Watch as Louisiana Senate Considers Jack Thompson Bill Today

May 20, 2009 -

The Jack Thompson-authored SB 152 is scheduled for discussion by Commerce, Consumer Protection and International Affairs Committee of the Louisiana State Senate at 1 p.m. Central Time today.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. A.G. Crowe (R), is similar to the Thompson bill which recently was vetoed by Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. SB 152 would hold companies which advertise age restrictions on products guilty of a deceptive trade practice if the product is then sold to someone underage.

GamePolitics spoke briefly with Sen Crowe last week. He told us at that time that he did not expect to have Thompson testify and indicated that the bill as currently written was a "placeholder," meaning that its content was likely to undergo substantial revision. It is unknown what form such revision might take. We also have an e-mail in to Thompson for an update as to whether or not he expects to speak at today's hearing.

GP readers should be able to follow the action live via the Louisiana legislature's webcast system. To watch, click here for the committee list. Just before the hearing begins, a TV icon should appear to the right of the Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and International Affairs. Click on the icon to watch the hearing. You'll need to have RealPlayer installed.

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Louisiana Senate to Consider Jack Thompson Video Game Bill Today

May 6, 2009 -

The Louisiana Senate will apparently discuss a Jack Thompson-authored video game bill in a hearing scheduled for later this morning.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and International Affairs has SB 152 on its agenda for today.

The measure was proposed by Sen. A.G. Crowe (R) and is similar to the Thompson bill which recently passed the Utah legislature before being vetoed by Gov. Jon Huntsman. Like the Utah bill, SB 152 would hold companies that advertise age restrictions on products guilty of a deceptive trade practice if the product is then sold to someone underage.

While video games are not specified in the measure, they were clearly Thompson's intended target in crafting the legislation.

A review of SB 152 indicates that it goes a step beyond the Utah bill by also holding retailers guilty of a deceptive trade practice for selling a product labeled with an age restriction (for instance, an M-rated game) to someone underage. This section seems to be very close to the type of content-based sales restriction which federal courts have consistently found unconstitutional.

In addition, the bill requires retailers to check the I.D. of buyers and to post signage indicating that I.D. will be checked.

GamePolitics has left messages for Sen. Crowe to inquire about the bill. So far, he has not returned our calls. We asked Thompson last night whether he would be testifying on behalf of SB 152 today. He told us it was uncertain whether the hearing would go forward today. However, we reached a staffer in Crowe's office this morning who told us the hearing would take place.

UPDATE: The committe is webcasting its hearing now. Click here for the committee list. Click on the TV icon to the right of the Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and International Affairs to watch the hearing. The committe is now discussing SB 29. As I write this the Thompson bill is fifth in line for consideration.

UPDATE 2: We had to wait until the very end of the committee hearing to learn that Sen. Crowe has deferred the SB 152 hearing until next week. Join us then...

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Insurer Not Liable For Damages in Sniper Case Said To Be Inspired by GTA III

May 4, 2009 -

An appeals court has ruled that the parents of Tennessee brothers who went on a 2003 sniper spree which they claimed was inspired by Grand Theft Auto III are personally liable for damages caused in the incident.

One driver was killed and another seriously wounded when the brothers, then 15 and 13, opened fire on vehicles traveling along I-40.

The Knoxville News reports that parents Wayne and Donna Buckner, facing lawsuits in the case, hoped to have their homeowners' insurance settle the claims against them. A county judge agreed, but the Buckners' insurance company, Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance, appealed the ruling. A state Court of Appeals judge reversed the decision, leaving the parents liable in the case.

From the newspaper account:

According to lawsuits filed in the case, the boys claimed they never intended to hurt anyone when they began firing .22-caliber rifles at the trailers of rigs traveling on I-40... They insisted their sniper fire was inspired by the video game Grand Theft Auto...

The boys spent a few months in a juvenile detention facility for their crimes.

The Buckners' insurance company balked when brought into the lawsuits that followed the shootings, arguing the policy specifically excluded damages resulting from injury or damage "reasonably expected or intended by you."

A 2003 lawsuit filed on behalf of victims by Jack Thompson against Rockstar, Take-Two Interactive, Sony and Wal-Mart was later withdrawn. For additional details on the original case, check out David Kushner's 2005 article for Salon.

BREAKING - U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Hear Jack Thompson's Appeal

April 20, 2009 -

Without comment, the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear Jack Thompson's appeal of his lifetime disbarment.

The justices considered Thompson's argument as well as dozens of other cases during their private conference on Friday. The Court's rejection of Thompson's appeal can be found in today's list of orders. Mention of Thompson's case is limited to a single line under a long list of cases for which the Court declined to grant Certiorari.

The Supreme Court's decision almost certainly ends Thompson's fight to have his permanent disbarment overturned. As GamePolitics reported, the anti-game activist was disbarred for life by the Florida Supreme Court in September of 2008 for 27 counts of professional misconduct.

We have contacted Thompson for comment but have not yet received a response.

UPDATE: Thompson comments:

No surprise...

 

In response to [GamePolitics'] speculation that "the... decision almost certainly ends Thompson's fight to have his permanent disbarment overturned," - Not at all. I have four more options, all better than this one.  This was the longest of shots.  All four of the others are much, much shorter shots.  Stay tuned.  As Winston Churchill implored:  "Never give in.  Never, never, never, never, never."

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U.S. Supreme Court Considers Jack Thompson's Disbarment Today

April 17, 2009 -

As GamePolitics previously reported, anti-game activist Jack Thompson has appealed his lifetime disbarment to the United States Supreme Court.

Thompson's petition for writ of certiorari will be considered by the Court this morning during a private conference of the justices. If four justices vote to grant Thompson's petition, it will continue to the next stage in the Court's process. If not, the Court will take no further action on his case.

A rejection of Thompson's petition would likely seal the disbarment ordered by the Florida Supreme Court in September, 2008.

The SCOTUS blog, which tracks day-to-day happenings at the Court, does not list Thompson's petition among its Petitions to Watch for today's conference. That is an indication that the blog's authors do not believe that the justices will find merit in Thompson's petition.

According to the SCOTUS docket, the defendant in Thompson's case, the Florida Bar, opted not to to file a response to Thompson's petition.

DOCUMENT DUMP: You can read Thompson's petition to the U.S. Supreme Court here.

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Following Tumultuous Utah Stint, Jack Thompson Heads to Louisiana

April 16, 2009 -

Perhaps Yogi Berra said it best: It's like deja vu all over again.

On the heels of ugly, public dust-ups with both the Utah Attorney General and the President of the Utah State Senate, Jack Thompson is taking his pursuit of video game legislation to Louisiana.

Again.

On Friday Sen. A.G. Crowe (R, at left) will introduce SB 152. The bill, with the addition of a few bells and whistles, is essentially the same truth in advertising measure that passed the Utah legislature in March, only to be vetoed by Gov. Jon Huntsman.

Last week Thompson circulated a press release indicating that a bill "nearly identical" to his failed Utah legislation would be proposed in Louisiana. While he did not name the sponsor, GamePolitics has learned that it is Sen. Crowe. In the press release, Thompson said that he expects to testify before the Louisiana legislature along with "four experts."

Sen. Crowe is apparently untroubled by the acrimony that marked Thompson's 2006 attempt to legislate video games in Louisiana. At that time a Thompson-authored bill unanimously passed both houses of the Louisiana legislature and was signed into law by then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco. The measure was eventually ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge, but not before Thompson got into an ugly, public dispute with the Louisiana Attorney General's Office (see: Suddenly Thompson is Feuding With Former Louisiana Allies).

Since Thompson's last chaotic go-round in Louisiana, he was permanently disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court for more than two dozen professional misconduct violations. Thompson has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

While the failed 2006 legislation ultimately cost Louisiana $91,000 in video game industry legal fees, it also provided some typically bombastic Thompson quotes, including: Nobody shoots anybody in the face unless you're a hit man or a video gamer.

For more background on Thompson's earlier Louisiana experience, check out The Circus Comes to Louisiana, a piece I wrote for Joystiq in 2006.

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Jack Thompson Criticized by Utah Senate Website over E-mail Flap

April 15, 2009 -

In our previous story GamePolitics broke the news that Utah Senate President Michael Waddoups (R) threatened to have anti-game activist Jack Thompson prosecuted if Thompson did not stop sending him e-mail.

In a remarkable development, a website run by Utah Senate Republicans has publicly taken Thompson to task over the issue:

Jack Thompson sends a lot of Email.

At 6:00 a.m. on Easter Sunday he sent another Email message to a group of contacts and highlighted a picture that, if not legally pornographic, was certainly offensive.

President Waddoups was on the recipient list. He sent a polite but direct request back to Mr. Thompson:

    OK, I've had enough. Please remove me from your Email list.

Jack Thompson wrote back:

    Sir, did you look at the material being sold to minors in Utah that I sent you?

President Waddoups responded with a second request to be removed:

    Yes, I read them all and I got the picture. No more please.

Well . . . a few days went by with no relief. This morning Michael Waddoups – probably a little bugged - sent a third request to be removed from Thompson's Email list...

    I asked you before to remove me from your mailing list. I supported your bill but because of the harassment will not again. If I am not removed I will turn you over to the AG for legal action.

So Jack Thompson issued a press release... Jack Thompson might be right. He might be totally, completely, dead-on right on his video game issue. He might not (smart people can disagree). Either way, this behavior doesn't help his cause.

GP: It's not clear who edits the Utah Senate blog, but there is an offer to post the original e-mails if readers request them.

UPDATE: In order to provide some context to this story, in the comments section I've posted the (NSFW) GTA IV screenshot that apparently pushed Sen. Waddoups over the edge. It's clearly not pornographic although it is racy.

UPDATE 2: The Utah Senate Site has posted the series of e-mails between Sen. Waddoups and Thompson.

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Utah Senate President Wants to Prosecute Jack Thompson Under CAN-SPAM Act

April 14, 2009 -

It seems as though Jack Thompson may have burned his final bridge in Utah - and turned a former political ally into an adversary in the process.

In an e-mail sent out earlier today, Thompson claimed that Utah State Senate President Michael Waddoups (R, at left) has threatened to have him prosecuted if the disbarred attorney doesn't stop sending him e-mails.

Waddoups, who presided over the Utah Senate as it overwhelmingly passed Thompson's video game bill last month, apparently became upset by an Easter Sunday e-mail in which Thompson attacked Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

As GamePolitics has reported, the disbarred Florida attorney and the popular Utah A.G. have been trading insults ever since the bill was vetoed by Gov. Jon Huntsman. On Sunday Thompson slammed Shurtleff in yet another e-mail which claimed that the A.G. is ignoring the sale of pornography to minors. That's a highly questionable assertion, since in this case Thompson is defining Grand Theft Auto IV as pornography.

To back up his point, Thompson included a screenshot depicting of a pair of strippers giving GTA IV protagonist Nico Bellic a lap dance. Why Waddoups reacted so strongly is not entirely clear, although it is possible that he was offended by the pic. Or perhaps he has grown weary of Thompson's persistent attacks on Gov. Huntsman and A.G. Shurtleff, both fellow Republicans. GamePolitics contacted Waddoups for comment, but the Senate President did not return our call.

In any case, Thompson supplied the text of an e-mail that he says he received from Waddoups earlier today:

I asked you before to remove me from your mailing list.  I supported your bill but because of the harassment will not again.  If I am not removed I will turn you over to the AG for legal action.

In response, Thomson re-sent the lapdance pic to the entire Utah legislature:

If you are offended by seeing this, as was Senate President Waddoups, then know that you should be more offended by the fact that Utah kids can buy the game in which there are repeated sexual encounters like this... 

You will apparently read in the Salt Lake Tribune tomorrow morning that Senator Waddoups has now threatened me with criminal prosecution by Mark Shurtleff for sending him “porn.”...  Mr. Waddoups now threatens me for alerting him to this... I look forward to my criminal prosecution in Utah...

GamePolitics readers may recall that Thompson has a bit of a track record for attaching actual porn - not the GTA virtual variety - to his e-mails. In 2007 a federal court judge and the Florida Supreme Court took him to task for doing so (see Judge Spanks Jack Thompson For Including Gay Porn in Court Filing).

UPDATE: The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Waddoups wants to pursue Thompson under federal anti-spam legislation:

Waddoups, on Tuesday, confirmed he would attempt to pursue legal action under the federal CAN-SPAM Act of 2003.

While that law carries a punishment of up to $11,000 in fines, it covers "e-mail whose primary advertisement purpose is advertising or promoting a commercial product or service," according to the Federal Trade Commission.

UPDATE 2: Predictably, Thompson has written to the U.S. Attorney in Salt Lake City, urging that Waddoups be prosecuted for violating his civil rights. The letter, which we have also received via e-mail, can be viewed in the comments to the Salt Lake Tribune story.

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Video Game Bill Fuels Conservative Talk Radio in Utah

April 6, 2009 -

Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) may have vetoed HB 353, the Jack Thompson-devised video game bill, but the debate over the bill certainly hasn't ended.

Thompson recently spent two hours bashing the Guv, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and the video game industry on the Utah Eagle Forum Radio Show.

A caller gets into a heated argument with Thompson and the program host at about 30 minutes into the second hour. A second caller gets into it with Thompson and the host right at the end of the second hour.

Of note, we didn't hear the word "disbarred" during the two-hour program.

You can catch the program here: Hour 1   Hour 2

HB 353 sponsor Rep. Mike Morley (R) debates the merits of the bill with Sean Bersell, VP of Public Affairs on Inside Utah Politics (fast forward to 28:00).

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, urges an override of Huntsman's veto on yet another episode.

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Coverage of Last Night's Jack Thompson - Gerard Jones Debate

April 3, 2009 -

A reported audience of 200 Bridgewater College students attended last night's video game debate between Jack Thompson and author Gerard Jones. 

So far we have found two local news reports of the showdown.

WHSV-3 offers this account:

Thompson believes that content should be regulated more efficiently, especially toward kids, pointing out the violent aspects of the popular game series "Grand Theft Auto." He says, "The problem is mature and adult video games that are very violent, increasingly pornographic, that are still being sold aggressively to young people. Kids literally process these games in the part of the brain that leads to copy-cat violence."

Jones, however, urged people to view video games in the same ways as movies and television, and hoped gamers would be more open to explain why they love to play. He says, "We hear a lot about the fear of what they might do, what might go wrong, but we hear so little about how these games are obviously fitting in to a sane, healthy life for a lot of normal people."

Meanwhile, Rocktown Weekly has this:

Jack Thompson... says that unlike other media, video games have been shown to affect neurological development in adolescents.

Thompson... says violent games desensitize youths and can train them to carry out massacres in real life, particularly if they have violent or sociopathic tendencies...

 

Thompson pointed out that the military uses video games to train new troops and desensitize them, making them more likely to shoot when it counts. [GP: According to John Stossel of ABC News, this is a self-perpetuating myth*]...

But Jones counters that violence existed in society long before video games came along.

For example, Jones said the gunman in a 1970s school shooting told authorities he was inspired by "Patton," a biographical movie about World War II Gen. George Patton.

"I cannot see our culture, our laws, our entertainment industry trying to adjust to" what mentally ill people might do, Jones said.

Thompson... advocates greater government control over the video game industry, especially in legislation that makes it a crime to sell video games rated "mature" to minors.
 

* Stossel tracked down the origin of the military's supposed use of violent games to desensitize recruits in his 2006 book Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity.

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Law of the Game's Mark Methenitis to Debate Jack Thompson

April 2, 2009 -

What are the odds of having two Jack Thompson debate stories in a single day?

That's how today, played out, though.

Just after GamePolitics posted about tonight's Thompson-Gerard Jones debate, Law of the Game blogger - and practicing attorney - Mark Methenitis e-mailed to say that he will be debating Thompson at SGC 09 on July 4th. Mark believes that he is the first attorney to debate Thompson on video game issues.

The Screw Attack website adds that there will be more just the Thompson-Methenitis ten-rounder:

In addition to the debate, Thompson will also participate in a special pre-screened question and answer panel where attendees will have the opportunity to pick the brain of one of gaming’s most notorious critics.

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Jack Thompson Debates Game Violence with Author Tonight

April 2, 2009 -

Fresh off his apparently failed attempt to legislate video game sales in Utah, disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson will debate the video game violence issue tonight with Gerard Jones, author of Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes and Make-Believe Violence.

The debate, which will take place at 7:30 on the campus of Bridgewater College in northwestern Virginia, is free and open to the public. It is unknown whether there will be any local coverage.

GP: Thompson and Jones previously debated in 2007 at a college in Pennsylvania. That debate was marred by a student who behaved rather badly toward Thompson. Such behavior only serves to reinforce negative stereotypes about gamers.

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Utah Attorney General to Thompson: Bring it on, Jack

April 1, 2009 -

On Monday GamePolitics reported on disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson's vague threat to "proceed" against Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff (R) if the popular, third-term A.G. didn't immediately take action against major retailers like Best Buy, Target and Wal-mart for alleged sales of Grand Theft Auto IV to minors.

On that score, we should note that no law enforcement official anywhere in the United States has done what Thompson is suggesting Shurtleff do.

The backstory to Thompson's ire seems to stem from Gov. Jon Huntsman's veto last week of HB 353, the video game/movie bill conceived by Thompson. Following the veto, Shurtleff told the Salt Lake Tribune that he had been troubled by concerns about the legality of the bill. Going further back in history, in 2007 Thompson called for Shurtleff's impeachment after the A.G. gave a legal opinion that a measure proposed by Thompson was unconstitutional.

Given the nature of the public attacks on Shurtleff by Thompson (which include referring to the A.G. as "dead meat"), GamePolitics interviewed Attorney General Shurtleff yesterday on the HB 353 fallout:

GP: You’ve come under severe criticism from Jack Thompson in recent days in regard to the video game bill vetoed by Gov. Huntsman last week. Can you comment?

Shurtleff: Well, I just consider the source. I don’t take what Jack Thompson says – give it much credence. This latest demand that I prosecute certain crimes shows me that he knows about as much about criminal law as he does about constitutional law...

GP: Thompson, as you probably know, was given a lifetime disbarment last year by the Florida Supreme Court.

Shurtleff: Right. Yes.

GP: Given that fact, does it seem odd that he was invited to Utah and apparently met with the Lt. Governor and other political forces there to help craft the video game legislation?

Shurtleff: Yes. Absolutely. I do think that’s odd. I also think it’s odd that he received some kind of award from [the] 4th of July celebration in Provo last year. (click 'Read more' below for the rest...)

Jack Thompson Threatens to "Proceed" Against Utah Attorney General

March 30, 2009 -

In the fallout from his latest, apparently unsuccessful attempt to legislate video games in Utah, disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson has issued a vague legal threat to Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. The popular Republican is serving his third term as Utah's top law enforcement officer.

On Friday the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Shurtleff had expressed concerns about the legality of HB 353, the Thompson-conceived video game bill which was vetoed by Gov. Jon Huntsman last week.

Thompson, clearly, was not thrilled with the news. He referred to Shurtleff as "dead meat" in the header of an e-mail forwarded to GamePolitics later on Friday.

A Sunday e-mail from Thompson to Salt Lake Tribune reporter Robert Gehrke (and cc:'d to GP) threatens to "proceed" against Shurtleff if the A.G. doesn't move against major retailers for what Thompson claims is "the distribution of pornography to minors in violation of state law." By way of defining porn, Thompson attached links to strip club and hooker scenes from Grand Theft Auto IV. However, while certainly not intended for younger buyers, GTA IV has not been declared obscene in any U.S. jurisdiction.

Oh, and there's a deadline for Shurtleff to act: 5:00 P.M. today.

As GamePolitics has previously reported, Thompson called for Shurtleff's impeachment in 2007 when the A.G. suggested that a piece of Thompson-authored video game legislation then before the Utah House was unconstitutional.

GamePolitics has requested comment on Thompson's threat from Rep. Mike Morley, the sponsor of HB 353, as well as from Gayle Ruzicka, the politically-powerful Thompson ally who heads the ultra-conservative Utah Eagle Forum. We have also asked Shurtleff's office to comment. We'll post any comments that we receive.

UPDATE: Apparently unable to wait for his own 5:00 P.M. deadline, Thompson has written to Utah's Obscenity and Pornography Complaints Ombudsman... Except that the person he addressed his letter to is a law enforcement director in Utah A.G.'s Office. The "porn czar" position was eliminated in 2003 for budgetary reasons - which may be an indication of how serious Thompson is about all of this.

UPDATE 2: Rep. Morley has commented to GamePolitics on Thompson's threat to "proceed" against Shurtleff: "I know nothing about that."

Hit the jump for Thompson's Sunday letter to Shurtleff, the "dead meat" e-mail and the new letter to the porn ombudsman:

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No Decision Yet on Override, Says Utah Video Game Bill Sponsor

March 30, 2009 -

The sponsor of Utah's HB 353 told GamePolitics that he is undecided as to whether he will seek an override of Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman's veto of the controversial measure.

Rep. Mike Morley (R) told us via e-mail:

As far as a potential override, I haven't decided whether or not to pursue that.  We'll see as we get a little further down the road.

Morley (left) also gave his reaction to Huntsman's veto:

I was somewhat surprised by the governor's veto and disappointed that he didn't contact me prior to the veto to discuss the issues.  I believe that his decision was made based on false or misleading information from the gaming industry which constituted nothing more than posturing.  The bill was carefully crafted to provide safe harbor for those retailers who followed their own advertising.

GP: To be fair, the decision on the override is not likely to be Morley's alone; Utah's House and Senate leadership will surely be involved. As GamePolitics reported last week, House Majority Leader Kevin Garn (R) termed an override unlikely, suggesting instead that HB 353 be "retooled" and submitted in the 2010 legislative session.

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Columnist Praises Guv, Spanks Thompson Over Utah Video Game Bill

March 29, 2009 -

In a Saturday column, Salt Lake Tribune political reporter Paul Rolly praises Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) for his recent veto of HB 353, the Jack Thompson-conceived video game/movie bill. Thompson, however, comes in for some heat:

Gov. Jon Huntsman's veto of House Bill 353 underscores the importance of the constitutional checks that can be imposed on the Utah Legislature, whose members often are influenced by ideological extremists or questionable special interest groups.

In this case, while 25 of 29 senators and 67 of 75 representatives voted for the bill that supposedly protected children, it was Huntsman who proved to be the adult, protecting us all from the childlike antics of the legislators and their puppet masters.

In discussing Thompson's involvement with the vetoed legislation, Rolly cites a pair of GamePolitics stories. The first was our February interview with HB 353 sponsor Rep. Mike Morley (R). That interview's bizarre turn of events offered clues as to who wielded the real political clout behind HB 353. Hint: It wasn't Morley:

Thompson teamed up with Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka to push the legislation, a fact that Morley seemed reluctant to admit when he was interviewed by Game Politics, a publication that tracks the video-game industry.

The SL Trib columnist also dug up a 2007 GamePolitics interview with Jack Thompson. At the time Thompson was pushing a different piece of video game legislation in Utah. When Attorney General Mark Shurtleff suggested that the measure was unconstitutional, Thompson called for his impeachment. In the interview, I asked Thompson how such over-the-top verbiage was helpful to his cause. Ever the charmer, he called me a "goofball" and referred to Shurtleff as a "moron."

Thompson's involvement in Utah's legislative process is clearly troubling to Rolly:

This is a guy who is guiding legislation in Utah, the latest example of the influence certain ideologues can have on a Legislature controlled by one political party and too often predisposed to approve legislation, no matter how bad or bizarre, from right-wing zealots.

Pictured: Gov. Huntsman, Rep. Morley, Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka, Jack Thompson

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Utah Attorney General: We Had Concerns About Jack Thompson Video Game Bill

March 27, 2009 -

The Salt Lake Tribune reports this morning that Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff (R) harbored reservations about the legality of HB 353, the video game/movie bill conceived by Jack Thompson.

Trib reporter Robert Gehrke writes:

Attorney General Mark Shurtleff... told me last night that his office had expressed its concerns "with several different iterations of the bill" while it was pending before the Legislature.

"Ultimately, we could probably make an argument to defend it, but we will be sued, it will be costly. If we lose we will pay attorneys fees. Wouldn't you rather spend that money educating people about the rating system?" he asked. "The governor apparently decided it wasn't worth the risk."

There would seem to be little love lost between Shurtleff and Thompson. During the disbarred attorney's previous attempt to legislate games in Utah, he called for Shurtleff's impeachment after the A.G. opined that Thompson's 2007 bill was constitutionally-challenged. The bill was subsequently tabled by the Utah House.

Thompson, who apparently got wind of Shurtleff's comments in advance, disputed the A.G.'s remarks in a harshly-worded e-mail sent last evening:

We told you for weeks that if you had any constitutional concerns, we wanted to provide you any information you wanted in that regard.  I offered repeatedly to meet with you and talk with you, and you ignored my repeated plaintive requests to do so... 

We heard absolutely NOTHING from you as to the bill’s alleged unconstitutionality, and yet now we hear... that you were badmouthing it in that regard, I presume to Gov. Huntsman as well... 

For his part, Shurtleff has been both a critic of violent video games as well as a supporter of the ESRB rating system. In 2005, for example, he urged Utah retailers to boycott Eidos's controversial cops-and-robbers shooter, 25 to Life.

In 2006 Shurtleff made an industry-funded public service announcement in which he urged parents to utilize ESRB ratings. As GamePolitics has reported, Shurtleff received a $3,000 campaign donation from the ESA in May of 2008.

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Grover Norquist High-Fives Utah Guv Over Video Game Bill Veto

March 26, 2009 -

A nationally-prominent conservative has given props to Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) for vetoing HB 353, the video game/movie bill crafted by disbarred Miami attorney Jack Thompson.

Earlier today, Grover Norquist (left), president of Americans for Tax Reform, forwarded the Guv a congratulatory letter, and GamePolitics has obtained a copy. From Norquist's message to Gov. Huntsman:

In vetoing such a clearly unconstitutional bill you have spared the taxpayers of your state the fate of too many others, picking up the legal tab for those that challenge the bill...

 

Your veto spared not only the legal costs states like the now nearly bankrupt California ($282,794) and Illinois ($545,078), but the harm to retail outlets in these difficult economic times, as well as the interference of parental rights by the state...

 

I know there is a push by well-intentioned groups... to override your veto, but that is a bad idea. Beyond the obvious First Amendment violation this bill presents and the dubious nature of making legally binding voluntary industry ratings, H.B. 353 violates the Dormant Commerce Clause of the Constitution as well...

 

As you know, Americans for Tax Reform opposed passage of H.B. 353 and supported a veto. I thank you for standing up for the taxpayers of Utah in this matter and encourage you to stand strong and fight against attempts to override that veto.

DOCUMENT DUMP: Grab a copy of Norquist's letter to Gov. Huntsman here (pdf).

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Reactions to Utah Veto...

March 26, 2009 -

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's dramatic veto of the Jack Thompson-conceived HB 353 has drawn reaction from a variety of quarters:

We support the efforts of the Entertainment Merchants Association and other industry groups in battling this legislation. It was extremely broad and could have fostered ancillary anti-consumer consequences, such as pushing retailers and publishers to stop promoting and using ESRB ratings, which have been extremely effective in educating consumers about game content. Jennifer Mercurio, Director of Government Affairs, Entertainment Consumers Association

A very laudable decision. National Coalition Against Censorship

This is an absolute win for families. Utah’s parents will benefit from Governor Huntsman’s leadership and thoughtfulness on this issue. His decisive action helps caregivers and prevents businesses from being opened to unproductive, wasteful civil litigation and needless expense. Parents can be assured that the strength of the ESRB rating system remains intact and continues to serve as a valuable resource and will continue to effectively serve them. Michael Gallagher, CEO, Entertainment Software Association

EMA and video game retailers are grateful to Governor Huntsman for his courageous veto of this ill-conceived and inappropriate initiative. We are heartened to see an elected leader look beyond the emotion, rhetoric, and distortions surrounding video games and evaluate a proposal on its merits. As we have consistently noted, House Bill 353 would have been counterproductive for the consumers of Utah, because it would likely have led retailers to abandon their commitments to enforce the video game and motion picture ratings at the point of sale. Sean Bersell, VP of Public Affairs, Entertainment Merchants Association

We appreciate Governor Huntsman’s decision to defend the Constitution and protect retailers by vetoing this bill. The bill may have been well intentioned but it would have undermined the video game and movie rating systems and possibly book age recommendations while leaving local businesses with the constant threat of frivolous lawsuits. David Horowitz, Executive Director, Media Coalition
 

GP: Via e-mail, we've asked Utah Eagle Forum boss Gayle Ruzicka for her reaction. We've asked HB 353 sponsor Rep. Mike Morley, too. So far, we've received no response from either.

(more to follow as we receive them...)

FULL DISCLOSURE DEPT: The ECA is the parent company of GamePolitics.

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Jack Thompson Lashes Out at Utah Guv Following Game Bill Veto

March 26, 2009 -

Following abortive attempts to bring video game legislation to Utah in 2006 and 2007, Jack Thompson's fortunes in the conservative Western state seemed to be improving this time around.

Despite early confusion as to whether Thompson or bill sponsor Rep. Mike Morley deserved credit for dreaming up HB 353, the bill quickly gathered momentum. The Utah House and Senate passed the measure overwhelmingly and it was known to enjoy the support of Utah power broker - and Thompson ally - Gayle Ruzicka, head of the ultra-conservative Utah Eagle Forum.

Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman pulled the rug out yesterday, however. Huntsman vetoed the bill, citing constitutional concerns and the potential for "unintended consequences."

For his part, Thompson went on the offensive. A letter from the disbarred attorney to the Governor took a harsh tone and threatened even more restrictive legislative action in the future:

You got suckered [by the video game industry]. Further, there is no constitutional, First Amendment problem... 

If your veto is not overridden, then we will be back with a bill to ban the sale of these products altogether, in light of the recent massacres in Germany and in this country directly caused by these murder simulation products that are being copycatted by teens who are being fraudulently sold them.

GP: The threat to ban violent games for players of all ages - including adults - would appear to be highly suspect, in light of the First Amendment. We asked Thompson about that, but he did not respond.

Thompson also circulated public records showing a May, 2006 campaign contribution of $500 from video game publishers' lobbying group the ESA to Huntsman. In an e-mail, Thompson accused the industry of buying Huntsman's veto.

We have verified that the $500 contribution from the ESA was received on behalf of Huntsman's 2004 campaign fund. But for Thompson's assertion to be correct, the ESA would have been prescient, indeed, to forsee - and pay for - a gubernatorial veto three years in advance. One would also have to accept the premise that the Guv could be bought. We asked Thompson about this, but again did not receive a response. 

UPDATE: Some GP readers have requested the Thompson letter to Gov. Huntsman. It follows after the jump.

143 comments | Read more

Utah House Majority Leader: Override of Game Bill Veto Unlikely

March 26, 2009 -

HB 353, the Jack Thompson-conceived video game/movie bill which was vetoed yesterday by Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, is unlikely to return - at least in 2009.

The Deseret News reports that Utah House Majority Leader Kevin Garn (R, left) downplayed the likelihood of an override for either HB 353 or a second, non-game-related measure vetoed by Huntsman yesterday.

I don't see a veto override session called for either of these bills. I think the sponsors should retool them and present them next session.

Garn, however, did praise the legislation:

[HB 353] was a fine example of a bill that sends a message to the sellers of these games of violence and nudity — don't sell to minors, especially if you've advertised that you wouldn't.

24 comments

Leading Utah Newspaper Applauds Veto of Jack Thompson Bill

March 26, 2009 -

Terming it "a bullet dodged," the Salt Lake Tribune has lauded Gov. John Huntsman's veto of HB 353 in an editorial.

Although it did not mention the disbarred Miami attorney, the editorial was unsparing in its criticism of the Jack Thompson-conceived bill:

Somehow, this misguided piece of legislation zoomed through the Legislature with hardly an opposing vote, and, we suspect, without a thorough vetting...

 

This was patently ridiculous legislation, easily challenged in court as unconstitutional...

The bill ignored the fact... [that] the ratings can provide helpful information to parents, but should not supercede a parent's decision to let a child buy a game or DVD. In that, HB353 flew in the face of Utah's traditional support of parents' rights...

 

Is that really what legislators believed they were voting for... ? Probably not, but the legislation's broad language invited a whole set of consequences that were not intended...

In their misplaced zeal to limit access to media they don't like, our legislators might have eliminated the very tools parents need to set limits on what their children see and hear. We dodged a bullet on this one. Having misfired badly, the Legislature should not bring it up again.

10 comments

Utah Bill Sponsor Blames Guv's Veto on Gamer E-mails

March 26, 2009 -

As GamePolitics reported yesterday, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman vetoed HB 353, the Jack Thompson video game/movie bill that would have targeted retailers who sold M-rated games or R-rated movies to minors.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Mike Morley (R-UT), told the Salt Lake Tribune:

I think it's simply a result of an e-mail campaign from a lot of gamers that misrepresent the bill and [the governor's staff] has not studied it closely enough to recognize that is not the case. I think it was crafted very carefully to avoid those issues and I think they're mistaken.

However, a source close to Utah state politics told GamePolitics yesterday that Gov. Huntsman was the subject of intense lobbying from retailers. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the Entertainment Software Association mounted a major lobbying campaign as well.

Morley complained to the Deseret News that the Guv didn't give him a courtesy call before vetoing the bill:

I would have thought that just common courtesy would have been to call me.

Legislators are now deciding whether to pursue an override of the veto.

32 comments

BREAKING: Utah Governor Vetoes Video Game/Movie Bill

March 25, 2009 -

Jack Thompson e-mailed GamePolitics a few minutes ago to say that Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) has vetoed HB 353, the video game/movie bill passed overwhelmingly by the Utah House and Senate.

We've also confirmed this with another source in Utah.

According to Thompson, backers of the bill plan to seek an override of the Guv's veto.

We're hearing (not from Thompson) that the word on the street is that retailers lobbied the Guv energetically.

GP: Color me surprised. I did not think that Huntsman would buck the legislature on this one.

UPDATE: Saintless has Gov. Huntsman's explanation of his veto:

After careful consideration and study, I have decided to veto HB 353...

While protecting children from inappropriate materials is a laudable goal, the language of this bill is so broad that it likely will be struck down by the courts as an unconstitutional violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause and/or the First Amendment.

The industries most affected by this new requirement indicated that rather than risk being held liable under this bill, they would likely choose to no longer issue age appropriate labels on goods and services.

 

Therefore, the unintended consequence of the bill would be that parents and children would have no labels to guide them in determining the age appropriateness of the goods or service, thereby increasing children’s potential exposure to something they or their parents would have otherwise determined was inappropriate under the voluntary labeling system now being recognized and embraced by a significant majority of vendors.

136 comments

First Amendment Expert Considers Final Version of Utah Video Game/Movie Bill

March 25, 2009 -

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is now considering whether to sign into law HB 353, the Jack Thompson-conceived video game and movie bill. The Guv has until approximately April 1st to make that decision. In the meantime, the National Coalition Against Censorship, among others, has urged Huntsman to veto the measure.

Along that line, GamePolitics readers may recall that last month, when HB 353 was introduced into the Utah House by Rep. Mike Morley (R), we asked Prof. Clay Calvert, Co-Director of the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment at Penn State, to offer his view of the original text of the bill.

Since that time, HB 353 has been substantially amended along the way to passage by the Utah legislature. That being the case, earlier this week we asked Prof. Calvert to revisit the final version of the bill. If you'd like to refer to the subsections mentioned by Prof. Calvert, you'll find them by hitting the jump.

Prof. Calvert's analysis follows:

The [safe harbor] defense provision of [HB 353] (g)(i)(A) not only is vague (what constitutes a documented training program? What is required by Utah to count as such a program?  With whom must it be documented?  Utah?), but it actually is quite burdensome because it only works if a store affirmatively adopts such a training program.  

The defense provision of (g)(i)(B) is helpful to stores because it prevents liability in the case where a minor engages in fraud to purchase a game by using a fake ID. That's a positive step in this revised legislation (which is NOT to say the legislation itself is positive).

One major concern is turning what the bill specifically identifies as a "recommendation" into a mandatory command. The recommendation is made by a private party (presumably the ESRB) and the government now is employing it with the force of law.

 

The National Coalition Against Censorship makes a great point when it states that this bill, "by incorporating the private voluntary ratings system... constitutes an unlawful delegation of legislative authority to a non-governmental entity."

In particular, there is significant legal precedent for this point in the context of violent video game statutes.  In July 2006, a federal district court in Minnesota in the case of Entertainment Software Association v. Hatch... issued an injunction prohibiting that state from enforcing a law that fined those minors under 17 years of age for renting or purchasing video games rated AO or M by the ESRB...

 

A second major concern is that section (u)(ii) simply applies if one "provides that good or service to a buyer subject to the age restriction or recommendation." The law could be improved if it applied to one who "provides that good or service to buyer knowing the age restriction or recommendation on the good or service AND knowing that the buyer is under the age of the restriction or recommendation." 

25 comments | Read more

National Coalition Against Censorship Urges Utah Guv to Veto Video Game/Movie Bill

March 21, 2009 -

Joining those who have called upon Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to veto HB 353 is the National Coalition Against Censorship.

A post on the NCAC website says that the Jack Thompson-conceived bill "takes a voluntary effort by manufacturers to provide consumers with information about their products and turns it into a mechanism to deprive minors of their First Amendment rights."

More from the NCAC:

This bill would hold retailers responsible for selling minors material labeled for mature audiences.  Sellers of books, movies, video games, and music could be penalized up to $2000 for “violating” age guidelines created voluntarily for informational purposes only.

This bill takes a voluntary effort by manufacturers to provide consumers with information about their products and turns it into a mechanism to deprive minors of their First Amendment rights.  By incorporating the private voluntary ratings system, it also constitutes an unlawful delegation of legislative authority to a non-governmental entity...

 

The bill may result in consumers getting less information.  Stores not willing to risk lawsuit or fines for violating age restrictions may simply decide not to display ratings information.  The industry as a whole could even consider dispensing with its voluntary rating system if the result is to make retailers vulnerable to lawsuits and judgments.

We urge Governor Huntsman to veto this problematic bill.

UPDATE: The NCAC has written a letter to Gov. Huntsman urging a veto of HB 353.

Techie Blogger Mom Calls For Guv to Veto Utah Video Game/Movie Bill

March 21, 2009 -

A Utah mom has come out swinging against HB 353. The Jack Thompson-conceived bill, overwhelmingly passed by the Utah House and Senate, is currently just a stroke of Gov. Jon Huntsman's (R) pen away from becoming law.

Misty Fowler (left) is a software developer, mother of two and activist Democrat.

She also pens the politically-oriented Saintless blog.

Fowler writes:

I didn’t feel like [Utah Senate sponsor Margaret] Dayton [R] and [Utah House sponsor Mike] Morley [R] came out to share details of the bill, but to introduce it with the idea that this isn’t a punitive bill, so that maybe we would all have warm fuzzies about how good this was for our children. Because really, think of the children, will you?...

As a parent, I feel very strongly that it’s my responsibility to my children to educate them about what they can play, and why...


The ESRB is accomplishing what it should... The Utah Legislature seems to be approving of ESRB by trying to enforce it...

I don’t want this law passed. Not because I don’t want to protect children. But, because I think it’s a bogus attempt to regulate the ESRB, and won’t do anything for our children. It will cost local businesses money, and is likely to remove some great tools I have in making decisions about video games as a parent.

Ask Governor Huntsman to veto it.

Fowler also questions the bill, given Jack Thompson's involvement.

39 comments

Utah Game/Movie Bill Sent to Governor; Video Game Industry Responds

March 20, 2009 -

UPDATED

Having been passed overwhelmingly by the Utah House and Senate, HB 353, the Jack Thompson-conceived video game/movie bill, is now with Gov. Jon Huntsman (R).

The Guv can decide to sign the measure into law or veto it. He may also do nothing, in which case the bill will automatically become law. Given that Utah conservatives have portrayed the bill as protective of children and Huntsman is rumored to have 2012 presidential aspirations, it's highly unlikely that he will exercise his veto power.

With HB 353 landing on Huntsman's desk, game publishers' lobbying group the Entertainment Software Association has upped the pressure ante a bit. The ESA-owned Video Game Voters Network is running an e-mail campaign which urges Huntsman to veto HB 353.

ESA VP of Communications and Industry Affairs Rich Taylor also criticized the bill in an interview with Salt Lake City public radio station KCPW:

Essentially, what it does it has the unintended consequence of creating liability exposure which could force many retailers to either abandon their voluntary policies to enforce video game rating systems, or maybe perhaps choose not to sell video games at all.

Here you have broadly drawn legislative language that seeks to address a fairly small instance of retailers failing to enforce their policies as promoted. The vast, overwhelming majority of retailers are complying, but now they fall within this swinging sight of harm that this legislation introduces.

For his part, Jack Thompson has challenged ESA CEO Mike Gallagher to a debate on the bill, but that's an unlikely occurrence.

Assuming that Huntsman signs the bill into law, it will take effect on January 1, 2010. If and when Huntsman signs, the video game industry will decide whether to challenge the measure in federal court.

Also unclear at this point is where the motion picture industry stands on HB 353. If the ESA and EMA (game retailers) sue, will the MPAA join in?

UPDATE: An industry executive who has been actively involved in the fight against HB 353 assures GamePolitics that the MPAA and the National Association of Theatre Owners are fully engaged in opposition to the bill.
 

When Game Critics Collide: Jack Thompson Wishes Keith Vaz Would Find Another Issue

March 18, 2009 -

Yesterday, GamePolitics reported that British newspaper the Daily Mail had raised serious ethical questions about the conduct of Labour MP Keith Vaz in relation to a court case involving a political donor.

The coverage of Vaz, who has been the U.K.'s most vociferous video game violence critic over the years, prompted an unsolicited comment from Jack Thompson.

Thompson, of course, is the most strident of video game critics in the United States and one might be forgiven for assuming that he and Vaz share some common cause. Not so, apparently. Of Vaz, Thompson writes:

I had my own dealings with MP Keith Vaz regarding the Stefan Pakeerah matter. I found Vaz to be deceptive [and] unreliable...

 

He's a political opportunist... I wish he would get the Hell off the video game issue.  People like him don't help us. Boris Johnson, on the other hand, is credible, in my opinion.

The disbarred Miami attorney also questioned Vaz's ethics. Although GP asked, Thompson did not provide any specifics as to what may have soured his relationship with Vaz.

Stefan Pakeerah was a 14-year-old constituent of Vaz's who was murdered by a 17-year-old wielding a claw hammer in 2004. Rockstar's Manhunt was newly available at the time and Vaz has sought to link the game to the killing ever since. Thompson, of course, is no friend of Rockstar's, either.

Boris Johnson is a British conservative who is currently the Mayor of London. As GamePolitics has reported, Johnson has made comments linking illiteracy and knife crime to video games.

98 comments

Utah Bill Sponsor Talks About e-mail From Gamers

March 17, 2009 -

Rep. Mike Morley (R) of the Utah House of Representatieves is apparently getting a lot of e-mail from gamers.

They're not happy.

Morley, of course is the sponsor of HB 353, the Jack Thompson-conceived video game/movie rating enforcment bill which passed overwhelmingly in both the Utah House and Senate.

The Deseret News reports that "various groups" are e-mailing Morley. The legislator told the newspaper:

I was told that there might be some crazies out there... I actually talked to some of these people who sent me crazy e-mails (from Facebook), and everyone one I talked to, after I explained the bill and asked them to read it, didn't think that it would do [what various Web sites said it would]...

 

This is not the end of the world for video-game sales," Morley says. "We are not creating a litigious situation. No one should be concerned.

HB 353 is now before Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R), who has 20 days (from March 12th) to sign the bill into law or veto it.

GP: It seems likely that the Guv will sign HB 353 into law. After that, the next move will be up to the ESA (publishers) and EMA (retailers). Will they pursue a federal court solution? That's unclear at this point because HB 353 is a different kind of animal than previous legislative efforts aimed at video games.

39 comments

 
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Andrew EisenHence the "Uh, yeah. Obviously."09/02/2014 - 12:53am
SleakerI think Nintendo has proven over the last 2 years that it doesn't.09/02/2014 - 12:31am
Andrew EisenSleaker - Uh, yeah. Obviously.09/01/2014 - 8:20pm
Sleaker@AE - exclusives do not a console business make.09/01/2014 - 8:03pm
Papa MidnightI find it disappointing that, despite the presence of a snopes article and multiple articles countering it, people are still spreading a fake news story about a "SWATter" being sentenced to X (because the number seems to keep changing) years in prison.09/01/2014 - 5:08pm
Papa MidnightAnd resulting in PC gaming continuing to be held back by developer habits09/01/2014 - 5:07pm
Papa MidnightI find it disappointing that the current gen of consoles is representative of 2009-2010 in PC gaming, and will be the bar by which games are released over the next 8 years - resulting in more years of poor PC ports (if they're ever ported)09/01/2014 - 5:06pm
Andrew EisenMeanwhile, 6 of Wii U's top 12 are exclusive: Mario 3D World, Nintendo Land, Pikmin 3, Mario Kart 8, Wonderful 101, and ZombiU. (Wind Waker HD is on the list too but I didn't count it.)09/01/2014 - 4:36pm
Andrew EisenLikewise, only two of Xbox One's top 12 are exclusive: Dead Rising 3 and Ryse: Son of Rome (if you ignore a PC release later this year).09/01/2014 - 4:34pm
Andrew EisenNot to disrespect the current gen of consoles but I find it telling that of the "12 Best Games For The PS4" (per Kotaku), only two are exclusive to the system: Infamous: Second Son and Resogun.09/01/2014 - 4:30pm
MaskedPixelantehttp://www.joystiq.com/2014/09/01/beyond-two-souls-ps4-trophies-emerge-directors-cut-reported/ MMM MMM, nothing quire like reheated last gen games to make you appreciate the 400 bucks you spent on a new console.09/01/2014 - 4:24pm
Andrew EisenThat's actually a super depressing thought, that a bunch of retweeters are taking that pic as an illustration of the actual issue instead of an example of a complete misunderstanding of it.09/01/2014 - 4:20pm
Andrew EisenObviously, the picture was created by someone who doesn't understand what the issue actually is (or, possibly, someone trying to satire said misunderstanding).09/01/2014 - 4:10pm
Papa MidnightPeople fear and attack what they do not understand.09/01/2014 - 4:04pm
Papa MidnightWell, let's not forget. Someone held their hand in a peace sign a few weeks ago and people started claiming it was a gang sign. Or a police chief displayed the hand signal of their fraternity and was accused of the same.09/01/2014 - 4:04pm
SleakerEither people don't understand that what the picture is saying is true, or the picture was created out of a misunderstanding of what sexism is.09/01/2014 - 3:52pm
Sleaker@AE ok yah that's where the kind of confusion I'm getting. Your tweet can be taken to mean two different things.09/01/2014 - 3:51pm
Andrew EisenSleaker - No. No, not even remotely. The pic attached to my tweet was not made by me; it's not a statement I'm making. It's an illustration of the complete misunderstanding of the issue my tweet is referring to.09/01/2014 - 3:13pm
Papa MidnightIn other news, Netflix states why it paid Comcast: http://money.cnn.com/2014/08/29/technology/netflix-comcast/index.html?hpt=hp_t209/01/2014 - 3:10pm
Papa MidnightAndrew Eisen: Sites like Tumblr make things seem much bigger than they are. A vocal extreme minority start complaining and things go as they do.09/01/2014 - 3:09pm
 

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