Ripley: A Hangout with Gary Johnson

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Last week, 2012 Libertarian Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson spent an hour fielding questions from fans online in a Google Hangout. The former two-term New Mexico governor was asked about a wide range of issues including the NSA and education.

Following the 2012 campaign, Johnson told Forbes that “he would engage, with increased intensity, the social media following that he built up over the course of his campaign.” He’s enjoyed an increase in popularity since 2012, growing his platform of followers to over 1.3 million people.

“I recognize that to not do it would be stupid on my part, Johnson continued in his Forbes interview. “This is just a real gigantic missed opportunity if I do not become engaged with it myself.”

His supporters agree. During the online chat session the most popular questions were about Johnson’s political future. As the current chairman of The Our America Initiative, he could not directly endorse candidates or discuss future political plans, but he didn’t say no either.

Johnson was clear that he is “not the guy” for congress.  The primary focus of a congressman is to “bring home the bacon.” The correlation between gaining votes and pork projects is counter intuitive to his stance on reducing the debt. However, Johnson did not discount the possibility of running as a Republican for either president or governor in the future.

The conversation shifted to liberty minded Republicans like Rand Paul who support limited government and Ted Cruz who has been vocal about eliminating the IRS. Some on the Google Hangout believed that they are the only way for liberty to thrive in Washington D.C.; Johnson disagreed.

“All of the Republicans that label themselves as Libertarians – really every single one of them has a social agenda that I do not feel is applicable to the Libertarian Party,” Johnson continued. “As a Libertarian it is just as important to me to be socially accepting as it is to want to balance the federal budget and be fiscally conservative.”

When the conversation shifted to education, Johnson’s past experience as a state governor brought to light several important points about school choice and why the federal government needs to “completely get out of education.”

“What people don’t recognize is that it costs money to take federal dollars for education. For every 11 cents received there are 16 cents worth of strings attached. So getting rid of the federal government would free up more money for education,” Johnson explained.

Johnson was outraged over the recent NSA stories centered around spying on U.S. citizens and was equally vocal about the FISA Courts and the Patriot Act infringing on our rights to privacy. He questioned “Where is the due process? Where is the oversight?” He finally asked, “Why isn’t this transparent?”

Hopefully Johnson is right to predict that the country will “finally have a dialogue on the data collection.” He noted, “People were oblivious, and now are shocked.”

Johnson believes that scandals like this increase the interest in the Libertarian party. “I wouldn’t discount a libertarian nominee for the Republican Party.” Ultimately, the Libertarian Party as “the viable third-party” is what Johnson said could be best for the country:

“If you had a libertarian president you could challenge democrats on the social issues of the day like marriage equality, military intervention, and drug policy – the things that democrats are supposed to be really good at. Then you could challenge republicans to do what they are supposed to be good at which are dollars and cents,” Johnson concluded.  “A Libertarian president could bring out the best of both parties.”

Check out the entire Google Hangout with Gary Johnson below:

Ripley: What Is Our Boiling Point?

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If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will frantically try to get out as fast as it can. However, if you place the frog in a pot of tepid water it will gladly stay put. As you gradually turn up the heat, the frog will drift off in to a tranquil state of bliss, similar to a nice hot bath. Move the dial further still and the frog will happily boil to death, never knowing what actually happened.

Over the past 13 years, the heat has been slowly rising. At certain points, liberty minded people feel the burn of excess government and jump out of the proverbial pot. The lies of “weapons of mass destruction” and a prolonged war in Iraq alerted many to the danger of the flame. For others, the much abused Patriot Act was too much of an affront to personal liberty to go unnoticed.

In recent years, the partisan nationalization of health care with a “lets pass it now and find out what’s in it later” attitude was scalding enough to snap people out of their apathy. Certainly, the flurry of scandals such as Benghazi, the IRS debacles, and the bullying of the media raised the temperature too fast for a growing number of people wondering, “What about the Constitution?”

Today’s NSA news stories have brought the water to a near boil.  We now know for certain what Libertarians have been saying for years:  The federal government spies on our digital lives. Verizon phone records and our digital property from sites such as Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Google are all under the surveillance of the National Security Agency.

In a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment, the Obama Administration convinced a secret court to issue a secret order – that included a gag order so that no one involved could talk about it – in order to secure access to our emails, phone calls, images, and online messages. Fortunately, there are people out there like Glenn Greenwald who diligently report on government over steps – knowing full well that the Justice Department will work tirelessly to bring him down.

There will be the temptation to blame the “other guys” for the scandals and trespasses that are highlighted in the evening news. It is important to accept that both Democrats and Republicans are equally responsible for the abuses of power that we have just learned about. The Patriot Act is at the center of the problem and it was passed with immense bi-partisan support. Everything that President Obama is doing with our personal data started with President Bush.

“How many violations of the Bill of Rights will it take for civil libertarians to abandon their support of a president who has not only continued — but escalated — the sins of the Bush administration?” asked Geoffrey J. Neale, Chair of the Libertarian Party.

In a sure sign that the water is too hot for comfort, staunch defenders of the President have taken to speaking about against him. Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart is critical of the way the IRS scandal was managed. Jay Leno, previously a supporter of the administration, does not hold back his contempt for the IRS and the Justice Department in his nightly monologues either. Even former Vice President Al Gore called the recent NSA actions “obscenely outrageous.”  The furthest left leaning news site on the internet – The Huffington Post – ran the headline “George W. Obama”. The frogs are jumping out of the water.

The boiling frog anecdote warns us not to become too complacent. It is a warning against slippery slopes and allowing infringements to go unchecked and unnoticed simply because they came along gradually. It is a story against apathy for what is going on around us and at the same time it tells us how to solve the problem by simply getting out of the pan. Yesterday, we all learned that we are in a pot of water and it sure is getting hot in here.

The question we must ask ourselves is:  What’s our boiling point?

Ripley: The Government Moves Too Slow to Save Lives

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10-year-old Sarah Murnaghan is in a precarious situation. She has battled cystic fibrosis since she was born and is now in the end-stage of this terminal disease. Sarah is next in line for pediatric lungs that become available within her region, however that does not happen often. Her 18 month wait has not led to a donor and her time is running out as her own lungs continue to weaken. Without a transplant, young Sarah will die within a matter of weeks.

The Associated Press reported that the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, says that she cannot intervene in transplant decisions and cannot move Sarah to the adult list of donors. Federal policy currently sets the minimum age for her to be on list at 12. Mrs. Sebelius has called for a review of the policy, but the process requires public input and hearings that could take years to complete. Sarah does not have that kind of time.

“The worst of all worlds, in my mind, is to have some individual pick and choose who lives and who dies,” Mrs. Sebelius said, as reported by the Washington Examiner. “I think you want a process where it’s guided by medical science and medical experts.”

I could not agree more with Mrs. Sebelius.  If we had a process guided by medical science and medical experts, young Sarah would not be facing almost certain death. Unfortunately, this process is guided by policy created by the Department of Health and Human Services and the program’s management is contracted to an organization of bureaucrats.

“Organ Procurement and Transplant Network (OPTN) allocation policy is applied consistently to allow all candidates an equitable opportunity to receive a transplant, recognizing that their individual medical needs and circumstances will vary,” the release continues. “In some circumstances, a transplant center may determine that a child’s condition warrants a reduced size transplant from an adult donor. If the center wishes to consider this additional treatment option, these children will have access to adult organs once they are offered to adolescents and adults in the same allocation zone.”

It is the sound medical judgment of Sarah’s doctors that adult lungs could be used to save her life. The OPTN is discriminating against her ability to receive a transplant based on her age.  This denies Sarah the right to compete for organs in a fair and equitable way and completely disregards the urgency of her situation. The government does not move fast enough to account for special cases and alternative techniques that do not fit within their current policies. Sarah never had a chance.

“It tugs at my heart. It’s not a perfect system. There is no perfect system. It’s the best we can do right now,” said Dr. Stuart Sweet, a board member of United Network of Organ Sharing told CBS Philadelphia.

Let’s be clear, there isn’t a government death panel making life and death decisions as people like Sarah Palin would have you believe. Her rhetoric about the boogeyman and faceless bureaucrats is meant to excite and inflame, not solve.  Palin’s knee jerk solutions of changing the rules for Sarah Murnaghan also fails the test of fairness and equity.

“If I change the system to give Sarah an advantage, there’s another patient, very likely an adolescent, who then gets a disadvantage,” explained Dr. Sweet.

The folly of the situation is one that Libertarians and proponents of small government are all too familiar with:  the law of unintended consequences. Ron Paul and other have warned us over the years that as the government takes a larger role in our lives that unintended and negative consequences can and will happen. The government cannot change health policies fast enough to keep up advances in knowledge and technology. Because of this, Sarah Murnaghan will not see her 11th birthday.

Ripley: Scalia Blows a Gasket Over DNA Decision

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During a recent Supreme Court ruling Justice Antonin Scalia opinioned, “As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.”

Who knew a Q-tip could cause so much trouble? Twenty eight states currently use these cotton tipped wonders to collect DNA evidence from individuals arrested, but not yet convicted for various levels of crimes. A divided Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that such practices do not violate the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Justice Anthony Kennedy provided the majority opinion that was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Samuel Alito, Stephen Breyer, and Clarence Thomas. Kennedy argues that the DNA collection is “minimally intrusive” and necessary in the process of identifying those arrested for serious crimes.

“DNA identification is an important advance in the techniques long used by law enforcement to serve legitimate police concerns. Po­lice routinely have used scientific advancements as standard proce­dures for identifying arrestees,” Justice Kennedy wrote. “The additional intrusion up­on the arrestee’s privacy beyond that associated with finger printing is not significant, and DNA identification is markedly more accurate.”

Justice Scalia provided the dissenting opinion that read more like a Comedy Central Roast of his fellow justices than a legal opinion on a Supreme Court case. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor joined Justice Scalia in his scathing remarks on the decisions.

“It is obvious that no such non-investigative motive exists in this case. The Court’s assertion that DNA is being taken, not to solve crimes, but to identify those in the State’s custody, taxes the credulity of the credulous,” Justice Scalia wrote.

DNA evidence takes several weeks to process. During this time, those incarcerated have been arraigned and in many cases have been to bail hearings. Clearly the court has identified the accused at this point in the process. Thus the argument that DNA is collected with a lack of reasonable suspicion in order to conduct criminal investigations.

“The Fourth Amendment forbids searching a person for evidence of a crime when there is no basis for believing the person is guilty of the crime or is in possession of incriminating evidence. That prohibition is categorical and without exception; it lies at the very heart of the Fourth Amendment.”

The case at hand, Maryland v. King, involved Alonzo King who was arrested in 2009 for first and second degree assault. Maryland Police processed his DNA which was found to match the DNA from a 2003 rape case for which King was tried and convicted. That conviction was overturned by the Maryland Court of Appeals. The state appealed and brought the case to the Supreme Court.

Paramount to the dissenting Justices opinion is the impact of the decision on protecting the privacy of individuals. Putting away criminals is important to all involved; however, the far-reaching implications of collecting DNA are of great concern.

“Today’s judgment will, to be sure, have the beneficial effect of solving more crimes; then again, so would the taking of DNA samples from anyone who flies on an airplane (surely the Transportation Security Administration needs to know the ‘identity’ of the flying public), applies for a driver’s license, or attends a public school,” Justice Scalia wrote.

With the blessing of the Supreme Court, police departments are now allowed to collect and process DNA of anyone that the police need to identify. There is nothing in this decision that prevents law enforcement from collection your DNA during a traffic stop or even after jaywalking so long as the intended use of the DNA is “identification.” This is a clear violation of individual liberty. As Justice Scalia concluded, “I doubt that the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection.

Read Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion here.

Ripley: A Different Opinion on Rand Paul (Sorry Creighton)

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The biggest challenge facing Senator Rand Paul is whether or not he can win over the GOP establishment without leaving behind his Tea Party and Libertarian supporters. In a recent interview with the Courier-Journal, New Hampshire Tea Party Coalition founder Jane Aitken made it clear that changes in Senator Paul’s messaging are important to conservative voters.

“The mainstream Republicans would absolutely not support Ron Paul because they didn’t support him on the issues, and they are waiting to see that Rand doesn’t get too much like his father,” Aitken said. “And those of us in the Tea Party want to see that he doesn’t go too far over with the establishment.”

During a recent visit to Iowa – a key primary state – this balancing act was on display when Senator Paul assured a group of evangelical pastors that he disagrees with Libertarians who support legalizing drugs. Instead the Republican Senator from Kentucky explained his support for reduced penalties for drug related offenses. This shift away from libertarian values set off a fire storm of criticism that WAL Contributor Creighton Harrington took exception to in a recent commentary on our website. (Creighton’s Article Can Be Found Here: https://wearelibertarians.com/rand-paul/)

“Let me begin by stating upfront that Rand Paul did not – I want to emphasize the ‘not’ – just betray his libertarian principles to ‘pander’ to evangelicals… His policy is appropriate, unchanged, and identical to his dad’s,” Mr. Harrington wrote.

Rand Paul is the most consistent and ardent defender of limited government in the Senate, but I must call “shenanigans” on Creighton’s premise (because we at WAL are allowed to have disagreements). Senator Paul did not simply say, “I don’t want to legalize drugs.”  In fact, what he said was actually much worse.

“I’m not advocating everyone go out and run around with no clothes on and smoke pot,” he said. “I’m not a libertarian. I’m a libertarian Republican. I’m a constitutional conservative.”

Characterizing the libertarian position as the desire to “run around with no clothes on smoking pot” is a slap in the face to those working to promote liberty. The idea that people are allowed to decide for themselves what is good and bad is fundamental to the libertarian philosophy. Senator Paul has not met this critical measure of individual freedom. The problem is not a matter of messaging; it is a failure of principles.

This type of failure is one that his father – former congressman Ron Paul – would never support. In his book, Liberty Defined, Ron Paul made his stance on drug policy clear: “The entire drug war is an arbitrary prohibition that violates the Constitution, a process that has been going on for nearly seventy-five years.” Mr. Paul continued, “Government should not compel or prohibit any personal activity when that activity poses danger to that individual alone.”

Freedom is the libertarian (and Ron Paul) position on drug use; not laws and reduced sentences.

We should also take to task the concept that Senator Paul’s hands are tied from a constitutional point of view. Mr. Harrington argued that “it was wrong for the federal government to make drugs illegal, but it would be wrong on the same legal logic to make them legal; neither of these is an authority granted to the federal government in the constitution.”

This is not a get out of jail free card (or a reduced sentence) for Senator Paul. While Mr. Harrington is correct about the constitutional authority granted to congress, a supporter of liberty must advocate repealing laws that violate the rights of others. Ironically, this is Ron Paul’s position – from Liberty Defined: “I expect that someday the country will wake up and suddenly decide, as we did in 1933, that prohibition to improve personal behavior is a lost cause, and the second repeal of prohibition will occur.”

Senator Paul has moved towards the center and away from his father when it comes to drug policy. Yet pointing this out is a flaw according to Mr. Harrington: “But, back to the point, libertarians have this problem of looking at a politician who claims to try and advance liberty outside of the Mises Institute or the Libertarian party and searches for reasons to hate him or her.”

Libertarians did not have to look hard for a reason to reject Senator Paul. He is the one that said, “I am not a libertarian.”

This is the problem of balance that will be ever present for Senator Paul. Messaging is essential to having a chance at running for president in 2016, and I completely agree with Mr. Harrington that Senator Paul is working towards that end, but at what cost? How does humiliating the people that put Senator Paul in office advance the liberty movement?

If we want to see the libertarian movement take hold and move forward, we must take advantage of the opportunities that people like Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT), Justin Amash (R-MI), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Tom Massie (R-KY) are creating in mainstream politics. The Libertarian Party should own their part of the discussion as well, and capitalize on the growing acceptance of limited government and liberty.

They can capitalize on this opportunity by supporting our their own candidates. Rand Paul is the future of the Republican Party. If he were to become president in 2016, he would spend his first term fighting with a congress that as a whole does not support libertarian principles. He would be forced to move to the center to get anything done. So much for liberty.

The other option is that  libertarians can rally behind Gary Johnson and work for 5% of the national vote. At 5% the Libertarian Party would qualify for matching funds and would have access to upwards of $90 million dollars for the 2020 presidential campaign. This funding would make access to the debates a real possibility and would give the LP a real shot at winning state and local races as well. That kind of exposure is lasting and would have an impact on Libertarian candidates for many election cycles to come.

So yes, Mr. Harrington, the only way for you to remain an honest, respectable libertarian is to “throw your lot in with Gary Johnson.” If we can hit that 5% mark and qualify for matching funds it’s a whole new ball game for liberty and a true opportunity for limited government.

Ripley: With Great Power, Comes Great… Scandal?

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The IRS exerts a lot of control over the American people. The agency has the power to collect our income, seize our assets, and imprison us for non-compliance. Filing a tax return puts a considerable amount of personal information into the hands of agents who have proven to be less than ethical. It is troubling to think that next year the details of our health care will be added to the charities, political organizations, and group affiliations often included on returns, along with bank account information and business dealings.

Power is at the root of the IRS scandal, as Peter Suderman points out in Reason Magazine:  “It’s not that the reasons don’t matter at all. They do. But in some ways the particular reasons miss the larger point. Power will find a reason. It always does.”

Make a mistake and the IRS will not accept ‘I didn’t know’ for an answer. Try telling an IRS agent that you are not “personally responsible” for your tax return during an audit. You will likely get an impatient stare and hours of unpleasant questioning. Amazingly, these are the types of answers that IRS officials decided to give during House and Senate hearings over the past two weeks.

Former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman made an incorrect deduction when he “assured” congress that conservative groups were not being targeted by the IRS in March of 2012. He later reappeared in front of congress in May of 2013 to admit that targeting had taken place. During questioning Mr. Shulman showed frequent signs of amnesia and was only certain that “he was not personally responsible.”

Mr. Shulman’s successor, former IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, was grilled by congress for withholding information. Mr. Miller argued that the targeting practices led to “bad customer service” and were the result of a large spike in applications for tax-exempt status. A closer examination revealed that no such spike in applications had occurred. He too could not explain why conservative groups were targeted by the agency he was hired to run.

Former IRS Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner caused a stir during the House Oversight and Government Reform committee hearing when she invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify after delivering a brief statement.

“I have not done anything wrong,” she said. “I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee.”

Imagine denying wrongdoing during an audit and then refusing to answer any questions. It didn’t work in Ms. Lerner’s case either. She was placed on administrative leave after refusing to resign from her position.

In light of the problems at the agency, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has directed the new acting director, Daniel Werfel, to conduct a 30-day review to uncover and fix any issues with management practices to prevent this issue from happening again.

Mr. Werfel is likely to learn that the practice of targeting specific groups by the IRS is difficult to stop. Using the IRS as a political weapon is an old tactic that enjoys bi-partisan support. FDR used the IRS to attack newspapers who disagreed with the “New Deal.” President Kennedy and President Lyndon Johnson silenced opponents by applying pressure from the agency. Under President Nixon the IRS targeted more than 10,000 individuals and groups for political reasons. While President Clinton was in office specific activists groups felt the wrath of a politically motivated IRS, as did liberal groups during the presidency of George W. Bush.

Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) tore apart the IRS and its failed history in a recent press release:  “At its core the IRS scandal is not the result of one party attacking another. It is the inevitable consequence of a federal government that has gotten too big and too expensive to control. The federal government’s massive bureaucracy is inherently dysfunctional, corrupt, intolerant, and incompetent — regardless of who is in charge.”

Former White House adviser David Axelrod argued that that given the “vast” size of government, President Obama could not have possibly known (or be responsible for) the actions of mid-level officials. By doing so Mr. Axelrod made the best argument for smaller government. If the “vastness” of government is eliminated, scandals will be much harder to hide and execute.

The IRS scandal shows that power hidden within a big government does terrible things. The current size of the agency allows power to act in far-reaching and corrupt ways. Historically we know that firing a few officials is the tried and true approach to not solving the problem. If President Obama and congress are serious about stopping the pattern of abuse and corruption within the IRS, they should heed a recent tweet sent by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas):

“Mr. President, if your #1 priority is fixing the problem, let’s abolish the #IRS and ensure it never happens again!”

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