Free Speech Protection Act

July 23rd, 2008

I try to steer clear of politics here, but sometimes you read about a proposed bill that could have such an impact on society that it seems important to share it.

The bill I’m talking about, the Free Speech Protection Act of 2008, was introduced in the Senate by Arlen Spector, a Republican, and Joe Lieberman, an independent. Hopefully my talking about this won’t be seen as any sort of attack/endorsement of a particular party.

You might be wondering why anyone would introduce a bill protecting free speech. I mean, it’s right there in the Bill Of Rights. It seems well protected already.

According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, written by Spector and Lieberman, this bill is needed to protect free speech from foreign attack. It seems that some Muslim groups in Europe have taken exception to books and articles written in America that they think paint a not so flattering picture of Muslims.

One such book "Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed and How to Stop It," written in 2003, by U.S. scholar Rachel Ehrenfeld asserted, that Saudi banker Khalid Bin Mahfouz helped fund Osama bin Laden. According to the article, “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.”

“Fear of a similar lawsuit forced Random House U.K. in 2004 to cancel publication of "House of Bush, House of Saud," a best seller in the U.S. that was written by an American author. In 2007, the threat of a lawsuit compelled Cambridge University Press to apologize and destroy all available copies of "Alms for Jihad," a book on terrorism funding by American authors. The publisher even sent letters to libraries demanding that they destroy their copies, though some refused to do so.”

The newly introduced bill would bar 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. It would also permit American authors and publishers to countersue if the material is protected by the First Amendment. If a jury found that the foreign suit is part of a scheme to suppress free speech rights, it could award treble damages.

Spector and Lieberman continue, “First Amendment scholar Floyd Abrams argues that ‘the values of free speech and individual reputation are both significant, and it is not surprising that different nations would place different emphasis on each.’ We agree. But it is not in our interest to permit the balance struck in America to be upset or circumvented by foreign courts. Our legislation would not shield those who recklessly or maliciously print false information. It would ensure that Americans are held to and protected by American standards. No more. No less.”

I could see how foreign lawsuits, if enforced in the U.S., could have a dramatic effect on book publishing here. Even if the book was not intended for foreign distribution it could easily be bought online by someone in a foreign country. If this meant the book’s publisher and author were going to be sued, publishers would soon be afraid to publish anything controversial.

What do you think? Should foreign libel suits be enforced here? If the book was never actually distributed in a foreign country should the courts there allow such a suit? Do you think a bill such as this one is needed?  Or could this bill, in some way, be an attack on the right of people to sue when they have actually been libeled? Could it have the opposite effect of the one intended and make it possible for anyone to publish anything they wanted, true or not, no matter how slanderous?

Doesn’t this point out the need for other countries to stand up for free speech rights? Isn’t it time that they tell special interest groups, in this case Muslims, that basic rights will not be eliminated just because some people might be offended?

Green, or Full of Beans?

July 17th, 2008

I spent the better part of last Sunday canning green beans. I canned 14 quarts and 10 pints. This brings our total for the season to 34 quarts and 28 pints, all grown in our garden.

Why so many? Well for one thing, we feed our family of four and my older stepdaughter and her husband for the year with them. We also give them to other family members.

By growing and canning some of our food, we know exactly what we are eating. There have been no chemicals sprayed on the plants, none added during the canning. Nothing in the jars except green beans, water, and a little salt.

It was interesting that while one batch processed, I saw on TV a lecture by Michael Polland who has written a book titled In Defense Of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto. He was discussing the issue of food and the way we eat in western society.

One of the points he makes is that in parts of the world where the “Western Diet” is not common, there is a much lower incidence of cancer, diabetes, obesity, etc. He also mentioned that when people who are not accustomed to this way of eating adopt our diet, they begin to suffer from the same illnesses that affect us.

In his book, he talks about how the emphasis, in the west, has switched from food to nutrients. He blames this, in part, on the fact that in 1977 The Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, released a document titled “Dietary Goals for The United States”. The dietary guidelines in this document called for Americans to drastically reduce their intake of red meat and dairy products.

Almost immediately, the red meat and dairy industries attacked the report, as well as the politicians who were responsible for it.

The result was a watered down report. Instead of advising a reduction in red meat, the report advised “Choose meat, poultry, and fish that will reduce saturated fat intake”. Thus began the “tinkering” with food to make it appear better for us.

It was learned that by feeding chickens flax seed, you could boost the Omega 3 in the yoke. By feeding pigs flax seed you made them leaner and higher in Omega 3. Suddenly eggs were good for us again and pork was advertised as “The Other White Meat”. Fat was skimmed from milk only to be replaced by chemicals or powered milk to make it look and taste like milk again.

Polland’s message is pretty straightforward, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. He says not to buy food that won’t rot. Don’t buy anything that your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. Don’t get your fuel at the same place your car does. Avoid high fructose corn syrup at all costs. Shop the outside aisles of the supermarket where the fruits, vegetables and meats are, and avoid the middle of the store where the highly processed foods (as he calls them, edible food-like products) are.

I thought the timing of this TV show was good since I was doing something good for my family at the time. But it also pointed out how much more we need to do.

What do you do to try to eat healthier? Do any of you garden? Do you garden just to get fresh veggies or out of concern about what is in or on the food you get at the store? Are you concerned about the way our food has been modified in order to make it look better and last longer while possibly making it less healthy? Does it worry you that the food producers and marketers might have more say in food policy that the government does?