Sunday, August 17, 2014

Googly-Eyed Santas, Rude Frogs, and Other Adventures in Beer Label Censorship

Tim Mak collects some amusing examples of federal beer-label censorship in a Daily Beast piece about Kent "Battle" Martin, a "pedantic pain in the ass" at the Treasury Department's Tax and Trade Bureau with wide authority to decide what brewers may say about their products. A sampling of Martin's decisions:

Battle has rejected a beer label for the King of Hearts, which had a playing card image on it, because the heart implied that the beer would have a health benefit.

He rejected a beer label featuring a painting called The Conversion of Paula By Saint Jerome because its name, St. Paula's Liquid Wisdom, contained a medical claim—that the beer would grant wisdom.

He rejected a beer called Pickled Santa because Santa's eyes were too "googly" on the label, and labels cannot advertise the physical effects of alcohol. (A less googly-eyed Santa was later approved.)

He rejected a beer called Bad Elf because it featured an "Elf Warning," suggesting that elves not operate toy-making machinery while drinking the ale. The label was not approved on the grounds that the warning was confusing to consumers.

As I reported back in 1994, when beer labels were overseen by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF), this sort of thing has been going on for many years. One of my main examples was Grant's Scottish Ale, a Washington beer that briefly came in six-packs labeled with nutritional information. The BATF found that intolerable, not because the information was inaccurate but because it was "misleading." How so? Federal alcohol regulations forbid false or misleading claims about "curative or therapeutic effects," and the BATF cited a 1954 regulatory interpretation concluding that "any reference to vitamin content in the advertising of malt beverages would mislead a substantial number of persons to believe that consumption of the product would produce curative or therapeutic effects."

After the brewery's owners went public with the dispute, the BATF started picking other fights with them. It suddenly decided that Grant's Spiced Ale, a seemingly straightforward name that the brewery had used for years, was "frivolous." Meanwhile, it gave a pass to far less descriptive names such as Labatt's Blue (which is not blue), Pete's Wicked Ale (which is not malevolent), and Blackened Voodoo (which is not seared, spiced, or magical).

The arbitrary power wielded by federal alcohol regulators stems from vague, subjective rules such as the ban on misleading claims and the ban on references to psychoactive effects (a rule that did in The Kronik, a beer that California's Lagunitas Brewery was forced to rename; it is now called, appropriately enough, Censored Ale). There is also a rule against "obscene or indecent" representations, which the BATF invoked in 1986 to force the redesign of an Italian wine label featuring an etching of a winged woman whose "upthrust and very evident" breasts had to be removed.

Worse, brewers (and manufacturers of other alcoholic beverages) have to deal with this sort of nonsense at the state level as well. In 1998 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit rebuked the New York State Liquor Authority for trying to ban Bad Frog beer, which regulators did not like because its namesake amphibian was depicted on the label "with the second of its four unwebbed 'fingers' extended in a manner evocative of a well known human gesture of insult."

In 2009 the Michigan Liquor Control Commission banned Flying Dog's Raging Bitch, a Belgian-style IPA, because it did not like the name. It reversed that decision two years later after discovering this thing called the First Amendment.

The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board evidently had no problem with Raging Bitch, but in 2012 it banned the sale of Founders Brewing Company's Dirty Bastard Scotch ale, even while allowing Stone Brewing's Arrogant Bastard Ale (not to mention Fat Bastard wines).

For years the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) enforced a bizarre, inaccurate nomenclature for beer labels, calling malt beverages "beer" if they contained up to 4 percent alcohol by volume and "ale" if they were stronger than that. Meanwhile, it banned words that it deemed references to alcoholic content, going so far as to instruct Austin's Jester King Brewery that it could not call its strong ale (the name of a beer style) "strong." Those rules were overturned by a federal judge on First Amendment grounds in 2011. That decision, by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, featured this memorable passage:

"TABC's argument, combined with artful legislative drafting, could be used to justify any restriction on commercial speech. For instance, Texas would likely face no (legal) obstacle if it wished to pass a law defining the word "milk" to mean "a nocturnal flying mammal that eats insects and employs echolocation." Under TABC's logic, Texas would then be authorized not only to prohibit use of the word "milk" by producers of a certain liquid dairy product, but also to require Austin promoters to advertise the famous annual "Milk Festival" on the Congress Avenue bridge [a reference to the Austin Bat Festival]. Regardless of one's feelings about milk or bats, this result is inconsistent with the guarantees of the First Amendment."

The one clear legal defeat for federal alcohol regulations came in 1995, when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Treasury Department could no longer stop brewers from telling their customers how much alcohol was in their beer. Yes, that was an actual rule enforced by federal government, on the theory that beer drinkers needed to be protected from such information, lest they choose the brand that gave them the most bang for their buck. Fortunately, regulators still have the power to shield consumers from images of playing cards and googly-eyed Santas.


Travelodge removes the Bible from every room: No one had complained... but chain 'doesn't want to discriminate'

One of Britain’s biggest hotel chains has removed Bibles from its rooms to avoid upsetting non-Christians.

The decision by Travelodge has been condemned as ‘tragic and bizarre’ by the Church of England, which says Bibles in hotel rooms are important to provide hope, comfort and inspiration to travellers.

But the chain, which runs 500 hotels, said the country was becoming increasingly multicultural and it had taken the action for ‘diversity reasons’.

It said the policy was implemented ‘in order not to discriminate against any religion’ – despite having had no complaints from guests.  Bibles were taken away at the same time as a refurbishment of its rooms, removing drawers where they were kept.

The Bibles, which were provided free by the Gideon Society, have been retained and are stored behind reception for guests to borrow on request, the company says.

A Church of England spokesman said: ‘It seems both tragic and bizarre that hotels would remove the word of God for the sake of ergonomic design, economic incentive or a spurious definition of the word “diversity”.’

It seems not all Travelodges even have Bibles available on request. At the branch in Battersea, south London, there was no Bible in the room or behind reception.

When requested, the receptionist could not find a copy and said no one had ever asked him for one in his four months of working there. Instead, he suggested using the hotel’s free wifi to ‘Google it and read it online’.

When pushed for a hard copy, he rang his manager who told him they used to have them in rooms, but hadn’t had any at the hotel since refurbishment last year.

But other hotel firms, including Britain’s largest budget hotel company, Premier Inn, and InterContinental Hotels, owners of the Holiday Inn chain, say Bibles are being retained at their hotels. A Premier Inn spokesman said: ‘Bibles are available in Premier Inn rooms.  ‘On the rare occasion that a customer does not wish to have a Bible in their room, they can request this to be removed ahead of their stay by contacting the hotel directly.’

Upmarket hotel chain Millennium & Copthorne, which runs four-star hotels in areas including Mayfair, Kensington and Knightsbridge, confirmed it still has Bibles in rooms and has no plans to remove them despite ‘welcoming guests from around the world’.

Travelodge is the first national hotel chain to remove Bibles – although in 2012 one independent hotel, the Damson Dene Hotel in Crosthwaite, Cumbria, replaced them with the erotic bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey.

A Travelodge spokesman said: ‘The reason is because of diversity. With the country being increasingly multicultural, we didn’t feel it was appropriate to just have the Bible because there are people of other religions. People were also taking Bibles away and with the redesign of the rooms, it was felt that it would be better to remove them.’

Another spokesman added: ‘In order not to discriminate against any religion, customers who would like a Bible can pick a copy from any one of Travelodge’s 500 hotel reception desks across the country, whilst staying at the hotel. To date, Travelodge has not received any customer feedback regarding this decision.’


Foreign inmates in British open jails go back behind bars: Justice Secretary imposes ban on convicts from overseas being placed in 'soft' prisons

Foreign criminals have been rounded up from Britain’s ‘soft’ open jails and put back behind bars to stop them absconding.  Over the past 48 hours, more than 20 offenders were moved back to closed conditions.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has now imposed a ban on foreign convicts who are subject to deportation orders being placed in open jail.

They will also be barred from taking part in Release on Temporary Licence, whereby inmates can leave a jail in the daytime to find work or undergo rehabilitation because a string of prisoners have failed to return.  The move will affect hundreds of foreign prisoners. There are some 800 awaiting deportation.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘We are working hard to return foreign national prisoners to their own countries to serve their sentences. While they remain with us, we must do all we can to make sure they stay safely under lock and key.

‘That’s why I am changing the rules to prevent those foreign nationals who are going to be deported from being transferred into open prisons or getting temporary release.

‘It’s clearly not right that foreign nationals who are going to be deported end up in open prisons where they might abscond and threaten public safety.’

Figures published last month showed a sharp rise in the number of inmates going missing from jail – in the past year there were 225, up almost 30 per cent over the past two years.

This included 137 from open prisons, which have been the subject of controversy after a spate of criminals walked out. The most high-profile was Michael Wheatley, known as the ‘Skullcracker’, who sparked a nationwide hunt after absconding from HMP Standford Hill on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent.

Officials say the number of foreign criminals who have walked out is around 10 over the past five years.

It comes amid renewed controversy over the Government’s record. On Monday, the Mail revealed how the number of overseas inmates escaping deportation rocketed by 50 per cent last year.

In total, only 1,310 of the 4,030 overseas convicts considered for removal were sent home.

The offenders who were not thrown out last year included 15 murderers, five people guilty of manslaughter, 15 rapists, 140 robbers and 20 people guilty of sex offences against children.

The foreign convicts are now avoiding deportation in one in every three cases – a sharp increase on previous years.


Why is the RSPCA killing so many pets - and taking their loving owners to court? Statistics show charity is now destroying half the animals it comes into contact with

They're little better than Nazis, these days   

When Dilys Hadley answered the door to the RSPCA, she had no reason to suspect there was anything to fear.

The retired teacher had donated to the charity in the past and was a keen supporter of its animal welfare work. So she assumed the man on her doorstep was fundraising.

But what happened next was staggering. The inspector informed her they had received a report from a member of the public that her cat, Janet, was wandering around with an injured eye.

Dilys, 62, said that yes, Janet did have an eye problem, but she was going to the vet after the weekend, when Dilys’s daughter would be there and could help get Janet into her travel basket.

Dilys didn’t think the animal was in any pain, as she was eating and going outside. Unimpressed, the inspector demanded to see the cat. Dilys, from Exmouth, Devon, joked that Janet was having her lunch and wouldn’t want to be disturbed.

The inspector — a trainee, it later emerged — then looked at the cat, who had a swollen eye, and said she had to be taken to a vet immediately. Still believing the charity was helping her, Dilys asked if she could go with Janet, but the inspector refused.

The cat was forced into a wire cage, and Dilys begged for Janet’s travel cushion to be put inside. Again, she was told no.

Janet then began to meow and throw herself around the cage. Dilys asked if her pet could be put in the travel case she was used to, but was threatened with the police unless she stopped interfering.

Frantic with worry, Dilys was left to wait for hours until the inspector phoned to say her cat was all right, although Dilys was not allowed to know where Janet was. Another inspector would be in touch in the next few days, she was told.

‘I was crying my eyes out,’ says Dilys, who at the time was a manager at a sheltered housing scheme for the elderly. ‘From opening the door very innocently, I was suddenly in a nightmare.’

Three days later, a female RSPCA inspector came to interview Dilys. Her 22-year-old daughter sat in on the conversation.

‘It was very odd because the inspector demanded to be seated separately from us, and we had to get her a table,’ recalls Dilys. ‘Then she cautioned me — read me my rights.

‘I couldn’t believe it. It was like The Sweeney. It felt as though she’d transformed my living room into a police station, and I was being treated like a criminal in my own home.

‘When I innocently told her we’d had Janet as a kitten, and she was originally a present for my daughter, the inspector told my daughter that as the legal owner of the cat, she would be charged separately on another occasion for neglecting Janet. She was told to leave the room.’

Confused, bewildered and distraught, mother and daughter were then informed they could see Janet one last time to say goodbye.

They were taken to a vet’s in Exmouth where, according to Dilys, ‘we were treated like muck’.

She says: ‘It was horrendous. Janet was in a cage and called out to us. We were allowed to hold her and cuddle her. And that was it.

‘We were told she had an inoperable tumour behind her eye. They put her down the next day.

‘That cat was like my baby. She used to follow me to the bus stop. She’d be waiting for me under the tree when I got home. For her to end her life like that was heartbreaking.’

The RSPCA showed no mercy, though. Six months later, Dilys and her daughter — a Cambridge University graduate who’d not been living at home with Janet — were summoned to court, where the RSPCA began to prosecute for neglect.

The charity brought charges under the 2006 Animal Welfare Act, which created the offence of failing to take reasonable steps to provide for an animal’s needs.  The Hadleys’ case and its appeals stretched on, leaving the RSPCA with a legal bill of almost £10,000.

Last September, Judge Jeremy Griggs was scathing of the charity for dragging the family through the courts. While finding Dilys technically in breach of the Act, he said he had ‘considerable sympathy’ with her.

The charity had broken an undertaking it gave to Parliament not to use stronger powers under the new legislation against pet owners without giving them a chance to have their animals treated, he added.

Dilys received a conditional discharge with no restriction on keeping animals in the future. Her daughter was acquitted.

The judge refused to make an order for costs of £9,945, as requested by the RSPCA, although Dilys had to make a contribution of £600, which she has only just managed to pay off.

Her ordeal was awful, but it is not an isolated case. More stories are emerging of the RSPCA forcibly taking beloved pets and destroying them against the owners’ wishes, then pursuing the owners with charges of cruelty.

Only this week, the Byrnes family from Hertfordshire told of their horror that their 16-year-old cat Claude was put down. Richard Byrnes, his wife Samantha and their children Eloise and Dominic, suffered a year of trauma after an RSPCA inspector seized Claude from their home, claiming he was too thin and had matted fur.

Despite explaining that the cat was old and refused to have his fur brushed, they were threatened with prison unless they had him put down.

The RSPCA then issued proceedings for cruelty, which saw Richard, an accountant at Transport for London, dragged to court. Last week, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) ruled there was not enough evidence, and the case was dismissed.

The Byrnes hit out at the RSPCA for its ‘bullying tactics’ — an increasingly common complaint.

But most shocking of all is the scale of its euthanasia. Statistics show the charity is now destroying almost half of the animals it has contact with. The RSPCA has also wrongly picked on the elderly, sick or mentally impaired — the very people who most need their pets for comfort and companionship.

Julie Nadian, a 48-year-old autistic woman, found herself targeted when she rejected a vet’s opinion that her elderly cat Ziggy had to be put down. In May last year, the RSPCA hauled all three of her cats away.

The charges against her were dropped when she called in the CPS to examine the case.

Diane and Dean Webb were not so fortunate. The couple never saw any of their 33 show cats and kittens again after the RSPCA raided their home in Barrow upon Trent, Derbyshire, and prosecuted them for neglecting the animals — charges a judge rejected.

The couple were forced to move abroad after receiving death threats on the internet.

Now back in Britain, they have not had a single cat returned — despite being acquitted on all charges. It’s thought the animals have been rehomed.

The RSPCA seems all too happy to prosecute children, too. In 2011, Tracey Johnson and her daughter Sophie, 16, were charged with cruelty after leaving five cocker spaniel puppies in their back garden while they went shopping. It started to rain, and a neighbour called the RSPCA.

Mother and daughter found themselves in the dock, although the case was dismissed and the judge said prosecuting a child who had little involvement with the animals was ‘totally inappropriate’.

If you scratch the surface of the many RSPCA prosecutions going through our courts each month — there were 1,548 people prosecuted last year, resulting in 3,961 convictions — you will find dozens of shocking tales of the charity appearing to act out of all proportion.

In another case that raises serious questions, 42 Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs and two Swedish dogs were seized from the Essex home of Deborah Fuller by RSPCA inspectors last year.

Deborah, 54, a dog breeder and qualified show judge, was bundled into the back of a police car and spent nine hours in a cell, accused of neglect, while her home and kennels were raided. Many of the dogs on her seven-and-a-half acre plot had arrived as rescue animals.

All were taken away by the charity after the council used a warrant to search the property on environmental health grounds following a noise and nuisance complaint by a neighbour.

Deborah readily admits that she had taken on too many animals and was in the process of finding homes for a lot of them. But she vehemently disputes that they were not properly cared for.

After a costly court case, she was acquitted of all charges in June, when it emerged the search warrant did not allow the RSPCA to check the dogs’ condition. But she has not even seen her animals since they were seized.

Deborah suspects that at least three have been put down because of age or alleged illnesses.

When I asked the RSPCA what had happened to the 44 animals, it refused to comment on the case, but Ms Fuller says she has received a letter saying the organisation is seeking a judicial review of her acquittal.

A spokesman for the RSPCA said: ‘Rather than comment on a series of individual cases, we can confirm that our approach to prosecution decisions is the same in all cases — namely that before proceedings can be instituted, we must be satisfied there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction, and that it is in the public interest to prosecute.’

Interestingly, he added: ‘Where suspected offences are detected, RSPCA inspectors are required under statutory codes to advise suspects about their right to silence, to seek legal advice and to ask our inspector to leave.’

And Dilys Hadley has had to stop working with the elderly because her background checks now bring up a criminal history — as she was found technically in breach of the law.

‘To be an animal lover like me and be told you are an animal abuser is psychologically very disturbing,’ she says. ‘It has left me with serious depression. I’ve been criminalised.

‘There is something radically wrong with the RSPCA. They are not the organisation I used to support. They walk all over people and don’t care about animals.’

There are many theories as to why the charity acts as it does. But the main problem seems to be the type of people now running it — who include extreme animal rights activists.

Take Dr Richard Ryder, a former director of the militant Political Animal Lobby, who is a member of the RSPCA’s ruling council.

He has suggested that animals are morally identical to human beings so should never be used for food, clothing — or enjoyment.

He thinks people who disagree are guilty of ‘speciesism’, which he compares to racism and sexism.

Since February, the RSPCA has been rudderless — following the resignation of chief executive Gavin Grant due to ill health.

It is the only charity that brings private prosecutions. All others, including the NSPCC and RSPB, have given up, since the formation of the CPS in 1986.

Crucially, the RSPCA was forced to instigate an independent review of its prosecutions policy last year following intense criticism, including from the Attorney General. A report on the review was due this spring. There is still no sign of it.

All of this is a great shame because when the charity sticks to the core principles it was founded on — to help animals in need — it does very popular work.

We are a nation of animal lovers and last year Britons made well over a million calls to the RSPCA’s 24-hour cruelty hotline.

Its rescue centres took in tens of thousands of abandoned and needy creatures, including horses, dogs and cats.

Every year, the charity receives millions of pounds worth of donations from ordinary people, although these have fallen sharply in recent years.

Critics say the downturn started when the RSPCA began wading into political controversies, such as fox hunting and the badger cull, and because of the row over its prosecutions policy.

The latest accounts posted by the RSPCA show cash receipts down from £112.4 million in 2012 to £105.4 million in 2013.

The cash from legacies was down £5.7 million, while individual gifts fell by £1.2 million. Money from membership fees fell from £590,000 to £556,000.

Sara-Lise Howe, a barrister who has defended pet owners in recent court cases, is in no doubt that urgent action is needed.

‘We are seeing the criminalisation of innocent pet owners,’ she says.  ‘From the moment the investigators arrive on the doorstep, the owners are treated as criminals, and their rights ignored. ‘The police wouldn’t be able to get access like this.

‘The RSPCA comes to the door on the basis that it is helping, but then starts gathering evidence without telling householders they have the right to tell the inspector to leave.’

As a result, the Byrnes family, Dilys Hadley and countless others who’ve had their beloved pets summarily put down, are left wishing they’d simply slammed the door when the inspector came calling.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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