Archive for June, 2010

Of peanuts, salt and bad airline food

You gotta love those wild and crazy Nanny State guys; they never stop searching for things to regulate, limit and tax, and they never, ever give up.  This past month of June has been a typical one for the federal nannies.

Within just one week earlier this month, the Department of Transportation, headed by federal nanny-in-chief, Secretary Ray LaHood, proposed and then backed away from a ban on serving peanuts on commercial U.S. air carriers.  Seems the feds realized after proposing the ban, that they really didn’t have the authority to ban the roasted legumes.  In fact, the folks at DOT apparently forgot they are expressly prohibited by law from summarily banning peanuts on airlines. 

The small number of persons who fly commercially and who also happen to be allergic to peanuts, first cheered and then booed the federal actions.  However, the much larger groups of Americans who are not allergic to peanuts, breathed at least a temporary sigh of relief that this small but welcome …

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Nightmare of federal sentencing guidelines

Last week I was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where I attended a hearing in federal court at which a 50-year old man was sentenced to 27 years in federal prison – in effect, a life sentence. The defendant, Sholom Rubashkin, is not a murderer, serial rapist or child molester; he is not a drug king pin and he did not bilk hundreds of innocent investors out of billions of dollars.  Rubashkin is a first-time offender who was convicted late last year of a number of white-collar offenses stemming from his management of a large kosher slaughterhouse and meat packing plant.  For this, he received what amounts to a life sentence.

While I did not represent Rubashkin at his trial, I will be assisting in the appeal of his case.  Among the likely grounds for appeal are the 27-year sentence he received and the calculations by which the judge determined the length of that sentence.  My purpose here has not to do with the case itself, but rather with how this one incident illustrates major flaws in …

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Naive Schwarzenegger appears shocked and amazed at welfare abuses

In a display of naivete that is itself shocking, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reacted with apparent amazement to reports that California welfare recipients were using their state-issued debit cards to get cash from ATMs located inside gambling establishments.  He, of course, promised immediate action to stop the abuses.  Should California taxpayers hold their collective breath?

The first question one might ask of the governor is, “when you give welfare recipients a debit card that empowers them to make cash withdraws from ATMs, and some of them decide to withdraw cash at casinos, what the heck did you expect?”  Are these government officials so naive themselves that they actually believed that in issuing virtually unrestricted debit cards to people on welfare, they would use the cards only for purchasing bread, milk and eggs? 

Schwarzenegger’s spokesman Aaron McLear is quoted in the Los Angeles Times as concluding that the behavior exhibited by these California …

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Obama right to sack blathering general

Following President Barack Obama’s firing on Wednesday of four-star Army General Stanley McChrystal, many pundits, including on Capitol Hill, were quick to praise the officer’s career and performance in Afghanistan, where he was the top NATO commander, and his prior service in Iraq.  The fact is, McChrystal displayed grossly poor judgment in his remarks to Rolling Stone magazine that led to his firing from the Afghanistan command.  Indeed, beyond the serious lapse in judgment represented by McChrystal even granting such a series of interviews in the first place, the controversy raises legitimate questions of why our military leaders are going around blathering to the media.

Military policy is to be set by our civilian leaders — the president, the secretary of defense, and others in an administration.  That includes defending and explaining those policies to the media and to others.  These are not responsibilities to be exercised by military officers themselves; they do so at …

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Latest anti-immigration laws reek of “Big Brother-ism”

A large mural in Fremont, Nebraska depicts all manner of individuals holding or waving American flags — apparently to show that this city of 25,000 in the country’s heartland stands for freedom and liberty.  The reality, based on a vote of its citizens on Monday, is quite different.  According to the new law, no one in Fremont will be able to rent or lease a home, apartment, or even a bedroom in an assisted-living center, without first applying for and being granted an “occupancy permit” from the local police.

Let me repeat — in the “All-American” town of Fremont, Nebraska, before anyone over the age of 18 can rent or lease a house, apartment, or room (or even move from one rented room to another one), they will have to go to the police, fill out an application, pay a fee, and obtain a permit in order to avoid criminal charges being brought against them and/or the person who rents to them.

The rationale for enacting this outrageous and what in an earlier time would be termed …

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Government pushing to control Internet

For the past decade, the federal government has been moving to gain effective control over the internet.  Now, thanks to legislation just crafted by Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, the government may finally realize its goal of being able to control virtually all aspects of the vast internet, including private internet systems.

The decade-long process began in earnest in 2001, when the Bush Administration secured passage of legislation giving it jurisdiction to prosecute computer hackers anywhere in the world if the packets of information travelled through a U.S. computer or router and affected a “federal interest computer.” 

Then, in 2006, the Senate voted to ratify the Cybercrime Treaty that essentially internationalized all “cybercrimes,” so that crimes committed in any country that is a signatory to the treaty can be investigated by any other signatory country.  The treaty contains extremely broad definitions of “cybercrime” with no meaningful privacy …

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Torture victims treated better by Canada than U.S.

Eight years ago, a Canadian citizen named Maher Arar was arrested by federal officials at Kennedy International Airport in New York based on information from Canadian law enforcement — later determined to be incorrect –  that he was somehow connected to al Qaeda.  After being held in the U.S. for nearly two weeks, the government had him sent to Syria.  At Washington’s direction, Arar was detained for nearly a year by the Syrians and, as expected, severely tortured.  After he was finally freed, Arar sued the Department of Justice.

His case seeking damages wound its way through the federal courts for years, and just this week came to a shameful end.  The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a lower court dismissal of Arar’s claim, in effect ruling that the U.S. government is permitted to send a person off to be tortured by a surrogate government, based on apparently erroneous information, and never be held accountable.  The High Court bought into the Obama Administration’s …

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Blame for border deaths starts with Mexican government

The Mexican government is incensed that two of its citizens have been killed at their country’s border with the United States in the past two weeks, apparently in altercations with U.S. Border Patrol agents.  In the first incident, on May 31st at the border crossing between San Diego and Tijuana, a Mexican migrant died, apparently after being shocked with a stun gun by a border agent.  Just last week, a Mexican teenager was shot by a U.S. agent during a rock throwing incident just outside El Paso, Texas.

Mexican officials, including President Felipe Calderon, have been characteristically quick to blame and condemn Washington for the two deaths; in the case of the San Diego incident, accusing the United States of “torturing” the Mexican to death.  The United States government, for its part, is doing precisely what it should do — conducting an investigation to determine exactly what happened in both instances.

Mexico’s rush to judgment in blaming the United States, is …

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Administration targets working-adult degree programs

Whether a president actually claims the mantel of being the “Education President,” as did George W. Bush, or simply declares education a “top priority,” every recent occupant of the White House has felt the need to tout their education credentials.  In his very first speech to a joint session of the Congress in early 2009, President Barack Obama promised that within a decade the U.S. will “have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”

Strange it is, then, that this administration is moving to dramatically curtail the ability of a major segment of the country’s post-secondary schools to meet the needs of many students often underserved by traditional colleges and universities; namely, working adults and minorities.

In the crosshairs of a new Department of Education proposed regulation are America’s proprietary private colleges and universities.

The variety of degrees offered by proprietary schools, and the number and size of such schools, have grown …

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Court limits government laptop snooping

As noted previously in this Blog, the Obama Administration has continued the policy of the previous administration and claimed the right to seize the laptop computers and other electronic devices of any person entering the country.  The feds also assert the right to retain the devices indefinitely to search for whatever evidence the government wishes.  This unbridled power to search personal files without warrant applies to foreigners as well as American citizens returning from travels abroad.

Now, at long last, a federal judge in California has placed at least some limits on the government’s ability to seize laptops, hold them indefinitely, and peruse them for evidence of criminality whenever the government’s agents feel the desire.  In the California case, U.S. citizen Andrew Hanson was returning from a trip to South Korea in January 2009.  Customs agents seized his laptop, digital camera, and other property because they suspected Hanson’s equipment contained evidence of …

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