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  • Dem Bill Bans Use of Cartoon Characters to Market Guns
    Posted July 17, 2014 at 8:44 am by Pete Kasperowicz

    Comments (133)

    A freshman Democrat is proposing a ban on the use of cartoon characters to sell guns, and a ban firearm branded merchandise for children such as hats, t-shirts and stuffed animals.

    The Children’s Firearm Marketing Safety Act from Rep. Robin Kelly, an Illinois Democrat, reflects the growing feeling among those on the left that guns should not be marketed to children. Many Democrats argue that the marketing of guns to children is contributing to the shooting death of children across the country.

    huckleberry

    The National Rifle Association sponsors “youth days” around the country that give parents and their children a chance to try out various firearms. The NRA’s second annual youth day was held in Indiana last April, and was an event that let about 800 kids and their parents “enjoy a handful of activities that the NRA is involved in,” including roping cattle and shooting.

    The NRA also sells merchandise for children, including t-shirts and bibs with the group’s name on them.

    Companies also sell youth-sized rifles, such as Keystone Sporting Arms, which offers the Crickett rifle for kids. The company bills that rifle as “my first rifle,” and uses a cartoon cricket to market it — some of these rifles are designed with youth-oriented colors and patterns on the stock.

    Under Kelly’s bill, all of these activities would be prohibited, and the ban would be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. Specifically, her bill would prohibit the use of cartoon characters to market guns and ban kid-oriented marketing campaigns from gun manufacturers.

    It would also ban the manufacturing of guns with colors or designs aimed at appealing to children, and would outlaw firearm brand name merchandise for kids, like hats and t-shirts.

    Any youth-sized gun that is manufactured would have to bear a label that warns it is a real gun that could result in injury, or any similar warning that the FTC develops.

    The bill would also give states the power to ban any of the prohibitions in the bill, as long as they inform the FTC that they are about to take action.

    Read a copy of Kelly’s bill here:

  • Transgender Woman Battles Against Hobby Lobby Over Bathroom Use
    Posted July 17, 2014 at 8:29 am by Billy Hallowell

    Comments (382)

    Most of the recent media buzz surrounding Hobby Lobby, a popular craft store chain, has focused on the company’s Supreme Court victory permitting it to refuse coverage of certain forms of contraception. But in a separate legal battle, a longtime transgender employee is alleging discrimination in case that is sure to put the company at the center of additional controversy.

    Meggan Sommerville, who was born a male, first filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights back in 2011, claiming that she has been forced to use the men’s restroom until her sex reassignment surgery is complete.

    The claim was initially dismissed, though a suit is still pending against the company.

    Sommerville, a long-time employee, has worked for a Hobby Lobby store in Aurora, Illinois, since 1998, though her transition did not begin until 2009, according to Christian Today.

    Customers walk to a Hobby Lobby store in Oklahoma City, Monday, June 30, 2014. The Supreme Court ruled Monday that employers can hold religious objections that allow them to opt out of the new health law requirement that they cover contraceptives for women. The Hobby Lobby chain of arts-and-crafts stores is by far the largest employer of any company that has gone to court to fight the birth control provision. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

    Customers walk to a Hobby Lobby store in Oklahoma City, Monday, June 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

    Hobby Lobby apparently accommodated the initial changes in Sommerville’s identity, amending her name on staff records and even covering hormone therapy through the company’s health care plan.

    But when it came to the women’s bathroom, she said her bosses doubled down.

    “I’m just looking to be treated equally with every other female in the company — not just in the store, but in the company,” Sommerville told Newsweek, citing the company’s recognition of her gender change on certain fronts. “If they recognize me as female for certain things, why can’t they recognize me as female for everything?”

    Sommerville, a Christian, told the Huffington Post that she was “devastated” when she first learned she wouldn’t be able to use the women’s restroom.

    “I just want to be treated like all the other women,” she said. “To do anything else diminishes who I am in the eyes of customers and employees.”

    As a transgender woman, she worries about customers or other staffers finding out about her identity without knowing her full history, making trips to the men’s bathroom both complicated and stressful.

    At times, she said she has hidden in stalls and waited for others to leave the bathroom in an effort to ensure that she isn’t seen.

    FILE - In this Sept. 12, 2012 file photo, a woman walks from a Hobby Lobby Inc., store in Little Rock, Ark. Christian pastors plan to deliver petitions to Hobby Lobby officials in protest of the Oklahoma-based company s lawsuit challenging health care guidelines that require the coverage of the morning-after pill. Credit: AP

    AP

    Sommerville added that she opposes the recent Supreme Court victory as well.

    “I don’t believe that any company has the right to deny access to appropriate medical care, same as the reason why I don’t believe that they have the right to deny me access to the washroom,” she said. “No company has the right to dictate what is decided between me and my doctor.”

    As for her own case, Sommerville has accused the company of imposing “unequal terms and conditions” on her due to her gender identity. One of the charges filed relates to employment discrimination and the other to discrimination in public accommodation, according to Newsweek.

    Sommerville did say that the company has not cited its Christian views as a reason for the purported bathroom refusal.

    The case currently sits before the Illinois Human Rights Commission.

    (H/T: Christian Today)

  • Actor Hits Back at Anti-Christian, Anti-Conservative Bias in Hollywood — but He Doesn’t Totally Let People of Faith Off the Hook
    Posted July 17, 2014 at 7:55 am by Billy Hallowell

    Comments (89)

    Actor and comedian Brad Stine, a conservative Christian whose new film “Persecuted” opens Friday, has achieved success as an entertainer, though he says he’s seen and experienced persecution at the hands of Hollywood elite.

    Actor and comedian Brad Stine (Image via Facebook/Brad Stine)

    Actor and comedian Brad Stine (Image via Facebook/Brad Stine)

    Rather than overt discrimination, he said it’s common for Christians and conservatives in Hollywood to simply sense that something isn’t quite right — to feel that there is an unspoken disagreement or quiet hostility toward their worldview.

    For example, Stine said he once pitched a sitcom centered on a conservative character in 2004, highlighting the negative reaction he received from an executive as evidence of possible ideological discrimination.

    “We [Christians] make our own films because they won’t green-light ours…”
    Share:

    “In the politics of the sitcom was one character who was a conservative guy who was church going, but his family was very different,” he said. “He’s surrounded by liberal ideas and that’s what makes it funny.”

    But he said a female executive made it clear that the idea would never see the light of day, which he said was likely rooted in the show’s subject matter. 

    But while Stine said there’s plenty of persecution in Hollywood, he was careful to distinguish between what Christians face in the entertainment industry from the harsh and often deadly situations believers battle in restrictive nations around the world.

    What American Christians face is generally a “soft” form of persecution, Stine said.

    “I wouldn’t even begin to compare the soft persecution of Hollywood in the U.S. with the persecution my Christian brethren face in China and the Middle East,” he said.

    Still, Stine highlighted the notable challenges that conservative Christians sometimes face in an industry that generally embraces a very different set of values.

    “Unless you’ve already made it like Jon Voight or Gary Sinise … and you’re a conservative, they kind of leave you alone, because they care more about the money than the ideology, but if you haven’t made it yet the shot of getting in is very slim,” he said. “We [Christians] make our own films because they won’t green-light ours … we have to find backdoors and continue to find backdoors.”

    But while he believes Hollywood has shunned Christian and conservative projects, Stine doesn’t let believers off the hook entirely, noting that a lack of sophistication in storytelling has traditionally plagued faith-based entertainment.

    Watch the “Persecuted” trailer below:

    “The struggle has been on one hand being shut out, diminished or basically not even allowed in the game — that’s the sort persecution and soft censorship [I mentioned], but there’s also a self-censorship,” Stine continued. “Because so few films were allowed … a very specific template was created. It was very much like a dramatized sermon.”

    While he said this Christian movie template worked for reaching Christians, it hasn’t translated into helping the rest of the world connect to biblical messages in feature films, he contended.

    Stine touted the power of film over the culture, noting that when Vice President Joe Biden cited TV show “Will and Grace” as having a profound impact on views surrounding homosexuality, he realized the influence Hollywood can have — an influence he believes Christians and conservatives can utilize.

    “If our vice president is getting his political savvy from sitcoms, then apparently this is an area that cannot be ignored,” Stine said. “We need to use the same means that progressives do to change how [Americans see issues].”

    Stine plays Pastor Ryan Morris in “Persecuted,” a movie that focuses on a prominent Christian evangelist who is framed for the murder of a teenage girl after he refuses to endorse a bill in Congress that would usher in legalized religious persecution in America.

    Read more about the film here.

  • Victims Tell Harrowing Stories About Unspeakable Sex Abuse That Allegedly Occurred at Mexican Group Home House of Horror
    Posted July 17, 2014 at 12:49 am by Associated Press

    Comments (70)

    ZAMORA, Mexico (AP) — Mexican prosecutors said Wednesday that victims told harrowing tales of sexual abuse, beatings, hunger and filth in a once well-regarded group home where authorities freed a total of 607 adults and children in a raid.

    Some were forced into sex by shelter employees and others told of being locked in a tiny punishment room without food or water. Ten of the victims were so malnourished police couldn’t even determine their age.

    “Victim No. 4 said she had been held in the group home against her will since she was 18,” said Tomas Zeron, federal chief of criminal investigations. “She was sexually abused by one of the administrators, and got pregnant as a result of the abuse. The same person beat her to cause an abortion, beating her in the stomach on several occasions.”

    Parents waiting to be reunited with their children line up inside a police cordon, as they prepare to enter the Great Family group home, in Zamora, Michoacan State, Mexico, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

    Two boys told investigators a male staff member had forced them to engage in oral sex and warned one of the boys that “he would kill him and sell his organs if he refused,” Zeron said.

    In total, the police raid on Tuesday freed six babies, 154 girls, 278 boys, 50 women and 109 men from the filthy shelter, where Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said inmates lived among 20 tons of garbage.

    A woman sits with relatives waiting to be reunited with their children, outside The Great Family group home in Zamora, Michoacan State, Mexico, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

    Nine employees of the shelter in the western state of Michoacan have been detained and are being questioned, but Murillo Karam said some others apparently tried to protect the children.

    “There are statements that truly hurt, that make you angry,” Murillo Karam said. “But there are others that save your faith in humanity, about those who truly converted themselves into protectors of the children.”

    Authorities have said that the group home had once been highly regarded and that the government had sometimes given money or even entrusted children to the shelter. While it was subject to government oversight, Murillo Karam said that “the institute’s prestige may have made the inspections less intense.”

    Earlier Wednesday, the mother of a boy held at the group home said that she was allowed to see her child only three times a year and that the home’s owner demanded $2,800 to release him.

    Veronica Gamina told The Associated Press by telephone that four years ago she took her then 9-year-old boy to The Great Family group home in the city of Zamora because she had to work and couldn’t take care of him.

    When she returned to reclaim her now 13-year-old boy, “they told me to write letters explaining why I wanted him back, then they asked me for 37,000 pesos ($2,800) but I make 800 pesos ($60) a week and couldn’t get the money together,” Gamina said. She spoke from outside the home, which was being guarded by police, and where she said about 70 parents had gathered.

    Relatives waiting to be reunited with their children stand behind a police cordon as night falls, outside The Great Family group home, in Zamora, Michoacan State, Mexico, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

    Gamina, a 28-year-old sandwich shop worker, said she went to authorities after hearing about conditions at the home from someone who escaped.

    The federal Attorney General’s Office said the children remained in the home Wednesday and authorities made sure they were being fed while officials looked for places to transfer them. The youngsters were also being checked by doctors.

    The investigation began after five parents filed complaints last year with authorities because they weren’t allowed to see their children at the home, Michoacan Gov. Salvador Jara said.

    A police officer walks inside the entrance to The Great Family group home, in Zamora, Michoacan State, Mexico. Mexican prosecutors said Wednesday that victims told harrowing tales of sexual abuse, beatings, hunger and filth, in a once well-regarded group home where authorities freed hundreds of adults and children in a raid. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

    One was a woman who grew up and gave birth to two children at the home, which has been open for at least 40 years. That woman was allowed to leave when she was 31, but the home’s owner kept the youngsters, who were registered under the owner’s name, Zeron said.

    Police detained the owner, Rosa del Carmen Verduzco, and eight workers for questioning. Verduzco was hospitalized soon after for treatment of high blood pressure and diabetes, but was in good condition. Murrillo Karam said there had been testimony that might implicate her, but he would not say to what degree.

    Verduzco, known in Zamora as “Mama Rosa,” is a noted local children rights activist whose group home was often visited by politicians. Local media on Wednesday published several photographs of her with former President Vicente Fox, former Michoacan Gov. Leonel Godoy and other officials.

    Murillo Karam said the home’s residents were kept in deplorable conditions, fed rotten food and made to sleep on the floor among rats, ticks and fleas and many were never allowed to leave the premises.

  • Nancy Pelosi Wants to Amend the Constitution to Overturn This Supreme Court Decision
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 11:30 pm by Fred Lucas

    Comments (169)

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) believes restrictions on political spending would guarantee more women, minorities and young people get elected, and she is willing to amend the Constitution to get those limits.

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. speaks at the Generation Progress’s annual Make Progress National Summit in Washington, Wednesday,July 16, 2014. The summit brings together progressive leaders and young people. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

    “We have the legislation to do it that dares to disclose who is this money coming from and amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United,” Pelosi said when speaking Wednesday at the Make Progress Conference, sponsored by the Center for American Progress. “This special interest money is suffocating the airwaves, causing confusion.”

    The Democratically-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee recently voted to send a bill to the floor to amend the Constitution to allow Congress and state legislatures to put spending limits on political campaigns.

    The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 in the 2010 Citizens United ruling and this year in the McCutcheon ruling that political spending is speech and caps by government violated the First Amendment.

    “In order to take back our politics, we must reduce the role of money in politics and increase the level of civility,” Pelosi said. “I guarantee you, if we increase the level of civility and reduce the role of money, we will allow more women, more minorities, more young people to elective office.”

    Pelosi was speaking to a youth conference, part of CAP’s Generation Progress initiative. About 750 young progressives attended the conference.

    “That’s the most wholesome thing that we can do for our country,” Pelosi continued. “We have to win the election in order to be able to do that. I don’t know if we’re here to talk politics today, but I do want to say, that we have to win the election in order to reduce the role of money.”

    She added that restricting campaign contributions and spending would take care of other problems.

    “All the other things they are doing is horrible, from obstacle to participation and suffocating the airwaves to confuse the issues turns people off,” Pelosi said. “But we have to turn people on to the idea that things can get better for them if we take the action that is necessary, if we choose to take action to make progress for America’s workers.”

    The Supreme Court decided in the Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission case that prohibiting corporations and labor unions from supporting a candidate is unconstitutional. The McCutcheon vs. FEC determined there can be no restrictions on how many candidates an individual can donate to. The high court ruled that the restrictions would violate free speech.

    “When you’re talking about free speech, you are talking about America,” Shaun McCutcheon, lead plaintiff in the McCutcheon vs. FEC case, told TheBlaze in June regarding the proposed constitutional amendment considered in the Senate. “You are talking about the country. You’re talking about everything, OK? I think that they are out of their minds. When I listen to what they’re saying, it sounds like a bunch of crazy stuff. I don’t even know what it is. I can’t make any sense out of it.”

    Follow Fred Lucas (@FredVLucas3) on Twitter

  • Obama’s Latest Executive Order Slapping Russia With Sanctions Could Affect Some AK-47-Owning Americans
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 11:17 pm by Jason Howerton

    Comments (121)

    In response to Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine, the U.S. government has issued a number of new sanctions against Russian companies. Among the companies targeted is Kalashnikov Concern, the arms manufacturing company that makes AK-47s.

    Under the new sanctions, Americans who own a Kalashnikov Concern product, like an AK-47, that was “bought and fully paid for prior to the date of designation (i.e., no payment remains due to Kalashnikov Concern), then that product is not blocked and OFAC sanctions would not prohibit the U.S. person from keeping or selling the product in the secondary market, so long as Kalashnikov Concern has no interest in the transaction,” according to the Treasury Department.

    file

    file

    However, individuals and companies can no longer order products directly from Kalashnikov Concern or from other sellers in which the Russian firm has an “interest.” Further, Americans who own a Kalashnikov Concern product that has not been fully paid for are advised to contact the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control for more information.

    The Treasury Department also advises companies or individuals with Kalashnikov Concern products in their inventory to contact the OFAC for more information if the products are “not fully paid for or are being sold on consignment.” In other situations where the Russian firm doesn’t “have an interest,” it appears the products can still be sold in the U.S.

    Read part of the executive order issued by the Obama administration that slaps sanctions on Kalashnikov Concern and other Russian firms [emphasis added]:

    ​Today, OFAC is introducing the Sectoral Sanctions Identifications List to identify persons operating in sectors of the Russian economy identified by the Secretary of the Treasury pursuant to Executive Order 13662. Directives found within the list describe prohibitions on dealings with the persons identified.

    [...]

    KALASHNIKOV CONCERN (a.k.a. CONCERN KALASHNIKOV; a.k.a. IZHEVSKIY MASHINOSTROITEL’NYI ZAVOD OAO; f.k.a. IZHMASH R&D CENTER; f.k.a. JSC NPO IZHMASH; f.k.a. NPO IZHMASH OAO; a.k.a. OJSC CONCERN KALASHNIKOV; f.k.a. OJSC IZHMASH; f.k.a. SCIENTIFIC PRODUCTION ASSOCIATION IZHMASH JOINT STOCK COMPANY), 3, Derjabin Pr., Izhevsk, Udmurt Republic 426006, Russia; Registration ID 1111832003018 [UKRAINE2].

    To review the full executive order, click here.

    (H/T: Business Insider)

  • Rapper Who Severed His Penis Moments Before Jumping Out of Apartment Explains Why He Did It
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 11:01 pm by Oliver Darcy

    Comments (149)

    Rapper Andre Johnson, who made headlines in April when he severed his penis before jumping out of his second story apartment building, told E! News that he did it because he is not a mortal man.

    “Yes, I was using drugs that night, but I was in complete control,” the rapper told the celebrity-gossip outlet. “I cut it off because that was the root of all my problems. My solution to the problem was the realization that sex is for mortals, and I am a god…Those kinds of activities got me into trouble, and I came here to be a god.”

    (Image source: Facebook)

    Rapper Andre Johnson said he severed his penis earlier this year because sex is for mortal men and he’s a “god.” (Image source: Facebook)

    Johnson performs under the name Christ Bearer. His group is affiliated with the Wu-Tang Clan.

    Immediately following the incident, Johnson remained quiet.

    “People perceived me as crazy, so I never wanted to speak wholeheartedly on the matter,” he told E! News. “But now, in retrospect, the truth must be told.”

    The rapper, who said doctors were unable to reattach his genitalia, said he was not trying to kill himself, as initially suspected.

    “I didn’t want to kill myself,” Johnson said. “That was just my response to the demons. They were doing their best to get to me, but being alive solidified my thoughts. … I’m alive, penis or no penis.”

    Follow Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) on Twitter

  • Cop Helps a Stranded Family Find a Place to Stay for the Night — but How Would They Foot the Motel Bill?
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 10:37 pm by Dave Urbanski

    Comments (69)

    Officer Carlos Ibarra had received calls from dispatch like this one before: a family in need of food and a place to stay.

    Usually it amounted to a husband and wife and maybe a kid or two, max.

    But the Portland, Oregon, cop wasn’t prepared for scene he encountered Sunday afternoon when he arrived to help one particular family.

    Image source: KATU-TV

    Image source: KATU-TV

    It was a dad…with seven kids.

    The man apparently piled his children in a van and drove back to Portland from Arizona after things didn’t work out there, and returned to the house they used to live in, hoping they’d find someone there they knew — but no luck.

    So the dad called the police for help. But he didn’t speak much English, which led the police dispatcher to contact Ibarra to assist.

    Image source: KATU-TV

    Image source: KATU-TV

    “They were running around in the driveway playing ball,” Ibarra told KATU-TV when he arrived to help at the family’s former house. “It seems to me like they never left, mentally. This is where the kids want to be.”

    The family had housing options for the week, KATU reported, just not for Sunday night. So Ibarra spent four hours with them, figuring out what they needed, and contacting shelters.

    “A lot of the places I was calling I wasn’t getting anyone on the phone,” he told KATU, “Just voicemail to call back during the week.”

    Ibarra then called motels. Most couldn’t accommodate a group of eight, but the officer hit paydirt with a Motel 6.

    Image source: KATU-TV

    Image source: KATU-TV

    Except for yet another problem: The $70 bill for the night.

    So Ibarra dug deep and footed the bill out of his own pocket.

    “I just couldn’t imagine going home to my comfortable bed and air conditioning while those seven kids are sleeping in their van in this hot weather,” he told KATU. “This would be my way of helping them get some rest and some hope for tomorrow when they could find some more help getting a more permanent place to stay.”

    But that’s not all.

    When Ibarra inquired about the last time they’d eaten, the dad replied that his kids “had some bread on the way up … maybe the day before,” he recalled.

    So the officer went to the police department’s Sunshine Division and brought back a basket of food for the family.

    “When I walked in with the food, the kids started tearing into the cans,” Ibarra recalled. “They didn’t even warm up the soup. Nothing. Everything was just going straight into their mouths.”

    “…the kids started tearing into the cans.”
    Share:

    Later, the anonymous KATU viewer who tipped the station regarding Ibarra’s story donated $30 toward the motel bill, noting the officer’s efforts were “quite incredible.”

    Ibarra said the family is now getting assistance for a more permanent residence from a local church.

    The 28-year-old officer isn’t married and has no children, but he said seeing those kids at play — and without a roof over their heads for the night — touched his heart.

    Still, Ibarra said, “any officer would jump at the opportunity to help this family.”

  • The One Border Question That White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest Refused to Answer
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 9:50 pm by Oliver Darcy

    Comments (164)

    White House press secretary Josh Earnest refused to say whether or not the Obama administration thinks the border is secure, despite being repeatedly pressed on the question at Wednesday’s daily briefing.

    “Is the border today secure?” asked Fox News’ Ed Henry.

    “The issue we’re seeing today at the border—,” Earnest said before being interrupted by Henry.

    “Is the border secure?” Henry pressed.

    “Well, I will tell you there are more resources that are dedicated to this border right now, and securing it, than there ever have been,” Earnest replied. “The issue that we’re seeing right now is not individuals attempting to evade detection by Border Patrol, what we’re seeing right now are people coming to the border and turning themselves over to Border Patrol.”

    Henry then asked if the White House agreed with Senate Majority Harry Reid (R-Nev.) who proclaimed the border “secure” Tuesday.

    “Do you agree with that?” Henry asked.

    “The administration under the president’s leadership has dedicated significant resources to securing the border,” Earnest said. “Here’s what I would say to those Republicans who are concerned about border security. There is an historic investment in border security resources included in the bipartisan bill passed by the Senate. So those in the House who are concerned about border security should be the champions of common-sense immigration reform.”

    “So it is hard to take seriously the concerns of those who say the border is not secure while blocking a piece of legislation that’s already passed the Senate that would actually invest in securing the border,” he continued.

    Henry, still not satisfied with the answer, asked one final time if the White House views the border as secure.

    “They’re saying its not secure, the Republicans,” he said. “You’re saying it is secure?”

    “They’re saying its not secure and blocking a piece of legislation that would make an historic investment in border security,” Earnest answered.

    Follow Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) on Twitter

  • Listen to the Voicemail Left by Former Top Obama Administration Official That Darrell Issa Says Is a Clear Violation of Federal Law
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 9:33 pm by Jason Howerton

    Comments (188)

    Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is sounding the alarm regarding new alleged audio of former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis leaving a voicemail for someone “off the record” to ask the individual to contribute and help organize a fundraising event for President Barack Obama’s campaign. Issa says Solis violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits political activity on official time.

    In his opening statement during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Wednesday, Issa played the voicemail Solis reportedly left to pressure a Labor Department employee to donate to Obama’s re-election campaign.

    U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis talks as California Attorney General Kamala Harris looks on, left, during a news conference at a symposium on human trafficking on Friday Nov. 16,2012 in Los Angeles. The number of people identified as victims of human trafficking in California has increased steadily since 2010 as the crime has become a growing threat, authorities reported Friday. Credit: AP

    U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis talks as California Attorney General Kamala Harris looks on, left, during a news conference at a symposium on human trafficking on Friday Nov. 16,2012 in Los Angeles. The number of people identified as victims of human trafficking in California has increased steadily since 2010 as the crime has become a growing threat, authorities reported Friday. Credit: AP

    Read a transcript of the controversial Solis voicemail:

    “Hi—this is Hilda Solis calling, um, just calling you off-the-record here—Wanted to ask you if you could, um, help us get folks organized to come to a fundraiser that we’re doing for Organizing for America for Obama campaign on Friday at La Fonda at 6 p.m. Steven Smith, an attorney, and his staff are helping us [inaudible]. There are a lot of folks that we know that are coming but wanted to ask you if you might help contribute or get other folks to help out. I would encourage you to call this number, [inaudible]–that’s his assistant– at [phone number] and you can call [the attorney] yourself who’s a good friend, an attorney, good friend of mine, at [phone number]. And it’s for a Friday event at La Fonda [inaudible] we’re just trying to raise money to show that we have support here in [inaudible].”

    Issa went on to slam the Obama administration for showing what he called an “indefensible” attempt to avoid oversight.

    “It is deeply ironic that an administration claiming to be the most transparent ever, has resisted oversight of its political office and offered less corroboration than its predecessors,” he said.

    Watch Issa’s full opening statement below:

  • Take a Look at How One Man’s Hand Looked Like After He Tried Catching a Home Run Ball Without a Glove
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 9:02 pm by Oliver Darcy

    Comments (62)

    One man’s attempt to catch a baseball at the 2014 MLB Home Run Derby did not end well.

    Jordan Jacobson, who tried catching a ball hit by Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, posted a photo online showing his hand after attempting the play without a glove.

    “It was extremely painful at first, then went numb after about 15 minutes,” Jacobson told Page Q Sports. “It probably would have felt better if I would have gotten the ball.”

    That’s right. The fan not only ended up with a swollen hand, but failed to catch the ball.

    Fortunately, Stanton saw Jacobson’s tweet showcasing his swollen hand and decided to provide him with a glove and derby ball.

    Follow Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) on Twitter

  • Glenn Beck Rips News Outlet for Only Showing ‘One Side’ of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 8:47 pm by Erica Ritz

    Comments (144)

    Glenn Beck on Wednesday lambasted the media, and Vice News in particular, for only showing “one side” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    “In case you don’t know, Vice Magazine is something that started out, cool idea, gets reports from places that nobody else is willing to go,” Beck began. “They were great on the Ukraine, and they were giving you the raw truth. But again, I think it’s now leftist propaganda, a lot of it as evidenced by what they’re doing now.”

    Beck showed video of a Vice reporter with a group of Palestinians as Israeli airplanes flew overhead. The reporter said the Israelis had recently bombed a vehicle, killing those inside, and Hamas responded by firing seven rockets into Israel.

    Glenn Beck speaks on his television program July 16, 2014. (Photo: TheBlaze TV)

    Glenn Beck speaks on his television program July 16, 2014. (Photo: TheBlaze TV)

    The reporter said he was scared, after seeing the Israeli planes, but those in the crowd said they were not.

    “Our martyrs are in heaven and their dead are in hell,” one in the crowd said.

    But Beck said the “crowd of gawkers” was right not to feel “all that threatened,” showing a video of what the event looked like from the perspective of an Israeli pilot.

    “There’s lots of people and children in this area,” the pilot said in the clip. “Stop.”

    “That looks like compassion, not exactly the careless monsters that Israel is constantly painted to be,” Beck commented. “And let’s not lose sight of the fact that in the precision strike on the car, the only people that are dead are the terrorists.”

    Beck also noted that Hamas responded by “lighting up the skies” with seven rockets, though they had no idea where the inaccurate explosives would land.

    “I’m becoming friends with Simon Sinek, the ‘why’ guy,” Beck remarked. “He said the problem with peace deals is nobody asks ‘why.’ Why are you here at this table? Why do you want peace? We know [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's response] is, ‘because we want our people to live securely, we want them to be safe.’”

    “Hamas cannot answer that,” Beck continued. “This is why Arafat and Hamas reject these deals. They can’t say, ‘because we want peace,’ because that’s not really their ‘why.’ Look at the charter, look at their Constitution. It is to destroy the state of Israel. That’s why.”

    Beck said the violence won’t stop until the world can learn to accept the truth, “whether we like it or not.”

    “We’re not getting [the truth], and when it does come our way, if it disagrees with our agenda, we reject it,” Beck concluded. “That has to stop. We’re not getting the truth on Palestine, Israel, not on the border, not on our debt, nowhere.”

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  • Man Trapped in Burning Hot Car Rescued by Pint-Sized Hero
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 8:40 pm by Zach Noble

    Comments (7)

    Heroes come in all sizes.

    When 68-year-old Bob King became trapped in his car last Saturday, the Tennessee summer heat turned the vehicle into a broiler reaching 120 degrees, ABC News reported.

    King was waiting for his wife to return from a church event, and with no key to start the air conditioning and doors jammed shut — “We’ve been having trouble with the door on this car since we bought it,” King said — he quickly started sweating and overheating.

    On top of it all, King had suffered through cancer treatments and two recent strokes, his wife said, leaving him “in very bad shape.”

    Image source: screengrab via

    Image source: ABC News

    His saving grace: 3-year-old Keith Williams.

    Image source: screengrab via

    Image source: ABC News

    The toddler, passing by in the church parking lot, saw King trapped in the car.

    “I hollered at him and he just looked at me kind of funny and I said, ‘Get help, get help,’” King said.

    Keith tried to open the car door but couldn’t, so he went to Pastor Jack Greene, of Vestal Baptist Church in Knoxville, to relay the cry for help.

    “I was talking to someone and little Keith came behind me and kept saying, ‘Locked, locked, locked,” Greene told ABC.

    He didn’t get the message until Keith started patting and pulling his hand, saying “hot, hot,” Greene said.

    “I followed him out,” Greene said. “When I saw Bob in the car, I said to myself, “Oh my Lord.’”

    Greene wrenched open the car door and King tumbled out.

    “His whole body was raining sweat,” Greene said. “His face was red like a pickled beet.”

    Greene was concerned King would suffer another stroke, but the elderly man waived off the offer of an ambulance and, after some water and much-needed air conditioning, he recovered.

    King said he owes his life to the “little preacher” Keith, and Keith, for his part, seems to know the significance of what he did.

    “He was locked in the car,” Keith said. “I saved his life.”


    ABC News | ABC Sports News

    Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter

  • A Stranger Knocked on Her Door and, Without Saying a Word, Handed Her a Life-Changing Envelope That Made Her ‘Collapse’
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 8:01 pm by Jason Howerton

    Comments (162)

    To put it bluntly, she is dying.

    Suffering from systemic scleroderma, a critical autoimmune disease that is causing her skin, arteries, veins, and internal organs to harden, 48-year-old single mother Stephanie Headley, of Ottawa, Canada, is still in dire need of very expensive, potentially life-saving treatment. Her condition has been deteriorating over the last few years.

    Miraculously, she learned earlier this month that she would be able to pay for the treatment.

    Screengrab via CTV Ottawa

    Screengrab via CTV Ottawa

    On July 3, she received a knock on her door that would change her life. She answered the door to find a complete stranger wearing a hat, sunglasses and a jacket zipped up all the way. He did not say hello and he did not introduce himself.

    Instead, he handed Headley an envelope without saying a single word.

    “God bless you,” Headley said as the mysterious man turned to leave. He looked back and flashed a “big smile” and then left, the mother told CTV Ottawa.

    When she opened up the envelope to see what was inside, she “just started crying.”

    It was a check for $128,000 in Canadian dollars, about $119,000 in U.S. dollars. The stem cell therapy she needs from a Chicago hospital costs about $125,000. The hospital has apparently had some success with other patients with the same type of illness.

    Screengrab via CTV Ottawa

    Screengrab via CTV Ottawa

    “I dropped to the floor, and I dropped my (oxygen) tank and I just collapsed,” she said.

    “This is my mom’s life on a piece of paper,” Headley’s daughter, Skylar, said of the check after she managed to stop crying herself.

    Headley reportedly has a September 22 appointment to begin the stem cell therapy that could very well save her life.

  • U.S. Justice Department Conducting Investigation Into Lost IRS Emails
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 7:42 pm by Oliver Darcy

    Comments (97)

    The U.S. Justice Department is conducting an investigation into the disappearance of emails from a former senior IRS official that could provide insight into accusations the agency intentionally targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

    According to testimony prepared by Deputy Attorney General James Cole, which was reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, the Justice Department is ”investigating the circumstances of the lost emails from [former IRS official Lois Lerner's] computer.”

    Photo Credit: AP

    The U.S. Justice Department is conducting an investigation into the disappearance of emails from a former senior IRS official. (Photo Credit: AP)

    Cole is scheduled to appear Thursday before a congressional committee.

    Officials have previously claimed that Lerner’s emails were lost after her computer suffered a hard drive crash in 2011 when she headed the IRS division that dealt with tax-exempt organizations. When House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) subpoenaed the damaged drive, IRS officials said it had been “thrown away.”

    Several IT officials had previously weighed in, contending emails are not usually lost following a hard drive crash.

    Lerner has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing on her part, but has declined to answer questions under oath, citing her Fifth Amendment right.

    Follow Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) on Twitter

  • U.S., Europe Escalate Economic Sanctions on Russia
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 7:15 pm by Associated Press

    Comments (13)

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Struggling to defuse the persistent crisis in Ukraine, both the U.S. and European Union imposed new economic sanctions on Russia Wednesday, President Barack Obama declaring that Russian leaders must see that their actions supporting Ukrainian rebels “have consequences.”

    Though the American and European sanctions were coordinated, they nonetheless exposed fissures in what the West has tried to project as a united front in its months-long effort to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    The penalties announced by the White House were broad in scope, targeting two major Russian energy firms, a pair of powerful financial institutions, eight arms firms and four individuals. Leaders in Europe, which has a far deeper economic relationship with Russia than the U.S., were more restrained, ordering investment and development banks on the continent to suspend financing agreements with Moscow.

    Even the U.S. penalties stopped short of the most stringent actions the West has threatened, which would entail fully cutting off key sectors of Russia’s economy. But officials said those steps were still on the table if Russia fails to abide by the West’s demands to stop support for pro-Russian insurgents who have destabilized swaths of eastern Ukraine.

    “What we are expecting is that the Russian leadership will see once again that its actions in Ukraine have consequences, including a weakening Russian economy and increasing diplomatic isolation,” Obama said as he announced the U.S. penalties from the White House.

  • University Reinstates Football Player Same Day It Releases Footage Showing Him Punch Women’s Basketball Player in Face
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 7:00 pm by Oliver Darcy

    Comments (94)

    New video released by Texas Tech University Wednesday morning shows the moment a football player punched a women’s basketball star in the face earlier this year.

    The surveillance footage shows Nigel Bethel II strike Amber Battle in the face on June 28 after she allegedly pushed him during a pick-up basketball game. Battle later admitted she “initiated the first contact” and apologized to Bethel.


    A Lubbock County Grand Jury on Tuesday opted not to charge Bethel for the violent altercation and on Wednesday the university decided to reinstate him and allow him to rejoin the football program.

    “I am thankful for the opportunity to come back to Texas Tech,” Bethel said. “I take full responsibility for my actions and I would like to let everyone know that this won’t happen again. It’s not who I am and I am sorry for the embarrassment this has caused.”

    The move came after the grand jury took an extra step of writing to the Texas Tech athletic director  making the recommendation.

    “We desire to see Mr. Bethel’s scholarship re-instated,” the letter said, according to KCBD. “If he is re-instated, it is our belief that his consequences should not be greater than those of Ms. Battle.”

    “This is an unfortunate situation with a unique set of circumstances and there are no winners,” said Kirby Hocutt, Director of Athletics. “Every decision related to this case has been the right one at that particular time based upon our principles, student-athlete code of conduct and team rules.”

    “As I continued to work with Coach Kingsbury and Coach Whitaker, we looked at the totality of the situation and have arrived at this decision,” he added. “Two talented young people made a mistake, have shown remorse and learned some very valuable life lessons.”

    Bethel will be forced to miss three games of his first season, however, according to the stipulations of his reinstatement, KCBD reported.

    Follow Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) on Twitter

  • Controversy Erupts as Mom Is Jailed, Loses Custody of 9-Year-Old Daughter
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 6:36 pm by Dave Urbanski

    Comments (155)

    In the case of a 46-year-old South Carolina working mother who was jailed on a felony — and now has to deal with social services taking custody of her 9-year-old daughter — some critics are furious over the actions authorities have taken.

    Debra Lynn Harrell of North Augusta confessed to police that on several occasions she’d drop off her daughter at a local playground for hours at a time while she worked her shift at McDonald’s — and because of that Harrell was jailed on charges of unlawful neglect of child or helpless person, according to Aiken County court records, a felony in South Carolina. South Carolina law reads that the maximum terms for unlawful neglect of child, a class “E” felony, are not more than 10 years.

    Harrell posted a $5,000 bond the same day she was arrested, according to Business Insider.

    Image source: WJBF-TV

    Image source: WJBF-TV

    On top of that, Harrell’s daughter said she’d walk from Summerfield Park about 1.5 miles to the McDonald’s inside a Walmart for lunch, reported WJBF-TV in Augusta, Georgia — just across the Savannah River state line from North Augusta — citing the incident report. The station words the charges against Harrell as “unlawful conduct towards a child.”

    Image source: WJBF-TV

    Image source: WJBF-TV

    “What if a man would have came and just snatched her?” Tonya Cullum, a childcare worker, asked the station in its July 1 story. “Because you have all kinds of trucks that come up in here, so you really don’t know.”

    “You cannot just leave your child alone at a public place, especially,” park-goer Lesa Lamback told WJBF. ”This day and time, you never know who’s around. Good, bad, it’s just not safe.”

    But a number of critics are crying foul.

    Reason added a few tidbits to the plot, noting that for most of the summer Harrell’s daughter had stayed at the McDonald’s with her, playing on a laptop that her mom had “scrounged up the money to purchase.” But the laptop was gone after their home was robbed, so the 9-year-old asked her mom if she could be dropped off at the park to play instead. Harrell agreed and gave her daughter a cellphone.

    The girl went to park two days in a row. On the third day an adult asked her where her mother was, and the girl said at work. The adult called the police, and…well, you know the rest.

    Another shot of Summerfield Park. (Image source: WJBF-TV)

    Another shot of Summerfield Park. (Image source: WJBF-TV)

    The author of the Reason piece, Lenore Skenazy, runs the blog Free Range Kids and is known for causing an uproar several years ago after letting her 9-year-old son ride a New York subway by himself. Skenazy noted in her piece that fears about what young kids might face without parental protection aren’t supported by crime stats:

    These fears pop into our brains so easily, they seem almost real. But they’re not. Our crime rate today is  back to what it was when gas was 29 cents a gallon, according to The Christian Science Monitor. It may feel like kids are in constant danger, but they are as safe (if not safer) than we were when our parents let us enjoy the summer outside, on our own, without fear of being arrested.

    Conor Friedersdorf, writing for The Atlantic, noted the case is “disturbing on several levels”:

    1) Parents ought to enjoy broad latitude in bringing up their children. There are obviously limits. The state ought to intervene if a child is being abused. But letting a 9-year-old go to the park alone doesn’t come close to meeting that threshold. Honestly, it seems a bit young to me, but I don’t know the kid or the neighborhood, it doesn’t sound as though the mother had any great option, and as I didn’t give birth to the kid, support her, and raise her for 9 years, it isn’t my call.

    2) By arresting this mom (presumably causing her to lose her job) and putting the child in foster care, the state has caused the child far more trauma than she was ever likely to suffer in the park, whatever one thinks of the decision to leave her there. Even if the state felt it had the right to declare this parenting decision impermissible, couldn’t they have given this woman a simple warning before taking custody?

    3) The state’s decision is coming at a time when it is suffering from a shortage of foster families, as well as a child protective services workforce so overwhelmed that serious child abuse inquiries are regularly closed in violation of policy.

    Jezebel reported that one of its readers set up a YouCaring for Harrell, which has brought in just over $2,000. Clair Ryan also told the site that “while the park would be more than a mile from Debra’s workplace by car, it is only a few thousand feet — maybe a 5 minute walk — by foot.”

    Ryan added:

    I’m a total stranger with little in common with Debra. I don’t have any kids and I’ve never had to rely on a low wage job to make ends meet. I have a full-time job with benefits. I work hard, but I’ve never struggled, and I know how incredibly lucky and privileged I am for that. And I don’t believe it makes me a better or more worthy person than anyone else, whether they’re unemployed or working for minimum wage, trying to feed a family. I was moved by Debra’s story and by the response from both very liberal and conservative people that arresting Debra and taking her daughter away was not the right solution.

    WJBF-TV ABC 6 Augusta-Aiken News, Weather, Sports

    (H/T: AlterNet)

  • What’s Happening in One of the Most Progressive Cities in the U.S. Seemingly Undercuts Key Anti-Gun Argument
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 5:59 pm by Jason Howerton

    Comments (144)

    Anti-gun advocates routinely argue that more guns will result in more crime — but the exact opposite appears to be happening in one of the most progressive cities in the United States.

    The city of Detroit has seen 37 percent fewer robberies in 2014, compared to the same period in 2013. Further, there have been 22 percent fewer break-ins of businesses and homes, and 30 percent fewer carjackings.

    Detroit Police Chief James Craig says the dramatic drop in these crimes is partly due to more residents arming themselves and fighting back against criminals. The police chief, who has repeatedly argued armed citizens deter crime, said “there’s no question in my mind it has had an effect.”

    File-This Nov. 7, 2013, file photo shows Detroit police chief James Craig speaking with reporters at Detroit Police Public Safety Headquarters about the multiple shooting at Al's Barbershop in Detroit, Mich. (AP Photo/The Detroit News, Steve Perez, File)

    File-This Nov. 7, 2013, file photo shows Detroit police chief James Craig speaking with reporters at Detroit Police Public Safety Headquarters about the multiple shooting at Al’s Barbershop in Detroit, Mich. (AP Photo/The Detroit News, Steve Perez, File)

    “Criminals are getting the message that good Detroiters are armed and will use that weapon,” Craig told The Detroit News. “I don’t want to take away from the good work our investigators are doing, but I think part of the drop in crime, and robberies in particular, is because criminals are thinking twice that citizens could be armed.”

    Though anti-gun advocates like Josh Horwitz, director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence in Washington D.C., still claim “more guns equals more crime,” a self-described former criminal offered rare insight into the mind of a criminal.

    “If I was out there now robbing people these days, knowing there are a lot more people with guns, I know I’d have to rethink my game plan,” Detroit resident Al Woods said.

    But Horowitz maintained that armed citizens do not deter criminals, telling The Detroit News the issue is “complicated” and ”the empirical evidence shows the states with the lowest gun ownership and the tightest restrictions have the fewest instances of gun violence.”

    (H/T: Bearing Arms)

  • Federal Judge Rules California’s Death Penalty Unconstitutional
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 5:22 pm by Associated Press

    Comments (86)

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — A federal judge ruled California’s death penalty unconstitutional Wednesday, writing that lengthy and unpredictable delays have resulted in an arbitrary and unfair capital punishment system.

    The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney represents a legal victory for those who want to abolish the death penalty in California and follows a similar ruling that has suspended executions in the state for years.

    Ruling in a case brought against the warden of San Quentin state prison by Ernest Dewayne Jones, who was condemned in 1994, Carney called the death penalty an empty promise.

    “Inordinate and unpredictable delay has resulted in a death penalty system in which very few of the hundreds of individuals sentenced to death have been, or even will be, executed by the State,” Carney wrote.

    He continued, writing that “arbitrary factors, rather than legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence, determine whether an individual will actually be executed.”

    Another federal judge put California’s death penalty on hold in 2006 when he ruled its lethal injection procedures needed overhaul.

    The judge found that the state’s procedures created too much risk that an inmate would suffer extreme pain while being executed. At that time, lethal injections were carried out in San Quentin’s old gas chamber, which the judge found too cramped, too dark and too old for prison staff to properly administer execution drugs.

    Since then, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has built a new execution chamber on the grounds of San Quentin in Northern California and made a number of changes to its procedures to address the judge’s concerns.

    A new federal judge has taken over the case and has not ruled on whether those changes are enough to restart executions.

    Additionally, the corrections department is drafting a new set of regulations for administering lethal injections. No executions can take place until the new regulations are formally adopted.

  • Obama Delivers Statement on Ukraine, Foreign Policy
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 5:16 pm by Oliver Darcy

    Comments (14)

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  • He Survived Being Shot With a Crossbow, but the Worst Was Yet to Come
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 4:54 pm by Zach Noble

    Comments (34)

    Medieval weapons met modern technology in Australia on Tuesday.

    The weapons lost.

    The Guardian reported that a 56-year-old man in New South Wales was attacked in his own driveway by a man wielding a crossbow.

    Image via Shutterstock

    Image via Shutterstock

    The attacker, 49, shot a crossbow bolt, which struck the laptop the victim was carrying.

    Then the assailant rushed the man with an ax.

    The pair struggled and the victim was hit in the head with the ax before a bystander came to the rescue.

    The older man was hospitalized for his head wound, the Guardian reported, while police arrested the attacker and took a crossbow, knives and a piece of wire from him.

    The attacker has been charged with attempted murder and malicious wounding, according to the Guardian, and has been refused bail as he awaits a September trial.

    Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter

  • What States Are the Laziest in the U.S.? New Map Has the Answer
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 4:48 pm by Liz Klimas

    Comments (114)

    The government recommends a minimum of 150 minutes — that’s 2 1/2 hours — of moderate physical activity each week. That’s not including additional strength training either.

    In a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week though, it stated that only 51.6 percent of American adults achieve this goal.

    Here’s a look at the percentage of adults in each state that say they get the recommended amount of exercise, which includes a moderate amount of strength training in addition to aerobic activity:

    The "State Indicator Report on Physical Activity" found about half of Americans do not get the recommended amount of moderate activity. See how "lazy" your state is at achieving the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.  (Image source: CDC)

    The “State Indicator Report on Physical Activity” found about half of Americans do not get the recommended amount of moderate activity. See how “lazy” your state is at achieving the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. (Image source: CDC)

    The State Indicator Report on Physical Activity Report for 2014 found 31.8 percent of adults nationwide engaged in more than 300 minutes of activity a week, according to the CDC, and less made sure to work strength training into their schedules.

    Mississippi came in with the highest percentage of adults (36 percent) who reported having no leisure time for physical activity at all. It was followed by Tennessee, West Virginia, Louisiana and Alabama.

    (H/T: Business Insider)

  • House Strips Funding for IRS Bonuses, Fancy IRS Conferences
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 4:45 pm by Pete Kasperowicz

    Comments (64)

    The House passed a spending bill Wednesday that prevents the IRS from spending any money in the next year on bonuses for IRS officials, or on pricey conferences in resort spots around the country.

    Members passed several IRS-related amendments on Tuesday and Wednesday before passing the 2015 spending bill in a 228-195 vote. Those amendments included several that stripped out nearly $1.5 billion from the IRS’s enforcement budget — a 30 percent cut that will make it harder for the IRS to conduct audits of taxpayers, companies and organizations.

    The House approved a bill Wednesday that prohibits the IRS, led by Commissioner John Koskinen, from giving bonuses to senior officials and spending money on conferences. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM

    Each of these measures is aimed at reining in an IRS that admitted to targeting conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, and then stonewalled Congress when it was asked for information about the scandal. Last month, the IRS said it lost two years’ worth of emails from former IRS employee Lois Lerner, which has frustrated GOP efforts to get to the bottom of the matter.

    In Wednesday afternoon votes, the House concluded work on a series of amendments aimed at punishing the IRS for its poor performance. One of these votes was on language from Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) to prevent the IRS from awarding any performance bonuses to senior IRS officials.

    “[T]hey should not be given performance awards in the wake of one of the largest scandals in recent history,” Gosar said in late Tuesday debate. “Giving out bonuses is ludicrous and amounts to a slap in the face to the American public.”

    Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) added that the IRS has complained about the lack of funding to do its work, even as it has handed out millions in bonuses.

    “It is interesting they were paid by the new commissioner when the prior commissioner had decided that it was not appropriate to pay those bonuses,” Crenshaw said. “And then the new commissioner testified before our subcommittee how he was outraged that he didn’t have enough money to answer more than 61 percent of his phone calls.”

    The House passed Gosar’s amendment 282-138 — all 138 members against it were Democrats.

    The House also approved an amendment from Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) to prevent the IRS from spending money on conferences. DeSantis noted one conference that cost more than $4 million that wasted money on a speaker who “created paintings on stage to make his point that one must free ‘the thought process to find creative solutions to challenges.’ ”

    “The troubling thing about the report was that the bulk of that money, $3.2 million, came from unused funds that were allocated for hiring,” DeSantis said. “Now, this is at the exact same time that the IRS began to single out conservative groups that sought tax-exempt status, in part, they said, because the agency simply did not have the manpower to handle the number of applications pouring in.”

    Members passed this bill 264-157, and 154 of the “no” votes were Democrats.

    The House passed a few amendments aimed at addressing the IRS’s handling of confidential taxpayer information, and its failure to keep proper records.

    In response to the IRS’s leaking of some of this information, the House approved language from Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) that would block funding for this activity. “The recent actions of the IRS, whether it is the targeting of conservative social welfare groups or the unlawful disclosure of an organization’s confidential tax return and donor list, are nothing less than chilling,” Price said.

    To address poor record keeping at the IRS, members approved language from DeSantis that would prevent the IRS from spending any money to create records or materials that aren’t protected from being destroyed or lost. DeSantis noted that recent emails released by the House show that Lerner seemed to be looking for a way to cover her tracks in emails and other electronic communications.

    “That was very troubling because it was almost like Lerner, as a matter of course, is conducting herself in a way to obstruct the proper oversight, and that is very troubling with an agency that is this powerful,” he said.

    Late Tuesday, the House approved two other amendments related to the IRS. One from Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) prohibits the IRS from spending money to violate the Federal Records Act, and the other from Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) prevents the IRS from paying a salary to any employee who has been held in contempt of Congress.

    These changes and the $1.5 billion funding reduction were additions to a bill that was already tough on the IRS before it was considered on the House floor. For example, the bill already imposed a ban on new IRS regulations for regulating the political activities of groups, and prohibits the IRS from targeting groups based on their beliefs or for exercising their First Amendment rights.

  • Russia Reportedly Makes Deal With Cuba to Reopen Former Spy Base That Provided ’75% of Russia’s Strategic Information’ on the U.S.
    Posted July 16, 2014 at 4:44 pm by Elizabeth Kreft

    Comments (85)

    Moscow and Havana have reportedly reached an agreement to reopen what was once Russia’s largest foreign base – the signals intelligence facility in Lourdes, Cuba.

    The facility that was initially built in 1964 after the Cuban missile crisis, was closed in 2001 due to “financial problems and under U.S. pressure,” according to Russia’s much-maligned news network RT, but other sources say the 28 square-mile area with 1,000-1,500 Russian engineers, technicians, and military personnel previously working at the base, was closed to save money and to warm relations with the U.S. after the September 11 attacks.

    But now, apparently the Kremlin wants to train it’s closest spying eyes back on the U.S.

    w

    The 28-square mile facility that was Russia’s largest foreign operating base will reopen, according to sources at the Kremlin (Image source: Cartas Des De Cuba).

    The SIGINT facility at Lourdes was among the most significant intelligence collection capabilities targeting the United States, according to Global Security. When it was operational, the Cuban facility was manned by thousands of military and intelligence personnel tasked with intercepting signals transmitted to and from the United States mainland and territories. The mission also included providing communication for the Russian vessels in the western hemisphere.

    Built less than 100 miles from Key West, Florida, the facility at Lourdes was jointly operated by FAPSI — Russia’s Federal Agency of Government Communications and Information – and Cuba’s intelligence services.

    According to RT, Russia considered reopening the Lourdes base in earnest since 2004 and just finalized a deal with Cuba last week during the visit of the Russian President Vladimir Putin to the island nation.

    When then-Russian President Vladimir Putin closed the facility in 2001, he primarily blamed financial concerns. “The development of the armed forces to a new technological level will require money, and we are going to have to find it,” Putin said. ”Standing up to international terrorism has considerable military implications.”

    When the announcement was made in 2001, independent military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said: ”This is a major change in Russia’s defense policy. Closing [Lourdes] is saying that the Cold War is over and Russian wants to ally with the West. Putin’s decision will cause a major upset in the Russian military.”

    Reopening the facility is another sign that relations with the U.S. aren’t what they were before the Obama Presidency. ”The decision to return to Cuba can be explained by Russia’s long strengthened financial capabilities, as well as cooling of relations with the US,” sources in the Russian power structures said, according to the Voice of Russia.

    Global Security adds that the facility has been used by Cuba to jam American broadcasts to other nationals:

    “On 15 July 2003, a US government-funded broadcasting agency condemned Cuba for allegedly jamming US international broadcasts to Iran. A statement released by the Broadcasting Board of Governors — an independent federal agency which oversees all U.S. non-military international broadcasting, including the Voice of America — called the Cuban action “a ‘deliberate and malicious’ effort to block Iranian audiences from getting access to truthful news and information.” The jamming was reportedly first detected on 06 July 2003, on the date of VOA’s launch of a daily half-hour Persian language television news and analysis program.

    w

    An old satellite image of the 1960′s era signals intelligence facility in Cuba (Image source: RT).

    In 1993, then-Cuban Defense Minister Raul Castro claimed that Lourdes accounted for “75 percent of Russia’s strategic-military information about the US,” according to the Christian Science monitor.

    In 2001 President Bush said the closure of the Lourdes facility was a welcome decision and “both nations are taking down relics of the Cold War and building a new, cooperative and transparent relationship for the 21st century.” Thus far, the Obama White House has not commented on the alleged reopening.

    (H/T: RT)

    Follow Elizabeth Kreft (@elizabethakreft) on Twitter. 

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