Thursday, December 30, 2010

AOL News: Are TSA Scanners Safe?

As long as I'm already making friends at Dept. of Homeland Security, I'll stick with the TSA stuff for one more post.  An investigation by AOL news shows that the job of maintaining and calibrating the TSA's funky new body scanners belongs to "somebody else," although nobody is really sure who.

According to
The Transportation Security Administration says that when working properly, the backscatter Advance Imaging Technology X-ray scanners emit an infinitesimal, virtually harmless amount of radiation.

The problem is that the TSA offers no proof that anyone is checking to see if the machines are "working properly."

The TSA ticks off a litany of groups that it says are involved with determining and ensuring the safety of the controversial devices, including:

•The Food and Drug Administration
•The U.S. Army Public Health Command
•Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory
•The Health Physics Society

However, AOL News has found that those organizations say they have no responsibility for the continuing safety of the alternative to TSA's grope.
Why worry about maintaining the machines?

To assure that the doses are as low as they are billed to be, it is imperative to accurately calibrate the machines and carefully monitor their performance.

A spike in the intensity of the scanning beam, or a slowdown or pause in the timing of that beam's sweep across a traveler's body, could cause significant radiation damage, AOL News was told by a radiologist and two radiological health physicists, who are trained and certified to ensure the safety of those exposed to or working with radioactive material.

The FDA and many state radiation safety offices license, inspect and monitor almost all medical radiation devices everywhere they're used. But even identical X-ray machines used in nonmedical government venues fall outside FDA scrutiny, the agency said last week.

Nevertheless, the TSA maintains that when it comes to the safety of the full-body scanners, "everything is working fine," an agency spokesman told AOL News.
So who does verify the safety of these machines?

"The safety of our scanning systems are routinely and thoroughly tested by the manufacturer, FDA, the U.S. Army, the Health Physics Society, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and others," the spokesman said when asked last month how the TSA knows if the scanning system is safe.

But in interviews with those same safety sentinels, AOL News found that none of the groups was doing any routine testing of operating scanners in airports. Further, they all said they have no responsibility to monitor the safety of those passing through the airport scanners.

For example, the FDA says it doesn't do routine inspections of any nonmedical X-ray unit, including the ones operated by the TSA.

The FDA has not field-tested these scanners and hasn't inspected the manufacturer. It has no legal authority to require owners of these devices -- in this case, TSA -- to provide access for routine testing on these products once they have been sold, FDA press officer said Karen Riley said.
You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

New TSA Policies Not Protecting Us

Not long after a Canada Free Press article broke news that a leaked U.S. Department of Homeland Security memo supposedly called for creating an enemies list of people who agitated against the new enhanced TSA security screening procedures, I had a guest column in the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette agitating against those very TSA security screening procedures.  [Hat tip to Between Two Rivers blog, where I first read about the DHS/TSA enemies list.] 

My column in the paper (which appeared Monday Dec. 13th, with the above title) was edited for space and brevity, but I present here my original long-winded submission:

The Transportation Security Administration’s new procedures, which involve taking naked body images of or giving intense pat-downs to American citizens without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, would have been unfathomable to most Americans a decade ago. Now, however, many view them as a necessary trade off to make us safer against the terrorist threat. But how much safer do they make us?

The procedures are being justified as being in response to the 2009 “Underwear Bomber,” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. However a report from the Government Accountability Office, the auditing and evaluation arm of Congress, concluded that it was “unclear” whether the new scanners would have detected the materials used by Abdulmutallab. Ben Wallace, an ex British Army officer who later worked for a defense firm that made such scanners, says that it’s “unlikely” that they would.

The debate may be moot because Al Qaeda has already developed a way of eluding the scanners, as well as the pat-downs. In an assassination attempt against a Saudi prince in 2009, an Al Qaeda operative snuck a pound of explosives and a detonator through security in his rectum. A device hidden in this manner could only be detected by a full body cavity search. So it’s “unclear” to “unlikely” that the TSA’s new procedures would make us safer against an “underwear bomber” and are useless against cutting edge suicide bomber tactics.

If the scanners don’t make us much safer, then how did we end up with them? According to David Rittgers, an analyst at the Cato Institute: “An army of executives for scanner-producing corporations — mostly former high-ranking Homeland Security officials — successfully lobbied Congress into spending $300 million in stimulus money to buy the scanners. But running them will cost another $340 million each year. Operating them means 5,000 added TSA personnel, growing the screener workforce by 10 percent. This, when the federal debt commission is saying that we must cut federal employment rolls, including some FBI agents, just to keep spending sustainable.”

Borrowing more money to purchase marginal technology and increasing spending to employ it, at a time when the U.S. appears on the verge of economic collapse, does not make us safer.

Then there are privacy and Fourth Amendment concerns. According to one congressman, the scanners “offer a disturbingly accurate view of a person’s body[.]” British officials banned their use on people under 18, for fear of running afoul of child pornography laws. Documents obtained by Electronic Privacy Information Center show that the scanners “include the ability to store, record, and transfer images” and “include hard disk storage, USB integration, and Ethernet connectivity” that raise significant privacy concerns. Comparable scanners that more adequately address privacy concerns are available and used in Europe, but then former DHS officials don’t sell those scanners.

The Fourth Amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons […] against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated[.]” According to law professor Jeffrey Rosen, as an appeals court judge in 2006, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito said that to be constitutionally “reasonable” airport screening procedures must be both “effective” and “minimally intrusive” as well as “well-tailored to protect personal privacy.” The new TSA procedures seem to miss the mark.

Most Americans don’t need to hear legal opinions to know that the TSA searches are an affront to their liberties. As the millions of people lying in mass graves around the globe would surely attest if they were able, when a government begins to disregard the rights and dignity of its people and the people do nothing, we are all decidedly less safe.

Benjamin R. Cashner is a freelance writer from Monticello and a member of the Iowa Libertarian Party. He blogs at and is a contributing writer at Iowa Freedom

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Blasts From the Past

Last Christmas I got a Barnes & Noble gift card that I used to buy Brian Doherty's book Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement.  Although it's a great book, I'm still working on it since it will often sit unmolested on my nightstand for weeks on end.  Periodicals always seem more pressing and, given my work schedule, my pillow usually seems more alluring than the book.

Doherty is a senior editor at Reason magazine and also the author of This Is Burning Man: The Rise of a New American Underground and Gun Control on Trial: Inside the Supreme Court Battle Over the Second Amendment.  In Radicals for Capitalism, Doherty traces the philosophical evolution of the libertarian movement and provides brief biographies of many of its influential thinkers.

Lysander Spooner
One of these early proto-libertarians was Lysander Spooner.  Spooner (1808-1887) was an American anarchist (before allegations of bomb-throwing nuts ruined the term) and a staunch abolitionist.  He is best known for illegally starting his own postal service, the American Letter Mail Company, to compete against the USPS.

In one of my favorite quotes, Spooner explains the difference between a highwayman (robber) and the government: 

The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: Your money, or your life... [But] the highwayman [...] does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. [...] He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a 'protector[.]' Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you[.] He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful 'sovereign,' on account of the 'protection' he affords you. He does not keep 'protecting' you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, [and] shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands. He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villainies as these. In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave.
Another influential libertarian was Isabel Paterson (1886-1961).  Paterson was a  journalist, novelist, and a leading literary critic.  Her 1943 book The God of the Machine featured a chapter titled "The Humanitarian with the Guillotine."  (You can read the entire chapter here.)  In it she includes a warning about those who demand to "help" their fellow man, even those who don't want to be helped (which then usually requires the coercive force of government):
Isabel Paterson
If the primary objective of the philanthropist, his justification for living, is to help others, his ultimate good requires that others shall be in want. His happiness is the obverse of their misery. If he wishes to help "humanity," the whole of humanity must be in need. The humanitarian wishes to be a prime mover in the lives of others. He cannot admit either the divine or the natural order, by which men have the power to help themselves. The humanitarian puts himself in the place of God.
I look forward to reading more little pearls of wisdom like these in Radicals for Capitalism.  Hopefully I'll have it all read by Christmas... next year.

[Addendum- 12/17/2010: In my own defense I should add that I did get a few other books last Christmas that I did finish reading and that I didn't use the gift certificate to get Radicals for Capitalism until awhile after Christmas.  Whew!  I feel better getting that off my chest.]

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Four Minutes For Freedom

"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
attributed to Edmund Burke

Americans have been asked to do a lot to secure the blessings of liberty over the years.  I hope that you'll do two more things to that end.  They won't involve suffering through a long winter at Valley Forge or getting tear gassed and billy clubbed at Selma.  They'll only take a few minutes each and you can do them right over the computer before you now.  Let me explain why they're important.

In the previous post I chronicled a few personal horror stories of the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) new enhanced security measures.  These involve expensive new "body scanners" that basically conduct a virtual stripsearch of air travellers and transmit the image to a TSA officer for viewing.  The naked image of the citizen can also be stored and transferred elsewhere.  Other technologies, that are equally effective yet raise fewer privacy concerns, already exist and are operation in European airports.  The only alternative the TSA offers for its body scanners is an even more intrusive full-body pat-down.

These searches are clearly in violation of the Fourth Amendment rights of U.S. citizens.  The Fourth Amendment says, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." [Emphasis added.]

While the Supreme Court has not ruled on airport screening technology yet, lower courts have.  According to George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen in a recent Washington Post article:
[T]he U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in 2007, that "a particular airport security screening search is constitutionally reasonable provided that it 'is no more extensive nor intensive than necessary, in the light of current technology, to detect the presence of weapons or explosives.' "
In a 2006 opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, then-Judge Samuel Alito stressed that screening procedures must be both "minimally intrusive" and "effective" - in other words, they must be "well-tailored to protect personal privacy," and they must deliver on their promise of discovering serious threats. Alito upheld the practices at an airport checkpoint where passengers were first screened with walk-through magnetometers and then, if they set off an alarm, with hand-held wands. He wrote that airport searches are reasonable if they escalate "in invasiveness only after a lower level of screening disclose[s] a reason to conduct a more probing search."
As currently used in U.S. airports, the new full-body scanners fail all of Alito's tests.
Most Americans don't need these highfaluting legal opinions to tell us what our gut is already telling us, namely that there is something wrong with all this.  We know that the new TSA procedures look, sound, feel and stink like a police state.  So, what can we do about it?  I suggest two things for starters.

First, write your elected officials.  I know that seems trite and lame.  I've pretty well given up on that civics class pap, but this is important enough that it's worth a try.  If we raise enough of an uproar perhaps even our representatives might have to awaken and do something.  If you go to the ACLU's website you can send a pre-written message to DHS Secretary Napolitano, your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative urging them to "rein in these invasive searches, and to implement security measures that respect passengers' privacy rights."  It only takes a few clicks and you can use the service even if you're not a fan of the ACLU. 


Secondly, please help out Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).  Back in July, when the rest of us were thinking about barbecues and fireworks, EPIC was already slapping a lawsuit on the DHS to stop them from implementing the new scanner/pat-down procedures.  Unfortunately the wheels of the justice system turned too slowly to have it stopped before it started, but better late than never.  The on-going lawsuit alleges that the new procedures violate travelers' Fourth Amendment rights, and violate both the Privacy Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as well as a bunch of administrative regulations.

Legal battles aren't cheap, especially when you're going up against the federal government with it's deep pockets (our pockets, that is).  According to its website, "EPIC is a public interest research center in Washington, D.C. It was established in 1994 to focus public attention on emerging civil liberties issues and to protect privacy, the First Amendment, and constitutional values."  Contributions to EPIC are tax-deductible.  I know times are tight, but please try to send them whatever you can.  Even $5 would help, if enough of us do it.  You can DONATE ONLINE or send a check to:  "EPIC," 1718 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20009.

So please, there are two small things we can do to defend freedom.  It will only take a few minutes and a few clicks.  The other option is to do nothing and allow evil to triumph.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

TSA Travel Terror

Holiday travelers be on alert: An organized and determined group has launched a coordinated effort to disrupt airline travel and terrorize American citizens.  The "good" news is that the group is our own federal government.

No doubt you've already heard horror stories of the Transportation Security Administration's new "enhanced pat-down" techniques and body scanners.  The new security measures are supposedly in response to the Christmas bomber Farouk Abdulmutallab who snuck explosives onto a plane in his underwear.

David Rittgers of the Cato Institute explains that the expensive new body scanners, "that look beneath clothing to perform virtual strip searches," aren't the panacea they're made out to be.  "Despite what their proponents would have us believe, body scanners are not some magical tool to find all weapons and explosives that can be hidden on the human body," writes Rittgers.  "Yes, the scanners work against high-density objects such as guns and knives — but so do traditional magnetometers."

He continues: "And the scanners fare poorly against low-density materials such as thin plastics, gels and liquids. Care to guess what Abdulmutallab's bomb was made of? The Government Accountability Office reported in March that it's not clear that a scanner would've detected that device."

Rittgers also explains how Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has already figured out a low-tech way of defeating the machines by inserting the explosives in their rectums.  Drug smugglers have been doing this for years with their product and AQAP has already tried this in an assassination attempt against a Saudi official.  A would-be terrorist could smuggle the explosive device on board a plane, then remove it from its "hiding place" during the flight in the plane's lavatory.

What the scanners lack in effectiveness they make up for in expense.  According to Rittgers, "executives for scanner-producing corporations — mostly former high-ranking Homeland Security officials — successfully lobbied Congress into spending $300 million in stimulus money to buy the scanners. But running them will cost another $340 million each year. Operating them means 5,000 added TSA personnel, growing the screener workforce by 10 percent. This, when the federal debt commission is saying that we must cut federal employment rolls, including some FBI agents, just to keep spending sustainable."

For airports that don't yet have the expensive scanners, or for people who decline to be scanned by them (perhaps out of fear of the unknown long-term health effects), or for people on whom the scanners see something suspicious, an "enhanced pat-down" becomes necessary.  During this procedure TSA agents manually check passengers intimate areas for weapons or explosives.

This experience is traumatic enough for most travelers but especially for a rape survivor like "Celeste" in Minnesota who, despite public assurances that pat-downs will be performed only by same-sex agents, had hers performed by a male agent.  She recounts her encounter with the TSA here:  "He started at one leg and then ran his hand up to my crotch. He cupped and patted my crotch with his palm. Other flyers were watching this happen to me. At that point I closed my eyes and started praying[.]  He also cupped and then squeezed my breasts. That wasn’t the worst part. He touched my face, he touched my hair, stroking me. That’s when I started crying. It was so intimate, so horrible. I feel like I was being raped. There’s no way I can fly again. I can’t do it.”

Or there's the story of 61 year old Thomas D. Sawyer of Lansing Michigan.  According to an article, "Sawyer is a bladder cancer survivor who now wears a urostomy bag, which collects his urine from a stoma, or opening in his stomach. 'I have to wear special clothes and in order to mount the bag I have to seal a wafer to my stomach and then attach the bag. If the seal is broken, urine can leak all over my body and clothes.'"

When the scanners picked up Sawyer's urostomy bag he was pulled aside for a pat-down procedure.  When Sawyer tried to explain his condition to the TSA agents they said they didn't need to know about it.  Once Sawyer removed his sweatshirt and they spotted the bag they finally asked him about his medical condition.
“One agent watched as the other used his flat hand to go slowly down my chest. I tried to warn him that he would hit the bag and break the seal on my bag, but he ignored me. Sure enough, the seal was broken and urine started dribbling down my shirt and my leg and into my pants.”

The security officer finished the pat-down, tested the gloves for any trace of explosives and then, Sawyer said, “He told me I could go. They never apologized. They never offered to help. They acted like they hadn’t seen what happened. But I know they saw it because I had a wet mark.”

Humiliated, upset and wet, Sawyer said he had to walk through the airport soaked in urine, board his plane and wait until after takeoff before he could clean up.
These are just two examples, but a quick search of the internet will show more stories like this than you'd care to read.  These are all real Americans being treated like cattle by their government.  Thankfully the people appear to be fighting back.  Multiple lawsuits have been filed against the TSA and there has been a vocal public outcry against the new procedures.  Some local district attorneys have threatened to prosecute TSA agents who engage in inappropriate behavior.  Despite all this, TSA head John Pistole has said that they're not going to change the policies.

Pistole and the rest of the federal security bureaucracy, as well as many fellow citizens, probably think that all of this is a perfectly acceptable trade-off to keep the American people "safe."  However, as the government is diligently fondling Grandma's labia in a vain attempt to prevent the previous terrorist attack, they will meanwhile be failing to "connect the dots" to prevent the next one.  When it hits, Homeland Security will treat the present level of intrusiveness as a floor, not a ceiling, and the current infringements upon our liberty and dignity will have all been for naught.  They will just demand more of our liberty the next time.

Perhaps the best summation of the situation comes from Thomas D. Sawyer, the traveler who had his urostomy bag ruptured by the probing fingers of an overreaching government.  “I am a good American and I want safety for all passengers as much as the next person.  But if this country is going to sacrifice treating people like human beings in the name of safety, then we have already lost the war.”  Wise words from someone whose dignity was a collateral casualty in the federal government's "war on terror."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Iowa Firearms Coalition Announces 2011 Legislative Agenda

The dust had barely settled from the 2010 election when the Iowa Firearms Coalition (formerly Iowa Carry) announced its 2011 legislative agenda, working in conjunction with the National Rifle Association.  The two groups successfully pushed through a "shall-issue" weapons permit law which was signed by Governor Culver in April of this year.  The ambitious 2011 agenda includes an amendment to the state constitution, as well as legislation strengthening Iowa's firearms preemption laws, protecting those who use a gun in self-defense from civil liabilities, and allowing Vermont/Alaska-style carry of firearms without a permit.

The "Iowa Right to Keep and Bear Arms Constitutional Amendment" was first announced by the group on Jan Mickelson's radio show in early October.  Iowa is one of only six states that has no provision in its constitution protecting the right to keep and bear arms.  Since Iowa voters rejected a constitutional convention on the November ballot, amending the state constitution will require that an identically worded amendment pass two successive legislatures, then be approved by Iowa voters.

The proposed wording for the amendment by IFC/NRA is: "The right of individuals to acquire, keep, possess, transport, and use arms to defend life and liberty and for all other legitimate purposes is fundamental and inviolable. Licensing, registration, special taxation, or any other measure that suppresses or discourages the free exercise of this right is forbidden."

Second, the "Iowa Firearm Preemption Act" would modify "the current preemption law to completely disallow a series of confusing, indiscernible 'Gun Free' zones intermittently spread across the state causing confusion," according to IFC's website.  State firearms preemption laws basically state that local governments may not pass gun restrictions more strict than the state.  This bill no doubt comes in response to recent efforts by local governments, such as Shelby and Hancock Counties and the cities of Ottumwa and West Burlington, to circumvent the state's current preemption law and ban permit-holders from carrying  concealed weapons on county or municipal property.

Next is the "Iowa Family Defense Act."  According to IFC: "Today, in Iowa, should you be forced to defend your life, you can be held liable for your act of defense in a civil court. Your act of self defense, or the defense of another, could be used against you. This piece of legislation would ensure your right to self defense without potential exposure to prosecution in a civil case from an attacker."

Lastly the "Iowa Constitutional Carry Bill" would apparently require "no permit for carrying or for the acquisition of firearms," thereby ensuring "that our right to keep and bear arms is not infringed at all, just as our forefathers intended."  This would appear to be similar to legislation sought by the group Iowa Gun Owners in the 2010 legislative session. 

This system is often called "Vermont Carry" and, in addition to that state, it is currently enjoyed in Alaska and most recently Arizona.  IFC President Sean McClanahan told me recently that permits would still be available to those who wanted them, such as for people who wanted to carry concealed weapons into other states that recognize Iowa's permits, but would not be required to carry in Iowa.

McClanahan says the group will be considering other legislation as well, but these four measures will be the prime focus.

[This story also posted at Iowa Freedom Report.]

Saturday, November 6, 2010


As a known third-party supporter, after an election I'm sometimes asked by friends and coworkers if any of my "weird people" won.  This year, like every year before, I can answer that all of my "weird people" were soundly handed their asses yet again.  If you just want to be on the team with the highest score you can't vote third party.

One major disappointment came in the governor's race however.  Regular readers will recall that Libertarian candidate Eric Cooper sought to win 2% of the vote, thereby securing "major party" status for the Libertarian Party under Iowa law.  If ever we could achieve this status, I thought 2010 would be the year.

In Cooper we had a passionate and articulate candidate who was willing to do the necessary leg work.  He garnered the most media coverage of any Iowa L.P. candidate that I'd ever seen.  There was a palpable anti-establishment buzz in the air this election season.  All the political tumblers seemed to be aligning for the L.P. to capture major party status.  When the dust settled, however, Cooper had only received 1.28% of the vote.  (14,293 total votes.)  This is a respectable showing, but it didn't quite hit the state's arbitrary 2% requirement.  The L.P.'s next shot for Iowa major party status will come in the 2012 presidential election.

Libertarian candidates in other races across the ballot had some decent showings also.  John Heiderscheit got 25,168 votes (2.27%) in the U.S. Senate race.  For the U.S. House, Rob Petsche got 4,072 votes (1.93%) in District 1 and Gary Sicard got 4,327 votes (1.91%) in District 2.  One of the star performers of the night was Jake Porter who was running for Secretary of State.  Porter got 33,683 votes or 3.13%.  There were only 31,000 votes separating the two major party candidates, so Porter's votes were enough to make or break the election.  That is the main goal of a third party candidate: make the big boys sweat, so they'll steal your issues to get those voters back the next time.

In statehouse elections, Libertarian candidate Dr. Christopher Peters got an impressive 25.22% of the vote (6,071 votes) for State Senate District 15.  This district covers Iowa City and Republicans didn't bother running a candidate against Democrat Robert E. Dvorsky.  Peters happily jumped at the losing cause and used his candidacy to promote limited-government ideals in an area of the state not known for those ideals.  He was rewarded with the new record for highest vote percentage for an Iowa Libertarian candidate (beating Eric Cooper's 21% record for statehouse).  Also in Iowa City (and again with no Republican running),  medical student Dustin Krutsinger got 20.44% of the vote (2,550 votes) for State Representative District 30.  In State Representative District 46, Tyler Pauly got 347 votes or 2.45%.

Even with some good results, I'm still bummed we didn't get major party status.  And I'm bummed the Constitutional Convention vote failed.  And I'm bummed that that bumbling Bolshevik bum Bruce Braley is still my U.S. representative.  (Since "Big Borrowin' Braley" is returning to DC, I've been trying to prepare my 16-month-old for his future by pointing to China on the map and trying to teach him to say "master.") 

C'mon, I couldn't end this thing without taking a swipe at my old buddy Clunkers (and practicing my alliteration).  That always makes me feel better.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Caffeinated Thoughts on Constitutional Convention

Today there was a good post by Eric Goranson at Caffeinated Thoughts blog, dealing with (among other things) the constitutional convention ballot question.  Here it is an excerpt:

The following question is on the back of your ballot: “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution, and propose amendment or amendments to same?”

My vote will be a resounding YES! The Legislature has failed to act, I can’t see Republicans (sadly, at this point anyway) having the spinal fortitude to get two Assemblies to vote for a marriage amendment should they win control, and this is a Constitutional remedy we should jump on.

The opposition from the Right and the Left will point out that all kinds of bad things can happen in a convention and then the people might vote on them. The simple truth is this: All proposed amendments would be voted on individually. With that in mind, the opposition always wants the people to vote when the polling shows that the people agree with them and avoid popular votes when the polling tells them they might lose. Anyone who opposes the Constitutional Convention is either disingenuous, saying that calling a convention is “playing fast and loose with the Constitution” (It’s a CONSTITUTIONAL REMEDY, numbskull!) or they use fear to scare people into making a “risky” convention take place. They have succumbed to elitism. We either trust the people with the vote or we don’t.
With polls showing the people of Iowa pretty evenly split on the gay marriage issue, a marriage amendment wouldn't be a slam dunk for either side.  But a convention could also allow many other important reforms that the legislature won't move on, such as term limits, sunshine laws, and recall of elected officials to at least be voted on by the people.  You can read Goranson's entire post here.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Vote Libertarian in Iowa in November! -2010

Here's a video produced by local Libertarian activist Brandon Echols urging everyone to vote Libertarian this year.  It features appearances from such Iowa Libertarian notables as Eric Cooper, Kevin Litten, Rob Petsche, Gary Sicard, Dustin Krutsinger, Dr.Christopher Peters, and even a mercifully short appearance by myself.  I hope you enjoy Brandon's video.  And please, no autographs!

Register Article on Constitutional Convention

Today's had one of the better articles about the Iowa constitutional convention vote that I've read. 
A nonprofit group called Call the Convention is working to shoot down commonly held worries about a convention.

"Any amendment would have to pass the people of Iowa," said Bill Gustoff, a Des Moines lawyer who is on the steering committee for Call the Convention. "Iowans need not fear the constitutional convention process unless they fear the people. I think clearly public sentiment is in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act."

Social conservatives are listening and trying to decide whether a convention would be the best option to ban gay marriage.

"If you had asked me a year ago, I would have been adamantly opposed to it," said Steve Scheffler, the head of the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, formerly called the Iowa Christian Alliance. "Now I'm considering it, but I have mixed feelings about it."

Even if a convention is called, delegates don't have to propose amendments. And if amendments are proposed, they would not necessarily be adopted. Each amendment proposed by the convention would go in a separate ballot question for voters' final approval.
If you go to the Register article, be sure to read the sidebar items on the right, they're very informative.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Done Voting!

Thanks to the miracle of the absentee ballot, my wife and I are done voting.  I'll tell you who I voted for and why.  I won't call these my "endorsements" because I don't think that any of these candidates probably need or even want the endorsement of some nutty blogger banging away on a keyboard in his pajamas.

Iowa Governor:  I voted for Eric Cooper (Libertarian).  No, he's not going to win the governorship, that's Terry Branstad's job... for some reason.  Cooper and his Lieutenant, Nick Weltha (and the rest of us Iowa Libertarians), will define victory as getting at least 2% of the vote.  If we achieve that benchmark in a statewide race we will achieve "major party" status under Iowa law.  Then, it is hoped, we can become a big enough fly in the ointment for the two major parties that they will adopt many of our policies just to get rid of us.  To see the plan, go to Cooper's website and read the section titled, "We need 2%."

Secretary of State: My vote went to Jake Porter (Libertarian). Although he's only 22, Porter is already a heavy-lifter in the Iowa Libertarian Party. He and a handful of others do all the work while the rest of us sit back and watch (or blog about it as the case may be). In addition to his work for the party, Porter works full-time in retail, is working on his degree in Business Administration, and owns the Des Moines Free Press. I wish I had his energy!  The Secretary of State, among other things, oversees Iowa's elections.  It would be nice to have an impartial third-party referee in elections between the Republicans and Democrats. 
US Senator:  I voted for John Heiderscheit (Libertarian).  I used to like Chuck Grassley but the guy is bragging about being the one who wrote the Medicare Part D (prescription drugs) bill.  Social security and medicare are going to bankrupt the country and the Bush-era Republicans poured gasoline on that fire when they were in charge.  Now they're criticizing Obamacare?  The difference between Medicare Part D and Obamacare is a matter of degrees not principle.

US House of Representatives, District 1:  Although there's a Ben Lange sign in front of my house, I voted for Rob Petsche (Libertarian).  (Certain others in my house may have voted for Lange however, hence the sign.)  I like Petsche and agree with him on the issues, unfortunately, as a third party candidate he lacks the political big guns to unseat incumbent commie Bruce Braley, only Republican challenger Ben Lange has any chance.  So I voted for Petsche just out of quixotic principle, but secretly I hope that Lange kicks Braley's butt.

Attorney General:  I voted for Brenna Findley.  Although I voted for a few Republicans for Secretary of this or that and for some of the county-level dog catcher-type positions out of a lack of options, Findley was one Republican that I was actually excited to vote for.  Findley was one of the few Iowans who thought highly enough of the Second Amendment to show up at the Second Amendment March in Des Moines in April and spoke at the event.  Although numerous other states have signed onto a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare, our current AG has refused.  If elected, Findley says she'll get Iowa in on the legal action against this unconstitutional federal usurpation.  You go girl!

Iowa House, District 31:  I voted for Lee Hein.  I'll admit I don't know much about the guy.  I heard him speak once at an event.  He didn't rattle the rafters with some Pattonesque speech like I crave, but he seemed like a common, competent farmer running for office, and that's fine with me.  Although it wasn't the determining factor, the incumbent Ray Zirkelbach's comments equating the Tea Party movement to the KKK didn't help earn my vote.

Retention of 3 Supreme Court Justices:  Since I'm not opposed to gay marriage, it might surprise some that I voted against all three judges.  Incumbents in the legislative and executive branches are taking hits in what hopefully will be "The Great Voter Revolt of 2010," so why not the judicial?  The message is simple:  If you're in a position of governmental authority, be afraid, be very afraid.

Iowa Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund Amendment:  I voted no.  According to, "If the measure is approved by a simple majority of Iowa voters, the next time the Iowa Legislature approves a sales tax increase, the measure would allow 3/8ths of one cent to be used in support of the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. This would establish permanent revenue for natural resources and outdoor recreational programs in the state."  If the state legislature raises the sales tax to fund some urgent need, a certain percent will automatically be syphoned away to the DNR, whether they need it or not.  That doesn't make sense.  As we've seen at the federal level with Social Security and Medicare, putting programs on budgetary "autopilot" is not a good idea.

Iowa Constitutional Convention Question:  The question is simple: "Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution, and propose amendment or amendments to same?"  My vote was, "Yes."  I explained why here.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dr. Cooper: Introducing Libertarianism

Here Libertarian candidate for Iowa governor Eric Cooper gives a presentation called "Libertarianism: An Introduction" at University of Northern Iowa on October 14th.  (Two parts)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tea Party Supporters Protest Representative’s Comments

From Iowa Freedom Report:

Two women with ties to the Iowa Tea Party movement have mounted a letter-writing campaign recalling a state representative’s offensive comments earlier in the year. State Representative Ray Zirkelbach (D-Monticello) referred to the Tea Party movement as the "Tea (Bagger) Party" and the "KKK out of their costumes." Jenn Jones of Anamosa and Liz Strang formerly of Monticello, but now residing in Ohio, have had letters published in several Northeast Iowa newspapers speaking out against Zirkelbach’s remarks. Jones is active in the Jones County 9.12 Project.

Zirkelbach’s comments were posted on his Facebook page in April. In one he refers to the movement as the "Tea (Bagger) Party" and points out the supposed hypocrisy of criticizing government spending while still utilizing public roads, schools, and snow removal. At that time, Strang posted a reply prudently pointing out that the Tea Party movement stands for "limited government," not necessarily "no government." After parrying several more online replies from Tea Party supporters, Zirkelbach declared, "I believe the Tea Party is the KKK out of their costumes!”

Read the full story at Iowa Freedom Report.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Braley Bytes: "Debt for Clunkers" Edition

Besides helping to nearly double the national debt, Iowa First District Representative Bruce Braley's biggest achievement in Congress is his co-sponsorship of the 2009 "Debt for Clunkers" program. (This program is sometimes erroneously called "Cash for Clunkers" under the mistaken assumption that an organization that's $13 trillion in debt and hemorrhaging $1 trillion more than it's taking in each year actually has "cash" to hand out.)

Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute, a free market think tank, wrote a good summary of the program shortly after it ended in 2009. Forgoing the usual academic niceties, Edwards dubbed Debt for Clunkers as "the dumbest government program ever." Here's Edwards' rundown of the program's dubious achievements:
  • "A few billion dollars worth of wealth was destroyed. About 750,000 cars, many of which could have provided consumer value for many years, were thrown in the trash. Suppose each clunker was worth $3,000 at a guess, that would mean that the government destroyed $2.25 billion of value.
  • "Low-income families, who tend to buy used cars, were harmed because the clunkers program will push up used car prices.
  • "Taxpayers were ripped off $3 billion. The government took my money to give to people who will buy new cars that are much nicer than mine!
  • "The federal bureaucracy has added 1,100 people to handle all the clunker administration. Again, taxpayers are the losers.
  • "The environment was not helped. See here and here.
  • "The auto industry received a short-term “sugar high” at the expense of lower future sales when the program is over. The program apparently boosted sales by about 750,000 cars this year, but that probably means that sales over the next few years will be about 750,000 lower. The program probably further damaged the longer-term prospects of auto dealers and automakers by diverting their attention from market fundamentals in the scramble for federal cash." 
Edwards' last point is vividly illustrated in the following graph from John Stossel's website. Although there's a temporary "blip" when the $3 billion in borrowed money is injected into the automobile market, as soon as that is removed auto sales drop right back to where they were. The only lasting effect of "Debt for Clunkers" was to put America's children $3 billion further in debt to the Red Chinese.

If the "dumbest government program ever" is his crowning achievement, it's easy to see that Bruce Braley is a real lemon. If 1st District voters are willing to push, pull or drag Braley out of office in November, there are a couple of newer and better models just waiting to be driven off the lot.

How about a 1979 Republican Ben Lange?  The Lange features lower taxes, lower spending and higher integrity than our current clunker.  If you really want to save some bucks we also have the economy model, a vintage Libertarian Rob Petsche.  The Libertarian has many of the same fine features as the Republican model, but with much lower imperial maintenance costs.  Either one would be fine for us to park in DC for a few years.

So, now what can I do to set you up with a new representative today?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who donated towards my participation in the 2010 Alzheimer's Association Memory Walk.  Thanks to your generosity I was able to raise $170, and the three members of "Team Cashner" were able to raise $230 for the Alzheimer's Association.  In total, the East Central Iowa Chapter of the Association raised over $104,000.

Although it didn't go toward the team's Memory Walk total, after the walk was over one member of Team Cashner received a $500 cash donation.  She turned it on World Alzheimer's Day, September 21st, when a wealthy donor was conducting a matching challenge.  The donor matched the $500, turning it into a $1,000 donation. 

Take that, Alzheimer's Disease!

The opinions expressed on this site are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any group or organization.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Constitutional Convention For Iowa

Although the 2010 general elections appear to be shaping up to be as historic as any in recent memory, we here in Iowa will have an additional opportunity to vote on something that only comes along once every decade.  This year a question will appear on the ballot asking Iowa voters if a state constitutional convention, to propose amendments to the state constitution, should be held.  I hope Iowa voters vote yes.

In 1964 the Iowa Legislature amended the Iowa State Constitution, mandating that this question be put to the voters every ten years starting in 1970.  In the four times that the ballot initiative has come up, Iowa voters have rejected it, usually by wide margins.  This year may be different.

A recent poll by showed that 42% of Iowans surveyed support calling the convention and 36% oppose it.  This is without any major groups (until very recently) publicly supporting a convention.  This year had a palpable sense of public outrage at elected officials from both parties; if ever Iowa voters would call a convention to pass needed reform, this could be the year.

If a state constitutional convention were approved by voters here's basically how it would go:  The General Assembly would be responsible for determining how delegates would be elected.  The folks at (who have studied this more than I have) believe that "the General Assembly will likely simply utilize the existing state senate districts as delegate districts as they did for the 1857 constitutional convention in order to avoid any legal challenges."  The convention would then craft amendments to the state constitution and each one would have to be voted on by the people of Iowa before being implemented. addresses some of the most common concerns about the process here.

So, why is all this needed?   There are big, burning, philosophical political issues facing Iowa (and the nation) today and our timid state politicians seem unable or unwilling to address them.  At a time when other state governments were beginning to exert their own sovereignty, challenge federal usurpation and address other important issues, our state legislature was creating a mandate that employers provide special areas for women to express breast milk and creating a new licensing regime for dog breeders.  Were these really the most pressing issues facing the state?

Earlier in the year my state senator's email newsletter said that he was proudly supporting a bill to restrict "payday lenders" and thereby help the poor.  I wrote him an email detailing how the bill was actually injurious to the working poor and asked him to reconsider his support for the bill.  He wrote me back saying that we'd have to "wait and see how much traction" the issue got.  My, what a principled stance on an issue!  I point that out not because I hope a constitutional convention would address that particular issue, but to illustrate the wishy-washy unprincipled nature of our average politicians.

No, if the people of Iowa want principle, if they want substance, if they want "big ideas," then they will have to do it themselves.  They have to convene a constitutional convention and circumvent the usual legislative process.  Since the convention would be a one shot deal a person could hardly make a career out of being a delegate, so it will hopefully attract a different sort than the run-of-the-mill politician.

Of the "big ideas" that would be facing the convention delegates, gay marriage would be the elephant in the room.  This is the issue that made the Iowa Catholic Conference become the first major group (that I know of) to support calling a convention.  They hope to have an amendment defining marriage as being between one man and one woman to be put to a vote by the people of Iowa.  Regardless of your stance on that issue, there are many other important issues that could also be addressed.

In a guest column in at former Sioux City councilman Brent Hoffman lists five worthy potential amendments:
1. Open government (aka “Sunshine”). Current laws only mandate transparency (e.g. open meetings) at the local level. When a past bill was offered to “unexempt” the Governor and Legislature, State Representative Bill Schickel noted “it was so troubling to legislative leaders that they killed the entire bill.”

2. Recall elected officials. If your State Senator or City Councilman is corrupt or incompetent, you should be able to remove them via a “recall vote.” But the Iowa Constitution doesn’t contain that provision. According to Joshua Spivak at least “26 states authorize the recall in some form.”

3. The ballot initiative. First introduced in South Dakota in 1898, the “initiatve” or “ballot measure” empowers citizens to gather petitions and vote on an issue. Twenty-three states have since joined South Dakota in this “more direct form of democracy,” but Iowa isn’t one of them.

4. Term limits. There are at least “15 states that currently have term limits for legislators” (NCSL). Two of these 15 states are our neighbors: Nebraska and South Dakota. Whether you love or hate term limits, it’s a safe bet this amendment won’t see the light of day without a convention.

5. Budget and tax controls. The “People’s Right to Vote” amendment has never made it out of the State Legislature. Iowans for Tax Relief says this amendment would “require voter approval for most tax and fee increases” (beyond 1 percent of revenues from the previous year). Call it a “veto power” on the legislature’s spending habits.
Hoffman's theme is enacting provisions that the legislature is unlikely to impose on itself.  Additionally Iowa is one of only six states that has no constitutional provision protecting the individual right to keep and bear arms.  That could surely be addressed at a convention.  My own personal wish list, for what it's worth, would also include some type of state sovereignty amendment and switching to biennial legislative sessions (like Texas).

Granted, devotees of big government will be elected as delegates as well and will push for amendments expanding government power and probably some really bad ideas.  This is where a little faith in our fellow citizens comes in.  Remember, the proposed amendments must then be voted on by Iowa voters before they are accepted.  As Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, said recently, "Obviously, there are a lot of other things that could take place at a convention, and we’re just going to rely on the people of Iowa to vote yes on the good things and no on the bad things." 

Faith in the wisdom of the common man, now that's something you won't hear coming from the entrenched power brokers in either major party.  That's because, as Brent Hoffman points out, "if anyone should be fearful of a state Constitutional Convention, it is surely not the voters. It is the politicians."

Let's vote "YES" on the state Constitutional Convention so that we can then vote on the issues that the heels in Des Moines won't address.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Braley Bytes

Here is another installment of my new series of articles dealing with Iowa's so-called "representative" of the First District in the U.S. House, Bruce Braley.  I've changed the title of the feature from "Braley Bites" to the less provocative sounding "Braley Bytes" because I'm still trying to get Braley to hand me a juicy federal grant so I can finally quit working for my money like a sucker.

Braley Continues Assault On Constitution & Our Children

James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution" wrote: "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce[.] The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State." [Emphasis added.]

When Bruce Braley and his cohorts in Congress read words like those from the framers of the Constitution their brains must translate it into those squawking trombone sounds of the adult characters in the "Peanuts" cartoons.  From Braley's vote for Obamacare to his signature piece of legislation, the "Debt for Clunkers" program, just about everything that Braley has done since he was elected has been an affront to constitutionally defined federalism as spelled out in the enumerated powers and the 10th Amendment.  With his yes vote on the painstakingly named "XXXXXX Act of XXXXXX" (it was rushed through so hastily, that that is it's official name!) Braley keeps his Constitution-trashing streak going.

Not satisfied with the record amount of deficit spending that they had already inflicted on future generations of Americans (i.e. our children, who must pay the bill, plus interest) congress was rushed back to DC by the Democrat leaders for a special session in order to spend even more money.  The "no-name bill" they voted on (H.R. 1586, by number) was a $26.1 billion "bailout." 

$10 billion was to go to pay the salaries of teachers, long known as stalwart supporters of the Democrat Party.  (Since Braley voted to give them the money, I guess that the $7,500 that the American Federation of Teachers gave Braley this election cycle was a good investment.)  Another $16.1 billion went to the extension of Federal Medicaid matching rates.  Education and healthcare are duties that the Tenth Amendment reserves to the states and to the people and are definitely not any of those "few and defined" "external objects" that Madison referred to.  But I guess Braley knows what the Constitution means better than one of the guys who wrote it.

Lange Moving Into Striking Distance?

Although unseating an entrenched incumbent like Braley is a difficult task, in fighter-pilot terminology, Braley better "watch his six."  A new poll shows that upstart Republican challenger Ben Lange may be closing in on the big-spending politico.  The poll, commissioned by the American Future Fund, shows Lange trailing "Clunkers" Braley by only 4.4 points among those who identified themselves as "certain to vote."  While the poll did show Lange still trailing by 11 points among the entire sample in the Democrat-leaning district, it also showed that only 39% of those in the district thought Braley "deserved re-election." Apparently not listed as an option in the survey was Libertarian candidate Rob Petsche, so it's unsure how he'll affect the election.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sept. 11 Rally: Marion Iowa

The gang over at Republic Now Iowa will be hosting an "anti-war, pro-libertarian" rally at noon on September 11 in  Marion Square park in the center of Marion Iowa (right across from the Democratic Headquarters).

According to Group Coordinator Brandon E.: "We are hosting our first Republic Now rally with invitations going to multiple personalities throughout the state of Iowa. Don't miss out at what is going to happen at Marion Square Park on September the Eleventh.

"On September the Eleventh in Marion Square Park, Marion, Republic Now will be staging a political rally hot on the heels of an expansive flyering campaign in both Marion and Cedar Rapids.

"In a time of so much hatred and an increasing police state with cameras on street corners and intolerance everywhere you happen to be, a statement must be made that will show peace to a community. And this is how America will return, one community at a time.

"We will show up and gather, share our opinions, welcome each other as brothers and sisters in liberty.

"There will be a public reading of the Declaration of Independence and excerpts from United States Constitution. We will not resist or instigate any form of disorderly conduct or violence as we are a peaceful organization.

"We will show the city that our rights are disappearing and that only a love and respect for people of all ethnicity, beliefs, skin color, spiritual, and political persuasion will bring America back.

"We will also be addressing where our loss of Liberties may be taking our nation in the future[.]"

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Be Prepared. Be Armed.

[A note from Ben: I've posted this same post every September since I've started this blog. Since much of it is still relevant, I decided to post it again this September. I hope you'll indulge me yet again.]

After a year replete with blizzards, tornadoes, and epic floods, we Iowans now realize that disasters don’t just happen to those people on the coasts that we see on TV with their fancy earthquakes and hurricanes. So Iowans should sit up and take notice that September is “National Preparedness Month.”

The U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security’s (DHS) “Ready Campaign” recommends three things to prepare for disaster: 1.Get a Kit, 2.Make a Plan, 3.Be Informed. The "Be Ready Iowa!" website has a pretty similar list you can check out too.

Since you can read the details at the National Preparedness Month website, I won’t rehash what each of these entails. But I will spend some time on one vital survival tool that usually doesn’t make the government’s list: a modern firearm.

I won’t try to sell you on owning a gun if you don’t want one. I fully support your right to NOT own a gun. However, I’m convinced now more than ever that a firearm is an important part of an American’s readiness kit.

During Hurricane Katrina we saw massive destruction that stripped all credibility from the modern argument that you can just call 9-1-1 in an emergency. When the phones don’t work and the police themselves are looting, who do you call and how?

During the 1992 Los Angeles riots the California National Guard arrived on the scene without any ammunition and missing their riot gear. When the local cops and state militia can’t impose order, who do you call? Local Korean shopkeepers were more prepared and defended their businesses with semi-automatic rifles until the Marines showed up to quell the riots.

Even in less extreme circumstances, Americans use firearms in self-defense over 1 million times each year. (Some research puts that number at 2.5 million times per year.) Usually the defender doesn’t even have to fire a shot before the attacker runs off to look for easier prey. A gun is a useful defensive tool.

I’ve been a lifelong shooter, but I don’t consider myself an expert. I’m someone who wants a functional weapon for protection and recreation, but who doesn’t have the time or money to make a religion out of it. I write the following pointers for people who are considering buying a defensive arm. It should not be considered technical nor legal advice, nor anything else that will get me sued. If at all possible, take a gun safety class and certainly check to make sure you are complying with all state, local and federal laws and regulations. Chat with shooters in your area.

Guns that shoot .22 rimfire ammo are good for target practice and small game but are generally too underpowered for defensive purposes. Get the largest caliber that you can comfortably handle. Stick with common calibers so that ammunition will be relatively plentiful and cheap. If you live in close quarters with others, consider buying frangible ammo by MagSafe or Glaser. It breaks apart on impact rather than punching through the wall into your kids room or the neighbor’s sitting room. (Definitely not the way to get invited to the next apartment block-party.) Frangible ammo is costly so practice with cheap “ball” ammo and save the frangible stuff for defense.

The kind of gun you choose will depend on what you're trying to defend.

Level One-Defending Yourself: Being lightweight and concealable, the handgun is the ideal weapon for defending your person. Here in Iowa you’ll need a special permit to buy one and another special permit if you intend to carry your pistol in public. Both are available from your county sheriff.

Semi-automatic pistols are the most popular, but are generally more complicated than revolvers. Glock (brand) pistols have a reputation of ease of use and reliability, but they are costly. The .45 caliber M1911 has proven reliable enough to still be popular almost 100 years after it was invented. (This is what I carry.)  Avoid the very cheap “no-name” autos; you get what you pay for. Common calibers for auto pistols are: .380 ACP, 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP.

Revolvers are rugged and reliable. There’s darned little that can go wrong with them. The down-side: They usually only hold six shots. Stick with "double-action," as opposed to "single-action" revolvers. Common calibers are: .38 Special, .357 Magnum (revolvers chambered for .357 Magnum can also shoot .38 Special Ammo, but not vice versa), .44 Magnum and .45 Colt.

Level Two- Defending Your Home: Your pistol will make a fine home defense weapon, but since size and concealability won’t matter on your own property, you might want more gun. A shotgun or small-caliber carbine rifle would make a good home defense weapon. No special permit is required to buy long guns in Iowa, but the retailer will run a criminal background check on you at the point of purchase.

Shotguns fire a number of small metal balls rather than a single bullet. Contrary to popular belief, you still have to aim. “00 Buckshot” is the most powerful ammo but in close-quarters you may want 6 or 7-½ birdshot to avoid over-penetration. A pump-action shotgun should be reliable enough. Common calibers are: .410, 20-guage, and 12-guage.

There are numerous pistol-caliber carbines out there that work well if you need just a little extra “reach,” such as on a farm. (If you're on a budget, Hi-Point Firearms makes a very affordable pistol-caliber carbine.) The old M1 Carbine is also readily available. Again, consider frangible ammo if you have neighbors very close. Common calibers are the same as for handguns and .30 carbine ammo for the M1 Carbine.

Level Three- Defending Freedom: If you live in open country or for the real doomsday (and less likely) scenarios involving extended anarchy, invading armies or the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, you’ll need a rifle. You might want one anyway, because they’re fun to shoot. If you don’t already have a bolt-action or lever-action that you’re comfortable with, get a reliable semi-automatic.

A .223 caliber rifle should be your bare-minimum for defense. Common semi-automatic weapons in this caliber include the AR-15 (by many names, from many manufacturers including one made in Iowa), Ruger Mini-14, and the Kel-Tec SU-16 to name just a few. There are also many semi-autos chambered for the 7.62 X 39mm Russian round. These include the AK-47, SKS, and Ruger Mini-30.

If you can handle the extra kick, the .308 Winchester round gives better range and take-down power than the two previous calibers. The most common semi-autos in this caliber are the Springfield M1A, AR-10 clones from several manufacturers, FAL clones, H&K 91 and the Israeli Galil (also available in .223).

You may want to configure your rifle as a “scout rifle.” With a small, low-powered telescopic sight mounted far ahead on the weapon, it becomes much easier to quickly acquire and engage targets at normal combat distances. [Shameless plug: To inexpensively configure your weapon read the newly revised and updated “Poor Man’s Scout Rifle” by my brother Bob Cashner, who, unlike me, is an expert.]

Besides the three mentioned above, two other common rifle calibers are the .30-30, which is common in lever-action rifles, and the .30-06, which is fired through the semi-auto M1 Garand rifle as well as many bolt-actions.

There you have it, firearms for any scenario. If you get one, learn to shoot, maintain and store it safely. (For gun safety classes try here or here.) Remember that your gun will do you no good if you don’t have any ammo or if its rusted shut. Whatever weapon you can afford is better than no weapon at all.

In honor of National Preparedness Month: Be prepared. Be armed.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Memory Walk

Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative disease that destroys brain cells, causing memory loss and problems with thought and behavior.  It gets progressively worse over time and is always fatal.  There is no cure.  According to the Alzheimer's Association, a leading nonprofit dedicated to Alzheimer's care, support and research, Alzheimer's disease is currently the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States.  Some 5.3 million Americans are currently living with the disease, including my mom.

I'm determined to do something to help.  Once again this year I'll be participating in the Alzheimer's Association's Memory Walk, in Cedar Rapids on Saturday September 18th, to raise funds in the battle against the disease.  I hope that you will consider giving a donation.  No amount is too small; every little bit helps.  Last year, Team Cashner was able to raise over $500 for the Alzheimer's Association.  With your help, I know we can do even better this year.


The opinions expressed on this site are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any group or organization.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Dam Dilemma

Delhi Dam during July flood (Iowa State Patrol photo)
In my last post I mentioned the Delhi Dam which ruptured during recent flooding.  Whether or not to rebuild it (and how) has become somewhat of hot button issue here in Iowa.  The dam is owned and maintained by the Lake Delhi Recreation Association.  Homeowners on the lake paid dues to the association.   Since the dam was a privately owned structure, should taxpayer funds be used to rebuild it? 

Some citizens and politicians, like Governor Culver and U.S. Representative Bruce Braley, say yes.  On the day after the dam failed, Governor Culver assured, "We're going to throw everything we have at it, in terms of federal and state resources."  Others disagree.  Ed Failor Jr. of Iowans For Tax Relief said, "It isn't the obligation of taxpayers to alleviate risk from our society.  By having private ownership of that dam, they assumed risk."  I'm inclined to agree with the second camp. 

That's not to say that I don't think that Lake Delhi should be rebuilt.  I love Lake Delhi.  For all the talk of this being a "private" lake, it was very much a public asset.  I didn't own a cabin on the lake, yet I spent many hours fishing and pleasure boating with friends there in my youth. I frolicked at Freddy's Beach.   I dined at the Pizza Place and Camp-O.  I camped along its shores at Turtle Creek County Park.  I hope to do so again someday with my kids.  I just hope that the dam will be rebuilt in a responsible manner.  (My friend strandediniowa over at Between Two Rivers blog stole some of my thunder on this, but I'll soldier on.  His post, too, is worth a read.)

There are plans for a new dam to produce hydroelectricity.  It should be possible to find investors (a power company perhaps) to help finance such a project.  Granted it would take longer to scrape the money together and the Lake Association would have to be more creative than if "rich" Uncle Culver or Braley just whip out the taxpayer's money, but in the long run it would be better for everyone.

The lake is important to Delaware County.  So, if local voters decided to throw their own local tax money at this with a bond issue or something (if that's even possible) I think that might not be too bad.  At least it would localize the cost to those who most benefit from it.  If the state DNR lent some expertise to the project, I probably wouldn't lose much sleep.  Even if the state and local government do get involved somehow, the project definitely doesn't require Bruce Braley's sack of borrowed Chinese blood money. 

Braley said, "My job is to help identify and secure all potential federal resources to assist those individuals and businesses in the 1st District who are eligible to help recover from the recent flooding."  Bull crap!  According to the oath he swore before God, his job is to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States [and] bear true faith and allegiance to the same."  The Constitution doesn't give Congress authority to rebuild a privately-owned dam on an intrastate lake.

Small-town lawyer Ben Lange, who is challenging Braley for the First District seat, seems to get this.  In a statement, the Republican Lange expressed sympathy for flood victims but explained: "Based on the facts as I now understand them, I believe the repairs will require the state and local governments, working in concert with the private sector, to fix the Delhi dam. Despite the political pressure to reach an alternative conclusion, I simply do not believe the federal government should be involved with this local issue because it is a privately-owned dam on a recreational lake."

Lange continued, speaking of the fiscal ramifications of this and similar usurpation by Congress: "I was disappointed, but not surprised, to read Rep. Braley’s statement yesterday, in which he said that we need to spend federal money to bailout a private entity now, and 'then tough choices are going to have to be made.' I respectfully disagree with the Congressman; our nation has reached a point where tough choices need to be made now. Rep. Braley’s 'spend first, think later' approach to this issue is exactly what is wrong with Congress as a whole, and the kind of thinking that has gotten this country into the fiscal mess we are in today." 

I couldn't have said it better myself.  Props to Lange for taking the constitutional high road rather than the pandering political easy road on this issue.

Let's rebuild Lake Delhi.  But let's do it right; let's do it local.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hell and High Water

My stomping grounds along Iowa's Maquoketa River got more national attention than we would have liked this past weekend when massive flooding caused a dam failure.  (I'm sure most of you heard, unless you've been in a cave in Tora Bora.)

Upstream from the dam, record flood levels deluged the town of Manchester early Saturday afternoon.  This high water quickly overwhelmed the Delhi Dam south of Manchester and washed away the earthen causeway on the side of the concrete dam.  Hundreds of homes in the unincorporated community of Lake Delhi were damaged or destroyed.

The floodwaters from the ruptured dam rushed downstream toward the towns of Hopkinton and Monticello.  In my town of Monticello the call went out for help filling sandbags.  As soon as I was able to hand the kids off to my wife (who had been in Dubuque), I went down to the city shop and spent a couple hours helping fill sandbags.

The flood put a damper (pardon the pun) on the Great Jones County Fair, which was going on and caused millions of dollars in damages in Monticello. Despite all this, it could have been worse. Thank God no one was killed.

Although this is an extremely localized disaster, it has caused a lot of hardship for several small Iowa communities. I haven't seen any flood-specific relief funds yet, but if anyone desires to help you can can make an online donation to the Grant Wood Area Chapter of the Red Cross (serving the affected counties of Jones and Delaware) here.

Of course I can't go a whole post without pontificating about politics and good governance.  While I was down there filling sandbags I witnessed the various layers of government in action.  Lest I be accused of being an anarchist, I do see the use of some government and various levels for certain jobs.

I could certainly understand what many of the elected officials were trying to do.  The town mayor and a few city officials were coordinating the local efforts, including the sandbagging.  The county sheriff was there coordinating his deputies who were directing traffic from the increasing number of news vans and gawkers and performing countless other important tasks.

Even Governor Culver was on hand to check out the situation.  He ended up calling out the National Guard (although to where and to do what I'm not sure, my boy was disappointed that he never did see any "army trucks").  Although there probably wasn't much that the governor could do right away, in his role as chief executive of the state it was indeed appropriate for him to see if the state resources at his disposal could lend a hand.

The elected officials who really didn't need to be there were the state and federal legislators who showed up to "see first-hand" what was going on and "speed" recovery aid to the area.  I didn't even realize they were there until I was walking out to my car to leave, because they sure weren't out where we were filling sandbags. You could almost see them salivating at all the reporters and news vans around.

They were there for what they're always doing: getting their pictures taken and promising to dole out other peoples money, i.e. campaigning.  The legislature's job is to make laws, not personally deliver the goods.  They should appropriate emergency funds that the executive branch can quickly dispatch to disasters when needed.  Term limits would help ensure legislators from both parties think about what there job actually is, rather than how to keep it. 

As for the promise of federal help: as a constitutional purist who lives safe and dry up on a hill, I won't claim to speak for anyone else in my county, but I don't see that any of this is the federal government's damned business.  As I've written before, the argument that the Constitution's "general welfare clause" authorizes a power not specifically enumerated in the Constitution (like disaster relief) doesn't hold water. 

Besides, if the federal government didn't syphon so much money out of the states it wouldn't have to "benevolently" shovel borrowed money back into them during emergencies.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Welcome Representative Braley!

In the day and a half after I posted "Braley Bites" I had five views of my blog from Washington DC, including two from (U.S.  House of Representatives) domain names.  A similar phenomenon occurred when I posted "Bruce Braley Buffoonery" and "An Open Letter To Rep Bruce Braley."  I'm beginning to think I've got fans in high places.

Let me follow a hunch and extend a hearty welcome to Representative Braley or (more likely) a couple of his staffers.  I'm glad to have you here!  Anyone with an open mind is welcome.

Let me start off by saying I have nothing against Braley personally.  He may very well be a nice person in private.  I don't know; I've never met him.  It's his public policies that I don't like.  Unfortunately, the progressive policies that he promotes affect me quite intimately: taking the bread from my mouth through taxation, subverting the Constitution I swore to defend, and wrapping the noose of interminable debt around the necks of my children.  It's hard for me not to take umbrage at all that I'm afraid.

But I hope that you find the blog enjoyable and enlightening.  So long as you're here though I would ask that you please patronize my advertisers, to generate revenue for my site.  You see, unlike you, I don't have swarms of armed thugs to take other people's money for me and I can't borrow money from the Chinese in my children's name.

Or maybe I could forgo all that ad revenue stuff and you guys could just hook me up with a big, fat federal grant.  Watch how fast I change my tune from "Braley Bites" to "Braley's Brilliant" then!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Braley Bites

I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce what will be a recurring feature on this blog titled "Braley Bites."  Each installment will deal with Bruce Braley, Iowa's so-called "representative" of the First District in the U.S. House.  The "bites" comes from each one being a small, "bite-sized" news snippet, but since I'm no big fan of Braley, you can take it a couple of different ways.  Here's the first installment:

Lange Outraises Braley In Second Quarter

According to financial disclosures released this month, challenger Ben Lange raised more money in the second quarter than the incumbent Braley.  Lange, a small-town lawyer from Independence, raised $108,587 while Braley only raised $106,678.

While those numbers are similar, where the money came from are polar opposites.  85% of Lange's donations came from constituents here inside Iowa's 1st District.  Compare that to Braley, who had 88% of his contributions come from out-of-state. Incredibly only six actual constituents donated to Braley this past quarter, according to the disclosures.  Braley relied heavily on political special interests for donations, whereas 96% of Lange's support came from individual contributors.

While Iowans are already voting for Lange over Braley with their wallets, that doesn't mean Lange can breathe easy.  Braley has $632,385 in his war chest, while Lange only has $110,296.  Braley helps wield the resources of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and will use them to fund his own campaign.  And since Braley is one of the most consistently liberal votes in Congress, unions and other liberal special interests from across the country will be dumping truckloads of money into the race to ensure Braley's victory.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Constitution 101

What do small-town Iowans do on a hot July night?  If you said skinny dipping or cow tipping you'd be wrong (and you need to go back to your production company in L.A.).  For about 80 people in Jones County last Thursday the answer was "attend a lecture on the U.S. Constitution."

Hosted by the Jones County 9.12 Project, Lee J. Strang, Professor of Law gave a presentation he called "Constitution 101."  The event was free and open to the public.  Professor Strang currently teaches at The University of Toledo (Ohio) College of Law but is originally from Northeast Iowa and is a graduate of the University of Iowa.

The presentation consisted of one hour of lecture followed by one hour of questions and answers.  The lecture was a brief history of the Constitution.  Strang started with the Constitution's lineage to the ancient Greek, Roman, and Judeo-Christian traditions as well as English institutions and common law.  He then moved on to the more immediate precursors to the Constitution, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Second Continental Congress, and the Articles of Confederation.

Professor Strang ran through some of the unique aspects of the U.S. Constitution.  One unique aspect that we might not think about, for instance, is its "writtenness."  Our Constitution, unlike the English one, is actually written down, making it harder to change on a whim.  It defines a limited government of enumerated powers.  It has separation of powers within the federal government, checks and balances, and it divides powers with federalism.

The lecture was informative and Strang was an excellent speaker.  The audience was engaged and the question and answer period ran well over the one hour allotted.  (It was still going when I left, but I wanted to get home to tuck my boys in.)  Event organizers were pleased with the turnout.

Kudos to Professor Strang for donating his time and talents to help educate the general public about the Constitution.  Thanks also to Jenn and Freddie Jones and the other members of the Jones County 9.12 Project who worked hard to put this event together.

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