AirTalk for July 20, 2011

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The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a conviction of a California man who said that someone should "shoot the [racist slur]" Barack Obama in 2008. Walter Bagdasarian posted a rant on a Yahoo.com site when Obama was running for president. The postings were reported to the Secret Service who tracked down Bagdasarian and found he was also in possession of guns and ammo. He was convicted for violating a statute prohibiting threats to kill, kidnap or do bodily harm to a major presidential candidate. Yesterday's 2-1 ruling states that no reasonable person would have taken seriously Bagdasarian's statements. So what constitutes a "true threat?" How can law enforcement distinguish between a serious intent or incitement of violence from mere hyperbole? The Internet is a font for political vitriol, so how can it be policed and when does it cross the line?
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City officials in San Francisco are considering a law that would prohibit private employers, landlords and city contractors from inquiring about the criminal history of applicants. In short, they could be doing away with background checks so commonly associated with the application process. If this comes to pass, San Francisco would be in league with Philadelphia, Hawaii, New York and Massachusetts in treating former criminals as a protected class. Of course, sex offenders and those with violent crime convictions would not be included. Do applicants with criminal history deserve such treatment? Would you feel safe knowing that a former criminal might be working alongside you? Would you hire someone with a past conviction?
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Can Gang of Six plan end the debt showdown?

The clock is still ticking on the August 2 deadline for lawmakers to reach a budget compromise that would raise the debt ceiling and avoid the first-ever default on U.S. obligations. President Obama sees the broad plan outlined yesterday by the bipartisan Gang of Six as a possible path to a deal to cut the federal deficit by about $4-trillion over the next decade. The plan calls for an immediate “down payment” of $500-billion in cuts as a starting point towards $4-trillion in further cuts over the coming decade. But it’s still very unclear whether Republican lawmakers can find a way to endorse more than $1-trillion in new tax revenues. What will it take for lawmakers to lift the nation’s borrowing cap? Could the Gang of Six proposal bring the rest of the gang together?
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With NASA’s last shuttle mission coming to a close, we reach the finish line of the space race which began between Russia and the U.S. in the Cold War. But don’t fret too long, because the next space race is already taking off. As NASA relinquishes its grip on human space exploration, other companies are stepping up to the plate to try and capitalize on the wide open markets for research and tourism, which some estimate will be worth $700 million annually by 2021. For instance, tickets for space tourism have already been sold to certain wealthy buyers for anywhere between $95,000 and $200,000. But these eccentric millionaires can’t be sent up on their own, they will need to be accompanied by commercial space workers. These non-NASA astronauts will be trained by independent companies licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration for private space training, such as NASTAR. Compared to NASA’s rigorous training program which lasts for two years, NASTAR grants a certificate for space training in three days. Will these commercial astronauts be as adept in space as NASA astronauts? What does the training process entail? How close are we to legitimate space tourism? Beyond the tourist thrills, will there be any scientific payback to this new era of space exploration?
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