A group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans has asked Texas to issue a license plate featuring the Confederate battle flag, which many consider an emblem of slavery. Texas said no, and the sons are suing because the state accepts other messages for specialty plates.
The sons have a point.
North Carolina issues a license reading, "Choose Life." When lawmakers there refused to allow a competing abortion-rights message, the American Civil Liberties Union sued. The ACLU has a point, as well.
States have jumped on the slippery slope of letting various business and social interests promote themselves on the specialty license plates. Now they have slid into the U.S. Supreme Court, which has taken the Sons of Confederate Veterans case.
The justices have examined license plates before. In the 1977 Wooley v. Maynard case, Jehovah's Witnesses held that the New Hampshire state motto stamped on all license plates, "Live Free or Die," offended their religious convictions. The court ruled that New Hampshire residents had a right to cover up those words on their plates.
How about no messages on state-issued license plates? Or perhaps limiting them to such neutral bragging as Wild, Wonderful (West Virginia), Evergreen State (Washington), Sweet Home (Alabama) or Garden State (New Jersey)?
I'll admit to a soft spot for environmental messages — such as calls on Florida plates to protect whales, dolphins, sea turtles, manatees and largemouth bass — but not for blatant advertising. Sports teams are big businesses, and they have specialty plates.
Rhode Island offers a plate featuring Mr. Potato Head, marketed by the local toymaker Hasbro. The fees car owners pay for such plates may go to a good cause (in Mr. Potato Head's case, a food bank), and states take their cut. Still, it's an ad.
But when license plates take on an obvious political tinge, sparks fly. And that's why a blanket "no" to specialty plates is the right way to go.
Corey Brettschneider, professor of political science at Brown University, doesn't agree. He sees license plate messages as "mixed speech." Because the United States allows a freedom of expression unmatched by any other country, the state has an obligation to defend its values, he writes in his book "When the State Speaks, What Should It Say?: How Democracies Can Protect Expression and Promote Equality."
Brettschneider believes that Texas was correct in turning down the plates displaying the confederate flag but that North Carolina was wrong in rejecting the abortion rights plates.
I asked him, what about the argument that many see the confederate flag more as a historical artifact than as an endorsement of slavery? Brettschneider responded that the flag's history, including its use in opposing civil rights legislation, suggests otherwise. And even if the intent of some of its backers is pure, the considerations are bigger than the views of a private person. Texas would be tied to the symbol, he said. "Texas has a deep duty to avoid an association between the state's message and a racist message."
But who speaks for the state? What happens when one set of officials is replaced by another with entirely different interpretations? "The Constitution requires deference to the democratic process," Brettschneider answered, "but it also sometimes requires limits on that process."
We do agree that bumper stickers are a great invention. They are a frugal way to advertise one's religion, preferred candidate, dog's breed, football team or sense of humor. State approval not required.
As for specialized messages on license plates, I persist in opposing them all. Professor Brettschneider's approach is well-constructed and certainly more nuanced, but managing its tensions would be a hard job.
(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00
I have never laughed so bitterly as I did while reading a recent lead editorial by the great pretender-defenders of free speech at The New York Times. Paying obligatory lip service to the 10 cartoonists and staffers of the Paris satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo who were slaughtered for offending Islam, the Times intoned: "It is absurd to suggest that the way to avoid terrorist attacks is to let the terrorists dictate standards in a democracy."
My GPS tracker of journalistic hypocrisy immediately identified the Times editorial board's high-altitude location — ensconced atop their own Mt. Everest of absurdity and self-unawareness.
The Fishwrap of Record priggishly refuses to print any of the Islam-provoking art that cost the brave French journalists their lives. In case you forgot (as its own editorialists have), the Times cowered in 2005-2006 when the Mohammed cartoons conflagration first ignited. And the publication is capitulating again.
Behold this groveling bow to terrorists dictating democracy's standards: "Under Times standards," a newspaper spokesman said in a statement this week, "we do not normally publish images or other material deliberately intended to offend religious sensibilities. After careful consideration, Times editors decided that describing the cartoons in question would give readers sufficient information to understand today's story."
So says the paper that blithely published a Catholic-bashing photo of the Virgin Mary covered in elephant dung and defended the taxpayer-funded "Piss Christ" exhibit thusly: "A museum is obliged to challenge the public as well as to placate it, or else the museum becomes a chamber of attractive ghosts, an institution completely disconnected from art in our time."
While they feign free-speech fortitude, what Times editorialists really don't want to see is their heads completely disconnected from their necks. Neither do editors at The Boston Globe, ABC News, NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC, who won't publish any possibly, remotely upsetting images of Mohammed, either.
But these quivering double-talkers aren't even the most laughable of Cartoon Jihad cowards. The Associated Press wins the pusillanimity prize after invoking the sensitivity card to explain why it refrained from publishing "deliberately provocative" Mo toons — even though the media conglomerate had been selling deliberately provocative "Piss Christ" photos on its website. After the Washington Examiner's Tim Carney pointed out the double standards, AP tried to cover its tracks by yanking the pic.
More absurdity? The New York Daily News pixelated a Mo toon carried by Charlie Hebdo as if it were pornography. CNN did the same in 2006, when it explained it was censoring the offending images "in respect for Islam" and "because the network believes its role is to cover the events surrounding the publication of the cartoons while not unnecessarily adding fuel to the controversy itself."
And therein lies the cartoon capitulationists' grand self-delusion. This isn't about cartoons.
Reminder: The First Mo Toons Wars were instigated in 2005 by demagogue imams who toured Egypt stoking hysteria with faked anti-Islam comic strips attributed to the Danish Jyllands-Posten newspaper (whose actual cartoons criticizing Islam were far more innocuous). The real agenda: Islamist thugs were attempting to pressure Denmark over the International Atomic Energy Agency's decision to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council for continuing with its nuclear research program. From Afghanistan to Egypt to Lebanon to Libya, Pakistan, Turkey and in between, hundreds died in insane riots under the pretext of protecting Mohammed from Western slight. Courageous journalists who stood up to the madness were silenced, jailed and threatened with beheading.
Cartoons did not start militant Islam's fire. Neither did the Bushes, Israel, the Satanic Verses, the Pope, beauty pageants, KFC restaurants in the Middle East, Mohammed teddy bears or a YouTube video.
The Religion of Perpetual Outrage hates all infidels for all reasons for all time. The targeting of Mohammed cartoonists is a convenient excuse to feed the eternal flame of radical Islamists' hatred of the West. If it isn't cartoons, it's something else. The grudge is everlasting.
Instead of acknowledging their gutlessness in the face of Koran-inspired Muslim vigilantes, press pontificators cloak their fear in the mumbo-jumbo of "tolerance." They demand that the rest of us pledge fealty to their selective multi-culti sensitivities lest we be branded "Islamophobes." And then they have the audacity to play "I am free-speech Spartacus" with those who risked life and limb to speak truth to Islamic supremacist power.
Sit down, fakers. You fakin'.
(Syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin is the daughter of Filipino Immigrants. She was born in Philadelphia, raised in southern New Jersey and now lives with her husband and daughter in Colorado. Her weekly column is carried by more than 100 newspapers.)
Last Updated on Thursday, 15 January 2015 11:38
In 1914, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst mounted a yellow-journalism crusade to demonize the entire genus of cannabis plants. Why? To sell newspapers, of course, but also because he was heavily invested in wood-pulp newsprint, and he wanted to shut down competition from paper made from hemp — a species of cannabis that is a distant cousin to marijuana but produces no high. Hearst simply lumped hemp and marijuana together as the devil's own product, and he was not subtle about generating public fear of all things cannabis. As Mother Jones reported in 2009, Hearst's papers ran articles about "reefer-crazed blacks raping white women and playing 'voodoo satanic' jazz music."
Actually, while hemp had been a popular and necessary crop for decades before the crackdown on all cannabis plants, marijuana was largely unknown in America at the time and little used, but its exotic name and unfamiliarity made it an easy target for fear mongers. The next wave of demonization came in 1936 with the release of an exploitation film classic, "Reefer Madness." It was originally produced by a church group to warn parents to keep their children in check, lest they smoke pot — a horror that, as the film showed, would drive kids to rape, manslaughter, insanity and suicide.
Then Congress enthusiastically climbed aboard the anti-pot political bandwagon, passing a law that effectively banned the production, sale and consumption of marijuana and by default hemp. Hearst finally got his way, and the production of cannabis in the U.S. was outlawed. Signed by FDR on Aug. 2, 1937, this federal prohibition remains in effect today. Although it has been as ineffectual as Prohibition, the 1919-1933 experiment to stop people from consuming "intoxicating liquors," this ban, for the most part, continues despite its staggering costs.
Until recent years, prohibitionists had been able to intimidate most reform-minded politicians with the simple threat to brand them as soft on drugs. But finally, with the help of some reform-minded activists and the general public, our politicians are starting to come to their senses on cannabis.
At the state level, 32 states have legalized medical marijuana in some form or another. And Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon have legalized recreational uses of marijuana. While these are huge steps, what is truly remarkable is what has taken place in Congress just in the last year.
Tucked deep in the 2013 Farm Bill was a little amendment introduced by Representatives Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado, Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, and Thomas Massie, a Republican from Kentucky. The amendment allows universities, colleges and State Agriculture Departments to grow industrial hemp for research in states that have made it legal to do so. California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia already have laws on their books to allow for this.
The most recent step forward to come out of Congress was in the last-minute federal spending bill in December. Democratic Rep. Sam Farr and Republican Rep. Dana Rohrbacher, both from California, included a provision in the bill to stop the DEA and DOJ from going after states that legalize medical marijuana. They can no longer conduct raids on licensed marijuana outlets that service patients who use marijuana to treat everything from the side effects of cancer treatments to epileptic seizures. The marijuana farmers are now safe to cultivate the plant, and the patients themselves are now safe from prosecution for possessing it.
Marijuana Policy Project and Vote Hemp are two organizations that are working tirelessly with the public and our lawmakers to change the laws and regulations surrounding cannabis. To learn more about how these groups are making a difference and to help get involved, connect with them at www.mpp.org and www.VoteHemp.com.
(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00
Western media are declaring the million-man march in Paris, where world leaders paraded down Boulevard Voltaire in solidarity with France, a victory over terrorism. Isn't it pretty to think so.
Unfortunately, the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, its military-style execution, the escape of the assassins, and their blazing end in a shootout Friday was a triumph of terrorism not seen since 9/11.
Unlike the Boston Marathon bombing where the Tsarnaevs did not know or care whom they maimed or killed, the attack on Charlie Hebdo by the Kouachi brothers was purposeful and targeted terrorism. And like a flash of lightning in the dark, it exposed the moral contradictions and confusion of the West. During the slaughter the Kouachis shouted "Allahu akbar," said they had "avenged the Prophet," and spoke of ties to al-Qaida.
And the first response of President Francois Hollande? These terrorists "have nothing to do with the Muslim religion."
This is political correctness of a rare order. Perhaps terminal.
Linking arms with Hollande in solidarity and unity Sunday was Bibi Netanyahu who declared, "I wish to tell to all French and European Jews — Israel is your home." Colleagues urged French Jews to flee to Israel.
Marching on the other side of Hollande was Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who seeks to have Netanyahu's Israel indicted in the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Gaza. Solidarity!
In chanting "Je Suis Charlie," the marchers showed support for a magazine French Muslims rightly believe is racist and anti-Islamic.
Yet, Marine Le Pen, leading in the polls for the French presidency, was blacklisted from marching for remarks about Muslim immigration that are benign compared to what Charlie Hebdo regularly publishes.
All weekend long, journalists called it an imperative for us all to defend the lewd and lurid blasphemies of the satirical magazine. But as journalist Christopher Dickey points out, Muslims in the banlieues wonder why insulting the Prophet is a protected freedom in France, while denying the Holocaust can get you a prison term.
Hypocrisy is indeed the tribute that vice pays to virtue.
Moreover, all this chatter about freedom of speech and of the press misses the point. It was not the right to publish that provoked the slaughter, but the content of what was published. When Aaron Burr challenged Alexander Hamilton to a duel, and killed him, he was not attacking the First Amendment freedom of the press, but rather Hamilton, for defamation of Burr's character, which had helped to destroy Burr's career.
What the commentators seem to be saying about the assault on Charlie Hebdo is that not only is what is spoken or published protected by the First Amendment, but those who print and publish vile things must never suffer violent consequences.
People who believe this is attainable are living in a dream world, and may not be long for this one. Even as children you knew there were words you did not use about someone else's girlfriend, mother, family, faith or race, if you did not want a thrashing.
That same day millions marched in France, Saudi Arabia was administering 50 lashes to blogger Raif Badawi, convicted of insulting Saudi clergy, the first of 1,000 lashes over 20 weeks in addition to his 10-year jail sentence. Had Badawi been guilty of apostasy, he would have been executed.
Welcome to the new Middle East, same as the old Middle East.
And Islam and the Prophet were not the only targets of Charlie Hebdo. Catholicism was also. In one cartoon, Charlie Hebdo depicts the First and Second Persons of the Blessed Trinity in incestuous activity.
And we all supposed to march in solidarity with that?
A liberal secular West might find this a democratic duty. Not all will. When people are using the First Amendment to assault the somewhat older Second Commandment, "Though shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain," they should not be surprised when devout followers of Abrahamic faiths take a pass.
These Islamic terrorists are sending us a message: In the post-Christian West, Christians may turn the other check at insults to their God and faith. We are not turn-the-other cheek people. Insult our faith, mock the Prophet, and we kill you.
An awakening and rising Islamic world — a more militant faith than Christianity or secularism — is saying to the West: We want you out of our part of the world, and we are coming to your part of the world, and you cannot stop us.
And Francois Hollande's response? Show solidarity with Islam by ostracizing Marine Le Pen. This is the true heir of Edouard Daladier of Munich fame.
The Kouachi brothers sent yet another message. If you are a young Muslim willing to fight and die for Islam, do not waste your life as some suicide bomber in the wilds of Syria or Iraq. Do as we did; shock and awe your enemies right inside the belly of the beast.
(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00
Recently, New Hampshire missed the chance to join the company of other civilized states and democratic nations and abolish the death penalty. A bill to abolish capital punishment passed overwhelmingly in the state House and Governor Hassan promised to sign it. But, it was defeated by a tie in the state Senate. This does not exactly constitute widespread support for the death penalty.
Historically, New Hampshire has imposed the death penalty sparingly and reluctantly. This trend goes back to colonial times. In fact, our last hanging was in 1939. Today, only certain types of murder are deemed "capital," including killing a police officer or "murder for hire."
The Legislature voted to abolish the death sentence years ago but the bill was vetoed by Governor Jeanne Shaheen. Also, New Hampshire changed its method of execution from hanging to lethal injection. However, in case lethal injection cannot be "conveniently" carried out, we can switch back to hanging.
Given the problems with obtaining lethal injection drugs (European countries do not want to sell them to the USA if they are used in executions), many states are reconsidering how they dispose of those on death row. But in N.H., where many conservatives are reluctant to fund education and social services, one wonders if down the road, some "anti-tax, anti-spend" governor or corrections commissioner might not well say "well, legal injection machines and the drugs could run to a few thousand dollars. I can buy rope at a hardware store for $9.99!"
Why do we even have the death penalty on the books, considering we are so reluctant to use it? Currently, the state has just one prisoner under sentence of death, an African-American who killed a police officer, which, in N.H., constitutes "capital murder." But, he had a public defender — like most on death row.
N.H. had a rich white man, with a private lawyer, who also committed capital murder by hiring a "hit man" and he got a life sentence. Is there race or class consideration in the imposition of the "ultimate sanction?" Is our justice system really the "best money can buy?" Statistics show that most people on death row in the U.S. are male, poor, or people of color.
One can sympathize with supporters of capital punishment. After all, we are dealing with the most horrible crimes. It is not that I feel sorry for these offenders. If one of my loved ones were brutally murdered, I would probably want revenge. That is human. Perhaps if we really lived in a society with "equal justice for all," one might concede that such a society had the right to get rid of its worst predators.
But, we are not "there" yet. There have been innocent people executed in America. We can let someone out of prison but we cannot bring them back to life. Moreover, while many might feel some temporary satisfaction, it does not bring any victim back. In addition, it has been shown not to deter crime.
Some advocates of capital punishment talk about the cost of imprisonment. In most cases, however, it is actually cheaper to keep a criminal in prison for life than it is to execute him or her. There are multiple reasons for this including the appeals. Most people on death row are indigent so someone has to pay for appeals. Even people in favor of capital punishment do not want the wrong person executed.
Other advocates of the death penalty point to public safety but today, we have modern, high-tech, high-security prisons from which it is virtually impossible to escape. Society can be protected from its worst predators without resorting to killing them.
Finally, there are practical reasons for abolishing capital punishment. If a murder suspect is able to flee to many countries, including the E.U. countries or Canada, that country will not extradite the suspect unless it is certain that the death penalty will not be sought. These countries (and human rights organizations) consider capital punishment a violation of human rights. Incidentally, most countries that have abolished it have much lower crime rates than the U.S.A.
(Scott Cracraft is a U.S. citizen, taxpayer, veteran, and resident of Gilford.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00