Archive for December, 2010

Bill of Rights a forgotten document

After fighting a war to win liberty from a tyrannical government, Anti-Federalists — a faction of our Founding Fathers led primarily by Patrick Henry distrustful of a strong national government — pushed for amendments to the Constitution to identify fundamental natural rights and civil liberties.  Such a Bill of Rights, they believed, was necessary because of the known propensity of governments generally to usurp powers not delegated to it.  

Yet some, such as James Madison, initially fought such a move, based on the principle that there is no need to say what a government cannot do, because that could imply it can do everything else. 

In the final analysis, however, Madison took the lead in the Congress in support of the first ten amendments to the Constitution as the Bill of Rights, because not to do so likely would have doomed the entire process.  He therefore, but reluctantly, drafted 12 proposals to settle concerns of Anti-Federalists; 10 were initially ratified. 

The …

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The Afghan money pit grows deeper still

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, American taxpayers, you are on the hook for another billion dollars the federal government has decided to spend in a continuing, vain effort to train Afghanistan’s corrupt and incompetent soldiers. 

Corruption in the Afghan police is the rule rather than the exception. The UK-based paper, The Telegraph, noted during the summer that, rather than fighting insurgents, the police actually had been “fueling the insurgency.” Distrust with police among Afghans is so pronounced that many citizens have are seeking out the Taliban as protectors. 

Much of the corruption travels from the top down, as Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai’s government has set the standard for corruption. Using cables recently released by WikiLeaks, The New York Times determined that Afghanistan is a country where “bribery, extortion and embezzlement are the norm and the honest official is a distinct outlier.” These were among the reasons conservative columnist George Will …

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WikiLeaks may spawn new sedition act

The infamous Sedition Act, which criminalized speech critical of the federal government and which was passed by the Federalists during another of America’s undeclared wars (that time, against France), lasted only three years, from 1798 to 1801.  However, if the congressional critics of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange have their way, a new and revised version of the Sedition Act may be in the offing.  

Thomas Jefferson, who became our third president in 1801, was not only a vocal critic of the Sedition Act, but pardoned those who had been punished pursuant to its terms.  Jefferson was, of course, right in his view of this law (which expired before its constitutionality could be determined by the Supreme Court).  His wisdom is well-needed today to quell the blood thirst of those clamoring for Assange’s head because of WikiLeaks’ release of cables and e-mails critical of and embarrassing to, the government. 

The primary vehicle these modern-day Federalists are looking to employ …

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Will lame duck session bring on-line gambling?

Will the lame duck session of the Congress, in between votes spending a trillion dollars of our money, actually strike at least a small blow for freedom, and loosen the restrictions it placed on internet gambling back in 2006?  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pushing a bill that would make at least certain types of online gambling legal in the United States. He’d better hurry. 

In 2006 before losing their majorities in the Congress, Republicans pushed passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UNIGEA). Another self-styled conservative – President George W. Bush — exhibited little hesitancy in signing the legislation into law; another tip of the hat to government power and reduced individual liberty.  

The 2006 law barred financial institutions from processing transactions for online gambling websites; effectively outlawing internet gambling in the United States. As Radley Balko wrote at the time, Republicans claimed the ban was needed to rid the Congress …

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iPhone App for snitches

Being a snitch used to be considered cowardly and craven.  Not anymore.  There’s now an iPhone app that makes it easy for you to become a high-tech informant for Uncle Sam. 

Citizen Concepts, a Florida-based software company, recently launched an application for the iPhone, dubbed the “PatriotApp.”  The name for this app appears to be a play on the title of the 2001 legislation – the “USA PATRIOT Act” — that gave the government unprecedented and constitutionally troubling powers to combat terrorism and other federal crimes.  In an apparent effort to boost awareness of the new tattletale app, its developers are making it available for free over Christmas.  

In the brave, new post-911 world, it is now considered “patriotic” to snitch on your fellow citizens. 

Citizen Concepts claims – apparently with a straight face — that the app is meant help citizens “assist government agencies in creating safer, cleaner, and more efficient communities via social networking and mobile …

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Proprietary colleges bullied by government

Several times during my tenure in the House of Representatives, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich found reason to illustrate a point he was making, by recounting a story attributed to Albert Einstein.  According to Newt, when the famed physicist was asked what he considered “the most powerful force in the universe,” he replied “compound interest.”  

While I hesitate to take issue with one as renowned as Albert Einstein, I think he was wrong.  In my view, the most powerful force in the universe is not compound interest, or even the forces of atomic particles the study of which won Einstein the Nobel Prize.  If you ask me, the most powerful force in the universe is the force of the status quo. 

Think about it.  Can you recall any program instituted by government that was totally de-funded and abolished?  And, is it not easier to move a mountain than to have one organization accept competition that might upset the status quo of its monopoly. 

Thus it is with the escalating war of words …

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Study confirms US education stinks

In the film classic, “Casablanca,” the chief of police, played by Claude Rains, expresses profound “shock” that gambling has been taking place at Rick’s American Cafe.  Similar expressions of shock were heard in our nation’s Capital earlier this month, with the release of an international survey of student achievement.  This year’s Programme for International Study (PISA) test, which is administered every three years by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), placed the United States far down in the pack in science, reading, and especially mathematics.  The dismal results had the United States 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading.  China was first.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the the results a “wake up call.”  His reaction shows just how out of touch Washington is when it comes to education.  If the United States hasn’t awakened by now to the fact that our schools are failing miserably to graduate students competent to …

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Transportation Secretary is out of control

You may have seen a truck commercial with Georgia head football coach Mark Richt, in which his cell phone is synched with a system in the truck; allowing the drivers to have a conversation or hear text messages, without holding a phone or looking down at the screen. This illustrates emerging technology automakers are using to attract new vehicle customers by making them more user-friendly. 

But, not if the nation’s Nanny-in-Chief, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, has his way. 

Recent reports from the nation’s Capital indicate LaHood’s department is exploring new technology that actually would disable cell phones in moving vehicles, and make new products promoted by automakers, such as that illustrated above, pointless.  In an interview recently on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, for example, LaHood told the show’s hosts, “the technology is there and I think you’re going to see the technology become adaptable in automobiles to disable these cell phones. We need to do a lot more if …

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WikiLeaks is 21st century’s first cyber war

WikiLeaks, until recently a little-known website specializing in gathering and publishing on the Internet communications that governments don’t want to be made public, is now front-page news around the globe.  Legal and technological machinations surrounding the group’s latest electronic dump of classified diplomatic cables and e-mails, however, threaten to redefine cyber warfare.  

This is not the first time WikiLeaks has released confidential information; but it is unquestionably the most intriguing. 

WikiLeaks is suspected to have received this most recent information treasure trove from Bradley Manning, a low-level Army intelligence analyst who is in custody, and who presumably will be prosecuted for his massive breach of security.  Indicting WikiLeaks founder and chief operative, the itinerant Julian Assange who holds an Australian passport and hides out in internet cafes, will be much more problematic. 

Prosecuting Assange directly in the United States will be …

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Operation “HotWatch” tracks credit card use

Examples of government surveillance in our lives never seem to end. Virtually any international phone call or e-mail we make or receive is subject to warrantless electronic eavesdropping.  We have the Transportation Security Administration taking naked scans of air travelers.  The Drug Enforcement Administration is dangling federal dollars in front of state officials as an inducement for them to electronically track and data base medications prescribed by doctors to patients. 

Now we learn federal law enforcement has the ability to track credit card purchases, travel agreements, cell phones and so-called loyalty cards – such as a “Kroger Plus Card” – in real-time and without a warrant. 

A document obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by Christopher Soghoian, a privacy blogger, shows how the feds are doing this.  First, the government contacts a credit card company’s security department, then issues a subpoena and a court order for non-disclosure to obtain the …

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