- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

March 3

The Post-Intelligencer, Paris, Tenn., on use of cellphones by drivers being targeted:

It’s been coming for several years, and now it’s upon us. A proposal in the legislature would make it illegal to use a cell phone while driving.

The dangers of texting behind the wheel are pretty well imprinted on our minds by now, but this new proposal goes a large step further.

Although admittedly not as dangerous as texting, the mere use of a hand-held phone while driving is hazardous, sponsors of the measure say. They claim drivers who use phones are two to three times more likely to crash.

The basic problem is distraction. Any non-essential activity that claims a chunk of the driver’s attention while on the road is dangerous enough to be subject to lawmakers’ attention.

The executive director of the Tennessee Regional Safety Council said the proposal is indeed a step in the right direction.

“It’s the first step, trying to address the issue that’s happening on our highways today,” he said.

Many of us see no problem. We feel quite capable of holding a phone in one hand and a steering wheel in the other.

But it’s different from texting only in the degree of distraction.

The bill would allow the use of hands-free phones, and it would not punish emergency calls. First-time violators would receive a warning, but repeatedly crossing the line could lead to a $500 fine.

Several other states have similar laws. This one is unlikely to win passage this time around, but its time is almost sure to come.

Online:

https://www.parispi.net

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March 4

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn., on U.S. options limited on Putin’s land grab in Crimea:

Barring an unlikely change of heart, Russia has effectively annexed the Crimea from Ukraine. The use of troops without identifying patches and insignia was a cynical and clumsy ruse that fooled no one.

Indeed, for pure cynicism it’s hard to beat that while Russian President Vladimir Putin and other smiling top Kremlin officials were welcoming visitors to the winter games in Sochi, an Olympic event intended to promote international harmony, planning for the incursion was likely well under way.

The United States has a limited number of options to convince the Kremlin it made a mistake, one that can still be reversed. However, the United States is not without means of recourse.

The G8, the world’s eight largest industrial democracies, should not only move its upcoming summit from Sochi but consider excluding Russia altogether. It barely qualifies in any case; the World Bank ranks it as the world’s ninth largest economy and very soon it will be overtaken by India.

The United States and other Western nations should begin closing off Russia from the world banking system and denying visas to Russian officials who were actively complicit in the Crimean incursion.

The United States should suspend talks on pending trade agreements with Moscow. It’s not inconceivable that Russia will overplay its hand and cause Ukraine to split into a pro-European West and a pro-Moscow East. If that happens, we should stand ready with trade and aid and eventual membership in the European Union for the Western Ukraine.

A resolution denouncing the Russian action should be brought before the U.N. Security Council. The Russians will veto it, of course, but not before embarrassing themselves by having to defend Russia’s violation of international treaties.

The Obama administration should shed its customary caution and greatly increase its efforts to oust Russian ally Bashar Assad as president of Syria.

While no one thinks Russia’s land grab will result in a shooting war, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel should postpone his plans to downsize the American military. Just in case, mind you.

Finally, President Barack Obama should curb his insistence on publicly explaining and rationalizing his foreign policy initiatives. The actions should speak for themselves.

Online:

https://www.commercialappeal.com

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March 3

Knoxville (Tenn.) Sentinel on drone regulation bill possibly protecting abusive behavior:

Animal welfare activists are fighting a law they claim is a resurrection of last year’s “ag gag” bill, but the proposal on the table is even more reprehensible than they allege.

The legislation, Senate Bill 1892, on its face establishes regulations for the use of drone aircraft over agricultural land. The General Assembly should, of course, keep track of new technologies and craft laws that regulate how those new technologies can be used in keeping with longstanding legal principles.

A provision of this bill, however, would make it a crime to surreptitiously take photographs, videos or audio recordings at any Tennessee business. As written, the law would cripple the ability of earnest Tennesseans to blow the whistle on unethical, abusive and sometimes illegal activities.

The passage would make it a crime for an employee or vendor to engage in “surreptitious commercial surveillance” at a business without the consent of the owner. This troublesome passage should be stricken from the bill.

Animal rights activists, including the Humane Society of the United States, first raised questions about the provision. The Humane Society has been successful in using surreptitious videos to document the insidious practice of soring in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. Soring is the use of chemical or mechanical means to artificially produce the “Big Lick,” the breed’s distinctive high-stepping gait.

Last year’s “ag gag” bill would have made it a crime to take video of soring and other abuses without immediately reporting it to law enforcement. Such a restriction would have made it impossible for whistleblowers to document abuse in the long term. Gov. Bill Haslam wisely vetoed the bill.

This year’s effort would extend the gag to workers and vendors at every single business in Tennessee, all under the guise of protecting business owners’ privacy. All it would accomplish, however, is protecting abusive behavior.

Crushing the ability of citizens to document bad business behavior would invite more violations of laws and regulations. Tennessee lawmakers should remove the surveillance measure from the legislation. The bill should address legitimate questions about the use of drones, not serve as a shield for dishonorable business practices.

Online:

https://www.knoxnews.com

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