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Federally Funded Censorship

14 Feb

A different version of this was published at The Federalist this morning.

Donald Trump famously tweeted a question of whether schools that don’t protect free speech on campus should lose federal funding, after flamboyant conservative speaker (and Trump promoter) Milo Yiannapolous was prevented from speaking at UC Berkeley earlier this year.

But generous federal funding of universities – which critics say has fueled tuition hikes and the growth of expensive university plant, property and equipment like palatial conference centers and spa-quality gymnasiums – may also create a more permanent threat to free speech on campus.


Almost three million of the the 13 million undergraduate students in the U.S. could be hearing their fellow students talk about “Bert” this year.

But they won’t be talking about Bert of Bert and Ernie, or any other Bert they’ve met before.


They’ll be talking about “BRTS,” Bias Report Teams, a new collegiate institution now found on about 232 campuses that serve those 3 million students.


A new report on free speech on American campuses was just released by FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a report that tabulates and surveys the rise of Bias Response Teams.


While colleges and their surrounding communities have long had mechanisms for addressing ugly hate crimes, BRTs address the subtle slights and micro-aggressions – whether intentional or unintentional – that might make someone feel unsafe.

BRTs are mainly staffed by deans, administrators, and campus staff borrowed from diversity, student life, LGBT, and Equal Opportunity offices. But FIRE reports, 42 percent also include law enforcement personnel, what FIRE called “literal speech police.”

The BRT at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. deemed the message “Make America Great Again” written on the whiteboards of two female faculty members of color as a “racial attack.” Pro-Trump messages written in chalk at the Emory University in Atlanta and the University of Michigan also prompted school-wide investigations.

BRT officials at the University of Oregon spoke with staff members of the campus newspaper in response to an anonymous complaint alleging a lack of coverage of transgender people.

Mike Jensen, an adjunct professor at the University of Northern Colorado was warned “not to revisit transgender issues in his classroom” after a student complained about If somebody has never been a woman, how can they know they feel like a woman?

“Inviting students to report a broad range of speech to campus authorities casts a chilling pall over free speech rights,” Adam Steinbaugh, senior program officer at FIRE, said in a statement. “Bias response teams solicit reports of a wide range of constitutionally protected speech, including speech about politics and social issues. These sometimes anonymous bias reports can result in interventions by conflict-wary administrators who then provide ‘education,’ often in the form of a verbal reprimand, or even explicit punishment.”


Martin Berger, the Acting Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at the University of California–Santa Cruz told AMI that BRTs are necessary. “For many year bias reports, if they were dealt with at all, were handled haphazardly.  Campuses in recent years have sought to build multi-disciplinary teams capable of handling any incident that arises.”  Berger says there were hundreds of reports last year at UC Santa Cruz, though he doesn’t know exactly how many.


So far, according to Steinbaugh, BRTs are mainly staffed by deans, administrators, law enforcement, and campus staff borrowed from diversity, student life, LGBT, and Equal Opportunity offices.  But just as these bureaucracies once did not have their own separately funded staff and offices, separately funded BRTs may be the next bureaucratic growth to sprout under the rain of federal funding.


Even the University of Chicago, whose Provost famously issued a statement against restrictive campus speech codes in 2016, has a Bias Report Team.


I interviewed Carleton College Professor Jeffrey Snyder for this article, because he’d written for The New Republic last year critical of the chilling effect of BRTs on free speech.  I asked about the irony of the University of Chicago promulgating the “Chicago Statement” while having a BRT, and he agreed but said it was part of a more general problem where administration and faculty are often at cross purposes and have opposed interests – a point I was interested in hearing in part because it raises the question of whether government funding doesn’t tend to expand the administrative bureaucracy and its power relative to that of faculty, and shift the mission of schools away from teaching.  (Curiously Dr. Snyder a day and a half later sent me an email saying I could not use his quotes if I was writing an article for Breitbart.  When I said I was, as I had originally stated, writing a short newsy piece on the FIRE report for my own employer, the American Media Institute Newswire, and then a longer more op ed-ish piece for The Hill or the Daily Caller, and I sent him a rough draft of this article, with his quotes so he could see them, Dr. Snyder decided he did not want to be quoted. Apparently it’s dangerous to be an academic and be quoted in a favorable way by an author who might not be writing for politically correct venues.)


When Dr. Snyder surveyed the existing BRTs only a year ago he found only 100. This year the FIRE report finds over twice as many.  The FIRE report’s author, Adam Steinbaugh, says that though the number of BRT’s is growing, he doubts it doubled in one year, and he suspects Snyder just had a different method of surveying campuses (Steinbaugh surveyed 500).


Off-campus rioters used the occasion of a peaceful protest by students of  Yiannapolous at U.C. Berkeley last week to set fire to university property.  A group of students and faculty at NYU protested another conservative speaker, Gavin McGinness, the next day.  Earlier this week the student government at Santa Clara University banned its local chapter Turning Point USA, a group that advocates “fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government,” reportedly claiming that such beliefs and discussions were in themselves racist and made liberal students uncomfortable.


Steinbaugh (and Snyder) points out that though conservative and libertarian groups feature heavily in reports on campus censorship, campus speech codes and institutions like Bias Report Teams can and are being used by almost anyone, including white students who claim they are offended by Black Lives Matter style protests or lecturers claiming policing in America targets blacks, by conservative students claiming they are offended by progressive groups claiming then candidate Donald Trump was racist, and even by progressive and minority students squabbling among themselves.  In a 2015 incident, discussed by FIRE founder Greg Lukianoff in an article he co-wrote for The Atlantic, when a group of Asian students at Brandeis University had an installation on campus attempting to raise awareness about smaller, unintended slights referred to as “micro-aggressions” – things like being questioned about “where did your family come from?” or “what was your first language?” – only to have it shut down by other students claiming that the installation itself was a micro aggression.


According to FIRE, only half of the BRTs surveyed said they believed there was a tension between free speech and combatting bias.  Almost half involved law enforcement officials in their bias reports.


Steinbaugh thinks the impetus behind the growth of BRTs is more bureaucratic than purely ideological, resulting more from campus administrative bureaucrats importing harassment reporting and counseling practices from corporate HR departments than from ideas about taking power from or censoring privileged groups and empowering minorities derived from academics like Herbert Marcuse or Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick.


Trying to find proponents of Bias Report Teams who will discuss them can be difficult.  Two days spent emailing Dr. Archie Ervin, president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education finally resulted in his secretary reporting that he said he was getting ready to go on a trip and could not talk.  Attempts to reach those in charge of Bias Reports at the University of Chicago was similarly difficult.  The number used to make a Bias Report asks the caller to choose from a menu including being connected to the police or to the “Dean on Call,” with the latter option leading to a beeping voice mail box with no greeting or other message.  One University of Chicago dean’s office referred me to an employee in a student affairs office with an LGBT portfolio who is on the University website, but when called turns out to have left the university the year previous.


Dozens of email queries to campus BRT offices around the country and to a variety of civil rights groups produced only one response. to the earlier quoted Martin Berger, Acting Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Campus Diversity Officer for Faculty.  Berger argues that FIRE is wrong to be concerned that police officers on are on the BRTs: “They seem concerned that 42% of bias teams contain members of law enforcement.  They apparently take this as a sign that police are used to suppress free speech… Campuses in recent years have sought to build multi-disciplinary teams capable of handling any incident that arises.”  But lumping “any incident” reported as “bias” seems to be exactly the problem: having a belief, stating a belief, and other forms of protected speech, are lumped together with violence, threats, intimidation.  In a previous era much of what most people would view as “bias” that should be punished on campus would simply be considered “hazing.”  But punishing “hazing” means punishing actions, not protected speech or beliefs – it is not a tool of re-education to eliminate wrong thoughts. (A few university BRTs – George Washington University, the University of Virginia – do actually also refer to the older concept of “hazing.”)


If President Tump and the GOP decide to reign in federal spending on post-secondary education, especially in the non-STEM subjects, highlighting the institutionalization of censorship on campus may give them plenty of talking points and anecdotes that will resonate with the voters who elected them.

Libertarian transgender precipitates one day government shutdown

20 Nov
A different, less snarky, version of this was published yesterday at Breitbart.

If Julia Roberts wants to play a transsexual in the middle of a conspiracy theorist’s dream I have a treatment ready for her.

Monday someone who was first reported as suicidal woman, and then rumored to be a man with a rifle, shut down a huge section of downtown DC.  Police refuse to comment on any questions and the mainstream media refused to mention that the culprit, Sophia Dalke, 31, was transgender, which was also left out of the police report.

The result is that people are free to speculate.

Initially I was as much of a mind to indulge in very black humor.  I came up with two jokes:

1) 2015 is the year transgender people became the new face of conservative politics.  First Caitlyn Jenner declared herself to be a Christian, constitutionalist, Republican, and now Sophia Dalke has engineered a one (transgender) woman government shut down.

And

2) Aerosmith releases a new single, “Trannies got a gun.

But investigating further, finding coincidences, and having the police refuse to answer simple questions makes one speculate about all kinds of things.

At 6:42 am Monday  the D.C. Police department tweeted out a picture of nine blocks of downtown Washington, D.C.. announcing they were under lockdown Monday morning.   From the World Bank at 18th and I Streets NW, near the White House, to the Social Security Administration at 21st and M Streets NW, two blocks from Senator Harry Reid’s Ritz Carlton condominium on 23rd Street, much of the K street lobbying corridor was closed to buses, cars, and pedestrians.


Monday there was almost no coverage of just what was involved, other than that it was a mentally ill woman, as both cars and pedestrians were denied the ability to enter the K street lobbying area.  Later in the day rumors were that it was a man with a rifle.

On Tuesday DC’s main gay newspaper, the Washington Blade, reported that nine city blocks were closed for 10 hours for a suicidal male to female transgender with a gun – so both stories, that it was a woman and that it was a man, were  correct.  Prior to that, Monday evening, when Dalke was arrested The Washington Post and other mainstream media – and the D.C. Police report – omitted the fact that the culprit was a transexual.  Local news radio station WTOP headlined its blog post “10-hour D.C. Standoff ends with woman’s arrest.” 

The PC prudery of the mainstream media is odd.  Ms. Dalke’s Google+ profile reads “I am a pansexual transgender woman who is obsessed with history, politics, booze, and erotica with no shame about any of it.”  I first became aware of this when two different conservative Republican lesbian friends told me I should write something on the coverup of the fact that Dalke was a transexual.

I now think there could be more interesting omissions in the story.


  Dalke’s latest social media post:  “Sorry everybody, I’m dead tonight.”


None of this explained why 9 blocks would be closed, making the conspiracy minded wonder if it was something more, in the wake of recent tragedies.  Especially since police and bomb sniffing dogs were reported on local radio to be out in full force Tuesday, on D.C.’s problem ridden subway system, Metro.

Dalke had barricaded herself at 1999 K Street, a new environmentally certified modern glass office building near the Peace Corp, law firms, and the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute.  1999 K houses the Federal Agricultural Mortgage agency, which makes real estate loans to farmers and agribusiness, and the law offices of Mayer-Brown, where Richard Ben-Veniste, a Watergate special prosecuter, who also defended the Clinton’s in Whitewater, and who was also appointed to the 9/11 commission, is a partner. (Ben-Veniste’s examination of Condi Rice revealed that the government had conducted studies considering the possibility of a 9/11 style attack before it occurred).  I called the main switchboard at Mayer Brown and asked for Sophia Dalke, and instead of telling me off the nice British accented switchboard operator looked through her directory and told me Dalke worked for one of their sub tenants and gave me that phone number, whose voice mail answers “Tina Brown.”  Of course, the fact that Dalke works in a building with such unusually well connected people is probably merely a coincidence.

I contacted the public information office of the D.C. Police department Tuesday evening and asked four questions: 1) Is it standard operating procedure to shut down several blocks of downtown for one person barricaded in a building? 2) Were these extreme measures because of concerns about terrorism and the events in Paris?  3) Did Dalke work at 1999 K Street where she was apprehended, for a tenant of the Mayer Brown law firm?  And 4) Was there a reason Dalke’s being transgender was omitted from the police report.  The officer replied to each question with a firm “We have no comment on that at this time.”


I am currently contacting Dalke’s friends, who were on social media urging her to meet them or seek help after her last post, to see what information about her work at 1999 K Street they can supply.


According to Lou Chibarro, the Washington Blade reporter, a perusal of her Dalke’s FaceBook account showed that she opposed D.C. gun control, and thought transgender women experiencing violence on the streets should be armed.  I did not find that entry, but I did see that books she read included libertarian philosopher Rpbert Nozick and novelist Ayn Rand, and Dalke described her politics as “Well… I’d say I was secretly Republican… except that even beyond their onerous and animadversive religious/moralist bullshit where I’m philosophically aligned with smaller government and deregulation, Republicans are shitbag hypocrites who don’t walk the talk in office. So I’m openly Libertarian. Friendly to LGBT, business, and individuals, the best of all worlds.”  On Google+ one of the friends concerned about her is a staffer at the free market R Street Institute.  (I am often thought of us as one of the most connected D.C. libertarians, and I have never heard of Dalke until researching this story.)

According to Chibarro, with whom I compared notes tonight, Dalke has now disappeared from the court system, and has not been presented to a judge (I have not confirmed this yet.). It is possible she is in the system under a different (her original male) name.

For those interested in her legal defense a GoFundMe has been established.


‘Deep Web’ Director Alex Winter on Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht, etc.

17 Aug

The DVD of Deep Web goes on sale September 1st.

You can also request a screening in your community.

Examiner.com will begin to impose more editorial control

8 Aug
Examiner.com just sent out this policy change to its local writers.  Many states and localities (Karl Dickey in south Florida, Garry Reed in Dallas) have “libertarian Examiners.” It’s easy to imagine the climate of Obama censorship created by FCC regulation of the internet and The Department of Justice subpoenas and ga orders against reason magazine and its readers being involved in this.  It will be worth measuring whether politically incorrect Examiners don’t get “whitelisted” and Hillary and Obama supporters do.

Over the past several months, Examiner.com has gradually put more emphasis on content quality. We’ve removed content, coached a variety of writers, and we’ve reduced the number of topics we choose to cover. Now we are really excited to take the next step and increase this important focus with you!
Effective immediately, we are implementing a standard content review process. This process will include revised guidelines that we will enforce for all content published to our website.
How does this affect you?
This new policy will affect each contributor differently. By default, contributors will be set to “review,” meaning we will look at your content prior to your work publishing live to our website. We have scheduled our staff accordingly, and will strive to review each piece of content within 30 minutes, on average.
The Whitelist Team
Many of you have shown us that writing high-quality content is second nature. Those selected for this group will be notified individually and will be a part of our whitelist team. People in this select group will continue to publish directly to the website without review. This is the group we encourage everyone to achieve and we will help guide you there.
For now, new Examiners and those who have not yet demonstrated an ability to meet our guidelines will continue to have their work reviewed until they can be switched to a non-review status. We will be regularly reviewing contributors for inclusion on the whitelist.
Newsworthy
Content marked Newsworthy (see the guidelines here) will continue to be reviewed in the same way it had been previously before being submitted to Google News. People on the whitelist team will see their stories go directly to Google news faster.
Let’s get started!
Please review the latest version of our editorial requirements. They have been simplified, clarified and will be immediately enforced: http://www.examiner.com/support/knowledge/questionid/762
When you finish your article, you will either have a “Publish” button (Whitelist) or a “Submit for review” option.
Content that doesn’t meet the stated guidelines will be sent back for a rework. You will be notified via email when this happens and the reasoning behind the rework will be stated in the review section of the edit article page:
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Once you review the notes and make the necessary updates, you will have the ability to resubmit the article for review. Please do not submit tickets concerning reworks. The reasoning behind the rework will be in the Review Status section. Simply make the edits and resubmit for review as soon as you can.
We strongly believe these changes will improve the overall quality of the site and help make Examiner.com a more credible and respected publication. This will also be a direct reflection on how you are perceived as a writer and we are happy to partner with you on this.
We thank you for your cooperation and hopefully, you share our enthusiasm for the future.
Best,
Examiner.com

Reason magazine and the Gag Order

13 Jul
Here’s the Popehat blogger on the gag order against reason magazine

And here is a letter (google doxxed for your convenience) from Reason Foundation president David Nott on the situation.

Paris Picayune

14 Jan
One of the advantages of having misspent your youth in going to philosophy graduate school and taken all the class work for a philosophy doctorate is that you end up reading all of Aristotle’s minor works.  In one discussion, I believe on types of friendship, Aristotle has a small essay on the picayune or trivial – on a kind of obsessive compulsive vice where one takes into account things not relevant in a given context (e.g. who had the more expensive appetizer at lunch between two true friends).  Likewise this week many people, mainly leftists (though some Moslem or Catholic theocrats have joined in), wish to discuss the many European state limitations on free speech, as if it compared in some way to cold blooded murder of journalists or artists.  Here is one such, by Jeremy Scahill, whose website The Intercept we have in our blog roll in our sidebar, and who speaks at Students for Liberty events.  And his remarks on hypocrisy are all true.  But does censoring journalists reporting on surveillance or even jailing or lashing journalists equal killing and calling for more killing of anyone who criticizes or spoofs a totalitarian religion or ideology.  I think the perfect is being made an enemy of the not good enough, in a way that furthers the evil.

Meanwhile, fascists on the left, for example MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell are already asking what is so bad about attacking Charlie Hebdo and other publications that criticize Islam, when there are so many laws protecting Europeans from hearing any speech that might offend them.

“Circus of Hypocrisy”: Jeremy Scahill on How World Leaders at Paris March Oppose Press 
Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of the TheIntercept.org, where his most recent article is “Al Qaeda Source: AQAP Directed Paris Attack.” His latest book, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, is out in paperback. His film Dirty Wars was nominated for an Academy Award. He is also the author of the best-selling book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army

AMY GOODMAN: An estimated 3.7 million people rallied across France Sunday in response to the Charlie Hebdo shootings and ensuing attacks that left 17 people dead. On Sunday, more than 40 world leaders traveled to Paris for the demonstration. At the Place de la République, demonstrators wearing Charlie Hebdo headbands waved French flags, and some sang “La Marseillaise,” the national anthem. Several mounted the Statue of the Republic, a symbol of the French Revolution, and hoisted up an inflated pencil to honor the killed Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. Here are some of the voices from the streets of France on Sunday.

DEMONSTRATORS: [singing] …dans les campagnes
mugir ces féroces soldats?
Aux armes, citoyens.

DEMONSTRATOR 1: [translated] We are free people in France, where everyone can live with one another. And it is important to voice and show it.

DEMONSTRATOR 2: [translated] Beyond Charlie, it is about freedom of speech, secularism, all the values that make up France that have been rattled. But the fact of gathering together, to see all these people, gives back a lot of hope.

DEMONSTRATOR 3: [translated] I sympathize with the people who have lost their loved ones. I would like to tell French people not to get confused, that at no time, in not a single book related to religion, whether it be the Qur’an, the Bible or the Torah, is it asked to kill one’s fellow man or woman.

DEMONSTRATOR 4: [translated] Everybody is concerned, not only in France. It’s all the people. The entire planet Earth is concerned. That means we’re united. All countries are free, but we are here to prove that France is a welcoming country and that we are really free to express our joy whenever we want.

AMY GOODMAN: Voices from Sunday’s demonstration in France, one of the largest protests in the nation’s history. Again, 3.7 million people marched across France.
The march took place two days after the gunmen who attacked Charlie Hebdo, Chérif and Said Kouachi, were killed by police after a siege at a printing works plant following a three-day manhunt. Minutes after the print shop assault, police broke a second siege at a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris. Four hostages died there along with the gunman, Amedy Coulibaly. France has announced it will deploy 10,000 soldiers on home soil and post almost 5,000 extra police officers to protect Jewish sites. On Friday, Chérif Kouachi said he received financing by the Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. He made the assertion to BFMTV before his death.

CHÉRIF KOUACHI: [translated] I’ll tell you only that we were defenders of the Prophet Muhammad and that I was sent, me, Chérif Kouachi, by al-Qaeda of Yemen. I went over there, and it was Anwar al-Awlaki who financed me. Rest in peace.

AMY GOODMAN: Reuters is reporting both brothers who carried out the attack against Charlie Hebdo traveled to Yemen in 2011 and had weapons training in the deserts of Marib, an al-Qaeda stronghold. Meanwhile, a source within al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has provided The Intercept with a full statement claiming responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attack. The statement reads in part, quote, “The leadership of #AQAP directed the operation, and they have chosen their target carefully as a revenge for the honor of Prophet …The target was in France in particular because of its obvious role in the war on Islam and oppressed nations,” unquote. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula members have taken to social media and discussion boards to praise the attacks.
Well, for more, we’re joined by the article’s author, Jeremy Scahill. He is co-founder of the TheIntercept.org, where his new article is “Al Qaeda Source: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula Directed Paris Attack.” His latest book, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, it’s now out in paperback. His film Dirty Wars was nominated for an Academy Award. He’s also author of the best-selling book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.
Jeremy, welcome back to Democracy Now!
JEREMY SCAHILL: Thanks, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about this latest news out of France.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, well, I mean, first of all, you know, what we saw yesterday on display, on the one hand, was very heartening, to see so many people come into the streets. And, you know, one of the core issues of press freedom, if this is a moment where the whole world is saying we have to have a free press, and that no matter how controversial or hateful some of the speech is or may be interpreted in some communities, that we judge a free press by how we treat the journalists or the stories that we don’t like or that we’re offended by.
But on the other hand, this is sort of a circus of hypocrisy when it comes to all of those world leaders who were marching at the front of it. I mean, every single one of those heads of state or representatives of governments there have waged their own wars against journalists. You know, David Cameron ordered The Guardian to smash with a hammer the hard drives that stored the files of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Blasphemy is considered a crime in Ireland. You had multiple African and Arab leaders whose own countries right now have scores of journalists in prison. Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in Israel has targeted for killing numerous journalists who have reported on the Palestinian side, have kidnapped, abducted, jailed journalists. You know, there’s this controversy right now: Why didn’t President Obama go, or why didn’t Joe Biden go? You know, Eric Holder was there already and was representing the United States.
I think that we should remember—and I was saying this on Twitter over the weekend—that Yemen should have sent the Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye as their representative. He, of course, was in prison for years on the direct orders of President Obama for having reported on secret U.S. strikes in Yemen that killed scores of civilians. Or Sudan should have sent Sami al-Hajj, the Al Jazeera cameraman who was held for six years without charge in Guantánamo and repeatedly interrogated by U.S. operatives who were intent on proving that Al Jazeera had some sort of a link to al-Qaeda. So, you know, while there is much to take heart in, in terms of this huge outpouring of support for freedom of the press, hypocrisy was on full display in the streets of Paris when it came to the world leaders.

Do American universities teach fascism?

16 Nov
American academia is silencing speech around the country with so called hate speech codes.

But apparently cursing at libertarians and habitually tearing down their campaign signs is a regular activity of campus “progressives” according to this American University graduate student.