The following is content I wrote as two comments on the Village Voice’s Runnin’ Scared blog in response to an update by Tony Ortega on the Janet Reitman book, Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion. My comments somewhat strayed from the point of Ortega’s post, which was merely a short interview with Reitman on how the books is being received (well, though some good sales opportunities were quashed by Casey Anthony and other news cycles), and contained links to a number of reviews (overwhelmingly and deservingly positive). I realized that my comments amounted to a sort of review so I decided to post it here. I’ll edit it a bit so it makes sense outside the context of the Voice’s comment section.
Disclaimer: The below critique is in no way meant to disparage Reitman’s book, which I heartily endorse as the best book on the history of Scientology to date. Beyond getting the history and reporting right, Reitman is an excellent writer, and manages to make an extremely dense story as breezy as it possible. My issue with the book is practically insignificant, but concerns Reitman’s depiction of a young Scientologist named Natalie whom Reitman interviewed and whose views on Scientology Reitman creatively positions as a counterpoint to the egregiously awful version we all otherwise know and fear.
Inside Scientology works because Reitman had the foresight to deliberately attempt to make it unassailable, knowing full well that Scientology was going to man the harpoons. Consequently, Scientology’s boilerplate talking points and criticisms of the book have been profoundly weak. The most damning criticism appears to be that she got the date of Hubbard’s death wrong in one section of the book (but got it right in another). The other criticism leveled at Reitman is that she didn’t talk to Scientology officials, which is manifestly disingenuous given that she did talk to Scientology officials—who then left the organization. Scientology is in charge of retaining its staff members, not Reitman, who can hardly be blamed for so many Scientologists fleeing the ship.
Reitman covered an amazing amount of territory and did justice to each subtopic she covered, but especially Lisa McPherson, which account serves as probably the best cautionary tale, to date, of a dystopian world run by Scientologists clumsily misdiagnosing the human condition, substituting their delusional certainty for the scientific method at every turn, and finally allowing the poor girl to die because of cult member after cult members’ obstinate refusal to recognize how inapplicable Hubbard’s “tech” is to real world issues.
Not that such a dystopia is realistic—luckily, Hubbard managed to egotistically sabotage Scientology by prohibiting its evolution, which will prevent it from competing even in the self-help arena, much less the religion arena, where it’s widely and properly regarded as a cult.
Which brings me to my only minor quibble with the book, where Reitman expresses hope for the future of Scientology by viewing it through the eyes of a Natalie, a hopeful youngster from an obviously well-off family. I think the decision to include Natalie was a great one, as both Reitman and the reader benefit by the depiction of Scientology’s best possible angle. But at the same time, I don’t see any reason to view Natalie as anything but a distant outlier to the general rule, which has only ever seen the people most active and nearest to power in Scientology always employing ends-justifies-the-means rationales to consolidate power, attack critics, destroy families, surreptitiously seek coddling from government agencies (or alternatively, attack them), etc., etc.
What historical evidence has only ever shown us is that Scientology ultimately and always rewards those who apply its highest and defining precept—Keep Scientology Working—above all else. And so KSW will always trump any other bland human betterment precept cited by Hubbard and delusionally clung to by what few Natalies remain in Scientology. It was a nice thought by Reitman that the Natalie view could somehow one-day prevail (Reitman doesn’t directly suggest, but I’m inferring as much due to her ending the book with Natalie), but I don’t see any reason how or why it ever would. My criticism, therefore, isn’t that Reitman included Natalie’s viewpoint, but that she depicted Natalie’s Scientology as a potentially viable counterpoint to the formal organization’s version of Scientology without properly contextualizing it.
I think rather than Natalie’s viewpoint prevailing and supplanting the far more cynical version on display presently (keep in mind Natalie would likely vehemently disagree that hers and Organized Scientology’s version differ, but only because she doesn’t know any better), she is far more likely to leave when she gets out from under her parents as I can’t imagine she’ll take kindly to the regging when he parents cease buffering her from that reality. It’s not hard to find Independent Scientologists who get similarly doe-eyed about LRH’s contradictory views on humanity, which get harder to reconcile when you’re not permitted to speak with your family, so/but perhaps she winds up in that camp.
I’ve heard that heroin addiction is actually manageable if you’re filthy rich and well taken care of—it’s the stopping, starting, failing to eat properly, committing other crimes because you can’t properly support your lifestyle, that winds up killing you more often than the heroin. To the extent that analogy is accurate, Natalie presently enjoys many luxuries but once they stop she’ll likely come to realize that her warm fuzzy religion is a humorless and insatiable money-gorging beast. Natalie’s Scientology doesn’t stand a chance.
So maybe (to think out loud from Reitman’s vantage for a moment) Natalie’s view comes to prevail in the Independent community, and it’s the Independent community that is truly Scientology’s future. It’s at least a more likely scenario than Natalie’s view prevailing at INT Base. But it’s still pretty unlikely as so many real-world structural hurdles exist before you even get to talk about competing ideologies, for starters the fact that there are no Independent Scientology tax-exempt entities, much less an impenetrable byzantine corporate web like that overseen by David Miscavige. Independent Scientology could only compete with organized Scientology by an IRS reversal or litigation and it’s not hard to figure who’d be odds-on favorites in either scenario.
Add to this the fact that the Independent Scientology community is comprised entirely of ex-members of the organized Scientology community—the former has no recruiting mechanism, so would have to come to resemble the organized Scientology community far more than it presently does in order to compete. And this is a scenario that present-day organized Scientology would do everything in its power to prevent. So I’m not terribly optimistic about the Independent Scientology community—which, indeed, is presently having a deleterious effect on organized Scientology—ever becoming a viable competitor. At least a kinder gentler competitor anyway—it may be possible for Marty Luther Rathbun to once again to become what he ostensibly hates most and supplant Miscavige. But even this is unlikely because CST, RTC, et al. were structured and endorsed by the IRS to keep David Miscavige in power for as long as he wants to be there.
The “ministerial exception” is finally about to get its long overdue day in court, as the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on October 5, 2011 in the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, out of the 6th Circuit [pdf of decision here]. The case’s outcome promises to have significant impact, as ministerial exception cases have seem to be more and more commonplace, and the various Circuits are split on how to approach them. For our purposes, the outcome could potentially affect three cases involving Scientology litigants, namely actions brought by Claire and Marc Headley (separately), and Laura DeCrecenzo, all who were members of Scientology’s purportedly “elite” Sea Org, which meant that they all worked obscenely long and hard hours, and were treated horrifically. Before I get to why Hosanna-Tabor matters with respect to these Scientology cases, let me back up explain how Hosanna-Tabor came about.
The defendant, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School, was the employer of 4th grade teacher and plaintiff Cheyrl Perich from Minnesota, who fell ill with a mystery ailment in June 2004, and had to be hospitalized for several months. Six months later doctors finally diagnosed Perich with narcolepsy and advised her that with proper medication she’d be able to return to work in 2-3 months. The principal and the school board, however, became concerned about Perich’s ability to fully function and requested that she agree to a “peaceful release” whereby the school would cover Perich’s medical insurance premiums through December 2005 (and effectively waive disability). Perich rejected the release proposal and attempted to return to work (she had obtained a work release from her doctor), and was instead fired, purportedly due to her “insubordination” at the board meeting where she rejected the school’s proposal, and due to her threat to sue (which, yes, appears to be something of a tautology).
Perich filed a complaint via the EEOC against Hosanna-Tabor for wrongful termination and under the Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”) and retaliation. She ultimately joined in the complaint herself, becoming a co-plaintiff with the EEOC. After both sides filed for summary judgment, the district court found for Hosanna-Tabor, ruling that the ministerial exception precluded the court from inquiring into her claims and accordingly dismissed the claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. After moving to reconsider (which motion was denied), Perich and the EEOC appealed to the 11th Circuit.
In all ministerial exception cases the issue ultimately boils down to a consideration of the relationship between the employer religious entity and the employer—basically: Is the employee a “minister”? If the answer is “yes,” the employer is exempt from virtually all labor law provisions. The rationale for the ministerial exception is that the constitution prohibits court inquiry into the hiring and firing decisions of religion, lest the courts become impermissibly entangled in religious affairs. Similarly, to penalize a religious institution based on hiring and firing decisions grounded in religious criteria violates that religious entity’s free exercise rights.
In deciding whether an employee is a “minister” or “ministerial employee,” the courts have taken a myriad of approaches, most under the guise of what’s been called the “primary duties” test. At the most restrictive end of the test spectrum is the 6th Circuit’s approach in Hosanna-Tabor. Perich did teach some religious classes but she primarily administered a secular curriculum—the Court at one point literally counts the hours in a typical day for Perich, noting that more than six of her seven hour day was spent teaching secular subjects. Moreover, both the majority and concurrence found persuasive the fact that some Hosanna-Tabor teachers were not even Lutheran yet still gave religious instruction—how can non-adherents possibly be ministers? Additionally, it didn’t hurt that Hosanna-Tabor’s personnel manual includes EEOC policy within, and that the Governing Manual for Lutheran Schools apparently contemplates that teachers are protected by labor laws.
At the opposite end of the primary duties spectrum is a highly deferential test that asks whether some of the employee’s duties are religious in nature and whether the employer based its hiring decision on religious criteria. The 5th and 9th Circuits’ adopt this approach, as typified by the Alcazar v. Corporation of the Catholic Archbishop of Seattle case, upon which basis the Headleys’ cases were dismissed. With Alcazar, the question of duties is mostly subsumed by flipping it around and looking not at what the employee does, but the intent of the employer—why the employee was hired. By eschewing objectivity, Alcazar (decided en banc) hands to religious entities a highly valuable get-out-of-labor-law-free card, by including their hiring decisions—which courts cannot question lest they become entangled in religious affairs—as a part of the test. “Yes, we hired that janitor to deliver the Word of God—why should the state have any say in the matter?” Perhaps this is extreme (a janitor likely performs no religious functions much less some), but it’s a helpful example to point out the tautological nature of the “religious criteria” prong.
The ridiculousness of Alcazar was made apparent in the Headleys suits, which were dismissed when the court analyzed their situations as follows:
She worked for Defendants, which both are institutions within the Church. She also was able to hold the positions she had with Defendants based largely on religious criteria, namely her commitment to 1,000,000,000 years of service to Scientology and the lifestyle constraints that come with being a member of the Sea Org. See id. 2010 WL 917200, (deciding this factor was met where plaintiff was in a job available only to seminarians of the Catholic Church). Finally, as part of her duties, she performed various religious duties and responsibilities, most notably “auditing” and “cramming.”
In other words, Claire Headley was a minister because Scientology said so. The court declined to entertain what Claire or Marc Headley actually did in terms of work while in the Sea Org, 99% of which could have been performed by non-Scientologists without a hitch, because it had already found that “some” of their duties were Scientological in nature.
If the Supreme Court affirms Hosanna-Tabor (or even if it merely concurs with the result and creates a new test based on the facts (perhaps adopting Judge Helen White’s concurrence, which appears to have kept the “primary” part of the primary duties test, but also looked to whether the employee’s hiring relied upon a religious criteria) it may be necessary for the courts to reexamine the Headleys’ cases based on whatever standard the Supreme Court sets forth, and the result could be quite favorable.
If the Supreme Court were to simply affirm without comment (for the sake of argument–this won’t happen), the question in the Headleys’ cases would become how much time they spent performing secular duties and how much time they spent performing religious duties. And even if the court ultimately agreed with Scientology that every minute of a Sea Org member’s waking day is spent performing religious duties as a member of a religious order, the factual inquiry would nevertheless be fascinating… for critics anyway–Scientology would certainly be terrified to have its treatment of Sea Org members subject to the court’s scrutiny.
Beyond the Scientology implications I’ve mentioned, this case has some pretty heavy real world implications as well, as can be inferred from the huge number of amicus briefs already filed (20 in support of Hosanna-Tabor, 8 in support of the EEOC/Perich). Scotusblog entry for Hosanna-Tabor case here. There are tens of thousands of teachers teaching at parochial and sectarian schools who will be directly affected by the how the Supreme Court winds up ruling.; and my guess is that the vast majority of those teachers are under the perhaps mistaken impression that they’re protected by labor law.
Also worth noting is this 2008 Student Note in appearing in the Harvard Law Review arguing for the more deferential “primary duties” standard–though I disagree with the Note’s thesis, it’s an excellent walk through the most prominent case law (as of 2008 at least, unfortunately prior to Alcazar).
Finally, journalist Jonny Jacobson wrote an excellent post covering similar territory as this one but with a different focus. His post prompted mine, so I just wanted to give it a shout-out.
In a potentially devastating blow to the Church of Scientology, a lawsuit filed by Laura Decrescenzo (nee Dieckman)–alleging Forced abortion; Deprivation of liberty; False imprisonment; Intentional infliction of emotional distress; and various violations of California labor law statutes–which was dismissed as time-barred by the (federal) District Court for the Central District of California in November 2009 [PDF here], and later by the lower state court, was revived when a California state appeals court reversed [PDF here] [HTML version courtesy Leagle here] the lower court and remanded with further instructions. Before I discuss the particulars of the appeals court decision, allow me to back up and provide some context.
At age 9, Laura began working for the Church of Scientology’s Sea Org in the most miserable conditions imaginable in a non-third world country. At age 16 she married a fellow Scientologist staff member and soon became pregnant. Scientology forced her to abort her child–Sea Org workers with children aren’t nearly as productive and, accordingly, having them is forbidden.
Laura endured many more years of abuse within the Sea Org, spending long stretches of time on the Rehabilitation Project Force (Scientology’s brand of prison camp). In 2004, at the age of 25, she had finally had enough. Knowing that the quickest way out was to be seen as visibly suicidal, which would cause Scientology to “offload her,” she ingested bleach in view of another Sea Org worker. Laura calculated correctly–her Sea Org days were immediately over (although she remained financially on the hook–Scientology charged her $120,000 for her “job training”–and she remained a Scientologist until 2008). Her husband remained–and remains–in the Sea Org. Before leaving Laura was required to sign numerous documents releasing Scientology from liability on any number of fronts.
Laura tells her story here in a St. Pete Times produced video which was part of its extensive 2009-2010 series on Scientology, The Truth Rundown.
Jonny Jacobson provides a more thorough summary on Laura’s backstory here.
As noted above, in 2009 Laura sued the Church of Scientology in California state court on a variety of bases. (Her second amended complaint can be read here.) Scientology removed the case to federal court and moved to dismiss, arguing that the claims were time-barred. The federal court–reasoning that Laura’s claims had accrued in 2004 and each had a statute of limitations of four years, meaning that Laura needed to file suit four years after leaving Scientology, i.e., by 2008. Laura’s attorneys argued that Scientology should be equitably estopped from asserting a statute of limitations defense where they had engaged in coercive and misleading tactics designed to prevent her from bringing a lawsuit.
The federal district court disagreed, reasoning that even if true, Laura was always aware of the underlying facts which formed the basis for the lawsuit. It remanded to the state court to address the non-federal claims, which, adopting the federal court’s logic, dismissed the remaining claims as time-barred but with leave to amend the complaint, which she did. The amended complaint didn’t change things for the state court, however, which again ruled that Laura’s claims were time barred, and dismissed the complaint, this time without leave to amend. Laura appealed, contending that upon leaving she had been threatened, intimidated, and lied to that documents she signed released Scientology from liability.
In its June 24, 2011 opinion, the California Court of Appeals (Second District) agreed with Laura, finding that she had…
adequately alleged that (1) she was unable to comprehend the wrongfulness of the defendants’ conduct for a period of time and that her causes of action did not accrue until she did so and (2) even after her delayed discovery of her causes of action, the defendants’ threats and intimidation caused her to delay filing her complaint.
Scientology had also argued that the federal court dismissal of her claims collaterally estopped (essentially, legally prevented due to a prior ruling) Laura from litigating those same issues, but the appeals court noted that the federal court’s dismissal came prior to Laura’s second amended complaint, which contained new allegations not precluded by the federal judgment.
The appeals court provides a thorough explanation of the legal principle (“equitable estoppel”) that permits Laura to bring otherwise time-barred claims, but the following definition is the most concise: “Where the delay in commencing action is induced by the conduct of the defendant it cannot be availed of by him as a defense.” In other words, if Scientology in any way caused Laura to delay filing her claims, they cannot assert a statute of limitations defense.
The appeals court then finds that Laura has more than adequately pled facts in her second amended complaint which, if true, prevent Scientology from asserting the statute of limitations as a defense. Those facts are as follows:
- She was forced to work in harsh conditions and subjected to punishment;
- At the time she terminated her employment and left the facility in 2004, she was required to sign documents purporting to exculpate defendants and requiring her to keep certain information confidential or suffer penalties and fines;
- Defendants knew that those documents were contrary to law and unenforceable, and that defendants intended to intimidate her into believing that she had no legal rights against them;
- She was told at that time that she owed defendants approximately $120,000 for her job training;
- She remained a loyal Scientology follower until July 2008 and that, as a loyal follower, she was forbidden from reading or thinking anything negative about Scientology;
- She was threatened with harassment and banishment from her family and friends who remained at the Scientology facilities if she were deemed an enemy of Scientology;
- After leaving the facility, she made payments on her purported debt for some time because she believed that she was obligated to do so and she reasonably believed that she had no legal rights or claims against defendants because of their representations concerning the documents that she had signed; and
- She first realized in July 2008 that she might have legal claims against defendants despite the documents she had previously signed, when she happened upon some information on the Internet and her family members then shared their concerns.
[The above is taken directly from the court of appeals decision but I took the liberty of reformatting it for readability purposes.]
It’s helpful to realize at this point that the court is assuming the above facts are true only for the purposes of affirmatively finding whether Laura has adequately pled a cause of action able to survive Scientology’s motion to dismiss. On remand, it will be the trial court’s task to discover “[w]hether plaintiff’s reliance on the alleged threats was reasonable” based on the evidence produced at trial. This effectively means that discovery may now commence in the Laura Decrescenzo v. Church of Scientology International, Inc., et al. lawsuit.
This leaves Scientology in something of a pickle. The last thing they want is a public inquiry into the horrific conditions endured by Sea Org members. As the above video bears out, Laura comes off as credible and highly sympathetic. A trial is incredibly risky. At the same time, settling carries its own risks. As nightmarish as Laura’s story is, it is sadly not uncommon, as anyone who has researched Scientology can and will tell you. To settle would be a tacit admission that Scientology’s standard practices–with nothing more–violate various torts, labor laws, and civil rights norms. It would also be a tacit admission that the form waivers and releases Scientology requires every member to sign are ultimately unenforceable.
So what will Scientology do? If history is a reliable guide, they’ll eagerly pursue Option C–that is, neither settling nor commencing discovery–for as long as they can. But I don’t want to think out loud on Scientology’s behalf with respect to their legal options so I’ll end this here.
Marty Rathbun of ex-second-in-line-for-the-Scientology throne fame recently posted a very interesting PDF of a spreadsheet purporting to be a list of OSA volunteers for the Western United States. OSA–the Office of Special Affairs–is Scientology’s intelligence agency, and the official arm by which Scientology exerts control over its myriad entities. This list of 222 Scientology-members is not a list of OSA officials but rather persons OSA relies upon for security at events, “safepointing” its various front group initiatives, public relations, help with Internet initiatives, etc.
[NOTE: the PDF provided by Rathbun, an image of the original spreadsheet, was difficult to read (and thus unsearchable) and so Anonymous members at WWP collaboratively transcribed the document first to a Google spreadsheet (here), which I then converted to an Excel spreadsheet (here). Finally, the most easily readable and accessible version is this html version. Also, many Scientology acronyms are sprinkled throughout, most of which can be found at the the Scientology Critical Information Directory’s Glossary]
The members on the list are mostly long-time “public” (not staff) Scientologists, and is probably about two years old. Some names appearing on the list have even left the CoS, such as Natalie Hagemo, who’s exit the list’s author unwittingly foretells with this comment:
Actually right now I do not use her on anything sensitive or seriously important because she has a PTS situation and just never seems to get to an org to get it handled.
On the comments section of Rathbun’s blog, Natalie acknowledges having left and offers further background on her situation.
But the list is far more fascinating and valuable than as a who’s who of OSA volunteers. The spreadsheet is filled out extensively and provides some insight into the Church of Scientology’s paranoid mind set. The list says more about its authors than those listed. For example, one column on the spreadsheet is labeled “Trusted,” which begs the question, Trusted in relation to what? Since everyone on the list is a member of Scientology, what further trust is required than those members having already paid the organization hundreds of thousands of dollars? Perhaps OSA engages in activities that if spoken openly of by the less-then-fully-trustworthy volunteer could endanger the Church? Quite likely, given OSA’s history.
Some entries suggest as much. For example, Sheldon Hogarth of the Los Gatos, CA Org:
Volunteers on MEST [ed: Matter, Energy, Space, & Time] projects such as fixing security cameras around the building. Volunteers on Org security during the day during Anon pickets. He takes photos of them and car plates. I trust him for this type of activity.
and about Bob Johnson of the Stevens Creek, CA Org:
I trust him but don’t know if I would expose him to invest items.
|Ed: invest = investigation] But another even more reasonable explanation exists. Because OSA volunteers are often called upon to interact with the general public (that is, protestors), it is important that they be so indoctrinated as to be immune to “entheta”–i.e., negative information about Scientology. Scientology members who succumb to entheta become ex-members of Scientology, and ex-members do not purchase expensive Scientology services. Remember, this list is largely comprised of OT (Operating Thetans)–people who have spent enormous amounts of money. Getting rubes into the tent is only half the game; keeping them there–especially the wealthiest rubes–is far more important. The entry for Lorin Burton of the Santa Barbara, CA Org, demonstrates what I’m talking about:
Anon pickets. As OTV used to buffer lower grade chart staff from making contact with SPs outside.
|Ed: Anon = the group known as Anonymous; SPs = suppressive persons] In other words, as an OTV, Lorin Burton is sufficiently indoctrinated to withstand the messages delivered by protestors. The flip side of this is Catherine Emrani, who may not be indoctrinated quite enough:
Has done wildcat PR/getting articles submitted without approval. Did invocation for the Glendale city council. But not an ordained minister. Went on Youtube. Got enturbulated. Demanded handling. Is OK in PT.
The term “enturbulate” is a Hubbard-invented word that means to agitate or disturb the sensibility of a Scientologist. Ms. Emrani apparently witnessed “entheta” on the Internet (take my word as a semi-frequent producer of it–it’s everywhere), became “enturbulated” and required Scientology “handling” to undo the damage. (And she undoubtedly paid for that handling.) Thus, the list author is relating that a Emrani is susceptible to entheta, which fact will affect what responsibilities are thrust upon her in the future. It is also telling that despite Emrani having furthered Scientology’s goals by submitting “articles” (most likely PR Newswire garbage), the list author remarks that she’s done so “without approval”–such is Scientology’s centralized control over even its most loyal members.
This centralized control is evident throughout the list. One way it’s evident is the running theme on the importance of interfaith initiatives. Scientology’s reputation precedes it and Scientology is as aware of this as anyone. One way Scientology attempts to counter or mitigate its reputation is to actively cast itself in a religious light. Since Scientology resembles a for-profit business than a religion as most would consider that term, it seeks out the company of other religious entities at the local level. But control over these interfaith initiatives comes from above.
For example, Gary Hedge “Helps with human rights PR: some interfaith“; John Chambers “Runs the Pasadena interfaith meetings“; Angie Derouchie is “Also in on the board of the Interreligious Action Network of Washington County as well as the Interfaith Council of Greater Portland so has most of the interfaith contacts.”
More importantly, this list is ample evidence of Scientology’s tight control over its “social-betterment” front groups, e.g., Applied Scholastics, The Way to Happiness Foundation, Narconon, and Criminon. Especially prevalent on the list is the Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights [CCHR], which regularly disclaims ties to Scientology. But how could this be so if Kenny Woo of the Stevens Creek, CA Org “is our paid CCHR staff.” Pat Wehner, from the same Org, “does various odd cycles for me including invest – CCHR and PR.” Or Sherry Ridenour of the St. Louis Org, who “mostly volunteers for CCHR-gettings ads placed. Working the exhibit when it’s in town; She has also helped on YHR events.” [ed: YHR = Youth for Human Rights, also a Scientology front group]
Nothing I’ve noted above should surprise anyone who has done any reading on the Church of Scientology; it’s entirely consistent with what is already known about Scientology. But unlike the plethora of anecdotal evidence from ex-members, this is documentary evidence of what is important to the Church of Scientology, how it controls its front groups, and the degree of control it exerts over even its public members (the degree of control it exerts over staff members is far greater).
Scientology owes the City of Clearwater a half million dollars in fines and doesn’t want to pay it. The St. Pete Times thinks they should.
There will be no shortage of comparisons made between Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, but where Palin’s beliefs are 7 parts opportunism to 1 part Christianity, Bachmann is the real deal evangelical. As Michelle Goldberg deftly documents, Bachmann’s beliefs are rooted in and shaped by writers who unambiguously endorse a Christian theocracy in the United States.
A few blocks north of my neighborhood sits the Meatpacking District, which his schizophrenically undergone multiple transformations, even while I’ve lived here. The NYT looks back at its humble beginnings.
Political ads reach an ambitiously low threshold. Talking Points Memo covers the video below:
That Cocoa Krispies provides no medical benefits to your children’s immune systems is a somewhat ridiculous thing to go to court over, but Kellogg’s left class action attorneys no choice.
Per the LA Times, the FCC issued a 475-page report finding what everyone else has known for decades: local news is abysmal. Still, late to the game or not, it’s at least nominally heartening to read quotes like the following from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, in a statement released with the report: “The less quality reporting we have, the less likely we are to learn about government misdeeds.”
Indeed, the FCC noted that The Times covers almost 100 municipalities and 10 million residents. David Lauter, Metro editor of The Times, is quoted as saying that his staff is “spread thinner and there are fewer people on any given area…. We’re not there every day, or even every week or every month. Unfortunately, nobody else is either.”
Local TV is singled out in the report for not covering important issues enough. Although the number of hours of local news has increased over the last few years, too few stations “are investing in more reporting on critical local issues,” the report said. Furthermore, the report said that although stations may be adding newscasts, they are doing it with fewer reporters.
While this is more positive than anything we’ve seen from the FCC in a long while, this story could’ve been written years ago. More importantly though, the FCC is picking at low-hanging fruit: FCC-enabled media consolidation is far more culpable than the “changing media landscape” in destroying the quality of news reporting. The full report can be read here.
So much Scientology stuff going on these days that I should dump some of it here to make that backlinking engine do its stuff and get me some site visitors.
- Longtime Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) head Jan Eastgate has been charged in Australia with perverting the course of justice for he role in covering up the sexual molestation of a minor by a Scientologist, fearing it would lead to bad press. It took awhile, but the bad press is deservedly here. Village Voice summation here. It can’t be understated what a public relations nightmare this is for Scientology, as CCHR has gradually become the crown jewel of Scientology’s deceptive front group arsenal, having managed to affect legislation in various districts. Not much US media so far but hopefully that’ll change if Eastgate is convicted.
- Another exciting development is the imminent publication of two weighty books on Scientology, one by Ohio State religious studies professor Hugh B. Urban, due out in September under the title The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion. Tony Ortega of the Village Voice got an early peek and previews it here. The other book is by Rolling Stone writer Janet Reitman, and will be titled Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion. It can be preordered on Amazon here, and is due out July 5.
- Google’s Les Paul playable recordable doodle (today only!). Article here.
- Lousiana’s efforts to privatize its own state employees’ health care turns hideously embarrassing when Scott Kipper, the CEO of the Office of Group Benefits (the OGP manages the state workers’ health plan; Kipper is conducting an RFP process to turn the plan over to a private bidder) admits to not having read something called the “Chaffe Report” which is a recently completed evaluation of the OGP. But this isn’t incompetence, it’s far worse–Kipper testified that he doesn’t want to read it because it he does not want his judgment to be “jaded” during the RFP process. But why really?
“The report might tell you there’s no need to privatize it,” Murray said.
“That might be the case,” Kipper admitted.
Disturbing video and deeper explanation at Talking Points Memo.
- Newt Gingrich’s top aides quit his doomed campaign “en masse” on Thursday, according to NPR.
I’m going to try to train myself to post more by simply posting links to some of the crap I wind up reading every day. Starting with:
- Cops overdoing it. SWAT team breaks down the door of and arrests the estranged husband of a woman who had defaulted on her student loans. Scary for personal reasons. via Gawker.
- Michael Tomasky’s persuasive argument that democrats should spend more time vilifying Ayn Rand. He makes a great point where he reduces the dem/repub conundrum as follows:
Republican attacks against Democrats are typically philosophical in basis, while Democratic attacks are usually policy-specific. [...] The difference exists for a simple reason: Republican programs are unpopular, but their bumper-sticker philosophy is popular (less government, stronger defense), while Democratic philosophy is viewed negatively but people strongly support specific government programs. This dichotomy makes for Republican attacks that are in general far more emotionally compelling. They tell a story and provide a context.
I think the Dems should resurrect all those “Trickle Down” mentions in support of laissez-faire policies from the 80s and remind everyone that not much actually trickled down. And now that Ross Perot’s “great sucking sound” of job disappearance has actually come to pass, the theory is even less sustainable–the trickle-down–what little there is of it–beneficiaries to corporate welfare are foreign workers.
- The California State Fire Marshal, in 1941, warns Americans of fire hazards including housewives washing clothes in gasoline:
h/t my ultra-fascinating college R.A. Bunch.
A friend asked me a question about a domain name he was considering registering but was hesitant because his proposed domain used the trademarked name of a corporate entity that his proposed website intended to criticize. The name of the domain name isn’t important to the minor point I want to raise (and I obviously won’t spoil), but nevertheless it’s much different from, say, paypalsucks.com, which exists primarily to criticize Paypal. [For the record I have nothing against Paypal.]
I foraged up some links for my friend such as information about the UDRP arbitration process, which is basically an international mechanism to resolve domain name disputes between trademark holders and domain name holders. The most basic problem with the UDRP is that its decisions are more or less not binding–there’s little stopping the losing party from seeking a second bite at the apple in an actual court; and UDRP decisions are more or less all over the place.
That said, the trend has been toward a general consensus that sites using trademark protected terms are permitted to do so in instances where free speech is at issue, such as our paypalsucks.com example ( See also walmart-blows.com, bestbuysux.org, et al).
But what happens where the domain name at issue is owned by a competitor of the company that, er, sucks? Such was the case where Valley Goldmine, an Arizona cash-for-gold company pursued a UDRP claim against valleygoldminesucks.com and won when the arbitrator found that the domain holder was a competitor, finding bad faith, and concluding:
Although cloaked in the mantle of a gripe site, Respondent’s website is quite clearly a platform for Respondent to cast aspersions on the reliability of a report that portrayed his company in a negative light and his competitor in a positive light, and to otherwise sling mud.
If UDRP decisions were consistent enough to constitute a real body of law I might worry that this decision might serve the ill purpose of nibbling at the fair use exception to trademark law. After all, in a fair use analysis commercial use is only one aspect–so should the fact that the *sucks.com domain name is owned by a competitor automatically preclude its protection? I’m not sure. While I generally applaud decisions that poke beneath the surface to get at shenanigans, such as here, I’d worry that this principle extrapolated could adversely affect legitimate fair use examples where a “commercial use” is also present (it needn’t not be a competitor).
And that’s as worked up as I’m going to get in attempting to find sympathy for any cash-for-gold company.