I still remember the harassment the day we visited a clinic 4 years ago. By ruling the 35-foot buffer zone unconstitutional, the Supreme Court is putting people in danger
It’s a little more than half the distance from home plate to the pitcher’s mound on a baseball diamond. It’s slightly longer than the length of two Cadillac Escalades. It’s five feet shorter than a standard telephone pole.
And until today, when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled the buffer zone unconstitutional because it allegedly infringed on free speech rights, it was the distance anti-choice protesters were forced to stay away from people entering abortion clinics in Massachusetts.
“That’s a lot of space.”
That’s how US Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan described the 35 feet during oral arguments in January. And I guess it is a lot of space—depending on your perspective. For Justice Kagan, 35 feet on a tape measure might seem like a lot. But I have a slightly different perspective, one that is far more personal and relevant to this particular issue.
In 2010, my wife and I went to a Brookline, Massachusetts, abortion clinic after a team of renowned Boston doctors diagnosed our 16-week-old unborn baby with Sirenomelia. Our baby’s legs were fused together, but that wasn’t the worst of it. The baby had no kidneys, no bladder, and no anus. We were given the heartbreaking news that there was a zero percent chance of a live birth.
Because my wife’s health wasn’t in immediate danger, the hospital couldn’t get her in for a termination for two weeks. However, that meant it’d be a 50/50 chance of being able to have an abortion, or having to deliver a stillborn. After much soul-searching and contemplating a no-win scenario, my wife decided a stillbirth was more than she could handle and so the hospital sent us to a recommended clinic to perform an abortion.
When we pulled into the parking lot and got out of our car, the saddest day of our lives got exponentially worse.
Two women, 35 feet away, were standing across the street holding signs. When they saw us, they immediately started yelling things like “Don’t do it!” and “You’re killing your unborn baby!” I couldn’t have been more horrified. I couldn’t believe how these people would willingly stand outside and harass others at their weakest and most vulnerable. I couldn’t mask my anger nor could my wife hold back her tears at being unnecessarily and unfairly vilified.
But you know what I could do? I could hear them.
As today marks the 25th anniversary of the violent crackdown by Chinese troops at Tiananmen Square, Hong Kong prepares for the annual public vigil for the event—the largest and only one of its kind permitted within China.
Organisers have said they are expecting a crowd of up to 150,000 people to show up, including Hong Kong locals, groups of mainlanders who’ve come to Hong Kong for the occasion and expats, following last Saturday’s thousands-strong march in the city commemorating the event.
Every year, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China organises a public event in Victoria Peak where a candlelit vigil is held to remember the student protesters who were killed on June 4, 1989. Participants also demand for government accountability of the event as well as the end of the CCP’s one-party system.
Meanwhile, the mainland’s censors have gone into high gear to block searches of and discussions about the Tian’anmen student protests and their bloody aftermath, when the government sent in troops to put down the “insurrection.” On the mainland, among people who know about it, the Tian’anmen is an “open secret” — something that is shared knowledge, but rarely discussed.
I once asked a friend of mine here if China’s currency would ever feature the image of Deng Xiaoping, who “opened up” China to the world and to free markets. He said flatly no, because too many people remember that it was Deng who authorized the military crackdown on the students in 1989.
There will be many articles about Tian’anmen 1989. Here’s my own modest contribution, at my blog.
[UPDATE 9/24/2013: The student has since been released.]
Somebody died in Gansu province under suspicious circumstances. An inquisitive high school student was following the case and tweeting about it on China’s Twitter-like service, Sina Weibo.
Then the police came knocking.
16 year old Yang, a student at Zhangjiachuan middle school, posted several times about the murky circumstances of the death to his Weibo account two days after the death.
This is one of the first uses of new laws introduced last week to counter online rumor spreading. According to the new policy, posting a message viewed as inaccurate by the Chinese government that is retweeted 500 times or visited by 5000 internet users can lead to up to three years of jail.
Unintended consequences. I mean, who would expect teenagers to use the Internet?
Microblog tweets that are critical of the Chinese government are only rumors, and rumors are bad, bad, bad — just like the posters denouncing people during the Cultural Revolution, says an influential Chinese Communist Party journal.
“The internet is full of all kinds of negative news and critical voices saying the government only does bad things and everything it says is wrong.”
The magazine said online rumours were no better than “big character posters”, hand-written signs put up in public places during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution to spread propaganda, often denouncing people and institutions as counter-revolutionary or bourgeois.
The journal article continues the current leadership’s crackdown on “rumor-mongering” on China’s versions of Twitter, Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo. Users of both platforms have used their microblogs to criticize government corruption and mismanagement, and have often named names in the process.
China’s new president, Xi Jinping, recently called on China’s censors to clean up the Internet, and a particularly outspoken and popular Weibo user, Charles Xue Biqun, was arrested last month on sex crime charges. He appeared on national TV Sunday to confess to spreading irresponsible comments on Sina Weibo, saying that “free speech cannot override the law.”
There are some similarities to the Cultural Revolution, after all, just not in the way the party journal Qiushi means. Xue is clearly being used as an example of what might happen if you piss off the Party by saying too much.
More about Xue here. news.yahoo.com
More about the journal article here: Online Rumours Like Cultural Revolution Denunciation Posters, Says Party Journal
Laura Ingraham defended her use of a “blow up” sound effect on her radio show to cut off audio clips, claiming it was “fun” and “teasing,” after receiving heavy criticism for using the sound effect to silence a recording of civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis’ speech at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
On her August 26 radio broadcast, Ingraham used an effect that sounded like gunshot to cut off a recording of the speech given by civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) at the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Lewis’ skull was infamously fractured by a state trooper on “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, AL, in 1965, and many civil rights activists — including Martin Luther King, Jr. — were literally silenced by assassins’ bullets during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and ’70s.
Ingraham came under heavy criticism for using this sound effect to cut off Lewis, with Salon’s Joan Walsh describing the move as “unusually vicious” and MSNBC’s Steve Bennen writing that it “was one of the more offensive things I’ve heard in a while.”
In response, Ingraham claimed the sound was not of a gunshot but instead a “blow up effect,” and claimed criticism of her using the sound effect on Lewis was an attempt “to crush free speech”:
My producers and I have used this blow up effect to interrupt windbags for 10 years of political and cultural persuasions. The cannon or “blow up” sound is meant to convey the gaseous thoughts of a speaker combusting, but of course the bilious Joan Walsh of salon.com knows that. (My producers have even blown me up when we play long clips from TV appearances!)
This is absurd and venomous and the predictably pathetic work of people who mean to crush free speech as they advance a failing, progressive agenda. If Joan Walsh or other left-wing loons give voice to their moronic, dishonest analysis, they might self-combust on my show, too. Boom.
From the AP via Yahoo!
A group of atheists unveiled a monument to their nonbelief in God on Saturday to sit alongside a granite slab that lists the Ten Commandments in front of the Bradford County courthouse.
As a small group of protesters blasted Christian country music and waved “Honk for Jesus” signs, the atheists celebrated what they believe is the first atheist monument allowed on government property in the United States.
“When you look at this monument, the first thing you will notice is that it has a function. Atheists are about the real and the physical, so we selected to place this monument in the form of a bench,” said David Silverman, president of American Atheists.
It also serves another function — a counter to the religious monument that the New Jersey-based group wanted removed. It’s a case of if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
American Atheists sued to try to have the stone slab with the Ten Commandments taken away from the courthouse lawn in this rural, conservative north Florida town best known for the prison that confines death row inmates. The Community Men’s Fellowship erected the monument in what’s described as a free speech zone. During mediation on the case, the atheist group was told it could have its own monument, too.
About 200 people attended the unveiling. Most were supportive, though there were protesters, including a group from Florida League of the South that had signs that said “Yankees Go Home.”
“We reject outsiders coming to Florida — especially from outside what we refer to as the Bible Belt — and trying to remake us in their own image,” said Michael Tubbs, state chairman of the Florida League of the South. “We do feel like it’s a stick in the eye to the Christian people of Florida to have these outsiders come down here with their money and their leadership and promote their outside values here.”
League of the South? Wonder what their agenda is? Since the AP was to lazy to inform its readers maybe the SPLC can..
The League of the South is a neo-Confederate group that advocates for a second Southern secession and a society dominated by “European Americans.” The league believes the “godly” nation it wants to form should be run by an “Anglo-Celtic” (read: white) elite that would establish a Christian theocratic state and politically dominate blacks and other minorities. Originally founded by a group that included many Southern university professors, the group lost its Ph.D.s as it became more explicitly racist. The league denounces the federal government and northern and coastal states as part of “the Empire,” a materialist and anti-religious society.
The New South, same as the Old South.
Meanwhile back at the monument unveiling…
At one point someone in a car driving by tossed a toilet seat and a roll of toilet paper at the crowd. Neither struck anyone. At another point, Eric Hovind, 35, of Pensacola jumped atop the peak of the monument and shouted his thanks to the atheists for giving him a platform to declare Jesus is real. Atheists shouted at him, and he stepped down after about a minute. One man yelled that religion is a fairy tale.
“The problem is it’s not a fairy tale,” Hovind said. “We definitely have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.”
Throwing toilet paper and seats at people? Sounds like something Jesus would’ve done, right?
Hey is that the Eric Hovind? Young Earth Creationist and son of convicted tax cheat Kent Hovind? Yes it is. For anyone that doesn’t know about his infamous father, here’s “Dr” Kent Hovind’s, also now known to the Federal Bureau of Prisons as prisoner number 06452-017, Wiki page if anyone needs to catch up on this upstanding citizen.
And the atheists said they expected protesters.
“There always are,” said Rick Wingrove, the director of a Washington D.C.-area office of American Atheists. “We protests their events, they protests our events. As long as everybody’s cordial and let people speak. This is our day, not theirs. We’re fine with them being here.”
A call to the group that sponsored the Ten Commandments monument, the Community Men’s Fellowship, wasn’t returned. But the group gave Facebook updates on the legal battle with the American Atheists and praised the compromise that allowed them to keep their monument.
“We want you all to remember that this issue was won on the basis of this being a free speech issue, so don’t be alarmed when the American Atheists want to erect their own sign or monument. It’s their right. As for us, we will continue to honor the Lord and that’s what matters,” the group posted.
While Silverman said he believes religion is wrong and teachings in the Bible are violent, he said he welcomes non-Christian religions to follow the atheists’ example and put in their own monuments in free-speech zones.
“I will back them because it will be their right,” he said. “This is one of the tricks that Christians have used, because they go up and call it a free-speech zone and then they’re unopposed. They get their government legitimization because nobody else calls their bluff and puts something in.”
On Thursday, the Senate gave third and final reading to Conservative MP Brian Storseth’s private member’s Bill C-304 to repeal Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, striking a much appreciated blow in favour of freedom of expression.
More: Russ Campbell’s Blog
— Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit Thursday over a new Kansas law requiring doctors to inform women seeking abortions that they’re ending the life of a “whole, separate, unique, living human being.”
Planned Parenthood’s clinic in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park and its director, Dr. Orrin Moore, contend in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court that the law violates doctors’ free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They say the statement that an abortion terminates the life of a separate human being requires them to make “a misleading statement of philosophical and/or religious belief.”
The new Kansas requirements take effect next month.
“It’s called compelled speech, which is a violation of the First Amendment,” Peter Brownlie, the Planned Parenthood chapter’s president and chief executive officer, said during an interview. “The Legislature is attempting to force us to endorse the political views of the governor and his allies.”
In the wake of the past week’s revelations about the NSA’s unprecedented mass surveillance of phone calls, today the ACLU filed a lawsuit charging that the program violates Americans’ constitutional rights of free speech, association, and privacy.
This lawsuit comes a day after we submitted a motion to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) seeking the release of secret court opinions on the Patriot Act’s Section 215, which has been interpreted to authorize this warrantless and suspicionless collection of phone records.
Last week, The Guardian released an order issued by the FISC that compelled a Verizon subsidiary—Verizon Business Network Services (VBNS)—to hand over, on an “ongoing, daily basis,” details for every phone call placed on its network for a prospective three-month period. Collecting those details—“metadata” that reveals who people talk to, for how long, how often, and possibly from where—allows the government to paint an alarmingly detailed picture of Americans’ private lives. The FISC order cited Section 215 as its legal basis, yet the breadth of the authority it granted to the government is simply incompatible with the text of the statute.
As an organization that advocates for and litigates to defend the civil liberties of society’s most vulnerable, the staff at the ACLU naturally use the phone—a lot—to talk about sensitive and confidential topics with clients, legislators, whistleblowers, and ACLU members. And since the ACLU is a VBNS customer, we were immediately confronted with the harmful impact that such broad surveillance would have on our legal and advocacy work. So we’re acting quickly to get into court to challenge the government’s abuse of Section 215.
The ACLU’s complaint filed today explains that the dragnet surveillance the government is carrying out under Section 215 infringes upon the ACLU’s First Amendment rights, including the twin liberties of free expression and free association. The nature of the ACLU’s work—in areas like access to reproductive services, racial discrimination, the rights of immigrants, national security, and more—means that many of the people who call the ACLU wish to keep their contact with the organization confidential. Yet if the government is collecting a vast trove of ACLU phone records—and it has reportedly been doing so for as long as seven years—many people may reasonably think twice before communicating with us.
The kind of personal-data aggregation accomplished through Section 215 also constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Last year, in a case on GPS tracking by police, five members of the Supreme Court indicated support for the common-sense notion that government collection of individual bits of seemingly innocuous personal information over a long period of time could amount to such a complete invasion of privacy that it would be unconstitutional. The surveillance program that came to light with the release of the FISC order constitutes precisely that kind of unreasonable incursion into Americans’ private lives.
Finally, the ACLU’s complaint charges that the executive branch’s use of Section 215 violates the plain language of the statute itself. The statute requires that records seized under its authority be “relevant” to an authorized foreign-intelligence or terrorism investigation. But while that language imposes a real limitation on when the government can use Section 215, the FISC order covering all VBNS customers demonstrates that this “relevance” restraint is shockingly inadequate. Similarly, the FISC order shows that the government—with the FISC’s secret approval—is acquiring future records of telephone subscribers based on the same “relevance” requirement, even though the statute uses words that clearly show it was only meant to cover “tangible things” already in existence.
Stop Government Spying on Americans
With today’s lawsuit, the ACLU is now attacking Section 215 on three legal fronts: in our ongoing FOIA litigation seeking the government’s secret interpretation of the law; in the FISA Court through yesterday’s public-access motion; and now, in a constitutional lawsuit in federal court. When the government is claiming such chillingly expansive surveillance powers, it’s all hands on deck. Stay tuned.