Thursday, January 8, 2015

Cartoonists and terrorists: Why free speech matters

The terrorist attack in Paris on Wednesday, Jan. 7, was a terrifying assault not just on the offices of a satirical news magazine, but on free speech and journalism. Twelve people died in the shooting massacre, four of them editorial cartoonists.

Charlie Hebdo, which was described by Drew Rougier-Chapman of Cartoonists Rights Network International as “a cross between Mad Magazine, Playboy cartoons and ‘The Daily Show,’” was founded by cartoonists and journalists.

What relevance could this event in Paris possibly have to us here in North America?

A great deal, actually. As a press release from the Society of Professional Journalists put it, “This is a barbaric, appalling attempt to stifle press freedom. Extremists feel emboldened to attack and kill journalists anywhere in the world for lampooning religion or reporting on political and governmental activities.” You can read the entire statement by the SPJ president here.

Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the Iranian Opposition, condemned the attack yesterday. In an “it’s a small world after all” moment, I saw her name and remembered my own frightening experience. I’ve been a copy editor at Land Line Magazine for seven years, but for 17 years I was an editor at a national newspaper syndicate.

I edited at least one syndicated newspaper column in 1994 about Mrs. Rajavi, who had become president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran in 1993, and who lived in Paris. Shortly after the column was published in newspapers nationwide, I received a phone call.

A man who claimed to be with an Iranian resistance movement was furious that such a story had run. He was furious that we wrote about an Iranian woman leader. I can’t remember exactly what he said (it’s been 20 years now), but he had a heavy accent. He said I was in danger and that he knew I had children (which I did, 9- and 7-year-old sons).

I remember that it sounded like a death threat. I was shaken and talked to my editorial director, who strongly advised me to call the FBI.

The FBI agent I talked to reassured me, saying it was probably a bluff designed to frighten me (it did) and that the man probably lived out of the country or on the East Coast. The man was unlikely to travel to Kansas City to threaten an editor and was making sure we never wrote about Maryam Rajavi again (we didn’t). The agent did, however, say to call the FBI back immediately if I got another call.

Such threats have an incredibly chilling effect. And, believe it or not, cartoonists are particularly threatening to “true believers” because their art and words have such a powerful effect.

One example is the “Doonesbury” comic strip, which has had many controversies in its 40-plus year history. In 1985, Garry Trudeau drew a series of strips depicting Frank Sinatra alongside famous mobsters. Trudeau based his strips on a soon-to-be-published (and unauthorized) book titled “His Way.” Sinatra’s lawyers wrote an angry letter, threatening a lawsuit against the author and against the syndicate. I recall that at least one syndicate person had to travel to Washington, D.C., to study author Kitty Kelley’s documentation for her claims.

After much discussion and “vetting” by lawyers, it was decided to go ahead with the series. Several major newspapers, however, were sufficiently intimidated that they decided not to run the strips. The Los Angeles Times was one.

A true democracy needs a free and credible press. It is difficult to pin down all the facts, to ascertain the truth – especially in a breaking news situation – and to cover a story completely. But good reporters work very hard at it.

And sometimes in the face of threats or stonewalling, one has to fight back.

Land Line Staff Writer Greg Grisolano passed along one of the most inspired and well-written editorials I’ve seen in a long time. The Frederick (Md.) News-Post was responding to an angry city councilman who threatened a lawsuit if the newspaper dared to print his name. The newspaper’s editorial was titled “Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter.”

Another Frederick councilman had accused the media outlets of being cowards who hide behind the label of journalists.

The News-Post’s answer to that crackled with indignation: “Cowards? Tell that to the families of the 60 journalists killed in 2014, or the 70 in 2013, or the 74 who died in 2012, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. All in pursuit of the truth, or the most reliable version of it at hand in the most dangerous regions of the world.”

When the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 occurred, the French newspaper Le Monde’s headline read “Nous sommes tous Américains” (We Are All Americans). After yesterday’s tragedy in Paris, “Je Suis Charlie” (I Am Charlie) trended worldwide as a social media hashtag and message.

Freedom of the press in the United States is protected by the First Amendment, of course. But we can’t let those protections be eroded. And attacks on free speech, wherever they occur, are a grave threat to us all.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What should you do if you’re robbed at gunpoint? Be the best witness possible

The recent arrest of two Canadian men on charges of kidnapping androbbing a trucker serves as a sobering reminder that life on the road can be hazardous, even when you’re not behind the wheel.

OOIDA Director of Security and
Operations Doug Morris
OOIDA Director of Safety and Security Operations Doug Morris sat down for a safety Q&A on what you should do if you find yourself being robbed by an armed assailant.

Morris, who worked for 25 years in law enforcement with the Maryland State Police, has been OOIDA’s director of security since 2008. He administers OOIDA’s Transportation Alert Communication and Emergency Response (known as TRACER) program and coordinates the Association’s participation in the First Observer program. He has also served as the chairman of the Department of Homeland Security’s Highway and Motor Carrier Sector Coordinating Council. Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Land Line: Hello, Doug. Thanks for taking the time to do this. We’ll start off with a question about how truckers can make themselves a less conspicuous target for would-be robbers and thieves.

Doug Morris: First of all, you should never flash cash or expensive items such as cellphones, iPads or jewelry. Be cognizant of people around you when you’re using an ATM. And never open your truck door to strangers. Crack the window and yell if you have to.

LL: In the Canadian robbery and kidnapping case last month, the victim told police he was attacked by the suspects while walking from a restaurant back to his truck. What advice would you offer to a trucker who has to step away from their vehicle in an unfamiliar area?

DM: If you’re out of the truck and walking, walk with purpose, especially through dark areas. If someone calls out to you, continue walking until you are in a well-lit area with other people around you. Many robberies start with “Hey, can you tell me the time?” or “Can I get some spare change from you?”

LL: What should you do if you’re confronted by one or more armed suspects?

DM: In that case, it’s more about what you should NOT do. Don’t argue, don’t fight and don’t use weapons unless you are well-trained in self-defense. Robbers are unpredictable, and resistance in any form may escalate the level of violence. One other thing you should not do. Do not delay in calling the police, even if the robber has threatened you. You should hesitate only long enough to ensure your safety. The faster police are able to respond, the better the chances the robber or robbers will be arrested.

LL: Once the police arrive, what are some of the most important pieces of information you can provide to help them potentially catch the suspect?

DM: If you are robbed, the following information is very important to the police: your direction of travel; time of robbery; whether or not the suspect(s) were armed; the number of suspects involved and their descriptions; if a vehicle was used, a description of the vehicle and direction of travel if known. If possible, you should write down the license plate number to give to the police.

LL: Anything else?

DM: Memorize the suspect or suspects’ physical and clothing descriptions, especially tattoos, scars and other prominent features. If a weapon is used, focus your attention on its size, type and color. If there are any witnesses, ask them to wait until police arrive, or get their names and addresses if they can’t stay. Your safety is of utmost importance, so never chase or follow a robber. Just focus on being the best witness possible.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Median income way too little

The American Trucking Associations’ 2014 Driver Compensation Study was announced in a press release that happily declared that “median pay for drivers was on a par with the national median for all U.S. households.”

The study “shows that now more than ever, trucking is an excellent career path,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello.

For those of us born to the job, sure. There’s not much choice. But for those just trying to put food on the table and make the car payment, Bob is, how can I put this politely ... delusional.

Let’s begin with the $53,000 “national median for all U.S. households” as reported by Sentier Research, a private research company. Sentier distills data from sources including government statistics.

Those statistics don’t consider what has to be endured to earn that median $53,000.

Do those other median earners require training and a special license? Are they responsible for a Class 8 truck and trailer plus cargo worth who knows how much? While doing their job are they personally subject to volumes of federal, state, and local road laws as well as enforcement that can at times be arbitrary or worse?

Do they have to work 70 hours a week and sleep at hours that are irregular at best, restart rules notwithstanding? Are they away from home for weeks at a time? Do they have to support themselves on the road as well as a family at home? Do they have to miss birthdays, back-to-school night, and other family events big and small?

Are they subject to regulations that incrementally but inexorably constrain their day-to-day, hour-by-hour options creating personal stress that does not figure into government safety calculations? Do they have to defy those regulations and sometimes the law under company pressure, putting their livelihoods at risk, simply to retain their job?

Do they have to work with little or no respect from their company and its customers, never mind the public? Do they have to work with a company camera in their face and other kinds of electronic harassment?

Do their jobs subject them to unhealthy foods, too little beneficial exercise, and a lifestyle that could shorten their potential lifespan?

And do they work at jobs that routinely experience annual employee turnover of 100 percent or higher?

I don’t know why Bob is so sunny about these figures. They only serve to demonstrate that the “median” income for truck drivers isn’t close to enough.