- The cultural battle over opening bathroom to people based on their gender identity rather than their biological sex has reached one of the largest school districts in the nation and is playing out just outside the nation's capital.
The school board in Fairfax County, Virginia, is now considering a policy change to accommodate students and teachers who consider themselves transgendered.
"It's a ludicrous request," said Meeke Addison, director of Urban Family Talk, which is a division of the American Family Association. The AFA sent out an action alert earlier this week to alert parents in Fairfax County of the possible change.
"This decision would effect from preschoolers right on up to senior year, kids during their formative years being exposed to what would be considered an alternative way of expressing yourself," said Addison.
In addition to the transgender accommodations, the policy would also forbid parents in the district to opt their children out of complying with the rules.
"This 'no opt out clause' is incredibly disturbing," said Addison.
"Do public teaching institutions have the right to usurp authority of parents and teach children things that will go counter to that household's convictions. Do they have the right to do that? Wherever you fall on the transgender or homosexual debate, it doesn't really matter. The question is do public school systems have the right to usurp a parent's authority?" asked Addison.
Addison says this type of "indoctrination" is not the point of public schools and her kids should not be pawns in a cultural agenda.
"I expect them to come home reciting their times tables. I expect them to come home making their subjects and their verbs agree. I do not expect them to come home telling me about their teacher or a classmate who wants to use the men's bathroom because they decided they are not who they were originally created to be," said Addison.
The issue grates at Addison on a moral level but especially irritates her as a black woman as she watches parallels made between this debate and the civil rights movement.
"As an African-American, so often when we get caught up in this discussion, we believe that we are talking about immutable characteristics, we are talking about the way a person was or was not born," said Addison, who says race and sexual identity or orientation are not at all similar.
"Science shows we are not talking about immutable characteristics. We are talking about choice. When we begin to allow choice and preference to trump immutability, then we have a problem. Not only do we have a slippery slope but I would say we don't have a slope at all. We're just careening to destruction," she said.
So how should school districts deal with students who sincerely struggle with their gender? Addison says they should be treated with dignity, but so should every other student.
"Something like that has to be dealt with on a case by case basis with sensitivity to that child and sensitivity to that child's parents. But whatever sensitivity you extend to that child, whatever accommodations you make for that child should be made for all children," said Addison.
Fairfax County is an increasingly liberal part of northern Virginia and it is yet to be seen how parents are coming down on the issue there.
Regardless of the political leanings of the district, Addison says all parents should be worried about this kind of proposal.
"For people who feel this is no big deal, the question is when will it become a big deal? When it's something you don't like? When it' something that's not part of your core convictions?" she asked.
Parents have already had one chance to address the issue with the Fairfax County School Board. They have one more chance May 7.
Addison urges parents to fight all the way.
"I'm not ready to say let's put the nail in the coffin for parental rights. You have a right to parent your child and I'm not ready to give that up. I'm not ready to call the fight over. It'll happen in Fairfax County. It can happen in Lee County. It can happen wherever you are in your school if parents do not stand up for their very basic right," said Addison.
- One the leading Republican women in Congress says Hillary Clinton's record shows the former Secretary of State is not a champion of women's issues and her indifference to women's equality around the world and in her own office adds to Clinton's trust deficit with all voters.
"There's a lot of disparity in what she says and what she actually does," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. "I think people want representatives that are going to be genuine and honest and they're not seeing that play out with the Clintons."
According to Blackburn, this week is indicative of what the country would get with Mrs. Clinton in the White House. Multiple allegations have surfaced in the forthcoming book "Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich" by Peter Schweizer. The most explosive accusation to date is that Clinton's State Department approved the U.S. ceding 20 percent of its uranium reserves to Russia after a key player in the deal made a $2.35 million donation to the Clinton Foundation.
"One of the things that it speaks to is the crony capitalism that they practice and it also points at how this has made our world less safe," said Blackburn. "That is one of the things that concerns women the most is the security issues, whether it's national security, job security (or) retirement security."
While the Clinton campaign and the national media are focusing on the potential of Clinton to be the first female president, Blackburn says both women and men are plenty weary of the Clintons.
"The American people have great muscle memory when it comes to the Clintons. Her actions and the revelations are reminding the people why they did not like having Bill and Hillary Clinton in the White House," said Blackburn.
"The actions of crony capitalism, the lack of attention to security, the lack of attention to security of employees of the State Department has caused those issues to resurface and to be front and center. It's a problem for Hillary Clinton," said Blackburn.
Blackburn is even challenging the very thesis of Clinton's campaign.
In her tour of Iowa, Clinton repeatedly said her candidacy was a result of her lifelong commitment to fighting for women and families. The congressman says Clinton's record as Secretary of State tells a very different story when it comes to fighting for oppressed women around the world.
"She does not have a record of making this a priority issue. When you look at the practices of some of these nations against women, the lack of freedom that they have and the abuse that some women suffer. Hillary did not take that opportunity when she was given the opportunity to address those issues," said Blackburn.
"She flew a lot of miles and she visited a lot of countries, but she did not address those issues," she said.
Blackburn says Clinton's lack of action on this issue is evident in another black eye for the Clinton Foundation.
"The Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation has accepted money from countries that do not honor the rights of women," she said.
Diplomacy can be a delicate game. Saudi Arabia, for example, has a very poor track record on women's rights but is a strategic partner of the U.S. in terms of oil and in trying to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Nonetheless, Blackburn says there are a number of things Clinton could have done to show the issue was a priority in our dealings with Iraq.
"Number one would have been to continue the outreach that the State Department started after the Gulf War," she said.
Blackburn herself traveled to Mosul in 2003 to promote educational opportunities for women and to encourage women and girls to take advantage of schooling.
"Wouldn't it have been great for Hillary to have made that a priority. Also, pushing forward having women elected into their parliament and bringing those opportunities forward for those women. Those are things she could have done, ought to have done but chose not to do," said Blackburn.
In contrast to the concerns of women around the world, Blackburn says Hillary also neglected to act to help the women who surrounded her on a daily basis. Far from the equal pay demands that Clinton champions on the campaign trail, Blackburn says the secretary's track record is pretty dismal.
"When you look at positions, males and females in the same job, that have been in her employ in the Senate and in the State Department, the females with the same qualifications at the same grade level were lower in that range than the men," she said.
One advantage Clinton may have in her campaign is the allegation that criticisms against her from male candidates constitute a form of sexism and that a female candidate like Carly Fiorina may be the only one who can attack Clinton with full force.
Blackburn disagrees. She says Clinton is fair game for everyone, but urges all GOP hopefuls to stick to the facts.
"Instead of personalizing it, you look at her record. We've talked about her record at the State Department. We've talked about her record as a U.S. senator. What did she accomplish? She was a big earmarker for the state of New York. So her record is all you need to talk about," said Blackburn.
Blackburn has not endorsed any Republican candidate for president and says it is unlikely she will do so prior to the nominee being determined. However, she is excited about the GOP field and what the candidates bring to the race.
"We've got a deep bench and a lot of great candidates that are out there. The fact that we do have thinkers out there from every different corner of our party shows the Republican Party is a big tent," said Blackburn.
"We are going to be focused on the security issues. We fully realize that the American people are saying, 'Look, the campaign is not about the candidates. It is about us, the individuals, the American people," she said.
- Americans are increasingly living in a police state and the road looks very bleak unless citizens stop being complacent and take back their government, according to Rutherford Institute President John Whitehead.
Whitehead is the author of the new book, "Battlefield America: The War on the American People." It's his second book on this issue. In 2013, he published "A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State."
The issue is taking on additional urgency this week after an online news article chronicled how police stormed into the homes of three supporters of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in the middle of the night, subjecting the citizens to intense harassment simply for backing Walker's collective bargaining reforms in the state. None of them were ever charged.
Whitehead says episodes like this are becoming less of an exception and more of a rule.
"The government's watching everything you're doing," said Whitehead. "We are in a police state right now. The question is can we push it back."
One of Whitehead's greatest frustrations in the book is Americans' acceptance of limitations placed on their freedoms and an unwillingness thus far to fight back. He says one of the biggest problems is that most Americans are unaware of how much police interaction with citizens is changing in many different ways.
"They're not getting the news. If you watch just regular television news, you don't realize there are 80,000 SWAT team raids (each year). There were only 3,000 of those in the early 1980's. There are 80,000 occurring annually now across the United States. Eighty percent of those SWAT team raids are for what we used to call warrant service, where a policeman would come knock on your door," said Rutherford.
He says digital intrusion into our lives is also skyrocketing.
"How many Americans know that the NSA is now downloading two billion of your emails a day and American citizens' text messages. They admit to hacking into 160,000 Facebook pages a day to see what you're doing," said Whitehead.
"In some of the cases we get involved with at the Rutherford Institute are doing regular free speech things about Obama. They're getting raided for it. Some have actually been arrested for it," he said.
In addition, Whitehead says laws are now giving the government more latitude in investigating citizens and stripping constitutional rights away from the rest of us.
"How many people know there's a thing called the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that Obama has signed into being, which allows the military to come to your door if he thinks you're an extremist, not a terrorist, and have you arrested by the military, taken away and put in a detention camp where you can't see your lawyer or your family," he said.
According to Whitehead, several U.S. states are refusing to comply with the NDAA on constitutional grounds. He says this rapidly emerging threat is a far cry from what our founding fathers envisioned.
"George Washington was screaming to never have a standing army on American soil. You will regret it. With the Department of Homeland Security handing out over five billion in military equipment, grenade launchers, MRAPS (Mine-Resistant Armored Protection Vehicles) that they use over in Afghanistan, sniper rifles," said Whitehead.
"All the things you see in war zones, local police have those now," said Whitehead.
He says another increasingly common tool for local police is the stingray device which puts our digital information at risk as police drive by our homes.
"They're fake cell phone towers. They download everything you're doing on your cell phone so they can track you. And they do track you," said Whitehead.
Whitehead says a major reason for the change is a significant adjustment in how police officers are trained now.
"I actually work with some policemen who teach in the academies now. They say the training in the academies is very, very military. And how the police view us is much different than how Barney Fife and Andy Griffith viewed us about 40 years ago," said Whitehead.
"In fact, I have police now using the term when they refer to American citizens as civilians. I've actually corrected a few policemen and said, 'By the way, I'm not a civilian. I'm a citizen and so are you, sir,'" added Whitehead, who says the increasingly militaristic nature of police work changes how they deal with the public.
He says that's a big problem because police seem far more likely to obey and execute all orders rather than object on moral or constitutional grounds.
"What they're saying in the psychological studies is when the police put on camouflage outfits or those black outfits in SWAT team gear, it actually effects their psychology and they view us much differently than they used to view us," said Whitehead.
He says the worst example of this came in Ventura, California.
"The police went through the door in the home of a mother and father. The parents had done nothing wrong by the way. [The police] were in the wrong home. They said, 'We have a year-old baby sleeping in that room. Please, I want to keep my baby safe.' One cop actually pushed the door open and threw a flash bang grenade in the room and burned the baby," said Whitehead.
Despite the frightening episodes, Whitehead says he wants Americans to keep a level head about the problem and what can be done about it.
"I don't think we should be paranoid. I think we just need to be informed and realize there are things we can do," said Whitehead.
And what are those things?
"If your local community is not outraged when a baby gets burned by a flash bang grenade in a SWAT team raid, they should. You can set up oversight committees and make sure that those SWAT team members are called in and corrected and (make sure) they won't do that again," said Whitehead.
"The average American watches about 150 hours of television a month. If you're sitting, you're not doing. So I tell people give me 80 hours of that watching time for involvement in local government. Set policies and change what you're doing in your own hometown," said Whitehead.
- After a bruising series of intraparty primary battles in 2014, the conservative and moderate wings of the Republican Party will fight their next battle in Illinois this summer as the GOP selects its nominee to replace disgraced ex-Rep. Aaron Schock.
Schock resigned his seat in the state's 18th district last month after a series of reports detailing his lavish spending on his Washington office, questionable air travel and overcharging taxpayers for his mileage within the district.
The district leans heavily to the right. Mitt Romney defeated President Obama by 24 points there in 2012, so the winner of the July 7 primary will be an overwhelming favorite in the general election.
State Republican leaders quickly rallied around State Senator Darin LaHood, son of former Rep. Ray LaHood, who later served as transportation secretary for President Obama.
However, the path to the nomination just got rockier for LaHood, following this week's announcement by longtime policy analyst, political consultant and conservative media figure Mike Flynn that he is also seeking the GOP nod.
Flynn has worked in issue advocacy at the state level through his work at the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. He is best known in the media world for his time as editor of Andrew Breitbart's Big Government website, which broke the story of the undercover videos that exposed the liberal group ACORN as willing to facilitate criminal behavior within the sex industry.
Flynn is a sixth-generation resident of central Illinois, although he has lived outside of the area for 20 years. He says he's putting his existing career on hold in order to give a conservative district a real choice in July.
"When I saw the vacancy and that the party establishment has kind of fallen behind State Sen. Darin LaHood, I thought, 'Congress is not a family heirloom you pass down.' This area of the country in Illinois has not had a good, strong conservative voice in D.C. So I thought I'd step up and ask the voters to let me be that voice," said Flynn.
On Monday, Flynn turned in twice the number of signatures required to qualify for the primary ballot. He says the residents were far less concerned about his 20-year absence than the direction of the party and the country.
"While I have not been in the district in recent years, people know that I have long ties here and I've been working around this district for a long time. That has not come up. I think they are refreshed, not only that we're going to have an election, but that we've got a real choice to make," said Flynn.
He says his political philosophy is simple: challenge both parties by standing up for conservatism and actively engaging in the battle of ideas
"I think too often Republicans seem embarrasses to be conservatives. They don't really want to embrace that message and communicate it with voters," said Flynn.
As for LaHood, Flynn sees an ambitious political climber who has "been looking for public office his entire life." LaHood was appointed to and ran unopposed for his current seat. He ran unsuccessfully for state's attorney and was previously appointed as an assistant U.S. attorney.
"His whole life is just a series of appointments to political office. I never have envisioned politics as a career. I don't intend to make it a career now. I think the real difference is my opponent looks at this as a family legacy and a family career. For me, it's an opportunity to communicate conservative values," said Flynn.
LaHood allies assert that he is much more conservative than his father and would be a conservative voice in Washington. Flynn says "it doesn't take much" to be further to the right than Ray LaHood. He says voters in the district can get a good idea of how Darin LaHood would operate in Washington based on where his money is coming from.
"One of the first contributions of his campaign was a maximum contribution from a union-funded PAC (Republican Main Street Partnership). It's whole purpose for being is to attack conservatives in primaries. Whatever he says he's going to be, his actions speak otherwise," said Flynn.
Nonetheless, LaHood can point to multiple experiences in public service as to why he is prepared for the job. Flynn says his career proves he knowledgeable and committed to conservative principles.
"I've been working in conservative policies for over 20 years, working to enact legislation at the state and federal level. A lot of success there and in conservative media, so I have an appreciation for both how the media works and how the media tries to work against conservatives," said Flynn.
But Flynn says he also has years of experience pushing back against what he sees as poor decisions by his own party.
"I have a history of standing up, not just to Democrats and the left but to Republicans who are not articulating a conservative policy. I think Darin LaHood will be more of the same go along, get along Republicans that we've had too much of and is not moving us in the right direction," said Flynn.
Not surprisingly, Flynn is underwhelmed by what he's seen thus far of Republicans controlling Capitol Hill.
"They have won the power but they are not doing anything with that power. They seem almost driven to wake up in the morning and preemptively surrender to Democrats and Obama. They seem to just want to maintain their majority, maintain their jobs in office but not do anything with the majority they have," said Flynn.
"I think it's time the voters told them, 'We gave the Republicans a majority for a reason and they've got to use it. Part of that using is to dismantle the destructive agenda that Obama has imposed on this country," said Flynn.
On specific issues, Flynn starts with a repeal of Obamacare and not just what he calls symbolic votes.
"Each day that that law is on the books, it just further distorts our health care market," said Flynn.
He also wants to give Republicans a shot in the arm in stopping Obama's unilateral immigration actions.
"We have a real crisis here, where we have millions of foreign nationals in this country. We have no idea who they are. There's no background checks. They're depressing wages and taking jobs from Americans. We have to get a handle on that. We're only getting lip service from Republicans in Washington," said Flynn.
His third major priority is to remove the shackles that are holding back what he believes could be explosive economic growth.
"We've got to enact the reforms, be it tax or regulatory, that are going to get the economy growing again. We've had six years of a stagnant economy. Wages have not risen. The opportunities are not there. For the first time ever, we have more businesses dying than being created in this country," said Flynn.
"We've got to get serious about enacting the kind of pro-growth reforms that will get the economy growing again. We cannot solve our fiscal challenges without a growing economy," he said.
In 2014, the conservative challengers ultimately lost the vast majority of challenges against incumbent Republicans. While Flynn may start the primary campaign as an underdog, he believes there is a clear path to victory.
"The candidate that comes in and can energize voters and get them excited about the campaign is going to have an edge. This is a special election that will take place in the depths of summer. When you set aside endorsements, the candidate who is going to have the edge here is the one who excites the grassroots. I think I'm in a position to do that," said Flynn.
- A leading defender of Christians in the military says the crackdown on the free religious expression of Christians in uniform is increasing despite Pentagon assurances to the contrary, leading active duty personnel to re-evaluate their careers and young Americans and their parents to reconsider service at all.
Recent discipline for military chaplains dispensing biblical counsel have made national headlines, but a recent piece in The Washington Times suggests enlistment numbers are in danger of dropping as well.
Liberty Institute represents chaplains in two high-profile cases as well as several other personnel reprimanded for their free expression of Christian beliefs. Senior Counsel Michael Berry says the American people are paying attention and getting increasingly worried about what's happening in the military.
"A great deal of Americans of faith, which is still a majority of our country, are looking at the environment and climate within our federal government and military more specifically and seeing case after case, report after report," said Berry.
He says the growing number of stories is causing committed Christians to ask some uncomfortable questions.
"They're starting to wonder, 'Is this going to be a place where I'm welcomed? Is going to be a place where I'm tolerated? Am I going to be required to keep my faith in the closet, so to speak?' Or are they going to be allowed, which has always been the practice in our country up until this point, to freely exercise their religion in accordance with their sincerely held beliefs as the Constitution allows," said Berry, a military vet who made his own difficult decision to leave the armed forces as he saw religious liberties eroding.
"I was on active duty and I began to see the writing on the wall. I realized this is not the military I grew up in. This is not the military that I was raised to believe in and to support. It's changing, and I realized it was time for me to make a move," he said.
And Berry is not the only one thinking long and hard about military service is the right career path.
"I've had a lot of mothers and fathers ask me. They say, 'Mike, I served and my son or daughter wants to follow in my footsteps. But, as proud as I am of my military service, I'm not sure I want my son or daughter to be serving in our military anymore, given what's going on.' That's very scary for our country if that kind of conversation and dialogue is now happening," said Berry.
It's difficult to get solid numbers on the impact religious freedom restrictions are having on recruiting and retention. Berry says the military almost always keep mum about drops in recruiting and retention and they never break down the reasons for the declines.
"It doesn't behoove the military to report that they're having problems with retention. A group like a chaplain's corps is not going to say, 'We're having a hard time attracting new chaplains' because that doesn't present them in a very favorable light," said Berry.
Liberty Institute is providing counsel for Navy Chaplain Wes Modder, an Assemblies of God minister who was removed from his position after answering questions from personnel who wanted to know what the Bible said about homosexuality and sex outside of marriage.
Another client is Army Ranger Chaplain Joseph Lawhorn, who was served with a letter of concern after a soldier complained about Lawhorn telling a suicide-prevention seminar that in his darkest moments he found comfort and solace in the Psalms of King David while also endorsing many secular resources.
Berry says the protest was baseless and can be seen as opportunistic by any objective analysis.
"[The soldier] didn't even complain to Chaplain Lawhorn or the chain of command. He went and complained to an outside media outlet, who then published the story. That's what really precipitated that whole incident and led to Chaplain Lawhorn being punished," he said.
In The Washington Times article, Defense Department spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen is quoted as extolling religious freedom and how it continues to be cherished in the military.
"The Department of Defense respects, places a high value on and supports by policy the rights of members of the military services to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to have no religious beliefs," said Christensen in the article.
"The mission of the chaplain corps is to provide care and the opportunity for service members, their families and other authorized personnel to exercise their constitutional right to the free exercise of religion," he said.
Berry says the impressive rhetoric is not matched by the facts.
"If what the DOD spokesperson is saying is true then why on earth are chaplains like Chaplain Lawhorn and Chaplain Modder being threatened with career-ending punishment? Simply because they hold religious beliefs that are no longer popular? I would seriously question the DOD's commitment to religious freedom is that's allowed to stand without challenge" said Berry.
Lawhorn and Modder join other Liberty Institute clients whose careers are in limbo over their expression of personal beliefs. The list includes an Air Force senior master sergeant whose career is in doubt after he voiced support for traditional marriage. A commanding officer in the U.S. Army is fighting back after complaining that heterosexual soldiers are being treated unfairly compared to homosexuals.
"That's just the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of cases beyond what Liberty Institute handles dealing with religious hostility in this country. And like I said, within the military It's on the rise," said Berry.
While the Defense Department publicly professes great respect for religious freedom, anti-Christian activists are not hiding their agenda. The Washington Times article also features Military Religious Freedom Foundation President Michael Weinstein, who says chaplains who hold to biblical views on sexuality need to keep their mouths shut or find another line of work.
"You can continue to believe that internally, but if you have to act on that, the right thing to do is to get out of the U.S. military, because you have no right to tell a member of the military that they're inferior because of the way they were born," Weinstein is quoted as saying.
Berry finds that analysis legally ludicrous.
"Mr. Weinstein could not be more legally wrong. The Constitution, federal law and military regulations all forcefully protect the right of service members to hold and to express their sincerely-held religious beliefs. The military has a very high legal standard they have to meet if they're going to try to censor or prohibit the free exercise of a service member's sincerely-held beliefs," said Berry.
- A decade ago, Bernard Kerik was hailed by millions for his leadership of the New York Police Department. Now, after serving more than three years in federal prison, he says the criminal justice system needs major reforms to treat non-violent offenders more fairly and prevent a complete implosion of the system.
Kerik served as commissioner of the NYPD from 2000-2001. In 2005, he was nominated to be Secretary of Homeland Security by President George W. Bush. The selection was quickly withdrawn, but the process still led to Kerik's eventual imprisonment on federal convictions for tax fraud and making false statements. He served his time at a minimum security prison in Cumberland, Maryland. His story and his subsequent efforts to reform the system are the subject of Kerik's new book, "From Jailer to Jailed: My Journey from Correction and Police Commissioner to Inmate #84888-054."
Kerik's call for criminal justice reform centers on three primary issues: the treatment of prisoners inside the system, punishments for non-violent offenders and how those convicts are sent back into society.
In the book, Kerik details how personnel ranging from corrections officers to rehabilitation experts not only enforced their incarceration and diminishing of freedoms but relished the opportunity to regularly demean and dehumanize inmates. Kerik says he doesn't expect prison to be a comfortable experience and he realizes many corrections officers are honorable people.
"For the most part, correction officers all over this country man the gates of our prisons and jails. They have a dangerous job. They have a stressful job. They are courageous in the work they do. They go into many of these violent units without weapons of any kind and they do a job nobody else would do," said Kerik.
However, he says there are more than a few bad apples who do a tremendous amount of damage.
"There are a bunch of them that are out there. They believe it's their job to punish you mentally and physically. That's illegal and it goes against everything the system stands for," said Kerik.
So what's the solution?
"Training and accountability within the system is what makes the system right and makes it work and holds people accountable to the standards that are set," he said.
Kerik says he knows both the right way and the wrong way to run a prison. Prior to serving as police commissioner in New York City, he spent six years as commissioner of the Department of Correction. Among the facilities under his responsibility was Riker's Island, which had earned a reputation for one of the most violent detention facilities in the nation prior to his appointment.
When I took over in 1995, we had 133,000 annual admissions. At the time I took over, we averaged 150 slashings and stabbings per month. When I left as police commissioner, we had one (per month)," said Kerik.
Once Kerik arrived in federal prison, he became baffled at the number of people incarcerated for non-violent crimes. In fact, all inmates at the minimum security facility were non-violent offenders. In the book, Kerik says many were low-level drug offenders, but there were also people serving years in prison for exaggerating the amount of their mortgage, commercial fishermen who caught too many fish and even a man who sold a whale's tooth on eBay.
"All of these people could have paid an alternative price or punishment instead of being sent to prison," said Kerik, who believes prison is only grooming some non-violent offenders for far worse crimes upon their release.
"We're taking thousands and thousands of non-violent people and we're sticking them in prison. We're turning many of these young guys into monsters. We're teaching them how to be real criminals. We're sucking all the societal values out of them, institutionalizing them and then sending them home," he said.
Kerik says the system is also setting up white collar criminals to be a lingering burden on society.
"We take people who were in the workforce, paying taxes, taking care of their families. We criminalize them. Then when they get out, they can't find a job. They can't go back to what they were doing. They can't work in any organization or company that's regulated by the government," said Kerik.
"We're creating a second class of American citizen that is diminished by about 70-80 percent in constitutional and civil rights and work ability. It's just bizarre. It's absurd," he said.
However, Kerik is quick to state that these concerns do not apply to hardcore violent offenders.
"I'll be the first one to say I've put a lot of people in prison. But they were bad guys, bad people who did really bad things. They have to be punished and we have to keep society safe," said Kerik.
The final frustration for Kerik is that ex-convicts are forever branded as felons, making it very tough for them to find honest work after they leave prison.
"The premise that you do your time, you pay your debt to society is a falsehood. It's not reality at all. You never finish paying your debt to society. That conviction lasts with you until the day you die and it has a collateral negative impact on you, your profession and your family forever," said Kerik.
According to Kerik, it's no just ex-cons and their families who suffer from the current system. He says we all do, because of the burden placed upon the taxpayers.
"It is destroying us, not just from a societal perspective, but from an economic perspective, we are losing billions of dollars a year in tax income and economic spending over the reported cost of incarceration. There is this hidden cost far beyond the cost of incarceration that we are losing in our economy," said Kerik.
He believes non-violent offenders should also receive a full restoration of constitutional rights upon completion of their sentences, a step he would not grant to violent offenders.
"The most violent people, committing murder or rape or are pedophiles, if you want to keep them in a diminished capacity I get it. But for 60 percent of the people we're locking up, we're destroying them personally (and) professionally for the rest of their lives," said Kerik.
The former commissioner says he is pleased to see lawmakers from both parties working to address some of these perceived inequities. He specifically cited Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Cory Booker, D-N.J., John Cornyn, R-Tex., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I, for advancing legislation.
But Kerik is aiming for help from a higher office.
"Going into the 2016 election, the next president of the United States, no matter what party they're from or who they are, criminal justice reform must be one of the top five domestic issues on their plate. As it stands right now, the entire system's going to implode. We can't sustain it economically," said Kerik.
- Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tex., and 21 other members of Congress are demanding the Government Accountability Office conduct a formal audit of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services out of growing suspicion that money is being improperly used to fund President Obama's unilateral immigration actions in violation of court order.
Of greatest concern to Gohmert and the other members is the allocation of fees collected by the government through the legal immigration process and whether money charged of those in the country legally is actually being used to secure legal status for those who broke the law to get to the U.S.
"They raise most of their money through fees. They used the fees for things they lied about using them for. We need the Government [Accountability] Office to get to the bottom. What are they using those fees for?" asked Gohmert.
The issue is triggering more concern for numerous reasons, the most recent of which stems from a confrontation inside the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday between Gohmert and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah Saldena.
Gohmert asked Saldena why the government has already granted three-year deferrals to more than 108,000 illegal immigrants who ought to be deported and where the authorization came from. Saldena said the authorization did not matter to her since it came from Citizenship and Immigration Services, or CIS.
When Gohmert wondered if Saldena was not bothered by the prospect of so many people receiving fraudulent benefits, she insisted she was concerned about potential fraud.
1cIf you don 19t like fraud, does it bother you that your Homeland Security Department that you work for has actually instigated a fraud among the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas? 1d asked Gohmert at the hearing.
1cRepresentative Gohmert, with all due respect, I would appreciate you not yelling," said Saldena.
That exchange may have been the last straw.
"That further accentuated the need to get some answers," he said, noting that the more suspicious the government's actions, the less helpful the administration is in responding to those concerns.
"The administration sends directors like the one from CIS over, who at one time had done great things and been noble participants in government. Then all of a sudden they become in a position of leadership in this information and their job seems to be to obfuscate, to hide, to prevent people from finding out what was done illegally or unconstitutionally," said Gohmert.
In addition to the frustration on Capitol Hill, Gohmert says it is obvious the Obama administration is thumbing its nose towards lawmakers, the rule of law and a crystal clear court order to stop implementing the administration's unilateral actions that Gohmert and others label as amnesty.
"It is clear that Homeland Security and CIS has been violating the law, the Constitution, and in particular, United States District Judge Andrew Hanen's order not to be granting amnesty that the president spoke into being," said Gohmert, noting Obama never actually signed any orders to try and change the law but instead directed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to issue a memorandum noting the change.
With the government providing very little help in clarifying how immigration fees are being used and whether the administration is complying with the law, Gohmert sent an investigator to CIS offices in Arlington, Virginia.
"They have massive Grade A space. I'm shocked that they would feel the need to lease or purchase or create this Grade A business space for something that could virtually be done in a warehouse. How did they get this space? Who paid for it ? How much did they pay for it? Who is being hired?," wondered Gohmert.
The investigator was sternly rebuffed when asking for more details on CIS operations.
"We couldn't get any of that information. They were stonewalling on everything, everybody saying, 'You'll have to talk to this person or that person.' Nobody was willing to get answers, nobody willing to let a representative sent by a congressman in to review the facilities they've hired," said Gohmert.
Gohmert says the good news is that Congress does not need to pass anything to force the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, to conduct a formal audit.
"They are supposed to do audits where they see that they're necessary. Congress can direct them to specifically do audits, but we hope by bringing this to GAO's attention they will say, 'This is true. This is not money that's appropriated. They say they only need $600 million on hand for a rainy day fund and yet they have $1.2 billion. So we we better take a look at this,'" said Gohmert.
Congress has demanded answers in other investigations into this administration only to find that key data no longer exists or numbers have been fudged. Gohmert says he's not overly worried about that happening in this fight.
"It may be that we'll run into the same problem that we had with the IRS or with the State Department . Gee, all of a sudden everything that would show what they've been doing gets deleted. But if it happens that they've deleted spending records, then they will have run into some criminal violations and be looking at prison," said Gohmert.
In the meantime, the investigation continues into whether the Obama administration is abiding by Judge Hanen's order and suspending deferrals of deportation until the issue is settled in court or whether the government is directly violating court orders. Gohmert says the evidence following Hanen's first ruling strongly suggests the latter.
"They finally had to come in, I believe it was March 3, and admit, 'Gee, since November 20, even though we told you we would not violate your order and would not be granting these, there have been 108,081 that have been granted," said Gohmert.
Gohmert says the administration has an explanation for that but it's veracity is very much in question.
"They said those were just renewals from the prior amnesty program, but there's some question about that at this point," said Gohmert.
- Former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik says politicians, civil rights leaders and the media need to stop crucifying police by presenting a few controversial encounters as part of some nationwide crisis and he says competent police work has saved countless black lives in New York City and beyond.
Kerik served as commissioner of the New York Police Department from 2000-2001 and led the department through the events of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the city. For 12 years prior to his appointment as commissioner, Kerik led the city's Department of Correction. He later served time in federal prison for tax fraud and making false statements. Kerik is the author of the new book "From Jailer to Jailed: My Journey from Correction and Police Commissioner to Inmate #84888-054."
In recent months, Kerik has been very critical of political leaders such as President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for what he sees as divisive rhetoric on race and the police. When two NYPD officers were murdered in December, Kerik suggested de Blasio had blood on his hands as a result of recent comments by the mayor.
From the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri, to the Eric Garner controversy on Staten Island and beyond, Kerik believes prominent political and civil rights figures have only fanned the flames of division.
"We broad brush the cops as racist, as criminals. We crucify them in the court of public opinion and I just think it's wrong," said Kerik.
Kerik says the first thing people should realize is the immense volume of police work that occurs on a day to day basis.
"Local, state and federal law enforcement in this country probably effect more than two million arrests per year. Two million. In New York City alone, there's more than 100,000 arrests per year," he said.
The biggest problem he says is that too many people fail to look at each case on its own merits and instead start looking for some sort of narrative.
"We then take two, three, four incidents and we turn those into a broad brush of negativity toward the law enforcement community all over this country and it should not be," said Kerik.
"Every one of these events should be looked at individually. First and foremost, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. That goes on both sides of the coin, whether it's the suspect or it's a cop that's involved in an incident," he said.
Kerik also takes aim at politicians and civil rights figures, not only for failing to diffuse tense situations but to blatantly mislead the public about what is happening in the protests.
"I think it is the political leadership that incites these protests. People have talked about these protests. These are peaceful protests. Well, that's not necessarily the case. Some of them are. Most of them have not been," said Kerik.
He says protests in the wake of two high-profile cases are perfect examples.
"In Ferguson alone, they burned down half the community for God's sake. That's not a peaceful protest. Peaceful protests in New York City are not calling for cops to be killed," said Kerik.
Kerik stresses that people have the right to assemble and speak their minds but elected and self-anointed leaders have a responsibility to maintain calm.
"People have a right to express their opinion, but when you have civil rights leaders and you have public officials that are supposed to be there to keep the peace, it's just wrong for them to get out and incite these people. They're really creating more havoc and more harm to communities than necessary," said Kerik.
This week, Rep. Hank Johnson, R-Ga., took to the House floor to sound the alarm for what he sees as a pattern of police abuse and even murder toward black suspects.
"It feels like open season on black men in America and I am outraged. In fact, all Americans are at risk when bad actors in law enforcement use their guns instead of their heads," said Johnson, who also submitted a list of 22 Americans who died in police encounters.
So is there a systemic problem of racial bias that is putting black lives in danger at the hands of police?
"I don't think so." said Kerik.
In fact, Kerik says competent police work radically reduced violence and murder in New York City.
"Look what law enforcement community has done for the minority communities in New York City. Back in 1990, there were more than 2,400 murders in New York City, most of them came from the minority communities. In the last 20-25 years, the NYPD has reduced overall violence by more than 75 percent and homicides by close to 80," said Kerik.
He says the bottom line is that the lives of black New Yorkers are far better as a result of the NYPD.
"The predominant [beneficiaries] of those reductions in violence and murders have been the black communities. I think that's completely ignored in this racial incitement, this racial argument that's out there," said Kerik.