Patterico's Pontifications


One Year Ago Today: June 30, 2011

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:33 pm

Ron Brynaert tweeted this to me:

Brynaert also told me on the phone that there was a suspicious person with a British accent that I needed to know about.

I was very interested in these two pieces of information, because I knew that Mike Stack had been SWATted on June 23, 2011. I knew that the caller from Mike Stack’s June 23, 2011 SWATting had been (incorrectly) described by the police as having a British accent. And I knew that some suspected that a woman in Boston named Jennifer George was behind some of the fakery that could be related to Mike Stack’s SWATting — and that she had accused Lee of threatening her.

It is little wonder that I wanted to speak with Ron Brynaert on the phone on the night of June 30, 2011.

The same night, in a post that generated 3765 comments, I speculated on another possibility: that perhaps Jennifer George really was threatened, but that the threatener had merely pretended to be Stranahan.

And I mentioned Neal Rauhauser. Stack and I had discussed Rauhauser, and the possibility that he might have something to do with the Stack SWATting episode. We knew that Rauhauser had a history of using sock puppets. If someone had impersonated Stranahan to Jennifer George, we wondered if Rauhauser might be responsible.

I ended the post that night in this way:

UPDATE x2: I’m feeling better about the theory with each passing second.

Hi, Neal!

And my first comment said:

Maybe Neal Rauhauser could come explain to me why this could not be possible.

The post quickly became filled with sock puppets, including Alicia Pain, who had threatened me a week earlier. She said things like:

Everyone is getting threatened these days. What’s the world coming to?


Wonder who threatened Patterico and Ace?

Remember the great Dan Wolfe/John Reid “rivalry”? They tried to convince people that they were separate people by speaking in a nasty manner about one another and saying they hated each other. Despite that, their tactics were similar, and many of us concluded they were the same person. They just used heavy-handed “I hate the other sock puppet” tactics to throw people off the trail.

It is an instructive exercise to wonder whether Brynaert and Alicia Pain were doing the same thing when Alicia Pain posted information about an arrest of Brynaert’s that night — information which I deleted and told Brynaert about on the phone. Or whether Rauhauser and Brynaert were doing the same thing in days leading up to my SWATting, when Rauhauser wrote me and Lee Stranahan to complain that Brynaert was mentally ill, or when Brynaert told me that he had suspicions about Neal Rauhauser that night.

Did they all hate each other? Or did they just want to convince people that they did?

I tried to get information from Brynaert about the Stranahan report, and about the man with the British accent. But Brynaert ranted and raved and shouted, and it was almost impossible to get him to answer any questions. (Anyone who has ever spoken with Brynaert on the phone has likely had a similar experience.)

And he was still on the phone with me in the early morning hours of July 1, 2011, when police showed up at my door. But that’s tomorrow’s post.

As a reminder, here is a 12-second clip combining the end of my SWATting call with a few seconds from an interview with Ron Brynaert:


White House: The Mandate Is a Penalty, Not a Tax

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 9:32 pm

If Romney does not absolutely tear them to pieces on this, I may not bother to walk to the polls to vote for him:

The White House said Friday that the Obamacare insurance mandate tax is a penalty for not having insurance – a statement that directly contradicts what the Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

According to press reports, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One that the penalty was not a tax but a penalty.

“It’s a penalty, because you have a choice. You don’t have a choice to pay your taxes, right,” Carney is quoted as saying by Yahoo News.

It doesn’t just contradict what the Supreme Court said. It contradicts what his own lawyers said in court.

Let’s get this straight.

Obama clearly stated that this was not a tax — to get it passed.

Then he sent his lawyers into court to argue it was a tax — to get it upheld.

Then he sent his press secretary before the press to claim it was not a tax — to get the decision accepted.

Mitt Romney must bring this up again and again. He must bring it up more than once in each Presidential debate. And when he does, he should say something like this:

Barack Obama claimed that this wasn’t a tax. He said that, because he knew if he said it was a tax, it would never be passed. Then he argued in court that this was a tax. He said that, because he knew that if he said it wasn’t a tax, it could not be upheld. Now, as soon as I finish my answer, he is going to tell you again that it’s not a tax. He will say that, because he knows that if he admits it’s a tax, you voters will blame him for raising taxes. This President just ping pongs back and forth between positions, willy-nilly, and hopes you won’t notice. He’s about to do it again. Just watch. Mr. President, did your lawyers say this was a tax? And when you had them argue that, were they telling the truth?

Mitt Romney, please don’t put me in a situation where I’m screaming at the TV because there is a good argument to be made, and you’re not making it.

Nail this guy to the wall on this issue.

Nail him to the wall.


Thanks to Jay Batman.


Protective Order Muzzles Blogger

Filed under: Brad Friedman,Brett Kimberlin,General,Neal Rauhauser — Patterico @ 11:16 pm

I just got interested in the muzzling of a blogger by a judge who cares little about the First Amendment. I saw the story on Radley Balko’s site, noticed that the judge had actually ordered the blogger to take down his posts (!), and had just started to do some independent research — pulling Google Cache shots of the deleted posts (here, here, here, and here) — when I saw Popehat already had the whole thing covered.

In a post published a few minutes ago.

This, in some ways, is worse than the egregious order Brett Kimberlin got against Aaron Walker. Judge Sanabria-Vega has not merely prohibited someone from speaking about a criminal proceeding — she’s ordered that person to delete what he’s previously written, all without a hearing. Moreover, the theories on which Nilan sought an order — and on which Judge Sanbria-Vega apparently granted it — appear plainly unconstitutional. Prior restraint on otherwise protected speech (that is, preventing Valenti from writing about Nilan at all) is only permissible in very rare cases, and orders requiring the removal of defamatory material generally come only after a full trial on the merits. Moreover, Valenti tells me that Nilan has never informed him of what specific facts he has printed are false, and nothing in the press coverage of this order or her statement identifies any such specific facts. Remember my mantra — vagueness in legal threats is the hallmark of censorious thuggery.

As to threats, Nilan’s theory appears to be similar to that of convicted domestic terrorist Brett Kimberlin — that if a blogger strongly criticizes someone, that blogger is legally responsible for reader reactions, and may be prohibited from blogging further if readers react with bad behavior like threats. As the appellate court has found in Kimberlin, that’s just not the law — only incitement that is calculated to cause, and likely to cause, imminent lawless action may be prohibited or punished. That’s a good thing. Otherwise, all the nuts of the internet have a heckler’s veto over Dan Valenti’s speech, and your speech, and mine. If we’re responsible for bad people responding to critical (as opposed to genuinely inciting) speech, then the more contemptible somebody’s behavior, the more dangerous it would be to write about them. Moreover, in the digital age, such an unprincipled legal rule is ripe for fraud — it’s trivially easy for someone seeking a protective order to lie about receiving threats, and nearly as easy to send false-flag threats to create a justification for censorship.

Dan Valenti’s case, like Aaron Walker’s, highlights how protective orders can pose a grave risk to First Amendment rights if judges issue them without applying scrutiny premised on fundamental First Amendment principles. The more that judges approve applications like Brett Kimberlin’s and Meredith Nilan’s, the more that people will be emboldened to abuse the protective order system to silence criticism. If Dan Valenti has written false facts about Meredith Nilan, she can sue for libel, and carry the appropriate burden dictated by the First Amendment. If she’s been subjected to threats, she can seek remedy against the actual culprits. But there’s no excuse for judges to use their coercive power to protect her from commentary because of how unidentified strangers on the internet might react.

I do have a quibble with the first sentence from that block quote. Of course, Aaron’s situation is worse in many ways, because a) he was arrested, b) he was fired, c) he was SWATted, and d) he remains threatened by a violent psychopath. So he’s got that going for him. Which is nice.

But at least he never was ordered to take down any blog posts.

Anyway, that quibble aside, Ken has done a great job laying out the facts and why it all matters.

That’ll allow me to go to bed a lot sooner. Thanks, Ken!

Today’s ObamaCare Decision: Scalia’s Textualism Loses to Roberts’s Reinterpretation of Words

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:37 pm

The rule of law depends on judges adhering to the words of the law. Textualism is thus critical to the rule of law. Textualism was cast aside today, and we are all paying the price.

Today’s ObamaCare decision boiled down to a fairly simple question: was the mandate a “penalty” or a “tax”? Congress called it a penalty — not once, but multiple times. But Judge Roberts and the four liberal Justices decided to ignore the plain meaning of the word “penalty,” and redefined it to mean “tax.”

Justice Roberts’s motives for doing this are known only to him. But if he had done his job properly, and interpreted the statutory language according to Justice Scalia’s theory of textualism, we conservatives would be celebrating today. Instead, we bemoan the rewriting of a statute in a manner that radically defines the balance of power between the states and the federal government, not to mention the relationship between the federal government and the individual citizen.

I have argued until I am blue in the face that, whatever the merits of trying to divine unexpressed “intent” in the meaning of words in everyday communication, the rule of law requires that the plain meaning of words govern the interpretation of statutes passed by legislative bodies. As I explained in May 2010:

Unlike most legal interpreters, who are willing to look to indicators of legislative intent in cases where the plain language is ambiguous, Justice Scalia rejects any reliance on legislative intent that is not reflected in the plain text.

Textualism, Scalia argues in his book “A Matter of Interpretation,” is what undergirds the rule of law: “It is what makes government a government of laws and not of men.” As he says: “We are governed by laws, not by the intentions of legislators.” This survey of Scalia’s textualist approach summarizes the philosophy well: “[I]f the law does not mean what it says and does not say what it means, citizens are left at a loss concerning how they should conduct themselves.” Justice Scalia has put it more succinctly: “Once text is abandoned, one intuition will serve as well as the other.”

Textualism is the mode of analysis that Justice Scalia employs in today’s decision, whereas Justice Roberts employs a more touchy-feely sort of analysis, which rejects the plain meaning of the words as mere “labels” that can be rewritten to save the statute’s constitutionality:

It is of course true that the Act describes the payment as a “penalty,” not a “tax.” But while that label is fatal to the application of the Anti-Injunction Act, supra, at 12–13, it does not determine whether the payment may be viewed as an exercise of Congress’s taxing power.

They said “penalty,” in other words, but they didn’t really mean penalty. Roberts expands on the need to ignore those pesky labels:

The joint dissenters argue that we cannot uphold §5000A as a tax because Congress did not “frame” it as such. Post, at 17. In effect, they contend that even if the Constitution permits Congress to do exactly what we interpret this statute to do, the law must be struck down because Congress used the wrong labels. [But] labels should not control here.

Scalia, by contrast, marshals several arguments in favor of the penalty being construed as a penalty — but the one he keeps coming back to is that Congress called it a penalty:

We have never held that any exaction imposed for violation of the law is an exercise of Congress’ taxing power—even when the statute calls it a tax, much less when (as here) the statute repeatedly calls it a penalty.

. . . .

So the question is, quite simply, whether the exaction here is imposed for violation of the law. It unquestionably is. The minimum-coverage provision is found in 26 U. S. C. §5000A, entitled “Requirement to maintain mini- mum essential coverage.” (Emphasis added.) It commands that every “applicable individual shall . . . ensure that the individual . . . is covered under minimum essential cover- age.” Ibid. (emphasis added). And the immediately following provision states that, “[i]f . . . an applicable individual . . . fails to meet the requirement of subsection (a) . . . there is hereby imposed . . . a penalty.”

. . . .

[W]e have never—never—treated as a tax an exaction which faces up to the critical difference between a tax and a penalty, and explicitly denominates the exaction a “penalty.” Eighteen times in §5000A itself and else- where throughout the Act, Congress called the exaction in §5000A(b) a “penalty.”

. . . .

In the face of all these indications of a regulatory re- quirement accompanied by a penalty, the Solicitor General assures us that “neither the Treasury Department nor the Department of Health and Human Services interprets Section 5000A as imposing a legal obligation,” Petitioners’ Minimum Coverage Brief 61, and that “[i]f [those subject to the Act] pay the tax penalty, they’re in compliance with the law,” Tr. of Oral Arg. 50 (Mar. 26, 2012). These self-serving litigating positions are entitled to no weight. What counts is what the statute says, and that is entirely clear.

. . . .

The last of the feeble arguments in favor of petition- ers that we will address is the contention that what this statute repeatedly calls a penalty is in fact a tax because it contains no scienter requirement.

It makes no sense to go on about “legislative intent” as giving meaning to statutory language, when a) the subjective intent of the lawmakers is diverse and unknowable, and b) most of them haven’t even read the words which their intent supposedly infuses with meaning:

[L]egislation cannot be interpreted according to legislative intent because, even in theory, it is often impossible to ascribe a single intent to a set of words that is the product of numerous different intentions. If 60 people vote for a provision, and 30 intend it to mean one thing, and the other 30 intend for it to mean the precise opposite, there is no coherent way to determine a single “intent” behind the text. . . . What’s more, often the “intent” of the legislators is non-existent, as they simply ratify language written by other people without even reading it.

That is why the rule of law requires that the plain meaning of a statute’s words must govern. If Chief Justice Roberts had simply paid attention to this simple precept — if he had simply adhered to Scalia’s principles of textualism and plain meaning — we wouldn’t be in such a dark place tonight.

UPDATE: This discussion is a bit oversimplified. I explore more of the nuances here.

ObamaCare Ruling Expected Shortly; SCOTUSBlog Report: Supreme Court Upholds Mandate As a Tax; UPDATE: Video of Obama Denying It’s a Tax

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:50 am

The revolution will be liveblogged at SCOTUSBlog.

UPDATE: The SCOTUSBlog liveblog is reporting that ObamaCare’s mandate has been upheld as a tax, with Chief Justice Roberts in the majority.

UPDATE: It was clear from the arguments that many Justices and lawyers believed that the mandate could be upheld if it were considered to be a tax. But I admit that I did not get the impression that the Justices were buying that argument.

UPDATE: They’re reporting that the whole law has been upheld, with a small limitation on the federal government’s power to terminate the states’ Medicaid funds.

UPDATE: Here is a clip of Obama absolutely rejecting the idea that ObamaCare is a tax:

Ignore the captioning, which is inaccurate, and just listen to what he says.

UPDATE: Link to the opinion here.


“Matt” In Maryland Should Be Nervous

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 11:18 pm

The cops are onto him.

Another Western Washington kid has been the victim of a “swatting” hoax through an online video game service. This time, a 13-year-old in Rainier was the target.

Lieutenant Greg Elwin, with the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, says they have reason to believe someone named “Matt” in Maryland was behind the false alarm.

The FBI in Dallas told me gamers are the typical SWATters. The people after me were atypical. As a Deputy Chief in the U.S. Attorney’s Office told me last December, when I met with her in person, what happened to me and Mike Stack sounded like “political terrorism.”

I wonder what she would say now that it has happened to Erick Erickson and Aaron Walker as well.

They seemed very competent and interested. If Eric Holder cared about solving the (increasingly numerous) incidents of SWATting, he might consider getting those folks involved.

Your ObamaCare Predictions Here

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 11:11 pm

I’ve already made mine.

5-4. ObamaCare struck down.

In its entirety.

Roberts writes the opinion.

Care to differ? Put down your prediction before 10 a.m. Eastern, tomorrow.

Go Heats!

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 8:25 pm

I don’t follow sports at all, yet I would not make this mistake:

Lucky for Obama, I don’t think Florida is a very important state in the presidential election.

And Boston isn’t much of a college town.

Michelle Malkin And Many Others Evacuated From Homes Due to Wildfires

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:56 am

Offer Michelle your support.

Brett Kimberlin Threatens Even More Unconstitutional Peace Orders Against Aaron Walker

Filed under: Brad Friedman,Brett Kimberlin,General,Neal Rauhauser — Patterico @ 7:34 am

Kimberlin, in a letter to Aaron Walker’s attorney yesterday:

Again, I want to be left alone by your client. That is my demand as required by Galloway and the criminal harassment statute. His false narrative that I framed him is defamatory and inciting extremists to threaten me. He is responsible for their conduct. I will not hesitate to seek additional peace orders or criminal harassment charges if he does not leave me alone.

The trouble is, Brett Kimberlin defines “leave me alone” as “don’t blog about the lawfare I have waged on you.” He wants the right to engage in dishonest and abusive litigation, but he demands more: the right to do it without criticism. As you can see from his response to Aaron’s filing for an emergency stay, Kimberlin continues to assert that he has the right to an email inbox free from Google Alerts relating to posts written by Aaron about Kimberlin:

Mr. Walker, contrary to what he says in his motion, did, as Judge Vaughey found, contact Petitioner directly in order to harass him. In his blog posts andon his Twitter page, he addressed Petitioner directly. He knew that his posts and tweets would end up in Petitioner’s email box, and taunted Petitioner to turn off “his Google alerts.” This is akin to telling someone to shut off their phone or stop their mail service if they did not want to receive harassing calls or mail.

Um, no, it’s not. If you set up a service where your phone rings every time someone talks about you in public, I am not “phoning” you if I talk about you in public. If you set up a service where you receive a piece of snail mail every time someone talks about you in public, I am not “mailing” you if I talk about you in public. Having a Google alert for your name is YOUR choice. It cannot be used as a sword to force people to stop talking about you — and it is not “taunting” for Aaron to say: if you don’t want your email inbox filled with notifications about Aaron’s posts, turn your Google alerts off.

And Aaron Walker is not responsible for the reaction of other people to his peaceful speech, in which he repeatedly disclaims any intent to have people harass Kimberlin in any way whatsoever. (As do I.)

The thing is, Kimberlin has been told all of this before — and he still goes back and gets peace orders. And the judges in the Maryland court system give them to him. These judges feel bound by their own rules instead of the rules set by the Supreme Court, as Judge Vaughey famously made clear.

So when Kimberlin makes a threat like this, it is not idle.

He is not going to stop, until someone (morally and legally) forces him to stop.

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