By Guy Bentley – Utah vapers could be hit with an 86.5 percent tax on e-cigarettes if a bill proposed Friday passes the state legislature.
State Rep. Paul Ray introduced the bill HB333, which would tax e-cigarettes at the same rate as other non-cigarette tobacco products, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
E-cigarettes “are not taxed now because they are relatively new and they have never been put into the tax code, or into any code, as a tobacco product,” said Ray. “It has nicotine in it, so it is a tobacco product.” E-cigarettes themselves do not contain any tobacco.
Ray claimed that e-cigarette producers are targeting children with certain fruit flavorings and said 10,000 high school students had signed a petition in favor of the bill. Health officials attacked the rising level of advertising from the e-cigarette industry.
Ray’s bill would use extra revenue from the tax to improve health care in rural areas. Lawmakers also are considering using such a tax to help fund expanding Medicaid to people uncovered in Utah, mostly targeting poor, rural areas, Ray said.
E-Cigarette advocates told The Salt Lake City Tribune the tax was not only disproportionate but also dangerous. Shilo Platts, with the Utah chapter of the Smoke-Free Trade Alternatives Association, said “seeking a punitive tax on vapor products is the wrong approach. It’s time Utah embraced harm-reduction, instead of a regressive tax that pushes vapers back to combustible tobacco or one that creates a black market.”
But the e-cigarette industry aren’t the only ones fighting against the new taxes. Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) are a staunch critic of anti-vaping movement and has launched a new website Stope Vape Taxes.
On Monday, Republican Governor Gary Herbert made Utah the only state to allow exception by firing squad, when he signed a bill that made it legal, if lethal injection is not available.
The bill states that it “modifies the Utah Code of Criminal Procedure regarding the execution of the death penalty,” by providing that if “substances are not available to carry out the death penalty by lethal injection on the date specified by warrant,” the death penalty “shall be carried out by firing squad.”
Reuters reported that this decision comes during a shortage of the drugs used for lethal injections, after several pharmaceutical companies, primarily in Europe, “imposed sales bans about four years ago because they objected to having medications made for other purposes being used in executions.”
State Representative Paul Ray (R), a sponsor of the bill, told the Associated Press that when being executed by firing squad, a prisoner is seated in a chair with a target pinned over his/her heart. He said that the inmate is then shot by five anonymous shooters (chosen from a pool of volunteers, with priority given to the ones from the area in which the crime happened), firing .30-caliber Winchester rifles through slots in a wall that is 25 feet away.
Marty Carpenter, a spokesman for Herbert, released a statement saying that while lethal injection is the preferred method, the state of Utah feels obligated to execute individuals by the date listed on their death warrant.
“We regret anyone ever commits the heinous crime of aggravated murder to merit the death penalty and we prefer to use our primary method of lethal injection when such a sentence is issued,” Carpenter said. “However, when a jury makes the decision and a judge signs a death warrant, enforcing that lawful decision is the obligation of the executive branch.”
Carpenter also claimed that those who voiced opposition to the bill were “primarily arguing against capital punishment in general.”
State Representative Stephen Handy (R), who is in opposition to the bill, told Reuters that the thought of a firing squad “sends a horrible message from the state of Utah.”
The Washington Post reported that Utah, which currently has no lethal injection drugs, has eight inmates on its death row, and three have selected death by firing squad as their method of execution.
While more people are showing support for same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court made the decision Monday to not get involved with any appeals court decisions over same-sex marriage and allow these courts to decide how their states should move forward.
As a result of their refusal to get involved, five additional states have been added to the list of 19 others who allow same-sex marriage. These five new states are Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin, according to Reuters. The appeals courts who rule over these states have already ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in the past.
Six other states, who fall under the jurisdiction of those appeals courts, may also be affected by this decision and they may see same-sex marriage soon. These six are Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
“The court’s letting stand these victories means that gay couples will soon share in the freedom to marry in 30 states,” said president of the Freedom to Marry organization, Evan Wolfson, according to USA Today. “But we are one country, with one Constitution, and the court’s delay in affirming the freedom to marry nationwide prolongs the patchwork of state-to-state discrimination and the harms and indignity that the denial of marriage still inflicts on too many couples in too many places.”
Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said, according to the BBC, “Today is a joyous day for thousands of couples across America who will immediately feel the impact of today’s Supreme Court action.”
This is not the first time the Supreme Court has made a decision which has suggested support for same-sex marriage. Last year, the Supreme Court invalidated parts of a law which denied legally married same-sex partners spousal benefits.
All of the small victories for those in support of same-sex marriage make many believe the Supreme Court will soon make a decision which will tackle the issue nationwide.
SALT LAKE CITY, February 12, 2014–Can Utah shut down the new NSA data center by turning off the water? A new bill introduced by state Rep. Marc Roberts seeks to do just that.
The legislation drafted by a transpartisan coalition organized by the Tenth Amendment Center (TAC) and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC) called OffNow Coalition. The Utah Fourth Amendment Protection Act would expressly prohibit state material support, participation, and assistance to any federal agency that collects electronic date or metadata without a search warrant “that particularly desribes the person, place and thing to be searched or seized.”
“Without question, the mass surveillance and data collection by the Utah Data Center is a delicate and important matter,” Roberts said. “But for me, the language of the Fourth Amendment is clear. It simply protects us against unreasonable and unwarranted searches or seizures of our persons, private residencies and property, documents and information and personal and private belongings. This legislation preserves those rights to the people.”
This puts contracts that provide the 1.7 million gallons of water a day necessary to cool the NSA computers at its Bluffdale facility in the crosshairs.
Bluffdale, a political subdivision of Utah, provided the NSA with a sweetheart water deal. The bill would begin the process of ending that deal, potentially crippling the NSA’s ability to keep the facility functional.
“No water equals no NSA data center,” TAC executive director Michael Boldin said.
He called the potential impact of this legislation significant, especially compared to what Congress has done to deal with the agency.
“In 1975, Sen. Frank Church warned that the power of the NSA could enable ‘total tyranny.’ He recommended that Congress should limit the agency’s power. Almost four decades later, we’re still waiting. Congress is not going to stop the NSA. The people and their states have to,” Boldin said. “Turn it off.”
BORDC executive director Shahid Buttar echoed Boldin’s enthusiasm for state action.
“At stake is nothing less than our nation’s triumph in the Cold War. The NSA’s decade of warrantless surveillance en masse assaults not only the rights of hundreds of millions of law-abiding Americans, and our democracy as a whole, but resembles Soviet-style spying — on meth, empowered and amplified by the past generation’s remarkable advances in computing technology,” he said. “Utah residents have a chance to take matters into their own hands, defending democracy by shutting off state resources consumed by the Bluffdale data center in its assault on We the People, our fundamental rights, and the Constitution that enshrined them.”
Notable anti-establishment figures such as Naomi Wolf and Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg advise the BORDC.
“The NSA was welcomed by politicians in Utah with a promise that their activities would be “conducted according to constitutional law”. As we all know, that promise has been violated—institutionally, repeatedly, and aggressively,” said Utah Libertas Institute President Conor Boyack. “If Congress and the Courts are unable or unwilling to rein in this beast and put a stop to the rising surveillance state, then it’s up to the states to stake their ground and resist such broad violations of the Constitution. This new bill, along with others like it in over a dozen states, would accomplish that very thing.”
As Boyack points out, Utah doesn’t stand alone. Earlier this week, a group of Maryland legislators introduced a similar bill, targeting water and other resources to NSA headquarters. Lawmakers in more than 10 other states, including California, Vermont and Alaska, have also introduced the legislation. A bill in Tennessee addresses material support and resources to the NSA’s encryption-breaking facility at Oak Ridge.
Boldin said other states need to join the push, even those without NSA facilities. He called it essential.
“If enough states do this in the coming years, the NSA won’t have a place in the country where their spy centers are welcome,” he said.
Other provisions of the Fourth Amendment Protection Act would also have an impact. The bill would make data collected by the NSA and shared with state and local law enforcement in Utah inadmissible in court, unless a specific warrant is issued.
TAC national communications director Mike Maharrey said that this provision might prove as important as cutting off the water, because it erases a practical effect of NSA spying.
“We know the NSA shares data with state and local law enforcement. We know from a Reuters report that most of this shared data has absolutely nothing to do with national security issues,” he said. “This data sharing shoves a dagger into the heart of the Fourth Amendment. This bill would stop that from happening immediately.”
The legislation rests on a well-established legal principle known as the anti-commandeering doctrine. Simply put, the federal government cannot “commandeer” or coerce states into implementing or enforcing federal acts or regulations – constitutional or not. The anti-commandeering doctrine rests primarily on four Supreme Court cases dating back to 1842. The 1997 case, Printz v. US, serves as the modern cornerstone. The majority opinion deemed commandeering “incompatible with our constitutional system.”
“The Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States’ officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program. It matters not whether policy making is involved, and no case by case weighing of the burdens or benefits is necessary; such commands are fundamentally incompatible with our constitutional system of dual sovereignty.”
Boldin emphasized this is just the beginning.
“It took the people of Illinois ten years to legalize marijuana for medical use,” he said. “This isn’t going to be easy, and we’re not stopping until we win. The NSA has a choice; follow the constitution or get the hell out.”
Sen. Kelli Ward announced Monday that she plans to introduce the Fourth Amendment Protection Act to stop her state from supporting the NSA in its unconstitutional spying.
“While media attention is focused on a possible effort to shut off water to the NSA data center in Utah, I’m introducing the Arizona Fourth Amendment Protection Act to back our neighbors up,” she said. “Just in case the NSA gets any ideas about moving south, I want them to know the NSA isn’t welcome in Arizona unless it follows the Constitution.”
Based on model legislation drafted by the OffNow coalition, the Arizona Fourth Amendment Protection Act blocks state support for the NSA through four provisions.
Prohibits state and local agencies from providing any material support to the NSA within their jurisdiction. Includes barring government-owned utilities from providing water and electricity.
Makes information gathered without a warrant by the NSA and shared with law enforcement inadmissible in state court.
Provides sanctions against corporations attempting to fill needs not met in the absence of state cooperation.
Ward called stopping unconstitutional snooping a national security issue.
“I believe the number one priority for national security is defending and protecting the Constitution. Without that, the rest becomes irrelevant. There is no question that the NSA program, as it is now being run, violates the Fourth Amendment. This is a way to stop it.”
Arizona becomes the first state to officially consider the Fourth Amendment Protection Act. Tenth Amendment Center communications director Mike Maharrey says he expects at least four other states to take up the bill early in the 2014 session.
While the NSA does not currently operate a data or “threat operations” center in Arizona, Maharrey said states around the country need to pass similar legislation to make NSA expansion more difficult.
“We know the NSA is aggressively expanding its physical locations, not just in Utah, but in Texas, Hawaii and other states too,” he said. “Since the NSA isn’t transparent about its plans, it’s essential to not only address where it is today, but work to get the rest of the country to say, ‘You’re not welcome here either!’”
Two Arizona state universities have partnerships with the NSA. The Arizona Fourth Amendment Protection Act would address the status of Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, Tucson, as NSA “Centers of Academic Excellence.”
Maharrey said he was thrilled with Ward’s decision to introduce the legislation, noting the OffNow coalition strategy was always multi-state.
“Right now, all the talk is all about denying water to the NSA facility in Utah. That’s important, but we hope every state will stand up and say, ‘No!’ to the NSA,” he said. “In Federalist 46, James Madison told us a single state resisting an unwarrantable act could create ‘serious impediments.’ But when several states work in union, he said it would ‘create obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.’ Arizona is an important piece of the obstruction puzzle.”
Common Core was passed by governors and bureaucracies with little accountability or democratic oversight, so it is only as the program nears implementation that its many problems have drawn attention. Now, more and more people are speaking out against the program. Students, teachers and parents across the country are voicing their concerns about the program’s lowered standards, potential politicization, and unconstitutionality.
Last week, one of the more noteworthy voices of opposition came from a Knox County student named Ethan Young, who spoke at a local School Board meeting. In just over five minutes, Young discussed problems with the creation of the Core, its educational standards, and the harmful constraints the program would place on teachers.
“Somewhere our Founding Fathers are turning in their graves — pleading, screaming and trying to say to us that we teach to free minds. We teach to inspire. We teach to equip, the careers will come naturally” said Young.
Though at first glance it would seem the initiative came from states, “in reality it was contrived by an insular group of educational testing executives,” a partnership of the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers and Achieve Inc, a Gates-funded non-profit. Even the two academic content specialists involved refused to approve the final standards, with one publicly stating that “the standards left students with an empty skill set,” Young explained. It was neither created democratically nor by educational specialists.
Young’s primary concern, though, came from the national testing requirements. “Much like No Child Left Behind,” he quipped, “the program promises national testing and a one size fits all education, because hey, it worked really well the first time.” The standards, designed for an industrial education model, treat both students and educators as little more than numbers. Tests don’t take into account the interaction at the heart of the teacher student relationship, damage teacher self-esteem, and force teachers to do things which are not beneficial to their students.
“As a student [it’s] like watching your teacher jump through flaming hoops to earn a score.” Even forgetting all of the ideological problems of common core, treating education as a bureaucratic endeavor rather than a personal one will never work on a practical level. It won’t engage students or teach them to love learning. “I mean, why don’t we just manufacture robots instead of students? They last longer and they always do what they’re told.”
Ethan Young’s concerns echo those expressed online and at PTA and School Board meetings across the country, from liberal strongholds like New York City to more conservative areas like Utah. Some point to Young’s concerns, and some are put off by sexually explicit texts. Others are concerned by data mining, or simply its expense. In fact a growing movement spread via social media would protest Common Core nationwide by declaring November 18 “Don’t Send Your Child to School Day.”
Common Core’s problems range from its creation to its implementation, and cover both ideological and practical issues. The program went largely unnoticed while it was being created and as states were bribed to adopt it, but with the recent wave of scrutiny a number of states have already dropped or attempted to drop the program.
In a bold move, one think tank is going above the rhetoric and mobilizing a nation to fight back against the NSA. The power of many is derived from the power of one, and Michael Boldin, Executive Director of the Tenth Amendment Center, is one titan the government has pushed too far.
The plan? It’s crazy, and risky. So was the iPhone. Attack the Achilles heel of the NSA. Water.
Shane Trejo, Tenth Amendment Center national campaign director of the #NullifyNSA campaign, provided us with this exclusive interview:
The systemic problem of corruption within the federal government seems like an unstoppable juggernaut. It doesn’t matter which major party is in power, things just keep getting worse.
I think this has been pretty damaging beyond the government policies. Many people seem to have been inflicted with scandal fatigue because of the endless litany of attacks on our rights.
Meanwhile, the Fed keeps inflating, the debt continues to go up, and accountability is nowhere to be seen.
Worse, I get the impression that the politicians and bureaucrats responsible for our current state of affairs keep getting bonuses, praise, or increases in funding.
This is best evidenced by the NSA scandal. That agency has been shown to be, by sheer volume, the greatest violator of rights on the planet. What’s been the result? Business as usual. If anything, they’re intent on escalating their program.
It’s easy to get discouraged because it doesn’t seem like anything can be done. People get angry. They call their representatives, they hold protests and the direction of the country never changes.
Reps. Justin Amash and John Conyers led a bi-partisan effort in the House of Representatives to defund the NSA’s illegal spying operation earlier this year. It was a valiant effort, but it fell short, like virtually every effort to limit federal power.
Simply put, the federal government simply cannot be counted on to regulate itself.
That does not mean reform is impossible. We just have to stop trying the same failed ideas over and over again. Sun Tzu recognized this when he wrote, “He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious.” Fighting on their turf – Washington DC, that is – is a battle that cannot be won.
On the other hand, following the advice of Founders like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and modern libertarian thinkers like Tom Woods and Andrew Napolitano, state-level resistance can be a very effective way to thwart the efforts of the NSA.
Under what is known as the ‘anti-commandeering doctrine,’ the federal government cannot force the states to carry out federal programs – or even help the feds do so.
While there are a number of Supreme Court cases backing this up, the most well-known one is the 1997 Printz case. That’s the one where Sheriffs Mack and Printz sued the Clinton administration about being required to carry out the federal gun control scheme known as the Brady Act. They won.
This is how we fight back: Putting this into play against the NSA means passing the 4th Amendment Protection Act in states around the country (model legislation here)
The Act bans the state from assisting the NSA or providing any material support.
For example, in Utah, where the new data center is coming on line, the NSA computers there require a stunning 1.7 million gallons of water per day to keep from overheating. They are already having problems with metldowns at the massive facility, and the water to cool it is being provided by the State of Utah.
Under the 4th Amendment Protection Act, Utah would be banned from doing this. No water = no NSA data center (emphasis added).
But it’s not just Utah. There are similar facilities in Texas, Washington, Colorado, Hawaii, Tennessee, Georgia, and West Virginia. There’s 166 Universities around the country that have partnered with NSA as research centers. And local law enforcement has a very symbiotic relationship with warrantless data collected by the NSA. It’s being passed down to locals through the DEA’s Special Operations Division – and back upstream through Fusion Centers.
Passage of the 4th Amendment Protection Act would attack NSA’s needs and spying capabilities at all these strategic points, and more.
We asked if it can work:
Absolutely, 20+ states are slowly, but surely, putting nails in the coffin of federal marijuana prohibition. Other states are taking the same path with industrial hemp production.
In the 1850’s, Northern States were so effective using legislation like this against the Fugitive Slave Act that South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas all complained about it as nullification when issuing statements outlining their reasons for leaving the Union.
The 4th Amendment Protection Act is just the first step of a comprehensive plan to stop the NSA’s mass-spying program. At OffNow.org, we’re building a strong coalition that crosses traditional political lines.
From the Tenth Amendment Center and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, to Antiwar.com, DownsizeDC, and Revolution Truth, we’re focusing on a single goal. Starting today, we’re setting aside differences to push back against the NSA. Working together, we can turn it off (emphasis added).
Boldin tells us in an exclusive interview:
We’re not really trying to convince people that the NSA’s mass surveillance program is wrong. There are millions of people around the world who already agree with this. We are, however, working to show people what to do about it. The solution, as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson advised, starts in the states.
The NSA relies on your state in many ways. Whether it’s information sharing with local law enforcement, partnerships with 166 universities to do research and recruiting for the NSA, or states like Utah providing the water to the NSA data center to keep it operational, passage of the state-level 4th Amendment Protection Act would turn that cooperation off.
Rosa Parks showed the world the power of saying “No”, and now perhaps it is time the world harness such power. The Tenth Amendment Center is a national think tank focused on nullifying unconstitutional laws from within the states.
Follow Michael Lotfi On Twitter: @MichaelLotfi & Don’t Forget To Tweet: #NullifyNSA
Political activist group Restore the Fourth has successfully adopted the highway near the Utah NSA data center. This offers the group a variety of opportunities, from having its name on signs surrounding the center, and to holding picket signs while cleaning the highway. In the current government-versus-people environment this move by Restore the Fourth has been successful in expressing their ire for government intrusions on privacy and its blatant disregard for the Fourth Amendment.
Over the course of the past few months, more and more tyrannical actions by the federal government have been revealed. First it was IRS targeting and data leaks. Then it was the AP phone scandal and NSA surveillance. Drones have been a consistent issue. Most recently, it’s been vindictive actions during the government shutdown.
This has raised the question of how citizens can oppose the government. Protests are a start, like the protests on Washington D.C. over the weekend. Lawsuits and political campaigns are necessary, but their outcomes are ultimately controlled by the government in many ways. The new media has been vital in spreading information, but it needs to be coupled with an effective course of action.
It is becoming necessary to oppose – in a nonviolent manner – the government’s increasingly blatant violations of American rights and freedoms, but harder than doing the actions is simply coming up an effective strategy. Restore the Fourth has put a good idea into action.
According to their Facebook page, the organization – which describes itself as a non-partisan, non-violent, nationwide advocacy and protest movement demanding an end to the unconstitutional surveillance employed by the US government – successfully applied this month to take over maintenance of the the highway around the Utah Data Center via the Adopt-a-Highway program.
At the most basic level, this will put the group’s name on signs leading to the center. Members will also be able to picket and protest while cleaning the road. On the more effective level, this gives the group 24 hour access to the highway, meaning it will be able to quickly see basic changes in what is going on there and learn some more about the organization and the people who work there.
It may not be much but it is a significant step in the right direction. Simply making work for the government more uncomfortable or unpleasant can have a major effect on the country as a whole. Ultimately, stronger and more direct forms of civil disobedience can be adopted, such as the idea of destroying drones which some towns are already contemplating.
At this point in history, citizens feel that it is necessary to oppose the government on a practical level, such as civil disobedience. Restore the Fourth’s adoption of a highway goes a step beyond a normal protest and allows 24 hour access to the already-problem-ridden Data Center. Activists feel that if similar actions became widespread, and were taken against all government impositions on the local, state and federal levels, the political landscape of the US would change dramatically.
Joshua Cook from Benswann.com spoke with Restore the Fourth’s Utah representative Lorina Potter to ask her a few questions about the grassroots organization. Listen below.