Revs. Rivers and Wall’s $105,000 ‘invoice’

Adrian Walker has an absolutely stunning column on page one of The Boston Globe today. He reports that two well-known African-American ministers, Eugene Rivers and Bruce Wall, recently submitted a $105,000 “invoice” for services (not) rendered to Keolis North America, the company that was recently awarded the commuter-rail contract by the MBTA.

Rivers and Wall are reportedly pushing Keolis on diversity issues. Last December, Martine Powers of the Globe reported that Wall and other ministers were criticizing Keolis’ record and were concerned about the French company’s behavior during the Nazi era.

Whether Rivers and Wall were engaging in a piece of ill-advised political theater (as seems likely) or if there is something more nefarious going on, I’m sure we can look forward to learning more in the days ahead.

Presenting the 13th annual Phoenix Muzzle Awards

Just in time for your Fourth of July celebrations, we present the 13th annual Muzzle Awards, published in the Phoenix newspapers of Boston, Portland and Providence.

Starting in 1998, I’ve been rounding up enemies of free speech and personal liberties in New England, based on news reports over the previous year. For the past several years my friend and occasional collaborator Harvey Silverglate has been writing a sidebar about free speech and the lack thereof on campus.

Yes, Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge Police Department makes the list for his failure to understand that you shouldn’t arrest someone who’s done nothing wrong other than mouth off to you in his own home. So does former Newton mayor David Cohen, who should not seek a second career as a newspaper editor. So does the MBTA, a hardy perennial.

But my personal favorite is the Portland Press Herald, whose editorial page came out in support of a proposal by the Falmouth Town Council to clamp down on the right of residents to speak out at council meetings. When the council itself unanimously voted against the proposal several weeks later, citing free-speech concerns, the newspaper found itself in the bizarre position of showing less regard for the First Amendment than elected officials.

On Friday at 9 p.m., I’ll join Dan Rea of WBZ Radio (AM 1030) to talk about the Muzzles and anything else that might come up.

You learn something new every day

And here I thought the Orange Line stopped in back of Northeastern and the Green Line in front. And that Oak Grove was the closest station to Media Nation World Headquarters.

Exposing the T’s ludicrous photo ban

Now that the MBTA has fired a trolley driver because a passenger photographed him letting two kids take the wheel, do you suppose the T will reconsider its no-longer-official prohibition on allowing people to take pictures?

Marie Szaniszlo reports in the Boston Herald today that the unidentified Green Line driver was photographed while his young son and nephew were playing with the controls. The photos were taken by Michael Critz, who posted them on Craigslist. “I don’t take any joy in the firing of the driver,” Critz is quoted as saying.

No mention in the Herald story of the photo ban, but it’s well-known to local photographers. In 2006, I gave a Boston Phoenix Muzzle Award to the T for its ridiculous policy, which is supposedly aimed at thwarting terrorists.

The practice is inconsistently employed, does nothing to address surreptitious or long distance photographs of the same sites, and restricts the rights of law-abiding persons,” wrote John Reinstein, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, and Jonathan Albano, a prominent First Amendment lawyer, in a letter to the T several years ago. Reinstein and Albano further argued that the ban violates both the federal and state constitutions.

Not only did the T not overturn its censorious policy [sort of; see below], but it continues to enforce it. Only yesterday, Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub linked to some T photos taken by Carolyn Serrano, who writes on her Flickr page:

I actually got in trouble taking this photo! I was leaning against the pole to brace myself as I took this shot (imagine, no flash in a dim setting…that’s a couple secs that I needed to stay absolutely still which is super hard for me!) and on the speakers they were making announcements about how photos were not allowed. I disregarded it, thinking no way were they talking about me. But they kept on re-iterating it and stopped only when I put my camera away!

The MBTA is our property, paid for with our tax dollars and fare money. Despite no-photo policy, there are 7,391 photos on Flickr tagged with “mbta” right now. So not only is the policy a violation of the First Amendment, but it’s not working. It’s time for T general manager Dan Grabauskas repeal this misguided assault on our free-speech rights.

Update: Adam Gaffin tells Media Nation that the T actually softened its policy (PDF) more than a year ago, but that employees still haven’t gotten the message. “Naturally, nobody at the top seems to have communicated this with employees, who continue to harass people,” Gaffin says.

Photo (cc) by Brian Talbot and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

MIT gag order has been lifted

Media Nation reader J.H. passes along word from the Electronic Frontier Foundation that the MIT gag order has been lifted. U.S. District Judge George O’Toole reportedly found that the MBTA is unlikely to prevail in its lawsuit against three MIT students and the university itself.

Background on the case here and here.

Although this is clearly better than not lifting the gag order, it’s also not much of a victory for the First Amendment. The fact is that the MIT students had every right to make their presentation on flaws in the MBTA’s electronic fare system, and they were not allowed to do so.

It makes a mockery of the principle that prior restraint is to be reserved only for serious issues of national security, obscenity and incitement to violence.

Anti-free speech round-up

The First Amendment is front and center in this morning’s Boston Globe. Three stories for your consideration:

1. Paranoia and the MBTA. Friend of Media Nation Harvey Silverglate argues that the court-ordered censorship of three MIT students is rooted in post-9/11 paranoia about security. The law is aimed at computer hacking that could put people in danger; now it’s being applied merely to writing about hacking, and not the sort that might endanger lives but, rather, would simply cost the T money. Silverglate concludes that “with the ghosts of 9/11 and ‘national security’ hovering, the students and the First Amendment didn’t stand a chance.” (Silverglate also blogs for the Boston Phoenix.)

2. Criminalizing symbolic speech. An Associated Press news brief reports that a Louisiana teenager has been sentenced to four months in prison for hanging nooses off the back of his truck and displaying them at a civil-rights rally on behalf of the Jena Six. Recently I challenged Peter Porcupine to find an example of a hate-crime law that criminalizes speech. Sadly, I think I’ve just found one. Take a look at this ABC News report on the case against the teenager, Jeremiah Munsen. There are complicating factors, and Munsen does appear to be quite the dirtball. But essentially Munsen is going to prison for his exercise of symbolic speech. “I wish we had a charge in Louisiana for aggravated ignorance,” a police officer is quoted as saying. Apparently that’s unnecessary; the federal hate-crimes statute will do quite nicely.

3. Teaching students they have no rights. In Knoxville, Tenn., a high-school student sued for the right to wear Confederate-flag clothing to school, a violation of the dress code. His case ended in a mistrial, according to the AP. The right of school districts to impose such codes is so well-established that this is scarcely worth a mention, except as a reminder that young people are raised and educated in an environment that’s devoid of constitutional protections. We shouldn’t be surprised that a majority of them grow up to oppose the constitutional rights of others, as you will see in the second entry here.

Yesterday Media Nation commenter Leslie wrote, “For us liberals to reflexively hide behind the free speech banner is too easy.” I hope these three examples show that it’s actually hard. Speech that we like needs no defense.

If you’re going to stand up for the First Amendment, you are invariably going to find yourself standing up for kids whose actions might make it easier for people to rip off the T, or for racist teenagers from Louisiana or Tennessee. So be it.

Here you go, Your Honor

U.S. District Judge George O’Toole yesterday continued the restraining order against three MIT students who had been prevented from telling what they know about security problems with the MBTA’s automated fare system.

Among other things, O’Toole demanded that the students hand over a paper they wrote for class by today at 4 p.m.

Well, I don’t know if this will expedite matters, but here’s the slideshow (PDF) they were planning to use during their presentation in Las Vegas last weekend. Does that help?

Ridiculous. And good for The Tech for putting it online.

Sorry, Charlie — no free speech for you

Charles Evans Hughes forgot something when he wrote the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Near v. Minnesota decision in 1931.

The chief justice listed national security, obscenity and the imminent threat of violence as essentially the only three reasons that the courts could ever step in and order someone not to exercise his right to free speech. What he left out: information that could result in the MBTA’s losing some fare money. What a bonehead, eh?

Boston Globe reporter John Guilfoil (a former student of mine, by the way) wrote yesterday that U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock had granted the T’s request for an injunction preventing three MIT students from presenting their findings on security defects in the Charlie Card, the T’s electronic ticketing system. They had been scheduled to speak at the DEFCON 16 conference in Las Vegas.

For good measure, the T is suing MIT, too, for the grave offense of not teaching its students how to be good, Charlie Card-paying citizens.

In today’s Boston Herald, O’Ryan Johnson reports that one of the students is saying the trio offered to show MBTA officials their findings so they could fix their flawed system. Instead, the T decided to sue them.

For those of you with long memories, you may recall that Judge Woodlock is a piece of work. During the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Woodlock ruled that a cage set up by officials for the use of protesters was “an offense to the spirit of the First Amendment” — but then declined to do anything about it. He’s not big on newspaper boxes, either.

In 2005, Woodlock was the proud winner of a Boston Phoenix Muzzle Award for his outrages against free speech. It looks like he’s well on his way to a second statuette.

This story had gone nationwide — heck, worldwide — even before the Globe and the Herald got hold of it, as Universal Hub showed on Saturday. This will not end well for Woodlock. In the meantime, though, he’s created an unnecessary hassle for everyone concerned, and emboldened the T, which — wouldn’t you know — won a Muzzle in 2006.

Photo (cc) by David Bruce and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Correction of the week

No, as a matter of fact, the MBTA is not tearing down a just-built bridge on the South Shore, as the Boston Globe reported the other day. The one it’s tearing down is more than 100 years old. (Via Universal Hub.)

If that’s what it takes

Just days after MBTA general manager Dan Grabauskas complained about an anti-gay e-mail he’d received from a Department of Correction employee, the Herald’s Casey Ross reports that the T has been canceling runs without bothering to tell anyone for, uh, years.

Bob Metcalf, commenting at Universal Hub, thinks it’s no coincidence. He’s probably right. But if that’s what it takes to expose this miserable little secret about why the T is so bad, then so be it.

The Outraged Liberal: “Smilin’ Dan has GOT to go — and soon.”