Skip to content

California strikes a blow for the First Amendment

That’s not something you read about a lot, since governments tend to be on the other side of thigns. But according to CNN, California has passed a law protecting your right to give poor reviews without fear of being sued.

(CNN) — Ready to rip apart that dirty restaurant with the rude service, strange-looking patty melts and lukewarm coffee? California lawmakers want to make sure you don’t get in financial, or legal, trouble because of it.

A state law signed this week by Gov. Jerry Brown makes Yelp reviews a lot safer, saying that restaurants can’t pursue legal action for customers who give them negative reviews.

The text of the law specifically states that:

(a) (1) A contract or proposed contract for the sale or lease of consumer goods or services may not include a provision waiving the consumer’s right to make any statement regarding the seller or lessor or its employees or agents, or concerning the goods or services.

This is a proactive attempt to prevent a common policy of including a contract,that you’re not allowed to give bad reviews.  It’s been most notorious for some cases found on Yelp, but it impacts every form of review.

Now in some cases this is just formalizing what already exists– absent some very unusual situations, you have a right to say whatever you want about the business and their service.  So long as it’s your opinion and/or true.  The important thing here is that defending against a lawsuit can be very expensive and this law works to put the shoe on the other foot.

Where Bill Higgins Shows He Has no Understanding of the First Amendment

14-year-olds do dumb things.  Let’s lay that out on the table to start with. In this case, a teen thought it would be funny to simulate having oral sex with a Jesus statue.   That was dumb.  But the reaction of the police and Distract Attorney Bill Higgins is not simply dumb– it is offensive to the First Amendment.  They decided to try the teen for violation of  Section 5509 of the Consolidated Statutes which states in part :

5509.  Desecration, theft or sale of venerated objects.(a)  Offense defined.--A person commits a misdemeanor of the
     second degree if he:
            (1)  intentionally desecrates any public monument or
        structure, or place of worship or burial;
            (2)  intentionally desecrates any other object of
        veneration by the public or a substantial segment thereof in
        any public place;
...
"Desecrate."  Defacing, damaging, polluting or otherwise
     physically mistreating in a way that the actor knows will
     outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or
     discover the action.

It’s important to note that this statue is likely, at least as it applies to speech and absent any other offense, unconstitutional.  It would be very unwise to hang a charge specifically on the speech aspects…but that’s exactly what Higgins has done.

Don’t take my word for it. Let’s listen to what Mr. Higgins has to say courtesy of kdvr.com:

 

Higgins told the TV station he thought it was important to taken advantage of the legislative powers given him under the rarely utilized law because of how “proud” the teen appeared to be of his actions.

“The only reason that it was done was to offend people,” Higgins said. “If you want to engage in that type of behavior, there are consequences.”

 

Read more…

Charisma News: Why Ask for an Apology?

Charisma News’ horrible column calling for genocide has been in the news recently– here’s a good accounting of it from the excellent Slacktivist blog.

Now we have heard that the article has been taken down and there is some comment about there not being an apology.

To which, I must ask: why? Why do we want an apology?

One problem with our society is the transformation of the apology into a simple formality. The murderer who up until the jury returned a guilty verdict was shouting his innocence to the hills is now “apologetic” and desires only forgiveness from his victim’s family– coincidentally just before the judge passes sentence. The man who spent years looting the accounts of those who entrusted him with his money now “apologizes” for his actions.

Apologies are easy. An apology can be a matter of a quick comment or a twitter message.

But to be meaningful, an apology should only be an outward symptom of a far more meaningful action–repentance.   Repentance is knowing that what you did was wrong, and seeking to make amends for it. The  repentant criminal seeks to pay for his wrongs because they were wrong, not because he might get a few years off.  Absent repentance, an apology is merely an attempt to get out of jail free.

And that is why I hope we don’t get an apology from Charisma.  Their actions show that they are unlikely to truly repent of the mindset that led to the publication of this odious article.   Taking it down was not repentance, it was attempting to avoid blow-back.  Repentance would mean shifting the orientation of the publication away from this odious viewpoint, not merely removing articles that proved too “out there” even for many supporters.

If they are truly repentant, then we will see it in Charisma News’ later actions.  Those actions will include an apology, but more importantly will include action.  if they are not repentant, then an apology is just a meaningless waste of words.

Do you want to know what happened in 1812?

Well, if your like a lot of people, the education you got on the war was probably pretty equal to this video…

 

 

And that’s an important point to remember– remember that there are two types of history.

 

The history that actually happened, and the history that we think happened and is thus taught in our schools.  All too often, it’s not much better than this video. 

Help the Streisand Effect Along

Over at Popehat, another Popehat signal has been launched.

 

Stephanie Yoder has found herself facing serious legal trouble.

For writing threats?  Nope.

For defauding someone?  no again.

For publishing a well researched article pointing out that Worldventures is somewhat less enticing then the company would have us believe?

 

You got it.  So, they are threatening her with legal action.  Ken White has requested pro-bono aid for her and has already requested that this story be spread far and wide– and you should.  The use of libel and defamation laws to silence valid criticism is an especially serious threat today when so many people turn to the Internet to provide others with their experiences.  They are not large businesses or individuals dependent on the advertising revenue provided by the very companies they claim to be reviewing.  But equally, they are not generally people with lawyers on retainer, making them extremely vulnerable to this type of legal extortion– say nice things about us or we sue you.  This has produced a situation where in order to protect one of the greatest features of the Internet– the free transfer of information, it is vital that we ensure that things like the Worldventures libel threats are not only smacked down, they are done so in such a way as to discourage future activity of this type. Losing a lawsuit is one thing– losing a lawsuit and finding out that your bad behavior has been widely publicized? That’s quite another thing and something that other businesses considering the same behavior will think about before they launch such a lawsuit.

 

So remember: Worldventures has chosen to use the law–or rather misuse the law to silence valid criticism.  One must ask oneself:  Why would a company do that instead of simply letting its actions speak for themselves….

 

 

“It wasn’t my fault!” Blair and the Aftermath in Iraq

Tony Blair is once against attempting to shift blame for the ongoing disaster in Iraq from the original decision to invade the nation and the utterly botched occupation that ensured. It’s possible to find a great deal to critique in Tony Blair’s claims, but one thing stands out:

 

At its simplest, the jihadist groups are never going to leave us alone. 9/11 happened for a reason. That reason and the ideology behind it have not disappeared.

 

There is of course one problem with that. 9/11 happened for a reason, but that reason was not Iraq.  Just as during the run up to war, where he  played an excellent role as Bush’s cheerleader, Tony Blair once again tries to claim that somehow what did and is happening in  Iraq was linked to 9/11.

 

It was not. Indeed, if we were to focus on nations that helped provide assistance to the 9/11 terrorists, then Saudi Arabia stands ahead of Iraq, Libya Syria and Iran.   The lie, nearly as pernicious as claims that Iran had WMD’s, helped to drive an ill-considered and poorly planned invasion that, make no mistake is one of the primary factors producing this current civil strife that is ripping Iraq apart.

 

In fact, Tony Blair’s excuses run afoul of a much greater British politicians wisdom.  Sir Winston Churchill, when speaking of war, made the following observation, based in large part upon his own experiences:

 

Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.

 

Blair and Bush sold this war against great opposition, based on their claims that it would be quick and easy.  Now that it has proven to be anything but that, he claims that the fault was not his, that things somehow would have been worse.  It appears that the lies that brought us into this conflict remain alive and well in Mr. Blair’s mind.

 

Why we should be happy about Michael Hunt’s victory?

Michael Hunt is about $215,000 richer today (less legal fees) after the LA City Council voted to settle his free speech case against the city.

 

And we should be happy about that.

 

In facts of the case are clear. Mr. Hunt (who is black) wore a KKK hood and a T-shirt bearing a racial slur to the meeting of the Department of Recreation and Parks’ Board of Commissioners. He was ejected and later cited for violating the rules of decorum.

 

But what does that mean? The fact is his protest was political in nature and did not materially impact the ability of the Council to conduct its business. This is important both in terms of the Councils own rules and what the First Amendment states.

 

The Council’s rules, according to the LA Times, state that “disorderly or boisterous conduct”   is forbidden. This is not, in and of itself, a violation of the First Amendment. The court system has long recognized that the right to free speech does not include the right to suppress other individuals’ rights via making it impossible for them to hear or be heard at public meetings.

 

But simply wearing apparel intended to spark a reaction does not rise to that level. That has been settled law for decades, even extended to high school students via Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School Districts (1968). The Council had no leg to stand upon on this decision, as the city was informed by its own attorneys and wisely decided to settle.

 

So why should we be happy? Mr. Hunt appears to be something of a gadfly, who according to the city may have done his best to be cited in order to have some legal grounds to file his suit. (That is disputed by Mr. Hunt’s attorney however, and has not been either confirmed or denied by any independent source.)

 

The reason we should be happy is that every restriction on speech lessens the value of a public meeting.  We see that in the carefully orchestrated “public” meetings in less free nations where nothing unexpected is ever seen or heard. In most cases, public decorum can become a powerful weapon in the hands of authority to suppress the speech of those who have been wronged. After all, a wronged individual is seldom concerned with decorum. Even if the current authorities have no intention of using that weapon, one cannot be so certain about future authorities.

 

Most importantly, some who say that only “relevant” speech should be allowed miss the point that the first arbitrators of “relevant” will be the same bodies that have a vested interest in keeping the meetings calm and controversy free. Even if the individual is quickly released and never charged, removing them from the chamber not only silences them, but also sends a message to everyone else in the chamber.

 

So this case, while being expensive for LA, should be seen as a win for anyone who wants a robust democracy—including people who show up wearing troubling or even outright offensive clothing.

 

 

 

Importing Europe’s Law To America?

The recent European court decision enshrining the “right to be forgotten”  has led to a certain amount of controversy. It is important to note that how this decision will be implemented will be up to no less than 28 individual national bodies.  The headaches that will produce for Google and other search engines should not be underestimated.  But for us, there is one very big problem:

 

Will Google Products offered outside of Europe be held to the same standard?

This is a serious question. After all, no matter what Google does in Spain, I can always go to Google US or Google UK and get un-redacted search results…unless of course the Spanish government holds that ALL Google search engines should comply with their demands.  While one can argue (as have many commentators) that the Spanish judgment would be unenforceable outside of Spain, they could target any presence Google has in the nation itself.

If this is the case, then we might start to see a situation where Google (And other search engines) are forced to comply with the least lenient nation they have operations in. In other words, while I do not live in Spain, I may find that my search engine has been impacted by a Spanish court’s ruling. So long as Google has any presence within Spain,it is vulnerable to this sort of legal action.

What makes it more difficult is that the natural impulse of anyone using a search engine will be to find the search engine that gives the best and most accurate results– and a search engine laboring under the need to comply with often arbitrary demands to remove this or that from their results will be far from the best.  Indeed, the least expensive choice for a search engine might be to simply automatically remove results whenever they receive a request. If a  nation’s courts were to decide that the “right to be forgotten” encompasses every iteration of the search engine– that a ruling applying to Google in Spain is also binding on Google in America the company may indeed find itself either complying with Spain’s demands in order to protect it’s investments in Spain.

This could see individuals engage in venue shopping to find the nation that is most favorable to these request.  The same thing occurred with Britain’s extremely plaintiff friendly libel laws,  leading to a robust industry in libel tourism when individuals who were not residents of Britain used British courts against other companies and individuals who had no presence in Britain.  It got so bad that the United States Congress unanimously passed the SPEECH Act to prevent the enforcement of libel judgments in America unless they were conformity with the First Amendment.   Of course, the problem is that such an act would not protect a company with a presence in another nation that might enforce a legal judgement upon it.

So, while we cannot say for certain how this new principle will play out, given that each European nation will probably come up with its own method of handling requests to be “forgotten” it is important to keep in mind that what is happening in Europe may very well impact how search engines in the United States behave.   The very nature of the internet makes it harder to separate out these kinds of decisions, meaning that this new state of affairs in Europe may very well have a major impact, not just in Europe, but America as well.

 

 

 

 

To Protect and…shoot kittens.

The shooting of several kittens in Ohio is raising a great deal of anger among residents and outside observers alike. Some of it is from cat lovers, but in other cases it is outrage from individuals who quite reasonably feel that shooting kittens in close proximity to young children, represents a lack of judgment that is inconsistent with being a police officer.  The police chief disagreed and no action is to be taken at this time.  In this case, the poor judgment of a police officer and the support of his department goes far to explain why so many people have issues with the police.

 

The question of judgment is nowhere more important than in regards to the conduct of a police officer. As one of the few groups in America who are authorized to forcibly detain others, question them and even use lethal force against other individuals, police officers must be held to the highest standards.  Errors that would be acceptable in other fields are unforgivable in a law enforcement officer precisely because the state has entrusted them with so much power.

 

Officer Bob Accorti failed to exercise good judgment. The use of a firearm is traditionally reserved for dealing with animals that may present a real threat to the safety of the officer and other bystanders.  Obviously kittens do not fall into that category.

 

Secondly, the presence of children should have made it plain that the use of a firearm on the kittens  was out of the question.  The sounds and sight of such an action would be seriously traumatizing to many young children. There may be situations where such actions are necessary, but this was not one of them.

 

But worst of all was the casual dismissal of the community’s complaint’s by the police department.  It is this attitude that has led to such distrust of many police agencies by the people. The assumption that no matter the event, the agency will never work to reign in its police officers is corrosive to the needed cooperation between the community and law enforcement agencies.

 

Or, to put it bluntly—what is the chance that any of the children who saw a police officer shoot several kittens are going to trust or be willing to give other police officers the benefit of the doubt in the future?  In this case, the poor judgment of an officer and his department have helped to prove correct the doubts so many individuals hold about America’s police agencies.

Peoria and Suppressing Speech

 

The recent case involving Jon Daniel’s arrest for a fake twitter account designed to parody Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis has become the fodder for no small number of internet jokes, mostly poking fun at the mayor.  

However, this is no laughing matter.  Three individuals were detained over constitutionally protected parody speech and may be charged for unrelated crimes involving drug possession. It should be noted, tangentially, that those charges rest upon very uncertain legal grounds, coming as they do as a result of a clearly unlawful raid and arrest.

 But more importantly, this was a clear attempt to suppress speech critical of a government official, utilizing the police power of the state.

 Jon Daniel could be dead right now because of that abuse.  Had he been sleeping and reached for a weapon—or something the police assumed was a weapon—right now we could be reading about yet another police raid gone tragically wrong.

 The protection of political speech directed at our elected officials, even harsh or parody speech is as close to absolute as it can be. Within very constrained limits, mostly involving speech that directly advocates criminal acts, we are free to criticize our government officials, even when the criticism is heated and hyperbolic.

 When an elected official attempts to suppress such speech, especially by the use of police power, he is not simply attacking a single individual; he is attacking the very bedrock upon which our right to free speech rests.

 In addition, there is the chilling effect of such speech.  Mr. Daniel’s roommates, according to the Vice reporter Justin Glawe, suffered great inconvenience.  Future satirists may find their friends reluctant to associate with them, for fear that they may also be visited by the police.  This is, in fact an effect that is well known by both the opponents and the advocates of free speech.

 Parenthetically, we should note that his “crime” (officially listed as impersonating a public official) hardly seemed to justify the invasion of his domicile and the seizure of a variety of electronic devices, including video games.  Again, we should remember that any police raid has a chance to end in tragedy—a fact that is exacerbated by the increased use of such raids for non-violent misdemeanor charges that annoy a mayor’s feudal sensibilities.

 Ultimately, Mr. Daniel’s rights were unforgivably violated by this action.  In this case, dropping the charges is not sufficient. Mayor Ardis and the entire Peoria police department should be investigated by both state and federal agencies and the people of Peoria, should remember this violation of rights and waste of the tax payers money when Mayor Ardis comes up for reelection.

 

Make A Living Writing

The political thought of Charles Gray

Why? Because Science.

Combating Stupidity Since 2012

Psyche's Circuitry

Thoughts on growing up and growing old in the digital age

Future Tense

The political thought of Charles Gray

Viv Drewa - The Owl Lady

PA/PR, Indie Author and Blogger

chrismcmullen

Writing, Publishing, and Marketing Ideas

Artistry With Words

Helping writers to spread their wings and fly

Random Thoughts

from a stranger in a strange land.

bottledworder

easy reading is damn hard writing

CONTRARY BRIN

Speculations on the Future: Science, Technology and Society

storytelling nomad

the humble musings of a nomadic writer

Charles Gray's blog of writing

Charles Gray's professional and not so professional writings