Has the NSA collected massive data on all American's credit card purchases, pharmacy records, library records, guns, financial information, and on and on?

A bipartisan group of 26 senators asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper whether the Patriot Act has been interpreted differently "from an intuitive reading of the statute" to allow massive data collected on all American's credit card purchases, pharmacy records, library records, guns, financial information, and on and on.  Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) lead the group of Senators.  Their letter is produced here (Click to make text larger):

The Senators who signed the letter are: Ron Wyden (D-Or), Mark Udall (D-Co), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), Mark Kirk (R-Il), Dick Durbin (D-Il), Tom Udall (D-NM), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jon Tester (D-Mt), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Dean Heller (R- Nev),Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), Patty Murray (D-Wash), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Al Franken (D-Minn), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chris Coons (D-Del), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), Max Baucus (D-Mont), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc) and Mike Lee (R-Utah)


Are you smarter than the President? How many members of the US House of Representatives have the title "Speaker"?

Would the media point out this misstatement if a Republican had made it?  From Obama's statement today:
"I’ve called both speakers -- Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi, and encouraged them to find a path to get this done."


Two Dozen House Republicans propose plan for concealed weapons in school zones

This doesn't go anywhere near far enough, but the notion that people could object to off-duty or retired police from carrying guns in school zones is very difficult for me to understand.  Is there any evidence that police with guns will endanger others?  Seriously?  From The Hill newspaper:

Two dozen House Republicans proposed legislation on Thursday that would allow off-duty and retired police officers to carry concealed weapons in school zones to help protection children from attacks.
Supporters of the Police Officers Protecting Children Act, H.R. 2541, say the bill would give schools the ability to seek this added layer of protection from random acts of violence, like the one that claimed the lives of 20 children last year in Newtown, Conn.
"This common-sense bill addresses a question on all of our minds: how do we keep our children safe?," said Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), the lead sponsor of the bill. "These dedicated men and women of law enforcement should not be barred from providing an extra layer of security for our schools just because they are off the clock or have retired from active service to their communities." . . .

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Devastating blow to prosecution in Zimmerman case, prosecution's own witness says that Trayvon Martin was on top of Zimmerman beating him, Zimmerman was the one calling for help

CBS has a detailed discussion available here regarding Mr. Good's testimony.

From Fox News regarding another witness:

State witness Joe Manalo testified that he took the photos with his cell phone that showed blood on Zimmerman's lip and scalp.
"He had blood running down his nose from both nostrils and over his lips," Manalo told Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda.
Manalo said Zimmerman asked him to call his wife, Shellie, and tell her that he just shot someone as cops arrived on the scene.
"He had a cell phone in his hand and he tossed it on the ground asking if I could call his wife," Manalo testified. "He gave me her number. I had a connection right away and said, 'Your husband has been involved in a shooting. He's detained by Sanford police.'" . . . .


Is Obama serious that the Supreme Court homosexual marriage decisions were "a victory for American democracy"?

President Obama makes me think of the book 1984 when he claims that the Supreme Court decisions on same sex marriage "a victory for American democracy."  But how exactly is the decision to strike down an initiative supported by a clear majority of the California voters "a victory for American democracy"?  A position that was twice approved by California voters.  The point of the unanimous California Supreme Court, which the Supreme Court overturned, was that the very point of the initiative process was to force outcomes that politicians didn't want to happen.  If you then leave it up to politicians to decide whether to defend the initiative, you give them the power to gut initiatives they don't like.  Finally, it is amazing how inconsistent the two SC decisions are on standing.  The court gutted initiatives, but since the Obama administration wouldn't defend DOMA, if they had used the same reasoning there, the court wouldn't have been able to gut DOMA.  Whatever one's views on same sex marriage, these court decisions are lawless and are an attempt by justices to get political outcomes no matter what the cost is in other areas.



Audio version of "At the Brink" is now available!

It took a little while but the audio version of "At the Brink" is now available!


Eric Holder's "sixteen scandals"

I don't think that I would include all of these sixteen as scandals, but there are a few that I had forgotten about that should be included.  Here are nine that may well be regarded as scandals.
One – Discriminatory Hiring Practices 
Two – Fort Hood 
Three – AP Surveillance 
Four – DOJ Secretly Targets Fox News Reporter, James Rosen 
Five – Marc Rich Pardon 
Six – Weather Underground Pardon
Twelve – New Black Panther Intimidation 
Thirteen – Opposition to Voter ID Laws 
Fourteen – Fast & Furious 



Here is what I think is the key quote from Kennedy's dissent in the California Prop 8 case

From Justice Kennedy's dissent:

The Court’s reasoning does not take into account the fundamental principles or the practical dynamics of the initiative system in California,which uses this mechanism to control and to bypass public officials—the same officials who would not defend theinitiative, an injury the Court now leaves unremedied. The Court’s decision also has implications for the 26 other States that use an initiative or popular referendum system and which, like California, may choose to have initiative proponents stand in for the State when public officials decline to defend an initiative in litigation. . . .
So the US Supreme Court claims that it knows more about how the California laws should be interpreted than a unanimous decision by the California Supreme Court.  But worse, as Justice Kennedy says, if the politicians in office don't like a decision, they can just encourage a lawsuit against the law and then refuse to defend it in court.

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Obama administration lining up NFL, NBA and Hollywood Stars to push for Obamacare

From The Hill newspaper:
The White House is working to recruit Hollywood celebrities to help promote ObamaCare, a top celebrity political adviser told The Hill. 
Trevor Neilson, a veteran of the Clinton White House, said he's in talks with the Obama administration and that his clients are "looking at ways to be involved." 
Neilson represents Eva Longoria, John Legend and many other stars as president of Global Philanthropy Group. . . .
"I think the White House is very wise to identify partners to help market the Affordable Care Act," Neilson said Tuesday.  . . . .
From The Hill newspaper:
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Monday she is in talks with the NFL to help promote new insurance options under ObamaCare.
Sebelius said the football league has been "very actively and enthusiastically engaged" in discussions about a partnership to encourage people to enroll in newly available insurance plans."We're having active discussions right now with a variety of sports affiliates" about both paid advertising and partnerships to encourage enrollment, Sebelius told reporters.HHS is reportedly also in talks with the NBA to promote the law. . . . 


Dramatic diagram: Pathetic GDP growth, first recovery to be falling further and further behind trend GDP

This has the latest update to the GDP numbers.  Click on figure to make larger.

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IRS agents use government issued credit cards to pay for wine, outrageously expensive meals, and wine

From Fox News:

. . . The report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found that between fiscal 2010 and 2011, the more than 5,000 IRS card accounts racked up $103 million in purchases.
"While the majority of IRS cardholders appear to use their purchase cards properly, TIGTA's audit identified some troubling instances of inappropriate usage," J. Russell George, the inspector general, said in a statement.
The report said the cards were at one point used to pay for a dinner that cost roughly $140 per person -- four times the amount allowed by federal rules. They were also used to pay for a lunch that cost about $100 per person, five times the allowed amount.  
The report said IRS credit cards paid for 28 bottles of wine at the 2010 luncheon for tax officials from other countries. There were 41 guests.
In another case, cards were used to make questionable purchases of decorative and give-away items including plush animals, bandanas, kazoos and a rented popcorn machine.
Another cardholder allegedly made $2,655 worth of personal purchases -- the report said credit card information indicates it was spent on diet pills, romance novels and other items, and that the purchaser may have provided false receipts to justify it. . . .


The Mayors Against Illegal Guns's “No More Names” bus tour is making more than one mistake

Mayors Against Illegal Guns not only listed terrorist Tamerlan Tsarnaev as a victim of gun violence, they list all cases where a police officer or civilian fatally shot a criminal as victims.  They also listed all suicides as victims of gun violence, completely oblivious to the fact that research shows that these individuals would have committed suicide some other way.  It might also be nice to differentiate gang shootings from other deaths.  From Politico:
Tsarnaev’s name was read aloud during a stop on [Mayors Against Illegal Guns'] “No More Names” bus tour in Concord, N.H., prompting loud shouts from the crowd, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader. Several protesters shouted "he’s a terrorist” when Tsarnaev was named, the Union Leader reported on Tuesday. 
Mayors Against Illegal Guns told The Atlantic Wire in a statement Wednesday that they “relied on the public list compiled by Slate.com entitled 'How Many People Have Been Killed by Guns Since Newtown?', and his name was on the list.” The group said his name should have been deleted, called Tsarnaev’s inclusion a “mistake” and apologized. . . . .
But there is another problem.  You just can't evaluate whether we should have guns based on their cost.  You need to compare the number of defensive gun uses against the number of bad things that happen. 

Note: I was in Raliegh, North Carolina on Saturday giving a talk to GRNC.  Apparently just that day MAIG was having their bus tour in Raliegh and, despite their best efforts not to let anyone know that they were going to be in Raliegh, the GRNC was able to get more people at the event than could MAIG.


Bias in The Hill story about Supreme Court decision on Voting Rights Act?

Did the voting rights Act really require a "higher criteria"?  Or was it a political standard?  My guess is that the Obama administration decides to accept decisions for states such as Texas based upon whether it benefits the Democratic Party, not whether it meets some higher moral standard.  The very concern that former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Martin Frost (D-Texas) raises is what motivated Democrat decisions on what redistricting to allow.  From The Hill newspaper:

. . . Barring congressional action, that means a number of states — most of them southern and GOP-controlled — no longer have to meet higher criteria to pass voting laws.  
The ruling holds big implications for congressional redistricting and voter identification laws that Democrats claim are aimed suppressing minority turnout. 
"This makes it much easier for Republicans to draw districts in away that minimizes the opportunities for Democrats in the south, minimizes opportunities for minorities in the South," said former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Martin Frost (D-Texas). . . .

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How to predict which Supreme Court Justice will write the remaining Supreme Court decisions

My friend John Eastman sent out an interesting email explaining how Supreme Court decides who will write up their decisions.  The short of it is: you look to see who has already written decision for cases based on the month that oral arguments were heard and whatever are left go to the Justices that hadn't yet written a decision on that month's cases. 
. . . 5 cases were decided on Monday, and another 3 today.  That leaves 3 to go, and the Chief Justice announced this morning that they would be released tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time.  There is a biggie -- Sekhar v. United Stateswhich considers whether advice from a government lawyer can be considered "property" that can form the basis of an extortion charge.  And there are two cases that have garnered little attention -- United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry.  Oh, wait.  Those are the marriage cases!   
It appears as though Justice Scalia may be writing the opinion in Sekhar, Justice Kennedy the opinion in Windsor (the constitutional challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA), and the Chief Justice writing in Perry (the constitutional challenge to California's Proposition 8).  This prediction is based on reviewing the authorship of the opinions that have already been released from each sitting of the Court and then lining up the remaining opinions with the Justices who have not yet authored an opinion from that sitting.  For example, the only case argued all the way back in October that had not been released before this week was Fisher v. University of Texas, and the only Justice who had not authored an opinion out of the October sitting was Justice Kennedy.  True to form, Justice Kennedy was the author of that opinion when it was released yesterday -- holding that Texas's race-based affirmative action plan has to be subjected to strict scrutiny by the lower courts and will therefore likely be held to be unconstitutional.  (That, by the way, is not as far as we urged the Court to go in our brief in the case -- we'd like to see the promise of color-blind treatment for all citizens be fully vindicated -- but it is an important step in the right direction!). 
Similarly, Justice Alito was the only Justice without an opinion from the January sitting, and Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District (another case in which the CCJ was involved!) was the only undecided case.  This morning, Justice Alito was the author of the majority opinion inKoontz, an important property rights case holding that government cannot condition the issuance of a permit on the relinguishment of property rights that would be unconstitutional "takings" if done directly.  Another win for the good guys, for property rights, and for the Constitution!   
So the only case still undecided from April is Sekhar, and the only Justice without an opinion from that sitting is Justice Scalia.  And the only two cases undecided from March are the two marriage cases, and the Chief Justice and Justice Kennedy are the two justices without an opinion from that sitting. . . .


Democrat Colorado Senate President John Morse is desperately pulling up all the stops to prevent recall over his support for gun control

After the Colorado Secretary of State certified Morse's recall, Morse has gone to all sorts of lengths to stop the recall.  Hardly the type of confidence you would expect from someone who thought that he would win.  Morse wants to argue that the boilerplate petitions provided by the Secretary of State were in error.  From the Daily Caller:
. . . Morse’s attorney, Mark Grueskin, challenged the entire effort because the petitions circulated by the El Paso Freedom Defense Committee didn’t specifically mention that there would be an election if enough signatures are collected, a requirement of the state constitution.
“This isn’t some technicality or loophole,” Grueskin told Denver’s 7News. “This is a critical piece of information that the proponents of this petition decided not to impart to petition signers.”
Richard Westfall, an attorney with the Colorado Republican Party, told the Denver Post that Morse’s lawyers are misreading the constitution.
“The state constitution very much protects a citizen’s right to recall elected officials,” he’s quoted as saying. “A hyper-technical argument suggested by Sen. Morse’s attorneys would unduly limit the citizens’ rights to recall their elected officials.”
The petitions were boilerplate fill-in-the-blanks forms provided by the secretary of state’s office. The conservative Colorado Peak Politics blog points out that the language on the forms dates back to the previous secretary of state, Democrat Bernie Buescher. . . .
Colorado Senate President John Morse is pulling up all the stops to keep from facing the voters in a recall, but with only 10 percent (even according the Democrats) agreeing to take their names off the petitions, the Democrats aren't even going to be close to stopping the recall -- all these expenses are going to be for nought.
. . . "We've called several hundred people.  We are seeing about a 10 percent return," she said.  Le Lait said people sometimes sign without paying attention and that some voters have already confirmed that.
"Some people thought they were signing a petition to keep John Morse in office, some people thought they were signing a petition to support the gun laws, one woman thought she was signing a petition to impeach Barack Obama," said Le Lait.
A woman who only wished to share her first name, Ann, said she is one of thousands who signed the petition.  She also got a call from the Morse campaign.
"She goes, 'we wanted to find out do you remember signing the petition to recall John Morse?' I go yeah.  I said I signed the petition because I wanted to and I don't want my name removed," said Ann.
Organizers of the recall petition needed more than 7,100 valid signatures to force a recall election.  Last Tuesday, Colorado's Secretary of State's office verified they had the signatures needed.  In fact, they exceeded the signatures by about 3,000. . . .
Meanwhile, another Democrat state Senator is going to have to face the voters again.  From the Denver Post:
The votes cast by state Sen. Angela Giron in support of tougher gun laws now have the Pueblo lawmaker faced with a looming fall election date as organizers Monday amassed enough valid signatures in their recall effort.
Only about 6 percent of the signatures submitted in Giron's recall effort were deemed invalid by the Colorado secretary of state's office — a striking percentage that her opponents said showed strong support for their cause.
Organizers with Pueblo Freedom and Rights submitted more than 13,400 signatures to the Colorado secretary of state's office and had 12,648 verified. They needed about 11,300 verified for a recall election and outpaced that figure by about 1,300.
Giron becomes the second Democrat in less than a week — along with Senate President John Morse — who now must deal with a recall election . . . 
 The Washington Times has a story about how extreme lengths Colorado Democrats are willing to go to not face the voters.



Shooting spree in China leaves six dead

So a regular "hunting rifle" was used in this case.  From the UK Guardian:
In a rare case of gun violence in China a man fatally shot five people and beat a sixth to death, including some of his factory colleagues and a soldier, police have said. 
The 62-year-old man's killing spree started when he used unspecified tools to beat a colleague to death over an economic dispute, according to Shanghai police. The man identified as having the surname Fan killed his colleague on Saturday afternoon at a chemical factory in Shanghai's Baoshan district, the Shanghai Public Security Bureau said. 
The bureau said Fan then took a hunting rifle that was hidden in his dormitory, asked a driver to take him to another district and shot him on the way. After killing the man Fan drove the vehicle back to Baoshan and killed a soldier who was guarding the entrance to a barracks. He also took the soldier's gun. 
Fan then returned to the factory and fatally shot three more people with his hunting rifle, including a manager. Police said they captured him in the factory about six hours after his killing spree started. . . .
Thanks to Rich for the link.


iPhone saves man's life in New Zealand who was trapped under bike during freezing night

Apparently, the ability of the iPhone to give the exact coordinates for where this man was stranded allowed the helicopter to arrive fast enough to save the man's life.  From Stuff.co.nz:
A 20-year-old worker was found trapped under his 4WD, which had rolled on him, Feilding police Sergeant David Burmeister said.
''He'd been out there all night stuck underneath it.''
Weather conditions last night were ''terrible'' - wet and cold - with the temperature in single figures.
The man was found down a gully and the police constable on the scene was able to use his new iPhone to give the Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter the co-ordinates of where to land, Burmeister said. . . .


Concealed handgun permit holder stops armed robbery outside Atlanta store

Police have determined that this concealed carry permit holder acted in self defense when he shot the robber.  From the Associated Press:
Police say an armed man trying to rob customers outside an Atlanta shoe store was fatally shot by one of the patrons waiting in line to buy sneakers.
WSB-TV reports the shooting happened Saturday morning in the city's Little Five Points neighborhood, where people lined up outside Wish Clothing to buy new $180 sneakers endorsed by Miami Heat star LeBron James.
Witnesses told police a man armed with a gun tried to rob people standing outside the store. But one of the customers drew his own handgun and shot the robber. Police say the suspect ran just a few yards before he fell dead. . . . .


Sun City, AZ homeowner wounds armed man who broke into their home at 2 AM

From Fox TV in Phoenix:
Police have arrested a man who broke into a home in Sun City. In this case, the homeowner fought back and shot the man.
It's hard to imagine how any of us would react waking up in the middle of the night to find someone with a gun in your home trying to rob you.
But this suspect picked the wrong home. The homeowner has law enforcement training and a gun, and he used that to fight back.
Video shows the suspect face down on a golf course in Sun City, surrounded by Maricopa County Sheriff's deputies. They say he's the suspect in a home invasion early Friday at a home only a few blocks away. . . .
This started around 2 a.m. The couple living here was sound asleep when a man armed with a gun broke in.
The homeowner, Dave Sobley, is a military veteran and an MCSO posse lieutenant. Deputies say he grabbed his gun and shot the intruder, who then ran off.
"I was afraid for my life and my wife's life. I knew if he got us together it may be over," said Sobley. . . .