- Associated Press - Monday, June 30, 2014

Telegraph Herald. June 29, 2014.

Civil Rights Act at 50: More work ahead

Later this week, the United States will mark the 50th anniversary of enactment of the Civil Rights Act, arguably the most significant federal legislation of the 20th century. The TH’s lead report today includes Dubuquers’ remembrances and observations, not only about that landmark event in 1964 but also how actions and attitudes have changed over the past half-century.

In many ways in many segments of society, they have evolved greatly and for the better, but in other ways there is still much more to be done - so much more that it might cause one to question whether there has been any progress the past 50 years.

Americans who were not yet born when the Civil Rights Act became law might find it difficult to fully understand or appreciate the social and political climate of the United States in the early 1960s. Segregation was not only common, especially in the South, it was the law of the land in some states, enforced by governors and police chiefs ordering the use of clubs, attack dogs and fire hoses.

In June 1963, responding to state officials’ physical resistance to desegregation of the University of Alabama, President John F. Kennedy told the nation, “Difficulties over segregation and discrimination exist in every city, in every state of the union, producing in many cities a rising tide of discontent that threatens the public safety.” Later in his address, he said, “This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. It is better to settle these matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right.”

It was one thing for a liberal from the Northeast to call for a legislative response, but the prospects of federal civil rights legislation making it through Congress, with Southern lawmakers leading the resistance, were dim under JFK. However, Kennedy was assassinated less than six months after that speech, and the political landscape changed with Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson.

Not only was Johnson a Southerner, he was an experienced, hard-nosed politician. The Senate majority leader before becoming vice president, Johnson earned a reputation for getting things done - whatever it took. If he needed to be charming, Johnson would be charming. If he needed to cajole a reluctant senator or congressman, he would cajole. If it took arm-twisting, political trade-offs or thinly veiled threats, he would do it.

Johnson wanted Kennedy’s civil rights legislation to become law, and he used all his powers of persuasion and the presidency to get enough of his fellow Southerners to go along to succeed. The bill was signed July 2, 1964.

As Kennedy noted, “law alone cannot make men see right,” and advancements in civil rights have been sporadic and spotty. In countless communities across the country, there have been numerous occasions of “two steps forward, one step back.” Dubuque — not unlike other places — has experienced many instances where events and actions of progress are swiftly overshadowed by the insensitive and ignorant actions of a few. Critics are more than happy to dredge up those setbacks, no matter how far in the past they occurred.

The simple fact is that Dubuque cannot undo the past. It can only do what’s right in the present and plan for the future.

While reflecting on the importance of this landmark legislation, we would do well to remember that progress comes more through individual attitudes and conduct than laws. As Kennedy said in 1963, “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.”


Globe Gazette. June 29, 2014.

Don’t reduce personalized Social Security services

Did you hear about the federal government’s crazy idea? OK, the latest crazy idea?

Usually we don’t get too up in arms over what we consider crazy notions, mainly because (a) Federal government, with Congress at the lead, doesn’t act very fast these days on much of anything, and (b) Changes can take months if not years to implement, and by then someone may have recognized the folly of their ways.

We certainly hope the latest idea regarding Social Security offices is one of those that dies an ignoble death, and we praise U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley and Sen. Chuck Grassley for grabbing shovels to hopefully dig its final resting place.

Here’s what has happened: The Social Security Administration announced that beginning in August it will no longer issue Social Security number printouts in its field offices. That would affect 19 such offices in Iowa, including in Mason City. Beginning in October, those field offices will stop providing benefit verification letters except in emergency situations.

Anyone requesting such vital information would be able to do so only on the Internet or by telephone. We are talking no small matter here as last year 11 million Americans visited offices to seek out such information.

Hold on a minute - or rather a year, says Braley, who has introduced legislation to delay what he calls the harsh changes at the 19 offices, changes he believes could eventually lead to their closing.

Braley asked whether the changes would increase convenience and accessibility to services and whether they would save taxpayer money. The answer to both questions: No. A resounding no, in fact.

“There is every indication these service cuts would have an especially harsh impact on Iowa seniors who are likely to lack Internet access and face long holding times when seeking information over the phone,” he said.

If substantial cost savings were possible, that might make a difference. But that’s not the case. Thus, Braley’s proposed legislation.

For his part, Grassley called it “inconceivable that government doesn’t want to be of the greatest service to anybody, particularly old people” who might not have Internet access or want to come face to face with a real live body who can answer questions directly without scanning page after page of government gobbledygook on a screen.

And Braley looks even further into the future, saying unwarranted and expensive service cuts - his words, not ours - move the government closer to closing the field offices and “leaving Iowa seniors with nowhere to go.”

In time, he said, seniors may improve their skills and Internet access may improve. But until that happens, we are firmly behind Braley when he says there is a “responsibility to address the need,” and that means keeping the status quo.

Again, too many senior Iowans do not have and in many cases do not want Internet access, and thus this plan is not a good one for Iowa and we assume many other states. They want that personal contact with an expert who they can refer to whenever they have a question, someone from their town who might even know them personally.

So at the least we hope Braley’s bill becomes law. Ideally, from our point of view, a year’s delay isn’t enough; we wouldn’t mind seeing the changes delayed two or more years. Maybe by then someone will realize what a crazy idea this all is and decide it’s best to give seniors what many of them want and need: Personal service at a crucial time of their lives, the time they’ve worked so long for, the time to start receiving Social Security benefits.

We hope other Iowa congressmen join Braley and Grassley in efforts to continue to make that possible.


Fort Dodge Messenger. June 25, 2014.

Planting trees ought to be strongly backed

Nature Conservancy scientists are collaborating with Dow Chemical Co. to develop a plan that would help solve several environmental problems with one effort - plant more trees. As a way to reduce the need for expensive equipment to capture pollutants, this partnership suggests working to recreate the wooded environment that served as a natural scrubber for millennia.

So far, researchers have found that over the course of 30 years, a 1,000-acre forest would remove four to seven tons of nitrogen oxide from the air annually. That means a 10,000-acres forest would perform the work of one average industrial scrubber. But while a scrubber has but one environmental benefit, trees are genuine multi-taskers. And it is slightly cheaper, over the long run, to remove nitrogen oxide through reforestation than by using traditional equipment.

Nature Conservancy scientists are part of one of the oldest and most respected ecological guardians in the country. But their research is not receiving the fanfare it should from the federal government. Though work on reforestation as a means to air purification - even as a complement to traditional scrubbers - was inspired by an obscure notation by the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA has proved more a hindrance than help in bringing the effort to fruition.

Federal regulations, you see, require any method to fight pollution to be quantifiable and enforceable - they want to be able to control it. The EPA and other government environmental agencies say reforestation is “difficult,” and that there is risk involved because trees are subject to disease and natural disasters.

Dow Chemical and the Nature Conservancy continue to work to support their plan. Government should be in strong support of this project not raising bureaucratic quibbles.


Iowa City Press-Citizen. June 25, 2014.

Court updates 4th Amendment for digital age

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” - The Fourth Amendment.

A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court opinion!?

Who would have thought such a thing was even possible in today’s hyper-partisan political environment!?

But when it comes to the question of whether arresting police officers should be able to rifle through any old arrestee’s cellphone without a warrant, every justice on the nation’s high court agreed with Chief Justice John Roberts’ judgment that the answer is a resounding “No.” (Eight of the justices signed on in full to Robert’s opinion in Riley v. California, which was released Wednesday. Justice Samuel Alito filed his own opinion, concurring in part with the judgment.)

The first of the two cases on which the ruling is based concerns David L. Riley, who - after being stopped for a traffic violation in San Diego - eventually was arrested on a weapons charge. An officer seized Riley’s cellphone from his pants pocket, looked through the information contained in the phone and eventually turned it over to a detective specializing in gang activity. Based in part on the photographs and videos stored in the phone, the state was able to charge Riley in connection with an earlier shooting.

The second case involves Brima Wurie, who was arrested on charges of gun and drug crimes. Police officers seized his cellphone and used it to identify Wurie’s apartment, in which - after obtaining a search warrant - they found drugs, a firearm and cash.

In both cases, Roberts found that the warrant-less search of the data stored in the cellphone violated the Fourth Amendment protections against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Recognizing that cellphones play “such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy,” Roberts pointed out that the devices could “just as easily be called cameras, video players, Rolodexes, calendars, tape recorders, libraries, diaries, albums, televisions, maps or newspapers.”

He went on to reject the arguments that having police search an arrestee’s cellphone was somehow akin to police searching through a wallet, diary or other assorted papers that people might have on them at the time of their arrest.

“That is like saying a ride on horseback is materially indistinguishable from a flight to the moon,” he wrote.

According to the ruling, law enforcement officers can still examine the physical aspects of an arrestee’s cellphone to make sure it can’t be used as a weapon. And there may be some exigent circumstances in which officers can conduct a warrant-less search for data that may be necessary to protect them from impending danger. But the sheer volume of data stored in a cellphone means that the state usually must obtain a warrant before undertaking such an intrusive invasion of someone’s privacy.

“We cannot deny that our decision today will have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime,” Roberts wrote. “… Our holding, of course, is not that the information on a cellphone is immune from search; it is instead that a warrant is generally required before such a search, even when a cellphone is seized incident to arrest.”

In his concurring opinion, Alito points out that the balance struck by the Court may lead to some anomalies, but he also admits he doesn’t see any other workable alternatives.

“Law enforcement officers need clear rules regarding searches incident to arrest, and it would take many cases and many years for the courts to develop more nuanced rules,” Alito wrote. “And during that time, the nature of the electronic devices that ordinary Americans carry on their persons would continue to change.”

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