Say Ello to the Great Firewall

ellnoThere’s a cyberwar on and we’re losing. The New York Times reports 10 financial institutions including JP Morgan Chase are compromised and we don’t know the extent of the damage. Home Depot, Target (asking for it), Ebay, P.F. Chang’s, the Montana Health Department, and Domino’s Pizza (Belgium and France), have all been attacked in 2014, more than 1,000 businesses in total.

Meanwhile the hot new social network startup Ello is capturing 20,000 users per day, despite grave warnings that their business model doesn’t make sense unless there’s something we don’t know about it. One rave review mentions the total lack of political content. Do you believe that all those creative free-thinking American citizens suddenly tacitly agreed to stop discussing politics when they joined this site? I joined up to ask them that very question. Continue reading

CATEGORY: FreeSpeech

Bobby Jindal doesn’t understand the First Amendment

2016 presidential hopeful’s defense of Duck Dynasty star’s homophobic comments suggests a deep misunderstanding of what the Constitution says.

Here we go again.

The great thing about Duck Dynasty-style blowups is that they provide dumbasses a chance to trot their dumbassery out for public display. Take Louisiana governor (and prospective 2016 presidential candidate) Bobby Jindal, whose comments this morning suggest that he doesn’t understand Constitution even a little bit. Continue reading

CATEGORY: FreeSpeech

Ten years ago this week the Dixie Chicks controversy erupted: I’m still not ready to back down

CATEGORY: FreeSpeech

To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. ― Theodore Roosevelt

On March 10, 2003, at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire theatre in London, Natalie Maines stepped to the microphone and said this:

Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.

As our old friend Greg Mitchell notes, “It was a little more than a week before their fellow Texan launched a war based on lies.”

When word of Maines’s comment made it back to the US, what ensued was…well, what ensued was an infuriating look at the festering soul of Bush-era America and an illustration of the good, bad and ugly of how free speech works. Predictably, the hillbilly right closed ranks around the president and his WMDs-are-real cronies. Country & Western stations purged their playlists of Dixie Chicks music, records were burned, fatwas were issued, and the Chicks’ career Mark 1 was effectively destroyed. The message – for the Dixie Chicks and anybody else out there with a brain and a conscience – was more than clear: if you value your career, shut up and sing.

In some respects, the controversy was really useful. For instance, the president responded by saying:

The Dixie Chicks are free to speak their mind. They can say what they want to say.… they shouldn’t have their feelings hurt just because some people don’t want to buy their records when they speak out.… Freedom is a two-way street ….

The remarkable thing about this is that Bush, a man renowned for being wrong on just about everything, was actually right for once. Free speech does not imply a freedom from backlash, and if you’re an entertainer people who disagree with you are perfectly within their rights to boycott. What’s good for Hank Williams, Jr. and Mel Gibson is good for The Dixie Chicks.

Granted, you also have the right to be hateful and ignorant, and it’s certainly true that the Dixie Chicks backlash had more to do with the gleeful exercise of these rights than it did any informed understanding of how free speech was intended to work by the Framers. But that’s another argument for another day.

Now, how you feel about President Obama?

In April, 2009, S&R honored The Dixie Chicks as the 25th addition to our masthead hall of fame. I wrote, at the time (and while I was extremely angry):

History will validate, with a minimum of controversy, the sentiments Natalie Maines expressed at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire theatre on March 10, 2003. Hopefully the record will point to our present moment and note that already the momentum had shifted and that within a generation people would have an impossible time imagining how such an affront to freedom was ever possible. Hopefully.

For the time being, “mad as hell” doesn’t begin to describe the indignation that those of us working to move this culture forward by promoting genuinely intelligent and pro-human values ought to feel, even now. I won’t tell you how to think and act, of course – you have a conscience and a brain, and you can be trusted to take in the information and perspectives around you and form an opinion that you can live by.

But for my part, I have a message for the “shut up and sing” crowd: I’m not ready to back down and I never will be. Your values are at odds with the principles upon which this nation was founded and true liberty cannot survive if your brand of flag-waving ignorance is allowed to thrive. You will not be allowed to use the freedoms that our founders fought for as weapons to stifle freedom for others.

You have declared a culture war, so here’s where the lines are drawn: I’m on the side of enlightenment, free and informed expression and the power of pro-humanist pursuits to produce a better society where we all enjoy the fruits of our shared accomplishments.

What side are you on?

Natalie and her bandmates lost tons of money over the past decade, but they’ll get by. In the end, it seems like they got a pretty good deal. In exchange for all those millions, they earned the right to a special place in the American soul. Justice matters. Facts matter. Humanity and compassion and freedom matter. Integrity matters more than money.

Looking back, I think the lesson to take away is a simple one. Our freedoms are important, but they’re empty and sterile and prone to corruption in the absence of an enlightened, intelligent embrace of the responsibilities that come with living in a democracy.

In the words of another of our musical heroes, George Clinton, “Think. It ain’t illegal yet.”

A quick, nonpartisan democracy lesson for our anonymous faux-patriot thugs

Let’s start with this.

DENVER – A Mexican restaurant in the Highlands neighborhood declined a Mitt Romney campaign stop.

Now the owners of Rosa Linda’s Mexican Café are getting death threats, nasty threatening phone calls, and insulting e-mails criticizing their choice.

“I don’t want people to be angry at me,” Rosa Linda Aguirre, the owner of the neighborhood staple, said. Continue reading

Forget free speech. What does clicking "Like" on Facebook even mean?

Explicit SemanticsOn Friday, the Chicago Tribune posted an AP article by Brock Vergakis about a recent federal court decision as to whether “liking” a page on Facebook constitutes free speech. In brief, employees “liked” a competitor’s Facebook page. The employer (a sheriff running for re-election) fired them. Fired employees sue. Plaintiff’s claim, paraphrased? “Our first amendment rights have been violated.”

Now, as anyone who reads even a little of my occasional screed knows, I’m a huge fan of free speech. I love that I live in a nation where I am free to say or express whatever comes to mind within certain reasonable bounds. Continue reading

Limbaugh brays on: louder, emptier, closer to the end

By Robert Becker

The smoldering ruin of Rush Limbaugh dramatizes one political truism: seemingly impregnable fortresses are most vulnerable to suicidal implosions. Despite decades of volcanic vitriol, no outside force had yet penetrated Rush’s propaganda bubble chamber, full of pretend entertainment. No doubt, the fall of the Dittohead Dynasty reflects both the gratuity of Limbaugh’s latest abuse and the wholesomeness of the victim. For the record, Sandra Fluke’s noble decency stared down a serial miscreant. After all, other fringe charlatans haven’t suddenly lost 140 sponsors, nor did some new-found Democratic charge deter Rush’s grotesque buffoonery.

Though the bully pulpit resides in the White House, shifty, snarling bullies still sneer their way to fame and fortune. Continue reading

Mark Twain and public discourse

The prevailing argument among our brilliant crew of writers here  at S&R lately over our public discourses v. those of our opponents goes something like this: some of us want to take the high road in public discussion of the issues; some of us want to go into the same attack dog mode that our opponents use; and some of us, as Sam Smith so eloquently notes in his post on the matter:

… some of us watch the debate with a good measure of conflict in our souls. We think about it, we test the implications, we agonize over it, all because we appreciate the complexities of politics and culture and we understand the human, emotional and spiritual costs as well as we do the collective, physical, economic ones.

Today Scholars & Rogues honors our 50th masthead scrogue, Samuel L. Clemens of Hannibal, MO, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain – arguably (though I don’t think there can be much argument) America’s greatest writer. Continue reading

Celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred wants Florida to prosecute Limbaugh using forgotten statute: she's the best thing that's happened to Rush in weeks

I wonder what Rush Limbaugh will be talking about on his show this coming week? Ah, maybe this:

In a letter dated March 8, [celebrity lawyer Gloria] Allred, writing on behalf of the Women’s Equal Rights Legal Defense and Education Fund, requested that Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe probe whether the conservative radio personality had violated Section 836.04 of the Florida Statutes by calling Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke the two derogatory words.

The statute stipulates that anyone who “speaks of and concerning any woman, married or unmarried, falsely and maliciously imputing to her a want of chastity” is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree. Continue reading

Imagine there's no boycotts: that sounds like Communism to me

Following up on yesterday’s post about how unfair it is when progressives fight fire with fire

One of the architects of the modern conservative boycott movement back in the day was the now-deceased Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the “Moral Majority.” His strategy was simple. Identify those television and radio stations whose programming “promoted” a “liberal agenda” or “secular humanist” values, then leverage the purchasing power of the congregation to bully offenders into changing their programming. Sadly, this brand of thuggery (remember, this is generally the same crowd screeching right now about how “liberals” are “censoring” the “free speech rights” of the richest, most successful, most widely heard man in political talk radio) proved effective enough that it has now become a go-to weapon in the arsenals of interest groups across the partisan spectrum. Continue reading

Free Speech for Dummies (and Dittoheads)

Last October, country music star Hank WIlliams, Jr. made a remark about Obama and Hitler playing golf, touching off a controversy that saw ESPN end its relationship with Williams (who had been singing the Monday Night Football intro song for what seemed like 100 years). Williams reacted predictably:

After reading hundreds of e-mails, I have made MY decision,” he wrote. “By pulling my opening Oct 3rd, You (ESPN) stepped on the Toes of The First Amendment Freedom of Speech, so therefore Me, My Song, and All My Rowdy Friends are OUT OF HERE. It’s been a great run.

So, this was a Toes of The First Amendment Freedom of Speech issue, huh? [sigh] Williams’ fans and the semi-literate sports talk DJs who cater to them were as bad, if not worse. Continue reading

Give me Liberty Park or give me death

AP photo from Eldorado News-Times, Eldorado AR

In 1913, Colorado coal miners went on strike to demand enforcement of the 8 hour workday law, to secure payment for “dead work” such as laying railroad track and timbering, for which JD Rockefeller Sr and the other coal barons paid nothing, and to gain the right to live outside company towns, buy goods from non-company stores, and choose non-company doctors. Continue reading

#Occupy Portland: The end of free speech, or the end of taking responsibility?

By Greg Stene

The City of Portland and the Occupy movement are both to blame for Portland’s impending Sunday morning, at 12:01 a.m., dismantling of the Occupy movement’s tent city in downtown Portland.

They’ve both blown an excellent opportunity for the protection of both free speech and the community’s rights. Here’s why:

Basically, though parks are part of the streets, parks and sidewalks that have been traditionally protected as free speech public forums, the government has a well-established right to regulate the time, manner, and place of the speech.

So, scratch the right to be in the park making your point after closing hours. And there’s even no right to pitch a tent, if the regulations say you cannot.

End of considerations. And all those Occupy people who complain about it are just a bunch of whiners.

Actually, here at the end is where it gets interesting, and possibly lengthier than we had thought at the beginning when we compressed a good century’s worth of free speech principles into a short paragraph.
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Are you ready for some FOOOTBAALLLL?! A couple of notes on the Hank Williams, Jr. hullaballoo

Hank Williams, Jr. said some stupid shit. Because, you know, he’s not exactly a rocket surgeon or a model of progressive, pro-human ideals. I can’t imagine that this comes as much a surprise to anyone. Now ESPN has done what they pretty much had to and kicked Hank to the curb. Read all about it.

Two quick thoughts.

First, that Monday Night Football intro sequence was getting tired. Five years ago, in fact. Continue reading

A morality play: When Rupert Murdoch entered Parliament

Any morality play has its set-piece characters. The villain, the outraged public, the crusading representatives of order.

Democracy in the UK is very tactile. Parliament is the voice and instrument of the people. Anyone, no matter how powerful, can be summoned to answer questions before the people. These performances can destroy careers and reputations but are an adjunct to the more dull and complex process of police investigations, judicial review and eventual judgement. They permit the public to see their anger expressed.

Rupert Murdoch’s role before his questioning was clear: he is the villain of this set-piece. He was there to be a subject of the collective outrage of British society and to hold himself to account.

Yet you don’t get to be an 80-year-old media tycoon without understanding that a story is made in the telling. Continue reading

Readers are as good at being regulators as viewers are at judging talent shows

Jeff Jarvis, scion of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, took issue with my Twitter response expressing the belief that newspaper buyers are complicit in the actions of newspaper producers (wrt to News of the World, for our American readers).  He took it further in a blog post, “Readers are our Regulators.”

I disagree. If the public are good regulators then I assume you would accept that the public would have Casey Anthony found guilty even though a court of her peers found differently? The “court of public opinion” isn’t always wise or informed.

Making difficult and appropriate, but socially unpopular, decisions is part of the idea of justice. Continue reading

Supreme Court ruling on video games only an assault on bad parenting

by Tom Shortell

The Supreme Court ruled Monday it’s unconstitutional to ban the sale of violent video games to children, striking a severe blow to lazy parents across the nation.

In a 7-2 decision that cast aside typical alliances of the court, the court ruled that video games as a medium are protected under the First Amendment as free speech. The decision struck down a 2005 California law that forbid the sale of games “that depicts ‘killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being’ in a way that appeals to a deviant or morbid interest of minors” to anyone under the age of 18. Continue reading

Righthaven LLC may have wrong approach, but news companies need to protect content

by Jane Briggs-Bunting

Stephens Media and its erstwhile partner, Righthaven LLC, lost a significant copyright battle in both Nevada and likely Colorado when a Nevada judge ruled Tuesday that Righthaven did not have standing to sue alleged copyright infringers who had reproduced articles and other content from the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

It’s yet another push by news media to try to get paid for republication of news content reproduced by aggregators, bloggers and others, with or without credit. And bloggers and folks from groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are fighting back, dubbing Righthaven nothing more than a “Copyright Troll.”

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The most dangerous idea ever: why the tea party is right after all. Sort of.

The American econo-political system has always been a dangerous proposition, an egg balanced on a knife blade six feet above a concrete floor.

Sure, most countries have elements of the American solution. Many countries now have peaceful exchanges of power decided by voters. Most Western nations have pretty strong protections for individual rights, and in many cases, those are stronger than our Bill of Rights. Most have moved away from centrally planned economies.

But we were the ones who first put it all together. Just as Alfred Nobel figured out how to mix volatile nitroglycerine with diatomaceous earth to create the equally powerful but more stable explosive dynamite, the Founders managed to take an inherently dangerous set of ideas and make them stable. You need only look at the French Revolution to see what can happen when those same ideas are dropped on a concrete floor. Continue reading

FCC: Move to digital hasn't improved local news reporting

From the “The Feds Are The Last To Know Department”:

The Federal Communications Commission released a study today reporting that an “explosion of online news sources in recent years has not produced a corresponding increase in reporting, particularly quality local reporting …” The study, titled “Information Needs of Communities” takes a broad but somewhat shallow look at the media landscape. It reads as more of a history of how modern media arrived at its current state than as a clear, practical recipe for change.

The study — which looks at the local reporting performance of all media, not just that of newspapers — was undertaken by senior FCC adviser Steven Waldman, a former journalist for Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report. According to his study:

In many communities, we now face a shortage of local, professional, accountability reporting. The independent watchdog function that the Founding Fathers envisioned for journalism — going so far as to call it crucial to a healthy democracy — is in some cases at risk at the local level.

Well, duh. Continue reading

GBTV? Glenn Beck on the Internet? All Glenn, all the time?

Would you pay between $4.95 and $9.95 a month to watch conservative talker Glenn Beck for two hours a day on the Internet?

Beck will launch, with partner Mercury Radio Arts, GBTV, an online video network, on Sept. 12. Here’s Beck himself in a five-minute pitch describing his “global plans” and how he will be “champion of man’s freedom” for the mere cost of a “cup of coffee in today’s world”:

Whether Beck is certifiably insane is not the issue here: Rather, he and his partner need to insure that revenues exceed costs. Now that he’s leaving the ready mega-megaphone of Fox News on June 30, that’s not a certainty.
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