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Professional Troublemaker

 Jonathan Corbett, Civil Rights Advocate

Why NYC Rent Is So High (It’s *Not* Airbnb)

eastvillageRecently, Airbnb has received a lot of heat from New York City and State officials, who have accused the company of driving up rents for residents by reducing the available housing supply.  The state legislature has gone so far as to pass a bill levying fines of up to $7,500 against Airbnb users for listing their apartments “illegally” (as in, against a law pushed by the hotel lobby that prevents New Yorkers from renting out their own apartments); the bill sits on the governor’s desk awaiting his decision.

What legislators aren’t discussing is that one of the key reasons behind the high rents in Manhattan has nothing to do with supply and demand, but is government-imposed.  As someone who has lived in and around NYC for much of his life, I’m well aware that taxes are high, but when my landlord raised my rent citing his increased property taxes, I did some digging and found that my landlord wasn’t bluffing: I was astounded at how high they actually are.

In Miami Beach, you can expect to pay 1.39% of your condo’s value every year.  In San Francisco, it’s 1.18% for your house on the hill.  If you like the thrill of gunshots on your way to work, Chicago’s tax rate is 1.86%.

But in New York City, you owe the city between 10.6% and 20.0% of your property’s assessed value, every year. For apartment buildings with more than 3 units, the rate is 12.9%.

Let’s put this in perspective.  In the very residential and fairly affordable (for Manhattan) East Village, a pre-war, 5-story, apartment building with 15 1-bedroom units and a storefront may have a market value of about $5M.  “Assessed values” tend to be are lower than actual market values (both in NYC and most other cities), so you might end up with an assessed value of half the actual value, or $2.5M 45% of actual value, or $2.25M.  That building would likely be subject to the Class 2 tax rate of 12.9%, meaning $290,250 in taxes every year.  A typical apartment in these buildings may be $2,500 monthly, and a typical storefront may be $10,000 monthly, making annual rent revenue $570,000.  In this scenario, 51.0% of your rent money goes to the city in taxes, and that’s in addition to the NYC income tax of up to 3.876%, NYS income tax of up to 8.82%, sales tax on everything you buy of 8.875%, and other hidden taxes like the MTA tax on every taxi ride you take.

But, of course, it gets better.  Brand new buildings — which, these days, are almost exclusively luxury towers — get tax abatements, reducing the tax bill for the rich on their homes to pennies on the dollar.  So, while $1,275 of your $2,500 rent bill for a modest 1 BR in the East Village goes to Uncle deBlasio, the multi-million dollar condo owner a few blocks down may be paying only a few hundred dollars per month.

So, we can blame Airbnb for shitty neighbors throwing parties, but let’s not blame Airbnb for our rent bills: when more than half of my rent goes into the city’s coffers — at least if you’re middle class — I think we know where the problem lies.

[Edit: Numbers updated thanks to insight from /u/Tervia regarding the assessed value.]

[Edit 2: Want to look up your building’s taxes?  You’ll need to find a document that lists your building’s “Actual AV” and then multiply it by the tax rate for your building’s class (if you live in a building with more than 3 units, it’s 12.9%).

Peruta v. San Diego — Another Side-Step of Whether We Have the Right to “Bear” Arms

2agoodreason

In preparation for my lawsuit as part of my exposé on gun rights in NYC (Part I, Part II), I’ve been watching Peruta v. San Diego.  The reason is that the federal courts of appeals, divided into 13 circuits that each have jurisdiction over a different chunk of the United States, have been struggling to determine to what extent the Second Amendment (“…the right of the People to keep and bear arms…”) guarantees the right to not just keep (own guns in your home), as the Supreme Court made clear is covered by the Second Amendment in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 (2010), but the right to bear arms — that is, the right to carry them around with you.

Here in New York, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that to whatever extent the Second Amendment gives us the right to bear arms, that right is not “fundamental” and is therefore subject to any restriction that furthers a government interest, subsequently concluding that a state may restrict the right to bear arms to those who show a “good reason” to carry them.  Kachalsky v. Cacace, 701 F.3d 81 (2nd Cir. 2012).

However, in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, legendary judge Richard Posner wrote the majority opinion invalidating an Illinois statute that required a “good reason.”  Moore v. Madigan, 702 F.3d 933 (7th Cir. 2012).  And, judges in several other circuits have suggested, without ruling, that they would lean the same.

Peruta was another court upholding the right to bear arms, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  But, after a 3-judge panel upheld that right, the other judges in the court voted to rehear it en banc — in front of 11 judges — and last month overturned the 3-judge panel and allowed California to require a “good reason” before issuing a carry license.

The biggest problem with Peruta is that the judges, in their 190 page (!!) opinion entirely side-stepped the question.  You see, courts have been fairly consistent in ruling that a state may restrict open-carry, or restrict concealed carry, but they have not typically allowed a state to restrict both.  In other words, the general rule, save for the Kachalsky aberration in the 2nd Circuit, was that a state must guarantee your right to bear arms, but can tell you whether you must conceal your handgun or make it visible.  And so, the Peruta en banc court once again said that a state may ban concealed carry without deciding whether it may simultaneously ban open carry.  The attorneys in Peruta clearly argued the point that they are seeking the right to bear arms (either open or concealed), and felt compelled to spend 190 pages without ruling on that point.  (Peruta’s attorneys have moved the court to re-hear arguments and consider the true question, a motion likely to be declined.)

In fairness, of those 190 pages, many of them are written by 4 judges of the 11 that dissented from the majority opinion, and given the split in this case, plus the circuit split (2nd & 9th Circuits vs. 7th Circuit), the Supreme Court may hear it (and Peruta’s lawyers almost certainly will ask them to).  I have to ponder whether I want to file my case in New York before that happens or right now.  I shall give it some thought.

DHS Wants Tourists To List Their Facebook Accounts to Enter Country

If you’re a non-U.S. citizen entering the U.S. with a passport issued by one of our friends in Europe, you can enter “without a visa” by completing an “Electronic System for Travel Authorization” form online and paying a fee (which, if you think about it, is really no different from getting a visa… it’s just you print a piece of paper instead of get a mark in your passport).

The questions on the application are mostly the typical stuff you’d expect we might ask those entering our country, but DHS now proposes to add one more:

“Please enter information associated with your online presence—Provider/Platform—Social media identifier.”

What’s wrong with that?  Well, I’ve explained in a letter opposing the proposed rule that there are many problems with this.  The first is that it’s not even clear what one would need to disclose, and sometimes disclosure may be a troubling basis for discrimination:

Do I need to think back to the MySpace account that I created in 2003 and have not used since 2006?  If I have a username for a chat room or message board, does that count?  What about Tinder?  Or perhaps I use the popular dating app for gay men known as Grindr.  Do you think it’s reasonable that I would then need to indirectly disclose my sexual preference as a condition of entering this country?  Or perhaps I use the Web site for connecting individuals with sexual fetishes known as FetLife.  Will you then review my FetLife account and determine if my preferred variety of kinky sex is acceptable?  If it is uncovered that I enjoy being dominated by women in latex bodysuits while ball gagged, will a CBP officer consider me the same level of security risk as one who prefers long walks on the beach and seeks a partner who loves Jesus?  Speaking of Jesus, many people use social networking related to their religion (Christian Mingle, JDate, etc.).  Now you’d like to know my religion, too?

Not particularly worried since you’re a U.S. citizen and therefore won’t have to personally deal with this problem?  Think again…

When the U.S. government implements a stupid rule affecting foreign visitors, other countries implement retaliatory rules on U.S. citizens seeking to enter their territory. …  Many other countries require visa fees only from U.S. citizens (or higher visa fees only for U.S. citizens), or fingerprinting only for U.S. citizens, in retaliation for what we do to their citizens.  I don’t want to have to share my Facebook details in order to travel, and if you implement this rule, it is all but certain that I shall have to do so as other countries decide to implement retaliatory rules.

It would be nice if DHS, for once, could do something that would actually improve our safety rather than play around with technology that they know nothing about.

[Edit – Online comments are now allowed from the public!  Let DHS know what you think!]

The Most Epic Court Transcript Ever

Warning: Disturbing language.

denverallen
Denver Allen

Denver Allen, a resident of Floyd County, Ga.’s jail, doesn’t much like judges.  Or attorneys.  Or his cellmate that he allegedly murdered, which led to a preliminary hearing on the matter last week.

The popcorn-worthy part of the full 19-page transcript begins when Mr. Allen requests that the court appoint him a different public defender:

MR ALLEN: He’s misrepresenting my case.  He told me if I wanted him to do a good job, I had to let him give me oral sex…

When the Hon. J. Bryant Durham, Jr. suggests that his claims — both the demand for sex and general allegations of ineffective counsel — are not believable and he won’t be getting a new attorney, he takes it to the next level:

THE COURT: Listen to me.

MR. ALLEN: Fuck you.

THE COURT: Listen to me.

MR. ALLEN: Go fuck yourself.  I’m through here.  Are y’all done?

THE COURT: I’m finding you in contempt of court.

MR. ALLEN: I don’t care.

THE COURT:  I know you don’t.  And I sentence you to 20 days for that.  And if you say anything else, I’m going to add twenty days for everything you say.

MR. ALLEN: Fuck you.

THE COURT: 40 days.

MR. ALLEN: Fuck you again.

THE COURT: 60.

MR. ALLEN: Go fuck yourself.

THE COURT: A year.

MR. ALLEN: Your mama.

THE COURT: 10 years.

MR. ALLEN: Suck my dick.

It doesn’t stop there.  After more general profanity, it gets stepped up another notch, as the judge gets baited into sinking down to his level:

THE COURT: You know, you look like a queer.

MR. ALLEN: Well, okay, so now you’re calling me a queer in the courtroom?

THE COURT: I didn’t call you one.  I said you looked like one.

[…more banter…]

MR. ALLEN: Can we get a court order to get my dick sucked, sir?

THE COURT: You’re so cute.  I know all the inmates just love you to death.

MR. ALLEN: Oh, yeah.

THE COURT: Oh, I bet.

MR. ALLEN: All those white butt boys love me to death, too.

THE COURT: Okay.  Well, I’ll bet they do, and I bet all the rest of them do, too.

MR. ALLEN: You ain’t supposed to smile in court.

THE COURT: I’ll bet everybody enjoys sucking your cock.

But, there’s just one more way to notch this up to the next level:

MR. ALLEN: How about this — I’ll kill your whole family.  When I get in this trial, I will murder your whole family.  I’ll cut your children up into pieces.  I’ll knock their brains out with a fucking hammer and feed them to you

Truly amazing.

What Is Wrong in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California?

My latest lawsuit, against EDC music festival promoter Insomniac, was filed in the U.S District Court located in Los Angeles (each state is divided into 1 or more federal districts, and Los Angeles is in one of California’s 4 districts called the “Central District of California”).  Last Tuesday, I filed that complaint as well as a motion for a temporary restraining order, and was shocked (and somewhat impressed) that the judge ruled on the motion the same day it was filed.  His ruling was that there is enough time to give the opposing party time to reply before the music festival, and so a temporary restraining order (which is a type of injunction heard without the other side) was inappropriate.

Fair enough — so I re-filed 2 days later, serving the motion on the other parties and asking the judge to reconsider the motion as a preliminary injunction (which is a type of injunction heard with the other side).  Again, a same day reply, but this time less impressive: motion denied with no reason given.

I was a bit surprised, as this kind of rapid bouncing of all documents was not typical of my experience in other U.S. District Courts (by my count, this is the 16th case I’ve filed in these courts).  So, I went to look up what other people had to say about the judge on The Robing Room — basically, Yelp for judges, where litigants who appear before (mostly) federal judges can rate their judge and write feedback.  But, right on the front page, I see this:

bad-usdc-cdca-judges

There are over 600 U.S. district judges, and while the federal courts up by San Francisco in the Northern District of California (N.D. Cal.) are ranked at the top, 5 of the 10 worst ranked federal judges in the country are in the Central District of California (C.D. Cal.).  The judge assigned to my case is the Hon. Philip S. Gutierrez, who ranks the 8th worst federal judge in country according to The Robing Room’s users.

Why have people ranked these 5 judges so low?  Here’s a look at some of the choice commentary:

“As a former colleague of Judge Keller’s, who observed him behind the scenes of the bench, I am very sorry to say that he lacks intellect, patience, and impartiality, and always has been arrogant and ill-tempered. He was, and continues to be, a disgrace to the bench on which he stubbornly continues to serve.”

–Anonymous Criminal Defense lawyer regarding the Hon. William D. Keller (ranked #1 worst), posted September 6th, 2012.  Judge Keller is a Reagan appointee who has been on the bench since 1984.

“I sat in the courtroom as an observer to a trial regarding securities laws. I was appalled at the behavior, conduct, and knowledge of the law (or rather the lack thereof) of this ‘judge.’ He is rude, and sleeps most of the time, only to open his mean eyes occasionally to bark at the lawyers or those who testify. At times he is completely disoriented and does not understand or follow the details of the case.”

–Anonymous Unspecified Commenter regarding the Hon. Manuel L. Real (ranked #2 worst), posted October 24th, 2013.  Judge Real is an LBJ appointee who has been on the bench since 1966 (!!). By my calculations he is 92 years old, and has apparently been removed from several cases for bias.

“Judge Wright bullied the defendants’ counsel, no retrain in exhibiting his blatant bias towards the prosecution, paraded around the courtroom waving a baseball bat, pushing said bat into his crotch while facing defendants female counsel, acting if he was about to strike the lawyers with it all outside the presents of a jury, referred to the people of California as ‘morons’, said marijuana defendants should be slapped around for a bit before being forced into a boot camp until they would no longer break the law.”

–Anonymous Unspecified Commenter regarding the Hon. Otis D. Wright, II (ranked #3 worst), posted June 7th, 2014.  Judge Wright is a Bush 43 appointee who has been on the bench since 2007.  The bat comment was corroborated by a second commenter the next day.

“I’ve been a litigator in state and federal courts for 37 years. Without question, Judge Anderson is the most offensive, laziest, most arrogant, insulting and imbalanced judge that I have ever had the misfortune to stand before.”

— Anonymous Civil Litigator regarding the Hon. Percy Anderson (ranked #6 worst), posted December 12th, 2013.  Judge Anderson is a Bush 43 appointee who has been on the bench since 2002.

…and finally, the judge assigned to my case:

“He is a very nice man, but he is not a very good judge. He looks for any excuse to get rid of civil cases and doesn’t care about the effect that has on the litigants and counsel. If you draw him, good luck.”

— Anonymous Civil Litigator regarding the Hon. Philip S. Gutierrez (ranked #8 worst), posted August 25th, 2015.  Judge Gutierrez is another Bush 43 appointee who has been on the bench since 2007.  This comment is corroborated by other posters who say that he “comes up with wacky ways to get rid of cases” and “[l]ooks for any reason to get rid of a case no matter how flimsy.”

Ah, that explains my motion being promptly denied without actual consideration.

Well, I filed the fastest Notice of Appeal in my experience on Friday, just 3 days after opening the case.  Now the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will have a look at the motion for preliminary injunction and Judge Gutierrez’ rapid denial of it without explanation.

Still, what’s with the concentration of low-ranked judges in this district?

Corbett v. Insomniac – Emergency Motion for Injunction Pending Appeal (.pdf)

Corbett Sues Music Festival Producer Insomniac Over Discriminatory Search

EDC 2015
EDC 2015 was a blast!

As some of you know, in addition to my civil rights advocacy, I’m a music fanatic, and I create and perform electronic music, as well as seek out the best music events across the world. The Electric Daisy Carnival music festival, held annually in Las Vegas, NV, has been one of my favorites because of the massive attention paid to creating an experience, rather than just a set of stages.

So it was much to my disappointment this year to read that EDC producer Insomniac has decided that it will not only search every attendee entering the venue with a self-described “TSA-style search,” but it will prohibit all over-the-counter medicine and require festival-goers to “explain” their prescription medication.

Music events since Woodstock have had drug usage, and I appreciate that Insomniac feels an obligation to minimize unlawful drug usage at its events.  However, this policy, beyond being invasive, is downright dangerous.  Many people need over-the-counter drugs to avoid serious medical issues.  Consider, for example, the person with allergies who carries Benadryl (diphenhydramine) to counter a reaction.  With the 18+ crowd that EDC attracts, will a teen with an allergy decide to leave his medication behind so he can go party, risking, well, death?

It’s also downright discriminatory.  No one should have to “explain” their HIV meds, schizophrenia drugs, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome in order to enter a place of public accommodation.  And unfortunately, Insomniac isn’t the only one to do it.  I’ve personally seen many nightclubs in America refuse entry to people with lawful medicine.  However, Insomniac is the first I’ve seen so blatantly publish such a policy for such a massive event.  As such, today I filed suit against Insomniac and the owner of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway where EDC takes place, alleging discrimination as prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act and related state laws.

The case is Corbett v. Insomniac, 16-CV-3604, filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, where Insomniac is headquartered.

Corbett v. Insomniac – Complaint with Exhibit (.pdf)

Corbett v. Insomniac – Motion for TRO (.pdf)

Corbett v. Insomniac – Motion for TRO Affidavit (.pdf)


Fighting for civil rights in court is expensive!  Want to contribute to the fight against assholery? Donate via PayPal, Venmo, Chace QuickPay, Bitcoin, or check

Is It *Really* Impossible To Get A Gun License in NYC? (Part II)

disapproval
Not so fast, Mr. Corbett…

In March I wrote Part I of my journey to see if the rumors are true that it’s impossible for the average citizen to get a license to carry a handgun in New York City.  Part I described the application, $430 filing fee, and then the follow-up where the City asked for more than 2 dozen additional pieces of documentation, all of which I provided but could not seem to get in touch with the NYPD officer assigned to investigate my application.

Well, just a day after posting and sharing on Twitter with a tag to NYPD’s official @NYPDnews account, which spiked traffic to the blog on the order of several thousands of viewers, I suddenly got an e-mail from the licensing officer saying that he noticed we had difficulty reaching each other and scheduling an interview.   I’ll never know if making it public was what did it, but I suspect it may have helped.  (BTW, if you don’t yet follow me on Twitter, add me!)

I met with Officer Barberio, who was a friendly guy and took only a few minutes of my time to tell me that my background was clear but my “reason” for wanting a license probably wouldn’t make it past the higher-ups that would have a look at the application.  You see, New York law requires people who want to exercise their right to bear arms to give a reason.  The reason can be self-defense, but the applicant, apparently, must show a need for self-defense greater than the average citizen.  Gun licenses in New York are issued by county, and many counties apparently are lenient on this requirement, but not those comprising New York city.

Officer Barberio also clarified a few anomalies regarding the paperwork.  He explained that despite the forms available from the NYPD stating that one must have a business reason for applying to carry a handgun, you can ignore that part and state a personal reason.  He explained that the requirement to have your roommate’s consent, if you live with someone else, isn’t a bar to getting a license, but would result in them interviewing your roommate.  And, he explained that reference letters are no longer required, even though his form letter to me weeks prior insisted that they are.

About 3 weeks later, a letter appears from the NYPD.  Its title was “NOTICE OF DISAPPROVAL,” and explained the NYPD’s position regarding the requirement of showing a need.  The letter cited Kachalsky v. Cacace, by which it really meant Kachalsky v. County. of Westchester, 701 F.3d 81 (2d Cir. 2012), wherein the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the provision of New York law that allowed the state to demand a “reason.”

The only problem?  In the meantime, two other circuits of the Court of Appeals have ruled otherwise.   Middle America got its decision in Moore v. Madigan, 702 F.3d 933 (7th Cir. 2012, Posner, J.) and the west coast got it in Peruta v. San Diego, 742 F.3d 1144 (9th Cir. 2014).  Peruta is pending an en banc (larger set of judges) review that should be (re-)decided any day now.  I shall wait for that decision before I file suit, and in the meantime have filed an administrative appeal with the NYPD.

Stay tuned for Part III this summer…:)


Fighting for civil rights in court is expensive!  Want to contribute to the fight against government assholery? Donate via PayPal, Venmo, Chace QuickPay, Bitcoin, or check

TSA: Taking Pictures Of Our Dogs Is Illegal!

tsak9
I’m told that this picture is very illegal.  TSA K-9 handler at JFK T1 immediately before ordering me to stop taking pictures.

On Friday, I flew out of New York’s JFK T1 after experiencing what was the longest airport security line I have ever seen. It literally stretched from the zig-zag queue at the center of the terminal to the far end of the terminal, and then around the corner. The TSA, of course, knows that terrorists now target security lines, rather than airplanes, and doesn’t seem to care that they are putting us at risk, but I digress.

After finally reaching the front of the queue, I spotted, for the first time, the TSA’s new experiment with bomb-sniffing dogs. Interested in finally seeing the TSA put a far better solution in place for the detection of non-metallic explosives than the body scanners, I snapped a few pictures, including the one here.

But, of course, the TSA can’t leave well enough alone. “You can’t take pictures!” barks the dog’s handler. I can’t? Well that’s news to me, and I consider myself pretty up-to-date on aviation security law.:) I soon spot an STSO (supervisory transportation security officer — the “3 stripe” blue uniform people) and ask her to clarify, but she tells me she doesn’t have time to talk to me. Eventually, I spot her boss, the TSM (transportation security manager — always wearing a suit), a very friendly South Asian woman who is cheerfully tells me that my First Amendment right to photograph has been suspended:

Jon: Are you the TSM by chance?

TSM: Yes.

Jon: I have a question for you.

TSM: Sure.

Jon: What’s the policy on taking pictures in line?  The person with the K-9 told me I was not allowed to take pictures.

TSM: Yes, that’s a screening process, what he’s doing there, so you’re not allowed to take pictures.

Jon: OK, so that’s a federal regulation?

TSM: Yes.

Jon: Not New York state, that’s a TSA…

TSM: No, not New York state, it’s federal.

Jon: Ok, so if I ask the TSA, because I’m a civil rights advocate, and my job is to sue the TSA, if I ask them, they’re going to tell me that I’m not allowed to take the pictures, and that’s official TSA policy?

TSM: You have to specify what you were doing.

Jon: Taking a picture of a K-9.

TSM: You can’t.

Jon: OK.

TSM: Because that’s a screening process.

Where legal, I generally record my interactions with the TSA, and New York being a 1-party consent state (any party to a conversation may record it), I got an audio recording (.mp3).  (As a side note, a reasonable argument can be made, and some courts have held, that audio or video recording of government officials while working in public is constitutionally protected even in 2-party consent states.)

Why is this a “big deal,” some may ask: Any time the government restricts our ability to take pictures, they are reducing their accountability to the people. Thousands of times per day, law enforcement in this country violates the rights of citizens, but only occasionally is it caught on camera, and only then is it punished (sometimes).  By removing our ability to document their actions, they are insulating themselves from consequences for wrongdoing, and this a free society cannot stand.

I’ve asked the TSA’s Civil Rights Office to comment as to whether this is official TSA policy and await a reply, but expect a new lawsuit to be filed soon either way.

Terrorists Detonate Bombs in Brussels Airport — Before The Security Checkpoint

International media reports today that 2 bombs went off in BRU airport, just outside of Brussels, Belgium, and Islamic State has claimed responsibility.  How did they get these bombs past security?  They didn’t…

Passengers queuing at terminal counters described sudden panic and mayhem as the explosions turned the departure area into a death trap with flames, smoke, flying glass and shrapnel.

This is far from the first time such attacks have happened.  For example, just 5 years ago terrorists bombed DME outside Moscow, Russia, killing 37 people.

As passengers flying from US airports this year have been told to gear up for longer wait times, largely due to the additional time added to screening by body scanners that don’t actually stop threats, they should realize what this means is that the security queues are getting longer.  It sounds an awful lot to me like the TSA is creating a target rather than protecting one.  Would it make less of a terroristic statement for ISIS to blow up a TSA checkpoint with 150 people than to blow up a 737 with 150 people?  Of course not.

This mess brought to the taxpayer at a cost of $8B per year.


Fighting the TSA in court is expensive!  Want to contribute to the fight against TSA assholery? Donate via PayPal, Venmo, Chace QuickPay, Bitcoin, or check

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