US citizen in lese majeste scandal sues Internet provider

LONG BEACH, California: A US citizen at risk of a prison sentence in Thailand has sued an Internet company for allegedly handing over his personal data, in a legal case involving the lese majeste laws.
Anthony Chai, a Thailand-born naturalised American who runs a computer store in California, said in a lawsuit that Canadian web service provider Netfirms.com broke US law by sharing his personal information with the Department of Special Investigation (DSI).

On a now defunct website, Chai posted anonymous comments critical of the lese majeste law.

Even though he did not identify himself on the site, Chai said that agents detained him for nearly three days when he visited Bangkok, and that he fears imprisonment if he returns. He said a DSI agent made threats about his family, in Thailand and in California.
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Chai said he hoped to draw attention to the "despicable" law on lese majeste and to test Thai authorities' contention that their rules apply around the world and not only inside the kingdom.

Netfirms.com has not commented on the case.

The lawsuit said that Netfirms.com confirmed in correspondence that in 2005 it suspended the website Manusaya, on which users at Chai's shop posted anonymous comments, because of complaints from Thai authorities. Chai said he was interrogated in Bangkok in May 2006.

Chai's suit claims he suffered "severe psychological and physical stress" during two days of questioning, in which authorities seized his laptop, forced him to surrender his passwords and told Chai they knew where his family members lived.

Chai said he was forced to write a letter praising and apologising to His Majesty the King. He said he does not know what happened to that letter.

In the lawsuit, Chai said he feared retalation and that he tried to appear cooperative. He met twice in the US with Pol Col Yanaphon Youngyuen, the director of the DSI's bureau of high tech crimes - once at a McDonald's restaurant at Los Angeles airport and then at Hollywood's Magic Castle Hotel.

Chai said the police officer gave him a yellow shirt and other tokens of the monarchy as gifts. The suit claims Pol Col Yanaphon had "suggested" Chai might like to give him some iPods for his family, and then "made it clear to Chai that he was very disappointed that he did not bring any gifts of value" to the airport meeting.

The lawsuit alleges that Netfirms.com Inc. violated Chai's rights under the US constitution's first amendment which guarantees the right to free speech. The suit also said that the company violated California's business code which bans the sharing of confidential information.

Allison Lefrak, litigation director at the World Organisation for Human Rights USA who is representing Chai, hoped that the case would have a "broader effect."

"For us, it's an important case to underscore the need for all Internet communication companies to think about these human rights issues," she said.

Chai is seeking an injunction on the company's release of private information as well as at least $75,000 in compensation. Among his losses, Chai said he felt obliged to sell stock shares in Bangkok as he is afraid to return.

Chai's lawsuit comes on the heels of the arrest of another Thai-American, Joe Gordon, who is charged with helping to translate a banned book on His Majesty.
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Priewpan's bumpy journey to the top

He's liked when Thaksin-backed regimes are in office, out of luck when they are not

Incoming national police chief Pol Gen Priewpan Damapong claims to have suffered in politics because of his association with the Shinawatra family.
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, left, visits the Border Patrol Police headquarters to introduce himself and his policies yesterday. Incoming police chief Pol Gen Priewpan Damapong, right, received him. SURAPOL PROMSAKA NA SAKOLNAKORN
He believes that when the Democrat Party is in power, he is held back from promotion.
The brother of Khunying Potjaman na Pombejra, ex-wife of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, he is poised to take office as police chief on Tuesday, once the cabinet confirms his appointment.
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who helped Pol Gen Priewpan land the job after persuading his Democrat-backed predecessor to step down, said yesterday Pol Gen Priewpan was finally getting the justice he deserved.
He was robbed of his chance to assume the post earlier simply because of his ties to Thaksin, he said.
Deputy police chief Pol Gen Priewpan had notched up many achievements in drug suppression, he said.
Critics, however, say he has benefited from his tie to the Shinawatras as well, most notably when governments backed by Thaksin are in office.
Under the Democrat-led coalition, he was passed over twice for the nation's top police job. Police generals who were less senior took the post instead.
Under the Thaksin government, however, he leapfrogged 17 commissioners to take the post of assistant police chief in 2002.
Pol Gen Priewpan considered quitting the force last year when the Democrat-led government promoted Pol Gen Wichean Potephosree _ his predecessor who stepped down on Thursday at Mr Chalerm's urging _ to the top post.
Instead, his supporters asked him to bide his time so he could claim his right if Pheu Thai won the general election. And now he is on the cusp of assuming the post that he was being groomed for during his brother-in-law's years in power.
Known among friends as "Aof", Pol Gen Priewpan graduated from Thammasat University's school of law and was in the same class as former senator Kaewsun Atibhodhi.
He has a master's degree in criminal justice from Eastern Kentucky University.
Thaksin became prime minister in 2001 and the following year Pol Gen Priewpan was named assistant police chief. Just 18 months later, Pol Gen Priewpan became deputy police chief.
He was promoted to the rank of full general when he assumed the post, and observers believed he was on a fast track to becoming national police chief.
But after the 2006 coup which ousted Thaksin from power, Pol Gen Priewpan was transferred to an inactive post at the PM's Office. Before the putsch, he was tipped to succeed Pol Gen Kowit Wattana as police chief.
After the now-dissolved People Power Party won the elections in 2008, he was shifted back to the police force as a deputy police chief.
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Thawil vents ire over inactive post


Thawil: Unhappy

Govt wears fallout over Priewpan's promotion

A furious Thawil Pliensri, secretary-general of the National Security Council, has threatened legal action following his transfer to an inactive position as a result of the change in the police chief's job.
Mr Thawil is being replaced by Pol Gen Wichean Potephosree, who stepped down on Thursday as police chief at the government's urging.
The government says Pol Gen Wichean is well-suited to the NSC secretary-general's job, but Mr Thawil, the incumbent, said the policeman should have resisted with more gusto the government's attempts to force him from office.
Pol Gen Wichean is being replaced as police chief by Pol Gen Priewpan Damapong, the elder brother of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's ex-wife Khunying Potjaman na Pombejra.
The choice has led to criticisms that the government is putting nepotism before talent in its choice of key jobs. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is Thaksin's younger sister.
Mr Thawil will be shifted to an inactive post at the PM's Office next week.
He said yesterday the move was unfair, and he would rather take a permanent secretary's seat at a ministry.
He said he may complain to the Administrative Court and the Merit Systems Protection Committee under the Civil Service Commission.
Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung said the Pheu Thai-led government could not work with Mr Thawil, who had served the Democrat-led government as secretary of the Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES), which cracked down on red shirt protesters last year.
"Personally, I thought Mr Thawil should ask for the transfer by himself," said Mr Chalerm, referring to the move to an inactive post.
Mr Thawil said Pol Gen Wichean should have fought to the end against government pressure to remove him from the top job in the force.
Mr Chalerm said Pol Gen Wichean had strong qualities in the areas of planning and intelligence, and was an appropriate choice to work as NSC chief.
He said Pol Gen Priewpan's qualities, on the other hand, favoured crime suppression. "Pol Gen Wichean is not suited to combat the gambling problems since he is more suited for administrative work. But Pol Gen Priewpan is the right man for the gambling operation," he said.
Democrat Party leader and former premier Abhisit Vejjajiva also weighed in to the reshuffle row, saying the planned removal of Pol Gen Wichean was unfair.
"Pol Gen Chalerm must watch his words in saying that Mr Thawil should be transferred because he served as CRES secretary, because Mr Thawil was only performing his duty," he said.
"If his performance is inappropriate then there must be an explanation."
Mr Chalerm denied the government was aiming to wipe out all senior officials who were promoted by the previous Democrat-led administration. He said the government would base its reshuffles on work efficiency.
Mr Chalerm also declined to confirm if Tharit Pengdit, director-general of the Department of Special Investigation, would be transferred.
He said that decision was up to Justice Minister Pracha Promnok.
When questioned about Pheu Thai Party list MP Jatuporn Prompan's prediction that political opponents would try to topple the government after Dec 5, Mr Chalerm said he would discuss the issue with Mr Jatuporn today.
Meanwhile, members of the Network of Citizen Volunteers to Protect the Land led by Tul Sitthisomwong yesterday read out a statement in front of the national police headquarters expressing opposition to the removal of Pol Gen Wichean.
If the police chief had done anything wrong, Mr Chalerm should set up a panel to investigate, the group said. The deputy prime minister should not pressure the police chief to step down.
When Pol Gen Priewpan is officially made police chief, Thaksin would benefit, the group said.
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Abhisit denies his govt spent all flood cash

Five provinces along the Chao Phraya inundated

Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva is dismissing allegations by the Pheu Thai-led government that his government used up the entire fiscal year's budget to pay for flood relief.
The government actually had billions of baht in the general budget left which was more than enough to fund flood relief operations for the whole of this month _ the last month of the 2011 fiscal year, Mr Abhisit said.
The government should stop making excuses to avoid compensating flood-hit farmers at the rate it had promised them, he said yesterday.
Checks showed the new government had about 3.3 billion baht left to use, yet it claimed the previous government had left an insufficient amount of flood relief money, said Democrat Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut.
Education Minister Woravat Au-apinyakul said during a flood inspection trip to the lower North last weekend that only a small amount of the central budget was left from the previous government to spend on flood relief.
Democrat MP for Phitsanulok Warong Dejkijwikrom said the government should show whether it is sincere in keeping its promise of paying a higher rate of compensation for losses caused by flooding.
On Tuesday, the cabinet agreed to pay flood-hit farmers compensation of 2,222 baht per rai of damaged crops.
The Abhisit government paid 2,098 baht per rai in financial assistance to flood-hit farmers.
The flood situation intensified yesterday with at least five provinces along the Chao Phraya River flooded by run-off that overflowed the river's banks.
The floods covered certain parts of Chai Nat, Sing Buri, Ang Thong, Ayutthaya and Lop Buri provinces.
The inundation had only not ravaged paddy fields but also resulted in farmers being forced to sell rice to middlemen at marked-down prices, said Thai Farmers Association president Wichian Phuanglamchiak.
The median price of rice bought in these provinces had fallen to less than 7,000 baht a tonne.
Some buyers had begun refusing to buy rice from flooded areas claiming its moisture level was too high, said Mr Wichian.
The irony was that while people in these provinces were suffering the consequences of flooding, the director of the 10th Royal Irrigation Office, whose job was ease the flooding problem, was now on a trip to Japan along with his subordinates, Mr Wichian complained.
The Royal Irrigation Department warned yesterday the water level in the Chao Phraya River would rise today and areas along the river should brace for intensified floods.
The Public Health Ministry said a total of 784 people affected by flooding had been diagnosed with depression.
So far, about 66,700 other people had suffered physical ailments and diseases ranging from diarrhoea to Leptospirosis, he said.
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If you look hard enough for something…

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CIA Shifts Focus To Killing Targets Finally

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Washington Post:


Behind a nondescript door at CIA headquarters, the agency has assembled a new counterterrorism unit whose job is to find al-Qaeda targets in Yemen. A corresponding commotion has been underway in the Arabian Peninsula, where construction workers have been laying out a secret new runway for CIA drones.


When the missiles start falling, it will mark another expansion of the paramilitary mission of the CIA.


In the decade since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the agency has undergone a fundamental transformation. Although the CIA continues to gather intelligence and furnish analysis on a vast array of subjects, its focus and resources are increasingly centered on the cold counterterrorism objective of finding targets to capture or kill.


The shift has been gradual enough that its magnitude can be difficult to grasp. Drone strikes that once seemed impossibly futuristic are so routine that they rarely attract public attention unless a high-ranking al-Qaeda figure is killed.


But framed against the upcoming 10th anniversary of the 2001 attacks — as well as the arrival next week of retired Gen. David H. Petraeus as the CIA’s director — the extent of the agency’s reorientation comes into sharper view:


?The drone program has killed more than 2,000 militants and civilians since 2001, a staggering figure for an agency that has a long history of supporting proxy forces in bloody conflicts but rarely pulled the trigger on its own.


?The CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, which had 300 employees on the day of the attacks, now exceeds al-Qaeda’s core membership around the globe. With about 2,000 on its staff, the CTC accounts for 10 percent of the agency’s workforce, has designated officers in almost every significant overseas post and controls the CIA’s expanding fleet of drones.


?Even the agency’s analytic branch, which traditionally existed to provide insights to policymakers, has been enlisted in the hunt. About 20 percent of CIA analysts are now “targeters” scanning data for individuals to recruit, arrest or place in the cross­hairs of a drone. The skill is in such demand that the CIA made targeting a designated career track five years ago, meaning analysts can collect raises and promotions without having to leave the targeting field.


Critics, including some in the U.S. intelligence community, contend that the CIA’s embrace of “kinetic” operations, as they are known, has diverted the agency from its traditional espionage mission and undermined its ability to make sense of global developments such as the Arab Spring.


Human rights groups go further, saying the CIA now functions as a military force beyond the accountability that the United States has historically demanded of its armed services. The CIA doesn’t officially acknowledge the drone program, let alone provide public explanation about who shoots and who dies, and by what rules.


“We’re seeing the CIA turn into more of a paramilitary organization without the oversight and accountability that we traditionally expect of the military,” said Hina Shamsi, the director of the National Security Project of the American Civil Liberties Union.


CIA officials defend all aspects of the agency’s counterterrorism efforts and argue that the agency’s attention to other subjects has not been diminished. Fran Moore, head of the CIA’s analytic branch, said intelligence work on a vast range of issues, including weapons proliferation and energy resources, has been expanded and improved.


“The vast majority of analysts would not identify themselves as supporting military objectives,” Moore said in an interview at CIA headquarters. Counterterrorism “is clearly a significant, growing and vibrant part of our mission. But it’s not the defining mission.”


Agency within an agency


Nevertheless, those directly involved in building the agency’s lethal capacity say the changes to the CIA since Sept. 11 are so profound that they sometimes marvel at the result. One former senior U.S. intelligence official described the agency’s paramilitary transformation as “nothing short of a wonderment.”


“You’ve taken an agency that was chugging along and turned it into one hell of a killing machine,” said the former official, who, like many people interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence matters. Blanching at his choice of words, he quickly offered a revision: “Instead, say ‘one hell of an operational tool.’ ”


The engine of that machine is the CTC, an entity that has accumulated influence, authority and resources to such a degree that it resembles an agency within an agency.


The center swelled to 1,200 employees in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and nearly doubled in size since then.


The CTC occupies a sprawling footprint at the CIA campus in Langley, including the first floor of what is known as the “new headquarters” building. The chief of the center is an undercover officer known for his brusque manner, cigarette habit and tireless commitment to the job.


A CIA veteran said he asked the CTC chief about the pace of strikes against al-Qaeda last year and got a typically profane reply: “We are killing these sons of bitches faster than they can grow them now.”


The headquarters for that hunt is on a separate floor in a CTC unit known as the Pakistan-Afghanistan Department, referred to internally as PAD. Within the past year, the agency has created an equivalent department for Yemen and Somalia in the hope that it can replicate the impact of PAD.


Inside the PAD entrance is a photographic tribute to the seven CIA employees who were killed by a suicide bomber in December 2009 at a remote base in the Afghan city of Khost. Two were former targeters who had worked in the CTC.


Beyond that marker is a warren of cubicles and offices. On the walls are maps marked with the locations of CIA bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as whiteboards with lists of pending operations and code names of spies. Every paid informant is given a unique “crypt” that starts with a two-letter digraph designating spies who are paid sources of the CTC.


PAD serves as the anchor of an operational triangle that stretches from South Asia to the American Southwest. The CIA has about 30 Predator and Reaper drones, all flown by Air Force pilots from a U.S. military base in a state that The Post has agreed, at the request of agency officials, not to name. The intelligence that guides their “orbits” flows in from a constellation of CIA bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan.


CIA officials insist that drone strikes are among the least common outcomes in its counter­terrorism campaign.


“Of all the intelligence work on counterterrorism, only a sliver goes into Predator operations,” a senior U.S. official said. The agency’s 118 strikes last year were outnumbered “many times” by instances in which the agency provided tips to foreign partners or took nonlethal steps.


“There were investigations, arrests, debriefings .?.?. these are all operational acts,” the official said.


The Obama administration dismantled the CIA’s system of secret prisons, but it continues to use foreign partners to apprehend suspects in some countries, including Somalia.


The CIA also was heavily involved in the raid by U.S. Special Operations troops on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May. Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs, but the operation was carried out under CIA authority, planned in a room at agency headquarters and based on intelligence gathered over a period of years by the CTC.


Growing collaboration


The assault was the most high-profile example of an expanding collaboration between the CIA and the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees the nation’s elite military teams.


Their comingling at remote bases is so complete that U.S. officials ranging from congressional staffers to high-ranking CIA officers said they often find it difficult to distinguish agency from military personnel.


“You couldn’t tell the difference between CIA officers, Special Forces guys and contractors,” said a senior U.S. official after a recent tour through Afghanistan. “They’re all three blended together. All under the command of the CIA.”


Their activities occupy an expanding netherworld between intelligence and military operations. Sometimes their missions are considered military “preparation of the battlefield,” and others fall under covert findings obtained by the CIA. As a result, congressional intelligence and armed services committees rarely get a comprehensive view.


Hybrid units called “omega” or “cross matrix” teams have operated in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen, according to senior U.S. military officials.


Those employed in Afghanistan were “mostly designed against specific high-value targets with the intent of looking across the border” into Pakistan, said a former senior U.S. military official involved in Special Operations missions. They wore civilian clothes and traveled in Toyota Hilux trucks rather than military vehicles.


“They were designed to develop sources and leads” but also to “be prepared if necessary to be the front end of a more robust lethal force.”


On at least five occasions, officials said, Special Operations units working closely with the CIA ventured into Pakistan in exercises designed to test their ability to close in on a target without being detected by Pakistani authorities. The operations, which took place between 2002 and 2006, amounted to early rehearsals of the bin Laden raid.


The CIA’s post-Sept. 11 arsenal has also included elite Afghan militias trained and led by the agency’s Special Activities Division, its paramilitary branch. In a measure of the murkiness surrounding such programs, the purpose of the Counterterror Pursuit Teams is a source of disagreement among senior officials in government.


Read More:

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A picture is worth 1,000 words: Sleepy Glenn edition

It’s been a long week…



The 4th Hour hosts Stu & Pat discussed this picture and more behind-the-scenes details Thursday during a new educational radio/GBTV segment called “How to Be a Professional Broadcaster (with Glenn Beck)”:


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Friday evening must-reads

More than 8 in 10 Americans believe we’re in a recession


Unemployment among blacks increases to highest level in 27 years


Allen West: Congressional Black Caucus “avoids facts & is race baiting”


U.S. publicly held debt up 59% on Obama’s watch


Obama admits his regulatory agenda is killing jobs


Jonah Goldberg writes the speech Obama should give next week


Nancy “Astroturf” Pelosi: Republicans wants to “destroy government”


Solyndra: Obama’s Enron?


SC Gov. Nicki Haley has some ideas for Obama’s big jobs speech


Charlie Cook: 2012 election is “the GOP’s to lose”


WWPD: What will Palin do?


Rick Perry reiterates support for in-state tuition for illegal immigrants


Mitt Romney: We need to secure our borders


Former VP Dick Cheney admits: “I was honored to be compared to Darth Vader”



(More from Cheney after the jump, including his response to criticism from Condolleezza Rice)


Have a great holiday weekend!


Ingraham: (~4:20) “So you reject the idea that you’re attacking (Condi Rice’s) integrity or the integrity of Colin Powell?”
Cheney: “Yes.”


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Cash-strapped priest builds inflatable church

Father Krzysztof faced what seemed like an insurmountable dilemma. The Roman Catholic missionary had a tough time getting the permission and the cash needed to build a permanent place of worship in Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula.


So, he did what any other innovative religious leader would: He teamed up with his friend Robert Wojcik, an inflatable toy maker, to construct a temporary (and, yes, inflatable) church for his congregation. The UK’s Metro has more:


Money-raising efforts helped to pay for the alternative structure, which will remain open even in extreme conditions. During winter time, temperatures can drop to minus 40 degrees in the Kamchatka region.


Below, find a picture of the intriguing structure. While Father Krzystof did say some may mistake the church for a bouncy castle (a common fixture at children’s birthday parties), it certainly beats worshiping outdoors in the extreme cold, right?


Father Krzystof's inflatable church (Metro/REX Features)


(h/t Metro)

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Rick Perry raises money off Obama’s golf game


Fore!


Rick Perry’s latest fundraising appeal looks to raise some money off President Obama’s golf game. In an email to supporters Thursday, Rob Johnson, Perry’s campaign manager, asked potential donors to open their pocketbooks to the amount of $76 — exactly the number of rounds of golf Obama has played since entering the White House.


“In honor of his prodigious golf habit, I ask you to donate $76 today – a dollar for each round of golf Obama has played since becoming president,” Johnson wrote.


A golfing theme exists throughout the donation request email, tying Obama’s handling of the economy to a round of golf.


“31 months, 12 days and 76 rounds of golf later, we still await the president’s plan to create jobs.  Or, more precisely, his next plan following the failed stimulus that spent our children’s inheritance, exploded the debt  and led to greater unemployment. Now the president wants a mulligan,” Johnson wrote in the email.


“Help us yell a pre-emptive ‘fore’ before the president takes a three-iron to the economy and makes matters worse.”


Well played, governor.

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Australia Bans Christ From Textbooks

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Fox News:


Christians in Australia are accusing national education officials of “Christian cleansing” in response to pending changes in school books that would remove references to the birth of Jesus Christ.


The government would replace the terms BC, Before Christ, and AD, Anno Domini, with non-religious language. The new terms will be BCE (Before Common Era), BP (Before Present) and CE (Common Era).


A spokesman for the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority told The Herald Sun that the new terms were an increasingly common standard for the representation of dates.


Peter Jensen, the Archbishop of Sydney, told The Daily Telegraph that taking references to the birth of Jesus Christ out of school books was an “intellectually absurd attempt to write Christ out of human history.”


“It is absurd because the coming of Christ remains the centre point of dating and because the phrase ‘common era’ is meaningless and misleading,” he told the Sydney Daily Telegraph.


Fred Nile, a minister in New South Wales, told the newspaper it was “an absolute disgrace” and the “final insult” to Australian Christians.

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Rollercoasters and hijabs: Staged rage?

The following a guest post from Karen Lugo


Earlier this week in New York there was outrage from a Muslim American Society group over the no-headgear policy of the Rye Playland amusement park. Some members of the group had come to the amusement park to mark the end of Ramadan, and though they had been forewarned of the park’s safety policy with regard to headgear, some cried discrimination at not being allowed on certain rides while in hijab.


Now, publicly commenting on Muslim female headgear can be a risky proposition. In my case, a statement regarding a hijab-wearer who filed an EEOC action against Disneyland contesting Disney’s refusal to allow her hijab as part of a costume led to charges of hate speech on leftist blogs and became a rallying point for demonstrations demanding my termination as a visiting law professor. However, the point remains that Fourteenth Amendment equal protection for ethnic and religious groups was not designed as a platform to compel preferential treatment. If non-discrimination policies mean anything, they mean that discrimination, whether against — or for — specified groups, is not tolerated.


This business of demanding that rules or employment contracts bend to accommodate one group when the regulation is written in terms that apply equally to all does not comport with American constitutional intent. Nor does it sit well with most Americans. To the point of this particular controversy, the idea of demanding a change in an amusement park rules also is not likely supported by many American Muslims; probably a majority. One of the Muslims at the Rye Playland event even acknowledged that “the point could be a safety issue.”


Simply stated, Americans have not voted for an affirmative action program on behalf of women in hijab. Even if we did, many affirmative action programs do not survive constitutional review in the courts on the very premise that they call for favorable treatment of one group over another.



The alternative of imposing the foreseeable (key word in proving liability for damage awards) risk of fly-away hijabs on the park management would invite a jury finding of negligence in light of the 2005 fatal accident at Rye Playland, as well as other known incidents including the Australian go-kart death of a burq- clad woman. Even worse, rather than wearing the closely wound hijab on this day at the park, most of the women shown in news footage were wearing loose, waist-long scarves that would likely provoke a safety-conscious operator of a fast ride to object – whether or not there was an official rule in place.


Apparently the amusement park welcomed the Muslim group, but with the stipulation that Muslim American Society (MAS) activity organizers were aware that there was a prohibition of headgear on risk-related rides. Hijab-wearing women were not excluded from entrance to the park or enjoyment of most rides; nor were they singled out for different treatment. In fact, a Jewish woman told reporters that she had no problem with the way that ride operators asked her three sons to remove their yarmulkes for certain rides. And in a final display of conciliation, the park offered those who expressed surprise and anger over enforcement of the rule a refund of their admission costs.


The bottom line is that these women simply had to make the same decision that an observant nun would make: Is the religious observance more important that the ride? People of faith make similar principled decisions every day – that is, when the choice is a matter of principle and not of stagecraft.


Considering all of the above facts, the park melee begins to look like an unfortunate grievance play. In the tradition of the Flying Imams, victimization episodes are becoming tedious and they serve to undermine legitimate claims when there is true religious discrimination or persecution.


It is also noteworthy that the MAS, an organization described as part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s infrastructure in the United States, was well aware of the rule and, thus, may have been more interested in a controversy than it was in planning a successful mass Muslim outing to celebrate the end of Ramadan.


Stay tuned. The last act has likely not been played since videotape has been promised. The Muslims complaining of excessive police force say that the footage will confirm their claims. In the meantime, park management and law enforcement have no way to address the charges or counter the public relations campaign waged on all television networks by enraged Muslim women.


Finally, there is a simple solution that has been perfectly acceptable to Americans for centuries: When the rules are legally sound but not personally appealing, vote with your feet and your pocketbook. Plan the next group outing to a park like Six Flags Great Adventure, where the roller coaster policy is less restrictive of women in hijab.


Karen Lugo is co-director of the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence and founder of the Libertas-West Project.

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Rush Limbaugh: Obama Has “Shot His Wad” And Should Resign

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Emails Prove White House Was More Aware Of “Fast And Furious” Than Previously Claimed

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Los Angeles Times:


Reporting from Washington— Newly obtained emails show that the White House was better informed about a failed gun-tracking operation on the border with Mexico than was previously known.


Three White House national security officials were given some details about the operation, dubbed Fast and Furious. The operation allowed firearms to be illegally purchased, with the goal of tracking them to Mexican drug cartels. But the effort went out of control after agents lost track of many of the weapons.


The supervisor of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives operation in Phoenix specifically mentioned Fast and Furious in at least one email to a White House national security official, and two other White House colleagues were briefed on reports from the supervisor, according to White House emails and a senior administration official.


But the senior administration official said the emails, obtained Thursday by The Times, did not prove that anyone in the White House was aware of the covert “investigative tactics” of the operation.


“The emails validate what has been said previously, which is no one at the White House knew about the investigative tactics being used in the operation, let alone any decision to let guns walk,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak about it publicly. “To the extent that some [national security staff members] were briefed on the top lines of ongoing federal efforts, so were members of Congress.”


He identified the three White House officials who were briefed as Kevin M. O’Reilly, director of North American Affairs for the White House national security staff; Dan Restrepo, the president’s senior Latin American advisor; and Greg Gatjanis, a White House national security official.


“The emails were not forwarded beyond them, and we are not aware of any [additional] briefings related to that email chain,” the official said.


The emails were sent between July 2010 and February of this year before it was disclosed that agents had lost track of hundreds of guns. Many are thought to have fallen into criminal hands, and some have turned up at crime scenes in Mexico and the United States, including at the fatal shooting of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.


Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) are trying to determine what the Justice Department and the White House knew about the program.


According to the emails, William D. Newell, then the ATF field supervisor for Arizona and New Mexico, was in close contact with O’Reilly and sought the White House’s help to persuade the Mexican government to let ATF agents recover U.S. guns across the border.


After earlier emails from Newell to O’Reilly surfaced, Newell testified to congressional investigators in July that the two were friends and acknowledged that he probably should not have sent them to him. But the new emails indicate that Newell and O’Reilly were in deeper discussions about gun operations on the border.


In July 2010, about nine months after Fast and Furious started, O’Reilly was seeking information about ways to fight gun trafficking in Arizona when he emailed Newell.


“Just an informal ‘how’s it going?’ ” he wrote. He titled the email “GRIT Surge Phoenix,” an acronym for Gun Runner Impact Teams.


Newell replied that things were “going very well actually.”


Though not mentioning Fast and Furious by name, he talked about large numbers of ATF agents being temporarily transferred to Arizona to work on cases, apparently alluding to the Fast and Furious program. He also praised their work on “firearms trafficking investigations with direct links to Mexican” cartels, which was the main goal of Fast and Furious.


“This is great,” O’Reilly replied. “Very informative.”


O’Reilly asked whether he could share the information with Restrepo and Gatjanis. He added that the information “would not leave NSS, I assure you.”


Newell answered, “Sure, just don’t want ATF HQ to find out, especially since this is what they should be doing (briefing you)!”


A third email went from Newell to O’Reilly on Feb. 11, two months after Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in Arizona and Fast and Furious weapons were found at the scene.


Newell discussed the just-obtained indictments of 20 people, including Jaime Avila, for illegal gun purchasing. It was two of Avila’s guns bought under Fast and Furious that ended up at the Terry shooting. This time, Newell specifically mentioned Fast and Furious.


“The Fast and Furious indictment is listed under U.S. v Avila and that’s the one in which there’s an introduction of the techniques used by firearms traffickers,” he told O’Reilly. He suggested “we” should use the indictment to draw attention to the arrests through the media in Mexico.


In another development, the Justice Department said it knew of only one other instance where a Fast and Furious weapon was “recovered in connection with a crime of violence in the U.S.” Earlier it had said there were 11 instances.

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World’s Ugliest Woman: Not Sure If Republicans “Children Breathe Air,” GOP Wants To “Destroy Gov”

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ABC News: Sarah Palin’s Iowa Speech Tomorrow To Be A “Full Throated Defense Of The Tea Party”

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ABC News:


Two days before Sarah Palin’s much anticipated, on, off, and on again Iowa speech, details are emerging about what the former Alaska governor will say.


A source close to Palin told ABC News that she’ll offer a “full throated defense of the tea party.”


“Regardless of what she decides to do, this rally is for the tea party to kick off this campaign,” the source said, “this” being the 2012 presidential campaign.


ABC News has also learned that Palin’s speech will reference themes from an Aug. 8 Facebook post called “Conquering the Storm.” It discusses the Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the nation’s credit rating and her solutions to the country’s financial woes.


A source close to Palin told ABC News last week that her speech at Saturday’s “Restoring America” event will be a substantive, big-picture vision of America. Palin herself alluded to what she’ll discuss on Aug. 25, when she tweeted a link to a YouTube video entitled “Obama Lies 7 Times In Under 2 Minutes!” and wrote, “I’ll be talking about this and more on September 3rd.”


Palin is slated to be the last speaker at the Tea Party of America’s Saturday rally, which will also feature the likes of Iowa Tea Party chairman Ryan Rhodes, radio host Tony Katz and Los Angeles-based comedian Eric Golub.

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Progressives identify America‘s ’Top 5 Most Conservative Colleges’

Great news, high school juniors & seniors. In case you haven’t narrowed down which colleges you plan to apply to over the next year, the kind folks over at ThinkProgress have taken it upon themselves to compiles five of the best.


Ok, that’s probably not exactly how the progressive bloggers view their new list of “America’s Top 5 Most Conservative Colleges,” but I have to believe that if these schools are being labeled by the left as the “most right-wing places of higher learning”, they must be doing something right:


5. Patrick Henry College: After a documentary exposed the surprising number of students at Patrick Henry College with high level internships in the Bush administration, the school has gained scrutiny for its extensive ties to the Republican Party and social conservative groups.


4. Hillsdale College: The school was in the news recently when it was revealed that Justice Clarence Thomas failed to disclose the Hillsdale salary of his wife Ginni Thomas. Called the “citadel of American conservatism,” Hillsdale features academics like Rush Limbaugh fill-in Mark Steyn, and is said to be a pipeline to Republican jobs on Capitol Hill. [Editor's note: Hillsdale also places a strict emphasis on studying the U.S. Constitution. Oh, the horror.]


3. George Mason University: George Mason University has served as a libertarian enclave with close ties to K Street lobbyists since the 1980s, when Charles Koch began donating heavily to the school. Koch Industries’ executive vice president for public policy, Rich Fink, heads two Koch programs at the school. Matt Kibbe and other leading libertarian activists are alumni of George Mason’s free market economics department.


2. King’s College: In 1997, the Campus Crusade for Christ International purchased King’s College, a New Jersey-based school that had been shuttered since 1944, and reestablished it on two floors of the Empire State Building in New York City. Led by Dinesh D’Souza, author of a book this year arguing that President Obama’s Kenyan heritage gives him a third world “anti-colonial” mindset, the school has gained a reputation for training dogmatically conservative Christian activists.


1. Liberty University: Founded by the late televangelist preacher Jerry Falwell in 1971, Liberty has prided itself as one of the most influential Christian colleges in the nation. Despite the fact Liberty receives about $445 million in yearly taxpayer subsidies, the school prohibits openly gay students and College Democrats. While the school has received much scorn for its teaching of youth earth creationism, it boasts a world class debating team coached by a former Bush adviser.


In case you’re wondering, ThinkProgress says they decided on these schools for their “Top 5” because of their “influence in the conservative movement and notable alumni.”

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Perry Asks All Republicans To Donate $76: A Dollar For Each Time Obama Has Golfed

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ABC News:


Rick Perry’s latest fundraising appeal looks to raise some money off President Obama’s golf game. In an email to supporters Thursday, Rob Johnson, Perry’s campaign manager, asked potential donors to open their pocketbooks to the amount of $76 — exactly the number of rounds of golf Obama has played since entering the White House.


“In honor of his prodigious golf habit, I ask you to donate $76 today — a dollar for each round of golf Obama has played since becoming president,” Johnson wrote.


A golfing theme exists throughout the donation request email, tying Obama’s handling of the economy to a round of golf.


“31 months, 12 days and 76 rounds of golf later, we still await the president’s plan to create jobs. Or, more precisely, his next plan following the failed stimulus that spent our children’s inheritance, exploded the debt and led to greater unemployment. Now the president wants a mulligan,” Johnson wrote in the email.


“Help us yell a pre-emptive ‘fore’ before the president takes a three-iron to the economy and makes matters worse.”


Perry, who has claimed the frontrunner title after catapulting to the top of polls this week, has been on a fundraising blitz since the start of his campaign nearly three weeks ago.

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Historic President Shatters Another Record: National Debt Tops $10 Trillion For First Time Ever

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CNS News:


At the close of business on Aug. 31 — for the first time in the history of the country — the publicly held debt of the federal government topped $10 trillion, according to data released by the U.S. Treasury Department at 4:00 p.m. yesterday.


Also, according to the most recent reports available from the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, approximately $6.1 trillion of that debt — or about 61 percent of it — is owned by foreign interests (led by the Chinese and the Japanese) and by the Federal Reserve.


At the close of business on Aug. 30, as reported by the Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Public Debt, the federal government’s debt held by the public equaled $9,990,126,772,846.86. By the close of business on Aug. 31, it was $10,024,253,354,407.07.

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Shock Pew Research Center Report: Blacks The Most Dangerous Muslims In America

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Carlos Bledsoe


WND:


The most dangerous Muslims in America may be black converts to Islam, according to a shocking new poll by the Pew Research Center.


African-American Muslims tend to hold the most violent views among U.S. Muslims surveyed by Pew in a poll released this week.


Fully 28 percent of U.S.-born black Muslim respondents said “suicide bombings and other violence against civilians” can be justified sometimes or at least in rare cases. That compares with 9 percent of foreign-born Muslims who hold the same view.


Pew also found that 11 percent of black Muslims living in the U.S. have a favorable opinion of al-Qaida – more than double the share of U.S. Muslims overall who hold that view. Another 21 percent of black Muslims hold only mildly unfavorable views of the terrorist organization responsible for attacking America 10 years ago; while 56 percent of that segment of the Muslim population hold very unfavorable views.


The survey results are troubling, because U.S. officials say al-Qaida in recent years has stepped up its efforts to recruit African-Americans to target the homeland for terrorist attacks. English-speaking blacks do not fit the prevailing Middle Eastern terrorist profile, officials say, and al-Qaida recruiters believe they have a better chance of slipping through security checkpoints.


A growing number of black converts have been radicalized in prison or by jihadist websites, officials say.

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Flashback: F. A. Hayek explains how unions foster unemployment

Classic conservative economic reasoning from the “Road to Serfdom” author and economist — worth a watch:



The Foundation for Economic Education has more:


Hayek’s two most detailed discussions of labor unions are found in The Constitution of Liberty and in 1980s Unemployment and the Unions (2nd edition, 1984). He argued that unions, because of the legislation that empowers them, violate both principles of the rule of law. Isonomia precludes privilege; yet, as he wrote in The Constitution of Liberty: “Public policy concerning labor unions has, in little more than a century, moved from one extreme to the other. From a state in which little the unions could do was legal if they were not prohibited altogether, we now have reached a state where they have become uniquely privileged institutions to which the general rules of law do not apply.” …


Muddled thinking leads public opinion to tolerate legislation, such as the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), that exempts unions from the rule of law. …


Hayek also thought that statutory unionism leads to the crippling of the market economy, which in turn leads to a vastly expanded scope of government’s role in the economy.


“[Unions] are using their power in a manner which tends to make the market system ineffective and which, at the same time, gives them a control of the direction of economic activity which would be dangerous in the hands of government but is intolerable if exercised by a particular group. … Unionism as it is now tends to produce that very system of overall socialist planning which few unions want and which, indeed, it is in their best interest to avoid.”

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Turkey Expels Israeli Ambassador, Plans To Cut Trade And Contracts

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Ynet News:


Ankara follows through on threat to impose independent sanctions on Jerusalem following its refusal to apologize for deadly Marmara raid: Top-level diplomatic staff expelled, key military contracts suspended. Turkish FM: Time for Israel to pay the price


Israel-Turkey relations sink to a new low: Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu announced on Friday that following Jerusalem’s adamant refusal to apologize over the 2010 Gaza flotilla raid, Ankara will be downgrading its diplomatic relations with Israel and suspending key military agreements.


In a dramatic turn of events, Turkey announced that it was expelling Israeli Ambassador Gabby Levy from Ankara. Davutoglu said Turkey’s diplomatic representation in Israel would be further reduced to second-secretary level. In accordance, all lower Israeli diplomatic personnel above the second-secretary level have also been expelled.


The announcement followed a press conference, in which Davutoglu said that some of the UN’s Palmer Report findings on the raid were “unacceptable,” adding that it was “time for Israel to pay the price… The highest price it can pay is losing our friendship.”


“Today, we reached a point where Israel has, in fact, spent all of the chances that were given to them. The Israeli government, on the other hand, see themselves (as being) above international laws and human conscience,” the Turkish FM said.


Turkey withdrew its own ambassador to Israel immediately after last year’s raid.


Davuto?lu’s stated that Ankara views the Israeli government as responsible for the situation, and that Turkey will not revise its position on the matter until Israel reconsiders its stand on the flotilla incident. Davuto?lu added that despite the Palmer Report findings, Turkey does not recognise the legality of the Israeli blockade on Gaza.


Turkish President Abdullah Gul reportedly said Friday that as far as Turkey was concerned, the Palmer Report was “null and void.” Ankara is also said to be exploring its options against Israel with the International Court of Justice.


Earlier Friday, Turkey vowed that its demand for an apology from Israel would remain unchanged, stating that it is powerful enough to protect the rights of its citizen. The statement was made in Ankara’s first official reaction to a leaked United Nations panel report on the Mavi Marmara incident.


Israel remains adamant over its decision not to offer Turkey an official apology. A senior official told Ynet that while Israel is aware of the implications of its decision to refrain from issuing an apology, “we cannot conduct ourselves based on ultimatums.”


The Palmer Report does not demand an Israeli apology, establishing instead that Israel should express regret and pay reparations, the official said, adding that Jerusalem still hoped that the two countries could “return to the cooperation that was a cornerstone of regional stability.” Another senior official added that “the severing of ties goes against Turkey’s strategic interests.”


Jerusalem sources were unfazed by the move, saying that Israel’s military agreements with Turkey had previously been suspended – by Israel. “Military trade with Turkey was suspended a while ago… we didn’t want to risk any weapons made in Israel falling into the wrong hands,” a diplomatic source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.


Other sources hedged that while Turkey may downgrade its ties with Israel, the US is likely to stop Ankara from severing its ties with Jerusalem completely.


Foreign Ministry Director-General Rafael Barak called for a situation assessment on Friday afternoon, following Turkey’s decision. The meeting was called after he conferred with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is currently on an official visit to Moldova.


Meanwhile, Turkey’s Zaman news site reported Friday that Davuto?lu had spoken with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and that he raised The New York Times issue with him. Davuto?lu added that UN’s Ban was also surprised to hear about the publication of the leaked report.

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Chuck Todd: GOP Establishment May Not Love Him, But Rick Perry’s ‘Built To Last’

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It’s time for school!

If your local school district hasn’t already resumed class, chances are they will next week.  No more lazy summer days for America’s schoolchildren — it’s time to recharge their young minds and impart on them all sorts of new knowledge, or something.


But let’s be honest — kids aren’t the only ones who eagerly anticipate the start of a new school year.  Nudge nudge, wink wink.


So parents rejoice, and kids… oversleep at your own risk:



And parents, if you’re worried about the mess a battery-powered super soaker might make in the morning, Dvice recommends using Nerf guns for a similar wake-up effect.

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Chicago Union Goon Receives Publicly Subsidized Six Figure Pension After Falsely Reporting $40K Salary

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Chicago Tribune:


Every month, Thomas Villanova gets a $9,000 reminder of how lucrative it can be to serve as a union leader in Chicago.


The sum is part of a city pension that comes on top of the $198,000 annual salary he is paid to represent the interests of thousands of city workers.


Villanova last worked for the city in 1989 as an electrical mechanic with the Department of Streets and Sanitation, making about $40,000 a year. Yet in 2008 he was allowed to retire at age 56 with a $108,000 city pension. That’s because, under a little-known state law, his pension was based not on his city paycheck but on his much higher union salary.


This kind of deal is available only to union officials who meet certain requirements, but a Tribune/WGN-TV investigation has uncovered documents that show Villanova violated state law when he applied for the pension and cast doubt on whether he truly qualifies for all that money.


To boost his taxpayer-supported city pension, Villanova signed documents certifying that he had waived his union pension and had two union officials write letters supporting his claim. In fact, records show dues collected from the rank-and-file were still set aside for Villanova’s union pension.


When city pension fund officials discovered last year that Villanova never gave up his union pension, they gave him a pass and didn’t move to take away his city retirement benefits.


What’s more, labor leaders can get an inflated city pension only if they are on a leave of absence from a city job to work full time for a union. But officials from the municipal pension fund approved Villanova’s application despite city employment records that show he took a leave to go back to school and then let that leave of absence expire in 1992.


Now just 58, Villanova stands to collect approximately $3 million from the city’s municipal pension fund during his lifetime, according to a Tribune/WGN-TV analysis based on the fund’s actuarial assumptions. And because the state’s pension laws are so broken, he didn’t have to contribute enough to the city pension fund to cover the costs, which means taxpayers will make up the shortfall.


“It’s egregious. I haven’t seen this anywhere else in the country,” said Keith Brainard, research director of the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, when he heard about Villanova’s deal. “The spirit of a pension plan is insurance against poverty. It’s not to become wealthy.”


In order to receive an inflated city pension, state law says labor leaders can’t be part of any pension plan from their union. Yet Villanova is one of four officials from Local 134 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers who received city pensions based on their union salaries even though they never gave up their union pensions.


Terrance Stefanski, executive director of the Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago, conceded that the union leaders violated state law by participating in both the city and union pension funds at the same time. But he said the law is confusing and the city pension fund isn’t in a position to determine whether the labor leaders knowingly submitted false information, which would be a felony.


“We are not an investigative agency,” he said.


Stefanski said the city still considered Villanova to be on a leave of absence, and therefore he qualified to receive the pension perk.


Villanova declined to be interviewed. Through attorney Patrick Deady, Villanova said he followed the city pension fund’s directions and that he qualified for his city pension because he taught union apprenticeship classes while in school.


Now president of the Chicago and Cook County Building and Construction Trades Council, Villanova helped negotiate every current collective bargaining agreement between Chicago and the 33 trade unions that do business with the city.


With the Emanuel administration struggling to fill a $635 million budget hole, Villanova sits at the bargaining table and speaks on behalf of 8,000 city tradesmen who face layoffs, furlough days and reduced benefits, in no small part because of the city’s rising pension costs.


Today, the municipal pension fund is racing toward insolvency, with barely half of the assets needed to cover its liabilities. That means city workers face threats not only to their current job security but also to their future retirement security.


The average city retiree receives a pension of about $28,000 a year, roughly a quarter of what Villanova is drawing from the same fund.


Meanwhile, about $200,000 in rank-and-file dues that were paid into a union pension fund for Villanova have yet to be returned to the union. Documents show that Villanova agreed in writing last year to “disclaim” the pension money — but left the door open to taking it back if the rules change.


Double-dipping


Villanova’s six-figure city pension is far better than that offered by his former union, Local 134.


The local’s pension plan would have provided Villanova with 45 percent of his average salary during his highest-paid five years of work. He couldn’t retire until he turned 65, however, without forfeiting a significant chunk of his union pension.


Under rules governing the city pension plan, on the other hand, Villanova could retire from his old city job at 56 with 70 percent of his average union salary during the prior four years; that average turned out to be $158,000. What’s more, he could keep his high-paying union position.


To get that deal, Villanova had to make $344,000 in contributions to the plan as if he had been a city employee all along. He also had to submit an application certifying that he met all the criteria for the city pension, including that he wasn’t part of a union pension plan.


In November 2008, Villanova signed an application that included this line: “I also understand that I am allowed to make these contributions as long as I do not receive credit in any pension plan established by such local labor organization.”


In addition to his signed application, Villanova submitted a letter from a trustee of Local 134′s pension plan that said Villanova had waived his union pension.


“We are in receipt of a letter from Mr. Villanova requesting that his Local 134 pension credits cease immediately. The Local 134 Executive Board will act upon his request accordingly,” Peter Cerf, the pension fund’s executive board secretary, wrote in September 2007.


Frank O’Lone, secretary-treasurer of the trades council, also wrote a letter on Villanova’s behalf, in October 2008. “Thomas Villanova will not receive any pension credits in the Building Trades Council Pension Plan for the period starting 3/5/2004 to present,” the letter read.


Yet documents submitted by the union pension fund to the U.S. Department of Labor show that money set aside for Villanova remained in the fund.


When Villanova became president of the trades council in 2004, Local 134 amended its pension plan to allow certain employees of the council to be participants. The Tribune and WGN-TV were able to identify contributions the trades council made on Villanova’s behalf because he was one of only two council employees who were part of Local 134′s plan and the only one who had worked long enough to be vested.


Records submitted by the union pension plan show that, in all, about $200,000 in member dues from the trades council went toward a union pension for Villanova. He also received a decade’s worth of contributions from Local 134 members before becoming president of the trades council. But it’s impossible to know the total from publicly available documents.


Officials from Local 134 and the trades council declined to comment on Villanova’s pensions.


The municipal pension fund discovered in September 2010 that Villanova was not complying with state law by participating in both funds. City pension officials could have pursued criminal charges against him if they thought he had knowingly made false statements on his pension application, which is a felony.


Municipal pension fund officials had Villanova sign an affidavit admitting that he was participating in both plans at the same time and promising to “disclaim” union contributions that overlap with his city pension. But the money is staying in the fund in case municipal pension fund requirements “are reversed pursuant to action of the (fund’s) trustees or litigation by similarly situated participants.”


That means Villanova wasn’t required to return union members’ money that went to his union pension, and eventually he still could get access to it.


‘It does look bad’


Villanova’s hefty municipal pension depended, in large part, on how he described his leave of absence from the city in his pension application.


“I was an employee with the City of Chicago or Board of Education,” his signed application states, “and was granted a leave of absence to work as an employee of the labor organization named below.” The organization he wrote in was Local 134.


Yet city records show that Villanova didn’t take a leave of absence to work for Local 134. He took a leave to attend Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills. While there, he earned roughly $41,000 a year working for the college, state records show.


Under city work rules, employees can receive various types of leaves, including disability, maternity, military, personal and union. City workers must apply for a leave of absence and in many cases must renew those requests after a certain time period has elapsed.


Villanova applied for his leave of absence on Oct. 25, 1989, according to city employment records. In the section of the form marked “Reason for Request,” he wrote: “Return to school for advanced courses.”


He renewed his leave every three months, filing seven requests in all. On each, he wrote that he was taking a leave to go back to school. All of the forms he signed say that if he failed to report back to his city post within five days after his leave of absence expired, he would resign his position with the city.


Villanova’s last leave of absence request expired on July 24, 1991. State records show that he continued working full time for the state community college until November 1992. The municipal pension fund’s own records show that he didn’t start at Local 134 until January 1993, a year and a half after he had effectively resigned his city job.


Yet when Villanova applied for a city pension in November 2008, the municipal pension fund approved an amount based on his union salary — even though he did not take a leave of absence to work for a union and had allowed the leave he did take to expire 17 years earlier.


The fund’s board of trustees, composed of union leaders and city officials, signed off on Villanova’s $108,000-a-year pension in February 2009, backdating the start of his benefits to November 2008.


“It does look bad,” said city Treasurer Stephanie Neely, a trustee of the city pension fund. “But we on the pension board didn’t do anything wrong. We did everything we could do, and that’s all I can somewhat control.”


As part of the justification for awarding him the higher city pension, the municipal pension fund provided the Tribune and WGN-TV with a 2008 letter written by then-Deputy Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Vanessa Quail on Villanova’s behalf.


“Mr. Villanova’s current status with the Department of Streets and Sanitation is that we regard him on a personal leave of absence,” she wrote. “While we have not located any leave of absence papers of Mr. Villanova’s subsequent to April of 1991, that is not inconsistent with his retaining his status.”


The reason he was able to maintain his leave of absence: No one at the city department entered a code in its computer system showing that Villanova had given up his post. According to Stefanski, the technicality means Villanova qualifies for a city pension based on his union salary.


Thanks to his work at Moraine Valley, Villanova’s city pension is one of two public pensions he is currently receiving.


Villanova gets another $12,000 a year from the State University Retirement System of Illinois, based on his work for the community college. Although he held that job for only three years, state law allows him to receive reciprocal pension benefits from SURS when he retired from the city.


That pension is also based on his union salary, not the $41,000 he made working for the community college.


In all, Villanova takes home about $120,000 a year from taxpayer-supported pension systems, an amount that will grow by 3 percent every year as long as he lives.

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New Audit Shows Illegal Aliens Got Billions From IRS Last Year

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Washington Post:


The Internal Revenue Service allowed undocumented workers to collect $4.2 billion in refundable tax credits last year, a new audit says, almost quadruple the sum five years ago.


Although undocumented workers are not eligible for federal benefits, the report released Thursday by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration concludes that federal law is ambiguous on whether these workers qualify for a tax break based on earned income called the additional child tax credit.


Taxpayers can claim this credit to reduce what they owe in taxes, often getting refunds from the government. The vagueness of federal law may have contributed to the $4.2 billion in credits, the report said.


The IRS said it lacks the authority to disallow the claims.


Wage earners who do not have Social Security numbers and are not authorized to work in the United States can use what the IRS calls individual taxpayer identification numbers. Often these result in fraudulent claims on tax returns, auditors found.


Their data showed that 72 percent of returns filed with taxpayer identification numbers claimed the child tax credit.


The audit recommended that the IRS seek clarification on the law and check the immigration status of filers with taxpayer indentificaion numbers.

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Paul Ryan: I’d like to see Chris Christie run in 2012

In an interview with CNN Thursday, Republican and tea party favorite Rep. Paul Ryan said he had no regrets in his decision to stay out of the presidential race, but that he’d like to see his friend, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, run. “It is not too late” for Christie to jump into the race, Ryan said.


Ryan confirmed he and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who also has repeatedly said he will not seek the Republican nomination, spoke this summer about the presidential sweepstakes.


“We did talk a couple of times. We know each other, and we have talked a little bit over the phone just about the state of the country.” He declined to talk details but said he would like to see Christie run.


Sigh. You and so many others, Congressman.



But while Ryan has shut the door on a presidential bid in 2012, he seems considerably more open to the possibility of filling the No. 2 slot on the GOP’s ticket in 2012.


“It is something that is out of my control. It is somebody else’s decision, and right now I have decided whether it is Senate or president I think I can make a big difference for people in Wisconsin, for my kids, for my fellow countrymen as chairman of the House Budget Committee which has a big role in all of this.


Here’s the vid:


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Dick Cheney Talks Thick Skin And Sarah Palin: Wants More Explanation As To Why She Resigned

When asked by Laura Ingraham for examples of qualities “that are required, not constitutionally, but necessary” for the job of vice president, Cheney answered:


Thick skin. You need the capacity to turn on the tube every night and watch the late night comedians make you the punch line, tell a lot of jokes, it goes with the turf and I’m not above telling a few of those stories myself. But the fact of the matter is you really do need to have the capacity to do what you think is right, to offer the advice you think the president of the country needs, you have to remember you are not in charge of anything, you don’t run anything as Vice President. And you do need to have thick skin, you’ll be subject to a lot of criticism, some of it funny, some of it not so funny.


Ingraham immediately followed up by asking Cheney about his thoughts on Palin. Does he think she was well-suited for the position?:


Well, I’ve never gotten around the question of her having left the governorship of Alaska midterm. I’ve never heard that adequately explained so that I could understand why, how she decided in her first term to step down and still be–I’d like to know more about that


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Rasmussen: Obama’s Monthly Approval Index Hits All-Time Low

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Rasmussen:


When tracking President Obama’s job approval on a daily basis, people sometimes get so caught up in the day-to-day fluctuations that they miss the bigger picture. To look at the longer-term trends, Rasmussen Reports compiles the numbers on a full-month basis, and the results can be seen in the graphics below.


In August, the number who Strongly Approve of Obama’s job performance was at 21%. That’s down three points from 24% in July and the lowest level measured during Obama’s entire presidency. The previous low was 23% reached in both April and June of this year.


Since July 2009, the number who Strongly Approved of the president’s performance has now ranged from a low of 21% to a high of 31%. By comparison, 43% Strongly Approved of Obama’s performance in January 2009.


The number of voters who Strongly Disapprove of the president’s performance increased a point from July to 42% in August. The number of voters who Strongly Disapproved has ranged from 37% to 44% since July 2009.

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Ronald Reagan’s Friend Lesley Stahl Favorably Compares Michele Bachmann To Him

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In A Victory For Cantor And America, Re-Election-Panicked Obama Forces Cass Sunstein To Cancel Planned EPA Emissions Regulation, Dealing Huge Blow To Church Of Global Warming

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Cass Sunstein


The Hill:


The White House announced Friday that it is shelving a major planned Environmental Protection Agency regulation that would have tightened smog standards, dealing a huge blow to environmentalists that had pushed the Obama administration to resist industry pressure to abandon the regulation.


In a statement, President Obama said that the rule is being shelved because he is wary of imposing regulatory burdens during the economic recovery.


The decision follows immense pressure from industry groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, that had lobbied hard against the EPA decision to tighten Bush-era ozone standards.


In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the top regulatory official for the administration said Obama “does not support finalizing the [smog] rule at this time.”


“The president has instructed me to return this rule to you for reconsideration,” Cass Sunstein, the director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said in the letter.


The White House faced pressure from Republicans to abandon the smog standards. The rule was among 10 regulations that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) had singled out for elimination in a recent memo laying out the GOP’s fall jobs campaign.


“This effective ban or restriction on construction and industrial growth for much of America is possibly the most harmful of all the currently anticipated Obama Administration regulations,” Cantor said in the memo.


The office of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called the withdrawal of the rule “a good first step” toward reducing regulatory burdens on businesses, but said there is more to be done.


“This is certainly a good first step, and we’re glad that the White House responded to the Speaker’s letter and recognized the job-killing impact of this particular regulation. But it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to stopping Washington Democrats’ agenda of tax hikes, more government ‘stimulus’ spending, and increased regulations — which are all making it harder to create more American jobs,” spokesman Michael Steel said.


“#GOP jobs push working,” a triumphant Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for Cantor, said Friday in a tweet after the withdrawal of the smog rule was announced.


At the Speaker’s request, Obama on Tuesday sent Boehner a list of seven regulations that will cost $1 billion or more to implement; the ozone rule was by far the costliest, at $19 billion to $90 billion.


“I was startled to learn that the EPA estimates that at least one of its proposed rules will cost our economy as much as $90 billion per year,” Boehner said of the smog rule in a letter to Obama on Aug. 26.


But EPA officials and environmentalists who pushed to tighten the smog standards had cited huge public health benefits.


Advocates call tougher standards rules vital to cutting pollution that aggravates respiratory problems like asthma and lung disease, damages vegetation and has other impacts.


League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski slammed the decision as a capitulation.


“The Obama administration is caving to big polluters at the expense of protecting the air we breathe. This is a huge win for corporate polluters and huge loss for public health.”


Frank O’Donnell, head of the environmental group Clean Air Watch, called the decision “political cowardice” in an email Friday.


While EPA estimated that the strictest standard in the range under consideration — 60 parts per billion — would cost as much as $90 billion annually by 2020, the same analysis said this would bring $100 billion in annual benefits per year by 2020.


Obama praised the EPA’s work in Friday’s announcement, nothing that the agency has “taken some of the strongest actions since the enactment of the Clean Air Act four decades ago to protect our environment and the health of our families from air pollution.”


But the president said he is committed to reducing regulatory uncertainty for businesses, and cited an upcoming review of the ozone rule in 2013 as reason to delay it.


“Ultimately, I did not support asking state and local governments to begin implementing a new standard that will soon be reconsidered,” Obama said.


The president stressed that his commitment to protecting public health is “unwavering” and vowed that the White House will continue to resist GOP-led efforts to curtail the EPA’s authority.


“I will continue to stand with the hardworking men and women at the EPA as they strive every day to hold polluters accountable and protect our families from harmful pollution,” Obama said.


Industry groups that had lobbied the White House to scuttle the rule applauded the decision.


“The President’s decision is good news for the economy and Americans looking for work. EPA’s proposal would have prevented the very job creation that President Obama has identified as his top priority,” said American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard in a statement.

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Government gone wild: August‘s ’Nanny of the Month’ is…

Reason.tv has once again examined overreaching regulations from across the country — from banning pet pigs in Missouri to unlawful ice cream in Illinois. But the “Nanny of the Month” award for August 2011 is… payback.


Starting this month, more than 500 Michigan restaurant and bar owners will begin banning state lawmakers from their establishments in retribution for the state-approved smoking ban, passed in 2010:


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Cheney Credits Tea Party With Giving GOP “Some Spine”

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CNBC:


The Tea Party had a significant impact on putting “some spine” into the backs of Congressional Republicans during the debt ceiling debate, former Vice President Dick Cheney told Larry Kudlow Wednesday.


The threat to not raise the debt ceiling was controversial, he said, but it was effectively used to force the Obama administration to sign onto some significant reduction measures.


Republicans advocate bringing the deficit under control by reducing spending and what they see as excessive government programs, while Democrats advocate some spending cuts along with revenue increase in the form of higher taxes.


“I don’t think we would have gotten as far as we have without them sort of holding the feet to the fire of members of Congress,” Cheney said.

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