Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
State Governments Use Money to Censor Movies Filmed In Their States That Disturb Their Sensibilities and Egos.Tuesday, July 13th, 2010
Ever since Google’s January 2010 decision to cease censorship of its Chinese-language search engine, the world has watched closely to see what would happen next. The ensuing cat-and-mouse game of information repression and dissemination represented a serious challenge to the ability of the Internet to remain free and open in the face of totalitarian government censorship. Would Google cease all operations in China? Would China block access to Google altogether?
These questions came to a climax on June 30, when Google’s license to operate as an Internet Content Provider (ICP) from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology was up for renewal. The days surrounding that deadline were full of complicated signals and maneuvers. First, on June 28, Google carefully walked back an aspect of its anti-censorship policy by requiring Chinese users to specifically choose an uncensored search portal, rather than sending them to it automatically (the full implications for users are not yet known). Later, on July 5, no official word had yet been issued as to the status of Google's license -- but observers noticed that what appeared to be an ICP license number had nonetheless been posted on Google.cn.
Finally, on July 9, it was officially announced ...
For all the right wing talk of “strict constructionism" and the "original intent of the Founders," it’s important to bear in mind that the Founders themselves actually did envision the Constitution evolving to apply to new circumstances. Alexander Hamilton (who died 206 years ago today) put it this way:
Constitutions should consist only of general provisions; the reason is that they must necessarily be permanent, and that they cannot calculate for the possible change of things.
Elena Kagan echoed that sentiment in her hearing:
For more words of wisdom from Kagan’s testimony, see PFAW’s Top Ten Highlights of the Kagan Hearings.
The "all-comers" policy has satisfied the Supreme Court. But from an educational standpoint, does it make any sense? What purpose is served by a college or university creating an official Democratic club whose membership is open to unabashed defenders of George W. Bush? Or creating an official Jewish students organization that must admit Arab students who deny Israel's right to exist? Not only does such a policy undermine freedom of association, but the resulting organizations are essentially useless.
The arrangement does, however, benefit one group: official student organizations maximize the power of student life bureaucracies, which oversee official student clubs at most campuses. And, as we've seen from instances like the University of Delaware's thought-control initiative, student and residential life offices rarely operate to the overall good of the student body. [Emphasis and link added.]
At the 2010 ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC, the Intellectual Freedom Committee presented the “Prisoners’ Right to Read: An Interpretation to the Library Bill of Rights,” to ALA Council for adoption. I am pleased to announce that Council adopted the new Interpretation during its final session on Tuesday, June 29. Special thanks to Diane Walden and Melora Ranney Norman of the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Agencies for their help with drafting the Interpretation.
“Prisoners’ Right to Read: An Interpretation to the Library Bill of Rights” can be found at www.ifmanual.org/prisoners. For access to other Interpretations to the Library Bill of Rights as well as additional documents related to the Interpretations, please visit www.ifmanual.org/part2section2.
We've written a number of times here about the University of Wyoming's ill-advised and unconstitutional attempts to prevent education professor and former Weather Underground leader William Ayers from speaking on the UW campus after he was duly invited. We predicted that this effort would fail miserably and expensively, and we were, of course, right. Most recently, I wrote here that the attempted end-run around the First Amendment cost the university and, ultimately, the people of Wyoming $50,000.
That $50,000 doesn't tell the whole story, as we've learned recently, for it only covers the legal fees for the plaintiffs, Ayers and UW student Meg Lanker. UW had its own legal fees to pay, ballooning the cost to more than $86,000, as the Billings Gazette states:
UW spokeswoman Jessica Lowell released the compiled legal costs. They include nearly $30,000 paid to Thomas S. Rice, an attorney for the university. The costs also include $6,570 for travel and incidental expenses related to the lawsuit.
$30,000 for trying to squelch the First Amendment? Nice work if you can get it. Try telling the people of Wyoming that this was a good use of taxpayer money.
We talk a lot about the purely political motives Republican senators have in their efforts to slow down the confirmation process for President Obama’s judicial nominees. It’s easy to forget that who those nominees are—and when they start working— makes a huge difference. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported this weekend that nearly 40% of all federal judges currently on the bench were appointed by George W. Bush--who made a concerted effort to appoint judges with right-wing credentials, and, you might say, didn’t put much of a priority on gender or racial diversity.
Obama, in contrast, has returned to a more bipartisan appointment process and has a notably diverse list of appointees. But thanks to Republican obstruction, Obama’s appointees aren’t making it to the bench:
So far, nearly half of Obama's 73 appointments to the federal bench have been women, 25 percent have been African American, 11 percent Asian American, and 10 percent Hispanic. About 30 percent of Obama's nominees were white males. By contrast, two-thirds of George W. Bush's nominees were white males.
Obama's rate of appointing women and people of color is higher than those of any of his predecessors during the first year of their terms. But he is ...
Today EFF joined with Public Knowledge and other groups to urge the Supreme Court to reject a bogus copyright theory, and uphold your right to resell or even give away the products you own — even if they were originally sold abroad.
At issue in Costco v. Omega is Costco's sale of genuine Omega watches at a discount from the regular U.S. price. Costco was able to provide this markdown by buying the Omega watches overseas, where they were available at a lower price. Omega sued Costco, claiming that the discount chain violated its copyright, as a small copyrighted image was stamped on the back of its watches. While the first sale doctrine normally allows lawful owners of copyrighted works to redistribute the works as they like, Omega argued that because the watches were not made in the United States, first sale did not apply.
Surprisingly, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit agreed with Omega, ruling that the watchmaker could use a tiny little logo to control re-sale of its watches. In the ...
In a new op-ed in the Huffington Post, Michael Keegan, People For’s president, asks why the GOP spent so much of Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings defending the nearly-dead Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. The answer? They just can’t seem to quit gay people:
We were once again given a strong reminder of this at Elena Kagan's confirmation hearings, when Republican senators hosted a four day-long attack on the nominee based on one issue--her opposition to Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the anti-gay policy that is not only overwhelmingly unpopular across the political spectrum, but is unlikely to even be on the books by this time next year.
This line of attack was catnip for the GOP because it provided a too tempting mix of three Republican stock favorites: provoking resentment of gay people, accusing Democrats of being anti-military, and insinuating the existence of an Ivy League East Coast Elite Conspiracy. With so many critically important issues facing the country and the world, this Republican obsession came off as a ridiculous hot mess of intolerance and irrelevance.
Read the full piece at the Huffington Post.
Many were shocked last year when a Massachusetts jury awarded $675,000 in damages against Joel Tenenbaum, who had been found liable for copyright infringement after using peer-to-peer networks to download and share thirty of the plaintiffs' songs. In a lengthy ruling issued today, federal district court Judge Nancy Gertner held that the jury’s award — which equaled $22,500 per song — was unconstitutional and reduced it dramatically, to $67,500.
Echoing Chief Judge Michael Davis' comments in Capitol v. Thomas, Judge Gertner observed that the original award was "unprecedented and oppressive." The judge also indicated that the reduced award was still too high, noting it was "more than I might have awarded in my independent judgment. But the task of determining the appropriate damages award in this case fell to the jury, not the Court. I have merely reduced the award to the greatest amount that the Constitution will permit given the facts of this case."
But the most interesting aspect of the ruling may be the court's conclusion that Congress never intended copyright's extraordinary statutory damages provisions — which permit an award of up to $150,000 per work if the defendant has willfully infringed — to apply to noncommercial ...
Yesterday, a federal judge in Massachusetts struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act on two separate constitutional challenges. Judge Joseph Tauro, a Nixon appointee, ruled that the provision banning the federal government from recognizing gay people’s marriages violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection, and the principle of state sovereignty.
Tauro’s opinion in the equal protection case includes some strong words on the motivation behind DOMA, the 1996 law designed to push back against states granting marriage equality. The main purpose of the law was to disadvantage a particular set of people simply out of dislike for them, he writes…and that sort of motivation doesn’t pass constitutional muster:
This court simply “cannot say that [DOMA] is directed to any identifiable legitimate purpose or discrete objective. It is a status-based enactment divorced from any factual context from which [this court] could discern a relationship to legitimate [government] interests.” Indeed, Congress undertook this classification for the one purpose that lies entirely outside of legislative bounds, to disadvantage a group of which it disapproves. And such a classification, the Constitution clearly will not permit.
In the wake of DOMA, it is only sexual orientation that differentiates a married couple ...
Hentoff laments the Court's "embrace of political correctness" in denying the Christian Legal Society (CLS) at UC Hastings College of the Law the right to set belief-based parameters for who can be a voting member or leader of the group. The Court had previously affirmed a right to set such parameters in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale. In that case, Hentoff reminds us, the Supreme Court acknowledged that if the majority can force a group to accept certain members, then that hampers the group's ability to express its own views. Hentoff asserts that the Court disregarded this point in Martinez when it declared constitutional a Hastings policy that requires all officially recognized student groups to accept "all comers."
Hentoff also praises FIRE for "staying fully and proudly with every American's First Amendment rights to be unpopular with any and all organizations and college officials." FIRE submitted an amici brief to the Supreme Court on behalf ...
It looks like oil drilling will begin again in the Gulf of Mexico. Yesterday afternoon, three appeals court judges in New Orleans agreed with a lower court ruling that struck down the Obama Administration’s Gulf drilling moratorium. The President imposed the moratorium in order to allow for time to study what went wrong with the BP rig that burst in April, causing the worst oil spill in American history.
Alliance For Justice reported yesterday that the three judges on the panel all have significant ties to the oil industry.
Does ‘The Berkeley Experience’ Treat Students Like Children by Encouraging Protesters to Go Too Far?Friday, July 9th, 2010
Focusing on Berkeley's report on these events, Don argues that Berkeley has drawn students who are interested to share in "The Berkeley Experience" of vehement protest dating back to the Free Speech Movement, but has failed to teach them that the rule of law applies in full when people are exercising their constitutional right to freedom of speech:
The crux of this matter boils down to the Report's discussion of "The Berkeley experience." The Report alludes to Berkeley's dedication to encouraging students to speak out with emotion and intensity. So far, so good, as this encouragement has contributed to a vibrant, challenging environment. "In the minds of some students and faculty, these facts are an essential component of what it means to attend Berkeley. As some students have told us, one reason they joined the rally outside Wheeler on the 20th was their desire ...
We’ve been worried about what will happen if liability suits from BP’s massive oil spill in the Gulf reach the Supreme Court. But it sounds like fans of justice might have more immediate concerns.
When a district court judge halted the Obama administration’s Gulf drilling moratorium last month, that judge’s history of ties to the oil industry caused a stir. Today, a three judge panel from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear an appeal of the case.
But we shouldn’t get our hopes up. Alliance For Justice has looked into the backgrounds of the three judges on the panel and found some pretty startling oil industry ties: two of the judges represented major oil companies in previous jobs, two have major investments in oil companies, and two went on an oil industry-financed junket to Montana in 2004 to learn “why ecological values are not the only important ones.”
Templeton Press, the publisher of the recent book New Threats to Freedom, has begun a video series featuring the authors of that compilation talking about their chapters of the book. FIRE President Greg Lukianoff, who along with luminaries including Christopher Hitchens and David Mamet is one of the authors featured in the book, is the most recent to go before Templeton's cameras. His video, "Lukianoff on Free Speech," is a brief, cogent discussion of how universities' efforts to squelch free debate on campus are having profoundly negative effects on American society and democracy. If people don't genuinely debate the most serious issues of the day, he argues, they will hold their beliefs merely like prejudices without really understanding why they believe them in the first place.
My colleague Jaclyn Hall and I spent yesterday at the Campus Progress National Conference in Washington, D.C., meeting and speaking with progressive students from around the country and sharing FIRE's mission and our work defending student rights. Students attending the conference had a keen appreciation of the necessity of free speech protections in our universities. They'll need those protections when they get back to their campuses to advocate for the causes and issues they've spent the week discussing with their fellow students and a roster of distinguished artists, activists, journalists, and public officials. Several dozen students signed up for our Campus Freedom Network, and we look forward to seeing some of the CPNC attendees next week at our CFN conference, held this year at Bryn Mawr College.
Thanks to Campus Progress for having us this year and for putting on a successful conference. We look forward to returning to Campus Progress, along with the Conservative Political Action Conference and other conferences drawing people from across the political and ideological spectrum, and to sharing the one-size-fits-all message of free speech.
FIRE wrote Bryn Mawr President Jane McAuliffe on June 2 to voice our concerns about the policy, which prohibited "offensive or degrading remarks" and listed "[n]egative or offensive comments, jokes or suggestions about another employee's gender or sexuality, ethnicity or religion" as "specific examples of behavior that are inappropriate." Samantha noted here on The Torch that the policy left students subject to discipline simply for "expressing their opinions on a wide range of topics that should be discussed openly at an institution like Bryn Mawr." Samantha wrote:
To take just one example, many people have recently expressed strong feelings about the Catholic Church's response to the priest sex abuse scandal. If such remarks offended a Catholic student at Bryn Mawr, the student or faculty member who made them could be charged with harassment for making negative comments about a particular religion. The suppression of controversial speech is shameful at a college which claims that a "climate of open and vigorous debate" is "essential to its educational mission." One cannot have "open ...
Today I went back to the Heritage Foundation for their annual “Scholars and Scribes” panel reviewing the recent and upcoming activities of the Supreme Court. There was some discussion of judicial activism, but most of the panelists seemed to have finally given up on the claim that conservative Justices have acted as neutral “umpires” in the past year.
What is surprising is that, now that the Court’s decision in Citizens United ruined the “judicial activism” mantra for the Right, a new tactic has apparently taken hold. During a question and answer session, conservative legal scholar Richard Epstein echoed Senator Jeff Sessions in comparing the Citizens United decision to, of all things, Brown v. Board of Education. His take was slightly different and, if possible, even more unhinged from reality. Those of us who oppose and are working to overturn the Citizens United ruling, Epstein said, “look a little bit like the same kind of massive resistance” engendered by Brown v. Board.
To compare the 93% of Americans who think that there should be limits on corporate political spending to the recalcitrant racists who tried to stop the desegregation of public schools is absurd and offensive. If conservatives are ...
Following Egregious Violations of Student Group’s Rights, Kingsborough Community College Asked to Answer for Unconstitutional PolicyThursday, July 8th, 2010
A recent letter from the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) to the administration of New York's Kingsborough Community College (KCC) tells a troubling story of administrative censorship through forced rescheduling, relocation, and—when those failed—an unconstitutional attempt to force a student group to give control of its forum to a hostile faculty member.
The KCC Republican Club originally planned to hold a forum—"The Economic, Political, Social, and Legal Outcome of Same-Gender Marriage"—on March 22. On March 11, however, the group was asked to postpone the event for three days "due to potential protests from outside organizations." The group was under no obligation to do so—indeed, forcing it to do so would likely have been a violation of the group's constitutional rights. The group agreed, however, to move the forum to the later date, provided it could hold the discussion in a similarly-sized venue to the one it had reserved, anticipating a large turnout.
KCC then proceeded to tell the KCC Republican Club—suspiciously, at best—that the room it wanted was not available, and indeed would not be available for the entire months of April and May. The group, however, ...
Gaming giant Blizzard announced yesterday that it would be making some major changes to its official discussion forums, including the forums for World of Warcraft, Diablo, and the upcoming Starcraft II. In the upcoming weeks and months, players who want to post to these boards will have to log in using Blizzard's Real ID system, which will display their real full names next to every post they make. These changes will not be retroactive, meaning that the thousands of existing posts on the online discussion forums will not be affected. Parental controls will allow parents to prevent minors who have signed up for Real ID on the game from posting to the forums, if they so choose.
Why is Blizzard taking such an unprecedented step? Unpleasantness. "The forums have...earned a reputation as a place where flame wars, trolling, and other unpleasantness run wild," writes Naethera, a Blizzard employee who will soon be posting under her own full name. "Removing the veil of anonymity typical to online dialogue will contribute to a more positive forum environment [and] promote constructive conversations."
Blizzard appears to have subscribed to the colorful Greater Internet F***wad Theory, which posits that perfectly normal people, ...
Young calls the Hastings all-comers policy "absurd on its face." She asks a central question in Martinez: "Do the College Republicans have to welcome Democrats as members, and vice versa? Does a feminist student group have to admit people who openly believe that men are divinely ordained to rule over women, and to allow them to vote on issues related to the group's activities and policies?" The Supreme Court answered in the affirmative, leaving student ...