March 31, 2014

Culture of Corruption II: Scandals taint Democratic Party in tough election year

A flood of corruption scandals involving state and local Democratic Party lawmakers is threatening to muddy the party’s image as it enters what was already a tough election cycle.

In a week Democrats won’t soon forget, the Democrat-dominated California Senate took the unprecedented step Friday of voting 28-1 to suspend with pay three state senators in their own party accused or convicted of criminal conduct.

State Sen. Leland Yee was arrested Wednesday on federal gun trafficking and corruption charges. Sen. Ron Calderon pleaded not guilty Feb. 24 to charges of influence-peddling, and Sen. Roderick Wright was convicted Jan. 28 of perjury and voter fraud.

None of the state senators has resigned from office, although Mr. Yee has pulled out of the race for California secretary of state.

“One is an anomaly, two a coincidence, but three? That’s not what this Senate is about,” California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said to lawmakers before the suspension vote.

Meanwhile, Patrick Cannon, the Democratic mayor of Charlotte, N.C., resigned Wednesday after he was charged with accepting more than $48,000 in bribes during an FBI sting operation. In Rhode Island, the Democrat-led state legislature voted to replace former House Speaker Gordon Fox, who stepped down after the FBI raided his home and office.

The FBI also conducted a Wednesday raid on the offices of New York Assemblyman William Scarborough, another Democrat. Mr. Scarborough told reporters later that the raid centered on whether he had abused his state expense account.

In Illinois, federal agents Wednesday seized computers at the home and office of Democratic state Rep. Keith Farnham, who resigned March 19, citing health concerns. The Associated Press reported that the agents were searching for evidence of child pornography.

The sheer number of federal arrests and raids stunned liberal commentators such as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who noted last week that California Democrats lost their supermajority in the state Senate because of the inactive status of the three lawmakers.

“[T]here are now three Democratic state senators with federal criminal indictments against them just this session resulting already in eight felony convictions,” Ms. Maddow said. “And yes, the Republican Party is essentially defunct in most of California and probably beyond reviving, but if anything can bring them back, it’s probably days like this.”

On the other side are conservatives asking whether the Obama administration’s Justice Department is deliberately cleaning house on behalf of the Democratic Party now to prevent the scandals from cropping up in the weeks before the Nov. 4 elections.

“It is entirely possible that the head honchos of the Democrat Party are basically behind an effort to take out all of their bad apples before the election; make them old news by the time the election comes around,” conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh said on his Friday show.

“The timing here is obviously curious, and it really is hard to believe the FBI would be working against the wishes of the regime, isn’t it?” Mr. Limbaugh said.

Michelle Malkin, author of “Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks and Cronies,” reminded her readers in a Friday column that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, accused Republicans of creating a “culture of corruption” during the 2006 election cycle.

Those scandals, which resulted in the resignations of four congressional Republicans, triggered a backlash that helped Democrats capture both the House and Senate.

“[Mrs. Pelosi] cast herself and her minions as America’s political clean-up crew. But once again, the culture of corruption boomerang has swung back around to smack Democrats in their smug mugs,” said Ms. Malkin. “The cynical Swamp Drainers just hope you forget it all by election time. Don’t.”

Democrats counter that Republicans have had their own share of recent scandals, including the federal indictment of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, who are accused of accepting illegal gifts.

Although Mr. McDonnell is the higher-profile figure, he has been overwhelmed by the sheer number of Democratic local and state officials facing corruption accusations. Examples include the corruption conviction in January of former New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin and the bribery conviction in February of former Trenton, N.J., Mayor Tony Mack.

Republican strategist Dick Wadhams said the corruption scandals could hurt Democrats in state and local elections, especially in the vicinity of the accused wrongdoers.

“I think it hurts Democrats in the jurisdictions where these elected officials come from,” said Mr. Wadhams. “The preponderance of the incidents is certainly not news for the Democrats across the country, but I would say it would have more of a local effect.”

He added that the scandals may be a byproduct of California’s Democratic Party dominance.
“When you consolidate power in one party, this is what happens,” Mr. Wadhams said.


March 28, 2014

FBI severs ties with liberal, domestic terrorism-inspiring Southern Poverty Law Center

The Federal Bureau of Investigations removed links to the Southern Poverty Law Center from the civil rights division’s web page last week, breaking ties with the group that inspired a would-be mass shooter with its “Hate Map.”

The SPLC — and the Anti-Defamation League, an outfit dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism — are no longer identified on the FBI’s hate crimes page as partners.

“Upon review, the Civil Rights program only provides links to resources within the federal government,” an FBI spokesman told The Daily Caller. “While we appreciate the tremendous support we receive from a variety of organizations, we have elected not to identify those groups on the civil rights page.”

But the ADL is furious — the FBI reportedly did not inform the group they planned to cancel their affiliation. 

“We are shocked, surprised and disappointed that this would be done without any consultation with groups such as ours who have been working closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation on issues of hate crime. We look forward to having further conversations with them on this issue,” Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the ADL, said in a statement.

The SPLC has a torrid relationship with the domestic terrorism it claims to condemn.

Back in 2012, 28-year-old Floyd Corkins II used the SPLC’s Hate Map, which lists groups ranging from the Klu Klux Klan to pro-traditional marriage nonprofits as “active hate groups,” to locate the Family Research Council based in Washington, D.C. Armed with one hundred rounds of ammunition and 15 Chik-Fil-A sandwiches, he planned to “smother in [the] faces” of his victims. Corkins ended shooting up FRC’s lobby and wounding a security guard.

He was subdued by the wounded security guard and arrested before he could claim any lives — and charged with three felonies, committing an act of terrorism while armed, assault with intent to kill and transporting a firearm over state lines. 

During an FBI interrogation, a blasé Corkins told agents he wanted to “kill as many people as possible” and move on to another massacre at another organization on his list, which prosecutors declined to release. (RELATED: Report: Suspected Family Research Council gunman volunteered at LGBT center)

“It was, uh — Southern Poverty Law lists, uh, anti-gay groups. I found them online — did a little research, went to the website, stuff like that,” Corkins said, according to released FBI footage.

The SPLC did not take down their Hate Map or their designation of FRC as a hate group after Corkins used it to commit terrorism. It’s still listed as active in D.C. A long online description sneers at FRC’s “anti-gay crusade,” and, most notably, declines to condemn Corkins with the same virulence — in fact, it doesn’t condemn Corkins at all, but merely quotes Corkins’ attorney’s allegation that his client was mentally ill.

For its part, FRC approves of the FBI’s move to sever ties with the unrepentant SPLC.


March 27, 2014

Lawmakers told IRS probe will take years

The Internal Revenue Service’s tea party targeting program is still withholding approval of 19 organizations’ nonprofit status, nearly a year after the scandal was revealed, the agency’s commissioner testified Wednesday to Congress — where he faced fierce criticism from lawmakers who said he is stonewalling.

John Koskinen, the man President Obama tapped to clean up the embattled agency, also said it will take years to respond to all of the document requests from Congress. He told Congress that even complying with a subpoena for emails from just a handful of key employees couldn’t be done before the end of this year because it takes time to have attorneys delete protected taxpayer information.

Republicans signaled that they are moving ahead with plans to hold former IRS employee Lois G. Lerner in contempt of Congress. They released a memo from the House counsel saying the committee made her aware that it expected her to answer questions at a hearing earlier this month, and that she endangered her legal standing by again refusing to testify.

“The American people believe the IRS is now a politicized agency, because the IRS is a politicized agency,” said Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The IRS continues to face scrutiny after an internal audit by its inspector general last year found the agency had improperly singled out conservative and tea party nonprofit applications for special scrutiny and had delayed many of those applications — in some cases for three years.

Nearly a year after the targeting and delays were revealed, however, some groups are still awaiting approval.

Mr. Koskinen said of 145 cases that were part of their “priority backlog,” which meant they had been waiting for at least 120 days as of May, they have closed 126. Most were approved, including 43 that took advantage of a deal the IRS offered in which the groups could agree to keep political activity to less than 40 percent.

Three applications were formally denied, and 25 others dropped their applications or had them canceled when petitioners didn’t respond to IRS questions.

“The 19 cases still open generally fall into one of two categories: either the taxpayer has asked for and received additional time to respond to our questions, or the case is being litigated,” Mr. Koskinen said in his prepared testimony to the committee. “None of these 19 organizations opted to accept the self-certification procedure used by 43 organizations to obtain prompt approval of their applications.”

The IRS didn’t respond to questions seeking the identities of the groups involved. The agency generally argues that it isn’t allowed to share information on specific taxpayers because of privacy rules.

Indeed, those rules are part of the reason the agency says it’s taking so long to provide documents the oversight committee has been seeking.

“What they want is something that’s going to take years to produce,” Mr. Koskinen told lawmakers.
Mr. Koskinen said his agency was preparing to turn over another 20,000 pages of documents later Wednesday, but he warned that orders from Congress could derail those plans.

Just to produce all of the emails from Ms. Lerner could end up going into next year, he said.
That didn’t sit well with Republicans and some Democrats.

“We don’t want the excuses anymore. Prioritize them. Put more lawyers on the job,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who has helped spearhead the committee’s investigation into IRS targeting.

Ms. Lerner, who used to run the IRS division that processed nonprofit applications, has been a key subject of the investigation given emails and other information the committee discovered that, members said, suggested she let her political leanings dictate her official actions.

In a 22-page memo released by Mr. Issa on Wednesday, the House counsel said Ms. Lerner remains subject to contempt of Congress charges after refusing to testify at two hearings, citing her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

The oversight committee has ruled that because she made a long statement proclaiming her innocence before asserting her rights, she effectively waived them. The question, however, is whether Mr. Issa properly warned her that by refusing to testify she risked being held in contempt.

The House counsel said she was aware of her obligations, and therefore remains in legal jeopardy.

But Democrats on the committee released a packet of memos and quotes from more than two dozen legal specialists challenging that.

They said Mr. Issa never expressly told Ms. Lerner that the committee rejected her claims of privilege, so she was not properly warned of the consequences of not testifying. They said by adjourning the March hearing without Mr. Issa overruling her claims of privilege, Republicans lost their chance at pursuing contempt charges.

Mr. Jordan at one point accused the IRS of continuing to ask the same kinds of intrusive questions that landed the agency in trouble last year, when an internal audit found it had improperly scrutinized and delayed hundreds of applications.

He offered three examples, including one instance in which the old, objectionable guidance given said the IRS could ask groups to “provide a list of all issues that are important to your organization. Indicate your position regarding such issue.”

In new guidance, the IRS said it could ask applicants to: “Describe how you prepare voter guide(s), including how you determine which issues are addressed in the guide(s).”

Mr. Jordan said the new version sounded too close to the old version, which all sides agreed was too intrusive. “I think the vast majority of people who were harassed over the last three years would agree with my position,” he said.

But Mr. Koskinen said the new questions don’t probe for viewpoints or ask specific positions on issues.
“I’m happy to have this in the record and let the public decide whether or not we’ve responded appropriately,” he said.

March 26, 2014

It's time for White House to start sweating over legal challenge to Obamacare subsidies

As the U.S. Supreme Court weighed the constitutionality of a contraception coverage mandate Tuesday morning, a federal appeals court heard a separate legal challenge that could have much more sweeping implications for the future of President Obama's health care law.

And if the oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit are any indication, it’s time for the White House to start sweating over a lawsuit that up until now has flown relatively below the radar.

At issue in the case are the subsidies that the federal government provides for individuals purchasing insurance through Obamacare. Though the text of the law says the subsidies were to go to individuals obtaining insurance through an “exchange established by the state,” a rule released by the Internal Revenue Service subsequently concluded that subsidies would also apply to exchanges set up on behalf of states by the federal government.

The case before the appeals court, Halbig v. Sebelius, is one of several challenging the IRS rule.

Were the case to succeed, it would mean that dozens of state governments opposed to Obamacare could significantly narrow its scope by refusing set up exchanges, thus preventing residents from claiming subsidies. In those states, employers wouldn't be penalized for failing to offer qualifying insurance (which is triggered by workers seeking federal subsidies), meaning that anti-Obamacare states could become more attractive to businesses trying to get around the employer mandate. It would also increase pressure on Congress to undo the individual mandate.

On the flip side, such a ruling would also place pressure on anti-Obamacare governors, who would be forced to decide whether to stand firm in opposition to Obamacare or to set up their own exchanges so residents can apply for subsidies.

The Obama administration has argued — and the lower court affirmed — that viewed in its entirety and taking into account the legislative history, Congress obviously intended for subsidies to go to individuals purchasing insurance on all exchanges regardless of which entities were running them.

But in oral arguments Tuesday, that wasn’t necessarily obvious to a majority of the three-judge panel, which seemed divided on the question.

On the one end, Judge Harry Edwards, a nominee of President Carter, dismissed the challenge as “preposterous,” describing it as a desperate attempt to gut the law. On the other end, Judge Raymond Randolph, a President George H.W. Bush nominee, called it “a leap” for the Obama administration to argue that when Congress used the language “established by the state” legislators really meant the federal government.

That left Judge Thomas Griffith, nominated by President George W. Bush, sitting both physically and metaphorically in the middle. Griffith asked skeptical questions of both sides, emphasizing that the text of the law clearly referred to subsidies going to an “exchange established by the state,” but also weighing the broader legislative history.

Under the design of the law, states were given the option of setting up their own health insurance exchanges. If states chose not to, then Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius could set up exchanges on their behalf. In total, exchanges in 36 states were created at least in part through the federal government.

Michael Carvin, a veteran of the 2012 health care case that went to the Supreme Court, in representing the challengers, argued that Congress intentionally limited subsidies to state-based exchanges as an incentive for states to set up their own exchanges. In other words, governors who didn’t set up exchanges would be facing pressure by residents who wouldn’t have access to hundreds of billions of dollars in federal subsidies.

Edwards ripped into Carvin, explaining that he had gone through the legislative history thoroughly and hadn’t found evidence that Congress intended for subsidies to be limited to states that created their own exchanges. He said the idea that limiting the subsidies was meant as an incentive “seems preposterous,” adding, “no one understood what you’re arguing now at the time the bill was being passed.”

He said that Carvin was running with a strange argument in an effort to “kill” the health care law. “That’s what this is about, gutting the act.”

The judge prodded Carvin to explain why Congress saw it as such an advantage to have states rather than the federal government manage the exchanges. “Why does it matter who establishes the exchanges?” he asked. “Your argument makes no sense.”

He said, “Who cares?”

At that point, Randolph jumped in and said, “Ben Nelson.”

Carvin agreed, arguing that Nelson, the former senator from Nebraska, was withholding support for Obamacare, in part, because he wanted exchanges to be state-based rather than federally-run. To get the law across the finish line, the Senate voted to make exchanges state-based, with the powerful inducement of generous subsidies.

When Stuart Delery of the Department of Justice appeared to make the case for the Obama administration, arguing that Carvin was taking one isolated phrase out of context, Randolph pounced. The judge said that by his count, the phrase “established by the state” appeared no less than seven times in the relevant section. “It’s not an isolated reference,” he said.

He was also dismissive of the argument that other parts of the law could be melded with the “established by the state” text to explain that the clear meaning was that subsidies should be available to individuals in all exchanges.

“What we have here is language that doesn’t seem malleable in any way, shape, or form,” Randolph said.

He also argued that Obamacare has involved a series of bad predictions by Congress. “The launch was an unmitigated disaster,” Randolph said, and despite the predictions, “the costs have been sky high.” He asked, “What if Congress acted on the assumption that dangling this carrot” in the form of subsidies would induce states to establish an exchange?

He pointed out that Congress assumed more states would set up their own exchanges, as evidenced by the relatively small amount of money allocated to the federal government to set up exchanges. When the IRS issued its ruling that subsidies would be available regardless of who established the exchange, it changed the calculus and there was no longer much of an incentive for states to do so.

When questioning Carvin, Griffith asked if they could look at the text alone, rather than the structure and legislative history. He asked whether there was any evidence at the time that the issue of limiting subsidies to the states as an inducement was on the mind of legislators. Or, he asked, did it merely surface after the fact once libertarian health care scholar Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute raised the issue along with Case Western University law professor Jonathan Adler.

After Carvin noted that Timothy Jost, a Washington and Lee University law professor who was influential in the health care debate advocated this strategy, Griffith shot back: “Which state does Jost represent?”

However, Griffith was critical of the case being made by the Obama administration. Several times, he pointed out that the key part of the phrase “established by the state” seemed to be who was establishing the exchange, a distinction Delery was trying to portray as arbitrary for the purpose of subsidies.

“It wasn’t established by a state” if HHS set it up, he argued. He said that he thought the government had a “special burden” to demonstrate the legislative history is on the administration’s side given that the plain language of the law contradicted them.

He also asked whether, if Congress didn’t legislate something clearly, it was really the court’s job to fix the statute.

When Delery argued that the clear purpose of the act was to expand insurance coverage by making it more affordable, Griffith countered that political compromise (in this case, encouraging states to start their own exchanges) may complicate lawmakers’ original purpose.

As always, it’s hard to predict judicial outcomes based on oral arguments, a lesson that was made abundantly clear when many observers predicted that the Supreme Court would strike down the individual mandate only to see it upheld. But it’s fair to say that based on the oral arguments, two of the three justices seemed at least open to the idea of striking down the IRS rule, which would almost certainly send the issue to the Supreme Court.

Even this possibility should be enough to make Obama administration officials a bit nervous, given how dramatically an adverse ruling could effect their implementation strategy for the health care law.

<a href="">Source</a>

March 25, 2014

DC Circuit Court to Decide Tuesday Whether Obama Administration Can Rewrite Laws

On Tuesday the a three judge panel on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will be hearing Halbig v. Sebelius, one of the more important legal challenges to ObamaCare's legally problematic implementation. What the plaintiffs are asking is pretty straightforward - they want the judges to direct the Obama Administration to faithfully execute the plain language of the statute that Congress passed and the president signed.

 The Affordable Care Act—at least the version that passed in 2010—instructed the states to establish insurance exchanges, and if they didn't the Health and Human Services Department was authorized to build federal exchanges. The law says that subsidies will be available only to people who enroll "through an Exchange established by the State." The question in Halbig is whether these taxpayer subsidies can be distributed through the federal exchanges, as the Administration insists.
Democrats actually thought that all the states would embrace ObamaCare but 34 states opted out, and two others didn't meet all the HHS mandates by deadline. 

So in 2012, HHS and the IRS took it upon themselves to rewrite the law and published a regulation decreeing that subsidies would be available through the federal exchanges too.
The three judge panel "includes Judges Thomas Griffith (a George W. Bush nominee), A. Raymond Randolph ( George H.W. Bush ) and Harry Edwards ( Jimmy Carter )."
The fear of an adverse panel ruling is one reason that Senate Democrats broke the filibuster rule to pack the D.C. Circuit with three more liberals this year. If the Administration loses at the panel level, it will ask for an en banc ruling that it thinks it will win and thus delay any Supreme Court judgment by many months Fear of legal defeat also explains why the Administration is suddenly claiming that the appeals court lacks the jurisdiction to invalidate its interpretation of ObamaCare.
Last week the Justice Department submitted a so-called 28(J) letter, declaring that because Halbig is not a class action, any adverse ruling only applies to the named plaintiffs. In other words, even if the court finds that the Administration is acting illegally, it cannot strike down the IRS-HHS rule and the executive branch will continue to ignore both Congress's law and the law of the courts. There are few if any precedents for such a remarkable argument.
It will be just one more of Obama's many remarkable feats to add to his complete list of historic firsts.

March 24, 2014

Supreme Court to weigh religious rights of corporations vs. Obamacare’s ‘contraception mandate’

Obamacare is on the docket Tuesday in one of the biggest religious freedom cases to hit the Supreme Court in years, as the justices hear from corporate owners who say their personal beliefs should trump a government mandate that requires their company health care plans to insure birth control.

From the start, everyone involved in the dispute over the Obama administration’s “contraception mandate” seemed to realize the issue would end up before the high court. The politically loaded saga prompted dozens of lawsuits, split the appeals courts and raised questions about whether a secular, for-profit company could exercise religious rights.

The cases before the court deal with the for-profit camp of plaintiffs. Unlike nonprofit employers, for-profit companies have not been given any relief from the mandate and say they are presented with an impossible choice: either violate their beliefs or pay crippling fines for flouting the mandate.

“The administration has effectively told the Supreme Court that for-profit companies have no right to act on moral convictions the government opposes. They are about profits,” Joshua Hawley, counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, wrote in a recent op-ed for USA Today. “That position is deeply mistaken.”

The Supreme Court consolidated two cases for Tuesday’s arguments, with each side chalking up a win at the circuit court level.

Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based crafts supplies company, found favor before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver last summer, but the government trumped Conestoga Wood Specialties — owned by Mennonites in Pennsylvania — before the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia.

In the Pennsylvania case, “the court holds that corporations lack religious liberty rights, and the company’s owners are not affected because they are not required to do anything under the contraception rule — the rule runs against the corporation,” said Brigitte Amiri, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, which has supported the government’s position.

“The 10th Circuit’s decision answers the threshold question in the opposite manner — that corporations do have religious liberty rights and their owners’ rights are implicated too,” she said.

Now, it’s up to the justices to fulfill their role as the ultimate arbiter.

The questions before the court focus on two key areas — whether corporations have a constitutional right to the free exercise of religion, and whether a 1993 law backed by both parties in Congress and signed by President Clinton was designed to insulate religiously devout owners from laws and government mandates like President Obama’s.

The circuit court decisions leading up to the Supreme Court arguments offer starkly different views of whether the religious rights and protections regularly afforded to individuals should extend to for-profit corporations.

The 10th Circuit pointed to Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the 2010 Supreme Court case that allowed corporations to spend millions of dollars on campaign advertising through super PACs, citing their rights to free speech.

“We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression,” the majority wrote in the 10th Circuit decision.

The court also held that Hobby Lobby, owned by the Green family, should be shielded by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 because it would be “substantially burdened” by the government’s mandate. The court said Congress did not appear to differentiate between individuals and for-profit entities when it enacted the law.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration and its supporters have defended the rule as a women’s health issue. They say an adverse ruling from the court would dramatically recast the extent to which secular for-profit entities can incorporate religious beliefs into their businesses operations.

“Our constitutional traditions have always recognized a basic distinction between religious bodies and secular business, even when, as in these cases, those businesses are operated by devout individuals,” said David Gans, civil rights director at the Constitutional Accountability Center.

The outcome of the contest before the court is considered a tossup by many analysts. It is so hotly contested that even punctuation is playing a role.

Before the 3rd Circuit, Conestoga contended that the Citizens United case entitled it to greater protection because the First Amendment’s clauses on free speech and the free exercise of religion are separated by a semicolon, suggesting continuity.

“We are not persuaded that the use of a semi-colon means that each clause of the First Amendment must be interpreted jointly,” the court wrote. “In fact, historically, each clause has been interpreted separately.”


March 21, 2014

IRS employs former cop convicted of FBI snooping

The Internal Revenue Service, already facing accusations that its workers improperly snooped through tax files, has hired a former police officer convicted just a few years ago of illegally accessing FBI records and providing information to a subject of a counterterrorism investigation involving an infamous al Qaeda figure.

Mohammad Weiss Rasool, or Weiss Russell as he is known at the IRS, was sentenced to two years of probation in 2008 after pleading guilty in federal court to illegally accessing the FBI's National Crime Information Center database to run license tag numbers for a friend he thought was being followed. That friend, it turned out, was the subject of an undercover FBI operation and a close associate of the al Qaeda-linked cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, the American Islamist militant who preached to three of the 9/11 hijackers and inspired the Fort Hood shootings, according to court records and interviews.

Government watchdogs told The Washington Times that Mr. Rasool’s hiring by the IRS raises red flags about the quality of the federal government’s background checks and is alarming given his previous admission that he misused a police database.

At the IRS, Mr. Rasool serves as a financial management analyst — three rungs away from the highest-level career position — working audit-related issues and matters. He was hired by the IRS after he served his probationary period.

“This is absolutely outrageous,” said Chris Farrell, director of investigations at Judicial Watch, a government watchdog group. “Rasool has already demonstrated he’s not worthy of a position of trust within the government — he’s already broken one public oath — the last place you’d want him is at the IRS.”

Judicial Watch has started its own investigation into the matter, demanding that the IRS explain how Mr. Rasool got his job and who at the agency, or within the Obama administration, made the final call on his employment.

Mr. Rasool declined to comment for the record when contacted by The Times.

The IRS told The Times that under federal privacy rules it cannot comment on individual employees within the agency, but that all workers undergo federal background checks and screening reviews as administered by the agency.

“It’s astounding to me, with his activities at the police department, that he should have a position within the federal government that involves a matter of trust and responsibility,” said Philip Manuel, a former U.S. counterintelligence agent and chairman of the investigative firm MBD International. “There’s something fishy here as to how someone with his background could get cleared.”

Congress and federal agencies have been re-examining the quality of background checks after several high-profile lapses involving figures such as National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and Washington Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis.

“You’ve got to question the validity and thoroughness the federal government is taking to clear its employees,” said Mr. Manuel, who for years worked as a top investigator on the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

Mr. Rasool immigrated to the U.S. from Afghanistan in 1983 and became a naturalized United States citizen in 1996. He worked for the Fairfax police squad for eight years starting in 2000 and eventually was promoted to the rank of sergeant.

Mr. Rasool’s improper access of the police database was discovered only after the FBI’s 2005 counterterrorism effort against one of al-Awlaki’s associates was foiled and agents traced the leak back to Mr. Rasool, according to a person close to the investigation who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Mr. Rasool met the friend at his local mosque in Virginia, and the man asked the police officer to check out the license plates of three vehicles he thought were following him. Mr. Rasool did so and determined that the vehicles were not licensed to any individual, but from a licensing company. Mr. Rasool then phoned the man with that information — a call that was intercepted by the FBI, according to court records. Because of Mr. Rasool’s police experience, prosecutors argued at the time, he should have known those vehicles were used by the FBI for undercover missions.

Mr. Rasool, in his defense, said he had no idea the man was the target of a federal sting and was just helping out a concerned citizen. He argued that his only fault was not filling out the proper paperwork or notifying his boss that he was searching the database.

Read the entire article

March 20, 2014

NASA-funded study: The way to save Western civilization from collapse is communism

If the United States wants to avoid falling like the Roman Empire, it must avoid “overconsumption” and distribute resources equally, according to a study funded by NASA.

“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent,” reads the NASA-funded report published in the Ecological Economics journal.

“Two important features seem to appear across societies that have collapsed,” the study adds. “The stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity and the economic stratification of society into Elites and Masses.”

The NASA study uses a Human And Nature DYnamical (HANDY) formula “to provide a general framework that allows carrying out ‘thought experiments’ for the phenomenon of collapse and to test changes that would avoid it.” In other words, the model only takes into account general characteristics of fallen civilizations, and not the specifics.

What did the study find? That collapse is hard to avoid in unequal societies as “[e]lites grow and consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society.”

Limits on resources harm the working class, while the wealthy are largely insulated from the problem, meaning resources continue to be used without regard to the cost to society. For example, “an increase in vehicle fuel efficiency technology tends to enable increased per capita vehicle miles driven, heavier cars, and higher average speeds, which then negate the gains from the increased fuel-efficiency.”

The only way to avoid calamity is to adopt egalitarian methods of resource distribution if resource consumption is limited and distributed equally — eerily reminiscent of those who champion population control or communism.

“Collapse can be avoided, and population can reach a steady state at the maximum carrying capacity, if the rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed equitably,” according to the report.

Arguments made in this report are similar to those made by White House science czar John Holdren, who has suggested that government should limit the size of the population in order to keep the Earth from becoming unlivable.

Holdren used to collaborate with fellow scholar Paul Ehrlich, who wrote the controversial 1968 book “The Population Bomb.”  One such collaboration resulted in a textbook passage that argued that coercive population control methods could be permissible under the U.S. Constitution.

“Indeed, it has been concluded that compulsory population-control laws, even including laws requiring compulsory abortion, could be sustained under the existing Constitution if the population crisis became sufficiently severe to endanger the society,” Holdren and Ehrlich wrote. “Few today consider the situation in the United States serious enough to justify compulsion, however.”

Communist countries have also tried to limit population growth while distributing resources equitably. Most notably, the Chinese government had a one child per family policy to rein in population growth. The program was enforced through birth certificates, mass sterilizations and forced abortions. The New York Times reported that 336 million forced abortions and 222 million sterilizations have been carried out since 1971.

This is on top of the unknown number of baby girls that have been killed or left to die under China’s one child policy and the estimated 60 million people killed under the regime of brutal communist dictator Mao Zedong.

March 19, 2014

White House won't comment on report of NSA 'time machine'

White House press secretary Jay Carney refused to discuss a new report that claims the National Security Agency can record the entirety of a country's phone calls and replay them later.

The NSA has the capability to record “100 percent” of calls in a foreign nation, according to the Washington Post, which cited documents provided by former government contractor Edward Snowden.

The U.S. government stores the information for 30 days and the technology is being employed to monitor communications in at least one foreign nation. The Post, at the request of U.S. officials, decided not to identify the country where the surveillance is being used.

According to the report, intelligence officials are able to rewind and replay phone conversations from within the last month. A manager for the program likened it to a time machine, the Post said.

Carney, in his daily briefing with reporters, said that the administration does not comment on media reports on a case-by-case basis.

President Obama has ordered Attorney General Eric Holder to report back to him by the end of the month on how to transition the government away from storing the metadata collected by the NSA. However, telecommunications companies have balked at housing the information.

In a statement, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said threats are “often hidden within the large and complex system of modern global communications, and the United States must consequently collect signals intelligence in bulk in certain circumstances in order to identify these threats.”

Obama has bent over backwards to argue that Americans need not worry about the government listening in on their phone calls. The latest revelation, privacy advocates say, puts that contention in doubt.

Though the surveillance method in question is aimed at foreign targets, Americans' data can easily get swept up in the searches.

Civil liberties groups have raised concerns about the systematic collection of wide swaths of data, saying terror investigations need to be more targeted to ensure that Americans’ privacy rights aren't violated.

According to the Post, a project officer wrote that the program “has long since reached the point where it was collecting and sending home far more than the bandwidth could handle.”

March 18, 2014

Justice Department won’t release names of lawyers responsible for more than 650 ethical violations

The Department of Justice will not disclose the names of its lawyers responsible for more than 650 ethical violations found in internal agency watchdog reports.

DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility documented more than 650 examples of its lawyers violating department ethics rules, according to a review of internal documents and OPR reports compiled by the Project on Government Oversight.

The review, spanning fiscal year 2002 through fiscal year 2013, found more than 400 cases of recklessness or intentional misconduct, according to OPR’s own standards. The office investigated approximately 2,100 alleged abuses during this time.

DOJ upholds a practice of not disclosing the names of lawyers identified by OPR as having committed offenses.

“The result: the Department, its lawyers, and the internal watchdog office itself are insulated from meaningful public scrutiny and accountability,” concluded the Project on Government Oversight.

Federal attorneys misled courts at least 48 times, including 20 intentional violations, breached constitutional or civil rights 13 times, and did not provide exculpatory information to defendants 29 times, according to OPR.

OPR also found examples in fiscal year 2012 in which lawyers were given brief suspensions or letters of admonishment for severe instances of misconduct.


March 17, 2014

Air Force: Christians' Religious Speech Not Legally Protected Right

Christians in the U.S. military are being told they must forfeit their First Amendment rights. Bible verses are being erased from cadets’ personal dorm-room white boards, and military lawyers claim that legal protections for religion only pertain to matters such as clothing and growing beards but do not extend to any religious expression such as talking about one's faith or posting a Bible verse.

Last year Breitbart News broke the story of a campaign by anti-Christian extremists to suppress traditional Christian expression within the U.S. military. There were conflicting stories regarding the possible court martial of service members who share the gospel of Jesus Christ and confirmed reports of military chaplains being officially censored, as well as Bibles temporarily banned from the Walter Reed military hospital.

After these stories went viral on the Internet, Republicans in Congress launched an investigation, then introduced legislation to specify that religious expression is a protected right for men and women serving in uniform. Although President Obama originally threatened to veto the legislation, those protections were signed into law in December 2013.

Now these new protections are being put to their first test. Military officers at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs are saying that the Obama-Hagel Pentagon does not regard these new protections as encompassing religious speech or writing. As such, cadets are not allowed to post Bible verses on their personal white boards in their dorm rooms.

This latest incident occurred when a cadet (whose identity we are not disclosing) posted Galatians 2:20 on his personal whiteboard, posted outside his living quarters in a residential dormitory. That verse reads, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

According to media reports, several people at the academy contacted Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the radical anti-Christian group that had been in communication with the Defense Department under President Obama regarding adopting new policies for religious expression in the military. Weinstein claimed that he called the Air Force Academy to complain about the Bible verse and further claims that two hours and nine minutes later, the verse was gone.

Sources quote Weinstein as saying that having this verse on the outside of the dorm room “clearly elevated one religious faith over all others at an already virulently hyper-fundamentalist Christian institution.” He is quoted as adding, “It massively poured fundamentalist Christian gasoline on an already raging out-of-control conflagration of fundamentalist Christian tyranny…”

Contrary to existing reports, Academy personnel did not erase the Bible verse or order the cadet to remove it. 

Breitbart News spoke with Mike Berry, an attorney who is director of military affairs with Liberty Institute. Berry traveled to the Academy last week and met with cadets of different religions. These cadets say these personal messages are traditionally allowed on cadets’ whiteboards. A message might ask to meet for a basketball game or root for a favorite sports team. They claim it is a meaningful exercise in which many cadets include spiritual or inspirational quotes, whether Bible verses, a verse from the Quran, or from football legend Vince Lombardi.

Berry exclusively tells Breitbart News:

We met with Col. Paul Barzler, the Air Force Academy Staff Judge Advocate, to find out what really happened and to ask about the Academy’s policy on religious exercise. It turns out that, contrary to Mikey Weinstein’s claims, the cadet may have voluntarily removed the Bible verse from his white board. But I was stunned to find out that, had the cadet not removed the verse, Academy officials would have ordered him to do so. I asked why, and Col. Barzler explained that, because the cadet held a leadership position, it could create the perception that he was forcing his religious beliefs on subordinates. I pointed out that under the Constitution, federal law, and military regulations, cadets have the right to religious exercise. I was shocked when he responded that Air Force policy, from the Pentagon, is that the term "religious exercise" does not include written or verbal speech. [emphasis added]

Berry then reminded the colonel regarding the specific legal protections service members have, from the Constitution itself, to Acts of Congress, to military regulations. He says of the colonel’s response:

He went on to state that the Air Force interprets [Department of Defense] Instruction 1300.07 to only apply to religious grooming and apparel matters, but not writing a [Bible] verse on a white board or even verbally sharing a verse. This means that, under Air Force policy, cadets and airmen are not free to express their religious beliefs through words or writing. This policy appears to come from a March 2013 Air Force JAG memo that interpreted federal law in that way.

Last week, on Mar. 14, 2014, the Air Force Academy issued a press release regarding this situation. It says, “While we swear an oath to Support and Defend the Constitution of the United States, Airmen are also bound by [military policy].” It references Air Force Instruction 1-1, which was adopted several years ago once President Obama took office and is frequently used to suppress religious speech, especially by Christians. The press release then adds that “sometimes we must put the good of the entire unit before the good of any single individual.”

This press release only makes the situation more alarming to a legal analyst. An Air Force policy instruction carries some force of law, but it is trumped by a Defense Department regulation. Those regulations, in turn, are subordinate to federal statutes adopted by Congress, which for over three months now has expressly provided that religious expression is a protected right. All of those must follow the Constitution as the Supreme Law of the Land, where the First Amendment makes both free speech and free exercise of religion fundamental rights for all Americans.

As Berry summarized, “This is a stunning development because it is now clear that the Air Force is interpreting federal law and military regulations in an unlawful way. And it is absolutely shameful because the brave men and women of the U.S. Air Force who make huge sacrifices for our religious freedom are having theirs stripped away.” Hinting at legal action that could be forthcoming, Berry concluded, “This is not only morally wrong, it’s illegal.”

March 14, 2014

Common Core Will Federalize Education

While Common Core may have started as a state-led effort, the Obama Administration has seized on it as a federal goal and is using federal funds to coerce states into implementing Common Core.  

The administration has handed out stimulus package money (e.g., Race to the Top grants) and handed out waivers from No Child Left Behind to states that have adopted Common Core. The president has also made stimulus money available to states on condition that they would collect extensive data on children to control education decisions. A truly state-led program would not need bullying by the Obama Administration to get support.

The president’s 2015 budget request includes more coercion. Federal money comes with strings. The president’s budget request calls for federally approved standards, tests, accountability, and teacher evaluations under the name of “College and Career Ready alignment.”

Some state and local officials believe they have no choice but to adopt Common Core to achieve “College and Career Ready alignment” or lose federal funding. However, states and localities can opt out; see Dr. Sandra Stotsky’s Breitbart article titled “How States and School Districts Can Opt Out of Common Core.”

While access to federal funding sounds appealing, let’s remember that each dollar spent in Washington, D.C. ultimately means higher federal taxes and/or more federal debt. States should not attempt to balance their budgets by outsourcing education funding and control to the federal government.

Common Core (by any name) relinquishes the advantages of the federal system established by the Constitution. Mistakes made by top-down centralized policy affect the whole nation. Under the federal system, America benefits from 50 “laboratories of democracy” competing to develop best practices. True education reform would put power back in the hands of the states and local school boards, where government is closest to parents and students.

Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution enumerates federal powers. Education is not among the enumerated powers and, thus, is left to the states or the people as required by the 10th Amendment. Additionally, there are longstanding federal statutes that explicitly prohibit using the federal bureaucracy to control education within the states. Presidents from both parties have violated these statutes.

For these reasons, I am one of 62 co-sponsors of Congressman Jeff Duncan’s House Resolution 476, which strongly supports “the restoration and protection of State authority and flexibility in establishing and defining challenging student academic standards and assessments, and strongly denouncing the president's coercion of States into adopting the Common Core State Standards by conferring preferences in Federal grants and flexibility waivers.” 

Under the president’s 2015 budget request, federal grants and associated strings attached to those grants would be used to determine if state and local resources are being distributed “fairly.” Yes, the president believes that only the federal government can determine what is “fair.” This is why U.S. Senator Pat Roberts introduced the LOCAL Level Act (S. 1974), legislation to prohibit “the Federal Government from mandating, directing, or controlling a State, local educational agency, or school’s curriculum, program of instruction, or allocation of State and local resources, and from mandating a State or any subdivision thereof to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under such Act.” In the House of Representatives, I am a co-sponsor of Congressman Phil Gingrey’s Educational Freedom Act (H.R. 4008), which amends “the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to prohibit Federal mandates, direction, or control of specific instructional content.” Please call your U.S. Representative and ask him or her to sign onto these bills.

At the state level, legislation offering redress from Common Core has been introduced in 37 states in 2014. Other states have previously passed provisions to repeal or delay implementation. The 2012 Republican National Committee Platform correctly rejected the Common Core State Standards as “a nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement.” 

We all believe in higher standards for education, but standardization at a higher level is not the same as higher standards. Common Core is a one-size-fits-all national program with federal funds, federal standards, federal tests, federal accountability, and federal control. If there is any doubt, the president’s 2015 budget request makes transparent his intent to expand federal control of primary and secondary education.