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Friday, August 20, 2010

Lies, Lies and Lies

In 2007 Xavier Alvarez was indicted for violation of the federal Stolen Valor Act. He pleaded guilty on condition that he was allowed to appeal on First Amendment grounds. He was sentenced under this this Act to more than 400 hours of community service at a veterans hospital and fined $5,000.

On Tuesday, August 17, 2010 a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with him in a 2-1 decision, agreeing that the law was a violation of his free-speech rights. The majority said there's no evidence that such lies harm anybody, and there's no compelling reason for the government to ban such lies.

The decision involves the case of Xavier Alvarez of Pomona, Calif., a water district board member who said at a public meeting in 2007 that he was a retired Marine who received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military decoration. It’s too bad that no one visited the Medal of Honor wall at the Riverside Veteran’s Cemetery. They would have found his name missing from the wall.

The dissenting justice insisted that the majority refused to follow clear Supreme Court precedent that false statements of fact are not entitled to First Amendment protection.

On August 19, 2010 Legendary baseball pitcher Roger Clemens was indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly lying to Congress, the latest episode in one of American sports' worst-ever scandals, the rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs in the 1990s and early 2000s, and leaves Clemens' legacy in jeopardy. Now, instead of baseball's Hall of Fame, the seven-time winner of the Cy Young Award for pitching excellence could go to prison.

Clemens was vehement when he testified before a congressional committee in 2008: "Let me be clear. I have never taken steroids or HGH."
The six-count indictment alleges that Clemens obstructed a congressional inquiry with 15 different statements made under oath, including denials that he had ever used steroids or human growth hormone.

Last week former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was convicted on 1 or 24 federal counts against him, lying to a federal investigator. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzpatrick famous for his prosecution of Scooter Libby in the Valarie Plame case, was only able to convince the jury to find Blagojevich guilty on this one count

In 1999 President Bill Clinton was charged with lying to a federal investigator and perjury regarding his affair with Monica Lewinsky. He was impeached by the House of Representatives, but acquitted by the U.S Senate.

Now we come to the crux of the matter. When is a lie a lie or a lie? How many times have you told a little white lie like the dog ate my homework when you don’t own a dog or I was late because there was a wreck on the freeway when you actually overslept? Or you embellish your achievements on a resume. How about the fellow in a bar who lies about himself to the girl he wants to pickup. The embellishment of one’s achievements is not a lie as long as there is nothing false in the statement. To say you are a great high jumper is not the same as saying you jumped 6 feet, when it was only 5. These seem to be harmless little lies, but once a pattern of lies begins who know where it will go. Politicians and office seekers tell these little fibs all the time and we accept them with a shrug and a smirk.

Every religion in the world has canon against giving false witness. This rule is there for a reason. Civilized society could not exist if we lived our lives based on lies. To accuse one of lying can be a very serious charge. You must be able to prove such a statement and the mere accusation can be damaging to the intended target. This is called defamation of character and there are severe penalties for such an action, if proven.

All of the lies I have referenced, if proven, are damaging to our civil society and should be condemned if we want to live as a civil people.

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