Proposed NSA reforms close one loophole while leaving others open

President Barack Obama rolled out a proposal earlier this week that would end the National Security Agency’s controversial bulk phone metadata collection program. The House Intelligence Committee has a proposal of its own purports to achieve the same end.

The proposal pushed by the White House has been received with cautious optimism from civil libertarians, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). They like what they’ve heard, but have explained that the devil is in the details.

Others, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), have pointed out that there’s already a proposal in Congress, the USA FREEDOM Act, that would end bulk data collection. Privacy advocates, however, have panned the House Intelligence Committee’s proposal, which is backed by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

In Wednesday’s Cato Daily Podcast, Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute, discussed and dissected both President Obama and the House Intelligence Committee’s proposal, finding them to be welcome news. But he also pointed out that both measures still leave open the possibility of access to Americans’ personal information.

Obama To Talk NSA Reforms Friday, It May Disappoint You

President Obama is expected to present his proposal addressing reforms to the National Security Agency (NSA) this Friday following a lengthy review of the agency in the wake of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations last summer of agency data collection.

But, as James Oliphant writes in the National Journal, don’t expect to see anything really concrete addressing the overreach of the agencies’ powers into the lives of ordinary Americans. Not likely from a man who is now promoting a “9/11 justification” for the NSA program:

To lay the groundwork for that position, aides to the president told the Los Angeles Times this weekend that the NSA’s metadata collection scheme could have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks. What’s more, Obama has adopted that “9/11 justification” for the NSA program, the paper reported.

That’s a blinking-red signal that the administration is not about to be accused of making the country more vulnerable by tampering with such a preventive weapon. Remember that George W. Bush, a Republican, walked back his warrantless wiretapping program in 2007 after a public outcry. This president, a Democrat, isn’t going to follow suit—especially given the new instability in Iraq and worries about the vacuum left by the coming pullout from Afghanistan.

House passes Farm Bill without reform, makes subsidies permanent

After a embarrassing defeat last month and despite a veto threat from the White House, House Republican leaders were able to save some face yesterday by passing the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM Act), otherwise known as the “Farm Bill.”

The vote was close, 216 to 208, with every Democrat voting against the measure because food stamp funding was separated from the bill for the first time in several decades. Twelve Republicans voted against the measure because they say it spends too much and didn’t offer any real reform.

While separating food stamps from the Farm Bill — which accounted for nearly 79% of the $940 billion measure that the House voted down last month — does substantially bring down, the $202 billion proposal passed yesterday by the Republican-controlled House, according to The Hillcuts less in subsidies than the bill passed by the Senate.

Do House Republicans really want Farm Bill reform?

As much as I never like to question anyone’s intentions, I finally find myself asking this week, do House Republicans really want to reform Washington?

Perhaps it was naïve, but after the defeat of the Farm Bill, I thought hope was in the air for agriculture policy reform. Numerous Republicans had offered strong amendments, many of which were rejected at the onset by the Rules Committee. And a fair number of the remaining amendments were defeated on the floor at the urging of leadership. This egregious flouting of their party’s desire to curb spending pushed members over the edge. Sixty-two fiscally conservative Republicans revolted against the bill, proving to leadership once and for all that, indeed, they are here to actually make changes.

This failure appeared to make leadership desperate, forcing them to take the drastic step they’d previously vowed to avoid – splitting the bill into two portions, one for food assistance and one for agriculture programs. Reform advocates long have tossed around splitting the bill. Their logic is simple: neither portion of the bill is strong enough to stand alone. Nutrition program supporters and farm program enthusiasts need each other to get the bill across the finish line. So for those who find the programs to be bloated, forcing each portion through on its own merit seemed more likely to yield change than the current back-scratching arrangement.

14 Fixes For Our Messed Up Country

Everyone seems to be proposing fixes for our country lately, whether it’s amendments to repeal the First Amendment or ban gays or whatever. I have a few ideas of my own that I think will go a long ways towards restoring some sanity in government and fixing what’s wrong with our society. Some of these will require constitutional amendments, and I don’t expect the entire list to actually get enacted unless magic somehow returns to the world and we resurrect Barry Goldwater, F.A. Hayek, and George Washington all at once.

I originally drafted a list of some 23 ideas, but I figured that it would be way too long for a blog post, so I shortened it to 14, a baker’s dozen. None of these are simple or light fixes, they are not tweaking around the edges to ensure a marginally better outcome. Judging from the situation our government and economy is in, from the horrific hard place our civil liberties are wedged behind, and the unmanageable mess that is Washington, I don’t think that “moderate” or “conservative” changes will do anything. We cannot pussyfoot around the issue; we need radical alterations to how our government works if we’re going to get us out of this morass. Again, most of these may never pass, but that’s to be expected.

Certainly, if you wish to hear my entire list, let me know and I’ll write it up, but for now, here are my 14 ideas for fixing our country:

1. Establish Approval Voting

I’ve already talked about this idea at length here, so I will not bore you again. In this post, all I will say is that I believe if we are to get anything done—and I do mean anything—we need to systematically reform how people actually get into office. That’s the foundation upon which any democracy stands, and when you’re up to your eyeballs in tar, the only way to get that fixed is to drain the swamp and start at the beginning.

Rick Perry’s New Groove (Maybe)

Rick Perry, looking to get back on top of the GOP primary, has unveiled a new reform plan that will “uproot, tear down and rebuild Washington, D.C. and our federal institutions,” as he puts it:

Blasting the congressional “creatures of Washington” for being overpaid and detached from the struggles of the people outside the Beltway, Texas Gov. and GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry vowed Tuesday to eliminate federal agencies, set term limits for federal judges and push for a part-time Congress where both members’ pay and office budgets are sliced in half.

The three-term governor, speaking on a campaign swing in Bettendorf, Iowa, said he would lead by example by cutting his salary as president until the federal budget is balanced, and said that lawmakers who use information to profit from stock trades should go to jail — in what appeared to be a clear reference to recent news reports alleging insider trading involving House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

“I do not believe Washington needs a new coat of paint, it needs a complete overhaul,” Mr. Perry said, according to prepared remarks. “We need to uproot, tear down and rebuild Washington, D.C. and our federal institutions.”

I’m reading his actual plan right here, and I have to say, there are some good ideas here, and one very bad one.

Tenth Amendment Center Announces State Level Action Legislation Model To Combat ObamaCare

Nearly everyone in opposition to ObamaCare worked very hard to stop it before it made its way through both houses of Congress and to the President’s desk to be signed into law.  Once President Obama signed the legislation into law, all of these wound up activists found themselves without an issue to focus on after a year of “debate” over healthcare reform.  Some state officials took it upon themselves to file lawsuits over the newly signed law, while others sought to protect their constituents from the aspects they found to be Unconstitutional.  Today, the Tenth Amendment Center provided another state-level action.  From the press release:

“Now that Health Care reform has been signed into law, the question people ask most is “What do we do about it?” said Michael Boldin, founder of the Tenth Amendment Center. “The status quo response includes lobbying congress, marching on D.C. “voting the bums out,” suing in federal court, and more. But the last 100 years have proven that none of these really work, and government continues to grow year in and year out.”

“We recommend a different path, one advised by prominent founders such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison - nullification,” said Boldin. Nullification, according to the Center, is the rightful remedy to an unconstitutional act, as it considers the recently-signed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to be. When a state nullifies a federal law, it is proclaiming that the law in question is void and inoperative, or non-effective, within the boundaries of that state; or, in other words, not a law as far as the state is concerned.

Reforms, not Bailout or Bankruptcy, Prevail in Puerto Rico Legislation


After a long public debate over what Congress should do to address the current debt and financial crisis in Puerto Rico, free market oriented reforms have won the day. While the government of the Commonwealth requested, and our Obama Administration supported, Chapter 9 bankruptcy, many Republicans in Congress and grass-roots citizen groups opposed that and argued for reforms in Puerto Rico instead. The legislation released in Congress clearly is on the side of reform and doesn’t include or enable bankruptcy.

The Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), introduced by Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) as well as Reps. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) will create an Oversight Board to assist the Commonwealth in enacting reforms and reign in their out of control welfare state as well as managing their debts. The legislation does not contain any bailout provision nor does it provide for or allow Chapter 9 bankruptcy. PROMESA will bring order to the chaos in Puerto Rico, prevent a catastrophic humanitarian crisis, and will build a foundation for prosperity in the Commonwealth, and ensure its access to capital markets.

Puerto Rico has accumulated more than $118 billion in debt from bonds and unfunded pension liabilities. The government has been unable to manage this debt and has already begun defaulting on its repayment. On July 1, the Commonwealth is likely to default on an additional $2 billion in debt that includes $800 million of constitutionally backed debt.

Ending the politicization of the IRS: A new House report recommends nixing the tax agency commissioner’s job

More than a year after the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups became public knowledge, a key House committee has made a long list of recommendations to end the politicization of the powerful federal tax agency.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released a report, Making Sure Targeting Never Happens: Getting Politics Out of the IRS and Other Solutions, on Tuesday that outlines 15 proposals to reform the IRS, protect Americans’ free speech and privacy rights, and much more.

“As the Committee continues its comprehensive investigation into IRS targeting of Americans for their political beliefs, both immediate and long-term reforms are needed to prevent such targeting from ever happening again,” Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) said in a press release. “We must make structural changes to improve internal oversight and get politics out of the IRS. The current imbalance of IRS power over taxpayers must cede to a system that recognizes and protects the rights of taxpayers.”

The Committee proposes that the IRS commissioner post, currently held by John Koskinen, be replaced with a multi-member, bipartisan commission, which, the report says, would bring much-needed checks and balances to the agency. The IRS commissioner is currently appointed by the president and subject to confirmation by the Senate.

Amash seeks to force a vote to end the NSA’s unconstitutional bulk data collection program

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) will try force a vote to end the NSA bulk data collection program through an amendment to the defense authorization bill if House leaders decide to stall on reform or further water down meaningful provisions of the bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act.

In a series of tweets on Monday, Amash, one of the fiercest critics of the NSA bulk data collection program, said that he filed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that is “materially identical” to the version of the USA FREEDOM Act that cleared the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month. The same version of the measure was also approved House Intelligence Committee.

The National Defense Appropriations Act and the USA FREEDOM Act were both listed for consideration on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) weekly floor schedule. But last minute negotiations with the White House over NSA reform could mean that the USA FREEDOM Act will be further watered down.

The Amash amendment, which is cosponsored by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Rush Holt (D-NJ), is tailored to deny funding to execute a FISA court order for phone records not relevant to an authorized investigation.

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