Posts tagged ‘bush’

California Supreme Court backs gay marriage! and other news, too

Whoa! It seems I was totally wrong when I expected the California Supreme Court to uphold the ban on gay marriage. Instead, they struck down the ban as unconstitutional, allowing same sex marriage in the state. Conservatives are already rallying to try to get a constitutional amendment banning it on the ballots in November, but it seems pretty unlikely that they’d be able to get the two thirds majority needed to pass it. Edit: it only takes a simple majority, which seems much easier. I don’t know if it is likely to pass. Hooray, progress!

Also, there is currently some finegaling in Congress these days over funding the Iraq invasion. It would be awesome if the legislators finally grew a spine and started passing bills that would, you know, stop wars of aggression and ban torture and provide education and medical benefits to veterans (admittedly, that last one is not related to Congress, but it’s despicable enough to mention along with the rest of this crap). but unfortunately I doubt this will actually go anywhere, and even if it did, Bush would almost certainly veto any such measure.

In natural disaster news, the cyclone that hit Burma and the earthquake in China have each left tens of thousands dead. Burma is in trouble because it is a poor country that doesn’t have the infrastructure to help the refugees or to rescue the people still trapped. China is in trouble because the areas worst hit are in hard-to-reach mountainous areas, and the earthquake coupled with heavy rains the next day wiped out most of the roads and airports, so it’s hard to send aid to the victims.

Hooray, getting my blog back onto the “Civil Liberties and World News” bit, rather than the “and computer science and stuff” part. I had begun to wonder if I needed to change the title of this blog.

Late, but not yet out-of-date, news

I need to stop editing this and post it before it becomes out of date again.

Finally, after seven years, it appears that some of the democrats may have grown a spine. Congress has been fighting over surveillance bills concerning wiretapping and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court. Although everyone in Congress unfortunately seems to think that warrantless wiretaps are a good idea, the main battle is currently over whether the telephone companies should be granted retroactive immunity for allowing such warrantless wiretaps back when it was illegal according to Federal law. You may recall that the Protect America Act of 2007 allowed the government to wiretap phones without court oversight, but it was set to expire in February 2008. Congress recently spent a lot of effort trying to renew it, but the retroactive immunity has become a sticking point. Bush and his cronies say that without it, the telecoms will be afraid to help the government with this stuff in the future (never mind the fact that if they just got the FISA court to review it, it’s very easy to get a warrant and then the telecoms are happy to comply). Consequently, the Senate passed a version of the bill that granted retroactive immunity to the telecoms (note that Obama voted against the immunity, while McCain voted for it and Clinton didn’t bother to show up; all three have claimed they were against such things when asked about it in the past). The House of Representatives, however, passed a copy of the bill that did not grant immunity. The two bills went to reconciliation (where they’re merged into one law that goes back to both groups again), and the version decided upon included the immunity. However, again the House did not pass the bill. In response, Republicans staged a walk-out in protest. Consequently, no bill was sent to Bush to be signed, and the PAA expired! We’re back to the (mostly sane) wiretapping rules described under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. I earnestly, desperately hope that the Democrats continue to hold strong, and I have written to my Representative to say this (he wrote back with a canned response about how he intends to fight this, but that doesn’t actually mean he’ll carry through). We’ll see.

In the meantime, bastions of freedom and privacy such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation continue to fight against the telephone companies that violated Federal law and our privacy. Sadly, the Supreme Court threw out the ACLU’s case with absolutely no comment about why they did that (a lower court had ruled that they can’t prove they were the victem of the warrantless wiretaps, because the evidence that shows they were was deemed to be a state secret and consequently thrown out of the case). However, I believe the EFF cases are still going through the legal process. This is a tough thing for the Supreme Court to tackle: if they rule in favor of the wiretaps, they significantly weaken the fourth amendment (see Berger v. New York, 1967). However, if the court makes warrantless wiretapping illegal, all hell breaks loose because the Bush administration has been conducting an unconstitutional program for years (and all hell breaking loose is not conducive to orderly government).

We’ll see what happens. If the past few years are any prediction, the Democrats are just going to roll over and grant the retroactive immunity, but I really, really hope this won’t transpire.

News game

After a rousing match, the Good News squadron has beaten the Bad News team 2-1!

Bad News got off to an early start when a 1st grade teacher was sentenced to 15 days in jail for allowing her students to name a stuffed animal Mohammed. This apparently counts as blasphemy under Sharia, which seems ludicrous to me. People name their kids Mohammed all the time; I don’t see how this is any different. Although this was a sharp blow against Good News, their defense rallied when the Sudanese president commuted the jail sentence into just deportation back to the teacher’s native Britain.

At this point, the Good News offense kicked into high gear, and scored a huge goal when 17 US intelligence agencies declassified a report saying that Iran halted their nuclear weapons programme in 2003, contradicting the Bush administration’s warmongering and FUD on the topic. This is wholly consistent with what IAEA has said in the past (which I’ve mentioned several times). Bush has claimed not to have known about this report for more than a week, which seems like a lie considering that he’s been blustering about Iran for months.

My coworker commented that some of his faith in the government has been restored since this report came out; he had previously expected that even if such a report existed, it would be suppressed in order to push the hawkish agenda of those in power. However, I think enough people remember what happened with the Iraq intelligence problems and are afraid of repeating those mistakes that they could actually stand up and force the truth to light. Hurrah for some people in government not being totally corrupt!

These events shook up the Bad News team so much that they gave up another small gain to the Good News players in the last round of the match. Facebook has apologized for Beacon, with its poor implementation. Initially, this system would track people’s purchases on third party sites, even if these people were not logged into Facebook at the time, which founder Mark Zuckerberg has deemed, “simply… a bad job.” They have fixed it so that people can actually opt out of Beacon entirely, and thereby keep their private lives private. This is the second time Facebook has screwed up and fixed it several days later. Hopefully this time they’ll get the hang of what people actually want out of their site.

That led to the final score of the match, with Good News beating Bad News by a goal. Good News fans everywhere are rejoicing, as their team rarely beats the Bad News squad these days. Perhaps this is a sign that their new coaches and strategies will lead the team to better things in the future.

JPL Privacy Problems, Part 3

I previously wrote about how JPL employees are being forced to let the government intrusively investigate their private lives or lose their jobs. Well, now there are a couple dozen senior employees who are suing JPL and NASA to fight back. The “press release” has a lot of unnecessary Bush-bashing (Bush’s original Directive seems fairly reasonable; the problem is how NASA has been executing it, since they’re trying to do all sorts of things it doesn’t require), but it has some really nice links at the bottom to more official documents. Moreover, this is starting to be picked up in the mainstream press. It’s nice to see that some JPL employees are fighting this, and even nicer to see that people are taking notice.

Newsy things

The big news tonight is that Bush has commuted I. “Scooter” Libby’s sentence. That is to say, Bush has not pardoned him for his crimes (obstruction of justice, perjury, and making false statements), but he has completely removed his 30-month jail sentence, saying that it was “excessive.” It seems that Bush has tried to reward a loyal flunky who has obediently taken the fall for others in the administration without overtly raising anyone above the law itself. It’s really too bad to see this cronyism taking place.

In more heartening news, the Supreme Court has unexpectedly reversed their position and agreed to consider the constitutionality of holding enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay. I hope they finally agree that all civilians have the right to be charged when arrested, and the right to a trial. We’ll see how this plays out.

Vice President Cheney has been pulling shenanigans recently, claiming that he does not need to comply with a law concerning the handling of classified information because he claims he is not in the executive branch. Outside of Bush and Cheney, I can’t find anyone who thinks this is anything but preposterous. I hope this ends soon and Cheney starts complying with the laws.

and speaking of the executive branch ignoring the law, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy has said that he may cite President Bush for contempt of Congress if he does not turn over documents relating to the firing of 9 attorneys (the ones that might have been fired for political reasons under Alberto Gonzales’ watch). I suspect nothing will come of this and the Democrats will complain a bit and then just roll over (the way they did with the war spending bill). We’ll see if they have the gumption to actually stand up for themselves.

Finally, this is so fantastic I had to post it: a high schooler takes Bill O’Reilly to task and shows how he is fabricating a story by taking quotes out of context. I’m really impressed by that guy; I wish more people had the wherewithal to expose Bill for the manipulative bastard he is.

Retroactive Pardon for the Telecoms?

As tech/legal blog Ars Technica reports, it seems that the Bush administration is trying to retroactively pardon the telecoms for violating the privacy and Fourth Amendment rights of their customers. Remember back in 2005 when it was revealed that the NSA uses warrantless wiretaps of most phone lines? Well, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, bastion of freedom that they are, continue to battle AT&T and the government over it. They have fought past the State Secrets issues, and have continued to advocate for the privacy of US citizens.

Well, now it seems that there is an appropriations request sent to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that would retroactively pardon the telecoms of all wrongdoing concerning the warrantless wiretaps. If passed, it will kill the EFF’s case dead in its tracks. I strongly suspect that if Congress read this legislation it would not pass, but it’s been pretty well established at this point that very few lawmakers actually read the legislation they vote on. As always, you can write to your Congresspeople about the issue (though the default text in that link is only about the warrantless wiretaps in general, not this latest development). We’ll see what happens…

A bad news day

To get it out of the way, 32 people were killed today by a gunman at Virginia Tech. No one seems to have any more details yet, and I really can’t speculate on anything here.

The Democrats have tied military funding to a withdrawal of troops in 2008, though Bush plans to veto this bill. Expectations are that the Democrats will then try to tie such funding to measurable progress in Iraq itself. This seems unlikely to happen, however, because six Iraqi cabinet members resigned in protest of Prime Minister Al-Maliki’s close ties to the United States. These resignations were called for by Moqtada Al-Sadr, who also organized rallies in Baghdad in protest of the current government. This is a pretty big blow to Mr. Al-Maliki, but the government is expected to remain intact.

The European Union has reproached Russia for its heavy-handed crackdown on protesters, which ostensibly included beating reporters and passers-by, as well as arresting chess legend Garry Kasparov. I’ve caught bits of Russia becoming more USSR-like, but this has brought the issue to a head. President Putin has been locking down the country slowly but surely, with the latest move to pass laws of questionable constitutionality restricting the rights of protestors. Russia is gearing up for an election, and I honestly don’t know how these measures will affect it.

Finally, some good news for a change: the former Duke lacrosse players have been found wholly innocent of raping a stripper at a party. Unfortunately, they have already been found guilty in the eyes of the media, have received death threats, and can no longer safely return to Duke. Can anyone at Duke comment on how the student body has perceived these events?

Quick, entertaining update, and a question

First, I want to point you all to an excellent JibJab song about the farce we call the news these days. Their stuff is so great. Also, here’s a quick illustration of Bush’s approval ratings (edit: note that the bottom of the graph is at 20%, which is a bit deceiving). Also, Senator Joseph Biden has an excellent speech about Iraq and the lack of an exit strategy. These last two were found through StumbleUpon, which I mentioned recently.

Finally, I have a question that shouldn’t be too hard to answer: a lot of people seem to be passionately against Hillary Clinton. They don’t want her to be president, they don’t even want her to be a senator. I got to see a video feed of when she was interviewed at Google, and she seemed like a pretty normal politician (she sidestepped many of the questions, but no more than any other politician I’ve seen). Other than that and the fact that she’s married to Bill Clinton (about whom I know a little), I know nothing about her. Why are so many people opposed to her? Is it just because her husband had an affair? Is it because she has some crazy beliefs that I’m unaware of? What’s going on?

News dump

There’s been a lot of news recently, and I’m sure I’m forgetting something.

Despite the inaction of the country as a whole, the western states have banded together to reduce carbon emissions, thereby joining the rest of the world in combating global warming. It’s pretty cool to watch the whole world (with a couple idiotic exceptions) come together to work on this stuff.

A battle has moved through the British courts over how far the freedom of the press extends: there is currently a scandal over a deal made by Tony Blair’s fundraisers, wherein they offered honours to various people in exchange for off-the-record loans during the campaign season, and then tried to cover up the whole thing. The government, claiming it would mess up the police investigation of the events, repeatedly tried to bar newspapers from discussing the evidence. However, it looks like the high court has sided with the press, and they can publish stories about the scandal. Much of this hinges on an email between Lord Levy and Ms. Turner discussing their deal, but I can’t seem to find a copy of the text online. I suspect this will damage even Tony Blair’s reputation, though I could be wrong about that.

Speaking of scandals and cover-ups, “Scooter” Libby has been found guilty of obstructing justice in the whole CIA leak thing (remember, the one with Valerie Plame?). It’s nice to see that his comeuppance has arrived, but it’s kinda too bad that Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald couldn’t get enough evidence to try others; I strongly suspect Libby was the “fall guy,” and there are others who are equally guilty but will go free.

The Democrats, meanwhile, have been trying to put a timetable on the Iraq war and bring our troops home before Bush leaves the oval office. I strongly doubt this will actually happen, but it’s nice to see that they’re trying to hold him accountable, if only symbolically.

As usual, Bush has been greeted with violent protests every where he goes, because most of the world is reasonable and sees this man is a greedy warmonger. This is happening pretty consistently across all of Latin America, on top of Hugo Chavez’s scathing words against him (Bush is on a tour of the area at the moment).

Finally, the UN is beginning to consider an embargo against Iran over its nuclear programme, but China and Russia are expressing their doubts. We’ll see what happens, but Iran will probably not be faced with strong penalties.

As always, remember to use BugMeNot if you can’t access these or other articles.

Bush’s speech on troop levels

This evening, President Bush gave a speech about his new strategy in Iraq (link goes to the full text). This strategy basically seems to involve sending in 20,000 more troops and doing the same thing they’ve been doing all along. I seriously doubt this is a viable strategy, particularly when a significant part of the “extra” troops will come from simply extending the tours of the soldiers who are currently over there. Anderson Cooper had some interesting analysis, however: pulling out of Iraq would cause the country to break out into a Sunni/Shia civil war, rather than falling back into a state similar to what Saddam’s reign was like. Perhaps the US is actually doing a fair amount to help by keeping this war from bubbling to the surface. Perhaps it would be best to keep our noses out of their business, and let them fight their own wars without our intervention. Either way, it was a point of view I hadn’t heard before.

However, the thing that struck me most about the speech was that it didn’t end in “God bless America.” This is the first speech of his that I have heard that didn’t end that way (for instance, every State of the Union address he has given as well as his inaugural address ended with that or a similar phrase). Instead he hoped that the “Author of Liberty” would “guide us,” which is at least slightly less Christian. Perhaps he has realized that bringing fundamental Christianity into politics, particularly when he’s talking about a Muslim civil war, is a bad idea? Here’s hoping!