• Dear Elon Musk:

    May 7, 2022 // No Comments »

    Dear Elon:

    Big fan. I cheered to finally see an African-American like yourself rising to the top, owning one of America’s largest media companies, Twitter. I’m also a big fan of free speech, which is why I am writing to you to ask that my lifetime ban on Twitter be rescinded.

    See in August 2018, Twitter banned me for life for a tweet which “harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence someone else’s voice.” I was on Twitter telling some journalists they had allowed the government to lie to them about the Iraq war. I said I once worked for the U.S. State Department, and I was one of the ones who lied to them. It was actually part of my job to lie to them, to give them the false impression our reconstruction programs in Iraq were coming along just nicely. I could name several journalists I lied to directly but what’s the point in that? They all still have jobs and Twitter accounts and it’s not exactly a secret what they wrote about the reconstruction programs was false and wrong. I told the truth on Twitter and lost my account.

    The truth is one night on Twitter I was explaining about my lies, a kind of atonement, and several journalists ganged up on me to begin criticizing my writing and the work that I have done as a journalist since leaving the government. It was all kind of rude (one said I was a “garbage human being” and another claimed I was a Russian stooge) but within the schoolyard boundaries of the scrappier side of Twitter.

    It never occurred to me to report them for harassment or bullying. I happened to have the television on with the Walking Dead playing in the background and I cranked off a tweet, as many of us do, that I’m not particularly proud of. I said to one of the pack “I hope a MAGA zombie eats your face.” You can read all my offending tweets hereWithin about five minutes of posting I was given a lifetime ban on Twitter. It says on my Wikipedia page by someone who continually hacks it, that I was removed from Twitter for threatening someone or something along those lines.

    Anyway I can’t help but thinking my real lifetime ban had something to do with the fact that I had previously promoted free-speech without boundaries on Twitter and other social media. Yes, yes, I’m aware the First Amendment does not cover social media, that these are private companies, but like you I believe they play such an enormous role in the tapestry of our speech that they deserve the protections of the 1A. I understand Jefferson and Madison wrote the Bill of Rights long before the Internet, and think they would be on board with expanding the 1A to companies that have grown to be more powerful censors than the government ever could be. BTW, that’s U now, LOL.

    I hasten to add that there is no such thing as MAGA zombies and so my tweeted threat to have one of them eat someone’s face was actually a bit of a jest. You see since there are no zombies the threat was not real, sarcasm at worst, and so I’m hoping that you can forgive me where are your predecessor @jack was unable to do so. He never even answered my inquiries.

    To be fully honest, what bothers me is not the scolding per se, or (most of the time) the inability to tweet. Yeah, I know, it can be a big time sink. I think the thing that bugs me is I feel I was rounded up and sent off because I wrote true things, albeit critical things, about the media on what they consider their turf, your new acquisition, Twitter. I obviously meant no one harm with the silly zombie remark, but it was used as a very thin excuse to send me down the Memory Hole (you remember, from Orwell’s 1984, a place where facts and ideas could be disappeared in service to the powers that be.)

    My cancellation took place late on a Friday night, which leads me to wonder how the journalist I was engaging got through to Twitter’s censoring staff so quickly. I certainly don’t have that access. It felt kind of more like a set up than a gatekeeper protecting someone against whatever hate speech is (and you know there is no such crime as hate speech, and whatever people insist on calling “hate speech,” including things like the N-word, is fully protected by the First Amendment.) So what’s up with the lifetime ban for one tweet? It seems pretty heavy. That’s the kind of thing I have in mind when I say it did not feel fair.

    I don’t think anyone needs protecting from my ideas, but I guess I can figure out why they’d be frightening to charlatans, pols, and grifters. That’s why I guess a journalist whose livelihood depends on the 1A wrote to you “for democracy to survive, we need more content moderation, not less.”  Robert Reich, veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations, argued you’re putting us on a fast track to fascism. He thinks an uncontrolled Internet is “​​the dream of every dictator, strongman, demagogue and modern-day robber baron.” On of your other critics nearly exceeded Twitter’s character limit writing “Today on Twitter feels like the last evening in a Berlin nightclub at the twilight of Weimar Germany.”  While I am not fully comfortable with billionaires deciding the fate of free speech, they’re downright terrified of you, Elon. If you want to scare them more, reinstating me (and yeah, Trump, too) would be excellent for that purpose.

    It’s funny/not funny because I have experienced their version of the Internet. When I was in Iran, the government there blocked Twitter and many other sites, effectively deciding for an entire nation what they cannot read. In America, Twitter decides for an entire nation what they cannot read. It matters little whose hand is on the switch: government or corporate, the end result is the same. This is the America I always feared I’d see, where Americans not just tolerate, but demand censorship.

    Now if you really want to shake things up (you’re that kinda guy, right?) just flat-out acknowledge the interplay between the First Amendment and corporations like your Twitter is the most significant challenge to free speech in our lifetimes. Pretending a corporation with the reach to influence elections is just another place that sells stuff is to pretend the role of debate in a free society is outdated. The arrival of global technology controlled by mega-corporations brought first the ability the control speech and soon after the willingness. The rules are their, er, your rules, and so we see the permanent banning of a president for whom some 70 million Americans voted from tweeting to his 88 million followers (ironically the courts earlier claimed it was unconstitutional for the president to block those who wanted to follow him.) Then there was that game-changing ban on news about Hunter Biden just ahead of the election. Let someone take Twitter to the Supreme Court and see if they’ll extend the 1A in some form to the new public square. The ability of a handful of people nobody voted for to control the mass of public discourse has never been clearer. It represents a stunning centralization of power.

    Speech in America is an inalienable right, and runs as deep into our free society as any idea can. Thomas Jefferson wrote it flowed directly from his idea of a Creator, which we understand today as less that free speech is heaven-sent so much as it is something that exists above government. And so the argument the First Amendment applies only to the government and not to private platforms like Twitter is both true and irrelevant—and the latter is more important.

    So Elon, thank you very much for your consideration. I realize as a billionaire super villain you have many things on your mind but I hope you find time to at least delegate this to someone in hopes that they could reinstate me to Twitter to prove a point. The old Twitter sold censorship as a product, a dissent-free zone for libs. You can do something important freeing ideas, and I’d like to be a part of that.

    Love, Peter

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    I’ll Be Speaking at Yale February 7; Free and Open to the Public

    February 4, 2017 // 77 Comments »




    Please come join me for a bit of speaking and discussion at Yale University on February 7. The event is free and open to the public.


    My speech is part of Yale’s Macmillan Center for Global Justice Program, and I’ll kick off this semester’s slate of speakers. The event will be held in the ground-floor seminar room at 230 Prospect Street beginning at 4:30 pm. No advance tickets or reservations needed.

    I’ll offer some thoughts on whistleblowing, my own case as well as those of Manning and Snowden, leading into wider reflections on Iraq, the First Amendment, and what options exist from inside government when one deeply disagrees with specific policies.

    Kinda timely stuff.

    There will be open discussion and plenty of time for questions. Those who oppose free speech are also welcome to come and punch me in the head.




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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Body Blows Against the First Amendment

    April 11, 2015 // 11 Comments »

    continental congress


    Two recent cases show the contempt with which our government, at the federal and state levels, views the First Amendment.



    First Amendment Semi-Win After Military Police Harass, Sexually Threaten Journalist

    A very basic tenet of our democracy is that a free press exists to report to The People on the actions of their government, and that government is prohibited by the beautiful words of the First Amendment from interfering. In a small instance in Ohio, after the government had military police officers in the United States harass and confiscate the cameras of journalists, the journalists went to court and won back their rights.

    The U.S. government agreed to pay The Toledo Blade newspaper $18,000 for seizing the cameras of a photographer and deleting photographs taken outside the Lima Tank plant last year. In turn, The Blade agreed to dismiss the lawsuit it filed U.S. District Court on behalf of photographer Jetta Fraser and reporter Tyrel Linkhorn against Chuck Hagel, then Secretary of Defense and the military police officers involved in the March 28, 2014, incident.

    An attorney for The Blade said the settlement was made under the First Amendment Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits the government, in connection with the investigation of a criminal offense, from searching or seizing any work product materials possessed by a journalist. “The harassment and detention of The Blade’s reporter and photographer, the confiscation of their equipment, and the brazen destruction of lawful photographs cannot be justified by a claim of military authority or by the supposed imperatives of the national security state.”

    The government admits no wrongdoing, however, and just paid off the settlement.

    Here’s what happened. The reporter and photographer were in Lima to cover a news conference at another facility and had been tasked to take photos of area businesses for future use, including pictures of the tank plant, known as the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center.

    As the pair were leaving they were detained by three military police officers and questioned. Fraser showed the officers her Blade identification, but initially declined to provide her driver’s license as she was not driving. She was removed against her will from her vehicle and handcuffed for more than an hour.

    During the confrontation, the officers repeatedly referred to Ms. Fraser in the masculine gender. She objected and was told by one officer, “You say you are a female. I’m going to go under your bra.”

    The officers then confiscated two cameras, memory cards, a pocket-sized personal calendar, and a notebook in clear violation of the First Amendment.


    Philly Cop Arrests Man for Photographing Philly Cop Harassing Homeless Woman

    A college student arrested as he photographed a Philadelphia police officer harass a homeless woman in a public park was put into handcuffs and held for an hour. Federal jurors must now decide whether the cop had cause to cuff Coulter Loeb, 24, and charge him with disorderly conduct.

    The case, however, is about far more than a simple disorderly conduct rap. At issue is how the Philadelphia government sees the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution, and how it views people fulfilling their responsibilities as citizens to provide oversight to government employees performing their jobs. And it does not look good for all that in Philly.

    Things went south almost from the get-go, after the trial judge dismissed any connection between the arrest and the First Amendment.

    In a pretrial order that covered two similar cases, the judge ruled that the federal appeals court in Philadelphia had not “clearly established” a First Amendment right to photograph police as of 2011, when this incident occurred. “Whether the Third Circuit will eventually decide to follow what appears to be a growing trend in other circuits to recognize a First Amendment right to observe and record police activity is, of course, not for this court to decide, even if there are good policy reasons [to] adopt that change,” U.S. District William Yohn wrote. He therefore threw out Loeb’s free-speech claim, leaving a jury to weigh only the Fourth Amendment issues of false arrest and malicious prosecution.

    Moving on to how the city of Philadelphia views these issues, we turn to the city attorney working the case, who described arrestee Coulter Loeb, in front of his ACLU attorney, as “a meddlesome 24-year-old” with “very high-minded ideas about government” and the role of media. The Assistant City Solicitor told jurors that Loeb was interfering with police work by photographing police work in a public place.

    But what was in the mind of the arresting officer? “He [Loeb ]looked me up and down, and then took one step back. That to me was being a wise guy,” said the cop.

    Irony Alert: Yes, yes, it was in Philadelphia in 1787 that the Constitutional Convention was held. How far we have fallen.




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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America

    Mid Coast Forum: Maine Rocks!

    February 13, 2012 // Comments Off on Mid Coast Forum: Maine Rocks!

    I recently had the great honor to speak before the Maine Mid Coast Forum on Foreign Relations. The group included not a few retired State Department and CIA officials, as well as many academics, business people and the like, all with considerable overseas and foreign policy experience.

    Previous forum speakers have included U.S. and foreign government officials, diplomats, representatives of international organizations, academicians, working journalists, exchange students, international businesspeople, and other foreign policy specialists. In addition, each spring since 1989 the Forum has played host to a dozen or so international Nieman Fellows and their families for a weekend of discussion and relaxation. Some of their previous speakers have included Juan Cole, Tom Ricks, Ira Glasser, Andrew Bacevich, Matthew Hoh– heady company to join.

    You can read a review of my book on the group’s site. My entire speech is online now, so please enjoy the discussion. Good, informed questions at the end which you don’t want to miss.



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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America