UPS Pays Up For Illicit Pill Shipments

SAN FRANCISCO (UPI) — United Parcel Service agreed to give up $40 million in payments it charged for shipping products from what federal prosecutors called illicit online pharmacies.

The forfeiture was announced Friday in a written statement by the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco and covers payments charged by UPS from 2003-2010 for the delivery of pharmaceuticals that were either counterfeit or had been sold without the necessary prescription.

Prosecutors said UPS management was “on notice” from its employees at the time that the drugs were being sold illegally. But despite being aware of the situation, the company failed to take steps to curb the shipments.

UPS cooperated in the case and will voluntarily shore up its restrictions on online drug sales as a result of the forfeiture agreement.” Good corporate citizens like UPS play an important role in halting the flow of illegal drugs that degrade our nation’s communities,” U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said in the statement. “We are hopeful that the leadership displayed by UPS through this compliance program will set the standard for the parcel delivery industry and will materially assist the federal government in its battle against illegal Internet pharmacies.”

North Korea Puts Rocket Forces On Standby

PYONGYANG, North Korea (UPI) — North Korea’s leader Friday ordered military officials on standby to “strike any time” against U.S. and South Korean targets, official media reported.

The Yonhap News Agency quoted the North’s Korean Central News Agency as saying the Communist country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, “convened an urgent operation meeting on the Korean People’s Army’s Strategic Rocket Force’s performance of duty for firepower strike at the Supreme Command.”

“He finally signed the plan on technical preparations of strategic rockets, ordering them to be on standby to fire so that they may strike any time the U.S. mainland, its military bases in the operational theaters in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea,” KCNA said.

The announcement came a day after two U.S. B-2 Spirit stealth bombers flew non-stop practice missions from their base in Missouri to the Korean Peninsula, a distance of 6,500 miles, and back in a show of U.S. commitment to its Asia-Pacific allies.

North Korean media quoted Kim as saying the stealth bomber practice mission was a U.S. ultimatum to ignite a nuclear war at any cost and said Kim “declared the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name] would react to the U.S. nuclear blackmail with merciless nuclear attack, and war of aggression with an all-out war of justice.”

During a bombing drill over the Korean Peninsula, the U.S. B-2 stealth bombers, with their radar-evading capability, dropped “inert munitions on the Jik [islet] Do Range” and returned “to the continental U.S. in a single, continuous mission,” said a statement carried on the website of the U.S. Forces in Korea.

A South Korean official told Yonhap that while the B-2 stealth bombing exercise was a routine part of the current U.S.-South Korean military drills, “we take First Chairman Kim’s order as a step to respond to this [exercise].”

The increasingly bellicose rhetoric from Pyongyang “only deepens that nation’s isolation,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force 1 en route to Miami Friday.

Passage of the U.N. Security Council resolution imposing further sanctions on North Korea is “a pretty clear indication that there is a unanimity of opinion across the globe about the need for North Korea to live up to their international obligations,” Earnest said.

The Security Council resolution is also an indication that the United States is working with not just its allies but also Russia and China in seeking a peaceful solution, he said

“So the path to peace for the North Koreans is pretty clear,” Earnest said. “They need to end the provocative acts and the bellicose rhetoric. They need to abandon their nuclear program. They need to live up to their international obligations. And upon doing so, they will be welcomed back into the international community.”

At the U.S. State Department, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, “When a country says the kinds of things that the DPRK is saying, you have to take it seriously and you have to take steps to ensure that when we say in response we can and will defend our own nation and we can and will defend our allies, that that is credible.”

Nuland said North Korea is “causing us to have to ensure that our defenses are appropriate and strong both for ourselves and for our allies.”

Nuland, quoting President Barack Obama, said North Korea can come out of its isolation if it is willing to meet its international obligations and fulfill its denuclearization and other commitments.

“But in the meantime, we’re going to do what we need to do to defend ourselves and our allies,” she said.

Earlier, a U.S. official told CNN North Korea “is not a paper tiger” and it would not be “smart to dismiss its provocative behavior as pure bluster.”

Pentagon spokesman George Little told CNN it is important to remain calm because no one “wants there to be war on the Korean Peninsula.”

Analysts have said despite the latest threat North Korea is nowhere close to being technologically capable of delivering a nuclear warhead on a missile.

Little told CNN the United States in any case is watching North Korea’s missile capabilities.

“The important thing is for us to stay out ahead of what we think the North Korean threat is, especially from their missile program,” he said. “They’ve been testing more missiles, and they’ve been growing their capabilities and we have to stay out ahead.”

The isolated, impoverished Communist country’s anger has reached a feverish pitch since the U.N. Security Council tightened its sanctions following its December long-range missile test and its February nuclear test, its third since 2006, observers said.

About 28,500 U.S. forces are based in South Korea.

More Undelivered Ex-Mailman’s Mail Found

SEATTLE (UPI) — A former contract postal employee in Washington state buried tens of thousands of pieces of mail on his property, investigators say.

Richard Farrell was fired in 2010 after the Postal Service learned he had burned letters instead of delivering them. He was convicted of mail theft in 2011 and sentenced to probation.

But authorities say they have now found much more mail on his property in Belfair, SeattlePI.com reported. Much of it was in postal tubs buried in a trench a friend excavated with a backhoe.

The total may amount to more than 200,000 pieces of mail, investigators said.

All the thefts took place before Farrell was charged in 2010. Authorities have not said if they plan a new prosecution.

The investigation was reopened after a woman postal worker who lived with Farrell reported the buried mail, officials said.

In the original case, investigators followed Farrell, who worked for the Postal Service from 1991 to 2010, on his route. They said he spent most of that time in a tavern and then took the mail home and burned it.

“His conduct reflects extreme laziness and a complete lack of consideration for the customers that he serviced,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Woods said at the time. “Farrell repeatedly made the decision that he would rather spend his work hours not working, covering up his crime by stoking a fire pit with the very mail that he was supposed to be delivering.”

Harvard Study: Iraq/Afghan War Tab $4 Trillion To $6 Trillion

WASHINGTON (UPI) — The U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost taxpayers between $4 trillion and $6 trillion, a study by a Harvard researcher said.

In a study released Thursday, Harvard public policy Professor Linda J. Bilmes said the United States has already spent nearly $2 trillion for the military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq — just a fraction of the ultimate cost, The Washington Post reported. The largest ongoing expense will be providing medical care and disability benefits to veterans of the two conflicts, she said.

Historically, medical and disability expenses “come due many decades later,” the report said, noting that the peak disbursement of disability payments for troops in the last century came decades after the wars ended.

“Payments to Vietnam and first Gulf War veterans are still climbing,” Bilmes said.

“As a consequence of these wartime spending choices, the United States will face constraints in funding investments in personnel and diplomacy, research and development and new military initiatives,” Bilmes’ report said. “The legacy of decisions taken during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will dominate future federal budgets for decades to come.”

Bilmes’ estimate includes a higher range than a study on the same issue by Brown University’s Eisenhower Research Project, which placed the cost at about $4 trillion, the Post said.

Both estimates were much higher than U.S. officials projected they would spend when they planned to go to war in Iraq, the Post said. One senior White House official, Stephen Friedman, left government in 2002 after angering colleagues by estimating the Iraq war could cost as much as $200 billion.

Rubio, Inhofe Vow To Filibuster Gun Bill

WASHINGTON (UPI) — Marco Rubio and James Inhofe joined three other U.S. Senate Republicans threatening to filibuster Democrats’ gun legislation as violating the Second Amendment.

The Florida and Oklahoma Republicans, respectively, joined Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah in vowing to oppose “any legislation that would infringe on the American people’s constitutional right to bear arms, or on their ability to exercise this right without being subjected to government surveillance,” said a letter Rubio and Inhofe signed.

The letter, dated a week ago, was sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and was originally signed only by Paul, Cruz and Lee. It still has seven blank lines available for other signatures, a United Press International review of the letter indicated.

A filibuster is a way for senators to delay or prevent a vote on a bill by speaking for as long as they wish on any topic they choose, unless 60 senators bring debate to a close.

Paul — a closely watched conservative who, like Rubio, is considering a 2016 presidential run — led a nearly 13-hour filibuster on the CIA’s drone policy early this month, forcing the Senate to delay the confirmation of John Brennan to lead the CIA.

The Senate is expected to debate a gun-violence bill after it returns from Easter recess April 8.

The bill, put together by Reid from Senate Judiciary Committee proposals, is expected to include a Democratic plan to expand the nation’s gun background check program, reauthorize a Justice Department school-safety grant program and toughen federal laws on gun trafficking.

Reid has said a ban on certain styles of semiautomatic so-called assault weapons is virtually assured of defeat.

“We should look for ways to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill prone to misusing them, but I oppose legislation that will be used as a vehicle to impose new Second Amendment restrictions on responsible, law-abiding gun owners,” Rubio said in a statement.

Rubio and Inhofe announced their intention to join a possible filibuster Thursday shortly after President Barack Obama urged congressional lawmakers to pass stricter gun laws a day shy of 15 weeks after the Dec. 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 schoolchildren and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“Less than 100 days ago that happened, and the entire country was shocked,” Obama said at the White House, surrounded by relatives and friends of gun-violence victims, including some from Newtown. “And the entire country pledged we would do something about it and that this time would be different.

“Shame on us if we’ve forgotten. I haven’t forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we’ve forgotten,” Obama said.

Cruz followed Obama’s impassioned remarks with a statement.

“It is saddening to see the president today, once again, try to take advantage of this tragic murder to promote an agenda that will do nothing to stop violent crime, but will undermine the constitutional rights of all law-abiding Americans,” Cruz said, promising to “use any procedural means necessary to protect those fundamental rights.”

At the same time, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, began floating a competing gun bill that opposes expanded background checks for gun sales — a key provision of the Democratic gun bill.

Hermit Kingdom May Attack, Armed Vigilantes In Mexico, Clinton’s $85,000 Farewell, Biden On Vacation Again And Cyprus To Stick With Euro: TGIF Morning News Roundup 3-29-2013

Here is a collection of some of the stories that Personal Liberty staffers will be keeping an eye on throughout the day. Click the links for the full stories.

  • North Korea’s KCNA news agency said Kim Jong-Un had signed off on the order to train sights on American bases in South Korea and the Pacific after a midnight meeting with top generals.

 

  • Evidently, the Hermit Kingdom also has a “US mainland strike plan” to allegedly terminate targets in Hawaii; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; and Austin, Texas.

 

  • Thousands of armed vigilantes have taken over a town in Mexico and arrested police officers after their “commander” was killed and dumped in the street.

 

  • Sequester, ha! Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s farewell online town hall, complete with live audiences and interactive connections around the globe, cost taxpayers $85,000, according to Federal contract documents.

 

  • Vice President Joe Biden is enjoying vacation No. 3 this year, a five-day stay on South Carolina’s luxurious Kiawah Island.

 

  • Cypriot leaders said the risk of bankruptcy had been contained and the country had no intention of leaving the euro.

 

Check back for updates, news and analysis throughout the day. Like us on Facebook. And follow our improved Twitter feed.

The Republican Shell Game On Obamacare

Give us a break! That’s what Congress finally did on Saturday, when after a marathon session in the Senate, Congressmen all agreed to head out of town for their two-week spring break. So we’re safe from their meddlesome efforts until April 8.

But what a show they put on before they left. After arguing most of the night, the Senate finally managed to pass its first budget in four years at 4:56 in the morning. The final vote was 50-49, with every Republican opposing it. They were joined by four Democrats: Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Begich of Alaska and Max Baucus of Montana. Not so coincidentally, all four are up for re-election next year.

I’ll have more to say about the battle of the budgets in a moment. But first I need to comment on two recent Senate votes on Obamacare and the incredible hypocrisy they demonstrated. First, Congressional Republicans declared their unwavering opposition to the badly misnamed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Then they voted to fund it for the rest of the year.

What the heck’s going on here?

Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), two tough young conservatives who defeated more establishment-type Republicans to win election, lived up to their campaign promises to try to end Obamacare. They forced a vote in the Senate on an amendment to defund the program. As expected, the measure lost on a straight party-line vote, with 55 Democrats voting against it and all 45 Republicans in the Senate voting in favor.

On March 20, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made a wonderful speech on the floor of the Senate:

In my view, Obamacare is a colossal mistake for our country. There’s just no way to fix it. It needs to be pulled out by its roots and we need to start over.

This bill needs to be repealed and replaced — not with another unreadable law or another 20,000 pages of regulations – but with common-sense reforms that actually lower health care costs.

And anyone who thinks we’ve given up that fight is dead wrong.

On March 15, McConnell gave a speech denouncing Obamacare at the Conservative Political Action Conference. He stood next to a stack of papers that were taller than he was, which he said were the 20,000 pages of new regulations that have been issued so far to implement this healthcare monstrosity. Some 828 pages of new regulations were issued in just one day, he said; and he warned that there are many more to come.

On March 11, in remarks on the Senate floor, McConnell said:

This law is a disaster waiting to happen.

Imagine the burden we’re placing on the single mom who wants to open her own store. Or the young entrepreneur who wants to sell some new idea. Or the business owners we all know from back home — the folks who employ so many of our constituents.

Instead of encouraging them to create jobs and grow the economy, we’re hitting them with a brick of regulations.

That all sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? But McConnell and 19 other Republican Senators voted to fund Obamacare for the rest fiscal 2013.

What you’ve got here is a perfect example of how many Republicans can vote for “business as usual” in Washington, while at the same time making sure they can posture as staunch conservatives for the folks back home.

Here are the 20 Republican Senators who voted in favor of the Cruz amendment, knowing it would fail, but then voted in favor of a measure to make sure the healthcare monstrosity gets all of the taxpayer funds it needs to continue operations for the rest of this fiscal year:

Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Roy Blunt of Missouri, John Boozman of Arkansas, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Dan Coats of Indiana, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Bob Corker of Tennessee, John Cornyn of Texas, Orrin Hatch of Utah, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Mike Johanns of Nevada, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Richard Shelby of Alabama, John Thune of South Dakota and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

By the way, you may be wondering why the vote to fund Obamacare was included in an omnibus piece of legislation called a “continuing resolution.” The reason is that our august leaders know that they can get a lot more votes for their massive spending programs if they lump enough things together in one humongous package. So rather than individual votes on various parts of the Federal budget, we get one all-inclusive continuing resolution.

It’s so much safer that way. Witness what just happened with efforts to defund Obamacare.

In the predawn hours of March 23, the Democratic majority in the Senate also did something that it has vigorously avoided for the past four years: It passed a budget.

As the kids would say, big whoop. The Democrats’ plan calls for almost $1 trillion in new revenue over the next 10 years. But thanks to 62 percent more spending over the decade, even if they get all that new revenue, the budget still won’t balance.

The Republicans, meanwhile, didn’t do much better. The Paul Ryan budget, which the House passed and the Senate rejected, also called for more spending, just not quite as much. The Republican budget would have increased Federal spending by 40 percent over the next 10 years. But thanks to increased revenue from our slowly growing economy, the budget was supposed to have balanced by year 10.

Mind you, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are actually calling for a reduction in government spending. The best we can hope for, they say, is a slight reduction in the proposed growth of government.

Until we more people in the U.S. Senate who will stick to their campaign promises on every vote and who don’t engage in the sort of shell game we just saw with funding for Obamacare, I’m afraid they are probably correct.

Of the 21 Senate seats currently held by Democrats that will be contested next year, Republicans have to win only six of them in addition to retaining the seats they hold in order to regain control of the Senate.

But it sure wouldn’t hurt if, at the same time, some of the soft-as-marshmallows Republicans in the list above could also be replaced by some people with a little more backbone.

Until next time, keep some powder dry.

–Chip Wood

How Free Is Your State?

A new study out from George Mason University’s Mercatus Center illustrates a clear trend of American migration from less-free liberal States to those with a more conservative Constitutional mindset.

The institution’s “Freedom of the 50 States” report measured variables of economic and personal freedom throughout the Nation, taking a look at tax rates, government spending and debt, regulatory burdens, and State laws covering land use, union organizing, gun control and education choice. The measures were then compared to population changes, revealing growth in more liberty-friendly States spurred as Americans flocked to locales with friendlier tax and regulatory policies.

According to the study results, the top five most liberty-enabling States (No.1 being the best):

  • 5.       Oklahoma
  • 4.       New Hampshire
  • 3.       Tennessee
  • 2.       South Dakota
  • 1.       North Dakota

And the top five least liberty-friendly States (No. 1 being the worst):

  • 5.       Rhode Island
  • 4.       Hawaii
  • 3.       New Jersey
  • 2.       California
  • 1.       New York

The report indicate that Americans move from one State to another primarily for financial reasons but that liberties can also contribute heavily to the decision.

Professors William Ruger and Jason Sorens, of the Mercatus Center, write in a commentary on the report:

Some freedoms mean more to people than others, of course, and if you can’t find a good job in a state, you might not care how free it is by anyone’s standards. But we’ve considered a range of social and personal freedoms, including the right to consume alcohol and tobacco, to bear arms, to home school your children and to be free from arbitrary search and seizure. We’ve also studied the effects of over 200 distinct public policies.

The more a state denies people their freedoms, increases their taxes or passes laws that make it hard for businesses to hire and fire, the more likely they are to leave.

And while there’s clearly more to life than drinking oversized beverages and eating foie gras, the states that won’t allow you to often cause trouble for their residents in other ways.

Where legislators think they’re responsible for protecting you from yourself and choosing the menus of your meals, it’s no great surprise that they also see fewer limitations on their power in other areas. After all, if they’re taking your food, why not also take your money?

Check out the interactive map below to see how your State stacks up in terms of liberty.

Let us know if you think the study results are accurate based on your own experiences in the comment section below and on Facebook and Twitter.

Arizona Program Offers Free Shotguns For Protection

A new privately backed initiative in Tucson, Ariz., is taking the fight over residents’ powers of self-defense straight to the people, establishing a program whereby law-abiding citizens can get a free shotgun to help protect themselves and deter would-be assailants and thieves.

The work of a small coalition of residents fed up with the city’s underfunded police service, the program aims to reimburse residents in mid-to-high-crime areas of town who purchase a specific style of shotgun — once they’ve received firearms training (which the fund would also pay for).

The Tucson effort is part of a larger grass-roots crime prevention experiment that began in Houston, called the Armed Citizen Project (ACP). The ACP is a nonprofit organization “dedicated to facilitating the arming of law-abiding citizens, and analyzing the relationship between increased firearm availability and rates.”

The program has a larger goal as well: a statistics-based study of whether, and how, crime rates will change in the high-crime areas, one city block at a time, where residents have been armed with the ACP shotguns. ACP Executive Director Kyle Coplen, who conceived the project while a grad student at the University of Houston, explains the program’s logic this way:

Gun-control advocates often argue that an increase in guns in an area will lead to an increase in crime, while gun-rights advocates often believe that fewer guns result in more crime. While both sides often argue that their opponents’ policies will result in more crime, gun-control proponents have largely been the victors when it comes to policy implementation…It is our belief that gun-rights activists must take the offensive, and actively encourage the increased presence of defensive weapons in society. Both sides believe that their policies will result in less crime, and it is about time that our side begins to act with the conviction and courage that it will take to win the debate.

The single-break-action shotguns supplied to participants were chosen for their cost, facility of use, comparatively safe design and lack of appeal to criminals. But just because the group is using Vice President Joe Biden’s self-defense weapon of choice doesn’t mean they’ve spurned assault weapons. In fact, it’s to prove a point the gun grabbers often fall back on:

Another big reason for using this style of defensive weapon is to challenge the anti-gun lobby on a claim they often make. We are now quite used to hearing arguments along the lines of “why do you need an ‘assault weapon’ for home defense?” These gun-control proponents often insist that they do believe in the right to bear arms to some extent, and we are challenging them to prove it. If an “assault weapon” is too extreme to be used for home defense, then there must necessarily be a weapon that is acceptable for home defense, or else the gun-control proponent is being blatantly intellectually dishonest. This style of firearm [the shotgun] is likely to be the most palatable to any gun-control proponent that claims to believe in the right of self-defense, and we challenge them to reveal who they really are.

Back in Arizona, organizer Shaun McClusky, whom locals recognize as a former mayoral candidate, told the Arizona Daily Star he’s aware he’ll receive a fair amount of public scrutiny — both positive and negative — for launching the effort in a city that, for different reasons, has long attracted both liberal pro-regulation nuts as well as strong advocates of individual liberty. He’s unconcerned about any bad PR.

“Saying guns are responsible for killing people is like saying spoons are responsible for making people fat. If someone wants to bring me the publicity for free and sue me, bring it on,” he said.

“We need to take back our city, and it needs to come back to the citizens and not the criminals. Right now, the criminal element is winning.”

Marijuana Tax Likely Coming For Colorado, Washington

If pot smokers in Colorado and Washington thought legalization of marijuana in their States would get the man off their backs, they have another think coming. The taxman could soon be sniffing them out.

Cash-hungry legislators in the States are looking at options to tax marijuana in order to bolster economies still hurting from the Nation’s recession. By taxing the drug, they believe they can bolster State coffers by hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars.

“I’ve seen some estimates in the high tens of millions, as much as $100 million for [Colorado],” Representative Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who’s pushing Federal marijuana legalization in Congress, told POLITICO.

Polis said that taxing marijuana would be especially helpful in putting a “substantial dent in needed school improvements, particularly in poorer districts.”

Washington State’s plan would likely impose a tax on “all trademarks, trade names, brand names, patents and copyrights related to marijuana” to help fund agricultural research, according to the Seattle Times. An additional 25 percent tax on marijuana growers, processors and retail stores would also apply in the State.

Critics of the State plans to tax the drug say that government efforts that drive up the price of pot will simply send users of a product that is easily self-cultivated back to black markets. Others say that the State tax schemes will increase chances that the Federal government will crack down on the legal marijuana industry in the States.

Congress Set Out To Expand ‘The Most Outrageous Criminal Law You’ve Never Heard Of’

The House Judiciary Committee is set to present Congress with a new draft of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1984 (CFAA) next month, offering up a slew of expansions to a set of laws already derided by freedom watchers for its sweeping powers — and punishments — over nebulous computer “crimes” with arbitrary definitions.

Written into the revised version of the Act is a new provision, one that would make it a crime to use digital equipment to access information for an “impermissible purpose.” According to cyber law scholar (and former attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice) Orin Kerr, that means you could be found guilty of committing a felony if you lie about your age in an online dating profile, once you’ve gone on to begin a conversation with anyone you intend to get to know better.

The scenarios for which such draconian legislation could theoretically apply are endless. Mike Masnick of Techdirt posits a hypothetical case in which a parent who fibs to Facebook in order to help his 12-year-old child sign up for an account (the Facebook age requirement is 13) could be subject to felony charges.

In addition, those who are authorized to access protected information, whether in government or in the private sector, could face charges if they can be proven to have misused the privilege. Given the proposed draft’s vague language — “even if the accesser may be entitled to obtain or alter the same information in the computer for other purposes” — demonstrating someone has misused their access privileges is open to almost any interpretation that suits a hungry prosecutor’s whim.

Kerr describes the “new” CFAA language as “really, really broad:”

It would make it a felony crime for anyone to violate the TOS [terms of service] on a government website. It would also make it a federal felony crime to violate TOS in the course of committing a very minor state misdemeanor…In short, this is a step backward, not forward. This is a proposal to give DOJ what it wants, not to amend the CFAA in a way that would narrow it.

The draft also proposes that anyone who uses a computer in any attempt to commit a crime — even if they never follow through with the criminal act itself — should be prosecuted, so long as the government can demonstrate what ill will the suspect was harboring at the time he was tapping the keys.

The kicker: Kerr points out that nearly everything in the current rewrite is actually a copy-paste job from a version of the Act that President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice helped draft, and attempted to push through Congress, back in 2011.

Columbia University’s Tim Wu — himself a 2008 adviser to the Obama campaign — blasted the DOJ’s justification of how it wouldn’t abuse any newfound powers earlier this month in a blog for the New Yorker, calling CFAA “the most outrageous criminal law you’ve never heard of” and demolishing the whole “trust your government” line:

When judges or academics say that it is wrong to interpret a law in such a way that everyone is a felon, the Justice Department has usually replied by saying, roughly, that federal prosecutors don’t bother with minor cases—they only go after the really bad guys. That has always been a lame excuse—repulsive to anyone who takes seriously the idea of “a government of laws, not men.”

The 40-member Judiciary Committee (23 Republicans and 17 Democrats) is expected to make a fast dash to get their draft passed during mid-April, when a gout of legislation aimed at regulating the digital space is expected to push through Congress all at once.

There Is A GOP-Sponsored Gun-Control Bill In The Works

There has been much hullabaloo over Senate Democrats’ gun control proposal, expected to be brought to the floor of the legislative body next month by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), but less is known about a separate gun proposal that could come from a group of GOP lawmakers led by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

Based on Grassley’s past positions on gun control, the Republican measure could include provisions that crack down on straw purchasing and illegal trafficking of firearms, legislation meant to increase safety in schools and measures keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill.

“Senator Grassley, along with other concerned members, is putting together an alternative bill that addresses gun violence in a manner that doesn’t violate the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens in contrast to what appears to be in the bill proposed by the Majority Leader,” Grassley spokeswoman Beth Levine told The Hill.

The GOP effort is expected to roll back gun legislation approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier in the year by picking the proposals apart to remove any provisions or language the conservative Senators believe to be unConstitutional.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) cagily hinted that he may be able to support the Grassley effort if it does not impose any new overbearing gun restrictions.

“Chuck Grassley is putting together an alternative we’re taking a look at,” McConnell said. “From his description of what he’s trying to put together … it might be something I can support. But I can’t go beyond that. I’m not likely to support what Harry is bringing up, but there may be an alternative I can and it probably be something that Grassley produces. That’s as far as I can go right now.”

Conservative critics of the forthcoming GOP gun bill have said that any effort by Republicans to address any aspect of gun control is going too far. And it is yet to be seen whether Senators like Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who have vowed to filibuster any new gun legislation, will embrace the GOP version of gun control.

Administration On A Roll With Sequester Threats

The White House threatens the Easter Bunny. Continuing its effort to make the forced spending cuts called sequestration seem as onerous as possible, the White House issued a warning to all of the parents who had tickets for this year’s Easter Egg Roll that “this event is subject to cancellation due to funding uncertainty.” With all of the negative press the Administration of President Barack Obama received over halting White House tours for the same ridiculous reason, you’d think someone in authority there would realize it’s time to stop such petty politics. But wait, this is the Obama White House we’re talking about.

Senate Democrats refuse to fund White House tours. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) offered an amendment to the bill funding the Federal government for the rest of the current fiscal year that would shift funds around to restore the White House tours. But the Democrats who control the Senate refused to agree, and the measure failed on a party-line vote, 54-45.

Those bureaucrats owe how much in taxes? Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) says more than 100,000 Federal employees have delinquent tax bills totaling more than $1 billion. He introduced legislation in Congress that would require all Federal employees to pay the taxes they owe or lose their jobs. It seems like a pretty reasonable requirement to me. But Representative Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, condemned the bill, saying that it “seeks to demonize federal employees.”

That Biden entourage is expensive. It turns out that when Vice President Joe Biden goes abroad, a whole lot of folks get to travel with him, which can leave us taxpayers with a mighty large bill. For a one-night stay in London in February, for example, the group needed 136 hotel rooms, including the presidential suite. The tab at the Hyatt Regency for the one night came to $459,388.65. But the stay in Paris the next night was even costlier. The Vice President’s tab for one night at the Hotel Intercontinental Paris Le Grand cost taxpayers $585,000.50. That brought the two-day total to over $1 million. And that was just for hotel rooms. Sure would pay for a bunch of White House tours, wouldn’t it?

–Chip Wood   

Strong Genetic Component To Child Obesity

LONDON (UPI) — British researchers say the additive effects of multiple genes across the genome account for 30 percent of individual difference in childhood body weight.

Lead author Dr. Clare Llewellyn of the University College London Health Behavior Research Center said previous research showed obesity appeared in families, and twin studies suggested this was largely due to genetic factors.

Thirty-two genes were identified as risk factors for obesity.

For this study, researchers used a new method called Genome-wide Complex Trait Analysis to investigate the molecular genetic heritability of body weight in children.

The study was based on data from a population-based cohort of 2,269 children ages 8-11. Researchers looked at whether children who were genetically similar were also similar in body weight.

“These findings are important because they confirmed in children genes play a very important role in determining body weight. At present only a few genetic variants have been discovered, and these explain a very small amount of individual differences in body weight — around 2 percent,”  Llewellyn said in a statement. “These findings suggested there were hundreds of other genetic variants influencing body weight were yet to be discovered.”

The findings were published in the International Journal of Obesity.

Thigh Fat A Sign Of Slowing Down

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (UPI) — U.S. researchers say an early indication of when otherwise healthy older adults are about to lose some of their ability to get around is a change in thigh fat.

Kristen Beavers of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center looked at data on how changes in muscle and fat in the thighs affected the walking speed of about 2,300 people in their 70s.

“Increasing levels of fat in and around the thigh muscle itself were associated with slowed walking speed in otherwise healthy older adults,” Beavers said in a statement.

Walking speed was only part of a larger picture, Beavers said.

Other studies indicated slower walking speed can indicate other physical problems and so can be a sign of disability developing, Beavers said.

The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

China Firm Sues Apple Over Siri Assistant

SHANGHAI (UPI) — A Chinese company says it is suing Apple Computer, alleging the Siri digital assistant featured in iPhones and iPads violates patents it holds.

Zhi Zhen Network Technology says it was granted a Chinese patent in 2006 for its Xiao i Robot software, Apple Insider reported Wednesday.

Xiao i Robot features voice interactions and is able to answer questions and hold simple conversations in much the say way Apple’s Siri does.

Zhi Zhen Network Technology claims its technology — released in versions for the web, Android, Windows Phone, desktops and Apple’s iOS — has more than 100 million users in China.

Zhi Zhen filed its patent litigation in July 2012, shortly after Apple’s Siri became available in China.

Both parties appeared in a Shanghai court Wednesday for a pretrial proceeding.

A full hearing is set for July.

“The company will ask Apple to stop manufacturing and selling products using its patent rights, once Apple’s infringement is confirmed,” Si Weijiang, a Zhi Zhen lawyer, said. “We don’t exclude the possibility of demanding compensation in the future.”

Texas Study Suggests Eagle Ford Bonanza

SAN ANTONIO (UPI) — Drilling and production activity in the Eagle Ford shale area could produce more than $60 billion worth of output by 2021, a Texas university study says.

The University of Texas at San Antonio’s Institute for Economic Development examined the economic development in 14 counties in south Texas that hold Eagle Ford shale.

The report said that, by 2021, the shale play could produce around $62 billion in output, support more than 80,000 full-time jobs and add about $1.6 billion to state revenues.

The U.S. Energy Department, in its assessment in October, reported that shale developments in Texas pushed daily oil production to more than 2.1 million barrels for the first time in 25 years.

The Texas Railroad Commission, the state energy regulator, reported that more than 358,000 barrels per day came from the Eagle Ford play in December.

The Texas university report said the 14 counties hosting the Eagle Ford shale received about $1.2 billion in sales tax from development during the fourth quarter of 2011, nearly twice the 2009 figures year-on-year.

“This is significantly higher than the 21.7 percent change in sales tax collection by the state of Texas during the same period, almost double that percentage,” the report said.

Banks Reopen Cautiously In Cyprus

NICOSIA, Cyprus (UPI) — Authorities in Cyprus said they would maintain tight control on money transfers as the banks reopened on Thursday after nearly two weeks.

Banks were shut down for a routine holiday, but officials kept banks closed for 12 days through the ups and downs of securing a $13 billion bailout from the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank.

Officials imposed caps on withdrawals from bank accounts at $383 for individuals and at $3,900 for anyone leaving the country, Voice of America reported.

The New York Times said credit account withdrawals are capped at $6,400 per month.

Officials are trying to prevent a run on Cypriot banks, as larger accounts in the country’s troubled banks could be taxed 40 percent or more to help pay for the bailout.

Security at banks, which opened at noon, was tight and bank employees appeared grim as they prepared to deal with irate account holders, who lined up 50-deep outside of some bank entrances, the Times said.

Weekly Jobless Claims Rise 16,000

WASHINGTON (UPI) — The U.S. Labor Department said first-time jobless benefits claims rose 16,000 to 357,000 in the week that ended last Saturday.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits rose from a revised 341,000 from the previous week, which was originally reported at 336,000.

The four-week rolling average for the week increased 2,250 to 343,000.

The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending March 16 were in California, where claims increased by 3,007 and Virginia with 1,165 additional claims.

The largest decreases were in Pennsylvania and New York with declines of 2,497 and 2,116, respectively.

Fourth-Quarter GDP Revised Slightly Higher

WASHINGTON (UPI) — The Commerce Department revised its gross domestic product estimate for the fourth quarter upward Thursday, pegging growth of the U.S. economy at 0.4 percent.

The report released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis represents the third of three estimates released on the country’s economic performance for the final quarter of 2012.

The figures started in the negative and, a month ago, were revised to indicate gross domestic product growth of 0.1 percent from the third quarter to the fourth.

The department said non-residential fixed investment rose higher than previously estimated but the new figure “has not changed the general picture of the economy.”

Positive contributions came from consumer spending and residential fixed investment. But those contributions were partly offset by negative contributions from private inventory investment, federal government spending and exports, the bureau said.

In the final estimate for the quarter, the department said real non-residential fixed investments rose 13.2 percent in the quarter after declining 1.8 percent in the third quarter. Investment in equipment and software rose 11.8 percent after dropping 2.6 percent in the previous quarter.

It isn’t clear from the data whether commercial investments indicate businesses planning for growth or investing in overdue projects needed to maintain current levels of production.