Sunday, November 30, 2014

Important U.S. Supreme Court case on violent threats over the internet

The U.S. Supreme Court will shortly hear a very important case about threats over the internet.  After making numerous violent threats over the internet directed at his estranged wife.
“A jury convicted Elonis, and he spent more than three years in prison. On December 1, the Supreme Court will hear Elonis’s First Amendment challenge to his conviction — the first time the justices have considered limits for speech on social media. For decades, the court has essentially said that ‘'true threats'’ are an exception to the rule against criminalizing speech. These threats do not have to be carried out — or even be intended to be carried out — to be considered harmful. Bans against threats may be enacted, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in 2003, to protect people ‘'from the fear of violence'’ and ‘'from the disruption that fear engenders.'’ Current legal thinking is that threats do damage on their own.
Elonis, however, claims that he didn’t make a true threat, because he didn’t mean it. ‘'I would never hurt my wife,'’ he told the jury. ‘'I never intended to threaten anyone. This is for me. This is therapeutic.'’ Talking about the loss of his wife, he continued, ‘'helps me to deal with the pain.'’ He had copied the Whitest Kids U’ Know, along with the rapper Eminem, to try his hand at art and parody. Tara said she knew her husband had borrowed some of his words, but they still scared her. ‘'I felt like I was being stalked,” she said in court. ‘'I felt extremely afraid for mine and my children’s and my family’s lives.'’
The central question for the Supreme Court will be whose point of view — the speaker’s, or the listener’s — matters. The jury was instructed to convict Anthony Elonis if it was reasonable for him to see that Tara would interpret his posts as a serious expression of intent to harm her. The court could uphold the standard, or it could require that jurors be asked to convict only if they believe the speaker truly intended to threaten harm. In essence, the court will have to decide what matters more: one person’s freedom to express violent rage, or another person’s freedom to live without the burden of fear?
The legal issue is connected to a larger question: how to deal with the frequent claim that online speech is a special form of playacting, in which a threat is as unreal as an attack on an avatar in World of Warcraft. Gilberto Valle — known as the Cannibal Cop for fetish chat-room messages in which he talked of capturing, cooking and eating specific women — persuaded a judge to overturn his conviction by saying he was just expressing a dark fantasy. In the ongoing ‘'GamerGate'’ campaign, a faction of video-game enthusiasts tweeted death threats to women who had criticized misogyny in video-game culture. When a few of the women felt scared and left their homes, some gamers scoffed, dismissing the threats as ephemeral.”
For a change, I’m siding with the government on this one.  The recipient's right to be free of threats that look credible to him or her, should trump the poster’s right to “express violent rage” in a fashion that could cause the recipient to live in fear.  The internet is already out of control.  The Court needs to help impose some controls on speech that is not constitutionally protected.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

CA gun stores challenge state law banning handgun ads.

IMHO, this law violates the First Amendment.  Political correctness of any strip is a danger to First Amendment freedoms.

Another Second Amendment victory

Although the original pro-second decision was handed down in March (see post below), the procedural wait seems to be over.  There is no one left on the losers side to appeal. Hopefully the trend of overruling licensing laws which require the applicant to show a specific need will continue.  I wholeheartedly endorse this decision.
Thanks to John Hughes for the link.

Who "started" the Civil War? The debates continue.

Rather than post comments on comments by readers, I will be posting  my side of the debate on Lincoln, state's rights, role of slavery, northern aggression, etc. re the civil war. I hope the chronology below make sense. I welcome comments. The following is from Wikipedia:

"South Carolina did more to advance nullification and secession than any other Southern state. South Carolina adopted the "Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union" on December 24, 1860. It argued for states' rights for slave owners in the South, but contained a complaint about states' rights in the North in the form of opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act, claiming that Northern states were not fulfilling their federal obligations under the Constitution.

Secession winter

Before Lincoln took office, seven states had declared their secession from the Union. They established a Southern government, the Confederate States of America on February 4, 1861.[98] They took control of federal forts and other properties within their boundaries with little resistance from outgoing President James Buchanan, whose term ended on March 4, 186



:May 6 1861: The  Congress  of the secessionist Confederate States of America recognizes that a state of war exists between the CSA  and the United States of America. However, the "war" had already begun, at least as early as Jan. 1861 with numerous unauthorized acts by Secessionist.

Also from Wikipedia:
May 1861 in detail

May 1st: Confederate troops were sent to seize Harpers Ferry.


May 3rd: Lincoln called for 42,000 men to volunteer for three years service in the Federal Army. He called for 18,000 men to volunteer for the Federal Navy for three years. The head of the Federal Army, General Winfield Scott, announced his ‘Anaconda Plan’. This was a plan to attack down the length of the River Mississippi to cut in two the Confederacy. Scott envisaged two main theatres of war – the Eastern and the Western. He believed that the Union had the industrial strength to overpower the Confederacy. Scott believed that the success of the naval blockade was vital in cutting off any form of foreign help to the Confederacy. On the same day, the government in Washington DC protested about an “unofficial” meeting held between the British Foreign Minister and Southern commissioners who were attempting to get international recognition for the Confederacy.


May 6th: Jefferson Davis approved a bill from the Confederate Congress that confirmed that a state of war existed between the Confederacy and the Union. Arkansas announced that it had voted to secede from the Union. Only one out of seventy men in the state legislature voted to remain in the Union.


May 7th: Tennessee formed an alliance with the Confederacy. While this was not an official secession from the Union, it was viewed as such by both sides.


May 9th: The Union gunboat ‘Yankee’ exchanged shots with Confederate guns on Gloucester Point, Virginia. The Federal Naval Academy was moved north from Annapolis, due to the uncertain nature of Maryland’s allegiance.


May 10th: The Confederacy announced its intention to buy Ironclads from Great Britain.

Fort Sumter is viewed by many historians as the beginning of the war.  Who fired the first shots there?  Guess Who?


Was Lincoln supposed to follow Clayton Williams advice on rape: "Just lay back and enjoy it"?May 1861

Why the indictement against Rick Perry legally must be dismissed

 I am not a fan of  Texas governor Rick Perry, but as I posted a few weeks ago, the indictments should be dismissed.  For more detail see this brief filed by a group of constitutional and criminal law scholars,  (including one of my favorites, left-leaning Alan Deshowitz), most of whom are not from Texas.  As the brief states,

"Amici are an ideologically diverse coalition of experts in the fields of constitutional and criminal law—including former judges, solicitors general, prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers, constitutional litigators, and professors on both sides of the aisle. They represent virtually the entire political spectrum and have no personal or political stake in this case. They submit this brief for one simple reason: They are committed to the rule of law, and do not wish to see the law tarnished or distorted for purely partisan political purposes."   For a little less legalese, see also this piece by a well-respect California law professor.


 Also see this by a well-respected law professor from California.

Feds expand undercover operations

In recent years, a variety of federal agencies have expanded the use of undercover agents.  It's not just limited to anti-terrorism cases.  Use of such agents is nothing new and are certainly justified in many cases, but these operations always pose risks to corruption, civil rights violations, etc.  Sucn operations also often involve paid and unpaid informants who pose similar risks.  Effective supervision is one of the keys to preventing abuses.

Non-virgin females need not apply

Female police recruits  in Indonesia are physically tested to assure that they meet the requirement of virginity.  Outrageous!

Monday, November 17, 2014

We need better Inspectors Generals, Monitors, etc. to fight ripoffs of federal programs

The history of federal programs is one of unending, rip offs of huge amounts to dollars.  Here's a recent example.  I guess you could say this disgusting particular example is one  of a "rags-to-riches, "America is the land of opportunity" stories
Certainly, Congress must know that million-dollar ripoffs are SOP.  Why can't the write legislation or do something to deal with this problem.  Of course many agencies have "inspector generals."  Why can't they stop it.  First, many are political hacks who don' care.  Second, some  IG's are part of the problem.  See this example.  Although cleared of some of the charges, it's obvious his focus was not on his job.  Looks like he was too busy, among other things, of using agency resources to help he and his wife obtain graduate degrees. 

IG's cannot work unless we stop giving out these jobs are patronage for political hacks.  I don't know what the answer is, but perhaps some independent commission, composed of the high quality, knowledgeable people are of the highest quality make sure they appoint IG's with similar qualifications.

College students turning to ADHD Drugs

Unless you are from Mars, you are probably aware of the dismal state of education in the country--from pre-K through grad schools.  The latest scourge is desperate college students turning to ADHD drugs to help then get ready for tests.  Unlike this author, I blame both the students and the educational system.

Ferguson MO grand jury being very thorough.

As you might expect, the state grand jury hearing the allegations against a white officer, Darrren Wilson, who shot and killed an unarmed 18 year old African American (Michael Brown), is being nothing but thorough.  Among a couple of the main points from the NYT:
"Routinely, grand juries are virtual rubber stamps for prosecutors, approving the proposed indictments after hearing from a few witnesses and getting the bare outlines of the incriminating evidence. . .
In another highly unusual step, Officer Wilson himself testified before the grand jury in September, for four hours and, per court rules, without a defense lawyer present."   They should be announcing their decision shortly.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

TIH: Nov. 13

According to the Dallas Morning  News [blogger's comments in parens]
Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis was born in Louisville, Ky.
The Supreme Court struck down laws calling for racial segregation on public buses.
President Bill Clinton agreed to pay Paula Jones $850,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit.  [some morons still view this guy as a great Pres.]
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore was thrown off the bench by a judicial ethics panel after refusing to remove a granite Ten Commandments monument from the state courthouse.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced plans to try professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others in civilian court in New York City. (The Obama administration later backed off the plan.)


Monday, November 10, 2014

Arizona voters approve anit-Fed proposition

Reflecting disapproval of federal border and immigration control and other unpopular legislation, voters in Arizona approved a state constitutional amendment that would allow the state to withhold money and staffing in carrying out any program the legislature or voters deem unconstitutional.  I understand the frustration, but ultimately, the  federal courts will decided what is unconstitutional or not.  Of course, this legislation provides the basis for litigation in each case.  It raises interesting issues of state sovereignty, nullification, federalism, etc.  See the article for more detail, background and history of similar proposals.  Obama's departure in 2016 and Republicans now taking over both Houses of Congress may eventually (and for the short term at least)  lessen use of this  state constitutional amendment.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Washington voters expand firearms background checks.

Washington state voters approved an initiative broadly expanding background checks for firearms transfers.  My  biggest concern is that it covers transfers between private individuals, including gifts.  As usual, the law abiding, who are not the problem, will comply.  Those who are the problem will not.  Too much of the gun-control movement is emotional knee-jerking. A more pro-gun owner amendment was defeated.   Most states and cities have expanded gun rights.   It looks like our national schizophrenia about the Second Amendment and gun ownership is alive and well.

Latest from Ferguson, Mo. Police on high alert

Thus far, the feds have indicated that there is not enough evidence to bring federal charges against the officer involved.  Protests continue and law enforcement is preparing for the possibility of new riots if the officer is not indicted. 

"Dark Side" of the Web raided

Until a few months ago, I did  not know the "Dark Side,"( where illegal goods and services are sold on sites that hide  their IP address)  existed.  Read the full story of the international law enforcement effort from the NYT.

Supreme Court to hear new challenge to Obamacare

The Supreme Court accepted a case on "Obamacare" for it's new term which just began last month.  This is not a constitutional case, but one of statutory interpretation.  However, if the government loses there will need to be a quick amendment in the law to fix the problem.  With Repubs dominating both houses of Congress that may or may not happen.  I opposed Obamacare on constitutional grounds.  I can live with it on policy grounds now that it is underway and billions have been spent and citizens have started to rely on it.  I only wish the states had formed compacts or their own programs.  The case is a close one, but I think the proper legal result on statutory interpretation grounds is a victory for the government.  Traditionally, the Supreme Court has felt free to take more liberties with interpreting statutes than lower courts might.  According to the NYT (see link)

"The central question in the case, King v. Burwell, No. 14-114, is what to make of a provision in the law limiting subsidies to “an exchange established by the state.” (If states do not establish their own exchanges, the health care law requires the federal government to run them instead.)
The challengers say the provision means that only people in states with their own exchanges can get subsidies. Congress made the distinction, they say, to encourage states to participate.
But the Internal Revenue Service has issued a regulation saying subsidies are allowed whether the exchange is run by a state or by the federal government. The challengers say that regulation is at odds with the law.
In response, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. told the justices that the I.R.S. interpretation was correct, while the one offered by the challengers was “contrary to the act’s text and structure and would render the act unrecognizable to the Congress that passed it.”

Friday, November 07, 2014

Libertarian magazine, "Reason," lists 45 enemies of freedom.

Reason is a libertarian magazine, and lists its 45 worst enemies of freedom since 1968.  Note that both left- and right-wingers are included.

Pro-gun owner controls approved in Washington.

Washington state  is moving toward greater background check controls after voter's approve the initiative. My biggest concern  is that it covers private transfers between unlicensed individuals including gifts.  The article highlight liberal hypocrisy about the influence of big money on elections.  Their attitude is "Citizens United and other First Amendment limits on campaign funding are awful except when we win."  Watch for initiatives in other states as the controllers push this method of challenging Second Amendment rights.

"Progressives who get angry at the notion of big money manipulating the electorate will probably not be alarmed to note that, with the NRA choosing to toss in only around a half a million, that Washington's initiative had pro voices outspending anti enormously—Ballotpedia has pro forces spending over $10 million, and anti only around $600,000. Enemy of all freedoms Michael Bloomberg gave $50 million overall to one of the groups pushing this initiative, "Everytown for Gun Safety." (Big donors for 594 also included Bill and Melinda Gates to the tune of a million, and Paul Allen to the tune of a half million.)"

5 gun rights cases to watch

Lets hope at least one of these cases making their way up the court system reach the Supreme Court.

Will "Big Marijuana" become the next "Big Tobacco?"

Three more states have legalized recreational marijuana.  It will be on additional state ballots in the future.  As indicated in a post below, the health and market risks of these moves may be underappreciated.  The libertarian in me applauds the move.  My cautious libertarianism gives me doubt.  Although the analogy may not be appropriate, if you deplore what big tobacco did in this country, what will "big marijuana" do?

Same-sex marriage decision trend hits a roadblock.

After a long string of court victories voiding bans on same sex-marriage, opponents finally won a U.S. Court of Appeals victory involving  4 states.  The inconsistencies between different U.S. Courts of Appeals will probably trigger a Supreme Court review of the issue.

Unusual police killing.

A deputy allegedly intentionally shot another deputy after personal dispute.  I have never seen any statistic anywhere on this type of homicide. I would guess it's extremely rare.

Democracy works, voters make wise choice in Dallas DA contest

Although I would never abandon our basic system, the quality of people voters elected and re-elect causes frequent despair.  However, sometimes voters do make the right decision.

"Republican Susan Hawk defeated Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins on Tuesday, ending the historic eight-year tenure of the state’s first black district attorney.
Her win gives the GOP its first countywide victory in 10 years and derails one of the state’s most promising leaders, a man who rose to stardom but fell victim to his own miscalculations.
Hawk becomes the first woman elected district attorney in Dallas County."

Why is this a big deal?  In spite of wonderful efforts to exonerate the innocent, Watkins revealed himself to be seriously ethically challenged.  Voters ignored the Democratic party machine and straight ticket voting to oust a scandal-ridden D.A.
See this editorial from the Dallas Morning News.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Concerns about legalizing recreational marijuana

As a cautious libertarian I was cautiously pleased and optimistic about Colorado and Washington legalizing recreational use of marijuana for adults.  These two excerpts from the NYT raise two big issues about the wisdom of those moves:  First, the black market:

"Zach spends hundreds of dollars on smoking devices. But he has a side income. This evening’s session was preceded by visits to three medical marijuana dispensaries, where, using his state-issued card, he bought pot products to sell to friends at a markup. “Runners” — campus argot, as in running around buying for others — are an open secret on campus."
"Zach takes a seat on his overstuffed sectional and tells how it happened: His first day living on campus, a sophomore had taken him to a dispensary for a pizza with marijuana baked in. He asked how he could get his own card, and friends coached him on telling a doctor about anxiety, nausea or back pain. “I just said I had a bike accident when I was younger, and that caused lower back pain, which caused nausea and that caused anxiety,” he recalls. “I was afraid it wouldn’t happen, so I just got all three knocked out.” He presented a bill mailed to his dorm as proof he was a state resident, which he wasn’t, and received a card allowing him to access medical marijuana immediately, two ounces at a time.
Some of Zach’s clients are under 21 and cannot buy recreational cannabis legally. But others are older students who simply don’t want to pay the hefty tax — three times that levied on medical marijuana. So despite the abundance of recreational cannabis products since the first retail shops opened in January, there is still a vibrant black market for medical marijuana, which has been legal in Colorado since 2001 with a doctor’s recommendation.

Lack of faith and trust in government erodes legitimacy of our constitutional system

Lack of faith and trust in government weakens the legitimacy of our system and poses serious threats to our constitutional system of government. This is nothing new, but it has never been so obvious before.  When will voters wise up and do something?  Let's hope it never gets too late.

Learned something new about genetics

Learned something about genetics I did not expect from this excellent article on mental illness:

"In numerous laboratory studies, genes that control cortisol are found to be directly altered by the recurrent stress of unexpected maternal separations, resulting in “epigenetic” modifications to specific genes that are involved with the cortisol system. These modifications result in lifelong overactivity of the stress-response system. This presents a great risk of helplessness and despair in the offspring and measurable distortions in the growth of brain structures. And it doesn’t stop with that generation. The modification of the gene is passed on through several generations — even when those later generations didn’t experience the traumatic events themselves."

Did you know this could happen?

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Maine nurse victorious over excessive quarantine

A female nurse who treated Ebola patients in Africa and refused to undergo a draconian quarantine won a court decision easing the restrictions.  Political panic seemed to be overcoming the medical experts in the U.S.  We should be thankful for a judiciary which is willing to stand up to the politicians.

Setting up the next housing and financial crash?

Lower mortgage standards were a cause of the housing and financial crisis 7 years ago.  Federal regulators appear to be setting us up for a possible repeat.  What is wrong with these people?

NYC pays $2.25 million to settle suit over death of jail inmate

The family of a homeless veteran who died in a searing hot cell at Rikers island will receive $ 2.25 million in an out-of-court settlement.  Rikers has been a disaster for decades.

Albuquerque reaches settlement with DOJ over excessive force by police

The  City of Albuquerque has reached a settlement with the U.S. Dept. of Justice over excessive use of force by the PD.  The DOJ found a pattern of excessive force.  An independent monitor will oversee reforms.