Authors Posts by Bob Barr

Bob Barr

Bob Barr
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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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Politics Today
"Your arguments make sense, and you cited your sources - but you are a white male, so I can ignore all that!" - Social Justice Activists

When Richard Spencer, a controversial figure of the “Alt-Right,” was punched in the face during a television interview earlier this year, the Left cheered the assault, and turned video of the attack into gleeful memes. “The only good thing that happened [at Donald Trump’s Inauguration] was when suit-owner and neo-Nazi Richard Spencer was socked in the head by the new masked hero of Gotham,” wrote Jordan Sargent at Billboard Music’s Spin.com. For a movement populated by pacifists and peaceniks, the Left’s justification of the violence against Spencer came surprisingly easy.

Then, last Friday, when two protestors disrupted a disturbing production in Central Park of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in which a Trump look-alike is assassinated, the Right rushed to defend the hecklers’ actions. Opponents of the play also threatened other producers of Shakespeare summer plays (which were unrelated to the New York production), wishing them “the worst possible life,” hoped they “all get sick and die” and that they should be “sent to ISIS to be killed with real knives.” Apparently, it made no difference to conservative protestors that the offending play, disgusting as it might be, represents speech protected by the Constitution, or that only weeks before those same conservatives were criticizing U.C. Berkeley for shutting down offensive speakers.

Between two sides growing increasingly less rational in responding to all manner of political and social issues, last week’s shooting spree by a single, hate-filled individual against Republican congressmen and staff personnel came not so much as a shock as a sad commentary on the state of politics in America.

Following the attack on Republican members of Congress, pundits and politicians quickly rushed to blame “hate” and “vitriol” for the toxic environment in which an individual would be motivated to use violence for political purposes. This was the very same “analysis” offered to explain the attempted assassination of Democratic Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in 2011.

While there certainly is far too much incivility in today’s political discourse, pinning political violence on inflammatory speech misses the forest for the trees. The root problem is not hate, or even emotion, but the abandonment of logic and reason as underpinnings of American society, which leaves only violence to fill the vacuum.

But it goes far deeper than politics. Everywhere you look today, from flying on planes, to ordering coffee, violence has supplanted rational behavior in our interpersonal dealings. A major factor underlying this phenomenon is social media, which inflates the self-importance of its users, and provides them convenient cover from having to actually explain their views on any particular issue. This process is made worse as social media encourages the use of over-the-top rhetoric, with people “virtue signaling” to others about how much they care, rather than using logical arguments that may be less passionate but more substantive.

Combine this phenomenon with the waning respect for constitutional rule of law, and we are left with groups on both sides of the ideological spectrum who believe their views are correct, their actions are justifiable if not moral, and that nothing else – not logic, reason, or even the rule of law – should stand in their way of achieving their perception of the public good. It is why Leftist “Antifa” thugs use fascist tactics to shut down enemies they call “fascist.” It is why conservatives who decry speech suppression on college campuses defend shutting down public theater performances with which they disagree. And, it is why a man would think a killing spree of congressmen is a reasonable act when letters to the editor failed to elicit the response he desired.

Philosopher and renowned writer Ayn Rand, who witnessed first-hand the brutality of Communism, understood well this terrifying balance between reason and violence. “There are only two means by which men can deal with one another,” wrote Rand. “Guns or logic. Force or persuasion. Those who know that they cannot win by means of logic, have always resorted to guns.” We saw her prescient warning come true on a practice ball field in Alexandria just one week ago. There will be more.

Either we seize this moment of recognition, and consciously do all we can to return reason to center stage in America’s culture; or we enter what promises to be a very long, dark night – the “darkness” of which Ronald Reagan spoke in 1964, and at which time he launched the Twentieth Century’s fight for the “last best hope of man on earth.” Thankfully back then we had Reagan to identify the problem and lead us out of the darkness, at least for a period of time; where might today’s Ronald Reagan be found is not at all clear.

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Charitable Giving
Is this a Republican or a Democrat donation?

Of the 500 million pieces of mail processed and delivered by the United States Postal Service each day, many are solicitations from non-profit organizations. In fact, if you’re above a certain age and have been an active donor to non-profits in the past, there is a good chance much of your daily mail constitutes such appeals. To help donors intelligently navigate among so many requests, online tools are available that rate charities based on financial health, transparency, and accountability. One of these services, however, has decided to include in the information it presents on its website evaluating specific non-profits, highly questionable material that is far more ideological message than a legitimate fact about the organization’s not-for-profit work.

GuideStar is one of the more popular charity ranking tools. However, this well-known site is now placing its credibility at risk by partnering with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in slapping a “warning” label to charity profiles on its site that SPLC has “flagged as a hate group.” The red label, featured top and center on 46 charity profiles, is the first thing a visitor sees when landing on its page; even GuideStar’s own “Silver Award” noting a charity’s commitment to transparency is not given the visibility of this new warning. Absent from the site is any explanation as to is why GuideStar believes the charity warrants such a bold and negative warning.

In fact, the warning links the visitor only to SPLC’s overdramatic “extremist files” page, warning about “anti-gay zealots,” “white nationalists,” the alternative right, and anti-government movements. It is hardly an objective analysis for an organization like GuideStar supposedly both objective and neutral in its ratings.

To be sure, some organizations the SPLC identifies with its nebulous “hate group” label deserve it; there is no question that white supremacist organizations like the Aryan Brotherhood are groups driven by nothing except hate. On the other hand, organizations like the Family Research Council (FRC) and Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), appear on the list for no reason other than their support for political agendas opposed by the SPLC.

The SPLC is, of course, free to offer whatever political opinion or label it wishes against groups with whom it disagrees; and, the Center certainly has developed a knack for doing so. Karl Zinsmeister, writing at Philanthropy Roundtable, described SPLC as a “cash-collecting machine” that uses its extremist list as a “political tool,” while directing only a fraction of its revenue to its original mission as a legal aid organization. The Center’s use of fearmongering rhetoric is obvious to anyone familiar with its history. What is less obvious is why GuideStar blindly follows SPLC’s guidance on these matters, rather than conducting its own independent analysis on why such a label may be warranted.

To wriggle out of this irresponsibility, GuideStar adds a vacuous caveat to its hate group banner, stating they “leave it to you to come to your own conclusions.”

As GuideStar should, and likely does know, appearances in fundraising can make all the difference to potential donors. Fundraisers regularly test millions upon millions of fundraising letters to where even the slightest details of an envelope are designed to improve the chance that the recipient will open it. But it does not take a direct mail expert to predict how a red banner with “hate group” scrawled across it will impact potential donors.

This is likely the intent of the SPLC — to deprive groups like FRC and FAIR of funding; but GuideStar should not be a participant in such an ideologically-motivated game. At least, not so long as it claims to be neutral in its assessments of non-profit organizations based on metrics potential supporters actually care about, like how much of their money will be spent on the charitable programs to which they are donating.

Perhaps GuideStar is drinking social justice Kool-Aid like the hip “woke” kids on the Left, or maybe it earnestly believes these labels make a difference. Regardless of motive, GuideStar is abusing the trust charity supporters place in it by launching an uninspired and lazily conceived response to the ongoing debate about “hate speech” in the public space. And, whether they intended or not, this hackneyed feature is blatantly partisan, and biased against conservative organizations for reasons completely outside the scope of GuideStar’s mission. As the adage goes, “keep it simple, stupid.” GuideStar should stick to the basics of what it does, and leave politics to the SPLC and others who have made it an art form.

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syria gambit
Listening to Republicans on Capitol Hill gush over President Trump’s decision to send nearly 60 high-tech Tomahawk missiles to damage a relatively low-tech Syrian airbase, an observer would be easily led to believe that Trump had in that moment transmogrified from Boy President to Man President — his Bar Mitzvah moment.In fact, serious questions can and should be raised regarding the thought process underlying Trump’s decision, the timing of it, and the legal and constitutional foundation for it.

First, supporters, including Sens. Marco Rubio, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and a bevy of their GOP colleagues, praised the missile strike as morally justified because, just days before Syrian Air Force jets dropped chemical ordinance on areas in which civilians were known to reside, and apparently dozens did die. Absent from published reports was any mention of whether ISIS or other rebel opponents of President Assad’s regime met similar fate in the attack; but the images of civilian casualties the media chose to display were sufficient to nearly bring Donald Trump to tears and push him into the favored mode of post-911 presidents – Commander-in-Chief. Donning that headgear, Trump ordered the massive Tomahawk missile strike against a Syria government air base from US Navy ships offshore in the Mediterranean.

Obviously, slightly less recent images of other Syrian civilians killed by traditional, explosive devices as opposed to those containing chemical agents, were insufficiently provocative to the President to warrant military action; as were the reports of many thousands of civilians killed over the past years in the Syrian civil war between government forces, ISIS, and various other sectarian groups vying for power in that country, including some backed heavily by the Iranian regime and others enjoying support from Russia.

The moral inconsistencies of Trump’s explanation for last Thursday’s military action aside, the sparse legal justification provided is even weaker. The strike was necessary, the commander-in-chief said, because it was based on “vital national security interests” of the United States.” Paying lip-service to this element of American military policy is standard operating procedure, but the words, without substance, mean nothing.

What exactly are America’s “vital national security interests” that suddenly were at stake in Syria’s multi-year domestic civil war; interests so urgent and vital that they demanded a massive American military response? Aside from Trump’s supporters heralding the fact that “we now have a President who is unafraid to take decisive military action,” what has been proven? What has been accomplished? And based on what real American interests and constitutional and legal authority?

The 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) was cited by congressional leaders as a clear and “unquestionable” legal basis for the Syrian strikes. Really? A 16-year old congressional Resolution, the terms of which are explicitly limited to action against those responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001, justifies the use of America’s military against a Syrian government that – while clearly brutal in its actions against citizens in its ongoing civil war – had no connection to the 9-11 attacks against the United States? The argument citing the 2001 AUMF is not one easily made with a straight face, but Senators citing it were up to the task.

What about the fact that Assad’s use of bombs containing chemical agents is prohibited by international treaty and protocol? A fair question; and one that puts Assad on the wrong end of international law. But there is nothing in those treaties and protocols, or in U.S. law, that provides legal mandate for the United States or any other nation opposed to what Assad did, to take unilateral military action for an alleged violation not directed against them.

If it is now the U.S. government’s position that any nation we decide violates an international treaty or protocol regarding use of force involving certain weapons, is subject to being on the receiving end of American military “retaliation,” we would be engaging in exactly what President Trump said days before he did not want to do — be the world’s policeman. Moreover, when his predecessors engaged in similar actions (in Libya, for example), the consequences were far from positive from the standpoint of our national security interests.

Many on Capitol Hill will continue to cheer the new-found chutzpah of the neophyte President, and his political base will raise him even higher; but the confusion sown by his actions, in terms of legality, constitutionality, consistency, and sound international policy will present problems down the road that will not easily be resolved in that part of the world or elsewhere, including North Korea and Russia.

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Not a frog, but thanks.

Nothing is quite able to cause that sick-to-your-stomach feeling than that of losing your wallet. Beyond the frustration of losing cash or dealing with fraudulent credit card charges is the feeling of vulnerability knowing your driver’s license, and other deeply personal information is suddenly open to strangers who have no right to such intimate details of your life.

Now, imagine not just losing the contents of your wallet, but personal information so sensitive it could reveal how long you might live, or if your children are at risk of future diseases. Frightening? Yes; and illustrates what is at stake with a bill proposed earlier this month by North Carolina Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx.

The bill, H.R. 1313, spun by its proponents as a way for companies to create “voluntary program[s]” for its workers to “reduce health insurance costs and encourage healthy lifestyle choices,” would give employers access to the genetic data of its employees. Companies would also gain power to “impose financial penalties on employees who wanted to opt out,” writes STAT, a healthcare-industry news site. Should the bill pass and be signed into law, workers would find themselves stuck between divulging genetic information to unknowable third-parties, or paying higher insurance premiums than others who are less concerned with their personal privacy.

Thankfully, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price immediately recognized the fundamental defect in the legislation proposed. “I’m not familiar with the bill, but it sounds like there would be some significant concerns,” Price told NBC’s “Meet the Press” in an understatement. Price’s natural instinct as both a Republican andaphysician, is to protect privacy; the same, however, cannot be said for the 22 Republicans on the Committee on Education and the Workforce who voted in favor of the bill.

As a supporter of free markets, I believe private companies should have broad autonomy in how they conduct business, including their human resources policies for employees. However, such autonomy cannot be without limits; individuals have rights, too, which must be protected. In the past, Republicans have drawn this line at the protection of such privacy. So, when it came to protecting an employee’s right to withhold the most sensitive personal information possible from his employer without punishment, versus creating “wellness programs,” voting down another blow to personal privacy should have been a no-brainer for Republicans.

Instead, they did just the opposite; underscoring a disturbing trend among today’s congressional Republicans of not only showing a lack of interest in protecting privacy, but actively pushing further away from a philosophical tenet the Party once considered sacrosanct.

As technology rapidly advances, we often struggle to keep up with its practical andethical ramifications. Nowhere is this more true than in the field of genetics, especially when its medical advancements bleed into public policy. Instead of thoughtful debate, we are offered spin designed to over-simplify, sanitize, and mask the real issue. Rarely asked are important questions that must be answered before proceeding down a path that can likely never be undone. Questions such as what safeguards are in place to limit access and misuse of genetic data; how long will this data exist in company databases; can other employers check this data when interviewing new candidates; are other insurance companies able to access the data? And, perhaps most importantly, when (not if)the federal government gains access to such information, can and will it be shared with other agencies and governments?

These are not hypothetical questions or ones that can be answered by a single congressional committee, or even in a single session of Congress. As Price implied in his comments, the highly sensitive nature of genetic testing warrants extreme scrutiny. Any attempt to rush into expanding the gathering, use and dissemination of personal genetic information should be quashed as a matter of basic congressional responsibility. The fact that Republicans in the House failed in this duty should set off alarm bells from the ACLU to the American Conservative Union

Perhaps it is the ease with which people can now swab their cheek and mail-in their genetic profile to be tested by some company that has run a bevy of slick television ads to “discover” one’s “ancestry,” that has lessened the significance of sharing such information. Perhaps it is simply another manifestation of the ease with which Americans are willing to surrender information to the government to “keep us safe from terrorism” in the post-911 world. Whatever the reason, it is critical that Secretary Price will use his voice to convince his colleagues – and his boss – to quash this current privacy-invasive move before it gains real traction.

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In just over a month since winning the 2016 presidential election — and more than that away from even assuming the duties of President — it would seem Donald Trump has withstood more media scrutiny than Barack Obama did during his entire eight years in office.

From who Trump is considering for cabinet positions, to simply having a steak dinner without the media asking him what on the menu looks good, Trump’s every move is dissected by a Mainstream Media machine looking for the tiniest slip-up. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that a call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen would send steam shooting from their ears.

“Honestly, this is just *insane*,” MSNBC flack Chris Hayes feverishly pecked on Twitter after reports of the call; joined by others in the liberal media basically accusing Trump of being “ignorant” to the diplomatic differences between “China” (as in the People’s Republic of China, or PRC) and “Taiwan” (as in the Republic of China, or ROC), and bemoaning how it might provoke the Chinese. However, just as he was constantly underestimated by the media during the entire campaign season, I suspect Trump knew exactly what he was doing by taking the call.

Beyond merely the raging antipathy liberals in the media have for Trump, they claim Trump has no right to violate a four-decades-long “One China” policy that ignores our long-time ally of Taiwan, in favor of the Beijing regime. This is utter nonsense. The ROC is a sovereign nation; albeit one that the U.S. and most other nations have decided is less important diplomatically than the PRC. However, there is no impediment under international or U.S. law for someone in the U.S. communicating with an official from Taiwan.

Given the many recent (and unprovoked) belligerent actions of the Chinese against the Taiwanese, the U.S., and other nations in the Pacific rim (the fly-bys of Taiwan by Chinese war planes, the creation of man-made, military “islands” in international waters, to name just a few examples), it is perhaps more important than ever such communications exist.

Presidents, beginning with Jimmy Carter and continuing to the current occupant of the White House, may be okay with treating Taiwan like a cross-eyed step child, but considering the increasingly cozy Sino-Russian relationship, which clearly is aligned against the long-term strategic interests of the United States, it may be far better to have a President who is willing to buck the status quo.

While the U.S. and other nations may have decided in previous decades — for whatever reason(s) — to recognize diplomatically “One China,” it certainly does not mean we should never reevaluate that position, or refuse to deal with a long-term and consistent strategic ally like Taiwan. In fact, a more open dialogue with Taiwan may perhaps even improve our military posture vis-à-vis the PRC, and our negotiations (direct and indirect) regarding Beijing.

The only way to truly know is to make the first step, which Trump already has done.
More importantly, perhaps, is the message Trump is sending to the world with “The Call.” For the last eight years, American foreign policy was crafted by feckless bureaucrats in the Obama Administration, whose default position in engaging with other nations, especially other superpowers, was one of submission.

Obama has been shown repeatedly to be vastly outmatched by Putin on the global scale, looking much like a wimp crying at a bully during Russia’s hostilities against Ukraine in a crisis that continues to this day. Also, let us not forget that Obama unthinkably paid a ransom to Iran, just to gain its cooperation in a nuclear deal in which Tehran had the upper hand from the very get-go. As it has been said many times, Obama has stood flatfooted and paralyzed in fear as the world continues to crumble in the absence of real leadership coming from the United States.

If the call with Taiwan is any indication, the routine posture of submission looks to change dramatically under President Trump. “The president of the United States should talk to whomever he wants if he thinks it’s in the interest of the United States,” said former UN Ambassador John Bolton of Trump’s now-historic call. “And nobody in Beijing gets to dictate who we talk to.” Such a bold attitude towards American exceptionalism is a welcomed change in international relations. And all it took was a single phone call.

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Thomas Jefferson close up from two dollar bill

Though it may be distasteful to some to “speak ill of the dead,” the passing of a tyrant or a murderer should not serve as an excuse to erase the evil they did while they were among the living. However, in the make-believe world in which President Barack Obama operates, the death of a murderous despot like Fidel Castro, is indeed occasion to sing his praises; especially since the recently departed despised the United States.

It is not only Obama who took the occasion of Fidel’s long-anticipated death to wax eloquent about the Cuban’s wondrous accomplishments. Lefties from across the country and Canada verbally prostrated themselves in praising the communist Jefe Maximo.

Jill Stein, the middle-aged radical hippie who recently carried the Green Party’s banner in the presidential election, praised Castro as “a symbol of the struggle for justice in the shadow of empire.” Stein’s statement would be simply hilarious, but for the fact it came not from the mouth of a child with no knowledge of concepts such as “justice” or “empire,” but from the mouth of a grown woman.

Then we have Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Oakland, and one the Left’s standard bearers in the Congress, who decreed that Americans need to “stop and pause and mourn [Castro’s] loss.” The California Representative then piled on the plaudits; declaring that Fidel’s “revolution” led to “social improvements for his people” – when gushing over the death of a fellow Leftist, why let facts cloud your vision.

However, none of these bleary-eyed tributes came close to the nonsense heard north of the border — from Canada’s playboy Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The Canadian heartthrob expressed “deep sorrow” at Castro’s death; mourning him as a kindly grandfather figure. To the young Mr. Trudeau, Castro had nary a mean bone in his body, and was simply a good-hearted “larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century.” As they said back in the eighties, “Gag me with a spoon.”

To Liberal Pollyannas such as these, death squads, torture, government kidnappings, censorship, and imprisoning political opponents, can (must?) be overlooked if undertaken in pursuit of “social justice” (whatever that term means to them). We conservatives know that viewing the world through such rose-colored glasses, accounts in large measure for the revisionist double standard that guides contemporary Liberals. And, some of the results of this warped worldview are truly bizarre.

Take, for instance, a recent call by more than 450 professors and students at the University of Virginia to stop the university president from “quoting” Thomas Jefferson in school-wide emails. Despite Jefferson’s central role in establishing both the University of Virginia and the United States of America, these campus buffoons have decided that his wisdom is not only irrelevant today, but actually harmful to the sensibilities of 20th Century academia; because the author of the Declaration of Independence and our third President, owned slaves back in the 18th Century.

This is not the first-time Jefferson has been targeted in recent years either; Democrats in Connecticut voted in 2015 to remove Jefferson’s name from an important annual fundraising dinner, presumably to avoid offending those incensed by a rational review of history. “You can’t change history, but you don’t have to honor it,” was their excuse.

Sadly, this is a malady that has infected not only political leaders and academics; after all, we live in a society in which people – including multi-millionaire sports figure Colin Kaepernick — wear t-shirts depicting Fidel Castro and his brother-in-arms, Che Guevara. The majority of those who display Guevara’s face on their clothing likely have no idea who he was; but to those who do, his visage adorns their shirt not because he was a cold-blooded killer, but rather because he has morphed into an heroic symbol of anti-capitalism.

By making figures like Castro, Guevara, and Hugo Chavez (who Obama was once photographed warmly greeting at a 2009 Summit of the Americas conference) heroes, and demonizing others like Thomas Jefferson, the Left has created a disturbingly partisan standard that distorts history in favor of its warped worldview. This may be easy to overlook in individuals like Kaepernick and Stein, but from world leaders like Trudeau and Obama, the impact of such revisionism cannot be discounted or ignored.

The Left may claim that it does not wish to “rewrite history,” but that is exactly what it is trying to do; through the media, academia, entertainment, and politics. We allow them to succeed at our and our progeny’s peril.

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sessions

President-elect Trump’s decision last week to nominate Sen. Jeff Sessions to serve as America’s 84th Attorney General signals a return to a Justice Department that reflects a more traditional, real-crimes based approach to federal law enforcement policy, as opposed to the control-oriented, social policy-heavy approach under which that Department has operated for the past eight years.

The fact is, the Department of Justice, when formally established in 1789, was not meant to serve as the heavy-hand of law enforcement; but rather as a relatively small federal agency to focus limited federal resources on the handful of crimes that truly were “federal” in nature – forgery, immigration, interstate fraud, customs matters, robbery of federal facilities, and the like.

Understandably, over the decades as the size and scope of the federal government has grown, so has the Justice Department in size and responsibilities. Unfortunately, during the past four decades or so, one Administration after another, and one Congress following another, have been unable to resist the urge to keep adding to that list of “federal crimes,” so it now numbers in the thousands; over 4,500 according to some estimates. The current Administration has taken that ball and run with it.

While many of the thousands of attorneys working for the Department are top-notch, and continue to investigate and prosecute crimes that the average citizen would understand as constituting crimes that properly should consume the time and resources of Uncle Sam – complex white collar fraud cases, and multi-state and international drug cases, for example – more and more, those attorneys are being directed by the Attorney General to involve themselves in matters of quite a different nature. An increasing number of these cases are regulatory in nature; often of the sort that a civil (that is, non-criminal) approach not only would suffice to rectify the problem, but better serve the ends of justice.

An illustration of the manner in which federal criminal laws can be easily abused to reach conduct not clearly federal in nature, or at best, actions that are not reflective of clear federal priorities, was the “Bridgegate” case involving former associates of New Jersey Gov. Christie. To be sure, Christie’s former associates clearly abused their power as political officials when they caused massive back-ups at a key bridge going into New York City for a couple of days. However, treating the case as a major federal criminal case, including alleging violations of civil-rights era laws with which to punish Christie’s idiotic underlings, represents the type of mis-prioritization of resources that needs to be addressed at the Department.

More broadly, the manner in which the Justice Department for eight years under President Obama has handled civil right cases, illustrates a troubling shift in focus and priority.

Under prior Administrations, going back to the Reagan Administration, federal prosecutors never hesitated to press cases against local, state or federal law enforcement or other officials, who violated individuals’ civil rights. This was an important component of federal law going back decades. If a local police officer employed excessive or deadly force against an individual without justification and, for example, based on racial discrimination, the FBI would be called on to investigate and if the elements of a case were present, the U.S. Attorney would prosecute; occasionally attorneys from the Civil Rights Division at the Department might become involved. But the point to such prosecutions was to protect the victim’s rights and punish the guilty official.

In contrast, as often as not in today’s Obama Justice Department, every such case becomes an opportunity not simply to punish wrongdoing, but to “teach police departments a lesson.” The overriding goal appears to be to place control of those agencies and individual officers under the federal agency.

This trend toward federalizing crime and the administration of criminal justice is troubling and contrary to fundamental standards of our system of federalism in America; and it is demoralizing to local and state police agencies and officers who increasingly are forced to carry out their demanding and dangerous work with Uncle Sam looking over their shoulder ready to yell, “gotcha!”

Speaking of priorities, no less important a person than the current Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, has been spending her time fretting over whether the Constitution of the United States ought be invoked as a basis to involve the Justice Department in the “transgendered bathroom” debate that began flourishing this year.

I suspect her successor, if confirmed by the Senate, will spend far less time beating up on police departments and worrying about transgendered bathrooms; and far more time focusing on protecting the American people against serious criminal activity.

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congress

If one were to count how many times in the last 40 years Congress has passed — on time — all the appropriation bills necessary to keep the government running and avoid a government “shutdown,” you would need but one hand. Only four times in four decades (1976, 1988, 1994, and 1996) did Congress successfully manage to complete the task for which the Constitution grants it exclusive power – appropriating the monies needed to fund all federal agencies and programs.

This inability or unwillingness to do its job speaks volumes about the lack of leadership and resolve by what our Founders considered to be the most important of the three branches of the government created more than two and a quarter centuries ago.

A major factor in this congressional lethargy is the rise of special interests. Special interest groups have long wielded significant influence during the appropriations process; but their impact in this era of legislative somnambulism and massive federal spending – now at some $3.7 trillion — has become particularly pronounced. Time and again, special interests have flexed their muscle to stall the appropriation process by turning small issues into major partisan battles.

Last week, for example, Congress passed yet another short-term spending bill so as to narrowly avoid a government “shutdown.” Yet even here, this so-called “last resort” was not certain to pass, due to bellyaching from the Michigan delegation that its local community of Flint was not getting the cut of federal tax dollars it felt it deserved, when compared to flood victims elsewhere in West Virginia, Louisiana, and Maryland. Last minute negotiations by congressional leaders, including the promise of additional spending-to-come for Michigan, was needed to overcome the partisan wrangling over “Flint” and keep the government operating. This “crisis” followed earlier hissy fits over Zika funding and Planned Parenthood restrictions.

There was a time in which there were clear differences between the majority of Republicans and the vast majority of Democrats regarding federal spending levels and priorities. However, those differences have largely disappeared — lost in the fog of fiscal indifference that now prevails in both Chambers of Congress. The fact that the Democrats are at least honest about their desire to keep open the spigot of federal spending at all costs, is of little solace when compared to the manner in which the GOP time and again caves in to Doomsday cries that failure to keep that faucet wide open will haunt them on election day.

The consequences of this fiscal irresponsibility by the Congress extend far beyond the appropriations process. The legislative graveyard at the end of every Congress increasingly is littered with legislative measures that should have been – but were not – acted on. This year was no different, except perhaps in the magnitude of Congress’ failure.

By failing to pass a measure to stop the Obama Administration from making good on its plan to cede control of the internet from the United States to an international nonprofit organization, the Republican-controlled Congress gave up, without so much as a whimper, global leadership over the most important communications network in modern times.

The Obama Administration’s unilateral (and now, irreversible) decision transfers control over the free internet to a private entity over which the United States has minimal, if any influence; leaving the door open to countries like Iran, Russia, China and Syria to exert “public policy” input on the manner by which the internet is managed.

While the Democrat Party lauds itself as the champion of “free speech,” nary one of its members called for a “sit in” to protest the Administration’s plan to potentially stifle the freedom heretofore fostered by America’s control of the internet. For its part, the GOP was largely silent in the face of Obama’s assault on a free internet; unlike its repeated and very vocal opposition to Obamacare.

There were a few courageous members of Congress who stood up and challenged the assault on a free internet orchestrated by Obama – led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Unfortunately, Cruz and his stalwart band were drowned out in the end by fears that standing up for internet freedom might endanger the Flint spending deal and a billion dollars in taxpayer funding for the Zika scare. And, they simply did not have the votes to counter plaintive cries of “free us so we can go home to campaign” by so many of their feckless colleagues. Go home to campaign now they can, but not with heads held high.

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oversight

Looking back on Monday night’s first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, you easily could conclude that there is no problem they couldn’t solve. They promised to defeat ISIS, create millions of jobs, and bring prosperity and happiness to all.

That is, if you were willing to give them your vote. While the media may have been giddy with this “blockbuster”/“epic”/“historical” debate between two people who are convinced they deserve being given the authority and power to fix America’s woes – our Founding Fathers would have been horrified at what has become of their great philosophical experiment of a government of limited, defined, diffuse powers.

For decades now, the American public has viewed the role of president far different from the one envisioned by our Founders. Where the drafters of our Constitution sought to empower the President with just enough authority to balance out the Courts and Congress, today the public views the President as if only he or she is the “fixer” for whatever problem ails the nation.

“The men who designed our Constitution never thought of the president as America’s ‘national leader,’” wrote Cato Institute’s Vice President Gene Healy in 2008, reacting to campaign rhetoric at the time. “Indeed, for them, the very notion of ‘national leadership’ raised the possibility of authoritarian rule by a demagogue who would create an atmosphere of crisis in order to enhance his power.”

While an “imperial presidency” was not planned by our Founders, they understood human nature sufficiently to foresee its rise if unchecked.

To counter this threat, they placed in the hands of a bicameral Congress three fundamental powers: the power to appropriate monies, the power to draft and pass legislation, and the power of oversight. Congress over the decades has become quite adept — eager, even — to appropriate money and to legislate (which presidents are just as eager to sign into law).

It is, however, the third of the great powers residing in the Congress –oversight — that should be, but is not, employed effectively to rein in presidential abuses and power grabs. This lack of interest in, or understanding of, how to conduct effective, meaningful, and consistent oversight of presidents — to ensure they operate within the letter and intent of the legislation passed by the Congress — has contributed mightily to the dangerous situation in which we now find ourselves, with one president after another engaging in extra-constitutional actions without worry that the Congress will do anything meaningful in response.

This atrophied oversight power was on full display last week when a congressional committee sought to “investigate” why EpiPen manufacturer Mylan dramatically increased the price of this life-saving device.

Rather than focus on the real, underlying problem of how the regulatory environment through which the Food and Drug Administration is causing unconscionable delays in bringing new medicines and competing medical devices to the market, Members of Congress spent their time during the highly publicized hearing on the easy target — Mylan’s CEO.

Grabbing a headline with a “gotcha” question to the beleaguered businesswoman obviously was more important to those on the congressional panel than asking serious questions focusing on those factors properly within the responsibility of the Congress to remedy.

Important issues not raised, or barely touched on, included the Rube Goldberg-like medical-device approval system in place at the FDA, and troubling ethical issues regarding the CEO’s lobbying relationship with her father, a sitting United States Senator from West Virginia.

The list of other congressional “oversight” hearings that similarly have failed to result in any meaningful reform of problematic actions or policies by the Executive Branch is long.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s recent, made-for-social-media grilling of Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, and the “impeachment” hearing on IRS Commissioner John Koskinen come readily to mind, as clear examples of how a once-crucial responsibility has now been reduced to partisan showmanship.

This problem is exacerbated by the archaic rules of the House, which limits each Member to a short, five minutes of questioning. All this essentially guarantees that nothing of real substance can ever be developed.

This troubling phenomenon is made far worse by virtue of the fact that for the past century, our federal courts have largely deferred to the other two branches of government to decide for themselves whether their actions are appropriate — something which each is more than happy to do.

With the current nominees for President of both major political parties on record as favoring a continuation of the same, virtually unchecked executive branch power that has been the hallmark of their predecessors, one can only hope — vainly, I fear — that the next Congress finds the oversight backbone that has been absent from Washington for so long.

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justice

While professional athletes like second-string NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick engage in immature “protests” over some perceived peeve with our country’s criminal justice system, Republicans in Congress are diligently working to meaningfully improve America’s justice system.

Whether they succeed in their historic effort, however, remains up in the air and its future may very well be decided this week.

Currently, three bills pending in the U.S. House – the Sentencing Reform Act, the Recidivism Risk Reduction Act, and the Criminal Code Improvement Act — remain backed by bipartisan coalitions both inside and outside the government. As anyone who has maintained even a passing acquaintance with congressional goings-on in recent years knows, cooperation between Left and Right on any issue is unusual; and something that is extremely rare on a matter as substantive as criminal justice reform.

While the “social justice” movement espoused by far Left radicals like Black Lives Matter has poisoned much of the public debate surrounding justice reform, genuine criminal justice reform lead by Republicans in the House and Senate, is a truly worthy cause that all conservatives should support.

As highlighted recently in remarks by FreedomWorks CEO Adam Brandon in support of the proposals, “Our justice system is in crisis. Our prison populations and budgets have ballooned out of control. Americans are being crippled by sentences disproportional to their crime. Our system should rehabilitate and reform those in need, not warehouse nonviolent offenders and burden our nation.”

Far more than in the past, support for criminal justice reform among conservatives is growing; with many of the reforms touching on principles long-favored by conservatives. For example, even as the current proposed reforms strengthen due process rights – a principle not always championed by traditional conservatives – at the same time they would begin to reverse the trend toward systemic over-criminalization that long has bothered conservatives, and which distracts police officers from pursuing real criminal activity such as violent crimes.

Also, the reforms incorporated in the pending legislation would help to keep families together; a benefit conservatives have argued for years would dramatically help reduce poverty and steer young people away from future criminal behavior. And, perhaps most important to conservatives, the Sentencing Reform Act alone is estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to save $769 million in taxpayer funds, by finally addressing prison overcrowding.

Criminal justice reform truly is a historic win for conservative values. Unfortunately, this is precisely why its critics resort to fear-mongering, not facts, in attempting to derail this landmark effort.

One need only look to several conservative states that have enacted similar criminal justice reform bills, to see the benefits of what is now being proposed nationally. States including Georgia, Texas, and South Carolina have witnessed significant drops in incarceration rates and criminal recidivism, as a direct result of state-level criminal justice reforms.

Taxpayers in these states have enjoyed the added benefit of saving millions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on a broken system. “Texas used to spend billions locking people up for minor offenses,” former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who helped spearhead reform in his state, remarked on his efforts. “We implemented common sense policies that made not only Texas tough, but also smart on crime.”

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