Censorship “For The Greater Good” Loses A Round In Massachusetts

Good.

In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts (that’s like the state Supreme Court in a normal state) held that free speech rights were wrongly infringed upon by a lower court’s non-disparagement order forbidding the husband or wife from posting about their divorce on Facebook and other social media sites until their child turned 14. The child at issue was a toddler when the ruling was handed down.

It is disturbing to me that judges lack sufficiently Americanized ethics alarms to squelch the temptation to issue rulings like the one overturned.  Sure, kids are harmed by their parents saying terrible things about each other, but there is nothing special about such communications on social  media. Parents harm their kids by screaming at each other in the kitchen. That’s life.

“We conclude that the nondisparagement orders at issue here operate as an impermissible prior restraint on speech,” the Supreme Judicial Court ruled. Though the  judge “put careful thought into his orders in an effort to protect a child caught in the middle of a legal dispute who was unable to advocate for himself… there was no showing of an exceptional circumstance that would justify the imposition of a prior restraint, the nondisparagement orders issued here are unconstitutional.”

 Two Norfolk Probate and Family Court judges issued the original bans when the ugly divorce between Ronnie Shak and his former wife, Masha  Shak, who shared one son born in 2017, spread to social media.
Continue reading

The Knight-Gallup Freedom Of Speech Survey

A survey just released by the Knight Foundation and Gallup shows that More than 75% of the college students surveyed want “safe spaces” on  campuses that are free of “threatening actions, ideas, or conversations.” However, a majority of the same students support President Trump’s threat to withhold taxpayer dollars from universities that restrict speech.

Though 97% of college students believe that free speech is “an essential pillar of American democracy”, a  majority of students support policies to restrict of speech on campus. 78% of students support “safe spaces” where threatening ideas and conversations would be barred. 80%  favor the establishment of a “free-speech zone” where pre-approved protests and the distribution of literature are permitted. Continue reading

“1,825 Words You Can Never Say On Facebook”

This is ominous: it’s the second time this month that I’ve had good reason to quote George. Did the Democrats already take over?

In 1972, the late George Carlin debuted his famous routine called “ “The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” The words were: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits, all of which you can hear on television today. (Who says life doesn’t keep getting better? ) But George would be fine: I have it on good authority that in Stand-Up Heaven, where Henny Youngman has St. Peter’s job, George is knocking celestial audiences dead (metaphorically, of course,) with his new monologue, “1,825 Words You Can Never Say On Facebook.”

It’s hilarious, if a little long.

The Foundation For Individual Rights In Education has released a report based on its investigation of how public universities—that’s the government, remember—engage in surreptitious censorship of student expression.  Censorship of student expression is illegal, but The FIRE exists because so many universities find that concept too complex to grasp.

Implicated in the results: Facebook, which provides  the tools for censorship, including its automated content filters. These allow state institutions to automatically “hide” users’ comments if they contain words included on Facebook’s undisclosed list of offensive words, or a government entity’s customized list of prohibited words. The filters allow  public universities to quietly remove critical Facebook posts, restricting open campus and public discourse.

The  FIRE surveyed over 200 public universities and colleges across 47 states and the District of Columbia. It found that fully half of the surveyed institutions  use Facebook’s “strong” profanity filter, while nearly a third use the “medium” filter. That means  about 77% of surveyed institutions use an undiclosed  blacklist of prohibited words. Nearly a third of the universities surveyed (59, or 30.3%) created a custom blacklist, collectively censoring 1,825  words and phrases in order to, among other unconstitutional objectives, “block animal rights activists’ criticism of food vendors,” suppress “debate over the fate of  a campus Confederate monument,” and stifle debate over controversial faculty, politicians, and sports teams.

Public universities can and do manipulate Facebook comments to distort the  public discourse. Wright State University, FIRE tells us, deleted comments supporting a faculty strike from its Facebook page,  confining debate over the action to a rigged community forum that appeared supportive of the university’s administration while being critical of striking faculty.

Yup, that’s how fascism works!

 Facebook doesn’t alert a user when their post has been removed, or tell the public that comments have been censored, so this system is perfect for mind and opinion molding. FIRE says,

These automated methods of censorship are not only contrary to a commitment to freedom of expression, but also provide government actors with tools that—in light of recent federal court rulings concerning President Trump’s Twitter feed—violate the government actors’ legal obligations under the First Amendment.

Below are the words that Facebook helps universities control speech and thought by censoring. Some will be relieved to know that “retard” is on it. Then again, so is “poor”…

Everything About This Story Is Discouraging: The Carrollton Video [Corrected]

Chapter I: In Georgia, two Carrollton High School  seniors made a truly cretinous video. Filmed in a bathroom, the male and female students students pretend to be doing a   cooking show as they pour cups of water into the sink.

Showing their faces in the mirror, she announces, “Hey, today we’re making…”as the  camera aims at the sink where there’s a piece of notebook paper with “niggers” written on it. The male student intones the word. The male student lifts cups of water and pours each one into the sink, over the paper. Under each cup is a piece of paper with the name of an “ingredient” written on it, which the young woman reads.

“First we have ‘black,'” she says. He then pours the cup of water into the sink over the paper with the slur. “Next we have, ‘Don’t have a dad!'” Other ingredients include “eating watermelon and fried chicken” and “rob people.”

“Specifically whites,” guy adds as he refills the “robs people” cup over and over using the sink tap.  One cup labeled “make good choices” is empty. The couple  feign surprise over the cup having nothing in it.

Once their opus was complete, the couple was so proud that they posted it online.

Why this is discouraging: In what alternate universe would anyone from the age of seven up think something like that would be acceptable to publicize? What kind of polluted culture is being fostered in Carollton? What are they teaching in the schools?

Even passing on that, how could anyone be so stupid as to think posting an overly racist video wouldn’t have serious consequences? Again, who is teaching critical thinking in that community? What have the parents been doing for 17 years, getting stoned? Continue reading

No, The President Isn’t A Dictator, But Given The Opportunity, These Elected Officials Might Be

There are many ironies and contradictions in the various government reactions to the Wuhan virus, some quite yummy, like the municipalities that had banned plastic bags that are now forced to ban the re-usable kind, and demand the use of the plastic once again. Some day, when this is all over, we can sit around and laugh about it all.

This development, however, is not funny: a frightening number of governors, mayors and police officers have demonstrated how much of our democracy is currently entrusted to nascent totalitarians. I know, I know: to protect the public in a unique crisis, extraordinary measures must be taken, and because so many in our democracy don’t really possess the intelligence and sense of social responsibility that the Founders, in their idealistic fervor, decided to pretend they had (much less the common sense of the average meerkat), sometimes those measures must be accompanied by the force of law. However, because it is a democracy and one that begins with wariness of governments infringing on personal liberties, and will end with our governments being supported when they decided those liberties can be ignored on a whim and a hunch, the recent gusto with which elected officials and their police forces have felt justified in crushing those liberties are warnings that responsible citizens must not let go unpunished. I wrote about one example here, regarding Vermont’s governor’s move to stop the big box stores from selling items Maple Syrup big Brother considers “non-essential.” There are more.

Ethics Alarms already covered the father taken away in handcuffs for playing T-ball on on otherwise empty field with his wife and 6-year-old child, but the Philadephia police pulling  people off  buses for not wearing masks, or the aspiring fascist officer  who tried to  chase down single jogger on an empty beach initially escaped my attention. There are so many examples, you see. Continue reading

KABOOM! How Does Someone This Ignorant Of The Law Rise To This Level Of Law Enforcement?

Oh, fine. I get up, still groggy, from a perfectly lovely nap, my defenses are down, I’m still savoring that dream where Mookie Betts, Chester A. Arthur and Danny Kaye drop by with some macaroons, and what is the first thing I read?

This–and

KA-BOOM!

There goes my head, all over my office and this transcript I have to read in ten minute increments because it’s so boring. Oh, thank you, thank you so much, City of Seattle and your  ridiculous Chief of Police, Carmen Best! Continue reading

From The Trump Campaign, Not Quite A Frivolous Lawsuit, But An Unethical One

Is it possible that my ol’ friend Walt is working for the Trump campaign now? Nah, can’t be. But the logic behind the Trump campaign’s defamation lawsuit against CNN has a familiar ring: like the protracted  defamation suit against me by an aggrieved (and banned) Ethics Alarms commenter, the Trump campaign is claiming that opinion in the news media constitutes defamation, and it does not, must not and cannot. Writes Professor Turley in part: Continue reading

Noonish Ethics Round-Up, 2/19/2020: That Other Day That Will Live In Infamy…

Hi!

1. On this day in 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, empowering the Army to issue orders emptying parts of California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona of immigrants from Japan, who were precluded from U.S. citizenship by law, and nisei, their children, who were U.S. citizens by birth. After the order, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court including future liberal icon William O. Douglas, the Japanese-Americans  were first warehoused at “assembly centers,” which could be racetrack barns or on fairgrounds, then shipped to ten detendtion camps in Western states and Arkansas. Armed guards and barbed wire, plus morning roll call were part of the degrading and punitive experience.

It is fair to say this treatment was substantially rooted in racism, for there was no mass incarceration of U.S. residents with ties to Germany or Italy. Once the U.S. appeared to be on the way to victory along with its Allies in December 1944, the Executive Order was  rescinded. By then the Army was enlisting Japanese American soldiers to fight in Africa and Europe. President Harry Truman told the all Japanese-America 442nd Regimental Combat Team: “You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice—and you have won.”

California is now preparing to formally apologize to the families of those interned.State Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) introduced a resolution that will formally apologize for California’s “failure to support and defend the civil rights” of Japanese Americans during that period,” and it is expected to pass today.

It’s naked grandstanding and virtue signaling, of course. The federal government apologized for the unconstitutional imprisonment and granted financial redress to survivors with the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, and the Supreme Court overruled its decision  upholding internment in 2018. Continue reading

Saturday Ethics Warm-Up, 2/15/20: Dresden, Bloomberg, Snopes, Climate Change, And “The Chalkening”

Good Morning…

1. Dresden bombing ethics. February 13-15, 1945 witnessed the Allied firebombing of Dresden, Germany, with the resulting deaths of between 22,000 and 135,000 civilians. depending on whose propaganda you choose to believe. Regardless of the number, the destruction of the German cultural center and questionable military target so late in the war—after its loss in the Battle of the Bulge, Germany’s defeat was just a matter of time—was instantly controversial, and is still intensely debated today.

The attack, which dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city, destroyed more than 1,600 acres. By all accounts, the human toll was horrific. Lothar Metzger, a survivor, wrote,

We saw terrible things: cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children, pieces of arms and legs, dead people, whole families burnt to death, burning people ran to and fro, burnt coaches filled with civilian refugees, dead rescuers and soldiers, many were calling and looking for their children and families, and fire everywhere, everywhere fire, and all the time the hot wind of the firestorm threw people back into the burning houses they were trying to escape from.

Was the firebombing of Dresden a war crime?  If the Allies had lost the war, it would have become a war crime. As we have discussed here before, the concept of war crimes is confounding and hypocritical at best. If the attacks were deemed essential to ending the war as soon as possible, then they were ethically defensible.

Much of the debate over the years has focused on whether the bombing was terrorism. Of course it was, as were the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and General Sherman’s March to the Sea. Terror is a legitimate weapon in warfare, when the objective is to destroy the enemy’s will to fight. Attacks on civilians for revenge and to inflict gratuitous death and pain for no legitimate strategic purpose are unethical . The distinction is usually in the eye of the beholder.

Wikipedia has an unusually thorough article on the Dresden attack, and I found this paper interesting as well. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/29/2020: Dogs, Mike Bloomberg, Joe Biden, D.C., Jimmy Kimmel, Threatening Deplorables And Restricting Rights

Well, dogs are good, anyway…

1. Stop making  dogs defend Mike Bloomberg!…Is there anything too trivial that people won’t use to attack politicians? A CBS News video began circulating online yesterday afternoon showing Michael Bloomberg shaking hands with a man in Burlington, Vermont, then taking his dog’s upper jaw  in his hand and “shaking” the dog’s  snout  He then scratched the dog’s ears. The social media mob called him a dog abuser.

Morons. That’s a move that most dogs enjoy, as well as someone grasping their whole muzzle. It shows Bloomberg is comfortable with and knowledgeable about dogs. I used to do both moves with our 165 pound English Mastiff, and our Jack Russells.

2.  I know this is of interest to almost nobody who isn’t a lawyer, but trust me, it’s a big deal. The District of Columbia has long been the only U.S. jurisdiction that allows law firms to have non-lawyer partners, a structure prevented everywhere else by the general prohibition on lawyers sharing their fees with non-lawyers. When D.C. adopted its revolutionary approach, it assumed that the states would soon follow, with the American Bar Association’s assent. Because that hasn’t happened, a state-licensed lawyer with a D.C. license participating in a legal firm in D.C. could technically be found to  be violating that state’s ethics rules , though the District has negotiated a truce in that potential controversy.

Meanwhile, those special law firms with non-lawyer members are proliferating like legal rabbits. Now  a Jan. 23 press release tells the world that the District of Columbia Bar is taking comments regarding proposed changes to its ethics rules that could allow external ownership of law firms, as well as blended businesses in which lawyers and non-lawyers provide both legal and nonlegal services, like accounting. Or massages–who knows? Right now, law firms by definition can only practice law.

Perhaps even more significantly, California, Utah and Arizona are also studying changes that would relax ethics rules barring non-lawyers from holding a financial interest in law firms. Continue reading