Posts Tagged ‘Freedom of Thought’

The Young Turks on American Conservatives Setting Up Black List of Liberal Professors

December 6, 2016

Another attack on freedom of thought and speech in America, the Land of the Free. Yesterday I put up a piece about two articles from Counterpunch, discussing Obama’s failure to repeal the gross infringements of the US Constitution he inherited from his Republican predecessors, his plans to set up some kind of official body to tell Americans what sources they should believe on the internet, and an outrageous article in the Washington Post smearing dissenting journalists as treacherous purveyors of Moscow propaganda. The latter article appears to have come from the corporatist wing of the Democrat party trying to find scapegoats for Hillary Clinton’s failure to win against Trump, and the establishment media to clamp down on its liberal, new media rivals.

Now it seems the Republicans are also trying to get in on the act. This time it they’re coming for university and college professors. In this snippet from The Young Turks, the hosts John Iadarola and Ana Kasparian discuss a Conservative student organisation that has set up a website, Professor Watch List, which aims to expose 200 or so university lecturers, who deliberately target and victimise Conservative students. They claim that they are only publishing the identities of professors, who have already been in the news. However, analysis of their sources shows that these are fake news sites. They pretend to be by students, but in fact are by ‘very old Republican guys’. Iadarola and Kasparian state that they would have no problem with the website, if it honestly did what it claimed to do – protect students, who are being targeted for their political beliefs by their lecturers. But it’s not. It’s a partisan attempt to prevent lecturers presenting facts and arguments that Conservatives find uncomfortable, and which could lead to the lecturers themselves being disciplined or even fired.

Conservative students are also demonstrating against ‘safe spaces’ on campus. This includes setting up fake ‘safe space’ events, such as bake sales, and then waiting to see who turns up. They then lay out juice boxes, crayons and other children’s items to make the point that the people, who support ‘safe spaces’ are childish, in their opinion. The two presenters make the point that they are doing so by acting as children themselves. Ana Kasparian is particularly annoyed about this. She states she does not like safe spaces, as she only really learned things at college when her beliefs were being challenged. This is part of the experience of higher education. Having your beliefs challenged forces you to present evidence to defend them, or having to admit that you’re wrong if you can’t. She states clearly that what she believes is a bigger threat to academia isn’t some Conservative students feeling uncomfortable because of what is being taught by a Chicano studies professor, but the Koch brothers funding scientific laboratories in American universities so that they’ll push out spurious ‘research’ denying climate change. The Koch brother are multibillionaire oil magnates, and they have been responsible for getting meteorologists sacks, who have spoken out about climate change. Due to their influence independent climate science laboratories have been closed down, and replaced with institutions, funded by the Kochs, which have given them the propaganda about the non-existence of climate change they want.

John Iadarola also makes the point that the definition of ‘safe space’ is so wide, that it’s practically meaningless. It can mean something like a Black union, which doesn’t want White Supremacists coming in and distributing Nazi literature. Or it could mean a classroom, where the discussion of a particularly controversial topic is not permitted. They also make the point that refusing to allow a particular individual to speak on campus, because they’ve charged too high a fee, is not censorship. It’s a perfectly reasonable attitude. It only becomes censorship if the speaker is turned down, despite requesting a reasonable fee.

The two also make the point that no political ideology should have the monopoly on education. Academic freedom is too important for this. What is needed is more dialogue, as so far the differences in political opinion have become extremely polarised and people are no longer speaking to each other. There needs to be more dialogue, and integration.

This is an immensely important issue, as academic freedom is one of the cornerstones of democracy, as is preserving students’ own freedom of thought by protecting them against indoctrination. The Blair government passed legislation intended to prevent it in schools. Part of this stipulates that if a teacher is asked a question about a particular controversial issue in religion or politics, they may give an answer provided that they make it clear that it is just their personal belief. Obviously matters become far more complicated at the level of tertiary education as the discussion of the topics being taught is much deeper, and the conclusions drawn from the facts may be more subjective. But it also demands that students also act as adults, and are able to accept and deal with material that contradicts their own person viewpoints. Kasparian has said in a previous broadcast that she came from a very Conservative background, and only became a liberal when she was exposed to left-wing views and opinions at College. She’s also a college professor herself, and so this issue directly affects her.

Many people, who’ve been through college or uni, have had lecturers with very distinct academic views, both of the left and right. That should not prevent them from holding their jobs, provided they don’t penalise students simply for holding different opinions. This Professor Watch List isn’t about protecting students from indoctrination, however. It really does appear to be an attempt by Conservatives to use claims of indoctrination to close down contrary viewpoints. They aren’t really against indoctrination. They’re just outraged that students aren’t being indoctrinated with Conservatism.

I haven’t heard of any similar movement to this having appeared in Britain. Yet. But as the Tories have launched attacks on the way history is taught, as Conservative MPs like Michael Gove decided that the teaching of the First World War in schools wasn’t sufficiently patriotic. In fact, he went on a rant comparing it to Blackadder. I think the Union of Conservative Students has been closed down and merged with the Young Conservatives to form Conservative Future. But compiling a list of left-wing university tutors certainly seems like one of the stunts they would have done. And the National Front or BNP in the 1980s did encourage school pupils to send them the names of teachers, who were supposedly indoctrinating children with Communism, so they could beat them up. It also reminds very much of the way real totalitarian regimes, from Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China and Nazi Germany, have encouraged children to betray their parents and other adults, including teachers.

Freedom of thought is under attack from the corporatist Democrats and the Nationalist Republicans. This is a very dangerous time, and these trends need to be defeated and reversed, if our societies are to remain genuinely free.

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Barack Obama and the Corporatist Democrats Attack Free Speech

December 5, 2016

It’s very clear that in the next few years under Trump, the treasured freedoms enshrined in the US Constitution and the civil rights women and people of colour have fought so hard for are going to come under sustained attack. In many ways, Trump will just be continuing the rise of an exclusive nationalism and an all-pervasive surveillance state that began under George Dubya as he launched his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Unfortunately, it seems that the corporatist wing of the Democrat party, led by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, also wants to close down Americans’ freedom of speech and information by singling out dissenting journalists, news organisations and demanding a greater role for the state in telling you what information you should believe on the Web.

There were a couple of very important articles about threat to freedom of thought in last weekend’s Counterpunch. This followed an article on Thanksgiving by Craig Timberg in the Washington Post that claimed, on the authority of a group of media researchers, Propornot, that there were about 200 or so journalists, magazines, websites and organisations disseminating fake news intended to serve the Russians’ nefarious interests. Renee Parsons in her article discusses how the 200 websites identified by Timberg as outlets for Russian propaganda don’t actually show any evidence that they are acting on false information provided by Russian state media outlets like RT or Sputnik. And a careful reading of Timberg’s article also shows that, actually, RT and Sputnik haven’t invented any stories either. What they have done instead is identify items that the rest of the media ignored or paid little attention to, and made them more prominent. Or, to put it another way, they scooped the rest of the media.

As for Propornot itself, the organisation’s website states that it is “Your Friendly Neighborhood Propaganda Identification Service, Since 2016!” And the only person identified with it is the satirist and comedian Samantha Bee, who is the anchor on the news comedy show Full Frontal. Propornot are frightening, as they call on Barack Obama and Congress to investigate how the Russians manipulated information sources to upset the American political process. Which shows that it’s a body of Clintonian Democrats desperately trying to find suitable media scapegoats with the new, anti-Russian McCarthyism for her defeat by Donald Trump.

The site is even more malign, in that it appeals to the American public to identify not only those individuals and organisers echoing Russian propaganda, but also ‘sympathisers’. She states

If there is any doubt whether the Timberg article and Propornot itself is a partisan effort, the YYY implication is that anyone “echoing a Russian propaganda line” such as those who speak “how wonderful, powerful, innocent and righteous Russia and Russia’s friends are: Putin, Donald Trump, al-Bashar Assad, Syria, Iran, China, radical political parties” will be considered tools of Russia as compared with those who speak “how terrible, weak, aggressive, and corrupt the opponents of Russia are: the US, Obama, HRC, the EU, Angela Merkel, NATO, Ukraine, Jewish people, US allies, MSM and Democrats” will be considered enemies of the State. Anyone with such information is encouraged to ‘come tell us at Propornot about it.”

This came nearly two months after Obama made a speech to a political organisation about the internet, in which he made it clear that he wanted to set up some kind of official body to manage what they trust on the Web. She states

During a visit to the White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh on October 13th, the President, known for his smooth, glib reassurances so successful at placating the public, suggested that “we are going to have to rebuild within this wild-wild-west-of-information flow some sort of curating function that people agree to” and that “democracy requires citizens to be able to sift through lies and distortions” and further that “those that we have to discard, because they just don’t have any basis in anything that’s actually happening in the world.” The President continued that “there has to be some sort of way in which we can sort through information that passes some basic truthiness tests.”

The President’s statement does not adequately capture what democracy requires of its citizens and reads more like what George Orwell epitomized as ‘political speech’ deliberately meant to confuse and demean citizen awareness. What Obama failed to acknowledge is that every American has a right, an obligation as an engaged citizen to determine for themselves what is a lie, distortion or truth; that ‘fake news’ is in the eye of the beholder and what a citizen believes and what they do not believe is their business and requires no justification to the government or anyone else. Most importantly, it was the President’s obligation to say that with a tremendous divergence of opinion on the www, some of it wacky, some of it conspiratorial, some of it incredibly incisive and intelligent and important – all of it is protected by the First Amendment.

To briefly parse the President’s words, most of which are painfully obvious,

suggestions of a “curating function” as in some official government entity assigned for the purpose of “protecting” (“ added) the public interest and “some sort of way…sort through information that passes some truthiness test” are presented in the President’s usual folksy, innocuous dialectic used to serve the public pablum while a further shredding of their Constitutional rights slips by under their nose.

She states that this is a further attack on American’s Constitutional freedoms by Obama. Despite his election promises, Obama has not ended surveillance without warrant, restored habeas corpus and the prohibition against detention without trial, torture, and excessive secrecy of government branches. Moreover, the Constitution also explicitly forbids presidents from starting wars without the approval of Congress. This has also been violated by successive administrations, and Obama hasn’t restored this Constitutional provision either.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/02/obama-and-propornot/

Further information on Timberg and his witch-hunt is provided in the same issue by Pam and Russ Martens. They discuss the possible reasons for this article, including that discussed by Parsons, and first put forward by Max Blumenthal of AlterNet, that it’s the Democrats trying to blame the Russians for Killary losing the election. Other theories are that the mainstream media is also trying to ensure its survival in the age of the internet and alternative media by smearing its new media competitors. Glen Ford, the editor of the Black Agenda Report, one of the organisations smeared as a Russian propaganda outlet, has suggested that the corporatist Democrats are very close to Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post, and that had Hillary won the election, she would also have launched a similar attack on alternative news sources on the Net. The Martens also state that during his career, Timberg was the National Security deputy editor for the Washington Post, before taking up his current position as the paper’s technology editor. He has also made speeches about the facial recognition technology used for law enforcement, and interviewed the executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, on the information revealed on the NSA’s programme of mass surveillance. This latter interview was done at the Cato Institute, a right-wing think tank, that was secretly part-owned for several decades by the Koch brothers.

The Martens themselves believe that this latest McCarthyite smear is an attack on the news organisations that ran stories from the WikiLeaks materials exposing the massive corporate corruption in the Democrat party. Both the Washington Post and New York Times did report that information from WikiLeaks revealed that a Citigroup executive, had made the decisions on who Obama should hire as key personnel during his first term. Citigroup was one of the massive banks that had to be bailed out during the 2008 crash. And both the Washington Post and New York Times editorial boards supported Killary’s presidential campaign.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/02/timbergs-tale-washington-post-reporter-spreads-blacklist-of-independent-journalist-sites/

Fortunately, Timberg’s article has met with widespread derision and ridicule, with many of the commenters on the online version of the article criticising it as a piece of shoddy, McCarthyite journalism. Regardless of the precise motives for the attack – and the various theories put forward above aren’t mutually exclusive – it’s clear that the Clintonite wing of the Democrats are just as keen as the Republicans to subvert the Constitution for their own backers in big business and the surveillance state. Obama and Clinton have shown that they are determined to maintain the infringements on the Constitution introduced by George Dubya, and, indeed, expand them to smear their own enemies.

And unfortunately, this mindset appears to be spreading to the Blairites over here. Mike last week reported that Tom Watson had made a rant, attacking websites producing false information. By which he meant the pro-Corbyn site, The Canary. Tony Blair modelled New Labour on Bill Clinton’s New Democrats. Watson’s comments seem to show that the Blairites in the Labour party also want to crack down on British websites that don’t follow the required New Labour line. Just as Blair himself used to organise ‘negative briefings’ against ministers, who were deemed ‘off-message’.

If America and Britain are to have healthy, functioning democracies, where the people genuinely have power and not a narrow clique of politicos acting for the benefit of the corporate elite, it will mean purging the Democrats in the US of the Clintonites, and the Blairites in the Labour party over here, as well as defeating the Republicans and Conservatives.

Vox Political Goes to Tribunal for Freedom of Information 23rd April

March 29, 2014

Confrontation: Let's hope the FoI tribunal ends as well for Vox Political as his encounter with the dragon did for St George. [Image: bradfordschools.net]

Yesterday, Mike announced that he finally had a date for the tribunal, which will adjudicate on his appeal against the decision of the DWP and the Information Commissioner to refuse to release to him the figures for the people who died whilst claiming ESA or Incapacity Benefit in 2012. Mikes states that

The aim is to find out how many people died while going through the claim process, which is extremely stressful for people who are – by definition – ill or disabled; and also to find out how many have died after being put in the work-related activity group of Employment and Support Allowance claimants, as these are people who should be well enough to work within a year of their claim starting.

The great Soviet dissident, Andrei Sakharov, made a ringing declaration of the immense importance of freedom of information, as well as speech, for a truly democratic society. I’ve already blogged on this on Sunday, but given the immense importance of this issue, Sakharov’s words still bear repeating.

Intellectual freedom is essential to human society – freedom to obtain and distribute information, freedom for open-minded and unfearing debate, and freedom from pressure by officialdom and prejudices. Such as trinity of freedom of thought is the only guarantee against an infection of people by mass myths, which, in the hands of treacherous hypocrites and demogogues, can be transformed into bloody dictatorship. Freedom of thought is the only guarantee of the feasibility of a scientific democratic approach to politics, economy and culture.

But freedom of thought is under a triple threat in modern society – from the deliberate opium of mass culture, from cowardly, egotistic, and philistine ideologies, and from the ossified dogmatism of a bureaucratic oligarchy and its favourite weapon, ideological censorship. Therefore, freedom of thought requires the defence of all thinking and honest people. This is a mission not only for the intelligentsia but for all strata of society, particularly its most active and organized stratum, the working class. The world-wide dangers of war, famine, cults of personality, and bureaucracy – these are perils for all mankind.

He then goes to state that a true Freedom of Information law must allow for the active encouragement of examination and investigation:

A law on press and information must be drafted, widely discussed, and adopted, with the aim not only of ending irresponsible and irrational censorship, but also of encouraging self-study in our society, fearless discussion, and the search for truth. The law must provide for the material resources of freedom of thought.

E. Salisbury, ed., Sakharov Speaks (New York: Knopf 1974), in Robert V. Daniels, A Documentary History of Communism Vol 1. Communism in Russia (London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd. 1985), 372,373.

Sakharov was writing in the very repressive conditions of the former Soviet Union. Nevertheless, his description of the immense importance of freedom of thought and information is relevant everywhere. I hope that the Tribunal similarly believes in the absolute importance of freedom of information, and upholds Mike’s appeal.