Monthly Archives: June 2006

Supreme court rejects Bush Kanagaroo courts

The US Supreme Court today declared illegal the military commissions being run by the Bush administration at the Guantanamo Bay Prison. The white house wanted to hold military trials of some of the prisoners held there on war crimes charges. In a 5-3 decision the court ruled this illegal. Demonstrating his continued ignorance Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a strongly worded dissent in which he said

to second-guess the determination of the political branches that these conspirators must be brought to justice is both unprecedented and dangerous

Actually it is precisely the job of the supreme court to second guess the determination of the political branches and not to be a rubber stamp. Secondly, there was no determination of “the political branches” to hold these mock trials. This was a dictate from the white house and congress never approved it. In fact congress declined to approve the trials. Maybe Thomas should read Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion where he wrote

Concentration of power (in the executive branch) puts personal liberty in peril of arbitrary action by officials, an incursion the Constitution’s three-part system is designed to avoid.

Kennedy is exactly right on this point and it is well past time for both court and congress to stand up to this would be dictator and do their job.

Update: From Americablog I saw this link to the ScotusBlog. The actual decision is really huge. In the decision the court stated that the Geneva Conventions of prisoners of war do apply to these prisoners! This essentially means that most of the tactics being used by the Bush administration are illegal and in fact are War Crimes! Time to bring on the articles of impeachment!

Government protecting us from losers!

You know those seven “Home-Grown Terrorists” that Alberto Gonzales made such a big deal about busting in Miami last week? The seven guys who apparently wanted to attack the Sears Tower in Chicago? Well it turns out these guys were at worst some small time criminals. They had never actually had any contact with any other known terrorist groups. They had no weapons of any kind. They were trying to get some “soldier boots”, but there were no guns and bombs. Oh and one more thing

None was known to be an adherent of a militant Islamic faction, nor even of the Muslim faith. Relatives described some as religious, but drawn together to study the Bible, not the Koran.

Why would anyone actually pay any attention to anything coming from any member of the Bush administration? They have zero credibility. This is just another one of those scams like all the Orange alerts before the 2004 election. They were just trying to distract attention from the debate, about pulling the troops out of Iraq and the fact that the feds are also scouring our bank records. They are breaking laws and violating the 4th amendment all over the place and every time they get called on it they pull out some bogus sting operation or some other false crisis to distract us.

Facts you’re not supposed to look to closely at

I just got an e-mail at work from some new wellness (what a stupid word by the way) committee about some new walking program they are organizing. In the message they include a couple of facts:

• According to a Harvard University Study, you will gain about two hours of life expectancy for each hour of regular exercise, even if you don’t start until middle age.

• Brisk walking for as little as 30 minutes a day can bring heart-health benefits and reduce your risk for stroke by lowering bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and high blood pressure

If you add up the numbers you will find that in order to gain 1 year of life expectancy (8760 hours), if you exercise for 1 hour a day it would take 12 years (4380 days) to gain that 1 year. Now don’t get me wrong I am a proponent of regular exercise. It feels good, and will generally make you healthier. But people should really be more careful when they either read or use such statistics. If you go with the 30 minutes a day it will 24 years to gain that 1 year of life expectancy.

Bush may allow wiretapping review: Specter

So Arlen Specter says that the White House may allow a federal court to look at it’s secret surveillance program? Excuse me, but since when does the executive branch get to dictate what the judicial and legislative branches do? it shouldn’t matter if the Bush likes it or not, both the congress and the judiciary have every right to determine if he is breaking the law and deal with that appropriately. There is no need for the other branches of government to bow to his highness ever!. It doesn’t matter if we are in wartime (and that is a dubious assertion at best), no president is ever allowed to break the law just be feels like it. The oath of office requires him to uphold the constitution and that means letting the other two branches of government to do their duties as well.

Mr. Specter, please either grow some balls and do your job or get out of the way so someone else can. And the same goes for the other 434 members of congress. You all ready to remove an actual properly elected president from office for lying about a blow-job why aren’t willing to do the same to one who has consistently lied to the American public about the reasons for sending 2500 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis to their deaths.

Supreme Court Blows a Chance

Last year the US Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal on a patent infringement case. This was a prime opportunity for the court to take a stand on rule on the limits of the fundamentally broken US patent system. For at least the last decade the USPTO (US patent and trademark office) has been granting patents on all kinds of obvious concepts seemingly without even reading the applications in most cases. They have issued such legendary patents as the sideways swinging patent and the Amazon One-click patent. This term the Supreme Court agreed to hear a patent infringement case involving Metabolite Laboratories Inc patent on the relationship between homocysteine levels in the blood and vitamin B12 levels. Metabolite had sued Laboratory Corporation of America (where do they come up with these brilliant names anyway?) for infringement. LabCorp had claimed that the patent was too broad and and did not actually cover any invention. Metabolite had determined that there was a correlation between B12 levels (which are difficult to measure directly) and homocysteine levels which are relatively easy to measure. They were essentially granted a patent for determining that A is proportional to B and if A goes up or down so does B. For some ridiculous reason two lower courts had sided with Metabolite and agreed that LabCorp was infringing but evidently didn’t look at the actual validity of the patent.

The court agreed to hear the case last fall just after John Roberts joined. Apparently the Bush Administration didn’t want this case heard however, because they filed a brief asking that the case be rejected. As usual the court bowed to King George’s crew. Yesterday they issued a dismissal of the case stating only that they erred in taking the case without any further explanation. Roberts had recused himself apparently because his old law firm had been involved in the case. Justice Stephen Bryer along with John Paul Stevens and David Souter wrote a strong dissent stating that the patent should have been invalidated.

Writing for the three dissenters, Justice Stephen Breyer said the patent amounted to “no more than an instruction to read some numbers in light of medical knowledge.”

Failing to decide on the merits of the case “threatens to leave the medical profession subject to the restrictions imposed by this individual patent and others of its kind,” Breyer wrote. He was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens and David Souter.

The court had a prime opportunity reign in the out of control patent system. They blew it big time. Just like the Pledge of allegiance case they dismissed it on a technicality. These are not trivial cases. The patent system can have a major impact on our economy. It affects how much people have to pay for things because a grants limited monopoly power to patent holders. Abuse of the patent system is one of the big reasons why prescription drug costs are so insanely high. Pharmaceutical companies keep making minor tweaks to their drug formulations without actually coming up with anything fundamentally new, just so they can extend their patent protection. This is one of the major drivers of skyrocketing health care costs in this country. Those health care costs in turn are one of the biggest pain points for American manufacturing companies, especially the automakers. This is one of the things that is driving all manufacturing to other countries and leaving us with low paying, low benefit jobs at places like Wal-Mart. Lets hope another patent case comes before the court soon and they actually address it next time.

Summer Solstice

Today is the summer solstice, meaning it is the longest day of the year. This should be the day when we have the greatest amount of the daylight hours of the year. Unfortunately, the weather has been really crap, raining all day and at times being really dark. Hopefully things will clear up this afternoon. Some rain is always good, but when I can hear the rain pounding off the roof of the building I work in while I have my headphones on, that’s a bit much.

Google books

Google made their reputation by indexing the content of the the internet. They’ve done some truly remarkable things with search. Their pagerank system although far from perfect does provide some great results. Some time ago they announced a project in conjunction with five of the largest university libraries including the University of Michigan to scan all the books in their collections and index the content. This project has been highly controversial. It has been attacked by publishers because some of the books to be scanned are still under copyright. It has also been attacked by librarians and others because this project is being undertaken by a private company (I know google is a public company, but I use private here to distinguish from a public entity like a government). Their is a lot of concern that a project like this will have a negative impact on physical libraries. I don’t think that is a really legitimate concern. There will will always be a place for actual libraries with with physical books. People like to read books. They like to sit on the beach, or deck, or under a tree or in bed and hold a book and read. There is also a social aspect to libraries that can never be completely replaced by the virtual world of the internet. Although the net can bring together communities of people who are widely geographically dispersed, people still need physical interaction with other people in the community and with librarians and teachers.

There is also concern about a private entity like google controlling all this data. This is, I think a more legitimate concern. If something were to happen to google what happens to all the scanned books? I like the idea of this project. Google has evidently developed some amazing scanning and character recognition technology as can be seen in this image from 1984. They have developed a mechanism that allows them to scan the pages without damaging some of the very old and rare volumes. The idea of a digital version of the great library of Alexandria would be a great way of preserving human culture. Perhaps if google were to put the raw data into the public domain, allowing anyone to access and index it, this concern could be addressed. Beyond the actual scanning technology, one unique thing that google adds is their indexing and searching capability. If the raw scans were available to everyone, than other companies could develop and apply their own search and display engines. I don’t agree with the idea of a private entity controlling so much of human culture. Their is a very interesting discussion on this whole topic on a recent Open Source, that included Siva Vaidhyanathan and a rep from Google.