Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Paul Salzman March 5, 1920 - Nov 16, 2012

Paul Salzman, a World War II veteran, union organizer, psychotherapist, and long-time Los Angeles resident, died at his Arcata CA home Nov. 16 at the  age of 92.

Born March 5, 1920, the youngest of four sons of William and Bertha Salzman, he played right guard at Iowa State University before serving in the Navy from 1944 till 1946. Returning from the war, he worked as an organizer for the printers union in Los Angeles until he was blacklisted in the 1950s.

He tried his hand as a cement contractor but loving the softness of people to the hardness of cement, he eventually went to UCLA to get his master's degree in social work.

He started his 50-year career as a psychotherapist as a UCLA field
instructor, then moved into therapy at the mental health center of St. John's Hospital's Xavier Clinic before entering private practice in the 1970s. 

He only retired this year at the age of 91.

Salzman married the love of his life, Anne Meyersburg, a psychologist, in 1952, and ultimately cared for her when she descended with Alzheimer's disease and predeceased him in 2010.

He leaves two sons, Hal, born in 1954, and Richard born in 1958 and a stepdaughter Carol Flax who was born in 1952; three granddaughters and two great grandsons; and countless nephews and nieces.

A memorial will held for him at his Arcata home, where he and Anne moved to in 2006.  Another memorial will be tendered for him in Los Angeles in the spring.

Right Guard, Iowa State 1938

Friday, September 28, 2012

National Public Radio's MARKETPLACE: Law against panhandling ruled too harsh








 MARKETPLACE for Friday, September 28, 2012

by Krissy Clark
[listen to audio version here]

Depending on where you live and or work, you've probably been stopped by a stranger on the street at some point -- maybe many -- and been asked whether you've got any change you can spare. Everyone's got different reactions. In a growing number of cities, though, the police answer with a ticket. Anti-panhandling laws are becoming more common across
 the country, but this week a judge in Northern California ruled that one ordinance went too far.

How do you feel when someone asks you for money?

“It saddens me,” says Linda Gray, an office worker who had just been approached for money on the streets of downtown LA.  She will give a little money sometimes, she says, but “I just wish there was more we could do.” For others, being asked for money is an annoyance “maybe like a pigeon that poops on your head,” says Art Lopez, who was recently approached for money on his way to work.

A lawyer named Gordon Ownby says he usually politely declines to give money, but that there have been times where things have gotten aggressive -- which "obviously makes [him] very angry."

Some of the worries Ownby, Lopez and Gray expressed were at the root of a law passed a few years ago, hundreds of miles away in the town of Arcata, Calif. It banned people from asking for money -- aggressively or non-aggressively, either verbally or with a sign-- within 20 feet of certain locations like stores, intersections and bus stops. 

Arcata is college town known for pot farms, redwood trees and lots of itinerant panhandlers. So many panhandlers, says Mayor Michael Winkler, that locals felt like when they were approached “it was difficult for them to say no.”  He says he spoke to many older women and children who especially “felt very intimidated.”

Richard Salzman, an Arcata citizen who filed a lawsuit against the panhandling ban, agrees that the number of panhandlers in his city can be annoying. But he says to ban “a person passively holding a sign on the corner” struck him as a violation of free speech.

He staged a one-man protest, where he stood on the corner next to a restaurant employee holding a sign advertising five dollar pizzas -- a form of speech that perfectly legal in Arcata. Salzman held up a sign next to him: "Please buy me a pizza before I'm arrested for holding this sign."

Salzman also filed a lawsuit against portions of the panhandling ban and this week Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Dale A. Reinholtsen came down in his favor, ruling that it was unconstitutional for Arcata to “restrict solicitation merely because it makes people uncomfortable.” He ruled that the town can only enforce the ban near ATMs and on public transit.

Back on the streets of LA, I asked a young man in a dirty sweatshirt what he thought about the ruling -- after he asked me for fifty cents.

He didn't want to give his name, but he said, “I never thought I'd have to ask anyone for money. I guess you do what you got to do.”


[ My attorney Peter Martin and I did a one hour interview on The Jefferson Exchange which aired on Jefferson Public Radio (JPR) October 17th, 2012. You can listen to the podcast here. ]


[Coverage of this story on Free Speech Radio NEWS can be heard here.  Jump to the 5:00 mark.]

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Times Standard on Arcata Lawsuit

 Judge tosses most of Arcata panhandling ordinance, city can appeal; Salzman: 'We knew we were in the right'

Grant Scott-Goforth/The Times-Standard

The 2010 Arcata panhandling ordinance has been largely thrown out by Superior Court Judge Dale A. Reinholtsen.

The ordinance banned panhandling in certain locations around the city, including major intersections, pedestrian bridges and the entrances and exits to businesses. Reinholtsen stated in a court ruling this week that location restrictions were “largely unconstitutional.”

The ordinance also banned “aggressive panhandling,” but the legal challenge by Arcata resident Richard Salzman and attorney Peter Martin did not address that portion of the law.

”There appears to be no dispute that Arcata has legitimate interests in prohibiting 'aggressive panhandling,' so the Court will not dwell on that,” the court ruling states.

Martin called the judge's decision “detailed and thoughtful.”

”We're very gratified by the court's ruling,” Martin said. “We're happy to see that the city of Arcata will now have to respect the free speech of all of its citizens.”

A judgment -- the final action in the lawsuit -- will be entered in favor of Salzman on behalf of the judge. The city will have 60 days to appeal.

Arcata City Manager Randy Mendosa said the city attorney and the attorney defending the city in the lawsuit will review the ruling and likely meet in closed session with the city council prior to its Oct. 3 meeting.

”All we can say is that we are currently analyzing
the court's decision,” Mendosa said.

Mayor Michael Winkler said the city attorney worked hard to draft the ordinance based on similar laws in other cities.
”I'm disappointed,” he said.

The council and staff will meet with the city attorney about what steps to take next, Winkler said. That meeting has not been scheduled.

Salzman said he was pleased with the ruling and had mixed feelings about the possibility of an appeal.

”We knew we were in the right,” he said, adding that the city overreached and forced him to use the judicial system. “It's a testimony to the government that our founders so brilliantly structured.”

”I'm of two minds about appealing,” Salzman continued. “I'd prefer that they don't waste taxpayer money on a folly like that.”

Still, Salzman said, he is confident that the ruling would stand if appealed, making the ruling case law that other jurisdictions could reference in similar cases.

Reinholtsen struck down large portions of the law, allowing only minor exceptions to the ordinance.

”The core difficulty with evaluating the Ordinance is that it pits Arcata's legitimate interests against the speech rights of individuals,” Reinholtsen wrote in the ruling.

The ruling states that Arcata has a legitimate interest in “preventing congestion and controlling traffic” and that targeted panhandling can be disruptive to traffic flow. It goes on to state that Arcata has a valid interest in protecting its citizens from unwanted communications, or “the right to be let alone.”

However, Reinholtsen ruled that the restrictions infringed on constitutional rights.

”It is only a slight exaggeration that new laws that restrict speech based on the content of that speech are impossible to uphold,” the ruling states.

”In sum, the Court finds that the legitimate interests advanced by Arcata with respect to the targeted panhandling prohibition are insufficient in most instances to justify the infringement of solicitors' right, and, for that reason, it is largely unconstitutional,” the ruling states.

”The Court rules that the location-specific prohibition on panhandling is unconstitutional, with two exceptions. The exceptions are that Arcata may continue to prohibit 'panhandling' within twenty feet of any unenclosed ATM, and Arcata may continue to prohibit 'panhandling' 'in any public transportation vehicle,'” the ruling reads.

Public transit vehicles are not considered public fora, according to the ruling.

The court ruled that people using an ATM have their money and financial security at stake, and that “soliciting people while they are using ATMs heightens the feelings of duress and intimidation that can be felt by those solicited.”
The full text of the ruling can be viewed online at www.times-standard.com.

Grant Scott-Goforth can be reached at 441-0514 or gscott-goforth@times-standard.com.

LA Times on Arcata Lawsuit

Arcata panhandling law mostly struck down by judge

A Humboldt County judge says provisions of the ordinance banning non-aggressive panhandling within 20 feet of stores, intersections, parking lots and bus stops are unconstitutional.

By Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times
September 27, 2012

 A homeless man who calls himself Big Al sits on a guardrail with his pet mastiff on California Highway 101 in Arcata last June. Big Al was prosecuted under the city's ordinance restricting panhandling. (Los Angeles Times / July 10, 2012)

SAN FRANCISCO — A Humboldt County Superior Court judge has struck down as unconstitutional most of an ordinance that banned non-aggressive panhandling in Arcata within 20 feet of any retail store, intersection, parking lot or bus stop, among other places.

The ruling, released Wednesday, allows the North Coast town to enforce the ban under only two narrow circumstances: near unenclosed ATMs and on public transit vehicles.

The college town long has been a magnet for vagrants, who congregate on its New England-style central plaza. And officials long have struggled with how to address the often-annoying requests for money, booze or pot.

Passed by the City Council two years ago, the sweeping ordinance banned aggressive panhandling — a stance that was not challenged in court.

However, Judge Dale A. Reinholtsen sided overwhelmingly with a resident who challenged portions of the law that forbade non-aggressive panhandling — including the holding of a sign — in vast swaths of the town's commercial districts and beyond.

"Arcata may not restrict solicitation merely because it makes people uncomfortable," Reinholtsen wrote. "To put it simply, speech rights prevail in a public forum (e.g., public parks, streets, etc.) in the absence of unique circumstances."

While Reinholtsen found the ordinance "narrowly tailored" to address the problem officials sought to remedy, when weighing the city's interests against free-speech rights he concluded that the balance "disfavors Arcata in most instances."

The lawsuit was brought by Richard Salzman, who carries a copy of the Constitution in the pocket of his sport coat. He said he was pleased that the judge "agrees with me in general that the city overreached, and that this is an infringement of free speech."

Mayor Michael Winkler had voted for the broad restrictions along with two others on the five-member council after receiving legal assurances that a number of cities had approved similar bans.

"I'm disappointed," Winkler said. "I thought it was carefully crafted, and I'm sorry that the ruling was what it was."

A report last fall by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty found that slightly more than half of 234 cities surveyed had bans on aggressive panhandling, the same proportion had outlawed it in specific areas, and one-fourth forbade begging citywide. Most of the ordinances have not been challenged.

Winkler declined to comment on the content of the ruling or the possibility of an appeal, saying the city attorney had advised officials not to do so.

Attorney Peter Martin, who represented Salzman and serves with him on the board of the Humboldt Civil Liberties Defense Fund, said the judge "really did wrestle with the issues, and if there is an appeal it will show he made a real effort to analyze the law and balance it on both sides."

Martin said he doubted that Arcata voters "want to see their council spend any more money appealing." But if the city were to appeal and lose, "it would create a statewide rule."


New York Times: Homeless Are Fighting Back Against Panhandling Bans

The New York Times
October 5, 2012

Homeless Are Fighting Back Against Panhandling Bans


COLORADO SPRINGS — Panhandlers, with their crumpled signs, coffee cups and pleas, are as customary a sight in many American towns and cities as Starbucks or McDonald’s. But for one Utah homeless man, the right to ask people for money has become a personal legal crusade.

Steve Ray Evans, who uses a sign to ask drivers for money, has been successfully suing Utah cities that have cited him for panhandling, arguing that his right to free speech is being violated by a state statute that bans soliciting near roadways.

“This is my only source of income,” said Mr. Evans, 54, whose sign reads “Starving Please Help!” “I do it for survival purposes. I feel as though a lot of other individuals depend on it, too.”

Mr. Evans said he had received more than 50 panhandling citations, and cases like his have become increasingly common of late. With the downturn in the economy, cities across the country have been cracking down on an apparent rise in aggressive panhandling, while advocates for the homeless and civil liberties groups contend that sweeping bans on begging go too far.

According to a report by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty that examined 188 cities, there was a 7 percent increase in prohibitions on begging or panhandling between 2009 and 2011.

“Our sense is that cities are responding to the increasing number of chronically or visibly homeless people due to the economic crisis,” said Heather Maria Johnson, a civil rights lawyer for the group. “Rather than addressing the issue of homelessness, they are adapting measures that move homeless people out of downtowns, tourist areas or even out of a city.”

Case law on the issue has varied over the years, and local panhandling laws differ widely. But several recent legal decisions have favored the homeless.

Last January, after Mr. Evans’s initial lawsuit, Salt Lake City agreed to stop enforcing the state statute.

But Utah fought the suit, arguing that panhandling near roads was dangerous. A federal judge sided with Mr. Evans in March, ruling that the statute was unconstitutional. In June, the City of Draper agreed to stop enforcing the ordinance after Mr. Evans filed suit there as well.

After a lawsuit filed by a homeless man and a disabled veteran who were arrested on panhandling charges in Grand Rapids, Mich., a federal judge ruled in August that the state’s blanket ban on public begging also violated the First Amendment. Michigan’s attorney general, Bill Schuette, has appealed, arguing that begging is not protected speech.

In many cases, the dispute over panhandling centers on whether a city’s efforts to criminalize aggressive begging to protect pedestrians and businesses ends up overreaching.

After the Northern California city of Arcata passed an ordinance banning panhandling in 2010, a local resident, Richard Salzman, sued in State Superior Court in Humboldt County.

Mr. Salzman, 53, an agent for commercial illustrators, said he had no problem with Arcata’s efforts to curb aggressive panhandling. But he objected to the city — long known for its liberal leanings — also prohibiting panhandling that was not necessarily threatening on its face, like merely asking for money within 20 feet of the entrance to a store or restaurant.

“I don’t know how much more passive you can be than standing there silently holding a sign,” he said. “This is a slippery slope we don’t want to go down.”

Last month, Judge Dale A. Reinholtsen ruled that Arcata’s law was indeed too broad and struck down most provisions that prohibited all panhandling in specific locations.

“The court finds that the legitimate interests advanced by Arcata with respect to the targeted panhandling prohibition are insufficient in most instances to justify the infringement of solicitors’ speech rights,” Judge Reinholtsen wrote in his opinion.

In Colorado Springs, city officials are weighing a panhandling ban for a commercial section of downtown, after merchants complained that begging was interfering with business.

“What they have told us is that the persistent sort of solicitation by people who just camp out in front of stores every day downtown has really discouraged tourists, shoppers and families from coming downtown,” said City Attorney Chris Melcher.

Mr. Melcher acknowledged that there could well be a legal challenge if the ordinance is approved. But he said the city, which already bans aggressive panhandling, was committed to drafting a law that would avoid prohibiting lawful speech.

On a blustery Thursday morning in Colorado Springs, Turtle Dean, a 36-year-old homeless man, said that he did not think the proposed ban was fair.

“I only ask for money for stuff that I need to survive. Clothes and food,” said Mr. Dean, who panhandles downtown and vowed to continue begging, ban or not.

The most recent suit by Mr. Evans, who is being represented by a lawyer with the Utah Civil Rights and Liberties Foundation, was filed last month against the City of American Fork, where he was recently cited for panhandling.

While city officials consider whether to fight the suit, American Fork has agreed not to pursue the charges against him for now and to temporarily stop enforcing the statute.

Mayor James H. Hadfield said Mr. Evans had been cited because he was panhandling in a construction zone and people had complained.

“I have nothing against Mr. Evans or people who do these types of activities and use common sense,” he said. “We react to people’s complaints. We are not on a witch hunt.”

Saturday, August 25, 2012

L.A. TIMES takes editorial position in support of Free Speech Lawsuit against City of Arcata

Arcata vs. panhandlers
The city's frustration with beggars is understandable, but its remedy is too broad and too punitive.

August 8, 2012

The city of Arcata, just north of Eureka in Humboldt County, has long been a mecca for homeless and transient young people who gather in its public square, often soliciting food or money. But after years of allowing their public begging, the city passed an ordinance in 2010 that forbids not only "aggressive panhandling" — touching or blocking a person, repeatedly asking for money, using abusive language, approaching an occupied vehicle — but all soliciting within 20 feet of ATMs, supermarkets, retail stores, restaurants, bus shelters and stops, and any intersection. It also prohibits soliciting on a bus, inside public parking lots and on pedestrian foot bridges. The city defines panhandling as asking for money or goods or even holding up a sign requesting a handout. The result is effectively a ban on begging in the commercial area of Arcata.

The city's frustration is understandable, but its remedy is too broad and too punitive, emblematic of the excesses that many municipalities succumb to in confronting the unsightly but all too human problems associated with panhandling.

A lawsuit filed last year— which is expected to be ruled on soon — argues that the ordinance violates 1st Amendment rights because it is "constitutionally overbroad." It is so vague that it prohibits displaying a sign asking for money, and so broad that Girl Scouts couldn't set up a table outside a supermarket to sell cookies.

Aggressive panhandling is another matter. When asking for money becomes intimidating, speech drifts into conduct, and governments have the right to rein it in. The lawsuit takes no issue with that portion of the ordinance.

The city is also, arguably, acting in the interest of protecting public safety when it forbids panhandling within 20 feet of an ATM or in semi-confined spaces such as a pedestrian bridge or a parking structure. In these cases, there is a possibility that those who are hit up for money will feel trapped or vulnerable. People should not be forced to walk a gantlet of panhandlers when they must use a bridge. Although this part of the Arcata ordinance may not pass the so-called captive audience rule (courts have recognized that public transit vehicles are not free-speech forums), it seems reasonable.

The ordinance goes too far when it forbids panhandling of any kind outside of restaurants, stores and eateries. The court should strike down these provisions. Yes, it can be irritating to be confronted by poverty while exiting a store, but the tender sensibilities of shoppers cannot be allowed to outweigh the rights of Americans to express themselves, even if it’s to ask for money.


Newspapers have long defended freedom of the press so while it is flattering, it's not that surprising that a prominent national paper like the LA Times would be willing to take a position in support of a 1st Amendment issue.  It is however disappointing that not one of the seven newspapers here in Humboldt County, or any of the other Northern California newspapers have shown the testicular fortitude to also take a position in support of the free speech rights of all Americans.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Panhandling in Arcata tests the city's tolerance - L.A Times Aug 6, 2012

Arcata traditionally has welcomed the downtrodden. But balancing the comfort of the haves with tolerance for the have-nots has come down to a question of just who is worthy of help.

By Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times (photo by Brian van der Brug)
August 6, 2012

ARCATA, Calif. — Over the years, Patrick Steff has installed vinyl siding, repaired Volkswagens and worked in a pizza parlor. On a recent day, the homeless father of two sat disheveled in this North Coast town's central plaza, citations spread around him.
He has been ticketed for camping in the park and smoking on the square. That morning, a police officer caught him on a downtown sidewalk holding a sign that read: "I could use a little help today."

That's illegal here too if you're within 20 feet of a retail store, intersection, bus stop or bank machine.

PHOTOS: Panhandling in Arcata

"It's like an everyday thing," Steff, 37, said of the reprimands.

Long known as the "Berkeley of the North," Arcata traditionally has welcomed the downtrodden, embraced the leftist fringe and fostered a live-and-let-live ethos. But these days, the square is strangely mainstream.

While one quadrant is still dotted with homeless nappers, the immaculate lawn is populated by families with toddlers and its benches have become a prime lunch spot for working folks.

Behind the transformation is a host of factors that send itinerants a new message: Don't come here.

In addition to the anti-panhandling measure — which is facing a constitutional challenge — a sales tax hike paid for two rangers whose job is to roust campers from the city's parks and forestland, as well as enforce behavior on the plaza: No smoking. No skateboarding. No drinking. No dogs.

A homeless resource center that had provided daily meals was closed, along with the recycling center that for many was a source of income. And Arcata cracked down on the unofficial stoner holiday of April 20, closing off its Redwood Park to dissuade the stream of pilgrims who in past years celebrated there.

"We're changing our image," Councilwoman Alexandra Stillman said.

But balancing the comfort of the haves with tolerance for the have-nots has come down to a complex question of just who is worthy of help: The chronic homeless or the recently down-and-out? What about the in-your-face drifters who take handouts with little gratitude?

"How do you make a judgment of the deserving poor?" asked Michael Twombly of the Humboldt All Faith Partnership, which operates a shelter here and last month opened a lunch truck to fill the gap in services.

The New England-style plaza is the heart of Arcata, a town of 17,000 that is dotted with Victorian homes and surrounded by redwood forests.

Mixed in among families who have lived here for decades are Humboldt State University students, environmentalists, marijuana proponents and Grateful Dead devotees, who flocked here in 1995 after band leader Jerry Garcia died.

It was about that time, said Kevin Hoover, editor and publisher of the weekly Arcata Eye, that getting panhandled multiple times during the course of a block-long walk became "the new normal."

Ordinances followed.

Aimed at bongo drumming on the plaza, one 1996 measure prohibited sounds that were "boisterous, penetrating, repetitive [or] of unusual rhythmic or tonal character." Another outlawed glass containers. Bans on smoking, dogs and skateboarding came soon after.
But in 1999, when the city leased a building one block from the plaza to the homeless resource center, matters intensified.

"You could watch the change," Stillman said. Word got out to young adults traveling a circuit from Santa Barbara to Eugene, Ore. "It became a magnet," the councilwoman said. "They served lunch every day. You didn't have to do anything — just come eat."
By 2001, the city took aim at the whole downtown district, making it illegal to sit or lie on the sidewalk.

But five years later, city workers still were cleaning up dirty syringes, rotten food and human feces, according to a report. The bus station's ventilation system "seemed to suck in the outside cigarette and marijuana smoke." Restaurant take-out orders dried up at dusk because customers dreaded being hit up for food.

By 2009, then-Mayor Mark Wheetley was pondering an ordinance that would ban aggressive solicitation and place broad geographic restrictions on all panhandling. Although some residents welcomed the idea, most called it a blow to the vulnerable.
Wheetley, Stillman and current Mayor Michael Winkler embraced the measure when it came to a vote in March 2010. Councilman Shane Brinton opposed, calling the restriction on non-aggressive behavior a likely infringement on constitutionally protected speech.

Councilwoman Susan Ornelas reflected the community's torn conscience: "While we're a progressive town and we're very open-hearted," she said, "we have limits on our tolerance." In the end, she was swayed to vote against the measure by Nicole Barchilon Frank, an observant Jew who practices tzedakah, the spiritual obligation of giving.
Standing before the council, Barchilon Frank recounted the day she and her son approached a stop sign and saw a panhandler: She gave the man $2. As they drove off, 9-year-old Ethan said it didn't seem like enough. He suggested "at least $6." They returned, and when she explained that her son "felt you needed a bit more," the man burst into tears.

When the act of charity is removed from the streets by law, she continued, "you are impacting more than just our civic reality.... This ordinance [is] ... a violation of my spiritual teachings, my morals and my child's right to learn from compassion and understanding. "

A report last fall by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty found that slightly more than half of 234 cities surveyed had bans on aggressive panhandling, the same proportion had outlawed it in specific areas, and one-fourth forbade begging citywide.

Tom Chapman, Arcata's police chief, said that officers responding to complaints have issued just two panhandling citations. Mostly they give out warnings. Public feedback, he added, has been "nothing but positive."

That is, if you don't include Richard Salzman, who carries a pocket version of the Constitution in his tweed sport coat. Last year he filed a challenge to the law in Humboldt County Superior Court.

Salzman has no complaint over restrictions on aggressive begging, but he was outraged by the ban on "the most passive form of panhandling."

To stress his point, he had a friend snap a photo of a man at an intersection holding a sign advertising a $5 pizza special, while Salzman stood next to him with his own message: "Please buy me a pizza before I am arrested for holding this sign!"

Panhandling measures have had mixed results in court, as restrictions on speech cannot be content-based and must narrowly address a government interest. The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness also has questioned ordinances that criminalize sleeping, sitting and lying on sidewalks — noting in an April report that such laws "further marginalize men and women who are experiencing homelessness, fuel inflammatory attitudes, and may even unduly restrict constitutionally protected liberties."

The attorney representing Arcata emphasizes that panhandling is still permitted in some parts of town. A judge heard arguments in the case in May and is expected to rule this month. But even with the panhandling ordinance removed from the equation, life for the homeless here has been harsh, some said.

"Arcata acts like they're the only town that has homeless people. They harass 'em," said Big Al, a burly 58-year-old with fading blond curls who arrived from Austin, Texas, a dozen years ago.

Big Al received one of the panhandling citations after a gas station owner was unable to run him off with sprinklers. He has since modified his sign — it simply reads "Have a nice day" — and settled with his dog, Sophia, into a spot under a pedestrian bridge. But state workers recently cleared the branches protecting his sleeping alcove, leaving him exposed.

"If you're poor or on food stamps, the message is, 'Go to Eureka or McKinleyville,'" he said.

As for the plaza, said Tom Clapp, whose Rookery Books has fronted it for 14 years, conditions were "vastly improved" now that Arcata was "coming around to not being tolerant to a fault."

Others fear the approach has taken a toll.

"I have noticed a marked difference, and I'm not sure I like that," said Humboldt State student Roger Tuan, 28. "It feels morally wrong."

Ornelas said she has come to believe the ordinance was fair, but is pressing to restore some generosity to the mix.

The city is moving forward on opening a public bathroom, an idea once vigorously opposed by some council members. One design proposal includes a plant wall that will resist defacing.

"It will be prickly and beautiful," Ornelas said. "I do try to work on middle ground."


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pamplin Grove 9th Annual Community Gathering ~ Aug, 2012

In Theory, It's One Hell of a Party
Illustration © Mark Smith

“I started to be a bit impatient.
So I asked, ‘Tom, how
should we proceed?’

Professor Cover answered,
‘Let’s do something
inefficient for a while.’”

This Salzman Pamplin Grove great cookout and boil-down summer party of 2012, is inspired by Information Theory, and the man who taught it, my late, great friend, Tom Cover. I have never seen anybody present such complex subject matter in such a simple and elegant fashion.

Oxymoronic, neo-conical fact finding, phony epistemology and wishful ontology? How DO we know what we know? "Information Theory has to do with uncertainty and the accuracy of communication, how much is lost in transmission, compression etc."

For my part let this invite be precise: WE have the entire Pamplin Grove Campground to ourselves and our thoughts for an entire weekend in August . Bring your kids, dogs, instruments, blankets, distant relatives, significant sweeties, a side dish for the Saturday potluck and of course, any troubling paradox.

Good stuff for the grill and everything else is provided. If you’ve ever been to one of these parties, you know. If not....Wow, you’re due.

DO RSVP for dates, details, directions, gate combination, Airport carpooling, or to arrange early arrival on Friday.

"Hindsight is most useful when it is not available" 
- Thomas Cover
"Don't miss this party!" 
- Richard Salzman

RSVP: richard@richardsalzman.com
(include your name, phone and street address)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Free Speech Now! (And Eat at McDonald’s)


Free Speech Now! (And Eat at McDonald’s)

(JUNE 7, 2012)  In the movie Norma Rae, Sally Field plays a textile worker who tries to organize a union at her mill. In the movie’s climax, thugs try to throw her out of the factory. She scribbles the word “union,” climbs up on a table and holds it up. For a moment everyone in the factory stares at her. Then, one by one, the workers shut off their machines. These days it seems that people who try to fight a good fight get that kind of support only in the movies.

On May 24, Fortuna resident Janelle Egger filed suit against the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors challenging the constitutionality of Urgency Ordinance 2477, which bans camping, animals and defecation outside the courthouse and also bans the hanging of signs. In my April 5 column, I questioned the constitutionality of a law in which the only new prohibition was the hanging of signs and the gathering for peaceful protest. Existing laws covered all other activities the ordinance specified.

Police arrested Egger April 7 in front of the courthouse as she participated in a candlelight vigil held to support free speech. This is a woman who sued the city of Fortuna in 2009 under the California Public Records Act because it had refused to turn over documents about a proposal for a new water tank. The courts agreed with her on that one and ordered the city to pay for her attorney fees.

This time, she filed her 24-page brief, with another 48 pages of exhibits, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.  She doesn’t have a lawyer; she’s doing it herself.

This is one of two ongoing First Amendment suits involving local laws. This month, Superior Court Judge Dale Reinholtsen will rule on the constitutionality of an Arcata ordinance passed to curb aggressive panhandling. Attorney Peter Martin filed that suit on behalf of Arcata resident Richard Salzman.

The Arcata law has multiple parts. Part A specifically bans aggressive panhandling. But parts B through G ban all panhandling in specific areas, such as near ATM machines or supermarket entrances. If aggressive panhandling is the problem, why not stop with A? Why include the rest?

This is what I find most troubling: The ease with which local governments pass speech infringement laws, how little effort they spend trying to keep them as narrow as possible and how few people these laws seem to bother.

Perhaps more troubling is that certain types of speech seem to be more vulnerable to government infringement than others.

In this paper in March, Editor Carrie Peyton Dahlberg wrote about how difficult it is to ban ugly billboards that line our highway. In 2008, a federal appeals court upheld a ban on electronic billboards only if it were content-neutral — a community would have to ban all electronic billboards. In 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court approved an anti-sign law in Los Angeles, but that’s because it banned all signs on utility poles. Back in 1981, the Supreme Court rejected a San Diego law banning billboards that created exceptions for specific categories of speech, such as political campaign signs and religious signs. “With respect to noncommercial speech, the city may not choose the appropriate subjects for public discourse,” the court said in Metromedia, Inc. v. City of San Diego. Because the court has insisted on blanket bans, local governments think twice about passing these laws. Commercial signs produce money.

In 2010, in its infamous Citizens United decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Congress can’t limit the money an organization or even a corporation spends on donations to committees not directly affiliated with a political candidate, because that would prevent these committees from buying television time or creating expensive brochures or commercials. That would abridge their freedom of speech.

Here is the pattern I see. L.A. could ban ALL signs on utility poles. But what corporations advertise on utility poles? Few communities act to ban all electronic signs or billboards, because they generate money. If you, or your kid, or a homeless guy on the street, holds up a cardboard sign, it generates no money.  The handwritten signs tacked onto the courthouse fence generate no permit fees. The Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United that the government can’t limit the money used to create documentaries or buy air time.

Twice this year I explained how paid speech has more power than “free” speech. Now I see that speech you buy is more protected than speech that is free. It is as if the First Amendment now says: Congress shall make no law abridging the payment for speech or press.

Thank goodness that in this community we have troublemakers like Eggers and Salzman who take it upon themselves to fight for the free speech rights we all share. We’ll see which way the courts swing on these issues.

But for their efforts, Egger and Salzman seem to get more grief than support in the communities where they live. Maybe we are all just too inundated with advertising these days. I find ads in paperback books I pick up at the book shop, on the back of my grocery store receipts, on the back of a T-shirt I must stare at when on line for some event. So we find offensive handwritten signs that don’t try to push products on us, that simply assert someone’s rights as a citizen or that ask for money because someone is hungry and doesn’t have a roof over his head.

Here is an idea. Homeless people should trade signs. Instead of standing on a corner and asking for money for themselves or their family, they can ask for money for a guy on the next corner. He in turn would advertise the plight of the next guy and so on. That way they aren’t panhandling. They are advertising. And that is something governments and the courts seem to protect.  And Janelle, get yourself a corporate sponsor. Maybe Pepsi Free?

Marcy Burstiner is a professor of journalism and mass communication at Humboldt State University.



Thank you, Marcy Burstiner, for covering my Free Speech lawsuit against the City of Arcata for its (ironically named) Aggressive Panhandling Ordinance. I don’t see how Arcata can suggest that the simple act of holding up a sign, which is the most passive form of panhandling, can qualify as aggressive; and I object to restrictions on speech based on content (as Ms. Burstiner pointed out, you can hold up a sign to advertise or sell something but not one asking for a handout).

I think it’s important for people to consider that if you believe in the protection of free speech and in defending our Bill of Rights, then you need to be willing to defend the rights of people you don’t agree with, or find annoying. Or, in the case of the ACLU defending the Nazis’ right to march in the predominantly Jewish town of Skokie, Illinois, even people you find repulsive.

As Voltaire stated, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Both my lawsuit and Janelle Egger’s lawsuit against Humboldt County for its ordinance restricting protests on Courthouse property are being supported in part by the Humboldt Civil Liberties Defense Fund, of which I am a member. We welcome your support and I encourage anyone wishing to contribute to help fund these cases, and our overall efforts to defend civil liberties in Humboldt County, to visit us online at HCLDF.org.


ADD YOUR COMMENT HERE: northcoastjournal.com/

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

2nd Congressional District Humboldt County Field Organizers

2nd California Congressional District Humboldt County Field Organizers outside of the Humboldt County Democratic Central Committee annual Chicken By the Sea dinner on June 3rd 2012

Left to right,
Shane Brinton
for Norm Solomon
Conrad Gregory
for Jared Huffman
Sofia Pereira
for Stacy Lawson
Richard Salzman
for Susan Adams

Election results

Monday, May 28, 2012

Judge to make decision on Arcata panhandling law; ordinance remains a rift in city politics

Grant Scott-Goforth/The Times-Standard

A Humboldt County Superior Court judge will rule on the constitutionality of Arcata's panhandling ordinance, which limits the locations where people are allowed to panhandle and carries penalties for aggressive panhandling.

The ordinance was the subject of a lawsuit by Richard Salzman that went to trial last week.
Salzman's Attorney Peter Martin has until June 4 to submit a supplemental brief, at which point the judge will have 90 days to issue a decision on the case.

Martin said Salzman wants the law to be struck down as unconstitutional, any convictions under the law set aside and any fines levied against violators returned.

”I think the city of Arcata went too far, and I hope the judge will see it that way,” Martin said.
Salzman said he had no objection to the parts of the ordinance that ban aggressive panhandling such as touching someone, following them or blocking their way.

”I'm very sensitive to how inappropriate behavior is offensive,” Salzman said.

He said the ordinance goes too far with restricting the language allowed on signs.

”As a layperson, my feeling about it is they're trying to restrict what the signs say,” Salzman said, adding that political protest signs and advertisements don't face similar limitations.

”Somehow a sign that says 'hey buddy can you spare a dime?' offends sensibilities?”

Salzman said the aggressive panhandling that most agree is unacceptable should not be lumped in with holding signs.

”That's the most passive form of panhandling,” Salzman said.

Arcata City Councilman Mark Wheetley, who voted for the ordinance, said it was developed based on research and surveys of municipal panhandling ordinances throughout the country.
”It didn't come without a lot of careful review and consideration,” Wheetley said.

Wheetley still supports the ordinance but could not speak specifically about the litigation the city is engaged in with Salzman.

”It wasn't done in a vacuum,” Wheetley said. “I have received lots of positive feedback since it went into place.”

Vice Mayor Shane Brinton voted against the ordinance when it was enacted in 2010.

“I've continued to maintain the position that the ordinance may be unconstitutional,” Brinton said. “At the very least, it violates the spirit of the First Amendment.”

Brinton did think there was a legal precedent for the prohibition on aggressive panhandling.

Brinton said he couldn't comment on the merits of the Salzman case or its arguments, but added he would rather have seen the ordinance never enacted to save the city from having to defend it.
”I'm not really enthusiastic about any of this,” Brinton said.

Arcata City Manager Randy Mendosa said that as of Thursday, the city had spent $4,988 defending the ordinance, though that figure would rise as the trial hours had not yet been billed.
Mendosa said the ordinance has been successful for the city, cutting down on the “bad behavior factor.”

”Anecdotally, people seem fine with it,” Mendosa said. “I haven't heard any other complaints.”
Arcata Police Department Lt. Ryan Peterson said enforcement of the law mostly comes in the form of education. Police officers' first response is to inform people where they can and can't panhandle, and Peterson said most are compliant.

”The number of citations issued for panhandling is extremely low,” Peterson said. “What this gives the community is the ability to notify the police if there is an aggressive panhandler. It's certainly not designed to eradicate panhandling.”

Peterson said enforcement of the ordinance is complaint-driven, meaning officers only respond to public calls regarding panhandling. He said the majority -- more than 90 percent -- of calls are related to aggressive panhandling.

”Those are the kind of calls that really are frustrating,” Peterson said.

Salzman said that he will appeal if the judge rules against him. He says it's the first time he's been involved in a court proceeding but that it was his only recourse when the city council rejected his request to change the language of the ordinance.

”If they overstep their bounds of authority, I'm going to go to the judicial branch to rectify that incursion on our constitutional civil liberties,” Salzman said. “I feel I'm being a patriot.”

Grant Scott-Goforth can be reached at 441-0514 or gscott-goforth@times-standard.com


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Unusual Lawsuit: Can City Silence An Already Silent Request?

Unusual Lawsuit: Can City Silence An Already Silent Request?

Arcata, California--Is it illegal to merely hold up a sign asking for

The City of Arcata thinks it is, but a citizen lawsuit contends the city
overstepped its bounds and its panhandling ordinance is unconstitutional.

Arcata taxpayer Richard Salzman, who filed a lawsuit in Humboldt County
Superior Court against the normally ultra-liberal city, said: “If
first they silence the poor and the homeless, and we say nothing, who
will speak up when they try to silence rest of us?”

He noted that the section of the ordinance against “aggressive
panhandling,” including blocking one’s path, any physical contact or even
yelling, would be left unchallenged by his legal action.

But to achieve the city’s goal of criminalizing the 'speech'--or even a
mute appeal--of a few beggars, Arcata has criminalized all charitable
solicitations for money.

Salzman said, "The ironical aspect is that Arcata so far has
spent around $10,000 of the taxpayers' money defending a law so one
would not have to to read a sign asking, 'Buddy, can you spare a
dime?' How insane is that?"

The judge overruled an objection by the city's attorney and allowed a
photo to be entered into evidence that illustrated the absurdity of the law during
the trial on May 23rd 2012.

The court has 90 days to rule on the case. The losing party will then
have the opportunity to appeal.


NBC affiliate KIEM News Ch3 lead story

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Court date set for anti-panhandling lawsuit against City of Arcata

Richard Salzman stand across from City Hall in violation of the current law.

Arcata, CA–Is it illegal to merely hold up a sign asking for money?

Arcata thinks it is, but a citizen lawsuit contends the city overstepped its bounds and its panhandling ordinance is unconstitutional.

The free speech trial is set to begin at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 23rd, in Humboldt County Superior Courtroom 8–and the public is invited to attend.

On March 17th 2012 The Arcata City Council adopted the unlawful panhandling ordinance. As written, the ordinance makes it a crime to merely hold up a sign asking for money. By denying citizens constitutional right of free speech, this lawsuit filed by Richard Salzman contends the City Council overstepped its authority.

Salzman is being represent in this matter by Peter Martin. Both Mr. Martin and Mr. Salzman are board members of the Humboldt Civil Liberties Defense Fund which was created to defend against incursion of the civil liberties of all citizens of Humboldt County.

“If first they silence the poor and the homeless, and we say nothing, who will speak up when they try to silence rest of us?” Salzman asked.

He noted that the section of the ordinance against “aggressive panhandling,” including blocking one’s path, any physical contact or yelling, would be left unchallenged by this legal action.

Specifically, Mr. Salzman contends that AMC Sections 4282B, 4282C, 4282D, 4282E, 4282F and 4282G are unconstitutional. The overall impact of these sections is to criminalize begging in a significant percentage of the City.

Begging is a charitable solicitation. The First Amendment clearly protects charitable solicitations. No distinction of constitutional dimension exists between soliciting funds for oneself and for charity. The fact that a beggar keeps the money she receives does not strip the speech of First Amendment protection. A speaker’s rights are not lost merely because compensation is received; a speaker is no less a speaker because she is paid to speak.
To be lawful, the ordinance must serve a compelling interest that is narrowly drawn to achieve its end. The City’s compelling interest is well-served by the ordinance’s ban on aggressive panhandling, to which Mr. Salzman does not take exception. Mr. Salzman is of the view that ordinance’s ban on begging is not “narrowly tailored.” To achieve the City’s goal of criminalizing the speech of a few beggars, the City has criminalized all charitable solicitations for money. 

The picture above illustrates the problem with the Ordinance. It is OK to hold a sign offer to sell pizza, but Mr. Salman’s sign is illegal.

KIEM Ch 3 news coverage of Anti-Panhandling Lawsuit against City of Arcata

KIEM Ch 3 news coverage of pending lawsuit:

Is it unconstitutional to be told that you cannot panhandle in certain areas?

Well the city of Arcata will answer to the superior court of Humboldt County next week in regards to an ordinance that some say violate freedom of speech.

Taxpayer Richard Salzman, says the city of Arcata has taken the law, too far. According to the litigation council for the city of Arcata: the city has taken the position that it falls in the guidelines of the Constitution--that under the constitution, you can restrict panhandling but not restrict the message.

They also say panhandling is a type of solicitation that California recognizes as retractable for reasonable limitation on time and place.

The ordinance restricts panhandling within 20 feet of places such ATMs, banks, retail entrances, and street corners. The city’s council says it’s mainly restricting the business side of the Arcata plaza and surrounding areas., The Free Speech Trial is set for Wednesday, May 23, 2012.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

General Strike May 1, 2012 - Solidarity with Occupy

May Day 2012

Occupy Wall Street stands in solidarity with the calls for
a day without the 99%, a General Strike, and more!

On May Day, wherever you are:



6 Ways to Get Ready for the May 1st GENERAL STRIKE
March 11, 2012,

Yesterday, 60,000 marched on Madison to mark the one-year anniversary of the passage of Governor Scott Walker's drastic dismantling of collective bargaining rights for public employees. Last year, Walker's attacks on labor rights sparked massive protests that saw hundreds of thousands occupy the Wisconsin capital building. Their actions prefigured Occupy Wall Street and inspired countless others to take a stand against economic inequality, political injustice, and the tyranny of the 1% enforced through politicians and banksters alike.

This is just one example that people across the globe are actively resisting attacks on the 99%. This year has already seen the largest-ever strike on record in India, hundreds of thousands marching for democracy in Bahrain, general strikes in Montreal and Spain where students once again occupied public space in protest of the austerity measures and spending cuts being enforced by the European banking elite, massive uprisings in the streets of Moscow, and more. Even in the United States, the movement grows. The corporate media claims that Occupy's strength is waning, but they are merely in denial. During the coldest months of this year, the United States has already seen more revolutionary momentum than it has in decades.

This winter, we refocused our energies on fostering ties with local communities, saving homes from corrupt banks and jobs from greedy corporations, and building and expanding our horizontal infrastructure. This #GlobalSpring, we will take the streets again. On May 1st, Occupy Wall Street has called for a General Strike. We are calling on everyone who supports the cause of economic justice and true democracy to take part: No Work, No School, No Housework, No Shopping, No Banking - and most importantly, TAKE THE STREETS!

We are getting ready. Planning is already underway in dozens of cities. Labor organizers, immigrants’ rights groups, artists, Occupiers, faith leaders, and more have all joined in the discussion to get ready. Now, all we need is you. Keep reading to find out how you can get involved!

May 1st, also known as International Workers' Day, is the annual commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, when Chicago police fired on workers during a General Strike for the eight-hour workday. In many countries, May 1st is observed as a holiday. But in the United States, despite the eventual success of the eight-hour-workday campaign, the holiday is not officially recognized. In spite of this, May Day is already a powerful date in the U.S. In 2006, immigrant's rights groups took to the streets in unprecedented numbers in a national "Day Without An Immigrant" - a general strike aimed at proving the economic power of immigrants in the U.S. At least one million people marched in Chicago and Los Angeles alone. Hundreds of thousands more marched throughout cities across the U.S.

Now, in response to call-outs from Occupy Los Angeles, Occupy Chicago, Occupy Oakland, and other General Assemblies and affinity groups, the Occupy Movement is preparing to mobilize a General Strike this May 1st in solidarity with struggles already underway to defend the rights of workers, immigrants, and other communities who are resisting oppression. Dozens of Occupations in cities and towns throughout the United States, Canada, and Australia have already endorsed May Day. Here is just a taste of events in the works for New York City:

• 8am-4pm: Midtown action staging zone in Bryant Park.
• Disruptive actions in midtown all day! Hit the 1% where they live and prevent them from getting to work. Let's make this a Day Without the 1%, as well!
• Family friendly, free food, a really, REALLY free market, skillshares, workshops, lectures, art, fun and more!
• 4pm: March to Union Square for solidarity march
• 5:30pm: Solidarity march from Union Square to Wall St.
• 7pm: March to staging area for evening actions
And this is just the beginning. To quote the ConfederaciĆ³n Nacional del Trabajo, a major Spanish union, who recently called for anational General Strike in Spain on March 29th to protest labor reforms:

For the CNT, the strike on March 29 must be only the beginning of a growing and sustained process of mobilization, one which includes the entire working class and the sectors that are most disadvantaged and affected by the capitalist crisis. This mobilization must put the brakes on the dynamic of constant assaults on our rights, while laying the bases for the recovery and conquest of new social rights with the goal of a deep social transformation.

None of this would be possible without the grassroots support of everyday organizers who volunteer their time to grow the movement against Wall Street greed and political corruption. Here are eight simple things you can do to help advance the cause of equity for all:

Work With Your Local Occupy: There are hundreds of Occupy groups still holding regular meetings and events. Chances are, there's one nearby. (And if there isn't yet - it's easy to start one!) General Assemblies are open to everyone, and everyone has a voice in the consensus planning process. So find your nearest Occupation and go to a GA! If they haven't already endorsed the General Strike, propose it to the group and start planning marches, distributing fliers, and forming direct action groups.

Spread the Word On Social Media: Follow #M1GS, @OWSMayDay, @OccupyWallSt, and @OccupyGenStrike on Twitter. Also be sure to RSVP on Facebook and follow facebook.com/OccupyGeneralStrike. You can also look for city-specific events, like these fromChicago and Detroit.

Start an Affinity Group: You can take action on your own. All you need are a few friends. Affinity groups are groups of people who know each other and come together autonomously for a particular action. Find a few people who are interested in helping you out on a project you have in mind - whether it's making fliers and literature to distribute, or shutting down a Wall Street bank in your hometown. Get creative, and get to work! (Here's a hint: OccuPrint collects, prints, and distributes posters from the worldwide Occupy movement, and they have a ton of amazing General Strike posters!)

Join the General Strike Conference Calls: InterOccupy hosts regular calls to organize May 1st activities. Check out their schedule and join in the conversation!

Talk to Labor: Due to federal laws, most unions are forbidden from organizing strikes for political reasons. However, unions and labor groups are still some of our strongest allies. During last year's General Strike in Oakland, many unions encouraged their workers to take the day off or attend demonstrations after work. Not long after Occupy Oakland shut down ports in solidarity with striking Longshoreman, their employers caved to the union's demands in a new contract. Get in touch with local unions and labor organizations, let them know about the plans for a General Strike, find out what they're working on and how you can help, and encourage them to let their members know about May 1st and get involved in organizing directly.

Organize Your Workplace, Campus, or Community: If you're a unionized worker, encourage your union to support the General Strike. Whether your workplace is union or not, you can encourage co-workers to take a sick day on May 1st. If you can't afford to lose out on pay, that's okay - there will be plenty of celebrations, marches, and direct actions throughout all hours of the day. Invite your community to attend. If you're a student at a high school or college, spread the word to walk-out of class on May 1st. If you're not a worker or student, organize your friends!

More info: [MayDayNYC.org] | [OccupyMay1st.org] | [StrikeEverywhere.net] | [NYCGA ]

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Certainty of Doubt

NY Times
February 12, 2012

THE building at No. 11 Piazza del Sant'Uffizio is an imposing ocher-and-white palazzo that stands just inside the gates of Vatican City, behind the southern arc of Bernini's colonnade. Above the main entrance is a marble scroll. It once held a Latin inscription, placed there in the 16th century, proclaiming that the palazzo had been built as a bulwark against "heretical depravity." This was the headquarters of the Roman Inquisition, the arm of the Roman Catholic Church that tried Galileo and created the Index of Forbidden Books. You won't see the inscription above the entrance now - it was chiseled off by French troops during Napoleon's occupation. All that's left is some mottled scarring.

The Roman Inquisition was one of several inquisitions conducted under the auspices of the church. These had in common a deeply rooted sense of fear (of heretics, of Jews, of Protestantism) and a deeply rooted moral certainty, a conviction that the cause was not only just but also so urgent that nothing must stand in the way: not practical considerations (workers were diverted from the unfinished St. Peter's to complete the Inquisition's palazzo) and certainly not competing considerations of principle or moderation.

That's the way it is with moral certainty. It sweeps objections aside and makes anything permissible if pursued with an appeal to a higher justification. That higher justification does not need to be God, though God remains serviceable. The higher justification can also be the forces of history. It can be rationalism and science. It can be some assertion of the common good. It can be national security.

The power of the great "isms" of the 20th century - fascism, communism - has dissipated, but moral certainty arises in other forms. Are certain facts and ideas deemed too dangerous? Then perhaps censorship is the answer. (China's Great Firewall is one example, but let's not forget that during the past decade, there have been some 4,600 challenges to books in schools and libraries in the United States.) Are certain religions and beliefs deemed intolerable? Then perhaps a few restrictions are in order. (Bills have been introduced in several states to ban recognition of Islamic Shariah law.) In a variety of guises, a conviction of certainty lurks within debates on marriage, on reproduction, on family values, on biotechnology. It peers from behind the question "Is America a Christian nation?"

An "ism" that retains its vitality - terrorism - is justified unapologetically by moral certainty. In a vastly different way, not always recognized, so have been some of the steps taken to combat it. Necessity overrides principle. The inventory of measures advanced in the name of homeland security during the past decade would fill a book. In the United States, the surveillance of citizens and noncitizens alike has become increasingly pervasive. The legal system has been under pressure to constrict protections for the accused. The National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law in December by President Obama despite his own reservations, gives the government enhanced powers to detain, interrogate and prosecute.

In Britain, a new Green Paper on Justice and Security has laid out changes in the legal system that would extend the circumstances in which evidence may be presented secretly in court without being made known to defendants. It would also allow government ministers to withhold from certain court proceedings information that the ministers deem sensitive. Visitors to Britain for this summer's Olympics will notice the CCTV cameras - there are reportedly more than four million of them - that monitor ordinary daily activity throughout the country. This effort, the most advanced in the world, is supported by the slogan "If You Have Nothing to Hide, You Have Nothing to Fear."

Meanwhile, to a degree that Americans of a generation ago would never have thought possible, the argument is made that torture can play a legitimate role in interrogation, the practice justified with reference to a greater good (and with the help of semantic fig leaves). Three of the Republican presidential candidates still in the race, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, maintain that waterboarding, which the Inquisition matter-of-factly considered to be torture, really isn't, and Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum openly support its use. (Mr. Romney hasn't said what he'd allow.)

The theoretical arguments for torture are slippery and dangerous. The inquisitors of old knew this all too well, and even popes tried to draw the line, to little avail - and in practice torture is more slippery still.

The idea that some single course is right and necessary - and, being right and necessary, must trump everything else, for all our sakes - is a seductive one. Isaiah Berlin knew where this idea of an "ultimate solution" would lead - indeed, had already led in the murderous century he witnessed: "For, if one really believes that such a solution is possible, then surely no cost would be too high to obtain it: to make mankind just and happy and creative and harmonious forever - what could be too high a price to pay for that? To make such an omelet, there is surely no limit to the number of eggs that should be broken. ... If your desire to save mankind is serious, you must harden your heart, and not reckon the cost."

The French soldiers who erased the inscription from the Inquisition's palazzo in Rome didn't know that they were replacing one form of certainty with another - in their case, the certainty of faith with the certainty of reason. The key words here are not "faith" and "reason" but "didn't know": the right way forward is always elusive. The drafters of the United States Constitution - fearful of rule by one opinion, whether the tyrant's or the mob's - created a governmental structure premised on the idea that human beings are fallible, fickle and unreliable, and in fundamental ways not to be trusted. Triumphalist rhetoric about the Constitution ignores the skeptical view of human nature that underlies it.

A long philosophical tradition in the Roman Catholic Church itself - admittedly, not the one most in evidence today - has long balanced the comfort of certainty against the corrective of doubt. Human beings are fallen creatures. Certitude can be a snare. Doubt can be a helping hand. Consider a list of theologians who have found themselves targets of church discipline - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, John Courtney Murray, Yves Congar - only to be "surrounded with a bright halo of enthusiasm" at some later point, as the late Cardinal Avery Dulles once put it.

Doubt sometimes comes across as feeble and meek, apologetic and obstructionist. On occasion it is. But it's also a powerful defensive instrument. Doubt can be a bulwark. We should inscribe that in marble someplace.

Cullen Murphy is an editor at large at Vanity Fair and the author of "God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World."

Monday, January 30, 2012

From the folks who brought you Occupy Wall Street...

Hey you redeemers, rebels and radicals out there,

Against the backdrop of a global uprising that is simmering in dozens of countries and thousands of cities and towns, the G8 and NATO will hold a rare simultaneous summit in Chicago this May. The world’s military and political elites, heads of state, 7,500 officials from 80 nations, and more than 2,500 journalists will be there.

And so will we.

On May 1, 50,000 people from all over the world will flock to Chicago, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and #OCCUPYCHICAGO for a month. With a bit of luck, we’ll pull off the biggest multinational occupation of a summit meeting the world has ever seen.

And this time around we’re not going to put up with the kind of police repression that happened during the Democratic National Convention protests in Chicago, 1968 … nor will we abide by any phony restrictions the City of Chicago may want to impose on our first amendment rights. We’ll go there with our heads held high and assemble for a month-long people’s summit … we’ll march and chant and sing and shout and exercise our right to tell our elected representatives what we want … the constitution will be our guide.

And when the G8 and NATO meet behind closed doors on May 19, we’ll be ready with our demands: a Robin Hood Tax … a ban on high frequency ‘flash’ trading … a binding climate change accord … a three strikes and you’re out law for corporate criminals … an all out initiative for a nuclear-free Middle East … whatever we decide in our general assemblies and in our global internet brainstorm – we the people will set the agenda for the next few years and demand our leaders carry it out.

And if they don’t listen … if they ignore us and put our demands on the back burner like they’ve done so many times before … then, with Gandhian ferocity, we’ll flashmob the streets, shut down stock exchanges, campuses, corporate headquarters and cities across the globe … we’ll make the price of doing business as usual too much to bear.

Jammers, pack your tents, muster up your courage and prepare for a big bang in Chicago this Spring. If we don’t stand up now and fight now for a different kind of future we may not have much of a future … so let’s live without dead time for a month in May and see what happens …

for the wild,
Culture Jammers HQ