POLITICS
12/27/2013 04:24 pm ET

HUFFPOST HILL - Americans Dazed By Meaningless Period Between Jesus' Nonbirthday And Arbitrary Point In Earth's Orbit

Political staffers replied "Great" to all-office emails while reporters filed evergreen stories they'd been sitting on since September. December 21st may have been the shortest day of the year, but today was the Winter Solstice of professional productivity. Enjoy this truncated holiday edition of HUFFPOST HILL for Friday, December 27th, 2013 -- and happy Work Solstice!

JUDGE RULES IN FAVOR OF NSA SURVEILLANCE - It's a great day for life, [REDACTED] and the pursuit of happiness. Times: "A federal judge in New York on Friday ruled that the National Security Agency’s program that is systematically keeping phone records of all Americans is lawful, creating a conflict among lower courts and increasing the likelihood that the issue will be resolved by the Supreme Court. In the ruling, Judge William H. Pauley III, of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, granted a motion filed by the federal government to dismiss a challenge to the program brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which had tried to halt the program. Judge Pauley said that protections under the Fourth Amendment do not apply to records held by third parties, like phone companies...The ruling comes nearly two weeks after Judge Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia said the program most likely violated the Fourth Amendment. As part of that ruling, Judge Leon ordered the government to stop collecting data on two plaintiffs who brought the case against the government. In his ruling, Judge Leon said that the program 'infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment,' which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures...The main dispute between Judge Pauley and Judge Leon was over how to interpret a 1979 Supreme Court decision, Smith v. Maryland, in which the court said a robbery suspect had no reasonable expectation that his right to privacy extended to the numbers dialed from his phone." [NYT]

Sometimes, things go the way you expect them to go. But other times, a video surfaces of John Kerry and Snoop Dogg fist bumping while someone plays Billy Joel's "Always A Woman" on a french horn.

WHITE HOUSE PUSHING POSITIVE OBAMACARE MESSAGE - Yet another great opportunity to pivot back to the economy! Sam Stein: "Though many political and implementation hurdles remain on the horizon, White House officials seem increasingly confident that the website malfunctions that plagued the Affordable Care Act's rollout are behind them. There’s reason for relief. The deadline to enroll in a health care plan that provided coverage starting Jan. 1 led to a crush of visitors to HealthCare.gov, and the website performed better than expected. According to data points being circulated within the administration and sent to The Huffington Post, "nearly two million" people visited the site on Dec. 23, with a peak moment of concurrent usage by 83,000 people at approximately noon. Both numbers exceeded administration officials' predictions after the site's much-heralded tech upgrade concluded Dec. 1. At that time, officials said the site could handle 50,000 visitors at once and 800,000 over the course of a day...What this means for the health care reform effort overall is hard to state. Just because there was a lot of traffic to the site doesn’t necessarily mean more people than expected enrolled in health insurance, though the early chatter from inside the administration is that officials are happy with the numbers. Moreover, there is still some concern about whether the website is generating solid information in its backend –- the so-called 834 forms that allow insurers to properly document those who have purchased plans." [HuffPost]

DAILY DELANEY DOWNER - The Miami Herald reported Christmas Day that Omar F. Baez, a laid-off registered nurse in Hialeah Gardens, had applied for hundreds of jobs and sought help from his family to keep up with bills. “If I don’t get any job when the payments for unemployment are over, I see doom is coming for me,” Baez, 62, told the paper. “What am I going to do? Because my kids can help me, but I don’t know how long they can.” The Herald reported Baez is just one of 73,000 Floridians in the same boat, with the average jobless duration at nearly 50 weeks. "All are victims of the budget deal worked out between congressional leaders last week," the paper noted. [Miami Herald]

MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT REPORTS DOUBLE - AP: "The number of reported sexual assaults across the military shot up by more than 50 percent this year, an increase that defense officials say may suggest that victims are becoming more willing to come forward after a tumultuous year of scandals that shined a spotlight on the crimes and put pressure on the military to take aggressive action. A string of high-profile assaults and arrests triggered outrage in Congress and set off months of debate over how to change the military justice system, while military leaders launched a series of new programs intended to beef up accountability and encourage victims to come forward. According to early data obtained by The Associated Press, there were more than 5,000 reports of sexual assault filed during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, compared to the 3,374 in 2012. Of those 2013 reports, about 10 percent involved incidents that occurred before the victim got into the military, up from just 4 percent only a year ago. That increase, officials said, suggests that confidence in the system is growing and that victims are more willing to come forward. Asked about the preliminary data, defense officials were cautious in their conclusions. But they said surveys, focus groups and repeated meetings with service members throughout the year suggest that the number of actual incidents — from unwanted sexual contact and harassment to violent assaults — has remained largely steady." [AP]

Nick Wing looks back at 2013 and lists all the things we wish we didn't learn over the past year, including CNN's fascination with poop cruises and pretty much anything Rob Ford said.

PARANOID SELF-LOATHING GOP LOBBYIST STILL HATEWATCHING MSNBC - Fresh off replenishing his bug out bag -- complete with some great skincare products he got for Christmas -- HuffPost HIll's Paranoid Self-Loathing GOP Lobbyist took some time to watch his favorite least-favorite channel, MSNBC. "So, I saw a clip from Lawrence O'Donnell's Holiday episode. The staff all celebrated on camera. Not one black person. Not one hispanic person," PSLGOPL writes. "Hard to get so worked up over Phil Robertson, when O'Donnell's hiring actions speak louder than his words. Merry Christmas." Thanks, PSLGOPL!
STOCKING STUFFERS

- Local man embarasses self, schadenfreude at 11: The best news bloopers from 2013. [http://bit.ly/1cUmu8X]

- In 1974, science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke predicted, quite accurately, how computers would become central to our lives. [http://bit.ly/1effmWX]

- The greatest moments in pizza from 2013. [http://huff.to/1llAKvV]

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