Skip to main content

On May 5 at the PEN Literary Gala, the magazine Charlie Hebdo will be awarded the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award. At least 204 PEN members have signed a letter objecting to the honor, complaining that Charlie Hebdo offended Muslims and therefore is unworthy of any award.

The anti-Charlie Hebdo backlash began with resistance to the “Je Suis Charlie” campaign. I can understand why some people misinterpreted “Je Suis Charlie” to mean agreement with what was printed in its pages, and why they might not wish to participate in such an endorsement, even at a time of great tragedy. But I cannot comprehend this opposition to the PEN Award for Charlie Hebdo.

According to the letter, “What is neither clear nor inarguable is the decision to confer an award for courageous freedom of expression on Charlie Hebdo, or what criteria, exactly were used to make that decision.” In fact, the criteria were probably clearer than for any of PEN’s literary awards: a group of writers were murdered for offending religious beliefs, and their colleagues displayed courage in continuing to publish and refusing to submit to terrorism. The Courage award is not an award for literary excellence or ideological agreement with the majority of PEN members.

The letter argues that the award could have gone to “any of a number of journalists and whistleblowers who have risked, and sometimes lost, their freedom (and even their lives) in service of the greater good.” That’s true. But there’s no example of any recent mass murder specifically targeting writers and artists like the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

The letter calls for a disturbing new standard for the award: expression “fastidiously exercised for the good of humanity.” How many of us could ever meet such a standard? Should “fastidiously exercised for the good of humanity” become the new standard for PEN literary awards, rather than literary excellence? Should authors be judged by the correctness of their views rather than their literary abilities?

According to the letter, “Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet must be seen as being intended to cause further humiliation and suffering.” This is a strange notion of a bunch of cartoonists scheming to each other, “let’s make those Muslims suffer…by drawing cartoons of religious icons.” I suppose that’s possible, but I can’t imagine how the letter writers know this “must” be the case. It seems much more likely that the cartoonists thought, “Ha, ha, let’s mock organized religion and show how ridiculous their archaic rules are by violating them.”

Of course, anyone who talks about the “suffering” of people offended by a cartoon they’ve never seen, and considers it more noteworthy than the actual suffering of people murdered for drawing cartoons, is guilty of a disturbing kind of double standard. We all suffer when artists are murdered for their ideas. We suffer from fear and self-censorship and loss of our voices.

The letter worries that “PEN is not simply conveying support for freedom of expression, but also valorizing selectively offensive material: material that intensifies the anti-Islamic, anti-Maghreb, anti-Arab sentiments already prevalent in the Western world.” But this principle is dangerous in seeking to ban all honors for “offensive” works. It’s an indisputable fact that Salmon Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, offended the sensibilities of millions of Muslims (or might have, if they had been allowed to read it). The fatwa issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran to kill Rushdie (and the murder of one of his translators) was an appalling attack on free speech, regardless of whether you think Rushdie’s novel was guilty of insulting Islam.

But according to the logic of these letter writers, Rushdie could not be honored by PEN for his courage because his book offended members of an oppressed minority. Unless the letter writers endorse a kind of literary arrogance (Rushdie is a “serious” novelist, so he deserves to be defended, but lowly cartoonists should not receive awards for free speech), there is no real distinction to be made. Either you believe that all literary awards and honors should be withheld from people who publish ideas deemed offensive, or you do not. And I do not.

None of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons called for killing Muslims, or banning them from France, or silencing their freedom of speech. The cartoons simply sometimes mocked religions, including Islam.

According to the letter, “In the aftermath of the attacks, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons were characterized as satire and ‘equal opportunity offense,’ and the magazine seems to be entirely sincere in its anarchic expressions of principled disdain toward organized religion. But in an unequal society, equal opportunity offence does not have an equal effect. Power and prestige are elements that must be recognized in considering almost any form of discourse, including satire. The inequities between the person holding the pen and the subject fixed on paper by that pen cannot, and must not, be ignored.”

No one is talking about ignoring inequities. But inequities are not cured by making certain religions immune from criticism.

And since the internet is global, does that mean anything offensive to anyone should be denounced because someone, somewhere is a member of an oppressed minority? Since Christians are oppressed minorities in certain Muslim countries, does that mean criticism of the Pope is also off-limits?

Let me also point out that irreverent atheists are a minority in every part of the world, and one of most oppressed groups in the world. Yet this letter suggests that an oppressed minority such as the anti-religious atheists at Charlie Hebdo should be silenced and condemned for expressing their ideas. Exactly why should the desire of certain oppressed Muslims to censor trump the desire of certain oppressed atheists to speak? What kind of elitist arrogance gives these writers the authority to decide that murdered cartoonists and atheists are powerful, while all Muslims are powerless?

The inequalities between these privileged, safe writers holding the pen and the corpses of the cartoonists who are the subject of their attack cannot, and must not, be ignored.

The PEN Courage Award is not the end of a conversation. This Award does not prevent anyone from talking about the genuine oppression that some Muslims experience in France and other countries. The Award does not require anyone to support the ideology of every cartoon Charlie Hebdo ever printed or to endorse its literary excellence. But the Award is an acknowledgement that a terrible crime was committed in an attempt to silence free speech, and that Charlie Hebdo responded with great courage.

Crossposted from AcademeBlog.


Today, Robert Feder, the top journalist covering media in Chicago, reported that Rush Limbaugh will be dumped by Chicago radio station WLS AM-890 by the end of March. This is the one of the biggest blows to Limbaugh so far. WLS is not just a big radio station in Chicago, but its powerful signal gets Limbaugh listeners across much of the Midwest. I believe that there isn't another radio station playing Limbaugh within 90 miles of Chicago.

This is all about the money. According to Feder:

a source familiar with the decision said it was based on the show’s diminished ratings and failure to generate advertising revenue for the station, adding: “It’s impossible to sell.”
Limbaugh's ratings have never been good in Chicago, but recently his ratings have dropped substantially, especially in younger target audiences. Feder reported:
The latest Nielsen Audio survey shows WLS ranked 24th from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays with a 1.5 percent share and cumulative weekly audience of 121,300. Among listeners between 25 and 54 — the group most sought by advertisers — WLS tied for 31st with a 0.8 share and 47,300 weekly cume. For the full year 2014, 62 percent of Limbaugh’s audience was over 55, and 34 percent was over 65, according to Nielsen Audio.
Ranking 31st in the target demographic puts Limbaugh virtually at the bottom of Chicago radio stations. Although the boycotts against Limbaugh's advertisers have hurt him and probably contributed to this decision, ultimately Limbaugh is being dumped by WLS simply because no one wants to listen to him anymore. His tiny cadre of dedicated Dittoheads keeps aging and dying off.

As I noted in my 2011 book about Limbaugh, his brand of bigotry is driving away a younger cohort of conservative listeners. Limbaugh won't be going away anytime soon. WIND AM 560, a smaller all-conservative talk radio station, will probably snap him up quickly. He will have a huge audience across America as long as he wants to broadcast. But his relevance to the American political scene is fading along with his audience.

UPDATE: Feder reports that Cumulus Media is now denying that it is dropping Limbaugh, with a spokesperson saying, "This is not at all accurate. Any report to the contrary is false." But Feder always has good sources, and I've never seen him be wrong about a major personnel change at a Chicago radio station. In all likelihood, the decision has been made, but it hasn't been finalized.

Crossposted at LimbaughBook.


Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri has been deported to Qatar after spending 13 years in a US Navy brig and a federal prison for being an al-Qaeda agent and providing material support to terrorists.

But the full story about the al-Marri case reveals the failure of the Bush Administration’s approach to terrorism. I've been reporting on the al-Marri case for more than a decade. Torture and the violation of Constitutional rights didn’t work. But al-Marri was not some innocent victim. Al-Marri has expressed regret for working with al-Qaeda, but it’s not clear that he has abandoned his terrorist past. As a computer expert, al-Marri could pose a danger anywhere.

The incompetence began when al-Marri was facing trial for fraud in 2003 in Peoria. There’s no doubt that he was guilty, and would have been found guilty. But the Bush Administration wanted al-Marri to reveal information about al-Qaeda. So they decided to name him an "enemy combatant" in order to have full control over him and perhaps use their "enhanced interrogation" techniques. In fact, the Bush Administration was so anxious to have al-Marri as an "enemy combatant" that they agreed to drop the fraud charges "with prejudice," meaning that he could never be charged with them again. Reports indicate that the Bush Administration never got any worthwhile information from al-Marri; the "enemy combatant" designation was an utter failure.

This was the first major error of the Bush Administration. If al-Marri had been convicted on fraud, the years he spent in prison for that would not be deducted from his 15-year sentence. In essence, by naming al-Marri an "enemy combatant," the Bush Administration ended up reducing his time in prison.

The second major mistake of the Bush Administration was the torture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. By torturing Mohammed rather than using normal interrogation techniques, the Bush Administration made all of the evidence he provided inadmissible in any court. If the more reliable and effective interrogation techniques that reject torture had been used, prosecutors would have been able to tie al-Marri directly to terrorism.

The problem for prosecutors today is that al-Marri had never been an operational terrorist, and although he was an al-Qaeda agent, he was sent as a sleeper agent to the US to coordinate al-Qaeda’s follow-up operatives arriving after 9-11, operatives who never arrived due to the global crackdown on al-Qaeda. Without Mohammed’s evidence and without the fraud evidence that the Bush Administration had tainted and dismissed with prejudice, prosecutors were in a very difficult position to prove that al-Marri had done anything illegal.

That’s why they felt forced to agree to a relatively short sentence that just ended. Once again, we’re all paying the price for the failures of the Bush Administration.

Al-Marri came to Peoria with his wife and five children on Sept. 10, 2001 to enroll as a graduate student in computer science at Bradley University (which he had attended as an undergraduate two decades earlier). While the government portrays al-Marri as a key al-Qaeda figure in America, he is also the center of a fight over whether civil liberties will be sacrificed to fight the “war on terrorism.” On June 23, 2003, George W. Bush designated al-Marri as the third “enemy combatant” in America, depriving him of all legal rights.

While evidence of al-Marri’s involvement in illegal and perhaps terrorist activities has steadily accumulated, so too did the fact that the government is violating his constitutional rights with little justification. The Bush Administration’s efforts to deny al-Marri his rights have done nothing to protect America from terrorism, and its mishandling of the al-Marri case could eventually allow him to go free.

When the FBI first questioned al-Marri, at his apartment in West Peoria on Oct. 2, 2001, it was based on a police stop where al-Marri was found to have a briefcase full of cash (Al-Marri reportedly received over $13,000 in cash from Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, the financier who bankrolled the September 11th attacks).

A tip from a US Cellular salesman worried about al-Marri’s cell phone calls to the Middle East may also have led to a deeper investigation. Because his enrollment forms at Bradley had listed two different birthdates, the FBI paid a visit to al-Marri. FBI agents continued to investigate al-Marri, and on Dec. 11, 2001, visited his home again.

They say al-Marri gave them permission to search his apartment and his laptop.
On al-Marri’s laptop, FBI computer experts found files with more than 1,750 credit card numbers, along with bookmarked websites about computer hacking, credit card fraud, buying hazardous chemicals, and making fake driver’s licenses. Al-Marri’s computer also included proxy software used to conceal identity on the internet, and hacker programs used to gather information about other people’s computers.

Al-Marri’s laptop also indicated his support of bin Laden, including an Arabic prayer that “Neither the U.S. nor anyone living in it will dream of security/safety before we live it in Palestine and before the infidel armies leave the land of Mohammed,” and that God should “protect” and “guard” Usama bin Laden. The laptop also included audio files of lectures by bin Laden, lectures advising how to train in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, photos of the 9-11 attacks and of prisoners held in Kabul, and a note in Arabic declaring: “Neither the U.S. nor anyone living in it will dream of security/safety before we live it in Palestine and before the infidel armies leave the land of Mohammed.”

On Dec. 12, al-Marri returned to the FBI offices, but this time he asked for a lawyer, and refused to take a polygraph test. Agents confronted him with a list of 36 expired credit cards numbers on two sheets of paper in his laptop’s carrying case, a list that included the owners’ names and expiration dates. Al-Marri claimed that the handwriting on the sheets wasn’t his, and said he knew nothing about them. On orders from the New York City offices, federal agents arrested al-Marri that afternoon as a “material witness.” After a few weeks in the Peoria County Jail, al-Marri was flown to New York and put in the Special Housing Unit at the Metropolitan Correctional Center.

On Dec. 14, 2001, FBI agents got a search warrant for al-Marri’s apartment, and found an almanac with business cards used to mark pages showing U.S. dams, reservoirs, waterways and railroads. They also found an Arabic prayer calling for the defeat of the “villainous” Christians and Jews in Palestine, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Chechnya.

The Credit Card Scheme

On Jan. 28, 2002, al-Marri was arrested and charged with unauthorized possession of “more than 15” access devices — the credit-card numbers — with the intent to defraud. He was indicted on the charge Feb. 6, 2002. After al-Marri and his attorneys decided that Manhattan was a bad place for a terrorism suspect to go on trial, they asked for the venue to be moved back to central Illinois, where the alleged crimes had taken place, so the government dropped the charges in New York and re-filed them in Peoria.

In the summer of 2000, al-Marri came to central Illinois and created a fake company, AAA Carpets, in room 209 at the Time Out Motel in Macomb, Il., using the name Abdullakareem A. Almuslam. Western Illinois University student Matt Stiles, who hooked up a high-speed internet connection for al-Marri, told the Chicago Tribune, “He said it was very important that he have fast Internet service.” According to Stiles, “All I know is he sat around and was on the Internet all day.”

Al-Marri used a false name and stolen Social Security number to open accounts at three banks in Macomb, and opened a credit card processing account. Using stolen credit card numbers, al-Marri processed fake transactions, and then moved the money out before the credit card companies and banks figured out the fraud.

Although al-Marri denied the allegations, the evidence against him seemed overwhelming. Six of the stolen credit card numbers used by “Almuslam” were later found on al-Marri’s laptop. A witness in Macomb picked al-Marri out of a photo line-up as the man calling himself “Almuslam.” Fingerprints on the “Almuslam” bank documents in Macomb matched al-Marri. Airline records show that an Ali S. al-Marri took a flight from Saudi Arabia to Frankfurt and then O’Hare on May 25-26, 2000.
The summer “Almuslam” was in Macomb, he made a call to a travel agency, arranging for a flight by a man named Ali al-Marri, who took a flight from Peoria to Chicago and then New York on Aug. 18, 2000, and then returned the next day, missing the connection to Peoria. Al-Marri soon left the country, and flew from Frankfurt back to Saudi Arabia on Aug. 21, 2000.

But the Macomb evidence proves that al-Marri was a criminal, not necessarily a terrorist. In January 2003, federal prosecutor Michael McGovern told a judge that al-Marri had used credit card fraud to provide “material support” to al-Qaeda, but no evidence of this has ever been publicly produced.

The Al-Qaeda Phone Number

In addition to the fraud charges, al-Marri was also charged with two counts of lying to federal agents. The government accused al-Marri of falsely denying that he called a phone in the United Arab Emirates, and of falsely claiming that he hadn’t been in the country in 2000 when the credit card fraud was perpetrated.

On four occasions in 2001, al-Marri tried (unsuccessfully) to call a number in United Arab Emirates using public pay phones in Illinois. On Sept. 23, a call was made from a store in Peoria near his apartment, using a phone card that was also used on al-Marri’s cell phone on Sept. 27 and his home phone on Oct. 24. On Oct. 14, the same number was called around 2am using the same phone card from a gas station in Springfield; around the same time, al-Marri’s cell phone was used near Springfield. On Nov. 4, the number was called twice from pay phones in Chicago, using a second phone card; that same phone card was used three days later from al-Marri’s home phone.

The FBI was suspicious of the phone number because it was used on Sept. 3, 2001 by Ramzi Bin Al-Shibh to transfer money to Zacarias Moussaoui, the “20th hijacker” for the 9-11 attacks. The phone number was also listed by al-Qaeda financier, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (arrested in Pakistan on March 1, 2003 along with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed). Al-Hawsawi, who is accused of sending money to the 9-11 hijackers, listed the number on a withdrawal slip from a United Arab Emirates (UAE) bank.
The number was also called by 9-11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, who listed the phone number when he sent a Fed Ex package to the UAE on Sept. 4, 2001. The 9-11 hijackers returned leftover money to the account opened by al-Hawsawi shortly before the attacks. The phone number was also used in the transfer of money to Ramzi Muhammad Abdullah bin al-Shibh, whom American officials believe was intended to be another 9-11 hijacker. But when questioned by the FBI about it, al-Marri denied calling the phone number or knowing al-Hawsawi. On Dec. 23, 2002, al-Marri was charged with making false statements to the FBI denying that he called the number.

The Enemy Combatant

While al-Marri was awaiting his trial, the US got a lucky break in capturing Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the global leader of al-Qaeda operations, on March 1, 2003. Under torture (including waterboarding), Mohammed revealed some information about the al-Qaeda network, and named al-Marri as “the point of contact for AQ operatives arriving in the US for September 11 follow-up operations.” Newsweek claimed that Mohammed described al-Marri as “the perfect sleeper agent because he has studied in the United States, had no criminal record and had a family with whom he could travel.”

But one Newsweek reporter admitted to a Peoria Journal-Star columnist there wasn’t evidence of contact with other al-Qaeda operatives. “That’s the mystery here,” reporter Daniel Klaidman said. “If he was the main contact, we probably would’ve seen more evidence of him talking to others.” Because some of the information linking al-Marri to terrorism was acquired using torture, it’s unreliable and cannot be allowed in a court of law.

According to the government, al-Marri trained at al-Qaeda’s al Farooq camp in Afghanistan, including training in chemical weapons, and pledged service to Osama bin Laden, offering himself for a “martyrdom” mission. Some detainees reportedly identified al-Marri as being at the al-Farooq camp, and said that he offered to die for al-Qaeda. With this additional information, the Bush Administration decided to name al-Marri an enemy combatant–even though he was arrested on American soil, and has never been accused of carrying out any acts of violence.

Bush’s June 23, 2003 order declared that “al-Marri engaged in conduct that constituted hostile and war-like acts, including conduct in preparation for acts of international terrorism,” and he “represents a continuing, present and grave danger to the national security of the United States.” The order claimed that the enemy combatant designation was “necessary to prevent him from aiding al-Qaeda in its efforts to attack the United States or its armed forces, other government personnel, or citizens.”
The Defense Department said al-Marri’s status was changed ‘‘due to recent credible information provided by other detainees in the war on terrorism. Enemy combatant status may be used to describe an individual who, under the laws and customs of war, has become a member of or associated himself with hostile enemy forces, thereby attaining the status of a belligerent.’’

This doesn’t describe al-Marri at all, even if the worst accusations against him are true. First of all, there is no declared war with al-Qaeda, because al-Qaeda is a terrorist group, not an enemy nation. Second, al-Marri’s alleged membership in the group is tenuous at best. Third, al-Marri was never a belligerent of any kind. A statement from Human Rights Watch charged, “The United States cannot declare a criminal suspect, including a suspected member of al-Qaida, an enemy combatant, except where there has been direct participation in an international armed conflict.”

Jan Paul Miller, federal prosecutor for central Illinois, filed to dismiss the criminal case without prejudice—meaning that the government could later reinstate the charges. And the judge seemed willing to support that ruling, but wanted to give defense attorneys time to prepare a response. However, the government was under orders to get al-Marri into military custody immediately, and rather than have a few hours delay for a response by al-Marri’s attorneys, they agreed to dismiss the charges with prejudice, which means al-Marri can never be prosecuted for his acts of credit card fraud and lying. This critical decision may come back to haunt the government now that al-Marri’s enemy combatant status is overturned.

The fact that al-Marri was already in jail awaiting trial on fraud charges made the sudden rush by the Bush Administration even more puzzling. Alice Fisher, deputy assistant attorney general, told the media, “We are confident we would have prevailed,” but dropped the charges in order to help fight terrorism. Fisher has admitted that investigators do not believe that al-Marri was “specifically tasked” to plot a chemical or biological attack in the United States. Instead, Newsweek reports that government officials believe al-Marri was assigned to hack into the computer systems of U.S. banks. Al-Marri also frequently visited websites on the production of hydrogen cyanide, a lethal gas that al-Qaeda plotted to use in America. Given al-Marri’s suspected role, why was it necessary to shift the case to military tribunals, which cannot rule on the dismissed charges of fraud and lying?

According to an ABC News report, al-Marri was made an “enemy combatant” because “the government does not want senior al-Qaeda leaders testifying about classified information in open court.” Yet this explanation is not plausible, since the fraud charges against al-Marri wouldn’t have required any classified information. Classified information might come out only if terrorism charges were filed against him, but it’s doubtful that evidence acquired more than five years ago would seriously undermine the war on terror.

Putting the Pressure on al-Marri

The real reason for “enemy combatant” status was revealed anonymously to journalists. United Press International reported that a Justice Department official said “that the actual reason for the change in status was to pressure him to cooperate.” According to the anonymous official, “If the guy says ‘Even if you give me 30 years in jail, I’ll never help you.’ Then you can always threaten him with indefinite custody incommunicado from his family or attorneys.” Attorney General John Ashcroft declared, “An individual with that kind of situation is an individual who might know a lot about what could happen, might know the names of individuals, information being so key to intelligence and prevention.”

On May 7, 2003, federal prosecutor David Kelley, according to al-Marri’s attorney, threatened al-Marri that if he continued a plea of innocence, “the circumstances of his confinement, which were already severe, would be further aggravated.” For years, al-Marri was kept in solitary confinement, and reportedly also had his family threatened by the government in an effort to get him to talk.

Even if al-Marri didn’t confess under this “pressure,” the government hoped that making al-Marri an “enemy combatant” might give a lesson to al-Qaeda supporters who were reluctant to cooperate. CNN reported that “senior FBI official” said the al-Marri case had implications for other terrorism suspects: “If I were in their shoes, I’d take a message from this.”

Frank Dunham, a defense attorney representing Zacarias Moussaoui and Yassir Hamdi, called this a significant admission: “In front of appeals courts, they have argued that enemy combatant status prevents the horror of having corporals and sergeants having to follow Miranda warnings and chain-evidence requirements. They have also argued for the national security implications of allowing it. But never a frank admission that it offers them more leverage in plea bargains and cooperation.”

When Constitutional rights are abandoned solely for the sake of intimidating prisoners, it indicates a serious threat to civil liberties. As Emily Tynes of the ACLU observes, “The Department of Justice’s treatment of al-Marri reads like a case study in abuse of power.” Tynes notes, “He will be held in a military brig indefinitely, without opportunity for trial, without the opportunity for counsel, without access to the outside world or even, necessarily, sunshine. He now has no rights. He now has no privileges. He is persona non grata.”

Unfortunately, few people were concerned about the violations of civil liberties in the al-Marri case. Then-Congressman Ray LaHood (who became a member of Obama’s cabinet) told WGLT about the al-Marri case at the time: “I guarantee you, if these folks get lawyers, they will have their day in court.” LaHood claimed, “I don’t see too many crocodile tears being spread around this country for these people. I guarantee you, there’s enough civil liberties groups to look after their interests.” LaHood may have been unaware of the fact that an “enemy combatant” is denied the constitutional right to a lawyer.

Former judge Andrew Napolitano, the senior judicial analyst at Fox News, noted in the Los Angeles Times about the al-Marri case, “We have tried the likes of Timothy McVeigh and Charles Manson, Al Capone and O.J. Simpson, Tokyo Rose and the Rosenbergs. So who is an enemy combatant? Not John Walker Lindh, who fought alongside the Taliban. Not Zacarias Moussaoui, who the government says helped plan the 9/11 attacks. Not Lyman Faris, who allegedly plotted to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. The Constitution protected their rights. Who is an enemy combatant? Today, it can be anyone the president wants. And that is terrifying.”

Hamdi v. Rumsfeld

Al-Marri’s case was the first time any president has ever stopped a judicial process by declaring someone an “enemy combatant.” The fraud and lying charges against al-Marri could have carried penalties of five to 30 years in prison, with fines of up to $1 million on each count. Clearly, there was no immediate danger that al-Marri would be released to organize terrorist activities if not for the “enemy combatant” designation.

To the contrary, al-Marri could have been kept in prison for years on fraud and lying charges, and by the time he was scheduled for release, terrorism charges could be filed without any danger to national security. Because the government did not file any terrorism charges against him, al-Marri would have no right to call any witnesses with potentially sensitive information. The public information already released in indictments was more than sufficient to convict al-Marri.

By refusing to respect civil liberties, the Bush Administration could have ended up allowing an al-Qaeda agent to get away with his crimes. Many experts felt that the Obama Administration might release al-Marri and send him back to his home country, Qatar. But with his skills in computer fraud, Al-Marri can pose a threat to America from anywhere in the world.

Most important of all, the Bush Administration put the Bill of Rights at risk by treating it so cavalierly as an inconvenience to be dismissed whenever it suits the “war on terror.” Ali al-Marri is not an innocent man. But until he is granted his rights and his day in court, we will all see our civil liberties reduced. The only way the terrorists can ultimately win is to lead us to reject the freedoms considered fundamental to our democracy.

The Obama Administration, anxious to reverse the Bush Administration policies and avoid an almost certain defeat in the Supreme Court, decided to try al-Marri in the regular court system. That led to al-Marri’s guilty plea, and the sentence for material support for terrorism that al-Marri just completed before his deportation to Qatar.


Rick Perlstein’s new book The Invisible Bridge, is sure to anger some conservatives who think Ronald Reagan qualified for sainthood long ago. And it angered one Reagan lover in particular, Craig Shirley, who runs a PR firm for clients like Ann Coulter and Citizens United, and who wrote a book about Reagan 10 years ago that Perlstein cites extensively in his book.

But now Shirley is hallucinating that Perlstein didn’t cite his book, and is accusing him of plagiarism. Shirley’s lawyer, Chris Ashby, wrote to Simon & Schuster, making what might be among the most audacious demands in the history of publishing, for the destruction of the book and the payment of $25 million in damages:

Mr. Shirley demands that all printed copies of The Invisible Bridge be withdrawn and destroyed. If Simon & Schuster decides to re-issue The Invisible Bridge. Mr. Shirley demands proper attribution for each and every piece of his work that Mr. Perlstein has quoted, paraphrased, used or otherwise relied upon. Likewise, digital copies should be revoked and replaced. And given the extent of the infringement—and what we believe to be its knowing and willful nature—Mr. Shirley also demands $25 million in damages and a public apology from Simon & Schuster and Mr. Perlstein, to be run as an advertisement in/on The Nation, New Republic, Newsweek, The New York Times, Salon, Slate and The Washington Post.
Paul Krugman has called this smear of Perlstein “grotesque,” but the New York Times media article by Alexandra Alter called Shirley’s complaints “the most serious accusations” against Perlstein, without bothering to contact any experts who could easily point out that they aren’t serious at all.

I’ve written extensively about the issue of plagiarism, and even defended Alan Dershowitz against charges of plagiarism. I haven’t read Perlstein’s book, but nothing cited by Shirley’s lawyer comes even close to plagiarism. The worst thing Perlstein is guilty of might be using the same words “festooned” and “dissolving” as Shirley did in describing a couple of scenes. It’s not plagiarism, it’s paraphrasing, and it’s commonly used to describe the atmosphere at a historical event, where you want to be as accurate as possible without losing the narrative in a string of quotes from historians.

This whole controversy apparently started with a complete misunderstanding by Shirley about Perlstein’s decision to place endnotes online rather than in the physical book. According to Shirley’s lawyer: “After realizing the book contained no bibliography, footnotes, end notes or other citations, Mr. Shirley initiated an exchange of e-mail messages in which Mr. Perlstein confessed to making a ‘principled decision’ to omit them because he thought they were ‘useless except for show.’”

Of course, Perlstein didn’t omit the endnotes and citations; he put them on his website, laboriously including links to every possible primary and secondary source. But Shirley (whose credibility in recounting these conversations is obviously questionable) mistakenly believed that Perlstein had utilized Shirley’s book as a key reference without attribution, and then Perlstein bragged to him about how he thinks citations are “useless.” Anyone who glances at the thousands of citations for Perlstein’s book can see how absurd this idea is.

And then Shirley apparently deluded himself into thinking that Perlstein’s entire concept of writing a book about Reagan had been stolen, along with much of its content, from Shirley’s own book. According to David Weigel at Slate, “It did not matter to Shirley that Perlstein had put citations online.”

That’s a shocking admission, because it matters a great deal. Online citations are a perfectly legitimate means of sourcing—in fact, Perlstein’s approach is superior to conventional footnoting because it allows readers to click on many of his sources and read the original work themselves, which is hardly the tactic of a plagiarist. Yet Fred Barnes at the Weekly Standard lies to his readers by declaring that “there are no footnotes in Perlstein’s book.”

Of course, Shirley’s lawyer eventually did figure out that Perlstein’s endnotes were online. But by that point, he already had a job to do, and so claimed that the many citations of Shirley in the endnotes were just further proof of theft:

Mr. Perlstein’s source notes also establish just how important Reagan’s Revolution was to him as he wrote The Invisible Bridge. Indeed, we think it is unlikely that Mr. Perlstein even could have completed his book without Mr. Shirley’s book.
The idea that Perlstein could not have finished his book without Shirley is completely laughable. In fact, Perlstein was extremely gracious in his book to Shirley, thanking him in the acknowledgements for saving him “3.76 months of work.” All historians utilize the work of those who preceded them, and 3.76 months is a rather small proportion of the time Perlstein spent on this book. A simple glance at Perlstein’s thousands of endnotes shows how extensive his research was, and what a small proportion of the work relied upon Shirley’s book. It’s ludicrous to imagine that Perlstein’s in-depth critique of Reagan is nothing more than the theft of a hagiography by a conservative hack.

Shirley’s lawyer complains in his letter threatening a lawsuit that

Mr. Perlstein’s blanket, backhanded reference to Mr. Shirley in the acknowledgements section of his book—he quips that Mr. Shirley “saved [him] 3.76 months of work”—is unavailing, particularly because it fails to mention Reagan’s Revolution by name.
It’s difficult to imagine a more petty complaint than, “you didn’t plug my 10-year-old book while you were thanking me.” Did Shirley really imagine that his book sales would skyrocket if his book was mentioned in the acknowledgements?

Shirley’s lawyer also claims that Perlstein uses “facts and ideas Mr. Shirley first discovered.” Yes, he does. It’s called research. But other claims in the lawyer’s letter are more obviously false, such as accusing Perlstein of “attempting to pass off information gleaned in interviews as if he had conducted them himself,” which, of course, nothing in those passages cited does.

And Shirley’s lawyer even constructs a bizarre conspiracy theory: “Mr. Perlstein actually called Mr. Shirley to discuss the work, much like a hit-and-run driver might return to the scene of his crime or lurk in his victim’s hospital lobby.” Or, much like a historian might call a writer in attempting to verify the sources for what he had published. What Shirley imagines to be some kind of criminal hunting him down to steal his work and then taunt him is, in fact, perfectly normal work for a top-notch scholar like Perlstein.

Shirley’s smears against Perlstein are part of a conservative effort to slam a liberal critic of Reagan. Even more disturbing that Shirley’s false accusations is this campaign to actually ban the book from being published and demanding $25 million (why not $1 billion, if you’re making up fictional numbers for nonexistent harms?).

Perlstein deserves to receive a critique based on the merits of his book, not unbelievable accusations of plagiarism that lack any foundation.

Crossposted at AcademeBlog.


Rep. Alan Grayson is well known as a progressive advocate in Congress, and a strong supporter of civil liberties. He is one of the few members of Congress ever to post at DailyKos and he is quite beloved here. That makes the bill he just proposed even more appalling.

On May 30, 2014, the very same day that Grayson passed an important amendment banning funding for prosecuting journalists for refusing to reveal their sources, Grayson introduced H.R. 4776, “To prohibit an institution of higher education that participates in a boycott of the Israeli government, economy, or academia from receiving funds from the U.S. federal government.” Grayson’s bill is part of a widespread attack on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Grayson’s bill is among the worst of these attacks. It would impose a total ban on federal funding to any college, public or private, that “adopts a policy or resolution, issues a statement, or otherwise formally establishes the restriction of discourse, cooperation, exchange, financial interaction, or any other involvement with the Israeli government, economy, or academia--including academic institutions or scholars on the basis of the connection of such institutions or such scholars to the State of Israel--then that institution shall be determined to be participating in a boycott of the Israeli government, economy, or academia.”

This is extraordinarily broad language. First of all, Grayson’s bill is not limited to academic boycotts. It covers any boycott of any Israeli product or company. So if a university decided not to invest in Israeli companies that are deemed to harm Palestinians, it would lose all federal funding. Want the campus cafeteria to boycott Israeli hummus? All federal funding will be immediately stripped from the college.

Second, Grayson’s bill goes far beyond attacking the BDS movement. For example, imagine that a serious of attacks by Palestinian terrorists in Israel causes an American university to temporarily stop sending its students to study abroad in Israel due to safety concerns. Under Grayson’s bill, this would constitute a boycott of an Israeli academic institution and result in the loss of all federal funding.

It’s unclear exactly how far Grayson’s bill would extend. If a student group or a department decided not to invite an Israeli scholar, would this trigger the total ban on federal funding? If a university issues a statement against injustices in Israel, would that violate this bill? That’s a matter of interpretation. But the effect of a ban on all federal funds would be so catastrophic to almost any college that the vagueness of this bill’s language would be likely to cause some universities to suppress academic freedom out of fear.

Regardless of whether or not you support boycotts of Israel, the use of government funding bans to force colleges to obey Grayson’s views about Israel is a tremendous attack on academic freedom and civil liberties.

Crossposted at AcademeBlog.


Last night, Rush Limbaugh was awarded the “Author of the Year” from the Children's Choice Book Awards, and declared, “It was a big deal.” No, it’s not. The award is not fake. It’s the notion that it represents any kind of merit that’s phony.

As Erin Gloria Ryan notes on Jezebel, the nominations are based on book sales, and the award is given to the book that receives the most votes online with no way to restrict who votes or how often, and nothing about the award represents merit.

These scam awards were created by the Children’s Book Council (CBC), a trade association of children’s book publishers who seek to promote literacy but especially like to sell more books. And this is an award that requires no work to produce because quality has nothing to do with it, that draws attention to the organization, and that promotes book sales. All these awards do is take the best-seller list and hand out awards based on it. According to the CBC, “The Author and Illustrator of the Year finalists are determined by the bestseller lists with an emphasis on Bookscan.”

Ryan’s only mistake is writing that Rush “probably won it by prompting his fans to vote for him.” No, Rush definitely won it by prompting his fans to vote for him.

On March 24, Rush announced the nomination and declared, “It's totally democratic. The nominations are determined by sales, not by choice or any other kind of bias. It's strictly by sales.” Welcome to Rush Limbaugh’s notion of democracy: It’s strictly by sales. Nevertheless, Rush declared, “We're very proud. We're very honored here.”

Then, the next day Rush devoted a segment of his radio show to the contest and urged his fans to go online and vote for him. Then, the day after that Rush again went on the air begging for listeners to vote for him: “We are in the second day of voting for the Children's Choice Book Awards. I just mentioned this a couple of times yesterday….” Rush placed a link for voting “right at the top of our home page.”

Rush said, “To win this award, I'm telling you, it's a very humbling thing because the readers -- kids -- vote.” Of course, if only kids had voted, Rush would have never won. Rush wasn’t promoting the contest during his show because he thought kids would hearing him and go vote. Rush has almost no kids listening to him. His audience is incredibly old on average, and his show airs during the middle of the school day. So when Rush pleaded for his listeners to vote for him, he knew it was the adults, not the kids, who were going to do it.

Rush even appeared at the Awards Gala in New York City last night to accept his award and said, “This is unexpected.” “I’m so honored by this…I’m honored and humbled.” It’s doubtful that Rush would ever fly from his home in Florida for the evening unless he knew he was going to win. It’s even more doubtful that Rush feels humbled by anything. Rush played his acceptance speech twice on his show today, because he is so humbled.

Limbaugh declared today, “I sent notes out to people last night saying that I'd won the award, and they said, ‘Oh, you won a Bookie,’ as in a Grammy, as in an Oscar. The Children's Choice Award, a Bookie.” Yes, it’s just like an Oscar — if the Oscars were tossed out to the highest-grossing movies based on an internet poll. It would be like nominating The Hunger Games, Iron Man 3, and Man of Steel for best screenwriting Oscars because they sold millions of tickets.

The irony here is that even though this scam award is just a popularity contest, three of Rush’s fellow nominees in the category (Rick Riordan, Veronica Roth, and Jeff Kinney) actually beat out Rush by a wide margin in 2013 sales according to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks 80% of all book sales (and Kinney also beat Rush in sales on Amazon). So Rush didn’t have the most book sales. He would never win a real popularity contest among children. There are no children begging to read the infantile musings of a talk show host about a time-travelling horse. No kids are asking for Rush’s books. It’s his adult fans who are buying them.  So why did Rush win the award? It’s simple. It’s the conservative bias of the media. No other author has a mass media platform to promote voting by fans. And in an internet poll with unlimited voting, Rush’s ability to command his Dittoheads to do his bidding mattered more than anything else.

Rush noted on the second day of voting, “we had a link up to the direct voting page, rather than the home page of the Children's Choice Book Awards….we have changed the link, and the link now just takes you to the home page of the Children's Book Council.” Rush may have been trying to game the system by directly linking to the voting page, not trusting the ability of his elderly listeners to navigate to the correct page. But he didn’t need to worry. Rush’s millions of listeners, voting multiple times, can easily win an internet poll.

After being abused by critics for his numerous errors and bad writing in Rush’s previous two (ghostwritten) books in the 1990s, Rush resisted the easy money of putting out another political book. But the prospect of a children’s book gave Rush the chance to cash in on something that couldn’t be dismissed for its dumbed-down rhetoric. By targeting 10 year-olds, Rush can finally write at an intellectual level that doesn’t strain his abilities, while being certain that all of the old folks who listen to him will buy any book he writes, even if he doesn’t actually write it. And the Rush Revere character is the embodiment of Rush’s devotion to product placement, since the book is based upon the logo for Rush’s bottled tea company, Two If By Tea, which he founded in 2009 as a cynical attempt to profit from the Tea Party movement.

No one doubts that Rush is financially successful. Like so many scam artists, he is skillful at extracting a good living from his gullible fans. This latest “award” is just a reflection of that ability to convince his devoted followers to buy his garbage, whether it’s sugar water or children’s books or conservative ideology. But Rush will use this "award" in the same way that he regularly claims to have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (which, as I note in my book about Rush, apparently never happened and doesn't mean anything): as a way to pump up his enormous ego while fooling his audience into thinking that anyone knowledgeable endorses his ideas.

I think Jon Stewart has the best response for the new Author of the Year, Rush Limbaugh:

Crossposted at LimbaughBook.

Did Rush Limbaugh deserve to win the children’s author of the year?

12%51 votes
17%72 votes
70%297 votes

| 420 votes | Vote | Results


Perhaps no one hated the announcement that Stephen Colbert will replace David Letterman on CBS’ The Late Show more than Rush Limbaugh, who has been the object of so much satire and scorn from Colbert over the years. Limbaugh declared on his show today, “CBS has just declared war on the Heartland of America. No longer is comedy going to be a covert assault on traditional American values, conservatives.”

I wish that was true. During all of the controversy over #CancelColbert, little attention was paid to the fact that Colbert’s character was never nearly as racist, sexist, and homophobic as he should have been to provide a realistic depiction of a conservative talk show host. Colbert was just too nice of a guy to be a consistent representative of a hate-filled, bigoted movement.

With his new show, Colbert will no longer utilize a Limbaugh-esque pompous fool character. But let’s hope he continues to be exactly what Limbaugh fears: an honest critic of the idiocy of today’s conservative movement. Sadly, too many network talk show hosts are afraid of alienating the right-wing extremists by being opinionated. The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have been incredibly successful precisely because they are fearless in confronting right-wing lies. If he wants to continue that success, Colbert needs to break out of the mold of apolitical talk show hosts who think that “the Heartland of America” is a bunch of mindless Dittoheads.

Limbaugh has always hated Colbert. In 2010, he called Colbert and Jon Stewart “stupid-and-smug-about-it, overpaid, metrosexual comedians.” Limbaugh has complained, “Colbert's shtick is to make Republicans look like idiots… to make us look like a bunch of Looney Tunes…”

Today, Limbaugh declared, “What this hire means is a redefinition of what is ‘funny’ and a redefinition of what is comedy.” As a self-styled comedian, Limbaugh is upset by the changing nature of humor. To Limbaugh, what’s funny is adopting a gay lisp to mock liberal men, it’s calling women “sluts” and “prostitutes,” it’s calling our first black president a “Halfrican-American” and playing satirical songs about “negroes.” That’s what is hilarious in a conservative world shaped by Limbaugh’s bigotry.

But it’s not Limbaugh’s world anymore. His sense of humor is dying out. Only a few years ago, Colbert would never have been considered for this job. Network heads would have said he was too liberal, too political, too sharp-edged in his satire. Now, as a younger generation rejects the old conservative humor of a Limbaugh, the nature of what’s funny is changing. CBS isn’t declaring war on conservatives by hiring Colbert. CBS is following a new generation of Americans who think making fun of bigots is funnier than being a bigot like Rush Limbaugh.

Crossposted at LimbaughBook.


On March 9, 1964, the unanimous US Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of New York Times v. Sullivan, revolutionizing freedom of the press by requiring “actual malice” in defamation suits involving public figures. The case began when a fundraising ad for the civil rights movement appeared in the New York Times, criticizing violence in the segregated south. L.B. Sullivan, an obscure Montgomery commissioner unnamed in the ad, claimed that criticism of the police harmed his reputation. The Rev. Joseph Lowery is the last surviving figure in the case, and he was an accidental defendant.

President Barack Obama presents the Medal of Freedom to Rev. Joseph Lowery, co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,  during a ceremony in the East Room at the White House August 12, 2009. The medal is the country's highest civilian honor.  (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
The names of Lowery and three other Alabama ministers were added to the ad at the last minute. Even though they had never seen the ad nor approved it, they were named in the libel suit in order to keep the case in Alabama courts, where an all-white jury quickly awarded $500,000 to Sullivan, the largest libel award in Alabama history at the time. Libel cases against civil rights activists and the media that covered them multiplied and threatened to bankrupt the civil rights movement.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery is a legend of the civil rights movement. He helped lead the Montgomery bus boycott, and with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. , Lowery founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and later served as its president for two decades. In 2009, Dr. Lowery delivered the benediction at the inauguration of Barack Obama, and later that year Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, declared: “Born and raised in Jim Crow Alabama, preaching in his blood, the Reverend Joseph Lowery is a giant of the Moses generation of civil rights leaders.”

At the age of 92, he continues to be active. This interview with Dr. Lowery was conducted via email with the help of his daughter, Cheryl Lowery, the Executive Director of the Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice & Human Rights at Clark Atlanta University.

Question: You testified that you had no knowledge of the ad in this case, and also that you didn’t even get the request for a retraction until after the lawsuit was filed. When did you find out about the ad, and did Bayard Rustin and John Murray ever apologize to you for adding your name to it?

Joseph Lowery: They did not need to apologize because we were not offended.

Q: How were your attorneys for the trial chosen and paid for? Did the four defendants meet to discuss legal strategy, and did you coordinate with the New York Times on your defense?

JL: The New York Times would not let us on their bond because they didn’t want to be exposed to Alabama law. There was no communication with them.

Q: There were many allegations of racism at the Sullivan trial, including the all-white jury, references by the lawyers to cannibalism in the Congo and Sammy Davis Jr., calling the black lawyers “lawyer” rather than “Mr.”, how the word “Negro” was pronounced, and the judge calling for “white man’s justice” and segregating the courtroom after some black and white spectators sat together. What do you remember about the racism of the trial?

JL: I remember very vividly the constant references to Sammy Davis, Jr., by the plaintiff’s attorneys because he had just married a white woman.

Q: You noted on C-SPAN (see the video, at 51:08) that you didn’t mention your hometown of Huntsville in your testimony for fear that they would seize some of your family’s property. How concerned were you that the hundreds of thousands of dollars sought in these lawsuits would affect your finances?

JL: Very concerned. My family had property in Huntsville so I mentioned Madison…Madison County. It kept my family property out of it.

Q: When law enforcement came to take your 1958 Chrysler, can you describe what the scene was like? Was it a surprise to you, or do you expect this to happen? And was the verdict in the Sullivan case a surprise to you?

JL: We were sure something was going to happen, but were not sure when or exactly what. I just remember my three daughters crying at the door at the car being taken away. They were traumatized and really confused about our only car being taken away. I was not surprised about the verdict. We expected to lose the case in Montgomery court. Our hope was in the Supreme Court.

Q: Did you think that the civil rights movement in Alabama was being targeted in this lawsuit, or do you think this case was aimed purely at the media and the four of you were brought in purely for jurisdictional diversity, to keep the case in Alabama courts?

JL: I think the Alabama politicians welcomed the opportunity to keep the case in Alabama; involving us gave them standing in Alabama.

Q: Did these lawsuits change the rhetoric that you and others in the Civil Rights Movement used? Did you avoid references to specific people, places, and incidents for fear that it would lead to litigation?

JL: No, the case did not affect our behavior at all.

Q: At the Supreme Court, you were represented by two very prominent lawyers, William Rogers and Judge Pierce. How did they get involved in the case, and did you speak with them about the legal strategy they used?

JL: They were kind and interested enough to volunteer their services. We were very grateful for their participation.

Q: William Rogers, in the final statement of the oral argument in the Sullivan case, declared: “if this case should stand then the cause of civil rights will be set back a great many years.” Do you agree? What might have happened to the Civil Rights Movement in the face of all these defamation suits?

JL: I think these cases gave our oppressors temporary reloading material, but only temporary.

Q: What do you think of the impact of the Sullivan decision on freedom of the press and free speech?

JL: I think the Supreme Court decision was a very positive factor in advancing the cause of free speech—a victory for free speech.

Crossposted at AcademeBlog.


Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh mocked U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen ruling (now corrected) that Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution because her opinion incorrectly mentioned that the “all men” are created equal was in the Constitution rather than the Declaration of Independence. What Rush didn’t mention is that he himself has misquoted and mixed up the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Limbaugh repeatedly denounced the judge: “Now, this judge does not know the Constitution from the Declaration of Independence.…she mixes up the Declaration with the Constitution.  She claims that the Constitution says that all men are created equal, and it doesn't!  The Declaration says that.”

And: “So basically here's a woman who thinks it's the Constitution that says all men are created equal.”

Limbaugh said: “And she's citing the Constitution as the reason for her ruling!  She's citing something that isn't there!  She's a federal judge.  We are so screwed.”

Allen’s ruling merely mentioned the phrase in the introductory paragraph as a core American legal principle (which it is), she didn’t cite it as the basis for her ruling.

But Limbaugh certainly can’t claim to be an expert on the Constitution. During his 2009 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) upon receiving the “Defender of the Constitution” award, Limbaugh proclaimed: "We believe that the preamble to the Constitution contains an inarguable truth that we are all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life. Liberty, Freedom. And the pursuit of happiness." The correct phrase is “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And these words don’t appear anywhere in the Constitution. They're from the Declaration of Independence.

It takes some hubris for a man who misquoted a clause in the Declaration of Independence (and claimed it was in the Constitution) to laugh at anyone else for getting the two mixed up.

Not only did Limbaugh mix up the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in 2009, but in 2013 he chose to re-play that part of his speech on his show because he thought it was so important, once again not realizing that he was wrong (and apparently not having read my 2011 book about Limbaugh where I mocked him for his mistake).

This isn’t Limbaugh’s only error about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. For example, he claimed that “when the Founders wrote the Constitution, they put the prescription in the Constitution for ending slavery, in the amendments, and in our founding document, the Declaration of Independence.” The Declaration of Independence says nothing about slavery, and the original Constitution actually defends the institution of slavery and requires the return of escaped slaves.

Crossposted at LimbaughBook.


Thu Jan 09, 2014 at 08:01 AM PST

Chris Christie Is a Republican

by JohnKWilson

Many commentators on the Christie bridge scandal have declared that this will harm Christie in the 2016 Republican primary. I don’t agree.

The New York Daily News called it Christie’s “Waterloo.” But Republican primary voters don’t include very many New York commuters who are easily annoyed by traffic problems.

After all, what was Christie doing? Harming ordinary Americans in order to attack Democratic politicians. That’s Republican gospel nowadays.

Consider the long list of actions committed by today’s Republican Party, and purposefully done in order to harm Americans for political reasons. We can begin with shutting down the government.

If you think shutting down part of one bridge for a couple of days was a nuisance and danger to Americans, that’s nothing compared to shutting down most of the federal government for 16 days. And unlike Christie, the Republicans in Congress celebrated this massive nationwide traffic delay as a great accomplishment in itself.

There’s a long list of other Republican policies that have also harmed the country far more than a bridge closure:
--threatening to default on the debt in order to reduce America’s credit rating.
--refusing to extend unemployment insurance.
--sequester cuts to social programs.
--opposing the Obama stimulus plan (which, ironically, included money to fix failing bridges) and blocking additional stimulus when the recession proved to be worse than expected.

The list could go almost forever; please add your favorites.

While it’s true that most Americans were appalled at the actions of these Republicans, as they were appalled by the bridge scandal, it’s also true that most Americans don’t vote in Republican primaries.

No, we should not call this scandal BridgeGate, even though that actually makes more sense than most of the silly -gate names tossed at Obama for 6 years. When we’re talking about harming America for partisan reasons, why should we give this any name other than Republican Party Policy?


Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 04:23 PM PDT

Inherit the Censorship

by JohnKWilson

In New Ulm, Minnesota, a small town 85 miles southwest of Minneapolis, this Friday was supposed to be the opening night for a production of "Inherit the Wind," the classic play written more than a half-century ago depicting a fictionalized version of the 1925 Scopes Monkey trial. Instead, the play has been shut down due to opposition from professors and administrators at Martin Luther College (MLC). The play's crime? Being pro-evolution, and thereby endangering the college's religious identity.

The play wasn't even being performed at MLC. It was a production of the New Ulm Actors Community Theatre. But the theater group has routinely held auditions and rehearsals at the college, and MLC student Zach Stowe was chosen as director. After seeing a poster for an audition of Inherit the Wind, MLC professors and administrators objected and banned the audition.

According to media reports, Stowe resigned as director after "a flood of e-mails and letters objecting to his association with the play from MLC professors" and community members, fearing possible punishment from the school. Following Stowe's departure, six cast members who were also MLC students resigned from the play, forcing it to be postponed and possibly cancelled.

Jeffrey Schone, MLC's VP of Student Life, explained: "We felt it was not compatible with what [the school] teaches the Bible says about the universe and the world. This is a ministerial school. People employing our students need confidence about their views." Now everyone can have confidence about the views of Martin Luther College students: their views are idiotic and their professors are equally stupid and believers in censorship.  

Crossposted at Academe Blog.


What happened at Kansas University this week completely disgusted me, and everyone who believes in academic freedom, or any kind of freedom, should agree.

Professor David Guth tweeted in response to one of the gun-related mass shootings this week: “The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.”

No, that wasn’t what disgusted me. Guth is right. Wishing that the NRA leaders might change their unrelenting opposition to gun control if their children (instead of other people’s children) had died in gun attacks might be naïve, but there’s nothing offensive about it. And there’s absolutely nothing deserving of punishment.

Wishing death upon someone might be cruel and insensitive, but it’s not illegal or punishable speech. And that’s not what Guth did. In this case, Guth wasn’t wishing death upon any specific person; he was asking the NRA to try to imagine how they would feel if their children died in gun attacks.

But the fact that I agree with Guth’s viewpoint makes absolutely no difference in my desire to defend his freedom of speech (or tweets). Imagine if a professor who is member of the NRA, in arguing for concealed carry laws, had told gun control advocates, “next time there’s a mass shooting, let your children be the unarmed people who are shot.” I might disagree with the NRA on this point. But I would never argue for that professor to be punished.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the right-wing in America, who launched a crusade to have Guth fired. Unfortunately, Kansas University administrators have now placed Guth on administrative leave and are going to investigate him for the thoughtcrime of daring to criticize the NRA in a conservative state.

State Sen. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, who is a high school teacher, declared: “As long as Professor Guth remains employed by the University of Kansas I will no longer recommend the university as an institution worthy of attendance by any of my students nor, as a state senator, will I support any budget proposals or recommendations for the University of Kansas.”

What kind of moron wants to cut off all funding and tells students to boycott an entire university because he doesn’t like one tweet by one professor? Now, just because I think Smith is an idiot and a scumbag, I don’t believe he should be fired from his job, I don’t believe that students should be warned against attending the school where he teaches, and I don’t believe that the government should cut off funding to that school.

State Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said, “Any attempt to continue employing this individual as an educational leader is offensive to taxpayers.” Personally, I think slimy politicians who want to violate the First Amendment are offensive to taxpayers.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, declared that Guth needed to be removed from KU’s faculty “immediately” and added, “Had he tweeted against a liberal advocacy group, a protected class, there is no question in my mind, that he would be removed.” I have no question in my mind that Bruce is wrong. Suppose after a terrorist attack, some right-wing professor blames the ACLU for defending the rights of potential terrorists and preventing the terrorist from being stopped, and then wishes that the children of ACLU leaders had died in the attack so that they might change their beliefs. I think such a professor might be criticized by many people, but I am certain that neither the ACLU nor Terry Bruce would demand that professor’s dismissal. The only hypocrisy I can see here is on the right.

Kansas State Rifle Association President Patricia Stoneking accused Guth of inciting violence, and said that her group “will do everything possible to see to the removal of this man. He should be fired immediately.”

Here’s an interesting irony: On June 3, 2013, Stoneking posted a message on the Facebook page of a right-wing survivalist militia group, the Kansas Frontiersmen. After Frontiersmen member James R. Miller Jr. posted a message on facebook denouncing the Moderate Party and fantasizing about “punching them in the throat and kicking there (sic) balls in until they can taste them,” Stoneking responded to the message by posting the home address of the Moderate Party’s co-chair, Aaron Estabrook. According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Facebook page also included “a photo shared by Miller of a statue of the mythological hero Perseus holding Medusa’s severed head to which had been added the text: ‘All hail Vox Imtimidatus, slayer of liberels (sic), no matter how cleverly they hide among us.’” What Stoneking did was far closer to inciting violence than even the worst interpretation of Guth’s tweet. She provided the home address of someone in response to a message offering direct threats of physical violence. Yet, Stoneking is the leader of one of the most powerful organizations in Kansas, someone Kansas politicians would never dare to criticize, while Guth faces an outpouring of threats (to his life and his career) for daring to criticize an organization with so much blood on its hands.

In response to the Guth controversy, the KU Board of Regents did not defend academic freedom but instead declared, “The Board of Regents expresses its disgust and offense at the statement made by David Guth.” This was a gutless and stupid statement. In general, a board of regents has no business evaluating the public comments of anyone on public policy matters, because doing so creates the impression that anyone who expresses such disfavored views may face a penalty. They have the freedom to abuse their responsibilities by making collective statements like this, but it is highly irresponsible.

Worse yet, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little announced, “In order to prevent disruptions to the learning environment for students, the School of Journalism and the university, I have directed Provost Jeffrey Vitter to place Associate Professor Guth on indefinite administrative leave pending a review of the entire situation.” It’s difficult to understand what these “disruptions” might be. If the “disruptions” are the public criticism of Guth, then there is absolutely no justification for removing Guth. If the “disruptions” are violent threats against Guth, then KU officials need to publicly condemn any threats and immediately move to prosecute anyone who makes them. When threats are made, the proper response is not to give into terrorism by suspending a professor, but to provide adequate security, and in the rare case of an overwhelming threat, to continue the teaching of the class online. The fact that KU officials have mentioned no threats of violence suggests that it is the threat to their appropriations that they’re truly concerned about.

The Chancellor’s actions are in direct violation of all Kansas University policies and procedures. The rules for KU faculty clearly protect freedom of expression, ban any discipline for reasons not specified (and mean tweeting isn’t one of them), and prohibit any discipline, including administrative leave, “without notice of the charges against him or her and the opportunity for a hearing….”

The suspension of a professor without any due process is a clear violation of academic freedom on its face. When a suspension is done in submission to demands by politicians for the firing of a controversial professor, then it is doubly suspect. When the suspension has no reasonable justification, then it has no legitimacy. It is absolutely clear that Guth threatened no one and presents no threat to anyone. Kansas University needs to immediately reverse his suspension, instead of sacrificing academic freedom on the altar of political expediency.

Crossposted at Academe Blog.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.


Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site