There is a free speech controversy swirling around an ethics complaint in Illinois brought by University of Denver law professor Nancy Leong. Leong runs a blog site called Feminist Law Professors and recently discovered the identity of an anonymous commenter who has, according to Leong, left racist and sexist comments. She says that he is a a public defender in his late 40s and she wants him punished for his comments. We have discussed the free speech rights of public employees in an earlier column and blog postings, including the right to speak on blogs and Internet sites. The actions of Leong are troubling for those of us who believe strongly in free speech values, including the right to anonymity.
Archive for the ‘Free Speech’ Category
There are times when Iran and other sharia-based countries look like characters out of a Fellini film. This week, Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued another fatwa to Muslims that left the rest of the world chuckling. Khamenei has outlawed participation in social networks that include both men and women. He wants something akin to a Cyber Burka for women to avoid even getting as little as a tweet from a man who is not a family member. Adding to the absurdity, he used his website (which presumably has both men and women) to make the announcement.. He also has a Facebook but presumably any future “friends” will be male.
It is a scene that would warm the cockles of every Satanic heart. In Oklahoma, the Satanic Temple has unveiled the design for a 7-foot-tall statue of Satan that it believes would go nicely at the Oklahoma state Capitol. After all, the legislature put a Ten Commandments monument on the site in 2012. So why not the comforting image of Baphomet, a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a long beard for children to gather around and take strength from on school visits? While it seems a tad unlikely that the Oklahoma legislature (which has a history of intermingling Christian faith with legislation) will add a Satanic element to the Capitol grounds, it forces the question of why it is permissible to depict one religion in exclusion of others.
We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and here) and England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Much of this trend is tied to the expansion of hate speech and non-discrimination laws. Often these cases involve vile or obnoxious speech, but such speech is the test of our values. We do not need laws to protect popular speech. One case in point is French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, who likes to target Jews in his popular shows. He has already been hit with fines approaching $100,000 for his jokes and there is no a move to have been prosecuted criminally. For jokes. Bad even sick jokes to be sure. But jokes.
By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
This is the second of a multi-part article on the Public Interest Defense and its application to the the Edward Snowden situation. The defense is not recognized in America but other nations have considered this legal mechanism to provide an appropriate way to deflect criminal charges from whistleblowers like Snowden. You can read the first installment of the series here.
The Trial of Publius Horatius
When last we met Publius Horatius, soldier of Rome, he had saved the Eternal City from disaster in an epic battle of champions and then was quite ceremoniously convicted of treason against the state for the murder of his sister thus preventing the Senate from dealing with her traitorous grief over one of the fallen foe of Rome. In a clever legal maneuver made at the secret behest of the Roman king, Tullus Hostilius, who distrusted the designs of the Senate in passing him this hot potato of a case, Publius invoked the ancient right of every Roman citizen to a provocatio ad populum – a direct appeal to the people of Rome. Readers of the Christian Bible will likely recall that Paul of Tarsus was likewise accorded this right by virtue of his Roman citizenship, though by this time Rome had moved from a republic to an empire and the appeal was made to Cæsar himself.#
Submitted by Darren Smith, Guest Blogger
During a city council meeting of Flower Mound, Texas, Mayor Tom Hayden proclaimed 2014 the “Year of the Bible”. He stated during the meeting “I ask that you join with me and encourage all residents in their own way to examine the principles and teachings found in the Bible.” He then promoted a Christian website administered by a local church “Calvary Chapel Church” promoting Christian theology and a program to learn the bible using a daily list of passages each day. The website is http://thebible2014.com and has a video link to the proclamation by the mayor here.
Aside from what many would consider glaring unconstitutionality of this type of proclamation under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and its applicability to state and local governments as interpreted in the Fourteenth Amendment, various other religious institutions within the city have voiced serious concern.
By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
This is the first of a multi-part article on the Public Interest Defense and its application to the the Edward Snowden situation. The defense is not recognized in America but other nations have considered this legal mechanism to provide an appropriate way to deflect criminal charges from whistleblowers like Snowden. Part 2 can be found here.
The Legend of Publius Horatius
For centuries, children in ancient Rome would recount the legend of Publius Horatius, one of three Horatius brothers (known as the Horatii), who fought to defend Rome from attack by the militaristic and close-by Italian city-state of Alba Longa. Rather than engage in a pitched battle of armies for supremacy of the peninsula and subject all of Latinium (as Italy was then known) to the vulnerability of foreign attack, Rome and her rival opted to name a triumvirate of champions to fight to the death to decide the fates of two ancient megalopolises. One would emerge as the dominating power and the other would be relegated to a vassal state. The Horatii seemed the obvious choice among the Roman legionnaires as the triplet brothers were unequaled among their peers in strength and martial prowess. Swearing an oath to fight to the death, the brothers strode to the Field of Mars to battle for both the glory and survival of Rome. For her part, Alba Longa chose her own incredibly coincident set of warrior triplets known as the Curiatius brothers (or the Curiatii) who swore an equally obligating oath to “return either with their shields or on them” as a Spartan might say.
Posted in Academics, Constitutional Law, Courts, Criminal law, Environment, Free Speech, International, Justice, Lawyering, Media, Military, Politics, Religion, Science, Society, Supreme Court on 1, January 3, 2014 | 30 Comments »
Well, the results are in and we have another distinction to crow about at the blog. We have been selected as the 2013 top News/Analysis site among the competing world blogs in the annual ABA Journal survey. The success of this blog is due entirely to our unique community around the world, which have maintained a site where the issues of our day can be discussed with passion but civility. Thanks to all of our regulars and particularly our our talented and popular weekend team of guest bloggers: Mike Appleton, David Drumm, Mark Esposito, Gene Howington, Elaine Magliaro, Larry Rafferty, Darren Smith, Mike Spindell, and Charlton Stanley. While we created and maintain this site to allow us to share our thoughts, it is always gratifying to receive such recognitions. It is always my hope that the selection will bring new people to our site to further expand the voices and views on legal, political, and sometimes just plain bizarre stories.
We previously discussed how the American Studies Association joined a growing boycott of Israeli institutions, which is part of an even broader boycott of Israeli goods in many stores. There are good points to be made on both sides, including the absence of such boycotts for Chinese institutions and those of other abusive nations. However, we should all be able to agree that the response of New York legislator Dov Hikind is excessive and absurd. Hikind is showing his support for Israel by pushing legislation to cut off money to colleges involved in American Studies Association. He ignores the fact that the ASA resolution is non-binding and an expression of opposition to Israel’s policies as opposed to an enforceable ban. However, he wants to cut off whole institutions for even a loose association with a group that has condemned Israel. It is precisely the type of unhinged reaction that has distorted the debate over Middle East policies. He is being joined by Jeffrey Klein (right), another Democrat.
We recently discussed the Indian courts reinstating the criminalization of homosexuality in that country. Now, the Indian National League, a Muslim political party, has reportedly launched a public campaign calling for all homosexuals to be killed under the nation’s death penalty. The posters appearing around the country also claims that freedom of expression is being abused by gays and lesbians in advocating their cause. This story has appeared on a couple of gay rights sites covering India but has not appeared in the mainstream press.
Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty(rafflaw)-Guest Blogger
With the end of 2013 fast approaching, I have begun to wonder what the New Year holds for the country. It looks like the Affordable Care Act is finally getting its website to function properly and the sign ups are now being counted in the millions. Wall Street is still booming with the Dow Jones over 16,000, but yet unemployment is still too high and Congress is still trying to push austerity for the middle class and the poor, while doing everything in its power to prevent corporations and the wealthy from paying their fair share of taxes. The Citizen’s United decision opened the money floodgates and needs to be curbed. The military budget was spared in the recent Budget Deal, but yet unemployment benefits for millions have not been extended.
The gun lobby continues to prevent reasonable gun control legislation and needless scores of innocents continue to be slaughtered. Instead of closing the gun show loophole or mandating reasonable and effective universal background checks, Congress did nothing. Although there has been some recent movement from the Obama Administration to push Congress to allow the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, the facility remains open after 12 years. With all of the bad news or non-action on many fronts, is it possible to have hope that 2014 will bring better news for all Americans? (more…)
Submitted by Darren Smith, Guest Blogger
The Chinese Government banned the video game Battlefield 4, developed by Electronic Arts, claiming the video game casts China in a bad light and advocates political issues which make China appear to be a warlike society.
The game play plot takes place in the year 2020 where a military coup occurs in China resulting in a geo-political intrigue that could bring the US into a protracted war. The US sends troops to Hong Kong to fight against the coup and the PLA.
The Chinese Ministry of Culture went as far as to ban all things related to the game including software, patches, and news reports. It censored the topic of the game on China’s main social media website weibo.com. On a link derived, according to ZDNet, from an official Chinese news publication, there was much worry over the video games:
Posted in Congress, Constitutional Law, Courts, Criminal law, Free Speech, International, Justice, Media, Military, Politics, Society, Supreme Court, Uncategorized on 1, December 28, 2013 | 41 Comments »
Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
I’ve written before about the fact that the murder of JFK in Dallas was to me the most traumatic national experience in my life and the fact that I think it changed the destiny of our country in a negative fashion. I think that for many around my age this is also true, but it is now fifty years past and the majority of Americans have no real knowledge of it. The trauma of that day and the ensuing events of history have left me with an admittedly irrational repugnance towards the city of Dallas and I feel almost a shudder when I hear of Dealey Plaza, where the murder took place. These feelings are so intense that I doubt that I will ever visit Dallas in my lifetime, much less go to Dealey Plaza. When I got my weekly E Mail from my favorite investigative journalism website WhoWhatWhy.com I took note of an article about the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. The article was a humorous look at the potential for Christmas gifts that might be available at the museum’s gift shop and of course provided a link to the museum’s website, which I then followed. Going to the website and perusing it caused me to muse about the ability in our country to turn even our most solemn national events into commercial enterprises, while we pretend that they provide an educational service. (more…)
Incoming Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has announced that his office intends to appeal the ruling striking down the criminalization of cohabitation in the Sister Wives case. The decision will ultimately send the case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver, Colorado. However, the trial court has not yet issued a final order due to a couple outstanding issues. Once that order is issued, the Attorney General’s office will have 30 days to file a notice of appeal. In a surprising decision, the Attorney General also indicated that he will no longer have his office defend the Utah ban on same-sex marriage (struck down by Judge Robert Shelby) and possibly the cohabitation law (struck down by Judge Clark Waddoups). That will require the hiring of outside counsel and an outside firm to defend these laws as opposed to the Office of the Attorney General itself.
In July, we discussed the horrific cases of Saudi blogger and activist, Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 7 years in prison and 600 lashes for “insulting Islam”. Badawi created a popular site called Free Saudi Liberals in 2008 to discuss the role of religion in Saudi Arabia. That was enough to declare him a criminal in the Saudi Kingdom, which denies freedom of religion and freedom of speech as well as the rights of women and political dissidents. Now, there are new concerns over a report that a Saudi judge has ordered Badawi to return to court to face a new charge of apostasy for which he could be executed.
Below is my column in the Washington Post (Sunday) on our recent victory in the Sister Wives case. The column looks at the most significant aspect of the case — the rejection of morality codes that once controlled across the country in prohibiting everything from homosexuality to adultery to fornication. These morality laws were upheld in the decision in Reynolds in 1876 in a polygamy case out of Utah. The Brown decision returned us to the same question involving the same issue in the same state. Some 136 years later however the answer from this federal court was very different. We are a different country today and, despite what one hears from politicians like Rick Santorum, I believe that we are a better country today.
There does seem to be confusion about the ruling with some saying that polygamy is still not legal after the opinion. That is simply wrong. Polygamy is not the same a bigamy. One is the crime defined under cohabitation statutes of living as a plural family or with a person married to another person. The other is the crime of having two or more marriage licenses. The latter has nothing to do with the structure of your family and has almost exclusively involved people who hold themselves out (falsely) as monogamous. We always argued that the state could prosecute people who obtained more than one marriage license. Bigamy has not been an offense committed by polygamists who traditionally have one official marriage license and multiple spiritual licenses. Indeed, the law targeted polygamy with the cohabitation provision precisely because there is a difference between the two. The state fought for years to preserve this law because it reached beyond simple bigamy. Before this opinion, it was a crime for polygamists to live, as do the Browns, in a plural family. After the opinion, it is legal. This is precisely what occurred in Lawrence v. Texas where homosexual unions were a crime but then became legal when the Texas law was struck down. This decision legalizes tens of thousands of polygamous families who will no longer been viewed as criminal enterprises. They will be allowed to be open plural families. They are now legal relationships. Legality of polygamy is entirely different from recognition of plural marriages just as the legality of homosexual relations is different from the recognition of same-sex marriage.
There is also a lack of knowledge about the existence of such laws outside of Utah. This law does exist outside of Utah. Indeed, the very same language is found in the Canadian cohabitation law. I was called as a legal expert in the recent challenge to that law. However, the Canadian Supreme Court in British Columbia upheld the law. Putting these distinctions aside, the thrust of this article is how this decision is part of a larger trend toward the repeal or the striking down of morality codes, including the rejection of a cohabitation law in Virginia this year.
Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
“The Hunger Games” represents a wildly popular trilogy of science fictions books aimed at first toward the Teen and young adult market, but then becoming popular with the “adult” market as well. It has become a very popular movie trilogy; the second installment was released in November, with the final film next year. A synopsis is a dystopian North America of the future and a country named “Panem”. The narrator is a 16 year old girl named Katniss Everdeen, living in District 12. Panem consists of twelve districts, rigidly controlled by a central government located “The Capital”, a city of wealth and great technological advancement. Each of the other districts are dedicated to particular industry’s and the people of each are kept at a subsistence level of life. There is little hope for the future and brutal retribution for disobeying the “The Capital’s” edicts. We are told that there had been a revolution some 70 years before that was brutally repressed and ultimately failed. As a reminder of the futility of revolution, each year there is a lavish production made for TV of a gladiatorial conflict and called “The Hunger Games.” From each of the 12 districts two young people are chosen randomly to fight to the death. Each district sends a male and a female. The ultimate winner (survivor) is gives a life of wealth, luxury and status. The “Game” is set up in such a way that each of the contestants tries to compete for the affections of those privileged to be citizens of “The Capital”. These elite citizens can spend exorbitant sums of money to send aid to the contestants of their choice to try to ensure their survival. The “Game” is further rigged by the “Gamekeeper” in ways that tend to favor some contestants, so ultimately the contests are deadly shams. Their purpose is to show the 12 districts the punishment that will be meted out should they ever again disobey “The Capital”, the futility of resistance and also to supply hope that one could survive the games to attain the benefits of a privileged citizen. (more…)
Houston bankruptcy and family law attorney Michael Busby Jr. has filed a rather curious lawsuit on his own behalf (and those of more than 100 people) for alleged fraud by a fortune teller. Busby claims that he gave fortune teller Melena Thorn $2,700 in a box for “cleansing” that she never returned to be part of a husband-wife reunification ritual. (The money was to be placed under the “marital bed” to bring about happier relations). Busby claims also to have paid Thorn $30 for a tarot card reading and $500 for the ritual. Many would be rather embarrassed to participate in such supernatural services, but Busby is taking Thorn to court under a claim of fraud.
Zachary Golob-Drake, a 5th grader at the Patel Partnership School in Tampa Florida was elated recently when he won first place with a speech and an invitation to compete in the 4-H Tropicana Public Speech Contest. However, his assistant principal then told him that he would be stripped of his honor because she did not like the topic of the speech, the history of people using religion to justify murder. It is the latest example of how free speech principles are routinely denied to students in public school. Here is a boy who takes on a difficult and highly advanced subject, but is told that he must either give up the first amendment or his first place prize.
The intolerance and abuse of religious minorities in Pakistan reached a new low this case with the incarceration of Dr. Masood Ahmad, 72, a British doctor who is has been charged with the ridiculous crime of “posing as a Muslim.” In 1984, a law was passed declared Ahmadis to be “non-Muslims.” He could face three years in prison after being caught reading and interpreting the Koran.
The University of Colorado is reeling from the disclosure that its cultural diversity coordinator with the Ethnic Studies department, Resa Cooper-Morning, is under investigation for allegedly operating a phone sex business while working for the university. Cooper-Morning, 54, is on paid leave while the University is investigating the matter. In 2008, the University of Colorado honored Cooper-Morning for her work at the university and how “her engaged and respectful participation in department dialogue touches the intellect and spirit of everyone involved.”
Posted in Congress, Constitutional Law, Courts, Environment, Free Speech, International, Justice, Media, Military, Politics, Religion, Society, Supreme Court, Uncategorized on 1, December 14, 2013 | 625 Comments »
Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
I believe that it is impossible to deal with any problem until one understands the underlying nature of that problem. The analogy of a Physician treating the symptoms of a patient, but ignoring the cause of those symptoms, comes to mind. We have the medicine to deal with the specific manifestation of an illness like a headache and a fever, but in ameliorating the discomfort of the symptoms, we may miss the underlying pathology. This happened to me last March when shortly after being prescribed a change in the anti-rejection medicines that keep me alive after my heart transplant, I began to get so sick that I needed hospitalization in intensive care. I won’t bore you with the grimy details of this sudden downturn in health, but I must note that my most important bodily functions began to shut down. What is curious about this incident is that my wife, who is internet savvy, immediately began to suggest to my Doctors that I was having a bad reaction to the medicinal change. At first they ignored her as they had Department Heads in Cardiology, Immunology, Infectious Diseases, Neurology, Proctology, Urology and even Dermatology come in to examine me and pore over my medical charts. Finally, in response to my wife’s unfailing advocacy, they returned me to my prior anti-rejection medication. To my Physician’s surprise and possible chagrin the symptoms almost immediately began to abate and within in days I was home from the hospital and on the mend. (more…)
It is with a great pleasure this evening to announce that decision of United States District Court judge Clarke Waddoups striking down key portions of the Utah polygamy law as unconstitutional. The Brown family and counsel have spent years in both the criminal phase of this case and then our challenge to the law itself in federal court. Despite the public statements of professors and experts that we could not prevail in this case, the court has shown that it is the rule of law that governs in this country. As I have previously written, plural families present the same privacy and due process concerns faced by gay and lesbian community over criminalization. With this decision, families like the Browns can now be both plural and legal in the state of Utah. The Court struck down the provision as violating both the free exercise clause of the first amendment as well as the due process clause. The court specifically struck down language criminalizing cohabitation — the provision that is used to prosecute polygamists. The opinion is over 90 pages and constitutes a major constitutional ruling in protection of individual rights.
We have been discussing the alarming erosion of free speech principles in England in recent years. This trend includes both humorous and political speech. Now a sandwich shop owner has been arrested, his computer seized, and questioned for hours because he merely made a joke about Nelson Mandela. Neil Phillips, 44, was not charged but the message clear: even jokes are now subject to criminal investigation if deemed insulting by the police or sensitive public members.
Italian author Costanza Miriano’s best-selling book Cásate y sé sumisa would normally be a cause of celebration for feminists as another successful female author who has soared in popularity. However, the book’s title is translated “Get Married and Be Submissive” and advocates a life of married women of “loyal obedience, generosity and submission.” While soaring in popularity in both Italy and Spain, feminists have publicly destroyed the book in protests and some have called for Miriano to have the book banned as promoting violence against women.
Submitted by Darren Smith, Guest Blogger
The initiative process in Washington State is designed to allow individual citizens to participate in the law making process and collectively to work together to bring this cause to fruition. But is this century old tradition, rather uncommon in the various governments of the world, suffering from the effects of corporate interest and losing its original purpose?
-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger
Universities UK (UUK) is an advocacy organization whose members include just about every university in the United Kingdom. UUK provides its members with policy guidelines regarding all aspects of university life. The UUK recently released a report advocating a policy of gender segregation to preserve the freedom of speech of external speakers. The report uses a hypothetical case study of a representative of an “ultra-orthodox religious group” whose freedom of speech is imperiled if his demands for gender segregation in the seating arrangements aren’t met.
Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
Many blogs have been written here that deal with the phony “War on Drugs” and the negative effects it has on society, particularly those lacking resources, or being people of color. This piece is not about the “War on Drugs”, but this ridiculous “war” has actually driven the abuses of our criminal justice system that is my topic today. Because the “War on Drugs” provides context for this subject I’ve included links at the bottom that supply the context behind my opinions here. Human Rights Watch produced a report this week about how most defendants in Federal drug cases are forced to plead guilty under the threat of the imposition of a mandatory sentence. I read an article in Huffington Post referencing this study and it immediately brought to mind two aspects of law enforcement and prosecution today that raise my ire.
The first is the process of plea bargaining, which I believe makes a mockery of our Criminal Justice System. The second is the concept of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing (MMS) which in my opinion leads inevitably to miscarriages of what we would like to call justice. The idea of negotiation, bargaining if you will, is that each of the two sides has the ability to provide enough of value to be able to establish a mutually beneficial contract. Clearly though when it comes to a Prosecutor bargaining with a defendant there is, except in the case of the wealthy/powerful, an unequal negotiation. The Prosecution has the authority and resources of the State backing it up. Most defendants and indeed most people in prisons, have little resources. In the public’s (thus jury’s) mind, most defendants are really guilty until proven innocent, despite the “presumption of innocence” that is supposedly a hallmark of our legal system. Adding immeasurably to the Prosecution’s resources are “Mandatory Minimum” sentences (MMS). They were instituted by legislators who wanted to appear “tough on crime” and so represent drastic solutions to punishment needs, in order to appear as “tough” as possible. With the trump card of MMS prosecutors are in a position to threaten a defendant to “cop a plea” to avoid a more draconian prison sentence. The Human Rights Watch study shows how these two procedures have become a feature of American Criminal Justice that in my opinion makes a mockery of it. (more…)
Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)-Guest Blogger
The five alleged 9/11 defendants currently being held at Guantanamo Bay where they have been detained since 2006, are currently preparing their defenses for trials that are scheduled for September 2014. All five defendants have been subjected to what the United States government called enhanced interrogation techniques at CIA black sites even before they got to Gitmo. (more…)
With many of us rolling out of bed moaning from the food the consumed on Thanksgiving, I felt a wonderfully depressing fat story was appropriate to get us back into our guilt-ridden regimes. Maria Kang, fitness guru and mother of three, is not exactly the bedside nurse that you would want on such occasions. Kang has been banned from Facebook after she criticized an online article showing plus-size women in lingerie. While this is not a free speech issue involving the government, there is a question of whether Facebook should have taken it upon itself to punish someone for her view of obesity and what she views as an unhealthy lifestyle. More importantly, the controversy raises the issue of the expanding definition of “hate speech.”
We have previously discussed how Barack Obama has become the president that Richard Nixon always wanted to be. From his Administration’s comprehensive attack on privacy and civil liberties, investigation of journalists, to his claim of unilateral authority to kill citizens, Obama has created an Imperial Presidency that could haunt this nation for generations. He has succeeded with the silent acquiescence of many liberals and Democrats who have embraced personality over principle in continuing to support his Administration. Now, a new report documents how the National Security Agency under Obama has been gathering records of online sexual activity and evidence of visits to pornographic websites to be used as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of people consider radicals. The obvious comparison to Nixon is only dwarfed by the comparison to J. Edgar Hoover, but again the silence is deafening from the Democrats. In the meantime, the so-called “reforms” of the NSA as expected would preserve the massive data-gathering programs of the agency — as guaranteed by such “reformers” as Dianne Feinstein.
I am very happy to report that our blog has been inducted into the ABA Journal’s Hall of Fame for legal blogs around the world. We just received word this afternoon with the start of this year’s competition for the top News/Analysis blog. This is also our sixth year in being selected as one of the top 100 legal blogs in the world. Of course, this is the closest that an endomorphic law professor can get to any Hall of Fame. I am grateful to the ABA Journal staff not just for this distinction but for holding this competition each year to feature the wide variety of legal blogs. For all of us who were the last to be selected on sports teams growing up, this is our pudgy, wheezing victory lap. While people like Pete Rose may be a hundred times more athletic, we made it into the Hall of Fame (pending any last minute gambling scandals).
The selection for the Hall of Fame is latest distinction given this site which has strived to offer an alternative forum for those interested in passionate but civil discourse over the legal cases and issues of our day. Special thanks go to our talented and popular weekend team of guest bloggers: Mike Appleton, David Drumm, Mark Esposito, Gene Howington, Elaine Magliaro, Larry Rafferty, Darren Smith, Mike Spindell, and Charlton Stanley. I owe them a great debt for their insightful and gifted postings. The greatest thanks however goes to our readers and commenters who have placed this blog in the top ten most visited legal blogs in the world according to AVVO. We have strived to maintain a civility rule while discussing issues that may divide us. We do not want to be another echo chamber for one ideology or viewpoint. There are ample conservative and liberal sites that cater to that desire for reaffirmation. We value dialogue and different views. While we occasionally have some who stray into personal remarks, we have been remarkably successful in maintaining a high level of discourse. We even have some fun with the more bizarre legal and social stories.
We hope that all of our regulars will take the time to go and vote for the blog in the heavily competitive News/Analysis category. You only have to do a quick registration (used only to prevent vote stuffing) and then you can VOTE HERE.
Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
The picture above really says it all. Walmart, our country’s largest retail operation is run by people who are so clueless that they’ve created a culture that doesn’t even understand the massive irony in running a Thanksgiving Food Pantry for its own employees. The photo comes from a Walmart in Canton, Ohio. The concept of food collections for the poor at retail establishments is widespread in America, even as many Americans deny that anyone in this country goes hungry. The irony of this food drive though is that it is asking Walmart employees, who are already low paid, to donate food to fellow employees who are even worse off than they are. It is also ironic that the food drive is for Thanksgiving Dinner, since almost all Walmart Stores have been open all day for Thanksgiving for many years, so one wonders what type of Thanksgiving Dinner Walmart associates will have at all? What is new this year is that “Black Friday” for Walmart customers will begin at 6:00pm on Thanksgiving Day and run through the night.
The average Walmart Associate makes $8.81 per hour which translates into a yearly income of $15,576 if the Associate works a full time schedule. Most Associates don’t work full time because working full time would entitle them to benefits that Walmart doesn’t want to pay. Interestingly, the current U.S. poverty level for a three person family in our country is $19,530. So we see that the rare Walmart full time employee, with two dependents, earns about $4,000 per year below the nation’s poverty level. Indeed, Walmart has made it a practice to inform its employees about benefits like Snap and Public Assistance. At the risk of being portrayed as a “bleeding heart” by some of our readers, let me state that I think this company is disgusting in its personnel policies and is an example of what is worst about our country. Let me explain further. (more…)
There is a truly bizarre defamation lawsuit filed against the Tonight Show and Jay Leno by former American flight attendant Louann Giambattista who was the subject of rather crude jokes by Leno referencing allegations that she had snuck a pet rat on flights in her underwear. Giambattista denies the allegations and says that she was falsely portrayed as ”engaging in bestiality and sexual misconduct with a rat.”
Spain is on the verge of passing a draconian measure that threatens fundamental values of free speech. Faced with ongoing protests over economic conditions, the Spanish government is about to make insulting police officers and protesting without permission crimes punishable by fine greater than dealing drugs or prostitution. Not since Franco has the country turned so decidedly against civil liberties and free speech.
Posted in Congress, Constitutional Law, Courts, Free Speech, Justice, Lawyering, Politics, Society, Supreme Court, tagged Department of Homeland Security, The Electronic Infomation Privacy Center; on 1, November 17, 2013 | 50 Comments »
Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)-Guest Blogger
The Electronic Privacy Information Center recently won the first round of a court action asking that the Department of Homeland Security be required to disclose its plans to pull the plug on regional or national mobile telephone and internet communication systems pursuant to its Standard Operating Procedure 303.
“In the classicly-rendered case, DHS has argued that shutting down entire communication networks might be necessary in order to prevent the detonation of radio-controlled bomb or explosive device.
However, siding with the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which brought a suit demanding more transparency for the DHS program known as “Standard Operating Procedure 303″ (or SOP303), the federal judge at the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that because the release of the protocol could not reasonably be seen as harming law enforcement “investigative techniques or prosecutions” it’s cited reasons for keeping the details of the program secret did not hold up.” Common Dreams
The so-called SOP 303 could allow DHS to cut-off all internet and mobile phone communications at a regional level or a national level if it determined that there was a national security concern. We have already seen this government tactic used in Oakland in 2011 and that alleged over reach by the Bay Area Rapid Transit authorities may be the reason for EPIC’s lawsuit. (more…)
Posted in Congress, Constitutional Law, Courts, Criminal law, Environment, Free Speech, International, Justice, Media, Military, Politics, Religion, Science, Society, Supreme Court on 1, November 16, 2013 | 154 Comments »
Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
In recent years many studies have come out that have made the case that a high proportion of CEO’s of major companies are sociopaths. At the end of this blog I’ll provide a number of links that discuss this, some from major conservative business magazines. We do know that from 1% to 3% of humans are sociopaths sharing all of these 10 characteristics:
#1) Sociopaths are charming. #2) Sociopaths are more spontaneous and intense than other people. #3) Sociopaths are incapable of feeling shame, guilt or remorse. #4) Sociopaths invent outrageous lies about their experiences. #5) Sociopaths seek to dominate others and “win” at all costs. #6) Sociopaths tend to be highly intelligent #7) Sociopaths are incapable of love #8) Sociopaths speak poetically. #9) Sociopaths never apologize. #10) Sociopaths are delusional and literally believe that what they say becomes truth.” http://www.naturalnews.com/036112_sociopaths_cults_influence.html
Now the problem with the definition of Sociopathy is that there can be a good deal of subjectivity in making the diagnosis, absent a clinician interviewing the subject. After all many people are charming, spontaneous, invent lies, try to dominate others and speak “poetically” and that doesn’t make them sociopaths. The subjectivity comes in trying to determine whether a given person is incapable of feeling guilt, shame, remorse and is delusional. A trained clinician may be able to do this via an intensive interview, but the nature of this disorder is such that even a trained clinician can be fooled by a sociopath. Rather than argue back and forth about the negative effects of CEO sociopaths on this society as the root of so much dysfunction, my readings this week suggest another theory that would provide a simpler explanation of why it seems that so many in this country have so little compassion and empathy for the less fortunate among us. We need not deem them sociopaths, but people who are simply removed from the misery that they inflict. The apocryphal story of Marie Antoinette’s “let them eat cake” may well characterize those who control most of this country’s wealth. It may be why some are sincere philanthropists, yet show such disdain and lack a sense of responsibility for the suffering that they cause. Let’s explore this further. (more…)
There is growing tension in Israel between Orthodox Jews and the country’s gay community. As gays and lesbians have fought for the recognition of same-sex unions, Orthodox Jews have become equally vocal in fighting against such recognition. Into this volatile environment walked an Orthodox mayor who showed little evidence of intellect and even less judgment. Moshe Abutbul, the Haredi mayor of Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem, stated categorically in an interview that there are no gay people in his city and that such people should be left to health officials and the police. The comments by Abutbul, a member of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, resulted in the filing of a criminal charge for incitement. While Abutbul appears a perfect moron, I do not believe that people should face criminal charges for expressing their views — even the absurd thoughts of a hateful religious bigot.
I know how you expect that sentence to end. We have covered endless stories of Christian schools abusing teachers or students due to their perceived lack of faith or morals. However on this occasion, the line ends something like this: “Student Class President Comes Out As Atheist And Christian College By Supporing Him.” That’s right, when Eric Fromm, 21, announced in an article that he is an atheist, he said the school and fellow students at Northwest Christian University went out of their way to assure him that he was valued and appreciated as part of their community. It is a good thing. A happy story. Such places do exist where religious people are both tolerant and pluralistic.
We have previously discussed the inspiring story of Malala Yousafzai, who has captivated the world in her struggle after being shot in the head by Muslim extremists for her advocacy of female education. It is a story that appears destined to be read around the world but not in Pakistan where various organizations have banned it from private schools. One educator objected that she referred to the Prophet Muhammad without using the abbreviation PBUH — “peace be upon him.” For that, she is viewed as a dangerous heretic not a heroine.
Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
I have written some guest blogs in the past dealing with aspects of the issue of America becoming a Police State and will link to them at the end of this piece. There are so many issues that call for our concern and attention in this country today, that dealing with the entire dysfunctional state of our country becomes daunting due to the wealth of material. Finally, the stories on a given issue multiply in such a way that their effect is a realization across all political lines that enough is enough. The issue of our country’s continuing descent into a”Police State” equaling all we know of the vile systems in the USSR and the former East Germany is an issue that concerns me.. The situation is dire and the consequences have produced not only horrible injustices, but also the many unneeded maiming and deaths of innocent individuals. Our country imprisons more people per capita than any other country in the world by far. Part of the reason for that is the “War on Drugs” an abject failure that falls most heavily upon people with low incomes and people of color. One such incident caused Professor Turley to pen two blogs this week. They were about a man falsely suspected of drug possession who had all his bodily orifices and cavities checked in the local Arizona police’s vain attempt to find evidence of guilt. None was found and the procedures were not only traumatic, but invasive. Thus the “War on Drugs” is one major contributing force to turning our country into a Police State.
Another contributing Police State factor has been the Federal Government militarizing our local police forces. I’ve written about this as well and will link at those blogs at the end as well. Somewhere along the line, certainly hastened by 9/11 it appeared a necessity to some that are police should be turned from officers of the law into a paramilitary occupying army. There is a great distinction between an officer of the law and a paramilitary trooper. An officer of the law the way I see it, is empowered to enforce the criminal law in ways of lawful conduct that are deemed permissible via our Constitution and Statutes. Thus an officer of the law should be a citizen like the rest of us and in the performance of their jobs should respect the rights of the citizenry. A paramilitary trooper by definition perceives themselves operating in a hostile environment and so everyone in that environment that is not of their army is a potential “hostile”. This unerringly begets a certain level of brutality when dealing with the populace, because from a paramilitary perspective people are presumed guilty, until they are proven innocent. We have seen and I have documented in guest blogs that vast sums of money have come in from the Federal Government to help create paramilitary SWAT teams. Once created, the uses for these teams multiply far beyond their original purpose, because having a tool inevitably causes its usage. After the split I will discuss yet a third factor that adds to this police state mentality, but first I’d like to express the following. The issue of our country becoming a Police State should not be and is not a partisan issue. Just from the opinions of people who follow this blog and comment, we see general agreement that these police tactics violate our Constitution and our innate sense of propriety. We may not all agree on most aspects of government policy, but I would hope we can agree on the proper manner in which our law officers should enforce the peace. (more…)
We have often discussed the abusive expansion of copyright and trademark laws. This includes common phrases, symbols, and images being claimed as private property. (here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). (For a prior column, click here) This trend is being fueled not only by powerful lobbyists who sometimes seem like they control both Congress and the White House but law firms that have made this a virtual cottage industry. There are a large number of law firms on retainer to bring these actions and artists and companies that do little to limit them. The latest example was brought to light by the good people at Techdirt which posted a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) letter to Reddit informing them that they had violated copyright laws with a posting of an individual known as heisenberg69 with this image satirizing Office Depot.
We recently discussed the crackdown on sorcerers in Muslim countries. Mystics are finding themselves targeted in the United States as well in recent weeks. In New York and Florida, clairvoyants have been prosecuted for fraud and some cities and states are moving to ban soothsaying.
By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
Well, the guy who ushered in the recent government shutdown with a 21 hour filibuster sure gets it honest. Texas senator Ted Cruz, that darling of the Tea Baggers, is no longer the Harvard educated political mystery man who chides the administration at every turn and who rabble rouses what is loosely referred to as the Republican base. Seems he learned the techniques of fact-free demagoguery at daddy’s knee and not amid the ivy in Cambridge (or at Princeton as Elaine M reminds me). That’s right, the Right (as in far) Reverend Rafael Cruz has embarked on his own freewheeling magical mystery tour armed only with the credential that he sired that darling of the Rebel flag wavers. Cashing in on sonny boy’s status among some on the right, Rafael Cruz is now touring the country demanding Obama “go back to Kenya” and turning the Treaty of Tripoli* on its head claiming divine sanction in decreeing that the land of the free and home of the brave is also the exclusive dominion of the Christian. And if that isn’t a big enough stain on his vestments, the representative of the Savior commands all Tea Baggers to shinny on up to the latest polling place to vote Republican.
IRS are you listening?
Submitted By: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
Through the years this site has produced a multitude of blogs that details the excesses that occur in the intelligence community of the United States. Whether it is about spying on us, or upon other governments, the disclosures of incidents where this group of agencies has overstepped the bounds of our Constitution have become too numerous to detail. Beyond that through the years there have been many instances where elements of our Intelligence Complex have interceded in other countries, under the rubric of protection of United States interests. There are many different Agencies within our government that deal with intelligence and in the post 9/11 era the prevention of threats to our country and its citizens has become a giant self serving industry. The Agencies that we know about have supposedly fallen under the egis of the Department of Homeland Security, which should mean from an organizational chart perspective, they are under the control of the President of the United States. To get the political issue out of the way I believe that President Obama has aided and abetted policies that go against the Constitution of the United States. However, not to justify his policies, which are clearly wrong, my opinion is that it has been a very long time since any American President had control of our Intelligence Complex. My belief is not informed by any information public or private, but from what I’ve gleaned from history and from what I know about the operations of bureaucracy. This Guest Blog is not a piece of investigative journalism, but the opinion of someone who understands both the workings of human nature and the workings of bureaucracy. I hope that this piece can engender discussions about the Intelligence Complex and elicit opinions as to what service it provides in protecting this country. The issue is not one of politics per se, because the guilt of enabling our Intelligence Complex falls equally on both political parties and the powerful elements within those parties who would support any action taken by the Intelligence Complex including abrogating our Constitution. The FBI is where I’d like to begin my perspective and that might surprise some, who consider the Federal Bureau of Investigation, basically a law enforcement agency. The history of the FBI is such that it has expanded its role with each upheaval, or new popular shibboleth that garners national attention. (more…)
This week we saw how NSA Director General Keith Alexander called on the government to find a way to stop the free press from being . . . well . . . a free press and publish Snowden documents. This follows statements from Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other denouncing both Snowden and the media despite admissions (as a result of those disclosures) that the government has made a variety of violations of U.S. and international laws. Now, even as his country decries the disclosure of over monitoring of foreign leaders and citizens, British Prime Minister David Cameron has said that he intends to stop English papers like the Guardian of informing of the public of the content of these Snowden documents.
By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
American poet Stephen Dunn (bio here) reminds us that “all good poems are a victory over something.” For the folks in Rittman , Ohio (pop. 6,491) those words have a decidedly athletic context. The Rittman Indians High School football team was suffering through another miserable season at 1-7 and team morale was plummeting. Like most bad institutions there’s plenty of blame to go around but the school administration thought it had its scapegoat. Junior Defensive End Nick Andre had been tasked with composing a poem about something that made him angry. His English teacher told him anything he wrote about was fine as long as it was authentic and sincere. Not content with such weighty issues as drone strikes or government shutdowns, Nick decided to write about what he knew — the abysmal football team and allegations of nepotism and favoritism that were weighing down the squad.
Submitted by Charlton Stanley (aka Otteray Scribe), Guest Blogger
Last August, this blog had the story of Cocke County, Tennessee child support Magistrate Judge Lu Ann Ballew who arbitrarily ordered parents to change the first name of their seven month old child. Jaleesa Martin and Jawaan McCullough had decided on their child’s first name, but were not able to agree on whether his surname should be that of his mother or his father. It was Judge Ballew who ordered the parents of seven month old Messiah McCullough Martin they had to change the child’s first name and change his birth certificate. Judge Ballew opined, “The word Messiah is a title, and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person, and that one person is Jesus Christ.”
In a rambling interview with local television, Judge Ballew tried to explain her reasoning. The reporter asked her what if the child had been named Jesus, a popular name in the Spanish speaking community. The judge stammered, finally declaring that to be irrelevant. The reporter did not press the issue and ask about the use of Mohammed/Muhammed by many Islamic families. Her answer to that would have been…..interesting. Here is the interview of Magistrate Judge Lu Ann Ballew with a reporter from a local TV station. This is almost painful to watch.