Archive for February, 2010

Student wins Facebook suit against school

For any high school or university student who “Facebooks” (apparently now a verb), a recent decision by a federal magistrate in Florida should come as welcome news.   The magistrate’s February 12th ruling supported the right of a student to post an entry on Facebook critical of her English teacher.  The Facebook entry, posted by then-senior Katherine Evans in November 2007, contained nothing obscene or inapproriate, nor did it counsel violence or any other improper act; it simply vented Ms. Evans’ frustration that the teacher, Sarah Phelps, was “the worst teacher” she’d ever had. 

For having the audacity to post such an opinion on her own — not the school’s — Facebook page, Ms. Evans was suspended and moved from her advanced placement English class into another, less-weighted class.  The specific reasons for these disciplinary actions included “cyberbullying,” “harassment,” and “disruptive behavior.”   That’s right.  A student who criticizes a teacher on her own computer and …

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Leave Tiger Woods alone!

I’m not a golfer, although I have played a few times and I thoroughly enjoy an occasional golf outing with one or both of my sons at a public course in the Atlanta area.  At the same time, I find watching golf on TV to rank only slightly ahead of being mesmerized by watching members of Congress mill around while C-SPAN broadcasts their votes during a roll call. 

Yet, for all my lack of familiarity with the intricacies of the game, I do understand that Tiger Woods is an outstanding golfer; as good and perhaps even better than were Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer two generations ago.  I also now know, from watching Tiger Woods’ televised mea culpa last Friday, that there’s a good reason he doesn’t do much of it.  He stinks as a public speaker.  But then again, maybe it was the subject matter about which he was speaking that made it so excruciating to watch.  He was, after all, addressing the nation on a topic about which he shouldn’t have been pressured into doing in the first …

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Big Brother wants to track cell phones

Americans own nearly 300 million cell phones.  These ubiquitous electronic devices are used billions of times every day to make phone calls, place orders, locate destinations, pay bills, text messages, read emails, and browse the web.  In a single generation, phone books, road maps, and pay phones have been rendered virtually extinct. 

Recognizing the treasure trove of information that can be revealed by or retrieved from these devices, the federal government now wants to use our cell phones and other personal communication devices for something quite different from the purposes for which we purchase and employ these now-essential tools.

In arguments earlier this month before a federal appeals court in Philadelphia, lawyers for President Barack Obama made the case that the government should be able to easily track the location of cell phone users without first securing a warrant.  In making this argument, the Obama Administration mimics the position taken by its …

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Over-criminalization — bragging could land you in federal jail

For decades, it has been a federal crime to employ the mails, the phones, or other forms of interstate communication (pretty much any manner of communicating these days) to engage in or perpetrate a fraud on another person or other persons.  It is not the mere act of deceiving someone that causes the heavy hand of the federal criminal law to be marshalled against a person engaging in a misrepresentation, but the fact that he or she employs such “scheme or artifice” to defraud someone out of money or something of value; in other words, engaging in a scam to steal money from people.

In late 2006, however, former President Bush signed into law piece of legislation that goes far beyond even the extremely broad reach of the federal fraud statutes.  Under this 2006 law, a person in the United States can now be indicted, convicted and sent to jail for simply lying about something — not benefitting from it, not using a lie to take something from someone, but simply for telling a …

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Pagan worship at Air Force Academy

A few years back, when I was in the US Congress, I took the Army to task for permitting the practice of Wicca on its bases, including at Ft. Hood in Texas.  After speaking with a number of officers and military leaders, and meeting with several former military who adhere to the practice of Wicca, I was convinced that a belief in or practice of witchcraft, was not necessarily incompatible with the good order and discipline essential to a military lifestyle.  However, one might legitimately wonder just how far such tolerance should extend.

The US Air Force, at no less a prestigious location than the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, has taken the notion of religious tolerance to a new level, in creating an outdoor worship area for pagans.  The site, apparently sacred to pagans, consists of an inner and an outer circle of large stones.  I’m sorry, but this truly is hilarious.  Don’t get me wrong, if someone “has little or no religion and delights in sensual pleasures and …

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Boone Pickens’ recipe for energy independence is a winner

How many Americans would knowingly fill up their car with gas imported from countries on the State Department’s travel warning list?  Millions of us probably are doing just that every day.  A local fill up en route to the office or a ballgame may very well be contributing directly to the $36 billion America sends to Nigeria each year.

Americans rely on China, the Middle East and Africa for oil and other commodities, while simultaneously engaged in a “war on terror.”  Nineteen percent of America’s oil comes from the Middle East and a like amount from Africa – countries politically unstable and often hostile to the United States.  In a very real sense, we are enabling our adversaries.

America’s trade deficit swells to $40.2 billion even as China has surged to become the world’s leading exporter. Our trade deficit widened to its highest level in a year last December, largely as a result of higher oil prices. All this as unemployment nationally pushes ten percent.  Our economic …

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Anti-gun lunacy continues

We ought to be used to the stories by now — “Student suspended for toy gun”; “Boy Scout tool nets student suspension”; “Tweety Bird key chain cause for expulsion.”  Still, when we read of a fourth grade student being hauled into a school prinicipal’s office because his LEGO policeman figure is carrying a two-inch long plastic rifle, it is hard to resist the urge to pull at one’s hair in reaction to the sheer idiocacy of the adults who do such things.  This latest example of a grown-up appearing to be a simpleton in front of a child, took place at Public School 52 in Staten Island, NY. 

According to a spokesman for the school system, Principal Evelyn Matroianni was simply following the Staten Island school system’s “no tolerance” policy that prohibits all “weapons” at the school, when she hauled the 9-year old into her office and called his parents. 

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a “weapon” to be “something (as a club, knife, or gun) used to injure, defeat, or destroy.”  …

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Canadian Premier comes to US for heart surgery

The Premier for Newfoundland, one of Canada’s eastern provinces, underwent heart surgery last week.  Where do you suppose Premier Danny Williams went for his surgery?  To a hospital in St. John’s, the capital city of Newfoundland?  Nope.  Perhaps he travelled to a larger Canadian metropolis, such as Toronto or Montreal?  Guess again.  Actually, the premier chose to have his cardiac repair performed not anywhere in his own country.  Like so many of his fellow Canadians, Premier Williams eschewed his country’s government-insured health care system, and instead came south to the United States to undergo life-saving and time-sensitive surgery.

While neither the premier’s office nor other official outlets in Canada would disclose the location of the hospital where Williams received his treatment, sources indicated it may have been in Florida.  Regardless of where in the US the surgery was performed, the fact that a high-ranking Canadian government leader would forego receiving …

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DNA database bill should be deep-sixed

A few years back, I hosted a nationally-syndicated radio program, modestly called “Bob Barr’s Laws of the Universe.”  One of the laws most frequently cited during the three years I hosted the weekly show, was Law Number Three:  “No matter how much information government has, it always wants more.”  This came to mind recently as I read of a piece of legislation introduced in the Georgia General Assembly by Rep. Rob Teilhet, a Democrat from Smyrna and a candidate for state Attorney General.

Teilhet’s bill, HB 1033, would vastly expand the size of the DNA database already maintained by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, by empowering the state to take a DNA sample from any person who is arrested for any felony.  I suspect many laypersons will wildly cheer such legislation, as yet another way to “get tough” on criminals and prevent crime.  I am sure candidate Teilhet hopes the voters will perceive his legislation in such light.

It is, however, more than a little troubling that …

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Stoking the fears of terrorism

Earlier this week, the government’s top officials responsible for managing America’s foreign intelligence and counter-terrorism operations, testified on Capitol Hill.  While much of the information CIA Director Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, and FBI Director Robert Mueller provided the Senate in the public portion of their testimony was valuable and informative, it was not all thus. 

In a transparent display of theatrics, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, asked the three administration officials if another “attempted attack” on the US was likely in the near future.  If the witnesses answered that such an “attempt” was unlikely, they would be accused of offering a false sense of security to the country.  A vague answer would land them in hot water for not appearing to know that which they are paid to find out.  A definitive “yes” would add to the oft-times irrational fear that many of those in the …

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