Think tanks wrap-up

WASHINGTON, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the first of two wrap-ups for Oct. 25.

The Reason Foundation


LOS ANGELES -- Now For the Real Sniper Hunt

By Brian Doherty

The various narrative threads of the Washington area sniper saga seem to be coming together in ways that can comfort everyone.

On the most obvious level, everyone of good will can be glad that (apparently) the killer has been caught and a maddeningly successful reign of murder and terror ended.

But on the ideological level -- the fight over how best to make sense of the story -- the police procedural resolution is merely an ur-text that will undoubtedly spawn a variety of stories, to be used according on one's preference.


Alleged sniper John Allen Muhammad (whose original name was John Allen Williams) and alleged sidekick John Lee Malvo (whose original name, we suspect, will turn out to be Dick Grayson) have cooked up an ideological smorgasbord that can feed a huge and varied crowd.

For example, in the case of Timothy McVeigh, ideological enemies of the U.S. government, or simply irony lovers, liked to stress that someone who made himself a violent enemy of the U.S. government and people was trained to kill by that very government representing those very people. Muhammad is, like McVeigh, a Gulf War veteran -- a man who apparently learned his murderous skills from the U.S. government itself.

And Muhammad's young ward Malvo is a non-citizen immigrant, apparently without any legal papers -- which will delight those who insist that America will never be safe until we stop letting foreigners in.

Not just a soldier, Muhammad is also a convert to Islam -- a fact that will provide tasty grist for the mills of those who stress that the real enemy in the war we are fighting is not something as inchoate as "terror," and that we must look more closely at domestic Islam as an ongoing threat.


Yet, although he is a Moslem, there is no apparent evidence that he is connected to any organized terrorist organization of the al Qaida ilk, which will please those who hesitate to link every domestic crime, however awful, to the necessity for overseas military intervention.

The real story of the sniper is, we hope, over. Let the stories about the story begin.

(Brian Doherty is an associate editor of Reason.)

The Competitive Enterprise Institute

(CEI is a conservative, free-market think tank that supports principles of free enterprise and limited government, opposes government regulation, and actively engages in public policy debate.)

WASHINGTON -- No Energy Bill Better Than Energy Boondoggle: Congress Poised to Make Energy Less Affordable for Americans

The decision by Congress to hold a lame duck session after the November elections gives the House-Senate conference committee on the energy bill another chance to make a deal. The danger is that the conference committee will produce an anti-energy bill that has little to do with increasing our energy supplies and keeping energy costs affordable for Americans -- but instead constricts energy supplies, requires expensive new mandates for renewable energy, and creates a huge federal global warming bureaucracy.


"The last two weeks of negotiations on the energy bill have been discouraging. At this point, the best outcome would be for the Congress to give up. No energy bill will be better for consumers than this boondoggle," said Myron Ebell, director of global warming policy at CEI.

"The administration should tell Sen. (Tom) Daschle that President Bush will veto the bill if it contains the renewable portfolio standard or the climate titles."

WASHINGTON -- C:Spin -- Internet - 1, Lawyers - 0: The ADA in cyberspace

By James Gattuso

Common sense decisions are rare in today's era of hyperkinetic jurisprudence, but that's what the tech community got this week when a federal judge tossed out a lawsuit claiming that Southwest Airlines' Web site violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The decision -- though sure to be appealed -- is good news for the troubled tech sector and consumers. It blocks what would likely become comprehensive regulation-by-litigation of Web site design.

The lawsuit, brought by Access Now -- an ADA advocacy group -- claimed that Southwest Airlines violated the ADA because its Web site was not accessible to blind persons. Specifically, Southwest was faulted by the plaintiffs for not providing text in a format that could be read by synthesized speech technology.


The problem was that the relevant section of the ADA applies only to "places of public accommodation." No problem, said the plaintiff's lawyers. Certainly, they reasoned, "place" can't be limited to the narrow confines of terraspace (i.e., the real world). Cyberspace, too, is a place.

Unfortunately for the plaintiffs, although the ADA is famous for its ambiguity, its text is pretty darn specific on this point. It actually lists what "public accommodation" includes. It can be an "inn, hotel, motel, or other place of lodging."

Also, a restaurant, bar, motion picture house, theater, concert hall or auditorium. Could be a bakery, grocery store, laundromat, dry cleaner or bank. And so on. The authors practically gave specific addresses. And not a cyberspace address among them.

Refusing to be deterred, the lawyer's maintained (presumably with a straight face) that the Southwest Web site was covered as a place of "exhibition, display and a sales establishment" (also listed in the statute).

That might have been enough to carry the day in New Jersey, but the judge here -- Patricia Seitz of the U.S. Southern District of Florida -- didn't buy it.

Apparently an old-fashioned judge, she even used Latin, citing the doctrine of ejusdem generis: "where general words follow a specific enumeration of persons or things, the general words should be limited to persons or things similar to those specifically enumerated."


Or, as they say in pre-school, "one of these things is not like the other."

Is this a quirk in the law? A loophole in the ADA that policy-makers should address? No.

There are good reasons not to drag cyberspace under the ADA. Such regulation is likely to impose considerable burdens on Web site owners -- exactly the wrong prescription for tech, not to mention the basketcase airlines.

ADA advocates say the costs are minimal. But where that's so, firms will make their sites accessible voluntarily, as many do.

After all, they make money by providing access to potential customers, not by denying it. But not all see it as minimal -- Southwest, after all, spent a considerable amount to avoid this regulation.

Worse are the non-monetary losses ADA regulation would impose.

The Manhattan Institute's Walter Olsen warns, for instance, that Web site design creativity and spontaneity would be stunted, as publishers feel constrained to use only those tools approved by "official" bodies, and amateur Web sites would be winnowed as legal and technical rules limit the art to a professionals (so much for blogs).

Functionality could also suffer -- the use of color to convey information, for instance, is problematic. And what about the First Amendment implications -- can communication on the Web be limited in ways unimaginable for newspapers or magazines?


Seitz was correct to rule that the ADA doesn't cover cyberspace.

Any extensions into that realm should be properly considered by legislators. And should be rejected by them, too.

(James Gattuso is a research fellow in regulatory policy at the Heritage Foundation.)

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