Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Free speech is bad words, too

"In a Democracy there is no right not to be offended. Anyone ought to be free to say whatever they like. If someone says things that are offensive, gratuitous and stupid, one has to assume there will be others able to demonstrate that what someone said was offensive, gratuitous and stupid."
--Sabina Guzzanti

Nowhere in the Constitution is there a guaranteed freedom from being offended. It is not a right that comes with American citizenship, like the right to vote. Just the opposite. If the Constitution had a warning label, it would read: Caution, your right to freedom of speech means others have a parallel right, which is highly likely to occasionally provoke anger, annoyance, disgust and offense.

This is a very small price to pay for the ability to speak our minds. But apparently it is too high for some. These people are the overly sensitive, easily wounded, walking eggshells among us who equate being offended with being a victim - a status from which they firmly believe the government should protect them. They want the state to determine taste and propriety (as long as it comports perfectly with their own) and enforce those standards in law. Pandering politicians are more than happy to oblige.

The danger is that their demand for the cleansing of public discourse gives the government the power to shut down some speakers and strip the emotive force from others, transforming "freedom of speech" into "speech at the government's leave."

Broadcasters, for example, have always served up programming under the threat of government sanctions for disapproval. This fact became more evident recently, when, after Janet Jackson's breast exposure at last year's Super Bowl, Congress rushed to hold hearings on broadcast indecency.

The swirl of controversy led to skyrocketing fines for profanity - with the result that 66 television stations refused to air the Oscar-winning war epic Saving Private Ryan on Veterans Day. Now the FCC is investigating the opening ceremonies of the summer Olympics in Greece. Apparently, the camera caught sight of a nude male statue.

Government-approved fare tends toward mush.

In 1978, when the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling said the FCC could police radio broadcasts for indecency despite the First Amendment, the justices emphasized that it was a narrow ruling, not applicable beyond the broadcast medium. But people don't appreciate this distinction. They say, understandably, that if government is permitted to clean up dirty language on television, then why not wherever it appears?

Which brings us to the brouhaha in Clearwater. In December, at an outdoor concert at Coachman Park billed as the Next Big Thing IV, 12,500 fans of alternative rock enjoyed 10 different bands. But because five people in the surrounding neighborhoods complained to police about the vulgar language and obscenities used by some of the musicians, the city plans on vetting future acts.

Kevin Dunbar, the city's director of Parks and Recreation, after being pushed to address the "problem" by the mayor and City Council, says that the city will be more particular about who is booked to perform. "(The city will) look to bring in the kind of groups that are more mainstream so we are not offending the people who live in the outlying areas," Dunbar says.

Maybe the next concert should be called the Next Banal Thing.

This is censorship just as if the city passed an ordinance flatly prohibiting profanity by musicians in the park. Just because it occurs behind the scenes doesn't make it any more palatable.

It is also a sadly predictable response. Last summer, the Mandeville City Council in Louisiana warned that any profanity used by musicians at the Mandeville Trailhead outdoor amphitheater would lead to their arrest. The facilities manager now has all musicians sign an agreement to self-censor before they go on.

Elected officials generally stand with clamoring constituents against the free speech rights of the profane or unpopular. Only the First Amendment acts as a bulwark against this censorious reflex, and courts must be counted on to man the ramparts.

In the past, they have.

The seminal case is the 1971 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Cohen vs. California. The facts involve a young Paul Robert Cohen who, in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War, walked into the Los Angeles County Courthouse wearing a jacket with the words "F-- the Draft" emblazoned on the back. For wearing a profane jacket, Cohen was charged and convicted of disturbing the peace. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

The Supreme Court threw out his conviction on free-speech grounds. Justice John Harlan wrote in ringing eloquence of why society must tolerate bad language: "(W)hile the particular four-letter word being litigated here is perhaps more distasteful than most others of its genre, it is nevertheless often true that one man's vulgarity is another's lyric." (Could he have known that Eminem was coming?)

Harlan also noted that the use of curse words serves a "dual communicative function," not only as the expression of an idea but as an emotional vehicle. "Words," Harlan said, "are often chosen as much for their emotive as their cognitive force."

Harlan is saying that in protecting the crassest amongst us, we uphold the highest values of a free society. So the next time you're deeply offended, whether it is by a musician cursing at a neighboring outdoor concert or, as I am, by the inane rantings of Ann Coulter, smile - that just means you live in freedom.

Source: St Petersburg Times

Man arrested for “unlawful photography” back in court

By Carlos Miller
For those of us familiar with Scott Conover’s story, it began with his arrest for “unlawful photography” last year after he photographed a Tennessee cop against his wishes.

It was a story that sparked a furor across the Internet, rousing even the most jaded civil libertarians into disbelief. A story that put the spotlight on Johnson County, Tennessee; an Appalachian boondock in the northeast corner of the state.

A story that ended up crashing my server (check out the above video or click on these links to refresh your memory). johnsoncounty

After all, although it is not uncommon to get arrested for photographing cops, police usually have to find some unrelated charge to justify the arrest, such as disorderly conduct, trespassing, refusing a lawful order, resisting arrest or interfering with an investigation.

But unlawful photography?

It turns out there is a such law in Tennessee but it pertains to minors and pornography. The cop Conover photographed was standing on the side of the road in full uniform issuing a traffic citation. He didn’t exactly have an expectation of privacy.

Not surprisingly, Conover ended up getting the charge dismissed in October, including the accompanying charge of pointing a laser at an officer. That was the third time he been arrested since moving to Tennessee from Florida in 2003, according to court records obtained from the Johnson County Circuit Court Clerk. And the third time his charges were dismissed.

It’s been that way ever since he filed a complaint against the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office for severely beating a man in the parking lot of his bar a few months after moving to Johnson County.

And now there has been another arrest. This one stemming from an altercation with a man he says had been stalking his daughter. A man he accuses of being a child pornographer.

That man is now suing Conover for $250,000 for aggravated assault and libel.

William Cockett, the county attorney who filed this arrest warrant against Conover in this case, also co-owns the law firm representing the man suing Conover. Not that he will admit this is a conflict of interest.

Conover, who has since moved back to Florida, will be in court on June 24 for his arraignment.

“They have been retaliating against me for years,” he said. “They don’t like it when you stand up to them. They don’t like you to be a fighter.”

To hear Conover tell the story, it sounds like something out of the movie Deliverance. A backwater tale of backdoor shenanigans. A one-man stand in a one-horse town.

“About a year into our relocation, I witnesses a severe case of police brutality,” he explained.

“The cops pulled someone over on the highway in my parking lot. They beat the crap out of him. They were kicking him, punching him, spraying him in the face with mace. And he was handcuffed the whole time.

“I went down and talked to the sheriff the next day. I told him those guys should be arrested. The sheriff didn’t do anything about it.”

So Conover bailed the guy out of jail, helped him find a lawyer and encouraged him to file a lawsuit. And ever since then, he’s been dealing with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.

Conover says deputies continually harassed his customers at his bar over the years, waiting for them to pull out of the parking lot before pulling them over.

Court records show he’s been arrested for assault on a police officer, trespassing, telephone harassment and illegal photography. And each time it’s been dismissed.

The trespassing and telephone harassment charges stem from an August 2004 incident in which he called and banged on his neighbor’s door looking for his daughter who had gone missing.

And the assault on a police officer charge stems from a September 2005 incident in which deputies showed up to his bar claiming someone had reported an assault, but Conover claims they fabricated the call.

The report states that once the deputy showed up to the bar, “the defendant said I don’t like you and you have ruined my business. He then started pointing down the road and struck me in my left forearm. The defendant said he was going to get me, then touched me on the left elbow saying he was suing the county and taking me to federal court.”

“When we showed up to court, the judge asked the cop, ‘Did he hit you’ and the cop said, ‘no’, so the case was dismissed,” Conover said.

Conover did follow through on his promise of filing a federal lawsuit and won.

“We got an out of court settlement and they ended up booting out the sheriff and the lead investigators in the department.”

So a new sheriff was elected and everything was fine for a couple of years until it started up again, he said.

“They started hiring new deputies who wanted to get a mark on their belt so they started harassing my customers, myself and my family,” he said.

So last June, when a deputy pulled one of his customers over, Conover drove up to them and snapped a photo and was arrested for unlawful photography.

Meanwhile, one of his customers began stalking his wife and daughter, calling them on the phone and making them uncomfortable, he said.

The man’s name is William Benore and he lived across the street from Conover’s business and home.

“He would say a lot of provocative things to my daughter,” Conover said. “He is about 56 years old. She was 12 at the time.”

Around this time, a man who runs the local internet company and computer repair shop told Conover that Benore had brought in his computer to be repaired and had found child pornography on it.

The man, Charles Mark Combs, who runs High Country Online, then told Conover about his discovery, which led to Conover filing a restraining order against Benore on August 27th, 2008.

It is unclear if Combs ever reported his discovery to the local authorities but he did sign a sworn statement on February 21, 2009, confirming that he found child pornography on the computer and that he even placed a text file staying “gotcha” on the computer.

After Combs told him of his discovery, Conover decided he needed to shut his business down and move back to Florida.

“It just got too dangerous for my family here,” he said.

On September 9, 2009, with his family in his truck about to depart to Florida, Conover and Benore were involved in an auto accident in front of their respective homes.

Conover claims Benore rear-ended him. Benore claims Conover pulled in front of him and slammed on the brakes.

Conover claims Benore threatened to kill him, so he punched him in the face. Benore claims Conover threatened to kill him before punching him in the face.

Conover says that Benore then backed up his car as if to run him over, so he hopped back in his car and drove back home, where he called the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office to report the accident.

“I wanted them to arrest him because he had violated the restraining order,” Conover said. “They didn’t do anything about it.”

On October 21, 2009, after having moved back to Florida and hearing no updates on the case, Conover fired off a letter to the Johnson County Commissioners in which he berated the sheriff’s office for not enforcing the restraining order against Benore. He also informed them that Benore “was involved in child pornography.”

That same day, Benore retained attorney Jason A. Creech, who works for the local firm Smith and Cockett - co-owned by Johnson County Attorney William Cockett - and filed a $250,000 suit against Conover for aggravated assault and libel, stemming from the fact that Conover called him a child pornographer in his letter to the commissioners.

After receiving no response from county commissioners from his letter, Conover fired off another letter to the commission on November 26, 2008 where he berated them for not responding to his previous letter and accused the entire county of corruption and xenophobia to outsiders.

“I feel like I moved to Russia instead of Johnson County, TN, for if you don’t go with the flow, or if you talk out of line, you will be dragged off and incarcerated then viciously prosecuted for fictitious charges, ridiculed, humiliated, exploited in the newspaper, discriminated against and run out of town.”

So on December 13, 2008, County Attorney Cockett used these two letters as evidence before a grand jury to indict Conover on aggravated assault and leaving the scene of an accident charges stemming from the September 9 collision with Benore.

On December 18, Conover flew back to Tennessee to turn himself in where he was released that same day on bail. He then returned to Florida to await the arraignment.

As of this writing, he is holed up in a motel just outside Johnson County awaiting his Wednesday morning arraignment.

“I hope I can get out of this so I’ll never have to come back to this state again,” he said. “It’s unbelievable what I’ve experienced here. Unbelievable.”

Source: Photography Is Not A Crime

Internet freedom for Iran but not for the West?

U.S. Media's Self-Congratulatory Campaign for Internet Freedom in Iran Turns a Blind Eye on Australia, Canada and Britain

and to Israeli "closed military zones"

by Michael Hoffman | RevisionistHistory.org

It's embarrassing.

The media's orgy of self-congratulation, that is. Each night on national news shows, foreign correspondents have appeared on screen to breathlessly pledge their undying commitment to reporting the demonstrations in Iran while insisting that the Iranian government must allow for full press and Internet freedoms.

Our gorge rises in the face of this nauseating hypocrisy from these pompous gate-keepers.

Canada and Australia are sending citizen-journalists to prison for daring to use the Internet to ask tough questions about Holocaustianity, the West's sacred cow.

In Australia, PhD. philosopher Frederick Toben is facing several months in prison for defying the government and publishing his scientific and technical data about Auschwitz on the Internet.

In Canada, defense attorney Doug Christie can reel off numerous cases of fines and prosecution for skeptics and dissenters in that nation who used the Internet. In Britain a Catholic group faces prosecution for Internet throught crimes.

Canadian resident Ernst Zündel, twice tried in Canadian courts for "Holocaust denial" fled to the U.S. for safe haven against criminal charges he used the Internet to publish revisionist documents on his Zundelsite web.

The U.S. deported Mr. Zündel back to Canada where he was imprisoned for more than a year in solitary confinement. The Canadians then rendered him to Germany where he was sentenced to five years imprisonment.

In occupied Palestine the Israelis regularly declare Jenin or Gaza "closed military zones" so they can butcher the indigenous people without the inconvenience of reporters and cameras. This horror occurred as recently as last January. The U.S. media routinely complies with this "closure" and apathetically sits by while Israeli atrocities are committed secretly and then denied publicly (a form of holocaust denial which is everywhere legal).

If and when the American media report on the Zündel or Toben cases it is with a strong tenor of approval of their repression. In those cases control of the Internet is perceived as a necessary evil, in order to achieve a higher good.

After Manchurian candidate James von Brunn attacked the entrance to the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., the rabbis of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which has enjoyed NGO status with the federal government -- in an end run around the First Amendment -- urged Internet Service Providers to deny service to websites that question the existence of execution gas chambers in Auschwitz; meanwhile the prestigious New York Times published a column on its web page questioning how far America should go with its traditional Internet freedom, when in Europe, people's "dignity" and "reputations" are better protected against "Holocaust deniers."

The Israeli-tilting American media despise the Islamic Republic of Iran and therefore pose as Internet freedom campaigners as part of their crusade to initiate a more Zionist-friendly nation. High-minded democratic principles have nothing to do with it.

"Our" media are pleased to see Internet outlaws like Zundel behind bars in Germany and Toben headed to prison in Australia. They abide with disgusting docility by the Israeli regime's mission to perpetrate collateral damage in private by declaring Palestinian territories "closed military zones."

Christiane Amanpour, Anderson Cooper, Bill O'Reilly, the New York Times and the other stars of the media corral are perfectly content when their political opponents and marginalized dissidents are punished for using the Internet to advance unpopular and radical ideas. They see no evil in such repression.

It's only evil when Iran does it.

Then our media mandarins mount the barricades, shaking their fists and shouting to the housetops their willingness to brave the fires of hell itself in order to help liberate the Iranian people.

How inspiring! How noble!
Source: Onthe Contrary

Ukrainian Jewish Committee Embraces Holodomor “Denial”

Ukrainian Jewish Committee Embraces Holodomor “Denial

The Holodomor (Ukrainian: Голодомор translation: death by starvation) refers to the famine of 1932-1933 in the Ukrainian SSR during which millions of people were starved to death because of the Soviet policies that forced farmers into collective farms. The Holodomor is considered one of the greatest national calamities to affect the Ukrainian nation in modern history. Millions of inhabitants of Ukraine (between 7000000 -10 000000) died of starvation in an unprecedented peacetime catastrophe. If any historian or researcher in Europe dares to question any part of the accepted Holocaust story, he is subject to imprisonment and ruin, but as usual, Jewish extremist hypocrisy is rampant. Jewish supremacists don’t want the world to know of their role in mass murders of Communism, much less be punished for those crimes against humanity. The Israeli Knesset won’t even acknowledge the Armenian Holocaust. The new religion of the Holocaust will allow “no other holocausts before thee.” -stsaff

KIEV, Ukraine (JTA) -- A Jewish group in Ukraine is objecting to a criminal case brought over the "Great Famine" committed in the 1930s.

The nation's security service is pressing the case against a list of former Soviet officials accused of committing the Holodomor, which caused the deaths of millions in Ukraine in 1932-33. Most of the names on the list were Jewish.

Ukrainian lawmaker Aleksandr Feldman, leader of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, said last week that it was "a farce" to press the case.

“All organizers of the Great Famine are dead," he said.

Last July, the Ukrainian Security Service released a list of high-ranking Soviet state and Communist Party officials -- as well as officials from NKVD, the police force of Soviet Russia -- that essentially blamed Jews and Latvians responsible for perpetrating and executing the famine because most of the names on the list were Jewish.

The Ukrainian Jewish Committee called on the secret service to revise the list, which incited interethnic hatred, in order to clear up the “inaccuracy.”

Feldman believes there is a danger that the “Holodomor Affair” materials are being used for political purposes.

In late May, security service head Valentin Nalivaychenko claimed at a meeting with representatives of the World Congress of Ukrainians that “Ukraine has collected enough evidence to bring a criminal case regarding the famine, which was artificially created by the Bolshevik regime and caused mass death of citizens.”

Through the World Congress of Ukrainians, Nalivaychenko turned to leading foreign lawyers with a request to help find out the circumstances connected with preparing and committing the genocide.

Source: Jewish Telegraph Agency

The historic struggle for liberty

Protecting liberty has never been so important, as its language and traditions are eroded in an age driven by utility

"New, new, new! Everything is new," Tony Blair marvelled at the beginning of his premiership. How wonderful to be liberated from the dead hand of history. Dazzled by the pace of progress and haunted by the apocalyptic horrors of modern terrorism, it was little wonder that civil liberties became just another puzzling inheritance from the past. As Blair said in a debate with Henry Porter about confronting antisocial behaviour and terrorism, and introducing ID cards: "For me, this is not an issue of liberty but of modernity."

But then came Gordon Brown. "It is the challenge and the opportunity for our generation," he said in a speech in 2007, "to write the next chapter of British liberty in a way that honours the progress of the past – and promises a wider and more secure freedom to our children."

History seemed to be back at the forefront of politics. But as Richard Reeves argued recently, Brown is torn between veneration for liberty – as his speech showed – and an instinct for control. You don't need me to tell you which won the struggle for the prime minister's troubled soul.

Arguing for the restoration of history in this matter I do not mean searching for a golden age of liberty to provide a template for our times. I also do not mean searching, necessarily, for a fixed meaning of liberty from which we should not deviate. What I mean is a way of thinking about liberty, a way that frees us from the constraints of the present – and to this end this series presents a brief history of the twisting road to liberty in Britain, examining protest, privacy and the relationship between citizens and the state.

A part of all of us craves intellectual certainty. We want a rule book to guide us through stormy times – an absolute sense of liberty to restrain governments and write our own rights in tablets of stone. David Blunkett famously scoffed at "airy-fairy" civil liberties. And indeed every society is confronted by seemingly incompatible demands in the name of freedom. Some people see any interference by the state as an intrusion on the sacred rights of the individual. Others are seduced into the belief that economic freedoms are akin to natural freedom. There are those who regard the curtailment of supposedly transient economic and political rights as justified if it leads to the higher good of equality. And in our times people have been prepared to trade liberty for security.

In truth all these arguments jostle together, and have always done so without being fully reconciled. The predominance of one would be fatal. There can be no perfect resolution between the claims of society and the rights of the individual, between outcomes that are determined by the state and by the market, between complete autonomy and a level of compulsion, between civil liberties and safety. In this light liberty might look patchy and inconsistent. So be it. Life is messy. The search for liberty is painful. The best that can be hoped is that a society, guided by its traditions, can make room for the negotiation of the maximum amount of liberty for the individual. In searching for a definition of liberty we might very well say it is that never-ending process of political negotiation that takes account of the needs of society and the rights of the individual. This can only happen in a society where politicians and citizens agree that individual rights are at the centre of politics, not some "airy-fairy" concept beloved of the chattering classes. To say that is to duck out of a crucial debate which is indispensable for the health of any society.

It is in the study of history that we can see the contradictions and compromises at the heart of any society's search for liberty. In this country there was no serene progress towards freedom. Essential rights were more often won as a result of guerrilla war rather than glorious, conclusive victories in set-piece battles. The search for liberty, then, was a result of direct experience – individuals, most of them forgotten, who stood up against the state or against private interests. It is in these biographies that we can define liberty, and the twisty route to it. It is made real to us in the tales of heroic resistance and tragic abuses, not in the declarations of philosophers or prophets.

Throughout much of history it has been a sense of the past that has nurtured a commitment to basic civil liberties such as habeas corpus, the freedom of the press or the right to strike. Any expansion of state powers was looked on with great suspicion. The onus was on politicians to explain why a benevolent reform that trespassed on individual rights was worth the sacrifice. As Bob Marshall-Andrews put it:

The British do not articulate liberties easily any more than they define them in lists or guard them as properties or beneficence gratefully received from their masters above. For us, political and personal freedoms are not gifts or indulgences, they are defining characteristics as a nation.

Liberty is a perpetual struggle which every generation must confront anew. At a time when technology has made surveillance child's play and when new pressures are put on free speech it is never so important. In confronting these challenges we need to muster all our powers of imagination and experience to negotiate new protections. This does not work when politicians dismiss the plea of liberty as irrelevant. It also does not work when the public is fatalistic or lulled into thinking liberty belongs in the history pages.

But we live in an age driven by utility, not principle. The language and traditions of liberty are being erased from our political and popular cultures and so the government – unrestrained by a sense of constitutional propriety and unafraid of offending voters sensibilities – is free to do what all governments tend to do: swell and push into new areas like a force of nature. For the same reasons its employees feel less embarrassment at acting like bullies or officious prefects.

The twisting road to liberty illuminates just how vital and complex the debate is today. While history has boomed as part of the entertainment industry it has faded from politics and education. It can be no surprise that this has coincided with three decades in which civil and political liberties have suffered.

Source: The Guardian

Predatory policing

Fit Watch was formed in response to more than 10 years of harassment and intimidation of protesters by the forward intelligence teams (Fit). Employing a range of tactics from blocking police cameras to monitoring their activities, we knew it would make us more unpopular than we already were with the Fit. However, the stifling effect of their presence at protests and meetings meant it was a necessary step.

I first became aware of Fit in 2001. Fit officers were taking photographs outside meetings, and then greeting me by name in crowds of thousands of people. Before long, they were at every meeting, every demonstration, calling me by name, making derogatory comments, and following me long after a protest had finished.

During 2002, they arrested me four times in three months, raided my house, seized my personal diaries and tried very hard, but unsuccessfully, to have me remanded.

None of the charges came to court, and eventually I received compensation. However, I was driven so far over the edge I ended up drinking heavily to the point I broke down and was admitted to hospital, vomiting blood, on a drip and hallucinating cops in the place of paramedics.

It never occurred to me to challenge this policing – even ending up in hospital didn't make me realise we needed a collective response. And my experiences, although extreme, were by no means isolated. Many people had breakdowns, or simply withdrew from political activity because they couldn't deal with the levels of police harassment.

The police have always sought to justify their actions against me, and others like me, on the grounds we are the nasty protesters – the ones they warn about when they spin media stories about hardcore troublemakers arriving at climate camps. This subtext was made crystal clear at our bail hearing after the Kingsnorth incident – the crown prosecutor described us as "violent" and said the "police were anxious" we would go back to the camp, "create disorder" and "put people in fear of mental and physical injury". However, as the video shows, we did nothing other than try to monitor the policing operation.

As the dust settles from the G20, and various bodies compile their reports into public order policing, it is this arbitrary distinction between good and bad protesters that is likely to be drawn. The distinction is subjective, based on dubious assumptions and police "intelligence", details of which are near impossible to access and challenge.

I know I'm not a violent troublemaker. In simplistic terms, I believe a better world is possible, and that real changes – whether it be women winning the vote, the abolition of the poll tax or the fight against environmental destruction – only occur when people stand together, say no and have a direct impact. Refusing to accept the police's parameters for protest is not being a bad protester – it is an essential part of effective dissent.

While the preventative policing model remains – including use of Fit tactics, systematic stop and searches, kettling people for hours without access to food, water or toilets and baton charging anyone who dares leave – there will continue to be civil liberties abuses at protests. Arresting, harassing and imprisoning people because they might commit an offence is not acceptable whatever their political beliefs, and it is essential we stand together to resist this form of policing.

Source: The Guardian

Warning, Water!

Fail-owned-beach-water Also, watch out — sand ahead! And careful, sun may cause redness!

No smoking in the station!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Thanks to Rob Lyons, deputy editor of the online magazine Spiked!, who sent me this picture. Rob writes:

"So I'm on York station a couple of weeks ago and the tannoy announcement repeats that smoking is banned anywhere in the station. Meanwhile, on a platform nearby ..."

Jimmy Carter on the Gaza Siege Gaza: Bombs, Missiles, Tanks And Bulldozers

By Jimmy Carter

Transcript of former US President Jimmy Carter’s Address to the United Nations Relief Works Agency’s Human Rights Graduation in Gaza, June 16, 2009.

Director of UNRWA operations John Ging, thank you for inviting me to Gaza. Distinguished guests, children of Gaza, I am grateful for your warm reception.

I first visited Gaza 36 years ago and returned during the 1980s and later for the very successful Palestinian elections. Although under occupation, this community was relatively peaceful and prosperous. Now, the aftermath of bombs, missiles, tanks, bulldozers and the continuing economic siege have brought death, destruction, pain, and suffering to the people here. Tragically, the international community largely ignores the cries for help, while the citizens of Gaza are being treated more like animals than human beings.

Last week, a group of Israelis and Americans tried to cross into Gaza through Erez, bringing toys and children’s playground equipment – slides, swings, kites, and magic castles for your children. They were stopped at the gate and prevented from coming. I understand even paper and crayons are treated as “security hazards” and not permitted to enter Gaza. I sought an explanation for this policy in Israel, but did not receive a satisfactory answer – because there is none.

The responsibility for this terrible human rights crime lies in Jerusalem, Cairo, Washington, and throughout the international community. This abuse must cease; the crimes must be investigated; the walls must be brought down, and the basic right of freedom must come to you.

Almost one-half of Gaza’s 1.5 million people are children, whose lives are being shaped by poverty, hunger, violence, and despair. More than 50,000 families had their homes destroyed or damaged in January, and parents are in mourning for the 313 innocent children who were killed.

The situation in Gaza is grim, but all hope is not lost. Amidst adversity, you continue to possess both dignity and determination to work towards a brighter tomorrow. That is why educating children is so important.

I have come to Gaza to help the world know what important work you are doing. UNRWA is here to ensure that the 200,000 children in its schools can develop their talent, express their dynamism, and help create the path to a better future.

The human rights curriculum is teaching children about their rights and also about their responsibilities. UNRWA is teaching about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the struggle for these rights all over the world, Gaza’s children are learning that as you seek justice for yourselves, you must be sure that your behavior provides justice for others.

They are learning that it is wrong to fire rockets that may kill Israeli children. They are learning that arbitrary detention and the summary execution of political opponents is not acceptable. They are learning that the rule of law must be honored here in Gaza.

I would like to congratulate both UNRWA and the children who have completed the human rights curriculum with distinction. They are tomorrow’s leaders.

In addition to the tragedy of occupation, the lack of unity among Palestinians is causing a deteriorating atmosphere here in Gaza, in Ramallah, and throughout the West Bank.

Palestinians want more than just to survive. They hope to lead the Arab world, to be a bridge between modern political life and traditions that date back to the Biblical era. The nation you will create must be pluralistic and democratic – the new Palestine that your intellectuals have dreamt about. Palestine must combine the best of the East and the West. The Palestinian state, like the land, must be blessed for all people. Jerusalem must be shared with everyone who loves it – Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

With our new leaders in Washington, my country will move into the forefront of this birth of a new Palestine. We were all reminded of this renewed hope and commitment by President Obama’s recent speech in Cairo.

President Obama’s resolve to resume the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process based on the principle of two states for two peoples must be welcomed. This vision of two sovereign nations living as neighbors is not a mere convenient phrase. It is the basis for a lasting peace for this entire region, including Syria and Lebanon.

We all know that a necessary step is the ending of the siege of Gaza – the starving of 1 ½ million people of the necessities of life. Never before in history has a large community been savaged by bombs and missiles and then deprived of the means to repair itself. The issue of who controls Gaza is not an obstacle. As the World Bank has pointed out, funds can be channeled through a number of independent mechanisms and effective implementing agencies.

Although funds are available, not a sack of cement nor a piece of lumber has been permitted to enter the closed gates from Israel and Egypt. I have seen with my own eyes that progress is negligible.

My country and our friends in Europe must do all that is necessary to persuade Israel and Egypt to allow basic materials into Gaza. At the same time, there must be no more rockets and mortar shells falling on Israeli citizens.

I met this week with the parents of Corporal Gilad Shalit, and have with me a letter that I hope can be delivered to their son. I have also met with many Palestinians who plead for the freedom of their 11,700 loved ones imprisoned by the Israelis, including 400 women and children. Many of them have been imprisoned for many years, held without trial, with no access to their families or to legal counsel. Rational negotiations and a comprehensive peace can end this suffering on both sides.

I know it is difficult now, surrounded by terrible destruction, to see a future of independence and dignity in a Palestinian state, but this goal can and must be achieved. I know too that it is hard for you to accept Israel and live in peace with those who have caused your suffering. However, Palestinian statehood cannot come at the expense of Israel’s security, just as Israel’s security can not come at the expense of Palestinian statehood.

In his speech in Cairo, President Obama said that Hamas has support among Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a full role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, accept existing peace agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.

I have urged Hamas leaders to accept these conditions, and they have made statements and taken actions that suggest they are ready to join the peace process and move toward the creation of an independent and just Palestinian state.

Khaled Mashaal has assured me that Hamas will accept a final status agreement negotiated by the Palestinian Authority and Israel if the Palestinian people approve it in a referendum. Hamas has offered a reciprocal ceasefire with Israel throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Unfortunately, neither the Israeli leaders nor Hamas accept the terms of the Oslo Agreement of 1993, but the Arab Peace Initiative is being considered now by all sides.

I have personally witnessed free and fair elections in Palestine when Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas were elected president and when legislative members were chosen for your parliament. I hope to return next January for a similar event that will unite all Palestinians as you seek a proud and peaceful future.

Ladies and gentlemen, children of Gaza, thank you for inviting me and for sharing this happy occasion with me. Congratulations for your achievements.

Source: Norman G. Finkelstein

Tell YouTube to stop censorship of videos

In the last 24 hours, we've learned that a dangerous pattern has emerged at YouTube. They have censored not just one, but at least two controversial but important videos that reveal the kind of hardcore racism, Islamophobia and Arab-hatred that exists in our Jewish community both among Americans and Israelis, hatred which must be unearthed in order to be countered.Go here to watch one of the censored videos and to send a message to You Tube demanding they restore them.

Tyranny’s shield

The ruling against blogger NightJack suggests that anonymous speech is bad for society, says David Banisar

The decision by Mr Justice Eady that the identity of police blogger NightJack could be released has been characterised by many observers as part of a “privacy versus free expression” case. However, it would be more accurate to say that it signifies a battle between the free expression rights of newspapers to publish information and the right to individuals and groups to speak and publish anonymously. By ignoring the second right, it sets a precedent for future cases where bloggers or other sources can be identified by upset government or corporate officials.

The decision seems to be based on the underlying idea that anonymous speakers are bad for society. Eady broadly ruled that the public interest would be in knowing the identity of the author — allowing the public to make an assessment of the published material based on the person’s standing. Arguments about the right of informed individuals to criticise government policy or reveal information in the public interest without fear of sanction are discarded without serious analysis on the effects on the flow of information from such sources.

The consequence is that sources of information will be less likely to speak out, because they are told that if they want to say anything of a public interest, they should be identified.

It should be obvious to all now that the Internet can be a powerful tool for revealing information that would otherwise not be public and that anonymity is a key part of the process. One only needs to look at the success of Wikileaks, with its thousands of formerly suppressed documents.

Under Eady’s analysis, Wikileaks (and any journalists who receive information that may be in violation of internal regulations) could be forced to reveal their sources because the public (or the crown in enforcing their regulations) should know who they are. This is inconsistent with 20 years of European Court of Human Rights rulings on anonymous sources as essential to expression. The “axe to grind” argument cited by Eady, suggesting that readers should be aware of any ill-will motivating an anonymous source, is the same one constantly heard by those who want to suppress whistleblowers and dissidents across the world.

The case highlights the basic weakness in UK law in free expression. Across the ocean in the US, the Supreme Court has constantly recognised the interest in anonymous speech. As far back as 1960, the Supreme Court said that “anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind”. It ruled in the McIntyre case in 1995 that: “Under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.”

David Banisar is Deputy Director of Privacy International, a Non-Resident Fellow at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School and a Visiting Research Fellow at the School of Law, University of Leeds.

Read the full ruling here (Word doc)


East coast advocacy group backs embattled UCSB professor

Representatives write to Chancellor regarding anti-semitism charges

by Ben Preston

June 19, 2009

Santa Barbara Independent

While an ad hoc charges committee of UCSB's Academic Senate looks into accusations of faculty misconduct against William Robinson - the professor who sent out an e-mail in January comparing the Israeli occupation of Gaza with the Nazi's handling of the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II - the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB has been working overtime trying to prove that Robinson was within his right to send the email. The committee, which was formed shortly after complaints were filed by two students in January, recently enlisted the help of the Pennsylvania-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), an organization similar to the American Civil Liberties Union but more narrowly focused. FIRE Individual Rights Defense Program director Adam Kissel said that his organization was aware of the issue but also that Robinson initiated contact.

In a June 10 letter addressed to UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang, Kissel wrote that faculty members have complained of a "chilling effect," and that continuation of the Academic Senate investigation constitutes further violation against Robinson's right to send out material such as the e-mail - which placed images of Nazi and of Israeli soldiers side-by-side for comparison - to students. The letter gives Yang until June 24 to respond, after which FIRE has threatened to launch a media campaign in retaliation. "We're entirely non-partisan," said Kissel of his organization. "It doesn't matter to us what view it is that is being investigated or punished. What matters is whether a view is being investigated or punished."

One of the two students in Robinson's class who filed complaint said that she had sent an e-mail asking whether or not it was an assignment, to which she said he replied, "For your interest." Both students then proceeded send formal complaints to the university administration, and letters to the Anti Defamation League (ADL) and Stand With Us (SWU) - two anti-Semitism watchdog groups. "Just because it wasn't assigned doesn't mean it wasn't relevant [to the class]," said Kissel, asserting that his organization is certain that the email was in fact relevant to course material. "You don't need an academic senate investigation at all to see that it's protected under the canons of academic freedom."

From the beginning of Robinson's ordeal, the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom has been staunch in its defense of the professor, maintaining that he was well within his right to send the controversial e-mail. The group has also said that ADL and SWU are applying pressure on UCSB's faculty and administrators to silence critics of Israel, an accusation that ADL president Abraham Foxman emphatically denied. "The question is, should a professor spam his class with any old material without invitation for discussion or debate while jamming his own political views down [his students'] throats?" said Roz Rothstein, SWU's Executive Director, who called the e-mail a one-sided polemic. "If he brought this up in class as regular course material it would be more correct, because debate could be raised in class.

Kissel said that typically, when FIRE launches a media campaign, they send press releases to media outlets where the school is located and focus on publications that will get the attention of the higher education community. "We tend to win our cases without resorting to legal action. We don't even litigate. We have a number of attorneys on staff to make sure that we don't make a mistake on the law," he said, adding that they are often attacked by liberals for defending conservative professors and vice versa.

Currently, the ad hoc committee - the membership of which has been kept under wraps by the Academic Senate - is still conducting the investigation. Paul Desruisseaux, UCSB's public affairs officer, said that he doesn't know when they will announce further action, although he surmised that some sort of conclusion will be reached in the near future.


Victory for Religious Liberty at Wright State University: Christian Group Regains Recognition

Today's press release announces another victory for religious liberty and freedom of conscience on campus. Late last week, we learned that Wright State University was finally granting full recognition to a Christian student group that wanted to limit voting membership to others who shared the group's deeply held beliefs. The group, Christian Bible Fellowship (CBF), could not in good faith include in its constitution the nondiscrimination language required by Wright State. After all, as a Christian organization, the group was "discriminating" on the basis of religion, and Wright State was refusing to grant a religious exemption to the group. Despite the group's 30-year history as a registered student organization, Wright State withdrew recognition from CBF in January.

Since its inception ten years ago, FIRE has reminded public universities that the First Amendment protects the right of religious students to form groups based on shared beliefs. Wright State's application of its nondiscrimination requirement actually discriminated against religious student organizations, and the mandatory nondiscrimination language was simply unconstitutional in the absence of a policy for belief-based exemptions. To force a group whose mission is to communicate a particular Christian message to accept voting members or leaders who reject that very message is like requiring the College Democrats to accept College Republicans as members or leaders. Thankfully, at public universities like Wright State, the First Amendment prevents such an absurd outcome, and it is good that Wright State finally has seen the light.

CBF's troubles at Wright State began in late January of this year, when CBF was informed by Wright State's Office of Student Activities that its re-registration was being denied because its constitution required voting members to adhere to religious and behavioral standards, such as requiring that voting members "accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior" and subscribe to the group's articles of faith. (Nonvoting members did not have to meet these standards.)

We wrote to Wright State President David R. Hopkins on February 12, reminding him that the Constitution requires that "if Wright State is to allow expressive organizations to exist on its campus at all, it must allow religious organizations to exist, to define their missions, [and] to select their own members." We also pointed to its victories in similar religious liberty cases at Ohio State University and at Tufts University. Wright State General Counsel Gwen Mattison later phoned me to say that CBF would be recognized for the remainder of the academic year because it was being grandfathered in, despite the university's new requirement of nondiscrimination language, along with a few other groups whose constitutions did not include the new language (but which apparently had been recognized anyway). She also told me that CBF would be required to amend its constitution when applying for re-recognition for next year. Mattison later refused to confirm the details of this conversation.

Later this spring, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff spoke on campus at a conference regarding precisely this issue of student rights. Amazingly, one of the administrators on Greg's panel made a statement positing that students lose their constitutional rights when they pass through the schoolhouse gateexactly the opposite of what the Supreme Court expressly stated in the landmark 1969 case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (discussed in FIRE's Guide to Free Speech on Campus, pp. 44-45):

It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.

We are making a transcript of the recording from the panelthis is a classic you'll want to read for yourself.

Then the Alliance Defense Fund came in with a strong demand letter to Wright State Director of Student Activities Rick Danals on behalf of CBF, requesting that the university allow CBF to maintain its belief-based requirements for voting members. On June 12, Danals granted an exemption and signaled that Wright State would not further impede the group's recognition for 2009-2010. Official notification of recognition followed on June 18. (See ADF's press release here.)

The Campus Bible Fellowship should be commended for standing up for its constitutional rights, and FIRE will be watching Wright State to ensure that the rights of all expressive organizations, religious and secular alike, are protected on campus. You can let Wright State's president, David R. Hopkins, know what you think by contacting him at 937-775-2312 or david.hopkins@wright.edu, or you can reach Danals at 937-775-5543 or rick.danals@wright.edu.