Archive for December, 2012

170px-rembrandt_harmensz-_van_rijn_079-1The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) has filed a lawsuit with the Internal Revenue Service that raises an interesting question. The group challenges the government’s different treatment of religious and non-religious non-for-profit organizations. While tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations must file a detailed application form, fee and annual information to obtain and maintain their tax-exempt status, churches and other religious organizations are exempted from the requirement to file the reports and fees. The lawsuit alleges that the added expensive and detailed paperwork is a form of discrimination against non-religious groups.

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220px-Asian_Elephant,_Royal_Chitwan_National_ParkPeople are hoping to see less of Robert Moore, 48, but a court released the defendant who was arrested in Plymouth after “spraying urine to and fro into the flower beds while making noises like an elephant.” Despite his lawyer admitting that Moore has a “raging alcohol problem” and exposing himself of children, he was released and given another chance to tackle his drinking.

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251px-Coat_of_arms_of_Tanzania.svgThere is rising concern in Zanzibar that it is poised to be the next the next country to fall to extreme Islamic rule. While long a favorite for tourists for its beaches and resorts, the Saudi-based Wahhabi movement has established hundreds of schools and programs with money from Saudi Arabia and Dubai. The result is rising criticism of what Suleiman Ali, director of Radio Al-Noor, called the outbreak of “social freedoms.”

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488px-scientology_symbolsvgI suppose the good news for the Church of Scientology is that Belgium is no longer calling it a cult. The bad news is that it has moved on to calling is a criminal organization in a comprehensive set of charges ranging from extortion to fraud to privacy breaches to the illegal practice of medicine. The charges follow years of investigation into labor contracts that led to raids on Church properties in 2008. In 2009, Scientology was convicted of fraud in Paris and fined almost $1 million.

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220px-Day_60_Occupy_Wall_Street_November_15_2011_Shankbone_43Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)-Guest Blogger

If you are like me, you remember the violent response by the FBI, DHS and local police forces to the many “Occupy” movement protests last Fall.  In those protests, the police used incredible force and firepower to break up peaceful protests and make a mockery of the First Amendment.  The police responses always seemed to be coordinated from city to city and there were allegations that the FBI and other governmental agencies were aiding the local authorities in stamping down the First Amendment rights of the Occupy protestors.  Now, a treasure trove of documents was released pursuant to a Freedom of Information request by a group called The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund.  Those documents expose a level of governmental intrusion into the privacy of protestors and governmental and private bank partnerships designed to crack down on legal protestors. (more…)

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good-evilor Killers, Media and (Unintended?) Celebrity

by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

Did that headline get your attention? It was meant to do so. Sex and violence sells.

In my usual perusal of the news, I came across a death notice for someone who was famous for no other reason than she killed her wealthy lover. My immediate response was, “Why does anyone care?” She’s simply a murderer and as such her memory (as opposed to remembering the victim) and her passing should be lost in the sands of time. The manifest answer for her receiving attention was celebrity. This person was made famous by the media exposure her crime, trial and conviction created.  The operative term there being “made”. Her celebrity was manufactured. The notice of her death was just another example of the business of media trading off of the celebrity they helped manufacture. Her celebrity was manufactured by an industry that was once and ideally still is primarily in the information business – journalism. Not all journalism is created equal though.  Indeed, there is more than one recognized form of journalism. Good investigative and basic factual journalism is based on the simple structure of the “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, “how” and occasionally the ancillary commentary of “why”.  A focus on”why” is often coupled with “what to do about it” in the form of advocacy journalism. Advocacy journalism often strays from imparting information and persuasive speech into outright propaganda. That is its nature. Increasingly news media is less about information and more about sensationalism.  Tabloid journalism (writing which uses opinionated or wild claims) and yellow journalism (writing which emphasizes exaggerated claims or rumors) are becoming more the norm rather than the exception. Many items that pass for “news” are in reality little more than long form advertisements for some product or service. As the essence of communicating important information has been watered down by the solvents of sensationalism and advertisement, our society has become overwhelmed with what is now colloquially called the neologistic portmanteau of “infotainment”.

Is this shift from news to infotainment in part responsible for a culture that makes celebrities out of killers? Or is it human nature that prompts such sensationalism and misplaced celebrity? Can anything be done to mitigate these circumstances and minimize the potential celebrity of killers?

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libertyFor months, I have criticized the tax policies of France’s Socialist President Francois Hollande, particularly the confiscatory 75 percent tax rate for the wealthiest French. In addition to being in my view unfair, it is extremely bad economic policy. France’s Constitutional Council now appears to agree — at least on the equitable side. On Saturday, the Council rejected a 75 percent upper income tax rate on annual income above 1 million euros ($1.32 million) as an unfair treatment of different households. Popular figures like French actor Gerard Depardieu have opposed the tax and even left the country. The French experience should get some in the United States to dial down on our own over-heated rhetoric on economic policy. (Yes, I will now vent a bit on economic policy).

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