month before White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler – that an Inspector General report would soon be issued. That notification, he said, came from the Inspector General himself.

‘On March 15, 2013, Mr. George had a short introductory meeting with Secretary Lew,’ Wolin’s prepared remarks read.

‘At that meeting, Mr. George informed Secretary Lew of a number of matters TIGTA [the Inspector General office] was reviewing. He also indicated that this audit report would be forthcoming. Mr. George did not describe any details of his audit findings. This was also in line with standard practice.’

Lerner told the committee she has ‘done nothing wrong,’ and then invoked her constitutional right to not answer lawmakers’ questions

Florida Republican Rep. John Mica explained in his remarks why the IRS scandal may have overtaken the other two public-perception challenges that the Obama administration faces, whose being the 2012 Benghazi terror attack and the Justice Department’s spying on reporters.

His tax-paying constituents, Mica said, find that it resonates especially well with them.

‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen any investigation or review by this committee or subject that has so riveted and shocked the American people,’ Mica said.

‘I went home last weekend and almost to a person everyone asked me about this.’ Story Continued and to watch the video

· The Insiders: A special prosecutor in the IRS matter is inevitable

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This administration’s management of the Obama Internal Revenue Service scandal so far consists of a slow-walking, rolling disclosure of facts; equal parts equivocation, amnesia and indignation from IRS witnesses; deer-in-the-headlights non-responses by the White House press secretary; parsed, lawyerly statements from the president himself; and now one of the central key players is taking the Fifth. And all this comes from what the president claimed would be the “most transparent administration ever…”

If we give the president the benefit of the doubt and assume he knows the truth is going to come out, the question remains: Does the administration appoint the special prosecutor sooner or later? The calculus inside the White House is how to best protect the president’s political interests. They have two options. They could delay the appointment and let more of the story develop, weather the ugly piecemeal disclosures, give the players time to get their stories straight and lawyer-up and hope Republicans continue their overreach, giving the whole affair a nutty partisan patina. Or, they could accelerate the appointment of a special prosecutor, thereby slowing the congressional inquiries and giving Jay Carney some relief from his daily embarrassing routine by supplying him with the escape hatch of not being allowed to comment on matters associated with the special prosecutor’s ongoing investigation. Not to mention, the White House all the while could blast the appointed counsel as a partisan ideologue à la the hatchet job that was done on Ken Starr.

Anyway, if the president is innocent, he will end up needing and wanting a special prosecutor sooner rather than later. If he and his White House already have too much to hide, then they must clam up, cry partisanship and hope their allies on the Hill and in the media have the stamina for the long, hard slog ahead.

My personal favorite of all the new revelations from the Obama IRS scandal is that White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler told White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough about the impending IRS inspector general report, but of course the White House chief of staff did not tell the president.

I sat in a White House chief of staff’s office every day for more than two years. The only reason the legal counsel would tell the chief of staff about an impending report or disclosure would be so the chief of staff could tell the president. The legal counsel would assume the chief of staff would know how and when to bring up the matter. The chief of staff would be expected to know if there were additional factors surrounding the issue that needed to be considered before the president was told, or whether or not others needed to be included in the conversation when the information was shared with the president. There are many valid reasons why the chief of staff would tell the president, but I can’t think of a reason why he and the legal counsel would both agree that this news nugget would go no further. It’s very odd.

The legal counsel would never assume that information shared with the chief of staff would not go to the president. In my experience, a legal counsel never would believe that there was information that was appropriate for the chief of staff to know but that was inappropriate for the president to know. Out of all the news that has emerged regarding the Obama IRS scandal, this is the most curious whopper I’ve heard so far. I can’t wait to hear the real story. Story Continued

· Meet the Man Who Set Off the IRS Firestorm

J. Russell George once stalked the halls of the Capitol for senators’ autographs. Now he’s there to testify in a scandal gripping Washington.

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J. Russell George paused for just a moment before he took his seat at the witness table. He wanted to take it all in. The Treasury inspector general whose audit of the IRS had set off a national firestorm had been in this very room before—three decades earlier.

That was back when George was a precocious teenager who had worked his way onto the staff of then-Sen. Bob Dole, the powerful Republican chairman of the vaunted Finance Committee. Then, he’d sorted mail and made carbon copies. Now, he was about to testify before the same panel, to present the findings of an explosive audit that found wayward tax agents who had targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny.

“I could never have dreamed [about this] as a 17, 18-year-old,” George said in a wide-ranging interview with National Journal, one of his first since the audit. “It’s kind of moving for me in that regard.”

Two heads have already rolled in the scandal. One of them, the outgoing acting commissioner of the IRS, Steven Miller, was seated next to George. Pictures of the two of them, their right hands raised, taking the oath, ran in papers across the nation after the scandal’s first congressional hearing last week.

All the attention was new, but George has operated in these halls of power his entire career. He worked for Dole, and then in President George H.W. Bush’s White House. In between, he attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 1988 alongside a young Michelle Obama (then Michelle Robinson).

They weren’t in the same section—the academic groupings that Harvard uses to divide its students—but George said they traveled in some of the same social circles, including the Black Law Students Association.

“I think he actually dated Michelle at one point,” said former Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican, who worked with George when he was staff director for a House oversight subcommittee in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“That is overstating it,” George said. But the two students did socialize in group settings. “Michelle was a lovely person, and down to earth,” he said. “…The BLSA went out for pizza; we would go out together.”

He paused, for a beat. “Don’t get me in trouble,” George said.

George, 49, has been a lot better at finding success than trouble throughout his career. He grew up in New York City, where his father worked for the transit authority and his mother was a secretary. At the age of 10, he was publishing a neighborhood paper, according to a congressional good-bye speech his old boss, former Rep. Steve Horn, R-Calif., gave in 2002.

From an early age, George was fascinated by celebrities. He’d line up outside the stage door of the biggest shows on Broadway to collect stars’ autographs, “Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton …” he said, fondly, “I could go on and on.”

He moved to Washington to study at Howard University, the historically black college, but his fascination—he calls it a “hobby”—with fame followed. And in Washington, the famous were on Capitol Hill. So he decamped to the corridors outside the Senate clutching a piece of cardboard, “with my goal to get every member of the U.S. Senate to sign a single placard,” he said.

That’s where he met Bob Dole. “Who are you missing?” Dole asked George, after scribbling his name. Dole then “went into the Senate chamber and started bringing out, one by one, all these great lions of the Senate,” George recalled. Lions like Ted Kennedy, who would add his name to the signatures of Jesse Helms and Barry Goldwater.

George called Dole the next day to ask for a job. Dole’s staffer asked what party he was with. “I’m 17,” George said. “I’m not registered as anything.” They said he could come in once a week, unpaid. Soon enough, though, he had a full-time job.

Two of the senators whom George would have stalked in the halls in the early 1980s (although they likely weren’t high on his star list then) were among his inquisitors on Tuesday: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the panel’s top Republican.

George, a recent board member of Washington’s tony University Club who can now count himself among the political celebrities he once pursued, can’t remember if he got their signatures. The placard is “at my parent’s house in New York,” he said, likely accumulating dust. “I don’t think I got all 100, because some of them snuck out the side door.”

After Harvard Law, George had a brief stint as a New York prosecutor, before returning to Washington to work for President George H.W. Bush, as a lawyer in the budget office, then as associate director for policy in the Office of National Service. The Clinton era ushered him back to New York, into private practice.

In 1995, with Republicans in control of the House and Speaker Newt Gingrich ascendant, George returned to Washington as chief counsel of a House oversight subcommittee, where he stayed until 2002. There, he won plaudits for his impartiality from both sides of the aisle.

“Russell was a straight-shooter,” said Phil Barnett, then chief counsel to Rep. Henry Waxman of California, who was the top Democrat on the House oversight panel at the time.

“You can take what he does from an objectivity point of view to the bank,” said Davis, the former GOP House member. He said George has the perfect temperament for the current IRS maelstrom. “You couldn’t ask for a fairer umpire in this,” Davis said, “He’s not a fiery Republican type, but obviously he’s not beholden to the administration.”

The second President Bush tapped George for an inspector general role in 2002 (Dole administered the oath to George) and then his current post in 2004. At his confirmation hearing, then-Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., introduced George as a “good friend.” “Credibility, integrity, and competence, those are among the very first words that come to mind,” he said.

With his rounded features, baritone voice and thin-rimmed glasses that rest low on his nose, George has emerged from the witness table unscathed. Of course, it helps that the toughest, most outraged questions aren’t slung his way but at the IRS officials who oversaw the agency as the targeting occurred.

Also working in George’s favor: Some of his congressional questioners know him from his staffer days. George ticked off the names: Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., among them. Count Joe Scarbough, the host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, as among those who worked with George in the House, too.

It probably doesn’t hurt that the communications director at George’s side, Karen Kraushaar, has weathered a Washington scandal storm herself. In 2011, Kraushaar was one of the first women to be named publicly after accusing GOP then-presidential candidate Herman Cain of sexual harassment.

“Truth-telling requires strength of character,” said Kraushaar, who has worked for the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’ Office since 2010.

As tax-administration inspector general, George manages a staff of nearly 800 employees charged with monitoring the IRS. He counts the audit his team produced as among his biggest achievements in nearly two decades as a federal government watchdog.

“Americans need to have trust that the agency, which has so much of their personal information—and has an ability to affect their lives in so many different ways—is operated with the highest degree of integrity,” George said.

In the last week, George has testified before three different congressional committees. That’s likely just the start. At Tuesday’s Finance hearing, he suggested that his office was undertaking a review of nonprofits—known as 501(c)(4)s—that have played in the electoral arena, an issue that Democrats have cried out to be addressed.

In the interview, George wouldn’t address that, specifically, but he said, “As a result of the work that was conducted in preparation of this audit, we have uncovered areas that need further review.”

Or, as he told senators Tuesday, “Suffice it to say, this matter is not over.” Story Continued

· Michelle Said to be Considering an Extended Vacation

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With scandal swirling about the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama may be considering an extended exit from Washington this summer, fleeing for weeks to the Obamas’ traditional summer haven, Martha’s Vineyard.

According to the Boston Globe, “Michelle Obama and the children may be on the island for an extended period.” But the president would hardly be suffering by comparison. He may come up on weekends and then stay for two weeks at the end of the summer, the Globe reports.

The White House has not commented on the Obamas’ vacation plans.

The Obamas are said to be eying a house in Farm Neck on the Vineyard. If they land there, the president will have easy access to the lovely Farm Neck Golf Club and Cafe. Here’s the view from the tee on the third hole.

It appears Michelle may be skipping her usual spring excursion overseas, which in the past has included stops at a luxury resort in Spain and in South Africa. Instead, she’ll accompany her husband next month on an official trip to Africa.

But not to worry, she already spent two weeks in Hawaii this past winter and jetted out for some Aspen skiing in February.

The Obamas opted out of their annual trip to Martha’s Vineyard in 2012, likely because they were campaigning and because a luxury sojourn there would have conflicted with the campaign image Obama was trying to project as a fighter for the middle class. Story Continued

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What’s Up May 20, 2013?

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· Anonymous Cincinnati IRS official: “Everything comes from the top.”

A story in the Washington Post yesterday about the Internal Revenue Service’s Cincinnati office, which does most of the agency’s nonprofit auditing, clearly contradicted earlier reports that the agency’s targeting of Tea Party groups was the result of rogue agents.

The Post story anonymously quoted a staffer in Cincinnati as saying they only operate on directives from headquarters:

As could be expected, the folks in the determinations unit on Main Street have had trouble concentrating this week. Number crunchers, whose work is nonpolitical, don’t necessarily enjoy the spotlight, especially when the media and the public assume they’re engaged in partisan villainy.

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“We’re not political,’’ said one determinations staffer in khakis as he left work late Tuesday afternoon. “We people on the local level are doing what we are supposed to do. . . . That’s why there are so many people here who are flustered. Everything comes from the top. We don’t have any authority to make those decisions without someone signing off on them. There has to be a directive.”

The staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing his job, said that the determinations unit is competent and without bias, that it grouped together conservative applications “for consistency’s sake” — so one application did not sail through while a similar one was held up in review. This consistency is paramount in the review of all applications, according to Ronald Ran, an estate-tax lawyer who worked for 37 years in the IRS’s Cincinnati office.

This pretty plainly contradicts the story coming out of the IRS that rogue agents in Cincinnati were responsible:

News of (acting IRS commissioner Steve) Miller’s resignation followed revelations that the IRS has identified two “rogue” employees in the agency’s Cincinnati office as being principally responsible for the “overly aggressive” handling of requests by conservative groups for tax-exempt status, a congressional source told CNN.

Miller said the staffers have already been disciplined, according to another source familiar with Miller’s discussions with congressional investigators. The second source said Miller emphasized that the problem with IRS handling of tax-exempt status for tea party groups was not limited to these two employees.

In related news, I also noted how the Post’s story on the Cincinnati office also appears to contradict what Miller told Congress this week about how many auditors the IRS has covering nonprofit groups. Miller said the figure was between 140-200, but the Post story puts the figure at 900. The Post doesn’t source the figure, but presumably that also came from people the reporters talked with in Cincinnati. Story Continued

· Obama gets personal about race and manhood in Morehouse speech

– By Philip Rucker,

President Obama on Sunday summoned the graduates of historically black Morehouse College to “transform the way we think about manhood,” urging the young men to avoid the temptation to make excuses and to take responsibility for their families and their communities.

Delivering a commencement address at the all-male private liberal arts college in Atlanta, Obama spoke in deeply personal terms about the “special obligation” he feels as a black man to help those left behind.

“There but for the grace of God, I might be in their shoes,” Obama said. “I might have been in prison. I might have been unemployed. I might not have been able to support a family — and that motivates me.”

The president also reflected on the absence of his father growing up, noting that he was raised by a “heroic single mother” and urged the young graduates not to shrink from their family responsibilities.

“My whole life, I’ve tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father wasn’t for my mother and me,” Obama said. “I want to break that cycle — where a father’s not at home, where a father’s not helping to raise that son and daughter. I want to be a better father, a better husband, a better man.”

In his 32-minute address, Obama was far more personal and reflective in his remarks than he traditionally has been, especially on matters of racial discrimination. Obama delivered a similar speech three years ago when he addressed the graduates of Hampton University in Virginia, another historically black college.

He paid tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., a Morehouse alumnus, noting that King’s education there “helped to forge the intellect, the discipline, the compassion, the soul force that would transform America.”

Obama added, “Laws and hearts and minds have been changed to the point where someone who looks just like you can somehow come to serve as president of these United States.”

Yet Obama acknowledged that “the bitter legacies of slavery and segregation” have not vanished, that discrimination still exists.

“As Morehouse men, many of you know what it’s like to be an outsider, to be marginalized, to feel the sting of discrimination. That’s an experience that a lot of Americans share,” Obama said.

Hispanic Americans, Obama lamented, are told to “go back” home while strangers pass judgment on the parenting skills of gay men and lesbians or stare at Muslim Americans with suspicion.

Obama said that too many young black men make “bad choices.”

“Growing up, I made quite a few myself,” Obama said. “Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. I had a tendency to make excuses for me not doing the right thing.”

But, the president implored, “We’ve got no time for excuses.”

“In today’s hyper-connected, hyper-competitive world, with millions of young people from China and India and Brazil, many of whom started with a whole lot less than all of you did, all of them entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything you haven’t earned,” he said. “Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was. Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination.”

“Moreover,” Obama continued, “you have to remember that whatever you’ve gone through, it pales in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured — and if they overcame them, you can overcome them, too.”

Obama told the graduates they needed to be role models for others in their communities and not just chase after high-paying jobs and fancy cars. If they get a law degree, he told the graduates, they shouldn’t only defend the powerful, but also the powerless. If they get an MBA and start a business, Obama said, they shouldn’t merely try to make money but also consider the broader purpose their business might serve.

“No one expects you to take a vow of poverty,” Obama said. “But I will say it betrays a poverty of ambition if all you think about is what goods you can buy instead of what good you can do.” Story Continued

· A rare peek into a Justice Department leak probe 

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When the Justice Department began investigating possible leaks of classified information about North Korea in 2009, investigators did more than obtain telephone records of a working journalist suspected of receiving the secret material.

They used security badge access records to track the reporter’s comings and goings from the State Department, according to a newly obtained court affidavit. They traced the timing of his calls with a State Department security adviser suspected of sharing the classified report. They obtained a search warrant for the reporter’s personal e-mails.

It probably wouldn’t have stopped the probe, but the process would have played out differently.

The case of Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, the government adviser, and James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News, bears striking similarities to a sweeping leaks investigation disclosed last week in which federal investigators obtained records over two months of more than 20 telephone lines assigned to the Associated Press.

At a time when President Obama’s administration is under renewed scrutiny for an unprecedented number of leak investigations, the Kim case provides a rare glimpse into the inner workings of one such probe.

Court documents in the Kim case reveal how deeply investigators explored the private communications of a working journalist — and raise the question of how often journalists have been investigated as closely as Rosen was in 2010. The case also raises new concerns among critics of government secrecy about the possible stifling effect of these investigations on a critical element of press freedom: the exchange of information between reporters and their sources.

“Search warrants like these have a severe chilling effect on the free flow of important information to the public,” said First Amendment lawyer Charles Tobin, who has represented the Associated Press, but not in the current case. “That’s a very dangerous road to go down.”

Obama last week defended the Justice Department’s handling of the investigation involving the AP, which is focused on who leaked information to the news organization about a foiled plot involving the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen. AP executives and First Amendment watchdogs have criticized the Justice Department in part for the broad scope of the phone records it secretly subpoenaed from AP offices in Washington, Hartford, Conn., and New York.

“The latest events show an expansion of this law enforcement technique,” said attorney Abbe Lowell, who is defending Kim on federal charges filed in 2010 that he disclosed national defense information. A trial is possible as soon as 2014. “Individual reporters or small time periods have turned into 20 [telephone] lines and months of records with no obvious attempt to be targeted or narrow.”

The president said press freedoms must be balanced against the protection of U.S. personnel overseas. According to the office of Ronald Machen Jr., the U.S. attorney for the District, its prosecutors followed federal regulations by first seeking the information through other means before subpoenaing media phone records. Machen’s office is investigating both the Kim and AP cases. The Justice Department said in a statement that in both cases it had abided by “all applicable laws, regulations, and longstanding Department of Justice policies intended to safeguard the First Amendment interests of the press in reporting the news and the public in receiving it.” Story Continued

It is apparent that President Obama has the same attitude toward those under him (the American Public) that Richard Nixon had. There is the obvious arrogance that both parties have or had. But with Obama the lack of life experience seems to play an ever larger role in his decisions and how this present dilemma is overwhelming America. The most disheartening aspect of all the talk is that if Obama is forced out then we have Joe Biden. PdC

· CHIEF IRS COUNSEL GOT JEREMIAH WRIGHT’S CHURCH OUT OF IRS PROBE BEFORE JOINING AGENCY

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News reports from the time indicate the now-chief counsel of the IRS, William Wilkins, helped a church connected to President Barack Obama’s friend Rev. Jeremiah Wright get out of an IRS probe in 2008 while working as a private attorney.

“Lawyers from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr have won the dismissal of an IRS case against United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama’s denomination,” The American Lawyer’s Zach Lowe wrote on May 22, 2008.

The IRS initiated an investigation early this year after a speech by Obama at a 50th anniversary celebration of the church last June. It was a reference by Obama to his presidential candidacy in a talk otherwise focused on faith that caught the agency’s attention. Tax laws prohibit non-profits–including churches–from engaging in political speech or promoting candidates. The IRS can withdraw an organization’s tax-free status if the organization is found to violate the rule.

Lowe noted that Obama had been a “member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago–a UCC congregation–for more than 20 years. The church has been in the headlines for several months now as the congregation lead by the controversial Reverend Jeremiah Wright.”

William Wilkins, then a Wilmer Hale law firm partner, said, “We were so interested in the case we offered to do it pro bono.”

Lowe wrote that Wilkins and other firm lawyers worked with the church’s national counsel, Donald Clark, and proved they had invited Obama to the event before he announced his candidacy for president. “Evidence presented in a letter sent to the IRS in late March pointed to ground rules the organization had established for Obama’s visit; the church even cautioned churchgoers against engaging in any political activity,” Lowe wrote. “Had the IRS pursued the matter, it would have raised serious questions about the First Amendment’s application to church activities, Wilkins says.”

When President Obama nominated Wilkins to be the IRS’s chief counsel on April 17, 2009, his White House cited Wilkins’ experience as an attorney on issues relating to tax-exempt status organization. “He has a broad tax practice that includes counseling nonprofit organizations, business entities, and investment funds on tax compliance, business transactions, and government investigations,” according to the White House release announcing Wilkins’ nomination.

Prior to joining Wilmer Hale, Wilkins was Staff Director and Chief Counsel of the United States Senate Committee on Finance. Wilkins joined the Democratic staff of the Committee in 1981 and served as tax counsel before becoming Staff Director and Chief Counsel in 1987.

In the release, which included the announcement of a second Treasury Department nominee, President Obama himself said he was “confident in the abilities of these two fine public servants as we work to turn our economy around and give American families the relief they need during these difficult times. Under the leadership of Secretary Geithner, they will work to serve the American people and bring their unique areas of expertise to the job as we work to put America on the path to prosperity.”

Upon the resignation of Steven Miller, several news outlets have pointed out that Wilkins will likely become a public target of congressional investigators digging into the scandal surrounding the IRS’s targeting of conservative and Tea Party organizations.

Reuters wrote that GOP lawmakers’ aides said their bosses will soon “focus” on Wilkins as they “seek to determine whether the White House acted improperly.”

“Wilkins’ office was made aware of the targeting of conservative groups as early as August 2011, according to the inspector general report,” Reuters wrote. “The report does not make clear whether Wilkins – who reports to the Treasury Department’s general counsel – himself knew of the targeting in 2011, or when he first learned of it.”

“Another question is whether Wilkins, whose office employs about 1,600 lawyers, might have taken the matter elsewhere within the Obama administration,” Reuters added. “The IRS issued a statement saying Wilkins did not participate in the August 2011 meeting, which the agency said involved ‘staff attorneys several layers below Wilkins.’”

As Town Hall magazine highlighted recently, White House spokesman Jay Carney has already been pressured by reporters on Wilkins’ role in this scandal. Story Continued

· Obama and the IRS: The Smoking Gun?

By Jeffrey Lord on 5.20.13 @ 6:11AM

President met with anti-Tea Party IRS union chief the day before agency targeted Tea Party.

“For me, it’s about collaboration.” — National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley on the relationship between the anti-Tea Party IRS union and the Obama White House

Is President Obama directly implicated in the IRS scandal?

Is the White House Visitors Log the trail to the smoking gun?

The stunning questions are raised by the following set of new facts.

March 31, 2010.

According to the White House Visitors Log, provided here in searchable form by U.S. News and World Report, the president of the anti-Tea Party National Treasury Employees Union, Colleen Kelley, visited the White House at 12:30pm that Wednesday noon time of March 31st.

The White House lists the IRS union leader’s visit this way:

Kelley, Colleen Potus 03/31/2010 12:30

In White House language, “POTUS” stands for “President of the United States.”

The very next day after her White House meeting with the President, according to the Treasury Department’s Inspector General’s Report, IRS employees — the same employees who belong to the NTEU — set to work in earnest targeting the Tea Party and conservative groups around America. The IG report wrote it up this way:

April 1-2, 2010: The new Acting Manager, Technical Unit, suggested the need for a Sensitive Case Report on the Tea Party cases. The Determinations Unit Program Manager Agreed.

In short: the very day after the president of the quite publicly anti-Tea Party labor union — the union for IRS employees — met with President Obama, the manager of the IRS “Determinations Unit Program agreed” to open a “Sensitive Case report on the Tea party cases.” As stated by the IG report.

The NTEU is the 150,000 member union that represents IRS employees along with 30 other separate government agencies. Kelley herself is a 14-year IRS veteran agent. The union’s PAC endorsed President Obama in both 2008 and 2012, and gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles to anti-Tea Party candidates.

Putting IRS employees in the position of actively financing anti-Tea Party candidates themselves, while in their official positions in the IRS blocking, auditing, or intimidating Tea Party and conservative groups around the country.

The IG report contained a timeline prepared by examining internal IRS e-mails. The IG report did not examine White House Visitor Logs, e-mails, or phone records relating to the relationship between the IRS union, the IRS, and the White House. Story Continued

· 5 Ways Obama Can Restore the Public’s Trust and Rescue His Presidency

– Painful choices include appointing a special prosecutor on the IRS and offering an apology to The Associated Press.

Swamped in controversies, President Obama and his slow-footed team are essentially telling the American public, “We’re not crooked. We’re just incompetent.”

The IRS targeting conservatives, the Justice Department snooping at The Associated Press, the State Department injecting politics into Benghazi, the military covering up sexual assaults, and the Department of Veterans Affairs leaving heroes in health care limbo – each of these so-called scandals share two traits.

First, there is some element of “spin,” the cynical art of telling just enough of the truth to avoid political embarrassment. Obfuscation and demagogy, the dirty tools of political quackery that Obama pledged to purge from Washington, enjoy top-shelf status at his White House.

Second, there is almost comical bungling. While denying involvement in high crimes and misdemeanors, the Obama administration appears to be pleading guilty to lesser crimes of bureaucratic incompetence. But that is an unsustainable position for a president who wants Americans to believe again in the power and grace of good government, particularly as it relates to the implementation of Obamacare.

–IRS agents targeted conservatives. Their bosses lied about it for months.

–Justice Department investigators violated internal guidelines to secretly spy on The Associated Press.

–White House and State Department officials minimized their role in shaping initial explanations for the Benghazi attack.

–Military officers assigned to sexual assault prevention units are charged with sexual battery. The Pentagon’s own study finds that 26,000 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012. It’s not a new problem.

–Despite a 40 percent increase in funding, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs cannot ease a backlog of cases. The typical wounded warrior waits more than 300 days for action on a claim. In major cities, the wait can be 642 days.

The backdrop to this parade of buffoonery is a decades-long decline in the public’s faith in government, a trend continued under Obama. Restoring the public’s trust in his governance is the only way Obama can survive the controversies with his agenda and legacy intact.

In interviews, allies of the White House privately suggested a few things Obama could do, including:

Appoint a bipartisan oversight board to oversee the implementation of Obamacare. There is no way around the fact that a vast majority of voters will not trust the IRS to implement the greatest piece of social legislation in decades. Before the tempests, Obamacare was unpopular and largely misunderstood by most Americans. The law’s success hinges on the government recruiting young adults into insurance pools. And polls show young adults are the least likely to trust government.

Layer the White House communication team with experienced crisis managers. As I wrote here last week, Obama needs to realize that the dedicated public servants in the West Wing are not getting the job done.

Apologize to the AP and announce a new policy for leaks investigations. The White House needs to punish people who leak classified information that endangers national security. But the scope of the snooping at AP combined with Obama’s unprecedented zeal for leaks investigations raises doubts about his commitment to transparency and to an unfettered media. He has pursued more such cases than all previous administration combined, according to the Washington Post. The paper also reported that the administration spied on a Fox News reporter at the State Department. Again, this is a matter of trust.

Appoint a special prosecutor on the IRS. The last thing the country needs is another subpoena-powered fishing expedition like the Whitewater inquiries. But we might need a special prosecutor with a narrowly defined mission to investigate the actions and motives of IRS agents and their superiors. Is there a better way to restore the agency’s integrity? The administration investigating itself will not lift the cloud from Obama’s White House.

Reset the narrative and public expectations with a major speech on trust. Obama has spoken eloquently and convincingly about this issue. If his next address included painful solutions such as the ones above, he might restore the public’s audacity to hope. Story Continued

·

UNION FOR IMMIGRATION PROCESSING OFFICERS JOINS OPPOSITION TO REFORM BILL

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The union representing 12,000 adjudications officers and staff for the United States Citizen and Immigration Services Council (USCIS) came out in opposition to the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill on Monday morning.

The USCIS Council and its president, Kenneth Palinkas, joined the letter the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Council, the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers, and sheriffs from around the country have signed declaring the 867 page immigration bill makes problems worse for immigration law enforcement rather than better.

In that letter, law enforcement officials noted that there has been a rush on the border by illegal immigrants seeking to get inside the United States before the passage of the amnesty bill from the Gang of Eight. They also wrote that the bill “provides no guarantee of increased border security.”

USCIS officers would be crucial to the implementation of immigration reform if the current bill was passed; USCIS handles the applications of immigrants who want to enter the United States and would be charged with processing the applications for amnesty for the at least 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States.

In a statement announcing his group’s decision to join the ICE Council and others, Palinkas said Gang of Eight members did not consult his officers when crafting the bill. As a result, Palinkas argues, the bill “fails to address some of the most serious concerns the USCIS Council has about the current system which Congress must address.”

Specifically, Palinkas said under President Barack Obama’s administration, USCIS officers are currently “pressured to rubber stamp applications instead of conducting diligent case review and investigation.”

“The culture at USCIS encourages all applications to be approved, discouraging proper investigation into red flags and discouraging the denial of any applications,” Palinkas said. “USCIS has been turned into an ‘approval machine.’” Palinkas argues the Gang of Eight bill does nothing to fix this problem.

Additionally, Palinkas argues that the bill does not fix current administration policy that treats immigrants applying for entry into the United States as “customers” of the American government.

“A new USCIS computer system to screen applications known as ‘Transformation’ has proven to be a disaster as the agency has spent upwards of $2 billion for a system that would eventually allow an alien–now referred to as a ‘customer’ under current USCIS policy–to upload their own information via the internet for adjudication purposes,” Palinkas said. “To date, only one form can be accepted into the program that has been in the making for close to 10 years.”

Palinkas also notes that the Gang of Eight bill does nothing to fix the failures under the current administration for different agencies to coordinate, or de-conflict, on cases involving specific illegal immigrants. “USCIS has created an almost insurmountable bureaucracy which often prevents USCIS adjudications officers from contacting and coordinating with ICE agents and officers in cases that should have their involvement,” Palinkas wrote. “USCIS officers are pressured to approve visa applications for many individuals ICE agents have determined should be placed into deportation proceedings.”

Yet another issue the bill does not address, Palinkas notes, is a “secretive panel” that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano created that often denies immigration law officers’ requests to enforce the law. “USCIS officers who identify illegal aliens that, in accordance with law should be placed into immigration removal proceedings before a federal judge, are prevented from exercising their authority and responsibility to issue Notices To Appear (NTAs),” Palinkas claims.

“In the rare case that an officer attempts to issue an NTA, it must first be approved by a secretive panel created under DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, which often denies the officer’s request,” Palinkas explains. “Illegal aliens are then permitted to remain in the United States as USCIS officers are not able to take action or contact ICE agents for assistance.”

Perhaps most importantly, Palinkas argues that the current political leadership at his agency holds the belief that USCIS’s role is not to serve America or Americans; rather, he claims they believe that USCIS is supposed to serve the illegal immigrants and the immigration lawyers who come through the doors of the agency on a regular basis.

“The attitude of USCIS management is not that the Agency serves the American public or the laws of the United States, or public safety and national security, but instead that the agency serves illegal aliens and the attorneys which represent them,” Palinkas said. “While we believe in treating all people with respect, we are concerned that this agency tasked with such a vital security mission is too greatly influenced by special interest groups—to the point that it no longer properly performs its mission.”

Palinkas also notes that under the current law and system, USCIS reports a 99.5 percent approval rating for illegal immigrants seeking legal residency inside the United States. He said that high percentage began with President Obama’s and Secretary Napolitano’s new “deferred action” policy unveiled last summer. In addition, over the past year, Palinkas said USCIS has waived more than $200 million in fees from illegal immigrants seeking legal status. Story Continued

· Obama and Nixon: A Historical Perspective

– Robert F. Kennedy Jr.President, Waterkeeper Alliance; Senior Attorney, NRDC

For once with good reason, the GOP is exorcised with the scandals involving the IRS targeting political groups and the FBI’s spying on A.P. reporters. The broader public is legitimately concerned. However, in its classic overblown breathlessness at all things Obama, the gleeful Republican leadership is already calling for impeachment and dragging out desperate comparisons to Nixon’s Watergate. This, despite caveats from its own sages not to overplay Republican good fortune. “We overreached in 1998,” Newt Gingrich admitted recently. He counseled restraint to the Tea Party jihadists he helped spawn. Gingrich recalled how the GOP’s scandal mongering against Clinton had only amplified Clinton’s popularity and cost Republicans the 1998 mid-terms and Gingrich his speakership. But this new generation of hysterical House members immune to that wisdom, are headed straight for the feinting couch in fits of anti-Obama hysteria.

In a characteristic spasm of partisan apoplexy, Iowa Congressman Steve King offered a shrill algorithm: “add Watergate and Iran Contra together and multiply by ten” to calculate the tyrannical evil of the Obama scandals.

As usual, the Fox-fueled GOP narrative swayed the mainstream press. On May 16, Reuters’ Jeff Mason interrupted Obama’s press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan to ask the President, “How do you feel about the comparisons by some of your critics with the scandals of the Nixon Administration?” Obama responded with calm contempt; he would leave those comparisons to the journalists. But he urged Mason to “read some history.” If Mason takes that advice, here are some of the historical tidbits he might consider.

President Richard Nixon was aware that the IRS had audited him in 1961 and 1962 and presumed those audits were politically motivated by the Kennedy White House. When, early in his Administration, Nixon learned that his friends and political allies John Wayne and Rev. Billy Graham had endured recent audits by his own IRS, Nixon boiled over. He ordered White House Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman, “Get the word out, down to the IRS that I want them to conduct field audits on those who are our opponents.” Perhaps recalling the Kennedy era audits, Nixon ordered that its investigator begin with my Uncle’s, John F. Kennedy’s, former campaign manager and White House aide, then Democratic Committee Chairman, Lawrence O’Brien.

Nixon’s minions had the IRS set up a special internal arm “the Activist Organization Committee” in July of 1969 to audit an “enemies list” provided by Nixon. My uncle Senator Ted Kennedy was at the top of that list along with a small army of well-known journalists. The IRS later renamed its political audit squad “Special Services” or “SS” to keep its mission secret. The SS targeted over 1,000 liberal groups for audits and 4,000 individuals. The SS staff managed their files in a soundproof cell in the IRS basement.

On September 27, 1970, Nixon ordered Haldeman to get the IRS to investigate my Uncle Ted who was then the presumed frontrunner in the 1972 presidential contest, sharing the field with Edmond Muskie and Hubert Humphrey who Nixon also ordered audited.

Nixon personally put White House dirty trickster Tom Charles Huston, former president of the Young Americans for Freedom, in charge of setting up the new IRS “anti-radical squad” to make sure that the laggards in IRS’s bureaucracy didn’t drop the ball. Huston prepared a 43-page blueprint for Nixon outlining a government agency campaign targeting Nixon’s enemies. Uncle Teddy was still at the top. The scheme included tapping phones without warrants, infiltrating organizations that had been critical of the President and, purging IRS agents who refused to tow the Republican line. Huston told the President, “we won’t be in control of the government and in a position of effective leverage until such time or we have complete and total control of the top three slots” at the IRS. Nixon also enthusiastically authorized a series of “black bag jobs” including breaking into offices, homes and liberal think tanks like the Ford Foundation and the Brookings Institute which Nixon believed was home to many former Kennedy Administration officials.

As a disclaimer, Huston cautioned that the “use of this technique is clearly illegal; it amounts to burglary. It is also highly risky and could result in great embarrassment if exposed. However, it is also the most fruitful tool and can produce the kind of intelligence which cannot be obtained in any other fashion.”

According to historian and Nixon biographer, Rick Perlstein, Nixon “found the document splendid.” Haldeman ordered Huston to draft a formal decision memo outlining the illegal plan as a mandate to the heads of the intelligence and tax collecting agencies. Nixon ordered Haldeman and Huston to order the IRS, the FBI and the CIA to proceed with the plan.

In May 1971, Nixon used an IRS investigation of Alabama Governor George Wallace’s brother, Gerald Wallace, to pressure Gov. Wallace to run for President on the Democratic ticket as a spoiler rather than on a third party ticket as he planned. The blackmail scheme succeeded and most of Wallace’s white male supporters fled to the Republicans after the Democrats nominated civil rights activist George McGovern. Nixon’s tactic of having Wallace run as a Democrat was an indispensable element of the White House’s “southern strategy”.

Four months later, on September 8, 1971, Nixon raged at his counsel and Chief Domestic Policy Advisor, John Ehrlichman, about the IRS’s lack of progress on finding dirt on his enemies. “We have the power but are we using it to investigate contributors to Hubert Humphrey, to Muskie, and the Jews? You know they are stealing everybody…. you know they really tried to crucify Ho Lewis [Reader’s Digest editor, Hobart Lewis, a Nixon supporter who had been audited]! Are we looking into Muskie’s return? Hubert’s? Hubert’s been in a lot of funny deals. Teddy? Who knows about the Kennedys? Shouldn’t they be investigated?”

The following week he pleaded with Haldeman to light a fire under the IRS. “Bob, please get me the names of the Jews, you know the Big Jewish contributors of the Democrats…. Could we please investigate those cocksuckers?”

The following day he replayed that tune for Ehrlichman. “You see the IRS is full of Jews that’s the reason they went after Graham.” Haldeman recounted in his diary, “There was a considerable discussion of the terrible problem arising from the total Jewish domination of the media. Graham has the strong feeling that the Bible says there are Satanic Jews and that’s where our problem arises.”

The “Jewish-controlled media” and the “liberal media” were never far from Nixon’s limbic system. Nixon also bugged reporters and used bribery, blackmail attempts, forgery, spying, burglary, and extensive bugging by national police agencies and by his own “plumbers squad” to monitor and manipulate the press for political purposes. Many of the top twenty names on Nixon’s political enemies list (which eventually included 47,000 Americans) were reporters. They included Daniel Schorr, Mary McGrory, Edwin Guthman and Walter Cronkite. Nixon’s staff and agencies bugged their phones, investigated their sex lives, rifled their trash, and had them watched and followed. Nixon directly ordered the investigation of imagined homosexuality by columnist Jack Anderson, a devout, tee-totaling Mormon with a happy marriage and nine children.

On March 24, 1972, a group of Nixon’s trusted operatives including former CIA spy E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, a murderous former Dutchess county, New York prosecutor and Adolf Hitler admirer, huddled in the basement of Washington’s plush Hay-Adams Hotel, across from the White House with Dr. Edward Gund, a CIA physician, poison and assassinations expert. Nixon had complained darkly to top staffers including Special Counsel Chuck Colson that Anderson was “a thorn in his side” and that “we have to do something about this son of a bitch.” According to Hunt and Liddy, Colson deployed them that day saying that Nixon had ordered Colson to “Stop Anderson at all costs.”

The three spooks plotted out the best way to murder Anderson including running him off the road, spiking his drink with venom, breaking into his home and lacing Anderson’s aspirin bottle (“aspirin roulette”) with a special toxicant undetectable by autopsy or simply shooting him with Liddy’s untraceable 9mm pistol. The plot is detailed by Mark Felstein in his 2005 book, Poisoning the Press, and elsewhere. Liddy suggested painting Anderson’s steering wheel with a massive dose of LSD which would cause Anderson to crash in a hallucinogenic craze. Dr. Gund warned them that the LSD would be traceable in an autopsy. They finally elected to stab Anderson outside his house. Liddy volunteered to do the bloody work and make the crime look like a bungled robbery. Luckily for Anderson, the plot fizzled and was forgotten when both conspirators were arrested shortly thereafter in the Watergate scandal while endeavoring to reset a bug in Larry O’Brien’s office.

On October 6, 1971, Nixon ordered Haldeman to have the IRS audit Los Angeles Times publisher Otis Chandler who had transformed the Times from a right wing rag into a universally respected paper by recruiting top journalists from across the nation. Chandler and his very large family were close friends of my family and had spent the summer prior to my father’s death running the Colorado River with us. “I want Otis Chandler’s income tax,” Nixon told Haldeman. Nixon then called his Attorney General and former law partner, John Mitchel, and ordered Mitchel to fire the Los Angeles Director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. “The fellow out there in the Immigration Services is a kike by the name of Rosenberg.” The President explained to Mitchel, “He is to be out.” Fulminating on, Nixon told Mitchel, “I want you to direct the most trusted person you have in the Immigration Service to look at all the activities of the Los Angeles Times… let me explain as a Californian, I know everybody in California hires them… Otis Chandler… I want him checked with regard to his gardener. I understand he is a wetback. Is that clear?” When the Attorney General replied, “Yes, sir.” Nixon crowed triumphantly, “We’re going after the Chandlers! Every one, individually and collectively, their income taxes… every one of those sons of bitches.”

In August of 1972, Edmund Muskie withdrew as George McGovern’s Vice Presidential running mate. After my Uncle Ted demurred at McGovern’s request that he join the ticket, McGovern recruited another of my uncles, Sargent Shriver. On August 9, Nixon had a meeting with his staff to discuss how to destroy the Democrats. Turning to Haldeman, he asked, “What in the name in of God are we doing on this one? What are we doing about the financial contributors? Now those lists there… are we looking over the financial contributions to the Democratic Committee? Are we running their income tax returns? Is the Justice Department checking to see if there are any anti-trust suits? We have all this power and were not using it. Now what the Christ is the matter? In other words I’m just thinking for example if there is information on Larry O’Brien. What is being done? Who is doing this full-time? What in the name of God are we doing?” Nixon abruptly narrowed his sights on McGovern’s top contributor, Henry Kimmelman, and said emphatically, “Scare the shit out of him,” He repeated the order to Ehrlichman, “Scare the shit out of him. Now there are some Jews with the mafia and they are involved with this too!”

George Schultz was now Treasury Secretary. Nixon directed Haldeman to order Schultz to audit Kimmelman. “Everybody thinks George is an honest, decent man,” Nixon observed contemptuously. “George has got a fantasy… what’s he trying to do say? That you can’t play politics with the IRS? Just tell George he should do it.” Three days later Nixon had Kimmelman’s tax returns as well Larry O’Brien’s who had by then agreed to manage McGovern’s faltering campaign and whose office would be the target of the Watergate break-in.

On March 12, 1973, even with the erupting Watergate scandal and its related Congressional investigations incinerating his presidency, Nixon was still intent on using the IRS to disable his enemies. That day he asked Haldeman, “What happened to the suggestion that the IRS run audits on all the members of Congress?”

Those who bother to read these historical snippets will find many important departures and only tenuous parallels between the Obama Administration’s IRS affair and Richard Nixon’s Watergate-era IRS scandal. A principal distinction is the ingredient of direct presidential involvement. President Nixon was the fulcrum, the visionary and the principal conspirator in his various capers to use the IRS as a political weapon. Nixon personally directed and persistently harangued his staff to audit, investigate and gather dirt on his enemies for personal purposes. Nixon went to reckless extremes even punishing IRS agents who refused to participate in his vendetta. A mean-spirited viciousness and his contagious enthusiasm for law breaking were also distinctive Nixon bailiwicks. In contrast, there is no evidence that Obama even knew of the IRS investigations which were presided over by Donald Shulman, a Bush appointee. The most recent evidence indicate that the Tea Party audits resulted not from intentional political targeting of conservatives from the sheer preponderous of Tea Party applications among the hundreds of 501(c)(4) tax exemption requests that deluged a tiny understaffed IRS field office. The 200 demoralized officials, already drowning in tax exemption petitions, also audited several liberal groups including Progress Texas and Sea Shepard. Detailed reporting in Sunday’s New York Times indicates that the problem arose because the Cincinnati branch is already debilitated and overwhelmed by years of personnel and budget cuts, now aggravated by the sequestration — and confused by new rules applying to the cascade of political “charities” unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The GOP’s comparisons of today’s IRS blunders to the Watergate era scandals broadcast a willful blindness toward history.

As to the A.P. eavesdropping scandal, any spying directed at journalists should set off fire alarms in a democracy. The Associated Press is justified in its outrage at the Justice Department caper. Fear that a reporter’s phone may be bugged will inhibit disclosures and discussions with the many secret sources and whistleblowers upon whom journalists rely to keep our democracy transparent and our public informed.

Obama’s Justice Department’s eavesdropping on the Associated Press, however, is in no way analogous to Nixon era bugging. The Obama eavesdropping was an, unfortunately, legal investigation of national security leaks involving a Nigerian terrorist bomber planning to blow up an American airliner en route from Amsterdam to New York. Nixon’s bugging in contrast was illegal and his purposes were political and personal having little or nothing to do with national security.

Many states have “journalist shield” laws that make eavesdropping on reporters illegal and give a limited, but critical privilege to the relationship between journalists and their sources. Obama has long promised to support federal shield legislation. This week, apparently motivated by damage control, he finally asked Senate leaders to produce a federal shield law, a reform that could transform this scandal into a national plus for American democracy. That legislation will require GOP support. Republicans could also work with the White House to find adequate funding and training for the IRS and remedy the morale and governance problems in Cincinnati. The big question now, is whether Republicans will sideline genuine reform in their efforts to exploit the “scandal.” Republican legislators have apparently been ordered by their leadership to hold scandal-mongering hearings but to stall any legislation for genuine reform. The real scandal is the Republican Party’s devotion to grandstanding over governance and its preference for slime over substance. Story Continued

– This article is a reasoned approach to historical data concerning the Nixon Administration and the historical methodology that people in our government utilize to gain their unfair advantage they perceive is needed to be successful. The only point that is not made in this treatise is that we do not know the historical actions taken by the Obama Administration has we have not been able to undercover all the deeds be they good and evil. We still cannot trust our government as we could not then. PdC

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What’s Up May 19, 2013?

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· Pfeiffer defends handling of IRS scandal White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer on Sunday defended the Obama administration’s handling of the IRS scandal.

“What would be an actual real scandal in Washington would be if the president had been involved or had interfered in an IRS investigation,” Pfeiffer said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Pfeiffer said that the administration followed the “cardinal rule” of all White Houses.

“You do nothing to interfere with an independent investigation and you do nothing to offer the appearance of interfering with investigations,” Pfeiffer said. Once informed, the White House officials responded after they had the facts, he said.

Obama has come under fire from Republicans and others for being slow to respond and for saying that he learned only recently of the investigation into IRS officials targeting tea party groups.

“What we waited for were the facts,” Pfeiffer said. “It’s important to get out there fast, but it’s important to get out there right.”

Pfeiffer said the White House is remaining focused and will not going to let Republicans “drag Washington into a swamp of partisan fishing expeditions, trumped up hearings and false allegations.” Story Continued

· Obama Aide: ‘Irrelevant Fact’ Where President Was During Benghazi Attacks Obama aide Dan Pfeiffer said it’s an “irrelevant fact” where the president physically was during the Benghazi terror attack on September 11, 2012:

Host Chris Wallace reminds Pfeiffer that Obama didn’t really talk with Secretary Clinton, Secretary Panetta, or Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that night. “He was talking to his national security staff,” Pfeiffer insists.

Asked about whether the president entered the Situation Room, Pfeiffer says, “I don’t remember what room the president was in on that night, and that’s a largely irrelevant fact.”

Pfeiffer then argues that Wallace’s questions about the president’s handling of the Benghazi terror attack are “offensive.” Story Continued and to watch the video

· First Lady Expands Anti-Obesity Campaign to Museums 

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First Lady Michelle Obama has expanded her anti-obesity campaign to museums, enlisting them to offer “healthy food options,” and change their menus.

Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative is now calling for museums, zoos, gardens, science and technology centers to “join the call to action,” to decrease obesity among children.

The first lady is recruiting these institutions to join the “”Let’s Move!” Museums and Gardens” project because of their power to “influence real and sustained behavior change” on the eating habits of kids.

“With their impressive reach and great potential for impact, museums and gardens can launch community efforts to create a healthier generation using interactive exhibits, outdoor spaces, gardens and programs that encourage families to eat healthy foods and increase physical activity,” the program said.

So far, 624 institutions across the country have signed up.

One of the goals of the program is that 90 percent of the museums and centers that offer food service will “already offer or will change their menu to offer food options that reflect healthy choices.”

“Let’s Move!” wants the museums to abide by the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) nutrition standards, which include limiting “deep-fried entrée options to no more than one choice per day” and offering fruit or a “non-fried” vegetable as side dishes “instead of chips or a cookie.”

Other goals of Mrs. Obama’s initiative include recruiting 2,000 institutions in the first year and securing 200 million visits per year to the participating organizations.

The project also placed an emphasis on physical activity, hoping that the museums and zoos will offer afterschool and summer programs.

“Museums and gardens are core community institutions,” Let’s Move! said. “They are trusted in their communities and have the capacity to influence real and sustained behavior change.”

“This initiative is intended to capture what is happening in museums and gardens and also to encourage new activity,” it says.

When awarding the winners of the 2013 National Medal for Museum and Library Service last month, Mrs. Obama noted that three of the five recipients are enrolled in her museums campaign.

“There are some of you who are even members of our Let’s Move Museums and Gardens initiative – yes, indeed,” the first lady said. “And you know that I greatly appreciate that work, everything that you all are doing to make it fun and creative for kids to develop lifelong health habits. Thank you for that work.” Story Continued

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· Al-Qaeda’s Syrian wing takes over the oilfields once belonging to Assad

Up to 380,000 barrels of crude oil were previously produced by wells around the city of Raqqa and in the desert region to its east that are now in rebel hands – in particular Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda off-shoot which is the strongest faction in this part of the country.

Now the violently anti-Western jihadist group, which has been steadily extending its control in the region, is selling the crude oil to local entrepreneurs, who use home-made refineries to produce low-grade petrol and other fuels for Syrians facing acute shortages.

The ability of Jabhat al-Nusra to profit from the oil locally, despite international sanctions which have hindered its sale abroad, will be particularly worrying to the European Union, which has voted to ease the embargo but at the same time wants to marginalise the extremist group within the opposition.

In the battle for the future of the rebel cause, the oil-fields may begin to play an increasingly strategic role. All are in the three provinces closest to Iraq – Hasakeh, Deir al-Zour, and Raqqa, while the Iraqi border regions are the homeland of the Islamic State of Iraq, as al-Qaeda’s branch in the country calls itself.

It was fighters from Islamic State of Iraq, both Iraqi and Syrian, who are thought to have founded Jabhat al-Nusra as the protests against the rule of President Assad turned into civil war.

Because of sanctions, Jabhat’s oil is largely shipped to thousands of home-built mini-refineries that have sprung up across the north of the country. The crude is distilled in hand-welded vats dug into the ground and heated with burning oil residue.

The Jabhat Al Nusra, a proscribed islamic militant group control the oil fields and cannot export due to sanctions, so this provides some cash flow to the rebel cause as well as much needed fuel for Northern Syria

It is not clear how much money is being channelled back to the group. But all those buying the raw product were aware that Jabhat was profiting.

“Jabhat do not ask for taxes or charges for this trade,” said one of them, Omar Mahmoud, from Raqqa province. “But we are buying the oil from them so they do not need to.”

Syria’s oil output, never as great as that of some of Syria’s Arab neighbours, fell to about 130,000 barrels a day after the outbreak of the revolution against the Assad regime.

However, Jabhat al-Nusra are now putting that to good use. The homes refineries are turning out poor quality but usable – and much-needed – petrol and kerosene for cooking and home stoves.

Their product might not meet the quality, and certainly the health and safety standards, demanded by Shell or ExxonMobil, but it provides a living to thousands of blackened figures willing to risk the business’s inherent dangers.

In parts of north-east Syria, the stills are set up by every road-side, the produce sold like fruit from lay-bys to drivers as they pass. But the unquestioned centre of the industry is the desert outside the small town of Mansoura, a few miles west of Raqqa city and on the other side of the Euphrates River.

Here, the entire horizon is a blighted scene of billowing clouds out of which dark figures occasionally emerge on foot or roaring motor-bikes. Near the road sit oil tankers carrying the raw product.

“I make 3000 Syrian pounds (about £15) a day,” said Adel Hantoush, 19, his legs dripping with crude, a filthy headscarf wrapped around his face. A building site casual labourer in better times, he helps support his father, mother and nine brothers and sisters.

Black smoke blew past his head as colleagues poured fuel into the burning pit under their tank. “The last thing I think about is my health,” he said. “If I don’t do this, my family will die.”

The amateur production process is quite simple, and easily explained in school text books.

The oil is heated slowly, with the different grades of product evaporating at different temperatures. The vapour is fed through pipes channelled through pits filled with water to recondense it as a liquid, which runs out into containers at the other end.

Near Raqqa, they pay 4000 Syrian pounds (£20) a barrel, with the price rising for smaller quantities and as the distance increases. A single refining vat can take six barrels at a time, producing maybe 30 litres of petrol, similar quantities of cooking fuel and higher amounts of diesel.

Abdulwahad Abdullah, a wheat farmer from north of Raqqa who runs a single still through two five-hour cycles a day, says he can make 20,000 pound profit (£100) on a good day.

It is a Mad Max scene, indicative of the chaos the war has unleashed in Syria, creating a landscape ideal for the methods of dominance al-Qaeda learned in post-war Iraq.

General Selim Idriss, the head of the western-backed opposition Military Council, has appealed for Western help specifically to seize the fields from Jabhat, but the forces required – he put it at 30,000 men – make that a pipe dream. Even pro-Western rebel militias in the area admit that the level of support received from the council is at present minimal.

They have promised to take on Jabhat al-Nusra once the fighting is over, but they are split and fighting among themselves, with their lack of money forcing some to turn to looting and extortion to fund themselves, further alienating the local population.

Jabhat have used their greater proficiency at fighting, honed by jihad in Iraq and elsewhere, to take a leading role at the battlefront. “They are more disciplined,” Abu Hamza, a fighter with a rival Islamist rebel brigade in Aleppo admitted. “When they attack, they make a plan first, and then stick to it.”

Their battlefield supremacy has enabled them to seize the economic as well as the military high-ground.

In Raqqa, they also control flour production, earning money from selling to bakeries, some of which they own as well. “Jabhat now own everything here,” one disillusioned secular activist said.

In other places they sell the flour at a loss, further endearing them to the local population.

Until now it has been a virtuous circle. Well-funded anyway from foreign contributions, they are able to avoid levying the fees – some say bribes – to pay their men and for supplies that have made other brigades increasingly unpopular. That in turn has been a major boon to recruitment, with thousands defecting to them.

Jabhat al-Nusra’s rule has not been easy. It has had to fight opposed local brigades, and has begun to face protests over its hardline policies – most recently last week after their public execution of three captured soldiers in Raqqa’s town square. The group said this was revenge for a massacre of civilians by pro-Assad forces in the coastal town of Baniyas.

Ominously, this was done in the name of “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”, suggesting that Jabhat al-Nusra at least in the east is now fully under the control of the murderous Iraqi mother group.

Few are concerned about the downsides, though one man showed huge weals that had grown under his arm which he blamed on his days inhaling the dense black smoke.

One Mansoura man, Mahmoud Ismail, a computer technician who had come to the desert site to visit friends and was watching them pour petrol into barrels to take away, said he had tried the work for a single day. But he then gave it up when he thought about what he was inhaling.

“I came, did it, and then packed up and stopped,” he said. “It just wasn’t worth it.”

With that, he flicked his cigarette on to the ground, and stamped it out. Story Continued

· Obama Approval Rating Not Hurt By Scandals: CNN/ORC International Poll A new poll shows that recent scandals haven’t hurt President Obama’s approval rating.

The poll, from CNN and ORC International, found that 53% of Americans approve of the job Obama is doing, while 45% disapproved. This number remains virtually unchanged from polls taken before the scandals hit.

The poll was taken on May 17th and 18th, and has a 3% margin of error.

A CNN poll taken in early April showed Obama’s approval rating to be 51%. According to a Gallup poll taken in early May, the president’s approval rating was 50%.

The CNN poll also found that 71% of Americans find the actions of the IRS employees who targeted Tea Party groups to be unacceptable. However, 6 in 10 respondents said they trusted the president’s statements on the issue.

Last week was a rough one for the administration, as news broke that the IRS had been unfairly targeting Tea Party groups applying for tax-exempt status. Additionally, it was revealed that the Justice Department had subpoenaed phone records from the Associated Press. The White House also faced continue scrutiny on the attacks in Benghazi. Story Continued

Sunday Roundup  – by Adrianna Huffington

This week saw the kickoff of Second Term Scandal Season, though the first entrants fall on very different parts of the manufactured scandal vs. real scandal continuum. On the deeply-contrived end is Benghazi — with supposedly damning White House emails having been altered by GOP leakers. On the actually scandalous end is the administration’s snooping through the AP’s phone records, which the New York Times called “an effort to frighten off whistle-blowers.” The incident points out the hypocrisy of a White House that praises whistleblowers in the abstract, but then goes after them — aggressively and often. “Speaking truth to power is now a criminal act,” says whistleblower and former NSA executive Thomas Drake, who the DOJ charged under the WW I-era Espionage Act. It’s President Obama’s war against whistleblowers that is the true scandal. Story Continued

Ms. Huffington brings some new points to light that were not known outside her circle of friends. But then the truth is a tough subject. PdC.

What’s Behind the Benghazi Hearings?  – Barbra Streisand; Singer; Actress; Director; Composer; Activist

Remember Whitewater and the “travel office” non-scandals of the 1990s? The Republicans and certain media outlets wasted the nation’s time and millions of dollars in pursuit of alleged wrongdoing by First Lady Hillary Clinton. It was all sound and fury signifying nothing. Two decades later, the same script is being revisited about the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which the president and Secretary Clinton clearly labeled a “terrorist act.”

If the Republicans want to revisit tragic acts of terrorism, shouldn’t we go back to 9/11/2001? The nation later found out there was massive incompetence on the part of the Bush Administration leading up to 9/11. President Bush received repeated warnings from Richard Clarke, the National Coordinator for Counter-terrorism, regarding an impending terrorist threat. Furthermore, while vacationing on his Texas ranch on August 6th, the president received a CIA briefing stating that Osama Bin Laden was determined to strike in the United States. President Bush dismissed the briefer saying he had “covered his ass” and went fishing.

In the aftermath of this horrific attack that killed almost 3,000 people, the Democrats didn’t spend months trying to politicize the tragedy by asking, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” Sometimes in the face of national tragedy, politics should take a backseat. The hypocrisy of turning Benghazi into a deliberate cover-up scandal is preposterous at a time when the nation faces so many serious problems. The budget sequester, sponsored by Republicans, is already cutting back security at U.S. embassies around the world. Why don’t the Republicans deal with the very real effects of the sequester at home and abroad?

But the Republicans are intent on politicizing the tragic deaths of four Americans last September 11th in Benghazi. Despite Secretary Hillary Clinton’s answering questions at Senate hearings into the matter, the Republicans in the House are trying to drum up a scandal with little new factual evidence. Could it be because they’re afraid Secretary Clinton might run for President in 2016? The report that came out of the The Accountability and Review Board, headed by seasoned diplomat Thomas Pickering, along with former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, absolved Secretary Clinton of wrongdoing, yet the Republican refuse to let this issue go.

The public should demand that the Republicans get on with the nation’s business and not spend their time and money undermining the current administration and former Secretary Clinton.

It is beyond hypocritical that Karl Rove, who was referred to as “Bush’s Brain,” should be running ads through his super PAC, American Crossroads, attacking Hillary Clinton now and accusing her — with no proof — of a “cover up.” This established lie is nothing but a smear and character assassination.

As Army lawyer Joseph Welch said to Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy on June 9, 1954, “Have you no sense of decency?” You could still ask the same question today. Story Continued

It is apparent that Barbara the lady with a great singing voice should stick with what she does well and not quit her day job. Please note that she credits herself with the title of Activist. PdC

The AP ‘Scandal’: The Straight Scoop  – Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago

We’ve read a lot lately about the AP “scandal.” In short, on May 7, 2012, the Associated Press released a story that disclosed classified details of a CIA operation in Yemen that prevented an airliner bombing around the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

In an effort to determine the identity of the government employee who leaked the classified information to the AP, the Justice Department, after conducting an extensive investigation without success, subpoenaed from the AP’s phone company the records for more than twenty telephone lines used by the AP and its journalists. The hope was that, by examining the incoming and outgoing phone numbers, it could identify the leaker and prevent him or her from releasing additional classified information in the future.

According to the media (to say nothing of Republicans and Fox News), in pursuing this investigation the Obama administration brutalized the Constitution and flagrantly violated the law. The hysteria of the media’s response is predictably self-involved and self-interested and the reaction of Republicans is predictably hypocritical.

Let me say at the outset that I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU, a strong proponent of press freedom and a staunch believer in both a robust First Amendment and a vibrant Fourth Amendment. But I also care about rational public discourse, and the furious condemnation of the Department of Justice in this situation is way over the top.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Almost forty years ago, in a regrettable decision, the conservative justices on the Burger Court held that individuals have no “reasonable expectation of privacy” in information we voluntarily reveal to third parties. The Court therefore held that for the government to obtain our financial records from our bank, or our phone records from our phone company, is not an “unreasonable search or seizure” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

This understanding of the Fourth Amendment is regrettable because it ignores the reality that in the modern world we often, as a matter of practical necessity, expose what we quite reasonably regard as private information to third parties, such as banks, Internet providers and phone companies. That we reveal such information to those entities does not in any way suggest that we are indifferent to the privacy of the information.

Nonetheless, that is the prevailing interpretation of the Fourth Amendment and there is no possibility that the current conservative majority on the Supreme Court will change it. Thus, the subpoena of AP phone records from the phone company does not violate the Fourth Amendment.

The First Amendment prohibits government to abridge the “freedom of the press.” Does it violate the First Amendment for the government to gather information about the AP’s phone records? The media argue that because this action will reveal the identity of confidential sources, it abridged “the freedom of the press.”

Forty years ago, in another regrettable decision, the conservative justices on the Burger Court held that the government can constitutionally require reporters to disclose the names of confidential sources. The Court held, in effect, that the “freedom of the press” does not give members of the press any special rights not enjoyed by other individuals.

Although the government cannot constitutionally discriminate against the press (for example, by charging higher sales taxes for newspapers than for other products), the Court held that if other individuals can be compelled to disclose information relevant to law enforcement, then journalists can be compelled to do so as well.

This understanding of the First Amendment is regrettable because there are clearly circumstances in which the government should be constitutionally required to recognize and respect the distinctive harm its investigations might have on our ability to preserve a vibrant, robust public discourse. But, because of the settled state of First Amendment law on this question, it is clear that the Department of Justice’s action did not violate the First Amendment (despite the outraged complaints of the media).

In short, then, nothing the Department of Justice did in this investigation violated the Constitution as currently understood. Nor did anything it did violate federal law. Although proposals to enact legislation restricting the ability of the government to compel the disclosure of information about the identity of confidential sources — a so-called “Shield Law” — have been presented repeatedly in Congress over the past decade, Republican lawmakers have consistently — and shamefully — blocked such legislation on the theory that it might weaken the national security. Thus, it is also clear that the Department of Justice’s use of a subpoena to require the phone company to turn over the call records of the AP did not violate any federal law.

Legally, then, the Department of Justice could constitutionally and legally have sought the phone records of the AP at any time and in any manner it pleased. As a measure of good government, though, since Watergate, the Department of Justice has acted with self-restraint. For the past forty years, the Department has imposed upon itself specific, voluntary limitations on when it will exercise its lawful authority to ascertain the identities of confidential sources.

Thus, as set forth explicitly in Department of Justice regulations, the Department, “in recognition of the importance of freedom of the press to a free and democratic society,” has promulgated regulations providing that “the prosecutorial power of the Government should not be used in such a way that it impairs a reporter’s responsibility to cover as broadly as possible controversial public issues.” These regulations provide that the Department will not subpoena the phone records of a member of the news media unless certain conditions are satisfied, including

(a) balancing in each instance “the public’s interest in the free dissemination of ideas and information with the public’s interest in effective law enforcement,”

(b) “taking all reasonable steps to attempt to obtain the information through alternate sources or means,”

(c) fashioning the subpoena “as narrowly as possible to obtain the necessary information in a manner as minimally intrusive and burdensome as possible,” and

(d) negotiating “with the affected media” before resorting to a subpoena “unless such negotiations” might “pose a substantial threat to the investigation.”

Although these regulations are, in my view, insufficiently protective of the interests of a free press, they are as protective as the Department of Justice has ever been, and they are more protective than either the Constitution (as interpreted by conservative justices) or federal law requires.

It is, of course, possible that the Department of Justice did not comply with its own regulations in the AP investigations. Perhaps the subpoena could have been more narrowly drawn. Perhaps the Department should have negotiated with the AP before issuing the subpoena. I do not have sufficient information to speculate about these issues, but nor do the media. What is clear, though, is that the overblown claims that this investigation is some huge “scandal” that threatens the very foundations of our free society are nothing short of absurd. Story Continued

This sounds like if “My party in in office so they can do whatever they want and it is okay with me.” approach to what happens in Washington DC. I think they need to pass laws that applies to all people and not exclude anyone or any group. Is that too simple minded? PdC

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