Thursday, March 27, 2008

Indiana Limits Freedom of Speech Where the Content Might Be Harmful to Minors (update)

Yesterday, I posted the essay "Indiana Limits Freedom of Speech Where the Content Might Be Harmful to Minors". Apparently, I am not the only one with concerns about the new law requiring business to register with the state if they will sell "sexually explicit" materials. In today's The Indianapolis Star there are not one, but two editorials voicing concern and opposition to this new law.

First, on the main editorial page, the editorial staff of The Indianapolis Star offers the opinion "Bad law for a good cause invites volumes of worry" (although it should be noted that I used the example of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition in my blog yesterday...). The editorial makes several good points, one of which is worth repeating:
[B]usiness people who wish to avoid trouble may feel pressured to pay their $250 and sign up, in effect incurring a fine and a public black mark for purveying words and pictures.

That's censorship. It's also the sort of feel-good governance the elected class can't seem to resist or dares not oppose in the face of public distress over morals and commercial blight.

Also of interest in the editorial was the statement from Governor Daniels' spokesperson:
The spokesperson for Gov. Mitch Daniels says he signed the bill because it
sailed through both chambers of the legislature and he wasn't aware of any
complaints, even though booksellers say they asked him for a veto.

So, as I read that explanation, Gov. Daniels doesn't bother to think independently about a bill before he signs it into law; if it passed the General Assembly by a wide margin, it must be a good law. I think that we should expect our Governor to bring some independent thought and critical analysis to any action that he takes, especially something as important as signing a bill into law.

In addition to the editorial from the editorial staff, columnist John Ketzenberger also wrote about the new law in the Business section in "'Adult' law is too broad to be workable". The point to take away from this editorial is the idea that the State doesn't intend to actively enforce the law.

The problem, however, as I read the law, is that it is not up to the Secretary of State to decide who to prosecute; rather, that would be up to a county prosecutor. Moreover, prosecution is not triggered by the act of registration with the Secretary of State, but rather, the act of selling "sexually explicit" materials without having registered. Thus, if a zealous, conservative prosecutor (or a zealously conservative prosecutor or, perhaps, even a zealous liberal prosecutor) were to walk into a new bookstore or grocery store and see a copy of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition (let alone something more "scandalous" like, say Playboy), then that prosecutor could commence an action against the seller of that material for failing to register (a Class B misdemeanor). The prosecutor should know who is registered because the law requires the Secretary of State to notify the county of registrants in that county. In other words, this becomes just another crime on the books that may or may not be enforced from county to county (and which, don't forget, may be interpreted differently from county to county, as well, on the basis of differing community standards).

So, in essence, we have an unconstitutional law targeting a narrow problem that snares an overly broad class of businesses that may or may not be enforced and which the Governor signed into law simply because it "sailed" through the General Assembly. Government at its finest, no?

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Indiana Limits Freedom of Speech Where the Content Might Be Harmful to Minors

I'm not quite sure how I missed it during the recently completed legislative session, but the Indiana General Assembly adopted, and the Governor signed into law, a bill that is a direct affront to the Constitutional protections of freedom of speech and of the press. I first became aware of House Enrolled Act 1042 in the article "Booksellers incensed over sexual content law" by Tim Evans in today's The Indianapolis Star. The new law requires anyone who "intends to offer for sale or sell sexually explicit materials [to] register with the secretary of state the intent to offer for sale or sell sexually explicit materials and provide a statement detailing the types of materials that the person intends to offer for sale or sell." Indiana Code § 23-1-55-2. After registration, the Secretary of State must notify the appropriate officials in the county where the business is located. At the time of registration, the registrant must pay a $250 fee. (It is interesting to note that this fee is three times greater than any other fee to be collected by the Secretary of State under pursuant to Indiana Code § 23-18-12-3.)

So what exactly is "sexually explicit material"? House Enrolled Act 1042 also addresses that with the the addition to the Indiana Code of § 24-4-16.4-2 which provides:

(a) As used in this chapter, "sexually explicit materials" means a product or service:

  (1) that is harmful to minors (as described in IC 35-49-2-2), even if the product or service is not intended to be used by or offered to a minor; or

  (2) that is designed for use in, marketed primarily for, or provides for:

    (A) the stimulation of the human genital organs; or

    (B) masochism or a masochistic experience, sadism or a sadistic experience, sexual bondage, or sexual domination.

(b) The term does not include:

  (1) birth control or contraceptive devices; or

  (2) services, programs, products, or materials provided by a:

    (A) communications service provider (as defined in IC 8-1-32.6-3);

    (B) physician;or

    (C) public or nonpublic school.

For the sake of argument (and to limit the scope of this discussion), I'll ignore (a)(2) for the moment, although I'm not sure why the government really cares what people want to do in the privacy of their own homes (and query, whether a person selling this time of material over the Internet must register...). Instead, I'll limit the discussion to (a)(1) and products or services that are "harmful to minors ... even if the product or service is not intended to be used by or offered to a minor".

So what does Indiana Code § 35-49-2-2 says is "harmful to minors"?

A matter or performance is harmful to minors for purposes of this article if:
(1) it describes or represents, in any form, nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sado-masochistic abuse;
(2) considered as a whole, it appeals to the prurient interest in sex of minors;
(3) it is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable matter for or performance before minors; and
(4) considered as a whole, it lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.

Please understand that I'm not suggesting that any of the foregoing is good for minors; however, I am a bit troubled by the government -- rather than parents -- deciding that these matters are harmful to minors. Moreover, I can think of many other matters or performances that are far more harmful to minors, such as depictions of drug or alcohol use, violence, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and other similar things. Just consider for a moment that the State of Indiana is worried about minors seeing nudity (unless it has "serious" artistic merit...and query who, precisely, makes that decision) but does not say anything about minors seeing examples of drug and alcohol use throughout popular culture, not to mention the extreme violence that permeates the media (forget about Die Hard or Saw; just watch an episode of Tom & Jerry!). Watch a hip hop video on MTV or an episode of CSI or listen to some of the proponents of the recently defeated immigration legislation to see examples of things that are far more harmful to minors than depictions of sex. And has anyone every met a teenager (still a minor) who did not have a prurient interest in sex? Even sex education classes cause many a whisper and giggle, and the American Pie movies didn't make tons of money because of their metaphysical observations on the human condition.

I'm also troubled by the reliance upon "prevailing standards in the adult community" as a touchstone for determining what is harmful to minors. What troubles one adult may not trouble another adult. And why should material that is acceptable to minors in some places be unsuitable for a minor in another place? Just witness the recent attempt to adopt a "wholesomeness" ordinance in Carmel (where I live) because some uptight women were offended by the window displays at Victoria's Secret. Should my access to literature have any basis on what those women view as "decent"?

Unfortunately, this is a discussion for another day. The point of reflecting on what is "harmful to minors" is to see how that relates back into the new registration requirement. Recall that the definition of "sexually explicit materials" means products or services that are "harmful to minors ... even if the product or service is not intended to be used by or offered to a minor" (emphasis added). In other words, if material might be harmful to a minor, even if not is not offered or sold to minors, the person offering that material must register with the State of Indiana.

Consider a few examples:

  • A book store that sells bestsellers (which most of the literary elite would probably say do not contain serious literary merit) which portray sexual acts (how many romance novels don't portray sexual acts) must register before it can sell those books; as one bookseller quoted in The Indianapolis Star article noted: "the law could potentially cover 'just about any coming-of-age novel and books on health, hygiene and human sexuality'".
  • A movie theater that plays R-rated movies that contain nudity might have to register, even though minors cannot attend those films (without a parent).
  • A video store that rents or sells many PG-13 (let alone R or NC-17) films would have to register (just think about many "teen comedies" like Porky's or American Pie); recall, that it doesn't matter whether the movies will be sold to minors or not, only that they are available.
  • A marital counselor who sells books to her adult, married clients regarding sexual techniques and positions, might have to register before she could sell those materials.
  • Have you ever walked into a Spencer's Gifts store in the mall?
  • What about the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition? After all, it certainly "describes or represents" nudity and sexual excitement.
  • A liquor store (into which a minor may not enter) must register before it can sell Playboy.

Is that what we really want? Is that right? I understand the idea of requiring the local "adult" book store or the business that provides lingerie "shows" to undergo some kind of regulation, but most communities use zoning laws for that sort of regulation. And, while it appears that those are the types of businesses that this law is aimed at, it uses a shotgun approach that targets far too wide and captures far too many business and far too much content and material.

And now we finally come to the real problem with the law: It is unconstitutional. It is worth looking at the often-ignored Indiana Constitution, not just the United States Constitution.

No law shall be passed, restraining the free interchange of thought and opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print, freely, on any subject whatever: but for the abuse of that right, every person shall be responsible. (Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 9)


Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press .... (United States Constitution, Amendment I)

Yet this new law will do precisely what those provisions seek to prevent. It will restrain the free interchange of thought and opinion because it will require businesses to self-censor to avoid being tagged as purveyors of sexually explicit material. Moreover, it will require business to pay a fee to the state solely on the basis of the content of material that may be legally sold. How many people might refuse to shop at a bookstore or video rental store that is known to sell "sexually explicit materials"? And what if a local government decides to enact zoning regulations that prohibit business that sell sexually explicit materials. Just imagine a community with no bookstores or theaters because some material might be harmful to minors in the opinion of some adults in the community.

Why is it that we as a society are so worried about our children being exposed to sex, but we don't seem to have a problem exposing them to violence. We are reluctant to let them to hear one of George Carlin's "seven dirty words", but we don't have a problem letting them hear hate speech from their religious leaders. We don't want them to learn how to practice safe sex (and I don't mean just abstinence), but we don't have a problem teaching scientifically inaccurate material if it will prevent sex. We don't want them to drink, but we don't mind letting them see beer commercials everywhere they look. We don't want them to have sex, but we don't mind when American Idol or Monday Night Football is interrupted with advertisements for Viagra, Cialis, and their ilk (and have you tried to explain to an 8-year-old what erectile dysfunction is?). We don't want the government to trample on our rights, but we don't mind asking the government to trample on the rights of "others".  We don't want our children to be exposed to "sexually explicit materials", but we are loathe to pass laws that will be effective in keeping those children away from guns. We want our children to learn to think for themselves, so long as they think the right things...

Let's keep the government out of deciding what kind of books and movies and magazines can be sold. Let's not start down the slippery slope of censorship, whether by government, community, or self-censorship to avoid governmental regulation. Let's not force booksellers and video rental stores and other businesses to register with the government on the basis of content that is protected by the Indiana and United States Constitutions.

I understand that many people disapprove of obscenity and pornography; that's fine. But in a state and nation with protections for freedom of speech, press, and expression, the disapproval of some should not be the basis for the government to limit what content others may have access to. There is (probably) nothing wrong with limiting materials that is available to minors (especially if the parents have access to that material to share with their children at the parents' discretion), but it is absolutely wrong to limit an adult's access to that material on the basis of whether that material might be "harmful to minors", especially when that limitation is based solely on sexual content and completely ignores the other societal matters that are far more harmful both to minors and adults (guns and drugs, for example).

Ask your elected representatives to honor the concepts of freedom of speech and freedom of the press; ask them to step back from government censorship; ask them to repeal this law next session.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama Talks Race

Yesterday, Sen. Barack Obama gave a much talked about speech on race in America. So far, I haven't had a chance to hear the entire speech, just fairly extensive sound bytes (of the NPR variety, not the TV news variety). From what I've heard, Sen. Obama rejected some of the comments from his Pastor, but did not reject the man himself. Sen. Obama also talked about some of the concerns that are raised in the African American community and recognized some of the concerns still held in the white community.

So here are the questions:
  1. Will Sen. Obama's open discussion of African American concerns combined with criticism of the more extreme statements of Rev. Wrigbht satisfy the white community or will the public airing of those concerns push whites away from Obama's candidacy?
  2. Will Sen. Obama's discussion of white concerns help draw new white supporters to his candidacy or will discussion of those concerns seem like pandering and push more whites away?

What do you think?

Incidentally, I found the entire text of Sen. Obama's speech at The Huffington Post.

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More on President Bush's Interference With EPA Ozone Regulations

Several days ago, in my post "Recap of Interesting News Items" I discussed President Bush's meddling with EPA regulations concerning ozone emissions. Reader John Walke, the Clean Air Director/Senior Attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council posted a comment in which he mentions his own blog article "Science Decider in Chief". It appears from reading Mr. Walke's post that the newspaper story from which I got my information barely scratched the surface of the actions and issues.

Please take a few moments to read Mr. Walke's thoughts on the subject. Then, if you believe that President Bush's actions were inappropriate, take a few minutes and call your Congressman and tell them what you think.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Senator Lugar's Thoughts on FISA

A month or three ago, I contacted my Senators (Sen. Evan Bayh [D] and Sen. Richard Lugar [R]) to tell them that I was troubled by the insistence of the Bush administration in including retroactive immunity to the telecommunications industry in the reauthorization and amendment of anti-terrorist legislation. (I previously discussed this issue in "If We Scare People Enough, Maybe They'll Be Willing to Sacrifice the Bill of Rights"). When I spoke to the staffers for my Senators, I explained that I thought that discussion of retroactive immunity should be considered separately from legislation that was designed to keep America safe.

Yesterday, I received a response from Sen. Lugar:
Thank you for contacting me to share your thoughts about the Protect America Act of 2007 and reform of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA).

On August 5, 2007, President Bush signed into law the Protect America Act of 2007. This Act provided the Director of National Intelligence, for six months, increased authority to monitor communications of foreign terrorist targets. Congress is working to find consensus on a way to move forward with a possible long-term extension. Retroactive immunity for certain telecommunications providers and privacy issues will be an important part of these discussions. I will continue to closely follow consideration of this matter with your concerns in mind.

Protecting American citizens from harm is the federal government's most important responsibility. As a United States Senator, I take that responsibility very seriously. I believe we can wage a successful war on terrorism without sacrificing the liberties bestowed upon us by the Founders.

Thank you, again, for contacting me.

It is worth noting that on February 12, 2008, both Sen. Lugar and Sen. Bayh voted against a proposed amendment that would have stripped the retroactive immunity provisions from the FISA Amendments Act of 2007. No Republicans voted for the amendment and Sen. Bayh was one of 18 Democrats who voted against the amendment.

Now that the House of Representatives has passed legislation without the immunity provisions, it will be interesting to see how my Senators vote on this issue in the future.

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Supreme Court Hears 2nd Amendment Case

Today the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that goes to the heart of the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution. The essential issue before the Court is whether the 2nd Amendment provides an individual the right to keep and bear arms and whether the government (in this case, the city of Washington D.C.) can severely restrict the type of arms (i.e. handguns) that can be owned by citizens.

I have my own thoughts on the 2nd Amendment and gun control legislation (see if you can guess where I stand...) and I could probably write fairly extensively on those thoughts. Instead, I wanted to post just a few brief (well, brief-ish) notes about the issues.

Obviously, before any opinion can be reached, the key starting point must be the text of the Constitution itself. Sadly, far too many people think that they know what various provisions of the Constitution say without actually reading the full language. So here is the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution (all 27 words):
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

So what exactly does the 2nd Amendment mean? That is the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court today.

All too often, when people talk or think about the 2nd Amendment, they quote the second clause of the Amendment without regard to the first clause. However, ignoring the first clause is a flawed way of reading the text of the Amendment; after all, if the first clause has no meaning, then why was it included? It is instructive to note that of the Bill of Rights, only the 2nd Amendment includes a preamble or explanatory language; all of the other Amendments in the Bill of Rights simply enumerate what laws cannot be passed or rights cannot be infringed. Thus, the first clause of the 2nd Amendment must mean something.

And if the first clause does not mean anything, then what precisely does the second clause itself really mean? After all, it says that the right "to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed". Does that mean that laws prohibiting assault rifles (machine guns) are unconstitutional? Does that mean that laws prohibiting convicted felons from owning guns are unconstitutional? Does that mean that laws limiting access to high explosives are unconstitutional? Does that mean that laws prohibiting carrying a gun into a school are unconstitutional? Do we really want a society where people walk around "packing heat"?

I think that it is also worth thinking about the 2nd Amendment with some degree of temporal context that is not as relevant for other provisions of the Constitution. For example, speech is speech and religion is religion, whether in 1791 or 2008. But the weapons of 2008 bear little resemblance to the weapons with which the Founding Fathers were familiar. Do you think that George Washington or Thomas Jefferson could even contemplate an automatic pistol that holds 18 armor-piercing bullets with a rate of fire of 25 rounds per minute and an effective range in excess of 100 feet, let alone an AK-47 , Uzi, MAC-10, night-vision scope, laser targeting, rocket propelled grenade, or Stinger anti-aircraft missile? Compare today's guns to those available when the 2nd Amendment was written, when a soldier had to manually load each round into his gun (don't forget about adding black powder) and then shoot a small round lead bullet (that certainly wasn't going to penetrate Kevlar body armor) for a fairly short distance without too much accuracy. In other words, the world has changed and the 2nd Amendment has not. It is also worth noting that the meaning of "cruel and unusual punishments" has changed with time (no more drawing and quartering, hanging, or beheading), so why shouldn't the meaning of "keep and bear arms" change with the times, as well?

There really appear to be two things driving much of the anti-gun control rhetoric (other than blind allegiance to the 2nd Amendment): protection from criminals and protection from government. I want to address these (briefly) in reverse order.

Some people have argued that the government should not "take away" their guns because then the government could "take over" (this appears to be one of those black helicopter/new world order sort of fears). First, does anyone really believe that our government (which, let's face it, can barely manage to keep the government semi-functional) really intends some kind of coup to destroy "freedom" (although I might argue that the Bush administration, with programs like warrantless wiretapping and imprisonment of American citizens as "enemy combatants" does have some eerie similarities to some of these fears)? And, assuming for a moment that such a plan was in the works, does anyone really believe that individual gun owners will be able to stop M1 tanks, F-18s, Blackhawk helicopters, nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers, Predator drones, and soldiers as well-trained and well-equipped as ours?

As to public safety and the right of people to defend themselves in their homes, the right to have a weapon does seem like a good idea. We've all heard the refrain that if the government takes away our guns, only criminals will have guns. But, the last time I checked, the police had guns too. Moreover, if we put an end to the availability of guns (even just handguns, I suppose), then, after a time, it will become more and more difficult for criminals to get those guns. Just look at how little criminal gun violence exists in other developed countries that do have stricter gun control laws. And don't forget the number of children who die each year playing with the guns that their parents purchased to protect their home. The guns may have protected the homes from burglars, but they certainly did not protect the families from innocent and curious children.

Personally, I think that tighter government regulation of guns (together with efforts to get handguns out of the hands of criminals) will do far more to protect me and my family than would owning a handgun myself.

Well, those are just a few of my thoughts on the subject. Now, it all appears to be in the hands of the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, I don't have high expectations.

For some additional information, please see "High Court Starts Case Challenging D.C. Gun Ban" by Nina Totenberg (NPR's legal affairs reporter).

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Recap of Interesting News Items

Several items in today's issue of The Indianapolis Star caught my eye and prompted me to offer at least a few (notice that I did not say "brief") thoughts on each:


First, was the editorial "The trouble with judging a book by its cover" by Kathleen Parker about a student/employee at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) who was apparently censured for reading a book about a confrontation between students and Notre Dame and the Ku Klux Klan in 1924. A co-worker who only saw the cover of the book thought that it was racially insensitive and should not be read in public and filed a complaint against the student/worker. IUPUI censured the student/worker for his choice of reading material. Then, just recently, IUPUI reversed its position and rescinded the censure because the University could not make a determination as to whether the reading material or the choice to read that material was "intentionally hostile". Today's The Indianapolis Star also has an article on this story that relays these same basic facts: "IUPUI withdraws reprimand of worker". For the record, it is worth noting that the issue may have been more about the student/employee's behavior toward other employees and less about the book, but, nevertheless, the letter of censure appears to be directed toward the choice of reading material:
We conclude that your conduct constitutes racial harassment in that you demonstrated disdain and insensitivity to your co-workers who repeatedly requested that you refrain from reading the book which has such an inflammatory and offensive topic in their presence.

Several things about this story prompted me to write. First, while I read the paper every day, this was the first time that I've heard about this story, even though it concerns events here in Indianapolis. (I admit that I might have missed it earlier, but it seems like the type of story that I would have noted.) Yet, the editorial is from a Washington Post columnist. How is it that this story was picked up by the national press and ignored here in Indianapolis? Second (and much more importantly), the very notion that a person's choice in reading material, especially historical reading material, could be racially insensitive borders on the ludicrous. I suppose that an employee reading a book extolling the virtues of the KKK or something similar might cross that line, but history is history and the mere fact that someone is interested in history should not subject that person to criticism for racial insensitivity. What is even odder is that the book appears to be an anti-racism book about the beginnings of the decline of the importance of the KKK in Indiana (a state with a government once dominated by the KKK). And finally, of all places for a complaint like this to have arisen, it would seem that a public university would be the least likely to challenge a student's reading material. I can recall reading some pretty strange things when I was a student (which, it should go without saying, does not necessarily mean that I approved of the text or ideas of that material; rather, reading that material was a part of the learning process). I can't fathom my university (and I attended a private school) telling me not to read something because someone else might be upset. While it may be acceptable for a private employer to intervene in how an employee acts during his breaks, it is troubling to think that a public university would intervene to such an extent that an employee who is also a student could not freely choose what to read.

I think that this entire matter, from the conduct of the student/employee, to the conduct of the employee(s) making the complaint, to the University's administrators who issued the letter of censure should be the subject of an investigation. If the student/employee engaged in conduct that was hostile or racially insensitive, then he should be punished, but that conduct must be more than reading a book others may disapprove of (especially if they don't really know what the book is about). Might the employee have been subject to sanction for reading the Koran if another employee was an Iraq war veteran or a 9/11 survivor? By the same token, however, if the complaining employee was not on firm ground in making his complaint, then that employee should be punished. And, most importantly, the author of the letter sanctioning the student/employee for his choice in reading material should, in all likelihood, be shown the door as it does not seem to be the role of anyone in a public university to criticize, let alone censure, a student for choosing to learn about history.

Environment & Presidential Authority

The next article that caught my eye was "Bush overrules EPA ozone rule" by Juliet Eilperin (The Indianapolis Star, March 14, 2008, page A5; for some reason not available on According to the article, the Environmental Protection Agency was prepared to issue new Clean Air regulations. Yet, before the EPA could do so, President Bush stepped in and, perhaps illegally, told the agency to weaken the regulations:
EPA officials initially tried to set a lower seasonal limit on ozone to protect wildlife, parks and farmland, as required under the law. While their proposal was less restrictive than what the EPA's scientific advisers had proposed, Bush overruled EPA officials and ... ordered the agency to increase the limit....

In the opinion of John Walke, clean air director for the National Resources Defense Council:
It is unprecedented and an unlawful act of political interference for the
president personally to override a decision that the Clean Air Act leaves
exclusively to EPA's expert scientific judgment.

Even US Solicitor General Paul Clement recognized that President Bush's action presented a problem, as the new rules "contradicted the EPA's past submissions to the Supreme Court".

But then this is not the first time that President Bush has ignored advisers. He has previously forced changes in a report on global warming that he disagreed with and changed generals in Iraq to get a general that advocated a strategy endorsed by the President. So, we shouldn't be surprised. But we should be troubled.


Finally, for those of you who have been reading this blog over the last month or so know, I've expressed repeated concerns over Indiana's proposed immigration legislation. I am quite pleased to see that the bill (originally SB335 then amended into SB345) appears to be dead for the 2008 legislative session (see "Immigration bill appears dead"). Once again, I want to be clear: I am not necessarily opposed to immigration reform or to some of the broad concepts set forth in the draft legislation. However, as the cliche goes, the devil is in the details, and SB335 (and its offspring and siblings) had too many problems in the details (leaving aside such large details as constitutionality...) to be adopted as law.

I am sure that this issue will again be before our legislature next year; hopefully in the long session, without the property tax crisis dominating all other issues, and in a non-election year, the General Assembly will be able to give much more careful consideration to whether state-based immigration reform is appropriate and what form such reform should take. I've previously highlighted a number of concerns with the draft legislation (as, of course, have others). Perhaps if more of these concerns are understood and addressed, viable and appropriate legislation will be possible. But for now, I'm pleased to see that neither SB335 nor SB345 will become the law of the State of Indiana in 2008.

One final note on the defeat of the immigration legislation. Sen. Mike Delph, the bill's primary author and sponsor, has been the target of much criticism during the legislative process. The criticism directed at him with regard to the specifics of the bill or his appearance with a uniformed soldier to endorse the bill was appropriate; however, some of that criticism devolved into charges of racism which I don't believe were appropriate (although I do think that some supporters of the bill have been racially motivated). I disagreed with some of Sen. Delph's ideas, but I do not question that his motives were good and I do not think that his ideas were racially motivated.

That said, however, some of Sen. Delph's comments, quoted in today's The Indianapolis Star did bother me. According to "Immigration bill appears dead" by Dan McFeely, Sen. Delph said of the legislative process that lead to the "killing" of the immigration bill: "It's corruption. And you can quote me on that". Just as I'm sure Sen. Delph does not appreciate the charges of racism, I'm sure that legislators who had legitimate concerns with SB335/SB345 would not appreciate being charged with corruption. Frankly, I think that it is blatantly irresponsible of Sen. Delph to make such a charge without evidence. Political and policy disagreements do not corruption make. It appears that Sen. Delph believes that if he doesn't get his way, it must be because of corruption in the system. Perhaps, Senator, the bill died because many people had concerns with its provisions, not the least of which would be its constitutionality.

Sen. Delph is also quoted as saying "I think this has been a well-orchestrated effort, bipartisanly [sic] from both leaderships, to try to kill the bill .... Unfortunately, the will of the people is losing now and it's a shame." Again, while the effort to kill the bill may have been "well-orchestrated", there is nothing nefarious going on. While many people may have supported the bill, many others did not. The business community, the Chamber of Commerce, immigrant groups, and religious groups all expressed opposition or concern about the legislation. So, the suggestion that the leadership prevented "the will of the people" from becoming law is not based on real facts. Sen. Delph often cites his constituent survey and notes that 87% of his constituents favored his bill; however, it is worth noting first that his survey was conducted before the actual text of the bill was introduced and before anyone had a chance to comment on its flaws. Second the language of the survey is just the type of pre-determinative language that makes reliance upon survey results so dangerous:
Illegal immigrants' unfunded use of local government services adds to demands on local property taxes. Would you support or oppose a bill that would get tough on illegal immigration and those who profit from such activity.

I can't imagine anyone saying no to that sort of statement. The problem, of course, is that the basic premise of the "question" is, at least partially, false.

I look forward to participating in an open and honest discussion of these issues in the future. I hope that our legislators and concerned citizens will participate as well. But, I hope that such participation is done in good faith and with an open mind and without the name calling, racial overtones, and refusal to think about competing viewpoints that has plagued discussion of the issue this year.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Special Election Today

So the special election for Indiana's 7th Congressional District (to replace Rep. Julia Carson) is being held today. If you live in the 7th Congressional District, did you vote? For whom? Why? And, more importantly, if you voted for Andre Carson today, will you also be supporting him in the May primary or will you, instead, be supporting another candidate (David Orentlicher, for example)? Why? Let me know.

One thing that I can say for certain: I just hope that I have a chance to vote for a candidate other than Dan Burton to represent me in Congress!


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Monday, March 10, 2008

LibraryThing: "Into the Volcano"

I have updated my LibraryThing catalog with a review of Into the Volcano [Mallory and Morse #1] by Forrest DeVoe, Jr.

I'm now reading The Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer and Old Man's War by John Scalzi (don't ask why I'm reading both at the same time; not worth the explanation). I'll probably actually finish The Book of Fate first and then go back to Old Man's War.


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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Indiana's Proposed Response to Undocumented Immigrants (Update 2)

I haven't written much about the pending immigration legislation since my previous posts last month. The bill (and the revised version that has been grafted onto another bill) has been the subject of much debate and has been in the press quite a bit. The bill, grafted onto Senate Bill 345 has now been passed by the Indiana House and sent back to the Indiana Senate for approval. Some of my initial concerns with SB335 have been addressed in SB345; however, I continue to have grave concerns with the proposed legislation, both in terms of its aims and the means by which it seeks to achieve those aims.

Unfortunately, I don't have the time (or, for that matter, the inclination) to get into the detailed specifics of my continued concerns with the bill. However, I did want to take a moment to commend The Indianapolis Star for the editorial position taken in the March 5, 2008 edition. In the editorial "Election-year rush job would be big blunder", the editorial board of The Indianapolis Star concludes:

Take time to address the constitutional issues at stake. Work with business leaders to draft a plan that protects companies from being forced to use a flawed system. Give the federal government another chance to take care of its obligations.

But don't rush, in the passion of an election year, into enacting a law that would violate the Constitution, harm workers here legally and punish businesses unnecessarily.

Hopefully, the Indiana General Assembly will follow this suggestion. For, as the editorial also recognizes, adopting the proposed immigration bill, even with its noted flaws, "may be good politics, but it's not a responsible way to set policy".

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Clinton or Obama? Obama or Clinton? I Might Get to Choose After All

Now that the Democratic primaries in Texas and Ohio are over and both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama remain "alive" as viable candidates with a chance of winning the Democratic nomination, I guess the time has come for me to start paying more attention to the candidates. "What," I hear you ask (at least the metaphorical "you" that I imagine reads this blog), "you haven't been paying attention so far?" Well, in all honesty, no, I really have not been paying too much attention to the policy differences between Obama and Clinton (I'm going to try to go back and forth in which one I mention first...) because up until this morning, it did not look like it would ever really matter what I thought or which candidate I prefer. But with the race still neck-and-neck, it looks like Indiana's May primary might still matter. So the time has come to start thinking about which candidate I'd prefer. (For some previous thoughts on the primaries, see my previous posts "Obama, Huckabee, and Iowa...Oh My! - Yawn..." and "New Hampshire Primary Result Good for Democracy").

One thing I can say for sure: Absent some dramatic change in circumstances or the revelation of a critical new piece of information, I will be voting for the Democratic candidate to beat Senator McCain. The fact that the right-wing talk radio hosts dislike McCain gives me some reason to believe that we won't be in terrible shape if he wins, but his views on Iraq and certain social issues (and the impact that he could have on the Supreme Court) are more than ample reason for me to vote Democrat in November. So, the question becomes, who would I prefer to see running against Senator McCain and who will I vote for in May? I don't have an answer yet. But I do have some initial thoughts.

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Let me first admit to two things: First, I look back on the Clinton administration fondly. Sure, there were problems, but they never seemed that bad to me. Come on, who really cared about Whitewater or people paying to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom? And so what if President Clinton got a blowjob in the Oval Office? To paraphrase an oft-used phrase, "When Bill lied, nobody died." And ask this: Why exactly, was the President being asked about his sex life under oath anyway? So, like I said, I look back on the Clinton administration fondly (especially when compared to the current Bush administration which, in my not-so-humble opinion, will go down as one of the worst presidencies in American history). Second, I always liked (maybe admired would be the better term) Hillary. Sure, she bit off more than she could chew when she tried to reform healthcare. But I didn't see anybody else jumping into that morass to even try. Better to have tried and failed.... And, it was refreshing to see a First Lady who was more than just an ornament on the President's arm and who was involved in more than just cute little pet projects.

I think that Sen. Clinton has the experience to be President (for an interesting discussion on the need for experience, please read "Does Experience Matter in a President" in the February 28, 2008 issue of Time; the print version of the story has in interesting graph showing the experience of each of the former Presidents when they took office), has many of the traits that I'd like to see in a President, and appears to have views that are mostly in line with my own on many issues.


Something has always bothered me about Sen. Clinton. I can't put my finger on it, but something has always been ... well ... er ... um ... off. For one thing, she has always seemed like too much of a politician; I often wonder if she believes what she says or says what polls tell her that people want to hear. Add to that the huge opposition that she generates among conservatives, and I worry about her electability. For some reason, people love her or hate her; the question is whether the haters will stay home in November or come out en masse, even if it means voting for John McCain. And why can's Sen. Clinton simply say that, in hindsight, she should have been a more vocal opponent of the Iraq war? I don't want a President that cannot admit to past mistakes.

Barack Obama

I don't know as much about Sen. Obama as I do about Sen. Clinton. What I do recognize is that he is a terrific orator and motivator. We must take seriously anyone who can motivate young adults to become active and involved in the political process, rather than cynical slackers who believe that their voice doesn't matter. Like him or not, Sen. Obama deserves a great deal of credit for getting young adults involved in his campaign and for getting them to vote!

His excellent oratorical skills, combined with the positive vision of hope that he continually discusses, strikes a chord. I think that we need a President who will use the office as a soap box or bully pulpit to try to bring the country together. (Does anyone remember President Bush saying that he would be a "uniter, not a divider"?) I think that Sen. Obama could be the sort of transformative personality that the political process needs. Just think of some of the great phrases that President's have uttered throughout history and the great change that those words were able to instigate.


Several things worry me about Sen. Obama, too. I'm not sure if experience matters, but I have this sense that it can't hurt, and Sen. Obama simply has very little practical experience in the areas that will matter most. I'm not worried about his ability to work with others or to pick good advisors or good Supreme Court Justices. But Sen. Clinton's campaign advertisement asking who I'd feel more comfortable with in a foreign policy crisis does ring true. I guess that I'm not yet convinced that there is much substance behind Sen. Obama's style. I appreciate that Sen. Obama is willing to admin that a business deal with indicted businessman Tony Rezko was a "boneheaded mistake", but if he can make a boneheaded mistake in the purchase of a house, what might he do in the case of a serious issue?

And, while I don't buy into the ridiculous allegations and rumors that Sen. Obama is a closet Muslim, I do have concerns about how he will handle the Israeli-Palestinian situation (and no, I don't think that President Bush will manage to get a final peace treaty before he leaves office) and I'm troubled by links between his Pastor and the Nation of Islam (although I do recognize that he has denounced and rejected the comments and "help" of Louis Farrakhan). For too long, Jews and African-Americans have not worked well together. Perhaps, Sen. Obama can bring these groups back together, but if not, then I have some serious worries. I guess what I'm getting at is that I want to be sure that, if elected, Sen. Obama would, to put it crassly, be good for the Jews.

Finally, one person I know said that they would not vote for Sen. Obama because of his race. I was shocked when I heard this because the person who said it has never previously uttered a racist comment (at least not to me). When I challenged this person, they said that it wasn't that they disapproved of an African-American President, but that they didn't think that the country was ready for an African-American President. I do worry that a sentiment like that might be more widespread than I would like to think and that such prejudice, even if espoused in the nature of "not me, but others" sort of irrational fears, could manifest itself in troubling ways, the least of which would be the election of Sen. McCain instead of Sen. Obama, were he to be the Democratic candidate


So now the time has come to start doing some more research, to pay more attention to the nuances in the differences of the candidates' respective positions, and to think hard about who I would prefer as our nation's first non-white male President. Right now, I don't know who I'll vote for in May. If you have strong feelings one way or another, please let me know; but be sure to give me concrete examples and reasoning. Hopefully, I'll be able to share more of my thoughts as I progress through the decision-making process.

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