Archive for April, 2010

Violent video games in Supreme Court crosshairs?

Just last week, a strong majority on the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a 1999 federal law outlawing certain videos depicting animal cruelty and other weird practices involving animals (so-called “crush videos”) was overly broad and operated as an unconstitutional infringement of First Amendment rights.  I was one of the few members of the U.S. House of Representatives to vote against the legislation at the time of its passage.  I did so for the same reasons the Supreme Court threw out the statute last week — not because any of us find the activity protected by the First Amendment to be laudable (far from it); but because it sweeps too broadly and attaches criminal penalties to a person’s right to freedom of expression. 

Moreover, it is not as if true acts of animal cruelty would go unpunished without this federal law in place; virtually every state already criminalizes such practices.  The high Court decision, and my vote against the legislation 11 years ago, simply …

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Sexual Balkanization reflected in lawsuit

Every so often a news story comes across my desk that illustrates beautifully the human comedy.  Thus it is with a story that appeared  last week in the Los Angeles Times.  The article in question described a discrimination suit filed by bisexuals against gays.  The story illustrates not only the extent to which we have become a sexually Balkanized society, but why our court system is so clogged with specious lawsuits that it frequently is impossible to have legitimate suits heard in a reasonable amount of time.

According to the April 20th Times story, a lawsuit has been filed in federal court in Seattle alleging that the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance, which organizes the annual Gay Softball World Series, improperly discriminated against three bisexual men from the San Francisco area by taking away their team’s second place finish because the bisexual players on the team were “non-gay.”  The tournament at which the alleged discrimination took place was the …

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Prayer Police Attack National Prayer Day

There is an ancient Scottish nursery rhyme that reads:  “From Ghoulies and Ghosties and long-leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us.”  More dangerous to modern-day anti-prayer zealots than even the “ghoulies and beasties and things that go bump in the night” from which divine protection is needed, is prayer itself; or at least, voluntary prayer offered by public officials.  The latest target for the prayer police?  The National Day of Prayer, scheduled to be celebrated in Washington, DC and in communities across the country on May 6th.

Why are the these First Amendment zealots so hot under the clerical collar about National Prayer Day – something which has gone off without a hitch every year since first declared by President Harry Truman 58 years ago?  It’s hard to say, since the event is the antithesis of controversy; bringing together men and women from across the political spectrum, representing many nationalities and …

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Laptops open to warrantless government snooping

Laptop computers and other personal electronic devices such as cell phones, I-phones and Blackberries are increasingly attractive to government agents because of the vast amounts of data users store on them.  Unfortunately, in the absence of federal law protecting them from government searches without warrants or even reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing, federal courts are permitting such warrantless searches.

In a recent case out of the Southern District of Texas, a US citizen flying back into the United States from Bogota, Colombia, had his personal laptop computer seized and subjected to a warrantless search by Customs agents at George W. Bush airport near Houston.  The agents found what they were looking for — evidence of child pornography.  Their lack of surprise was the result of having previously identified the arrestee as a suspected child pornographer.

Divorcing our analysis from the distasteful nature of the offense — child pornography — two aspects of this …

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Bill (”The Meaning Of Is”) Clinton lectures us on language

Sometimes the ironies that manifest themselves in the behavior of current and former government officials are just too delicious to ignore.  Thus it is with remarks made last Friday by former President Bill Clinton.  Appearing before the Center for American Progress Action Fund in the nation’s capital, the former president echoed the time-worn theme employed regularly by liberals, that when “conservatives” publicly criticize the government they indirectly encourage exremist violence, such as that perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh in blowing up the Oklahoma City federal building 15 years ago this week.  Clinton, as do other critics of conservatives who argue against the big government programs liberals so love, try to blunt their criticism by claiming that they are not trying to “restrict free speech”; but that’s precisely what they are subtly trying to do by linking conservatives to violent extremists such as McVeigh.

The special irony in the case of Clinton lies …

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Texas textbook controversy misses the mark

In her fascinating 2003 book, The Language Police, Diane Ravitch chronicles the dumbing down of our public education system through the pervasive and insidious censorship of textbooks.  She lamented the homogenization of education brought about largely by the incessant quest to remove controversial topics, words and phrases from the educational process.  Of particular concern to Ravitch was her conclusion that history texts are among the most profoundly infected with political correctness; leading her to note that “in no other subject do American seniors score as low as they do in U.S. history.” 

Oft times heated disputes between conservatives and liberals continue to surface when boards of education — especially in the larger states — consider changes to textbook language.

Most recently, this problem boiled over in Texas, the nation’s second-largest consumer of textbooks for public school students.  Last month, the Lone Star state’s elected board of education met …

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Atlanta Tea Party was well-organized and well-behaved

It may come as a shock to people around the country whose familiarity with the Tea Party movement is gleaned from national media reports, but yesterday’s rally at the State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia was well-organized, substantive, and well-behaved.

I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at this event, and I was impressed with the demeanor and attentiveness of the crowd — which included many young people in addition to adults from a very diverse background.  The speakers reflected that diversity of backgrounds as well, and included many from Georgia (of course), but also from Washington, DC, other states and even other countries. 

Common to those standing and listening to the speakers, and to the speakers themselves, was not so much the “anger” often portrayed by the national media as the hallmark of the Tea Party movement, but more of a deep and sincere concern for the current and future state of the nation.  Government spending is today reaching historically — …

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Biometrics pushed for medical records uses

Anyone interested in the future of electronic databasing of prescription medications, or of electronic medical records, should become familiar with one word that likely will be key to such matters in the near future:  biometrics.

Already, the federal government is funding the move toward electronic databasing of medical information; the stimulus bill earlier this year, for example, included monies for such measures.  At the same time  (and as noted here in the “Barr Code” on March 22, 2010), the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is pressuring states to require that anyone obtaining a prescription for any medication on the government’s list of “Controlled Substances,” register such activity in an electronic prescription drug database.  Georgia, for example, is close to succumbing to such pressure and legislatively mandating such a privacy-invasive registry.

Now, in a just-published proposed rule in the Federal Register, DEA is proposing that a physician …

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Nominee’s death penalty views being distorted

Now well into its second year, the administration of President Barack Obama is encountering increasing flak in its already lagging efforts to fill vacancies on the federal bench.  In one pending nomination — that of Goodwin Liu to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – Republican roadblocks have significantly slowed this important but controversial appointment. 

Much of the opposition to Liu – a Georgia native and currently a Berkeley law professor – is legitimate and based on relevant policy disagreements.  At the same time, at least some of the criticism falls well outside the bounds of legitimate and relevant objections to a judicial nominee.   In particular, Liu’s views on the death penalty have been distorted.  Based largely if not solely on a single paper he wrote some six years ago, critics have suggested quite erroneously that Liu possesses an “anti-death penalty agenda.”  This conclusion appears based on the notion that Liu has promoted the idea that …

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Call for a new “Department of Intelligence” is not an intelligent idea

In April 2005, just five months after former CIA Director George Tenet was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom notwithstanding the Agency’s failure to put the pieces of the 9-11 intelligence together before the attack, a new “super-intelligence” agency of the US government was formed — the Directorate of National Intelligence.  The purpose of creating this new umbrella intelligence agency, with a budget now in excess of $50 billion (in addition, of course, to the billions of dollars each of the individual agencies under it enjoys), was to resolve the myriad problems that had plagued our foreign intelligence system for decades — too many agencies with their own parochial interests and blinders, vague goals and missions, lack of a single and comprehensive budgetary authority, lack of coordinated technology and dissemination procedures, etc.

Now, just five years into the DNI’s existence, one of its former directors — Mike McConnell — is calling for yet another “top” …

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