Today in Liberty: Rand Paul leads GOP field, NRA files brief against NSA spying

“A limited state with free economic systems is the soil where the liberty tree blossoms.” — Orrin Woodward

— The most transparent administration ever: Remember that promise? Yeah, about that. “More often than ever, the administration censored government files or outright denied access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, cited more legal exceptions it said justified withholding materials and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy,” the Associated Press reports. “The government’s own figures from 99 federal agencies covering six years show that halfway through its second term, the administration has made few meaningful improvements in the way it releases records. In category after category - except for reducing numbers of old requests and a slight increase in how often it waived copying fees - the government’s efforts to be more open about its activities last year were their worst since President Barack Obama took office.”

— Rand Paul’s big weekend: The Kentucky Republican didn’t just come out on top in a presidential preference poll of New Hampshire Republicans, he also edged his potential Republican opponents in a national poll. “Rand Paul has done something his father never did - top the list of potential Republican presidential candidates in a national poll,” CNN reports. “According to a new CNN/ORC International survey, 16% of Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP say they would be likely to support the senator from Kentucky for the 2016 nomination.” Paul is followed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX).

— Punk Rock Ted Cruz: Someone apparently made posters with Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) head superimposed on a heavily tattooed body and plastered them around Los Angeles. The Texas conservative played along. Well, sort of.

— NRA files brief in NSA case: The National Rifle Associated has filed a friend of the court brief in support of the American Civil Liberties Union’s case against the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs, citing the ability of the government to determine an individual’s interest in firearms from collected metadata.

— Supreme Court to weigh cell phone privacy: The Supreme Court will hear arguments next month in two cases — Riley v. California and United States v. Wuriedealing with the issue of cell phone privacy. These are important cases for the Fourth Amendment and could have implications for future cases, including the controversy over the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs.

— HHS official blasts bureaucracy: This one is a few days old, but it’s classic. It seems that a Health and Human Services official had eye-opening things to say about the state of the federal bureaucracy in his resignation letter to his superiors. “A Health and Human Services official has resigned after dealing with the frustration of the “profoundly dysfunctional” federal bureaucracy, which left him “offended as an American taxpayer,’” The Daily Caller reported last week. “In a resignation letter obtained by ScienceInsider, David Wright, director of the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) — which oversees and monitors possible research misconduct — offers a scathing rebuke of the unwieldy and inefficient bureaucracy that he dealt with for the two years he served in the position.”

— About those Obamacare repeal votes: The White House wants Americans to believe that House Republicans have voted more than 50 times to repeal Obamacare. The narrative has taken hold the media, which reports it often without question. While it’s true that Republicans have targeted the law on dozens of occasions, there have only been six votes to repeal the law in full. “Certainly Democrats think that is six too many. But it is not 50, or even close to 50,” Byron York explains. “The rest of the votes — there have actually been 54 so far — were votes that ranged from defunding measures that would have crippled Obamacare to delaying measures that would have put off some of the very same provisions in the law that President Obama has delayed unilaterally, to measures fixing portions of the law that passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan support and were signed by the president.”

— Surgeon General nominee going down over gun control: Vivek Murthy, President Obama’s Surgeon General nominee, isn’t likely to be confirmed by the Senate because of his support for gun control policies, including the so-called “assault weapons” ban, which was voted down by the Senate last year. “A number of Senate Democrats have indicated that they might oppose President Barack Obama’s choice of Vivek Murthy for the post of U.S. Surgeon General, according to Senate aides, putting the nomination at risk over the issue of gun control,” the Wall Street Journal noted. “Dr. Murthy’s nomination is opposed by the National Rifle Association, the country’s largest gun lobby, because he has expressed support for gun control, calling it a public-health issue.”

— FreedomWorks to endorse a dozen Republicans: Politico reports this morning that FreedomWorks, a grassroots conservative group, will rollout endorsements of a dozen House and Senate Republicans at some point later today. “The list,” Politico notes, “names a dozen Republican lawmakers, including: Sens. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Tim Scott of South Carolina, Jim Risch of Idaho; and Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Matt Salmon of Arizona, Tom Graves of Georgia, Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, Mark Sanford of South Carolina, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, and Ron DeSantis and Ted Yoho of Florida.” FreedomWorks also endorsed Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Mike Pompeo (R-KS) last week.

— How dare you spy on us!!!: This political cartoon made the rounds on Facebook this weekend, and it pretty much sums up the hypocritical attitude in Congress toward domestic surveillance.

— Gun store owner stands up to ATF: Dimitrios Karras, owner of Ares Armor in Oceanside, California, has refused to turnover his customer list to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “A manufacturer for Ares Armor made thousands of 80 percent receivers in plastic with indicators that show customers exactly where to drill,” The Washington Times reports. “ATF said the receivers are illegal and demanded Mr. Karras hand over the inventory and the names of the 5,000 customers who purchased them.” Karras has filed a restraining order against ATF.

— Gun control crowd to pressure corporations: Having failed to enact new federal gun control regulations and finding limited success at the state-level, the gun control crowd plans to apply pressure to corporations to help them demonize Second Amendment supporters. “The [Coalition to Stop Gun Violence] has recently called upon Visa to sever a business partnership with the NRA,” The Hill reports, “saying the credit giant’s affiliation with the powerful gun lobby is effectively funding opposition to stronger regulations.” The groups pushing gun control also praised Facebook for its new anti-gun policies.

— A new Church Committee: Former members of the Church Committee, a 1975 Senate committee tasked with reviewing the intelligence community, are calling for a revival of the body to review the federal government’s surveillance practices. “Today, we are publishing a letter signed by 16 former counsel, advisers, and professional staff members of the Church Committee, calling on Congress to create a new special committee to investigate the NSA and other intelligence agencies,” writes Mark Jaycox of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “This new ‘Church Committee for the 21st Century’ would conduct a thorough examination into the oversight system currently in place (including the House and Senate Intelligence Committees) and the intelligence communities actions (such as the CIA spying on Senate staff and the NSA spying on all Americans).” You can read the letter by former Church Committee staffers here.

— Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!: Have a couple pints of Guinness. But please don’t drink green beer. Seriously, we have a thing against that.

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