Prop 8: The Bullshit Continues

So now the supporters of California’s Proposition 8 (it overturned gay marriage), are complaining that the ruling that overturned it last year should be thrown out because the judge who made the ruling, Vaughn Walker, is gay. They are treating this as though it is something he concealed (though I could swear I knew about it last year when the ruling is made, but I can’t find any proof of it), and that he should have recused himself since he had a vested interest in the outcome of the case.

Well, ok, let’s think about this for a moment. On the surface they appear to have a legitimate complaint. He is gay and in a relationship, the case is about gay relationships, therefore he shouldn’t have been involved. Now I don’t agree with this, but that’s fine. Let’s pretend this is a valid point. So let’s assume then that the judge who would have taken up the case instead was a married straight judge.

But the problem is that wouldn’t work either. The anti-gay marriage people like to talk about how gay marriage is a “threat” to straight marriage. Therefore a straight person wouldn’t be allowed to preside over the case either, right? I mean, they’d obviously have a vested interest, too, perhaps even more so. After all, if gay marriage is a threat to straight marriage, then a married straight judge could find their marriage falling apart if gay marriage were allowed. Clearly they’d have an interest and so couldn’t be allowed to preside over the case. I’m sure the Prop 8 supporters would agree with that position, right? Right?

The real problem here is that we can’t always expect judges to step aside just because they might have a personal interest in the outcome. There’s some cases where clearly we should expect them to, like if it’s a judge who owns 20% of a company that’s appearing as a defendant in her court, or if one of the people in a case is a friend or family member of the judge. But something like sexual orientation? No. That’s like saying no black judges can preside over a civil rights case. Or that no female judges can preside over a sex discrimination case. Or that religious judges should be barred from any case where religion is an issue.

Actually that last one is kind of tempting…

But as you can see this is a very slippery slope. I’m sure the courts will throw out this complaint because they will be loathe to allow a precedent like this, and well they should be. This is not something that had a bearing on the case, and we really don’t want it to affect future court cases down the road.


Corporations as People and How to Make Them Not Be

In the United States of America, corporations are essentially considered people for legal reasons. Well, at least they are when it’s for anything good for them. Needless to say, if a corporation does something illegal, it’s not the corporation that gets sent to prison (it may get fined, but those fines are usually a joke as a percentage of what the corporation earns). This is a bad thing. Corporations are not people. I have no real problem with treating them as such when it comes to allowing them to sue/be sued, for example, but not when it comes to free speech issues and certainly not when it comes to political spending.

That last part has been the focus of much controversy in the last few years as court ruling after court ruling has given corporations more and more power over elections. They get to pour millions upon millions of dollars into the campaigns thus assuring that only candidates they want are likely to get elected. This prevents any real change to things like labor laws, banking reform and the like.

Now since the Supreme Court has constantly recognized corporations as people, and their rulings can’t be ignored and can overturn laws. This means Congress cannot pass a law saying that corporations aren’t people. But there is one way. There is one thing that the Supreme Court cannot alter but Congress can. The Constitution.

What I propose is a Constitutional Amendment. I’ll leave the exact wording to experts, but something like “Corporations are not recognized to be persons under the legal definition when it comes to campaign financing laws, etc”. This will remove a lot of the money from the political process, thus making it more fair to everyone. I’d also want something in there that says when a corporation breaks the law, the heads of said corporation will be held criminally responsible. This would mean that, for example, were BP proven to have ignored safety rules with the oil spill last year, the heads of the corporation would be able to be charged and sent to prison. Doesn’t that just send a nice warm glow through your heart?

I’m not naive enough to think this will actually happen. First it would have to make its way through the Legislature and then get approved by a whole crapload of states. This won’t occur. Too many people make money from the current system. But it would be nice if it would happen, and it can happen if Americans decide it should. We won’t, of course, especially since the corporations will simply threaten to move overseas if it happens thus ending the jobs of millions, but it’s nice to dream.

The Taco Bell Situation

As you have no doubt heard, Taco Bell is being sued for false advertising by someone who says calling their meat product “beef” when it’s only 35% beef is misleading.

You know, I can’t force myself to get too worked-up over this. Yes, if it’s not at least 50.001% beef, then calling it such is misleading and should probably stop. I’m not sure what they can call it instead, but whatever they decide to call it, there’s one thing I have to say about it: it’s pretty darn tasty.

Yes, I like Taco Bell food. In fact, it’s about the only “Mexican” food I do like. I find it tasty and filling and quite cheap. Learning that I have been eating what amounts to almost vegetarian tacos over the years doesn’t really bug me. If nothing else it’s proof that meatless, or low-meat, foods can be quite delicious, something I learned a few years back when I spent a few months on a vegetarian diet.

So, yes, by all means change what it’s called, but beyond that, no one should be up in arms over this. All that really matters is that it tastes pretty darn good!

This Case Will Either Go Nowhere or Everywhere

So the writer of a “how to” guide to child molestation has been arrested in Colorado for committing a crime in Florida. That crime apparently involves him distributing “obscene” material in the state of Florida by virtue of sending an autographed copy of said book to an undercover police detective there. From what I can tell the detective asked for it, and I’m not sure how that isn’t entrapment. But whatever. This case is either going to go nowhere or everywhere. Let me explain.

It most likely goes nowhere. Most likely the judge in the case looks at this, stares at the prosecutor and says, “Are you stupid? Get this case out of my court!” There’s no legal standing what-so-ever. If this is entrapment, there certainly isn’t, but even if it’s not entrapment, it’s still very clearly Constitutionally protected free speech. Yeah, the guy is writing a how-to guide to do something illegal (apparently. I haven’t read it and have no plans to), but so what? Writing a guide on how to rob a bank isn’t illegal. So most likely the case gets tossed before it makes it anywhere in the court system, and if you think is this is a good law, you should hope that’s what happens.

Because if it doesn’t happen, what happens is that this case goes everywhere. If the guy goes to court and gets found guilty, then he and his lawyers will appeal. This is the sort of case the ACLU and the higher courts just love, because it’s the kind of precedent-setting case that can change laws all across the nation. There’s no way this law will stand up at the Federal level. The Supreme Court would rightly strike it down and strike it hard, because if it’s allowed to stand, it could cause all sorts of problems.

Regardless, there’s no way this man should be prosecuted for this, much less in Florida. Once he’s beaten the courts, I sincerely hope he’s able to take the Polk County Sheriff’s office for a tremendous amount of money (which Polk County will also have to spend if they plan to actually fight this case). He’ll certainly deserve it. This kind of prosecution is just wrong.

Always remember: the First Amendment doesn’t exist to protect speech you like. It’s there for the speech you hate. Because once the speech you hate can be stopped, the speech you like can be stopped, too.

Cruel, Unusual and Downright Wrong

(Insert joke about wanting to touch Manning's privates HERE)

Private Bradley Manning, accused of being the one who leaked a large amount of documents to Wikileaks, is currently being held in prison and is facing, oh, all sorts of nasty charges.

Almost as nasty are the circumstances under which he is being held.

From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement. For 23 out of 24 hours every day — for seven straight months and counting — he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he’s barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions. For reasons that appear completely punitive, he’s being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on suicide watch). For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs. Lt. Villiard protested that the conditions are not “like jail movies where someone gets thrown into the hole,” but confirmed that he is in solitary confinement, entirely alone in his cell except for the one hour per day he is taken out.

Charming. Out of mild curiosity, I wonder how they prevent him exercising. For the record, this is worse that the conditions under which convicted murders are held.

Now I’m sure there’s those of you out there saying that even this sort of imprisonment is too good for him, that he needs to be murdered by the state, etc. Well, fuck you if you think that way. It’s important to remember that, as far as the law is concerned, this man is, at this point, factually innocent of any crime. He has not yet been convicted and yet he’s being treated even worse than people we are holding at Gitmo.

This is inexcusable. The only plus to this is that I’m pretty sure it might help him get his case tossed out on appeal.

Manning may or may not be guilty. Frankly, if he is guilty of leaking the collateral murder video, imprisonment is not what he deserves. More like honor is what he deserves. The diplomatic cables are a somewhat different thing, but even then there’s no reason for him to be treated like he’s being treated now.

Incest: Still Not Just for Rednecks!

You may have heard about a case where a Columbia University professor is being charged with engaging in a consenting incestuous affair with his adult daughter. This comes as Switzerland is considering decriminalizing incest for all consenting adults.

I’m appalled at the arrest in New York. By all accounts this affair started when the woman was 20, so she was an adult and capable of making her own choices. I think as adults in a free society we should be allowed to have sex with anyone else who is consenting, period. It doesn’t matter what the relationship is. I wrote about this before, and my opinions on it remain unchanged.

Yes, we can argue there’s a huge squick factor here, and for some people there certainly is. That doesn’t justify putting into prison people who engage in behavior society finds yucky.

Update on Willingham

Last year I wrote about the sad case of Cameron Todd Willingham, an almost certainly innocent man executed by the state of Texas on what is now considered to be scientifically inaccurate evidence. Oh, and also on the fact that he liked metal.

Now the Texas courts are being asked to overturn his conviction and admit that, yes, they screwed up all those years ago when they convicted him. The hearing has started.

From what I can tell there is, at the very least, room for reasonable doubt as to his guilt, if not evidence that outright proves his innocence. It’s a great example of why, even if we ignore all the moral arguments, we need to get rid of the death penalty. If you’re given a life sentence and later proven innocent, as so many people these days have been, you can at least be set free. What compensation is there for those killed in error by the state?