Posts Tagged ‘free speech’

Rachel Maddow on shutting down the state-run press in Libya

April 6, 2011

I’m still trying to get caught up from stuff that happened a week or so ago, so you’ll have to bare with me if you’ve already heard about this.

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow usually does a decent job at reporting. She definitely has a perspective, and it’s usually completely in line with the Democratic Party line. Sometimes she criticizes them for giving in too much to Republicans and for being the wimps they are, but more often than not her editorializing crosses over into the same kind of partisan propaganda you get at Fox.

So it’s pretty weird for her to have a guest on where, through her questions, Maddow appears to take a more authoritarian position. But that’s what happened when she had MSNBC military consultant Jack Jacobs on her program. Here’s what she asked him:

One of the things that people have questioned is if the U.S. has this high level of electronic capability, why is Libyan state TV still on the air? Is that not one of the things they would want to shut down?

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting points out that this idea of taking out the state press in a country with which the US is at war is the same kind of thing Fox advocated during the beginning of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, along with several examples. The style in rhetoric is different, but the message is the same: Hey, we’re here to liberate you people, but the first thing we’ve got to do to free you from this dictator is to shut down news organizations we don’t happen to like. Once you only have the press we like, then you’ll really be “free.”

The FAIR report above is in a sense a little unfair to Maddow in comparing her to people advocating bombing journalists. The context of her discussion with Jacobs was the military’s ability to jam communications. The context of the Fox comments was bombing and killing journalists. The former’s called prior restraint; the latter’s a war crime. One means that some people can’t do their jobs, the other means that people end up getting killed. Still, it’s disappointing to see MSNBC cheerlead so enthusiastically for war in the way they have been lately.

Some stuff which makes WikiLeaks look bad

December 10, 2010

I’m definitely pro-WikiLeaks, as anyone who’s read what I’ve written on the subject would definitely know. But like any other issue, it’s not entirely black and white. And since I already know I’m biased in one direction, I’m definitely at risk for ignoring information which doesn’t fit with said bias. So in order to try to correct that, here are some recent reports which might make one think twice before unconditionally supporting WL:

  1. ARS Technica: Some former WikiLeaks workers are starting up an alternative whistleblowing website called OpenLeaks. Their chief complaints seem to be that WL has become too America-centric and politically ideological, and that it relies too much on one person – presumably Julian Assange – instead of operating more democratically.
  2. The Guardian: In an interview, Julian Assange claimed that a leak involving corruption in Kenyan politics led to the death of 1,300 people and the displacement of 350,000. The context was the tough moral questions the organization faces in dealing with such sensitive information. Assange referred to it as a “chilling statistic.”
  3. Threat Level: WikiLeaks had pledged to assist in the defense fund of Pfc. Bradley Manning who’s been accused of leaking the Afghan War Diaries months ago, but has not yet made good on that pledge. WL spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson claims the payment is currently being processed.
  4. Threat Level: The Wired blog is reporting based on an anonymous source that the organization is now “in chaos” and that “the organization will most likely start to fall apart now.” Time Magazine, however, disagrees.
  5. Reporters Without Borders: The free press advocacy group tries to convince Assange that WL is setting a bad precedent for free speech on the internet.

Despite all this, I’m still definitely on WL’s side. It’s not reasonable to expect every single thing an organization does to be either completely good or completely evil. There’s always going to be nuances when it comes to these really big issues like war and the law and the conflict between transparency and secrecy. But at the same time it’s important to keep all this in perspective.

UPDATE: WikiLeaks has transferred $15,000 to Bradley Manning’s defense fund as of January 13, 2011.

A tale of two nontroversies

August 23, 2010

I really don’t like getting caught up in the faux-controversies like the two I’m about to get caught up in. The way I understand it, controversies are supposed to involve two opposing positions, both of which are intellectually defensible by well-informed adults. These do not qualify by that definition, but the hypocrisy is just so glaringly obvious that it really needs to be pointed out. Here’s what I’m talking about:

  1. The construction of an Islamic cultural center two-ish blocks from Ground Zero by a Muslim group, the leader of which worked with the Bush administration as an example of moderate Islam, and
  2. A person named Laura Schlessinger on some primitive invention called “radio” said some very racist things to one of her callers.

The right wing’s reaction to the cultural center has largely been that it shouldn’t be built because it might hurt the feelings of New Yorkers and 9/11 victims’ families. There are some notable exceptions, like the Libertarian-style economist Grover Norquist and NYC mayor/billionaire media bigshot Michael Bloomberg. But for the most part the line has been that this offends some people and is opposed by popular opinion. Here is one example. Here is CNN making a big deal of poll numbers. And Twitter user Sarah Palin used the Twitter to explain why the “mosque” (which isn’t a mosque, actually) is very offensive and not at all politically correct and must be stopped somehow:

In other words, rights (and bills which outline them) have to be subordinate to popular opinion and political correctness. That’s what the opposition to this is all about. If it weren’t, then there’d be no need to continue the conversation beyond agreeing that they have the right to build it, because whether or not they should is completely irrelevant.

What’s weird about this is that whenever someone casually refers to America as a democracy, it’s always these same people – Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin and people like that – who nitpick the point by correcting them. America’s not a democracy, they say, because democracy means everything is decided by a majority vote. And if you really want to get that pedantic about it, then it’s a fair point, because America’s a republic. We make some decisions by majority vote, some are made by elected representatives, but some issues – rights, for instance – aren’t open to debate or discussion. It’s the job of the government to insure those rights for the citizenry. If this were a strict democracy, then a majority could vote to take away the rights of minorities (although, to be fair usually when someone says that we’re a democratic country, they mean by that that we have elections and free access to information and stuff like that, unlike totalitarian dictatorships).

There’s another inconsistency here, too. They don’t actually come out and use the term “politically correct,” but that’s the perspective they’re defending when they talk about how a cultural center at a former Burlington Coat Factory will offend people and therefore plans to build it should be halted. So you would think that when it came to another issue where the shoe is on the other foot, we should expect some consistency from Republicans on the question of rights v. political correctness.

But of course that’s not the case. When Laura Schlessinger went off on a crazy racist rant about how black (or “buhhh-LACK,” as she puts it) people  are overly sensitive and lack a sense of humor, Twitter user Sarah Palin used the Twitter to defend the radio host:

And this is almost verbatim what Schlessinger herself had to say about her situation. Apparently her First Amendment rights were taken away because her bosses decided to can her for being an ignorant hick. Also, none of her critics even said anything about government involvement inre: Schlessinger’s right to free speech as far as I know.

But even if we were to be generous and pretend that Schlessinger’s First Amendment rights were taken away (she said so on Larry King’s show, apparently without anyone in the government stopping her from doing so, but whatever), this is still a very clear double standard. You’d have to be blind not to notice it. In one case First Amendment rights need to be subjugated to the “will of the people” and cater to hurt feelings; and in the other First Amendment rights are precious and need to be defended regardless of how offended someone might be by someone else using them.

Here’s the best way to illustrate how obvious the double standard is: take any of the statements Gingrich, Palin, Limbaugh, or anyone like that made about Park 51. Then do a quick find/replace so that it’s appropriate to the Schlessinger story. And vice versa. This is what I got:

Schlessinger’s employers were teaching her a lesson in respect: This is not your place; it belongs to others. However pure your voice, better to let silence reign.
Charles Krauthammer

In that case, Krauthammer would actually be correct if he said that. The airwaves Schlessinger broadcasted on actually were owned by others: her employers. But he was making an analogy with Park 51 in the original quote and there he’s wrong. The Cordoba Initiative purchased the property completely legally and followed every step of due process in approving the construction of the building with the local authorities. It doesn’t “belong to others” – it belongs to them.

Or how about this one:

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf: don’t retreat…reload! (Steps aside bc his 1st Amend.rights ceased 2exist thx 2activists trying 2silence”isn’t American,not fair”)
-Sarah Palin

That would probably go over well, right? If Palin or literally anybody else tweeted to Rauf to “reload” and fight against the activists taking away his rights, what kind of reaction would you expect from Fox News? Is there any chance in hell they wouldn’t throw a gigantic week-long hissy fit over it?

Whether the Republicans want to be either the people who value hurt feelings and political correctness over Constitutional rights or the reverse, that’s up to them. It would just be nice to have a little consistency. At the very least they could try not to take such extreme and opposite ideological positions on the First Amendment in the span of a few days.

WikiLeaks v. Pentagon

August 1, 2010

So it’s been a week since WikiLeaks published the leaked internal US military documents which detail some aspects of the occupation of Afghanistan which the administration would rather not emphasize. Like how Pakistan’s ISI is funneling our ‘aid’ back to the Taliban, which they then use to attack our troops. And civilian casualties are being massively underreported. And there’s a secret task force which captures and executes Taliban leaders. Oh yeah, and the US military is paying Afghani journalists to write favorable stories about the occupation.

Certain people can be expected to react to this leak in certain ways. Republicans will insist that we firebomb the internet and every last one of its many series of pneumatic tubes. Liz Cheney just now said something like that, as if anyone gives a shit.  Newt Gingrich is calling it treason, etc.

If you’ve paid attention to the Obama administration’s pattern of hostility towards whistleblowers, then it’s not very difficult to predict how they would react. Here’s White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs being questioned:

Q Thanks, Robert. Two questions, a few on WikiLeaks. What was the President’s reaction once he heard about the leaking —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I remember talking to the President sometime last week after discussions with news organizations that these stories were coming. Look, I think our reaction to this type of material, a breach of federal law, is always the same, and that is whenever you have the potential for names and for operations and for programs to be out there in the public domain, that it — besides being against the law — has a potential to be very harmful to those that are in our military, those that are cooperating with our military, and those that are working to keep us safe.

OK, got that? This is all VERY SERIOUS and will PUT ALL OF OUR TROOPS IN DANGER, and by the way it’s also a FEDERAL CRIME. If it’s putting our troops in danger to have this information publicly available, it must be the case that this is new information in the public sphere. Because if it were already known, then there would be no danger in releasing it. Right? Well, only a few questions later, Gibbs contradicts that line of reasoning:

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let’s understand a few things about the documents.  Based on what we’ve seen, I don’t think that what is being reported hasn’t in many ways been publicly discussed either by you all or by representatives of the U.S. government for quite some time.

So the WikiLeaks data dump is at the same time both YAWN OLD NEWS and VERY SERIOUS TREASONOUS TROOP-KILLING CRIMES. Julian Assange must be both a dangerous anti-American criminal and a harmless kid living in his parent’s basement all at the same time. That’s pretty much how it plays out inside the heads of people like Robert Gibbs and the President.

But all that’s not that surprising, especially given the aforementioned administration’s record on whistleblowers and the internet in general. What’s more surprising is that one of the three publications given access to the documents pre-publication, the NY Times, has basically been toeing the administration’s line on their own leak. And the Washington Post has been producing their copy on the subject pretty much directly from the Republicans’ playbook. The two other newspapers (Der Spiegel and The Guardian) have been a bit more responsible and independent, to their credit.

If you’ve been following the ongoing saga of WikiLeaks, you might remember the ‘Collateral Murder’ video they released a few months ago of the US military shooting at a group of people from a helicopter which turned out to be civilians and a journalist. US Army Intelligence Analyst Bradley Manning was charged with forwarding the video based on an online conversation he had with a hacker named Adrian Lamo who subsequently informed on him. Manning is now in the brig in Virginia, where he faces a sentence of up to 52 years. And now the NY Times is quoting unnamed Pentagon officials who claim that Manning is a “person of interest” in the case of these newly-released documents. Here you can find a support group for Manning.

The Pentagon’s also going after WikiLeaks founder/editor Julian Assange, who’s more or less on the run. He is wanted for questioning, presumably to verify or deny whether or not Manning was the source of the Afghan War Diary. And oh yeah, they’d also like WikiLeaks to be shut down, please. For now, Assange is staying out of the US and responding strongly to comments from the administration. As a side note, he’s also trying to turn Iceland into a journalistic refugee’s paradise.

Now two more things just happened in the past day or two. First, a WikiLeaks volunteer named Jacob Appelbaum was detained, searched, and interrogated by US Customs officials at the Newark airport. They asked him to decrypt his laptop, an offer he refused. Then they confiscated it, but his laptop had no storage device and therefore there was nothing for the officials to search. He was later approached by FBI agents at a conference where he gave a talk in place of Julian Assange, who could not attend for reasons which should by now be pretty obvious.

The second recent development was WikiLeaks posting a mysterious encrypted 1.4 GB file called ‘insurance’ on their Afghan War Logs page. There are no instructions or details on what it’s supposed to be, but the general consensus is that a password will be issued in the event that anything fishy happens to WikiLeaks, Assange, or anyone associated with them. This is turning into a very interesting conflict, much better than anti-war protesters v. cops. But don’t bother downloading the file just to see if the password is “password,” that’s already been checked.

US Senate does something undeniably good for once

July 23, 2010

UPDATE: This bill is now a law.

A while back I wrote about the case of Simon Singh and his battle with chiropractors and the UK’s terrible libel laws. One thing I neglected to mention was a further ramification to the British legal system when it comes to libel laws – the possibility and practice of something called libel tourism.

Let’s say I wrote a book called Osama bin Laden is a Big Stupid Jerkface for an American publisher. And in it, I wrote about why I think bin Laden’s a big stupid jerkface. Then someone who didn’t like me saying that could obtain a copy of my book from a British distributor and then sue me under the UK’s jurisprudence even though both my publisher and I are American. That’s libel tourism.

Well earlier this week, the US Senate passed a bill regarding this issue which is now on its way through the House of Representatives. From the Agence France-Presse:

The measure would prevent US federal courts from recognizing or enforcing a foreign judgment for defamation that is inconsistent with the first amendment of the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech.
It would bar foreign parties in such cases from targeting the US assets of an American author, journalist, or publisher as part of any damages.

And what makes this even better is that it was passed with unanimous consent, which means that both Democrats and Republicans were all like this:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is reporting that this law, which is co-sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), is in response to a book called Funding Evil by Rachel Ehrenfeld. Ehrenfeld was sued by a Saudi billionaire she accused of funding terrorism under British jurisprudence. She now hopes that this legislation will pass the House and set off a ripple effect both within the UK itself and in former British colonies which adopted their backwards legal system.

Scientology vs. German made for TV movie

March 15, 2010

Germany and Scientology haven’t been getting along very well lately. A couple years ago they tried to ban it, and they also wouldn’t allow United Artists to shoot Valkyrie there as long as Tom Cruise was starring in it because of his status as an outspoken Scientologist.

And they have problems with the media in general too, which I’ve written about before. To them, criticism is intolerance and a fascist attack on freedom of religion. Even just asking a simple question about what they believe is “intolerance.” Freedom of religion to them means that journalists have to pre-screen all their questions with them before the interview.

Now they’re sinking even lower into bottomless pit of uptight, thin-skinned whininess by trying to block a German made for TV movie which profiles an ex-Scientologist. More details about the movie, which is based on a true story are available here.

Apparently the Scientologists who are so upset about this movie haven’t even seen it yet, which makes you wonder how they could possibly be able to tell that it was “false and intolerant” in the first place. From the Guardian:

Scientology leaders have accused Germany’s primary public TV network, ARD, of creating in top secret a piece of propaganda that sets out to undermine the group, and have demanded to see it before it is broadcast…

Scientology officials have said the film is false and intolerant. At a preview screening in Hamburg members distributed flyers in which the filmmakers were accused of seeking to “create a mood of intolerance and discrimination against a religious community”.

So they would have had to have made these fliers before the movie was ever screened, since they were distributing them at the screening itself. And if they had already seen the movie they wouldn’t be demanding to see it. The obvious solution to this dilemma is that they know what the movie portrays exactly because it is accurate and they know it.

Someone will probably post a link to a torrent of a subtitled version of this movie here when it becomes available.