Congrats to Jon Gale

I don’t remember the last time I was registered as a Democrat, but it hasn’t been for many years. And I still don’t consider myself one, even if many of my political positions line up with the party. However, I recently learned that an attorney who helped out Black Lives Matter in Portland, Maine with some pro Bono work was running for Cumberland County DA. He also had a good amount of experience has a defense attorney – something I think is important. So I registered as a Democrat yesterday just so I could vote for him. And also so I could vote against at least one odious candidate who I know for a fact has perjured herself in front of Maine courts while also intentionally violating Sixth Amendment rights/hiding malfeasance from the press and public. Thankfully, it looks like Gale has taken the race with a 3 point margin of victory.

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Judge rules homeless people have rights, people lose their minds

A federal judge recently made this excellent ruling:

A Portland, Maine, city ordinance banning people from panhandling in the median strips of roads violates the U.S. Constitution, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday.

The ordinance, which passed in August, prohibited people from loitering in roadways unless they were placing political campaign signs, a distinction that U.S. District Judge George Singal said violated the First Amendment right to free speech.

City officials had argued that increasing numbers of panhandlers in 2012 and 2013 had become a traffic hazard along the city’s roadways. They said the ban was necessary to ensure public safety.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine challenged the ban on behalf of two anti-war activists and a panhandler who told the court she collected between $20 and $25 per day from passing motorists.

“The First Amendment protects all of us, no matter what views we hold or how much money we make,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director for the ACLU of Maine, in a statement.

Heiden said that the economic downturn had increased the visibility of panhandlers in Maine and elsewhere.

“These bans haven’t come about because of an increase in accidents,” he said. “What we’re seeing is more people coming to the streets to ask for assistance.”

No one denies that Portland created this ordinance as a direct response to panhandlers. The city certainly made up the increased traffic accidents excuse, but it was surprisingly open with its disdain for the homeless. And that was its downfall: the government cannot restrict one type of speech while allowing another. In this case, the city banned panhandlers from standing on a median but it allowed political activists to use the median to plant signs. Let’s examine that for even a second.

If it’s true that people in medians are a safety hazard, then it follows that it doesn’t really matter whether they’re standing, pacing, or only there briefly. If the median is dangerous, it’s dangerous, and so no one should have access to it outside a crosswalk zone. Given that the city believes it’s perfectly safe for people to be there, even if only briefly, we have a good piece of evidence that the medians aren’t all that dangerous.

One counter to this point is that the sign planters are only temporary. That actually doesn’t address the issue since people are still in the median while cars are going by them, but let’s pretend it does. Even if the brevity of a person’s median visit changes things, we have to ask why the city has road signs in the median. After all, a road sign that says U-turns are illegal or that there’s no right turn on red is just as dangerous as a standing person. Both are obstructions in the median. Both are there to get the attention of drivers. Of course, there have been zero cries to reduce median signage. Funny that, huh?

Given that traffic accidents have not increased significantly in the area – and given the more important fact that traffic accidents haven’t been caused by people standing in medians, anyway – it is utterly clear the city ordinance was just a way to stop people from begging. Since begging is a clear type of speech, the city ordinance was designed to shut up people who express unpopular speech.

To me this is a really clear cut First Amendment issue. People beg, a city doesn’t like it, an ordinance is passed to curb begging and exceptions are made for desired speech like campaign signs. No brainer. Yet when I saw this link posted on Facebook by the local news outlets, nearly every comment was outrage. Part of that is likely selection bias since people tend to comment more frequently on things that make them mad, but it was still pretty overwhelming. Why, all these grifters are living the high life. Homelessness is a glamorous lifestyle for scammers and drunks! And the number of people who don’t know that begging is a form of speech is astounding. The government doesn’t get to tell me what I’m allowed to ask from people. If I want help pushing my car out of the snow or if I’m raising money for a charity or if I just want a piece of gum, no government should be able to stop me. The same goes for people who are asking for money, food, and other items.

The only semi-legit response to this ruling has been people who complain of the homeless people in Portland that walk between the cars when traffic is stopped. Sometimes they get aggressive, they get in the way, and they often leave trash from the things they’re given. None of that, of course, justifies the government denying them their right to beg in the first place. Violating the First Amendment was never an acceptable solution. What the government should have done was 1) ban all access to the medians, 2) enforce jaywalking and other laws, or 3) redesigned their roads to get rid of medians/make them impossible to stand on. I’m sure there are some other options, but only the options along these lines are legal.

Bravo to the judge, I say. Not only did he make the correct ruling, but he barely even bothered to address the fundamental issue of whether or not begging is protected speech. This is great because there was no reason to address it. It was long ago established that begging was a form of speech, just like flag burning or blogging; the issue is fundamental to the First Amendment, not the specifics of this case. The only issue to be addressed here was whether or not Portland violated the speech that is begging. This correct ruling is a victory for everyone.

Protecting the police from the law

A few years ago in Indiana, a cop illegally entered a man’s home after he refused entry. As a result, the man shoved the cop. This, naturally, brought about charges. In an appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court, an utterly stupid decision was made which said the people of Indiana don’t have a right to defend themselves against police who illegally enter their homes. Just about everyone thought this was stupid. In turn, Indiana passed a law specifically overturning the Court’s decision. This was a great example of the government actually managing to protect its people and their rights. Law enforcement threw a fit, but they often do that when confronted with constitutional principles.

Fast forward and move a bit east and we have an entirely different mindset. Here in Maine we have someone who wants to pass a law designed to protect police from prosecution:

State law enforcement officials said Monday that a bill that would ban BB guns and non-firing replica firearms in schools is necessary to protect students from potential tragedies, but opponents contend it is too broad and would do little to improve school safety.

Supporters of the measure say police officers could easily mistake the realistic-looking firearms for the real thing, especially with security concerns running high in light of school shootings across the country. They say a scenario of a student entering a school building with such a firearm could end badly if an officer is forced to make a quick decision, pointing to incidents like one in California last year when a 13-year-old boy was fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy who said he thought a BB gun was an assault rifle.

The only purpose this serves is to shield trigger-happy police from prosecution. If there is a law which says things like BB guns are illegal, then a cop has a built-in defense for shooting any child who happens to have one on school grounds.

School resource officer Rachel Horning, with the Kittery Police Department, told the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee on Monday that’s the type of tragedy she’s trying to avert.

Oh, really? So Rachel Horning doesn’t want a situation where a student is fatally shot because a cop believes a BB gun is an assault rifle? Interesting. If that’s the case, then I’m not sure how she reconciles that stance with what she said next:

“I will do 100 percent what I need to protect myself and others,” she said. “So, if the juvenile presents that lookalike weapon and refuses to drop it, I will act.”

Are you fucking kidding me? Rachel Horning is not interested in protecting the lives of anyone – especially students. She’s interested in creating a law which gives her and those on her side of the blue shield an automatic defense; she wants to create a law where she’s allowed to “act” – that is, murder a person – because she isn’t good enough at her job to distinguish a BB gun from an assault rifle.

Other issues with this bill include putting more kids into the prison system. It’s bad enough that we have legislators who want to ruin people’s futures, but many of these elected officials actually think our ‘justice’ system works:

Democratic Sen. Dawn Hill of Cape Neddick introduced the measure in response to Horning finding a BB gun that looked like a real weapon in a student’s car outside a Kittery high school last year. Horning said the student had a mental health diagnosis and intended to use the fake firearm as a showpiece in case someone tried to fight him. Without a law regarding replica firearms, Horning wasn’t able to get the student the help and services he needed in the juvenile justice system, she said.

Given that Horning has already contradicted herself pretty overtly, I don’t believe her. The student could have forgotten the gun in his car for all we know. Even on his alleged “mental health diagnosis”, he could easily just have ADHD or some other minor/non-affliction. Indeed, a classmate of mine back in high school left his shotgun in the back of his car one day, then parked on school property. Realizing what he had done, he went and moved his car within the first couple of classes of the day. He later mentioned what happened to a teacher. Fortunately, that teacher just told him to be careful and that was that. And guess what? The classmate likely had ADHD or could have easily been diagnosed with it. The juvenile ‘justice’ system had no place in the matter; our ‘justice’ system only could have derailed his life – which, incidentally, seems to be going fairly well since he’s an engineer at Lockheed Martin these days.

I’m not going to be surprised if this bill passes. Legislators are hard-pressed to say no to law enforcement, no matter how obviously harmful to justice a law may be.

LD 1428 is dead

I attended my first public hearing on a bill last week. The bill was LD 1428, “An Act to Protect Religious Freedom”. In reality it was just special rights for litigious Christians who don’t want to abide by civil rights and health care laws:

During the public hearing on the bill, Apollo Karara of Portland, a survivor of the genocide in Rwanda, spoke about his experiences coming to America to escape persecution and asked the committee to oppose the bill. “As a Christian, I am glad that I have the freedom to practice my religion. But I know firsthand how dangerous it can be to decide that your personal beliefs entitle you to break laws that protect us all,” said Karara. “I came to America for safety and freedom–please do not take that away.”

The religious were out in force for this hearing, proudly sporting brightly colored stickers. One mother even had her son read a prepared speech. There are no boos or cheers at these sort of things, but if there were, that would have been the best time for it – not for the kid, though. He did fine for what he was asked/forced to do. The mother, though, was deserving of a boo or two for thinking there is such a thing as a Christian child. Or Muslim child. Or Jewish child. Or atheist child. There is no such thing; there are merely children of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, atheist, etc, parents. Not enough people realize this, but I digress.

It looks like the bill has another round of votes in the Maine senate, but it’s as good as dead at this point. We have laws that protect religious liberty pretty well. We don’t need ones that will give special rights to a select few who keep losing on civil rights and other matters at the polls and in the courts.

Mainers made safer with LD415

The citizens of Maine will become just a little bit safer with the passage of LD415:

Lawmakers in Maine are putting themselves at the forefront of efforts to curb excessive surveillance by instituting new privacy safeguards.

On Wednesday, the state House voted 113-28 in favor of legislation that would in all but exceptional cases prohibit law enforcement agencies from tracking cellphones without a warrant. If enacted, LD 415 would make Maine the first state in the country to require authorities to obtain a search warrant before tracking cellphones or other GPS-enabled devices. The law would also require that law enforcement agencies notify a person that she was tracked within three days, unless they can prove that secrecy is necessary, in which case a delay can be granted for up to 180 days. LD 415 would additionally require the publication of an annual report online detailing the number of times location data were sought by law enforcement agencies.

Here’s a good way of thinking about this: If the police were to start following people around for little to no reason whatsoever – for any thing they deem to be ‘reason enough’ – we would rightly say they’ve crossed a line; at that point they would be common criminal stalkers unfit to wear a badge. That they are able to do exactly that from a remote location doesn’t change the fact that their actions need to be checked. If they can’t get court approval, then they don’t have the right to stalk people. Because, frankly, fuck that bullshit.

LD415 isn’t yet law. It has passed in the house (113-28) and senate (20-15), but it needs to go through the senate again for procedural reasons. These numbers raise an interesting question: Who are the 43 assholes who voted against civil liberties?

Opening the St. Croix to alewives

Of the few good things the Maine legislature is able to do, this is definitely one of them:

The Legislature passed a bill Wednesday to end an 18-year blockade that has prevented alewives from running in most of the St. Croix River.

L.D. 72 passed the Senate by a vote of 33-0. The House voted 123-24 to enact the measure. The margins are sufficient to enact the emergency bill with Gov. Paul LePage’s signature.

If the governor does sign it, the bill will take effect immediately and allow spring runs of alewives through the fishway at the Grand Falls Dam near Princeton, in Washington County, and through much of the St. Croix watershed.

(The St. Croix is an important Maine river that serves as a border between the U.S. and Canada, winding through the edges of Downeast Maine, and emptying into the Atlantic.)

If you’ve wondered why the lobster industry in Maine (which, c’mon, is the only one that matters) has been reeling so much lately, one of the reasons has to do with alewives. This fish is a vital source of food for large predators, but it hasn’t been as easily available to them due to population declines and poor wildlife management decisions over the years. As a result, it is a strong possibility that there are fewer large predators in the Gulf of Maine, thus allowing a free-for-all explosion in the lobster population; the cockroaches of the sea aren’t being as vigorously hunted by non-humans as they once were. This ultimately drives prices down, hurting Maine fisherman. However, now that we can expect dramatic increases in alewife numbers, we should begin to see improvements in one of Maine’s key economic sectors.

Camp Sunshine polar dip

As I’ve mentioned numerous times, I’ve been participating in a fundraiser for Camp Sunshine, a sort of retreat for children with life-threatening illnesses. I did this as part of my group Atheists of Maine; we raised more than any other group, coming in at $2,169 (though donations are still being accepted). To commemorate the experience, all the participants did a polar dip in Portland (no, not the hipster, faux Portland in Oregon) this past weekend. My GPS brought me to the wrong place, so I unfortunately missed the main event by literally minutes. Of course, that wasn’t going to stop me from following-through on my promise to do something stupid:

AoM Polar Dip

Take a stroll on over to the AoM Facebook page to see a few more pictures.