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    The First (Terms of Service) Amendment

    November 10, 2017 // 4 Comments »

    The First Amendment must catch up with the 21st century. What we say on Twitter and elsewhere online is too important to be governed by a Terms of Service agreement.

    I recently wrote about how the Ohio State University is preventing white supremacist Richard Spencer from speaking on campus. Despite falling under the First Amendment, Ohio State is looking for a legal loophole to block speech it doesn’t agree with.

    The semi-comforting news is that Ohio State’s face slap to the First Amendment is subject to legal challenge. Not so in the cyberspace-based public square of the 21st century. What should be the modern arena of diverse ideas is instead controlled by corporations and their self-written Terms of Service. Hiding behind the bushes of private ownership, the quasi-public forums on Twitter, Facebook, Google, and their predecessors and successors skirt the First Amendment to control what people say, read, and by extension, think. They are the censors the Founding Fathers feared. It is hard to imagine a more significant threat to the free exchange of ideas.

    It is time to expand the First Amendment to quasi-public institutions.

    The scope of the First Amendment has regularly expanded. In the earliest days of the Republic the Bill of Rights applied only to the federal, and not any state or local governments. It wasn’t until the post-Civil War incorporation doctrine, followed by court cases well into the 20th century, that those restraints on government applied equally to the states. In its own founding days Ohio State could have easily banned a speaker for his beliefs.

    Actually, Ohio State might have been able to ban a speaker it found offensive until even more recently. It wasn’t until a 1995 case that the Supreme Court held a university’s choices on funding student publications fell under the First Amendment’s obligation not to discriminate against particular viewpoints. Other expansions of the First Amendment took place in the 1950s, when the Supreme Court extended protection to non-traditional “political” speech, including nudity and advertising.

    The First Amendment grows with the times, and needs to do so again to take in what Justice Anthony Kennedy called the “vast democratic forums of the internet in general, and social media in particular.”

    The problem is that those forums today enjoy the freedom to suppress what once were inalienable rights.

    When you use various web sites, you agree to a dense set of conditions, Terms of Service, along with the understanding that Twitter (we’ll use them as shorthand for the range of sites and apps) can interpret things as they wish. So while the Supreme Court continues to hold the line against banning “hate speech,” Twitter is free to apply any standard wishes, along any political or ideological lines it wishes. Twitter may ban speech acting as an arm of the government, skirting the First Amendment because it can.

    That appears to have been what happened with Twitter’s decision to ban advertising from Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik. Both have been accused via a hazy intelligence community assessment of influencing the 2016 presidential election. While the federal government is stuck with that creaky old First Amendment preventing it from chasing RT and Sputnik back to Moscow, Twitter can — literally with a Tweet — silence them. Twitter quickly followed the Russian action with a decision to ban whatever it thinks are “violent groups and hateful imagery and hate symbols.” In the same week Twitter suspended the account of conservative Roger Stone. No explanation was given, though the suspension appears to be related to Stone’s angry Tweets directed at CNN.

    My own Twitter suspension occurred in the process of defending myself against several antifa people who conflated my defense of free speech in the broadest terms with what they believed was my personal support for nazi hatred. Their threats to “punch nazis” lead me to respond. My response was deemed by Twitter incitement to violence (though it would never meet the actual definition of that term the Supreme Court established) and I got the boot. When suspended, Twitter still allows you to read your timeline, so I could see attacks continue until the antifa people tired of it all. I could not block them or respond in any way. It felt a lot like five big guys holding me down while a bully whacked away.

    Google has quietly implemented censorship in the most well-intentioned way possible: to stop child predators. The internet giant tweaked its English-language search results to block sites it believes link to child pornography. “We will soon roll out these changes in more than 150 languages, so the impact will be truly global,” the company claims.

    While no one can argue against stopping child predators, those same tools can be used in other ways, known as the search engine manipulation effect. Generally, the higher an item appears on a list of search results, the more users will click on it. Research shows putting links for one candidate above another in a rigged search can increase the number of undecided voters who chose one candidate by 12% or more.

    Burying a link can have a similar effect. Google highlighting an OpEd that argues one way to the query “What is Trump’s Russia policy?” while leaving an opposing opinion out of the search results is a critical free speech issue of our time. A current Google search for “greatest president of the 20th century,” for example, highlights a brisk historical debate over Ronald Reagan versus Franklin Roosevelt, and brings up over 300,000 sites. What if it yielded only one? America would never accept government issuing a list of approved books for dead tree libraries few use anymore, but blithely accepts the same from the most-used research tool in human history.

    Technology has changed the nature of censorship so that free speech in 2017 is not as much about finding a place to speak, but about finding an audience. Censorship in the 21st century targets speakers (example: Twitter) and listeners (Google.) There will soon be no fear that anyone will lock up dissident thinkers in some old-timey prison to silence them; impose a new Terms of Service and they are effectively dead.

    The arguments that Twitter and Google are private companies, that no one forces you to use their services, and in fact you are free to switch to MySpace and Bing, are tired attempts to justify end runs around the First Amendment. Platforms like Twitter are the public squares of the 21st century (seven of 10 American adults used a social media site in 2016), and should be governed by the same principles, or the First Amendment will become largely irrelevant.

    Pretending a corporation with the global reach to influence elections is just another company is to pretend the role of unfettered debate in a free society is outdated. Absent a court decision that places quasi-public forums under the First Amendment, we face a future that will splinter debate and discussion into a myriad of ideological-based platforms such that no one will be listening to anyone they do not already support. It will be a future where Twitter and Ohio State protect students from the words of Richard Spencer at the expense of teaching them how to challenge those words.

     

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Safety or Liberty? The Constitution Says We Can Have Both

    October 31, 2017 // 3 Comments »



    Certain things used to be more, well, self-evident. A great many of us didn’t necessarily like, but understood, the First Amendment protected some speech we strongly disagreed with, or some speech that even made us afraid. We accepted there was an often uncomfortable duty to protect the right to speech irrespective of its content. We understood if we allowed government and institutions to block one person’s speech, even someone with terrible ideas, they could block others. Right up to when they came for us.

    Then a collective mental breakdown took place in November 2016, and an almost organic sense that overnight America set itself on the path to fascism became the justification for the weakening of the First Amendment. Free speech is now seen by many as a liability, an enabling tool for anyone one might label a “nazi.” Some 69% of American college students believe hate speech (“Using language on campus that is intentionally offensive to certain groups”) should be banned by the government. It is an increasingly common point of view that taking away someone’s right to speak, a tool of fascism, somehow protects against the encroach of fascism.

    And so welcome to The Ohio State University, which has refused to allow white supremacist Richard Spencer to speak on campus November 15.

    The attorney representing Ohio State said Spencer would pose a “substantial risk to public safety, as well as material and substantial disruption to the work and discipline of the University.” Ohio State was no doubt also thinking of the $600,000 the University of Florida claimed it cost to provide security for Spencer’s recent appearance there. The Florida response included hundreds of police officers from five jurisdictions, as well as SWAT teams and snipers.

    Both Ohio State and Penn State (also denying Spencer the chance to speak) are being sued for violating the First Amendment. Without explanation, nearby University of Cincinnati will allow Spencer to speak.

    The law does not appear to be on Ohio State’s side. Blocking a speaker to protect public safety is an absolute last resort, and some risk to safety is part of the cost of the unfettered speech a democracy needs to thrive. Freedom, it seems, really is not free. The security costs are in fact to protect the First Amendment in broad practice, not simply one man in the specific.

    The security problems Ohio State cites are not created by the speaker; they are created by the mob expected to oppose the speaker and on the assumption Spencer’s supporters will fight back. A historian lecturing across campus from Spencer on Babylonian art needs no police presence. Allowing the mob to have the final word on who speaks can in fact help create mobs where none otherwise exist. Placing a dollar test on free speech means it is only available to those who can afford it.

    These questions are not new. Public safety has been long (mis)-used to silence. The town of Urbana, Illinois arrested someone burning an American flag (an act long-held to be a form of protected speech) claiming he was in danger from bystanders. Similar thinking has been used to deny permits for civil rights marches, with law enforcement saying they could not protect the protestors. Both sides in the abortion debate have used this argument as well outside clinics.

    While institutions do have an obligation to public safety, that obligation must be balanced against the public’s greater right to engage with free speech. The answer is rarely to ban speech outright simply to maintain order. One landmark case from 2015 provides some of the clearest guidance yet:

    “When a peaceful speaker, whose message is constitutionally protected, is confronted by a hostile crowd, the state may not silence the speaker as an expedient alternative to containing or snuffing out the lawless behavior of the rioting individuals. Nor can an officer sit idly on the sidelines — watching as the crowd imposes, through violence, a tyrannical majoritarian rule — only later to claim that the speaker’s removal was necessary for his or her own protection. Uncontrolled official suppression of the privilege [of free speech] cannot be made a substitute for the duty to maintain order in connection with the exercise of that right.”

    The case involved a group called the Bible Believers who used crude langauge (“Turn or Burn”) at an LGBTQ gathering. The judges continued in their opinion allowing the Bible Believers to speak:

    “We do not presume to dictate to law enforcement precisely how it should maintain the public order. But in this case, there were a number of easily identifiable measures that could have been taken short of removing the speaker: e.g., increasing police presence in the immediate vicinity, as was requested; erecting a barricade for free speech, as was requested; arresting or threatening to arrest more of the law breakers, as was also requested. We simply cannot accept Defendants’ position that they were compelled to abridge constitutional rights for the sake of public safety, when at the same time the lawless adolescents who caused the risk with their assaultive behavior were left unmolested.”

    The belief law enforcement, or any institution, can turn first to shutting down speech that requires physical protection, has failed other courts’ tests in cases are diverse as Occupy and where a Christian group brought a pig’s head to a Muslim Arts festival.

    I spent four years as an undergrad at Ohio State, and saw first-hand how the university can protect the free speech rights of a diverse group of speakers. A former member of the Black Panther party spoke in favor of racial violence. My time on campus was an era of fights for LGBTQ and other rights, and I saw massive police turnouts to protect gays marching across campus, and for a women’s “Take Back the Night” march through rough neighborhoods. Iranian students massed for anti-American demonstrations at a time when U.S. diplomats were being held hostage in Tehran. Meanwhile, Ohio State every other Saturday in the fall deploys a massive security presence for home football games, where the crowd rises above 100,000, multiples past who might show up to protest Spencer. Events likely to cause hardship to passersby are well-advertised, and students know to avoid them if they wish. Such events, past and current, clearly created the same “material and substantial disruption to the work and discipline of the University” that Ohio State fears Spencer will bring but were allowed anyway.

    And Ohio State knows things worked out smoothly last fall, in fact just days before the election, when the school welcomed white supremacist Milo Yiannopoulos to campus.

    Ohio State can do it, they just want to be able to pick and choose when they do it. And that is wrong.

    An institution cannot cite avoiding public disruption as the initial or sole reason to restrict speech. The problems of having Richard Spencer, or anyone, speak on campus are outweighed by the obligation to protect free speech. Getting rid of the speaker is expedient but unconstitutional. Maintenance of the peace should not be achieved at the expense of the free speech. It’s pretty much self-evident.




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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Thanks, and Goodbye

    August 13, 2017 // 54 Comments »

    I’ll save someone the time typing in the Comments section — yes, yes, I won’t let the door hit me on the ass on the way out.

    I’m going to take a break with this blog. I may post here and there when I get bored, I may rerun some old things, I may do nothing at all. But after some six years and over 2,000 posts, I’m gonna do something else. Not sure just what yet.

    The reason is simple: the Internet has become too boring and too toxic. It is no longer a matter of having a thick skin, it is a question of why bother.

    The past election finally broke the idea of the informal interchange blogs thrive on, as it broke journalism. And as it apparently caused most of America to lose its mind.

    Partisan reporting devolved into partisan facts; for example, though the basics are black and white in how the government’s document classification system works, the mass of media allowed itself for over a year to believe that Clinton had no classified material on her email server because someone retyped things without the SECRET headers, then spent months telling everyone even if she did that did not matter, even after it did. There are plenty of other examples. For example, a large number of Americans now believe, based on no real evidence presented yet so far, that our government is literally controlled from Moscow. But mention the idea of a Deep State and you’re labeled a nut case conspiracy theorist. Sure.

    Journalism used to involve sources, people and documents — facts. Reporters told us how they knew something so we could judge the validity of the reporting. If the source on a new strategy toward India was an intern who quit last year versus a senior national security advisor, we could judge. Now, major stories are near-exclusively sourced anonymously, and often include second and third hand leaks and rumors, all jumbled together as fact. As long as the main story point supports a given bias (Trump is bad) most people seem to play along. As the old joke goes, that’s not reporting, it’s typing.

    Outside of some pretty dank hyper-conservative media, it is impossible to write about Trump except to ridicule him, and even that must be done in the most juvenile ways to pass muster. I can’t write about a decision, or compare something today to actions of the Obama administration, unless I also call Trump a petulant fool, a man-child, orange Cheeto, and state he is planning to start a war with China, Iran or North Korea this same day. Anything less than that and I am a fascist, nazi, rethugblican or just plain stupid. History has been rewritten on the fly to deify Obama, and even George W. Bush has seen a bit of a makeover. Anything other than overt attacks on Trump are labeled as support. There is nothing left to write other than grade school level insults.

    There is no point I can see anymore in researching and writing an explainer on how something like the Emoluments Clause works, for example, when the response is inevitably something like “You suxxxx, go f*ck Putin, stupid white man!!!!”

    I also see no real progress being made now that everyone is empowered to insult everyone else. It is not “resistance” to call me names for being straight and white. Legitimate political criticism of a politician is instantly labeled misogynistic. Or homophobic or sexist or racist.

    Oh yes, and I’m threatened by all this, I’ve heard a million times. Friends, I’ve been shot at, mortared, told I might go to jail under the Espionage Act, made to believe the government might seek to bankrupt me in legal costs, stuff like that. Trust me, your Tweet is not a threat. It’s just tiresome, repetitive, and unoriginal.

    The final straw for me is the attack on free speech from the left, the growing sense that the use of violence is an acceptable tool to silence offensive speech as long as you can say without irony your violence is the anti-fascist kind. Progressives, if you can’t see the wrong in using fascist techniques to fight fascism, I can’t help you. But God help all of us.

    So anyway America, enjoy. I’ll be over here in the corner with a water glass of tequila, watching as we tear ourselves apart, and wondering how long 300 million people can keep the lights on with a near-complete lack of civil discourse. Then again, I always was a big Mad Max fan.

    See you later.

    (Sound of the door slapping me on the ass as I walk away…)




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    Five Bad Arguments to Restrict Speech

    August 10, 2017 // 20 Comments »


    Without free speech people stop thinking, losing out on all but a narrowing band of ideas. Open discussion, debate, and argument are the core of democracy. Bad ideas are defeated by good ideas. Fascism seeks to close off all ideas except its own.

    Yet all of these most basic concepts of free speech in our nation are under threat, and too many of them are under threat from the left. I never thought I would write that last phrase, just as I never thought I’d need to explain five bad arguments the Left is using to restrict speech from the Right.

     

    Despicable People

    Despicable people and their ideas have always existed, though it is essentially a quick summary of the whole point of free speech to remind that at different times in our history speaking out against slavery, against war, against one president or another, have all been seen as despicable. Restrictions on free speech have been used to ban great literature, books about women’s reproductive health, and photos once deemed “pornopgraphic” now displayed as art. Someone will always find an idea or word offensive. Allowing that person to judge for all of us has never proven to be on the right side of history.

    The arrival in 2017 of neo-nazis, alt-right, white supremacists, racists, and the many flavors of ‘phobes is sadly nothing new. The current poster children for hate, Richard Spencer, Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter, and Charles Murray, are no one new either (Coulter’s first book came out in 1998; Murray published his loathed book on welfare in 1984 and both have spoken publicly ever since.) What does seem to be new is that their opposition — the antifa, the anti-fascists — is now aggressively embracing many of the same tools once used to try and stop the anti-war movement, feminists, and other progressive groups in the past. The justification is Everything Is Different since November’s election, and the old rules not only don’t apply, but that wishy-washy democratic ideals of free speech are now a threat to democracy.

     

    Punching Nazis

    And so an incident at the Trump inaugural set “Is it OK to punch a Nazi for what he said?” bouncing around the media, including in the New York Times and The Nation, two venerable outlets which have otherwise long fought for free speech, and whose writers have long risked jail time in the practice of it.

    What happened was that alongside the inauguration Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer was explaining live on camera the meaning of Pepe the Frog, a silly cartoon figure somehow adopted as a mascot by the anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and anti-feminist movement Spencer promotes. An anonymous black-clad antifa protester ran into the scene and sucker punched Spencer. His free speech was ended by that act of violence.

    There followed tens of thousands of comments on the YouTube videos of the attack. The standard response was “I don’t condone violence BUT…” and then go on to condone violence. Another popular comment was to invoke Hitler, claiming violence is now justified as a leftist response to hateful speech by the right, and that if perhaps more people had punched Hitler in the early days the world would be a better place. More than a few people online also suggested punching someone in the head is in fact a form of protected free speech itself, and others seem to think whatever they label as “hate speech” is a crime. Others used phrases along the lines of “the end justifies the means” and “by any means necessary.”

    A popular meme was to put different songs, many calling for more violence, behind the punching video. Jon Favreau, a former speechwriter for Barack Obama, tweeted “I don’t care how many different songs you set Richard Spencer being punched to, I’ll laugh at every one.”

    Following the Spencer attack, similar violence landed at Middlebury College, then at a rally where one protester who displayed a Confederate flag was attacked, and at the University of California Berkeley (the university was ironically home to the Vietnam War protest-era Free Speech Movement.) Institutions, including Berkeley and New York University, canceled, postponed, or scheduled into dead zones for attendance speeches by conservative speakers, citing public safety concerns.

    What grew out of the Spencer incident and those in Berkeley, Middlebury and elsewhere are a series of inaccurate and/or weak arguments from too many in favor of restricting speech. Let’s look at some, and why they do not hold up.

     

    1. The First Amendment Only Applies to Government?

    The first fallacious argument used to shut down free speech is that the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights in our Constitution only applies to government, and so universities or other entities are entitled to censor, restrict or shut down altogether speech willy-nilly.

    Short Answer: Not really. Public funding invokes the First Amendment for schools, and free speech runs deeper than the Bill of Rights. It’s as much a philosophical argument as a legal one, not a bad thing for a nation founded on a set of ideas (and ideals.)

     

    Free speech in America is an unalienable right, and goes as deep into the concept of a free society as any idea can. Though cited as far back as 1689 in England, the American version of this was laid out most clearly by Thomas Jefferson, in the mighty Declaration of Independence, where he wrote of rights that flowed from his notion of The Creator, not from government, and thus were fixed.

    Jefferson’s invocation of the Creator is understood now as less that free speech is heaven-sent and more that it is something that exists before and after our time. Government thus did not give us the right to free speech and therefore cannot take it away. The First Amendment simply codifies that latter part, laying out like much of the Bill of Rights what the government cannot do. So the argument that the First Amendment does not necessarily apply to all public speaking can be both true and irrelevant at the same time, and the latter is more important. Abetting free speech is an obligation in a democracy in general, and to an institution devoted to truth and education in the particular.

    And though the fundamental argument is the controlling one, there does also exist a legal one that extends the First Amendment restrictions to institutions that accept Federal funding (which means most of them); in the 1995 case Rosenberger v. University of Virginia, the Supreme Court held that the University could not fund all student publications except those addressing religious views because such a policy violated the institution’s constitutional obligation not to discriminate against particular viewpoints.

    Bottom Line: Universities are not free to restrict speech simply because they are not the government. They should be ashamed of themselves for trying to find ways to circumvent free speech instead of promoting it.

     

    2. What’s Said May Provoke Violence in the Room (A Clear and Present Danger)

    Some claim that certain conservative speakers, such as Milo Yiannopoulos, who purposefully use anti-LGBTQ slurs to provoke their audiences, should be banned or shut down. Their speech is the equivalent of yelling Fire! in a crowded movie theatre when there is no actual danger, provoking a deadly stampede for the exits.

    Short Answer: The standards for shutting down speech are very restrictive, and well-codified. Milo comes nowhere close.

     

    The Fire! line from a Supreme Court decision Schenck v. United States by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is often cited as justification for limiting free speech. Here’s what Holmes wrote:

    The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger.

    The full decision says the First Amendment doesn’t protect false speech that meets three conditions: 1) the speech must be demonstrably false; 2) it must be likely to cause real harm, not just offense or hurt feelings, and 3) must do so immediately. That’s the “clear and present danger.”

    This interpretation of the First Amendment has been adjudicated to impose a high barrier to restrictions on what can be blocked or banned, and over the years has allowed flags to be burned in front of veterans, Nazis to march among Holocaust survivors, artists to make religious sculptures from their own body waste.

    Schenck was what jurists call bad law, in that it sought to use the Espionage Act against a Socialist pamphleteer, to stop free speech, not protect it (in other words, the pamphleteer was determined to be a clear and present danger in wartime and rightfully arrested.) The case was eventually overturned, and in truth Holmes’ statement was originally intended to mean the First Amendment is not absolute, that restriction is lawful, along with the developing idea that restriction on speech should be narrow and limited.

    It was the later case of Brandenburg v. Ohio that refined the modern standard for restricting speech to that “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” But we talk about Holmes’ “fire in a crowded theatre” line as a kind of shorthand for all that.

    Justice Holmes, perhaps as an act of contrition, later wrote in another landmark case:

    The ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.

    Bottom Line: The Supreme Court has set a very high bar against restricting speech based on the idea that what is being said leading to violence. Concerns, offense or general threats alone are insufficient to justify silencing someone as a solution.

     

    3. What’s Said May Provoke Violence Outside (Public Safety)

    The idea that a university or other venue cannot assure a speaker’s safety, or that the speaker’s presence may provoke violent protests, or that the institution just doesn’t want to go to the trouble or expense of protecting a controversial speaker has become the go-to justification for canceling or restricting speech. Berkley cited this in canceling and then de-platforming (rescheduling her when most students would not be on campus) Ann Coulter, whose campus sponsors are now suing, and New York University cited the same justification for canceling an appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos.

    Short Answer: Canceling a speaker to protect them or public safety is the absolute last resort, and some risk to safety is part of the cost to a free society for unfettered speech.

     

    The most glaring misuse of this argument is when such a justification is applied only toward one strain of speech, say unilaterally against conservative speakers and not against others. The conclusion can only be danger comes from unpopular ideas based solely on their being presented on a left-leaning campus. The argument of restricting a speaker “for their own safety” who is otherwise willing to take on certain risks to make their voice heard can thus be applied in a biased manner. Restricting speech for safety needs to be content neutral.

    Public safety has been long (mis)-used to silence otherwise protected speech. Recently the town of Urbana, Illinois arrested someone burning an American flag (an act long-held to be a form of protected speech) claiming he was in danger from bystanders. Such thinking has in the past been used to deny permits for civil rights marches, with law enforcement saying they could not protect the protestors. Both sides in the abortion debate have used this argument as well outside clinics.

    While institutions do have an obligation to public safety, that obligation must be balanced against the public’s greater right to engage with free speech. Though there exists opinion on the proper balance, the answer is rarely to ban speech outright simply to maintain order.

    One landmark case from 2015 provides some of the clearest guidance yet:

    When a peaceful speaker, whose message is constitutionally protected, is confronted by a hostile crowd, the state may not silence the speaker as an expedient alternative to containing or snuffing out the lawless behavior of the rioting individuals. Nor can an officer sit idly on the sidelines — watching as the crowd imposes, through violence, a tyrannical majoritarian rule — only later to claim that the speaker’s removal was necessary for his or her own protection. Uncontrolled official suppression of the privilege [of free speech] cannot be made a substitute for the duty to maintain order in connection with the exercise of that right.

    The case involved a group called the Bible Believers who used crude langauge (“Turn or Burn”) at an LGBTQ gathering. The judges continued in their opinion allowing the Bible Believers to speak:

    We do not presume to dictate to law enforcement precisely how it should maintain the public order. But in this case, there were a number of easily identifiable measures that could have been taken short of removing the speaker: e.g., increasing police presence in the immediate vicinity, as was requested; erecting a barricade for free speech, as was requested; arresting or threatening to arrest more of the law breakers, as was also requested; or allowing the Bible Believers to speak from the already constructed barricade to which they were eventually secluded prior to being ejected from the Festival.”

    “If none of these measures were feasible or had been deemed unlikely to prevail, the officers could have called for backup… prior to finding that it was necessary to infringe on the group’s First Amendment rights. We simply cannot accept Defendants’ position that they were compelled to abridge constitutional rights for the sake of public safety, when at the same time the lawless adolescents who caused the risk with their assaultive behavior were left unmolested.

    The understanding that law enforcement, or any institution, can turn first to shutting down speech that requires physical protection, has failed the courts’ tests in cases are diverse as Occupy and where a Christian group brought a pig’s head on a stick to a Muslim Arts festival.

    In sum, the court has long recognized that content-based regulation of speech in a public forum (the “health and safety” restrictions) is permissible only “to serve a compelling state interest” and only when the regulation “is narrowly drawn to achieve that end.”

    Bottom Line: An institution cannot cite avoiding public disruption as the initial or sole reason to restrict speech. The problems of having Ann Coulter speak on campus are outweighed by the obligation to protect free speech. Maintenance of the peace should not be achieved at the expense of the free speech. Getting rid of the speaker is expedient but unconstitutional. There are plenty of laws that legitimately protect against violence on their own.

     

    4. Speech Can or Should Be Restricted Based on Content (Hate Speech)

    There are no laws against “hate speech.” A speaker can call people names, and insult them by their race, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. What many people think and say is hateful. It is carefully thought out to inspire hate, to promote hate, to appeal to crude and base instincts. Indeed, that is their point. But there is no law or other prohibition against hate speech. Even restrictions on “hate speech” meant to prevent violence, often cited as the justification to restrict such speech, are by design extremely narrow.

    Short Answer: You cannot restrict hate speech. Free speech means just that, with any limited restrictions content-neutral.

     

    The Brandenburg case test precludes speech from being sanctioned as incitement to riot unless (1) the speech explicitly or implicitly encouraged the use of violence or lawless action; (2) the speaker intends that their speech will result in the use of violence or lawless action, and (3) the imminent use of violence or lawless action is the likely result of the speech. A hostile reaction of a crowd does not transform protected speech into incitement. Listeners’ reaction to speech is thus not a content-neutral basis for regulation, or for taking an enforcement action against a speaker.

    A second type of speech that is categorically excluded from First Amendment protection and often erroneously labeled hate speech are “fighting words.” This category of unprotected speech encompasses words that when spoken aloud instantly “inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.” No advocacy can constitute fighting words unless it is “likely to provoke the average person to retaliation.” Offensive statements made generally to a crowd are not excluded from First Amendment protection; the insult or offense must be directed specifically at an individual.

    The upshot is that apart from some very narrow definitions of violence-inducing words, the obligation exists to the concept of free speech independent of the content of that speech. This is also one of the most fundamental precepts of free speech in a democracy. There need be no protections for saying things that people agree with, things that are not challenging or debatable or offensive; free speech is not really needed for the weather and sports parts of the news. Instead, free speech is there to allow for the most rude, offensive, hateful, challenging stuff you (or your neighbor, your political party, your government) can imagine.

    This is why, in the midst of Berkeley seeking to ban Ann Coulter from campus, Elizabeth Warren said “Let her speak. If you don’t like it, don’t show up.” Same for Bernie Sanders, who said “What are you afraid of, her ideas? Ask her the hard questions. Confront her intellectually. Booing people down or intimidating people or shutting down events — I don’t think that that works in any way.”

    More? The ACLU also supports Coulter’s right to speak. And so the ACLU supports the rights of all groups, to include Nazis and the Klu Klux Klan, to speak.

    It should make a college age ACLU donor proud to know her $25 contribution helps both Black Lives Matter and the Klan to stand up and say what they think, but it apparently does not.

    The president of the Newseum goes as far as arguing some people have developed an “alternate understanding” of free speech, with students in particular believing “offensive” speech is or should not be protected, particularly when the offense is directed at groups defined by race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.

    Ulrich Baer, vice provost for faculty, arts, humanities, and diversity, and professor of comparative literature at New York University, wrote plainly “Universities invite speakers not chiefly to present otherwise unavailable discoveries, but to present to the public views they have presented elsewhere. When those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good. In such cases there is no inherent value to be gained from debating them in public.”

    Baer is worth quoting at length, because his views capture the view of many progressives toward the now-threatening concept of unfettered speech:

    The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community. Free-speech protections — not only but especially in universities, which aim to educate students in how to belong to various communities — should not mean that someone’s humanity, or their right to participate in political speech as political agents, can be freely attacked, demeaned or questioned.

    He ends without irony this way:

    Freedom of expression is not an unchanging absolute. When its proponents forget that it requires the vigilant and continuing examination of its parameters, and instead invoke a pure model of free speech that has never existed, the dangers to our democracy are clear and present.

    Baer could not be more wrong. There is no legal or other justification for banning speech based on who it may offend or threaten, in fact, quite the opposite. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes declared unpopular ideas should have their opportunity to compete in the “marketplace of ideas.” Free speech is not an ends, it is a means, in a democracy.

    Justice Louis Brandeis held that people must discuss and criticize ideas, that free speech is not only an abstract virtue but also a key element that lies at the heart of a democratic society. Even the fact that speech is likely to result in “violence or in destruction of property is not enough to justify its suppression.” Brandeis concluded “the deterrents ordinarily to be applied to prevent” violence and disruption “are education and punishment for violations of the law, not abridgment of free speech.”

    Bottom Line: There is no justification for restricting speech so that people are not offended. Speech may offend, indeed that may be its point, but bad ideas are then defeated by better ideas.

     

    5. Free Speech Should Not Be Subject to the Heckler’s Veto

    Another argument used by some progressives is that the so-called Heckler’s Veto is in itself protected speech. Someone may have a right to speak, but someone else has the same right to shout them down and prevent them from being heard.

    Short answer: Free speech is not intended to mean whomever can literally “speak” the loudest gets to control what is said. The natural end of such thinking is mob rule, where Speaker A gets a bigger gang together to shout down the gang Speaker B controls.

     

    While protestors have an obligation not to abuse their rights of free expression by harassing or intimidating speakers in ways that unduly interfere with communication between a speaker and an audience, there does exist a balancing process.

    Agreed upon is that numerous legitimate ways exist to challenge speakers, including engaging them or ignoring them entirely. In contrast, using a Heckler’s Veto to keep unpopular speakers from expressing their views not only stifles a particular idea, but threatens to chill public discourse generally by discouraging others with controversial ideas from sharing them. Who wants to stand up only to be shouted down by a mob?

    The most insidious use of the Heckler’s Veto is to have audience members create a situation that compels law enforcement to shut down a speaker for them, abusing their own freedom of speech to get the government to shut down someone else’s. The law allows for law enforcement to act this way, but also makes clear it is wrong for “regulations to allow a single, private actor to unilaterally silence a speaker.”

    It is also quite sad to note the same tactic used at Middlebury College to silence speaker Charles Murray was employed during the civil rights movement when whites threatened violence if civil rights marches were permitted to take place. The tactic is also used by abortion foes to try and shut down clinics. The Supreme Court concluded the government’s responsibility in these circumstances is to control those who threaten or act out disruption, rather than to sacrifice the speaker’s First Amendment rights. Unfortunately, that was not what happened in Middlebury College, as Murray was run out of town for his own safety and the mob won.

    Bottom Line: Balancing the rights of the speaker, those who wish to hear them, and those who wish to protest is complicated. But simply shutting down one party entirely, or allowing one party to block the rights of the others, is wrong.

     

    Flipping the Argument

    It is hard today to be seen as defending the nasty words of a guy like Richard Spencer when one is defending his right to speak independent of what he says. It is easy for some in Trump’s America to claim the struggle against fascism overrules the old norms, that freedom must be defended and that defense justifies violence. Flipping an argument makes it easier to see the fallacy. So:

    So this guy beat the air out of this Black Lives Matter woman; she was spewing out hate speech, really racist stuff, and the guy acted in what he perceived as self-defense. Then some people who opposed Trump’s travel ban started calmly laying out their views on a street corner, and the same guy, who believes deep into his soul that Muslims are a threat to democracy and allowing them into America is a step toward fascism, got a bunch of his buddies together and by sheer force of numbers shouted down the pro-Muslim people, forcing them to run away for fear for their safety.

    Justification? The dude was pretty clear he was just exercising his First Amendment rights, that it was wrong for those protesters to have a platform and hey, he isn’t the government and the First Amendment only applies to the government. Sure violence is bad in isolation, but in defense of freedom, well, by any means necessary. While he was beating on the activists, he shouted he “understands the moral and practical limitations of wholly free discourse.”

    You get it.

    Free speech protection covers all the things people want to say, from the furthest left to the furthest right. You can burn a flag, display a nude body, fill a fish tank with urine and call it art, put on a KKK uniform and march past a Black church, and say whatever Richard Spencer says. Free speech means a lot of things, including that I can write this article, and you can say what you want about it and me. It is messy as hell, and it is our essential defense against fascism and control, whether from the left or the right.

     

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    The Russians Only Mattered Because Hillary Lost

    June 27, 2017 // 11 Comments »



    I’m going to ask you to try a thought experiment.

    Shut off the part of your mind that thinks Trump is bad (or good) and focus instead on the process in America that brought us to the present state of affairs. Because what unfolded in America is bigger than Trump, and will survive Trump to influence the next presidential election, and the one after that, and…

    Elections in America, 2016

    Here’s what an election looked like in America.

    — Bill Clinton met with then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch on June 27, 2016. Days later, on July 5, Lynch’s subordinate, FBI Director James Comey, announced candidate Hillary Clinton was not under investigation for security violations relating to her personal email server, extraordinary financial contributions by foreign governments to the Clinton Foundation many saw as quid pro quo, or anything else. Clinton is then nominated, with the last barrier to her move into the White House, the possibility of indictment, removed on schedule. Timing and coincidence are everything it seems.

    — According to the Washington Post, in late summer 2016 the CIA presented Obama with evidence that Russia, on Putin’s personal orders, was trying to influence the U.S. election. The accusations were the country obtained emails showing the Democratic National Committee (DNC) heavily favored Clinton over Sanders. The Russians also used social media to push a number of stories about Clinton that were false/exaggerated/true but negative.

    — According to the Post, so as not to appear to be supporting Trump, who at this same time was publicly stating the election was rigged against him, Obama did nothing regarding the Russian activities beyond allegedly telling Putin to stop doing them. This was largely predicated on the certainty that Clinton was going to win in November.

    — The DNC refused DHS/FBI cyber security assistance. The DNC did not allow DHS/FBI to physically inspect its computer hardware.

    The state of things as of late summer-early autumn 2016 was that Russia activities were just not that big of a deal. Clinton seemed comfortably headed to the White House. If this was a crisis, nobody acted like it.


    Clinton Lost

    The Russians’ activities at the worst consisted of those DNC emails and social media. The DNC emails’ primary content seemed to be confirmation that the organization favored Clinton over Sanders, not exactly news to Sanders’ supporters.

    Social media, the other side to Russia’s efforts, is confirmational; it tends to reach people who already believe what they are reading. Much of the Russian influence on the election was ascribed to RT.com, the Russian cable television channel. RT has very limited viewership among American households and arguably limited credibility among American voters. Quick now — what channel is RT on your cable box?

    The November election approached. Obama took no significant action. Democrats didn’t balk until November 1, almost a month after the information became publicly known, and only as polls started to show Trump pulling ahead. Hillary lost.


    A Whole-of-Government Effort

    A whole-of-government effort nearly immediately unfolded to overturn the election.

    Recounts were called for amid allegations of vote tampering. Constitutional scholars proposed various Electoral College wishful-thinking scenarios to unseat Trump. Lawsuits were filed claiming the hereto-largely unheard of Emoluments Clause made it illegal for Trump to even assume office. Leaks begin pouring out, focused on information sourced from signals intercept material available only to limited persons inside the intelligence community (IC), implying the Trump campaign worked with the Russian government.

    (Here’s more on the IC, Russia, and Trump.)

    Serious people in the United States government claimed outright the person elected president was a Russian agent, placed in the White House to follow instructions from Moscow. His very presence in the Oval Office was a treasonous act.

    The American mainstream media reset itself to the goal of enabling the impeachment of the president, spinning up the process even before Trump took the oath of office. It is now a rare day when the top stories are not bombastic accusations, based on a whole litany of anonymous sources, so-called reports, according to people familiar withs, government officials who have seen the documents, and so forth. No bit of gossip is too small, no accusation too grand, and it is all presented unsourced, rocketed from Rawstory to HuffPo to the New York Times in the morning, the other way around for the scoop-of-the-day in the afternoon.

    What was largely ignored by the White House in the summer of 2016 on the assumption Clinton would win became in the autumn after she lost, in the words of the Washington Post, “in political terms, Russia’s interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy.”

    In other words, whatever the Russians did only mattered and only was a crime because it contributed to Clinton’s loss. The hacking itself is immaterial; what matters is the way it affected the White House’s and media’s favored candidate.

    Only after Clinton lost did it become necessary to demonize the Russian threat and create a crisis that might be inflated big enough to justify impeachment.


    Minority Rulez

    Even among intelligent people well-versed in how government really works the thinking seems to be “well, it’s justified to get rid of Trump.”

    Trump is a terrible president. It is unlikely the United States will be a better place four years from now. But the problem isn’t so much Trump as it is the longer game. We’ve had crappy presidents before and mumbled through.

    Try as hard as you can to forget Trump is, well, Trump. Focus instead on the sheer amount of high-level manipulation, collusion if you will to use a popular term, involved in the recent election. What role did the FBI and the intelligence community play in the election? Why did they play any role at all? Why did the White House take little-to-know action against Russia, and shield what they knew from the American people, as long as their favored candidate was in the lead? What role is the media playing now in fanning the flames? Name a media source you consider impartial anymore.

    What is the broader significance of a relative minority of people inside government and the media seeking to overturn the results of an election?




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    Facebook and the Public Square

    June 22, 2017 // 13 Comments »




    In what is likely to be a more controversial decision, the same Supreme Court session that confirmed hate speech is protected speech also struck down a law that made it a crime for registered sex offenders to use Facebook and other social media.

    Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority in Packingham v. North Carolina , said the web is now part of “the modern public square.” Denying access to it, he wrote, violates the First Amendment.

    “By prohibiting sex offenders from using those websites, North Carolina with one broad stroke bars access to what for many are the principal sources for knowing current events, checking ads for employment, speaking and listening in the modern public square, and otherwise exploring the vast realms of human thought and knowledge,” Kennedy wrote.

    The case touches on another snowflake battlecry, that private concerns like Facebook are not the government, and thus not subject to the First Amendment. Such thinking is being double-plus used as a work-around to prohibit speech that offends certain groups. So, while say a public university funded by the government must under the First Amendment allow a nazi to speak, a private company like Facebook can set it own rules and prohibit any speech it wishes.

    The importance of the ruling is in its forward-looking perspective. The ruling does not address the question of whether or not Facebook can ban certain speech directly, but does confirm the idea that entities like Facebook, by their size and prominence, take on a larger role in our society (i.e., the “modern public square”) that cannot be ignored. One can easily imagine Justice Kennedy’s opinion used in a future case challenging Facebook or some other private entity’s restrictions on speech.


    And despite the willingness of many to try and dilute the ideas of free speech by citing the public-private divide, the Supreme Court is really doing little more here than enforcing the very old concept that free speech runs deeper than the Bill of Rights. It’s as much a philosophical argument as a legal one, not a bad thing for a nation founded on a set of ideas (and ideals.)

    Free speech in America is an unalienable right, and goes as deep into the concept of a free society as any idea can. Though cited as far back as 1689 in England, the American version of all this was laid out most clearly by Thomas Jefferson, in the mighty Declaration of Independence, where he wrote of rights that flowed from his notion of The Creator, not from government, and thus were fixed. Abetting free speech is an obligation in a democracy in general.

    Jefferson’s invocation of the Creator is understood now as less that free speech is heaven-sent and more that it is something that exists before and after our time. Government thus did not give us the right to free speech and therefore cannot take it away. The First Amendment simply codifies that latter part, laying out like much of the Bill of Rights what the government cannot do.

    So the argument that the First Amendment does not necessarily apply to all speech (such as that which takes place on private property) can be both true and irrelevant at the same time, and the latter is more important.



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    1A Victory: SCOTUS Again Confirms ‘Hate Speech’ is Protected

    June 21, 2017 // 19 Comments »



    In the world we awoke to on November 8, 2016, a myth took hold among many progressive people that so-called “hate speech” — speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability — is not protected by the First Amendment. Even Howard Dean contributed to the falsehood.

    The Supreme Court just made it very, very clear that is wrong. Offensive and hateful speech is as protected as any other. It is vital to protect all speech, for the road of prohibiting speech one disagrees with is a slippery one. There is a right to offend; deal with it, snowflakes.




    A recent case, Matal v. Tam, focused on an all-Asian band called The Slants, who wanted to trademark their group’s name. “Slant” of course is one of a dictionary full of racist terms used to offend Asians, and the group wanted to push the word into the world’s face to disarm it, as gay men have done with the slur queer.

    The United States Patent and Trademark Office said no, the group could not trademark the name The Slants because of the disparagement clause, which denies federal trademark protection to messages that may offend people, living or dead, along with “institutions, beliefs or national symbols.” This same reasoning denied the Washington Redskins’ trademark renewal of their team name in 2014, seen as disparaging toward Native Americans.


    No more. The Supreme Court just ruled the government cannot use trademark law to stop people from promoting an (potentially offensive) name. That constitutes the government prohibiting free expression, a clear violation of the First Amendment.

    The First Amendment protects offensive speech, Justice Samuel Alito wrote in this unanimous decision. “The proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate,’” he said, quoting the classic 1929 dissent from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

    (Trump-era snowflakes usually misapply Holmes’ famous line — not shouting fire in a crowded theatre — to justify banning offensive speech by claiming it incites violence. They’re wrong; it doesn’t work that way at all. The whole thing is laid out here.)

    “The danger of viewpoint discrimination,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in The Slants’ case, “is that the government is attempting to remove certain ideas or perspectives from a broader debate. That danger is all the greater if the ideas or perspectives are ones a particular audience might think offensive, at least at first hearing. To permit viewpoint discrimination in this context is to permit government censorship.”

    The ACLU called the decision a “major victory for the First Amendment.”



    And… mic drop.

    The marketplace of ideas needs to be broad and deep, and awful people must be free to spew terrible words, into it, so they can be exposed and bad ideas shoved aside by good ones. That’s how the Founders intended the system to work, that is how it has worked through over 200 years of controversy, and the Supreme Court made it clear this week Trump, Howard Dean, Milo Yiannopoulos or your favorite nazi have no place in trying to change things.


    BONUS: And though the Court didn’t feel the need to remind people that it has long ago sorted out questions about whether hate speech inciting violence justifies restrictions, or the obligation of campuses to provide platforms to offensive speakers, or cities to protect them and their listeners, I will. It’s all explained here, children. Stop trying to use fascism’s tools to silence free speech. Let them speak.)

    DOUBLE BONUS: Five bad arguments the Left is using to restrict speech from the Right.



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    America’s Real Loss of Prestige and Leadership Abroad

    June 19, 2017 // 13 Comments »




    Because we traded the smooth talking guy for the clumsy boob with no manners, it is popular to bleat that America has given up its role as leader of the free world, to say other nations don’t respect us anymore, or look to us for moral guidance — in the extreme, that we are no longer that shining city on the hill we see ourselves as.

    What such cliches overlook is that not everyone in the free world is as blind as a typical American op-ed writer. Some in fact see past who the current Spokesmodel of Democracy in the White House is, and look to what America actually does. And what it does is often not pretty, and when revealed suggests our nation is and has been morally bankrupt a lot longer than the Trump administration has been in charge.

    One of the more recent revelations of what much of the world already knew comes, again, via Wikileaks, America’s conscience.

    Leaked documents show home internet routers, that blinking thing in the corner of the room where you’re reading this, from ten American manufacturers, including Linksys, DLink, and Belkin, can be turned into covert listening posts that allow the Central Intelligence Agency to monitor and manipulate incoming and outgoing traffic and infect connected devices.

    Short: American-made devices sold globally to allow the free world to use the Internet have been repurposed by the CIA as spy tools.

    The CIA’s technique requires new firmware to be added to the router. This can be done remotely, over WiFi, at the factory, or at any point along the supply chain. It is unknown if America’s leading electronics manufacturers actively helped the CIA do this, passively allowed the CIA to do this after sharing technical data, or simply looked the other way.


    The results of this CIA hack are spectacular.

    The firmware allows the CIA full access to the router, and all connected devices and networks. The spooks can insert malware, copy passwords, see what is being sent and received, redirect browsers to fake websites, why there is little-to-no limit. Apparently the user interface the CIA created for itself is quite friendly. There’s even a Quick Start Guide.

    And you know what?

    The CIA has been doing all this since at least 2007. That means it started under the George W. Bush administration, ran during both Obama terms, and continues without a break right into the Trump years. Three very different presidents, three very different self-images for America, yet underlying all was the same CIA, turning American products to their own needs and spying on well, everyone. Anyone. Free world or not.


    From a global perspective, it doesn’t really matter whether the person in the White House is a Nobel Peace Prize winner or a bumbling oaf. Because the real America, the one that spies on a global scale for its own ends, never changes. That guy on TV you hate? He’s just a placeholder, maybe a distraction, about as consequential to the real role of the United States as a professional wrestler.




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    Dear President Trump: Do Not Prosecute Wikileaks

    May 31, 2017 // 19 Comments »




    Chelsea Manning, whose information about the war in Iraq first brought Wikileaks to the attention of Americans, will leave prison as a free woman on May 17.

    However, the U.S. government’s attempts to punish people for bringing war crimes from Iraq into daylight continues, in the form of prosecutions directed against Wikileaks and/or its founder Julian Assange.

    I recently signed an open letter in support of Wikileaks, as drafted by the Courage Foundation. Here it is.


    Dear Mr. President,

    We are journalists, activists and citizens from the United States and
    around the world who care about press freedom and are writing to you in
    response to the latest threat of prosecution against WikiLeaks for its
    journalistic work. We ask you to immediately close the Grand Jury
    investigation into WikiLeaks and drop any charges against Julian Assange
    and other Wikileaks staff members which the Department of Justice is
    planning.

    This threat to WikiLeaks escalates a long-running war of attrition
    against the great virtue of the United States — free speech. The Obama
    Administration prosecuted more whistleblowers than all presidents
    combined and opened a Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks that had
    no precedent. It now appears the US is preparing to take the next step
    — prosecuting publishers who provide the “currency” of free speech, to
    paraphrase Thomas Jefferson. It is reported that charges, including
    conspiracy, theft of government property and violating the Espionage Act
    are being considered against members of WikiLeaks, and that charging
    WikiLeaks Editor, Julian Assange, is now a priority of the Department of
    Justice.

    A threat to WikiLeaks’ work — which is publishing information protected
    under the First Amendment — is a threat to all free journalism. If the
    DOJ is able to convict a publisher for its journalistic work, all free
    journalism can be criminalised.

    We call on you as President of the United States to close the Grand Jury
    investigation into WikiLeaks and drop any charges planned against any
    member of WikiLeaks. It was a free and robust press that provided you
    with a platform on which to run for president. Defending a truly free
    press requires freedom from fear and favour and the support of
    journalists and citizens everywhere; for the kind of threat now facing
    WikiLeaks — and all publishers and journalists — is a step into the
    darkness.

    Sincerely,

    Trustees of Courage




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    The War on the First Amendment Didn’t Start Last Week

    May 11, 2017 // 49 Comments »

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    For those who woke a week ago to discover the First Amendment is under attack, I lost my job at the Obama/Clinton State Department in 2012 for writing We Meant Well, a book the government did not like, and needed the help of lawyer Jesselyn Radack and the ACLU to push back the threat of jail.


    My book was critical of actions in Iraq under both the Obama and Bush administrations. One helped protect the other.

    Braver people than me, like Thomas Drake, Morris Davis, and Robert MacLean, risked imprisonment and lost their government jobs for talking to the press about government crimes and malfeasance. John Kiriakou, Chelsea Manning, and Jeff Sterling went to jail for speaking to/informing the press. The Obama administration tried to prosecute reporters from Fox and the New York Times for stories on government wrongdoing.

    Ray Maxwell at the State Department went public with information about Clinton’s email malfeasance before you had even heard of her private server. The media called him a liar, an opportunist, and a political hack and he was pressed into retirement.


    Indeed, Obama prosecuted more federal whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all previous United States presidents combined, including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

    The Obama administration also set a record (77%) for redacting government files or denying access to them in fiscal year 2014 under the Freedom of Information Act.

    More than any previous administration, Obama took longer to turn over files, said more often it could not locate documents, and refused a record number of times to turn over time-sensitive files quickly, requiring years-long legal actions to be brought to force the government’s hand. In the case of Hillary Clinton, files considered “unclassified” in one context were redacted in whole in another.

    Though the backlog of unanswered requests grew by 55%, the administration cut the number of full-time Freedom of Information Act employees by 7.5%. Despite the critical nature of the documents to the election, the State Department was allowed to do its Freedom of Information Act screening of the Clinton emails largely with an ad hoc crew of retirees. The impact on journalists, and the right of the people to know, was immeasurable.


    So spare me. The war on our freedoms was well under way before last week. Where the hell were you and your safety pins then?




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    John McCain, Human Rights and Our National Mental Illness

    May 9, 2017 // 27 Comments »

    mccain obama bff



    There’s that lay definition of mental illness where you come to believe you’re the only sane person left in the room. I think that’s where I am right now.


    In last week’s address to State Department employees, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated out loud what has been America’s foreign policy forever, the idea that basing our policy too heavily on values creates obstacles to advancing our national interests. Tillerson basically restated the Kissinger line of realpolitik, which is what the U.S. had been doing since WWII even without a snooty name to it: offering lip service to rights and human values and democracy as expedients while supporting scum bag dictators as they fit our real needs.

    That’s how you got the CIA overthrowing regimes in Iran and throughout Central and South America, why the U.S. supported terrible autocrats in South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines, and where the roots of American backstopping of non-democratic regimes such as in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria lay. The plan was pretty clear: make nice speeches (“Women’s rights are human rights”) in China calling out America’s adversaries while doing nothing to promote those same ideals in America’s allies in places like Saudi Arabia.



    But as with so many traditional American travesties that have long existed but were not spoken of pre-Trump, things are different now. And so in a full-on flag waving Op-Ed, America’s Crusty Old Man McCain uncorked a lengthy rebuttal to Tillerson’s plain speaking. McCain got in every cliche from the oldest John Wayne movies to the latest Chevy truck commercials in standing up for ‘Merica the world’s human rights policer. Here’s a taste of what he wrote:

    Human rights exist above the state and beyond history… They inhabit the human heart, and from there, though they may be abridged, they can never be extinguished. We are a country with a conscience. We have long believed moral concerns must be an essential part of our foreign policy, not a departure from it. We are the chief architect and defender of an international order governed by rules derived from our political and economic values. Our values are our strength and greatest treasure. We are distinguished from other countries because we are not made from a land or tribe or particular race or creed, but from an ideal that liberty is the inalienable right of mankind and in accord with nature and nature’s Creator.

    Depriving the oppressed of a beacon of hope could lose us the world we have built and thrived in. It could cost our reputation in history as the nation distinct from all others in our achievements, our identity and our enduring influence on mankind. Our values are central to all three.


    I can’t be the only one stunned by the irony here.

    McCain’s seminal experience — surviving as a prisoner of war under torture in North Vietnam — was as part of a horrific war the U.S. waged against the agrarian nation in Vietnam for… no clear purpose. Millions of civilians were killed to “free” them, with aerial bombing taking away their rights to life in the crudest fashion. The Vietnamese people voted after WWII to become a single (Communist) nation, and the United States intervened to put a stop to that. Every single prediction of the time that was made to justify that war turned out to be wrong; Vietnam today prospers, and continues to seek ways to join closer to the world system McCain imagines the U.S. created as something akin to an act of God.


    But don’t believe me. Let’s ask the relatives of those killed and maimed by America in Vietnam if they agree with McCain that “We are a country with a conscience.”

    After that, let’s chat up some of the Koreans tortured by the U.S.-supported dictator Chung-hee Park, or Filipinos under U.S.-supported Ferdinand Marcos, or the families of those murdered by American drones across the Mideast. Or maybe those still currently under American torture at Guantanamo. Let’s ask the ghosts of those killed by American weapons in (deep breath) Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Haiti, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Chile, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Grenada… oh, you go look up the rest. Or call John McCain’s office and ask his staff for a complete list.

    And of course I’m focusing on foreign policy hypocrisy here. But America the nation of conscience practices hypocrisy at home as well. Despite being among the wealthiest nations globally, America stands alone without a comprehensive health care system. And so suffers 6.1 deaths for every 1,000 live births, higher than Hungary, Poland, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Finland and Japan had less than half the rate of the United States. America has the highest rates of incarceration in the world, and stands by as 1 out of 5 children live short of food. Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed countries. Our elections are undemocratic mish-mashes of gerrymandering, voter fraud, foreign hackers, and the influence of massive amounts of corporate money and payoffs. America clung to slavery as a economic foundational element long after most of the world moved forward.


    The truth? You can’t handle the truth. The truth is the United States maintains a bloody, warist, hypocritical record that would at least find a touch of purity in admitting we conduct our foreign policy with the greatest of self-interest. The only question left is to ask who is crazier at this point: McCain, who may believe the hogwash he is peddling, or the Americans who read it uncritically.




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    ProPublica Attacks First Amendment, Cloudflare Edition

    May 8, 2017 // 12 Comments »



    You’re almost certainly interacting with Cloudflare right now. Feel OK?

    Cloudflare is a web services company that, among other things, protects sites against various malicious attacks and hacks. They don’t “host” data in most cases, but work as a kind of middleman between you and the server out there somewhere on the web that has the actual data. Cloudflare processes more web traffic than Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Instagram, and Wikipedia combined, because it handles data for most of those places at the same time. On average, you have interacted with a Cloudflare service 500 times today. This blog uses Cloudflare, as does the FBI, OKCupid and The Daily Stormer.

    You may not be as familiar with The Daily Stormer, but it is a nasty white supremacist site. They feature all sorts of hate, with a particular focus on anti-Semitism. Real garbage. But garbage fully protected under America’s long tradition of free speech (and yes, I understand the legal side of the First Amendment applies to government and not private businesses, but the broader concept of free speech underlies every democracy and has been the cornerstone of our inalienable rights in America. America at its best has always sought ways to broaden speech and access to ideas, not game ways to block them.)


    Yet in another example of assault on free speech from the left, investigative journalists ProPublica are now “outing” Cloudflare for providing business services to The Daily Stormer.

    ProPublica writes:

    The operations of such extreme sites [The Daily Stormer] are made possible, in part, by an otherwise very mainstream internet company — Cloudflare. The widespread use of Cloudflare’s services by racist groups is not an accident. Cloudflare has said it is not in the business of censoring websites and will not deny its services to even the most offensive purveyors of hate.

    The wording, implying Cloudflare has some special affinity for racist groups, is noted.


    Though it only cites three specific cases, ProPublica also makes much out of claims that Cloudflare, in accordance with its policies, forwarded content-related complaints about The Daily Stormer it received to the site itself. Apparently persons offended by Stormer’s speech wrote to Cloudflare demanding censorship. The complaintants felt their voluntary, public demand, to include their real names and contact information, demanding censorship, should itself be kept top secret from those they wished to censor.

    The idea is that (three) people offended by The Daily Stormer sought to shut the site down by threatening the “printer,” Cloudflare, who conveys information in a content neutral fashion. ProPublica is in favor of this.

    Of course shutting down printing presses to prevent the spread of ideas is old-school fascism. Sad to see a group like ProPublica, which thrives under the broader ideals of unfettered speech, trying to do away with such protections for others.

    I also guess as journalists ProPublica are unfamiliar with the trial of Peter Zenger, where, in pre-revolutionary America the government tried to punish a printer Peter Zenger for printing something offensive someone else wrote. Defended by Alexander Hamilton, Zenger was found not guilty. The trial is seen as the beginnings of what became our mighty First Amendment, and a significant victory for free speech. It established the precedent that you can’t shut down a means of conveyance of speech as a backdoor way to censor speech.



    Now, c’mon, I get it.

    Actually, ProPublica is familiar with the Zenger trial, citing its precedents on libel in a November 2016 article regarding fears that then President-Elect Trump might threaten parts of the First Amendment.

    ProPublica are smart people, and they understand the Zenger case and they understand the root value of free speech in America. But they are trying to be clever, talking fast to the rubes on the left who suddenly “woke” to allow their prejudices to be manipulated. It’s fundraising time, and groups like ProPublica know the money right now is to be made not in content-free defense of free speech, but in being seen as part of The Resistance.

    They know in the Age of Trump no progressive is going to stand up for the rights of unpopular speakers on the right, even though real progressives know that’s the pure thing to do in our democracy and always has been. Nope, the good guys are going to look down at their shoes and mumble mumble when these tough issues arise, say something about “means to an end” and the “greater good” and allow once stalwart defenders of liberty like ProPublica to get away with peddling hate in the guise of opposing it.

    Just know not everyone is fooled, and some of us are making notes. And that every call for censorship risks someone returning the favor.



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    How Berkeley and NYU’s Anti-Free Speech Actions are as Unconstitutional as Hell

    May 6, 2017 // 6 Comments »



    Ann Coulter will not speak at Berkeley this week because the threat of mob violence lead campus authorities to claim they could not protect her. The same threats led New York University (NYU) to cancel Milo Yiannopoulos’ appearance in February. These are shameful actions by two universities, and they are unconstitutional as hell.


    Previous violence at Berkeley directed against Yiannopoulos, as well as the current threats, originated with a coalition of so-called antifa’s, anti-fascists, persons who believe in Trump’s America violence to silence speech they do not agree with is justified. They probably are unaware their tactics were once used to silence civil rights marchers, anti-war protesters, abortion rights advocates and the women’s movement. Because the law that now shames Berkeley and NYU comes from earlier efforts to protect those groups’ right to speak.

    The idea that a university cannot assure a speaker’s safety, or that the speaker’s presence may provoke violent protests, or that the institution just doesn’t have to go to the trouble of protecting a controversial speaker, has become the go-to justification for persons on the left restricting speech from the right. Coulter and Yiannopoulos were singled out specifically for the content of their speech, which is indeed offensive to students and faculty who see danger in unpopular ideas. The universities’ actions are not content-neutral, the base requirement to restrict speech.

    But what those offended people think is irrelevant, because the Constitution is clear even when their minds are muddied. While institutions do have an obligation to public safety, that obligation must be balanced against the public’s greater right to engage with free speech. The answer is not to ban speech outright simply to maintain order. But don’t believe me; it’s the law.


    landmark case from 2015 involving a group called the Bible Believers, who used crude language (“Turn or Burn”) at an LGBT event, provides the clearest guidance:

    When a peaceful speaker, whose message is constitutionally protected, is confronted by a hostile crowd, the state may not silence the speaker as an expedient alternative to containing or snuffing out the lawless behavior of the rioting individuals. Nor can an officer sit idly on the sidelines – watching as the crowd imposes, through violence, a tyrannical majoritarian rule – only later to claim that the speaker’s removal was necessary for his or her own protection. Uncontrolled official suppression of the privilege [of free speech] cannot be made a substitute for the duty to maintain order in connection with the exercise of that right.”

    That an institution can shut down speech requiring physical protection has failed court tests in cases are diverse as Occupy protests and a Christian group which brought a pig’s head to an Islamic arts festival. Both sides in the abortion debate have slapped down the need to maintain public order argument outside clinics in defense of their right to speak. Any of those situations is at least as volatile as whatever Ann Coulter has been saying publicly since her first book came out in 1998, or Milo Yiannopoulos’ junior high school level homophobic slurs.

    The court have also long held mobs should not be allowed to exercise the so-called Heckler’s Veto, where whomever can literally “speak” the loudest gets to choose what is said. The natural end of such thinking is mob rule, where Speaker A gets a bigger gang together to shout down the gang Speaker B controls. Or, in Coulter and Yiannopoulos cases, simply threatens to do so.

    Allowing a de facto Heckler’s Veto to keep unpopular speakers from expressing their views, as Berkeley and NYU have basically done, also does damage long past two conservative speakers in April 2017. Allowing the Veto not only stifles a specific idea, but threatens to chill public discourse generally by discouraging others with controversial ideas from sharing them. Who wants to stand up only to be shouted down by a mob while the administration and law enforcement stand aside?


    The most insidious use of the Heckler’s Veto, however, is what has happened at Berkeley and NYU, where the administration allowed people to create a situation that compels law enforcement to shut down a speaker in advance for them, abusing their own freedom to assemble to get the government to stymie someone else’s. The Supreme Court concluded the government’s responsibility in such circumstances is to control those who threaten or act out disruption, rather than sacrifice the speaker’s free speech rights. Berkeley and NYU chose not to comply, even though as recipients of public funds they were required to do so.

    The problems of having Ann Coulter speak on a campus are outweighed by the larger obligation to protect free speech. Getting rid of the speaker may be expedient but it is also unconstitutional. The ACLU knows that, because it took Coulter’s side, as did Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. There are plenty of lawyers working for Berkeley and New York University who know it too, but figure on a liberal campus in front of a sympathetic media they can get away with ignoring it.


    History, and jurisprudence, are not on the universities’ side.

    Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis held people must discuss and criticize unpopular ideas, that free speech is not an abstract virtue but a key element at the heart of a democratic society. Even the fact that speech is likely to result in “violence or in destruction of property is not enough to justify its suppression.” Brandeis concluded “the deterrents to be applied to prevent violence and disruption are education and punishment for violations of the law, not abridgment of free speech.”

    Free speech is not an ends, it is a means, in a democracy. Shame on two of America’s prominent universities for treading on that mighty concept. Free speech is messy, and it is our essential defense against fascism, whether from the left or the right.



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    ProPublica’s Homophobic Witchhunt

    May 5, 2017 // 9 Comments »




    How to run a witch hunt:

    1) Make accusations as dramatic and salacious as possible;
    2) Play to existing fears and prejudices;
    3) Cite the greater good that makes way for necessary evil.

    So, if you’re Joe McCarthy in 1950s America:

    1) The government is full of Communists. Some are gay, subject to Commie blackmail!
    2) America is under threat for its very survival, and traitors are everywhere. Maybe even… you?
    3) We may need to destroy the lives of a few innocents, but isn’t our nation worth that risk?

    Or if you’re ProPublica in 2017:

    1) A Trump political appointee has (been accused of) sexually assaulting boys!
    2) Trump himself is a sexual assaulter, and his administration has shown it does not vet appointees (some work for Moscow!)
    3) Presenting accusations as evidence, headlining an issue resolved years ago, and pretending Googling is investigative journalism are necessary evils if we can pretend it is part of the Resistance.



    ProPublica is a non-profit organization that “produces investigative journalism in the public interest… focusing exclusively on truly important stories, stories with ‘moral force.’”

    Which seems an odd claim in that their latest blockbuster is to revive settled accusations that a minor Trump political appointee sexually assaulted fellow students at a military academy.

    ProPublica writes “Steven Munoz [above] allegedly assaulted five freshmen. His hiring at the State Department raises further questions about the Trump administration’s vetting process.” The story lists accusations of unwanted sexual touching from 2009 that first surfaced in 2012 via a leaked email, when Munoz did some work for the Rick Santorum campaign. Munoz claimed the acts were consensual. All of the information is available via Google searches; no investigative journalism is needed.

    Upshot? A South Carolina prosecutor reviewed the case and its 200 pages of evidence and declined to seek an indictment in 2013.

    Accusations and an investigation that lead to no charges. That’s it.



    But ProPublica went on to write “Munoz’s hiring raises questions about the Trump administration’s vetting of political appointees, which has been both slow and spotty, with multiple incidents of staff being fired only weeks into their jobs, including for disloyalty to Trump.” The implication is that the old, closed, accusations against Munoz should have been grounds to turn him down for an administrative job.



    So, ProPublica, what’s the story?

    If it’s that the military academy did a poor job of investigating the allegations, then write that story. If the local prosecutor failed in her responsibilities, then investigate and write that story. If you have evidence Munoz is sexually assaulting people in his political appointee job today in Washington, let’s hear it. If you can find that the Trump vetting process uncovered evidence of Munoz’ guilt and hired him anyway, let’ see that headlined.

    But if all you are doing is resurfacing old, dismissed allegations of a salacious nature in hopes of embarrassing the administration and making yourself look like The Resistance for a news cycle, then, no, you are just conducting an old-fashioned witch hunt.

    Shame on you, ProPublica, and your organization’s otherwise proud record.




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    Am I… Conservative Alt-Right?

    May 3, 2017 // 12 Comments »



    The New York Times took a piece I wrote strongly defending the right to free speech, the raw concept of unfettered speech from a content-neutral position, and called it Right Partisan Writing You Shouldn’t Miss, intended as a compliment.


    What I wrote was directly in line with the absolutist view of free speech and the First Amendment I have always taken: let them speak. Except for the very narrow and specific restrictions on speech defined over the years by the Supreme Court, let them speak. Let good ideas whoop bad ideas. Look for ways to allow more speech, not loopholes that might let an institution get away with silencing a speaker. It is as much of a philosophical argument as a legal one.

    My ideas are not particularly new. They are the same positions taken by the American Civil Liberties Union, and for that matter, most of the modern Supreme Court. I really didn’t invent anything here, though hopefully my version of the idea was neatly typed and well-presented.

    So how did I end up becoming a conservative for defending free speech?

    Though free speech should be an American position, for the most part it has been traditionally associated with progressive politics. Free speech enabled the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, got extreme acts of protest such as flag burning recognized as protected speech, ended silly and law enforcement resource-wasting campaigns against nude photos and naughty song lyrics, and grew alongside egalitarian tools like the Internet to bring all sorts of voices into the public marketplace of ideas.


    Yet in a few short months since Trump’s election, everything seemed to change.

    Some Progressives morphed into “anti-fascists” who believe it is OK to punch someone they deem a “nazi” in the head to silence their speech. Universities which made their political bones via the Free Speech Movement are trying tricks like de-platforming speakers (“You have a right to free speech but we don’t have an obligation to let you speak here.”) Those same people were only last summer raising their voices against so-called Free Speech Zones that fenced protesters off miles from the Republican and Democratic Party Conventions so they could protest to their heart’s delight without anyone hearing them.

    Students at liberal colleges are proud of themselves for shouting down invited speakers who say “offensive things,” and have even convinced themselves such a Heckler’s Vote is a form of free speech itself, instead of old-fashioned brownshirt mob rule. A key debate now is how much wiggle room private and semi-private schools have to get away with denying someone’s First Amendment rights. Some student groups are pleased when they think they’ve figured out a way around the 1A and can block a speaker, forgetting such tricks were used to silence the civil rights movement and women’s groups.

    My article defending the right of all to speak was pushed into “conservative” categories because the example I built the piece around was Ann Coulter at Berkeley. I have never heard Coulter speak. I’ve never read any of her books and to be honest, could care less what she has to say. From some quick Googling, it seems like my politics and Ann’s generally do not agree. And that’s the whole point of course –support her right to speak while not necessarily supporting what she says.

    That now, apparently, has become a right wing position to take. It is indeed a strange world.



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    Do American Airports Suck? Yes, Yes They Do

    April 26, 2017 // 16 Comments »

    tsa toy

    Traveling by air in America is one of the best ways to see the country, although it is not always the nicest view. I recently took a fresh look, with the goal of advising my foreign friends what to expect when they drop by the United States.



    Our Air Palaces

    You’ll enjoy our older airports’ retro-touches, which evoke the Golden Age of air travel of the 1950s and 1960s. The typical lack of free WiFi, just like when your parents first visited America, the two electrical outlets serving an entire wing of the airport, the toilets which have not been cleaned since when your parents first visited America, and the “Welcome Home Troops” signs reminiscent of those displayed for soldiers coming home from that war where America invaded your country, all quaintly harken back to simpler times.

    Your chances of finding public transportation to and from the airport are slim. Maybe if you look around there’ll be an old city bus for the workers (live like a local!) And stop standing out as a “tourist,” looking for trains that connect to the city center as you’ll find nearly everywhere else in the developed world. As you pay a month’s salary out to the cab driver who is cheating you just like in Cairo, or the Uber guy 23 hours into a shift trying to feed his family, think of it all as a great only-in-the-developing world story to tell if you survive to get back home.

    Keep in mind our newer airports are clean and shiny, and look like shopping malls, our most popular places of worship. You can buy the same stuff made in some other country in the airport as out of the airport, eat at the same fast food places, and sample the daily ration of fat required by all the pre-diabetic locals. The newer airports are also a lesson in economics. America has only three viable industries left: government, our largest employer (generally off limits to foreigners, though those we accuse of being terrorists are often taken in as a kind of adjunct), retail sales, and serving/delivering things to each other. See it all while you’re here!



    Security First

    But the real treat inside our airports is that most American of things, security.

    Prior to 9/11, no one but Nazis in old movies and zoologists mapping out elephant migration routes used the term “Homeland.” But now everyone in America does. You should try it, too. Say it with the right mix of fear and awe, and the locals might not even guess American English is not your first language.

    Speaking of which, one fun thing that distinguishes our international airports from those in many other third world countries is the near-exclusive use of English. Few Americans appreciate the efforts we go to as a nation to provide these gratis tutorial sessions to you.

    A curious fact is that American airport workers seem to believe that anyone can speak English if it is blasted at them loud enough and s-l-o-w enough. Idiomatic phrases, such as “ I SAID, liquids in a baggie, 3:1, c’mon, people are waiting behind you” will be taught to you by our security staff. If you don’t catch it all the first time, don’t worry, the worker will repeat it as many times as necessary. American passengers will often help out by advising you how to manhandle your laptop, tear open wrapped gifts, disassemble iPads, and pour out bottled water purchased earlier in the airport, all so you can speed through the security checkpoint enroute to Disneyworld and not Guantanamo.


    If you are new to our shores, understand removing shoes at the airport wasn’t always some sort of American custom, but we now embrace it with fervor. Even the Japanese, who are shoe-removing fetishists, often seem unsure about wearing only socks to tread upon a filthy public floor, but you jump right in. We also love to take off our belts, jackets, and jewelry at the airport. Play along; I once saw some yokels from Communist China, where the government controls their every action, worried pants might be next. Hah!

    They quickly found out we Americans would never bow to a bully government like they do at home. We instead wait in long, slow lines for our chance to appear before a petty government official with blind power over us, all for safety. Pay attention to our unique style of officials. Unlike in some parts of the world where holding near-life-or-death power over someone is just an excuse to collect bribes, or the bored-as-hell Euro style, our airport workers approach their task with gusto.

    If you get touched by a security agent on your private parts, that’s considered good luck by many.

    You may think this anger is all directed at you, as a foreign visitor. Actually, if you are from a Muslim country, it is all directed at you. But sometimes Americans are also often singled out for some fun.

    For example, on my last trip I was selected for random extra screening, which included removing a Chapstick from my pants pocket, and opening it in front of the security person as proof it was not terrorist balm meant to moisten my lips before shouting “Allah hu Akbar!”

    Just like with the foreigners, the agent spoke English loudly to me, as if to reaffirm we are all equal here in America. He also made me open my wallet in case it included a very, very thin gun. In some countries that might be seen as a request for a bribe, but here I understood it was just bullying by a public servant.

    What happened after I passed through the checkpoint I think as a “fun” freebie for those who comes from cultures that revere elders. After discovering a typo in the name on a boarding pass, security sent an elderly woman back to the airline counter for a new one even though she said that would cause her to miss her flight, after which she would need a new boarding pass once again. You’re not going to see something like that sitting at home!



    Boarding Your Flight

    At your the gate, be sure to see who boards first, as the list includes military in uniform. I know of no other country in the world that does that, so foreign friends, watch for it as a real “thing.”

    Americans will try and rush onto the plane as if they’re not sure that there’ll be a seat for them. But looks can be deceiving, because what those citizens are actually doing is playing one of America’s favorite blood sports, fighting for overhead storage space.

    See, the airlines had this idea that since everyone carries luggage on trips, if they charged a fee for luggage, they’d get rich. Americans responded as revolutionaries do, protesting such unjust laws by dragging enough crap on to the plane as “carry on” luggage that the aisles often look like the barricade scene from Les Miserables. The plane cannot accommodate all that stuff, and so a struggle ensues.

    Watch closely for regional variations, from passive aggression to outright close combat. Have your camera ready, and let the kids take a swing! If you miss that photo while boarding, you’ll see a slimmed down version of the scrum when it is time to exit the plane. Sometimes the exit fights are even more fun; people have been drinking inflight, and there are scores to settle from the boarding process.

    You’ll soon enough arrive at your American destination feeling very much like a local — exhausted and frustrated. And isn’t feeling like you belong somewhere new one of the real goals of travel anyway?



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    An Entire Generation is Likely to See Its Standard of Living Regress

    April 14, 2017 // 24 Comments »

    pigs_trough
    It is modern feudalism, happening in a slow motion crash as we watch, aware of what is coming down, but at first unwilling and likely now unable to stop it.
    Welcome to the Third World

    We are living in so-called first world societies where economic disparity is trending toward developing world levels. Some numbers you can argue about individually if you like (and how does your head feel buried in the sand?), but the aggregate situation is beyond debate:

    — The one percent holds 35.6 percent of all private wealth, more than the bottom 95 percent combined.

    — The 400 wealthiest individuals globally have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans.

    — Between 1983 and 2009, over 40 percent of all wealth gains flowed to the one percent and 82 percent of wealth gains went to the top five percent. The bottom 60 percent lost wealth over this same period.

    — A significant amount of the redistribution of wealth, redistributed upward, took place following the 2008 market collapses in the United States as bailouts, shorts, repossession of home and land, and new laws helped the top end of the economy at cost to the bottom. More and more of government is controlled directly by corporations.

    — The world’s one percent own $42.7 trillion dollars, more than the bottom three billion residents of earth.

    — A rising tide lifts all yachts, as historian Morris Berman observed. Less than half of Americans do not own any stock at all. The wealthiest of Americans own over 80 percent of all stock, and 40 percent of America’s land.

    It’s Getting Worse

    Now add to that grim tally new information that shows the problem of gross income and wealth inequality is getting worse.

    report from McKinsey finds that in developed economies such as the United States two-thirds of all households experienced “flat or falling” incomes over the past decade, from 2005-2014. In the U.S., the portion was even worse: 81 percent.

    “While the recession and slow recovery after the 2008 global financial crisis were a significant contributor to this lack of income advancement, other long-run factors played a role — and will continue to do so,” McKinsey notes. “They include demographic trends of aging and shrinking household sizes as well as labor-market shifts such as the falling wage share of GDP.”
    Capital Beats Labor Every Time

    As predicted by economists from Karl Marx to Thomas Piketty, this is the natural progression of capital (making money by owning things) over labor (making money by working.) It represents the same basic economic world of the Middle Ages, land-owning kings and serfs who have no option but to work the fields.

    It is statistically likely that you won’t live a better life than your parents did. The economic world of your parents and grandparents was an aberration, a one time exception that was called the American Dream. And even that was largely limited the white people.

    Do enjoy that gig economy youngsters, and hope Uber doesn’t put you out of an income by flooding the market with more drivers.

     

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    Crushing Free Speech (Oh, Let’s Save Democracy That Way!)

    March 15, 2017 // 45 Comments »



    I’m not advocating violence. I’m hoping to stop it.

    So this guy beat the crap out of this Black Lives Matter woman; she was spewing out hate speech, really racist stuff, and the guy acted in self-defense. Then some people who opposed Trump’s travel ban started calmly laying out their views on a street corner, and the same guy, who believes deep into his soul that Muslims are a threat to democracy and allowing them into America is a step toward fascism, got a bunch of his buddies together and by sheer force of numbers shouted down the pro-Muslim people, forcing them to run away for fear for their safety.

    Justification? The dude was pretty clear he was just exercising his First Amendment rights, that it was wrong for those protesters to have a platform and hey, he isn’t the government and the 1A only applies to the government, not private acts like his. Sure violence is bad in isolation, but in defense of freedom, well, by any means necessary. While he was beating on the activists, he shouted he “understands the moral and practical limitations of wholly free discourse.”

    After wiping hippie blood of his knuckles, this patriot took to a mainstream media outlet and wrote this:

    But this moment in American politics and American life proves that the victory of reason cannot always be assured. The purveyors of logic, of facts dutifully checked and delivered to the public, lost big league in November. The cost has been an erosion of our national character that we will be powerless to stop unless we fight prejudice wherever it lies. The critics of political correctness have argued that shutting down certain conversations may bear political costs and alienate potential allies. This is a certainty. Morality is alienating. But the costs of being moral have been borne successfully by innumerable movements for social change. This is, to borrow a phrase, a time for choosing.



    You get it yet?


    The actions above, and the quote above, were written by an author for Slate, in justification for the students of Middlebury College, and “activists” elsewhere, using acts like violence and shouting down speakers to stop speech they personally judged as hate and/or offensive or dangerous.

    The latest specific case involved some guy named Charles Murray. I have no idea who he is, but a lot of people say he is a racist so let’s go with that. But I don’t care.

    I simply cannot believe that it is the left, or progressives, or whatever name is best, that are attacking people’s speech. I’ve written extensively about what I call “Post-Constitution America,” an era that started on 9/11 where the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights no longer applied. I never imagined it would play out this way.

    And I know that the 1A does not apply to non-government actions, no need to educate me. But I also cannot believe I have to tell people like the author of the article above that stopping people from saying things that offend them is exactly the tool real live fascists and anti-democratic people use. They send brownshirts to break up rallies, accuse activists of inciting riots, take away access to platforms like newspapers and media, by violence or any other means necessary.

    When you advocate for closing off speech, the bad guys have already won. If you’re too stupid to see that, please ask for a refund from wherever you got your reducation, because you learned nothing. In a free and open society you get some good and some bad and you are not allowed to define those words for others. You let the ideas exist so that each person can define them.


    And I sincerely hope when someone punches you, or shouts you down, or takes away your platform by hacking your website, you are equally tolerant of their goals and tactics. Idiots.




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    Free Speech Fascists Like Me

    February 27, 2017 // 52 Comments »



    For espousing the same beliefs about the First Amendment I did on November 8 (everyone speaks always, unfettered), I am no longer a patriot.


    Many of the groups and people who supported me then, and once supported the First Amendment absolutely, now call me a nazi, fascist, enabler, racist and normalizer.

    Because we live in odd times, and because too many people only read a sentence or two before losing their sh*t, I feel the need for a disclaimer. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a nazi, fascist, enabler, racist or a normalizer. I do not like people who are those things. I didn’t vote for Trump and I think he’s a lousy human. ‘Kay?

    But I very much am concerned about people in a nation whose core value should be free speech, people who claim they are resisting nazis, fascists, enablers, racists and normalizers, acting like them. Because anyone who uses violence to stop someone else’s speech is a fascist. Also, a bully. Have a look:




    So there’s the video. A guy is exercising his First Amendment right. He happens to be doing that by flying a Confederate flag, a symbol of hate. But what anyone is saying is irrelevant to how the concept of speech works. Indeed, the concept exists not to chat about the weather, but for the hard stuff, the offensive stuff. Including Confederate flags.

    If you take away the flag guy’s rights by violence you accomplish nothing but setting up the next retaliatory round where someone takes away your rights by violence. And if you can’t see where that leads, then you are far too stupid to be allowed outside on your own. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re on the barricades, or fighting Hitler, or #resisting something. You want your First Amendment rights, you accept others have them, too, and you are not the one to judge instead who is allowed to talk.

    Yet multiple media sources said things like “It is as good and as just to tear down Confederate flags as it is to punch Nazis.” The idea is if someone on the “right side” determines someone else’s speech is wrong, then it is “OK” to silence them with violence.

    You want to worry about authoritarianism? It always includes shutting up people you don’t want to listen to.

    I never, ever, in my life thought the right to free speech would be challenged so harshly from the Left. It makes me very sad, and very worried.


    BONUS: Inevitably some idiot who recently read something online will bring up “hate speech” as not being allowed under the First Amendment. Explained here. That link also covers the idea of speech that might incite a riot, another standard excuse for busting someone’s right to speech.

    Inevitably some idiot who recently read something online will argue the “OK to punch nazis” line. Explained here.

    And speaking of free speech and flag burning, here’s that explained, kids.

    For that guy who will inevitably write in, yes, of course I know the First Amendment applies to government, not officially/legally to some guy in the street who jumps yellow tape. But for America to stay away from fascism, we cannot dismiss the broader concept of unfettered speech and the exchange of ideas. We all know you would not be making the same back-of-the-classroom legal argument if the Confederate flag guy beat up a POC to silence him, admit it.

    The newest catch-phrase to use as an excuse to deny someone the chance to speak is “platform,” as in “The First Amendment doesn’t require us to give him a platform to speak at our school.” Well, sure, but of course if you only allow one line of thought to be spoken out loud, you are indeed denying speech. You just make it seem nicer to yourselves by using the word platform.

    Let them speak, all of them.



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    The Responsibility to Leak, and Leaking Responsibly

    February 23, 2017 // 96 Comments »




    I know you’re out there, and this is for you. What you’re weighing, it’s not as easy as you think. But it can matter more than anything else you do with your professional life.


    Washington is awash with leaks; if they were real water we’d all drown. The American people feel they are seeing the inner most workings of government, and it is not pretty. Powerful people are falling. Our democracy may be at risk. President Trump and his team have no intention of watching from the sidelines. There is a struggle going on, and people are taking sides.

    So if you’re a government employee sitting in a cubicle in Washington DC, what are you thinking? To leak or not to leak? Will you blow the whistle?

    I know more than a little bit about your decision. With 21 years of service at the Department of State, I was assigned to wartime Iraq in 2009. For me, when the waste, fraud, and mismanagement of the reconstruction program under Presidents Bush and Obama reached the limits of what in good conscience I could participate in, and after failing to see any change going through channels, I blew the whistle, via a book, We Meant Well. The State Department in response flirted with sending me to jail, tried to fire me in part for “lack of candor” in refusing to participate in their investigation, and in the end pursued me into an early retirement.

    I learned the decision to contact a reporter, or otherwise to blow the whistle, is a hard one. In the end you have to ask yourself one seemingly simple but actually complex question: is the juice worth the squeeze?

    As for that squeeze, an anonymous leaker must expect people to come looking; you’re taking on the President of the United States after all. If the past (including my case) is any guide, much of the action that follows a disclosure will be aimed at the leaker, not the information leaked. You will be scared going in, but the fear should make you cautious. You will need to learn what intelligence officers call tradecraft; you may end up trying to hide your actions from them. Whatever journey you embark on, fear will travel with you.

    There are real things to be afraid of. Following the example set by the Obama administration, someone exposing classified information may be subjected by the Trump administration to Espionage Act prosecution, with the near-certainty of Federal prison time if convicted.

    Think you’re too unimportant for an investigation? Safe because your leak was, as in my own instance, nothing remotely classified? Maybe. But the most effective way to silence the next person in your position is to have them afraid to even try. Your now-adversaries would love to get the high level leakers, but won’t care too much if the heads on display come from the lower ranks instead. Either way the point to those others out there still considering leaking is made.

    The administration will fight back in other ways, too. You are an anonymous source, an unnamed official, someone “with knowledge of the discussion.” It’s your word against that of a person who can appear on a major news program to offer up information (real or not) that discredits yours. Americans tend to assess truthfulness these days in line with preconceived beliefs, and that’s running about 50-50 on any given day in the Trump Era.

    That’s the squeeze for a leaker. Now the juice.

    You may not have the evidence of a still-smoking gun to “bring down” anyone. But you can contribute to a larger story, supply a missing puzzle piece, or nudge an investigative process forward. A big mosaic is made of little pictures. What you know likely does matter, and the people have a right to know what matters about their government. Who besides someone on the inside – you – can tell them?

    Things can change significantly if you decide to blow the whistle, as opposed to leaking. While there are legal definitions, the key difference is a whistleblower purposely gives up their anonymity; Edward Snowden is the best known example. The risks scale up geometrically after that – you are saying “here I am, come after me.” Legal protections exist, including the Whistleblower Protection Act, but they do not snap into place easily. You will need a good lawyer well before you blow any whistle.

    The returns for blowing the whistle can be significant, and it was this calculus (plus a dollop of ignorance I’m afraid) that lead me away from leaking into a full public disclosure. Standing up by name, you earn credibility against attacks ad hominen, and for the information you supply. Your presence encourages and empowers others. Your motivations are on display; you are more easily seen as a patriot than a partisan. And you aren’t just passing on information. You are bearing witness, at risk to yourself.


    As one who has been there, my counsel is to think practically, not emotionally. Think larger than yourself, and think larger than political gossip. If I had the chance, I would remind every potential leaker or whistleblower their oath of service was to the Constitution, not to any particular leader or party, neither the one in, nor out, of power. So act on principle, not ego or revenge or ambition; the power to disclose carries with it a responsibility to act ethically. Your conscience will then be bulletproof, something very important as you will spend a lot of time in there. No guarantees, but an ethical disclosure may be easier to defend as well.

    People of conscience, leakers and whistleblowers alike, we’re made. We’re made by what the government does and fails to do, and by what we witness. If government acted as the Founders expected it should, we would not be here, like mushrooms that didn’t pop up on a dry lawn.

    It’s what all of us share: a love of country, if not necessarily its politicians. It’s in your hands to be on the right side of this struggle. One courageous act of conscience can make a difference in an America gone astray. That will be your anchor on an unsettling and fearful journey. I made a choice to be a whistleblower. I’d do it again. To me, the juice was worth the squeeze. You?




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    U.S. Customs to Solve Terrorism by Asking Tourists for Their Social Media Accounts

    February 12, 2017 // 23 Comments »

    NSA_User_Activity_Leads


    The United States government seems to have a real thing for social media and terrorism, stoutly believing if only they could “take out” Twitter the global jihadi movement would collapse. Or something like that. Maybe it’s Instagram?



    Social Media vs. Jihad

    But while Trump talks the talk, Obama walked the walk.

    You may not know it, but since December the United States quietly changed the standard online entry form (ESTA) used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a part of your neighborhood Department of Homeland Security.

    The question added is “Please enter information associated with your online presence — Provider/Platform — Social media identifier.” The question is for all foreign travelers’ who use the visa waiver (visa-free) system for admission into the U.S. The form is not used for American citizens.

    The form also asks for info on citizenship, passport data, and contact information in the U.S., along with hilarious questions inquiring if the traveler is coming to the U.S. to commit espionage, sabotage or terrorism (seriously; see here). Not so many people answer Yes.

    The entry process for all foreigners already includes fingerprinting, photographing, an in-person interview, and numerous database checks.


    The U.S. government had 77.5 million foreign visitors in 2015. Collecting social media accounts for all visitors is producing one of the largest government-controlled databases of its kind.

    And even though the social media question is voluntary, apparently most travelers have been filling in the blank out of fear of calling attention to themselves and prompting further attention at the border.

    As a reminder to all those who bark fascism at every turn: this change went into effect by order of the Obama administration, not Trump’s.

    And who is having their social media examined? Citizens from the visa-waiver countries. No, no, not those naughty people from the Seven Banned Muslims nations, but American allies like Japan, the UK, Germany and the like. And guess what? There’s not been a word of protest, not a single court challenge. It’s almost as if people paid no attention to any of this before Trump came long.

    Mohammed Atta on Twitter?

    According to the rules, the new info “will be an optional data field to request social media identifiers to be used for vetting purposes, as well as applicant contact information. Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case.”

    So the concept is that Mohammed Atta (for example) rolls up to the Customs checkpoint at the airport, and jots down his Twitter handle as @terrorist911 and then enters the U.S. to resume his flight lessons. Someone from Customs later trolls Atta’s account to discover “Shout out to all the brothers, gonna lay down some whoop ass on Septemb–” Ah poo, only 140 characters, now we’ll never know.

    Image Courtesy of Edward Snowden



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    Dark Threads of Immigration in America

    February 8, 2017 // 90 Comments »



    For those who say “This is not who we are,” well, look again. It all seems to be exactly who we are and have been.

    President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travelers, immigrants and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries is only the latest twist of dark threads that have always been present in America and its immigration policy. The executive order is not unprecedented. It is evolutionary, predictable, nearly an inevitable step.



    The Seven Targeted Countries

    Begin with the targeted countries, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. America has bombed or used drones and special forces in six of them, and attacked the seventh with cyberwar. The Muslims there have suffered far in excess of a travel ban at the hands of America. Indeed, many of the refugees leaving those nations became refugees as a result of American war-making, often under the guise (Libya, Iraq, Syria) of “protecting” those people from an evil dictator, some Sunday morning talk show version of genocide, or a red line few outside the White House could see.

    The countries in Trump’s executive order have long been singled out for special treatment under American immigration law.

    Though Trump in his crude style talks about “extreme vetting,” such a process has been in place since the George W. Bush administration, continued under Obama, and is operating today. It has a nicer, if somewhat Orwellian name, “administrative processing.” On the list of nation affected: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. People from these nations, and a few others, go through an alternate visa processing procedure that delays their travel. The process involves various intelligence agencies vetting the traveler. Some applications are left to pend indefinitely, a de facto travel ban.

    The seven nations also were a part of the Bush-era Muslim registry, known as NSEERS.

    Trump’s seven nations also appear on an Obama-era list. That list, the equally Orwellian-named Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act, disallows use of America’s visa-free travel program to persons who even once visited the targeted nations. So, for example, a British citizen otherwise eligible to enter the United States without a visa must instead appear for questioning at an American embassy abroad if she, for any reason, even as a journalist, stepped foot in Iran.

    That nations long-held to sponsor terrorism such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are not on Trump’s list is not surprising. They haven’t appeared on most of Bush’s or Obama’s lists either.



    Refugees Not Welcome

    Following Trump’s directives aimed at refugees it quickly became almost mandatory for celebrities and pundits to come up with a personal story or two about their family’s immigrant ties, and preach a bit about the Statue of Liberty and freedom.

    Left unsaid was that the number of refugees admitted to the United States is small compared to many other nations.

    The U.S. admitted a record number of Muslim refugees in 2016, some 38,901 of the nearly “>85,000 total refugees allowed into the U.S. Go back to 2006, and the total number of refugees admitted drops to under 50,000. Though there have been refugee “surges” into the United States such as Holocaust survivors following World War II (650,000 people) and the Vietnamese “boat people” (100,000) after the end of that war, Americans historically feared refugees, not welcomed them. Since 1980, the United States has accepted less than two million refugees overall, and 40 percent of those were children accompanying their refugee parent(s). The U.S. sets an annual ceiling on refugees admitted, currently 85,000. Refugee number 85,001, no matter how desperate her case, must wait until the next year.

    In contrast, among Syrians alone, Canada in 2016 took in about twice as many refugees as the United States. Some 25 percent of the entire population of Lebanon are refugees. Germany expects to admit 300,000 refugees from various nations in 2016, following close to one million in 2015.



    Discrimination by Nationality

    Following the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act, 8 U.S.C. 1152 Sec. 202(a)(1)(A) makes it unlawful to ban immigrants (i.e., Legal Permanent Residents, Green card holders) because of “nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.” The law however allows banning nonimmigrants such as tourists or students, as well as refugees, for almost any reason. Challenges to this are near-impossible. American courts have consistently upheld that they cannot exercise judicial reviewability over visa decisions made abroad in the specific, and more broadly, generally do not extend the protections of American law to foreigners outside the U.S. The Supreme Court has also long-acknowledged immigration law’s “plenary power” doctrine, which generally immunizes from judicial review the substantive immigration decisions of Congress and the executive branch.

    And even though legal immigrants are not banned by nationality or place of birth per se, restrictions on the number of legal immigrants from certain nations are limited to the point of near-virtual bans. For example, the restrictions are such that some Filipino and Mexican relatives of American citizens face a 24 year wait (another Orwellian term, “priority date”) for a Green card. It is not uncommon for applicants to pass away before their turn comes.



    Fear Itself

    However, the most evolutionary aspect of Trump’s executive action on immigration, and the inevitable hardening and expansion of such positions, is the underlying driver of it all: fear.

    The government of the United States, from September 12, 2001 through the present day, has constantly fanned the flames of fear of terrorism. Despite the well-known statistics of how an American here at home has a greater chance of being struck by lightning than dying in a terror act, that following 9/11 only a handful of Americans have fallen victim to acts of terror inside the United States, and despite the fact that few of any terror attacks inside the Homeland were committed by the poster child of fear, the foreign terrorist who infiltrates the U.S. specifically to do harm, Americans remain terrified.

    For over 15 years, three presidents have used fear (they called it security) as a justification for, well, nearly everything. And Americans bought the line nearly every time. Fear of the smoking gun being a mushroom cloud. Fear of terrorists slipping through the net justifying NSA spying on Americans. Fear of more terrorism justifying torture, drone attacks, leaving Guantanamo open, militarizing Africa, having us take our shoes off at the airport, not being able to bring a bottle of water on a plane, no longer being able to enter a growing range of buildings without some sort of security check and bag search, background checks, showing ID, and the No-Fly list. 30 American governors said they’d refuse to accept Syrian refugees into their states if they could.

    Trump’s use of executive orders to accomplish his immigration goals is also nothing new. Both Bush and Obama did the same. In fact, Franklin Roosevelt used an executive order to establish the World War II Japanese internment camps.



    The Ugly Truth

    Of course nothing Trump has done or has proposed regarding immigration will realistically make America safer. That is true, and it is irrelevant. Like much of the security theatre that has become normalized post-9/11, safety is not the point. Keeping fear alive and maintaining the politically-driven myth that government is on the job protecting the Homeland is what matters. Trump knows this, as did Obama and Bush.

    The ugly truth is despite the airport protests, a large number of Americans remain afraid of foreigners and want what Trump did. The ugly truth is there is unfortunately nothing here unique to the Trump era.



    BONUS: Those who focused last weekend on the two Iraqis who translated for the American military in Iraq at great risk to their lives and were detained at a New York airport may wish to read about the decades-long struggle of translators from Iraq and Afghanistan to escape those nations for fear of their lives, and the poor treatment they have received at the hands of now three administrations.


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    The Emoluments Clause, Impeachment, and Trump: An Explainer

    January 30, 2017 // 42 Comments »


    Many of the Wikipedia-driven insta-experts on the Electoral College are now transforming into insta-experts on the Emoluments Clause, claiming the Clause can be used to impeach President Trump. But it is not that simple. What is the Clause, and in practical terms, how might it affect Trump?


    Save Us Please, Emoluments Clause!

    Deep inside Article I of the Constitution are a handful of lines called the Emoluments Clause, intended to bar office holders from accepting gifts (the full definition of emolument includes a salary, fee or profit from employment or office) from foreign sovereigns, including in the language of the 18th century, kings and princes. The Founders’ intent was to prevent foreign influence buying.

    Insta-experts seem to be circle-logicing themselves into believing Trump will be in violation of the Emoluments Clause literally as he takes the oath of office, and thus impeachment proceedings can follow, all because of his global business interests.

    But unlike most everything else in the Constitution, issues connected to the Clause have never gone before the Supreme Court, there is very little case law, and very little legal study. It has simply not come up in any significant way. Journalists have discovered the Clause, however, and now are promoting it as a way to defeat President Trump.

    The problem is that much of what is being written appears to come from Clinton supporters in denial. The election failed, the recounts failed, the move to sway faithless Electors failed, the sludge of Russian allegations failed, Meryl Streep failed, and Beyonce not pole dancing at the inauguration failed. All that stands between democracy and the abyss is the Emoluments Clause.

    Luckily, there are non-partisan sources out there, including the American Bar Association, and the National Constitution Center. Before wading through your next fake news article, let’s synthesize some of what has been said about the Emoluments Clause.


    The Emoluments Clause

    The Clause is aimed at governments, those kings and princes, seeking to influence the United States. It has nothing to say about 21st century life, such as Trump’s companies doing business with entities controlled in whole or part by foreign governments (state-owned businesses, such as the Bank of China, as is common in many parts of the world.)

    The Clause is also untested in regards to complex corporate ownership. It is common in the media to state matter-of-factly “Donald Trump owns a hotel in Dubai.” Yet most of Trump’s business, like most corporate business in general, is done through a web of companies that are legal entities of their own. Some involve stockholders, some in which Trump holds a minority position. Similar questions would likely have been asked about foreign government donations to the Clinton Foundation had Hillary been elected president. None of this existed when the Clause was written, and all of this requires a 21st century judicial interpretation.

    Emoluments are more complex than simply doing business overseas. The Clause may allow for fair market price transactions, for example. So, if a piece of real estate is legitimately (and yes, we’ll argue over that word) valued at $100,000, it is not a bribe or a representation of influence to sell it for $100k. It would be more questionable to accept $150k. Some have claimed if a foreign diplomat stays at a Trump hotel, the standard room price paid would violate the Clause. That’s a question of legal exchange; if Trump accepts money from Iran to remove sanctions, that’s a bribe. If a Trump hotel collects money for a night in the bridal suite, that’s a simple exchange of goods and services. Does the Emoluments Clause apply?

    Some legal scholars argue the Emoluments Clause doesn’t apply to the president at all. A different clause of the Constitution makes bribery an impeachable offense. That clause specifically mentions the president by title, while the Emoluments Clause does not. In addition, other parts of the Constitution that specifically address the president typically include a separate delineation for “officials,” the wording used in the Emoluments Clause.

    That all suggests emoluments may exclude the president. However, precedent suggests the Clause does apply. George Washington was allowed to accept a foreign gift, Andrew Jackson was not, and Martin Van Buren had to agree to a 50-50 split with the State Department over gifts from the Imam of Muscat. And in 2009 the Office of Legal Counsel said President Obama could accept the Nobel Peace Prize money without violating the Clause. But all four men asked for an OK ahead of time. There was no actual challenge, and none of the cases involved doing business.

    Another issue is standing, who can sue over any of this to get it into the courts for a ruling. One legal professor feels no one seems to have such standing, and so states “if there are concerns about how President Trump handles his various investments, the only remedies will be political.” Meaning vote him out of office in the next election if you don’t like what he’s doing.

    There are also those who skip most of the legal arguments, and focus on the so-called larger picture; clearly the Founders did not want the president beholden to foreigners. So never mind the parsing of words, the Emoluments Clause was written precisely to stop a person like Trump.

    In terms of practical matters, the less Trump makes public about his business dealings, the less chance anyone has of looking into any of this. Congress can’t even think about impeachment unless there is a “high crime or misdemeanor” involved and a Trump business deal per se is far from definitive evidence of that. Impeachment involves a lot of people in Congress agreeing on moving forward, and Congress for at least the next two years is controlled by the Republicans.

    And should anyone find a way to pursue it, it would be easy for Trump’s side to drive the issue through the courts for some time, and, because it ultimately involves interpretation of the Constitution, to the Supreme Court.


    Bottom Line

    There are mostly questions and very few answers about the Emoluments Clause. There are also legitimate concerns over conflicts of interest during the Trump administration; no president in history has come into office with as vast and complex financial holdings. Modern presidents have bypassed all of this by using blind trusts, something Trump has said he will not do. This is clearly uncharted legal and political territory.

    That said, it appears use of the Emoluments Clause to impeach Trump is another Clinton martyrdom political fantasy. Any clarification will involve extensive travel through the court system, and given the initial question of who even has standing to pursue that, nothing can happen quickly, if at all.

    (Peter Van Buren, a 24 year State Department veteran, is the author of “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.” His next book is “Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan.” @WeMeantWell)



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    Should We Punch Nazis in the Head?

    January 23, 2017 // 76 Comments »



    No, we should not.


    Condoning, applauding or giggling over the idea of punching people in the head whose political positions, however abhorrent, we don’t agree with is so wrong I am not even sure why it is necessary to talk about it. However, given the events of this weekend, it seems we have to talk about it.

    “Is it OK to punch a Nazi for what he said?” is a question bouncing around the media and the Internet after an attack on Richard Spencer following the Trump inauguration. Spencer created the term alt-right. On video, he was explaining the meaning of Pepe the Frog, a silly cartoon figure somehow adopted as a mascot by the racist, far-right fringe movement Spencer promotes as anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic and anti-feminist.


    The punch was captured on video:



    There are over 4,500 comments on YouTube alone, and most condone the punch. The most popular format is to say “I don’t condone violence BUT…” and then go on to condone violence. Another popular comment is to mention Hitler, WWII and the defeat of the Nazis, and somehow see the video as a part of that 70-year-old global struggle fought between nation states.

    The main thrust of commentary is that violence is now justified as a response to speech by the right some do not care for. More than a few people have suggested punching someone in the head is in fact a form of protected free speech itself, and others seem to think whatever they label as “hate speech” is a crime. Others mouth stuff along the lines of “the end justifies the means.”

    A popular meme is to put different songs, many calling for violence themselves, behind the punching video. Jon Favreau, a former speechwriter for Barack Obama, tweeted “I don’t care how many different songs you set Richard Spencer being punched to, I’ll laugh at every one.”


    Where to begin?

    — If violence against those exercising their First Amendment rights (speech, religion, etc.) can ever be condoned, why wouldn’t that also condone tearing off a woman’s hijab, or lynching someone? See how the “violence is justified” argument can work?

    — There are no laws against hate speech. Details here.

    — Punching people is not a form of protected speech. Expressed legally in a number of ways, Supreme Court Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes stated “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”

    — Free speech protection covers all the things people want to say, from the furthest left to the furthest right. You can burn a flag, display a nude body, fill a fish tank with urine and call it art, put on a KKK uniform and march past a Black church, and say whatever Richard Spencer was saying. It means I can write this article.

    — The First Amendment and the broader traditions of free speech are there to protect the most challenging awful mean terrible hateful racist sexist anti-American garbage people can spew out. The protections are not there to cover the easy stuff most people agree with (though they do.) That is the whole point.

    — The ACLU has defended the right of both Nazis and the KKK to speak.


    It saddens me greatly to see even one person suggest violence as a proper response to the exercise of our precious right to free speech.

    It saddens me even more when everyone of us cannot see thinking you are opposing fascism by beating up those who ideas you disagree with.

    John Lewis, Barack Obama, hell, any Democratic politician, waiting on you to denounce this. Also, everyone on Twitter and elsewhere saying I personally support genocide, is it possible for you to understand I support the concept of free speech in its purest form, and none of that implies support for any specific position, from naked art photos to Holocaust deniers to the films of Jerry Lewis. I am simply astounded how many people are unable to distinguish between support for speech itself from support for what someone says. I expected this from the right someday, am gobsmacked that it hit me from the left. Sigh.






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    We’re Still Here, 1/20/17, Consumed Most of All by Our Fears

    January 20, 2017 // 188 Comments »



    One of my favorite quotes includes the lines “I awoke this morning to find that it was not judgment day – only morning. Morning: excellent and fair.” I think that sums up a part of my thinking, but certainly not all.


    A nuclear reckoning, war with China, or anything else quite so violently apocalyptic is imminent, or even underway, as far too many of us think. I live in one of those bubbles, the sum of which make up America now. Many of the people I talk to, in person and here online, seem to believe, truly believe, the world is coming to something of an end. These are by and large educated, once-rational people, some of whom have been voices of reason in the past. They are not that way now.

    We are however falling, some important threads of our nation being teased apart, and our best days are behind us. But this did not start on November 8, 2016, or January 20, 2017, thoough historians will note those dates as significant milestones (same as September 11, 2001.) But not because of Donald Trump. Because his name just happened to be attached to what has been growing inside us since the end of WWII.

    The Russians did not elect Trump. They may or may not have tried to get involved in the election, but we did this to ourselves. As the historian you have probably not read but should read Morris Berman predicted years ago, we are eating each other.


    We are consumed most of all by our fears. Fear of what the Soviets, and maybe the Chinese, would do after WWII. We created a nuclear arsenal measured in how many multiples of times it could destroy the world. We dragged our country through disasters like Vietnam, that murdered so many and cracked apart our nation. Our fear of race, our war on drugs, and then of course our fear of a world beyond our control after 9/11. Another quote that seems to fit is “The leader of genius must have the ability to make different opponents appear as if they belonged to one category.”

    The fears were encouraged at every opportunity by those who profited from them, either by rawly making money, or by acquiring power and control, or in most cases, both. We are unconcerned — it’s normal — that politicians routinely leave office wealthy despite modest salaries. We have so much, and share so little. We enthusiastically abandoned so many of the good things about America, such as our Bill of Rights. America’s pre-WWII Constitutional Era was grossly imperfect. Yet for its obvious failings, there was a sense of the possibility of progress; halting, awkward, unfinished, but, well, for lack of a better word and to use a word that has become a symbol of modern irony, hope.

    Of course none of that was close to perfect, but it was good and it is gone in some arenas and going away in most of the rest. We’ll still be allowed to rant on Twitter, a modern day bread and circus, but the real stuff of standing up and speaking back to government will happen only with handfuls of whistleblowers who will sacrifice their lives and freedom to say what they need to say.


    I thought we had a chance at change in 2008 but instead was proven to be a dupe. I thought he might turn it all around, in those first weeks he could have asked the rivers to flow backwards and they just might have. He could have grounded the drones, torn up the Patriot Act, held truth commissions to bring into the light our tortures, re-emancipated America in ways not unlike Lincoln did in the 1860s. Slam shut the gates of Guantanamo, close the secret prisons that even today still ooze pus in Afghanistan, stop the militarization of Africa, bring the troops home, all of it, just have done it. What a change, what a path forward, what a rebirth for an America who had lost her way so perilously. One man could have made a difference and when he did not even try, he helped solidify in America a sense of cynicism and powerlessness that empowers evil people further. If there was no Obama there would be no Trump.

    A new generation, and me again, thought there was another chance with Bernie Sanders. We were stupid. He was a distraction, and showed his true colors throwing away everything he said previously to support a candidate of the same old old school we’ve been voting for since WWII.

    Trump is at best/worst a symbol of all this. How powerful people play us against each other and exploit our differences. How fear (currently fear of Trump filtered through fear of Putin) can be used to manipulate us. How the ideas of democracy can be so easily tossed aside so that our most progressive thinkers are convinced elections are illegitimate, and anything from silly name calling to demands for something akin to a coup are justified when the enemy is as perceived evil as Trump. Echoing the famous lines from Vietnam, it is in their minds necessary to destroy democracy in order to save it.


    I’ve written here before open letters to my daughters, talking about the world they are maturing into. This is in that spirit. Somebody, maybe them, is one day going to stop and wonder how they got to where they ended up, an oligarchy that profits from mouthing the nice words of our Founders while ignoring them. Maybe they will find this essay, dated for convenience only, January 20, 2017.




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    End of the World, Progressive Article Edition

    January 4, 2017 // 30 Comments »

    marlon_brando

    For those who would like to become a progressive columnist in the world of Trump, here’s a guide for your first and every subsequent article:

    — Everything was pretty freaking close to perfect on November 7. Yeah, tough about Bernie, but Clinton was going to be great.

    — Putin, Comey, media, maybe Bernie, everyone you hate and fear, elected Trump because 62 million Americans are white, misogynists, and Nazis. They also are wrong about not having good jobs; don’t people in the Rust Belt read the job statistics?

    — Anyway, Trump is an oaf and/or an evil genius.

    — He is out to destroy America; riff off this for the next forever.



    Your First Essay Example

    And if you’d like a good example on how to do it, turn to Neil Gabler’s essay on the otherwise intelligent blog from Bill Moyers.

    Here’s how that essay starts:

    America died on November 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity — all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country.

    Whatever place we now live in is not the same place it was on November 7. No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on November 7, they will now look at us differently. We are likely to be a pariah country.

    First of all, points for the “bang and whimper” cliche, followed by the happy bullsh*t about how wonderful America was last month as described by phony Hamilton the musical lyrics. I bet the show’s cast could make values, morals, compassion, tolerance, decency, common purpose, and identity rhyme.

    Dude, we are a helluva people! Exceptional!

    Because prior to the election results we weren’t a nation founded on a slave economy, which 250 years later still has its cops imprison and murder Blacks, who doesn’t have the highest incarceration rate in the world, mostly for small amounts of weed that has been long legalized in other western nations. Our compassion is set to full, except if you are different than me in your race, religion, or views on guns, gays or abortions. Of course we don’t really do much for women, and unlike say India, Israel, the UK, Burma, and a whole mess of other places, have never had a female chief executive.

    Yeah, whatever, all that.

    And lovely, that bit about American becoming an international pariah. Could happen. Luckily the world has overlooked so far that we are the only nation to have used atomic weapons (twice, on civilians), stayed at war, spied and overthrown governments in their countries pretty steadily for 70 years, set the Middle Easton on fire over fake WMDs, drone kill wherever we like, torture people, and run an offshore penal colony right out of Les Miserables. Man, Trump, amiright?



    No More Democracy for You

    Later in the article, author Gabler throws in a whopper: “Republicans… haven’t believed in democracy for a long time.”

    Yep, one of the two parties in America, in fact the one that’s been out of power for the last eight years and which was voted into office via an election, does not believe in democracy. Makes sense. And to throw us off the trail, the sneaks are conducting a peaceful transition of power!

    Luckily the Democrats over the last eight years have only drone killed American Citizens without trial (Fifth Amendment), spied on all of us (Fourth Amendment) and racked up the worst Freedom of Information Act response rate since the Act was created (First Amendment.)


    This is the End

    Wrapping it all up, Gabler says:

    But the disempowered media may have one more role to fill: They must bear witness. Many years from now, future generations will need to know what happened to us and how it happened. They will need to know how disgruntled white Americans, full of self-righteous indignation, found a way to take back a country they felt they were entitled to and which they believed had been lost. They will need to know about the ugliness and evil that destroyed us as a nation after great men like Lincoln and Roosevelt guided us through previous crises and kept our values intact. They will need to know, and they will need a vigorous, engaged, moral media to tell them. They will also need us. We are not living for ourselves anymore in this country. Now we are living for history.

    So there you go. It’s pretty much the fault of us white guys, except for great white guys like Lincoln and Roosevelt. Other once-famous white guys like Jefferson, maybe Kennedy and Carter, didn’t make the list. Hell, Carter was even a southerner.

    There are going to be troubles ahead. Trump will not be a good president, and he is surrounding himself with inept people. The world is a complex place and even the best of our great white men have struggled with that. But for f*ck’s sake, stop imagining an America that never existed on November 7, and creating a dystopian nightmare that you imagine popped into being a day later.

    A clear view of history is a necessary starting point as we edge into 2017.



    BONUS: Neil Gabler is not otherwise an idiot. His biography says he is the author of five books and the recipient of two LA Times Book Prizes, Time magazine’s non-fiction book of the year, USA Today’s biography of the year and other awards. He is also a senior fellow at The Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, and is currently writing a biography of Senator Edward Kennedy.



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    Ban Trump, Twitter and Free Speech

    December 30, 2016 // 55 Comments »

    In the through-the-mirror world we now live in, people who once unambiguously supported free speech now are finding plenty of things they want censored.

    Chief among those opposing ideas they want silenced are Donald Trump’s. His remarks — from the silly, labeled unpresidential, to the more extreme labeled racist/sexist/misogynist/hateful — have attracted a surprising group of otherwise intelligent people demanding he be shut up.



    Salon to Les Barricades!

    An article on Salon made the case, specifically demanding Twitter ban Trump. Here’s one representative paragraph:

    Republicans may not be willing to hold him [Trump] accountable for his dreadful behavior, but the rest of us don’t have to fall in line. Trump has repeatedly signaled his enthusiasm for dictators, which gives us serious reason to fear he may be eyeballing such powers for himself. Banning his Twitter account would be an important act of resistance.

    (Of course American presidents have supported a long line dictators — pick your faves, from Stalin in WWII to Somoza to the Assads to Saddam –without themselves becoming dictators, but no matter, we’re beyond history here.)

     

    But Twitter Has Terms of Service!

    Twitter, Facebook, etc., are private businesses and thus not subject to the First Amendment (which only restricts the government from crushing speech) and can make any usage rules they like. But in reality social media outlets have in our age become the public squares of the day, and must be seen and treated as such. For example, when they actually had the guts, good newspapers would go out of their way to print opposing viewpoints, recognizing their status as a public forum.

    So yes, yes, Twitter can ban redheaded users (sorry, gingers!) if they want to, but it would be detrimental to our broader national commitment to hearing each other out, including hearing from people we don’t agree with. No, ESPECIALLY hearing from people we don’t agree with. Of course there are also the problems that come up once you start banning people, given how opinions of what should be “allowed” can change as quickly as overnight election evening.

    So the fact that an entity can ban speech doesn’t mean it should.

    In a broader context, it is also always helpful to remember there are no laws against “hate speech” that prevent people from making rough political statements, or even stupid ones. There are laws against inciting violence “Kill all the redheads” but not against saying they suck or are monkeys.



    “You Can’t Yell Fire in a Crowded Theater”

    That paraphrase of a paragraph from a 1919 U.S. Supreme Court case, Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919), written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, is often cited as justification for limiting free speech. Here’s what Holmes wrote:

    The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger.

    The statement says the First Amendment doesn’t protect false speech that is likely to cause immediate harm to others, three conditions. The speech must be demonstrably false, and it must be likely to cause real harm (not just offense or hurt feelings, a “clear and present danger”), and do so immediately.

    The interpretation of the First Amendment has been understood and adjudicated to impose a pretty high barrier to restrictions on what can be blocked or banned, and over the years has allowed flags to be burned, the KKK and Nazis to march, artists to make sculptures from their own body waste, and all sorts of political statements, at least a handful of which you would strongly disagree with and be deeply offended by.

    And so expression whose ban has been upheld over the long run has been narrow, things the vast majority society agrees are truly dangerous, such as child pornography.

    That’s the whole point — with as few limitation as necessary, protect expression people may or may not want to hear. The First Amendment is not there to protect Dancing with the Stars (though it does) but to protect the hard stuff, the hard calls.


    Schenck is Actually Evil

    And yes, Schenck itself was a crappy case that sought to use the Espionage Act against a Socialist pamphleteer, to stop free speech, not protect it, and the case was overturned. In fact, Holmes’ statement was a dictum that the First Amendment is not absolute, that restriction is lawful, along with the developing idea that restriction on speech should be narrow and limited.

    It was the later case of Brandenburg v. Ohio that refined the modern standard for restricting speech to that “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” But we talk about Holmes’ “fire in a crowded theatre” line as a kind of shorthand for all that.



    Let Him Speak — Loudly

    Justice Holmes, perhaps as an act of contrition, later wrote in another landmark case:

    The ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.

    So following the broad values enshrined in the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, even though it can, Twitter should not ban Trump. Let him tweet, hell, give him 20 extra characters. And let us know, judge, agree, oppose, and argue about what he says.


    PERSONAL BONUS: Writing in a mainstream publication that the president shouldn’t be allowed on Twitter? Jesus Christ, pull your shit together and get a freaking grip on yourselves. If you can’t do that, go hide under your bed and hug your stuffed animal Bobo. You want to worry about authoritarianism? It always includes shutting up people you don’t want to listen to.




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    The Terrifying Executive We Need for the Wrong Reasons

    December 18, 2016 // 65 Comments »

    trump

    I understand why all of the often false, usually bombastic, reporting on Trump is angering me.

    You know the stuff — take a “fact,” real or fully made up, and conflate it with some apocalyptic prediction. Watch: Trump alternates between wearing boxers and briefs. Will his indecisiveness cause him to pull back when America is attacked by the Russians?

    The other story everyone writes now is based on the journalist’s apparent post-November 9 discovery of an element of fascism, racism and/or parts of the Constitution and presidential practice. And so someone is shocked that Trump will be able to choose drone kill targets, or have access to everything the NSA sweeps up about his enemies.


    The first type of stories are just pathetic, kiddies with pencils seeing what they can get away with, journalists working out in public their disbelief that someone like Trump won, people witnessing their first presidential transition and not dealing with it well. Those stories will fade away, or move to the tabloids where they’ll find a home aside Elvis and Roswell.

    The latter stories, the ones worrying about what Trump will do with the power of _____ are more worrisome. The ascribe fear of executive power and a government run amuck to one man, someone they loathe, Trump. They ignore that these powers, of which we should all be legitimately terrified, are not of a man but of our system.

    Trump, per se, for example, doesn’t control drone killings, the executive does. Bush killed, Obama killed, the president after Trump will kill. Same for the NSA — they all had, and future presidents will have, the ability to spy on anyone.


    By focusing on one man, we imagine any solutions will rest in getting rid of this man (recount! electoral college! impeachment!) That is dangerous.

    Any solutions (I’m not optimistic) must be changes to the system of ever-growing executive power. In that sense, perhaps the election of someone so obvious in his erratic statements, so oafish in his behavior, may be for the best. A bucket of cold well water to the face might be what’s needed for a citizenry that allowed one president to sell all his acquisition of power via a faux-sincere monologue of fear mongering, and another on the strength of his coolness and personal trust.

    The change has to be to the system, not the person. In that sense, perhaps Trump will be the president we need, if not the one we wanted.



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    You Opened the Box…

    December 16, 2016 // 52 Comments »

    Once you let the genie out of the bottle, you can’t stuff him back in.

    Attempts to overturn the results of our election, or to delegitimize a president before he even takes office, are attempts to overturn the system of transfer of power that has served America since its earliest days. There is no measure of exaggeration here; Americans are questioning the results of the election because roughly half don’t like the guy who won.

    Somehow things are… special this year. In most elections, a good-sized group of us see our candidate lose, grumble, and move on to some degree. I don’t think Trump will be a good president, but I also do not think he will burn civil rights to the ground, destroy life on the planet, sell Alaska back to Russia, or invade China with Omarosa some drunk weekend.

    In what in another era would be left for conspiracy theorists to contemplate, for the first time in our nation’s history powerful mainstream forces are trying to change the results of an election. Shocked by Trump’s victory, and fearing his presidency, they want to stop him from entering the White House. The belief seems to be that he is such a threat that it is necessary to destroy a part of democracy in America to save it.

    Some efforts are silly, online petitions demanding, somehow, Clinton become president (here’s one asking the Supreme Court to invalidate the election,) or bleating that her popular vote victory matters somehow within the existing electoral process. Others call for a magic do-over, a new election.

    Political scientists claim they maybe have found untested ways for the Electoral College to vote for Clinton, or to postpone a vote.

    But after that it gets very serious. America’s foreign intelligence service, the CIA, via anonymous leaks to the New York Times, NBC, and the Washington Post, declared Russia actively and purposefully interceded in our election in favor of Donald Trump. Trump was elected, in part, by the work of Russian cyber blackops.

    It is important to unpack what the accusations driving this are: someone working for the Russian government broke into the Democratic National Committee servers and Clinton campaign head John Podesta’s Gmail account, delivered those emails (which the Clinton campaign by and large said were bogus or altered) to places like Wikileaks, and that the emails few voters read influenced the election such that Trump, not Clinton, won the electoral vote. Trump’s strengths as a candidate and Clinton weaknesses were not significant enough on their own to have swayed the electoral count 74 votes in Trump’s favor. At the same time, for these accusations to matter, President Trump will act in favor of Russian interests (choosing hard liner John Bolton as number two at the State Department already seems counter to that) and against those of the United States.

    The accusations against Trump can rise to the level of treason (some are speculating Trump was a willing participant in any Russian ops), a capital crime, the most serious crime an American can commit against his country.

    All is supposed to be revealed in the form of some sort of investigation.

    Leaving how clever use of redactions can present “evidence” in misleading ways, intelligence assessments are rarely black and white, especially when seeking to explain why an action took place, its ultimate political goal. An intelligence service can conclude with reasonable confidence (for example) that Country X executed 12 dissidents last week. It is much harder to say why, or why now, or why those 12, or why not a different group, or what those executions mean in the longer game of local politics. So while technical means may be able to point to a hacker with connections to Russia (though hackers include in their tradecraft leaving false clues), moving from whether any hacks were standard information gathering as engaged in by all sides, or an active part of a campaign to change the course of our election, is a tough job. So those who expect a black and white report on what they Russians did, why they did it, and how it affected the election, are very unlikely to get it.

    So what will be done?

    The current focus is on the Electoral College voting on Monday, December 19 to put Hillary Clinton into the White House. That would require breaking with some 224 years of practice, moving against the will of about half of American voters who acted in good faith under the current system believing their vote would be assessed by the rules and practices in place, and destroying the orderly transfer of power that marks a democracy.

    But if Trump prevails in the Electoral College, what next? There is no Constitutional allowance for a “second election.” Bomb Moscow? Keep Barack Obama in power? Dispatch a lynch mob to Trump Tower?

    Well, of course not. Probably.

    Instead we will enter a new administration with a delegitimized president, under the shadow of multiple conspiracy theories, accusations, hearings, investigations and likely threats to of impeachment proceedings. Every decision President Trump makes, as with his every Cabinet choice now, will be weighed against the accusations. America’s Russia policy (in Europe, the Middle East, Asia) will be held hostage to rumors and leaks. A divided America will become more divided.

    The Bush-Gore election of 2000 was contested right into the Supreme Court. The differences, however, are significant. The post-election fight took place between two men still candidates, to decide a winner. Trump is the President Elect, and the process, whatever it is, seeks to overturn, not decide, that result. In Bush-Gore, once the Court declared a winner, the results were accepted, albeit reluctantly by some, and America moved on. Lastly, the struggle between Bush and Gore took place in open court, not via leaks and classified documents.

    There is also the argument, basically a variation of “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear” that Americans should be willing to submit to post-election recounts and investigations, themselves often inconclusive or subject to another round of questions, to “prove” nothing went amiss. There is danger in confusing a potential body blow to the electoral process, seeking to overturn a completed election, with casting it all as benign verification.

    An additional danger is in the McCarthy-esque conflating of opposition to these efforts with a lack of patriotism, and by invalid extension, support for America’s enemies. To remain skeptical is to stand against the United States. To question the CIA is to disrespect our intelligence professionals. Journalists who do not support the accusations are said to be either active Russian agents of influence or “useful idiots” too dumb to know they are being manipulated.

    The real impact of all this will be felt long past Trump’s tenure.

    Democrats, Republicans, and players such as the CIA will have four years to consider how this process of delegitimizing a President Elect could work more effectively next time. The people who support extra-Constitutional steps now because of Donald Trump will find those same step will be available in later elections, to use against a candidate they favor. Voting can potentially become only a preliminary gesture, with real struggle only starting after the election itself.

    Many are deeply upset Hillary Clinton lost. Many are unsure, even fearful, of a Trump presidency. But once you let the genie of trying to overturn an election loose, you won’t be able to stop it next time.

     

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