A Message For The FCC

Yesterday I had this post on a court ruling throwing out the FCC’s indecency rules. The video below was added during the discussion of the post on Facebook. I had intended to add it to the original post, but just noticed I had added it to a different post in error. The video is definitely not safe for work, so turn your volume down low if playing it.

Please Share

Court Rules Against Bush Era Censorship Under Indecency Rules

An appeals court has thrown out the indecency policy used by the FCC during the Bush administration to attack the media. Media Decoder reports:

A United States appeals court tossed out the indecency policy of the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday, calling it a violation of the First Amendment.

An appeals panel said the F.C.C. policy was “unconstitutionally vague, creating a chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting expletives at issue here.”

The ruling was immediately characterized as a victory for big broadcasters like ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, which have been fighting the indecency policy for years.

Tuesday’s ruling vacates a 2004 decision by the Bush administration F.C.C. to step up enforcement of the indecency policy on the broadcast airwaves. Earlier that year, the singer Janet Jackson’s breast was bared during the Super Bowl halftime show on CBS, reigniting a decades-old debate about broadcast standards.

For once even Fox is on the right side in this battle against censorship:

In a statement, Fox Broadcasting said it was extremely pleased by Tuesday’s decision. “We have always felt that the government’s position on fleeting expletives was unconstitutional,” said the company, a unit of the News Corporation. “While we will continue to strive to eliminate expletives from live broadcasts, the inherent challenges broadcasters face with live television, coupled with the human element required for monitoring, must allow for the unfortunate isolated instances where inappropriate language slips through.”

This is a positive move towards defending First Amendment rights, but I wonder what will happen if this goes to the Supreme Court which remains under right wing domination.

Update: A Message For The FCC

Please Share

Sarah Palin Still Does Not Understand The First Amendment

Back during the 2008 campaign I noted how Sarah Palin thought the purpose of the First Amendment was to protect politicians such as herself from criticism by the press. Speaking in Idaho recently Palin showed that she still has not learned what the First Amendment means.  Palin complained about media coverage of a local conservative politician by saying, “I think it’s appalling and a violation of our freedom of the press.”

Palin  showed no respect for the actual First Amendment when she tried to practice censorship in Wasilla (here and here). It makes one wonder what she learned when receiving that degree in communications.

Please Share

Chinese Censorship Reaching Beyond China

An essay by Emily Parker in The New York Times discusses the problem of Chinese censorship–not in China but in the rest of the world. Increasingly China is using its international clout to pressure other groups, leading to self-censorship by many authors who are afraid of offending the Chinese government:

As China’s influence spreads throughout the world, so does a willingness to play by its rules. In March, Google shut down its Internet search service in mainland China, saying it no longer wanted to self-censor its search results to comply with “local” law. But these laws may not be local anymore. Interviews with a number of writers and China watchers suggest that Chinese censorship is becoming an increasingly borderless phenomenon.

“I remember clearly the days when you could safely assume that as long as you wrote something abroad, it was free and clear from repercussions within China,” said Orville Schell, the director of Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations (where I am a fellow) and author of nine books on China. One turning point, he said, was the growth of the Internet, which increasingly unites the once “discrete worlds” of Chinese and Western reading material. Another factor is the growing business entanglement between China and the rest of the world.

“Suddenly we’re all Hong Kong, where no one wants to offend the mainland because it’s too close,” Schell said.

Last fall, in advance of the Frankfurt Book Fair, China pressured organizers to disinvite two dissident writers to a symposium on “China and the World.” (They were reinvited after a public outcry.) But more often, potential critics silence themselves pre-emptively. In a 2002 essay in The New York Review of Books called “China: The Anaconda in the Chandelier,” the China scholar Perry Link described Beijing’s censors as a dangerous creature coiled overhead. “Normally the great snake doesn’t move,” he wrote. “It doesn’t have to. . . . Its constant silent message is ‘You yourself decide,’ after which, more often than not, everyone in its shadow makes his or her large and small adjustments.”

Please Share

ACLU Successful In Effort Against Censorship of Biblical Passages

Last month I noted that the ACLU was seeking to end censorship of religious material being sent to prisoners. A Virginia jail has changed their policy in response to a complaing from the American Civil Liberties Union:

In response to a letter sent last month by the American Civil Liberties Union, a Virginia jail has agreed to change its policies regarding prison mail to ensure that biblical passages and other religious material sent to prisoners are no longer censored. The ACLU’s letter complained that religious material sent to detainees at the Rappahannock Regional Jail in Stafford, VA was being withheld by jail officials.

“The censorship of religious materials sent to prisoners violates both the rights of detainees to practice their religion freely while incarcerated as well as the free speech rights of those wanting to communicate with prisoners,” said David Shapiro, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project and author of the letter. “We are pleased that jail officials have indicated a commitment to upholding these important constitutional values.”

According to a letter sent to the ACLU by Joseph Higgs, Jr., the jail’s superintendent, the jail has previously had a policy of banning mail sent to prisoners that includes any material printed from the Internet. The policy was adopted, according to the letter, to cut down on large amounts of material being printed from the Internet, which Higgs claims puts an undue burden on jail staff and creates security and safety risks.

Under the new policy adopted by jail officials, prisoners will be allowed to receive material copied from the Internet as long as it can be neatly stored within the storage bunks in their cells. Higgs assured the ACLU in his letter that biblical passages will not be censored from letters written to prisoners and that letters will not be censored merely because they contain religious material.

The ACLU sent its letter to the jail last month after receiving a complaint from Anna Williams, whose son was detained at Rappahannock beginning in June of 2008 until his transfer earlier this year. Williams wanted to send her son religious material, including passages from the Bible, to support him spiritually during his confinement. But rather than deliver Williams’ letters to her son in full, jail officials removed any and all religious material, destroying the religious messages Williams sought to convey to her son. For example, after jail officials excised biblical passages, a three-page letter sent by Williams to her son was reduced to nothing more than the salutation, the first paragraph of the letter and the closing, “Love, Mom.”

Jail officials banned additional material from other letters Williams attempted to send her son, including passages from the Book of Proverbs, the Book of James, the Book of Matthew and an article that contained Christian perspectives on confronting isolation while in jail.

“Jail officials should be commended for promptly expressing their commitment to abiding by the mandates of the U.S. Constitution,” said Daniel Mach, Director of Litigation for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “People do not lose their right to religious worship simply because they are incarcerated.”

The ACLU’s letter also asked jail officials to revise the jail’s inmate mail policy to state that letters will not be censored merely because they contain material printed from the Internet or copied from the Internet and inserted into a letter using a word processor’s “cut and paste” feature.

“Our nation’s constitutional values hold that people should not be denied access to religious materials simply because they are in jail or prison,” said Rebecca Glenberg, Legal Director for the ACLU of Virginia. “No government officials should ever be allowed to interfere with the right of all Americans to freely practice the religion of their choice, or no religion at all.”

Other signatories to the ACLU’s letter were the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, the Rutherford Institute, Prison Fellowship, the Friends Committee on National Legislation and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Please Share

ACLU Seeks To End Censorship Of Religious Material

It has become common for the many on the right to attack the American Civil Liberties Union and to mistake liberal support for freedom of religion as somehow being anti-religion. Here is a case which contradicts the conservative meme as the ACLU has protested censorship of biblical passages. From their press release:

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Virginia today demanded that officials at the Rappahannock Regional Jail immediately end their illegal practice of censoring religious material sent to detainees.

In a letter sent today to the jail’s superintendent, Joseph Higgs, Jr., the ACLU asks for jail officials to guarantee in writing that the jail will no longer censor biblical passages from letters written to detainees and to revise the jail’s written inmate mail policy to state that letters will not be censored simply because they contain religious material.

“It is nothing short of stunning that a jail would think it okay to censor the Bible and other religious material for no reason other than its religious nature,” said David Shapiro, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “Such censorship violates both the rights of detainees to practice religion freely and the free speech rights of those wanting to communicate with detainees.”

The letter was prompted by a complaint brought to the ACLU by Anna Williams, a devout Christian whose son was detained at Rappahannock beginning in June of 2008 until his transfer earlier this year. Williams wanted to send her son religious material, including passages from the Bible, to support him spiritually during his confinement. But rather than deliver Williams’ letters to her son in full, jail officials removed any and all religious material, destroying the religious messages Williams sought to convey to her son. For example, after jail officials excised biblical passages, a three-page letter sent by Williams to her son was reduced to nothing more than the salutation, the first paragraph of the letter and the closing, “Love, Mom.”

Jail officials banned additional material from other letters Williams attempted to send her son, including passages from the Book of Proverbs, the Book of James, the Book of Matthew and an article that contained Christian perspectives on confronting isolation while in jail. Jail officials have variously cited prohibitions on “Internet pages” and “religious material sent from home” as reasons for the censorship.

“It is essential that jail officials abide by the law and the requirements of the U.S. Constitution,” said Daniel Mach, Director of Litigation for the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “People do not lose their right to religious worship simply because they are incarcerated.”

The ACLU’s letter also asks jail officials to revise the jail’s inmate mail policy to state that letters will not be censored merely because they contain material printed from the Internet or copied from the Internet and inserted into a letter using a word processor’s “cut and paste” feature.

“Arbitrarily banning religious material is in direct odds with our nation’s constitutional values,” said Rebecca Glenberg, Legal Director for the ACLU of Virginia. “Americans are free to practice the religion of their choice, or no religion at all, without interference from any government official.”

Other signatories to the ACLU’s letter are the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, the Rutherford Institute, Prison Fellowship, the Friends Committee on National Legislation and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

A copy of the ACLU’s letter is available online at: www.aclu.org/prison/restrict/40257res20090709.html

Additional information about the ACLU National Prison Project is available online at: www.aclu.org/prison

Additional information about the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief at: www.aclu.org/religion

Please Share

Sarah Palin’s Orwellian View of the First Amendment

We’ve long feared that many conservatives fail to understand that the Bill of Rights contains more than the Second Amendment. Sarah Palin provides evidence of this with an Orwellian interpretation of the First Amendment. We already knew that many conservatives fail to respect the First Amendment with regards to separation of church and state as intended by the founding fathers. Political Radar shows that Sarah Palin also extends conservative hostility to First Amendment rights to freedom of the press:

Palin told WMAL-AM that her criticism of Obama’s associations, like those with 1960s radical Bill Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, should not be considered negative attacks.  Rather, for reporters or columnists to suggest that it is going negative may constitute an attack that threatens a candidate’s free speech rights under the Constitution, Palin said.

“If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations,” Palin told host Chris Plante, “then I don’t know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media.”

The First Amendment was written to protect people and the press from the government, not to protect those in government from criticism by the press. Sarah Palin’s right to free speech so that she can practice McCarthyism in her attacks against Barack Obama is protected by the First Amendment, along with the media’s right to criticize Palin for practicing McCarthyism.

Incidentally, someone should also inform Sarah Palin that her attempts to practice censorship in Wasilla (here and here) were a violation of the First Amendment.

Please Share

Palin Favored Secrecy and Censorship While in Office

The New York Times examines Sarah Palin’s record and finds much of concern. There are two passages in particular which are essential reading. The first provides an example of how she would carry on the tradition of secrecy from the Bush/Cheney administration:

Interviews show that Ms. Palin runs an administration that puts a premium on loyalty and secrecy. The governor and her top officials sometimes use personal e-mail accounts for state business; dozens of e-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that her staff members studied whether that could allow them to circumvent subpoenas seeking public records.

Rick Steiner, a University of Alaska professor, sought the e-mail messages of state scientists who had examined the effect of global warming on polar bears. (Ms. Palin said the scientists had found no ill effects, and she has sued the federal government to block the listing of the bears as endangered.) An administration official told Mr. Steiner that his request would cost $468,784 to process.

When Mr. Steiner finally obtained the e-mail messages — through a federal records request — he discovered that state scientists had in fact agreed that the bears were in danger, records show.

“Their secrecy is off the charts,” Mr. Steiner said.

The article also provides further information on Palin’s attempts to censor books which social conservatives objected to:

The new mayor also tended carefully to her evangelical base. She appointed a pastor to the town planning board. And she began to eye the library. For years, social conservatives had pressed the library director to remove books they considered immoral.

“People would bring books back censored,” recalled former Mayor John Stein, Ms. Palin’s predecessor. “Pages would get marked up or torn out.”

Witnesses and contemporary news accounts say Ms. Palin asked the librarian about removing books from the shelves. The McCain-Palin presidential campaign says Ms. Palin never advocated censorship.

But in 1995, Ms. Palin, then a city councilwoman, told colleagues that she had noticed the book “Daddy’s Roommate” on the shelves and that it did not belong there, according to Ms. Chase and Mr. Stein. Ms. Chase read the book, which helps children understand homosexuality, and said it was inoffensive; she suggested that Ms. Palin read it.

“Sarah said she didn’t need to read that stuff,” Ms. Chase said. “It was disturbing that someone would be willing to remove a book from the library and she didn’t even read it.”

“I’m still proud of Sarah,” she added, “but she scares the bejeebers out of me.”

Previous information on Palin’s attempts to ban books has been posted here and here.

Please Share

Palin Controversies Remain In The News

I suspect that we will be hearing a lot less about Sarah Palin now that the conventions are over, but the controversies surrounding her are continuing to receive attention due to both a news story and a blog post.

The more substantial of the two is a story in The Anchorage Daily News verifying that Palin did pressure the Wasilla librarian in an attempt to censor books (as previously noted here).

Back in 1996, when she first became mayor, Sarah Palin asked the city librarian if she would be all right with censoring library books should she be asked to do so.

According to news coverage at the time, the librarian said she would definitely not be all right with it. A few months later, the librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, got a letter from Palin telling her she was going to be fired. The censorship issue was not mentioned as a reason for the firing. The letter just said the new mayor felt Emmons didn’t fully support her and had to go.

As this happened twelve years ago, details of what happened are unclear and it is not certain if Palin did actually wind up censoring any books after the librarian resisted attempts at such censorship. Palin’s desire to do so, and threats to fire the librarian for refusing to go along, does appear to be well established. Palin’s extremist views potentially make her more dangerous than Dick Cheney, but at least she is not likely to have much power should she become vice president (assuming McCain remains healthy).

The less consequential story being discussed in the blogosphere is in follow up of a claim by The National Enquirer that Palin had an affair with her husband’s business associate. Today Andrew Sullivan posted a blog entry stating “Todd Palin’s former business partner files an emergency motion to have his divorce papers sealed.”

There are many reasons why this might have been requested and, while the timing might be suspicious, this could be coincidence. If there is any truth to this claim of an affair we might find out more as Discourse.net did find that the motion has been denied. There are far more serious questions about Palin than this, but there is no doubt that this will become the top media story on her should any evidence be found that The Enquirer is right on this one.

Please Share

The White Working Class Vote

With all the talk of Obama’s alleged problems with the white working voters this year, John Harwood does an excellent job of placing this issue in perspective by quoting Ruy Teixeira, author of America’s Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters.

Mr. Obama, who leads the delegate count, “is clocking in where he needs to be” with white, working-class voters to win the White House in November, Mr. Teixeira said.

Through most of the primaries, the constituencies supporting either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama have remained remarkably stable. While Mr. Obama, of Illinois, has energized young, African-American and affluent voters, his rival from New York has dominated among women, Hispanics, blue-collar whites and older voters.

Among white, working-class voters — most commonly identified as those without a college degree — Mrs. Clinton has won by 2 to 1 or better in states like Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Mr. Obama has fared better among less culturally conservative working-class whites in states like Oregon, where the environment is a central issue for voters.

While Teizeira and this article are primarily concerned with voting trends, ideology is also important here. Yes, Hillary Clinton does do better among the culturally conservative working-class voters than her more liberal opponent, but this comes as a cost. I see no benefit in backing a Democratic candidate who is even more conservative than the presumptive Republican candidate on some issues.

Clinton has increasingly adopted both the views and tactics of her new friends in the vast right wing conspiracy. Clinton backed the Iraq war, despite her attempts to hide this fact. She also differs significantly from Obama on the drug war, including on sentencing reform and needle-exchange programs. Clinton has stronger ties to the religious right and those who deny separation of church and state than the presumptive Republican candidate. Her conservative ties have influenced her support for legislation to ban flag burning and support censorship of video games. Clinton also opposed the banning of cluster bombs. She backs the same types of abuses of executive power practiced by George Bush while I suspect that even John McCain would do a better job of respecting the role of Congress.

Returning from ideology to electoral trends, Clinton has distorted primary returns to exaggerate her electability:

Still, Mrs. Clinton’s claim that she is best positioned to win the “hard-working Americans, white Americans” has become the linchpin of her argument that she is more electable than Mr. Obama.

But Mr. Teixeira, who is not backing either candidate, does not buy that argument. He dismisses intraparty contests as “pretty poor evidence” of whether Mr. Obama, as the Democratic nominee, could attract the blue-collar support he would need against Senator John McCain, the presumed Republican nominee.

And how much blue-collar support would Mr. Obama need? Not a majority, said Mr. Teixeira. Though blue-collar Democrats once represented a centerpiece of the New Deal coalition, they have shrunk as a proportion of the information age-economy and as a proportion of the Democratic base.

Al Gore lost working-class white voters by 17 percentage points in 2000, even while winning the national popular vote. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts lost them by 23 points in 2004, while running within three points of President Bush over all. Mr. Teixeira suggests that Mr. Obama can win the presidency if he comes within 10 to 12 percentage points of Mr. McCain with these voters, as Democratic candidates for the House did in the 2006 midterm election.

In recent national polls, that is exactly what Mr. Obama is doing. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed Mr. Obama trailing by 12 percentage points with working-class whites; a poll by Quinnipiac University, showed him trailing by seven points. In each survey, Mr. Obama led over all by seven points.

While Clinton had done better than Obama in attracting the white working class vote in the primaries, many of these voters will still vote for Obama in a general election. While Clinton’s support is limited to her core Democratic voters, Obama can do far better by bringing in voters who do not usually vote Democratic:

But Mr. Ayres concedes that resistance need not be fatal to Mr. Obama’s candidacy. “The question is whether they’ll be counterbalanced by the new voters and young voters he brings in,” he said.

Mr. Obama’s advisers, and some unaffiliated strategists, acknowledge that he would lose some working-class votes that Mrs. Clinton might receive should she somehow win over enough superdelegates to capture the nomination. But they insist the answer to Mr. Ayres is yes, Mr. Obama would attract other voters to offset those losses.

In two states where Mrs. Clinton swamped Mr. Obama among working-class white voters, some recent surveys have shown him leading Mr. McCain. Is working-class resistance in Ohio and Pennsylvania going to be enough to prevent Mr. Obama from winning, asks Mark Mellman, an adviser to the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and other Democratic politicians. “I think the answer is, not.”

Mr. Teixeira argues that Mr. Obama’s standing with working-class whites may be artificially low in the wake of his skirmishing with Mrs. Clinton and the controversy over his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

“Yes, he has a problem,” Mr. Teixeira said. “But it’s a solvable problem.”

While this analysis concentrates on one group, white working-class voters, it ignores another important swing group, the more affluent, educated voters. I’ve previously discussed a post from Norm Scheiber which explains that currently, “There are really two broad swing groups: one working-class, the other affluent.” Just recently I noted that Marc Ambinder has looked at such an analysis and concluded that Obama can win the election due to the number of swing voters backing him (in his case, the affluent, more educated group). By 2006 many such swing voters, such as the Starbucks Republicans, rejected the GOP due to their turn to the right on social issues and support for the Iraq war. Obama is pulling in even more of these voters. In contrast, many affluent, educated voters will see no reason to support either the economically populist or socially conservative views of Hillary Clinton and will either vote for John McCain or stay home.

The tendency of the Clinton camp to write off those who disagree with their conservative viewpoints as “elitists” whose views do not matter acts to further widen this divide and limit Clinton’s potential support. The objection to Clinton’s views and conduct in this race cannot simply be ignored as meaningless fake scandals as some Clinton apologists like Paul Krugman claim.

While Clinton clings to the politics of polarization, Obama is running a far more inclusive campaign. Although his strongest support in the primaries comes from the more affluent Democratic voters, Obama’s economic positions are actually far more sounder and beneficial to the working class voters than Clinton’s polices which even ignore the views of economists as elitist. I support Obama over Clinton primarily due to their considerable differences on social issues, foreign policy, and government reform, and would do so even if he was less electable, but fortunately Obama is also the more electable of the two.

Please Share