Occupy Wall Street Update: What are the Occupiers Occupying?

(Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid)

Hey remember the Occupy Movement? Well in case you’ve been wondering, its legal battles continue, and Occupiers continue to wield their sleeping bags and their persistence to (purportedly) fight for the rights of the 99%.

A man who refused to leave Zuccotti Park during the “eviction” of Occupy Wall Street last November is currently fighting a criminal charge of trespassing. Earlier this month, a Manhattan Criminal Court judge ruled that New York City and park owner Brookfield Properties had a right to evict Occupiers from their encampment in the park if necessary to remedy unsafe conditions. However, the judge found that a trial is required to determine whether the conditions actually were unsafe, as both NYC officials and the park’s owner claim.

According to the judge, if the allegations in the criminal complaint are proven true, the park conditions at the time of the eviction not only interfered with the public’s ability to use the park, but also posed a hazard to the health and safety of the public. Therefore, the judge found that these allegedly deteriorating conditions justified the park owner’s temporary removal of the park Occupiers for cleaning so that alleged safety hazards could be addressed.

Notably, the judge rejected the argument that evicting the Occupiers ran afoul of the First Amendment, agreeing with another Manhattan judge who rejected a civil challenge to the eviction the day after it occurred. In allowing the trespass case to proceed, the Criminal Court judge held that while some symbolic or expressive conduct is considered speech under the First Amendment, it is well settled that not all conduct meant to convey a message amounts to expressive speech.

According to the Manhattan DA’s office, about 2,020 people associated with Occupy Wall Street have been arrested in NYC since the protest began last September.

As the Occupiers are still fighting the eviction from Zuccotti Park, they also developed a new tactic – sleeping on Wall Street sidewalks near the New York Stock Exchange. According to an Occupy Wall Street spokesperson, last week protesters began sleeping in front of banks in lower Manhattan to highlight the issue of income inequality.

At least one attorney says that, as long as the sleep-puts are not incompatible with the public space, the protesters cannot be arrested because of a 2000 court decision allowing people to sleep on sidewalks to express their political views.

Occupy movements in other U.S. cities remain active despite setbacks. Occupy Detroit vacated its downtown encampment in Grand Circus Park last November – about the same time that campers had to leave Zuccotti Park in NYC. But nonetheless, members continue to work throughout Detroit on projects such as foreclosure prevention and homelessness.

On Friday night, Occupy Louisville (Kentucky) campers had to vacate the city park where they had been living for over four months, after their application for a permit to remain in the park was denied. The city’s chief of public safety claimed that the Occupy campers impeded the general public’s access to the park and caused serious damage to the property. But Louisville Occupiers remain confident that they will not disappear; they will remain active in the community.

Although I admire their moxie and I applaud them for taking advantage of all this free camping, can anyone tell me what the Occupiers stand for? And also, will they eventually put “Occupier” on their resumes after their camping trip is over?

Is “Obamacare” Constitutional? — Experts Weigh-In

I get a lot of requests from my Dishmaster followers to add political commentary to my blog. But because my brain is the size of a walnut, I find myself frequently explaining that anything outside the entertainment industry is too far beyond my comprehension to write about. After all, that political science major was just so damn long ago, and who pays attention in college anyhow? But since I’m fortunate enough to have very smart friends, I’ve commissioned the services of my trusted contributing editor, Rik Sault, to weigh-in on the constitutionality of “Obamacare.” Read below.

On Friday, after three days of oral arguments, the United States Supreme Court voted on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Just as public and political opinion about Obamacare is generally drawn along party lines, with Democrats in favor and many Republicans vehemently opposed to it, the High Court’s Justices seem to be similarly split. It is almost certain that the more conservative Justices will vote to strike down at least one portion of the revolutionary health care law – the so-called individual mandate which requires all U.S. citizens to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty – because, in their view, it exceeds the Constitutional limit of the federal government’s power.

Opponents of the individual mandate generally frame the issue in terms of the freedom of markets, and whether the government can force citizens to buy something. At Tuesday’s oral arguments, conservative Justice Scalia, who is widely seen as opposed to Obamacare, set forth this proposition: The federal government cannot force folks to buy broccoli, so how can it force them to buy health insurance.

But liberal Justice Ginsburg likened the mandate to Social Security. She explained that in the 1930’s, the U.S. had a national problem of people needing old-age and survivor insurance. Therefore, she furthered, it enacted a tax requiring everyone to contribute because without healthy folks and young folks there wouldn’t be enough money to pay for the old, disabled, or widowed. And that tax was constitutional.

While the individual mandate is only one of the two provisions reviewed by the High Court, it received the most argument time, and it seems to be the most pivotal. If the Court strikes down the individual mandate, it could possibly strike down the whole law because the mandate is such an important piece – a piece that cannot be severed.

The Solicitor General, the Obama administration’s attorney arguing in support of the Affordable Care Act, closed his arguments by reaffirming that it will increase public access to affordable health care. He said that Congress has struggled for decades to come up with a way to reform health care. “Maybe they were right, maybe they were wrong,” the Solicitor General said, but the law is within the bounds of Congress’s power under the Constitution, and should not be second-guessed by the Court. Former Bush Solicitor General Paul Clement, counsel to 26 state attorneys general challenging the law, countered, “it’s a very funny conception of liberty,” a law requiring folks to purchase health insurance “whether they want it or not.”

Although the Justices took a vote on the case on Friday, the decision is not expected until June.

Newt Gingrich v. Bill Clinton — Gingrich is a Hypocrite!

I’ve been saying for quite some time now that Newt Gingrich is a terrible person, but no one could say it better than Jon Stewart. Stewart rightfully pointed out Gingrich’s hypocrisy for attacking the media’s obsession with his personal life when Gingrich had no problem launching the same attack against Bill Clinton. Watch below.

What is Defamation & Why Didn’t Ashton Kutcher Sue?

At the time Star Magazine published their story about how Ashton Kutcher cheated on Demi Moore, Kutcher tweeted that Star Magazine defamed his character and he threatened to sue. This isn’t the first time celebrities have sued or threatened to sue tabloids for defamation of character. So what is defamation, and why doesn’t every celebrity sue?

The first thing to understand about defamation is that celebrities can’t sue anyone who airs their dirty laundry if it’s true. When celebrities and other public figures sue for defamation, they can only win if they prove that the defamatory statement is false.

Oh what’s that you say? What is a defamatory statement? Great question. It is a statement about the celebrity which hurts his reputation. The statement must also be communicated to a person other than the celebrity himself. (So if Star Magazine called Ashton at his house and accused him of cheating, they’d be in the clear — because no one else heard it).

Given the above explanation, it doesn’t seem like it should be so hard for Ashton to prove his case against Star Magazine, right? They published the story — “Ashton Kutcher Caught Cheating…” — to the world and it makes Ashton sound like an unfaithful jerk. And of course it’s false – that Jamie Madrox look-alike would never cheat on G.I. Jane, right?

But there’s one more catch — as a public figure, Ashton must prove that Star Magazine published the statement with full knowledge that the statement was false or with reckless disregard for whether it was true or false. Sure, they probably knew they were lying and they probably do it all the time. But how is Ashton going to prove it in court?

It is hard for him to come up with photos of him NOT kissing girls. He would have to get someone from Star to blow up their own journalistic spot and say, “yeah, I knew it wasn’t true and I wrote it anyway.”

If you’ve been following my analysis, you might have come to one of two conclusions to the title of this post. Either the case is just too hard to win, or Ashton really did cheat and can’t sue a tabloid for reporting the truth.  So which one is it?  I have no idea, but you’re free to draw your own conclusions.

In closing, I’d like to proclaim that everything I didn’t already know, I learned from The Dishmaster.