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Thursday, 22 February 2007
Local yokels - and a man with a real plan
Topic: urban issues

Maggie Brooks is so shocked, shocked that she’s become a Shock Trooper, trampling the First Amendment as she storms the Central Library and threatens to cut off the latter’s county funding. And her small-town mentality – or political cynicism – has given us a nice likeness of Rudy Giuliani vs. the Brooklyn Museum.


What is Brooks’ beef? Goodness gracious, she says, library patrons are being allowed to access “adult” sites, and it’s possible that kids are looking over the pervs’ shoulders. Such are the obsessions of Church Ladies everywhere. They aren’t bothered about small things like attacks on free speech, and the last thing they’d do is consort with groups like American Library Association, which defends freedom of patron internet access. Of course, the ALA has also opposed Bushie designs to spy on library users, and that might give Brooks another incentive to pull a Giuliani. Is she positioning herself for a race for higher office?)


People like Brooks shoot first… but ask no questions later.


What we have here is not real concern for children and community “values,” but an attempt to impose a kind of cyber-apartheid. If Brooks gets her way, Central Library patrons, a large proportion of whom are low-income people with no other internet access, will see only the material their superiors deem safe; meanwhile, the well-heeled, including many Blue Nose Republicans whose money and power keep Brooks and her clones in business, can surf porn securely at home.


I hope this whole business will blow up in the county executive’s face. She’s had too long a honeymoon, almost an endless one, even though her policies are generally indistinguishable from those of her predecessor, Jack Doyle – i.e., retraction of services, maintenance of elite privilege, and a relentless war on the poor.


News of a more uplifting sort: I usually avoid commenting on anything in City Newspaper, though I love the work of my friend Tim Macaluso, the sole remaining staff writer there, and follow the work of George Grella and Frank DeBlase. (BTW, whatever happened to Krestia DeGeorge? Did the heavy hand of CityNews labor policies shove him down the front steps? Has anyone seen anything in the paper about his leaving? I haven’t. You’d think the publisher would at least acknowledge his contributions and wish him well.) But now Rochesterians should check out an article in the Feb. 21-27 issue by Metro Justice organizer Jon Greenbaum, a man who’s definitely got smart things to say about the local economy.


In the article, the first of two on the subject, Greenbaum casts a skeptical eye on orthodoxies like promiscuous tax breaks, which never to seem to go away. And he looks hopefully toward alternative “path[s] to a better business climate,” including the policies that made Finland’s economy one of the healthiest in the world - several notches above the US, in fact.


But this issue of the paper has a dark side, too. After you read Greenbaum’s piece, turn to “The Mail” on page 2. There you’ll find a prime example of “alternative” hypocrisy and screwy thinking, in the form of an editor’s response to a letter about a recent ad. I’m not so interested in this particular ad debate, which centers on some odd, pseudo-edgy Toronto tourist pitches. What bugs me is how the editor, Mary Anna Towler, buttresses her defense with a discreditable theory about commercial speech that she’s trotted out at least once before. The first time around, she used it to justify her running a recruitment ad from the Ku Klux Klan. (Maybe some of you remember the firestorm that followed.) This time, she’s trying to justify running cigarette ads, regardless of how they contribute to disease and death.


Briefly, Towler bases her justification in “a commitment to freedom of speech” and claims the paper is “in the business of fostering communication, not suppressing it.” How noble. Or rather, noble-sounding.


And how wrong. Commercial speech doesn’t have full freedom. It’s rightly subject to all kinds of limitations (truth in advertising, etc.) that don’t apply to political, artistic and other forms of expression. Moreover, newspapers and magazines routinely turn down ads that fail to meet content guidelines. Compare CityNews’ own guidelines for “adult” material, which have apparently evolved over time but are nonetheless much more restrictive than those of the Village Voice and other alt weeklies – not to mention “mainstream” internet sources like craigslist.


So what’s the story? I can’t help thinking that with CityNews there’s still a lot less than meets the eye. And that Mary Anna Towler and Maggie Brooks have more than a little in common.



Posted by jackbradiganspula at 15:29 EST
Updated: Sunday, 25 February 2007 12:48 EST
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