Jerry Falwell, Unintentional Free Speech Hero

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Let's take a short break from the Jerry Falwell posthumous pile-on to remember the one thing we can thank him for. As Hustler publisher and Falwell foe-turned-amicable sparring partner Larry Flynt pointed out yesterday:

The most important result of our relationship was the landmark decision from the Supreme Court that made parody protected speech, and the fact that much of what we see on television and hear on the radio today is a direct result of my having won that now famous case which Falwell played such an important role in.

Flynt's referring to the 1987 libel lawsuit the reverend filed after Hustler ran a spoof ad in which Falwell described having sex with his mother while "drunk off our God-fearing asses." The Supreme Court ruled 8-0 in favor of Flynt, upholding our First Amendment right to take the piss out of public figures. Amen to that! Now we return to the blowhard-bashing already in progress.

F-16 Pilot Ignites Massive Wildfire in New Jersey

A military pilot began a wildfire that now encompasses nearly 13,000 acres in New Jersey, forcing 2500 people to evacuate. Is New Jersey wildfire country?, you ask. It didn't used to be. Read more on The Blue Marble's Weird Weather Watch.

Last week, I wrote that the case, Parker v. District of Columbia, which repealed D.C.'s gun ban, is likely headed to the Supreme Court. The district's federal circuit court, which ruled in favor of Parker in March, denied D.C.'s request for review before the court's full panel of judges. (The case was originally heard before a three-judge panel.) The court's decision brought the case one step closer to a Supreme Court hearing. Parker marks the first time that a broad interpretation of the second amendment has been used to overturn a state's gun regulations. If the case is upheld before the high court, state gun laws across the nation could be in jeopardy.

Today, in an Op-ed in The Hill, Robert Levy, the man who wielded the second amendment, illuminates an interesting twist in the potential fate of Parker. Levy writes:

Washington, D.C., Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has the Second Amendment in his crosshairs. He faces a crucial choice over the next 90 days with major implications for residents in D.C. and across the country.

The crucial decision -- should Fenty fight the case and risk a victory for Parker before the Supreme Court, which would have far-reaching implications for state gun laws across the nation, or change the District's gun laws, avoid a Supreme court battle, and face the music at home? Mayor Fenty will likely not be making this decision on his own. Anti-gun groups across the nation will urge Fenty not to appeal to the Supreme Court, while his constituents will push for the opposite. D.C.'s mayor is left to decide whether he acts to serve the interests of his citizens or those of the nation. I don't envy him.

There was a mini-firestorm Monday when I reported that the average price for a gallon of gas is at its highest level ever and asked SUV owners to justify their choice of car in the comments. You can see the results here.

Today, a follow up. A study led by consumer groups shows that American households spend $1,000 more per year on gasoline than they did just five years ago.

Click the chart for a larger version.

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You know how every so often there is a news story about how ExxonMobil has set a new record for quarterly profits? They did it again in the first quarter of 2007. Their earnings from January to March of 2007 exceeded their already astronomical quarterly earnings record by 10%. Total take in three months: $9.3 billion.

Thoughts?

Fun Tidbit from Comey's Testimony

I wrote yesterday about how former Deputy Attorney General James Comey's testimony before Congress shed even more light on why Alberto Gonzales is unfit to be Attorney General, and why Gonzales' behavior during the warrantless wiretapping episode rendered his nomination disgraceful from the beginning. (For an in-depth examination of all of Comey's testimony, see Glenn Greenwald.)

Today, I found this entertaining tidbit from Comey's testimony. Comey is speaking with Arlen Specter, senator from Pennsylvania.

SPECTER: Can you give us an example of an exercise of good judgment by Alberto Gonzales?

[Gap in testimony.]

SPECTER: Let the record show a very long pause.
COMEY: It's hard -- I mean, I'm sure there are examples. I'll think of some. I mean, it's hard when you look back. We worked together for eight months.
SPECTER: That's a famous statement of President Eisenhower about Vice President Nixon: "Say something good." "Give me two weeks."
COMEY: Right.

Full transcript available here.

The Worst of Jerry Falwell

Timothy Noah let loose on Jerry Falwell yesterday in Slate. Calling the late reverend a "bigot, a reactionary, a liar, and a fool," Noah let Falwell's own statements prove him right. If you've ever wanted a compendium of Jerry Falwell's most intolerant and outrageous statements, you now have one.

On Sept. 11: "The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way—all of them who have tried to secularize America—I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"
On Martin Luther King Jr.: "I must personally say that I do question the sincerity and nonviolent intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. James Farmer, and others, who are known to have left-wing associations."
On feminists: "I listen to feminists and all these radical gals. ... These women just need a man in the house. That's all they need. Most of the feminists need a man to tell them what time of day it is and to lead them home. And they blew it and they're mad at all men. Feminists hate men. They're sexist. They hate men; that's their problem."
On Islam: "I think Mohammed was a terrorist. I read enough of the history of his life, written by both Muslims and non-Muslims, that he was a violent man, a man of war."

The whole list is very good -- it hits on gays, Jews, and global warming, among other things. Check it out.

When the Republicans held their first debate two weeks ago, I was disturbed by the facile interpretations of Islamic terror that they presented. I wrote:

It has always bugged me that these guys misunderstand or understand and then deliberately misrepresent the reasons why certain factions of the Muslim world hate the United States. They don't hate our freedoms. Okay, maybe a tiny number of al Qaeda types do, but the 70 percent of the Islamic world (rough estimate) that currently tells pollsters that they can't stand the U.S. don't hate our freedoms; they hate that we have supported pro-Western dictatorships in their region, they hate that we reliably and sometimes unthinkingly support Israel, and they hate that we invaded a country that posed no threat to us and completely destroyed it.

The more insidious cousin of the "they hate our freedoms" explanation is the "it's in their religion" explanation. When Republicans argue vaguely that Islam orders followers to kill infidels, it amounts to saying the West is at war with Islam, and that our fights in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in the global war on terror really are a clash of civilizations. (One might even call them a "crusade.") Worse than that, though, is that we lump all Muslims together -- in with Osama bin Laden and his henchmen, we throw millions and millions of peace-loving Muslims who might be convinced that the United States and not their violent, extremist enemies hold the keys to freedom and prosperity.

So when Tom Tancredo said yesterday that al Qaeda is trying to kill us "because it is a dictate of their religion," he needs to know he is doing far more harm than good to our interests. Fueling the sense in the Muslim world that their religion is our enemy -- and not its most wackjob adherents -- makes the prospect of peace in the region all the more dim.

One Last Bit of Military-MySpace Outrage

Elizabeth blogged yesterday about the military banning the use of YouTube by the troops. I wanted to add just one note about why I find the situation particularly obnoxious -- it comes on the heels of the military itself deciding it wants to use YouTube as a PR tool, hosting its own videos so everyday American citizens get a look at the "real war" the "media doesn't cover." By posting videos of its own but hypocritically banning videos posted by the troops, the Pentagon effectively becomes the censor/filter that it claims the media is. Obnoxious, right?

Is MySpace Your Space? Not If You're In The Military

Just two weeks after the Army restricted troops from blogging, on Friday the Department of Defense announced that social networking, from MySpace to YouTube, is now off limits.

The memo says that the use of social networking and recreational websites "strains network capabilities and present operational risks." Never mind that they provide a connection for troops to family, friends, home.

The sites to be blocked worldwide include MySpace and YouTube as well as MTV, Pandora, 1.fm, Live365 Internet Radio, Photobucket, hi5, Metacafe, ifilm, BlackPlanet, StupidVideos, and FileCabi. Some curious choices. BlackPlanet, the "largest online community for African Americans," is now offline, undergoing maintenance. Photo-sharing sites, funny videos, a few music sharing outfits, all banned. Why not iTunes? You can get music there too. Some say the list is longer than the 13 announced last week and this is only the beginning.

YouTube, for one, plans to meet with the DoD to discuss the ban. For now troops overseas, and those on base here at home, can't access their own social networks, cutting off yet another lifeline for those who need them the most.

Tim Coil is a Gulf War veteran with PTSD. In early March, he and his wife visited the Stow-Munroe Falls Public Library in Ohio so that his wife, Yvette, could study for a test and he could do some reading. While they were there, they saw two military recruiters approaching potential enlistees in a nearby room. Yvette Coil wrote some messages on 3x5 cards: "Don't fall for it! Military recruiters lie," and "It's not honorable to fight for a lying president." She says that before she displayed the cards through the window, she asked a volunteer for permission. The volunteer directed her to a staff member who said she could display the cards as long as there was "no confrontation."

There was a confrontation. One of the recruiters asked who put the cards in the window, and Coil said she did it. He then asked for her name, which she refused to give. He then told her and her husband that they could not display the cards anymore. At that point, Mr. Coil questioned whether his freedom of speech was being curtailed, and the recruiter went to find the library director. Ms. Coil placed more cards against the window.

The library director told the Coils that they were disturbing library patrons and could not continue displaying cards. Ms. Coil mentioned that she was a library patron, and the recruiters were disturbing her. The police came and arrested Mr. Coil for disorderly conduct. He has refused to make a plea, and he has refused to pay $100 in court costs. He will appear in court on June 5.