Archive for the ‘Civil Liberties’ Category

What Obama could do to curb Trump’s power

December 5, 2016

President Obama said during the campaign that he’s worried about somebody like Donald Trump with access to the nuclear codes and all the other powers of the Presidency.  A writer named Pratap Chatterjee listed nine things Obama could do to reduce Trump’s power to do harm.

  1.   Name innocent drone victims.
  2.   Make public any reviews of military errors.
  3.   Make public the administration’s criteria for its “targeted killings.”
  4.   Disclose mass surveillance programs.
  5.   Make public all surveillance agreements with private companies.
  6.   Make public all secret laws created in recent years.
  7.   Punish anyone who has abused the drone or surveillance programs.
  8.   Punish those responsible for FBI domain management abuses.
  9.   Pardon Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and the other whistleblowers.

That wouldn’t eliminate a President Trump’s power to start wars without authorization from Congress, but it would be a start on reducing Presidential powers to their Constitutional limits.

LINKS

Obama’s Last Chance by Pratap Chatterjee for TomDispatch.

FBI and NSA Poised to Gain New Surveillance Powers Under Trump by Chris Strohm for Bloomberg News.

 

Obama’s legacy to Trump

November 30, 2016

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How to tell when the fascists have come

November 18, 2016

During the past few years, I’ve read a number of definitions of fascism, which have been mostly lists of personality traits or philosophical assumptions or political tendencies.

The problem with these lists is that while they are traits, assumptions and tendencies often found in fascists, they also are commonly found among people who definitely aren’t fascists.

A blogger named Ian Welsh challenged his readers to produce benchmarks that would be definite evidence that fascism has arrived or was about to arrive.

authoritarianism9fd18cThat’s tough!  During the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, we had the executive claiming the authority to (1) arrest enemies of the state without legal process, (2) torture enemies of the state, (3) order the assassination of enemies of the state without legal process, (4) put the entire population under secret surveillance and (5) start wars without approval of the legislative body.

All these things are characteristic of fascist regimes.  All would be powers that a fascist dictator would try to claim.

But I can’t really see the Bush and Obama administrations as fascist in the same way that, say, Chile under Pinochet was fascist.

Racism, misogyny, religious intolerance and extreme nationalism are characteristic of fascist governments, but not all racists, misogynists, religious bigots or nationalists are fascists.

For what it’s worth, here is my list of defining characteristics of fascism:

  • Deification of a leader.
  • A requirement to pay lip service to a ruling ideology.
  • Arrests of opponents of the government on trumped-up charges or no charges at all.
  • Fear of making criticisms of the government.
  • Arbitrary power and lack of due process of law.
  • Lynchings and pogroms.
  • Death squads.
  • Concentration camps.

The problem with making such a list is that the mere absence of death squads and concentration camps can be taken as evidence that the United States or any other country is a free country.

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Advice to a peaceful anti-Trump protester

June 7, 2016

If you’re thinking of protesting Donald Trump at or near one of his rallies, my advice is:

Don’t.

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If you insist on your Constitutional right to peacefully assemble, I’ll absolutely defend your right to do it.  I’ll defend anybody’s right to peacefully protest.

Trump_protest_Chicago_ap_imgBut if you want to exercise your right to protest Donald Trump in the vicinity of a Trump rally, I advise you to think again.  It isn’t always wise to do something just to show you have a right to do it.

You may have every intention in the world of engaging in a peaceful protest.  But you don’t have any control over whether the protest is peaceful.  That decision rests with the most violent member of your group.

The most violent member may be somebody who lacks self-control.  Or it may be somebody who, unlike you, believes in revolutionary violence, like the “black bloc” in the Occupy Wall Street protests or World Trade Organization protests.

Or they may well be infiltrators working for police or intelligence organizations or for the Trump campaign.

During the anti-Vietnam protests in the late 1960s and early 1970s, police infiltration was a real thing.  A friend of mine told me of taking part in a peace march, and noticing that the two hippies in the line ahead of him were wearing the same kind of black shoes that state troopers wore.  When they stopped to pick up rocks, my friend had the presence of mind to run into a coffee shop nearby.

Police immediately descended on the marchers, clubbed some of them and took them away.  When my friend came out of the shop a hour later, nobody was left but police standing around smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, including the two apparent hippies.

Part of the Watergate scandal involved Richard Nixon agents posing as Democrats and trying to manipulate the 1972 nominating process from within.  A typical example is that Donald Segretti, a Nixon operative, send out letters purportedly approved by Edmund Muskie, the leading candidate, accusing Hubert Humphrey and conservative Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson.

Roger Stone, a famous Republican dirty-tricks specialists, got his start in politics as a college student playing dirty tricks on behalf of Richard Nixon—for example, making a campaign contribution in the name of a Nixon rival in the name of the Young Socialist Alliance, then mailing the receipt to the Manchester Union-Leader.

All that aside, any violent incident that happens in connection with your protest, whether or not it’s your fault, is going to be blamed on you.  Donald Trump thrives on violent confrontations, regardless of who starts them, because they validate what he tells his followers.

A good rule in politics is: Don’t do what your enemy wants you to do.

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U.S. Constitutional rights, on-line and off-line

May 6, 2016

internetcensorshipsurveillance20120202Source: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

Donald Trump and the limits of protest

March 23, 2016

I admired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he was alive.   I admire the thinking of Gene Sharp.  I think civil disobedience is justified when all else fails.

But I do not agree with the non-violent protests that shut down an Arizona highway near a Donald Trump campaign events, nor with other protests intended to prevent Trump from speaking.

Dr. King’s non-violent protests were strategic attacks on structures of power.  His protests succeeded to the extent that people in power concluded it would cost them less, in terms of damage to profits and reputation, to give in to his demands than to fight them.

They also succeeded to the extent that Dr. King was able to convince the larger American public that his cause was just, and his protests were disciplined and organized as to give his followers the moral high ground.

Dr. King had specific lists of demands.  His opponents always knew what they had to do in order to shut off the protests.

trumpblock20Protestors who try to shut down Donald Trump rallies do not hurt either Trump’s reputation nor his profits.  Instead they solidify Trump’s support, while inconveniencing and alienating the general public.

Those protestors are not defending their Constitutional rights.  Instead they are denying Trump his right of free speech and his followers their right to peaceably assemble.

Yes, I know the Constitutional rights of Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and other groups have not been respected, and that Donald Trump himself is not a friend of civil liberties.  That does not mean that he and his followers are not entitled to hold meetings or that there is anything to be gained in trying to deny them that right.

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Why nihilism is worse than hypocrisy

March 7, 2016
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the U.S. Republican presidential candidates debate in Detroit

Donald Trump (Reuters)

Donald Trump’s assertions that he would require American military officers to practice torture and other war crimes stirred up a strong backlash, and he backed down.

Others point out that the U.S. government has long been doing things that Trump is only talking about.

That’s true, but I still think indignation is justified.  Advocating crimes against humanity is just as bad, and in some ways worse, than practicing crimes against humanity.

It is better to be a hypocrite than a nihilist.  The hypocrite, even if lying to others or to self, has a road back to human decency.  The frankly sociopathic nihilist has burned his bridges.

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Should Apple decrypt the i-Phone for the FBI?

March 3, 2016

The FBI demands Apple Computer to figure out a way to read encrypted files on an i-Phone owned by an alleged terrorist.  Apple Computer’s management says there is no way to do this without opening up all i-Phone files to the FBI.  The case is likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Suppose the FBI wins its case.  Suppose a year later the national police in Russia, China or Iran, arrest an elleged terrrorist and demand that Appple create a similar tool for them?  Do the Russian, Chinese or Iranian security services automatically get access to all i-Phones?

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The police’s troublesome 1 percent

February 4, 2016

Out of 12,000 Chicago police, 124 are responsible for one-third police of misconduct lawsuits, costing the city $34 million.  Just five police officers were subject of a combined 16 lawsuits, costing the city $1.5 million.

That’s not typical. Of 1,100 lawsuits settled since 2009, only 5 percent paid plaintiffs more than $100,000.

moskosinthehoodPeter Moskos, a former Baltimore street policeman who now teaches criminal justice at NYU, quoted these statistics, which are from a pay-wallled Chicago Tribune article, on his blog.

I’ve been struck by how many of the shooters in high-profile police killings of unarmed civilians have long records of misconduct, which nobody cared about.

My friend Bill Hickok would say this an example of instance of the “power law”, which, when applied to human affairs, indicates that the vast majority of the accomplishments and failures of any group of people is due to a small fraction of people within the group.

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What it would take to rein in the Deep State

February 1, 2016

DeepState51cdQwM-Z8LMike Lofgren’s new book, The Deep State, describes the interlocking  U.S. military-industrial complex, financial oligarchy and police state which is not subject to either the rule of law or democratic control.   The particulars of his description are available in the previous two posts and in the linked articles.

Here’s what I think needs to be done in order to rein in the Deep State.

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authoritarianism9fd18cCongress should exercise the power of the purse to prevent the President from committing acts of war on his or her own initiative.  President Obama has stated that he considers himself free to attack foreign countries by means of bombing from the air, killer drones and Special Operations because these things are not war.  It is only war when large numbers of American ground troops are involved.

Refusing to levy taxes is the historic method used by parliaments and national assemblies to force absolute monarchs to cease aggressive wars and submit to the rule of law.  The U.S. precedent is the Case-Church Amendment of 1973 forced a cutoff of funds for military operations in Vietnam after August 15 of that year, and brought the Vietnam Conflict to an end.

Congress should pass a resolution ending funding for military operations and military aid and subsidies in the Middle East after a specific deadline, except for what is specifically authorized by Congress.

And if the executive refused to comply with that resolution?  The Constitutional remedy for this is impeachment.

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Congress should pass a law allowing prosecuted whistle-blowers to be acquitted if they can show that the information they revealed was kept secret in order to cover up lawbreaking, incompetence or failure, to limit business competition, or to suppress information that is not related to national security.

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How the Deep State can resist democracy

February 1, 2016

DeepState51cdQwM-Z8LThe Deep State is author Mike Lofgren’s term for power centers in Washington, Wall Street and, to an extent, Silicon Valley that determine government policy, yet operate in secret, without accountability to the law or democratic control.

He wrote in The Deep State that the USA is condemned to unending war and economic decline unless the power of the Deep State can be overthrown.

But can it be overthrown?

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Let’s look at the means the Deep State has to protect itself.

The power of moneyWall Street banks and military contractors have more money available to influence elections than any of their critics do.  The Supreme Court has ruled the corporate entities have the same rights as individual human beings, and that spending money can be an exercise of the right of free speech, so there is no practical limit on how much money can be spent on a campaign.

The power of subversionThe FBI has a long history of infiltrating civil rights and peace organizations with informers and undermining them from within.  Ditto for the CIA in foreign elections.  If the FBI and CIA felt threatened, is there any doubt they would use whatever tools they had to protect themselves?

DeepState-e1398185022722The power of information.  The NSA has the means of learning the personal habits and behavior of every American.  Who is there who doesn’t have something in their background that looks bad, or can be made to look bad?  The precedent for this is the FBI’s spying on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and its dissemination of information about his sex life.

The power of repression.  The police crackdown on the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security, shows how the government treats peaceful protest movements as national security threats.

Suppressing the vote.  Many techniques exist for suppressing the vote or making votes meaningless.  New laws intentionally make it more difficult for members of targeted groups to vote or easier to disqualify them from voting.  The Dieboldt electronic voting machines allow vote tampering. and there is some evidence this is happening.

Financial power.  When President Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he intended to propose an ambitious program of public workers.  He never did, because he was told this would cause the “bond markets” to lose confidence in him, and interest rates to rise, choking off the economic recovery and increasing the national debt.  If a future President attempted to curb the power of Wall Street, is there any doubt that the financial markets would “lose confidence” in him or her?

Economic dependence.   The Department of Defense and other parts of the Deep State employ millions of people, almost all of them honest, patriotic people who believe they are serving their country.  Reducing the size of these institutions to what’s needed to defend the country would throw many of them out of work.  Without some alternative, this would not only damage the lives of these individuals, but possibly throw the country into recession.

Learned helplessness.  Many Americans have come to think of economic oligarchy and perpetual war as facts of life, about which nothing can be done.

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You may have a police “threat score”

January 13, 2016

Beware-Landing-Page-Banner-01

Software companies are selling services to police that scan publicly available information, including social media, to determine your “threat score”.

Foreign dictatorships, as Peter Van Buren pointed out on his web log, already monitor their citizens through the Internet and assign them ratings that determine how they are treated.

bigbrotherNow private enterprise is doing the same thing in the United States, and I can only guess what the National Security Agency has been doing all along.

What bothers me is that I don’t see any obvious way to put a stop to this.  You can pass legislation to require that certain categories of information, such as medical information, be kept confidential.  But I don’t see how you can stop private companies or government agencies from correlating publicly available information and drawing conclusions from it.

If I were a police officer responding to a call, I would want all the background information I could get on people I was going to be dealing with.  Ideally, this would benefit all concerned.  In practice, there would likely be many false positives about threats with potential to cause over-reaction.

The most worrisome thing is the idea of assigning each citizen a “threat score” based on the judgement of some unknown person or, worse still, a computer algorithm, which determines how the person will be treated by the criminal justice system.  Intrado, which sells the Beware software, says its formula for calculating the “threat score” is a trade secret.

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How Obama paved the way for Trump

December 4, 2015

Seeing the popularity of Donald Trump’s nationalism and authoritarianism, many liberals and progressives are reading up on the history of fascism in Europe and wondering about the future of democracy in the USA.

What really makes Donald Trump and other authoritarian Republican candidates so dangerous is George W. Bush and Barack Obama have already created a legal and organizational framework for exercising the powers of a dictator.

Consider the powers claimed by President Obama:

  • To wage war on his own say-so by means of bombs, drone attacks, Special Operations, proxy armies or any other means short of massive use of American ground troops.
  • To order the killing on his own say-so of any person he says is a threat to national security.
  • To preside over a secret national surveillance system that potentially reaches every citizen and covers the whole world.
  • To prosecute whistle-blowers who reveal abuses of power.
  • To give immunity from prosecution to torturers, crooked bankers and other high-level criminals.

authoritarianism9fd18cObama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered an attack on Libya, a nation whose government was no threat to the United States, and reduced it to bloody chaos, where radical jihadists flourish.  Now Obama is carrying on a proxy war to overthrow the government of Syria, which also was no threat to the United States, and which, if successful, would create more bloody chaos where ISIS terrorists would flourish.

The Department of Homeland Security exists in theory to protect Americans from jihadist terrorists from abroad.  But it was used to coordinate a nationwide crackdown on Occupy Wall Street protesters, which, whatever you think of them, constituted no threat to the security of the homeland.

To sum up:  The President has the power to commit acts of war, with no accountability.  He has the power to sign death warrants, with no accountability.   He presides over a vast surveillance apparatus which can be used to spy on dissenters and he prosecutes those who reveal abuses of power.

What power would be lacking for a would-be dictator?  Maybe you think President Obama has enough restraint and good judgment to be trusted with such power.  But he is not going to be in office after January, 2017.   Somebody else is.

Recently the U.S. Congress did enact one restriction on abuse of power.  Congress banned torture and limited interrogation to what is now permitted in the U.S. Army field manual.  But, oddly enough, this does not seem to bother Donald Trump, who continues to promise that, if elected, he would authorize torture.

How could Trump promise to do something that is against the law?  Well, torture was against international law all along.  And there is another law, called the War Powers Act, which forbids the President to engage in acts of war without congressional authorization except in an emergency, and then to get authorization within 60 days.   President Obama has disregarded this law, without consequences, so why couldn’t President Trump disregard the anti-torture law?

During the Watergate era, President Richard M. Nixon broke the law and abused the power of his office.  There were countervailing forces in Congress, in the courts, in the press and in his own administration that held him in check and made his accountable.   Where are today’s checks and balances?

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Weekend reading: Links & comments 10/30/2015

October 30, 2015

The Midwife to Chaos and Her Perjury by Andrew Napolitano for The Unz Review.

Republican attacks on President Obama and the Clintons generally amount to straining at gnats while swallowing camels.  The House Benghazi Committee’s questioning of Hillary Clinton fits this pattern.

She was questioned for 10 hours, nearly continuously, for her alleged neglect of security leading to the murder of an American diplomat in Benghazi, Libya.  But nobody asked her about why she instigated a war against a country that did not threaten the United States, throwing innocent people leading normal lives into bloody anarchy.

And incidentally providing a new recruiting ground for terrorists..

The 6 Reasons China and Russia Are Catching Up to the U.S. Military on Washington’s Blog.

China Sea Blues: A Thing Not to Do by Fred Reed for Fred on Everything.

Just because the United States has the world’s largest and most expensive military doesn’t mean we have the world’s best military.  We Americans are complacent because of our wealth, and because we have not faced a serious threat to our existence in 70 years.

Our leaders think we can afford to waste money on high-tech weapons that don’t work, and military interventions that aren’t vital to American security.  Other nations, which have less margin of safety and would be fighting near their own borders, may be a match for us.

FBI Accused of Torturing U.S. Citizen Abroad Can’t Be Sued by Christian Farias for The Huffington Post.

Nowadays the Constitution stops where national security and foreign policy begin.

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Courageous Malaysian cartoonist risks prison

October 27, 2015

18-cartoon4

A courageous Malaysian cartoonist, Zulkifee Sm Anwar Ulhaque, who draws using the name Zumar, faces a possible 43 years in prison for sedition.

His offense was to charge that Malaysia’s judiciary is controlled by the government, and that Malaysia is ruled not by Prime Minister Najib Razak, but his wife Rusmah Mansur.

He is in Britain for an exhibition of his cartoons, but he will return to Malaysia to face charges.  That takes a lot of guts.

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Hat tip for these links to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack.

Zunar: Cartoonist arrives in Britain as he faces 43 years in Malaysian prison for ‘sedition’ by Ian Burrell for The Independent.

Malaysian cartoonist faces 43 years in prison by Index on Censorship.

Hate speech laws are the new McCarthyism

October 19, 2015

Hate speech laws are like McCarthyism in the 1950s.

They purport to be against real evils—racism and Stalinism.

But in practice they are directed mostly at persecuting harmless and powerless people for trivial reasons.

hatespeech28389168They violate historical and well-established rights to free speech and due process of law, which apply to everyone, including real Communists and real racists.

They are used to prevent full and free debate of sensitive and important issues.

They divert attention from real abuses of power.  Anti-Communism in the old days provided cover for abuses of power by corporations and American foreign policy.  Hate speech rules today provide cover big for university administrators who jack up tuition, push down wages of adjunct and other teachers and give themselves and their consultants six-figure and seven-figure incomes.

I’m old enough to have a living memory of McCarthyism.   Back in the day, I was anti-McCarthy, anti-Communist, anti-racist and pro-free speech.   I still am.

LINKS

The Anti-Free Speech Movement at UCLA by Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic.  (Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack)

The passing scene – October 9, 2015

October 9, 2015

Welcome to a New Planet: Climate Change, “Tipping Points” and the Fate of the Earth by Michael T. Klare for TomDispatch.

How the Trans-Pacific Partnership Threatens America’s Recent Manufacturing Resurgence by Alana Semuels for The Atlantic.

Harvard’s prestigious debate team loses to New York prison inmates by Laura Gambino for The Guardian.

10 Stories About Donald Trump You Won’t Believe Are True by Luke McKinney for Cracked.com.  Donald Trump is notable not as a business success, but as a promoter with the ability to distract attention from failure.

Can Community Land Trusts Solve Baltimore’s Homelessness Problem? by Michelle Chen for The Nation.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

The Second Amendment’s Fake History by Robert Parry for Consortium News.  (Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack.)

The Afghan hospital massacre: Snowden makes a brilliant suggestion by Joseph Cannon for Cannonfire.  Why does the United States not release the gunner’s video and audio?

Ask Well: Canned vs. Fresh Fish by Karen Weintraub for the New York Times.  Canned fish is probably better.  (Hat tip to Jack)

Shell Game: There Is No Such Thing as California ‘Native’ Oysters, a book excerpt by Summer Brennan in Scientific American.   The true story behind Jack London and the oyster wars.  (Hat tip to Jack)

Notes on our surveillance dystopia

October 9, 2015

The proximate reasons for the culture of total surveillance are clear.

Storage is cheap enough that we can keep everything.

Computers are fast enough to examine this information, both in real time and retrospectively.

Our daily activities are mediated with software that can easily be configured to record and report everything it sees upstream.

But to fix surveillance, we have to address the underlying reasons that it exists.  These are no mystery either.

State surveillance is driven by fear.

And corporate surveillance is driven by money.

Source: Idle Words

The quote above is from a talk given by Maciej Ceglowski to the Fremtidens Internet Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.  I thank my friend Daniel Brandt for the link.  The whole talk is important and highly recommended.

It is about how advertisers destroyed on-line privacy and then found themselves swindled by robots and how Silicon Valley thinks it can change the world without bothering about San Francisco.

Also, six fixes that Ceglowski thinks could restore on-line privacy.

LINK

What Happens Next Will Amaze You by Maciej Ceglowski.

Fourteen years after 9/11

September 11, 2015

During the months following the 9/11 attacks, I was surprised and shocked by how quickly the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were wiped off the blackboard, and how easily practices such as torture and assassination, which I had thought of as the defining characteristics of totalitarian countries, became accepted as normal.

I blamed George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and I hoped that as a result of the 2004 and then the 2008 election that country would return to what I regarded as normal.  It took me a long time to realize that the country I was living in was different from what I thought it was.

Terrorists in Sept. 11, 2001, killed more than 3,000 Americans, but what we did to ourselves and the world was worse.

Tom Englehardt, editor of TomDispatch, expressed very well what has happened:

shutterstock_308882264-600x726Fourteen years later and do you even believe it? Did we actually live it? Are we still living it? And how improbable is that?

Fourteen years of wars, interventions, assassinations, torture, kidnappings, black sites, the growth of the American national security state to monumental proportions, and the spread of Islamic extremism across much of the Greater Middle East and Africa.

Fourteen years of astronomical expense, bombing campaigns galore, and a military-first foreign policy of repeated defeats, disappointments, and disasters.

Fourteen years of a culture of fear in America, of endless alarms and warnings, as well as dire predictions of terrorist attacks.

Fourteen years of the burial of American democracy (or rather its recreation as a billionaire’s playground and a source of spectacle and entertainment but not governance).

Fourteen years of the spread of secrecy, the classification of every document in sight, the fierce prosecution of whistleblowers, and a faith-based urge to keep Americans “secure” by leaving them in the dark about what their government is doing.

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Russia, the surveillance state

September 9, 2015

With unlimited warrent-less surveillance and unchecked governmental power, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is an example of what I fear the United States will become.

2014-03-07-PUTINI was reminded of this by a couple of recent articles I came across this week—two reviews of a book entitled The Red Web (which I haven’t read myself) and an interview with Edward Snowden on the occasion of him receiving a human rights award.

I’m not sure that “red” is the right adjective.  Putin is the heir of the Soviet state but not of the ideology of Communism.  I wouldn’t want to live under his government, but I see my own government becoming more Putin-like.

I don’t think the United States government has helped matters by confronting Russian power close to Russia’s borders.  This could culminate in another global Cold War, but as a pure struggle for power, minus  ideological conflict.   Both nations would suffer.  The best that could be hoped would be the good fortune to once again avoid nuclear catastrophe.

LINKS

The Red Web by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan: review – Russia’s attack on Internet freedoms by Luke Harding for The Guardian.

How Putin Controls the Internet and Popular Opinion in Russia by Masha Gessen for The Intercept.

Edward Snowden attacks Russia rights curbs, would prefer to go home by Agence France-Presse via LiveMint.

Free speech on and off the campus

September 4, 2015

When I reported on business in Rochester, NY, for the Democrat and Chronicle in the 1980s and 1990s, I found that most people were terrified of saying anything that might offend an employer or potential employer.

People could be fired or not hired for having a bad attitude, let alone saying or doing something that was out of line.

The only people I knew who were unafraid to speak as free Americans should were self-employed crafts workers and professionals, civil servants, tenured college professors and union members with good contracts.

AFDLogoSo-called “political correctness” in universities is a minor subset of a much bigger problem.  It is not as if it were the only threat, or even the main threat, even to academic freedom.

But two wrongs don’t make a right.   I take “political correctness” seriously, even though I have never been a member of academia myself, for the same reason I take killings by police more seriously than I take killings by criminal civilians.

The university community, and the scientific community, should embody free inquiry.  And liberals and progressives should be in the forefront of those defending free inquiry.

I attended the University of Wisconsin as an undergraduate in the 1950s, and I believe in the famous UW Regents’ statement of 1894 of its commitment to “that fearless and endless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.”

You can’t have free inquiry when people are afraid to say what they think, or even to tell a joke.  Click on the links below for examples of what I mean.

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 I am triggered by people who fear books and speech by Alex Small for Physicist at Large.

The Timothy Hunt Witch Hunt by Jonathan Foreman for Commentary.

What Happened to a Govt Scientist Whose Findings Stood in the Way of Big Oil’s Plans for Arctic Drilling by Kamil Ahsan for AlterNet.

How will President Obama be remembered?

September 3, 2015

Future generations of Americans will surely look back at President Obama as not just a con-man, but as someone who blew several trillion dollars on continued wars around the globe; as someone who terminally destroyed the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, instead of rescuing these documents as promised; and as the president who, when given the last real opportunity to reverse climate change, ducked the challenge and pandered to the corporations that selfishly wanted short-term gain over long-term survival for humanity and the biosphere.

Source: Is Obama the Worst President Ever? by David Lindorff for Counterpunch

In 2000, I in my foolishness thought that the country would be reasonably safe no matter whether Al Gore or George W. Bush was elected.  I thought both were cautious, reasonable leaders who might not be strong reformers, but in whose hands the country would be safe.

I thought—such was my naivete—that it was a good thing that the inexperienced George W. Bush was guided by wise old Dick Cheney.

My moment of radicalization came with the USA Patriot Act.   President Bush with the support of a majority in
Congress tore up not only the Bill of Rights, but basic principles of the rule of law that went back to Magna Carta.

He invaded Iraq, a country that did not threaten the United States, and turned it into a hellhole of lawless, warring factions and a breeding ground for the terrorists the U.S. supposedly was against.  At home, he gave free rein to reckless Wall Street speculators and manipulators to crash the housing market and the stock market.

gallery-1432843145-obama-hope-poster1I voted for Barack Obama in 2008 not with the hope that he would be the second coming of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but that he would return the country to what I regarded as normal—that he would at minimum be a Gerald Ford who obeyed the laws and the Constitution and didn’t start wars.

Instead he doubled down on the Bush policies.  He invaded Libya and sponsored a proxy war against Syria, two other countries that never threatened the United States, resulting, as in Iraq, in thousands of harmless people being killed, raped and driven from their homes and in terrorists gaining new footholds.

While Bush claimed the right to imprison people in his sole discretion, Obama claims the right to kill people at his sole discretion.  And he has bailed out Wall Street bankers and financiers whose manipulations caused the 2008 financial crash while protecting them from prosecution.

The worst thing Obama has done is to use his great political talent to persuade liberals and progressives that what he represents is the best that can be hoped for.

The Obama administration has done good things, such as the NLRB’s recent joint employer decision, which wouldn’t have happened under a Republican administration.

But on the big life-or-death issues, I agree with David Lindorff.  Obama is even worse than George W. Bush.

Which doesn’t mean that his successor might not be worse still.

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The passing scene – August 14, 2015

August 14, 2015

Will Trans Pacific trade deal go up in smoke over anti-tobacco proposal? by Adam Beshudi for POLITICO.

The latest word is that Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiators have agreed to exclude the tobacco industry from provisions giving corporations the right to sue governments before private tribunals.  Tobacco companies have successfully sued countries under other trade agreements over restrictions on cigarette sales and advertising.  This is a deal-killer for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and others from tobacco-growing states.

Torturing Chelsea Manning in Prison by Stephen Lendman for Counterpunch.

The imprisoned whistle-blower is being repeatedly put in indefinite solitary confinement.  His offenses include using a tube of toothpaste past its expiration date.

The 10 Trump Rules by Barry Lefsetz for The Big Picture.

Donald Trump understands how American politics has changed, and the other candidates don’t.

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The right not to have one’s feelings hurt

August 12, 2015

I read a lot about the new intellectual culture on college campuses, and how it is becoming dangerous to say anything that will hurt the feelings of any member of a well-organized minority group.

I don’t know how seriously to take this.  I have friends who are college teachers, and I never hear them speak about any of this stuff.

But to the extent that such attitudes exist, as Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt point out in The Atlantic, it does not help students prepare for the rough and tumble of life after graduation.  They note that the federal government has defined freedom from “unwelcome” speech as a civil right.

Federal anti-discrimination statutes regulate on-campus harassment and unequal treatment based on sex, race, religion, and national origin. 

Until recently, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights acknowledged that speech must be “objectively offensive” before it could be deemed actionable as sexual harassment—it would have to pass the “reasonable person” test. 

Source: Reason.com

Source: Reason.com

To be prohibited, the office wrote in 2003, allegedly harassing speech would have to go “beyond the mere expression of views, words, symbols or thoughts that some person finds offensive.”

But in 2013, the Departments of Justice and Education greatly broadened the definition of sexual harassment to include verbal conduct that is simply “unwelcome.” 

Out of fear of federal investigations, universities are now applying that standard—defining unwelcome speech as harassment—not just to sex, but to race, religion, and veteran status as well.

Everyone is supposed to rely upon his or her own subjective feelings to decide whether a comment by a professor or a fellow student is unwelcome, and therefore grounds for a harassment claim.  Emotional reasoning is now accepted as evidence.

via The Atlantic.

Without knowing specifics, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that many of the universities who protect students from “unwelcome” speech also make the same students pay sky-high tuition and have the students taught by underpaid adjuncts.

Source: Sirandal

Source: Sirandal

Nor would I be surprised if certain big corporations decided to protect employees from “unwelcome” speech while at the same time paying substandard wages, fighting all-out against unions and buying supplies from foreign sweatshops that employ child labor.

In fact, speech codes could be an effective weapon against union organizers and other malcontents, especially those who come from rough backgrounds and never learned the new etiquette.  Nearly everyone has said something “welcome,” or can be accused of having said something “unwelcome.”

LINKS

How Trigger Warnings Are Hurting Mental Health on Campus by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt for The Atlantic.

Microaggressions & Mind-Forg’d Manacles by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

‘Microaggressions’ and ‘Trigger Warnings,’ Meet Real Trauma by Chris Hernandez for The Federalist.

Truth and lies in journalism and law enforcement

August 2, 2015

Ted Rall , one of my favorite cartoonists, was fired last Monday from his job at the Los Angeles Times after somebody produced an audiotape indicating he had lied in a column his bad treatment by a Los Angeles police officer when arrested for jaywalking in 2001.

Ted Rall

Ted Rall

He said the tape consisted of about 20 minutes of talk and 6 minutes of unintelligible noise, so he asked an audio technician to try to restore the original tape.  Lo and behold! – the tape indicated that Rall was telling the truth.

He was charged with the worst offense that a professional journalist can commit.  To be caught lying in print or on the air will not only cost you your job, but make you unemployable.   At least this was true during the 40 years I worked on newspapers, and I assume the same is true in the respectable non-Murdoch press and broadcasters.

The Los Angeles Times should either reinstate Rall or have the honesty to say they don’t want to use his cartoons for whatever political or other reason.

What about police?  Don’t they have an equal obligation with journalists to tell the truth?  Suppose it is proved that the tape was doctored.  Shouldn’t falsifying evidence make a police officer unemployed and unemployable?

LINK

A note to readers by the Los Angeles Times.

How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired From the LA Times — And How I Proved They Lied by Ted Rall on RallBlog.

Ted Rall LAPD Scandal: Rall Vindicated, LAPD Under Fire by Tom Ewing for A New Domain.

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