Today, February 11, is The Day We Fight Back, a semi-organized attempt at letting Congress and the public know that we won’t stand for dragnet surveillance by the NSA. Here is the letter I sent to Senator Blumenthal, Senator from my state of Connecticut. I’ve sent similar letters to Senator Chris Murphy and Representative John Larson.

Senator Blumenthal,

As you know, there have been many revelations in the past several months regarding surveillance activity by the NSA. These revelations, though not entirely unsurprising in light of the ways we already knew the government interpreted the Patriot Act after it was passed in 2001, are nonetheless concerning to me.

While I understand the need to uncover plots by terrorist groups, I do not believe that these activities should be done at the expense of civil liberties. The NSA has routinely claimed to be sensitive to the privacy of Americans, only for a new revelation to expose many of those claims as, at best, partial truths. The revelations that the agency has gathered data from private data lines owned by Google and other companies, as well as its attempts to weaken encryption standards, are particularly concerning.

These actions and others give me the sense that the agency has an attitude that, if it isn’t already, is very susceptible to becoming ambivalent toward civil liberties.

As one of your constituents, I am very pleased to see that you are a co-sponsor for the USA Freedom Act. I am hoping that you will push for the passage of this bill in the Senate, and perhaps even strengthen it, to ensure that it protects civil liberties and does not become watered down in favor of the NSA and other surveillance agencies.

I am also hoping that you will oppose the passage of the FISA Improvements Act of 2013, at least as it currently stands. I do not wish to see the kind of secretive, dragnet surveillance that we’ve learned about in these past months be codified into law.

Finally, I hope you will be a strong advocate against civil liberties violations by not only the NSA, but any federal, state, or local agency that might follow the NSA’s lead in conducting widespread surveillance. Most of the nation’s attention on these matters is currently focused on that agency, but police departments across the nation are currently looking into the use of unmanned drones, and we must ensure that these devices are not used to conduct surveillance on citizens.

I hope that you will strongly advocate for the privacy and civil liberties of your constituents in the coming days and months. I believe the time to do so is now, while surveillance activities are still able to be regulated.

Thank you taking time to read my letter.

Michael Merritt
Manchester Resident

Today the Supreme Court will hand out their decision on California’s Prop 8 and section 3 of DOMA (or theoretically the entire law, I suppose).

The Court has shown recently that it’s willing to rule narrowly on many of the landmark cases. The affirmative action and Voting Rights Act were ruled as such in the last few days, and unless we see a liberal majority (perhaps joined by Kennedy and maybe the Chief Justice), I expect that will remain the trend.

I think it is at least somewhat unlikely that anyone is going to come out of tomorrow completely satisfied. There is the very real chance Prop 8 is upheld. There is also the chance is ruled unconstitutional, but narrowly limited to California, meaning no other anti-gay marriage laws are struck down). I don’t really see how section 3 of DOMA stands, given the implications in states that have legalized marriage, but the Court could potentially punt it back to Congress.

At the same time, the Court could go completely wide on their ruling and stuck down all the laws banning same-sex marriage as well as the entirety of DOMA. Highly unlikely, I think, but it is possible.

Once all is said and done, we may disagree with the ruling, but we should not question that integrity of the Court. The fact is, even if everything is upheld (the worst option) today, it’s not the end of the story. There are still legislative options to pursue. Legalization will take longer, but history is now fairly firmly on the side of same-sex marriage, and I think even the social conservatives know it.

I don’t think either side will help their case by engaging in a character assassination of the justices that rule in opposition to their preference. Don’t be that person. Take the ruling, indicate your acceptance or disapproval of it, and continue working to get your desired result some other way.

See you later today!

EqualityHere we go again! Today the media, no doubt feeling the need to amp up what were already interesting proceedings in the oral arguments for Hollingsworth vs. Perry, tried to make predictions on the ultimate ruling of the case, based solely on the questions asked by the justices to the lawyers from both sides.

The conclusion? That because some of the justices didn’t seem to be on board with a national ruling striking down laws banning gay marriage, that the case is somehow already decided.  Notably, that commentary made by some justices, even those on the liberal wing, may indicate that they will rule to toss the case entirely:

As the Supreme Court on Tuesday weighed the very meaning of marriage, several justices seemed to have developed a case of buyer’s remorse about the case before them. Some wondered aloud if the court had moved too fast to address whether gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry.

“I just wonder if this case was properly granted,” said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who probably holds the decisive vote.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said there may be value in letting states continue to experiment. “Why is taking a case now the answer?” she asked.

These and other comments were used to pound the message that basically said: “It’s already doomed.”  Of course, that’s hogwash. It’s not doomed because no votes have been taken and no opinion has been written. And it’s not doomed even if the justices toss the case. That’s because there’s a few ways the case could be decided (major hat tip to Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway and Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSblog):

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So, as anyone knows, the absurd Marriage Amendment died in Congress (again) about a week ago because cloture failed to be invoked in the Senate. So, time to try and pass another absurd amendment! Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve the Flag Desecration Amendment (H.J. Res. 10/S.J. Res. 12), and it now moves to the Senate Floor. It was approved by the House last year. Now, let me put it out there right now (before y’all call me unpatriotic) that I don’t personally support flag burning, flag wrecking, etc. I love the flag, and I love my country. I just don’t like our dear President, his cohorts, and the ones in Congress who share his views.

That said, what I do support is free speech, so long as it is not hurting people (physically or mentally enough to drive them insane or suicidal, etc.) or is trying to incite someone to hurt another person. Therefore, I fail to see where flag burning or another form of desecration is hurting anybody. So, lets virtually fast-forward for a minute and pretend this amendment passes. As far as I can tell (and I could be wrong), this would be the first law incorporated into the Constitution that would limit speech. There are of course, common laws that limit speech for one reason or another, but none that is in the nation’s highest document.

So, if we’re banning flag burning, what next? No protesting? No speaking out against the government? Perhaps I’m thinking in alarmist terms, but this flag thing is the tip of the iceberg in my mind. This administration and its related Congressonal allies already do not have a good track record on protecting our personal liberties. So, maybe I’m just being optimistic, but I don’t thinking bringing this up now is going to help in the election a party already hurt by scandal, Iraq, gas prices (though they can’t do much about that), and the failed Marriage Amendment, among other things.

Our President says he invaded Iraq to bring them freedom. Yet, here at home, attempts are being made by our Congress to limit freedom. And…wait, I thought all those big, bad terrorists hated freedom and that we were trying to protect this freedom, not just for us, but for everyone? So, yes, the flag is a symbol of freedom, and should be respected. On the other hand, freedom is the ability to (peacefully) protest against your government when you don’t agree with them. So, exactly what message does this proposed ban send? I don’t think it sends a good one. Wake up, Congress, and smell the freedom, if it isn’t stuffed somewhere smelly. I’m tempted to write a line that uses the “If [this] happens, the terrorists are winning,” but that seems so cliche, and sounds kind of threatening. So, instead, here’s to hoping the ban fails on the Senate floor, like the Marriage Amendment did.