You need to know this. Thanks to Edward Snowden, a federal court may finally hear the Electronic Frontier Foundation's case defending our Fourth Amendment rights. Long before the whistle-blower exposed top secret NSA documents, the EFF was fighting to protect our privacy. The organization has filed multiple lawsuits against the NSA for spying on Americans, but until now the government has been able to convince the courts to block the EFF cases using legal technicalities like “standing” and “state secrets”. But, those technical hurdles have been cleared since our nation found out about the NSA's massive surveillance programs. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White rejected the government's attempt to block the lawsuit using the so-called “state secrets” defense. Judge White dismissed other parts of the lawsuit, but allowed the Fourth Amendment claims to go forward. He ordered both parties to present more evidence on the constitutionality of government surveillance, and requested a briefing from officials explaining exactly how leaked NSA documents affected national security. The ruling was not a clear win for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but it removed one of the huge barriers the organization faced in its legal challenge. Cindy Cohen, the EFF's legal director, said, “That is huge. That was the centerpiece of the government's defense.” When Edward Snowden revealed that Americans were, in fact, being spied on, the EFF and other privacy organizations cleared the first major hurdle, as they can now prove they have a right to challenge government surveillance in court. And, this recent ruling removed the NSA's second line of defense to a legal challenge. The only barrier now to a constitutional challenge is so-called “sovereign immunity” - which means these organizations can't sue the government unless the government allows them to do so. It is still a major hurdle, but the EFF isn't giving up without a fight. Stay tuned.
In screwed news... Wal-Mart is giving D.C. lawmakers an ultimatum – keep wages low or the mega-retailer will build their next stores in a different city. The District of Columbia council had less than 24 hours to consider Wal-Mart's demand, as a vote on the District's new “super-minimum wage” proposal is scheduled for today. If the new plan goes into effect, large retailers with sales of over $1 billion dollars would be forced to pay workers at least $12.50 an hour – about 50 percent more than the city's $8.25 per hour minimum wage. As the new proposal gives most other large retailers – like Home Depot, Costco, and Macy's – a grandfather period and an exception for unionized workforces, Wal-Mart alleges that the law subjects them to a higher standard. However, those other retailers typically offer higher hourly wages, benefits packages, and full-time work for their employees. Wal-Mart is demanding a decision today, so it's now in the hands of lawmakers to decide if they represent workers or corporations.
In the best of the rest of the news...
Senate Democrats are getting ready for a fight. They are preparing to force confirmation votes on several of President Obama's appointments, and threatening to reform the filibuster if those votes don't happen. Republicans have repeatedly blocked the President's nominations which has created a backlog of judges and appointments. In response, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and fellow Democrats are pushing for up-or-down votes on nominees for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the National Labor Relations Board – all of which have been help up by Republican obstruction. Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley said Republicans have “essentially said they are going to disable the executive branch if a minority of the Senate disagrees with or dislikes the president the people elect.” However, it appears that GOP tactic may finally be put to an end. We will have to wait and see if the Democrats really fix the filibuster this time around.
Same-sex couples in Pennsylvania are suing for the right to marry. Only weeks after the Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, gay and lesbian couples in Pennsylvania are challenging that state's version of the discriminatory law. The group of plaintiffs includes 10 couples and one woman who recently lost her same-sex spouse of 29 years. The ACLU has also joined the suit, which argues that Pennsylvania's Defense of Marriage Act is a violation of the Equal Protections clause of the 14th Amendment. Deb Whitewood, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said, “We only want what every married couple wants – to express our love and commitment in front of friends and family, and the security and protection that only marriage provides.” As many predicted after the Supreme Court ruling, similar lawsuits are popping up in several states that refuse to recognize same-sex marriage. Now that there's precedent from our nation's highest court, it is likely many of these court battles will mean marriage equality will soon be law in more states.
And finally… Temperatures in Death Valley are hovering over 120 degrees, but that's not the problem park rangers are complaining about. One of the Death Valley National Park rangers' recently posted an anonymous YouTube video of himself frying an egg using only the desert heat, and that video sparked a rash of park visitors trying to recreate the experiment. However, most visitors aren't bothering to use a pan like the unnamed ranger did in his video. According to NBC News, the small staff is begging people to stop leaving sticky messes for rangers to clean up. The Park staff says frying eggs on the hot pavement doesn't really work anyhow. They say it just makes a mess, and rangers have much better things to do than clean up egg cartons, shells, and goo that visitors leave behind. A post on the Death Valley National Park Facebook page reads, “This is your national park, please put trash in garbage or recycle bins provided, and don't crack eggs on the sidewalk.”
And that’s the way it is today – Wednesday, July 10, 2013. I’m Thom Hartmann – on the news.