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.
I need to stop editing this and post it before it becomes out of date again.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.
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.
First off, you may recall that last week the Supreme Court ruled the Guantanamo tribunals unconstitutional. Urged on by this, Congress is gearing up to tackle the issue. It sounds like it’s possible Congress will just give the Bush Administration the blank check he needs to continue the same trials, but a more likely scenario is that legislation will be enacted that reaffirms the Geneva convention and gives prisoners a fair trial. Here’s hoping!
Japan is still pushing for a UN resolution enacting sanctions against North Korea. China will certainly not support the harsh language proposed, but if Russia abstains from the vote, China will be the only country with veto power to go against the measure, which puts them in an awkward spot. We shall see what happens.
The Pope made a visit to Spain to try to rally the people against gay marriage. Last year, Spain legalized it (as well as adoptions by gay couples), but the Pope seems to be mobilizing a lot of people against these laws. He apparently said that “acting as if (God) did not exist or relegating faith to the purely private sphere, undermines the truth” about the world. Whoa! I can understand if you want to believe in whatever deity you do (and if you want to believe that everyone who disagrees with you is wrong), but I have major issues with anyone trying to force their religion of choice onto others. and this guy is explicitly stating that making your religion a private choice is bad!? The Pope went on to yearn for the good old days when Spain was under Catholic rule (presumably this includes things like the Spanish Inquisition). The odd thing is that lots of Spaniards seem to agree with the Pope’s statements. Having never been to Spain, this all strikes me as kinda scary, but I could be getting a skewed viewpoint. Is this actually typical of the Spanish populace?
Today the Supreme Court ruled that the tribunals used to try prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are unconstitutional. It’s high time the courts stepped in and said that the US needs to follow both the Geneva Conventions and its own laws about military trials. However, some people are outraged that the courts have limited the power of the Bush administration. The ruling did not indicate what should be done with the prisoners, except that the current system won’t work. Still, some groups are calling this a success, going so far as to say that this might even force the prison to close (though I doubt that will happen any time soon). The tricky thing is that most of the subsequent trials are out of the jurisdiction of US courts (including the Supreme Court). Consequently, it seems like from here on in there will be nothing that the Supreme Court can do regarding the constitutionality of the prison.
Steven Colbert brought up an interesting point last week—if we let the prisoners go (even if it’s just the ones who were originally innocent), they surely hate America at this point, and are more likely than ever to try to attack the country. and yet, if we don’t let them go, the rest of the world will grow to despise the US even more. Either way, it’s a nasty quagmire, and I doubt it will be resolved for years to come, unfortunately.
First off, Fema’s hurricane relief fund has had about a billion dollars in fraudulent expenses charged to it. Not only can this organization not put in good safety precautions given adequate warning, it can’t even seem to give out aid after disasters strike. I hope they get a good overhaul and turn into a useful and capable Agency.
Also, the Bush administration has finally acknowledged that Guantanamo Bay might hurt the US’s image abroad, and expressed a desire to shut it down. However, it won’t be shut down in the foreseeable future, because there isn’t another place to send the prisoners (they’re not related to the US in any tangible way, so they shouldn’t be tried in US courts, but if they’re shipped to their original countries, they will likely be tortured. This is what you get when you hold people from other countries for several years without charging them with a crime, let alone giving them a trial.). However, the Supreme Court is going to rule on the constitutionality of holding these people at Guantanamo Bay later this month, and they will hopefully aver that it is unconstitutional. We shall see.
For the first time in quite a while, the Supreme Court made a very nice decision to uphold an Oregan law allowing doctor-assisted suicide (which is only for terminally ill patients who will die in less than 6 months and are in sound mental condition, and which is actually a very thoughtful law to give back to terminally ill patients their dignity and to lessen their suffering). I think this is wonderful, and it’s the first time in quite a while that I’ve heard about a Supreme Court decision that I was happy with (the last one I agreed with was in the Schiavo case, and I don’t remember the one I agreed with before that).
Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissenting vote is a bit worrisome, however. I really hope he doesn’t turn out to be another Antonin Scalia, although he didn’t come off that way during his confirmation process. Time will tell…
This entry has been edited for accuracy. The old version equated the current Sony DRM with the old Sony DRM rootkits, but they are two separate pieces of malware. This paragraph has been changed to correct this error. See the apposite comments for more information. It now appears that the CDs with Sony’s DRM technology on them (the CDs with rootkits have been recalled, so you luckily can’t get them any more, but other DRM’ed Sony CDs are still out on the market) will install their software even if you do not accept the EULA. Woah. This has definitely crossed some new sort of line that it hadn’t crossed before (and the old DRM rootkits had crossed several lines already). I hope Sony gets what’s coming to them…
On the terrorist front, the Bush administration appears to be afraid to defend its enemy combatant policy in front of the Supreme Court. One of these cases, in which a US citizen has been held without charges for 3 years on suspicion of planning to detonate a dirty bomb (he was recently charged, though these charges made no mention of such a bomb), has finally been appealed to the Supreme Court. In response, the Bush administration has attempted to move him to a civilian jail, rather than the military prison he is currently being held in (this would nullify any ruling that would otherwise be appealed to the Supreme Court). The Bush administration also tried to overturn a ruling which stated that the government could hold such people indefinitely (although this seems counterproductive at first, such an overturn would also keep this from going to the Supreme Court). The Bush administration’s actions on this case give the impression that they are afraid that the Supreme Court will rule against them in favor of basic civil liberties, and the administration appears to be trying their best to weasel out of this and continue holding citizens indefinitely. I really hope this hits the Supreme Court soon.
Now that Harriet Miers has withdrawn her nomination amid conservative attacks, Bush has nominated Samual Alito to be Justice O’Conner’s replacement on the Supreme Court. He appears to be about as conservative as Scalia. One very interesting point that this article brings up is that the conservatives have continually requested the due process of confirmation followed by an up-or-down vote to confirm justices, yet that is exactly what they avoided with Miers. We shall see how this plays out.
The US is considering beginning pulling out of Afghanistan (how many participles can I string together?) as early as this Spring! This would be great. I think the country is finally starting to pick itself up, despite all the problems with a constitution. Here’s hoping!
In other news, I’m not yet sure how I feel about John Roberts. From what I’ve heard, he seems like he’d be a pretty great Supreme Court Justice. However, I’m a little worried that most of his writings will not be released, so no one will be able to see most of what he has done in the past, and I’m equally worried that he hasn’t really expressed any of his views on anything except court cases that have already been decided (and his views on those are that the cases are already decided, so we should just uphold the previous rulings). If he actually approaches new cases with such an open mind and lack of opinion, that would be absolutely fantastic. I think it’s equally likely, however, that he could have views that would surely keep him from getting confirmed, but the Republicans have locked away all evidence of these views and Roberts himself is smart enough not to bring them up. This could go either way, but if he can be trusted, he’d be pretty great. Here’s hoping!