RSSCategory: Law

Citizens United revisited

October 2, 2011 | By | Reply More
Citizens United revisited

At In These Times, Joel Bleifuss sums up the damage caused by The United States Supreme Court decision of Citizen’s United:

In a political system where profit-driven corporations control both the nation’s dominant political parties and the legislative agenda, it is unlikely that any policy initiatives that disadvantage corporate interests will thrive. Citizens United creates a rocky road indeed for universal healthcare, legislation to combat climate change, a clean energy policy, an economy geared toward butter rather than guns, a tax structure that provides funding for human needs, an agricultural policy that serves family farmers, ethics legislation to regulate lobbyists, prohibitions against environmental toxins and an economy that provides a living wage to all willing workers.

. . .

And by curtailing transparency, the decision “profoundly affected the nation’s political landscape,” the Center for Responsive Politics wrote in its analysis of the November 2010 general election. Citizens United allowed nonprofit 501(c)4 and 501(c)5 organizations “to spend unlimited amounts of money running … political advertisements while not revealing their donors.” Among the center’s other findings:

• “Corporate donations are likely higher than reported, as conservative nonprofit groups spent $121 million [in the 2010 general election] without disclosing where the money came from.”

• Since the 2006 midterm elections, the percentage of spending from undisclosed donors has risen from 1 to 47 percent.

• In 2010, 72 percent of political ad dollars from outside groups would have been prohibited in 2006.

This article examines several approaches being floated for combatting the destructive effects of Citizens United, including ways of amending the United States Constitution.

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Girl Scouts hammer cookie customers who give them bad checks

October 1, 2011 | By | 3 Replies More
Girl Scouts hammer cookie customers who give them bad checks

A few years ago, I dared to touch the third rail of alleged child entrepreneurialship when I suggested that instead of buying Girl Scout cookies, people give the Girl Scouts a direct cash donation. By offering to give the little girl at the door $5 cash (while her mother dutifully stands next to her prodding her to utter the sales pitch), it would be the equivalent of buying 10 boxes of sugary cookies (I had been told that the local troop only gets 50 cents for each $4 box of cookies sold). I stirred up quite a hornet’s nest by writing that article, despite the fact that I wrote it with good intentions (I was concerned about the top-heavy high paid administration of the national Girl Scouts organization and I was cognizant that almost 100 million Americans have diabetes or pre-diabetes). Take a look at the 128 comments to that post and see the commotion yourself.

Now for another observation about the Girl Scouts. Yesterday I learned that the Girl Scouts have sued hundreds of people in Missouri courts (and presumably tens of thousands of people nationwide). The problem is that many people are handing the Girl Scouts bad checks when it comes time to pay for the cookies. Enter “Girl Scouts” in the “Litigant Name Search” at the Missouri Case Net website. You’ll find 80 pages of law suits brought in Missouri, most of them where the Girl Scouts have sued customers who allegedly gave the Girl Scouts bad checks as payment for cookies. In the City of St. Louis City alone, you’ll see ten pages of these suits on Case Net each of those pages listing eight suits.

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Justice Scalia discusses gays and the law

September 28, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More
Justice Scalia discusses gays and the law

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently gave a speech at the historically Catholic Duquesne University School of Law.  According to this article at Think Progress Justice, “Justice Antonin Scalia urged the university not to stray from a religious identity hostile to gay and lesbian students.”   That fact that Justice Scalia was recently irked by the the topic of gays reminded me of a talk he gave in St. Louis about three years ago (to the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis) where he displayed a condescending tone while mentioning gays and the law on several occasions during a single speech.

Back when I heard his St. Louis speech, it seemed to me that Justice Scalia merely had an ax to grind based on his belief that gays don’t have a protected place in the law under his pet theory of “originalism.”  This Think Progress article reminded me of his tone at the St. Louis lecture three years ago.   The comments to the Think Progress article repeatedly returned to the topic of reaction formations.  Perhaps that is unfair, because I’m sure he discusses other topics at his many lectures. There is also a fascinating literature suggesting that conservatives are susceptible to inviting disgust into their moral arsenal (and see here).  On the other hand, Scalia is one of many conservatives out there who burn considerable frustrated energy on this topic, tempting me to do some arm chair psychoanalysis. And I must say that his tone at the St. Louis lecture was permeated with condescension, arguably disgust. I would normally think armchair psychology to be inappropriate except that it seems so utterly invited in this case. Further, Scalia’s long slow burn on this topic might well be invading his analysis of the law. And he is a very powerful man, apparently with many years yet to serve on the Supreme Court bench.

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Free speech, Muslim student version

September 23, 2011 | By | Reply More
Free speech, Muslim student version

Last year, eleven Muslim students at U.C.-Irvine protested the speech by the Israeli Ambassador to the United States by shouting, “It’s a shame this university has sponsored a mass murderer like yourself.” They weren’t asked to leave like most everyone else who disrupts a speech. No, they were criminally prosecuted of “conspiracy” and “disturbing an assembly” and today they were convicted. They are each facing a sentence of up to one year in prison.

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LEAP points to new FBI report: A drug-related arrest every 19 seconds

September 19, 2011 | By | 3 Replies More
LEAP points to new FBI report: A drug-related arrest every 19 seconds

LEAP included me on a mass emailing that contains some stunning statistics:

New FBI Numbers Reveal Failure of “War on Drugs”

A new FBI report released today shows that there is a drug arrest every 19 seconds in the U.S. A group of police and judges who have been campaigning to legalize and regulate drugs pointed to the figures showing more than 1.6 million drug arrests in 2010 as evidence that the “war on drugs” is a failure that can never be won.

“Since the declaration of the ‘war on drugs’ 40 years ago we’ve arrested tens of millions of people in an effort to reduce drug use. The fact that cops had to spend time arresting another 1.6 million of our fellow citizens last year shows that it simply hasn’t worked. In the current economy we simply cannot afford to keep arresting three people every minute in the failed ‘war on drugs,'” said Neill Franklin, a retired Baltimore narcotics cop who now heads the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). “If we legalized and taxed drugs, we could not only create new revenue in addition to the money we’d save from ending the cruel policy of arresting users, but we’d make society safer by bankrupting the cartels and gangs who control the currently illegal marketplace.”

Today’s FBI report, which can be found at http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010, shows that 81.9 percent of all drug arrests in 2010 were for possession only, and 45.8 percent of all drug arrests were for possession of marijuana.

A separate Department of Justice report released last month shows that Mexican drug cartels are currently operating in more than 1,000 U.S. cities, whereas two years ago they were in 230 U.S. cities. Meanwhile, a new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report released earlier this month shows that nearly one in 10 Americans admit to regularly using illegal drugs.

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) represents police, prosecutors, judges, FBI/DEA agents and others who want to legalize and regulate drugs after fighting on the front lines of the “war on drugs” and learning firsthand that prohibition only serves to worsen addiction and violence. More info at http://www.CopsSayLegalizeDrugs.com.

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Law Enforcement Officers point out Barack Obama’s hypocrisy regarding the war on drugs

September 14, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More
Law Enforcement Officers point out Barack Obama’s hypocrisy regarding the war on drugs

You’ve got to give a lot of credit to the people at LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition). This organization consists of law enforcement officers who have come to the stark realization that the “war on drugs” is more destructive than the drugs themselves.  That means that the law enforcement officers now agree with 76% of Americans who “have come to realize that the war on drugs is a failure” (Zogby International (October 2008)).  How many law enforcement officers agree that the war on drugs is a failure?

LEAP is made up of current and former police, prosecutors, judges, FBI/DEA agents, corrections officials, military officers and others who fought on the front lines of the “war on drugs” and who know firsthand that prohibition only worsens drug addiction and illicit drug market violence. Including our civilian supporters, LEAP represents more than 40,000 people in more than 80 countries.

LEAP has now released a short brochure titled “Ending the Drug War: a Dream Deferred.” The focus is the hypocrisy of Barack Obama. Consider this comparison of how the war on drugs was treated by the man who started it, Richard Nixon, with the way it is being treated by Barack Obama (the following quote is from LEAP’s “Ending the Drug War”):

While the Nixon administration’s public messaging carefully stressed punishment, it directed resources primarily toward public health. Today, the Obama administration’s press releases emphasize public health while its funding requests are actually weighted toward punishment.

The LEAP report quite reasonably insists that actions speak louder than words, and follows the budget dollars Mr. Obama has allocated toward the use of illegal drugs versus the number of dollars used for treatment and counseling. When one considers these numbers, one can see that the Obama administration is putting a high priority on punishment, and deemphasizing treatment. When one follows the same budget dollars, one can also see that the United States is pouring gasoline on the drug war fire in Mexico:

One of the ugliest signs of the failure of the war on drugs is the wildly escalating rate of illegal drug trade murders in Mexico. Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against drug cartels shortly after taking office in late 2006, nearly 40,000 people have been killed in attacks that the media calls “drug violence,” but which are in fact the predictable turf battles that accompany the policy of prohibition. The tally of dead of course includes cartel members themselves, but an alarming number of the fallen are police officers and civilian bystanders as well as some U.S. citizens.

(See page 9 of LEAP’s well-documented report).  40,000 dead people is a lot of blood on the streets to “protect” Americans from drugs that they want to use at a time when most illegal drugs have legal equivalent available with a prescription through your local drugstore (and see here), or available without a prescription at your local tavern.

The source of the hypocrisy of Barack Obama is his admission that criminally prosecuting illegal drug users is not effective and his complementary admission that he thinks of drugs as “more of a public health problem.”

OK, Mr. President.  If you feel that way, why have you acted the opposite? Instead of calling it “the war on drugs,” it’s time to call it what it is: Prohibition. And prohibition has been proven to not work.

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Rolling Stone examines the Catholic Church’s secret sex crime files

September 12, 2011 | By | Reply More
Rolling Stone examines the Catholic Church’s secret sex crime files

The September 15, 2011 edition of Rolling Stone shines a light on the inner-workings of the leadership of the Catholic Church, centering on an ongoing criminal case in Philadelphia involving five allegedly sexual predators (for priests and a Catholic school teacher). This is a well researched and well-written article by Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

The article is filled with disturbing anecdotes and statistics. For instance,

  • The US conference of Catholic Bishops funded a study that lowered the number of clergy classified as pedophiles by redefining puberty as beginning at age 10
  • “Seminary is a form of military-style indoctrination, molding meant his think institutionally, not individually it’s like a brainwashing, almost [states a former seminarian]”
  • According to a 1990 psychological study, “only half of all priests adhere to their vows of celibacy.”
  • Another study (“The Catholic Priest in the United States: Psychological Investigations”) found “that three fourths of all American priests were psychologically and emotionally underdeveloped, or even mal-developed.” The attitudes of these grown men toward sex, the study concluded “were on par with those of teenagers or even preteens.”

Why has the cover-up of sexual predators continued on to the present? “The answer, in large part, lies in the mindset of the church is rigid hierarchy, which promotes officials who are willing to do virtually anything they’re told, so long as it’s in God’s name.”

The focus of the article is the conduct of high-ranking Catholic clergy who engaged in the now-well-known conduct of denying the criminal conduct of pedophile priests, and moving them from parish to parish, or school to school, rather than calling in the police, or at least defrocking the miscreant priests. Stir in additional misconduct such as hiding incriminating records and you understand the criminal minds of much of the leadership of the modern Catholic Church, an organization that claims moral authority while exhibiting none when it comes to the horrific conduct of many of its high-ranking leaders.

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9/12

September 12, 2011 | By | 2 Replies More
9/12

I didn’t write anything for yesterday’s commemoration.  Many others, most far better suited to memorializing the day, said a great deal.  My paltry mutterings would add little to what is, really, a personal day for most of us.  Like all the big anniversary events, the “where were you when” aspect makes it personal and maybe that’s the most important part, I don’t know.

Instead it occurred to me to say something about the element of the disaster that puzzles most of us, even while most of us exhibit the very trait that disturbs us deeply in this context.  One of the most common questions asked at the time and still today is in the top 10 is: how could those men do that?

Meaning, of course, how could they abandon what we consider personal conscience and common humanity to perpetrate horrible destruction at the cost of their own lives.

The simple answer is also the most complex:  they were following a leader.

I’m going to string together what may seem unrelated observations now to make a larger point and I will try to corral it all together by the end to bring it to that point.

Firstly, with regards to the military, there are clear-cut lines of obligation set forth, the chief one being a soldier’s oath to defend the constitution.  There is a code of conduct consistent with that and we have seen many instances where an officer has elected to disobey orders he or she deems illegal or immoral.  There is a tradition of assuming that not only does a soldier have a right to act upon conscience, but that there is an institutional duty to back that right up.  The purpose of making the oath one to the constitution (rather than to, say, the president or even to congress) first is to take the personal loyalty issue out of the equation.

To underline this a bit more, a bit of history.  The German army prior to WWII was similarly obligated to the state.  German soldiers gave an oath to protect Germany and obey its laws.  Hitler changed that, making it an oath to him, personally, the Fuhrer.  (He left in place a rule explicitly obligating the German soldier to disobey illegal or immoral orders.)

Unfortunately, human nature is not so geared that people find it particularly easy to dedicate themselves to an abstract without there also being a person representing it.  (We see this often in small ways, especially politically, when someone who has been advocating what is on its own a good idea suddenly comes under a cloud of suspicion.  Not only do people remove their support of that person but the idea is tainted as well.  People have difficulty separating out the idea from the person.  The reverse is less common, that a bad idea taints a popular leader.)  Dedicating yourself to supporting the constitution sounds simple in a civics class, but in real life people tend to follow people.  (Consider the case of Ollie North, whose dedication to Reagan trumped his legal responsibility to uphold the constitution and its legally binding requirement that he obey congress.)

[More . . . ]

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Dick Cheney’s crime stories

September 3, 2011 | By | Reply More
Dick Cheney’s crime stories

Medea Benjamin at Common Cause argues that Dick Cheney’s new book, In My; Time, should be sold in the “Crime” section of bookstores. Here’s her first two reasons (of ten):

1. Cheney lied; Iraqis and U.S. soldiers died. As Vice President, Cheney lied about (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s (nonexistent) ties to the 9/11 attack as a way to justify a war with a country that never attacked us. Thanks to Cheney and company, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and over 4,000 American soldiers perished in a war that should never have been fought.

2. Committing War Crimes in Iraq. During the course of the Iraq war, the Bush/Cheney administration violated the Geneva Conventions by targeting civilians, journalists, hospitals, and ambulances, and using illegal weapons, including white phosphorous, depleted uranium, and a new type of napalm.

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