Thursday, January 14, 2021

Censorship a weapon that must be taken out of Big Tech’s hands

Claire Lehmann

On January 6, a violent mob inspired by US President Donald Trump and his claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him stormed the US Capitol, smashing windows, pummelling police and chanting “Hang Mike Pence”.

In the wake of the riot, Big Tech companies including Twitter, Facebook, Amazon and Apple have mobilised to quash insurrectionist activity on their platforms. For breaching Twitter’s “Glorification of Violence” policy, Trump has been given a permanent suspension from its service.

The two incriminating tweets that led to the suspension include the following, on January 8, 2021:

“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”

And: “To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”

The reasoning that Twitter has provided for the permanent suspension appears to be based on evidence that Trump’s supporters were using these two tweets in their planning of further violence.

Twitter’s press release stated: “Plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021.”

A day later, social media platform Parler, which is popular among American right-wingers, was banned from Apple’s app store and then swiftly removed from Amazon’s website-hosting service, AWS.

In addition to the social media bans, the Trump Organisation press email appears to be defunct, and its Shopify account has been taken down.

Almost all avenues of communication and commerce available to Donald Trump have been removed, virtually overnight.

Trump’s permanent suspension may well be supportable from a national security point of view, if these companies, in concert with US law enforcement, have credible evidence of further political violence. Yet the co-ordinated movement of these companies and their swift removal of Trump’s presence on the internet has chilled observers around the globe.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a “combative leftist”, decried the move by tech companies. “I don’t like censorship,” he told reporters. “I don’t like anyone to be censored and for them to have their right taken away to send a message on Twitter or on Facebook.”

Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who was poisoned with nerve agent just last year, has made the observation that “this precedent will be exploited by the enemies of freedom of speech around the world”, and that “of course, Twitter is a private company, but we have seen many examples in Russia and China of such private companies becoming the state’s best friends and the enablers when it comes to censorship”.

America – and the world – now faces the 21st century equivalent of the railroad problem. Railroads of the 19th century were the industrial world’s first monopoly, and legislation that was passed in the 1880s became the world’s first anti-monopoly laws. Big Tech companies have essentially built the railroads on which 21st century international communication and commerce operate. With the flick of a switch they can determine whether an individual (or group) can participate in the global marketplace.

It is a mistake to think that these private companies act with any coherent ethical framework in mind. While Apple has just banned Parler from its app store for violating its app store user terms, the company has also lobbied to water down provisions in a recent bill aimed at preventing forced labour in China. Similarly, Twitter allows Iran’s Ayatollah Imam Sayyid Ali Khamenei to tweet repeatedly about Israel being a “malignant cancerous tumour” that has to be “removed and eradicated”.

Other threats of violence are commonplace.

When the US experienced its “race reckoning” of 2020 following the death of George Floyd – a reckoning that led to widespread rioting, billions of dollars worth of property damage and an estimated 25 deaths – there was no crackdown on accounts that encouraged looting, property damage or arson.

It is domestic political pressure that has led to the swift and permanent suspension of Donald Trump. And it is domestic political pressure that has led Amazon to remove Parler from its website-hosting service. In the absence of regulation that would help tech companies make decisions with transparency, and an appeals process, tech CEOs respond to public outcry with ad hoc censorship.

Tech platforms have unleashed powers that have started to become unwieldy and beyond the control of their masters.

No chief executive wants to have the responsibility of having to mitigate imminent political violence. But Americans, and the world, should not burden them with this responsibility. It is time for the era of unregulated monopolistic tech platforms to come to a close.

Is Truth Irrelevant?

Thomas Sowell

It is amazing how many people seem to have discovered last Wednesday that riots are wrong -- when many of those same people apparently had not noticed that when riots went on, for weeks or even months, in various cities across the country last year.

For too many people, especially in the media, what is right and wrong, true or false, depends on who it helps or hurts politically. Too many media people who are supposed to be reporters act as if they are combatants in political wars.

Someone once said that, in a war, truth is the first casualty. That has certainly been so in the media -- and in much of academia as well.

One of the most grotesque distortions growing out of this carelessness with the facts has been a removal of Abraham Lincoln's name and statues from various places, on grounds that he saw black people only as property.

Such criticisms betray an incredible ignorance of history -- or else a complete disregard of truth.

As a lawyer, Abraham Lincoln knew that there was nothing in the Constitution which authorized him or any other president to free slaves. But he also knew that a military commander in wartime can legally seize the property of an enemy nation. Defining slaves as property gave President Lincoln the only legal authority he had to seize them during the Civil War. And once they were seized as property, he could then free them as human beings.

But, if the Emancipation Proclamation had based its action on defining the slaves as human beings, with a right to be free, the Supreme Court of that era would undoubtedly have declared it unconstitutional.

Millions of human beings would have remained slaves. Would ringing rhetoric be worth that price?

As for the claim that Lincoln did not regard black people as human, he invited Frederick Douglass to the White House!

Gross distortions of history, in order to get Abraham Lincoln's name removed from schools tells us a lot about what is wrong with American education today.

Many schools are closed because of the coronavirus and the teachers unions. And many schools in minority neighborhoods failed to teach children enough math and English, back when they were still open. So it is incredible that school authorities have time to spend on ideological crusades like removing names and statues from schools.

Unfortunately, too many American educational institutions -- from elementary schools to universities -- have become indoctrination centers. The riots that swept across the country last year are fruits of that indoctrination and the utter disregard for other people's rights that accompanied those riots.

At the heart of that indoctrination is a sense of grievance and victimhood when others have better outcomes -- which are automatically called "privileges" and never called "achievements," regardless of what the actual facts are.

Facts don't matter in such issues, any more than facts mattered when smearing Lincoln.

Any "under-representation" of any group in any endeavor can be taken as evidence or proof of discriminatory bias. But those who argue this way cannot show us any society -- anywhere in the world, or at any time during thousands of years of recorded history -- that had all groups represented proportionally in all endeavors.

In America's National Hockey League, for example, there are more players from Canada than there are players from the United States. There are also more players from Sweden than from California, even though California's population is nearly four times the population of Sweden.

Californians are more "under-represented" in the NHL than women are in Silicon Valley. But no one can claim that this is due to discriminatory bias by the NHL. It is far more obviously due to people growing up in cold climates being more likely to have ice-skating experience.

This is one of many factors that produce skewed statistics in many endeavors. Discriminatory bias is among those factors. But it has no monopoly.

Yet who cares about facts any more, in this age of indoctrination?

Why a White Mother Forced Her Children to Pray to Black Women on Social Media...It Didn't Go Over Well

It has to be said: white liberals are the worst. The ideology was already insufferable, but the antics of this annoying slice of America just makes everything more combustible. First, they think that their useless college degrees give them a badge to become the cultural appropriation police. Yeah, they get to be the protectors of communities of color in this regard because that’s not paternalistic, problematic, or wholly inappropriate at all right?

Second, the overreaction to everything within the ‘woke’ paradigm makes already annoying people seem like total aliens. The lengths to which these white people will go to prove that they’re not really ‘white’ within socio-political constructs is irrational and awkward. It’s a spectacle to watch for sure.

The best part is that activists who are in the black and Latino communities laugh at this stuff. They think it’s to all that helpful, which is true but also denigrating. This is a cause that’s dear to them. These white liberals are only doing this oddball stuff which I will get to in a second to increase social media presence.

On TikTok, some white mother forced her kids to pray to black women since Joe Biden is president and Donald Trump is no longer or something. This slice of America booted Trump, so pray, kids. Pray! Actually, it’s a bit more nuanced, lady. It was a combination of rich white liberals and white working-class voters coming out against Trump. The latter group was a marginal shift, but such shifts can land you in the political hurt box. Anyways, here’s more on this odd prayer circle, which later forced the mother to take it down after—shocker—a whole host of people found it insincere and problematic (via NY Post):

In a video liked more than 13 million times before disappearing from the platform, Justine Champion, dubbed @teenychamp on TikTok, drew both praise and criticism for her unorthodox dogma.

The footage, originally posted on Dec. 30, shows Champion with her four young sons on an outdoor play set. “Me teaching my white boys how to behave,” reads text on the clip.

“Black women are the reason Donald Trump is no longer gonna be our president,” she says, facing the camera while her sons bow amid giggles.


Not everyone found Champion’s sermon sincere.

“I’m a woman of color and agreed,” commented one TikTok user, according to Daily Mail. “But it’s annoying when people make these videos just for clout and not because they genuinely agreed.”


“I took it down after listening to some black women and their concerns,” she wrote. “Others want me to put it back up because they loved it. Either way I’m grateful they helped get rid of trump.”

These people are cancer. We haven’t even delved into the irony of the white liberal, which is that they overreact and overthink things they think are racist but really are not. They are the first to protest places engaging in so-called cultural appropriation but then are caught lying about their heritage for personal gain.

Elizabeth Warren, Rachel Dolezal, and Hillary Baldwin, Alec’s wife. We have three prominent liberal women who faked being a Native American, a black woman, and someone from Spain. It sounds like the beginning of a joke. Maybe it is. Only white liberals can peddle racial hoaxes and get away with it. Baldwin did. Warren is still a sitting US Senator. Dolezal was hurled into economic distress. It is the dichotomy race-based or more grounded in rich vs. poor, the latter of which impacts every one of all creeds and backgrounds. I don’t know. You can debate that among yourselves. Frankly, this post was merely to show that some white woman forced her kids to pray to black women as some ‘woke’ social media exercise only to have actual people of color call her out for it.

Why hello boomerang.

FDA Celebrates 10-Year Anniversary of a Food Safety Law That Hasn't Made Our Food Safer

In a week when hundreds of President Trump's supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol as part of an effort to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election—the latter of which Congress subsequently confirmed was won handily by President-elect Joe Biden—you'd be forgiven if it escaped your notice that one of the country's worst food laws, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), just celebrated the 10th anniversary of its signing.

FSMA, which was signed into law on January 4, 2011, by President Obama, gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) "more power to crack down on food-safety scofflaws and decrease the incidence of foodborne illness across the country," I detailed in a 2012 law-review article, The Food-Safety Fallacy: More Regulation Doesn't Necessarily Make Food Safer.

Before madness overtook the Capitol this week, the FDA was celebrating the law's birthday.

"It's not enough to respond to outbreaks of foodborne illness," said Frank Yiannas, the FDA's deputy commissioner for food policy, in a statement this week. "We must prevent them from happening in the first place."

That shift from a reactive to a proactive agency, Yiannas notes, was Congress's mandate to the FDA in passing FSMA, the most noteworthy update of agency food-safety enforcement in decades. So how's it going?

Yiannas describes what he sees as FSMA's key accomplishments, including that food businesses "are now taking concrete steps every day to reduce the risk of contamination" and that the law has caused a "bigger conversation about the importance of food safety," strengthened agency partnerships with business and civil society, "advanced food safety," and fostered "safer food in this country."

But has it really done that?

In 2011, before FSMA was implemented, the Centers for Disease Control, which tracks and responds to foodborne illness outbreaks, estimated that tainted food causes around 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths in the United States each year. Today, a decade on, those CDC estimates remain unchanged. Lest you think those CDC estimates merely haven't been updated in some time, the agency reported earlier this year that "[t]he incidence of most infections transmitted commonly through food has not declined for many years."

So if FSMA has not reduced cases of foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths, then what was it all for?

Well, it turns out the law wasn't really designed to reduce those illnesses, hospitalizations, or deaths. Indeed, the idea that FSMA would revolutionize the FDA by changing it from a reactive to a proactive agency always rang hollow. The FDA predicted that FSMA's best-case reductions in foodborne illness would be an annual decline between 3.7 percent and 5.4 percent. Even that didn't happen.

The FDA knows FSMA is failing to achieve its objectives. Consider that nearly any time the agency discusses FSMA, it refers to foodborne illness as "a significant public health burden that is largely preventable." In 2015, Dr. David Acheson, a former FDA associate commissioner for foods, rightly argued that the key marker for FSMA's success would be whether the law "drive[s] down foodborne illness" and yields "the public health gains that this is all about." But in 2018, a FSMA working group reported that using cases of foodborne illness to assess FSMA's efficacy is "a high bar to prove a relationship to the FSMA rules."

That may be true. But FSMA cannot be a success if overall foodborne illness numbers don't fall. Dramatically. And they have not.

To be fair, FSMA isn't all bad. The law did give the FDA one important power—the authority to order a recall of foods that are adulterated (tainted) or misbranded (labeled inaccurately), either of which could sicken or kill one or more persons. And though FSMA is a needless burdensome, clearly ineffective, and costly law that should be repealed forthwith, that's not to say all federal food-safety laws or programs are wrongheaded. They're not.

For example, I've explained previously that the CDC's PulseNet tracking program, which "prevents more than 275,000 cases of foodborne illness each year," is a smart and highly successful program for tracing, combating, and limiting foodborne illness outbreaks. It's also inexpensive and doesn't impose additional regulations on food producers.

Toward the end of Yiannas's statement this week on FSMA, he references a new FDA approach he's championing: the New Era of Smarter Food Safety.

That evolving approach, which I explained last year will "ramp[] up the use of technology to improve traceability and reduce the spread and impact of future cases of foodborne illness," is at odds with the proactive approach implemented under FSMA.

That fact alone makes the New Era of Smarter Food Safety sound both realistic and promising. And it reiterates—along with CDC data and other factors—that a decade on, FSMA has failed to meet the lofty food-safety goals its supporters argued it would achieve.




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