Tag Archives: First Amendment

Comment Of The Day: “What Do You Get When You Add Anti-Gun Bias To Constitutional Ignorance To Anti-Trump Bias To Incompetent Journalism? THIS…”

Chris Marschner’s epic Comment of the Day arrived at 11:14 pm last night. My immediate reaction was that it validated all of the toil and time I have put into this blog since it was launched in 2009. I know I have indulged myself more than is professionally admirable of late, complaining about the traffic here, the lack of broader web circulation of essays that I believe are important and objectively superior to commentary elsewhere that routinely gets hundreds of thousands of clicks, likes and shares. In my lore rational moments I also know that, as Hymen Roth once pulled me aside and reminded me, “Jack, you idiot, this is the life you have chosen!” This is ethics. Most people don’t want to read about or think about ethics, and most people are bad at it and don’t want to get better. I make much of my living teaching ethics to lawyers who admit to me that if they didn’t have to get ethics credits to keep their licenses, they would rather be locked in a room with Slim Whitman recordings being blasted at them than sit through an ethics seminar.

Chris’s essay— “essay” doesn’t do it justice; perhaps “opus”–reminded me of what I set out to do here from the beginning, which was to create an online colloquy about applied ethics and ethics analysis, using events, issues, episodes and dilemmas from every aspect of our culture, national experience and daily life. As the 9th full year of Ethics Alarms begins, I can see that we have attracted, beyond the readership, which of course is hard to analyze, a remarkable, diverse, dedicated and passionate group of regular commentators whose output in the discussions and debates following the posts is the best it has ever been and getting better. I could not be more proud of that. I also complain about lost commenters, the many, many once regular and valued participants here who have fallen away, often without explanation. ( Spike Jones: Mary–“Bon soir, John. Prosit. Auf wiedersehen. Au revoir. Adios. Aloha.” John:  How do you like that? She didn’t even say ‘goodbye’! ) But this is the regular cycle of any blog; I know it. I just get attached to the faceless people I interact with daily, and take their exits personally, forgetting that lives and priorities change, and that I, too, am just a distant voice, who could, after all, be a dog.

I read many websites and blogs, and with the possible exception of the original Volokh Conspiracy before it moved to the Washington Post, no site’s comments approach the routine excellence I see here, in content, seriousness, and original thought. So you know just how excellent Chris’s comment is, when I say that it is among the very best that has been posted on Ethics Alarms.

Here is Chris Marschner’s Comment of the Day on the post,  What Do You Get When You Add Anti-Gun Bias To Constitutional Ignorance To Anti-Trump Bias To Incompetent Journalism? THIS…”

I suggest that you keep this link handy as you read it.

I wrote this for anyone willing to listen. Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, History, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights, U.S. Society

Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2018 President’s Day Edition” [#2]

The first time I mentioned the now burgeoning effort by anti-gun advocates to turn the emotional blackmail portion of the current push to children, Chris Marschner issued a typically tightly reasoned examination of the debate ending with, “I’d be happy to discuss my ideas with any of the kids now being paraded before the public on this subject.”

I’m sure that was sincere, though, as you will see, stated with a bit of an edge, as you will soon see.None of these nascent cable news stars would be capable of discussing the topic with him, except in the most rudimentary fashion. . This is the state of affairs that sparked my previous post, making Chris’s Comment of the Day especially apt. And sharp.

Here it is, on the post Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 2018 President’s Day Edition:

I really do not know what is meant by the term “common sense gun control”. Given that it is a relatively amorphous phrase it is difficult for me to reject or accept the argument that we need even more common sense gun control.

I have no problem with background checks or even enhanced background checks but it seems to me that, given that school shootings are often committed by young people, that common sense would indicate that we eliminate the rules to seal a juvenile’s police records, their medical records, and school disciplinary actions. If we had common sense regulations that would allow government officials to ferret out socially aberrant behaviors and intervene beforehand many if not all of these shootings could have been avoided without having to infringe on the rights of law abiding gun owners.

Furthermore, common sense would tell us that if we gave the government the power to review all online posts we might be able to also ferret out cyber bullies and their victims which leads to more deaths annually than school shooters. According to DoSomething.org :

1.”Nearly 30,000 Americans commit suicide every year.
2.In the U.S., suicide rates are highest during the spring.
3.Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds and 2nd for 24 to 35-year-olds.
4.On average, 1 person commits suicide every 16.2 minutes.
5.Each suicide intimately affects at least 6 other people.
6.About 2/3 of people who complete suicide are depressed at the time of their deaths. Depression that is untreated, undiagnosed, or ineffectively treated is the number 1 cause of suicide.
7.There is 1 suicide for every 25 attempted suicides.
8.Males make up 79% of all suicides, while women are more prone to having suicidal thoughts.
9.1 in 65,000 children ages 10 to 14 commit suicide each year.
10.There are 2 times as many deaths due to suicide than HIV/AIDS.
11.Over 50% of all suicides are completed with a firearm. ”

Think of it, one person dies at their own hand every 16.2 minutes. We need legislation to stop this. We need legislation to stop the cyber bullies. We need legislation to stop the carnage. We must think of the children. We cannot simply focus on the firearm because nearly half do not use a firearm to kill themselves. We can do more than simply control firearms. We must stop the killing by any means. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Childhood and children, Comment of the Day, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture, Rights, The Internet, U.S. Society

Ethics Quote Of The Day: Charles W. Cooke

“You’re going to need a plan. A state-by-state, county-by-county, street-by-street, door-to door plan. A detailed roadmap to abolition that involves the military and the police and a whole host of informants — and, probably, a hell of a lot of blood, too. Sure, the ACLU won’t like it, especially when you start going around poorer neighborhoods. Sure, there are probably between 20 and 30 million Americans who would rather fight a civil war than let you into their houses. Sure, there is no historical precedent in America for the mass confiscation of a commonly owned item — let alone one that was until recently constitutionally protected. Sure, it’s slightly odd that you think that we can’t deport 11 million people but we can search 123 million homes. But that’s just the price we have to pay. Times have changed.”

—-Charles W. Cooke in a National Review self-described rant in 2015, ” …Aimed at Those Who Would Repeal the Second Amendment”

I missed Cooke’s piece in 2015, but it should be required reading today. Today was “Kill the Second Amendment Day” on social media and among the talking heads on Sunday Morning TV shows, in part because the obligatory coordinated freak-out over any tragic shooting always hits a brick wall of reality that disingenuous talk of “sensible gun reforms” won’t remove, and because for the second time in barely a week, , a New York Times op-ed regular advocated taking a big chunk out of the Bill of Rights. Once again, it was another Times house conservative, Bret Stephens, making the very un-conservative case for abridging individual rights. Earlier it was Ross Douthat wanting to hamstring freedom of speech in order to make “better men.” Stephens wants to repeal the Second Amendment.

I received fair criticism for attributing Douthat’s column to the leftist agenda of the Times, but Stephens’ piece reinforces my theory. For quite a while it has been clear that the Left views the Constitution as an impediment to it ascendance to transformational power the U.S. This has been on display from many angles, on many fronts, and with increasing intensity.  Progressives tried to get around the Electoral College to elect Hillary, and attacked that Constitutional device for months. They still regard the Due Process clause as an annoyance and an obstacle to blocking untrustworthy citizens from acquiring guns. During the battle over Obamacare, multiple leaders of the Democratic Party mocked the idea that the Commerce Clause imposed any limits at all on Congressional power, hence its ability, in their eyes, to “pass a law forcing citizens to buy broccoli.” (SCOTUS ruled otherwise, but the individual mandate was rescued by a creative Chief Justice.)

Hillary Clinton proposed excepting political speech in the form of purchased public advocacy for political candidates from the First Amendment. The grass roots Left, along with members of the media and leaders of the Democratic Party like Howard Dean, have not only denied that so-called “hate speech” is protected, but have acted as if it isn’t, and demanded that it shouldn’t be.  Majority Democratic states and cities are actively defying federalism in their efforts to prevent the enforcement of immigration laws. Since President Trump’s election, many Democrats in Congress and elsewhere that Constitutional requirements for impeachment should yield to simple numbers: If a party has enough votes, it should be able to remove a President, or at least this one.

I think it’s clever for the Times to use its nominal conservative writers to advance the progressive cause of selectively gutting the cornerstone of everything the United States of America has achieved in two and a half centuries. I also think that is what it has done here.

But I digress. Continue reading

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The Reason We Can’t Trust Progressives With Power: They Really Don’t Like Free Speech [CORRECTED!]

It’s not just “hate speech,” and speech questioning climate change, and conservative speakers on campus, and professors using offensive words to discuss how we should treat offensive words, and political speech by citizens banding together to support candidates and express issue positions. and employees making jokes that others choose to find offensive.  Increasingly prominent progressive elected officials, activists, scholars and pundits are advocating the elimination of free expression in realms that have been long protected by the Supreme Court, and that are currently protected as First Amendment speech by the Constitution.

Witness New York Times  columnist Ros Douthat’s recent op-ed flippantly titled, “Let’s Ban Porn.”  Buried in the essay’s Authentic Frontier Gibbberish designed, I assume, to numb the ethics alarms is a call for content-based government censorship, meaning that communicating “porn”–which the Supreme Court never got closer to defining than Justice Potter Stewart’s  famous and pathetic “I know it when I see it”—would be a crime.

How can a journalist, of all people and professions—excuse me,professions—advocate doing what the Bill of Rights specifically prohibits? By stooping to an argument like this one..

“But we are supposed to be in the midst of a great sexual reassessment, a clearing-out of assumptions that serve misogyny and impose bad sex on semi-willing women. And such a reassessment will be incomplete if it never reconsiders our surrender to the idea that many teenagers, most young men especially, will get their sex education from online smut….The belief that it should not be restricted is a mistake; the belief that it cannot be censored is a superstition. Law and jurisprudence changed once and can change again, and while you can find anything somewhere on the internet, making hard-core porn something to be quested after in dark corners would dramatically reduce its pedagogical role, its cultural normalcy, its power over libidos everywhere. That we cannot imagine such censorship is part of our larger inability to imagine any escape from the online world’s immersive power, even as we harbor growing doubts about its influence upon our psyches.”

No, Ross, the reason that we can’t imagine such censorship is because the United States of American is predicated on the core principle, among others, that the government restricting what can be imagined, said, expressed, written and published is far, far more dangerous that any content that can be imagined,  said, expressed, written and published, and thus the remedy for controversial, ugly or otherwise controversial speech is more speech, not laws. What Douthat’s op-ed translates as, and heaven knows it needs a translation though there is no “Leftist Virtue-Signalling Bloviation” to English handbook that I can find on Amazon, is that porn is bad for people, though apparently only men, because the Left’s official position of the moment is that Men Are The Problem.”  For example,  douhat writes,

“So if you want better men by any standard, there is every reason to regard ubiquitous pornography as an obstacle — and to suspect that between virtual reality and creepy forms of customization, its influence is only likely to get worse.”

Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights

Question: Is There Any Justification For A State Censoring Vanity Plates? (And What’s Wrong With “KAIJUU”?)

My answer to the first question? Absolutely not.(  My answer to the second is, “I have no idea.” ) If a driver can put a sign in his rear view mirror or a bumper sticker on her bumper without state sanctions, then a driver should be able to have whatever he or she chooses on a vanity plate.

Utah, for examples, bans vanity plates with profanity, “derogatory language,”  drug references,  sex talk, references to bodily functions, “hate speech,” targeting a particular group, or advocating violence advocates, as well as alcohol references and the number combo “69.” Ethics verdict: None of their business. These are words and numbers, and the state is declaring content and intent impermissible. When I see a car with an obnoxious vanity plate, I’m grateful. This is useful information. Racist or vulgar plates translate into “I am an asshole, and want you to know it!”

Thank you, sir! I appreciate the heads up.

Below are the plates banned by Utah over the past five years. Most of them fly right over my head. If you have to be a cryptographer to figure out why a plate is offensive, then it’s not offensive.

The less our governments interfere with freedom of expression, the safer we are.

Here’s the list (the  pointer marks indicate spaces): Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Marketing and Advertising, Rights, U.S. Society

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/10/2018: All Poll Edition [Updated and Corrected]

Good Morning, everybody.

1 The ancient Greeks in my family were pleased. Yesterday could be used in public schools to teach the concept of hubris. I doubt that public schools teach concepts like hubris, unfortunately. (I doubt that most public school teachers could explain hubris.) For in a single day..

  • We saw Steve Bannon dismissed from his kingdom, right-wing propaganda organ Breitbart.
  • We learned that Joe Arpaaio, who is only not facing prison time because of a generous pardon frm President Trump, and who lost his latest election for sheriff, and who is 85-years-old, announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Arizona.
  • NJ Governor Chris Christie gave his farewell address, celebrating himself. Earlier this week he said that he would be President today if not for Donald Trump.

2. “What’s done is done.” Yesterday, a Democratic mouthpiece who sounded like Kristin Chenoweth on speed (looked like her too) was confronted with videotapes of the last two Democratic Presidents swearing that they were committed to strengthening the borders and enforcing immigration laws. “We are a nation of immigrants,” intoned Bill Clinton. “We are also a nation of laws.”

“What’s done is done,” blathered ‘Kristin.’

This is the unethical rationalization known on the Ethics Alarms list as #51 . The Underwood Maneuver, or “That’s in the past”: Continue reading

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A Vermont State’s Attorney Prosecuted A College Student For An Overheard Phone Call. Why Is She Still Employed?

In October of last year, police charged Wesley Richter, a University of Vermont continuing education student, with disorderly conduct after university officials said he used “explicitly racist and threatening language” against black students and diversity initiatives on campus. Richter was overheard in a phone call with his mother, though exactly what Richter allegedly said has not been made public.unknown. Of course, what he said doesn’t matter, unless he was planning a crime, which he was not. He was talking to his mother, and a student who overheard the discussion took offense at what was said. Richter, through his lawyer, denied saying anything racist, but again, it doesn’t matter. Saying racist things in a phone conversation cannot be a crime. It’s bad manners. It’s disrespectful to those listening. A school may be able to justly find some kind of violation to a reasonable and neutral civility code involving words but not content. But an overheard phone conversation cannot be a crime. It is mere words.

Nevertheless, the University of Vermont, the University of Vermont Police Department and the Chittenden (County) state’s attorney’s office in the person of Sarah George, the State’s Attorney, prosecuted the case against Richter. George is a graduate of the University of Vermont Law School, where presumably they taught constitutional law. There is no excuse for this.

Richter’s lawyer, Ben Luna, argued that George didn’t have probable cause to bring the misdemeanor charge, and Superior Court Judge David Fenster agreed. In a statement, Luna called the dismissal a victory for free speech and the First Amendment. “The court’s ruling reinforces my opinion that this matter should never have been brought,” he said.

The court’s ruling also reinforces my opinion that Sarah George should be disciplined by the bar and fired.

Right at the start, Vermont’s Rule 3.8, as in every other state, makes it clear that prosecutors must not charge anyone with a crime without probable cause:

Rule 3.8. SPECIAL RESPONSIBILITIES OF A PROSECUTOR

The prosecutor in a criminal case shall:

(a) refrain from prosecuting a charge that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause;

The Comments to the rule say in part,

[1] A prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate. This responsibility carries with it specific obligations to see that the defendant is accorded procedural justice and that guilt is decided upon the basis of sufficient evidence.

The First Amendment makes it beyond argument that the government may not punish or seek to punish citizens for the content of their speech. Since the only evidence that George had that a misdemeanor had been committed was a third party complaint about the content of Richter’s speech in a conversation over the phone with his mother, she did not have legal or sufficient evidence to charge or prosecute Richter. As a lawyer and a prosecutor she had to know that. If she knew it, she was knowingly abusing her power, and should be suspended from the practice of law.

If she didn’t know it, then she is incompetent and not fit to practice. She should be fired.

Incredibly, George said she thought the case was strong, but that it was also “a learning experience.” “It’s disappointing, but it’s also good for us to know. It’s a really great decision for us in terms of case law and reasoning, so we know now what this court expects of us,” George said.

Yeah, the court expects you to follow the Constitution. If you have to learn that at this late stage in your legal career, Sarah, you need to go back to the drawing board. Maybe you can sell maple syrup.

She wasn’t through. “What we allege he did, we still allege he did,” she continued.  “It just didn’t rise to the level of a hate crime.”

A phone conversation cannot be a “hate crime.” Speech cannot be a hate crime. “Hate speech” is not a legal designation.

Why is this woman a state prosecutor? Fire her.

If she is not fired, then this totalitarian, illegal, abusive and intimidating prosecution chills free speech, not just on the University of Vermont campus, but in the whole state. A citizen should not have to wait two months, as Richter did, for a judge to declare that the state cannot persecute him for what he is overheard saying, whatever it is.

Fire

Her. Continue reading

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