It’s bound to get lost amidst President Obama’s State of the Union address, and all the silliness he spewed forth earlier this week, however in my home state of Georgia, there’s something brewing that could be just as bad as any Washington power play.
You see, Georgia Representative Earnest Smith seems offended that a blogger took his face and photoshopped it onto the body of a male porn star. So offended, in fact, that he wants to outlaw the practice.
Rep. Earnest Smith pointed, as proof of the problem, to a picture of his head that was recently edited onto a pornstar’s body. That image was created by a blogger who used the image to mock Smith.
The Augusta-based legislator said he was not worried the bill would step on First Amendment rights.
“Everyone has a right to privacy,” he told FoxNews.com. “No one has a right to make fun of anyone. It’s not a First Amendment right.”
Now, Smith made this proposal a year ago regarding a cyber-bullying case, but his grasp on the constitution - and apparently, reality - have slipped even more. You see, Smith is talking about limiting a timeless form of speech. No, photoshop isn’t timeless, but satire is.
Satirical art has a time honored place in political discourse. In face, the Supreme Court has upheld satire as protected speech, regardless of what Smith may choose to argue. Frankly, sticking his mug on a porn star’s body couldn’t be anything other than satire…or a calculated insult to the porn star.
Three rings for the broadcast-kings filling the sky,
Seven for the cable-lords in their head-end halls,
Nine for the telco-men doomed to die,
One for the White House to make its calls
On Capitol Hill where the powers lie,
One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them,
One ring to bring them all and without the Court bind them,
On Capitol Hill where the powers lie.
Myths resonate because they illustrate existential truths. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythical tale, the Lord of the Rings, the evil Lord Sauron imbued an otherwise very ordinary ring – the “One Ring”– with an extraordinary power: It could influence thought. When Sauron wore the One Ring, he could control the lords of the free peoples of Middle Earth through lesser “rings of power” he helped create. The extraordinary power of the One Ring was also its weakness: It eventually corrupted all who wore it, even those with good intentions. This duality is the central truth in Tolkien’s tale.
It is also central to current debates about freedom of expression and the Internet.
Google has taken some heat lately over censorship issues. No doubt we’ve all heard by now of the famous “The Innocence of Muslims” video on YouTube that, whether it did or did not cause attacks on our embassies, has been a center of controversy.
It stirs up debate on censorship, so I wanted to offer some thoughts on censorship.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
That’s the whole First Amendment, but if you break it down to an even simpler form…
Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.
That, in a nutshell, is how I feel about censorship. But this isn’t about Congress. This whole issue is about Google and whether or not Google should censor the opinions of its users.
I love censorship. I censor things all the time. If you decide to get obnoxious in comments on this blog, I’ll censor you. I try not to, because I want to encourage debate, but if your comments take away from the debate, yeah, I’ll censor you.
I censor things in my home as well. I censor what TV shows my kids see. I use parental control software to censor what Internet content is available.
Censoring content, whether on my web site or in my home, is my right and my responsibility. The same applies to Google. If something posted to a Google property is inappropriate, Google has a right and a responsibility to censor the content.
I’m going to say something that is highly controversial amongst libertarians. It may even lead me to be cast out (particularly among one “part” of the movement). If that is the case, then so be it. It is my suggestion to the United States government to deal with the rash of attacks on our diplomatic missions throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East: send in our forces. Find the people who have done these terrible deeds.
Bring them to justice. And then leave.
This flies in the face of generally accepted libertarian foreign policy, at least as construed by many “rank and file” libertarians. We’re not supposed to be in other countries. We’re not supposed to be out there getting ourselves involved. And if American personnel are hurt, we shouldn’t get ourselves involved more.
This, however, is dangerously short-sighted and naive. Yes, we shouldn’t be in foreign countries. On that I completely agree. But we should not, when we are attacked, simply throw our hands up in defeat and pull out. Or do what President Obama did, and “apologize” for one man using his right to free speech. That does not keep us safe, and that does not fix anything.
Giving in to bullies and madmen does not stop them, it emboldens them, as Britain learned so painfully after Munich. There is also no room for it in libertarian philosophy. If someone aggresses against you, if they attack you and destroy or take your property, and worse if they actually kill you and your comrades, they have violated your liberty. That is not something that libertarianism condones.
In a blog post yesterday morning, my former Cato Institute colleague Tom G. Palmer, who is openly gay and who once “brandished a pistol to scare off several men who he feared were about to attack him because of his sexual orientation,” discussed Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s reaction to Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy’s on-the-record remarks about his company’s multi-million dollar support for traditional marriage causes and advocacy. Mayor Menino, in an interview with the Boston Herald, subsequently threatened to lean on city planners to deny Chick-fil-A business licenses it would need to operate within the jurisdiction:
“If they need licenses in the city, it will be very difficult — unless they open up their policies,” he warned.
Menino also told the Herald that
“Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population. We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion.”
Tom Palmer concluded his post, writing
Apparently a reporter at the New York Times Magazine didn’t get the memo that left-wing feminist hack Sandra Fluke’s 15 minutes were long past up. The reporter, Andrew Goldman, tracked Sandra down to get her er…..thoughts on some issues related to her call for the American people to pay for her birth control.
First up: About Rush Limbaugh’s despicable comments calling her a “slut” and attempts to have him taken off the air.
Free speech is a complex area legally, but it’s important to recognize that there are distinctions between one’s ability to express an opinion versus one’s ability to use F.C.C.-regulated airwaves to do so, and also one’s ability to engage in speech versus one’s ability to engage in slander.
First of all, there is no moral defense for what Rush Limbaugh said about Sandra Fluke. If Rush Limbaugh called my mother, wife, daughter, girlfriend, sister, or any other woman I care about a slut, I would have some choice words for him. As a Southern boy, I was raised by my single mom to show women respect. However, I will defend to my death Rush Limbaugh’s right to free speech.
Author’s Notes: This will be the first of an ongoing series that will highlight libertarian “activism” fails and give advice to what will actually effectively promote liberty. In addition, the link about the event I’m criticizing does contain lots of vulgar language, you have been warned.
As you may know, the town of Middleborough, Massachusetts just passed an ordinance in a town assembly that bans profanity and punishes offenders with a $20 fine. The law is obviously unconstitutional and the town has earned national ridicule for passing it. If the law is ever challenged in a Federal court, it will be tossed out. Just the thought of a lawsuit, along with the national ridicule the law is causing, will likely cause the town to reconsider it, if it is even ever enforced.
Now enter into the mix, Z-list celebrity Adam Kokesh. The last time he was actually being talked about, it was when he was contemplating the murder of Mitt Romney in order to secure Ron Paul the GOP nomination for President. Now like how a moth is attracted to a bright light, Kokesh is trying to preserve his pseudo-celebrity status by staging a self-promoting stunt. He has called for a “free speech demonstration” in the town of Middleborough.
The idea of freedom of speech seems to be pretty straight forward. You don’t infringe on anyone’s right to say things. However, some Republican lawmakers in New York want to ban anonymous comments on blogs and newspaper websites in the Empire State.
The legislation, which has been proposed both in the State Assembly and Senate, would require New York-based websites such as blogs and the online hubs of newspapers and other media outlets to “remove any comments posted on his or her website by an anonymous poster unless such anonymous poster agrees to attach his or her name to the post.”
“This statute would essentially destroy the ability to speak anonymously online on sites in New York,” an attorney with the Center for Democracy and Technology told Wired, which first reported the news on Wednesday.
Despite the obvious constitutional implications, the co-sponsors of the Internet Protection Act have described the legislation not so much as an assault on free speech and the open web, but more as a safeguard for people—say, politicians—who sometimes find themselves the victims of anonymous online invective.
ObamaCare’s massive increase of government involvement in health care is already causing its share of problems. You simply cannot give government a bigger role in something so personal without creating all sorts of conflicts about what should be covered, and what should not. There are simply too many competing groups with values and needs that do not overlap. The current health care system is already a mess because of this, and further nationalization will only make it far worse.
It’s also not terribly surprising that the first major battle of this war has to do with reproductive health. During the passage of the law this was already a fierce debate. Now, the storm that is consuming much of the public discourse is regarding the coverage of contraceptives. Some argue that they should be covered under the mantle of “preventive services”, while others object to this for religious or fiscal reasons. Whether we like it or not, this is a matter of public interest now. While most libertarians and some conservatives want to eventually remove government from the issue, it is there for the foreseeable future. So it’s a debate we must have.
Over the last week, this debate has all revolved around the testimony of Sandra Fluke, a 30-year-old law student at an expensive university who nonetheless found it outrageous that she and her fellow students should have to pay for their own birth control. Her statements brought up a number of issues, and, in my mind, provided an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the mess that government involvement in health care creates, and the entitlement mentality that has pervaded our culture. This mentality is all around us; just last week I witnessed a woman throwing a near fit at my local Rite Aid because her $9 over-the-counter allergy meds were not paid for by her insurance.
After the unprecedented protests throughout the internet, one might think that Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) would figure out that perhaps folks take the internet pretty seriously. One might think that…but they would apparently be wrong.
Another day, another threat to internet freedom. According to International Business Times, beloved Texas Representative Lamar Smith is the author of a new bill that includes extreme surveillance provisions, and a name that will make opponents sound like criminals: H.R. 1981 (bump that last digit up three times for a more fitting title), or the ‘Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011.’
The new name has outraged many opponents of SOPA and other bills that could bring more government control to the internet, like PIPA and ACTA. It’s hard to imagine the whole world turning out against a bill with the words ‘protect’ and ‘children’ in the title, regardless of the actual contents of the bill.
In the words of Business Insider’s David Seaman, it’s “just a B.S. name so that politicians in the House and Senate are strong-armed into voting for it, even though it contains utterly insane 1984-style Big Brother surveillance provisions.” Ouch.