This new cyber surveillance legislation should worry all Americans

Congress is considering the omnibus bill, a $1.1 trillion spending bill meant to fund government operations through the Obama administration’s last fiscal year. Because an omnibus bill is so large, and because it is essentially guaranteed to become law, it’s a very good place to hide controversial legislation that you don’t want people paying attention to. And that is exactly what is happening with a cyber surveillance bill that has been reanimated and hidden in the omnibus under the new (and misleading) name, the Cyber Security Act of 2015.

Yes, you really are getting pwned, and the leaders of the intelligence committees, the Speaker of the House, and even the president have all signed off on the plan.

Cyber information sharing is an old idea that seemed like low-hanging fruit when it was first proposed in 2013 in a law known as CISPA (Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act). However, we quickly learned that it is very difficult to “encourage” companies to share more information while also protecting the privacy of individuals and keeping incentives for corporations to secure their own networks. Under close scrutiny from technologists, it became clear that CISPA would do little–if anything–to increase cybersecurity, but it would create a new surveillance program that would impact the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of people. Two years ago, the Obama administration issued a veto threat over CISPA with these same objections (the law was re-introduced the next year, and the administration issued a second veto threat for that version as well).

While most of the world has moved on to more helpful ways to promote cybersecurity, the intelligence community has continued to push for information sharing–largely because of the surveillance applications of sharing information with the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). They’ve been supported by this endeavor by large corporations who will benefit from liability protections and relief from the pressures of actually improving their networks. Many members of Congress have gone along with this powerful coalition because of an intense pressure to do “something” about cybersecurity.

After years of struggling, promising, and threatening, the intelligence community finally got bills through both the House and the Senate in 2015. The problem they faced was reconciling these dramatically different bills in an election year without any political “upside” for either party. If the process failed, it would be embarrassing for the bill’s sponsors. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) asked his colleagues to vote against popular amendments, saying even “simple tweaks” threatened to derail the negotiated bill. And the more the intelligence committees pushed, the more abundantly obvious it became to even casual observers that the bill has little to do with cybersecurity.

Instead of playing by the rules, they pulled a quarterback sneak. In secret, they negotiated a Frankenstein bill with the worst parts of each bill and convincedHouse Speaker Paul Ryan to betray his own principles by including it in the omnibus. Worse, they changed the supposedly “carefully negotiated” bill in secret, to remove the last vestiges of any privacy protection, despite promising colleagues in public that they had made changes to address the concerns of privacy-minded senators. Sadly–and despite the protestations of civil society and many members of Congress–leadership agreed to this ploy.

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Soaring College Costs: Blame Unlimited Federal Student Loans

The National Bureau of Economic Research in a new study found that 78 percent of the net increase in college tuition costs between 1987 and 2010 was directly due to expanding the Stafford federal student loans program to finance unlimited tuitions.

Over the past thirty years, the perceived necessity of having a college degree and the resulting earnings premium have led to record enrollments and greater degree attainment in higher education. But dramatic tuition escalation has led to $1.3 trillion in student loan debt that is now a massive burden on parents and their millennial children.

From 1987 to 2010, NBER found that the cost for annual tuition and fees ballooned from $6,600 to $14,500 in 2010 dollars. Even after subtracting institutional scholarships and aid, net tuition and fees still grew by 78 percent, from $5,790 to $10,290 in 2010 dollars.

To put this in perspective, if net tuition had risen at the same rate as the much criticized healthcare costs, tuition would have only reached about $8,700 in 2010.

The education establishment pushes the theory that college tuition skyrocketed due to the “unique virtues” of higher education and that the rising higher education costs is consistent with increasing prices in many service industries. All other cost increases are blamed on state and local funding for higher education falling from $8,200 per full-time-equivalent student in 1987 to $7,300 in 2010 dollars.


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Budget bill leaves no boondoggle behind: Column

Image result for budget billRepublican congressional leaders are like a football coach who believes the secret to winning is to punt early and often. House Speaker Paul Ryan and others are claiming victory over the 2,000-plus page appropriations bill, but this is a “no boondoggle left behind” $1.1 trillion nightmare.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers' press release claims that the omnibus bill “helps to stop waste and administrative overreach.” Instead, the bill ravages both paychecks and freedom. No wonder White House spokesman Josh Earnest gushed Wednesday: “We feel good about the outcome.”

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Congress Leaves With Liberty In the Dust; We Strike Back This Winter with Lobby Day!

Image result for congresBy Charles Frohman, director, Grassroots,
To avoid a shutdown of our national government for lack of spending authority, Congress is sending to Obama what's called an "Omnibus Appropriations" bill, packing a bunch of individual spending bills Congress has promised going forward that it will pass separately, under what new House Speaker Ryan promises will be a return to "regular order".  Because the omnibus had to pass, special interests had their puppet congress-critters pack the bill with a flock of provisions jeopardizing our liberty.
As fantastic libertarian writer James Bovard outlines in a USA Today piece today, the Omnibus leaves a trail of failures for liberty - so awful that Obama, his Democrats, and even a substantial portion of establishment Republicans are quite pleased (with the boost to their power). 
Whistleblowers Watch Out for CyberSurveillance!
Worst is inclusion in the spending catch-all of an even worse version of so-called CyberSecurity legislation than originally passed by the House and Senate.  So bad that the American Civil Liberties Union warns it will not only expose our private communication to the same warrantless spying to which its been exposed outrageously since the 2001 Terrorism, but also it will put at serious jeopardy any patriotic bureaucrat with any funny ideas about blowing the whistle on criminal behavior by their higher-ups in government.  Without whistleblowers like Snowden, how would we even know in the first place that the National Security Agency stores all our calls in case we become suspects? 
Obama's administration already is considered by his own civil libertarian friends - like Nat Hentoff - as the most secretive one in history, with a string of wistleblowers convicted under the abused Espionage Act.  Obama even threatened a veto of the CyberSecurity provisions of this legislation, under previous iterations of it.  The libertarian Our America Initiative honorarily chaired by Governor Gary Johnsonjoined a coalition trying to stop CyberSurveilliance (as the bill should be called), but to no avail.


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Watershed Moment: United States Blinks in Syria to Russian Demands

Image result for surrenderWith the passage of a unanimous UN resolution that cedes control of Syria to Russia and President al Assad as its client, the United States blinked in its dangerous Middle East super-power confrontation that libertarian Senator Rand Paul warned in the Republican debate could lead to World War III.

The move comes only one day after LiveFreeBlog broke that the United States had halted all combat aerial missions over Northern Syria following the Russians’ deployment of SA-17 surface-to-air missiles that began active radar “painting” of both Turkish and U.S. aircraft in retaliation for shooting down one of its fighter jets.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented a joint resolution with the Russian Federation that calls for a “two-year roadmap to peace.” With a rare unanimous approval by the UN Security Council, the agreement calls for a January cease fire between the Syrian government and the three main US-backed rebel groups that include the Free Syrian Army, Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam.

The resolution sets up a multi-year timeline for the formation of a unity government and national elections, but places no restrictions on Russia’s intervention. The “roadmap” clearly favors the Syrian government and the reelection of President al Assad. 

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Retaliation: Russia Shuts Down all USAF Combat Missions in Northern Syria

Russia’s retaliatory installation of SA-17 surface-to-air missiles and active radar “painting” of all aircraft operating in Northern Syria just caused the U.S. Air Force to ground all manned combat missions in Northern Syria.

When Senator Rand Paul slammed Governor Chris Christie at the December 15 Republican debate, describing him as a “World War 3” candidate after Christie threatened to shoot down Russian planes over Syria, neither Presidential contender could have known the U.S. and Russia were already in a super-power clash.

Stratfor Global Intelligence reported that unnamed White House officials on December 17 confirmed that the U.S. Air Force had “temporarily” halted all manned aerial missions inside an area the U.S. military designated “Box 4,” also known as the Azaz corridor, which is west of the Euphrates River along the Turkish border.

U.S. and Turkish aircraft have supposedly been supporting rebel groups combating the Islamic State. But they were also protecting the anti-Assad Turkman rebels’ supply lines into Turkey from attacks by the Syrian government.

The Pentagon was forced to suspend all combat aerial missions, other than drones, following Russia’s deployment of SA-17 surface-to-air missile systems and active “painting” of both Turkish and U.S. aircraft. The highly effective “theater denial system” is backed up by integrated long-range S-400 strategic surface-to-air missile systems just installed in nearby Latakia province in northwest Syria. 

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How Much Land Near You Does the Federal Government Control?

Image result for government owned landThe federal government is looking to use the budget process to expand its ownership of land across the United States despite already owning three of every 10 acres, Rep. Louie Gohmert warned Monday.

Gohmert, R-Texas, said the government’s “massive” control over land has preserved less than 1 percent of endangered species and instead harmed individuals whose livelihoods depend on land ownership.

Gohmert, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee’s subcommittee on oversight and investigations, made his remarks as part of an event at The Heritage Foundation.

As Congress gears up to decide whether government control should be further expanded, the Natural Resources Committee created an interactive map that illustrates the current scale of federal land ownership and regulation.

view map

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Libertarian Party: Democrats and Republicans Cement No Child Left Behind While Claiming Eased Regulations

Image result for lamar alexanderToday President Barack Obama signed into law the latest in the federal government’s long string of education mandates, this time a bill dubbed the “Every Student Succeeds Act.” The Democrat- and Republican-supported bill is 1,061 pages long and was finalized only two days before the U.S. House vote, a virtual guarantee that it is loaded with pork and hidden federal controls.

Touted by co-sponsor Lamar Alexander (R) as a measure that eliminates the federal government’s ability to coerce states into using the Common Core standards, the legislation actually cements the standards further.

Breitbart News reported that, according to Jane Robbins, senior fellow at the American Principles Project, ESSA requires each state to submit a state plan for approval which must be coordinated with a maze of eleven different federal statutes, creating incentives for states to stick with Common Core rather than risk losing their federal money by trying something else.

“Like ‘reforms’ of NSA spying, ESSA gives failed federal education control new life by trimming off a few sacrificial limbs and slapping a new name on it,” said Nicholas Sarwark, national chair of the Libertarian Party.

Colorado Libertarian Party state chair and Chinese immigrant Lily Tang Williams likens ESSA and Common Core to communist China’s authoritarian education mandates and notes their passage “demonstrates that Republicans don’t truly believe in limited government, fiscal responsibility, local control, parental rights, and the privacy of students, families, and teachers; and that Democrats do not value freedom of choice, teacher autonomy, and the well-being of both students and hard-working teachers.”

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American Public Favors Sending Large Numbers of Troops to Syria & Iraq

Image result for warThe American public by an overwhelming 6-in-10 now favor sending U.S. ground troops in large numbers Syria and Iraq to fight ISIS, according to the latest Gallup poll.  

Barack Obama for the first time since 2009, visited the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center for an in person briefing. The President then gave a television address to try to reassure the nation that his national security program is working by stating, “at this moment our intelligence and counter-terrorism professionals do not have any specific and credible information about an attack on the homeland.” 

President Obama’s was forced to go before the people for the second time in just two weeks after the mid-December Gallup Poll of Americans revealed:

1)  59 percent of favor sending large numbers of U.S. ground troops to Syria and Iraq to fight the Islamic State;
2)  70 percent favor sending more U.S. special forces to fight the Islamic State;
3)  71 percent favor banning gun sales to people on the federal no-fly watch list;
4)  79 percent favor an overhaul of the federal visa waiver program to provide tighter security for people who come to the U.S. temporarily; and
5)  79 percent favor U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State.

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The spirit of Hispanic entrepreneurship is fenced by regulatory barriers

Image result for latinos workingMy maternal grandfather was born in 1901 to the Ovalle family and raised in the Mexican border town of Piedras Negras, just across the Texas border. He had his first job at age 10. After school and in the summer, my grandfather and his three brothers sold homemade candies, known as "leche quemada," on the town's downtown streets.

That early work experience, no doubt, played an important role throughout his life. In the mid-1920s, my grandfather moved to Texas with his new bride, learned the construction trade, and eventually started his own construction business in San Antonio.

That entrepreneurial tradition has been, for many, the pathway to the American dream. But recent research suggests that occupational licensing, particularly in areas such as the construction industry, could be disproportionately affecting prospects for would-be Hispanic entrepreneurs.

The reach and impact of these state-level regulations cannot be over-stated. Take the Green sisters, ages 7 and 8, of Overton, Texas. These children recently ran afoul of Texas health code laws when they sold lemonade without the proper permit. The police chief ordered the girls to shut down the stand. While these types of laws might protect the public from "cooties," customers are probably not overly-concerned with the health risks associated with unlicensed lemonade vendors.

In the construction industry, 28 states license who can paint according to 2012 study from the Institute for Justice. In New Mexico, for example, painting is building specialty requiring two years of work experience and costing about $250 in application, testing and licensing fees. Florida and Texas do not require occupational licenses for commercial/general painters.

Indeed, it is difficult to imagine that my grandfather would have the same success if he were starting his businesses today. While there has been a growing interest in the role that Hispanics play in small business formation, little work has been done on entrepreneurial activity on the state level. Using data from the Kaufman Foundation and the Institute for Justice, as well as previous research from the Goldwater Institute, a recent analysis examines state-level occupational licensing in the construction industry.

The study focused on three states – Florida, New Mexico, and Texas – which all have significant Hispanic populations and relatively large concentrations of Hispanic-owned businesses. In 1997, these three states all had Hispanic populations that were 20 percent or more of their total populations. Hispanic-owned firms also accounted for 20 percent or more of the total firms. But these states had disparate rates of Hispanic entrepreneurial activity.

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