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The Ninth Annual Muzzle Awards

Our annual New England roundup of those who undermined freedom of speech and civil liberties. But first, a word about George W. Bush.
By DAN KENNEDY  |  July 4, 2006


Nearly five years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, our political culture has been warped beyond recognition. Fear and repression are the two ingredients that fuel the Bush White House, and anyone who dares say otherwise is branded as unpatriotic at best, a traitor at worst.

The Ninth Annual Muzzle Awards, presented every Fourth of July since 1998, single out enemies of free speech and civil liberties in New England. There’s plenty this year to be alarmed about: Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s presidential pandering to anti-Muslim sentiment; a decision by Fourth of July parade organizers in Maine to ban an anti-war group; Rhode Island middle-school officials’ calling in the Secret Service to interrogate a seventh-grader who’d written an imaginatively violent essay.

But all of this pales when compared with the regime of shadows and secrecy presided over by George W. Bush. From the National Security Agency’s no-warrant wiretapping program to CIA prisons in Eastern Europe, from prisoner abuse at Guantánamo to the endless war in Iraq, Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney have transformed our country into something that would have been unrecognizable before they took office.

Consider just a few under-publicized examples of Bush’s contempt for freedom of expression and civil liberties:

• Librarians in Windsor, Connecticut, went to court last August rather than turn over their patrons’ records to the FBI. But under the onerous terms of the Patriot Act, they were not allowed to protest publicly or even to reveal their identities until this past May, when a judge finally removed the gag. “Being allowed to speak now is like being allowed to call the fire department after the building has burned to the ground,” said George Christian, executive director of the Library Connection of Windsor. The fight to keep the library’s records confidential continues.

• The NAACP and All Saints Episcopal Church, of Pasadena, California, two outspoken opponents of the Bush administration and its policies, have been subjected to audits by the Internal Revenue Service. In Pasadena, the audit came after the Reverend George Regas delivered a sermon titled “If Jesus Debated Senator Kerry and President Bush.” According to reports, Degas said at one point, “Mr. President, your doctrine of pre-emptive war is a failed doctrine.”

• At the Justice Department, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI director Robert Mueller circulated an e-mail saying that one of their “top priorities” is to create an anti-pornography squad in order to keep tabs on what Americans are viewing in the privacy of their own homes. “I guess this means we’ve won the war on terror,” said one anonymous (and disgusted) FBI agent.

• On Capitol Hill, the president is pushing two constitutional amendments. One — shades of his father — would outlaw desecration of the American flag, a protected if rarely used form of protest. The other would ban same-sex marriage, which, after all, is already illegal in 49 states. Except for the ill-fated Prohibition amendment, these would be the only changes to the Constitution that took away rights rather than expanded them.

Indeed, the Bush administration’s repressive actions are so pervasive that they extend to our local Muzzles: the mastermind of a surveillance program targeting anti-war groups in Maine, Rhode Island, and at least four other states is former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz.

The Muzzle Awards were inspired by noted civil-liberties lawyer and Phoenix contributor Harvey Silverglate, and are named after similar awards given by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Freedom of Expression. They were compiled by tracking freedom-of-expression stories in New England since last July 4, and are based on reporting by various news organizations — especially the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the Providence Journal, the Portland Press Herald, and the Hartford Courant, as well as other local and national sources — and the Phoenix newspapers in Boston, Providence, and Portland.

The envelopes, please.

ROMNEY: elect him, put those scary Muslims in their place.
Mitt Romney
Governor would wiretap mosques, spy on students
Mitt Romney would like to be president, and it appears that he’ll say anything if he thinks it will help make that dream come true. Last September, for instance, the Massachusetts governor traveled to Washington and delivered a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation. The ostensible topic: homeland security. The not-so-hidden subtext: elect him president, and he’ll put those scary Muslims in their place.

First Romney took on foreign students at Massachusetts colleges and universities. “How many individuals are coming to our state and going to those institutions who have come from terrorist-sponsored states?” he asked. “Do we know where they are? Are we tracking them?”

Next he went after Muslim houses of worship, continuing, “How about people who are in settings — mosques, for instance — that may be teaching doctrines of hate and terror? Are we monitoring that? Are we wiretapping? Are we following what’s going on?”

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Related: The 10th Annual Muzzle Awards, The 11th Annual Muzzle Awards, Speak no evil?, More more >
  Topics: Media -- Dont Quote Me , Mitt Romney, U.S. Government, First Amendment Rights,  More more >
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The Ninth Annual Muzzle Awards
Thanks for including the MBTA in this list of Free Speech Abusers. While taking photos of the "T" no doubt makes some paranoid citizens nervous, and while the flap over the MBTA Photo Permit may strike some as an unimportant issue, I think it is important to stand up for artistic and documentary photographers' right to photograph in a public place like the MBTA system. Serious photographers should not have to go through a CORI criminal background check to get a permit, while tourists are unhindered by "T" employees when taking family snapshots. I applaud the ACLU for challenging the secret MBTA photo policy. I think Daniel Grabauskas needs rebuking, for insulting us and for being naive enough to think this inconsistent and unwritten policy increases security of the "T" and its passengers.
By Steven Keirstead on 06/30/2006 at 3:56:53
The Ninth Annual Muzzle Awards
Let's have an honorable mention for the Phoenix itself which allowed itself to be cowed by extremists and scared away from publishing the Mohammed cartoons. There's no censorship like that which comes with death threats. How did that not make the list, Mr. Kennedy?
By Pablo on 07/03/2006 at 12:01:29
The Ninth Annual Muzzle Awards
The state police want the video taken down because it shows them searching my home without a warrant. More disturing than that is the nature of the arrest. They charged me with "Threats to commit a crime" (a misdemeanor)all because I was speaking out against John Conte and the Westboro District court system on my website The video not only captures them violating my Constitutional rights, it also makes them look like heavy handed fools attempting to intimidate an innocent blogger and his family. Please watch and listen to the video, go to: // Thanks..............Paul Pechonis
By bonuskill on 07/04/2006 at 12:28:01
The Ninth Annual Muzzle Awards
Having an opinion is one thing but not seeing that there can be to sides to every argument is ignorance. I am sure it easier to blame someone, namely GW, for you bad lot in life then it is to taker personal responsibility. So on the day the United States launches a shuttle as celebrates their heritage of libery and independence, a real tyrannt is threatening world safety and attempting to launch a nuclear program. Luckily, their nuclear program is only aimed at neo conservative and country club republicans.
By Freedom on 07/05/2006 at 1:26:44
The Ninth Annual Muzzle Awards
Man I hate liberals. I will never understand your priorities. My life comes first, end of story. So go ahead, GW, listen in on international phone calls, monitor international banking transactions, do whatever it takes to keep me and the people I care about safe. I'm not doing anything illegal and I'm certainly not aiding terrorists, so having the government keep an eye on my actions doesn't scare me a bit. The government is not stopping me from making my own decisions or living the life I choose to lead. If it ever should, I'd be the first to take a firm stand against my own government, regardless of who's in office. But until that day comes, keep doing what you're doing and watching over my top priority.
By Sanity on 07/05/2006 at 9:47:44
The Ninth Annual Muzzle Awards
pechonis... youidiot! your 15 minutes of fame happed YEARS ago. you think you're scary -- oooh bonuskill oooh -- you fool. get over yourself. you are nothing but angry little man -- maybe your mommy gave you a complex or your daddy kicked-the-bucket too young or your brother was a bigger idiot than you and OD'd or your sister is a wh__re or your kids rejected your sexual lunges (or not!) whatever... we're not scared - were just LAUGHING.
By youidiot on 05/10/2007 at 2:31:55

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    With the era of repression and secrecy fostered by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney finally over, this should be the best of times for freedom of expression, open government, and civil liberties. Yet change comes slowly.
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    Freedom of expression may be guaranteed by the Constitution. But it’s an idea we have to fight for every day.
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    Not long ago, the path by which the recent Justice Department scandal traveled from tidbit to tsunami would have been seen as an exotic trip through an unknown land.
  •   THE 10TH ANNUAL MUZZLE AWARDS  |  July 10, 2007
    Mitt Romney will say or do anything if he thinks it will help him become president.

 See all articles by: DAN KENNEDY

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