December 26, 2005

The Week at SpeakSpeak

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 24, 2005 @ 4:56 pm
Filed under: SpeakSpeak, Right Watch, Free Speech, Cable/Satellite, Government, Media Watch, TV, Video Games, Religion, AdWatch

• In Sacramento, California last week, about 50 protesters demanded that Wal-Mart commercialize Christmas. LINK

• Corrupt GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff has been casting a shadow on Congressmen Tom Delay (R-TX) and Bob Ney (R-OH) for months. But now he’s also casting a shadow over conservative writers Doug Bandow and Peter Ferrara. It was recently revealed that Abramoff paid them to write op-eds. LINK

• Conservative columnist George Will claims there is a lot of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But he wants oil companies to drill there even if there is only “three thimbles of oil,” to strike a blow against “collectivism.” However, blogger Amanda Marcotte responds that collectivism is a good thing. She refers to the US Constitution’s purpose of promoting the “general welfare.” LINK

• US citizens are under surveillance by our government. The Washington Post describes FBI “national security letters” a new military department spying on Americans called the “Counterintelligence Field Activity,” and more. LINK

• Conservative commentator Robert Novak is leaving CNN for Fox News. Novak notes that over the years at CNN he “said some fairly outrageous things.” LINK

• Fox News legal analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano said on the channel that “the president has violated the law” by ordering warrant-less wiretaps. LINK

• Bill O’Reilly is a “bully” like “Joe McCarthy,” writes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. LINK

• New York police are disguising themselves as protesters to spy on Iraq War protesters and other activists. LINK

• Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) tried to ban the sale of certain video games to minors. A federal judge has put the ban on hold. LINK

• Conservative columnist Ann Coulter has written another racist statement against Arabs. LINK

• Actor Wil Wheaton thinks that right-wing talk radio has made his parents more right-wing. LINK

• Time Warner will offer a group of cable channels called the family tier which are all supposed to be G-rated. However, one of the channels doesn’t meet that criteria: CNN Headline News includes a show about violent crime hosted by Nancy Grace. LINK




“Little Red Book” Story a Hoax

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 24, 2005 @ 12:07 pm
Filed under: Government, Media Watch, Libraries

An anonymous student at University of Massachussetts at Dartmouth claimed he was visited by officers of the Homeland Security Dept. for ordering Mao’s “Little Red Book” for an inter-library loan. The initial article was based on the second-hand accounts of his professors. The student now admits the story is a hoax.

“SpeakSpeak” decided against running this story when it broke, because we were skeptical. Personally, I didn’t like the fact that the initial article was based on accounts which didn’t include anyone there during the supposed visit of federal agents. The fact that Mao’s “Little Red Book” is common for students studying Chinese history to use also made me skeptical.

You can view my expression of skepticism when the story broke in the Comments at Lean Left.

« Why Did the Student Make Up the Story? »

We don’t know the student’s motivation.

But in the Comments section of Pandagon, someone posting as “Frankly my dear” has a great theory: that the student was making an excuse for why he would be late in handing in a paper:

• What was the student’s motive for starting the hoax? Was it just something he was trying as a prank on two professors, and it got more exposure than he expected? Or was he deluding himself as to what happened?

This one seems to be a no-brainer. It’s the end of term and your term paper isn’t done. You know “the dog ate my homework” won’t fly, but “Homeland Security took my homework” might. Having been a student who never had term papers ready on time, the search for novel but believeable excuses is neverending. Doubtless, he didn’t expect it to go any further than his professors. Of course, I can’t prove this, but it seems to me like the most likely explanation. It’s like the runaway bride who claimed she was kidnapped.

Why were some in the “blogosphere” so quick to believe this? Did we want to believe that this kind of surveillance happens routinely?

Because in the present climate it is all too believeable. The student probably wouldn’t have used it if it weren’t believeable.

Are we too trusting? Naive? Gullible? (The three need not be synonymous)

I’d say over-eager. But I’d also say that the fault in this case lies mostly with the professors for reporting hearsay to the media without further investigation. Instead of the student getting kudos for the best “why my term paper isn’t done” story of the year, the student, the professors, and the university have become a national embarrassment.

What does this say about the nature of the transmission of information through the internet in general, and blogging in particular?

The same thing it says (and implies) about journalism in general. Follow the rules: check your sources, and, above all, get corroboration. Relying on a source who is unidentified and can’t be interviewed is like Judy Miller reporting on buried chemical weapons based on an unidentified source who couldn’t be interviewed. Bad journalism.

Obviously, there are other plausible explanations for the student’s motivation. Maybe he wanted attention from the professor and so weaved a tale. Maybe the student just has a habit of making things up. Who knows.

« Why Did the Journalist Write the Story? »

We don’t know that, either. However, Joe Gandelman of “The Moderate Voice” has first-hand experience being a journalist pressured to write a story before all the facts are in to be first.

My position is that the journalist should have waited until he could interview someone actually there during the supposed visit (and never run the story if no such interview was ever granted) but it’s possible that he was under pressure to hurry.




Ann Coulter: “The Government Should Be Spying On All Arabs”

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 23, 2005 @ 12:04 pm
Filed under: Right Watch, Government, Media Watch, TV

Is racism against Arabs acceptable to CNN?

CNN has invited Ann Coulter to be a guest since she her racist suggestion that Helen Thomas (an American-born reporter of Lebanese descent) be treated as a security threat (”Press passes can’t be that hard to come by if the White House allows that old Arab Helen Thomas to sit within yards of the president,” wrote Ann Coulter in a February 23, 2005 column.)

In her latest column, Ann Coulter writes that “the government should be spying on all Arabs.”

These remarks may be intended as jokes, but Ann Coulter isn’t a comedian and these remarks aren’t funny. If these racist remarks aren’t intended as jokes, then they are even worse.

Why does CNN give Ann Coulter respect which she doesn’t deserve?

“Media Matters for America” has more on Ann Coulter and CNN.




Christmas Portrayals of Bush and Cheney

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 22, 2005 @ 1:20 am
Filed under: Cable/Satellite, Government, Media Watch, TV

The cable channel “Current TV” shows short videos and cartoons.

At the Current TV website, you can watch a cartoon by Josh Faure-Brac in which George W. Bush meets Santa Claus.

They visit the North Pole. Bush observes that it isn’t very cold…

George W. Bush: Oh man, global warming’s real?

Santa Claus: Well, I don’t know, maybe you should ask Frosty the Snow Bucket!

Since Al Gore is an activist on global warming, this Current TV cartoon is fitting for a channel for which he’s the chairman. The cartoon is being shown on TV in addition to being at the website.

As for Dick Cheney, you can read a portrayal of him as Ebeneezer Scrooge at the blog “Mia Culpa.”

« More On Current TV »

The channel is available in about 20 million homes, says Alex Dolan, Current TV’s Public Relations Director.

That is only counting households where Current TV can be viewed immediately (it doesn’t count people who don’t get it but can call their cable companies to add it.)

The bulk of the households with Current TV get the channel automatically through satellite’s DirectTV, which has over 15 million customers.

It is also automatically available to most Time Warner digital-cable subscribers in New York City and Los Angeles.

People who subscribe to cable television through Comcast need to order their obscure “Digital Extra” package to get Current TV. That includes me, as I described on the day I got my cable service restored.




New York Police Are Disguising Themselves As Protesters to Spy On Citizens

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 22, 2005 @ 12:36 am
Filed under: Free Speech, Government

From a New York Times article by Jim Dwyer:

Undercover New York City police officers have conducted covert surveillance in the last 16 months of people protesting the Iraq war, bicycle riders taking part in mass rallies and even mourners at a street vigil for a cyclist killed in an accident, a series of videotapes show.

In glimpses and in glaring detail, the videotape images reveal the robust presence of disguised officers or others working with them at seven public gatherings since August 2004.

The officers hoist protest signs. They hold flowers with mourners. They ride in bicycle events. At the vigil for the cyclist, an officer in biking gear wore a button that said, “I am a shameless agitator.” She also carried a camera and videotaped the roughly 15 people present.

They are also acting as agent provocateurs:

Beyond collecting information, some of the undercover officers or their associates are seen on the tape having influence on events. At a demonstration last year during the Republican National Convention, the sham arrest of a man secretly working with the police led to a bruising confrontation between officers in riot gear and bystanders.

No oversight, anymore:

In New York, the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg persuaded a federal judge in 2003 to enlarge the Police Department’s authority to conduct investigations of political, social and religious groups. “We live in a more dangerous, constantly changing world,” Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said.

Before then, very few political organizations or activities were secretly investigated by the Police Department, the result of a 1971 class-action lawsuit that charged the city with abuses in surveillance during the 1960’s. Now the standard for opening inquiries into political activity has been relaxed, full authority to begin surveillance has been restored to the police and federal courts no longer require a special panel to oversee the tactics.

The fact that we live in a “dangerous, constantly changing world” doesn’t mean that police in disguise at protest marches make the world less dangerous or more slowly changing.

Decent citizens engaged in First Amendment activities, are made to feel like criminals:

To date, officials say no one has complained of personal damage from the information collected over recent months, but participants in the protests, rallies and other gatherings say the police have been a disruptive presence.

Ryan Kuonen, 32, who took part in a “ride of silence” in memory of a dead cyclist, said that two undercover officers - one with a camera - subverted the event. “They were just in your face,” she said. “It made what was a really solemn event into something that seemed wrong. It made you feel like you were a criminal. It was grotesque.”

There are problems with police disguising themselves as protesters. One is that there is no accountability for police brutality by police who aren’t wearing badges. Another is that the message of the undercover police isn’t the message of the organizers.

It should be illegal for a police officer to attend a protest, unless dressed in a police uniform with a badge number plainly visible.

There is a video at the “Current TV” website titled “Made in the USA” which includes a police officer disguised as a protester. Please vote for it to be shown on TV (even if you don’t get the “Current TV” channel.)




Bogus Story Spreads That Pentagon Labelled a Gay Kiss-In a “Credible Threat”

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 21, 2005 @ 12:45 pm
Filed under: Government, Media Watch

There is a misleading article at Wonkette.com.

The article by DCEIVER on spying by the military describes the Pentagon as “even going so far as to label a ‘kiss-in’ at the University of California at Santa Cruz (home of the Fighting Banana Slugs!) as a ‘credible threat of terrorism.’”

This story originated with an article by “Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.”

There were protests at UC Santa Cruz on April 5, 2005, led by “Students Against War.”

Protesters objected to military recruiting based on the “racist, sexist, classist and heterosexist biases of the military.”

Click here for excerpt from Defense Dept. document obtained by NBC News which calls UCSC protest a “credible” “threat.” (Full PDF linked at article on domestic military spying by Lisa Myers, Douglas Pasternak, Rich Gardella and the NBC Investigative Unit of NBC News.)

The protests as a whole were labelled a “credible” “threat” by the military.

But the SLDN article says,

A UC-Santa Cruz ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell‘ protest, which included a gay kiss-in, was labeled as a ‘credible threat’ of terrorism.”

SLDN misleadingly implies that was the only protest there that day which could have interested the military.

None of the contemporaneous reports I’ve found on the April 5, 2005 protest even mentions a Gay Kiss-In. Did SDLN confuse that April event with an October 18, 2005 protest? (Update: in the Comments section below, “josh” identifies himself as a member of Students Against War at UCSC and says that SLDN did confuse the dates.)

The bogus story spread to Pandagon, AMERICAblog, The New York Blade,Gawker, and Wonkette.com.

« In Summary »

The military did label protests as a whole at the University of California at Santa Cruz on April 5, 2005 a “threat.” It did not single out a protest of “‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” with a gay kiss-in.

« What Difference Does It Make? »

There should be NO spying in the US by the military.

But opponents of such military spying help their case with accurate stories, not misleading ones.

« Update of December 22, 2005 »

This morning, I received the following via email from Steve Ralls, the Communications Director of “Servicemembers Legal Defense Network:”

Based on reports that we have received from UC-Santa Cruz and members of the media, it appears there may be some contradictory information.

There was an October protest, which included the kiss-in, at UC-Santa Cruz. There was also, apparently, an April protest as well, though that one did not include the kiss-in. Student organizers at UC-Santa Cruz tell us that, in fact, they believe both events were monitored.

In our FOIA request, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network will request more specific information, including exact dates, activities and protests that were monitored. Once we have received a response to our FOIA, that information will be posted to our web site.

Did the military spy on the gay kiss-in October? Did it label the gay kiss-in a “threat?” We don’t have proof at this time that the military did these things. We will have more information if the military complies with SLDN’s Freedom-of-Information Act request.




Good Leaks and Bad Leaks

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 20, 2005 @ 2:52 pm
Filed under: Government, Free Press

Leaks during the George W. Bush years include:

• Identifying Valerie Plame as a CIA employee (after her husband criticized Bush).

• Exposing the secret prisons in Europe run by the CIA.

• Revealing Bush’s illegal order to the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on calls without getting a warrant either before or after the eavesdropping. (The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — FISA — allows a warrant to be obtained up to 72 hours after the eavesdropping begins.)

How can we tell if a leak is good or bad? Tom Tomorrow explains:

Apparently some people don’t understand the difference between a leak that is solely intended to hurt someone as an act of political retribution — i.e., Valerie Plame — and a leak that is intended to blow the whistle on a violation of the law. Let me try to put this simply: the first is a dangerous abuse of power. The second is an attempt to prevent a dangerous abuse of power.

I’d count the first leak listed above as one that is a “dangerous abuse of power,” and the latter two leaks as attempts to end a “dangerous abuse of power.”




Bush “Violated the Law,” Fox News Legal Analyst Says

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 19, 2005 @ 8:49 pm
Filed under: Right Watch, Government, Media Watch

Judge Andrew Napolitano, a legal analyst for Fox News’ “Dayside” program, said today:

When Congress enacted the FISA act (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) in ‘77, it also made it criminal for anyone in this country to use the power of the government to wiretap without a search warrant. It made it easy to get the search warrant with the FISA law, but it said you have to get the search warrant.

The president has violated the law in the name of national security, not wanting to violate the law, believing he’s doing the right thing, but he violated it nonetheless.

He can’t pick and choose which laws to obey and not to obey any more than the rest of us can.




Does Robert Novak Believe Everything He Says?

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 19, 2005 @ 5:00 pm
Filed under: Right Watch, Government, Media Watch, TV


Robert Novak in a dark suit and red striped tie, white hair, not-smiling.
Robert Novak

Conservative commentator Robert Novak is moving from CNN to Fox News.

An AP article on the move concludes:

Novak said the switch to Fox had nothing to do with finding a more comfortable home for his views.

‘’I don’t think that’s a factor,'’ he said. ‘’In 25 years I was never censored by CNN, and I said some fairly outrageous things and some very conservative things. I don’t want to give the impression that they were muzzling me and I had to go to a place that wouldn’t muzzle me.'’

Robert Novak said during one episode of “Capital Gang” that for Senators to filibuster a judicial nominee is like the Nazis sending a prisoner to death.

Novak’s characterization of his CNN comments as including “some fairly outrageous things” could mean that Novak himself may not believe that comparisons such as that one are valid.

From May 14, 2005 Capital Gang:

AL HUNT: Bob, why would Senator Frist refuse an offer to break the deadlock?

ROBERT NOVAK: Because the whole system (inaudible) you’re not going to have — like going to a concentration camp and picking out which people go to the death chamber. You’re not going to let the Democrats do that, say, We’re going to — we’re going to confirm this person, we’re not going to confirm the other person.

Video of Novak’s dubious reference to a concentration camp at Crooks and Liars.




Government Spying on Americans: Washington Post Article Counts the Ways

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 18, 2005 @ 9:17 pm
Filed under: Government

Washington Post reporters Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer have published a good article on how the Bush Administration has increased spying on Americans.

Since October, news accounts have disclosed a burgeoning Pentagon campaign for “detecting, identifying and engaging” internal enemies that included a database with information on peace protesters. A debate has roiled over the FBI’s use of national security letters to obtain secret access to the personal records of tens of thousands of Americans. And now come revelations of the National Security Agency’s interception of telephone calls and e-mails from the United States — without notice to the federal court that has held jurisdiction over domestic spying since 1978.

The military is investigating civilians:

The Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, began as a small policy-coordination office but has grown to encompass nine directorates and a staff exceeding 1,000. The agency’s Talon database, collecting unconfirmed reports of suspicious activity from military bases and organizations around the country, has included “threat reports” of peaceful civilian protests and demonstrations.

CIFA has also been empowered with what the military calls “tasking authority” — the ability to give operational orders — over Army, Navy and Air Force units whose combined roster of investigators, about 4,000, is nearly as large as the number of FBI special agents assigned to counterterrorist squads. Pentagon officials said this month they had ordered a review of the program after disclosures, in The Post, NBC News and the WashingtonPost.com Web log of William M. Arkin, that CIFA compiled information about U.S. citizens engaging in constitutionally protected political activity such as protests against military recruiting.

The FBI is writing its own “national security letters” to demand information:

…the FBI has issued tens of thousands of national security letters, extending the bureau’s reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans. Most of the U.S. residents and citizens whose records were screened, the FBI acknowledged, were not suspected of wrongdoing.

Even if you’re cleared of wrongdoing after a warrant-less search, your privacy is repeatedly violated as information on you is distributed:

The burgeoning use of national security letters coincided with an unannounced decision to deposit all the information they yield into government data banks — and to share those private records widely, in the federal government and beyond. In late 2003, the Bush administration reversed a long-standing policy requiring agents to destroy their files on innocent American citizens, companies and residents when investigations closed.

The article ends by implying that even if expansion of government spying after 9/11/2001 was understandable, now is the time to re-examine it:

Michael J. Woods, who was chief of the FBI’s national security law unit when Bush signed the NSA directive, described the ongoing program as “very dangerous.” In the immediate aftermath of a devastating attack, he said, the decision was a justifiable emergency response. In 2006, “we ought to be past the time of emergency responses. We ought to have more considered views now. . . . We have time to debate a legal regime and what’s appropriate.”

Previous SpeakSpeak article:Military Spying on Civilians in US

« Update of December 19, 2005 »

Spying by the US military is growing without Congressional oversight. Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus writes:

CIFA’s authority is still growing. In a new move to centralize all counterterrorism intelligence collection inside the United States, the Defense Department this month gave CIFA authority to task domestic investigations and operations by the counterintelligence units of the military services.

The tasking authority allows CIFA to assign Defense counterintelligence organizations “to execute a specific mission or conduct a function falling within that organization’s charter,” according to a Dec. 1 memo signed by Robert W. Rogalski, acting deputy undersecretary of Defense for counterintelligence and security, that was provided to The Post.

CIFA’s new authority will give the agency the ability to propose missions to Army, Navy and Air Force units, which combined have about 4,000 trained active, reserve and civilian investigators in the United States and abroad. For example, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) has 1,935 “federally credentialed special agents,” according to its Web site. The military service agents investigate crime and terrorism.




George Will Exposes His Mindset Against Environmentalism

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 18, 2005 @ 6:44 pm
Filed under: Right Watch, Government, Media Watch

The real elitists are conservatives.

George Will is a conservative columnist for the Washington Post.

A recent column by George Will describes what a huge amount of oil there supposedly is in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but concludes by saying it should be drilled even if there are “only three thimbles of oil.”

Amanda Marcotte of the blog Pandagon implies that this column by George Will reveals an elitist mindset that the rich should control everything. No commons. No general welfare. No collectivism:

George Will cracks and admits that the whole push to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has more to do with fucking shit up just for the hell of it than actually getting any oil.

A quarter of a century of this tactic applied to ANWR is about 24 years too many. If geologists were to decide that there were only three thimbles of oil beneath area 1002, there would still be something to be said for going down to get them, just to prove that this nation cannot be forever paralyzed by people wielding environmentalism as a cover for collectivism.

In other words, it’ll be worth it to piss off the Birkenstocks crowd.

What is it with knee-jerk anti-environmentalism? Is it just this desire to leave a footprint on the planet, no matter how odious? Sure, earlier civilizations will be remembered for great art and architecture, but hopefully we’ll be remembered as the civilization that destroyed as much natural beauty as humanly possible. That’s something, isn’t it?

You know what? I’m not even feeling that generous today. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Will-style conservatives dislike environmentalism just because of this “collectivism” that he takes a piss on. Natural beauty doesn’t have a price tag on it.

…The rabble should live in squalor, with black skies over our heads as we trudge back and forth to our jobs, working our asses off throughout our meaningless lives, making money for our betters so they can purchase grand estates that they then fill with all the beautiful plants and animals that the rest of us should be denied the pleasure of of ever seeing. That’s the end game of these anti-environmental ideologues, make no mistake. Living in the manicured gardens of Versailles is a lot more desirable if the poor live in their own filth.

Will pretends that collectivism is simply an anti-freedom idea, that by protecting national parks and wildlife refuges, we’re somehow giving up “freedom”. Sure, conservatives loooooove freedom. The freedom of the authoritative government to tap your phones, for instance. He’s just interested in stomping out the idea of “collectivism”, which I do believe the Constitution calls the “general welfare.”

ANWR is offensive to conservatives because it’s collectively owned, which means the common rabble have technical ownership over something of great beauty.

Environmentalism is a threat to the conservative push to end “general welfare” as a goal of government, because it exposes the very serious problems with the anti-collective ideology, which is for instance that every-man-for-himself class warfare would result in massive pollution and destruction of most natural beauty.




Two Op-Ed Writers Were Secretly Paid by Republican Lobbyist Jack Abramoff

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 18, 2005 @ 2:43 pm
Filed under: Right Watch, Government, Media Watch, Free Press

Conservative op-ed writers Doug Bandow and Peter Ferrara were each paid to write op-eds by corrupt GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

This payoff was exposed in a Business Week article by Eamon Javers, “Op-Eds for Sale.”

Doug Bandow admits that taking money to write op-eds without disclosing the payments was wrong. He says, “It was a lapse of judgment on my part, and I take full responsibility for it.”

Peter Ferrara, however, is unapologetic:

“I do that all the time,” Ferrara says. “I’ve done that in the past, and I’ll do it in the future.”

Ferrara, who has been an influential conservative voice on Social Security reform, among other issues, says he doesn’t see a conflict of interest in taking undisclosed money to write op-ed pieces because his columns never violated his ideological principles….

“These are my views, and if you want to support them, then that’s good.”

More on Social Security at Move Left.

The blog JABBS notes that in addition to these two writers being paid by a Republican lobbyist:

At least four journalists have been cited in the past year as being paid by the Bush Administration to write favorable items, or make favorable presentations on television, about administration programs or proposals.




Protesters Demand That Wal-Mart Exploit Christmas

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 18, 2005 @ 12:31 pm
Filed under: Government, Religion, AdWatch

In the 1960s, Tom Lehrer wrote a song that criticized the commercialization of Christmas by retail stores:

Hark the Herald Tribune sings,
Advertising wondrous things.
God rest ye merry, merchants,
May you make the yuletide pay.
Angels we have heard on high
Tell us to go out and buy!

But in Sacramento, California, yesterday, about 50 people protested outside a Wal-Mart for not using the word “Christmas” in its advertising:

Saturday’s protest was organized by religious leaders including Dick Otterstad of the Church of the Divide, located in Georgetown, east of downtown Sacramento. Donning a Santa Claus costume and surrounded by a handful of supporters, Otterstad greeted shoppers with a single message: Don’t forget about the meaning of Christmas.

“It is insulting that Wal-Mart has chosen to ignore the reason for the season,” Otterstad said. “Taking the word Christmas out of the holiday implies there’s something sinful about it. … This is a part of our culture.”

Is protesting that Wal-Mart should advertise with the word “Christmas” the best way for Dick Otterstad to convey the “meaning of Christmas“? Perhaps if he held a sign saying “Blessed are the Peacemakers” that would have conveyed the meaning of Christmas.

Stores have no obligations to promote religious holidays. Wal-Mart isn’t using “Hanukkah” in its ads, either, as far as I know.

The AP article ends with a puzzling quote from a shopper leaving Wal-Mart:

Earlee Marshall, 32, of Sacramento, pushed a big load of purchases from the store, but said he supported the protesters.

“A lot of people have forgotten the significance of Christmas,” Marshall said. “It used to be about family and friends. But now it’s more about who can give the biggest gifts and who got the best toys.”

Apparently, he misunderstood the protest. The protesters weren’t saying that Christmas shouldn’t be exploited in advertising for store merchandise, but that it should be.

« Where is this coming from? »

The AP article implies that the protest was indirectly based on campaigns by the the American Family Association and the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. Perhaps, but personally I associate this nonsense more with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News.

« Church and store; church and state »

An interesting history of Christmas controversies can be found in a New York Times article by Adam Cohen, “Commercialize Christmas, or Else.”

Adam Cohen’s historical information includes that Christmas songs in public schools were once more controversial than today:

This year’s Christmas “defenders” are not just tolerating commercialization — they’re insisting on it. They are also rewriting Christmas history on another key point: non-Christians’ objection to having the holiday forced on them.

The campaign’s leaders insist this is a new phenomenon… But as early as 1906, the Committee on Elementary Schools in New York City urged that Christmas hymns be banned from the classroom, after a boycott by more than 20,000 Jewish students. In 1946, the Rabbinical Assembly of America declared that calling on Jewish children to sing Christmas carols was “an infringement on their rights as Americans.”




The Week at SpeakSpeak

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 16, 2005 @ 8:07 pm
Filed under: SpeakSpeak, Right Watch, Free Speech, Cable/Satellite, Government, Media Watch, TV, Flag Burning, Religion, Radio

• Bill O’Reilly admits that “Happy Holidays” isn’t offensive after all. LINK

• Hillary Clinton proposes legislation that could be used to jail a protester who burns an American flag for a year. Senators should be thinking up ways to INCREASE our freedom, but no. LINK

• Departing FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy says indecency fines are “probably the hardest area for me as a commissioner. This is one where I could argue both sides very easily. I am a firm believer in the First Amendment and the right of free speech. And at the same time, I appreciate the need to protect children.” How about writing clear rules, if one could easily argue something is indecent or that it’s not indecent under the current rules? LINK

• Meanwhile, what is “indecent” in the general sense of the term? How about Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) wasting “$223 million of pork earmarked for the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ to be used by about 50 Alaskans”? LINK

Bill O’Reilly’s reporting about bans on red-and-green clothing (Christmas colors) is false. No surprise. Will O’Reilly have to resign like Dan Rather did (for a flawed story which was more ambiguous and better researched?) LINK

• New Hampshire’s liberal radio host Arnie Arnesen: She may get fired because she’s criticized SUVs. Car dealerships are threatening to pull advertising from her radio station. LINK

Ted Koppel says ABC News has fewer foreign correspondents today than it did 30 years ago. LINK

• “A la carte” cable would mean people get exposed to less diversity in programming, says AdAge columnist Simon Dumenco. LINK

• Gay groups and the American Family Association took opposite positions on whether Ford should advertise cars in gay magazines. Ford originally said it would pull its advertising from magazines with mostly gay content. Eventually, the gay groups won. LINK

• The US military is spying on civilians who oppose the Iraq War. This includes Quakers. LINK

• Conservative groups disagree on whether Congress should mandate “a la carte” programming. The Parents Television Council and Concerned Women for America argue that a la carte is the best solution to the “indecency” problem. Meanwhile, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and TBN’s Paul Crouch, Jr., fear (logically) that a la carte programming would vastly decrease viewership of religious channels. LINK

• A trend in entertainment is increased consumer options in how to view content. Therefore, I argue that Congress should be hands-off for the next few years regarding indecency and mandated a la carte. Let things develop. LINK

• Bush told the NSA to spy on US citizens. LINK

• $300 million of our tax dollars are being spent on propaganda — for example, covertly planting stories in the press of other nations. That includes allies’. Planting propaganda is legal abroad, but not in the US. LINK

• Clear Channel owns billboards, as well as radio stations and concert halls. The company refused to post a billboard which would say, “‘Wal*Mart: Killing Local Businesses…One Main Street at a Time.” They had no problem hosting a billboard that states “George W. Bush, Our Leader.” LINK

• NPR is soooo liberal. If you believe the hype. If you look at statistics, however, NPR favors conservatives. LINK

Howard Stern aired his last show on broadcast radio. He was driven out by the pressure of FCC indecency fines. Sad day for free speech. Howard Stern will start a show on Sirius Satellite Radio on January 9, 2006. LINK

• Time Warner describes its “family tier,” which may debut next spring. LINK




Texas Man Banned from Computers for 10 Years

Posted by Amanda Toering
December 16, 2005 @ 12:53 pm
Filed under: Government

A sleazy pervert convicted of soliciting sex with a minor online has been banned from using computers for the entire duration of his 10 year probation. Randolph Cunningham was 26 when he met a 13-year-old girl in a chatroom and arranged an in-person meeting with her. The 13-year-old was actually an undercover officer for the Texas Attorney General’s office.

From News 8 Austin:

A Round Rock man in jail for criminal solicitation of a minor is now banned from using a computer for 10 years.

Randolph Cottingham was convicted in 2004 of soliciting an underage girl online. He was sentenced to 150 days in jail and 10 years probation.

Last month, Cottingham admitted to authorities he viewed pornography online and violated his probation.

Prosecutors asked the court to revoke his probation and send Cottingham to prison. Instead, the judge banned Cottingham from using a computer until his 10-year probation ends and increased his jail sentence to 180 days.

In addition, Cottingham must submit to three polygraphs in the upcoming year.

I’m not about to defend the behavior of a low-life like this guy, but banning someone from any contact with a computer for ten years seems rather unconstitutional to me. Besides which, keeping a sexual predator away from computers is hardly a solution to the problem. Why not concentrate on what he does in real life? Keep the guy away from minors. The keyboard is irrelevant.




NPR’s Right-Wing Bias

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 16, 2005 @ 10:46 am
Filed under: Government, Media Watch, Radio

The radio network National Public Radio is funded with federal grants, corporate donations, and individual donations.

NPR broadcasts more remarks by people at right-wing think tanks than left-wing think tanks. Their ombudsman admits this, but doesn’t consider it a problem.

From NPR ombudsman Jeffrey A. Dvorkin:

NPR does not lean on the so-called conservative think tanks as many in the audience seem to think.

…The score to date: Right 239, Left 141.

In other words, in 2005, NPR got quotes from people at right-wing think tanks 239 times and from left-wing think tanks 141 times.

But critics of NPR’s right-wing bias are supposed to take comfort that they’re not leaning as much to the right as some people might think.

From the Daily Howler:

Dvorkin says that NPR “does not lean on the so-called conservative think tanks as many in the audience seem to think.” As evidence, he offers a numerical accounting which tilts almost two-to-one toward conservative think tanks! Only in our broken discourse could such “logic” obtain.

Some have complained that Brookings and CSIS aren’t really think tanks of the left. But for the sake of argument, let’s leave that point to the side. Where except in the mainstream press can we find public figures who reason so strangely?

By any rational standard, Dvorkin’s figures represent one thing. So he says that they stand for the opposite!




At Least $300 Million of Our Tax Dollars Being Spent On Propaganda

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 16, 2005 @ 6:53 am
Filed under: Government

From USA Today:

A $300 million Pentagon psychological warfare operation includes plans for placing pro-American messages in foreign media outlets without disclosing the U.S. government as the source, one of the military officials in charge of the program says.

Run by psychological warfare experts at the U.S. Special Operations Command, the media campaign is being designed to counter terrorist ideology and sway foreign audiences to support American policies. The military wants to fight the information war against al-Qaeda through newspapers, websites, radio, television and “novelty items” such as T-shirts and bumper stickers.

The program will operate throughout the world, including in allied nations and in countries where the United States is not involved in armed conflict….

The military’s communications work in Iraq has recently drawn controversy with disclosures that Lincoln Group and the U.S. military secretly paid journalists and news outlets to run pro-American stories….

It’s legal for the government to plant propaganda in other countries but not in the USA….

The Iraq example may cause Arabs to doubt any pro-American messages, says Jumana al-Tamimi, an editor for the Gulf News, an English-language newspaper published in the United Arab Emirates.

Placing pro-U.S. content in foreign media “makes people suspicious of the open press,” says Ken Bacon, a Clinton administration Pentagon spokesman who heads the non-profit group Refugees International.

The USA Today article doesn’t say whether it’s $300 million per year or over a longer period.

One of the problems with the US planting stories covertly in the foreign press is that a US Senator may visit Iraq, see positive stories in their press, and become convinced things are going well, when those stories were actually US propaganda. Media Matters for America discusses this issue regarding Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT).




Bush Authorized NSA to Spy on American Citizens

Posted by Chris Zammarelli
December 16, 2005 @ 4:46 am
Filed under: Government

James Risen and Eric Lichtblau report in today’s New York Times that President Bush secretly signed a presidential order in 2002 that allowed the National Security Agency to monitor phone calls made and emails sent by US citizens to international sources — without a warrant. According to an ex-government official:

“This is really a sea change. It’s almost a mainstay of this country that the NSA only does foreign searches.”

The NSA’s operation was briefly suspended in 2004 when questions about its legality were raised in Congress and in court. It was reinstated after restrictions on the program were put into place.

The White House requested that the New York Times not publish Risen’s and Lichtblau’s report, saying it could be disruptive to ongoing anti-terrorism efforts. While the article was published, certain info federal officials argued could be beneficial to terrorist organizations was removed.




Military Spying on Civilians in US

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 14, 2005 @ 10:03 pm
Filed under: Government, Free Speech?

The US military is spying on opponents of the Iraq War. This includes a Quaker group in Lake Worth, Florida, dubiously labelled a “threat.”

People should be able to exercise their First Amendment rights without fear of ending up in a government or military database.

A video of a report by Lisa Meyers from Countdown with Keith Olbermann is at the blog Crooks and Liars.

A transcript is available at the MSNBC website.

Previous SpeakSpeak article: “US Military Spying in America.”




Ted Koppel Criticizes News Media; Bush Administration

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 14, 2005 @ 12:45 pm
Filed under: Government, Media Watch, TV

Ted Koppel, former host of ABC’s “Nightline,” was interviewed by New York Magazine’s Meryl Gordon for the December 5 issue.

Koppel said there are too few foreign correspondents in network news:

At the moment, he’s howling against the sorry state of television news. “When I look back 30 years ago, we had 25 foreign correspondents, and now we have five.” His voice rises. “To just dismiss foreign news because it’s boring is idiocy. I understand that corporations need to make money. I also remember that broadcasters in exchange for their licenses are supposed to operate in the public interest, and that means covering the news.”

Koppel also criticized the Bush Administration’s attitude toward journalists:

Twice in the past two years, Koppel has raised the ire of the Bush administration with segments called “The Fallen,” in which he read aloud the names of the soldiers who had died in Iraq. “I didn’t do it to piss them off,” he says. “It was to honor the people who have lost their lives, to remind us that a tiny fragment of the population is bearing a disproportionate burden.”

His voice drips with contempt as he talks about the Bush team’s spin tactics on Iraq. “There’s this sense, ‘Don’t worry your pretty little heads about what’s going on over there — just do what we tell you, don’t question it. We know what we’re doing, leave the grown-ups alone.’ It’s not smart, it’s not healthy, and in the final analysis, it doesn’t work.”




A Family Tier for Cable TV: Will It Be Enough to Calm Things Down?

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 13, 2005 @ 6:51 pm
Filed under: Action, Cable/Satellite, Government, Opinion, TV, Indecency

« Update of December 16, 2005 »

It turn out that people who order the family tier won’t get MTV and similar channels. Details here.

« Original Main »

A group of cable channels intended for families with small children could be a good idea. But it depends on the details.

From David Ranii for The News & Observer of North Carolina:

Time Warner Cable spokesman Keith Cocozza confirmed that the company will introduce a family-friendly package soon.

“The family tier we are considering would be offered as an addition to basic-only service,” he said. Because the basic tier is the minimum level of service subscribers can receive, such a tier would be available at additional cost to all subscribers.

Does Keith Cocozza mean that families who just want “The Disney Channel” and other G-rated channels would still pay for racier channels such as MTV and FX?

If so, this announcement will just delay the “indecency” controversy (what should Congress do about indecency, if anything?) until the day the service is offered. (The packages could materialize “as early as March,” says Kyle McSlarrow, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.)

The family tier, as described, won’t satisfy critics a bit. Groups like the Parents Television Council regard having to pay for MTV to get other cable channels as a big issue.

« The family-tier should be stand-alone and low-priced »

I believe that the cable industry should say that people who only want “The Disney Channel” (and similarly G-rated channels) can get just those channels for a low-price.

Offering G-rated channels alone for a low-price would calm things down. It would stop Congress from trying to extend “indecency” regulations to cable and from mandating a la carte programming.

I don’t want Congress to pass an indecency bill. A family tier that is only available to people who subscribe to basic cable may not be enough to stop Congress from passing an indecency bill.

« Update of December 16, 2005 »

It turn out that people who order the family tier won’t get MTV and similar channels. Details here.




Hillary Clinton Blames the Victim

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 12, 2005 @ 9:16 am
Filed under: Free Speech, Government, Flag Burning

Suppose a protester burns an American flag and is punched by an upset onlooker.

Hillary Clinton wants the the person who was punched to be punished “by up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine.”

Hillary Clinton’s values are upside-down. This is a despicable inversion of the norms of civilized behavior.

Civilization is based on tolerance, but Hillary Clinton would glorify intolerance with this disgusting statute.

From the St. Petersburg (FL) Times:

The measure she has co-sponsored along with Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, is the Flag Protection Act of 2005. One provision would make it a crime punishable by up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine, to burn an American flag of “any size” if a person knows that it is “likely to produce imminent violence or a breach of the peace.”

The crime is not the act of burning the flag (since old and tattered flags are burned regularly by veteran groups) but to burn a flag in criticism of the American government when someone is nearby who cannot control his impulses. This gives remarkable power to those in our society who resort to violence in response to disturbing speech and messages.

The Democratic Party doesn’t need another candidate who lacks the backbone to take a clear, principled stand, and it certainly doesn’t need a candidate who doesn’t believe in the First Amendment.

Marches led by Martin Luther King, Jr., were often met with violence. Under Hillary Clinton’s logic, that means his marches should have been illegal.




“Now Is One of Your Last Chances to Hear Him Bleeped”

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 11, 2005 @ 7:06 pm
Filed under: Action, FCC, Free Speech, Cable/Satellite, Government, TV, Indecency, Radio, Howard

This title is the slogan that cable channel Comedy Central is using to advertise Howard Stern’s interview with Jon Stewart on Tuesday’s “The Daily Show.”

Comedian Howard Stern is moving from broadcast radio, in which indecency is illegal, to satellite radio, where it’s legal to say almost anything.

Indecency is vaguely defined as “language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community broadcast standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities.”

Please let your Congressperson and Senators know that you DON’T want indecency regulations applied to satellite radio (or satellite television or cable television). In other words, please ask Congress to maintain free speech on those systems.

You can find contact information for Congress at
www.vote-smart.org.




I Saw the Johnny Cash Movie Tonight

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 9, 2005 @ 9:11 pm
Filed under: Government, Media Watch

I saw “Walk the Line” tonight. It stars Joaquin Phoenix as musician Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon as musician June Carter. There was a big audience tonight, even though the movie has been out since November 18th. I recommend it.

The movie is mostly about the long romantic road from when Johnny Cash first met June Carter to when he ultimately married her.

There was only a bit of politics in the movie.

When Johnny Cash wants to record a live album at Folsom Prison, there is this dialogue (paraphrase):

Record Executive: Your fans are good Christians. They don’t want to hear you entertain murderers and rapists.

Johnny Cash: Then they’re not Christians.

During that concert, Cash tells the audience that he respects them for being able to endure the yellow drinking water at Folsom Prison. He then shatters a glass of the dirty water in a gesture that implies he doesn’t approve of cruel conditions for prisoners.

The movie goes through 1968.

I was expecting more politics, but some of the political events I was expecting occurred later than 1968.

The following isn’t in the movie. (They could put it in a sequel, if they make one.)

In 1969, Johnny Cash gave a concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and expressed opposition to the Vietnam War. He sang “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream.” Cash’s version of the song by Ed McCurdy says, “Last night I had the strangest dream, I’ve ever known before. I dreamed that all the world agreed, to put an end to war.”

In 1971, Johnny Cash recorded “Man in Black,” which expresses sympathy for the poor and for prisoners serving excessively long sentences.




Skepticism That There is a “War on Christmas”

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 9, 2005 @ 4:46 pm
Filed under: Right Watch, Government, Media Watch, Religion

The blogger DCEIVER at Wonkette.com doesn’t agree with the claim that saying “Happy Holidays” equals an attack on Christmas:

…the War on Christmas is an idea akin to a bullshit sandwich, once you’ve deleted all the “sandwich-like” characteristics, anyway.

The word “holiday” is derived from “holy day“, Linus Van Pelt is always going to deliver his reading of Luke on national television year after year, and WASH-FM is going to be playing their drive-time five-song manger birth blocks every December until the Sun finally dies.

DCEIVER also notes how the US government wages actual wars:

…If the President was to learn of a mysterious trio of swarthy gentlemen smuggling goods to a newly born child who’s destined to grow up to be the leader of a Middle East insurgency, he’d have Colin Powell up at the United Nations portentiously waving around a vial of frankincense. They bomb mangers, don’t they?

Meanwhile, Kevin at “Lean Left” explores the anti-Semitic aspect of the “War on Christmas” claim.

Kevin notes that the two people Bill O’Reilly has suggested are waging a “War on Christmas” are Jews: Comedian Jon Stewart and investor George Soros.

Kevin also quotes disapprovingly a dubious essay at Townhall.com. The essay says, “It is the ACLU, which is overwhelmingly Jewish in terms of membership and funding, that is leading the attack against Christianity in America. It is they who have conned far too many people into believing that the phrase ’separation of church and state’ actually exists somewhere in the Constitution.”

As far as I know, the majority of members of the ACLU aren’t Jewish. But since the ACLU doesn’t publish a membership list, neither I nor the author of that essay can really say. If Jews have a tendency to support civil liberties, that is great. Everyone Jewish and non-Jewish should support civil liberties.

The author of the Townhall article, Burt Prelutsky, has only written one previous article for the website. (That article reviews the George Clooney movie about Senator Joe McCarthy, “Good Night and Good Luck.“)

Burt Prelutsky implies he’s Jewish, writing ” I blame my fellow Jews,” and later, “I am getting the idea that too many Jews won’t be happy until they pull off their own version of the Spanish Inquisition, forcing Christians to either deny their faith and convert to agnosticism or suffer the consequences.”

To my fellow Jew, Mr. Prelutsky:

As Joe McCarthy was eventually asked, “Have you no sense of decency?”

Promoting the idea that Jews want to force Christians to denounce Christianity is bizarre and beyond the pale.

The editors of Townhall.com should be ashamed to have published your dishonest article — which promotes anti-Semites.