July 8th, 2014 at 5:33 pm
Keep an Eye on Mike Lee
Posted by Ashton Ellis Print

If you want to see what the future of the Republican Party might look like consider Mike Lee’s social network.

The Utah Republican has an enviable number of connections to fellow U.S. Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. Each is strategic. With Paul it’s teaming up on civil liberties issues like reining in the National Security Agency and prison reform. Few remember that it was Cruz and Lee who helped force the government shutdown to halt ObamaCare. And now Rubio is coming around to Lee’s push to make the tax code more family friendly.

As James Antle puts it in a terrific post, “You don’t have to agree with all of the aforementioned proposals to see how different the Republican Party would look if Lee’s policy entrepreneurship with Paul and Rubio gained traction: Less identified with war, wiretapping, and mandatory sentences; more identified with reforming government programs and cutting taxes for the non-rich.”

By influencing the policy platforms of three likely GOP presidential contenders in 2016, Mike Lee is also forging friendships that could make him one of the most powerful officeholders on Capitol Hill.

Keep an eye on Mike Lee. He just may be the most important Tea Party Senator not running for president.


July 8th, 2014 at 3:58 pm
What Economists Miss in the Patent Reform Debate
Posted by Timothy Lee Print

Following up on our patent reform post last week, today’s Wall Street Journal includes an interesting viewpoint via letters to the editor.  Specifically, Paul Adams of Albuquerque, New Mexico notes that while some economists short-sightedly applaud the way in which weakening patent protections and encouraging copying can lower costs in the near-term, they ignore the longer-term incentive to invest and invent that strong patent protections provide:

It may satisfy economists that allowing copying by large corporations will drive down prices for consumers since there is no other way to compete.  But that does enhance technology.  In fact, one benefit of the patent system is the pressure on competitors to invent a different and likely better solution, thereby advancing the technology.  I have on many occasions assisted competitors in ‘designing around’ a patent creating a new product or service.  There are few patents of such broad scope that there is not an alternative.”

Opponents of strong patent protections often fancy themselves clear-sighted, dispassionate, economics-based observers, but their positions are more accurately penny-wise but pound-foolish, as Mr. Adams correctly notes.


July 7th, 2014 at 8:59 am
Podcast: The “Lost” IRS Emails
Posted by CFIF Staff Print

In an interview with CFIF, Hans von Spakovsky, Manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation, discusses Lois Lerner’s “lost” e-mails, how the Justice Department is not taking the IRS investigation seriously and other recent IRS scandals.

Listen to the interview here.


July 4th, 2014 at 4:58 pm
The Declaration as an Art of Liberty
Posted by Ashton Ellis Print

If after reading yesterday’s post you’re looking for some refresher material on the Declaration of Independence (and other Founding documents), I encourage you to visit Arts of Liberty. (Full disclosure: Jeff Lehman, the founder and director of the project, is a friend of mine.)

There you’ll find a short study guide asking all the right questions. Chief among them this Independence Day:

What is the central message of the Declaration of Independence? Does it aim more at political innovation or restoration? To whom is it addressed, and what is the significance of the intended audience?

Read and grow wise.


July 3rd, 2014 at 7:14 pm
Does the Declaration Empower Govt as Much as Secure Rights?
Posted by Ashton Ellis Print

An allegedly misplaced period is causing at least one liberal academic to argue that the Declaration of Independence is as concerned with empowering government as it is with securing individual rights.

The argument runs like this. On the official transcript of the Declaration housed in the National Archives a period appears after the familiar phrase, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” However, the period doesn’t appear on the earliest version of the document we have, nor does it occur on other reproductions.

Removing the period changes the fundamental balance of government, argues Danielle Allen.

“That errant spot of ink,” summarizes the New York Times, “she believes, makes a difference, contributing to what she calls a ‘routine but serious misunderstanding’ of the document.

“The period creates the impression that the list of self-evident truths ends with the right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’ she says. But as intended by Thomas Jefferson, she argues, what comes next is just as important: the essential role of governments – ‘instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed’ – in securing those rights.”

According to Professor Allen, “The logic moves from the value of individual rights to the importance of government as a tool for protecting those rights. You lose that connection when the period gets added.”

What we have here is a grammar czar masquerading as a political theorist.

Whether or not the period is included, the logic of Jefferson’s argument is the same: Individual rights precede the formation of government. In fact, the only reason governments are formed is to secure the enjoyment of these pre-existing rights; among these being life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

When a government becomes destructive of these ends, the people have the right to abolish the government and found a new one that will secure them. If Professor Allen and others will recall, the vast majority of the Declaration sets forth the reasons for dissolving the bonds between the British Empire and the American colonies before declaring the latter free, independent and self-governing.

Allen’s real project, though, is reading the Declaration as a collectivist document that empowers government to legislate equality. In a summary of her book Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality, Allen tries to make the most out of her ink blot by arguing that “Its list of self-evident truths does not end, as so many think, with our individual right to the ‘pursuit of happiness’ but with the collective right of the people to reform government so it will ‘effect their Safety and Happiness.’ The sentence laying out the self-evident truths leads us from the individual to the community – from our individual rights to what we can achieve only together, as a community constituted by bonds of equality.”

It’s impossible to square Allen’s interpretation with anything we know about the Declaration and the Founding. The Lockean theory driving the document puts individuals ahead of the group, and government – the largest expression of a group – at the service of the rights-bearing human person. If the group violates a person’s God-given rights (i.e. the inalienable ones endowed by the Creator), the group loses.

Going forward, it would be better if Professor Allen sticks to answering the marginally interesting question of the Declaration’s intended punctuation. Doing more – like trying to inject of a political philosophy into a blank space – risks making her contribution seem less important.


July 2nd, 2014 at 6:22 pm
An Energy Policy that Creates Jobs and Prestige
Posted by Ashton Ellis Print

“By boosting our energy production, the U.S. could restore its diminishing influence in the world without expending blood and treasure – in fact, we would reap major economic benefits,” writes Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA).

Nunes is an up-and-coming member of the House Ways and Means Committee and is known for thinking big on how to use tax reform as a means to reestablish American leadership in the global economy.

Rationalizing our energy policy would go a long way too.

Thanks to improvements in technology large, untapped domestic oil and natural gas reservoirs are now reachable. States like North Dakota, Texas and Oklahoma are moving to capitalize, while huge potential awaits enterprising politicians and businesses in California and Colorado.

The benefits are many. More energy production means more jobs in extracting, refining and shipping. For example, an entry-level rig worker in North Dakota averages about $66,000 a year, while the average oil industry job in the state was $112,462 as of 2012. That also means more jobs for people serving workers flush with disposal income.

There’s also a national security angle. With Iraq’s oil fields under siege by Islamic militants, Venezuela constantly swayed by demagogic collectivists and Russia threatening to cut off natural gas shipments, it’s time for the United States to take the steps necessary to ensure greater energy independence.

Unsurprisingly, Nunes wants President Barack Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, as well as implement other measures to put the nation in a game-changing position. Of course, that isn’t happening unless Obama adopts Bill Clinton’s triangulation strategy.

Don’t hold your breath.

Still, Nunes makes a compelling case for using national energy policy as a way to improve both our domestic economy and global prestige.

It’s an angle that economically recessed, war-weary Americans might soon embrace.


July 2nd, 2014 at 5:05 pm
The Mythical “Patent Troll?”
Posted by Timothy Lee Print

“Patent troll.”  The term has assumed prevalence amid discussion of broader patent law reform, which we at CFIF have supported in some incarnations.

The “patent troll” problem, however, is to a large degree a litigation problem more than a problem inherent in our patent system.  And in that vein, two prominent conservative/libertarian figures have penned a Wall Street Journal commentary entitled “The Myth of the Wicked Patent Troll.”  Author Stephen Haber is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution’s Task Force on Intellectual Property, Innovation and Prosperity, while co-author Ross Levine is a business professor at the University of California, Berkeley and a senior fellow at the Milken Institute.  In other words, their intellectual and free-market credentials are well-established.

In their commentary, Mr. Haber and Mr. Levine substantively detail research showing that, “innovation rates have been strongest in exactly the industries that patent-reform advocates claim are suffering from ‘trolls’ and a broken patent system.”  They also correctly highlight the fact that, for whatever its flaws, our patent system is the world’s greatest:

Thanks in large part to the patent system we have, the current rate of invention in the U.S. might be the fastest in human history.  Where is the evidence that society would benefit from undertaking the risky process of reforming a patenting system that has been the envy of the world for more than two centuries?”

The real problem, they say, is large corporations seeking to leverage government power in pursuit of their own self-interest:

There is one basic reason behind the attacks on trolls:  Big Money.  Many patent-intensive products — the smartphone in your pocket, the laptop computer in your briefcase — are produced by big corporations that license many patents.  The iPhone is a classic example:  It contains thousands of patented components, but Apple does not own many of the key ones.  It must negotiate for the right to use them.  These corporations can make higher profits the less they pay to use patented technology they do not own, and higher profits still by paying nothing at all.  The battle over the ‘right price’ for patented technologies takes many forms, one of which is political.  Indeed, some corporations are looking to gain a competitive edge by changing the rules of the game.  The strategy is to pass patent-reform legislation that weakens the negotiating position of patent holders.  Corporations that pay large sums for patented technologies will point to lawsuits, trolls and anything else that will encourage lawmakers to pass such reforms.”

Agree or disagree, their piece brings an important and under-discussed perspective to the ongoing patent reform debate.


July 2nd, 2014 at 9:01 am
Public Ranks Obama Worst President in 70 Years
Posted by Troy Senik Print

Americans have apparently not taken total leave of their senses. A new poll released by Quinnipiac University shows that a plurality of voters — 33 percent — rank Barack Obama as America’s worst president since World War II. Now, a poll’s only as good as its respondents and there’s always a danger in asking people to compare current political figures with historical ones, because the contemporary personalities absorb such a disproportionate amount of their attention (it’s salient that George W. Bush came in second the poll). Still, I think these results just about get it right.

The only two presidents in the post-WWII era that could arguably compete with Obama are Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. Nixon is really sui generis though because of Watergate. Without the scandal, it’s unlikely that he’d be held in such low esteem; Nixon was accused a lot of things, but incompetence was never one of them.

As for Carter, traditionally the measuring rod that those of us on the right have used for hapless chief executives, Obama actually makes him look good by comparison. Whereas virtually every instinct Obama has on domestic policy is wrong, at least Carter can be credited with starting some of the push towards deregulation that really flowered under the Reagan Administration. And while Carter is Obama’s closest analogue on foreign policy fecklessness, there is one key distinction — Carter eventually learned from his mistakes, with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan convincing him that a more robust foreign policy was a practical necessity. Judged in a vacuum that’s pretty thin gruel — but it’s fairly impressive by comparison with Obama.

Two other interesting points from the results: a narrow plurality of voters now say that Obama is a worse president than George W. Bush, something that would have been unthinkable to liberals five years ago. Also, by a 45-38 margin, respondents said the country would be better off if Mitt Romney had defeated Obama in 2012. It’s a bit frustrating that it’s taken this long for eyes to open … but better late than never.

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July 1st, 2014 at 4:23 pm
Yesterday’s OTHER Supreme Court Ruling
Posted by Troy Senik Print

Lost in all of the media hyperventilation about the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision yesterday (where the left is truly embarrassing itself over an extremely narrowly tailored decision) is the equally good news that came out of the case of Harris v. Quinn, which challenged Illinois’ requirement that home care workers had to contribute dues to the SEIU even if they didn’t want to join (an arrangement that was set up through a back room deal with now-imprisoned former Governor Rod Blagojevich). From The Hill:

The Supreme Court on Monday chipped away at the power of organized labor by ruling that some state workers cannot be forced to pay union fees.

In a 5-4 decision, the justices struck down a requirement that home care workers in Illinois contribute to a branch of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), even if they choose not to join.

“A state may not force every person who benefits from this [union's] efforts to make payments to the [union],” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority’s decision.

It’s always the same story with big labor: their supposed benevolence relies on coercion. If people don’t want to join the union, by what right should they still be forced to pay them? And if the unions think the lack of dues leaves them vulnerable to free riding, then why not limit the terms of collective bargaining only to those workers who are actual members? The answer, of course, is that labor negotiates deals far better than they could receive in a competitive market, leading them to attempt to lock out anyone who might be willing to work for a lesser rate.

Expect to see the same outcome in Illinois that you did in Wisconsin when workers there got out from the unions’ thumbs: dues payers rushing for the exits. If big labor wants a viable future, they’ll have to start standing on their own two feet. The days when they can live off of others are quickly coming to a close.


July 1st, 2014 at 2:51 pm
Hobby Lobby Hypocrisy? Not So Fast
Posted by Timothy Lee Print

Criticism of yesterday’s Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision is already pioneering new realms of intellectual dishonesty and irrationality.  In one commentary that seems to be maintaining particular inertia on the Internet, Mother Jones labels the Hobby Lobby organization hypocritical because its retirement plan invests in contraceptive manufacturers.

Fortunately, Ryan Ellis of Americans for Tax Reform provides a welcome antibiotic.  Specifically, he rebuts the Mother Jones commentary, explaining in clear terms the nature of such retirement plans and the weakness of the Mother Jones assertion:

401(k) plans are directed and invested by employees, not by employers. It’s the Hobby Lobby employees that would be disenfranchised by the twisted logic employed by Redden and Ungar here.  They are the ones–not their bosses–who choose which mutual funds to invest in.  This is true both of the employee’s elective deferral and the employer’s match.  The menu of choices is primarily provided not by the Hobby Lobby employers, but by the 401(k) plan administrator, who helps select a wide menu of mutual fund (and, increasingly, exchange traded fund) choices so that the fiduciary obligations of the plan are met.”

It’s a brief, straightforward piece that is well worth taking a moment to read and share with others.


June 30th, 2014 at 2:08 pm
Obama Goes Outside Military Brass, Medical Community for New VA Chief
Posted by Ashton Ellis Print

Robert McDonald, former CEO of Procter & Gamble, is President Barack Obama’s nominee to run the scandal-ridden Department of Veterans Affairs.

McDonald’s nomination is catching some in the veterans’ community off-guard. Unlike previous VA Secretaries, he’s not a general – though he did graduate from West Point and serve for five years as an Army paratrooper before jumping to P&G.

He’s also neither a medical doctor, nor does he have experience administering a hospital; traits that some think would be useful for a person stepping into the nation’s largest health system with 1,700 facilities.

Indeed, the case being made for McDonald is that his background in brand management and customer service signals that Obama thinks the main problem at the VA is bad leadership.

Which brings us to an interesting question – Is McDonald’s job just to make the VA’s public face more attractive, or is it to get the sprawling department into tip-top, customer satisfaction shape?

The answer depends on how much latitude President Obama is giving McDonald to operate. For example, in places like Phoenix where staff and administrators falsified records to get performance bonuses, does McDonald have the authority to fire and hire political appointees as well as career civil servants? Does he have the flexibility to outsource patients to private medical providers in regions where the VA hospitals are overbooked?

Senate Republicans should ask McDonald these and other questions during his confirmation hearings. Veterans and their families deserve to know whether the VA’s new chief has the power to be a turnaround artist, or just a place warmer.


June 30th, 2014 at 11:15 am
Ramirez Cartoon: Rip Van Media
Posted by CFIF Staff Print

Below is one of the latest cartoons from two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Ramirez.

View more of Michael Ramirez’s cartoons on CFIF’s website here.


June 27th, 2014 at 6:17 pm
Cover Oregon Offers Bonuses to Staff Not to Leave
Posted by Ashton Ellis Print

Oregon’s failed ObamaCare website is so fraught with failure the state is offering to pay employees bonuses just to keep them on the job.

After spending over $250 million – and retaining more than $50 million in federal grants – to build an ObamaCare health insurance exchange that failed to enroll a single person, Oregon decided to switch to Healthcare.gov, the federal equivalent.

Apparently, though, the crisis isn’t over. Since April, 27 staff members of Cover Oregon have left, taking with them valuable skills that can’t easily be replaced in time to transition to the federal website. To staunch the bleeding, Oregon is making a total of $650,000 in bonuses available to the remaining 163 employees, if they stay on till the end of the job.

As I explained in my column this week, state officials are primarily responsible for the costly disaster that is Cover Oregon. This news is just one more reminder that simple, avoidable mistakes by politicians and bureaucrats have huge and prolonged consequences.

H/T: NRO


June 27th, 2014 at 12:38 pm
Liberty Update
Posted by CFIF Staff Print

June 26th, 2014 at 1:02 pm
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June 25th, 2014 at 2:25 pm
Isn’t Not “Following” the Law the Same as Breaking It?
Posted by Ashton Ellis Print

No one wants to be David Ferriero right now.

He’s the U.S. Archivist, the man in charge of keeping all of the federal government’s records for posterity.

Apparently though, no one told the IRS. Twelve days ago the agency revealed that it has conveniently lost two years’ worth of emails from Lois Lerner, the former IRS supervisor at the center of a scandal that targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny.

“Any agency is required to notify us when they realize they have a problem,” Ferriero told a House Oversight committee panel. One imagines that an alleged hard drive failure vaporizing thousands of emails qualifies as just such a problem.

By law, the IRS is supposed to alert Ferriero within days. He wasn’t notified until earlier this month – about three years after the crash occurred.

When pressed, all Ferriero would say is that the IRS did not “follow” the law. He would not say the agency broke the law.

It doesn’t matter. The truth is obvious. Every new revelation in the IRS scandal only serves to harden the perception that so-called public servants abused their positions.


June 24th, 2014 at 6:42 pm
Oregon v. Oracle ObamaCare Brawl Heating Up
Posted by Ashton Ellis Print

There is a nasty fight brewing between Oregon’s governor and Oracle, the software company the state hired to create its doomed ObamaCare website.

Earlier this year Cover Oregon, the state board that contracted with Oracle, decided to scuttle the project after spending upwards of $300 million for a website that failed to enroll a single person.

When Oregon nixed the deal in April, Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber blamed the entire fiasco on Oracle, suggesting the state should consider suing the company to recover its losses.

But at a House Energy and Commerce hearing last week in Washington, D.C., Oracle hit back.

“The website was operational in February,” Oracle said, but “the state of Oregon pulled the plug on it for political reasons.”

The company had previously written to state officials that “Cover Oregon executives have stated to Oracle that application functionality is sufficient to support individual enrollment. However, Cover Oregon has not agreed to give individuals direct access to the application. Thus Cover Oregon, not Oracle, made the decision to keep the exchange closed to individuals even though the functionality has been delivered by Oracle.”

Kitzhaber may face a surprisingly difficult reelection campaign due to the spectacular failure of Cover Oregon. The governor embraced ObamaCare early, so any negative fallout from the law’s poor local performance could sink him.

To be fair, though, Oracle isn’t totally without blame. Saying that the website was functional in February when the enrollment period began in October – and ended in March – is hardly prompt performance. Does anyone seriously think that one of Oracle’s private sector clients wouldn’t be threatening legal action under the same circumstances?

Whatever the outcome of the ongoing investigation, Oregon’s ObamaCare debacle is sure to cost taxpayers even more money as lawyers, tech consultants and political strategists get their part of a never-ending spending spree.


June 24th, 2014 at 3:52 pm
RESPECT Act: Rectifying a Legal Anomaly, Providing Equity for Digital Broadcast of Pre-1972 Recordings
Posted by Timothy Lee Print

Is it fair that digital radio broadcasters pay royalties for the privilege of playing songs recorded after the arbitrary date of February 15, 1972, but not for pre-1972 recordings?

By way of perspective, no fewer than 305 of Rolling Stone’s 500 “Greatest Songs of All Time” were recorded before 1972, including 9 of its top 10.  Additionally, 65 of its 100 greatest artists recorded songs prior to 1972, including all 10 of its top 10.  Further, the overwhelming majority of artists inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame also recorded before 1972, as were 83% of the recordings in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Yet due to a legal quirk, digital broadcasters decided they would stop paying royalties for music recorded before 1972, believing that they’re entitled to play them for free.

Recordings predating 1972 remain protected by a patchwork of state laws, whereas recordings after February 15 of that year going forward are covered under federal law.  That amounts to a historical idiosyncrasy, without any prevailing substantive logic.  But digital radio stations, some of which center entirely upon pre-1972 music, have capitalized on the legal aberration to simply stop paying for performance of the pre-1972 songs still covered by state laws.  Estimates of royalties lost as a result reach $60 million per year.

As a result, the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’” receives no payment, but Hall & Oats’s remake does.  The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is not compensated, but Devo’s remake is.  The Beach Boys get paid for “Kokomo” but not “Good Vibrations.”  This situation has also led to numerous lawsuits spanning various states, adding further legal complexity and uncertainty for artists, consumers and digital broadcasters alike.

Digital radio stations operate under privilege of federal license to broadcast, but take the position that they need not pay for pre-1972 songs that remain protected under state laws.  They profit from playing those songs, but refuse to pay accordingly.  Keep in mind that unlike contemporary performers, many of those older affected artists are no longer capable of touring, and sales of their records have diminished over the years, leaving royalties for performance of their songs as their only remaining means of continuing compensation.

Now, however, some in Congress seek to rectify that unfairness.  Representative George Holding (R – North Carolina) has introduced the Respecting Senior Performers as Essential Cultural Treasures Act – the “RESPECT” Act.  Under that legislation, digital radio stations that enjoy federal broadcast privileges would finally be obligated to provide royalty payments for songs recorded before 1972, in the same way they already pay for songs recorded after 1972, as a condition for maintaining their licenses.  Importantly, the bill does not attempt to rework copyright laws or “federalize” pre-1972 recordings, which would introduce unnecessary legal complexity and confusion.  Rather, it explicitly maintains existing protection under state laws.  It simply conditions continued broadcasting privilege upon payment to artists for pre-1972 recordings.  A long list of musicians, spanning Martha Reeves to Brian Wilson to the Allman Brothers to Al Green have signed on in support of the bill.

Digital radio has provided an amazing innovation for which we can all be grateful.  Nevertheless, it’s simply unfair for them to attempt to exploit a legal quirk to avoid paying artists for songs recorded prior to the arbitrary date of February 15, 1972.  Congressman Holding is therefore to be applauded for his effort, and Americans should contact their Senators and Representatives to voice their support.


June 24th, 2014 at 9:18 am
Must See IRS TV: Trey Gowdy Schools IRS Commissioner Koskinen
Posted by CFIF Staff Print

At a House Oversight Committee hearing last night, IRS Commissioner Koskinen was on the hot seat regarding the “lost” emails of Lois Lerner and other employees implicated in the IRS targeting scandal.  The tough line of questioning by Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) is a must see.


June 23rd, 2014 at 3:56 pm
This Week’s “Your Turn” Radio Lineup
Posted by Timothy Lee Print

Join CFIF Corporate Counsel and Senior Vice President Renee Giachino today from 4:00 p.m. CDT to 6:00 p.m. CDT (that’s 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. EDT) on Northwest Florida’s 1330 AM WEBY, as she hosts her radio show, “Your Turn: Meeting Nonsense with Commonsense.”  Today’s guest lineup includes:

4:00 CDT/5:00 pm EDT:  Craig Shirley, Author, Historian, Conservative – President Reagan, Then and Now;

4:30 CDT/5:30 pm EDT:  Hans von Spakovsky, Manager, Election Law Reform Initiative and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation – Lerner’s Lost E-Mails and Other IRS Scandals;

5:00 CST/6:00 pm EDT:  Robert Zarate, Policy Director of the Foreign Policy Initiative – What to do in Iraq; and

5:30 CDT/6:30 pm EDT:  Steve Soukup, Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum and Fellow in Culture and Economy at the Culture of Life Foundation – Immigration.

Listen live on the Internet here.   Call in to share your comments or ask questions of today’s guests at (850) 623-1330.