I don't know Bernie Sanders. Nor do I know Rich Tarrant. I do know I've heard just about enough out of the latter's mouthpieces and not nearly enough out of the former's. While watching a little of the tube last night, I caught a Tarrant campaign ad that jumped down Sanders's throat for "...voting against [a] crackdown on child pornography..." It then flashed a real quick excerpt of some bill that Sanders voted against and included a Vermont housewife frowning and making like Sanders had voted to forcibly anally penetrate every little 13-year-old in Vermont. Right then and there, something seemed a little wrong to me. I'd endured Tarrant's ads for months talking about how he started up some tech firm, played basketball in college, etc. etc. Hell, they were on every commercial break, so it doesn't surprise me to learn that his is the most well-funded campaign in Vermont history. Hadn't seen or heard any mudslinging coming from his camp, though, so I figured he was innocuous. Besides - he's a Republican going against Bernie Sanders in Vermont? I'll take my chances with pissing into Katrina before playing those odds. I guess these negative ads have started real quick and real early, causing a lot of outcry. But what perked my ears was what Tarrant's folks complained about. Doing anything for the children's sake nowadays usually means winning votes from this newly empowered religious right, at the expense of some sort of freedom. And cracking down on pornography usually means cracking down on free speech. It's nothing new - look at all the legislation trying to apply obscenity laws to the Internet. Or for that matter, look at the flag-burning amendments. Besides, it's not like the title of the bill was "Empowering Kiddie Diddlers," so I figured something was up. First off, a look again at that ad. In my research, I discovered that another Tarrant negative ad used a country-level GOP crony masquerading as a dismayed Vermont citizen. Marty Boyce, the Vermont housewife in the ad, could very well be another county GOP crony - her house is listed on the Tarrant website as the Orange County pickup location for yard signs - but then again, she could just be damn enthusiastic. Vermont's that small, and I still don't know that much about the political scene up here. Second, a look at the text of H.R.1104, the bill cited in the ad. Most of it seems pretty agreeable - longer sentences for kidnappers and child abusers, establishing criminal liability for removing a child from the United States to circumvent parental rights, yadda yadda. But reading a little closer, we see a couple red flags. Red Flag #1: The law also allows for wiretapping - apparently sans warrant, though the language doesn't specifically say - in the investigation of kidnapping, child abuse, etc. With all the issues lately concerning the government invading our privacy willy nilly, would you want to be behind this? And how far could this be abused? "Sir, we think Mubarrak over there might be fixing to bumrush a couple boys." "Well, what are you waiting for? (Wire)tap his ass!" Sanders has made remarks in the past about how the Bush administration's - and any government's - wiretapping should be stopped at all costs. Red Flag #2: In the "Additional Provisions" section of the law, it first prohibits any "digital image, computer image, or computer-generated image of, or that is indistinguishable from an image of, a minor engaging in specified sexually explicit conduct." So who is to say what is indistinguishable from actual? A judge with (most likely) no formal training in digital art manipulation? Ah, but the law neatly sidesteps that by also prohibiting "a visual depiction of any kind, including a drawing, cartoon, sculpture, or painting, that ... depicts a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct." Oh, okay. So even drawing or sculpting kiddie porn, while crude and reprehensible, is now illegal. Gotcha. So cartoons and sculpture can now be illegal, regardless of their artistic or scientific merit. Is it any wonder why Sanders - a former journalist who (I'd have to assume) would defend the right of free speech in all its forms - objected to this bill? (For the record, Sanders responded to the ads already.) I do have to wonder whether this particular attack ad comes as a reactionary response to Sanders's unyielding pro-GLBT stances. If so, it's pretty low to correlate gay-friendly policy with child molestation. But in the end, it's just another mud-slinging campaign season. At least I know who I'm voting for now. More on Bernie.