Sunday, June 25, 2017

Bob Barr

Bob Barr
Bob Barr is a former Congressman who represented the citizens of Georgia’s 7th Congressional District in the US House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. Bob heads Liberty Guard, a non-profit and non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting individual liberty.

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TSA Search
Hey, I wonder if this traveler has a phone charger in here - I've been needing a new one!

Much has been said of the ineffectiveness and intrusiveness of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) over the last decade and a half. However, when newspaper headlines start mocking the agency for asking a passenger “Is that a cookie or a bomb?”, it becomes clear that we have a real problem.

To be sure, there is a vital need for pre-flight security. That has never been in question. What has been questioned is the amount of power granted to a single federal agency for performing functions that can, could, and should be undertaken by private agencies under contract with the federal government. At least private contractors could be fired for the troubling behavior demonstrated by the TSA over the years, including beating-bloody passengers with special needs, humiliating teenagers over choice of clothing, and making incredibly rude remarks about passengers – including U.S. Olympians.

Despite numerous incidents of this nature, the TSA is routinely rewarded each year with billions of taxpayer dollars, out of blind deference to the golden calf of “national security.” And now, federal officials are poised to give the agency even more power over you.

Responding to recent terror threats in the same, often ham-fisted and reactionary methods typical of federal agencies in the post 9/11 world, the TSA currently is testing new screening procedures that require passengers to remove food and reading materials from carry-on bags. In addition to demanding that passengers place their shoes, coats, laptops, “liquids,” and any other bulky items in separate bins, new procedures being applied in several airports require passengers to separate out books, magazines, and snacks for extra inspection by TSA agents.

Where today passengers are advised to arrive at their departure airport at least two hours before a scheduled flight, one can only imagine the additional time delays this will create with TSA screenings; though, this should be the least of passengers’ worries. According to TSA officials, screeners may “fan” reading materials while checking for contraband, but promise they are not actually paying attention to what travelers are reading. Never mind that it was revealed only two years ago that TSA’s SPOT (Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques) program employs subjective behavioral markers such as excessive body odor and sweating, for secret scorings to determine if an individual passenger likely is a terrorist. Yet, have no fear — the content of a person’s reading material is completely off-limits. Sure.

Try as they might to convince us of their trustworthiness, nothing in the TSA’s history of gratuitously punitive, if not deliberately petty behavior, leads us to believe this to be true. Rather, what is more likely is that reading material specifically will become the focal point of TSA screeners’ discretion as to whether passengers warrant additional screening. A passenger’s magazines and books will then be subject also to callous remarks from agents; all of which passengers must silently endure. After all, what other recourse do they have when faced with abuse from federal agents – submit or miss your flight, or find yourself facing criminal charges.

Passengers, who long ago should have abandoned hope for even a modicum of privacy or dignity when attempting to fly, must also endure the embarrassment of pulling out their choice of reading for other passengers to see and judge. Ready to fly? You must also be ready for your fellow passengers to know if you are dealing with marriage issues, depression, or a have a predilection for erotica. It will soon be all on display as agents “fan” through your reading material with the restraint and professionalism demonstrated with other luggage items.

To its credit, TSA’s Pre-Check program, in which passengers apply to be vetted before flying and then are allowed expedited screening without all the dehumanizing antics of going through non-Pre-Check screening, is a significant step in the right direction. However, rather than double-down on what has so far been a relatively successful program, TSA fritters away its budget on other highly questionable projects like SPOT, and now what might be called its “Approved Reading Materials Assessment Program” (“ARMAP” for short).

Congress, of course, should step in and undertake serious oversight of TSA, including this latest foray into inspecting an individual’s reading materials.  Unfortunately, considering the deference with which the Congress has approached funding TSA year after year, it is unlikely the legislative branch of our federal government will do more now, than issue some stern warnings followed by approving increased funding for yet another year.  And the privacy rights of the citizenry – at least those who wish to exercise their right to travel by commercial air carriers – will have suffered another blow in the name of “national security.”

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Judging by all the smiling, smug faces gathered at the White House last week after House Republicans passed the much ballyhooed American Health Care Act (“AHCA”), one might be lead to believe they actually did what they promised to do – repeal ObamaCare. And, in the typical logic-twisting of Beltway politicians, perhaps some of the GOP members probably believe they did. After all, the Republicans did pass a bill; it was sold as a replacement of the Affordable Care Act; and, Democrats acted like the sick and infirmed were to be suddenly cast into the street. Nevertheless, after the last cork pops and the confetti stops falling at the GOP’s self-congratulations party, they will be forced to answer constituents demanding to know, “Where’s the beef?”

Not every Republican was rushing to the bowl of victory punch. Rep. Justin Amash, who is an all-too-rare voice of objectivity among his more delusional colleagues, took to Facebook to criticize the new health care legislation, explaining his vote for it only as support for a “marginal improvement” to ObamaCare, nothing more. “[ObamaCare] will continue to drive up the cost of health insurance…and the modifications contained in the AHCA cannot save it,” says Amash. “At best, it will make ObamaCare less bad.”

Regardless of the made-for-fundraising outrage of the Left, the ACHA does little to change the law it purports to replace. In fact, Cato Institute’s Michael Cannon suggests if enacted, in some very real respects, it could be even worse than its predecessor.

As Cannon and others have noted, for example, the ACHA fails to eliminate ObamaCare’s onerous “community rating” price controls – which have sent insurance premiums skyrocketing for some, while reducing coverage for others. Cannon suggests the GOP’s half-hearted tinkering “will accelerate ObamaCare’s race to the bottom.” Apparently, this is what passes as “reform” to Republicans.

While House Republicans may consider their attempt at reforming ObamaCare a job well done, there is no excuse for how far short their “second draft” came to reaching anything that could remotely be considered genuine reform, much less a full “repeal.” As Amash noted, the new plan contains some good provisions, but, hailing the legislation as the “start of a new beginning,” as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy called it, or pretending it to be some huge victory for the free market, is pure Establishment spin to cover the GOP’s lack of desire to fight the battles necessary to truly fix America’s healthcare system once and for all.

As I have written previously, Republicans had seven years to draft a replacement for ObamaCare, and then set the groundwork for passing it when the opportunity came. Yet, when the opportunity did come, we saw just how little Establishment Republicans had accomplished over those years. Instead of crafting a real free market approach to reform, convincing moderate Republicans and Democrats of its merits, and then patiently selling it to the American public as ObamaCare continued to spiral downward, Republican leaders did what they frequently do – propose a last-minute, watered-down version of reform, and promising to “get it right” later.

We saw this in March, when House Republicans first proposed a version of reform that was summarily rejected by conservatives both in Congress, and on the outside. And, we saw them do it again this month, barely getting the “revised” AHCA through the House, and only after buying-off Republicans on the fence with hollow promises that states down the road might be able to opt out of certain provisions. It is a tactic all too familiar to anyone who understands how Washington operates — trading one’s vote today for promises of future relief via some complicated formula, which rarely occurs.

Unfortunately for the GOP and its control of Congress in the future, they may not get out from under this failure. By leaving in place or slightly modifying many of ObamaCare’s worst provisions, and hoping to avoid others on the false hope that states will not succumb to pressure from pro-ObamaCare lobbyists, all they have managed to do is make modest tweaks to a law, while assuming full responsibility for it down the road. The average voter will not remember, or care, it was Obama who passed the ball; only that Republicans were the last to get a fingertip on it before going out of bounds.

Perhaps the Senate will get it right. However, history suggests this will not be the case, and it is likely that the version of the AHCA emerging from the Senate will be essentially the same as the House version, or even worse after moderates in the Senate load it up with more ObamaCare–like provisions that voters have come to consider part of their “right to health care.” For Americans hoping for a true, market-based reform of the health care system to which we are all now subject, however, RepubliCare will make little difference.

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Gun Rights
Will Trump pass the test?

When he addressed the National Rifle Association at its annual convention in Atlanta, Georgia last Friday, Donald Trump did not mince his words. The President declared to a rousing ovation that, “the eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end.” This was welcome news to the thousands of firearms owners, manufacturers and retailers in the audience – many of whom had suffered first-hand as a result of the Obama Administration’s anti-Second Amendment policies during the last eight years.

However, as the saying goes, the “proof of the pudding is in the eating,” and the table has been set for Trump to show America’s 55 million gun owners, including some five million NRA members, that his pro-Second Amendment rhetoric will be backed up by concrete action.

As has been widely noted, Trump is the first sitting U.S. president to speak to the NRA since Ronald Reagan in 1983. While no one expected Bill Clinton or Barack Obama to follow in Reagan’s footsteps, many NRA members did hold out hope that at least one of the Bush presidents – both of whom expressed solidarity with the Association – would have spoken to its members during the 12 years of their combined presidencies.

As it turned out, while both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush voiced support for the Second Amendment and the NRA, their “commitment” to the gun-rights movement amounted to little more than lip service.

The first Bush – angered by an NRA fund-raising letter that was highly critical of the manner in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms handled the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas — made much ado publicly about “resigning” from the NRA.

While his son did not split with the NRA during his tenure in office, his support of legislation backed by the NRA and other gun-rights advocates was less than enthusiastic. To his credit, President George W. Bush did sign into law two important firearms bills – the 2005 “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act,” which leveled the playing field for gun manufactures regarding liability for product misuse; and the “Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act of 2004,” which (in theory) allows qualified active and retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed weapons across state lines. However, bringing “W” to the table to actually sign these bills was a lengthy and laborious process, and resulted in concessions to moderates that weakened the protections the legislation were intended to provide.

As gun owners, manufacturers and retailers have learned from experience, the real test whether a president truly supports and will defend the right to keep and bear arms is not their words, but their actions. The early indications are that President Trump will act.

In his first 100 days, Trump signed a repeal of a particularly troublesome Obama-era regulation that would have used an immaterial Social Security rule as the basis for summarily barring tens of thousands of Americans from owning firearms. Additionally, immediately upon confirmation, Trump’s new Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, signed an order rescinding a last-minute rule change under Obama that would have phased out the use of traditional, lead ammunition on federal lands. And, we now have a strong constitutionalist – Neil Gorsuch – on the Supreme Court.

But, the real test of a president’s commitment to the Second Amendment is revealed in whether he will actually – aggressively – support meaningful and substantive legislation. There are two pieces of legislation already teed up for the new Commander in Chief to demonstrate his true level of support for the Second Amendment.

The first is the “Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017,” already pending in both houses of Congress. This legislation would replace the patchwork of state laws and regulations regarding concealed carry — in which a person can go from law-abiding citizen to potential felon by doing nothing more than crossing a state line with a firearm fully lawful in their home state – with a single national standard. The legislation simply reflects the principle that the right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental right of citizenship that a person carries with him or her regardless of where they travel.

Another bill now awaiting action in the House of Representatives, is the “Hearing Protection Act of 2017,” which would expand access to sound suppressors that protect the hearing of hunters, competition shooters, and those who may find it necessary to use a firearm in the home for self-defense.

If Trump actually gets behind these and other pieces of pro-gun legislation – and if he refocuses the ATF to go after criminals with firearms, as opposed to playing a game of “Gotcha” with firearms retailers trying to comply with the record-keeping burdens of federal regulations – the NRA, and all 55 million gun owners will have more to cheer about than rousing speeches.

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In D.C. Comic’s fictional “Bizarro World,” all things are done opposite of here on Earth. According to the “Bizarro Code,” inhabitants of the cube-shaped planet “hate beauty,” “love ugliness” and consider it illegal to “make anything perfect.” Ironically, here on planet Earth, many liberals – and a disturbing number of judges – subscribe to a similar Bizarro Code when considering matters involving the Second Amendment. To these Earth-bound Bizarro Code adherents, it should be — and in some cases is — illegal to legally exercise the fundamental, constitutionally-guaranteed right to possess a firearm.

While the Supreme Court, and a number of other courts across the country, have made progress in recent years in rolling-back some of the more onerous restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms, the trend is by no means uniform; especially regarding concealed carry.

For example, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in January that mere lawful possession of a firearm poses a danger to society. Specifically – and incredibly – that court opined that there is an inherent risk in “a person who is armed even when the firearm is legally possessed.” While some may laud this ruling as a move to protect police officers facing armed suspects, its potential scope is far broader and more problematic.

The opinion opens the door for the search of any concealed carry permit holder, regardless of whether the individual ran a stop sign, was selling cocaine, or just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In effect, this federal court of appeals decision means that simply exercising one’s Second Amendment right to possess a firearm negates that person’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

As Slate Editor Mark Joseph Stern noted recently, the real-world consequences of the Fourth Circuit’s “logic” did not take long to play-out in another federal Circuit — the 11th (which includes Alabama, Florida and Georgia). In March, that Circuit threw out a lawsuit against a Florida police officer who fatally shot an apartment resident who happened to be holding a lawful firearm when he answered the door late at night after the officer unexpectedly banged on the door.

The gun owner’s only “crime” was legally having a firearm in his hand, inside his home, when answering an unexpected loud knock on his door late at night.

This is far from the only example of such Second Amendment perfidy by judges in recent years. In 2015, Corey Jones, who possessed a lawful concealed carry permit, was leaving a band gig at 3:00 AM when his car broke down in an undesirable part of town. When a white van with tinted windows pulled in front of him and a man wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap exited, Jones apparently grabbed his firearm.  This move to lawfully protect himself was answered without warning by the plain-clothed law enforcement officer driving the van, shooting Jones dead.

These incidents hit close to home for all responsible gun owners; especially those who carry firearms for self-defense. These and many other such incidents illustrate not uncommon situations in which law-abiding individuals find themselves, and when having a firearm for self-defense is most needed. Yet, despite some progress on gun rights, a worsening problem within states and local jurisdictions due to wrong-headed court rulings, or simply bad police training, are placing gun owners directly in danger by criminalizing the very act of possessing a firearm.

The problem is made worse by the prevalence of data-sharing with so-called “Fusion Centers.” These largely unregulated centers take vast quantities of personal information on citizens that has been collected from both public and confidential sources, and disseminate it to law enforcement agencies at all levels across the country. Thanks to this growing, government-based “Dark Net,” firearms owners can look forward to more harassment; such as Maryland transportation police who stand accused of using concealed permit data that they apparently can access at the touch of a computer screen in their vehicles, to stop out-of-state drivers.

Rolling back this tide of anti-Second Amendment court decisions requires continued and aggressive efforts by the National Rifle Association (which is holding its annual convention in Atlanta this week) and other Second Amendment-focused civil liberties organizations.  They – and we — need to support the appointment and election of judges, police chiefs, sheriffs, state legislators,  and members of Congress who live in and understand the real world and our real Bill of Rights; and who are not beholden to some Bizarro World Constitution in which “shall not be infringed” means “shall be infringed.”

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My mom wouldn't buy me a new Playstation so I'm now an anarchist.

Listening to liberal college administrators waxing poetic from their ivory towers, one might conclude the greatest threat to higher education is not helicopter parents who turn students into helpless babes, or a chronic lack of civics education among incoming freshman, but rather “Diversity” — the new Holy Grail of post-secondary education. Campus bureaucrats have dumped millions of taxpayerdollars into “diversity training” materials and mandated courses based on theories such as one that concludes it is racist to expect punctuality in others. In this higher education alt universe, it is taught also that gender can take on any shape, form, or color. Deliberately missing from this world view of “diversity,” of course, is any notion of diversity in speech and thought.

Take, for instance, the recent protest of Heather Mac Donald, a well-known journalist and current fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Her scheduled presentation earlier this month at Claremont McKenna College on law enforcement, was short-circuited by violent protestors. As in similar incidents, the demonstrators appeared to have no actual understanding of who Mac Donald was or what she advocated; believing simply that she was “pro-cop” and did not align with the protestors was sufficient for them to use violence to silence her.

Adding to the absurdity surrounding Mac Donald’s visit to Claremont McKenna, students at Pomona College, a member of the Claremont Colleges consortium, justified the protest of Mac Donald in a letter calling free speech “a tool appropriated by hegemonic institutions…[giving] those who seek to perpetuate systems of domination a platform to project their bigotry,” while labeling the search for truth – a fundamental premise of classical education – a “myth” of “white supremacy.” The utter stupidity of this argument would be laughable if not for the danger of its implications, in which violence is the inevitable and acceptable conclusion.

For proof, one need look no further than the recent violence at the University of California at Berkeley, instigated by radical leftist demonstrators in response to speech they declared unfit for their campus. Tragically, this scenario depicts the future of college campuses if permitted to flourish without opposition. Yet, even with the writing on the wall, this is exactly how many campus administrators across the country have chosen to respond – doing nothing. It is as if they hope by ignoring the problem, it will go away. In reality, this naïve, hands-off approach only emboldens the thugs.

Perhaps even more disturbing than the infuriating-but-predictable inaction of liberal college administrators is the complicity of government authorities in allowing this violent behavior to go unpunished. As noted in the recent Berkeley protests of Milo Yiannopoulos, police stood on the sidelines as liberal anti-fascist fascists (yes, here too irony is lost completely on them) turned the campus into a war zone. It does not take rocket science to understand how in the absence of any down side to using violence as a protest, violence continues to escalate; no surprise, then, that last weekend’s Trump rally at Berkeley ended in violence as masked thugs decided to put a stop to the event with force.

If students, and faculty, and administrators, and local law enforcement including police and prosecutors, all refuse to take this threat to free speech seriously, is it now appropriate for the federal government to step in? Trump was originally mocked for suggesting U.C. Berkeley should lose federal funding for refusing to address campus violence in response to free speech events; yet, what other option is there?

Clearly, conditions are not improving in higher education; in fact, all signs point to a worsening trend if corrective action is not taken immediately. Especially at public colleges and universities, protecting free speech is a fundamental duty of elected and appointed officials associated with such schools; including officials with the administration in Washington, the Congress, state governors and legislatures. If revocation of federal or state funding is what it takes to get the attention of college administrators, then that is what must be done for the sake of protecting the integrity of public institutions of higher education and those students who actually desire to learn.

It may also be time for Attorney General Sessions to task his Civil Rights Division lawyers to re-focus their Obama-era efforts targeting police officers, to campus officials at state-run colleges and universities who are using their authority to deny students the ability to enjoy the civil right of an education for which they and the taxpayers are paying.

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Congress is great at this game.

While President Donald Trump wasted little time after taking his oath of office to outline his vision to “make America great again,” Republicans in Congress have behaved more like a sleepy bear waking from nearly a decade of hibernation.

The latest example of this legislative yawn was the move by the House last week to “reform” internet privacy laws. In a typical “pass-the-buck” fashion, the House majority simply concurred in a vote by the Senate to overturn a 2016 decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that limited in a small way how Internet Service Providers (ISPs) could access and use browsing data for commercial purposes, such as selling it to third parties.

Last year’s ruling by the FCC, however, only applied to ISPs and not industry giants such as Google and Amazon; and, this was the public excuse on which the House GOP hung its hat to justify the precipitous vote to ratify the Senate action and nullify the rule.

Supporters of the measure, which included all but 15 House Republicans, claimed the Obama-era ruling was “unfair” because it only applied to ISPs, and not everyone else. They also argued in another inside-the-Beltway manner that it should have been a different federal regulatory agency – the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – that made the change. So, in what now seems to be the way Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Mitch McConnell are running things at the Capitol, when confronted with a substantive but important question of reforming and modernizing a complex issue – in this case, internet privacy — Republicans simply hit the “Easy Button,” call it a day, and return to the status quo.

If the excuse for this failure to address a timely and relevant issue sounds familiar, it should. Simply look at the failure by the GOP last month to take the time and devote the effort to develop, draft, present and explain to the American people a true repeal and replacement for Obamacare – rather than the Rube-Goldberg plan that neither repealed the underlying law nor replaced it with comprehensive, market-base provisions. Doing little is always easier than doing it right.

Many of today’s laws regarding data and personal privacy reflect technology from the 1970s and 1980s, long before the age of the internet cloud, search engines, and metadata. As such, they are woefully inadequate at addressing pressing practical and constitutional questions of personal privacy; this in an era when even a small sampling of an individual’s search history can reveal deeply intimate details of one’s life.

Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor perfectly captured this sentiment and the need for modernizing privacy laws in her concurring opinion in United States v. Jones, a 2011 case dealing with GPS tracking. Sotomayor argued a comprehensive re-write of our nation’s privacy laws; arguing quite correctly that the current approach “is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks.”

Rather than scrap the FCC ruling, and in turn one of the few positive steps for personal privacy in the modern era, Republicans should have seized the opportunity for the first true attempt to bring privacy laws into the 21st Century. It would have been a major victory for the GOP, demonstrating a vision for constitutional leadership that heretofore has been noticeably absent. Instead, congressional Republicans took yet another shortcut, putting off the hard work behind meaningful, comprehensive reform for another day that is likely never to come.

The missed opportunity is a reminder of Winston Churchill’s observation that, “men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.” Congress acts in much the same way — stumbling on opportunities for real change, but hurrying along before any real work is required of them. This is why advocates of privacy reform such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), and other like-minded groups must start applying serious pressure on the Congress – and continue applying pressure – in a concerted effort to force Congress to challenge the powerful lobbying arm of Silicon Valley and other vested interests. Privacy advocates must be prepared also to challenge federal law enforcement agencies on this matter; agencies that prefer to keep the laws and regulations under which they operate as vague and outdated as possible, in order to offer them maximum room to maneuver.

Left to its own devices, the Congress will do what it excels at — kicking the can down the road.

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At least some of them don't forget who they are.

Of all the muscles in the human body, none are perhaps more toned and strengthened than those in the index finger of moderate Republicans in Congress; particularly following the defeat of their high profile, “too-important-too-fail” health care legislation. There certainly was no shortage of finger wagging and pointing this week, following Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision to pull the GOP’s controversial “replacement” of ObamaCare due to lack of support within the ranks.

Supporters of the American Health Care Act, including the White House which demanded its passage “or else,” blamed everybody — from the House Freedom Caucus to the Cato Institute to Democrats — for its failure; except, of course, the moderates who cobbled together the faux repeal in the first place.

However, another – and far more accurate – way to look at defeating the AHCA by Republicans would be to say, “It’s about time!”

In national politics, on key issues especially, you rarely if ever, get more than one chance to pass something meaningful. If you allow the moderates/Establishment to convince you that you cannot let “the perfect to be enemy to the good” (a phrase I grew to loathe during my time in Congress after hearing it so many times from leadership), seldom does another opportunity come around; much less one to actually “get it right.”

Ever since George H. W. Bush pressed House Republicans to join in breaking his infamous “read my lips” no-tax-increase pledge, these have been the same empty promises force-fed to conservatives by moderates in Congress to goad them into supporting dreadful bills. And, almost always, conservatives are left holding the bag.

So, when it came time to line-up support on the AHCA, despite its manifest shortcomings as genuine reform, finally enough was enough for conservatives. Was this not the precise opportunity to “get it right” that was promised to them for years when it came to replacing ObamaCare with the conservative, free market reforms Republicans have claimed for decades are the key to fixing healthcare in America? Members of the House Freedom Caucus, Cato Institute, Freedom Works, Club for Growth and others were asking nothing more than for the GOP to uphold its end of the bargain, and not squander the opportunity with another permanent “temporary fix.”

Yes, passing genuine repeal of ObamaCare and replacing it with a free market based alternative would have been more difficult and time-consuming than what was proposed by Ryan and his team. It would have taken additional weeks, if not months, to draft, debate, and convince both their colleagues in the Congress and the public that government does not have a magic wand, and should instead give the private sector broader latitude to come up with solutions for efficiency and effectiveness. Yet, this is a fundamental duty of Republicans in Congress – to get it right – rather than taking short cuts, that while perhaps making things a little better is far from the true path needed to make things much better.

In this respect, conservatives were saying “No” because they wanted to stand up for what is right, rather than saying “Yes” just because House moderates wanted reelection material, or because an optics-obsessed White House could check off another campaign promise, regardless of what the end-product looked like. They were finally demonstrating what conservative voters have long wanted from Republicans in Congress – a willingness to stay true to the principles of the Party and the Constitution, even if it means going against Party leaders.

Standing up for these principles is not being anti-Republican, or not “living in the real world” as White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon suggests; it is simply refusing to be yet another rubber-stamp Congress similar to that which gave us No Child Left Behind, the USA PATRIOT Act, and the massively expensive prescription drug bill – just because a Republican president wanted such legislation passed.

In doing what they did last week, the conservatives sent a message to the Establishment that principles do actually mean something; and that at least a significant number of Republican members will stand firm in that regard.

The lack of “loyalty” by the Freedom Caucus that the President decried immediately following Ryan’s pulling the vote last Friday was in fact a welcome exhibition of “loyalty” to true Republican principles, and to the Constitution-based responsibility of the House of Representatives that is independent of the presidency even if the occupant of that office happens to be of the same political Party as the majority.

Hopefully, congressional leaders and the White House will come to understand this, and see it as an opportunity to begin actually reining in government rather than expanding it. One can at least hope.

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Welcome to the Geek Squad, how may I report you?

Having computer problems? You may want to think twice before picking up the phone to call for a repair. According to recent court documents filed in federal court in California, a simple hard drive replacement could lead to your arrest.

It may sound far-fetched, but the Federal Bureau of Investigations is being forced to explain an uncomfortably cozy relationship between its agents, and those of Best Buy’s electronics servicing team, Geek Squad. Specifically at issue is evidence that the FBI actively worked with Geek Squad employees to train them on how to identify and report suspicious computer files during service calls; going so far as to allegedly offering a bonus of $500 for evidence leading to criminal charges against a customer. In some cases, this snooping by private contractors had nothing to do with the original repair requests; amounting to a clear invasion of privacy and breach of trust, with the full blessing – if not encouragement – by law enforcement officials.

The damning article about the case, USA v. Mark Rettenmaier, by OC Weekly reporter R. Scott Moxley, notes that Geek Squad employees worked “under the direction and control of the FBI,” and that the FBI sought “training of the Geek Squad Facility technicians” to help them better sniff out illegal material in the course of servicing computers and other technology, including the use of “highly specialized computer-intrusion tools” that would appear to be less for repairs than outright spying on customers they were supposedly there to help. However, even without such devices, a search through one’s personal files by a trained computer technician would be almost impossible to detect, or notice, without standing directly over their shoulder the entire time.

Given Geek Squad’s massive, nationwide footprint of more than 20,000 employees, and its (once solid) reputation of trust among consumers, it is easy to see why this private “Peek Squad” would be an enticing ally for federal law enforcement. With unfettered access not just to its customers’ homes, but computer hard drives containing huge amounts of highly personal and often sensitive data, Geek Squad employees and others like them have an unprecedented opportunity to surreptitiously mine this data (or copy it for later inspection) for suspected wrongdoing; all without having to worry about the pesky hindrances of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibition against such unreasonable searches and seizures.

Certainly, and as Best Buy has emphasized in defending itself against these accusations, private contractors have an obligation to report illegal material found during the normal course of their service requests. Such reports have been allowed by courts if the private entity “happens to have found” evidence and turns it over to law enforcement. It becomes a completely different matter, however, when the government is doing more than passively receiving evidence of a possible criminal offense from an outside source; as here for example, if law enforcement is directing or training these individuals to operate as de facto agents. In such circumstances, courts have held that the outside workers, such as computer repair technicians, are serving in effect as government agents and are subject to Fourth Amendment search and seizure provisions.

This is not the first time federal law enforcement has attempted to enlist outside, “Fourth Amendment proof” agents for surveillance. A decade ago, it was revealed the Department of Homeland Security wanted to train firefighters and utility workers in surveillance; taking advantage of their expanded ability to enter homes without warrants. However, the use of computer repair employees demonstrates an entirely different level of disregard for the rule of law.

Consequently, Best Buy, which should have seen the blowback suffered by Verizon four years ago for similar allegations of dubious collusion with government spooks as reason for stopping this partnership with the FBI dead in its tracks, now faces a devastating hit to one of its few remaining competitive advantages in the marketplace. Though, if its perilous relationship with the FBI proves to be every bit as disturbing as painted by the OC Weekly, such a blow would be entirely justified, and, hopefully, would serve as an example to others that ethics is not to be sacrificed just because the FBI gives them a pat on the back and a check in their wallet.

Not only does side-stepping the Fourth Amendment threaten innocent people with false accusations of wrongdoing (can Geek Squad employees tell the difference between a parent’s photo of their children from genuine child pornography?), the use of private citizens to surveil their fellow citizens completely guts one of the last remaining vestiges of personal privacy in today’s society. Americans should nothave to worry that that the computer repair person with whom they contract may be a secret spy for the government.

If the government receives a green light from the courts to continue this practice, it may very well be the event horizon into total State control, which no “reboot” or “reformatting” will ever fix.

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2017 Starts with a bang for gun rights.

When the U. S. Supreme Court issued its seminal rulings in Heller (2008) and McDonald (2010), finding that the Second Amendment does in fact guarantee an individual right to keep and bear arms that must be recognized by the states, many Americans felt like the issue of the Second Amendment had finally been settled in America. Unfortunately, as we would quickly see in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere — it was only the latest chapter in what has become an endless battle for the natural right of self-defense.

Take, for instance, the District of Columbia’s post-Heller “fix” to its unconstitutional gun laws — forcing citizens to obtain a license to carry firearms outside their home, but failing to provide any mechanism by which to obtain a license. In other jurisdictions, including Illinois and Seattle, officials attempted to create de facto gun bans by increasing the cost of ownership through taxes and fees, regardless of the impact on minority citizens. Former President Obama, too, had his own way of side-stepping these otherwise clear Supreme Court rulings, and employed the resources of numerous agencies and departments — most of which have no colorable jurisdiction over firearms, such as the FDIC and CDC – in an often unnoticed drive to undermine the 2nd Amendment.

You have to give gun control advocates points for being clever; which is what makes a recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit all the more frightening.

Despite the clear, well-reasoned rulings in Heller and McDonald, the 4th Circuit took the exact opposite approach in upholding Maryland’s “assault weapon” ban; and, in doing so, created an entirely subjective litmus test for what types of guns could be regulated by the State. The appellate Court found that Maryland’s ban of 81 firearms was “legal” because the guns were “weapons of war.” This conclusion is beyond laughable, insofar as U.S. military versions of such civilian firearms are capable of fully automatic fire, which the civilian versions at issue in the court case are not.

The Fourth Circuit justices, like Bill Clinton with his 1994 “assault weapons” ban, chose to base its decision not on facts, history, or common sense, but on whether the firearms at issue “looked” like military-style firearms. “La La Land” wins again.

As Justice Clarence Thomas noted in 2015, “if a broad ban on firearms can be upheld based on conjecture that the public might feel safer (while being no safer at all), then the Second Amendment guarantees nothing.”

Perhaps now the Supreme Court might finally hear a challenge to these arbitrary bans on semi-automatic weapons, after passing on several post-Heller requests for clarification on the issue.

However, despite this ludicrous Fourth Circuit ruling, there have been some positive developments for gun rights. Last week, President Donald Trump signed a bill from Congress that stopped a proposed rule change made in the twilight of the Obama Administration, requiring the Social Security Administration (yet another agency employed by Obama in his war on guns) to report to the FBI citizens deemed “mentally defective,” so as to prevent them from owning firearms — without any due process before depriving them of this constitutional right. The fear, and rightfully so, is that this list of disqualifying factors of gun ownership would include non-impairing conditions, such as eating disorders.

Another bill aimed at protecting innocent Americans from having their rights arbitrarily curbed is the “Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017,” a version of which has been introduced in both the House and Senate. The Act intends to create a national system of reciprocity among states for holders of concealed carry permits, eliminating the fear and uncertainty for law-abiding individuals when traveling through states like Connecticut, California, and Maryland. Finally, travelers may be able to exercise their right to self-defense without having to worry about being slapped with a felony simply because they crossed a state line. But this battle is far from over.

Finally, the long-awaited “Hearing Protect Act” may reach the president’s desk this year after failing to do so in 2015. The bill, H.R. 367, would eliminate a $200 fee associated with buying a silencer; but more importantly, remove regulatory hurdles that have kept most law-abiding citizens from purchasing such items since 1934. Liberals, convinced the reality of guns is what they see in a Hollywood movie, are in hysterics; but the truth is silencers (more properly known as “suppressers”) muffle, but do not eliminate, the report of a firearm being fired, so as to protect the hearing of the shooter and those in the vicinity.

The first weeks of Trump’s presidency have been filled with at least a few wins for the Second Amendment. However, it is more important than ever to be vigilant about the counter-efforts of gun control advocates, who remain very much alive and well in both houses of Congress — and in both parties— and in state legislators from coast to coast.

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Don't go away mad . . . just go away.

In July 2009, Harvard Professor Henry Gates, Jr., an African American, was arrested by Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley, who is white, following a heated interaction between the two men. The incident should have gone largely unnoticed as a local, isolated incident in which both men shared equal blame for allowing a trivial matter to escalate into an arrest. Nevertheless, when President Barack Obama caught wind of the confrontation and weighed-in on the incident at an unrelated press conference a week later, the issue rocketed into national headlines. The president eventually invited both men to the White House for a photo-op, sit-down conversation in what became known as the “Beer Summit.” The national media fawned over such a “cool move” from Obama, just months into presidency; and the stage was set.

None, however, thought to question why the President of the United States was intervening in a purely local matter in the first place.

Of course, as the next eight years demonstrated, the “Beer Summit” was just the beginning of a pattern of executive interference in state and local issues, particularly when such opportunities afforded the Department of Justice a chance to exert greater federal control over local law enforcement. The theatrics of the Obama Administration were almost laughably predictable, not only in their timing – often before even local officials had a handle on the facts and circumstances – but the politically charged nature of the White House responses as well. Rarely, if ever, did Obama (or his attorney general) miss an opportunity, no matter how small, to stand on the Administration’s bully pulpit and lecture the masses about improving race relations, the need for greater gun control, or other Kum-ba-ya, feel-good solutions to the “moral outrage du jour.”

To be fair, while the Obama Administration raised the level of this pattern of presidents injecting themselves into myriad local “crises” to an unprecedented level, the troubling phenomenon also was practiced by his predecessor, George W. Bush. Perhaps, reeling from the flack taken during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina catastrophe in New Orleans, in which Bush was accused of not “responding” fast enough or with sufficient “compassion” to the disaster, the White House thereafter took to inserting itself into virtually every local weather event. This did not go unnoticed by governors, who today look for any excuse to rush out and declare a “state of emergency” in hopes of catching a little of the spotlight and triggering the federal money spigot for their states.

“Example,” President George Washington once commented, “whether it be good or bad, has a powerful influence.” So it seems with not just what the president says, but when, and why. Herein lies the problem.

Liberals constantly used the Oval Office for emotional validation of their marches and public outrage. And, craving the adoration from his base, not to mention relishing another chance to thump the GOP in the press, Obama was more than happy to oblige. But, the president of the United States, cannot, and should not, allow himself to be pulled into every “national conversation” or social fray that seemingly erupt now on an almost daily basis. The job of the President is to manage the affairs of the nation. It should go without saying that a good Commander-in-Chief does not have the time to concern himself with incidents that are highly localized, or ephemeral dialogues amounting to nothing more than shouting matches between partisan camps on social media. Not only are these distractions, but they lower the stature of the office to nothing more than just another political pundit.

It also sets a bad example, and bad precedent, for executive leadership at the state and local levels. For example, two professors at Clemson University in South Carolina recently staged a hunger strike to protest the university president’s “silence” on condemning President Donald Trump’s travel ban. What does running a public university have to do with a partisan debate over accepting refugees? Nothing, but there is now an expectation that any “leader” must weigh-in on any issue at any time, no matter how relevant to their specific duties or legal jurisdiction.

The president of a university has no more right to lecture the president of the United States on refugee programs than the U.S. [resident has to lecture a local police chief on community policing tactics.

Rather than rushing to have a soundbite for every issue, true leaders – especially the president – should try a different tactic; keeping their mouths shut (and logged-off from their Twitter account), and intervene only on issues of true national importance, and within their domain. Even in politics – or, perhaps especially in politics — silence can be golden.


Guarding Republicans

Over the weekend, the New York Times was slammed for running a piece where the news outlet apparently tried to cover up the motives...