SpeakSpeak News


The Story of Two Barrels

Filed under
  • Free Speech
 by Amanda Toering — 05/23/2005 @ 9:53 pm

The Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times visited a Chinese web journalist who is making remarkable inroads in the land of the government press.

“Everyone in China these days,” Kristof begins, “wants to get on the Internet.” In a multimedia presentation called “The Chinese Internet Crusader,” Kristof details the work of Li Xinde. Armed with a laptop and a fierce will, Li “takes on the kind of investigative cases the Chinese media won’t touch.”

Mr. Li travels around China with an I.B.M. laptop and a digital camera, investigating cases of official wrongdoing. Then he writes about them on his Web site and skips town before the local authorities can arrest him.

His biggest case so far involved a deputy mayor of Jining who is accused of stealing more than $400,000 and operating like a warlord. One of the deputy mayor’s victims was a businesswoman whom he allegedly harassed and tried to kidnap.

Mr. Li’s Web site published an investigative report, including a series of photos showing the deputy mayor kneeling and crying, apparently begging not to be reported to the police. The photos caused a sensation, and the deputy mayor was soon arrested.

A member of the Communist Party, Li says the organization is the story of two barrels. “Our party has relied on the barrel of the gun and the barrel of the pen.”

Kristof previously visited the brothels of Cambodia. While there, he purchased the freedom of two young prostitutes.

Li’s story is in Kristof’s op-ed piece. Watch and listen to the current report at New York Times. (Clip = 3:31 min.)

First Amendment Protection Against Speech Coercion Doesn’t Apply to Government

Filed under
  • Free Speech
  • Government
 by Amanda Toering — 05/23/2005 @ 7:33 pm

A court has found that the First Amendment’s protection against forced speech — arguably as important as its protection for free speech — does not apply when the speech in question originates from the federal government.

{* cold chill down spine *}

The issue involved the iconic “Beef: It’s What for Dinner” ads funded by the USDA. Some beef producers had objected to the ads. First off, they were forced to pay $1 per head of cattle (or, for city folks, “per cow") to finance the ads. Second, some ranchers took issue with the fact that the ads made no distinction between high-quality beef and mass-produced mystery meat imported by foreign producers. (The foreign producers were subject to the same $1 per head ad-financing fee.)

The government argued that the ad campaign was beneficial to producers. According to the Christian Science Monitor,

The Beef Act was supported by the US secretary of Agriculture and other industry officials who stressed that no single rancher could achieve the same marketing results. By spreading the cost of generic advertising across the entire industry, they said, everyone would pay something and also reap a reward.

The court found that by being forced to subsidize the government’s ad campaign, cattle ranchers were not being coerced — simply because the message originated with the government.

“The message set out in the beef promotions is from beginning to end the message established by the federal government,” Justice Antonin Scalia writes for the majority. He says the rigorous First Amendment protections that apply to private speech do not apply when it is the government controlling and delivering the message.


In a dissent, Justice David Souter said the beef promotion was not a form of government speech because it did not claim authorship of the campaign. “Otherwise there is no check whatever on government power to compel special speech subsidies,” he says.

“If the government relies on the government-speech doctrine to compel specific groups to fund speech with targeted taxes, it must make itself politically accountable by indicating that the content actually is a government message,” Justice Souter says. “The Beef Act fails to require the government to show its hand.”

In his majority opinion, Justice Scalia says there is no difference in funding objectionable government speech through general government revenues or via an assessment levied upon a particular industry group. “Citizens may challenge compelled support of private speech, but have no First Amendment right not to fund government speech,” he says. “And that is no less true when the funding is achieved through targeted assessments devoted exclusively to the program to which the assessed citizens object.”

Government by the people, or speaking for the people…?

Scary stuff.

Read the entire Christian Science Monitor report.

FBI Asked WA Library for List of Osama Readers

Filed under  by Amanda Toering — 05/23/2005 @ 7:16 pm

In a first-hand account published in USA Today, Washington librarian Joan Arioldi recounts the FBI’s request to obtain a list of all library patrons who had checked out a biography of Osama bin Laden. The FBI claims it was interested in the list after a library reader reported notes scribbled in the margin of the book.

We told the FBI that it would have to follow legal channels before our board of trustees would address releasing the names of the borrowers. We also informed the FBI that, through a Google search, our attorney had discovered that the words in the margin were almost identical to a statement by bin Laden in a 1998 interview.

Undeterred, the FBI served a subpoena on the library a week later demanding a list of everyone who had borrowed the book since November 2001.

Our trustees faced a difficult decision. It is our job to protect the right of people to obtain the books and other materials they need to form and express ideas. If the government can easily obtain records of the books that our patrons are borrowing, they will not feel free to request the books they want. Who would check out a biography of bin Laden knowing that this might attract the attention of the FBI?

Arioldi tells how library trustees fought to quash the order — and how, if the FBI’s attempts to follow through on that provision of the Patriot Act had been successful, she would have been forbidden to tell the story.

In USA Today.

Not Censorship — Sanity

Filed under  by Amanda Toering — 05/23/2005 @ 3:53 pm

Jim Steyer, CEO of a company that rates the kid-worthiness of tv, movies, and video games, says that bills to prohibit the sale of violent video games to kids aren’t based in censorship. They’re just good sense, he says.

Detailed, documented analyses, including recent longitudinal studies by leading research institutions and experts, have consistently found that playing violent video games has a significant and detrimental effect on the health and welfare of children. Consequences include troubling shifts in psychological attitudes, aggressive and antisocial behavior, and overall physical condition.

Video games do not invite passive consumption in the same manner as literature, movies or television. By design, they are highly interactive and the player actively engages as the perpetrator of violent acts. Researchers at the University of Toledo found that video-game violence has a stronger effect on kids than violence in movies specifically because of the interactive nature of the experience.

It is illegal to sell tobacco and alcohol products to minors because they are direct threats to children’s health and welfare. Similarly, selling violent video games to kids is a huge public health issue and should be treated in the same manner.

From the Orange County Register (reg req’d; use BugMeNot).

New Generation of Sushi Bar(bie) Shut Down in China

Filed under  by Amanda Toering — 05/23/2005 @ 3:23 pm

Government officials in China have shut down the main attraction at a Beijing sushi restaurant — a sushi bar comprised of naked college girls.

The government said the reservations-only restaurant (which had been pretty well booked) “insults people’s moral quality.” The restaurant manager says he was only honoring an “ancient Japanese traidition.”

From Xinhua Online (a Chinese government newswire).

South Africa Considers Constitutional “Bill of Morals”

Filed under  by Amanda Toering — 05/23/2005 @ 3:07 pm

South Africa is considering amending its Constitution by adding a “Bill of Morals” to stand alongside its Bill of Rights.

The amendment was proposed by the country’s National Religious Leaders’ Forum. It would generally be based on “biblical values” and would be “in line with general religious principles.”

There is no word yet on how violations of the Bill of Morals would be addressed.

“We do not envisage these matters being dealt with in the courts as we still have to agree on whether we would want some form of sanction if one breaches the moral code,” said Ashwin Trikamjee, the head of the religious leaders’ group.

Trikamjee said: “Moral character cannot mean different things to different people. We all know what moral character is about - no matter which faith we belong to. Even those who do not subscribe to organised religion surely recognise ordinary moral principles that have governed human conduct since evolution began.”

From the Independent Online.

Guardian UK on Those Wacky Yank Boycotters

Filed under  by Amanda Toering — 05/23/2005 @ 2:55 pm

The boycott-happy, good-for-something American Family Association and their ilk are providing entertainment for the Brits. The Guardian details righty boycotts directed at George Lucas, whose latest film has been accused of being anti-Bush.

Lucas will doubtless appear, dishonourably, on Thomas N George’s www.BoycottLiberalism.com. This week’s list is headed (inevitably) by the Hanoi Jane-starring Monster-in-Law. Among the website’s usuals (Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins) is Chris Martin for his graceless thanks-but-no-thanks at the 2004 Grammy ceremony: “Awards are all essentially nonsense and we’re all going to die when George Bush has his way.” Bravely said. But Martin stands less high on the right-thinkers’ boycott list than Ozzy Osbourne, whose recent concert performances of War Pigs are bellowed out beneath a screen depiction of Bush and Hitler with the caption “Same shit. Different asshole".

Many web-promoted boycotts are less hilarious and some are downright bizarre. The American Family Association, for example, warned the faithful against Disney’s The Lion King on the grounds that Timon the meerkat and Pumba the warthog were inter-species homosexual lovers. Why not?

The boycotters serve a useful purpose, even at their most crazed, absurd and fanatical. They remind us that nothing artistic is ideologically neutral. At some core level every movie, however fluffy, contains a kernel of propaganda.

“Enjoy your film,” the attendants say nowadays, as they clip your ticket. They should add: “and think about it, too: that George Lucas could be messing with your head.”

In the Guardian.

Tomlinson Speaks to B&C

Filed under  by Amanda Toering — 05/23/2005 @ 1:41 pm

Broadcasting & Cable spoke to CPB chair Kenneth Tomlinson about life, the universe, and everything. Or, at least, about why he thinks PBS sucks.

Aside from more balance, how can public broadcasting build audience and attract big donors?

Public television is largely lost today in satellite systems and is sometimes difficult to find even in cable lineups. Twenty-five to 30 years ago, my wife and I would set our clocks by the MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour and by Fawlty Towers at 10:00 on Sunday nights. We had four or five choices. Today at my farm in Middleburg, Va., I have 300 choices by satellite.

Hard to find? Hard to find?? Anyone here who can’t find PBS among the channels to which they subscribe, raise your hand.

Okay, moving on…

We need to give people more of a reason to support public broadcasting. We need to upgrade the educational base of our children’s programming so that the educational component is seen as something very, very important to the future of the nation. We need to support cultural programs. We need programs Americans want to support because they enrich their lives.

If that isn’t the best argument for what PBS currently does, and why PBS isn’t broken and doesn’t need fixing, what is?

More of the interview at Broadcasting & Cable.

God Banned from Talent Show; Parents Sue

Filed under
  • Schools
 by Amanda Toering — 05/23/2005 @ 11:29 am

Parents in Newark, NJ, are suing a school district for prohibiting their daughter from singing the song “Awesome God” at an elementary school talent show. School officials were nervous that the song would be considered inappropriate and told the 8-year-old girl she could not sing the song.

The case went to a US district judge hours before the talent show was to begin, but the judge refused to overturn the school’s decision. The parents have now sued on the grounds that the girl’s constitutional rights to freedom of religion were violated.

Reports the AP:

The lawsuit, supported by the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal advocacy group based in Scottsdale, Ariz., argues that the constitutional separation of church and state does not restrict an individual’s religious speech.

The girl’s lawyer, Demetrios K. Stratis, questioned how the Frenchtown school could reject Olivia’s choice but allow another act based on the opening scene of “MacBeth.”

“They’ve got a scene about boiling animals and witchcraft, but they won’t allow a song about God,” Stratis said.

From the Associated Press.

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