Times Square Performers Say New License Law Would Violate Their Civil Liberties

Image via Facebook
Council Member King poses with a group of performers after the press conference Monday.
In the past few years, there have been several unfortunate, highly-publicized incidents in Times Square involving pervy, anti-Semitic Elmos and pugnacious, cop-punching Spidermen. But a new union representing Times Square costumed performers says a proposed law introduced by City Council Member Andy King yesterday -- which would require performers to be licensed and fingerprinted, and would create fines and jail time if they don't comply -- goes much too far.

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Citing Martin Luther King, Thomas Jefferson and Gandhi, Some People Will Use E-Cigs In Central Park

Image via Facebook
Russ Wishtart vapes defiantly.
There comes a time when good men, men of conscience, can take no more. They have to rise up against tyranny, cast off the shackles of oppression, shake their fists in the face of moral injustice. They have to use e-cigarettes in public, while trying very, very hard to get a ticket for doing so.

As you may recall, one of Michael Bloomberg's last acts as mayor, an admittedly silly one, was to sign a ban on the public use of e-cigarettes, adding them to the 2002 Smoke-Free Air Act that banned smoking in public places throughout the city. It took effect April 29, sparking outrage among the city's surprising passionate, exceedingly aggrieved e-cig-using public.

That's where Russ Wishtart comes in. He's whole-heartedly dedicated to "vaping," the verb e-cig users prefer, so much so that he hosts a podcast on the subject entitled Click, Bang!. And in March, he and other vaping activists joined with smokers rights group C.L.A.S.H.to sue the city to overturn the e-cig ban.

As the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slowly, they're also planning a little civil disobedience for this Saturday.

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Federal Judge Throws Out Lawsuit Against NYPD For Spying on Muslims, Rules It Was Legal

Image via Muslim Advocates
Lead plaintiff Syed Hassan, center, at a press conference on the lawsuit last year.
A federal judge in New Jersey has dismissed a lawsuit brought against the New York Police Department by a group of Muslim individuals and community groups, a suit that had alleged that the NYPD's surveillance of them infringed on their constitutional rights. In a decision released yesterday, New Jersey U.S. District Judge William J. Martini ruled that the spying itself was legal, that the plaintiffs had no standing to bring the case, and that even if they did, they couldn't prove that the NYPD had acted with the intention of discriminating against Muslim Americans.

This suit, filed in December 2012, was the first brought by Muslim groups against the NYPD for their surveillance program, uncovered by the Associated Press in 2011. (A second suit was filed in New York in June of 2013 by the American Civil Liberties Union.) The lead plaintiff in the New Jersey case was Syed Farhaj Hassan, a Shi'a Muslim and Iraq war veteran. The suit's other plaintiffs included a students' association, a council of imams in New Jersey, a beef sausage company, and several other individuals, including the principal of a grade school for Muslim girls. The suit was filed by lawyers from Muslim Advocates, a San Francisco-based group, and the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, neither of whom are very happy with the judge's ruling.

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The ACLU Is Not Happy About Orthodox Enclave Kiryas Joel's Sex-Segregated Park

Image via Kiryas Joel Voice
Satmar boys play at a different village playground.
In 2012, with great fanfare, the village of Kiryas Joel opened a park on 283 unincorporated acres just outside its borders: slides, swings, benches, and, because Kiryas Joel's 22,000 residents are all members of the Satmar Hasidic movement, separate playing areas for boys and girls. Haredi news site Behadrey Haredim posted photos of the newly opened park, which showed that the areas for boys and men were blue, while the areas for girls and women were a pinkish-red. They're separated by both distance and sex-segregated walking trails, to make absolutely sure no mixed-gender swinging is going on.

Municipal treasurer Rabbi Gedalia Segdin told the website that the different locations were also "separated by hills, which actually form a modesty buffer and allow the place to remain completely pure." Segedin added, too, that the arrangement would be watched over by the village's Modesty Committee. The article added that, furthermore, the non-Orthodox would not be welcome: "Foreigners who do not belong to the Orthodox stream, are not allowed to work out and the site is reserved for locals only. "

The American Civil Liberties Union, according to court documents filed this week, is not amused.

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Supreme Court Hears Arguments Against California's Same-Sex Marriage Ban, Punts

At approximately 10:15 this morning, the U.S. Supreme Court started hearing arguments on Proposition 8, the 2008 California initiative that banned same-sex marriage in the state. It was the court's first major hearing of gay rights in 10 years, and will be followed by consideration of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) tomorrow -- the 1996 law that struck down federal recognition of same-sex marriage. The Prop. 8 argument was scheduled for one hour, and by 11:32 a.m., the arguments were already over. As SCOTUSblog announced on Twitter, "#scotus won't uphold or strike down #prop8 bc Kennedy thinks it is too soon to rule on #ssm. #prop8 will stay invalidated."

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Bradley Manning Offers to Plead to Lesser Charges in Wikileaks Trial

U.S. Army
Pfc. Bradley Manning pleaded guilty to some charges in military court this morning.
After 1,007 days in jail, Private First Class Bradley Manning, the 25-year-old soldier accused of leaking classified material to Wikileaks, appeared in military court at Fort Meade today to plead guilty to modified versions of some of the more minor charges against him.

Specifically, Manning admitted to leaking State Department cables, video that appears to show the killing of civilians by a helicopter gunship in Iraq, and the secret assessment files of Guantanamo detainees.

But Manning maintained his not-guilty plea to the most significant charges, including "aiding the enemy." He told the court he chose the leaked material because he believed that while it would be embarrassing for the United States government and might provoke policy changes, he "was absolutely sure [they] wouldn't cause harm to the United States"

Manning was allowed to read a 35-page statement to the court, in which he said that nobody from Wikileaks pressured him to leak the materials. In fact, before he turned to Wikileaks, he tried to interest press outlets including the New York Times, Reuters, the Washington Post, and Politico.

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Psssst, Obama! Mention Something About the State of Civil Liberties Tonight

C.S. Muncy

In the most non-rightblogger tone possible, Obama has been on quite a roll when it comes to his administration's assault on civil liberties lately.

Not one, not two, but three different pieces of legislation and policy with the potential to drastically infringe on the civil liberties of Americans have come out of the Obama administration in the past week alone.

So, tonight might be a good time for the president to address why his policies on civil liberties are even more intrusive than those set forth by his predecessor George W. Bush.

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U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Hears Arguments in NDAA Battle (We Barely Could)

C.S. Muncy
Protestors Flooded the Federa Court of Appeals to Rally Against the NDAA.

It sounded like a panel of Federal Appeals Court judges drilled lawyers with a barrage of questions yesterday during a hearing of oral arguments in the high-profile lawsuit against the Obama administration over the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act.

Of course, that's a bit tough to confirm considering that despite numerous requests from plaintiffs to have the arguments heard in a large courtroom, it was held in a rather small one. Unfortunate journalists and onlookers such as myself were subjected to listening to the hearing in a spacious overflow courtroom decked-out with two antiquated speakers fit for an iPod-Mini dock-system--which court technicians didn't get to work until 15 minutes into the hearing.

Public interest in the case is so high that many spectators and journalists couldn't even get into the ill-equipped overflow room. No biggie though, it's only a case that will decide whether the U.S. Military and the Executive Branch have the right to detain American citizens.

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More Pepper-Sprayed Protesters Sue NYPD

The legal aftermath of of the NYPD's crackdown on street protest over the past year continues to unfold, with another lawsuit filed against the department in federal court.

The most recent suit is filed by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund on behalf of two protesters, Johanne Sterling and Joshua Cartagena. Sterling was one of the young women kettled and pepper-sprayed by Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna on September 24 of last year.

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Syke! Permanent Military Detention For American Citizens Is Totally Cool Again

Chris Hedges, one of the plaintiffs who successfully sued over unconstitutional provisions of the NDAA.
A lot of Americans breathed a little easier last week when a federal judge ruled that the National Defense Authorization Act -- which allows the executive branch, after thinking about it for a minute, to throw anyone in a military jail forever, effectively doing an end-run around the judicial branch and the whole balance-of-powers thing -- is completely unconstitutional.

Well, stop breathing so goddamn easily, you slack-diaphragmed potential future lifelong Guantanamo detainees! That was last week.

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