Monday, June 23, 2014

Are Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber an 'Emerging Threat'?

Last week the celebrity gossip pages were reporting the news that the on-again, off-again romance of bad boy Justin Bieber and Disney Channel songstress Selena Gomez was on again.

The 21-year-old ex Disney star and the Canadian pop star reportedly spent the past few days together riding Bieber's three-wheeled motorcycle and attending mutual friend Alfredo Flores' birthday party.

"Justin and Selena are definitely full-on back together at the moment," a source told Us. "They spent all day riding together on a Can-Am Spyder on Sunset Blvd. Justin drove while Selena sat on the back holding on to [him]."

The insider added that Bieber "was incredibly sweet with her and they looked super happy and in love."

Someone at UPI decided to have fun with the story.  In an email news roundup, the story headlined "Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez back together again" was listed under "emerging threats."

Here's a screen shot:

When I had the chance last week, I should have asked Virginia Senator Mark Warner whether Justin Bieber is such a threat that he should be deported back to Canada.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Flag Day Flashback: Does the U.S. Flag Merit Special Protection?

Today is Flag Day, and thus an appropriate time to revisit an article I wrote almost 15 years ago about flag desecration.

The context that year was the approval in the U.S. House of Representatives of a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would have forbidden desecration of the American flag. This amendment would have carved out an exception to the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech.

The amendment did not proceed any farther and debate and discussion of this issue has subsided. That does not mean it won't come up again, however.

My piece opposing the flag-burning amendment appeared in the Kansas City Star on Sunday, July 4, 1999.  It was apparently part of a pro-con debate on the op-ed page.  I have no idea who my opponent was that day, or what he said.

Does the flag merit special protection?
No: Flag-burning amendment desecrates the Constitution

On June 24, the House of Representatives approved an amendment to the Constitution saying: “The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.” Now it is up to the Senate to send it to the states for ratification, which requires approval by three-quarters of the state legislatures.

U.S. flag in Washington, D.C.
As we observe Independence Day, it is worth pondering whether such an amendment to the Constitution is good or necessary.

The simplicity of this proposed amendment is beguiling but pernicious. Its essence is to restrict our precious First Amendment freedoms of speech and expression. As repulsive as it may be for citizens to desecrate Old Glory, they have the right to do so in order to express dramatically their views about government policy, American culture or current events. The First Amendment was not designed to protect only popular speech - if it were, it would serve no purpose whatsoever.

In a free society, standards of public morality can be measured only by whether physical coercion -- violence against persons or property -- occurs. There is no right not to be offended by words, actions or symbols. The best response to offensive speech is not punishment by government but more and better speech by concerned citizens.

The restrictive nature of this proposed amendment can be seen in this illustration. Suppose the United States - God forbid - were at war against a foreign adversary. Under the terms of the proposed amendment, it would be acceptable for U.S. citizens to desecrate the flag of our enemy, “Outer Freedonia,” but illegal for citizens (perhaps descendants of Freedonian immigrants) to express their opposition to the war by desecrating the U.S. flag. The imbalance could not be clearer.

U.S. flag in New York
The assertion by proponents of this amendment that flag desecration constitutes “fighting words” -- or speech unprotected by the First Amendment -- leads us down a slippery slope of redefining acceptable political expression to suit the majority's wishes.

Under this amendment, it would be permissible to desecrate a Confederate battle flag, even though that flag is held in high regard by some U.S. citizens. And what about other symbols of our country and its values, such as the Statue of Liberty? Will the First Amendment apply if Lady Liberty is portrayed, say, in an obscene but satirical cartoon?

Some proponents of the amendment, which in fact alters the First Amendment guarantee that ``Congress shall make no law respecting freedom of speech,'' arguing that flag burning and other forms of flag desecration are not speech but actions.

Where is the line between speech and action? The Boston Tea Party was indeed an action: Patriots dumped tons of tea into Boston Harbor while dressed as Native Americans. It was intended and understood to be a powerful symbolic protest against an unwanted tax imposed by the British parliament.

Did American soldiers fight for the flag or for something more?

“The veterans I know didn't fight for the flag, they fought for the things for which the flag stands,” notes Gene Cisewski, chairman of the Liberty Council, which is based in Washington. “That includes freedom of expression.”

Rick Sincere flanked by Soviet and U.S. flags, c. 1984
In his inimitable style, Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, made a similar argument during the House debate on the amendment: “We think the danger of discriminatory and arbitrary interference with freedom of expression is so great we'd rather put up with the occasional obnoxious jerk than to empower the government to decide what is acceptable and what isn't.”

Thomas Walls, executive director of the Republican Liberty Caucus, has written: “The United States does not suffer from rampant flag burnings. People have enough respect for the flag to discourage this sort of behavior.” Instead of adopting a flag-burning amendment, Walls asserted, “what needs to be protected from desecration are the principles of freedom our Founders sacrificed so much to establish.”

The flag-desecration amendment apes the laws of countries that do not respect individual freedom or personal responsibility, where criticism of government leaders is a criminal offense. As Cisewski puts it, “This is the same thing Hitler did to protect his swastika. Burning a Nazi flag was a capital offense.”

The U.S. Constitution is far more sacred than any woven symbol of it or our country. We must not allow the Constitution itself to be desecrated by this proposed amendment.

Richard E. Sincere is a member of the national committee of the Republican Liberty Caucus, the organized movement of libertarians within the GOP.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Interview with Morgan Griffith about medicinal marijuana

U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA9)
Although he voted against a budget amendment designed to circumscribe federal interference in the production and distribution of medical marijuana in states that have legalized it, U.S. Representative Morgan Griffith (R-VA9) has introduced his own legislation to address implications for federalism and individual liberty by reforming the nation's drug laws.

Griffith's bill, the “Legitimate Use of Medicinal Marijuana Act” or the “LUMMA,” would allow physicians to prescribe marijuana for various ailments and provide for experimentation and research by universities and pharmaceutical companies. Prescription of cannabis is currently prohibited under federal law and research is severely limited.

Congressman Griffith explained the aims of his bill in an interview with me on the sidelines of the Republican Party of Virginia's state convention in Roanoke on June 7.

Most of the states that have legalized medicinal marijuana “haven't adopted a policy that I would advocate,” Griffith said. “That is a policy that says that you have doctors involved with a prescription, not just a note that says it might be good for you but a prescription so that we can actually see what we're doing.”

Griffith's bill “would also allow for universities and pharmaceutical companies and whomever to start doing experiments with the levels of the THC,” he explained, “because one of the problems you have is, even where people want to use it for medical reasons, whether it be epilepsy or glaucoma and cancer – which is authorized [by law] in Virginia – we don't really know what the right mix of THC and cannabinoid oils are to make the most effective for particular patients.”

Currently, he continued, “because it's a Schedule One drug and the DEA won't reduce it to Schedule Two, you really can't get the research that you need to use it for real medicinal purposes.”

Griffith was critical of the way medical marijuana is regulated in those states where it's legal.

“A lot of the states have a loosey-goosey plan,” he said.

“What we need is to have marijuana treated like any other serious drug, like we treat hydrocodone, like we treat barbiturates, like we treat morphine – treat it seriously, [because] it's a serious medication.”

Once the law treats it that way, he said, then the federal government should “step back and let the states decide whether their doctors can make the prescription. Right now they can't because it's against the federal law and you lose your DEA license to prescribe any drug if you do it.”

Now there are “22 states where the federal government looks the other way and doesn't enforce the law [while] we have a federal law that actually makes it a felony for a hospital or a doctor to actually use it in any kind of an efficacious way.”

Under the terms of Griffith's bill, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) would reschedule marijuana from Schedule One to Schedule Two. “Some would argue it ought to be Schedule Three, or maybe even lower but Schedule Two gets us the research and allows doctors to use it,” he explained.

While Dana Rohrabacher's amendment to a budget bill last month would have ended DEA and Department of Justice interference in states with legal medical marijuana, that approach does not go far enough for Griffith.

“I think a lot of folks feel that voting for these budget amendments is solving the problem,” he said, adding that it “actually makes the problem more complex because then you have a patchwork set of rules across the nation and it's still a violation of federal law.”

As a result, “whenever a new president comes in, they say to the DEA, 'Go get those people, they're in violation of federal law.' I don't want to do that. I want there to be a respect for the law but let's get the law right.”

The right way to reform the law, he explained, is to “have our doctors, our trained medical professionals, prescribing it, and have our universities and our pharmaceutical companies testing it to get the dosage right.”

Griffith's bill, designated HR 4498, currently has two cosponsors: Rep. James Moran (D-VA8) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA47). It has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, chaired by Michigan Republican Fred Upton, where it awaits action.

Reason magazine this month posted two informative articles about legalize marijuana. In "Weed Isn't All That Scary," syndicated columnist Steve Chapman reports on his experience visiting legal pot shops in Colorado. Elizabeth Nolan Brown published "FAQ: All About Legal Pot," to answer readers' burning questions.

(This article appeared in slightly different form on

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Interviews with 4 Virginia GOP Senate candidates

Senator Mark Warner greets a voter
This weekend in Roanoke, the Republican Party of Virginia will hold a convention whose main order of business will be to nominate a candidate for the U.S. Senate. 

The winner after Saturday's vote will go on to face incumbent Mark Warner (D-Alexandria) in the November general election, and possibly also Libertarian Party nominee Robert Sarvis, who is still collecting petition signatures in anticipation of a June 10 filing deadline.

The four candidates facing off in Roanoke on Saturday, June 7, are Tony DeTora, Ed Gillespie, Shak Hill, and Chuck Moss.

I have interviewed all four candidates -- although my interview with Hill was more than a year ago -- and the interviews have all been posted to and to Bearing Drift's podcast, "The Score."  (Except, that is, for the interview with Shak Hill.  The audio of that interview can be found on Virginia Politics on Demand.)

Here are links to all four interviews and to YouTube videos of the candidates' speeches at the Fifth Congressional District Republican convention, which was held on May 17 at Hampden-Sydney College near Farmville:

"GOP Senate hopeful Tony DeTora favors marijuana law reform, opposes Mark Warner"
Tony DeTora podcast
DeTora speech at Fifth District convention (video)

"GOP Senate candidate Ed Gillespie sees 'energized, excited' party activists"
Ed Gillespie podcast
Gillespie speech at Fifth District convention (video)

"GOP Senate candidate Shak Hill thinks government is 'overreaching'"
Shak Hill podcast
Shak Hill speech at Fifth District convention (video)

"GOP Senate candidate Chuck Moss emphasizes technology issues, outsider status"
Chuck Moss podcast
Chuck Moss speech at Fifth District convention (video)

I will be at the convention this Saturday to report on the results and, I hope, to interview the victorious candidate after the delegates vote. Videos from that event may end up on my YouTube channel, as well.  Watch my Twitter feed for breaking news reports.