Former ATF agent Thomas Lesnak reveals in The Daily Caller that the current array of tobacco laws and taxes, far from deterring smoking, merely encourages a black market that finances terrorism and other forms of crime.
Unfortunately, Lesnak's proposed solution isn't surprising in light of his former profession: increasing penalties and allocating greater funding toward law enforcement. The real irony is that he even mentions the Prohibition Era in his piece, but fails to draw the appropriate lesson from that experience. What, it's hot in here? Let's head over to the thermostat and turn up the heat — that'll fix it.
Want to put an end to tobacco-related smuggling and crimes? Repeal all taxes and regulations that the government currently imposes upon tobacco. No more tax stamps and no more Surgeon General's warnings.
This is unlikely to happen, though, since tobacco is "politically incorrect." It has become common to see smokers huddled in the rain and cold alongside office buildings, herded into designated areas often located near the dumpsters, driven there by various ordinances.
It is instructive to observe the kind of shaming that we see ritualized via the law in society surrounding substances ingested into the human body, from the aforementioned ghettoization of smokers to the near-ubiquitous imperative to transport alcoholic beverages on public streets in a brown paper bag.
Everyone knows the TSA is in the business of making us drink the last drop of our open water bottles and patting down our potentially dangerous grandmothers, but did you know they are also inspecting parked vehicles at airports around the country? That's right America, everyone's favorite government safety squad is now making sure you aren't a potential car bomber.
Laurie Iacuzza returned to her parked vehicle at Greater Rochester International Airport in Rochester, NY to find a notice informing her that her car had been searched by the TSA. Iacuzza was understandably frustrated, claiming that no one ever informed her that her car was going to be searched when she dropped it off with valet parking services at the airport.
Libertarians seem to have hit a fork in the road with proper immigration reform.
On the one hand, amnesty and open borders appear to the libertarian as the default position. Human beings should be free to travel and live where they please: this is a classic exercise of personal liberty. Giving the state the power to control such movement is ominous indeed. For one, save the harrowing notion that the government is the just owner of all the land within their borders and that private property is really just a fantasy, controlling the movement of immigrants is a clear invasion of their property rights.
Further, the idea that the government should be allowed to prosecute these people on grounds of trespassing is frightening — what would then legally stop them from prosecuting any naturalized citizen on these same grounds? (Keep in mind that the Constitution is systematically ignored.) We could all be subject to such treatment based on our movement on “public” (government) streets.
Then, on the other hand, controlling such movement seems to be the cure for a far more grim danger to liberty: the unstoppable growth of the welfare state. Many of the illegal immigrants who come to the United States contribute enormously to the strain on social benefit programs; Medicaid, welfare, housing subsidies, and food stamps are all easily obtained by some illegal immigrants who come determined to live off the state. Giving these people amnesty would almost certainly lead to more pro-welfare votes and policies at a time when the country can least afford it. Clearly, it seems, the government must put a hold on such immigrants until the welfare state is abolished or at least shrunk drastically.
In my home state of New Jersey I have found all too often that politics and labor unions are inseparable entities. In fact, they have become so intertwined that party affiliation has become a negligible factor for candidates; party support has become second to union endorsement in this power struggle for municipal contracts and economic influence.
I chose to address this particular issue because I am fearful of the power these unions seek, I am appalled by the methods used to spread their influence, and I am concerned about the future of the free market, both here in New Jersey and on a national level.
From a historical perspective, workers have exercised their rights to assemble and organize since after the Civil War, and I welcome this First Amendment expression with open arms. The trouble arises when unions cease to be voluntary organizations of workers negotiating with their employers and instead acquire special legal protections which put the force of law behind their demands. Unions are great; government-backed unions — especially with legally mandatory membership — are not.
When this shift occurs, unscrupulous politicians and union bosses use the situation to pit employees against their employers and pose the government as workers' ally, ignoring the fact that employment is a contractual agreement between employer and employee, and no third party is necessary.
The situation gets even more concerning when government employees unionize and take the decision-making ability about the size and price of government away from elected representatives. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership accounts for 35.9% of public sector jobs. Factoring in the 10% to 30% higher average wage of unionized labor, it is no wonder why public sector services are so costly: tax payers are given little choice but to pay top-dollar to employ a large percentage of public workers.
The George Zimmerman trial finally came to a close this weekend when the jury acquitted Zimmerman of all charges, including second-degree murder and manslaughter. For those who followed the case objectively, there was little disagreement that the prosecution failed to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin in cold blood. Despite the court of public opinion declaring him a murderer from day one, the jury did the sensible thing by finding Zimmerman not guilty. It is a modern example of Lady Justice extolling fairness and equal protection under the law for those that are not adored or wanted by society.
The saga began over a year ago when Zimmerman shot and killed Martin on February 26, 2012. Over the course of the following month, the Associated Press, ABC News, The New York Times, and other media organizations pounced on the opportunity to develop a narrative that would encourage the public to side against Zimmerman on the basis of race. Among these other organizations was NBC News, which aired an edited 911 tape on the Today Show on March 27, 2012 that intentionally displayed Zimmerman as a racist.
Those of us who have cars are well aware of the fact that gas prices historically tend to rise during the summer months. This is due to a variety of factors, including increased demand due to summertime travel. This summer, is not different. In fact, gas prices may be ready to skyrocket in the very near future. Prices have already risen by 4 cents per gallon nationally in the last week, and experts now predict that prices could continue to rise by 15 cents or more in the next two weeks.
The cause behind the rise in gas prices is unsurprisingly oil speculation; investors believe the value of oil is higher this week than they did last week because they anticipate that prices are going to rise. In other words, oil speculation is a self-fulfilling prophecy, one that seems to hurt lower and middle class Americans year after year.
The force behind the rise in prices this time around is a combination of factors that extend beyond the typical summertime rises due to demand. The first is the brewing conflict in Egypt. If Egypt breaks into a civil war, expect prices to explode as doing business in the Middle East becomes more dangerous, and thus more costly. But don't think that the avoidance of a full-blown civil war is enough to keep prices down; the mere possibility of war has convinced speculators that prices should be higher, a reality we are already feeling at the pump.
While many have been paying attention to the Zimmerman case, or even worse, the Paula Deen affair, a hunger strike that has been going on for months in the dark abyss that is Guantanamo Bay has come to a head.
Since March, more than 160 of the detainees have participated in this strike, and around a hundred are still at it. Shaker Aamer, a British permanent resident who was captured in 2001 and who has been held in indefinite detention, is on his 149th day without eating. This protest is very similar to the one that occurred in 2005, during which between 150-200 detainees refused to eat any food over several months. It was reported then that 80 of the captives approached serious health conditions, having dropped down to less than 100 pounds in weight. Some lost a third of their weight, others more.
Journalist Andy Worthington described one of the detainees as appearing “skeletal… [his] legs looked like bones with skin wrapped tight around them.” Some even committed suicide; although their deaths have been contested to be retribution for acting as the leaders of the hunger strike. Although not many statistics have been provided, and even fewer journalists are allowed entrance, information and reports can be pieced together to understand this most recent strike in the context of indefinite detention and human rights abuses.
Both of these strikes are motivated by similar principles: the protest of the prisoners' innocence, their treatment by authorities, and the absence of any trials.
Both of them saw the use of similar tactics: the use of inhumane and painful force-feeding tubes that are inserted into the nostrils of detainees, while strapped down, to force liquid nourishment down their throats.
In the midst of an international manhunt for former NSA analyst Edward Snowden — and the public debate on branding him as a hero or traitor — many Americans have forgotten the root of the real problem: the legal validity of these surveillance programs.
Some believe in the notion the ordinary, law-abiding citizen has nothing to worry about, since the government would never target them (despite the fact that Snowden revealed that these programs have done exactly that — collected mass metadata from typical, run-of-the-mill citizens).
Fortunately, America remains the greatest place in the world to live and call home. We celebrated the essence of that greatness over the weekend for Independence Day — the fabled anniversary of July 4th, 1776, the date that the Founding Fathers declared independence from the tyranny of King George III. It's a celebration of freedom and radicalism, and one that we should take more seriously as a country.
Though it's hard to appreciate the message behind the holiday when actions that subvert our freedom occur every day. Ask yourself: Are we truly free?
Now take this video for example, which went viral this weekend thanks to sites like Reddit:
The nearly 3 million-view video shows 21-year-old Chris Kalbaugh being harassed and constitutionally violated at a DUI checkpoint in Rutherford County, Tennessee by Deputy A.J. Ross and other officers. Despite not having committed a crime nor been charged with one, the officers swarm his car and use a K-9 to issue a "false alert" in order to search it. Kalbaugh ever expressed his rights to the officers, but no such luck. From the video:
Deputy Ross: “Are you an attorney or something? You know what the law is?”
Kalbaugh: “Yes sir, I do."
Deputy Ross: “OK, what is the law?”
Kalbaugh: “The law says at checkpoints I have to stop. And I did. That is all. I’m not required to answer any questions. I have Constitutional freedom to travel without being randomly stopped and questioned."
The officers continued their search unimpeded. When nothing turned up, Deputy Ross says, "He’s perfectly innocent and he knows his rights. He knows what the Constitution says.” Another officer off-camera says, "It wasn't a very good alert."
In a column last week, former congressman Ron Paul expounded upon the potential dangers of implementing an E-Verify system with immigration legislation. His words speak for himself, but there are three critical points to consider:
Currently, the E-Verify system is voluntary. With this legislation, all employers would be required to run their potential employees through the database to ensure their legality. The system is one of the better-run services in the federal government, and therefore has its perks. But as with most things in life, there's a trade-off: Anytime the government mandates that the private sector take part in an activity, the government grows in scope and power.
The information gathered by the proposed E-Verify system in the legislation will go far beyond Social Security numbers and immigration data, and include things like biometric data, as well as other government-held data. In addition to the biometrics, citizens will be required to have a "tamper-proof" Social Security card, essentially a national-ID. This creates privacy concerns among many civil libertarians for obvious reasons.
Mandatory E-Verify participation opens the door to a host of other potential uses by the federal government. With Obamacare about to kick into high gear, there would be little to stop a president or a federal agency to require its use in the health care industry for the purposes of the insurance mandate. Gun legislation could be brought forth that requires E-Verify in the transaction process of purchasing a weapon, ammunition, or other accessories. Could a corrupt administration use the system against their political enemies? The possibilities are far-reaching.
The E-Verify system, in its current state, is useful. I know a number of businessmen who use it in their day-to-day and herald it as the greatest thing since sliced bread. By running these potential employees through the database against their provided Social Security number, the program eliminates all legal burden on the business-owner and puts it squarely in the hands of the federal government. Any changes to the program would stifle hiring and irrevocably damage individual liberty and privacy. We should be wary of any additional features to the E-Verify system in the future as the immigration debate continues.