Tuesday, July 15, 2008

On Behalf of Freedom

Senators Arlen Specter (R, PA) and Joe Leiberman (I, CT) have submitted a bill to the Senate that would protect the free speech rights of Americans against the abuses of foreign jurists and plaintiffs. The problem, as Specter and Leiberman outline it in the Wall Street Journal, is that American authors are being sued by Islamic plaintiffs in foreign courts for writing books and articles critical of Islam. In the U.S. the plaintiff has to prove that a claim is false in order to establish libel, but in England the defendant has to prove the contested claim is true. If he can't he has to pay all costs and damages.

The Senators write that:

Consequently, English courts have become a popular destination for libel suits against American authors. In 2003, U.S. scholar Rachel Ehrenfeld asserted in her book, "Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed and How to Stop It," that Saudi banker Khalid Bin Mahfouz helped fund Osama bin Laden. The book was published in the U.S. by a U.S. company. But 23 copies were bought online by English residents, so English courts permitted the Saudi to file a libel suit there.

Ms. Ehrenfeld did not appear in court, so Mr. Bin Mahfouz won a $250,000 default judgment against her. He has filed or threatened to file at least 30 other suits in England.

To counter this lawsuit trend, we have introduced the Free Speech Protection Act of 2008, a Senate companion to a House bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Pete King (R., N.Y.) and co-sponsored by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D., N.Y.). This legislation builds on New York State's "Libel Terrorism Protection Act," signed into law by Gov. David Paterson on May 1.

Our bill bars U.S. courts from enforcing libel judgments issued in foreign courts against U.S. residents, if the speech would not be libelous under American law. The bill also permits American authors and publishers to countersue if the material is protected by the First Amendment. If a jury finds that the foreign suit is part of a scheme to suppress free speech rights, it may award treble damages.

Kudos to senators Specter and Leiberman and to representatives King and Weiner. It will be interesting to see who votes against these bills and why.


Paging Al Sharpton

At a recent meeting of city officials in Dallas County, Texas, county commissioners were hashing out difficulties with the way traffic tickets are handled. Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield observed that the bureaucracy "has become a black hole" for lost paperwork and for this he was immediately pounced upon by fellow commissioner John Price, who is black and whose education is sadly deficient in the rudiments of scientific terminology.

According to the Dallas Morning News' City Hall Blog, Price took umbrage shouting, "Excuse me! That office has become a white hole."

Seizing on the opportunity to also be offended, Judge Thomas Jones demanded that Mayfield apologize for the "racially insensitive analogy".

The problem obviously is that none of the aggrieved has any idea what a black hole is or why it's called that. Since Mayfield used the word "black" in connection with the bureaucracy his African American colleagues simple-mindedly assumed he was making an offensive racial reference.

The episode reminds me of the incident in Washington, D.C. a couple of years ago when a white councilman lost his job for correctly applying the word "niggardly". None of the people who demanded his ouster for this outrage were familiar enough with the workings of a dictionary to actually look the word up.

It might not have mattered if they did, of course, since they might well have looked up the wrong word.

It's embarrassing enough that politically correct illiterates like these are in positions of public responsibility, but it's unconscionable that they have the power to make life miserable for more intelligent colleagues.