Culture

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Cuba Libre! A Momentous Shift in Relations

Without any question, the news of the day is the direct turnabout in relations between the United States and Cuba announced this morning. There is a rather long list of areas in which many people, including me, have profound disappointment with Barack Obama over. Lack of accountability for torture is but the latest and greatest in the news consciousness of the attuned public. But today is not such a day; today Barack Obama has risen to at least part of his once heralded promise. Today, Mr. Obama has my love and affection. Today is one of the type and kind of foreign policy, whether toward middle east or other global neighbors, moments promised in Cairo and rarely, if ever, fulfilled in tangible deeds instead of words. So, today, sincere thanks and appreciation to President Obama.

Here are the basics from the AP:

The United States and Cuba have agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations and open economic and travel ties, marking a historic shift in U.S. policy toward the communist island after a half-century of enmity dating back to the Cold War, American officials said Wednesday.

The announcement came amid a series of sudden confidence-building measures between the longtime foes, including the release of American prisoner Alan Gross, as well as a swap for a U.S. intelligence asset held in Cuba and the freeing of three Cubans jailed in the U.S.

President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro were to separately address their nations around noon Wednesday. The two leaders spoke by phone for more than 45 minutes Tuesday, the first substantive presidential-level discussion between the U.S. and Cuba since 1961.

Wednesday’s announcements followed more than a year of secret talks between U.S. and Cuban officials in Canada and the Vatican. U.S. officials said Pope Francis was personally engaged in the process and sent separate letters to Obama and Castro this summer urging them to restart relations.

This news alone would have constituted something earth shattering, but there is much more than just that. In fact, the AP laid out the merest of backgrounds with that opening. There is much, much, more. I have the official press release, and Continue reading

Sony, Hacked: It’s Not One Massive Breach – It’s More Than 50 Breaches in 15 Years

Cybersecurity_MerrillCollegeofJournalismEver try to follow an evolving story in which the cascade of trouble grew so big and moved so fast it was like trying to stay ahead of a pyroclastic flow?

That’s what it’s like keeping up with emerging reports about the massive cyber attack on Sony. (Granted, it’s nothing like the torture report, but Hollywood has a way of making the story spin harder when it’s about them.)

The second most ridiculous part of the Sony hack story is the way in which the entertainment industry has studiously avoided criticizing those most responsible for data security.

In late November, when the hacker(s) self-identified as “Guardians of Peace” made threats across Sony Pictures’ computer network before releasing digital film content, members of the entertainment industry were quick to revile pirates they believed were intent on stealing and distributing digital film content.

When reports emerged implicating North Korea as the alleged source of the hack, the industry backpedaled away from their outrage over piracy, mumbling instead about hackers.

The industry’s insiders shifted gears once again it was revealed that Sony’s passwords were in a password-protected file, and the password to this file was ‘password.

At this juncture you’d think Sony’s employees and contractors – whose Social Security numbers, addresses, emails, and other sensitive information had been exposed – would demand a corporate-wide purge of IT department and Sony executives.

You’d think that anyone affiliated with Sony, whose past and future business dealings might also be exposed would similarly demand expulsion of the incompetents who couldn’t find OPSEC if it was tattooed on their asses. Or perhaps investors and analysts would descend upon the corporation with pitchforks and torches, demanding heads on pikes because of teh stoopid.

Nope.

Instead the industry has been tsk-tsking about the massive breach, all the while rummaging through the equivalent of Sony Pictures’ wide-open lingerie drawer, looking for industry intelligence. Reporting by entertainment industry news outlets has focused almost solely on the content of emails between executives.

But the first most ridiculous part of this massive assault on Sony is that Sony has been hacked more than 50 times in the last 15 years.

Yes. That’s More Than Fifty.

Inside Fifteen Years. Continue reading

Yes, Ray Rice’s Diversion Adjudication Was Appropriate

JusticePicThe popular meme has been that Ray Rice got some kind of miraculous plea deal to diversion (pre-trial intervention, or “PTI”, in New Jersey parlance) and that NOBODY in his situation ever gets the deal he did.

Is that true? No. Not at all. Kevin Drum wrote a few days ago at Mother Jones on this subject:

First, although Ray Rice’s assault of Janay Palmer was horrible, any sense of justice—no matter the crime—has to take into account both context and the relative severity of the offense. And Ray Rice is not, by miles, the worst kind of domestic offender. He did not use a weapon. He is not a serial abuser. He did not terrorize his fiancée (now wife). He did not threaten her if she reported what happened. He has no past record of violence of any kind. He has no past police record. He is, by all accounts, a genuinely caring person who works tirelessly on behalf of his community. He’s a guy who made one momentary mistake in a fit of anger, and he’s demonstrated honest remorse about what he did.

In other words, his case is far from being a failure of the criminal justice system. Press reports to the contrary, when Rice was admitted to a diversionary program instead of being tossed in jail, he wasn’t getting special treatment. He was, in fact, almost a poster child for the kind of person these programs were designed for. The only special treatment he got was having a good lawyer who could press his cause competently, and that’s treatment that every upper-income person in this country gets. The American criminal justice system is plainly light years from perfect (see Brown, Michael, and many other incidents in Ferguson and beyond), but it actually worked tolerably well in this case.

Mr. Drum is absolutely correct, Ray Rice was quite appropriate for the diversion program he was ultimately offered and accepted into by Atlantic County Superior Court.

In fact, that is exactly the deal I would hope, and expect, to get for any similarly situated client in Rice’s position. It is also notable the matter was originally charged as a misdemeanor assault in a municipal court, which is how this would normally be charged as there was no serious physical injury. Rice would have gotten diversion there too and, indeed, that was the deal his lawyer, Michael Diamondstein, had negotiated with the municipal prosecutors before the county attorney snatched jurisdiction away and obtained a felony indictment. Despite the brutality depicted by the video, this is precisely the type of conduct that underlies most every domestic violence physical assault (seriously, what do people think it looks like in real life?) and it is almost always charged as a simple misdemeanor assault.

Janay Palmer Rice clearly did not receive a “serious physical injury” level of injury under the applicable New Jersey definition in NJ Rev Stat § 2C:11-1(b) and a small period of grogginess/unconsciousness is not considered, by itself, as meeting the threshold. Now, to be fair, New Jersey has two levels of injury that can lead to a felony charge, the aforementioned “serious physical injury”, and the lower “significant physical injury”, pursuant to NJ Rev Stat § 2C:11-1(d) that Rice was charged under, and which is a far less serious charge, even though still nominally a felony under New Jersey classification.

The injury to Janay Palmer (Rice) did fall within the lower “significant physical injury” threshold under New Jersey’s criminal statutes because of the momentary apparent lapse of consciousness. So, under the New Jersey statute, while the felony, as opposed to simple misdemeanor, charge may have not been the norm for such a fact set, it was certainly minimally factually supportable. That said, most all similar cases would still be charged as simple assault, as indeed, as stated above, Rice initially was. The New Jersey assault statute, with its different iterations of offenses, and offense levels, is here.

With that description of the nature and structure of assault in New Jersey out of the way, there is something else that must be addressed: I am absolutely convinced that the Continue reading

Ferguson/Wilson Grand Jury Return Thoughts and Working Materials

CryingJusticeLast night was quite a night in the greater St. Louis Missouri area, especially the towns of Ferguson and Clayton, where the St. Louis County seat and courthouse is located.

First, at the insanely reckless, and inexplicably late hour of 8:00 pm, St. Louis prosecutor Bob McCulloch held one of the most surreal and disingenuous press conferences I have ever seen by a prosecutor in my life. Correction, not one of the most, but THE MOST. Here is the video and an uncorrected transcript from CSPAN.

The content is simply stunning. Prosecutor McCulloch basically gives a closing summation from the perspective of Darren Wilson’s personal defense attorney. Which makes sense, as that has been the clear and unmistakable posture of McCulloch from the outset of this charade. He glowingly recounts cherry picked aspects of Wilson’s testimony to support the officer’s narrative, and then attacks the numerous civilian, and mostly black, witnesses that support the Brown side of things as all being either mistaken, liars or not even there. Just amazing.

But, as I alluded to, it was not just the content, but the timing of McCulloch’s press conference as well. It was a consummately reckless and hideous thing to do to wait until well into the night and darkness to incite the tinderbox of emotion and protest. Here is Jeff Toobin at CNN:

Here’s the thing about that time of night: it’s dark. Anyone — anyone! — should have known that the decision in the Brown case would have been controversial. A decision not to indict, which was always possible, even likely, would have been sure to attract protests, even violence. Crowd control is always more difficult in the dark.

The grand jury’s deliberations concluded around lunchtime on Monday. It would have been simple to make the announcement while it was still daytime. Still, McCulloch said that he would not announce the grand jury’s decision until 8 p.m. CT.
….
The predictable reaction ensued. Protests began, some of them violent. Police responded with tear gas. Fires burned. Cars were destroyed. Gunshots were heard. The full scale of the damage was difficult to assess last night.

The ultimate verdict on the grand jury’s decision is up to history at this point. But the verdict on McCulloch opting to announce the decision at night is clear — and devastating.

That is spot on. Insane is a word that I have been using a lot in respect to this case, but it certainly applies to McCulloch’s dog and pony show timing.

Next is the actual grand jury materials and content, and what they mean to the injustice that has occurred in this matter. That one is going to take a lot longer to suss through and put together. I have read a few bits and pieces, notably much of Darren wilson’s grand jury testimony, but there are thousands of pages of material, and it will take me days to get through it properly. More will come, but for now, I want to give a couple of links to the full set of materials put together by others.

Here is the New York Times version. I think it is the best formatted and easiest to navigate so far.

Here is the NPR version from the St. Louis affiliate.

Here is the Guardian version.

They are all fine links from which to navigate and I link all three because they went to great trouble to do a public service in a short amount of time. They are owed thanks. The one substantive comment I will make for now is the way the standing prosecutors, Kathi Alizadeh and Sheila Whirley, spoon fed the witnesses, and especially Darren Wilson, and otherwise slanted everything imaginable, to support the exoneration of Wilson is just disgusting. I have read countless grand jury transcripts over the years, and I have NEVER seen anything that remotely resembles this kind of biased, for the defendant, dog and pony show. Again, it is simply insane and unheard of.

Okay, this entire grand jury was a farce, a charade, and a lie. It was a cravenly engineered whitewash by Bob McCulloch from start to the criminally reckless end with Ferguson in flames last night. And do not, like so many on social media seem to be doing, think the DOJ is going to bail the situation out by indicting Darren Wilson on federal charges. Even DOJ veterans say it is unlikely. I say there is not a chance in hell of an indictment against Wilson personally.

In closing, a few words by my friend Scott Greenfield from his excellent criminal defense blog Simple Justice:

Americans may be a smart, educated people, but we are lazy and ignorant. It’s too much effort for our delicate sensibilities to gain a deeper understanding of how our nation functions. This is why the Ferguson Lie happened. This is why the Ferguson Lie works.

That the grand jury did not indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson was a foregone conclusion. To those of us who don’t have to look up a study or read a law review article to understand how indictments happen in the real world, the outcome was clear when St. Louis County District Attorney Bob McCulloch announced that he would present all the evidence to the grand jury. Wachtler’s “ham sandwich” has grown trite in this discussion.

The Ferguson Lie is an appeal to our sense of fairness and transparency. We were played. McCulloch’s lengthy spiel before announcing “no true bill” was to spread the lie. To the ear of the media, McCulloch’s pitch was appealing; the grand jury heard all the evidence. The grand jury transcript will be disclosed to provide complete transparency. Witnesses lied to the media, but the grand jury heard the truth. The grand jury saw the hard evidence. Nine whites and three blacks, so no one would think that the grand jury was denied the voice of people of color, sat on the grand jury, which met for 25 sessions and more than 70 hours of testimony.

The grand jury did the dirty work that America needed done. The grand jury has spoken.

This is the lie.

Go read all of Scott’s piece, it is superb and exactly how I feel too.

For now though, I have to get off to court. There will be much more, but I am not sure when given the time to cull through the materials and the holidays. Until then, happy hunting in the treasure trove of documents, and post your findings and discussion in comments.

More Catcalling Debate Room Needed at New York Times

[Update below]
So, the New York Times today has up another in their series called “Room For Debate”. Today’s topic is “catcalling”, and the supposedly relevant question for debate is “Do We Need a Law Against Catcalling?” The ‘debate” is based on the “catcalling video” that has gone somewhat viral the last couple of days. First off, let us stipulate that catcalling is disgusting and reprehensible, and there seems to thankfully be a bipartisan consensus on that. But does the New York Times make it a fair debate when it comes to criminalization of public speech? No, of course not, there are three contributors who specialize in seeking to restrict clear First Amendment speech on this subject against one token policy guy from the ACLU who gives the “whoa, hold on there” position. Hardly a “fair and balanced” fight, but the framing itself makes it crystal clear the Times did not want a fair fight.

Frankly, the fact that the NYT was determined to push the knee jerk attack on free speech side was patently obvious from the fact of their title “Do we Need a Law Against Catcalling” and that is exactly what they put up. Which, considering that the New York Times has led the pantheon of First Amendment law for decades, is a rather astounding and depressing thing. I guess the Times’ love and protection of the First Amendment tails off quickly when their own rear ends and press rights are not on the chopping block. A disturbing position.

This is but the latest example of a growing victim culture trend that is willing to abandon the founding Constitutional principles, and shift inherent burdens of proof, out of emotional angst. There is the attempt to criminalize speech in via so called “revenge porn” laws. There is the astoundingly intellectually backward desire of Ezra Klein to eliminate due process and shift the burden of proof onto the accused – presumed guilt – in state government sponsored punitive proceedings in state universities. And now this.

These are all feel good laws fighting against things that are detestable – revenge porn, non-consensual sex and flat out rape on college campuses, and verbal harassment of women on city streets and in public places. Those are all terrible things that we should all be firmly against, and I am. But just because there are terrible things out there in our world does not mean there is always an appropriate path to eradicate it through ever more broad and vague criminal laws. That is a path our founders took great care to protect against, and one we would do well to keep in mind when emotions try to overcome Constitutional protections.

So, in conclusion, no, we most certainly do NOT need a law against catcalling. Furthermore, in the true spirit of Halloween, I boo and hiss in the general direction of the hypocritical New York Times, who apparently view the First Amendment as protecting them, but not the rest of us non-journalist common citizens.

[Note: It is my belief that this will be one of multiple entries from a group of friends who are either practicing criminal defense attorneys, or heavily involved in the criminal justice system. Our own “More Room For Debate” if you will, because the Times will never seek out actual practicing criminal defense lawyers when talking about, you know, criminal laws. Those in for the debate, or hopefully contemplating it, are: Scott Greenfield from Simple Justice, Gideon from A Public Defender, and Liliana Segura from The Intercept. All of these people, and their blogs, are simply superb, and you should be reading them. When and if they post their entries at their sites, I will update with links here]

Update 1: And Scott Greenfield has weighed in with his take.

Gov. Nixon Should Remove Prosecutor McCulloch Too

What a difference a day makes. After several days of police wilding in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon removed local and county control of policing and ordered the head of the Missouri State Patrol to take over. The change in tone was immediate, instead of making war on the citizens of Ferguson, last night the police walked side by side with the protesters and engaged them as actual citizens. Suddenly things were better and hope returned to the town.

The move pretty clearly should have been made a couple of days earlier, but Gov. Nixon was right to make it and made a strong and unifying statement when he announced the move.

But governor Nixon’s work is not done. It is not just the local police that displayed impropriety and lack of fitness for the job in relation to the aftermath of the Michael Brown killing…so to has the local prosecutor, Robert McCulloch.

Late yesterday, McCullogh said this to local reporter Paul Hampel:

First off, McCulloch’s statements displayed a remarkably tone deaf and tin ear, not to mention an affinity for the local police that is directly at odds with the duty of prosecuting the officer who killed Michael Brown. And make no mistake, the killing is shaping up as a straight up execution of Brown by the soon to be named officer. Yet another eyewitness came forward last night (in some superb work by MSNBC and Chris Hayes) reinforcing and corroborating the description previously given by Dorian Johnson, the youth who had been with Brown.

So, the statements of prosecutor McCulloch, who as the elected prosecutor for St. Louis County, would have presumptive jurisdiction of any prosecution, already place him in a position of potential bias.

But there is more in McCulloch’s background that makes him inappropriate for this case. As described in a Reuters background article on McCulloch:

As St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, McCulloch is responsible for deciding whether to pursue criminal charges against the police officer who fatally shot 18-year-old Mike Brown on Saturday outside a low-income apartment complex in Ferguson, Missouri.

The shooting of the unarmed black teenager sparked days of rioting and protests in Ferguson and surrounding communities and some residents say the mostly white ranks of local and county law enforcement officials are not objectively investigating the case.

McCulloch, 63, has held the top county prosecutor’s job for 23 years and has promised an impartial investigation of Brown’s death. But protesters say McCulloch, whose police officer father was killed in the line of duty when McCulloch was a child, should be removed from the case.

“I don’t trust Bob McCulloch,” community activist Anthony Shahid said as he helped lead a march by roughly 100 people at the St. Louis County Justice Center this week. “His father was killed by a black man.”

Should that history disqualify a prosecutor in a normal situation? No, probably not. But this case is not at all a normal case. The eyes of the world are now on Ferguson, and the town is still distrustful of the local authorities and frayed at the emotional seams.

The investigation and charging determination have to be beyond reproach. It has to be done right and the citizens and victim’s family must trust justice is being fairly done. At this point McCulloch cannot be the man who leads that effort. Not now.

And there is a clear path for Governor Jay Nixon to remedy the situation. Chapter 27 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, specifically §27.030, provides:

When directed by the governor, the attorney general, or one of his assistants, shall aid any prosecuting or circuit attorney in the discharge of their respective duties in the trial courts and in examinations before grand juries, and when so directed by the trial court, he may sign indictments in lieu of the prosecuting attorney.

Governor Nixon has the clear authority to order Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to aid this prosecution and guide the grand jury investigation. In order to give the community confidence a fair process and justice is being delivered, that is exactly what the Governor should do.

[PS Note: While the post title talks of “removal”, and there may or may not be a separate path for that available to Nixon under “emergency powers”, §27.030 only provides a path to have the AG, or his designee, be effectively a co-leader of the prosecution, both in the grand jury and in the trial court. This would be a substantial move, in and of itself, in that a more neutral party than McCulloch would be involved along side him, with full rights to participate in proceedings.]

A Note Of Praise For Jake Tapper

photoYammering on the internet is not hard work, in fact it is blindingly (and sometimes maddeningly when it is pointed in your direction) easy. Getting heard, and functionally interacting in a fashion that can contribute to the real focus and discussion, however, is hard. For my part, I often carp enough about the failings of big media that it is only right to give praise where due.

Today credit is due to CNN’s Jake Tapper. Because he cares.

Two nights ago, rightly or wrongly …. but I think rightly … I laid into CNN for their overbearing focus on repetitive, and somewhat mindless, continuing drivel on celebrity. That was, of course, in relation to Robin Williams’ death. A noteworthy, sad, and tragic event for sure, but there was only so much news, the rest was pure Entertainment Tonight like pathetic drivel.

So I went after CNN, and I tacked Jake Tapper’s twitter handle on the end. I did so not because I thought he was the prime offender producing the overall CNN news product, but because I knew, from prior interaction, that Jake actually gives a damn and and is a contact point at CNN who would care. And maybe…maybe…be a change point. That was both fair, and unfair to him personally, at the same time.

I am pretty sure both CNN and Jake were bombarded by by an untold number of missives of the same variety. I don’t how how other inflection points at CNN dealt with what was surely a lot of feedback, but the fact Mr. Tapper took the time to take umbrage, and discuss…and think…seems significant and admirable to me. And I admire that.

I thought about writing this post long before I saw the following, but I was off with clients and court appearances, and could have easily shined it on, as I do with so many posts I want to write but don’t get to.

Until I saw something from Mr. Jake Tapper today that was just awesome.

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Well, yes!

But then, not long later, came this:

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Well, to be sure, this is the stuff even a critic of journalism can love and applaud. You know why? Because not only is solidarity with journalists under grand jury and governmental oppression admirable (I have some experience in GJ targeting), it is the only, and only proper, thing that can be done.

There are not many out there to be so applauded. Maybe tomorrow there will be an issue, and moment of difference, on a different case. So it goes, and so be it.

But, now, James Risen stands exposed and on his own. As a man, and as a journalist, Tapper stood up and gave public square to his voice. Good on him.

Tonight, I am glad Jake Tapper is out there and is willing to engage. Tonight he did one hell of a report from Ferguson Missouri. Even if a big part was consumed by press conference feed. But, before and after, he made his voice clear. That is not exactly a common thing. It is to be commended.

Give the man credit, he was there, and he cares. And I will buy him a drink.

Snowpiercer: Bong Joon-Ho’s Jab at the God of the Machine


(The cats are away at Netroots Nation, leaving the meese to play. — Rayne)

A number of film critics have written that Snowpiercer — director Bong Joon-Ho’s adaptation of the French dystopic graphic novel, Le Transperceneige — is a cinematic allegory of climate change (the new “cli-fi“). Others will call it an allegory of class warfare. The film released in the U.S. on 27 June, reaching only 374 theaters across the country. Thankfully it went to video-on-demand last Friday as it entered its third week in theaters.

The highly limited and unusual method of release belies the film’s stunning appearance, its stellar cast, its punchy delivery. It’s all of these things and more: gritty, raw, gruesome, action-filled and emotion-tugging. Chris Evans was a surprise, offering restrained yet emotionally exposed work as flawed and resistant Curtis — a far cry from his recent stints as Captain America. Tilda Swinton is her funky finest, and Octavia Spencer is a powerful mother tigress. Korean actors Kang-ho Song and Ah-sung Ko fit perfectly, as do John Hurt and Jamie Bell. Effects are purposeful and not excessive, camera work highly effective, the score clings to the action like a skin.

Snowpiercer is believed to have been dissed on distribution because Bong Joon-Ho insisted on his own cut, resisting Harvey Weinstein’s demands that 20 minutes be excised. Given how closely the story reflects Dante’s Inferno, it’s difficult to see how any cuts affecting up to and through any of its gates would allow the movie to work as it does. (Really, Harvey, which of the circles of hell could we do without? Did you consult with Satan?)

But another reason for the short shrift on distribution may be the film’s unacknowledged allegory: the engine of production continues at all costs.

This is not the message of class warfare which Le Transperceneige’s two books more closely spell out. This is the ugly truth of our current global economy and the descent it makes into a catastrophic climate hell ahead.

The creators of the train ensuring your existence insist you stay where you are, even if you perceive yourself to be at the head of the train. You will be punished if you step out of your assigned place in the works. Resistance is terrorism, and must be eliminated to retain the careful balance necessary to assure production’s continuity. You have no privacy, no rights, no value save for your usefulness to the god of the machine.

This film jabs at the global economy’s bloated belly, wherein gross domestic product is worshipped, and energy’s demands obeyed at the expense of free will and a survivable planet. Bong Joon-Ho’s message is far more subtle and important than that of conflict between labor and capital. It’s certainly more unsettling to the domestic distribution system which desires a sure, non-threatening blockbuster to continue their offering of profit to the god of productivity.

Spoiler (look away now, I’ll put this after the jump): Continue reading

Chihuly In The Desert

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 9.03.26 AMLast January, I went to a late afternoon through night wedding at the Desert Botanical Garden here in Phoenix. The first couple of hours there were normal visitors in the park, the rest of the time, especially later at night, we had the place pretty much to ourselves. It was spectacular.

The scene was especially notable because it was in the middle of the stay of a Chihuly exhibit at the Garden. If you are not familiar with Dale Chihuly’s artistic glass designs, it is really something to behold. Read about Chihuly and his work at the link, it is an interesting story.

At any rate, I was chatting with Professor Nancy Leong the other day after she tweeted a picture from a Denver display of Chihuly. I actually think it may be the same installation that had previously been here. Nancy asked me to blog some of my pictures, especially the nighttime ones, which are very cool.

Marcy and I are both enroute to Netroots in Detroit, with Jim White, Masaccio and Gaius Publius all slightly behind us, but also well on their way. Use this as a general discussion trash talk thread, and we will all be checking in, but it may be a little sporadic for the next few days.

All photos will enlarge if you click on them, and a few of them are really worth doing it.

So, without further adieu, Chihuly in the desert:

Chihuly1

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 9.10.45 AM

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1st Amendment and Other Concerns On Appeal of Redskins Decision

JusticePicThere has been a lot of commotion over Wednesday’s decision by the US Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to cancel several trademark registrations of the Washington Redskins originally recognized back in the 1960′s by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). The full decision is here. It is quite long, detailed, and, at least facially, pretty compelling in its finding that the trademarks are “disparaging to Native Americans”.

Before I go further, let me say that I agree with those who think Daniel Snyder and the Washington Professional Football Franchise should change their name. It may not be the most pressing issue in our society, but it is something for which the time has come. Josh Marshall posted his thoughts on this subject at Talking Points Memo, and I think he put it all in excellent perspective and I agree with his conclusions.

The simple fact is we shouldn’t be using whole peoples as mascots for sports teams. Whether or not Indians in America today find it offensive is almost beside the point. The fact that most do is just an extra reason to do away with the practice.

With all I’ve said, there’s a part of me who feels like, ‘We really can’t have the Cleveland Indians anymore?’ It feels like a loss – part of the landscape of American sports I’m attached to. But it’s time.

Well said and, again, I agree. Josh’s entire piece is not long and is worth a read.

That said, and as much as I would like to see the name changed, I have trepidation about the government forcing the issue through agency decisions on what is proper speech, and what is not.

Tradenames and trademarks are, by their nature, really public speech and, thus, at least where they interact with the government, should be entitled to First Amendment protection. Now First Amendment protection is never absolute, but it is presumptively extremely broad. Likewise, First Amendment protections are against governmental action restricting free speech, not necessarily against private persons or entities. If I refuse to listen to you or to print what you have to say, that would be censorship, but it is not First Amendment action. If I am the government and censor you, then that is a different matter and there is a First Amendment issue.

So, here, the TTAB has taken it upon itself to restrict, at least in some regards, the free expression of the Redskins, via refusal to extend the same protection offered other “acceptable” speech and they do so by obvious decree of a governmental entity. Now the TTAB decision made out a VERY thorough and facially compelling case for Continue reading

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