Can You Hear Me Now?
“All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.” –James Madison
As both a candidate for president in 2008 and for Senate in 2006, Barack Obama routinely railed against the Patriot Act, and, more specifically, warrantless wiretaps and tracking of phone records by George W. Bush’s administration. Now that he’s the big man in the Oval Office, however, Obama evidently finds such things useful. Sauce for the goose and all that.
“The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April,” reports the UK’s Guardian thanks to a top-secret document leaked to anti-antiterror reporter Glenn Greenwald. The order, granted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on April 25, is effective through July 19, and it requires Verizon on an “ongoing daily basis” to provide the NSA with data on all calls from its 121 million customers on its U.S. network. AT&T and Sprint are evidently part of the program too.
The Guardian further notes, “Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.” We’ll see if the latter is true for Greenwald when he’s named a “criminal conspirator” by the Obama Justice Department. Kidding aside, that’s an important distinction – data record collection, which the Supreme Court condoned under the Fourth Amendment, versus the actual content of the call, which requires a warrant.
The NSA uses such broad data collection to pinpoint terrorist cells and prevent attacks. This week’s story isn’t exactly news, either, given that record collection was first reported in 2006, and this particular order falls under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, first enacted in 2001.
Thursday, The Washington Post also reported that Team Obama and its NSA and FBI are mining data from nine U.S. Internet companies in a program code-named PRISM. The government says that program, established in 2007 but expanded by Obama, “targets” only foreigners, and many of the companies deny knowledge of it.
In the 2008 campaign, candidate Obama self-righteously and angrily denounced Bush’s policies and promised to discontinue them: “I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining the Constitution and our freedom. That means no more illegal wiretapping … [spying] on citizens … tracking citizens who do nothing but protest… No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient. … The law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers … justice is not arbitrary. [Bush] acts like violating civil liberties is the way to enhance our security… The first thing I will do, when I am president, is call in my attorney general and … review every executive order issued by George Bush to determine which of those have undermined civil liberties, which are unconstitutional, and I will reverse them with a stroke of a pen.”
That brings us to one difference between the actions of the Bush and Obama administrations. Under the Bush administration, data collection, as well as actual wiretapping, was clearly aimed at thwarting al-Qa'ida and other terrorist agents, while the Obama administration’s objective is less clear. Just last week, in fact, Obama declared that the War on Terror is over, which makes one wonder why the data collection is necessary. Are we fighting terrorism or not?
Maybe what Obama didn’t like about Bush’s program was that it wasn’t wide enough to ensnare, say, political opponents. Perhaps Patriot and Tea Party groups are now on an NSA list as well as an IRS one. We don’t expect the data collection to be politicized in such a way, but with this administration, who can tell?
Indeed, another issue is one of trust. For those of us who paid attention to Obama early in his political career, his mendacity is not new. And Obama’s tenure in the White House has already been plagued with scandals – political targeting at the IRS and the EPA, wiretapping of news outlets, the Benghazi cover-up and Fast and Furious – all of which makes this data collection somewhat unsettling. Even The New York Times says Obama “has now lost all credibility,” later qualifying “on this issue.” When you’ve lost The New York Times…
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) urged, “Right now I think everyone should just calm down and understand that this isn’t anything that’s brand new – it’s been going on for seven years.” But what has also been going on for almost five years is a predisposition by Obama and his administrators to use every government resource at its disposal to promote his political agenda and silence his “enemies list.”
Ironically, amid revived concerns about Obama using NSA’s internet data mining to identify his political enemies list, he announced yesterday, “We’re going to take a new step to make sure that virtually every child in America’s classrooms has access to the fastest Internet. I am directing the Federal Communications Commission, which is the FCC, to begin a process that will connect 99 percent of America’s students to high-speed broadband Internet within five years.”
Recall also just a few weeks back when Obama preached his “ignore tyranny sermon” to Ohio State graduates: “You’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices.”
Trust him, he’s from the government.
“This NSA scandal is so bad they’ll have to find someone who was going to retire next Friday and make him retire this Friday.” –humorist Frank J. Fleming
This Week’s ‘Alpha Jackass’ Award
“If someone wants to know why their own government has decided to go on a fishing expedition through every personal record or private document – through library books they’ve read and phone calls they’ve made – this legislation [the Patriot Act] gives people no rights to appeal the need for such a search in a court of law. … This is just plain wrong.” –Obama in 2005
Government and Politics
Second Amendment: UN Treaty and Illinois
Barack Obama decided against joining more than 60 nations this week in signing the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Normally we’d welcome this news, but Obama is simply delaying his signature until lawmakers leave town for summer recess. If this sounds familiar, that’s because Obama commonly waits for Congress to adjourn before making controversial moves (e.g., recess appointments). The White House claims this UN Assault on Gun Rights is necessary to stop the flow of weapons finding their way to the international black market. Secretary of State John Kerry added, “The ATT will not … infringe on the rights of American citizens, including our Second Amendment rights.” But like all gun-grabbing regulation, the end result – and the Left’s intent – does just that. It’s virtually impossible for Obama to garner the necessary two-thirds majority of the Senate to ratify the treaty, but there’s ample reason to be concerned considering this president’s regular abuse of executive power.
Meanwhile, some good news out of Illinois, heretofore the only state without a concealed carry law: Both the state House and Senate passed HB183 to remedy that problem, and leftists aren’t happy. Because of the bill’s broad support, however, the legislation is veto-proof. As such, Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed for a 30-day extension to give lawmakers more than the 180 days the Seventh Circuit Court granted them to implement a gun carry law – a strategic move intended to give the governor time to work some deconstruction magic. It’s not the best legislation out there, but it’s better than what you’ll find in California.
News From the Swamp: IRS Scandal Update
Daniel Werfel, who now holds the job of acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, told a House Appropriations Financial Subcommittee hearing this week that the IRS has betrayed the public trust in its targeting of conservative non-profit groups. Out on a limb… “There was a fundamental failure by IRS management to prevent this inconsistent treatment. … The agency stands ready to confront the problems that occurred.” In the meantime, the Treasury Department’s Inspector General conducted an internal audit of IRS employees in the Cincinnati office where the whole scandal supposedly started, and he couldn’t find anyone willing to name names when asked who directed them to grill Tea Party groups seeking non-profit status. The probe continues to widen, with at least 88 employees identified as playing a part in the scandal.
The investigation is also climbing upward, with Barack Obama’s deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter happily admitting she attended White House meetings with former IRS chief Douglas Shulman. On top of that, Sarah Hall Ingram, the IRS official in charge of the division doing the political targeting, visited the White House 165 times since 2011 – and none of the visits overlapped Shulman’s. We’re now a long way past the phony “rogue employee” story initially set forth by the IRS and the White House, but we’re also weeks down the road with no real consequences.
As if all this weren’t outrageous enough, the agency is now facing scrutiny for lavish spending at various conferences its employees held and attended between 2010 and 2012. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee now wants to know why it was necessary to spend a staggering $50 million on 220 separate conferences in that two-year period, with perks for some events including presidential suites at hotels, complimentary sporting events and highly paid, high-profile public speakers. It seems that the IRS can’t even find its receipts for one particular $4 million conference. Audits aren’t fun, are they?
Income Redistribution: Farm Bill Blowout
The House and the Senate are close to voting on their respective farm bills, and Republicans and Democrats in both chambers are already patting themselves on the back for what they have wrought. The new spending package claims to “cut” anywhere from $26 billion to $33 billion (depending on the version) from the Department of Agriculture budget over 10 years. But that’s chicken feed when compared to the nearly $1 trillion price tag for the full bill. Even that minuscule savings is smoke and mirrors, though, because the bill increases spending 39 percent above the 2008 farm bill in inflation-adjusted dollars.
Furthermore, labeling the package a “farm” bill is an Orwellian misnomer. Close to 80 percent of it will fund programs like food stamps. Membership in the food stamp program, heartily encouraged under Barack Obama, has grown 70 percent since 2008. There are 49 million Americans receiving food stamps today – not exactly evidence of an economy on the mend. The other 20 percent of the farm bill is riddled with earmarks completely unrelated to agriculture but that allow elected officials to tell their constituents that they’re bringing home the bacon.
This Just In: Social Security Is Broke
A recent Congressional Budget Office report reveals that Social Security ran a $55 billion deficit in 2012, its third straight year of red ink. In fact, if things remain unchanged and Social Security isn’t overhauled soon, it will never run in the black again. In 2010, Social Security began taking in less money through payroll tax revenues than it paid out in benefits. While its year-to-year deficit hasn’t increased substantially, the overall program is facing a 75-year unfunded liability of $12.3 trillion. That liability is $1 trillion greater than projected just last year.
The program is expected to remain “solvent” until 2033, but after that point, benefits will decline sharply by 25 percent, and continue declining thereafter. Among the reforms that could save the program, if implemented immediately, are raising the retirement age to reflect a healthier population, indexing the cost-of-living adjustment to the Consumer Price Index and means testing for benefits.
Sen. Lautenberg, 1924-2013
Monday saw the passing of Democrat Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, a World War II veteran and the oldest serving U.S. senator. Of course, no sooner had word of his death reached the media than speculation began on his replacement. Republican Gov. Chris Christie appointed state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, a Republican, to hold the seat until a special election on Oct. 16. Chiesa, however, won’t run in that election. The October date means New Jersey will face two general elections within three weeks, as the state is one of two with off-year elections.
Needless to say, Christie’s choice didn’t please many of his fellow New Jerseyans, as a special election will cost taxpayers up to $25 million. The governor said his decision was “about guaranteeing the people of New Jersey both a choice and a voice in the process, and the representation they deserve in Washington.” Of the costs, however, he said he neither knows nor cares. As National Review’s Daniel Foster writes, this “doesn’t really jibe with Christie’s image as a fiscal conservative generally, or his past support for moving school-board elections from April to November specifically to save money.”
Indeed, the governor is playing politics – Christie’s choice means he can avoid naming a true replacement, thereby threatening the tightrope walk he already faces among conservatives, moderates, and now even Democrats. That said, New Jersey is hardly a red state, and no matter the choice Christie made, it’s unlikely to have a long-term impact in a state that hasn’t elected a Republican senator since 1972.
Obama Claims Credit for Economy, Asks Congress for More
Barack Obama flew his entourage to Mooresville, North Carolina, yesterday, where he repeated his worn out classist mantra “the middle class has to be prospering – not just folks at the very top,” to about the only age group in America who still believes him – a bunch of middle schoolers. Obama told the kids, “Our businesses have created nearly seven million new jobs over the past 38 months; 530,000 of those jobs are new manufacturing jobs that help us sell goods made in America all around the world. We’re producing more of our own energy. We’re consuming less energy from other countries. The housing market and the stock markets are rebounding. Our deficit is shrinking. People’s retirement savings are growing. The American auto industry has come roaring back.”
Also, in his weekly radio address, Obama credited the “grit and determination” of the American people for various signs of economic recovery he cited: Foreclosures are down while home sales are up, the auto industry is rebounding, the oil industry is booming. But Congress should do more, he added, pointing out some of his pet programs need their blessing. Remember: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”
Yet if it was the “grit and determination” of the American people that brought about these signs of recovery, why should government be involved at all? After all, it was misguided lending policy enacted by congressional Democrats that led us to this long-lived recession in the first place. And while the auto and oil industries are doing well, it’s despite the federal government telling automakers they need to build unprofitable electric cars and throwing up every roadblock possible to both oil extraction on federal land and the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Any economic improvement across the country has occurred despite Obama’s socialist policies, not because of them. And it’s laughable that Obama, who has put up endless obstacles to energy development, is now attempting to take credit for the fact that, despite those obstacles, last month the United States produced more oil than it imported for the first time in 16 years. If Obama will get out of the way, our nation could be energy independent in 10 years.
As for jobs, yes, the economy created 175,000 jobs in May, but March and April were revised down by 12,000, and the headline unemployment rate rose to 7.6 percent from 7.5 percent in April (U-6 unemployment dropped one-tenth to 13.8 percent). Since January 2009, the total private-sector jobs created is just 1.9 million, so keep that in mind when Obama’s claiming credit for seven million.
Regulatory Commissars: ‘Richard Windsor’ Only the Beginning
As the alter ego of EPA head Lisa Jackson, the “Richard Windsor” pseudonym was effective enough to keep sensitive e-mail from the public eye and to garner a few awards in ethics training. Jackson then used the Windsor account to secure certifications the EPA requires for maintaining email accounts. And, by the way, despite the disclosure, “Windsor” is still listed as an “employee” of the EPA. But an investigation by the Associated Press reveals “secret” e-mail addresses for top employees in at least two other federal departments, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and acting Secretary of Labor Seth Harris. Both had at least two department e-mail addresses in addition to their “official” e-mail address made available to the public.
While the feds defend these actions as necessary because of the volume of e-mail received each day by these Cabinet heads, the fact that these addresses are known to those who can make deals behind the scenes – as Jackson was alleged to do in her EPA work – thwarts the idea of government transparency, particularly since a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request would likely not be made for these unpublicized addresses.
Yet while Labor and HHS have grudgingly cooperated with an AP FOIA request made three months ago, most government agencies continue to stonewall the inquiry. The Labor Department originally asked for $1.03 million to fulfill the request, citing the need for 50 employees and 14 weeks to search the old records. The AP called their bluff, though, and received the Labor records at nominal cost, as is standard practice. All in all, the “most transparent administration in history” seems to be making this affair as clear as mud.
Obama Picks Rice as National Security Adviser
Immediately following the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, the White House trotted out UN ambassador Susan Rice to blame an “anti-Islam” YouTube video for a “spontaneous demonstration” that turned violent. Of course, we all know now this was a lie, and that the attack was well planned and executed with al-Qa'ida involvement. The reason for Barack Obama’s, er, alternate explanation was his campaign narrative that he had defeated al-Qa'ida and thus deserved a second term. The perpetual campaign, of course, continues.
Rice’s story likely cost her a shot at becoming secretary of state, but with a second term securely in hand, this week Obama announced that he would offer Rice the consolation prize of becoming his national security adviser. The post doesn’t require Senate confirmation, so he’s spared the headache of a hearing. It also serves as a middle-finger salute to Republicans who criticized Rice and the administration’s handling of the Benghazi debacle. Obama will always put ideology and political payback ahead of the good of the nation.
Taking Rice’s place at the UN will be Samantha Power, who believes – just as the dictators and thugs at that body do – that much of the injustice in the world is due to “the role U.S. political, economic and military power has [played] in denying” freedom to others. She also recommended in 2002 that the U.S. should invade Israel to impose a “solution on unwilling parties.” She’ll fit right in at the UN – but it won’t be as an advocate for true U.S. interests.
Honoring the Heroes of D-Day
Yesterday was the 69th anniversary of D-Day, when more than 160,000 troops landed on a 50-mile stretch of heavily fortified beaches along the Normandy coast of France in what was the largest invasion force in history, involving more than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft.
To read more or to comment, link here.
Department of Military Readiness: Creating Crisis
Several recent events conspired to create a “crisis” that a few NeoCom senators are determined won’t go to waste. A three-star Air Force general got the ball rolling by overturning a court martial conviction – without providing what the senators deemed a worthy explanation. Then came a few well-publicized incidents in which service members in sexual assault prevention roles committed stupid and criminal acts. The real catalyst, though, was a Defense Department survey of dubious scientific credibility cited as depicting a disturbing and growing number of sexual assaults in the military. Several pieces of legislation have been proposed that supporters claim will cure all of these ills, low-lighted this week by the combined Joint Chiefs being chastised by several female senators, led by Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
Don’t let the senators’ indignation fool you, though. The real agenda is not to reduce the incidence of “unwanted sexual contact.” The hyperventilation about sexual assault, which is largely based on the aforementioned single, suspect survey, is really about the Left’s agenda to force more women into roles they neither seek nor are suited for. From ridiculous comments from Democrats that impugn the character of males in the military, to calls for doubling the number of women in the military (despite the fact that recruiters struggle to fill current quotas), to arguing that incidents like the ones recently noted would not occur if we just made a female the Superintendent of West Point, the Left is attempting to use this manufactured crisis to break and remake one of the last bastions of merit-based success and service. This isn’t an issue of what’s best for the military and the nation, but what serves the purposes of a small minority of feminists who haven’t been able to advance their agenda on the merits.
Let’s hope at least a few legislators demonstrate the courage and integrity of the general who inadvertently started the firestorm and became the focus of the NeoComs’ ire. After being accused of being insensitive and not understanding what sexual assault was, he wrote, “I am keenly aware of the significant Congressional interest and media coverage of my 26 Feb. 13 decision. I am troubled by the recent wave of continuing negative and biased dispersions being cast upon the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), the constitutional court-martial process, and the weighty and impartial responsibility of a convening authority to administer justice. … Obviously it would have been exceedingly less volatile for the Air Force and for me professionally, to have simply approved the finding of guilty. This would have been an act of cowardice on my part and a breach of my integrity.”
WikiLeaker Heads to Court Martial
With recent revelations coming from Washington about leaks, it seems that the biggest leak case during the Obama administration requires an exceptional effort to recall. It did not involve information leaked from or about the administration; rather it involved information that endangered national security.
In July 2010, we reported, “[T]he website WikiLeaks published some 92,000 classified documents concerning the Afghan war, covering the period from 2004 to 2009. The military is investigating U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning in connection with the leak. Manning served with the 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd Brigade in Baghdad, working on intelligence operations.” The documents posted by WikiLeaks revealed much about our military’s tactics, methods, sources and communication. We noted, “Such details will be all too useful to our enemies.”
Fast forward to June 2013. The court martial of Pfc. Manning began on Monday with prosecutors arguing that the former Army intelligence analyst “knowingly gave intelligence to the enemy” in the most extensive leak of classified information in U.S. history. The most serious of the 22 charges Manning faces is aiding the enemy, for which Manning could face life in prison if convicted. In February, Manning pleaded guilty to 10 lesser charges that carried a 20-year prison sentence.
In his opening arguments, the Army prosecutor said the computer evidence indicated that within two weeks of his deployment to Baghdad in November 2009, Manning began passing classified information to WikiLeaks, and, in the months following, Manning gathered information of “great value to our adversaries and in particular to our enemies” in bulk. Manning’s defense attorney didn’t deny that his client leaked the documents, but claimed he did so because he was “young, naïve and good-intentioned” and that he released the classified documents “because he thought he could make the world a better place.” What utter hogwash.
Judicial Benchmarks: So What Other Rights Should We Give Up?
The Supremes just rendered another landmark decision this week in Maryland v. King, ruling that police can take cheek-swab DNA samples from anyone arrested, equating the process to common booking procedures like fingerprinting. We don’t agree that forcing an arrested suspect to say “Ahhh” and invasively running a DNA swab around his mouth is quite the same as taking a fingerprint. The case split the Court along unusual lines, as well. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer formed the majority, while Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Sonya Sotomayor and Antonin Scalia dissented.
As the Sage of the Court – Justice Antonin Scalia, arguably the most brilliant jurist in modern America – noted in his dissent in the case, “Make no mistake about it: Because of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested – rightly or wrongly – and for whatever reason.” Gone, of course, is the “reasonable expectation of privacy” standard that had – until this 5-4 Supreme Court split – prevailed. Never mind, also, that this standard is a gatekeeper – make that “former” gatekeeper – against warrantless, suspicion-less searches.
Since the Obama administration is fully intent on decimating the Constitution, why should this decision cause even the blink of an eye in the masses of dumbed-down, entitled, Americans? “Hey, if you’re innocent, you’ve got nothing to hide,” and other similarly naïve comments miss the constitutional mark of understanding the point at which individual rights are subordinated to the rights of society writ large.
The Founders understood that point, and they ensconced their understanding of it in their legacy, creating an “exceptional” nation among others. Maximizing individual rights and freedoms within society is the overarching theme and aim of that greatest document devised by man, the Constitution. Within that context, this decision likewise misses the mark – by a long shot, not merely a swab of DNA.
Faith and Family: Komen Losing Support
Early last year, the Susan Komen Foundation, a national breast cancer charity, decided to cease donations to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider. After the predictable Leftmedia uproar, Komen reversed course. The result was that if donors hadn’t previously known of Komen’s donations, they did after the double reversal. We predicted at the time that Komen would experience difficulty in raising money after the kerfuffle.
Well, we were correct. Komen has canceled its famous “Race for the Cure” events in seven cities due to lack of fundraising, though the event will proceed in another seven cities. Komen blames the fundraising dip on the Obama economy, which certainly could be a big factor, but don’t underestimate the residual anger at the organization’s political bumbling. Both sides of the aisle are angry, and that doesn’t make for good fundraising.
On Monday, Joe Biden spoke to the White House National Conference on Mental Health and recalled his own story of two brain surgeries in 1988 to treat cranial aneurysms. Joe being Joe, he described the ordeal as only he could: “[T]hey literally had to take the top of my head off. I mean, they take a saw and they cut your head off, and go in to find the artery that is – one was leaking, the other that hadn’t, before it burst.” Before going in for surgery, Biden asked his surgeon, “What are my chances of getting off this table and being completely normal?” The answer was “in the 35 to 50 percent range.” We suppose how Biden came through depends on the definition of “normal.” One key point, though, was that his first aneurysm was on the side of his brain that controls speech. And we know things aren’t “normal” in that department.
Semper Vigilo, Fortis, Paratus et Fidelis!
Nate Jackson for The Patriot Post Editorial Team