The State Hates Self-Reliance

When Henry David Thoreau decided to get away from it all at Walden Pond in Concord, Mass., he wanted to discover “what, to use the words of the catechism, is the chief end of man, and what are the true necessaries and means of life.” If he set upon the same adventure of carving out a spot for himself in the wilderness today, Walden would likely be a different story: one of bureaucrats, building permits and the overbearing power of the state.

At least, that’s how the story is going for 51-year-old Eustace Conway — a man, who for the past three decades has led a largely agrarian life on his 500-acre farm in the Appalachians of North Carolina.

A recent Wall Street Journal profile of Conway portrays a man living a rugged American dream and giving back to the community in the process. “The Last American Man” — as he was called in a 2002 biography and National Book Award finalist by Elizabeth Gilbert — grows and shoots much of his own food, makes clothing from pelts and mills wood felled on his property to build shelters and outbuildings.

Conway also offers tours and classes to anyone interested in visiting his property and learning the finer points of roughing it through Turtle Island, a nonprofit organization he has run for 20 years.

But last fall, officials from the Watauga County planning department, acting on an anonymous complaint, conducted a SWAT-style raid on Conway’s property. The officials then compiled a 78-page report listing health and building violations on the property. The list includes gripes about such things as primitive restrooms, an outdoor kitchen that could be contaminated by animals and insects, and a lack of fire sprinklers and restrooms in primitive cabins.

Perhaps one of the most ridiculous notes in the report is that Conway has used lumber that isn’t “grade-marked” — read “store-bought.” That is because he milled the wood from trees on his own land.

“These buildings aren’t fit for public use,” Joseph A. Furman, the county planning director, told WSJ.

So officials have ordered Conway to destroy his cabins, barn, kitchen, blacksmith shop and sawmill; he also must install a septic system to host any more visitors.

Conway has attracted the support of libertarian-leaning rights groups who argue that one should have the right to host visitors on his own land without bowing to the will of the state. And a petition of more than 11,000 signatures, urging officials to take a hike and allow him to continue his primitive living classes, is circulating.

It is yet to be seen if Conway will be ruined by the will of the state; but previous, similar happenings throughout the Nation illustrate the unwillingness of bureaucrats to back down when they want to crush individuals who dare question the absolute power of government.

Such was the case in the story of the Southern Nevada Health District’s attack on a picnic at an organic farm when it was deemed the freshly grown produce and organic meat being served were unfit for human consumption. Bureaucrats destroyed the feast with bleach and terrorized guests at Quail Hollow Farm during the unConstitutional raid.

There are a number of stories about government attacking raw milk farms or ordering farmers to raise only one type of state-approved livestock. Non-compliance often results in armed government attacks on the farmers.

And in Letha, Idaho, last year, a man known for his outspoken Constitutionalism was raided by excited SWAT police who believed they had uncovered massive marijuana grow operation in his house. It was actually a group of tomato plants.

The attempt of government to keep people from visiting property or consuming goods that have not been first fingered by the state can be summed up by 19th century Senator Daniel Webster in “Good And Bad Intentions.”

Webster writes:

Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.

Citizen self-reliance in any form, it seems, is not a great helper of those who mean to govern and be masters. So those who wish to be self-reliant must be made to jump through government-erected hoops which make it impossible to survive without the blessing of the state.

At MSNBC Opinion Dominates Coverage

The Pew Research Center’s latest The State of the News Media report sheds some light on which television news channels spend the most time giving opinions and which ones do the most reporting.

Pew outlines how a changing demand for television news programing and scaling back of resources at major news networks is changing the makeup of television news.


From the report:

On cable, the news structure of the three channels—the mix of interviews, packaged segments and live coverage—has changed. After relying on significantly distinct formats five years ago, the three rivals [Fox, CNN and MSNBC] now look strikingly similar.

At the same time, some of the differences that demarcated daytime cable from prime time have also eroded in the past five years. Traditionally known for its attention to breaking news, daytime cable’s cuts in live event coverage and its growing reliance on interviews suggest it may be moving more toward the talk-oriented evening shows. This transition may cut the costs of having a crew and correspondent provide live event coverage.

CNN, which has branded itself around reporting resources and reach, cut back between 2007 and 2012 on two areas tied to that brand—in-depth story packages and live event coverage. Even so, CNN is the only one of the three big cable news channels to produce more straight reporting than commentary over all. At the other end of that spectrum lies MSNBC, where opinion fills a full 85% of the channel’s airtime.

Nanny Bloomberg: Hide The Tobacco

New York’s Nanny Mayor Michael Bloomberg, after having his big soda ban hosed by a Federal judge, is laying out another plan for the city to force New Yorkers to make good health choices: He wants to hide all of the tobacco products in the metropolis.

Bloomberg said a new law he proposed on Monday would “prohibit display of tobacco products” in most retail shops.

“Such displays suggest smoking is a normal activity and invite young people to experiment with tobacco.”

A separate law would crack down on black market sales of cigarettes smuggled into the city to avoid crippling taxes.

“These laws would protect New Yorkers, especially young and impressionable New Yorkers,” Bloomberg said, adding that youth smoking is on the rise with nearly 8 percent of young people sparking up.

The National Association of Tobacco Outlets, a tobacco retailer trade group, predicts that courts will strike down laws requiring hidden tobacco if they are passed.

“Retailers are responsible business people that go to great lengths to prevent sales to minors, and there are First Amendment protections that extend to advertising,” said Tom Briant, executive director of the group. “You’re talking about a basic right under the Constitution. If you do this with cigarettes and tobacco products, what else is going to have to be out of view? Wine and spirits? It’s a very slippery slope.”

The Jews Hate Rand, European Deposit Tax, Privatized Senate Barbershop, Buying Access To The King, And The U.N. Arms Trade Treaty: Monday Morning News Roundup 3-18-2013

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

  • Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) won the 2013 CPAC straw poll, which usually serves as an indicator of how conservatives will vote moving forward.
  • The National Jewish Democratic Council decried the CPAC straw poll result, saying in a statement: “Senator Paul has called multiple times to cut and end American aid to Israel, and has refused to rule out a containment strategy vis-à-vis Iran. Paul’s misguided foreign policy views are nothing short of dangerous, and his growing legitimacy among the GOP’s base is only another reason why the vast majority of Jewish Americans consistently support the Democratic Party.”
  • In a bid to bail out Cyprus, the European Union has developed a plan to raid bank accounts in the Eurozone via a deposit tax. Unsurprisingly, bank runs are under way and financial markets are reeling.
  • The barbershop of the U.S. Senate has run deficits of about $350,000 a year for each of the past 15 years. Senate Sergeant at Arms Terry Gainer has decided to try to privatize the Senate barbershop in a bid to cut waste.
  • The White House has barred commoners from the Presidential palace by shutting down guided tours; but if you have $500,000, you can buy face time with King Obama himself.
  • U.N. negotiations open today in New York on the Arms Trade Treaty, which would require countries to determine whether weapons they sell would be used to commit serious human rights violations, terrorism or transnational organized crime.

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

CIA Must Release Some Drone Info, But Don’t Expect Much

A Federal appeals court last week ruled that the Central Intelligence Agency must comply with a Freedom of Information Act request for details on the agency’s drone program filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU filed the initial FOIA request in January 2010. In September of the next year, a district court gave the CIA permission to remain silent. The court ruled that the CIA’s drone program was a matter of national security and allowed CIA officials to reply to the query with a Glomar response. In matters of national security or privacy, Glomar responses to FOIA requests give government agencies the power to “neither confirm nor deny” the request.

The ACLU issued an appeal to the response, and the District of Columbia U.S. Court of appeals sided with the civil liberty organization.

From the ruling:

The CIA has proffered no reason to believe that disclosing whether it has any documents at all about drone strikes will reveal whether the Agency itself — as opposed to some other U.S. entity such as the Defense Department — operates drones. There is no doubt, however, that such disclosure would reveal whether the Agency “at least has an intelligence interest in drone strikes.”

The court further ruled that because the President has publicly acknowledged the use of drones by U.S. agencies, the “neither confirm nor deny” statute doesn’t stand in the case.

The court cited an answer President Barack Obama gave during a live Internet video forum. Obama had said: “I think that we have to be judicious in how we use drones. But understand that probably our ability to respect the sovereignty of other countries . . . is enhanced by the fact that we are able to pinpoint-strike an al Qaeda operative in a place where the capacities of th[e] military in that country may not be able to get them. So obviously a lot of these strikes have been . . . going after al Qaeda suspects who are up in very tough terrain along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

The court did rule, however, that the CIA has flexibility in how much information it must reveal about its drone activities. As the Obama Administration has demonstrated a very poor record on FOIA compliance to date, it is feasible that the ACLU will receive the same sort of taunting FOIA response it did late last year when seeking information from the Justice Department on GPS tracking.

The appellate ruling comes amid heightened American awareness of the Federal government’s growing fondness for drones, driven by Senator Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) questions of whether they could be used against Americans on U.S. soil as well as strong international rebuke over the United States’ drone policy elsewhere.

Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur monitoring human rights in counter-terrorism programs, chided U.S. officials for allowing drone strikes to continue in Pakistan where the Nation is not at war.

“As a matter of international law the US drone campaign in Pakistan is therefore being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people, or the legitimate government of the state,” he said. “It involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.”

Emmerson’s criticisms are shared by a number of human rights groups upset at the number of civilian casualties resulting from the Pakistani drone strikes.

‘Stale And Moss-Covered’ GOP, Meet Young Conservatism

If CPAC is any indication of the path some Republicans may attempt to take to victory in coming elections, it appears strong fiscal conservatism and limited government will be major parts of the plan.

There has been a great deal of talk lately among members of the GOP about the Party’s future in the wake of Mitt Romney’s loss in the Presidential election.

FOX News ignored failed Presidential candidate Romney’s CPAC speech on Friday, which could be summed up as an apology to the GOP.

“It is up to us to make sure that we learn from my mistakes, and from our mistakes, so that we can win the victories those people and this nation depend upon,” Romney said.

“I am sorry that I will not be your president — but I will be your co-worker and I will stand shoulder to shoulder alongside you,” he said later in the speech. “In the end, we will win just as we have won before, and for the same reason: because our cause is just and it is right.”

Noticeably absent from this year’s conference were moderate Republicans like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. And less-libertarian GOP members who did speak at the event were met with lukewarm response from audiences.

Such was the case with Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) social conservatism-laden attempt at a Ronald Reagan revival in a CPAC speech on Thursday.

“As soon as I’m done speaking, I’ll tell you what the criticism on the left is going to be,” Rubio said. “Number one, he drank too much water. Number two: that he didn’t offer any new ideas.

“And there’s the fallacy of it. We don’t need a new idea. There is an idea: the idea is called America, and it still works.”

Many headlines referencing CPAC late last week referenced a common observation about the political action conference: Young people showed up, and they had a definite favorite.

Capitalizing on his aptly-timed drone filibuster, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was well-received by CPAC attendees. Paul, who has been leading a public push toward a more libertarian GOP, said during one speech that it was time to do away with “stale and moss-covered” conservative lawmakers who turn off younger conservatives.

“They are the core though of the leave-me-alone coalition,” Paul said. “They doubt Social Security will be there for them, they worry about jobs and rent and money and student loans… They aren’t afraid of individual liberty. Ask the Facebook generation if we should put a kid in jail for the non-violent crime of drug use and you’ll hear a resounding ‘no.’ Ask the Facebook generation if they want to bail out too big to fail banks with their hard earned tax dollars and you’ll hear a ‘hell no.’”

Obama Administration’s Disgraceful FOIA Record Pointed Out Again

Despite lofty claims, the Administration of Barack Obama has left much to be desired in the transparency department. The Administration has been called out for abusing White House Press pool reporters in recent weeks and, throughout the President’s tenure, has been criticized for not forcing Federal compliance with Freedom of Information Act requests.

Non-partisan group Cause of Action submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to 16 different Federal agencies in April 2012 concerning spending on promotional items between January 2009 and April 2012. The organization then kept a log of which agencies complied and which did not, determining that the Obama-led government scores only a “C-” in terms of FOIA compliance.

Cause of Action reports:

  • As of February 2013: Cause of Action received 114 individual responses from offices within 16 different agencies.
  • 29 offices, or 25 percent, have not provided any production.
  • 26 offices, or 22 percent of total responders, took longer than 90 days to provide a response.
  • For the 86 offices that produced documents, the average response time was 75 business days with a median of 63 days, a figure more than double the 30 day window established by the Freedom of Information Act.

The least FOIA-compliant government agencies were the Department of Commerce and the Defense Department, both receiving a grade of “F” for not responding. The sole “A” was given to the Education Department for delivering requested documents in a timely manner with no unnecessary redactions or cost to the inquirer. The Departments of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency each received a score of “B.”

Other agency grades in terms of transparency were:

Veterans AffairsB-
Homeland SecurityD-

“What Grading the Government shows is an inconsistency at best, and a failure at worst, by federal agencies in not just compliance with the President’s pledge for transparency, but compliance with basic FOIA protocol,” said Dan Epstein, Cause of Action executive director. “Failure by these agencies to disclose documents is a failure in their service to the American taxpayers who fund them and rely on them to be accountable and transparent.”

A similar review by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) released in December showed that Federal agencies were being sued for information under FOIA more times during the first Obama term than during the final four years of the George W. Bush Administration. The suits result when the agencies either take an unreasonable amount of time to produce information requested under FOIA or outright deny access.

In all, the FOIA lawsuits jumped by 28 percent, with the most drastic increases in suits being filed against the State Department (111 percent), Department of Agriculture (67 percent), Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Veterans Affairs (60 percent), as well as the Department of Justice (50 percent).

Given the number of FOIA lawsuits TRAC cites, it almost seems as if Cause of Action graded the current Presidential Administration on a curve.

Rand Paul Continues To Call Out Obama, Feds At CPAC

Senator Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) recent old school filibuster on the Senate floor has made him more popular than ever among many American conservatives. In his speech at CPAC today, Paul focused on the message he wants the President and the Federal government to hear loud and clear: no one person gets to decide the law, no one person gets to decide your guilt or innocence.

“President Obama who seemed, once upon a time, to respect civil liberties, has become the President who signed a law allowing for the indefinite detention of an American citizen. Indeed, a law that allows an American citizen to be sent to Guantanamo Bay without a trial,” Paul said. “President Obama defends his signing of the bill by stating that he has no intention of detaining any American citizen without a trial.

“Likewise, he defended his possible targeted Drone strikes against Americans on American soil by indicating that he has no intention of doing so,” he continued. “Well, my thirteen hour filibuster was a message to the President. Good intentions are not enough.”

In case you missed the Paul speech, you can watch it below. And don’t worry; it’s about 12 hours and 45 minutes shorter than his filibuster.

Feinstein Knows Her Enemy, The Constitution: Assault Weapons Ban To Get Full Senate Vote

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), in a heated exchange with Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) during a Senate Judiciary Hearing this morning on guns, wanted one thing to be clear: She knows what it says in the Constitution that she so wishes to violate.

“The question that I would pose to the senior senator from California is,” said Cruz to Feinstein, “Would she deem it consistent with the Bill of Rights for Congress to engage in the same endeavor that we are contemplating doing with the Second Amendment in the context of the First or Fourth Amendment, namely, would she consider it constitutional for Congress to specify that the First Amendment shall apply only to the following books and shall not apply to the books that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights? Likewise, would she think that the Fourth Amendment’s protection against searches and seizures could properly apply only to the following specified individuals and not to the individuals that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights?”

“I’m not a sixth grader,” said Feinstein. “Senator, I’ve been on this committee for 20 years. I was a mayor for nine years. I walked in, I saw people shot. I’ve looked at bodies that have been shot with these weapons. I’ve seen the bullets that implode. In Sandy Hook, youngsters were dismembered. Look, there are other weapons. I’ve been up — I’m not a lawyer, but after 20 years I’ve been up close and personal to the Constitution. I have great respect for it. This doesn’t mean that weapons of war and the Heller decision clearly points out three exceptions, two of which are pertinent here. And so I — you know, it’s fine you want to lecture me on the Constitution. I appreciate it. Just know I’ve been here for a long time. I’ve passed on a number of bills. I’ve studied the Constitution myself. I am reasonably well educated, and I thank you for the lecture.”

Hat Tip: The Weekly Standard 

The assault weapons ban bill was approved this morning by the committee and will go on for a vote in the full Senate. The bill is expected to fail.