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Glenn Greenwald: What the Supreme Court got right

supreme court

There’s been much bathos since yesterday’s Supreme Court decision regarding restrictions on political speech. Greenwald is the voice of reason here:

The Supreme Court yesterday, in a 5-4 decision, declared unconstitutional (on First Amendment grounds) campaign finance regulations which restrict the ability of corporations and unions to use funds from their general treasury for “electioneering” purposes. The case, Citizens United v. FEC, presents some very difficult free speech questions, and I’m deeply ambivalent about the court’s ruling. There are several dubious aspects of the majority’s opinion (principally its decision to invalidate the entire campaign finance scheme rather than exercising “judicial restraint” through a narrower holding). Beyond that, I believe that corporate influence over our political process is easily one of the top sicknesses afflicting our political culture. But there are also very real First Amendment interests implicated by laws which bar entities from spending money to express political viewpoints. […]

All of the hand-wringing sounds to me like someone expressing serious worry that a new law in North Korea will make the country more tyrannical. There’s not much room for our corporatist political system to get more corporatist. Does anyone believe that the ability of corporations to influence our political process was meaningfully limited before yesterday’s issuance of this ruling?

Glenn Greenwald: What the Supreme Court got right

Read the whole thing, including the updates at the end.

Atheists Sue Catholic Church

Charging that the Catholic Church should lose its tax-exempt status, a consortium of atheists and Catholic activists filed two lawsuits against Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, Assemblymember Vito Lopez (D-Williamsburg) and the Catholic Diocese over their role in producing a recorded message sent to Williamsburg’s registered voters less than a week before they went to the polls.

Led by NYC Atheists President Kenneth Bronstein and New Jersey-based priest abuse activist Reverend Robert Hoatson, the suits allege that DiMarzio violated Internal Revenue Service laws by recording a political message sent to voters in a hotly contested City Council election, which could cost the Church privileges enjoyed by its nonprofit status.

“This is the first step to accomplish what we want to accomplish: get the Church out of politics,” said John Aretakis, a spokesperson for the group.

The lawsuit arises from reaction to a series of pre-recorded messages that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio made on October 28, to voters in the city’s 34th Council District, thanking Lopez for his work advocating for the Catholic Church during the past year and urging voters to support his choices in the election.

NY Post:

(via Religion News)

But if they lost their tax exempt status, wouldn’t they be more likely to participate in politics? But at least they wouldn’t be tax exempt while doing it.

AP Study: computer viruses download child pornography

Innocent people have been branded as child abusers after malware infected their PCs, an AP investigation has discovered.

Technically sophisticated abusers sometimes store images of child abuse on PCs infected by Trojans that grant them illicit access to compromised machines.

The plight of those framed in this way is all the worse because paedophiles commonly use supposed malware infections of their PCs to explain the presence of images of child abuse. Because of this the “Trojan did it” defence is understandably met with scepticism from law enforcement professionals.

“It’s an example of the old `dog ate my homework’ excuse,” says Phil Malone, director of the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society told AP. “The problem is, sometimes the dog does eat your homework.”

Register: How malware frames the innocent for child abuse

A court decision that reflects what type of country the U.S. is

It’s not often that an appellate court decision reflects so vividly what a country has become, but such is the case with yesterday’s ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Arar v. Ashcroft (.pdf). Maher Arar is both a Canadian and Syrian citizen of Syrian descent. A telecommunications engineer and graduate of Montreal’s McGill University, he has lived in Canada since he’s 17 years old. In 2002, he was returning home to Canada from vacation when, on a stopover at JFK Airport, he was (a) detained by U.S. officials, (b) accused of being a Terrorist, (c) held for two weeks incommunicado and without access to counsel while he was abusively interrogated, and then (d) was “rendered” — despite his pleas that he would be tortured — to Syria, to be interrogated and tortured. He remained in Syria for the next 10 months under the most brutal and inhumane conditions imaginable, where he was repeatedly tortured. Everyone acknowledges that Arar was never involved with Terrorism and was guilty of nothing. I’ve appended to the end of this post the graphic description from a dissenting judge of what was done to Arar while in American custody and then in Syria.

In January, 2007, the Canadian Prime Minister publicly apologized to Arar for the role Canada played in these events, and the Canadian government paid him $9 million in compensation. That was preceded by a full investigation by Canadian authorities and the public disclosure of a detailed report which concluded “categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offense or that his activities constituted a threat to the security of Canada.” By stark and very revealing contrast, the U.S. Government has never admitted any wrongdoing or even spoken publicly about what it did; to the contrary, it repeatedly insisted that courts were barred from examining the conduct of government officials because what we did to Arar involves “state secrets” and because courts should not interfere in the actions of the Executive where national security is involved. What does that behavioral disparity between the two nations say about how “democratic,” “accountable,” and “open” the United States is? […]

This is precisely how the character of a country becomes fundamentally degraded when it becomes a state in permanent war. So continuous are the inhumane and brutal acts of government leaders that the citizens completely lose the capacity for moral outrage and horror. The permanent claims of existential threats from an endless array of enemies means that secrecy is paramount, accountability is deemed a luxury, and National Security trumps every other consideration — even including basic liberties and the rule of law. Worst of all, the President takes on the attributes of a protector-deity who can and must never be questioned lest we prevent him from keeping us safe.

Glenn Greenwald: A court decision that reflects what type of country the U.S. is

Judge Refuses to Dismiss War Crimes Case Against Blackwater

Jeremy Scahill writes for the Nation:

On Wednesday, a federal judge rejected a series of arguments by lawyers for the mercenary firm formerly known as Blackwater seeking to dismiss five high-stakes war crimes cases brought by Iraqi victims against both the company and its owner, Erik Prince. At the same time, Judge T.S. Ellis III sent the Iraqis’ lawyers back to the legal drawing board to amend and refile their cases, saying that the Iraqi plaintiffs need to provide more specific details on the alleged crimes before a final decision can be made on whether or not the lawsuits will proceed.

“We were very pleased with the ruling,” says Susan Burke, the lead attorney for the Iraqis. Burke, who filed the lawsuits in cooperation with the Center for Constitutional Rights, is now preparing to re-file the suits. Blackwater’s spokesperson Stacy DeLuke said, “We are confident that [the plaintiffs] will not be able to meet the high standard specified in Judge Ellis’s opinion.”

Nation: Judge Refuses to Dismiss War Crimes Case Against Blackwater

Fast Internet access becomes a legal right in Finland

Finland has become the first country in the world to declare broadband Internet access a legal right.

Starting in July, telecommunication companies in the northern European nation will be required to provide all 5.2 million citizens with Internet connection that runs at speeds of at least 1 megabit per second. […]

In June, France’s highest court declared such access a human right. But Finland goes a step further by legally mandating speed.

CNN: Fast Internet access becomes a legal right in Finland

(via Disinfo)

It’s unclear to me – does this mean that telecom companies are required to provide this service for free, or does it mean it has to make it available to everyone (including people in remote areas)?

Case against SubGenius mom dismissed

Good news!

GOOD NEWS, EVERYONE!! I don’t have the official documents yet, but my lawyer informs me that the Appellate Division has dismissed the case against me! This means the jurisdiction of my case will move from Orleans County, NY to here in Georgia …where I live, so I can never again be forced to leave my home & rent an apartment in New York to fight the case!

It also upholds the current joint custody agreement that lets my son reside with me [as long as no SubGenius materials are in my house]! I’ll be sure to post scans of the papers when I get them, and of course there’s probably some kind of legal loopholes that might come up, but this is GREAT news! Thank you so much everyone, I could never have gotten here without you!!

I do still owe about $50,000+ in legal bills, and the payments are getting really tough to make with my husband laid off, so if anyone has a bit to spare, I promise to send massive Slack waves of thanks for your donation!

The High Weirdness Project

Trevor Blake writes:

It might seem a waste of Rev. Magdalen’s money and the tax-funded court system to spend so much only to have things return to the way they were in the first place, with Rev. Magdalen having custody of her son. But one concrete change did occur in all this. Rev. Magdalen is forbidden from having SubGenius material in her home. SubGenius material such as books I helped write. If you have my writing in your home, if you have SubGenius material in your home, if you have children, this case should matter to you. You may be next to spend $140,000 for the privilege of being left alone, minus some of your stuff.

To donate directly to Rev. Magdelen, use paypal to send any amount to magdalen@subgenius.com. To send funds to her lawyer write or call Christopher S. Mattingly 42 Delaware Ave Ste 120, Buffalo, NY 4202-3924 USA (telephone: +1-716-849-1333 ext 351).

It’s amazing and disgusting that she is still being denied the right have SubGenius materials in her home. How can this possibly be legal?

Sears gets warning for hacking customers computers

Between April 2007 and January 2008, visitors to the Kmart and Sears web sites were invited to join an “online community” for which they would be paid $10 with the idea they would be helping the company learn more about their customers. It turned out they learned a lot more than participants realized or that the feds thought was reasonable.

To join the “My SHC Community,” users downloaded software that ended up grabbing some members’ prescription information, emails, bank account data and purchases on other sites. Sears called the group that participated “small” and said the data captured by the program was at all times secure and was then destroyed. […]

The feds just officially resolved the case after commissioners accepted the proposed settlement and the penalty for Sears’ alleged overzealous, privacy invading behavior wasn’t even a slap on the wrist. It was a gentle touch. The harshest part of whole situation was the FTC actually letting people know the situation even happened.

The penalty: if Sears offers such a software program again it should be more honest about the implications. Sears has to destroy all the data — which was already done. And, Sears needs to help those who want to uninstall the software.

Sears gets mere wrist slap for allegedly spying on customers

(via Schneier on Security)

If an individual had used a virus to collect sensitive data? David L. Smith was sentenced to 20 months in federal prison and fined $5,000 for writing the Melissa virus. Under the Patriot Act, he could conceivably have been sentence to 10 years in prison (Smith committed the crime in 1999, before the Patriot Act was passed).

Even if you’re found innocent, you can still do 15 years in prison

Not only have many defendants been sentenced for stuff the jury said they didn’t do (or at least wasn’t proven), but yesterday the Supreme Court refused to do anything about it. The cert denial came in the case of Mark Hurn of my hometown, Madison, Wis. Hurn ate 15 years extra years in prison for possessing crack cocaine, even though a jury acquitted him of the charge. It’s true. Though he was convicted of having powder cocaine in his house, (for which he was looking at two or three years in prison), he was sentenced to almost 18 years. Why? Because even though the jury acquitted him of the crack charge, the judge kind of figured he’d done it and therefore found, by a preponderance of the evidence that he’d done it, and sent him to prison as if the jury had actually said “Guilty” rather than “Not Guilty.”

Slate: Heads I Win, Tails You Lose: Another way to do the time even if you didn’t do the crime

(via The Agitator)

Praying man let his daughter die

A US jury has found a man guilty of killing his sick 11-year-old daughter by praying for her recovery rather than seeking medical care.

The man, Dale Neumann, told a court in the state of Wisconsin he believed God could heal his daughter.

She died of a treatable disease – undiagnosed diabetes – at home in rural Wisconsin in March last year, as people surrounded her and prayed.

Neumann’s wife, Leilani Neumann, was convicted earlier this year.

The couple, who were both convicted of second-degree reckless homicide, face up to 25 years in prison when they are sentenced in October.

BBC: Praying man let his daughter die

(via Justin)

Sounds like Wisconsin is a bit more civilized than Oregon.

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