Sony Pictures’ Lesson on Free Speech

Freedom of speech and expression is one of the highest U.S. values, constitutionally protected from interference by our government. Indeed, it is the very first provision of our Bill of Rights. The Supreme Court today, under Chief Justice Roberts, stands firm on free speech, at least most of the time.

Just a couple of years ago the Court struck down a federal law making it illegal to claim war medals not actually earned. And federal law limiting corporate spending on elections was struck down in the highly controversial Citizens United case. There the Court chose the right of free speech over the statutory goal of protecting against the corrosive power of money in elections. In his new book, Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court and the Constitution, Harvard professor Laurence Tribe credits the Roberts Court with a strong bias toward free speech.

But even the Roberts Court can be frightened into suppressing rights of free expression: Since 9-11, our government has implemented bans against the provision of “material support or resources” to any terrorist group. An American human rights group sued to confirm its right to assist humanitarian activities in Kurdistan and Tamil. The groups through which it funneled aid had bloody histories and were designated foreign terrorist organizations by the State Department. The government argued, and Justice Roberts agreed, that humanitarian aid could unintentionally free up funds to be used for terrorism. The Court upheld the law.

In November, Sony employs found this threatening message on their computer screens.

In November, Sony employs found this threatening message on their computer screens.

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The Legacy of Kim Jung Il (1941-2011)


Ezra Klein writes: “Here, via Afrikent, is a nighttime shot of the Korean Peninsula, with North Korea outlined. That, right there, is Kim Jong Il’s legacy. In a world that had long ago found light, he managed to keep 24 million human beings in the dark.

Or as Donald Rumsfeld said, “”If you look at a picture from the sky of the Korean Peninsula at night, South Korea is filled with lights and energy and vitality and a booming economy; North Korea is dark.”

Graph of Per Capita GDP after the jump.

House Committee OK’s Bill Targeting Iran Military, Nuclear Program

— by Ben Fishel

Today, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs passed two major sanctions bills targeting Iran for greater economic and diplomatic pressure, and strengthening the nonproliferation regime against Iran, North Korea, and Syria.  Both bills, sponsored by Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, included major provisions authored by Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA).  The Committee voted to pass the Iran Threat Reduction Act and the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Reform and Modernization Act.  Congressman Sherman is the lead Democratic cosponsor of the latter bill.  

I urge the House leadership to swiftly bring this important legislation to the House floor for passage.  We must send a tough message to Tehran: stop your nuclear weapons program, or else face serious economic consequences.  We must send a tough message to Iran’s remaining business partners: stop doing business with Tehran or you will be forced to stop doing business in the United States.  Sanctions have had some impact on Iran’s economy &mdash as Ahmadinejad recently admitted &mdash but we need to ramp up the pressure much more and fully enforce all Iran sanctions passed by Congress.

More after the jump.
The Iran Threat Reduction Act is a comprehensive bill tightening sanctions against the Iranian government, military, and energy sector.  

The bill includes several important portions authored by Congressman Sherman:

  • Requiring an expedited campaign at the Treasury Department to sanction the hundreds of front companies and agents that operate on behalf of the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and provides for tough sanctions against foreign companies that do business with them.
  •  Sanctioning the purchase or issuance of Iranian sovereign debt, including government bonds or bonds issued by a state-controlled firm.
  •  Effectively ending the “Halliburton loophole” by sanctioning parent companies for the activities of a foreign subsidiary that would violate current U.S. sanctions.
  • Requiring the State Department to better define and publish the types of goods, services, and technologies that enable Iran to disrupt the flow of information and monitor and crush dissent in its population, and whose transfer to Iran will cause the company in question to be sanctioned by the U.S.

The Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Reform and Modernization Act improves existing law targeting firms and countries that assist these countries’ nuclear and other advanced weapons programs.

Iran, Syria, and North Korea are proliferators of nuclear weapons technology and work together to threaten U.S. interests and allies around the globe. This bill would provide the U.S. with tools to strengthen the international nonproliferation regime against these violent, authoritarian states.

The bill includes provisions authored by Congressman Sherman that would provide for sanctions against firms that provide any of the countries with equipment or technology relevant for mining or milling uranium.  Iran is facing a uranium shortage, and has been searching for foreign sources of uranium, as well as trying to improve its domestic capability to mine uranium.  Under the bill, anyone that assists in either effort would be subject to penalties.

In April, Congressman Sherman introduced the toughest Iran sanctions bill ever, the Stop Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program Act.  The provisions authored by Sherman in the bills approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee today are based on legislation in the Stop Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program Act.