TSA’s secret (and ineffective) terror profiling tactics revealed

Yawning, complaining, whistling, arrogance, throat clearing or looking disheveled are all things that could cause an unsuspecting air traveler to be pegged as a potential terrorist by Transportation Security Administration agents, according to confidential documents made public Friday.

The Intercept, which obtained the TSA documents, reported that TSA employees use a checklist and scoring system to identify potential terrorists through a process called Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT.

The TSA employs specially trained Behavior Detection Officers to screen crowds in the nation’s airports in search of individuals acting in ways that indicate “stress or deception.”

The agents check their observations against a 92-point checklist divided into categories that assign different point values to different behaviors or characteristics.

For instance, “stress” factors like an “obvious ‘Adam’s Apple’ jump” when directed to a screening area, late arrival, “exaggerated yawning” or “sweaty palms” can add one point to a travelers’ terrorist potential. A “cold penetrating stare,” being dressed similarly to another traveler, “widely open staring eyes” or a “powerful grip” of luggage are among a list of several “fear” factors worth two points on the checklist. Three points are given for “deception” factors such as obviously wearing a disguise, appearing confused or failing to respond to “authoritative commands.”

TSA officers may also deduct points. Men over 65 and women over 55 years of age have one point deducted and members of families or married couples over 55 get two points scratched from their final tally.

Once the tally is complete agents refer travelers with more than four points for additional screening. Those whose tally more than six points are reported to law enforcement.

The SPOT program, which has been used by the TSA since 2007 at a taxpayer cost of about $1 billion, has been routinely criticized as being ineffective and based on pseudoscience.

The Government Accountability Office reviewed the program in 2013 and recommended that Congress halt SPOT funding after concluding that “the human ability to accurately identify deceptive behavior based on behavioral indicators is the same as or slightly better than chance.”

At the time, GAO director of homeland security and justice Stephen Lord told members of Congress that the costly detection program hadn’t foiled a single terror plot since its inception. It had however, led to a few arrests for minor crimes at airports.

“Of the approximately 61,000 SPOT referrals made during fiscal years 2011 and 2012 at the 49 airports we analyzed, approximately 8,700 (13.6 percent) resulted in a referral to LEO,” Lord said during his testimony. “Of the SPOT referrals that resulted in a LEO referral, 365 resulted in an arrest.”

Other critics have argued that SPOT encourages racial profiling at the nation’s airports.

Despite widespread criticism, the TSA’s SPOT program remains in used today.

Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the TSA for records on the SPOT program.

“What we know about SPOT suggests it wastes taxpayer money, leads to racial profiling, and should be scrapped,” said Hugh Handeyside, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “The TSA has insisted on keeping documents about SPOT secret, but the agency can’t hide the fact that there’s no evidence the program works. The discriminatory racial profiling that SPOT has apparently led to only reinforces that the public needs to know more about how this program is used and with what consequences for Americans’ rights.”

Following The Intercept’s publication of its SPOT documents, the TSA defended the costly screening program in a statement.

“Terrorists have used a variety of items and ways to attempt to inflict harm to aircraft — everything from shoes to liquids — but consistent across all methods of attack is the malicious intent of the actor,” TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein said.

“Looking for suspicious behavior is a common sense approach used by law enforcement and security personnel across the country and the world, that focuses on those behavioral indicators, rather than items, and when used in combination with other security layers helps mitigate a variety of threats.”

Kansas police require motorists to put their hands up during traffic stops

Police in Topeka, Kansas, have decided to treat each routine encounter with motorists like a standoff with a dangerous criminal by implementing a new policy requiring drivers to reach for the sky during traffic stops.

As part of a new policy dubbed “hand compliance,” the Topeka Police Department is directing motorists to put their hands up in the air or on top of their steering wheel during encounters with police on the road.

“As we all know, we’ve lost three officers in less than two years. And as a result of that, we’ve had to take a hard look at the way we’re conducting business, particularly as it relates to car stops,” Officer Matt McClimans told the local KSNT of the policy.

“Before we even approach a car, is to see the hands of the driver and occupants, it doesn’t matter what the infraction is, it doesn’t matter if it’s a soccer mom, it’s just gaining that hand compliance,” he added.

Many local residents have criticized the “hand compliance” policy, saying that it’s dangerous for the public for officers to consider everyone a threat.

“To put my hands up, I mean, I just can’t see how people are not offended by that,” one resident said.

Others have suggested that making motorists place their hands in plain sight as a matter of policy rather than a courtesy to officers is a ploy to cut down on the number of people recording traffic stops.

There are also fears that the “hand compliance” policy gives officers more leeway to act aggressively toward motorists.

“This is just reason for them to act more aggressive, they already flip shit if you move too quickly, now you’ll be in cuffs or on the ground,” a commenter on one local story said. “How many cars you think will have guns pointed at them because people don’t know this new ‘rule.'”

Topeka’s police maintain that the policy is a simple officer safety matter.

Police Sgt. Colleen Stuart told the Topeka Capital-Journal, “When we walk up to a car, we don’t know anyone in that car or what their intentions are,” she said.

When motorists place their hands up, Stuart added, it “gives us a better idea that they are complying with our orders and that it’s going to be a positive encounter.”

Report: Federal agencies spend big bucks on gadgets they can’t use

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spent $600,000 in taxpayer money on six surveillance drones that the agency never used, according to a government watchdog report out this week.

The Justice Department inspector general reported that the ATF’s Special Operations Division began buying the drones for aerial surveillance missions in 2011 “but never flew them” because of technical problems.

The OIG called it troubling that ATF supervisors would authorize such significant spending on drones with issues “significant enough to render them unsuitable for deployment.”

According to the report, agents complained that one $90,000 drone had a battery life of less than 20 minutes, making it unsuitable for surveillance. An ATF official told the OIG that another similarly expensive drone turned out to be too difficult for agents “to use reliably in operations.”

“[A] gas-powered… model, which cost approximately $315,000 and was specified to fly for up to 2 hours, was never operable due to multiple technical defects,” the report said.

By 2014, the ATF’s Special Operations Division opted to scrap its drone program. Less than a week later, another division of the agency called the National Response Team spent $15,000 on drones that the agency would never successfully use.

The OIG report noted that interagency communication could have saved taxpayers money by transferring the recently decommissioned drones between ATF units.

The OIG also pointed out that the FBI has spent about $3 million on 34 drones “and associated control stations” in recent years. Unfortunately, only half of the equipment is being used and the agency lacks employees trained to fly the drones.

“Additionally, [FBI Surveillance and Aviation Section] officials told us that they began training four additional UAS pilots in November 2014.” The OIG noted. “We note, however, that FBI officials also told us that there have been times in the past where they have had multiple UAS pilots trained, but these pilots transferred, retired, or otherwise did not keep current on training.”

Read the full OIG report here.

Sexual misconduct report highlights DEA sex romps with cartel prostitutes

In recent years, Drug Enforcement Agency agents have taken breaks from wasting billions of taxpayer dollars perpetuating the nation’s failed war on drugs to mingle at “sex parties” with prostitutes paid for by Colombian drug cartels.

That’s according to a new inspector general report out from the Justice Department Thursday.

According to the IG report, DEA agents held “loud” parties on government-leased property in the country between 2005 and 2008 where they had sex with prostitutes paid for by the very narco-criminals they were tasked with investigating.

The report also details allegations that foreign police officers were enlisted by the U.S. federal agents to protect “DEA agents’ weapons and property during the parties.”

From the IG report (emphasis added in bold):

During a series of interviews the DEA OPR conducted from 2009 through 2010, former host-country police officers alleged that several DEA agents, consisting of an Assistant Regional Director (ARD), an Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC), six Supervisory Special Agents (SSA), and two line Special Agents formerly assigned to the an overseas office, solicited prostitutes and engaged in other serious misconduct while in the country.

The foreign officer allegedly arranged “sex parties” with prostitutes funded by the local drug cartels for these DEA agents at their government-leased quarters, over a period of several years. Although some of the DEA agents participating in these parties denied it, the information in the case file suggested they should have known the prostitutes in attendance were paid with cartel funds. A foreign officer also alleged providing protection for the DEA agents’ weapons and property during the parties. The foreign officers further alleged that in addition to soliciting prostitutes, three DEA SSAs in particular were provided money, expensive gifts, and weapons from drug cartel members.

The OIG report doesn’t state a specific location for the overseas parties. A Politico analysis of the report, however, said that the agents were in Columbia.

Among the DEA property left vulnerable to foreign law enforcement and cartel prostitutes during the DEA romps were “agents’ laptops, BlackBerry devices, and other government-issued equipment,” leaving the agents vulnerable to “extortion, blackmail, or coercion,” according to the report.

According to the report, seven of the 10 agents alleged to have attended the parties admitted to misconduct and were punished with suspensions of between two and 10 days.

The OIG report detailing the DEA misconduct also includes damning reports of sexual misconduct in the Justice Department’s other three law enforcement agencies: the FBI; the U.S. Marshals Service; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

The report provides examples of inappropriate sexual affairs, use of taxpayer funds and government property for inappropriate sexual conduct, sexual harassment or solicitation of prostitutes by employees of each of the agencies.

Other examples of misconduct include:

  • A report that ATF training instructors were carrying on inappropriate sexual relationships with students for years.
  • An ATF Director of Industry Operations “solicited consensual sex with anonymous partners and modified a hotel room door to facilitate sexual play” while on official business.
  • A U.S. Marshal became romantic with a fugitive’s spouse and refused to break off the relationship under orders from superiors.
  • A U.S. Marshall admitted to soliciting prostitutes in Thailand.
  • Numerous reports of sexual harassment across the four agencies.

But, according to the OIG, the DEA exhibited particularly lax enforcement of sexual misconduct policies.

The agency also refused to fully cooperate with the watchdog’s probe.

“We interviewed DEA employees who said that they were given the impression that they were not to discuss this case,” the OIG said of incidents involving agents’ prostitute parties.

The report goes on to explain the light punishments handed down to offending DEA agents:

In interviews, DEA officials explained that they are afforded wide latitude when making discipline decisions under the Conduct Unbecoming a DEA Employee offense category, which supports penalties ranging from a letter of reprimand to removal. When we asked why DEA officials do not charge under the Criminal, Dishonest or Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct or Inappropriate Conduct of a Sexual Nature offense categories where the subject had solicited prostitutes, one DEA official told us that Conduct Unbecoming or Poor Judgment has always been charged in cases of this type. The DEA official also stated that the Criminal, Dishonest or Notoriously Disgraceful Conduct offense category offers less flexibility to proposing and deciding officials, with penalties ranging from suspension of 14 days to removal. He said that therefore, DEA officials have traditionally not used it.

In other words, not only does the DEA leadership allow agents to behave like frat boys, it embraces a standard of conduct that encourages the behavior.

The OIG report was met with heavy criticism on Capitol Hill, where sexual misconduct in federal agencies has been a topic of discussion since the Secret Service’s 2012 Columbian prostitution scandal.

“Once again, some federal law enforcement agents are acting like they belong in a college frat house rather than at a taxpayer-funded law enforcement agency tasked with interdicting illegal drugs,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said. “It’s extremely troubling that federal drug agents lacked the common sense to know that engaging with prostitutes hired by drug cartels was a bad idea.”

Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) also weighed in, saying that the federal agents’ sexual misconduct puts Americans in danger.

“Let there be no mistake, this is a national security threat,” he said. “The gross misconduct of DEA agents follows a disturbing pattern of risky and improper behavior afflicting Homeland Security and the Department of Justice.”

Chaffetz also called for the immediate firing of agents involved in the misconduct.

Lawsuit alleges Clintons are guilty of racketeering, influence peddling

A conservative watchdog has filed a racketeering lawsuit against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, arguing that the nation’s former top diplomat used a personal email server in order to sell access in return for donations to the Clinton Foundation.

The complaint, filed by conservative activist Larry Klayman’s Freedom Watch organization, also names Bill Clinton and the Clinton Foundation as defendants. It alleges that both Bill and Hillary Clinton “systematically and continuously… conducted a corrupt enterprise” under the definition of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

The suit also alleges that the Clintons used mail and wire fraud to ignore multiple Freedom of Information Act requests for documents pertaining to State Department waivers to people and business thwarting U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran.

The suit explains: “Plaintiff has filed many Freedom of Information Act requests for public records created or held by the U.S. Department of State… which records are of the public interest and importance to the citizens of the United States. … As it has now been revealed, a primary reason that the plaintiff did not receive the records to which the plaintiff is entitled by law is that Defendant Hillary Clinton — upon information and belief together with Cheryl Mills and Defendant Bill Clinton and other Clinton ‘loyalists’ — set up a private computer file server operating a private, stand-alone electronic mail system.”

The complaint goes on to charge that Clinton’s “off the books” email setup is evidence of a deliberate and calculated scheme to steal public documents for personal financial gain.

“Using those concealed communications held on the private email server, upon information and belief, the defendants negotiated, arranged and implemented the sale of influence and access to U.S. government officials and decision-makers and official acts by State and other instrumentalities of the U.S. government in return for gratuitous and illegal payments — bribes — disguised as donations to defendant The Clinton Foundation and extraordinarily high speaking fees paid to Defendant Bill Clinton and Defendant Hillary Clinton,” the complaint continues.

The lawsuit is the latest of many Klayman has filed against the Clintons during his years as a conservative activist.

“This is the first and only hard-hitting case to address the growing email scandal. What Hillary Clinton, her husband, and their foundation have done is nothing new. It is simply part of a criminal enterprise which dates back at least 10 years, all designed to enrich themselves personally at the expense of the American people and our nation. It’s time, however, that they finally be held legally accountable,” Klayman said in a statement.

The conservative activist is asking the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida to order the Clintons to turn over the former secretary of state’s email server for examination and publication of its contents. In addition, Klayman wants the Clintons to be hit with $5 million compensatory and $200 million punitive damages along with any other applicable RICO penalties.

Rand Paul embarks on dual offensive against Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton

Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) recent announcement that he intends to run for president in 2016 has put fellow libertarian-leaning GOP firebrand Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on the rhetorical offensive.

Hours after Cruz made official his presidential campaign, Paul — who has yet to make his presidential intentions official — told Fox News that he and Cruz definitely disagree on strategies to make the GOP appeal to a broader voter segment in 2016.

“I guess what makes us different is probably our approach as to how we would make the party bigger,” Paul told Fox’s Megyn Kelly. “And I’m a big believer that you should stand on principle and be true to your principles, but I also think we should take those principles and try to bring in new people with them.”

Paul has long focused on the GOP’s need to reach out to a broader audience, including social libertarians and minority voters, with a small government, liberty-centered message that he contends has natural appeal to a majority of U.S. voters.

“It isn’t just about rousing a base. It’s about exciting the base by being for the principles of liberty, but it’s then taking those principles of liberty — not diluting them — and taking them to new people and bringing them into the party. That’s the way you win general elections,” he told Fox.

Cruz has only recently begun making similar points about reaching out to a new set of potential GOP voters. Echoing Paul’s long-held position on the matter, the Texas Republican opined in a separate Fox interview with Sean Hannity that potential GOP voters pining for an Obama alternative weren’t given a small-government option in the 2008 and 2012 elections.

“The only way to win is to bring back to the polls the millions of conservatives who have been staying home. The millions of Christians, the millions of Reagan Democrats who have been staying home,” Cruz told Sean Hannity. “As I look at the field, I see a lot of good people who I like, who I respect. But I don’t see … a whole lot of candidates who I think can energize and mobilize the conservatives who stayed home in ’08 and ’12.”

For Paul, Cruz also doesn’t fit the bill of a candidate bound to energize GOP voters.

“Ted Cruz is a conservative, but it also goes to winnability,” Paul said. “And people will have to make a decision, which is the Republican who can not only excite the base but also bring new people into the party without giving up their principles.”

For sure, GOP voters are certain to see Cruz/Paul backbiting increase in intensity over the next several months as each of the two candidates works to distinguish himself as a viable alternative to big-government conservatism.

A Cruz adviser told The Hill earlier this week that Paul’s recent remarks are aimed at nothing more than muddying the waters and confusing voters about the Texas senator’s conservative record.

“These stories are intended to distract, and we’re not going to take the bait,” the unnamed adviser said.

And for what he lacks in originality regarding “broaden the GOP base” rhetoric, Cruz has already hinted that he intends to distinguish himself from Paul by appealing to establishment GOP voters and going for what many political analysts see as the Kentucky lawmaker’s Achilles’ heel: foreign policy.

“I’m a big fan of Rand Paul; he and I are good friends. I don’t agree with him on foreign policy,” Cruz told ABC’s “This Week” last year. “I think U.S. leadership is critical in the world, and I agree with him that we should be very reluctant to deploy military force abroad, but I think there is a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did.”

But Cruz should avoid selling Paul short on the foreign policy front because he’s quickly overshadowing a past of noninterventionist ideas with criticism of the current administration’s overseas endeavors.

In addition, Hillary Clinton’s disastrous tenure as secretary of state has given him the opportunity to make several highly publicized criticisms of the Obama administration’s foreign policy ineptitude in recent years.

Paul recently took Clinton to task over her family foundation’s acceptance of donations from Saudi Arabia, a move that The New York Times described as a calculated attempt “to turn one of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s greatest strengths into a weakness, implicating her in a ‘war on women’ because of gifts she has received from foreign countries.”

“They say there’s a war on women,” Paul said. “Well, yeah, there is in Saudi Arabia. You can be raped in Saudi Arabia, and they put you in jail. You can be raped in Saudi Arabia, and they publicly lash you and whip you for being raped.”

Controversy over Clinton’s email habits at the State Department has also aided Paul in building a reputation one of the GOP’s most ardent anti-Clinton bulldogs, a designation that would serve well any GOP presidential nominee faced with battling her in a general election.

“I’ve been offended by the fact that she said she didn’t want to carry two cellphones for convenience,” Paul recently said of Clinton’s attempt to explain away the controversy. “First thing, we ought to inform her than in the 21st century you can put two email accounts on one phone… It is insulting that she says for convenience sake that she may have endangered our national security.”

Paul’s camp seems to know that, sometimes in politics, the actions a candidate roundly condemns can appeal to voters as much as his own policy vision. The Kentucky lawmaker is expected to officially announce his bid for the presidency on April 7.

‘Threat-sharing’ Internet legislation gaining ground in Congress

Lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee unveiled Tuesday legislation that would make it easier for the government to get communications data from private companies.

The legislation, called the Protecting Cyber Networks Act, would provide liability protections to private communications companies who are asked to hand over user data to government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security.

The legislation would allow for corporations to pass user data along to a designated civilian government agency; the information could then be provided to the Department of Defense or National Security Agency.

The legislation is part of a package of cybersecurity legislation being shuffled through Congress.

Via The Hill:

The Senate Intelligence Committee approved a similar measure by a 14-1 vote two weeks ago. That bill is seen as the Senate’s omnibus offering on cyber information sharing. Unlike its House counterpart, the Senate bill specifies the DHS as the preferred data portal but also allows some direct, nonelectronic data sharing with the NSA.

The House Homeland Security Committee on Friday also unveiled its own cyber information-sharing measure, which is seen as complementary to the House Intelligence panel’s efforts.

All three bills are expected to get floor votes sometime in April. Observers give the entire batch a fair chance of passing, but the result of those votes will determine how congressional leaders move forward on a final cyber bill.

Supporters of the Protecting Cyber Networks Act and its Senate counterpart, the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, point to a series of recent high-profile cybersecurity breaches, such as the attacks on Home Depot and Sony Pictures last year, as the reason heightened private sector/government communications data sharing is necessary.

But opponents contend that both pieces of legislation aimed at encouraging data sharing are cloaked attempts to broaden government and corporate digital surveillance capabilities.

A recent analysis by the Open Technology Institute charged that the Senate’s CISA would allow “any entity of the federal government, including intelligence agencies and law enforcement” to use information handed over from private companies “for a broad array of garden-variety investigations and prosecutions, not just for cybercrimes.”

“If excessive sharing of Americans’ personal information is not enough to establish that CISA is as much a surveillance bill as it is a cybersecurity bill, the breadth of investigations and prosecutions that law enforcement can use the information for leaves no room for doubt,” the analysis said.

Los Angeles learns it can’t force people to be healthy

The nanny state has its work cut out for it in trying to force Americans to make healthier choices, according to new study examining how a 2008 fast food restaurant ban in Los Angeles affected obesity rates.

In 2008, officials targeted a 32-square-mile section of South Los Angeles with high rates of obesity and poor health with a ban on the opening of new fast-food restaurants. The law was heralded as a powerful anti-obesity measure by proponents and derided as anti-market government interference by critics.

Roland Sturm, a senior economist at RAND Corporation, was skeptical of the ban from the onset. The economist has noted that the fast food ban’s moratorium on the construction of new “standalone” restaurants didn’t limit access to unhealthy foods in strip malls and corner stores.

A new study from RAND found that not only did the government obesity solution fail to limit access to fast food in the area but also that people living under the ban have actually become more obese than other L.A. residents over the past few years.

“The South Los Angeles fast food ban may have symbolic value, but it has had no measurable impact in improving diets or reducing obesity,” said Sturm, lead author of the study. “This should not come as a surprise: Most food outlets in the area are small food stores or small restaurants with limited seating that are not affected by the policy.”

According to RAND’s numbers, 17 new fast food restaurants opened in convenience stores and strip malls in the area covered by the ban between 2008 and 2012. Meanwhile, obesity rates in South Los Angeles rose from 63 percent to 75 percent between 2007 and 2012, compared to a national increase of just one percent (from 57 percent to 58 percent) during the same period.

“The one bright spot we found is that soft drink consumption dropped, but the decrease was similar in all areas across Los Angeles,” study co-author Aiko Hattori of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said. “Unfortunately, the rates of overweight and obesity increased and they increased fastest in the area subject to the fast-food ban.”

While Los Angeles’s attempt to regulate residents into healthier living is a failure, national attitudes about healthy eating appear to be forcing national fast food chains to have market-based conversations about changing their menus.

Business Insider recently reported that McDonald’s is experiencing a 4.6 percent decline in sales for U.S. locations each month and other fast food giants are seeing similar declines. Market watchers say the sliding profits are resulting from health-conscious consumes increasingly giving fast food the cold shoulder. In a recent poll conduct by Technomic, a food industry group, 64 percent of respondents said that health and nutrition are important to them.

As a result, fast food retailers are making — or, at least, pretending to make — menu changes to cater to the health conscious. For instances, McDonald’s recently announced that kale, one of the nation’s latest trendy superfoods, will soon make an appearance on its menu.

Gun business wants government to do away with suppressor regulations

A company that sells firearm suppressors is urging 2nd Amendment advocates’ “fighting the noise” and making it easier to shoot without worrying about hearing loss or noise complaints by calling for an end to taxes and paperwork hurdles to suppressor ownership.

SilencerCo, a fast-growing firearm suppressor company, says its customers are being “suppressed” by federal laws that require ATF background checks and a $200 transfer tax for suppressor purchases.

CEO Josh Waldron told The Blaze last week that the company’s new campaign is aimed at helping Americans enjoy quieter shooting sports by “asking the federal government to get their grubby hands off our industry.”

“The Suppressed are changing the perception of an industry and leading the revolution with a clear message: Guns don’t have to be loud,” the company says on its website.

In most U.S. states, it is completely legal to own a firearm suppressor by meeting the following requirements:

  • Be at least 21 years of age to purchase a suppressor from a dealer.
  • Be at least 18 years of age to purchase a suppressor from an individual on a Form 4 to Form 4 transfer (contingent on state laws).
  • Be at least 18 years of age to possess a suppressor as a beneficiary of a trust or as a member of a corporation (contingent on state laws).
  • Be a resident of the United States.
  • Be legally eligible to purchase a firearm.
  • Pass a BATFE background check with a typical process time of 4 to 9 months.
  • Pay a one time $200 Transfer Tax.
  • Reside in one of the 39 states that currently allows civilian ownership of suppressors.

Waldron contends that the 1934 National Firearms Act, which regulates suppressors, is misguided and ignores the benefits of making firearms quieter. Opposition to suppressors, he said, is strongest among people who don’t understand how they work.

“The fact of the matter is you wouldn’t drive around your car without a muffler. When guns don’t have to be loud, why would you do that?” Waldron said. “It’s just a common-sense device that makes shooting a firearm safer and more enjoyable. Why does the government have to get involved with so much of the process?”

Learn more about firearm suppressors from The American Suppressor Association.

Cities lower minimum standards for cops as applications dwindle

A recent news report out of St. Louis highlights how growing public anger at police is making it hard for many departments to fill vacant law enforcement jobs.

Chuck Canterbury, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, told CBS St. Louis in a recent interview that a series of high-profile civilian deaths, which have sparked anti-police protests throughout the nation, are making law enforcement careers less attractive.

“The recent events in many cities protesting law enforcement have also discouraged applicants because they know even if they do the right thing in a split-second decision that the media and others will spend years second-guessing them and many just feel that type of stress is not worth the meager salaries and reduction in benefits,” he said.

In the long run, ongoing public outcry for better policing could have a deleterious effect on the quality of local law enforcement agencies as they are forced to take less-qualified applicants to fill positions.

“Many cities are reducing the minimum standards to attract candidates and there is a general lack of applicants who have higher education or experience that is commensurate with the profession,” Canterbury said.

A number of existing studies show that experience and education goes a long way in reducing bad behavior among police officers.

USA Today reported in 2006:

There are about 700,000 state and local police officers across the nation… 25% to 30% have four-year degrees … departments have been reluctant to adopt stricter recruiting standards despite evidence suggesting that better-educated cops perform better.

In an analysis of disciplinary cases against Florida cops from 1997 to 2002, the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that officers with only high school educations were the subjects of 75% of all disciplinary actions. Officers with four-year degrees accounted for 11% of such actions.

A 2005 study of officers in Minnesota similarly indicated that more education is better for officers:

[O]fficers with bachelor of arts degrees have work habits (sick time usage, traffic collisions, discipline, and commendations) that are similar to officers with an additional 10 years of age and experience. It is also worth noting that the officers with 10 years of experience and who exceed 45 years of age are more reflective of officers who are not working in a patrol capacity. This seems to make the officers with bachelor of arts degrees stand out even more. Officers with bachelor of arts degrees tend to work in patrol assignments where they are more likely to receive citizen complaints that could result in discipline and spend more time driving patrol units. It stands to reason that they are likely to have more traffic collisions than older officers who are more frequently working in administrative assignments.

Lawmaker: ‘Developments in bullet propellants, coatings and materials’ make bullet bans necessary

Angry Democrats and an embarrassed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are poised to launch a renewed assault on the 2nd Amendment.

Conservatives and 2nd Amendment advocates rejoiced earlier this month when the ATF opted to rethink a proposed ban on popular AR-15 ammunition and current Director B. Todd Jones announced his resignation. But new threats to gun rights are emerging as congressional Democrats vow new ammo regulations and increased anti-gun pressure on incoming ATF Director Thomas Brandon.

On Friday Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) criticized the ATF for “sloppily” rolling out a regulatory proposal that would have banned certain types of 5.56mm/.223 caliber ammunition.

ATF officials announced on March 10 that they planned to shelve the proposal in order to conduct more research before moving forward following weeks of grass-roots, congressional and lobbying backlash and criticism from 2nd Amendment supporters.

“This was sloppily handled and as a result the outcome was surprising, disappointing and even confusing,” Israel said in an interview with The Hill. “I hope under the new leadership the ATF can have a more transparent and responsive process.”

Israel’s remarks came just after Jones abruptly announced that he plans to step down from his position at the ATF by the end of March “to pursue other opportunities in the private sector.”

The Hill reported that Israel is “looking to capitalize on Jones’ resignation” by using it as an opportunity to pressure Brandon, currently the agency’s deputy director, into reviving the proposed bullet ban or even tougher gun regulations when he takes control at the ATF.

Israel and other Democrats jumped at the opportunity to announce new legislative bullet ban proposals in the wake of the ATF’s decision to drop the bullet ban, announcing in a letter to the agency earlier this month that they are “very disappointed” the bureau didn’t use its “existing authority” to ban the bullets.

“We hope that the Bureau will swiftly review comments on the proposed framework and issue a revised proposal that will address the danger posed by handguns that fire 5.56mm and other rifle ammunition,” the Democratic lawmakers had said.

Israel has expressed support of Democratic legislative attempts to accomplish what the ATF couldn’t and has vowed to produce his own bill to “extend the definition of armor-piercing ammunition to include all bullets that can pierce body armor and be used in handguns.”

Despite very similar legislation failing in the previous Congress, Israel contends that there is more “urgency” among Democrats to ban bullets now that the ATF failed to do so via regulatory scheming.

And the National Rifle Association contends that ignorance about firearms from Democrats like Israel make their current anti-gun zeal particularly dangerous to 2nd Amendment rights.

The gun rights organization recently explained on its website:

[T]he BATFE’s recent attempt to ban M855 has inspired gun control supporters to take another shot at a near-total center-fire bullet ban, and in the case of Rep. Israel, to do so without knowing the first thing about the subject. Israel says his bill is necessary “[b]ecause of significant developments in bullet propellants, coatings and materials, such as Teflon.”

To which we have to ask: Seriously, Teflon? The substance used to coat skillets and 1970s-era all-steel handgun bullets invented for law enforcement officers, so the bullets wouldn’t scratch the rifling of the officers’ handgun barrels? Teflon, which has nothing to do with whether a bullet can penetrate a protective vest? Teflon … the substance said to cover dishonest, misbehaving public officials who nevertheless skirt scrutiny and accountability again and again?

In essence, Israel is arguing that developments in technology that make guns more accurate, more deadly or more reliable are all Democrats need to enact broad bans on entire classes of firearms and ammunition. It’s just another form of the anti-gun crowd’s familiar “when the 2nd Amendment was written, all they had were muskets” argument.

ATF director to step down following attempted bullet ban

Following the recent controversy involving the agencies regulatory scheme to ban certain types of popular ammunition, officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) announced Friday that agency Director B. Todd Jones is stepping down.

Jones is slated to leave the agency at the end of this month “to pursue other opportunities in the private sector.”

“ATF employees are hard-working, dedicated individuals who serve the public to make our nation safer every day,” Jones said in a statement. “I have seen firsthand their extraordinary commitment to combatting violent crime, ridding the streets of criminals, and leveraging all available resources to keep our communities safe.”

“I will truly miss leading and working side-by-side with these men and women in their pursuit of ATF’s unique law enforcement and regulatory mission,” Jones added.

Jones was appointed to his position by President Barack Obama in January 2013 and confirmed by the Senate in July of that year. Before his confirmation, the ATF had not had a permanent director since 2006 due to a rule change subjecting the position to Senate approval.

Jones had previously served as acting ATF director starting in 2011.

Jones’ decision to depart from the agency which has been plagued by a series of high-profile scandals in recent years was abrupt. There is some speculation that his decision to step down was prompted by a number of Republican calls for changes to the agency ranging from restructuring suggestions to calls for its dissolution.

The National Rifle Association recently pointed to remarks Jones made following the ATF’s announcement that it would back off on a plan to ban popular AR-15 ammunition as proof that the agency would revive the plan.

The group explained on its website last week:

In a leading question, the reliably anti-gun Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) asked the BATFE director, why the agency reviewed the status of M855 and other steel-component bullets. Jones’s response included this ominous assertion: “But as we see more and more of the firearms that could be classified as pistols, being able to use not just this M855 round, but any 5.56 round, it’s a challenge for officer safety, public safety” (emphasis added).

Jones’s remarks suggest that it isn’t just M855-type ammunition that is on BATFE’s regulatory radar, but all 5.56-caliber ammunition. These comments could also signal that the administration would like to use innovation in the firearms industry as justification for an ever-widening ammunition ban.

With Jones’s ouster, current ATF Deputy Director Thomas Brandon will take the helm at the agency.

It’s time to change the tax system, but politics are in the way

About half of Americans feel that the amount of money they are forced to pay in taxes each year is “about right,” according to the results of a new survey. But a growing number of U.S. taxpayers cite inequalities in tax policies for different groups as reason to scrap the nation’s current tax system.

Pew Research Center’s latest analysis of Americans’ feelings about taxes reveals that many Americans have serious questions about the nation’s current tax code.

Just 4 percent of Americans said that they would consider the current system as “very fair,” compared to 46 percent who said it is “moderately fair.” Forty-eight percent of respondents to the poll, meanwhile, told Pew that the current tax structure is not fair.

Americans from all political backgrounds cited unfair tax breaks for corporations and the wealthiest Americans high on the list of tax system flaws.

Via Pew:

Fully 75% of Democrats are bothered a lot by the feeling that corporations do not pay their fair share of taxes, and 72% say the same about wealthy people not paying their fair share.

Fewer Republicans are bothered a lot by some corporations (52%) and wealthy people (45%) not paying their fair share. Still, these rank among the Republicans’ top concerns among five items tested.

Conservative Republicans (those most likely to support flat tax reforms) were the only group Pew surveyed that were equally perturbed “by the poor not paying their fair share of taxes as by the wealthy not paying their fair share (38% each).” Seventy-two percent of Democrats chided wealthy tax breaks, while just 14 percent believed the poor should have to pay their fair share.

Pew reports that there are “relatively modest” fluctuations in satisfaction among tax fairness along party lines, with 55 percent of Democrats, 49 percent of Republicans and 48 percent of independents saying the tax system is at least moderately fair.

A majority of Americans, 59 percent, say that it is time for Congress to take the steps to totally reform the nation’s tax system while 38 percent say that minor changes are necessary.

Republicans and independents are most likely to support tax reform as Democrats are expressing less interest in overhauling the tax system than in previous surveys, according to Pew. Currently, 66 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of independents and 48 percent of Democrats say they’d like to see fundamental changes in the nation’s tax system.

Tax reform has been a bipartisan issue on Capitol Hill for years, but recent reports indicate that lawmakers and lobbyists are getting burned out on the challenge after five years of debate have brought them no closer to a tax overhaul.

The Hill recently reported:

[C]ongressional tax writers are falling back on familiar methods as they try to create a sequel to the 1986 tax reform law, like hearings on well-discussed tax issues and breaking into smaller groups to examine specific parts of the system.

Senate tax writers are convening their working groups even as they acknowledge Democrats and Republicans remain divided over tax reform’s most central issues, and as the partisan rifts in the chamber have undercut even seemingly noncontroversial measures like an anti-sex trafficking proposal.

Chris Krueger of Guggenheim Securities said that because of partisan squabbling and a looming 2016 presidential election, comprehensive tax reform has less than a 10 percent chance of becoming reality within the next two years, according to MarketWatch.

Lawmaker wants government to provide each American a breakdown of tax spending and debt

New legislation proposed by Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn would give every U.S. taxpayer an overview of how they are affected by the federal government’s spending.

Cornyn’s “Debt and Taxation Transparency Act of 2015″ help taxpayers get a better understanding of where their tax dollars go by forcing the government to compile easily understandable breakdowns of tax spending.

Cornyn filed similar legislation earlier in the year focusing on transparency in the tax system. His “Tax Transparency Act of 2015,” many of the ideas of which carry over into his latest tax bill, was focused on providing Americans information about every change the government makes to the tax system.

The lawmaker said that bill would:

  • Increase transparency and accountability by requiring every tax bill, amendment, and conference report to include an easy and understandable transparency statement describing the general effect that the legislation has on federal tax law.
  • Create a supermajority point of order against any legislation that affects taxes that does not contain a tax transparency statement.
  • Shed light on the legislative process and provide taxpayers with easy-to-understand information about legislation that impacts their pocketbook.

“I’m pleased to introduce this common-sense measure to arm hard-working taxpayers with more information about how legislation impacts their bottom line,” he said in January. “As the president plans to move forward yet again with another tax hike over $300 billon, now more than ever we need greater transparency in Washington and a more informed public.”

But Cornyn’s “Debt and Taxation Transparency Act of 2015″ would go further, ensuring that Americans understand the correlation between the government’s spending and fluctuations in their tax obligations.

Cornyn’s proposal would require federal officials to provide each U.S. taxpayers a “taxpayer financial statement,” including a breakdown of each individual citizen’s share of the federal government’s financial obligations.

In addition to the breakdown, taxpayers would also receive a summary of the most recent Financial Report of the United States and information on officials’ the long-term financial projections for the nation.

With each report, Cornyn also wants the government to give taxpayers an estimate of how much taxes would increase over a 30-year period if the government attempted to follow its current course without running a deficit — a measure certain to hold significant shock value.

The conservative Americans for Tax Reform has championed Cornyn’s legislation, saying it will provide average Americans with a more complete picture of the nation’s long-term fiscal conditions.

Lawmakers say taxpayers shouldn’t pay for colleagues’ first-class travel

It shouldn’t have to be said, but a bipartisan group of lawmakers is petitioning the House Appropriations Committee to recognize that members of Congress “shouldn’t be considered a privileged class” by banning first-class travel on the taxpayer dime.

Eight House lawmakers urged the committee to include a congressional prohibition on first-class travel in this year’s Capitol Hill operations spending bill.

“Members of Congress are public servants of the people and shouldn’t be considered a privileged class. As such, we must be judicious in the travel expenses that are paid for with federal funds,” the lawmakers wrote. “Luxury airfare accommodations utilizing taxpayer monies would seem inappropriate in any fiscal climate, but at a time of soaring deficits and with a federal debt in excess of $18 trillion, such expenditures are especially wasteful.”

If the lawmakers’ request were granted, the legislative branch appropriations bill for the new fiscal year would include specific language prohibiting representational allowance funds from being used for first-class travel. The proposal would allow exceptions for lawmakers’ disabilities or other medical reasons.

Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), Rod Blum (R-Iowa), Scott Peters (D-Calif.), Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) and Gwen Graham (D-Fla.) signed the letter.

Graham introduced legislation last week with the same goal, in addition to prohibiting government funds for being used for long-term car leases or other personal luxuries.

“It’s a commonsense idea that Republicans and Democrats can both agree on: members of Congress shouldn’t be able to charge taxpayers for first-class airfare or long-term personal car leases,” said Graham.

The lawmaker’s office said the measure is the first of many “anti-perks” bills that will be introduced to curb congressional luxuries.

The renewed bipartisan interest in making sure Congress isn’t living the high life at taxpayer expense comes as Illinois Republican Rep. Aaron Shock announced that he will resign later this month after a series of reports on his questionable expenditures since taking office.

Clinton 2016 may not be so ‘inevitable’ after all

There has been a great deal of talk about Hillary Clinton as the “inevitable” 2016 Democratic presidential nominee. But new polling following news of the former secretary of state’s questionable government email practices shows many potential voters wanting a fresh face for the next election.

According to polling data out from Rasmussen, 54 percent of likely U.S. voters overall think that the Democratic Party should kick Clinton to the curb as primary races heat up and opt for a candidate who hasn’t run in the past.

Among voters who identify as Democrats, 44 percent say that the party should opt for a presidential contender who’s run in the past. Meanwhile, 36 percent in the party say they want a fresh face and 20 percent are unsure.

That 57 percent of Democrats are unwilling to commit to an old dog candidate, Rasmussen says, is a surprise because it dashes Clinton’s “inevitable” status. The polling agency does note, however, that Republicans reacted similarly to the prospect of a Mitt Romney run earlier this year, with 64 percent calling for new blood.

A separate poll of likely Democratic voters from Rueters/Ipsos similarly illustrated waning support for Hillary 2016.

“Support for Clinton’s candidacy has dropped about 15 percentage points since mid-February among Democrats, with as few as 45 percent saying they would support her in the last week, according to a Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll,” Reuters reported. “Support from Democrats likely to vote in the party nominating contests has dropped only slightly less, to a low in the mid-50s over the same period.”

Meanwhile, the same poll showed growing support among Democrats for an independent review of Clinton’s State Department email activities, with 46 percent calling for an investigation.

Clinton’s overall favorability ratings have taken a hit following her email scandal, according to Rasmussen.

“Forty-eight percent… of voters share a favorable opinion of Hillary Clinton, while 49 percent view her unfavorably. This includes 21 percent with a Very Favorable view and 33percent with a Very Unfavorable one,” the polling agency reports.

ACLU sues TSA for data on passenger-observation screening program

(TNS) — The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Transportation Security Administration on Thursday, seeking information on a controversial passenger screening program.

At the center of the lawsuit is the TSA’s Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques program, known as SPOT. The program is designed to catch potential terrorists by observing passengers for signs of stress, fear or deception.

The TSA has spent nearly $1 billion since the program was launched in 2007 to deploy about 3,000 behavior-detection officers to 176 of the more than 450 airports in the U.S. that are TSA-regulated.

But an audit released in 2013 by the Government Accountability Office said the study relied upon by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to validate the program was flawed and inconclusive. TSA executives support the program, calling it an added layer of security at the airports.

The ACLU’s lawsuit asks for records related to scientific studies to support the program. The group is also seeking data on whether minorities are disproportionately singled out for screening under the program.

“What we know about SPOT suggests it wastes taxpayer money, leads to racial profiling and should be scrapped,” said Hugh Handeyside, staff attorney for the ACLU. “The TSA has insisted on keeping documents about SPOT secret, but the agency can’t hide the fact that there’s no evidence the program works.”

The TSA declined to comment on the lawsuit but the agency’s acting administrator, Melvin Carraway, defended the program at a congressional hearing Thursday, saying “it provides us a layer of security that is indispensable.”

He added that the TSA’s behavior-detection officers do not profile passengers.

“We do not tolerate profiling,” he said. “It’s inappropriate and it doesn’t help us in regards to the threat that is ever-changing, that is ever-evolving.”

–Hugo Martin
Los Angeles Times

___

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Political ads outnumber campaign coverage 45 to 1 in local media survey

With a presidential election season right around the corner, Americans are about to get pummeled with political advertising. Campaigns buy so many ads, it turns out, that media consumers hoping to find election coverage have a serious chance of becoming indoctrinated rather than informed.

That’s according to a study of 2014 campaign advertising carried out by Philly Political Media Watch, which found that in some media markets campaign advertisements outnumber serious political news stories 45:1.

“What does this mean for political communication and for what citizens learn about the candidates? The short answer is that political reality is bought,” the study, Political Ads & Local TV News, declared.

Researchers examined newscasts in the Philadelphia viewing area — spanning Pennsylvania, Delaware and Southern New Jersey — during the final two months of the 2014 campaign season.

They found that ad spots on local nightly news programs were hot real estate for political campaigns, even those running non-competitive races. But in between all of those political advertisements, the researchers noted a startling lack of political news coverage on the same campaigns.

“In Philadelphia during the mid-term election of 2014, political communication was almost exclusively the province of paid advertisers,” according to the study.

“And, by definition, their message was always slanted to emphasize the positive aspects of their candidate and to point out the negative attributes of their opponents.”

In total, the Philly market aired 12,000 political ads during the two-months studied. Roughly 8,000 of those ads were presented to newscast viewers. The spots reaped an impressive $14.4 million for the six stations serving the area.

Using a sample of 390 newscasts out of the 1,256 that broadcast over the period, the researchers deduced that for every 14 hours of political advertising that ran viewers, got less than 19 minutes of “substantive” political coverage. Even when the researchers loosened their standards for political coverage to include anchors’ mere mentions of candidate schedules or appearances alongside issues stories, on-air time devoted to ads was still four times greater.

“There were so many of them that, in some ways, journalism never had a fighting chance,” it said.

IRS could be planning to broaden assault on political speech

Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen said in a recent interview that the agency is considering broadening a forthcoming tax rule aimed at policing political nonprofits to include political action committees and political parties.

The IRS has been working to clarify rules involving nonprofit political spending since the Treasury inspector general revealed a 2013 scandal involving the agency’s loose definition of “political activity” being used to place undue tax scrutiny on conservative 501c(4) groups.

There had been much speculation that the forthcoming code modifications would apply to unions, trade groups and charities in addition to social welfare nonprofits. But Koskinen, in an interview with Politico, revealed only this week that the agency is considering holding 527 groups, including political parties and PACs, to the same standard as traditional nonprofits.

“If it’s going to be a fair system, it needs to apply across the board,” the IRS chief told Politico. “[I]f we have a set of definitions for 501(c)(4)s, what about everybody else? Can they do more or less [political activity]? And for us as [an] administration, for ease of administration, it makes sense to have this common definition.”

Exactly how the change would affect purely political organizations is unclear.

Politico points out that most of the groups active at the federal level are already required to adhere to strict Federal Elections Commission spending and reporting guidelines. But its report also notes: “[S]ome 527 groups that are quite active are registered only with the IRS, but not with the FEC, including the most robust arms of the Democratic and Republican governors associations, as well as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s primary political vehicle and all manner of state-focused political groups.”

Left-leaning groups, which generally are interested in limiting the amount of money nonprofits (or anyone) can spend in elections, have welcomed the IRS proposal to put additional scrutiny on 527s. Conservatives, meanwhile, are wondering about the IRS’s end goal, considering 527s have a pretty specific purpose that already runs afoul of the IRS’s limits on “political activity” for nonprofits.

Matt Nese of the conservative Center for Competitive Politics told Politico the move doesn’t make much sense because purely political nonprofits already must disclose their donors.

“They do political activity. That’s why they’re organized… primarily to influence the selection, nomination or appointment of candidates… so I’m not sure what they feel they need to do to regulate in this,” he said.

As the IRS hammers out its new regulations, several conservative groups are nearing the two-year mark in their wait IRS approval for tax-exempt status.

Koskinen told lawmakers Wednesday that the organizations whose applications have been set aside are still overtly political and would need to limit political activity to 40 percent of their respective budgets.

A handful of the groups have rejected the offer, opting to sue the IRS instead. Their lawyers are arguing that the IRS is attempting to get the embattled conservative organizations to cede rights to the government with the deal because IRS nonprofit regulations allow for nonprofits to spend 49.9 percent, or less than half, of their money on political activity.

“The suggested ‘path’ that the IRS Commissioner suggests was available a couple of years ago was nothing more than an arbitrary standard that the agency unilaterally constructed out of thin air to placate Americans who have been unlawfully and unconstitutionally targeted by the IRS because of their political beliefs,” Jay Sekulow, chief council at the American Center for Law and Justice, told The Washington Times.

Sekulow’s organization represents the Albuquerque Tea Party, which has been waiting for nonprofit status since 2009, in a suit against the IRS.

Study: You read bad news because you’re wired to avoid danger

Newspaper editors throughout the nation have long taken an “if it bleeds, it leads” approach to selecting front page content. And according to new research, they’re right: Bad news is in demand.

Researchers at Washington State University and the University of Leuven in Belgium examined how news consumers perceive the value of news content as it relates to their personal well-being. The researchers also examined how choosing to consume good news or bad news affects the individual happiness of newspaper readers.

According to the study’s results, news consumers are more likely to perceive that they have individually benefited from reading bad news. Bad news, it turns out, feeds a primal human instinct to avoid risk by making consumers feel informed about potential threats and, therefore, more able to avoid danger.

Washington State professor and economist Jill McCluskey said that the researchers built an algorithm designed to predict consumer behavior based on an economic model that ties an individual’s perceived value of each successive dollar to overall wealth.

“When you are very poor and hungry, for example, each dollar is worth a lot as it helps you buy enough food to eat,” McCluskey explained. “But once you have more money and can count on regular meals, it’s the losses that will affect you more. In terms of happiness and well-being, a $1,000 loss will affect you more than a $1,000 windfall.”

When consuming information from newspapers, the Internet, TV or radio, according to McCluskey, the same theory applies and people tend to seek out content that could help them minimize risks because it is perceived as more valuable than good news.

That’s bad news for consumers fed up with breathless reports of whatever minor scare is captivating the public mind at any given moment.

“Newspapers act on this demand by reporting more bad news to attract readers and sell more papers,” McCluskey said.

McCluskey’s study is a first of its kind analysis of the demand side of negative news bias, but it backs up the results of numerous studies examining why media pushes negative news.

GOP net neutrality hearings bring talk of Internet tax as watchdog investigates

Capitol Hill Republicans say that the Federal Communication Commission’s government watchdog has launched an investigation into the agency’s aggressive new Internet rules as new details emerge about how the FCC’s net neutrality plan could affect Web users.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), the Republican head of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters Tuesday that an FCC Inspector General investigation of the net neutrality plan had been launched within “the last couple days.”

“It’s my understanding that it’s not an audit, not an inspection, but it’s an actual investigation,” he told reporters Tuesday.

Details about the scale of the rumored investigation remain sketchy. But Chaffetz said that the IG will focus mostly on the rulemaking process the FCC implemented leading up to the monumental vote to enact strict regulations on Internet providers.

Lawmakers grilled FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler during an appearance before the House Oversight Committee Tuesday. Congressional Republicans largely focused questions on whether the Obama White House had “improper influence” on the FCC’s decision to regulate the Internet like a public utility.

Throughout the hearing, one of at least five scheduled to investigate the issue over the next two weeks, Wheeler maintained that the Obama administration had little to do with the process.

“There were no secret instructions from the White House,” he told lawmakers. “I did not, as CEO of an independent agency, feel obligated to follow the president’s recommendation.”

But congressional Republicans were quick to note that President Obama’s public calls for the FCC to enact net neutrality regulations and a change in the FCC’s course as it put together its neutrality rules hint that there was collusion between the agency and the executive.

Wheeler had originally advocated for a lighter set of net neutrality regulations that stopped short of declaring the Internet a public utility. But GOP lawmakers contend that the current rules are the result of pressure from the White House over the past year.

When Chaffetz questioned Wheeler about a series of meetings the FCC commissioner had with White House staffers during the rulemaking process, the official insisted that the meetings involved other matters.

“We were exploring the viability of the bifurcated approach,” Wheeler said of the FCC’s process. “I had received option papers on using Title II in a manner patterned after its application to the wireless voice industry. And I had, from the outset, indicated a straight Title II was being considered.”

Title II is the government’s designation for telecommunications utilities under the Communications Act of 1934.

House Democrats have marginalized Republican concerns that the Obama administration influenced the FCC, saying that the agency acted at behest of their party and the American people.

Wheeler agreed, saying, “The push for Title II had been hard and continuous from Democratic members of Congress. The president’s weighing in to support their position gave the whole Title II issue new prominence.”

But according to Chaffetz, the FCC deserves the scrutiny it is getting from Republicans because of a lack of transparency throughout the rulemaking process and responding to Freedom of Information requests with heavily redacted documents.

The lawmaker concluded that there should have “been a lot more done to maximize transparency of this process.”

“Interactions with those who have opinions is (sic) fine,” he continued. “But overly redacting emails does lead one to believe that there was more of a secret type of communication going on there, particularly given the dramatic change in [the agency’s] position.”

Another example of a possible change in the FCC’s net neutrality claims and regulatory reality involves whether treating the Internet as a utility means a new tax for users.

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) asked Wheeler Tuesday to guarantee on record that Americans are not facing a Title II Internet tax, as the agency previously promised.

“Can you guarantee to the American taxpayer, people who use broadband service, that if this goes into effect, that they will not see taxes show up as contributions to the Universal Service Fund (USF)?” DeSantis asked.

Wheeler deflected, saying that the regulations were carefully drafted in keeping with the FCC’s assurances that there will be no new tax.

DeSantis pressed on and asked the official to “guarantee” that Americans will not pay more for Internet services because of the FCC’s regulatory scheming.

“We have said that this does not trigger universal service, as I said to a previous question,” Wheeler replied.

DeSantis then pointed out that one of the FCC’s own commissioners had “dissented and said that he believes Title II imposes a statutory obligation [for the tax].”

Wheeler replied somewhat incoherently: “Let me just be clear, because this is a specific point. That the provision — we have forborne from the provision that would authorize us, today, in this rulemaking, to do that, to have Universal Service.

“There is a joint federal-state board addressing that very question today,” Wheeler said. “How they resolve things in the future I do not know. But this rulemaking was very clear to say that we do not trigger that.”

In other words, the FCC itself isn’t creating a tax. But the agency is making it pretty easy for an Internet tax to be quietly enacted once the current net neutrality controversy dwindles.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, one of the agency’s two net neutrality dissenters, said in a recent interview with Newsmax: “[T]he FCC has now explicitly opened the door to an increase in the tax that is going to be placed on broadband.

“I would imagine in the next month or two we’re going to see for the first time taxes placed on broadband bills. Your bill is going to go up.”

Watch: Former anti-gun Maryland cop explains how he became a 2nd Amendment advocate

Retired Maryland State Police officer and former commander of the Maryland State Police Licensing Division Jack McCauley told state lawmakers that he thought more guns would mean “blood in the streets” before being “schooled” by 2nd Amendment activists.

Throughout his 25-year law enforcement career, McCauley supported Maryland’s “may issue” stance on concealed carry permits and his job at the licensing division put him in the position of deciding whether residents had a “good and substantial” reason to carry a handgun.

The retired officer said that he once believed that making concealed carry easier in the state would spell big problems for law enforcement.

He described his former mindset thusly: “These crazy people, these Second Amendment activists, they’re all going to want these, they’re trophies. They’re all going to want these permits; it’s going to be scary. Dangerous people are going to be getting guns. Just any Joe citizen is going to get a gun.”

But that was before he did some research and spent time talking to crazy 2nd Amendment activists in the state.

“When I met them, they schooled me,” McCauley said of members of one gun club. “They not only schooled me — they embarrassed me. They humbled me. I was wrong. I was completely wrong.”

Through his research McCauley said he discovered “staggering” statistics about handgun permits that showed him his fears about concealed carry were unjustified. He cited one 10-year study which found that .006 percent of licensed firearm carriers had their licenses revoked for firearm crimes. The same study, he said, showed that police officers were far more likely to commit crimes than concealed carriers.

McCauley urged the lawmakers to support a proposal that would clarify the meaning of “good and substantial” by stating “self-defense can qualify as a good and substantial reason to wear, carry, or transport a handgun for purposes of the issuance by the Secretary of State Police of a permit to carry, wear, or transport a handgun.”

H/T: The Gun Feed http://thegunfeed.com/

White House celebrates Sunshine Week by announcing key office is not subject to FOIA

It’s Sunshine Week, the time of year when news media and pundits celebrate and note the importance of government transparency in a free society. And President Obama’s “most transparent” administration in history is marking the event by further exempting itself from one of the public’s most powerful transparency tools.

The Obama administration on Tuesday announced new rules to formally exempt the White House’s administrative office from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a measure designed to make government documents available to the public.

The White House said the move is intended to bring its Office of Administration into compliance with a 2009 court decision stating that because the office “performs only operational and administrative tasks in support of the president and his staff,” it lacks the independent authority to answer FOIA requests.

“This federal register notice does not change any aspect of the Administration’s FOIA policy. It simply removes outdated regulations that no longer apply to the Office of Administration and haven’t applied since the Bush Administration,” a White House official told The Hill.

The Executive Office of the President, under which the Administrative Office operates, is required by law to provide certain information requested through FOIA; but many White House operations remain exempt from FOIA by way of executive privilege for national security or other reasons. According to reports, Obama officials answered 678,391 FOIA requests in 2014.

The White House Office of Administration also complied with FOIA for three decades. But during the George W. Bush administration, officials stopped responding to requests for information from the office, prompting the lawsuit that led to the 2009 ruling the Obama White House just formalized.

“This is an office that operated under the FOIA for 30 years, and when it became politically inconvenient, they decided they weren’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act anymore,” Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton told USA Today.

The Bush administration decision to stop complying with requests came after the liberal Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sued for as many as 22 million emails that had passed through the office.

And while the timing of the White House’s decision to formalize a six-year-old court ruling has some people scratching their heads, others contend that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email scandal could be a factor.

“It’s a little tone deaf to do this on Sunshine Week, even if it’s an administrative housecleaning,” Sunshine in Government coordinator Rick Blum told USA Today.

He added, “I think what we’ve all learned n in the last few weeks is the person who creates a record — whether it’s running a program or writing an e-mail — is the one who gets to decide whether it’s an official record … And there ought to be another set of eyes on that. That’s the essential problem.”