Year: 2013

Feinstein: I Will Investigate The NSA . . . To Protect Foreign Leaders

225px-dianne_feinstein_official_senate_photo220px-Angela_Merkel_(2008)For civil libertarians, there may be no more unsettling statements than “Dianne Feinstein is here to protect civil liberties.” Of course, it is not quite that bad. The Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has been the greatest champion for the creation of the massive surveillance of U.S. citizens and effectively blocked any demand for a perjury prosecution of National Intelligence Director James Clapper for lying about the programs. She has called for the prosecution of Edward Snowden for revealing years of deceitful or false statements made to the public. She has criticized the media for disclosing information on the programs despite admissions that of unlawful conduct by the government after the disclosures. No, none of that bothers Dianne Feinstein. However, she is outraged by the monitoring of foreign leaders and promised a “total review” surveillance program.

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Who Will Rid Me Of This Meddlesome Press? NSA Director Calls For Actions To Be Taken Against Media

160px-Bill_of_Rights_Pg1of1_AC220px-Keith_B._Alexander_official_portraitNSA documents released by Edward Snowden have revealed years of false statements by the government, the capture of calls and emails from every citizen, the monitoring of tens of millions of people globally, the surveillance of world leaders including close allies, and the perjury by National Intelligence Director James Clapper. It has caused the Obama Administration — after denials of violations — to admit violations of U.S. laws and abuse of surveillance powers. Now General Keith Alexander, NSA director, says enough. We simply cannot stand any more disclosures of wrongdoing so Alexander wants to see actions taken against the media to prevent further disclosures.

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Federal Agents Raid Reporter’s Home In Search of Illegal Weapons and Allegedly Question Her About Prior Negative Stories And Seize Documents and Notes

1e18267250px-swat_teamThere is a troubling story outside of Washington where journalist Audrey Hudson’s home was searched by federal agents who took documents related to stories and reportedly asked her about stories that she had written that were critical of the Federal Air Marshal program.  The agents had a warrant to search for unregistered firearms and a “potato gun.”  That apparently required a pre-dawn raid by armed agents of the U.S. Coast Guard, Maryland State Police and the Department of Homeland Security.  Presumably, the family was believed to have a whole bushel of potatoes that were considered an arsenal.

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You Don’t Have Jack: Small Tennessee Distillery Sued Over Label and Shape of Bottle By Jack Daniel’s

Unknown253006We have another trademark fight where a major company demands the sole right to a common feature or phrase or lettering. In this case, it is Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey that is going after the small distiller of Popcorn Sutton’s Tennessee White Whiskey. The objection is that the white whiskey named for a famed Appalachian moonshiner is using a square-shaped bottling with similar labeling that looks like the square-shaped bottle of Jack Daniel’s.

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U.S. To Merkel: Don’t Worry A Functionary Ordered Your Surveillance

PresObama220px-Angela_Merkel_(2008)As the world joins in opposition to the U.S. attack on privacy worldwide, President Barack Obama has to face awkward meetings with world leaders of allied countries who were subjects of his surveillance. Some reports have stated that Obama personally approved the monitoring of Angela Merkel’s telephone three years ago. Now, the National Security Agency (NSA) is insisting that Obama did not order the monitoring personally. I am not sure what is worse: that Obama ordered interceptions of allied leaders like Merkel or that the surveillance state is so large that functionaries now have the discretion to order such surveillance. Merkel may not find it as more assuring that Obama didn’t order her monitoring than the notion such she is just another target delegated to discretion of lower level officials. It is also not clear if Mike Rogers is going to suggest that Merkel should also thank us for the monitoring.

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Chinese Journalist Shown In Public Confession After Accusing Company Of Fraud

Chen-Yongzhou_2714702b200px-Destroy_the_old_world_Cultural_Revolution_posterWe have seen in the last year a shocking return of the Chinese government to the practice of public confessions that were regular displays during the Cultural Revolution. Environmentalists, dissidents, and reporters have been frog-marched in front of television audiences to confess their evil ways and praise the authoritarian government for teaching them the correct path of obedience. The latest is Chen Yongzhou, 27, who committed the sin of writing about fraud committed by Zoomlion, a Chinese heavy machinery manufacturer. In a pathetic nine-minute confession, Yongshou apologizes to Zoomlion for his lies and deceit in covering the alleged fraud. The public demonstration led many to question the official account of the bribing of a reporter.

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Rogers To The French: You’re Welcome

220px-Michael_J._Rogers_113th_CongressEuropeans are upset after learning that, in addition to capturing the email and phone records of Americans, the NSA has been doing the same to them in a global assault on privacy. This includes leaders of allied nations. The United States is now viewed as an international rogue nation with no respect for the law or privacy or even loyalty. Now into this explosive environment has jumped Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Rogers responded directly to the French and said that this is all a “good thing” and the French should really be “applauding and popping champagne corks” for keeping them all under surveillance and destroying any notion of privacy.

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Redefining Religion

Mike Appleton, Guest Blogger

“Blessed be you, mighty matter, irresistible march of evolution, reality ever newborn; you who, by constantly shattering our mental categories, force us to go ever further in the pursuit of the truth.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “Hymn of the Universe,” (Harper and Row, 1961).

It took the jury fewer than fifteen minutes to convict substitute teacher John Scopes of the crime of teaching evolution to Tennessee public school students in 1925.  It was the last victory of Christian fundamentalists in their war against the disciples of Darwin, and a hollow one at that.  Although the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law, it reversed the verdict because the trial judge had imposed a $100.00 fine on Mr. Scopes, contrary to a provision in the Tennessee constitution requiring a jury to assess fines exceeding $50.00.  In sending the case back, however, the court made the unusual suggestion that further prosecution not be pursued.  Scopes v. State, 154 Tenn. 105, 289 SW 363 (1927).  It was not.

Fundamentalists were emboldened by the Scopes verdict.  In 1928 Mississippi and Arkansas adopted similar laws and in the ensuing years, the subject of evolution was effectively dropped as a topic in many high school science courses, a trend that was not reversed until the Sputnik scare in 1958 led to a revamping of science curricula.  It was not until 1968 that the Supreme Court decreed that laws forbidding the teaching of evolution in public schools violated the Establishment Clause.  Epperson v. Arkansas, 397 U.S. 97 (1968).

With direct bans no longer available, fundamentalists pursued a new strategy, the adoption of “balanced treatment” legislation requiring that teachers provide time for the exploration of the Genesis story of creation as an alternative explanation of biological origins.  In 1983 a federal district judge threw out Arkansas’ balanced treatment statute, concluding that creationism is “not science because it depends upon a supernatural intervention which is not guided by natural law.  It is not explanatory by reference to natural law, is not testable and is not falsifiable.” McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, 529 F. Supp. 1255, 1267 (E.D. Ark. 1982).  Several years later, Louisiana’s balanced treatment statute was also found to violate the Establishment Clause under the Lemon test.  Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987).

Efforts to recast creationism as science under the name “intelligent design” were rebuffed in the now famous case of Fitzmiller v. Dover Area School District,  400 F. Supp.2d 707 (E.D. Pa. 2005), in which the court succinctly stated that “[intelligent design] cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.” 400 F. Supp.2d at 765.

But the war is far from over.  Creationists are once again in court, and this time they are urging that the teaching of evolution in the public schools is itself a violation of, inter alia, the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses because evolution theory incorporates the “core tenets of Religious (‘secular’) Humanism.” Continue reading “Redefining Religion”

The Victory of Poetry

By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

ku-mediumAmerican poet Stephen Dunn (bio here) reminds us that “all good poems are a victory over something.”  For the folks in Rittman , Ohio (pop. 6,491) those words have a decidedly athletic context.  The Rittman Indians High School football team was suffering through another miserable season at 1-7 and team morale was plummeting. Like most bad institutions there’s plenty of blame to go around but the school administration thought it had its scapegoat. Junior Defensive End Nick Andre had been tasked with composing a poem about something that made him angry. His English teacher told him anything he wrote about was fine as long as it was authentic and sincere. Not content with such weighty issues as drone strikes or government shutdowns, Nick decided to write about what he knew — the abysmal football team and allegations of nepotism and favoritism that were weighing down the squad.

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Speed and Beauty: A Ballet in the Skies of France

Submitted by Charlton Stanley (Otteray Scribe), Guest Blogger

Copy of Boy with model sculpture.250There used to be a program on one of the television sports channels called World of Speed & Beauty. It was about fast, beautiful and graceful machines on the land, water and air. That is what this story is about. These past few weeks have seen enough tales of woe, bigotry, greed, anger and most of the other deadly sins that I thought we needed something to bring a smile to a few faces. Below the fold are two High Definition videos I hope will do just that.

Almost everyone looks up when they hear an airplane go over. The kid who never grew up still lives in most of us.

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Witch Way to Halloween?

halloweenwitchbroommoonSubmitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

My daughter always got so excited decorating our house for Halloween when she was young. She loved spooky stories and movies…and Halloween as much as she loved Christmas.  When I was teaching elementary school, I really enjoyed reading scary stories to my students as well as sharing and writing Halloween poems with them. Since Halloween is just a few days away, I thought I’d post one of my original witch poems and a collaborative class poem written by my second grade students a few years before I left the classroom.


There was a witch who liked to race
Her supersonic broom through space.
At six o’clock last Friday night
She blasted off at speed of light.
She whizzed past Mercury and Mars…
Then headed off toward distant stars.
Across the galaxy she sped,
A black peaked helmet on her head.

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Criminal Defendants and Wireless Wiretaps: One Small Victory?


Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)-Guest Blogger

A recent decision by the Justice Department has opened the doors to a possible test of whether the government’s widespread use of wireless wiretaps is constitutional.

“The Justice Department for the first time has notified a criminal defendant that evidence being used against him came from a warrantless wiretap, a move that is expected to set up a Supreme Court test of whether such eavesdropping is constitutional.”  New York Times  Continue reading “Criminal Defendants and Wireless Wiretaps: One Small Victory?”

Res ipsa loquitur – The thing itself speaks