Arcane law challenged by three protestors arrested for wearing masks in a demonstration

The crowd had gathered outside the Russian Consulate in New York, awaiting the sentencing in Moscow of members of the punk protest band Pussy Riot.

Some held aloft placards proclaiming their solidarity with the band members; others strummed guitars. Many in the crowd that day in August wore the same sort of brightly colored balaclavas worn by the women in the band.

The choice of apparel led to the arrest of some demonstrators, who were charged with disorderly conduct and with violating an arcane provision in the loitering law that makes it unlawful for three or more people to wear masks in public.

Now, a lawyer for three women arrested that day says he is preparing to challenge the constitutionality of the law, which he argues should not apply to peaceful protesters

Mr. Siegel said his arguments would differ from those used in previous challenges. Instead of stating that his clients needed to hide their identities with masks because the ideas they were spreading are controversial, he said, he will assert that the masks themselves were integral to the message the three women were communicating.

The ban on masks in New York State dates to 1845, when it was adopted in response to events in the Hudson Valley, where local tenant farmers disguised as American Indians had attacked and killed landlords. The law includes exceptions for masquerade parties and similar events…

The law has been litigated several times over the past decade or so, with state courts, federal courts and appeals panels seesawing back and forth over whether it can be fairly applied.

It’s nice to sit back and say the law can be applied in a couple different directions. Over time that established no useful precedent and that’s what Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence is all about. So, it comes down to First Amendment rights. If a mask of any sort is demonstrably part of your protest, you should be able to wear it.

I’ve been in some gigantic anti-war demonstrations where the Bread-and-Puppet Theatre folks supported individual puppets a dozen feet high and completely encasing their upper body and heads. Sure as hell some ambitious DA who wants to be mayor will go ahead and prosecute a puppeteer – if the law is left standing.

Secret royal veto powers over new laws exposed to public


Is this where the final say on law in the UK must reside?

A little-known power enjoyed by the Queen and Prince of Wales to alter new laws is due to be exposed after the government lost a legal battle to keep details of its application private.

The information commissioner has ruled that the Cabinet Office must publish an internal Whitehall guide to the way the senior royals are consulted before legislation is introduced to ensure it does not harm their private interests.

The application of the controversial veto was revealed by the Guardian last year and has been described by constitutional lawyers as “a royal nuclear deterrent”. Some believe it may underpin the influence Prince Charles appears to wield in Whitehall over pet issues ranging from architecture to healthcare…

Lord Berkeley, a Labour peer who was told to seek Charles’s consent on a marine navigation bill, said the commissioner’s decision was “absolutely right”. He said publication could shed light on a little-known procedure that allows the prince and the Queen “to fiddle around with bills to make sure they don’t affect their private interests”.

“People will start thinking, what the hell is going on?” he said. “We are in the 21st century, not the 18th century and it is crazy to think they are even trying to do this. The royal family should give up this special privilege and we should all obey the law of the land. Just because they have private estates, private incomes and land from several centuries ago doesn’t mean they should have the right to interfere.”

The latest crack in the edifice of secrecy around Charles’s influence on public life came after a legal scholar, John Kirkhope, asked for Whitehall’s internal manuals on consulting the royals…”As a citizen of this country I have a proper interest in ensuring the process by which laws are made should be transparent and that those who are given special privileges should be accountable. That is demonstrably not the case with regard to the Duchy of Cornwall.”

RTFA for chilling examples of Prince Charles interfering with local planning and construction permissions which didn’t meet his aesthetic requirements. Which – in one instance – resulted in the architect being fired and the whole project redrawn to the Prince’s specification.

Most Americans look at retention of the monarchy in the UK as an exercise in a nationalized Royal Disneyland. As a fiscal conservative I think the expenditure is absurd and criminal. But, it’s your boat, folks. If you want to pay off someone for the privilege of rowing it yourselves – please continue to do so.

Deliberately unvaccinated students put other children at risk


Give extra credit to Michelle Bachmann

Despite the successes of childhood immunizations, wrote Penn Nursing researcher Alison M. Buttenheim…controversy over their safety has resulted in an increasing number of parents refusing to have their children vaccinated and obtaining legally binding personal belief exemptions against vaccinations for their children.

People who cannot get immunizations because of allergies or compromised immune systems rely on “herd immunity,” the protection they get from a disease when the rest of the population is immunized or immune, explained Dr. Buttenheim. If a high number of children go intentionally unvaccinated because of personal belief exemptions, herd immunity is compromised, she said, giving a disease the chance to spread rapidly…

Vaccines are one of the great public health achievements of the last couple of centuries,” Dr. Buttenheim said. “They protect us from diseases that used to routinely kill hundreds of thousands of children in the United States and still kill hundreds of thousands globally. It’s not just important for a child to be vaccinated, it’s important at a population level to have high rates of coverage.”

In 2008, a measles outbreak spread in California. It was traced to a child whose parents had decided not to vaccinate him. He brought the disease back from Europe, infecting other children at his doctor’s office and his classmates. The boy’s parents had signed a personal belief exemption affidavit stating that some or all of the immunizations were against their beliefs, thereby allowing their son to go unvaccinated before entering kindergarten. California is one of 20 states that allow such exemptions.

Dr. Buttenheim plans to test several interventions at the school level, including new incentive structures for schools to increase adherence rates. She believes the school nurse can play a key role in encouraging parents to get children immunized. “We know everyone is heavily influenced by social norms and pressure,” she explained, and school nurses can set the expectation that children get fully vaccinated. “I think the school nurse can really act as a gatekeeper here, and reset the norm in favor of immunization.”

One of the reason we have government – as opposed to libertarian anarchy – is to protect the overwhelming majority of the population from the ignorance and foolishness of a small number of citizens. We have traffic lights and rules for 4-way stops at intersections. We don’t leave the decision-making up to who has the biggest SUV on the street.

If Dr. Buttenheim’s well-intentioned plan is as ineffectusl as I think it will be – we need to have the Feds step in and provide oversight to the sillyass states that let parents decide it’s OK to place the children of others in danger. There is no shortage of stupid regulations like this around the nation. This is one of the dumbest.

Prove genetic predisposition and American courts more likely to give a psychopath a break

Criminal psychopaths in the United States whose lawyers provide biological evidence for their brain condition are more likely to be sentenced to shorter jail terms than those who are simply said to be psychopaths…

A study published in the journal Science found that if judges were told a criminal was a psychopath, they considered it an aggravating factor. But if they also heard biological explanations for the disorder, they gave shorter sentences.

Researchers from the University of Utah who conducted the study said the findings were surprising and worrying, and external experts said they had problematic implications for how brain science might affect criminal justice in future.

“In the coming years, we are likely to find out about all kinds of biological causes of criminal behavior, so the question is, why does the law care if most behavior is biologically caused?” said Teneille Brown, an associate professor at the university’s college of law…

Several studies in recent years have found that psychopaths who have committed serious crimes like murder and rape have faulty connections in their brains which show up on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans.

These and other advances in neuroscience have led some to worry that such scientific evidence may be used increasingly in court to explain criminal actions or argue mitigating circumstances…

Brown and her colleagues said their study raised ethical questions: Whether it was right to reduce a criminal’s sentence because defective genes or brain function meant he had less self-control and ability to tell right from wrong. Or whether such evidence should be an argument for a harsher sentence because the criminal may be more likely to reoffend.

Though I have an abiding interest in the law – and justice – the topic raises new and interesting conflicts between the two. Teneille Brown’s questions put it to the test of ethical decisions that are going to have to be written into legal precedent.

So far, I haven’t an opinion. Though, having spent a few years BITD immersed in studies of the value of sociopathy in the creative arts – I recall what conclusions I came to at the time. Norman Mailer and Nietzsche were wrong.

Catholic church continues marching backwards — Archbishop calls for blasphemy law in Germany

A Catholic bishop has called for a blasphemy law in Germany, saying all religions deserved legal protection from attack in order to preserve human dignity…

“Those who injure the souls of believers with scorn and derision must be put in their place and in some cases also punished,” said Bamberg Archbishop Ludwig Schick…

He said there should be a “Law against the derision of religious values and feelings,” the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported.

Satire magazine Titanic raised the topic of blasphemy and respect for religion last month after publishing an image of Pope Benedict with a yellow stain on his cassock in reference to the Vatican leaks scandal.

The Pope took legal action which succeeded in banning further printing of the image, although copies of the magazine already published were not removed from sale. Yet his legal argument was based on his personal rights rather than any protection of religion…

…The idea of a blasphemy law was slammed by the Green Party, whose parliamentary leader Volker Beck said satire and irony could not be banned…He said that ironic or satirical statements might not be popular among those targeted, but they could not be forbidden.

“Believers do not need any greater criminal legal protection against defamation, slander and attack than other social groups,” he said.

Sharia law has no credibility in a modern educated society. I don’t care whether the theocrats are Catholic or Southern Baptist, Orthodox Jews or Muslims, providing justice by religious ideology should remain catalogued in history books as an aberration leftover from the Dark Ages.

Tennessee legislates ignorance of sex into a requirement

In a Nashville, Tennessee, high- school classroom, about a dozen students watched as a woman from an AIDS prevention group demonstrated how to apply a condom using only her mouth.

The scene in an elective class two years ago angered opponents of sex education, and so Tennessee in May adopted the nation’s first state law defining activities that legislators said lead to intercourse –mutual masturbation, fondling and oral and anal sex — and banning their “promotion” in public schools.

The law targets groups such as Planned Parenthood, which discusses those behaviors on its website and provides sex education in Tennessee schools. The National Abstinence Education Association says it’s encouraging lawmakers to adopt a similar restrictions to ensure that teenagers all across the U.S. keep their hands to themselves.

“We’ve never seen anything like this become law,” said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, which describes its mission as advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights. “It’s so weird, it’s more of a spoof than anything else.”

The Tennessee law bans teachers and outside speakers from promoting or demonstrating “gateway” activities. The term is defined as activity that involves the groin, upper thighs, buttocks, breasts and genitalia…

I suppose this could be the spot for one more discussion of politicians, priests and pundits who believe that ignorance is bliss. I hope anyone who wanders through this site is well beyond such arrogant stupidity.

Continue reading

Federal Appeals Court upholds EPA’s greenhouse gas rules

A U.S. appeals court…upheld the first-ever U.S. proposed rules governing heat-trapping greenhouse gases, clearing a path for sweeping regulations affecting vehicles, coal-burning power plants and other industrial facilities.

Handing a setback to industry and a victory to the Obama administration, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously ruled the Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that carbon dioxide is a public danger and the decision to set limits for emissions from cars and light trucks were “neither arbitrary nor capricious.”

The ruling, which addresses four separate lawsuits, upholds the underpinnings of the Obama administration’s push to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, and is a rebuke to a major push by heavy industries including electric utilities, coal miners and states like Texas to block the EPA’s path.

In the 82-page ruling, the three-judge panel also found that the EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide regulations is “unambiguously correct…”

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the court found the agency “followed both the science and the law in taking common-sense, reasonable actions to address the very real threat of climate change by limiting greenhouse gas pollution from the largest sources…”

The ruling clears the way for the EPA to proceed with first-ever rules limiting carbon dioxide emissions from newly built power plants, and to move forward with new vehicle emission standards this summer.

They “followed both the science and the law…” – two qualities that absolutely confound the Party of NO, Blue Dog Democrats and let’s don’t leave out the petty flunkies that dash about like water skaters dispensing denialist agitprop like so much pigeon poop.

This was an excellent object lesson in why American reactionaries consider the appointment of compliant legal trolls essential when Republicans are in office – and blocking the appointment of pretty much anyone else committed to law and reality the rest of the time.

Is it time to make voting mandatory in the United States?

The U.S. prides itself as the beacon of democracy, but it’s very likely no U.S. president has ever been elected by a majority of American adults.

It’s our own fault — because voter participation rates are running below 60 percent, a candidate would have to win 85 percent or more of the vote to be elected by a majority…Compulsory voting, as exists in Australia and more than two dozen other countries, would fix that problem. As William Galston of the Brookings Institution argues, “Jury duty is mandatory; why not voting?”

Mandating voting has a clear effect: It raises participation rates. Before Australia adopted compulsory voting in 1924, for example, it had turnout rates similar to those of the U.S. After voting became mandatory, participation immediately jumped from 59 percent in the election of 1922 to 91 percent in the election of 1925…

For economists, the puzzle is not why voting participation rates are so low in voluntary systems, but why they’re so high. The so-called paradox of voting…occurs because the probability that any individual voter can alter the outcome of an election is effectively zero. So if voting imposes any cost, in terms of time or hassle, a perfectly rational person would conclude it’s not worth doing. The problem is that if each person were to reach such a rational conclusion no one would vote, and the system would collapse.

Mandatory voting solves that collective action problem by requiring people to vote and punishing nonvoters with a fine. In Australia, the penalty starts small and rises significantly for those who repeatedly fail to vote.

Beyond simply raising participation, compulsory voting could alter the role of money in elections. Turn-out-the-vote efforts, often bankrolled by big-money groups, would become largely irrelevant. Negative advertising could be less effective, because a central aim of such ads is to discourage participation in the opponent’s camp…Surely sounds like the Republican/Kool Aid Party.

Politicians don’t seem to believe the dominant political science view suggesting mandatory voting would have little effect on elections, perhaps with good reason given some research suggesting a larger impact. Moving to compulsory voting would probably require a constitutional change and almost certainly would require the participation of both parties. It could be instituted only when it would not be of obvious benefit to one political party over another.

This brings us to the paradox of compulsory voting: It’s a sensible idea that could be enacted only when it would have almost no effect. In that case, some might wonder, why do it? The answer is that increased participation would make our democracy work better, in the sense of being more reflective of the population at large. And it could allow the first president in history to be elected by a majority of American adults.

The toughest part of making such a qualitative change isn’t getting it introduced. As dead in the water as are most Congressional hacks, the sense of parallel between jury duty as a civic responsibility isn’t beyond the average Democrat. The problem will be the two levels of resistance among Republicans. Those few who legitimately believe it’s somehow violating individual liberty – and the overwhelming number who fear greater participation in any election probably would benefit Democrats.

From their own narrow, class-based perspective they’re probably right. All the more reason to make popular participation mandatory.

The 1 percent’s problem — The price of inequality


Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Let’s start by laying down the baseline premise: inequality in America has been widening for dec­ades. We’re all aware of the fact. Yes, there are some on the right who deny this reality, but serious analysts across the political spectrum take it for granted. I won’t run through all the evidence here, except to say that the gap between the 1 percent and the 99 percent is vast when looked at in terms of annual income, and even vaster when looked at in terms of wealth—that is, in terms of accumulated capital and other assets. Consider the Walton family: the six heirs to the Walmart empire possess a combined wealth of some $90 billion, which is equivalent to the wealth of the entire bottom 30 percent of U.S. society…Warren Buffett put the matter correctly when he said, “There’s been class warfare going on for the last 20 years and my class has won.”

So, no: there’s little debate over the basic fact of widening inequality. The debate is over its meaning. From the right, you sometimes hear the argument made that inequality is basically a good thing: as the rich increasingly benefit, so does everyone else. This argument is false: while the rich have been growing richer, most Americans (and not just those at the bottom) have been unable to maintain their standard of living, let alone to keep pace. A typical full-time male worker receives the same income today he did a third of a century ago.

From the left, meanwhile, the widening inequality often elicits an appeal for simple justice: why should so few have so much when so many have so little? It’s not hard to see why, in a market-driven age where justice itself is a commodity to be bought and sold, some would dismiss that argument as the stuff of pious sentiment.

Put sentiment aside. There are good reasons why plutocrats should care about inequality anyway—even if they’re thinking only about themselves. The rich do not exist in a vacuum. They need a functioning society around them to sustain their position. Widely unequal societies do not function efficiently and their economies are neither stable nor sustainable. The evidence from history and from around the modern world is unequivocal: there comes a point when inequality spirals into economic dysfunction for the whole society, and when it does, even the rich pay a steep price.

That’s the introduction to a solid, informative article. An article derived from Joseph Stiglitz’s new book, The Price of Inequality. Read the whole piece by the Nobel Laureate from Gary, Indiana.

He makes his point in the article. He backs it up well in the book. I watched him on Tom Keene’s “Surveillance Midday”, last week — and watched it again over the weekend when my wife and I shared the recording off the DVR. We’re both geeks. We both have an educated understanding of economics. We both came away from his chat with Tom Keene agreeing with the first two things that need to be done by Congress to keep this nation growing and prosperous.

All the nation.

1. Reform education and bring it up to the place it used to occupy in the standards of the United States.

2. Reform our tax code and bring it back to an even-handed progressive system of taxation without the opportunity of loopholes.

And we agreed with his conclusion that this cannot be accomplished until the political reactionaries, the liars and cheats, are expelled from Congress and there is a commitment between Congress and the White House to reboot our politics and economy.

Sarkozy apparently running his campaign – in parallel to Romney?


Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

France repealed a sexual harassment law on Friday on the grounds that the definition of the crime was too vague, sparking renewed debate of an issue put into the spotlight by the arrest of one-time presidential hopeful Dominique Strauss-Kahn last year.

Some women’s groups said the decision, by France’s highest constitutional body, would leave victims without legal protection until a new law is penned…

Strauss-Kahn had already been rapped over a sexual relationship with a subordinate in 2008, who said she felt pressured to sleep with him, and French writer Tristane Banon filed a complaint after the New York case alleging he tried to assault her in 2003.

Junior civil service minister Georges Tron was forced to resign in June after two women who had worked for him filed sexual harassment complaints. One said the debate sparked by the Strauss-Kahn scandal had prompted her to break her silence.

Friday’s repeal of the law should eventually lead to clearer guidelines for judges. But the fact the measure goes into effect immediately means that all ongoing sexual harassment cases not yet ruled on in court will be thrown out.

It could be months – if not longer – before new legislation is adopted given that a new National Assembly, which would write the new law, will only be elected in June, following Sunday’s presidential election runoff…

A collective of more than a dozen feminist groups said victims had been “abandoned by the justice system…The message of impunity aimed at harassers is revolting…”

And a spokesman for man tipped to be France’s next president wrote in a statement that: “Francois Hollande, if elected, will commit to a new law on sexual harassment being written up and registered as quickly as possible in the parliamentary agenda.”

Seriously. Sarkozy claims he hasn’t much influence with the Constitutional Council – but, it was the conservative government which pushed to have the existing law evaluated. Just like here – he’s managed to antagonize half the electorate in one conservative blunder.