November 28, 2014

Obama changes tune on immigration: Yes, I changed the law

Did President Obama change the law or not when he unilaterally decided that millions of illegal immigrants in the U.S. would be protected against deportation?

Until this week, both the president and White House staff insisted that Obama did not change the law and indeed could not change the law without the cooperation of Congress. Obama's move was just a revision of executive branch enforcement priorities, according to the official White House line. A Justice Department memo backed up the president's contention.

"This notion that somehow I can just change the laws unilaterally is just not true," Obama said at a Hispanic Roundtable meeting in the White House in 2011. "We are doing everything we can administratively." Obama said similar things several times since then, and on Nov. 18, just two days before Obama announced his action, White House spokesman Josh Earnest pointed to the "large number of cases in which the president has said, 'I'm not an emperor, I'm not a king, and I can't change the law.' "

Fast forward to Tuesday, when Obama was speaking on immigration reform to a group in Chicago. When protesters began yelling at Obama to stop all deportations, the president became frustrated and answered: "There have been significant numbers of deportations. That's true. But what you're not paying attention to is the fact that I just took action to change the law."

In an instant, Obama's insistence that "this notion that somehow I can just change the laws unilaterally is just not true" became "I just took action to change the law."

In Chicago, Obama went on to explain, "The way the change in the law works is that we're reprioritizing how we enforce our immigration laws generally." Perhaps defenders will take that to mean Obama really wasn't saying he changed the law and just meant that he had changed enforcement. But a more reasonable reading would be that Obama was suggesting his "reprioritization" of immigration law enforcement is so broad and far-reaching that it amounts to changing the law itself. That's why the president's short-version description of his move was, "I just took action to change the law."

Obama's latest statement will give new energy to Capitol Hill Republicans who argue that he did indeed change the law, and that such sweeping changes lie within the exclusive authority of Congress. Until Tuesday, Obama had been quite disciplined in how he described his authority in the area of immigration. Now, that has changed.

November 27, 2014

IRS paying millions in bonuses to employees who are tax scofflaws

IRS employees who made “unintentional” mistakes on their taxes are still eligible to get bonuses this fiscal year, the agency confirmed this week.

Commissioner John Koskinen announced the bonuses in an email to employees on Monday, saying they were a way to reward long-suffering staffers who have put up with budget and workforce cuts and are still keeping the agency humming.

But the payout, worth millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money, isn’t sitting well with congressional critics, who said it sends the wrong message at a time when the agency is reeling from several scandals, and when even staffers who are delinquent on their taxes can collect bonuses.

“It’s no wonder the American people find it hard to believe the IRS needs more money when the agency fails to collect back taxes from their own employees and instead rewards them with bonuses,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican who is poised to become chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance next year. “American families have been doing more with less for far too long now, and it is time the IRS [does] the same.”

IRS bonuses have been contentious ever since the May 2013 revelation that the agency improperly targeted conservative groups’ nonprofit status applications, including long delays and intrusive questions. Some groups are still awaiting approval nearly five years after they applied for nonprofit status.''

But Mr. Koskinen said in an email to employees that the bonuses were an appropriate way for taxpayers to reward the agency that polices them.

“I believe that rewarding our high-performing employees is a vital investment for our nation’s tax system,” he said.

Mr. Koskinen, who took over at the agency’s helm to clean up after the tea party scandal erupted, said the agency has shed 13,000 staff positions since 2010 but has more duties than ever. One of those is administering Obamacare’s tax penalty, which will show up in many tax filings early next year.

“Performance awards are a good investment that pays off — and they reflect the hard work you and your colleagues do for the nation,” he said.

The bonuses, which were first reported this week by The Hill, a newspaper that covers Congress, amount to about 1 percent of their salary for most employees. Several years ago employees got bonuses of 1.75 percent, but Mr. Koskinen said belt-tightening has hit hard.

Mr. Koskinen said he would take additional steps by denying bonuses for employees deemed to have violated the federal law’s code of conduct for the IRS. That means workers who abuse taxpayers, falsify documents, engage in extortion, refuse to file their tax forms or are caught intentionally understating their taxes won’t get bonuses. The law calls for them to be fired.

However, hundreds of employees who are behind in their taxes but aren’t deemed to have intentionally defrauded the government could still get bonuses, the agency confirmed to The Washington Times.

IRS leadership determined that in cases of willful tax non-compliance, performance awards will not be paid to otherwise eligible employees. However, the law specifically excludes unintentional tax errors made due to a ‘reasonable cause,’ not to penalize employees for legitimate, unintended errors,” the agency said in a statement. “The IRS monitors 100 percent of IRS employee tax accounts to identify acts of potential non-compliance and works with employees to ensure prompt payment.”

The agency said more than 99 percent of its employees file and pay their taxes on time.

“It’s important to remember that not everyone at the IRS is a tax expert — some work in non-tax-specific areas in occupations ranging from IT programmers, administrative professionals to human capital specialists. Where employees have been found to have made unintentional tax mistakes, they would still be eligible to receive performance awards they have earned,” the agency said.

The IRS’s inspector general reported in April that the agency paid out more than $1 million in bonuses earlier this decade to 1,146 employees who investigators said had “tax compliance problems.” Those employees were also awarded more than 10,000 hours of paid vacation, valued at $256,000.

Inspector General J. Russell George said the bonus payments are legal, but pointedly noted that the law calls for IRS employees found guilty of serious misconduct to be fired.

In his email to employees, Mr. Koskinen apologized for the bonuses’ timing, saying he’d wished they would have gone out by the end of this year. But he said bonuses they paid in April “complicated the situation.” He said the agreement reached with the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents many IRS workers, calls for the next round of bonuses to be paid at the end of 2015.

NTEU didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday on the bonuses.

November 26, 2014

Obama: Americans Have No Right To Favor Americans

The only Americans who can legitimately object to immigration are native Indian-Americans, President Barack Obama told his Chicago audience Nov. 24, as he made an impassioned ideological plea for endless immigration, cultural diversity and a big government to manage the resulting multicultural society.

“There have been periods where the folks who were already here suddenly say, ‘Well, I don’t want those folks,’ even though the only people who have the right to say that are some Native Americans,” Obama said, rhetorically dismissing the right of 300 million actual Americans to decide who can live in their homeland.

Americans should not favor other Americans over foreigners, Obama demanded. “Sometimes we get attached to our particular tribe, our particular race, our particular religion, and then we start treating other folks differently… that, sometimes, has been a bottleneck to how we think about immigration,” he said in the face of many polls showing rising opposition to his immigration agenda.

Obama denied any moral or practical distinction between native-born Americans and future migrants. “Whether we cross the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we all shared one thing, and that’s the hope that America would be the place where we could believe as we choose… and that the law would be enforced equally for everybody, regardless of what you look like or what your last name was,” said the president.

“That’s the ideal that binds us all together. That’s what’s at stake when we have conversations about immigration,” he declared.

Obama did indicate his approval for some measures to exclude illegal immigrants, even as he works to amnesty 12 million illegals stage-by-stage.  His current amnesty “doesn’t apply to anyone who has come to this country recently, or might come illegally in the future, because borders do mean something,” he said.

In Japan, however, where the government allows little immigration, “they don’t have problems with certain folks being discriminated against because mostly everybody is Japanese,” Obama admitted.

Currently, one million immigrants are accepted each year. That inflow brings in roughly one immigrant for every four Americans who turn 18 each year, even though wages and the number of native-born Americans with jobs have both flatlined since 2000 amid increasing competition from migrants, stalled productivity, accelerating technology and changing trade patterns.

Obama’s speech was a defense of his Nov. 21 unilateral effort to roll back enforcement of immigration law.

That action halts the enforcement of immigration law against 12 million illegals now in the country, and also against every new migrant who makes it over the border. The edict also awards work-permits to roughy four million illegal immigrants, and puts them on a fast-track to citizenship. It also sharply increases the annual inflow of 650,000 guest workers for blue-collar and white-collar jobs sought by Americans. Obama’s speech did not mention the unpopular work permits or the fast-track to citizenship.

Numerous polls show Americans want to reduce or stabilize immigration, and also oppose Obama’s immigration policies by a factor of two-to-one, three-to-one or even four-to-one. On Nov. 4, 66 percent of Oregon’s voters —- including many Democratic voters — struck down a law granting drivers’ license to illegals.

In his Nov. 25 speech, Obama downplayed the existence and interests of native-born Americans as he championed the arrival of many non-English speaking students in Chicago schools. “Chicago has always been a city of immigrants, and that’s still true,” he declared, while adding that “you go to the public schools around here and you got 50, 60, 70 different languages being spoken.”

In fact, Chicago and the United States is overwhelmingly populated by native-born Americans who work, live and learn best in stable neighborhoods and classrooms. Nationwide, five out of six people in the U.S are are native-born.

More immigration “means more jobs, more growth for everybody,” Obama claimed.

But more jobs doesn’t mean more wages for Americans. Since 2000, median wages have stalled and the number of native-born Americans with jobs has remained flat amid the annual arrival of roughly one million legal immigrants, 650,000 guest workers and millions of illegals.

The award of work permits to four million illegals will provide more revenues for government, Obama said. But he ignored the likely $2 trillion cost of providing U.S. welfare and social services to the migrants, who average a 10th grade education.

The migrants “will boost wages for American-born workers,” he said, without mentioning that his aides estimated the increase to be worth only $170 per year for each working American, 10 years after his planned amnesty. That estimate is based on many assumptions, including claims that migrant workers will not usually compete against Americans for better jobs, and that the migrants will earn more money because of government intervention.

His forecast of a $170 per year gain claim also ignores evidence that more immigrant workers can swamp the labor market and drive down wages for Americans. That labor-supply reality is accepted by his top economic adviser.

But Obama was far more passionate when making his ideological argument for mass immigration.

Deportations of illegals who have children in the United States “breaks up families… it is heartbreaking, it is not right,” he said. “We’re not a nation that kicks out strivers… we find ways to welcome people, fellow human beings, children of God, into he fold, and harness their talents.”

The Status of Liberty doesn’t have its back to the world, he said, trying to portray the monument as a colossal invitation to migrants. In fact, the status was designed as a “Light to the World” that would show foreigners how Americans’ use their constitution and laws to govern themselves without kings or emperors.

The many immigrants who arrive have to be treated equally under the law, Obama said, segueing into his progressive agenda.

“Sometimes that’s hard to do, and it is worthwhile, it is worth doing,” he said.

Obama’s praise for mass immigration reflects his long-standing belief that migrants can join with Africans-Americans, under the guidance of the progressives who run the Democratic Party, to win political power and wealth from Americans.

“In my mind, at least, the fates of black and brown were to be perpetually intertwined, the cornerstone of a coalition that could help America live up to its promise,” he wrote in his 2006 book, “The Audacity of Hope.”

That hope, however, was frustrated by economic competition between Americans and migrants, he wrote.

“The number of immigrants added to the labor force every year is of a magnitude not seen in this country for over a century,” Obama noted. “If this huge influx of mostly low-skill workers provides some benefits to the economy as a whole…. [but] it also threatens to depress further the wages of blue-collar Americans and put strains on an already overburdened safety net.”

November 25, 2014

Ferguson Verdict Explodes Media's Lying Racial Narrative

On Monday night, the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri freed Officer Darren Wilson from the possibility of indictment over his shooting of 18-year-old black man Michael Brown. The prosecutor before the grand jury, Robert McCulloch, explained why the indictment had been rejected: the evidence, both physical and eyewitness, supported Wilson’s case that he had acted in self-defense.

McCulloch added pointed criticism of the media that drove the case in the first place, ripping the “insatiable appetite” of social media and “non-stop rumors” driven by it. The initial accounts pushed by social media, McCulloch said, were “filled with speculation and little, if any, solid or accurate evidence.” But he saved his harshest criticism for the media machine itself: “The most significant challenge encountered in this investigation has been the 24-hour news cycle and its insatiable appetite for something, for anything, to talk about, followed closely behind with the non-stop rumors on social media.” McCulloch finished by stating that evidence mattered, and that no one’s life should be decided based on “public outcry or for political expediency.”

The lecture was well-deserved.

Just as the media did during the George Zimmerman trial and in the aftermath of Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin, the media attempted to cram the square peg of the Wilson-Brown shooting into the round hole of white police racism. That meant portraying Brown as the latest sainted racial victim; this time, rather than the Trayvon Martin narrative of hoodies, Skittles, and iced tea, the media hit upon the notion that Brown was a “gentle giant.” The Brown family, Al Sharpton, MSNBC, CNN, The Washington Post, and other major media outlets ran with the story that Brown was a “gentle giant” who wouldn’t hurt a fly.

Then, it turned out that Brown had robbed a convenience store minutes before his altercation with Wilson.

Similarly, the media trotted out the story of Dorian Johnson, Brown’s friend, who said that Brown held his hands up in surrender after being shot in the back, and that Wilson executed Brown. The entire media ran with that one originally; the lie spawned an entire “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” movement. Of course, it later turned out that Johnson had helped Brown rob the store, and that all available autopsy evidence contradicted Johnson’s story.

But never mind: the media had somehow turned the true story of Michael Brown – the story of a 6’5”, 289-lb. 18-year-old strong-arm-robbing a convenience store, confronting a police officer and attempting to take his gun, running away, turning back to charge that officer, and being shot multiple times – into the story of Emmett Till. Never mind that there was not a single shred of evidence suggesting that Wilson targeted Brown based on race; never mind that Brown matched the description of the robbery suspect because he was the robbery suspect; never mind that Brown attacked an officer twice. No, this was a pre-ordained narrative for the media: white racist police officer strikes down young black unarmed man. The result of that overwrought and outright false media-generated controversy: extended riots in Ferguson.

The story beat the facts. So the media ran with the story. 

So did President Obama. In 2013, Obama told America that Trayvon Martin could have been his son; in this case, Obama told the United Nations that riots in Ferguson represented America’s nasty racial legacy.

As the grand jury verdict neared release, the media built up the story. We were warned of riots if Wilson escaped indictment; Erin Burnett of CNN said that such a verdict would be the “nuclear option.” Nancy Grace of Court TV helpfully added that Michael Brown’s height did not “mean he was a violent teen.” And the Brown family attorney, Benjamin Crump, openly stated that the grand jury was corrupt, long before the verdict. 

Predictably enough, the Michael Brown case fell apart the moment it hit the legal system. It turns out, as Robert McCulloch said, that evidence still trumps media hype in the legal system – at least sometimes.

Now the media, humiliated yet again, riot. Ezra Klein of asked, with the legal insight of a mentally malfunctioning goldfish, whether Michael Brown had an advocate in the grand jury hearing (the answer: that’s not how grand juries work). Fellow non-lawyer Chris Hayes of MSNBC lamented that the grand jury procedure was “so far removed from normal criminal procedure it’s unrecognizable.” The New York Daily News considered this obscene first mock-up headline: “Killer Cop Goes Free.”

With the media breathlessly covering the riots they helped to stoke in Ferguson, rioters set the city aflame. Shots were fired; protesters threw batteries, rocks and bottles; stores were looted. The media feigned head-shaking rue. Meanwhile, President Obama explained that Americans who ignored all the evidence to convict Wilson were reacting in “understandable” fashion – because, as always, evidence means nothing the left when in conflict with feelings and perception of victimhood.

Truthfully, the angry and sullen reactions of those who wanted Wilson tried are understandable. They’re understandable because most Americans live in the evidence-free narrative created by malicious media liars, and the politicians they enable. They live in the evidence-free world of the political left, which maintains that America remains deeply racist, that every white cop is Bull Connor, and that every black man shot by police is a Selma marcher. So long as they live in that world, racial reconciliation will remain a dream, and racial polarization will remain a tool of the political and media elite to sell papers, raise cash, and drive votes.


November 24, 2014

Fed To Review Its Own Oversight Of Big Banks

The Federal Reserve has unexpectedly announced it’s reviewing its oversight and regulation of Wall Street, to make sure bank supervisors are considering the right information when making judgments and new rules.

The Fed’s Inspector General will head up the review, and is tasked with figuring out whether supervisors are using the right methods to gather all the relevant information, and whether they consider dissenting views from staff. The goal is to make sure examinations of big banks are “consistent, sound, and supported by all relevant information,” the Fed said in a press release.

Critics, including some members of Congress, are concerned that the supervisors are making corrupt judgments and failing to enforce policies, because they’re too connected to the banking system.

A secret 2009 internal review conducted by the Fed, which was recently uncovered, found that staffers did not feel comfortable voicing their honest opinion and were encouraged to downplay their concerns about banks they were supervising. In September, a former staffer at the New York Federal Reserve was not allowed to take action against Goldman Sachs, reported The Wall Street Journal. And an October IG report found the Fed could have prevented J.P. Morgan from making risky trades in 2012 that ended up costing it $6 billion.

New York Fed President William Dudley defended the Fed in a Senate committee hearing, saying it does not have a problem getting tough on banks, but adding its oversight can always be improved. “I don’t think we have serious cultural problems to the same degree [as Wall Street],” Dudley said according to the WSJ. “But are we perfect? Absolutely not.”

Lawmakers concerned about possible corruption of the Fed have called repeatedly for a full congressional audit, but have not been able to pass a bill. “There is a revolving door from Wall Street to the Treasury to the Fed and back again,” wrote Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul in a January op-ed published by Breitbart. “We have former Secretaries of the Treasury going from government to Wall Street and pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Paul’s version of the bill was stalled again in the Senate this year, but it has a better chance of passing both chambers in the new Republican Congress. Critics worry a congressional audit would violate the independence of the Fed.

In a February congressional hearing, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said an audit would put improper and counterproductive “political pressures” on the Fed. “I don’t believe that the Federal Reserve is in any way corrupt,” she said, according to Politico. ”And I believe that the confidence of markets in the Federal Reserve and in our monetary policy making would not be enhanced by that type of audit.”

November 21, 2014

All Hail King Barack Obama, Emperor Of The United States Of America!

As President Barack Obama dictates his immigration decree on Thursday night, Republicans from all different sides of the party are responding by calling him “king” or “emperor” or some variant of those tyrant-sounding terms.

“If ‘Emperor Obama’ ignores the American people and announces an amnesty plan that he himself has said over and over again exceeds his Constitutional authority, he will cement his legacy of lawlessness and ruin the chances for Congressional action on this issue – and many others,” House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel said in an email to reporters this week.

Incoming Senate Budget Committee chairman Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said in a statement this week that Obama is now “Emperor Of The United States:"
President Obama previously said he could not issue an executive amnesty because ‘I’m the President of the United States, I’m not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed. Well, apparently we now have an ‘Emperor of the United States.’ President Obama’s immigration order would provide illegal immigrants with the exact benefits Congress has repeatedly rejected: Social Security numbers, photo IDs and work permits—which will allow them to now take jobs directly from struggling Americans in every occupation. Congress must not allow this unconstitutional action. That means Congress should fund the government while ensuring that no funds can be spent on this unlawful purpose.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Thursday took to the U.S. Senate floor to rip into Obama’s coming decree by citing Cicero, the Roman Senator who fought the encroaching empire that took Democracy in the ancient Republic.

“When, President Obama, do you mean to cease abusing our patience?” Cruz adapted Cicero’s famous warning to Rome’s citizens against the Cataline conspiracy:
How long is that madness of yours still to mock us? When is there to be an end of that unbridled audacity of yours, swaggering about as it does now. Do not the nightly guards placed on the Border—do not the watches posted throughout the city—does not the alarm of the people, and the union of all good men—does not the precaution taken of assembling the Senate in this most defensible place—do not the looks and countenances of this venerable body here present, have any effect upon you? Do you not feel that your plans are detected?
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who alongside Cruz passed legislation through the House of Representatives before the August recess before the midterm elections blocking funding for the implementation of this executive amnesty—something the Senate rejected—called Obama “King.”

“President Obama’s relentless assault on the Constitution will be his legacy,” Blackburn, who pledged that Republicans will fight and beat Obama’s executive amnesty, said in a statement. “His actions have established a new precedent for Executive behavior that will have repercussions for years to come. Soon we will no longer need the legislators or the courts. King Obama will make the law, interpret the law, and if he so chooses, enforce the law. His ‘ends justify the means’ approach is exactly the type of Executive mentality our system of government was designed to discourage.”

Even Karl Rove, a staunch proponent of amnesty for illegal aliens, said the way Obama is doing this is like a king. “We are not a monarchy, we are not an empire where the president sits on some throne in Washington, D.C.,” Rove said on Fox News on Thursday night.

November 20, 2014

Congressmen To NIH: Justify Continuing To Pay Jonathan Gruber

Two GOP congressmen are asking the National Institutes of Health a long list of questions about its ongoing contract with Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber, suggesting it might be better off ending his contract. 

Reps. Joe Pitts and Andy Harris wrote to NIH director Francis Collins Wednesday charging that Gruber’s untoward comments have called into question Gruber’s trustworthiness and the NIH’s choices.

“Recent developments related to Dr. Gruber raise questions about his objectivity and judgment, and thus the utility of his research,” the congressmen wrote. “Further, the award of this grant causes majors concerns regarding NIH’s funding priorities.”

Gruber has received $1.5 million from NIH’s National Institute on Aging and is set to earn over $2 million, according to the letter. The NIH’s website also reports that Gruber has received $2,049,937 for his research between 2008 and 2014.

Gruber’s ongoing research is focused on “Dynamics of Plan Choice and Prescription Drug Utilization in Medicare Part D.”

“If NIH were to continue funding Dr. Gruber’s grant, would you recommend that Congress and others utilize Dr. Gruber’s study given his deplorable views on the intelligence of Americans?” the congressmen asked. “If you do recommend utilizing it, how would you justify that decision, especially to seniors who rely on Medicare Part D?”

Apart from lambasting the Americans voters’ “stupidity,” Gruber explained that Obamacare’s authors intentionally “mislabeled” parts of Obamacare in a “basic exploitation” of the American public.

The congressmen asked about the “process for rescinding grant funding” and questioned whether, “given the significant issues regarding Dr. Gruber’s judgment and the effect it will have on the study and its findings,” the NIH is considering that in Gruber’s case.

They also noted that Gruber’s funding could have gone towards other types of research that could benefit the American people, such as Alzheimer’s, dementia or cancer. Collins, of course, blamed cuts in research funding for NIH’s failure to create a Ebola vaccine earlier this year.

He’s also still part of a $450,000 contract from the state of Vermont to help design the funding for the state’s effort to create a single-payer health care system and remains on the board of the Massachusetts Obamacare exchange. Several top Vermont state Republicans have called for his contract to be ended.

November 19, 2014

Senate Sinks NSA Reform

The Senate voted 58 to 42 against bringing the USA FREEDOM Act to the floor for amendments and passage Tuesday night, marking the end of any chance for National Security Agency surveillance reform this Congress.

Tuesday night’s vote to invoke cloture and proceed to a vote for passage failed to acquire the 60 votes needed, with all but one Democrat voting in favor of the bill along with Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Dean Heller of Nevada.

In the final hours prior to the vote, Republicans including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell amped up their warnings of the bill’s potential to curb national security efforts against terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

“This is the worst possible time to be tying our hands behind our backs. The threat from ISIL is real,” McConnell said in a statement Tuesday. “It’s different from what we’ve faced before. And if we’re going to overcome it — if our aim is to degrade and destroy ISIL, as the president has said — then that’s going to require smart policies and firm determination.” 

“I promise you, if God forbid a horrifying event like that would happen, the first question that would be asked is why didn’t we know about it?” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said during the brief floor debate that preceded the vote.

“Why would we weaken the ability of our intelligence community at a time when the threats against this country have never been greater?” Maine Republican Susan Collins asked.

After the vote was decided, Democratic Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy — the bill’s chief sponsor in the upper chamber — decried the “scare tactics” used by Republicans to squash the strongest measure yet aimed at reducing the size and scope of bulk surveillance of Americans revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden more than one year ago.

“Fomenting fear stifles debate, and doing it at the last minute is all the more regrettable,” Leahy said. “This nation should not allow its liberty to be set aside by passing fear.”

“If we do not protect the Constitution, we do not deserve to be in this body.”

The White House also endorsed the bill, which aside from curtailing surveillance powers, 
reauthorized such powers that were originally expanded via the PATRIOT Act for an additional two years. Without passage of the USA FREEDOM Act, Republicans set to control the chamber starting next year will have until June 1 to come up with a plan of their own before the PATRIOT Act expires entirely, along with all of the expanded authority within.

The USA FREEDOM Act would have ended NSA’s bulk collection of telephone records and storage, moved such records into the hands of service providers, and forced the agency to obtain specific warrants to search the data. Additional provisions required the signals intelligence agency to implement specific terms into search requests — this is in contrast to the House bill passed earlier this year, which some argued made it easier for NSA to conduct bulk searches for anyone falling under generic information like ZIP codes. 

The bill also added privacy and civil liberties advocates to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves secret government warrants for searches.

Further transparency measures gave service providers and tech companies more freedom in reporting the number and type of government requests for data they must facilitate, and mandated that the government reveal the number of people swept up in searches — particularly if they’re American citizens.

Lawmakers in favor of even stronger reforms including Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul criticized the bill’s failure to address surveillance authority granted to the government under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows NSA to collect the electronic communications of non-citizens outside the U.S., but often sweeps up and stores Americans’ communications in the process.

November 18, 2014

The Siege of Julian Assange is a Farce

The siege of Knightsbridge is a farce. For two years, an exaggerated, costly police presence around the Ecuadorean embassy in London has served no purpose other than to flaunt the power of the state. Their quarry is an Australian charged with no crime, a refugee from gross injustice whose only security is the room given him by a brave South American country. His true crime is to have initiated a wave of truth-telling in an era of lies, cynicism and war.

The persecution of Julian Assange must end. Even the British government clearly believes it must end. On 28 October, the deputy foreign minister, Hugo Swire, told Parliament he would "actively welcome" the Swedish prosecutor in London and "we would do absolutely everything to facilitate that". The tone was impatient.

The Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny, has refused to come to London to question Assange about allegations of sexual misconduct in Stockholm in 2010 - even though Swedish law allows for it and the procedure is routine for Sweden and the UK. The documentary evidence of a threat to Assange's life and freedom from the United States - should he leave the embassy - is overwhelming. On May 14 this year, US court files revealed that a "multi subject investigation" against Assange was "active and ongoing".

Ny has never properly explained why she will not come to London, just as the Swedish authorities have never explained why they refuse to give Assange a guarantee that they will not extradite him on to the US under a secret arrangement agreed between Stockholm and Washington. In December 2010, the Independent revealed that the two governments had discussed his onward extradition to the US before the European Arrest Warrant was issued.

Perhaps an explanation is that, contrary to its reputation as a liberal bastion, Sweden has drawn so close to Washington that it has allowed secret CIA "renditions" - including the illegal deportation of refugees. The rendition and subsequent torture of two Egyptian political refugees in 2001 was condemned by the UN Committee against Torture, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch; the complicity and duplicity of the Swedish state are documented in successful civil litigation and WikiLeaks cables. In the summer of 2010, Assange had been in Sweden to talk about WikiLeaks revelations of the war in Afghanistan - in which Sweden had forces under US command.

The Americans are pursuing Assange because WikiLeaks exposed their epic crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq: the wholesale killing of tens of thousands of civilians, which they covered up; and their contempt for sovereignty and international law, as demonstrated vividly in their leaked diplomatic cables.

For his part in disclosing how US soldiers murdered Afghan and Iraqi civilians, the heroic soldier Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning received a sentence of 35 years, having been held for more than a thousand days in conditions which, according to the UN Special Rapporteur, amounted to torture.

Few doubt that should the US get their hands on Assange, a similar fate awaits him. Threats of capture and assassination became the currency of the political extremes in the US following Vice-President Joe Biden's preposterous slur that Assange was a "cyber-terrorist". Anyone doubting the kind of US ruthlessness he can expect should remember the forcing down of the Bolivian president's plane last year - wrongly believed to be carrying Edward Snowden.

According to documents released by Snowden, Assange is on a "Manhunt target list". Washington's bid to get him, say Australian diplomatic cables, is "unprecedented in scale and nature". In Alexandria, Virginia, a secret grand jury has spent four years attempting to contrive a crime for which Assange can be prosecuted. This is not easy. The First Amendment to the US Constitution protects publishers, journalists and whistleblowers. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama lauded whistleblowers as "part of a healthy democracy [and they] must be protected from reprisal". Under President Obama, more whistleblowers have been prosecuted than under all other US presidents combined. Even before the verdict was announced in the trial of Chelsea Manning, Obama had pronounced the whisletblower guilty.

"Documents released by WikiLeaks since Assange moved to England," wrote Al Burke, editor of the online Nordic News Network, an authority on the multiple twists and dangers facing Assange, "clearly indicate that Sweden has consistently submitted to pressure from the United States in matters relating to civil rights. There is every reason for concern that if Assange were to be taken into custody by Swedish authorities, he could be turned over to the United States without due consideration of his legal rights."

There are signs that the Swedish public and legal community do not support prosecutor's Marianne Ny's intransigence. Once implacably hostile to Assange, the Swedish press has published headlines such as: "Go to London, for God's sake."

Why won't she? More to the point, why won't she allow the Swedish court access to hundreds of SMS messages that the police extracted from the phone of one of the two women involved in the misconduct allegations? Why won't she hand them over to Assange's Swedish lawyers? She says she is not legally required to do so until a formal charge is laid and she has questioned him. Then, why doesn't she question him?

This week, the Swedish Court of Appeal will decide whether to order Ny to hand over the SMS messages; or the matter will go to the Supreme Court and the European Court of Justice. In high farce, Assange's Swedish lawyers have been allowed only to "review" the SMS messages, which they had to memorise.

One of the women's messages makes clear that she did not want any charges brought against Assange, "but the police were keen on getting a hold on him". She was "shocked" when they arrested him because she only "wanted him to take [an HIV] test". She "did not want to accuse JA of anything" and "it was the police who made up the charges". (In a witness statement, she is quoted as saying that she had been "railroaded by police and others around her".)

Neither woman claimed she had been raped. Indeed, both have denied they were raped and one of them has since tweeted, "I have not been raped." That they were manipulated by police and their wishes ignored is evident - whatever their lawyers might say now. Certainly, they are victims of a saga worthy of Kafka.

For Assange, his only trial has been trial by media. On 20 August 2010, the Swedish police opened a "rape investigation" and immediately - and unlawfully - told the Stockholm tabloids that there was a warrant for Assange's arrest for the "rape of two women". This was the news that went round the world.

In Washington, a smiling US Defence Secretary Robert Gates told reporters that the arrest "sounds like good news to me". Twitter accounts associated with the Pentagon described Assange as a "rapist" and a "fugitive".

Less than 24 hours later, the Stockholm Chief Prosecutor, Eva Finne, took over the investigation. She wasted no time in cancelling the arrest warrant, saying, "I don't believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape." Four days later, she dismissed the rape investigation altogether, saying, "There is no suspicion of any crime whatsoever."  The file was closed.

Enter Claes Borgstrom, a high profile politician in the Social Democratic Party then standing as a candidate in Sweden's imminent general election. Within days of the chief prosecutor's dismissal of the case, Borgstrom, a lawyer, announced to the media that he was representing the two women and had sought a different prosecutor in the city of Gothenberg. This was Marianne Ny, whom Borgstrom knew well. She, too, was involved with the Social Democrats.

On 30 August, Assange attended a police station in Stockholm voluntarily and answered all the questions put to him. He understood that was the end of the matter. Two days later, Ny announced she was re-opening the case. Borgstrom was asked by a Swedish reporter why the case was proceeding when it had already been dismissed, citing one of the women as saying she had not been raped. He replied, "Ah, but she is not a lawyer." Assange's Australian barrister, James Catlin, responded, "This is a laughing stock... it's as if they make it up as they go along."

On the day Marianne Ny reactivated the case, the head of Sweden's military intelligence service ("MUST") publicly denounced WikiLeaks in an article entitled "WikiLeaks [is] a threat to our soldiers." Assange was warned that the Swedish intelligence service, SAP, had been told by its US counterparts that US-Sweden intelligence-sharing arrangements would be "cut off" if Sweden sheltered him.

For five weeks, Assange waited in Sweden for the new investigation to take its course. The Guardian was then on the brink of publishing the Iraq "War Logs", based on WikiLeaks' disclosures, which Assange was to oversee. His lawyer in Stockholm asked Ny if she had any objection to his leaving the country. She said he was free to leave.

Inexplicably, as soon as he left Sweden - at the height of media and public interest in the WikiLeaks disclosures - Ny issued a European Arrest Warrant and an Interpol "red alert" normally used for terrorists and dangerous criminals. Put out in five languages around the world, it ensured a media frenzy.

Assange attended a police station in London, was arrested and spent ten days in Wandsworth Prison, in solitary confinement. Released on £340,000 bail, he was electronically tagged, required to report to police daily and placed under virtual house arrest while his case began its long journey to the Supreme Court. He still had not been charged with any offence. His lawyers repeated his offer to be questioned by Ny in London, pointing out that she had given him permission to leave Sweden. They suggested a special facility at Scotland Yard used for that purpose. She refused.

Katrin Axelsson and Lisa Longstaff of Women Against Rape wrote: "The allegations against [Assange] are a smokescreen behind which a number of governments are trying to clamp down on WikiLeaks for having audaciously revealed to the public their secret planning of wars and occupations with their attendant rape, murder and destruction... The authorities care so little about violence against women that they manipulate rape allegations at will. [Assange] has made it clear he is available for questioning by the Swedish authorities, in Britain or via Skype. Why are they refusing this essential step in their investigation? What are they afraid of?"

This question remained unanswered as Ny deployed the European Arrest Warrant, a draconian product of the "war on terror" supposedly designed to catch terrorists and organised criminals. The EAW had abolished the obligation on a petitioning state to provide any evidence of a crime. More than a thousand EAWs are issued each month; only a few have anything to do with potential "terror" charges. Most are issued for trivial offences, such as overdue bank charges and fines. Many of those extradited face months in prison without charge. There have been a number of shocking miscarriages of justice, of which British judges have been highly critical.

The Assange case finally reached the UK Supreme Court in May 2012. In a judgement that upheld the EAW - whose rigid demands had left the courts almost no room for manoeuvre - the judges found that European prosecutors could issue extradition warrants in the UK without any judicial oversight, even though Parliament intended otherwise. They made clear that Parliament had been "misled" by the Blair government. The court was split, 5-2, and consequently found against Assange.

However, the Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, made one mistake. He applied the Vienna Convention on treaty interpretation, allowing for state practice to override the letter of the law. As Assange's barrister, Dinah Rose QC, pointed out, this did not apply to the EAW.

The Supreme Court only recognised this crucial error when it dealt with another appeal against the EAW in November last year. The Assange decision had been wrong, but it was too late to go back.

Assange's choice was stark: extradition to a country that had refused to say whether or not it would send him on to the US, or to seek what seemed his last opportunity for refuge and safety. Supported by most of Latin America, the courageous government of Ecuador granted him refugee status on the basis of documented evidence and legal advice that he faced the prospect of cruel and unusual punishment in the US; that this threat violated his basic human rights; and that his own government in Australia had abandoned him and colluded with Washington. The Labor government of prime minister Julia Gillard had even threatened to take away his passport.

Gareth Peirce, the renowned human rights lawyer who represents Assange in London, wrote to the then Australian foreign minister, Kevin Rudd: "Given the extent of the public discussion, frequently on the basis of entirely false assumptions... it is very hard to attempt to preserve for him any presumption of innocence. Mr. Assange has now hanging over him not one but two Damocles swords, of potential extradition to two different jurisdictions in turn for two different alleged crimes, neither of which are crimes in his own country, and that his personal safety has become at risk in circumstances that are highly politically charged."

It was not until she contacted the Australian High Commission in London that Peirce received a response, which answered none of the pressing points she raised. In a meeting I attended with her, the Australian Consul-General, Ken Pascoe, made the astonishing claim that he knew "only what I read in the newspapers" about the details of the case.

Meanwhile, the prospect of a grotesque miscarriage of justice was drowned in a vituperative campaign against the WikiLeaks founder. Deeply personal, petty, vicious and inhuman attacks were aimed at a man not charged with any crime yet subjected to treatment not even meted out to a defendant facing extradition on a charge of murdering his wife. That the US threat to Assange was a threat to all journalists, to freedom of speech, was lost in the sordid and the ambitious.

Books were published, movie deals struck and media careers launched or kick-started on the back of WikiLeaks and an assumption that attacking Assange was fair game and he was too poor to sue. People have made money, often big money, while WikiLeaks has struggled to survive. The editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, called the WikiLeaks disclosures, which his newspaper published, "one of the greatest journalistic scoops of the last 30 years". It became part of his marketing plan to raise the newspaper's cover price.

With not a penny going to Assange or to WikiLeaks, a hyped Guardian book led to a lucrative Hollywood movie. The book's authors, Luke Harding and David Leigh, gratuitously described Assange as a "damaged personality" and "callous". They also revealed the secret password he had given the paper in confidence, which was designed to protect a digital file containing the US embassy cables. With Assange now trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy, Harding, standing among the police outside, gloated on his blog that "Scotland Yard may get the last laugh".

The injustice meted out to Assange is one of the reasons Parliament will eventually vote on a reformed EAW. The draconian catch-all used against him could not happen now; charges would have to be brought and "questioning" would be insufficient grounds for extradition. "His case has been won lock, stock and barrel," Gareth Peirce told me, "these changes in the law mean that the UK now recognises as correct everything that was argued in his case. Yet he does not benefit. And the genuineness of Ecuador's offer of sanctuary is not questioned by the UK or Sweden."

On 18 March 2008, a war on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was foretold in a secret Pentagon document prepared by the "Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments Branch". It described a detailed plan to destroy the feeling of "trust" which is WikiLeaks' "centre of gravity". This would be achieved with threats of "exposure [and] criminal prosecution". Silencing and criminalising this rare source of independent journalism was the aim, smear the method. Hell hath no fury like great power scorned.

November 17, 2014

GOP Rep. Hal Rogers' Campaign Donor Stands to Profit from Executive Amnesty

A defense contractor and top campaign contributor to House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) is in the running to get a contract to print millions of IDs and other government documents associated with the president’s planned executive amnesty, Breitbart News has learned exclusively.

The contractor, General Dynamics, is on the list of “interested vendors” for a draft solicitation that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), sent out to vendors in October. If the president goes through with an executive amnesty for millions of illegal aliens and General Dynamics gets the contract, a top official with the firm told Breitbart News that he expects the printing of the documents -- including ID cards, work permits and Social Security cards for illegal aliens -- would occur at a facility inside Chairman Rogers’ congressional district in Kentucky.

The government facility, in Corbin, Kentucky, already prints green cards, work permits, IDs, and other documents for immigrants under a long-term multi-million-dollar General Dynamics contract with USCIS. The facility, and its efforts to eliminate the production of fraudulent green card production by including tiny images of every U.S. president on green cards, was profiled in 2011 by Government Security News magazine—a trade publication for insiders in various Homeland Security contracting fields.

“In what some may see as an excessive burst of patriotism, tiny photographs of every U.S. president -- so small they can barely be seen -- are printed on every new U.S. permanent resident card issued to an immigrant authorized to live and work in the United States,” Jacob Goodwin wrote for the April 2011 profile. “In fact, those presidential photos are not a demonstration of patriotism, but one of the latest steps U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a unit of DHS known as USCIS, has taken to make the nation’s new permanent resident cards, commonly called ‘green cards,’ harder to counterfeit.”

Goodwin quotes General Dynamics Information Technology’s director for Homeland Security Programs Chris Jensen as detailing how that elaborate printing effort was done to attempt to reduce fraud by those who wish to print their own green cards.

“There are a lot of attempts to counterfeit cards,” Jensen told the magazine. “We’ll never stop the counterfeiting attempts, but we can make it hard to pass off a card as authentic.”

Goodwin detailed for the magazine how the General Dynamics IT division has been working with USCIS—“and its predecessor agencies” before the creation of the DHS post-9/11 by the George W. Bush administration, a move that drastically altered the makeup of federal immigration agencies—printing such documents together since the mid-1990s. The contracts are worth millions of dollars, and Goodwin highlighted one such contract signed in October 2010 worth $24.8 million that has General Dynamics printing the immigration documents at the Corbin, KY, facility.

“Along with its team member, LaserCard Corp. (a major card manufacturer recently acquired by HID Global), General Dynamics oversees the production of 1.5 to 2.0 million green cards each year; another 1.0 to 1.5 million cards for people with ‘temporary protected status’; 300,000 to 400,000 Transportation Worker Identification Credentials, called TWIC cards; and a slew of ‘Employment Authorization Documents,’ known as EAD cards, according to Jensen,” Goodwin wrote. “GD provides production support and quality assurance services for the processes by which an individual’s name, personal history, photo, fingerprint and other data are applied to a specific plastic card. This process occurs in a production facility in Kentucky that more closely resembles a ‘clean room’ – with workers wearing white lab coats and footies – than a factory assembly line, explained Jensen.”

Goodwin proceeded to detail the close-up operations of the creation of the documents—and General Dynamics’ lucrative role in doing so—throughout the rest of his piece. In a followup July 2013 article for Government Security News magazine, Goodwin noted how General Dynamics landed yet another contract worth millions with USCIS to print more documents and keep that Corbin, Kentucky facility rolling.

“U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) has awarded a contract worth as much as $5.5 million to the incumbent vendor, General Dynamics Information Technology, to continue to maintain the production facility in Corbin, KY, that manufactures each year millions of permanent resident cards (known as ‘Green Cards’) and Employment Authorization Document cards,” Goodwin wrote in the followup. “GD is responsible for what is called the Card Personalization System Technology Refreshment, or CPSTR, for the document production division of USCIS.”

Goodwin added that the original contract was awarded to General Dynamics on a competitive basis, but the agency now has an “indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract” with the company—meaning General Dynamics can make millions upon millions more dollars every couple years with USCIS continuing to renew its relationship with the company for more documents.

In mid-October, Breitbart News broke the story about how the Obama administration was gearing up for a “surge” in the creation of new immigration documents like these ones. That story detailed a draft solicitation that USCIS had published seeking potential government contractors ready to handle as many as 9 million new immigrant IDs in one year sometime very soon.

The document states that such a “surge” in document production would be necessary “to support possible future immigration reform initiative requirements” and that the “guaranteed minimum for each ordering period is 4,000,000 cards. The estimated maximum for the entire contract is 34,000,000 cards.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest originally punted when asked about this solicitation, referring Breitbart News White House correspondent Charlie Spiering to USCIS for comment. When he was asked again the day after, Earnest said he thinks it is “a relatively clever way to ask about the policy that the president has not yet announced as it relates to executive actions that he’s prepared to take to address the problems of our broken immigration system.”

When pressed by Major Garrett for a followup to that, and whether Earnest was saying the printing of the documents was “unrelated or coincidental,” Earnest dodged again.

“I’m saying there are decisions that are made by lots of agencies including the ordering of specific colored sheets of paper,” Earnest said. “Those sorts of decisions are not micro-managed by the White House.”

“Don’t be absurd with us,” Garrett pressed further. “That’s not just an ordinary colored piece of paper. It’s central to what the president has promised in public to do.”

“It’s also central to what they’re already doing,” Earnest replied. “It’s also central to what they’re already doing.”

“That’s why I asked you the question: Is it coincidental or unrelated?” Garrett followed up again.

“You would have to ask DHS about orders for green colored paper that they’ve ordered,” Earnest responded. “Not the executive order, but the order of the colored copying paper is coming from the Department of Homeland Security.”

After another minute or so of back and forth between a bewildered Garrett—visibly frustrated with Earnest refusing to confirm or deny that the solicitation from USCIS was connected to Obama’s planned executive immigration action—pressed further.

“If the president has said that ‘I’m going to do this’ and there’s a mechanism by which it can be achieved once the executive order is put in commission, and suddenly there’s this contract to print more of them, why isn’t it just obvious that that seems to be related?” Garrett asked.

Earnest dodged and continue to refuse to confirm or deny the connection, laughing off the questions before cautioning the media in the White House briefing room. “The fact of the matter is there are still decisions to be made about what that policy will entail,” Earnest said. “When we’re ready to announce that policy, we will announce it. What I will caution you against doing is making assumptions about what will be in those announcements based on the procurement practices of the Department of Homeland Security.”

Despite the unclear answers from the White House or the government in general about these contracts and draft solicitations, immigration expert Jessica Vaughan—a former State Department official who now works for the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS)—says the solicitation draft from USCIS “seems to indicate that the president is contemplating an enormous executive action that is even more expansive than the plan that Congress rejected in the 'Gang of Eight' bill.”

Government contracting documents not available to the public, but only to government contracting vendors, obtained by Breitbart News indicate that General Dynamics is angling for that USCIS draft solicitation assuming it turns into a contracting opportunity—which would likely be worth millions of dollars for the defense contracting company. Government contracting vendors can bid for such solicitations like the USCIS one, or pretty much any government contract, on a website called “FBO” stands for “Federal Business Opportunities.”

For this specific contract for the “surge” in immigrant documents for which USCIS has circulated the draft solicitation, General Dynamics is on the “Interested Vendors List.” Much of is available to the public, but the “Interested Vendors List” lists for various contracts are not public information.

General Dynamics is on page three of the four-page document, embedded here, which shows many different other defense contractors are vying for the job.