The cost of the Obama family’s annual Hawaiian getaway swells as First Lady Michelle Obama’s separate trip stands to cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars more. While President Obama remained in Washington wrapping up this year's contentious congressional session, Michelle and her two daughters, Malia and Sasha, jetted off on the 17-day vacation a little early, days before the President will join them. According to government estimates, the military jet flight that Michelle and the girls took Friday costs more than $60,000, and that’s not including the additional cargo flight, limousines, and other furnishings and equipment. The First Lady also requires her own Secret Service protection and staffers, clocking the total bill at well over $100,000, according to White House Dossier, which the White House declined to address during Friday’s daily press briefing. Estimates are that the trip may cost as much as $4 million.  
The Occupy Wall Street demonstrators on the West Coast moved into a new phase of “direct action” this past week with efforts to close down shipping at major ports from San Diego, California, to Anchorage, Alaska. Occupy Wall Street (OWS) organizers designated Monday, December 12 as “Occupy the Ports Day” and had hoped to inspire ongoing strikes and blockades that would shut down import-export commerce long-term. However, except for the stoppage of shipping at Oakland, California, the plan has failed to achieve anywhere near the magnitude of disruptions that organizers had hoped for. Smaller OWS blockades at ports in Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, caused lesser disruptions, while most other ports continued normal operations, as small groups of protesters marched, chanted, and sometimes attempted to block traffic in and out of port facilities. Police in some cities prevented demonstrators from blocking port traffic. In Oakland, however, several hundred OWS activists were allowed to close entrances to America’s fifth busiest port, costing the city, workers, and businesses several million dollars. Under orders from city officials, Oakland police allowed the Occupy demonstrators to carry out their day-long disruption without police interference, in an effort to avoid violent confrontation. However, when organizers voted to continue the disruption through Tuesday, December 13, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan accused them of “economic violence” against the city and the 99 percent they claim to represent.
Donald Trump’s announcement on YouTube on Tuesday night that he was cancelling the Republican presidential candidate debate scheduled for December 27 tried to pin the blame on the Republican Party. A lot of the candidates aren’t coming to his debate “because they think I’m going to run for political office, something I can’t do now … But around the middle of May I’ll be able to do whatever I want and I could run as an Independent. The Republican Party doesn’t want me running as an Independent. So they’ve made this debate pretty impossible…”  
Are African elephants an endangered species?  Like so many questions, the answer depends on who’s giving it. Villagers in northern Uganda whose food the animals devour would likely call them an endangerment — or worse. “[After] I found the elephants eating my crops in the garden, I started banging an empty jerry can to scare them but one of the big elephants charged at me. I was lucky because I ran in between the trees and the elephant stopped. I gave up my garden of millet and rice,” said Mateo Ojok. He’s one of the “internally displaced persons (IDPs) … struggling to resettle because persistent elephant incursions into their fields are threatening their livelihoods, and sometimes, their lives.” Mr. Ojok added, “[Life in] this place is a struggle between the elephants and human beings. The elephants are giving us a hard time, they are really aggressive.” So aggressive, in fact that “the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates … the annual cost of elephant raids to crops in Africa” at “US$60 in Uganda … per affected farmer.” That’s a sizable chunk of wealth in a country where the “gross national income per capita” for 2009 was $511.9 in “current US [dollars].”
A week after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA’s approval of giving minors access to the Plan B abortion pill, a federal judge is preparng to hear arguments in a suit, filed over a year ago, that may trump the decision of Sebelius. As reported by LifeNews.com, “Judge Edward Korman, a federal judge based in New York City, says he will hear arguments in a case filed by the pro-abortion Center for Reproductive Rights over whether the FDA should have ultimately allowed teens to buy the Plan B drug without a doctor’s order. The pro-abortion group says such drugs are being held to a different standard than other drugs and that decisions are not based on science, but on politics.” As reported by The New American, FDA head Margaret Hamburg was poised to approve sales of Plan B, which is currently available over the counter without a prescription only to women over 17, and by prescription to minors under 17. But in an unprecedented move, Sebelius overruled the FDA, explaining her reasoning to Hamburg in a published memo: “It is commonly understood that there are significant cognitive and behavioral differences between older adolescent girls and the youngest girls of reproductive age, which I believe are relevant to making this determination as to non-prescription availability of this product for all ages.”
At a speech in Sacramento, California, on December 10, Richard Mack, former sheriff of Graham County, Arizona, and founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), announced that within a matter of days he will be filing a lawsuit in federal court against the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for slander, libel and defamation. Sheriff Mack, who successfully challenged the 1993 federal Brady handgun control act in a landmark case that went all the way through the United States Supreme Court, has been an outspoken champion of constitutionally limited government and a critic of federal usurpation and abuse of police powers. The forty-year-old Southern Poverty Law Center is notorious for lionizing left-wing extremists (such as unrepentant Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers) and equally notorious for smearing innocent individuals and organizations with the “racist,” “extremist,” “anti-semitic,” “anti-government,” and “hate group” labels. It is not surprising then that it has targeted Richard Mack for vicious treatment in a number of its publications and web sites over the years. But even more troubling than what it has published about him, says Sheriff Mack, are the lies that it has spread to law enforcement agencies about him in the seminars and training programs the SPLC conducts for federal, state, and local agencies.
Forty members of Congress have sent a letter urging the House and Senate Armed Services Committee leaders to protest provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act that would legalize the indefinite detention of American citizens. The NDAA first passed in the House of Representatives weeks ago but endured strong opposition from a handful of lawmakers in the U.S. Senate last Thursday, where the bill was passed but with the addition of an amendment that forced the measure to be reconciled and revised for a final vote. The revised version of the NDAA was finalized on Tuesday, and a vote on it is set to take place this week.  
Renewing a tune it has sung over the past few years, the federal National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is once again proposing a nationwide ban on drivers texting and using cellphones. As reported by CNN, the proposed federal ban “is the most far-reaching yet” made by the NTSB, “which in the past 10 years has increasingly sought to limit the use of portable electronic devices — recommending bans for novice drivers, school bus drivers and commercial truckers.” Should the intrusive ban be pushed through nationally, non-emergency calls as well as all texting by drivers would be outlawed. The ban would include both hands-free and hand-held devices, but would exclude devices installed by carmakers. The NTSB alleges that around 3,092 traffic fatalities last year were caused by distracted drivers — including those texting or on cellphones — but they insist that the numbers may actually be higher. “Needless lives are lost on our highways, and for what?” asked NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman, who is heading up the campaign. “Convenience? Death isn’t convenient. So we can stay more connected? A fatal accident severs that connection.”  
Former Vice President Dick Cheney has faulted President Barack Obama for requesting the return of an unmanned U.S. spy plane downed in Iran. Cheney said in an interview with CNN News that the United States should have taken military action to destroy the plane before the Iranians could gather critical intelligence and technological data from it.  
The narrative continues over smartphone privacy issues involving the data logging program Carrier IQ, which was recently found to be installed on about 150 million handsets worldwide, including many popular Android, iOS, Nokia, and Blackberry devices. Controversy over the invasive software stemmed from allegations that Carrier IQ has the ability to record an array of device information, including keystrokes, text messages, web browsing, and user location, all without the user’s knowledge or expressed consent. Uproar over the smartphone "spyware" emerged in late November when Trevor Eckhart posted on his blog two videos unraveling how the Carrier IQ program he discovered on an HTC smartphone was able to track virtually every function on the phone. Following Eckhart’s purported revelation, several cellphone providers, including Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T, admitted they have used the program on their phones for performance-tracking purposes. In turn, the software developer and several cellphone providers have been issued a class action lawsuit for violating the Federal Wiretap Act, the Stored Electronic Communications Act, and the Federal Computer Fraud Abuse Act. The filing alleged that the companies committed an "unprecedented breach in the digital privacy rights of 150 million cell phone users" and that the defendants deliberately pre-installed the Carrier IQ software into their products, without any form of consumer disclosure.
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