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“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

“Cheney And Deep Doo Doo”: It Was Dick Cheney That Let North Korea Get Nuclear Weapons In The First Place

Guess who’s offering congressional Republicans guidance on foreign policy?

Former Vice President Dick Cheney discussed tensions on the Korean peninsula with Republican leaders in Congress in a closed-door meeting Tuesday, warning them that the United States was in danger.

“We’re in deep doo doo,” Cheney told lawmakers, according to CNN, which first reported the talk.

Rep. Steve Southerland (Fla.) who attended the 10-minute meeting with GOP leaders said Cheney called North Korean leader Kim Jong Un unpredictable and, citing his own experience dealing with former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, said “you never know what they’re thinking.”

How reassuring. Cheney thinks he’s qualified to speak about U.S. policy towards North Korea because of his “experience” with Saddam Hussein — as if Cheney’s role in shaping U.S. policy in Iraq has value and applicability now.

Incidentally, why, pray tell, was Cheney helping lead a closed-door with congressional Republicans? Because Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the #3 person in the House GOP leadership, invited the former vice president to speak.

I mention this because it’s not as if Cheney cornered these guys and Republican lawmakers were forced into listening to the failed former V.P. They wanted to hear from him and thought they’d benefit from his guidance.

Indeed, they seemed delighted to have been offered words of wisdom from Cheney. That his entire foreign policy worldview has been thoroughly discredited, his credibility on foreign policy and national security has been exposed as a pathetic joke, and the damage he’s done to the United States will take generations to heal, apparently didn’t dissuade House Republicans from taking the guy seriously.

But before we move on, let’s pause briefly to reflect on how it is we ended up in “deep doo doo.” After all, it was Dick Cheney that let North Korea get nuclear weapons in the first place.

As we discussed last week, the Clinton administration negotiated an Agreed Framework with North Korea in 1994, which was successful in “bottling up North Korea’s nuclear program for eight years,” and which eased the crisis on the peninsula. In March 2001, Colin Powell said Bush/Cheney would pick up where Clinton/Gore had left off.

The Bush/Cheney White House then immediately rebuked Powell, forced him to walk back his position, and rejected the Agreed Framework. Kim Jong-il hoped for a new round of negotiations, but the Republican administration refused. As Cheney himself put it, “We don’t negotiate with evil — we defeat it.” The Republican president instead added North Korea to an “axis of evil.”

By 2002, North Korea unlocked its fuel rods, kicked out international weapons inspectors, and became more aggressive in pursuing a nuclear weapons program. In response, “Bush didn’t take military action, he didn’t call for sanctions, nor did he try diplomacy” — instead focusing his energies on selling the United States on the need for a disastrous war in Iraq.

Indeed, Bush and Cheney argued at the time that the U.S. had to hurry up and invade Iraq before it could acquire nuclear weapons, effectively telling North Korea that the way to avoid an invasion was to advance its nuclear program as quickly as possible — which it did.

As a result, North Korea became a nuclear state on Bush/Cheney’s watch, and paid no price for its actions. The world is left with an isolated dictatorship, craving attention, and playing with the most dangerous weapons the world has ever known.

Thanks, Dick, for the fascinating insights on “doo doo.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 10, 2013

April 11, 2013 Posted by | Foreign Policy, National Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ring, Ring”: Which Candidate Should Answer That 3 A.M. Phone Call?

It’s late at night when the phone rings at the White House:

Kim Jong Il, the ruthless oddball dictator of nuclear-armed North Korea, is dead. His apparent successor is his 20-something son, about whom practically nothing is known. South Korean officials have rushed to put the nation’s military forces on high alert.

Do we want Mitt Romney answering that phone call?

Newt Gingrich?

We learned Sunday night what happens when Barack Obama is on the receiving end of unsettling news from one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints. There’s a round of consultation with allies, a carefully worded official statement, an assessment of the status of diplomatic efforts to defuse North Korea’s nuclear program — in other words, a cautious and measured response.

Implicit in Obama’s actions is the recognition that nothing a U.S. president says or does at this moment is likely to influence North Korean events in a positive way. Intemperate words or deeds, however, could be destabilizing at a moment of sudden transition. This is no moment to apply sharp pressure to a hermetically sealed, supremely paranoid regime that considers itself perpetually besieged and happens to possess nuclear weapons.

The White House was particularly concerned about how Kim’s son — Kim Jong Eun, the “Great Successor” who may have already assumed power — would react to anything seen as a provocation. The young, inexperienced leader might believe he had to make a show of belligerence to prove himself. Aggressive action could prompt a sharp South Korean reaction, and suddenly a situation could become a crisis.

All this is lost on Romney, who came out guns blazing with what sounded like a call for regime change.

“Kim Jong Il was a ruthless tyrant who lived a life of luxury while the North Korean people starved,” Romney said in a statement. “He recklessly pursued nuclear weapons, sold nuclear and missile technology to other rogue regimes, and committed acts of military aggression against our ally South Korea. He will not be missed.”

The statement continued, “His death represents an opportunity for America to work with our friends to turn North Korea off the treacherous course it is on and ensure security in the region. America must show leadership at this time. The North Korean people are suffering through a long and brutal national nightmare. I hope the death of Kim Jong Il hastens its end.”

Well, that’s what we all hope. But dancing on the dictator’s grave is hardly presidential. How can anyone be certain what approach is most likely to lead to reform in North Korea until we know more about the Great Successor? Or until we can ascertain who now controls the nuclear weapons?

Romney is eager to show that he would somehow be tougher than Obama in foreign policy — a high bar, given Obama’s record of killing Osama bin Laden and helping orchestrate the demise of Moammar Gaddafi. It’s possible that Romney understands what his responsibility would be if he faced a similar circumstance as president. But if you take his words seriously, the former Massachusetts governor sounds like a dangerous hothead.

That’s nothing compared to Gingrich, whose past statements about North Korea have been shot from the hip.

In 2009, Gingrich said the United States should have used force to prevent North Korea from testing a new long-range missile. “There are three or four techniques that could have been used, from unconventional forces to standoff capabilities, to say, ‘We’re not going to tolerate a North Korean missile launch, period,’” he said.

No, there are not any “standoff capabilities” that could have been used, at least not without starting a nuclear war. Gingrich has expressed his enthusiasm for a laser-beam weapon that the Pentagon tried to develop, but that program was radically scaled back. We could have just destroyed the missile on its launch pad, perhaps with a cruise missile strike, but the North Koreans might well have responded by destroying Seoul.

One of Gingrich’s worries is that North Korean scientists will be the first in the world to work out how a nuclear device can be used to create a massive electromagnetic pulse — and fry electronic circuits from Malibu to Maine. Would somebody please cancel the man’s subscription to Popular Science?

During the 2008 campaign, Hillary Clinton famously asked whether Obama was ready for the 3 a.m. phone call about a foreign crisis. Kim’s death reminds us that it’s always 3 a.m. somewhere in the world.

December 20, 2011 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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