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.