“Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” (Updated!)

The federal government is enjoined from abridging the freedom of speech or of the press by virtue of the explicit restriction against Congress making any law granting any part of the federal government the power to do so. That restriction is housed in the 1st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the highest law of our land. What that means, essentially, is that the government has no authority to halt the reporting of a public event (unless they’re somehow asserting a national security issue and, therefore, are classifying the event) nor can they confiscate a reporter’s materials used to record that event. And yet, according to Mark Segraves at WTOP News in DC, that’s exactly what happened a few nights ago:

What makes this story truly unbelievable – and very scary – is the fact that the mastermind of this attack is a federal employee, Gloria Hairston, an internal communications specialist with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. She was aided by at least two other employees of the V.A. and four armed security guards.

I call the incident an “attack” because it was just that. An attack on the First Amendment, an attack on veterans and an attack on the public’s right to know how their government is treating wounded vets.

Schultz is a reporter with Public Radio station WAMU. Last Tuesday night, he was covering a public event at the V.A. Hospital in Washington, D.C. While interviewing one of the veterans about the poor treatment he was receiving at the hands of the V.A., Ms. Hairston demanded that Schultz stop recording the interview and hand over his recording equipment.

“She said I wouldn’t be allowed to leave,” Schultz tells WTOP.

At first he refused. But after being surrounded by armed police officers who stood between him and the exit, he looked for a compromise.

“I became worried that I was going to get arrested,” Schultz says.

I am amazed that Schultz’s editor advised him to hand over the recorder’s flash memory card. The VA has refused to answer questions about this situation nor have they returned the memory card. (And even if they did, who would believe they had not tampered with it?)

Even more astounding was what happened when one of the many vets who overheard what was going on came out into the hall to try to give Schultz their phone number. The VA official apparently claimed he wasn’t allowed to do that and promised to “get ugly” if they didn’t do as she ordered.

Read Segraves’ whole article for the details. This is one that deserves a full and public investigation to say nothing of an indictment against Hairston if this situation turns out to be even remotely as reported. Schultz’s comment at the end is spot on: With actions like these, what is the VA trying to hide? Why do they fear what interview was going to reveal?

Update: Well, apparently the glare of the spotlights the VA’s actions attracted have managed to clear whatever haze was keeping the VA from thinking clearly. In a letter from the VA, spokeswoman Katie Roberts has said they will return the gear:

In a written statement to The Associated Press, VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts said the department “regrets this incident occurred” and as a result would hand back the flash drive that it took from WAMU reporter David Schultz at the VA Medical Center in Washington. WAMU is a National Public Radio affiliate in the capital.

“After reviewing all the facts surrounding the incident of April 7th and actions since, VA has arranged the return of the flash drive to WAMU,” Roberts said. “We make every effort to protect the privacy of our patients and to ensure that they are able to make informed decisions about what information they release or discuss with the public while in a VA facility.”

“The Department of Veterans Affairs regrets this incident occurred as we appreciate the interest of the press in covering veterans’ issues,” she added.

I would certainly hope that someone has explained all of that to Ms. Hairston, the woman who clearly didn’t think the VA appreciated the interest of the press at all.

Cybersecurity Act of 2009

Would a bill introduced to Congress put it within the President’s power to completely shut down your access to the Internet in a “national security emergency” as defined by the President and his assigns? Excellent question. The Cybersecurity Act of 2009 (S.773) is being discussed in many quarters as enabling the President to do just that, a grant of power to the Executive that many – if not all – of my colleagues on the left would have been howling in anger over had it been introduced last year at this time. They would have screamed that Bush was showing his jack-booted colors. Now? Not so much angst over there.

Ah, but are we putting the cart before the horse? The Cybersecurity Act is a pretty standard-length bill, which means it’s huge and unwieldy to read. But, in keeping with my profession and within the auspices of 2 of the professional organizations of which I’m a member I’m going to delve into this bill and see what’s really there. This will not be a quick post nor will it be fast research but I think it’s important. I’m putting this into a category of its own so it can be retrieved quickly.

Stay tuned.

Sock-puppetry, impersonation, or identity theft? Dem lobbying firm might find out the hard way.

Thanks to a post by Warner Todd Huston over at RedState I was alerted to a fascinating tale of – at the very least – horribly unethical tactics undertaken by a Democrat-aligned lobbying firm in Boston. Matthew Nadler works for the Halifax-Plympton Reporter and Enterprise out of Halifax, MA. He takes his paper’s position in the market as a small-community newspaper seriously and tries to make sure the local residents have a paper that deals with their local issues. Which is why what happened a few weeks ago has obviously rankled him. Having received a letter in the mail from a local resident who was writing to advocate on a national issue dealing with Medicare, Mr. Nadler sensed something amiss:

I have to tell you, there was something fishy about the letter to begin with. For starters, the letter didn’t ask people to contact Senators Kennedy or Kerry, or Congressmen Frank or Delahunt. I’m pretty sure that a local person would have included that. When you’ve been in this business long enough, you sort of get a sense of when a letter isn’t quite what it appears.

But, it was attributed to a local resident. It had his name and phone number. So I called. I spoke with him. The gentlemen informed me that he had no idea what I was talking about. I apologized for wasting his time and was happy for the lesson in why we always verify a letter, no matter how innocuous the subject matter.

That apparently wasn’t the end of it, however. Last week he got a phone call from a guy claiming to be calling on behalf of the man who, it turned out, hadn’t written the letter. When Mr. Nadler expounded a bit to the unknown caller on what had happened and what he generally thought about people who would impersonate a local resident to get their politics advanced, the caller became less than willing to identify himself. Mr. Nadler was just getting started:

Little did he know that, using modern communications technology available in most homes, I had his phone number, and using the magic of the Internet, I found out where he was calling from.

The number belonged to a company called the Dewey Square Group, which turns out to be a lobbying firm based in Boston. The staff list is full of some of the heavy hitters of Democratic politics in Massachusetts, people like Michael Whouley, who’s so important that Dennis Leary played him in a TV movie.

Now, their Web site doesn’t list their clients, but it doesn’t take a genius, or a newspaper editor, to figure out they’ve been hired by someone with an interest in keeping Medicare Advantage in business. That’s fine. A lobbying firm needs clients. Maybe Medicare Advantage is worth keeping. I really don’t know.

What bugs me is that they seem to think I’m stupid. Or maybe lazy. Or both. And they think there’s at least one senior citizen in town that meets those criteria as well.

One has to wonder how many times Dewey Square Group has done this. I mean if they were caught out this time, how many times did letters they wrote under the cover of some unsuspecting resident actually get in print because some other opinion section editor wasn’t as disciplined as Mr. Nadler obviously is?

One also has to wonder whether this kind of activity is actually illegal. When I read the story I was reminded of the episodes of “sock-puppetry” that ran around the blogosphere during the last election cycle. The difference here is that when some idiot blogger decides to create alternate personas to jack up his comment count and misrepresent how many people are agreeing with him he’s actually creating that persona, he’s not stealing someone’s name to do it. When I read this story to my wife, her response was that she thought this represented identity theft. It’s clearly impersonation. So, is it illegal? I think it certainly should be.

In any case, I think anyone looking to contract with a lobbying firm should be very careful about doing so with Dewey Square Group. If they’re using letters written by common joes on a subject as a metric of their effectiveness in bringing the issue to the public eye, then they’re putting their fingers on the scale to skew the reading. You might not be getting your money’s worth, here.

Override after-action report

Watching the General Assembly today was certainly instructive. The phrase has been attributed to a number of people but whoever said it was right: Laws, as with sausage, should not be watched in the making.

In my previous post I did a sort-of live blogging of event up to around 6:15 PM or so. Feel free to read that post but I’m going to recap the pertinent stuff here. As you know if you’ve read this blog I was an advocate for several bills passing through the Assembly and, when Governor Kaine vetoed them, I was also an advocate for the override of those vetoes. Well, here’s how it shook out today:

Bill Descrip. Vote Override?
    House (Y/N) Senate (Y/N) House (Y/N) Senate (Y/N)
HB1851 Military > 1 gun/mo. 73/26 26/14 Yes No
HB2528 Gun “buyback” 71/28 24/16 Yes No
SB877 Retired LEO CCW in restaurant 76/22 30/10 Yes Yes
SB1035 CCW in restaurant n/a 24/16 n/a No
SB1528 CCW safety course online 73/23 28/12 Yes Yes

You’ll note that the Senate actually had a majority vote to override the veto in each case. The ones that failed did so because they needed 2/3rds of the Senate to vote for the override, which means they needed 27 Yes votes to get the job done. Cynic that I am, I am convinced the Democratic majority in the Senate  contrived to allow a number of their own to vote yes to the override so they could go home and say they voted “yes” but there just wasn’t enough votes to complete the override. Be as that may, this is what it is. Of the 5 bills I was hoping to see an override on, 2 of them managed to get through. Of the others, the House voted to override but the Senate did not.

The big bill, so far as I was concerned, was SB1035 which sought to remove the inconsistency of being a trustworthy enough citizen to carry a concealed weapon in the street and the sidewalk outside a restaurant but not enough so as to carry it past the threshold of that restaurant. Irrational fears and hyped-up hypotheticals is all that the opponents of this bill have had for over 2 years, now. This law has been passed twice by the Commonwealth’s elected representatives by quite large margins only to be dismissed by a handful of people. Truly incredible.

The good news is that this will be the last time Kaine gets to use Virginia’s legislative process to pad his national resume. He’s out in November, period. Those of us who have tried to work with him and his party must now put our efforts into electing Bob McDonnell to the governorship and as many Delegates and Senators as we can who offer the trust and respect to Virginia’s citizens that we’ve clearly been asking for.

In case any of my nearby neighbors were wondering, Delegate Dave Poisson (House 32nd District) and Senator Mark Herring (Senate 33rd District) voted like this:

Bill Poisson Herring
HB1851 No No
HB2528 No No
SB877 Yes Yes
SB1035 n/a No
SB1528 Yes Yes

Note that Poisson didn’t vote on SB1035 because the Senate failed to override making the House vote moot. I would like to point out to my fellow Loudouners that the votes of these 2 gentlemen make it clear they trust a retired cop slamming down brews at the local pub with a concealed weapon far more than they trust you stone-cold sober. Keep that in mind.

I’d also like to hear them explain themselves regarding HB1851 where they think our military personnel and Guardsmen aren’t worth the consideration of being able to buy more than 1 handgun a month. With the deployments going on a soldier with orders to ship out might very well get caught having to decide between buying a sidearm for his own use overseas or getting one for his wife to keep at home to defend themselves here. I don’t understand how they can claim to trust and honor our military personnel – and depend on them to fulfill their missions, I might add – and not allow them this latitude. I hope members of our military and Guard will keep that in mind, as well.

Time to turn our eyes toward the future, my friends, and work to show Virginians everywhere that we’ve got the ideas and solutions to a better way and the people who know how to get them implemented.

Action in Richmond; House votes to override Governor’s veto on 2 bills (Updates)

I’ve mentioned that the General Assembly has convened today to consider actions on several vetoes and amendments returned to them by the Governor. I have taken notice of the House minutes today and find that the House has overridden vetoes on 2 of the bills I was speaking of.

HB1851, which would allow members of the US military and the VA National Guard to be exempt from Virginia’s “1 handgun a month” limitation was vetoed by the Governor. The House has voted 72-26 to override. It now goes to the Senate.

HB2528 which requires localities wishing to perform a “gun buyback program” to pass a specific ordinance authorizing it and to sell guns received in this manner to federal firearms licensed dealers whenever possible was also vetoed. The House overrode that veto by a vote of 71-28. It will also go to the Senate.

More to come as I hear more.

Update: Interestingly, there’s a real kerfuffle going on over in the Senate around SB1070. The issue doesn’t appear to be the Governor’s amendments to this bill but, rather, the question of whether the amendments offered are “severable.” I came in a little late on the matter but the Republican caucus appears to be arguing that the Governor’s stance that these amendments are not severable (which means considered separately, I’m guessing) is a breach of the Constitutional duties assigned to the Senate. They are arguing that the Constitutional matter should be considered and dealt with before the amendments to the bill are considered. The Democrat caucus is merely trying to force the amendments through.

More to come as I hear more.

Update 2: The House has completed it’s 1st set of business which was dealing with the House bills vetoed or amended by the Governor. They stand in recess for the moment. (Until 5:00 pm EDT, as of now.) They are awaiting the Senate to complete their run of bills. The Senate’s calendar dealt with the Senate bills that were amended first and they appear to be stuck on SB1495, again over whether or not the amendments offered by the Governor are to be considered “separate and severable” and, therefore, subject to being debated separately. Counting SB1495, they have 4 more bills to consider before moving to the issues vetoed by Gov. Kaine. There are 7 of those bills, including SB877, SB1528, and SB1035 which I’ve written about before. The Senate needs to act on those bills before the House can consider them. More to come, folks.

Oh, by the way, the Senate’s minutes are here. If you’re extremely bored and want to go watch either session in progress, go to the G.A.’s web site and click on one of the links for video. There’s audio-only links, too.

Update 3: OK, apparently the issue was a matter of whether the amendments are separate and severable meaning that if they were not, the whole bill had to go back to committee. The Senate has voted along party lines to say that they are and, therefore, are moving ahead to determine whether to accept the Governor’s amendments again.

Update 4: The Senate has finished the amendments phase and is now taking up the Governor’s vetoes. At 5:50PM they overrode the veto on SB877.

Update 5: SB971, the “Triggerman” veto has been sustained in the Senate. SB1035 is being discussed now. (6:12PM)

…And as of 6:15PM, the Senate has failed to override the veto of SB1035. The vote was 24-16 in favor of the override, but that’s not the 3/4ths 2/3rds vote necessary to get it done.

I’ll have more on that later but, for now, I’m headed to dinner.

(Edited my Update 5 to correct the passage ratio required for a veto override. It’s 2/3rds or 27 of 40 Senators.)

Update 6: The House is starting on the Senate responses to the Kaine vetos. They’ve passed by SB877 and are working on SB1528, the issue of permitting on-line instruction for the purposes of qualifying for a concealed carry permit.

Obama’s knee-jerk apologia runs afoul of the facts and history

From Ed Morrissey of Hot Air:

It’s considered de rigueur among the cognoscenti to apologize for America by noting its youth compared to other countries, especially when the cognoscenti go on tour. Barack Obama tried this apology on his European Tour, but unfortunately, he used it in a nation that doesn’t qualify:

Obama exercised his routine diminishing of America in front of foreign crowds by noting to a Turkish audience that America “is still very new” compared to the older, and by implication wiser, country of Turkey. Just 1 problem with that – Turkey wasn’t a country until 1923. By my math, that makes the United States considerably older than Turkey, not the other way around.This is part of Morrissey’s “Obamateurism of the day” series and it certainly belongs there.

America isn’t perfect, we all know that. But it’s got a lot to be proud of and a lot to recommend it even in comparison to those oh-so-elite Europeans. We don’t owe anyone fawning obsequiousness. 

Repeat Traffic: VA General Assembly meeting again April 8th to consider overrides of Kaine vetoes.

This is a repeat message. Please take a moment today or early tomorrow to contact your Virginia General Assembly Delegate and Senator!

As is the procedure in Virginia, the General Assembly is reconvening on April 8th to consider responses to Governor Kaine’s actions regarding the bills passed in the session that was just completed. According to Virginia law, the Governor has 4 options open to him when a bill is sent to his desk.
  1. Sign the bill. It becomes law either immediately or on a certain date as described in the law.
  2. Veto the bill. He then returns the bill to the General Assembly.
  3. Modify the bill. The Governor can make modifications to any bill sent to him. He then returns the bill to the General Assembly so they can vote on whether to accept his modifications.
  4. Do nothing. In the absence of action on the Governor’s part, the bill becomes law just as if he’d signed it.

As I mentioned a few days ago, Governor Kaine vetoed several firearms-related bills that passed the GA pretty handily. The Assembly will now consider whether to override the Governor’s veto. Among those bills being considered (summaries from a Grassroots Bulletin from the NRA-ILA):

SB1035 would permit a Right-to-Carry permit holder to carry concealed in a restaurant, provided he or she does not consume alcohol. The House amended SB1035, improving it by removing the requirement that Right-to-Carry permit holders notify the alcohol beverage manager when they carry concealed in their establishment.

After vetoing SB1035, Governor Kaine said, “Allowing concealed weapons into restaurants and bars that serve alcohol puts the public, the employees, and our public safety officers at risk. I take seriously the objections of law enforcement to this measure.”  Last year, the Governor signed a bill permitting Commonwealth Attorneys to carry concealed in restaurants even while consuming alcohol.  It should be noted that SB1053 prohibited the consumption of alcohol while carrying concealed by licensed Right-to-Carry permit holders.
SB877 would allow “retired” law enforcement officers to carry concealed in a restaurant that serves alcoholic beverages. Unlike SB1035, this bill applies only to retired law enforcement officers.
HB1851 would exempt active duty military personnel or Virginia National Guardsmen from Virginia’s “one-gun-a-month” law on handgun purchases.
SB1528 would have allowed a safety course conducted by a state-certified or National Rifle Association-certified firearms instructor required for obtaining a concealed handgun permit to be done electronically or online.
HB2528 would establish that no locality or entity may participate in a gun “buyback” program where individuals are given anything of value or money in exchange for surrendering a firearm to the locality unless the governing body first passes an ordinance authorizing the gun “buyback.”  The legislation also requires that any locality holding gun “buybacks” sell the firearms to a federally licensed dealer “or be disposed of in any appropriate manner” if they could not be sold.

One of our local members of the GOP and of several pro-2nd Amendment organizations, Greg Stone, put out an e-mail calling for concerned citizens to take a moment and make their voices heard to their members of the General Assembly, particularly those who had voted “no” during the floor vote. He writes:

If YOUR Senator is one of the following:

Blevins, Colgan, Herring, Lucas, Norment, Northam, or Petersen

And/Or YOUR Delegate is one of the following:

Albo, Amundson, Caputo, Dance, Hamilton, Hargrove, Mathieson, May, Melvin, Paula Miller, Poisson, Rust, Shannon, Sickles, Tata, Tyler, Vanderhye, or Watts

You need to call them NOW and let them know that since they supported RETIRED police officers carrying concealed in restaurants, even if they are drinking alcohol, they NEED to change their vote and override the Governor’s veto to SUPPORT concealed handgun permit holders carrying concealed in restaurants if they don’t drink!

These legislators simply cannot justify what they have done by their contradictory votes.  We MUST call them and let them know we expect them to make it right by overriding the veto.

His e-mail included phone contacts for these Senators and Delegates. I’ll include them here and toss in e-mail addresses, too.

Harry Blevins (district), 757-546-2435

Chuck Colgan
, 703-368-0300

Mark Herring, 703-729-3300

Louise Lucas (district), 757-397-8209

Thomas Norment, 757-259-7810

Ralph Northam (district), 757-818-5172

Chap Petersen, 703-349-3361


Dave Albo, 703-451-3555

Kristen Amundson, 703-619-0444

Chuck Caputo, 703-476-6944

Rosalyn Dance
, 804-862-2922

Phillip Hamilton, 757-249-2480

Frank Hargrove, 804-550-2900

Bobby Mathieson, 757-470-3000

Joe May, 703-777-1191

Ken Melvin, 757-397-2800

Paula Miller, 757-587-8757

David Poisson, 703-421-6899

Thomas Rust, 703-437-9400

Stephen Shannon, 703-281-5200

Mark Sickles, 703-922-6440

Bob Tata, 757-340-3510

Roslyn Tyler, 434-336-1710

Margi Vanderhye, 703-448-8018

Vivian Watts, 703-978-2989

It’s important to contact your Senator or Delegate and ask them to vote to override the Governor’s veto of these bills. It is crucial that you do so for 1 of these bill especially, SB1035 and to show you why, I’ll quote from Greg Stone’s e-mail again:

SB 1035, the restaurant ban repeal, needs 5 more votes to be overridden in the Senate …  The House only needs 1 more vote to override the veto. (Senate 22 to 16, House 66 to 33) …

SB 877, the restaurant ban repeal for retired police, passed by a large veto proof margin. (Senate 40 to 0, House 84 to 15)

SB 1851, One Handgun A Month exemption for active duty military, passed by a large veto proof majority. (Senate 31 to 8, House 86 to 13)

SB 1528, internet training for CHPs, passed by  a large veto-proof majority. (Senate 29 to 10, House 99 to 0)

HB 2528, gun buy-up bill, passed by a large veto-proof majority. (Senate 28 to 12, House 85 to 11)

Emphasis mine. All 4 of the other bills already passed by a margin capable of overriding the veto. We need to ask those who voted “no” on them to reconsider but all that really needs to happen is for all of the Assembly to vote again as they voted before. SB1035, however, is a different situation. We need 5 Senators and 1 Delegate to change from a “no” to a “yes” and that’s where you come in.

Note that all 40 Senators voted to permit retired police officers to carry concealed in those same restaurants and bars and they voted to permit those same people to drink while doing so. In other words, these Senators who voted for that bill but against SB1035 are saying they trust a drunk retired cop to carry a gun but they don’t trust you stone cold sober. I don’t recommend you actually say that in your correspondence with them, but definitely keep it in mind as you decide whether you’ve got the time to call them.

I’d also remind everyone that Gov. Kaine already signed a bill last year that permits Commonwealth Attorneys to carry concealed and drink while doing so. Perhaps they can argue that police training means something where their current inconsistencies are concerned but Attorneys are no more trained regarding firearms than are regular citizens like us. Again, something to keep in mind.

Your action is needed. Your efforts do matter. Make a couple of calls, please.

Vatican speaks of the Shroud of Turin’s missing years

The Shroud of Turin, long revered as the burial wrap placed on the body of the crucified Christ, was in Constantinople in 1204 when the city was sacked during the 4th Crusade. The Shroud disappeared for over 100 years, resurfacing in the mid-1300′s. A Vatican researcher has announced that the Shroud was apparently taken and hidden by the Knights Templar in an effort to protect it from other groups who, they believed, would do it harm.

Barbara Frale, a researcher in the Vatican Secret Archives, said the Shroud had disappeared in the sack of Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, and did not surface again until the middle of the fourteenth century. Writing in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, Dr Frale said its fate in those years had always puzzled historians.
Times Archive

However her study of the trial of the Knights Templar had brought to light a document in which Arnaut Sabbatier, a young Frenchman who entered the order in 1287, testified that as part of his initiation he was taken to “a secret place to which only the brothers of the Temple had access”. There he was shown “a long linen cloth on which was impressed the figure of a man” and instructed to venerate the image by kissing its feet three times.

Dr Frale said that among other alleged offences such as sodomy, the Knights Templar had been accused of worshipping idols, in particular a “bearded figure”. In reality however the object they had secretly venerated was the Shroud.

They had rescued it to ensure that it did not fall into the hands of heretical groups such as the Cathars, who claimed that Christ did not have a true human body, only the appearance of a man, and could therefore not have died on the Cross and been resurrected. She said her discovery vindicated a theory first put forward by the British historian Ian Wilson in 1978.

The timing of articles like this one is something I always find fascinating. It seems these “big, new discoveries” about Jesus always seem to appear at Easter and Christmas and the various news and cable channels all run their special reports, usually to give air to various challenges to the teachings of the Church.

That said, I think it’s plausible that what Dr. Frale has concluded is true. The Templars were in the right place and the right time period to have done this and, accusations of later crimes aside, it would have fit with their stated mission objectives. Certainly interesting from a historical perspective.