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“Enforcing The Sound Of Silence”: An Epidemic Of CNE Syndrome Strikes Our State Governments

It’s well known that harsh climate conditions can mess with your mind — from cabin fever to heat delirium. But America is now experiencing an even more dangerous mind-numbing disease called Climaticus Non-Vocalism Extremism.

Oddly, CNE Syndrome almost exclusively afflicts a narrow segment of our population: Republican political officials and candidates. Scientific studies suggest that CNE Syndrome might stem from a genetic defect, but scientists say more research is needed on that.

The symptoms, however, are uniform and include an obsessive impulse by GOP politicos to deny that human-caused climate change is happening. It’s often accompanied by a feverish insistence that government employees be banned from studying it, discussing it or even uttering such phrases as “climate change” and “global warming.”

Hard to believe? For an example of the mind-altering impact of Climaticus Non-Vocalism Extremism, look at Gov. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin administration. The Koch-funded governor and Republican presidential wannabe is an ardent climate-change denier — but the state’s public lands board has escalated his denial to Orwellian censorship. The two GOP commissioners on the three-member board, which oversees the ecological health of thousands of acres of Wisconsin forestlands, have banned agency employees from even considering damage caused by climate change. Worse, they have such severe cases of CNE Syndrome that they’ve imposed a gag order on freedom of speech by public lands employees, prohibiting them from even talking about climate change while on the job.The heartbreak of CNE is that its victims even deny that they’re in denial about the disease. Thus, the Wisconsin duo say that their no-speech rule is not censorship, because employees are still free to talk about climate change at home — or even chit-chat about it “by the water cooler,” just as they might talk about sports.

Gov. Walker — who wants to be your president — says that he finds that censorship perfectly reasonable.

But it’s not just Wisconsin that has imposed such ridiculous levels of science denial and censorship. This raises the question: If a state government issues a right-wing political order, but it’s not written down, does it make a sound? Let’s ask Florida.

Bart Bibler, a respected employee of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, says you betcha it makes a sound — even though the order directed at state employees like him was meant to enforce the sound of silence. Since Rick Scott became governor of the Sunshine State, various agencies run by his appointees have issued 1984-style newspeak decrees that “climate change,” “global warming,” “sustainability” and other terms related to Earth’s looming climate disaster are verboten.

Unaware of this censorship edict, Bibler innocently blurted out the phrase “climate change” in a February teleconference. To his amazement, his breach of ideological correctness earned him an official letter of reprimand, a two-day suspension without pay, and — get this — an order to undergo a doctor’s evaluation to verify his mental “fitness for duty.”

When outrage over this blunt attempt to banish the idea of climate change spread across the country, the governor and his appointees doubled-down on Orwellian denial: “It’s not true,” said the slippery Scott, insisting that no such gag policy exists. By “exist,” though, he means his dictate is not written down. As many employees have confirmed, however, state officials verbally impose their policy of outlawing the language of climate change. The official taboo is so extreme that even a phrase as benign and factual as “sea-level rise” is banned. Instead, Scott’s team has mandated that this measurable (and alarming) reality be referred to as “nuisance flooding.”

It’s their mental fitness that needs to be evaluated! Trying to ban words only amplifies their sound, meaning, and impact — while also exposing how pathetically scared and stupid the censors are.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, May 6, 2015

May 7, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Rick Scott, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Stand Up, The Show Must Go On”: Freedom Of Expression Is Worth Fighting For

It has been a deeply troubling week for defenders of freedom of expression. After a hacking attack that the FBI has now officially connected to the government of North Korea, and subsequent threats by the hackers, theater chains refused to show the comedy The Interview and Sony eventually pulled it from distribution.

The question here is not about the wisdom of making the movie, or whether perceived quality determines its merits of being defended. As actor George Clooney has recently said,

With the First Amendment, you’re never protecting Jefferson; it’s usually protecting some guy who’s burning a flag or doing something stupid. This is a silly comedy, but the truth is, what it now says about us is a whole lot. We have a responsibility to stand up against this.

The First Amendment protects Americans’ right to decide what they want to say, read, write, watch and listen to without interference from the government. Government officials do not always honor that principle and that is why organizations like ours that advocate for First Amendment values are a necessary bulwark to free expression in the arts as well as politics.

But censorship by government officials and agencies is not the only threat to freedom of expression. Back in 1998, the Manhattan Theatre Club initially cancelled its planned production of Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi when it received bomb threats. After an outcry by proponents of free expression, and with security precautions in place, the play eventually opened. People offended by the play’s content were, of course, free to protest, and they did. But so were free expression advocates, and we marched as well. In the end, the show went on.

For The Interview, it appears for the moment, the show will not go on. It’s hard to know exactly what motivated the theater chains that cancelled the show — fear of making themselves the next hacking target, legitimate worries about the potential for violence and/or legal liability in the case of violence. The end result is that we have now allowed the government of North Korea to dictate content.

That is, to state the obvious, not an acceptable state of affairs. Judd Apatow, one of the first to speak out, tweeted earlier this week, “I am not going to let a terrorist threat shut down freedom of speech. I am going to The Interview.” I think the vast majority of Americans, whatever their political persuasion, can applaud that spirit, and embrace Clooney’s insistence, “We cannot be told we can’t see something by Kim Jong-un, of all f*cking people.”

This isn’t about pointing fingers at theater owners or Sony. This week’s events are an extreme example of the complicated questions free expression advocates around the world are facing as private corporations control more and more of the world’s access to information and communications — whether it’s corporate control of internet service providers, search engines and social media channels, or efforts by regulators in some countries to require search engines like Google to censor the content they make available. These aren’t traditional free expression questions, but they are ones that we must face.

It’s time for a renewed national commitment to and celebration of the fundamental value of free expression. It is time to dedicate the intellectual and financial resources necessary to safeguard our online infrastructure. And maybe more importantly, it is time to assert a shared national will to stand up to those who would limit our freedom expression, whether they are corporate executives, government censors or foreign dictators who will happily export their political repression to our shores if we allow them to do so.

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For the American Way; The Blog, The Huffington Post, December 19, 2014

December 20, 2014 Posted by | 1st Amendment, Free Speech, North Korea | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There’s Bound To Be A Next Time”: The Sony Leak Unearthed Juicy Gossip, But The Blackmailers Must Not Win

My heart sinks, to be honest, at the prospect of having to watch The Interview. Judging from the trailers, it’s the kind of crass, juvenile slapstick that’s barely worth a bucket of popcorn and a babysitter – although we can scratch the babysitter, since the only way ever to watch this comedy may  be at home now that the embattled Sony Pictures has cancelled its cinema release. If only someone had mounted a repressive cyber-attack over an unflattering portrayal of North Korean politics in something that’s actually funny, like 2004’s Team America World Police.

But just as everyone felt obliged to order Spycatcher from Australia after the Thatcher government banned its publication, we’ll all feel obliged to watch this film should it ever emerge from what’s left of Sony HQ. The hacking of the company apparently in retaliation for this fictional account of a plot to assassinate the North Korean leader is pure political censorship, a chilling of free speech that threatens far better films and books and journalism. It cannot be allowed to succeed.

The attack on Sony seemed rather harmlessly entertaining at first, when it was all about squirming senior executives being forced to explain leaks about Jennifer Lawrence earning less than her male co-stars, or to grovel over racially charged private jokes dumped in the public domain. Even the mooted involvement of the North Korean government didn’t feel threatening when the studio was being held to ransom by little more than bitchy gossip about Angelina Jolie. Perhaps we’re all too used to watching hackers open up secretive worlds (even if at times they have done so cavalierly, and – in the past – with potentially fatal consequences) to see this for what it really was, namely an attempt to shut debate down.

Or perhaps the reaction was a slow burner because, despite leading a regime described by Amnesty International as “in a category of its own” for torture and repression, Kim Jong-un is so often inexplicably treated in the west as a sort of semi-comical cartoon baddie, a bit like a Bond villain. The oddest thing about this whole saga is that had the British government slashed the BBC’s licence fee in retaliation for a show satirising George Osborne, the response would probably have been angrier and more immediate.

But we should have realised long before cinemas started to receive threats evoking the memory of 9/11 that this wasn’t funny. Even if the White House declined on Thursday to blame the North Korean government directly, the attack on Sony has more in common with the furore over Danish cartoons of the prophet than with mischievous data raids on tax-dodging corporates. Sony has been not just embarrassed but crippled by an attack on its IT infrastructure that exposes the surprising fragility of our digitised world: the ease with which the plug can be pulled.

And while making films isn’t exactly life and death stuff, no secretary should go unpaid at Christmas because someone shut down the computerised payroll in homage to a thin-skinned dictator. No legitimate business deserves to be crippled for offending a totalitarian regime, and no government can be allowed to exercise a veto over the way it is portrayed around the world, whether what we’re talking about is a hissy fit over a comedy or China blocking Google.

If the North Korean government really is behind this attack, in the short term it’s arguably scored its own goal. Sony says it has no current plans to release the film on DVD or streaming services, perhaps because of fears that any distributor could become a hacking target, but it’s hard to believe it won’t eventually emerge somehow.

If nothing else, social media is alive with jibes at Kim Jong-un’s expense, and more people will surely now watch the trailers than would have seen the film in cinemas – just as tabloid outrage over the BBC serialising Hilary Mantel’s book on murdering Margaret Thatcher (talking of fictional assassinations) will probably only remind more people to tune into A Book at Bedtime. All arts censorship really does, whether it’s prosecuting Penguin Books over Lady Chatterley’s Lover or plastering parental advisory stickers on rap CDs, is make the object more exciting.

But in the longer term, there’s cause for concern. What major Hollywood studio is raring to make a film about North Korea now? Will a TV network or publisher think twice about commissioning something on the regime? And how should any platform respond to something like this in the future?

Sony has been criticised for caving in rather than simply collaborating with those independent cinemas still willing to show the film (most of the big chains pulled out after warnings, apparently from the hackers, that the “world will be full of fear” if they screened it). There was, we’re told, no credible intelligence of a terrorist plot. But the studio has a responsibility to cinema staff and cinemagoers that makes this a little more complicated than the robust “publish and be damned” attitude you might get from a paper. Would you risk people dying, however tiny the risk, just to see a half-baked Seth Rogen vehicle?

And to criticise Sony is arguably to gloss over big questions for those media organisations that gleefully published the leaked emails, and thus became awkwardly complicit in a blackmail exercise seemingly conducted on behalf of a prolific abuser of human rights.

Whenever they’re confronted with a juicy leak, journalists need to ask themselves the cui bono question: to whose benefit? And the answer is often pretty unedifying – a spurned lover, a disgruntled MP passed over for promotion, someone wanting cash. That doesn’t mean you don’t publish private information if there is a public interest, as there arguably was in some of this material. If you don’t want to be publicly embarrassed about paying women less than men, maybe don’t pay them less, rather than begging for our sympathy when you’re caught at it.

But when all that’s being revealed is that George Clooney hates getting bad reviews – well, this is the territory of bears and woods and a lack of outdoor toilet facilities, and tougher questions ought to be asked before republishing it, even if the stuff is already everywhere online. We need to think this through before the next time, because there’s bound to be a next time, if only on the grounds that what happened to Sony has given every other repressive regime – or organisation, or culture – on the planet a glimpse of the possible. And that’s not funny.

 

By: Gaby Hinsliff, The Guardian, December 18, 2014

December 19, 2014 Posted by | Entertainment Industry, Kim Jong-Un, North Korea | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Proposed “Anti-piracy” Legislation Dangerous And Unconstitutional

The proposed “anti-piracy” legislation is dangerous and unconstitutional. Congress is contemplating two bills that proponents insist will shut down “rogue foreign websites” bent on wholesale intellectual property infringement. In reality, these bills won’t do much to curb online piracy. What they will do is balkanize the Internet, undermine Internet security, and introduce a new, unconstitutional scheme of speech regulation.

Both the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), would empower the attorney general to create a blacklist of sites to be blocked by Internet service providers, search engines, payment providers, and advertising networks. In other words, U.S. citizens would have access to an Internet that looks distinctly different from the one seen by residents of, say, Japan or Australia.

Leading constitutional scholars have explained why this blunderbuss approach won’t pass muster under the First Amendment. Leading Internet engineers oppose the legislation because it will undermine international efforts to shore up online security—efforts the U.S. government has actively supported. A broad coalition of human rights groups has also come out against the legislation, well aware of the contradictory message it sends about online censorship.

We’ve seen where this can lead: Over the past year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been obtaining court orders authorizing the seizure of domain names. The seizures are supposed to be directed at infringing sites, but perfectly legal sites have been caught in the net. And when those legal sites have tried to get their property back, they’ve been met with delays and obfuscation. For example, when the founder of a popular music blog tried to follow the government’s bewildering procedure for retrieving his domain names, the government abused the process, seeking secret extensions and declining to cooperate with the blogger to get the matter resolved. Finally, the government dropped the case, with no apologies.

But it gets worse: Private actors can also get in on the act. If an intellectual property rightsholder thinks a site is “promoting” infringement, that party can go to court to seek an order forcing payment processors and ad services to choke off financial support to the site.

The payment providers won’t be able to fine-tune their response so that only infringing sites are affected, which means an entire business could be under assault. Moreover, there are vigilante provisions that can easily be read to grant immunity for cutting off a site if there is “credible evidence” that the site promotes infringement.

For over a decade, we’ve had a system in place that gives rightsholders effective tools for fighting online infringement, while creating space for online innovation, economic growth, and creativity. These bills would rewrite the rules and give government and big content providers new powers to regulate the Internet, with little regard for the collateral damage it would cause.

SOPA and PIPA have sparked an explosion of opposition, including Democratic and Republican lawmakers, progressive and conservative public interest groups, technology companies and investors, constitutional scholars, and human rights groups (who know a plan for censorship when they see one). It’s been called a “geek lobby,” but you don’t need to be a geek to see that this legislation is a profoundly bad idea.

 

By: Corynne McSherry, Published in U. S. News and World Report, December 21, 2011

December 22, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Constitution | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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