Archive for September, 2013

They’re Lying to You: Appropriations and “Shutdown” Lies

September 30, 2013

From The New American by Thomas R. Eddlem, September 29, 2013

As Democrats and Republicans squabble over federal funding and a partial shutdown of the federal government looms, many in the press are mindlessly parroting the Democratic Party’s talking points about the shutdown. But what’s the reality? Following are three false claims regarding the looming shutdown, and why they are lies.

False claim #1: Republicans are shutting down the government.

“So far, the Republicans in the House of Representatives have refused to move forward…. The House Republicans are so concerned with appeasing the tea party that they’ve threatened a government shutdown or worse unless I gut or repeal the Affordable Care Act.”

— President Barack Obama, press conference, September 27

Why it’s a lie: The House Republicans have twice passed bills to fund nearly all the functions of the federal government through December 15. Congress must fund appropriations for nearly all federal programs each year by the time the fiscal year begins on October 1, or the programs will face shutdown. But the president and Democratic Senate have threatened to veto the House-approved spending unless the House passes a bill that also includes funding for ObamaCare. The White House and Senate Democrats do not object to any spending that is in the House bill; they are only objecting to funding that’s not in the bill. The reality is that President Obama is holding the federal government — and federal employees’ paychecks — hostage in order to extort more funding from the House.

False claim #2: Republicans must fund ObamaCare because it’s the law.

“That’s not really the American form of government. You [Host David Gregory] outlined the American form of government. The test by which we submit any new legislation and it’s submitted, the President signs it, and it’s reviewed by the courts. It’s the law.”

— Chris Matthews, on Republican strategy to defund ObamaCare, on Meet the Press, September 29

Why it’s a lie: While it is true that Congress enacted ObamaCare in 2010, the original bill contained zero funding. The original ObamaCare law was not self-funded, and funding of ObamaCare is what’s at issue in Washington today. ObamaCare requires new appropriations spending each year, as Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution requires that “No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.” Generally, this means annual spending bills passed by Congress, though in some rare instances Congress passes spending for more than a year.

The Congress has complete discretion about whether to fund — or not fund — the programs it sets up under law, and Congress defunds laws all the time — such as pork barrel purchases for the military weapons systems that are never funded. In fact, Congress is doing precisely the same thing right now under the sequester law, to the utter silence of Democratic Party mouthpieces like Chris Matthews. And no one argues that these are inappropriate uses of Congress’ discretion of what to fund.

Regarding ObamaCare, there’s a stronger case to deny funding than most pork barrel military weapons projects. President Obama proposed the law with a price tag of $900 billion over 10 years, but the Congressional Budget Office recently projected that costs would be roughly double the price estimated by Congress at the time it was passed into law.

False claim #3: House Republicans are bluffing, and President Obama holds all the aces in the budget debate.

“They said, “Yeah, we negotiate with everybody and we don’t like where it came out.  We want our way.  It’s our way or the highway.  And if you don’t do it, we’ll shut the government down.”  I think there are times when you have to call people’s bluff.”

— Former President Bill Clinton, on Republican claims, to George Stephanopoulos on This Week, September 29

Why it’s a lie: Republicans hold a constitutional royal-straight-flush on funding, as they control a majority of the House of Representatives. Under the constitutional appropriations process, funding for just about all programs ends automatically every year. Thus, funding for all programs must pass the House of Representatives every year or the programs will die. Therefore, House Republicans have an absolute, veto-proof constitutional stop on spending.

Democratic Party talking points for the past year are that the GOP House has voted 30- or 40-odd times to defund ObamaCare, to no effect. The reality is that House Republicans don’t need to vote at all to defund ObamaCare; they simply need to avoid passing a bill to fund the program and it will die.

When Bill Clinton told George Stephanopoulos that Obama should “call people’s bluff,” Clinton was projecting from experience. Clinton bluffed against Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s royal-straight-flush back in 1996 with the same pair of deuces which today Obama holds, and the GOP folded its winning hand. Look for the same likely outcome this time. The real bluff may be that the GOP is pretending to have a spine, and it’s not there.

The reality is that the GOP-controlled House of Representatives has been the lifeblood of ObamaCare thus far, always granting it full funding up until this point. If the GOP finds its spine, Republicans will have to convince the American people that true compromise must not be based upon what is absent from a bill, but instead on what is in a bill. In short, Republicans need to embrace constitutional “reductive compromise” and reject the White House extortion strategy, initiating a compromise strategy that involves spending only money that is agreed upon by both parties.

Pennsylvania Man Found Headless, Handless was Killed by Arrow Through Heart

September 30, 2013

By M. Alex Johnson, Staff Writer, NBC News, September 30, 2013

An arrow through the heart killed a man whose headless and handless body was found stuffed in a metal drum last week in northwest Pennsylvania, authorities said Monday.

Crawford County, Pa., jail

Richard Alfred Houy was being held without bond on criminal homicide and other charges in the disappearance and death of Gerald Paul VanDyke of Union City, Pa.

Because the decomposing body was decapitated and can’t yield any fingerprints, state police said further DNA testing was needed to confirm the victim’s identity.

But they said they’re almost certain it is that of Gerald Paul VanDyke, 55, of Union City, Pa., who has been missing since Sept. 14.

The body was found Friday in a metal drum in Rockdale Township, less than a mile from the home of Richard Alfred Houy, 68, of Cambridge Springs, who is now being held without bond on criminal homicide and other charges.

VanDyke was last seen leaving the Erie County home he shared with Houy’s daughter, Tina Skelton, NBC station WICU of Erie reported.

State police said in an application for a search warrant that Houy confessed to having killed VanDyke — his daughter’s longtime boyfriend.

An autopsy Sunday revealed that the victim died because of a sharp force injury — specifically, a hunting arrow that ruptured his aorta — authorities said Monday.

The search warrant application said Skelton told VanDyke that she wanted to end their decade-long relationship with him. It said Skelton said her father admitted killing VanDyke that day and might have dismembered his body.

The police statement said Houy later directly admitted having killed VanDyke. He is being held in the Crawford County jail without bond pending a preliminary hearing Oct. 10. No attorney is listed in the court docket.

Theresa VanDyke, VanDyke’s aunt, said the news of the discovery was “very hard” for the family to process.

“Who would ever remove parts of the body?” she asked in an interview with WICU. “It is one thing to get angry and kill someone, but to dismember him like that, that’s about a low as you can get.

“He was a real nice guy,” Theresa VanDyke said. “He was happy-go-lucky. He was always friendly.

“He was a good guy.”

Tasered Suspect Asks N.C. State Supreme Court to Review Case

September 29, 2013

From The Herald Sun by Ray Gronberg, September 26, 2013

A man injured in a 2009 incident has asked the N.C. Supreme Court to overrule a lower-court ruling that said Durham Police are immune to being sued for having Tasered him.

Bryan DeBaun and his lawyer, Alex Charns, contend the state Court of Appeals erroneously gave the officer who wielded the Taser the benefit of the doubt, even though it had acknowledged there is a genuine dispute that merits a jury’s attention.

The inconsistency threatens to establish a precedent for other use-of-Taser cases because it’s what lawyers call “a case of first impression,” the first one like it to be decided by North Carolina’s appellate courts, Charns said.

Moreover, the Court of Appeals ruling if allowed to stand “would allow officers to use what is tantamount to deadly force against an unarmed, fleeing” misdemeanor suspect, “contrary to” U.S. Supreme Court doctrine, he said.

DeBaun was injured in a July 2009 encounter with Durham Police Department Officer Daniel Kuszaj. He sued for damages and an injunction against the department’s use of Tasers.

The encounter happened on Holloway Street, reportedly after DeBaun was deposited there by a woman he’d tried to pick up at a bar across from Brightleaf Square.

Having already consumed eight to 12 beers, he went into a convenience store and bought a 12-pack of beer. He was carrying it under one arm as he walked in the street, waving his other arm.

Kuszaj rolled up on the scene, questioned DeBaun and tried to handcuff him. But DeBaun, having been told he wasn’t under arrest, broke free and tried to run. Kuszaj responded with his Taser; DeBaun dropped immediately, breaking his upper jaw when he hit the pavement.

His post-injury medical treatment required $34,000 worth of surgery and other care.

Durham Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson sided with the city in 2012, ruling that Kuszaj was within his rights as a police officer to use the Taser on a fleeing man.

The Court of Appeals, weighing in on Aug. 6, said Hudson’s ruling on the core excessive-use-of-force issue was incorrect because there was a factual dispute meriting a jury’s attention.

DeBaun and Charns had lined up an expert witness who would have testified that it’s unreasonable to Taser someone who’s running on pavement, as it’s predictable they would fall and hurt themselves.

But Judge Ann Marie Calabria, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, said the case nonetheless should be dismissed because Kuszaj was immune from lawsuit.

The immunity doctrine means police can’t be sued unless their actions are outside the scope of their authority, committed with malice or are corrupt, Calabria said.

The key issue there was whether Kuszaj acted with malice, and Calabria said the evidence “does not demonstrate that [he] acted wantonly or contrary to his duty,” or that he was “so reckless or manifestly indifferent” as to warrant legal penalty.

But Charns contends that Calabria, with fellow Judges Sam Ervin IV and Chris Dillon, turned the law on its head by reading the evidence in the light most favorable to Kuszaj.

That effectively makes future judgments about malice “a subjective one” for judges rather than an objective one for juries, Charns told the Supreme Court.

Because it the Court of Appeals ruling was unanimous, DeBaun doesn’t have a guarantee the high court will review his case. Appeals of split-panel rulings are automatically granted; appeals of unanimous-panel rulings are not.

City lawyers in their response signaled that if the Supreme Court takes the case, they will ask it to overturn the section of Calabria’s ruling that said there was enough of a factual dispute in the case to merit a jury’s attention.

N.S.A. Gathers Data on Social Connections of U.S. Citizens

September 29, 2013

From The New York Times by James Risen and Laura Poitras, September 28, 2013

Since 2010, the National Security Agency has been exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with officials.

Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press
Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency, testified on Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The spy agency began allowing the analysis of phone call and e-mail logs in November 2010 to examine Americans’ networks of associations for foreign intelligence purposes after N.S.A. officials lifted restrictions on the practice, according to documents provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.

The policy shift was intended to help the agency “discover and track” connections between intelligence targets overseas and people in the United States, according to an N.S.A. memorandum from January 2011. The agency was authorized to conduct “large-scale graph analysis on very large sets of communications metadata without having to check foreignness” of every e-mail address, phone number or other identifier, the document said. Because of concerns about infringing on the privacy of American citizens, the computer analysis of such data had previously been permitted only for foreigners.

The agency can augment the communications data with material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data, according to the documents. They do not indicate any restrictions on the use of such “enrichment” data, and several former senior Obama administration officials said the agency drew on it for both Americans and foreigners.

N.S.A. officials declined to say how many Americans have been caught up in the effort, including people involved in no wrongdoing. The documents do not describe what has resulted from the scrutiny, which links phone numbers and e-mails in a “contact chain” tied directly or indirectly to a person or organization overseas that is of foreign intelligence interest.

The new disclosures add to the growing body of knowledge in recent months about the N.S.A.’s access to and use of private information concerning Americans, prompting lawmakers in Washington to call for reining in the agency and President Obama to order an examination of its surveillance policies. Almost everything about the agency’s operations is hidden, and the decision to revise the limits concerning Americans was made in secret, without review by the nation’s intelligence court or any public debate. As far back as 2006, a Justice Department memo warned of the potential for the “misuse” of such information without adequate safeguards.

An agency spokeswoman, asked about the analyses of Americans’ data, said, “All data queries must include a foreign intelligence justification, period.”

“All of N.S.A.’s work has a foreign intelligence purpose,” the spokeswoman added. “Our activities are centered on counterterrorism, counterproliferation and cybersecurity.”

The legal underpinning of the policy change, she said, was a 1979 Supreme Court ruling that Americans could have no expectation of privacy about what numbers they had called. Based on that ruling, the Justice Department and the Pentagon decided that it was permissible to create contact chains using Americans’ “metadata,” which includes the timing, location and other details of calls and e-mails, but not their content. The agency is not required to seek warrants for the analyses from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

N.S.A. officials declined to identify which phone and e-mail databases are used to create the social network diagrams, and the documents provided by Mr. Snowden do not specify them. The agency did say that the large database of Americans’ domestic phone call records, which was revealed by Mr. Snowden in June and caused bipartisan alarm in Washington, was excluded. (N.S.A. officials have previously acknowledged that the agency has done limited analysis in that database, collected under provisions of the Patriot Act, exclusively for people who might be linked to terrorism suspects.)

But the agency has multiple collection programs and databases, the former officials said, adding that the social networking analyses relied on both domestic and international metadata. They spoke only on the condition of anonymity because the information was classified.

The concerns in the United States since Mr. Snowden’s revelations have largely focused on the scope of the agency’s collection of the private data of Americans and the potential for abuse. But the new documents provide a rare window into what the N.S.A. actually does with the information it gathers.

A series of agency PowerPoint presentations and memos describe how the N.S.A. has been able to develop software and other tools — one document cited a new generation of programs that “revolutionize” data collection and analysis — to unlock as many secrets about individuals as possible.

The spy agency, led by Gen. Keith B. Alexander, an unabashed advocate for more weapons in the hunt for information about the nation’s adversaries, clearly views its collections of metadata as one of its most powerful resources. N.S.A. analysts can exploit that information to develop a portrait of an individual, one that is perhaps more complete and predictive of behavior than could be obtained by listening to phone conversations or reading e-mails, experts say.

Phone and e-mail logs, for example, allow analysts to identify people’s friends and associates, detect where they were at a certain time, acquire clues to religious or political affiliations, and pick up sensitive information like regular calls to a psychiatrist’s office, late-night messages to an extramarital partner or exchanges with a fellow plotter.

“Metadata can be very revealing,” said Orin S. Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University. “Knowing things like the number someone just dialed or the location of the person’s cellphone is going to allow them to assemble a picture of what someone is up to. It’s the digital equivalent of tailing a suspect.”

The N.S.A. had been pushing for more than a decade to obtain the rule change allowing the analysis of Americans’ phone and e-mail data. Intelligence officials had been frustrated that they had to stop when a contact chain hit a telephone number or e-mail address believed to be used by an American, even though it might yield valuable intelligence primarily concerning a foreigner who was overseas, according to documents previously disclosed by Mr. Snowden. N.S.A. officials also wanted to employ the agency’s advanced computer analysis tools to sift through its huge databases with much greater efficiency.

The agency had asked for the new power as early as 1999, the documents show, but had been initially rebuffed because it was not permitted under rules of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that were intended to protect the privacy of Americans.

A 2009 draft of an N.S.A. inspector general’s report suggests that contact chaining and analysis may have been done on Americans’ communications data under the Bush administration’s program of wiretapping without warrants, which began after the Sept. 11 attacks to detect terrorist activities and skirted the existing laws governing electronic surveillance.

In 2006, months after the wiretapping program was disclosed by The New York Times, the N.S.A.’s acting general counsel wrote a letter to a senior Justice Department official, which was also leaked by Mr. Snowden, formally asking for permission to perform the analysis on American phone and e-mail data. A Justice Department memo to the attorney general noted that the “misuse” of such information “could raise serious concerns,” and said the N.S.A. promised to impose safeguards, including regular audits, on the metadata program. In 2008, the Bush administration gave its approval.

A new policy that year, detailed in “Defense Supplemental Procedures Governing Communications Metadata Analysis,” authorized by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, said that since the Supreme Court had ruled that metadata was not constitutionally protected, N.S.A. analysts could use such information “without regard to the nationality or location of the communicants,” according to an internal N.S.A. description of the policy.

After that decision, which was previously reported by The Guardian, the N.S.A. performed the social network graphing in a pilot project for 1 ½ years “to great benefit,” according to the 2011 memo. It was put in place in November 2010 in “Sigint Management Directive 424” (sigint refers to signals intelligence).

In the 2011 memo explaining the shift, N.S.A. analysts were told that they could trace the contacts of Americans as long as they cited a foreign intelligence justification. That could include anything from ties to terrorism, weapons proliferation or international drug smuggling to spying on conversations of foreign politicians, business figures or activists.

Analysts were warned to follow existing “minimization rules,” which prohibit the N.S.A. from sharing with other agencies names and other details of Americans whose communications are collected, unless they are necessary to understand foreign intelligence reports or there is evidence of a crime. The agency is required to obtain a warrant from the intelligence court to target a “U.S. person” — a citizen or legal resident — for actual eavesdropping.

The N.S.A. documents show that one of the main tools used for chaining phone numbers and e-mail addresses has the code name Mainway. It is a repository into which vast amounts of data flow daily from the agency’s fiber-optic cables, corporate partners and foreign computer networks that have been hacked.

The documents show that significant amounts of information from the United States go into Mainway. An internal N.S.A. bulletin, for example, noted that in 2011 Mainway was taking in 700 million phone records per day. In August 2011, it began receiving an additional 1.1 billion cellphone records daily from an unnamed American service provider under Section 702 of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, which allows for the collection of the data of Americans if at least one end of the communication is believed to be foreign.

The overall volume of metadata collected by the N.S.A. is reflected in the agency’s secret 2013 budget request to Congress. The budget document, disclosed by Mr. Snowden, shows that the agency is pouring money and manpower into creating a metadata repository capable of taking in 20 billion “record events” daily and making them available to N.S.A. analysts within 60 minutes.

The spending includes support for the “Enterprise Knowledge System,” which has a $394 million multiyear budget and is designed to “rapidly discover and correlate complex relationships and patterns across diverse data sources on a massive scale,” according to a 2008 document. The data is automatically computed to speed queries and discover new targets for surveillance.

A top-secret document titled “Better Person Centric Analysis” describes how the agency looks for 94 “entity types,” including phone numbers, e-mail addresses and IP addresses. In addition, the N.S.A. correlates 164 “relationship types” to build social networks and what the agency calls “community of interest” profiles, using queries like “travelsWith, hasFather, sentForumMessage, employs.”

A 2009 PowerPoint presentation provided more examples of data sources available in the “enrichment” process, including location-based services like GPS and TomTom, online social networks, billing records and bank codes for transactions in the United States and overseas.

At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday, General Alexander was asked if the agency ever collected or planned to collect bulk records about Americans’ locations based on cellphone tower data. He replied that it was not doing so as part of the call log program authorized by the Patriot Act, but said a fuller response would be classified.

If the N.S.A. does not immediately use the phone and e-mail logging data of an American, it can be stored for later use, at least under certain circumstances, according to several documents.

One 2011 memo, for example, said that after a court ruling narrowed the scope of the agency’s collection, the data in question was “being buffered for possible ingest” later. A year earlier, an internal briefing paper from the N.S.A. Office of Legal Counsel showed that the agency was allowed to collect and retain raw traffic, which includes both metadata and content, about “U.S. persons” for up to five years online and for an additional 10 years offline for “historical searches.”

PA State Police Chase, Standoff Ends with 1 Dead, 1 in Custody

September 29, 2013

Incident Started when Dept. of Conservation Ranger Investigated Possible Illegal Camp Site

From The Herald Standard Newspaper by Susy Kelly, September 29, 2013

man is dead and a woman is in police custody after a standoff that lasted nearly 10 hours in North Union Township on Friday.

Donald Ray Brown, 53, of Buckhannon, W.Va., was found dead when police finally entered the home at 216 Center Avenue where he had barricaded himself. Police said Saturday that Brown had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, however the official cause of death remains pending further investigation.

Brown’s alleged accomplice, Jessica Lynn Phillips, 28, also of Buckhannon, W.Va., has been charged with four counts of aggravated assault, attempted homicide, conspiracy to commit homicide, three counts of reckless endangerment, fleeing or attempting to elude police and several other charges in connection with the police chase that led to the standoff.

Jessica Phillips

Jessica Phillips.

Photo by Amanda Steen | Herald-Standard

Phillips was arraigned before Magisterial District Judge Joseph M. George Jr. and placed in Fayette County Prison on $1 million straight cash bond.

According to the criminal complaint, Department of Conservation of Natural Resources Ranger Kip Hursh called state police at around 11:45 a.m. requesting assistance in the area of Wheeler Bottom in Dunbar Township.

Hursh told police he found a suspicious male and female, allegedly Brown and Phillips, camping along the Youghiogheny River in a gray Ford F150 Raptor registered in West Virginia and a black utility-type trailer the two were apparently living in.

Hursh said he was initially contacted by Ohiopyle State Park Manager Jim Juran, who reported seeing a man and woman camping near the bike trail off Riverside Drive.

Police said Hursh investigated the scene and suspected the pair were producing or attempting to produce methamphetamine after finding propane tanks, plastic tubing and containers with an unknown clear liquid inside.

Hursh told police when he approached Brown and Phillips, they were “acting nervous”, according to the criminal complaint. He reportedly asked the two what they were doing, and they said they were homeless and had been there since Tuesday, police said. Hursh said he got permission to look in the trailer and when he started to open the door, a call came over his radio that alerted them that state police were on the way to the scene.

Brown and Phillips then allegedly fled in the truck. Police said Hursh pursued the two but lost them.

State Police Trooper Nathan Swink caught up with the truck in downtown Connellsville, police said, and followed the suspects along West Crawford Avenue, through Dunbar Township and onto Bute Road in North Union Township.

During the chase, police said someone in the truck fired approximately five shots at the pursuing officer.

Two state troopers attempted to block the roadway at Bute and Oliver Roads, but the driver continued on, nearly striking both fully marked and occupied police cars, police said.

When Brown and Phillips reached the intersection of Bute Road and North Gallatin Avenue Extension, police said the truck failed to negotiate the left turn and crashed into a residence at 500 North Gallatin Avenue.

Buddy Marra, owner of Marras’s Mountaineer Shop just a few houses away from where the truck came to rest, said that he heard the crash from inside his store around noon.

Police secured a search warrant from Magisterial District Judge Wendy D. Dennis for the truck and found a shotgun and assault rifle inside. A search warrant was also issued for the area along the bike trail where the incident originated.

Police said a witness allegedly saw Brown and Phillips run to a nearby house belonging to Norma Sherlock at 216 Center Avenue, behind the scene of the crash. Police said they attempted reach Sherlock by phone but there was no answer.

Anna and Tom Gray, who also live on Center Avenue, said they were not certain, but they did not believe Sherlock was home when Brown and Phillips entered the home. They said they saw a woman, later identified as Phillps, come out of Sherlock’s home with her hands up, but Brown remained inside.

For several hours, state police and tactical units surrounded the house, attempting to coax Brown out.

“We know there’s a lot going on in your head right now,” police told Brown. “We want to help you.”

“Donald, if you can hear me, let me know you’re okay. Can you move the curtains?” police called.

A recording of Phillips pleading with Brown was also played. “Babe, it’s Jess,” she said. “I don’t want to see you get hurt. I love you.”

Flash grenades were detonated and still no response came from the house. Tactical vehicles moved in and broke windows, and waited.

Police communication into the house became more stern as time wore on. “Come on, Donald. You need to come out the front door right now,” police called. “You need to step up. Quit being stubborn and come outside.”

Some time after sunset, police sent two robotic vehicles to the front entrance of the house. After the robots attempted to open the door, a tactical truck with a long battering ram attached to the front approached. That truck then moved to the back, and another Bobcat-type vehicle with a battering ram also approached.

Shortly before 9 p.m., approximately eight officers entered the house. No shots were fired from within, and about five minutes later, the officers calmly exited, guns no longer drawn. An official from the Fayette County Coroner’s office later confirmed that Brown was dead.

An autopsy was conducted Saturday by forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht, however the results were not immediately available.

N.C. Highway Patrolman Called Hero For Trying to Save Children From Burning Home

September 27, 2013

From http://www.wsoctv.com by Dave Faherty, September 27, 2013

A North Carolina highway patrolman is being called a hero Friday for risking his life to save two children from a burning home in Burke County.

Trooper Greg Gentieu was treated for smoke inhalation after flames swept through the home, killing an 11-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl.

Eyewitness News was there as firefighters battled those flames and spoke earlier Friday with Gentieu.

Gentieu said when he pulled up to the home on Old Laurel Road, he got out of his car and could hear the mother screaming for her children.

He said he got down on his hands and knees and crawled into the burning home to find them.

“You got to help me. My babies are in there, my babies are in there,” screamed the mother.

Gentieu said he will never forget those words after arriving at the home.

He tried at first to go through a rear window to reach the 11-year-old boy and 6-year-old sister.

Then he and the father went around front in hopes of finding another way.

“This is the flashlight the dad actually took out of my hand when we went in through the front door and I had this one,” said Gentieu.

With only the flashlights the two men began crawling through the home despite heavy smoke rolling out the doors and windows.

“We could see a doorway off to the left. By the time we got four or five crawls in there the doorway was totally engulfed in smoke. I could feel the heat and the orange flames already coming through,” said Gentieu.

Gentieu was treated with oxygen for smoke inhalation after he and the father were forced back by the thick black smoke and heat.

The two were unable to reach the children and as he waited for help to arrive Gentieu said those were some of the toughest moments of his life.

“When you stand there, and know there is nothing you can do about it as bad as you want to, it is a feeling I’m not use to having,” said Gentieu.

Gentieu showed Eyewitness News two stuffed animals his own children gave him to leave at the growing memorial outside the home. Family members of the children want to thank him tonight for his courage.

“I would thank him for risking his life for two children he didn’t even know,” said uncle Charles Suderno.

The fire marshals said an autopsy was done earlier Friday on the two children at Baptist Hospital.

He said it may be next week or even longer before he’s able to release his findings on what started the fire here.

3 Former Soldiers Accused of Plot to Kill DEA Agent

September 27, 2013

 

From The Associated Press, September 27, 2013

Two former American soldiers – one nicknamed “Rambo” – and a German ex-soldier were charged Friday with plotting to kill a U.S. drug enforcement agent and an informant after a law enforcement sting interrupted their plans to use five ex-military snipers to protect illegal drug shipments, authorities said.

Two former soldiers were arrested for plotting to kill a an agent from the DEA.

The charges were announced by prosecutors in Manhattan, where an indictment unsealed in federal court portrayed a trio of ex-soldiers eager to kill for money.

“That’s fun, actually for me that’s fun. I love this work,” one was quoted as saying in court papers. The documents described numerous conversations at meetings outside the United States that were recorded by Drug Enforcement Administration agents building their case with help from confidential sources posing as drug traffickers.

The defendants were charged with conspiracy counts and were held for appearances in U.S. District Court, though it was not immediately clear who would represent them.

“The bone-chilling allegations in today’s indictment read like they were ripped from the pages of a Tom Clancy novel,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. “The charges tell a tale of an international band of mercenary marksmen who enlisted their elite military training to serve as hired guns for evil ends.”

The indictment described Joseph Hunter, also known as “Rambo,” as a contract killer and leader of the group of ex-snipers.

Hunter recruited several ex-soldiers in late 2012 and early this year to be a security team for drug traffickers, said the indictment. According to the court papers, the DEA’s sources promised Hunter at a March meeting in an Asian country that his security team would be protecting thousands of kilos of marijuana and would be seeing “tons of cocaine and millions of dollars.”

Audio and video recordings of the meeting show Hunter discussing “bonus jobs” of contract killings, saying the men he had recruited want to do as much “bonus” work as possible, the indictment said.

According to the indictment, Hunter served in the U.S. Army from 1983 to 2004 before becoming a contract killer who successfully arranged several slayings. At one meeting, Hunter was captured on tape describing how he had arranged the killings of real estate agents.

The indictment said a DEA source posing as a drug trafficker in May proposed killing a DEA agent and a boat captain providing information to U.S. law enforcement authorities, saying it was necessary because there was a “leak” within the narcotics trafficking organization.

In an email exchange, Hunter responded: “My guys will handle it. … Are you talking about both the captain and agent or just the captain?” according to the indictment.

Also charged in the assassination plot were Timothy Vamvakias and Dennis Gogel, a German citizen.

The indictment said Vamvakias served in the U.S. Army from 1991 to 1993 and from 1999 to 2004. He was a sergeant, serving stints in South Korea and later as a military police officer in Puerto Rico.

Gogel was in the German armed forces from 2007 to 2010, attaining the rank of corporal and receiving commendations for his sniper skills, the court papers said. He was deployed for a time in Kosovo.

Two others were arrested on drug charges. Slawomir Soborski, a citizen of Poland, was a member of an elite counter-terrorism unit while serving in the Polish armed forces from 1998 to 2002 and from 2003 to 2011. He later worked as a security contractor in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti and elsewhere, court papers said. Michael Filter served in the German armed forces from 2006 to 2009.

To carry out the assassination plot, Vamvakias and Gogel offered ideas and plans, including the need for machine guns, cyanide, a grenade, masks and appropriate weapons, the indictment said.

The court papers said Gogel provided the DEA source with two sophisticated latex facemasks that could make the wearer appear to be of another race. The masks were among items Gogel and Vamvakias brought along when they arrived in an African country on Wednesday planning to carry out the murder-for-hire plot, the indictment said.

Treaties Violating the Constitution Are Not Law of the Land

September 27, 2013

From The New American by Joe Wolverton, II, J.D., September 26, 2013

On the morning of September 25, Secretary of State John Kerry, on behalf of President Barack Obama, signed the United Nations’ Arms Trade Treaty.

This treaty purports to disarm civilians and consolidate control of all weapons and ammunition in the hands of the United Nations and its approved member states.

While it is undeniable that the president and many in Congress are anxious to surrender our sovereignty to the global bureaucracy and to force Americans to hand over their guns, there are many lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, who have said they will never vote to ratify the gun grab, as would be required by the Constitution. In fact, by a vote of 53-46, in March, the Senate passed an amendment to the budget bill sponsored by Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) stating as much.

“We’re negotiating a treaty that cedes our authority to have trade agreements with our allies in terms of trading arms,” Inhofe before the vote on his amendment. “This is probably the last time this year that you’ll be able to vote for your Second Amendment rights.”

According to a story in The Hill, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) proposed his own amendment “that clarified that under current U.S. law, treaties don’t trump the Constitution and that the United States should not agree to any arms treaty that violates the Second Amendment rights.” Leahy’s amendment also passed.

A resolution of similar intent sponsored by Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) is currently pending before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Moran’s measure declares that it is the sense of Congress that:

the President should not sign the Arms Trade Treaty, and that, if he transmits the treaty with his signature to the Senate, the Senate should not ratify the Arms Trade Treaty; and

until the Arms Trade Treaty has been signed by the President, received the advice and consent of the Senate, and has been the subject of implementing legislation by Congress, no Federal funds should be appropriated or authorized to implement the Arms Trade Treaty, or any similar agreement, or to conduct activities relevant to the Arms Trade Treaty, or any similar agreement.

Representative Mike Kelly (R-Penn.) has offered a companion measure in the House of Representatives.

Both the Moran and Kelly resolutions declare that the Arms Trade Treaty “poses significant risks to the national security, foreign policy, and economic interests of the United States as well as to the constitutional rights of United States citizens and United States sovereignty.”

The measures also point out that UN gun grab “fails to expressly recognize the fundamental, individual right to keep and to bear arms and the individual right of personal self-defense, as well as the legitimacy of hunting, sports shooting, and other lawful activities pertaining to the private ownership of firearms and related materials, and thus risks infringing on freedoms protected by the Second Amendment.”

Regardless of presidential fervor for the disarmament of law-abiding Americans or the number of votes he and his backers can buy in the Senate, no treaty that violates the Constitution could ever become the law of the land.

When it comes to treaties — or any act passed by Congress for that matter — the analysis must begin by looking within the four corners of the Constitution. 

It only makes sense that the federal government cannot enter into a treaty that would contravene the Constitution. If I tell my teenage son that he can drive my car to the movies, does that give him permission to drive it into a lake?

To put a finer point on it, Article VI of the Constitution says:

This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.

That means that in order to have any lawful effect, the object of any treaty signed by the president and ratified by the Senate must lay within their constitutional authority (“the authority of the United States”).

In the case of the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, there is no doubt that many of its key provisions directly violate the Second Amendment’s prohibition on government infringement of the right to keep and bear arms.

If the Congress and president were to disregard these restrictions on their power as they so often do, the mandates of the resulting treaty would not be the law of land, as Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist 33:

If a number of political societies enter into a larger political society, the laws which the latter may enact, pursuant to the powers intrusted [sic] to it by its constitution, must necessarily be supreme over those societies and the individuals of whom they are composed…. But it will not follow from this doctrine that acts of the larger society which are not pursuant to its constitutional powers, but which are invasions of the residuary authorities of the smaller societies, will become the supreme law of the land. These will be merely acts of usurpation, and will deserve to be treated as such. [Emphasis in original.]

Thomas Jefferson echoed that point specifically as it pertains to the topic of treaties. Jefferson wrote, “In giving to the President and Senate a power to make treaties, the Constitution meant only to authorize them to carry into effect, by way of treaty, any powers they might constitutionally exercise.”

At another time, he reiterated this principle of constitutional construction, saying, “Surely the President and Senate cannot do by treaty what the whole government is interdicted from doing in any way. 

In a letter to his colleague, collaborator, and friend, James Madison, Jefferson agreed that “the objects on which the President and Senate may exclusively act by treaty are much reduced” by application of the principle that a treaty cannot contradict the Constitution and yet still enjoy the approval of that document. Again,  my son couldn’t justify crashing my car into a lake by pointing to my permission to drive it to the movies. 

Finally, a word of caution.

Although in reality, as proved above, treaties that violate the Constitution are prima facie null, void, of no legal effect, the Supreme Court has come down on both sides of the supremacy issue.

In a pair of contradictory decisions, the Supreme Court has held that “No doubt the great body of private relations usually fall within the control of the State, but a treaty may override its power” (Missouri v. Holland) and “constitutional rights cannot be eliminated by a treaty” (Reid v. Covert).

This conflict of cases creates a situation where, as Alan Korwin wrote in 2012 at the time of the previous round of negotiations on the Arms Trade Treaty, “While some of us would surely and boldly draw the lines where they are ‘supposed’ to be, i.e., in line with our natural and historic rights, the forces aligned against the Second Amendment have no problem arguing vigorously for its destruction, regardless of any of these details, and therein lies the greatest threat we face.”

In light of this duplicity on the part of the Supreme Court and that body’s habit of usurping legislation authority, when it comes to preserving the right to keep and bear arms, the states and the people will be required to uphold the liberties protected by our Constitution in the face of federal collusion with the international forces of civilian disarmament.

 

Homeland Security Tests Facial Recognition “Machine”

September 27, 2013

From The New American by Warren Mass, September 25, 2013

On September 21, the Department of Homeland Security tested a new facial recognition system at the 6,000 seat Toyota Center in Kennewick, Washington, during the season home opener of the Tri-City Americans, a junior hockey team in the Western Hockey League.

The story was initially released by the local Tri-City Herald, in a September 13 article linked to the hockey team’s website. The reporter, Annette Cary, phrased the story in innocuous-sounding terms:

Hockey fans at the season opener of the Tri-City Americans will have a chance to help the U.S. Department of Homeland Security improve its facial recognition capabilities.

Video will be taped by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory [PNNL] at the Sept. 21 game in a portion of the Toyota Center in Kennewick.

It is planned to be used by the U.S. government to test the capabilities of facial recognition software that is available or in the prototype stage.

The report noted several provisions made by PNNL to allay the concerns of attendees who feared that the test might invade their privacy. PNNL bought 46 extra seats providing video-free areas for those who did not want to be taped.

“If they didn’t want to be videotaped, they could very easily not be videotaped,” the Herald quoted Nick Lombardo, a PNNL project manager, as saying.

The report explained that PNNL was interested in taping its own staffers, rather than random members of the public.

“Basically the crowd is background,” PNNL engineer Marcia Kimura told the Herald.

The report also cited a statement from Patty Wolfhope, a program manager at the Department of Homeland Security, who assured the public that no names of people will be collected during the test and that only government researchers, not the technology developers, will see the video.

It might be fair to say that more Americans would be concerned that the DHS has collected video of their face than a private firm like PNNL.

An indication of how sensitive a topic the use of facial recognition technology has become is reflected by how widespread this small-scale test conducted in a medium-sized city of about 75,000 people has been reported. Articles about the test have appeared in Britain’sDaily Mail and on the website of RT, the Russian-based television network. Extensive coverage was also provided by Rawlson King, a contributing editor to the technology website BiometricUpdate.com.

While most of the reports amounted to matter-of-fact descriptions of the procedures and technology involved in the test, RT’s coverage alone addressed potential abuses and mentioned Homeland Security’s (DHS) role much more often than the other reports. Perhaps Russians, having lived under a totalitarian police state that monitored their every move, are more familiar with what can happen when the government takes too strong an interest in its citizens’ whereabouts. Among RT’s observations:

• “DHS will utilize a sophisticated system of cameras to collect pictures of attendees in real-time from as far away as 100 meters and then match them up with images of faces stored on a database.”

• “The exercise will mark the latest drill for the DHS’ Biometric Optical Surveillance System, or BOSS, and when it’s fully operational it could be used to identify a person of interest among a massive crowd in the span of only seconds.”

• “This isn’t the first time that the DHS and PNNL teamed up with the Toyota Center, but researchers are hoping that this endeavor will be the most successful yet. The New York Times’ Charlie Savage reported last month that the technology was tested recently at the arena, but the government determined at the time that the product “was not ready for a DHS customer.” If it succeeds this time around, however, it could open the door for deploying similar systems at international crossings and other hubs across the United States patrolled by DHS.”

The August 21 report in the Times, “Facial Scanning Is Making Gains in Surveillance,” quoted a statement from Ginger McCall, identified as “a privacy advocate”: “This technology is always billed as antiterrorism, but then it drifts into other applications. We need a real conversation about whether and how we want this technology to be used, and now is the time for that debate.”

Another quote cited by RT not reported in the U.S. stories about the Kennewick test was from a statement from Jennifer Lynch, identified as a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). EFF filed a lawsuit against the FBI earlier this year because of the Bureau’s Next Generation Identification program (NGI), to be launched in 2014. Said Lynch:

NGI will result in a massive expansion of government data collection for both criminal and noncriminal purposes. Biometrics programs present critical threats to civil liberties and privacy. Face-recognition technology is among the most alarming new developments, because Americans cannot easily take precautions against the covert, remote and mass capture of their images.

RT explained that the “Next Generation Identification program … will ideally provide the FBI with a database containing the biometric information of millions of Americans. Law enforcement will then be able to use that trove of data to compare persons of interest caught on film with images already used on state drivers’ licenses and other governmental files.” (Emphasis added.)

As an avid watcher of the popular CBS television series, Person of Interest, this writer finds the RT writer’s choice of the term “persons of interest” to be an interesting coincidence. The series, starring actor Jim Caviezel, is about a former Special Forces member and CIA agent recruited by a reclusive billionaire software genius (Michael Emerson) who built a highly sophisticated computer system for the government that collects data from omnipresent video surveillance cameras, using facial recognition software to identify the persons captured on video. The system is constantly referred to on the program as “the Machine.”

Forced to work underground because their mission puts them at odds with the government, the team comprised of Caviezel, Emerson, and a couple of sympathetic New York City police officers utilize the machine to help citizens in danger — citizens the government regards as “irrelevant.” Because of this work, members of the team sometimes find themselves targeted by government agents.

Though a fictionalized, dramatized presentation, and focusing on private individuals who employ facial recognition software for good, the series also makes evident the threat to freedom such technology would present if used by government agencies.

The voiceover from the show’s opening states:

You are being watched. The government has a secret system: a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know, because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people; people like you. Crimes the government considered “irrelevant.” They wouldn’t act, so I decided I would. But I needed a partner, someone with the skills to intervene. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You’ll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number’s up… we’ll find you.

Seventh Graders Suspended for Playing With Toy Gun — at Home!

September 27, 2013

From The New American by Dave Bohon, September 25, 2013

A pair of seventh grade boys in Virginia Beach, Virginia, have been suspended from school for the rest of the year after they were spotted playing with toy “airsoft” guns in the front yard of one of the boys while they waited for the school bus. Fox News reported that the boys, identified as 13-year-old Khalid Caraballo and Aidan Clark, are even facing possible expulsion from school for, according to school officials, the “possession, handling, and use of a firearm” because the boys admittedly shot the toy guns, which fire harmless plastic pellets, at other children nearby waiting for the school bus.

A neighbor called 9-11 to complain that one of the boys was “pointing the gun, and it looks like there’s a target in a tree in his front yard.” She admitted to the dispatcher that she knew the gun “is not a real one, but it makes people uncomfortable. I know that it makes me [uncomfortable], as a mom, to see a boy pointing a gun.”

While police called to the scene determined that no crime had taken place, the principal at Larkspur Middle School, Matthew Delaney, quickly swung into action, insisting that the boys had endangered other children at the bus stop close to their homes. In a statement on the school’s letterhead, Delaney explained that “I was advised by the Virginia Beach Police Department … that a passing motorist had seen a child with a gun chasing another child in the street near a Larkspur bus stop.”

Delaney wrote that in the course of his investigation he discovered that the boys had fired the toy pellet guns at each other and at people near the bus stop. “Several students verified that they had been hit by pellets and had the marks to support their claims,” the principal duly reported. “In one instance, a child was only 10 feet from the bus stop and ran from the shots being fired but was still hit.”

He noted that other kids had reported to being hit by the plastic pellets during a previous incident near the bus stop. “Because students were on their way to or at a school bus stop when they were struck by pellets,” Delaney said, “the school division has jurisdiction to take disciplinary actions against those students responsible for the disruption.”

While the initial discipline will be a lengthy suspension for the boys, a hearing in January could change the punishment to expulsion from the school. “As the principal of Larkspur Middle School, I am responsible for the safety of students and will take all appropriate actions to ensure that the students using the pellet guns are appropriately disciplined and held responsible for their conduct,” Delaney intoned.

Meanwhile, one of the parents reacted with appropriate anger at what most sensible people would regard as an over-reaction by the school official. “My son is my private property,” Khalid’s mother, Solangel Caraballo, was quoted by Prison Planet as saying. “He does not become the school’s property until he goes to the bus stop, gets on the bus, and goes to school.” She added that while she was upset with her son for his actions, “this is a home issue. It’s not a school issue and it won’t happen again. He will never do this again.”

Khalid insisted that he and Aidan never went near the bus stop. “We see the bus come. We put the gun down,” he said. “We did not take the airsoft guns to the bus stop.”

Aidan admitted to a local news reporter that he had shot the 9-11 caller’s son in the arm with one of the plastic pellets, and Khalid admitted to shooting a friend as well. “He knew we had the airsoft gun,” he said. “He knew we were playing. He knew people were getting shot. We were shooting at the tree, but he still came and even after he was shot he still played.”

As for the backlash caused by the principal’s response, Khalid said he is worried about how the incident will impact his future. “It’s terrible,” he said. “I won’t get the chance to go to a good college. It’s on your school record.”

The boy said that the school report indicates that he was in the possession of a firearm, an overstatement that future colleges will take at face value. “They are going to think it was a real gun, and I was trying to hurt someone,” he said. “They will say ‘oh, we can’t accept you.’”