February 11, 2006

Alito Laughs at Statistics Regarding All-White Jury That Put Man on Death Row

Posted by Eric Jaffa
October 31, 2005 @ 10:14 pm
Filed under: Free Speech, Government, Courts

From an editorial in the New York Times on Bush’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Samuel Alito, referring to Riley v. Taylor, 2001 (pdf, page 13).

When lawyers for a black death-row inmate sought to demonstrate bias in jury selection by using statistics, Judge Alito dismissed that as akin to arguing that Americans were biased toward left-handers because left-handed men had won five out of six of the preceding presidential elections.

A black defendant, James Riley, faced an all-white jury in a part of Delaware with an 18% black population, but a 9% black jury pool. This is a relevant fact for the defendant, not something to brush off by writing about left-handed presidents.

It shows a warped sense of humor that Alito can laugh off a death row appeal by citing a coincidence that supposedly invalidates all statistics — unless he was being perfectly serious, and he believes a coincidence of left-handers winning recent elections disproves all statistics (which is just as bad). A tiny statistical sample having an irrelevancy in common proves nothing.

This shows a problem with Alito’s judgement, and shows he should not rule on civil rights, free speech cases, and other important issues.

Here are Samuel Alito’s own words.

Draw your own conclusions as to whether Alito is trying to be funny or clever, or if he believes he’s making a serious argument.

“An amateur with a pocket calculator,” the majority writes, can calculate that “there is little chance of randomly selecting four consecutive all white juries.” Id.

Statistics can be very revealing — and also terribly misleading in the hands of “an amateur with a pocket calculator.” The majority’s simplistic analysis treats the prospective jurors who were peremptorily challenged as if they had no relevant characteristics other than race, as if they were in effect black and white marbles in a jar from which the lawyers drew. In reality, however, these
individuals had many other characteristics, and without taking those variables into account, it is simply not possible to determine whether the prosecution’s strikes were based on race or something else.

The dangers in the majority’s approach can be easily illustrated. Suppose we asked our “amateur with a pocket calculator” whether the American people take right- or left-handedness into account in choosing their Presidents. Although only about 10% of the population is left-handed,
left-handers have won five of the last six presidential elections.15 Our “amateur with a calculator” would conclude that “there is little chance of randomly selecting” left-handers in five out of six presidential elections. But does it follow that the voters cast their ballots based on whether a candidate was right- or left-handed?

A description of the issue from Salon.com:

As you’ve probably guessed by now, Riley is black. All of the jurors who heard his case were white; prosecutors used peremptory challenges to remove all three African-Americans on the panel from which Riley’s jury was chosen. There were three other first-degree murder trials in Kent County (Delaware) the year Riley was sentenced. Prosecutors struck all the black jurors from those trials, too.

Coincidence? A majority of the US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit didn’t think so. “An amateur with a pocket calculator can calculate the number of blacks that would have served had the state used its strikes in a racially proportionate manner,” the majority wrote. The majority did its own math and concluded that if the prosecutors in the four cases had used their peremptory challenges in a race-blind way, five of the 48 jurors in those cases would have been black. “Admittedly, there was no statistical analysis of these figures presented by either side in the post-conviction proceeding,” the majority wrote. “But is it really necessary to have a sophisticated analysis by a statistician to conclude that there is little chance of randomly selecting four consecutive all white juries?”




“The Colbert Report” Premise

Posted by Eric Jaffa
October 31, 2005 @ 9:13 pm
Filed under: Media Watch

“The Colbert Report” is broadcast weeknights on the “Comedy Central” channel.

Stephen Colbert plays an exaggerated version of Bill O’Reilly.

This has caused him to ask guests more than once: George W. Bush, great president or the greatest president of all time?

Tonight he asked that question of conservative Monica Crowley, who said that Bush has three more years and may turn out to be the greatest president of all time.

That type of dialogue reinforces for me that the premise of the show is a mistake.

The real Stephen Colbert isn’t a conservative.

Why can’t Colbert just play an egotistical version of himself, instead of a character who kisses up to Bush even more than most conservatives do?

Colbert has a forum with the show which he could be putting to better use.




Doing the Unexpected = “Disorderly Conduct?”

Posted by Eric Jaffa
October 31, 2005 @ 4:10 pm
Filed under: Free Speech, Government, Courts

From an article at CounterPunch by Nikki Robinson:

On October 19, the Kent State Anti-War Committee (KSAWC) stood around the Army recruiters, who had brought a rock-climbing wall to entice students over to talk with them. A member of KSAWC and former Afghanistan and Iraq War veteran, David Airhart decided to show his opposition against the war by exercising his rights of free speech. After filling out liability forms Airhart climbed the rock wall. Once he reached the top he took out a banner, which he held under his jacket, and draped it over the wall. The banner read: Kent, Ohio for Peace. Airhart was forced to climb down the back of the wall because a recruiter was coming up the front, yelling at him.

As he was climbing down another recruiter came up the back and proceeded to assault Airhart both verbally and physically by pulling his shirt, forcing him off the wall. Airhart was fined $105 by city police for disorderly conduct and told that he will have to go to judicial affairs at the university where he will face probation or expulsion.

When asked why he wanted to counter-recruit against the military Airhart responded, “I do not feel that the administration should allow the military to recruit their students for an unjust war that is taking the lives of innocent people. They should be protecting their students, not using them for cannon fodder.” The recruiter who assaulted Airhart was never charged with disorderly conduct; nor was the bigot who came by screaming profanities and spitting at KSAWC members fined for being disorderly.

Somehow an Iraq War veteran hanging a banner, which called for peace, was disorderly and the others were not.

If the definition of “disorderly conduct” in Ohio lets police charge people for non-crimes like unfurling a banner, the concept of “disorderly conduct” needs to be re-examined or dropped altogether.

There shouldn’t be a catchall to arrest people for unexpected but otherwise legal behavior.




The US Is 44th in Freedom of the Press

Posted by Eric Jaffa
October 31, 2005 @ 12:58 pm
Filed under: Government, Free Press

According to Reporters Without Borders, the US is 44th in Freedom of the Press. (Denmark was ranked #1.)

The United States (44th) fell more than 20 places, mainly because of the imprisonment of New York Times reporter Judith Miller and legal moves undermining the privacy of journalistic sources.

Judith Miller went to prison for 85 days because she didn’t want to reveal what she knew about how a CIA employee Valerie Plame’s identity was leaked to Robert Novak. Novak later published the information in a Washington Post column.

But is what Robert Novak did — using classified information from the government to smear a government critic — the height of a free press?

If there were no risk to the reporters involved in this, and consequently no risk to the government, it would make a whistleblower like Joseph Wilson LESS likely to speak up. He would know that any information an administration can get its hands on can and probably would be used agaisnt the whistleblower.

I’m not eager for a federal shield law for reporters. While existing law has potential for abuse, a federal shield has even more potential for abuse. If a whistleblower saw a psychologist, what would stop an administration from obtaining those records and leaking embarassing details if there were a federal shield law?

More on the problem with a shield law providing impunity to leakers in a previous article at SpeakSpeak.




What Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown??

Posted by Amanda Toering
October 31, 2005 @ 12:33 pm
Filed under: Right Watch, Schools

Halloween costumes and festivities have been banned in schools across the country, reports the Christian Science Monitors. While one jelly-spined school official in Hammond, IN, blamed the costume ban on “public safety,” others admit that they’ve cancelled Halloween celebrations at the request of right-wing activists.

From the CSM:

School principals from Newton, Mass., to Denver find themselves increasingly haunted at Halloween by this refrain: Get out, ye ghoulies!

Bowing to concerns of a wide range of groups - from Christians who consider Halloween to have pagan or satanic overtones to church-state separatists who object to the holiday’s religious roots — some elementary schools are canceling their customary costume parades and Halloween celebrations.

In their place are “Fall-o-ween” events, which take note of harvest and seasonal change but that eliminate all things spooky - or controversial.

“There’s been a steady growth of the number of people and the kinds of perspectives objecting to Halloween, and it’s become a real issue for schools,” says Charles Haynes at the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va. “There’s a lot of strangeness around this issue.”

The downplaying of Halloween at school runs counter to the nationwide trend. The holiday is now a $3.3 billion business, as those who mark the season of goose bumps set the mood with decorations, costumes, candy, and party goods.

Though Halloween entered the schools “through a secular door,” as Mr. Haynes puts it, its sometimes-dark imagery — and the gory movies and masks that go along with it — mean that some Christian and Muslim families keep their kids at home that day. Increasingly, those families, which can make up a full 30 percent of a school’s student body, are calling in their objections — and schools are listening.

Article continues…

I know that Eric Jaffa will disagree with me (his previous stance being that schools are for learnin’, which is a valid point).

Let’s not forget, though, that an additional, extremely important element of a public education is socialization. The celebration of Halloween is an important social custom in our society. It’s a tradition that inspires warm-fuzzy nostalgia in parents, who can then bond over the experience with their kids. And most importantly — it’s fun. And harmless.

Halloween doesn’t lead to outbreaks of paganism. It may lead to outbreaks of dental work, but that’s another story.

Generations upon generations have survived Halloween, and so has our culture.

Bring back the silly costumes, dammit, and allow an opt-out for those who are uncomfortable.




Religious Group in North Dakota Blocks Performances by Dance Group Featuring Thunder, Down Under

Posted by Amanda Toering
October 31, 2005 @ 12:19 pm
Filed under: Obscene!, Right Watch

A world-traveling dance group from Australia has been banned from performing in a small North Dakota town after the town council received complaints from local religious leaders.

From the Perth (Australia) Sunday Times:

Australia’s Thunder from Down Under male dancers have been banned after protests from local religious leaders.

A spokeswoman for the show called the vote a shocking form of censorship.

Jamestown, North Dakota, Mayor Charlie Kourajian and two councillors voted to cancel the dancers’ contract. Two other councillors voted against the move.

The show, scheduled for Thursday at the Jamestown Civic Centre, was booked about three months ago.

Penny Levin, spokeswoman for Australia’s Thunder from Down Under, said it was tasteful adult entertainment, tailored for various audiences.

“We’re not heathens,” she said. “No one is being forced to buy a ticket or see the show, but now people are being forced to not see it.”

Jamestown Ministerial Association presented a petition to the Civic Centre and Promotions Committee on Tuesday to protest at what pastors called a strip show.

Welcome to the U S of A, heathens!

The real question is why the “Vegas-style male revue” booked a show in Jamestown, ND, in the first place. Jamestown bills itself as “midway between Bismarck (the state capitol) and Fargo (the state’s largest city) [which] makes this a great place to stop and visit!”

Jamestown’s sales pitch continues:

Jamestown is also home to The World’s Largest Buffalo, the National Buffalo Museum, and the North Dakota Sports Hall of Fame. Jamestown offers something for everyone!

Known as the “Pride of the Prairie”, Jamestown extends friendly hospitality to all visitors. Whether touring the Frontier Village and viewing our live herd of buffalo, visiting our historical sites, or joining us for a tournament at one of our sporting complexes, we are sure you will enjoy Jamestown. A year-round vacation area, Jamestown also offers a variety of entertainment, excellent motel accommodations, and fine dining to make your visit an unforgettable experience.

Guess they didn’t want the experience to be too unforgettable.

You can learn more about the hunky Thunder from Down Under at their website (which, as far as I can tell, is sort of mostly safe for work; you take your chances, though).




Nepalese Journalists Continue to Fight for Free Press

Posted by Amanda Toering
October 31, 2005 @ 12:11 pm
Filed under: CensorWorld, Free Press

Journalists in Kathmandu, Nepal, are continuing their struggle to wriggle out from increasingly restrictive laws governing the press. The King of Nepal virtually silenced the press earlier this year after seizing control of the entire government.

From Nepal’s Kantipur Online:

Police today detained at least a dozen journalists while staging a protest rally demanding withdrawal of the recently promulgated media ordinance at Ratnapark-the area prohibited by the government for holding demonstrations in the capital.

The journalists also burned copies of the ‘black ordinance’ while chanting slogans against it.

Bal Krishna Chapagain, chairman of the Press Council and other journalists were held after police intervened to break up the rally this afternoon.

Separately, another group of journalists organized a corner meeting at Bhotahity and slammed the ordinance.

General Secretary of the Federation of Nepalese Journalist Mahendra Bista, President of South Asia Free Media Association Gopal Thapalia and General Secretary Shambhu Shrestha among others addressed the meeting.

Meanwhile, journalists in Pokhara also demonstrated against the anti-press law this morning.

Various professional bodies including human rights organizations, lawyers and members of civil society joined the protest that started from Pirthvi Chowk and converged into a corner meeting at Chipledhunga.

There have been no reports of arrests.




‘Bad Elf’ Not Welcome in CT

Posted by Amanda Toering
October 31, 2005 @ 12:02 pm
Filed under: Ban It!

From CBS4 in Boston:

The state of Connecticut is banning sales of a couple holiday beers with Santa on the label.

“Seriously Bad Elf” beer is a British import, that�s distributed by a company in Belchertown, Massachusetts. Its label shows an elf with a slingshot firing Christmas ornaments at Santa’s sleigh.

“Warm Welcome” is another beer distributed by Shelton Brothers. Its label features an image of Santa dropping down a chimney into a fire.

Connecticut state regulations bar alcohol advertising with images, like Santa, that might appeal to children.

The beer’s distributor, Shelton Brothers, has enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union in fighting the ban.

Dan Shelton says his company had no such problems when it sold Bad Elf and Very Bad Elf in previous years. It sells the beer in 30 other states and none have complained.

“We even had a beer called Santa’s Butt last year,” Shelton said. “They didn’t notice Santa’s Butt, but they notice this one. How can you miss that big red thing? Minors are not going to be looking to buy beer because Santa Claus is on the label.”

And if anything, perhaps the image of an about-to-be-toast Santa will frighten young children into lifelong temperance. Consider it a scared-straight program — with elves!




AT&T Is Big, But Supposedly It’s Not Big Enough

Posted by Eric Jaffa
October 31, 2005 @ 11:49 am
Filed under: FCC, Media Concentration

Huge corporations can merge and merge, says the FCC:

U.S. communications regulators Monday conditionally approved Verizon Communications’ (VZ) $8.6 billion purchase of MCI (MCIP) and SBC Communications’ (SBC) $16 billion acquisition of AT&T (T).

The Federal Communications Commission voted to clear the deals after days of intense negotiations to set conditions that include requiring Verizon and SBC to freeze rates for leasing some wholesale access to their networks for 30 months.

…They also agreed for two years to permit customers to surf anywhere they choose on the Internet and use any applications on it.

What a lousy deal for the public.

No ISPs should be allowed to stop adult costumers from surfing wherever they want. Now or two years from now.




Nominee Samuel Alito’s Cases on Free Speech

Posted by Eric Jaffa
October 31, 2005 @ 7:27 am
Filed under: Free Speech, Courts

George W. Bush nominated Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court this morning.

For an overview of his hostility to liberty, visit Think Progress. Samuel Alito believes that police should be able to strip search us for drugs — even if our names aren’t in search warrants.

Regarding free speech, Alito seems to rule in favor of it when conservative speech is at issue, and against it otherwise.

In “Saxe v. State College Area School District” (2001), a case in which the plaintiffs wanted to speak out against homosexuality, he ruled in favor of free speech:

Two high school students challenged a school district’s anti-harassment policy, contending it violated their First Amendment rights. The students believed that the policy prohibited them from voicing their religious belief that homosexuality was a sin.

The policy provided several examples of harassment, including: “any unwelcome verbal, written or physical conduct which offends, denigrates or belittles an individual” because of “race, religion, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or other personal characteristics.” The district court ruled the policy constitutional. The students appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

Issue: Whether a high school anti-harassment policy that prohibits a broad range of speech offensive to others violates the First Amendment.

Holding: In a 3-0 decision, a Third Circuit panel held that such a broadly worded policy prohibits too much speech and violates the First Amendment.

This ruling against the broad harassment policy was proper, but Alito was ruling for conservative plaintiffs and it’s easy to defend the free speech of your own.

Samuel Alito cases against free speech

In “Sanguigni v. Pittsburgh Board of Education” (1992), Alito ruled that a teacher, Ms. Sanguigni, could be fired from her position as a coach for writing in a faculty newsletter that there was a problem of low morale among teachers. ( From People for the American Way. See page 19 of the pdf document.)

In “Banks v. Beard” (2005), Alito wrote in dissent that prisoners don’t have the right to access most newspapers and magazines, nor photographs of friends and family. (From PFAW. See page 20 of the pdf document.)




Cheney’s Likely New Chief of Staff Also Involved in Leak

Posted by Eric Jaffa
October 31, 2005 @ 5:20 am
Filed under: Government, Free Press

From one person involved in the Valerie Plame leak being Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff to another?

Since Lewis Libby resigned, David Addington may be promoted from Cheney’s counsel to his Chief of Staff:

…as a pivotal member of the vice president’s office, Addington also attended strategy sessions in 2003 on how to discredit Wilson when the former ambassador publicly charged that the Bush administration misled the country in pushing its case for war, according to attorneys in the CIA leak probe.

Further, Addington played a leading role in 2004 on behalf of the Bush administration when it refused to give the Senate Intelligence Committee documents from Libby’s office on the alleged misuse of intelligence information regarding Iraq. Because Addington may be in line to succeed Libby, the Intelligence Committee-White House battle over the documents has sparked new interest on Capitol Hill.

Via Raw Story.

Update

Cheney did choose Addington for Chief of Staff.




“Liberty News TV” November 2005 Edition Now Online

Posted by Eric Jaffa
October 30, 2005 @ 7:56 pm
Filed under: Government, Media Watch

Liberty News TV” is a half-hour program produced monthly. It is available on the satellite channel Free Speech TV and on the internet.

You can watch a two-minute-and-21-second segment of the November edition, “Punishing the Poor,” in WMV format or RealPlayer format.

Description of “Punishing the Poor:”

The Republican Congress has a plan for rebuilding the southeast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina: Sacrifice the poor and middle class.

The GOP wants to cut $50 billion from education loans, cancel the Medicare expansion, cut food stamps, and derail public transportation. At the same time, the richest Americans get richer, thanks to continued tax cuts.

Personally, I was against the Medicare bill in the first place and don’t mind if it’s cancelled or postponed. A big increase in money available for prescription drugs without requireing pharmaceutical companies to rein in prices will just cause those companies to raise prices even more and won’t help consumers.




Expensive Cartoon: ‘Boondocks’ Debuts in One Week

Posted by Eric Jaffa
October 30, 2005 @ 1:48 pm
Filed under: Media Watch

There will be a new cartoon on The Cartoon Network starting on the evening of November 6:

Fans fearing that “The Boondocks,” the wildly scathing, racially charged comic strip, will lose its bite when it appears on television next week need not worry. Within the first 10 seconds of the new show of the same name, viewers will be offered the following Molotov cocktail of social criticism: “Jesus is black, Ronald Reagan is the devil and the government is lying about 9/11.”

Since its national debut six years ago, the strip, about two black children living in white suburbia, has slaughtered its share of sacred cows, eviscerating everyone from Condoleezza Rice and Strom Thurmond to 50 Cent and Ralph Nader. President Bush has been a frequent target. As a result, the strip has been suspended, banished to editorial pages and dropped from some newspapers (it currently appears in more than 300).

Trying to translate that incendiary spirit into great television will be a challenge, an expensive challenge at that. Cartoon Network pays Sony Pictures Television, producer of the series, an estimated license fee of $400,000 per episode. Add to that the millions the network has spent on marketing, including many billboards in New York and Los Angeles trumpeting the show’s premiere on Nov. 6 in the late-night “Adult Swim” block, and “The Boondocks” becomes the most expensive show the network has made.

Actress Regina King plays both brothers featured in the cartoon, Huey and Riley Freeman.




Another Look at Putting Judith Miller in Prison

Posted by Eric Jaffa
October 30, 2005 @ 1:27 pm
Filed under: Free Press, Courts

New York Times reporter Judith Miller deserves the worst for helping start a war.

My heart doesn’t bleed for her over her 85 days in prison.

But was it actually necessary to the indictments against Lewis “Scooter” Libby to send her to prison?

The blogger Billmon says no.




“Meet the Press” Right-Wing Imbalance

Posted by Eric Jaffa
October 30, 2005 @ 8:02 am
Filed under: Media Watch

This morning on “Meet the Press,” Tim Russert’s guests were:

  • David Brooks, a conservative op-ed writer for the New York Times
  • William Safire, a conservative former op-ed writer for the New York Times
  • David Broder, a liberal op-ed writer for the Washington Post
  • Judy Woodruff, a nonpartisan reporter for CNN

That makes two conservative vs. one liberal, joined by two reporters whose job is to be neutral (Russert and Woodruff).

Why not have Bob Herbert, liberal op-ed writer for the New York Times, instead of Judy Woodruff?

That would have made it two conservatives and two liberals.




Should a Movie Be Released In Theaters and On DVD Simultaneously?

Posted by Eric Jaffa
October 30, 2005 @ 7:04 am
Filed under: Media Watch

M. Night Shyamalan, the director of “The Sixth Sense” said no in a speech in Orlando, Florida:

Talk about delivering what theater owners want — writer-director M. Night Shyamalan delivered a speech to the ShowEast convention Thursday that articulated the owners’ sentiments concisely. Taking aim at proposals to eliminate the window between the time a movie is released in theaters and the time it is released on DVD, Shyamalan warned that such plans could result in the demise of movie theaters. “If this thing happens, you know the majority of your theaters are closing. It’s going to crush you guys,” he said. For filmmakers like himself, he suggested, the result would be equally devastating.

“When I sit down next to you in a movie theater … we become part of a collective soul,” he said. “That’s the magic in the movies.” He added: “We have been seduced by the DVD and what will sell the DVD. It has been the worst year in cinema for quality.” Later, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Shyamalan remarked, “If I can’t make movies for theaters, I don’t want to make movies. … I hope this [simultaneous release of movies in theaters and home video] is a very bad idea that goes away.”

I’m ambivalent about this.

On the one hand, I’m used to movies being in theaters first, since it’s been that way since DVDs were invented.

On the other hand, I like being able to adjust the volume and press pause, etc.

Regarding Shyamalan’s argument that people are “part of a collective soul” when they watch a movie in theaters but not at home, personally I don’t feel any great connection to people I don’t know sitting in the same movie theater.

Jobs impact

If movies were released simultaneously in theaters and on DVD, the jobs impact would probably be negative.

If a theater were forced to close, jobs would be lost.

But in stores that sell more DVDs, the existing employees could in most cases handle more sales, and so employment there wouldn’t increase.

Longer article on simultaneous theater/DVD release




The ACLU

Posted by Eric Jaffa
October 29, 2005 @ 1:18 pm
Filed under: Free Speech, Courts

The “American Civil Liberties Union” fights for freedom of speech and the due process of law.

I donated to them tonight.

The ACLU.




Bush: “Each Individual Is Presumed Innocent”

Posted by Eric Jaffa
October 28, 2005 @ 7:45 pm
Filed under: Free Speech, Government, Courts

Today, George W. Bush said about Lewis Libby, “In our system, each individual is presumed innocent and entitled to due process and a fair trial.”

That is how our system should work.

But what about Jose Padilla, the US citizen Bush is claiming he can have imprisoned for the rest of his life without trial?

If Bush wins the Padilla case when it goes to the US Supreme Court, he will have the power to label as many of us as he wants “enemy combatants,” and imprison us for life without trial.

Some people will be afraid to engage in dissent if Bush’s bizarre twist on American values in the Padilla case is affirmed by the Supreme Court.




Tell a Teenage Girl Where to Get an Abortion, Go to Prison?

Posted by Eric Jaffa
October 28, 2005 @ 7:13 pm
Filed under: Free Speech, Government, Courts

Abortion law in Missouri:

A Jackson County judge’s decision on the constitutionality of a law setting new limits on teenagers’ abortions appears to hinge on concerns that the legislation might infringe on First Amendment rights.

Circuit Judge Charles Atwell heard arguments yesterday from attorneys on both sides of the law, which was passed during a special session this year and allows lawsuits against those who help minors obtain abortions without parental consent.

The debate between Eve Gartner, representing Planned Parenthood, which sued to block the law, and Assistant Attorney General Vickie Mahon appeared to boil down to a conflict over just a few words in the statute. That passage, which says lawsuits can be pursued against those who “intentionally cause, aid or assist” girls’ abortions, is what caused the concern over free speech rights.

Gartner said she was worried that even offering advice to a pregnant minor, regardless of whether she went through with an abortion, could be seen as unlawful under the statute.

“This law would prohibit us from doing what we do every day,” she said. “There’s a chilling effect on our speech.”

Mahon said it was unfair to look only at one passage of the law.

“You can’t piecemeal this and cut it up and look at ‘aid and assist’ by itself,” she said. “You have to employ common sense in what was the legislature’s intent.”

Still, Mahon acknowledged that First Amendment issues were raised, though only if someone provided information on crossing state lines to obtain an abortion elsewhere.

“In limited circumstances, counseling could be violative of this statute,” she said. “I think it has to be counseling that incites imminent lawlessness.”

There is a great article on parental notification at Pandagon.




Bible Education Advocates to Attend Conference of Texas Association of School Boards

Posted by Amanda Toering
October 28, 2005 @ 2:41 pm
Filed under: Right Watch, Schools

The Texas Association of School Boards will hold its annual conference in Houston this weekend. Keynote speakers include US Secretary of Education Margaret “Ban Buster Bunny” Spellings; football coach Herman “Remember the Titans” Boone; and NPR reporter Juan “No Funny Nickname” Williams.

Focus on the Family would also like you to know that the Bible Literacy Project will be attending the conference and convincing local school board members that teaching the Bible in public schools is really, really okay. From FoF’s Citizen Link:

The Bible Literacy Project will present to the Texas Association of School Boards ways the Bible can be taught in Texas public schools beginning today.

The convention, meeting in Dallas through Sunday, will draw attendance from 1,039 Texas school boards. The Bible Literacy Project will be on hand to introduce attendees to the “The Bible and Its Influence,” the first high school textbook designed to meet constitutional standards for public school use.

“It was created to satisfy all constituencies involved in the heated public debate about the Bible in public schools,” said Chuck Stetson, chairman and founder of the Bible Literacy Project.

The textbook, reviewed by more than 40 scholars, can be used in an elective course in English or social studies for grades nine through 12. It provides comprehensive coverage of the Bible’s influence on literature, art, music and rhetoric.

Sheila Weber, vice president of communications for the Bible Literacy Project, said many Texans want this type of curriculum to be available in public schools.

“They do have some public schools that already have and academic course on the Bible,” she told CitizenLink, “and some are looking for ways to do this better.”

Weber added that the curriculum is designed to satisfy First Amendment standards outlined in a 1999 publication called, “The Bible in Public Schools: The First Amendment Guide.”

“It’s a consensus statement on how to teach the Bible in public schools,” she explained. “(It was) signed off by 21 groups including all the teachers unions, the National School Board Association, as well as major faith groups—the National Association of Evangelicals included.

“The value of us having produced a student textbook is that it helps the teacher stay right on task and not veer off from First Amendment standards, nor veer off in other directions with their own opinion.”

The standards dictate that you can present knowledge but not belief, she noted.

“Teachers should not promote belief but they should not denigrate, either,” Weber said. “So our textbook comes at it with the perspective of tremendous respect for faith traditions which consider the Bible to be much more than literature, but sacred Scripture, sacred text.”

Dr. Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center, said until now, there has not been a Bible curriculum he could recommend to schools.

“Let me say how impressed I am by this,” he said. “It is clear that much hard work and good scholarship have gone into the text. This promises to be an outstanding resource for public schools.”

Weber said the Bible Literacy curriculum meets every standard for Texas schools. There are over one thousand independent school districts in Texas that could choose to use the textbook and offer a course in Bible literacy.

“That’s the case across the nation,” she said. “There are a lot of schools that can autonomously decide to incorporate this as a choice.”

The phrase “will present to the Texas Association of School Boards ways the Bible can be taught” made me giddy with fear. I mean, it’s Texas, right? It’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that the TASB would offer a break-out session dedicated to teaching the Bible in public schools. (When I attended Texas public schools, we had regular prayers during the morning announcements, and pre-football-game prayers were always broadcast over the public address system.)

Turns out, though, that the Dobsonites’ implication that the Bible Literacy Project is a special invited guest, they’re actually attending the conference as a vendor — meaning they paid for the privilege.

And they’re in interesting company.

Other vendors include:

All Seasons Foam Insulation & Roofing, for all your leaky roof needs; Aramark food service, providers of mystery meat to schools everywhere; Arbor Hill Software, which offers a software package it cryptically refers to as a “discipline management system”; Blue Star Bus Sales; Drip-Tech Waste Management Systems, who’d be more than happy to clean your septic tank… for a price; Handwriting without Tears (??); Interquest Detection Canines, instilling fear in drug-addled teens everywhere; JuicePlus, a pyramid-scheme-based seller of “the next best thing to fruits and vegetables”; Scantron Corporation, purveyor of those evil bubble sheets and the sole reason for the continued existence of #2 pencils; Security Voice, a company that provides suicide hotline services; the Southern Bleachers Company, because no Texas high school is complete without a football stadium; the understaffed Texas Army National Guard, probably just itching to acquire additional grads to send to Iraq; Texas Correctional Industries, providing cheap prison labor in the form of school bus repair, IT services, furniture restoration, uniform manufacturing, and tire repair; and the Stillwell Memorial Home in Waco, which is apparently where old teachers go to die.

In addition to the Bible Literacy Program, other vendors of the religious persuasion include Brigham Young University, which offers a satellite-based independent learning program; Cal Farley’s, “a Christ-centered agency providing residential and in-home services to school aged children and their families”; and Nest Family Entertainment, providing “quality videos that teach the word of God.”

For the record, the TASB describes itself as “a voluntary, nonprofit, statewide educational association that serves and represents local Texas school districts.” That’s public school districts.

What business do groups with religious affiliations have selling their products to taxpayer-funded Texas schools?

Vendor information taken from the TASB’s conference website.




Florida Jumps on Video Game Ban-Wagon

Posted by Amanda Toering
October 28, 2005 @ 1:59 pm
Filed under: Video Games

Perhaps jealous of the splash Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made when he signed a bill that bans the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, Florida is looking to enact its own ban.

From Reuters:

A Florida state senator has introduced a bill that would ban the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, an aide to the lawmaker said on Thursday.

Introduced on October 25 by state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a Republican from Miami, the bill is a near clone of legislation recently signed into law by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — Hollywood’s “Terminator” — who is portrayed in several video games based on his action film roles.

Bills aimed at restricting sales of violent games to minors are the latest salvo in a long campaign by detractors and some parent groups to limit access to games with adult content. Critics of violent games often cite research suggesting that such games can increase aggressive behavior in young boys.

The battle over controversial video game content flared anew this summer when game publisher Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. pulled its blockbuster title “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” from store shelves following the discovery of hidden sex scenes in its code.

Trade groups representing the $10 billion U.S. video game industry have sued to strike down the new California law and are fighting similar battles in Michigan and Illinois.

Courts already have blocked such legislation in Washington State, the city of Indianapolis and St. Louis County in Missouri, finding that the laws violated free speech guarantees in the U.S. Constitution.




Montgomery-County-Sex-Ed-Debate-Revisited, Revisited

Posted by Amanda Toering
October 28, 2005 @ 1:44 pm
Filed under: Right Watch, Schools, Montgomery County

The politically motivated factions who stirred up a controversy over sex ed in Montgomery County, MD, really need another hobby.

Here’s your refresher course in the Montgomery County brouhaha.

The latest snafu: Political group Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum is considering a lawsuit against the school board. Their argument goes something like this: “Waaaaah, we wanted one of our political representatives to be on the curriculum approval board, but you won’t let us! Mommy!!”

To be fair, CRC was promised a seat as part of an earlier settlement over curriculum that they previously took to court. However, the CRC ignored the school board’s request for three nominees to the board. The provided only one — and she’s ineligible.

And now, they’re threatening a suit.

Boo hoo.

From the Washington Post:

The day after the Montgomery County school board appointed a new advisory board to consult with educators on revisions to the school system’s sex education curriculum, it appears that board members could be facing a new legal challenge.

Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum said it is considering legal action against the school board for violating terms of an agreement that granted it and another group one seat each on the 15-member advisory panel.

Michelle Turner says Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum will not submit another name. The group’s one nominee is not considered eligible.

Board members last night declined to appoint to the panel a representative from Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, but they did name one from Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays despite a dispute with the two groups over the nomination process.

Board members had been slated to make appointments to the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development on Oct. 11, but they delayed action to allow the groups more time to meet conditions laid out by the board.

Under the guidelines, community groups seeking a seat on the panel were required to submit three names to the board. The applicants had to be Montgomery residents who had not previously served on the committee.

The groups submitted only one name each.

Last night, board President Patricia O’Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase) said the board had reconsidered that requirement and approved the Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays representative. However, she said members would not fill the other group’s seat.

The group’s nominee, Henrietta Brown, is not considered eligible by the board because she has already served on the committee.

Michelle Turner, president of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, said the group will not submit another name.

Meanwhile, a similar battle is brewing in Sioux Falls, SD, and the local Catholic diocese has gotten involved.




NAB Nabs Beer Guy

Posted by Amanda Toering
October 28, 2005 @ 1:01 pm
Filed under: General, Broadcasters

The National Association of Broadcasters, one of the most organized foes of increased indecency regulation, will soon have a new leader. Outgoing chairman Eddie Fritts will be replaced by former beer industry lobbyist David Rehr.

From Billboard Radio Monitor:

Rehr, who has been president and CEO of the National Beer Wholesalers Assn. since 1999, said, “What I do know is lobbying. I know how to make a message simple to communicate with a busy policymaker; I know how to form lasting relationships with members of Congress and ask for support when I need it. As beer wholesalers can tell you, I don’t take no for an answer when it comes to advocating on behalf of my association on Capitol Hill.”

Eddie Fritts has served the NAB for over 20 years, and is credited for turning it into one of the country’s most powerful lobbying vehicles.




European Union to Allow TV Product Placements

Posted by Amanda Toering
October 28, 2005 @ 12:54 pm
Filed under: TV, AdWatch

Commercial product placement during television broadcasts is growing fad among US broadcasters. FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein has spoken out against the “covert” and “rampant” practice, saying that it is a violation of the law. CBS president Les Moonves, meanwhile, promises that more sneaky advertising is on the way.

Meanwhile, across the pond, European officials are debating the same problem. While undisclosed product placement has been largely illegal in Europe, the rebroadcast of American shows by European broadcasters has thrown a sabot in the works.

As a result, it seems the the European Union is preparing to condone that most American of practices: Guerrilla advertising.

From the Economist:

NEAR the beginning of “Lost,” an American television drama about a group of plane-crash survivors on a Pacific island, a silver attaché case made by Zero Halliburton takes centre stage. No matter what the characters do to try and force their way into it, only the key to the case finally reveals its contents. This is product placement to die for.

In 2004 the value of product placement in American television grew by 46%, according to PQ Media, an alternative-media research firm. Adding in films, magazines, video games and music as well as TV, the market was worth $3.5 billion in 2004. Leslie Moonves, chairman of CBS, a broadcast-television network, recently said that three-quarters of all scripted prime-time network programmes will soon contain paid product placement. The growth is occurring because advertisers reckon that it helps to sell their brands, and television firms are desperate for extra money as some of their traditional advertising moves to the internet and elsewhere.

When Channel 4, a British broadcaster, started showing “Lost” in August, it had to decide what to do about the attache case, because showing products on television for money is mostly illegal in Europe. In the end, it left the incident in, reasoning that British viewers would not recognise the product, or its placement. Such dilemmas are about to disappear. The European Commission will soon alter its laws to allow product placement. It has accepted its television producers’ arguments that Europe’s ban puts them at a disadvantage to Hollywood, where product placement is an important source of extra funding.

[…]

Product placement is riskier than conventional advertising. Early this year, Unilever, a consumer-goods firm, integrated its Dove body wash into “The Apprentice,” and candidates competed to design a new ad campaign for the product. Unilever’s executives were worried when one of the teams came up with an idea full of sexual innuendo and a gay theme.

Some people think that paid product placement is sinister, and that it should be banned, or at the very least clearly disclosed in credits at the end of a programme. German viewers, for instance, are particularly angry about it because several broadcasters this year have been found to have accepted illegally money for product placement. The European Commission says it will allow product placement in fiction, but not in news or factual material, and will require that broadcasters label it clearly. America’s Federal Trade Commission, on the other hand, which regulates advertising, rejected a call from a consumer group called Commercial Alert this year to require disclosure.




Feingold to Address Radio Consolidation, Payola

Posted by Amanda Toering
October 28, 2005 @ 12:30 pm
Filed under: General

From Billboard Radio Monitor:

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., plans to introduce in November a “streamlined version” of his 2003 bill dealing with radio consolidation.

The details are sketchy, but according to a Feingold spokesman, the bill will address issues raised by allegations that radio and concert giant Clear Channel Communications pressures artists and labels to play CCC-owned venues or risk losing airplay on its stations.

The bill also will have a section on payola, granting further authority to the Federal Communications Commission to go after those who allegedly engage in the practice. The spokesman says Feingold’s office has contacted the FCC about the proposal.

Feingold is widely expected to throw his hat in the ring for the next presidential election.