Tag: First Amendment

Disinformation on the disinformation board

Robby Soave:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has placed a “pause” on the newly-minted Disinformation Governance Board; its first executive director, Nina Jankowicz, has resigned.

The board’s existence, which was announced just three weeks ago, prompted serious concerns from many civil libertarians and inspired Ministry of Truth comparisons. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas tried—and largely failed—to address these concerns by noting that the board would serve in merely an advisory capacity and not have any actual power to police speech. That the Disinformation Governance Board did a bad job of communicating information about itself did not exactly instill confidence, and evidently DHS has now realized that the entire project is a bad idea.

It’s unclear whether plans for the board will be un-paused in the future; Jankowicz had initially decided to resign, reconsidered when she was told the pause might be temporary, and then ultimately left anyway.

This news comes from an exclusive report by The Washington Post‘s Taylor Lorenz, whose scoop is buried underneath layers of pro-government verbiage. Lorenz’s story excessively flatters Jankowicz—she is glamorized as “well-known” in the field, having “extensive experience,” and “well-regarded” in just the first two paragraphs—while ignoring legitimate criticism of this so-called expert’s track record. Indeed, there is zero mention, none whatsoever, of the fact that Jankowicz was flagrantly wrong about the pivotal “disinformation” episode of the 2020 election cycle: the Hunter Biden laptop story.

For WaPo, the story is not that DHS shuttered the Disinformation Governance Board—the real story is that right-wing “coordinated online attacks” achieved this outcome after subjecting Jankowicz to an “unrelenting barrage of harassment.”

“Within hours of news of her appointment, Jankowicz was thrust into the spotlight by the very forces she dedicated her career to combating,” writes Lorenz.

She concedes that the board’s name was “ominous” and details about its specific mission were “scant.” But most of the article focuses on the tenor of the criticism of Jankowicz.

“Jankowicz was on the receiving end of the harshest attacks, with her role mischaracterized as she became a primary target on the right-wing Internet,” writes Lorenz. “She has been subject to an unrelenting barrage of harassment and abuse while unchecked misrepresentations of her work continue to go viral.”

That’s not even close to all of it:

Jankowicz’s experience is a prime example of how the right-wing Internet apparatus operates, where far-right influencers attempt to identify a target, present a narrative and then repeat mischaracterizations across social media and websites with the aim of discrediting and attacking anyone who seeks to challenge them. It also shows what happens when institutions, when confronted with these attacks, don’t respond effectively.

More:

“These smears leveled by bad-faith, right-wing actors against a deeply qualified expert and against efforts to better combat human smuggling and domestic terrorism are disgusting,” deputy White House press secretary Andrew Bates told The Post on Tuesday.

Even more:

DHS staffers have also grown frustrated. With the department’s suspension of intra-departmental working groups focused on mis-, dis- and mal-information, some officials said it was an overreaction that gave too much credence to bad-faith actors. A 15-year veteran of the department, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly, called the DHS response to the controversy “mind-boggling.” “I’ve never seen the department react like this before,” he said.

Yet more still:

Experts say that right-wing disinformation and smear campaigns regularly follow the same playbook and that it’s crucial that the public and leaders of institutions, especially in the government, the media and educational bodies, understand more fully how these cycles operate.

The campaigns invariably start with identifying a person to characterize as a villain. Attacking faceless institutions is difficult, so a figurehead (almost always a woman or person of color) is found to serve as its face. Whether that person has actual power within that institution is often immaterial. By discrediting those made to represent institutions they seek to bring down, they discredit the institution itself.

Harassment and reputational harm is core to the attack strategy. Institutions often treat reputational harm and online attacks as a personnel matter, one that unlucky employees should simply endure quietly.

Jankowicz’s case is a perfect example of this system at work, said Emerson T. Brooking, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “They try to define people by these single, decontextualized moments,” Brooking said. “In Nina’s case it’s a few TikTok videos, or one or two comments out of thousands of public appearances. They fixate on these small instances and they define this villain.”

That’s the explicit message of the article, and it’s hammered home over and over again: expressing concerns about Jankowicz and the Disinformation Governance Board is an act of sabotage by bad-faith right-wing harassers against a noble public servant. The Washington Post does not grapple with legitimate criticisms of Jankowicz. The article doesn’t even acknowledge that any exist. Bad people oppose Jankowicz, in the Post‘s framing, and if you oppose Jankowicz, you’re probably one of them.

Yet there is good reason to be skeptical of both the Disinformation Governance Board and Jankowicz’s fitness to run it. Informal efforts to police disinformation on social media are beset with serious challenges, as moderators and fact-checkers routinely make odious mistakes: Just today, Facebook dubiously censored a recipe for homemade baby formula. The social media site’s fact-checkers have previously flagged Reason articles as spreading false information, only to later admit the articles in question were accurate. John Stossel, host of Stossel TV and a contributor to Reason, is currently suing Facebook for characterizing his videos as misleading, even though fact-checkers eventually conceded he was right.

Government disinformation cops are no better; time and time again, public health officials circulated false information about COVID-19, and suppressed perfectly legitimate discussion of the theory that the virus originated from a lab leak. And when The New York Post reported on the salacious contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop just weeks before the election, the story was widely dismissed by so-called disinformation experts and government security experts on grounds that they presumed it to be Russian malfeasance. “Hunter Biden Story Is Russian Disinfo, Dozens of Former Intel Officials Say,” reported Politico back in October 2020.

Jankowicz repeatedly made public statements indicating that she held this view, too. She shared national security officials’ “high confidence” that the Hunter Biden story was part of a Russian influence campaign. She described the idea that the laptop had been left behind at a repair shop as “a fairy tale.” This was a critical test of whether disinformation experts could check their innate tendency to ascribe everything unfavorable to the Democratic Party as Russian nefariousness, and they utterly failed. Jankowicz failed as well.

Somewhere in Lorenz’s article, amid the repetitive praising of Jankowicz’s qualifications, anonymously sourced lamentations that DHS will no longer be able to recruit effectively, and broad characterization of criticism as nothing more than sexist harassment, perhaps that failure deserved a mention. The article reads like it was ghostwritten by Jankowicz herself, which makes the underlying scoop less impressive: It’s easy to get a government official to cooperate for a news article when the news article takes the form of PR.

Biden’s speech police

Isaac Schorr:

The Biden administration’s Department of Homeland Security is establishing a Disinformation Governance Board and placing Nina Jankowicz at its head, DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas revealed earlier this week.

Jankowicz, who will serve as executive director of the new agency, is a fellow at the Wilson Center, where she studies “the intersection of democracy and technology in Central and Eastern Europe,” and the author of two books: How to Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News, and the Future of Conflict and How to Be a Woman Online: Surviving Abuse and Harassment, and How to Fight Back.

In her first book, published in 2020, Jankowicz, who has also served as an adviser to the Ukrainian government, “journeys into the campaigns the Russian operatives run, and shows how we can better understand the motivations behind these attacks and how to beat them.” At stake in this fight, she submits, are “the future of civil discourse and democracy, and the value of truth itself.”

In her second book, published this year, Jankowicz concludes that “all women in politics, journalism and academia now face untold levels of harassment and abuse in online spaces,” and purports to have written “one of the definitive reports on this troubling phenomenon.”

“Drawing on rigorous research into the treatment of Kamala Harris — the first woman vice-president — and other political and public figures, Nina also uses her own experiences to provide a step-by-step plan for dealing with harassment, abuse, doxing and disinformation in online spaces,” reads the Amazon description of How to Be a Woman.

In her introduction to the book, Jankowicz imagines a situation, among other scenarios, in which a stranger on the subway mentions to her that he went to a bachelor party in Ukraine, before offering, “It’s a shame about the civil war, but this is probably the first time a young, pretty thing like you is hearing about it, I guess.”

In the ensuing pages, Jankowicz suggests that, if the aforementioned scenario played out in real life rather than online, the police might have been called and arrests might have been made.

Both Jankowicz’s record and online behavior have come under scrutiny since the announcement of her new post, as she’s made plain both her disbelief in the since-confirmed Hunter Biden laptop story and her affection for Christopher Steele, the author of the discredited dossier on former president Donald Trump that helped launch the Mueller probe into his 2016 campaign.

In a series of 2020 tweets, Jankowicz sought to discredit the emails recovered on Hunter Biden’s laptop, promoting an article that she said cast “doubt on the provenance of the NY Post’s Hunter Biden story” and arguing: “The emails don’t need to be altered to be part of an influence campaign. Voters deserve that context, not a [fairy] tale about a laptop repair shop.” She also referenced the “laptop from hell” during one of the 2020 presidential debates and appeared to endorse an open letter, written by former intelligence officials, making the case that the contents of the laptop were part of a Russian disinformation campaign, despite the fact that the signatories acknowledge they had no evidence to support the claim.

Jankowicz told the Associated Press that the story should have been considered “a Trump campaign product.”

She also tweeted, about a podcast featuring the dossier’s author: “listened to this last night – Chris Steele (yes THAT Chris Steele) provides some great historical context about the evolution of disinfo. Worth a listen.”

On Thursday, the new member of the Biden administration defended her record, arguing that at least one of her tweets was taken out of context.

In one video, Jankowicz takes on the role of “Moaning Myrtle,” a ghost featured in the Harry Potter series, and sings a sexualized song about the titular character:

Went looking for some prefects in the bathroom one day
But instead I found Harry and so I said “hey!”
I helped him solve the mystery of the egg
But I’d like to solve the mystery between his legs!
I hope that Harry drowns tomorrow in the lake
So that our honeymoon we can take
You know that ghosts have working ’natomies
What’s better than that – we don’t get STDs!

Jankowicz has also integrated her day job into her singing hobby.

Asked about Jankowicz on Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki professed not to “have any information about this individual.”

Matt Vespa:

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson unloaded on Joe Biden’s plan to create a taxpayer-funded thought police that so happens will be deployed ahead of the 2022 midterms. The timing isn’t lost on anyone. Elon Musk buys Twitter—and now the Department of Homeland Security announced this “disinformation” hit squad that will combat narrative Democrats don’t like. We’re not Oceania. We’re not a banana republic. Liberals are afraid they can’t control the flow of information anymore. The days of Twitter censoring conservatives are over. A simple Google search often torpedoes most woke talking points with simple facts and figures that have existed for years. With the Left losing control of a major social media platform and Joe Biden’s increasing the frequency of his dementia moments, clamping down on the access is key. There is no good news associated with this administration. None. So, deploy DHS. Carlson was having none of it (via Real Clear Politics):

When Elon Musk first announced that he was buying Twitter, it was pretty obvious the Democratic Party would soon become unhinged, not just angry or annoyed in the way you’re very used to, but instead legitimately terrified and hysterical. Imagine how you’d feel if an armed intruder broke into your home at 3 in the morning. You couldn’t exactly know where things were going, but you’d be dead certain that everything was at stake. That’s how Democrats feel right now, because, in fact, everything is at stake.

Joe Biden cannot continue to control this country if you have free access to information. It’s that simple. Biden certainly is not improving your life. He’s not even trying to improve your life. So, the best he can do is lie to you and demand that you believe it, but to do that, he needs to make certain that nobody else can talk because if you were to hear the truth, you might not obey. How is Biden going to pull that off? It’s not easy. Well, one option would be to get men with guns to tell you to shut up. Most Americans probably haven’t thought of that because this isn’t Africa or Eastern Europe. This is America and we don’t do things like that here and never have. More precisely, we haven’t until now, but now Joe Biden is president and everything is different.

So today, to herald the coming of the new Soviet America, the administration announced its own Ministry of Truth. This will be called the Disinformation Governance Board. Laugh if you want, but just to show you, they’re not kidding around here. This board is not part of the State Department or any other agency focused on foreign threats from abroad. No, the Disinformation Governance Board is part of the Department of Homeland Security. DHS is a law enforcement agency designed to police the United States and that, by the way, has a famously large stockpile of ammunition. So, it’s not a joke at all. Here’s DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

[…]

So Mayorkas told us that disinformation is a threat to homeland security. Now he’s the head of the Department of Homeland Security, so presumably he would know since assessing threats to Homeland Security is his job, but what he didn’t tell us is how he’s defining disinformation.

So here we have this new and terrifying thing that the Biden administration is so concerned about that it’s created a new agency to fight it, but Mayorkas never said or even hinted as to what it might be. So, the man in charge of the disinformation governing board never defined disinformation.

[…]

…one of our biggest law enforcement agencies has men with guns around the country doing so many things to stop disinformation and false narratives. Those aren’t even lies. They’re just deviations from the approved script. Mayorkas told us again that men with guns planned to “identify individuals who could be descending into violence.” Could be descending. Not people who’ve committed violence or even been accused of any crime at all. DHS is instead using law enforcement powers to identify and punish people who think the wrong things.

We used to joke that the United States didn’t need the SS because the IRS existed. We’ve entered a new and disturbing stage here because it’s no longer a joke. The test run for using these institutions began under Obama. The Department of Justice went after ex-Fox News reporter James Rosen for reporting a story on North Korea that contained classified information. The leak hunt named Rosen as a possible co-conspirator for simply doing his job. The Obama DOJ also obtained phone records of a dozen or so AP reporters. Then, there was the whole Russian collusion hoax. The IRS targeted conservative non-profits. And the FBI doctoring paperwork to obtain FISA spy warrants on Trump campaign officials. They also spied on Trump’s campaign as well. The Left’s long march towards weaponizing the state against its own people can be traced to the man who won the 2008 election. And now, in 2022, they’re going to deputize the DHS to go after conservatives for not thinking the right way. We all know this committee is going to go off the rails. We all know it will be staffed by people who are certifiably insane.

All you need to know about this latest Biden outrage is that Democrats would be screaming bloody murder from the rooftops had the Trump administration come up with this fascist idea.

Department of Homeland Censorship

Daniel Horowitz:

The State Department, along with over a dozen other Western governments, posted a joint statement expressing concerns about freedom of speech in Hong Kong. Perhaps these governments, beginning with our own, need to look in the mirror and recognize that their assault on basic human rights, including free speech, free association, and political and religious beliefs, is now on par with the behavior of the Chinese communists.

“The undersigned members of the Media Freedom Coalition express their deep concern at the Hong Kong and mainland Chinese authorities’ attacks on freedom of the press and their suppression of independent local media in Hong Kong,” began the statement, which was signed by countries like Australia that are now engaging in human rights violations under the color of COVID.

This is quite a rich statement proclaimed in the same week that the White House called on Spotify to censor Joe Rogan for having long-form engaging discussions with brilliant scientists like Drs. Robert Malone and Peter McCullough. As early as July, the White House called on Facebook to censor any information on the vaccine that is not in line with the views of the regime. The top doctors and scientists treating COVID have essentially been removed from nearly every media platform. How exactly is this different from China?

Well, you might suggest that at least they won’t hunt you down and treat you like a criminal for holding these views, as they might do in a country like China. However, can you really count on that, given what our government is already saying?

On Monday, the DHS posted its latest National Terrorism Advisory System bulletin. The number one terrorism threat, in the eyes of our government, is ordinary people who hold different views on COVID policies and election security. Under “Key factors contributing to the current heightened threat environment,” the very first factor listed is “The proliferation of false or misleading narratives, which sow discord or undermine public trust in U.S. government institutions.”

You might think this is referring to those who verbally and sometimes physically assault people for not covering their faces in a store like women in Afghanistan. Or perhaps denying kidney transplants to people for not getting a Pfizer product. But no, they mean people like you and me. “For example, there is widespread online proliferation of false or misleading narratives regarding unsubstantiated widespread election fraud and COVID-19,” states the bulletin. “Grievances associated with these themes inspired violent extremist attacks during 2021.”

Can you list examples of violent extremist attacks from people who oppose COVID fascism?

This factor was listed ahead of the concern of foreign Islamic terrorism or any mention of the Colleyville synagogue hostage-taker. Our own government, for the first time in history, is seeking to criminalize political opposition and treat it on the same level as al Qaeda. Then again, the DHS bulletin made no mention of al Qaeda or the Chinese Communist Party.

The witch hunt against freedom of speech is so strong that even members of Congress are not immune to it. Earlier this week, the Federalist reported that the Capitol Hill Police inspector general is launching a probe into an allegation by one congressman that his office was illegally surveilled by police. According to Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas), Capitol Hill police stopped by his office in November and took a photo of legislative plans detailed on his whiteboard. The officers came back a few days later in plain clothes and questioned a staffer about a whiteboard that contained “suspicious writings mentioning body armor.” Specifically, Nehls was planning to introduce legislation banning the sale of faulty Chinese body armor, which was obvious by the text of his writing. Again, is this another case of projection, where the true Chinese-style authoritarians are accusing their opponents of a lack of patriotism?

On Tuesday, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) accused the Justice Department of spying on members of Congress as well. In a statement posted on Twitter, Gohmert contends that constituent mail was opened and stamped with “DOJ mailroom” and labeled “X-rayed,” seemingly indicating that the Justice Department first looked through his mail. This would violate the principle of separation of powers.

All this news comes amid the backdrop of a draft recommendation published by the House of Representatives inspector general calling on the sergeant at arms’ office to engage in internal “behavioral monitoring” to detect internal security threats. “The slim document suggested that the House Sergeant at Arms’ office — which leads security for the chamber — start a comprehensive insider threat program, which it currently lacks,” reports Politico.

Taken together, it’s beginning to look a lot like a despotic third world country. They used COVID to criminalize our breathing and bodies; they used Jan. 6 to criminalize political beliefs. Now they are using any opposition to their policies as pretext to shred the First Amendment rights of citizens and separation of powers of political opponents.

Republican governors in red states would be wise to work with state and local law enforcement and establish a principle of interposition against the looming federal assault on political opponents. They must make their states sanctuaries for the First Amendment by promising to arrest any federal official who comes to the state seeking to harass, question, or apprehend an individual who has broken no law other than espousing views unpopular with the regime.

We have all witnessed the remarkable transformation of Western democracies that have reverted to pre-enlightenment governing values in a matter of a few years. The virus might have begun in China, but it has turned Western governments into China. If we don’t first focus on the authoritarianism in our own back yard, we won’t have a refuge from Chinese tyranny, for our own government is nothing but a client state of the Chinese Communist Party. And clearly, China have taught our government well.

Of course, a future Republican presidential administration could do the exact same things as Biden’s DHS. DHS was a bad post-9/11 idea that should be eliminated.

Words hurt you if you let them

Charlie Sykes used to produce solid conservative/libertarian content, and does here:

Apparently, we have to remind people about this again:

If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.
― Benjamin Franklin

There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.
― Ray Bradbury

We’ve devoted a great deal of time lately to discussing illiberalism and authoritarianism, and justifiably so. But we have to recognize that liberalism and free expression face a two-front assault — from the intolerant Left as well as the troglodyte Right.

ICYMI: The other day, the American Booksellers Association donned the sackcloth of wokeness and issued this statement of performative groveling:

Twitter avatar for @ABAbookAmerican Booksellers Association @ABAbook

Image

The “serious, violent incident” here was sending out copies of this book:

Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by [Abigail Shrier]

Some background.

The author of the offending book, Abigail Shrier, writes for the Wall Street Journal, and is a graduate of Columbia College, Oxford University, and Yale Law School. Her book is obviously controversial, but it was named one of the best books of the year by The Economistand one of the best of 2021 by The Times of London.

Reviewing the book in Commentary Magazine, Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote:

“If you want to understand why suddenly it seems that (mostly) young girls from (mostly) white middle- or upper-class backgrounds (many of whom are in the same friend groups) have decided to start dressing like boys, cutting their hair short, changing their name to a masculine one, and even taking hormones, using chest compressors, and getting themselves surgically altered, you must read Abigail K. Shrier’s urgent new book, Irreversible Damage.”

But not surprisingly, this sort of thing triggered opponents, who demanded that it be suppressed.

After receiving two Twitter complaints, Target stopped selling the book (a decision they later reversed… and then reversed again). Hundreds of Amazon employees signed a petition demanding the company stop selling the book.

Even the ACLU seemed to break bad on the idea that the book should be available in the marketplace of ideas. Chase Strangio, the American Civil Liberties Union’s deputy director for transgender justice, tweeted: “Abigail Shrier’s book is a dangerous polemic with a goal of making people not trans…. We have to fight these ideas which are leading to the criminalization of trans life again.”

He declared: “Stopping the circulation of this book and these ideas is 100% a hill I will die on.”

Shrier commented: “You read that right: Some in today’s ACLU favor book banning. Grace Lavery, a professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, went further, tweeting: ‘I DO encourage followers to steal Abigail Shrier’s book and burn it on a pyre.’

“This,” Shrier wrote, ”is where leftist extremism, encouraged by cowardly corporations, leads.”

**

Under normal circumstances, the American Booksellers Association is very much into free expression and opposed to censorship. They are the sort of people who wear buttons declaring “WE READ BANNED BOOKS.”

Its website still includes this declaration:

But it turns out there are limits to free expression, not just for the ABA, but for many of the nation’s booksellers. This month ABA sent a mailing to 750 bookstores, which included a copy of the heretical book. Blowback was fierce.

Publisher’s Weekly reported that the American Booksellers Association was “facing withering criticism from booksellers after walking back its promotion of an anti-trans title to member bookstores.”

Among booksellers… there was little disagreement about the content of the book. “As longtime @ABAbook members with beloved staff across the gender spectrum, we’re extremely disappointed and angered to see the ABA promoting dangerous, widely discredited anti-trans propaganda, and we’re calling for accountability,” the Harvard Book Store wrote on Twitter.

Within hours, it issued the fulsome apology. Shrier’s reaction:

If there were a Hall of Fame for capitulations to Woke bullies, the American Booksellers Association is hereby inducted. The “serious, violent incident” they perpetrated? Including my book in a large box of new book samples sent out to independent booksellers.

Despite the tone of the apology, the wokest of the booksellers were not satisfied. The outraged booksellers, “said the statement fell short, calling out the organization’s use of the passive voice in the opening sentence.” ReportedPublishers Weekly:

“They also demanded greater transparency about how the decision to include the book was initially made, and called for demonstrable steps to restore trust with trans book workers and authors. Some called on the ABA to offer promotions for trans authors’ books at no cost.”

But elsewhere, the reaction to the ABA’s statement was blistering, with much of it focusing on the irony of an organization devoted to selling books apologizing for selling a book.

Rich Horton @PurePopPub

Joanne Mason @JoanneMason11

If mailing a book to members of your professional booksellers group is a “serious, violent incident” then words have no meaning, and we can no longer call ourselves a serious people. I’m not saying this is how you get a president Trump, but this is how you get a president Trump.

Brian Schubert @SchubertBrian

@ABAbook The thing about totalitarianism isn’t the gulag but society’s acquiescence in living the lie. Like, including a book title in a mailing to book sellers is “violent.”

This is not a debate over Transgenderism, but rather a question of whether we can even have a debate at all. It is an objectively ominous moment when the folks who sell books think there are some ideas too dangerous to print… or read.

Take note: if you are offended by a book, (1) don’t buy it, (2) don’t read it, or (3) make an effort to correct or refute it.

Don’t burn it.

Sykes and other anti-Trump conservatives tend to dismiss other conservatives’ claiming a culture war is taking place in this country. It’s hard to argue that we’re not in a cultural cold war when you cannot even discuss a controversial issue.

 

Big Postman is watching you

Tim Pearce shows what real abuse of the First Amendment looks like:

The United States Postal Service (USPS) is running a “covert operations program” monitoring Americans’ social media accounts for “inflammatory” posts.

The program is carried out by the USPS enforcement arm, the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), and is called the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP). Analysts with the program monitor the social media posts of people attending rallies and protests, according to Yahoo News.

“Analysts with the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) monitored significant activity regarding planned protests occurring internationally and domestically on March 20, 2021,” a March 16 memo distributed by the Department of Homeland Security says. “Locations and times have been identified for these protests, which are being distributed online across multiple social media platforms, to include right-wing leaning Parler and Telegram accounts.”

“Parler users have commented about their intent to use the rallies to engage in violence. Image 3 on the right is a screenshot from Parler indicating two users discussing the event as an opportunity to engage in a ‘fight’ and to ‘do serious damage,’” the memo continues. “No intelligence is available to suggest the legitimacy of these threats.”

The program has reportedly targeted right-wing protests such as those against strict lockdown measures.

In a statement to Yahoo News, the USPS acknowledged the existence of the program and said its operation is meant to protect USPS employees from harm. The agency did not elaborate on the program, and none of its details until now have been made public.

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is the primary law enforcement, crime prevention, and security arm of the U.S. Postal Service,” the statement said. “As such, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has federal law enforcement officers, Postal Inspectors, who enforce approximately 200 federal laws to achieve the agency’s mission: protect the U.S. Postal Service and its employees, infrastructure, and customers; enforce the laws that defend the nation’s mail system from illegal or dangerous use; and ensure public trust in the mail.”

“The Internet Covert Operations Program is a function within the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which assesses threats to Postal Service employees and its infrastructure by monitoring publicly available open source information,” the statement continued. “Additionally, the Inspection Service collaborates with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to proactively identify and assess potential threats to the Postal Service, its employees and customers, and its overall mail processing and transportation network. In order to preserve operational effectiveness, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service does not discuss its protocols, investigative methods, or tools.”

In a statement to Yahoo News, the USPS acknowledged the existence of the program and said its operation is meant to protect USPS employees from harm. The agency did not elaborate on the program, and none of its details until now have been made public.

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is the primary law enforcement, crime prevention, and security arm of the U.S. Postal Service,” the statement said. “As such, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has federal law enforcement officers, Postal Inspectors, who enforce approximately 200 federal laws to achieve the agency’s mission: protect the U.S. Postal Service and its employees, infrastructure, and customers; enforce the laws that defend the nation’s mail system from illegal or dangerous use; and ensure public trust in the mail.”

“The Internet Covert Operations Program is a function within the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which assesses threats to Postal Service employees and its infrastructure by monitoring publicly available open source information,” the statement continued. “Additionally, the Inspection Service collaborates with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to proactively identify and assess potential threats to the Postal Service, its employees and customers, and its overall mail processing and transportation network. In order to preserve operational effectiveness, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service does not discuss its protocols, investigative methods, or tools.”

I wonder what civil libertarians will have to say about this.

“No amendment to the Constitution is absolute”

Zachary Evans:

President Biden unveiled executive orders on gun control on Thursday, at a press conference in the White House Rose Garden.

“Nothing I’m about to recommend in any way impinges on the Second Amendment,” Biden said. “They’re phony arguments suggesting that these are Second Amendment rights in what we’re talking about.”

Liar.

Biden added that “no amendment to the Constitution is absolute. You can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater and call it freedom of speech. From the very beginning, you couldn’t own any weapon you wanted to own. From the very beginning of the Second Amendment existed, certain people weren’t allowed to have weapons.”

The Biden administration announced six actions to spur various gun control initiatives, which the White House described in a fact sheet. The Justice Department will propose a rule to curb proliferation of “ghost guns,” or guns that are assembled at home through kits or a 3-D printer, and will issue yearly reports on firearms trafficking, among other initiatives.

Biden will also nominate David Chipman to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. A former SWAT agent with the bureau, Chipman is a gun control advocate and adviser to former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’s gun control organization.

Chipman claimed in a Reddit post last year that members of the Branch Dividian religious cult shot down two Texas National Guard helicopters during the 1993 siege at Waco, Texas. While members of the cult did in fact shoot at the helicopters, none were shot down.

Well. According to Biden’s “logic” the following things would be acceptable:

  • A future Republican president can round up protesters of his administration and have them imprisoned. Because no amendment is absolute.
  • Police can torture suspects until they confess. Lawyers? Don’t need them. You see, no amendment is absolute.
  • Reinstituting slavery. No amendment is absolute, after all.
  • A state could eliminate elections and choose whoever it wants in the U.S. Senate. All together now …
  • A state could reinstitute poll taxes and disallow non-whites or women or anyone younger than 30 from voting. No. Amendment. Is. Absolute.
  • Someone who is not the vice president could remove the president from office and take over himself. Our president says no amendment is absolute.
  • Barack Obama or George W. Bush can run for president again. But didn’t they already reach the term limit? Who cares? No amendment is absolute.

By accident the moron in the White House displayed his respect for the Constitution yesterday. And a majority of voters voted for that.

 

Twitter’s media appeasers

Winston Churchill famously said “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last.”

That is John Podhoretz‘s theme:

Big Tech executives were forced to defend themselves and their platforms in a contentious Senate hearing on Wednesday — with most of the passion relating to the suppression of this newspaper’s Twitter feed over the past two weeks.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey explained with an eerie calm that The Post can regain access to its Twitter account anytime it wants — once it deletes a tweet with an image his company has decided violates its standards.

Dorsey’s words echo the ­assurances offered writers in authoritarian states that they will be allowed to publish their other scribblings . . . just so long as they burn the manuscripts the censors find offensive in front of the censors.

Such an insistence would once have resulted in screams of outrage and professions of solidarity by other journalists. But now we see reactions like this on Twitter, from New York Times opinion staffer Charlie Warzel:

“The NY Post leaving a violating tweet up in order to stay locked out of an account in order to use it as a political cudgel is a classic tactic, but it’s usually one you see from ­individual MAGA influencers.”

Thus did a key employee at the Times suggest it was perfectly reasonable for Twitter to demand that another newspaper send its wares down a memory hole.

I haven’t been an employee of The Post for a dozen years. What I am is a conservative who has worked in and around mainstream journalism for 40 years. And what I see in Warzel’s tweet — and in the astounding silence on the part of most mainstream outlets and voices about the treatment of The Post by Twitter — is something neither I nor anyone else anticipated from the web takeover of communications over the past 30 years.

With the emergence of the web browser in the early 1990s, the internet shattered the hierarchy that once dominated American journalism. A world in which the transmission of information had been the province of a wire service, three networks, two newsmagazines and a few powerful newspapers seemed gone forever.

New voices found a new way to be heard. Lone bloggers armed with nothing more than laptops took down the Senate majority leader (for suggesting a racist colleague’s values were ones we needed) and the nation’s most ­famous anchorman (for promoting a forged document).

Then, in 2007, came Twitter. And something very curious happened as it quickly became a bulletin board, gathering place and loose-knit private club for US journalists.

It became a peerless vehicle for the enforcement of mainstream media groupthink.

Twitter was the place where you could establish informal relationships with others in your field with whom you had never worked but whose attention you very much craved.

And you could quickly tell what subjects were of particular concern to those same fellow journalists by the way their tweets echoed each other’s. If a news development appeared 20 times in your latest 30 tweets, you would know it was the topic of the day or the week.More important, if a subject violates the sensibilities of the Twitter journalism community, you sure know that too. Immediately. Offense is taken. Fingers are wagged. Instantaneously, the idea that something is a “bad take” becomes universally understood.

Reputations and careers are on the line — as is the possibility of enhancing your reputation and/or career by joining in the groupthink.

Before the social-media age, the groupthink of the old-media oligopoly was transmitted relatively slowly. The network newscasts and the New York Times were released once a day, after all. So the orthodox take on things might take a few days to reach everybody, and in that time, some other reporting, some other opinions, some other takes might break through.

Now all reporting is instantaneous — and the only “correct” way to look at a news story follows with similar instantaneity.

One of the correct ways to look at things, it appears, is to quash them if and when they are politically and ideologically inconvenient.

It was members of the mainstream media who demanded their fellow journalists refuse to follow up on The Post’s initial story about the revelations on the Hunter Biden laptop — and used Twitter to attack some journalists who dared to retweet The Post story even if they were criticizing it.

George Orwell once referred to the “smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.” That is how Twitter operates. That is what Twitter is — the home of and transmission point for the smelly little orthodoxies of our time.

The First Amendment and its, and our, enemies

John Kass:

The angry left-handed broom of America’s cultural revolution uses fear to sweep through our civic, corporate and personal life.
It brings with it attempted intimidation, shame and the usual demands for ceremonies of public groveling.
It is happening in newsrooms in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles. And now it’s coming for me, in an attempt to shame me into silence.

Here’s what happened:

Last week, with violence spiking around the country, I wrote a column on the growing sense of lawlessness in America’s urban areas.

In response, the Tribune newspaper union, the Chicago Tribune Guild, which I have repeatedly and politely declined to join, wrote an open letter to management defaming me, by falsely accusing me of religious bigotry and fomenting conspiracy theories.

Newspaper management has decided not to engage publicly with the union. So I will.

For right now, let’s deal with facts. My July 22 column was titled “Something grows in the big cities run by Democrats: An overwhelming sense of lawlessness.”

It explored the connections between soft-on-crime prosecutors and increases in violence along with the political donations of left-wing billionaire George Soros, who in several states has funded liberal candidates for prosecutor, including Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

Soros’ influence on these races is undeniable and has been widely reported. But in that column, I did not mention Soros’ ethnicity or religion.

You’d think that before wildly accusing someone of fomenting bigoted conspiracy theories, journalists on the union’s executive board would at least take the time to Google the words “Soros,” “funding” and “local prosecutors.”

As recently as February, the Sun Times pointed out roughly $2 million in Soros money flowing to Foxx in her primary election effort against more law-and-order candidates.

In August 2016, Politico outlined Soros’ money supporting local DA races and included the view from opponents and skeptics that if successful, these candidates would make communities “less safe.”
From the Wall Street Journal in November 2016: “Mr. Soros, a major backer of liberal causes, has contributed at least $3.8 million to political action committees supporting candidates for district attorney in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Texas and Wisconsin, according to campaign filings.”

The Huffington Post in May 2018 wrote about contributions from Soros and Super PACs to local prosecutor candidates who were less law-and-order than their opponents.

So, it seems that the general attitude in journalism is that super PACs and dark money are bad, unless of course, they’re operated by wealthy billionaires of the left. Then they’re praised and courted.

All of this is against the backdrop of an America divided into camps, between those who think they can freely speak their minds and those who know they can’t.

Most people subjected to cancel culture don’t have a voice. They’re afraid. They have no platform. When they’re shouted down, they’re expected to grovel. After the groveling, comes social isolation. Then they are swept away.

But I have a newspaper column.

As a columnist and political reporter, I have given some 35 years of my life to the Chicago Tribune, even more if you count my time as an eager Tribune copy boy. And over this time, readers know that I have shown respect to my profession, to colleagues and to this newspaper.

Agree with me or not — and isn’t that the point of a newspaper column? — I owe readers a clear statement of what I will do and not do:

I will not apologize for writing about Soros.

I will not bow to those who’ve wrongly defamed me.

I will continue writing my column.

The left doesn’t like my politics. I get that. I don’t like theirs much, either. But those who follow me on social media know that I do not personally criticize my colleagues for their politics. I try to elevate their fine work. And I tell disgruntled readers who don’t like my colleagues’ politics that “it takes a village.”

Here’s what I’ve learned over my life in and around Chicago, what my immigrant family taught us in our two-flats on South Peoria Street:

We come into this world alone and we leave alone. And the most important thing we leave behind isn’t money.

The most important thing we leave is our name.

We leave that to our children.

And I will not soil my name by groveling to anyone in this or any other newsroom.

The larger question is not about me, or the political left that hopes to silence people like me, but about America and its young. Those of us targeted by cancel culture are not only victims. We are examples, as French revolutionaries once said, in order to encourage the others.

Human beings do not wish to see themselves as cowards. They want to see themselves as heroes.

And, as they are shaped and taught to fear even the slightest accusation of thought crime, they will not view themselves as weak for falling in line. Instead they will view themselves as virtuous. And that is the sin of it.

Those who do not behave will be marginalized. But those who self-censor will be praised.

Yet what of our American tradition of freely speaking our minds?

That too, is swept away.

Society vs. the First Amendment

Emily Ekins:

A new Cato national survey finds that self‐​censorship is on the rise in the United States. Nearly two-thirds—62%—of Americans say the political climate these days prevents them from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive. The share of Americans who self‐​censor has risen several points since 2017 when 58% of Americans agreed with this statement.

These fears cross partisan lines. Majorities of Democrats (52%), independents (59%) and Republicans (77%) all agree they have political opinions they are afraid to share.

Liberals Are Divided on Political Expression

Strong liberals stand out, however, as the only political group who feel they can express themselves. Nearly 6 in 10 (58%) of staunch liberals feel they can say what they believe. However, centrist liberals feel differently. A slim majority (52%) of liberals feel they have to self‐​censor, as do 64% of moderates, and 77% of conservatives. This demonstrates that political expression is an issue that divides the Democratic coalition between centrist Democrats and their left flank.

What’s changed? In 2017 most centrist liberals felt confident (54%) they could express their views. However today, slightly less than half (48%) feel the same. The share who feel they cannot be open increased 7 points from 45% in 2017 to 52% today. In fact, there have been shifts across the board, where more people among all political groups feel they are walking on eggshells.

Although strong liberals are the only group who feel they can say what they believe, the share who feel pressured to self‐​censor rose 12 points from 30% in 2017 to 42% in 2020. The share of moderates who self‐​censor increased 7 points from 57% to 64%, and the share of conservatives rose 70% to 77%, also a 7‐​point increase. Strong conservatives are the only group with little change. They are about as likely now (77%) to say they hold back their views as in 2017 (76%).

Self‐​censorship is widespread across demographic groups as well. Nearly two‐​thirds of Latino Americans (65%) and White Americans (64%) and nearly half of African Americans (49%) have political views they are afraid to share. Majorities of men (65%) and women (59%), people with incomes over $100,000 (60%) and people with incomes less than $20,000 (58%), people under 35 (55%) and over 65 (66%), religious (71%) and non‐​religious (56%) all agree that the political climate prevents them from expressing their true beliefs.

50% of Strong Liberals Support Firing Trump Donors; 36% of Strong Conservatives Support Firing Biden Donors

The survey found that many Americans think a person’s private political donations should impact their employment. Nearly a quarter (22%) of Americans would support firing a business executive who personally donates to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign. Even more, 31% support firing a business executive who donates to Donald Trump’s re‐​election campaign.

Support rises among political subgroups. Support increases to 50% of strong liberals who support firing executives who personally donate to Trump. And more than a third (36%) of strong conservatives support firing an executive for donating to Biden’s presidential campaign.

Young Americans are also more likely than older Americans to support punishing people at work for personal donations to Trump. Forty‐​four percent (44%) of Americans under 30 support firing executives if they donate to Trump. This share declines to 22% among those over 55 years old—a 20‐​point difference. An age gap also exists for Biden donors, but is less pronounced. Twenty‐​seven percent (27%) of Americans under 30 support firing executives who donate to Biden compared to 20% of those over 55—a 7‐​point difference.

32% Worry Their Political Views Could Harm Their Employment

Nearly a third (32%) of employed Americans say they personally are worried about missing out on career opportunities or losing their job if their political opinions became known. These results are particularly notable given that most personal campaign contributions to political candidates are public knowledge and can easily be found online.

And it’s not just one side of the political spectrum: 31% of liberals, 30% of moderates and 34% of conservatives are worried their political views could get them fired or harm their career trajectory. This suggests that it’s not necessarily just one particular set of views that has moved outside of acceptable public discourse. Instead these results are more consistent with a “walking on eggshells” thesis that people increasingly fear a wide range of political views could offend others or could negatively impact themselves.

These concerns are also cross‐​partisan, although more Republicans are worried: 28% of Democrats, 31% of independents, and 38% of Republicans are worried about how their political opinions could impact their career trajectories.

Americans with diverse backgrounds share this concern that their employment could be adversely affected if their political views were discovered: 38% of Hispanic Americans, 22% of African Americans, 31% of White Americans, 35% of men, 27% of women, 36% of households earning less than $20,000 a year, and 33% of households earning more than $100,000 a year agree.

Some are more worried about losing their jobs or missing out on job opportunities because of political views. Those with the highest levels of education are most concerned. Almost half (44%) of Americans with post‐​graduate degrees say they are worried their careers could be harmed if others discovered their political opinions, compared to 34% of college graduates, 28% of those with some college experience, and 25% of high school graduates.

But this educational divide appears largely driven by partisanship. Democrats with graduate degrees (25%) are about as likely as high school graduates (23%) to be worried their political views could harm their employment. However, a major shift occurs among Republicans who attend college and graduate school. About a quarter of Republicans with high school degrees (27%) or some college (26%) worry their political opinions could harm them at work—but this number increases to 40% among Republican college graduates and 60% of those with post‐​graduate degrees. A similar trend is observed among independents. The share of independents who have these concerns increases from 18% among high school graduates, to 35% among those with some college, 41% of college graduates, and 49% of post‐​graduates.

Younger people are also more concerned than older people, irrespective of political viewpoint. Examining all Americans under 65, 37% of those under 30 are worried their political opinions could harm their career trajectories, compared to 30% of 30–54 year‐​olds and 24% of 55–64 year‐​olds. But the age gap is more striking taking into account political views. A slim majority (51%) of Republicans under 30 fear their views could harm their career prospects compared to 39% of 30–44 year‐​olds, 34% of 45–54 year‐​olds, and 28% of 55–64 year‐​old Republicans. Democrats reflect a similar but less pronounced pattern. A third (33%) of Democrats under 30 worry they have views that could harm their current and future jobs, compared to 27% of 30–54 year‐​olds, and 19% of 55–64 year‐​old Democrats.

These data suggest that a significant minority of Americans from all political persuasions and backgrounds—particularly younger people who have spent more time in America’s universities—are most likely to hide their views for fear of financial penalty.

A particularly surprising finding was that Americans who have these concerns are somewhat more likely to support the firing of Biden or Trump donors. A third (33%) among those who worry that their political views could harm their employment supported firing either Biden or Trump donors, compared to 24% of those who were not worried about their views impacting their jobs. This suggests that those who fear reprisal or economic penalty for their political views are not entirely distinct from those who seek the same for others.

Implications

Taking these results together indicates that a significant majority of Americans with diverse political views and backgrounds self‐​censor their political opinions. This large number from across demographic groups suggests withheld opinions may not simply be radical or fringe perspectives in the process of being socially marginalized. Instead many of these opinions may be shared by a large number of people. Opinions so widely shared are likely shaping how people think about salient policy issues and ultimately impacting how they vote. But if people feel they cannot discuss these important policy matters, such views will not have an opportunity to be scrutinized, understood, or reformed.

A body blow to free expression

Jonah Goldberg:

Nothing evokes a nice gloomy feel like the German language. The Germans, a people forged under the gray skies and dark shadows of the Black Forest, are a gloomy people, which is why they have such wonderful words to describe gloomy things.

(For instance, there’s schadenfreude, taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. And fremdschamen, the feeling of being embarrassed for someone else who doesn’t have the good sense of being embarrassed for themselves (think of that feeling you get watching Michael Scott humiliate himself in The Office, or President Trump answering a question from Sean Hannity. See below). And there’s my favorite: futterneid—that feeling of jealousy you get when someone is eating something you want to eat. When I go out to dinner with my wife and she orders better than me, my futterneid fuels the Fair Jessica’s schadenfreude.)

So let’s consider the word Einfühlungsvermögen.

Einfühlungsvermögen means “empathy.” And that English word is just over a century old. It entered the English language in 1909 as a translation of Einfühlungsvermögen. It’s an adaptation of the shorter term Einfühlung, a concept pioneered by the German historicist Johann Herder, one of the founders of German nationalism. Einfühlung literally means “feeling one’s way in.” And it was one of the core concepts of the German historicist school, which is responsible for many bad ideas we won’t discuss here.

But Einfühlung, in isolation, is not a bad idea. What Herder meant by “feeling one’s way in” was that for a historian to understand a particular society, one must grasp on both an intellectual and emotional level the cultural currents of the time. One cannot just look from outside the fishbowl using the scorecards of the moment and judge a society from some modern, abstract, standard. You must dive in and understand people and cultures on their own terms first. This is something the best historians do. They make the reader feel like they understand why people did the things they did without the benefit of knowing how events turned out.

For example, when people condemn the Founders for keeping slavery intact in slave states, they tend to ignore the context the Founders were living in. The choice they faced wasn’t a Constitution with slavery or a Constitution without it. The choice was a Constitution with slavery—or no Constitution at all.

I’m open to arguments that this isn’t true, but not from someone who doesn’t understand that this is the way the Founders—many of whom opposed slavery—understood their choice.

Societies are complex things: Most of the rules that govern them cannot be found in legal texts. These rules are embedded in customs, norms, traditions, and manners that are as often as not unwritten—and even when they are written, most people don’t refer to those texts for guidance. Most of us know not to talk with our mouths full because our parents taught us basic manners, not because we read some Dear Abby column.

A certain kind of modern feminist looks at a stereotypical housewife of, say, the 1920s and feels a kind of contempt or pity for her plight, but not empathy. I understand the feeling. But to understand the housewife you need to understand that she didn’t necessarily share your attitudes about what constitutes a meaningful and rewarding life. Condemning her for falling short of standards she did not hold can be a kind of bigotry.

One thing I find remarkable is that many progressives understand all of this quite intuitively when it comes to other countries. Many of the same people who have contempt for the 1920 housewife will comment about a 2020 housewife in, say, Gaza, “Who are you to judge them? It’s their culture!”

Well, the past is another country, too. And given that the American past is part of your own country, maybe you can have just a bit more Einfühlungsvermögen for it.

Anyway, what got me thinking about all this was something I tweeted about last night.

Jonah Goldberg @JonahDispatch

There is something really horrible, evil even, about going back in time and reminding people of a totally public incident that merited no criticism at the time, and declare it a “scandal” that should threaten someone’s livelihood. https://t.co/hDEKlABvZE

South Florida Sun Sentinel @SunSentinel

Can Jimmy Kimmel and Tina Fey keep their hosting gigs after blackface scandals? Should they? https://t.co/cS3Z1Mq1zl https://t.co/kFLwRkuCJ6

What particularly annoyed me is the use of the word “scandal.” A scandal is “an action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage.” The actions by Tina Fey and Jimmy Kimmel were not scandals when they happened. They were comedy bits on television that went, to my knowledge, unremarked upon at the time. If unremarkable events of the past—not secret events, not unknown events, but simply run-of-the-mill events of daily life—can retroactively be turned into scandals by a mob of moral scolds, we’re in store for some rough times.

Think of it this way, men dressing as women for comedic effect is a very old staple. Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Flip Wilson, Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx: The list goes on and on. It is not unimaginable, given the role of transgenderism in our culture today, that in the years—or days—ahead, we’ll have a similar moral panic over dressing in drag (at least by cis-men) and be told that this is—and was—some kind of hate crime. Will Dustin Hoffman ask AFI to take Tootsie off its 100 best films list? Will Tom Hanks get embroiled in a “scandal” because someone dug up an old VHS of Bosom Buddies? Will Mrs. Doubtfire go the way of Gone with the Wind or Birth of a Nation? And don’t get me started on the intersectional chimera that is White Chicks.

It’s one thing to say, “We should stop doing X.” It’s quite another to say the people who did X when X was entirely normal are now pariahs.

There is something vaguely Maoist about the mood out there. During the Cultural Revolution the young firebrands attacked and humiliated older Communist leaders for the sin of not being sufficiently imbued with the spirit of revolution, or something. The “Black Line” theory of artistic interpretation—which led to the deaths and imprisonment of countless artists and intellectuals —basically held that if you once wrote or painted something “wrong” by the current revolutionary standard, you should be forcibly reeducated, even though what you wrote or painted wasn’t wrong when you painted it. 

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