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Can We Make It Through Four More Years? Print E-mail
by Martin Hutchinson    Tue, Jan 22, 2013, 09:26 AM

President Obama's intransigence on economic matters is increasingly clear, so compromise seems unlikely and a succession of tax increases and wasteful spending programs seems inevitable. Meanwhile Ben Bernanke’s Fed enables this dangerous course by massive "quantitative easing." Assuming Bernanke is succeeded by a like-minded colleague (more on that below) we will thus suffer this economically poisonous combination of policies until January 2017. The U.S. economy is unlikely to make it that far in anything like its present shape.

Neither Obama's nor Bernanke's damaging policies would be possible without the cooperation of the other. If the Fed was maintaining short-term rates at above the rate of inflation, without buying large quantities of Treasuries, the Treasury would have great difficulty financing endless $1 trillion deficits without pushing up long-term interest rates to intolerable levels and loading future years with huge debt interest payments. Without Obama and his deficits Bernanke would have great difficulty purchasing $1 trillion of long-term Treasuries and Agency securities annually, since new Treasury bonds would only be issued to replace retiring bonds. The distortions he created by doing so would disrupt the bond market, feeding rapidly into a level of consumer price inflation that he would have a statutory duty to address.  

Both Obama and Bernanke appear determined to continue pursuing their ruinous policies. Obama has announced he will not permit spending cuts in connection with a debt ceiling hike, while Bernanke on January 14 said the "worst thing the Fed could do" would be to raise rates "prematurely." Had we gone over the "fiscal cliff" as this column advocated, more than three quarters of the federal deficit would have been eliminated, and further deficits could have been prevented by the Republican House of Representatives. However the GOP House leadership wimped out, and as a result we are left in a position where taxes on the rich have already been raised substantially, but the deficit has been left almost unaffected – indeed it has been increased in the first year by the disgraceful $60 billion of tax breaks granted to politically favored corporations and scam artists.

Obama is with us until January 2017, but Bernanke has indicated he may retire next January when his term of office is up. In general Bernanke’s is the scalp lovers of sound policy should seek. Obama's damage has already been done, and while he may prevent any near-term attempt to address the deficit, Republican control of the House means he cannot increase spending more than marginally. Every extra month of Bernankeism, on the other hand, distorts the economy further.

It was not difficult to determine before his appointment that Bernanke would be a disaster as Fed chairman; this column said so in a piece published a week before he was appointed, remarking that "Bernanke's approach to monetary policy, in which all economic problems can be solved by creating money, is that of the 1919-23 Weimar Republic, which achieved in September and October 1923 inflation rates of 2,500% per month." This column can claim only partial credit for prescience; in the event we got the policy, but did not suffer the predicted inflation, being rewarded by an exceptionally deep and prolonged recession instead. Such are the vagaries of economic prognostication!

Next time around, there are few candidates who might move to a tighter policy, although former Fed Vice Chairman Roger Ferguson, currently CEO of the pension fund TIAA-CREF, is eminently qualified and as a registered Democrat is at least a plausible appointment for President Obama. More likely however is the current Fed Vice chairman Janet Yellen, whose published views suggest that she would favor even more easing. However as a known liberal Democrat without Bernanke's long service she might find it more difficult to attract a majority on the Federal Open Market Committee than has Bernanke. A Yellen Fed would thus probably be a modest improvement over the current one. One disquieting suggestion I have seen recently is that New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg might want the job; his combination of primitive Keynesianism and proven tendency to meddle obtrusively in everybody's lives would be truly frightening in a job with such power.

Thus it is highly unlikely that Bernanke's successor will be much of an improvement. Hence we are for the next four years likely to be subject to ultra-loose monetary policy and trillion-dollar budget deficits.

One area where my crystal ball is now unclear is whether this will cause an outburst of inflation. By monetarist theory it should; M2 money supply has risen at an annual rate of 9.9% in the last 6 months while the St Louis Fed's MZM, the nearest proxy we have to M3, has risen at 10.6% in the same period. With output rising at only 2%, that should produce inflation of around 8%.

Milton Friedman said "Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon," so where the hell is it? Leads and lags are all very well, but even taking into account a flat stretch between mid-2009 and mid-2010 M2 has been growing at an annual rate of 7.2% since the end of 2007, far in excess of the feeble 2.3% growth in nominal GDP. Monetary "velocity," that elusive concept, has dropped like a rock (mathematically, it had to given the data), but its ability to do so without any reasonable explanation in itself makes monetary theory look increasingly chimerical.

More likely than a sudden resurgence of Weimar-like inflation is a market crash. Global sub-zero real interest rates have boosted corporate profits to record levels (in terms of US GDP) as well as the value of bonds, commodities and other assets. The Dow Jones index remains about 6,000 points higher, in terms of U.S. GDP, than when Greenspan began easing monetary policy in February 1995. Gold is at double its 1980 high. U.S. house prices have bottomed out and are rapidly reflating. Global foreign exchange reserves have been increasing at 16% annually since the Asian crash of late 1997.

For the current market to be sustainable for another four years the value of capital assets would have to have moved to a permanently higher level in terms of the value of everything else. Capital assets have become the destination for the world's excess money supply, but it doesn't seem likely that even Ben Bernanke and his colleagues can sustain this disequilibrium forever. Most likely, like tech stock prices in 1997-2000 and house prices in 2004-06, the overvaluation will persist long enough for a substantial body of dozy opinion to decide it's permanent and put all their money on it continuing, doubtless leveraging up to the eyeballs to do so.

Once the silly money has piled in, as with housing in 2007 and tech stocks in 2000, valuations will start to slip. Most likely this will be seen first in the Treasury bond market, where even Bernanke's trillions will prove insufficient to keep the 10-year yield below 2% forever. That will cause a price collapse similar to that of 2007, where previously unassailable financial institutions will be found to have eroded their capital base by overinvestment in T-bonds. Since the Treasury bond market is so huge this in turn will cause a sell-off in the world's equity markets, with corporate earnings being eroded by the rise in interest rates.

Another example of such a slow-motion collapse is Japan after 1990, where eventually a high percentage of Japan's most admired corporations were found to have speculated excessively in short-term "tokkin" funds. In that case, the major banks propped up the loser corporations, wrecking the banking system, filling the country with zombie corporations and causing a 20-year period of economic sluggishness. In the early years of that period, Japan's policy responses remained fairly orthodox, but since Ben Bernanke's visit to the country in 1998, dispensing truly awful advice, it has been plagued by misguided Keynesian "stimulus" and money-printing by the central bank, prolonging the downturn more or less ad infinitum. On the Japan analogy, if U.S. policy remains as bad as Japan's has been, we are due a downturn lasting until 2035 or so.

If the Obama/Bernanke policies do not cause inflation, but instead produce a collapse of markets and a major recession, we will finally have an answer to the century-old battle between monetarists, Keynesians and the Austrian school of economists. Keynesian economists will be discredited by the failure of $1 trillion annually of deficit "stimulus" to stimulate anything beyond an asset bubble, with unemployment remaining stubbornly high. Monetarists will be discredited by the failure of Bernanke's gigantic monetary stimulus to produce economic recovery, and by the corresponding absence of a serious burst of inflation. The winner in the intellectual battle will be the Austrian school, in its pure Ludwig von Mises form, which will have seen monetary and fiscal expansion produce only a mountain of "malinvestment," the collapse of which will take several years and a major depression to work out. Of course, that economic victory will be of little consolation to those of us forced to live through the depression, although we can hope that the next such episode in 2070 or so will be solved more effectively, with Keynes and Friedman relegated to the sidelines.

As for the timing, I have said before that I don't think 2013 will be the year in which the bubble bursts – there is as yet insufficient speculative frenzy, although the market temperature is certainly rising. Moreover, it would be a pity to have such a record-breaking blow-off without a serious speculative bubble in gold similar to that of 1978-80 – which if the $1500-1900 gold price of the past 15 months is regarded as a base, suggests a gold price peaking certainly above $3,000, very possibly above $5,000.  Equally, it would seem impossible for the present bubble to outlast President Obama, and fairly unlikely for it to last into the election year of 2016. The 18-month period between July 2014 and December 2015 would thus be my best guess for the onset of collapse, with a prolonged rolling crisis lasting for the greater part of that period being the most likely outcome. 2016 and 2017 would then be years of grinding depression, benefiting the 2016 electoral prospects of both Republicans and extremist fruitcakes on both ends of the spectrum.

 In the very long term, U.S. reserves of cheap energy, the intellectual capital in its research facilities and the political distaste of its people for infinite Washington expansion are pretty good guarantees that we will again see prosperity. But it's not going to happen within the next four years.

Martin Hutchinson is the author of "Great Conservatives" (Academica Press, 2005) -- details can be found on the Web site www.greatconservatives.com and co-author with Professor Kevin Dowd of “Alchemists of Loss” (Wiley – 2010). Both now available on Amazon.com, Great Conservatives only in a Kindle edition, Alchemists of Loss in both Kindle and print editions.

 

Originally appeared on PrudentBear.com.

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Still Crazy, After All These Years Print E-mail
by John Browning    Tue, Jan 15, 2013, 12:04 PM

Not long ago, while “talking shop” with several other lawyers, the conversation turned to a colleague’s rather unusual, even foolhardy, strategic choices about how to proceed in a case.  One of the other attorneys proclaimed our colleague’s plan as “downright insane,” and was surprised when I responded that just because he was crazy didn’t mean he couldn’t practice law.  After all, I said, there are legally insane lawyers and even judges practicing today.

 

Sound surprising?  Then consider this: last November, the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals received a brief from the attorney for Randy Gourley, appealing charges of theft against Gourley for allegedly trying to sell prescription animal medications online.  The brief came from Carolyn Barnes, duly licensed to practice law in Texas since 1984.  But Barnes’ address was not quite what you’d expect for a member of the bar—Unit 3B of Kerrville State Hospital, which just happens to be an inpatient psychiatric facility.  Barnes has been there since 2011, when she was found mentally incompetent to stand trial on criminal charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.  It seems that Barnes is accused of firing a gun at a census worker outside her home in 2010; the lawyer says the incident never happened, while the census worker disagrees.  At the Kerrville facility, Barnes has access to a cellphone, a fax machine, the U.S. Postal Service, and the Internet.  She even completed continuing legal education course work online in order to make her law license current.

 

The Court of Appeals sent Barnes’ filing on behalf of Gourley back to a Williamson County court-at-law, stating “We question whether Barnes, having been found incompetent to stand trial in her own matter, may represent Gourley in this separate matter.”  Barnes, of course, asserts that the fact that she’s still licensed to practice law should indicate that she’s competent to stand trial in her own case and should be released from her involuntary commitment to Kerrville.  After all, she points out, being “competent” means understanding the charges against her and being able to participate meaningfully in her own defense; if she’s licensed to represent clients in Texas courts, Barnes says, “then I’m fully competent to stand trial.”  The Williamson County D.A.’s office, on the other hand, maintains that Barnes—by virtue of her involuntary commitment and being adjudged incompetent to stand trial in her own case—has no business representing clients.  It has asked State Bar of Texas regulators to suspend Barnes’ license.

 

The case raises interesting questions, not only about how the State Bar polices the legal profession to protect the public from lawyers who are under a mental disability or illness that keeps them from practicing law, but also about the nature of mental illness itself.  Under State Bar disciplinary rules, an attorney can lose his or her license due to “any physical, mental, or emotional condition” that prevents him or her from practicing law.  After receiving and investigating a complaint (which is confidential), the State Bar refers the matter to the Board of Disciplinary Appeals (BODA), which is a group of 12 lawyers appointed by the Supreme Court of Texas.  BODA, in turn, directs the case to an ad hoc District Disciplinary Committee (composed of a lawyer, a doctor, and a public—i.e., non-lawyer—member).  But there are no specific standards that define just what constitutes a “disability” that would warrant prohibiting an attorney from practicing law.  The committee may rely on testimony from doctors or other healthcare providers, as well as medical records that are introduced as evidence.  And, if the committee determines that the lawyer does have a disability that prevents him from practicing law, it sends the case back to BODA for license suspension.  Lawyers who want to return to practicing law after a disability finding must persuade BODA that they are better (such as when an attorney with a drug or alcohol dependency completes a stint in rehab).

 

At least the State Bar of Texas is concerned with having measures in place to protect the public in the event of a lawyer operating under a disability.  In Chicago, they elect the mentally ill to judicial office, while the Department of Justice is actively recruiting for lawyers with “psychiatric disabilities.”  Last November, Cook County, Illinois voters re-elected Judge Cynthia Brim to her $182,000-a year post as a Cook County Circuit Court judge, despite the fact that Judge Brim (who suffers from bipolar disorder) had previously been declared “legally insane” by a court-appointed psychiatrist.  Why was there a court-appointed psychiatrist, you ask?  Judge Brim, at the time of her re-election, was a defendant in a battery case.  Yet this fact, complaints over a period of years over her “bizarre behavior,” or the Cook County Bar Association rating of her as “not qualified,” didn’t prevent the Cook County Democratic Party from backing her or the voters for voting for her with 63.5% of the vote.

 

And, in a classic case of your tax dollars at work, the Justice Department—in what can only be described as “political correctness” run amok—issued a directive in 2012 to recruit new employees (including lawyers) with “psychiatric disabilities” and “severe intellectual disabilities . . . .”  This wasn’t merely a ban on discriminating against applicants with such disabilities.  On May 31, 2012, Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez issued a directive to affirmatively recruit those with such “targeted disabilities.”  Carolyn Barnes, the U.S. government may have a job for you.

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The Justie Awards of 2012 Print E-mail
by John Browning    Wed, Jan 9, 2013, 10:26 AM

Another year down, another year to look forward to the good, the bad, the ugly, and the just plain weird of the legal world.  But before we get too deep into the start of 2013, let’s pause to acknowledge the strangest moments from the justice system during 2012 with what I like to call the “Justie Awards.”

 

The “It’s the End of the World, and I Feel Fine” Award

 

This one goes out to Montana attorney Duncan Scott, who in mid-December filed a “Notice of Non-Availability” with the court in which he had a case, citing the Mayan apocalypse as his excuse.  The pleading simply stated “Plaintiffs’ counsel hereby gives notice he will not be available any time after December 21, 2012, due to the end of the world,” and Scott even attached a December 13, 2012 newspaper article about the Mayan apocalypse as Exhibit A.  Was Scott being tongue-in-cheek, or does he belong on a show like “Doomsday Preppers” instead?  The veteran lawyer of over 30 years apparently wasn’t counting on the accuracy of that supposed Mayan doomsday prediction since he spent a full day enduring continuing legal education classes in order to keep his law license current, and since he paid for non-refundable tickets to the Rose Bowl—scheduled for 10 days after the Mayan “end of the world.”

 

The “Gimme That Old Time Religion” Award

 

If Tennessee death row inmate Lemaricus Davidson has his way, this one will go to the jury that he says wrongly convicted him of the slayings of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.  Davidson’s lawyer has filed a motion for a new trial, claiming his client was denied his right to a fair trial and an impartial jury by the religious zeal of the jurors.  According to the motion, jurors spent four hours during deliberations singing hymns, praying, and reading the Bible.  A bailiff allegedly observed this behavior, including the members of the jury reading Psalm 90, verse 12 (“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom”).  Given the nature of the crimes, Mr. Davidson might be well advised to spend a little time getting closer to the Lord himself.

 

The “Accidental Juror” Award

 

A funny thing happened during the December 4, 2012 assault trial of 29 year-old Donald Campbell in Springfield, Massachusetts.  A man with a limited grasp of the English language was at the courthouse that day to take care of a traffic ticket.  But when a bailiff brought a group of jurors back to the courtroom (following a lunch recess) for the resumption of Campbell’s trial, this confused gentleman wandered along with the group and joined them in the jury box.  With no one noticing—not the judge, the lawyers, or even any of the real jurors—this “accidental juror” sat in on the testimony of two witnesses, closing arguments by both sides, and even instructions from the judge.  The juror he “replaced” was apparently late returning from lunch, and then went to an unused deliberation room to wait for instructions.  Meanwhile, the jury—plus one uninvited visitor—returned a guilty verdict.  As soon as the mistake was noticed, the trial judge declared a mistrial.  The incident has led to not just a new March 27 trial for Campbell, but has also resulted in the state trial court revamping their procedures for how court officers check in jurors following recesses (seated jurors now report to the jury pool room after a recess, and court officers identify them by using numbered cards that each juror receives).  Judge William J. Boyle, presiding justice of the Springfield District Court, says “Given our volume of criminal cases—we are the number one busiest district court in the entire commonwealth of Massachusetts—every now and then something completely unexpected happens.”

 

The “Wash Your Mouth Out With Soap” Award

 

This one should be presented to the person seeking a trademark for a novelty lollipop aimed at fans of the University of South Carolina and Jacksonville State University.  Both schools feature the gamecock as their athletic mascots, and the maker of these rooster-shaped chocolate lollipops sought a federal trademark for the confection’s risqué name—which we can’t print in a family publication, but let’s just say it rhymes with “rock pucker.”  The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied the trademark registration on the grounds that it was “immoral or scandalous matter,” and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision, noting that just because “something is funny does not mean that it cannot be scandalous.”

 

The “You Can’t Arrest Me, I’m Already Going to Jail” Award

 

Sometimes the first defense that comes to mind is not a good one—especially if you’re drunk.  On December 26, 2012, 25 year-old Thomasine Harjo allegedly was driving drunk in Oklahoma City when she crashed through police barricades into the scene of an earlier, fatal accident.  When police at the crime scene stopped Harjo and placed her under arrest for DUI, she told police that she couldn’t be put in jail because she had a court appearance in the morning.  What was her court appearance for?  Why, an earlier driving under the influence charge, of course.

 

The “You’re Too Hot—So You’re Fired” Award

 

This award is presented to Fort Dodge, Iowa dentist James Knight, with an “Honorable Mention for Most Inane Decision” going to the all-male Iowa Supreme Court.  In December, the court ruled that the 53 year-old Dr. Knight acted legally when he fired his attractive and much younger assistant because he and his wife considered the woman a threat to their marriage.  Knight had complained to the assistant, Melissa Nelson, that her looks and tight clothing were “distracting,” and that if he had a bulge in his pants then her clothes were too revealing.  After she was fired, Nelson sued, alleging that she was wrongfully discriminated against because of her gender.  The Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled that employers can fire employees they consider to be an “irresistible attraction” without being guilty of unlawful discrimination.  Not surprisingly, the ruling has come under fire from many legal observers who say it ignores the conduct women often see in the workplace.

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Obama Is In My House! Print E-mail
by James Reza    Fri, Dec 14, 2012, 09:34 AM

In 1960, I endured a terrible experience after my son was born and my wife nearly died due to complications of giving birth. I also found myself in a bad financial crisis. After paying rent, buying groceries, medications for my son and a sick wife, plus hospital and doctor’s bills I was left penniless after I cashed my check. Adding to my woes was the slow down of my job due to a slow down of the mobile home industry. Instead of working 5 days a week I worked 3. Things were tough for me. To proud to beg I resisted asking my parents if I could move in with them. And, I didn’t have the heart to ask my mother in law, Betty, a widow, for financial help. Back in those days there was no food stamps, rental assistance, etc. You either worked to earn money or you did without!

After struggling for several months I got a part time job in a packinghouse cleaning corrals. I remember getting $1.15 an hour, which earned me 30 to 35 dollars a week. That extra cash kept me financially solvent. It allowed me to buy groceries, put gas in my car, plus pay my medical bills and rent. Soon, my job as a mobile home builder picked up and things got financially better for my family. My wife used to beg me to quit my stinking part time corral-cleaning job but I was adamant to keep it to allow me to save enough money to buy a house instead of renting. After a year or so of saving my part-time job check I managed to save $1,400. It was at this time that I promised myself that I would never if possible, put my family through such a financial crisis by not saving part of my weekly check. Needless to say, that difficult time I experienced without any money taught me a lasting lesson to save part of my paycheck and never spend more than what I could afford.

At the young age of 24, I bought my first house for $6,600 on a 12-year loan. My down payment and closing cost totaled $800, which I had. After we bought our house I realized that we needed furniture. Luckily, Mundens, a furniture store, used to advertise, “Room Full of Furniture for $499.50!” With $600 still in the bank my wife and I quickly went to Mundens and bought a refrigerator, stove, bedroom set, dinette set, and living room furniture for $499.50! Though we were able to buy furniture and not get in debt, I was left with less than $100 in the bank. In time I invited my widowed mother in law to live with us, which she accepted and she offered to help me pay part of the utilities, which was a great help for my then young growing family and me.

Soon, I landed a part time job as a non-union typesetter, which paid me $2.00 an hour. With my day job and part time job I soon began to save money weekly. At the age of 30, after living 6 years in my house I withdrew money from my savings and paid the house note.

After I paid my house I focused on saving for the college education of my 3 kids. As most parents, I wanted a better future for them and college to me was their key to success if they wished to go. But, as most of you parents know, our kids sometimes don’t comply with parent’s wishes. My kids were no different. Though they all finished high school, only one, my youngest daughter, Cecilia, attended college and earned a Master’s Degree in Nursing. Having said that, my other two kids, Larry, my son, and Michele, my other daughter (who is single), are hardworking individuals I’m proud to say. Larry though he’s had issues with drinking and is now a recovering alcoholic is a license electrician and saves his money. My other daughter, Michele, is a Data Entry office worker and earns a good salary. However, Michele is a compulsive spender. This girl can’t keep a dollar in her purse without spending it! Michele spends money as the old saying goes like a “Drunken Sailor!” Usually on dining out, fast food goodies, clothes and more clothes! Her closet is packed with unused new clothes. To be honest, Michele’s bad spending habits are my wife’s fault and mine. During our working careers my wife and I made good money. Thus, we never asked her to help us with the utilities, groceries, taxes, or house repairs. And, we never asked Michele to pay us rent for living with us. Those bad decisions on our part as parents allowed Michele to spend her money like if there was no tomorrow. And to make matters worse, she never saved!

Two months ago, Michele’s wild spending spree came to a screeching halt! She was fired from her job due to some data entry mistakes she made at work. Getting fired made it difficult for her to get Unemployment Compensation. Devastated, without a job, no money coming in weekly and a mountain of credit card bills she came bawling to us for financial help. I then asked her if she had any savings and she replied, “no”. I then told her, “Michele, there is no reason why you shouldn’t have at least 10 to 20 thousand in the bank! You don’t pay rent, help us with the bills, nor help us buy groceries!” Feeling sorry for her, my wife got a loan to tie her over until she found a new job. I then reminded her that we’re getting old and after we’re gone she’ll probably end up homeless or living off the government in a shelter, if she didn’t start saving, which terrified her. Shortly, Michele found another job, plus a part time one. Rolling with cash again Michele sadly has resumed her bad and foolish spending habits.

As I reflect on Michele’s bad spending habits I come to realize that my wife and I are like working American taxpayers and Michele is like the U.S. Government and Obama Administration. These foolish government officials waste and spend out hard-earned tax dollars on untold useless government projects such as: bailing out unions, giving money to individuals who are here illegally, give money to countries who hate us, food stamps and money to those who won’t look for a job, fund useless and unproven workable energy companies many who have gone bankrupt and the list is endless! Our government takes our taxes like Michele takes from us and like her, never spends our taxes wisely. Like Michele, our government is in debt up to the tune of 16 trillion dollars and they still want more from us to keep on spending like fools! Folks, like Michele if she doesn’t change her bad spending habits, our country is heading towards a financial crisis that will eventually hurt all Americans!

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Peace on Earth, and Good Will Toward Some Print E-mail
by John Browning    Wed, Dec 12, 2012, 09:46 AM

There’s nothing better to get you in the mood for the holidays than the lavishly decorated stores, the inescapable Christmas music playing on the radio, and the beautiful Christmas lights up and down the street—unless you live in Denham Springs, Louisiana, that is.  There, the Christmas spirit is hard to find in Sarah Henderson’s neighborhood.  Apparently, the mother of four was involved in a year-long dispute with some of her neighbors, whom she accuses of spreading “vicious lies” about her.  So, she deliberately fashioned her Christmas lights to look like a human hand with the middle finger extended in the gesture universally known as “flipping the bird.”  The not-so-subtle message was received loudly and clearly by the neighbors, prompting a visit by the local police.  They told Henderson that her display violated obscenity laws and she was ordered to take them down or face a $400 fine.  Although Henderson complied, she’s not happy about it and now she has the support of the American Civil Liberties Union.  The ACLU has contacted the Denham Springs police, saying that the city has no right to restrict Ms. Henderson’s First Amendment right to free expression just because some people find it vulgar or offensive.  Bolstered by the support, Henderson says she’s thinking of replacing the middle finger with a swastika.  So much for peace on Earth . . . .

 

Speaking of First Amendment rights, did you know you have a First Amendment right to dress up as Bigfoot?  That was the recent ruling from the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which had to consider the strange case of Jonathan Doyle.  One day in September 2009, Doyle decided to dress up as Bigfoot and wander around Mount Monadnock State Park, filming some of the encounters he had with passing hikers.  When he returned a week or so later to do the same thing, a park ranger ordered him to leave because he didn’t have a “special use” permit (which, under New Hampshire law, requires 30 day notice and taking out a $2 million insurance policy as part of the application process).  Doyle fought the special use permit policy in court, with the aid of New Hampshire’s branch of the ACLU, as violating his constitutionally protected right to free speech.  The state Supreme Court sided with Doyle, finding the special use regulation to be unconstitutionally overbroad and unreasonably burdensome—thus safeguarding everyone’s right to walk around in a public park dressed up as Bigfoot.

 

The ACLU has been busy lately in Oklahoma as well, filing a complaint with the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints against Muskogee County district judge Mike Norman.  Last month, Judge Norman sentenced 17 year-old Tyler Alred to 10 years probation in connection with an intoxication manslaughter charge; Alred had been the driver in a December 3, 2011 crash that killed Alred’s friend and passenger John Luke Dum.  As one of the conditions of avoiding prison time, Judge Norman ordered Alred to regularly attend church over the 10 year sentence.  The ACLU considers this a violation of religious liberty and a “disregard” for the U.S. Constitution.  Knowing that judges have considerable discretion in imposing sentences, I call it a good way to put a clearly troubled kid back on the right path instead of dooming him forever for a tragic and horrific mistake.

 

And if you don’t like creative sentencing, then you won’t agree with Racine County Circuit Court Judge Tim Boyle of Wisconsin, either.  Judge Boyle was faced with the case of Corey Curtis, a 44 year-old man who has fathered 9 children with six different women, and who owes $90,000 in child support.  After Curtis pleaded no contest to felony bail jumping and failure to pay child support, Judge Boyle imposed a condition on Curtis’ sentence of 3 years’ probation: no more procreating.  “Common sense dictates you shouldn’t have kids you can’t afford,” Judge Boyle said at the hearing.  “It’s too bad the court doesn’t have the authority to sterilize.”  Actually, this isn’t the first time that judges have ordered a party to stop breeding; the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld it in a 2001 case in which the defendant couldn’t show that he was financially capable of supporting children.  A Kentucky judge earlier this year ordered a father of 12 children (by 4 different women) who had failed to keep up with child support obligations to refrain from “any sexual intercourse” for the entire 1–5 year term of parole.  And in 2008, a Texas judge ordered a 20 year-old mother who had failed to protect her daughter from abuse not to get pregnant while on probation.  So, the whole “be fruitful and multiply” thing apparently only applies if you can afford the kids in the first place.

 

Yes, judges have a lot of discretion in the sentences they impose.  Sometimes, though, all that weighty responsibility gets to them and they just want to have a little fun.  Such was the case recently with U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa of the Southern District of Texas (Victoria Division).  Judge Costa was faced with a breach of contract case over the sale of Akaushi cattle (native to Japan and renowned for the high quality of their meat).  Earlier this year, Bear Ranch LLC filed suit against Heartland Beef (which claims to be the sole source of Akaushi cattle in the U.S.) over the restrictions imposed in a sales contract Bear Ranch entered into when it purchased Akaushi cattle from Heartland.  Then another company, Twinwood Cattle Company, tried to intervene in the lawsuit.  In a November 1, 2012 order, Judge Costa denied Twinwood’s motion to join in the lawsuit, but he had a little fun with his opinion—liberally sprinkling it with Western-flavored, cattle-ranching references.  Pointing out that both Bear Ranch and Heartland had “momentarily ceased stomping their hooves at each other to join forces in opposition to Twinwood’s motion,” Judge Costa ruled that Twinwood’s motion to “join the rodeo” “must be put out to pasture.”  Although he acknowledged Twinwood’s attempts to “beef up its argument,” the judge ultimately denied the company’s efforts to join the ongoing lawsuit since “some culling of the herd is appropriate.”

 

Hey, at least he didn’t say “Happy Trails.”

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