Recently in News Category
I've seen at least three stories in the past two days about low morale at important government agencies. Obviously this isn't all President Obama's fault, but in this day and age where does the buck stop anyway?
Here's a bit about low morale at the Secret Service:
The Secret Service has decided to remove four of its most senior officials while a fifth has decided to retire, the biggest management shake-up at the troubled agency since its director resigned in October after a string of security lapses, according to people familiar with internal discussions. ...
A scathing report by a DHS-appointed panel in December concluded that the agency was suffering from low morale among the rank-and-file and was "starved for leadership."
Here's some humiliating testimony from IRS Commissioner John Koskinen who admits that IRS employees have low morale because they're being required to obey the law.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen testified Wednesday that the ongoing investigations by Congress into the IRS targeting scandal are having the effect of lowering morale at the tax-collection agency.
Koskinen testified at a House subcommittee on Wednesday, and was asked by a Democrat how IRS workers were holding up under all the pressure from House Republicans seeking emails and other documents. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) said a top IRS lawyer told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week that pressure to respond to Congress's inquiries is putting a strain on workers, and Koskinen agreed.
"When they... are subject to depositions and recorded interviews, it sends -- these are all career people -- it has a deleterious effect on morale because they thought they were actually doing what they were asked to do," Koskinen said.
"Morale in the military is swiftly sinking, with the troops losing both their sense of mission and their faith that their superiors, political leaders - and the nation - still have their best interest at heart," said the Military Times. "Troops say morale has sharply declined over the last five years, and most of those in uniform today believe their quality of life will only get worse."
For example, according to the Military Times survey, in 2009, 91 percent of active-duty service members said their overall quality of life was good or excellent. In 2014, that percentage declined significantly to 56 percent.
"When nearly every category surveyed reveals a significant dip from 2009 to today, we must all take notice and ask, why is morale so low and what can we do to fix it?" said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in response to the Military Times survey. McCain added that it "requires immediate attention and action" by the White House, Pentagon and Congress.
And finally, a story about generally low morale across the Obama administration.
How bad is federal employee morale?
The good news tells the story.
In the 2014 government-wide survey of federal employees, positive responses dropped for 35 questions and increased for just 10 compared with 2013.
As bad as that is, it's a marked improvement compared with the three-year trend in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. From 2011 to 2014, positive responses dropped on 64 questions and increased for none.
Republicans managed to avoid any embarrassing gaffes this year and finally won control of Congress from a faltering Democratic Party. It's common for midterm elections in a president's second term to go against his party, and this election was no exception. The Democrats were thoroughly repudiated by voters, in a sign that President Obama has done little to lift up his party despite his two strong presidential wins.
Riding a powerful wave of voter discontent, resurgent Republicans captured control of the Senate and tightened their grip on the House Tuesday night in elections certain to complicate President Barack Obama's final two years in office.
Republicans also did well in governorships across the country, though the final tally isn't known yet.
There were 36 gubernatorial elections on the ballot, and several incumbents struggled against challengers. Tom Wolf captured the Pennsylvania statehouse for the Democrats, defeating Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn lost in Illinois, Obama's home state. Republican Larry Hogan scored one of the night's biggest upsets, in Maryland.
Republican Charlie Baker was elected governor of Massachusetts. Maine's blunt-speaking Republican governor, Paul LePage, won a second term after a three-way race that focused on whether he was a divisive presence in state government.
So now the real question is: can the Republicans govern? We know that the Democrats were incompetent and more obsessed with protecting Obama's image than running the country. Hopefully the Republicans will focus their energy on effective governance and not on merely embarrassing the President.
Here are a few things to look for in the coming weeks and months:
- How do the demographics of the vote break down? Did Republicans make any gains with women, blacks, or Hispanics?
- Will Obama nominate an attorney general during the lame duck session?
- Will Obama follow through on his immigration agenda?
- Will any liberal Supreme Court justices resign so that Obama can make an appointment during the lame duck session?
- Will the Republicans force Democrats to vote on a straight repeal of Obamacare?
- Will the Republicans force Obama to veto a law authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline?
- Will we ever get to the bottom of the IRS abuse from 2012? Or Benghazi? Or Fast and Furious? Or any of the other scandals the Senate Democrats helped bury?
- Will the Republicans waste their governing opportunity chasing scandals that no one cares about anymore?
Finally, the AP story notes that "the elections' $4 billion price tag spending was unprecedented for a non-presidential year", but is that really a lot of money to spend disputing the governing direction of the most powerful nation on the planet? Coca Cola's marketing budget exceeded $4 billion in 2011.
Ebola experts agree that we don't know enough about the virus to guarantee that it only spreads via close contact with bodily fluids and that asymptomatic carriers are non-infectious.
Dr. Philip K. Russell, a virologist who oversaw Ebola research while heading the U.S. Army's Medical Research and Development Command, and who later led the government's massive stockpiling of smallpox vaccine after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, also said much was still to be learned. "Being dogmatic is, I think, ill-advised, because there are too many unknowns here." ...
"I see the reasons to dampen down public fears," Russell said. "But scientifically, we're in the middle of the first experiment of multiple, serial passages of Ebola virus in man.... God knows what this virus is going to look like. I don't." ...
Skinner of the CDC, who cited the Peters-led study as the most extensive of Ebola's transmissibility, said that while the evidence "is really overwhelming" that people are most at risk when they touch either those who are sick or such a person's vomit, blood or diarrhea, "we can never say never" about spread through close-range coughing or sneezing.
In my opinion, we need to be much more aggressive in isolating exposed people. We obviously need to care for them as well as we can, but we can't let our compassion put the whole population at risk. Near the apartment complexes where the Dallas patient lived government officials are worrying more about "civil rights" than about containing the epidemic.
Vickery Meadow, a crush of low-income apartment complexes just a short drive from some of Dallas's toniest neighborhoods, appeared calm on Tuesday. Women in traditional Muslim head coverings, mothers carrying children and workers headed to the bus stop walked along the road next to The Ivy apartments, where Duncan had stayed.
But some tensions have surfaced.
Dallas City Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates said three residents of Vickery Meadow reported that their employers sent them away from work out of fear that they could be carrying the virus. Gates said Tuesday that she had contacted a lawyer to help those men.
The city has also enlisted doctors to explain Ebola to neighborhood residents and assure them that they are safe, Gates said. Vickery Meadow is home to thousands of immigrants from Afghanistan to Mexico, many of whom don't speak English.
But are they safe? That's not clear at all. I think our leaders and citizens should be a little less starry-eyed and a little more paranoid.
Officials are urging parents to keep sending their kids to school even after acknowledging that the Dallas Ebola patient had contact with five kids who attend four different schools. But don't worry, they're "pretty confident"!
"Right now, the base number is 18 people, and that could increase," he said. Thompson said more details are expected by Thursday afternoon. The number includes five students at four schools, Dallas school district Superintendent Mike Miles said. ...
He urged parents to keep their children in school, but some were wary. ...
"Since none of the students had symptoms, I'm pretty confident that none of the kids were exposed," Miles said.
The superintendent is "pretty confident" that your kid won't get Ebola at school. Any parent who relies on that is a fool. I'll believe it when I see the superintendent and President Obama playing with the exposed kids. It's far better for your kid to miss a few weeks or a month of school than to risk exposure to Ebola.
Ebola virus in Dallas. At what point will you decide to lock yourself in the house to avoid infection? What news could trigger your decision to keep your kids home from school?
Nigeria had one Ebola-infected man fly into an airport and ended up with almost 1,000 infections before containing the virus.
Since the first patient -- a dying Liberian-American -- flew into Lagos, Nigeria's largest city, on July 20, the disease spread to 20 other people in two cities, who had contact with nearly 900 others.
Every known patient has now died or recovered, and the cure rate -- 60 percent -- was unusually high for an African outbreak.
No reason to think there would be far fewer infections in the United States.
At least 1,400 children were subjected to appalling sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013, a report has found.
Children as young as 11 were raped by multiple perpetrators, abducted, trafficked to other cities in England, beaten and intimidated, it said. ...
Professor Alexis Jay, who wrote the latest report, said there had been "blatant" collective failures by the council's leadership, senior managers had "underplayed" the scale of the problem and South Yorkshire Police had failed to prioritise the issue.
Prof Jay said: "No-one knows the true scale of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham over the years. Our conservative estimate is that approximately 1,400 children were sexually exploited over the full inquiry period, from 1997 to 2013."
Revealing details of the inquiry's findings, Prof Jay said: "It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that child victims suffered."
The inquiry team found examples of "children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone".
It's worth pointing out that this kind of systemic abuse simply could not happen in America thanks to the Second Amendment. Some parents in Rotherham attempted to protect their daughters, but thanks to the UK's lack of basic civil rights the parents were unarmed while the rapists were not. The people of the UK should certainly investigate how their public officials failed them so thoroughly, but they should also consider this: if their government hadn't disarmed law-abiding citizens their daughters wouldn't be at the mercy of rapists and bureaucrats.
The UN is now saying that the Ebola outbreak could hit 20,000 people, but if it hits that many how could it possibly hit so few?
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is accelerating and could grow six times larger to infect as many as 20,000 people, the World Health Organization said Thursday. The U.N. health agency unveiled a new road map for containing the virus, and scientists are fast-tracking efforts to find a treatment or vaccine.
Ebola has menaced Africa for 40 years, but previously struck in remote villages and was contained fairly quickly. This time, it has spread to major cities in four countries, provoking unrest as whole neighborhoods and towns have been sealed to the outside.
Absent a vaccine (which is being worked on) I don't see how a highly contagious virus could be contained among 20,000 people. With that large a population of infected people the security perimeter just seems too big.
Furthermore, many of the infected Africans are Muslim, and the Hajj is in October this year. If there are thousands of known infections -- and many more unknown -- how likely is it that Ebola won't be carried to Mecca? The Hajj could very well be an inflection point for the outbreak, allowing Ebola to spread rapidly around the world.
This probably won't be a surprise to readers of this blog, but crime rates in Illinois have been plunging since the state began issuing permits to carry concealed weapons.
Since Illinois started granting concealed carry permits this year, the number of robberies that have led to arrests in Chicago has declined 20 percent from last year, according to police department statistics. Reports of burglary and motor vehicle theft are down 20 percent and 26 percent, respectively. In the first quarter, the city's homicide rate was at a 56-year low.
"Abe Lincoln may have freed all men, but Sam Colt made them equal."
Two Ferguson-related stories this morning. First up, the officer who shot Michael Brown was beaten by Brown before the shooting.
Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Mo., police officer whose fatal shooting of Michael Brown touched off more than a week of demonstrations, suffered severe facial injuries, including an orbital (eye socket) fracture, and was nearly beaten unconscious by Brown moments before firing his gun, a source close to the department's top brass told FoxNews.com.
"The Assistant (Police) Chief took him to the hospital, his face all swollen on one side," said the insider. "He was beaten very severely."
Second, it looks like Ferguson authorities routinely hassle citizens for minor infringements.
You don't get $321 in fines and fees and 3 warrants per household from an about-average crime rate. You get numbers like this from bullshit arrests for jaywalking and constant "low level harassment involving traffic stops, court appearances, high fines, and the threat of jail for failure to pay."
As usual, the situation is more complex than it first appears.
It seems like it will be impossible to sell a home or business in Ferguson for a decade or more. The city has become a national disgrace thanks to the shooting, the riots, the militarized police response, and the unending media coverage. Who in their right mind would move in to the city?
Cpl. Kyle Carpenter has been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in Afghanistan. My family, and our whole country, are grateful and humbled by the service and sacrifice of Cpl. Carpenter and his fellows who give so much on our behalf.
The President of the United States, in the name of the Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Lance Corporal William Kyle Carpenter, United States Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as an automatic rifleman with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, Regimental Combat Team One, 1st Marine Division (Forward), 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), in Helmand Province, Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom on 21 November, 2010.
Lance Corporal Carpenter was a member of a platoon-sized coalition force comprised of two reinforced Marine rifle squads, partnered with an Afghan National Army squad. The platoon had established Patrol Base Dakota two days earlier in a small village in the Marja District in order to disrupt enemy activity and provide security for the local Afghan population.
Lance Corporal Carpenter and a fellow Marine were manning a rooftop security position on the perimeter of Patrol Base Dakota when the enemy initiated a daylight attack with hand grenades, one of which landed inside their sandbagged position. Without hesitation and with complete disregard for his own safety, Lance Corporal Carpenter moved towards the grenade in an attempt to shield his fellow Marine from the deadly blast. When the grenade detonated, his body absorbed the brunt of the blast, severely wounding him but saving the life of his fellow Marine.
By his undaunted courage, bold fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of almost certain death, Lance Corporal Carpenter reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
So all of Lois Lerner's emails from 2009-2011 were lost when her hard drive crashed, and now that hard drive has been destroyed. Anyone with any familiarity with enterprise IT systems will agree that this is a complete joke. Emails are easily, routinely backed up, and losing a client hard drive will have absolutely no impact on the availability of the backup sets.
I don't need to know the ins and outs of the IRS IT infrastructure to know that if Lerner's emails aren't available or don't exist it's because they were intentionally destroyed. To whose benefit?
This charade is a joke that shouldn't fool anyone. We know that the dog didn't eat your homework.
This is the first I've heard of it, but Dan Gainor claims that Warren Buffett has given over a billion dollars to pro-abortion groups since 2001. I'd like to learn more, maybe some reporter will investigate the details.
Basically, an attacker can grab 64K of memory from a server. The attack leaves no trace, and can be done multiple times to grab a different random 64K of memory. This means that anything in memory -- SSL private keys, user keys, anything -- is vulnerable. And you have to assume that it is all compromised. All of it.
"Catastrophic" is the right word. On the scale of 1 to 10, this is an 11.
Half a million sites are vulnerable, including my own. Test your vulnerability here.
The bug has been patched. After you patch your systems, you have to get a new public/private key pair, update your SSL certificate, and then change every password that could potentially be affected.
At this point, the probability is close to one that every target has had its private keys extracted by multiple intelligence agencies. The real question is whether or not someone deliberately inserted this bug into OpenSSL, and has had two years of unfettered access to everything. My guess is accident, but I have no proof.
I strongly recommend creating a new unique password for each of your accounts. Yes, this is a headache, but LastPass will make it a lot easier.
This story by Dan Balz and Scott Clement about some midterm election poll results makes several errors in discussing some results as causes rather than effects. I believe this confusion of cause and effect is a result of the tendency for political reporters to view elections as sporting events, but a historical voting trend is very different from a batting average.
The first example is in the second paragraph:
Midterm elections generally favor the party that does not hold the White House, which gives the GOP a head start this year.
It is true that the party that doesn't hold the White House generally does better in midterm elections, especially if the President is in his second term. However, this historical fact doesn't "give the GOP a head start". The GOP's projected advantage lines up with this historical trend, but isn't caused by it. Both the historical trend and the GOP's projected advantage in 2014 are effects with common causes: inevitable dissatisfaction with whoever has been running the country recently.
In the next example, I will bold the confusion:
The poll shows broad dissatisfaction with Washington politicians. Just 22 percent say they are inclined to reelect their representatives in Congress. Almost seven in 10 Americans (68 percent) say they are inclined to look around for someone new this fall, the highest percentage recorded in a Post-ABC poll.
That does not mean the fall elections will mean defeat for significant numbers of House members, given the high reelection rates for incumbents and the polarized voting patterns of recent years.
As in the first example, high reelection rates for incumbents is a historical trend that is likely to continue in 2014, but the trend doesn't cause itself. The trend is an effect of "polarized voting patterns" as well as the human tendency to stick with "the devil you know".
With President Obama and Congress at loggerheads on major issues and little prospect for legislative action on major initiatives, the president's approval ratings have shown little change since earlier this year.
Here, it's not entirely clear if the authors are implying a cause-and-effect, or which way it's going. By my observation, it appears that the more President Obama "achieves" the less popular he becomes. That lowered popularity is partly the cause of the lack of legislative action, not the effect of it. If Obama were widely popular, he would have more success pressuring Congress.
All but about two-dozen House districts are occupied by someone from the same party as the presidential candidate who carried the district in 2012, which makes it harder for the opposing party to pick them off.
The fact that all but two-dozen House districts voted for a Presidential candidate of the same party as the Representative they elected doesn't "make" it harder to pick the Representative off. That the prior election and the upcoming election are likely to have similar outcomes is an effect of the voting preferences of the district.
Historical voting patterns are not like batting averages, and trends do not self-perpetuate in a causal fashion. Voting instances are reflections of underlying beliefs at a point in time.
So net neutrality is over, at least for now. What is net neutrality anyway? It's simple to explain, but the implications are murky. Short explanation: net neutrality means that your internet service provider has to treat all your internet data the same. ISPs can't throttle some kinds of data, or charge you extra for other data, or block data from competitors.
On the surface net neutrality sounds good, right? However, it also prevents ISPs from experimenting with new business models and pricing structures. For example, at peak times Netflix accounts for something like 30% of internet traffic in America. Netflix makes a ton of money from this, but they don't pay anything for the bandwidth. ISP subscribers pay for all that capacity as a part of their monthly service fees. This is fine if you use Netflix, but if you don't (as I don't) then you're paying for someone else's Netflix bandwidth. Why shouldn't Netflix kick in some money to pay for the bandwidth their subscribers are using?
Ok, so now you're convinced that net neutrality is bad! Those big internet content companies should pay for the bandwidth they use! Right?
Well, what happens when your ISP signs a contract with Netflix? Netflix pays some money to your ISP to get super-fast data to your livingroom during peak TV-watching hours, and maybe your internet bill goes down. However, Amazon doesn't want to pay for access, or maybe they're just outbid by Netflix. So if you prefer Amazon Prime's movie selection to Netflix, you either can't get it at all or your bandwidth is throttled. Lame! (Not to mention start-up companies that won't be able to afford to buy access.)
It's not really clear if net neutrality is all-good, but the internet has managed to thrive with the philosophy in place. I can understand some theoretical advantages to removing net neutrality, but considering how good things have been for the past 20 years I'm not willing to take the risk.
Here's an Orwellian use of the word "demand". Does Sebelius remember that the law requires people to buy this product? The "demand" is entirely on the government side.
"The numbers show that there is a very strong national demand for affordable healthcare made possible by the Affordable Care Act," said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
79% of Obamacare enrollees are received subsidies from taxpayers. I hope that's not sustainable.
Most of the people who bought coverage on the exchanges this fall got subsidies to help them afford the premiums. That's in contrast to the first month of the program, when less than one-third of buyers were subsidized. People earning up to four times the poverty rate--as much as $96,000 a year for a family of four--can get help buying coverage.
It should be obvious that the proposal to erect a statue of Satan for the Oklahoma Capitol isn't really about Satan.
I'll venture a guess and say that 99% of "Satanists" don't believe in Satan. The purpose here isn't to honor a real set of beliefs but simply to mock Christians. This is pretty pathetic, because American Christians are generally peaceable and tolerant. If the Satanists really want to be edgy they should try this in any other the capitol in any other country in the world and see what happens.
At the risk of inciting mockery from my intellectual superiors, Satan is very real and is actively working to subvert and destroy humanity. The Bible describes him this way:
1 Peter 5:8 "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."
I don't believe it's worthwhile to spend a lot of time talking about Satan. He will ultimately be defeated and is God's to deal with.
"The monument has been designed to reflect the views of Satanists in Oklahoma City and beyond," said Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for the group, in a statement reported by the AP. "The statue will also have a functional purpose as a chair where people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation."
The group is based in New York, but says it's not fair for Oklahoma lawmakers to let a Ten Commandments statue stand at the building, without also allowing monuments that reflect other spiritual beliefs, The Associated Press reported. The Ten Commandments statue was privately funded. The American Civil Liberties Union sued to have it removed shortly after it was place, AP reported.
And the Satanic Temple isn't the only group seeking equal access to the site.
The AP reported that a Hindu head in Nevada wants to put a monument at the Capitol, along with an animal rights group and the -- satirical -- Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. In response, the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission has put a moratorium on deciding new requests.
A great sign for liberty: more Illinoisans want guns than want Obamacare. An armed citizen is a free citizen.
Illinois State Police spokeswoman Monique Bond said that number is included in Sunday's total of more than 11,000 people who have signed up because of an early application process that began December 18 and was open to only firearm instructors. Officials told the Sun-Times they expect 350,000 to 400,000 people (about 1,000 per day) will sign up for conceal carry firearm permits this year. ...
In contrast, the number of Illinois residents going to healthcare.gov over a two-month period and enrolling in Obamacare is currently on a slower pace than those looking to become conceal carry permit holders. Only 7,043 Illinoisans were enrolled in Obamacare plans two months after the website's launch, the Chicago Tribune reported in December.
Additionally, reports say that in the same month, Illinois officials told 30,000 residents who applied at healthcare.gov to re-do their applications, as applicants were denied private coverage and the government mistakenly referred them to Medicaid. The issue has yet to be resolved.
I hope you and yours are having an awesome 2014 already. Blogging has been light, but has anyone been reading now anyway? It's nice to take some time away from the computer.