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Published: Sun, 22 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sun, 22 Apr 2018 23:13:08 -0400


RIP Miloš Forman, a True Hollywood Anti-Authoritarian

Mon, 16 Apr 2018 07:00:00 -0400

Miloš Forman, one of the great anti-authoritarian directors in film history, died on Friday at age 86 near his home in Connecticut. The son of parents who were killed in the Holocaust, the Czech-born Forman fled his native country after the Warsaw Pact invasion of 1968, eventually becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in the place where he'd find his greatest success. "Well," he explained while accepting his first Academy Award for Best Director, "America still is big, beautiful, hospitable, and open country." Forman was best known for his Oscar-sweeping pictures One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and Amadeus (1984), which between them encapsulate the two major themes of his work: the importance and dignity of the iconoclastic individual vis-à-vis a stifling state, and the heroism of the transgressive artist. Here's a scene from Cuckoo's Nest that, while still true to the 1962 Ken Kesey novel, nonetheless works as symbolism for both Forman's own émigré story and the entire 1963–'75 generational struggle we loosely characterize as "the sixties." As Charles F. Barr wrote contemporaneously in Reason, "The parallels between the movie's mental ward and society at large are simply too obvious to miss": src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> If Forman's second great theme, the artist-as-hero, feels played out now, as it began to in his hagiographic 1999 Andy Kaufmann biopic Man on the Moon, that's partly because Hollywood has since then indulged in the persistent self-congratulation of Birdman, The Artist, and Argo. But it's also because 2018 America, regardless of how heroic its dissenters may feel at a given moment, cannot compare to the artist-vs.-authoritarian drama of 1960s Prague, where Forman helped kick-start the influential Czech New Wave with a troika of terrific movies. Communist-era Czechoslovakia was one of the most repressive East Bloc regimes for most of its 1948–'89 run, ranking right down there with the police states of East Germany and Albania. The only real loosening during that time came from 1963 to the first half of 1968, when novelists, playwrights, musicians, poets, visual artists, and film directors waged a multi-front assault on the state's censoriousness, using a mixture of wink-nod political symbolism, direct lobbying to widen the band of permissible expression, and a straight-up explosion of artistic creativity. Prague, that centuries-old center for cosmopolitan culture and literal capital of Bohemia, proved an uncomfortable fit for top-down, closed-border censorship. The space these artists fought to create—heroically, even!—led directly to the series of early-1968 political reforms known as the Prague Spring, which thrilled the world with its all-too-temporary decontrols on media, speech, and the administrative state. Forman's two best-known movies during this period, 1965's Loves of a Blonde and 1967's The Firemen's Ball, were both Best Foreign Picture nominees that made darkly comedic sport with small-minded, over-empowered bureaucrats. (The latter film in particular was a pretty direct political critique, and it found itself banned after Soviet tanks crushed Prague Spring.) But ask Czechs to name their favorite Forman and they'll almost universally tell you it was his less internationally heralded debut feature, 1964's Černý Petr (Black Peter). That film, despite being a low-budget black-and-white offering from communist Czechoslovakia, was almost startlingly modern—a generational conflict centered on an awkward and blasé young man a good three years before The Graduate; a story about nothing three decades before Seinfeld; an exercise in cinéma vérité and overheard conversations more convincingly authentic (in part due to Forman's reliance on non-actors) than what Robert Altman would produce the following decade. That sense of naturalism is what ultimately makes the movie so beloved back in Forman's homeland: Black Peter, like the writings of Bohumil Hrabal, is just so unmistakably Czech.[...]

Brickbat: You Can't Protest Here

Thu, 12 Apr 2018 04:00:00 -0400

(image) In Minnesota, New Prague High School Principal Lonnie Seifert removed a student from the campus after he held up a sign reading "Guns don't kill people, people kill people" during a student walkout to protest gun violence.

Brickbat: Say What?

Wed, 11 Apr 2018 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Malaysian officials have proposed a law that would ban fake news and impose prison sentences of up to 10 years and fines of up to $128,000 on those who violate the law. Critics say the law is aimed at stifling dissent.

Beware Censorship by Proxy

Mon, 09 Apr 2018 09:59:00 -0400

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times. YouTube is worried you might believe too much of what you see on its website. Amid the clamor for someone, somewhere to do something about "fake news," the company plans to attach "information cues"—excerpts from Wikipedia—to videos that touch on "a list of well-known internet conspiracies." When YouTube, Facebook or Twitter cracks down on some form of expression—conspiracy theories, radical rants, terrorist propaganda—some of the targets inevitably complain that their freedom of speech is under attack. (This feeling of victimhood may be what sent Nasim Aghdam to YouTube headquarters, gun in hand.) There is a strong retort to this: These are private platforms with a right to decide what they publish. It is no more a violation of the First Amendment for YouTube to muzzle a channel it finds offensive than it is for this newspaper to refuse to run a column calling for Minnesota to invade Wisconsin. But what if a private platform suppresses speech because it's afraid the government might otherwise step in? Just as one effective end-run around the Fourth Amendment is to ask private companies for data they slurped up on their own, the First Amendment can be sidestepped when officials pressure the private sector into self-censorship. The end result can be rules more restrictive than the companies would impose on their own—and more intrusive than the government could get away with if it tried to impose them directly. It's happened before. The Supreme Court ruled in 1915 that free-speech protections did not apply to the movies, a decision rightly reversed in 1952. In the interim, the industry opted to stave off federal regulation by establishing a series of self-censorship systems. The most powerful of these was the Production Code, which was created in 1930 but didn't really grow teeth until 1934, when Congress was mulling several bipartisan bills to tone down motion picture content. Hollywood got the message. Under the code, seduction was "never the proper subject for a comedy," plots couldn't involve "sex relationships between the white and black races," and the drug trade "should not be brought to the attention of audiences," among other tight constraints. Some filmmakers found ways to subtly subvert the restrictions. Many others threw up their hands and let their films be bowdlerized. The Federal Communications Commission directly regulates much of what can and cannot be said over the "public" airwaves. But private radio and television networks also have created their own internal Standards and Practices departments that control content, sometimes at absurd levels of caution. (Early network censors objected to terms as mild as "bloody," "bollixed" and "the W.C.") Broadcasters are not eager to offend their audiences, so some version of Standards and Practices would probably exist even without the FCC. But the desire to stay on regulators' and legislators' good side has clearly been at work in those departments' decisions as well. You can tell because the self-imposed rules eased up when federal content controls were relaxed in the 1980s. The comic book industry adopted a Comics Code after the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency held a hearing in 1954 on their products' alleged role in fostering crime. The immediate effect was to infantilize the industry, forcing a range of popular horror titles into the dustbin. The "parental advisory" labels affixed to CDs were invented following another Senate circus, the "porn rock" hearings of 1985. The stickers kept some records out of certain stores, and prompted some producers to edit songs or change album lineups to avoid the restrictions. In 1993, another set of Senate hearings inspired a comparable ratings system for video games. Those moves haven't had as much force as the rules adopted by Hollywood and the broadcasters, but that's because the threat of direct federal censorship wasn't as strong. A sort of censorship by proxy[...]

Can You Guess How Much Butt This Town Will Let You Show?

Tue, 03 Apr 2018 13:10:00 -0400

So, what part of the butt is the ass crack, really? As a legal matter. You see, a fight over scantily clad baristas in one Washington State community hinges partly on whether the average person can objectively tell which part of the bottom counts as the "anal cleft" and whether police could (or would) objectively be able to measure whether one is exposed or not. The city of Everett, Washington, is trying to get rid of its "bikini barista" stands with an ordinance that forces the ladies there to wear more coverage. The city claims that these tiny stands where scantily clad women serve coffee are incubators of prostitution, public lewdness, and crime. They're trying to shut them down by forcing the women to button up. The stands are fighting back and won an initial injunction against the ordinance's enforcement in December. A U.S. district judge determined that Everett's ordinance was too vague in its description of what needed to be covered and thereby risked arbitrary enforcement issues. And the judge further determined that the law likely violated the First Amendment free expression rights of the women who worked there. Everett is now fighting back itself against the injunction, submitting a legal brief arguing that the judge erred on both counts. Its appeal calls for the judge to be overruled and the injunction dissolved. You'll never read a more boring 66-page document about butts. It includes four pages listing all the federal court cases used to bolster its claim that there's no real confusion about what counts as an "anal cleft" and that there's no evidence that the women are actually expressing anything in particular in their clothing choices. Below the fold, butts: The Everett brief says anybody who is confused about the anal cleft can just consult a dictionary on what the two words mean. Wikipedia and Wiktionary both have pages for the gluteal cleft and intergluteal cleft. Embedded are what somebody apparently thinks are helpful pictures. To the right is the image included for the Wiktionary article. As you'll note, it's really just a picture of a naked butt. A perfectly lovely one. But how much of it counts as the cleft? Where does the asscrack end and the butt cheek begin? As for the evidence in the brief itself, Everett does provide examples of other court rulings upholding ordinances and laws that control how much butt or butt crack a person can expose in public, including others that use the term "anal cleft." Let it not be said that Everett skimped on the amount of time, effort, and probably money to justify to the court why it wanted to ban butts. In the end … But … However, it's worth examining more closely why the city is so determined to hide the rear cleavage. The lawsuit insists that the city has been unsuccessful in stopping other criminal activity happening around the coffee stands—prostitution, lewd conduct, drug abuse, and sexual assault—so a new ordinance was necessary. Even though these other laws were already on the books, the sight of a woman's butt crack apparently deprived customers of all capacity to decide for themselves whether to follow the law. I'm not even kidding here. At one point, the brief accuses one stand owner of corrupting "Snohomish County Deputy Darrell O'Neill by trading sexual favors in return for law enforcement information." He apparently was helpless to resist in the face of all that sweet lady butt. While I'm not blind to complaints by the neighbors about all the public lewdness happening (these are frequently walk-up stands, not indoor locations) and any actual victimization that may have occurred, the city here has focused on bans as a solution, which just makes a black market for butts. And that's just silly. All the time and money Everett has spent here could have been used to figure out a way for customers to get their coffee with a side order of booty while minimizing exposure for those who don't want to see it. So here's a challenge for readers:[...]

University Cites Eminent Domain to Kick Students Off Property

Wed, 28 Mar 2018 11:50:00 -0400

In a repressive double play, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has both censored student speech and tried to justify its clampdown with an absurd interpretation of eminent domain law. In Februrary, security guards at the New York college removed two students from a public sidewalk outside a hockey game for passing out buttons and fliers that criticized the university. The students were supporting the "Renew Rensselaer" campaign, an alumni group that seeks to expose adminstrative abuses of powers. When the students pointed out that they had a right to be on public property, the guards suggested that the school controlled the property through eminent domain. This drew the attention of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which had already sent the school three letters about its restrictive approach to students' free expression. In its fourth letter, FIRE explained that the guards' argument was "as preposterous as it is legally incomprehensible. Eminent domain is the practice of a public body condemning and seizing real property for a public purpose, not a private institution requisitioning public lands for its own purpose." While the institute has not responded to FIRE's letter, school official Richie Hunter did speak with The Washington Free Beacon about the case. She would not answer questions about the university's odd interpretation of eminent domain. Instead she suggested that the student handbook gave the school authority to quell the protest. Because these students failed to get prior authorization, Hunter says the school was justified in removing them from the sidewalk. One of the students who was thrown off the sidewalk later emailed Hunter, asking her to clarify what part of the student handbook she referenced. In response, she cited a section called "Use of Institute Buildings and Facilities"—a segment clearly designed to cover private property—and stated: "Activities which groups wish to promote a cause, event, etc. must work either through the Union, Dean of Students Office, or the appropriate location supervisor to receive permission." The sidewalk in question, again, is public property. Students at Rensselaer have been involved in an ongoing battle with the administration concerning who controls the student union. The university guarantees that it "shall not impede or obstruct students in the exercise of their fundamental rights as citizens" and that "students and student groups shall be free to examine and discuss all questions of interest to them and to express opinions publicly and privately," but it has rejected the student body's request to protest and it has charged a student with "operating an illegal business" to prevent him from handing out information. Videos of the administration tearing down fliers and a recording of guards ordering students not to post literature have been posted online.[...]

Brickbat: The Thin(-Skinned) Blue Line

Tue, 27 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Austrian police in Tyrol have issued a $197 fine to a man for calling them "Smurfs." The man, who wasn't identified by media, warned others on Facebook about a traffic speed check, posting about "two smurfs standing with lasers" near a highway. Cops said he violated public decency and defamed the two officers.

University of Virginia Hires 'Social Sentinel' to Monitor Students' Social Media Posts

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 11:05:00 -0400

In response to the torch-lit marches in Charlottesville last August, the University of Virginia signed an $18,500 annual contract with Social Sentinel, a private security firm, to monitor the social media accounts of its students and others. UVA began working with Social Sentinel in September to keep an eye on potentially dangerous campus activity. University officials and the UVA police force have assured the community this step is necessary for campus security, yet students and others are concerned about their privacy rights. "Enhanced technology is just one piece of the University's safety and preparedness efforts," Officer Ben Rexrode, the Crime Prevention Coordinator for the University Of Virginia Police Department, told Reason via email. "As the University grows and new standards for best in class operations evolve, we take steps to improve when prudent and appropriate." Using an algorithm, Social Sentinel scans social media accounts and targets threatening words, images and phrases included in Sentinel's "library of harm." When these terms or images are used in context with the university's name, location, or events, a report is sent to the police, who determine if the content merits further investigation. While officials consider the context of posts that are flagged, algorithms may fail to distinguish between dangerous phrases and phrases like "You're the bomb!" or "Nice shot!," leading to unnecessary tagging. It's also difficult to expect someone who is so far removed from a conversation to fully grasp what a student meant by a particular choice of words. Neither the algorithm nor the officers reading the material may understand what is said. "It's not so much that they're looking at your Twitter or your Instagram, it's casting a very wide net and getting metadata and producing a report," UVA Spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn told The Cavalier Daily. Yet once a report is drawn up about a particular post, officers are able to read and view students posts, be they on Twitter or Instagram. So while Big Brother is not actively scrolling through students' feeds, officers have records of conversations that students or other persons may have preferred to keep from the government. Social Sentinel told The Daily Progress it does not archive the data it scans, but university police officials said the department would record and store any alerts that prompted police action. "The University has not confined the scanning to any particular group," said Rexrode."The service can only view publicly viewable sources; it cannot see private or direct messages, or accounts set to private. The service merely aggregates publicly available information." This betrays a serious limitation: Persons who wish to do harm often plot and exchange information in private chat groups, via text message, or in other online forms that wouldn't be accessed by this technology. UVA officials say Social Sentinel's mass data collection has allowed authorities to prevent some campus events, including instances of self-harm, but Social Sentinel is scanning everyone's data in order to do so. This raises obvious concerns for civil libertarians. "We see a trend in law enforcement in general to want to employ new technology before we really understand all of the implications of that technology," Bill Farrar, the Director of Strategic Communications for ACLU of Virginia, told Reason. "While we don't object to use of technology in law enforcement, we do object to usage policies and practices that violate people's expectation of privacy and other civil liberties. We are opposed to any sort of mass government surveillance for any future law enforcement services. "Law enforcement is essentially grabbing everyone's data and holding on it, just in case they might need it for some future unspecified purpose," said Farrar. "We don't think that's right—and it's not just students' d[...]

Hours After FOSTA Passes, Reddit Bans 'Escorts' and 'SugarDaddy' Communities

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 10:35:00 -0400

Sometime around 2 a.m. last night, Reddit banned several long-running sex worker forums from the platform. The move comes just hours after the Senate passed a bill making digital facilitation of prostitution a federal crime. Under the new law, social media sites and other hubs of user-generated content can be held criminally liable. For months, sex workers have warned that the passage of "SESTA" or "FOSTA"—two similarly bad bills that were competing for dominance; FOSTA passed yesterday—would mark the end of all online forums for communication with clients, lawyers, or each other. To sex workers like Liara Roux, Louise Partridge, and Jiz Lee, Reddit's takedown of these subreddits confirmed their fears about the new legislation. Even if individuals aren't targeted by law enforcement for placing ads, and even if individual cases brought by state prosecutors are struck down as unconstitutional, a lot of platforms will preemptively ban anything remotely related to sex work rather than risk it. So far, four subreddits related to sex have banned: Escorts, Male Escorts, Hookers, and SugarDaddy. None were what could accurately be described as advertising forums, though (to varying degrees) they may have helped connect some people who wound up in "mutually beneficial relationships." The escort forums were largely used by sex workers to communicate with one another, according to Partridge. Meanwhile, the "hooker" subreddit "was mostly men being disgusting," according to Roux, "but also was a place that sometimes had people answering educational questions in good faith." This sub had a slur in the name and was mostly men being disgusting but also was a place that sometimes had people answering educational questions in good faith. Instead of increased moderation and a name change, it was removed entirely today. Dead canary. — Liara Roux (@LiaraRoux) March 22, 2018 If you visit the Reddit "Hooker" community now, you'll see a notice that "this subreddit was banned due to a violation of our content policy." The "Escorts" and "Male Escots" pages provides a little more detail: "This subreddit was banned due to a violation of our content policy, specifically, a violation of Reddit's policy against transactions involving prohibited goods or services." Reddit yesterday announced changes to its content policy, now forbidding "transactions for certain goods and services," including "firearms, ammunition, or explosives" and "paid services involving physical sexual contact." While some of the prohibited exchanges are illegal, many are not. Yet they run close enough up against exchanges that could be illegal that it's hard for a third-party like Reddit to differentiate. And the same goes for forums where sex workers post educational content, news, safety and legal advice. Without broad Section 230 protections, Reddit could be in serious financial and legal trouble if they make the wrong call. Some have suggested that the new content policy, not FOSTA, is to blame for the shutdown of the sex-related subreddits. But FOSTA may also help explain Reddit's new content policy overall. (Reddit did not respond to my request for comment Thursday morning.) FOSTA seriously chips away at Section 230, the federal provision that protects web publishers from being treated as the speaker of user-generated content. Proponents of FOSTA have insisted this is just a renovation of Section 230, not a demolition. But as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)—who coauthored the Section 230 language in the '90s—noted yesterday, once you carve out a loophole for one bad thing (in this case, the change is allegedly meant to stop sex trafficking), it's easy for legislators and courts to carve out loopholes and justifications for everything. After all, murder is pretty bad. And everyone's pretty jazzed up about the "opioid epidemic" righ[...]

Social Media Beats Censorship in Iran

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 06:00:00 -0400

In the first days of January, a meme spread through Iran. The image featured Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Jahromi drop-kicking the logos of Tor, an encrypted proxy network, and several social media platforms—a reference to the Iranian government's ban of the messaging service Telegram in response to protests in late December. On January 4, the meme ended up on the front page of Ghanoon, a newspaper aligned with the country's liberal Reformist movement. The same day, Jahromi reposted it on his Instagram account along with the caption: "The National Security Council—which the Telecommunications Ministry is not part of—has decided, along with other security measures, to impose temporary restrictions on cyberspace in order to establish peace…instead of addressing the roots of the protests and unrest, some are trying to blame cyberspace." The minister's acknowledgment that the crackdown was ill-advised would foreshadow a reversal in Iranian President Hasan Rouhani's response to the unrest. As small economic protests encouraged by the Conservative opposition suddenly went nationwide last year, Telegram—used by more than 13 million Iranians—lit up with both credible information and viral rumors. At first, Rouhani's Reformist administration walked the line between defending the right to "criticize and protest" and condemning "solutions to the problems of society in the streets." Rouhani, who campaigned for re-election last year on the nuclear deal and other pro-trade measures, began his latest term calling for a more open internet. But police eventually detained several hundred people, and at least 21 were killed in street fighting. When the Telegram channel AmadNews encouraged protesters to use firebombs, Jahromi publicly asked the platform's founder, Pavel Durov, to censor the channel. Durov complied, catching flak from Edward Snowden. Durov refused further requests by Iranian authorities, prompting the "temporary" restrictions on Telegram, which have become known as "The Filtering." Telegram users responded, as they always do, with memes. The popular channel Talkhand-Siyâsi soon filled up with sarcastic advertisements for air filters and GIFs of former president cum conspiracy theorist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran has a well-developed tradition of political caricature dating back to the 1905 Constitutional Revolution. Old-school cartoonists Mehdi Fard and Mohammad Tehani joined the contretemps, mocking Rouhani's promise that "the telecommunications minister's hand shall not touch the 'filtering' button." The vigorous debate over censorship shows how much Iran—where the elected government often comes into conflict with powerful unelected authorities—has changed in recent years. Increased international trade, electoral victories by Reformists including Rouhani, and a growing number of tech startups have opened up society despite intense pushback from hardline Conservatives in the military and judiciary. But the reaction to the online censorship was not just a matter of cultural freedom. According to the pro-market newspaper Donya-e-Eqtesad, over 9,000 firms, many of which use Telegram to conduct sales and talk to clients, lost business to the ban. Rouhani himself alluded to the economic damage in a January 8 speech promising social reforms. In an Instagram post that same day, Jahromi admitted that "we are now in a situation where our sovereign state and other nations of the world do not have the ability to regulate international social networks." Some 25 percent of Iranians use virtual private networks, software that allows people to avoid internet restrictions, he observed. On January 13, the messaging app was finally unblocked by order of the president. The move came despite the efforts of "hardliners who wanted to force the government to keep the Telegram blocke[...]

Brickbat: Fit for a King

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Kings College London blocked a lecture on free speech by one of its own faculty to the school's Libertarian Society because the speaker has "attracted controversy in the past." Adam Perkins, a lecturer in neurobiology, has defended President Donald Trump's travel ban, which earned him condemnation from the school's Somali Society as well as its intersectional feminist group. Officials said they could not guarantee safety if Perkins spoke.

Brickbat: Oh, Man

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0400

(image) A Belgian court has fined a man 3,000 euros for contempt of a police officer, making sexist remarks in public and serious violation of a woman's dignity because of her gender. The man, who wasn't named by media, was stopped by a female police officer for a traffic violation and told her she should be doing a job "adapted to women." He became the first person convicted under a new new law barring sexism in public.

Sign Referencing Civil War Hero Is Sexual Harassment, Says Massachusetts Lawmaker

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 14:10:00 -0400

(image) Here's a twist on the debate over public monuments to problematic figures like Confederate leaders: A Massachusetts state lawmaker wants to censor references to a man who scored Civil War era wins against the Confederacy. Her reasoning? That man's name is Joseph Hooker.

As we're all aware, General Hooker's last name became slang for "someone who has sex for money." Today, "hooker" is widely considered a slur by folks in the sex-work community. Yet as far as I'm aware, there have't been any sex worker campaigns to remove references to Joseph Hooker from public view—presumably because most well-adjusted people realize that words have different meanings in different contexts.

"There are all sorts of benign words in our language that sound like words unfit for polite company," writes Jon Keller at CBS Boston, offering Uranus and clap as further examples. "And they offer us an opportunity to teach snickering kids about Civil War history or outer space—and about showing respect for others while avoiding making fools of ourselves."

State Rep. Michelle DuBois (D-Plymouth) disagrees. She has been calling for the removal of a statehouse sign that reads "General Hooker Entrance" (so inscribed because it stands opposite a statue of General Hooker), which she described as an affront to "women's dignity."

"Female staffers don't use that entrance because the sign is offensive to them," DuBois told WBZ-TV this week.

If that isn't the ultimate in futile, fainting-couch feminism, I'm not sure what is.

DuBois also complained that she had heard teen boys joke with teen girls that they were "general hookers" while using the door.

Of course, DuBois is positioning herself as a crusader against sex-based harassment and patriarchy. But attitudes like hers—which treat women as excessively fragile beings, and which posit that female "dignity" is diminished by even so slight an association with sex work as walking under a door that says "hooker"—just props up old-fashioned and patriarchal ideas about sex and gender.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post stated that Hooker had famously defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee in battle, when it's really the other way around. (We should have paid more attention to those Ken Burns documentaries after all.) The opening paragraph has been edited to remove this reference.

New Orleans Threatens Man with Jail for Mural Replicating Trump’s Crass ‘Grab Them by the Pussy’ Comments

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 12:50:00 -0400

A property owner in New Orleans is being threatened with fines and even jail time for hosting a mural visually recreating a famous—and famously crass—quote by President Donald Trump about grabbing women by their lady parts. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Louisiana has filed suit to protect Neal Morris, the property owner, from any punishment from the City of New Orleans for not getting the city's approval to paint some controversial speech on a mural on a warehouse he owns. According to the ACLU complaint, Morris commissioned a mural on his property last November that partly illustrated parts of the now-well-known quotes by Trump recorded by Access Hollywood: "I moved on her like a bitch. She's now got big phony tits and everything. I just start kissing them. I don't even wait. And when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy." Prior to commissioning the mural, Morris visited City Hall in New Orleans to find out what their approval process was for murals. According to the ACLU lawsuit, the city was unable to provide the information he was seeking, so he went forward with the mural. After the mural went up, he started getting press coverage. That's when he got a threatening letter from the City of New Orleans Department of Safety and Permits. The letter informed him that his mural violated city zoning laws. Murals were not permitted in residential historic districts. The letter further threatened him with possible fines and jail time for each day the mural remained up. However, the ACLU says the section of code Morris is accused of violating does not actually exist. The city's zoning laws do not have a section on prohibited signs and does not have a blanket prohibition on murals in historic districts. Morris sent a letter to the city asking for clarification and received no response. The city does have rules for putting up murals, even if they apparently couldn't explain them to Morris when he asked for them. The rules themselves present other legal issues. The city requires murals to go through an extensive advance review process that includes approval of the contents of the mural. Failure to properly navigate the city's approval process can lead to minimum fines of $500 and a maximum of 150 days of jail time. The ACLU argues that "any person who exercises her right to free expression by painting a mural on her property—without first obtaining government permission—faces criminal punishment. This is, by definition, a prior restraint on speech." They further note that the mural regulations are selectively enforced. A mural by Yoko Ono was recently painted on the side of a museum without going through any sort of permitting process. The ACLU also argues this permitting system lacks due process, has undefined standards, and lacks a transparent process by which people get murals approved. Essentially the lawsuit argues that people who want to put up murals are subject to the whims of unaccountable government officials. And they treat murals differently from signs so they can charge more money ($500 vs. $265). Morris and the ACLU are seeking an injunction stopping New Orleans from enforcing the mural permitting process. This is far from the first time that sign permitting processes have been used to try to censor politically oriented speech or art. The City of St. Louis tangled with Jim Roos and tried to use sign ordinances to make him remove a massive mural on the side of a building protesting the abuse of eminent domain. Ultimately the city lost the battle when a federal appeals court ruled in 2011 that their restrictions were "impermissibly content-based."[...]

City Threatens to Sue Online Gadfly for Complaining About Bad Smells

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 12:20:00 -0400

When I was a reporter for a South Carolina newspaper in the late 1980s, I wrote a story that delved into possible explanations for the sulfurous smell that often assaulted me as I drove from Charleston to North Charleston. Was it swamp gas? Sewage? Fumes from a local paper plant? The mayor of North Charleston was not pleased by the article, but no one threatened to sue me. Josh Harms, an Iowa web developer who complained online about the "horrible rotten blood and stale beer" odors emanating from a dog food factory in Sibley, was not so lucky. "If the web site is not taken down within ten days," Daniel DeKoter, a lawyer representing the city, said in a December 12 letter to Harms, "your next notice will be in the form of a lawsuit." DeKoter did not specify on what grounds the city might sue Harms, although he claimed Harms' website, which said "you can't escape the stench no matter where you are in town," "libels the city of Sibley, interferes with the recruitment of businesses and new residents, and negatively affects property values." In a letter he sent Harms a month later, DeKoter explained that "Iowa recognizes a type of lawsuit called 'slander of title,' which involves disparagement of real estate." By complaining about unpleasant smells in Sibley, DeKoter argued, Harms had committed that tort, leading to "a reduction in taxable value of the property that forms the city's tax base." After threatening to sue Harms for libeling land, DeKoter closed by assuring him that "this letter is not a threat of litigation and is not in any way intended to deter your exercise of your legal rights." According to a First Amendment lawsuit that the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa filed on Harms' behalf last week, DeKoter had already accomplished that goal on the city's behalf. Under the threat of legal action, Harms had edited his website,, in the hope of appeasing the city. For example, "He changed the answer to his question, 'Should you move to the Sibley, Iowa?' from 'Not Yet' to 'Only you can answer that.'" Harms added a sentence saying his intent was to "give you my opinion on both the good and the bad so that you can make an informed decision," and he added a list of good things about Sibley. He also noted that the odors associated with the Iowa Drying and Processing (IDP) plant, which had been the subject of multiple nuisance citations and litigation between the city and IDP, were not as obtrusive as they used to be. Shortly after Harms made those changes, Lana Bradstream, a reporter for The N'West Iowa Review, left a message for him, asking for an interview. Harms' website had attracted a lot of attention in town, and Bradstream wanted to ask Harms about the threats from the city. But according to the lawsuit, Harms decided not to make any public comments about the controversy after meeting with a lawyer from DeKoter's firm, who told Harms that talking to the press would not be in his best interest. Sibley Mayor Jerry Johnson and City Councilman Larry Pedley did talk to Bradstream, denying that they had authorized a cease-and-desist letter. But the official minutes of the December 11 city council meeting say officials "discussed a negative website regarding moving to Sibley," adding, "attorney sending letter to get it down." A local newspaper reported that City Administrator Glenn Anderson and City Clerk Susan Sembach "gave details about a website ( that voices concerns as a deterrent to someone considering moving to Sibley based on the IDP odor issue, that while still not 100% eliminated, has improved." The article said Anderson and Sembach "think they have determined who the perpetrat[...]