Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Velvet Blog has won the Nobel Prize for Blogging, but it cannot sell you the Brooklyn Bridge

Story one:
Criminalizing speech is a tricky business, but Congress seemed to think it had found the right balance in 2006 when it overwhelmingly enacted the Stolen Valor Act, which made it a crime simply to lie about having received a military medal or service badge.

But the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit begs to differ. In a decision released on Tuesday, the three-judge panel, based in San Francisco, declared the law unconstitutional because it infringed on the defendant’s freedom of speech, even if it was false. That defendant, Xavier Alvarez, had claimed to be a Marine and a winner of the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award. He was neither. ...

The majority also found that there was no malice intended or harm done, since Mr. Alvarez uttered his fabrication during introductory remarks before the Three Valley Water District board of directors in California, of which he was a new member. (Mr. Alvarez, the judges noted, had also at various times claimed to have played hockey for the Detroit Red Wings and to have rescued the American ambassador during the Iranian hostage crisis.)

“We have no doubt that society would be better off if Mr. Alvarez would stop spreading worthless, ridiculous and offensive untruths,” the ruling said. “But, given our historical skepticism of permitting the government to police the line between truth and falsity, and between valuable speech and drivel, we presumptively protect all speech, including false statements.”
--The New York Times
Story two:
The offer was extraordinary: A baseball mitt once owned by Babe Ruth was being offered by a memorabilia broker in Nevada. But the mitt had an even richer history, its owner wrote; in 1944, the Babe had given the glove to his close friend Robert Young, the Hollywood star, who had kept it in his private collection for more than 68 years.

Ruth told the actor that he so prized the glove that “he slept with it under his pillow at the orphanage,” St. Mary’s, where he had been placed as a child, the mitt’s owner said.

The broker was offering the mitt for sale on behalf of the owner — the husband of a granddaughter of Mr. Young, the complaint says.

And that, the document suggests, was the only part of the story that was true.

The husband, Irving Scheib, 50, of Bonsall, Calif., appeared on Thursday in Federal District Court in Manhattan and pleaded guilty to a wire fraud charge for what prosecutors say was his scheme to sell the glove for $200,000 as a genuine Ruth artifact. In fact he had bought the mitt on eBay in January for about $750.

“I sold a baseball glove falsely claiming it was a Babe Ruth glove, and it was not, your honor,” Mr. Scheib told Judge Robert P. Patterson Jr. “I feel horrible about it, but those are the facts.”
--The New York Times
I'm curious where allowable lies leave off and where fraud kicks in. If you lie about your background in order to get elected to public office, is that fraud or free speech?

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