State Department Whistle Blower’s Emails Hacked, Deleted

Via the New York Post:

WASHINGTON — The personal e-mail account of a State Department whis­tle­­blower was hacked, and four years worth of messages — some detailing alleged wrongdoing at the agency — were deleted, The Post has learned.

The computer attack targeted the Gmail account of Diplomatic Security Service criminal investigator Richard Higbie, his lawyer, Cary Schulman, confirmed.

“They took all of his e-mails and then they deleted them all,” said Schulman. He said that he could not prove who was responsible for the hack job, but said the attack was “sophisticated” and called the targeting of Higbie “alarming.”

“Obviously, somebody is not happy with something he’s doing and wanted to get that information and also cause him an inability in the future to have ready access to that,” Schulman said.

The e-mails included evidence about misconduct by top officials at the department, communications with other potential whistleblowers there, and correspondence with members of Congress who are investigating the allegations, Schulman said.

They also include correspondence between Higbie and Schulman about legal strategy, the lawyer said.

Schulman said he could not provide details about the evidence deleted with the e-mails.

Higbie has asked the FBI in Dallas, where he lives, to investigate the hacking, which occurred this month.

Higbie played a key role in helping fellow whistleblower Aurelia Fedenisn, a former investigator for the department’s inspector general, reveal in June a pattern of alleged coverups by top department officials.

The alleged coverups included keeping quiet separate IG investigations that found that members of then-Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton’s security detail had engaged hookers and that the Belgian ambassador had solicited underage prostitutes.

These were among a string of investigations by the service, responsible for protecting dignitaries and investigating crimes within the department, that were allegedly derailed by senior officials, including one instance of interference by Clinton Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills.

Since the revelations in June, the department again mostly swept the cases under the rug.

Higbie, a senior criminal investigator and the second-highest-ranking agent with the service’s Dallas office, also has an employment lawsuit against the department, alleging it retaliated against him.

The hacking of Higbie’s e-mail follows a mysterious break-in at Schulman’s Dallas law firm in July, shortly after the whistleblower allegations came to light.

The burglar sawed a hole through the wall from an adjoining office and stole three computers, but left behind other valuables.

Although cops arrested a petty thief for the crime, Schulman said, “We feel like we’re in a movie. It’s nuts. It makes us wonder . . . . maybe we’ve got something we don’t even realize or maybe they’re worried about something.”

US Home Ownership Rate at 2-Decade Low

Via CNS News:

(CNSNews.com) –  The federal government’s aggressive intervention in the housing market, which eventually included a $188 billion taxpayer bailout of mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, was supposed to increase the percentage of Americans who own their own homes.

However, the rate of homeownership at the end of November was down to 65.3 percent, according to data released Dec. 20th by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

This is the same level of homeownership that Americans enjoyed in 1996, before the federal government stepped in to help.

Although negative equity has decreased 21 percent since November 2012, 10.8 million American homeowners – 1 in 5 – owed $805 billion more than their homes were worth at the end of the third quarter, according to Zillow’s Negative Equity Report.

Non-Hispanic whites are still more likely to own their homes (73.3 percent) than members of other races (55.2 percent), the Census Bureau reports.

Black households had the lowest rate of homeownership (43.1 percent), down from 44.1 percent in November 2012 and down six percentage points from the peak (49.1 percent) in 2004, the same year Congress passed amendments to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) of 1977 designed to help more minority families buy homes.

But the CRA also helped inflate the housing bubble, and black families were hit the hardest by the foreclosure crisis that followed.

Not surprisingly, more than three quarters of all households (79.9 percent) with family incomes greater than or equal to the median own their homes, compared to half of households with family incomes below the median.

Homeownership rates were also “highest in the Midwest (69.6 percent) and lowest in the West (59.5 percent),” the Census Bureau reported.

Americans over 65 years of age are more than twice as likely to own their homes as those under 35. The rate of homeownership in the 65+ category was 81.2 percent in the third quarter of 2013, compared to just 36.8 percent for those under 35. Younger Americans’ mobility has fallen to a 50-year low as economic pressures force them to defer plans to buy a house and start a family.

However, householders aged 55 to 64 also lost some ground this year, with a homeownership rate (76.2 percent) at the end of November slightly lower than it was the same time last year (76.9 percent).

Obama Admin. Bans Religious Christmas Cards at VA Hospitals

Via Fox News:

Boys and girls at Grace Academy in Prosper, Tex., spent most of last Friday making homemade Christmas cards for bedridden veterans at the VA hospital in Dallas.

Fourth-grader Gracie Brown was especially proud of her card, hoping it would “make their day because their family might live far away, and they might not have somebody to celebrate Christmas with.”

“I’d like them to know they’ve not been forgotten and somebody wanted to say thank you,” Gracie told MyFoxDFW.com.

Gracie’s card read, “Merry Christmas. Thank you for your service.” It also included an American flag.

But the bedridden veterans at the VA hospital will never get to see Gracie’s card. Nor will they see the cards made by 51 other students. That’s because the Christmas cards violated VA policy.

“It really didn’t occur to me there would be a problem with distributing Christmas cards,” said Susan Chapman, a math teacher at the academy. She’s married to a veteran and volunteers with the American Legion and other veterans’ organizations.

On Monday morning the boys and girls were planning on hand delivering the cards to the wounded veterans. Chapman called the hospital to make final arrangements and that’s when she learned there was a problem.

“I told him my students made cards, we’d like to bring them down for the veterans,” Chapman told the television station. “And he said, ‘That’s great. We’re thrilled to have them, except the only thing is, we can’t accept anything that says ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘God bless you’ or any scriptural references because of all the red tape.'”

A VA official quoted the policy which is in the Veterans Health Administration handbook:

“In order to be respectful of our veterans’ religious beliefs, all donated holiday cards are reviewed by a multi-disciplinary team of staff led by chaplaincy services and determined if they are appropriate (non-religious) to freely distribute to patients. We regret this process was not fully explained to this group and apologize for any misunderstanding.”

Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for Liberty Institute, said it was a new low “even for the Scrooges and Grinches at the VA.”

“Targeting the benevolent work of little children for censorship is disgusting,” Sasser told me. “Do the Grinches in the administration of the VA really believe our bravest warriors need protection from the heartfelt well wishes of small children saying Merry Christmas?”

Andrea Brown, Gracie’s mom, was dumbfounded by the news.

“This wasn’t the country I grew up in, when you couldn’t say ‘Merry Christmas,’ you couldn’t say ‘God bless you’ or reference any scripture,” she told MyFoxDFW.com.

She told the television station the boys and girls were heartbroken that the military personnel would not be able to receive their cards.

“They couldn’t believe the people that these people they wanted to honor weren’t going to get the chance to see what they had done,” she said.

The cards will not be thrown away — they are being shipped to Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio and to a private facility for veterans in Louisiana.

Sasser said at some point, “does the VA have no shame?”

“Mr. Potter from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ wouldn’t even ban little children from wishing our veterans Merry Christmas,” Sasser said.

GA Hospital Bans Religious Christmas Carols

Via Fox News:

A group of high school students was told they could sing about Frosty the Snowman but not the Baby Jesus at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Ga.

Students from the Alleluia Community School were banned from singing any religious-themed Christmas carols to patients including “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

Instead, when they arrived to perform, the students were given a list of 12 Christmas songs provided by the hospital’s pastoral service that had been “deemed appropriate for celebration within the hearing range of all veterans.”

In other words, all secular, nothing sacred, the Augusta Chronicle reported.

“Military service veterans, male and female, represent people of all faiths,” hospital spokesman Brian Rothwell said in a statement to the newspaper. “It is out of respect for every faith that The Veterans Administration gives clear guidance on what ‘spiritual care’ is to be given and who is to give it.”

Dan Funsch, the school’s principal, said this is the first year they’ve been told not to perform religious carols.

“This is not a religious proselytizing, evangelistic issue,” he told the newspaper. “The song Joy to the World is as much a part of the holiday spirit as the Christmas tree.”

The VA said their policy is meant to welcome and respect all faiths while at the same time protecting them from “unwelcomed religious material.”

Principal Funsch said his students, on principle, decided not to comply with the government-approved list of Christmas carols and they cancelled their concert.

“From our point of view, the purpose of Christmas and its carols is to celebrate and honor the birth of Jesus, and if that goal is taken from us, it is an issue we do not want to be a part of,” he told the newspaper. “We do not think it is a good idea to systemically weed out religious Christmas songs from being sung in certain places.”

 

Obama Admin. Orders Army to Ban Using Word, “Christmas”

Via BizPacReview:

The Army got a stern warning from a Defense Department representative recently. Avoid the word “Christmas” under all circumstances.

An equal opportunity officer delivered the message to leaders of the 158th Infantry Brigade at Mississippi’s Camp Shelby, according to Fox News.

An unidentified soldier attending the meeting said that when the subject of the upcoming Christmas football game was brought up, the officer immediately told the attendees that the word “Christmas” couldn’t be used.

“Our equal opportunity representative stopped the briefing and told us that we can’t say Christmas,” the soldier told Fox News. “Almost the entire room blew up. Everybody was frustrated. The equal opportunity rep told our commander that not everyone celebrates Christmas and we couldn’t say Christmas celebration. It had to be holiday celebration.”

When a brief, heated discussion on political correctness ensued, the equal opportunity officer said those weren’t her rules — they were the Army’s.

“She said an individual can say Christmas, but as an organization in the Army, you can’t say Christmas,” the soldier said.

The soldier has since hired a lawyer.

“It’s unbelievable that the Army would ban ‘Christmas’ like it’s a bad word,” said Michael Berry, an attorney with the Liberty Institute, a legal firm representing the soldier. “Are they going to have the ‘Merry Christmas’ police going around issuing citations to an soldier who slips and says the word? They’re treating Christmas like it’s pornography. As a matter of fact, the Army actually treats pornography better than it does Christmas.”

Fox reported:

It’s not the first time Equal Opportunity officers have caused trouble at Camp Shelby. Earlier this year, I reported exclusively about a briefing at Camp Shelby that labeled the American Family Association as a domestic hate group.

After my story was published, the Secretary of the Army ordered military leaders to halt all briefings on extremist organizations that labeled Evangelical Christian ministries as domestic hate groups.

“Between the Air Force and the Army, it’s like they don’t like Christian values, they don’t like the word Christ or Christmas,” the soldier said. “They don’t like you talking about it.”

Until this gets all sorted out, the Department of Defense wishes everyone a very merry winter.

Obamacare Raping the Wallets of the Middle-Class

Via the New York Times:

Ginger Chapman and her husband, Doug, are sitting on the health care cliff.

The cheapest insurance plan they can find through the new federal marketplace in New Hampshire will cost their family of four about $1,000 a month, 12 percent of their annual income of around $100,000 and more than they have ever paid before.

Even more striking, for the Chapmans, is this fact: If they made just a few thousand dollars less a year — below $94,200 — their costs would be cut in half, because a family like theirs could qualify for federal subsidies.

The Chapmans acknowledge that they are better off than many people, but they represent a little-understood reality of the Affordable Care Act. While the act clearly benefits those at the low end of the income scale — and rich people can continue to afford even the most generous plans — people like the Chapmans are caught in the uncomfortable middle: not poor enough for help, but not rich enough to be indifferent to cost.

“We are just right over that line,” said Ms. Chapman, who is 54 and does administrative work for a small wealth management firm. Because their plan is being canceled, she is looking for new coverage for her family, which includes Mr. Chapman, 55, a retired fireman who works on a friend’s farm, and her two sons. “That’s an insane amount of money,” she said of their new premium. “How are you supposed to pay that?”

An analysis by The New York Times shows the cost of premiums for people who just miss qualifying for subsidies varies widely across the country and rises rapidly for people in their 50s and 60s. In some places, prices can quickly approach 20 percent of a person’s income.

Experts consider health insurance unaffordable once it exceeds 10 percent of annual income. By that measure, a 50-year-old making $50,000 a year, or just above the qualifying limit for assistance, would find the cheapest available plan to be unaffordable in more than 170 counties around the country, ranging from Anchorage to Jackson, Miss.

A 60-year-old living in Polk County, in northwestern Wisconsin, and earning $50,000 a year, for example, would have to spend more than 19 percent of his income, or $9,801 annually, to buy one of the cheapest plans available there. A person earning $45,000 would qualify for subsidies and would pay about 5 percent of his income, or $2,228, for an inexpensive plan.

In Oklahoma City, a 60-year-old earning $50,000 could buy one of the cheapest plans for about 6.6 percent of his income, or about $3,279 a year with no subsidy. If he earned $45,000, with the benefit of a subsidy, he would spend about $2,425.

While the number of people who just miss qualifying for subsidies is unclear, many of them have made their frustration known, helping fuel criticism of the law in recent weeks. Like the Chapmans, hundreds of thousands of people have received notices that their existing plans are being canceled and that they must now pay more for new coverage.

In an effort to address that frustration, the Obama administration announced on Thursday that it would permit people whose plans had been canceled to buy bare-bones catastrophic plans, which are less expensive but offer minimal coverage. Those plans have always been available to people under 30 and to those who can prove that the least expensive plan in their area is not affordable. But the announcement does not address the concerns of those who would like to buy better coverage, yet find premiums in their area too expensive.

David Oscar, an insurance broker in New Jersey, another high-cost state, said many of his clients had been disappointed to learn that the premiums were much more expensive than they had expected.

“They’re frustrated,” he said. “Everybody was thinking that Obamacare was going to come in with more affordable rates. Well, they’re not more affordable.”

Many of the biggest provisions of the Affordable Care Act are aimed squarely at the poorest of Americans. Under the law, states have the option of expanding Medicaid to a larger pool of people with the lowest incomes. To those earning more, the law provides subsidies to people earning up to four times the federal poverty level, or $45,960 for an individual and $62,040 for a couple.

Ninety percent of the country’s uninsured population have incomes that fall below that level, according to one recent analysis. As a result, the subsidies “are well targeted for people who are uninsured or underinsured,” said Sara R. Collins, an executive with the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that finances health policy research. “That is really where the firepower of the law is focused.”

Federal assistance is based on the cost of premiums for the second-cheapest silver, or midlevel, plan in a person’s geographic area and are set so the amount the person must pay for coverage does not exceed a certain percentage of income, ranging from 2 to 9.5 percent.

Even before the announcement on Thursday giving people with canceled plans the option of buying catastrophic coverage, the law permitted people to select such plans if the price of premiums in their area exceeded 8 percent of their income. The catastrophic plans are often less expensive and include three doctor visits and free preventive care, but require someone to pay almost all of the medical bills up to a certain amount, which is usually several thousand dollars.

That is the option that the Chapmans say they are likely to choose when their current insurance plan, which costs $665 a month, expires in September. Anthem is the only insurer offering plans in the marketplace in New Hampshire, and prices there are higher than in many other parts of the country.

Some experts dismissed the varying effects of the income cutoff, saying the law’s main elements benefit most of those who could not previously buy insurance.

“I think that job one was to make sure that the people who clearly have the greatest difficulty affording premiums receive the greatest help,” said Ron Pollack, the founding executive director of Families USA, a consumer advocacy group that favored the law.

To avoid creating such steep cliffs, federal officials would have had to spend more money on the subsidies, said Larry Levitt, an executive with the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit research group that is closely following the health care law. Subsidies would have been higher, and could have been more gradually phased out, he said. The design “was largely driven by budgetary decisions,” Mr. Levitt said.

The subsidy cutoff can seem especially arbitrary to people whose incomes vary from year to year, even if they stand to benefit from the law.

Christian Johnsen, a bakery owner who lives with his wife and two children in Big Sky, Mont., and has an income of about $88,000, will probably be eligible for subsidies next year. As a result, the family could buy a midlevel insurance plan for about $697 a month.

But if the bakery does better next year, the family could be asked to pay a lot more. Without any subsidy, the same plan would cost $822.

Mr. Johnsen, who is 47, said he would like to buy insurance for his family. They have gone without it for the last two years, paying out of pocket on rare visits to the doctor. But he said it is hard to justify those prices to prevent an unforeseen catastrophe when so many real-world expenses demand his attention first.

“I know absolutely that I’m going to need a new car in two years, but I don’t know that I’m going to have a catastrophic accident,” he said. “That’s the kind of debate that happens in our house.”

Obama Admin. Illegally Extends Obamacare Deadline…Again

Via The Daily Caller:

Administration officials have surreptitiously extended the Obamacare sign-up deadline to one minute short of Christmas Day, in yet another effort to goose enrollment numbers.

The decision also creates yet another implementation problem for executives at the health-insurance companies, who allied with Obama to push the law through Congress in 2010.

The unannounced change is hidden in software code, which was modified to extend the deadline for people seeking insurance starting Jan. 1.

[…]

Continue Reading>>>

 

New Record Low: 2 in 3 Americans Oppose Obamacare

Via CNN:

Washington (CNN) – Support for the country’s new health care law has dropped to a record low, according to a new national poll.

And a CNN/ORC International survey released Monday also indicates that most Americans predict that the Affordable Care Act will actually result in higher prices for their own medical care.

Only 35% of those questioned in the poll say they support the health care law, a 5-point drop in less than a month. Sixty-two percent say they oppose the law, up four points from November.

[…]

Continue Reading>>>

ICE: Unattended Illegal Alien Children Pouring Across Border in Persuit of Amnesty

Via CNS News:

The Department of Homeland Security is transporting illegal immigrant children smuggled into the United States to their illegal immigrant parents living in the United States “every day,” according to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.

In an interview with The Daily Caller Thursday, the president of the union representing more than 7,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and staff, Chris Crane elaborated on a recent court order out of South Texas.

In the Dec. 13 court order, a federal judge chastised the Department of Homeland Security for transporting illegal immigrant children smuggled to the U.S. and detained at the border to their illegal immigrant parents living in the country — noting that the court had had four such cases in “as many weeks.”

“The DHS policy is a dangerous course of action,” U.S. District Court Judge Andrew S. Hanen wrote.

According to Crane — who has been speaking out vocally on behalf of his union about the dangers of the Senate immigration bill and the lack of immigration enforcement under the Obama administration — Hanen’s order was “spot on.” The practice, carried out by ICE agents, is commonplace, Crane said.

“Down at the border right now we are overwhelmed with the number of juveniles — well people coming across period — but kids are coming across that border by the thousands,” He said, explaining that a good portion of the influx can be directly traced to talks of “amnesty.”

“Now our agents are babysitters, and they are literally changing diapers — they are so small — and transporting them all over the country,” he said.

“The spike in juvenile entries has been dramatic since talks began about amnesty and the DREAM Act,” he said. “They have just gone through the ceiling. Unaccompanied juveniles in particular, children coming here all by themselves or in the arms of smugglers.”

Crane noted that the border-crossing portion is the most dangerous part of illegal immigration and stressed that many of the crossers are coming for “amnesty.”

“These individuals are literally showing up here and saying “I’m here for the DREAM Act,’ ‘I’m here for amnesty,’” he said.

According to Crane, there is no real “department” to deal with juvenile entrants.

“I think everyone out there just kind of takes this for granted that there is some kind of juvenile system to turn kids over to and be taken care of. We have nothing. So when these kids they just keep getting piled on us we don’t have any facilities for this,” he said.

Obama has Taken More Vacations as President Than Average Working American Will Take in 20 Years

Via CNS News:

(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama, who is departing Friday for a vacation in Hawaii that will reportedly last until Jan. 5, took more annual vacation days on average in his first term than the average private-sector worker gets after 20 years on the job.

Obama took an average of 21.5 vacations days per year in his first four years as president. By comparison, private-industry workers in the United States who have at least 20 years on the job get an average of 19 days of paid vacation per year.

Obama Vacation

The Government Accountability Institute, headed by Peter Schweizer (who is also a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University), published a study of President Obama’s calendar on April 28, 2013 that included an accounting of the vacation days the president took from his inauguration on January 20, 2009 through March 2013.

According to GAI’s accounting, Obama took 21 vacation days in 2009, 34 in 2010, 20 in 2011, 7 during his re-election-campaign year of 2012, and 4 in January 2013 before his second inauguration on Jan. 20, 2013 marked the end of his first four years in office.

The 86 cumulative vacation days that Obama took in his first four years in office worked out to an average of 21.5 days per year.

Even if you do not count the four days of vacation Obama took in early January 2013—before the end of his fourth year in office on January 20, 2013—the 82 days of cumulative vacation he took in his first four calendar years in office equals an average of 20.5 per year, which is still more than the 19 paid vacation days per year that the average private-industry worker gets after 20 years on the job.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in private industry get an average of 10 days of paid vacation after they have been at the job one year; they get an average of 14 days paid vacation after they have been at the job five years; 17 days after they have been at the job 10 years;and 19 days after they have been at the job 20 years.