The Obama administration has a lot of work to do in order to make good on its promise to be the most transparent presidency in history. Last year was the worst year yet for the administration’s censoring of government documents or outright denial of access to them under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) according to the Associated Press.
The recent analysis of data from the administration shows that the current occupants of the White House cited more legal exceptions to withhold material and refused a record number of times to quickly turn over files. Furthermore, the government’s own figures from 99 federal agencies show that little effort has been made to improve the way they release requested records.
Sunday was the start of Sunshine Week, when news organizations, throughout the country, promote open government and freedom of information. A recent Washington Post blog, marking the start of Sunshine Week, cited a report from the National Security Archives that found that 54 percent of all agencies have ignored directives from the president and Attorney General Eric Holder calling for a “presumption of disclosure” with FOIA requests. Those directives were issued in 2009.
According to the AP story, the Obama administration cited national security a record 8,496 times last year — a 57 percent increase over the previous year — in refusing to hand over documents amid increased public interest of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.
Citizens and journalists are not the only people having a hard time getting information from the White House. Last week McClatchy Newspapers reported that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is locked in a bitter dispute with the Obama administration over access to more than 9,000 top-secret documents. Those documents come from the George W. Bush administration and are considered key to the Senate’s ongoing investigation of the CIA’s cancelled detention and interrogation programs.
Regarding the government’s poor response to FOIA requests, Melanie Pustay, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy, told the Senate Judiciary Committee last week that the current requests “are more complex than they were before.”
"The public is frustrated and unhappy with the pace of responses and the amount of information provided,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said at the same hearing. "There's a common reaction for anybody who has any experience with it that it doesn't function well.”
While few would expect the National Security Agency to have a sense of humor, one would at least hope that they respect citizens' constitutional rights. But in the case of Dan McCall, owner of novelty goods company LibertyManiacs, the NSA is applying the sort of censorship one might find in China, North Korea or other less-democratic societies.
McCall is fighting back, suing for his right to mock the spy organization as well as other government departments.
LibertyManiacs sells shirts featuring the NSA logo with the caption “The NSA: The only part of the government that actually listens.” Other items include mugs with slogans like “Department of Homeland Stupidity.”
The government sent a cease-and-desist order against against distributor Zazzle in 2011, after which the company stopped selling McCall’s products. Zazzle explained, “Unfortunately, it appears that your product, The NSA, contains content that is in conflict with one or more of our acceptable content guidelines. We will be removing this product from the Zazzle Marketplace shortly.”
McCall joked about the issue, saying, “Well, on the positive side I could get the unenviable honorific of being ‘the 1st man to receive a cease and desist from the National Security Agency for telling a joke.’”
But McCall, represented by Public Citizen, is not joking with his lawsuit against the DHS and NSA for violation of First Amendment rights.
Said attorney Paul Alan Levy, “The agencies’ attempts to forbid McCall from displaying and selling his merchandise are inconsistent with the First Amendment. It’s bad enough that these agencies have us under constant surveillance; forbidding citizens from criticizing them is beyond the pale.”
Public Citizen posted a statement on their website saying, “Public Citizen is asking the court to declare that several provisions of the National Security Agency Act cannot be enforced to forbid McCall from displaying his merchandise, and that two other laws are unconstitutionally overbroad because they violate the First Amendment by saying no one can “mutilate or alter the seal of any department or agency of the United States.”
Although Zazzle dropped McCall’s wares, they are still available at CafePress.com.
Passing out free copies of the United States Constitution may seem like a reasonable way to celebrate Constitution Day; but in an apparent infringement of the Constitution’s own First Amendment, one California college prevented a student from doing just that.
On September 17, Robert Van Tuinen of Modesto Junior College reportedly stood outside the student resource center handing out pamphlets of the Constuition for approximately 10 minutes before campus police approached him and demanded that he cease.
According to college regulations, Tuinen was only permitted to hand out materials in the designated “free speech zone,” implying that free speech is unacceptable elsewhere at the school.
Even in the “free speech zone,” Tuinen would have needed to schedule the event days in advance, so he was unable to continue.
A video of the incident shows Tuinen asking, “Don’t I have free speech, sir?” after which a police officer informs him that he must leave, either willingly or forcibly.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) organization stepped in once they learned of the incident, and sent a letter to the college requesting an abandonment of current policies. The letter read:
“The video of Modesto Junior College police and administrators stubbornly denying a public college student’s right to freely pass out pamphlets to fellow students — copies of the Constitution, no less! — should send a chill down the spine of every American. Worse, FIRE’s research shows that Modesto Junior College is hardly alone in its fear of free speech. In fact, one in six of America’s 400 largest and most prestigious colleges have ‘free speech zones’ limiting where speech can take place. This video brings to life the deeply depressing reality of the climate for free speech on campus.”
According to the video, Tuinen was hoping to garner enough interest to start a chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty at his school. With this new publicity, the school may have inadvertently helped the student accomplish his goal.
A 45-year-old Russian artist is seeking political asylum in France after Russian police raided his exhibition and confiscated a painting he made of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in ladies underwear.
Konstantin Altunin’s painting shows Putin wearing a negligee with Medvedev beside him wearing a bra and panties. Putin appears to be doing Medvedev’s hair.
Authorities took this and three other painting belonging to Altunin. The raid took place Tuesday in Saint Petersburg, host of next week’s G20 summit, at the newly opened Museum of the Authorities.
Altunin fled Russia when he learned the exhibition was shut down. Police detained the organizers of the events Tuesday and reportedly questioned them all night.
Now in Paris, Altunin told the press that he requested political asylum and is in the process of gathering the necessary documents, according to Raw Story.
“Yesterday I went to the prefecture in Paris … and made this request," Altunin said. "I now need to go through the procedure and bring written confirmation of where I am staying.”
He believed authorities would have found his work humorous and was surprised at their reaction.
“They just said ‘We don’t like it’ and sealed up the doors and that was it," he said. "I don’t think there is such backwardness in any other country."
He said Russian authorities characterized his work as “extremist” and he feared criminal charges would be brought against him.
“They have already said directly that my exhibition is extremist — that’s a very serious charge,” he said.
“He is not charged with anything, but if the authorities confiscated the paintings, they could do anything,” said Alexander Donskoi, director of the Museum of the Authorities.
Organizers of the exhibition commissioned the painting, which was done in 2011, when Putin and Medvedev announced they would be swapping places, again, as president and prime minister.
“It is absolutely innocent irony,” Altunin said.
“This is an [illegal] seizure,” Donskoi said. “We have been given no formal documents banning us from operating and no receipt confirming our petty cash was seized.”
Russian authorities are having the paintings examined.
“We received information from a citizen that the images in the museum broke the law," said police spokesman Vyacheslav Stepchenko. "Police confiscated four paintings and currently experts are examining them."
Some of the artwork made explicit references to Russia’s new anti-gay ban on "homosexual propaganda." Altunin reportedly made another painting of Putin with a rainbow flag.
In a heavy-handed move that sounds more like China or Cuba, the British government forced The Guardian news site to destroy a copy of some files made by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The Guardian's editor Alan Rusbridger recalled in an article today how the British government, about a month ago, threatened legal action against the news site unless it either destroyed U.S. classified documents or gave them to British authorities.
Rusbridger recalled that an unidentified British official told him: "You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back."
Rusbridger added that two "security experts" from Government Communications Headquarters, the British equivalent of NSA, visited the The Guardian's London offices.
In The Guardian's basement, U.K. government officials made sure computers which contained material provided by Snowden were physically pulverized.
One of the British officials joked about the state censorship by saying: "We can call off the black helicopters" and "You've had your debate. There's no need to write any more."
One of the officials claimed to represent the views of British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Ironically, Prime Minister Cameron's Conservative Party claims that "Cameron's philosophy has always been making sure people are in control and that politicians are their servants, not their masters. His belief in social responsibility, not state control, as the best way to solve problems is already evident..."
Rusbridger said that he told British officials that the The Guardian "did not have to do our reporting from London," inferring that British authorities were on notice that The Guardian would report on Snowden leaks outside British jurisdiction.
The journalist who has reported the most on Snowden for The Guardian is Glenn Greenwald, who lives in Brazil, a country which condemned the U.K. today for detaining Greenwald's partner David Miranda for nine hours.
Sources: The Guardian and Conservatives.com
11Former "Growing Pains" Star Kirk Cameron Fights Facebook and YouTube to Get Religious Movie Trailer Unblocked
Actor Kirk Cameron successfully rallied fans against Facebook and YouTube recently after the sites allegedly censored the trailer for his new Christian movie “Unstoppable.”
Both Facebook and YouTube removed the blocks for the movie trailer Friday, though the sites originally flagged it as “abusive, unsafe and spammy” and “spam, scam and deceptive,” according to MSN.
Cameron, the former star of the television show “Growing Pains,” said he could not post a link to the trailer on Facebook or upload the video on YouTube, according to The Wrap.
Cameron expressed outrage at the blocks.
"’Unstoppable’ is my most personal film about faith, hope, and love, and about why God allows bad things to happen to good people,” Cameron wrote. “What is 'abusive' or 'unsafe' about that?!"
Cameron asked his fans to share his social media post and gain the attention of Facebook and YouTube.
"Please help us encourage Facebook to unblock our website soon by sharing this post with your friends so more people can see this transparent, faith-building project," he wrote.
After, Facebook and YouTube apparently lifted their bans on his trailer, Cameron thanked his fans.
"Victory!! Friends, you did it!" he wrote. "Because of your firm, loving and clear voice, not only did Facebook welcome us back, YouTube also removed its block on our 'Unstoppable' movie trailer. We are back online with full access."
“Unstoppable” will be released in theaters in late September.
Police in Sydney, Australia, repeatedly turned up at an art exhibition titled “101 Vagina” to make censorship suggestions to photographer Philip Werner.
The exhibition, based on Werner’s coffee table book, was on display in Redfern from June 27 to 30. Werner said police showed up four time at the 107 Projects Gallery.
“The first time they came they apparently weren’t acting on a complaint,” Werner said, “I don’t know why they came, maybe just to check it out. And they had a look around, realized that it wasn’t porn, realized that nothing was displayed in the windows, and left again. The second time they came, apparently they responded to a complaint that the artwork could be seen through the windows and they suggested, though not demanded … that the windows be covered.”
The next two times the police showed up they were asking the gallery to cover its glass door. The gallery complied with all their requests.
The City of Sydney council said they received two complaints about the obscenity of Werner’s work. It is unknown how many complaints the police received.
Werner told artsHub that if the people who complained would actually come inside and view the exhibition they might finally wrapped their head about the concept. “If they’d come in and actually read the stories and actually understood what it was about even they might have had a different take on it.”
In a NSFW promotional video, Werner said the work is about “… breaking down the taboo around vaginas and around genitalia and sexuality in general, and creating some kind of a counterpoint to the media which is very skewed towards certain body types … We’re all so different. What that means is that we’re also all normal.”
There were also complaints that the posters Werner created for the event were also obscene.
“Complaints like this show that we still have a long way to go in the removing of this taboo and in feeling comfortable with our bodies and our sexuality,” said Werner. “We were all conceived and born through the vagina, vaginas are sacred, not obscene!”
Fox News correspondent, Todd Starnes, was the target of censorship after Facebook deleted a lengthy post about his political beliefs.
“I’m about as politically incorrect as you can get," Starnes wrote. "I’m wearing an NRA ball cap, eating a Chick-fil-A sandwich, reading a Paula Deen cookbook and sipping a 20-ounce sweet tea while sitting in my Cracker Barrel rocking chair with the Gather Vocal Band singing 'Jesus Saves' on the stereo and a Gideon’s Bible in my pocket. Yessir, I’m politically incorrect and happy as a june bug.”
Facebook blocked Starnes’ access to Facebook and deleted the post, putting in its place the warning, “We removed something you posted. We removed this from Facebook because it violates our community standards.”
The news led to outrage as supporters — both of Starnes and of the First Amendment — voiced their disgust over the deleted post. Apparently those opinions, unlike Starnes' opinion, were acceptable because Facebook listened. The company restored the post and gave Starnes access to his account.
It is peculiar that Facebook opted to delete Starnes’ post. Posts like the ones that Starnes made are a dime a dozen on Facebook. One would not have to go far to find a comment about Paula Deen, Cracker Barrel, the NRA or any combination thereof. In fact, nearly every one of the things that Starnes mentioned already has a Facebook page.
On second thought, the only group that does not have an official page is the june bug. Perhaps it was Starnes’ comment about the large beetle that ticked off Facebook.
What is even stranger about Facebook’s actions is that the company apparently thought that banning the post would go over well. Censorship is almost universally reviled on the internet, and censoring political opinions on a social media web site is odd. Facebok has been a platform for political movements for years. What would be the point of deleting such a harmless comment?
On a daily basis, an ad for retail clothing store H&M featuring Beyonce in a bikini has been covered up by locals in New York City’s Lower East Side.
With many Orthodox Jewish residents in the neighborhood, the bikini-clad Beyonce at the M14A bus stop somehow keeps getting covered in paper and tape day after day. Then, true to form, someone comes along and rips the stuff off only for it to reappear shortly after.
“There is a billboard of Beyoncé at the bus stop at grand and Columbia – one of the H&M ones of her in a bikini. Every day someone tapes a cover over it, now it is opaque sheeting and every day people rip it down,” a source told PerezHilton.com. “You can see what is left of yesterday as the white covering at the bottom of the ad. We suspect the same modesty war that exists in Williamsburg but it is daily now.”
Calling it a “modesty war,” similar ongoing struggles have ensued in Brooklyn where Hasidic and modern communities meet. In 2010 bicyclist-hipsters and Hasidic Jews met in Williamsburg to discuss bike lanes, which the ultra-Orthodox did not want in their neighborhood citing it led to immodest, scantily women on bikes passing through their community. No real compromise was ever been reached, but it appears the issue was dropped.
Last summer an ultra-orthordox owned businesses in Williamsburg posted dress codes forbidding women from wearing shorts and sleeveless or low-cut tops in the store.
This isn’t the first time H&M has faced modesty issues with an advertisement. In 2011, H&M digitally altered an ad of a sleeveless Gisele before it was run in Dubai.
A teacher and officials at Evergreen Middle School in Evergreen, Colorado have come under fire for allowing young representatives of an environmental group to perform a rap critical of the petroleum extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.”
Twelve-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and his brother, nine-year-old Itzcuauhtl, performed the song at the invitation of a teacher, who learned about the boys' environmental organization, Earth Guardians, through a documentary.
The song included lyrics such as “poisoned the water, poisoned the air, poisoned the people, do you think that's fair?" and "When I say what the, you say frack. What the... frack, what the... frack."
Some parents and community members complained about the presentation, characterizing it as “liberal indoctrination.”
Principal Kristopher Schuhtold stated, “Thank you for quickly bringing your valid concerns to my attention. I will continue to presume positive intentions as I meet with our teacher tomorrow to discuss what transpired and ensure that the opposite side of this issue is being clearly and fairly represented. I will also begin a thorough review of the process of vetting a speaker before they are allowed to present to our students.”
The school district says it intends to distribute “pro-oil and gas literature” to counterbalance the presentation.
Hydraulic fracturing uses pressurized liquid to release petroleum and natural gas from layers of rock. Critics contend that fracking increases ground water contamination, risks to air quality, migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface, mishandling of waste, and raised atmospheric CO2 levels.
Earth Guardians identifies itself as a "dedicated group of children, youth, parents, schools, and organizations working together on behalf of leaving a better world for future generations."