January 2017 - Playing With Fire
Just a quick observation - and warning - before we take a look at the most noteworthy headlines for the past month. This January saw the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States. Reaction has been... horrific.
Whatever your political leanings or personal beliefs, engaging in physical violence, wanton destruction, and blatant intimidation doesn't make you a First Amendment hero. It makes you a thug and a bully. The Brownshirts who perpetrated Kristallnacht thought they were the good guys, too (hint: they weren't). Worse, if you were among those worriedly hand-wringing over whether "those Trump supporters would get violent," it also makes you a base hypocrite.
Of course, hypocrisy is not monopolized by the Left. The Right, formerly outraged over President Obama's government by executive order, seems to be oddly silent about President Trump's comfort and signing multiple such orders in his first week. I do not absolve myself from this guilt either! Few things are more likely to plague me with cognitive dissonance than an executive feverishly signing EOs... that reduce the influence of government in our lives.
But regardless of our personal feelings - or personal benefit - we are not justified in committing or ignoring acts that we know are wrong. Turning a blind eye to government by decree or to political violence is setting a dangerous precedent, and one that may guarantee a future of ugliness beyond anything this nation has seen in living memory as the political pendulum swings once again.
And now, a review of January....
Two Kansas men will face federal firearms charges after a U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten rejected arguments that the state's 2013 "Second Amendment Protection Act" shielded the men from federal prosecution for building a suppressor without receiving a federal tax stamp. Judge Marten noted "that the nation's highest court ruled 80 years ago that the National Firearms Act is valid exercise of Congressional taxing power. As such, it supersedes a state law, he said. Marten also rejected the Second Amendment arguments raised." Neither Kansas Governor Brownback nor State Attorney General Schmidt defended the men "because the National Firearms Act is enacted under Congress’s power to tax, not its power to regulate interstate commerce,” per a statement from Schmidt's office.
Several state governments are seeking to reduce current restrictions on Second Amendment rights. In Georgia, South Dakota, and New Hampshire, legislation has been introduced to allow citizens to carry concealed firearms without the need for permits. In Tennessee, House Bill 40 would allow the open carrying of a pistol without requiring a permit. NH state senator Kevin Avard wins our award for Best Summary of the Whole Damned Point: "I have a constitutional right to carry a firearm and the government has no right to infringe on that. I do not need to ask for permission."
The Department of the Interior began the year by issuing Director's Order 219. Passed without public input, it directs that "each Regional Director... should work with individual states, regional state fish and wildlife associations, and tribes to identify opportunities to expand existing state, Federal, or tribal requirements for use of nontoxic ammunition and fishing tackle on Service lands, waters and facilities." Closing public shooting areas in lieu of "managed facilities" and then limiting ammunition on such facilities to far more expensive lead-free options seems like a great, legal, incremental way to limit gun rights without needing legislative - or public - involvement.
An Arizona state trooper attempting to render assistance at the scene of an accident was instead ambushed by the driver, an illegal alien - himself a former Mexican federal police officer. Shot in the chest and being viciously beaten, the trooper was saved by an armed citizen, who was later revealed to be a felon who'd had his Second Amendment rights restored in 2003 after completing probation.
"On Jan. 3, outgoing Attorney General Loretta Lynch secretly signed an order directing the National Security Agency - America’s 60,000-person-strong domestic spying apparatus - to make available raw spying data to all other federal intelligence agencies, which then can pass it on to their counterparts in foreign countries and in the 50 states upon request." This has taken us from the 1970s-era creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act - designed to prevent abuse of domestic surveillance by the President - to a gutting of the Fourth Amendment, authorizing domestic surveillance on anyone with the sole justification of "the government wants to know."
Kansas Representative Mike Pompeo has been confirmed Director of the CIA. This is the same Mike Pompeo who testified on Capitol Hill that he "wants the government to collect all metadata from everyone, regardless of whether they’re suspected of a crime or not." This appointment goes far beyond politics, and should cause deep concern for anyone interested in the individual privacy of United States citizens.
... AND PRIVACY GAINS
Harris Corporation's "Stingray" devices, which spoof cell towers in order to surreptitiously collect data from cell phones across a wide geographic area, are coming under increased scrutiny and restrictions at both the state and federal levels. More jurisdictions are now requiring the use of warrants or are barring the use of the devices entirely.
For those seeking extra security in email communications, ProtonMail is now offering an onion site (a hidden service) on the Tor network, and offers technical instructions for setting up Tor on your computer to gain access to it. Pros: reduced risk of man-in-the-middle attacks; anonymous connections to ProtonMail; likely access to the onion site if ProtonMail is blocked by a government; protonirockerxow.onion will have no public IP address, eliminating the ability to launch a denial of service (DDOS) attack. Cons: Tor connections are typically slower, reducing performance; the onion site is still considered to be experimental, which may reduce the reliability of the service.
Mozilla has announced that the March 7, 2017, release of its Firefox web browser will include a countermeasure to "browser fingerprinting," a method of identifying your online activities based on system information reported by your browser. Compilation of innocuous data points such as your installed fonts, screen resolution, time zone, interface language, and installed plug-ins surprisingly "results in be[ing] identified with a high level of precision."
Michigan has abandoned their practice of requiring a cash bond of up to $5,000 before a citizen can challenge a civil forfeiture case in court. The state had previously "enacted a seven-bill reform package that raised the standard of proof to forfeit property in civil court and instituted new reporting requirements."
Many Americans demanded that prior administrations "do something" to reform campaign finance laws, free speech be damned. The solution provided by government has now been used - while still adhering to its letter - to reduce criticism of the current administration. President Trump has declared himself a candidate for 2020, meaning "501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations would no longer be able to engage in 'political speech' which could theoretically affect the results of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election without running the risk of losing their nonprofit status. The move effectively bars interest groups from creating nonprofits which they could funnel money into for the purposes of opposing Trump's initiatives."
The Internal Revenue Service is apparently now in the business of generating revenue. Several million letters have been sent out in an effort - costing close to $4 million dollars, so far - to pressure citizens into enrolling in Obamacare. "The IRS is sending personalized letters to millions of taxpayers who might be uninsured, reminding them that they could be on the hook for hundreds of dollars in fines under the federal health care law if they don’t sign up soon through HealthCare.gov. It’s an unusual role for a revenue-collection agency...."
A CLOSING REMINDER
We'll close as we started, with a warning to not allow our passions to turn us into Brownshirts. This video captures something that should be deeply disturbing if not outright terrifying. The woman running for chair of the Democrat National Committee is singling out one segment of the population, based on race, and saying her job is to "shut them down" when they disagree with any of the prevailing party stance.
Parties have platforms and talking points. That's understood. But to proudly declare that your job is to aggressively stifle dissent by a group defined solely by skin color holds chilling connotations. If a DNC chair's job is to "shut down" dissent, what would a Democratic-run government do to "teach us how to shut our mouths if we're white?" And, if one were to speak out against this race-based targeting, would it result in the kind of physical violence we recently witnessed at UC Berkley?