God Bless America

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
God bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home
God bless America, My home sweet home.

~Irving Berlin

“Fast and Furious” Might be Obama’s Watergate

I disagree that this murderous operation will be Obama’s Watergate. Obama could take assault weapons and spray the U.S. Congress w/ bullets, and his supporters (including non-Fox media) would excuse him.
Forbes 
9/28/2011 @ 10:56AM |270,277 views

‘Fast And Furious’ Just Might Be President Obama’s Watergate

Two US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms an...Image by AFP/Getty Images via @daylife

Frank Miniter, who wrote this piece, is the author of Saving the Bill of Rightsand The Ultimate Man’s Survival Guide.

Why a gunrunning scandal codenamed “Fast and Furious,” a program run secretly by the U.S. government that sent thousands of firearms over an international border and directly into the hands of criminals, hasn’t been pursued by an army of reporters all trying to be the next Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein is a story in itself.

But the state of modern journalism aside, this scandal is so inflammatory few realize that official records show the current director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), B. Todd Jones — yes the individual the Obama administration brought in to replace ATF Director Kenneth Melson Aug. 30 in an effort to deflect congressional criticism — also has questions to answer about his involvement in this gunrunning scandal.

Fast and Furious was an operation so cloak-and-dagger Mexican authorities weren’t even notified that thousands of semi-automatic firearms were being sold to people in Arizona thought to have links to Mexican drug cartels. According to ATF whistleblowers, in 2009 the U.S. government began instructing gun storeowners to break the law by selling firearms to suspected criminals. ATF agents then, again according to testimony by ATF agents turned whistleblowers, were ordered not to intercept the smugglers but rather to let the guns “walk” across the U.S.-Mexican border and into the hands of Mexican drug-trafficking organizations.

When the Gunrunning Program Began

A Jan. 8, 2010 briefing paper from the ATF PhoenixField Division Group VII says: “This investigation has currently identified more than 20 individual connected straw purchasers…. To date (September 2009-present) this group has purchased in excess of 650 firearms (mainly AK-47 variants) for which they have paid cash totaling more than $350,000.”

This is an important fact because the U.S. Justice Department hasn’t made it clear to tell congressional investigators when the Fast and Furious operation began and who authorized it; as a result, this ATF briefing paper’s mention of September 2009 is thus far the earliest we can trace the operation.

The next important event we know of occurred in October 2009 when the ATF’s Phoenix Field Division established a gun-trafficking group called “Group VII.” Group VII began using the strategy of allowing suspects to walk away with illegally purchased guns, according to a report from the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the staff of Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. The report says, “The purpose was to wait and watch, in hope that law enforcement could identify other members of a trafficking network and build a large, complex conspiracy case…. Group VII initially began using the new gunwalking tactics in one of its investigations to further the Department’s strategy. The case was soon renamed ‘Operation Fast and Furious.’”

This report and later official explanations from the ATF say the Fast and Furious program was created to deal with the problem that arresting low-level suspects doesn’t necessarily help ATF agents get to the heads of Mexican cartels.

On Oct. 26, 2009, a month or so after Fast and Furious seems to have been initiated, a document shows that a teleconference was held between 13 officials. One of the issues discussed was the possible “adoption of the Department’s strategy for Combating Mexican Drug Cartels.” The officials listed to have been in on the call included Kenneth Melson, who was then the director of the ATF, Robert Mueller, the director of the FBI and a number of attorneys with the U.S. Department of Justice. B. Todd Jones, the current director of the ATF, was not listed in the document, but the title he held in September 2009 is listed as being in on the conference call. It doesn’t take much reporting to find out that in September 2009 Jones was the chair of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee (AGAC) and so was at least supposed to be in on the conference call. (When asked about the teleconference, an ATF spokeswoman told us “we don’t discuss active investigations.”)

FDA spied on whistle-blowing scientists

FDA spied on whistle-blowing scientists

Eric Lichtblau and Scott Shane, New York Times
Updated 10:41 p.m., Saturday, July 14, 2012
  • House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. listens a left as Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 12, 2012.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press / SF
    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. listens a left as Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press / SF

 

Washington —

A wide-ranging surveillance operation by the Food and Drug Administration against a group of its own scientists utilized an enemies list of sorts as it secretly captured thousands of e-mails that the disgruntled scientists sent privately to members of Congress, lawyers, labor officials, journalists and even President Obama, previously undisclosed records show.

What began as a narrow investigation into the possible leaking of confidential agency information by five scientists quickly grew in mid-2010 into a much broader campaign to counter outside critics of the agency’s medical review process, according to the cache of more than 80,000 pages of computer documents generated by the surveillance effort.

Moving to quell what one memo called the “collaboration” of the FDA’s opponents, the surveillance operation identified 21 agency employees, congressional officials, outside medical researchers and journalists thought to be working together to put out negative and “defamatory” information about the agency.

FDA officials defended the surveillance operation, saying the computer monitoring was limited to the five scientists suspected of leaking confidential information about the safety and design of medical devices.

While they acknowledged that the surveillance tracked the communications that the scientists had with congressional officials, journalists and others, they said it was never intended to impede those communications, but only to determine whether information was being improperly shared.

The agency, using so-called spy software designed to help employers monitor workers, captured screen images from the government laptops of the five scientists as they were being used at work or at home.

The extraordinary surveillance effort grew out of a bitter, years-long dispute between the scientists and their bosses at the FDA over the scientists’ claims that faulty review procedures at the agency had led to the approval of medical imaging devices for mammograms and colonoscopies that exposed patients to dangerous levels of radiation.

Last year, the scientists found that a few dozen of their e-mails had been intercepted by the agency. They filed a lawsuit in September, after four of the scientists had been let go, and the Washington Post disclosed the monitoring in January. But the scope of the surveillance, its range of targets across Washington, and the huge volume of information that it generated were not previously known.

FDA officials said that in monitoring the communication of the five scientists, their e-mails “were collected without regard to the identity of the individuals with whom the user may have been corresponding.” The FDA said that those outside the agency were never targets of the surveillance operation but were suspected of receiving confidential information.

While federal agencies have broad discretion to monitor their employees’ computer use, the FDA program may have crossed legal lines by grabbing and analyzing confidential information that is specifically protected under the law, including attorney-client communications, whistle-blower complaints to Congress, and workplace grievances filed with the government.

Members of Congress were irate to learn that correspondence between the scientists and their own staffers had been gathered and analyzed.

“It is absolutely unacceptable for the FDA to be spying on employees who reach out to members of Congress to expose abuses or wrongdoing in government agencies,” said Rep.Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who has examined the agency’s medical review procedures.

The Welfare Work Requirement: Obama Obliterates Clinton’s Best Achievement, by Herman Cain

July 16, 2012
The Welfare Work Requirement: Obama Obliterates Clinton’s Best Achievement
By Herman Cain
President Obama likes to blame everything on George W. Bush, but apparently he does not discriminate. This week, Obama obliterated one of the best things Bill Clinton ever did.
Conservatives don’t look back fondly at the Clinton years, and for good reason, although he looks decent compared to what we have today. But you have to give credit where it’s due: Clinton did some good things, and one of the best – at the prodding of Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress to be sure – was the signing of the 1996 welfare reform act.
The bill “ended warfare as we know it” as Clinton liked to say, and introduced stringent requirements that able-bodied welfare recipients either work or spend time preparing for work. It was a good idea and it reversed the expansion of the welfare rolls for the first time in decades. The key was that states were not allowed to waive the work requirements. Congress wrote this section of the law very carefully because they knew that some state bureaucrats would try to do just that.
Now the work requirement is gone, not because new legislation was passed to remove it, but because Obama once again decided the law does not apply to him.
On Thursday, the Obama Administration issued a directive allowing states to waive the work requirement – and only the work requirement. The directive explains: “The Secretary (Kathleen Sebelius) is interested in using her authority to approve waiver demonstrations to challenge states to engage in a new round of innovation that seeks to find more effective mechanisms for helping families succeed in employment.”
In fact, Sebelius has no authority to grant such waivers. The bill makes that very clear by limiting the allowance of waivers to one section only, and it very explicitly excludes the work requirement from that section. This was not an accident. The power of the bill, and of the whole idea, was that it would only succeed if the work requirement was mandatory for all states and for all recipients.
And there’s no need for the Obama Administration to “find more effective mechanisms.” Welfare reform has been a roaring success.
Of course, that depends how you define success. It only took four years after the bill had eliminated the old Aid for Families with Dependent Children program, and replaced it with the new Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, for poverty to plummet while welfare caseloads were cut in half, according to a report from the Heritage Foundation.
So why would Obama get rid of the work requirements? I can think of two reasons – one ideological and the other political.
The ideological reason is that liberals hated welfare reform from day one. They predicted it would push millions more children into poverty. When it did exactly the opposite, their hatred was not abated in the slightest. They are convinced that the only way for people to get by is the reliability of a check from the government, and to them, the notion that you would replace this security blanket with this strange thing called a job is simply absurd.
The political reason is cynical but simple. People who depend on the government to be their primary benefactor vote Democratic, and if their dependence is permanent, then they vote Democratic for life. Even if these folks don’t vote, expanding the welfare rolls will allow for the expansion of the programs all across the country – and the newly hired welfare bureaucrats will vote Democratic, because their subsistence is dependent on the government as well.
Ronald Reagan liked to say that he defined compassion not by how many people we help, but by how many people no longer need our help. Obviously, and not surprisingly, Barack Obama’s view is exactly the opposite. The more people who depend on government largesse, and the easier it is for them to get it and keep getting it, the more job security he creates – for himself.
And he’s even willing to grant waivers that the law expressly forbids in order to make it happen.
I wonder what Bill Clinton thinks about what Obama did to one of his most positive achievements. After all, Clinton (who was re-elected the same year he signed welfare reform) worked with a Republican Congress to pass this bill, to cut the capital gains tax and to balance the budget for several years running.
Now the first Democratic president to follow him is undoing all of the above, or trying to. It’s almost enough to make you wonder, when Clinton walks into that voting booth in November and closes the curtain behind him . . . what he will really do.

Ex-Syrian ambassador calls for foreign military intervention

Ex-Syrian ambassador calls for foreign military intervention
From Ivan Watson, CNN
updated 1:17 PM EDT, Sun July 15, 2012

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
Nawaf al-Fares, former Syrian ambassador to Iraq, is the highest-ranking diplomatic defector
The “totalitarian” regime is led entirely by Bashar al-Assad, al-Fares says
“They are aware that they are going to pay for it,” al-Fares says of the regime’s violence
Syria denies accusations of massacres and attacking civilians
Doha, Qatar (CNN) — The most senior Syrian diplomat to defect and publicly embrace his country’s uprising is calling for a foreign military intervention to topple president Bashar al-Assad. He also accused the Damascus regime of collaborating with al Qaeda militants against opponents both in Syria and in neighboring Iraq.
“I support military intervention because I know the nature of this regime,” Nawaf al Fares told CNN. “This regime will only go by force.”
Until a few days ago, Fares was Syria’s top man in Baghdad.
His defection marks a shocking about-face for an official who occupied a critically important post. Until Fares was sent to Iraq in 2008, Syria had no ambassador stationed in Baghdad for more than 20 years.
“I was at the top of the Syrian regime,” Fares said in his first interview with a U.S.-based TV network since his defection. “But what happened in the last year during the holy revolution, all of the killing, the massacres, the refugees, and the declaration of war by Bashar al-Assad against the Syrian people, stopped any kind of hope for reform or real change, which had been promised previously by Bashar al-Assad.
“I tried during the last year and a half to convince the regime to change its treatment of the people,” Fares added. “But I wasn’t successful, so I decided to join the people.”
Damascus confirmed news of Fares’ defection in a short article published by Syria’s state news agency SANA, which announced that the ambassador had effectively been fired for leaving the Syrian Embassy in Baghdad without official authorization.

Another domino: Municipalities going bankrupt

EDITORIAL
Another domino: Municipalities going bankrupt

Posted: Jul. 15, 2012 | 2:04 a.m.

The public employee compensation bubble burst in yet another city last week when nearby San Bernardino, Calif., declared municipal bankruptcy. The action highlights that the economic woes of California and its governments are not being exaggerated, and that Nevada would be wise to learn from its neighbor’s problems.

San Bernardino’s bankruptcy follows this month’s Chapter 9 declaration from Stockton, Calif. While Stockton’s budget problems were compounded by debt, the finances of that city and San Bernardino had much in common: generous salaries, benefits and retirement promises for municipal workers that couldn’t be sustained amid free-falling property and sales tax collections, union concessions notwithstanding.

San Bernardino, with more than 200,000 residents, had let its reserves fall below $200,000 and couldn’t make payroll going forward. Plenty of other California cities are budgetary basket cases. “We’re going to see more of these,” former California Finance Director Mike Genest, now a consultant, told the Oakland Tribune. “Many of us have been predicting a substantial number of municipal bankruptcies in California for quite some time, and those predictions are starting to come true. It comes as no surprise to see the dominoes beginning to fall for local government.”

The elephant in the room, of course, is California’s unfunded pension obligations, which total about $500 billion, according to studies by Stanford University, Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. According to a February report from Stanford, pension spending grew more than 11 percent per year in California’s biggest cities and counties between 1999 and 2010, twice the rate of growth of public safety, social services, parks and other programs. San Bernardino’s pension burden had doubled in just five years, and Stockton’s payments, which had more than doubled in 10 years, are on track to double again in just five years, according to the report.

Pension debts cannot be erased or reduced through Chapter 9. Taxpayers are on the hook for those promises.

These problems aren’t limited to California. Earlier this month, Scranton, Pa., cut its employee salaries to minimum wage to balance its budget. The state of Michigan has taken over the finances of four cities, and three others, including Detroit, operate under consent agreements.

All this serves as yet another reminder to the Nevada Legislature that the state must get in front of this problem and not wait until it becomes impossible to address. Already, Nevada municipalities provide some of the highest public-sector salaries and benefits in the country, and the state’s unfunded pension obligations are between $10 billion and $40 billion, depending on the accounting standards used.

It’s brutally unfair to squeeze important services because the public must pay for salaries and retirement benefits that aren’t available in the private sector. Governments everywhere must significantly reform pensions for new hires, or a lot more cities and counties will be headed to court.

~Las Vegas Review-Journal

God Bless America

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
God bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home
God bless America, My home sweet home.

~Irving Berlin