Sunday, April 26, 2009

Three Questions: Chapter Seven

Ch. 7 – Controls upon the Content of Speech

[In response to the ‘History and Development’ section of chapter 7, p.194]

The very fact that regulation of commercial speech, i.e. advertising, is in question is surprising to me. As we are all consumers, living in this society of consumerism/capitalism none are exempt from the advertisers’ bright lure. These professions about certain products, then, are usually our best and quickest way [realistically] to asses a product. As long as we live in such a climate where competition between producers fuels the economy and we demand no less than choice when it comes to any number of products, it seems counter intuitive and self damaging not to try and regulate the accuracy of advertising. I’m wary of the companies who fight against regulation. They’ve nothing to worry about if telling the truth, so what are they’re intentions when attempting to stifle this sort of regulation?


“What is meant by the term ‘commercial speech’”? p. 200

Does the increased use in internet-based selling—both public and private—necessitate new dialogues concerning 1st Amendment protection? What constitutes commercial speech when it seems even people have become commodities to sell; each individual selling themselves to a company or group of people... Résumés are posted online and on internet aggregators of possible employees like LinkedIn. It seems to me, here, that the line between political and commercial speech is blurring when applied to some new sectors of personal networking. I realize that most discussion in this chapter is focused on selling external products and services from doctors or lawyers, but it seems there is a growing tendency to treat the Self as such a commodity in the field of business, even of academia.  I wonder if this mindset will reach such a point as to eventually work itself into a discussion concerning the FTC. Perhaps such a discussion would take the theme of dialogues surrounding individual promotion by doctors and lawyers.

“The commission argued that customers were ‘captive audiences of diverse views’ who should not be subjected to utility company opinions in the monthly billings.” P. 207

To a certain extent, I actually agree with this restriction on sending political messages along with monthly bills. In my mind, I picture a scenario where doctors send small messages supporting their choice of political candidate or current bill up for vote. On the other hand, the choice of doctor or other service provider is a choice at base, and I suppose one could, then, choose another. However, I think there is an etiquette and a certain level of respect toward ones client base not to bring ones own view into a context that is more about helping the client.

On the other hand, I generally tend towards a more holistic way of dealing with people—from services of law to medicine to daily business encounters. In that case, these restrictions would seem over the top and inhibitory of reaching a level of mutual understanding between client and provider that could potentially be more enriching for both parties. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Three Questions: Chapters Twelve and Four

Ch. 4 – Defamation and Invasion of Privacy

P. 86: “For the same kind of state law that makes Beauharnais a criminal for advocating segregation in Illinois can be utilized to send people to jail in other states for advocating equality and non-segregation [...] ‘Another such victory and I am undone.’”

I strongly agree with Justice Black in his firm opposition to the majority opinion of this court case, as evidenced by his preceding statement. It is vitally important to consider the ruling as applied to inverse situations. Morally, a case that might seem obviously in the wrong but in a court of law—where ethics exist in the form of previous decisions written as guideline and non-dependent on what ‘seems’ right to the judges—would pass as legitimate. ‘Another such victory and I am undone.’ Another such case brought before trial—slight variation regarding group involved—and one may find themselves undone by the case rather than victorious.  Is this a legitimate response on my part? Or is there always room in the court to so modify a law [or general guideline] that would undo the previous victor? Is that scenario even plausible? It would seem, then, that the law would override human decision; that the law would become an entity unto itself, completely detached and untouchable to those who created it.

Ch. 12—Copyright

P. 349: Nimmer’s questioning of copyrights constitutionality

Does part of having freedom of expression mean also the freedom to be individually recognized for the results of this original freedom? Does ‘freedom’ intrinsically imply a level of restriction? What would the significance or meaning of freedom of expression—to write and publish and create individual effusions to be judged by and to move an audience—be if one’s ideas, published, were essentially up for grabs? Would that de-legitimize the statement, the idea? Would it foster or decrease discussion of the art piece? 

Ch. 4

P. 94: “The state of mind of the message source is a key factor in a libel action, for no person can be guilty of actual malice who sincerely believes that the message delivered was true.” 

[The second observation regarding truth of actual-malice rule]

This statement calls to mind one of the points made in the previous class discussion. The context of any statement must be taken into account. Words on the page are not enough to find a party guilty. There must be some other presence; the human intent must come through—the personality in a sense—to understand the statement. Similarly, it is difficult to judge whether or not an individual is dangerous from simply reading the briefing or court cases, as with examining potentially harmful students. Can you expel a student based solely on their poetry, without taking into account the whole person? And can you define harmful statements without tracing the words back to the one who initially wrote them? Obviously not, since this the second observation regarding truth of actual-malice, though it seems at the very base of defamation itself: how does one defend or prove intent?


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Group PDF: Assembly

In September of 2007, two people were arrested while attending their friends' funeral because of homemade signs taped to the window of their van protesting the president and government policies. Michigan is one of many states to create funeral protest laws in response to psychologically harmful and disruptive protests by the Westboro Baptist Church. In Michigan, the law states it is a felony to "disturb, disrupt or adversely affect" a funeral within 500 feet. In response to these arrests, the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the law itself is "unconstitutionally vague" and that the arrests violated free speech. Both the deceased and the two arrested friends were army veterans. 

In this specific case, one must look at the intent of the message. The arrested were not at the funeral to protest, rather to grieve. Furthermore, cases involving assembly in public places should be judged--according to previous Supreme Court decisions--upon time, place and manner. This arrest seems not to have taken into account manner. Also, the existing Michigan law against funeral protests is indeed vague--there is too much room for interpretation on an individual level. 

Which leads to our two main questions:

1. Should the police have free will to enforce laws? How should the police arrests be monitored? Does this arrest--or anti protest laws--violate free speech?

2. How does one combat personal prejudice at local level law enforcement? 
{as the article states, authority has "unchecked power to arrest people who have unpopular views"}