Tag Archives: law

Rays of Tangible Hope

The lingering questions: will there be lessons learned. Will there be change?

The lingering questions: will there be lessons learned. Will there be change?

It’s far too early into the aftermath of the Newtown shootings to sit back and honestly believe that real tangible good things will come from this – things beyond well wishes, prayers, donations, hugs, and hope. Proclamations of this being a matter of chance and therefore unpreventable notwithstanding, it is possible to lower the chance and frequency of not just major acts of unspeakable violence but of the everyday substandards that we as a society either accept or feel powerless to stop.

Societal change isn’t nearly as scary, draconian, or dystopian as it can sound if left to the voices of the afraid and ill-informed. A crime as horrific as a mass shooting – whether the number of causalities numbers 2, 27, or 100, is still the end-result of a long game of cause and effect. It would be foolish to suggest that the government – or anyone, really – could possibly control every aspect of every cause to completely prevent the deranged from becoming so, but there are areas that can be positively influenced.

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For Whom There Are Never Enough Bullets

Mourners lay flowers at the site of the Sandy Hook shooting.

Mourners lay flowers at the site of the Sandy Hook shooting.

If there has been one saving grace in terms of the normally toxic political discourse emanating from Washington, it is that during this latest mass shooting tragedy the loud and obnoxious debate was not taken directly to the Sunday morning talk show circuit. Not the one this past weekend, anyhow – there are plenty of Sundays in the future to resume plowing through the mud.

There is reasoning for a lack of obnoxious debate at the has-a-job-as-a-for-real-politician level. Sadly it does not rest on as high of a moral ground as wanting to be above the fray, or preventing a fray from occurring in the first place. It was because – surprisingly enough – no one from the lets-have-more-guns side really wanted to talk about it.

Don’t worry though, the unprofessional are here to save the day.

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Calling All Adults to the Room

Pictured, a Bushmaster M4A3 rifle. The XM-15 variant was used to carry out the Newtown school shooting. The weapon is typically used by police & military in some 60 countries.

Pictured, a Bushmaster M4A3 rifle. The XM-15 variant was used to carry out the Newtown school shooting. The weapon is typically used by police & military in some 60 countries.

“Guns don’t kill people, people do.”

In the abstract, sure. Guns are not living things. They are unable to sprout legs, stand up, walk toward someone, discharge their clip, and kill. It does require a human being to pull the trigger somewhere in there, so clearly the lifeless object in the human’s hand is free from any and all blame. It is from this point of view that our society completely free from security and laws has been birthed – since nothing causes harm to other people other than another human, we have seen our civilization flourish under a centuries-long policy of never regulating anything, ever.

It simply must be that way, because the only alternative would be to admit that firearms stand in a league of their own in how they are discussed and approached compared to most other dangerous aspects of society.

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Egypt’s Revolution in Doubt: President Morsi all but declares Self Dictator

Egypt has been plunged into political crisis with President Morsi all but crowning himself dictator as his supporters block the country's high court from challenging his new draft constitution.

Egypt has been plunged into political crisis with President Morsi all but crowning himself dictator as his supporters block the country’s high court from challenging his new draft constitution.

On the 21st of November, Egypt was striding onto the world stage with a bit of new goodwill capital – the props earned with helping to broker a ceasefire between the latest flare up between Israel and the Gaza Strip. As it turns out, there was just a bit more going on in Egypt apart from trying to broker a peace between warring neighbors. There was the threat, for a few hours, that dramatic happenings from the Middle East might calm down for a few hours.

As the sun rose on the 22nd, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi pivoted to domestic issues. Topping his list was a decree which effectively banned any significant type of resistance to his future decrees, laws, or decisions. The country’s top court was stripped of the power to dissolve the legislation as it tries to draw up a new constitution. With this decree, Mr. Morsi effectively crowned himself as Egypt’s new dictator, leaving the country’s opposition very little recourse in standing in his way.

With a legislative branch dominated by his party & allies, and courts nullified from challenging him, Mr. Morsi is on a path to personally shape the next phase of Egyptian politics, with potentially significant negative effects for the rights of minorities and women.

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Colorado Voters Decide to Tackle the Modern Prohibition

Colorado voters approved an aggressive marijuana decriminalization bill on election day. (Photo: flickr.com / Ian Sane)

Colorado voters approved an aggressive marijuana decriminalization bill on election day. (Photo: flickr.com / Ian Sane)

On election night, the voters of Colorado made a choice to pursue the most aggressive marijuana legalization policy in the history of the modern United States. By a vote of 54.92 – 45.08, Colorado could wind up with a more lenient marijuana policy than The Netherlands, “coffee shops” and all. The new standard pushed for is quite succinctly summed up by one of the leading groups behind the pro-legalization movement: Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

Considering movements toward medical marijuana have been crushed by the federal government in recent years, most notably in California, the question because exactly what – if anything – can possibly change, and will this really make a difference in the months and years to come.

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Pussy Riot Verdict Another Boot to Face For Russia’s Fledgling Freedom of Speech

Three members of Russian punk group Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison last week for protesting the Russian Orthodox Church and President Vladimir Putin in a church.

Three members of Russian punk group Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison last week for protesting the Russian Orthodox Church and President Vladimir Putin in a church.

Even though the 2012 election had long since been a foregone conclusion to anyone with a basic understanding of the facts on the ground, there was still a fair deal of resistance to the inevitability of the soon-to-be reelection of Vladimir Putin. In addition to the ability to vote against Mr. Putin and participate in (the few remaining legal) opposition rallies, there were some off-the-beaten-path protests. One of the more notable ones came on the 21st of February, when a female punk rock group called Pussy Riot showed up at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour church in Moscow. After making the sign of the cross, they began to perform the song “Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away” as cameras rolled – the video intended for a music video. They were quickly whisked away by guards.

On the 3rd of March, the day before the election, two of the group’s members were arrested and charged with hooliganism. With the election of Mr. Putin sowed up in a total demolishing of the opposition the next day (63.6% for Mr. Putin, 17.18% for the next closest), the Russian legal system moved forward with making sure that the message was heard loud and clear: dissent against the established order will not be tolerated. A third member of the group was arrested on the 16th. The short trial began on the 30th of July and by the 17th of August the verdict was handed down – guilty, with two years imprisonment up next. The presiding judge, Judge Syrova, announced the verdict with this full-throated announcement that the not-state-religion (of which its leader strongly endorses Mr. Putin) trumps any freedom of speech concerns:

The Court considers that social justice and prevention of further possible crimes can only be achieved by restricting the defendants’ freedom and real imprisonment,” Judge Syrova said.

“By their actions, Samutsevich, Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina seriously disrupted public order and the day-to-day running of the Cathedral. They showed blatant disrespect to church-goers and workers, and in doing so gravely offended their religious sensibilities.”

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Did JPMorgan Chase Manipulate Electricity Prices?

JPMorgan Chase may have been involved in the manipulation of electricity prices in California and the Midwestern United States.

JPMorgan Chase may have been involved in the manipulation of electricity prices in California and the Midwestern United States.

It’s been a banner couple of weeks for the folks over at JPMorgan Chase. Aside from the chance that they could end up in the circular firing squad over the Libor scandal, there was the bit about a “trade gone bad” costing the company $5.9 billion in the last quarter, it has been reveled over the past couple of weeks that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is taking a look into whether the bank manipulated electricity rates in their favor in the western and Midwestern United States over a period of years.

The electricity investigation involves whether JPMorgan’s bidding strategies extracted “inflated” or “excessive” payments from two wholesale power markets serving California and several Midwest states. The bank’s commodities business owns or has rights to output from several electric generators.

The result of such inflated or excessive payments would likely be passed along to the customers in the areas served by those markets. It’s the most efficient form of trickle down economics there is!

If this all has a twinge of familiarity it’s because a touch more than a decade ago, a company from Houston, TX, by the name of Enron was caught an energy price manipulation scheme of its own. The scandal eventually cost the company it’s existence, investors billions of dollars, and the CEO (among others) his freedom. While it does not appear the crimes of JPMorgan are anywhere near as egregious, it does raise a “really, you’re going to do that?” eyebrow that is probably both morally justified by the rest of us and looked down at disdainfully by some of the less-than-moral members of the trading markets – few as they are among the industry.

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For Some Reason The Voting Rights Act Is Being Challenged In Court

President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For some reason 47 years later there's still some who don't think this matter is quite settled.

President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For some reason 47 years later there’s still some who don’t think this matter is quite settled.

With a blatant disregard for the year we are all currently living in, the 1965 Voting Rights Act seems destined on a path toward the Supreme Court. The state of Texas is bringing the challenge to the 47 year old law that had to spell out voting rights for minorities very clearly and in terms everyone could understand, since the message was apparently missed by the slightly older 15th Amendment (1870). Texas will be challenging the law in 25 hours of arguments set to transpire over the course of this week at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Their rationale for fighting this case was the March striking down of a passed law from 2011 in that state which required all persons intending to vote in an election to present photographic identification before being allowed to vote.

The Obama Administration challenged the Texas law on the grounds that it was unfair to minority voters – which it is. It’s not unfair to just the minority voters of course, but anyone who doesn’t meet the requirements of having a drivers license, state ID, or passport on hand – so one can also add in elderly people and students to the broad based groups of individuals potentially effected by this law. While the elderly would tend to lean more conservative, nearly every other group of people effected by this law would tend to vote and lean left – which highlights the political perversion of voters rights and, by extension, the originally very bipartisan Voting Rights Act.

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SCOTUS Delivers Shock Decision, Upholds President Obama’s Healthcare Law 5 – 4

The Affordable Care Act has survived what should be the biggest legal challenge it will ever face - a 5-4 decision in support from the Supreme Court.

The Affordable Care Act has survived (mostly) what should be the biggest legal challenge it will ever face – a 5-4 decision in support from the Supreme Court.

In perhaps what will go down as one of the biggest decisions in the 2010s decade, the Supreme Court of the United States unexpectedly sided with the Obama Administration in support of the Affordable Choice Act – ACA (or Obamacare, if you must… Romneycare if you’re even worse). At least it mostly did. The 5 – 4 decision was not swayed by the expected swing vote of Justice Kennedy, but instead by the Chief Justice himself John Roberts. This is notable as typically Chief Justices do not put themselves out there as the swing vote.

What can be described as a massive victory for the Obama Administration comes with a gigantic asterisk. While the law was mostly upheld, the individual mandate was not upheld under the Commerce Clause (Congressional power to regulate commerce between the states) upon which the case was originally made, but instead as being within the power of the Congress to tax. The court stated:

…it is abundantly clear the Constitution does not guarantee that individuals may avoid taxation through inactivity. A capitation, after all, is a tax that everyone must pay simply for existing, and capitations are expressly contemplated by the Constitution. The Court today holds that our Constitution protects us from federal regulation under the Commerce Clause so long as we abstain from the regulated activity. But from its creation, the Constitution has made no such promise with respect to taxes.

While having no immediate effect on the law, as SCOTUS ruled in favor, this distinction does have the future effect of making the path to overturning easier in theory. Only requiring 51 votes in the Senate to end a tax, a Republican hold of the House, capturing of the Senate, and victory by Mr. Romney in the fall would put ACA right back in the spotlight – and probably straight for the firing squad. A victory by Mr. Obama in November and/or a Democratic hold of the Senate would effectively shelve any talk of icing this law until 2014 at the earliest – in the event of a hold by Mr. Obama probably not until 2016.

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PSU Trial Day 1: Sandusky Paid $60/week hush money for molestation rights (and other terrible details)

Jerry Sandusky, facing 52 counts of sexual abuse, arrives for day 1 of his trial on Monday.

Jerry Sandusky, facing 52 counts of sexual abuse, arrives for day 1 of his trial on Monday.

The trial for perhaps the worst scandal & cover up in the history of American institutions of higher learning roared to life on Monday as graphic testimony was offered by “Victim #4″ against Jerry Sandusky – former assistant coach at Penn State from 1976 – 1999. Mr. Sandusky faces 52 counts of sexual abuse that span a 15 year period. With a defense ready to poke holes in the stories of the victims right up to and including alleging that it’s all a conspiracy for money, Victim #4 (now 28 years old) took the stand today and delivered devastating accusations of lengthy abuse – complete with mental entrapment and threats if he left. Some of the lowlights:

“He treated me like a son in front of other people,” the witness said, sternly, with an air of scolding toward the defense attorney.

“Aside from that, he treated me like his girlfriend.”

There are allegations that Mr. Sandusky’s wife witnessed some of the abuse happening and “quickly left”:

Sandusky’s wife, Dottie, walked in on Sandusky and the boy together in a hotel room bathroom when they traveled to the Alamo Bowl at one point, the man testified, and she quickly walked out. Dottie Sandusky and several of Jerry Sandusky’s adult children attended the trial’s opening. Dottie Sandusky and Matt Sandusky, the couple’s adult son, are expected to testify during the trial and were asked to leave the courtroom as witnesses were being sequestered.

In another body blow to the university, former President Graham Spanier not only knew of the abuse, not only discussed it with other school officials, but believed that the correct course of action was to not alert the police as it would be the “humane” thing to do – the humane thing to do for Mr. Sandusky:

Former Penn State University President Graham Spanier discussed with two executives the child-sex allegations against Jerry Sandusky more than a decade ago, emails show.

Spanier and retired Vice President Gary Schultz decided it would be “humane” to Sandusky not to alert police about the allegations at the center of the criminal trial that began on Monday, NBC News reported yesterday, citing internal emails provided by a source. Former athletic director Tim Curley also was part of the correspondence dating to 2001.

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