Author Archives: JS
Vermont became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage by legislation when the state legislature overrode Governor Jim Douglas’ veto today of a bill that allows gay and lesbian couples to wed in the state.Â Same-sex marriage was legalized by the courts in the three other states (Connecticut, Iowa, and Massachusetts) where it is permitted.
See the full Washington Post article on the story.
The Department of Justice announced several weeks ago that the government would end the Bush-era practice of designating people “enemy combatants.”Â The Bush administration had asserted that the president has a wartime power to declare a person an “enemy combatant” arbitrarily and detain him or her indefinitely.Â The administration used “enemy combatant” status to ensure that suspected terrorists were held out of reach of both international law (namely the Geneva Conventions) and fundamental Constitutional rights, particularly the right to due process.
It is widely agreed that the president has increased powers during wartime.Â President Abraham Lincoln first asserted such wartime powers during the Civil War.Â Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman also took up expanded powers during war.Â Following September 11th, President Bush argued that he too had extraordinary wartime powers–this time from the War on Terrorism.
While the principle of expanded wartime powers is reasonable, it becomes concerning in the context of the War on Terrorism.Â Terrorists, by definition, do not represent a country; rather they are individuals or members of organized groups that commit acts of violence in an effort to attain change (usually political change).Â Terrorists can spring up anywhere in the world at any time.Â While this makes them particularly dangerous, it also changes the concept of “war.”Â In traditional wars, such as World War II, there are clear sides and the war ends when one side is defeated.Â A war against a noun , however, will always be perpetual.Â While the War on Terrorism certainly needs to be fought, using an indefinite war as grounds for extraordinary governmental powers is straight out of “1984″ and is certainly not something that the Framers had in mind.
Fortunately, President Barack Obama has signaled a change in course by dropping the “enemy combatant” designation and removing such prisoners from legal limbo. President Obama, a Constitutional law scholar himself, understands that America derives its greatness from its values and its freedoms, and that the terrorists have won we surrender our liberties.
On the web.
Senator David Vitter (R-LA) made headlines in 2007 when he admitted to hiring prostitutes from the infamous “D.C. Madam.”Â Vitter is now back in the news–this time for a incident involving a missed flight at Washington’s Dulles International Airport.Â According to Roll Call newspaper, Vitter was running late to catch a United Airlines flight back to Louisiana.Â When he arrived at the gate, the agent had already finished boarding the flight and had closed the jetway door.Â Roll Call’s anonymous source tells the newspaper that Vitter attempted to board the flight anyway.Â He allegedly opened the jetway door (which set off an alarm) and yelled at the gate agent.Â When the agent left to call security, Vitter disappeared.Â The TSA is investigating the incident.
President Obama called for merit-based pay for teachers in a significant speech on education policy yesterday.Â Teachers unions, which reliably back Democratic candidates, have long opposed such a system.Â Politics aside, merit-based pay could help bring much-needed improvements to our nation’s education system by rewarding excellent performance with higher pay.
Unions have argued that merit-based pay might not be “fair,” because teachers would allegedly be subject to arbitrary pay raises and cuts resulting from favoritism within the system.Â It is certainly possible, however, to develop reasonable and objective methods of assessing performance for the purpose of compensation adjustments, as is done in much of the private sector.Â Furthermore, it does not seem “fair” that excellent teachers who go above and beyond to ensure that their students are learning receive the same compensation as lousy teachers who are ineffective in the classroom and allow their students to fail.
Merit-based pay for teachers could potentially be a significant step towards improving our schools by encouraging excellence with an economic incentive.Â Hopefully, President Obama’s support will help bring about implementation of merit-based pay and other much-needed education reforms in our country.
The Senate approved the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act (S. 160) last Thursday, by a 61-37 vote. If the bill becomes law, it will grant the District of Columbia one voting representative in the House of Representatives and one additional representative to Utah.Â The bill is a political compromise that balances the heavily-Democratic District’s seat and with one for Republican-leaning Utah. Currently, the District of Columbia – the so-called “capital of the free world” – is denied representation in Congress.
Unfortunately, an amendment proposed by Senator John Ensign (R-NV) to weaken the District’s gun control laws was added to the legislation on the Senate floor.Â The amendment would legalize semi-automatic weapons and high-powered assault rifles in the city.Â It would overturn the District’s current gun control laws, which were enacted by the city’s democratically-elected legislature and enjoy widespread support in the city.Â Supporters of the amendment argue that citizens need guns to defend themselves in their homes.Â Semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, however, are certainly not necessary for self-protection and legalizing them will only undercut law enforcement efforts in the District and potentially endanger the city’s residents, as well as its brave and dedicated police officers.
Thursday’s Senate vote was a significant step towards granting American citizens living in the District of Columbia the same democratic rights as citizens living elsewhere in the country.Â The House will likely take up consideration of its version of the bill sometime this week.Â It will probably pass the bill without the gun amendment, leaving open the possibility that the gun amendment could be dropped in conference committee.Â President Obama is expected to sign the legislation.
Yesterday was supposed to be the day.Â For years, public service announcements have reminded us that on February 17, 2009, television broadcasts would switch to digital.Â But they didn’t.Â Rather, some did and some didn’t.Â According to the AP, about 25% of stations have begun broadcasting only in digital.Â The rest have until June 12 to make the switch.Â How confusing.
What happened?Â Congress extended the deadline for TV stations to make the switch, because the Department of Commerce ran out of $40 vouchers to subsidize the cost of converter boxes (converter boxes allow analog TVs to receive digital signals and are not needed if the TV is connected to cable or satellite).Â It is believed that many of these vouchers had expired unused. Congress did not want to force consumers to buy converter boxes, which usually cost $40-60, without the voucher during the current economic downturn.
What a mess.Â Extending the deadline may not help cash-strapped consumers anyway.Â TV stations are permitted to make the switch anytime before the June 12 deadline and many stations have chosen to do so, because broadcasting in both analog and digital is very expensive and wastes a great deal of energy.
The decision to switch the deadline to June 12 has created confusion, is wasting resources, and may not be particularly helpful to consumers.Â It might have been better just to stick with well-publicized February 17 deadline for the switch.