The Des Moines Register. Nov. 1, 2014.
Governments should not abuse the power to order quarantines
The consensus within the medical profession is that it is a mistake to quarantine medical professionals who return to the United States from West Africa after battling Ebola. These quarantines are "unfair and unwise, and will impede essential efforts to stop these awful outbreaks of Ebola disease at their source," the New England Journal of Medicine said in an editorial Monday.
Unfair and unwise, yes. But are these quarantines legal?
The federal government has the constitutional power to enforce quarantines to prevent the spread of communicable disease from other countries or across state lines. But legal experts say the power to restrict an individual's liberty of movement within states is limited to state and local officials.
Is the evidence that a quarantine is truly justified or just the product of irrational hysteria?
It is a fundamental principle of American justice that the government cannot deny freedom to a criminal suspect without due process of law. Likewise, the government should not be able to blithely deny any person the liberty to freely go about their business without a legitimate reason.
The risk of spreading the Ebola virus is a good reason, but only legitimate risk. Kaci Hickox, the nurse who objected to her quarantine in Maine, clearly did not meet that standard. She showed no symptoms of the virus when she was quarantined. Thus, the only reason she was denied the right of movement is that she worked with Ebola patients in Africa. A judge lifted the quarantine Friday, but that could change.
Guilt by association is not good enough. If it were, then that would apply to every one of the nurses, doctors and other health care professionals who treat Ebola patients in specialized hospitals in Nebraska, Montana, Georgia and Maryland. In which case there would be no one to care for Ebola patients unless those health care professionals are quarantined inside those hospitals.
This is one case where law and common sense should be on the same page. If a quarantine is not justified by medical science, it should not be justified by the law.
Telegraph Herald. Nov. 3, 2014.
Political ads even take toll on justice system
Just in case anyone needs another reason to hate political attack ads on TV, here's one: They are messing with our justice system.
Yes, research by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy shows that the barrage of hammering on state supreme court justices has actually had a chilling effect on the way those judges rule.
Even in Iowa, where we don't put judges in the position of running for election, the retention process has been marred by big-money ads railing against so-called judicial activism. Iowans know the impact of such a campaign. Just four years ago, the state saw conservative groups angered by the unanimous decision allowing same-sex marriage spend heavily on a campaign that resulted in the ouster of three Supreme Court justices, including the chief justice.
The law group's research on the impact of political advertising took a deeper look at how electoral politics affected judicial action between 2008 and 2013. What it found was that state supreme court justices, including those in Iowa, grew less likely to rule in favor of defendants in criminal appeals.
When political ads labeled justices "soft on crime," justices appear to have changed their behavior. When corporate spending on political ads was banned, prior to the Citizens United ruling, justices voted in favor of criminal defendants 54.8 percent of the time. After Citizens United, that number dropped to 33.3 percent.
The mud-slinging ads that have dominated every commercial break in recent weeks and months are bad enough. Knowing that all that negative talk is affecting the impartiality of Supreme Court justices is just one more reason to take a hard look at the unintended consequences of Citizens United.
Fort Dodge Messenger. Oct. 31, 2014.
Attacks in Canada illustrate a problem
In a speech about a month ago, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson warned of the growing threat of "lone wolf" terrorists. He explained some people may not belong to organizations such as the Islamic State or al-Qaida, but may be persuaded to further their causes by making individual terrorist attacks.
Canadians who were aware of Johnson's remarks may consider them prophetic. It appears our neighbors to the north have been victimized by lone wolves.
In separate attacks recently, men known to have converted recently to Islam killed two Canadian soldiers. One assault occurred in Quebec, when a man used his car to run down two soldiers, killing one. Police shot him to death.
Then, just days ago, Canada's capital, Ottawa, came under attack. A man shot to death a soldier guarding a war memorial, then stormed into the Parliament building. He, too, was killed by gunfire.
It goes without saying that the overwhelming majority of Americans view terrorist attacks against our friends and neighbors to the north as attacks on us.
But Johnson is right: Lone wolf terrorists are a growing threat. The question is how to deal with people who may have lived in our communities for years - but then succumb to Islamic terrorist propaganda and become killers. Clearly, an effective strategy for dealing with them needs to be developed.
Quad-City Times. Oct. 24, 2014.
City fuels cell tower controversy
The barbed wire is down at Emeis Park, resolving another city of Davenport slip-up in a cell tower controversy that didn't need to be controversial.
Without notifying neighbors, the city of Davenport negotiated a sweetheart deal to allow AT&T to put a cell tower at an Emeis Park location picked by the phone company. City Administrator Craig Malin insists he relied on city policy that allows — but doesn't require — the city to bypass neighbors if the project improves public safety.
Neighbors naturally freaked when the 180-foot tower went up in Emeis. They found little comfort that the surprise cell tower was OK under a city policy of which they also were unaware.
That's when they got another surprise: The towers were intended to improve Davenport public safety in the future, and were going in three parks regardless of what residents thought.
Two aldermen - not this newspaper or residents - condemned the process. Fourth Ward Alderman Ray Ambrose called it "embarrassing. This one slipped through." First Ward Alderman Rick Dunn said he didn't object after Malin left him with the impression, "it already was a done deal."
The controversy was big enough for aldermen to actually change city policy to improve notification in the future.
Credit Emeis neighbor Denise Coiner with making a big enough stink to get aldermen's attention. So she — and we — were stunned to see AT&T surround the Emeis tower with a barbed-wire-topped fence. That's in clear violation of a sensible city policy to keep razor-sharp hazards out of parks where children play.
Turns out that even after the tower controversy, Malin and city staff remained tone deaf to the public's and aldermen's concerns.
Aldermen and residents need a city staff accountable to them, not content to rely on policy exceptions to hustle through a cell tower plan that includes seven years of free leases for AT&T. When transparency issues became apparent, aldermen and residents needed a staff to hold AT&T accountable for completion of the project.
Instead, aldermen and residents were lucky enough that Coiner — the alert neighbor — caught the barbed wire fence that Malin and city staff inexplicably missed.
By itself, the cell tower controversy shouldn't be a big deal. But the city also is struggling to manage neighborhood relations with the St. Ambrose stadium and casino projects. Aldermen need their administrator and staff leadership to assure that city council and policies are working for residents, not just global phone companies and casinos.