Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for October 27th, 2006

Curt Weldon, yet another poster child of GOP corruption

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Yep, that’s the GOP in action. These guys simply don’t care about obeying the law. They want to get rich, and if it requires breaking the law, so be it.

Pennsylvania congressman Curt Weldon, under investigation for allegedly trading his influence to get lobbying business for one of his daughters, also has helped corporations that have hired another daughter, a friend and some of his former aides.

Federal Election Commission reports show that within months of Weldon’s advocacy on their behalf, three of these firms and their executives gave more than $95,000 in political contributions to the 10-term Republican.

Most of those donations were made in 2001 and 2002 to an obscure “soft money” account that helped foot unspecified travel expenses for Weldon and his top aide, according to the FEC filings.

Weldon’s financial and lobbying relationships helped cement his rise to power as the vice chairman of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees, but now they’ve drawn the FBI’s attention as part of a Justice Department criminal investigation into possible congressional corruption.

Weldon, who’s up for re-election on Nov. 7, has denied any wrongdoing and charged that the FBI investigation is part of a left-wing conspiracy. He’s expressed confidence that he will be cleared. His lawyer, William Winning of Philadelphia, did not respond to phone messages for comment.

It’s often difficult to tell where Weldon’s official business ends and his family’s and friends’ personal business begins:

– Weldon’s younger daughter, Kimberly, worked part time in 2003 for one of her older sister’s lobbying clients, a foundation run by the family of two Serbian brothers for whom Weldon tried to help obtain U.S. visas. She now works for an Italian defense company that got Weldon’s help in trying to reverse a Navy decision to buy deck guns from a U.S. competitor.

– Pennsylvania real estate agent Cecilia Grimes, who says she’s a longtime family friend of Weldon, became a lobbyist in 2003 and has since landed at least 10 clients, several of whom Weldon has helped.

– On May 26, 2002, the president of International Engineering & Manufacturing Ltd., which owns a 26,000-square-foot plant in Glenolden, Pa., in Weldon’s district, hailed the congressman as his company’s “champion,” a month after the firm’s parent, a Virginia lobbying group, hired Weldon’s chief of staff. The two companies have been Weldon’s biggest campaign donors over the last six years. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2006 at 7:22 pm

Wow! Hastert aide in the crosshairs

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Via Josh Marshall, this breaking story:

Two former House committee investigators who were examining Capitol Hill security upgrades said a senior aide to Speaker J. Dennis Hastert hindered their efforts before they were abruptly ordered to stop their probe last year.

The former Appropriations Committee investigators said Ted Van Der Meid, Hastert’s chief counsel, resisted from the start the inquiry, which began with concerns about mismanagement of a secret security office and later probed allegations of bid-rigging and kickbacks from contractors to a Defense Department employee.

Ronald Garant and a second Appropriations Committee investigator who asked not to be identified said Van Der Meid engaged in “screaming matches” with investigators and told at least one aide not to talk to them. Van Der Meid also prohibited investigators from visiting certain sites to check up on the effectiveness of the work, the investigators said.

Van Der Meid oversaw Capitol security upgrades for Hastert, R-Ill., and worked closely with the office that was charged with implementing them, the investigators said.

K. Lee Blalack, a lawyer for Van Der Meid, said Friday that neither he nor Van Der Meid would comment on the matter.

John Scofield, a spokesman for the Appropriations Committee, said the former investigators were taken off of the investigation, but denied that it was terminated.

“Nothing has been closed down on this study,” Scofield said. “It is a pending study.”

Scofield said it was a case of “sour grapes” because the investigators’ contracts were not renewed. He also said the case was assigned to more senior staff, whom he declined to identify.

The inquiry began in late 2003 or early 2004 and was authorized by former Appropriations Chairman C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., and the panel’s top Democrat, David R. Obey of Wisconsin. The probe focused on the office entrusted with ensuring continuity of Congress in the event of a terrorist or other attack. That office had grown from a sleepy Cold War relic to one that was spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on numerous security upgrades on and off Capitol Hill in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes and anthrax attacks the following month.

The investigation was carried out by members of the Appropriations panel’s Surveys and Investigations team, which looks into charges of waste and abuse.

Robert Pearre, the team’s director, ordered the investigators to stop their work on the security contracts in the fall of 2005. Before that, the investigators said they were looking into allegations that security contractors had showered a Defense Department employee with kickbacks in the form of Redskins tickets, golf outings, a set of golf clubs and meals. The allegations of kickbacks did not implicate congressional aides.

The investigators also said they were looking into concerns expressed by contractors that some of the security upgrades would fail to work in the event of a terrorist attack. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2006 at 6:03 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

How to jump-start your savings

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After-tax savings are critical for retirement. Normally, once these reach a certain size, they will be invested in mutual funds or some other balanced investment of stocks and bonds. Appreciation in value there will be taxed at the relatively low capital-gains rate. But your pre-tax savings, via 401(k) and other devices, are untaxed—until you retire and start to withdraw them, at which point they are taxed as ordinary income. That can be a sizeable chunk, and thus the balance you see does not reflect the money you will be able to live on in retirement: some percentage of that (25%? 30%?) will be going to pay your Federal income tax. Your Social Security retirement payments are also taxed as ordinary income.

So: set up some sort of regular monthly savings now. For most people, putting aside 10% of their take-home pay will not affect their standard of living, though some are living right to the edge of their income (always a dangerous thing).

Here are some ways to start a good savings program.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2006 at 5:57 pm

Posted in Daily life

For Hallowe’en: a foot-wide spider

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The Goliath tarantula. See it in action.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2006 at 3:38 pm

Posted in Science, Video

Stripping chrome from Firefox 2.0

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Another good Lifehacker post from Gina Trapani.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2006 at 3:32 pm

Posted in Firefox, Software

Firefox 2.0 optimized for Mac OS X

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Get it here.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2006 at 3:30 pm

Posted in Firefox, Software

Kansas: against evolution, against… everything?

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From the Carpetbagger:

I recently mentioned that Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) has decided to block one of the Bush White House’s judicial nominees because she attended a commitment ceremony for a lesbian couple four years ago. The president’s nominee has gone out of her way to satisfy Brownback’s concerns — but he still won’t budge.

If you’re just joining us, Brownback — who, up until quite recently, insisted that every judicial nominee, without exception, deserves an up-or-down vote — learned that Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Janet T. Neff was on hand for a public ceremony in which two lesbians pledged their commitment to one another in Massachusetts. It was not a marriage ceremony and, despite some rumors to the contrary, Judge Neff was in the audience and did not officiate.

Brownback, in one of his less-sane moves, asked the Justice Department to investigate the ceremony (it’s not quite clear why), and suggested that Neff may have engaged in “judicial activism.”

Over the last few weeks, Neff has explained in some detail that she simply attended the perfectly legal event as a friend, and did not give any legal sanction to the gay relationship. Brownback isn’t satisfied.

The nomination of Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Janet T. Neff to be a US District judge is on hold because Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, is not satisfied with her response to questions about her views on same-sex marriage, a spokesman for the senator said yesterday.

Bigotry is always ugly and unnecessary, but at a certain point, a person’s hatred becomes ridiculous, especially for those in positions of governmental power.

In an Oct. 12 letter to Brownback, released yesterday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Neff said a minister presided over the ceremony, and she insisted her attendance would not affect her ability to act fairly as a federal judge.

“The ceremony, which was entirely private, took place in Massachusetts, where I had no authority to act in any official capacity and where, in any event, the ceremony had no legal effect,” Neff wrote. She went on to explain that her family lived next door to one of the women for more than two decades.

It apparently doesn’t matter. As of now, Brownback seems to sincerely believe that being friends with a gay neighbor necessarily disqualifies a person for the federal bench, even if you’re nominated by the Bush White House.

Keeping Judge Neff off the federal bench over such a matter is perilously close to declaring her unfit to serve because she has lesbian friends.

Brownback is engaging an almost McCarthy-like guilt by association. If he were capable of feeling shame, now would be a good time for it.

Kansans, of course, love the guy. He must embody those good old Kansas values.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2006 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

George Allen’s sealed divorce records

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This is interesting. Lots of stuff coming out now.

Emails began pouring in earlier today about a rumor on Capitol Hill about some trouble in Sen. George Allen’s (R-VA) divorce file. Josh Marshall and others cannot get a response from the Allen campaign.

It seems everyone is emptying their opposition research files today.

Update: A very reputable political reporter tells me this isn’t from Democratic opposition research and that it’s probably coming out because many feel Allen “crossed the line” when he started talking about Jim Webb’s novels.

I’m told divorce records are usually sealed for two reasons: (a) to protect kids, and (b) to protect large financial fortunes. Neither situation applies in Allen’s case, so the suspicion is that it’s something not very nice.

Update II: A clue might be in Ryan Lizza‘s recent piece on Mark Warner that cites a story that had been “making the rounds” about a 2008 presidential contender who “once spit on his wife.” That rumor was also about Allen.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2006 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

How a corrupt Congress passes laws to benefit Big Business

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This is a prime example:

When Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) pleaded guilty in September to selling legislative favors to clients of the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, it signaled that the fallout from the corruption scandal is far from over. Indeed, prosecutors are still issuing subpoenas, using information fed to them by Abramoff and three associates who pleaded guilty earlier this year: Tony Rudy; Michael Scanlon; and Neil Volz, Ney’s former chief of staff. Other key Abramoff associates remain under scrutiny, most notably Ed Buckham, a former staffer of Rep.Tom DeLay (R-Texas), and the founder of the Alexander Strategy Group consulting firm, and the U.S. Family Network, the nonprofit that formed the nexus between DeLay and many of Abramoff’s clients. And while DeLay stepped down last September as House majority leader and departed Congress in June, the scandal’s shadow still hangs over others who remain on Capitol Hill, including Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.).

Abramoff’s influence-peddling scheme has already figured prominently in many mid-term election campaigns. Democrats accuse Republicans and their lobbyist allies of being motivated by greed. Ney, who recently checked himself into an alcohol rehabilitation clinic, blames the bottle. There’s no shortage of either greed or booze in Washington, but the root cause is much deeper. After Republicans took the House in 1994, and especially since they gained the White House in 2000, DeLay and others in the GOP leadership built a vast political machine operating largely outside the scrutiny of campaign-finance laws. The coterie of lobbyists surrounding Abramoff was at the heart of that system. The role of these lobbyists was not just to enrich themselves or to attract large sums from corporate America to Republican campaign coffers—although they certainly did both those things. The lobbyists were also an essential component of a governing strategy the leadership used to get laws passed.

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There’s perhaps no better example of this than Medicare. The Medicare prescription-drug bill, passed in late 2003 after a bitter partisan struggle, represented the program’s biggest expansion since it began more than 40 years ago. But with its enormous expense and inadequate coverage, it has proved to be a disaster. Twenty percent of enrollees have higher drug costs than they did before signing up. In the next three months, an estimated three and a half to seven million people will hit the notorious “donut hole,” in which coverage stops until their drug spending reaches $5,100. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2006 at 3:06 pm

More about US torture

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At least in this case, the torturer was convicted:

A federal judge has denied a request from a former CIA contractor to overturn his conviction for assaulting an Afghan detainee who later died.

In a decision issued Thursday, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle said the evidence supported the jury’s verdict against David Passaro. Prosecutors had argued Passaro beat Abdul Wali during two days of interrogations in July 2003 at an Army base in northern Afghanistan.

“The jurors heard evidence from eye witnesses regarding Abdul Wali’s brutal beating, his condition after the beating and expert testimony as to the internal injuries such blows were likely to cause,” Boyle wrote. “Despite the defendant’s arguments to the contrary, substantial evidence supports the jury’s verdict in this case.”

Passaro was convicted in August in federal court of felony assault with a dangerous weapon and three counts of misdemeanor assault.

Boyle said the evidence showed Wali arrived at the compound as a healthy young man, then died after being beaten for two days.

“Notably, the absence of an autopsy likely shielded the defendant from murder charges,” Boyle wrote.

An after-hours telephone message left Thursday at the office of Passaro’s defense attorney, Joe Gilbert, wasn’t immediately returned.

Passaro faces up to 11 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when sentenced. He was the first American civilian charged with mistreating a detainee during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The first, but very likely not the last—especially if the Democrats re-take Congress.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2006 at 3:02 pm

More on the highly corrupt Rep. Jerry Lewis

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Take a look at this, from TPMmuckraker:

On Overseas Trips, Congress’s Rules Are Often Ignored

“Rep. Jerry Lewis and seven fellow members of Congress jetted to Europe in July 2003 on official government business and dined in restaurants from Warsaw to Lisbon.

“Instead of paying for the meals out of their government allowances, they were treated by a parade of defense contractors and lobbyists, most of which sent personnel to Europe to host the meals, according to foreign-service officials and the companies. The meals gave Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp. and others private access to legislators who control billions of dollars in government contracts.

“One problem: The hitherto undisclosed free meals likely violated House rules and possibly federal law, experts on congressional ethics say. House rules, designed to prevent private interests from unduly influencing legislators’ work, bar members — with some exceptions — from accepting such meals on congressional trips abroad.” (WSJ)

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2006 at 2:57 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

More on Gibbons’s assault on the waitress

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Mazzeo
Just read this. The TPMmuckraker lays it all out. What a film-noir movie of a corrupt town and behind-the-scenes power is waiting to be made! It is increasingly clear that Gibbons, drunk, did indeed assault Chrissy Mazzeo.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2006 at 2:52 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

Michael Schiavo and Marilyn Musgrave

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Via AmericaBlog, read what Michael Schiavo has to say about attending a debate where Marilyn Musgave was one of the debaters. It begins:

If it were fiction, you wouldn’t believe it.

Sadly, what happened in Colorado on Tuesday is true and unbelievable.

At the conclusion of a three-day, three-state campaign trip to promote candidates who will bring needed new leadership to Washington, I flew to Ft. Collins, Colorado to attend the only “debate” between Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave and her courageous and forceful challenger Angie Paccione in the Colorado 4th district.

What happened there made the clearest case I could ever imagine for why change isn’t just needed — it’s required….

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2006 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

Rove’s October surprise?

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Maybe it’s a November surprise instead: the verdict in the first part of Saddam Hussein’s trial has been postponed until two days before the US national elections. The GOP really does do everything from a political point of view.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2006 at 2:33 pm

Torture: the new acceptance

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The US has apparently now officially accepted torture as a standard interrogation  technique. This is new—in previous Administrations the US opposed torture. From The Guardian:

The use of a form of torture known as waterboarding to gain information is a “no-brainer”, the US vice-president, Dick Cheney, told a radio interviewer, it was reported today.

Mr Cheney implied that the technique – a form of simulated drowning – was used on the alleged September 11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is being held at Guantánamo Bay.

In an interview with Scott Hennen, a conservative radio show host in Fargo, North Dakota, on Tuesday, Mr Cheney agreed with the assertion that “a dunk in water” could yield valuable intelligence from terror suspects.

“Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?” Mr Hennen asked.

“Well, it’s a no-brainer for me,” Mr Cheney replied. “But for a while there, I was criticised as being the vice president for torture. We don’t torture. That’s not what we’re involved in.”

In some versions of waterboarding, prisoners are strapped to a board and their faces covered with cloth or cellophane while water is poured over their mouths to stimulate drowning. In others, they are forced head first into water. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2006 at 2:27 pm

Abortion is here—get over it

Via Kevin Drum, this excellent story in The Guardian:

Today marks the 39th anniversary of abortion becoming legal in Britain. Yes, yes, there would have been an argument for waiting for the 40th, but I really think, in the current climate, that it needs to be celebrated as often as possible. On Halloween, mindful or not of this anniversary, the Conservative MP Nadine Dorries will be introducing her 10-minute-rule bill, proposing a reduction in the time limit on abortion in this country to 21 weeks (down from 24 weeks at present), and a “cooling-off period after the first point of contact with a medical practitioner about a termination” – so far as I can make out, she wishes to slow the abortion process down still further, and then penalise women who have left it too late. Her rationale? She just “has a feeling it’s right”. Honestly.

I remember the first time that I wrote about having had an abortion; it was in the mid-90s (the abortion, I mean. And the article, too). A survey had come out saying that one in four women had had availed themselves of termination services; I was surprised by how low that figure was, but it also made me think: if 25% of women have had abortions, then surely every one of us, male and female, has a friend or partner or family member, someone very close anyhow, who has had an abortion. Seriously, unless you are very cloistered or you are incredibly judgmental and uptight and nobody ever tells you anything, you will have been aware of an abortion at very close quarters, even if it was not your own.

So why does nobody talk about it, I pondered then, and do again now. Why are there never any abortion jokes? Why is it unthinkable to discuss it without prefacing everything with “of course, it’s terribly traumatic, no woman enters into this lightly”? I found it no more traumatic than any other operation I have ever had, no more psychologically scarring, way less painful than anything involving my teeth and considerably less annoying than anything I have had done on the NHS (whose “resources” in this area – which I will complain about later – meant I had to go private, which is entirely against my principles, but did make it very convenient). Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2006 at 12:14 pm

Posted in Daily life, Medical

Man, Evernote is GREAT!

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I’ve been using Evernote for a while—since I blogged about it, in fact. It’s just incredibly useful. Quite often, in reading through blogs, one comes across a piece of information one wants to keep—without, perhaps, going so far as to tag the page in del.icio.us (another useful tool).

With Evernote, highlight portion of interest, click the Evernote icon in your navigation bar (on Firefox, at least), and—beep!—Bob’s your uncle: the bit is saved in the Evernote log, readily accessible, all links intact, arranged by date and time. Just plain wonderful.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2006 at 12:10 pm

Libby must be praying for a pardon

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Take a look at this:

With withering and methodical dispatch, White House nemesis and prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald yesterday sliced up the first person called to the stand on behalf of the vice president’s former chief of staff.

If I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was not afraid of the special counsel before, the former Cheney aide, who will face Fitzgerald in a trial beginning Jan. 11, had ample reason to start quaking after yesterday’s Ginsu-like legal performance.

Fitzgerald’s target in the witness box was Elizabeth F. Loftus, a professor of criminology and psychology at the University of California at Irvine. For more than an hour of the pretrial hearing, Loftus calmly explained to Judge Reggie B. Walton her three decades of expertise in human memory and witness testimony. Loftus asserted that, after copious scientific research, she has found that many potential jurors do not understand the limits of memory and that Libby should be allowed to call an expert to make that clear to them.

But when Fitzgerald got his chance to cross-examine Loftus about her findings, he had her stuttering to explain her own writings and backpedaling from her earlier assertions. Citing several of her publications, footnotes and the work of her peers, Fitzgerald got Loftus to acknowledge that the methodology she had used at times in her long academic career was not that scientific, that her conclusions about memory were conflicting, and that she had exaggerated a figure and a statement from her survey of D.C. jurors that favored the defense. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2006 at 11:41 am

Excellent statement by Michael J. Fox

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Take a look at this video of Fox’s appearance on Katie Couric’s show. The pitiable person in this situation is Limbaugh, a person with no respect for other people or for facts. He constantly slammed and mocked drug addicts, and even after it turned out that he himself was addicted, he learned nothing from that. I suspect that if he gets Parkinson’s disease—highly likely, if he lives long enough, since the disease appears as dopamine-producing cells die and are not replaced—he will likewise learn nothing. I can almost hear him now, saying, yeah, he made fun of Michael J. Fox, but for him, Rush Limbaugh, it’s different. It will always be different for Rush, because he’s the center of his own small universe.

Experience, as Aldous Huxley said, is not what happens to a man, it’s what a man does with what happens to him. The same events can produce in one person “experience,” and in another person, nothing.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2006 at 10:00 am

Another baby-step to a totalitarian government

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For a totalitarian government to exist, it must have support. Regardless of how oppressive and how secretive it is, how much it destroys the rights of its subjects, it cannot exist without a significant amount of support and cooperation. Some support comes from those who, under that government, have power—more power than they would otherwise have. Some comes from apparatchiks—the “go along to get along” people who don’t want to rock the boat (or, as the government becomes more established, fear to rock the boat). And some comes from independent power centers hoping to curry favor with the government.

NBC, for example. The network is refusing to air an ad for a documentary because “it is disparaging to the President”—that would be the incompetent nitwit George Bush.

The story is being denied by NBC:

“It’s a sad commentary about the level of fear in our society that a movie about a group of courageous entertainers who were blacklisted for exercising their right of free speech is now itself being blacklisted by corporate America,” Harvey Weinstein said in a statement. “The idea that anyone should be penalized for criticizing the president is profoundly un-American.”

According to the Weinstein Co., NBC’s commercial clearance department said in writing that it “cannot accept these spots as they are disparaging to President Bush.”

TWC also quoted a rep from the CW as saying it had concerns that “we do not have appropriate programming in which to schedule this spot.”

CW communications topper Paul McGuire rejected that version of events.

“That’s not true,” he said. “The spot was not declined. In fact, we were told they were not going to make a national spot buy on CW.”

An email exchange obtained by Daily Variety between a media buyer for TWC and a CW standards and practices rep seems to back that up. The CW reps asks the media buyer if “you have a buy with us for the Dixie Chicks movie?” The ad rep for TWC replies, “We do not currently have a national buy with CW.”

You can see the movie trailer here. Regardless of how this plays out, we’ve already seen networks refusing to air ads because they might offend the Administration—for example, the refusal to air several ads from the United Church of Christ because the ads showed an inclusive membership (including gays and lesbians) which the networks claimed to view as a very bad thing that should be kept from the public—when in fact they didn’t want to upset the administration.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 October 2006 at 9:46 am

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