The Free Press of Mankato, Jan. 22
NSA reform falls short
The Obama administration task force that reviewed the unbridled surveillance activities of the National Security Agency recommended new policies that may make us feel a little better about how much the government is watching us, but overshadow a larger issue: the presumption the government would never abuse the information it collects.
Unfortunately, history suggests otherwise.
Few remember an operation called COINTELPRO, a domestic intelligence program operated by the FBI of J. Edgar Hoover from 1956 to 1971. The purpose of the Counter Intelligence Program was to root out alleged communists in America, through surveillance and indeed infiltration of domestic groups that included Vietnam protesters, church groups and peace activists like Martin Luther King Jr.
Eventually, the Senate authorized a committee led by Sen. Frank Church of Idaho to investigate the program.
The committee's conclusions were damning. "Our investigation has established that the targets of intelligence activity have ranged far beyond persons who could properly be characterized as enemies of freedom and have extended to a wide array of citizens engaging in lawful activity."
Some would say the modern-day IRS probe of Tea Party-related groups for auditing was no different than COINTELPRO.
So while the surveillance task force recommended needed changes such as the halting of massive and all-encompassing data collection on all Americans' phone records, and a more focused collection, the change only has impact if we can trust those in charge of it to obey the rules.
And while Obama has said he has authorized by executive order a kind of whistle-blower protection that would allow intelligence workers to raise issues with the collection and use of data, we suspect very few people in this line of work have incentives to be whistle-blowers, given the recent experience of Edward Snowden.
There is no doubt that we have to balance the need to gather information to stop terrorists against the need for our citizens' rights to privacy — to be left alone.
But the issue goes beyond that. Information is power, and too much power of information in the hands of the government could strike at democratic institutions themselves and our democracy as a whole, as history has shown.
St. Cloud Times, Jan. 18
Legislature, legalize pot for medicine
Marijuana is in the news a lot lately, thanks largely to Colorado's recent legalization of its recreational use. Minnesotans, though, are about to face (again) a much different debate on the controversial-but-common drug.
Should it be legalized for medical use?
This board's answer is yes as long as the approach includes strict regulatory measures, tight controls on dispensaries, and follow-up studies to make sure medical marijuana is not fulfilling fears from law enforcement about it exacerbating illicit drug use.
The 2014 Legislature is likely to take up the matter after it convenes Feb. 25. Considering legislators have examined the issue for almost a decade and that medical marijuana is legal in at least 20 other states, Minnesota's debate should really just focus on those issues.
According to the Marijuana Policy Project, the basics of the House and Senate bills left from 2013 are:
. Only seriously ill patients could use or obtain marijuana, although if they lived more than 15 miles from a dispensary, they could grow it.
. The state Department of Health would issue medical marijuana ID cards so law enforcement could easily verify that a patient is allowed to use medical marijuana.
. ID cards would be issued to a patient with a qualifying condition, who would have to submit a physician's written certification that the potential benefits likely outweigh the health risks for the patient.
. Qualifying conditions are: cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, Lou Gehrig's disease, Tourette's, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, and conditions causing severe, debilitating pain, severe nausea, wasting syndrome, seizures, or severe and persistent muscle spasms.
. The health department would set up strict regulations for nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries and labs. The number per county would be based on population.
Law enforcement has long objected medical marijuana, claiming that it will make marijuana an even bigger problem as well as increase use of other illegal drugs, especially among young people.
However, proponents have studied those issues in 18 states where medical marijuana is legal and they say their data contradicts those claims, noting that well-regulated medical dispensaries are critical and youth marijuana use has not increased.
Gov. Mark Dayton has urged both sides of the issue to work through their differences and craft legislation he can sign. That's a reasonable approach that both sides should embrace, remembering this about medical marijuana and nothing more.
Fergus Falls Journal, Jan. 20
Sunday liquor law fine as is
Make no mistake, it would be beneficial to consumers if the Legislature passed a bill to allow liquor stores to sell alcohol on Sunday.
However, the hardship it would put on liquor stores, including municipal liquor stores in Fergus Falls and the surrounding area, seem to outweigh the convenience to consumers.
Since the days of prohibition, the laws preventing the sale of alcohol at liquor stores on Sundays was to maintain control over the sale of a product that clearly can be harmful if abused.
That said, the fact is that Minnesotans are used to the law, and have planned their shopping patterns around it.
Changing it would mean liquor stores, both private and municipal, would spend more money on staffing, utilities and other expenses, and would not likely see an increase in revenue, since sales would be spread out over seven days instead of six.
Other than convenience, there does not seem to be a dire need to change the law. Let's just leave it as it is.