Israeli Girl, 8, at Center of Tension Over Religious Ex ...

From The New York Times:

Israeli Girl, 8, at Center of Tension Over Religious Extremism

By ISABEL KERSHNER
Published: December 27, 2011
 

BEIT SHEMESH, Israel — The latest battleground in Israel’s struggle over religious extremism covers little more than a square mile of this Jewish city situated between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and it has the unexpected public face of a blond, bespectacled second-grade girl.

Naama Margolese, 8, the daughter of observant Orthodox Jews, has been spat on and otherwise insulted by ultra-Orthodox men and boys on her way to school because her modest dress did not adhere to their standards.

She is Naama Margolese, 8, the daughter of American immigrants who are observant modern Orthodox Jews. An Israeli weekend television program told the story of how Naama had become terrified of walking to her elementary school here after ultra-Orthodox men spit on her, insulted her and called her a prostitute because her modest dress did not adhere exactly to their more rigorous dress code.

The country was outraged. Naama’s picture has appeared on the front pages of all the major Israeli newspapers. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted Sunday that “Israel is a democratic, Western, liberal state” and pledged that “the public sphere in Israel will be open and safe for all,” there have been days of confrontation at focal points of friction here.

Ultra-Orthodox men and boys from the most stringent sects have hurled rocks and eggs at the police and journalists, shouting “Nazis” at the security forces and assailing female reporters with epithets like “shikse,” a derogatory Yiddish term for a non-Jewish woman or girl, and “whore.” Jews of varying degrees of orthodoxy and secularity headed to Beit Shemesh on Tuesday evening to join local residents in a protest numbering in the thousands against religious violence and fanaticism.

For many Israelis, this is not a fight over one little girl’s walk to school. It is a struggle that could shape the future character and soul of the country, against ultra-Orthodox zealots who have been increasingly encroaching on the public sphere with their strict interpretation of modesty rules, enforcing gender segregation and the exclusion of women.

The battle has broadened and grown increasingly visible in recent weeks and months. Orthodox male soldiers walked out of a ceremony where female soldiers were singing, adhering to what they consider to be a religious prohibition against hearing a woman’s voice; women have been challenging the seating arrangements on strictly “kosher” buses serving ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and some inter-city routes, where female passengers are expected to sit at the back.

The virulent coercion in Beit Shemesh has been attributed mainly to a group of several hundred ultra-Orthodox extremists who came here from Jerusalem, known as the Sicarii, or daggermen, after a violent and stealthy faction of Jews who tried to expel the Romans in the decades before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Religious extremism is hardly new to Israel, but the Sicarii and their bullying ilk push with a bold vigor that has yet to be fully explained. Certainly, Israel’s coalition politics have allowed the ultra-Orthodox parties to wield disproportionate power beyond the roughly 10 percent of the population they currently represent.

The ultra-Orthodox community’s rapidly increasing numbers — thanks to extraordinarily high birthrates — may also have emboldened the hard core, as may have their insular neighborhoods. And their leadership appears to lack moderating brakes.

In any case, the extremists have provoked an outpouring of opposition from all those who are more flexible, be they ultra-Orthodox, modern Orthodox, mainstream or secular. In fact, it was an ultra-Orthodox-led group that claimed at least part of the credit for making Naama’s story public.

“We are working to save our city and to save our homes,” said Dov Lipman, 40, a local activist, rabbi and self-defined modern ultra-Orthodox, who moved to Beit Shemesh from Silver Spring, Md., seven years ago. Seizing on the public mood of rejecting ultra-Orthodox bullying, Mr. Lipman and a group of supporters have been lobbying the Israeli Parliament, organizing protests and recently hired a media consultant. He said that is how Naama’s story came out.

Built near the ruins of an ancient city of that name mentioned in the Bible, Beit Shemesh was established in 1950, first drawing mostly poor immigrants from North Africa, then immigrants from Russia, Ethiopia and English-speaking countries. With the construction of the new neighborhoods of Ramat Beit Shemesh A and B in the 1990s, the ultra-Orthodox population boomed. Residents say 20,000 more planned housing units are earmarked for the ultra-Orthodox.

In Ramat Beit Shemesh B, signs on the walls of buildings call for modesty, exhorting women and girls to dress in buttoned-up, long-sleeved blouses and long skirts. Outside a synagogue on Hazon Ish Street in the Kirya ha-Haredit quarter, a sign requested that females should cross to the opposite sidewalk and certainly not tarry outside the building.

Naama’s school, Orot, opened in September in an area with a large community of English-speaking observant Jews that borders on the strictest ultra-orthodox neighborhoods. She quickly found she had to run a miserable gantlet to get to school, even dressed in long sleeves and long skirts.

Riots broke out on Monday when the police accompanied media crews into Hazon Ish Street, the area where Naama’s tormentors are believed to have come from. Hundreds of black-garbed men and boys poured out of the synagogue and an adjacent seminary holding handwritten signs calling for the exclusion of women, illustrated with the male and female symbols used for public washrooms. One policeman was injured after being hit in the head with a rock and several arrests were made before the crowds dispersed at dusk.

Many of the ultra-Orthodox agitators blamed the news media for the unrest, saying they had come into the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods to sow hatred and to persecute the residents for their religious beliefs.

Meanwhile, some residents insisted that Beit Shemesh was a tolerant city, but defended at least some gender separation and modesty on religious grounds.

“I think women are very poorly treated in Western society,” said Cindy Feder, 57, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh A, who came to Israel from New York in 1970, and who defines herself as an “open haredi,” the Hebrew term for ultra-Orthodox. She said that the objectification of women on some billboards made her feel sick.

In the more austere Ramat Beit Shemesh B, a 32-year-old mother of four defended the gender separation on public transportation, saying that it was necessary to preserve women’s honor on crowded buses that squeezed people like “tomato puree.”

But the woman, who gave only her first name, Rivka, for fear of provoking the disapproval of her neighbors, also told a story that revealed the costs of separation: one night, the extremists came and removed all the public benches from the neighborhood, so that the women could no longer sit outside with their children in the street.

Voter ID Law Blocked By Feds In South Carolina, Texas C ...

From Huffington Post

 

Voter ID Law Blocked By Feds In South Carolina, Texas Could Be Next

Last week the Justice Department blocked a South Carolina law that would require voters to produce photo identification at the polls. Now a similar Texas voter ID law could very well be next to face a legal challenge.

Under the Voting Rights Act, Texas numbers among a few states, including South Carolina, that must have federal approval of any changes to its election laws because of its history of racial discrimination.

The Texas attorney general’s office is prepared to take all necessary legal action to defend the voter ID law enacted by the Texas Legislature,” Texas AG spokeswoman Lauren Bean told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and the organization’s senior vice president for advocacy and policy, said he expects the Texas law to be blocked as well.

“Our hope is that we see the same thing happening with Texas,” Shelton told The Huffington Post’s Black Voices on Wednesday afternoon. “These very nasty, very strong photo ID laws have a desperate impact on racial minorities and other communities.”

The Texas law is very similar to the South Carolina law, Shelton said, and because of the requirement placed upon the state to get approval for election law changes, he believes it is all the more likely that the Justice Department will block it, as the department did in South Carolina.

“Having the Justice Department come in as an impartial third party and actually do the kind of analysis that it did, and its thorough assessment of the law and a thorough investigation into its possible impact; and to come out with what it did says an awful lot,” Shelton said.

The Justice Department’s decision was a rare victory for those fighting to stop what has been described as an effort to suppress turnout among minority voters and other groups that have historically supported Democrats. But the government’s intervention in South Carolina may also serve as a goad to those who support such laws. Proponents of voter ID laws say the measures are needed to protect against voter fraud.

Both sides seem poised for a prolonged legal fight, with South Carolina as the first battleground. South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson has vowed to take the case to federal court, if need be.

Gov. Nikki Haley denounced the decision as an act of political “bullying.”

“It is outrageous,” she said in reported statements. “We plan to look at every possible option to get this terrible, clearly political decision overturned.”

More than a dozen states have passed tough new voting restriction laws this year. Eight of those states, including Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin, require photo identification. A handful of these laws — including the Texas law signed this summer by Gov. Rick Perry — are scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1.

In Texas, voters can present a gun permit but not college-issued identification.

The fight thus far has split along partisan lines, the debate tinged with elements of age, race and class. According to Democrats, about 25 percent of African Americans and 19 percent of Latinos do not have any form of government-issued identification. And the poor and many older Americans, reports suggest, are less able to pay various fees connected with acquiring the identification that would be required under many of the new laws.

A number of minority and labor groups, including the NAACP, the United Federation of Teachers, the health care workers’ union 1199SEIU, the National Council of La Raza, the Asian-American Legal Defense Fund and others have joined forces and continue to hold protests and rallies around the country.

Democrats have also launched an offensive of their own, much of it couched in a recently released report, “A Reversal in Progress: Restricting Voting Rights for Electoral Gain,” and the launch of a website www.protectingthevote.org.

Attorney General Eric Holder recently gave a speech in Austin, Texas, in which he urged political parties “to resist the temptation to suppress certain votes in the hope of attaining electoral success.”

“Over the years, we’ve seen all sorts of attempts to gain partisan advantage by keeping people away from the polls — from literacy tests and poll taxes, to misinformation campaigns telling people that Election Day has been moved, or that only one adult per household can cast a ballot,” Holder said during the Dec. 13 speech.

The debate has spread to the blogosphere and to the cable news shows.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, veteran activist and host of “Politics Nation” on MSNBC, said during a recent interview with The Huffington Post that the most important issues facing blacks today are jobs and the fight over the voter ID laws.

“Jobs, because people need to be able to feed their families,” he said. “Voter ID, because we need to be able to keep people empowered.”

Republicans have said the laws are necessary to protect against voter fraud, while Democrats contend that such fraud is extremely rare. Meanwhile, across the country, stories are emerging of citizens, many of them elderly and African American, being denied the required identification that would make them eligible to vote.

It has allegedly happened twice in Tennessee alone, including a 96-year-old woman who could not locate her marriage license, and a 93-year-old woman who had cleaned the state Capitol there for some 30 years. The latter woman, Thelma Johnson, was born in Alabama via midwife and was never issued a birth certificate, according to a report on the website thinkprogress.org.

Maria Cubria, an advocate with the Texas Public Interest Group, which opposes the laws, told The Huffington Post Wednesday that the fight in Texas over the voter ID laws has become an “over my dead body” issue.

“There’s the usual partisan bickering back and forth, but it’s almost a wait-and-see attitude for people who are very encouraged by the Justice Department’s ruling [in South Carolina],” Cubria said. “However, it ultimately could be some time before the court makes a decision if this goes to court in Texas. So people are balancing their optimism with caution.”

The issue was a cornerstone for Texas Republicans in the 2010 elections, she said. When Republicans gained a super-majority in the state legislature, the law’s passage became a near certainty.

“Voting is one of our most basic, fundamental rights as Americans, and we should be doing everything we can to make it easier to vote, not putting up barriers and wasting taxpayer dollars fighting these battles in court,” Cubria said.

Lenny McAllister, a conservative talk-show host and a regular on cable news shows, called the Justice Department’s decision “political social engineering,” and explained to HuffPost that to suggest the laws disenfranchise minorities is “offensive” to blacks.

“There really isn’t an excuse in 2011 for black Americans to be so detached from the American mainstream that we are arguing over having photo IDs,” said McAllister, who is black. “Didn’t our people die, didn’t our people get killed, lynched and castrated for us to not have to have these arguments?”

Those who fought and died to enfranchise blacks are “rolling in their graves,” McAllister said. “It is an ignorant argument for us as black Americans to even have.”

He, like many other supporters of the laws, argue that so many routine transactions, from purchasing an airline ticket to renting a movie, require photo identification, that making it a requirement to vote is not an undue burden. McAllister said that America is suffering from an “illegal immigration” problem and that many cities serve as sanctuaries for immigrants. His fear is that many of these “illegal” immigrants will infiltrate the voting booths using little more than utility bills.

“We have to ensure that our elections mean what they say and say what they mean,” he said. “We can’t give [non-Americans] the opportunity to impact America without being American citizens. That’s just wrong.”

Feds Falsely Censor Popular Blog For Over A Year, Deny ...

From Tech Dirt:

Feds Falsely Censor Popular Blog For Over A Year, Deny All Due Process, Hide All Details…

from the copyright-as-censorship dept

Imagine if the US government, with no notice or warning, raided a small but popular magazine’s offices over a Thanksgiving weekend, seized the company’s printing presses, and told the world that the magazine was a criminal enterprise with a giant banner on their building. Then imagine that it never arrested anyone, never let a trial happen, and filed everything about the case under seal, not even letting the magazine’s lawyers talk to the judge presiding over the case. And it continued to deny any due process at all for over a year, before finally just handing everything back to the magazine and pretending nothing happened. I expect most people would be outraged. I expect that nearly all of you would say that’s a classic case of prior restraint, a massive First Amendment violation, and exactly the kind of thing that does not, or should not, happen in the United States.

But, in a story that’s been in the making for over a year, and which we’re exposing to the public for the first time now, this is exactly the scenario that has played out over the past year — with the only difference being that, rather than “a printing press” and a “magazine,” the story involved “a domain” and a “blog.”

There are so many things about this story that are crazy, it’s difficult to know where to start, so let’s give the most important point first: The US government has effectively admitted that it totally screwed up and falsely seized & censored a non-infringing domain of a popular blog, having falsely claimed that it was taking part in criminal copyright infringement. Then, after trying to hide behind a totally secretive court process with absolutely no due process whatsoever (in fact, not even serving papers on the lawyer for the site or providing timely notifications — or providing any documents at all), for over a year, the government has finally realized it couldn’t hide any more and has given up, and returned the domain name to its original owner. If you ever wanted to understand why ICE’s domain seizures violate the law — and why SOPA and PROTECT IP are almost certainly unconstitutional — look no further than what happened in this case.

Okay, now some details. First, remember Dajaz1.com? It was one of the sites seized over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend back in 2010 — a little over a year ago. Those seizures struck us as particularly interesting, because among the sites seized were a bunch of hip hop blogs, including a few that were highly ranked on Vibe’s list of the top hip hop blogs. These weren’t the kinds of things anyone would expect, when supporters of these domain seizures and laws like SOPA and PROTECT IP talk of “rogue sites.” Blogs would have lots of protected speech, and in the hip hop community these blogs, in particular, were like the new radio. Artists routinely leaked their works directly to these sites in order to promote their albums. We even pointed to a few cases of stars like Kanye West and Diddy tweeting links to some of the seized domains in the past.

In fact, as the details came out, it became clear that ICE and the Justice Department were in way over their heads. ICE’s “investigation” was done by a technically inept recent college grad, who didn’t even seem to understand the basics of the technology. But it didn’t stop him from going to a judge and asking for a site to be completely censored with no due process.

The Dajaz1 case became particularly interesting to us, after we saw evidence showing that the songs that ICE used in its affidavit as “evidence” of criminal copyright infringement were songs sent by representatives of the copyright holder with the request that the site publicize the works — in one case, even coming from a VP at a major music label. Even worse, about the only evidence that ICE had that these songs were infringing was the word of the “VP of Anti-Piracy Legal Affairs for the RIAA,” Carlos Linares, who was simply not in a position to know if the songs were infringing or authorized. In fact, one of the songs involved an artist not even represented by an RIAA label, and Linares clearly had absolutely no right to speak on behalf of that artist.

Despite all of this, the government simply seized the domain, put up a big scary warning graphic on the site, suggesting its operators were criminals, and then refused to comment at all about the case. Defenders of the seizures insisted that this was all perfectly legal and nothing to be worried about. They promised us that the government had every right to do this and plenty of additional evidence to back up its claims. They promised us that the government would allow for plenty of due process within a reasonable amount of time. They also insisted that, after hearing nothing happening in the case for many months, it meant that no attempt to object to the seizure had occurred. Turns out… none of that was true.

What happened next is a story that should never happen in the US. It’s like something out of Kafka or the movie Brazil, but it should never have happened under the US Constitution. First, you have to understand the two separate processes: there’s seizure and then there’s forfeiture. Under the seizure laws, the government has 60 days from seizure to “notify” those whose property it seized (imagine having the government swoop in and take away your property, and not even being told why for two whole months). Once notified, the property owner has 35 days to file a claim to request the return of the property. If that doesn’t happen, the government can effectively just keep the property, so it tends to rely on intimidation and threats towards anyone who indicates plans to ask for their property back (usually in the form of threatening to file charges). However, if such a claim is filed, the government then has 90 days to start the full “forfeiture” process, which would allow the government to keep the seized property and never have to give it back. If the claim to return the property is filed and the government does not file for forfeiture, it is required to return the property. Thus seizures are supposedly used as a temporary part of the investigation, to stop criminal activity or to prevent the destruction of evidence. However, that’s not how things always play out in real life.

As we’d heard with a number of domain names that had been seized, the government began stalling like mad when contacted by representatives for domain holders seeking to get their domains back. ICE even flat out lied to the public, stating that no one was challenging the seizures, when it knew full well that some sites were, in fact, challenging. Out of that came the Rojadirecta case, but what of Dajaz1?

After continuing to stall and refusing to respond to Dajaz1′s filing requesting the domain be returned, the government told Dajaz1′s lawyer, Andrew P. Bridges, that it would begin forfeiture procedures (as required by law if it wanted to keep the domain). Bridges made clear that Dajaz1 would challenge the forfeiture procedure and seek to get the domain name back at that time. Then, the deadline for the government to file for forfeiture came and went and nothing apparently happened. Absolutely nothing. Bridges contacted the government to ask what was going on, and was told that the government had received an extension from the court. Bridges, quite reasonably, asked how that was possible without him, as counsel for the site, being informed of it or given a chance to make the case for why such an extension was improper.

He also asked for a copy of the the court’s order allowing the extension. The government told him no and that the extension was filed under seal and could not be released, even in redacted form.

He asked for the motion papers asking for the extension. The government told him no and that the papers were filed under seal and could not be released, even in redacted form.

He again asked whether he would be notified about further filings for extensions. The government told him no.

He then asked the US attorney to inform the court that, if the government made another request for an extension, the domain owner opposed the extension and would like the opportunity to be heard. The government would not agree.

And file further extensions the government did. Repeatedly. Or, at least that’s what Bridges was told. He sent someone to investigate the docket at the court, but the docket itself was secret, meaning there was no record of any of this available.

The government was required to file for forfeiture by May. The initial (supposed) secret extension was until July. Then it got another one that went until September. And then another one until November… or so the government said. When Bridges asked the government for some proof that it had actually obtained the extensions in question, the government attorney told Bridges that he would just have “trust” him.

Finally, the government decided that it would not file a forfeiture complaint — because there was no probable cause – and it let the last (supposed) extension expire. Only after Bridges asked again for the status of the domain did the government indicate that it would return the domain to its owner — something that finally happened today. Dajaz1.com is finally back in the hands of its rightful owner. This is really quite incredible, considering the “rush” with which it seized these domain names, claiming the urgency in stopping a crime in progress. But, of course, after realizing that it had no evidence to suggest a crime was ever in progress – there was absolutely no urgency to correct the error.

The level of secrecy in this case makes it sound like a terrorist investigation, not the censorship of a popular music blog. Normally, when there’s a lawsuit, the docket is available on PACER. Even in cases where things are filed under seal or everything is redacted, there’s at least a placeholder for them in PACER. This case does not exist anywhere that anyone can find. The docket was apparently kept hidden in a judge’s office in Los Angeles the whole time. No one knew this was going on, other than the US Attorney and the representatives of Dajaz1 (who still never saw the docket or the extension orders).

Let’s just take stock here for a second. We have the government clearly censoring free speech in the form of a blog that discussed the music world and was widely recognized for its influence in promoting new acts. The government seized the blog with no adversarial hearing and no initial due process. Then, rather than actually provide some sort of belated due process in the form of an adversarial hearing, it continued to deny any and all due process by secretly (even to Dajaz1′s own lawyer) extending the seizure without any way to challenge those extensions. All in all, the government completely censored a popular web site for over a year, when it had no real evidence for probable cause of infringement, as it had falsely claimed in the original rubber stamped affidavit. As we noted in reviewing the affidavit, the case had been put together by folks who clearly did not understand the law, the site or the music space. But to then double down on that and continue to hold the domain for a year in secret? That just compounds the error and takes it to new extremes.

This was flat out censorship for no reason, for an entire year, by the US government… Everyone should be horrified by this. It also shows what a joke the claims of supporters are that since “a judge reviewed the affidavit,” there’s due process. Without the other party, there is no real due process. Not only that, but the government made sure, at every step of the way, that the other party was not heard. That’s horrifying. It wasn’t just an act of omission in leaving out the party, but actively preventing the party from being heard.

And yet the feds and private companies continue to say we should just “trust them” to get these kinds of things right? Even more bizarre, they want to expand their ability to do this incontestable censorship through laws like PROTECT IP and SOPA? If anything, this massive screwup on the part of ICE, the Justice Department and the RIAA should lead us to go in the other direction. ICE and the DOJ should be investigated and reprimanded, if not directly penalized, for clear First Amendment violations, while the ICE program for seizing domains should be dismantled. John Morton, who led ICE’s domain seizure program, should tender his resignation or be fired. Victoria Espinel, the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, who defended these seizures to Congress, should issue a public apology, and begin a process to revamp the government’s role in such enforcement actions (and consider tendering her resignation as well). The federal government should issue a huge apology to the operators of Dajaz1 and make it clear that it will no longer take such drastic censorship actions. The RIAA should be investigated for providing claims about the site that were not true, and which it had no right to make.

If Congress needs to do anything, it should be to investigate the lawless, unconstitutional, cowboy censorship and blocking of due process by both Homeland Security and the Justice Department. The last thing it should be doing is allowing more such actions. This whole thing has been a disgrace by the US government, starting with a bogus seizure, improper and illegal censorship, followed by denial of due process and unnecessary secrecy. Dajaz1 is currently reviewing its options in terms of whether it can or should take further action as a result of this, but at least it has its domain back. And people wonder why we’re so concerned about these seizures and new proposals to further such censorship.

Is Asylum Moral?

The current battles between Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria and the Syrian opposition protesters has been one of the top news stories in recent weeks.   It is believed that over 2,000 people have been killed in fighting as Assad attempts to keep power.

However, I want to bring in a piece of information from this saga that has gotten far less coverage.  According to El Pais (via Bloomberg News), Spain was prepared in July to offer Assad asylum as a way of ending the violence.  According to the story (2nd to last paragraph), “Spain sent a secret mission to Syria in July in an attempt to help end the violence and is prepared to offer asylum to Assad and his family, the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported yesterday, citing unidentified diplomats.”
(Source:  Bloomberg News

Similarly, there are reports that Libya’s blood leader, Muammar Gaddafi, may also be ready to seek asylum.  Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (via MEMRI) reported that there are planes ready to take Gaddafi to Venezuela as long as several of his conditions are met, such as NATO troops pulling out of Libya.  Like Assad, Gaddafi has thousands of deaths on his hands and he has been tied to supporting terrorists throughout the world.
(Source:  MEMRI Blog

So here is where I struggle with this.  On one hand, I understand that asylum allows for a quick and relatively painless end to violence.  On the other hand, it also guarantees that these two deadly leaders will never have to face justice for their crimes.  They will get to live happily ever after, likely in a life of luxury funded from money stolen from their own people.  I think most people want an end to the current murderous fighting but should Gaddafi and Assad be like the multitude of Nazis who evaded prosecution by escaping to foreign countries? Do the people of Libya and Syria deserve a chance to bring these men to trial or should they just be thankful that the fighting is over?

Further, what does this say about Venezuela and Spain?  Should we consider these countries morally admirable for their willingness to help or morally reprehensible for their willingness to protect known killers?

What do you think?  Talk back and give your opinion!

What Is A Life Worth? In Canada, It’s Worth $1,0 ...

This was an interesting article that was on AOL News today.  While both parties were clearly in the wrong, you make exceptions based on the situation, and this was a situation where common sense dictates you do whatever is necessary to help a life in danger, including escorting the car at a faster but safer speed to the hospital.  Read on, and see if you don’t share the same outrage.


Man Gets $1,000 Speeding Ticket Trying To Save His Baby

Police had no sympathy for a father driving his family to hospital to avert tragedy

Rushing to save his baby’s life, David Weber was issued a huge speeding ticket (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS).

by: Michael Zak
 

A man in Manitoba, Canada has been given a whopping $1,000 ticket and a suspended driver’s license as punishment for speeding to the hospital in order to save the life of his pregnant wife and his unborn child, reported the Winnipeg Free Press.

David Weber and his wife Genevieve one day last March were on their way home from a day of shopping when she began to have contractions. Genevieve was 38 weeks pregnant and the couple knew, because of complications she incurred while giving birth to their first child, they had very little time to get her to the hospital for a Caesarean section.

In what is described as an adrenaline-filled panic, Mr. Weber mashed the gas pedal of his Honda Civic, and began speeding towards the hospital on “lightly trafficked roads,” the newspaper reported, at more than 105 MPH.

Unfortunately, the couple flew right by a police officer.

The couple’s first reaction was that of relief, thinking the officer would hear their situation and offer them an escort to the hospital. Forget it.

“[The officer] said, ‘If you go to [the hospital], I don’t want to see you guys speeding,’” David told the Winnipeg Free Press. “I was half-crying… I said, ‘We don’t have time for a lecture.’ (I was) trying to save my wife and baby’s life.”

After a 15-minute delay, the Weber’s were back on the road, but with a baby-gift of a $1,000 speeding ticket, and time running out.

Mr. Weber knew the delay had made it even more imperative that they get to the hospital, so he again mashed the gas pedal. But 30 minutes later, incredibly, the couple was stopped by another police officer who had actually been alerted by the first that the Webers might be speeding again in the direction of the hospital.

The second officer also ignored the situation, started another lecture on speeding, and called an ambulance instead of allowing Mr. Weber to continue to the hospital, or escorting him there. Genevieve suffered through yet another 15 minute delay in pain and agony as they waited for the ambulance to arrive.

Fortunately, the Weber’s baby was born healthy at the hospital, but it was a dangerously close call. According to the couple’s doctor, Genevieve’s uterus was very nearly ruptured.

Mr. Weber decided to fight the ticket with the support of the doctor that delivered the couple’s baby. But in spite of the doctor’s testimony that speeding was absolutely necessary to save Mrs. Weber and her baby, the police refused to drop the ticket. They did, however, reduce the fine to $400.

And take a suspended license too!

Last month, Mr. Weber attended a hearing about the speeding incident, and in early July received even more appalling news: His license would be suspended for five months.

Only upon the completion of a safe-driving course will Mr. Weber be able to legally drive again. Even after his 5-month suspension is up, he’ll also likely incur a heavy financial burden from higher auto insurance premiums.

Police officials would not comment to the Free Press on the situation due to privacy concerns, but maintained that protocols designed for keeping the roads safe were followed in this instance.

David Weber still is holding on to hope that the authorities will grant him some slack due to the obviously special circumstances surrounding his traffic violation. David told the Free Press that he has taken his situation to the media in the hopes of garnering public support.

For the time being, David Weber is left wondering what might have happened had he been delayed even longer. Perhaps a Canadian solicitor will show interest in the case and charge the police with endangering the lives of Mrs. Weber and her baby?

But the larger question is why the police were such sticklers for official procedure in the face of a medical emergency. Certainly, there are many officers who would react differently in the face of the same circumstances.

New York Approves Gay Marriages, Will Others Follow Sui ...

In a move that should have happened years ago, gay marriage was officially legalized in the the state of New York, who becomes the sixth state to legalize it.  Late, but as some say, it’s better late than never.  What makes New York stand out, is that it is the largest state to date to legalize gay marriage.  It’s a victory because New York, despite being a Democrat stronghold for years, has also had a conservative outlook on many issues, so this victory provides a brighter outlook for gay rights.  If New York can do it, other more liberal states can definitely do it.

The vote caps a mixed year for gay marriage in state legislatures. New York was the only state to approve same-sex marriages. Three states — Delaware, Hawaii and Illinois — voted to allow gay couples to enter into civil unions, which afford many of the same benefits as marriage. Although gay groups consider civil unions a positive step, they say it falls short of the true legal and symbolic equality that the term “marriage” carries with it.

In Minnesota, lawmakers decided to place a measure on the 2012 ballot asking voters to define marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. Voters have supported such language in all 31 states that have put that question on the ballot. However, with public opinion shifting, according to several recent polls, and with Minnesota’s liberal tilt, advocates hope it will be their first opportunity to defeat such a ballot initiative.

A similar initiative passed in California in 2008. However, in a major victory for the pro-gay-marriage movement, a federal judge last year overturned that law and called into question the constitutionality of such ballot measures. The issue is widely expected to be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.

A Washington Post poll in March showed that a slim majority of Americans support gay marriage, a dramatic rise from just five years ago.

In New York, a series of actors, singers, professional athletes and politicians, including New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) and former president Bill Clinton had urged the legislature to pass the bill.... And it was a Democrat, Sen. Ruben Diaz Jr., who spoke most passionately against same-sex marriage. Diaz noted that the same bill failed two years ago when both chambers were controlled by Democrats…. New York and Maryland highlight recent fissures that have emerged in the debate over gay marriage. As more and more Republicans warm up to the idea, it has been Democrats — most visibly, those who hail from black and Latino Christian communities — who have stood in the way.

In a twist of fate, it was a member of the traditional proponents of gay rights, a Democrat, who spoke loudly against the gay marriage will, and it was Republicans switching aisles to provide enough votes to make this happen.  Ironically, in spite of this victory, President Obama has remained quiet, despite his party’s strong support for gay rights.

“Speaking to the Democratic Party’s LGBT Leadership Council at a fund-raiser in New York, Mr. Obama ran through the many efforts he has made on behalf of gay rights, including his decision to end the government’s legal support of the Defense of Marriage Act, which forbids federal recognition of same-sex marriage. The act should be repealed, he said, since marriage is defined by the states.

Mr. Obama’s legal formula suggests he is fine with the six states that now permit same-sex marriage, and fine with the more than three dozen other states that ban it. By refusing to say whether he supports it (as he did in 1996) or opposes it (as he did in 2008), he remained in a straddle that will soon strain public patience. For now, all Mr. Obama promised was a gauzy new “chapter” in the story if he is re-elected, and his views remain officially “evolving.”

Fundamental equality, however, is hardly the equivalent of a liquor law that can vary on opposite sides of a state line. Why is Mr. Obama so reluctant to say the words that could lend strength to a national effort now backed by a majority of Americans?

In the 2008 campaign, when Mr. Obama said he supported civil unions and believed marriage should be between men and women, he may have wanted to appeal to slightly more conservative voters who were wary of him.

After he took office, it became evident that Republicans intended to portray him as a radical, out-of-touch leftist no matter what he did. Supporting same-sex marriage at this point is hardly going to change that drumbeat, and any voter for whom that is a make-or-break issue will probably not be an Obama supporter anyway.

Firm support for gay marriage is, on the other hand, likely to help him among his cheerless base. Mr. Obama opposes the Defense of Marriage Act and is presiding over the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He signed the United Nations declaration on gay rights, and allowed the Census to count same-sex relationships. But he has been absent from the biggest and most difficult drive of all.

The passage of the gay marriage bill was met with much rejoicing and celebrating, both in New York, and nationwide.  Especially happy was actor Neil Patrick Harris, who has been awaiting this day for over five years:

Now that gay marriage is legal in New York, actor Neil Patrick Harris says he’s ready to tie the knot with his longtime partner, Michigan native and University of Michigan grad David Burtka.

“David and I did propose to each other, but over five years ago!” Harris, 38, tweeted over the weekend, according to people com. “We’ve been wearing engagement rings for ages, waiting for an available date.”

Harris, star of CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother,” was one of the many New Yorkers celebrating Friday when news arrived that a bill legalizing same-sex marriage had won approval of state lawmakers.

“It PASSED!” he tweeted Friday night. “Marriage equality in NY!! Yes!! Progress!!”

Of course, it’s not just the gay community that is excited by the news of legalized marriage.  Divorce lawyers may be looking at the law as an opportunity, as gay marriages will likely face the same challenges heterosexual marriages do, and some will likely end in divorce.

It is worth pointing out that the two most prominent politicians in the successful campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in New York want nothing to do with marriage. For themselves, anyway.

Both of them, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, have generally treated matrimony as if it were the worst idea since the Edsel….The mayor and the governor…were each married once. Each was divorced…Still, the governor and the mayor stand as object lessons to gay men and lesbians contemplating marriage. Couples can, and do, break up. Just as city and town clerks anticipate a surge in applications for same-sex wedding licenses once the new law goes into effect in late July, and just as businesses like florists and caterers expect to benefit, divorce lawyers assume that, in time, they will have more clients.

“There’s a demographic pool that never existed before,” said Raoul Felder, the prominent divorce lawyer. Mr. Felder said this not with hands-rubbed-together glee but, rather, as statement of reality. A colleague in his Manhattan law firm, Bettina D. Hindin, had her own sober assessment. “I may be a divorce lawyer,” Ms. Hindin said, “but I don’t hope for the demise of marriages.” All the same, she added, “in coming weeks we’re going to be reading and parsing through everything” to understand the new law’s implications for divorce.

Several matrimonial lawyers said in interviews that broadly speaking, the rules should be the same for same-sex and opposite-sex couples. But there could be complications.

Let’s suppose, Ms. Hindin said, that one woman in a lesbian marriage has a baby, through whatever means. If the other woman does not legally adopt the child, there may be questions about her rights and obligations to that child should the marriage end.

Where to get divorced is another issue, one that has already arisen in other states where marriage equality exists. If a gay couple marry in New York, then move to a state that forbids such unions, they may find they are unable to divorce in that state, the reasoning there being: How can we dissolve a marriage that we never recognized in the first place?….Then again, the fact that plenty of gay couples have already been together for years suggests to some lawyers that divorce may not be a dominant issue.

“A lot of divorces occur because people didn’t know each other that well,” said one divorce lawyer, who had reasons to have his request for anonymity honored. “A lot of gay couples have been together for a lot longer than straight couples before they get married. They’re less likely to get divorced, because they know each other better.”

And yet, others are not so enthusiastic about the new measure.  As expected, the Church is taking a stand against gay marriage, with Timothy Dolan, the Archibishop of New York, stating that while he loves the gay community, he is against the institution of gay marriage.

While expressing sadness and disappointment that New York will indeed become the 6th and largest state to legalize same-sex marriage, Archbishop Dolan did apologize to the gay community, saying his opposition was based on a pro-marriage stance, not an anti-gay bias.

“I say to the gay community, I love you very much,” Archbishop Dolan proclaimed. “If anything I ever said or did would have you believe I have anything less than love and respect for you, I apologize.”

Some demonstrators outside the Cathedral were receptive to the Archbishop’s remarks. “We’re always open for dialogue and we’d like to see them support us, because we are in the Catholic Church, we are members of the Catholic faith,” said Lewis Tanner of a group called Dignity USA.
Others were not so diplomatic with the decision, claiming that the passage of the New York law legalizing gay marriage was a “cold slap” in the face of god.

The passage of a bill allowing gays and lesbians to marry by the state Senate on Friday, in fact, should leave Christians grieving – grieving that “our God has been offended, … that a lifestyle has had a stamp of approval put on it by our government in Albany that really is an extremely dangerous lifestyle,” said Pastor Art Kohl of Faith Bible Baptist Church….Speaking from the pulpit of his independent Baptist church, Kohl lamented, “What has happened in Albany this week … was not only an affront to me but it was also an affront to a holy God.”

“It was a cold, hard slap [in] God’s face by the assembly men and women in Albany who voted for it and the senators,” he stated plainly. “They spit in the very face of a holy God who alone can define what marriage is.”  Kohl prefaced his sermon with a note that Christians should not hate anyone…With the approval of gay marriage in his state, the Baptist pastor is even more convinced that the end of the world is drawing near.

“The events of Friday night grieved my heart but strengthened my faith in biblical prophecy because our Lord said it would be like this just before he comes,” he preached….“What happened in New York this week could just be anecdotal. I’m not trying to promote … that we interpret the Bible from a New Yorker’s perspective but certainly New York has become like a Sodom and Gomorrah ….What Kohl isn’t confused about, however, is what will happen as a result of the approval of gay marriage. Despite the provision of religious protections, Kohl is convinced that the consequences “are going to be horrific.”

“Already, there have been great warnings about discrimination lawsuits in New York state,” he lamented. “Any conservative or Christian business man or woman who should object on the grounds of their religion to provide services is setting themselves up for discrimination lawsuits.”

 Michele Bachmann, a Republican presidential candidate, was quick to make her own comments, stating that if she were president,  she would seek a constitutional amendment to define marriage as an union between a man and woman.  She further stated that it should not be in the courts to decide what is or isn’t marriage.  She acknowledged that getting an amendment to pass would be difficult, but one has to wonder why she would put so much energy to pass a bill preventing the right of marriage when the nation has bigger issues, such as the economy and large number of jobless in the country.

Despite the positions of those against gay marriage, it would seem more and more Americans are accepting of the idea of gay marriage.  And many supportive of gay marriage rights are optimistic that the victory in New York, once thought unlikely to pass such a measure, is a sign that mainstream America is ready and accepting of the idea of gay marriages.  New York’ may very well be the beacon that lights the way for other states to allow gay marriage, and other states may follow suit.  It is without doubt that New York’s passage of the Marriage Equality Act may have national implications.   It’s been long overdue, but better late than never.

Whose Side Is Pakistan On?

  News is coming out that Pakistan has arrested five informants who assisted the CIA and the US in finding Bin Laden.  This after Pakistan’s own “cooperation” resulted in several “near” captures, which may have been due to the Pakistani’s tipping off Bin Laden before each attempt to capture him.  This has to bring up more questions about our relationship with Pakistan, and if we should continue our relationship with them, considering they recently were offered 50 jet fighters from China.  One has to wonder if China was just being generous, or if China was really giving the jet fighters as payment for access to the stealth helicoptor wreckage from the raid to kill Bin Laden.  Is Pakistan truly a friend of the US, or just playing games?

 From The New York TImes:

Pakistan Arrests C.I.A. Informants in Bin Laden Raid

By ERIC SCHMITT and MARK MAZZETTI

WASHINGTON — Pakistan’s top military spy agency has arrested some of the Pakistani informants who fed information to the Central Intelligence Agency in the months leading up to the raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden, according to American officials.

A casualty of the recent tension between the countries is an ambitious Pentagon program to train Pakistani paramilitary troops to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the northwestern tribal areas.

Pakistan’s detention of five C.I.A. informants, including a Pakistani Army major who officials said copied the license plates of cars visiting Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in the weeks before the raid, is the latest evidence of the fractured relationship between the United States and Pakistan. It comes at a time when the Obama administration is seeking Pakistan’s support in brokering an endgame in the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

At a closed briefing last week, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked Michael J. Morell, the deputy C.I.A. director, to rate Pakistan’s cooperation with the United States on counterterrorism operations, on a scale of 1 to 10.

“Three,” Mr. Morell replied, according to officials familiar with the exchange.

The fate of the C.I.A. informants arrested in Pakistan is unclear, but American officials said that the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, raised the issue when he travelled to Islamabad last week to meet with Pakistani military and intelligence officers.

Some in Washington see the arrests as illustrative of the disconnect between Pakistani and American priorities at a time when they are supposed to be allies in the fight against Al Qaeda — instead of hunting down the support network that allowed Bin Laden to live comfortably for years, the Pakistani authorities are arresting those who assisted in the raid that killed the world’s most wanted man.

The Bin Laden raid and more recent attacks by militants in Pakistan have been blows to the country’s military, a revered institution in the country. Some officials and outside experts said the military is mired in its worst crisis of confidence in decades.

American officials cautioned that Mr. Morell’s comments about Pakistani support was a snapshot of the current relationship, and did not represent the administration’s overall assessment.

“We have a strong relationship with our Pakistani counterparts and work through issues when they arise,” said Marie E. Harf, a C.I.A. spokeswoman. “Director Panetta had productive meetings last week in Islamabad. It’s a crucial partnership, and we will continue to work together in the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups who threaten our country and theirs.”

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, said in a brief telephone interview that the C.I.A. and the Pakistani spy agency “are working out mutually agreeable terms for their cooperation in fighting the menace of terrorism. It is not appropriate for us to get into the details at this stage.”

Over the past several weeks the Pakistani military has been distancing itself from American intelligence and counterterrorism operations against militant groups in Pakistan. This has angered many in Washington who believe that Bin Laden’s death has shaken Al Qaeda and that there is now an opportunity to further weaken the terrorist organization with more raids and armed drone strikes.

But in recent months, dating approximately to when a C.I.A. contractor killed two Pakistanis on a street in the eastern city of Lahore in January, American officials said that Pakistani spies from the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, known as the ISI, have been generally unwilling to carry out surveillance operations for the C.I.A. The Pakistanis have also resisted granting visas allowing American intelligence officers to operate in Pakistan, and have threatened to put greater restrictions on the drone flights.

It is the future of the drone program that is a particular worry for the C.I.A. American officials said that during his meetings in Pakistan last week, Mr. Panetta was particularly forceful about trying to get Pakistani officials to allow armed drones to fly over even wider areas in the northwest tribal regions. But the C.I.A. is already preparing for the worst: relocating some of the drones from Pakistan to a base in Afghanistan, where they can take off and fly east across the mountains and into the tribal areas, where terrorist groups find safe haven.

Another casualty of the recent tension is an ambitious Pentagon program to train Pakistani paramilitary troops to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban in those same tribal areas. That program has ended, both American and Pakistani officials acknowledge, and the last of about 120 American military advisers have left the country.

American officials are now scrambling to find temporary jobs for about 50 Special Forces support personnel who had been helping the trainers with logistics and communications. Their visas were difficult to obtain and officials fear if these troops are sent home, Pakistan will not allow them to return.

In a sign of the growing anger on Capitol Hill, Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who leads the House Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that he believed elements of the ISI and the military had helped protect Bin Laden.

Mr. Rogers, who met with senior security officials in Pakistan last week, said he had no evidence that senior Pakistani military or civilian leaders were complicit in sheltering Bin Laden. And he did not offer any proof to support his assertion, saying only his accusation was based on “information that I’ve seen.”

He warned that both lawmakers and the Obama administration could end up putting more restrictions on the $2 billion in American military aid received annually by Pakistan. He also called for “benchmarks” in the relationship, including more sharing of information about militant activities in Karachi, Lahore and elsewhere and more American access to militants detained in Pakistan.

American military commanders in Afghanistan appear cautiously optimistic that they are making progress in pushing the Taliban from its strongholds in that country’s south, but many say a significant American military withdrawal can occur only if the warring sides in Afghanistan broker some kind of peace deal.

But the United States is reliant on Pakistan to apply pressure on Taliban leaders, over whom they have historically had great influence.

For now, at least, America’s relationship with Pakistan keeps getting tripped up. When he visited Pakistan, Mr. Panetta offered evidence of collusion between Pakistani security officials and the militants staging attacks in Afghanistan.

American officials said Mr. Panetta presented satellite photographs of two bomb-making factories that American spies several weeks ago had asked the ISI to raid. When Pakistani troops showed up days later, the militants were gone, causing American officials to question whether the militants had been warned by someone on the Pakistani side.

Shortly after the failed raids, the Defense Department put a hold on a $300 million payment reimbursing Pakistan for the cost of deploying more than 100,000 troops along the border with Afghanistan, two officials said. The Pentagon declined to comment on the payment, except to say it was “continuing to process several claims.”

Phones, GPS, and Your Right to Privacy

So the other day I happened to catch the news on television somewhere while I was shopping, and the report was about how Apple iPhones now have an application built into the phone that tracks the GPS location of the owner of the phone, storing the information so that Apple could access that information and use it for marketing purposes.  What shocked me was that the feature could not be turned off, and that the user had no say in whether or not the information could be recorded, and/or used for marketing purposes.  Now having GSP tracking the location of a phone is not new, it’s in many phones.  But the inability to turn it off is what makes it different from other phones on the market.

An Associated Press article poses some interesting questions and points about the issue:

 The debate over digital privacy flamed higher this week with news that Apple Inc.’s popular iPhones and iPads store users’ GPS coordinates for a year or more. Phones that run Google Inc.’s Android software also store users’ location data. And not only is the data stored — allowing anyone who can get their hands on the device to piece together a chillingly accurate profile of where you’ve been — but it’s also transmitted back to the companies to use for their own research.

Now, cellphone service providers have had customers’ location data for almost as long as there have been cellphones. That’s how they make sure to route calls and Internet traffic to the right place. Law enforcement analyzes location data on iPhones for criminal evidence — a practice that Alex Levinson, technical lead for firm Katana Forensics, said has helped lead to convictions. And both Apple and Google have said that the location data that they collect from the phones is anonymous and not able to be tied back to specific users.

But lawmakers and many users say storing the data creates an opportunity for one’s private information to be misused. Levinson, who raised the iPhone tracking issue last year, agrees that people should start thinking about location data as just as valuable and worth protecting as a wallet or bank account number.

“We don’t know what they’re going to do with that information,” said Dawn Anderson, a creative director and Web developer in Glen Mills, Pa., who turned off the GPS feature on her Android-based phone even before the latest debate about location data. She said she doesn’t miss any of the location-based services in the phone. She uses the GPS unit in her car instead.

“With any technology, there are security risks and breaches,” she added. “How do we know that it can’t be compromised in some way and used for criminal things?”

Privacy watchdogs note that location data opens a big window into very private details of a person’s life, including the doctors they see, the friends they have and the places where they like to spend their time. Besides hackers, databases filled with such information could become inviting targets for stalkers, even divorce lawyers.

Immediately some questions came to mind:

  • What does Apple do with this information that i collects?
  • Does Apple use this information for its own marketing purposes, or will it sell that information to other marketing companies that may be willing to pay for that information?
  • Will it provide that information to Federal, State, or Local law enforcement freely or require a court order?
  • How safe is the information being collected and stores?
  • If it is being stored on the phone, to be retrieved whenever Apple wants to, can that information be stolen?
  • And if it can be retrieved remotely, can anyone else figure out how to trigger the release of that information by illicit and illegal means?
  • What other information is Apple collecting about its users that have not been discovered yet?

Now, I don’t have anything to hide, and I certainly don’t have a problem if the government needs to track me if they have a suspicion I’m doing an illegal activity (after all, I don’t make it a habit to partake in illegal activities), and it does give me some peace of mind knowing the government can track a potential terrorist if there is evidence of illegal activity. However, what I find more bothersome than big brother following my every move is having corporate America doing the same as well, and in the process, receiving spam email and unsolicited mailings as a result of the tracking.  The issue has clearly caught the attention of the government, and even they are alarmed by the policy to store information unencrypted, even though the government would benefit the most from Apple’s decision to use the GPS technology in that manner.

With geotagging a common practice in many photos taken on cell phones and mobile devices, it is already possible to track where a picture was taken.  A recent incident involved Adam Savage of the TV show “Mythbusters,” in which a photo he posted up provided enough geotag information that provided the location of where he had taken the picture, which was taken in front of his house.  As a result, anyone with a little know how could have hacked the geotag to find his home.  In fact, a new website called “ICanStalkYou.com” is doing just that, by scouring Twitter to find pictures uploaded and demonstrating how the geotag location of the picture could be used to track the user’s location, in some cases, where they live (and since it’s all public information, it’s not really a crime).

Now, I don’t presently own an iPhone, but had considered getting one.  And possibly even an iPad in the future.  But knowing that the tracking application is in place, and not knowing what else could possibly be put in the phone to track our activities, suddenly I’m not so comfortable about the idea of getting an iPhone.  And if Apple is doing this, one can only wonder what other companies might be inspired to do the same.  When do we start getting MP3 players that track what kind of music we like, and then advertise similar music to us.  Then again, does the iPod do that already?

Perhaps one day, where you drive, after GPS tracking information is made available  to marketeers, suddenly you get offers from certain gas stations along the route you drive everyday, perhaps you frequent a specific part of town regularly, and you start getting sales offers from stores and restaurants in that area.  Maybe some of you would like that, but what if you didn’t have a choice on whether or not to receive that information.  Where does this all stop?

 The only good news is that there is a new app available for free that prevents the storing of location tracking, by deleting the database on a regular basis to prevent the information from being remotely access by Apple.  The program, called Untrackered, is available for free from the third party App Store Cydia.  Still, despite this free app, the phone is still tracked, and one has to wonder how long it takes Apple to eliminate storing tracking data on the phone and opting instead to update and send the data directly to Apple to eliminate the need to track and store the device, but it would still be collecting the data.

What does this technology mean for the right to privacy of Americans?  How do you feel about this?  And are you concerned or unconcerned by a corporation being able to track a customer, something not even the Federal government may do without a court order.  And if this only the first step, how long before corporations find new and inventive ways to spy on our lives?

Gay Marriage – A Civil Right Or Just Not Right?

Wedding BandsIt seems so long ago, ancient practically to most Americans, that interracial relationships were forbidden.  Back in June 1958, a black woman named Mildred Jeter and a white man named Richard Loving went to the District of Columbia to get married.  The decision to do so was spurred by the need to circumvent a Virginia law, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924.  When they returned to Virginia, they were arrested, charged, and found guilty.  Cue to March 17, 1994, where Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriages.  Thousands flocked to Massachusetts to submit applications for marriage licenses.  Within a year, 6,200 gay couples had been married.  Despite that, the federal government refused to recognize those marriages, despite the fact that most states recognized those out of state marriages.

There is a similarity in both events.  In both cases, couples were denied a fundamental right, the right to marriage.  In both cases, the perceptions of the nation were not supportive of a marriage that differed from the traditional view of marriage.  In 1958, the view of marriage was one between couples of the same racial backgrounds, although there were interracial relationships in existence, unheard of only decades earlier.  And yet, the notion of traditional marriages was being challenged.  The idea of a black woman and white man marrying was shocking to a conservative southern state like Virginia.  Jeter and Loving decided to challenge that view, and in June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court issued the following decision:

“There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy.  We have consistently denied the constitutionality of measures which restrict the rights of citizens on account of race. There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause.”

Now over 50 years later, the nation faces the same question, and possibly the same turning point, that faced the nation when Jeter and Loving challenged the traditional values of marriage.  The “traditional” value and perceptions of marriage are no longer based on race, but based on the idea that marriage occurs only between a man and a woman.   That view is now being challenged, even though that definition was only legally defined fourteen years ago, on September 21, 1996, when the Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA) defined marriage:

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word “marriage” means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday, February 24th, reported:

An Associated Press-National Constitution Center Poll conducted last August found 52 percent of Americans saying the federal government should give legal recognition to marriages between couples of the same sex, while 46 percent said it should not.

In polling by ABC News and The Washington Post, support for the legalization of gay marriage climbed from 37 percent in 2003 to 47 percent in February 2010.  A poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in September found 43 percent of those surveyed favored allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, and 47 percent opposed it — the highest support for same-sex marriage in the center’s polling back to 1996. The poll showed wide partisan divisions: 55 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of independents favored same-sex marriage, but only 21 percent of Republicans.

It was only on December 15, 2010, that President Barack Obama signed a bill repealing the military policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  For the first time in nearly two decades, the servicemen and women of the Unite States military would no longer need to hide their sexual orientation.  Men and women who put their lives in harm’s way to defend, and die for, our country, would no longer need to do so while denying their identity.  In fact, Dick Polman of NewsWorks suggests that the passing of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” shows that the country is not entirely against same sex marriages, as they were nearly fifteen years earlier:

The bottom line is, most Republicans seem to understand that they can no longer get politician traction by going after gays. Some GOP lawmakers even voted with Democrats in December to permit gays to serve openly in the military, and Obama has suffered no backlash since. Indeed, the muted response to the demise of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has clearly emboldened the White House to take the next step and abandon its legal support for DOMA.

And it seems to be happening not just at the federal level, but at the state level as well.  Since Massachusetts passed the law legalizing gay marriages, four more states have passed similar laws, in Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire.  And just last week, Hawaii joined six other states in recognizing civil unions or broad domestic partnerships (California, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington).  And only two days ago, Maryland’s State Senate gave preliminary approval for a bill that will allow gay marriages, which would make it the sixth state to legalize gay marriage.

Jeffrey Toobin of The New Yorker offers some interesting arguments of why Obama’s decision to stop defending DoMA may force courts to review cases involving gay marriage with the same scrutiny once applied to cases involving minority rights:

….It’s very unusual for any Administration to refuse to defend the constitutionality of a law that is already on the books….the letter raises an even more important…position that “classifications based on sexual orientation warrant heightened scrutiny.” This may sound like legal mumbo jumbo, but it’s crucial….in 1938, Justice Harlan Stone said that the Courts should give greater scrutiny to one category of laws: those that affect minorities. In real terms, that meant that if a law treated a racial minority differently from other people, the Court would apply what became known as “strict scrutiny” and almost always declare it unconstitutional. In the nineteen-seventies, the Court started ruling on laws that treated women differently. The Court said that these laws wouldn’t receive strict scrutiny (like racial laws), but still “heightened scrutiny” (rather than, in legal lingo, a “rational basis” test). In real terms, that has meant that the Court has now also struck down most laws that treat women differently….Under the heightened-scrutiny test, …there is no justification for DOMA, so it is unconstitutional. (DOMA says that the federal government will not treat gay people who are legally married in their states as married people under federal law. So a married same-sex couple in Massachusetts is not treated as married under, for example, the Internal Revenue Code.)….if a Court would apply heightened scrutiny to the ban on same-sex marriage, there is no way that it would be upheld…

 All in all, Obama’s decision creates an interesting dilemma for the conservatives, as the foundations of federal and state law against gay marriage are slowly eroding.  It may very well mean that the one of the final groups of “minorities will finally gain recognition of their identity and their rights.  Benjamin Franklin once said, ‘”In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”  And yet, it seems he forgot to add a third certainty… change.  And yet, the arguments against change, and gay marriage, are that it destroys the foundation of marriage, family values, and religious freedoms.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative organization, states on their website:

The homosexual legal agenda is one of the greatest threats to religious freedom in America today. For decades, radical activists, led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and its allies, have tried to divorce America from its Christian heritage and values. Their strategy is twofold: dilute moral values so that homosexual behavior is thought to be normal, natural, and good, while suppressing the religious and free speech rights of those who disagree. If they successfully impose their radical legal agenda, then all people especially Christians who do not affirm homosexual behavior could be silenced, punished, and possibly even jailed for so-called discrimination and intolerance.

Christians know that marriage was created by God as the union between one man and one woman. And from this sacred institution comes the natural family, which is the building block of society and the most favorable environment for children. In spite of this, advocates for same-sex “marriage” demand that their behavior be normalized, treated the same as a marriage, and promoted by law. Should such laws take effect across the nation, then religious liberty as Ms. Feldblum points out must give way to the new laws protecting same-sex “marriages.” This is not merely a theory. For example, after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court fabricated a right to same-sex “marriage,” Catholic Charities was presented with the choice: either allow same-sex couples to adopt, or close their doors. Rather than compromise its core beliefs, that organization chose the latter.

As many ADF cases show, Christian views on marriage and human sexuality will be challenged if same-sex “marriage” is accepted by law. If this happens and God’s plan for marriage is dismantled, then your religious freedom and the God-given, constitutionally protected rights that enable you to freely live out your faith will virtually collapse….In a dangerous decision that could ultimately threaten your religious freedom, the federal judge ruled that California’s voter-approved constitutional amendment protecting marriage as the union of one man and one woman was unconstitutional. But, despite this disappointing ruling, the battle is far from over….the final outcome could have serious implications for marriage and religious freedom not only in California, but in all 50 states. This is exactly what these radical activists want to take away the people’s right to express their will regarding the future of marriage. The greatest risk will be to the 45 states where citizens have already established laws or constitutional amendments that preserve religious freedom by keeping the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Who is right?  Are the conservative arguments for the protection of the institution of marriage valid, or do gay couples deserve the same rights as heterosexual couples?  Will a decision like Loving v. Virginia come to be, and make gay marriages a normal part of our lives in time?  Or will it lead to greater erosion of family values and the further redefining of what marriage is?

Obama Declares Defense of Marriage Act Unconstitutional

 Could this mean the legalization of gay marriage?  Is this a question of family values?  Or a question of human rights?  More soon…

From [url=http://amfix.blogs.cnn.com/2011/02/24/justice-department-will-no-longer-defend-defense-of-marriage-act/]CNN.com[/url]:

Justice Department will no longer defend Defense of Marriage Act
Posted: 07:51 AM ET
by Rebecca Hillman

In a major policy shift, the Obama administration has instructed the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

Passed in 1996, The Defense of Marriage Act prevents the government from recognizing same-sex marriage and defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Though the administration is now saying the Act is unconstitutional, the Act remains in the books as a law.