Maybe this could explain how we got this President

Oxford engineering student Matthew Richardson was approached about delivering some lectures in Beijing — on global economics. Undaunted, he accepted the gig despite knowing “next to nothing” on the subject. Textbook in hand, he flew to China and delivered the talks to whom he thought were basic students — only to discover they were in fact advanced PhD candidates.

As it happens, there are two Matthew Richardsons. One is an engineering student in Oxford, and the other is one of the world’s foremost authorities on international financial markets. Ooops.

Constitutional Review

So, Bush is likely to endorse and fight for an anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment, according to some sources, which will turn the issue into a political football this summer. This made us wonder: since the Constitution is, more or less, a document that reigns in the State, its primary mission is the preservation of personal liberty and the limitation of State power. How many amendments, then, explicitly limit what citizens can and cannot do? Let’s review. Follow along in your own copies, which I’m sure you keep handy, though surely you know the first ten by heart, right?

  1. Freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and the right to petition the state for redress of grievances.
  2. The right to keep & bear arms; a well-regulated militia (otherwise known as “the only Amendment the ACLU seems to overlook”).
  3. A real hot-button issue in the 21st century: soldiers cannot be quartered in private homes. Thank God for that; we have NO ROOM.
  4. You know when cops come in and take your shit for no good reason? Yeah, man, that totally sucks. Also, it’s UNCONSTITUTIONAL under Amendment IV. Rock on.
  5. A great omnibus amendment, this one guarantees the grand jury process, outlaws double jeopardy, ensures we’re free from self incrimination (remember Ollie North?), guaruntees due process, and enshrines private property.
  6. More judicial goodness: here we get the right to a speedy & public trial by an impartial jury in criminal matters.
  7. Yet MORE judicial rights: this one says we can have a jury trial on common law issues, too. Ask a lawyer what that means.
  8. The last of the first ten’s judicial amendments, VIII frees us from excessive bail (ask Jeff Skilling) as well as “cruel and unusual punishment.”
  9. The last two from the Bill of Rights ensure that this list of rights isn’t viewed as exclusive; IX says “we know we listed a bunch of rights, but we didn’t list all of ‘em, and the exclusion of something here doesn’t mean you can’t do it.”
  10. “…and the same goes for the rights of states.”
  11. Now out of the Bill of Rights, we get into some administrative work. XI contains the rules for suing states. Basically, you can only do it in state court, and the state has to let you sue. Remember this one; it’s important later.
  12. A bunch of stuff about presidential elections. It’s long. It’s boring. But you probably ought to read it on the grounds that, you know, it’s the basis for our government. (Offer not valid in Canada.)
  13. “Slavery is evil. No more of that.”
  14. Lots of the later amendments are about states. According to Senior NoGators Legal Analyst Triple-F, XIV says “We really mean Amendment V, and the states have to play by those rules, too.” It also contains a bunch of other bits more or less unrelated the the primary focus of the amendment. Call it housekeeping.
  15. “Everybody who has a penis may now vote.” Exercising this right for people with darker skin took a while to become (a) commonplace and (b) safe.
  16. Goddamn income tax.
  17. Senatorial succession, more or less.
  18. Prohibition and the establishment of organized crime. Just kidding; it’s really just prohibition. Remember this one, too.
  19. “Did we say ‘with a penis’ back in XV? We meant ‘everybody, period.’ Our bad, really. Honest mistake. Can we have sex again now?”
  20. Dates of terms of congressional sessions and presidential terms, plus a bit about how to handle things if the President-elect dies between election and taking office.
  21. “Say, baby, how about a drink after you vote?” Prohibition repealed. (Organized crime stayed.) Once again, remember this one, too.
  22. Fuck FDR.
  23. DC can have representatives, but no more than the smallest state, and they can’t vote.
  24. “We meant what we said about voting before. No more turning away voters for not paying taxes, poll or otherwise. Confederacy, this means YOU.”
  25. This is the one that has always weirded me out. It wasn’t until 1965 that presidential succession as we know it — i.e., beyond the VP — was proposed, and it wasn’t ratified until 1967. Wacky.
  26. If you can go to Vietnam and die, you ought to get to vote, too. Voting age is lowered to 18.
  27. “You know when Congress used to pass laws giving itself pay raises that take place immediately? That’s creepy. From now on, they can’t take effect until after the next election.”

Even a cursory review of our pithy amendment summary shows that the Amendments, on the whole, deal with either protecting rights, or with the mechanics of our government (which can be seen as protecting said, and therefore our rights inasmuch as our State does such). Only twice have we adopted amendments that can be construed to limit liberty:

  • Amendment XI, concerning lawsuits against states; and
  • Amendment XVIII, when for some wacked-out reason we thought prohibition would be a good idea.

N.B. that within a few years, we also repealed this bad idea with Amendment XXI.

The same absurd we-must-control-everyone puritanism that brought about XVIII is at work again today in the hew and cry for an amendment “protecting” marriage. No one can yet explain to me why this is a good idea — i.e., why the State should care whom we marry, when, for what reason, etc. “Protecting marriage” is code for “we hate gays,” since no one seems all that upset about 48-hour Vegas couplings, or the fact that Liza Minelli married a wax statue. They don’t care about the sanctity of marriage; they just want to make sure we don’t extend legal recognition to homosexual unions.

The trouble is: no one has yet articulated a good reason why we shouldn’t. Marriage, in its best state, is about stability, support, and family (and I don’t mean “kids” necessarily). Because marriage is state-sponsored, it’s the easiest and best avenue for default inheritance, insurance, next-of-kin designation, powers of attorney, and a wealth of other societal logistics. To deny committed couples the right to marry because they’re the same gender denys them these functions of society, and to what end? My relationship with Erin isn’t harmed by the middle-aged gay men next door; my married friends would be similarly undamaged were those neighbors able to make their long-term union legal.

When I look a this list of Amendments, mostly I feel pride — especially with the Bill of Rights, and then again with XIII, XV, XIX, and XXIV. I feel ashamed of us only once, at XVIII, and that shame is only temporary; we knew we’d screwed up, and we fixed it. We were foolish; we backtracked; and we moved on. This proposed marriage amendment would restore a far more bitter taste in my mouth; we’d be enshrining in our Constitution a fundamentally bigoted position, and breaking with tradition in a terrifying way. Twenty-four amendments codify and protect liberty, and all but one apply equally to all members of our republic — and even the outlier there was eventually superceded by a later act. Do we really need to keep gays out of wedding chapels this badly? Why?

A or B

Today, Slacktivist makes an interesting point, which I’ll summarize here.

Some opponents of same-sex marriage contend that the problem is “activist” judges, and that we need a Constitutional amendment to ban such unions. Furthermore, people like San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom have “no respect for the law” because they’re allowing gay marriages.

This begs a question: are same-sex weddings Constitutional under the current law? If not, we don’t need the amendment (but please show me where it is). If they ARE Constitutional, though, these judges are just doing their jobs — and Newsome & co. can only be said to be honoring the highest law of the land.

So, which is it?

How to comply with the Feds

Hey, didja know that a search warrant can put you out of business? Now you do. The Feds showed up at CIT Hosting in Columbus, Ohio a couple weeks ago, and wound up taking everything instead of just finding what they needed on site. Yup; they’re shut down despite not actually being accused of any crime — apparently, they just couldn’t sift through the terabytes of data quickly enough to suit the suits. (Leave aside for a moment whether we think the Feds can do it faster.)

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Here’s CIT’s statement:


02/14/2004 FBI Confiscates all servers

Dear Customers of FOONET/CIT:

We regret to inform you that on Saturday February 14, 2004 at approximately 8:35 am EST, FOONET/CIT’s data center in Columbus, Ohio temporarily ceased operations.

Here are the facts of what occurred:

The FBI executed a search warrant issued by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio regarding the IRC network that we host. According to the warrant, it appears that the Bureau is investigating whether someone hosted on our network hacked and attacked someone else.

After several hours of attempting to track down, inspect and audit the terabytes of data that we host, the FBI determined that it was more efficient (from their point of view) to remove all of our servers and transport them to the FBI local laboratories for inspection. This was completed at 7:00 pm EST same day.

The FBI has assured us that as soon as the data has been safely copied and inspected, the equipment will be promptly returned. Unfortunately, the FBI has not been able to tell us when they will be completed with their inspection.

We have been told by the Special Agent in charge of the investigation that If you need access to your data you are asked to please contact the Bureau via email to rwhite3@leo.gov. Make sure to include in your email your name, mailing address, and telephone number with area code.

Since we wish to focus 100% of our efforts on restoring services, we would appreciate it very much if you do not attempt to contact us directly. Please rest assured that we are doing everything possible to restore service to you as quickly as possible.
To the many who have inquired, Paul and family are OK, although shaken by these events. They are at home and awaiting the blessed event of their new child’s birth. We thank you for your good wishes and prayers.

Please check back here often. Through this site, we will keep you informed of ongoing developments as we know them.

Thanks again for your understanding.

Damn. I’m glad I don’t host there, because I’m pretty sure they’re, well, fucked. Have I mentioned lately that expanding police powers is probably a bad idea?

No sex please, we’re Republicans

We know we keep bringing this up, but today there’s even more coverage. Salon has a piece on the ongoing efforts of this administration to push abstinence-only sex education across the board (and even to export said as a condition of US aid) despite the fact that similar programs pursued in Texas have produced one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the country.

Knowledge is power. Not telling kids about condoms and birth control as a matter of policy is utterly insane, even without AIDS in the picture. The scare tactics are tantamount to the don’t-touch-it-or-you’ll-go-blind warnings of years ago, and are obviously no more effective.

Wherein we note that the Constitution is a problem for the theocrats

There’s a deeply scary bill being circulated on the Hill called the Contitution Restoration Act of 2004. Sponsored by Zell Miller, Richard Shelby, and others, the bill would attempt sweeping changes of our government by limiting the ability of the courts to review some acts of Congress, and in particular enjoining said courts from reviewing anything having to do with Church-State issues.

The Right’s agenda here is achingly clear. Ashcroft-ism will be the rule, not the exception. Huge elements of the party will not be satisfied until we’re essentially a theocracy. There’s more discussion here.

Well, shit.

Pickering didn’t trouble me so much, aside from the whole recess-appointment we-don’t-care-if-you-don’t-like-it bullshit. This, however, pisses me off. Pryor is a scary freak committed to eradicating Roe and perhaps Griswold. Watch this weasel.

Because, you know, they’ve got that domestic terrorism thing TOTALLY under control

The Feds are stepping up their pursuit of the porn business. Oh boy.

Why is it that the “small government” and “personal responsibility” party is all about LIMITING rights — such as whom we can marry, what we can put in our bodies, and what we can watch, read, or surf on the Internet? This porn crusade couldn’t be about election-year politics, could it?

On the other hand, I’m more than supportive of some kinds of porn regulation, assuming said regulation is limited to “while the vehicle is moving.”

Bush v. Science: Revenge of the Learned

This Administration’s ongoing attempt to have ideology trump science is having a bit of trouble this week, since the Union of Concerned Scientists (a group of 60 influential researchers, including 20 Nobel laureates) issued a statement today condemning the practice of distorting science to serve policy goals. (NYT story; nogators/nogators works). More coverage at Wired news, pleasantly registration-free and chock full of background links.

Dept. of the Just Plain Bizarre

The US Dept. of Education has declared about 200 TV programs ineligable for grant-funded captioning as a result of a sudden and drastic narrowing of what they term “acceptable.”

The Department of Education is refusing to reveal the names of the panel members whose opinions determined the caption grants and also won’t disclose the new guidelines. By every appearance, the government has changed its definition of what constitutes a caption-worthy program. But it’s keeping the new rules secret. Palm Beach Post Op-Ed

There rest of that op-ed is online, and the National Association of the Deaf weighs in here. The list of approved and disapproved programs makes for interesting reading, too.

In which our representatives think impoverished nations in Africa will somehow pony up for Windows XP

The rest of the world — mostly, countries poorer than us — needs help with information technology. Of course, they have no money to buy software, so you’d think the UN’s logical point would be “hey! How about this Open Source stuff? Can’t we use that?”

Not if the US has anything to do with it. Advocating the use of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) might get in the way of somebody making a profit at some point, you see, so we can’t be suggesting people actually use what they can afford right now. Jesus.

Perception, Reality, the GOP, and the Military

Traditionally, the GOP has been the party of the military. Democrats, by conventional wisdom, are “soft on defense” and not to be trusted defending our nation. Republicans like to spend money on defense, and lots of it.

Unfortunately, it’s become clear that the Right — or at least the Right’s leaders — isn’t nearly so supportive of our men and women in uniform as they have us believe. Our top Republican officials, all Vietnam-era men, either didn’t serve at all (Cheney had “other priorities;” Tom Delay would’ve served, but too many minorities were taking up all the spots) or served with dubious loyalty and commitment. As for the size and expense of the military, Donald Rumsfeld has been working for three years to reduce the size of the force to sub-Clintonian levels, which is hardly a major heading on any set of Republican talking points. Add to this the constant cuts in military support and benefits, and you get a picture that’s not terribly supportive.

It gets worse. During the midterm elections, the GOP ran ads in Georgia comparing then-Senator Max Cleland to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, thereby managing to smear the decorated (Silver Star) triple-amputee Vietnam vet out of office. Now that Cleland is on the talk circuit demanding additional documentation of Bush’s dubious National Guard record, the smear campaign is rolling again. Republican mouthpiece Ann Coulter insists Cleland is a fraud in yet another burst of screed. Fortunately, she’s full of shit, as per usual, but the attacks persist, substantive or not.

How is it these people are our “defense-friendly” party again? How is it this behavior is consistent with the “character” the GOP tells us it has, and that Democrats lack? It’s time to take a hard look at these people, at what they’ve done, and what they will do if they get another term in control.

If only Christina had been there, they’d have had the Skankfecta.

Possible captions include:

  • “Paris Hilton practices with her new Courtney Love Realdoll Ventriloquism Kit™.
  • “Embattled Courtney Love, the 90′s own Yoko Ono, seeks career advice from similarly talented Paris Hilton.”
  • “No, Edgar, the cropped portion contains no hoo-hah action.”
  • “Paris Hilton finally finds someone who looks more stoned than she does.”
  • “You see, Paris, you take hold of the elbow and twist a little, and the vein just pops right out — oh, shit, is that a camera?”

Don’t nobody tell ‘em about that guy from the Village People

A Native American group is having a hissy fit over Andre 3000′s performance at the Grammys, and have gone so far as to suggest their Image Award nominations be revoked. They’ve also filed a complaint with the FCC. It’s apparently the “most disgusting set of racial stereotypes aimed at American Indians…ever seen,” a statement which presumably lets the Washington Redskins off the hook entirely.

CBS has, of course, already apologized in accordance with their new all-apology, all-the-time policy. Still left for CBS to apologize for: “CSI: Miami” and the whole idea of “Survivor.”

More Evil Copyright Abuse

This summer markes the 100th anniverary of Bloomsday, which you have to be pretty damn geeky to even understand. You see, James Joyce’s Ulysses takes place on a single day. The day in question is June 16, 1904, making this summer a wonderful opportunity for literary celebration, or at least an excuse to swill an awful lot of Guiness at highbrow events.

But never mind that, at least in Dublin. The Joyce estate is preparing to sue over any public readings from his work, however, thanks to (you guessed it!) copyright extensions brought on by EU legislation. Under the original copyright, Joyce’s book passed into the public domain 50 years after his death in 1941 (i.e., in 1991). The EU-mandated extension put it back in the bottle in 1995, and the estate intends to keep it there (EU copyrights are death-plus-75, not 50). So much for shared literary history. You’d think they’d see this as free marketing.

And now a bit on good laws, badly followed

Florida’s excellent sunshine laws ensure essentially any document created by government is available for anonymous public review unless specifically exempted by statute. Unfortunately, an audit conducted by 30 Floriday newspapers discovered that nearly half the agencies surveyed were unwilling to comply when requests are made by “ordinary citizens” (i.e., made by people who did not identify themselves as journalists or attorneys). Stonewalling and intimidation ruled the day in 43% of the case. In a particularly egregious example, Broward county administrator Roger Desjarlais told a volunteer “I can make your life very difficult,” and then used the Internet to obtain the volunteer’s cell phone number to enable additional harrassment.

Desjarlais defended his actions, saying that the volunteer raised suspicion when he declined to explain who he was. Officials across the state had similar misgivings about volunteers who came into their offices. They cited a number of arbitrary reasons for their suspicions, including the volunteers’ hair length, casual dress and, in one case, “the look in his eyes.”

This next bit is priceless:

Mary Kay Cariseo, executive director of the Florida Association of Counties, said people need to understand that making a public records request can be threatening to public officials. “You’re not looking at e-mails to do something good,” she said. “You’re trying to find something. You’re trying to dig something up when we’re trying to be good public servants and run our governments.” That’s a key reason why the public records law exists, said Sandra Chance, executive director of the University of Florida’s Brechner Center, a nonprofit organization that studies and serves as a resource on public records law. The ability to inspect government records lets the public police the officials they bankroll with tax dollars.

Bingo.

Of course, “security” had to raise its head in the litany of bullshit excuses for not following Florida law; it’s the catch-all reason for fuzzy-headed beaurocrats everywhere:

In a post-audit interview, Taylor County Superintendent Oscar Howard said his district was hesitant to produce his cell phone bill because the volunteer wouldn’t give his name. “He could have been a terrorist,” Howard said. “We have to ensure the safety of children.” Howard couldn’t explain how a terrorist might use his cell phone bill to harm children.

Neither, of course, did Howard explain how giving a name — or even showing identification — would deter or prevent terrorists from obtaining his oh-so-sensitive cell phone bill. The rest of the nation would do well to adopt sunshine laws like Florida’s — especially if we do so on the Federal level, and hold our elected servants to the same standard. Of course, THEN where would Cheney hide his cronyism?